Chodorov published this article in analysis
for April 1947. It was one of his most widely read, and Rep.
Howard Buffet was so impressed that he put it in the Congressional
Record for April 29, 1947.
an historic periscope in your equipment, now is the time to put
it up. For, over the political horizon comes a view not seen these
sixteen centuries: the sunset of a world empire. The Spanish Empire,
the Austrian potpourri, the German pretension many such
affairs have collapsed and hardly raised dust. But what weíre
witnessing now is a crackup comparable to nothing thatís happened
since the Roman affair. In a few years, most likely after the
very next war, surely within the century, what was the British
Empire will be little more than the United Kingdom. Maybe the
ultimate will be another Merrie England, and the islanders will
be the better off for lack of imperialistic burdens. That is a
consummation devoutly to be wished.
over two centuries ago this body of involuntary adhesions began
forming. Thanks to British enterprise and British valor, tax-and-rent
contributions from wherever the sun did not set bolstered the
"national" economy. A wise division with native collaborators
facilitated the arrangements, and the subjected peoples made their
peace with it because well, one must live. The producers
rubbed along somehow, in spite of the load, and things might have
continued in the same way indefinitely were it not for that inevitable
concomitant of imperialism, war. Short wars with weak peoples
may bring a profit, but when it comes to a life-and-death struggle
with a fellow your own size, you have all outgo and no possible
return. Several such wars are bound to be disastrous to an empire,
for the compounding costs drain production to the point where
little is left for existence, let alone for further expansion.
It then becomes difficult to maintain the constabulary which shores
up the structure. When an empire cannot raise enough cash to "carry
out its commitments," and must call upon a big brother for
help, it is a dead herring. No, the socialists are not to blame
for the collapse of the British Empire, as the Tories claim; even
after World War I the fiscal difficulties at Number Ten Downing
Street came to what the doctors call a "critical condition,"
and the mission of the present government is simply to administer
the last rites. Pax vobiscum.
business has been going on for a long time, though only once in
a while does it grow up to worldwide proportions, and always when
an empire gave up the ghost its place was taken by some fledgling,
and frequently several rivals sprouted at once. The Byzantine
Empire followed hard on the heels of Rome. Though it did quite
well for a time, it never made the grade of its predecessor; stirring
in the sands of Africa and Asia Minor were imperialistic ambitions
which stunted the growth of Constantinople, while a little later
the father of Charlemagne sowed the seeds of competition from
seem from the constant recurrence of empires that there is something
inevitable about the business, that it belongs "in the natural
order." Even now, while the British Empire is hardly laid
away, the outlines of a new imperialistic picture are clearly
discernible. In the West a lusty heir apparent is flexing his
muscles, while the ponderous bear in the East is bellowing his
ferocious lust. It looks like another Armageddon is coming down
If we were
sure that empires are the product of natural forces, like societies
or cabbages, it would be foolish to stand up against their coming.
But, when we examine the nature of empires, what their purpose
is, and how they are formed, we realize that God hasnít a thing
to do with them. They are purely man-made. In spite of their acquired
pomposity, they are in fact pretty mean, sordid, and brittle affairs.
knew exactly what an empire is, and resolutely refused to have
anything to do with the business, its advocates would have to
turn to decent pursuits for a living. The need of popular support
is proven by the cheerleader technique of imperialism. The current
slogan "Stop Communism!" is a case in point. In the
early years of our country somebody put us on the path of plunder
with a call to "manifest destiny," just as the British
Tommy was long impelled by the "white man's burden"
to commit murder or suicide, and Napoleonís grand army marched
into the Russian refrigerator shouting "Liberty, Equality,
Fraternity!" Even that forthright empire builder Alexander
the Great said something about carrying Greek culture to his "barbarian"
victims, and we can be sure that in the kitbag of Genghis Khan
was a phrase like "to make the world safe for democracy."
This is standard equipment in imperialism.
Labor, and Empire
What is an
empire? It is a lot of people who are under compulsion to hand
over a good part of what they produce to a handful of people who
employ the soldiery that does the compelling. There never was
an empire of a different character; so, we are justified in calling
this an overall definition. Noteworthy and instructive is the
fact that all empires are built out of land and people, the two
factors of production, showing that imperialists are pretty good
economists. Barren and semi-barren areas may be included in the
framework simply because they are "strategic"
meaning that they afford access to the people under exploitation.
The British lifeline was the path traversed by the tax-collecting
of a tax-collecting soldiery, we come to the heart of this something-for-nothing
scheme. In olden times, when empire builders were at least
picturesque, the business was done with simplicity and directness.
There were silks and rare spices in the East to be had, diamonds
to be picked up in Africa, gold asking to be taken in America,
backward peoples every where needing civilization so that they
might be the better exploited. For which noble purpose the ancient
counterpart of the marines was sent. When the marines had the
situation "well in hand" signifying that the
natives had resigned themselves to their fate the higher-ups
instituted the reliable double-barreled scheme of regularized
loot; first, they levied a tax on production; next, they fixed
up titles to land necessary for production and charged the workers
rent for the use of it. Eventually the taxes and the titles were
recorded in leather-bound volumes, which, having been blessed
with resounding words by solemn professors, achieved reverential
status. Black-robed gentlemen infused "justice" into
the adjustment and traditional acquiescence dubbed it "law
was facilitated, in the olden days by common acceptance of a predatory
"upper class." Nobody questioned the purposes or the
prerogatives of these demigods. Primitive honesty also condoned
the picking up of a little loot by the common soldier, so that
he too had an economic interest in empire building. However, such
square-toed methods had to be abandoned with the advent of the
printing press, which encouraged the habit of reading, which in
turn aroused querulousness. Naturally, the people took to reading
moralisms which flattered their egos namely, the phrases
of democracy and lest this should stimulate any predisposition
against plunder, the proper kind of reading had to be provided.
Thus, propaganda was added to the arsenal of empire building.
of man is coterminous with his cupidity. Out of the claptrap of
law came the confusion-confounding device of corporate ownership.
Thereby a man-made person, utterly soulless and therefore without
moral identity, nevertheless serves to absorb the personal responsibility
of moral beings. That this contraption prospers by virtue of an
imperialistic venture must be sheer accident; for, surely, one
cannot associate the stockholding widow with the exploitation
of some worker in Iran or India. Nor can the directors be individually
charged with moral turpitude, since they act only in a collective
capacity and everybody knows that a collectivity is without moral
responsibility. In Russia the cartel, or trust, has attained beatification
by way of "common ownership," thus absolving all and
sundry, especially the commissars, from conscious complicity in
the exploitation of Finnish miners or Polish peasants. If "everybody"
is an imperialist, nobody is.
us to the imminent American succession to Britainís imperialistic
position. Who is behind the plan? Is there any such plan? After
all, the only definite proposal is that financial aid be given
the governments of Greece and Turkey in their fight against the
scourge of communism. Although the exact words have not yet been
used, we have been told "again and again" that the money
will not be followed by armies, not even to do a little collecting
on the loans. Polite usage bans even the suggestion of imperialism.
Nobody thinks of it.
was later recognized as American imperialism first stepped off
the continent into the Caribbean, the prime purpose was to "help
our little brown brothers," the secondary one was to "remember
the Maine." That our sugar interests profited, that some
of our bank stocks likewise prospered, must be put down to sheer
coincidence; no evidence of premeditated complicity is adducible.
And so, if we go through with this empire-succession business,
it is quite possible that certain oil and mining stocks will "hit
new highs," certain communications systems will improve their
financial position, certain investment trusts will pay out bigger
dividends. But that there is any conspirational connection between
such a result and the loans to Greece and Turkey will always be
an unprovable conjecture. Such is the genius of the cartel.
does the impersonal corporation serve the purpose of conquest
while absolving particular persons of culpability, but it also
facilitates an established imperialistic process. In olden times,
whenever a roving swashbuckler made life precarious for a tribe
or a prince, it was good practice for that tribe or prince to
court the protective custody of a strong-armed neighbor. Such
things are not being done in these days of international protocol.
The British, for instance, could hardly be expected to apply for
a secondary position in the big American Union; not only is national
pride against it, but the cartel system makes such a crudity unnecessary.
Through the orderly process of the securities markets, American
participation in the profitable oil, rubber, tin, and other concessions
will be allowed to infiltrate, so that the cartels may become
sufficiently American in character to warrant the protective arm
of a government capable of standing up against Russian aggression.
Through stock transfers and interchange of directorships the transition
from one flag to another is done without offense to national sensibilities
or tradition. In some respects, this migration of capital is comparable
to the transfer of wealth from tottering Rome to the burgeoning
Byzantine Empire, in the third and fourth centuries; the modern
cartel obviates the use of a moving van.
And so, as
American "interests" enter new "spheres of influence,"
as our economy becomes adjusted to the rents, royalties, and taxes
provided by peoples enjoying our benevolent exploitation, the
American empire will take its place in the historic up-and-down
parade. That will require the maintenance of a considerable law-and-order
enforcement agency. Empires are made and maintained by armies;
armies of conquest are followed by armies of occupation which
by self-propulsion become armies of further expansion. From an
opposite direction comes the "aggressive" army of a
competitive empire and a mutually "defensive" war ensues.
But neither logic nor the rules of evidence can point to the cartel
as a cause, or even a contributory cause, of the conflict. All
we can say is that the profits of imperialism, which in ancient
times accrued to a well-defined social group, now flow to the
coffers of the amorphous legal contraption.
purpose, the methods of empire building require the active cooperation
of the nationals who must foot the bill, in blood and dollars.
In this country, unlike Russia, where the Communist party has
attained that status, the doctrine of an omniscient upper class
is without force, and the necessary cooperation must be gained
by suasion. The ways of getting people to do that which they are
disinclined to do comes under the general head of propaganda,
of which the most effective is that which arouses fear. Currently,
fear of communism, fear that it will engulf Europe, fear that
it will eventually penetrate this country and destroy the cherished
American "way of life," is seeping into our consciousness
as if by the force of truth; and, as a consequence, belief in
an inherent bestiality of communists is growing. Those we fear
we hate, and those we hate automatically fall into a lower category
of humans. This churning process is quite familiar to anyone who
can remember back ten years.
If we will,
we can still save ourselves the cost of empire building. We have
only to square off against this propaganda, and to supplement
rationality with a determination that, come what may, we will
not lend ourselves, as individuals, to this new outrage against
human dignity. We will not cooperate. We will urge non-cooperation
upon our neighbors. We will resist, by counterpropaganda, every
attempt to lead us to madness. Above all, when the time comes,
we will refuse to fight, choosing the self-respect of the prison
camp to the ignominy of the battlefield. It is far nobler to clean
a latrine than to kill a man for profit.
then, let us begin by scrutinizing the spreading fear propaganda.
If we donít help Greece and Turkey, we are told, European culture
must give way to this horrible communism. But the fact which that
scare head obscures, and which is sustained by a mounting mass
of evidence, is this: communism is already the religion of
Europe. It is the desperation of hopeless poverty which makes
converts to communism, and to this desperation our national policy
has made its contribution. By preventing the people from producing,
by destroying the tools of production, by condoning wholesale
robbery, and by rooting up populations, our politicians and our
generals are the unwitting missionaries of communism. If we would
kill that strange cult, we must abandon the policy which creates
the conditions on which it thrives. Bayonets, or dollars to pay
for bayonets, will only aggravate these conditions. The only antidote
to communism is to let the people of Europe produce and exchange.
If communism thrives on scarcity, plenty will destroy it. Hence
a policy which leads to unlimited production is the one which
we should pursue if we would do what loans to Greece and Turkey
are ostensibly intended for. Such a policy would include the removal
of our own trade restrictions so that Europeans may be able to
buy our surpluses with theirs. Above all, we must take our armies
off their backs. The way to stop communism, to put it briefly,
is to let the people alone.
If it is
argued that such a hands-off policy does not take into account
the ruthless and malevolent Russian military machine, that our
departure from the scene would leave the people its helpless prey,
let us admit the possibility of that consequence and consider
the outcome. Suppose Russia imposes on the peoples of Europe the
slavery conditions prevailing within her borders. Without arguing
the point that these conditions have so reduced her own economy
that the robbery of subject peoples has become a policy of necessity,
we must admit as a matter of experience that slaves are poor producers,
and we can predict the collapse of communism in Europe from lack
of production. There is the added fact that, unlike the Russians,
Western Europe did experience a measure of freedom, the memory
of which will engender subversive activity, further slowing up
the productive machinery. In short, the slave economy will bring
about primitive conditions (such as Morgenthau envisioned), and
the vulture state will die from lack of sustenance. It is poor
prospect for the next generation of Europeans, to be sure, but
is it any worse than another war? Something might survive a spell
of communism, while the result of another war, no matter which
side wins, will be annihilation.
When we speak
of communism spreading we have in mind, as a matter of habit,
the Russian state as well as the ideology. We see Moscow as the
capital of a continent, controlling the lives of hundreds of millions
by means of a crafty secret police and a hobble-nailed army. In
every hamlet, province, and national capital there will be, so
the horror-story goes, cunning commissars whose ultimate allegiance
will be to the Kremlin. The tale is well constructed, and credence
for it is gained by the implication of a subnormal Russian character.
We have not as yet been told that the Slav is a Mongolian of inherently
low degree; that will come, as it did in 1941, when the campaign
reaches the murderous stage. But the insinuation is already strong
in news stories, editorials and radio commentaries, and is
necessary to the fabricated fear complex.
we analyze the horror story, we see how silly it all is. The more
the Russian state spreads itself the weaker it must become; the
further the central commissars are from their agents, the more
tenuous the tie; and the impact of foreign languages, customs,
and traditions must undermine the cohesion necessary to centralized
power. Russians are people. Like every other people, they want
freedom, to live, to love, and to laugh. That is true even of
Russian secret agents and Russian soldiers. Give them a little
leeway, a little distance from the knout, a small opportunity
to hide and run away, and they will indulge desires common to
all mankind. The centrifugal force of expansion has a way of weakening
political power at the perimeter.
Will a retreat
from empire building bring the colossus to our homeland? (Shades
of the Hitlerian hobgoblin!) Let us admit that danger. Since war
is the stateís escape from a collapsed internal economy, an intercontinental
venture might suggest itself to the commissars. Well, then, would
we not be better able to meet the challenge because we had been
conserving our resources, building up our stockpile of military
power? It is an established fact of modern warfare that victory
is shaped in the nationís factories, not on the battlefields;
hence our concentration on production while the Russian bear was
hungering on the bare bones of its victims would put us in better
position to deal it a deathblow. On the other hand, the cost of
hacking out new areas of exploitation in the world will tell against
us when the inevitable clash, with Russia nearer to her base,
to ward off any such danger will come not mainly from our production
lines, nor even from our military establishment; it will come
from the general antipathy toward communism which prosperity engenders.
The lesson our imperialists seem unable to learn is that this
strange malady of the mind is rooted in despair. Poverty, heavy
taxes, unemployment, little to eat, and the uncertainty of eating
these are the environmental conditions which nurture that
mental deformity. It should be plain, then, that the expenditure
of wealth in imperialistic ventures must create home conditions
very favorable to the purposes of the commissars. Russiaís ally
will be in our streets.
if we accept at face value the worst forebodings our empire builders
dish up, reason tells against carrying the fight to the communistís
lair. There is, however, an even more vital argument in favor
of minding our home affairs. If we go along with this poking into
the business of Europe, what will happen to the liberty we have
left in America? Already there is a "Red" witchhunt
afoot, and experience tells us that when the exigencies of the
situation require it the definition of Red will include
every person who raises his voice against the going order. Mass
hysteria will conveniently support such a definition. So that,
in the shadow of the impending "emergency," the outlines
of a crowded concentration camp can already be detected.
If war comes
and when did imperialism not bring it? the worst
of what we call communism will come with it. The essential dogma
of this creed is that the individual exists only for the purposes
of the state. In that respect it must be identified with all other
forms of statism, from pharaohism to nazism. Now, when the existence
of the state is at stake, even the fiction of individual liberty
cannot be tolerated. This is particularly true under the totalitarianism
necessitated by modern warfare. Therefore, when our imperialism
comes to grips with the empire of the commissars, the very thing
we are presumably fighting to preserve will go by the board. Automatically,
our liberties will vanish into communism.
This is what
your historic periscope should show you. But since history is
what people make it, the smashup which the lens suggests is not
inevitable. What men can do, men can undo. We you and I
can help to prevent it, if we will but assume the responsibility
and accept the consequences. Even a losing fight for liberty is
worthwhile, for there is always the profit of self-respect to