Introduction to Marxism and the USA
The present work began life as a draft introduction to the American edition of Reason in Revolt. Starting out from the idea that most Americans have been prejudiced against Marxism as an alien (“foreign”) ideology, I started to explain that the history of the United States contains a great revolutionary tradition, beginning with the War of Independence that set up the U.S.A. in the first place. However, on delving more deeply into the subject, it became clear that it was much too extensive to be satisfactorily contained in the Introduction to a book. I therefore put it to one side and wrote another one, the content of which was mainly of a scientific character.
Later on I showed a copy of the original draft to an American friend, who suggested that, suitably expanded, it could be published separately, and he very kindly furnished me with some interesting additional information. As a result, I felt obliged to introduce some more material on matters such as the American Revolution, the Civil War and the history of trade unionism in the U.S.A.
The subject is fascinating, and unfortunately very poorly known in Europe, where it has become a fashionable (and quite erroneous) idea that the U.S.A., as the bastion of world imperialism (which Gore Vidal, the greatest living American writer, describes as “the Empire”), never produced anything of interest to socialists and revolutionaries. Actually, the reverse is true, as I hope I have shown in this long essay. Part of my intention was to combat the kind of senseless anti-Americanism that one encounters all too frequently in left circles. Marxists are internationalists and do not take up a negative stance in relation to the people of any country. We stand for the unity of all working people against oppression and exploitation. What we oppose is not Americans, but American capitalism and American imperialism.
The American people and above all the American working class have a great revolutionary tradition. On the basis of great historical events they are destined to rediscover these traditions and to stand once more in the front line of the world revolution, as they did in 1776 and 1860. The future of the entire world depends ultimately on this perspective. And although today it may seem very far off, it is not so incredible as one might think. Let us recall that before 1917 tsarist Russia was the bastion of world reaction, as the U.S.A. is today. Many people were convinced that the idea of socialist revolution in Russia was a crazy delusion on the part of Lenin and Trotsky. Yes, they were completely convinced, and completely wrong.
The rapacious greed of the big corporations and the ambitions of the ruling elite of “the Empire” are dragging the U.S.A. into one adventure after another. New nightmares can flow from such adventures. Fifty-eight thousand young Americans were killed in the quagmire of Vietnam. The aggressive policies of the Bush White House threaten many more casualties, American and others. Sooner or later this will impact back on the U.S.A., producing a general reaction against a system that could produce such monstrosities. The mass demonstration in Seattle and other U.S. cities have served notice on the establishment that the youth of America will not be prepared to remain silent forever.
The U.S.A. and the World
The terrible events of September 11, 2001 marked a turning point in the history of the United States and the whole world. Overnight, it became impossible for ordinary U.S. citizens to imagine that what was happening in the outside world was no concern of theirs. A general sense of insecurity and apprehension seized the national psychology. Suddenly, the world became a hostile and dangerous place. Ever since September 11, Americans have been trying to make sense of the kind of world that could produce such horrors.
Many people have been asking themselves: what have we done that there should be such hatred against us? Of course, ordinary Americans have done nothing to deserve this kind of thing. And we regard it as a criminal act to kill innocent civilians, of whatever nation, to make a political point. What is not in doubt, however, is that the actions of the United States in the world – its government, its big corporations and its armed forces – have aroused feelings of deep antipathy and resentment, and it would be as well for Americans to try to understand why this is so.
For much of its history, isolationism has played a central role in the politics of the U.S.A. But the fact is that in the modern world no country can cut adrift from the rest of the world, no matter how big and powerful. Nowadays, the most decisive phenomenon of our times is precisely this: the crushing domination of the world market. It is often known by the latest buzzword, globalization. But in fact it is not new. Already over 150 years ago in that most contemporary of all works, The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels predicted that the capitalist system, beginning as a series of national states, would create a world market.
The participation of the U.S.A. in world economy and world politics has grown almost continuously for the last century. All attempts to pull America into a state of self-imposed isolation have failed, and will inevitably fail, as George W. Bush has found out very quickly. The United States has inherited the role that was previously held by Great Britain –that of the world’s policeman. But whereas Britain’s dominant role in the world took place at a time when the capitalist system was still in its ascending phase, America now finds itself ruling over a world that is mortally sick. The sickness is the product of the fact that capitalism on a world scale is in a state of irreversible decline. This expresses itself in a series of convulsions that are increasingly of a violent character. The terrible cataclysm of September 11 was only one manifestation of this.
Anti-Americanism is, unfortunately, widespread. I say unfortunately because the present writer holds no ill feelings towards the people of the U.S.A. or any other country. As a Marxist, I am opposed to nationalism and chauvinist attitudes that sow hatred and conflicts between different peoples. But that does not mean that one can condone the actions of particular governments, companies and armed forces that are pursuing actions that are harmful to the rest of the world. It just means that it is wrong to confuse the ruling class of any country with the workers and poor people of that country.
The phenomenon of anti-Americanism is strongest in poor countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. The reasons for this are related to the exploitation of the resources of these countries by voracious U.S. multinational corporations, backed by the U.S. military and the CIA, leading to the impoverishment of their people, the destruction of the environment, the destabilization of their currencies, their economies, and even their governments. Such actions are not designed to promote love and respect for the U.S.A. in the world at large.
A couple of years ago The Economist concluded that the prices of raw materials were at their lowest level for 150 years –that is, since records began. The situation has varied somewhat since, but it has not changed the position of millions of workers and peasants of the Third World who are being forced to work for slave wages by big U.S. corporations. One American golfer, Tiger Woods, for instance, earns more than the entire workforce of Nike in Indonesia.
The ruthless conduct of these big corporations is shown by the Bhopal tragedy in 1984, when 40,000 men, women and children were killed one night by the poisonous fumes from a Union Carbide plant situated too close to their homes. A recent report reveals that the area remains dangerously polluted to this day. This case is unusual only inasmuch as it hit the headlines.
The super-exploitation of what is known as the Third World by rapacious corporations is what causes a backlash in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America which may sometimes take the form of a rejection of all things American, but which is at bottom an expression of anti-imperialism. The best way to put an end to the poverty and starvation in the Third World is to fight for the expropriation of the big corporations that are the enemies of working people everywhere – beginning with the workers of the U.S.A., as we shall show.
Europe and America
Anti-Americanism is not confined to poor countries. Some Europeans have somewhat negative attitudes to America. They resent the subordinate role they have been compelled to accept on the world stage, and they fear the consequences of the colossal economic and military domination of the transatlantic giant. Behind the polite façade of diplomacy between the “allies” lies an uneasy and contradictory relationship, which manifests itself in periodic trade conflicts and diplomatic rows. On a different level, many Europeans resent what they see as the intrusion of an alien culture, brash and commercialized, which threatens to devalue and undermine their cultural identity. Behind the cultural resentments of the European intellectuals lies a deep-seated feeling of inferiority that seeks to hide behind a kind of cultural snobbishness. This feeling has a material basis, and in fact reflects the real state of affairs.
It is a simple fact that the history of the last hundred years is the history of the decline of Europe and the rise of the U.S.A. As the Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky predicted, the Mediterranean (which in the Latin tongue signifies “the center of the world”) has become an unimportant lake. The center of world history has passed first to the Atlantic and finally to the Pacific – two mighty oceans, straddled by a colossus – the United States. The real relationship between Europe and America is summed up by the relationship between George W. Bush and Tony Blair. It is the relationship of the master and his lackey. And like a good English lackey, Mr. Blair does his level best to imitate the style and manners of his master, notwithstanding which, no one in his right mind can mistake the real relation between the two.
The airs of superiority that until recently were adopted by members of the British Establishment with regard to the values and culture of America are particularly comical. They resemble the airs and graces of the penniless English aristocrats in the 19th century in the presence of the wealthy bourgeois upstarts, a phenomenon well documented in the novels of Jane Austen and others. These airs and graces, of course, did not stop them from marrying off their daughters to the sons of the upstart money-grubbers at the earliest opportunity.
The negative attitude of Europeans towards American culture is the product of a misunderstanding. They are thinking of the made in the U.S.A. “cultural exports” that flood the markets of the world with bad music that makes you deaf, overpriced “designer clothes” produced by slave labor in the Third World that makes you indignant and cholesterol-clogged fast food produced by slave labor in the high street that makes you obese. It is the kind of cheap and nasty commercialism that is the hallmark of capitalism in the period of its senile decay. That such monstrosities produce a feeling of revulsion in all thinking and feeling human beings is perfectly natural.
However, the concept of culture, above all in the modern world, is far broader than pop music, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. It also includes such things as computers, the Internet, and many other aspects of science and technology. On this level, it is impossible to deny the impressive achievements of the U.S.A. Moreover, it is precisely these scientific advances that are laying the foundations for an unprecedented cultural revolution, once they are correctly harnessed by a planned socialist economy on a world scale.
The present writer has no time for crude anti-Americanism. I am profoundly convinced that the colossal potential of the United States is destined to play a decisive role in the future socialist world order. But it must also be admitted that at the present moment in world history, the role of the U.S.A. on a world scale does not reflect its real potential for good, but only the rapacious greed of the big multinational companies that own America and control its actions in their own selfish interests. This author is a fervent admirer of the real America, and an implacable opponent of the other America, the America of the big banks and monopolies, the enemy of freedom and progress everywhere.