Dispatch: Socialism and Empire

4.7 minute read

We don’t need to confront imperialism to improve the lives of many working-class U.S. citizens. A somewhat fairer distribution of wealth within the United States is compatible with our ongoing … Read more

We don’t need to confront imperialism to improve the lives of many working-class U.S. citizens. A somewhat fairer distribution of wealth within the United States is compatible with our ongoing global domination. We can win rent control, a higher minimum wage, and Medicare for All at home without defeating U.S. empire abroad. Free higher education, sheltering our unhoused neighbors, electing socialist city council members–none of these require us to obliterate the U.S. war machine or raze the WTO.

However, it’s important that we are clear about something: we do not merely strive to better our own lives or effect a more equitable distribution of wealth among U.S. citizens. We seek the empowerment and liberation of working class and oppressed people everywhere. Our end game is socialism. The aforementioned reforms, though desirable, do not amount to socialism. And socialism, in the final score, cannot avoid the question of U.S. imperialism. Socialism and empire simply cannot coexist.

Democratic Left recently published a troubling piece titled “The Future of China-U.S. Competition and Democratic Socialism” by Daniel Adkins. Adkins argues that only by embracing democratic socialism can the U.S. hope to reassert its global dominance and challenge China’s rising influence on the world stage. Socialism, on this view, is billed not as a goal in itself, but as a means of reversing the decline of U.S. hegemony. Democratic Left has since published several counterpoints, but it remains important to be clear that the national chauvinism of Adkins’ piece has no place in leftist politics. It is entirely appropriate to insist that such views are egregious and should be put to rest. So, allow us to be brief:

  • U.S. hegemony is one of the most powerful and consistent counter-revolutionary forces against the emergence of socialism throughout the world. This is because of an imperialist dynamic is at its very core.
  • To ignore this dynamic of U.S. hegemony is to ignore capitalist domination in its grandest, most brutal manifestation.
  • This dynamic can’t be changed simply by altering the distribution of wealth within the U.S. Without challenging the imperialist nature of U.S. hegemony, any discussion of how to organize the U.S. economy is fundamentally a question of how to distribute the fruits of barbaric plunder.
  • It is also unlikely that we can face down some of the more insidious forms of oppression within our own borders (against migrants, communities of color, and internally oppressed nations such as the Standing Rock Sioux) without reckoning with the imperialist nature of U.S. hegemony.
  • Adkins goes further than ignoring the question of empire. His piece laments the decline of U.S. hegemony and advocates for its reassertion, just in a more socialized form. In short, he advocates for imperialism, just one that more equitably distributes the fruit of its exploits.
  • This view pits the U.S. working class against the working class of the rest of the world. It calls for the dispossession of oppressed and exploited people beyond our borders for the sake of a fairer accumulation of wealth within.
  • Adkins’ piece also trades heavily in anti-Chinese prejudices to make U.S. imperialism attractive. It offers the false dilemma of subjecting the world to either U.S. or Chinese hegemony. It fails to even entertain the notion that other forms of organization and solidarity can undermine and defeat imperialism altogether.
  • Those other forms of social organization and solidarity are what we need to envision because only then can we imagine the demise of capitalism.
  • On the foreign stage, we must advocate first and foremost for the destruction of U.S. hegemony in order to pave the way for real internationalist, working-class solidarity.

Again, we can make many gains for the U.S. working class without dismantling U.S. imperialism. We should not shy from fighting for a more equal distribution of wealth domestically. But in doing so we must not reify national chauvinistic notions with dreams of a fairer empire. We must not cede the globe to states competing for hegemony. Instead, let’s insist on solidarity with working-class and oppressed people around the world, even if (especially if) doing so subverts our own patriotic sentiments. When all is said and done, we cannot build socialism without dismantling U.S. empire.

To sign on to an open letter asking Democratic Left to remove the piece in question, click here.

The following was written by the Seattle DSA Anti-War Caucus and represents their sole opinion. Seattle DSA Anti-War Caucus (Facebook, Twitter) is committed to fostering a culture of anti-imperialism within the Left and building an anti-war movement capable of challenging U.S. empire