dr.woooo on Tue, 18 Mar 2003 09:08:37 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The American Empire and the Emergence of a Global Ruling by Joe R. Golowka

The American Empire and the Emergence of a Global Ruling 

by Joe R. Golowka 

Traditionally, the radical left has viewed international relations in 
the past 50 years through a paradigm of the American empire. 
The United States is viewed as the latest and most powerful 
imperialist power, dominating over the rest of the globe. During 
the cold war this was sometimes viewed as a dual-empire 
scenario; with the American empire competing with the Soviet 
empire. An alternative view has been put forth in recent years, 
which argues that there are no more empires but that the world 
is instead ruled by a global ruling class that emerged in the 
1970s. The United States is viewed not as an empire in its own 
right, but as the chief enforcer of the will of the global ruling 
class. Neither theory is entirely correct. We are in the middle of a 
transition from the American empire to the rule of a global ruling 
class that has emerged from within the American empire.

In their book Empire Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri put forth a 
theory that essentially argues that a global ruling class has 
evolved over the past half-century, which now rules the globe. 
Their basic hypothesis is that sovereignty has taken a new form, 
composed of a series of national and supranational organisms 
united under a single logic of rule. This new global form of 
sovereignty is what we call Empire.  In contrast to imperialism, 
Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not 
rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is ... decentered and 

This is different from the traditional and more common view 
which "locate[s] the ultimate authority that rules over the 
processes of globalization and the new world order in the United 
States." Capitalism no longer has a center but is a truly global 
phenomenon. They believe "that a new imperial form of 
sovereignty has emerged  The United States does not, and 
indeed no nation-state can today, form the center of an 
imperialist project. Imperialism is over" (emphasis in original). 
The United States is not an empire, but merely the chief enforcer 
of the transnational ruling class.

In their article "Towards a Global Ruling Class" William I. 
Robinson and Jerry Harris put forth a similar theory. They argue 
that "a transnational capitalist class (TCC) has emerged as that 
segment of the world bourgeois that represents transnational 
capital, the owners of the leading worldwide means of 
production as embodied in the transnational corporations and 
private financial institutions.  this TCC is a global ruling class. 
This is basically a variant of the same theory later put forth by 
Hardt & Negri in Empire, although they manage to express it 
without most of the difficult to understand academic language 
used by Hardt & Negri.

The idea that international capitalism might eventually evolve a 
global ruling class is not a new one. A hundred years ago 
Alexander Berkman speculated that, "when each country will 
have developed its own industries  then some powerful 
capitalistic group will become the international trust of the whole 
world. In the conclusion of his book The Grand Chessboard 
Zbigniew Brzezinski discusses the same possibility:

In the long run, global politics are bound to become increasingly 
uncongenial to the concentration of hegemonic power in the 
hands of a single state.  Once American leadership begins to 
fade, America's current global predominance is unlikely to be 
replicated by any single state.  In the course of the next several 
decades, a functioning structure of global cooperation, based on 
geopolitical realities, could thus emerge and gradually assume 
the mantle of the world's current "regent," which has for the time 
being assumed the burden of responsibility for world stability 
and peace. Geostrategic success in that cause would represent 
a fitting legacy of America's role as the first, only and last truly 
global superpower.

Unlike Hardt & Negri, Brzezinski is a member of the ruling class. 
He is co-founder of the Trilateral Commission and national 
security advisor under Jimmy Carter. As national security advisor 
he initiated the policy of training Islamist terrorists (which later 
included Bin Laden) to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He 
is an ardent supporter of the American Empire, which he 
explicitly identifies as an empire, unlike most of the empire's 
paid apologists (the first chapter of The Grand Chessboard is a 
historical comparison of the American empire with previous 
empires including Rome, Britain, Germany and others). His 
defense of the American Empire is that "the only real alternative 
to American global leadership in the foreseeable future is 
international anarchy." 

The Grand Chessboard is basically an analysis of geopolitics 
and strategy on the Eurasian continent. One of his main 
conclusions is that the United States must expand its influence 
in central Asia in order to continue to dominate the globe. He 
further claims that it might require a major attack on the US, 
similar to Pearl Harbor, to rally the American public around such 
a project. The Grand Chessboard was first published in 1997. 
The conquest of Afghanistan and the stationing of US troops 
throughout central Asia have now completed this goal.

Brzezinski claims that Empire will not come about for at least 
several more decades, after the American empire has fallen. 
Hardt & Negri claim that Empire already exists. It is my 
contention that they are both right (or both wrong). We are in a 
transitional period between the American empire and the reign 
of a global ruling class. Empire exists, but in embryonic form 
within the American empire.

The problem with Hardt & Negri's view is that the UN and similar 
bodies are not truly global but rather dominated by the old 
imperialist powers. The main powers have a veto over effective 
UN actions and the US has effective veto power over IMF actions. 

Every World Bank president has been a US citizen and the US 
frequently over-rides world opinion (as in the case of UN 
resolutions concerning Israel). The US government's rejection of 
the Kyoto accord not only conflicted with the interests of the 
rulers of the rest of the world and was explicitly justified by 
appealing to national interest (Bush claimed it threatened the US 
economy). Military interventions frequently take place along 
national imperialist lines and not solely to enforce the will of the 
transnational elite. A recent example of this is the Afghan war 
which, in addition to bringing with it `America first' sentiments on 
a wide scale, "turned almost instantly into a national war with the 
Afghan government (the Taliban) squarely in the bombsights 
rather then the `de centered' Al-Qaeda. At the time of writing that 
war [is] turning into yet another colonial style-occupation using a 
local government heavily dependant on imperialist  troops.

On the other hand, there is too much evidence in favor of Empire 
to dismiss the idea entirely. Although Hardt and Negri use 
relatively little empirical evidence to back up their theories (one of 
the main weaknesses of their book), Robinson & Harris present 
considerable empirical evidence to show that a global ruling 
class is coming into existence. This centers around the spread 
of Multi-National corporations, "the sharp increase in foreign 
direct investment, the proliferation of mergers and acquisitions 
across national borders, the rise of a global financial system, 
and the increased interlocking of positions within the global 
corporate structure.Today production is not organized along 
national lines but is transnational  run by multi-national 
corporations controlled by the Transnational Capitalist Class.

This can also be seen in the drift towards a tripolar global 
economy. After World War Two the US was dominant not only 
politically and militarily but also economically with 50% of the 
world's wealth. This has been changing since the mid-1970s as 
the US's percentage of the world's wealth has been slipping and 
other parts of the world rising  mostly Europe and parts of East 
Asia (Japan, South Korea, etc.). This is a symptom of the 
transition from the American empire to Empire.

The traditional view of the American empire as singularly 
dominating the rest of the world simply cannot hold up in view of 
the multilateral nature of much of the American empire. For 
example, the World Trade Organization makes decisions on the 
basis of consensus of the rulers of all participating countries. It 
has also delivered rulings against the US. Other international 
institutions are increasingly becoming independent and coming 
into conflict with the desires of the American government. In the 
process of building it's Neocolonial Empire the US has created 
a transnational elite to help run its empire. That elite controls the 
WTO and is taking over other international institutions. 

We are in a transitional stage between the American empire and 
the globalized ruling class described in Empire. This is why we 
can see characteristics of both Empire and the American empire 
in the contemporary world.

Much of contemporary international politics can be explained by 
viewing the situation as a conflict between the American empire 
and the global ruling class emerging from within it. The current 
plans on the part of the US to invade Iraq are clearly driven by the 
imperialist interests of a faction of the US ruling class. The rest 
of the world is overwhelmingly opposed to such a war and even 
the rulers of many US client states are opposed to it. Even those 
rulers who are supportive of the United States are generally quite 
reluctant about it. Fifty years ago this would not have been the 
case. When the US installed dictatorships in Latin America, 
invaded Vietnam

and performed other acts of aggression just as deplorable as 
the invasion of Iraq there was little elite opposition from within 
the American empire. The rulers of America's client states went 
along with whatever their boss wanted. Like other international 
institutions, the UN was wrapped around its finger  even 
supporting the US side in the Korean War. This is very different 
from today where the same international institutions have taken 
on a life of their own and are coming into conflict with their 
creator. This is what is happening in the current Iraq crisis  the 
transnational elite created by the American empire is coming 
into conflict with the American empire.

A substantial portion of opposition to the war is motivated by the 
fact that it does not have UN backing. In most countries 
opposition to the war would drop dramatically (often by half) if the 
UN approved it. Polls show that over 70% of Britons are opposed 
to the war but that number would drop to 40% if the UN approved 
it. Similar numbers are true for most countries. Many elite figures 
have stated that the US's violation of international law motivates 
(in part or in whole) their opposition to the war. 

In an editorial published in the New York Times Jimmy Carter 
cites the need to have "legitimate authority" (approval of the UN & 
international community) as one of several reasons to oppose 
the war. Nelson Mandela has given similar reasons for 
opposing the war but said he would support it if the UN backed 
it. Robin Cook cited the inability of Blair to gain the backing of the 
UN as his reason for resigning from his position as leader of the 
British House of Commons.

This conflict between the American empire and Empire is 
manifested not only in the conflict over Iraq but also in many 
other parts of international politics. It can be seen in the United 
States rejection of the International Criminal Court. It can be 
seen in Bush's rejection of the Kyoto accords. Most of the 
clashes over Bush's unilateral policies are examples of this 
conflict between the American empire and the rising global 
ruling class. Fifty years ago the conflicts we see now between 
the United States and the international community would not 
have happened; the countries within the US empire would 
simply have gone along with what the US wanted. There was no 
shortage of opposition from outside the American Empire  
mainly from the Soviet empire and Chinese  but the US had 
much tighter control of those regions within its empire. The 
American Empire is much larger today, covering most of the 
globe, but has less control over the regions it controls.

The comparatively extreme strategies advocated by Bush and 
his cronies (such as a military occupation of Iraq) at first appear 
to be something new; "the official emergence of the United 
States as a full-fledged global empire, seizing sole responsibility 
and authority as planetary policeman." The strategies laid out in 
"The National Security Strategy of the United States" published 
by the Bush administration are certainly a plan for empire 
building. This report lays out a newly aggressive military and 
foreign policy, embracing pre-emptive attack against perceived 
enemies. It speaks in blunt terms of what it calls "American 
internationalism," of ignoring international opinion if that suits 
U.S. interests.  In essence, it lays out a plan for permanent 
U.S. military and economic domination of every region on the 
globe, unfettered by international treaty or concern. And to make 
that plan a reality, it envisions a stark expansion of our global 
military presence. 

These strategies are actually quite old. In its younger years the 
United States frequently practiced this kind of formal 
imperialism. Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama and many other 
countries all suffered under US military occupations for years in 
the first decades of the twentieth century. These policies were 
eventually abandoned in favor of the more informal forms of 
imperialism practiced by the American Empire for the past 50 
years. The Bush administration is essentially reverting to an 
earlier form of imperialism practiced during the so-called "dollar 
diplomacy" of the late 19th and early 20th century. As the US 
loses control of its empire it must resort to increasingly unilateral 
methods in order to achieve it's goals and maintain control of its 
empire. This conflict between the American empire and the 
emerging global ruling class (reflected in the present crisis over 
Iraq) will continue to exist, on and off, until the American empire 
ceases to exist.

The completion of the transition from the American empire to 
Empire will require the creation of a transnational state to 
enforce the rule of the global ruling class. Robinson and Harris 
claim that a transnational has already been created in the form 
of elite talking shops like the WEF, but these organizations aren't 
really transnational states as they do not have their own armed 
bodies of people. Every ruling class, transnational or otherwise, 
requires its own state to enforce its will. Without a transnational 
state to enforce it's will the global ruling class would be unable 
to rule as it would be unable to maintain it's rule in the face of 
any kind of rebellion or instability. If you're going to maintain an 
Empire you can't just let pieces of it drift off. Presently the 
American empire serves this role as chief enforcer of the global 
ruling class but its structure brings it into conflict with that same 
global ruling class.

As the contradictions between Empire and the American empire 
resolve and the global ruling class fully emerges the American 
empire will dissolve and some kind of transnational state take 
its place as global enforcer. This transnational state will 
probably take the form of an international institution (like the 
WTO, EU, NAFTA, UN, etc.) with direct control over it's own 
military forces. It would use that military to act as a global cop, 
suppressing any resistance to the global ruling class and 
ensuring it can continue to rule. Nation-states would be demoted 
to local administrators and enforcers, subordinated to the rule of 
international institutions. They will probably continue to exist for 
some time after the complete emergence of Empire, as the 
division of the working class into different nationalities is far too 
helpful to the ruling class for them to give it up without a fight. 
The transnational state would be used to ensure that each 
nation-state does not get out of line, suppress any kind of 
popular rebellion, destroy non-state organizations that threaten 
the global ruling class, and generally diffuse any other situation 
that could threaten the rule of the transnational capitalist class 
(civil wars, chronic instability, etc.). 

The transnational state can be created by either giving a 
presently existing international institution control over it's own 
military forces or by creating a new institution to fulfill the role. 
The UN does not act as a transnational state because it doesn't 
have it's own military forces  it only authorizes nation-states to 
use force  and because it is incapable of deploying force rapidly 
and decisively enough to ensure Empire continues to run 
smoothly. There have already been proposals for giving 
international institutions their own militaries. There have been 
proposals in Europe to give the European Union it's own army. 
There have also been proposals for NATO to be given direct 
control over it's own military forces - a "rapid reaction" military 
intended to "fight terrorism" globally. Because terrorism is such 
an amorphous word this could be used to justify any kind of 
military intervention and in practice would just enforce the will of 
the transnational capitalist class.

The complete transition from American empire to Empire will 
obviously require the elimination of the American empire in favor 
of the unfettered rule of the global ruling class. The end of the 
American empire could come about either gradually or rapidly. 
The US could theoretically decline gradually, slowly losing its 
military domination to a newborn transnational state until it 
becomes just another nation-state. Alternatively, the 
transnational capitalist class could decide to end the American 
empire rapidly (perhaps as a result of the American empire's 
refusal to gently die) through some kind of global revolt or 
revolution. This would probably involve the rapid expulsion of US 
forces from around the globe, mass rebellion of US client states 
(and the overthrow of loyal ones), boycotts of American goods, 
culture icons, formation of diplomatic alliances against US 
power, and other anti-American acts which would result in the 
destruction of the American empire.The contradictions between 
the American empire and the emerging global ruling class open 
up new opportunities for anti-authoritarian revolutionaries. The 
transition from American empire to Empire will probably involve a 
good deal of instability as institutions are altered, destroyed and 
created which we can take advantage of.

It is to our advantage if the American empire falls rapidly rather 
then gradually. If the empire falls before the formation of a 
transnational state, or when it is still new and weak, then it 
becomes much easier to overthrow capitalism. Without a 
transnational state to enforce the rule of the global ruling class 
global capitalism will become unstable and relatively easy to 
topple. The suppression of revolutions in one part of the world 
would become extremely difficult and they can potentially spread 

The fall of the American empire can be accelerated by pressure 
from below. Many members of the transnational elite will be 
reluctant to rebel against the US, especially before the 
establishment of a transnational state (since, without one, the 
end of the American empire would seriously jeopardize their own 
positions). If the danger of a rebellion from below is equal to or 
greater then the danger of defying the US then many will choose 
to rebel prematurely. Those outside the US should pursue a 
strategy of using their government's support for the US's latest 
imperialist adventure (war in Iraq or whatever) to delegitimize 
that state and push for it's overthrow. In countries where the 
majority of the population opposes the Iraq war but the 
government supports it this should be used to delegitimize that 
state (and representative democracy in general) and build a 
revolutionary movement against it. If the government does not 
support it then that state should be pressured to expel all US 
bases & military forces from its territory and take a generally 
uncooperative stance against the US. The system of US foreign 
bases is essential to the operation of US imperialism; its 
destruction is a key element in the fall of the American empire.

Delaying the formation of a transnational state is also important. 
There are already moves to establish one by giving NATO its 
own `rapid reaction' military; we should do everything in our 
power to stop or delay this. The pressure to form a transnational 
state will probably accelerate during the last days of the 
American empire and immediately after its fall (if a transnational 
state has not already been set up by then) as the global ruling 
class will increasingly feel the need for one. We should 
encourage the formation of neighborhood assemblies and the 
expropriation of the means of production; bringing down 
capitalism and the state. If we can bring about the fall of the 
American empire prior to the formation of a transnational state 
this will become much easier since there will be no 
transnational enforcer to suppress such rebellions. The 
formation of popular assemblies has already started in 
Argentina and Algeria, a good sign.

The transition from American empire to Empire presents an 
important opportunity to anti-authoritarian revolutionaries. The 
prospects for an international anarchist revolution in the next 
several decades are probably greater then they have been for 
seventy years. The popular rebellions happening right now in 
Argentina and Algeria may well be the start of a global anarchist 
revolution. If we play our cards right we could bring capitalism 
tumbling down and initiate the first global revolution in history.


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