In yesterday’s post, which is part of a dialogue with Alan Spencer, Past President of the Association for Humanist Sociology, I maintained that the militarist foreign policies and the conservative domestic policies of the global elite since 1990 point to the possible emergence of a neo-fascist global dictatorship (“The future of the world-system” 7/22/2014). This leads to the question, how are the US-directed wars since 1990 different from the US imperialist wars of the period 1945 to 1990?
The US imperialist wars and interventions of 1945 to 1990 had precedents in various military occupations, military interventions, and diplomatic maneuvering in Latin America and the Caribbean during the first half of the twentieth century. They included military occupations of Cuba (1898-1902 and 1906-9), Haiti (1915-34) and the Dominican Republic (1916-24); and numerous military interventions in Central America from 1906 to 1932. And they included the sponsoring of the secession of Panama from Columbia in 1902, in order to facilitate construction of the Panama Canal on US terms; and the establishment of military dictatorships through diplomatic maneuvering during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Regalado 2007:116-18; Arboleya 2008:105-7; “The origin of US imperialist policies” 9/18/2013; “US Imperialism, 1903-1932” 9/19/2013; “Imperialism and the FDR New Deal” 9/20/2013).
The pre-1945 interventions involved imperialist interventions by a rising imperialist power in the context of an expanding world-system. Imperialism had emerged as the foundation to US foreign policy in the 1890s, as a result of the need of industrial and agricultural producers to find new markets beyond the frontiers of the United States. Public debates concerning imperialism were provoked by the acquisition of territories through what US historians call the Spanish-American War, and various perspectives were taken with respect to the implications of US interventions in other lands. But in these debates, all parties assumed that Africans and persons of African descent, Latin-Americans, indigenous peoples and Asians belonged to “inferior races,” and thus they were incapable of self-government. This prevailing racist belief made unnecessary any ideological justification of military interventions in Latin America or of European colonial domination of vast regions of Africa and Asia. It was assumed that all such interventions by the United States and the European colonial powers had a civilizing and beneficial effect (Arboleya 2008; Weston 1972; Wilson 1973).
National liberation movements in the Third World and the African-American movement in the United States challenged and overcame the assumption of white superiority. The movements led to a fundamental change in political culture with respect to “race,” and they made necessary the protection of political and civil rights of all citizens and respect for the sovereignty and equality of all nations and peoples of the world. Thus, there occurred the political independence of the colonies of Asia and Africa, and a transition to a neocolonial world-system, in which the formal political independence of nations is recognized. However, the neocolonial world-system would be characterized by structures to facilitate economic, commercial, and financial penetration by the global powers, thus preventing true independence or sovereignty (see “The characteristics of neo-colonialism” 9/16/2013).
The United States emerged from World War II with unchallenged productive, commercial and financial dominance, and thus the transition to a neocolonial world-system roughly coincided with the emergence of the United States as a hegemonic core power. In the post-World War II era, US public discourse no longer debated the question of whether or not the United States should intervene in other lands. A liberal-conservative consensus in support of imperialist policies emerged, with disagreements confined to debates concerning the practical wisdom of a particular intervention. But US imperialist policies could no longer be based on a presumed assumption of “inferior races.” Justifications would now have to be made on the basis of democratic principles, and thus the Cold War ideology emerged as a powerful ideological weapon, for its portrayed Western “democracies” as threatened by an international communist conspiracy directed by the Soviet Union and China, making necessary US interventions to protect democracy.
Thus, during the period of 1945 to 1990, the United States undertook a number of imperialist wars, military interventions, and covert actions, designed to protect US control of the natural resources, labor, and markets of the vast peripheral and semi-peripheral regions of the world-economy. The Cold War ideology presented the United States as a defender of democracy, obscuring its true character as a hegemonic power seeking to preserve structures of imperialist penetration and neocolonial domination. In spite of its democratic claims, US military interventions and covert actions were designed to impede any social movement that sought to act politically to reduce the US economic advantage, which had resulted from the historic capacity of the United States to insert itself in an advantageous manner in the evolving structures of the colonial and neocolonial world-system (see “Slavery, development, and US ascent” 8/30/2013; “Cotton” 9/9/2013; “The military-industrial complex” 8/29/2013).
But by 1990, the world-system had entered a new situation. It had reached the geographical limits of the earth and had surpassed its ecological limits, thus constraining profits, expansion and growth. Meanwhile, the United States had experienced a relative productive, commercial and financial decline, a process that began in the late 1960s as a result of various factors, including its being overextended economically and financially by the Vietnam War. By 1990, the United States no longer possessed unchallenged productive, commercial, and financial advantage, but it continued to have unchallenged military advantage, a legacy of its earlier hegemony. In this new situation, the United States intervenes militarily in order to achieve economic and commercial objectives that it no longer has the economic and commercial capacity to attain.
Fascism has various components: military expansionism in order to fulfill economic goals through military means as part of a nationalist project of ascent; repression of popular movements, including assassinations, imprisonment, and torture; the formation of violent gangs for the attack of popular organizations; concessions to moderate workers’ organizations; and a nationalist and populist rhetoric that celebrates popular culture. Fascism has been present as a component of military dictatorships in the Third World that have been tied to imperialism. And since the Western democracies are based on colonialism and neocolonialism, fascism can be understood as an integral component of the world-system. Nevertheless, in the evolution of the political culture of the world-system, there has emerged a form of representative democracy that stands against fascism and that affirms the civil and political rights of all citizens and the rights of all nations to sovereignty and independence. But in the context of the structural crisis of the world-system, the global powers are moving away from these principles of representative democracy and are beginning to move toward a new form of fascism.
Thus, the US directed wars, interventions, and covert actions since 1990, carried out with the support of Western European imperialist powers, are like the imperialist interventions of the period 1945-90, in that they have been conducted against semi-peripheral nations that were violating in some way the rules of the neocolonial world-system and/or challenging the interests of the imperialist powers, although the governments of the attacked nations were not necessarily defending the popular sectors. But the wars and interventions since 1990 are also different from 1945-90, because they are being carried out by an economically declining power that still has military dominance, and it is using its military strength to attain economic objectives, and thus they are beginning to acquire the characteristics of fascism.
The emerging neo-fascist global dictatorship is structurally different from the neocolonial world-system. Neocolonialism seeks to control ideologically rather than through force, even though its foundation lies in force, conquest, and colonialism. Neocolonialism endeavors to give the appearance of democracy, and thus it requires providing support to key actors, such as the middle and working classes in the core and the national bourgeoisie in the periphery and semi-periphery. But the world-system has reached the geographical limits of the earth, creating a situation in which it is not sustainable. Confronting this reality, the limited forms of democracy and sovereignty allowed by the neocolonial world-system have been increasingly abandoned by the global elite since 1980, as it turns to a new form of fascism.
The emergence of a neo-fascist global dictatorship would not mark the end of the world-system but the evolution of the world-system to a new stage. It would mean the end of the dominance of the idea of democracy, which emerged during the eighteenth century, but which, under the constraints of the established structures of the world-system, could go no further than representative democracy and formal political independence. The world-system was established on a colonial foundation of force and conquest, and by turning to fascism in its hour of crisis, it is returning to its roots.
But the other possibilities projected for the future, namely, an alternative more just and democratic system and the emergence of chaos and fragmentation (see “The future of the world-system” 7/22/2014), would represent the end of the world-system itself. A just and democratic world-system established by popular movements from below would emancipate the world-system from its colonial foundation, thus establishing a different world-system. Perhaps we should call it something to help bring it about, something like “Socialism for the twenty-first century.” It was so named by Hugo Chávez, and he is present, calling on all of us to participate in its construction (see “Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.”
From the vantage point of universal human values, the transformation of the world-system to a different and more just and democratic world-system is the best option for humanity. It would represent a fulfillment of the hopes of Marx and the hopes of the peoples of the Third World, who have demonstrated that, in the words of Fidel, “this humanity has a tremendous thirst for social justice.”
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Regalado, Roberto. 2007. Latin America at the Crossroads: Domination, Crisis, Popular Movements, and Political Alternatives. New York: Ocean Press.
Weston, Rubin Francis. 1972. Racism in U.S. Imperialism: The Influence of Racial Assumptions on American Foreign Policy, 1893-1946. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press.
Wilson, Willam J. 1973. Power, Racism, and Privilege: Race Relations in Theoretical and Sociohistorical Perspectives. New York: The Free Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, fascism, dictatorship