The U.S. power elite consistently has been imperialist. However, the emergence of Trump has created anti-Trump faction of the elite, which sees racism and fascism as detrimental to imperialist goals. On the other hand, there is a pro-Trump sector of the elite, which views a turn toward fascism, in the form of economic nationalism and increased militarism, as necessary for the attainment of imperialist goals, taking into account the sustained global crisis and the relative economic decline of the USA. The pro-Trump sector appears strong among the military chiefs and perhaps the business sector with less globalized enterprises; it cannot overlook the need for patriotic as well as scapegoating rhetoric in order to mobilize popular support, but the military chiefs will be cautious about blatant forms of racism, given the high percentage of blacks and Latinos among the troops.
If the Left were to join the anti-neofascist and anti-racist agenda of the liberal sector of the elite, it would lose the opportunity created by the political division within the elite to mobilize the people into an effective anti-imperialist movement that would seek to take political control of the nation from the power elite. An anti-imperialist national project, if well explained and presented with political intelligence, would have vibrancy among the people, inasmuch as many are alienated from both elite liberalism and neofascism.
Let us define terms. Imperialism is the quest for markets for surplus manufactured goods and agricultural products, as well as the pursuit of the raw materials necessary for production and commerce. Imperialism uses a variety of methods, including military conquest, military occupation, intervention in the political affairs of nations, economic penetration, and control of finance and banking. Fascism, in its twentieth century manifestations, was characterized by: the attainment of economic goals through military aggression and occupation; the scapegoating of religious and ethnic groups and homosexuals; and the repression of criticism, directed primarily toward Left-wing organizations and leaders. Neofascism, the twenty-first century renewal of fascism, grants positions of leadership to selected members of ethnic groups and women, insofar as they support the fascist project, in accordance with post-1965 norms that protect the political and civil rights of all, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. Racism involves prejudice and discrimination against persons of color, in accordance with an ideology of white supremacy. It assumes the superiority of Europeans and persons of European descent; and it views as necessary their control of the most powerful nations of the world-system.
In the modern era, imperialism was connected historically to fascism and racism. The European colonial empires that covered vast regions of the Americas, Asia and Africa were established through military aggression and force, which made possible the conversion of the economies of the conquered nations and peoples, so that they became suppliers of cheap labor and raw materials as well as markets for surplus goods in the expanding world-economy. At first, the conquest of diverse nations and peoples was justified on religious grounds, inasmuch as the conquered peoples were not Christians; but with the emergence of democratic revolutions during the eighteenth century, racism emerged as a justification, rationalizing the domination of peoples of color and their exclusion from the promise of democracy. Imperialism, racism and fascism were intertwining threads in the fabric of European domination of the world.
However, during the period 1933 to 1979, in response to the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movements of the colonized, the U.S. power elite developed imperialism with a democratic face, a form of imperialism that stood against fascism and racism. The new form of apparently democratic imperialism proclaimed that all nations are equal and sovereign; and that all persons, regardless of race or color, possess political and civil rights. It obtained its imperialist objectives indirectly, through diplomatic maneuvering, covert interventions in the affairs of nations, and control of the production, commerce, and banking of supposedly independent nations. Repression of popular movements in the dominated nations was necessary, but supposedly independent governments, which often were military governments, carried it out. Direct military intervention by the United States was reserved only for moments of breakdown of control, such restraint being necessary to preserve the democratic façade. The new form of imperialism was possible for the United States when it enjoyed productive, commercial, financial, and military ascendancy in the world.
The new form of imperialism led to a world-system that was named neocolonial by the newly independent colonized peoples of Africa and Asia and the semi-colonized, economically dependent peoples of Latin America. The neocolonial world-system attained its height in the 1950s and the 1960s, and it was without doubt the most impressive world-system in human history, far surpassing earlier empires, when rated by economic, political and territorial measures. American glory was at its height, leading the world economically, politically and militarily; and projecting itself as the defender of democracy against all challenges to the established, supposedly democratic world-system.
But during the 1970s, the world-system entered into a profound and sustained crisis, as a consequence of the fact that it had reached and overextended the geographical and ecological limits of the earth. The world-system needed a fundamental structural transformation, basing itself not on the endless competitive pursuit of raw materials and markets, but on a quest for ecologically sustainable economic growth and global political stability. Such a transformation required abandonment of imperialist policies and a turn to cooperation with popular movements and governments in the Third World, which had been seeking during the 1960s and 1970s a more just international economic order.
Coinciding with the structural crisis of the world-system, the United States entered a period of relative decline, caused by spending in excess of productive capacity, overspending in the military sector, and insufficient investment in new forms of production. Confronting a situation of global crisis and national relative decline, the U.S. power elite, rather than taking an enlightened turn toward cooperation and global political stability, reverted to pre-1933 strategies. At first, in the 1980s, its aggression was economic, involving the use of international finance agencies to impose the neoliberal project on the governments of the Third World. Subsequently, in the 1990s, and especially after 2001, it turned to aggressive wars against selected Third World nations, chosen for the especially high value of their raw materials or for the resistance of their political leadership.
The post-1980 economic and military aggression against the peoples and nations of the Third World has undermined the democratic image of imperialism. The United States can no longer effectively pretend to be promoting democracy in the world, as it did in the 1950s and 1960s. The great majority of the people of the world have consciousness of the fact that the USA seeks raw materials, markets, profits, and particular interests. Yet the continued pretense to democratic values and ideals by the U.S. power elite constrains its ability to act militarily and politically in accordance with its interests. And thus there has emerged within the power elite a movement toward fascism, toward the elimination of the democratic pretense, and toward the aggressive defense of national economic interests, enlisting the support of popular sectors that have been excluded and ignored by liberal elitism. However, within the U.S. power elite, there continue to be those sectors who believe that the continued pretense of democracy is necessary for global political stability and economic growth. Thus there has emerged a political and ideological division within the U.S. power elite.
When the Left takes a position in opposition in neofascism and racism, it unwittingly joins the ranks of elite liberals who promote imperialism with a democratic face. It is hard to avoid this trap, because the liberal wing of the power elite controls the media of information and is able to shape the terms of the discourse and the debate. In this difficult context, the Left must be historically and globally informed, and politically intelligent. It must explain to the people that both liberal elitism and neofascism seek to maintain control of the world by the power elite, but by different means; and that both stand against the historic democratic call of “power to the people” in the United States, and they stand resolutely against the popular movements of the Third World. The Left must call the people to an alternative to both liberal elitism and neofascism; it must call the people to an anti-imperialist popular movement that seeks to take control of the U.S. government in the name of the people, casting aside both liberal elitism and neofascism.
In 1964, Malcolm X, conscious of the limited gains that would result from the protection of black civil and political rights, advocated black community control as the means to economic and social development; and he sought to develop alliances with the governments of Africa and the Third World. In 1967 and 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, developed a Poor People’s Campaign, formed by blacks, Latinos, indigenous persons, and whites; and he advocated support for the anti-colonial revolutions of the Third World. In the 1980s, Rev. Jesse Jackson sought to form a Rainbow Coalition of the various sectors of the people, including white workers and the white middle class, for the purpose of taking political power; and he called for a foreign policy of North-South cooperation, casting aside the legacy of imperialism. These proposals remain viable and significant: political coalition among various popular sectors; alliance with anti-imperialist movements and governments of the Third World; and black community control of local educational, law enforcement, and judicial institutions.
But since the 1990s, these prophetic voices have been forgotten. The Left has drifted into identity politics, post-modernist celebration of lifestyle diversity, and segmented movement from issue to issue, without offering a comprehensive analysis, a programmatic platform, or a plan for the popular taking of power. Like the U.S. power elite, the U.S. Left is unprepared to explain national and global dynamics to the people, and it is not able to lead them to an alternative road. However, we should be aware that the myopia of the U.S. power elite is historic, whereas popular movements in the United States have pointed to the necessary road during important historic junctures, thus indicating a possibility for emergence of gifted leaders among the people, capable of discerning and leading the people toward the necessary road.
The Left must find a way beyond its present limitations. We must have consciousness of the fact that fascism and racism have been revitalized by structural factors; they will not be brought to an end by street confrontations, but by leading the people to an alternative road. We must search for effective strategies for the education of the people and the taking of political power by the people. The popular taking of power is necessary, so that a government of and for the people can develop policies and political discourses that respond to the interests of the people, and not the elite. Such a government can act decisively in defense of the needs of the people, in accordance with the long-term good of the nation, and in cooperation with the peoples of the world.
Today, the peoples of Latin America are proclaiming, in word and deed, that a more just, democratic, and sustainable world is possible. We in the United States must share in this faith in the future of humanity. We must envision the solidarity of the peoples of the United States with the peoples and movements of the Third World, whose historic vantage point as colonized provides them with wisdom from below, enabling them to discern the unsustainability of the neocolonial world-system as well as the necessary alternative road.
For further reflections on these and other relevant themes, see my forthcoming book, The Evolution and Significance of the Cuban Revolution: The light in the darkness.