Reflections on Post US Elections Geopolitics Part Two: Imperialism and Revolution

In Part One I traced the rise of Ronald Trump and his distinct ideology which could be termed “Trumpism” – a strongly nationalist ideology outside the mainstream Establishment.  Trump won against great odds. How far he will succeed in his “independent” drumbeat we shall examine in Part Three on “Economic Nationalism”, and in Part Five on the “Deep State and the Establishment”.  In this segment we look at the wider context to the US elections.

IMPERIALISM

Western denial of the reality of imperialism

People in the West, including well-meaning NGOs and people otherwise sympathetic to Africa, have difficulty recognizing the reality of imperialism. In my book, Trade is War, I wrote this:

I have sought to find an explanation in both Western culture and history to illuminate this mental blockage, but I have not come up with a good answer. … I have often wondered why Hitler is described in almost all Western literature as a “fascist” but never as an imperialist. Could it be that calling Hitler an imperialist is too perilously close to looking at a mirror image? Today, many Westerners, including intellectuals, deny the existence of imperialism. [i]

In the book I related my experience at a conference I attended in November 1995, in Maastricht, Netherlands. I was engaged in a public debate with Herman Cohen, a former US Under-Secretary of State for African Affairs. The debate was on “democracy and governance” in Africa. When I used the word “imperialism” to describe the situation in Africa, Cohen countered by saying I was “anachronistic”, and that imperialism was simply “a figment of Tandon’s imagination”. I did not have to answer him; Africans amongst the audience gave him several concrete examples of imperialism. Cohen was unmoved, his mind blocked by a serious case of what I call Intransigent Imperialism Rejection Syndrome (IIRS).

So for those that suffer from IIRS, let me define imperialism.  Imperialism is a particular kind of relationship that arose in the wake of 19-20th century colonialism. It may not be reduced to any kind of asymmetrical power relationship. Could the relations between the USA and Europe, for example, be described also as imperialist? No. Why not? Because although they have unequal power, at the global level they are both imperialist powers – partners and competitors perpetrating the same crime. They compete and collaborate to maintain a system of production and consumption based on the exploitation of the rich resources – including labour – of the South.  Imperialism is a concrete, existential, phenomenon. It cannot be simply wished away by a rude dismissive gesture of your hands – as Cohen did to me at Maastricht.

Imperialism’s sanitised version – Free Trade Globalisation (FTG)

During the last thirty years – to be precise, during the reign of Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the US – a sanitised version of imperialism has appeared. It is called “Free Trade Globalisation”.  In fact, it has gone beyond the 19-20th Century reality of imperialism. It is presented as a “scientific truth” – like gravity: nobody can escape the gravitational pull of FTG; all one can do is to mitigate some of its negative effects.

Theresa May, in her first foreign policy speech at London Lord Mayor’s banquet on 14 November 2016, promised to “make globalisation work for all”. It has “left behind” too many people, she said. In the Post-Brexit period, Britain has a “historic” opportunity to take on “a new role as the global champion of free trade.”[ii]  So for Theresa May, FTG is like gravity – all you can do is to slow its force that is pulling down people to poverty!

Free Trade Globalisation has become the Empire’s new liturgy. We will show in the last segment (Part 6), that FTG is not irresistible; there is nothing “scientific” about it. In the book “Trade is War” I show that there has never, ever, been something called “free trade” since the rise of capitalism circa 500 years ago.

Clinton versus Trump: who is the imperialist ideologist?

The answer is clear: Clinton is the imperialist jingoist. Under her as Secretary of State the US and NATO went to war against Libya, well beyond the UN Security Council mandate. The end of the war was the gruesome death of Gaddafi cornered in a hell-hole. Clinton, on viewing this on the screen, remarked with mocking, derisive laughter: “We came, we saw, he died”.

In his “Inside the Invisible Government: War, Propaganda, Clinton and Trump” John Pilger writes:

In 2011, Libya … was destroyed on the pretext that Muammar Gaddafi was about to commit genocide on his own people.  That was the incessant news; and there was no evidence. It was a lie. In fact, Britain, Europe and the United States wanted what they like to call “regime change” in Libya, the biggest oil producer in Africa. Gaddafi’s influence in the continent and, above all, his independence were intolerable. So he was murdered with a knife in his rear by fanatics, backed by America, Britain and France.  … According to its own records, NATO launched 9,700 “strike sorties” … They included missiles with uranium warheads. … [Look at] the mass graves identified by the Red Cross. The UNICEF report on the children killed says, “most [of them] under the age of ten”.

As a direct consequence, Sirte became the capital of ISIS. To the militarists in Washington, the real problem with Trump is that, in his lucid moments, he seems not to want a war with Russia; he wants to talk with the Russian president, not fight him; he says he wants to talk with the president of China.[iii]

NATIONALISM AND FASCISM

Most “left-liberal” organisations in Europe come from a strong internationalist background and socialist ideology. They regularly identify nationalism with fascism or neo-fascism.  Why, one might ask, is “socialism” acceptable but not “nationalism”?  What’s wrong with nationalism?[iv]

Good nationalism, Bad nationalism

Nationalism is not too much of a problem in the United States, where they celebrate it with passion. 240 years ago the thirteen American colonies declared independence from England – an event celebrated on July 4 every year. But nationalism is acceptable for the white Americans, not for the (coloured) Latinos, Africans and Asians. Nationalism is good for America, bad for the global South.

There is an interesting difference here between the US and Europe. In Europe there is general hostility against nationalism – prominently amongst the “left” but NOT amongst the “right”. In America, on the other hand, there is hostility against (and only against) third world nationalism cutting across the left-right political divide.  Why?

Let me offer an explanation.

In Western Europe anti-nationalism has, essentially, two sources. One is the experience of “national socialism” under Hitler. Since then socialism was rescued, but nationalism became a dirty word. The second is the experience of the Second World War which had its origins in Europe. One of the strongest arguments against Brexit (Britain exiting the EU) was that the European Union has been a strong deterrent against another intra-European war, and against the resurgence of nationalism.

In Europe, thus, there is a palpable alarm in “left-liberal” circles about nationalism’s resurgence, often equated with “neo-fascism” or “populism” – or both.  In recent years we have seen the rise of the National Front in France, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Danish People’s Party in Denmark, the Progress Party in Norway, and the  UK Independence Party (UKIP).  Many of these parties rejoiced at the UK’s Brexit vote, hailing it as a triumph for their own nationalist positions. Not surprisingly, they also hailed Trump’s victory.

There is a third reason.  And this is shared by the “liberal-left” Americans and Europeans alike.  This reason is Russia. Russia is often singled out in the Western mainstream media for its nationalism. For example, on 20 November 2014 the (London) Economist carried an article entitled: “Nationalism is back”. “The most serious threat to the stability of Europe …” it said, “remains Russian nationalism. The biggest security question facing Europe—and perhaps the world—will be whether President Putin rides the nationalist wave he has helped to create, and continues to threaten Ukraine and even the Baltic states.”[v]

In the US, Trump has no problem with Russia or Putin. Hillary Clinton cannot stand Putin. “We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military”, she said, “who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber-attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election.”[vi]

The Essence of Fascism

One of the most insightful analysts of fascism was the economic historian Karl Polanyi, author of the classic “The Great Transformation”.  He described the link between global capital and state power as “Globalised Fascism” – way before the rest of us began to talk about globalisation in the post-1980s era.  Polanyi witnessed the rise of fascism and devoted much effort to understand it in order to better fight it. As he put it: “After the abolition of the political democratic sphere, economic life alone remains; capitalism as organised in the different sectors of industry becomes the whole of society. It is the fascist solution.”[vii]

For a more contemporary understanding of this phenomenon, see: Samir Amin, The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism, Monthly Review, 2014.

 

THE NATIONAL QUESTION

As I said earlier, the “left-liberal” in Europe and America do not recognise the National Question. It is missing, for example, in an otherwise excellent study called “The Communist Manifesto: A Weapon of War” by Doug Enaa Greene. He says: “Despite being written over 160 years ago, the Communist Manifesto remains as relevant as ever.” [viii]  However, there is no mention of the National Question – a debate that goes back (under various formulations) in the writings of Marx, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Mao, Castro … and in more recent times, Dani Wadada Nabudere, Samir Amin and other Marxist revolutionaries.

In a debate with Patrick Bond in 2014 I argued against his thesis that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are “sub-imperialist” countries. This arises, I argued, from Bond’s non-recognition or inadequate understanding of the National Question.[ix]  I will not get into that debate here.  I will simply refer readers to further analysis of the National Question in two books. One is Reclaiming the Nation: The Return of the National Question in Africa, Asia and Latin America (2011) edited by Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros (Pluto Press); and the other is Nationalism and National Projects in Southern Africa: New Critical Reflections (2013), Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Fenix Ndhlovu, especially Part Four on “National Question, Ethnicity and Citizenship”.

Summary and conclusions

  1. Imperialism is an existential reality in our times. Western denial of it arises out of what I call the Intransigent Imperialism Rejection Syndrome (IIRS).
  2. Today imperialism exists in its sanitised version –it is called “Free Trade Globalisation” (FTG)
  3. Between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, evidence shows clearly that it is Clinton who the imperialist ideologist.
  4. For the American and European “left-liberal”, socialism is acceptable but not nationalism (except if you are a white American and celebrate the 4th of July every year).
  5. In Europe, following the massive influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa (a product mainly of Western imperialist interventionist foreign policy in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and other places), there is a resurgence of nationalism, often equated with “neo-fascism” or “populism” – or both.
  6. Fascism has deeper roots. As Polanyi explained, there is a symbiotic link between global capital and state power reproduced as “Globalised Fascism”.
  7. The Western “left-liberal” political elite, academia, and the media have a blind spot that obliterates the National Question from their vision. Unlike nationalism in the West which turns aggressive under imperialism, nationalism in the global South is defensive, and is aimed at completing the struggle for national independence from “globalised fascism”.

We shall return to some of these issues in the later segments of this series.

@Yash Tandon

20 November, 2016

[i] See: Tandon (2015), Trade is War, Chapter 6: From War to Peace – The Theory and Practice of Revolutionary Change.

[ii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37966519

[iii] http://johnpilger.com/articles/inside-the-invisible-government-war-propaganda-clinton-trump

[iv] The day after the US elections, I received a circular from my friends at the Global Justice Network (GJN) – a justice oriented campaigning NGO – with who I am generally in agreement for 90 percent of the time. The circular started with the following: “We have woken up this morning to the most shocking news. An extreme nationalist has won the US presidential election on a campaign filled with racism, misogyny and hatred.”

[v] http://www.economist.com/news/21631966-bad-news-international-co-operation-nationalism-back

[vi] http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/oct/19/hillary-clinton/hillary-clinton-blames-russia-putin-wikileaks

[vii] Polanyi, Karl (1957), The Great Transformation. The Political and Economic Origins of our Times, Beacon Press, 2001.

[viii] http://links.org.au/communist-manifesto-marx-engels-weapon-war-greene

[ix] http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/91832

 


  1. UserFriendlyyy

    This is a very insightful piece. I only have one note. I disagree with the assertion that nazis were socialist. I much prefer the brilliant economist Kalecki’s 1943 definition of fascism in his astounding work ‘The Political Aspects of Full Employment’

    “One of the important functions of fascism, as typified by the Nazi system, was to remove capitalist objections to full employment.

    The dislike of government spending policy as such is overcome under fascism by the fact that the state machinery is under the direct control of a partnership of big business with fascism. The necessity for the myth of ‘sound finance’, which served to prevent the government from offsetting a confidence crisis by spending, is removed. In a democracy, one does not know what the next government will be like. Under fascism there is no next government.

    The dislike of government spending, whether on public investment or consumption, is overcome by concentrating government expenditure on armaments. Finally, ‘discipline in the factories’ and ‘political stability’ under full employment are maintained by the ‘new order’, which ranges from suppression of the trade unions to the concentration camp. Political pressure replaces the economic pressure of unemployment.

    2. The fact that armaments are the backbone of the policy of fascist full employment has a profound influence upon that policy’s economic character. Large-scale armaments are inseparable from the expansion of the armed forces and the preparation of plans for a war of conquest. They also induce competitive rearmament of other countries. This causes the main aim of spending to shift gradually from full employment to securing the maximum effect of rearmament. As a result, employment becomes ‘over-full’. Not only is unemployment abolished, but an acute scarcity of labour prevails. Bottlenecks arise in every sphere, and these must be dealt with by the creation of a number of controls. Such an economy has many features of a planned economy, and is sometimes compared, rather ignorantly, with socialism. However, this type of planning is bound to appear whenever an economy sets itself a certain high target of production in a particular sphere, when it becomes a target economy of which the armament economy is a special case. An armament economy involves in particular the curtailment of consumption as compared with that which it could have been under full employment.

    The fascist system starts from the overcoming of unemployment, develops into an armament economy of scarcity, and ends inevitably in war.”
    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/08/kalecki-on-the-political-obstacles-to-achieving-full-employment.html

    I think it goes a little bit further into why the ideology had any appeal at all.

    This may just be semantics but, as far as modern day equivalents go I agree that there are many fascistic elements in late capitalism, but none have the totality of fascism. I would certainly say that US imperialism is darn close but in my mind fascism doesn’t allow for dissent in any form. That totalitarian aspect is certainly a goal, but they haven’t managed to shut up loud mouths like me that hate everything about my country yet. US imperialism is somewhere between bastardized and aspirational fascism.

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