Imperialism: The Hegemony of the Military-Industrial Complex

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, prominent academics, most notably Francis Fukuyama, hailed the so-called “end of history,” touting the victory of democratic capitalism over communism. The United States emerged as the “victor” and assumed global hegemony, achieving full power in a unipolar world through diplomatic, military and market control. In the years following the end of State Socialism in the Eastern bloc, the already growing and rapidly developing financial system spread throughout the world, increasing the demand for new markets and raw materials. The new systems challenged the economic structures of traditionally social democratic and socialist states like those of Western Europe, which had stabilized their socio-economic structures following the end of the Second World War.

The financial euphoria of the 1990’s culminated with the new millennium, which hailed the capitalist system as one of the crowning achievements of human ingenuity. However, the true nature of capitalism and its inherent contradictions were disclosed again in 2008 when the market collapse caused worldwide recession. To divert attention from the inherent inequality of the economic system, the threat of terrorist attack, and the fear of the “Other,” the United States catapulted into a global war on terror before the manifestation of the economic collapse. In an effort to downplay the economic catastrophe, the United States continues to pursue supposed enemies around the world, using fear as a means of control.

Lenin made the observation in his classic work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism that “the non-economic superstructure which grows up on the basis of finance capital, its politics and its ideology, stimulates the striving for colonial conquest.” Financial capitalism is the foundation by which politico-ideological structures promulgate a supposed “need,” resulting in rapid territorial expansion. The words of Lenin, written almost a century ago, echo the timeless truth inherent to the structure of imperialism.

What Lenin recognizes is a fundamental unity that exists within imperialism. Political, ideological and economic structures work in tandem to the mutual benefit of all imperial institutions at the expense of weaker nations. What we are dealing with is a system that perpetuates its existence through market growth in the form of financial capitalism, the bourgeois mass media, transnational and multinational conglomerates, and the maximalist tactics of the state, to include its ultimate power, war.

The system ensures its existence by holding sway over public opinion in what Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky refer to as “manufactured consent.” A powerful system of propaganda and constructed information that manipulates the way the general population perceives, for example, news, issues and policies. Manufactured Consent creates new markets through the use of its coercive powers by furthering its ideological aims. Once accomplished, the economic and political power of the state provide the rulers and elites carte blanche to pursue an imperialist “grand strategy” through the use of their most powerful weapon: the military.

It is important to recognize that the United States grew to its global prominence by way of imperialism. At home, the United States engaged in a perpetual war with the Native Americans, while abroad, the targets included Mexico, Spain, Cuba, and the Philippines. The advent of mechanized war and complex global financial markets in the 20th century furthered the United States’ development of complex systems to combat enemies at home and abroad.

The classic speech by Republican President and former General Dwight D. Eisenhower reaffirmed the necessity to be constantly prepared for war, but warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex (MIC) since its implications were unknown. In line with this, President Eisenhower expressed grave concern over the unwarranted influence and power of the MIC within democratic governance that could shift the balance of power and endanger freedom and liberty.

The U.S. MIC is by far the most advanced military system in existence. Combining the ruthless efficiency of a modern fighting force and the advanced industries of late capitalism, it creates a “shock and awe” of power and authority that it projects throughout the world.

The U.S. spent over $600 billion dollars on defense in 2012, outspending the next 10 nations combined. War is a profitable venture. With so much money at stake, the defense industry has a skilled lobbying group that ensures big payouts to industries that deliver the most advanced weapons and services to the Armed Forces. Additionally, the US Military has moved away from using soldiers for support services, relying instead on contractors to meet some of its basic needs, thus privatizing the military. In order to justify expanding the power of the war machine, the need for conflict is necessary.

The whole system functions in a cycle of producing more armaments, thereby further necessitating the need for conflict. The mainstreaming of the cycle of violence thereby forms the basis for the imperialist grand strategy and the dominance of the military-industrial complex. The use of Hollywood by the Pentagon as method for creating broad support for military action is also a unique feature of U.S. propaganda. By helping to provide necessary aid and advice for films, the political leadership shapes public opinion with films like Transformers, Act of Valor, and Zero Dark Thirty. Thus, the MIC influences public opinion, shaping ideas from gun rights at home to military intervention abroad.

The incessant drum beat of war has propelled the United States into armed action in over 60 countries in the 20th century alone. Additionally, the United States supplies aid and armaments to nations around the globe to continue proxy conflicts ensuring the defeat of those who would oppose the “empire” while securing new markets for goods. The increasing war powers of the executive branch are condemned domestically and by foreign nations, organizations and world public opinion.

The Bush Doctrine solidified US policy of pre-emption and prevention, striking “perceived threats” to the U.S. and its interests worldwide. The updated National Security Strategy of 2010 also notes that the United States reserves the right to “act unilaterally” to defend itself and its interests, thereby alienating the nation, severing diplomatic ties and acting counter to agreed upon international standards. This is truer today as the assassination campaign by the United States using drones blatantly disregards international law and protocol, creating a new weapon in the nation’s role for dominance and hegemony.

The most disturbing characteristic of the post-Cold War period is the fact that the periphery is still, twenty years later, mired in perpetual war and increasingly impoverished. The nations that have not industrialized rapidly are being exploited by industrialized nation, supplying raw materials including entire sections of land bought for and paid by foreign conglomerates. This economic colonialism, is destroying the local economies and indigenous capabilities of many, and is thus a powerful feature of modern imperialism. The incessant demand by large capitalist industries necessitates the exploitation of natural resources to include minerals and fossil fuels at the expense of local populations. The needs of the market increase the conflicts in the periphery, leading to systemic sexual violence, human trafficking, and child soldiers. Lucrative business contracts with warlords and dictators have in effect financed the systemic violence and ongoing conflicts destroying these nations.

This increasing inequality between the elites and the poor- and working-classes, whose ranks are growing more impoverished daily, is alarming. Chris Hedges pointed at this during the recent outbreak of violence between Gaza and Israel saying that the conflict is a “window [of] our coming dystopia,” noting that the elite want to “make Gazans of us all.” Gaza and Palestine are the largest open aired prisons, a sentiment echoed by activists like Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis. The U.S. continues arming its allies and puppet regimes at the expense of local populations struggling for greater justice, freedom and self-determination.

While the United States continues to battle competing nations and ideologies to maintain hegemony, one thing is certain, the military-industrial complex will continue perpetuating violence to further feed its insatiable appetite for capital. The propaganda machine at home and abroad will quell public dissent and in effect stop the opposition from actualizing change.

The economic crisis, fueled by the speculation of major banks and financial institutions, led to record profits at the expense of billions across the globe. The spiral of violence perpetuated by the elite rulers of the modern “empire” only supports Lenin’s thesis on imperialism. The growing inequality around the world, culminating in massive protests, austerity and violence will only result in further crisis. The accumulation of blood-soaked wealth by the imperialist powers cannot continue unabated. The need for broad-based movements of solidarity and resistance is an existential imperative if humans are to survive on this planet and build a better world for generations to come.

Christopher Helali is a labor activist and member of the Industrial Workers of the World. Read other articles by Christopher.