Dr. Mehdi S. Shariati
examines US national debt and proposes that its causes are to be found in the
political and military imperatives structured into the accumulation dynamics of
global capitalism. To that end four historically overlapping and essential
components of the accumulation process; globalization, imperialism, militarism,
and social imperialism will be analyzed. Accumulation strategies-are at the same
time imperialistic projects involving the internationalization of capital and
production which in turn involves imperialism and militarism on a global scale.
Imperialism here is defined not as "the highest stage of capitalism" (ala
Lenin), but as an ongoing project of facilitating accumulation on a global scale
and particularly with the ability to use its "creative destruction" (ala
Schumpeter) in reinventing itself at a more expansive level. It seeks
opportunities in every crisis and all crises in so far as they are directed
against global accumulation, are potential military target. Militarism here is
defined as the use of the actual military power and the projection of the
preponderance of military power to implement the state's overseas expansion of
the interest of the domestic capitalist classes and their overseas allies.
Militarism is often associated with an ideology which often presents itself as
nationalism to the point that the line between the two is blurred.
militarism/imperialism (military aided imperialism) abroad has been effective
owing much of it not just to the fearsome armada purchased from the Military
Industrial Complex, but to effective propaganda and the incorporation of the
domestic working classes into the imperialistic system. Successful and effective
social imperialism at home - A tradition going back to the
colonialist/imperialist powers of the nineteenth century, traditionally (at
least until three decades ago), has involved the "concession to the masses" in
the form of "the extension of the franchise or material benefits" (Neumann,
1944:153-5, cited in Semmel, 1960:13). Joseph Schumpeter (1919) defined social
imperialism as an imperialism in which 'entrepreneurs and other elements woo the
workers by means of social welfare. As globalization as a stage in the
development and evolution of capitalism proceeds, the need to utilize the
military as a mechanism of subordinating the global discontent increases. Social
imperialism in all of its forms has been the dominant method of co-opting the
opposition to global accumulation strategies. But the systemic contradictions
stemming from the internal logic of contemporary global capitalism will continue
to be its greatest nemesis. As one of the contradictions- the United States
national debt and all of its consequences will be analyzed through an analysis
of structural imperative within global capitalism.
The mapping of a
truly hegemonic global capitalist system began in earnest in the period
immediately after World War Two-the beginning of the era of what Ernst Mandel
called "late capitalism." The concerted efforts toward a strong bloc of
capitalist States with overwhelming political, economic and military power
involved the incorporation of colonial and post-colonial social formations as
reproducible capitalist entities into the system. In this regard the creation of
an international capitalist class alliance equipped with modernization theory
anchored on Social Darwinism was indispensable. As the leader of the "free
World" the United States assumed the greatest role in the implementation of the
hegemonic strategy for the purpose of capital accumulation through its military,
economic and political might. Attempting to understand and to address the new
World Order and all of its contradictions, forced many to revisit classical
theories of imperialism and introduced various theories on capitalist states and
state in capitalist societies. In both cases an analysis of systemic
contradictions took the center stage.
contradictions as they relate to accumulation have been addressed by classic and
most recent theories of imperialism, dependency/world system argument,
internationalization of capital, global capitalist class alliance, and the
transnational "historical bloc." A very useful angle of revisiting imperialism
and global class conflict is the "transnational historical materialism" (Murphy,
1994; Augelli and Murphy, 1998; Cox, 1981, 1983, 1993; Gil 1990, 1993, 1995,
Rupert, 1995; Robinson, 1998, 2001). The proponents posit a World in which the
global or transnational class supported by a transnational political apparatus
and military power expands its interest on a global scale and at the expense of
the international proletariat's interests. Therefore, the class conflict on a
national level is transformed into an international class conflict. Embedded in
this analysis is a touch of Gramsci (1999) and his concept of hegemony, where
the new alliance is sustained and its interests expanded through the production
and reproduction of ideology of the dominant class and their cultural leadership
(hegemonic ideas). Gramsci, pointed out that the Western ruling classes ensure
the consolidation of their dominant position by manipulating institutions such
as the media, schools, churches, and so on.
After WWI, the
United States and its European allies continued to increase their economic,
political and military influence around the world and this only intensified with
the conclusion of WWI. Post WWII era became the era of American hegemony
directly challenging the Soviet Union's "designs" on the rest of the World.
Capitalism desired to reign supreme so as to become a dominant global system.
The components of the historical bloc of this epoch were much more sophisticated
than their forbearers. The organic intellectuals devised new hegemonic
strategies anchored on "modernization" as a strategy with collaboration of the
"modernizing elites'' of the less articulated social formations as an important
component in hegemonic efforts.
theorized about the causes and the nature of underdevelopment and suggested
policy prescription. On a mission to aid in the reproduction of capitalism in
its dependent variety and prevent communist take-over of these formations,
Sociologists, economists, historians, anthropologists, political scientists and
psychologists began using theory and method in their disciplines to aid the
implementation of modernization policies of the western capitalist States. From
President 's Truman's "containment Doctrine" in the late 1940s through the 1980s
the policies of combating the "evil empire" through massive military spending,
ruthless neo-liberal economic policy, effective propaganda and deficit financing
were the components of the policy of aiding capitalist development and, the
internationalization of capital as a precondition for successful imperialism and
The intensity of
the propaganda is generally determined by the degree to which the public in the
imperial centers must participate in the implementation of the imperial
projects. It is in this context that globalization as implemented by the West
and guided by the neo-liberal economic policies and aided by greater militarism
and militarism as expenditure paid by from the general revenue and if the
revenue is not sufficient, through borrowing for the purpose of capital
accumulation on a global scale. And precisely for this reason, the general
public is coached to believe that the empire is expanding "freedom" to
non-Western world and encouraged to view this category of expenditures not only
as a matter of national security, but it is expected to be a patriot by cheering
the structure in its historical role in the process of accumulation. The
institutional approach to the miseducation of the public include the aid of many
institutions including but not limited to education, sports, arts, and religion
particularly evangelical churches as institutional imperative.
argued that with the rise of the bourgeoisie, imperialism would disappear and
that capitalism would not lend itself to imperialism. I argue to the contrary
that the contemporary global capitalism reinforces imperialism and imperialism
requires militarism, jingoism and capital's sponsored nationalism. It is
possible that Schumpeter's observation was accurate regarding the capitalist
mode of World War I era, but today's global capitalism to use Schumpeter's
insight has the power of "creative destruction" and continuously reinvents
itself. As Schumpeter (1951:96) observed "nationalism and militarism" while not
creatures of capitalism, become "capitalized" and in the end draws their best
energies from capitalism. Capitalism "keeps them alive, politically as well as
global order has a hegemonic and advanced industrialized nation at the helm with
the less developed world with its "de-nationalized" state subservient to it. At
least since WWII, the United States has historically been financially,
politically, militarily and according to the proponents of the empire culturally
the leader. This leadership has cost the United States taxpayers much on all
fronts. Specifically, the financial burden of maintaining such a huge armada
with sophisticated weapons systems has been enormous. As the leader of the
advanced industrialized countries the United States taxpayers have been paying
for the expansion of political and economic interests of the Western ruling
elites. The trade off is in the area of the political support that the U.S.
receive in dealing with international crises or challenges to global
capitalism's expansion presented as "coalition" or "multilateral" efforts. The
foundation of which was established in the period immediately after World war
Two with its new Western dominated multilateral agencies such as the
International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and agencies associated with
United Nations. Globalization both as a new form of imperialism in the era of
informal empire and as a new phase in the intensification of the expansion and
the development of global capitalism demands militarism as a means of overcoming
challenges to its rule. Therein lies the fiscal crisis of the state as
manifested by the United States national debt. The dominant classes whose
pursuit of accumulation on a global scale has created the massive debt,
ironically is the owner of a most of the national debt. In other words, the cost
of accumulation as O'Connor (1971) observed is socialized.
To be effective,
globalization, imperialism, and the coercive mechanisms of implementing the
accumulation process must necessarily have the support of the domestic working
classes. The extent of the success of imperialism abroad requires a concerted
effort at convincing the domestic working classes to support imperialistic
policies abroad. Thus the general public is coached to view intervention not as
imperialism, but as a "mission" reminiscent of "White man's burden," a
"civilizing mission," and a calling from high above. Convincing the public in
the imperial centers of their providential duties is one thing, to ask it to pay
for the cost of the mission without promising any concrete reward, however, is
quite another. The hard reality is that the cost must be paid by the taxpayers
at the expense of their children education, health care, pensions and quality
time with their families. The scope of imperial projects abroad, dictate the
needed level of internal conformity which in turn requires effective social
imperialism. In a democratic society, authentic or not the public must give its
approval to policies involving their everyday life, their children, and their
future, therefore, it is critical that they are convinced of the "ideal"
mission of their government vis-a-vis other people. Debt of this magnitude
accrued in the process of accumulation of capital, ends up generating much
revenue for the very wealthy creditors who are for the most part the main
beneficiaries. This debt service enhances their income and the capital
accumulation process. As any other indebtedness, national debt serves as one
more conveyor belt for trickle up. The American empire like all other colonial
empires before it has its own "organic intellectuals" --ideologues mostly
composed of social scientists, historians, the corporate media and even
religious institutions responsible for the creation of an effective social
control apparatus and effective mechanism of social imperialism as a necessary
condition for capital accumulation. The right of the political spectrum aided by
the mainstream social science and the corporate media invariably considers the
state expenditures on the social programs (welfare, health care and in
particular the Medicare and Medicaid programs) as the causes of the growing debt
menace to the American nation and its future generations. This group includes
the vocal "believers" -the partisan intellectuals at the Heritage Foundation,
the American Enterprise Institute, the white supremacists, and the vigilante
patriots. A segment of academia dominated by mainstream economists and of
course the pundits appearing on mainstream corporate media. The "left" (as
defined in the context of American political spectrum) composed of the socially
conscious mainstream social and political activists, journalists, and economists
whose elaborations on the issue of fiscal crisis, and national debt have sounded
the alarm regarding the disproportionate size of the national debt and its
consequences on the present and future generations. Although there are
occasional references to the role of the national debt, the analysis does not
benefit from being grounded in an understanding of the contradictions within
Indeed it is only
within the context of a broader view of systemic contradictions that the issue
of national debt is best understood. Only when grounded in an ontology and in a
history, one can discern the systemic dynamics and contradictions. In this
regard it is imperative that a meta-theoretical framework be utilized that
include an elaborate set of conceptual tools capable of unearthing and exposing
the structural contradictions and the manner in which these contradictions
generate appearances which are then packaged as legitimate outcomes of a market
which in reality is governed by the logic of capital accumulation undergirded by
Social Darwinism. The role of military spending on the bourgeoning national debt
and the contradiction within Capitalist State must be grounded in a history
which included imperialism and its modes of expressions such as and
(particularly) globalization. First let us consider the case of the mainstream
(classical and neoclassical) thinking in economics which for the most part
conveniently ignores the structural contradictions and issues.
ECONOMICS--LIBERALISM AND NEO-LIBERALISM:
economics began with the work of William Petty, Adam Smith, James Stuart, David
Ricardo, J.B Say, Jeremy Bentham and a few of their contemporaries. The
revulsion against mercantilism of the time (economic nationalist) was the energy
that drove Smith to consider an alternative model of political economy based on
the (now often misplaced) misplaced notion of competition and the sanctity and
the wisdom of the market. If the Classical Political Economists considered at
least on the surface, "morality" (i.e., Smith) to be an important prerequisite
for participating in the jungle of competition and market forces, today, it
appears that commodification of everyday life as a re-efication of individual
rights has made 'moral sentiments" irrelevant at best. Both the ontology and the
methodology of mainstream economics reify the individual rights at the expense
of the collective rights. For laissez faire, rationality, utility maximizing
economic agents, competition etc.etc., are components of individual-based
ideology separate from structure and consequently oblivious to its
contradictions. Since it is based on a "false" ontology and employs a
mathematical deductivist method it lacks the power necessary to resolve its
contradictions (Ardebili, 2005). That is, the ontology upon which it anchors its
assumptions does not allow a needed penetration of the subset and the beneath
the veneer of what is perceived as real. The end result is that within the
"closed system" (Lawson,1999) in which it operates, it must rely on empiricism
and ideology rather than science.
liberalism was the dominant mode of thinking and state ideology (liberalism)
until the Great Depression of the 1930s. The rise of Keynesianism-demand
maintenance, state regulations/intervention, public works were all components of
the new macroeconomic approach to business cycle in the form of the New Deal.
The Keynesianism of the 1930s through the 1960s was used to "legitimate" policy
for the ruling elites of the capitalist West. Keynesianism also supported the
ideological struggle against the "Communist" East. The expansion of F.D. R's
welfare system culminated in President Johnson's "unconditional war on poverty"
and the introduction of currently controversial new programs such as the
Medicare and Medicaid.
national debt is a systemic and a structurally determined and perpetuated
crisis. The contradictions within the system stemming from the class structure
of society, declining rate of profit and the crisis of legitimation, and the
problem posed by managerial strengths and weaknesses causing increases or
decreases in the severity of the crisis. Commenting on the regime of monopoly
capital, O'Connor (1971:40) states that "the basic cause of the fiscal crisis is
the contradiction of capitalist production itself.....in the long run, monopoly
capital socializes more and more capital costs and social expenses of
production. The resulting fiscal crisis ---expenditures surpassing revenue-or
the social cost of accumulation becomes a fiscal crisis of massive proportion.
Let's look at the contradictions of accumulation and legitimation during the
last two decades of monopoly capital and the national debt and militarism
connections in the context of accumulation.
THE 1970S AND the
regime of Monopoly CAPITAL ACCUMULATION:
In the 1960s
capital's strategy had three main components-aggregate demand manipulation
through fiscal and monetary policy, the productivity deal, and the investment in
human capital (Phillips, 1980:129). The period between 1945 and late 1960s was
an "expansive" capital accumulation period and the capitalist classes in the
imperial countries managed to "buy social peace at home and support for
imperialist policy through social reform" including but not limited to full
employment and social security policies (Lorimar, 1997:14). Thus Pennant Rhea,
editor of THE ECONOMIST Magazine, lamented that "the post-war welfare system was
an import from Marxism forced upon the rich by the Cold War" (Lorimer,1997:14).
However, by the end of the 1960s inflationary conditions set the stage for the
1970s crisis in global capitalism in the form of stagflation (Phillips,
1980:129), leading to the break-down of Fordism as an accumulation regime and
the rise of the Neo-Fordism with its emphasis on a greater rate of exploitation
of labor. The stagflation of the early 1970s was compounded by the so-called oil
embargo and the strategists of capital viewed the increase in the price of oil
as another opportunity for capital accumulation. That is, "...consumer payments
for high priced oil in the importing countries represent a diversification from
other forms of consumption...creating investible funds in the hands of the OPEC
countries" (Robert Roosa cited in Phillips,1980:248). Petrodollar recycling
along with reduction in wages were critical components of accumulation process.
As a tradition in the process of accumulation the lowering of the value of
labor-power has always been an essential element of a successful accumulation
(Phillips, 1980:250). All that has changed is capital's strategy in response to
working class struggle. Labor struggle in the early 1970s was in the form of
strike and demand for higher wages and better working conditions. In 1973 and
1974 the number of days lost to strikes in the US was 28 and 48 respectively
(Yearbook of Labor statistics 1975 cited in Phillips table 45 page 250). The
1960s and 70s were witness to an increasing number of strikes by public
employee. The number of strikes dropped from a record high of 470 to a record
low of 29 in 1997. In the 1980s strikers were replaced with non-union workers.
Strike or accepting wage reduction on the part of organized labor were the only
weapons of choice, while attempt at reducing labor's earnings took many forms.
"The failure of commodity inflation to restore the conditions favorable to
accumulation left capital with little choice but to engineer a worldwide
depression to stop the global wage struggle" (Phillips, 1980:251). And third
attack on labor by capital took the form of global austerity (between 1976-1978)
implemented by the IMF and which most countries including the United States and
Britain were affected through lowered expectations.
The return of
finance capital in its most ruthless form following the stagflation of the
1970s, was responsible for the deficits and the growing indebtedness of the
states, as well as for the crisis of the debt of Third World countries" (Dumenil
and Levy, in Epstien, 2005). The 1970s were the last decade of the reigning
monopoly capital and the state had a negotiated role of buying social peace for
accumulation purposes (Ross and Trachte, 1990:64-66). One of the main
contradictions was the rising surplus (instead of declining rate of profit as
suggested by Marx) and the absence of a credible consuming class to take care of
the surplus (11). The attempt at resolving this contradiction required the
expansion of the welfare state as a response to inadequate domestic demand and
the expansion of the warfare state so as to find overseas market for investment
of surplus capital not consumed by the domestic middle class (O'Connor,
1971:150). The limits however as indicated by Baran and Sweezy are set by the
"private interests of the moneyed oligarchy" and they argue that "the strategic
role of military spending within monopoly capitalism" whose interests lies in
the absorption of "rising surplus" by the state "through the growth of military
establishment" (Ross and Trachte, 1990:44). Militarism and imperialism are
"inherent features of capitalist economic development..." (O'Connor, 1971:151). It
is in this context that militarism often appears in the form of nationalism
which in turn reinforces militarism and the line between nationalistic
sentiments and militaristic tendencies appears blurred.
the form of state fiscal policy attempted the implementation of social
imperialism through lower taxes, and higher state expenditures. Fiscal policy
(taxation and expenditures) must be viewed in terms of the class structure of
society, its role in the reproduction of the class structure and the political
economy of capitalist production and accumulation. Welfare programs then as now
being the cheapest of all social expenditures, became the poster child of
tension-free capital accumulation process. The accumulation process has always
required an effective legitimation apparatus often appearing in the form of
social expenditures. O'Connor (1971) describes two categories. First social
expenditures having two main subcategories: (a) social capital expenditures
(education, research etc.) and (b) social consumption expenditures (medical
care, child care and social services and unemployment benefits). The second
category sustaining legitimation and that of social expenses expenditures, such
as welfare and warfare expenditures ( O'Connor, 1971).
legitimation is as much of a concern as it was during the 60s and 70s. As then
the two contradictions--Legitimation and accumulation involve the participation
of nearly every state agency and realized by "every state expenditure"
(O'Connor, 1971:7). Nevertheless, welfare as a partial solution to the
"under-consumption" problem while serving as a legitimacy mechanism remains and
will remain (as will most of the state expenditures) because of its role in the
accumulation and legitimation process. That is, the state facilitates
accumulation "...through demand maintenance," it also reproduces the class system
through its legitimation function which involves the cooption of popular
discontent through welfare expenditures as did the Keynesianism of the 1930s in
the form of the New Deal. Furthermore, as O'Connor (1971) points out state
spending on social expenditures (capital and consumption both) contributes to
accumulation. Capital controls labor and the control leads to low wages. But low
wages lead to low consumption thereby making the realization of profit more
difficult. It is imperative to have the means of consumption necessary to
augment the loss of purchasing power due to lower wages and to expand the
existing market. To that end increases in consumption are attained through the
availability of credit (indebtedness), deceptive marketing strategies and
intensified competition. Individual indebtedness has always served as a great
mechanism of social control and source of insecurity. Social imperialism works
accordingly to address concerns of legitimation as well as creating the domestic
base of external imperialism by incorporating the working classes of the home
country by presenting imperialism as being necessary for the pursuit of national
interests. Militarism as national honor becomes an ontological point of
reference. Lately we have noticed that this strategy relies much more on the
fear factor and insecurity than the traditional means of legitimacy generating
By the late 1970s
the problem with accumulation raised questions regarding the viability of
maintaining social welfare and to continue with modest wage increases. In the
United States, the allegedly welfare friendly Carter Administration created the
basis for an attack by the neo-liberal camp. The working class had to go along
with the global austerity by submitting to lower expectations in the face of
cuts in social programs, reduction in wages and higher rates of exploitation. In
this period as part of the "new reality" heralding the rise of a global platform
for increasing internationalization of capital and production forced a
rethinking and a shift in the principle of "welfare state" (Teeple, 2007:1).
The creation of disciplined and insecure workers was the key to the success of a
restructured regime of accumulation (Lorimar, 1997:14; Phillips, 1980:250). The
new regime of accumulation was extraordinarily cold, heartless, uncompromising
and reckless. Similar to regimes before it, this social regime required
institutions, ideologies, and global hegemonic tendencies along with effective
social imperialism to create the environment for long-run capitalist profit. The
1980s was the beginning of this new social regime of accumulation.
THE 1980S AND
BEYOND: NEO-LIBERALISM ON THE OFFENSIVE-the
rise of neo-liberalism and the worsening fiscal crisis of the state-the era of
Post Classic Social Imperialism;
From the 1980s
the advent of economic neo-liberalism followed a persistent global economic
crisis in the West. The so called "Reaganomics" in the U.S. and "Thatcherism" in
Britain were the epitome of neoliberalism and a direct consequence of a growing
accumulation problem in the global economy. The interruption in the global
accumulation cause by the Iranian Revolution, the Nicaraguan Revolution,
invasion of Afghanistan by former USSR, and the domestic working class demands
on capital revived neo-liberalism and militarism. Neo-liberalism manifested
itself in the relentless pursuit of obscenely high rates of profit through
deregulation, privatization and rugged individualism and militarism came to
define the core of U.S. foreign policy of containing USSR and the challenges to
hegemonic practices on the part of the labor and national liberation fronts.
ideology of this period was a rehabilitated Social Darwinism and free market
fundamentalism. This in turn reinforced a hysterical nationalism and demanded
greater jingoism of the corporate media. Growing US Military spending in the
1980s, economic growth through deficit spending, tax cuts for the rich,
reduction in social services were manifestations of changing national and global
priorities. The global context was characterized by Race for Resources and
hegemonic tendencies-Machiavellian and imperialistic. Domestically the
pro-business policies were hailed as a clean break with the troubling labor
dictated condition. From the late 1970s the attempt at the eradication of the
"anti-business" climate manifested itself in an all out attack strategy by
neo-liberalism with a global reach. In the post 1970s legitimation is no longer
the concern it was in the era of the Cold War. Allan Greenspan, the former
Chairman of the U.S Federal Reserve System whose statements were perceived as
policy statements once remarked that " insecure workers are good for the economy
as they keep inflation low" (Congressional testimony 2/26/97). Demoralized
labor, insecure labor, unorganized (de-unionized) labor, and threatened labor
are necessary and effective components of struggle for legitimacy and hegemony.
In retrospect the fiscal crisis of the 1970s was unique in that the state
expenditures for the dual purposes of accumulation and legitimation were signs
of the power of the organized labor's ability to negotiate better contracts.
From the late
1970s and particularly in the 1980s labor lost its ability to regroup and
maintain its ability
bargain. Reaganomics and Thatcherism were the two most ideologically anti-labor
attempts at restoring capital's long run hegemony. Comparatively speaking, the
current crisis has reached a point of no return for two important
reasons-legitimation imperatives and bourgeoning national debt. The reduction in
social expenditures (war on the poor) out of necessity must be replaced by a set
of effective legitimacy generating mechanisms. In the 1980s, tax cuts for the
rich coupled with increases in spending caused an annual increase of 13.8% in
the national debt. During his two terms Reagan increased the national debt by
200% (from under one trillion to $2.6 trillion (McGourty, 2006).
the rise of economic neo-liberalism and the global capitalist assault on the
working class in the 1980s and the uncompromising and determined policy of
crushing all opposition to its rule around the world, military might became
indispensible. Massive pouring of resources into the military industrial complex
and the massive tax cuts for the rich in the United States resulted in the first
trillion dollar of accumulated deficits in the 1980-81. The grand aim was the
dismantling of the Soviet "evil empire" through a crippling arms race initiated
by the Reagan administration in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in
Britain. In the meantime, the ideology of neo-liberalism aided by militarism was
to facilitate accumulation on a global scale. Two interruptions in the
accumulation process namely the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the Nicaraguan
Revolution were viewed as challenges to global accumulation. The Iranian
Revolution was to be at least confined within the borders, if not completely
eliminated. Therefore, Saddam Hussien was called upon to respond to that
challenge by attempting to invade Iran, but bogged down in an 8 year long war of
attrition. The Nicaraguan Revolution was challenged by the army of Contras aided
by the Reagan Administration and the rest is a story well told. The United
States, however continued with the tradition of American intervention
(militarily and otherwise) in the affairs of Latin America. To meet the demand
of the military spending, the Reagan Administration and the succeeding
administrations ran high budget deficits.
dispossession" is the hallmark of neo-liberal economic policy (Harvey, 2006:6).
Globally, the accumulation by dispossession involves indebtedness, privatization
of state owned industries, free trade which is suffocating the most vulnerable
countries and military interventions. The attack on the poor through
indebtedness, eminent domain, pension raiding, and declining access to social
services becomes more problematic (Harvey, 2006:8). Indeed, the essence of
neo-liberalism globally as well as domestically involves the domination of
capital over labor. In the era of post classic social imperialism, the
implementation of globalization and the entire hegemonic and imperialistic
strategy involves a violent attack on the working class and the poor of the
world disguised as free trade, democracy, freedom, and civility. Inequality both
in its creation as well as its maintenance involves violence, for it demands
expropriation and exploitation and the means of coercion to achieve these ends.
Around the world,
neo-liberal policies in the form of austerity measures are imposed by powerful
multilateral financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
the World Bank, and WTO. Aided by these supra-national agencies, global
capitalism is steered on the path prescribed by the neo-liberal economic policy
(market orientation, privatization and deregulation) for the ultimate goal of
creating smooth global conditions for accumulation. In the 1980s and 1990s,
global capital mobility and trade increased, but the plight of the workers,
growth and employment opportunities showed no major improvement. On the contrary
what appeared to be more noticeable was the burden of national debt and
declining collective bargaining power on a global scale (Cohen and Centeno,
2005). Indeed the application of Keynesianism both nationally and globally was
aided by the Bretton Woods' new International Monetary System and its two
powerful supranational institutions of the IMF (through its austerity measures)
and the World Bank (ostensibly under United Nations' auspices) and as
instruments of centralization of capital against the global working class
struggle (Phillips, 1980:126).
In the American
context, the neo-liberal economic strategy and the slogan of Laissez Faire
overshadowed all corporate accountability even to their own shareholders. The
merger mania of the 80s and 90s was indicative of capital's strategy for greater
consolidation and centralization. In the 1990s, globalization intensified and
exceeded all prior efforts and with it came the socialization of its costs. The
imperial projects such as globalization is very expensive and according to
Chalmers Johnson (2007:63) "The flow of nation's wealth from taxpayers and to
(increasingly foreign) lenders through the government to military contractors
and (decreasingly) back to the taxpayers" is in the tradition of what Kalecki
called "military Keynesianism".
even if it is sanitized and defined as "expansion of the free market" has been a
mechanism for greater accumulation on a world scale. Effective globalization
requires an international capitalist class alliance along with institutions and
ideologies both at the national and global level. The significant institutions
in this regard are those of finance capital and equally important the military
industrial complex. To protect the alliance, and when necessary to project
power, military force is required and this gives rise to the state of permanent
war. Globalization as imperialism needs an infrastructure on a global scale. The
World Trade Organization (WTO) is one component of that infrastructure charged
with making sure that globalization and therefore, accumulation process proceeds
uninterrupted. The WTO formalized imperialism of trade engineered by the old
"historical bloc" through standardization. The denationalization of the
nation-states' polity through incorporation of the nation-states' participation
in the process of accumulation legitimizes the process and presents it as
voluntary participation. While in the 1990s it appeared that militarism was no
longer as overt as in the 1980s, in reality the military industrial complex
continued to exert influence on a global scale. The militarism of the 1990s was
relatively subdued but still alive and well in an ostensibly "...demilitarized
world in which business activity is primary and political power has no other
task than the protection of the world free-trading system (Lorimer, 1997:13).
Throughout the 1990s the U.S. military buildup continued as it did in the 1980s
and as does now serving as a mechanism for greater globalization. Aided by the
military, the push for greater integration of the world capitalist system with a
touch of colonialism and an unprecedented degree of practice of Social
Imperialism continues in its most perverse form. Increases in state expenditures
on the military mainly financed through borrowing, has created the need for an
alternative means of social control. It is not accidental that we have seen a
growing reliance on the culture of fear as a mechanism to mobilize public
opinion in favor of militarism abroad. The psychology of living in fear on the
part of the public on the one hand and dependence on fear for the purposes of
effective social imperialism on the other have worked hand in hand to replace
the fear of communism with the fear of radical Islam.
militarization of specific society and of the planet requires an effective
propaganda. Fred J. Cook (1964:100), observing the late 1950s and early 60s
wrote "The crutch of the Warfare State is propaganda. We must be taught to fear
and to hate or we will not agree to regiment our lives, to bear the enormous
burdens of ever heavier taxation to pay for ever more costly military
hardware....at the expense of domestic programs..." This problem has become much
more severe of late and matched only by the level of public ignorance in the
US. Thus, a free hand in the allocation of public funds to military and
military related activities and the exhaustion of credit limits as the need to
borrow increases with every annual budget preparation and military action
abroad. Yet, government borrowing continues to be one of the mechanisms of
redistribution of income upwards. And as long as the general public remains
ignorant of the facts and by extension there are no incentives for the political
establishment to change course, the long run damage to the socio-economic and
the political structure will be irreversible. As James Fallows (2005) points out
the current imperial wars are fought for so called "freedom" and "security" are
producing results such as deficit financing, lowering the taxes on the rich,
while at the same time "The deficit helps him more easily slash domestic social
programs (Cited in Street, 2005).
In the post WWII
period in general and the post 911 era in particular, the culture of fear has
been effectively incorporated into the toolbox of jingoism and propaganda. The
conditioned to fear Americans were "longing" in the 1990s for "clear-cut enemy,
an indisputable target for moral outrage" (Sterns, 2006:212). "We have seen
Americans increasingly take not only data (real or imagined", but also outright
emotional cues from media promptings, using presentations for guidance not only
in public fear but also public grief... Media manipulation has been heightened, of
course, by irresponsible political posturing. It was no accident that the most
fear-soaked television channel after September 11, FOX News, was also closest to
the Bush Administration...media and politicians manipulating and Americans
sheepishly responding....(Sterns, 2006:210).
Fear dampens the
spirit, demoralizes, belittles personality and blocks rationality. The
proponents of realpolitik are not as naďve as they appear, they have as their
brethren in economics and indeed on all fields dominated by the "organic"
intellectuals, have a significant role to play in the overall imperial
expansion. In fact some (such as Fernando Teson, 2005) go as far as suggesting
that the United States has a duty to be a "humanitarian imperialist" by crushing
regimes such as that of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussien, and the
ideologues from the same genre of "organic intellectuals" have revisited the
Vietnam and similar imperial Wars just to present them as legitimate and
"humanitarian" interventions. From the point of view of domestic classes, the
demons of the 'otherness", the unknown and the most troubling of all the
shifting language in describing the American role in the World are viewed as
sufficient reasons to cheer what the rest of the World sees as dangerous and
costly militarism. Although social welfare expenditures continues to be a
legitimacy generating mechanism, increasingly, the fear of the "enemy" as
perpetuated by the sensationalist warmongering corporate media (just as in the
nineteenth century jingoism of the British media) is a critical factor in
establishing and implementing social imperialism. The difference was that the
British jingoism defended imperialism outright with occasional references of the
"civilizing mission" of the "infallible" and "superior" Anglo-Saxon race. The
contemporary jingoism of the American media uses the rubric freedom and defense
of "democracy", etc. etc. To subdue popular discontent, the empire resorts to a
great degree of actual use of military power abroad and police action and
surveillance at home.
the strategy of social imperialism, overt use of military power has been and
continues to be dressed up as some noble cause-a tradition which goes back to
the practices of European colonial empires. The Western colonial empires in the
nineteenth century presented their penetration, pillage, and rape of Africa,
Asia, and Latin America as modernization and tutelage, aided by the ideology of
the "survival of the fittest." This conceit pervaded the entire bourgeois social
science, educational and religious institutions. During the height of colonial
penetration, imperial control of the colonies occurred through formal (direct
control if everything else failed) and informal (indebtedness and comprador
control) mechanisms. Today, Iraq is an atavism in its most grotesque form
presented as exercise in "democracy". Even in its most insincere form, the
flouting of "democratic idealism" points to underlying contradiction within the
imperial system. How do you maintain democratic ideals in the era of Social
Darwinism and ruthless accumulation strategies? How do you promote "democracy"
at gun point and the threat of annihilation and stampede of national pride and
sovereignty? Even in the context of the most paranoid condition of REALIST
approach in international relations, survival does not warrant such expenditures
unless World domination is the aim of the policy. This is precisely why
neo-liberalism operates alongside militarism, war and dictatorship.
capitalism crushes all unfavorable conditions through oppression and violence to
ensure the creation of a world in its own image. Once again colonialism-armed
robbery on a global scale-is reproduced and implemented. The difference between
the old form and the new form is the scale of destruction and the overt use of
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Hence the militarization of the globe is a
natural outcome. United Fruit Company could not have flourished without the
Marines and the U.S State Department and all of its resources, the French, the
German, the British and the Belgian financiers could not have been able to suck
the blood out of their colonies without their legionnaires, soldiers,
mercenaries, preachers, merchants and generals. And today as stated by one of
its embedded journalists in the corporate media Thomas Friedman (1999:49)
"McDonalds cannot flourish without McDonald Douglas". Friedman is correct in so
far as he is pointing out the symbiotic relationship between business and the
military. But empirical realities even those which appear positive, cannot
permanently gloss over structural contradictions. Defense Secretary William
Cohen, in remarks to reporters prior to his speech at Microsoft Corporation in
Seattle, put it this way, "[T]he prosperity that companies like Microsoft now
enjoy could not occur without having the strong military that we have" (Talbot,
militarism nor neo-liberalism ought to be viewed in isolation from each other.
Neo-liberalism is perhaps curiously reinforced by neo-conservatism.
Neo-conservatism is "a violent complement of neo-liberalism" and "it adds force
of war to the myth of free market under modern imperialism" (Jose Maria Sisson,
2004:5). "Both neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism are intended to expand US
economic territory and to make the pretense at building a market economy and
democracy" (Sisson, 2004:5). The neo-conservative and the neo-liberals have
benefited from the support of resurgent evangelical Christians in the 1980s.
Evangelical Christians grew in a power and influence in the first half of
nineteenth century (Bigelow, 2005:34). Not only did they reject the notion of
class conflict within capitalism, they "saw the new industrial economy as a
fulfillment of God's plan. The free market, they believed was a perfectly
designed instrument to reward good Christian behavior and to punish and
humiliate the unrepentant" (Bigelow, 2005:35). Neo-liberalism does not function
under the umbrella of militarism alone, it needs comprehensive institutional
support and demand that all facets of capitalism be employed. In particular the
institutions of religion, education, finance as well as supranational
organizations (i.e., IMF, the World Bank and their form of monetary terrorism)
have been effectively employed in the implementation of its policies. But,
effective control whether domestic or transnational must involve an ideological
apparatus and a coercive power as the neo-liberal policies have shown.
identified two distinct methods of politico-social control; physical control or
"domination" and ideological control or hegemony through consent (Prison
Notebook). Any discussion of the distinct types of politico-social control
elaborated by Gramsci requires an epochal delineation and a global context. But
it is the job of the "organic intellectuals" to decide when and what strategy is
called for in particular on the basis of a realization that external control
requires effective internal control. The success of the military (coercive)
operations overseas, requires effective social imperialism. As the level of
distrust against the United States increases, globally, and as the domestic
problems mount "coercion rather than consensus" becomes a more viable
alternative (Harvey, 2003:77). "An unholy alliance between state powers and the
predatory aspects of finance capitalism forms the cutting edge of 'vulture
capitalism' that is as much about cannibalistic practices and forced
devaluations as it is about achieving harmonious global development" (Harvey,
The occupation of
Iraq and Afghanistan in the age of concerted and spreading challenges to global
capitalism in general and neo-liberalism in particular attest to a global class
conflict. And they remain and will continue to present the greatest imperial
crises for America while in her neo-liberal and neo-conservative mode. The human
cost at the present and the future and the devastating impact on future
generations both in Iraq and in the United States will dwarf the current and
future expenditures associated with actual use of personnel and weapons in the
occupation and the attempt at subduing Iraq. But the cost of this
neo-liberal/neo-conservative militarism and regime change/building, disguised as
"war on Terror", and export of "democracy" -produced by the contemporary
"organic" as well as traditional intellectuals, ought to be viewed in the
context of greater hegemonic strategy for world domination. This attempt
however, has several obstacles none of which can easily be ignored. And it is a
mistake to think that only a particular party in office rather than the
structure itself creates such crises and/or show hegemonic tendencies.
To attribute the
imperial practices to a particular political party, then assumes a style of
management or variations in the composition of the class (as often erroneously
assumed) in each period a particular political party is in power. The "different
and sometimes rival conceptions of empire can even become internalized in the
same space" (Harvey, 1990:5) and only it is the expression of imperial
tendencies that changes (i.e., alleged Clinton's "demilitarization" and Bush's
militarism). The line of demarcation in all levels is blurred. In fact the
identification of Keynesianism with the U.S. Democratic Party is increasingly a
misplaced alliance. As Chalmers Johnson (2007:68) points out "Traditional
Keynesianism is a stable two party system composed of deficit spending in bad
times and debt payment in good times. Military Keynesianism is an unstable one
party system. With no political check, debt accrues until it reaches a crisis
point." The modern fiscal policy was born and nurtured in the context of
Keynesian strategy of saving capitalism, but it neither prescribed nor
forecasted such a fiscal crisis as the United States national debt. And
certainly, as an ideology designed to save capitalism from without, did not and
could not provide answers to its internal contradictions.
finances are one of the best starting points for an investigation of the
society, especially though not exclusively for its political life" (cited in
As one indicator
of a well entrenched "aristocracy of finance" (O'Connor, 1971:190), are the
endless tax breaks for the rich and a tax increase for the working class
(exploitation). These tax cuts have generated massive windfall for he rich and
well to do of this society. Certainly it has as expected by the proponents of
the "trickle down" theory some jobs for the working class whose wage rate has
not changed since 1972. As the interest payment on the debt is made, the working
class must pay higher taxes to pay the interests and also more likely to fall
victim to the austerity measures imposed by the condition of indebtedness. Tax
cut for the rich, therefore becomes a coercive method in protecting and
expanding the interests of the upper classes (17). Just to show that with regard
to the national debt, political party affiliation and control of the United
States congress is not an important determinant of debt. It is important to
point out that since 1938, the democrats were in control of the White House for
35 years and Republican for 34 years. Over this period the national debt has
increased at an average annual rate of 8.7%. For Democrats it was 8.3% and
slightly higher for Republican at an average rate of 9.7%. (Cited in McGourty,
2007). Of course when correlated with the tax structure and the class aspect we
can see the tilt in favor of the accumulation. Prior to World War II wealthiest
Americans paid nearly all of the federal income tax. In order to finance the
war, income taxes were increased and the majority of workers had to pay income
taxes for the first time. As federal tax rates on the wealthy were decreased
starting in the 1960s, the tax burden on middle and low income Americans began
to grow. This is one of the largest opportunity cost imposed on the
taxpayers-the working class and particularly for people on "desolation row."
Today, it continues to be the case but is rarely viewed in the context of class
struggle. Similarly, the outcome of that struggle, the national debt and all of
its consequences is rarely viewed in that context. In the United States, the
effects of neo-liberalism is more noticeable as the rich grow richer and the
poor grow in numbers and poorer. Because of the inability of the borrowers
whether it is the farmers in the United States or countries battered and robbed
as colonial possession struggling on the periphery of the world capitalist
system to meet debt service obligations. The result is debt trap, alienation,
poverty and predisposition to violence.
and war on the one hand, and the worsening position of the working class (both
lower and the middle classes) within the advanced societies, on the other, thus
rep resent two sides of the same coin, (Pollin, 2004; Wood, 2003, and Mann,
2003). Furthermore, this inequality is matched by a rising culture of violence,
and intensification and glorification of unrestrained consumerism through
indebtedness on the one hand and the evolving seclusion of the well to do behind
gated communities. Schmitt and Zepperer (2006:16), have documented that the
United States economy suffers from substantial "...exclusion, including high level
of income inequality, high relative and absolute poverty rates, poor and unequal
educational outcomes, poor health outcomes, and high rates of crime and
incarceration." Recently (2007) UNICEF reported that among the developed
economies, the United States and England ranked 20 and 21 respectively in
worsening condition of their children. In terms of happiness, the children of
these two countries are at the bottom of the scale and the abuses of alcohol,
prevalence of violence, drug abuse, sexual abuse and poor health are major
concerns. Of course, United States and Britain have had many rising social
problems. Nevertheless, the severity varied from period to period. However, with
the advent of the neo-liberalism policies and accompanying globalization,
militarism, global accumulation and debt service, their costs became
aided by subsidies are selling weapons systems to governments which are killing
their own people. "Rogue" allies have terrible records of human rights
violations including the murder of their own people. The need for overseas
expansion of "surplus capital" and the expansion of American economic, political
and cultural hegemony according to O'connor (1971:152-3) are the root causes of
the American Militarism. The "Garrison State" (V.K. Dibble, cited in O'connor,
1971:156) produces a culture of militarism and military based patriotism
enabling a worldwide chain of military "colonies." According to Johnson, oil and
arms barons have created "a military juggernaut intent on world domination" and
are exercising "preemptive intervention" for "oil, Israel, and... to fulfill our
self-perceived destiny as a New Rome." (Johnson, 2001).
between globalization and militarism should be seen as two sides of the same
coin. On one side, globalization promotes the conditions that lead to unrest,
inequality, conflict, and, ultimately, war. On the other side, globalization
fuels the means to wage war by protecting and promoting the military industries
needed to produce sophisticated weaponry. This weaponry, and the military in
turn, is used or is threatened to be used to protect the investments of
transnational corporations the agents of neo-liberalism and their accumulation
and privatization drive (Staple, 2007). The military is employed to crush any
resistance to neo-liberal economic policies. An example of this grotesque
imperial arrogance is the IRAQ OIL LAW. Iraq Oil Law is a wholesale
privatization of Iraq oil pushed for by foreign oil companies and private
(mostly American) contractors such as Bearing Point. Since the occupation, Iraq
has become one of only three nations in the world that give corporations all the
rights entitled to a human being (i.e. "corporate personhood"). Journalist Naomi
Klein describes Iraq as a "modern laboratory for neo-liberal experimentation" (Buckly,
2005). As observed by Duménil, and Lévy (2005), "Neo-liberalism is the
ideological expression of the return to hegemony of the financial fraction of
continues to take effect, large powers will often use their armada in support of
the globalizing agents enabling them to Cohen's admission of the role of the
United States military in guarding the interests of the dominant class is by no
means new. On November 11, 2000, Richard Haas stated that the American global
hegemony requires an imperial power capable of extending its control formally
and informally. Implicitly Haas is calling for greater social imperialism by
claiming that --"Imperialism Begins at Home." To Haas, the concern ought to be
with "imperial understretch, not overstretch" Full scale military intervention
according to Haas, can lead to massive destruction, but it could be rebuild and
off course the task of rebuilding is always left to global corporations
invariably from the imperialist countries and their 'rogue" allies. (cited in
John Bellamy Foster, 2003).General
Smedley D. Butler (1935, cited in Pearce, 1982:20) boasting of his achievements
in 33 years as a Marine officer serving in all commissioned ranks spending most
of his time "being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street
and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism" And bluntly put:
The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our
economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair
amount of killings (Major
Ralph Peters, Constant Conflict, Parameters, Summer 1997, pp. 4-14,).
to the modern day Transnational Corporations-the East India Companies -used
their navies alongside their merchant ships to penetrate faraway land to grab
their riches. Contemporary, Transnational Corporations have continued with this
tradition of relying on the political and military power of their national state
for successful globalization and control of production, resources and markets.
"Today, the Pentagon is realigning and expanding its vast international network
of bases along the frontiers of the global economy, such as in central Asia. And
in places like Colombia, U.S. troops and weapons are being deployed where
uprisings threaten corporate investments." In a recent public statement, U.S.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates using Korea as an analogy revealed that the
United States has no intention of leaving Iraq anytime soon. Iraq remains and
will continue to present itself as a challenge to an uninterrupted globalization
and accumulation process and will remain as one of the greatest examples of
military power coming to the aid of globalization and accumulation. U.S.
political structure has been promoting a radical and vengeful nationalism and
military patriotism. As one dimension of nationalism expressed in military terms
was the militarization of nationalism beginning with the emergence of "national
security state" culminating in the "project for the new American century." The
plan for the American imperial domination of the planet envisioned a "new
imperialism that would not 'hesitate to use (coercive) force if, when and where
necessary, and... unilaterally ..... It anticipated what would later be asserted by
Kohl and Feldstien: 'We must discourage the other industrialized nations from
challenging American leadership and from bringing into question the economic and
political established order. We must keep such a military supremacy that
potential rivals will be dissuaded from, aspiring to a larger regional or global
role'" (Veltmeyer, 2005:9). Wolfowitz (along with Ricrad Perle, and Dick Cheney
among others) was also the lead author of "Project for the new American
Century"-the how to of unilateral projection of the American military and
political power in the service of the empire (Veltmeyer, 2005:14). No too long
after the script was written, the Bush administration "used the last and only
refuge of truly unchallenged American global hegemony - its possession of a
sheer preponderance of military force - precisely as a tool for shoring up its
long-declining world-economic power by putting Uncle Sam's boot on that great
strategic economic (and military) prize in an age of global petro-capitalism:
the Middle Eastern oil spigot" (Harvey, 2003). The neo-lib/neo-con fusion is
personified by Wolfowitz, as deputy Pentagon leader, architect of and apologist
for imperial theft and US corporate patronage associated with the illegal Iraq
War (Bond, 2006). They were cheered by the "Israel firsters" such as Irving
Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and William Kristol among many others in the neo-cons
camp advocating "Pre-emptive" strikes (particularly against countries like Iran)
and similar suggestions advanced by the "Program for the New American Century".
Invariably, the implementation of all of these policy components --the
accumulation strategy and process rely heavily on the military power and
military Keynesianism which in turn feed the Military Industrial Complex and
creates massive indebtedness. Are there policy makers who do not see the
consequences of militarism and imperialism abroad and the social imperialism
inside? Few are willing to defend over $9 trillion national debt, other than to
acknowledge it as a necessary evil that needs to be addressed. Ignoring it has
become a norm and even when it reaches $14 trillion or more in 2013, it will
continue to be too "abstract" to understand by the masses.
viewed public debt as one of the greatest dangers to political and economic
"independence." Today as the national debt mounts, the contemporary statesmen
for the most part not only have ignored the danger it poses, they are continuing
to add on to it. Though public debt is as old as institution of polity itself,
it was argued in this paper that contemporary causes of indebtedness are to be
found Globalization, accumulation drives, imperialism and social imperialism.
Globalization as imperialism for the sake of capital accumulation, involves
militarism as the protector of globe trotting corporations. Accumulation of
capital on a global scale is an endeavor on the part of the international
capitalist class which in a solid alliance preserves its hegemony with an armada
goaded by the hegemonic ideology undergirded by Social Darwinism. Domestically
Social Imperialism is adopted to meet the need of domestic control in the
services global accumulation supported by imperialism. The intensity of
accumulation drive determines the degree of social imperialism in the
imperialist zones. Today social imperialism relies not on the provision of
social services, but reliance on fear as a control mechanism. Fear of terrorism,
fear of job insecurity, fear of domestic violence, fear of gang violence and
fear of unknown are to subdue people and a forced resignation to status quo and
the surrender of their rights to the agents of control (Stern, 2006). In New
York City, in 2005, a teacher asks her sixth-grade students to draw the images
that they most associate with the United States. Well over half offer military
scenes (Stearn, 2006:169 ). A 2004 alysis of data by the US Census reports
that 60 million Americans now live on less than $7 per day. Twenty-five million
Americans now depend on emergency food aid. Wages have remained stagnate since
1972 and for too many Americans, the litany of violence, punishment and
suffering seems unending, and the American Dream is now a uniquely
Made-in-America Nightmare. (William Shanley 2007). This is at a time when
corporate welfare programs outweighs spending for low-income programs by more
than three to one: $167 billion to $51.7 billion (
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, FY 95 figures).
Democracy as a
right and as a privilege comes with responsibility of preserving it and not
realizing its vulnerabilities can lead to disaster. In other words democracy
demands involvement in the political process and social activism. Its
commodification signals a change of direction toward its demise. And any
display of patriotism in this regard inadvertently serves the interest of the
dominant and internationalized capital.
About the author:
Dr. Mehdi S. Shariati, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of
Economics/Sociology at Kansas City Kansas Community College. He can be
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