Marxists didn’t anticipate how effective U.S. imperialism would be at holding back global revolution

About the American revolutionary war, Lenin wrote: “That was the war the American people waged against the British robbers who oppressed America and held her in colonial slavery, in the same way as these ‘civilised’ bloodsuckers are still oppressing and holding in colonial slavery hundreds of millions of people in India, Egypt, and all parts of the world.” About the American Civil War, he wrote that “for the sake of overthrowing Negro slavery, of overthrowing the rule of the slaveowners, it was worth letting the country go through long years of civil war, through the abysmal ruin, destruction and terror that accompany every war.”

Lenin was expanding upon what Marx said about the United States, particularly this statement: “The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.” Going by the same reasoning, wherein he was assessing how the U.S. compared to the less historically developed countries, in 1846 Marx agreed with Proudhon’s assessment that the U.S. is the “most progressive nation.” (That’s according to a paraphrase of Proudhon by Marx.)

Within the contexts that they were writing, their statements about the U.S. were correct. In his 1945 speech declaring Vietnam’s independence, Ho Chi Minh continued to articulate Marx and Lenin’s perspectives on the USA by repeating the words: “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These communists held respect for the USA, even at such relatively late a historical date as 1945, because being Marxists they were able to analyze contradictions with nuance. They were aware that the American revolution had been a bourgeois revolution, but they also knew it represented progress due to its defeat of British colonial rule, and could be taken example from by modern anti-colonialists. 

What they didn’t anticipate was that the U.S. was fated to become the foremost force for counterrevolution across the globe, and that 21st century anti-imperialists consequently wouldn’t be so inclined to give the U.S. credit. These days, there’s additional context to be considered, that being the USA’s having murdered tens of millions of people since World War II in order to defend international capital.

The red flags that the U.S. would do this were there from the start. The U.S. came into being the same way that Israel did: through a project by the UK to forcibly displace an indigenous population so that settlers could grab up the land, after which these settlers fought for independence when this became in their best interests. 1776 could be considered revolutionary, whereas Israel’s war for independence couldn’t, because in the 18th century any effort to diminish the power of the European colonial countries represented a step forward in historical development. The USA’s formation was a good thing in that sense, but it’s still always shared with Israel the characteristic of a country which entirely exists based on illegal occupation of stolen land. And what would have brought further historical progress after 1776 was the dissolution of the USA itself, so that the tribes could regain their territorial stewardship and all the land’s inhabitants could peacefully coexist. Instead, the USA expanded its violations of Native sovereignty, and built upon an African slavery project whose impacts still haven’t been rectified.

When the entire continent was transformed into the site for a Native land exploitation operation that’s still happening, the USA expanded its empire globally. It grabbed up several of Spain’s colonies, in one of which (the Philippines) it won against the country’s struggle for independence by employing the same genocidal warfare tactics it used to win against America’s Natives. It then used routine military interventions across Latin America to secure the hemisphere as a source for neo-colonial extraction, a treatment of coercion and exploitation that Washington still subjects Latin American countries to whenever possible. The exploited countries in Africa, Asia, and Oceania are also still targeted by Washington’s destructive campaigns.

Washington’s violent global efforts to secure neo-colonial profits had begun decades prior to 1945, but it still made sense that Ho Chi Minh implicitly praised the U.S. that year. Washington had been fighting Hitler, even if America’s capitalist class had made Nazism’s rise possible and even if the U.S. had refused to take action on Auschwitz. Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperialist Japan were at that moment the principal sources of imperial evil, and the fact that they were at war with Washington made Washington look relatively respectable. Then as soon as the U.S. empire got the opportunity, it worked to match or surpass these defeated fascist states in committing atrocities.

The fact that the Nazis directly modeled their genocidal practices off of the USA’s indigenous ethnic cleansing tactics and Jim Crow apartheid model was another warning sign that Washington would turn into the globe’s greatest menace. All that needed to happen was for the 20th century’s fascist imperial powers to destroy themselves, leaving a geopolitical vacuum that Washington could fill. What makes the U.S. empire’s crimes so terrifying is that despite its stated goal being able to be summarized as “to secure markets,” rather than “to secure the Aryan race,” it’s murdered at a rate comparable to that of Nazi Germany. Something as banal-sounding as ensuring market access has motivated some of history’s greatest cruelties.

By 1987 alone, the dictatorships the CIA installed, along with the CIA’s own vicious warfare tactics, had taken an estimated six million lives. Since Desert Storm began, U.S. wars have taken the lives of four million Muslims. Nearly five million died in the Korean war, and around 2 million died in Washington’s wars against Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The U.S. continues to assist in the genocides perpetrated by Israel and Saudi Arabia, and since the 2014 Euromaidan coup Washington has done all it can to assist Ukraine’s fascist regime in an attempt at ethnically cleansing Russian speakers.

After encountering new information, Marxists modify their thinking. By 1961, when Frantz Fanon published The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon wrote within his book that “Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.” Like capitalism, the USA was at one point a revolutionary force, then became a reactionary force when it began standing in opposition to the next stage of historical development. As William Blum described, to fulfill its role as the main counterrevolutionary actor, it was necessary for the U.S. to commit gargantuan crimes: “Between 1945 and 2005 the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the U.S. caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.” 

Since 2005 it’s added examples to that list of deadly coups in Honduras, Ukraine, Bolivia, and most recently Peru; bombed Libya into becoming a failed state with civil conflict and slave trades; instigated a war in Syria; expanded upon its existing bombing pattern; expanded its sanctions to deadly effect in places like Venezuela and Iran; as well as waged a drone war that’s murdered civilians at a rate of almost 100%. To counter China’s economic presence, it’s now sowing chaos in places like southeast Asia and the horn of Africa, backing terrorist organizations such as Ethiopa’s TPLF. The empire’s goal is to sabotage the possibility of functional civic life in these countries, so that Chinese investments become impractical. An especially cruel warfare tactic during the climate crisis, which the U.S. military is the biggest institutional contributor to.

The unprecedented scale of the U.S. empire does not mean that America is exceptional. It’s still subject to the laws of history. Its working class people of all colors have been becoming increasingly exploited throughout the last half-century’s war on the global proletariat, and that’s given these U.S. workers expanded revolutionary potential. Their conditions are radicalizing them, compelling them to mobilize for their rights in growing numbers. For them to act in the ways that can overthrow the bourgeois state, and liberate both themselves and the globe from their government, Marxists must lift them up to the knowledge level of trained cadre members. Throughout these educational efforts, one lesson we must teach is that history has shown us imperialism is ruthless. When the imperialists get an opportunity to inflict harm, as they did with the post-World War II opening for Washington’s rise, they’ll take this opportunity.


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1 comment
  1. The US during WWII didn’t just refuse to shut down Auschwitz. It wouldn’t open a real front against the nazis till it was clear that their defeat by the USSR was inevitable. The US took the French colonies in North Africa and coopted the revolutionary movement in Italy. The Brits did that in Greece. The Pacific war was a straight up war between bloodthirsyy imperialist powers.

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