The following paper by Mick Kelly, political secretary of Freedom Road Socialist Organization, was presented in Amsterdam October 14, 2023 at the International Theoretical Conference on Imperialism and War organized by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Comrades and friends,
On behalf of Freedom Road Socialist Organization, I would like to extend our thanks to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and its member organizations for organizing this timely and important theoretical conference on imperialism and war. And we salute all of you in attendance today. We have much to gain by exchanging our respective views, seeking points of agreement to build unity, and putting proletarian internationalism into practice.
Marx famously noted that the point of understanding the world is to change it. To put this another way, theory must be weaponized. As revolutionaries, we strive to find the ways and means to strengthen our common efforts to drive imperialism and its tools to their extinction.
Sharpening contradictions on a world scale
The outstanding revolutionary Mao Zedong made the point, “There is great disorder under heaven, the situation is excellent.” This is an apt description of the situation we find ourselves in. The 4 fundamental contradictions – between labor and capital, between the oppressed nations and imperialism, between socialism and capitalism, and among the imperialist powers themselves – are intensifying. The factors for war and revolutionary struggle are on the rise.
The decline of U.S. monopoly capitalism is accelerating, a phenomenon that is a critical factor in shaping the development and motion of the other contradictions on a world scale. This decline is also shaping the contradictions within U.S. society, particularly the class struggle and the struggle against national oppression (the systematic inequality that is visited upon African Americans, Chicano/Latinos, Asian Americans, and the indigenous peoples) and is fueling a level of political polarization that is without parallel since the U.S. Civil War.
Features of a declining U.S. imperialism
The decline of American imperialism is not something new. It is a long-term process that has been underway since the early 1970s. In 1971, then-president Richard Nixon ended the Bretton Woods system – where all currencies were fixed to the dollar (and countries that held dollars could demand payment for dollars in gold) – an important signal that the sun was setting on the American empire. Likewise, the rise of powerful movements for national liberation, and the U.S. defeats in Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea (Cambodia), demonstrated that the “American Century” was over.
The changing place of the U.S. in the world did not proceed along a straight line. The rise of revisionism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe following the death of Stalin ended in the final collapse of socialism in 1991. This allowed U.S. imperialism additional room to maneuver – not due to any internal development or strengthening, but because a constraining force had disappeared from the world stage.
While the monopoly capitalist rulers of the U.S. remain the main enemy of the world’s peoples, the place of the U.S. monopoly capitalists in the world is shrinking as their decline speeds up. The paralysis that pervades the appeals process of the World Trade Organization is one symptom. The stalling of large scale multilateral trade agreements since the Doha rounds and the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are others. Equally telling are some basic economic measurements. In 1960, the U.S. economy represented about 40% of the world economy. Today, it is about half that. The economy of the Peoples Republic of China is poised to surpass that of the U.S., and by some measures it has already done so.
In many respects former U.S. President Donald Trump was an ideal political representative of a declining empire, a practitioner of fraud and corruption who thinks in the short term and relies on contingency. Trump abandoned or undermined a large swath of the post-World War II economic and military topography that had Wall Street at its core and Washington DC as its capital. This meant weakening NATO and putting tariffs on allies and junior partners, accompanied by a bellicose go-it-alone approach.
Biden would like to revive and shore up the multilateral institutions of empire, but the U.S. lacks the muscle. It’s a colossus with clay feet that can no longer move the way it used to, and as a result Biden continues much of Trump’s protectionism and mimics Trump’s anti-China campaign.
The declining fortunes of U.S. imperialism has led Washington to fear for capitalist supply chains, fueled in part by concerns about the ability of the economy to weather a major war. So, the Biden administration is fast-tracking new mining operations within the U.S. borders, subsidizing semiconductors, computer chips, and helping to underwrite the automakers’ transition to electric vehicles at the cost of autoworkers’ jobs. For his part, Trump who is the leading Republican contender for the presidency, says he will slap a 10% tariff on all imports, including those from Europe and Japan.
These practices, plans and polices are illustrative of increased inter-imperialist rivalry, and are contributing to rise of national chauvinism in the political superstructures of the major imperialist powers, along with war preparations.
Inter-imperialist rivalry can also be seen in Europe. The disintegration of the EU and moves such as the Brexit are good things, and they serve to weaken the respective European imperialist powers and provide a more favorable context for the working class of the Western European countries to advance their own interests.
At this juncture in time, the greatest inter-imperialist conflict is in Ukraine. The U.S provoked this war and in fact it is a proxy war against Russia. It is not a surprise that people in East Ukraine do not want to live under a bunch of reactionaries, and in fact they have waged a heroic struggle to avoid it . The Russian government correctly notes, with the passage of time, the war is increasingly a direct struggle with the U.S. and its accomplices in Western Europe, as the imperial powers pour in military aid such as advanced weapon systems, combat aircraft, tanks, moving troops closer to the war fronts, and providing intelligence and targeting information to the Ukrainian government.
We also need to be clear on the class nature of the war. It is an inter-imperialist conflict. Russia is an emerging imperialist power, where capitalist development has reached the stage of monopoly capitalism. It is a country that acts in its own “national interest.” In the early years following the fall of the USSR, Russia was dominated by compradors who sold the country to the West. This is no longer the case.
The U.S. and Western European powers speak of incorporating Ukraine into NATO and the European Union, while debating timetables and scenarios for this happening. This means that the war is likely to continue for an extended period, and that there is considerably more at stake than the fate of the Eastern Ukraine.
Working and oppressed people in the U.S. have nothing to gain from a U.S. victory – in fact a Washington/Wall Street win would strengthen the hand of our oppressor. Therefore, in our antiwar work we demand that the U.S. get out at once, and we will strive to utilize favorable conditions that result from any setback the U.S. ruling class is confronted with. It is like Lenn said, “During a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government.” A positive aspect of this conflict is that oppressed people can take advantage of this rivalry, as was recently illustrated by the meeting between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Russia.
Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution
There is a growing tide of anti-imperialist struggle in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
As we noted in the Main Political Report adopted at our 9th Congress:
“A great resurgence of the national liberation movement and the international communist movement is underway.
“In Asia, the socialist countries are on the rise. The national democratic struggle in the Philippines, led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, stands out in sharp relief and is an inspiration to people everywhere. The Philippines is a crucial base for the projection of U.S. power into the Pacific region. Millions of people are on the move in India, and revolutionary movements are growing in power throughout the region.
“In the Middle East, the center of gravity continues to be the heroic struggle of the people of Palestine to end the Zionist occupation and to liberate every inch of their land. A powerful camp of resistance has come into being that unites Iran, Syria, the Palestinian resistance, and the popular forces of Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen — and it is fully capable of challenging imperialism, Zionism, and reaction of all kinds.
“In Latin America, a number of countries have broken out of the orbit of U.S. imperialism, including socialist Cuba, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Across the continent, great advances in the popular and revolutionary movements are underway…In Africa, there are sharp struggles against imperialism, particularly in the horn of Africa.”
Two additional points should be made. In Palestine the reactionary right-wing rulers of Israel have rejected the “two state solution” favored by the U.S. and have opted for the logic of complete displacement of the Palestine people from their land. It is the logic of genocide. The Palestinian fight for national liberation has now moved into a phase where armed struggle is now the principal form of struggle. Looking at the emerging balance of forces in the Middle East, we can see the waning influence of U.S. imperialism and the end of the Zionist project.
In the Pacific, the liberation of Taiwan province by People’s China remains the great unfinished task of the Chinese revolution. The end of U.S. dominance in the Pacific region will mark the end of the U.S. as the core of a world empire.
Prospects in the U.S.
The situation is excellent. The science of Marxism-Leninism lays bare the general laws that are at work in a dying imperialism. For example, the intensification of uneven development gives rise to more wars; also, a contraction of world markets open to imperialism limits effective demand and contributes to new and greater crises of overproduction.
It is also possible to draw some general conclusions from recent events and experience.
Polarization is intensifying. The attempt by Trump to cling to power, including the storming of the U.S. Capitol are indicators of this. Trump is now the Republican frontrunner. If the elections are close, many will not accept the outcome. A declining, polarized U.S. imperialism is an unstable U.S. imperialism. This degree of instability is something new, and something that can be worked with.
Sharpening contradictions and polarization are fueling the class struggle. There are a growing number of strikes and sharp battles on the part of the working class. The recent fight of a third of a million Teamsters in the logistics industry and the strike by auto workers are but two examples of this.
The powerful uprising that took place after the police murder of George Floyd graphicly demonstrates U.S imperialism is a paper tiger. More than 23 million people participated in the protests. Thousands of buildings, including one of the main police stations in Minneapolis, Minnesota (the city of Floyd’s murder), were burned. This uprising showed the power of the Black freedom movement. It is also a fact that on the left, our organization – Freedom Road Socialist Organization – was the only communist group that played a significant role in those events nationally.
Also of note are the fights around democratic demands such as the fight to defend women’s and reproductive rights. In many cities, our organizations have played a major role in these struggles.
FRSO is working to build a new communist party. The current situation is excellent for doing exactly that, so we are experiencing an unprecedented wave of growth. Reality and modesty dictate we acknowledge we need to make substantially more progress in fusing Marxism-Leninism with the actually existing working class movement before such party is created. That said, the clock is ticking and if we continue to progress at our current rate, we will get there.
In 1956, Mao Zedong made the point, “Now U.S. imperialism is quite powerful, but in reality it isn’t. It is very weak politically because it is divorced from the masses of the people and is disliked by everybody and by the American people too. In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of, it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. I believe the United States is nothing but a paper tiger.” The peoples of the world, along with the people of the U.S., will be the wind and the rain that U.S. imperialism is unable to withstand. There will be difficulties to be sure. But our future is bright!
Long live the unity of the peoples of the world!
Long live proletarian internationalism!
Victory is certain!