Within the sphere of pro-imperialist thought, there are two types of views on the countries which challenge imperialism’s interests. The more brazen and crude one, taken up by the most reactionary types of pro-imperialists, is that China and the other socialist countries are indeed communist, and that “American greatness” is at war with these countries and those who ally with them. The more intellectually sophisticated view, represented by liberal academia and the pro-imperialist “left,” is that the socialist countries are actually “state capitalist” or just plain capitalist, and that Washington is engaged in an inter-imperialist power struggle with China and its allies Russia and Iran.
Both of these narrative frameworks serve to rationalize U.S. imperialism’s aggression, meddling, and exploitation, but in different ways. The “left” side of imperialism is underhanded in which ideas it seeks to convey, claiming to be opposed to capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism. The way it at the same time helps these things is by portraying Washington’s foremost challenger China as itself being capitalist, imperialist, and colonialist, implicitly justifying Washington’s covert efforts to balkanize China in the name of “freeing” Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan; Washington’s military buildup against China to contain supposed Chinese “expansionism;” and Washington’s meddling across growing sections of the formerly colonized world to try to sabotage the “neo-colonial” Belt and Road Initiative. The “left” also uses NATO narratives to justify Washington’s perpetuation of the proxy war in Ukraine, which on a macro scale is about undermining China as well.
Whereas the reactionaries narratively justify the new cold war on China by inventing racist slogans and reviving Red Scare rhetoric, the “left” imperialists construct complex intellectual frameworks for why China is a negative force. They project the U.S. empire’s evils onto China, compiling supposedly rigorous academic analyses on why the country is not communist, why it’s oppressing its people, why it’s a rising imperialist power, and so forth.
The equivalent applies to the way these left imperialists, and the neoconservatives they tend to ideologically ally with, portray Russia; the recent neocon call to “decolonize” the Russian Federation is compatible with the views of the leftists who don’t recognize how this is an attempted repeat of imperialism’s operation to break up Yugoslavia. The fact that these leftists uncritically accept every atrocity story that the CIA pinned on the Serbs, as well as every atrocity story the CIA’s neo-Nazi Azov proxies are pinning on Russia, lets them embrace these kinds of ideas with total confidence. Their core perception is that Russia and China are themselves imperialist powers, and that all evidence for Washington’s involvement in creating the current conflict can be rejected as enemy propaganda. They apply the same reasoning to Iran when prompted, though Iran isn’t currently the biggest imperialist narrative target so they virtually leave it alone. But should the geopolitical struggle ever shift more towards southwest Asia, these leftists will no doubt go along with whatever narratives imperialism manufacturers about Iran.
This covert type of pro-imperialist thinking, where the powers defying Washington are seen as not worth defending because they merely intend to become the new imperialist bloc, is at its core defined by anti-Leninism. By a disregard for the Leninist definition of imperialism, which recognizes that imperialism is not whenever a government makes a trade deal or carries out a military operation; in the current historical stage, imperialism means when financial oligarchy and monopoly carry out parasitic extraction from the peripheral countries, to summarize this definition in the briefest possible terms. Liberals, both of the “leftist” and reactionary kinds, are not interested in learning about Lenin’s analysis. And when it comes to the liberals in the imperialist countries especially, a serious investigation into what imperialism does and doesn’t mean is out of the question, because what ideologically informs their positions is chauvinism for the “west.”
Whether they’re MAGA, Blue MAGA, or part of the “libertarian left,” these liberals (I’m in this case referring to liberals as supporters of capitalism) fundamentally believe in the moral superiority of western liberalism’s values. They see any country that defies imperialism’s interests as among humanity’s foremost enemies, in need of being countered. This is why they obsessively demonize north Korea’s supposedly undemocratic government, while applying no such scrutiny to south Korea’s government, which was formed out of an actual dictatorship and continues to enforce one of the world’s most anti-free speech laws. This is why they eagerly accept every human rights abuse story about China no matter how groundless, and reject every human rights story about Ukraine’s U.S.-installed regime even when their own NGOs confirm these accounts.
They wouldn’t hold these beliefs if they weren’t surrounded by imperialist propaganda, but they also wouldn’t be so willing to accept this propaganda if they didn’t hold that central idea of western chauvinism. Their choice to stake their interests in the continuation of imperialist extraction, which requires the advancement of Washington’s geopolitical maneuvers, is the foundation upon which they process information about world affairs.
Prior to when Leninism was formulated, liberals of course already embraced imperial chauvinism. But after the Russian Revolution, when Leninism got put into practice with the formation of history’s first workers state, this chauvinism was forced to take on a new character. Its adherents now had to try to discredit this new model for liberating countries from imperialism, in which a country could deprive global capitalism of market access by having the proletariat decide how the economy was run. Since the emergence of bourgeois nationalist governments in several Arab countries, the Iranian Revolution, and the fall of the Soviet Union, upon which we’ve seen the emergence of capitalist states which refuse to become neo-colonies, imperialism’s propaganda has by necessity expanded beyond anti-communism. But anti-Leninism is still crucial to this propaganda, because Leninism is what can refute the narratives about Iran, Russia, and China being imperialist.
It was Leninism that tore the initial hole within the new version of imperialism that’s dominated the globe since the 19th century. Leninism updated the anti-imperialist struggle, transforming it from the purely anti-colonial form that it had during the Haitian anti-slavery revolution, into a modern type of revolution which is both anti-colonial and socialist. It made the construction of a workers’ state a normal part of revolutions, enabling countries to become economically independent and therefore become free from neo-colonial exploitation.
Whereas the Haitian revolutionary model was fit for its own time, in which capitalism wasn’t yet at its highest stage and imperialism could be beat back more easily, Leninism was fit for the current age, in which capitalism has reached its monopoly stage and imperialism exists in the form of exporting capital. (Rather than in the form of exporting goods, as was previously the case). Leninism was the first great enemy of modern imperialism, and it continues to be so as Marxist-Leninist China dismantles U.S. economic hegemony. The Russian Revolution’s economic gains may have been dismantled with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, but we continue to see its legacy play out in the form of a rising geopolitical challenge towards imperialism. It set the precedent for entire states to defy the whims of the imperialists.
For this reason, whereas liberals will give credit to the Haitian revolution, they’ll never recognize the Russian revolution or the other Leninist revolutions since then as worthy of respect. They’ll denounce these revolutions as having produced “communist dictatorships,” or as having betrayed the true form of communism. Like liberals even care about achieving communism, beyond abstract idealist notions of what “communism” means.
This is why whenever a country has freed itself from neo-colonialism by adopting Marxism-Leninism, which is to say workers democracy, liberals have come to view it as a tyranny. And why whenever a poor country starts to pull itself out of neo-colonialism by implementing the BRI’s developmental projects, they claim this country has simply fallen under a new colonial master. The latter narrative is informed by the former, as the perception that China is a pseudo-socialist autocracy makes it possible to believe that China seeks to subjugate the peripheral countries. Liberals, at least the types of liberals who claim to be anti-capitalist, also claim to not like imperialism, and to support anti-imperialism in theory. But this “anti-imperialism” is totally meaningless, because every time a part of the world actually does something to weaken imperialism, these liberals have an answer ready for why they don’t support it.
I’ve even seen this with academics who extensively study the grievous harm that neo-colonial exploitation does to the workers and communities in the peripheral countries. If a neo-colonial country like Colombia or Sri Lanka were to free itself by adopting workers democracy, like Cuba or the DPRK have, these types of academics would come to see these countries as oppressive, in the way that they see those socialist countries. This is especially likely given that Colombia and Sri Lanka are two pivotal countries for Washington’s strategic interests.
We don’t even need to imagine a scenario like this. As the BRI expands, and neo-colonialism comes under greater threat, we’re seeing such a growth in the number of governments that imperialist propaganda vilifies, and that liberals rush to attack as well. Ethiopia is a prime example; as the country uses China’s help to overcome the underdevelopment that imperialism has engineered, propaganda actors are working to manufacture consent for a Libya-style intervention within the country.
As Alan Macleod writes, this war narrative depends on demonizing the government, to the effect of whitewashing the racist atrocities of the previous Tigrayan regime and diverting attention from the ongoing war crimes of the U.S. proxy the TPLF: “Tigrayans were near ubiquitous in the upper ranks of the country’s military and intelligence services, and were greatly overrepresented among its economic elite. This, for Dr. Taye, amounted to no less than a system of informal ‘Apartheid’ that was ignored by most of the West. MintPress also contacted a spokesperson for the TPLF, but did not receive a response. Since coming to power in 2018, the new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has moved against the TPLF in a set of changes that supporters see as much needed reforms to reduce corruption and the TPLF’s grip over public life, but opponents see as overstepping his mandate and as the persecution of an ethnic minority.” Which governments liberals apply human rights scrutiny to depends on what best advances U.S. geopolitical interests.
The only difference between the unhinged “fire and fury” imperialists, and the “pragmatic” liberals who are currently in the White House, is in aesthetics. Both of these types are willing to risk a third world war with Russia by continuing the Ukraine proxy war, and both are coordinating the similarly reckless provocations against China in Taiwan. The intellectual class that supports the foreign policy of the neoliberal centrists also serves to shield the more brazen types from any ideological challenges. This is because though they may take issue with some of the undiplomatic language the reactionaries use, they reinforce the narratives that imperialism depends on.
Even if we don’t see another world war, or see the U.S. nuke another city, imperialism’s cold war efforts are already having gargantuan human costs. The Ethiopian civil war the imperialists are using their TPLF terrorists to perpetuate is producing one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises, as is the conflict in Yemen that the imperialists perpetuate to counter Iran. Washington is imposing sanctions on Afghanistan, to similarly catastrophic effect, so that it can keep the BRI from expanding into the country. The Ukraine proxy war has displaced millions and cut the country’s economy in half, while enabling further neoliberal shock policies within the country. Those who attack Leninism—whether by vilifying the Marxist-Leninist governments, or by calling semi-peripheral countries “imperialist” in opposition to Lenin’s analysis on imperialism—are helping perpetuate these horrors. Embracing a Leninist analysis is how to put an end to imperialism’s crimes.
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