The global economic collapse that will soon be in full effect in the USA, and that’s already come to the UK, is the latest manifestation of how the destruction imperialism causes comes to afflict the imperialist countries themselves. This always happens when an imperial order is in decline. The destruction that the oppressors inflict upon their victims abroad ultimately gets imported, and the catalyst for this karmic process is the system’s unraveling.
A terminally ill socioeconomic system
When capitalism won the Cold War thirty years ago, imperialism’s benefactors convinced themselves that such consequences would never come for them. That their complicity in the globe’s ravaging would have no blowback. This was how things had gone for them since World War II, when the U.S. rose to become the largest empire in world history and Americans were showered with the spoils of neo-colonialism. But no sooner had this empire reached its peak than were the conditions created for its rapid undoing. A civilization that lives off of stealing from other civilizations can’t last, its history is only a rapid rise followed by a precipitous fall. The Roman empire’s fall took centuries, whereas the U.S. empire’s took decades, because Rome’s colonial parasitism at least involved projects to develop the places it occupied. The U.S. empire has only brought destruction and suffering to the places it’s assimilated, sending in its neo-colonial hitmen to loot the Global South.
Washington’s way of operating is so nakedly kleptocratic because it’s a capitalist empire, and capitalism demands endless growth. The core countries perpetually need to expand their reach into new markets, leaving no room for the development of the peripheral countries. It’s pure exploitation, exploitation that must continue for the system to function. So as soon as the empire was met with a combination of challenges, having faced the costs from its failed Vietnam war effort and an oil crisis from OPEC’s penalizing U.S. support for Israel, it underwent an economic crisis.
Capital reached a stage where it could no longer afford to sustain a welfare state even in the richest countries, and neoliberal austerity was implemented to keep up profits. Along with this came the financialization of the economy to catastrophic effects we saw in 2008, the transferring of the tax weight onto the working class, the depression of wages so that they couldn’t keep up with inflation, the further normalization of corporate electoral interference and bribery, and privatization and deregulation that gave corporations feudalistic control over a weakened working class. A collapse of society had been engineered. It was an utterly unsustainable way to structure a socioeconomic system, like how the neo-colonial model is. But both neoliberalism and neo-colonialism are crucial for capitalism’s survival at this stage in the profit rate’s decline.
With this process of upward wealth transfer now being in effect for almost half a century, the supposedly mild “recession” that we’re entering into is having the same effect on the working class as a depression. The workers are already deeply in debt, unable to get jobs that let them afford houses, and having to navigate healthcare and educational systems designed to bankrupt them. Long Covid has forced four million workers out of the workforce, rendering the economy even more anemic. Since the start of the pandemic, millions more of these workers, especially in rural areas, have had to give up on looking for work. And what work they can find has come to pay less than it did just a few years ago. In 2019, 59% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck, and this number is now 64%.
The people are faced with an economy that was deindustrialized decades ago in order to squeeze out more neo-colonial profits, and that’s consequently leaving more U.S. workers behind with every crisis. Every year at the current rate, the country is being filled with millions more people like the man on the sidewalk from the 1990s film Falling Down, who had no recourse other than to hold a sign protesting his disenfranchisement and sarcastically shout about how he’s now “not economically viable.”
What our ruling class has done is sabotage the imperial center’s own economy, dooming it to be unable to absorb the inevitable catastrophes neoliberalism would produce. But the ruling class couldn’t do anything else, because making the economy more top down—and therefore more unstable—was the only way to keep capitalism alive amid its contraction. Concentrating greater and greater amounts of wealth at the top is the self-defeating strategy that the system has adopted to keep itself alive. What makes capitalism doomed is that even though this process can’t be sustained, there’s no other way to delay the system’s implosion.
The thing poisoning the system is the system’s only available prophylactic for the crises the system self-generates. This was true before the coming of neoliberalism; in response to the crisis of overproduction that capitalism experienced, capitalism was impelled to carry out imperialism so that this crisis could be displaced, which made the system dependent on a U.S. global dominance that’s now coming apart. The same dynamic applies to the Federal Reserve’s tool for trying to stave off the looming new Great Depression; flooding the economy with more currency is its only way of delaying the crash, but that comes at the cost of making the crash even worse when it does come. The outcome will be an economic crisis so big, and in effect at such a late stage in Washington’s geopolitical decline, that it breaks the empire.
Capitalist authoritarianism as a tool to delay collapse
The liberals who are honest about our present conditions know the predicament their socioeconomic order is in, and the conclusion they’re coming to is that the only way to preserve the system is by abandoning the pretexts of personal liberty that exist within the truncated bourgeois version of “democracy.” In other words, to embrace fascism, the fighting wing of capital. The neoconservative Robert Kaplan in effect declared so in an analysis from this year, which included a rare admission that the government Washington supports in Ukraine does not represent an example of truly democratic governance:
President Joe Biden talks of Russia’s war in Ukraine as part of a “battle between democracy and autocracy.” But we are not actually in a fight for democracy, however counterintuitive that seems. After all, Ukraine itself for many years has been a weak, corrupt, institutionally underdeveloped basket case of a democracy…leading a worldwide coalition against the two great Eurasian revanchist powers — Russia, which seeks to annex Ukraine, and China, which seeks to annex Taiwan — requires the sort of pragmatic vision that Secretary of State James Baker employed when organizing 35 nations, including autocracies, to stand against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Kaplan isn’t only advocating for a renewed effort to install and back dictators in response to the decline of U.S. hegemony. He’s also concerned about the growing contradictions of capitalism. And about how these contradictions may lead to capitalism’s downfall if capital doesn’t strengthen its fighting wing, as has happened within post-coup Ukraine. In his turn of the millennium book The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War, Kaplan sounded the alarm over the consequences that the world’s growing inequality may have. Which, like his blunt description of the Ukrainian state’s despotic nature, shows a kind of honesty one wouldn’t expect from a rightist like him:
For every sixty-five dollars earned in rich countries, one dollar is earned in poor countries, and the gap is widening. That division is not only between “North” and “South,” but within countries and regions themselves, including the United States, where an upper-middle techno-class joins the global economy, while a vast realm of the citizenry has seen little rise in their salaries and own no stocks or mutual funds…social stability results from the establishment of a middle class…in many of these countries Hobbesian realities—in particular, too many young, violence-prone males without jobs—have necessitated radical action. In a York University study published last year the scholars Christian G Mesquida and Neil I. Wiener demonstrate how countries with young populations (young poor males especially) are subject to political violence.
In the paragraph following the last quoted passage, Kaplan advocates for increased police and surveillance to maintain social stability in a world where unending neoliberalism is straining the population to a breaking point. Because those from Kaplan’s school of thought aren’t fascists per se, but rather pragmatically minded defenders of capital, he advocates for the bourgeois states to transition into what he calls “hybrid regimes” rather than into outright fascist states.
He writes that these regimes “will call themselves democracies, and we may go along with the lie—but, as in Peru, the regimes will be decisively autocratic…Moreover, if a shortage of liquidity affects world capital markets by 2000, as Klaus Schwab, the president of the World Economic Forum, and other experts fear may happen, fiercer competition among developing nations for scarcer investment money will accelerate the need for efficient neo-authoritarian governments.” Sure enough, since 2000 we’ve seen a rise in repression and surveillance across the exploited countries, from India to Brazil to Colombia. As well as in semi-peripheral imperialist puppet states like Ukraine, and in the imperialist countries themselves.
Reactionary barbarism vs a multipolar future
In practice, the transition into this more nakedly dictatorial model of bourgeois governance is not looking like some adoption of benevolent technocrats who safeguard the people’s personal rights despite the decline of democracy. That’s a romanticized fantasy, one which Kaplan himself clearly knows isn’t being realized due to his recognition of Ukraine’s character as a corrupt potemkin “democracy.” Along with the rise in Ukrainian corruption since the 2014 U.S. regime change operation has come a rise in hate crimes by state-backed Nazi militias; laws that discriminate against ethnic minorities; and a governmental adoption of nostalgic language when it comes to Ukraine’s Nazi collaborators. It’s been a crude, dysfunctional kind of fascism, with grave human costs.
The additional waves of neoliberal shock policies have left the people unable to absorb the damages from the civil war, which due to Washington’s saber rattling against Russia has expanded into a total war. The Kiev regime’s inept and reactive military has needlessly put Ukraine’s own civilians in danger throughout the conflict, and the breakdown in the rule of law has let the militias terrorize marginalized groups with impunity. The armed forces have been shooting at migrants. The regime has carried out a campaign to haphazardly execute and imprison “traitors,” banned all of the parties that oppose the agenda of its NATO puppeteers, banned books to the effect that it’s illegal to purchase Marxist literature, and criminalized speech that points out how Bandera and the other Ukrainian “founding fathers” helped the Nazis—in other words, institutionalized Holocaust denial.
Kaplan argues that it’s myopic to argue that democracy should be upheld on purely “moral” grounds, regarding morality as something that shouldn’t get in the way of practicality. For this reason, he and the U.S. officials who share his foreign policy reasoning don’t regard democracy as paramount. The foremost priority, they believe, is protecting the world from “aggressors.” When you understand why their case is misleading, you understand why every communist party with the correct analysis on the Russia-Ukraine situation is supporting Russia’s Operation Z. In reality, Russia’s action in Ukraine is not aggression, but a humanitarian mission to neutralize a fascist terror state. It’s more in the bounds of international law than any military action Washington has ever taken. You only need to honestly look at the conditions in Ukraine to see why Russia is justified in intervening.
When Washington’s adversaries take military action, it’s to thwart Washington’s schemes for destabilizing the globe through terrorist actors like the Zelensky regime. Not to advance imperial ambitions of their own. Because by the Leninist analysis of what imperialism is—rather than the shallow definition the liberals use that’s designed to portray imperialism’s challengers as the real imperialists—Russia, China, and Iran are not imperialist powers. They lack the dependent relationship upon the peripheral countries required to fit the criteria for being participants in neo-colonialism, and therefore aren’t acting in service of any imperialist socioeconomic interest. Rather they’re acting in rational self-interest, which in their case means in the interests of a cooperative new multipolar world. The liberals portray them as imperialist to justify their new cold war, and the destruction of global democratic rights that this war is involving.
As imperial collapse continues, the cynical reasoning Kaplan uses will increasingly be applied by our ruling class. The system will react to its endangerment by resorting to its most brutal tools. This applies both to the empire’s global warfare, and to the class war in the imperial center. Ukraine is a testing ground for the state and paramilitary violence that’s coming to the USA. The more our society deteriorates under growing inequality, and the more of a failed state we become, the more communists will be met with fascist terror, like Ukrainian communists have. The liberals will talk of this in detached terms, like they have when talking about the violence Washington has exacted abroad in response to its decline. They’ll say sacrifices of freedoms must be made to defend from some even worse outcome, where the enemies of liberalism’s supposedly optimal social order are allowed to triumph.
During this decisive moment in the class confrontation, these liberals will be easily recognizable as liars. Because if liberalism is being shown to bring neither prosperity nor liberty, its dysfunctionality is exacerbating a new plague, and its corporate militaristic paradigm is destroying the very planet we need in order to survive, what reason do the people have to support its continuation?
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