The purpose of this essay is to show that as capitalism has evolved from the early stages of small-scale manufacturing to the current stage of the dominance of finance capital, its arena of expropriation has, accordingly, expanded from the early colonial/imperial conquests abroad to today’s universal plutocratic dispossession worldwide.
Specifically, it aims to expose the class nature of imperialism independent of nationality and/or geography, and to indicate how this profit-driven characteristic of capitalism is at the root of today’s global austerity economics; an ominous development that dispossesses not only defenseless peoples abroad, but also the overwhelming majority of the people at home—a socio-economic plague that can be called the “new plutocratic imperialism,” or “imperialism by dispossession”.
This new imperialism differs from the old, classical imperialism in some ways. First, contrary to the old pattern of colonial/imperial conquests and plunders, which often proved quite lucrative to the imperium, war and military operations under the new plutocratic imperialism are not even cost efficient on purely economic grounds, that is, on grounds of national interests.
While immoral, external military operations of past empires often proved profitable and, therefore, justifiable on national economic grounds. Military actions abroad usually brought economic benefits not only to the imperial ruling classes and war profiteers, but also through “trickle-down” effects to their citizens. Thus, for example, imperialism paid significant dividends to Britain, France, the Dutch, and other European powers of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. As the imperial economic gains helped develop their economies, they also helped improve the living conditions of their working people and elevate the standards of living of their citizen.
This pattern of economic gains flowing from imperial military operations, however, seems to have somewhat changed in the context of the recent western imperial wars of choice. Moralities aside, western military expeditions and operations of late are not justifiable even on economic grounds. Indeed, escalating western military adventures and aggressions have become ever more wasteful, cost-inefficient, and burdensome to the overwhelming majority of global citizens. This should not come as a surprise in light of the fact that imperialist wars and military adventures are often prompted not so much by national interests as they are by special interests.
Recent western policies of military aggression are increasingly driven not as much by a desire to expand the empire’s wealth beyond the existing levels, as did the imperial/colonial powers of the past, but by a desire to appropriate the lion’s share of the existing resources for the military-industrial-security-intelligence establishment. This pattern of universal or generalised expropriation can safely be called dual imperialism because not only does it exploit the conquered and the occupied abroad but also the overwhelming majority of western citizens and their resources at home.
Second, beneficiaries of war and military aggressions under the new imperialism or plutocratic establishment tend to systematically invent or manufacture, if necessary “threats to international security” in order to justify continued expansion of military spending. Enlargement of military spending during the Cold War era was not a difficult act to perform as the explanation—the “communist threat”—seemed to conveniently lie at hand. Justification of increased military spending in the post-Cold War period, however, has required the military-industrial-security-intelligence interests to be more creative in concocting “new sources of danger to western interests.” This perennial need for international conflicts and/or external enemies is what makes the new, post-Cold War imperialism more dangerous than the imperialist powers of the past ages.
War profiteering is, of course, not new, nor are bureaucratic tendencies in the ranks of military hierarchies to build parasitic, ceremonial military empires. By themselves, such characteristics are not what make the western military-industrial-security-intelligence complex more dangerous than the military powers of the past. What makes it more dangerous is the “industrial” part of the complex: the extent to which war has become big business.
In contrast to the West’s arms industry, arms industries of the past empires were often owned and operated by imperial governments, not by profit-driven private corporations. Consequently, as a rule, arms production was dictated by war requirements, not by market or profit imperatives of arms manufacturers. As far as arms industry is concerned, instigation of international conflicts, or invention of “threats to international security,” is a lucrative proposition that would increase both
This means that, contrary to the model of past empires, mere perception of external threats is not sufficient for the accumulation of the fortunes of the Western military-industrial-security-intelligence empire.
Actual, shooting wars, preferably manageable or controllable at the local of regional levels, are needed not only for the expansion but, indeed, for the survival of this empire. Arms industries need occasional wars not only to draw down their stockpiles of armaments, and make room for more production, but also to display what Prof Hossein calls the “wonders” of what they produce: the “shock and awe”-inducing properties of their products, or the “laser-guided, surgical operations” of their smart weapons. In the era of tight and contested budget allocations, arms producers need such “displays of efficiency” to prove that they do not waste tax payers’ money.
Such maneuvers are certain to strengthen the arguments of militarist politicians against those few who resist huge military appropriations. Sadly, however, the incentive for the military industry to prove its efficiency is often measured, though not acknowledged, in terms of actual or potential death and destruction.
Furthermore other varieties of relatively newer instruments are now utilised to bring about the expropriation of the masses in favour of the plutocratic elites. These include privatisation and commodification of public domain, public infrastructures and public services; neoliberal fiscal policies that tend to lower tax obligations of the oligarchic interests by cutting social spending; continued escalation of military spending, which tends to disproportionately benefit the stock and/or stakeholders of the military-industrial-security-intelligence spending; manipulation or utilisation of financial crises to rescue, or bail out, the so-called “too big to fail” financial players; Instead of regulating or containing the disruptive speculative activities of the financial sector, monetary policy makers, spearheaded by central banks, have in recent years been actively promoting asset-price bubbles, in effect, further exacerbating inequality. This shows how the proxies of the financial oligarchy, ensconced at the helm of central banks and their shareholders (commercial banks), serve as agents of subtlely funnelling economic resources from the public to the financial oligarchy.
These newer means of worldwide dispossession also include “soft-power” instruments such as colour-coded revolutions, “democratic” coup d’états, manufactured civil wars, orchestrated and/or money-driven elections (peddled as manifestations of democracy), economic sanctions, and the like. Perhaps more importantly, they also include powerful financial institutions and think tanks such as the WTO, IMF, central banks, and credit rating agencies like Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Group. These guardian-angels of global plutocracy can change “unaccommodating,” or “unfriendly,” regimes not only in the less developed countries but also in the core capitalist countries.
This is how during the ongoing financial turbulence of recent years a number of governments have been changed in Europe such as Greece and Italy. This also explains the failure or defeat of socialist and/or social-democratic experiments in countries such as the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, Brazil, Cuba, and many countries in Europe.
Threatened by the fear of sanctions, capital flight, economic isolation, or regime change, most of these countries have been forced to abandon their humane economic models of the immediate post-WW II period and adopt the cruel austerity economics of neoliberalism profitable to the plutocratic establishment.