Since the 2008 economic crash, the U.S. National Security State has been quietly priming itself for the prospect of a second civil war. The growth in inequality, exacerbated by the accelerating breakdown of the U.S. state as we used to know it, has exponentially increased the potential for a domestic revolt. Already, social unrest has been appearing far more frequently. Occupy Wall Street, the 2014 Michael Brown protests, and the 2020 George Floyd protests—which amounted to the largest demonstrations in the country’s history—are all symptoms of capital’s decline. The deterioration of the people’s living conditions has correlated with a furthering of racial tensions, leading the U.S. empire’s military strategists to start thinking in increasingly domestic terms. They know that at some point, the empire’s internal contradictions will reach a point which parallels the conditions in peripheral countries like Colombia, where the government is fighting off armed revolts.
With the conflict in Ukraine, imperial collapse has accelerated, and such a scenario has been brought closer. The sanctions on Russia have pushed U.S. consumers to a breaking point, further driving down the conditions of the masses and accelerating inflation at a moment when a pandemic has already caused inequality to explode. Military experts may not talk about being alarmed at these developments, but they no doubt are, and their drive towards perpetuating warfare abroad is ironically bringing their fears closer. I’ll assess how the National Security State views the conditions which are leading to this point, what a dialectical analysis says about these conditions, and how revolutionaries must respond to these conditions if they hope to succeed.
The state reacts to its own growing instability
There are a series of U.S. military statements from the last decade that I’ve cited many, many times, to the point where I should only briefly mention them. They’re the 2016 War College report that lists several U.S. cities as potential locations for near-future “contemporary Stalingrads,” the Pentagon video from the same year that predicts the Army fighting off guerrilla insurgents within megacities, and the 2019 Pentagon report that calls for drastic militarization of American life in response to global warming. I’ve honed in on these three sources because as much as skeptics of my civil conflict predictions could argue I’m being hyperbolic, the War College’s naming of America’s largest urban areas as potential combat zones shows the ominous implications contained within the other two. And within all the other recent sentiments from the National Security State that touch upon this kind of subject matter, especially the 2018 Pentagon training guide that explicitly imagines a Generation Z uprising.
Since the Capitol Hill attack, U.S. military circles have naturally taken on a more open attitude of concern over the instability that America’s internal contradictions have the potential to produce. Last year, three former U.S. Army generals wrote an open letter urging Pentagon officials to prepare for a civil war scenario, assessing that “The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines — from the top of the chain to squad level — is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the ‘rightful’ commander in chief cannot be dismissed.” Obviously with the current political climate, where far-right insurrectionists are the most immediate threats to the country’s institutions, they get the most attention. But how much is the security state considering the potential for an uprising from the oppressed nations, from the people who are most marginalized by the settler-colonial order?
The state has already shown how seriously it takes the prospects of such a liberation struggle by heavily militarizing the police. Law enforcement has been preemptively turned into an army for putting down whichever revolts may come from black, brown, and indigenous communities. This is the main way these strategists are revealing their approach towards countering the forces of class and national liberation when it comes to the question of civil war; not with explicit statements discussing this kind of threat to the state’s survival, but with actions that pertain to counterrevolutionary repression. These strategists have mentioned the prospect of the poor rising up, like when the 2016 War College report predicted economically deprived young men will become easy recruits for guerrilla organizations. But the state hasn’t needed to talk about its intentions for trying to suppress a liberation movement from marginalized groups, because it’s already implemented the first stages of its plan for counterrevolutionary counterinsurgency.
The measures within this counterinsurgency have been the creation of the world’s most expansive and intrusive surveillance state; the erosion of civil liberties throughout the War on Terror; the militarization of police; the Israelification of law enforcement using Israeli repressive experts to train U.S. police; the repealing of the Cold War-era ban on the government putting covert propaganda into the U.S. media; the continuation and expansion of the COINTELPRO tactics where the FBI sends in agents to spy on and disrupt radical organizing; the persecution of Julian Assange and the subsequent precedent to outlaw whistleblowing journalism; the rise of fascist paramilitaries which are aligned with law enforcement; the creation of the FBI’s “black identity extremist” label which treats liberation movement members as terrorists; the white supremacist legal system’s exoneration of Kyle Rittenhouse and consequential legalization of right-wing vigilantism; the recent wave of anti-LGBT and anti-abortion laws which paint targets on the backs of those deemed to be culturally deviant, and therefore potential members of an uprising.
During the George Floyd protests, many of these tools for repression were put into use for counterinsurgency. The state orchestrated a series of narrative manipulations to vilify the movement and manufacture sympathy for law enforcement, sent in agent provocateurs to create violence within protests, and perpetrated brutality from the police and the National Guard. There were also instances of the police enabling fascist militias at events to keep the protesters in check. These tactics will intensify during the coming years. As we get closer to the point in near-future history described last year by the sociologist Temitope Oriola, who anticipates that the black community will eventually respond to mounting police violence by targeting the “sites and symbols of law enforcement,” the state seeks to preempt such an insurgency. Its aim is to sow as much destabilization within radical organizing spaces as possible, spread as much counterrevolutionary disinformation as possible, and create as much terror among political dissidents and marginalized groups as possible. All so that when the breaking point is reached, the revolution can be crushed, and fascism can be built in the place of a failed liberation struggle.
As the masses mobilize to try to prevent the repeal of Roe v. Wade, these counterinsurgency tactics are appearing again, with suspiciously sectarian fliers being distributed which target the abortion protest organizing efforts of the Marxist-Leninist Party for Socialism and Liberation. Malicious state actions are obviously afoot, with the potential to turn violent. But behind this reactive view the state has clearly taken towards our current conditions, where the masses are seen as potential enemy combatants to be neutralized, is a deeper dynamic. One that isn’t noticed by the state’s counterinsurgency strategists, who are blinded by the dogmatic ideology of imperial hubris. It’s a dynamic that’s centered around war and empire, and that therefore ties our society’s rising potential for civil war into the conflicts which are currently occurring abroad.
Ukraine as a catalyst & foreshadowing for the internal conflict the U.S. will undergo
The benefits that the American people get from living within the center of global imperialism have gotten meager. So meager that many class conscious people within the Global South see the United States as having great revolutionary potential. Recently, the socialist journalist Kei Pritsker wrote:
Reflecting on my trip to Cuba, I think one of the things that has stuck with me most is that Cubans strongly believe in the possibility of revolution in North America, sometimes more than we believe in it ourselves….I doubt many Cubans believed that Fidel Castro and his rebel army would successfully overthrow the Batista regime when they were first recruiting members. Then they did….We know that revolutions are preceded by deep social crises. Poverty, illiteracy, attacks on women, unaffordable housing, declining health systems….Look at the US right now: 140m people in or near poverty, 54% of adults can’t read at a 6th grade level, World’s most expensive healthcare & education, Corporate profits highest since 1950, Multi-trillion dollar bailout during a pandemic. People have rebelled for less.
What’s ironic about U.S. capitalism is that the routes it’s had to take to try to prevent revolution in the face of these mounting contradictions—that being intensified war and austerity—are only making those contradictions more severe. It’s not like the system can afford to respond to the worsening conditions of the masses by seriously expanding social benefits, like it could during the New Deal era. Capitalism’s crisis has reached a point where the only thing the bourgeoisie can do to keep their profits up is to sacrifice the wellbeing of the masses on an ever wider scale. It’s been like this since the economic crisis of the 1970’s, which prompted Thatcher to say that “there is no alternative” to the austerity, privatization, and deregulation of neoliberalism. From a bourgeois perspective, there was indeed no alternative; in this new era, the system can only survive by intensifying the exploitation of the proletariat, and by increasingly investing in war as a profit source.
But naturally, these things only bring the revolution closer. The U.S. military-industrial complex’ scheme in Ukraine (where Washington keeps the conflict going as long as possible by providing Ukraine with endless weapons despite the futility of trying to defeat Russia) is only beneficial to the system in that it provides more wealth for the people at the top. In terms of the social stability needed to keep capitalism alive, this war is only making the system’s demise more likely. The sanctions on Russia have been raising prices on essential goods, and making the poorest U.S. consumers even poorer. Plus there’s the broader negative impact that imperialist war has on the living standards of the people within the empire’s borders, where the government uses its investment in war as an excuse to not spend money on the people’s wellbeing.
Throughout the first year of Biden’s presidency preceding the war, Biden had already under-delivered on social spending and over-delivered on military spending, all at a time when the government’s foul response to the pandemic was rapidly expanding poverty. Now he has a rationale to further this crime against his own people. It’s apparent that he won’t actually cancel student debt, for one example. He’ll only keep feeding this myopic quest to enrich the war profiteers, at the expense of the social stability that capitalism depends on to continue.
Anyone who’s seriously studied the conditions of the United States knows that at a certain point, the country’s people will experience the same things that the victims of U.S. imperialism abroad have experienced. These things being a descent into a failed state which can’t ensure the wellbeing of the citizenry; the emergence of an unstable governmental situation where coups are perpetually a threat; the rise of organized criminals that fill the power vacuum; the growth in inequality to the point where essentially only the rich can enjoy the comforts of modernity; civil conflicts that widen rifts between racial, religious, and ethnic groups; severe vulnerability to global warming as a consequence of these destabilizing factors; the swooping in of military forces, mercenaries, paramilitaries, and disinformation agents who seek to exploit the chaos. Whether you’re on the far left or the far right, these days you anticipate that such a collapse is coming for our society.
The coup, civil war, ethnic and racial tensions, acceleration of neoliberal austerity, propaganda war, heavy militarization at the expense of the people, takeover by fascist militias, tightening police state, and breakdown of crucial services that Ukraine has undergone during the last decade foreshadow the fate of the U.S. Which is poetic, because U.S. meddling is what’s done this to Ukraine. And many of these events have obviously already befallen the U.S. It’s the imperial boomerang effect, where the violence an empire creates abroad comes to afflict the empire itself.
Where the far right—which ideologically overlaps with the U.S. state—differs from the far left is that it views this collapse through the lens of nationalist paranoia. The reactionaries don’t recognize that settler-colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism are the cause of civilization’s unraveling. They think the cause is a conspiracy from foreign agents, and “Satanic” or “treasonous” forces within U.S. borders, to destroy their idealized concept of what “Western civilization” is. We revolutionaries see that the cause is more banal: a socioeconomic order is reaching its point of expiration, and is reacting to this by clinging to power to the consequence of harming the civilization it exists within.
When we recognize this reality about collapse, that it’s a symptom of historical progression beyond capitalism, we can recognize that there’s a stage which will naturally follow capitalism. This stage is socialism.
From societal destruction to societal rebirth
Communists don’t embrace accelerationism. We don’t try to make our conditions worse in the hope that this will make revolution more likely. We analyze the ways the ruling class is wreaking destruction upon its own socioeconomic system, and find which steps to take to bring proletarian revolution.
What history tells us about the Ukraine conflict is that it has the potential to be a repeat of the many previous wars which have brought the weakening of a capitalist state and the victory for proletarian revolution. World War I led to the weakening of the tsarist state, making the Russian revolution possible. World War II led to the weakening of the Chinese Nationalist state, making the Chinese revolution possible. There have been examples of capitalist neo-colonial states, like South Vietnam and Cuba’s Batista dictatorship, provoking the masses into waging guerrilla wars which wear down the stability of the reactionary states. Now that the U.S. empire has provoked Russia into intervening in Ukraine through its cultivation of a genocidal anti-Russian fascist Kiev regime, the equivalent may happen to the United States. Its own designs, which are driven by the principle that capitalism needs war to survive, may lead to its downfall.
The question is whether this downfall will be followed by socialism or barbarism. Whether the collapse of the state here will lead to an equivalent scenario to the one in Libya—where imperialist meddling keeps things perpetually in chaos—or the power vacuum will be filled by workers’ democracy. Most Cubans expect the latter to be our fate. But will they be proven right?
It depends on whether the revolution’s vanguard here succeeds at replicating the equivalent of what brought about Cuba’s revolution. And the thing that brought it about was explained by Huey P. Newton: “In Cuba they had a revolution, they had a vanguard group that was a disciplined group, and they realized that the state won’t disappear until imperialism is completely wiped out, structurally and also philosophically, or the bourgeois thoughts won’t be changed. Once imperialism is wiped out they can have their communist state and the state or territorial boundaries will disappear.”
The way to apply this reasoning in what’s currently called the “United States” is by not just abolishing the United States, but building a proletarian state structure in its place. Faced with the contradictions of settler-colonialism, this means returning full jurisdiction to the indigenous First Nations, and establishing what will likely have to be a socialist tribal confederacy among them. A confederacy that negotiates towards the distribution of land among the additional colonized nations, leading to the realization of projects like the Republic of New Afrika. Under the current conditions, where the forces of counterrevolution would have the strength to destroy a splintered series of small socialist states, this unity will be necessary. And the way to achieve it is by following the path of every successful proletarian revolution, that being the construction of a workers state. Newton explained why this approach is correct:
In this country the anarchists seem to feel that if they just express themselves individually and tend to ignore the limitations imposed on them, without leadership and without discipline they can oppose the very disciplined, organized, reactionary state. This is not true. They will be oppressed as long as imperialism exists. You cannot oppose a system such as this without organization that’s even more extremely disciplined and dedicated than the structure you’re opposing. I can understand the anarchists wanting to go directly from state to non-state, but historically it’s incorrect. As far as I’m concerned, thinking of the recent French Revolution, the reason the French uprising failed is simply because the anarchists in the country, who by definition had no organization, had no people that were reliable enough as far as the mass of the people were concerned, to replace DeGaulle and his government.
It’s the goal of the U.S. government’s counterinsurgency strategists to prevent the masses from gaining the education necessary to come to Newton’s conclusion. They want to keep the masses divided and misinformed, a state of mind which is maintained by the imperialist cultural hegemony. This is a worldview that claims examples of existing socialism like Cuba are anti-democratic, and that absurdly positions America’s sham “democracy” as the world’s aspirational model of government. This chauvinistic way of thinking can only be maintained by a constant flow of CIA propaganda about the rest of the world, fabricating atrocity stories about every country that defies Washington.
This is the first layer of the counterinsurgency that our government is waging against us, the one which keeps people too enamored with ignorance and hate to organize towards building a new order. Combating this propaganda is a first step towards healing our society, towards making something good come out of its breakdown. The next steps are what Newton described the Cuban masses did, except modified to fit our circumstances.
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