William F. Warde

The Aims of American Imperialism

(October 1941)

Source: Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 8, October 1941, pp. 236–239.
(William F. Warde was a pseudonym of George Novack.)
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

The Roosevelt-Churchill conference has brought sharply to the fore the question of the war aims of the United States. The so-called “peace-terms” published by the conference were received everywhere with a reserve bordering on cynicism. The terrible aftermath of Wilson’s 14 points is too fresh in people’s memories for Roosevelt’s revised edition to arouse enthusiasm. What assurance do the records of British and American imperialism hold that their new paper promises will find fulfillment? The amount of political credit the masses extend to Roosevelt and Churchill’s program is short.

The one point in the conference declaration which could be accepted at face value was the belligerent assertion that the Two Powers aimed at crushing the Nazi war machine and its associates. But the annihilation of Hitlerism raises more questions than it answers. How can this be done? How would the post-war world be reconstructed? Who will govern that world? Why will the crushing of Hitler bring a better future than did the crushing of Kaiserism?

The starkly reactionary aims of the Anglo-American imperialists prevent them from giving an honest or progressive answer to these questions. The real objectives of US imperialism are not mentioned in the declaration. Roosevelt, like Wilson, portrays himself as a guardian of peace, an apostle of civilization, the defender of democracy, the patron of humanity. But this shining knight serves more earthly masters. Roosevelt is the political agent of the American plutocracy, the promoter of its welfare. His foreign and domestic policies flow from the needs of that class in its struggle for power and profit against its foreign rivals and its own people.

The imperialist war aims of Roosevelt’s regime are determined, not by casual circumstances or by humanitarian considerations, but by the material urges of American monopoly capital. The predatory appetites of our super-capitalists have suffered years of famine: Roosevelt must appease them. Their international interests are gravely threatened by Germany and Japan: Roosevelt leaps forward to protect them. These are the real motives behind the government’s course. All the rest is bait to hook the masses.

The Permanent Crisis of American Capitalism

American capitalism has been in a state of chronic crisis since 1929. This crisis, arising out of the general crisis of world capitalism, has already passed through three distinct stages. The first, from 1929 to 1934, was a period of precipitous economic decline; the second, from 1934 to 1937, witnessed an upturn and partial recovery under Roosevelt’s New Deal; the third, from 1937 to 1940, coincided with a new economic decline which, in conjunction with the sharpening of imperialist antagonisms, led to extensive preparations for foreign war.

The fourth chapter in the unfolding of this permanent crisis has just begun. This crisis is the most serious for American capitalism, not only because it comes on top of the previous crises, but because it far surpasses them in magnitude.

The Roosevelt administration attempted to cope with the earlier phases of crisis mainly by domestic measures. Now the capitalist state through Roosevelt’s war program seeks to overcome this new and more acute stage of crisis by passing beyond the national boundaries and taking the whole world for its province. Roosevelt’s previous foreign policies (the Good-Neighbor pose, Hull’s Trade Pacts, monetary measures) were subordinated to his domestic program. Today all domestic life, economy, politics are conscripted to subserve the imperialist designs of the big monied bosses.

The American monopolists are hunting the biggest of big game. They have set forth to achieve the political mastery and economic monopoly of the globe. This aim necessarily involves a strategy of planetary dimensions.

Just as the Second World War is the most convulsive expression of the blind alley in which world capitalism finds itself, so the intervention of the United States in the war is the supreme manifestation and inescapable consequence of the uninterrupted internal crisis of American monopoly capitalism. The reform measures of Roosevelt’s New Deal proved incapable of solving a single fundamental problem posed by the decomposition of capitalist economy. The murderous means contemplated in his imperialist War Deal will be no less incapable of removing the deepening difficulties of American capitalism. On the contrary, the total participation of the United States in the inter-imperialist conflict will inevitably bring far greater problems to the weakening American economy, heap more intolerable burdens upon the people, and sharpen to a razor edge every class antagonism. Entrance into the war can be only the prelude to domestic crises and social convulsions of revolutionary intensity.

Objectives – Past, Present and Future

The object of American imperialism is to conquer the world. For a long time the privileged American bourgeoisie believed that they might avoid the perils of direct participation in the wars of Europe and Asia by permitting or paying subordinate agents to fight for them and by intervening toward the conclusion of the conflict to regulate the affairs of victor and vanquished alike. This was the strategic course pursued by the British bourgeoisie during its rise to world hegemony in the 19th century. This was partially the policy pursued by American imperialism in the First World War, when it intervened toward the close of the conflict to decide its outcome and dictate the terms of peace.

During the post-war decade Washington-Wall Street played the role of “benevolent dictator” toward defeated Europe. Emerging from the war as chief capitalist victor, the American plutocracy rushed to the rescue of European capitalism; helped quench the revolutionary fire that threatened to consume it; stabilized its devastated economic foundations and repaired vital parts of its structure. The American bankers exacted a stiff price for their services by forcing the European bourgeoisie to acknowledge Wall Street’s financial supremacy and to pay heavy tribute. They usurped England’s lordship over the world market and stock exchanges. Until 1929 they harvested golden fruits from this policy.

The crash of 1929 shattered this extremely profitable form of “collaboration,” i.e. superexploitation, between the American and European capitalists. American assets in bankrupt Europe turned into liabilities. The golden chain of reparations, war-debts, loans by which American capitalism had manipulated Europe, dissolved. Upset by the domestic consequences of the world crisis, immersed in efforts to deal with them, the US capitalists found themselves obliged for a time to turn their back upon Europe and concentrate upon internal problems.

This turned out to be but a passing phase. The reactionary political effects of the crisis combined with the defeats of the proletarian revolution to produce the swift rise of European Fascism. Hitler started the Nazi war machine moving to give German money-masters their place in the sun. The military march of German, Italian and Japanese imperialism upset the political equilibrium in Europe and the rest of the world.

These menacing developments in the world arena coincided with the New Deal’s failure to achieve any fundamental alleviation of the economic crisis within the United States. The conjunction of these world-political and internal-economic crises, both springing out of the death agony of capitalism, has driven the Roosevelt administration to take the same militaristic road as the other powers.

Entranced by the past and fearing to gaze too closely upon the grim face of the future, the representatives of US monopoly capital doubtless count upon duplicating the policy of world financial enslavement which brought them so bountiful a harvest following the last war. This policy, however, must now be applied under very different conditions and will inevitably have far different and less satisfactory results. Other, more terrible methods of harnessing Europe and the world must be evolved and enforced by the American imperialists.

Tasks of US Imperialism

Capitalist society has now entered upon the epoch of its continuous decline. The policies which brought prosperity and power to the ruling bourgeoisie during the economic upswing of the last century no longer succeed. The utter bankruptcy of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy was a striking demonstration of this fact. Germany was not content to play the role of junior partner to British imperialism. Hitler demanded and fought for a monopolistic position in relation to all his capitalist competitors.

The partition of the planet amongst the imperialist powers, the dwindling production of capitalist economy, the existence of the USSR, the eruption of imperialist antagonisms, the tangled network of nationalist interests, the severity of class and colonial conflicts – all these factors bar any peaceful road to world power, even to so rich a Colossus as the United States. To ward off its rivals and to keep its central place in the sun, the American imperialists must fight on a world scale. And it must contend with all kinds of challenges to its rule: imperialist, nationalist, proletarian, colonial and semi-colonial. No matter how the American bourgeoisie endeavored to avoid direct involvement in the war, its ever-widening circumference would not permit them to escape. This is the essential significance for the United States of developments in the first period of the world war.

The United States is now committed to participation in the inter-imperialist war. Roosevelt has undertaken to lead the coalition of Anglo-American imperialists in the struggle for world domination against Germany and Japan. For American imperialists there can be no turning back along this road to world conquest by military means. From now on, the imperialist war policies dominate everything in American life, just as they determine the fate of all mankind.

The decision of the greatest and most favored imperialist government to embark upon the war demonstrates with irrefutable force that the ruling bourgeoisie in all highly developed countries without exception have no other recipe for the solution of the social crisis than the methods of world conquest, just as they have no other solution for their domestic crises than the annihilation of bourgeois democracy by fascist dictatorship. Permanent militarism and permanent reaction – these are the characteristic political products of capitalist decay in our time.

The aims of American imperialism require unprecedented means and measures for their realization. They involve the militarization of the entire nation. They require active and acquiescent allies and the arming and financing of these allies. They require billions upon billions of dollars, millions upon millions of lives, and armaments of Cyclopean magnitude. They require the military defeat of the chief imperialist antagonists, Germany and Japan, either serially or simultaneously. They require the submission or subjugation of all South American countries. They require taking the possessions of the British Empire, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and possibly India, under US patronage and protection. They require suzerainty over China, mastery of the Pacific, and eventually the destruction of the Soviet Union.

Such are the gigantic tasks confronting the American imperialists in their struggle for world supremacy. They must solve these tasks, not like British imperialism, in the course of several centuries, but in the course of several years or decades. Although the commander-in-chief of American monopoly capitalism may not fully comprehend the magnitude of their tasks, the development of events is rapidly disclosing it to them. The chief spokesmen for American imperialism, from the White House to Thomas Lament of the House of Morgan, now feel themselves called upon to police the world, to dictate the terms of life and labor to the rest of humanity, and to carry through their program of imperialist conquest at any cost to the American people.

The Prospects for Success

The question arises: Can American imperialism succeed in fulfilling these tasks and reaching its goal of world domination? To this question we give a categorical answer – No!

In the first place, economic factors forbid. The colossal economic efforts and expenditures demanded by the imperialist war plans have already begun to strain the economic resources of the United States, undermined by a decade of crises. Rich as the American plutocracy is, enormous as are the resources of American capitalism, they still do not possess inexhaustible reservoirs of wealth. This has already begun to show itself in the rationing of consumers’ goods and in the strict allocation of essential raw materials. As the war progresses, ever greater demands will be imposed upon limited resources. The vital energies of the producers and the material means of production will become depleted. It is not difficult to foresee a stage at which the breaking point is reached and an explosion must occur, with the most catastrophic consequences for American and world capitalism.

American capitalists console themselves with the illusion that after the war is won, expenses will be reduced and the world will return to “business as usual.” But who will guarantee an end to this war? Authoritative spokesmen already speak of five to ten years of conflict. And who will guarantee that any blessed “normalcy” will return to capitalism in the intervening armistice? The fairly favorable conditions following the last war will not be duplicated after this one. Too much has happened in the interim; capitalism is considerably weaker now than it was then.

Nor is there any assurance that the war will end before the economic explosion occurs. The fate of the New Deal is an ominous anticipation for the future of American capitalism. The billions Roosevelt expended for bolstering up a sagging economy from 1933 to 1939 was followed in 1940–41 not by the diminution of these expenditures but by their multiplication for war purposes.

Even if American imperialism should emerge victorious from the war without experiencing revolutionary convulsions, it cannot then depend upon any durable stabilization either for itself or for international capital. The 20 years between the First and Second World Wars conclusively demonstrated that capitalism can no longer regain its balance, but is condemned to stagger from one crisis to another, like a battered boxer before his knockout. How Utopian would it be therefore to expect that, after a far more prolonged and catastrophic conflict, American or world capitalism can acquire even that measure of stability which it regained between 1920 and 1939! Capitalism can only continue to slide deeper into the abyss, dragging civilization closer and closer to chaos and destruction.

American capitalism would be faced, after the war, with a world in ruins. It possesses neither the means, the forces nor the will to reconstruct that world on new, progressive and lasting foundations. It can only duplicate – on a larger scale and in a fiercer manner – the policies which the victors in the last pursued, but with far less prospect of success. French imperialism tried vainly to reorganize the map of Europe in order to buttress its hegemony. Its hopes foundered in the debacle of 1940. British imperialism, which likewise tried to maintain world supremacy, is now compelled to cede it to American imperialism on the one hand and German imperialism on the other. Neither jointly nor individually do the imperialist powers have any program for reconstructing society on a progressive basis.

Obstacles to Imperialist Sway

The devastation caused by World War II will far exceed that wrought by World War I. The last war was fought in a relatively restricted area upon the European continent. Asia, Africa, South America, North America felt its effects only in a minor degree. The destruction of productive forces was partially counterbalanced by their enhancement in centers like the United States.

That one-continent conflict is provincial compared to the widening world arena of the present war. Instead of country against country, continents are now being hurled against continents. Four-fifths of the planet’s population is already at war; the final fifth will soon follow. The greater magnitude of the forces engaged leads to a correspondingly greater destruction of existing achievements and productive forces.

Side by side with the devastation of actual warfare goes the despoliation of the resources of conquered countries by their conquerors. The Nazis sack French, Polish, Czecho-Slovakian, Balkan industry, finance, and agriculture. Japan does the same with China. The dislocation of economic ties and the expanding needs of the war machines everywhere reduce the long inadequate rations of the working masses. This situation strikes at the Soviet Union as acutely as at any other great nation, enfeebling its economic foundations and resisting powers. And all this comes on top of ten years of crisis preceding the outbreak of war!

The physical devitalization brought on by hunger, epidemics, wars, engenders a no less deadly psychical demoralization. The masses entered this war in grim desperation, without the illusions in capitalism, without the hopes and enthusiasms of the last war. Just as capitalism has no means of restoring their physical energies, so it has no program of regenerating their depleted psychological and political energies. Capitalism continues its sway, less through any positive social force, than through the negative factors of the passivity of vast masses and the impotence of their official leaders.

But, as the ferment in France indicates, this mood of inertia does not and cannot persist indefinitely. The masses are propelled by the very hopelessness of their situation to rush toward the least ray of light in their darkness – in their quest for a way out of their intolerable plight. By whatever route they are led to resume their forward march, they must come to the broad highroad: the road of proletarian revolution against the capitalist oppressors.

The colonial peoples, drawn one by one irresistibly into the whirlpool of war, are today a hundred times more revolutionary in temper, more experienced in dealing with the imperialists, more prepared to fight for independence than during the last war. The colonial and semi-colonial peoples are like mines planted under the structures and highways of the imperialist powers, awaiting the spark of explosion.

This is the kind of world that American capitalism will have to stabilize. This is the kind of community its armed forces will have to police. These are the social and political obstacles which bar the road to the American monopolists’ goal of a strong and secure world empire.

American imperialism can win the war only by pitilessly crushing its foes, by subjecting the peoples of the world to political bondage, and by suppressing all oppositional movements. The American imperialists will appear to the subject peoples like a fearsome combination of German and English imperialism and will be loved no better than these predecessors.

The American bourgeoisie will be confronted with the same insoluble problems in enslaving the world that Hitler is confronted with in enslaving Europe. It will need overseers, Gestapos and Gauleiters to administer its dominions. There is no question that American imperialism can buy Quislings and Petains but these hired men will be unable to command loyalty from their people who will disdain them as vile tools of the foreign oppressor.

American imperialism must even forfeit the support of sections of the world bourgeoisie, not all of whom can become its servants or will link their destinies with it. Inspired by dreams of restoration to power or hopes of increasing their share, oppositional tendencies will exhibit themselves amongst them. American capitalism cannot pay for so large a retinue of courtly servitors as British imperialism did in the past century. Together with the peoples of the world it must place the foreign bourgeoisie on reduced rations.

Today American imperialism experiences the greatest difficulty in exacting collaboration from the South American bourgeoisie. What will happen when it places the bourgeoisie of the rest of the capitalist world upon the dole? From the first day of the new American empire, its international, social and economic supports will be enfeebled by its inability to rely upon the fealty of its capitalist vassals.

The real menace to the American imperialists, however, comes not from the side of the bourgeoisie but from the working masses. The foreign bourgeoisie, in case of stark necessity, can always reconcile themselves to the domination of American finance capital and collaborate with it. The working masses cannot.

In order to establish and maintain their sway, the US overlords will be obliged to use unlimited force and the most brutal and barbarous methods of oppression against the masses beyond its borders. This, combined with the most intense economic exploitation, must necessarily provoke national and proletarian uprisings throughout the dominions and on the margins of the American Empire. The proletarian and petty-bourgeois masses will insistently strive to throw off their yoke and achieve national liberation and social emancipation.

American imperialism can put down these tendencies and perpetuate its power only through methods akin to Hitler’s. Senator Clark of Idaho has already recommended that the US seize the South American countries in Hitler’s fashion. Iceland has already been so occupied. This is a foretaste of the future. The iron heels of American imperialism will be pressed down upon many other victims.

American imperialism will not succeed in consolidating an empire where the British and French imperialisms have already failed. German imperialism is today encountering the obstacles that American imperialism must soon cope with. But neither contender for world supremacy will be able to solve these problems. The super-empires of tomorrow, projected by the insatiable appetites of imperialism, will have a far briefer life-span than today’s empires. They are all built upon shifting sands and great fissures appear in the very process of their construction.

Economic and political considerations alike reinforce the conclusion that American imperialism will be unable to enjoy its anticipated feast. The fruits of victory will turn into Dead Sea fruit in its hands.

The same conclusion follows even more forcibly in case of a defeat for American imperialism. In that event the social supports and political power of America’s 60 families will be immediately imperiled. The workers and farmers have little enough confidence in the Roosevelts and Knoxes, the Morgans and Rockefellers now. They will have even less as the war develops its terrible consequences. The last shred of respect for the plutocrats and their representatives will be destroyed if the war should end in a defeat à la Française. That defeat would immediately engender a revolutionary crisis within the nation.

In victory or defeat, American imperialism finds itself confronted with this insoluble contradiction. It is obliged to reorganize the world solely in the interests of its own clique of monopoly capitalists, but the reactionary nature of those interests prevents it from successfully reorganizing the world. This imperative historical task can be fulfilled only along different lines, by an entirely different program and by other social forces.

Only the revolutionary vanguard of the working class, the sole creative historical force in our society, has a program to counterpose to the imperialist aims. Against imperialist world domination and national enslavement, the revolutionary workers set up their aim of international freedom through the self-determination of nationalities. Against endless wars of imperialist conquest, a Pax Americana or Pax Germanica, the revolutionary workers strive to eliminate war through a Socialist peace. Against nationalist hatreds and hostilities, the revolutionary working class proclaims and practices proletarian solidarity, the unity of the workers of all lands against their capitalist exploiters.

Against continued capitalist chaos, the revolutionary proletariat fights for a new social order based upon the overthrow of the exploiters. Against imperialist governments of the Fascist or democratic types, the revolutionary proletariat struggles for a Workers and Farmers Government, genuinely representative of mass interests. Against another League of Nations, backed up by American dollars, bayonets and battleships, the revolutionary workers call for a Free Federation of Peoples in a Socialist United States of the World.

This is the program of war-aims the Socialist Workers Party opposes to the war-aims of Roosevelt and Rockefeller.


Last updated on: 24 March 2019