“America is not a nation– it is a prison of nations.” — Omali Yeshitela, Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party
By one measure, the United States of America is the greatest country in the history of the world. It has the greatest power and the greatest wealth. The United States can brag about its many individual freedoms. It can boast that it has made tremendous technological advancements and that its culture is the envy of everyone else on the globe. And if you’re white, and middle-class (or rich), and cisgender, and “able-bodied” you can look out the window and things may appear to be relatively peaceful. It may seem that people are– for the most part– enjoying a fairly “high standard of living” in this country. And so you might think that anyone who wants to destroy the United States and replace all this wealth and all this freedom with something else must be a bad person, right?
However, by any other measure the United States of America has been a horrible failure. Because the one measure that indicates America’s success is its capacity for violence, through which it has gained all the wealth, power, land, resources and culture that it possesses today. That’s why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the American government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
The reason for the unprecedented failure of the United States is that its genocidal project of white supremacy has been too successful. And perhaps the most significant thing about this “success” has been the ability of the entire capitalist and imperialist system to erase the devastating effects of its violence, hiding them from the view of people who have not been directly affected. What this erasure has required is a philosophy that centers the individual– subjective idealism, patriotism, “American exceptionalism”– while isolating them in their class: so, if something hasn’t happened to you– not yet anyway– then it hasn’t happened at all. And that’s one of the great failures to be found in the success of the United States: the material division of land, resources, culture, and history from colonized populations (Indigenous peoples, Africans) on an occupied territory, followed by the ideological division of the “American” consciousness from this material reality, where everything we say that matters is up here in our head: liberty, justice, equality, peace. Never mind that the material evidence of colonial genocide, which indicates crimes against humanity on the greatest scale imaginable, is right here beneath our feet.
In order for this white supremacist, genocidal project called the “United States of America” to be a success it had to be complete— and were it not for the continuing resistance of colonized peoples it would have been complete. Whites certainly possessed no humanity to stop it. But if whites or Europeans had only colonized half of the North American continent, the other half would have remained as a perpetual reminder of the magnitude of our crimes against humanity. And not only would the truly free half (or even less than half) of the remaining land have exposed the lie that is “American freedom,” the people on that side could have gathered strength– power– and perhaps even have overwhelmed the colonized side on account of its exposed contradictions. It wouldn’t even have required a large land mass to accomplish this goal, because the entire globe would have seen how criminal and inhumane the United States is (just as it saw Hitler’s Germany, eventually), and would have supported the revolutionary struggle to free the entire land.
So the criminal scheme of European imperialist capitalism– as expressed in its white supremacist, genocidal project called the “USA”– was obligated from the beginning to steal the whole thing, from sea to shining sea. Canada got part of it, and the “USA” stole the rest from Mexico (which has its own complicated story as part of Latin America– but we should remember that the white population in the “USA” is so racist that even Spanish-speaking peoples aren’t “white enough” for us). The United States had to take over all the land, and murder all Indigenous peoples, erasing their culture, history and language, even if it sometimes meant appropriating these objectified things for the uses of whiteness (names of cities, states, rivers, sports franchises, products on the shelves of grocery stores). This complete erasure of “non-white” identity was an absolute necessity for the success of the white supremacist, genocidal project of “America,” otherwise the victims might live, and would be able to tell the rest of the world: the whole system of capitalism is built on a lie!
And, in spite of the greatest violence imaginable committed by the United States, colonized peoples have survived— Africans, Indigenous peoples, Latinxs, “people of color”– through their ongoing resistance to white supremacy and capitalism. And so the lie that is the “United States of America” has been and continues to be exposed. Look at the statistics. For example, the median net worth of white households is $141,900 and the median net worth of Black households is $11,000. The average life expectancy of a transgender woman of color is only 35 years. But beyond the numbers, just listen to the narratives, the experiences of individuals in colonized communities, and pay attention to their truths, which prove the lie that is “justice,” “liberty,” “peace,” and “equality” in this bourgeois, patriarchal society controlled by the European/white identity.
Huey P. Newton said, “The United States, in order to correct its robbery of the world, will have to first return much of what it has stolen.” The boundaries of the United States outline the illegitimate power of this settler colony of Europe– they have become the drawing of its lies, its genocide, its oppression. It doesn’t matter how high Trump builds the wall across Mexico, the evidence of robbery is still there in the lives of colonized identities who have resisted the violence of “America.” The white supremacist project that is the United States– a monument to the failure and inhumanity of European people– has been, at the same time, a story of success for its Trumps, Rockefellers, its Dow Jones Industrial Average, and all the wealth and power belonging to the few in the ruling class. But they had to go all the way— and they didn’t, because the strength of the people was greater than the reactionary force of the capitalist machine. So the “success story” of “America” remained incomplete. And now the monster must be brought down and finished off.
Huey P. Newton also said, “The United States as an empire necessarily controls the whole world either directly or indirectly.” And the U.S. is able to do this because, internally, its contradictions are relatively stable– the capitalist system crushed the rebellions of enslaved Africans, executing Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey and Bunchy Carter and Fred Hampton, and shoved Indigenous peoples onto reservations (concentration camps), deporting Claudia Jones, murdering Marsha P. Johnson and Blake Brockington, thereby consolidating its power to venture abroad and dominate the globe. But it wouldn’t have been possible without you— you and me, European colonizers (whites) in the United States, who continue to look the other way and support this monster whose “robbery of the world” primarily benefits us.
The failure of our humanity, along with our inability to form a revolutionary political consciousness, has been due in large part to capitalism’s own successful ability to impose its inhumane ideology on the masses of white colonizers. While we’re busy removing our hats and placing our hands over our hearts during the “National Anthem,” capitalism is busy rounding up people to hide from our view in prisons and detention centers. We may see them on the local news– the police keeping us safe (white people, that is) to enjoy our gentrification of Black and brown neighborhoods. And then the evening news comes on and we see the smoking rubble of a town halfway around the world destroyed by our bombs. But until we are hit by this violence, “America” will teach us how to avoid its terrifying reality, and it accomplishes this with a million coping mechanisms for capitalist oppression– provided we’re wealthy enough to buy them. The United States uses the power of its media, and the popularity of bourgeois politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (and, yes, Donald Trump), and all the gadgets and games we can afford, in order to distract us from the material reality of its racist, imperialist violence, transforming us into automatons, machines within the machine, free from any revolutionary consciousness.
What is often considered “freedom” in the United States is, in reality, a highly isolating imperialist view of the world, particularly among the white population of this occupied continent (plus Hawaii)– the “voter,” the “consumer,” the “hardworking American family” is the empty embodiment of white supremacist, genocidal, capitalist ideology. It’s the near-total failure of humanity through the near-total success of empire, as expressed through the day-to-day life of the white “American.” If our failure were not so nearly complete, we would recognize the horror of the situation, rather than going about in a state (or process) of unconscious consumption, committing “microaggressions” against people of color, engaging in the erasure of Black trans women, and parroting the language of bourgeois media, politicians, academics and preachers.
President Lincoln merely sought to preserve the union– to keep the empire intact. If the South had been able to permanently split away, the empire of the United States would have been weakened. It would have possessed less power to move westward– as a highly industrialized, modern capitalist state. The white supremacist, genocidal project would have remained far from complete– and perhaps the West would have been made up of many independent nation-states, and a few (or more) would have challenged the racist “American” empire. Of course, that never happened.
But today, Senator Bernie Sanders and other bourgeois politicians on the left-wing say nothing about breaking up the imperialist power of the United States. In fact, they seem just as determined as President Trump– in their own way– to “make America great again.” The aim of reformist “socialists” isn’t to overthrow this illegitimate empire, breaking it in half, weakening it– it’s to make it stronger, and therefore more capable of committing greater genocide against the world. What does it mean to raise taxes on the rich? It means the class at the top of this oppressive hierarchy remains rich– still raking in the profits gained from the capitalist oppression of the global proletariat. What does it mean to provide “free healthcare” (which is to say, state-controlled healthcare) within the current hierarchy of power? It means the wealthy class of the United States must continue to grow wealthier off the colonial subjugation of Africa, Latin America, Asia– the majority of people in the world, including “people of color” in this settler colony.
If we love people, and if we love peace, it seems we ought to be focused on how we are going to break up the power of this inhumane system. It’s the duty of the oppressed peoples of the globe to rise up and overthrow their oppressor. We have no right to tell them what to do and how to do it. But as European colonizers (whites) in the United States, it seems we should be educating ourselves about what it means to live in a world where we are required to survive through our own labor, our own resources, on our own land. Right now, we have no idea. As long as the “American” empire remains intact, whites won’t have a clue what it means to organize, create community, and struggle for our own survival– without robbing and stealing from Africa and the rest of the world.
The United States is just a great machine– an impressive prison of nations with giant gray walls, a block of soulless concrete sitting on top of stolen Indigenous lands. We need to bust this thing up. Hopefully Africa will seize control of its own labor, resources, and land, and cut us off. But European colonizers must educate ourselves about what it means to abolish the police, and prisons– and the prison that contains all these smaller prisons within it, the United States.
What happens when imperialist State power has been abolished? If we can just break up this oppressive weight of empire, this white supremacist, genocidal project, and knock down its walls, then our consciousness may begin to awaken, along with our humanity, and then we may be able to recognize people as people, not as objects. And mentally perhaps we can even begin to make progress right now, by rethinking how we view this prison which we’ve constructed, and how we view all the people who serve its dehumanizing existence.