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October 2002 • Vol 2, No. 9 •

US Imperialism Prepares for Global Class War

By Nat Weinstein


An interesting assessment of the U.S. government’s real motives for war on Iraq that had first appeared in the Boston Globe was reprinted in the September 11 San Francisco Chronicle. In an analytical article titled, “Administration Hawks See Win In Iraq As Chance To Remake Region,” the authors, John Donnelly and Anthony Shadid, seek to explain what’s behind the drive led by the Bush administration (with the full support of the Democrats) toward an all-out war of conquest against Iraq.

The authors, implying their rejection of the U.S. government’s alleged reasons for launching a murderous war on the people of Iraq, focus on what supporters of the Bush administration say are the government’s real aims:

Iraq, [the hawks] argue, is just the first piece of the puzzle. After an ouster of Hussein, they say the United States will have more leverage to act against Syria and Iran, will be in a better position to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict and will be able to rely less on Saudi oil. Such thinking increasingly has served as a justification for an attack against Iraq, and elements of the strategy have emerged in key speeches by administration officials, most prominently Vice President Dick Cheney.

“The goal is not just a new regime in Iraq. The goal is a new Middle East,” said Raad Alkadiri, an Iraq analyst with PFC, a Washington based energy consulting organization. “The goal has been and remains one of the main driving factors of pre-emptive action against Iraq.”

The Globe article also takes up new problems for American capitalism indicated by support, unenthusiastic at best, from its imperialist allies, and the Saudi government’s ambiguity about allowing its territory to be used as a base for another massive bombing and invasion of Iraq. The Saudis like other ruling classes in the Middle East have good reason to fear that an American-led assault on Iraq could seriously destabilize the entire region. It could also be said that it threatens to destabilize much more than the Middle East.

The Saudi ruling class has good reason to fear that by removing Saddam Hussein and installing a puppet regime in Iraq, U.S. oil corporations would have, according to the authors, “a friendly Iraq—home to the world’s second largest oil reserves [and] would provide an alternative to Saudi Arabia for basing U.S. troops. Its oil reserves would make Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, less important in setting prices.”

But the Saudis are not the only ones who are very uneasy about U.S. intentions to establish even greater control over the oil-producing nations than now. All the world’s other major industrial powers, with the exception of the UK, know that their access to Iraqi oil would then be completely subject to approval by their American competitors. In other words, this line of analysis supports the belief held by a majority of people around the world that oil is the real reason for U.S. policy of bombastic threats and escalating military action in the Middle East and wherever American corporate interests are deemed to be under threat.

‘A new grand strategy’

Another report, this one appearing in the bi-monthly journal, Foreign Affairs, goes far beyond the matter of unilateral military action by the U.S. against Iraq. An article titled, “America’s Imperial Ambition: A new grand strategy,” by G. John Ikenberry, lays out the thinking of the dominant wing of the Bush Administration and the bi-partisan U.S. congress. The opening paragraph clearly spells out where the U.S. ruling class is headed, and it’s not pretty:

For the first time since the dawn of the Cold War, a new grand strategy is taking shape in Washington. It is advanced most directly as a response to terrorism, but it also constitutes a broader view about how the United States should wield power and organize world order. According to this new paradigm, America is to be less bound to its partners and to global rules and institutions while it steps forward to play a more unilateral and anticipatory role in attacking terrorist threats and confronting rogue states seeking WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction]. The United States will use its unrivaled military power to manage the global order. [Emphasis added.]

It is fairly obvious, that control over the world supply of oil and gas is the real aim of the War on Terrorism. Many of the world’s thinking people are aware too that it is also directed against what has become a permanent threat of revolution in the nations of the world held captive for super-exploitation by world imperialism and its chief cop, the United States. But in this writer’s view, the real objectives being pursued by Bush and the bipartisan congress go far beyond the threat of revolution in the neocolonial world.

We get a better picture of the aims of the American superpower at this crucial moment in world history if we briefly review the most important events that have transpired since the end of the Second World War.

A short review of post-war imperialist policy

The trend toward unilateral American military action has been an important aspect of U.S. foreign policy beginning immediately after the Second World War, in 1946, when Winston Churchill was brought to Fulton, Missouri by Democratic Party President Harry Truman to deliver his “Iron Curtain” speech. That speech kicked off the Cold War, the hysterical anti-communist witch-hunt in the United States, and the accession of American capitalism to the position of commander-in-chief of world imperialism. Churchill’s function was to put his and British imperialism’s stamp of approval on American capitalism’s dominant position at the head of world imperialism.

At that time, however, imperialism’s immediate and most urgent threat was not the colonial revolution, but a far more profound threat to world capitalism—social revolution led by the workers of Europe. The revolutionary combative spirit of Europe’s workers in the period between the First and Second World Wars, which had been temporarily interrupted by the war, proved to be alive and well even before World War II ended. Revolutionary class struggle in Europe and in the colonial world was once again on the order of the day.

The first evidence of the impending renewal of revolutionary class struggle occurred in 1943 when Italian workers rose up against their capitalists and later in 1945 hanged the world’s first fascist demagogue, Benito Mussolini, from a lamppost. Not long afterward, French workers organized a mass struggle against their own rulers, which had closely collaborated with the German imperialist army of occupation. A mass uprising by French workers drove the German troops out of Paris well before Germany’s awesome military power had been broken in Europe. Thus, at the end of the war, power literally lay in the streets of Italy, France and Greece and the colonial revolution was again on the ascendancy in Africa and Asia.

During the turbulent decade prior to World War II, the reformist misleaders of the mass Socialist and Communist parties had been the main force blocking the revolutionary-minded workers of Europe and elsewhere from following the logic of their struggles for social, economic and political justice to socialist revolution.

When the war ended, the Italian, French and Greek workers emerged from the war ready to resume their revolutionary socialist trajectory by taking physical control over the streets and workplaces of these three countries. But reformist Socialist and Stalinist misleaders in France and Italy again betrayed the post-war revolutionary opportunities by handing over a share of governmental power to their capitalists, who had been thoroughly discredited by their collaboration and support of German and Italian fascism.

And in Greece, the Communist Party, which had led an armed working class uprising to drive out German imperialist troops, went on to take physical control over all of Greece. But on Stalin’s orders, Greece’s Stalinists allowed British troops to enter their country. Their first act was to disarm the workers and restore a capitalist government to power in Greece.

Then once again, in relatively short order, the workers of France and Italy discovered that their hands were tied by their bureaucratic leaders’ governmental alliance with the capitalist class. The workers’ capitalist “allies” in government, still in control of the repressive forces of the state apparatus, launched a political offensive to break the power of the workers in the streets and factories. By the following year, the power of the working class on the ground was sharply diminished and another opportunity to liberate itself and all society from capitalist rule had slipped out of its hands.

History made post-WWII America the leader of world capitalism

Leadership is a crucial factor for capitalists as it is for workers. And the way it works, the most powerful industrial and financial capitalists in every country are the natural leaders of their class. Thus, the preeminent economic and military power of the United States, augmented at the war’s end by its greatly expanded productive capacity and its monopoly over atomic weapons, catapulted the American ruling class into the leadership of world imperialism.

American authority was further amplified by the Soviet Union’s emergence from World War II as a world military and political power equal to that of world imperialism. The Cold War was universally recognized as much more than a prolonged half-military, half-propaganda conflict—no one dreamed that the not so Cold War would go on for nearly half a century. On the contrary, the capitalist mass media led the peoples of the world to the belief that the propaganda war would be only a short prelude to World War III.

With the pacification of the revolutionary-minded workers in Western Europe, the center stage of the world revolution then shifted to the East.

When Soviet military forces drove German troops out of East Europe, its workers had welcomed the Red Army as liberators by rising up against their own capitalists. But Soviet policy in Eastern Europe, as in the West, was to block workers from taking governmental power independently and in opposition to the region’s indigenous capitalists.

But when soon after the end of the war in Europe, U.S.-led world imperialism mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops on the border with Soviet occupied Eastern Europe, Stalin realized that in the event of an imperialist invasion, East Europe’s capitalists would constitute a fifth column behind Red Army lines and thus be in a strategic position to sabotage production and otherwise assist invading imperialist forces. He was also fully aware that the only force that could take the productive forces away from its capitalists and keep production going before and during an impending imperialist invasion was the workers. And that could only be done by a revolutionary expropriation of capitalist property that would establish a social and economic system based on production for use not profit. Moreover, it would give the working class of Eastern Europe a vital interest in defending the significant improvement in their lives resulting from the overthrow of capitalist power.

Thus, pressed by the imminent threat of an imperialist counter-revolutionary invasion of Eastern Europe that had begun shortly after the end of WW II, and knowing that the invading imperialist armies would not stop at the borders of the Soviet Union, Stalin was compelled to unleash the anti-capitalist workers far enough to oust their capitalist partners from government and industry and establish a social order modeled after the Stalinist bureaucratic dictatorship in the Soviet Union.

That stopped imperialism and the beginning of a hot third World War in its tracks!

However, that didn’t stop Stalin from putting a bureaucratic strait jacket on the revolutionary-minded workers of East Europe and continuing his criminal policy of “Peaceful Coexistence”—that is, blocking socialist revolution everywhere else.

Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Josef Stalin at Yalta in the Soviet Crimea in February, 1945. They agreed to demand unconditional surrender of Germany, to a division of Europe amongst themselves, to a UN to govern the peace, and to the USSR entering the war against Japan in exchange for control of North Korea.

Colonial revolution intensifies

Meanwhile, the colonial revolution in Africa and Asia intensified with Stalinist-dominated guerrilla armies beginning a revolutionary struggle for power in imperialist-dominated French Indochina, Korea and China. Revolutionary nationalist Africa, not under Stalinist domination, also looked to the Soviet Union for aid and assistance against their imperialist oppressors. But the pattern of assistance provided by Soviet Stalinism was limited to keeping the revolutionary forces everywhere only strong enough to resist imperialist attempts to crush them. That is, just enough to allow their use as bargaining chips in buying imperialist concessions to Stalinism’s “demand” for “Peaceful Coexistence”—all at the expense of the class interests of workers and their natural allies.

The imperialist world’s need for forceful leadership, which could only be performed by the world’s most powerful industrial and military power, made the United States the natural leader of world imperialism. American authority, moreover, was further enhanced by the U.S.-financed Marshall Plan, which provided the scores of billions of dollars in loans to rebuild the war-torn industrial economy on both sides of the second inter-imperialist world war.

The Marshal Plan ultimately succeeded in reviving the post-war world capitalist economy. It thus laid the basis for an unprecedented 50-year expansion of imperialist capital into every nook and cranny of the global capitalist economic system. By the same token, it cemented the position of the United States as the new maximum leader of an imperialist world, united by their fear of an ongoing threat of world socialist revolution despite the counter-revolutionary policies of the mass workers’ parties led by Stalinists and Social Democrats.

But, to give the devil his due, the dynamics of the global class struggle compels imperialism’s world police chief to initiate timely acts in defense of the vital interests of world capitalism. When time and circumstances do not permit consultation and the approval of what the U.S. government considers “timely action,” they act and explain why after the fact.

To be sure, American imperialism is still compelled to seek the approval and support of its imperialist allies. Thus, while the United States has always taken unilateral initiatives when it deemed necessary, it has also always sought to act as much as possible under the cover of imperialist international institutions, such as the UN and NATO. And American imperialism, despite its trend toward more aggressively advancing their narrower national interests, can effectively function as world imperialism’s chief cop only so far as it subordinates its special interests to that of world capitalism. But there, as we shall see, is the rub.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union

One of the differences between the time when the United States was able to easily gain approval for their unilateral actions and now, is the disappearance of the Soviet Union. The Soviet superpower, despite its wish for peaceful coexistence with world imperialism, stood in the way of the expansion of the world market into territories they controlled and influenced—not the least of which was the penetration of capital into the countries led by the Soviet Union. Capitalism’s perpetual need for new fields of capital investment and markets served as a powerful force uniting the world’s capitalists behind their common interests in the last ten years.

But with the elimination of the Soviet superpower from the global equation of capitalist competition, the unrivaled military and industrial power of American capitalism has set in motion two contradictory forces: First, while Stalinism’s embrace of capitalism and its capitulation to imperialism gave a huge impulse to capitalist expansion, imperialism now has to pay the price of a rapid and extensive increase in the productive forces of world capitalism as a whole. Thus, in line with the inevitable crisis of overproduction that follows every period of rapid economic expansion, we are now witnessing a rapidly declining average rate of profit, which has the inexorable effect of sharply intensifying inter-imperialist competition.

And second, as the world’s most powerful industrial and military power, the unfolding economic crisis of unparalleled dimensions has convinced the dominant section of America’s ruling class that since it cannot be challenged by any combination of rival imperialists, they can and must advance their own interests more aggressively.

The authors of “America’s Imperial Ambition” explain how the leaders of American capitalism see their role as maximum leader of world capitalism:

No coalition of great powers without the United States will be allowed to achieve hegemony. Bush made this point the centerpiece of American security policy in his West Point commencement address in June: “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenges—thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.” The United States will not seek security through the more modest realist strategy of operating within a global system of power balancing, nor will it pursue a liberal strategy in which institutions, democracy, and integrated markets reduce the importance of power politics altogether. America will be so much more powerful than other major states that strategic rivalries and security competition among the great powers will disappear, leaving everyone—not just the United States—better off.

That America’s allied great powers will be better off is not necessarily Mr. Ikenberry’s view and neither is it the view of the other major imperialist powers, most of whom, as we have seen, have little reason to believe that “strategic rivalries and security competition among the great powers will disappear.”

In fact, despite the many interests they hold in common, the almost completely saturated world marketplace—a result of fifty years of history’s most massive expansion of world capitalism—has turned their success from a blessing to a curse. The level of productive over-capacity has progressed so far beyond capitalist society’s capacity to absorb the over-abundance of goods produced, that it has had exactly the same effect as if it had shrunk the world marketplace to a fraction of its former size.

That manifestation of the dialectic of change from what things are into their own opposites has had the inexorable effect of forcing each capitalist into a deadly struggle for survival against all others of their species. That is, they are all compelled to obey the laws of the capitalist jungle, which drives them toward eating each other or being eaten.

Why now?

Many find it difficult to understand what it is that is driving the U.S. rulers toward a policy that is best described as brazenly wielding its military power to overcome all those standing in the way of American world domination.

Also unclear is why the U.S. president declared the “first World War of the 21st century” last September. Why now and not before? Also, why was it accompanied by a declaration of war on the civil liberties of the American people?

It seems to me obvious that the best explanation for the “War on Terrorism” and the accompanying policies adopted by the Bush administration, with the unanimous support of the two houses of congress, is their genuine fear that the unfolding global capitalist economic crisis cannot be stopped. And they have good reason to fear that its destructive effect on mass living standards will once again revive the specter of world socialist revolution inside the strongholds of world imperialism as well as in the neocolonial world.

In other words, Bush made clear that the U.S. is laying the basis for its right to launch “preemptive military strikes” to crush revolutionary eruptions in the egg wherever in the world they break out in the critical months and years ahead.

This writer, in line with the policy of this magazine, has kept close watch on the evolution of the world capitalist economy. We have elaborated on the theme that the currently unfolding global economic crisis is different and far graver than any other. Unlike the seven or eight economic recessions between the end of World War II and the end of the 20th century, this one is global and is at least as deep as the one in the 1930s.

We and other Marxists have made the case over the years that the normal boom-bust cycles of capitalist production and overproduction have been successfully buffered since the end of the Great Depression—something unprecedented in the history of capitalism.

After the war extricated the world from the first Depression, a new economic policy was introduced that allowed an exponential expansion of credit. This is the key to understanding how the global capitalist economy has been able to recover from each of the many cyclic economic contractions that have occurred since then without causing such economic pain and suffering among the masses as to precipitate a major eruption of class struggle.

To be sure, that does not mean that pain and suffering did not occur! The permanent army of unemployed—indispensable to the workings of capitalist economy everywhere—has grown. But it has concentrated the suffering on a minority—albeit a larger minority than ever before, of the American working class. Moreover, the full impact of the relentless replacement of human labor by machines has been hidden by simply not counting the long-term unemployed.

Another innovation concealing the real rate of unemployment is the emergence and, in fact, the institutionalization of part-time jobs, which in the prewar period had been a relatively isolated and limited phenomenon. It has the effect of allowing the capitalist government to reduce social welfare down to a minimum by introducing a caricature of the historic demand of working people everywhere for a shorter work week with no reduction in pay—that is a shorter week capitalist-style, along with a reduction in hourly pay!

Moreover, it’s no surprise that many workers who need and want full-time jobs and who are forced to accept part-time employment are unable to support themselves and their families with such an inadequate income. Thus they are compelled to take two or three jobs to keep body and soul together—meaning much less pay for significantly more than the “legal” 40-hour week.1

In addition to part time jobs, temporary employment has become an important part of the American economy and the institutionalization of both part-time and temporary jobs has begun spreading to others of the world’s advanced capitalist countries.

What about the recently reported “official” claim of only a 5.7 percent rate of unemployment while the official rate of unemployment in the rest of the world’s advanced industrial countries hovers between 9 and 12 percent? (It’s much more than double that rate in the neocolonial world.) Furthermore, if capitalist statisticians were to count the uncounted long-term unemployed (those without jobs for more than 6 months, which also is rapidly expanding), along with those part-timers with only one job, and the unrecorded lost time of temporary workers, there is little doubt that the U.S. unemployment rate would equal and more likely exceed that in West Europe.

Meanwhile, impoverishment (those at and below the “official” poverty line) has been increasing at an alarming rate at a time when it has normally declined—in periods of economic expansion. Never before has there been such a period, as has been the case for decades, during which the number of long-term unemployed and homelessness has been increasing.

Moreover, the steady increase of homelessness during this last half-century of “prosperity” includes something rarely seen even during the Great Depression. That is, the phenomenon of working workers unable to find an affordable place to live. Imagine the awesome consequences that lie ahead when the current period of “prosperity” comes to a dead stop and mass unemployment sharply increases!

The fight back in the ‘First World’ complements fight back in the ‘Third World’

The prolonged prosperity in the advanced industrial countries explains why their workers have become more passive than at any other time in history. On the one hand, the great majority of people everywhere—including in the world’s richest countries—are more conscious today than ever before of the anti-social character of the profit system. But on the other, while working class potential economic power is undiminished, it appears to have vanished. As we shall see, the apparent decline in the power of the workers to change society in the advanced industrial countries where their power is greatest has had the concomitant effect of blocking an even more explosive revolutionary movement in the neocolonial world than what we have so far seen.

However, the seeming omnipotence of American imperialism and its relentless campaign of repression to keep the world safe for the profit system has for the time being left the neocolonial masses seething with resentment, but fearful that there is no force in the world that they can rely on as an ally against the full force of imperialism’s weapons of mass destruction raining down on them in retribution for daring to resist. Thus, their feelings of frustration and powerlessness explain why the self-defeating tactics of individual acts of terrorism have temporarily taken the place of mass revolutionary social, economic and political action.

In fact, with the exception of Cuba, all those who had succeeded in overthrowing their puppet regimes in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East by revolutionary mass action have stopped short of socialist revolution. Thus, for the most part, colonial revolutions have succeeded many times in overthrowing the reactionary puppet governments of imperialism, but have stopped there without solving the problems of mass poverty that powered their revolutionary struggle. And because they have been unable to solve the problems of poverty by overthrowing the social and economic order and reconstituting society on the basis of a socialist order, the governments installed by revolutionary action have either been overthrown or they have themselves become puppets of imperialism.

It’s important to remember that the anarchistic strategy of individual acts of terrorism not only is met by the far more destructive power in the hands of ruling classes, but it has never succeeded in overthrowing a repressive regime.

Why?

What explains this failure of the colonial revolution to realize its full possibilities? It’s not enough to say that it’s a failure of leadership. The failure of the world’s workers to solve the subjective problem of revolutionary proletarian leadership is certainly the primary factor. But revolutionary proletarian leadership rarely comes into existence full blown since, as the saying goes, while there can be no revolutionary action without revolutionary theory, neither can there be revolutionary theory without revolutionary action.

I will try to show that the relative passivity of the workers in the advanced industrial countries of the world has created the impression among the revolutionary-minded workers and peasants in the neocolonial world—even before the disintegration of the Soviet Union—that were they to follow the example of the Cuban socialist revolution, they could not get any help from any force effective enough to give them a fighting chance to withstand the economic and military assaults of world imperialism.

In other words, the revolutionaries in the colonial world have operated on the false premise that they must first win their political independence from imperialism by overthrowing imperialism’s puppet government, and then carry through a democratic revolution. But the primary task of the democratic revolution is the nationalization of the land and its division among the landless peasants. However, landlords and capitalists, in a process well under way by the middle of the 19th century, have interpenetrated each other—with capitalists becoming landlords and landlords becoming junior partners of the capitalists. Where formerly capitalist revolutionaries were once compelled to destroy the power of the feudal landlords by nationalizing the land without indemnification, capitalists had become increasingly opposed to the democratic revolution for three reasons:

First, the economic power of the old feudal ruling class was already broken and no longer a threat to capitalist social and economic supremacy. Second, as landlords themselves, the expropriation of landed property and its distribution among the landless was also an attack on the property of capitalist landlords. And third, the working class, which had been in its gestating stage until the first few decades of the 19th century, had become an increasingly more powerful threat to capitalism from that time on. Thus, faced by an increasingly powerful threat by the revolutionary workers of France and Germany, in 1848, for instance, capitalists forged a political alliance with the landed aristocracy against a revolutionary conquest by the workers over both landed and capitalist property.

In other words, while the landless peasants in the captive nations of the world today are in conflict with their landlords, there is no longer any deep-going conflict between landlords and capitalists whose class interests have for more than 150 years been ever more closely intertwined. Although the interests of third world capitalists and landlords are in conflict with imperialism, the workers’ revolution is a far greater threat to them. Thus, the only force capable of carrying through the democratic revolution in the neocolonial world today is the working class leading the peasants in a struggle against both capitalist imperialism and its indigenous landlord/capitalist puppet regimes.

But not only must the workers lead the struggle for the democratic revolution, they invariably must also defeat counter-revolutionary imperialist, economic, and military assaults as well. So, despite the long period of relative passivity of the workers in the advanced industrial countries, the colonial revolution is compelled to strive to win the support and solidarity of the workers in the imperialist strongholds.

The mass Vietnam Antiwar movement in the United States proved that the workers in the United States, despite their conservative mood, would and could stop imperialist counter-revolution from achieving its objectives. And that happened at a time of prosperity when then-President Lyndon B. Johnson was able to provide both guns for war and butter for the American working class. Yet the majority of antiwar protestors and marchers came from the ranks of the working class. Think of how much more massive such an antiwar movement will be when the second Great Depression now gestating breaks out into the surface with full force. Thus, the strategy of proletarian international solidarity, oriented to the unfolding process of rising class struggle in the very citadels of world capitalist imperialism, points the only way forward for the colonial revolution.

Just think of what it will be like if, as in the 1930s, workers are forced by utter necessity to go into action in defense of their class interests and there is another Vietnam. Imperialism would be in the unenviable position of fighting a war of repression at home and abroad at the same time. Such a combination of objective events would create the conditions favorable to successful socialist revolution in not just one, but “two, three, and many Vietnams.” It would not only shift the world relation of class forces heavily in favor of the colonial revolution, it would give a powerful impulse to the world socialist revolution as a whole, including inside the heartland of world imperialism.

The key role of the Ameri