Fifty years ago this month, beginning in early October 1965 and extending for months afterwards, the United States helped engineer a violent end to the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). Between 500,000 and a million Indonesians were killed by conservative factions of the military led by General Suharto and by right-wing Muslim youth—all with the direct involvement of the CIA, the close cooperation of the U.S. Embassy and State Department, and the guidance of the Johnson administration’s National Security Council.… In forthcoming issues of Monthly Review we are planning to publish work on the Indonesian genocide, which, alongside the Vietnam War, constitutes a major turning point in the history of Southeast Asia in the period, and one of the most brutal acts of mass carnage inflicted by imperialism in the twentieth century. The dire implications of this carry down to the present day.
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is the think tank of monopoly-finance capital, Wall Street’s think tank. It is also a membership organization: the ultimate networking, socializing, strategic-planning, and consensus-forming institution of the dominant sector of the U.S. capitalist class.… It is the world’s most powerful private organization, the “high command” body of the U.S. plutocracy. The Council has an almost century-long history of forming study groups to plan the United States’ overall “grand” strategic policies. It sets the agenda for debate, builds consensus among both the powerful and attentive publics, and then inserts its own network of people into public office to implement its favored doctrines in the real world. One of its latest efforts, a study group on U.S. grand strategy toward China, completed its work and issued a report in March 2015—approved by the CFR board of directors—entitled Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China.
May’s Review of the Month, “Honor the Vietnamese, Not Those Who Killed Them” by MR Associate Editor Michael D. Yates, has elicited many responses. One writer said that Yates had written the best, but perhaps the first, Marxist analysis of the war. Another praised Monthly Review for having the courage to publish this article. Still a third predicted that in the more distant future, humanity would embrace the essay’s judgment and honor the Vietnamese people for their heroic struggle against the overwhelming might of the U.S. military.… In light of these comments, as well as the subject matter of this double issue of Monthly Review on imperialism, we thought it might be worthwhile to say something more about what the Vietnamese themselves naturally enough call the American War, with an eye toward drawing important lessons useful for contemporary radicals.
It is now a universal belief on the left that the world has entered a new imperialist phase.… The challenge for Marxian theories of the imperialist world system in our times is to capture the full depth and breadth of the classical accounts, while also addressing the historical specificity of the current global economy. It will be argued in this introduction (in line with the present issue as a whole) that what is widely referred to as neoliberal globalization in the twenty-first century is in fact a historical product of the shift to global monopoly-finance capital or what Samir Amin calls the imperialism of “generalized-monopoly capitalism.”
Lenin, Bukharin, Stalin, and Trotsky in Russia, as well as Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Den Xiaoping in China, shaped the history of the two great revolutions of the twentieth century. As leaders of revolutionary communist parties and then later as leaders of revolutionary states, they were confronted with the problems faced by a triumphant revolution in countries of peripheral capitalism and forced to “revise”…the theses inherited from the historical Marxism of the Second International.… With the benefit of hindsight, I will indicate here the limitations of their analyses. Lenin and Bukharin considered imperialism to be a new stage (“the highest”) of capitalism associated with the development of monopolies. I question this thesis and contend that historical capitalism has always been imperialist, in the sense that it has led to a polarization between centers and peripheries since its origin (the sixteenth century), which has only increased over the course of its later globalized development.
Globalization is not a novel development in the history of capitalism. In his final Monthly Review article, Paul Sweezy argued that globalization is a process, and that it has been occurring for a long time.… The accumulation of capital…has always meant expansion. Furthermore, this very process of growing and spreading is global in scope and, most importantly, imperialistic in its characteristics. Marxist scholars have long argued that imperialism has always accompanied capitalism…. Nevertheless, even if we start with the idea that globalization—or global capitalist expansion—is not novel, this does not trample the argument that the development of such expansion is marked by new characteristics in certain periods. Examining these historically specific characteristics can highlight the imperialistic “nature” of capitalism throughout history, including the development of our current global economy, which will be the focus of this essay.
In this article, we aim to demonstrate that the low prices of goods produced in the global South and the attendant modest contribution of its exports to the Gross Domestic Product of the North conceals the real dependence of the latter’s economies on low-waged Southern labor. We argue that the relocation of industry to the global South in the past three decades has resulted in a massive increase of transferred value to the North. The principal mechanisms for this transfer are the repatriation of surplus value by means of foreign direct investment, the unequal exchange of products embodying different quantities of value, and extortion through debt servicing.
Capitalism is preeminently a money-using system where a large part of wealth is held either in the form of money or as money-denominated assets, namely financial assets. For the system to work, it is essential that the value of money should not keep declining against commodities; otherwise people would move away from holding money, and it would cease to be not just a form of wealth, but even a medium of circulation.… Hence, capitalism seeks to ensure the stability of the value of money in a number of ways. One is the maintenance of a vast reserve army of labor, not just within the metropolis but also in the third world.
The globalization of production and its shift to low-wage countries is the most significant and dynamic transformation of the neoliberal era. Its fundamental driving force is what some economists call “global labor arbitrage”: the efforts by firms in Europe, North America, and Japan to cut costs and boost profits by replacing higher-waged domestic labor with cheaper foreign labor, achieved either through emigration of production (“outsourcing,” as used here) or through immigration of workers. Reduction in tariffs and removal of barriers to capital flows have spurred the migration of production to low-wage countries, but militarization of borders and rising xenophobia have had the opposite effect on the migration of workers from these countries—not stopping it altogether, but inhibiting its flow and reinforcing migrants’ vulnerable, second-class status.
Insofar as imperialism is about the struggle over and capture of economic territory (which must be broadly defined to include not just geographical territory such as land and natural resources, but also the creation of new markets, sources of labor, and forms of surplus transfer such as are reflected in intellectual property), these changes [in imperialism since the early 20th century] have created distant demands upon imperialist structures and processes…. [So] how can capital (which is increasingly global in orientation) generate the superstructures through which the transfers of value are ensured and the investment risks are moderated and contained? It will be argued that there has been an endeavor to resolve this by refashioning the global institutional architecture in ways that operate to increase the conditions of “stability” for large capital while increasing its bargaining power vis-à-vis working people and citizens, as well as nation-states and even smaller capitalist enterprises.
As we write these notes in March 2015, the Pentagon’s official Vietnam War Commemoration, conducted in cooperation with the U.S. media, is highlighting the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. ground war in Vietnam, marked by the arrival of two Marine battalions in De Nang on March 8, 1965. This date, however, was far from constituting the beginning of the war. The first American to die of military causes in Vietnam, killed in 1945, was a member of the Office of Strategic Services (a precursor of the CIA). U.S. intelligence officers were there in support of the French war to recolonize Vietnam, following the end of the Japanese occupation in the Second World War and Vietnam’s declaration of national independence as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The French recolonization effort is sometimes called the First Indochina War in order to distinguish it from the Second Indochina War, initiated by the United States. In reality, it was all one war against the Viet Minh (Vietnamese Independence League). By the time that the Vietnamese defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the United States was paying for 80–90 percent of the cost of the war.
In a letter to Vietnam War veteran Charles McDuff, Major General Franklin Davis, Jr. said, “The United States Army has never condoned wanton killing or disregard for human life.” McDuff had written a letter to President Richard Nixon in January 1971, telling him that he had witnessed U.S. soldiers abusing and killing Vietnamese civilians and informing him that many My Lais had taken place during the war. He pleaded with Nixon to bring the killing to an end. The White House sent the letter to the general, and this was his reply.… McDuff’s letter and Davis’s response are quoted in Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, the most recent book to demonstrate beyond doubt that the general’s words were a lie.… In what follows, I use Turse’s work, along with several other books, articles, and films, as scaffolds from which to construct an analysis of how the war was conducted, what its consequences have been for the Vietnamese, how the nature of the war generated ferocious opposition to it (not least by a brave core of U.S. soldiers), how the war’s history has been whitewashed, and why it is important to both know what happened in Vietnam and why we should not forget it.