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The New International, April 1944

Notes of the Month

Imperialism by Any Other Name

The “Good Neighbor” Is Off To Arabia


From The New International, Vol. X No. 4, April 1944, pp. 104–105.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


During the rise of American imperialism, its defenders would point to the “manifest destiny” of the country and justify imperialist expansion with the “mission” the nation had to spread its civilization in those parts of the world yet unconquered.

The methods employed in this imperialist expansion were varied, depending on the amount of native resistance, the degree of competition with other powers and the specific aims of a particular adventure. But whether the policy was identified as “spheres of influence,” “armed intervention,” “political regulation,” “acquisition without annexation,” or “conquest and purchase,” no one doubted in the least that it was imperialism. All manner of anti-imperialists fought against the imperialism of the pre-New Deal decades, charging that the pursuit of such a policy could only lead to war with other powers engaged in the same pursuits – control of markets, sources of raw material, cheap labor and new territories.

Those who dared to deny the existence of an imperialist policy were few, and they were not taken seriously. Cuba, Haiti, Hawaii, Nicaragua, the Philippines – these were only too well known. It was only with the coming of New Dealism and Roosevelt that American imperialist policy underwent a drastic change – in method only. Roosevelt introduced a “new” technique in the inter-imperialist struggle, namely, the “Good Neighbor” policy. It applied chiefly to this hemisphere, although an extension of this policy to other parts of the world has taken place to one degree or another. In essence, the Good Neighbor policy is the continuation of imperialist policy by other means; in this case, a peaceful penetration of colonial and semi-colonial areas based upon a peculiar conjuncture in world relations (the economic crisis and the war) and the enormous riches of the United States. But it arises, it should be remembered, in the midst of the bloodiest war in all history and is directed against the “have-not” powers through military means.

The Method Differs

This continuation of imperialist policy, made imperative by the nature of the capitalist organization in the United States, in no principled way different from the capitalist organization of any other imperialist power, is now denied by the liberal hangers-on of the New Deal. Confusing the method with the policy, they overlooked the truth that economic penetration and control, establishing, in the final analysis, American hegemony over the hemisphere, was and remains a quintessential characteristic of modern imperialism.

By the same kind of reasoning which characterizes the thought processes of the liberals, one could say that England is not an imperialist nation because all her conquests were made many years ago. And England would be quite content to rest on these laurels if only the other powers would permit it. But no, our native apologists, overlooking past acquisitions, are certain that, under Roosevelt, imperialism was driven from our shore. It has taken the Second World War to demonstrate the continuity of American foreign policy over a period of decades, the changing methods notwithstanding.

Differences in method and rate of development in imperialist policy depend on many factors. Without elucidating all of them, we can point to the tremendous internal expansion which occupied the main attention of American capitalism for most of its existence. There is also the pertinent factor of America’s entry into the field of international divisions of spoils at a late period, when the growing consciousness of the long-exploited colonial peoples dictates quite another policy.

The new imperialist leaders of the “smile and the dollar” are no less imperialistic than the firebrands of the Teddy Roosevelt type. Times are different and the manner of executing tasks altered. But the fundamental aim remains: American domination of the economic and political life of the world. This is revealed in the extremely sharp conflicts which exist between England and America. No matter what description you give of this struggle, reduce it to real terms and it is clearly evident that America and Britain are fighting now over territory, raw materials and markets.

The war merely accentuated the tendencies which have existed for many years. The impact of the war and the requirements of modern warfare, together with the concrete situation in which the Empire now finds itself, has led to the following transformations, some of which are already completed, and some which are yet in the process of completion.

The Boss of the Western Hemisphere

The United States now monopolizes the Western Hemisphere. The outbreak of the present war guaranteed the total exclusion of German (and Italian and Japanese) imperialism, which had made enormous inroads in South America prior to 1939. But just as Germany was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere, England too has lost her most important economic and political bases. There remains only her relatively unimportant island possessions and the tenuous hold in Argentina. The Dominion of Canada is closer to the United States than ever and ties with England have been considerably weakened. As a matter of fact, other dominions now look to Washington rather than London as the leading capital in the world.

England has been replaced by the United States as the maritime power of the world. This is true of both military and commercial navies. The future of the Empire in this field is obviously dismal, since it will be impossible for her ever again to regain her pre-war position. England suffered annihilating blows to her merchant marine in the early years of the war.

The United States has made great inroads in the Pacific and Asiatic areas. It will no longer be possible for Great Britain to dominate exclusively these sectors of the colonial world. It is not merely that she is incapable of reasserting her former military, industrial and financial powers which belong to Washington. The fact is that “passive” America has entered these areas with the purpose of remaining.

Thus you have three important aspects of the total world problem which illustrate the decline of the British Empire and the rise of the American. A more immediate concretization of the foregoing is represented in the intense struggle over oil. Oil is integral to the life of any modern industrial nation, and is especially important in a period of increasing inter-state antagonism and the prospects of continual warfare between the powers. Without oil the imperialist powers would be literally paralyzed. With this in mind, it is easy to understand the oil war now going on between England and the United States in the midst of their joint campaign against Germany and Japan.

Mindful of the prospects of an oil shortage in the future, American capitalism, through the government, or jointly with it, or independently, has gone into new areas of the globe to acquire new oil interests. The vast expansion of its interests caused the United States Weekly to write:

This country’s sphere of interest rapidly is being extended to every corner of the globe. As this sphere expands, there is growing up what has come to be recognized as a modern brand of American imperialism, modified but nonetheless real.

The article goes on to cite the manifestations of this imperialist expansion which bears within itself the germs of the next world war. After describing the limited expansion areas of previous years, it speaks of the statement made by the government to “protect” Canada against any “threat to that country.” The new area of interest is the Middle East. But with the acquisition of oil interests in this part of the world, American imperialism has acquired stakes, for the first time, in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, both formerly the exclusive hunting grounds of the British. Here is a line-up of the newly acquired interests:

New American Interests

  1. Saudi Arabia. King Ibn Saud has not merely been “cultivated as a friend,” but it has been made “interesting” and lucrative for the ruler of Saudi Arabia. Roosevelt entertained his sons. Weapons were furnished him. Consumer goods were also supplied. And the King was actually given millions of dollars for his own private purposes in order to insure American rights in Arabian oil. The private companies in this venture are Standard Oil of California and the Texas Company and they have established a “pact” between them for joint operations.
  2. Bahrein. This is referred to as an “independent sheikdom situated on an island in the Persian Gulf.” The same companies mentioned above own the oil rights.
  3. Kuwait. This too is an independent sheikdom located north of Saudi Arabia. A third American enterprise operates in this area, the Gulf Oil Co., which is in partnership with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., in which the British government “has majority control.”
  4. Iraq. Here the British government dominates, but two American companies, Socony-Vacuum Oil and Standard Oil of New Jersey, have a 23.75 per cent interest in the Iraq Petroleum Co. While the British government is officially interested, the American is not.
  5. Iran. Although the British dominate in Iran, Russian interests are growing. But so are American, and quickly, too. There are a large number of American advisers to the Iranian government. Arthur C. Millspaugh is Administrator General of Finance. A.B. Black, formerly connected with the U.S. Farm Credit Administration, is now there to help modernize native agriculture, while Major-General Clarence Ridley, with a staff of American officers, is adviser to the Iranian army. The Iranian gendarmerie, or rural police, is “being reorganized under Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, formerly head of the New Jersey state police.” The city police is “being advised by L. Stephen Timmerman,” another American. There are many other high-ranking officials from the States who act as advisers to important governmental institutions.

This penetration of American state and private interests in the Middle East is merely one aspect of American penetration in the whole of Asia and waters previously considered the spheres of influence of other powers. In addition to the direct effects this will have on political and economic developments at home, the international ramifications of this policy will prove even more important. They immediately involve relations with Great Britain over Palestine, pipe lines, military supervision and civil administration, and they involve, too, relations with Russia.

It has recently been disclosed that Washington has directly intervened in this situation, just as the British government is directly involved. This is added proof that in this period of capitalist decline, imperialist developments are unthinkable except as state projects operating in complete solidarity with private monopolistic combines.

Inter-state conflicts thus flow directly from economic conflicts, and not indirectly, as in earlier times. War is constantly before the imperialist powers as the final means of solving “differences.”

An examination of the state of relations within the United Nations reveals the Third World War in the making. This is not the result of imaginings of feature writers, but is incontestably present in the concrete relations between the powers over future economic positions.

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Last updated on 17 October 2015