Imperialism and the “Dictator” Label

So who or what are these new “dictatorships”?

They are the independent, or semi-independent, post-colonial states, almost always with civil and elected governments, which have simply managed to achieve and maintain some political will outside imperial grand strategy.

Tim Anderson

In its drive for a “New Middle East” the great power is moving against every single independent state in the oil-rich region. One by one they are being set up for destruction.

Strategic control is pursued through two linked Pentagon doctrines: “broad spectrum dominance,” a military, economic and ideological subjugation; and the globalist “destroying disconnectedness”.

In its ideological war imperialism tries to legitimise itself with human rights claims: the protection of civilian populations and women; its targets are “dictatorships.”

But given that the imperial power is the grand dictator – unaccountable, brutal and overwhelming – who or what are these other “dictatorships”?

Anyone with a little history would recall that the empire itself, not that long ago, actually set up or backed a large number of subordinate military dictatorships: for example in South Korea, pre-revolutionary Cuba, Iran, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Haiti, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Egypt. They can’t be referring to these.

So who or what are these new “dictatorships”?

They are the independent, or semi-independent, post-colonial states, almost always with civil and elected governments, which have simply managed to achieve and maintain some political will outside imperial grand strategy.

In the imperial cultures, even amongst critical thinkers, it is not well understood that post-colonial peoples need strong and independent states, along with widespread popular participation to defend them. These states are indispensable for building achievements in participation, education, health and social security, and in defending those achievements.

The imperial powers have never tried to reshape the post-colonial peoples “in their own image.” That would be to create competitors. Great power prefers weak, divided, ethnically fractious groups with little independent will. In that way their resources, markets and populations are more easily dominated.

Without discounting the many problems of post-colonial states, we can safely assume that imperialism is far happier with a divided Balkans, a fractious Iraq, coup-ridden Latin American states, tribally-torn Libya and a fragmented Syria. If Washington could “balkanize” or at least isolate Russia and China it would be happier still.

With divided countries the great power has its way; but the dreams of wider cooperation, pan-Arabism, pan-Africanism and a united Latin America are crushed. Further, nothing substantial in social capacity can be built in the absence of strong political will and in the presence of great power intervention.

In the imperial cultures, liberals, syndicalists and anarchists poorly recognise this need for strong post-colonial states. They tend to see all states through the lens of their own: tightly locked into the imperial network of corporate subsidy, privatisation and war; states “captured” by the ambitions of giant corporations.

However, post-colonial states can be rather different. It required significant independent political will, for example, back in the 1950s, for the Arbenz government of Guatemala to undertake agrarian reform and for the Mossadegh government of Iran to nationalise oil. Similarly, the Allende government in Chile (1970-73) required substantial independent strength and popular support to carry out its agrarian reform and nationalisations. Yet neither these governments nor their states were sufficiently strong to survive imperial reaction and intervention.

More recently, the governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have embarked on significant social democratic reforms which break with the imperial model. They have all been branded “dictatorships,” for their defiance of the neoliberal order. The word “dictatorship” now signals an imperial-backed campaign of delegitimation and subversion.

The reasons for the “dictatorship” tag have included confronting oil monopolies, rejecting US military bases, interfering with the prerogatives of media monopolies, rejecting IMF programs, rejecting “war on drugs” programs, and so on. In recent years Washington has (unsuccessfully) tried coups in each of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, despite winning election after election, is branded a “dictator” by most of the corporate media. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa is branded a “dictator” for introducing some modest measures of democratic accountability on the very undemocratic corporate media.

Cuba, with the most far-reaching programs of social inclusion, has been branded a “dictatorship” for decades, because it has a socialist constitution and its representative democracy does not allow for capitalist restoration. The pejorative labels attached to Cuba have sought to legitimise an attempted invasion, terrorist bombings, attempted assassinations and half a century of economic blockade.

In Syria a secular government which has made substantial advances for its people and enjoys wide popular support is now targeted as a “dictatorship.” A US-NATO-Gulf Council plot, begun several years back and now masquerading as a popular uprising, relies on delegitimation as the foreign intervention deepens.

The vilification of the Syrian government has cowardly packs, world-wide, baying for blood. These advocates of “humanitarian intervention” seemed only partly satisfied, last year, with the pitiful sight of the Libyan leader publicly tortured and murdered.

Such is the vilification campaign against Syria’s legitimate President, Bashar Al Assad, that the loudest accusations of “brutal dictator” seem to come from those with the least understanding of contemporary Syria. Bashar Al Assad is a very long way from the empire’s favourites, like Suharto, Batista, Somoza, Duvalier, Pinochet and Mubarak.

In any case, and in this climate, many forget the founding principle of both human rights and international law: the right of a people to self-determination. It is not for outsiders to say who governs another people.

Not for nothing did Ernesto Che Guevara call imperialism an “insatiable beast,” one that could not be trusted “one iota.” Not for nothing does the 118 member non-aligned movement continually stress sovereignty and non-intervention – the foundations of international law, but seen as obstacles to “human rights intervention” in the imperial cultures.

Yet the former colonies know the risks and costs of a return to colonialism.

Present day “dictators” and “dictatorships” have become the registered trademarks of a grand dictatorship which does not share power. When the word “dictator” is used, we should understand who is pointing the gun at whom.

Tim Anderson is an academic and social activist based in Sydney, Australia

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