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The General Dynamics of Military Might: How the Struggle Against Imperialism Begins at Home

By Paige Belanger

Feb 21/2023

 

While anyone, even loosely affiliated with Marxist discourse, has inevitably come across discussions of anti-imperialism, the concept of empire and its machinations are rarely explored. To the Western mind, the notion of empire conjures up the image of a time in the distant past, where battalions of soldiers armed with pikes and shields valiantly carried out strategic warfare at the behest of their monarch, seeking glory through territorial acquisition and cultural hegemony. The concept of empire, if it goes beyond the imagery of great kingdoms of history, is sometimes extended to Hitler and the Nazi party, but only to say that the Third Reich was the final, malicious iteration of the empire that the liberal values of democracy and freedom have since vanquished.

This superficial conceptualization is bourgeois historiography in action. History is presented to those of us in the imperial core as an arena of consecutive competing ideas, where antiquated modes of thought are ousted by a sudden universal understanding of their inadequacy. Under this model, the concept of empire can be relegated to a past version of humanity that was not blessed with an understanding of human rights and progressive values. Now, since we have reached the pinnacle of progress and are endowed with liberal democracy and knowledge of our intrinsic value as human beings, such modes of governance could never again take hold.

It is easy to see who and what this framework of history serves to uphold and how it obfuscates the truth of our modern reality. By assuring us that empires are only a relic of a bygone time, the ruling ideology can proactively neuter any analysis that criticizes the foreign policy of the United States by pointing out its imperial ambitions. Such an understanding would threaten not only the profits of the elite raking in enormous fortunes off the backs of those suffering from continuous “military interventions” but also the entire paradigm which dictates that humanity has reached its highest potential, its most enlightened form, and has thus progressed past the need to overhaul society in pursuit of a new way of life. If we are indeed at the end of history, as bourgeois ideology in its many forms proclaims, then there is nothing better to strive for.

If we wish to break free of the fictionalized notion of empire levied against us by the dominant bourgeois narrative since birth, we must cast aside our ideological understanding of what defines an empire and come to terms with how imperialism operates in the 21st century. While academia and popular media perpetuate this tired understanding of empire as merely a form of military dominion, this is not the actual mechanism through which empire perpetuates itself in the modern age. Instead, the imperialism of the modern era takes root through specific economic policies and social hegemony. Succinctly defined by American Marxist Michael Parenti, imperialism is “the process whereby the dominant investor interests in one country bring to bear military and financial power upon another country to expropriate the land, labor, capital, natural resources, commerce, and markets of that other country.” While shows of military might can and certainly do come into play in today’s world (see every US intervention in the so-called “third world”), exploitation of imperialized countries often comes about from monetary policy alone, and the implicit suggestion of force if weaker countries fail to comply. By every perceivable metric, it is easy to recognize that the United States is, in fact, an empire and the single largest threat to political and cultural sovereignty across the globe. The level of control levied by the United States, militarily against the rest of the world and culturally within its borders, makes it abundantly clear that significant global revolution can only occur as unipolar American imperialism falls.

This distinction about the functions of imperialism bears particular relevance as we analyze our role as Western Marxists in the context of international revolution. What part do we, the benefactors of the imperialist system, have to do with the liberation of the global South? While many self-proclaimed Marxists focus almost solely on domestic conditions and the means to propel the American working class to the forefront of the international movement of liberation, the truth is that this approach is what comes easiest and does not force us to call our complacency in the brutal repression of the world into question or to try and root out our internalized liberalism that helps us justify our positions of relative privilege. However, this does not mean we should walk the path of nihilism and see ourselves as only the problem and not part of the solution. The reality lies somewhere in the middle – we are intrinsically a part of the dialectic between colonizer and colonized. It is the exploitation of the contradictions of this dialectic that create the spaces for us to strike.

Algerian psychiatrist and revolutionary Frantz Fanon’s work “The Wretched of the Earth” is a tremendous asset to the Western left, even though, and perhaps especially, because - we are not its intended audience. Fanon artfully describes this dialectic or unity of opposing forces that create reality and expounds on the particularity of conditions in the colonies between oppressed and oppressors and the contradictions that arise from the colonial system. Naturally for Fanon, the principal contradiction of the colonies is the colonial system itself, and his main point, that the initial violence of the settler will be returned by the colonized in an inevitable shift where “the last becomes first,” acts as a call to arms to those subjugated by foreigners. This being said, the last paragraph of his all-too-important essay “Concerning Violence” leaves us with an understanding of the role we play within that same struggle:

The Third World does not mean to organize a great crusade of hunger against the whole of Europe. What it expects from those who for centuries have kept it in slavery is that they will help it to rehabilitate humankind and make man victorious everywhere, once and for all. But we are not so naive as to think that this will come about with the cooperation and the goodwill of the European governments. This colossal task which consists of reintroducing mankind into the world, the whole of mankind, will be carried out with the indispensable help of the European peoples, who themselves must realize that in the past, they have often joined the ranks of our common masters where colonial questions are concerned. To achieve this, the European people must first decide to wake up and shake themselves, use their brains, and stop playing the stupid game of Sleeping Beauty.

This vision of a common humanity liberating itself from the system that created the dynamics of settler and colonized, exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed is not exclusively held by Fanon. We see this same notion echoed in the works of Lenin. Just as the Russian Revolution relied on the revolutionary outbursts of the proletariat and peasantry and Russia, Lenin saw true global revolution as the combination of those in the imperial core rallying against their governments and those in the global South fighting for national liberation. Those Marxists in the United States who would fight exclusively for the increased quality of their conditions–affordable housing, healthcare, education, and infrastructure– and those who think the only revolutionary potential lies in the global South are two sides of the same coin; they are both so steeped in Western liberal ideology that they do not see their common humanity with the oppressed peoples of the world.

Writing at the time of the First World War, Lenin saw firsthand how the social-democratic parties of Europe sought to preserve their places of relative privilege rather than throw their support behind the defeat of their national bourgeoisie. Lenin’s response was an adamant declaration that the stance of respectable Marxists must be to fight to actively bring about the collapse of their government in the instance of imperialist war. This lesson, like most Lenin, has to teach us, is applicable today. Western Marxists take on a policy of critiquing governments worldwide from an ideological standpoint, neither understanding nor investigating material conditions within those societies. The voices of American leftists have no bearing on the policies in places like Cuba, Syria, Russia, or, in fact, really anywhere that stands in opposition to US Empire. What they might affect is how America can involve itself in world affairs. Moreover, an attack on the US Empire from within, and thus a decline in the power behind imperial policies, serves to lift the boot off the neck of the rest of the world, who can then take the course of their future in their own hands. Speaking about the “neither victory nor defeat” slogan employed by Western Marxists in the midst of World War One–the first inter-imperialist war– to urge the proletariat to support the victory of their governments and thus their bourgeoise, Lenin offers a clear and astute analysis.

On closer examination, this slogan will be found to mean a “class truce,” the renunciation of the class struggle by the oppressed classes in all belligerent countries, since the class struggle is impossible without dealing blows at one’s “own” bourgeoisie, one’s “own” government, whereas dealing a blow at one’s government in wartime is …high treason, means contributing to the defeat of one’s own country. Those who accept the “neither victory-nor-defeat” slogan can only be hypocritically in favor of the class struggle, of “disrupting the class truce”; in practice, such people are renouncing an independent proletarian policy because they subordinate the proletariat of all belligerent countries to the bourgeois task of safeguarding the imperialist governments against defeat. The only approach of actual, not verbal disruption of the “class truce,” of acceptance of the class struggle, is for the proletariat to take advantage of the difficulties experienced by its government and its bourgeoisie in order to overthrow them. However, this cannot be achieved or striven for without desiring the defeat of one’s government and contributing to that defeat.

Our primary goal as American Marxists, then, cannot be to fairly and accurately portray all sides of international conflict, to play devil’s advocate, or to play ourselves up as enlightened centrists able to see clearly through taking the middle ground. It must be to try and dismantle the US Empire from within, attack our bourgeoisie, and come down against the military-industrial complex that subjugates the entire world to its whims.

How daunting a task this seems, and how contrary to the interests of those of us that benefit from the position the United States holds in world affairs. This is why so many American leftists devote their energy to pointing fingers at the policies of countries undergoing the arduous process of the national liberation struggle. There are no stakes in that game. It goes against the material interests of the “Marxists” of the imperial core to advocate for the demise of the United States, for without the bourgeois government, how would their status at the top of the food chain be ensured? Here we can trace the legacy of Trotskyism through to the current Western left, all the way from the petty-bourgeois liberals who proclaim to be against all forms of violence to the “ultras” who perceive support of China as a “rightist” stance when it is a material one, and entirely in line with those of the most prominent historical and contemporary communist revolutionaries.

But there are, of course, those among us who, despite the constant struggle of unlearning liberalism we in the West all have to face, do aim to oppose their government as Lenin strategized back in 1917, and in doing so, can help herald in the liberation of their communities as well as chip away at the hold the United States has on the overexploited populations it has trapped beneath its heel. The companies spearheading national military “defense” contracts reside in our own communities, and the contradictions they bring forth into those areas can certainly be exploited.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts location of General Dynamics – the fourth largest defense contractor in the United States– lies just 17 miles from where I write this article in Southern Berkshire County, considered one of the most idyllic and quaint areas of the country. The last thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Western Massachusetts is a giant industrial building with hundreds of employees working on developing nuclear weapons, but, alas, this is the reality. In many respects, Massachusetts can be seen as the heartland of liberalism, and that wouldn’t be complete without a gargantuan “defense” corporation with such taglines as: People worldwide depend on our products and services for their safety and security.

General Dynamics’ ethos is our distinguishing moral nature.

Our ethos is rooted in five values: Honesty, Trust, Humanity, Alignment, and Value Creation: We create value by doing the right thing for our shareholders, our customers, our employees, and our communities.

The claim of morality regarding weapons systems manufacturing is both amusing and horrifying, but that is primarily out of the purview of this particular piece. What is more relevant is the last claim.

General Dynamics, a publicly-traded aerospace and defense corporation, certainly must operate first and foremost with its shareholders in mind. At least whoever wrote these taglines had the honesty to place those members of the bourgeoisie who accumulate their wealth from the slaughter of helpless people across the globe as the first on the list that GD “does right by.” With similarly unusual transparency, they name its customers, mainly the United States Department of Defense, in second, next its employees, who are ruthlessly exploited but still better off than the communities which host GD locations, which come in very last place.

General Dynamics is the second largest employer in Berkshire County, outmatched only by Berkshire Health Systems, which staffs every hospital and medical center in the county. In fact, GD holds a prominent position in the county as one of only a few companies that rely on so-called “skilled” labor and thus offers some of the highest-paying jobs in its immediate area. Like many US cities, Pittsfield is no stranger to the ill effects of a single major corporation becoming a primary employer of its citizens. General Electric once was exalted as a major employer and bringer of the industry to the Berkshires but left once “democratic” reforms forced it to pay its employees a fair wage and provide full-time workers with healthcare. When GE picked up and left after irreparably polluting local rivers and water supplies, the area faced a period of depression from which it has never truly recovered. In many ways, GD is merely picking up on the legacy of GE. Still, instead of building electronic appliances, it provides the US Navy with critical software for submarines capable of carrying and launching nuclear weapons.

The headquarters of General Electric was first filled by Marietta Martin, which then merged into Lockheed Martin, and was then sold to General Dynamics in 1997. Luckily enough, as Pittsfield officials like Mayor Linda Tyer would lead us to believe, General Dynamics specialized in microtechnologies, which left it well positioned as a military contractor in the post-Cold War era, where warfare against small groups led to a higher demand for technological information systems that could track enemy movements. Although GD was poised to flourish in its new environment in Pittsfield, the first thing the company did after its acquisition of the former GE complex was to lay off 650 of Lockheed Martin’s 1650 employees, including 200 well-paying union jobs, a move condemned as “immoral” and “lacking social conscience” by the City Council.

We can see through the transfer in ownership of the General Electric complex to various defense contractors over the years that the economy of Pittsfield has always been at the mercy of the policies of large corporations. It is no different today, as General Dynamics, and thus the United States military-industrial complex, holds the community hostage, threatening economic devastation if its facilities were to ever leave the area. Luckily enough for the residents of the Berkshires, and to the detriment of the Global South, the Pittsfield headquarters of General Dynamics holds defense contracts that run through at least 2084.

While Pittsfield city officials are often seen singing the praises of GD, it’s not that often that locals see the benefits of its high employment rate within the county. Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer has enthusiastically proclaimed, “General Dynamics is an anchor institution in our city, and the city is proud that you make our city your home.” While this sentence was obviously not well planned out, the concept was also not thought through. While GD does offer employment opportunities within the city, a majority of those jobs aren’t held by locals of the area. Most of GD’s new hires come from a targeted area of a two to three hours drive from Pittsfield, mainly from the highly-desired tech schools Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (the local college, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, which is listed as a lower priority target by the company). A 2020 interview with Thomas Lussier, a GD executive, elaborates on the company’s hiring process, which includes selling up the natural beauty of the Berkshires to attract potential employees and advocating that state official “eliminate barriers associated with…developing rental apartments that provide quality housing and, most importantly, a community of like-minded individuals living in a neighborhood that makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger.”

The United States military depends on the promise of a debt-free college education to lure in soldiers with few other options, perpetuating imperialism through small incentives to the domestic working class. Here, we see a similar principle in action. General Dynamics’ primary recruitment strategy is to rope in young graduates from prestigious tech institutes, often saddled with an enormous sum of student debt, into a small community with no other employment alternatives that could reasonably pay off their loans. Playing up the area’s beauty to trap young people into military contract work seems like an exceptionally low blow. Still, it fits naturally into the paradigm of capitalism commodifying the natural world.

Of course, these out-of-town recruits, with generally higher salaries than the locals, desire a decent place to live. Landlords in Pittsfield certainly relish the opportunity to rent their units at ever-higher prices as the new GD employees, growing in number as the government contracts keep coming, are able and willing to pay. It is also probably why John Duval, an executive at General Dynamics, sits on the select board of the local town of Adams (coincidentally devastated by the loss of General Electric) and is using his influence to change zoning laws around housing. Duval’s 2019 proposal sought to allow abandoned buildings in Adams, such as schools, mills, and other former industrial centers, to be converted into “affordable housing” units… “a term used by the state to refer to workforce housing that would serve professionals such as teachers, police officers, postal carriers or librarians who earn a decent wage but still can’t find quality housing that they can afford to rent…it would not involve Section 8 vouchers of any other voucher system.” Of course, outright naming new employees of General Dynamics might too acutely display the conflict of interest at play. The proposal, which passed later in 2020, would create 629 new housing units in the town of roughly 5,000 people. Of course, prominent sectors of the overwhelmingly conservative population of the small town, still shaken by the legacy of GE’s loss, uncritically accept this addition to their tax base and the prospect of gentrification that new apartment rentals could bring. Imagine if the cost of these new housing projects was instead reinvested into education for locals to be able to land these jobs that were too “skilled” for them, and how much less devastation on the area’s housing market it would reek.

While all of this speaks to General Dynamics’s leverage on the local economy, it says nothing about the company’s actual work for the US military. Surprisingly enough, GD’s Pittsfield location is vital to the US military. According to the area’s congressman, Rep. Richard Neal, “the cyber security work taking place at General Dynamics is critical to the national order.” This claim rallied support for a bill Neal hoped to pass in the House of Representatives that would provide $11 million in investment tax credits to microchip companies like General Dynamics to offset gains in that industry in China. At a similar event hosted by GD, Neal spoke about expanding opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses in the area to partner with Raytheon and General Dynamics and involve themselves in the “defense” sector, further tying the local economy to the military-industrial complex.

But what does the Pittsfield site of General Dynamics do that is so important? In the past five years alone, General Dynamics of Pittsfield has received over three-quarters of a billion dollars in government contracts for the development of ballistic missile systems for the Columbia and Dreadnought class submarines of the US (Columbia) and UK (Dreadnought) navies. Between 80 and 90 percent of all work on the software systems for these submarines, highlighted as critical to the national “defense” of America and its allies, is done in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. These enormous contracts have added merely hundreds of jobs to the area’s economy, and, as evidenced before, those jobs are no asset to locals at all.

More importantly, however, if we look at the work done at this one small city’s location of, GD, we can spot an opening for genuine anti-imperialist action. The Columbia-class submarines are a Warmachine unparalleled in world history. Intended to be the stealthiest submarines ever developed, these vessels are designed to patrol unseen under the ocean’s surface and track enemy movements. They are equipped with the ability to launch nuclear missiles. This would allow the US Navy to destroy entire cities, or even countries, from unknown and undetectable locations.

The development of this new class of submarine technology is vital for two primary reasons, the first being that China has recently developed the Jin-class of submarines, which leaves larger areas of the US susceptible to nuclear attack, or at least that’s how the US military frames it. What is happening is that another large, developed country, whose entire existence stands in opposition to continued American unipolar hegemony, has developed a means to challenge the previously unchecked international authority of the United States. The current world order dictated by the American elite cannot stand for that. The other reason is that the previous heavy-hitter in submarine technology, the Ohio class of subs, has been operated for decades longer than initially envisioned. The United States came out so far ahead after the fall of the Soviet Union that it hadn’t had to meaningfully update much of its technology to maintain its death grip on world affairs. As we have seen with Russia’s pushback against NATO and the new threat of supremacy of Chinese military technology, times have changed.

So what does this mean for American communists living in the area where this publication is based? It means that action against General Dynamics is a direct action against the empire. Taking us back to the revolutionary leaders that serve as our guides in these profoundly disorganized times, Stalin, in his “Foundations of Leninism,” advises us that struggle doesn’t have to be perfectly sound ideologically to make it meaningful, to make it revolutionary, elaborating,

The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or republican program, or the existence of a democratic basis of the movement. The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates, and undermines imperialism. In contrast, the struggle waged by such “desperate” democrats and “Socialists,” “revolutionaries” and republicans [in the Second International] during the imperialist war was a reactionary struggle, for its result was the embellishment, the strengthening, the victory, of imperialism. For the same reasons, the struggle that the Egyptian merchants and bourgeois intellectuals are waging for the independence of Egypt is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the bourgeois origin and bourgeois title of the leaders of the Egyptian national movement, although they are opposed to socialism. In contrast, the struggle that the British “Labour” government is waging to preserve Egypt’s dependent position is, for the same reasons, a reactionary struggle, despite the proletarian origin and the proletarian title of the members of that government, even though they are “for” socialism. There is no need to mention the national movement in other, larger, colonial and dependent countries, such as India and China, every step of which along the road to liberation, even if it runs counter to the demands of formal democracy, is a steam-hammer blow at imperialism, i.e., is undoubtedly a revolutionary step.

Even the most reactionary struggles, if waged against the US Empire, have revolutionary potential.

Take, for example, the immense detriment of General Dynamics’s presence in Berkshire County communities. Obviously, the suffering inflicted on Pittsfield and its surrounding towns is not as immense as that levied against the Global South by the military-industrial complex, and that is not the claim this article is trying to make. But, the housing crisis, as exacerbated by the presence of General Dynamics, is something that affects the material conditions of the working class in the area. Struggle against GD on those grounds, while not inherently revolutionary in a global context and not even engaging with the fundamental contradiction GD presents in world affairs, can be a tool to weaken an essential link in the chain of the US military-industrial complex as a whole.

Just as Lenin told us that Western communists must fight against their governments in imperial conflict, he also provided a blueprint of how international revolution can occur and what the Western masses must do to usher it in on our end. World proletarian revolution cannot come exclusively from within the imperial core and, conversely, cannot happen only through the struggle for liberation in imperialized countries. Instead, it must happen from a unity of the proletariat in all countries against the common enemy–imperialism. As Stalin warns us, “without such a struggle, it is inconceivable that the proletariat of the oppressed nations can maintain an independent policy and its class solidarity with the proletariat of the ruling countries in the fight for the overthrow of the common enemy, in the fight of the overthrow of imperialism.” As Western communists, we must always be accountable for the task of anti-imperial action, as that is the only meaningful way to liberate the exploited world from the yoke of our country’s complete and total dominion.


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