Posts Tagged ‘US imperialism’

Remarks on the Sunni-Shia division in Islam

March 8, 2013

Nasir Khan,  March 8, 2013

The division of Islam into Shia and Sunni branches from the mid-seventh century was more due to political factors than with the fundamentals of the faith because they were the same for all people and power elites. Obviously, two rivals engaged in a struggle to gain upper-hand in political race cannot win unless they strike some compromise and avoid the conflict. This was possible but did not happen in the early phase of the growing polarisation that was taking place in the Muslim community (the Ummah).

One puritan group, the Kharajites, saw the developments with apprehension for the new faith and the Muslim community, which by now was large and was rapidly spreading in many regions. The Kharajite solution to stem the tide of power-politics that was damaging the new nation was a drastic one: liquidate the rival claimants to the Caliphate and save the faith and the Caliphate! Despite what they did, the problem did not vanish. One party had won and the other lost. Thus under the new political order, the hereditary principle to rule replaced the right to choose the ruler. Now the faith was not moulding political power but rather the political power that had much to do with the shape of society that was taking shape. During this period the Sunni-Shia division became more marked and the divide assumed the shape that is still with us.

Now the Sunni and Shia forms of divergent political thought about the office of the Caliph and Imam emerged. Afterwards theological differences also started to grow. Inevitably, the Sunni and Shia doctrinal differences became more pronounced and the differing schools of jurisprudence put their stamp on the growing disparity between the two groups. Therefore what started as a political struggle to succession to the highest office in the State eventually developed into two rival sects within Islam. Islam had split into two major branches. This split was permanent. It had far reaching effects on the development of Islamic power and civilisation.

What sort of relationship existed between the two branches when Islam became a world religion and Islamic Empire grew in size and power can be briefly put this way: The Sunni Islam became dominant but Shias were not isolated or victimised. The relations were mostly cordial and there was mutual accommodation and tolerance.

The intolerance towards the Shias and their victimisation in countries like Pakistan in these times is a tragic story of a tolerant faith that has been hijacked by some fanatic ignorant people in the name of their brand of a theology. This Takfiri theology is simple: Shias are not Muslims; therefore we have to convert them to Islam. If they do not convert to Islam, we have a duty to kill them! So these misguided hoodlums have a big task: to eradicate Shias in Pakistan who are about one-fourth of the population, almost 40-million.

However, we should keep in mind that these right-wing criminals and callous murderers are only a fringe element within Pakistan who are causing havoc. The vast majority of Sunni Muslims have nothing against the Shia Muslims and vice versa. Both of them look upon each other as brothers and accept each other’s right to follow Islam according to their own traditions and customs.

But in Iraq under President Bush American invaders and occupiers of the land fanned the sectarian divide and what we see now is not hidden from anyone. Thus the Takfiri assassins within Pakistan with links to other Islamic countries and American imperialism from outside contribute to the same goal by use of violence and terror: divide, crush and win! But these goals are ignoble and inhuman goals that all people of good-will across all sorts of political and religious identities and affiliations need to stand against. Religions, politics and ideologies should contribute to human welfare, happiness and peaceful existence, not vice versa.

How to Think About China

January 16, 2010

Immanuel Wallerstein, Agence Global,   January 15, 2010

If one asks throughout the world the question, what do you think of the United States as a country and a world power, you will get very clear answers. Everyone has an opinion – North and South, rich and poor, men and women, politically on the right or the left, young and old. The opinions vary enormously from extremely favorable to extremely hostile. But people do feel they know how to think about the United States.

Thirty years ago, the same was probably true about China. But it is no longer true. Many people, perhaps even most people, around the world are no longer sure what they think about China as a country or as a world power. Indeed, it is a subject not only of uncertainty but of sharp debate. It is useful perhaps to review which issues people outside of China tend to debate when they discuss China. There are three principal ones.

Continues >>

Obama in Cairo: a new face for American imperialism

June 7, 2009

Patrick Martin |, 5 June 2009

The speech delivered by US President Barack Obama in Cairo yesterday was riddled with contradictions. He declared his opposition to the “killing of innocent men, women, and children,” but defended the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US proxy war in Pakistan, while remaining silent on the most recent Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. These wars have killed at least one million Iraqis and tens of thousands in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.

Obama declared his support for democracy, human rights and women’s rights, after two days of meetings with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, two of the most notorious tyrants in the Middle East. He said nothing in his speech about the complete absence of democratic rights in Saudi Arabia, or about the ongoing repression under Mubarak’s military dictatorship. In the days before the US president’s arrival at Al-Azhar University, the campus was raided by Egyptian secret police who detained more than 200 foreign students. Before leaving on his Mideast trip, Obama praised Mubarak as a “steadfast ally.”

While posturing as the advocate of universal peace and understanding, Obama diplomatically omitted any reference to his order to escalate the war in Afghanistan with the dispatch of an additional 17,000 US troops. And he tacitly embraced the policy of his predecessor in Iraq, declaring, “I believe the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.” He even seemed to hedge on the withdrawal deadline of December 2011 negotiated by the Bush administration, which he described as a pledge “to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012.”

Obama rejected the charge that America is “a self-interested empire”—a perfectly apt characterization—and denied that the United States was seeking bases, territory or access to natural resources in the Muslim world. He claimed that the war in Afghanistan was a “war of necessity” provoked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is the same argument made by the Bush-Cheney administration at the time, which deliberately conceals the real material interests at stake. The war in Afghanistan is part of the drive by US imperialism to dominate the world’s two most important sources of oil and gas, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Basin.

There was of course a distinct shift in the rhetorical tone from the bullying “you’re either with or against us” of George W. Bush to the reassuring “we’re all in this together” of Obama. But as several commentators noted (the New Republic compared the speech line-for-line to that given by Bush to the United Nations on September 16, 2006), if you turned off the picture and the sound and simply read the prepared text, the words are very similar to speeches delivered by Bush, Condoleezza Rice and other officials of the previous administration.

The vague and flowery rhetoric, the verbal tributes to Islamic culture and the equal rights of nations, constitute an adjustment of the language being used to cloak the policy of US imperialism, not a change in substance. Obama made not a single concrete proposal to redress the grievances of the oppressed peoples of the Middle East. That is because the fundamental source of this oppression is the profit system and the domination of the world by imperialism, of which American imperialism is the most ruthless.

Obama made one passing reference to colonialism, and to the US role in the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953. But in his litany of “sources of tension” in the region, he offered the same checklist as his predecessor, with the first place given to “violent extremism”, Obama’s rhetorical substitute for Bush’s “terrorism.”

The reaction to the Obama speech in the American media was across-the-board enthusiasm. Liberal David Corn of Mother Jones magazine said Obama’s great advantages were “his personal history, his non-Bushness, his recognition of US errors, his willingness to at least talk as if he wants to be an honest broker in the Mideast.”

Michael Crowley wrote in the pro-war liberal magazine New Republic, “to see him unfold his biography, to cut such an unfamiliar profile to the world, is to appreciate how much America will benefit from presenting this new face to the world.”

Perhaps most revealing was the comment by Max Boot, a neoconservative arch-defender of the war in Iraq, who wrote: “I thought he did a more effective job of making America’s case to the Muslim world. No question: He is a more effective salesman than his predecessor was.”

In his speech in Cairo, Obama was playing the role for which he was drafted and promoted by a decisive section of the US financial elite and the military and foreign policy apparatus. This role is to provide a new face for US imperialism as part of a shift in the tactics, but not the strategy, of Washington’s drive for world domination.

Nearly two years ago, former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski gave his public backing to the presidential candidacy of a still-obscure senator from Illinois, holding out the prospect that as an African-American with family ties to the Muslim world, Obama would improve the worldwide image of the United States.

Brzezinski was the leading hawk in the administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter and helped instigate the political upheavals in Afghanistan in the hopes of inciting a Soviet invasion that would trap the Moscow bureaucracy in a Vietnam-style quagmire. He has remained steadily focused on what he calls the “great chessboard” of Eurasia, and particularly on oil-rich Central Asia, where a struggle for influence now rages between the United States, Russia, China and Iran.

According to Brzezinski in August 2007, Obama “recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world… Obama is clearly more effective and has the upper hand. He has a sense of what is historically relevant and what is needed from the United States in relationship to the world.”

Brzezinski, a ruthless defender of the interests of US imperialism, has repeatedly issued warnings to the American ruling elite of the danger of what he calls the “global political awakening.”

In one particularly pointed comment, he told the German magazine Der Spiegel, only months before he endorsed Obama, that the vast majority of humanity “will no longer tolerate the enormous disparities in the human condition. That could well be the collective danger we will have to face in the next decades.”

To call it by its right name, what the more perceptive elements in the US ruling class fear is world revolution. The effort to prevent such a social upheaval is what impelled them to install Obama in the White House and what set him on his pilgrimage to Cairo.

Oppose the Afghanistan-Pakistan war

May 7, 2009

Peter Symonds | WSWS, May 7, 2009

The US summit with Afghanistan and Pakistan currently underway in Washington marks the onset of a major escalation of military violence in both countries. The purpose of the meeting is for the Obama administration to bully into line its stooges—Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari—and map out a comprehensive war strategy to pacify large areas on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border currently controlled by Islamist rebels.

The significance of the tripartite summit is underscored by the presence of key figures of the US military, intelligence and foreign policy establishment, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director Leon Panetta, FBI head Robert Mueller and US Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus, and their counterparts from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Further tripartite meetings are planned to coordinate the joint war that will inevitably take a further terrible toll of lives in both countries.

Flanked by Karzai and Zardari, Obama told the media yesterday that America was on the side of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Such remarks should be rejected with the contempt they deserve. US imperialism is stepping up its wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan not “to advance security, opportunity and justice” for the local peoples, but to pursue Washington’s strategic goal of dominating energy-rich Central Asia.

Under intense US pressure, the Pakistani military is currently waging an offensive in the Buner district involving 15,000 heavily armed troops backed by helicopter gunships and warplanes. The operation, which is being applauded in Washington, has already sent long lines of refugees fleeing for safety. According to local officials, 40,000 have already left the region and the exodus could reach half a million.

In neighboring Afghanistan, US air strikes that killed up to 150 people in the western Bala Baluk district early this week are just the latest atrocity in a war aimed at terrorizing the Afghan people and suppressing any opposition to the neo-colonial occupation. Obama barely referred to the incident, simply repeating pro-forma that the US would make “every effort” to avoid civilian casualties. Ominously, he warned that there would be more violence, but that US “commitment will not waiver.”

Both the Afghan and Pakistani presidents pledged their fealty to Washington and its “war against terrorism.” While Obama referred to them as “democratically elected leaders,” the US would have no compunction in removing them, by one means or another, if they failed to follow orders. In recent months, US officials have been highly critical of Karzai, who is facing an election in August, for his corrupt and ineffective administration as well as his criticisms of the US military for their killing of civilians.

Top US officials have also put Zardari on notice over this reluctance to launch an all-out war against Taliban guerrillas. The New York Times cited an unnamed senior administration official as saying that the war in Pakistan would hinge on the Pakistani military, “particularly given the country’s refusal, thus far, to allow American troops on the ground.” While the US military has been intensifying its missile strikes with impunity, Washington is clearly pressing for a far greater military role inside Pakistan.

The same newspaper has published a rash of sensational stories in recent days highlighting the danger of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of Islamist extremists—the same pretext that was used by the Bush administration to carry out “regime change” in Iraq. The Obama administration is obviously weighing a range of options to replace Zardari if he fails to live up to his pledges in Washington.

Editorials yesterday in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal gave uncritical and fulsome support for Obama’s new war plans. Both newspapers urged Congress to rapidly pass Obama’s request for billions in supplemental funding to bolster the Afghan and Pakistani governments and militaries, with the Wall Street Journal demanding no political caveats from Congress that would “gum up the requests” and place restrictions on the US military’s conduct of the war.

This consensus demonstrates that the entire American political establishment—the liberal Democratic wing no less than its conservative Republican counterpart—is backing Obama’s two-front war. The escalating conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan underscore the fact that the previous criticisms made by Obama and sections of the media of the war in Iraq were of a purely tactical nature. Obama was selected and thrust to the fore in last year’s election by sections of the US ruling elite that regarded Iraq as a disastrous diversion from more crucial American aims and interests in Central Asia.

Having won the election by appealing to widespread anti-war sentiment, Obama is now carrying out the mission for which he was chosen. Overseen by key Bush personnel—Defence Secretary Robert Gates and General Petraeus—the US military has prepared the ground for a major summer offensive in Afghanistan with the doubling of US troop numbers to 68,000. At the same time, the Pentagon has secured alternate supply routes in the event that the planned escalation of warfare in neighboring Pakistan threatens existing supply routes that pass through that country’s border areas.

The Wall Street Journal concluded its editorial by urging the Obama administration to make clear that “the US is committed to the region’s security for the long run,” adding: “The greatest danger is that Pakistan’s weak institutions and uncertain leaders lose their will to defeat the Islamists. That is how the Shah of Iran fell in 1979. We don’t want a repeat in Islamabad.”

In fact, the ruthless US-backed dictatorship in Iran fell not because the Shah lost his will to imprison and murder opponents, but as a result of a popular uprising which fell under the sway of the Islamic clerics. Already there are signs in Afghanistan and Pakistan of broad social and political opposition to the US and its puppets. The Wall Street Journal’s advice to Obama is that the US must do whatever is necessary and for as long as necessary to violently suppress any challenge to US economic and strategic dominance in the region.

Obama’s escalating war can only have a profoundly destabilizing impact across the region, laying the seeds for even wider and bloodier military conflagrations. It cannot be opposed by appeals to the Democratic Party or to Congress, but only through the independent mobilization of workers in the United States together with the working class and oppressed masses of South and Central Asia and internationally. That struggle must be based on a socialist perspective to overturn the capitalist system which is the source of imperialist oppression and war.

Tribute to Peter DeMott, an antiwar activist

April 2, 2009

Peter DeMottPeter DeMott

ON TUESDAY, March 17, antiwar and social justice activists in Ithaca, N.Y., gathered to watch the documentary film The Trial of the St. Patrick’s Four.

The film was screened to mark the sixth anniversary of an action of civil disobedience by four Ithaca Catholic Workers at an army recruiting center days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The gathering also served as a mournful tribute to one of the four activists who participated in the action, Peter DeMott, who died February 19 in a tragic accident.

To a room packed with 200 people, the documentary illustrated the nonviolent yet courageous ways that Peter DeMott confronted the U.S. war machine for over two decades. Peter’s commitment to opposing U.S. imperialism since his days in the Vietnam war has served as a source of inspiration to current Iraq Veterans Against the War members, as well as to community activists.

What you can do

To send condolences or donations to the DeMott-Grady family please contact: Ithaca Catholic Worker, 133 Sheffield Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850.

Peter’s relentless commitment and personal sacrifice left the audience committed to building the antiwar movement. Through the documentary, one gets a glimpse of the inspiring and conscientious person that he was, and how his political firmness led him to oppose not only one war in Iraq, but the whole for-profit system that is behind it.

Peter DeMott will be remembered as a gentle husband, father, brother, uncle, friend and a firm civil objector. His brave example will live on to inspire present and future antiwar activists.
Héctor Tarrido-Picart and Nevin Sabet, Ithaca, N.Y.

Obama’s Afghan “surge” sows seeds of new wars

February 24, 2009
Keith Jones | WSWS, Feb 24, 2009

US imperialism is set on a course to expand and intensify the Afghan War—vastly increasing the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan and extending the war into neighboring Pakistan.

The Obama administration’s Afghan troop “surge” and the ensuing ratcheting up of violence will have catastrophic consequences for the Afghani and Pakistani peoples. It adds a new, explosive dynamic to the decades-old geopolitical rivalry between India and Pakistan and will intensify the great power competition for control of oil-rich Central Asia, sowing the seeds for even larger and more destructive wars.

President Barack Obama announced last week the deployment of a further 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan, increasing US troop strength in the impoverished Central Asian state by almost 40 percent. At Washington’s urging, the Afghan government has begun arming tribal groups, copying a tactic the Pentagon employed in Iraq.

Since last August, the US has carried out 38 missile strikes inside Pakistan, the two most recent coming within days of a visit to Pakistan by Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to an article in last Saturday’s New York Times the two latest air strikes represented a change in US policy, bringing it even more directly into Pakistan’s internal politics. For the first time the US targeted Islamist militia who have not been involved in the Afghan insurgency.

The Times has also revealed that US Special Forces are carrying out covert land operations inside Pakistan and that since last summer 70 US military personnel have been deployed to Pakistan to train Pakistani soldiers and paratroopers in counter-insurgency warfare.

It has become a veritable mantra of the Obama administration and US geo-political think tanks that suppressing Taliban “safe-havens” in Pakistan is pivotal to stamping out the anti-US insurgency in Afghanistan and that this requires that Islamabad “do more.”

Under pressure from Washington, the Pakistani military and government have for years been conducting offensive operations in the traditionally autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), strafing villages, “disappearing” alleged opponents of the US occupation of Afghanistan, and imposing colonial-style collective punishments on “uncooperative” tribes. Over the past six months these military operations have been expanded. Earlier this month, the United Nations refugee agency said the fighting has displaced 450,000 people in northwest Pakistan and it fears the total will reach 600,000 in a matter of weeks. Holbrooke himself told PBS television that he had seen “flattened villages” when touring FATA by air. But Washington is adamant that its Pakistani allies must be even more ruthless, even if such action further stokes popular anger against the government and threatens to divide the military, many of whose recruits are drawn from Pakistan’s Pashtun community. The Pashtuns have borne the burnt of the US occupation of Afghanistan and the Pakistani government’s drive to assert its authority in FATA.

The New York Times and other liberal supporters of the Obama administration have promoted the Afghan war as the so-called “good war,’ in contrast with the Iraq war (which the Times nonetheless also enthusiastically supported.) In fact, the two wars are of a piece. Both have been waged with the aim of imposing US hegemony in regions where there are vast reserves of oil and thereby securing US global predominance, under conditions where the US’s economic power has been vastly eroded.

The Afghani and Pakistani peoples have already paid a horrific price for Washington’s and Wall Street’s predatory ambitions. Dating back to the early 1950s, the Pakistani military has served as a tool of US geopolitical strategy and Washington, in turn, has served as the bulwark of a succession of right-wing military dictatorships, including that of George W. Bush’s “friend” and “indispensable ally in the war on terror,” General Pervez Musharraf.

The current US intervention in Afghanistan is the culmination of three decades of intrigue and subversion, which first saw the US arm Islamic guerrillas, in order to destabilize a pro-Soviet government in Kabul and draw the Soviet Union into a disastrous land war, and later, in the name of fighting “Islamist terrorism,” occupy Afghanistan and install a corrupt and violent puppet government.

Continued >>

The U.S. Imperial Triangle and Military Spending

February 18, 2009

John Bellamy Foster, Hannah Holleman, and Robert W. McChesney | Monthly Review, October 2008

The United States is unique today among major states in the degree of its reliance on military spending, and its determination to stand astride the world, militarily as well as economically. No other country in the post–Second World War world has been so globally destructive or inflicted so many war fatalities. Since 2001, acknowledged U.S. national defense spending has increased by almost 60 percent in real dollar terms to a level in 2007 of $553 billion. This is higher than at any point since the Second World War (though lower than previous decades as a percentage of GDP). Based on such official figures, the United States is reported by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as accounting for 45 percent of world military expenditures. Yet, so gargantuan and labyrinthine are U.S. military expenditures that the above grossly understates their true magnitude, which, as we shall see below, reached $1 trillion in 2007.1

Externally, these are necessary expenditures of world empire. Internally, they represent, as Michal Kalecki was the first to suggest, an imperial triangle of state-financed military production, media propaganda, and real/imagined economic-employment effects that has become a deeply entrenched, and self-perpetuating feature of the U.S. social order.2

Many analysts today view the present growth of U.S. militarism and imperialism as largely divorced from the earlier Cold War history of the United States, which was commonly seen as a response to the threat represented by the Soviet Union. Placed against this backdrop the current turn to war and war preparation appears to numerous commentators to lack a distinct target, despite concerns about global terrorism, and to be mainly the product of irrational hubris on the part of U.S. leaders. Even as insightful a left historian as Eric Hobsbawm has recently adopted this general perspective. Thus in his 2008 book On Empire Hobsbawm writes:

Frankly, I can’t make sense of what has happened in the United States since 9/11 that enabled a group of political crazies to realize long-held plans for an unaccompanied solo performance of world supremacy….Today a radical right-wing regime seeks to mobilize “true Americans” against some evil outside force and against a world that does not recognize the uniqueness, the superiority, the manifest destiny of America…. In effect, the most obvious danger of war today arises from the global ambitions of an uncontrollable and apparently irrational government in Washington….To give America the best chance of learning to return from megalomania to rational foreign policy is the most immediate and urgent task of international politics.3

Such a view, which sees the United States as under the influence of a new irrationalism introduced by George W. Bush and a cabal of neoconservative “political crazies,” and consequently calls for a return from “megalomania to rational foreign policy,” downplays the larger historical and structural forces at work that connect the Cold War and post–Cold War imperial eras. In contrast, a more realistic perspective, we believe, can be obtained by looking at the origins of the U.S. “military ascendancy” (as C. Wright Mills termed it) in the early Cold War years and the centrality this has assumed in the constitution of the U.S. empire and economy up to the present.4

The Permanent War Economy and Military Keynesianism

In January 1944 Charles E. Wilson, president of General Electric and executive vice chairman of the War Production Board, delivered a speech to the Army Ordnance Association advocating a permanent war economy. According to the plan Wilson proposed on that occasion, every major corporation should have a “liaison” representative with the military, who would be given a commission as a colonel in the Reserve. This would form the basis of a program, to be initiated by the president as commander in chief in cooperation with the War and Navy departments, designed to bind corporations and military together into a single unified armed forces-industrial complex. “What is more natural and logical,” he asked, “than that we should henceforth mount our national policy upon the solid fact of an industrial capacity for war, and a research capacity for warthat is already ‘in being’? It seems to me anything less is foolhardy.” Wilson went on to indicate that in this plan the part to be played by Congress was restricted to voting for the needed funds. Further, it was essential that industry be allowed to play its central role in this new warfare state without being hindered politically “or thrown to the fanatical isolationist fringe [and] tagged with a ‘merchants-of-death’ label.”

In calling, even before the Second World War had come to a close, for a “continuing program of industrial preparedness,” for war, Charles E. Wilson (sometimes referred to as “General Electric Wilson” to distinguish him from “General Motors Wilson”—Charles Erwin Wilson, president of General Motors and Eisenhower’s secretary of defense) was articulating a view that was to characterize the U.S. oligarchy as a whole during the years immediately following the Second World War. In earlier eras it had been assumed that there was an economic “guns and butter” trade-off, and that military spending had to occur at the expense of other sectors of the economy. However, one of the lessons of the economic expansion in Nazi Germany, followed by the experience of the United States itself in arming for the Second World War, was that big increases in military spending could act as huge stimulants to the economy. In just six years under the influence of the Second World War the U.S. economy expanded by 70 percent, finally recovering from the Great Depression. The early Cold War era thus saw the emergence of what later came to be known as “military Keynesianism”: the view that by promoting effective demand and supporting monopoly profits military spending could help place a floor under U.S. capitalism.5

John Maynard Keynes, in his landmark General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, in the midst of the Depression, argued that the answer to economic stagnation was to promote effective demand through government spending. The bastardized Keynesianism that came to be known as “military Keynesianism” was the view that this was best effected with the least negative consequences for big business by focusing on military spending. As Joan Robinson, one of Keynes’s younger colleagues, critically explained in her iconoclastic lecture, “The Second Crisis of Economic Theory,” before the American Economic Association on December 27, 1971:

The most convenient thing for a government to spend on is armaments. The military-industrial complex [thus] took charge. I do not think it plausible to suppose that the cold war and several hot wars were invented just to solve the employment problem. But certainly they have had that effect. The system had the support not only of the corporations who make profits under it and the workers who got jobs, but also of the economists who advocated government loan-expenditure as a prophylactic against stagnation. Whatever were the deeper forces leading to the hypertrophy of military power after the world war was over, certainly they could not have had such free play if the doctrine of sound finance had still been respected. It was the so-called Keynesians who persuaded successive Presidents that there is no harm in a budget deficit and left the military-industrial complex to take advantage of it. So it has come about that Keynes’ pleasant daydream was turned into a nightmare of terror.6

The first to theorize this tendency toward military Keynesianism under monopoly capitalism, was the Polish economist Michal Kalecki (most famous, as Robinson pointed out in the above-mentioned lecture, for having discovered the essentials of Keynes’s General Theory before Keynes himself). In a 1943 essay on “The Political Aspects of Full Employment” and in subsequent essays, Kalecki argued that monopoly capital had a deep aversion to increased civilian government spending due to its intrusion on the commodity market and the sphere of private profit, but that this did not apply in the same way to military spending, which was seen by the vested interests as adding to rather than crowding out profits. If absorption of the massive economic surplus of large corporate capital through increased government spending was the key to accumulation in post–Second World War U.S. capitalism, this was dependent principally on military expenditures, or what Kalecki in 1956 labeled “the armament-imperialist complex.” This resulted in a “high degree of utilization” of productive capacity and “counteracted the disrupting influence of the increase in the relative share of accumulation of big business in the national product.”7

For Kalecki this new military-supported regime of accumulation that came to characterize U.S. monopoly capital by the mid-1950s established a strong political-economic foundation for its own rule “based on the following [imperial] triangle”:

  1. Imperialism contributes to a relatively high level of employment through expenditures on armaments and ancillary purposes and through the maintenance of a large body of armed forces and government employees.
  2. The mass communications media, working under the auspices of the ruling class, emits propaganda aimed at securing the support of the population for this armament-imperialist set-up.
  3. The high level of employment and the standard of living increased considerably as compared with before the war (as a result of the rise in the productivity of labor), and this facilitated the absorption of this propaganda to the broad masses of the population.

Mass communication occupied a central place in this imperial triangle. An essential part of Kalecki’s argument was that “the mass communication media, such as the daily press, radio, and television in the United States are largely under the control of the ruling class.” As none other than Charles E. (General Electric) Wilson, then defense mobilization director, put it in a speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 26, 1951, the job of the media was to bring “public opinion, as marshaled by the press” to the support of the permanent war effort (italics added).8

The result by the mid-1950s was a fairly stable militarized economy, in which intertwined imperial, political-economic, and communication factors all served to reinforce the new military-imperial order. Kalecki observed that U.S. trade unions were “part and parcel of the armament-imperialist set-up. Workers in the United States are not duller and trade union leaders are not more reactionary ‘by nature’ than in other capitalist countries. Rather, the political situation in the United States, is simply, in accordance with the precepts of historical materialism, the unavoidable consequence of economic developments and of characteristics of the superstructure of monopoly capitalism in its advanced stage.” All of this pointed to what Harry Magdoff was to call the essential “one-ness of national security and business interests” that came to characterize the U.S. political economy and empire.9

Many of Kalecki’s ideas were developed further by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy in 1966 in Monopoly Capital. Baran and Sweezy argued there were at least five political-economic-imperial ends propelling the U.S. oligarchy in the 1950s and ’60s toward the creation of a massive military establishment: (1) defending U.S. global hegemony and the empire of capital against external threats in the form of a wave of revolutions erupting throughout the world, simplistically viewed in terms of a monolithic Communist threat centered in the Soviet Union; (2) creating an internationally “secure” platform for U.S. corporations to expand and monopolize economic opportunities abroad; (3) forming a government-sponsored research and development sector that would be dominated by big business; (4) generating a more complacent population at home, made less recalcitrant under the nationalistic influence of perpetual war and war preparation; and (5) soaking up the nation’s vast surplus productive capacity, thus helping to stave off economic stagnation, through the promotion of high-profit, low-risk (to business) military spending. The combined result of such political-economic-imperial factors was the creation of the largest, most deeply-entrenched and persistent, “peacetime” war machine that the world had ever seen.10

Like Kalecki, Baran and Sweezy argued that the U.S. oligarchy kept a “tight rein on civilian [government] spending,” which, they suggested, “had about reached its outer limits” as a percentage of national income “by 1939,” but was nonetheless “open-handed with the military.” Government-pump priming operations therefore occurred largely through spending on wars and war preparations in the service of empire. The Pentagon naturally made sure that bases and armaments industries were spread around the United States and that numerous corporations profited from military spending, thus maximizing congressional support due to the effects on states and districts.11

For members of the U.S. oligarchy and their hangers-on, the virtuous circle of mutually reinforcing military spending and economic growth represented by military Keynesianism was something to be celebrated rather than held up to criticism. Harvard economist Sumner Slichter explained to a banker’s convention in October 1949, that as long as Cold War spending persisted a severe economic depression was “difficult to conceive.” The Cold War “increases the demand for goods, helps sustain a high level of employment, accelerates technological progress and thus helps the country to raise its standard of living….So we may thank the Russians for helping make capitalism in the United States work better than ever.”

Similarly, U.S. News and World Report told its readers on May 14, 1950 (a month before the outbreak of the Korean War):

Government planners figure they have found the magic formula for almost endless good times. They are now beginning to wonder if there may not be something to perpetual motion after all. Cold war is the catalyst. Cold war is an automatic pump primer. Turn a spigot, and the public clamors for more arms spending. Turn another, the clamor ceases. Truman confidence, cockiness, is based on this “Truman formula.” Truman era of good times, President is told, can run much beyond 1952. Cold war demands, if fully exploited, are almost limitless.

In the same vein, U.S. News and World Report was to declare in 1954: “What H-bomb means to business. A long period…of big orders. In the years ahead, the effects of the new bomb will keep on increasing. As one appraiser puts it: ‘The H-bomb has blown depression-thinking out the window.’” In 1959 David Lawrence, editor of U.S. News and World Report, indicated that he viewed with equanimity the suggestion that the United States “might conceivably strike first in what has become known as ‘preemptive’ rather than ‘preventive’ war.”

Henry Luce, the media mogul at the head of the Time-Life empire, who coined the term “the American Century,” observed in November 1957 in Fortune that the United States “can stand the load of any defense effort required to hold the power of Soviet Russia in check. It cannot, however, indefinitely stand the erosion of creeping socialism and the ceaseless extension of government activities into additional economic fields” beyond the military. This was directly in line with Kalecki’s and Baran and Sweezy’s contention that the system was tight-fisted where civilian spending was concerned and open-handed with the military.

Remarking on the success of military Keynesianism in promoting economic prosperity, the influential Harvard economist Seymour Harris wrote in the The New York Times Magazine in 1959: “If we treat the years from 1941 to the present as a whole, we find again that a period of record prosperity coincided with a period of heavy military outlay….About one dollar out of seven went for war and preparation for war, and this expenditure was undoubtedly a stimulus to the economy.”12

A military Keynesian view was close to the heart of the major U.S. planning document of the Cold War, NSC-68, issued in April 1950 shortly before the Korean War by the U.S. National Security Council  and signed by President Truman in September 1950, but not declassified until 1975. Drafted by Paul Nitze, then head of the policy review group in the state department, the main intent of NSC-68 was to construct a rollback strategy against the Soviet Union. It called for a vast increase in military spending above its already high levels, and considered the possibility that “in an emergency the United States could devote upward of 50 percent of its gross national product” to the military effort as in the Second World War. “From the point of view of the economy as a whole,” NSC-68 declared,

the program [of military expansion] might not result in a real decrease in the standard of living, for the economic effects of the program might be to increase the gross national product by more than the amount being absorbed for additional military and foreign assistance purposes. One of the most significant lessons of our World War II experience was that the American economy, when it operates at a level approaching full efficiency [full capacity], can provide enormous resources for purposes other than civilian consumption while simultaneously providing a high standard of living. After allowing for price changes, personal consumption expenditures rose by almost one-fifth between 1939 and 1944, even though the economy had in the meantime increased the amount of resources going into Government use by $60[–]$65 billion (in 1939 prices).13

U.S. militarism was therefore motivated first and foremost by a global geopolitical struggle, but was at the same time seen as essentially costless (even beneficial) to the U.S. economy, which could have more guns and more butter too. It was thus viewed as a win-win solution for the U.S. empire and economy.

By the time that President Eisenhower (who played a role in this military expansion) raised concerns about what he dubbed the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address of January 17, 1961, it was already so firmly established as to constitute the permanent war economy envisioned by Charles E. (General Electric) Wilson. As Eisenhower’s secretary of defense, Charles Erwin (General Motors) Wilson (best known for having created a major flap by saying that “what is good for General Motors is good for the country”), observed in 1957, the military set-up was then so built into the economy as to make it virtually irreversible: “so many Americans are getting a vested interest in it: Properties, business, jobs, employment, votes, opportunities for promotion and advancement, bigger salaries for scientists and all that….If you try to change suddenly you get into trouble….If you shut the whole business off now, you will have the state of California in trouble because such a big percentage of the aircraft industry is in California.”14

Hence, the concern that Eisenhower voiced in his farewell address about a “permanent armaments industry of vast proportions” and the fact that “we annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations”15 was a belated recognition of what had already become an established fact. The need for the gargantuan military-industrial complex that the United States developed in these years was not so much for purposes of economic expansion directly (though military Keynesianism pointed to its stimulating effects) but due to the reality, as Baran and Sweezy emphasized, that the capitalist world order and U.S. hegemony could only be maintained “a while longer,” in the face of rising insurgencies throughout the world, through “increasingly direct and massive intervention by American armed forces.”16 This entire built-in military system could not be relinquished without relinquishing empire. Indeed, the chief importance of U.S. military power from the early Cold War years to today has been that it is used—either directly, resulting in millions of deaths (counting those who died in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, as well as dozens of lesser conflicts), or indirectly, as a means to intimidate.17

The most important left analysts of these developments in the 1950s and ’60s, Kalecki, Baran, Sweezy, and Magdoff, insisted—going against the dominant U.S. Cold War ideology—that the cause of U.S. military spending was capitalist empire, rather than the need to contain the Soviet threat. The benefits of military spending to monopoly capital, moreover, guaranteed its continuation, barring a major social upheaval. The decade and a half since the fall of the Soviet Union has confirmed the accuracy of this assessment. The euphoria of the “peace dividend” following the end of the Cold War evaporated almost immediately in the face of new imperial requirements. This was a moment of truth for U.S. capitalism, demonstrating how deeply entrenched were its military-imperial interests. By the end of the 1990s U.S. military spending, which had been falling, was on its way up again.

Today, in what has been called a “unipolar world,” U.S. military spending for purposes of empire is rapidly expanding—to the point that it rivals that of the entire rest of the world put together. When it is recognized that most of the other top ten military-spending nations are U.S. allies or junior partners, it makes the U.S. military ascendancy even more imposing. Only the reality of global empire (and the effects of this on the internal body politic) can explain such an overwhelming destructive power. As Atlantic Monthly correspondent Robert Kaplan proudly proclaimed in 2005: “By the turn of the twenty-first century the United States military had already appropriated the entire earth, and was ready to flood the most obscure areas of it with troops at a moment’s notice.”18

Continued >>

Armed with a shoe, Iraqi journalist inspires resistance

December 18, 2008

Bush ducks footwear, but still gets a kick to the face

During George W. Bush’s final visit to the country that has endured indescribable death and destruction under his administration, the defiance of one brave journalist encapsulated the sentiment of people all over the world.

Iraqis show solidarity with shoe thrower al-Zaidi, 12-15-08
Iraqis demonstrate in solidarity
with al-Zaidi, Dec. 15

Muntadhar al-Zaidi, a journalist with Al-Baghdadia television, hurled his shoe at Bush while shouting: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” Al-Zaidi’s shoe narrowly missed Bush’s ducking head.

Bush laughed off the incident, ignorantly claiming, “I’m not sure what his cause was.” Even before the shoe hit the ground, Bush’s propaganda apparatus and the corporate media were already spinning the act as evidence of Iraq’s progress toward democracy and tolerance of dissidence.

This much-touted tolerance, however, did not prevent Maliki’s guards from dragging al-Zaidi outside and beating him mercilessly. Blood could be seen where guards had tackled al-Zaidi, and witnesses say his cries could be heard for the duration of the news conference.

Al-Zaidi was promptly whisked away to a detention facility for interrogation, and is still being held. The journalist’s brother says al-Zaidi suffered a broken hand, broken ribs, internal bleeding and an eye injury. Al-Zaidi faces charges of “insulting a foreign leader and the Prime Minister of Iraq,” which could land him in prison for seven years.

Al-Zaidi knew full well that he would face severe consequences, but he was determined to give a voice to those who have suffered. Sitting just a few feet away from the man who, for so many, has been the incarnation of the war policy that killed over 1 million Iraqis, and maimed and displaced millions more, al-Zaidi burst Bush’s bubble and effectively ruined his end-of-term victory parade. Who would have thought that the disdain and hatred felt for Bush all over the Arab world and, for that matter, across much of the globe, would fit into a single shoe?

Continued  >>

Obama selects Biden to reassure the US ruling elite

August 26, 2008

World Socialist Web Site, August 25, 2008

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The selection of Senator Joseph Biden as the vice-presidential candidate of the Democratic Party underscores the fraudulent character of the Democratic primary campaign and the undemocratic character of the entire two-party electoral system. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the supposed protagonist of “change,” has picked as his running-mate a fixture of the Washington establishment, a six-term US senator who is a proven defender of American imperialism and the interests of big business.

The rollout of the Biden selection over three days of escalating media attention, culminating in the text-message announcement early Saturday and a kickoff rally in Springfield, Illinois, is a metaphor for the entire Obama campaign. His presidential candidacy represents not an insurgency from below, but an effort to manipulate mass sentiments, using Internet technology and slick marketing techniques, aided by a compliant media, to produce a political result that is utterly conventional and in keeping with the requirements of the US ruling elite.

Long gone are the days when the selection of a vice-presidential candidate by one of the two major big business parties involved a complex balancing act between various institutional forces. In the Democratic Party, this would have involved consultations with trade union officials, civil rights organizations, congressional leaders and the heads of particularly powerful state and urban political machines.

Today, neither party has any substantial popular base. In both parties there is only one true “constituency”: the financial aristocracy that dominates economic and political life and controls the mass media, and whose interests determine government policy, both foreign and domestic. The selection of Biden, the senator from a small state with only three electoral votes, whose own presidential bids have failed miserably for lack of popular support, underscores the immense chasm separating the entire political establishment from the broad mass of the American people.

Obama has selected Biden to provide reassurance that, whatever populist rhetoric may be employed for electoral purposes in the fall campaign, the wealth and privileges of the ruling elite and the geo-strategic aims of US imperialism will be the single-minded concerns of a Democratic administration.

Continued . . .

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