“It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”
– Leonard Cohen: “Democracy”
No country in the world history has been as yearned for and despised as the United States of America; even more so in recent times, as the unipolar superpower of the world. Ironic is the observation that those who hate America and those who love America to the extremes do so for the same reason: its expansionist market capitalism.
Those that advocate capitalism find in America its citadel. America remains the world’s largest consumeristic society, its economy apparently market-driven. There are opportunities for one and all to prosper and perish depending on the level of drive they have towards worshipping the capital. American capitalism depicts the ultimate romance with humanized money and dehumanized labor.
Likewise, those that detest individualism and private capital, discover in America the most grotesque form of imperialistic intent. Its parasitical monopolistic control over world economy presents a picture of a people – greedy and convenient bunch choosing a political structure that terrorizes rest of the world. A country of bad presidents and precedents. A most insensitive society, one that consumes the most, and wastes the most. America as a country remains vulgar and war-mongering, and hence needs to be done away with.
Just as owing to its political and cultural hegemony, perceived norms of everything Americana pervade one and all, in our times, there is an equal amount of fixation with a philosophy of anti-Americanism as well. Progressive forces have united together in several forums to imagine a world without America. If America is the cause behind endless war legacies, if America is the reason behind economic imbalances and gaps, if America is the factor that propels capitalistic onslaughts, wouldn’t we have a better world without America?
To situate an answer, we need to further interrogate what constitutes America within its heterogenous compositions, without merely resorting to essentializing the country as some sort of evil empire.
Anti-Americanism is the flip side of the patriotic Americanism, a nationalistic inclination. Much as it would sound debatable, anti-Americanism does not equate anti-capitalism. In fact, some of the strongest anti-capitalism formations are located within the US. America is not only the biggest capitalistic culmination, it is also the playing field for the biggest capitalistic contradictions. Owing to its unique position as the world’s biggest corporate headquarters, it provides for the biggest class society interactions. It is not merely a coincidence that the working poor of America are the invisible ones for the rest of the world. It is how capitalism is supposed to function. Nowhere else in the world are the rich so rich, and the poor relatively so poor. And therefore America becomes a necessary political landscape for the world’s most intense and upcoming revolutionary battle.
In order to curtail any possibilities for prospective revolutions inside the country, the ruling class system of the US through its active media components propagate various imageries deliberately and grossly skewed to depict an Utopian image of the American peoples. Not just the world outside of the US, but also the people within, limit their imaginings to an American make-believe. Even as the top .01% (14,000) families in the U.S. now own 22.2% of the nation’s wealth, while the bottom 90% (around 133 million) families, a mere 4%, glorified media representations of America are such enormously overstated that the country is loved and loathed to the extremes owing to its assumed “prosperity”. The huge working class of America that reels under untold debts and seasonal unemployment which could easily become the most authentic narrator of supremely exploitative conditions in the world is perceived instead as an enemy class by the rest of the world. The frustration that should ideally manifest against the ruling power structure of the US, which systematically hoodwinks its people into believing in a Utopia, is instead channeled against the entirety of complexed American experiences. Popular global anger against America is thereby a byproduct of reactionary Americanization, since the anti-American activists necessarily buy into the ruling class narratives about the propagandized promises and glories.
In reality, Americans suffer from immense domestic misrules like most other nations of the world, and more so, in some areas – for instances, absence of universal healthcare, inaccessibly expensive education system, and largest prison-industrial complex in the world. America is struggling with intense racial tensions, gender inequalities at mammoth scales, an ever widening wealth gap, and religious chauvinism threatening the core of mutual co-existence principles. This is typical of most other countries, with or without an industrially developed economy.
But what is significant about America is what is often lesser told.
The America that we know of today offers us great lessons in anti-colonialism. Yet, immersed as we are, replete with images of Hannah Montana and Hollywood blockbusters, we often forget to recall how America is also a symbol of remarkable resistance. Since often times, it is the tool of the masters that the slaves seize to declare their wars, revolutionary Malcolm X used to cite American War of Independence as an example of how bloody revolutions were meant to be waged against white supremacism. On the other extreme, Gandhiji was heavily influenced by the American abolitionist Henry David Thoreau from whom he borrowed the powerful concept of civil disobedience. When Patrice Lumumba thought of natural allies for Congolese democracy, he chose to first visit the US in quest of inspiration. When Fidel Castro decided to introduce himself, he made his tour of Harlem before he went to Moscow. It was FDR whom Stalin trusted more than any other leader during the Second World War. It was the American journalism hero John Reed who wrote the most comprehensive review of the October Revolution. The first ever May Day was celebrated in honor of the labor class in Chicago way before it was officially observed in the USSR. The Miners’ Angel, “Mother” Jones was one of the most extraordinary labor organizers whose speech “Agitation- The greatest factor for progress” still continues to inspire the working class worldwide.
Many others including Frederick Douglass, W.E.B Du Bois, Emma Goldman, Woody Guthrie, Joe Hill, Helen Keller, Eugene Debs, Sylvia Woods, John Steinbeck, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, I.F. Stone, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, A. Philip Randolph, Daniel Ellsberg, Allen Ginsberg, Abby Lincoln, Assata Shakur, George Jackson, Bob Dylan, Abbie Hoffman, Andrea Dworkin, Stokley Carmichael, and Howard Zinn have been steadfastly Americans while challenging the American power structure. In recent times, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Michael Moore, Amy Goodman, William Blum, Ralph Nader are among scores of other Americans who have been the most vehement critics, providing useful resources to the rest of the world about inner workings of the American regimes.
America has witnessed more revolutionary upheavals than any other modern nation. Abolitionism, women suffrage movement, Wobblies, anarchism, anti-McCarthyism, black upsurge against racial segregation, New Left, anti-Vietnam War resistance movement, Stonewall and LGBT movements, Black Panther Party, and anti-WTO protests in Seattle are among hundreds of other small and significant revolutionary sparks which provide important lessons for the global working class solidarity against capitalism, racism and patriarchy.
America was once founded on slave labor. Today, it is developing via cheap, outsourced, exploited, sweatshop labor. Unlike the geographical exclusivity attached to traditional slave labor, the modern capitalistic matrix prospers with mutual cooperation among supporting nation-state agents. Due to this inherent quality of modern capital to transcend boundaries and races, nationalities and religions, the entire world is gradually turning into an Americanized superstructure. And contrary to prevailing apprehensions, this indeed is a healthy sign.
In the past, the ruled subjects had to contest several layers of oppressors. There were feudal lords, the monarchies, the colonialists, the domestic usurpers, and the international oligarchies. The exploiter classes were far and wide, difficult to trace and too many to be effectively challenged. With Americanization, there are hardly any noticeable differences between the domestic exploiters vis-a-vis the foreign ones. With mergers and acquisitions, free trade and unbridled flow of global capital without consideration to national boundaries, the monopolists are now being easily spotted, and the resistance movements are being better organized. America is in our backyards, right inside our Parliament, visibly overpricing our sandwiches at the burger shop by the street corners, privatizing our education and health sectors, and driving our debt-ridden farmers to suicides. A world without America is not a choice anymore. It is the most visible variable in our everyday life.
What is heartening is that in such times, a world without America would also be a world without inspirations for the most oppressed to contest the mightiest. It is not a world without America, but a world stripped of American Utopia that we need to strive for, get educated about and remain committed to.
(Saswat Pattanayak, 2010. Written for Kindle Magazine)