By Roger McKenzie

May 28, 2024  Morning Star (UK)


In Washington DC, Roger McKenzie sees signs of the US empire’s decay all around– especially compared with the vibrant and thriving Chinese capital. The article’s headline is a line from the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Empires always end. All of them. The only question is about the nature of that end. We can see this before our eyes as the United States empire reaches its inevitable end, internationally and domestically.

We can see it happening in front of our eyes if we choose to look. One of the advantages of travelling by train instead of flying is you get to see much more of the reality of a country.

The Acela Express train ride of 230 miles or so for three hours from New York City to the US capital, Washington DC, was depressing in so many ways.

The train itself was better and more comfortable than many I have travelled on in Britain, but the journey revealed a picture of severe urban decay in supposedly the world’s most important and richest nation.

You could see the wealth on the skyline represented by the skyscraper office blocks of the major cities we passed through — Philadelphia and Baltimore — but much of the rest was a picture of severe urban decay.

The industrial base of the country has been gutted. It reminded me of the train journey through the once thriving Black Country in Britain. Once a hive of industrial activity, now hollowed out with miles of left-to-rot former factories.

In the US the choice has clearly been made that the government, of any colour, prefers to spend immense amounts of money on the military as opposed to the people.

I can’t believe that the minority of the US population that actually bother to come out and vote don’t understand this. It’s no secret that the US spends by far the largest amount on the military of any country on Earth.

The US spends more on the military than China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Germany, France and South Korea combined.

Between them China and Russia account for only around 13 per cent of the world’s military spend. Not the vast amounts the corporate media would have you believe.

But while content to project its power abroad, the US is crumbling. One visit to the vast and imposing US embassy in London will show you just how much the US is intent on projecting its power. To the US size really does matter.

The Romans, along with every other past empire, knew the importance of not just having the means to exercise power, but having the symbols and institutions that constantly remind everyone of this.

As I arrived in DC and left Union Station, everything looked amazing. As the cab left the station, the Capitol building, the scene of the Trump-inspired attempted coup on January 6 2021, peeked out above other buildings.

It acts as a symbol to remind you of what the main business of the city is — the gathering and exercise of power on behalf of capitalism.

A stone’s throw from Babylon Central (the White House) nestled the World Bank, which I didn’t know was actually a group of banks, and the International Monetary Fund. In many ways the three institutions that run the world.

The area, to be fair, was immaculate, as was much of the Georgetown area where I was staying — but not everywhere.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House I saw makeshift campsites on waste ground that people on their way to the swanky shops and restaurants of Georgetown cannot fail to see. No doubt a fair number of these passers-by work at the White House or elsewhere for the administration of the day.

Of course homeless people living rough in a capital city isn’t peculiar to DC, but the fact that it’s so close to the seat of power of the empire is notable.

Last year there was a 39 per cent increase in crime in DC. Earlier on this year data showed an outbreak of armed carjackings, many carried out by desperate teenagers. Put all of this alongside crumbling road and rail infrastructure and a strong picture of decay is painted.

But it isn’t just economic decay. The inability of the (mis)leadership of both main political parties to pass any kind of meaningful legislation for the people, the blatant gerrymandering of voting areas, a political rather than legal Supreme Court makes the case for political decay.

The January 6 attempted coup three years ago illustrates the point better than anything I am able to write. The problem for the US is that few others believe in the power they attempt to project.

The global South is looking elsewhere because it is fed up with being bullied and told who they can and can’t have trade or political relations with. They are sick of having the real decisions about their economies taken by the troika on Pennsylvania Avenue.

One such country the US warns the global South off is China, the world’s other major economic and political superpower. The comparison between the US and China is startling.

I was in Beijing just a few weeks ago, so it is still fresh enough in my mind to be able to compare the two. In reality there is no comparison between the two capitals or, indeed, the two countries.

The US is visibly decaying economically as well as politically, while China is clearly stable, able to act on behalf of the people and on the way up. The transport infrastructure, road, rail and airport systems in China have undergone a massive upgrades in length and quality over the last decade. This is a sentence you simply can’t apply to the US.

Figures from 2022 show the length of China’s highways exceeded 109,982 miles. The length of the country’s high-speed railways expanded by an additional 27,961 miles. The country had some 254 civil airports in operation.

China is clearly a beacon for the rest of the world in understanding the importance of strong domestic infrastructure. The growth shows no sign of slowing.

In the five cities I visited during my 10-day visit to China I never saw a single homeless person and felt entirely safe to walk the streets and speak with anyone I wanted. Nobody stopped me from doing any of those things. I never felt the same level of safety in DC — or New York for that matter.

Making sure people have somewhere to live is also a priority in China. You notice the high-rise buildings on the outskirts of the major cities. The aesthetics of these buildings may not be to everyone’s tastes — it was fine by me — but I think people in China would take the fact that they have somewhere decent to live rather than the tents that I saw in DC.

Instead of warning about a non-existent economic collapse of China — mainly because of its failure to compete — the US needs to look to itself and its own economic priorities. The choice is a simple one. It can continue to prioritise spending money on projecting and using a power that nobody now believes in or it can decide to prioritise the good people of the US.

The temptation will be for the empire to strike back as its power crumbles. Unfortunately it is something I think we are already seeing in Ukraine and in its attempts to stoke up tensions in the breakaway Chinese province of Taiwan.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The mainstream politicians, already bought and paid for by big business, will not make that choice without grassroots organising forcing them to do it.

The task for socialists of all persuasions is to build the united front that will be necessary to make this happen in the US and elsewhere.


PHOTO: “Contrast: Urban Decay in Philadelphia” by Roger McKenzie.