Linking struggles at home and abroad
AT A recent Occupy event in Seattle, there was a presentation by the Economic Opportunity Institute. The EOI is a center that does research into economic inequality and proposes policy solutions from a progressive viewpoint. One example of its efforts is the Washington state minimum wage law passed by voters a few years ago. This indexes the minimum wage to inflation--one of the few in the U.S. that does this.
The work of the EOI is very helpful to building opposition to exploitation. Its statistics, charts and graphs are useful in organizing.
During the discussion, a panelist from Occupy Seattle asked, in a very critical tone, "But how does your work help bring down the American Empire?" Unfortunately, the discussion that followed didn't really answer the question.
The underlying assumption of the hostile questioner had been expressed earlier at the event: The U.S. population is "bought off" by high living standards. Even redistributing the wealth in the U.S. will only move it around among the already affluent.
The assumptions of the questioner completely miss the mark. The whole Occupy movement was a response to the downward push on the living standards of the vast majority and the increasing concentration of wealth. Far from being "bought off," the vast majority of people in the U.S. suffer increased exploitation and oppression--brilliantly captured in Occupy's slogan, "We are the 99 percent."
Just as importantly, the questioner missed the strategic point: Who is it that can "bring down the American Empire?"
If we look at one of the biggest defeats suffered by U.S. imperialism---the Vietnam War--we find an answer to that question. There were three main forces that got the U.S. out of Vietnam: The resistance of the Vietnamese themselves; the antiwar movement within the U.S. military, which prevented the U.S. from continuing to rely on ground troops; and the domestic antiwar movement which facilitated the antiwar movement in the military.
In other words, a big part of the answer to the question is that it was people in the U.S. that defeated the U.S. empire during the Vietnam War. Likewise, it must ultimately be people in the U.S. who can "bring down the American empire."
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HOW CAN this happen?
When people are fighting against the 1 percent that are exploiting them and oppressing them here, they can begin to broaden that fight against what the U.S. is doing abroad--just as Occupy was inspired by Egypt, Greece and Spain, and in turn inspired other movements around the world.
If people are not fighting in large numbers against the issues they face every day, it is a safe bet that they will not be fighting in large numbers against U.S. policies abroad. The antiwar movement in the 1960s, for example, was embedded in other mass movements against oppression and exploitation--the civil rights movement, the women's liberation movement, the LGBT movement, the student movement and a rank-and-file workers' revolt.
In the long run, the only way to "bring down the American Empire" is to bring down American capitalism. The major force that can do that is the working class, which produces all the wealth of capitalism. Workers can cut off the flow of profit, effectively fight capitalist priorities through strikes and ultimately take over the economy and reorganize it to meet human needs.
U.S. imperialism serves the profit and power of the 1 percent. When we overthrow the 1 percent and their system, there will be no need for U.S. domination and intervention around the world.
The limited fights against aspects of oppression and exploitation can grow, deepen and develop into a revolutionary challenge to capitalism. Only this challenge can ultimately bring down the American capitalism and, therefore, American empire. If workers do not challenge exploitation and oppression they will never successfully challenge "American empire."
This means that the work of the EOI need not be separate from the fight against Imperialism. Anything that stokes the fight against exploitation can help build the basis for a fight against imperialism. Of course, not all fights against exploitation will end up directly confronting imperialism--but without the fight against exploitation there can never be a successful fight against imperialism.
The attitude of the questioner leads to a moralistic strategy. (Since, if we cannot appeal to people's material interests, we can only appeal to their morality.) But even widespread moral opposition to U.S. empire can never tap the power necessary to bring it down.
Only taking the economic power away from the 1 percent can accomplish this task. The fight against exploitation, poverty and unequal distribution of wealth is a key part of beginning to tap into that power.
Far from being a diversion or in competition to anti-imperialism, the exposure of exploitation, poverty and extreme concentration of wealth is necessary to bringing down the American empire.
Steve Leigh, Seattle