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On the Imperialist Cultural Offensive

A Keynote for the Commission 14 Workshop

by J de Lima
November 14, 2015

Colleagues and friends!

It is my pleasure and honor to speak on the imperialist cultural offensive before this workshop
to help set the framework for the topic Peoples Cultural Resistance Against Imperialist
Cultural Offensive.

Indeed, a long-standing war exists between imperialism and oppressed peoples in the cultural
arena. This has been ongoing ever since colonial masters realized that swords, bayonets,
guns and bombs were not enough to quell armed resistance or wipe out entire rebel villages
to effect the subjugation of a people. Since then the war for hearts and minds have continued
as conquered peoples resist their subjugation in the cultural arena even before they
themselves pick up the gun and fight back.

We are all aware that the imperialists are still the dominant force, growing ever more
sophisticated with their comprehensive so-called counterinsurgency campaigns using bombs,
bullets and deception, the latter not only against resisting peoples but also against the people
in their own heartland. On the other hand wars of resistance produce battalions of cultural
activists to buoy up the revolutionary spirit of the fighters and the people.

While the term cultural activism has come often to mean alternative or protest-oriented
themes and forms in literature and the arts, the arena of cultural activism is actually much
broader. As we might have learned in our humanities and sociology courses, culture does not
only include literature and the arts, but also languagefirst of all, economic systems, socio-
political systems, customs and traditions, religion, and science and technology. It
encompasses a wide range of systems of thought, communication and behavior as expressed
in people's daily lives. Culture is both material and nonmaterial and includes first of all the
language and symbols we use in communicating, our food, shelter and clothing, technological
instruments and technology, our entertainment and sports activities, our attitudes and values,
ideologies, and many more.

Progressive social science as a whole, especially Marxist theory, ascribes a crucial role to
culture in the workings of society.

In analyzing a society and deriving its laws of motion, Marxism proceeds by studying its
economic base, then also its superstructure (politics and culture) both in their particularity and
in their interaction. The class that controls the economic base and appropriates the surplus
product is the determinant factor in the long run, producing its own framework of political rule
and dominant cultural precepts.

As Marx aptly said in The German Ideology:


The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is
the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The
class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the
same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking,
the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. Insofar,
therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it
is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also
as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the
ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.

However, the superstructure can become crucial in intensifying contradictions within the
economic base or in breaking deadlocks towards resolution and general advance. Thus to be
a cultural activist, one must understand the underlying contradictions and define ones class
stand. On whose side are we? As cultural activists, we stand with and for the people. We
expose and criticize oppression and obscurantism in any or many aspects of this vast mental,
communication, and behavioral complex that we call culture, and espouse revolutionary
changes in society in that same space.

In the past two or three decades now, the world's countries and peoples have been facing a
renewed cultural offensive by the foremost imperialist powers. This offensive advances in
parallel with their economic and political-military offensives. This cultural offensive is led by
US imperialism. It is the soft power aspect of the US ambition for full spectrum dominance in
the economic, political, military, social and other spheres, including outerspace.

The other workshops will probably be providing the bigger context of this imperialist ambition
for full spectrum dominance and how it is expressed in the various arenas of conflict. But in
this workshop, we will focus on the themes, messages and forms of the imperialist offensive
in the cultural arena.

Its biggest themes are emblazoned with slogans looming before us. The following are just a
few examples of such slogans, and their central messages:
Neoliberalism The owners of capital should be free to profit where, when, and how
they like, and should not be shackled but should be supported by state laws and
regulations in this regard. However, state or inter-state regulations affecting the god of
profit are anathema as they supposedly distort the operation of the free market (read:
monopolies).
Globalization National barriers are obsolete and should be smashed wherever they
still exist. Finance capital, goods and services must flow freely throughout the globe for
everyone --read: for monopoly profit-taking.
Capitalism as End of History Other countries have tried alternative systems, and all
have failed and have returned to capitalism. Capitalism may not be perfect, but it can
reform its defects. A variant of this theme is: There Is No Alternative. People must
suffer exploitation and oppression.
War on Terror All kinds of terrorists have proliferated throughout the world. They
oppose or fight the US push for neoliberalism and globalization, and so they are
enemies. Thus, it is right for US to launch wars against them wherever they are. It is
the US global mission to invade countries, overthrow governments, and kill people that
breed or coddle the terrorists.
American Exceptionalism Americans have the right to do all of the above, because
the USA has the best democratic system in the world.

Under these central themes are a relentless stream of axioms and icons glorifying global
monopoly capitalism. These cultural themes, messages, and symbols are constantly
produced and disseminated by the most technologically powerful media systems that the
world has ever known: print, broadcast/cinema, and Internet/multimedia systems that
encompass practically the whole world, 24/7 in real time, and with the capacity to
manufacture so-called realities that fit the goals of imperialist domination.

Unless anti-imperialist forces, including cultural activists, develop a people-oriented


consciousness and conduct a cultural revolution by doing their own mass work among the
people to draw from, and raise awareness of their concrete needs and interests, the insidious
cultural messages of imperialism in their myriad forms can easily spread and diffuse among
them and clamp like parasites or bad habits into their daily lives. We are all witness to this
malady, as confirmed by anecdotes, case studies, and statistics. We confront the most
insidious messages of US-led cultural imperialism:

from its crudest forms, such as McDonald diets, publicly accessible porn, fashion and
consumer whims that change from season to season and more sophisticatedly
Starbucks and the like with their banner of corporate social responsibility so enticing to
the intelligentsia;
to its mainstream forms, such as TV crime series and reality shows, movie
blockbusters, NYT bestseller lists and virtual reality games that mostly distract and
misinform; and
all the way to high-level purveyors of imperialist ideology, such as the fine arts and
literary elites, top-level universities, academic journals, policy think tanks, and new
philosophical schools with outputs that pretend to being progressive or radical but are
actually mere repackaging of self-indulgent petty bourgeois sensibilities in the service
of the same rotten profit-ruled system.

All the above, including sports, movies and other forms of entertainment that take a great deal
of time to preoccupy large masses of people are used by the ruling class to preclude criticism
of the system, shut out and pro-people ideas and sentiment and give free rein to pro-
imperialist and reactionary ideas and sentiments.

This cultural offensive is not simply one that is planned and implemented among the
ideological and cultural elite of US imperialism, i.e., in the CIA-funded and big business-
funded think tanks and media corporations, but more significantly, it is wired into all the
economic, political-military, and cultural/media agencies of the US government and MNCs,
and in the international bodies where the US exercise significant influence.

Neoliberal globalization and US global military presence are intentionally designed to drive
forward this cultural offensive. Globally and especially in third world countries, MNC conduct
CSR ad or cause marketing campaigns; while US special forces undertake disaster, rescue
and medical missions traditionally done by the Red Cross and charitable foundations to
deliver more strongly than the latter the subliminal propaganda messages favoring US
imperialism and its military forces embedded into seemingly humanitarian or charitable
endeavors.

Furthermore, due to global labor mobility, even overseas contract workers and poor students
on scholarships often become unwitting carriers of this cultural offensive when they bring or
send home so-called goodies of their stay abroad, underscoring the massive influx of
superior goods and lifestyles generated by global capitalism.

Let us look further at some examples of common themes and messages carried by this
imperialist cultural offensive:

Extreme individualism is justified in the name of freedom but always in the context of
upholding the monopoly capitalist system that rewards the few at the expense of the
many. This individualism is sometimes sugar-coated with a veneer of do-good
charitable work a la Bill Gates.
Closely related is the dream of getting richfor example, by riding on capitalist
financial/venture schemes (thus, the many success stories of small entrepreneurs or
innovators rewarded big-time by the system), or by selling one's artistic talents to
instant stardom via Internet virality.
Consumerism, or a crass type of individualist or hedonist materialism focused on
satisfying personal wants and whims, devoid of any sense of responsibility to the
collective and long-term needs of the poor and oppressed classes and sectors, of
society at large, and of the planetary environment.
Obsession with fantasy or futuristic worlds and superheroes (in novels, movies, TV
series, comics, and digital games), mostly to lull people with dreamland scenarios and
distract them from a full and concrete understanding of real-world problems and from
exploring viable solutions or alternatives to the current rotten system.
Covert or overt racism, as packaged in elite and white-dominated lifestyles (e.g. in
fashion and fads, as reflected in advertising). Related to this is the notion of superiority
of the cultural outputs of Western imperialist countries, whether it is a new piece of
technology or research or novel. This cultural racism is often sugar-coated with ethnic
tokens (as in films and music), which represent selected and safe icons of third world
or non-elite cultures that have been mainstreamed.
Glamorization of war, specifically on the use of high-tech weapons and individual
superpowers, prettifying imperialist domination of small and weak peoples. Note that
even in Hollywood movies that seemingly celebrate the victory of the small, the weak,
and the native who persevered in resistance (e.g. Star Wars, Hunger Games, etc.), the
victory is still due to class reconciliation after the worst villains are defeated and
overthrown.

Let us also take a closer look at the role of language. In the way this is used, especially the
terminologies and catchwords that seep down to common usage, language serve as actual
and potential packaging tools of cultural imperialism. We must be aware and wary of pitfalls
in this particular area. For example, among agencies of the UN, OECD, and private donor
institutions a distinctive development policy jargon has been spinned and spread to civil
society NGOs and a few radical organizations. Using such jargon to engage with some NGOs
within the narrow UN development framework may have some special uses. But simply
adopting such jargons that hide the reality of exploitation, oppression and impoverishment
can trap progressives and anti-imperialist propagandists into the UN development framework
primarily serving the diminishing top one percent of the population that continues to dominate
society. A huge challenge to all anti-imperialist writers and other cultural activists is to study
the language of the masses and adopt their style accordingly. In this regard, Mao Zedong had
a lot to say in his Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing.

The imperialist cultural offensive has short-term and long-term impact on the world's peoples,
whether in the underdeveloped third world or in the most developed capitalist countries. This
cultural offensive has become so pervasive worldwide that even the Western bourgeois
academe has come to recognize its most obvious aspects, giving it the name cultural
imperialism, the McDonaldization or globalization of culture, and producing extensive
literature to explore its many ramifications among third world countries. Let us remember,
however, that this offensive likewise impacts on the countries and peoples of the advanced
capitalist countries as well as the US itself.

The most debilitating long-term effect of this cultural offensive is in creating obstaclesbig
and smalltowards the development of revolutionary or socialist class consciousness among
the workers and other toiling masses, and towards a militant national and democratic
consciousness among oppressed peoples. If not countered and eventually defeated, such
cultural offensive will produce a slew of petty-bourgeois subcultures that will numb the
masses of working people.

Among other adverse effects on Third World countries, one particularly damaging impact of
the imperialist cultural offensive is in the erosion and full-scale commercialization of local
cultures in the guise of tourism. Selected and safe artifacts of local cultures are re-packaged
into commodities and icons of a so-called ethnic but actually bourgeois-cosmopolitan
culture. In the Philippines, to mention just one example, young wealthy urbanites have taken
to seasonal treks to the Cordillera region to get native tattoos, buy antique artifacts, and
climbing up to sacred mountain sites in their carloads to take selfies, without even an iota of
understanding of Cordillera indigenous people's struggles for land and life.

Let me conclude by stating that your Commission does not deserve to be No. 14. Your
concern ought to have a much higher valuation in the hierarchy of ILPS concerns. It directly
relates to Concern #1 and suffuses all the other ILPS concerns. It may be moved up to
number 4. Marshalling the arguments to justify such a higher prioritization may be a topic in
your current workshop and the subject of an important resolution for consideration by the
assembly.

As cultural activists of the anti-imperialist movement let us take serious and comprehensive
measures to counteract the imperialist offensive on all fronts, including measures in the
cultural field that will serve as the basis of our tasks. In this regard, let us reflect on what has
been accomplished and not accomplished over the last four years since the ILPS 4 th
International Assembly. While this keynote cannot preempt the workshop discussions that
should produce those measures in the form of resolutions, may I suggest for the body to
address the following concerns, which I see as pivotal in enhancing our capability to deliver
the revolutionary message to the hundreds of millions of the masses:

We must train ourselves to understand and deal with facts and events, as these unfold
in the real-world conditions experienced by the masses. Let us not confine ourselves in
ivory towers, honing our individual imaginations and crafts, away from the real world
and the masses, but let us study current events, study history, immerse ourselves with
the masses in their struggles, and in the course of our struggle develop, together with
them the peopless culture based on concrete realities.

Let us organize among the masses. It is good that we develop our various progressive,
anti-imperialist and democratic guilds along literary and artistic crafts or professions.
But these should not result in small and exclusivist (because self-limiting and in-bred)
groups. Rather, let us must find various ways of embedding ourselves, individually or
as teams, within workers' unions, peasant associations, and other grassroots
organizations of women, youth, children, LGBTQ, and other sectors, and in the
process, find ways of developing anti-imperialist and democratic culture as a mass
movement in a real sense, instead of being the output of small and scattered
collectives of writers and artists.

Lastly, let us all contribute our utmost to a unified cultural offensive of the people
against imperialism, aware that the overwhelming dominance of imperialism
necessitates strong organizations with strong leaderships guided by the ideology,
politics and methods of a party of the most advanced and most productive class in our
society today. Especially in this age of the Internet and multimedia, let us also help
build powerful counter-mediapowerful in that they are able to support the people's
struggles and effectively amplify the people's voice, and in turn find resonance in and
draw the concrete support from the masses in their millions. It is not enough for us to
compete with the imperialists in such superficial terms such as trending hashtags, viral
Youtube views, and TV ratings. More important to us are the long-term results, as
measured in the sustained growth by leaps and bounds of the anti-imperialist mass
organizations and mass movement at the national level and on an international scale.
Let us help build many channels, going in one general direction. At this point, one apt
analogy is that of the people's struggles as many small rivulets eventually conjoining
into one endless current of strength to swamp the cultural strongholds of the enemy.

The essential task of progressive and revolutionary forces all over the world today is
developing unity, cooperation and coordination of all peoples and raising the level of struggle
against imperialism and reaction, in particular against imperialist plunder and war led by US
imperialism the No.1 terrorist power.###