The articles on imperialism in this special issue were all written in honor of Harry Magdoff’s ninetieth birthday. Most of them grew out of papers presented at the Imperialism Today conference organized to celebrate Harry’s life and work, held in Burlington, Vermont on May 3, 2003. The conference was from our perspective an enormous success. Penetrating analyses of the current imperial moment were presented, challenging questions came from the floor, and there were good discussions and good cheer all around—despite the grim turn of world events that needed to be confronted. In the reception at the end of the day U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vermont), spoke of Harry’s achievement. As the conference participants gathered around he declared that
Volume 55, Issue 03 (July-August)
Imperialism is meant to serve the needs of a ruling class much more than a nation. It has nothing to do with democracy. Perhaps for that reason it has often been characterized as a parasitic phenomenon-even by critics as astute as John Hobson in his 1902 classic, Imperialism: A Study. And (rom there it is unfortunately all too easy to slide into the crude notion that imperialist expansion is simply a product of powerful groups of individuals who have hijacked a nation’s foreign policy to serve their own narrow ends.
I am going to start with two things with which I think nearly all MR readers will probably agree. One, imperialism is an integral part of the capitalist world-economy. It is not a special phenomenon. It has always been there. It always will be there as long as we have a capitalist world-economy. Two, we are experiencing at the moment a particularly aggressive and egregious form of imperialism, which is now even ready to claim that it is being imperialist
The war in Iraq has reconfigured the global geopolitical landscape in many ways, some of which may not be apparent for years or even decades to come. It has certainly altered the U.S. relationship with Europe and the Middle East. But its impact goes well beyond this. More than anything else, the war reveals that the new central pivot of world competition is the south-central area of Eurasia
Peter Marcuse has written (Monthly Review, July-August 2000) that globalization is a nonconcept in most usages: a simple catalogue of everything that seems different since, say, 1970, whether advances in information technology, widespread use of air freight, speculation in currencies, increased capital flows across borders, Disneyfication of culture, mass marketing, global warming, genetic engineering, multinational corporate power, new international division of labor, reduced power of nation-states, or post-Fordism. The problem is more than the careless use of words, the inclusion of everything means the term means little or nothing. Most importantly, the term fogs any effort to separate cause from effect, to analyze what is being done, by whom, to whom, for what and with what effect. To answer these questions it is necessary to reframe the discussion. Neither the amorphous globalization discourse of everyday social science nor the previously dominant one of nation-state sovereignty are satisfactory to the task
At the onset of the U.S. military invasion of Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd emotionally queried: “What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomacy when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?”
The period between September 11, 2001 and the invasion of Iraq raised many questions about the psyche of the U.S. public in general and the U.S. working class in particular. The ability of the Bush Administration to utilize fear and patriotism to refocus attention away from pressing domestic issues has been astounding. The Republican Congressional victories in November 2002 were nearly unprecedented and most likely would not have happened had the focus on Iraq not emerged during the prior summer
The movement against the war in Iraq was the largest antiwar movement that has ever taken place. Even in the United States, where opposition to the war was not as large as in many other parts of the world, demonstrations against the war grew with astonishing rapidity. Before the war began demonstrations had reached sizes that, during the war in Vietnam, took years of organizing to mobilize. The antiwar movement, in the United States as elsewhere, was also in many respects quite broad. It included not only people on the left, antiglobalization activists and peace organizations, but also churches, other religious organizations, trade unions, and many other organizations not associated with the left. And it included very large numbers of people who came to demonstrations as individuals, rather than as members of organizations, and who had never before participated in a political protest
The aggressive measures instituted by the Bush administration against immigrants and visitors of Muslim faith, or from primarily Muslim Arab and South Asian countries, seem aimed less at their putative foreign targets than at the hearts and minds of our domestic population. Packaged as post-September 11 law enforcement, the new racial profiling has netted few if any prosecutions for terrorist acts, but has done a great deal to demonize Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims, to dehumanize them, and to construct them as the enemy of America in the twenty-first century. Once the state successfully constructs an enemy group, it can justify detentions without charge, military occupation, and other drastic means of waging war against that other, the enemy
The creation and cultivation of fear is one of the pillars of empire both abroad and within the imperial “homeland.” And that fear is always accompanied by the threat of discipline, punishment, and violence. Every state uses violence to enforce its power against its enemies, but we must recognize that a major change has occurred. September 11, 2001 gave a green light for a full blown, and bipartisan, agenda of repression at home, as well as for the expanded imperial project abroad
As imperialism spirals out of control, and as the manifestations of its wickedness penetrate every pore of human existence everywhere, the resistance against it also has emerged from every cell of social and political organization, taking many diverse forms that defy easy encapsulation. As the forms of protest and resistance have multiplied, the problem of choosing an appropriate political strategy has become that much more difficult. Is the resistance to be mounted only globally? Are we to fight only licentious finance and the greed of marauding transnational corporations and leave everything else to be settled after that global fight is won? Or are we to fight every little tyranny everywhere—the corruption of municipal officials, the arrogance of party bosses seeking to control local democracy, and the callousness of public hospital authorities? And are we to treat as enemies every political formation that provides succor and comfort to such petty tyrants and overweening bureaucrats?