The economic unraveling that we’re entering into has been decades in the making, if not centuries. It’s the inevitable conclusion of a system that requires limitless growth. Capitalism has been a zombie system for well over a century now. Prior to the coming of the 20th century, it had already fulfilled its role in historical development, replacing feudalism and bringing the productive advancement that made for the conditions which could give rise to socialism. The only reason why it’s survived so long is because it’s maintained the dynamic of imperial extraction, keeping the core countries able to bribe their working classes and to carry out counterrevolutionary warfare across the peripheries. Yet this arrangement was never sustainable. In the last half century, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall has forced the system to contract. So it’s had to progressively sacrifice the living standards of the peripheral and core working classes alike, shrinking the social base that imperialism depends on.
The great dilemma our ruling class faces is that even though this process of upward wealth redistribution is making their system all the time less stable, it’s the only way to keep profits up. When the hedge fund Elliot Management declared in a recent letter that “the world is on the path to hyperinflation, which is the direct route to global societal collapse and civil or international strife,” it did so with the knowledge that the policies responsible for this looming collapse are what let hedge funds continue to run.
Because capitalism is incurably addicted to growth, it’s incapable of saving itself. Because of the protection that imperialism has provided for it, it’s managed to survive all of the crises it’s created for itself, and to rationalize them as not being indicative of some coming death blow to the system. Now that imperialism is falling apart, the reality of a coming systemic collapse can’t be denied. We’re facing a combination of the worst aspects of the 1973 stagflationary crisis and the 2008 economic meltdown. When these developments fully materialize, the empire will be broken.
The lie liberalism told us
When Washington won the Cold War, the bourgeoisie declared a historically decisive victory. Francis Fukayama, from within the comfort of his Japanese neo-colonial hub, imagined a future where liberalism has made war obsolete: “the virtues and ambitions called forth by war are unlikely to find expression in liberal democracies. There will be plenty of metaphorical wars—corporate lawyers specializing in hostile takeovers who will think of themselves as sharks or gunslingers, and bond traders who imagine, as in Tom Wolfe’s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, that they are ‘masters of the universe.’” What great consequences there would be to discarding Lenin’s warning about what “peace” means under capitalism: “Peaceful alliances prepared the ground for wars and in their turn grew out of wars; the one conditions the other, producing alternating forms of peaceful and non-peaceful struggles.” Capitalism necessitates wars, so when war isn’t happening under capitalism, it’s only a preparation for the next time capital instigates a conflict.
The USA’s 1992 Draft Defense Planning Guidance confirmed as such, stating that “Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.” In the following years, Washington pursued these goals by laying the foundations for the wars we’re now experiencing. Throughout the 1990s, the U.S. was carrying out military exercises in central Asian countries to prepare for future resource wars over the region’s oil, expanding NATO despite having promised Russia not to, and having its think tanks formulate plans for revitalized militarism that hinged on some dramatic event. I’m referring to the infamous Project for the American Century analysis from 2000, which said America would need a major upset in order to get the precedent for building up its war machine.
These foundations for future conflicts were being laid at the same time that Washington was already waging multiple wars, in between the Gulf War and the Afghanistan War. They were merely of the concealable kind. Washington was starving hundreds of thousands of Iraqis through its sanctions, and was using psyops to sow conflict in the Balkans. When Yugoslavia’s manufactured ethnic tensions were used to create a precedent for the 1999 bombing campaign, it wasn’t majorly opposed by Americans. The anti-communist sectarian strains which dominate the country’s left were outright supportive of it. The anti-war movement was and still is easy to pacify, as we see in how our most left-leaning politicians withdraw their calls for negotiating with Russia when met with pro-NATO backlash. The consequence of this complacency and complicity in the violence of imperialism is the doubly brutal type of collapse the U.S. empire is now undergoing.
This is a collapse where not only is the capitalist structure imploding, but the people have no readily available means for winning power amid the increases in inequality which this implosion precipitates. The prevalence of pro-imperialist ideas on the left has allowed for Democratic Party co-optation of our social movements, for the neutralization of challenges to capital. Workers are having to build back the unions from the ground up after decades of relentless attacks against them, the black liberation movement has been successfully exploited by Vote Blue opportunists, and anti-war stances on Syria, Russia, and other countries are rendered unable to hold policy sway by intensive imperialist psyops. Until revolutionary organizing gains enough strength, we’re unable to stop the dual war that our ruling class is waging. The war against both Washington’s geopolitical challengers, and the class struggle within America’s borders.
This is what’s come from letting liberalism operate unchallenged, from going along with the lies NATO has told about Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, China, Russia, and the other targets used to perpetuate the military machine. Liberalism didn’t make war obsolete, it made war into a bigger existential threat to humanity than ever.
The equivalent is true about what liberalism has done to the economy. Implied in the utopian promises of those who celebrated the USSR’s end was that we would never again face a situation like the Great Depression or the 70s economic crisis. But like how capitalism guarantees a war is soon to come, capitalism guarantees an economic implosion is soon to come. That’s why the U.S. has long had recessions every decade or so, whereas the USSR was able to steadily grow its economy without experiencing such a Sisyphusian cycle of recovery and fall. For the same reason that our social order makes conflict inevitable, a depression worse than the Great Depression is coming at the same time that the nuclear war risk has become worse than during the Cuban missile crisis.
The devastating truth of our conditions
Elliot Management says our hyperinflation has “made possible a set of outcomes that would be at or beyond the boundaries of the entire post-WWII period.” The letter frames this worst case scenario as something that still isn’t guaranteed, but at this stage in the system’s deterioration, that scenario became inevitable a long time ago. You can technically still say that we don’t know if several climate tipping points are going to be set off, but because there’s evidence that they will indeed be set off when warming surpasses 1.5 degrees Celsius, this “hope” for avoiding catastrophe is now nothing more than a ceremonial statement. The reality is that we will soon experience a financial meltdown as big as the Great Depression, and that the planet’s warming is going to become in many ways beyond our control. It’s simple inertia. When something has already become set in motion, and is traveling at a fast enough rate, hope for stopping it is entirely theoretical.
This is the devastating truth of our conditions: that the destructive process of capitalism has already produced too many destabilizing variables for an additional acceleration of the unraveling to be prevented. The crisis we face is not merely economic, it’s made up of climatic, ecological, health, international relations, and political developments that all reinforce each other. Because the climate crisis is going to irreversibly shrink the ability of the economy to produce, the depression we face will be irrecoverable, at least for as long as our growth-dependent system remains in place. Because the U.S. empire is determined to keep the war in Ukraine going, hyperinflation won’t be solved, and the situation’s damage to the working class will be multiplied. Because our socioeconomic system has cemented a policy of pandemic denial, long Covid will continue to literally cripple the economy, destroying the lives of millions by rendering them too disabled to work. Conversely, the worse the economy gets, the more vulnerable the working class will be to the virus. The same applies to the climate crisis. It’s one big vicious cycle.
As a consequence of this downward trajectory for the job market, goods affordability, and debt relief viability, our political order is sure to grow ever more dystopic. The more unequal our society becomes, the more the state is inclined to militarize its police and take away liberties, seeking to preempt an uprising. The more dysfunctional our society becomes, the more that fascists are able to fill the vacuum within a body politik that’s become increasingly hollowed out. The landscape we’ve been living in since the 2008 crisis, where exceptionally violent police are given ever greater amounts of military equipment and where reactionary militias gain state-sanctioned influence, is what late capitalist barbarism looks like. Our economic system can do nothing besides contract, creating the conditions for crude brutality. The country’s growing set of state and paramilitary sources for ultraviolence, which in the last year has come to include private military contractors who act as proxy police forces, is a symptom of our society’s decay.
Like with every other facet of our capitalist crisis, when one variable acts in a destabilizing fashion, the other variables follow. This new economic crisis will make the fascist paramilitaries stronger, and make the state more willing to aid them when they’re useful for repressing the liberation movements. That’s why the most radical among these militias don’t merely have a prepper mindset, but an accelerationist mindset. They aren’t only reacting to society’s deterioration, they’re actively trying to speed up the process of collapse because this advances their goals. What makes these neo-Nazis so dangerous is that like their Ukrainian counterparts, their goals align with those of of the American ruling class. The acceleration of our decline allows for both the Nazi militias and the corporations to act opportunistically.
Crisis capitalism, where the bourgeoisie take advantage of humanitarian disasters, is increasingly how profit can be made at such a late stage within capital’s contraction. So the capitalists are helping bring the apocalyptic fantasies of far-right terror groups closer to reality. All they have to do is continue the process of neoliberal warfare against the ruling class, and the corporate destruction of the environment.
In the absence of a force that can bring us out of our rotting social order, that can undo the damage capitalism has inflicted, these developments can’t be avoided. For a government to try to destabilize its own country is insane, but insanity is what naturally comes from a system that depends on endless growth. When growth becomes no longer viable, the system eats itself. Understanding this reality allows one to understand that the ideology of the ruling class is bankrupt. Which enables one to fight this system with a clear sense of which ideas are imperialist lies, designed to frustrate the struggle for liberation.
Anti-imperialism is indispensable for defeating capitalism
The overlapping nature of our crisis, where destructive developments in one area create destruction in all other areas, provides a clue about how anti-capitalists should act. To be myopic in our practice, to neglect any one vital area of the struggle such as geopolitics, is to defeat our practice in all other areas. Militarism is inextricably intertwined with national oppression, and with the subjugation of the working class. To win against these evils, we must diligently struggle against their supporting evil of global imperialist violence.
This means avoiding the mistakes that this country’s left has made when it’s come to imperialism. What the left has done is uncritically accept every atrocity propaganda story the media has put forth, without any effort to investigate the side of the story from the countries Washington targets. As Michael Parenti wrote about how the war on Yugoslavia was supported by both liberals and the anti-communist left: “It was that paragon of centrism Bill Clinton and all the centrists and moderate liberals who stood shoulder to shoulder with him and with NATO and the CIA (along with a gaggle of those anarchists and Trotskists I mentioned earlier who convinced themselves that the destruction of the Yugoslavian social democracy was a blow against Stalinist communism).”
It’s this leftist complicity in imperialism, Parenti implies, that enables the destructive hyper-capitalist agenda of the reactionary he also describes: “Conservatives seem to think that everything would be fine if government were reduced to a bare minimum. Government is not the solution, it is the problem, they say. In actual practice, however, they are for or against government handouts depending on whose hand is out. They want to cut human services to low and middle income groups, but they vigorously support gargantuan government subsidies and bailouts for large corporate enterprises. They admonish American workers to work harder for less and have not a concern about the increase in economic hardship for working people.” With no effective left, this mission of capitalist accelerationism is able to be carried on unrestrained, and all of the additional catastrophes it creates are allowed to wreak havoc unmitigated.
To defeat the enemies of the working class who Parenti describes, we must consistently combat the imperialist order that capital depends on. Our government so intensely cares about how we view the conflict in Ukraine, putting great effort into propaganda and censorship on the war, because if the empire loses this war then the next stage in its own decline is going to come. With this global economic downturn, which will exacerbate the costs of the sanctions for the European powers, it’s getting more likely that inter-imperialist unity will soon be fractured and Washington’s ploy in Ukraine will fail. By spring of next year, both the economic crash and such a geopolitical loss for the empire will likely have come. We’ll have crossed the threshold into an elevated state of chaos, where the capitalist state is both more vulnerable and more dangerous than ever. The forces of reaction will be cornered, which means they’ll be lashing out wildly.
After the combat training that they’ve gotten through fighting in Ukraine, the country’s neo-Nazis will carry out more shooting rampages. The new shocks to the working class, which is already profoundly strained, will cultivate better conditions for the proliferation of paranoid cults like QAnon. The ruling class, facing the implosion of its empire and growing unrest in the core, will turn to these sources of reactionary terror. They’ll cultivate paramilitary violence against social movements, as the police and National Guard get sent in to brutally suppress future Floyd-style uprisings.
The only thing that could delay the imposition of a full-on military crackdown, like the reign of terror that Washington placed Baghdad under during Iraq’s counterinsurgency, is the continued success of COINTELPRO. Trump wanted to impose such a crackdown in 2020, but the ruling class decided against it, because revolutionary organizing was still able to be suppressed and the black liberation movement could still be co-opted by the Democratic Party. As soon as a radical presence gets strong enough, our government will become unrestrained in its war against its own people. The ruling class prefers to remain relatively restrained, because such extreme measures would provoke the people further. So it continues to hope that its efforts at neutralizing the left and the communist movement will work, and it doesn’t have to resort to more drastic repression.
Such is the dilemma of radicals in the imperial center: as soon as we realize our goal, and come to pose a serious threat to the system, we’ll be met with state and paramilitary terror. It’s why only one American communist party, the Party of Communists USA, has come out in support of Russia’s operation to neutralize the Ukraine proxy terror threat. The other parties are merely denouncing NATO’s role behind the conflict, without fully going the revolutionary defeatist route of backing the country NATO is fighting against. They know the consequences of being publicly and consistently anti-imperialist. The more forcefully you oppose the empire, the more you open yourself up to repression and COINTELPRO targeting. So most communist organizations have refrained from committing the ultimate offense of being pro-Operation Z, rationalizing their decision by making Z out to be reckless or imperialistic.
The reality is that Z was undertaken with the purpose of combating imperialism, and at the right strategic time to be successful at rendering imperialism far weaker. The U.S. empire is more vulnerable than ever, both externally and internally. We must act with awareness of how much damage it can still inflict, and with awareness of the unprecedented opportunity we have for striking against it. As we navigate the growing chaos of the coming years, working to build our organizations and to train our cadres for defense against the reactionaries, we must indeed be cautious. One mistake could bring our defeat. Yet we must also be not so afraid of what our enemy may do that we don’t seize any opportunities for going on the offensive and winning.
Russia has taken such an opportunity. Now that Washington’s reaction to this loss is exacerbating our economic crisis, such an opportunity is coming closer to us. For the time being, we must maintain a policy of watchful waiting, monitoring the evolution of our conditions as the decisive moment draws closer. Those who’ve recognized that Russia made the right decision by intervening are most likely to recognize when the decisive moment is before us. This principled anti-imperialist stance is what can protect us from the threat posed by Democratic Party infiltrators. We must reject their appeals to opportunism and cowardice, and prepare for when the class struggle escalates.
If you appreciate my work, I hope you become a one-time or regular donor to my Patreon account. Like most of us, I’m feeling the economic pinch during late-stage capitalism, and I need money to keep fighting for a new system that works for all of us. Go to my Patreon here.