With the concentration of industry and the emergence of a few large companies that controlled the market in several key industries (see "Lenin on Imperialism” 9/10/2103), productive capacity in the United States reached a level that overextended the capacity of its domestic market to consume products. This could give rise to a surplus of goods and a fall of prices. Periodic crises of overproduction had been a pattern of capitalism, but the problem was deepened by the arrival of the system to large-scale and concentrated production. Therefore, in order to maintain or increase level of profits, US companies would have to find new markets for their products beyond the frontiers of the United States.
In the 1890s, there was consciousness of the need for new markets among US producers, as a result of the economic crisis of 1892-93, which was widely interpreted as having been caused by overproduction. This situation gave rise to the formulation of a new expansionist foreign policy by the US government. The new foreign policy was called “imperialism” by its promoters. The basic goal was to find new markets outside the United States for US manufactured and agricultural products. Strategies for the attainment of this goal were proposed by the platform of the Republican Party in 1896. They included: the expansion of the army and the establishment of military bases abroad; control of Hawaii and the purchase of the Danish Virgin Islands; support of Cubans in their war of liberation from Spanish colonial rule; and the construction of a canal across Nicaragua to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Control of the Caribbean and the Far East were considered central, and thus the Philippines, Hawaii, and Cuba were viewed as having high strategic value as locations for US military bases. The election of William McKinley in 1896 was a political victory for the promoters of the new imperialist policy (Arboleya 2008:35-37).
The first practical implementation of the new expansionist policy was US intervention in Cuba in 1898, launching what US historians have called the Spanish-American War, Cubans call the Cuban-Hispanic-American War, and Lenin considered the first imperialist war. The war resulted in Spain ceding to the United States the Caribbean islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico and the Pacific Islands of the Philippines and Guam (Arboleya 2008:37, 40).
With the acquisition of these territories, the United States was becoming a colonial power like those of Western Europe. However, in justifying the expansionist policy to the people of the United States, the government obscured its colonial character and sought to present the policy as fulfilling a civilizing mission, consistent with the values of democracy, liberty and justice. The discourse of the political elite was effective in convincing the people that the expansionist policies were defending freedom and were the fulfillment of a “new manifest destiny,” in contrast to the decadent European empires (Arboleya 2008:41-42).
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
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