It’s not controversial to make the observation that American global hegemony is tottering, or at least in a serious crisis. But it is a dangerous illusion to make such a judgment too soon. In addition to its overwhelming military arsenal, the American Empire has another asset- its overwhelming cultural hegemony. Hollywood. Silicon Valley. Google. Facebook. Netflix. The force of cultural power is so great that tens of millions of people all over the world, even people whose countries have been devastated by US bombs and military coups, are hypnotized. Many will hand over their sovereignty, their culture, their history, their dignity to be part of the consumerist amusement park that’s being offered to them on their TV and iPhone screens. This power cannot be underestimated.
What the scholar Catherine Liu describes as “virtue hoarding”- the practice of the modern American professional managerial class to loudly broadcast its enlightened views on race, gender, and sexuality to justify its privileges over the ‘backward’ lower classes is something that the American Empire is planning to do on a large scale over the entire globe. This means that the United States will justify the right to dominate the world because it is morally superior due to its ‘progressive’ cultural liberalism. The Woke Man/Woman’s Burden.
Woke identity politics is the latest legitimizing ideology of the East Coast, WASP establishment of the Ivy Leagues, which enjoys an intertwined, incestuous relationship with the national security state. It has a distinctly Calvinist morality at its center, which presupposes sin (‘privilege’’/’white supremacy’) as the natural state of humanity, unless proven otherwise. Given that prejudice concerns our most intimate and private thoughts and feelings, it is close to impossible to prove one's innocence. For all the talk of ‘systemic racism’ and other ‘systems’, it is a worldview that is concerned with cleansing the individual and controlling social behavior.
In 2020, what has been called the Great Awokening needs to be re considered in a new light. It was not a typical protest movement. Viewed in a different lens, it can be argued that the United States underwent perhaps the first internal ‘color revolution’ in its history. The playbook one has seen in Kyrgyzstan, in Lebanon, in Ukraine, in Venezuela, in Bolivia, and in Kazakhstan recently played out on America’s own streets. Color revolutions are not merely manufactured wholesale by the CIA or Western NGO’s out of whole cloth. Instead, such entities embed themselves into society, and when a crisis emerges from that society's own internal contradictions, these organizations activate and steer the unrest in the direction US dominated corporate interests wish them to go. Organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy abroad, and the Ford Foundation at home, carry out parallel functions. Thus, regime change can be accomplished with a great deal of deniability.
This is what happened in the United States in the summer of 2020. Culturally liberal capital, especially the Big Tech oligarchs of Amazon, Twitter and Microsoft, immediately lined up behind the (originally spontaneous) mass street protests around George Floyd’s killing and poured tens of millions of dollars into Black Lives Matter. The purpose was twofold: reap a massive public relations coup by being seen on the ‘right side’ of a progressive cause, but also to use the protesters as foot soldiers to counteract Trump’s popular right-wing grassroots movement and drive Trump out of office. Trump represented the old way of doing Empire- overt right-wing nationalism, undisguised contempt for weaker nations, politically incorrect, xenophobic rhetoric. His crude bigotry was embarrassing to the professional managers of American Empire and threatened to undo decades of carefully cultivated US soft power. The suave sophisticates in Silicon Valley, in the drawing rooms of Langley, Virginia, and on Wall Street needed to remedy this.
A chaotic, undisciplined street movement, lacking strong leadership or a clear direction, quickly became molded by private capital in its own image. The fatuous conceit that there can be ‘leaderless’ movements is belied by the fact that such directionless movements always wind up making cosmetic symbolic changes or become football in intra elite struggles. Thus, the Great Awokening was a ‘revolution’ of sorts, but not of a BIPOC underclass. It was instead a power grab by culturally liberal professionals doing the bidding of finance capital/Silicon Valley, against nativist lower-level elites.
Biden’s coming to office inaugurated not just a new administration, but a new way of doing Empire. The CIA came out with a slick new recruiting video promoting its inclusivity of LGBT and saying that its mission was now ‘Intersectional’. Coups would now be about deconstructing white supremacy and heteropatriarchy.
This was reflected in one of the Biden administration’s more successful regime operations in Ecuador in Feb. 2021, where the socialist candidate there was successfully sabotaged by a spoiler candidate claiming to be pro-environment and pro indigenous, while being covertly backed by oil corporations and Wall Street hedge funds.
John Gray in the New Statesman describes this phenomenon thus bluntly: “Certain American thought has always tended to a certain solipsism, a trait that has become more prominent in recent times. If Fukuyama and his neoconservative allies believed the world was yearning to be remade on an imaginary American model, the woke movement believes ‘whiteness’ accounts for all the evils of modern societies”. In other words, Woke-ism is the new neo-conservatism.
Facing a rising China and a resurgent Russia, the American ruling class needs a moralizing crusade to motivate its counter offensive against its enemies, both at home and abroad. Under the banners of Black Lives Matter, multi-colored Pride flags and trumpets announcing the correct gender pronouns, the guns of the American Empire will spread the creed of Woke Empire.
China must be opposed because it is oppressing Muslims. Cuba must have regime change because it is oppressing black people. Belarus’s government must fall because it is anti trans. Putin must be confronted because he is a homophobe. All of these are positions that the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, and countless other outlets have advanced at some point or another to advance the case for attacks against ‘America’s enemies’. The West’s Eastern enemies are barbarians who must be subjugated, because they are not enlightened by the standards of American liberalism. In foreign and domestic politics alike, the grievances real and imagined of minorities are spotlighted, then weaponized as a battering ram against entire populations and entire nations which challenge the Anglo-Saxon imperialist global order.
Many on the left may acknowledge this cynical weaponization of calls for racial and gender justice on some level, but insist that it is a “co-option’ of innately noble concepts such as intersectionality and Critical Race Theory. This is, frankly, a way that people on the left can sidestep some hard questions- what about the ideology makes it so easy to ‘co-opt’ in the first place? Were these ideas actually ever revolutionary to begin with? In what material way has such discourse actually challenged power and privilege, beyond shallow rhetoric? Neither intersectionality theory nor Critical Race Theory came from working class movements. Not the Black Panthers, the Young Lords or the Young Patriots ever used these words or used them to dictate their praxis.
Neither did the Communist Party of the 1930’s or the IWW of the 1910’s. They spoke of solidarity, internationalism, pragmatic alliances of workers and the oppressed, concepts and practices which have been around for centuries.
‘Intersectionality’ is a different creature. Concepts like it arose entirely in the Ivy Leagues academia and reflect a distinctly upper middle-class morality. The formulation of these theories was in the 1980’s, as a reaction (and a capitulation) to the Reaganite counterrevolution which smashed the labor movement. Contrary to the claims of right-wing conspiracy theorists and left wingers alike, its links to actual Marxism are tenuous and in most cases nonexistent.
Kimberle Crenshaw, the dean of ‘intersectional’ theory, was always a liberal and never claimed to be a socialist of any sort. She was groomed for her position in academia by the Quill and Dagger Society at Cornell, an elite secret society heavily tied to the CIA (Paul Wolfowitz was one of its more prominent members). From 1913 and 1988 a member of this society was entering Congress every year. The cocoon of the heart of the Eastern establishment nurtured and rewarded the careers of these supposedly ‘radical’ theorists.
Why would the intelligence community and the corporate world be so comfortable with such theories? Because it tears the very heart out of any sort of egalitarian left from within. Intersectionality removes the centrality of class. Class struggle, and fights on the terrain of economic relations, are replaced with endless moralistic, individualistic struggle along cultural lines. Past revolutionaries always opposed racism and bigotry in all its forms of course, but it was always a component of an overall project for a socialist society. Without that overarching project it becomes a bourgeois philanthropic and evangelical enterprise, akin to the moral uplift projects of the Victorian British elite.
Like the war on terrorism, by waging wars on abstractions such as ‘racism’ and ‘patriarchy’, it’s a struggle that can never be won. And thus, is immensely profitable, for both the individuals who make careers off such a war and for institutions with a vested interest in diverting popular frustration and anger toward any struggle but class struggle. In the Great Awokening, we saw the rise of the new priesthood of this religion Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DeAngelo, and others. Kendi is directly on the payroll of the likes of (ex) Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who gave Kendi a 10 million dollar donation to set up an indoctrination temple in Boston University.
This new religion is necessary because the old ways of managing the current American/Western order is falling apart at the seams. 40 years of hollowing out of the social state by neoliberalism has all come to a head in COVID, as the wealthiest society in human history allows a million of its people to succumb to a pandemic due to a lack of infrastructure to deal with a public health crisis. The much-vaunted middle class has collapsed in a heap. After generations of retreat and subservience, organized labor is fighting back finally, often over the protests of its own sellout union tops. Hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike in the United States in 2020 and 2021, the greatest strike wave in close to 50 years. Workers of all races, ethnicities, and sexes have no choice but to fight for safe workplaces, decent protective gear, rent control, universal healthcare, and decent wages.
In the New Gilded Age, the elite has no butter to give the masses. It has only austerity, repression, surveillance, and going along with that, a morality police staffed by its professional managerial elite.
We are already seeing woke ideology play out in the realm of workplace relations. ‘Racial sensitivity training sessions’ are being utilized by corporate management to spy on workers, sabotage union organizing drives, and provide a convenient pretext for the arbitrary firing of employees. There is an entire professional layer of the capitalist management structure (multibillion dollar industry) which not only makes its living off of ‘anti racism’ but which has no material incentive to actually solve the problem, and even has an interest in stoking the flames of division.
The crusaders of woke Empire are off to subjugate two frontiers- the ‘problematic’ working masses who are outside the Eastern establishment/Silicon Valley bubbles within the United States, and the even more problematic unwoke billions in Eurasia and Latin America who insist on holding values not compatible with 21st century cosmopolitan liberalism.
It is notable that in nearly every country where the American Empire is trying to destroy a socialist, nationalist or anti-imperialist project- whether in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Belarus, Russia, China, or Iran- the allies of neoliberal imperialism come from the cosmopolitan urban centers where Westernized upper middle classes reside, while the backbone of anti-imperialist resistance comes from the soil of the countryside- the global deplorables.
In old fashioned colonialism, doctrines of the biological superiority of the white race served an important ideological role. Yet capitalism and imperialism has mutated ideologically, like a virus. It is high time to recognize that ‘anti racism’ and advocacy of racial/gender equality can be just as much of an effective reigning ideology for the Empire as its opposite. It is time to acknowledge that language so long cherished by the left is now a cudgel against working people at home and abroad. Evil has often come disguised as good.