Hyper-Imperialism: A Dangerous Decadent New Stage

Tricontinental, 23 January 2024

It has been a scant 30 years since the ‘end of history’ was declared by bourgeois ideologists in pantomimes of wish-fulfilment for sensing the inviolability of United States imperialism.

For peoples’ struggles and movements feeling the boot of imperialism on their necks, no such end was in sight.

In the face of violent repression, such as Brazil’s Carajás Massacre in 1996, the Landless Workers’ Movement led the reclamation of land for popular agrarian reform through occupation and production, challenging agribusiness behemoths, such as the US multinational Monsanto.

A ‘soldier who shook the continent’, Hugo Chávez won the popular vote in 1999, a sharp left turn that was followed by others in Latin America. This included a wave of mass mobilisation of millions of workers, peasants, Indigenous, women, and students that defeated the proposed US Free Trade Areas of the Americas in 2005, a direct challenge to nearly 200 years of the US Monroe Doctrine.3

In 2002, Nigerian women gathered at the gates of Shell and Chevron to protest environmental destruction and exploitation in the Niger Delta. Haitians refused the centuries of denigration in mass demonstrations following the US ousting of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and US occupation in 2004. Millions of Nepalese celebrated the toppling of the monarchy through armed resistance under the leadership of the communists in 2006. When fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in 2010, the Tunisian people revolted against the neo-liberal system that had caused him to take such extreme measures.

In subsequent years, changes – sometimes small and imperceptible, at other times volatile and explosive – unfolded. These involved both popular movements and state actors, in some cases extremely powerful ones. The US was confronted by a rising economic powerhouse in China, growing economies in the Global South (which overtook the Global North’s GDP in PPP terms in 2007), years of domestic capital investment neglect, the financialisation of the economy, and the loss of manufacturing superiority.

The rise of the Tea Party in 2009 signalled internal fracturing of US domestic politics. Internationally, the US failed to achieve soft regime disruption in China and de-nuclearisation or regime change in Russia. After a temporary reduction in military spending with the end of the disastrous war on Iraq (2003–2011), the US shifted to the use and threat of military power as a central pillar of its response to these changes.

Hegemony is historically lost in three stages: production, finance, and military.

The United States has lost hegemony in production, though it still has some remaining areas of technological hegemony, including those related to the military. It is seeing its financial hegemony challenged, though still in the very early stages and revolving around the status of the US dollar. Even though the economic and political aspects of its decline might be accelerating, it still retains military power – creating a temptation for the US to attempt to overcome the consequences of its economic decline by military or military related means.

The US has defined China as its strategic competitor. The minimum programme of the US is the containment and economic diminishment of China, sufficient to guarantee the US’s own perpetual future economic hegemony.

From its own point of view, US capitalism is rational in its attempts to limit China’s rise. Failure to do so would erode the relative advantage the US has in controlling higher levels of productive forces and the resulting monopoly privileges that control entails. There is almost complete alignment amongst the US state actors to continue to manage decoupling from China (despite the near impossibility of fully re-modernising US productive forces domestically) and to advance military preparations against China.

The February 2022 movement of Russian troops into Ukraine – a result of the continued violations of US assurances on the non-expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the continuing civil war between Kyiv and Donbas – marked an explicit new phase in world military alignment for the US. In a series of rapid-fire moves, the US openly subordinated all the Global North countries and, in so doing, further subordinated the military apparatus of those states. It established itself as the open military hegemon of what is euphemistically called NATO+, which includes all but three members of the former Eastern Bloc. Those who attended the 2023 NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, as a member or observer – including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the Republic of Korea – are de facto members of NATO+. Only Israel (excused from attendance for political expediency) and a few smaller countries of the Global North did not attend.

Beginning in October 2023, Israel began a campaign of displacement, ethnic cleansing, collective punishment, and genocide of Palestinians with the full and shameless support of the United States government. The developments in Ukraine followed by the recent escalations in Gaza are significant markers reflecting that there has been a qualitative change within the imperialist system. The US has now completed its economic, political, and military subordination of all the other imperialist countries. This has consolidated an integrated, militarily focused imperialist bloc. It aims to maintain a grip on the Global South as a whole and has turned its attention to dominating Eurasia, the last area of the world that has escaped its control.

It is not a matter of exaggeration to say that the Global North has declared a state of open hostility and war on any section of the Global South that does not comply with the policies of the Global North. This is seen in the joint declaration on EU-NATO Cooperation published on 9 January 2023:

We will further mobilise the combined set of instruments at our disposal, be they political, economic, or military, to pursue our common objectives to the benefit of our one billion citizens.

The Palestinian people in Gaza are certainly feeling the palpable barbarity of NATO+ and the forced ‘mass consensus’ of which the Global North is capable. As Palestinian liberation leader Leila Khaled put it recently:

We know that they speak about terrorism, but they are the heroes of terrorism. The imperialist force everywhere in the world, in Iraq, in Syria, in different countries… are preparing to attack China. All of what they say about terrorism turns to be about them. People have the right to resist with all means to it, including the armed struggle. This is in the Charter of the United Nations. So, they are violating the rights of people for resistance because it’s their right to restore their freedom. And this is, and I say it always, a fundamental law: where there is repression, there is resistance. People will not live under occupation and repression. History taught us that when people resist, they can keep their dignity and their land.6

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