Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cold War balance of forces — despite and perhaps because of the nuclear threat — guaranteed a certain amount of stability in the world. Furthermore, we can confidently say that the strength of the Socialist community gave enough muscle to the anti-imperialist forces to hold imperialism substantially at bay.
Indeed, during the seventies and early eighties, the balance seemed to be shifting towards anti-imperialism and socialist construction, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean. Congo-Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Grenada were embracing Marxism-Leninism, while other countries like Tanzania, Algeria, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Jamaica were attempting to shape left-social democratic governments. In fact, virtually the only exceptions to this trend were imperialist maintained tin-pot dictators like Mobutu and Geary.
Of course that is long gone. And what replaces it? Without too much imagination, one might surmise that absent a counterforce, imperialism would go on an orgy of pillage and aggression. One would expect that there would be a veritable invasion of political and economic speculators into the formerly socialist countries of central and Eastern Europe. One would expect that any resistance would be countered politically and militarily. Independence and anti-imperialism would be swiftly dealt with where ever it arose and a world order of smooth and harmonious capitalist relations would be uniformly sought. And one would expect that Inter-imperialist rivalries would be emerging, replacing the Cold War conflict.
That is precisely the kind of world we find in 2005. The US, NATO, and the latest coalition of the servile have directly invaded countries since the Gorbachev counterrevolution, events unseen since the US adventure and defeat in Southeast Asia. Coups and secessions have been engineered in Yugoslavia, Serbia, Georgia, Venezuela, Ukraine, with the Venezuelan attempt resulting in a people’s victory.
Any Marxist with even a passing familiarity with Lenin’s Imperialism would anticipate these outcomes. But any non-Marxist with even a passing familiarity with the history of the world before the Bolshevik Revolution would also expect the demise of European Socialism to encourage the big fish to viciously and veraciously attack and devour the little fish.
So it comes as a surprise that so many in left and liberal circles get it wrong. And they get it wrong for many reasons, nearly all rooted in ideological weaknesses.
Some liberals remain mired in anti-communism. For that reason, they cannot imagine that the Soviet Union or any other socialist country could have constituted a positive force in the world. It is beyond their belief that Communism could be anything other than completely evil. Therefore, they expect only good things to happen with the demise of Soviet power. Accordingly, any actions that dismantle socialism or the vestiges of socialism must be worthy of support, even if initiated by NATO, the US, or other imperialist powers, even if forced upon the citizens of the former socialist world. This knee-jerk anti-communism explains, in part, why jost liberals applauded the systematic destruction of Yugoslavia.
Others on the left are struggling to put aside Cold War thinking. The Cold War required that everyone take sides, neutrality was not an option. Many on the left believed that, in every struggle, there were identifiable good guys and bad guys. The US was wrong to be in Vietnam and the Soviets were wrong to be in Afghanistan. The US should forego the Monroe Doctrine and the Socialist countries should give up the Brezhnev Doctrine. And so on.
Whatever merit this identify-the-bad-guys approach might have had, it fails us in an era of unfettered Imperialism. Lenin recognized, as the First World War so tragically proved, that there are no “good” imperialists. None deserve our unqualified moral support, though we may choose a side for reasons of political tactics. This failure to recognize the systematic moral bankruptcy of Imperialism blinds people to the real logic of the phony “revolutions” in Eastern Europe. Two imperialist powers, the US and Russia, are vying for influence and freedom of action in these states. One, a first rate imperial power, pours tens of millions of dollars and thousands of cadre into the struggle. The other, a second-rate, less resourceful imperial power, makes a weaker, but equally determined effort. Either outcome is a disaster for the people.
But we must be clear that a victory for the jost dominant imperial power is a greater threat to world peace and social justice. Moreover, our first duty is to resist the imperial designs of the country within which we reside.
A particularly pernicious version of this bi-polarity occurs when some excuse imperial aggression by citing the danger or degeneracy posed by the offended nation. This position is very much akin with the “civilizing mission” of classic nineteenth century imperialism. We are — the argument would go — in Iraq to remove a dangerous, genocidal dictator. Some liberals shamefully forgive the US imperial crimes by pointing to the “western values” of freedom and democracy that the modern-day centurions are bringing to Iraq.
One finds this apology for US intervention in a recent column in The Nation (1-10/17/05). Jonathan Schell concedes that the US has made every effort to influence the Ukrainian election, but, in the end, he is certain that democracy will prevail. This Pollyanna view invests nobility in a movement that has been shown on this website and other places to be a nest of pro-Western opportunists. Schell smugly attributes democratic motives to the US and its allies: “Making sure there is an election is different from deciding who the winner is.” It is indeed, but that’s not what engages the resources of imperial powers.
A third ideological affliction sprung from a misreading of the nature of the post-Soviet struggles. The seeming victory of neo-liberalism shifted the battlefront to skirmishes over “free-trade” and “globalization.” The fall of an entire economic bloc — the CMEA — created an enormous spike in capital flow and trade along with the creation of huge pools of cheap, unorganized, but skilled labor. Many — particularly within the academic left — mistook this event with signaling a new era of capitalism. From loony theories spun from whole cloth like the Hardt/Negri booksEmpire and Multitude (Tony Judt, writing in the New York Review of Books, astutely notes: “With the American left reading Multitude, Dick Cheney can sleep easy.”) to detailed analyses of an emerging “trans-national ruling class,” scholars sought to understand the illusive “globalization” at the theoretical expense of imperialism.
Ironically, the shameful Cold-War collaboration of leaders of organized labor with US imperialism contributed directly to the creation of a huge pool of skilled, but low paid competitive international workers along with a greased track of unrestricted trade, the very state of affairs that labor leaders now rail against when they oppose free-trade and globalization. Like support for “welfare reform” and its consequent injection of cheap, desperate labor onto the labor market, these missteps show the dangers of a labor movement without a working class ideology.
While valuable time has been lost with these ideological dead ends, we must fight to invigorate popular movements with our unique insights into the nature of imperialism. Sadly, we see the same ugly face of arrogant, aggressive empire that confronted Lenin and his comrades at the turn of the last century. But we should be inspired by the example set by these determined revolutionaries. And in today’s world, in the person of Fidel Castro, we find a contemporary international Marxist-Leninist leader who has unswervingly and consistently opposed imperialism.
The Cuban leader, despite the hardships imposed by a post-Soviet world, has defied the imperial powers, making no concessions for expediency. Faced with US meddling in Cuban domestic affairs, the Cuban government has swiftly and effectively halted US destabilization operations similar to the ones launched in Eastern Europe. Cuban Security has thoroughly lanced this boil, systematically exposing the anatomy of the scheme to an uninterested, cynical "democratic" press.
Similarly, the Cuban government has dismissed sanctimonious charges of "human rights" violations by the EU. For countries responsible for centuries of bloody, humiliating colonial exploitation and degradation to accuse a tiny, materially poor Caribbean country with violating the rights of paid agents of the northern goliath is beyond comment. And the Cuban’s treated these charges with appropriate contempt.
So if we want to oppose imperialism, we must muster every effort to defend this tiny beacon of defiance.