The reality we inhabit is one where for at least the last generation, the future has been cancelled. This is how the social critic Mark Fisher described what the victory for capitalism in the 20th century has done to our culture and mass consciousness. With the defunding of the arts following the counterculture era, and the broader expansion of corporate control over popular media, entertainment has lost its experimental quality. New movies have largely become repackaged versions of the last century’s genuine artistic projects. Music has stagnated in the equivalent way. Architectural design has been stuck in the same form it was thirty or forty years ago, when the corporate consensus formed around a soulless and uniform series of box-like building models.
The perfect environment was created for the atomization of society, the closed-off nature of daily life, that our paradigm of austerity would progressively bring. This is apparent in my hometown, where a long row of chain restaurants have come to dominate the main street in between expanding suburban sprawl. Outside of this are the neighborhoods that capital has thrown aside, where semi-rural poverty perpetuates drug addiction and a steady beat of violent crime.
It’s this synthetic societal layout, where one’s surroundings feel fake due to their being the optimal model for advancing profit, that the decline of capital is taking place within. The shine of the corporate outposts, maintained by workers whose wages get effectively cut more every year, hide a constantly growing decay. Surrounding them is infrastructure that still isn’t getting adequately updated, a population that’s now living paycheck to paycheck in a proportion of nearly two-thirds, and an ever-expanding periphery beyond the absurd excess of the suburbs. It’s in these neglected spaces where those who’ve been forced out of a prosperous lifestyle have been relegated to, doomed by the dismantling of American industry and the wider disappearance of a functioning society.
This hollowing out of civilization is happening all across the country, in feedback loops of destruction that have only started. The north midwestern area traditionally known as the “Rust Belt” is to become a prime location for climate refugees, which is sure to exacerbate its existing inequality. That’s what happens in a system that makes someone go into irrecoverable poverty as soon as they experience any kind of major crisis. When this system has been engulfed in one long depression that started fifteen years ago, on top of decades of rising inequality, the outcome is misery and disarray. Even in the most “prosperous” areas.
In the supposed examples of American robustness like the Bay Area, a de facto new rust belt is forming, the economy descending into stagnation outside the enclaves of the rich. Los Angeles has become infamous for its homelessness crisis, correlating with the city’s explosion in violent crime since the pandemic started. This is what the collapse of a society looks like in realistic terms: not anything spectacular or cinematically entertaining, aside from the grimly apocalyptic kind of cinema. When an economy loses the crucial mechanisms for running, the most vulnerable are the ones who suffer the most, and their experiences are ignored by a mass culture that’s designed to comfort the elites. Collapse looks like garbage piling up in the streets, people not being able to house or feed their families, increasingly militarized police acting as intimidators for a growing underclass.
Our society’s crisis, writes Phil Neel in his 2018 book Hinterland, “is a social terror made of masses of machines and animals, yet not in any way kin to these components. And what we sense of it today is merely one of its many limbs extending backward from its true body writhing somewhere just out of sight, at home in our own incomprehensible future.” Regarding his own experiences as an American worker, Neel recounts how “In Winnemucca, the hotels were all sold out indefinitely because a natural gas pipeline was being built somewhere out there in the trackless waste, this one small capillary opened by the Crisis flooding the worthless dust with gold…The sparse character of the desert seemed to draw the Crisis so much closer because it stripped away everything but this ritual, making peoples’ orbits around the invisible gravity of capital discernible against the desert’s flat plane.”
Under these conditions, the task of building a revolutionary movement is faced with a thousand obstacles that need to be taken into consideration when trying to rally the people. Even though most of society is the poorest it’s been in a lifetime, everyone is still expected to work within the same kind of intensive routine which was established decades ago. This routine has gotten filled with more working hours over time despite wages going down, making for select amounts of time in which the average person can do organizing and educational work. The default is for a working person today to think of their survival above all else, in accordance with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It was intended for things to be this way. Workers who are overwhelmed have less capacity to devote themselves towards education, community organizing, or personal training.
That’s the reality I’ve encountered in my social practice. Yet what I’ve also learned is that these experiences of the modern worker educate someone about the essence of what revolutionary organizing means. It gets demonstrated to them, every single day for years or decades of their lives, that the present economic order is cheating them out of the life they deserve. From this idea can be drawn the rest of the knowledge that’s needed for aiding in the overthrow of the capitalist state.
Assisting the workers in reaching this education is the essential step for bringing about the escalation in class struggle which we’ll need to defeat the state. Lenin concluded that the average worker needs to be lifted up to the level of a profoundly informed cadre member because spontaneous revolts, on their own, aren’t capable of bringing victory to the workers. The organically arising passions of the people need to be guided in a coherent way, or whatever uprisings the people carry out will fail. Inverse to this reality is the fact that unless the educated cadre members have won the people to their side, those cadre members will fail. The proletarian movement can do without neither its initiators in the minority, nor the majority who haven’t happened to join in on the struggle initially.
To break out of our present reality, to transform the working class from being thoroughly demobilized to a force that can challenge the state, the work of our cadres needs to have in mind a certain set of end goals. End goals that pertain to the nature of our conditions. Our conditions are of the kind that when class conflict intensifies enough, the outcome will be civil conflict, civil conflict that can either crush the revolutionaries or bring them to victory. Therefore it’s not enough for us to do physical training purely with the expectation that we’ll need to use it in response towards threats.
Responding to the crisis we face is only part of what we’ll need to do with these skills. There’s a difference between survivalism and revolutionary work; whereas the former has the mindset of prey that’s seeking to evade being overcome by the predator, the latter has a proactive mindset. Not a reactive one. Revolutionary work is based on the idea that in order to win power, one must to a certain extent assume the role of a predator. One must become an active agent in influencing history, not somebody who simply tries to stay alive while letting history happen to them.
The enemies of proletarian revolution realize this reality about what it takes for a political group to prevail within a situation of failing state structures. Their militias are carrying out the community aid work required for showing themselves to be stable alternatives towards disappearing public services. Neel writes about these paramilitary organizations:
The thing that makes the Patriots unique, then, is their recognition of the need to build power within these wastelands, and their surprising ability to outcompete the dwindling state and local progressives in this endeavor. These groups are essentially engaged in a battle for “competitive control,” a term used by the Australian military strategist David Kilcullen (a senior adviser to General Petraeus in 2007 and 2008 and then special adviser on counter-insurgency to Condoleezza Rice) in describing the rise of guerrilla forces within the interstices of failing states. Kilcullen argues that the success of insurgencies such as the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as the rise of expansive criminal syndicate in places like Jamaica can both be explained by the ways in which such groups succeeded in providing “a predictable, consistent and wide-spectrum normative system of control” that helps to win over a population buffeted by the chaotic inconsistency of economic and cultural collapse.
By providing material incentives that guarantee stability, combined with threats of coercion for those who oppose them, such groups become capable of making the population complicit in their rise, regardless of ideological positions. In fact, Kilcullen points out that in such situations (epitomized by all-out civil war), support for one faction or another simply does not follow ideology. People don’t throw their weight behind those they agree with, and often many in a population can’t be said to have any deep-seated ideological commitment in the first place. Instead, support follows strength, and ideology follows support.
These strengths of the reactionary movement would make it appear that the prospect for revolution in this country is hopeless, if not for a certain reality about guerrilla warfare that Mao pointed out. As Mao Tse-tung: On Guerrilla Warfare describes the lessons Mao learned from his experiences in China’s civil war, and from studying other civil conflicts:
There is the question of whether it is possible to create effective counterguerrila forces. Can two shoals of fish, each intent on destruction of the other, flourish in the same medium? Mao is definite on this point: he is convinced they cannot, that “counterrevolutionary guerrilla war” is impossible. If the guerrilla experiences of the White Russians (which he cites) or of [victorious revolutionary Russian commander] Mikhailovich are valid criteria, he is correct. But, on the other hand, the history of the movement in Greece during the German occupation indicates that under certain circumstances, his thesis will not stand too close on examination. This suggests the need for a careful analysis of relevant political factors in each individual situation.
What does a careful examination of our conditions say about how able the revolutionaries are to defeat these militias, which have already gained so much power in the rural areas? It says that the militias can be defeated, except not right away. They’ll be the last forces of reaction to be subdued.
For rural or semi-rural American communists like myself, understanding this is crucial to our survival. The hinterland that Neel refers to is not the same as rural America, because whereas the hinterland is the growing series of neighborhoods that have been discarded by capital, the rural areas are dominated by the petty-bourgeoisie and labor aristocrats. The countryside’s land is owned mainly by the white ranchers in the upper income strata of their counties, who’ve been leading the last decade’s movement to stage dramatic occupations of federal land.
I see them around my area, driving nice big pickups with Three Percenter logos or Blue Lives Matter stickers. This place has plenty of people with revolutionary potential, as everywhere there are working class individuals who are essential for keeping things running. But however successful I am at organizing, it would be especially foolish for me to try an adventurist project here, as those on my side will be outnumbered and outgunned. During the moment of revolutionary confrontation, these well-armed fascists and the militias they’re aligned with will try to purge their areas of revolutionaries. And they’ll succeed, unless we’re smart in how we navigate our surroundings.
These reactionary local elites are contrasted by a great rural poor population, who liberals have infamously been ignoring. The rural fascist militias are trying to hold these increasingly struggling working class people hostage, making those in need dependent on their services. When the majority of the country’s land comes under the de facto control of these militias upon the escalation of the class conflict, they’ll be able to use terror to control the population as well. Before the fascists take such actions, we need to do all we can to organize these facets of the rural population who lack a material stake in defending our socioeconomic order. Then we’ll be in the best possible place to carry out the maneuvers necessary for bringing workers democracy to the entire landmass.
The cities are where the class revolt of this generation will be concentrated, and where the revolutionaries will initially gain ground. There are too many people in the cities for the capitalist state’s law enforcement and military strategists to be able to control. If only a tiny percentage of a megacity’s population is won over to the revolutionary side, that will represent hundreds of thousands of allies for the guerrilla fighters which may appear. When the skinhead-type urban fascists start to lose in the cities, they’ll retreat to the countryside, where they’ll join their rural counterparts in trying to fortify land dominance for the forces of counterrevolution.
In these rural spaces, it will from a humanitarian perspective be ideal for many in our cadres to stay, and to act in defensive fashion (despite what I said about defense being only one necessary component). This is because the fascists will exploit the conflict to try to terrorize the communities of color and LGBT people in these towns with impunity, prompting us to start building networks of defense now. We also must not abandon the community aid networks (also known as dual power) that we’ve built up in our communities. Yet for the cadre members whose roles are in aiding the struggle’s expansive progress, rather than protecting those in the rural areas most vulnerable to the chaos, the metropolitan areas are where their fate lies.
Migrating to the cities will be the same kind of tactical retreat that Russia has been carrying out in its war against NATO. The Ukrainians have been gaining a territorial advantage because Russia’s goal has never been to gain as much territory as possible, but to exhaust Kiev and Washington’s resources. And that’s what it’s now successfully doing. The equivalent will be the case for America’s communists when they largely concentrate within the cities, allowing the movement’s members safe zones. Within these enclaves, they’ll be able to coordinate towards an attrition strategy against American fascism.
The first stage of this attrition will have to be oriented around the metropolitan zones, because these zones are where the link within capital’s social control is weakest. The Pentagon itself has said so about the country’s cities, assessing that it’s the most densely and numerously populated places where U.S. counterinsurgency strategy lacks a coherent plan for operating within. Speaking to the same trend of imperial weakness, the Pentagon has also said that U.S. war industry is increasingly unable to produce enough weapons for sustained military campaigns, citing the pandemic’s supply chain crisis and the decades of American deindustrialization. Which makes the U.S. vulnerable to defeat via a war of attrition.
The Pentagon reported on this crisis for the military in 2021. Now, at the end of 2022, this exceptional threat that wars of attrition pose to U.S. military strength has been exposed in spectacular fashion. By holding back the use of its military capacity in Ukraine during the first half-year or so of the Ukraine conflict, only transitioning into waging an actual “war” during this fall, Russia has exhausted both Kiev and Washington. The arms capacity and armed forces personnel math is now hopelessly slanted to Ukraine’s disadvantage. Ukraine expended far too many of its resources during its campaign to gain land. For this reason, Russia won months ago. It’s guaranteed that Russia will neutralize the fascist menace in Kiev, because not only has Ukraine’s military been drained, but NATO’s reserves of aid have as well. And Washington can’t make enough weapons to keep up with Ukraine’s needs, because corruption has rendered the U.S. arms industry dysfunctional.
In contrast to the entirely profit-oriented U.S. military industrial complex, Russia’s arms companies are primarily state-owned, giving them the advantage of not being handicapped by executives who can compromise arms manufacturing quality for monetary gain. Right before the Ukraine conflict started this year, the Pentagon warned about this as well, observing how the consolidation within the country’s arms companies has crippled its ability to mobilize during a situation of urgent need for weapons flow. Russia’s war industry is coordinated and disciplined in a way that the USA’s by design can’t be, now Washington is seeing the consequences of this.
These costs go beyond military humiliation during Washington’s latest proxy war. Washington always knew Ukraine was going to lose, and has only backed Kiev in the hope that this will destabilize Russia. Collapse for the Russian Federation hasn’t materialized due to the sanctions being far less effective than anticipated, and that’s made for an outcome in which the U.S. suffers greater losses than gains. Because U.S. imperialism can’t destroy Russia, it can’t weaken China. Because it can’t weaken China, its capital in the peripheries will continue to diminish, forcing capital in the core to keep contracting. With the stagflation and financial crisis that’s starting off, this will accelerate the collapse, and bring closer a scenario where the people rise up in the form of insurgency.
Upon observing how Washington’s Ukraine maneuver has backfired, Russia’s Deputy Chair of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev has predicted that civil war is coming to the United States. There’s no doubt that an upheaval is soon to happen in America, the government officials closest to the recent geopolitical developments are now openly anticipating this. What we don’t know yet is what form this civil upset will take. Will it be allowed to act as a spontaneous, incoherent series of revolts? Or will communist organizers put in the work to ready the people for a coordinated mass mobilization towards workers revolution, one that proceeds with proper understanding of how a revolutionary conflict in America would need to be led?
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