Chris Hedges strays from the facts


"Capitalism, as (Walter) Benjamin observed, called on human societies to embark on a ceaseless and futile quest for money and goods ... It enslaves nearly all its adherents ... The suffering visited on Native Americans, once Western expansion was complete, was soon endured by others, in Cuba, the Philippines, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The final chapter of this sad experiment in human history will see us sacrificed as those on the outer reaches of empire were sacrificed. There is a kind of justice to this. We profited as a nation from this demented vision, we remained passive and silent when we should have denounced the crimes committed in our name, and now that the game is up we all go down together."

The above is the final paragraph of an article by Chris Hedges that appeared in Truthdig and other online publications. At first glance it has a radical ring to it, but on closer inspection it omits some salient facts and thus leads to an erroneous conclusion.

First fact: The Western expansion of U.S. capitalism rested not only on the genocidal practices directed at Native Americans, but also on the enslavement of 4 million people of African descent, the unbridled exploitation of immigrant labor from Europe and Asia, and the theft of land and labor of peoples of Mexican and Amerindian origin. My point isn't to diminish the horrific atrocities visited on Native American peoples, but to underline the exploitative, criminal, and racist sweep of capitalism in its infancy.

Second fact: People didn't simply "endure" imperial expansion on the edges of empire. They resisted it in a thousand ways and continue to do so to this day. What is notable about the present moment is the difficulty that U.S. imperialism encounters at every turn.

Iraq and Afghanistan are not successes, but counter-insurgency failures. Latin America is no longer the "backyard" of the United States, but the site of powerful left-leaning movements that were elected to power. And not least, new competing powers - to U.S. global hegemony - China, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa - are emerging worldwide.

In other words, there is little room for American triumphalism in this century. If anything, the balance of forces on a global scale is turning against U.S. imperialism.

Third fact: To say that the American people remained passive and silent in the face of capitalism's exploitation, oppression and expansion is, at best, a one-sided reading of history as well as present-day developments. Indeed, resistance to imperial expansion occurred in the heart of the empire as well as on its edges.

In recent decades, for example, millions of Americans opposed the war in Vietnam; masses of people spoke out and demonstrated against the buildup of nuclear weapons in the Reagan years; and Americans took to the streets in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One can argue that the movements were neither big enough nor durable enough, but that is quite different than suggesting that the American people were uniformly and consistently passive in the face of U.S. imperial aggression and atrocities. The historical record doesn't support it. And we should bear in mind that it is much easier to be an opponent of U.S. imperialism outside of the "belly of the beast" than inside of it. In this sense the American people can take pride in their opposition to U.S. expansionism.

Fourth fact: The lion's share of the riches from westward expansion and imperial reach have gone to the ruling classes, not to the exploited and oppressed. Thus to say that "we profited as a nation from this demented vision" obscures an important class reality: Working people and especially the racially oppressed fight and pay for wars of aggression and empire.

The truth is that many of the crisis conditions facing the American people remain insoluble as long as the government spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on military weapons, personnel and bases and our foreign policy is driven by the insatiable needs and profit maximizing logic of capitalism.

Final fact: The game isn't up, as Hedges claims. There is world to win. Hedges surely knows that as well as anybody. This week's May Day rally and march on Wall Street at which Hedges spoke is emblematic of a country and movement in transition to a better future, to a world in which people come before profits.

Photo: Exhibit at the Museum of Westward Expansion. St. Louis. Lucas Count Choppers // CC 2.0

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  • Hedges is by nature deeply, deeply pessimistic... it's a character trait born of a whole lot of exposure to human frailty - and yet still commits to activism from time to time. I think he'd agree with all said here but lacking optimism just doesn't see the same levels of active resistance.

    Posted by Trojan Horus, 06/02/2013 12:23pm (3 years ago)

  • Somehow I don't think you are saying anything contradicting Hedges. No question we've been profiting as a 'nation.' hedges is well aware of protest movements and the people he was speaking to at the Occupy rally. He's talking about the vast majority who ignored the crimes we were committing against the world's people, and sadly, that includes many folks in the working class also. the drug of consumerism consumed the people instead.

    Posted by bill meyer, 05/16/2012 12:36am (4 years ago)

  • Chris Hedges is still a remarkable writer with a strong social conscience. Still an insightful article, thanks

    Posted by George McDermand, 05/13/2012 9:08pm (4 years ago)

  • Here Here and amen to that!

    History, as ordinarily taught and practiced, is all wrong. Webb's contribution is a big one here.

    --Jim Lane

    Posted by jim lane, 05/09/2012 11:56am (4 years ago)

  • Thanks Sam for setting the record straight and giving us hope for the future. We need some encouragment so that we can continue to fight for Socialism.

    Posted by Lance Cohn, 05/07/2012 11:08am (4 years ago)

  • Great response, Sam. It shows what we as Communists have to offer that no one else has with the same clarity: our class outlook. As Bobbie points out, the word "we" is often used, even by those on the left, in an undifferentiated way that obscures class distinctions. We--the Communists and other Marxist-leaning forces--need to point this out incessantly. Thanks!

    Posted by Henry Millstein, 05/07/2012 10:50am (4 years ago)

  • I really like Mr. Hedges incisive style. After the Occupy movement he's less cynical. But recently his writing seems hasty. I hope someone forwards Mr. Webb's comments to the sites where Mr. Hedge regularly posts or is often quoted. Thank you.

    Posted by Butch, 05/06/2012 9:36pm (4 years ago)

  • “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our
    democracy and promote efficiency and efffectiveness in
    government.”— President Barack Obama

    Here is an interesting link that "We" can all find useful.

    At the end of the day, "We" are the world. "We" must always stand up for what is fair and what is right,
    what the overwhelming majority understands and accepts as social responsibility."

    I encourage everyone to be involved, contact your President today. You, me or we. We are all involved and
    should always be involved. Re-Elect President Obama

    Reach out to the Obama Administration today. Support your President.

    Posted by Christian, 05/06/2012 12:31am (4 years ago)

  • I think "we" is one of the most important and mis used words in our political vocabulary. Who is included - and left out - of "we" influences how folks think about the world. According to Mr. Hedges WE profited and WE deserve to go down. It is exactly along these lines of division that the capitalist class would like workers to see themselves. I think the 99% should define our own "we" - one that doesn't include them.

    Posted by bobbie, 05/04/2012 11:45am (4 years ago)

  • It is difficult to understand why the average person who works for a living does not rise up. Capitalism has never provided for the poor. It has always depended on the exploitation of the poor.

    The only long term solution to the woes of this planet is a modified socialism in which individual rights are preserved, but the means of wealth creation and production are shared by all.

    Can it be done? The track record is not great, but the track record of unfettered capitalism is worse.

    Posted by Ronald Humphrey, 05/04/2012 9:39am (4 years ago)

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