Anti-Imperialism & the Western Left
An anti-imperialist vanguard in the West, formed by the people
The International Manifesto Group sponsored on April 24 a Webinar on “Anti-Imperialism & the Western Left.” The organizers maintain that, although an anti-imperialist Left is emerging, it is criticized by many liberals and leftists who do not understand the central importance of imperialism and anti-imperialist resistance in today’s geopolitical landscape. If the Western Left does not understand the centrality of the contradiction between imperialism and anti-imperialism, it cannot advance the peoples’ struggle for socialism.
My commentary today reviews five of the presentations at the April 24 Webinar.
Benjamin Norton is a journalist, writer, and filmmaker; he is the founder and editor of the independent media outlet, Multipolarista, where he reports in both English and Spanish. His journalism focuses primarily on U.S. foreign policy and geopolitics. He has reported from many countries around the world and is currently based in Nicaragua.
Norton notes that, in the historic split between social democracy and communism in the context of World War I, Lenin and the communists discerned the importance of imperialism, whereas social democracy did not. Thus was initiated a long tendency of pro-imperialism or anti-anti-imperialism in the Left which continues to our days. The tendency has included Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School, Gloria Steinam, Latino intersectional feminism, and liberal pundits of The New York Times. During the Vietnam War, there were factions in SDS and SNCC that were opposed to the U.S. war but also were against the Vietnamese nationalist struggle. The CIA has for decades encouraged the development of an anti-Soviet Left, a non-communist and compatible Left. This tendency is very much in evidence today, with the Left divided with respect to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. Some in the Left do not understand that the war was started not by Russia in February 2022 but by USA/NATO in 2014, as an imperialist war of aggression against Russia. The Russian military operation is an anti-imperialist response.
Norton addressed the widespread disinformation with respect to the Russian military operation. He noted that so-called “factcheckers” often do nothing more than verify that a “fact” has previously appeared in The New York Times, a once prestigious newspaper in the context of Western liberal democracy, but which today is a de facto propaganda branch of the Biden administration. As a result, basic facts in Ukraine are dismissed as Russian disinformation.
Norton further noted that Russia is a semi-peripheral country; and it does not have the conditions to establish itself as an imperialist country. This point was developed further by Gary Wilson, in an article on Struggle La Lucha on March 2, 2022 and republished in New Cold War on April 21. Wilson observes that the planned economy and manufacturing capacity of the USSR was dismantled by Gorbachev and Yeltsin, thus converting Russia into a dependent exporter of raw materials such as oil and ores, like exploited and neocolonized countries. Russia’s manufacturing capacity has not been re-established under Putin; Russia does not export capital, as do the imperialist powers.
Mariá Páez Victor, PhD is a sociologist, born in Venezuela, now retired from university teaching and dedicated to writing. She is a frequent commentator on issues related to Latin American history and politics; and she has participated in numerous television and radio events and in public meetings. She has a weekly radio program about Venezuela in the Spanish language community radio of Toronto.
Páez Victor maintains that imperialism is characterized by domination of a territory in order to have access to raw materials. Although imperialism is not characterized by direct military control, military power is fundamental, as are the manufacturing of arms and the militarization of foreign policy. Empires mask their military power with ideologies.
The USA is the only empire today. However, the U.S. ideology is losing credibility, Páez Victor believes, because of failed wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan; and because of its flagrant disregard for international law.
Imperialism, Páez Victor maintains, is a logical and necessary component of corporate capitalism, because corporations need the raw materials found beyond the territory of their home nations. In the current stage of parasitic finance capitalism, the extraction of capital from the territory of the global South takes priority. There emerge policies of free trade that is not free and humanitarian interventions that are not humanitarian. NGOs are supported in countries to facilitate interference in the internal affairs of nations; the National Endowment for Democracy has played a central role in creating and supporting NGOs.
Eurocentrism and subtle racism support imperialism, as the peoples of the North assume that they have a natural right to live in better conditions than the rest of the world. For this reason, Che warned to not trust imperialism, even a little bit.
Latin America and the Caribbean have been central to U.S. domination. Therefore, the United States has overthrown numerous governments in the region, which it considers its backyard.
Corporate capitalism has become parasitic finance capitalism, oriented to the extraction of capital from the global South, but it continues to need the raw materials of the South. Corporate capitalism cannot be separated from imperialism; corporate capitalism, including parasitic finance capitalism, is necessarily imperialist.
The revolution in Venezuela led by Hugo Chávez, Páez Victor maintains, sought to end the rule of corporate capitalism. It undertook a strong social transformation through a redefinition of the role of the state. It has established democratic participation and has removed the ruling class from power. It is diversifying the economy, which this year will grow by 20%, in spite of U.S. economic sanctions. Chávez declared the revolution socialist, a socialism for the twenty-first century, with characteristics appropriate for the era, the nation, and the region.
Many armchair revolutionaries of the West do not consider Chávez a true socialist. The Chavist revolution follows its own logic and does not have the pattern of other socialist revolutions; while the armchair revolutionaries have a narrow, ethnocentric notion of revolution. Many armchair revolutionaries reject the Chavist revolution because it was not brought to power through armed struggle; others because Chávez was Catholic. The armchair Western revolutionaries, however, do not have a practical or experiential base for their ideas, because they have not carried out a socialist revolution. They think they have a right to define what a real revolution ought to look like in Venezuela, in spite of their wilful ignorance of Venezuelan political culture. They do not see that there is not one road to socialism.
In contrast to the armchair revolutionaries, the powerful enemies of the revolution recognize a revolution when they see it. They know that Venezuela has a real revolution.
The contrast between the Western armchair revolutionaries and the Venezuelan Communist Party is instructive. Páez Victor observes that the Party has conceptions similar to some of the Western revolutionaries. It has had little influence in Venezuela, because its formulation was not tied to the people’s sense of history. But when the Chavist revolution emerged with a different reading of history, the Party recognized its revolutionary dimensions and have supported it, even while maintaining their different reading of history. They are allies and supporters of the Chavist revolution, unlike the armchair revolutionaries of the West.
Páez Victor observed that the Latin American and Non-Aligned peoples have seen the solidarity in practice of Russia, China, Cuba, and Iran. They have seen that China and Russia have respect for the peoples that constitute 75% of humanity. They therefore are reluctant to believe what the Western media say about China and Russia and the conflict in Ukraine. They believe that Ukraine and the European Union have stupidly become the dupes of U.S. imperialism, which gets others to fight in its wars.
Carlos Martinez is an independent researcher and political activist from London, Britain. His first book, The End of the Beginning: Lessons of the Soviet Collapse, was published in 2019 by Left Word Books. His main area of research is the construction of socialist societies, past and present. He is a co-editor of Friends of Socialist China and co-founder of No Cold War.
Martínez notes that since the triumph of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, the Chinese people have experienced an extraordinary rise in standard of living, reflected in levels of education, health, and quality of life indicators. China has recently eradicated extreme poverty and has become a world leader in climate change and renewable energy. These gains are due to the priority given to the needs of workers and peasants by the Chinese government.
Yet many of the Western Left do not support Chinese socialism, because they do not understand China. They see many billionaires in China and franchises like McDonald’s and KFC, and they think that China is no longer socialist. They do not understand that China has a market economy; but it is not a capitalist country. Looking at China superficially, they do not see that the space afforded to private capital is controlled and regulated, in accordance with the state’s plan for the economy. In China, the goals of the economy are not established by the capitalist class but by the state, in sharp contrast to the political processes of capitalist countries. At same time, the Chinese interpret their development in Marxist and socialist terms; they understand themselves as constructing socialism, in accordance with the particular conditions of China.
We in the West, Martínez notes, have a fixed idea of what socialism is, because we do not have a movement in practice. We must avoid intellectual arrogance and ethnocentrism in regard to China.
With respect to Ukraine, Martínez sees an alliance of global neoliberalism and fascism, seeking to break the emergence of an alternative pluripolar world led by China and Russia. China is attacked because it is a growing power that is playing a leading role in the emergence of a pluripolar world.
Alan Freeman is the co-director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group at the University of Manitoba. He was an economist at the Greater London Authority between 2000 and 2011, where he held the brief for the Creative Industries and the Living Wage. He wrote The Benn Heresy, a biography of British politician Tony Benn, and co-edited three books on value theory. He is honorary life vice-president of the UK-based Association for Heterodox Economics and a Vice-Chair of the World Association for Political Economy.
Freeman maintains that the Bolsheviks were the true victors in 1914. They came out on the right side of history because they understood what was going on, which empowered them to expand from their small numbers. Today, Freeman asserted, we are in a “1914 moment,” defined by the existence of capitalist countries, socialist countries and movements, and fascist movements. We must study history and make useful analogies between 1914 and 2022.
The most important similarity, Freeman maintains, is the division of the Left between pro-imperialists and anti-imperialists. Just as the pro-imperialist Left in 1914 led workers to the killing of workers of other countries, today the pro-imperialist Western Left supports the attack on the Russian people. But this occurs only in the West, not in the global South. Not even moderate Third World countries like India or Saudi Arabia have joined the attack on Russia.
Imperialism, Freeman observes, materially benefits the workers of the North, which is why they can be brought on board to support imperialist wars against other nations. Living on the colonialist side of the colonial divide, they live in much better material conditions, leaving them vulnerable to the belief that they are superior, more intelligent, more civilized, and more advanced; and to the belief that the materially wealthy nations have the right to tell other nations what to do.
This false interpretation of the factors that have driven uneven development must be exposed with an analysis of modern history, as has been provided by such thinkers as Immanuel Wallerstein and Andre Gunder Frank. They explained that the Western conquest and pillage of vast regions of the world from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries provided the foundation for the establishment of structures of unequal exchange between the North and the South, which endure to our days.
For this reason, Freeman maintains, we must be careful of the pitfall of “patriotic socialism,” in which we socialists support our respective nations in inter-imperialist or imperialist wars. Rejecting “patriotic socialism,” the Left in the USA must find common cause with the people that their government starves and bombs. “We now need a new socialism of the global North, that can work with China, Russia, and the global South to recreate the international unity that the old socialists destroyed in 1914.” We need to recreate the Communist International, which was disbanded in 1944.
Where are we going?
The International Manifesto Group is pointing toward the road to a twenty-first century reformulation of Marxism for the peoples of the North. As is necessary, it is basing its reformulation on careful consideration of the lessons learned in the Third World revolutions, which have been the driving force of social change since the conclusion of the Second World War. This theoretical reflection based on observation of existing revolutions is illustrated here with presentations on China and Venezuela, and it has been illustrated in other webinars by presentations on Cuba, DPRK, Soviet Union/Russia, the relation between Latin America and China, the farmer’s struggle in India, and the struggle in Palestine.
However, in my view, the International Manifesto Group must go further in reformulating the characteristics of the revolutionary vanguard, freeing it from the context in which Marx, or Marx and Lenin, expressed it. Fidel taught us that, in the conditions of neocolonial Cuba, the vanguard consists of the people in its diverse sectors, including workers, peasants, students, professionals, women, and the unemployed, all specifically named by Fidel in the dramatic call of 1953. After the triumph of the revolution, a vanguard political party was formed from all the sectors of the people, based on revolutionary qualities, and not on identification with a particular sector, although some attention was given to maintaining a balance of the sectors.
In calling for a socialism for the global North, the International Manifesto Group sometimes calls for a revolution of workers. In my view, in the context of a neocolonial world-system in decadence, this is a problematic formulation. In the first place, new forms of employment are being generated in the communications industries, and many of these workers do not see themselves as workers, especially those working independently as small entrepreneurs. Secondly, the professional class is threatened by the decadence of the system. In the case of the United States, the sources of the national economic decline ought to be explained to the people, which would reveal the betrayal of the nation by the power elite. All the diverse sectors of the people ought to be called to revolution, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, or gender; inasmuch as all are vulnerable before the prevailing tendencies of the time. They ought to be called to patriotic revolution that takes political power from the hands of a power elite that has betrayed the nation, seeking to construct a more just and sustainable world-system in cooperation with the revolutions of Third World national and social liberation forged by the Third World plus China.
Reflections on “White Supremacy”
Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. Baraka serves on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Peace Council and leadership body of the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC). He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch. He was recently awarded the US Peace Memorial 2019 Peace Prize and the Serena Shim award for uncompromised integrity in journalism.
Baraka maintains that division within the Left always has existed, because of the contradiction between the aspirations of the peoples of the global South and the interests of the North. As a reflection of this global divide, fundamental ideological differences have emerged, and revolutionaries of the North find it impossible to accept that the global South would lead the revolution. This problem is compounded by the fact that revolutionaries of the North lack a basis in practice.
Baraka believes that central to the limitations of the Northern revolutionary conception is the normalization of white supremacy and white revolutionary ideology. I find this to be a problematic formulation. To be sure, there is a fundamental ideological divide between North and South, which pertains both to mainstream and leftist thought. But “white supremacism” obscures the sources of the ideological limitations of leftists of the North.
We are facing a phenomenon in which many revolutionaries of the North view the global revolutionary process from ossified formulations based in the experiences of Europeans, a phenomenon which would be better described as abstracted ethnocentrism rather than white supremacy. Created to justify European colonial domination of the world, the white supremacist ideologically was understood historically as a belief in the inferiority of the peoples of color. Northern leftists by and large have been opposed to colonialism and its racist justifications, even if they could not fully understand the dimensions of colonialism from the colonialist side of the experience.
The key to greater understanding is encounter with the anti-colonial revolutions of the world. Encounter involves listening to the revolutionaries of the South, taking seriously their understandings, appropriating their understandings in one’s own understanding. This obligation has not been fulfilled by leftists of the North, which is possibly based on a hidden assumption that peoples of color are not capable of leading a world revolution, which could be understood as an unspoken form of racism. However, as a subtle and unspoken form of racism, it is different from white supremacy.
Moreover, the Northern leftist lack of appreciation for the revolutionary process of the Third World could also be based on the assumption that conditions of superexploitation reduce possibilities for leadership. This assumption is partially true, in that in the Third World revolutions, with a small working class, leaders often came from the petty bourgeoise and upper levels of the peasantry, and not the most superexploited sectors of the peasantry and lumpenproletariat. When revolutionaries of the North have encountered the dynamics of Third World revolutions and the formulations of their leaders, they have not arrived to concepts like “white supremacy.” Rather, they have arrived to formulations of the various mechanisms of colonial domination, including its capacity to remake itself in a neocolonial form; and to an understanding of the ideologies, strategies, and decisive steps that revolutions must take to transform the neocolonial order.
Beyond the formulations of leftists, let us focus on the phenomenon of white racism in U.S. society as a whole. The global transition from colonialism to neocolonialism included a fundamental change in racial ideologies, necessary for legitimating the neocolonial world-system, which pretends to be democratic. In the new ideology, beliefs in racial superiority have no place, and they have been persistently rejected by the political establishment, foundations, academic institutions, mass media, and the culture industry. As a result, blatantly racist attitudes in the United States declined from 1965 to the beginning of the twenty-first century, a fact shown by empirical studies, which also was clear in the daily experiences of the people. In this different political-ideological context, white supremacy could not survive as a mainstream tendency. To the extent that racist attitudes endured, they had to take a subtle form. Remnant white supremacy remained, but a as a socially and politically marginal phenomenon.
When the elite abandoned the nations and the peoples following 1980, this political turn ultimately stimulated by the twenty-first century a revitalization of white supremacy and fascism. This phenomenon must be analyzed well. It does not have the same characteristics that it had in the first half of the twentieth century. It occurs in the context of a neocolonial world-system in decadence and the corresponding construction in practice of an alternative pluripolar world, with China playing a vanguard role.
If “white supremacy” is an inadequate conceptualization, why does it matter? I like what Dr. Mariá Páez Victor suggests, that in order to be influential among the people, a party or movement must have concepts that are tied to the people’s sense of history. In the case of race in the USA, the experience of the people, black and white, is that fundamental changes took place in racial laws and customs, even if residual problems exist. These problems have complex origins, and they are not necessarily explained by concepts like systemic racism or white supremacy. As we seek to fulfill our duty of explaining to our peoples the necessary transition to a post-imperialist pluripolar world order, we must be careful to formulate historically and socially accurate conceptions that are not inconsistent with the lived experiences of our peoples, in order to effectively bring them on board in a process of social change. The invoking of concepts not tied to the peoples’ sense of history condemns us to limited influence.
We need to reeducate leftists, black and white, to frame the issue of race differently, basing our reformulation on the insights of African-American leaders and intellectuals of the period 1917 to 1988,who ought to be encountered along with revolutionary leaders of the Third World plus China. Rather than systemic racism or white privilege, the limitations of the Left are rooted in superficiality of thought, which comes from a lack of full commitment to seeking the truth and facing its consequences, and which is exploited by the powers that be in order to preserve their privileges.
I have written in previous commentaries criticism of the recent anti-racist theories that have gained wide currency. I maintain that these formulations are not accurate conceptualizations, and they have been disseminated by the elite precisely because they divide the people. You can find these commentaries in the Thematic Index to this column, in the category USA.
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McKelvey, Charles. 1994. The African-American Movement: From Pan-Africanism to the Rainbow Coalition. Bayside, New York: General Hall. Key insights of African-American leaders of the period included: Pan-African identification with Africa and its anti-colonial struggle in the 1920s; equal political and civil rights for all citizens, without distinctions on the basis of race, ethnicity, or color; the development of a multi-ethnic alliance in defense of social and economic rights, expressed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, and by Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition in the 1980s; local black community control in urban neighborhoods, expressed by Malcolm X in 1964; and a foreign policy of North-South cooperation, expressed in a preliminary form by Malcolm X in 1964 and by King in 1967 and in a more developed form by Jesse Jackson in the 1980s. In the 1990s, black activists turned from the historic progressive agenda of the African-American movement to take the first steps toward “identity politics,” which evolved in recent years to “Cultural Marxism” or “Critical Race Theory,” a politically and ideologically divisive anti-patriotic, post-modern formulation, embraced by the power elite as it initiated unconventional wars against anti-imperialist nations.