By Rainer Shea – March 14, 2020
Since the beginning of colonialism, there’s existed a category of middle class people who’ve shared certain economic and social interests with the capitalist class. These interests consist of the wealth, security, and opportunities that one receives while benefiting from imperialism. And since these benefits are shared both by the property-owning class, much of the working class, and even some of the poor within the core imperialist countries, the rich have been able to keep most of the people in these countries opposed to socialist revolution.
This factor of settlerism continues to be an obstacle to such a revolution happening within the United States, Canada, the European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and colonialist U.S. proxy countries like Israel and Bolivia. On a global level, the question of who gets the higher economic gains and cultural status isn’t merely determined by whether or not one owns the means of production. It’s also determined by whether or not one lives in an area that benefits from imperialism.
And while Israel and Bolivia aren’t functionally imperialist countries, the Jewish and white settlers from these respective settler states get prioritized over the indigenous populations, reflecting the state of the global hierarchy that colonialism has carved out. This hierarchy is racial at its core, and it runs so deep that in his book Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat, J. Sakai concludes that American whites can’t technically be described as part of the proletariat.
“Now, there obviously is a white working class in the U.S. A large one, of many, many millions,” Sakai wrote. “From offshore oil derricks to the construction trades to auto plants. But it isn’t a proletariat. It isn’t the most exploited class from which capitalism derives its super profits. Far fucking from it. As a shorthand I call it the ‘whitetariat.’” Analogizing England’s relatively privileged proletariat with the modern benefactors of colonialism, Sakai noted that “Fred Engels himself criticized the English industrial working class of the late 19th century as a ‘bourgeois proletariat’, an aristocracy of labor.”
This is why the white working class in America and other imperialist countries has historically lacked class consciousness, instead largely clinging to reactionary or liberal ideologies. The need to throw off the system isn’t apparent to most of them, because despite the ways the system subordinates them to the rich, they make up a labor aristocracy which maintains its lifestyle through maintaining colonialism and imperialism. The wealth that the American corporatocracy gains from neo-colonialism trickles down to those in the labor aristocracy, giving them a material stake in maintaining these efforts to suck wealth from the exploited countries (as well as to maintain the regime change operations, sanctions, and war campaigns which keep the imperialist exploitation machine running).
Yet this social contract that the ruling oligarchs have created with the “whitetariat” (along with the relatively few nonwhite proletarians who get to greatly share in the benefits from imperialism) only applies for as long as the First World middle classes stay privileged enough not to want change. For the 40 million Americans who are malnourished, the benefits of imperialism are far outweighed by the ways capitalism deprives them of their needs. For those in the 1 in 3 American households that can’t readily afford food, shelter, and healthcare, there’s naturally a greater desire to reduce inequality than is the case for the people who are better off.
Neoliberalism, with its effects of austerity, wage stagnation, declining infrastructure, and soaring household debt, has naturally caused many people in the imperial core to become alienated from the centers of economic power. The United States and the rest of the West is becoming Third Worldized, beset by ever-rising inequality and a hollowing out of the public sphere. The consequence is that more and more of the First World proletariat is willing to take action against the system, as best shown by France’s anti-neoliberal movement.
So with the new global recession, which is expected to turn into an economic crash greater than the last one, the capitalist class is facing a crisis. Unless the disaffected First World masses have their living standards sufficiently brought back up, class conflict will continue to intensify.
Social democrats like Bernie Sanders have offered a direct route for avoiding this confrontation: expanding social programs and moderately raising the minimum wage so that the spoils of imperialism are more widely enjoyed. For this reason, Sanders’ campaign is demonstrating that the American proletariat predominantly desires not to tear down the global imperialist arrangement, but to make it more comfortable for the people in the belly of the beast. Sandersism aims to continue the droning and bombing campaigns, perpetuate the hybrid wars against Russia and China, and carry on the efforts towards regime change in Venezuela and other anti-imperialist countries. But these things don’t harm American living conditions, so they don’t make Sanders rejected by many of the people in the U.S. who call themselves socialists.
Whether one desires to perpetuate the global imperialist order or revolt against it depends on the perspective that one has. The battlefield of the class war is bigger than the conflict between rich and poor in the First World, or between the labor aristocracy and its bosses. It’s as big as the conflict between the people around the world who are suffering under imperialism, and the people who live within the enclaves of imperial wealth.
The north Koreans who are threatened by U.S. economic sanctions (which Sanders supports) make up the less powerful group in this conflict. As do the Venezuelan proletarians whose livelihoods are threatened by Washington’s destructive war against their socialist government, the Syrians who are struggling to rebuild their society amid Washington’s persistent sanctions campaign, the people in the Latin American countries which have been colonized by neoliberal U.S.-backed regimes, and the other victims of imperialism who are frequently left out of American discourse about class and socialism.
What I’m advocating for is essentially an American Maoist movement, where the people in the U.S. work to upheave the structure of their society so that both bourgeois rule and imperialist exploitation are defeated. Settlers was a revival of Maoist thought in America, because it diagnosed the inequity that exists between the world’s imperialist and exploited groups-an inequity whose logical solution is to overthrow the capitalist American state and replace it with a socialist power structure that doesn’t engage in imperialism.
How do we accomplish this? By harnessing the discontent of the Americans who are being increasingly left behind by capitalism, and who therefore are less likely to stay loyal to imperialism. As the rise of Sandersism has shown, being economically discontent won’t necessarily lead an American to pursue the destruction of the empire. So our task as Marxist-Leninists is to provide the perspective that can defeat the settler mindset.
This perspective needs to come from an indigenous standpoint, which can inform the actions we’ll need to take to make the situation right: abolishing the U.S. settler colonial state, doing away with all the forms of global imperialism that the U.S. benefits from, returning the land to the sovereignty of the First Nations peoples. The task of educating people about these goals is difficult, but the encouraging factor is that the bubble of imperial privilege is getting smaller. Neoliberalism is discarding more and more people into poverty, creating a significant facet of Americans who can be roused to militantly rebel against the system that keeps them and their global counterparts subjugated. Let’s set these people towards this intelligent and compassionate path, as opposed to the path of desiring greater material benefits merely for their own group.