The Same Empire


The United States seems to be experiencing a major turning point. Indeed, Joe Biden’s rescue plan and his infrastructure spending bill indicate an undeniable break from the neoliberal policies of prior administrations.

While Keynesian social democrats don’t hide their satisfaction about these decisions that would presumably benefit workers, the unemployed and renters among others, the socialist left is more cautious. The ambitious measures contemplated are temporary and could well favor the rise of indebtedness or inflation. Besides, nothing in this “new” policy is meant to fundamentally disrupt the capitalist order; on the contrary, it is an attempt at saving a faltering economic system.

But the other area upon which the outsider will want to judge Biden is geopolitics. On this topic, let’s consider the observations and analyses of Michael Parenti, a nonconformist political scientist, historian and doctor of economics, who in 2011 wrote “The Face of Imperialism.”

Experts agree that the notion of imperialism has two main interpretations. For J.A. Hobson or Joseph Schumpeter, it is an exaggerated form of nationalism, of a state’s expansionist policy in order to politically subjugate another. By contrast, Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg or Vladimir Lenin connect imperialism to the internal logic of capitalism, to its struggle to conquer markets and investment spheres. Along with the theorists of neo-imperialism and dependence, Parenti is the heir to the second current.

For him, the explanation for American interventionism doesn’t lie in a logic of pure supremacy nor even in the willingness, however widely proclaimed, of defending human rights and democracy. In fact, America didn’t hesitate to flout popular sovereignty to attack elected leaders (as was the case with Patrice Lumumba, Salvador Allende or Hugo Chávez) when they put in place redistributive policies, expanded their public sectors, launched land reforms or ambitioned self-development.

It is clear that the imperial power has rather favored right-wing autocrats and counterrevolutionary movements: Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, Mobutu Sese Seko in Congo/Zaire, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal, or even former Nazis recycled in the U.S. intelligence agencies.

When attacking conservative powers, because it sometimes does! (think of the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Saddam Hussein), the cause is their economic nationalism.

For Parenti, imperialism indeed is the “process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials and markets of another people.” Without overlooking the variables of national security, ethnicity, religious orientations or the psychology of leaders, the author of “The Face of Imperialism” defines class interests and the accumulation of capital as crucial drivers.

In terms of operating procedures, imperialism takes different routes. In Haiti, for example, the United States flooded the market with cheap agricultural products (thanks to abundant government subsidies), reducing several million local farmers to poverty and severely reducing the island’s capacity for self-sufficiency. Idle hands were thus redirected to assembly factories in exchange for meager salaries, and voilà: Haiti ends up being tied to the international division of labor.

Other procedures can serve the same purpose: Let’s mention the loan policies granted here and there by the American government, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (organizations in which Washington exerts an overwhelming influence). The more generous the loan, the more efficient the trap turns out to be. Insolvent debtors see their tab converted into a takeover of their strategic assets. The “assistance” comes with “structural adjustment programs,” which often impose tax breaks on foreign investments and large-scale privatizations in the agrarian, health, transportation and education sectors.

The irony of this economic colonialism is that poverty is growing while aid and investments are increasing: Underdevelopment in fact often conceals an insidious overexploitation. To define this “free trade” policy, systematically favorable to transnational companies, to private commercial interests at the expense of producers, public services and the sovereignty of countries of the South, Parenti doesn’t hesitate to speak of a “global coup d’état.”

Will this imperialist streak, more than a century old, change with Biden? It is doubtful. Let’s remember that alongside Barack Obama, as vice president, he deployed new special operations forces in the world, authorized many imprisonments and other executions without trial, confirmed the establishment of the secret prisons adopted by George W. Bush, granted immunity to officials guilty of serious crimes, etc.

May “Sleepy Joe” prove to be a president who is simply indifferent to the world! Before imperialism, Parenti reminds us, non-Western civilizations were capable of major feats in architecture, horticulture, irrigation, public hygiene, medicine, craftsmanship and the arts. May decolonization finally happen! And not the same empire.

Mathieu Menghini is a historian and practitioner of cultural action (mathieu.menghini@lamarmite.org).

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About Mireille Dedios 45 Articles
I’m an independent French translator based in the Boston area, certified by the American Translators Association (French into English). I honed my translating skills as part of the executive teams of various French and US companies, including State Street Corporation, where as a member of the Public Relations team, I tracked the news media globally and translated press releases into French. I enjoyed this work tremendously and continue to look for opportunities combining translation and news coverage, culture, history and international relations.

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