Two Forms of Resistance against Empire

Today the planet is an immense gulag. The resources of the periphery of the empire — the great majority of human beings — are channeled towards the imperial centre — the richest countries — in the manner of a colossal funnel. There are now in the world two practical routes of resistance to the US empire and their allies. One has its outstanding example in Venezuela and Cuba: the route to the construction of a socialist society. The other is the way of religious fundamentalism and theocracy: the case of countries like Iran and Afghanistan.

After long decades of refinement, the United States has taken its method of global domination to the level of virtuosity. The aim is always the same: to guarantee that the political and economic leadership of all the countries is assumed by pro-North American pro-capitalist leaders. In other words, the wealth produced by nations goes to maintain the standard of life of the privileged social layers of the empire. The imperial elites, when they can, opt for the celebration of free elections in the countries that fall into their crosshair. Liberal democracy is a political system characterized by the fact that those who have greater economic and media power win elections. In one country after another, parties and movements have taken power impelled by strong financial contributions, legions of electoral advisers, and intelligence agents sent by the emperor. This is the fate that recently befell the ex-Soviet republics. Everything about the Ukrainian “orange revolution” — down to the last orange scarf, flag, and bit of adhesive — has been designed and paid for by US strategists and capital.

And what happens if the empire cannot obtain happy results in the polls with its candidates? It tries a coup d’etat. Its electoral movement quickly becomes a paramilitary force, sections of the national army are bought, and hired assassins are sent to eliminate left leaders. Few progressive governments resist the attack. For those that prevent the coup, the empire keeps a trump card: invasion, directly or through third parties. The death of hundreds of thousands of civilians is discounted, since the empire’s military strategy does not vary: innumerable indiscriminate bombings of civilian populations in order to avoid the casualties of its soldiers (that result in inconvenient images and reports in the media) and to clear inventory of weapons.

How to avoid becoming the empire’s colony or protectorate? A way out is the Venezuelan one. When the left takes power supported by the people, it must neutralize global capitalism’s bases in the country, so that global capital cannot undermine it with the aid of the favored social layers of the country. For that, it is essential to take advantage of the endorsement of the majority that it acquired and immediately erect popular power structures, nationalize the main means of production, expropriate big monopolies and fortunes, uproot the influence of multinationals, democratize companies and mass media, clean the police and the secret services, create a popular army, universalize health and education at all levels, and set up a revolutionary judiciary. If these tasks are not undertaken as soon as possible, one ends up following the path of destruction taken by Lula in Brazil. Prudent reforms, calm steps, and quiet change suit social democracy very well, but, for the left, they mean failure and marginalization for many years.

The opposite path of resistance to empire is theocracy. In Iran, the council of guardians of the revolution considers that only ten out of one thousand candidates are integrist enough to be able to participate in the elections. The integrist president finally elected enjoys remarkable popular support, because the religious, due to the lack of a socialist alternative, is the only force able to gather greater support than transnational merchants’ puppets. Once theocrats obtain control of the state apparatus, they cannot but arm themselves to the teeth to survive in the face of imperial armies. Nowadays, only nuclear weapons provide protection. Slavoj Zizek demands a return to the cold war logic of mutual assured destruction (“Give Iranian Nukes a Chance,” In These Times, 11 August 2005). MAD looks safer in perspective than the present landscape. The Soviet Union was not attacked by the United States, nor India by Pakistan or Israel by the Arab countries, precisely because they relied on nuclear warheads. In contrast, Iran was attacked by Iraq because it did not have them. What makes an attack probable is the lack of nuclear weapons, as in invaded Iraq, not the possession of them, as in China or North Korea.

Nevertheless, there is a point that Zizek does not take in account. It is evident that Iran has the same right — or no right — as the others to count on nuclear weapons. The United States is for the moment the only perpetrator of nuclear genocide in history and, therefore, the one with the least moral authority to accuse others of developing nukes. But are the enemies of my enemy my friends? It does not seem today that the pact between Stalin and Hitler and its rationale were very fortunate. Now a significant part of the left sympathetically regards Muslim fundamentalisms clashing with US hegemony. Are religious fundamentalists different from fascists? Not in their compatibility with global capitalism. At any time they can become allies of the empire and faithful guardians of the interests of capital again. Nor in their treatment of socialists and anarchists. The destiny of the left in their territories is the same: annihilation.

It is not sure either that the logic of mutual assured destruction works in the future. At heart, it was anchored in an enlightened world, based theoretically on reason and progress, that is now disappearing. Legal torture, shooting to kill, arbitrary detentions, preventive strikes, concentration camps, deportations towards death, and brutality against the poor are again everyday occurrences in western societies. It is the result of the weakness of the left, the last bastion of defence of Enlightenment. Will nuclear dissuasion work in a world returned to pre-Enlightenment? I am afraid not.

Marco Antonio Esteban is a political activist and teacher in Barcelona, Spain.