Founding Conference of the

Fourth International

1938


Thesis On the World Role of
American Imperialism

The main spheres of activity of American imperialism are divided among the continents of Europe, Asia and Latin America, in each of which it pursues a different course in conformity with its general interests and adjusted to the concrete circumstances in which it has developed in relation to other powers.

In Latin America, although confronted with a powerful rival in the form of Great Britain and to a lesser but increasing extent of Japan and Germany, the United States remains the dominant imperialist force. The United States appeared on the scene at a later date than did such countries as Spain, Portugal, Germany and England, but by the turn of the century it was already on its way to outstrip its rivals. Its rapid industrial and financial development, the preoccupation of the European powers during the World War and the transformation of the United States into the world’s creditor during that period, facilitated its rise to the top and enabled it to establish its imperialist hegemony over most of the countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean Sea. It proclaimed its intention of maintaining this hegemony against encroachments by European and Japanese imperialism. The political form of this proclamation is the Monroe Doctrine which, particularly since the unfolding of a clear cut imperialist policy at the end of the 19th century, has been uniformly interpreted by all the Washington administrations as the right of American imperialism to the dominant position in the Latin American countries, preliminary to the conquest of the position as their exclusive exploiter. In the Central American Caribbean and tipper South American countries in particular this has signified the reduction of the peoples to the status of oppressed colonies or half colonies of Yankee imperialism and the imposition, often by the most naked use of force, of governments which are the merest puppets in the hands of Wall Street, backed by the diplomatic and direct military intervention of the United States government’. In order to achieve the “closed door” in Latin America closed, that is, to all rivals and open only to the United States "democratic” Yankee imperialism has been propped up in the Latin American countries by the most autocratic “native” military dictatorships which have, in turn, served to prop up the imperialist structure and to guarantee an undisturbed flow, of super profits to the Northern colossus. The most active and willing supporter of military dictatorships in the Latin American countries is American imperialism, the bulk of whose billions of dollars invested abroad is confined to the Western Hemisphere. The real character of “democratic” American capitalism is best revealed by the tyrannical dictatorships in the Latin American countries with which its fortunes and policies are inextricably bound up and without which its days of imperialist sway in the Western Hemisphere are numbered. The bloodthirsty despots under whose oppressive rule the millions of workers and peasants of Latin America stiffer, the Vargases and Batistas, are at bottom nothing but the political tools of the “democratic” United States imperialists.

In countries like Puerto Rico, American imperialism, through its Governor Winship, directly and ruthlessly frames up and suppresses the nationalist movement’ The rising national bourgeoisie in many of the Latin American countries, seeking a greater share in the booty and even striving for an increased measure of independence i.e., towards the dominant position in the exploitation of its own country—does, it is true, try to utilize the rivalries and conflicts of the foreign imperialists to this end’ But its general weakness and its belated appearance prevent it from attaining a higher level of development than that of serving one imperialist master as against another. It cannot launch a serious struggle against all imperialist domination and for genuine national independence for fear of unleashing a mass movement of the toilers of the country which would, in turn, threaten its own social existence, the recent example of Vargas, who attempts to utilize the rivalry between the United States and Germany but at the same time maintains the most savage dictatorship over the popular masses, is a case in point.

The Roosevelt administration, despite all its bland pretensions, has made no real alteration in the imperialist tradition of its predecessors. It has emphatically reiterated the vicious Monroe Doctrine. It has confirmed its monopolistic claims over Latin America at the Buenos Aires Conferences; it has given the sanctification of its approval to the unspeakable regime’s of Vargas and Batista; its demand for a bigger navy to police not only the Pacific but also the Atlantic is an earnest of its determination to wield the armed force of the United States in defense of its imperialist might in the Southern part of the hemisphere. Under Roosevelt, the policy of the iron fist in Latin America is shielded in the velvet glove of demagogic pretensions of friendship and ’’democracy,’’. The ’’good neighbor” policy is nothing but the attempt to unify the Western Hemisphere under the hegemony of Washington, as a solid bloc wielded by the latter in its drive to close the door of the two American continents to all the foreign imperialist powers except itself. This policy is materially supplemented by the favorable trade agreements which the United States seeks to conclude with the Latin American countries in the hope of systematically edging its rivals out of the market. The decisive role which foreign trade plays in the economic life of the United States impels the latter toward ever more determined efforts to exclude all competitors from the Latin American market, by a combination of cheap production, diplomacy, chicane and when need be, of force. This is especially true at the present moment with regard to Germany and Japan. Where as the basic imperialist conflict in Latin America (particularly in such countries as Mexico and the Argentine) remains that of England and the United States, it is expressed economically above all in the field of investment.

In the field of foreign trade, however, the principal immediate rival of the United States is Germany and, increasingly, Japan, because of their respective world positions and interests, the United States and Great Britain can, therefore, collaborate for the time being, in opposition to the encroachments of Germany and Japan in Latin America, but only on the condition that this collaboration occurs under the hegemony of Yankee imperialism for which the latter compensates in part by a support of British imperialism on the European continent. At the same time, the policy of American imperialism will necessarily increase the revolutionary resistance of the Latin American peoples whom it must exploit with growing intensity. This resistance, in turn, will encounter the fiercest reaction and attempts at suppression by the United States which will be revealed ever more plainly as the gendarme of foreign imperialist exploitation and a prop to the native dictatorships, by its very position, therefore, Wall Street’s Washington will play an increasingly reactionary role in the Latin American countries, thus the United States remains the predominant and aggressive master of Latin America, ready to protect its power with arms in hand against any serious assault by its imperialist rivals or against any attempt by the peoples of Latin America to liberate themselves from its exploitive rule.

American policy in Europe has differed from its direct and open intervention in Latin America in several respects, dictated essentially by the fact that the United States appeared as a decisive factor in the Old World at a later stage, namely, in the last generation. Its intervention has passed through three stages. In the first, it appeared as a brutal aggressor in defense of the vast financial interests acquired by the American ruling class in the outcome of the war, and by virtue of its tremendous industrial financial military power, it contributed the decisive force required by the Allies for the crushing and prostrating of the Central Powers, especially Germany.

While England, France, Belgium, and Italy were, consequently, able to impose the degrading Versailles Peace Treaty upon Germany, and to establish the League as a policeman to enforce its provisions, which included the spoilation of the former German colonies and the exacting of enormous tributes from Germany itself, the real victor in the war proved to be the United States, which became the main political and financial center of the world and was in a position to exact an even greater tribute from the Versailles victors in the form of war debt payments.

In the second stage, inaugurated by the defeat of the German proletariat at the end of 1923, the United States appeared at once as the “pacifier” of Europe and as the greatest counterrevolutionary force. In its role of pacifier of Europe, it revived the rule of capitalism at its weakest point in Germany by feeding it with the Dawes Young millions, 143 helped to install the regime of democratic illusion in Germany, France, and England, and put forth its demands for the slowing down of the armaments race expenditures which interfered with the payment of the war debts to Wall Street.

The demand for European “disarmament” (especially in the light of the American industrial superiority which permits it to outstrip any nation in armaments at short notice), was the pacifistic guise in which American imperialism exerted its pressure in the direction of reducing the already diminishing share of the world market then at the disposal of its European competitors. In the present, last stage of its intervention, it has been demonstrated that far from eliminating or even moderating the conflicts among the European powers themselves, the growing needs of American imperialism itself have resulted in an enormous aggravation of the inner European conflicts of the various powers. All of them are being driven irresistibly towards a new world war, some in defense of their present share of the rations to which America’s power has reduced Europe, others in struggle for such an increase in their share as will contribute substantially towards resolving their internal contradictions.

Where formerly the rise of American imperialism in Europe had the effect of “pacifying” the continent, it now has objectively the effect of hastening a new world war, heralded by the breathtaking armaments race, by the rape of Ethiopia, by the civil war in Spain, by the Japanese invasion of China a new world war which it will be impossible to confine to Europe and into which every important country on the face of the earth will inexorably be drawn. An understanding of the reality of America’s relationship to Europe’s development is enough to refute the pretensions of United States imperialism to a messianic mission as the defender or carrier of peace and democracy in Europe. Quite the contrary. The greater its own difficulties, the more it is compelled to discharge the burden of them upon the shoulders of the older and weaker imperialist powers of Europe the more surely and speedily does American capitalism bring the ruling classes of the Old World towards war and towards the regime of fascism under which the bourgeoisie finds itself least hampered in preparing for war or in conducting it once it has broken out.

The pressure of the new world power which has risen to such enormous strength since the last world war is goading Europe towards the abyss of barbarism and destruction. While the influence exerted by the United States in the past period has been more or less “passive,” formulated in the policy of “isolation,” its more recent trend has been noticeably in the other direction and foreshadows its active, direct, and decisive intervention in the period to come, i. e., the period of the next world war. So worldwide are the foundations of American imperialist power, so significant are its economic interests in Europe itself (billions invested in the industrial enterprises of the telephone, telegraph, automobile, electrical, and other trusts, as well as the billions in war debts and postwar loans), that it is out of the question for the United States to remain a passive observer of the coming war. Quite the contrary. Not only will it participate actively as one of the belligerents, but it is easy to predict that it will enter the war after a much shorter interval than elapsed before its entry in the last world war. In view of the weakness, financially and technically, of the other belligerents as compared with the still mighty United States, the latter will surely play an even more decisive role in the settling of the coming war than in the last. There is every indication that, unless European imperialism is smashed by the proletarian revolution and peace established on a socialist basis, the United States will dictate the terms of the imperialist peace after emerging as the victor. Its participation will not only determine the victory of the side it joins, but will also determine the disposition of the booty, of which it will claim the lion’s share.

If the rapid establishment of its domination over Latin America dictated to U.S. imperialism the aggressive striving for the “closed door” (the Monroe Doctrine), its belated appearance in Asia, after the partitioning of the continent among England, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Portugal, and Italy, was already an accomplished fact, dictated the no less purely imperialist demand for the “open door,” which has since been the classic formulation of United States policy in the Far East, specifically, in China. In this form, American imperialism challenges the claims of its older rivals to exclusively exploit China’s vast rich resources, both natural and human. Behind this “pacific” slogan is the half drawn sword against both Japan and England for an increasing right to exploit China and the Chinese masses. As in all other cases, American imperialism in the Far East is a thin cloak for aggressive imperialist expansion.

The inter-imperialist struggle for the domination of China is at the same time a struggle for the mastery of the Pacific, in which the two principal contenders are Japan and the United States. Given her involvements on the European continent, the Mediterranean, and the Near East, Great Britain is greatly handicapped in any attempt to defend single handedly her position on the Asiatic continent. The Pan Asian movement fostered by Japanese imperialism and aimed at driving England out of her favored position in China and eventually also in India, cannot be effectively resisted by the British forces alone, especially under conditions which render unlikely the solidarity of all parts of the British Empire in a war against Japan. Britain is therefore increasingly dependent upon the tacit or direct military support of the United States in the conflict against Japan. American imperialism, however, is not inclined to intervene directly in the Far East against Japan exclusively or even mainly for the purpose of assuring the domination of England on the Asiatic continent. Quite the contrary, the conclusive mastery of the Pacific by the United States, that is a decisive defeat for Japan, signifies the beginning of the end of British rule and privilege in the East. That this is recognized even in the Empire is demonstrated by the fact that a growing section of the Australian bourgeoisie looks to the United States rather than to England for the defense of its interests, more specifically, for the joint struggle against Japan. In a remoter sense, the reorientation of sections of the British Empire may be discerned in the fact that Canada has been continually drawing away from London and towards New York and Washington.

While the biggest and most important rival of American imperialism in the East remains Great Britain, the most immediate opponent of the United States in that part of the world is now Japan. The question of the war between Japan and the United States for the domination of the Pacific and the Far East is therefore at the top of the order of the day. Fearing the outcome of a war with the United States at the present moment- which would in all probability involve her simultaneously in a war with England and the Soviet Union—Japan has been making desperate efforts to placate the United States and drive a wedge between it and England, at least until her position on the mainland has been consolidated.

American imperialism, however, especially in the recent past, has been driving more sharply in the direction of war with Japan, whose advances into potential fields of American exploitation in China and into actual American exploitation in Latin America, are a growing threat to the present and future positions of the American bourgeoisie. The preparations for the American Japanese war are manifest in the sharper tone of American diplomacy towards Japan, in the increased anti-Japanese jingoist agitation of the press, in the virtually open American maneuvers against Japan, in the military naval reinforcements of the Aleutians and Guam, and above all in the scarcely concealed anti-Japanese motivation given by Roosevelt for the unprecedented peacetime naval budget appropriations he has demanded of Congress.

Thus, the very magnitude of the problems of American imperialism, the worldwide scope of its interests and the foundations which underlie its power, dictate to it a vigorous and relentless policy of expansion. Moreover, they make it the principal motive force in propelling the capitalist world towards another war and the firmest brake upon the revolutionary movement of the world proletariat and the liberation movement of the colonies and semi-colonies.

The epoch during which the United States was able to maintain an approximate equilibrium between agriculture and industry, during which its interests beyond the frontiers of the United States were episodic and in any case comparatively insignificant, during which it followed a more or less “isolationist” policy (also rendered easier by a unique geographical position), is an epoch of the past. The crisis in American economic life demands an increase in foreign trade and an increase in the number of billions of dollars already exported to every corner of the earth for investment. It requires, therefore, a more intensive exploitation of those fields which are already being exploited by the United States which means the suppression of the revolutionary proletarian movement abroad and the checking of all revolutionary nationalist movements for independence in its colonies and spheres of influence. It requires, therefore, a larger share of the world market at present divided among the great powers of the earth, which means a new world war. Hence the departure in official American foreign policy from even the pretense of “isolationism” and the announcement of a “vigorous” course throughout the world.

The struggle against American imperialism is therefore at the same time a struggle against the coming imperialist war and for the liberation of oppressed colonial and semi-colonial peoples. Hence, it is inseparable from the class struggle of the American proletariat against the ruling bourgeoisie, and cannot be conducted apart from it. The American working class must gain support in this struggle from the poor farmers in the United States, who are under the heel of that monopoly capitalism which constitutes the basis of the imperialist overlords of the country. An indispensable ally in this struggle is the million headed mass of American Negroes, in industry and in agriculture, who are also bound by many ties to the other groups of Negro peoples oppressed by American imperialism in the Caribbean and in Latin America. It is necessary to carry on a campaign of proletarian education and organization among the white masses against the poisonous chauvinist “superiority” instilled in them by the ruling class; it is necessary also to organize the Negro masses against their capitalist oppressors, against the petty bourgeois demagogues in their own ranks, and against the agents of Japanese imperialism who are endeavoring to win the Negroes, especially in the South, to the treacherous banner of “Pan Asianism.”

One of the primary concerns of the United States section of the Fourth International, in the struggle against American imperialism, is the support of all genuinely progressive revolutionary movements directed against American imperialism in Latin America or the Pacific (the Philippines, Hawaii, Samoa, etc.) or against the Wall Street puppet dictatorships in those countries, while preserving its complete organizational and political independence, reserving and exercising the right to organize the working class in a separate movement and the right to present its own independent program as against the petty bourgeois, vacillating, and often treacherous program and activities of the nationalists. The revolutionists in the United States are obliged to rouse the American workers against the sending of any armed forces against the peoples of Latin America and the Pacific and for the withdrawal of any such forces where they now operate as instruments of imperialist oppression, as well as against any other form of imperialist pressure, be it “diplomatic” or “economic,” which is calculated to violate the national independence of any country or to prevent its attainment of such national independence.

The parties of the Fourth International, throughout the Western Hemisphere, stand for the immediate and unconditional independence of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Philippine Islands, Hawaii, Samoa, and all other direct colonies, dependencies, and protectorates of American imperialism. The capitulation of the national bourgeoisie of the Philippines to American imperialist dominance, as well as the attempts by certain sections of the North American bourgeoisie to misuse the sentiment for national independence for their own reactionary ends, reveal the indispensability of proletarian class leadership of the colonial and semi-colonial countries as the only assurance that genuine national independence will be fought for seriously and consistently and be achieved. At the same time, the Fourth Internationalists point out that none of the countries of Latin America or the Pacific which are now under the domination of American imperialism to one degree or another, is able either to attain complete freedom from foreign oppression or to retain such freedom for any length of time if it confines its struggle to the efforts of its own self. Only a union of the Latin American peoples, striving towards the goal of a united socialist America and allied in the struggle with the revolutionary proletariat of the United States, would present a force strong enough to contend successfully with North American imperialism. Just as the peoples of the Old World can successfully resist and shatter the pressure of the American colossus, which keeps them impoverished and drives them to war, only by establishing a United States of Europe—realizable only in the form of the revolutionary socialist rule of the proletariat— so the peoples of the Western Hemisphere can assure themselves the fullest national independence, the unrestricted possibilities of cultural development, and freedom from exploitation from foreign and domestic tyrants, only by joining in the struggle for the United Socialist Republics of the Americas.

Just as the Latin American sections of the Fourth International must popularize in their press and agitation the struggles of the American labor and revolutionary movements against the common enemy, so the section in the U.S. must devote more time and energy in its agitational and propaganda work to acquaint the proletariat of the U.S. with the position and struggles of the Latin American countries and their working class movements. Every act of American imperialism must be exposed in the press and at meetings and on indicated occasions the section in the U.S. must seek to organize mass movements of protest against specific activities of Yankee imperialism. In addition, the section in the U.S., by utilizing the Spanish language literature of the Fourth International, must seek to organize, on however modest a scale to begin with, the militant revolutionary forces among the doubly exploited millions of Filipinos, Mexicans, Caribbeans, and Central and South American workers now resident in the U.S., not only for the purpose of linking them with the labor movement in the U.S., but also for the purpose of strengthening the ties with the labor and revolutionary movements in the countries from which these workers originally came. This task shall be carried on under the direction of the American Secretariat of the Fourth International, which will publish the necessary literature and organize the work accordingly.


Last updated on 11.5.2005