North Africa has been in revolt and the White House has been quiet… too quiet. Of course, this may be due to embarrassment that the despots they controversially supported to protect oil supplies have now been exposed as explicitly illegitimate. But there is something more ominous in the American silence – the threat of a forthcoming imperialism.
Contemporary protests are characteristically hindered from the start: they are ‘post-political’. This means that they are againstmany things – tyranny, corruption, injustice – but they are not for anything. They do not provide a strong alternative, except a vague ballot box notion of liberty, which is useless for practicalities: “the revolutionary moment presupposes a wonderful but unrealistic optimism that votes and liberty will put food on the table; but it doesn’t!” (Simon Schama Newsnight).
Don’t get me wrong – the fight against authoritarianism is a worthy battle. But it leaves a vacuum of entire nations frozen to the spot by fear of post-revolution economic crisis and fear of political extremism from the far right or left. This is what the US is waiting for: a blank slate onto which they can push free market and cultural imperialism.
An example of free market imperialism comes from the other end of the continent. When South Africa came to the end of apartheid, Mandela’s priority was the vote and democratic representation of black people. Now, poverty and segregation is no longer legitimate – but it is worse than it has ever been. Mandela was so bent on fighting for democracy that he conceded the economy to the free market: and the American multinationals swooped in buying up major resources and services. A portentous phrase from mid-90’s South Africa: “hey, we got the state; now where’s the power?”
An example cultural imperialism can be learnt from South America. In the seventies they experienced the American-backed oppression that comes with market ‘freedom’. Now they have come out the other end and are wise to this threat, but instead have discovered a new cultural American imperialism. Flooded with resistance products – Hollywood transgression, Che Guevara logos, Rage Against the Machine – the people are distracted from true social progress and instead indulge in consumer fantasy.
A warning to any country that is about to discover democracy – there is American imperialism just around the corner. They will wait until the country is on it’s knees then swoop in with World Bank or IMF ‘aid’, blackmailing nations to open up to the world market and allowing American companies to buy entire economies. Even if the people are wise to free market imperialism, the revolution’s ideals of social justice will be diluted by American popular culture. It is in the interests of the western capitalist to keep the east in a subordinate position. While they are poor they are forced to produce western commodities for subsistence wages – allowing companies to profit from them. Autonomy from the west is crucial for a successful end to the 2011 revolution.