Anti-imperialism is the way
Not anti-war nor anti-racism
The International Manifesto Group sponsored a Webinar on August 7, 2022, on “The Conflict Over Ukraine: Where Should the Left Stand?” The moderator, Radhika Desai, explained that the Webinar has been organized in response to the absence of a coherent Left position on the Russian special military operation in Ukraine, including divisions concerning the nature of imperialism and with respect to the identification of imperialist actors in the world scene, with some leftists participating in the demonization of Russia and China. She noted that the incoherence of the Left has historic roots, in that following the end of the Cold War, many of the Left adopted the rhetoric of human rights, thus becoming defenders of imperialist interventions in the world. Desai is a Professor at the Department of Political Studies, and Director, Geopolitical Economy Research Group, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada; and she is the convener of the International Manifesto Group.
John Ross is Senior Fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. For the last thirty years, he has published numerous articles on the Chinese economy, several of which have won prizes in China. He is author of two best-selling books published in Chinese; his new book in English is China’s Great Road: Lessons for Marxist Theory and Socialist Practices.
Ross declared that he never in his lifetime has seen such confusion on the Left as there is with respect to Ukraine, even though the politics that led to the war is not difficult to understand. First, there is NATO expansion, in violation of promises made to Russia in the early 1990s. NATO expansion is driven by the fact that the USA has declined economically but remains military superior; it seeks to weaken and fragment Russia in order to break up the relation between an economically strong China and a militarily strong Russia. The plan to bring Ukraine into NATO was the direct cause of the war. Secondly, there is ethnic division in Ukraine, with the east and south inhabited by a Russian-speaking population. The repression of the Russian population led to their drive for independence from Ukraine.
The position of the Left with respect to these political dynamics should have been opposition to NATO expansionism and endorsement of a multinational state in Ukraine. Instead, many of the Left today lift the slogan of Russia out of Ukraine. But Russia cannot possibly withdraw without assurances with respect to NATO expansionism and the protection of the rights of the Russian population, which would require a comprehensive peace agreement. The Left today should support a negotiated peace agreement, which must include support for the self-determination of the Russian people of Donbass and Crimea, inasmuch as a multinational state in Ukraine is no longer possible.
Ross maintained that the USA will lose the Cold War with China, because socialism has a more efficient economy than capitalism, taking into account the capacity of the socialist state to direct and regulate the economy in accordance with national economic and social needs. Sensing this, the USA goes for military confrontation. But the USA and its allies are isolated with respect to Ukraine. The great majority of the nations of the global South are not participating in the sanctions against Russia.
The white Left in the global North, Ross notes, also is isolated from the Left of the global South. The Western Left is confused about imperialism, with sections of the Left going along with imperialism. But the majority of the world’s people are against imperialism. There needs to be a reconfiguration of the Left in the global North.
Steve Sweeney is the International Editor of Britain’s Morning Star newspaper. He visited Ukraine in April to report from the ground. However, he was forced to flee the country after being threatened and labelled as spy. The government of Ukraine, he noted, suppresses efforts to report on the Ukraine’s violation of human rights. We need to support people on the ground who speak the truth.
Sweeney observed that the proxy war in Ukraine was initiated is 2014, in defense of a unipolar world. Today, Western arms sent to Ukraine are winding up in the hands of fascist and jihadist groups.
Camila Escalante is the woman behind Kawsachun News, a media outlet based in Bolivia, and she is known for her correspondent work reporting throughout Latin America. She is the editor of Kawsachun News and a Latin American Correspondent for Press TV. Camila’s family are FMLN revolutionary former combatants. She has previously been based in Quito, Havana and Caracas. She is currently based in Trópico of Cochabamba and reporting on campesino movements across the continent. She will be on the ground covering the upcoming elections in Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Escalante notes that Luis Arce, President of Bolivia, has said that there cannot be peace as long as there is imperialist interference and aggression in the continuous scramble for resources. She laments that so-called leftists in the global North fail to see that the global majority is against NATO imperialism. We of the global South, she notes, are against imperialist NATO aggression; there is a consistent Left position in Latin America against NATO expansionism.
The West today is synonymous with aggression and brutality, Escalante declares. In Latin America, we are against the imperialist plunder of resources. It is blatantly obvious to us that Russia and China do not come for our resources, as does the West. The interest of the Western powers is in our natural resources, and when we resist, we are subjected to U.S. blackmail, intimidation, and the imposition of sanctions.
It is not too late, Escalante maintains, for the U.S. Left to get more in tune with today’s reality. You need to ideologically advance, she says to the U.S. Left, in order to explain to your peoples the successful anti-imperialist movements of the global South and the great achievements of Nicaragua and Bolivia, which have attained food sovereignty. You cannot talk about solidarity with the movements of the global South without being protagonists in your own country.
John Parker was a candidate for U.S. Senate in the June 7 election. He recently returned from Russia and the Donbass region on a fact-finding mission and to expose U.S.-NATO war aims and alliances in the region. He is the Coordinator of the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice and on the Organizing Committee of the Socialist Unity Party.
Parker declared that the socialists and communists he met in Donbass informed him that communism and socialism are criminalized in Ukraine, and they are attacked by fascists, who have arrived to Ukraine from fifty countries. The corporate media, much of it funded by national security interests, has been unreliable in reporting on fascist groups and activities.
Parker maintains that the Left in the West, especially the white Left, suffers from a subjective disease of not taking seriously the other. The disease is rooted in racism and white supremacy, but it today involves dismissal of any person who is assumed to be of no importance.
Dimitris Konstantakapoulos is a journalist and writer who specializes in international policy, and he is the author of several books on Eastern Mediterranean geopolitics. He worked at the Office of the Greek PM Andreas Papandreou on East-West Relations and Arms Control from 1985 to 1988, and he was the chief correspondent of the Greek News Agency ANA in Moscow from 1989 to 1999. He is the coordinator of the Delphi Initiative (www.defenddemocracy.press).
Konstantakapoulos observed that some have criticized Russia for the military operation in Ukraine, but others have criticized Russia for not intervening earlier. The core of the conflict is Donbass, which for a long time was part of Russia. Donbass and Crimea both were part of Russia, and when they were incorporated into Ukraine, no one asked the views of the people. The people accepted being a part of Ukraine, until their social rights were violated by the government of Ukraine. At the same time, there is a threat against Russia by NATO, which Russia takes seriously because it has suffered thirteen invasions from the West during the last three centuries. The West wants regime change in Russia and the disintegration of Russia into parts, followed by a similar division of China.
The U.S./NATO war against Russia and China in order to attain their fragmentation is a potential disaster for humanity. The American biological labs found in Ukraine indicate the possibility for the use of biological weapons. And the war against Russia and China means further delays in addressing the climate and ecological crisis that threatens humanity. And it means further deterioration of representative democracy in the West, which is increasingly developing structures for the suppression of alternative voices.
In this situation, the Western Left should stand against NATO expansionism and against the sanctions imposed on Russia. But a part of the Western Left sides with its own imperialism. Indeed, the U.S. Left is connected to corporate interests. We who are anti-imperialists are isolated from the Left, but we are not isolated from the people. Imperialism no longer benefits the people of the West, as it did in previous eras; today, a post-imperialist world is needed. If the Left were to adopt a coherent anti-imperialist position, it would have the support of 99% of the people.
Jenny Clegg is an independent writer and researcher; former Senior Lecturer in International Studies and long-time China specialist. She is the author of China's Global Strategy: Towards a Multipolar World (2009); she is an activist in the peace and anti-war movement in Britain.
Clegg sees a fundamental difference between the foreign policies of China and Russia. China embraces the United Nations principles of the sovereign equality of nations and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, a foreign policy perspective that is reciprocated by UN recognition of the one-China principle and recognition of the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate representative of China. China encourages other nations to embrace UN principles.
In response to the war in Ukraine, China launched a global security initiative, which is based on the principle that one country should not seek to protect its own security at the cost of the security of other nations; the security of each nation depends on the common security of all. Clegg maintains that the Chinese security initiative is an important proposal that ought to be taken seriously. (I previously have written in support of the Chinese security initiative; see “China’s Xi Jinping has a better plan: But the Western media cannot see it, let alone report it,” April 26, 2022”).
Clegg sees NATO expansionism as the root cause of the war in Ukraine. It is a proxy war in which the USA brings together it allies not only against Russia but also against China. The USA uses Ukraine to confront China, being unable to confront the Asian giant alone. The USA puts forth its ideology of defending democracy against supposed autocracies.
However, Clegg maintains, the Russian response to the US-NATO proxy war is wrong. Whereas China has responded by putting forth an alternative approach to global security, Russia has demonstrated that it has not mastered the art of avoiding war, a theme on which a Chinese scholar recently has written. Putin, Clegg asserts, is not Marxist-Leninist; he does not know how to use imperialist contradictions to avoid war.
Clegg stresses the importance of building unity among anti-war activists. Along with “No to NATO,” we have the slogan, “Russian Troops Out.” These two slogans are the two sides of the same coin. The anti-war organizations are building awareness about the provocation of NATO.
Sweeney, responding to Clegg, stated that the withdrawal of Russian troops is a simplistic proposal. It would lead to a massacre of the Russian population. The Left should call for the disbanding of NATO, because peace is impossible as long as NATO exists. Evo Morales, former president of Bolivia, has called for the dissolution of NATO.
Konstantakapoulos asked, in response to Clegg, who will protect the Russian people in Ukraine if Russia withdraws? Does not the Russian population in Donbass and Crimea have the right to from its own nation(s)? In reality, Russia will not withdraw, so “Russian Troops Out” is an idealist position that gives imperialists a moral argument.
One of the themes that emerged in the presentations, most clearly in the commentary by Camila Escalante, is the Western Left’s limited understanding of imperialism, in contrast to the Latin American Left and the Left of the global South, where anti-imperialism is central to the discourse. The phenomenon has experiential roots, in that the peoples of the global North live in the breast of societies that benefit from neocolonial structures that are obscured by liberal democratic ideology. For persons in the North, a special effort is required to liberate oneself from ideological cultural blinders.
Nothing more powerfully exposes the neocolonial deception than a failed imperialist war, because the failure makes visible the false assumptions that justified the war. For my generation of Americans, which came of age in the late 1960s, the imperialist war against Vietnam constituted such a failed imperialist war. In my own experience, the failure prompted a college professor of mine to assign his students in 1967 a book called Peace in Vietnam, which had some shortcomings, but nonetheless was effective in exposing the neocolonial deception. It showed that the U.S. intervention in Vietnam was not, in reality, defending democracy against the spreading menace of communism; rather, it was a question of a successful Vietnamese struggle against French colonialism, leading the USA to intervene to try to preserve Western colonialist presence.
In this form, critical consciousness grew. As graduate and undergraduate students developed consciousness of the true character of the imperialist and colonial war in Vietnam, “teach-ins” were organized, with some students providing informed spontaneous discourses concerning similar deceptions in other regions of the world.
And of course, protest demonstrations were organized, in which we confronted the same dilemma that the war in Ukraine poses today: are we against war, or are we against imperialism? In my view at the time, we were morally obligated, from a commitment to the democratic and universally embraced principle of the equal sovereignty of nations, to expose the nation’s imperialist policies and to transform them. Our duty was to bring an end to imperialism, and not merely to end a particular war in defense of imperialist objectives. The failed war should be used to illustrate that imperialism is a general global policy of the powerful nations, which place no moral constraints on their conduct. Such remains my view today.
Another powerful force for exposing widely accepted deceptions are critiques by intellectuals and leaders of social movements of the oppressed and superexploited. In the United States from the period of 1966 to 1972, the black power movement and black nationalist theory emerged. Black nationalism provided a colonial analysis of the modern world, emphasizing European colonial domination of Africa to attain natural resources, and stressing that the attainment of political independence did not enable newly independent African nations to control their economies and resources. And the black power movement and black nationalist theory saw race relations in the United States as a dimension of the worldwide colonial process. In their view, it was colonialism and neocolonialism, and not racism, that was the essence of the global phenomenon. Racism was seen as a secondary ideological dimension, functioning to legitimate colonial domination; if you spoke against racism you were missing the point. Nor did black nationalist theory see the United States as an exception: European settlement was a part of the global process, as was forced labor, which could take the form of slavery or the hut tax.
The student anti-war and the black power movements, which to some extent intertwined, provided the possibility for the breaking of the cultural ideological barriers. But the war wound down, and black nationalist groups were repressed; during the 1970s, protest activities markedly declined. There should have been a concerted effort to define and preserve the most insightful lessons of the period and to develop permanent structures for the education of the people, focusing on insights that the corporate-controlled media and educational institutions ignored or distorted. But this was not done.
The Watergate scandal was a reflection of the limitations of the capacity of the public discourse for critique. Nixon had authorized mass bombing of Vietnam, resulting in the death of millions of civilians. Yet he was forced to resign not for war crimes, but for indirectly authorizing and covering up a break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters, apparently to obtain information with respect to political rivals. The Watergate break-in indicated that inappropriate electoral strategies were evolving, which perhaps should have generated public debate concerning the rules that ought to guide electoral processes. But it was hardly a crime against the nation.
The Watergate scandal had negative consequences. It gave rise to a form of investigative journalism involving the uncovering of secrets of the state and of politicians, when in fact they committed their crimes, including war crimes, in plain sight. What was needed was critique of their crimes, which were visible for all to see but were nonetheless hidden from public consciousness. In addition, Watergate gave rise to a form of conducting politics, in which secrets about political rivals are exposed, and critical analysis of policies are ignored.
Taken together, the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal can be seen as clear signs of the decadence of the American political system. But the Left was unprepared to offer a critique, educating the people and leading the people in an alternative direction, deepening and expanding the American foundational principle of liberty and justice for all.
The political triumph of the Right and the electoral victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was attained on a foundation of the excesses of the student/anti-war movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The movement’s use of violence, even though directed against physical property and not against persons, was an inappropriate strategy, taking into account the high level of legitimacy of the institutions of representative democracy. And there were excesses of all kinds with respect to drugs, sexuality, nudity, and norms of dress and speech. It was as though the purpose of protests was to express anger, to rebel, to shock, and to offend, rather than to persuade. When members of the Students for a Democratic Society met with delegates of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front in Havana, and SDS was speaking enthusiastically about student protests being organized in the USA, the NLF delegates wanted to know, “What are you doing to persuade your parents?”
The U.S. Left was unprepared for the political triumph of the Right. It was not even close to having the capacity to formulate a politically effective and scientifically and historically accurate political-economic critique, as the basis for educating the people and leading them toward the necessary road. It was unable to develop into a coherent theory the anti-imperialist insights occasionally put forward by the student anti-war and black power movements and black nationalist theory. Unlike its counterparts in the Third World, it was unable to forge a creative synthesis of: the social justice concepts of religious traditions; the concept of liberty of eighteenth-century democratic revolutions; the class analysis of scientific socialism; and the vision of anti-colonial movements of the sovereign equality of nations. It did not see the rebirth of socialism in Latin America in the twenty-first century.
Thus, critique in the West died. Academics adjusted to the demands of the academic world of acritical epistemological assumptions and fragmented fields of study, unable to develop their understandings toward the necessary critical and historical consciousness. Activists were alienated from intellectual work, able to organize on a very limited scale, but incapable of educating the people toward a movement based in consciousness. Neither leftist academics nor leftist activists have been giving serious attention to what the Left in Latin America, Asia, and Africa have been saying and doing, except in a superficial way. Simply put, they express their solidarity with Cuba and with Fidel, buy they have not studied the pedagogical discourses of Fidel.
The Left of the West, therefore, has a limited and partial understanding of global realities. They cannot see that the Third World War has begun, a war between, on the one side, imperialist powers in decadence; and on the other side, socialist and progressive governments seeking to construct together a post-imperialist and sustainable world. The reality of the Third World War was first announced by Fidel, and it was reconfirmed by Miguel Díaz-Canel on October 25, 2019, at the Eighteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Baku, Azerbaijan, where the Cuban President declared that we are in the midst of a Third World War, which began when “imperialist armies, mercenary soldiers, and terrorists, disguised as liberators combating terrorism or defending democracy, freedom, or human rights” attacked “noble and peaceful nations,” which have “sovereign governments that refuse to serve the hegemonic power.”
And so we have arrived to alienation between the Western Left and the Left of the South. Activists and a smattering of academics travel south to express their solidarity, but they have not imagined that they could learn some things from the South concerning the forging of a successful anti-imperialist revolution. Camila Escalante cannot contain her disgust with leftists from the North. Apparently the daughter, niece, and/or granddaughter of FMLN revolutionaries, she travels to Latin American points of political conflict to listen, observe, deepen her understanding, and to report and explain. Not even rules of international diplomacy can contain her expression of disdain for the so-called leftists of the North, nor should they.
But there is a way out for the Left of the West, and Camila points to it when she says that the northern Left must advance ideologically and arrive to understand successful anti-imperialist movements of the global South. She implicitly is calling upon the Left of the North to express their solidarity with the anti-imperialist movements of the South by spending time with them, listening to them, learning their histories and their stories, critically appropriating their insights, and reformulating them in an understanding relevant for the movements and peoples of the North.
In the early 1970s, when I encountered the colonial analysis of black nationalism, I could not avoid seeing that there was emerging from the colonized an understanding of the modern world that was fundamentally different from the distorted and limited understanding transmitted by the great intellectual centers of the Western world. And I could not avoid asking, what does this imply for the search for truth? Does it mean that black scholars will have their truth, while the American power elite will have theirs? Does it mean that each of us should form our own truth, on the basis of personal preference in the context of cultural tendencies and media manipulations?
I considered it profoundly problematic for the future of humanity to leave the quest for truth in the hands of personal preference or political and economic power. A path to understanding of the real world had to be found, in spite the obstacles posed by cultural and ideological influences and social location. In the context of such concerns, Father Joseph Fitzpatrick of Fordham University guided me to the writings of the Catholic philosopher Bernard Lonergan, who had formulated an “understanding of understanding.” In Lonergan’s formulation, persons who seek truth can arrive to a correct understanding that goes beyond the prevailing biases and false assumptions of their social location, if they encounter persons of other horizons and other social worlds, taking seriously the understandings and insights of the other, and on this foundation, reformulating their own understanding. This requires commitment to truth above all other considerations, and it is to such commitment that the Left of the West today is called.
During the course of the twentieth century, the African-American movement was the most persistent voice in the USA in pointing to an anti-imperialist formulation for the U.S. Left. Key moments included: the Pan-Africanist movement in the period following the First World War; Malcolm’s denunciation of colonialism and embrace of Third World revolutions in 1964; the black power movement’s identification with the Third World and opposition to the Vietnam War in the late 1960s; King’s critique of the Vietnam War as a white colonialist war in 1967, and King’s call for support for the revolutions being lifted up by the peoples of the world; and Jesse Jackson’s foreign policy proposal for North-South cooperation in the 1980s.
But in the 1990s, “identity politics” distanced itself from this intellectual legacy of the African-American community. “Identify politics” ultimately degenerated into a post-modernist and subjectivist rewriting of American history and recasting of American reality, in accordance with the interests of the black middle class, embraced by the corporate elite in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. In spite of denunciations of racism by today’s cultural “Left,” the distance between the U.S. Left and the Latin American Left continues to deepen.
Today, I ask if a reconfiguration of critique in the USA is possible, on the basis of a synthesis of the Left and the Right, a synthesis of black conservative thought and Third World anti-imperialist thought, a synthesis of religious concepts of social justice and Marxist-Leninist analysis, forged by individuals from all U.S. racial/ethnic groups who are engaged in personal encounter with Latin American people’s movements?
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