Justice and the Return of Imperialism

By Jenkins, Dominick | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, April-June 2005 | Go to article overview

Justice and the Return of Imperialism


Jenkins, Dominick, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


The article describes how U.S. liberal conservative internationalists (Andrew Carnegie, Elihu Root, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson) used an idea of justice to legitimize "accumulation by dispossession" and America's use of the World War I to renew the imperial project as war to "make the world safe for democracy." It looks at how a similar attempt is being made today by George W. Bush and others to seize the word back from the global justice movement and, by looking at how U.S. socialists (Eugene Debbs) resisted the attempt to use the language of justice against them, suggests how that attempt can be overcome. Keywords: justice, imperialism, war, United States, Homestead.

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  'Twas in Pennsylvania town not very long ago
  Men struck against reduction of their pay
  Their millionaire employer with philanthropic show
  Had closed the works till starved they would obey
  --William W. Delaney, Father Was Killed by the Pinkerton Men

Many groups that oppose neoliberal economic globalization now describe themselves as part of the Global Justice Movement. U.S. neoconservatives seized the September 11, 2001, attacks to attempt to take the word justice back and labeled their war against terrorism Operation Infinite Justice. Notoriously, when it was pointed out that their initial wording would play badly in the Middle East because of the Muslim belief that only God can claim to be infinitely just, they then changed the name to Operation Enduring Freedom.

Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy drew attention to these maneuverings in a September 29, 2001, article, "The Algebra of Infinite Justice," published in the Guardian of London. To highlight the U.S. government's long history of being prepared to gain its ends even at the cost of untold numbers of lives of Third World people, she seized on the repeated use of the number of people killed in the World Trade Center attacks by way of justification for the use of massive force against Afghanistan. This meant that what Roy called the "algebra of infinite justice" used to justify those war preparations covered over an algebra of infinite injustice in which Third World peoples were reduced to pawns to be sacrificed in the "Great Game." Roy's article highlighted the core of the Global Justice Movement's concept of justice: the global power elites' reduction of the majority of the world's population to no more than economic and military means for their economic and military calculations.

In this article, I have two main goals. The first is to set out the main components of the idea of justice that has been used by U.S. liberal-conservative internationalists both to legitimize and hide the development of a spatial strategy for making the United States the globally hegemonic power and to construct a worldwide system of economic relations that reinforce its hegemony. The second is to elaborate the root idea of justice at the center of the Global Justice Movement and to connect it to a now largely forgotten history of U.S. socialist opposition to corporate exploitation.

I make both a conceptual and a historical argument. Historically, I show how U.S. liberal-conservative internationalists used World War I to push socialism to the margins of politics. This involved using the language of war to describe the relationship between U.S. liberal democracy and socialism.

The historical argument falls into three parts. I start by looking at how early-twentieth-century U.S. liberal-conservative internationalists presented themselves as part of a global avant garde that was removing the blocks to, and realizing opportunities for, an emerging worldwide harmony between science, technology, communications, corporate capitalism, the market, liberal-constitutional government, and the nation-state.

I then investigate how Eugene Debs, a leading U.S. socialist, used an account of Homestead and Ludlow, two notorious battles between U. …

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