Capitalism’s nature as an ever-expanding force, its need to grow into new markets, is both what’s given it such resilience and what’s made it so unsustainable. Capitalism has survived the last century or so of worker revolutions because the core imperialist powers have been able to continue building their capital, using the peripheral countries as a means for ensuring them against capitalism’s collapse. When the proletariat has won within one or several countries, the imperialist bourgeoisie has leaned into its other neo-colonies. When the Eastern bloc and much of Asia became communist, the imperialists used the CIA to undermine revolutionary efforts throughout Latin America, Africa, and the rest of Asia, carrying out dozens of coups and terror campaigns. Indonesia, where the imperialists employed the innovation in counterrevolutionary violence called the Jakarta Method, was a pivotal country in the story of how the imperialists won the Cold War. Jakarta’s political extermination approach got exported to other peripheral countries, the USSR was dismantled, and capitalism was prevented from collapsing.
The revolutionaries of the early 20th century likely couldn’t have anticipated these setbacks for the workers movement. But what history has proven them correct on is that capitalism, in its stage of imperialism, is highly volatile. Capital has reached proportions and influence that no other social system in history has achieved, and this has made it resilient. But it’s at the same time become less able to sustain itself, more prone to diminishing returns, more bound to create contradictions which provoke uprisings.
It’s no coincidence that the time when modern imperialism emerged—which is characterized by the transition from the core countries exporting goods to exporting capital—is also the time when the world entered into what can be considered “late-stage capitalism.” The late 19th century is when capital ascended to this point of unprecedented power, where the bourgeoisie of the core countries hold a centralized grip over capital itself. But it was also when the bourgeoisie went from a revolutionary force to a fully reactionary force, doomed to fight against the progression of history for the rest of their existence as a class. The bourgeoisie had just totally succeeded at supplanting the feudal rulers as the world’s dominant ruling class, making the bourgeoisie at its peak of influence. Yet this automatically made the bourgeoisie outdated in the sense of historical development, a holdover from a previous stage which was merely waiting to be replaced by the proletariat as the ruling class.
This process became fully complete by the century’s end. Lenin assessed that “the principal stages in the history of monopolies are the following: (1) 1860-70, the highest stage, the apex of development of free competition; monopoly is in the barely discernible, embryonic stage. (2) After the crisis of 1873, a lengthy period of development of cartels; but they are still the exception. They are not yet durable. They are still a transitory phenomenon. (3) The boom at the end of the nineteenth century and the crisis of 1900-03. Cartels become one of the foundations of the whole of economic life. Capitalism has been transformed into imperialism.”
It’s also likely no coincidence that the U.S. transitioned into a global imperialist power right around this time, when Washington began snatching up the Spanish empire’s colonies and therefore took on its ongoing role as a worldwide exporter of violence. With the new paradigm of capital being exported from the core, and of monopolies therefore defining the way capitalism functions globally, the U.S. was ready to enter the game. This was a game where the imperialist powers, after grabbing up all of the lands within the colonized world, could now only expand by fighting to take colonial territories from each other. Capitalism’s demand for expansion had made the imperialist powers only able to survive through perpetual war, something that the U.S. was already equipped for as a settler-colonial expansionist state. World War I, the inevitable conclusion of this territorial rivalry among the imperialists, was an opportunity for the U.S. to further grow its role. By the end of the second world war, Washington became the central arbiter of imperialist violence and extraction.
As a consequence, in the present day we’re witnessing a late stage in the decay which capitalism began to undergo following its peak. And naturally, the United States is the epicenter of this decay. The U.S. became the most powerful empire in the history of the world because capitalism had become the most powerful economic system in history. Washington was able to become the center of imperialism, building an empire which expanded by gaining extractive power over the formerly colonized world. It employed economic hitmen to coerce the Global South’s countries into getting bought off by the U.S.-centralized network of capital. But by the 1970s, this arrangement had become no longer able to sustain capital on its own. The U.S. empire ran into an oil crisis, and into an economic shortage brought on by its investment in the war on Vietnam. The tendency for the rate of profit to fall was exposed as a threat towards the system’s viability, and the bourgeoisie restructured the global economy through neoliberal shock therapy. Capital now had to cultivate ever greater levels of inequality to keep profits up, progressively dismantling workers rights and social services.
Then Pax Americana began to fall apart, with Washington proving unable to hold onto its new Russian neo-colony, China rising to challenge U.S. hegemony, and Washington’s adventurism within Afghanistan and Iraq discrediting it in the world’s eyes. As Mao predicted, 90 percent of the world will ultimately turn against the imperialists, and the last two decades have proven this prediction to be correct. The U.S. empire’s hand has become decrepit, unable to carry out coups in Venezuela, Bolivia, and the other Latin American countries that have broken free from neo-colonial exploitation. Multipolarity has proven an inevitable historical development, unable to be stopped by Washington’s cold war maneuvers. Reflective of how capitalism inevitably leads to war, war has been brought back to Europe. But the imperialists are unable to leverage this conflict towards destabilizing Russia, which is equipped to both subdue Ukraine and bounce back from the economic fallout.
Rather than being able to break up Russia into several parts, colonize it, and then do the same to the rest of Eurasia, the imperialist powers find themselves left with an accelerated rate of internal decay. They won’t be able to expand colonialism into a new front by provoking this proxy war, they’ll only make their own contradictions worse. The recent call from U.S. neocons to “decolonize” Russia, a transparent propaganda ploy to assist in such a balkanization attempt, is pure fantasy. The imperialists have driven up inflation that’s made capital less functional, and made the masses more prone to revolutionary radicalization by further harming living standards. They’ve been unable to gain support for their anti-Russian war effort from the Global South, furthering the decline in U.S. influence. Their attempts to intensify and consolidate their war machine, with the NATO powers unifying against Russia and NATO being expanded into more of Europe, provide only a momentary gain for capital. The profits that the weapons contractors are getting from the war’s perpetuation can’t make up for the ways imperialism is imploding.
Stalin wrote that “This frenzied struggle among the various groups of capitalists is notable in that it includes as an inevitable element imperialist wars, wars for the annexation of foreign territory. This circumstance, in its turn, is notable in that it leads to the mutual weakening of the imperialists, to the weakening of the position of capitalism in general, to the acceleration of the advent of the proletarian revolution and to the practical necessity of this revolution.” The rise in gas prices is what he was talking about when he concluded that imperialism’s wars lead towards revolution becoming a practical necessity for the masses. The masses are having their livelihoods sacrificed for the sake of maintaining profits, for the sake of continuing the paradigm of war.
Geopolitics, which the imperialists created in order to have a chessboard for their operations, is becoming the imperialists’ undoing, letting Washington’s challengers maneuver towards a post-American world order. Capital can only respond by contracting, and by desperately trying to sow more conflict and chaos. The people of the core and the neo-colonies won’t stand for this situation to go on, because for them it means even more austerity, raised prices, and falling wages. Late-stage capitalism will at some point give way to a new wave of revolutions, capable of weakening capital enough for the final blows to be struck against it.—————————————————————————
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