1898-1998: 100 YEARS OF U.S. IMPERIALISM

By Carlos Rovira

Although social and economic attacks on the working class are intensifying, people still welcome the new year with greetings of solidarity and wish each other well.

This is a tradition that, in a way, expresses resistance to the shattering uncertainties of life under capitalism. What could possibly concern workers more than the survival of their families given the onslaught of layoffs, the attacks on social programs, the racist police terror?

Yet despite everything the bosses can throw at them, much of the working class finds a way to celebrate the coming of the new year.

What capitalists celebrate is fundamentally different.

The rich interpret holidays, along with every other date on the calendar, as occasions to ritualize their power.

Above all, they review the past year by evaluating profits. Then, smiling in their exclusive ballrooms, they discuss Wall Street's projections of profits to come--all robbed from workers' labor.

For both classes, this new year is rich in significance. It marks a century since the United States became a full- fledged modern imperialist tyrant.

Profits had never before reached the height they did after 1898.

The Spanish-American War, which began with a mysterious explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in the port of Havana, Cuba, on Feb. 18, 1898, opened up a new era. The war ended with the U.S. conquest of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

What followed were military interventions in China in 1900, the Dominican Republic in 1904, Honduras in 1905, Panama in 1908, Nicaragua in 1912, Mexico in 1913, Haiti in 1915, and on and on.

The 100-year span of U.S. imperialism continues to this day, with the murderous sanctions against Iraq and the military occupation of Bosnia.


The capitalist class could not have attained political primacy without robbing colossal wealth from the world's peoples.

Three hundred years of chattel slavery in the United States had enriched the ruling classes in both the North and the South. After the slave system was overthrown with the Civil War, the pace of capitalist development quickened.

With the robber barons buying up industry and increasing monopolization taking hold and with the role of finance capital deepening, U.S. capitalism had to expand. New markets, sources of raw material and cheap labor were needed.

The drive to seize new territories as sources of this wealth had begun centuries earlier, with grabs for sections of Africa, Asia and the Americas by England, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Holland and other European countries. And the United States had stolen half of Mexico in its war against that country in 1848.

But 1898 opened up a new period in history.

Propelled by intensifying monopolization of domestic markets and backed by the increasingly key banks, the United States entered the competition for world markets on a massive scale. The age of imperialism began in earnest.

The capitalist countries raced each other to seize lands and exploit peoples and resources. Ultimately this led to the savagery and genocide of World Wars I and II, as well as the U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam.

Millionaires like William Randolph Hearst, Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, Andrew Mellon, Henry Clay Frick, Cornelius Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller foresaw great profits from expanding and directly controlling their financial investments abroad.

Washington sought to penetrate Asia through the Philippines, and Latin America through Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The ruling class tried to lure U.S. workers into accepting the aims of imperialism. The classical tactic of divide and conquer was the principal means.

Racism and racist propaganda intensified. Academics like Herbert Spencer presented "theories" like "social Darwinism" that attributed poverty to "inferior" genes.


Mainstream historians present the events of 100 years ago as remote. In fact, however, the plight of hundreds of millions of poor, working-class and oppressed people today results from all that occurred back then.

When the capitalists' political position was secured years after the Civil War, U.S. troops committed to protect the achievements of Black Reconstruction were withdrawn from the South. From that point on, the military was consolidated into a centralized apparatus able to repress the workers' movement--which was demanding the eight-hour day--and in place for the impending period of expansion.

Army Gen. Nelson Miles was sent to crush the Pullman workers' strike in 1894. He had massacred hundreds of Indigenous people at Wounded Knee, N.D., in 1890. Miles was also entrusted with the task of invading Puerto Rico.

At the same time the U.S. military butchered hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and slew masses of people resisting invasion in Cuba and Puerto Rico, the establishment of Jim Crow laws was systematizing racist terror and lynchings of African Americans in the U.S. South.

In the Southwestern states, Mexicans were the victims of widespread atrocities--most notably at the hands of the Texas Rangers--well into the 1930s. During these same years, Chinese immigrants and Native people suffered public floggings and lynchings.


The 100th anniversary of U.S. imperialism symbolizes plunder and suffering.

From July 25, 1898, to today Puerto Rico has remained a militarily occupied country. Its freedom fighters are held in U.S. prisons.

Guam and the Philippines continue to be military outposts for U.S. ambitions in Asia.

But the Cuban people succeeded in reversing the 1898 invasion. In 1959 they overthrew U.S. imperialism's stranglehold, then represented by the puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista.

They established an independent socialist republic, which continues to serve as an inspiration to millions whose destiny is freedom.

With all the criminal acts U.S. imperialism committed in the last hundred years, it is no wonder it is hated by so many. But there is reason for optimism.

Imperialism cannot bring about progress. Ultimately it creates a series of crises that destabilize it further--as is now the case with regard to the economies of Southeast Asia.

The imperialist class is small. Workers and oppressed peoples make up the world's majority.

The majority want freedom. Their long tradition of struggle will eventually lead to the victorious battle against imperialism.

- END -

Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the January 8, 1998
issue of Workers World newspaper
Sat, 1 Nov 1997

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: ww@workers.org. For subscription info send message to: info@workers.org. Web: http://workers.org)

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