American Imperialism and the ‘war in Iran’

US presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton recently threatened an attack upon the Islamic Republic of Iran. As if instinctive human morals weren’t enough to dissuade her, it also seems that the Democratic candidate has learnt nothing of the controversies this kind of behaviour has sparked in the past, and she listed several reasons as to why she believes the invasion would be a justified one.

The invasion of Iran can only be described as US imperialism, something condemned not only by the socialist movement, but many people from across the political spectrum, and this action will likely be criticised not only internationally, by many in the United States as well. So, we have a smaller, largely impoverished country at the mercy of a larger capitalist giant, militarily threatening Iran for its own interests in the region. This is just the situation that unfolded in Vietnam and Iraq, and in neither example did it end well.

Yet to develop a better understanding of the situation, it’s important also to view Iran with the same critical slant. This is a country that operates as a reactionary theocracy, that employs an extremely backward and restrictive set of laws, and that doesn’t think it’s ridiculous to legally ban owning a dog, or, in certain universities, wearing bright clothes. This means that, in this case, we have an imperialist, capitalist power invading a reactionary, repressive state. Neither country occupies the moral high ground, and neither regime, in an ideal world, would receive my support.

I recently read an article called ‘Iran and the Chauvinism of American Media’, about reactions among the American public to Iran’s detaining of two US ships which entered its territorial waters, and the respective political situations (especially the media) in both countries. The article was posted on, a far-left political blog similar to this one, and whilst I agree with its gist, I did feel that it expressed a tendency which I’d criticise: as part of a critique of US imperialism, it was as though they took to defending Iran. Not just the Iranian people, the victims of imperialism, but the Islamic Republic of Iran. If you’re endgame is communism, I think this kind of attitude is unproductive…

It is important to remember that, by Marxist logic, the revolutionary state (or, for that matter, the revolutionary) holds at heart the duty to spread the revolution worldwide. Thus, any country which falls short of the communist criteria is effectively an enemy, and should be allied with only as a means to an end. To support these states, therefore, betrays this central tenant.

Yet, in writing this, I am certainly not condoning the atrocities committed by American imperialism, and do not want to underplay their role in this scenario. As the previously-mentioned article reads, America ‘occupied two countries on opposite sides of Iran for more than a decade, extracting oil and other resources’ and imposed ‘imperialist economic sanctions since 1979’. It is obvious that these actions cannot be ignored, but to give active support to a reactionary administration should by no means be viewed as a desirable move.

This is why, when I say that in this potential situation I would defend Iran, it is purely because this way, I’m acting against a greater evil (Americah, or the ‘Great Satan’, as Ayatollah Khomeini called it). It is important not to call into the trap of sympathy, sympathy in this case meaning sympathy towards the state, rather than just those living there. To defend a nation such as Iran for any reason beyond tactical expediency is to turn your back upon the international revolution for the politics of petty centre-leftist internationalism.

Capitalism’s Evolutionary Phases

I’ll start by saying that this entry may be quite dense. The purpose of writing it is to explain and convey an understanding I’ve developed of how capitalism has adapted to survive over the years, a question I’ve been considering for a while now. I suppose you could call the ideas proposed here a theory, (if I was to name it, I’d call it the Theory of Three Ages), and that’s all it’ll be for the moment; any advancement of this idea will only follow a lot of research on my part. 

But, given that this is me explaining my ideas so far, I’ll hopefully give you a good description of these three ages, and of how I believe exploitation has evolved over time. To do this, however, everyone needs to know what we’re dealing with, so I’ll start by asking you the following question:

What is capitalism?

It’s often seen as the embodiment of free trade and economic liberties as opposed to state control. Because of the challenge communism presented in the twentieth century, it would also be easy to cite capitalism as simply one of two political and economic currents in the world, and, after various failures in the communist countries, it’s far too often associated with freedom and harmony. Predictably, I’m going to tell you that this is wrong: it’s the single most sly, destructive, exploitive concept that has dominated the world throughout modern history. 

So here’s a Marxist appraisal of our great nemesis.

The European Age 

In terms of where it all began, capitalism arose roughly three centuries ago, taking its first breath in Italy. I wrote a more detailed entry on its origins a few months ago, but I’ll cover the basics here. The system that takes precedence over all inhabitable continents is a relatively recent one; it developed in Europe, perhaps the most socially advanced corner of the Earth at that point, out of the decaying feudal system that formerly retained supremacy. Yet unlike feudalism, capitalism existed to provide industrial (as opposed to agricultural) production, and with its rise, the focus of the economy was no longer upon the farms, but the factories.

The European countries soon grew in power and influence, and rose to colonise great swathes of Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, allowing them to exploit imperialistically. Imperialism has crept its way into history throughout mankind’s many different epochs, and it has always been a tendency of the strongest individuals to dominate the weak, yet this can be viewed as the rise of capitalist imperialism. The new European empires sought to utilise the people and the resources of the colonised nations for capitalistic purposes, and thus expanded their field of economic influence to the far corners of the Earth.

These powers were thus able to sustain dominance, by widening their field of exploitation beyond national limits, yet it couldn’t continue forever. You could perhaps think of this period as the climax of capitalism, at which point exploitation had advanced humanity greatly, yet had reached a critical level and was growing ever harder to maintain. Even after the establishment of a vast imperial network, the ruling elites of Britain, France or Germany were struggling to control those whose labour they relied upon. The system was, quite literally, falling apart under the weight of its own contradictions.

The American Age

Three significant changes took place in the world throughout the twentieth century. Firstly, the rise in power and influence of another giant, the United States, changed the international dynamic of the capitalist world. Secondly, economic changes allowed exploitation to take place to a less severe extent in the western countries, allowing many concessions to be made to the working population, and causing the working class to actually decline. Finally, the rise of Bolshevism threatened to end capitalism altogether. 

These changes may not seem as though they’d benefit capitalism, but, with the economic system on the very verge of collapse, they perhaps managed to save it. 

One reason why this happened was  the fact that the western countries found a common enemy in Soviet Russia and, later, China, Eastern Europe, Cuba and communist Indochina; they were forced to unite against them. This can be seen most clearly in the Cold War, yet was also present prior to 1945. It demonstrates the development of a capitalist ideology, through the willingness of these nations to fight for motives like democracy and human rights (it is, in a Marxist sense, the tendency of capitalism to allow for greater political freedom) under the new guidance of the United States. It was then a question of whether or not the western proletariat would side with the communist world, or the world run by their employers, and this sense of ideological unity helped allow for the latter. Tales of failures, inefficiencies and abuses in the socialist countries helped strengthen this ideology, and helped keep the workers from revolting, temporarily keeping them occupied and holding capitalism in place for longer.

Yet whilst ideological control helped distract many, the economic contradictions in the capitalist system were still such that it could not continue, and immediate reorganisation of the economy was needed if it were to do so. Economic variation took place in the form of de-industrialisation, causing the working class to shrink in size, and the outsourcing of industry to other parts of the world. This gave rise to a new form of international domination, where brands and corporations, as opposed to armies and governments, became responsible for the unofficial and shadowy exploitation of the third world. Imperialism in the traditional sense, the official establishment of foreign authority in the region, was on the decline, again very much in tune with the tendency of capitalist society to progress in the direction of liberty and freedom, yet a new form of imperialism was developing. It was purely economic, and dodged the need for a military invasion and the controversy that such invasion causes, and yet it was more effective, and could allow the western proletariat to both decline and grow in affluence. They would thus lose their revolutionary character, and so capitalism was kept alive in the developed world. 

Thus an interesting dynamic fell into place, where the capitalist world, led by the United States, relied upon the undeveloped regions for economic purposes, and the communist world, led by the Soviet Union, wished to bring an end to such western domination. This gave way to third-world Marxism, a tendency in communist thought influenced largely by Mao’s teachings, which retains popularity today. It may also be no coincidence that, outside the communist bloc, all the new revolutions occurred in undeveloped areas of the planet. 

The International Age

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the communist empire fragmented and the majority of socialist states gave way to a shifting political climate, allowing capitalism to expand across Eurasia, consuming Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. This led to further changes in the international dynamic, and paved the way for a future in which America may not be the leading capitalist power. As some of the still-officially-communist countries resorted to capitalism, the rise of China presented a further challenge to the United States.

At the same time, the third world, which the capitalist world had become increasingly reliant upon, was developing at an astonishing rate. India, Brazil and Indonesia, whilst locked in the depths of poverty, all have the potential to become superpowers, which suggests that soon our imperial ventures in these parts of the world may no longer be tolerated. If this is to be the case, and even if not (as no format of capitalism can continue indefinitely) the capitalist world shall do what it has done for decades, and scour the Earth for pockets of resources and workers to exploit. New pockets of exploitation have already opened up, in countries like Russia, the perfect example of economic polarisation, and more will likely appear as further geopolitical changes take place.

This, it seems, is the kind of capitalism we’ve adopted. In the European Age, exploitation took place within the confines of individual countries, with certain countries exercising capitalistic rule over others. In the American Age, the division between the exploited and the exploiters began to take on national characteristics, yet now, in the age of international economics, such divisions exceed these boundaries and exist irrespective of states and countries.

Revolution, whenever and wherever it occurs, must take place on an international level to compete with this system. While famously sparse on the practicalities of revolution, Karl Marx did remark that, whilst the differences between nations and nationalities are vanishing in capitalistic society, ‘the supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster’. 

Today, as capitalism grows increasingly globalised, this couldn’t be more relevant. 


The image depicting the Statue of Liberty was provided by Giorgio Martini from Wikimedia Commons, and was licenced under the following (though a newer licence is available):

The image depicting the Shanghai skyline was provided by J. Patrick Fischer from Wikimedia Commons, and was licenced under the following:



Cuba: the World’s Last Attempt at Socialism

When the current thaw in U.S./Cuban relations made the news, it became clear that there were two sides to this debate. While many wanted to lift the embargo against the Cuban people, others undoubtedly wanted to starve the country’s autocratic regime. I opposed these sanctions, but for an entirely different reason: I wanted to preserve what may be the world’s last honest attempt at socialism.

On the opposite side of the globe, the Vietnamese Communist Party maintains firm leadership, yet what has truly become of Vietnam? A country, this is, where Coca-Cola is bought and sold as a consumer product – but it’s not alone. The changes which such a country has seen are comparable to those which have taken place in the People’s Republic of China, as within both China and Vietnam is a system driven and animated by force which seems to lie somewhere between communist pride and nationalism, and perhaps some petty statement of reaching ‘true socialism’ through the market economies they have constructed for themselves in socialism’s name. Given this is the world which the two nations have slipped into, will the current economic reforms concerning America’s embargo against Cuba have the same consequences?

Buildings in Shanghai

All I can say is that, given we’re awfully short of communist states, I hope not.

This will be a sensitive situation for many who lived under the repressive regime at the height of the Cold War, or even today, in a country where citizens have risked their lives to try and reach Florida, ninety miles away. The Black Book of Communism estimates that between 15, 000 and 17, 000 were killed under the regime, and (whatever the actual number) it’s hard to imagine many friends, relatives, or sympathisers of these victims supporting Barrack Obama’s decision to open the door to Cuba; I imagine they’d rather the United States continued to show no mercy and no remorse to the regime of what the Lawton Foundation of Human Rights called an ‘enslaved island’.

I’ll accept that, but despite all this, I still believe that socialism should be given a chance. Not an illusion of socialism, but a full-blooded attempt. If, as a result of welcoming the United States, Cuba substitutes its own attempt with an illusion, as has been the case with both China and Vietnam, which nations will remain to keep the red flag flying? Even if one took Marxist Economic Determinism – the theory of the proletariat inevitably leading the world to communism due to their own exploitation – for granted; even if one maintained the belief that communism is the final and inevitable truth, surely they’d accept that the sooner a nation such as Cuba may arrive at that truth, the sooner the same shall occur on a worldwide scale. If Cuba’s attempt, which may well be the last attempt remaining, is thwarted by these reforms, this cannot happen.

I also want to talk about not just what Cuba is capable of achieving, but what it has already achieved. When discussing communism with somebody opposed to the idea, they did remark that Cuba may be the only place where socialism has actually been partly successful. It is a country with free education, and not only free healthcare, but a healthcare system recognised internationally for its brilliance. According to the news source Al Jazeera, the infant mortality rate in the country is one of the lowest in the world, slightly lower than that of the United States, and life expectancy is over 77 years, (among the world’s highest).

View of Car in Havana

Now Al Jazeera also states that the system which exists in Cuba is on the decline, but if this is what the country have constructed from autocracy, and political repression, imagine what the socialist regime, if truly developed, could construct. Just because it is not at such a point currently does not mean that this shall continue to be the case, and it definitely deserves a chance. Thus, when the end product is the possibility of achieving true socialism, alongside the end of capitalist class-based oppression sooner, the current existence of the autocratic Cuban state can be justified in communism’s name.

Finally, it must not be forgotten that simply because the United States is no longer pretending Cuba doesn’t exist does not mean liberty will prosper. Whether or not you’d be prepared to support autocratic socialism is really irrelevant, because, whilst in one circumstance socialism shall exist and in another it will not, autocracy will remain regardless (at least for the foreseeable future). As Senator Marco Rubio, a Floridian Republican and a child of Cuban immigrants said: “This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people”.