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May 2004 • Vol 4, No. 5 •

The Imperial Itch

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; itcompels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst; i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image.

—Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Several weeks ago, I caught an astonishing sight on TV. It wasn’t eye-stopping video, or big set explosions, or an unusually scantily-clad damsel dancing across the glass window. It was four men, sitting down discussing, in calm, deliberate terms, the nature and virtues of the American Empire.

They discussed the cost-benefit of invading this or that nation; how many troops would be required; how long it would take to “pacify” the natives, and the like.

How many casualties? This was discussed mathematically, with totals rounded off to the next hundred.

Of course, when they spoke of “casualties,” they meant Americans, for it seemed clear to all concerned, that the deaths or lives of the sub-imperial “others,” what Germans in the 1930s called, der unterwenschen, (or subhumans) were beneath “civilized” discussion.

When I sat watching them, I thought that this could’ve been a scene out of 19th Century Berlin, when Bismarck and his other imperial cronies were carving up the world, like slices of pie, determining, for the next several centuries, the destinies of billions of people.

It dawned on me that we are truly captured in the midst of this imperial age.

Wars are fought with the selfish ease of eating a meal.

In the time it takes to blink an eye, politicians turn on a dime, campaigning for wars on a whim, and moments later, claiming that the war was “for the benefit” of those warred upon!

I am often amazed at how similar such an argument was in favor of slavery. Tens of millions of Africans were dragged to the Americas, to toil in feverish hells, for centuries, “for their own good.”

And what of the bloody nationalist uprisings raging across occupied Iraq? They are “terrorists,” we are assured by the manufactured politicians and their corporate media. It is but a bit part of this endless “war against terrorism” that seemingly sparks “terrorism” where it has not existed before.

After viewing how blithely the Americans (let U.S. not speak of silly “coalitions,” okay?) have attacked, occupied, and installed its complacent puppets in control, is there any wonder why Al-Qaeda is growing by leaps and bounds, not just in the Arab World, but in Europe, as well?

In such a state as this, that promised greater loss, and hardship and, well, terror, the upcoming presidential race looks like an exercise in utter futility? Will it really mean any substantive difference between what has come before, or mere differences in degree? What does it really matter, if all that happens is a “kinder, gentler” imperialism? One which is, well, nice?

I am reminded of the words of Hitler’s No. 2, Hermann Goering, regarding the ease with which wars are called for by leaders: “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

The recollections coming from former members of the White House inner circle, are less surprising than they were simply obvious: The Bush White House wanted to wage war against Iraq from Day One? How shocking!

What would have truly been shocking is if they hadn’t, for then, they would have flown in the face of 50 years of American post-world War II history.

What is needed won’t, indeed, can’t come from the corporate parties — it must come from the people themselves.

Mumia’s latest book, We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, will be available soon from South End Press, Cambridge, Mass.

—Copyright, Mumia Abu-Jamal, April 13, 2004

As Rosa Luxemburg has very aptly observed, Marx’s economic teaching is a child of classical economics, a child whose birth cost its mother her life.

—Leon Trotsky, The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx





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