One of the largest ways the division of the world occurs in the age of imperialism is through war. War is profitable: industry goes into overdrive, labor rights are put on hold, and sights set on potential profits drive the cause. Such a situation cannot go on forever, as it uses massive amounts of resources at a rate quicker than they can be provided. Consuming so many raw materials is unsustainable, and pressure begins to build within all countries to end the conflict, because it quickly becomes unprofitable. Eventually, the war will end and the winner(s) will take their plunder—money, land, and power.
Such was the content of World War I, the first global-scale example in the era of imperialism. WWI was caused by the three main contradictions of imperialism coming to a head. These three contradictions in question are:
Between labor and capital;
Between finance groups and imperialist powers for raw materials, i.e., territory;
Between the capitalist-developed countries and those countries dependent on them.
These contradictions are present in the results of WWI:
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was divided, forced to surrender provinces to numerous countries, given military restrictions, and had to pay reparations.
Similar events were planned in the Ottoman Empire with the Treaty of Sèvres, but the treaty was rejected by a new Turkish government. The intent of the treaty was to give the Ottoman Empire partially to France, Britain, Greece and Italy, as well as impose heavy military restrictions. The Treaty of Lausanne replaced the Treaty of Sèvres, still granting the British and Italian possession of some land, but making no limitations on Turkey’s military or finances.
From the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Britain gained a mandate over Palestine. With their mandate over Palestine, the British issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, essentially stating the intent of establishing “in Palestine a National Home for the Jewish people”—the call of Zionism.
In Russia, the Bolsheviks used the weaknesses of the Tsar, heightened by the war, to begin a proletarian revolution, and established the first socialist country in history.
The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to give up territory, pay reparations, and imposed numerous military restrictions.
The financial crisis in post-WWI Germany was extreme due to the reparations, so vast that it was questionable if it was even possible to pay them back. The military restrictions and financial impossibility placed on the country after WWI were two primary factors that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and German fascism only 20 years later. These financial issues were falsely blamed on the Jewish, Roma, and others, such as the communists; and over the course of the next decades, these prejudices would become the fuel for the creation of death camps, and the mass murder of millions in what is today remembered as the Holocaust.
The start of WWII is usually considered to be when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, after which Germany went on to invade and control a large portion of Europe, as well as leading campaigns in Africa and the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, Japan, allied with Germany, was also trying to expand its territory through invasions of Indochina, China, dozens of islands throughout the Pacific, and numerous attacks on British and American territories; the most well-known instance being the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i. The Axis powers were threatening the interests of the Allied powers, bringing the global contradictions to a devastating head once again.
The general contradictions noted in WWI can also be seen in the results of WWII:
The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, killing hundreds of thousands—mostly civilians. Coupled with the Soviet Union’s crushing victory in Manchuria, Japan promptly delivered its unconditional surrender; rather than a Soviet occupation, General Douglas MacArthur began overseeing the American occupation of Japan that would last until 1952. Many demands were imposed on Japan: transforming it to a “free market” capitalist system, eliminating all non-defensive armed forces, and a security-pact in 1951 that approved US military bases and the promise not to support the newly-established People’s Republic of China.
Germany was soon divided into two parts in 1949: the fascist, US-supported West Germany and initially Soviet-supported, socialist East Germany. In 1952, Josef Stalin proposed a neutral, reunified Germany with the removal of all foreign troops and bases, democratic rights for all, no limitations on the country’s economy, and military limitations allowing only a defensive force to be maintained. The US, France, and Britain rejected the proposal.
Europe as a whole was considerably weakened after the war, with numerous countries being destroyed financially, industrially, and physically. Immediately after the war, the US passed the Marshall plan to send billions of dollars to Western Europe—a “grant” program with strings attached. These conditions were associated with increasing exports and imports with the US, reducing public spending, and encouraging the use of the US Dollar. The United Kingdom went from being the world’s greatest creditor to the world’s greatest debtor.
In 1947, the weakened post-WWII British government decided to turn over the “Palestine problem” to the newly founded United Nations—where it was decided that Palestine would be partitioned into two states, Palestine and Israel. In 1948, the Nakba occurred: Zionist forces expelled 750,000+ Palestinians from their homes and captured almost 80% of Palestine.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded in 1949, with the following reasoning:
“Its purpose was to secure peace in Europe, to promote cooperation among its members and to guard their freedom—all of this in the context of countering the threat posed at the time by the Soviet Union.”—NATO
“Established after World War II in an attempt to maintain international peace and security and to achieve cooperation among nations on economic, social, and humanitarian problems.”—UN Charter
The IMF and the World Bank were both founded in 1944; intent to be monetary organizations for investment, rebuilding Europe and Japan, and promoting “trade and economic growth”.
Similar to WWI and the Bolshevik revolution, WWII led to an explosion of working-class movements due to the conditions created by these imperialist wars. These movements gave birth to new nations around the world, including in China, Indochina, Korea, and Yugoslavia.
By the end of 1945, there were about 350,000 US troops in Japan. Six years later, after the security-pact with Japan was signed in 1951, almost 300,000 US soldiers remained in the country. Japan wanted to surrender to the US instead of the Soviets out of fear of the Soviets establishing a socialist government. The US wanted a capitalist ally in the Pacific due to the development of socialism in the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China, as well as the various revolutionary movements. General MacArthur helped create such an ally by working with Japanese leaders to write the country’s new Constitution, while many previously fascist war criminals would serve as the Japanese government’s officials overseeing its implementation.
The Allies rejection of Stalin’s proposed neutrality in Germany was perhaps out of fear that the newly unified Germany would align with the Soviet Union if given the option. Instead, Germany remained divided in two parts, in conflict for the next 40 years, and served as one of the many fronts of the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the US had 250,000 troops in West Germany, as well as an equal number of employees and family members, with bases all across the country.
The US, in contrast to Europe, was not destroyed in WWII; it made massive profits with the war economy, and the only bombs dropped on the country were at Pearl Harbor. There was a unique opportunity to “help” the rest of the world with loans, such as the Marshall Plan and more to rebuild the battered shells of Europe and Japan. After WWII, these conditions facilitated a shift in global power: the UK became the most debt-ridden country, losing its spot as the leading superpower; overtaken by the US.
Israel is a settler-colonial project and an imperialist outpost. Israel is committing apartheid against Palestinians in the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory. Zionists take the resources of Palestinians, threaten and often murder innocent people, steal their land and homes, and commit numerous other violent atrocities. The sovereignty of Palestine is actively suppressed by the US-supported Zionist government.
NATO, the UN, the IMF, and the World Bank are all likewise puppets of US and western imperialism. These will each be discussed in more detail in a later section.
Imperialist wars create a potential breeding ground for proletarian revolutions. We’ve seen it clearly twice, after each World War. The weakening of all capitalist combatants provides an opening for proletariat revolution, given the appropriate circumstances.
The Cold War pushed anti-communism and imperialism to a fervor. The US and other capitalist powers spent decades interfering in foreign elections, invading sovereign countries, launching coups, and using their massive financial and military weight to dictate who can trade with whom. The only other major alternative was the Soviet Union until 1991.
The fall of the Soviet Union was one of the most tragic events in modern history, leading to massive death, destruction, poverty, violence, and more. As Michael Parenti called it, the “Free-Market Paradise Goes East”. As there was no longer a socialist government in place to protect workers, the imperialist vultures were able to descend, and have their way with the resources and livelihoods of the people below. In the Soviet Union, the imperialists saw massive opportunities for profit, for the continuation of feature 5; the re-division of the world. Industries that were previously state-owned were ripe for the taking. Housing became privatized, and millions were left homeless or unemployed.
The aftereffects of the fall of the USSR were felt not just in the previous Soviet states. Before its collapse, the USSR gave countries an option for trade and alliance outside of the United States—outside of the West. Such an option protected developing countries from the US and their imperialistic practices. Once the USSR collapsed, countries often had little option but to trade with the US and their allies that engage in predatory lending, forced dollarization, as well as political and economic coercion. Military personnel and bases are a staple of the US’s coercion, with bases and troops in over 80 countries.
Imperialism in the 21st Century
Let’s explore a few of the most well-known organizations that serve Western imperialism on the global level in the 21st century:
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was founded with the mission of seeking to “build a framework for international economic cooperation.” But the actual power-balance is anything but cooperative. The United States possesses 16.5% of the voting share in the IMF, nearly triple the next highest share, held by Japan at 6.14%. Some major IMF decisions require an 85% super-majority, meaning the US can single handedly reject any proposal with its voting share. Essentially, any major decision must have US backing to pass—must be approved by the largest imperialist power.
Loans given to countries come with many strings attached, each of which is tied to the power of finance capital. For example, in 2010, Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych asked the IMF for a loan, but was frustrated by the conditions associated, which included:
Selling off state-owned businesses and assets
Ending pension payments and cutting Social Security
Lowering the minimum wage
Raising the retirement age
Cutting education, and healthcare funding and benefits
Eliminating collective bargaining
Allowing Western firms to exploit Ukraine’s resources and labor
The situation experienced by Yanukovych is not unique. China’s MFA recently noted that the 1,550 debt relief programs offered by the IMF between 1985 and 2014 were accompanied with 55,465 political demands.
The IMF is not the only example of a force of global finance capital—another is the World Bank. In early 2022 the World Bank had debts and agreements with Kazakhstan, so it forced that country on a track of what they called Green Development—meaning privatizing the nationalized oil and gas sector. The dismantling and forced neoliberalization immediately led to a spike in prices and a lowering of the standard of living, sparking mass protests in several regions. These genuine concerns were in turn used as cover for an attempted color revolution, which was shown by US funded NGOs at the time.
When NATO was founded, 10 of the 12 founding countries had received aid from the Marshall plan (the other two were the US itself, and Canada), and in the early 1950s West Germany also joined. NATO explicitly listed its founding reason as countering the Soviet Union—making itself a force for capitalism and against socialism. NATO was so committed to being an anti-communist force that it allowed many Nazis from defeated Germany to join, for example:
Adolf Heusinger, Hitler’s chief of staff, was also the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee in 1961
Hans Spiedel, a Nazi general, became the Supreme Commander of NATO’s ground forces in Central Europe from 1957-1963
NATO has, and still does, engage in numerous violent acts in order to prop up capitalism and Western imperialism. A few such NATO campaigns have included: the bombing of Yugoslavia, of Libya, and expansion to the point of igniting the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2022.
The United Nations often adopts resolutions, but outside of Security Council ones, they are not actually binding. The UN gathers countries together in the General Assembly to make recommendations based on world opinion, but that is all they are: recommendations. Let’s look at a few recent examples:
At the 77th session of the General Assembly in 2022, on the resolution on ending the US blockade on Cuba had 185 countries in favor, 2 against (the US and Israel), and 2 abstentions (Brazil and Ukraine)
Again at the 77th session, for a resolution to “Combat the glorification of Nazism” 105 countries were in favor, 52 against (including the US), and 15 abstained
On Nov 9, 2021, the US and Israel were again the only two votes opposed to “Making food a right”
Since the resulting decisions are merely recommendations, these are a sort of faux democracy and a mockery of international cooperation. While the Soviet Union prior to its dissolution, and the People’s Republic of China to this day, continue to fight for the upholding of the spirit of the UN charter, all real progress is consistently undermined by the US and its imperial lackeys. Despite 185 countries voting to end the blockade, the US simply ignores the will of nearly every country in the UN in order to further its own imperialist interests.
Capitalism leads to monopolies in their continued drive for profits; free-market “competition” is a myth. Such monopolies are able to dominate the markets and accumulate massive wealth. Lenin’s analysis noted the merging of bank and industrial capital, of which he expanded on and described five primary features of the era of imperialism. World War I was one of the primary results of the new era, which led directly to the rise of fascism and World War II. Following World War II, the United States became the dominant imperialist power, fighting with the Soviet Union in the Cold War for over 40 years until the eventual fall of the Soviet Union. In the 21st century, there is a new Cold War; with the United States as the dominant, but waning, imperialist power and China as the rising socialist superpower.
The era of imperialism is the era of monopoly capitalism. Defeating imperialism is directly tied to the overthrow of the capitalist system.
Recommended Reading on Imperialism
Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism by Vladimir Lenin
Foundations of Leninism by Josef Stalin
Blackshirts and Reds by Michal Parenti
Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism by Kwame Nkrumah
Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
How Europe underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney