The short American century
World dominance followed by gradual decay
Many socialists would still hold to the idea of the USA as an overwhelming imperialist power, and indeed it remains the dominant economic and military force on the planet, but the Trump era has ripped away the mask of invincibility to display a highly corrupt and decaying system.
Two world wars built on a history of regional colonial war unleashed the massive capacity of the US economy.
It was at its zenith in the years following the 2nd World War, with the use of atom bombs on civilian populations to subdue Japan and the initiation of the Cold War to encircle the USSR, bring discipline to the competing imperialist powers under US leadership and unleash anticommunist hysteria against workers at home.
The emergent US economy dwarfed all others.
The productivity of the working class was so great that “liberty ships” could be built in days. The dollar was established as the new international currency and control of the world banking system passed into American hands.
Military bases, established in the four corners of the world during the war, remain operational to this day.
Soft power was cultivated. Diplomacy was used to garner new allies and the culture of Hollywood, of US film, music and consumer culture was used to build the myth that it was leaving less fortunate nations to a future of plenty.
The new educational, scientific, technical and intelligence bureaucracy gave the United States an overwhelming lead. The intelligence agencies led many coups in Latin America and the Middle East that crushed democratic movements and persuaded other nations to cooperate for fear of intervention.
A major goal of the state was to build overwhelming military power. Nuclear weapons were stockpiled in amounts sufficient to devastate the planet and strategic policy based on the ability to fight two major wars at once at any point on the globe.
At first glance all these elements remain in place. The rot is at the core of the economy. Although the US is still the centre of much production, the tendency within capitalism for the rate of profit to fall over time means that the focus has moved to financialisation and to a service economy with high levels of government subsidy. For example, General Electric, once a byword for the mass production of household goods, shifted focus to building financial empires before sinking into decay. White goods are still made in America, but by an imprisoned black youth paid in cents. Sections of the economy operate as criminal enterprises. For example the opioid crisis was a deliberate marketing ploy by big pharma to distribute medicines that they knew were not effective but that were highly addictive. Coal and big oil use government influence to profit from the trashing of pollution controls. Major companies operated by milking government subsidies, lobbying for government deregulation and calling for tax cuts. Business focus switched from industry to services and the realisation of value rather than its production. Major sectors of the economy such as education and public health have been gutted by the privatisation of schools and the growing cost of the health insurance industry.The downward pressure on wages and the absence of public infrastructure funding has led to decay of the social fabric and mass homelessness even in many of the most prosperous parts of the country. The effect on government has been to degrade the bureaucracy and increasingly silence and deride the
scientific evidence on which policy was once based.
Outwardly the US appears as powerful as ever. It has taken the Trump presidency to tear down much of its extensive soft diplomatic power, smash up the leadership of a powerful and efficient bureaucracy, ignore and demean its scientific infrastructure and cannibalise its education system. It
would be a mistake however to see Trump as a unique figure. It was under Ronald Reagan and his programme of Reaganonomics that the US switched from the World’s biggest creditor nation to the biggest debtor nation. Reagan also established the trickle down theory that argued that enriching the rich would benefit the poor. The slide has continued ever since.
The USA is decaying but remains a world colossus, representing a massive danger to workers inside and outside the country.