Checkbook Imperialism

by Joe Davison


November 15, 2004   


(Swans - November 15, 2004)   The US occupation of Iraq has spawned the reemergence of the word "imperialism" into the lexicon of everyday language, after an absence of five decades stretching back to the end of Second World War. US military adventures since then -- particularly in Korea, Vietnam and Central America -- were dressed up as defensive operations against the spread and threat posed by Communism and all its evil manifestations: namely national liberation, self-determination, and social and economic justice.

The truth is, however, that imperialism has remained as constant and ever present as the changing of the seasons. The only thing which has changed is its packaging, which could be described as old wine in a new bottle.

The US ruling class emerged from the Second World War as the new imperial masters of the world. As such, they quickly recognized that the plethora of national liberation movements which had sprung up across the globe after the war, determined to shake off the yoke of colonialism, demanded new methods of colonization than the ones which had been utilized previously by the European powers.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund's stated aim, when formed by a small coterie of international financiers and bankers (mainly British and American, with the British by now accepting their role as junior partners in the new order of things) at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944, was to rebuild Europe and stabilize the world's financial markets after the turmoil of the Second World War.

In line with those aims, the newly independent former colonies in the Third World, which had gradually won their freedom, had to be brought to heel and controlled, for they possessed the natural and human resources necessary for expansion under this new global Empire.

After suffering the ravages of colonialism, and after the hard struggle for liberation, nations of the African continent in particular were left with devastated, moribund economies which placed them at the mercy of vultures in the shape of the big international banks and financial institutions.

These banks and institutions loaned enormous sums at predatory interest rates, making it impossible for the Third World to rebuild, develop and repay their loans at the same time.

It had to be one or the other.

Things reached a crisis in the mid 1980s when, to stave off the prospect of a world depression due to the bad debts incurred by Third World countries, the IMF and WB stepped in and took over responsibility for those debts from the big private banks like Barclays, Credit Lyons, Chase Manhattan, etc., which were threatened with collapse.

It was a move which put the IMF and WB into an unassailable position of power which they have never relinquished since.

Since that time nearly 70 countries in the world have been forced to adopt Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) designed and developed by the IMF and WB. These SAPs are intended to restructure the economies of said nations in order to best meet the repayment needs of aid or loans provided by the First World, represented by the IMF and WB.

This requires them to impose severe austerity programs on their already beleaguered economies, which translates into the eradication of much-needed public spending on social programs in health, education, transport, agriculture, and so on.

These austerity programs pave the way for transnational corporations, always looking to reduce production costs, to come in and set up their manufacturing operations, driving people, including children in many cases, from the land into factories, where they are forced to labor long hours under horrendous conditions for starvation wages.

This serves two purposes: it destroys the agro-economies of the Third World, which are now required to import their food from the First World, and ensures the outward flow of wealth to First World transnational corporations and their international investors.

The case of Nigeria is typical. Today, life expectancy in this oil-rich, aid-dependent nation is 47 years for males and 52 years for females. Of a population of 120 million, 89 million people live on less than a dollar a day, this despite the fact that the Niger Delta region contains large deposits of oil.

One IMF loan of $12 billion has become a continuous unpaid debt of $27 billion.

The people of Nigeria do not see a dollar of the wealth produced by their oil, which flows unchecked out of their country into the pockets of a consortium of British, Dutch and US oil companies. Theirs are lives reduced to a daily struggle for survival.

Six million children under the age of 5 die each year in the Third World as a whole due to hunger and preventable disease.

This year-by-year genocide against the children of the poor is the net result of the IMF and World Bank's rape and theft of the Third World's natural and human resources on behalf of the ruling classes in the First World.

It is imperialism by any other name, soft imperialism which arrives disguised as aid but with its real aim indistinguishable to that of the hard imperialism we see now in Iraq with military occupation.

Both are embarked upon in order to feed the insatiable appetite of the free market capitalist powers.

Both spell misery and death for millions.

Both constitute an evil which is inimical to human progress.

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Iraq on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Joe Davison, originally from Scotland, where he was a member of the Scottish Socialist Party, has lived in the U.S. for 5 years. He continues to be active in left wing politics. He currently is a member of the IRSM (Irish Republican Socialist Movement), and has been an organiser in the anti-war movement. Davison wrote this piece struck by the fact that everything happening today in Iraq and around the world, namely the march of one power as it attempts to dominate the globe culturally, economically, politically, and militarily, finds its antecedent in history.

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Published November 15, 2004
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