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(en) Utopian no. #3 - Enemies of the Roman Ord By CHRIS WINSLOW (with pictures: http://www.utopianmag.com/PDFs/roman.pdf)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 29 Jan 2003 03:40:33 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

One day decades ago, during the Vietnam War, I saw a reference to a 
book called Enemies of the Roman Order: Treason,
Unrest, and Alienation in the Empire.1 Excited, I took it out of the 
library: here, I thought, I would find information on
how the vaunted Roman civilization had oppressed non-Roman 
nationalities and the Roman lower classes as well as his-
torical perspective on the fight I felt myself to be in against the 
modern world's mightiest empire. As might be imagined,
the book was a disappointment. As I remember, the preface defined its 
topic as those groups that would have been inves-
tigated by an "Un-Roman Activities Committee," if such had existed, 
and some browsing convinced me that the author
identified fully with the imperial Roman, antisubversive
mentality. I have no idea if this was a fair judgment, since
I quickly returned the book; and this long-ago failure of
nerve shows that I hadn't yet learned the necessary lessons
for living in a temporarily successful empire: how to read
the reality under pro-empire images of benign world
dominance; how much popular opinion may identify 
with destructive power--illustrated for me year later when
audiences at the movie Gladiator cheered the Roman
armies' mechanized slaughter of Germanic tribal fighters;
and how to continue favoring popular struggle, self-deter-
mination, the hope of ultimate freedom, even disorder
and anarchy (which we shouldn't idealize--
most people desire order) in a
period of momentary imperial sta-
bilization, while maintaining patient,
long-term, ironic hate for the "Roman order."
These reflections are prompted by the first year of Bush's so-
called "war on terror"; its most negative effect has not been
any specific political or military action but the way it has legit-
imized both the imperial mentality and the actual discussion
of the U.S. as an empire playing (it is usually assumed) a
benevolent role of world domination. Quite a few opinion-
makers have made this point in the last year. For example, in 
a fall 2001 article called "The Case for an American Empire,"
Wall Street Journal editorial features editor Max Boot claimed
that "Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for
the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided
by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets."
Journalist Robert D. Kaplan argues, "There's a positive side to
empire. It's in some ways the most benign form of order." And
in an essay subtitled "The Case for a Committed American
Imperialism," Michael Ignatieff opposes "nation-building lite"
(essentially, going into and out of a country like Afghanistan
too quickly). Ignatieff says frankly that the U.S. Special Forces
"are an imperial detachment, advancing American power and
interests in Central Asia. Call it peacekeeping or nation-build-
ing, call it what you like--imperial policing is what is going
on[....] In fact, America's entire war on terror is an exercise in
imperialism," in which Ignatieff believes in "staying the course"
(28, 30).2 Boot and other writers draw explicit, positive com-
parisons to Roman and British imperial history.
More recently, criticisms of Bush's plans for "preemptive"
war on Iraq have led his supporters to point proudly to
past U.S. interventions like those in Haiti in 1915 (lasted
until 1934) and the Dominican Republic in 1916 (until
1924) and 1965 (stopped the restoration of constitutionally
elected President Juan Bosch). We are seeing a massive
rehabilitation of a century and a half of U.S. imperialism.
Two qualifications should be made. First, there's more
uneasiness and opposition to Bush's overall policy, especially
on Iraq, than at a comparable period in the Vietnam War.
Second, Bush had help from al Qaeda. The wide support for
Bush's war in Afghanistan had a lot to do with the nature of
the September 11, 2001 attack, a clandestine strike against
civilians that--as terrorism usually does--terrified people
and built support for the government. As a friend of mine in
England wrote, "I guess I believe that, whatever I think about
imperialism, [...] I don't want me or mine to be flown into
some skyscraper by people who think they are going to para-
dise." Hard to argue against that. In response, we must
oppose the invasion of Afghanistan and the rest of the "war
on terror" not because the U.S. (or any country) has no right
to defend itself but because it should have been clear from
the start that the U.S. would use legitimate self-defense as a
way to win backing for goals of domination that already
existed, but with less support, before September 11.
The new admiration for Rome should give any thoughtful
person pause. Rome's power was founded on incredible bru-
tality and the destruction of entire peoples. Rome--an
imperial power even while still a republic, as its admirers
hope for the U.S.--gained domination of the known world
in three long wars against the other major power of the day,
Carthage (264-41, 218-201, and 149-46 BCE). The third,
after Carthage was already eliminated as a real rival, was
launched in response to Cato the Elder's slogan "Carthago
delenda est"--"Carthage must be obliterated." Carthage
never surrendered; the Romans conquered it house by
house, sold the survivors into slavery, tore down the remain-
ing buildings, and ploughed over the land. The Romans
made war against the Franks, Germans, Britons, Jews, and
others, enslaving their people, destroying their cultures and
bleeding their economies. The Roman armies were the most
disciplined the world had ever seen. In the end it did no
good. Its power overextended, its economy exhausted, its
culture and politics corrupted--for reasons endlessly debat-
ed by later historians--Rome declined and was ultimately
conquered and sacked by the very peoples it had oppressed.
This is the history--at least its first part, Rome's ascendancy
and brutal, devastating world power--that the "new Rome"
thinkers are idealizing. The effects of this thinking can be
seen in three of the areas that have been Bush's main con-
cerns, Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan itself.
Left: Flag of Palestine. Right: A Palestinian hurls back Israeli tear gas
 canister during clashes in Ramallah, 2000. (AP/Enric Marti)

The most obscene use of September 11's events to manipu-
late public opinion in favor of goals of domination that
already existed before the attacks is in Israeli-U.S. policy
toward Palestine. On the surface the Palestine issue may
seem morally ambiguous: two nations fighting each other
over the same land, each employing terror tactics--on the
Israeli side, occupation of whole cities, assassinations of
Palestinian leaders (and civilians), blockades and econom-
ic strangulation; on the Palestinian side, terror bombings
against civilians. In terms of immediate tactics, yes, there's
some ambiguity. I believe attacks on civilians are both
morally wrong and also counterproductive. I personally
think a Palestinian policy of consistent nonviolent protests
would win better results than the terror bombings, appeal-
ing to still-powerful Israeli ethical conceptions and remov-
ing the fear and desperation that build Israeli support for
Sharon. (At the same time there's a powerful logic to the
terror bombings: when Israeli officials boast that occupy-
ing Palestinian cities is justified because no bombings have
occurred for a month, there is almost no choice but to
stage another bombing.)
But when one goes back to the beginning there is no ambi-
guity at all about the Palestinian claim to independence.
Israel was founded on Palestinian land, against Palestinian
resistance. From the end of the nineteenth century, when
the Zionist movement began settling in Palestine, through
Israel's founding in 1948, the Zionist aim was to obtain
land by settlement, purchase, intimidation, or seizure in
order to create a state of and for Jews. The original aim
was a 100 percent Jewish population; only later did Israelis
compromise and accept an Arab minority. But the Jewish
population of historic Palestine, tiny in the 1890s, was only
11 percent in 1922 and 31 percent in 1943.3 Continuous
immigration was not enough to create a Jewish majority
even in the three-fourths of Palestine that Israel at first
controlled. In addition, during the 1948-49 war, large
numbers of Arabs fled combat areas during the fighting
and, when they tried to return, found their homes seized
as "abandoned." In other cases Israelis carried out mas-
sacres, notably in the village of Deir Yassin where they
killed 254 men, women, and children the night of April 9-
10, 1948. Naturally this encouraged Arabs elsewhere to
pril 2002 Israeli attacks. (Middle East Research and Information 
flee. Israel lists all these as having resettled voluntarily. To
this day Israeli agencies still buy up or condemn
Palestinian land and evict the Palestinian inhabitants. After
Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 war,
Israelis began settling there as well (defying UN resolu-
tions treating these areas as occupied territory to be even-
tually returned) with the almost universally conceded aim
of creating "facts on the ground" that would let Israel keep
at least some of these areas in any eventual peace deal.
There are now over 200,000 settlers in these areas, plus
175,000 more in East Jerusalem. The number has grown
more than 70 percent since 1993.4
In sum, Israelis built their state on land seized from
Palestinians. This means that the original Palestinian
demand for a single "democratic secular state" in all of
Palestine is entirely just, if not realizable. The willingness 
of most Palestinians to settle for a state in the West Bank
and Gaza, with some negotiated agreement on the rights of
displaced persons, is itself a painful compromise with Israeli
aggression. But in any case, the justice of the Palestinian
cause--i.e., their right to independence, as distinct from
their strategy--is absolute, with no moral ambiguity at all.
But this clarity has been smeared over in the U.S. by moral
equivocation stemming from September 11.
Arabs fled combat areas and, when
they returned, found their homes
seized as "abandoned." In other
cases Israelis carried out massacres,
notably in the village of Deir Yassin
where they killed 254 men, women,
and children on April 9-10, 1948.
Sharon's record and policy line--brilliant in his own
terms--ought to be clear to all. Sharon opposed the 1993
Oslo agreement when it was made and ever since.
Representing the wing of Israeli politics that believes Israel
should rightly own all of Palestine, he has, I would guess,
a maximum and minimum strategy: as a maximum goal,
to reoccupy the whole West Bank and expel enough
Palestinians to assure control, gradually shifting the popu-
lation balance through Israeli settlement; as a minimum
goal, to postpone a settlement as long as possible, using
the ever-growing Israeli settlements to ensure that Israel
gets more territory--and Palestine is smaller and more
atomized--if some agreement becomes unavoidable. If this
policy appears irrational, on the grounds that more repres-
sion will inevitably provoke more resistance, it should be
remembered that this is not necessarily true--resistance
can indeed be crushed, at least for substantial historical
periods--and in any case Sharon's goal is to prevent, not
facilitate, any agreement short of an abject surrender.
Sharon's short-term tactics are brilliant as well: every time
there has been a possible opening toward negotiations he
has either waited for or provoked a Palestinian terror
attack to block the opening (with the Palestinians getting
blamed) and reinforce his own occupation policy. On July
23, for example, Sharon bombed a Hamas residence in
Gaza, killing a military leader of Hamas and fourteen
other people, including nine children, just as the Tanzim
militias, associated with Yasir Arafat's al Fatah, were nego-
tiating with Hamas and other groups on an agreement to
"end attacks on innocent, noncombatant men, women, and
children" (New York Times July 28, 2002: 1:12). The result,
of course, was to kill that agreement and guarantee
Palestinian retaliation--which occurred with the July 31
bombing at Hebrew University that killed seven and pro-
vided, for Sharon, justification for new raids in the West
Bank. From Sharon's viewpoint this development is proba-
bly relatively positive. The reported agreement would have
increased pressure for negotiations, which Sharon opposes,
and in addition Sharon is buying time for his policy, which
he describes as "rooting out" the Palestinian Authority
(New York Times Aug. 10, 2002: A2).
But despite what should be a clear record of U.S.-backed
Israeli repression, support for Palestine is at its lowest level
in years, with the Israeli peace movement in ruins and var-
ious polls showing that a majority of U.S. respondents
consider the Palestinian Authority terrorists. (In Europe
opinion is somewhat more pro-Palestinian.) Palestinian
actions have certainly contributed to this situation; Israelis
know they or their loved ones may be blown up by suicide
bombers at any time, and Americans watching from a dis-
tance know it too. Nonetheless, when one views the whole
period since September 11, it's clear that Sharon, with his
tactical sharpness, brilliantly grasped that Palestinians
could now be painted into al Qaeda's corner and that the
U.S. policy of overthrowing the Afghan government to
smash al Qaeda could be used to justify his own policy of
smashing Palestinian self-government; there was an exact
parallel in logic, and a persuasive parallel in terms of pub-
lic opinion. And so events have largely turned out. Because
of the numbness and moral blindness produced by the
constant U.S. insistence that any and every aggression is
justified by the "war against terror," every new atrocity
seems both inevitable and somehow acceptable. For a
power-blinded population in the U.S. and partly in
Europe, U.S. world domination is both the goal and the
means to the goal of an ever-elusive security. The acme of
imperialist arrogance has come with the U.S.'s adoption of
Sharon's line that Yasir Arafat must step down before
negotiations can even begin. Aside from the possible rights
and wrongs of such a demand, it expresses an imperial
mentality that is more and more in fashion; few people (in
the U.S.!) question that the U.S. has the right to decide
what governments are acceptable for other nations.
I    raq
Flag of Iraq. (http://www.angelfire.com/nt/Gilgamesh/flags.html)
As I write, the guessing game is not about whether the U.S.
will invade Iraq, but about how and when. It is clear that
this will be a much bigger operation than in Afghanistan,
against a larger, better-trained army. More soldiers on both
sides, and many more civilians, will be killed. Yet, while
everyone is aware of what is going to happen, everyone is
numb with inevitability and moral confusion. In a variant
of Hitler's "Big Lie" technique--repeat a lie often enough
and everyone will believe it--Bush has not bothered to
present serious evidence that Iraq's regime supports al
Qaeda, etc., or that it is planning to attack any other coun-
try. He just repeats vague reports of al Qaeda contacts and
uses the future possibility of an attack to repeat that Iraq
must be stopped now. Since obtaining a House-Senate reso-
lution authorizing war (October), Bush's end-game gambit
has been to demand UN inspections under ever more severe
conditions, using either Iraq's refusal or any violation as his
excuse to move. In the process of this Big Lie operation sev-
eral other things become clear.
One is what the "war on terror" means. Despite some half-
hearted assertions by Bush's hired liars, there is no evidence
that Iraq's government had any major contacts with al Qaeda
or is sponsoring other terrorist groups, but Bush has defined
Iraq's "development of weapons of mass destruction" as ter-
Left: Damage from President Clinton's bomb attacks on Iraq, 1999
rorism. Since Iraq has some chemical and no nuclear
weapons but Pakistan and India--not to mention Israel--
have nuclear weapons, Bush means: development of such
weapons by a regime the U.S. opposes is terrorism. Iraq's gov-
ernment is, of course, a brutal military dictatorship. Plus or
minus an adjective, so are those of No. 1 antiterror ally
Pakistan, No. 1 and 2 Mideast allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia,
and NATO ally and potential anti-Iraq launching-pad
Turkey--a parliamentary regime with a constitutional mili-
tary veto. In fact, Iraq itself got arms, satellite intelligence,
and battlefield planning aid from the U.S. in its war with Iran
Since Iraq has some chemical and
no nuclear weapons but Pakistan
and India--not to mention Israel--
have nuclear weapons, Bush means:
development of such weapons by a
regime the U.S. opposes is terrorism.
ight: peace rally, Boston, 2001. (Peace Newsletter, Syracuse, NY; 
Jeffrey Manzelli)
(1980-88), which the U.S. then saw as the major threat to its
power in the Middle East. The aid went on while Iraq was
using chemical weapons in battle (New York Times Aug. 18,
2002: A1). So for Bush to complain about Iraq's weaponry is
utter hypocrisy. In sum, everything the U.S. accuses Iraq of is
also true of its allies, including, at one time, Iraq. For the U.S.
to define Iraq as terrorist means that it now claims the right
to overthrow any government it opposes.

Bush's threats also make clear who "the U.S." is. Invading Iraq
is not generally popular, as invading Afghanistan was. For
example, a New York Times report from Scottsdale, Arizona--
Bush country--found that "Democrats and political inde-
pendents interviewed were nearly unanimous in their opposi-
tion to an invasion, and most Republicans felt the same way"
(Aug. 3, 2002: A9). Bush is listening to his own advisers and
some conservative elites and ignoring public unease. Congress
and the press have mostly been backed him up, repeating his
cover story that he seeks Iraq's "disarmament" and debating
how and when, not whether. ("The question for me is, Do we
have enough time to do this right?" says Democratic Sen.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware--Times Aug. 3 2002: A8). But,
on the other hand, the mass of the people, plus what remains
of the antiwar movement, is too demoralized and intimidated
to organize protests (and, to be honest, there is no real interest
in protests now). Even the anarchist discussion sites I follow
are all but silent on Iraq, as on Palestine.
It's too soon to know just how Bush's end-game will play. In
the U.S. most Democrats as well as Republicans are now
backing him. There is more opposition in Europe, where
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder flatly opposes war
and France and Russia are trying to make Bush agree to
obtain UN authorization for an attack. My guess is that
these critics will agree to some compromise that will leave
his hands free. On the street, over 300,000 people protested
in London in September and protests are building else-
where. These will not slow Bush at all but they are impor-
tant for building a movement against the war once it begins.
A third point has to do with the motivations behind U.S.
imperial policy. During the first Iraq war in 1991, many left-
ists charged that the war was really for control of oil. At the
time, I felt this argument oversimplified the way imperialism
works. In 1990, Iraq produced about 9 percent of OPEC's oil,
Kuwait about 5 percent (including half the oil produced in a
Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone), and Saudi Arabia about 28 per-
cent. OPEC itself produced 38 percent of the world's oil. So
control of Kuwait would have given Iraq 14 percent of OPEC's
oil and 5.3 percent of world production, a significant amount,
but not enough to change oil power relations significantly. I
believed the main U.S. motive was overall power, safeguarding
the U.S. position as the major imperial force in the Middle
East, especially in view of the collapse of the Soviet Union and
resulting uncertainty about the overall world power balance.
In 2002, it should be even clearer that control of oil supplies is
a minor issue. Iraq's share of OPEC production is now a little
lower, 8 percent; Saudi Arabia's a little higher, 29 percent; and
OPEC's share of world production is around 42 percent, so
Iraq's production is roughly 3 percent of the world total.5
Clearly, a war against Iraq would not be mainly motivated by
concerns about oil. (However, some planners worry that the
war itself could disrupt supplies; a New York Times report
August 4 on potential Russian sources is aimed at reassuring
them.) In general, most of the time imperialism doesn't work
by simply intervening to control natural resources or markets.
It works by constantly reinforcing a unified mesh of power
relations--military, economic, cultural, etc.--covering as
much of the world as possible, and intervening against those
who escape or disturb the mesh in any way, like a spider
repairing damage in any corner of its web. If, as now seems
likely, Bush pulls the U.S. into war against Iraq, it will be to
increase overall U.S. power, not to control Iraqi oil.
I myself hope for a U.S. defeat in Iraq. I am not pro-Iraq
except in the senses that Iraq, regardless of its regime, has
the right to national independence and that an eventual rev-
olutionary movement that matures and overthrows the dic-
tatorship from within will be far preferable to any U.S.-
imposed  and U.S.-controlled "regime change." But I am
against U.S. domination. If they attack, I would like to see
Bush and the U.S. military get a bloody nose, and if possible
lose some teeth. But while I hope for major resistance, I
think there's a good chance Iraq will be defeated fairly
quickly. The regime is an unpopular dictatorship. Of course,
people may defend their country even while hating the gov-
ernment, but short-term resistance depends on the armed
forces. Since gaining a U.S.-aided victory against Iran in
1988 and being overwhelmed by U.S. air power and flanking
attacks in Kuwait in 1991, the army has done little except
push around poor people, round up dissidents, and rake off
"taxes" on smuggled goods. Morale is probably quite low.
U.S. firepower--remote-controlled, computer-guided, over-
whelmingly destructive--is itself a terror weapon of first
magnitude. So resistance may crumble soon. But the costs
will come later, as the U.S. tries to select a government it
can control, build up a group within the Iraqi military that
will do its bidding, and create institutions that look demo-
cratic but don't allow anti-U.S. politics.
As a teacher, I also think about my present and former stu-
dents in the U.S. military--at least three in recent graduating
classes, all in the Marines. Naturally, if they are sent to Iraq
(or any other war zone) I hope for them to come back safely.
But I also think of what General de Gaulle, head of the French
Resistance in World War II, said about German soldiers: "If
the Germans did not want to die at our hands, they had only
to stay at home."6 But of course a soldier has no choice about
whether to stay home; if any of these men and women come
to harm, it is President Bush who will have murdered them.
Afghanistan is supposed to showcase the success of Bush's
"war on terror." The U.S. replaced an unfriendly, repressive
government with a pro-U.S. regime, drove al Qaeda under-
ground, and restored civil and women's rights, all at a cost
of fewer than 100 U.S., and some thousands of Afghan
lives. It is true that the U.S. has bombed some wedding
parties, factions opposed by local leaders, etc., but by and
large there hasn't been absolutely wanton destruction. If
one could ignore the principle that imperialism is always
wrong these would be positive achievements.
But one can't ignore the principle. As an analogy, let's con-
sider European-American imperialism in the seventeenth
Left: Flag of Afghanistan (Kar-
zai regime, 2002). Right, top
to bottom: refugees from U.S.
bombing, winter 2002; Kama
Ado, Afghanistan, where locals
say U.S. bombing killed 17
members of one family, Dec.
2001; Rahesh village,
Afghanistan, bombed Nov. 9,
2001. (Afghanistan Online,
www.afghan-web.com; Ahmad
Masoud/AP; Yola Monakhov, AP;
International Action Center,
Afghanistan, 2001-2002.
to nineteenth centuries. Britain's conquest of India, the
U.S. conquest of native Americans, the slave trade and
then Europe's division of Africa in the nineteenth century
meant the destruction of viable societies, imposition of
foreign rule, and killing and enslavement of millions. But
these conquests also brought some advantages of commu-
nication, modernization, etc. Apologists for imperialism
excel in the kind of calculus that sums up gains and losses
and pronounces imperialism at best beneficial, at worst
mixed in its effects. In fact, this kind of balance-sheet
thinking always yields ambiguous results. Our approach
should be different.
I am a utopian. I insist that even in the eighteenth and nine-
teenth centuries there were, or should have been, better ways
to bring (let's say) European communications and education
to India than to colonize the subcontinent. I don't accept the
idea that the only way to gain such benefits was through
then-existing systems of exploitation, or the Marxist idea
that because classless communism was impossible in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, progress could come
only at the cost of conquest. Even then, social visionaries
pointed to possible alternatives and people of conscience
injected morality into economic life--for example Thomas
Clarkson (1760-1846), who as a minister-in-training deliv-
ered his Cambridge Latin oration on the slave trade and then
spent his whole life campaigning against slavery. Clarkson
changed the political economy of slavery by adding wide-
spread moral condemnation to the costs slave-traders bore,
and helped bring slavery in England to an earlier end than
might otherwise have happened. So today--and with a lot
more immediate practicality--I would argue that U.S. con-
quest was not the only way to stop Taliban repression or free
Afghan women. Within five years, or ten, the unstable
Taliban would have crumbled. Better a thousand times if this
had happened because of Afghan opposition--and better yet
if it were popular, organized, urban, and civilian rather than
guerrilla opposition, creating an Afghanistan that was both
free and independent, unlike Afghanistan today.
Now to the more concrete aspects, which may back up my use
of the loaded terms "imperialism" and "independent."
Afghanistan today is a U.S. puppet state, in which, however, the
state's and the U.S.'s power are both extremely limited. The Afghan
government has very little presence outside the capital. U.S. troops
are unopposed, but their firepower is not governmental power. So
there is a pull toward deeper and deeper involvement.
Afghanistan today is a U.S. puppet state, in which, however,
the state's and the U.S.'s power are both extremely limited.
Hamid Karzai, the current leader, a previously little-known
politician with no following of his own, was picked as interim
president by the U.S., with some consultation with Afghans
and its European allies, at a conference in Germany. His selec-
tion was later OK'd by a "loya jirga" (an assembly of regional
delegates) that met for ten days in June, but the assembly had
few real powers and Karzai and his U.S. advisers made all deci-
sions about Karzai's cabinet and other matters behind the
scenes. In July, after two vice presidents in Karzai's government
were assassinated, Karzai replaced his Afghan security guards
with a U.S. Special Forces squad, an indication of how little
support he has (New York Times July 29, 2002: A3). Karzai's
qualifications include his fluency in English and readiness to
express liberal social views--important in winning support in
Washington and European capitals--and his Pashtun ethnici-
ty, which slightly disguises the fact that ethnic Tadzhiks 
from northern Afghanistan, who made up the anti-Taliban
"Northern Alliance," run the government and staff all its
departments, and that the government still has little support
among the southern Pashtun people who comprise about half
Afghanistan's population.
This is not the only division mucking up U.S. plans to build 
a stable, pro-U.S., semi-democratic dependent state in
Afghanistan. The Afghan government--and therefore the
U.S.--has very little presence outside the capital. U.S. troops
are unopposed, but their firepower is not governmental power.
Multiple ethnic divisions; local "warlords"--the contemptuous
U.S. name for regional-local leaders in a society still based
mainly on tribal-ethnic organization; continuing U.S. air raids
against unarmed civilians; and the evident fact that ex-Taliban
(including Afghanistan's former president) and al Qaeda fight-
ers are being sheltered somewhere in the country are factors
creating a pull between what Michael Ignatieff, quoted earlier,
calls "nation-building lite" and "heavy" imperial policing.
Ignatieff advocates heavy involvement for a fairly modest goal:
"appoint the least-bad warlords as civilian governors to keep a
rough-and-ready peace and collect some taxes. This sort of
ordered anarchy, among loosely controlled regional fiefs,
would provide ordinary Afghans with basic security. This may
be all that is possible, and it may be all that American interests
require" (30). But Ignatieff understands that even this may not
work, so there is a pull toward deeper and deeper involvement.
In the light of history, some thoughts are possible about this
murky situation. First, U.S. involvement in the inner workings
of the new government is probably much greater than the
news media are making clear. Second, Karzai's hold on power
and life are now only as secure as his U.S. bodyguards wish. As
Afghan history under the Soviet occupation from 1978 to
1992 suggests, puppet rulers have short lives, often shortened
by their own sponsors.7 U.S. methods are to build up factions
in a country's military than can take over if and when neces-
sary. If Karzai can't produce a stable, moderately repressive
government, his own term in office may be brief. Finally, over
time deepening U.S. involvement, manipulation of the gov-
ernment, continuing military and police operations, etc., are
likely to refocus public opinion there--now pro-U.S. in the
capital at least--against the U.S. Though we can't know for
sure, historic precedents suggest that this shift will occur and
that it will be slow and lasting. If and when an anti-U.S. oppo-
sition emerges, we also cannot know if it will be democratic or
authoritarian, Islamic or secular, or a mix of these. I think
antiauthoritarians should support such an opposition overall,
while specifically supporting democratic, antiauthoritarian,
and secular groups within it.
A    New Rome?
Right now we seem to be living through a temporary tri-
umph of the U.S. empire, a moment when U.S. political
domination, uncontrolled market capitalism, acquisitive
and competitive values--and, even more, belief in the
rightness of all these--are in the saddle everywhere. It is
true the U.S. is in danger of becoming seriously overex-
tended. Not only are Bush & Co. about to launch a major
war in Iraq when Afghanistan is still not secure; they are
also involved in a small-scale counterinsurgency in the
Philippines and are renewing military aid to Indonesia,
and Congress has just approved using U.S.-supplied
weapons against rebels in Colombia, a step toward direct
involvement. (Previously, the weapons were supposed to 
be used only in antidrug actions.) Down the road, costs in
U.S. bodies as well as economic disruption to a weakened
economy will rise. Despite siren calls for a new empire,
the security empire seems to offer is an illusion; imperial
Rome's history, in fact, was a five hundred year record of
border warfare and corruption and social oppression at
home. Yet, I believe there's a long way to go before mass
opposition to all this (as in the Vietnam era) will grow.
How do we respond to this situation? In somewhat similar
circmstances in 1940, Leon Trotsky voiced some useful,
though limited, thoughts. Trotsky was debating whether
the USSR was a new form of exploiting society, as some
factional opponents thought, or a temporary regression on
the road to socialism, as he believed. (These were the only
alternatives he considered.) If his opponents were right,
Trotsky wrote, "nothing else would remain except only to
recognize that the socialist program, based on the internal
contradictions of capitalist society, ended as a Utopia. It is
evident that a new `minimum' program would be
required--for the defense of the interests of the slaves of
Top to bottom: U.S.
Capitol; U. S. aircraft
carrier; U.S. F-16
fighter. (BBC; U.S. Navy
Image Library; U.S. Air
the totalitarian bureaucratic society."8 By "minimum" pro-
gram Trotsky means the fight for workers' living standards,
democratic rights, etc., in a period when revolution is not
at hand, and this is the part of his formula that I think has
some value.9 On the other hand, when Trotsky says a new
exploiting society would make the socialist program "a
Utopia," he means the idea of a free society would have to
be abandoned, and this I think was wrong.
In a period of temporary imperial triumph, it is possible
and necessary to fight against the empire's consolidation
and for the independence of its constituent peoples, as well
as for social betterment and greater democracy in general.
In addition to struggles for better living standards, workers'
rights, better health care, defense of democratic rights in
the U.S., against globalization and environmental destruc-
tion, etc., all the specific acts of resistance implied above--
for Palestinian independence, against U.S. war plans for
Iraq, against U.S. control of Afghanistan--are also blows
against the empire's stabilization.
It is time to end the paralysis referred to earlier. This fall
there should be teach-ins on every campus, local demonstra-
tions, and plans for a national mobilization to say NO to
invading Iraq. The fledgling campus movements of support
for Palestine need to expand, countering the anti-Palestinian
slant of the mass media. Activists should begin to build
opposition now to deeper U.S. involvement in Colombia.
Beyond these points, there is a need to think about some
points related to the particular form imperialism is now
taking--a struggle by Western secular states against an
opposition in part inspired by Islam. My impression is that
some anti-imperialists are uncomfortable dealing with the
issue of Islam and tend to focus instead on more "directly
political" issues. Yet some major portion of opposition to
U.S. domination is now based partly on religious values
that we need to understand. Bush has grasped the simple
point that Islam is "a religion of peace." He never has and
never will grasp that it is not for the U.S., or non-Muslims,
to say what Islam is. We--opponents of military, political,
economic, and cultural domination--have to respect reli-
gious beliefs and practices in general, and those of Islam in
particular. This has to mean more than respecting "the
right to be wrong." We need to realize that people seek in
religion a spiritual aspect to existence that is missing in
much of contemporary society and that the left typically
(and arrogantly) dismisses or belittles, and that this desire
for a more spiritual existence is behind some of the anti-
Western sentiment that appeals to some Muslims. (It is
also behind some of the appeal of Islam in the United
States, as well as the revival of African religious practices
by some African Americans, not to mention people's use 
of other religions, Protestant and Roman Catholic, to
order their lives.) In other words, we need to go beyond
viewing Islam as merely an ideological mask for anti-
Western resistance--and well beyond despising it as "back-
ward" or "medieval"--and understand that a sizable por-
tion of the world's people feel the need for a spiritual form
for existence that secular philosophies don't easily supply.
In my opinion, we need also to think twice about Islam's
attitude toward women (or attitudes--there is no single
Muslim position), partly because many liberals used this
issue as a bridge to cross over to supporting Bush's attack
on Afghanistan, but also because the issue is important in
itself. The issue has two sides. So far as men use Muslim
teachings (i.e., some versions of them) to control women,
we should be opposed. But Muslim women themselves
very often embrace ideals
of modesty in dress
and behavior that
they see as
an alternative to Western sexual wantonness; or they sim-
ply live within the accepted customs of their cultures while
pursuing business, educational, and other careers; or a
mixture of these. I have seen these attitudes often among
my students. Leftists should, at the least, understand this
behavior as a possible option in life and not condescend to
these women by assuming that they are accepting oppres-
sion or practicing self-oppression.
Trotsky's other comment, that if Russia were a new
exploiting society then the socialist program would be 
"a Utopia," deserves thought as well. As a classical Marxist
Trotsky assumed capitalism had reached (and in fact
passed) its highest possible level of development, and that
only this fact made socialism possible; therefore, if a new
kind of exploiting society were possible, with its own way
of developing the "productive forces," socialism would be
"a Utopia," that is, an empty dream until sometime far in
the future. Although, as a Marxist for many years, I once
believed this, I now think it is altogether wrong. First, cap-
italism obviously had not reached its highest possible
development in 1940 (for example, most readers of
this article will access it through the World
Wide Web, an enormous technological
advance over 1940). Nor has it
done so now. I now think
capitalism can con-
tinue to "develop the productive forces"--as well as destroy
them--fairly indefinitely if it is not overthrown. Further,
I now think Trotsky and other Marxists were wrong in
their more basic assumption that the class struggle under
capitalism objectively leads in the direction of socialism
(this is what Trotsky primarily meant by "the internal con-
tradictions of capitalist society"). I think, rather, that the
class struggle can lead as easily to efforts to assimiliate into
the middle class or to self-conscious compromises in which
workers limit themselves to demanding what the system
can grant. (Actually, "the class struggle" is itself an abstrac-
tion. It refers both to specific workers' struggles, seen by
Marxists as "objective" parts of a presumed overall struggle
by all workers, and to the idea that this larger struggle
should be for socialism. As such, the idea that "the class
struggle" leads "toward socialism" is either questionable or
tautological.) All this means there is no automatic dynamic
leading even toward (let alone to) socialism and no point
beyond which capitalism cannot develop or must decay.
But this in turn means Utopia is not just an empty dream
until some assumed point of crisis. Utopia is the dreams by
which people shape their ideals and in turn their goals in the
midst of, and grope their way out of, oppression. Utopia is
part of reality and changes reality by influencing what people
work for and bequeath to their children to keep on working
for--as did the anti-slavery movement mentioned earlier. And
this is true both of secular thinkers' utopias (which ought to
be more spiritual) and of spiritual thinkers' utopias. So it must
not be true that in a moment of temporary imperial triumph
we deemphasize final goals by dismissing them as "a Utopia."
Part of our resistance to empire should be to reemphasize, and
stress more, our utopian aims--a world without borders or
oppression, with respect for a multiplicity of cultures and reli-
gions, attitudes to nationality and sexuality, etc., and with
cooperation as the basis of social life (in other words, the actu-
al social practice most of the time). These utopian possibilities
are part of our opposition to empire, in fact the reason for
it--why else would one oppose a program (Bush's) that may
bring some political and social freedoms at the price of lost
cultural independence and U.S. world dominion, except that
one believes something better is possible? And our Utopia is,
additionally, our way of competing with the Islamicists' and
nationalists' utopias, while accepting what is best in them.
Finally, we need some perspectives about time. I  believe we
are living in a moment of triumph for the U.S. empire, but
that the triumph will be relatively short-term. I stress that
I don't know what "relatively short-term" means. The
Roman empire lasted roughly 500 years, the British about
250. I don't think the U.S. empire (counting from the end
of World War II) will survive anywhere near as long but I
don't know. So time is on our side, or at least I think so.
Here some concluding words may be appropriate, written
by George Orwell in his essay "Looking Back on the
Spanish War" (1943).10 In his summation, Orwell comes
back to the face of an Italian militiaman he met on his first
day in Spain, "probably a Trotskyist or an Anarchist," and
The question is very simple. Shall people like
that Italian soldier be allowed to live the
decent, fully human life which is now techni-
cally feasible, or shan't they? Shall the common
man be pushed back into the mud, or shall he
not? I myself believe, perhaps on insufficient
grounds, that the common man will win his
fight sooner or later, but I want it to be sooner
and not later--sometime within the next hun-
dred years, say, and not sometime within the
next ten thousand years. (208-9)
Reading this as a youth I thought Orwell was too patient.
Today nearly sixty of his hundred years have passed and I
would be quite happy to know that victory would come in
the next forty. But we can't know; we can only continue to
believe in resistance and Utopia and remain enemies of the
Roman order.
1. By Ramsay MacMullen. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966.
2. Boot and Kaplan quoted in Emily Eakin, "All Roads Lead to D.C.,"
New York Times March 31, 2002; Michael Ignatieff, "Nation-Building
Lite," New York Times Magazine July 28, 2002: 26-31+.
3. Maxime Rodinson, Israel, A Colonial-Settler State? Trans. David
Thorstad. New York: Monad, 1973 [new ed., New York: Pathfinder,
2002]. 56. Another valuable source, Walid Khalidi, From Haven to
Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948, 
out of print but available in libraries.
4. Americans for Peace Now, "Fact Sheet: West Bank and Gaza Strip
Settlements," March 2001.
www.peacenow.org/nia/briefs/Settlements0301.html  Aug. 7, 2002. See
also U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, "West Bank."
www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/we.html Aug. 7, 2002.
5. Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Department of
Energy, "OPEC Member Countries' Crude Oil Production, 1973-92,"
"OPEC Crude Oil Production, Past 10 Years," "World Crude Oil
Production, 1960-2000"; U.S. Office of Transportation Technologies,
Department of Energy, "OPEC and OPEC+ Resource Shares," Jan. 31,
2000. ftp://ftp.eia.doe.gov/pub/energy.overview/monthly.energy/his-
toric.mer/tab10-1a.txt, www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/ipsr/t12.txt,
www.ott.doe.gov/facts/archives/fotw114.shtml. Accessed Aug. 2-5,
6. Quoted in Yvan Craipeau, Contre vents et marées [Against Wind 
Tide]. Paris: Éditions Savelli, 1977. 121.
7. The USSR successively installed, then removed and murdered, pres-
idents Nur Mohamed Taraki (1978-79), Hafizullah Amin (1979), and
Babrak Kamal (1979-86); the last, Najibullah (1986-92), was hanged
by the Taliban in 1996. "Chronological History of Afghanistan, Part
IV (1978-Present)." Afghanistan Online. www.afghan-web.com/histo-
ry/chron/index4.html. August 3, 2002.
8. "The USSR in War." In Defense of Marxism. New  York:
Pathfinder, 1973. 9.
9. The "minimum" program also has a technical, historical meaning.
In the pre-World War I socialist movement, which assumed that capi-
talism would have to develop fully before socialism would be possible,
the "minimum program" referred to those demands that could be
achieved without a revolution; the "maximum program"--social-
ism--was assumed to be for the future. Trotsky thought in general
that the world was ready for revolution and tried to work out what he
called a "transitional program" of demands that would lead from spe-
cific struggles to the struggle for power. In his 1940 discussion, he was
saying that his opponents' view of Russia would mean revolution was
impossible for the foreseeable future and one would have to go back
to the two-tiered "minimum" and "maximum" programs.
10. In George Orwell, A Collection of Essays. New  York: Harcourt 
Jovanovich, 1982. 188-210.

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