Decline of Empire?
BY JAAN LAAMAN
Reading about empires, whether the history of Rome, China, Byzantine or the more recent ones like Spain, Portugal and England, certain developments and events, can be seen as significant turning points which ultimately led to the demise and fall of the empire. Of course looking in hindsight, it is relatively easy to see what changes and events were significant to the fall of that empire.
In our early 21st century world, the “sole superpower,” “unmatched military power,” “policeman of the world,” “leader of the Western world,” is the United States. The principle modern empire of the world today is the U.S.A. state. Within the U.S.A. state there are laws and elections and two dominant capitalist parties that produce the political elite who staff and run the government machinery of the state. The fact that there is a president instead of an emperor and periodic controlled elections, in no way changes the reality that the U.S.A. state is the primary and dominant empire of the world today. The machinery of the U.S.A. state and the elite politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, who are appointed and/or elected to run the machine, is the method by which U.S. imperialism, the U.S. empire, runs, maintains and advances itself.
Every country, empire, colony and nation state exists within the reality of the conditions, time and place at that period of history. Ancient empires and emperors, kings and their counsels who seized colonies, as well as military rulers and/or elected presidents and prime ministers who sent their armies into other lands to conquer and occupy, are all faces of former empires. The conditions, times and places vary and therefore, so does the manifestation of each empire. So of course the empire presently run by the U.S.A. state is not like ancient Rome or any other previous imperial state.
The United States has been the dominant world and military power since WW II and especially since the late 40s and 1950s. For many decades it was the leader of the western capitalist world which stood in opposition to a smaller but sizable socialist group of countries led by the Soviet Union. Along with some junior partners, especially the former colonial powers of England and France, the U.S.A. state established military bases or outposts in the vast majority of countries in the world. It launched a series of invasions, wars and occupations, from Korea, to Vietnam, Cambodia, Panama, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and more.
U.S. corporations and recently globally based corporations as well, have reaped the benefits of U.S. imperialism’s control, domination and manipulation of most countries in the world. These corporations exploit the resources and labor of the people and countries occupied or dominated by U.S. imperialism. Of course the vast majority of the profit extracted from the far reaches of the U.S. empire, goes directly into the coffers of the corporate elite. Very little material benefit has ever been gained by the U.S. public, who of course supplied the soldiers for the U.S. forces who did the killing and dying in foreign lands across the globe. And lets not forget that U.S. tax dollars supplied by U.S. tax payers, paid for the armies, armaments, invasions and occupations, that allowed U.S. and global corporations to exploit, one might say pillage and rape, the resources and people of these countries around the world.
With the demise of the Soviet Union and the break up of the former socialist bloc in 1990 and 1991, U.S. imperialism assumed the position of the undisputed top military and political power in the world. This power has given rise to policies like George Bush jr’s policy of “Preemption.” You will recall, Bush proclaimed that the United States had the right to attack, invade and occupy any country anywhere, if U.S. leaders felt that country was any kind of threat. Bush was not talking about the right to self defense. He proclaimed the right of the U.S.A. state to preemptively attack any country in the world. This of course is illegal by all standards of international law that has been agreed to by the entire world since the end of WW II.
While President Obama has not restated this position, the U.S.A. state under Obama has used more drone attacks in more countries that the Bush government ever did. The U.S.A. state attacked Libya, helped overthrow its government and kill its leader. Just last month, September 2013, Obama wanted to directly attack Syria with U.S. forces. While this war plan was not supported by the vast majority of the public and sectors of the U.S.A. government, his threat to do so in the future remains.
U.S. imperialism and the U.S.A. state, under all its leaders since the 1990s and even before, has maintained a policy of militarily attacking any country it deems an opponent. Sometimes this is done under the pretext of UN authority or a NATO resolution. Sometimes junior imperialist partners like England and France are pulled on board to form a “coalition of attack.” Often simple naked U.S. military force, drones, cruise missiles, airplane strikes or commando forces are used to attack people and forces anywhere in the world, once they are labeled as “terrorists or enemies” by the U.S.A. state. The U.S. always seems to pick on small or vulnerable states, especially countries who do not have nuclear weapons. Often these victim states have lots of oil or other valuable resources.
The U.S.A. has been an imperialist state and power since at least the end of WW II. All the presidents and leaders of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, over decades and generations, have willingly accepted, strongly supported and enthusiastically expanded the power and reach of imperialism, of the empire run by the U.S.A. state.
Historically specific Democrat leaders have taken positions against certain wars. Senators McCarthy and McGovern came to oppose the Vietnam war. Barack Obama spoke against the Iraq war when he first ran for president in 2008. This has left a certain mistaken impression that the Democrat Party is anti-war. This is not true. The Democrat Party has led the U.S.A. state into many wars: Truman in Korea, Kennedy and Johnson in Vietnam, Clinton in Serbia.
The Republican Party has its own history of war mongering, of starting and maintaining wars. War is a regular feature of imperialism and both capitalist parties readily initiate and pursue wars of conquest across the globe.
The Republican and Democrat political elite of the U.S.A. state often disagree on and very publically dispute various policies. They often make a lot of noise and the mainstream corporate media, makes it look like there are significant differences between the parties. Whatever differences there might be, all top Democrats and Republicans have long accepted and agreed to their essential task—to lead, maintain and advance the interests of U.S. imperialism. This of course includes maintaining a functioning government in Washington and all that entails.
Recent events in Washington DC (this article is being written in October 2013), particularly the Republican Party backed shut down of parts of the U.S. government, may be more significant than just laid off government workers and closed offices. Tea Party faction members of the Republican Party are the most vocal opponents of Obama and the Democrats. They pressed to shut down the government and are seeking a second shut down/crisis for the U.S. government, by refusing to support the raising of the government’s debt limit. For decades, this has been a routine legislative act supported by Democrats and Republicans, so the U.S. government does not default on its bills and retains its economic credibility with debtors and the world as a whole.
The Obama government and the U.S.A. state will surely weather this Tea Party-Republican offensive. Which of the two parties might gain from these shut downs in the next election, will be seen. At this point, the majority of the public does not like or support the government shut down. World opinion, especially remarks of foreign leaders are mostly cautious, but there is wonderment and concern, that the U.S. government does not seem to be functioning well.
As was stated previously, the Democrat and Republican political elite often make a lot of noise criticizing each other and their respective policies. In the past 10-15 years there have even been brief government shut downs. The question being raised here is not why or how Tea Party Republicans are trying to block and sabotage the Obama government. The question is, are we witnessing a break down in the unity of the political elite? Thirty or Fifty years from now, might this break down of unity, be clearly seen as a turning point when the U.S. empire found itself less and less able to maintain and advance its power and control over other countries and people?
Since it is the Obama government that is being so pressed by the right-wing Republicans, it is necessary to look at some of the underlying issues. Specifically we have to see how racism and the false ideology of white supremacy impacts what is going on. There are some conservative racist sectors of the public and of the political elite, who were shocked by the election of a Black man to the U.S. presidency. Even with Obama’s second election win, some of these forces see blocking and defeating Obama in any way possible as their crusade. To these elements, nothing is more important than blocking Obama, reducing his authority and ultimately somehow trying to end his power as president. By all indications there is a rather small minority of the public and the political elite who are so racist and set against President Obama. This conservative racist minority does have substantial financial support and includes elements of the economic as well as political elite.
Racist beliefs and dislike of Barack Obama are factors in the break down of ruling elite unity. But there is more than that. Elected politicians in the U.S. almost universally seek to insure their reelection and gain higher power. Historically this has mostly meant upholding and advancing the economic, military and political power of U.S. imperialism. More recently we are witnessing many in the ruling political elite, with much smaller, narrower outlooks and interests. Getting reelected in your local district, even if it means shutting down the government, is seen as primary by some politicians. Blocking the government’s ability to raise and borrow money, because of narrow ideological views, is seen as loyalty to your political faction. The narrow political faction, the local election, the obstruction of an opponent, these are what guide and motivate some elements of the ruling political elite. Loyalty to the institutions and system of imperial power, as well as strengthening the machine of government and advancing the interests of the system of U.S. imperialism around the world, are no longer the unifying goals of at least some elements in the ruling political elite.
It is almost certain that Tea Party type politicians call themselves, and probably believe themselves to be upstanding loyal Republicans and Americans. But that is just the question raised here, have the contradictions within the ruling political elite changed? Has their primary unity, that of being the hands that direct U.S. imperialism, broken down? Are we seeing the emergence of new contradictions among the political elite that will prevent them from efficiently running the U.S.A. state empire?
Any analysis or even overview of an imperialist system has to consider economics. As was earlier discussed, U.S. corporations, and in more recent years also some global corporations, were and continue to be the entities that hugely profit from the power, influence and control that U.S. imperialism exercises in most countries around the world. U.S. imperialism, sometimes with armies and missiles, but often with coercion, treaties, support of local corrupt leaders and dictators, opens countries up to U.S. corporate exploitation of the resources and labor of these countries. Of course U.S. corporations also profit well from their exploitation and sales within the United States, but their rates of profit are almost always much higher in other countries.
The relationship of U.S. corporations to the U.S.A. state has significantly changed in the past 10-15 years. Corporations certainly still rely on and expect the U.S. government and military to open countries for them and to protect their interests and infrastructure around the world. Major corporations today are much more globally connected even if they originated and might still be headquartered in the United States.
In the mid 20th century it used to be said, “what’s good for GM, is good for the country.” While GM and other big companies certainly exploited their labor force, these companies were American entities connected to communities and producing goods and services that were part of what made the U.S. function. The companies were profitable and employed workers who in turn spent their wages, all within a functioning capitalist economy. Of course there were contradictions between capital and labor that resulted in periodic strikes. Government always sided with the corporations and sometimes issued injunctions against the workers. This was all part of 20th century life and struggle in the United States.
Today most corporations still based in the U.S.A. state are globally connected and some have completely moved their operations abroad. Companies relocated their production to cheap and very cheap labor markets, to countries with very weak environmental and safety regulations, to tax havens. The connection and commitment that many major corporations have to U.S. imperialism is significantly different today. As was said, big corporations still seek and desire U.S. government military and political support, but many are no longer directly connected to U.S. imperialism.
How might this be viewed 50 years from now? The unity of the U.S.A. political elite floundering, while major corporations take on an international identity and existence. How effectively will U.S. imperialism be able to function with these political and economic contradictions at its core?
As an anti-imperialist, of course I have no sympathy for a falling imperialist monster. The more important questions we the opponents and victims of U.S. imperialism should consider is how these signs of a weakening empire can be exploited. The weakening and decay of a repressive system does not guarantee the success of a new democratic, free, cooperatively based future. A more overt police or military system is certainly possible in the near term.
One important factor in how a new system comes into being and how just and free it will be is the level of active, popular, revolutionary organizing and building of resistance communities that is occurring while the old repressive war state still exists. If the popular struggle is active and growing, it will be much harder for some military or other reactionary dictator and force to take over. We can see examples of this historically.
While the government and corporate media is often dismissive of activist community organizations and leftist radical political groups, they worry about the influence they have and can gain with the people. Besides federal cops – fbi, etc., most local police departments have units that monitor, infiltrate and disrupt activist, progressive, revolutionary and even religious organizations. The cops and government understand the power that an organized politically conscious and motivated for real change public can have. The dynamic between the people and the government is directly equivalent. The more power, authority and control the government takes for itself, the less freedom, rights and justice the people have. The opposite is just as true—when the people gain, take or win more freedom, rights and liberty and justice, it means the government has to relinquish or give back more of its police and other coercive authority. When a repressive imperial government is overturned, the possibility is there for an entirely new free and popular authority to be established. It is all up to the people.
We have a need, on both sides of prison walls, to create more communities and organizations or resistance, or to join and help build existing ones. U.S. imperialism is facing more internal contradictions, even among its ruling and economic elites. It is also meeting resistance from more people here in the United States and it is facing opponents and problems around the world. Empires never last. The question is, how soon can they be buried and what new life- and planet-sustaining popular revolutionary system can be brought forth?