Germany and the United States, two western imperialist countries, are moving further and further away from each other. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken against Obama in harsh terms, condemning US spying against Germany. Germany has become highly critical of US foreign policy. It has been revealed that Germany is even considering to join the “BRICs” talks for a new global currency to rival the US dollar on global markets.
Germany and the United States are not vastly different. They are both former colonial powers. They are both home to wealthy international banking institutions. They are both run by white wealthy billionaires.
As the disagreements between the US and Germany grow more acute, it is important to see them in the proper historical context. The “gentleman’s agreement” of sorts that arose in 1917 is proving, once again, to be unsustainable, and incompatible with the global economic setup. As much as the western powers may want or need unity against the rest of the world, this has proven to be impossible in times of economic crisis.
Rivalries Among Profiteers
At the top of the global economic set-up is a small group monopolist bankers. The huge houses of finance are the absolute centers of all economic activity in western countries, and the governments act as their mere servants. Major General of the United States Marine Corps Smedley Darlington Butler explained it best saying “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912.… Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
There has always been competition and rivalry between western imperialist countries. The US emerged as imperialists by fighting Spain for Cuba and the Philippines. Various power struggles erupted between Britain, France, and Belgium over who got to colonize certain sections of Africa and Asia. The western powers were never content with any line they drew in the colonized world. The borders drawn in one treaty were only temporary. Soon, another war would break out, and once again working people would die for bankers who were trying to carve up a bigger chunk of the globe for themselves, at the expense of their competitors.
The rivalries between the bankers of wealthy western european countries reached in a climax in the conflict known as World War One. Millions died as French, British, German, Austrians, and others battled with each other in Europe. The United States entered the fighting in 1917. The battles took place in Europe, but the issue of contention was elsewhere. The war was a battle over which group of bankers in which country had the right to colonize Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The German bankers had been up and coming rivals of the bankers in Britain, France, and the US. The conflict is remember for the widespread use of chemical weapons, among other horrors.
The Riff Raff Are Coming!
The nightmare of death in trenches across Europe had unleashed something that few ever predicted. In Germany, the sailors and soldiers had rose up and overthrew the Kaiser. In Hungary, there were mass revolts among factory workers and peasants. In Russia, there was a workers revolt as well. Unlike in the other countries, the Russian Revolution was not defeated, and reduced to mere historic footnote. The Bolsheviks, renaming themselves the “Communist Party” seized control of the country.
In Russia, and eventually the surrounding countries that made up the Soviet Union, the banks were seized by the state and made into the common property of the people. Factories, land, and other things were also seized. A new economic system, calling itself “socialism” was emerging and millions of people outside of the USSR were inspired and aligned with it.
The message of the Bolsheviks, who established the worldwide Communist International, was that the bankers in Britain, France, the United States, Germany, and elsewhere were the primary enemy of the human race. The Soviet Union rallied people across the globe to oppose them.
After a long bloody war against each other, Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, and the United States were suddenly standing together against a common enemy. They all sent troops to Russia, in the hopes of putting down “Bolshevism.” The western powers were united as they aligned with the White Army of anti-Communists, who were defeated.
The rhetoric of western newspapers in 1918 spoke of “red terror” and screamed about the evils of the “Bolsheviki.” The bankers in western countries had been fighting against each other before, but Communism now threatened all of them. A “gentleman’s agreement” of sorts was made among the bankers and billionaires. While they still had rivalries among each other for control of markets and profits, they were united against Communism, and against the third world people who rose in anti-colonial struggles.
Internationally, the Soviet Union aligned itself with many non-Communist forces seeking economic independence. The USSR supported Kamal Attaturk in developing an economically independent Turkey. The Soviet Union held conferences of anti-imperialist forces in the Middle East. The USSR and the US Communist Party even supported Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” black Nationalist movement in the United States.
The colonized peoples of the world have always fought back and rebelled against their western oppressors. It was in the 20th Century that these anti-imperialist movements greatly surged forward, aligned with Marxist-Leninists in global battle to reconstruct the world. The western imperialists were forced to stand shoulder to shoulder against the onslaught of workers revolts and third world nationalism and independence.
Battling for Markets Once Again
It is hard to say exactly how the gentleman’s agreement of 1917 was unravelled. It was a gradual process, escalated by the financial crash of 1929. Some capitalists began to engage in financial dealings with the Soviet Union, as its economy was rapidly expanding, amidst the “great depression” elsewhere.
Despite being rivals of the Germans, the US bankers supported Hitler when he seized power in Germany, seeing him as effective ally against communism. All the imperialists cheered as Ethiopia, an independently developing African nation, was crushed by Italian fascists. The British and French imperialists watched as Hitler ignored the Varseille treaty and began to thumb his nose at established protocols of international order. The US tolerated Hitler marching into Austria, and did their best to “appease” him, because the main enemy was “the reds” and their allies on the colonized world.
Huge efforts were made to preserve the unity of western capitalist countries against the communists and anti-imperialists. However, these efforts ultimately resulted in failure. The aggression of Italy, Germany, and Japan against Britain, France, and Germany finally cracked this alliance. Hitler’s seizing of various countries in Eastern Europe was a direct assault on the British and French imperialists, who felt they had “won” economic control of these countries after the first world war. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact sewed further confusion among the imperialists.
While the imperialists hoped to have unity against the Soviet Union, the material reality of the world markets rendered this impossible. Soon, another World War broke out. The Italian, German, and Japanese imperialists were on one side, and the US, British, and French on another. The Soviet Union, fighting to protect itself from Nazi aggression, was aligned with the United States.
In the aftermath of the war, the western imperialists did their best to stick together, as it seemed the whole of the earth was rising against them. The Chinese revolution, the independence of Eastern Europe, and the wave of national liberation struggles had escalated the danger to western hegemony. Their strategies and views differed, and their desire for profits overlapped causing tension, but there was a big effort to preserve this “gentleman”s agreement”, and keep the profiteers united.
Almost in unison, the imperialists attacked Korea together killing millions. They attacked Vietnam together killing further millions. They shared hatred for African anti-imperialist leaders like Patrice Lamumba, Nelson Mandella, Robert Mugabe, and Mooamar Gaddafi. The US was undisputed leader of this anti-communist, pro-imperialist coalition.
Once the cold war was over, it seemed briefly as if there was no opposition to imperialism any longer. However, the military budget of the United States did not decrease. Imperialist aggression continued in Iraq, Panama, and Serbia.
New Divisions in a New World
In 2003, when President George W. Bush invaded Iraq, he blatantly violated all established procedure among the imperialists. He ignored the United Nations. He also ignored the opposition of key NATO states.
When leaders of France voiced opposition to the US invasion of Iraq, the US media launched a mass hate campaign against them. French fries served in the US capitol were re-named “freedom fries”, despite this common dish not even having french origin. Rallies were held where bottles of french whine were dumped into the sewers. FOX news commentators urged people to boycott French products, and the airwaves told us that the French were “Socialists” and who “hate America.”
France was a longtime ally of Wall Street against the colonized and oppressed countries of the world. The US had worked with France to suppress the communist revolutionary movement in Vietnam. The US had aligned with France against many African national liberation movements.
However, this was the past. Bush hailed former eastern european countries like Poland that supported the US as the “new Europe” and railed against the other western imperialist countries, that had refused to support his invasion of Iraq.
Its Not About “Neo-Conservatism”
When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, it was widely viewed as a signal to Europe that the “arrogance” of Bush was over. Obama spoke to crowds of people in Berlin during his Presidential campaign, and was supported by the overwhelming majority of the European press and population.
However, the policy of hostility to Europe did not change. Angela Merkel’s phone had been taped from before she was even became chancellor and did not cease under Obama’s administration. Leaked cables and phone calls show the utter contempt that leaders of the US hold for their fellow western imperialist officials. The infamous phone call from Victoria Nueland with obscenities about the European Union is just one of many examples.
Any talk of Bush’s attitude being merely the policy of “Neo-Conservatives” should be forgotten. The aggression for control of world markets, the growing tension and rivalry among imperialist countries, is rooted in the material reality of the economic crisis.
In the high tech, low wage economy, of highly efficient production and impoverished workers, its getting harder and harder to make profits. Therefore, the scramble to control what profits can be made, is far more desperate. The stakes are getting higher for the gamblers on the global stock market. The danger of a gunfight at the poker table is growing.
So far, the target for military attack has been the rising coalition anti-imperialist states, who all the western billionaires can agree to hate. The leaders of Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, and China are viewed with contempt by all the western imperialists because, to some degree or other they have dared to break free. Though they have different ideologies, economic systems, and worldviews, they are all opposed to domination of the world by western European billionaires. This forms the basis for a united struggle. The imperialists are looking to preserve their “gentleman’s agreement” against this rising block of opposition.
But the longtime allies of the US are growing more and more distant. Desperation for profits is unleashing new tension among the western powers. An alliance of money hungry thieves, by its very nature, cannot be stable and permanent.
The recent sanctions against Russia from the United States have had catastrophic effects on the German economy. This is not a problem for the Wall Street. Rather, it is a blow against one of their major competitors.
With the first world war now a century behind us, millions in the US are wondering if they will be eating “Liberty Cabbage” once again. A system based on anarchy of production cannot build stable alliances.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the imperialist system is once again in peril, as a global coalition of opposition to it is rising. Even as they lose their grip on the world, the imperialists cannot remain united. Competition is the mantra of the defenders of western capitalism. It will also be their epitaph.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.