The dissolution in 1991 of the Soviet Union, after 35 long years of degeneration, gave the ideological representatives of imperialism great cause for celebration. In the hallowed halls of government and academia, the reactionary banter could barely be heard over the din of clinking champagne glasses.
In his infamous The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama argued that the struggle of ideologies had ended and that the final result was the victory of ‘liberal democracy’, which Fukuyama predicted would soon prevail everywhere.
“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such … That is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
As the reach of this universalised western liberal democracy was extended to the whole of eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, its true nature was revealed.
Take, for example, the former USSR:
“Production, as well as per capita income, has more than halved; there has been a precipitous fall in living standards; male life expectancy fell by a spectacular six years (from 64 to 58) between 1990 and 1994; a free health service, the education system, with its proliferation of crèches, kindergartens and holiday camps, which were a source of legitimate pride to the Soviet people, have all but disappeared. From being the second largest, the Russian economy has been reduced to the size of the economy of the tiny Netherlands; unemployment, which had not been seen in the USSR since 1932, is rampant, with an estimated 40 million unemployed in the territory of the former USSR. The wealth produced by the honest toil of the Soviet working class has been stolen by a handful of kleptocrats and mafiosi, while the mass of people are reduced to penury; fraternal harmony and friendship have given way to fratricidal warfare; prostitution, alcoholism, drug abuse and drug trafficking, organised and violent street crime, homelessness, and such other concomitants of the ‘free market’ have assumed epidemic proportions.” (H Brar, Imperialism, the Eve of the Social Revolution of the Proletariat)
Such is the state of the world addressed by Gregory Elich in his recently-published book, Strange Liberators – a world in which the ‘liberal’ imperialists ‘liberate’ the long-suffering people of the world from the tyrannies of independence, nationalised economy, employment, education, food security and, not infrequently, life itself.
The title of Elich’s book is a reference to Martin Luther King’s well-known speech at Riverside Church, New York City, on 4 April 1967, where he said of the Vietnamese people: “They must see Americans as strange liberators … They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees … So far we may have killed a million of them – mostly children. They wander into towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals … What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe?” (We note in passing that King’s principled opposition to the Vietnam War was almost certainly among the main reasons the US state decided to assassinate him.)
Over 40 years later, in this era of the ‘end of history’, the strange liberators are still bringing their strange liberation to the people of the world. Michael Parenti notes in his preface:
“Since World War II, US rulers have played a crucial role in overthrowing reformist democratic governments or insurgent popular movements in Guatemala, Guyana, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Syria, Iran, Indonesia, Greece, Argentina, Haiti, Egypt, Peru, Congo, Portugal, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Venezuela, Bolivia, Mozambique, East Timor, the Fiji Islands, Grenada, Panama and various other countries, at a cumulative cost of millions of lives. All this is a matter of public record yet seldom mentioned in mainstream discourse.
“And since World War II, US forces have launched direct military invasion or aerial attacks (or both) on Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, North Korea, Grenada, Panama, Yugoslavia, Libya, Somalia, and Iraq.”
Elich writes about a world that is getting increasingly difficult to live in. He notes that the world’s slum population has now increased to over a billion – more than 30 percent of world’s urban population; that over half the world’s population subsists on less than $2 per day while the richest 200 individuals own equivalent wealth to the 2.6 billion poorest; that amphetamines are routinely added to drink containers in Thai factories making goods for major sports/fashion brands such as Reebok, Adidas and Levi’s; that, despite the sharp reduction of poverty levels in China, the number of global hungry is increasing – it now stands at 900 million.
“Each year, 40 million people die needlessly from hunger and malnutrition, victims of a global capitalist system that cherishes wealth but not human life.
“If is often said that capitalism is the most efficient system for producing wealth. It would be more accurate to say that what it accomplishes is to produce a concentration of wealth. Capitalism does not generate wealth from the thin air. It seizes it. The price for this concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is death and misery on an extraordinary scale, yet we rarely if ever hear the cries of those who are trampled underfoot in the stampede for riches.”
This is what the ‘end of history’ looks like, as far as imperialism is concerned: concentration of wealth in the hands of the few combined with death and misery on an extraordinary scale.
And yet, the activities of imperialism around the world are very little mentioned and understood in the imperialist countries, even among those considering themselves to be left wing. Such is the stranglehold of the mainstream media that people haven’t got the slightest clue as to what’s happening in Congo, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, Cuba or anywhere else.
The default understanding of the situation in north Korea is as follows: it’s an isolated outpost ruled by a mentally unstable recluse who lives like a king while his people starve; we want to make the lives of the Korean people better, but the north Korean government won’t play ball.
The default understanding of the situation in Zimbabwe is as follows: Mugabe is an evil tyrant hell-bent on destroying Zimbabwe’s economy and maintaining himself in power; the people want democracy but they are being denied it; Britain is trying to help, but Mugabe stands in the way.
The default understanding of the war in Yugoslavia is as follows: the Yugoslav government under Slobodan Milosevic was engaged in ethnic cleansing against Albanians in Kosovo; the brave and heroic forces of Nato intervened to put a stop to this disgraceful behaviour, and they tried very hard to only bomb military targets.
It is exactly such ill-informed views that Elich seeks to correct in his meticulously-researched book. Referencing literally hundreds of primary sources – articles, books, interviews, speeches – Elich brings to light exceedingly important information exposing the true nature of the ‘war on terror’, the dirty and disruptive role played by the US with regard to north Korea, the attempts to turn Zimbabwe into a neo-colony, the cynical and ruthless war waged against Yugoslavia in pursuit of mineral wealth and market liberalisation, and the startling damage that is being done to the earth’s environment in the name of profit.
To attempt to detail this research in a short article would be a fruitless task; all we can say is that anyone with an interest in these topics will find in Strange Liberators a wealth of useful information and informed opinion.
Elich does not offer solutions as such; he mainly concerns himself with describing the problems – scraping off the tint from our rose-coloured glasses and shattering our illusions in benevolent capitalism. However, he makes it very clear that he doesn’t consider modern capitalism to be the ‘end of history’.
“A system that depends on military and economic might to maintain the privileges of the few while sowing death, starvation, poverty, exploitation and ruin for the many has no right to go on calling itself ‘efficient’ and ‘the system that works’. Not when those who benefit already possess far more than they will ever need, while crushing the aspirations of billions of people throughout the world, and not when corporate greed and avarice threaten to ruin the very planet itself.”
We would add that imperialism – perhaps unwittingly, but inevitably, unable to free itself from its own inherent contradictions – is driving humanity backwards into a state of permanent war, repression and grinding poverty for the masses of the people.
Only socialist revolution can turn the tide. Books like Elich’s provide a crucial weapon for the working class in its struggle to get rid of capitalism and to build a world characterised by cooperation, freedom and abundance.