Note: the above image from the Google image profile for this article.
Antonio Gramsci wrote that “Cultural hegemony is the idea that the dominant ideology of society-the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and morals-reflects that of the ruling class. The dominant ideology justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.” To maintain its own internal cultural hegemony, the U.S. empire has to keep its people convinced of a big lie: that Washington’s global dominance is still present and set to expand.
It’s so critical for the empire to keep the masses believing this because when we find out about how Russia and China’s rise is irreversible, when we find that a multi-polar world order has already been established, and when we become aware that the Pentagon itself admits that American global power is rapidly declining, the U.S./NATO empire’s ever-growing military buildup efforts and ever-escalating economic warfare look absurd. The core of the propaganda behind this new cold war is that the U.S. and its allies will be able to regain their prosperity by successfully competing with the challengers to Washington’s hegemony. The pro-imperialist pundits assure us that a grand turning point is just around the corner. But what are we to believe when we find out that our oligarchic rulers intend to doom us to endless war?
This is the logical conclusion of the idea that Washington and its client states must never stop pushing towards the restoration of the 20th century American-dominated world order. Such a restoration will never come. So a lifetime of war, along with a lifetime of the austerity and internal police state expansions that war brings, are what we’re being demanded to accept.
In one version of the future, the assault on the Capitol marks the point at which the forces of illiberalism, mob violence and disinformation, much of it stoked and financed by the Russian government, reached critical mass in the West. In another version, the assault will be remembered as a historical anomaly when compared with the recovery of freedom in places where it once seemed lost — not just Russia but also China, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. How can Joe Biden move history toward the second version? By pursuing a foreign policy that puts dissidents first.
If the countries Stephens mentions have so far survived all of Washington’s regime change attempts, there’s no serious reason to expect the empire to succeed in these next few years simply because of a pro-coup branding exercise. U.S. foreign policy has been about financing, creating propaganda for, and militarily training pro-Washington political factions within these and numerous other countries ever since they fell out of the empire’s range of control. Trump did this just as aggressively as Obama did. Biden’s model of imperialism, while more competent and more alliance-ready than Trump’s was, isn’t going to suddenly reverse the trend of lost imperialist territory.
No, Washington isn’t about to go on a new spree of conquests. In the 2020s and beyond, the story of U.S. imperialism will be one of turning inwards. Of the empire exploiting its internal neo-colonies and workers ever more, while trying to hold onto its external neo-colonies (one of which was lost to the anti-imperialist movement just a few months ago when Bolivia’s coup regime got ousted by the country’s socialist party). If enough Third World revolutions happen, the U.S. will become a Brazil with nukes, where the vast majority of people are living in poverty and the ruling class is threatening to impose military dictatorship to maintain order. Take out imperialism’s ability to carry out increasing global exploitation and expansion, and its internal economic machine stops working.
Regardless of which party has the presidency, the country is perpetually moving in this direction; Biden’s White House aims to push more austerity while passing a Patriot Act 2.0, and already Biden has fortified the country’s mass incarceration paradigm by passing a symbolic prison reform which takes scrutiny away from the ongoing tyranny of our police state. Biden so far hasn’t even taken executive action to reunite the children Trump separated at the border with their parents. For as long as the United States continues to exist, its domestic policies will continue to trend towards the necro-political, towards what inflicts more violence and misery upon those capitalism deems to be expendable. There’s no convincing the masses that this system is ideal; the atrocious material conditions are hard to ignore. So the state can only lean ever more heavily onto war propaganda to keep society complacent with what’s happening.
When the masses are focused on the manufactured threats from Russia, Iran, or other U.S. rivals, they’re less likely to seek out class consciousness. And if some of the masses do find a semblance of class consciousness in spite of living under imperialist cultural hegemony, they’re less likely to seriously study Marxism and adopt its proletarian revolutionary goals when they’re convinced that all the existing socialist states are “authoritarian” and “oppressive.”
This is the insidious function that propaganda against China, Cuba, and the DPRK serve, with the other two Marxist-Leninist countries Vietnam and Laos occasionally getting targeted with similar vilifying rhetoric. By painting the world’s socialist projects as even more necro-political than the United States is, or at the very least as a moral equivalent to the United States, the liberal propagandists keep the country’s left-leaning individuals from gaining a true understanding of which system they need to seek out. And therefore of which actions they’ll need to take to bring down capitalism and imperialism.
The increasing tenseness of the country’s political climate is making it riskier for those who’ve seen past the imperialist cultural hegemony to speak their truths too brazenly. The tightening of online censorship and the looming expansions of the police and surveillance state also limit our options for voicing dissent. But what I can do is urge my readers to study the revolutionary literature which past successful liberation fighters have left for us. Read Marx and Engels. Read Lenin’s The State and Revolution. Read Mao’s works, especially Combat Liberalism. Read Che Guevera’s Guerrilla Warfare. Gain the knowledge that you’ll need to form or become part of a revolutionary cadre in your local area, and to commit to the sacrifices we must make in order to bring down the empire.
What’s preventing others with our class interests from joining us is the imperialist cultural hegemony, with our society’s widespread disdain for China being the biggest roadblock to people gaining revolutionary consciousness. But if we feel held back by this roadblock, we’re approaching our task the wrong way; propaganda alone can’t transform people’s mindsets, it’s the conditions that can reliably spur them into taking drastic action. If we keep putting forth our line of a materially based strategy for bringing proletarian democracy, much of society will be drawn towards it, and the empire’s propagandists will fail in their goal of fooling the vast majority.
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