You Might Be a Marxist If ... You’re Against Imperialism

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Have you ever wondered why the United States interacts with the world in the way it does? Ever wondered why our country always seems to be at war with the world, why our government is always demonizing, attacking, and fighting other countries, their leaders, and often their entire populations?

Have you ever wondered why our government and mass media promote the view that the world outside our borders is a corrupt, chaotic, frightening place full of ignorant, perverse, backward, lazy, and vicious barbarians who want nothing more than to invade and terrorize us, steal our hard-earned wealth, and destroy our way of life? Every wonder why our mass media, the military, our politicians, and sometimes even our teachers and clergy participate in dehumanizing the world’s peoples by promoting monstrous caricatures of their appearance, beliefs, and customs and by constantly referring to them as “gooks,” “A-rabs,” “Hajis,” “wetbacks,” “zipper heads,” “Reds,” and “terrorists”?

Have you ever been shocked to realize that many people in our society, particularly members of the business, military, and political elites, think the best thing that can happen to a foreign country, especially a poor developing country, is for the U.S. to invade, “clean the place up” by overthrowing its government and destroying its social system, and install a U.S.-backed “democratic” government in order to put its hapless people on the road to American-style capitalism?

Can you even think of a time when this ignorant, simplistic, comic book view of the world—us (good) vs. them (evil)—wasn’t being crammed into your head? Or a time when our country was truly at peace with the world, a time when our government wasn’t carrying out some kind of big war, small war, proxy war, hot war, cold war, coup d’état, police action, invasion, incursion, counterinsurgency campaign, assassination plot, air strike, missile attack, or bombing run?

Have you ever wondered why there is so much saber rattling and so many wars? Iraq, Afghanistan, the two world wars, the atomic bombings of Japan, the Korean War, the bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, the Contra-War, the invasions of Haiti, Grenada, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and on and on ... why the daughters and sons of the American working class must fight and die to prop up this rotten, bloodthirsty system and why working people around the world are made its targets and victims? And why is it constantly drummed into our heads that all this racism, xenophobia, fear mongering, militarism, and bloodshed is absolutely necessary for our national security; for the sake of God and country; for democracy and free enterprise; for peace, prosperity, and a better world?

The reason for all of these outrages can be summed up in a single word: IMPERIALISM. From the time we are born, we must be prepared to do the bidding of imperialism. We must fight and die; we must live in poverty and violence; our minds must be poisoned and warped by ignorance, fear, and suspicion of our fellow human beings; entire peoples must be subjugated and slaughtered, all for the sake of this monster, imperialism.

What is imperialism? Imperialism is capitalism at its most virulent stage of development. It is capitalism astride the world; exploitation of workers and farmers on a global scale; capitalists taking control of nation states and their economies and using these vast powers to go on the march to conquer and plunder the wealth of not just a few countries or regions, but every corner of the earth. It is established and maintained through fraud, political blackmail, and imperialist war. It is the creation of a grotesquely unequal world in which a few wealthy imperialist countries lord it over a vast number of impoverished and exploited peoples.

But imperialism is not invincible and it is not permanent. V. I. Lenin, the leader of the socialist revolution in Russia in 1917, pointed out that despite its immense power imperialism is ultimately unsustainable. The constant wars waged to support it and its astonishing waste of resources and human lives gradually weakens imperialism. Sooner or later the workers of the world are driven to rebel against it and replace it with socialism. Thus Lenin called imperialism the highest and final stage of capitalism, “highest” in terms of the intensity of exploitation and its geographic extent and “final” in the sense that it is the last stage of capitalism before its revolutionary transformation into socialism. [1]

Imperialism is the result of capitalism’s inexorable tendency towards globalization. Capitalism exists to maximize profit, and capitalists do this by stealing as much surplus value as possible from the working class. At first, capitalists establish themselves in individual countries and use their power to enact brutal exploitation of the working class at the national level. But capitalists can’t out-compete their competitors or increase their profits to the absolute maximum by staying local. Eventually, national capitalism develops to a point where production is concentrated in giant monopolies that are controlled by the huge banks that finance them. The finance capitalists who control these banks take state power as well, and they use their economic, political, and military power to take capitalist exploitation to a whole new level. The dominance of finance capital is the key component of imperialism because finance capital begins to look abroad for even greater returns on investment. Finance capitalists start investing all over the world in order to steal surplus value from the entire human race. That’s right; they aren’t satisfied with exploiting you and your fellow citizens in perpetuity. They don’t rest until they are stealing with impunity from working-class people around the globe.

Thus, like any other criminal enterprise, capitalism starts out small, but it must keep growing in order to survive. There’s a passage from Part I of the Communist Manifesto that does an excellent job of describing the forces that push capitalism towards globalization:

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie [the capitalists—D.P.] over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. . . . The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all nations, even the most barbarian, into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image.

It should be noted that Marx and Engels are not discussing imperialism per se. They are talking about an earlier stage of capitalism that emphasized the production and export of physical commodities, whereas imperialism focuses on the export of finance capital. Under imperialism, investment capital itself is used to “batter down all Chinese walls” and when this doesn’t work it uses naked political and military aggression to open up a country to capital investment. Furthermore, capitalists have no intention of making the world bourgeois in the sense of covering the globe with capitalist countries that can compete on equal terms. They want a world in which finance capital based in the powerful developed countries is totally free to move around the globe and make investments that subject workers in the weaker developing countries to forms of super-exploitation even more brutal than those experienced by workers in advanced capitalist countries. The whole system works to keep the advanced capitalist countries on top and the weaker capitalist countries on the bottom, while at the same time working to force countries not yet dominated by finance capital (such as the former Soviet Union and the ex-socialist countries of Eastern Europe) to join the world capitalist system as subordinate and exploited developing countries.

It bears repeating that capitalism is fundamentally a criminal enterprise, thus it is not surprising that imperialists will stop at nothing to extend their global dominance. They will use any form of fraud or violence, up to and including world war and nuclear weapons, in order to penetrate markets around the world, extract surplus value from the global working class, and maintain their dominant position. They will also go to war against their fellow imperialists in order to settle disputes over the partitioning of the world. World Wars I and II were fundamentally imperialist wars fought to determine the division of the world among the big imperialist powers, Soviet participation in WW II notwithstanding.

Even though you probably never learned about it in school, resistance against imperialism by the global working class has been a major factor shaping world history since at least the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions were all victories in the struggle against imperialism, as were the decolonization of Africa and Asia and the break up of the French, British, and other empires after World War II. But imperialism is still with us. At the end of the Second World War, the United States took on the role of the world’s most fearsome imperialist power. The U.S. has suffered some major defeats at the hands of anti-imperialist fighters—think of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Cuba. Although it scored a tremendous victory with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe, the dividends of that victory have been squandered on financial scandals and military adventurism. The U.S. is still the leading imperialist country and imperialism still controls much of the world, but its position has been weakened most recently by rising economies such as China and India, by the economic depression that began in 2008, and by the huge costs of and poor performance by the U.S. military in the two imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have seen that as capitalism grows it develops into imperialism, but what happens to imperialism as it undergoes inevitable decline? What can we expect from a faltering U.S. imperialism? Like a wounded animal, imperialism becomes more dangerous when it senses that its survival is at stake. And when imperialists fight for survival they always resort to fascism. Fascism has been defined as “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” The U.S. isn’t fascist yet, but just think what things will be like in 10 or 20 years if the country keeps moving further to the right.

What can working people do to stop the drift towards fascism? Remember, the movement toward fascism is a sign that imperialism is on its death bed, which in turn opens up opportunities for socialist revolution. This brings us to the subjects of working-class unity and internationalism, the united front against fascism, and the fight for international socialism, all of which will be discussed in later articles.


[1] Interested in learning more about imperialism? The best introduction is still V. I. Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, written in 1916. It’s still in print and available in numerous editions.

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  • I never read such hyperbolic stuff!

    Posted by airth10, 04/22/2011 8:19am (13 years ago)

  • In general, I agree with Pena. However, US imperialism has weakened considerably in its own backyard, Latin America. The last decade has seen a wave of socialist and left leaning governments coming to power. The US used to keep control in its sphere of influence through brutal right-wing military dictatorships. It is real populist participation that is responsible for this trend towards socialist democracy. I do not know whether this is a temporary or long term trend. However, we can be sure that ongoing attempts to destabilize these regimes will go on. NT.

    Posted by Nat Turner, 10/17/2010 10:10pm (14 years ago)

  • Fascism I believe happens when the capital class chooses to make those who seek economic democracy into the enemy of the state, thereby being able to more effectively utilize the state monopoly on violence. This of course happens most often when it is under stress from it's own failures (such as when in decline) as well as when being challenged from the working class. This is how the "invisible" hand of capitalism reveals itself as an iron fist.

    But this is a rather broad and almost generic statement. More useful things I agree can be learned from such useful works as Lenin's analysis, which is rather timely right now, as well as others who have written on this topic.

    Posted by David Sugar, 10/14/2010 7:40pm (14 years ago)

  • awesome article if you live under a rock. it's funny how the author is in such denial and in turn, hypocritical. even in the first couple of paragraphs, the author downplays and denies a very real and true threat. i have many questions for this author. questions that would fall under the category of "questioning everything" however I can't even find an email for the coward who typed this fear mongering article. thank you mr. pena for this delightful taste of socialized media. it's a nice preview of the types of lies we have to look forward to in the coming years from you and others like you.

    Posted by greg, 10/14/2010 12:31pm (14 years ago)

  • great work mr. pena . looking forward to your net article on imperialism and how america truly works.

    Posted by joseph glinka, 10/12/2010 7:49pm (14 years ago)

  • Willy, I think you're wrong about calling China imperialist. The US has 700-800 military bases around the world and military personnel deployed in over 150 countries. How does China compare? Since 1949, they've had a history of supporting anti-imperialist wars, helping NK in the Korean War and the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. They have friendly relations with Cuba. Have any imperialist wars been started by PR China? Can you give specific examples of the Chinese using military force, or the threat of force, to open up markets to Chinese capital and to maintain control of those markets? Just because they're successful economically doesn't mean they're imperialist.

    Posted by Mark, 10/11/2010 10:18pm (14 years ago)

  • It is China's wages that battering down the walls of capitalism, and China is the imperialist of today.

    Posted by willy, 10/09/2010 10:59pm (14 years ago)

  • Are you sure about that, Joanne?

    Posted by Mark, 10/09/2010 9:50am (14 years ago)

  • "It bears repeating that capitalism is fundamentally a criminal enterprise, thus it is not surprising that imperialists will stop at nothing to extend their global dominance."

    Opps. I'm sure it was just a typo, but you put "capitalism" and "imperialists" where you meant "communism" and "communists".

    You will never suceed in America!

    Posted by Joanne Wroe, 10/07/2010 4:16pm (14 years ago)

  • Excellent. Great article, I'll be sharing this with friends and comrades alike.

    Posted by Derek, 10/06/2010 2:38pm (14 years ago)

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