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Disarming Empire

By Pawel Wargan 



The Israeli genocide in Gaza is not the first convulsion of the fading unipolar era—nor will it be its last. Tectonic movements not seen since the last great wave of decolonization are underway. The Western world, sustained for centuries by its capacity to rob humanity at the barrel of a gun, is losing its grip. As the forces rising against it grow in confidence, empire grows belligerent. We find ourselves in a moment of forking possibilities. Will the fascist violence unleashed against the Palestinian people today stand as a dark portent of the violence of Western imperialism towards all the world’s workers and oppressed peoples tomorrow? Will people and planet expire in the final, desperate wave of exterministic violence unleashed by a capitalist order in decay? Or will this moment, so pregnant with clarity and resistance, generate the movement towards imperialism’s demise?


In 1887, Friedrich Engels found himself tormented by similar premonitions. Humanity was edging towards a “world war […] of an extent and violence hitherto unimagined,” he wrote. This new war would usher in:


"famine, disease, the universal lapse into barbarism, both of the armies and the people, in the wake of acute misery; irretrievable dislocation of our artificial system of trade, industry and credit, ending in universal bankruptcy; collapse of the old states and their conventional political wisdom to the point where crowns will roll into the gutters by the dozen and no one will be around to pick them up; the absolute impossibility of foreseeing how it will all end and who will emerge as victor from the battle." [1]

Although Engels believed that this war would bring about the conditions for the victory of the working class, his message was not optimistic. The new technologies of war so mercilessly tested in the colonies would, he predicted, soon be seen across the capitalist world. These armaments would be aimed at the stirrings of revolution sweeping across Europe. In the face of the military’s new explosive power, the tactics of the militant proletarian movement would be rendered obsolete. What good is a barricade against an artillery shell, capable of tearing human bodies apart? Engels’ answer to this looming threat was to advance a novel demand for the rising working class movement: disarmament. 


Engels would not live to see the First World War, the brutality of which exceeded even his own dark predictions. But the agenda of disarmament persisted, with a budding new socialist republic picking up the mantle. In December 1922, the Amsterdam Trade Union International convened The Hague Peace Conference, inviting all forces “interested in the maintenance of peace” [2] to take part. Among the invitees were the trade unions of Russia. They dispatched the young Bolshevik Karol Radek to represent the October Revolution. 


Radek reminded the workers of Europe of the great cost they had borne in the war, having bled out in their millions “for home and country.” He implored them to build peace by breaking with the bourgeois architects of that violence. “You proletarians of the capitalist countries, you have no fatherland to defend,” he said. “You must first conquer the land of your fathers.” The task was pressing: 


"[If] the working class does not rise before the cannon are mounted, it is much less likely to rise after martial law has been proclaimed, after all the demons of nationalism have been let loose, and the workers bound hand and foot." [3]

On behalf of the nascent Soviet Union, itself embattled by a multi-frontal imperialist assault, Karol Radek put forward a 14-point resolution. Recognizing that “the abolition of war is only possible with the abolition of the capitalist system,” the resolution called for the total disarmament of all “White Guard” organizations, including the fascists, and the evacuation of all foreign bases from Europe and from the colonies. It called on anti-war forces to organize in committees, bridging differences among them, but delineating their separation from the bourgeois imperialists. It called for the launch of an international “propaganda week […] against imperialism, against the dictatorship of capital, and for the placing of power in the hands of the workers.” [4]


The Soviet delegation’s proposed resolution was rejected—a dark sign of things to come. But it remains salient for the questions that it poses: When must we begin organizing for peace? How do we organize? And what is the content of the peace that we are seeking? Today, humanity finds itself confronting horrors far beyond Engels’ and Radek’s imaginations. Having violently ended tens of millions of lives, imperialism now strikes at the very conditions of our survival. The planet stands at the brink of irreversible ecological change—driven predominantly by a handful of imperialist states [5]—and the threat of nuclear extermination hangs over our societies amid a New Cold War that has already claimed tens of thousands of lives on the battlefield. In this context, what is the genocide in Gaza but a warning against our resistance to imperialism’s grim futurelessness? 


Here, the Western ruling classes are unmasked. In their eager support for the genocide of the Palestinian people, figures like European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen—herself the descent of wealthy slave owners and prominent Nazis—reveal a continuity in the Western colonial project. That project continues to be humanity’s great burden. Since 1960, the old colonial powers of the Global North have drained $152 trillion from the Global South through structures of unequal exchange. [6] When these parasitic relations are threatened, imperialism responds with psychotic, untrammeled violence; the kind that exterminates a quarter of the Korean population, or over a million Indonesians, or two hundred thousand Guatemalans, or half a million Iraqi children, or a Gazan child every ten minutes. The sadism and disproportionality are necessary because of imperialism’s central weakness: its inability to rule by consent. Leaps towards liberation are met with exterministic force. 


The genocide in Gaza has brought these realities into sharp focus. Indeed, the Zionist state is so central to the imperialist project that Joe Biden once quipped that, “if there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one.” [7] The existence of the Israeli state prevents regional integration and suppresses the self-determination of its neighbors—sustaining a zone of imperial extraction where states lack the power or unity to build an alternative, sovereign political project. Its importance degrades the imperialist states’ pretensions to democracy, as they violently suppress opposition and reject the growing popular consensus for a ceasefire. Ultimately, Zionist violence itself finds echoes on the streets of imperial metropoles, where the weapons tested on a caged Palestinian population disperse protestors and police minorities. This is what Aimé Césaire meant when he said that fascism is colonialism turned inwards. [8]


The mass global movement of solidarity with Palestine that erupted in recent weeks reflects a dramatic process of radicalisation and consciousness-formation. We see how readily the facade of liberalism is discarded. We see how readily the declining empire turns to fascism when threatened—that same fascism that is always deployed as the last defense against opposition to capitalist oppression and imperial domination. The historic task of our generation has become blindingly clear. To honor the Palestinian people, we must dismantle the entirety of this wretched system. Gaza’s victory must be NATO’s graveyard, and the EU’s reckoning. It must collapse the global totalitarianism of the US and never allow it to recover the prestige of its fraudulent claims to democracy. Empire must be swept away by the swelling tide of this moment. “Never again” can have no meaning other than this, because the staid logic of colonial and imperial domination—long ago rejected by humanity but sustained for decades with brute force—sits at the heart of the violence.


This requires that we transform this moment into a project of sustained resistance against US imperialism—a global intifada that brings the war to all the fronts from which it is waged. It demands that we dismantle the weapons factories. It demands that we shut down the bases. It demands that we understand the economic logic underpinning imperialism’s relentless advance. And it demands, above all, that we abandon the illusions that our aims can be achieved by collusion with the warmongers. There is no ‘lesser evil’ that can be voted into office, no reform that can sweep away this violence or mend the wounds it has inflicted. The system itself must go. Now is the time to build a global, anti-imperialist peace movement, bringing together all the nodes of resistance to the global military machine.


We confront a clear starting point. 2 December 2023 marks the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine—the United States’ declaration of dominion over the Western Hemisphere. Over the past two centuries, that doctrine has gone global. Today, the US operates a sprawling military and economic machine that spans the planet. Its hegemonic project echoes through visions of a ‘Global NATO’ that polices all imperial frontiers. Through these infrastructures, the US maintains a firm grip on the conditions of survival for nations and peoples around the world, even as its own population struggles to get by. As the global economic center of gravity shifts eastward, these crises manifest in increasingly extreme violence that seeks to arrest the stirrings of sovereignty everywhere. 


In this moment that is ripe with resistance, the grim anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine must become our rallying cry. Every December 2nd must become a global day of action against imperialism, uniting workers, activists, and progressive forces around the world—from Korea to Colombia, Italy to the United States—to help form, coordinate, internationalize, and radicalize campaigns, movements, and direct action groups against US imperialism and its military machine. 


As Radek warned in 1922, the cannons are now being mounted everywhere. Military spending has exceeded $2 trillion annually, with the US accounting for roughly 40% of the total. In South Korea, Japan, Guam, the Philippines, and across the Pacific region, we are witnessing a process of militarization unprecedented since the Second World War. US warships are trickling into the Mediterranean, a grim warning to those who would seek to stop the Zionist genocide in Palestine. The cannons are being mounted, and the message is clear. No human cost is too great in the preservation of the imperial project. No law will be unbent. No human right will be held sacrosanct. The cannons are being mounted, and we must disarm them before they bury us in their unrelenting warpath. Liberation from all rivers to all seas—this is the historic task of our generation.


 

Pawel Wargan is an activist, researcher, and organizer. He serves as the Coordinator of the Secretariat at the Progressive International and has published in Tribune, Monthly Review, and elsewhere.

 

Endnotes

[1] Engels, F. "Introduction to Borkheim." Abstract. First published as "Introduction" in S. Borkheim, Zur Erinnerung fur die deutschen Mordspatrioten, 1806-1807, Hottingen-Zurich, 1888. Accessed online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1887/12/15.htm


[2] Brandler, H. "The Peace Conference of the Amsterdamers." International Press Correspondence 2, no. 113 (December 1922): 946-947. Accessed online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/brandler/1922/12/peace-conf.htm


[3] Radek, K. "Speech at the HaguePeace Conference." International Press Correspondence 3, no. 1 (January 1923): 4-5. Accessed online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/radek/1923/01/hague.htm


[4] Ibid.


[5] Ghosh, Jayati, Chakraborty, Shouvikand, and Debamanyu Das. "Climate Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century." Monthly Review 74, no. 3 (July-August 2022).


[6] Hickel, Jason, Sullivan, Dylan, and Huzaifa Zoomkawala. "Plunder in the Post-Colonial Era: Quantifying Drain from the Global South Through Unequal Exchange, 1960–2018." New Political Economy 26, no. 6 (2021) 1030-1047.


[7] Dovere, Edwars-Isaac. "Biden: Always Israel’s friend." Politico. Accessed onlione at https://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/joe-biden-israel-097586


[8] Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press (2001), 36-37.

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