Socialist Worker

The iron fist behind profits

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 1768

'I SPENT most of my time being a high class muscleman for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. I was a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China, I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.'

'MICROSOFT OR Goldman Sachs will not send aircraft carriers to the Gulf to track down Osama Bin Laden-only the US military will.' So wrote Francis Fukuyama, former US state department official, after the destruction of the World Trade Centre two weeks ago.

His words echo those of Thomas Friedman, a journalist close to the US state department, in the run-up to the Gulf War in 1991. Friedman wrote, 'The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist. 'McDonald's cannot flourish without [giant arms company] McDonnell Douglas. The hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US army, air force, navy and Marine Corps.'

These words are highly relevant again today as US president George Bush gears up to attack Afghanistan. Such a war is not removed from the dominance of the world by Western multinationals and financial institutions. It is the other side of capitalist globalisation. For the rulers of the US, economic and military interests are interlinked.

The US dominates economic institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organisation (WTO). These institutions are responsible for the deaths of thousands of people every day. Three times as many children die every day as a result of Third World debt as died in the destruction of the World Trade Centre.

US economic power has created huge swathes of poverty, and huge disparities between rich and poor in areas like the Middle East. It is such inequality, poverty and injustice which fuel popular revolt and hatred of US imperialism.

So the US dominates international coalitions, such as the United Nations and NATO, which it uses to try to stamp on any states or groups that stand up to its interests. Sometimes the US militarily intervenes directly to defend its economic interests, such as the war it fought for oil in the Gulf in 1991. At other times it intervenes to ensure US political dominance and power, such as its war against Serbia in 1999.

The US government still maintains economic sanctions against several countries. Sanctions against Cuba still exist because 40 years ago it dared to nationalise property belonging to US multinationals. The US imposed sanctions upon Iran 20 years ago because it took over US firms and threw a huge US spybase out of the country.

And there are sanctions against Iraq because Saddam Hussein invaded US-friendly Kuwait in 1990, threatening the profits of US oil companies. The US backs Israel as its 'watchdog' or client state in the Middle East to ensure the safety of the oil resources in the region for its multinationals. Despite Israel's repression of the Palestinians, the US government has given Israel over $80 billion in aid since 1974 alone.

Israeli troops use US-supplied weapons to kill Palestinian men, women and children protesting against Israel's occupation. In 1984, when Israel's economy was on the brink of collapse, US president Ronald Reagan gave the Israeli government $1.5 billion in emergency aid and $3 billion in non-emergency aid.

This is one of the very few times in the last 20 years that the US Treasury, rather than the IMF or World Bank, has bailed out an economy. US rulers have overthrown elected governments to protect the profits of its multinationals.

The CIA organised the overthrow of Jacob Arbenz in Guetamala in 1954. His government was introducing land reform which challenged the power of the US corporation United Fruit (today Chiquita). In 1973 the US ruling class supported General Pinochet's bloody coup against the left wing government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

US rulers supported the Shah of Iran's coup in the 1950s, General Suharto's overthrow of the Sukarno government in Indonesia in 1965, and Joseph Mobuto coming to power in Zaire also in that year. All of these regimes, and many others throughout the world, made sure their populations made profits for big business. There is nothing new about military forces keeping the world safe for corporations.

In the 18th and 19th centuries British troops and the navy were used to extend the British Empire through Africa, Asia and the West Indies. This ensured that British firms could gain access to cheap raw materials, new markets and cheap labour.

The nature of capitalism began to change from the end of the 19th century because of the economic competition between rival firms. As smaller companies went bust, bigger firms took over their markets and factories. A small number of firms began to dominate each industry. The state and the corporations became more and more intertwined. The multinationals depended on the state's forces to protect them from their rivals and angry workers.

In turn the state depended on the wealth and employment that the multinationals provided. A number of capitalist powers competed for new markets and wealth-Britain, Germany, the US, Japan, Italy, France and Russia. That ruthless competition produced the horrors of the first and second world wars.

Competition between the US and the Soviet Union, the two superpowers after the Second World War, brought about a number of horrific wars, such as in Vietnam and Korea. Today we are seeing the drive to a new war in Afghanistan that will lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children in one of the most devastated countries in the world.

Over the last 20 months, since the protests against the WTO in Seattle, the anti-capitalist movement has challenged the multinationals and the financial institutions at the heart of the system.

Now the anti-capitalist movement has to challenge the military force that lies behind them-the bailiff that stands behind the loan shark.

Blood and oil connections

US PRESIDENT George Bush and the people closest to him show the deep connection between government and big business.

GEORGE BUSH-president US oil companies backed Bush's presidency bid to the tune of $48 million. He repaid them by opening up environmentally protected areas to oil drilling, and withdrawing from the Kyoto agreement which forced corporations to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

DICK CHENEY-vice-president Cheney was the defence secretary under George Bush Sr at the time of the US's war for oil against Iraq. After Bush Sr lost the 1992 election Cheney went to work for Halliburton, the world's largest oil services company. Halliburton won contracts to clean up Kuwait's oil industry. Cheney is also a former member of the board of arms giant TRW.

PAUL O'NEILL-Treasury Secretary O'Neill is a former executive at International Paper and former chief executive of Alcoa, an aluminium company.

BRUCE JACKSON-chairman of the Foreign Policy Platform Committee Jackson is vice-president of corporate strategy and development for arms multinational Lockheed Martin.

GALE NORTON-Interior Secretary Norton was a lobbyist for the National Lead Company. She is now in charge of the environment.

ELANE CHAO-Labor Secretary Chao sits on the boards of Clorox, Dole Food and Northwest Airlines.

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