cj#861.1> Chapter 1: Evolution of Western Power


Richard Moore

Dear cj & rn,

Again I would like to thank those of you who have been sending in comments
on my book in progress. My feedback folder now has 233 messages in it, and
many of those have been very helpful. With no intention of embarrassing nor
slighting anyone, I would like to single out Viviane Lerner (an rn
subscriber) for special mention. Her comments were similar to those of
others, but she was able to express them in a way that could get through my
thick skull.

If you all don't find some show-stoppers, I'll be sending this along to

all the best,

[Part 1 of 2]

                         Achieving a Livable World
                  a common sense response to globalization

                            Chapter 1 - draft 2

                     Copyright 1998 by Richard K. Moore
                Latest update: 7 November 1998 - 7730 words
                    comments to: •••@••.•••

Part I - Corporate rule and global ruin: understanding the dynamics of
today's world
Chapter 1 - Evolution of Western power: from national rivalries to
collective imperialism, by way of American hegemony

World power today
World power today is concentrated in what is called the West. This
terminology of West, Middle East, Far East, etc., came into use during the
era of the British Empire, and reflects world geography as seen from London.
These terms have lost their original geographic sense, and the West now
generally refers to Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia,
New Zealand, and Israel. The West is unified by a common culture, relatively
speaking, and it collectively participates in world leadership.

The United States is today the clearly acknowledged leader of the West, and
of the world generally, with the four major European nations -- Britain,
Germany, France, and Italy -- working closely with the US as junior partners
in leadership. These five nations are the core powers of NATO (North
Atlantic Treaty Organization), and three of them (US, Britain, France) are
permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The five, together
with Japan and Canada, make up the G7 group of nations, whose leaders meet
regularly to set the general framework of global policies.

The same five nations also dominate the powerful institutions that manage
the process of globalization -- the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the
World Bank, the WTO (World Trade Organization), and the OECD (Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development). As the European Union begins to
speak with a united voice from Brussels, it does so with the close
cooperation of the United States, and under the domination of the same four
European powers.

Besides leading the many formal institutions mentioned above, the West also
dominates international banking and financial markets. As was demonstrated
with the recent collapse of Asian currencies, these markets have themselves
become a major power in the world, able to make and break whole national
economies as funds fly this way and that over largely unregulated electronic
trading networks.

The United States, although it usually acts in close collaboration with its
Western partners, nonetheless plays on its own a powerful role on the world
stage. With its satellites, nuclear arsenal, combat aircraft, submarine and
carrier fleets, electronic stealth weaponry, and cruise missiles, the US by
itself dominates the world militarily. The US controls the seven seas, has
intelligence networks active worldwide, is a leading exporter of armaments,
and has close ties with militaries in every part of the world. The US
defines its strategic interests broadly and has an announced policy of being
prepared to fight three major wars simultaneously, if necessary, in
different parts of the globe. From the Middle East to the Balkans to the
China Sea, and everywhere in between, US military power is decisive and can
be rapidly deployed.

In economic matters the US is no less a singular super power. With a huge
domestic market, the world's largest economy, and as the largest exporter of
grains, the US is able to wield awesome economic power in pursuit of its
perceived interests. In 198x, for example, the Japanese company Toshiba was
selling super-silent submarine propeller blades to the Soviet Union,
contrary to US wishes. The US banned Toshiba from the US market, and the
Soviet contracts were promptly cancelled. The strength of the US economy
attracts funds to American banks, and the US frequently twists arms, as they
say, by freezing the assets of those whom it desires to influence. In the
Gulf War, strong economic pressure was used to entice allies to the US side
in the conflict.

With such military and economic power, and with an obvious willingness to
step forward and take the initiative, it is no wonder that the US today
plays the leading diplomatic role on the world stage. Wherever conflict
arises, whether it be in the Middle East, the Balkans, Northern Ireland, or
the Korean peninsula, the world looks to the US to provide the trouble
shooters, the shuttle diplomats, and the very legitimacy of the
problem-solving process. If the US stays away from a situation, then it is
said that the international community is undecided; if the US acts, then the
international community, so called, typically rallies behind. When the US
President appears on global television screens, he speaks with all but the
authority of a world emperor.

The US rose to preeminence as a consequence of World War II. All other major
nations were devastated by the war, with their industrial bases and
economies left in shambles. The US emerged from the war with considerable
prestige, a very strong economy, its industries intact, and with its
military might stretched around the world. It enjoyed a nuclear monopoly and
a greatly expanded role in Middle East oil fields. Based on this immense
power, America assumed an assertive leadership role in the postwar world.
With the Marshall Plan, the creation of numerous treaty organizations,
frequent military interventions, and other energetic activity, the US guided
the development of postwar international institutions, presided over the
Cold War, and launched the world onto its current globalization course.

Imperialism and the rise of the West
The West rose to world power over several centuries, beginning with the
discovery of America in 1492, and continuing with the establishment of
European colonial empires throughout most of the world. In the nineteenth
century Britain emerged as the dominant world power, but it did not have the
kind of military hegemony that America has today. France, Germany, Austria,
the US, and others had their own independent agendas, and there were no
unifying global institutions. In the centuries leading up to 1945 the world
system was one of competing, sovereign, imperial powers.

It was an anarchistic system, with major powers vying for spheres of
influence. Wars between such nations were frequent, with minor powers being
buffeted in the imperial clashes. The technology of weaponry evolved rapidly
under the pressure of these conflicts, especially after industrialization,
and the West developed formidable fleets and armies with which it dominated
the globe and its trading routes.

Imperialism took a variety of forms. In India, for example, it began as a
private affair. The British East India Company, with its own funds and arms,
managed to dominate portions of India, take control of resources, and compel
advantageous trading terms. When Britain was later persuaded to take over
administrative responsibilities, some provinces were administrated directly
by Britain, while others were left in the hands of native princes. When
Britain established her American colonies, they were considered to be
investment projects, and were essentially left to govern themselves. The
entire colony of Pennsylvania was a single corporation, owned by a London

European imperialism was usually colonial. Citizens from Europe were shipped
to the conquered land where they set up communities (colonies) and become a
local ruling elite. In America and Australia, the natives were considered a
nuisance and were gradually exterminated or else pushed further and further
into the hinterlands. Elsewhere the local economy was converted into one
more profitable to the governing power, and the natives were compelled to
work under conditions and for wages that were determined by the colonizers.
Local resources were seized by force, and conditions of trade were imposed
that were highly favorable to the ruling nation. In India a healthy,
productive economy was destroyed in order to create markets for British

When the US gained independence, it was in some sense already an imperial
power. It was in a position to push westward, seize land from the natives,
and carry on with the imperial development of the continent -- a prerogative
which it had, so to speak, inherited from Britain. It purchased the
Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, and in 1846 it provoked a war with
Mexico and seized what was to become the American Southwest, largely
completing its claim to its continental territories. Vast farmlands came
under cultivation and immense riches in resources were discovered and
developed. Westward expansion provided the US with the same kind of economic
growth and industrial development that imperialism was providing to European
powers at the same time.

America also competed in overseas imperialism, but with typical Yankee
ingenuity, it did so in a uniquely highly-leveraged style. In 1821, when
Mexico and other Spanish colonies declared their independence, the US seized
on the chance to obtain imperial rights to Latin America. In 1823, US
President James Monroe declared the Monroe Doctrine, warning European
nations not to interfere in the Western Hemisphere. Enforcement would have
been problematic, if challenged, and British colonies remained in the
hemisphere -- but by and large the Monroe Doctrine achieved its purpose. The
US was left with more or less a free hand in Latin America as the sole major
power in the hemisphere. With a simple declaration, a measure of brashness,
and good timing, the US accomplished what would normally have required the
deployment of fleets and the winning of battles.

Similarly, when it came to the business of imperialism, the US got right
down to the bottom line. The point of imperialism, after all, is to make
money. Why colonize Chile if you can succeed by less costly means in seizing
control of the copper mines? Instead of establishing colonies, the US
"created the conditions" which permitted private US businesses to acquire
assets and operate profitably in Latin America. This turned out to be a very
flexible, high-leverage approach to imperialism.

A common pattern would be to promote a coup by some military faction,
immediately recognize the legitimacy of the new government, and then offer
it US support. By such means, local elites were put in power throughout much
of Latin America. Those local elites were frequently unpopular and dependent
on US support to stay in power. There also always loomed the possibility of
a subsequent engineered coup, bringing a different faction into power. In
addition, local elites were encouraged to engage in corruption, giving them
a share of the spoils from exploitive economic operations, and encouraging
them to launch public projects beneficial to US interests. Overall, the US
was able to exert considerable control over Latin American affairs with a
minimum of troop deployment and administrative overhead.

The business side of Western imperialism consisted of trade and development.
Trade was largely a private enterprise, and the advantages of trade under
imperialism led to the accumulation of large fortunes. Colonies were
developed, along with plantations, mines, roads, harbors, and other
infrastructures. Funding was needed for these projects, and funding was
necessary to finance wars and trading operations.

Capitalism, nationalism, and Western imperialism thus evolved together.
Imperialism provided an ever-growing demand for funds, and opportunity for
profit. Capital investment arose as one of the primary means by which those
funds were obtained. Industrialists, bankers, and investors all benefited as
empires were expanded, defended, and developed. As empires grew, capitalist
fortunes grew. Government and business leaders encouraged patriotic
nationalism, generating the popular support necessary to continue the
imperialist system.

From the perspective of capitalism, an empire is an investment realm, a safe
space in which economic empires can be built. Wherever the national flag was
planted, private development of resources was never far behind. The British
East India Company, the Hudsons Bay Company, and later Standard Oil and
others developed their economic empires largely under the protection of
national banners.

This era of competitive Western imperialism can be seen as a partnership
between capitalism and nationalism. Expansion of empire was of direct
benefit to capitalist interests. Similarly, capitalist industry became the
backbone of national strength, and nineteenth century industrialization led
to awesome weaponry and an intensification of imperialism.

The late nineteenth century brought an explosive growth of
industrialization, capitalism, and imperialism. Britain and France expanded
their conquests, and in 1898 the US seized Cuba and the Philippines from
Spain. Germany grew rapidly in industrial power, but its imperial
opportunities were limited given that most available territories had already
been seized by others. Nationalist and capitalist interests in Germany
combined to build pressure for expansionist policies. Such sentiment was
naturally viewed as a threat to established imperial arrangements.

     "It cannot be too clearly stated, it is the most important fact in
     the history of the last half century, that the German people was
     methodically indoctrinated with the idea of a German
     world-predominance based on might, and with the theory that war
     was a necessary thing in life."
     - H.G. Wells, 1920(1)

Besides the tension caused by German ambitions, instability was fueled by
the collapse of the Ottoman empire, which had for centuries blocked Western
expansion into its dominions. New territories were becoming vulnerable to
Western colonization, and Germany was eager to obtain a share of the spoils.
World War I (1914-1918) arose almost inevitably out of these circumstances,
and once the war started Germany set out to balance the relationship between
industrial and imperial power. While German artillery dueled in Europe with
French, British, and Russian artillery, Germany and its Austrian ally rushed
to acquire territory in Africa, Turkey, and the Balkans.

The war was lost by Germany, but a balance between industry and empire was
nonetheless achieved -- by the destruction of the German military and
economy (Treaty of Versailles) rather than by the expansion of its empire.
But German ambitions were not to be so easily crushed, and the essential
tensions leading up to the first Great War remained unresolved. Additional
tension was building in the Far East, where an ambitious and newly
industrialized Japan had routed Russian naval forces in the Russo-Japanese
War (1904-5).

The inter-war years: 1918-1939 - capitalism in crisis
After more than a century of collaboration between the forces of nationalism
and capitalism, the distinction between capitalist interests and government
policies had become increasingly blurred throughout the West. The systems of
finance, government, industry, imperialism, and foreign policy were all
intertwined. Other political forces existed, but certainly by 1918 it could
be said that the leading Western nations were capitalist-dominated
societies. The interwar years brought a host of challenges to Western
capitalism, and the response of Western governments to these crises
reflected primarily the interests of the capitalist system.

Nineteenth century industrialization, under capitalism, had created social
dislocation and unrest in its wake. Previous social and economic
arrangements were disrupted, and working conditions in the new factories and
mines were often dismal, dangerous, and poorly paid. Labor movements arose,
along with socialist ideas and anti-capitalist sentiment. In 1848 Marx and
Engels published The Communist Manifesto which articulated a radical
critique of capitalism and called for an international workers' revolution.
In the chaos of wartime Russia, a marxist-inspired revolution succeeded
(1918) and the world's largest nation, the new Soviet Union, came into the
world with an explicit anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist agenda.

Socialist and anarchist movements gained strength throughout the West in the
years following the end of the war. These movements were encouraged by the
success of the Soviet revolution, by the continuing conditions of labor
unrest, and by a pacifist, internationalist sentiment which arose out the
horrors of the war -- a war which had been frequently referred to as the war
to end all wars.

In 192x an uprising in Bavaria led to a socialist takeover which was
brutally suppressed. In 192x, hundreds of leaders and members of the
Socialist Party in America were arrested in the infamous Palmer Raids. In
1926 a general strike in Britain was quelled by an energetic government
response after it had shut down the nation's mines and transport for twelve
days. In Italy, Spain, and Germany, socialist, anarchist, and communist
movements were gaining a considerable popular following.

In 1929, there was a general collapse of the international capitalist
economy, affecting nearly all parts of the world with the exception of the
Soviet Union. The Great Depression put millions out of work and added fuel
to labor unrest in the West generally. The thirties were depression years,
economies generally remained in the doldrums, and unrest grew.

The war had temporarily stabilized imperialist arrangements, but capitalism
in the West was now faced by threats of a different kind. The Soviet Union
was getting on its feet as a society, offering a long-term threat to
imperial domination of world affairs, while labor and socialist unrest was
threatening capitalist domination of political agendas within the West
itself. Communism in the Soviet Union, and socialist movements on the
domestic front, could only be perceived by capitalist-dominated Western
governments as dire threats to Western stability.

Fascism arose in Italy, Spain, and Germany in the twenties and offered a
nationalist alternative, something besides socialism as a radical solution
to societal problems. This was an alternative which was much more acceptable
to capitalist interests. This was very clear in Italy, where fascism was
openly promoted as an explicit partnership between government and capitalism
-- a way to get the trains running on time. In Germany the link between
Hitler and capitalism was not so explicit, but it was just as real.

     "Certain American industrialists had a great deal to do with
     bringing fascist regimes into being in both Germany and Italy.
     They extended aid to help Fascism occupy the seat of power, and
     they are helping to keep it there."
     - William E. Dodd, U.S. Ambassador to Germany, 1937(2)

As Hitler built the strength of the Nazi party, he became more and more
friendly with German leaders and industrialists. One of Hitler's most
enthusiastic backers was Krupp, the most prominent of German industrialists.
After listening to a campaign speech, tears came to his eyes and he said
"This is the man that can lead Germany."(3) The party gained political
victories, and in 1933 Hitler became Chancellor. Soon after that all other
parties were crushed, and Hitler's reign as Der Fuhrer began. He preached a
doctrine of racist nationalism, of revenge for the humiliation at
Versailles, and of German expansionism. Hitler's hatred of communism was
deep, dating at least from his experiences in Bavaria during the socialist

Mein Kampf, which Hitler wrote in 1923 during a brief imprisonment, outlined
in considerable detail Hitler's expansionist ambitions. He said that the
Slavic people were an inferior race, and that Germany's destiny was to
conquer and enslave Russia, providing Germany with needed lebensraum (living
space). This was in fact the agenda that Hitler systematically pursued once
he was in power.

To German capitalists, Hitler's lebensraum agenda offered the imperial
expansion that they had sought in the war, and on a grander scale. Hitler's
repressive policies had also brought an end to labor strife and to socialist
movements. In Hitler, German capital saw the opportunity for a prosperous
future, with a fair share of imperialist spoils.

The Treaty of Versailles clearly required that Germany's armaments were to
remain strictly limited, and Western governments generally continued to pay
lip service to that provision. Without armaments Hitler's expansionist
yearnings could remain only empty words. But the other Western powers did
allow Germany to rearm, and to understand why, we need to review the overall
crisis being faced by capitalism at that time, particularly from the
perspective of the United States.

Reactions to Hitler in Britain and France were mixed. Many were shocked by
his policies and frightened by his racism and militarist ambitions. But
there were also fascist sympathies present in both countries, particularly
in the British royal family. In capitalist circles there was relief that
socialism had been squashed in Germany, and there was support for Hitler's
anti-Soviet agenda. Policy toward Germany vacillated right up to the
outbreak of World War II, when appeasement was finally abandoned.

The United States was remote from the turmoil going on in Europe and had its
own domestic economic troubles to deal with. The US was also concerned with
developments in Asia, where Japan was becoming a formidable power and a
threat to America's imperial outposts and ambitions. Throughout most of the
thirties official US foreign policy remained neutral and isolationist. On
the surface it appeared that the US wasn't greatly concerned with how things
turned out in Europe or Asia. The US didn't enter World War II until
attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, years after the war had begun in Europe,
and long after Japan had embarked on an expansionist invasion of Asia.

It seemed that the US was a foolish sleeping giant during the thirties,
living in blissful ignorance while the world was falling apart around it.
The giant stumbled, apparently, into its role in World War II, and only
through good fortune emerged afterwards in a globally dominant position. But
in reviewing the record of US actions during this period, we will find that
sleeping giant is the wrong metaphor. More appropriate would be the tale of
Jack the Giant Killer, with Uncle Sam in the role of clever Jack.

In that tale, we find Jack asleep in a tree. While he sleeps, two giants sit
down beneath his tree. On waking Jack is faced with the problem of saving
himself, but being clever, he soon comes up with a plan. He tosses a stone
down on the first giant, who assumes his fellow giant is the culprit. After
a few more carefully placed stones, the two giants soon begin to battle,
kill each other, and Jack escapes with his life and loot from the giants.

Just as Jack was temporarily safe in his tree, unseen by the giants, so was
Uncle Sam safe in America, separated by wide oceans from trouble and strife.
But like Jack, the US was in fact endangered. In a world where Germany
controlled Russia, and Japan controlled Asia, the established imperial order
would be utterly transformed, and much to the disadvantage of America. Like
Jack, Uncle Sam followed a clever strategy, a strategy that got others to do
most of the work necessary to for him to achieve his own goals.

Instead of opposing the rise of Japan and Germany, which self-interest would
have indicated, the US did just the opposite. The US did not act to stop
German rearmament under Hitler, but instead the US invested heavily in
Germany, and provided it with technologies and materials for use in building
its war machine. It was in a General Motors plant, which operated in Germany
before and during the war, that the bombers were built which raided London
during the blitz.

Similarly, the US invested in Japan and provided it with steel and the other
materials of war. In the short term, the US benefitted economically from the
trade with Germany and Japan, and it also benefitted, at least from the
capitalist perspective, from the Nazi-supported suppression of the Spanish
Republic. In the longer term, the arming of Japan and Germany had the same
effect as the stones Jack threw: it encouraged giants to battle among