Imperialism and "Internationalism"--
Reactionary and Revolutionary Challenges

By Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #1130, December 9, 2001, posted at

The RW is currently running this series of excerpts from an unpublished work by RCP Chairman Bob Avakian, "Great Objectives and Grand Strategy." Although written over a year ago, this work--and these excerpts in particular--contain much that is very relevant to the current crisis and war. This is the fourth in this series. It was written near the end of Clinton's Presidency, shortly after the war against Yugoslavia but before the current open-ended war being waged by U.S. imperialism "against terrorism."

The recent period has been marked by the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc (and the proclaimed "death" or "demise" of communism that's been an ideological juggernaut associated with that on the part of the bourgeoisie and reactionaries generally), and it has also been marked by significant changes in large parts of the Third World--in particular changes in the countryside and mass migrations from the countryside to the city (or shantytowns surrounding the cities) in many of these countries.

In connection with all this there is, in an important sense, a kind of "new configuration" of opposing forces internationally. One significant aspect of this--and a heightened phenomenon in the world today--is a kind of "challenge" to western imperialism in significant parts of the Third World which comes in the form of what we might call "politicized religious fundamentalism." One of the main expressions of this is Islamic fundamentalism, but there are also other "fundamentalisms." (This is also a phenomenon right within the "imperialist citadels" themselves, in particular the U.S., as we've spoken to.)

The rejection of "secular society" is one of the main tenets and one of the main focuses of attack of these fundamentalists of various kinds. We see this in the Christian fundamentalists in the U.S., and we also see it in the Islamic fundamentalists in various parts of the world: the outright and implicit rejection of "secular society" and, along with this, the rejection of what is represented by the Enlightenment--of that whole view of the world and way of approaching reality. (See RW 1129, "Marxism and the Enlightenment.) This underscores once again the need for us to have the correct approach to the Enlightenment--to correctly divide the Enlightenment, and the values and traditions associated with it, into two--to unite with that aspect of the Enlightenment that says that the world is knowable, that people should seek to understand the world (or reality generally) in all its complexity, and that they should do so by scientific methods, while opposing the idealist notion that merely taking a rational (or rationalist) approach to the world will itself lead to a just society, and resolutely opposing the proclamation of the superiority of bourgeois liberal society to justify imperialist domination and depredation throughout the world, the Third World in particular.

This "international line" of "liberal" imperialism these days (which could legitimately and fairly be characterized as an updated "white man's burden") argues for "human rights" even above "national rights"--it proclaims "human rights" as a "universal" value and good which supersedes and "trumps" (as they like to say) even national sovereignty and related principles. It's a kind of "imperialist universality," which we saw specifically and explicitly articulated by Clinton in the context of the war waged by the U.S. government--the very one-sided war--against Yugoslavia. In connection with--and as a rationalization for--that war, Clinton gave at least one speech in which he explicitly articulated this imperialist "internationalism" and "universalism," pivoting around the position of "human rights" above "national rights," and specifically how this justifies U.S. intervention into other countries for the greater imperialist "civilizing mission." (This is a paraphrase and not a literal quote, of course, but it does capture the essence.)

Of course, this insistence by the imperialists on the "universality" of "human rights" and how they supersede or "trump" national sovereignty, is applied in accordance with the interests of the particular imperialists. This is what could be characterized as the "just imperialism" line (by which the imperialists mean: imperialism as the champion and "bearer" of justice*), and it is applied very selectively, in terms of which countries or regimes are targeted for violating human rights at any given time.

It involves "turning a blind eye" to your allies and underlings all over the world who may be carrying out the most horrendous atrocities and trampling on what you've put forward as "universal human rights"--and, of course, it involves and requires covering over violations, even very serious violations, of these "universal human rights" in your own country! The U.S. imperialists are indeed "world leaders" in this. Just ask the people in any of the scores of countries ruled by unspeakably brutal regimes that are backed by, and that serve, U.S. imperialism...or ask the people in the ghettos and barrios throughout the U.S. itself.

*With regard to the imperialist military, this line translates into the "Caesar" model: a force that can respond rapidly and overwhelmingly to any military threat--all, of course, to insure justice everywhere in the empire. This is explicitly how this phenomenon is described--as "Caesarism," as a kind of military power that can enforce a "just imperialist" rule, anywhere in the empire--by Douglas MacGregor in the book Breaking the Phalanx, which calls for somewhat of a radical change in U.S. military doctrine and force formation to more fully incorporate high technology into fighting. Interestingly, MacGregor also calls for modeling the U.S. military after ongoing changes in U.S. corporations, in order to "flatten things out"--removing intermediate layers of command that impede speed and effectiveness and giving more initiative, along with a more immediate sense of the overall situation, to those on the lower levels. But of particular interest here is MacGregor's explicit advocacy of "Caesarism"--of intervening rapidly and forcefully to insure a "just imperial rule" throughout the world.

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