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Cultural hegemony, capitalist rationalization, & how ideology bonds people to imperialist propaganda

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The current conditions of the United States have a dual nature. The devastating impacts of the pandemic, the price inflations caused by the Russia sanctions, and half a century of growing inequality under neoliberalism have given the country's people more potential for revolutionary radicalization than in generations. Yet due to factors behind those same crises, the American people are gripped with war fever, and by extension allegiance to the ruling institutions. The conflict in Ukraine may be exacerbating capitalism's contradictions, but it's also created an explosion in jingoism, xenophobia, and the other mentalities that are hostile towards revolution.

This doesn't mean that the country will never undergo a revolution no matter how dire capitalism's contradictions become. During the final years of Russia's czar, World War I naturally created a rise in Russian nationalism, and this didn't prevent the 1917 revolution. The war even created the conditions necessary for discontent to become irrepressible. But in America's case, this reactionary impact that war has on mass consciousness is especially relevant to the question of whether a revolution will come. The U.S. is the center of global imperialism, and the super-profits it gets from this are used to placate the masses by letting them share in some of imperialism's benefits. The more the U.S. empire declines, and the more capital contracts, the more these benefits get concentrated at the top, and therefore the more revolutionary potential the masses attain.

But deterioration of conditions don't on their own bring revolution closer. What brings it closer is the education, organization, and mobilization of the masses, which war propaganda serves to frustrate. Understanding how this propaganda keeps a grip over the masses is instrumental for freeing them from its influence, and for strengthening the struggle.

Geopolitics as a domestic counterinsurgency tool

Under the rule of Washington, especially during the 21st century's new cold war, geopolitics are inextricably intertwined with class and decolonial struggle. Because the U.S. empire has weaponized miseducation on geopolitics against revolutionary education. One can't become adequately studied in Marxist-Leninist theory if they believe China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, or the DPRK is a freedomless autocracy, or Cuba isn't a democracy.

This applies to the people's perspectives on more countries than these communist ones. If someone believes Russia is waging a war of aggression against Ukraine, despite an objective examination of international law showing its actions are justified by the responsibility to protect, their revolutionary potential will be limited. The view that Russia's Operation Z lacks justification is central to the narrative that NATO, as well as its Nazi-influenced Kiev regime, require the world to accept. And accepting it undermines solidarity with the peoples of the Donbass, who are fighting for their independence from a government that's explicitly threatened ethnic cleansing against them. Without international solidarity among peoples fighting for their freedom, the liberation struggle is weakened. Plus, an individual who believes the disinformation supporting this narrative--that Russia was behind the Bucha massacre, that Ukraine's government isn't influenced by Nazism, etc--is limited in their ability to become educated on the empire that subjugates them.

It's for these reasons that the U.S. government, especially during the last decade or so of great-power escalations, is increasingly treating geopolitical propaganda as a counterinsurgency weapon. When the Smith-Mundt Act was repealed in 2013, officially legalizing covert propaganda being inserted into media U.S. citizens consume, Americans became awash in more pro-war content than they were during the previous cold war. Outlets like Vice News, formerly a major independent media source, became partnered with the state in promoting this propaganda. Which may explain output from Vice like its half-hour documentary "The Hermit Kingdom," currently with over twelve million views, that frames the DPRK through the sinister lens suggested by the video's title.

The more the cold war's escalations progress, the more military strategists work on innovating in their psychological operations. In 2020, a NATO-sponsored report assessed that influencing the sentiments of large numbers of people, called "human" warfare, is now as important as sea, land, air, and cyber warfare. It assesses that "the goal of cognitive warfare is to turn everyone into a weapon," as if acknowledging the ways Washington's current geopolitical propaganda is frustrating radical organizing efforts. Now that the Xinjiang genocide narrative has likely been accepted by the majority of the U.S. population given survey evidence, revolutionary consciousness is more difficult to raise. Any solidarity that communists here express towards China can alienate someone who's strongly embraced this or other anti-Chinese narratives. The propaganda war against Russia is having the equivalent effect. When communists express support for Operation Z, or merely push back against anti-Russian disinformation, they can easily be met with accusations of atrocity apologia.

The goal of these geopolitical psyops is to manufacture polarization and division by making the belief in the atrocity narratives highly emotional. Stories about Chinese guards "shooting to kill" detainees in supposed Uyghur concentration camps, or about Russia committing a "genocide" against Ukrainians, exploit people's empathy. This is producing an environment of ideological pressure to accept these narratives, with the few who are skeptical getting potentially turned away from gaining revolutionary consciousness.

Cultural hegemony & rationalization as they apply to modern geopolitics

What the state is doing is fortifying the cultural hegemony that imperialism's ideology depends on, and furthering our society's rationalization of the present social order. Both are crucial for upholding capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. Antonio Gramsci's theory of hegemony says that the ideas that support the dominant social system are the ideas the typical person won't question unless prompted. How can they? It's all they know. Max Weber's theory of rationalization says that the actions a society takes are defined by the society's culture, with Western society's embrace of capitalism motivated by the Christian emphasis on a work ethic. This has translated into a cultural love for efficiency and productivity, and let Occidental society rationalize capitalism with its central drive for increasing profits.

In the modern, more secular context, capitalist rationalization has been increasingly dependent on a culture that worships not necessarily a god, but wealth itself. Which has been important for rationalizing neoliberalism, an ideology that justifies institutionally collapsing society by saying this is worthwhile for keeping profits up.

Now that colonialism and imperialism have imposed capitalism onto the vast majority of the rest of the globe, and a global anti-imperialist movement has emerged with the ultimate goal of shaking off capitalism, it's natural that the imperial center's cultural hegemony includes hostility towards all countries that defy imperialism. Capitalism in the imperial center is dependent on the continued exploitation of the Global South, so to maintain capitalism, there must be narratives that portray the defiant countries as sinister. When the cultural priority is profit, it's perceived as in the best interests of society to correct the course of the countries that oppose imperialism. More importantly, it's perceived as in the best interests of the individual, as individualism and its promise of self-created monetary success are central to capitalism's cultural hegemony. Naturally, individuals become invested in the atrocity narratives, with their implicit mandate for assimilating the defiant countries back into imperialism's grip.

Except this is only the broadest possible socioeconomic explanation for the grip that imperialist propaganda holds over the U.S. masses. No one consciously has a desire for profit as their motivation for believing in imperialist narratives. As Gramsci described, a dominant ideology's existence is itself enough to make someone embrace it. This is evident in the dual nature of the class interests that a citizen of the imperial center has. All Americans may benefit from imperialism--as Confessions of an Economic Hitman's John Perkins wrote, no American is fully innocent--but most of them are at the same time exploited by the bourgeoisie.

I say this with the awareness that such a way of talking about imperialism can be chauvinistic, that it can reinforce imperialism's nationally self-centered view towards the world. The fact that this framing has crossed my mind while writing this essay speaks to how deep imperialism's cultural hegemony goes. It shouldn't be necessary to try to get Americans to oppose imperialism by pointing out that most of them are subjugated by capitalism. The mere reality that U.S. capitalism depends on the exploitation and slaughter of Global South peoples should be enough to convince any American to become revolutionary.

Such is the insidious way that imperialism undermines international solidarity among those within the imperial center. Because imperialist exploitation makes goods cheaper for the residents of the core countries, the imperialist ideology would say that we should react to our current price-hike crisis not by turning against the U.S. empire, but by getting it to make the exploitation more intense. This is the implication behind the statements from cold warriors about how higher prices are the cost of "freedom." If the war escalations causing these prices can't be questioned, the only solution is to embrace imperialist ideology even more zealously, to defeat the Russo-Sino bloc that supposedly started the war and expand Western capital into a subdued Eurasia. Further austerity, privatization, and wage cuts in Washington's existing neo-colonies are also necessary according to this mentality.

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Rainer Shea is writing articles that counter the propaganda of the capitalist/imperialist power establishment, and that help move us towards a socialist revolution. Donate to me on Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=11988744

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