A common ground for liberal and communist activists alike for quite some time has been in opposition to the so-called “Military Industrial Complex” (MIC) and the bloated military budget. However, on this common ground we must (as in all shared political space) conduct a ruthless ideological struggle that will ultimately decide the direction of the broader movement against amerikan militarism and imperialism. Not only must this be conducted with liberal anti-war activists, who persistently reject any kind of anti-imperialist stance, but even those revolutionaries who stop short of realizing the full structural reality of amerikan imperialism. The soft pro-imperialism of these supposed revolutionaries, who cannot fundamentally distinguish their position from the left-liberals of the anti-war movement, represent the most destructive elements of the First-Worldist left.
To First-Worldists, imperialism implies little more than militarism motivated by finance capital, and even when “value transfer” enters the conversation, it is neutralized and obscured with empty talk of the “1%” who benefit through monopoly capitalism. The military contractors and multi-billion dollar weapons manufacturers who develop imperialist military capabilities, along with the financial capital supporting those industries, are seen as the core beneficiaries of imperialism. The capitalists are, indeed, the primary beneficiaries of imperialist warfare, as they stand to gain the most through the perpetuation of imperialism whether through unequal exchange or classic “gunboat” imperialism, but the latter ensures the former. However, where the First-Worldists invariably go wrong is when they begin to insist that this is the whole of imperialist exploitation. To them, it is as if the wealth is funneled to the bank accounts of the rich bankers on wall street and never leaves, and the resources go on benefiting this “1%” without having any tangible effect on the economic system in the global north.
The “Catch-22” of Imperial Social Welfare
This logic neutralizes the explanatory power of anti-imperialist arguments, and we begin to slowly fall back into the loop of liberal MIC discourse. Like liberal discourse on the MIC, the First-Worldist argument obscures the relationship of imperial monopoly capital, the First World standard of living, and the heightened contradiction that result in a state of more or less permanent warfare and occupation. If we understand that it is only the market fundamentalism of the MIC that is responsible, then we can agree on these criticisms that the wasteful spending of the Department of Defense (DoD) could be properly filtered down to other sections of the economy. As many slogans read, we could spend the money they are using for “useless, broken fighter jets” on healthcare for the people, or better housing projects. These slogans have two very large misconceptions, however, that posit warfare as an “optional” category in u.$. budget planning that could easily be diverted elsewhere and that this wasteful spending is typified by “non-working” military equipment as opposed to the entirely functional and deadly kind.
To deal with the first false assumption, we have to realize that warfare is an absolutely vital aspect of the u.$. economy, and that renewed imperial conquest is necessary to maintain and expand existing imperialist economic networks. The united $tates and NATO serve a vital role in performing this task for the greater imperialist network in the First World, while others (denmark, austria, norway, switzerland, etc.) benefit without actually having engaged in actual warfare themselves to any great degree (their miniscule troop deployments and much more helpful cash infusions notwithstanding). This policing mechanism not only prevents the anti-imperialist and nationalist movements of the Third World from gaining power and removing the imperialist trade and development restrictions/deals, as well as the outright theft of resources in some cases. The imperialists must, as we know, penetrate troublesome markets that have so far, either by strategic natural resources or political self-determination, maintained a great degree of political and economic independence. In order to maintain growth, an exploded military budget may be entirely necessary for countries like the united $tates, and if they were to suddenly stop insuring the future of unequal exchange with their weapons, soon the more “docile” imperialists would have to pick up arms to provide for themselves.
This does not immediately answer the question of how any of this is relevant beyond the sphere of monopoly capital. Naturally, the whole economy runs on imperialist accumulation, it is not just the bourgeois managers of monopoly capital, but the whole society repatriating this stolen wealth. As noted by Dr. Zak Cope in his work Divided World Divided Class, the super-profits extracted from industries operating in the Third World provided for the accumulation necessary for transforming the First World economies into the vibrant marketplaces they are now, and have continued to sustain the social democratic welfare systems present there. To a large extent, it is not only the profits of the wealthiest monopoly capitalists depending on the so-called MIC, but also the unionized laborers who receive inflated wages that are supported by the hyper-exploitation of Third World workers by those same monopoly capitalists. So the liberal and First-Worldist slogans suggesting that we can “stop paying for imperialism” and divert government funds to social welfare programs are willfully ignorant of the fact that it is imperialism that necessarily pays for the existing social welfare programs.
What’s more, the already existing wealth that powers the amerikan economy from within is developed on a foundation of previous imperial exploits. The gold in Fort Knox is, by and large, stolen from the Third World and from the indigenous nations who controlled the land it was ripped from through the abundant use of slave labor. Similarly, the infrastructure of imperialism is both vital to the continuation of the amerikan economy and highly fragile. Without its upkeep, there would be a noticeable decline in the standard of living as the marketplaces would soon find it difficult to maintain their stock in the event of victorious independence movements in the global south. Further, what is not done through amerikan bombers alone, is done also by the neocolonial armies of the countries whose own “prosperity” is linked to the success of the amerikan empire and its capital export. Rather, it is in the interests of the vile comprador bourgeois class to do what is necessary in the absence of amerikan military force, but only so much can be done here without aid.
The imperial catch-22 is organically related to another, similar debacle, that of the inability of maldeveloped countries to provide for their own people even a fraction of the social safety net enjoyed by the parasite-states. Principally, and undergirding unequal exchange in general, more developed total national capitals (necessarily possessing a higher organic composition), extract, through general trade as well as slavery, bribery, malfeasance and military conquest, more surplus value (obviously) than they provide in the balance of trade. The lower organic composition must be accounted for by a greater exploitation of living labor in the poorer country, thus sapping values might otherwise have been expressed as domestic expenditures, to the core country whose capital is being employed. Although the values might have been expressed as domestic funds (and here’s the catch), how, without the foreign direct investment, would the values have been produced in the first place? The problem is an antinomy, irreconcilable under conditions of national oppression. The means by which the parasitic populations gain at the direct expense of Third World labor is another convenient blind spot of First-Worldist “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, which finds its expression and its limit in the “anti-war” movement.
Let’s discuss, for a moment, the second point made by the liberal and First-Worldist anti-war activists. They suggest that this wasteful spending is typified by the non-working war materials that could be better spent on “cheaper, more effective” equipment. This is only a side-note on the broader discussion of hypocritical and liberal anti-war activism, but is nonetheless a ridiculous expression of its logic. For the liberals and First-Worldists, a working and cost-effective weapon of war, constructed deliberately for the policing of Third World workers, is preferable if it can contribute to the immediate gratification of their economic desires. Genuine anti-imperialists should instruct otherwise, and reject the messages of the anti-war movement that insist upon “more cost-efficient” methods of making war as symptomatic of its total corruption. Nowhere was this message more poisonous than during the Iraq war when so-called anti-war activists responded to the lack of “proper” equipment given to amerikan soldiers by raising money to purchase them better equipment. This kind of liberal soft-support for imperialism is what has turned the nominally anti-war movement into a proponent of more “responsible” warfare.
The Third-Worldist Response to this Paradox
Third-Worldists and other genuine anti-imperialists must engage in these movements the same as any other revolutionary who seeks an end to occupations and genocidal campaigns against Third World people. We know that without the continual renewal of imperial violence, the empire cannot be sustained. This is understood by many of the First-Worldist so-called anti-imperialists who place blame on monopoly capital’s control over the political system and its military force. In their view, the MIC will not allow war to stop on the basis of its own interests in profiting from military expenditure and open markets. Where we must take this discourse, is to extend it to cover the whole of the imperialist “civil” society, that undergirds and justifies the standard of living of the First World working class through the blood and sweat of Third World proletarians.
For the First-Worldists this means that an end to war is an end to the MIC’s profits, and a new golden age of consumption and a rising standard of living for a majority of amerikan citizens. This is misguided, and presupposes that all of the wealth utilized for continuous imperial warfare is the property of the amerikan taxpayer. Further, and quite paradoxically, they insist that all the wealth that is gained through conquest is locked up in the greatest heights of the economy, never fundamentally affecting the conditions of the great majority. This logic must be struggled against by genuine anti-imperialists in the anti-war movement. If we do not answer for the deeper structural conditions of imperialism then we stand no chance of actually defeating it.
The response to liberals must be that if we do not destroy imperialism, we cannot fundamentally erase the conditions which call for imperialist warfare; to the so-called revolutionaries and anti-imperialists who insist that imperialism is simply the game of the “1%” and not of the whole imperialist society, we must demonstrate that we cannot simultaneously carry on the charade of a brighter future of First World consumption and an end of imperialist accumulation. If we are to adequately confront liberal anti-war obscurantism, then we must hold a consistent position that reveals that all stolen wealth must be redistributed, and that the call for a paradise of consumption and an end to imperialism are mutually exclusive. The message of the First-Worldists and even the liberals has been “People before profits” and, indeed, we should coopt this slogan: People before profits, even if those profits are written off in the margins of your bi-weekly paycheck or tax return. Our task is to defeat imperialism, and we cannot settle for the warm affirmations of imperial gains without imperial pains.