The Cold War and Imperialism

By Roberts, Joe | Monthly Review, December 1989 | Go to article overview
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The Cold War and Imperialism


Roberts, Joe, Monthly Review


There is a general feeling of hope among most people in the Western world that the confrontation between the United States and the USSR which has dominated world development since the Second World War is abating and that a new era less prone to the anxiety of war is emerging.

Further, most socialists applaud the steps being taken within the socialist states to extend or introduce more meaningful democracy even while watching the economic reforms with a mixture of respect and apprehension.

Yet these developments of a generally positive sort are counterposed with developments which are more threatening. For the Third World or periphery nothing has changed for the better politically and economically. During the entire period since the Second World War peoples of the periphery have been engaged in a titanic struggle against imperialism and for national autonomy and development. Although the rhetoric of imperialism has always proclaimed that the enemy of the periphery is Communism which ultimately emanates from Moscow, this has from the start been recognized as a smokescreen by the Third World masses and even many leaders. To the degree that the USSR discontinues its ideological and military support for struggles of liberation the new directions may actually constrain the liberation process.

Certainly the United States will have to modify its anti-Soviet rationale for counterrevolutionary activity in the periphery, but there is no reason to believe it will cease or diminish its crusade to control the markets and politics of the periphery. Indeed, whether we examine the worsening terms of commodity and capital trade, the price to the periphery of debt, the institutional and policy changes imposed by the World Bank and the IMF, the retreat of private lenders, or the instigation of regional conflict and surrogate warfare inspired by the United States, there has been no ray of hope for the periphery in the easing of superpower tensions.

In fact there is reason to fear that the increase of bloc rivalries between the European Community, the United States/Canada, and Japan--the classical imperialist rivalries leading to redivision of world markets and ultimately to war--poses more long-term danger.

While the United States dominated the world of capitalist relations, it could exercise some discipline over competition and rivalry through international development, trade, and political agencies. As that hegemony has eroded since the early 1970's there are no monetary and trade bodies capable of enforcing order; the mediating function of IMF and GATT are similarly deteriorating. The relations between the center and the periphery can become even more anarchic than at present with each nation or bloc seeking to maximize its domination and exploitation of preferred sectors of the periphery.

Thus, while it may be that the United States is forced to withdraw its involvement in certain parts of the periphery, its continuing dependence on resources and consumer markets, cheap labor, and investment openings will require a continued presence in its historic hinterlands.

And the present methods for enforcing compliance and order in those regions have become more sophisticated during the time since the U.

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