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What is the driving force behind imperialism?

This article is over 13 years, 2 months old
Western powers have presented their intervention in Libya as a selfless act to protect rebels from a dictator.
Issue 2246

Western powers have presented their intervention in Libya as a selfless act to protect rebels from a dictator.

It’s a lie. The powerful states have only acted in this way to shape Libya and the wider region in their own interests.

We oppose this imperialism, which has shaped and devastated the globe for the past 150 years.

Imperialism is about more than stealing resources such as oil. It is also about reshaping countries and regions for economic, military and political regional dominance.

Imperialism is not simply about Western powers using force to control smaller countries. Its driving force is competition between major powers.

This competition is rooted in how capitalism has worked from its birth. Imperialism has gone through different phases over the years.

The cycles of economic boom and slump built into capitalism led to some firms monopolising industries at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

Capital was concentrated in fewer and fewer hands as firms took over their crisis-ridden competitors.

These monopolies were based mainly in Europe and North America. They became integrated with the state in which they were based, which competed in their interests with other states for markets and resources.

Each wanted its domestic economy to expand at the expense of monopolies of other states. The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin described imperialism as the “highest stage of capitalism”.

Much of the world was divided between competing great powers as they ruthlessly colonised weaker states. This economic, strategic and political rivalry inevitably led to military competition in 1914.

The First World War saw the slaughter of millions of workers and peasants as two blocs of capitalist powers fought for dominance.

The victory of Britain, France and the US in 1918, and the humiliating terms forced on defeated Germany, created the seeds for the Second World War.

This is presented as a “good war” against fascism. But in reality, the Allies fought to retain control over markets and their empires.

The end of the war saw the US and Soviet Union emerge as the two superpowers. The Cold War that developed divided the world into two rival imperialist blocs.

Britain and France were forced to accept a subordinate role behind US leadership.

Joseph Stalin created a state capitalist regime in the Soviet Union by crushing any aspects of democracy and socialism in the 1920s.

A new ruling class wanted to expand its influence and secure its power. The Soviet Union controlled Eastern Europe after the Second World War, plundering its resources.

Several newly independent states looked to imitate the Soviet Union’s state-controlled industrialisation to develop quickly.

The superpower stand-off meant that the threat of nuclear war hung over the world throughout the decades of the Cold War.

Nuclear war didn’t happen, yet millions still died in brutal wars as each bloc fought for control. The US launched wars against Vietnam and Cambodia, while Russia invaded Hungary and Afghanistan.

The US won the Cold War after the Soviet Union collapsed trying to keep up with the West militarily and economically.

This left the US as the one superpower. Its president, George Bush senior, proclaimed a “new world order” in which the US could dictate terms to the rest of the world.

The US showed its power by devastating Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.

Many commentators believed this was the end of competition between major powers. Right winger Francis Fukuyama declared the “end of history”, claiming the world would now glide to prosperity and democracy under US rule.

But although the US clearly outweighed all other countries militarily and politically, the rise of China and the European Union challenged it economically.

George Bush junior launched the “war on terror”, invading and occupying Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

France, Russia and China saw the threat to their interests over Iraq and used the United Nations to oppose the war. This shows that divisions can still flare up between the main powers.

The scale of the slaughter and resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq saw US strategy hit a dead end, frustrating neoconservative hopes.

The US, and other Western states, want to use intervention in Libya to rehabilitate such imperialist actions. This would make it easier for them to intervene where their interests are threatened around the world.

Socialists should oppose this interference in Libya—and all imperialism.


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