“Each and every neo-liberal ideology conditions the belief that there is no alternative to imperialism.”
Fred Hampton was 21 years old when the Chicago Police Department and the FBI coordinated his assassination in 1969. As chairman of the Black Panther Party chapter in Illinois, Hampton helped organize a Free Breakfast Program that fed thousands of children. He and the Party worked tirelessly to unite Black Americans around the goal of self-determination. Hampton’s political maturity far outpaced his age. His politics were staunchly socialist, and his goal was revolution. According to Fred Hampton, “socialism is the people! If you’re afraid of socialism, you’re afraid of yourself!”
But that was a different period. At the time, the US imperialist intervention in Vietnam and the Black liberation movement in the US carved significant space for radicals and revolutionaries within the US empire to identify with socialism. Marxist ideology inspired the Black Panther Party to take up common cause with colonized peoples. The Black Panther Party made trips to China, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, and established a satellite in Algeria. This continued the work of revolutionaries of an earlier period such as Shirley Graham Du Bois and Malcolm X, both of whom made trips to Ghana and to numerous nations struggling against colonialism throughout the world.
Today, socialism doesn’t have the same influence on the political language or struggle of the left. At the “Get to Freedom, Organize” conference, I make the argument that imperialism’s neo-liberal transition is largely responsible for this development. The rise of socialism in the early to late 20th century severely weakened imperialism. It was Vietnamese general Vo Nyugen Giap who said that much of the world was outside of imperialism’s orbit when the US invaded Vietnam. Consequently, the rise of neo-liberalism could not have been possible were it not for the imperial war on socialism.
“Marxist ideology inspired the Black Panther Party to take up common cause with colonized peoples.”
The US military killed millions in the invasion of Korea and Vietnam. Both wars were waged to curb the influence of Chinese and Soviet socialism in the East. Much of the CIA’s work after its formation following World War II consisted of overthrowing governments in Africa, Latin America, and Asia that posed a threat to US multi-national corporations. The perceived threat was socialism. Although the US came out the world’s largest capitalist economy in 1945 and represented 50% of the world’s GDP, the contradictions of capitalism were paving the road to crisis. US monopolies faced numerous challenges to expansion and sought to prevent economic crisis by “containing” socialism and moving toward greater investment in the US dollar and finance capital.
The Bretton Woods institutions of the IMF and World Bank were useful in this regard. While the US ravaged the planet, these institutions pumped US dollars into Third World economies and forced subservient nations into debts with numerous strings attached. Imperialism’s promises of investment were viscous lies that served to justify extraction. The capitalist class propped up neo-colonial governments to protect their interests without the baggage of colonial occupation. The US and the West also used the Bretton Woods institutions to finance the recovery of war-torn Western Europe, especially Britain and France.
The rapid pace of imperialist development sent the system into crisis. The competition of the socialist bloc and the recovered European capitalist powers facilitated a crisis of overproduction. Profits fell as the imperialist countries invested more and more in new technology and finance capital to bankroll expansion. The West built foreign policy alliances at the behest of monopoly capital’s desire to occupy every part of the globe. From the 1970’s onward and into the 2008 economic crisis, monopoly capital would depend on the fictitious Wall Street economy and the super-exploitation of the working class and oppressed as a means to make up for profits lost from technological competition.
“Imperialism’s promises of investment were viscous lies that served to justify extraction.”
The Carter Administration began the full frontal assault on the working class when it deregulated the airlines in the US in 1978 and supported the brutal Shah of Iran during the Iranian revolution of 1979. In essence, the neo-liberal period had begun and so too did the decline of socialist imagination in the US. The draft ceased after the Vietnam War. Corporate consolidation also meant a consolidation in the primary ideological tool of imperialism: the media. The repression of liberation movements of years past was being reconfigured into the Black Mass Incarceration State, the National Security State, and the non-profit industrial complex. And finally, internationalism and socialism were dealt a potential deathblow when the Soviet Union fell in 1991.
Yet, socialism didn’t die in spite of neo-liberal imperialism’s declaration that the “end of history” had arrived. Despite being under US sanctions and losing Soviet support, Cuba maintained historic gains in free healthcare, education, and housing that began in 1959 and even lent support to African nations struggling against South African apartheid. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was forced to endure US backed sanctions that nearly starved the nation directly after the Soviet Union fell. Still, the people of Korea remain unwilling to shed it’s socialist character and the promotion of peace (yes, peace) in the region. Venezuela’s socialist, Bolivarian revolution has inspired the continent to move forward with Bolivar and Che’s dream of an integrated South America. So socialism is far from dead, and deserves serious consideration in this period of neo-liberal imperialism and fascist consolidation.
What is Socialism?
Briefly, socialism is the transitional stage between capitalism and communism. A socialist system redistributes private property and wealth after the oppressed classes seize the state and change its character from that of an institution of oppression to an instrument of liberation. The development of socialism depends heavily on the time and conditions of the historical period. Cuba’s revolution certainly did not resemble the October revolution of 1917 in Russia in its entirety, nor did China’s revolution of 1949 resemble Venezuela’s contemporary Bolivarian revolution. However, there are fundamental principles that define socialism regardless of where it develops.
Socialism is characterized by a transition in power from one class to another. It is the expropriation of the expropriators. The capitalist, imperialist ruling class is stripped of their power over the state either by force or by their own will to depart and take their business elsewhere. Property and wealth is then socialized by the new state and redistributed to meet the needs of workers oppressed people. The masses make decisions collectively, but a degree of centralization is built into the state in order to protect socialism from imperial destabilization. Revolutionary leaders are held accountable to the socialist process. This is an imperfect process, as all socialist states must factor in hostility and subversion from the still existing imperialist system. Cuba and Venezuela remain viable socialist states because of their ability to remain centralized in the defense of the revolution yet collective in the decision-making processes that pertain to national socialist development and foreign policy.
“The rulers of capital loot the wealth of workers and oppressed people everywhere.”
Neo-liberal imperialism is the anti-thesis of socialism. Its parasitic character both ideologically and materially undermines a socialist future in the US. The rulers of capital loot the wealth of workers and oppressed people everywhere. They do so with a strong ideological arm that justifies its wars, its repression, and its plunder. Neo-liberalism normalizes fascism. The ideology fulfills its purpose daily in a variety of ways, whether one studies “free market fundamentalism” or “color-blind racism.” Each and every neo-liberal ideology conditions the belief that there is no alternative to imperialism.
At the time of this writing, the conditions of people who live under socialism are by far better off than those who do not. While the people of Cuba possess free healthcare, education, and affordable housing, there are 18 million vacant homes in the US that could house every homeless person in the country six times. Millions of people die each year in the US from lack of healthcare coverage. Billions suffer from hunger daily under imperialism’s orbit, yet North Korea has found a way to overcome food shortages and sanctions to meet the needs of the people. Venezuela’s socialist process has reduced poverty more than any other nation in the region in a period where global poverty is on the rise due to the capitalist class’s massive policy of robbery.
Most people in the US possess little knowledge of socialism and the achievements that are possible under this particular social system. It is our task to study, organize, and educate this fact out of existence. The left no longer has the privilege of a so-called welfare state to lean on. The choice for any movement that arises in this period is to chart a revolutionary path or be consumed into the reactionary politics of the neo-liberal order. Many labor leaders and Black leaders have joined the ranks of imperialist collaboration. If readers are to take anything from this piece, it is to reject such collaboration at all costs and take up the task of building a socialist movement, no matter how difficult.