Empire and Imperialism

James Petras on Rulers and the Ruled in US Empire

Sociology professor emeritus James Petras surely ranks as one of the most astute scholars and chroniclers of capitalism and imperialism, as well as being a realistic appraiser of progressivist movements in the world. His latest book — Rulers & Ruled in the US Empire Bankers Zionists Militants (Clarity Press, 2007) — is a valuable compendium of how power is distributed and wielded in society and among states.

rulersPetras begins with the simple division — that between the rarified stratum of haves and the masses of have-nots. He notes that wealth is super concentrated among the haves, leaving crumbs of wealth to be distributed among the masses: the richest two percent of adults possess more than half the world’s wealth, the richest 10 percent own 85 percent of the wealth. CEOs are earning 430 times the wages of an average worker. Yet, much of society lionizes the wealthy, and people seldom hear why one human being should be worth so much more than another human being. Seldom does one come across someone questioning the morality of a billionaire living in reclusive opulence on a vast hectarage with a multi-roomed mansion staffed by plebian servants while somewhere unfortunate souls struggle keep warm and dry in cardboard boxes under a bridge.

Wealth is finite at any given moment in time; therefore, maldistribution of that wealth so that it accumulates in few hands removes food and shelter from masses of people. Petras writes, “Countries of ‘surging billionaires’ produces burgeoning poverty, submerging living standards. The making of millionaires means the unmasking of civil society …”

Petras details the interplay of capitalistic forces that exacerbate the wealth gap further. This is because society is structured to make workers into wage slaves for voracious corporations.

The heads of corporations wallow in wealth. And, as Petras illustrates, wealth is not only economic power but also political power.

The concentration of wealth and power is based on the increasing exploitation of the working classes. The system of rapid capital disbursement clashes with the severely impeded mobility of labor.

Immigrants are a too convenient scapegoat for the woes of the working class. Petras refutes the myth of “free benefits” received by immigrant workers noting that most such workers pay taxes. The professor describes how the criminalization of immigrant workers by the Democratic Party and Republican Party, in collusion with corporations, allows exploitation of this labor.

Exploiting labor is just one example of imperialistic forces at play. Petras writes, “Political corruption, not economic efficiency, is the driving force of economic empire-building.”

But there is a much darker side to imperialism: “a policy of ‘rule or ruin.’” The dark force driving imperialism, according to Petras, is genocide. Petras harkens to the World War genocides inflicted on Armenians, Jews, Soviets, and others to the genocide pursued against Iraqis today.

Petras describes a historical antipathy of some Jews to Palestinians which drives the genocide in historical Palestine. He does not shirk from denouncing Zionism and its ideological adherents who dispose of allies like “used condoms.” Zionism gives rise to a two-tiered state featuring Jews-only bomb shelters.

Petras spotlights the powerful Jewish Lobby and its massive sway in the US government. He criticizes the antiwar movement for its blind eye to the lobby. Writes Petras, “[R]eal peace in the Middle East can only come about with the closing of foreign military bases, the ending of Israel’s colonial occupation, and public control or nationalization of energy sources.”

So powerful is the lobby in the US that Petras states that Zionists are able to steer about 98 percent of the US Congress on legislation favorable to Israel, even when prejudicial to the interests of US Big Oil. he quotes the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David A. Harris: “[T]here can be no doubt that American Jewry is an essential element of the equation [yoking the US to Israel].” [italics added by Petras]

Petras also examines the up and coming superpower China whose rapid growth has been on the back of exploited labor. He finds that China’s growth has been over-rated. He is curious about the growth performance of Chinese versus non-Chinese owners in the economy, which would give an indication of imperialistic inroads to the Chinese economy.

Petras also finds that gauging the standard of living by monetary income alone is too simplistic: “Per capita income obscures the elephantine inequalities between the top five percent and the bottom 75 percent of the population.”

In China’s case, the increase in income and reduction in poverty needs to be considered in light of the end of free education and health care, the displacement of farmers, artisans and others, the increase in living costs, the worsening working conditions, and the increased tax burdens on peasants.

Corruption is endemic in China. Petras notes that the corruption under capitalism far outstrips that under the Communist phase in China. In fact, the tables have turned such that: “The ‘victims of the Cultural Revolution’ became the executioners of one of the harshest capitalist restorations in modern history…” The turn to the Right is clear in China.

Elsewhere, while many progressives are cheering the emergence of the Left in Central and South Ixachilan (America), Petras argues against this false optimism and focuses on the deeds rather that the leftist rhetoric of the so-called leftist regimes.

According to Petras, Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has betrayed his workers’ base and is clearly following neoliberal directives. President Néstor Kirchner in Argentina has followed a more centrist position but has not repudiated neoliberalism. Petras is scathing in exposing Bolivian president Evo Morales whose obscure words mask his subservience to multinational corporations that seek to exploit the natural resources of his country. Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro hold closer to socialism, but even they could follow a path that is truer to the aspirations of people for equality and a control over their fates:

The essence of the matter is that Chavez’s rhetoric and discourse on 21st century socialism does not now or in the proximate future correspond to the political realities…

Leftist radicals exaggerate the radicalism or revolutionary reality of Cuba and Venezuela…

The attempt to redefine the conversion of the ex-leftist-turned-pragmatic neo-liberals into something progressive as a ‘counterweight’ to US power is disingenuous at best and at worst compounds the initial error…

The only consistent and consequential allies and forces for change are found among the radical left.

Petras sees a need to follow a different path. He is highly dubious about the actual benefits of foreign investment. In “Latin America” he finds the countries are “pay[ing] to be exploited.”

Petras does not confine himself to analysis and criticism; he provides alternative economic solutions, among them are nationalization and renationalization, countering the threat of investment and capital outflows, countering blocks to new financing, eradicating corruption, and providing alternatives to foreign investment.

Petras leaves the “radical” readers with hope, noting that the machinery of imperialism is facing enormous resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq, stalling sequential plans for conquest throughout the Middle East and abroad. Resistance movements in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia have taken the heat off regimes in Central and South Ixachilan. These resistance movements give heart to defeating empire.

Petras’s Rulers and the Ruled in the U.S. Empire belongs on the shelf of anyone who seeks an unsweetened understanding of power in play and what is needed to revolutionize the world, making it a better place for the masses.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Read other articles by Kim.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. jaime said on October 17th, 2007 at 7:25am #

    Just one more about “Jewish only” bomb shelters…

    “…In the shelter, people are talking in Arabic, Russian and Hebrew….Everybody’s a target,” Kanboura says, laughing at the thought that Haifa’s Jews might resent their Arab neighbors for the Hezbollah strikes. “A rocket cannot tell the difference between a Jew, an Arab and a Christian.”

    “No one has anything against the Arabs” who make up about 10 percent of Haifa’s population “or the Arabs in Lebanon — only against Hezbollah,” says Moshe Batish, 52……”

  2. Deadbeat said on October 17th, 2007 at 11:03am #

    You didn’t read the review carefully. It is about wealth and power not population. In fact the masses are the ones without power. You used population numbers the other day to excuses the real power dynamic in New York City and you once again are trying to use the same canard again regarding the powerlessness of the Palestinians. It doesn’t work and only demonstrates your desire to maintain the status quo which benefits the forces that Petras describes in his book

  3. johnnie said on October 17th, 2007 at 5:43pm #

    where would i find current statistics as to the distribution of wealth in the united states. what constitutes wealth and how much is inherited or earned? how do you explain the loss of wealth as allegedly the vanderbilts and many of lesser fortunes? are the descendants of the founders of the united states wealthy? does our system of government require a capitalist system as i have heard claimed? who are the real puppeteers anyway? you are making some very general statements. i would like to reference some hard facts.

  4. Kim Petersen said on October 17th, 2007 at 6:44pm #

    Good questions. This is a book review. If you want specificity, then buy the book which comes with footnotes.
    Anyway, hard facts can be had on the internet.

  5. JE said on October 19th, 2007 at 12:41am #

    Who ever said population decline is a precondition for genocide?

    Murder rate greater than birth rate = genocide

    Where do you get this stuff?

  6. Mike McNiven said on October 19th, 2007 at 2:43am #

    Thank you Dr.Petras! The believers in “peace with social justice” are very lucky that Dr.Petras keeps writing the gutsy truth without caring about all those intimidating words and acts against him and his family!
    His courage and scholarship, relentlessly, has kept the discussion of an evil called imperialism very relevant! In a 2004 article, he warned the US labor unions against investing in Israel!

  7. dan elliott said on October 19th, 2007 at 3:21pm #

    Dear Kim,

    Thanks for reviewing & calling your readers’ attention to Dr Petras’ newest book, and to the crucial issues he tackles, the most crucial being that raised also in the runaway bestseller by Profs. Walt & Mearsheimer: “The Israel Lobby”, or, in Petras’ more precise nomenclature “the Zionist Power Configuration/ZPC”.

    Why is the question of “The Lobby”/ZPC’s power to determine US foreign policy a crucial one for left/progressive US activists? Does it make any difference who’s right, whether the Tail is truly Wagging the Dog, or verse-visey?

    Does it really matter whether or not the facts as presented Dr. Petras et al are generally accurate? Why, even though we strongly object to Profs. Walt & Mearsheimer’s overall political philosophy, do we heartily applaud their book & urge all US antiwar activists to get it/read it ASAP?

    Why is the difference between Dr Petras’ take on “The Lobby” (a take generally shared by radicals like Jeff Blankfort, Kathy & Bill Christison, Lenni Brenner, and largely by Liberal professors Walt and Mearsheimer) and the divergent “see no evil” view of reality perceived by our supposed allies who share Petras et al’s severely critical view of “Israel” but downplay the ZPC’s role in US policy determination — why is this difference one of enormous historical importance?

    Why is it not enough to vociferously complain of Israeli crimes against the Palestinians while ignoring the existence of the Zionist Power Configuration in the US? While failing to take note of the role of The Lobby cum Thought Police cum Apparatus of Mass Disinformation, and the financial base which sustains it all?

    Let me answer the question with another question: why hasn’t the Democratic congressional majority, elected to end the war in Iraq, made a serious move in that direction? Why is it that none of the Democrat candidates, except maybe hopeless longshots Kucinich & Gravel, have even promised to withdraw totally from Iraq immediately upon taking office?

    Short Answer: Quiet as it’s kept, the Democratic Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Israel Incorporated. Not just the DNC or the major candidates: all of it. Down to your local Labor Council & schoolboard.

    Not until you realize the scale, scope & penetration of the ZPC’s power do you begin to understand why the antiIraq War movement that exploded in late 2002 has only gone down hill since, and why we are now witnessing a rerun of the same scam they ran in 2004: Forget Protesting/Start Campaigning: Anybody But A Republican.

    Once you find out that the Demo Party chain of command reports directly to AIPAC, you begin to appreciate the services to Tel Aviv provided by all the Pretend Progressive psuedo-peaceniks who do their best to divert activist attention from the true state of affairs, & their efforts to keep people from examining the facts about the Zionist Fifth Column in the US “antiwar movement”.

    Of all those who ignore or minimize the role of the ZPC, I believe the ANSWER Coalition and its parent PSL and FPA probably take the strongest position vis a vis Israel and Palestine, so they have first claim on my attention.

    Here’s what I said yesterday, preceded by a friend’s comment to his listserve readers, which may make my point even better than I did:
    —- Original Message —–
    From: J
    Sent: Tuesday, October 16, 2007 6:01 PM
    Subject: Wrong ANSWER by Party of Socialism and Liberation.

    From Dan E. who astutely points out that articles like the following by Saul Kanowitz that appear to be giving strong support to the Palestinian cause, in terms of effectiveness, do nothing of the sort. Rather, they continue to perpetuate the myth that Israel is a “strategic asset” of the US and continue the “Left’s” head-in-the-sand policy of ignoring the role of the Israel Lobby even when Mearsheimer and Walt’s book exposing it has become a national and soon to be world-wide bestseller. In this case it is the so-called Party of Socialism and Liberation (,) …the organization behind and directing the “anti-war” ANSWER coalition, one of the two existing and arguably ineffective “anti-war” movements: Here is Dan E.:

    Here’s the problem in a nutshell:

    “U.S. imperialism’s geo-political aims in the Middle East have always included regional domination, either directly or through neo-colonial representatives, like the colonial, settler-state of Israel.”

    Emphasis added; another gem:

    “For the corporate owners who determine U.S. foreign and domestic policy, the aid and backing of Israel facilitates U.S. regional domination and exploitation of the oil resources that lie below.

    (Source: http://www.pslweb.org/ :

    “News and Analysis: For Palestinians, resistance is a matter of survival” Tuesday, October 2, 2007 By: Saul Kanowitz )

    Or, from PSL/ANSWER top cadre R. Becker’s review of the Jimmy Carter book:

    “Bipartisan support for Israel inside the United States has been nearly monolithic, mainly due to Israel’’s vital military role in U.S. global strategy.


    Israel’’s role as a vital auxiliary military force is the main reason why U.S. government supports Israel so ardently.

    My reading of the above? Besides buying hook/line/sinker the Antonia Juhasz/Liberal Zionist “war for oil” snowjob, (now utterly demolished thanks most recently/resoundingly to Walt/Mearsheimer; cf. “The Israel Lobby” p.288 et seq., & the Index: “Oil”), PSL sees “Israel” as a wholly dependent US appendage, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the US Imperial State. Which means they’ve chosen to ignore the mountains of evidence presented recently making the case that in reality it’s the other way around: the US Congress & Exec Branch are just more Israeli-Occupied Territory.

    It IS a subject which can be debated, but rather than debate they’ve so far chosen to ignore it.

    Nowhere on the PSL web page could I find a reference to Walt/Mearsheimer, James Petras, the Christisons, Norman Finkelstein or the whole AIPAC/PNAC/Israel Lobby flap. Becker’s review of the Jimmy Carter “Apartheid” book was the closest thing I found.

    The biggest problem with this kind of shallow analysis is that it obscures the role of AIPAC-subservient Democrat politicians and organizations, enabling them to pull the wool over even “progressive” eyes to whom they pose as “antiwar candidates”, facilitating the game played by closet-zionist outfits like CCDS, CPUSA, ISO, PDA, DSA, USLAW, NAACP, UFPJ, DFA/Sacramento for Democracy et al.

    The PSL view, which as far as I know is also that of Geo. Habash & Co, seems to be that “Israel” is no more than another US puppet carrying out orders issued from the Imperial Center in WashDC, and that The Lobby’s influence on the direction of US policy decisions is so minimal it can be safely ignored. And so can all discussion of it, whether by Liberals like W/M & Norman Finkelstein, or by avowed anti-Imperialists like Petras, Blankfort, Brenner, Schoenman, Hatem Bazian et al.

    So: is this just one more example of “Marxist” dogmas learned by rote & mechanically applied, or is there some other reason they resist putting a spotlight on the gargantuan anomaly in the actually existing capitalist system, to wit The Lobby & the filthy rich Jewish Establishment?

    How can such intelligent, erudite people manage not to notice this 500lb. gorilla in the livingroom? Gotta admit: I’m stumped.

    Could they be suffering from JUMPRS? Jewish Upwardly-Mobile Professional Radical Syndrome?. Chronic symptoms: sufferers loudly/repeatedly denounce Big Capitalist Bourgeois Plutocrats as The Class Enemy — UNLESS said BCBP’s happen to be Jewish…

    Or is there an entirely different explanation? How would I know, I’m not a mind reader. But there has to be a reason.

    Meanwhile, let me go see if PSL has updated its take on conditions in the “Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo”; last time I checked they were still declaiming “We Must Defend Socialist China” — LOL:))) /////////
    Oct 19 2007
    Dan Elliott, Sactomato ///

    ( PS “for your reference” ? piece does contain some good pts. –de):
    http://www.pslweb.org/ News and Analysis: “For Palestinians, resistance is a matter of survival” Tues, Oct 2, 2007 By Saul Kanowitz SNIP