I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country. – Thomas Jefferson
It is telling that the same idea of free trade which has become an article of faith for neoconservatives was once synonymous with Anglo-Dutch imperialism, the very system of oligarchy which the War of Independence and Civil War were fought to liberate America from. How ironic that this same ideal of freedom would become the wellspring of American exceptionalism. How strange that for a century and a half America has loyally served its masters as the jackboot of imperialism in the face of the global south, committing satanic acts of genocide in the name democracy across five continents. To understand how it all went so terribly wrong we must turn back the pages of history to an earlier time.
In the late 18th century Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton imagined an independent nation state free from the tyranny of oligarchy. Alas the confederate states remained indentured to the old world system of slavery and primary production, so emancipation was a while coming. A century later, abolishing slavery was for Lincoln less about embracing the humanist ideas of continental philosophy than casting off the chains of colonialism. Building an industrial economy was the order of the day, and high tariff protections and a massive inland rail project soon saw the US transformed into the fastest growing most prosperous economy the world had ever seen.
Having established itself as a power in its own right, the US imagined itself moving westward across the Pacific, just as the Europeans had previously sailed across the Atlantic to the New World. These new colonialists envisioned a more modern system of trade with Germany, Russia, and Japan, and set out to create a network of independent republics in its own image. During this time the United States and Canada helped to build the first Eurasian trans-continental railway, with Russia for its part committing to build a bridge across the Bering Strait.
Like America, the newly created nation state of Germany was also thriving at this time. Under Otto von Bismarck it had fought back Denmark and France and united the 39 states previously under Austrian rule to form the greatest power in Central Europe. Inspired by what the Americans had achieved, Bismarck next turned his attention to creating a vast system of railways and canals across continental Europe, which was to include a railway between Berlin and Baghdad. As chancellor, Bismarck had kept a cool head and maintained peaceful relations with his neighbours, particularly Russia. Sadly for history, the inbred Kaiser Wilhelm II disagreed with his politics and had him sacked more or less immediately upon coming to power.
The British Empire, a private-public partnership between the English monarchy and the British East India Trading Company, had ruled the waves for 200 years, trading gold and silver from Africa for cotton, silk and tea from Asia and the Americas. Control of sea ports and shipping lanes also gave Britain a monopoly in the trade of guns, opium, and most importantly slave labour. New overland trade routes presented a threat to this business model, and so Prince Albert Edward (Edward VII) plotted an end to the project by drawing Germany, Russia and France into a war to end all wars. This is the crucial background to WWI, or at least an abbreviated version to suit our purposes.
Edward had plotted and schemed for 20 years to create the circumstances in which the European powers would turn on each other and Britain could emerge victorious. Fomenting ethnic tensions in south-eastern Europe was not difficult given its population of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and other ethno-religious groupings; the varied detritus of the collapsing Ottoman Empire. By the early 20th century tensions were such that any small event could have easily triggered the descent into chaos, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo fit the bill nicely. With Tsar Nicholas having abnegated his treaty with Bismarck and sworn to defend Belgium, it was soon on for young and old (tho to be fair, mostly young.)
WWI was a battle in which millions of men shed their blood over inches of land. 17 million deaths later, Europe had been laid waste, all according to plan. The cost of reparations would be borne solely by Germany, which would surrender its fleet, its rail carriages, its steel production, its livestock, and ultimately the dignity of its people. Such was the price of the British Empire maintaining its prestige then, and from the age of steam to the petroleum era little has changed.
With the invitation to nuclear war beckoning from an artificial island somewhere in the enchanted South China Sea, and the office of the presidency of the United States soon up for grabs, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on the principles and founding documents on which the world’s now dominant superpower was originally built. Jefferson’s inalienable right to life liberty and happiness was a deliberate misquotation of John Locke’s pursuit of life, liberty and property, a credo central to the work to Adam Smith, the Scottish moral philosopher and political economist credited as the father of modern capitalism. Herein lays an important distinction.
During the 1930s and 40s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt designed and implemented an economic policy which rebuilt the US economy from the ground up after the damage wrought by the great depression. After a failed assassination attempt, his first act as president was to create the Emergency Banking Act and Glass Steagall Act to underwrite savings deposits. Next was to create two million new paid jobs in parks and recreation, and begin an infrastructure program on a scale previously unimagined, putting dams and power stations near farms and bringing modernized agriculture and living conditions to rural America. Like Lincoln and Franklin before him, Roosevelt understood that the liberty implicit in the founding documents was first and foremost liberty from oligarchy. From 1933 to his death in 1945 he presided over an epic stimulus program which transformed a failed experiment in colonialism into a high tariff, high taxing, productive and prosperous economy.
“We don’t approve of independent sovereign states.”- HG Wells, Things to Come, 1936.
While the rapid industrialisation of the United States may have given it the appearance of a superpower, to what extent it can be seen as an independent actor is a matter of opinion, since its money supply and to a large extent its foreign policy have remained for the most part under the control of the Rothschilds, Warburgs, Lehmans, Goldman-Sachs’, Rockefellers and other banking elites, a relationship set in stone by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.
Where Roosevelt had wanted not a bar of Churchill’s planned cold war, Harry Truman proved a much more pliable president. In a recent press conference Vladimir Putin invited us to consider whether Stalin would have used the atomic bomb against Germany in 1945 with Hitler almost defeated. Years after the dual atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dwight D. Eisenhower would observe: “the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” Eisenhower further warned in his famous valedictory speech of the growing threat posed by the military industrial complex. Was anyone listening? In 1963 JFK planned to issue government bonds as currency, effectively shutting down the Federal Reserve. This did not end well for Kennedy, and to this day Washington and Wall Street remain loyal servants of the Empire.
The post war period saw America’s physical economy hollowed out and the process of looting commenced in earnest. Roosevelt’s industrial economy was systematically dismantled. Real capital was siphoned off through privatisation and replaced with mountains of debt. Financial markets were deregulated, leading to a series of booms and busts of ever increasing magnitude. Public freehold over projects built with taxpayer dollars was handed over to private interests only to be rented back at a profit. Everything from roads to rail to water and the electricity grid was up for grabs, up to and including crucial parts of the military.
The business of war is lucrative, and the Bush family have been players for 3 generations. George Herbert Walker’s father Prescott Bush, as a director of the Union Banking Corporation, had helped fund Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party in its rise to power. During the second Bush administration Dick Cheney’s stocks in Halliburton netted him a cool $40bn out of a war which cost the US taxpayer $1.7 trillion and left Iraqi schools, hospitals, roads, railways, and electricity and water infrastructure utterly devastated. Are we seeing a pattern yet?
Today we are witnessing the birth pains of a new superpower. This is as inevitable as it is unstoppable. The difference between the economies of the old and new world was principally that the Anglo-Dutch system was based on looting, whereas American capitalism was based on productivity. From the moment the US outsourced is manufacturing base to China and Brazil, the game was over. With almost total control of global manufacturing and new multibillion dollar funds for infrastructure and development, the BRICS force has finally reached critical mass.
In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, when asked if Russia would survive sanctions, Putin replied: “Naturally, beyond any doubts, it is even out of discussion. Sanctions even have a certain advantage. Do you know what is it? The advantage is that previously we used to buy many goods, especially in the area of high technology, with petrodollars.” “Now, with the sanctions imposed and our partners having left our market voluntarily, we have an opportunity to develop.”
Compare Senator John McCain’s sabre rattling rhetoric in his recent article for CNN: “There is an opportunity here… to impose significant costs on an adversary that wants to undercut the United States everywhere.” “We must back up our policy in ways that check Putin’s ambitions and shape his behaviour.” “We must impose greater costs on Russia’s interests.”
In yet another case of history repeating, German Chancellor Angela Merkel now appears as the crucial pivot in this changing power dynamic. In statements made during the last fortnight she has not only acknowledged Russia’s historical claim to the Crimea, but also called for increased economic cooperation with Russia including the normalization of trade relations and the immediate lifting of all sanctions. This is in part to strengthen the important economic ties between the two countries, but crucially to help stem the flow of refugees into Europe caused by ongoing crises in the Middle East.
The balance of global power has shifted not just economically but it would also seem militarily. While no single country is capable on its own of taking on the US war machine, Russian ordnance currently deployed in Syria appears to be 10 years ahead of anything yet seen on the battlefield, including smart missiles which never miss their targets. Still in development is the Shenyang J31 fifth generation multipurpose medium range fighter, powered by Russian RD-93 engines and besting Lockheed-Martin’s F35 by orders of magnitude, rumour has it thanks largely to Chinese ‘cyber-terrorism.’
In every chapter of human history we see the entwinement of decadence and decline. While the empire has been busy plotting its own downfall through globalisation, free trade and the crippling economics of austerity, the war racketeers have reaped obscene profits. While greed and short-sightedness have led to the depletion of labour markets in first world countries, China, Russia and their partners have been getting on with business. With the $242 Billion High-Speed Beijing-Moscow Rail Link approved, China now plans to build a similar link to Damascus via Tehran. Obviously this cannot go ahead until Syria is stabilized and returned to its former status as a functional independent nation state.
Lest we be deceived into believing this latest clash of civilizations has anything to do with Islamist fundamentalism or the threat of global terrorism, we’d do well to consider the events and circumstances which have led us to war in times past. The game of empire has not changed; nor for the last century and a half have the players.
We are now living in the last days of empire. Only when the old institutions of finance and trade are finally swept away can there be any hope for a social order based on human dignity, which respects first and foremost the value of human life. The Malthusian economics of scarcity belongs to the past; our greatest resource has always been the creative potential of the human mind. Only through cooperation can we ever hope to solve the problems facing humanity – if we can’t manage to live together peacefully, how can we seriously hope to address the vitally important problems we face as a species; depletion of natural resources, destruction of habitat and climate change?
Human social evolution has already developed the mechanism required for humanity in all its complex diversity to coexist peacefully, not though aggressive interference by a single, strong and exceptional centre of world domination, but through respect for the sovereignty of independent nation states under the charter of international law. Sergei Lavrov made Russia’s position crystal clear in his article ‘History Lessons and New Frontiers’ in which he states that China and Russia are “stalwart opponents of imposing one’s will over sovereign states, including by force, introducing unilateral sanctions and practicing (a) policy of double standards.”
The current unilateral system of global politics now threatens the very survival of the species. Peace and democracy will only be possible when the old system of empire is replaced by a system of equality, guided by common values and common interests. Whether the current shift in power will move us closer toward this goal remains to be seen, but it certainly seems like a step in the right direction.