Imperialism & Globalization

Television viewers can turn on any news channel almost any time of day and within moments images of war will spring across the screen. Images of ground troops in Iraq, U.S. military bases in Korea and air raids in Afghanistan are complemented by the voices of somber newscasters warning about the potential of a naval blockade against Iran or political and humanitarian crises in places like Zimbabwe and Darfur. The corporate media and its talking heads throw out routine phrases like “national security,” “war on terror,” and “Islamic fundamentalism” in an attempt to explain away these pictures of crisis and conflict.

The real root of all this conflict can be found in the nature of imperialism and the role it plays on the international stage. Imperialism is the final stage of capitalism that is reached when the capitalists of a particular country are compelled to economically expand beyond their own borders through military force or other methods of coercion. Imperialism is referred to as the highest stage of capitalism because the capitalist system must either expand or die in its quest to accumulate profits.

Vladimir Lenin was a leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and a prominent Marxist who popularized the term “imperialism” and provided it with a scientific definition.

Lenin identifies five essential features of imperialism in his germinal work on the subject, “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.” The five features of imperialism are:

  1. The creation of decisive monopolies through the concentration of production and capital.
  2. The merger of bank capital and industrial capital to create an oligarchy of financial capital.
  3. The export of capital and commodities, with capital being the more fundamental of the two.
  4. The formation of global capitalist monopolies that share the world among themselves.
  5. The territorial division of the whole world amongst the most powerful capitalist powers.

These five features of imperialism explain the process by which monopoly capitalism has developed to the point where it raises huge armies and navies and develops high-tech weapons of mass destruction in order to forcibly open new markets and exploit new sources of cheap labor. It is this character of imperialism — its nature to carve the world up for the great capitalist powers — that is behind all the images of war and devastation on the nightly news.

Wars have historically been waged by imperialist powers, regardless of the type of political administration. Liberal or conservative, social democratic or monarchist or fascist, governments of imperialist countries have all been responsible for waging imperialist war. Capitalism’s expand-or-die dilemma requires near constant war, regardless of the politics of the government in power. Fred Goldstein, a leader of Workers World Party, examines the three stages of imperialist war throughout history in his book, “Low-Wage Capitalism.”

The first stage of imperialist war was to redivide the world. This stage was marked by conflict among the imperialist pow- ers to carve out their respective spheres of influence. This method of imperialist war lasted until the end of the Second World War, which brought about the defeat of German, Italian and Japanese imperialism; severely diminished the capacity of Britain and France; and positioned the U.S. as the dominant imperialist power. The war also ended with the Soviet Union’s historic victory over fascism and the defeat of the German Nazi armies. This new dynamic — U.S. imperialist dominance and the emergence of the Soviet Union as a socialist superpower — led to the second stage of imperialist war: war between the socialist and imperialist camps.

This stage of imperialist war was marked by a nuclear-armed U.S. and its mobilization of all the capitalist forces to contain the twin threats to imperialism at the time — socialist revolutions and national liberation struggles. The inter-imperialist struggle to redivide the globe was replaced by a struggle between the competing social systems of socialism and capitalism. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and the CIA dirty wars in Angola, Nicaragua and El Salvador are all examples of the imperialist war against socialism and national liberation during this period.

The third and current stage of imperialist war was ushered in after the 1991 defeat of the Soviet Union. This stage has been marked by war for global reconquest of the former socialist camp countries and of countries led by independent bourgeois- nationalist governments that the Soviet Union had supported. Expansion of NATO into the former socialist-bloc countries of Europe and the U.S.-led NATO war against Yugoslavia exemplify imperialism’s drive for global reconquest.

Today, the word “globalization” is commonly used to describe the same phenomenon that Lenin explained more than
100 years ago. Bosses and bourgeois politicians talk about globalization as if it is a new and benign form of capitalism
that peacefully spreads wealth and stability to poor countries around the world. But the truth is that what the mainstream media calls globalization is just a modern form of imperialism. Now, instead of colonizing oppressed countries through the brute force of imperialist armies alone, bankers and corporations use institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to help coerce those countries into bending to their will.

And those who try to resist globalization still face the threat of imperialist war. More than a million people were killed by the U.S.-led imperialist coalition against Iraq after Iraq’s leaders dared to nationalize their own oil fields and use their resources for the independent development of their own country. Building on the anti-imperialist legacy of the late Hugo Chavez, Venezuela faces the constant threat of imperialist invasion for speaking out against the global capitalist monopolies and using the country’s resources for the Venezuela’s people.

The truth is that what capitalists call globalization is just an expansion of imperialism. No matter what the bosses and the politicians call it, the modern expansion of capitalism is just as brutal and miserable for the workers and oppressed of the world as ever. Globalization has plunged hundreds of mil- lions of people around the globe into desperate poverty. And although the bosses talk about the modern “peaceful” expansion of capitalism, the reality is that the U.S. alone has been at war almost every year since the fall of the Soviet Union and has caused the deaths and injuries of millions in imperialist wars since the term “globalization” was popularized.

Imperialism is the enemy of the entire global working class. It does not matter if workers live inside an imperialist country or outside its borders — imperialism is their class adversary. Workers living in the exploiting countries have a special obligation to support workers in the countries exploited by imperialism as they fight to liberate themselves.

What is Marxism all about?

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