Imperialism: its problems and the problem with it

“The programme of Social Democracy (Marxism), as a counter-balance to this petty-bourgeoisie opportunist utopia, must postulate the division of nations into oppressor and oppressed as basic, significant and inevitable under Imperialism” (Lenin 2007 p 114) 

The most recent issue of Foreign Affairs (July-August) highlights two interlinked problems that American Imperialism faces today. The article defining success in Afghanistan by Biddle, Christia and Thier is an attempt to scale down the goals of the occupation of Afghanistan so when American forces leave they can claim it wasn’t a total disaster. The first loss of the redefinition of goals is the idea of democracy. The corrupt government of Karzai backed up by the US did undermine the idea that the occupation was about democracy, especially after the completely discredited elections with massively low voter turnout. This is not such a problem for Biddle et al as they state the new “realistic” goal is a decentralised democracy in which local strong men have regional autonomy as long as they don’t support attacks on the US or destabilise Pakistan. If this doesn’t work the local strong men will not have to be elected at all in what the article refers to as mixed sovereignty. The mix being local dictatorships free from central government apart from the three red line rules:

 They should not host terrorist or insurgent training camps

They should not take over other districts

They should not engage in large scale theft, narcotics trafficking, or the exploitation of state-owned natural resources.

 This, the article states should allow the local dictators to engage in “moderate scale corruption” (Biddle et al 2010 p 54). The writers inform us this is already what is effectively happening in Afghanistan. The article also states this situation could lead to regressive laws against women and minorities but is nevertheless a success for the US. Failure has now being defined as partition of the country along ethnic lines and complete civil war. The people who support the US/UK governments or are fighting in this war might wonder what it is all about; the article highlights what it isn’t about:

Bin Laden who?

Concern for the Afghan people


Terrorism (UK intelligence acknowledges that the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan increased the likelihood of attacks and no Afghan people were involved in 7/7 or 9/11)  

What it is all about is American Imperialism and its partners backing that up. Another article in the same issue of the journal coping with China’s Financial Power by Miller highlights the US’s increasing problems with maintaining this dominance. China’s economic growth has been a contradiction for the US. In one sense China has allowed the American state to be in a large amount of debt by loaning it money and on the other hand America provides China with its most important consumer export market. However America sees a rising China as one of its main competitors in both economic and military terms. Recent debates in the US on calling China a “currency manipulator” only added to the tension. The US believed that China was undervaluing their currency to undercut rivals in making their exports cheaper. This issue seems to be resolved in the short term but similar tensions will surely arise in the future. As Miller states “The Obama administrations has announced plans to double U.S exports over the next five years, an effort that is likely to create more competition for third markets and additional conflicts between Washington and Beijing“ Miller 2010 p 108). Just who the US thinks it is going to export to in the current economic crisis is not answered. Cameron isn’t going to be raising the spending power of working class people in the UK anytime soon. China’s recent moves to allow a rise in living standards in its population might be about shifting its economy to be based on its internal market to a greater extent. The more likely reason is the state’s fear that the rising workers struggle is winning and catching on.

The significance of Georgia’s defeat to Russia over the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008 cannot be over emphasised. The US’s strategy of expanding NATO into former “Soviet” satellites to encircle Russia had a major setback when Georgia, encouraged by the US attacked South Ossetia provoking resistance from the independence movement and the deployment of Russian troops. If Georgia was in fact a member of NATO as the US has previously pushed for, the US would of being obliged by the terms of membership to go to war with Russia. What this highlights is what Lenin called Inter-Imperialist rivalry is alive and well with leading Capitalist states both competing and cooperating to increase their dominance over the world. The US is still by far the most powerful country in the world, but the problems it faces are not going away.    

Biddle, S. Christia, F and Thier, J. 2010. “Defining success in Afghanistan”. Foreign Policy, 89, 4, 48 – 61.

Lenin, V. (2007). National Liberation, Socialism and Imperialism. New York: International Publishers.

 Miller, K. 2010. “Coping with China’s Financial Power. Foreign Policy, 89, 4, 96 – 110.


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