"Notes from Against Empire"

Against Empire, by Michael Parenti (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1995)


“Today, the United States is the foremost proponent of recolonization and leading antagonist of revolutionary change throughout the world. Emerging from World War II relatively unscathed and superior to all other industrial countries in wealth, productive capacity, and armed might, the United States became the prime purveyor and guardian of global capitalism. Judging by the size of its financial investments and military force, judging by every imperialist standard except direct colonization, the U.S. empire is the most formidable in history, far greater than Great Britain in the nineteenth century or Rome during antiquity." [emphasis added] – Against Empire, p. 36.

A Global Military Empire

"The exercise of U.S. power is intended to preserve not only the international capitalist system but U.S. hegemony of that system." The Pentagon's 'Defense Planning Guidance' draft (1992) urges the United States to continue to dominate the international system by 'discouraging the advanced industrialized nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger global or regional role.' By maintaining this dominance, the Pentagon analysts assert, the United States can ensure 'a market-oriented zone of peace and prosperity that encompasses more than two-thirds of the world's economy' [italics added]." [emphasis added] - pp. 36-37

"This global power is immensely costly. ... U.S. leaders preside over a global military apparatus of a magnitude never before seen in human history. ... U.S. rapid deployment forces have a firepower in conventional weaponry vastly superior to any other nation's, with an ability to slaughter with impunity, as the massacre of Iraq demonstrated in 1990-91." [emphasis added] p. 37

“Since World War II, the U.S. government has given over $200 billion in military aid to train, equip, and subsidize more than 2.3 million troops and internal security forces in some eighty countries, the purpose being not to defend them from outside invasions but to protect ruling oligarchs and multinational corporate investors from the dangers of domestic anticapitalist insurgency” [emphasis added]' – Against Empire, p. 37.

"U.S. leaders profess a dedication to democracy. Yet over the past five decades, democratically elected reformist governmfents were overthrown by pro-capitalist militaries that were funded and aided by teh U.S. national security state." - p. 38

Why Intervention?

“The public record shows that the United States is the foremost interventionist power in the world. There are varied and overlapping reasons for this:

In two of the most notable U.S. military interventions, Soviet Russia from 1918 to 1920 and Vietnam from 1954 to 1973, most of the investments were European, not American. In these and other such instances, the intent was to prevent the emergence of competing social orders and obliterate all workable alternatives to the capitalist client-state. That remains the goal to this day. [emphasis added] ..." - p. 41

Who Pays? Who Profits?

"We are made to believe that the people of the United States have a common interest with the giant multinationals, the very companies that desert our communities in pursuit of cheaper labor abroad. In truth, on almost every issue the people are not in the same boat with the big companies. Policy costs are not equally shared; benefits are not equally enjoyed. The "national" policies of an imperialist country reflect the interests of that country's dominant socio-economic class. Class rather than nation-state more often is the crucial unit of analysis in the study of imperialism."

"The tendency to deny the existence of conflicting class interests when dealing with imperialism leads to some serious misunderstanings. [emphasis added]..." - p. 47

"... Barnet notes that 'the costs of maintaining imperial privilege always exceed the gains.' From this it has been concluded that empires simply are not worth all the expense and trouble.” [emphasis added]...
... But empires are not losing propositions for everyone. The governments of imperial nations may spend more than they take in, but the people who reap the benefits are not the same ones who foot the bill [emphasis added]. As Thorstein Veblen pointed out in The Theory of the Business Enterprise (1904), ‘the gains of empire flow into the hands of the privileged business class while the costs are extracted from 'the industry of the rest of the people.' The transnationals monopolize the private returns of empire while carrying little, if any, of the public cost. The expenditures needed in the way of armaments and aid to make the world safe for General Motors, General Dynamics, General Electric and the other generals are paid by the U.S. government, that is, by the taxpayers.” [emphasis added] – Against Empire, p. 48

“And imperialism remains today in the service of the few monopolists, not the many taxpayers.
In sum, there is nothing irrational about spending three dollars of public money to protect one dollar of private investment – at least not from the perspective of the investors. To protect one dollar of their money they will spend three, four, and five dollars of our money. In fact, when it comes to protecting their money, our money is no object.” [emphasis added] – Against Empire, p 49

"Furthermore, the cost of a particular U.S. intervention must be measured not against the value of U.S. investments in the country involved but against the value of the world investment system. It has been noted that the cost of apprehending a bank robber may occasionally exceed the sum that is stolen. But if robbers were allowed to go their way, this would encourage others to follow suit and would put the entire banking system in jeopardy.
At stake in these various wars of suppression, then, is not just the investments in any one country but the security of the whole international system of finance capital. No country is allowed to pursue an independent course of self-development. None is permitted to to unpunished and undeterred. None should serve as an inspiration or source of material support to other nations that might want to pursue a politico-economic path other than the maldevelopment offered by global capitalism." [emphasis added] - Against Empire, pp. 49-50

The Myth of Popular Imperialism

"U.S. leaders feel free to intrude massively upon the economic, military, political, and cultural practices and institutions of any country they so choose. That's what it means to have an empire." [emphasis added] - p. 54

Chapter 4: Strong Empire, Weak Republic

The empire increasingly impoverishes the republic. Operational costs of global militarism may become so onerous as to undermine the society that sustains them, such as has been the case with empires of the past. Americans pay dearly for ‘our’ global military apparatus. The spending binge that the Pentagon has been on for decades, especially the past fourteen years or so, has created record deficits and a runaway national debt, making the United States the largest debtor nation in the world. The government is required to borrow more and more to pay the growing interest on a debt that is owed to rich creditors at home and abroad.” [emphasis added] - p. 62

Most of our domestic financial woes can be ascribed to military spending [emphasis added]. The enormous scale of that spending is sometimes hard to grasp. The cost of building one aircraft carrier could feed several million of the poorest, hungriest children in America for ten years. … The total expenses of the legislative and judicial branches and all the regulatory commissions combined constitute less than 1 percent of the Pentagon’s yearly budget.” p. 63

Mainstream pundits and propagandists label our desire to move away from corporate militarism and imperial domination as weakness, folly, isolationism or self-defeating pacifism. But there is another name for the course of action that aims to wrest the wealth and power out of the hands of the military-industrial complex and the multinational investor class and give it back to the people so that they become the agents of their own lives and social conditions: it is called democracy, the victory of the republic over the empire." [emphasis added]

These same propagandists dismiss criticisms of U.S. imperialism as manifestations of a “Hate America” or “Blame America” syndrome. But when we voice our disapproval of militarism, violent interventions, and other particular policies, we are not attacking our nation and its people; rather we are maintaining that we deserve something better than the policies that currently violate the interests of people at home and abroad. To expose the abuses of class power is not to denigrate the nation that is the victim of such abuses." [emphasis added]

With more justification, we might conclude that it is the conservatives who lack patriotism when they denounce spending on human services, environmental, and more equitable taxes. The charge of anti-Americanism is selectively and self-servingly applied, against those on the Left who struggle for the interests of the many, rather than against those on the Right who serve the interests of the few. Those who oppose empire are thought to be against the republic, when actually they are its last best hope.” [emphasis added] – Against Empire, p. 70

Notes from Against Empire, Chapter 5: A Dreadful Success

There are those who criticize U.S. foreign policy for its blunders and lack of coherence. To be sure, policymakers miscalculate. At times they are taken by surprise, frustrated by unintended consequences, or thwarted by forces beyond their control. They are neither infallible nor omnipotent. But neither are they the blind fools that some people think them to be. Overall, U.S. foreign policy has been remarkably successful in undermining popular revolutions and buttressing conservative capitalist regimes in every region of the world.” [emphasis added] – Against Empire, p. 71.

“... rather than being stupid, U.S. policy is, for the most part, remarkably successful and brutal in the service of elite economic interests. It may seem stupid because the rationales offered in its support often sound unconvincing, leaving us with the impression that policymakers are confused or out of touch. But just because the public does not understand what they are doing does not mean national security leaders are themselves befuddled. That they are fabricators does not mean that they are fools. While costly in money, lives, and human suffering, U.S. policy is essentially a rational and consistent enterprise. Certainly the pattern of who is supported and who opposed, who is treated as friend and who is foe, indicates as much.” [emphasis added] – Against Empire, p. 80.

“[Additionally], we should stop saying “we” do this and “we” do that, since we really mean policymakers within the national security establishment who represent a particular set of class interests. Too many otherwise capable analysts have this habit of referring to “we.” It is a shorthand way of saying “U.S. national security state leaders” but it is a misleading use of a pronoun. The point is of more than semantic significance. Those who keep saying “we” are more likely to treat nations as the basic unit of analysis in international affairs and to ignore class interests. They are more likely to presume that a community of interest exists between leaders and populace when usually it does not. The impression left is that we are all responsible for “our” policy, a position that takes the heat off the actual policymakers and evokes a lot of misplaced soul-searching by well-meaning persons who conclude that we all should be shamed and saddened by what “we” are doing in the world” [emphasis added]. – Against Empire, p. 80.

“... the common citizens of our country, through their taxes, give to the privileged elites of another country. As someone once said: foreign aid is when the poor people of a rich country give money to the rich people of a poor country. The transferrence is across class lines as well as national lines, representing an upward redistribution of income” [emphasis added]. – Against Empire, p. 81.

“Some critics charge that the huge U.S. military establishment is nothing but a wasteful boondoggle. They usually are the same people who say that U.S. foreign policy is stupid. Again, we would have to remind them that what may be wasteful and costly for one class (ordinary citizens and taxpayers) may be wonderful and rewarding for another (corporate defense contractors and military brass).

Over the years, some of us argued that were the Soviet Union and other communist countries to disappear, our leaders would still insist upon a huge military establishment. Reality rarely provides any opportunity to test political hypotheses as in an experimental laboratory. In this instance, the hypothesis was put to the test when the communist governments were overthrown. Sure enough, the huge global military force remained largely intact, at a spending level far above what it was when the Cold War was at its height (even when adjusting for inflation.).

Why so? First of all, military spending happens to be one of the greatest sources of domestic capital accumulation. It represents a form of public expenditure that business likes. When the government spends funds on the not-for-profit sector of the economy – such as the postal service, publicly-owned railroads, or affordable homes and public hospitals – it demonstrates how the public can create goods, services, and jobs and expand the tax base, without the need of private investor gain. Such spending competes with the private market.” pp. 87-88

“In contrast, missiles and aircraft carriers constitute a form of public expenditure that does not compete with the civilian market. A defense contract is like any other business contract, only better. The taxpayers’ money covers all the production risks. Unlike a refrigerator manufacturer who has to worry about selling his refrigerators, a weapons manufacturer has a product that already has been contracted, complete with guaranteed cost overruns. In addition, the government picks up most of the research and development costs.

Defense spending opens up an area of demand that is potentially limitless. How much military security or supremacy is enough? There are always new weapons that can be developed. The entire arms industry has a built in obsolescence. Not long after a multi-billion-dollar weapons system is produced, technological advances make it obsolete and in need of updating or replacement.

Furthermore, most military contracts are awarded without competitive bidding, so arms manufacturers pretty much get the price they ask for. Hence the temptation is to develop weapons and supplies that are ever more elaborate and costly – and therefore ever more profitable. Such products are not necessarily the most efficient or sensible. Many perform poorly. But poor performance has its own rewards in the form of additional allocations to get weapons to work the way they should.” p. 88

“In sum, defense contractors enjoy a rate of return substantially higher than what is actually available in the civilian market. No wonder corporate leaders are in no hurry to cut military spending. What they have is a limitless, low-risk, high-profit, multibillion-dollar cornucopia. Arms spending bolsters the entire capitalist system, even as it impoverishes the not-for-profit public sector. These, then, are the two basic reasons why the United States assiduously remains an armed superpower even though lacking a pretext of an opposing superpower: First, a massive military establishment is needed to keep the world safe for global capital accumulation. Second, a massive military itself is a direct source of immense capital accumulation” [emphasis added]. – Against Empire, p. 89.

Chapter 6: Drugs, Lies, and Video Wars

Actually, the administration was giving money to the right people, who were putting it to exactly the use Washington desired. Again, it was assumed that the U.S. leaders were misguided when in fact they were misguiding us” [emphasis added]. – Against Empire, p. 105.

“The U.S. national security state has done nothing to stop the international drug trade and much to assist it.” – Against Empire, p. 106.

Chapter 9: Voodoo Economics: The Third Worldization of America

“Today, the conservative goal is the Third Worldization of America, to reduce the U.S. working populace to a Third World condition, having people work harder and harder for less and less [emphasis added]. This includes a return to the “free market,” free of environmental regulations, free of consumer protections, minimum wages, occupational safety, and labor unions, a market crowded with underemployed labor, so better to depress wages and widen profit margins. Conservatives also seek the abolition of human services and other forms of public assistance that give people some buffer against free-market forces [emphasis added].”

Underemployment is a necessary condition for Third Worldization.” p. 170

[The defender of capitalism] relies too much on the nation-state as the unit of analysis. The truth is, the investor class also tries to reduce its own population to a client-state status. The aim of imperialism is not a national one but an international class goal, to exploit and concentrate power not only over Guatemalans, Indonesians, and Saudis, but Americans, Canadians, and everyone else.” [emphasis added] – Against Empire, p. 174.

“... reduce economic reality to a subjective psychological condition, thereby reversing cause and effect. Recession is not caused because people suddenly become less inclined to buy. It is the other way around: people buy less because their jobs are abolished or downgraded and they have less buying power. One would think that point is evident enough.” – Against Empire, p. 174.

Chapter 10: The Empire in Academia