In November 1989, the Berlin Wall dividing East from West Germany fell. This event is often cited as the symbol of ending the Cold War between the US (leading the “free world”) and the Communist Bloc, led by the USSR. The official Marxism that was behind the origins of the USSR derived from the Communist Manifesto and the economic works of Karl Marx. These had declared that the “workers of the world unite” to throw off the capitalist system and initiate communism in which the means of production belonged to the people and not the ownership class of capitalists. In Das Kapital, Volume 1, Marx wrote of capitalism:
It makes an accumulation of misery a necessary condition, corresponding to the accumulation of wealth. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time, accumulation of misery, the torment of labour, slavery, ignorance, brutalization and moral degradation at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product as capital. (1990, 799)
This observation is as true today as it was in the mid-19th century, although the misery and slavery have since been largely exported to the “third world nations” in the global south so that the ownership classes and the citizens of the ownership countries no longer have to see it directly. This system has produced misery for hundreds of millions of people who live on the brink of starvation, while the wealthiest 15% of the world’s population owns 85% of its wealth. A tiny portion of these 15% run the US government, the leader of the “free” world. As Noam Chomsky famously put it, this means the “freedom to rob, exploit, extort, and dominate” anywhere in the world that “free enterprise” sees its opportunity to turn human beings or their resources into hard cash.
Whatever else capitalists may be, they are no fools. They know that their global system of treating the planet as their personal “cash cow” requires political and military force to keep it running and that this force (and its ideological justification) centers in the global empire run out of Washington, DC. It requires endless wars and the violence of economic sanctions to discipline the world to the capitalist model and to ensure that poor countries primarily in the global south accept their perpetual exploitation by multinational corporations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the latter both headquartered in Washington, DC.
Any attempt by nations to take an independent economic course designed to lift their poor out of extreme poverty within a regime of social solidarity is mercilessly squashed. In 1954, when the President of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz, attempted land reform by buying unused land from big US corporations and giving it to starving peasants, the US engineered his overthrow and replaced him with a military dictatorship complicit in corporate interests. In 1959, when the people of Cuba overthrew their US-supported dictator to establish a more just society, the US imposed a brutal economic blockade that has crippled their economy to this day (64 years later). In the 1960s, the US went to war in South Vietnam on behalf of its brutal dictator, who was threatened by a possible communist takeover of his regime. In 1970, when the people of Chile elected democratic socialist Salvador Allende as their President, the US worked to destroy their economy and finally overthrew him in 1973, installing a “free market” dictator who tortured and murdered all who stood for social justice and fairness. The list goes on and on, too long to review in this brief article. Part of this history is summed up by political analyst Michael Parenti:
In the decades after World War II, many, if not most, massacres and wars have been overtly or covertly sponsored by the US national security state. This includes 2 million or so Vietnamese left dead or missing, along with 650,000 Cambodians, 100,000 Laotians, and 58,000 Americans. In recent years in much of Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East there have been smaller wars, replete with atrocities of all sorts. Columbia, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and other places too numerous to list suffered the massacres and death squad exterminations of hundreds of thousands at the hands of US counter-insurgency forces. In Mexico, a “war on drugs” has taken 70,000 lives with 8,000 missing. There was the slaughter of more than half a million socialistic or democratic nationalist Indonesians by the US-supported Indonesian military in 1965, eventually followed by the extermination of 100,000 East Timorese by that same US-backed military.
Consider the seventy-eight days of NATO’s arial destruction of Yugoslavia, especially Serbia, complete with depleted uranium, and the US bombings and/or invasions of Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Western Pakistan, and Afghanistan. As of 2014, the US-sponsored sanctions against Iran are seeding severe hardship for the civilian population of that country. Then there is the destruction done to the Iraqis on a grand scale by Washington’s repeated bombings and invasions of their lands. At the same time, thousands have died or been wounded in Israel’s continuing war against Palestine. And Ukrainian reactionaries have been killing abundant numbers of Russian-speaking rebels and civilians in eastern Ukraine. (2015, 26-27)
US foreign policy clearly did not change after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. What had to change was the ideological justification for its imperialism. No longer could its drive to global domination be framed as “fighting godless communism.” After 1989 it floundered for an enemy around which to center its propaganda speeches about standing for “freedom and democracy” in the world. In 1995, I brought Noam Chomsky as a guest speaker at my university in Virginia. In his speech, he confirmed exactly this: Washington was looking for a new justification for US imperialism.
Five years later, the attacks of 9/11 showed up, serving as a propaganda godsend for the empire: The USA could then be mobilized in a global war on terrorism, wherever and whenever the masters in Washington, DC, decided there was a pending threat. Under this rubric, invasions or attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq (repeatedly), Libya, Yemen (via Saudi Arabia), Syria, and other places were justified. The “free market” appropriation of the world’s wealth to the global imperial center continued unimpeded. But the world grew tired of militarized drone attacks, sometimes blowing up funeral processions or wedding parties. The propaganda cover of a war on terror ran its course. The empire needed new enemies.
Enter the demonization of Russia and China. Both countries had been growing as potential economic rivals of the US. Both countries were part of BRICS, the coalition of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa and were having talks about global trade through direct forms of financial exchange that avoided using the international trading currency of the US dollar. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia had been thriving and integrating economically with Western Europe by constructing the Nord Stream pipelines under the Baltic Sea. China was also becoming an economic powerhouse with its Belt and Road Initiative directed to integrating Asia into one giant economic unity independent of US control.
How to make Russia into an “aggressor” nation against which the US and its NATO allies must struggle to death? How to make China into an “expansionist” nation that must be stopped if there were ever to be a “rules-based” peaceful world system led by the US? Easy work for the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as integrated seamlessly into the American propaganda system led by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Push NATO relentlessly to the borders of Russia, even into Ukraine, and attack the Russian-speaking communities in Eastern Ukraine so that Russia responds militarily to what it perceives as an existential threat to its security. Bingo—Russia is now a hopeless “aggressor nation. Putin is a monster and must be stopped.” The mainstream US media ate it right up.
Challenge China’s hegemony in the South China Sea in the name of a Pacific Ocean that must be kept “free” from US naval domination, and exacerbate the issue over Taiwan with the goal of baiting China into military action by using the model that had worked so well against Russia in Ukraine. Presto, we have another propaganda line for the New York Times and Washington Post to add to their Russia mantra: “China is an aggressor nation, and Xi Jinping is a monster who must be stopped!” This is the foreign policy strategy in a nutshell.
Forget climate collapse. Who cares? Forget world peace. It is not going to happen. The peoples of Europe and the USA, whose memory has conveniently forgotten the history sketched above, can easily be made to support endless wars to rule the world. They are so used to militarism and wars that they cannot even imagine what a peaceful world would look like. They are so used to being the center of an empire that this global system of inequality looks to them like a worldwide “rules-based” order.
In 1945 George Orwell wrote a famous book about a future totalitarian society in which people believed that “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” “Democracy,” after all, means the unlimited right to the private accumulation of wealth. The empire rules the world on the foundation of this freedom. To confirm that the “free enterprise” system must be imposed on the world at all costs, just have them read the New York Times or the Washington Post.
Is there an alternative? Do you really want an alternative? since as a reader, you are likely part of the 15% who own 85% of the world’s wealth. If you want an alternative, check out the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.
Marx, Karl (1990). Capital. Volume 1. Trans. Ben Fawkes. New York: Penguin Classics.
Parenti, Michael (2015). Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.