Imperial Apparatuses: A Response to Vaush on the US State Department
This essay is a response to Vaush’s statements featured in a recent debate review between Jason Hinkle and Sam Seder, specifically critiquing his position on the US State Department and their relationship to imperialism. I intend to demonstrate that Vaush’s stance is not only empirically wrong, but is also incompatible with leftist conceptions of the State. This essay is limited specifically to the section of the video focusing on Vaush’s reaction and analysis to the debate, found in the video from 58:30 to 1:05:00, which is essential for understanding the criticism I levy, however, I believe that my criticism can be attributed to a greater critique on Vaush’s politics, especially with respect to his relationship to Marxism and offshoots of the ideology.¹
The segment, titled “He [Hinkle] doesn’t understand the state department”, begins with Vaush silently watching Sam Seder correct Hinkle on the assumption that he is opposed to an increase in the State Department budget, to which Hinkle is visibly taken aback and surprised by the answer. Hinkle mentions that the State Department is “…leading coups around the world…”, which is when Vaush pauses the original video to begin belittling Hinkle’s position, joking that the State Department’s budget would go toward the mythical “coup budget”, immediately breaking into roaring laughter at this apparently absurd suggestion. Vaush clarifies, “In case anyone is wondering why this is really really dumb,” pulling up the Wikipedia page for the Department of State, “so the State Department is the Department of State… that manages our foreign affairs. Giving them money… this is not where the coup-budget comes from.” He continues, “I actually think … the State Department, because it is responsible for setting a lot of foreign policy related stuff… definitely enables a lot of bad but the actual money they spend mostly goes toward diplomacy stuff, right? … I think it is pretty standard, like, managerial stuff.”² Here we find Vaush’s claims and his ignorance:
- The State Department is meant to oversee United States foreign policy with an emphasis on mainly diplomatic measures, such as maintaining embassies and producing passports.
- The State Department “definitely enables a lot of bad” due to their influence on setting foreign policy.
- Funding to the State Department does not equate to more funding for foreign coups.
Let us begin our investigation into the validity of these claims by examining first and foremost the budget of the US State Department. The 2022 budget, with respect to Vaush, is filled with categories involving international affairs, with more than $45 billion requested dedicated solely to foreign affairs. Included in the budget is funding for programs like USAID, the IMF, and the National Endowment for Democracy, multilateral development banks and related funds, and military financing.³ In a press release by the State Department, the budget increases are being used to “sustain security for our worldwide presence,” and “expand real-time threat monitoring,”; the budget also outlines a refocus on Central America, calling for a “critical” revitalization of collaborative U.S. leadership, claiming that budget increases will go toward “expanding economic opportunity, improving governance, and reducing violence and insecurity;”.⁴ To the untrained, uninformed, ignorant eye, one might read this and think positively of the mission that the US State Department has embarked upon. At first glance, the budget is relatively clean of the supposed “coup money” that Hinkle, to Vaush’s glee, claimed existed and was a cause for concern. As leftists, steeped in the Marxist tradition of “ruthless criticism of the existing order”, the method employed by Marx and Engels in their collaborative project to unravel the logic of capital provide explanations present in social relationships, formations within society.⁵ By analyzing these formations using a Marxist method, we should find that the budget of the US State Department is completely in line with historical trends of Imperialism; suggesting that the friendly-face of Imperialism, the sanitized, “clean” form of subjugation and economic domination, displays a clear improvement in what once was is a line of thought that is incompatible with contemporary leftist movements and erodes modern leftist discourse by degenerating into reformist or revisionist principles.
The writings of the theoretician Louis Althusser become indispensable when discussing the nature of the State, ideology, and capitalist logic. In On the Reproduction of Capitalism, Althusser discusses the famous topography of Marxist theory on the State, the historical materialist conclusion of society’s distinction between the economic base and the cultural superstructure. Society, as described by Marx, is governed by the determination of the efficacy of the economic base on the superstructure, moving and internal and external contradictions dialectically agitate and resolve.⁶ Even ignoring the dialectical method, the descriptive theory of the repressive State clearly defines the relationship that exists between the historical State and its subject, that of subjugation and exploitation of surplus-value, one where class is the primary subject to the motors of history, that of class struggle.⁷ We are reminded of the materiality of Marx through Althusser’s explanation of ideology, which exists in apparatuses and in practices specific to them; it is in this way that the functionaries of State Ideology, apparatuses acting on behalf of the primary dominant ideology of the ruling class, constantly in contact with the class dominated as a form of mediator and disciplinary, enable class struggle.⁸ To the untrained eye, the rhetoric speaks because ultimately, the exploitation of workers, plundering of surplus-value, is a complete non-issue. Expansion of markets and economies is seen as inherently good to the average American, especially when new markets are opened up, where otherwise an impoverished community might have starved or faced retaliation.
We should note the history of the United States and the imperialism conducted on its behalf and the continuance into modern-day examples of imperial actions. The clearest example is the bipartisan agreement on the attitude toward Cuba and maintaining the incredible embargo in place. The US State Department, in their duties as overseeing the foreign affairs of the US, oversees the relationship the US has with Cuba. For over six decades, the economic embargo has hung over the island, building steep walls for anyone looking to trade with Cuba; the embargo is controlled by the Department of Commerce, the Treasury, and the State Department, all working to “hold the regime accountable.”⁹ Despite the overwhelming consensus of the world, the US continues to follow policy hostile to Cuba¹⁰; this policy particularly affects Cuba’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which despite the drastic impact on trade, continues to boast a successful healthcare system that, too, has been undermined by the US government and demonized by mainstream media.¹¹
Lest we forget the role the State Department had on the debacle surrounding the supposed “sonic attacks” in 2016–2018 and the development of “Havana Syndrome”. With hindsight, we can see that it was an organized and concentrated attack not from Cuba, Russia, or China, but of the US State apparatus and of US media, even NBC acknowledges the end of the saga as the CIA acknowledges that there is no evidence to suggest such a claim.¹² It is with this hindsight that we can enrich our knowledge of the moves that the US government made in its attempt to frame the narrative as being an attack. John Kirk analyzes the situation in his 2019 article “The Strange Case of the Havana ‘Sonic Attacks’” where he details the cooperative response from Cuba, the questions of scientific objectivity, political pressure, and ideological positions of the US government.¹³ Consistently, the State Department has been at the helm of these claims, as the affected individuals were those working in embassies or as part of diplomatic missions, and using this claim of foreign acoustic attacks, the State Department pushed for increased sanctions, drummed up support for defensive spending, and gives a path for future US intervention. Continuing today is President Biden’s and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s policy on Cuba that reflect much of their predecessors: decades of economic warfare, massively seen as a harmful and needless action by the rest of the world, and continuing pressure for imperialist actions.
The State Department’s sources of funding also include funding for neoliberal projects like the USAID and NED, which promote economic doctrines that empirically harm the population of countries and benefit the bourgeois. The USAID proudly preaches that “the notion that the private sector, not donors and government, will be the ultimate drivers and sustainers of development, and we know that we need to re-envision our role accordingly,” uncovering a trend of policies decided by private interests in Latin America, starting with the colonization of the continent by the Portuguese and Spanish in the 15th Century. More recently, one can point to the military interventions during the 20th Century, starting with the Guatemalan coup d’état in 1954, where the CIA helped overthrow the democratically-elected President Jacobo Arbenz due to land reform that threatened American corporate interests. Policies of “Shock Doctrine’’ can be seen in the overthrow of the democratically-elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, in 1973 and the incorporation of Friedman’s economic policies under Augusto Pinochet’s regime also mark the foundations for the neoliberal model of imperialism. David Harvey’s definition of neoliberalism includes the ever-important facet of imperialism: “Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary.”¹⁴ Under a neoliberal system, apparatuses are to create markets and defend core values of capitalist relations, and in identifying the system which imperialism is a part of, one must keep into account that imperialism is a descriptive notion of a structural system, however expansive that system may be. While apparatuses may commit to actions of genuine concern for a population, the ultimate interest of the State Department is driven by an assumption of reproduction of capitalist relations.
The arm of the State Department does not stop, however, at the example of Cuban sanctions and foreign policy, but continues into the aforementioned “coup-budget”. While the US State Department is restricted in the foreign assistance it can provide to governments in power due to a coup d’etat, there are exemptions, of course, but the US State Department reciprocally has the power to designate actions as democratic or undemocratic. This should be no stranger to Vaush, as in 2019 Evo Morales, the incredibly popular leftist president of Bolivia, was forced out of office following a military coup d’etat. On November 13th, 2019, Vaush released a video titled “What Happened in Bolivia Was a Coup. Don’t Be Dumb.” in which he emphatically makes the point that there is no question that this was a violent coup propelled by western business interests and neoliberal ideologies and apparatuses. It follows that the Secretary of State should act in accordance with the ideological structure, with Mike Pompeo recognizing the interim presidency of Jeanine Áñez,¹⁵ the allegedly genocidal far-right Christian figurehead of the coup.¹⁶ Glenn Greenwald summarizes the media’s role in manufacturing the narrative of the original OAS report (which could not be replicated and had serious problems), along with getting Evo Morales’s words on the OAS, acting as an arm of the State Department, saying that it is an “instrument of destruction… an instrument for the coup,” and recalls his advice to watch for U.S. embassies, for where there are embassies there are coups.¹⁷
It seems that even ignoring the power that one wields in the determination of democratic and undemocratic actions, even providing money for managerial operations, the maintenance of a permanent, imposing presence across the world to serve as a safe headquarters of diplomatic (ideological) work. Increases to even only this facet of the apparatus only strengthen the imperial power of the United States, helping secure more opportunities for the United States to conduct foreign affairs and bolster the capitalist system. The position that is the most in line with anti-capitalist tradition is the fierce determination to stand against the machine in its totality; this does not only stand in reference to the scope at which revolutionary action should take in its attack against the entire state apparatus but also references the presence of a totality. Benedict Anderson tells the tale of how different appendages of the state paved way for and constructed different conceptions of the nation, including the seemingly mundane censuses, maps, and museums.¹⁸ Reading Anderson in a light that allows for one to assume these state appendages as extensions of capital only heightens the degree to which leftists must fight against the bourgeoisie creation of the status-quo: both the imperialist system and the state structure itself is a reflection of the relationship between classes and the means of production.
In conclusion, the United States Department is an apparatus of the United States, which is an imperialist power that uses its domination to further its grip on the world to continue the reproduction of international capitalism. This is irregardless of the details of where the money is spent, and while there is no designated “coup-budget”, there exists significant budgeting for projects that aid in the destabilization of strategic areas for US foreign policy. Furthermore, the continued presence of US State Department facilities continually reproduces the effects of the imperial system that Vaush claims to be opposed to, and laughing off the increases to the State Department budget laughs in the face of anti-imperialist activists. In navigating Vaush’s statements, we have conducted an investigation into the nature of the state and the capitalist mode of production and its relation to the modern neoliberal era.
¹ “Sam Seder SUFFERS While Debating The #1 Jimmy Dore Fan on Force the Vote (DEBATE REVIEW),” Youtube video, 2:44:43. “Vaush,” January 28th, 2022. https://youtu.be/6L_CiIpxEXw.
² “Debate Review,” Vaush, 1:00:15–1:01:11.
³ “Congressional Budget Justification Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs,” United States State Department, (state.gov 2022), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/FY-2022-State_USAID-Congressional-Budget-Justification.pdf.
⁴ “State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) FY 2022 Budget Request,” United States Department of State, (May 28, 2021). https://www.state.gov/state-department-and-u-s-agency-for-international-development-usaid-fy-2022-budget-request/
⁵ Karl Marx, “Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge,” (Marxists Internet Archive), accessed February 8, 2022, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/letters/43_09-alt.htm.
⁶ Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, ed. Balibar Étienne and Jacques Bidet, trans. G. M. Goshgarian (London: Verso, 2014), https://legalform.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/althusser-on-the-reproduction-of-capitalism.pdf. Pages 34–35.
⁷ Althusser, Reproduction of Capitalism. Page 70. Althusser talks more in-depth about this Marxist-Leninist thesis of historical materialism in his reply to John Lewis, collected and published as Essays in Self-Criticism.
⁸ Ibid. Pages 155–157
⁹ “U.S. Announces Designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism”, Mike Pompeo, United States Department of State (Jan 11, 2021). https://2017-2021.state.gov/u-s-announces-designation-of-cuba-as-a-state-sponsor-of-terrorism/index.html
¹⁰ UN Affairs, “UN General Assembly Calls for Us to End Cuba Embargo for 29th Consecutive Year | | UN News,” United Nations (United Nations, June 23, 2021), https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/06/1094612.
¹¹ “Increased Aggression and Hard Times, and Moving Forward and This Issue’s Contents,” International Journal of Cuban Studies 13, no. 2 (January 2021), https://doi.org/10.13169/intejcubastud.13.2.0173. More discussion on this topic is needed. The ideals of proletarian medical internationalism, forged during the Cuban revolution, contrasted with that of bourgeois internationalism in the form of modern US medical aid, should serve as examples of the US government’s “Brain Drain Politics”, dubbed by Michael Erisman in 2012. Other good overviews of Cuban internationalism are Julie Feinsilver’s “Fifty Years of Cuba’s Medical Diplomacy” and “Cuban Internationalism — An Alternative Form of Globalization” by Castro, Melluish, and Lorenzo.
¹² Ken Dilanian and Josh Lederman, “CIA Says ‘Havana Syndrome’ Not Result of Sustained Global Campaign by Hostile Power,” NBCNews.com (NBCUniversal News Group, January 20, 2022), https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/cia-says-havana-syndrome-not-result-sustained-global-campaign-hostile-rcna12838.
¹³ John M. Kirk, “The Strange Case of the Havana ‘Sonic Attacks,’” International Journal of Cuban Studies 11, no. 1 (January 2019), https://doi.org/10.13169/intejcubastud.11.1.0024.
¹⁴ David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007). Page 2.
¹⁵ Eric Beech, “U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo Congratulates Bolivia’s Interim President,” Reuters (Thomson Reuters, November 13, 2019), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bolivia-election-usa-pompeo/u-s-secretary-of-state-pompeo-congratulates-bolivias-interim-president-idUSKBN1XO088.
¹⁶ “Bolivia Charges Ex-President Anez with ‘Genocide’,” dw.com (Deutsche Welle, August 20, 2021), https://p.dw.com/p/3zIUe.
¹⁷ Glenn Greenwald, “The New York Times Admits Key Falsehoods That Drove Last Year’s Coup in Bolivia: Falsehoods Peddled by the U.S., Its Media, and the Times,” The Intercept, June 8, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/06/08/the-nyt-admits-key-falsehoods-that-drove-last-years-coup-in-bolivia-falsehoods-peddled-by-the-u-s-its-media-and-the-nyt/.
¹⁸ Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, (London, UK: Verso, 2016).