In his recent speech addressed to an audience in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC, Donald Trump trumpeted one of his favorite campaign slogans – “America First”.
We are living in the imperialist stage of U.S. capitalism. There are around 800 U.S.-controlled military bases around the world. We live in a country that has been involved in over 20 overt wars and occupations since World War Two. It is inconceivable to many Americans that the U.S. government would adopt a non-interventionist position. For this reason, the “America First” policy may be perceived as a desirable, radical break with the past.
However, Trump’s America First Policy is not progressive. It seems to be dichotomous to the Democratic Party Establishment’s tendencies to “spread democracy”, strengthen NATO alliances and conduct military coups leaving voids for ISIS to fill – but it is a thoroughly right wing idea that misses the essence of the problem.
A reactionary history
These policies can be traced most directly back to the America First Committee. The America First Committee, formed in 1940 during the onslaught of the Second World War, demanded that the United States stay out of the war. While at surface level these policies may seem left-leaning, they are actually far from leftism.
What the AFC essentially proposed was to remain neutral in the war with fascism and establish peace with Hitler. At different times, left wing forces also opposed entry into the war for strategic reasons, but the main AFC spokesperson, Charles Lindbergh, was a known Nazi sympathizer and many of their leaders had to be fired due to blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Right-wingers such as Libertarian/Tea Party leader Ron Paul has based his 2012 presidential campaign on “America First” policies yet his political platform was firmly on the extreme right wing: ranging from being pro-Israel, to denying climate change exists, to opposing the rights of undocumented immigrants, to being anti-abortion and to opposing affirmative action.
Anti-imperialism is not isolationism
“America First” isolationism should not get conflated with anti-imperialist internationalism. Isolationism and neutrality puts the needs of the United States before any other country.
The anti-imperialist movement is not simply an anti-war movement. It means affirmatively standing for the rights of people all over the world for self-determination.
The leader of the Russian Revolution Vladimir Lenin defined imperialism as the highest state of capitalism with five characteristics: (1) the concentration of capital to the point that it creates monopolies (2) industrial and bank capital merging to create finance capital (3) export of capital (4) formation and expansion of monopolies (5) territorial division among capitalist powers being completed. Nothing about Trump’s policies will begin to uproot these basic features of society.
Anti-imperialist internationalism means mutual solidarity with all oppressed people struggling for dignity, as opposed to narrow non-interventionist policies that exist only to allow a greater focus on securing in the United States the capitalist, oppressive system that exists today.