Building Anti-Imperialism from the Ground Up

And so it begins. Yet another American intervention to bring regime change and democracy to a poor, benighted people, suffering at the hands of a sociopathic dictator who is basically just Hitler. Or at least, that’s the story we hear every time the United States decided its imperial interests have been threatened. The media falls into lockstep, and whatever liberals who may have been tepidly against such intervention now celebrate our murderous aggression with pornographic glee. For those of us in the Left, this jingoistic insanity is profoundly depressing, and the constant stream of disinformation can be confusing and disheartening.

But beyond all the lies and propaganda, we know that the answer is simple: America never intervenes for humanitarian reasons. The sarin gas attack has in no way been conclusively linked to the Assad government, but that doesn’t matter—a pretext has been found. Photos of dead children are cynically invoked by the American empire to justify killing more children. A foreign government will be overthrown and replaced with one more genial to the interests of the Empire. Business as usual. This time, though, the State Department has decided to step up its game. Threatening one war was not enough: no, now we’re also threatening war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The imperialist media treats the DPRK’s decision to acquire nuclear weapons as an existential threat to every American, with stories that resemble Tom Clancy novels more than any sort of factual reporting. Really, it’s no mystery why the DPRK would want to be better able to defend itself, especially against the one country in the world that has actually used nuclear weapons, the same country that conducted a genocidal bombing campaign against them that killed 20% of their people. Despite the laughable falsity of most of the claims being advanced against the Enemies of the Week, the center of the debate should never be about the particular characteristics of the government being overthrown, or the moral value of the leader we’ve decided to depose. Kim and Assad are far from the sociopathic monsters the media presents them as, but they’re also far from the leaders that we as communists believe the Syrian and North Korean people deserve. That question, however, should ultimately be up for the people of Syria and North Korea decide, free from the meddling of imperialists.

Within Richmond Struggle, there are a multitude of conflicting lines on the Kim and Assad governments. None of this debate will be reproduced here, as we are all united on the one thing that matters: imperialist intervention should be unconditionally opposed. That is not a complicated question. But what becomes complicated is the question of how. How do we as leftists stop an imperialist war? The short answer: in our current state, we can’t. While we support the counter-messaging and protests organized by UNAC and ANSWER, we can’t help but feel that such actions do not pose any significant threat to the functioning of the imperialist war machine. Millions of people marched worldwide in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War. February 15, 2003 marked the largest protest in world history. The overwhelming public opposition to the war was made clear to the Bush administration. The result? Less than a month later, shock and awe proceeded in Iraq, leaving hundreds of thousands dead.

These mobilizations were no doubt impressive, but ultimately based on a fundamentally flawed idea: that imperialism cares what people think of it. Imperialism is a system of organized violence and the only thing that has ever stopped it is greater violence. Nixon did not pull out of Vietnam because the peace movement made him feel guilty about the system he was serving. Nixon ended the war because of the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese people, who had faced imperialism on the only terrain it understands—organized violence—and defeated it.

Assata Shakur has noted that: “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” The Left should know this by now, but in our desperate situation, delusions flourish. In thinking that protests and public outrage will stop capital from pursuing its bottom line, we are essentially buying in to the liberal logic that we live in a “democracy.” In reality, of course, we live under the dictatorship of the wealthy, a dictatorship secure enough in its power to allow us marginal Left groups to organize all the protests and publish all the outraged literature we want. The Left in its current state can be safely ignored. We are not a threat.

The goal, of course, for all of us, should be to become a threat. To be the sort of force that makes the Empire think twice before starting another war, because the domestic opposition they may face will not simply be moral outrage, but physical resistance. Richmond Struggle is not saying—in the typical grandiose leftist fashion—that we are anywhere close to being such a force, nor are we saying that we would be the eventual vanguard of such a force. What we are saying is that it’s necessary for the Left to move away from moral outrage, and toward the building of militant, anti-imperialist workers’ movements.

How, concretely, do we build resistance to imperialism in America, in the belly of the beast? The task is enormous, and there is no magic formula for turning the average American into a staunch anti-imperialist. We must strive to build autonomous organizations that do not just focus on stopping the war, or, conversely, do not just focus on improving the lot of American workers. We must strive to show that there is one common enemy: imperialism, and that the struggle is global. These ideas are not ones that take hold through discussion groups or Facebook posts. You may pledge “critical support for the Lion of Damascus”, but how ready are you to sacrifice your life in the struggle against imperialism? How ready are any of us? A truly anti-imperialist consciousness can only develop through concrete struggle. The late revolutionary James Yaki Sayles writes, “Too many of us still fail to understand that the underlying aim of social revolution is to promote a change in people and to assist in the development of political and social consciousness. Everything else that we usually associate with “revolution” or “national liberation” comes through and after a change in people’s consciousness!”

Though we are weak now, we can already see a stirring of this anti-imperialist consciousness emerging. The Movement for Black Lives has included solidarity with the Palestinian resistance in its platform, a decision for which it has faced considerable opposition. But how could a principled movement against white supremacy take any other position? In the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, BLM organizers faced a militarized police force deploying tear gas, pepper spray, and totally disproportionate violence. Is it any mystery that such militants would identify with Gazans facing the same repression? BLM has recognized that the Palestinian genocide and the Black genocide are both pursued by the same system, for the same reasons.

Here we see the beginnings of the anti-imperialist consciousness we must forge through concrete struggle. We must build it from the ground up, with grassroots, local struggles against specific class enemies with concrete material stakes. We must connect the everyday oppression of workers in America to the global system of imperialism it is part of. In every victory, and in every loss, we will better understand our role in the battle against imperialism. We must always emphasize that no matter how localized the fight, it has a global character. In the process of building an organization that poses a significant material threat, we will have created a militant consciousness that does not just understand, but feels, that any imperialist “intervention” is a direct attack on us. And we will respond accordingly, in the only language that imperialism understands.