A 1965 article from Kwame Nkrumah’s journal The Spark highlights the role of monetary policy – and the US dollar – as an instrument of imperialism and neocolonial rule.
If it were around today, The Spark would probably carry a warning in the US that it was “state-affiliated media.” Its editors probably wouldn’t care. The Spark was published by Kwame Nkrumah’s Bureau of African Affairs and its explicit mission was to build socialism in Ghana and to aid in fomenting working-class revolution throughout Africa.
The Spark’s content reflected this mission. The weekly paper ran essays articulating the theory of Nkrumaism and published detailed analysis of neocolonialism and imperialism, and of socialism and development. It considered the class struggle in Africa and examined anti-colonial struggles across the continent. In its pages appeared statements of solidarity with Cuba, Algeria, and Black America, and contributions from Amilcar Cabral, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevera. When W.E.B. Du Bois passed away in 1963, an issue appeared in his honor.
For the US State Department, The Spark represented a dangerous tendency within Nkrumah’s Ghana. In January, 1964 the US Central Intelligence Agency issued a classified report titled “The Leftward Trend in Ghana.” The report noted that the US Embassy in Ghana had characterized a recent speech of Nkrumah’s “as perhaps his most extreme anticapitalist and revolutionary performance.” The speech, according to the CIA, “included [Nkrumah’s] first known specific use of such phrases as ‘class interests’ and ‘class politics,’” it criticized the US “as the citadel of reactionary opposition to progressive forces everywhere,” and it aligned Ghana with “the international ‘socialist’ fraternity.” “Subsequently,” the report continued, “[Nkrumah] has increasingly tended to mouth the Communist-derived jargon appearing continually in The Spark.”
In their summary of the situation in Ghana, the CIA concluded that, “Barring a successful coup against his regime, it will probably be increasingly difficult for the West to maintain an effective presence in Ghana.”
Nkrumah was overthrown by a CIA-backed military on February 24, 1966.
Below we reprint an article from The Spark titled “Currency Crisis in the West.” Its author is Hsiang Chung, a Chinese economist of whom, we admit, we know little more than his name. Even so, the essay has a crystalline analysis of how monetary policy has been used as a tool of imperial and neocolonial rule. Moreover, in charting the historical reasons for the rise of the dollar’s global supremacy in the twentieth century, it establishes the historical conditions precipitating the dollar’s imminent twenty-first century fall.
Currency Crisis in the West
The imperialist scramble for world domination is usually marked by a struggle for financial supremacy, for monetary policy is one of the heavy weapons of the imperialist countries in their drive, for expansion--a weapon they use to strangle their rivals and extend their spheres of influence.
In the struggle for monetary supremacy, an imperialist country invariably uses its political and economic power to establish a monetary bloc in which its own currency is made to take a leading position while the currencies of its colonies and dependencies as well as other states associated with it are reduced to a subordinate status.
It has to link to currencies of the monetary bloc members with its own, and at the same time to make them keep their gold and foreign exchange reserves in its central bank to be used by them for “unlimited buying and selling” on foreign exchange market at fixed rates. Consequently, its commodity in capital exports will not have to suffer from the fluctuation of the currency of the monetary bloc members and it will not have to pay more for raw material imports because of the devaluation of its own currency.
Moreover, since the gold and foreign exchange reserves of its monetary bloc members are deposited in its own central exploitation, and this leads to the formation of a financial centre within its own sphere of influence over which it is able to establish its financial supremacy. That is why currency warfare in capitalist international finance is an important means in the imperialist scramble for markets, outlets, for investment and sources for raw materials, as well as an indispensable factor in their constant redivision of the capital of this world.
The Monetary System Crisis Sharpened
The deepening of the general crisis of capitalism, especially the emergence of the crisis in the capitalist monetary system, has intensified the monetary warfare among the imperialist powers. As a result of the world economic crisis of 1929–33, normal financial relations among the capitalist countries were disrupted as never before; the gold standard completely collapsed, and the monetary system of the capitalist countries became chronically unstable.
From that time onwards, in their efforts to maintain currency stability, and to ward off the crisis in the monetary system, monopoly capitalist groups in the imperialist countries were compelled to resort to government intervention on a larger scale than before and adopt such measures in the field of international finance as moratoria on foreign debts currency depreciation, foreign exchange restrictions and control etc., in order to consolidate their position in the better struggle for markets and spheres of influence. However, all the steps, which were designed to shift the crisis onto others failed to extricate the imperialists from their plight, but instead made the struggle still sharper and more complicated.
Following the end of World War II, as a result of the formation of the socialist camp and the upsurge of the national liberation movement the areas dominated or exploited by the imperialist countries have become smaller and smaller. In this predicament, the inter-imperialist struggle for markets and spheres of influence has become more acute and currency has been used on a still larger scale as an instrument in defeating their adversaries. Not only have they subjected the currencies of their colonies and dependencies to their own as in the past; they have also exerted great efforts to make their own currency the dominant one within the shrinking imperialist camp. At the same time, the deepening of the general crisis of capitalism has been accomplished by an intensified crisis in the monetary system, and the imperialist countries have been forced to take further steps to intervene in various forms in the field of international finance. However, whenever they are taken by the strong to bully the weak or the weak to counteract an adversary’s pressure, the steps are bound to aggravate the imperialist monetary struggle, and make it more severe than was the case before World War II.
Domination vs Independence
The characteristic of postwar inter-imperialist relations is that US imperialism has increasingly endeavored to consolidate and extend its dominant position while the other imperialist powers refused to reconcile themselves to US control from which they have done all they can to free themselves. This rivalry between US imperialism and the other imperialist powers struggle between domination and independence— is also reflected in capitalist, world finance.
During World War II, US imperialism amassed enormous wealth and greatly expanded its productive capacity and export trade. In the early post-war years, Washington took advantage of the temporary disappearances of three fascist countries, Germany, Italy, and Japan from the capitalist world arena of competition and of the heavy destruction suffered by the two old imperialist powers, Britain and France; it went all out for economic expansion abroad and consequently had a huge surplus in its balance of international payments and piled up vast gold reserves. In 1938 the US gold reserves amounted to $14,594 million or 56.1 per cent of the gold reserves of the capitalist world. In 1948, they jumped to $24,399 million, or 70.3 per cent of the capitalist world’s total. During this period, the other capitalist countries incurred huge deficits in their international accounts with the United States, resulting in a serious “dollar shortage” and massive gold outflows to the United States.
In the decade between 1938 and 1948, the gold reserves of Britain, the sterling area and the West European countries dropped from $9,511 million to $5,707 million, and their share of the capitalist world's gold reserves fell from 36.6 per cent to 16.4 per cent. At that time the disruption of domestic production, the heavy increases in budgetary deficits, and the impact of deficits in the payment of international payments brought about serious currency depreciation in most of the capitalist countries except the United States. Under the circumstances, the governments of these countries were constrained to their foreign exchange restrictions and controls to achieve, and to stabilize the value of their currencies by artificial means. The result was that they’re currencies became “soft”, i.e., could not be freely converted into other foreign currencies, they were in no position to compete with the dollar, a hard currency which was freely convertible.
Shift in Economic Power
This shift in economic power was much to the advantage of US imperialism in its greedy bid for world leadership. It has made every effort to form a big dollar bloc to dovetail plans to build an unprecedentedly big empire in the world. In addition to adopting political, military, economic and other measures, US imperialism, in order to fulfill this grandiose plan, must take the following steps in the monetary field. On the one hand, it needs to consolidate the external value of the dollar and maintain its “free convertibility” so that fixed exchange rate between the dollar and other currencies can be preserved, and the dollar can have the same status as gold in the capitalist world's current reserves.
This would provide favourable conditions for New York to become the capitalist world’s sole international financial centre.
On the other measures both at home, and in the currency blocs, they control in order to check economic penetration by their competitors. US imperialism therefore found it necessary to do the utmost to intervene in their international financial policies and foreign exchange systems, thus enabling it to maintain normal trade relations with them, and paying the way for its further economic expansion.
In effect, this US imperialist rapid plan is nothing but a refurnished version of the currency blocs established by Britain, France, and other old imperialist powers in their colonies and spheres of influence. But in order to ward off the strong opposition of other imperialists, the United States had to resort to more covert and slyer tactics in pushing forward this plan in the capitalist world.
Price of Gold Kept Down
In the first place, relying on its substantial gold reserves, US imperialism artificially kept down the price of gold in its dealings with other governments or their central banks. It is common knowledge that as early as 1934 the US government prescribed the external value of the dollar, i.e., the parity between the dollar and gold, at $35 an ounce. But since the latter part of the 1930s and particularly since World War II, the value of the dollar has been frequently devalued internally because of inflation. In 1948 the purchasing power of the dollar was only 57.8 per cent of what it was in 1939. In 1963 it further dropped to 44 per cent. In order to stabilize the external value of the dollar by artificial means, the U.S. government, irrespective of the frequent devaluation of the dollar internally, has always exchanged it for gold at the official rate of $35 percent ounce in its dealings with other countries. And so the external value of the dollar has long been out of tune with the extent of its internal devaluation while the price of gold has been greatly kept down.
Other capitalist countries were then suffering from a widespread “dollar shortage” and they virtually had very little or no dollars with which to buy US gold. Therefore, keeping the price of gold down actually meant compelling other capitalist countries to sell gold cheaply to the United States in order to make good their dollar deficits. This increased the surplus in the US balance of international payments, and gave it the opportunity to rake in gold at a low price made it difficult for the latter to relieve their “dollar shortage”. And this also became a pressure under which they had to accept the Marshall plan and other types of “aid,” and thus subject themselves to enslavement by US imperialism.
Another major aim of US imperialism in keeping down the price of gold is to irrigate the same role as gold to the dollar, whose external value was artificially stabilized, and serving as a world currency. Since the currencies of most other capitalist countries were unstable and their foreign exchange reserves, along with, and in preference to pound sterling. This facilitated US imperialism control of their currencies in one way or another, and it’s becoming the biggest International exploiter in capitalist world finance.
Washington’s Building Tactics
In the second place, in the early post-war years, Washington spread such false ideas as “the elimination of foreign exchange control,” “the stabilization of exchange rates,” and “avoidance of competitive currency depreciation.” These were designed to compel other countries to abandon their foreign exchange restrictions and controls, and relatively stabilize their exchange rates in a way advantageous to the United States. It pushed this policy in order to ensure that the proceeds of America commodity exports and the remittance to the United States of profits from overseas investment may be protected from other countries’ foreign exchange restrictions.
It is true that US imperialism, at least on the surface, has not imposed downright control over the currencies of its “allies.” In reality, however, it did all it could to achieve this purpose by bullying tactics and cajolement. As mentioned above, Washington compelled the recipients of its “aid“ to accept such terms as the introduction of free convertibility within a certain period of time and the scrapping of their foreign exchange controls and restrictions.
A notable example of this took place when Britain received a big US loan amounting to $3,750 million in 1945 and two years later was compelled to introduce free convertibility for the pound sterling, which lasted for only five weeks. Of great importance is the fact that the International Monetary Fund set up in the early postwar years— a major instrument of US imperialism in the international monetary field— dangled the bait of short term loans before member states in order to induce them to accept conditions involving the loss of national sovereignty. These included the abolition of foreign exchange, controls and restrictions, the definition of the foreign exchange value of a currency in terms of the dollar containing a specific weight of gold and the obligation to obtain the funds agreement to specific changes in foreign exchange rates.
Struggle Between Dollar and Pound
All these measures were naturally resented by other imperialist powers. However, West Germany and Japan were then dominated by Washington, and it was on the basis of formulas prepared by the US government that the exchange rates for the West German mark and the Japanese yen were established. Inflation of considerably serious proportions and a rapid deterioration in the balance of international payments overtook France and Italy; the franc and the lira were frequently devalued; it was difficult for them to compete with the dollar. Only the pound sterling could initiate limited counter- offensives against it. Although Britain’s power has declined since World War II, it still has the backing of the sterling area in international finance, the pound remains the reserve currency of sterling area countries and a number of other capitalist countries in the world network of overseas banks, which was set up by Britain in the last century, retains considerable influence. In these circumstances, the struggle between the dollar and the pound was naturally the most prominent one in the imperialist currency warfare.
The comprehensive system of foreign exchange restrictions and control set up by Britain in the sterling area was a powerful fulcrum strengthening British imperialist exploitation of the commonwealth countries and checking US economic penetration. And it was a serious handicap to US imperialist expansion in the capitalist world.
In the first few years since World War II, by means of loans, “aid” and pressure by different US controlled international organizations, Washington devised every possible means to compel Britain to open the door to the sterling area, and restore the free convertibility of the pound so as to pave the way for the control of the whole sterling area, including Britain itself. For a time British imperialism refused to take orders from Washington and adopted delaying tactics. But in 1949 a pound was devalued by 30.5 per cent against the dollar, followed by a corresponding currency to valuation by 35 other capitalist countries–to a large extent the result of pressure from Washington.
Nevertheless, Britain and other imperialist powers, wherever possible, dealt Washington’s high-handed policy, a rebuff. The sterling area and the currency blocs of other imperialist countries—such as the franc bloc—clung stubbornly to their spheres of influence. Moreover, on the question of the price of gold, because gold produced in the sterling area makes up more than 70 per cent of the total annual production of the capitalist world, Britain and South Africa have more than once battled for a rise in the gold price as a countermeasure to US control. They eventually succeeded in wrestling some concessions from Washington and were permitted to sell their gold for industrial purposes on the free market at a higher price than the official US price of $35 per ounce. The International Monetary Fund's demand for the abolition of foreign exchange controls, and for the institution of a fixed parity between the dollar and other currencies were ignored by many countries. France and Italy, for instance, did not institute fixed exchange rates until the mid-1950s. This shows that, despite Washington’s desperate efforts to put the capitalist world's monetary system under its control, other imperialist powers have been unwilling to accept permanent subordination, they have exerted every effort to free themselves from the claws of the dollar. With the shift in the balance of forces between the United States and other imperialist powers, both Washington’s efforts at domination in the monetary field, and the other imperialist’s resistance are growing more intense.
No More Dollar Dominance
With the advent of the 1950s and the aggravation of the uneven development of capitalism, new changes have taken place in the balance of forces among the imperialist countries. Propped up by the United States, West Germany, Italy, and Japan, have recovered from their position as defeated countries. The power of France has steadily increased, enabling it gradually to speak on equal terms with the United States. Although it keeps getting weaker, Britain too has no desire to be at the mercy of Washington. US dominance, which was attained during and immediately after World War II, has begun to falter.
This shift in the balance of forces which is unfavorable to US imperialism is also reflected in international finance. After the war of aggression against Korea broke out in 1950, deficits began to appear in the US balance of payments and outflow of gold started, because its policies of war and aggression made it increasingly difficult for its trade surplus and proceeds from overseas investment to meet its huge military expenditures, foreign “aid” commitments and private capital export.
A similar situation recurred during US economic crisis of 1953–54. After 1956, taking advantage of the Anglo-French aggression against Egypt, the United States sold a large amount of oil and cotton to Western Europe, and this helped to bring about a turn for the better in the US balance of payments. However, from 1950 to 1957, the US gold flow to other countries amounted to $1,700 million. Added to this were mounting short term debts, and the annual rate of deficit in its balance of payments averaged about $1,200 million. During the same period the gold reserves of other capitalist countries increased by $3,700 million and their dollar reserves by $6,400 million. By the 1950s, the widespread “dollar shortage” of the early posts were years had virtually become a thing of the past.
A New State
After 1958, a new state was reached in the struggle between the United States and other imperialist powers to strengthen their respective positions in world finance. On the one hand, as a result of its intensified policies of war and aggression, US imperialism had to spend on an average more than $10,000 million a year for its overseas military expenditures, foreign “aid” and private capital export. This led to an increase in the serious dollar crisis, which was manifested in the form of balance of payment deficits, and of gold outflows. The dollar crisis and the recurrent economic crisis erupted either simultaneously or alternately.
Whatever methods it uses, it is impossible for US imperialism to prevent a continual deterioration in the position of the dollar. On the other hand, with the rapid growth in their political and economic power, the tremendous improvement in the balance of payment, and the big increase in their gold reserves, other major capitalist countries, and particularly several of the Common Market Six with France and West Germany as their nucleus, were able greatly to strengthen their currencies on the international finance market. From 1958 to 1962 the gold flowing from the United States to other countries totaled $6,800 million. These rises in the short term debts owed to other countries made for an average annual rate of deficits of about $3,000 million from 1950 to 1957. At the same time, the increase in the gold reserves of other capitalist countries amounted to $8,700 million. If increases in foreign exchange holdings are added to this the total increase in their gold and foreign exchange reserves during the period was $14,500 million. Most of these increases went to West European countries. France’s increases amounted to $3,400 million, Italy’s $2,200 million, and West Germany’s $1700 million. Next came Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Dollar Crisis— Incurable Disease
By 1963, the incurable disease of the dollar crisis remained serious. The deficit in the US balance of payments in that year still stood at $3,000 million. At the end of December, its gold and foreign exchange reserves totaled $32,179 million, of which gold accounted for $19,790.million, or 47% of the capitalist world's total. Thus US gold reserves are far below their pre-war level while those of the West European countries are far above it.
Hsiang Chung, “Currency Crisis in the West,” The Spark: A Socialist Weekly of the African Revolution, January 29, 1965.