What are the new features of current imperialism, as opposed to the one described by Hilferding, Kautsky, Lenin, Luxembourg? Is it a policentric phenomenon, a new "allotment of the world," a "government of monopolies," a "last and highest stage of capitalism" or something else?
startling aspect of the 21st century something that is genuinely
new is that we have, for the first time in human history, the existence
of a single Empire. This is not the abstract utopian 'empire' of Hardt-Negri,
but something very concrete and real. The dominant position of the United
States has no precedent in history. The figures speak for themselves:
there are 189 member states of the United Nations, there is a US military
presence in 121 countries. We are closer now to the 'ultra-imperialism'
of Karl Kautsky than ever before. Kautsky's text, 'Der Imperialismus,'
was written before the outbreak of the First World War, but published
afterwards despite the fact that the war itself, a classic demonstration
of inter-imperialist contradictions, had dynamited Kautsky's central thesis,
namely, that the latest phase of capitalist development would abolish
inter-imperialist conflicts forever.
Nonetheless the existence of a 'communist world' forced capitalism to discipline its competitive urges in the politico-military sphere. The US re-built German, Japanese and West European capitalism that had been devastated by the war and, in return, these states accepted US leadership. In Kautsky's words the 'result of the World war between the great imperialist powers may be a federation of the strongest, who renounce their arms race.' What he predicted after the First World War actually happened after the Second one.
long as the non-capitalist world existed there was still some space for
manouevre. The French under de Gaulle and the Scandinavians, were strongly
opposed to the US war in Vietnam. And not a single NATO country dispatched
troops to help the US war effort in South-East Asia. The collapse of 1989
changed all that and brought about a new unarmed struggle for hegemony.
There could only be one victor: the United States.
This question was not posed by isolated Marxists in the Western academies. It was first raised in the White House during the reign of George Bush I. An Afghan-American ideologue, Zalmay Khalilzad, published an essay in which he suggested that US hegemony had to be preserved at all costs. If necessary by force! The disintegration of Yugoslavia a direct result of global economics and inter-imperialist rivalries within the European Union concentrated the Clinton White House. US intervention in the Yugoslav civil war was an assertion of raw power Rwanda where a real genocide was in motion was ignored.
Is the war economy a basic component of current imperialism? Is it consistent with global chain networks, free trade, neoliberalism?
Yes. The Washington consensus includes wars necessary to preserve the consensus. The founder of neo-liberalism, Friedrich von Hayek, was a staunch imperialist. He suggested that Teheran be bombed in 1979-80 and advised Margaret Thatcher to bomb Buenos Aires during the Malvinas conflict.
wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq had, as one of their aims, the 'opening up'
of the market. US corporations are heavily involved in plans to privatise
Iraqi oil and 'reconstruct' the country. Haliburton and Bechtel, the two
corporations closely tied to the ruling elite in the US, hope to benefit
from the Occupation, though the growing resistance might make that difficult.
The privileged status of the defense industry in the United States reflects
the strength of the military-industrial complex. For a long time Marxist
theorists studied imperialism largely from the vantage point of economics.
Is there a new dominant imperialist ideology? Which ideological elements are really new? Is it a worldwide dominant or hegemonic ideology?
Yes, as I
have explained above it is the American consensus that dominates the world
(with the single exception of Cuba and, partially, Venezuela). The economic
basis of this consensus is hardly a secret: prising open the hitherto
hallowed domains of public provision to private capital. The state's control
of health, education, housing, broadcasting which was the
basis of social-democracy in Western Europe has been effectively
dismantled. Speculation has become the hub of all economic activity with
the unscrupulous use of employee pension funds to shore up profits. The
Enron and WorldCom scandals have made no difference at all. In the absence
of any serious political alternative, capital remains confident.
What is the meaning of cultural imperialism? Is the cultural dimension a basic feature of current imperialism?
Cultural imperialism = Starbucks + Hollywood. The control of the means of information by the corporations has meant the curtailing of diversity. Television is strictly controlled. The coverage of the Iraq war on CNN and BBC World was pure propaganda. Fox TV (owned by Murdoch) would have won the approval of Goebbels. The US control of cinema distribution has compelled its rivals to try and mimic Hollywood successes. Opposition comes from the margins: Iranian, Korean and Chinese cinema; al-Jazeera TV Latin America needs its own equivalents. An al-Bolivar TV that reports what is really happening in Venezuela or Bolivia or Brazil would be a sensational development. The notion that private TV networks are 'free' is now seen to be a sick joke. The use of these networks in Venezuela to destabilise and overthrow an elected regime is reminiscent of the use of the print media against Salvador Allende in Chile.
As a global structure of power, imperialism may be considered a system of conflicts. What are the limits of its power and its basic contradictions? What are the forces fighting inside current imperialism? Is there an emergent "counter-power"? Which are the main conflicts confronted by imperialism as a global domination system? Which factors are shaping imperialist trends in the long run?
The major resistance to imperialism today comes from the social movements in Latin America, the Palestinians and, recently, the resistance in <Iraq. The> recolonisation of Iraq is not proceeding smoothly. The resistance in the country (and in Palestine) is not, as Israeli and Western propagandists like to argue, a case of Islam gone mad. It is, in both cases, a direct consequence of the occupation.
Before the recent war, some of us argued that the Iraqi people, however much they despised Saddam Hussein, would not take kindly to being occupied by the United States and its British adjutant.
Contrary to the cocooned Iraqis who had been on the US payroll for far too long and who told George Bush that US troops would be garlanded with flowers and given sweets, we warned that the occupation would lead to the harrying and killing of Western soldiers every day and would soon develop into a low-intensity guerilla war.
The fact that events have vindicated this analysis is no reason to celebrate. The entire country is now in a mess and the situation is much worse than it was before the conflict.
The only explanation provided by Western news managers for the resistance is that these are dissatisfied remnants of the old regime.
Washington contradicted its propaganda by deciding to recruit the real remnants of the old state apparatus the secret police to try to track down the resistance organisations, which number more than 40 different groups. The demonstrations in Basra and the deaths of more British soldiers are a clear indication these former bastions of anti-Saddam sentiment are now prepared to join the struggle.
of the UN headquarters in Baghdad shocked the West, but as Jamie Tarabay
of the Associated Press reported in a dispatch from the Iraqi capital,
there is a deep ambivalence towards the UN among ordinary Iraqis. This
is an understatement.
In fact, the UN is seen as one of Washington's more ruthless enforcers. It supervised the sanctions that, according to UNICEF figures, were directly responsible for the deaths of half a million Iraqi children and a horrific rise in the mortality rate. Two senior UN officials, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, resigned in protest against these policies, explaining that the UN had failed in its duties to the people of Iraq.
Simultaneously the US and Britain, with UN approval, rained hundreds of tonnes of bombs and thousands of missiles on Iraq from 1992 onwards and, in 1999, US officials calmly informed The Wall Street Journal that they had run out of targets.
By 2001, the bombardment of Iraq had lasted longer than the US invasion of Vietnam.
That's why the UN is not viewed sympathetically by many Iraqis. The recent Security Council decision to retrospectively sanction the occupation, a direct breach of the UN charter, has only added to the anger.
All this poses the question of whether the UN today is anything more than a cleaning-up operation for the American Empire?
The effects of the Iraqi resistance are now beginning to be felt in both the occupying countries. The latest Newsweek poll reveals that President Bush's approval ratings are down 18 points to 53 per cent and, for the first time since September 11, more registered voters (49 per cent) say they would not like to see him re-elected. This can only get worse (or better, depending on one's point of view) as US casualties in Iraq continue to rise.
A contrast with the Vietnam war might be instructive. The anti-war movement of the 1960s was not simply an anti-war movement. It was also a movement that wanted victory for one side, that wanted the Vietnamese to win. So that gave it extra zest. People knew which side they were on. It was ultra-radical for that reason.
The anti-war movement that erupted before the Iraq war was certainly broader and much larger. You can put all the Vietnam demonstrations together and add them up and, globally, it was 100 times larger. But, this was not a movement supporting one side because no-one in the anti-war movement supported Saddam Hussein it was rather a movement trying to stop a war that many people believed was completely unjustified.
And not just unjustified, but the reasons for it were kept completely hidden from public view by the US and British governments. It wasn't about weapons of mass destruction. It was about capturing an oil-producing country with a regime that was very hostile to Israel, which was giving money to the Palestinians. These were the reasons for that war apart from being a way of showing just what imperial power is and what it can do.
they were being lied to. They were not happy about this war. They felt
it was irrational. That explains the size of the mobilisations. It brought
out large numbers of people who were not usually political. The reason
the 'Vietnam syndrome' was such a force is that the Vietnamese people
inflicted a defeat on the US. Fifty-thousand US soldiers died in that
war. The Americans could not maintain their hold on that country and were
forced to withdraw as a result of the combination of Vietnamese military
successes and the fact that the anti-war movement had spread into the
US army itself. GIs opposed to the war organised large demonstrations
of GIs outside the Pentagon and this scared the living daylights out of
them. To say that the US war against Vietnam was brought to an end because
of the [Western] anti-war movement is wrong. It was because the Vietnamese
people had been resisting three big empires for a long, long time and
everyone knew the history of that struggle.
I think there is demoralisation, but I don't think people should be too demoralised. The war in Iraq isn't going well for Washington. The US administration thought it would capture Iraq and everyone there would welcome them. That hasn't happened. There is a resistance movement and it is not just made up of the remnants of the Baath Party. There are lots of other people resisting the occupation as well.
The only people capable of stopping the US-led occupation is the resistance in the region.
If this resistance carries on, I think the US will switch its tactics, probably by bringing in blue-helmeted United Nations mercenaries to run Iraq for them. For the US, the main thing in Iraq is to push through the privatisation of Iraq's oil, to achieve the liberalisation of the Iraqi economy and to get the big US corporations in there. They are not too concerned as to how the country will be run, as long as that sort of economic structure is maintained.
Ultimately, this Empire too, like its predecessors will overstretch itself and come to an end. I think by that time many of us will be dead, but our grandchildren might see that day.
Tariq Ali's latest book, Bush in Babylon: The Re-colonisation of Iraq,
is published by Verso. He can be reached at: [email protected]
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