The southern veins remain open

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Editor's Introduction to Newly Edited Book on "Imperialism of Our Time"

A toolbox to close our veins

“In these lands, we are not witnessing the wild childhood of capitalism, but its decrepitude” (Eduardo Galeano, The open veins of Latin America).

“The Cerca spent the night there: at dawn it crawled to Itararé where the road to Huánuco sinks. Two impassable mountains watch over the gorge: the reddish Pucamina and the mournful Yantacaca, inaccessible even to birds. On the fifth day, the Fence defeated the birds” (Manuel Scorza, Good morning to the dead).

The concept of imperialism has a bad reputation. Undoubtedly, in the hegemonic intellectual and academic world, it is treated as an outdated term, centrally ideological and with little explanatory capacity about our current reality. In this “Globalization Era”, we do not need to re-edit categories from other historical moments that would lead us to old recipes to improve the lives of our peoples, but rather recognize the times we live in and make realism prevail.

This vision, even when motivated by noble intentions, immobilizes us and leads us to let ourselves be convinced that this unequal world can only be transformed in its molecular dimension. However, the fact that much critical thinking has abandoned certain categories in favor of friendlier explanations of establishment academic and political of our time is part of the triumph of the western and capitalist model of civilization after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Everywhere we look in the Global South, we find situations that require global explanations. The appropriation of common goods in Africa and Latin America, the expansion of textile factories in sub-human working conditions in Asia, the dominance of production in the countries of Southern Europe and North Africa by companies based in Germany and France; the domination of the State of Israel over Palestine; the imposition of private property on communal spaces, transforming them into spaces for capital accumulation; the countless military interventions in the Middle East; the imposition of American way of life through the US cultural industry; these are just expressions that global capitalism is, as Samir Amin says, a “system that generates inequality between countries and regions”. This inequality is not an abstraction, it is not pure theoretical lucubration: it is lived in the bodies of the oppressed men and women of the South.

That is why we consider that the most adequate category to understand this global inequality is imperialism. We consider it urgent to once again give content, updated for our time and for our struggles, to a powerful concept in explanatory terms and historically associated with the struggles of peoples for liberation. Imperialism is both a concept and a category native to our Southern emancipation projects.

The trajectory of this theoretical-political concept is widely disseminated. Until the end of the XNUMXth century, Great Britain experienced its most intense period of capitalist expansion. After suffering a heavy economic crisis, the re-impulse of its own capitalism implied a new wave of global expansion of western capitalist civilization. In this case, the most significant novelty in relation to previous colonial practices was that expansion responded, above all, to the needs of capital accumulation in Europe's industrial centers. As Hobson, a liberal critical of the impositions of the English government on the rest of the world, pointed out,

All businessmen admit that the growth of the productive powers in their countries exceeds the growth of consumption, that more goods can be produced than can be sold at a profit, and that there is more capital than can be profitably invested. . This economic situation is what forms the root of imperialism.

This reading motivated Marxist thinkers such as Lenin, Rosa Luxemburgo, Kautsky, among others, to pay attention to this new stage that was opening up in the world. Lenin's work, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, undoubtedly marked a before and after in the discussion on imperialism. This concept not only explained the concentration of power and income in the countries of the North, but also the mechanism of concentration and monopolization of capital, based on the export of capital from imperialist countries to the peripheries of the world, favored by the development of financial capital and, at the same time, appropriating resources from the South to guarantee production conditions in the North.

To a large extent, we can see these years of global expansion of Northern capital, particularly English capital, as a tangle of capitalism and colonialism. In fact, a good part of the operation of this so-called civilizing process in the North was based on economic liberalization and the political dependence of a quarter of the world. Asia, Africa and the Middle East were divided up as the property of different imperialist countries in Europe. Thus, a quarter of the world was distributed in colonies to which transnational capitalist corporations imposed the new duty to be. In the case of Latin America, imperialism took the form of economic dependence in a context of supposed national political independence. As Manuel Scorza presented it in his magnificent and harrowing history, foreign capital settled in our lands, appropriating water, mountains and even life itself.

In addition to this expansion, global capital entered a new and terrible phase of crisis. A war without precedent until that moment, which destroyed the centers of classical imperialism, was the most dehumanizing expression of this new phase of development of the world order that generated inequality. It is in this context that a new global hegemony emerges that ends up consolidating itself after the Second World War: the United States. Far from trying to stoke inter-power conflict, the United States has managed to be the best representative of US capital and global capital for at least 50 years. They bet on the reconstruction of Europe to reach profitable markets for their domestic industrial expansion, they facilitated negotiations to boost productive investment flows in the countries of the South, they exported their cultural patterns of consumption around the world, they openly participated in military operations against leftist projects in several countries and imposed dictatorial regimes in a number of countries in the South. As the historian Perry Anderson opportunely said, the United States based its new imperial logic on a combination of the productive strength of its economy, its capacity for military dominance and its hegemonic capacity through the legitimacy achieved by its democracy and its cultural model. It is, in good measure, “a velvet glove with an iron hand inside”.

In addition to this success of US imperialism, popular resistance throughout the global South in the 1960s, the Cuban Revolution and the defeat of the empire in Vietnam marked a new political crisis of this unequal order; at the same time, a new global economic crisis was developing, perhaps one of the most significant to explain the world we live in today.

The crisis of the 1970s found a way out again in reinvigorated imperialism. Neoliberalism and imperialism came together to give rise to a new cycle of financial, productive and military impositions from North to South. The new global (dis)order born of this capitalist crisis of the 1970s multiplied previously existing inequalities and generated an unprecedented trend towards financialization and looting. After declaring the “death of ideologies” and the “end of history” in favor of a new free, democratic and capitalist global world, the supposedly new American century is, once again, in an undeniable crisis. But this crisis does not have as a necessary counterpart the conditions of greater dignity for the peoples of the South. On the contrary, the crisis of US imperialism accentuates barbarism: it directly intervenes militarily in the Middle East, multiplies its financial impositions, absorbs the masses of capital in the world and converts them into financial capital, develops new formats of hybrid war against countries that they don't want to cede their sovereignty, from Syria to Venezuela.

This book tries, with dialogue and collective debate, to build a new reading about the imperialism of our time. It is a toolbox for understanding the time we have to live and renewing our militant commitment against all forms of oppression. Understanding how imperialism operates today, through what mechanism, delimiting the depth of its crisis and the possibilities of alternative hegemonies allows us to re-edit the commitment to the liberation of our peoples from the Global South. It allows us to think that, to a large extent, we must stop the bleeding caused by the spoliation of our bodies, our culture, our common goods and our work. It allows rebuilding a historical base on which we can stand, which Che summed up by saying that, beyond tactical disagreements, “as regards the great strategic objective, the total destruction of imperialism through struggle, we have to be intransigent”.

We include here five chapters that cross a series of points of debate against the commemorative readings of neoliberal globalization, against the “there is no alternative”. They call into question the role that the imperialist countries grant to our Southern economies as guarantors of cheap food, the new (old) forms of labor exploitation, the characteristics of competition between capitals on a global scale, the new military strategy of the United States in the context of crisis of its hegemonic project and the nodal points for interpreting the hegemonic succession that we are experiencing as an opportunity, at the same time as a great risk.

We hope that these lines are a contribution to understanding the monstrosity of the enemy, but, at the same time, that they lead us to improve our tools and strengthen our trenches. Because, definitely, no matter how terrible the enemy's way of operating, we will always fight for our dreams of justice. As the Palestinian poet Samih Al-Qassem told us in his “Bankruptcy Report”,

even if you put out your fires in my eyes,
even if you fill me with anguish,
even if you forge my coins,
or nip my children's smiles in the bud,
even if you raise a thousand walls,
and drive nails into my humiliated eyes,
enemy of man,
there will be no truce
and I will fight to the end.

* Emiliano Lopez Professor of Sociology at the National University of La Plata (Argentina).


Emiliano López (org.). The veins of the South remain open: Debates on the imperialism of our time. São Paulo, Popular Expression, 2020, 178 pages.


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