This is Part 1 in a 5-part history series focusing on US imperialism, globalization and neo-liberal economics across the world over the last 40 years. Each subsequent part will be published on consecutive Tuesdays.
The United States of America has been the pre-eminent country on Earth for over 40 years.[i] There are many competing analyses of these developments, different understandings, etc., and with all kinds of various intellectual ramifications from these. However, along with genuine efforts to accurately understand this period, there is much misinformation, obfuscation, and plain lying about its role in the world and its economic, political, military, and cultural activities in which it engages; part of this is conscious, part of it is not, but it means there is a massive amount of confusion about it, not only among academics and journalists but, more importantly, activists and the general public.
This article seeks to untangle our understanding of the economic, political, and cultural history of the United States over the past 40 or so years so we can consciously discuss where the country should go, and what that means for the American people.[ii]
That requires a global perspective, which differs from our traditional national focus.
While it is necessary, it is not sufficient to limit our attention to the United States and/or the other imperial countries. We must act from a global perspective, and one which specifically includes the formerly colonized countries. Yes, this makes things more complicated and more complex–and it forces us to consider things that we may have never considered. Yet we simply cannot prevail without taking a global perspective; from all I’ve seen and learned over the years, it is essential; it simply cannot be done any other way.
Accordingly, what must always be recognized is that social developments always take place within a particular social context, which affects them, for better or worse. And again, this social context must take a global perspective.
The social context that must be understood is that since at least the end of World War II in 1945, the elites of the United States have tried to dominate the rest of the world; the US is an imperial country.[iii] This means we cannot understand the US simply as another country, but—at all times—must recognize that this is the heartland of the US Empire. This has had a dynamic designed to advance the interests of the United States—as determined by the elites of this country—over those of every other country. Through developing what can only be called realistically as “American nationalism”—based on white supremacy—and propagating this through the school system, churches, and other societal institutions (and lying extensively about it in the mass media), the elites have gotten large numbers of Americans to support their imperial adventures.[iv]
One of the interesting things about American social self-deception is that this imperial project of the elites has been said to be the basis of our high standard of living and national well-being; i.e., we need to be imperialist, to dominate other countries, to live so well, although it’s never projected in these terms.
However, since about 1973—and certainly by 1979—the US standard of living has stagnated, if not gotten worse for growing numbers of people; this will be detailed in Part 3 of this overall project. The “solution,” as put forth by our political and social leaders has been what is called “neo-liberal economics”; yet as shown unequivocally, what has been proclaimed the solution has really only made things much worse. Neo-liberal economics, against what was “promised,” actually has channeled resources from the national population to the managers of the US Empire instead of benefiting our people. This has been a disaster for many Americans; social inequality has mushroomed as millions of good paying, mostly unionized jobs have been destroyed; our social services and educational system have been under attack; mass shootings have proliferated and, for the first time in US history, today’s generation will not do as well economically as their parents’. And things are only going to get worse for increasing numbers of people.
It is time for us to consider a new way of relating among ourselves, to other Americans, as well as to human beings around the world, as well as to the planetary environment.
ESSENTIAL CONCEPTS: IMPERIALISM, GLOBALIZATION, NEO-LIBERAL ECONOMICS
To make sure we are on the same page, there are three essential concepts that must be explained: “imperialism,” “globalization,” and “neo-liberal economics,” and they are each discussed in this and following parts. These are terms that do not get discussed in general (imperialism), are bandied about as though we share a common understanding (globalization), or simply are generally undefined but necessary to understand (neo-liberal economics); and they are generally not examined together. They need to be disentangled and then each developed and shown how they interact, and that is done herein.
There has been considerable debate among analysts about the relationship between imperialism and globalization;[v] in fact, some refer to it as “imperialist globalization.”
That is not the approach that some of us take; perhaps most clear is Jan Nederveen Pieterse (2004, Globalization or Empire?).[vi] Globalization has been going on for tens of thousands of years. Sometimes this has taken the form of imperialism—Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, etc.—but other times it has not, like when we discuss cross-border migration. Modern imperialism, however, starts with the “voyages of discovery” by sea-going projects of the Western European countries, roughly around 1500. In other words, these are separate but overlapping processes; they need to be understood accordingly.
It is to these concepts—imperialism, globalization, and neo-liberal economics—to which I now discuss in turn; I begin by discussing imperialism.
UNDERSTANDING IMPERIALISM: COLONIALISM AND NEO-COLONIALISM[vii]
Imperialism is often dismissed as a rhetorical term, but it is used empirically herein to discuss reality on the ground. It basically refers to the idea that different countries do not have equal political-economic power; imperialism refers to the fact that some countries are more powerful than others, and that the stronger use this power to maintain or extend their domination over the weaker when other countries do not voluntarily subjugate themselves to the more powerful country.
One of Marxism’s greatest contributions to political struggle is development of the concept of “imperialism.” To summarize quickly, based on Lenin’s “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” (Lenin, 1916, New York: International Publishers) and considerable subsequent empirical elaboration of the concept, imperialism is a process whereby some countries are able to exploit other, weaker, countries for their raw materials (such as agricultural land and its products, such as timber, fruits, etc.), natural resources (minerals such as gold, silver and copper), and sometimes their human resources (slaves or, more recently, labor migrants), which are accumulated, then gathered, and returned to the “home” imperial country to be used to further develop the imperial country.
At the same time, this is done with little to no consideration by the imperial forces of the harmful impact upon the targeted people. Obviously, invasion and war have incredibly deleterious and immediate effects on a population, in and of themselves. Robert McNamara, the former US Secretary of “Defense,” claims that 3.8 million Vietnamese were killed during what the Vietnamese call “The American War,” and Nick Turse (2013, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. New York: Henry Holt) documents another 5.7 million wounded, and the physical, environmental, social, and individual costs (which continue today with continuing cases of unexploded ordinance from the war that ended in 1975, and continued casualties from Agent Orange poisoning).[viii]
Another level of impact is due to intervening into other nation’s affairs—using either covert operations by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) or “public” operations by the NED (National Endowment for Democracy)[ix]—to enforce US imperial desires. These almost always cause a great deal of societal disruption at least and often times death, imprisonment, torture, and destruction of people and urban areas, especially should they be successful in overthrowing democratically-elected governments, which the US under Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger did to Chile on September 11, 1973—the first 9/11—50 years ago this year (2023).
There is also the role of political sanctions. This is where one country—generally the US—imposes limits on what a country can import and export, and this is done through pressure, naval blockade, and other means. Perhaps the classic case is the case of Iraq—between the first and second US-led invasions (1991-2003)—where US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated unequivocally when asked by CBS News Correspondent Leslie Stahl, that “We think the price is worth it” that approximately 500,000 (no misprint) Iraqi children below the age of five died as a result of US sanctions (Stahl, 1996, ”CBS Interview with Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State under Bill Clinton. May 12.” On-line at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP1OAD9jSaI). The US has imposed sanctions unilaterally around the world and has had especially deleterious effects on Cuba and Venezuela, in addition to Iraq.
In addition to the violence perpetrated, the impact of exploitation can be understood by understanding the simple theft of these raw materials, natural resources, and people, or it can be recognized through the physical, social, emotional, and environmental impacts of such theft that can continue for generations over centuries, and which can be labeled oppression.
In other words, to begin to understand imperialism, one must recognize that it is an interactive process between a stronger country and a weaker one, intended to benefit the stronger one at the expense of the weaker one; where the stronger country uses its military, economic, political, diplomatic, and/or cultural resources to impose its rule over the weaker one; and this rule is intended to further the exploitation and oppression of the peoples and the environment of the weaker country so as to maintain domination by the stronger one over time.[x]
These dominating processes, however, go farther: they are intended to establish control by the dominating country not just over the country and resources as a whole, but over the culture and thus the individual minds of the subjugated country’s citizens, getting the latter to at least accept if not embrace the ideas that the dominating country is so superior that it naturally should control the lives of the people in the subjugated country and that it should continue indefinitely.[xi]
However, there are two forms of imperialism: colonialism and neo-colonialism. What is the difference?
Colonization is the process of direct physical invasion and occupation of a particular land by a stronger country, regardless of whether the invaded land is organized in a nation-state or territorial form; in contemporary terms, it is when the stronger country puts “boots on the ground.” It is done to establish colonies of the imperial country in a way that ensures continued economic exploitation and political domination by the imperial country for the benefit of the imperial country; it is done against the will of the common people of such a land, whether local “elites” agree or not.
However, during the period of colonialism, the imperial countries generally have groomed sons—and increasingly, daughters—of the pre-colonial elites to run the country after independence, especially by educating them, whether at “home” or in the imperial country, of the “wonderfulness” of the imperial society. Key to that is to “convince” these future “leaders” (i.e., elites) that the best way forward for their country is to “voluntarily” accept the exploitive economic relations established during colonialism by the imperial country and maintain them after independence. In other words, while granting political independence, the colonizer seeks in all cases to maintain the same exploitive economic relations after independence; this is known as neo-colonialism.[xii] It keeps the independent country under the economic, and often political, control of the imperial country, without the obvious military domination.
This is not necessarily all bad for the newly independent country; after all, colonial violence against the citizenry is almost always reduced after independence; and oftentimes, qualitatively. And people see that people who look like them can run the affairs of the independent country, challenging the ideology of “white supremacy” that had been established during colonialism. These definitely are gains for all concerned. Yet the gains are always limited in that they generally do not affect—or, at worse, intensify—the economic relationships established under colonialism; relationships that were designed to benefit the imperial country at the expense of the colonized one.
While Lenin’s and his political descendants’ analysis of imperialism is important, it is also too limited; it is basically confined to economic exploitation.[xiii] What is ignored here is that an imperialist country usually seeks to dominate a number of countries, sometimes in the same part of the world, sometimes in other parts, and sometimes in multiple parts at the same time.[xiv] And sometimes, the individual imperialist relationships are limited to exploitive economic relationships.
Yet sometimes they are not. What the Marxist tradition generally ignores are the political relationships, both between the particular imperial and colonized countries, and between the different imperial countries themselves.
Jan Nederveen Pieterse has surpassed Lenin’s thinking. In his path-breaking Empire and Emancipation: Power and Liberation on a Global Scale (New York: Praeger, 1989), Nederveen Pieterse accepts Lenin’s economistic analysis but adds a political analysis to the economic. In other words, Nederveen Pieterse argues that imperialism has both economic and political motivations and, by adding this, it allows us to consider issues of domination and subjugation in nation-state relations, which allows us to consider geo-strategic positions and empires, and their effects on world history.[xv] Further, in some cases, economic motivations are primary whereas in others, political motivations are primary; one cannot assume either motivation is primary, but must be confirmed by empirical analysis.
However, Nederveen Pieterse’s understanding of imperialism extends beyond the nation-state level. In a 2010 article, I elaborated:
A political community usually refers to a nation-state; however, while including nation-states in this category, Nederveen Pieterse’s understanding of imperialism extends beyond the nation-state level. He recognizes that because of external domination during past history, groups who share common culture, traditions, languages, and political organization (I.e., “political communities”) may have been incorporated within the boundaries of other political communities. Examples of this include Native American nations having been incorporated into the U.S., the Palestinians into Israel, the Kurds into Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, and certainly this is also true of the indigenous peoples around the world. Thus, instead of ignoring these peoples or making them irrelevant by confining the understanding of imperialism to only nation-states, Nederveen Pieterse broadens the conception of imperialism to include the domination of one political community over another, and this can exist within the current boundaries of a nation-state: these cross-political community border relationships are based in unequal power relations, with the stronger dominating the weaker (Scipes, 2010b: 468).
However, in addition to recognizing that imperialism is not just limited to nation states, Nederveen Pieterse argues that organizations at different levels of the social world can engage in imperialism, and that can aid established empires. Accordingly, Nederveen Pieterse extends the concept of imperialism “vertically” to include different levels of domination. He not only focuses on dominative relations at the nation-state level, but he includes dominative relations at levels higher and lower than the nation-state level. For example, at the suprastate level (at a higher level than nation-states/political communities), dominative relations can be established, such as between the United Nations (UN) and people of any particular country (such as UN “peacekeeping forces” and Haitian slum dwellers). Likewise, dominative relations can be established at a substate level (at a lower level), such as between a labor organization in the U.S. and labor organizations in other countries. In other words, Nederveen Pieterse not only expands the concept of imperialism on a horizontal axis through broadening it to include domination across political community borders, but he also extends it vertically by including different levels of domination. It is in recognizing that domination can take place at a level below nation-state domination that allows Labor’s across-political-community-borders domination to be included within the concept of imperialism (Scipes, 2010b: 468).
Subsequently, and coming from a different perspective, scholars such as Alfred W. McCoy (2009, 2017, 2021) have further developed the understanding of empires. McCoy (2017), focusing on the decline of the US Empire, argues that the claim of empire is resonating. After discussing a number of writers from a range of political perspectives, he points out that, “In short, analysts across the political spectrum had come to agree that empire was the most appropriate word to describe America’s current superpower status” (McCoy, 2017: 47). And further, “Calling a nation that controls nearly half of the planet’s military forces and much of its wealth an ‘empire’ became nothing more than fitting an analytical frame to appropriate facts” (McCoy, 2017: 43).[xvi]
So, in dominating weaker countries, the stronger ones coalesced their power into empires.
And empires, over the years, have competed to dominate other empires.
And imperialism, in all of its forms, has been based on violence, whether it is used in any particular situation or not. Thomas Ferguson (2012, “Preface: Rethinking the State and “Free Markets” in Neoliberalism” in Ronald W. Cox, ed.: xi-xv) presents a fascinating chart (see his Figure 1) which shows commencement of US use of force or covert intervention abroad between 1798-2001. It is based on data from the US Congressional Research Service, which had compiled a report, “Instances of US Armed Forces Abroad From 1798,” and from Blum (2014). What it shows is a persistent but low level number of interventions until about 1947 (when the CIA was created via the National Security Act),[xvii] and then it jumps up dramatically until about 1975: “Uses of armed force abroad and covert action rose sharply during the Cold War, before declining suddenly as a rest of the Church Committee hearings…” He continues: “The drop in interventions did not persist; instead, it dramatically reversed with the proclamation of the “Reagan Doctrine” (Ferguson, 2012: xi), when it surpassed by a considerable amount the 1947-75 period.
Recognizing this requires us to understand, in trying to account for the global development of capitalism, that capital does not operate within a “neutral” capitalist world, where owners’ or corporate managers’ decisions rule, but rather within a highly organized political world based on empire as developed by particular nation-states (see McCoy, 2021).
Over time—and this can be decades, if not centuries of subjugation—the colonies generally have gotten their political independence from their respective imperial colonizer.[xviii] Sometimes, independence has come through armed struggle; i.e., revolutions. Other times, the benefits to the colonizer have become so limited that the colonizer has granted political independence so as to minimize future costs to the imperial country. However, again, most of the former colonies gained only their political independence; they remain tied economically to their former colonial master (s).[xix]
So, to summarize:
Imperialism is an interactive process between a stronger political community (nation-state, or at supra-national or sub-national levels) and a weaker political community, intended to benefit the stronger one at the expense of the weaker one; where the stronger political community uses its resources (including, as appropriate, military, economic, political, diplomatic, and/or cultural resources) to impose its rule over the weaker one; and this rule is intended to further the exploitation and oppression of the peoples and the environment of the weaker country so as to maintain domination by the stronger one over time.
This history series is co-published by ZNetwork and Green Social Thought.
Part 2 discusses “globalization.” You can read the entire series (all 5 parts) here.
Kim Scipes, PhD, a former printer, is a long-time trade unionist and labor activist, currently a member of the National Writers Union Local 1982, AFL-CIO. He is also Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Purdue University Northwest in Westville, Indiana, USA. He has published four books to date, and over 250 articles—in peer-reviewed, general specialty, and activist journals and newsletters—in the US and in 11 countries around the world. His work, including his entire book on the KMU Labor Center of the Philippines, can be accessed for free at Publications – Purdue University Northwest (pnw.edu). He is also a co-founder of LEPAIO (Labor Education Project on AFL-CIO International Operations), whose web site is at https://aflcio-int.education/.
[i] As will be quickly seen, I really think this goes back to at least 1945, but am focusing on the period since 1981 in this article.
[ii] Although I am terribly aware of the climate crisis and environmental destruction, and am increasingly writing about these subjects, I have chosen not to address them in this article. For my web page where I focus on these issues, please go to my “Climate Change, Environmental Destruction, and Social Justice: Resources” page, on-line for free, at https://www.pnw.edu/faculty/kim-scipes-ph-d/publications/climate-change-publication/, which also includes links to my related publications.
[iii] Among many other references, see William Blum, 2000, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. Monroe, ME: Common Courage; 2014. Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II—revised edition. London: Zed; and 2015. America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy—The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else. London: Zed; Noam Chomsky, 2003, Hegemony or Survival? America’s Quest for Global Dominance. New
York: Metropolitan Books; Greg Grandin, 2007, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. New York: Henry Holt; Chalmers Johnson, 2000. Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. New York: Henry
Holt; and 2010. Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope. New York: Henry Holt; Naomi Klein, 2007, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Picador; 2014, and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate. New York: Simon and Schuster; Alfred W. McCoy, 2009, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press; 2017, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power. Chicago: Haymarket Books; and 2021, To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. Chicago: Haymarket Books; Jan Nederveen Pieterse, 1989. Empire and Emancipation: Power and Liberation on a Global Scale. New York: Praeger; 2004. Globalization or Empire? London and New York: Routledge; and 2008. Is There Hope for Uncle Sam? Beyond the American Bubble. London and New York: Zed; William I. Robinson, 1996. Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention and Hegemony. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Kim Scipes, 1984. “Industrial Policy: Can It Lead the US Out of Its Economic Malaise?” New Labor Review, San Francisco State University Labor Studies Program, Vol. 6, Spring: 27-53. Updated in pamphlet form, December 1984. Pamphlet version is on-line at https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/35435605/industrial-policy-can-it-lead-the-us-out-of-its-economic-malaise; 2009, “Neo-Liberal Economic Policies in the United States: The Impact of Globalization on a ‘Northern’ Country.” Indian Journal of Politics and International Relations, Vol. 2, No. 1, January-June: 12-47. On-line at https://znetwork.org/znetarticle/neo-liberal-economic-policies-in-the-united-states-by-kim-scipes-1/; 2010a. The AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books; 2010b. “Why Labor Imperialism? AFL-CIO’s Foreign Policy Leaders and the Developing World.” Working USA, Vol. 13, No. 4 (December): 465-579. On-line at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263615708_Why_labor_imperialism_AFL-CIO’s_foreign_policy_leaders_and_the_developing_world; 2016a. “Labour Imperialism.” The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-imperialism, ed. by Immanuel Ness and Zak Cope. London: Palgrave Macmillan: 1294-1304. On-line at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339129986_Labour_Imperialism; 2017, “The Epic Failure of Labor Leadership in the United States, 1980-2017 and Continuing.” Class, Race and Corporate Power, Vol. 5, Issue 2, Article 5. On-line at https://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/classracecorporatepower/vol5/iss2/5; 2020a. “Is It Time for a New Labor Center in the United States?” Z Net, February 19. On-line at https://znetwork.org/znetarticle/is-it-time-for-a-new-labor-center-in-the-united-states/; 2022b. “The AFL-CIO’s Foreign Policy Program: Where Historians Now Stand.” Class, Race and Corporate Power, Vol. 8, Issue 2, Article 5 (October). On-line at https://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/classracecorporatepower/vol8/iss2/5; and Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, 2012. The Untold History of the United States. New York: Gallery Books.
Some would argue that these dominating efforts began even earlier, in 1898, with the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars. Daniel Immerwahr (2019, How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States; London: Vintage) takes it back further to the very arrival of the Europeans in the Americas in the late 1400s.
[iv] By “American nationalism,” I’m referring to the idea that the United States is the greatest country in the world, that it is superior to any others, that everybody in the world wants to live in the US, and that its’ leaders are more insightful, more knowledgeable, more compassionate than anyone else, and therefore, that everyone looks up to the US for global leadership as its leaders are righteous, their motives are “pure,” and this country is as close to paradise on earth as humanly exists. Its actions, therefore, are unassailable. This is fantasy projected as truth; it is an ideology, not based on any rational analysis of its history, nor on any rational basis today of US strengths and weaknesses. It is nonsense.
This American nationalism is based on white supremacy, the idea that the lowest, no account white person is superior to the most accomplished person of color. It, too, is based on fantasy and requires a complete and conscious misunderstanding of US history. It is a total lie.
For an example of the deleterious effects of this American nationalism, it is argued that it helps drive the labor imperialism of the foreign policy leaders of the AFL-CIO (see Scipes, 2010a, 2010b, 2016a, 2022b).
[v] In an excellent article discussing militarism in the US, and US military operations in a number of countries, David Gibbs (2012. “The Military-Industrial Complex in a Globalized Context” in Ronald W. Cox, ed, 2012. Corporate Power and Globalization in US Foreign Policy. London and New York: Routledge.: 95-113) puts this at least somewhat (not totally) in the context of globalization; as will be seen below, I disagree with this approach, and think he should have used the term “empire” instead of “military-industrial complex.” I think his argument strongly supports the concept of empire.
[vi] I first met Dr. Jan Nederveen Pieterse when I attended the Institute for Social Studies in The Hague, The Netherlands at the invitation of Dr. Peter Waterman to do a Master’s Degree in Development Studies in August 1990 (briefly discussed in Scipes, 2021, Building Global Labor Solidarity: Lessons from the Philippines, South Africa, Northwestern Europe, and the United States (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.: xvi-xvii). As will be seen, Nederveen Pieterse’s (unhyphenated double last name) work has had a profound impact on my subsequent development, and my referencing a number of his works is due to his foresight and clarity of his thinking and not simply because his mentorship and advice over the last 30 some-odd years.
[vii] This section draws heavily on Scipes (2010a, b, 2016a), where I discuss and further develop the concept of imperialism and then specifically labor imperialism.
[viii] McNamara made his claim in Errol Morris’ 2003 film, “The Fog of War.”
In Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), which I have visited several times and where I taught during the summers of 2017 and ’18 at Ton Duc Thang University, the Remnants of War Museum has been established to remember the war in all of its tragedy. There are rooms dedicated to the victims of Agent Orange poisoning, which continues to effect people currently, and some of the pictures are so shocking that this former US Marine has never been able to completely make it through the specific exhibition.
[ix] While I think many people know somewhat about the CIA—see Blum, 2000, 2014, 2015—the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) is much less known. William Robinson (1996) writes extensively about their operations, and I discuss it in my 2010 book, AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers (Scipes, 2010a: 96-105.). Also, for a couple of articles on their efforts in Venezuela, see Scipes, 2005 (“An Unholy Alliance: The AFL-CIO and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Venezuela.” On-line at https://znetwork.org/znetarticle/an-unholy-alliance-by-Kim-Scipes, and 2014a, “National Endowment for Democracy: A Tool of US Empire in Venezuela.” CommonDreams.org, February 26; for more recent US operations against Venezuela, see also Tim Gill (2020. “Newly Revealed Documents Show How the AFL-CIO Aided Interference in Venezuela.” Jacobin, August 5. On-line at https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/08/venezuela-hugo-chavez-afl-cio-united-states), Gill and Rebecca Hanson (2019, “How Washington Funded the Counterrevolution in Venezuela.” The Nation, February 6. On-line at https://thenation.com/article/archive/venezuela-washington-funded-counterrevolution/), and Hanson and Gill (2019, “Venezuela at Another Crossroads.” North American Congress on Latin America, January 24. On-line at https://nacla.org/news/2019/01/24/venezuela-another-crossroads..
[x] While the immediate focus herein is on the “weaker” country, I want to recognize that the “benefits” that go to the imperial country overall are not distributed equally to its peoples; these imperial country benefits are “shared” accordingly; i.e., unequally. In fact, until people at the lower levels of an imperial country organize themselves so as to be able to force their elites to share the economic benefits, most if not all of the benefits are confined to the coffers of the elites, while the workers in the imperial country suffer continued exploitation.
The one time American workers have forced the political and economic elites to share their bounty has been during the 1948-1973 years, a period known as the “golden years of the US economy,” a result of massive expansion of the US labor movement in the 1930s and ‘40s, and its willingness to fight. Although extremely influential on those who lived during this period, this period is an aberration in US history, and there are no indications that it will ever be replicated or repeated.
At the same time, however, it is primarily young, “working class” and poor men (and increasingly women) who are sent off by the elites to do their dirty work against the peoples of any targeted country, and who pay for this the rest of their lives—if they don’t lose them in combat or other military service—with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), alcoholism, etc. (see Gordon, Early, and Cravens, 2022, Our Veterans: Winners, Losers, Friends, and Enemies on the New Terrain of Veterans Affairs. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.). The best of these veterans come to realize what they bought into and organize to oppose this, whether on active duty or, more commonly, after they get out. The best example of this is VVAW, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which is still around, and the wonderful paper The Veteran tells our story: www.vvaw.org. (This writer is a former Sergeant in the US Marine Corps who “turned around” while on active duty, 1969-73; fortunately, I was never sent to fight in Vietnam.)
[xi] This is based on the concept of “hegemony,” advanced by the Italian political theorist and Marxist activist Antonio Gramsci (1971, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Ed, by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Newell Smith. New York: International Publishers) in the 1930s. Hegemony is a more nuanced form of control than suggested by the term “domination”; it recognizes social conflict, thus recognizing antagonistic interests, and refers to the idea of maintaining control by the stronger party through garnering “consent” from those it oppresses. Basically, hegemony requires the dominating party to only win enough of the conflicts to maintain control, whereas domination requires winning every contest; the concept of hegemony allows more flexibility to controlling efforts than does domination.
I want to thank Kayla Vasilko, during personal conversations, for encouraging me to include the issues of hegemony and consent into my analysis.
[xii] This is not of insignificant amounts of value.
Hickel, et. al., argue that in 2015, and using prevailing market prices, “the [global] North net expropriated from the South 12 billion tons of embodied raw material equivalents, 822 million hectares of embodied land, 21 exajoules of embodied energy, and 188 million person years of embodied labour, worth $10.8 trillion in Northern prices-enough to end extreme poverty 70 times over. Over the whole period [1990-2015], drain from the South totaled $242 trillion (constant 2010 USD). This drain represents a significant windfall for the global North, equivalent to a quarter of Northern GDP” (Jason Hickel, Christian Dorninger, Hanspeter Wieland, and Intan Suwandi, 2022, “Imperialist Appropriation in the World Economy: Drain from the Global South Through Unequal Exchange, 1990-2015.” Global Environmental Change, Vol. 73, 102467. On-line at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095937802200005X?via%3Dihub.
[xiii] As stated in a previous article: “This point could be debated, as many Marxists have a broader understanding of imperialism than mere economics. However, on a theoretical basis, this author argues that Lenin’s approach is economistic, and it is a theoretical basis that is being discussed here. In other words, in practice, the conceptualization has not been so limited, but practice has extended beyond what the theory allows” (Scipes, 2010b: 277, fn. #4).
Gramsci’s concept of hegemony extends dominatory relations beyond the mere economics of Lenin, focusing on the issue of social control, but arguably does not go beyond the economistic logic of Lenin’s imperialism.
[xiv] To clarify: although we refer to these processes by a common name of imperialism, the particulars vary on the ground. Thus, the way the British treated their colonies differed from the French, the Dutch, and Americans, etc.; at the same time, however, the processes of domination varied across colonies controlled by the same imperial country: how the British treated India differed from their treatment of their North American colonies and from Nigeria.
[xv] The Haitian Revolution of 1791 being a key example, having a profound impact on world history, although rarely acknowledged: in addition to everything else, it challenges the myth of white supremacy.
The Haitians overthrew the (French) colonial regime, and then defeated Napoleon’s army when it invaded to restore colonial rule. They defeated the British Army when it tried to take advantage of the French failure. (To put in current terminology from boxing, these were the number 1 and number 2 contenders for heavyweight champion of the world at the time). See CLR James, 1963, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Santo Domingo Revolution. New York: Vintage.
In turn, this was the primary reason that Napoleon sold “New France” to the United States in 1803: without naval bases in Haiti, he could not defend his supply lines to New Orleans in the Western Atlantic and Caribbean from the British and Spanish navies, and various “pirates.” New France was huge—most of today’s continental United States west of the Mississippi River except for the southwest, which was then controlled by Spain. Selling to the US also precluded possible war in the future with France, as it was likely that the “Americans” would want to continue their “westward expansion.”
The Haitians also supported Simon Bolivar’s efforts to win freedom in northern South America, and helped inspire Nat Turner’s rebellion in the US slave states.
I wonder why we’re generally not taught this in US schools…?
[xvi] This paragraph from Scipes, 2018 [“In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017): A Review Essay.” Class, Race and Corporate Power, Vol. 6, Iss. 1, Article 7 (April). On-line at https://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/classracecorporatepower/vol6/iss1/7], where I review extensively McCoy’s 2017 book.
Although he uses the term “Military-Industrial Complex,” I believe Gibbs’ (2012) description and analysis more properly fits under “empire.”
[xvii] For the origins of the National Security Act of 1947, and a compilation of related documents, see Rachel Santarsiero, compiler and editor, 2022, “The National Security Act Turns 75.” National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington, DC. On-line at https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/intelligence/2022-07-26/national-security-act-turns-75.
[xviii] A few countries—such as American Samoa and Puerto Rico (and probably others)—still remain colonies today. A few remaining countries in every empire probably have not gotten their political independence. Nonetheless, in general, these countries can be identified as “former colonies.”
[xix] There is a rich literature on the Philippines’ colonial and neocolonial relationships with the United States. For one article that discusses the neocolonial relationship in a way that explicates this relationship, see Kim Scipes (1999, “Global Economic Crisis, Neoliberal Solutions, and the Philippines.” Review of the Month, Monthly Review, Vol. 51, No. 7, December. On-line at https://monthlyreview.org/1999/12/01/global-economic-crisis-neoliberal-solutions-and-the-philippines/. For more in-depth studies, see Stephen Rosskamm Shalom, 1981, The United States and the Philippines: A Study of Neocolonialism (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, Inc.; Robin Broad, 1988, Unequal Alliance: The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Philippines (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press); James K. Boyce, 1993, The Philippines: The Political Economy of Growth and Impoverishment in the Marcos Era (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press); and Walden Bello, 2009, The Anti-development State: The Political Economy of Permanent Crisis in the Philippines (Manila: Anvil Publishing).
There are some countries that have pulled out of the economically-dependent relationship with previous colonial masters, becoming “post-colonial,” and have been rewarded with the undying enmity of the United States Empire, which has sought to punish them for such gall and has imposed heavy economic and political sanctions; Cuba after the 1959 Castro-led revolution, and Venezuela since the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez are prime examples. Two previous examples, over a longer time period and with more complex histories, are Russia/Soviet Union and China.
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