The European race has received from heaven, or acquired by its own efforts, such an unquestionable superiority over all the other races composing the great human family, that the man placed in our country, by his vices and ignorance, on the last step of the social ladder, is still first among the savages.
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
Earlier this year, the influential US think tank The Atlantic Council published an important article on China (1) with the title: ‘The Longer Telegram’. This title is a direct reference to the document of the same name written in 1946 by the American diplomat George Kennan, one of the main architects of US foreign policy after the Second World War. In his text, George Kennan argued that the US should completely abandon its recent alliance with the USSR and take an aggressive stance towards the former ally, and it is therefore considered one of the founding documents of the Cold War. The current Atlantic Council’s ‘Longer Telegram’ similarly places China as the ‘enemy’ in the context of a new Cold War.
The Atlantic Council is an organization that brings together large multinational corporations on the one hand and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO – on the other. Persons like Henry Kissinger are on its Board of Directors, and among its Honorary Directors are former US Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and General Colin Powell. (2) We can consider that the views expressed by the Atlantic Council correspond to the consensus of the world imperialist elite and that, for this elite, China does indeed represent a ‘threat’. That the Atlantic Council refers to George Kennan in its paper on China is revealing. In 1948 George Kennan defined the US position and interests thus:
We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction…. We should cease to talk about vague and…, unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better. (3)
To ‘maintain this position of disparity’ (as Kennan wrote), the US and its Western allies assumed an aggressive neocolonial policy to prevent the economic and social development of other nations in order to keep them as subservient suppliers of raw materials and cheap labor. China’s unforgivable ‘crime’ in Western eyes was that it had escaped its ‘manifest destiny’ of being just another colony.
The infamous Opium War in the 19th Century opened China to exploitation by the West. One of the most recognized representatives of Western liberal thought in the 19th Century, John Stuart Mill, was an advocate of this war. Another important representative of liberalism, Alexis de Tocqueville, referred to China thus: “I can hardly console myself, however, if I do not finally see, before I die, China opens up, and the eye of Europe penetrates her with its weapons.” (4)
According to Noam Chomsky, with the Opium War,
Britain established the world’s most extensive narco-trafficking enterprise; there’s never been anything remotely like it. Not only were they able to break into China for the first time, but also the profits from opium supported the Raj, the costs of the British Navy, and provided very significant capital which fueled the industrial revolution in England. (5)
Following this victory in the Opium War, China began to be considered a colony – and not only of the West. Japanese imperialism in 1931 began excursions into Chinese territory with the objective of appropriating the immense natural resources of this country, and in 1937, went to open war with extreme violence against China. The civilian population was subjected to unbounded cruelty by the Japanese army. Mass rapes and murders were common practice, as in the notorious case of the city of Nanking. For China, World War II began in 1937, and it is estimated that China lost between 10 and 20 million people in this war. For the allies, the defeat and incorporation of Japan into the orbit of Western capitalism meant that China would remain a raw material supplier colony, doomed to underdevelopment. At the end of the war, there were no reparations to China paid by Japan as Germany had to pay the Allies. Nor was there a ‘Marshall plan’ for China to help its economic recovery after the destruction caused by the war. What there was in China was the Chinese Revolution.
It is a commonplace to call Germany’s post-war economic recovery the ‘German miracle’. But nothing compares to China’s recovery. Starting from a much smaller industrial base than post-war Germany, having suffered much greater destruction and without any support equivalent to what Germany received from the US, and facing a civil war that ended only in 1949 with the victory of the revolution, in the space of 72 years – from 1949 to 2021 – China managed not only to escape its ‘manifest destiny’ as a colony, but transformed itself into what is already, de facto, the world’s greatest power. Thanks to China, a silent revolution of unimaginable scope has already taken place: the economic gravitational center of the planet has shifted back to Asia after more than 500 years of domination by the Atlantic axis. What’s more, China is also challenging one of the basic assumptions of Western civilization: white supremacy.
The quote from Tocqueville at the beginning of this text reveals the naturalness with which a renowned representative of European civilization reflects on his own ‘inherent’ superiority, the basis of white supremacy. It was this ‘superiority’ that justified, on the one hand, slavery, and on the other, colonial exploitation, without which capitalism would not have developed. White supremacy is intrinsically linked to capitalism.
Friedrich Hayek, the famous and respected thinker who contributed so much to the establishment of the dominant strand of capitalism in the West today – neoliberalism – openly acknowledges the close connection of his thinking with racism and white supremacy. In 1946, planning what would become the founding meeting in Switzerland of the Mont Pélerin Society – the first neoliberal think tank, model for all the others that came after, such as the Atlantic Council itself and the also extremely influential Atlas Network – Hayek sent a circular letter to all those he intended to invite to the meeting in Switzerland. Outlining in this letter his thoughts regarding the goals of the proposed meeting, Hayek wrote:
While the philosophy of freedom which would have to form the common basis for such a joint effort is not easily defined in a few sentences, I have found the suggestion widely acceptable that the ideals underlying the works of Lord Acton and Alexis de Tocqueville might serve as the agreed foundation from which such a common effort might start. (6)
The previous quotes from Tocqueville shows his identification with white supremacy. As for Lord Acton (1834–1902), the other author quoted by Hayek as a source of an ‘ agreed foundation’, he was one of the most influential politicians in the England of his time. About Lord Acton it is enough to say that during the US Civil War he supported the Southern slave owners, deeply regretting their defeat. Tocqueville and Lord Acton: slavery and white supremacy, the ‘widely acceptable’ basis of Friedrich Hayek’s neoliberalism.
In the post-Civil War US, Chinese were imported to work as semi-slave labor in railroad construction and other jobs previously done by black slaves – being equally despised and oppressed by US white supremacists. That a people and a country seen as ‘inferior’ by white supremacists has become their most spectacular rival is not something easy to accept for an imperial elite deeply identified with the supposed ‘superiority’ – racial, cultural and economic – of the West.
Even worse: China has not only left the status of a colony, but is also helping other nations in their struggle against imperial neocolonialism, as in Latin America. In an article on this topic (7), Yanis Iqbal points out:
China has been making inroads in Latin America, implicitly challenging the unipolar hegemony of the American Empire and its Monroe Doctrine. In the late 1990s, total trade (imports plus exports) between China and Latin America was approximately US$5-8B a year. Bilateral trade grew dramatically from the turn of the century, reaching more than US$255B in 2014. Between 1999 and 2014, Chinese imports from Latin America increased more than forty-fold, and exports to the region more than twenty-five-fold.
And on China’s key support for progressive governments in Latin America, Iqbal adds:
Left-wing governments in Latin America have seen expanding relations with China as a way of enlarging policy space: it makes them less vulnerable to the conditionalities of the Washington Consensus and enables them to pursue alternative social policies free from external pressures. To take one example, in Ecuador, when the National Assembly passed a law in 2010 which required the renegotiation of contracts with transnational corporations in the oil industry, Chinese companies proved more willing than Western ones to accept the new terms of trade.
In Bolivia, a joint venture between China’s Jungie Mining and the Alto Canutillos mining cooperative found during consultations that the local community in Tacobamba was opposed to the opening of a tin-processing plant near the mine, and the firm agreed to locate on a site 25 miles away, avoiding potential conflict. This type of cooperative attitude respects the social bases of socialist organizations and contributes towards their political consolidation.
In Venezuela, the Chavista government has used Chinese loans to finance its social programs which would not have been possible had they needed to raise funds on international capital markets. In a situation where the imperialist belligerence of the US government and the financial markets’ disapproval of Venezuela’s socialist policies led to very poor international credit ratings, borrowing from China was an attractive way for the government to fund its economic program.
Imperial neocolonialism also has a proposal for Latin America, which the Atlantic Council itself reveals through its most ‘globally recognized’ initiative, as this organization reports, the ‘Global Citizen Award’ given annually ‘to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the strengthening of transatlantic relations’.(8)
In 2018 Mauricio Macri, then President of Argentina, was one of those chosen to receive this very prestigious award. (9) On its website, the Atlantic Council announced:
On September 24, 2018, the Atlantic Council, in its ninth annual Global Citizen Award dinner, presented Argentine President Mauricio Macri with the award for his tireless efforts to renew Argentina’s role as a pivotal global player. The award was also presented to President Macri for his commitment to putting Argentina on a sustainable path, and in doing so, delivering on the promise of a prosperous future for the Argentine people.
And further according to the Atlantic Council:
When Mauricio Macri took office in 2015, he inherited a legacy of mismanagement and enormous budget deficits, with Argentina facing deep structural problems. In nearly three years as president, he has brought Argentina back as a key regional and world leader, reestablishing credibility through a newly transparent statistics bureau and a reopening to international financial markets.
The reality of the Macri administration in Argentina, however, is quite different from this view presented by the Atlantic Council. Argentina’s foreign debt at the end of Christina Kirchner’s government was 25.7 % of GDP, or around US$ 170 billion. (10) At the end of Macri’s term, the debt was 63.7% of GDP, or around US$ 285 billion. The Atlantic Council itself acknowledges that the situation in Argentina had worsened, stating in the same text about the award given to Macri: “On September 26, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to increase its support to Argentina to $57.1 billion, the largest loan in the Fund’s history, to be disbursed over three years.”
Why would Argentina need the ‘largest loan in the Fund’s history’ if everything was going so well? Such a loan had not been needed during Christina Kirchner’s government.
In fact, poverty in Argentina has increased exponentially under Macri’s government – which is exactly why he was ‘awarded’ the Atlantic Council’s Global Citizen Award. Macri returned Argentina to the status of a colony, placing it once again within the imperial sphere and under the control of the IMF, destroying the progressive achievements of the previous government of Christina Kirchner.
The case of Argentina is not the only one. In Bolivia and Brazil, countries where coups d’état took place with the explicit support of the Empire and its think tanks the Atlantic Council and the Atlas Network, the main objective was also to stop – and if possible, reverse – the social and economic advances achieved.
The years of Evo Morales’ rule in Bolivia brought undeniable progress to the country. Suffice it to say that Bolivia’s GDP in 2005 was $9,574 billion and in 2013 it was $30.66 billion. Extreme poverty, which was the lot of 38% of the population in 2006, had fallen to 16% in 2018. (11).
The coup regime of Jeanine Áñez sought to reverse all previous achievements and failed only because, thanks to the resistance of the Bolivian people, her rule was short-lived and her defeat at the polls to the new President Luis Arce – of MAS – was devastating, further proof that the policies implemented by the coup regime served only the interests of the elite and the Empire and not the majority of the people of Bolivia.
But in the Brazil of the coup plotter Jair Bolsonaro the situation could not be worse: Brazil was the sixth economy in the world during the government of President Dilma Rousseff. Today Brazil has fallen to the twelfth economy of the world. It is a much, much poorer country than it was before, exactly what suits the neocolonial imperial project as articulated by the Atlantic Council.
And it is not just a coincidence that both Janine Áñez’s and Jair Bolsonaro’s followers have carried out several racist attacks on indigenous populations and black people, thus publicly expressing their ‘solidarity’ with the white supremacist ideology of the imperial metropolis.
In 2019, the president of Chile, Sebastian Piñera, also received the Atlantic Council’s ‘Global Citizen Award’ – and not by chance has he been facing successive protests in the streets against his government: Chileans do not want to remain a colony. The Atlantic Council awards to Macri and Piñera reveal that the governments most subservient to international capital – and therefore imperialism – are the ones receiving the most support and international ‘recognition’ by neoliberal think tanks and their neocolonial project.
Cuba, another nation that through its revolution escaped a colonial fate, has been punished by sanctions and economic blockades for decades. Stopping Cuba’s development has been a priority for the Empire. But China has also been an important partner and investor in Cuba. And Chinese support for the development of Cuban vaccines against COVID-19 has panicked the lucrative Western pharmaceutical industry, as China’s and Cuba’s vaccines will be offered at much lower cost to countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and Asia.
The greatest irony is that the Communist Party of China, through its massive investments in infrastructure, especially within the Road and Belt initiative, is managing to accomplish in Asia what the enlightened bourgeoisie of the USA tried to accomplish in its own country in the 1930s with the New Deal. The Roosevelt administration managed to implement the New Deal economic policy only to a certain extent, because the most authoritarian and reactionary sectors of American capitalism put up enormous resistance, even planning a coup d’état to overthrow the president. Even so, the New Deal formed the basis of the development of the US economy during its greatest period of expansion and growth in the 20th century.
But it is the most retrograde forces of capitalism, those who fiercely fought the New Deal in the US – organized as the neoliberal order – that today dominate the West and seek to impose neocolonialism on the rest of the world.
The Empire and white supremacy are at war against development, against the emancipation of peoples, against cultural, social and economic diversity. But as China, Russia, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Cuba and Venezuela have shown, other paths are possible. And the diverse peoples of the world, in their many colors, genders and ways of being, are increasingly united in solidarity in the construction of a more humane future.
Franklin Frederick is a Brazilian writer and political activist
(3) Quoted in Chomsky – https://chomsky.info/19850319/
(4) Quoted in Losurdo, Domenico, ‘Counter-History of Liberalism’.
(6) Quoted by Rochard Cockett, in ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’