The sources of misery and violence that appear within communities, whether gangs, mental illness, domestic abuse, drugs, hate crimes, or mass shootings, are direct reflections of what the social order is designed to bring about. Capitalism’s purpose is to create profits, which requires that the needs of the people be neglected. Because the conditions of the people are filled with unemployment, falling wages, underfunded public services, and hateful propaganda which reinforces the violence the system depends on, they respond by going on destructive paths. The system then locks them up, and points to their actions as proof that the heavy hand of the state is necessary for protecting society.
With a socioeconomic system that maintains itself in this way, by perpetually creating crises and then using them as excuses for maintaining its own rule, is it any wonder why civilization is now in a progressive state of decline? The long arc of capitalism is one where its crises become too big for it to manage, where the rate of profit falls, capital contracts, and the ruling class has to respond by engineering society’s unraveling. The only way the bourgeoisie can stay in power while their system eats itself is by sacrificing ever-growing amounts of humanity and nature, deeming more and more of the world to be expendable. It’s the ultimate capitalist catastrophe, and the forces of reaction are trying to exploit it in a proportionate fashion: by pointing to the growing chaos, and claiming the only solution is to discard the segments of the population which are judged to be the problem.
The war machine as a tool for controlled global collapse
American militarism is driving the world, including the U.S., into an unmitigated catastrophe. The consequences of the U.S. military’s unparalleled greenhouse gas emissions are being felt in the current heat wave, which has so far killed thousands throughout Europe, is taking a steady stream of lives within the United States, and is exacerbating fires across Africa and Asia. Like with the pandemic, capitalism is finding ways to brush aside these realities of mass mortal risks to keep business running. In this sense, the system’s own self-delusion is able to stave off total collapse in the economic sense. But as the death toll from both the virus and the climate crisis mounts, and as other stresses like the record refugee situation get worse, capital finds itself threatened on a more fundamental level. Its disregard for the increasingly dire conditions it’s created can keep industry going, but only for so long; at a certain point the fundamental structures of civilization will give way. Which is the scenario that war-making during our era is about preempting.
If imperialism can render growing parts of the globe without functioning states, mired in conflicts which get perpetually renewed by ceaseless imperialist meddling, the disaster which is unfolding can stay within its control. When NATO bombed Libya into a failed state eleven years ago, and plunged the country into a civil war where slave markets could appear, it effectively accelerated the process towards collapse that global warming had already set Africa on. So is the purpose of Washington’s current meddling throughout the horn of Africa, and an expanding number of other places in the formerly colonized world. By forcing a region into anarchy, Washington can prevent the countries in that region from building wealth on their own, which is a growing possibility as the global order transitions towards multipolarity. The imperialists seek to maintain control by any means necessary, even if that means destroying the states which are used to administer the functions of capital. That’s the scorched-earth approach of Washington’s global hybrid asymmetrical war against China.
When a country has been brought to this state, in which it’s so thoroughly blown to pieces that it can fall neither into the Chinese nor U.S. bloc, there are still ways to draw capital from its crisis situation. Since the start of Libya’s refugee crisis, the industry for keeping asylum seekers from reaching Europe has brought in billions in profits. It parallels how the U.S. prison-industrial complex has been profiting from detaining the migrants who’ve been forced to flee by U.S. Latin American coups.
But these means for building capital aren’t neo-colonial, and if neo-colonialism goes extinct, imperialism will go along with it. In an unraveling civilization, capital’s means for building itself increasingly consist of industries which feed off the destruction, such as private mercenary contractors, migrant detention center builders, and law enforcement surveillance providers. The industries that build up the actual productive forces, that make capital strong in the first place, are withering. You can’t have an empire if your only relation to the formerly colonized countries is refugee policing and operations by military companies. You need to have colonies for extracting resources.
Faced with this shrinking of its neo-colonial market access, the U.S. empire is seeking to revitalize its capital and regain its lost market access by taking out the source of the multipolar shift: China. The proxy war in Ukraine is not just about providing arms contractors with fresh profits after last year’s Afghanistan withdrawal, but about setting off what the empire hopes will be a domino effect of chaos across Eurasia. Washington couldn’t care less about the safety of the Ukrainian people, who it’s plunged into a failed state and a civil conflict by carrying out a fascist coup. Washington sees Ukraine as a means to an end, which is weakening Russia to the point where Washington can break the country into several U.S.-controlled fascist states, same as the imperialists did in Yugoslavia. When Russia has been colonized by the West, China will no longer have its most important strategic ally, leaving it vulnerable to getting subdued.
Such is the ultimate goal of the new cold war the imperialists have instigated, that of destroying Washington’s geopolitical rivals so that neo-colonialism can no longer be threatened by China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It’s why the policies of the neo-colonial regime in Sri Lanka, writes Vijay Prashad, “are designed to draw Sri Lanka into an anti-China alliance which would dry up necessary Chinese investment. Many Sri Lankans understand that they should not be drawn into the escalating conflict between the U.S. and China, just as the old – but raw – vicious ethnic wounds in their country must be healed.” The meddling the U.S. has been carrying out amid Sri Lanka’s recent mass uprising, co-opting the demonstrations to bolster an agenda of further privatization and anti-Chinese militarism, is making for a proxy war effort that parallels the one in Ukraine. The empire is working to bring all willing countries into its conflict with the Chinese bloc, and to render stateless any countries that don’t join in on this conflict.
Taiwan is another one of these comprador regimes that the imperialists have been using to advance their cold war escalations. Last year, the U.S. doubled its military presence within the island. Then after Russia got provoked into intervening in Ukraine, the U.S. used Ukraine as a narrative stepping stone, and pivoted towards Taiwan. Washington’s brazen treatment of Taiwan as an entity separate from China, culminating in a diplomatic visit to the island from Pelosi that even many of Pelosi’s fellow imperialists have viewed as excessively risky, has brought the globe closer than ever to a third world war.
For now, the only material benefactors of the tensions are the arms contractors. The attempt to destabilize Russia is failing, and the BRI has gained too much credibility for the formerly colonized world to reject it. Imperialism’s warmaking can’t realistically carry out the Eurasian colonial expansion it hopes for, so capital has no choice but to continue contracting.
The police state’s growing war against the U.S. empire’s internal colonies
The reason why imperialism’s attempts to reverse the decline of neo-colonialism will fail parallels the reason why social stability within U.S. borders will keep falling apart: capital’s weakening is making it necessary to sacrifice growing amounts of the population in order for the system to survive. This dynamic is playing out both within the neo-colonies, and the imperial center. Neoliberalism, which is a project to engineer a controlled collapse of society so that wealth can be distributed upwards, has been driving down living standards in both the exploited and exploiting countries. The difference is that the collapse is further along in the exploited countries by default, since they were “underdeveloped” (or as Parenti called it over-exploited) before neoliberalism was adopted around fifty years ago. Naturally, the people of these countries are increasingly mobilizing for an end to neo-colonial control, and embracing the BRI as a welcome alternative to U.S. extractivism.
Synchronicities are to be found everywhere within this story, such as the parallel between the controlled collapse of Washington’s cold war destabilization meddling and the controlled collapse of neoliberalism. The deterioration of conditions in the core can be viewed as a miniature version of the intensifying over-exploitation that’s been wrought upon the peripheries, with the cause of both being modern capitalism’s free market fundamentalism and austerity paradigm. And as the neo-colonies have especially suffered from neoliberalism’s destructive impacts compared to the core, the racially oppressed peoples within the core have especially suffered compared to the settlers. The Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are U.S. imperialism’s internal colonies, so they’ve been getting disproportionately harmed by these policies. In response to these growing contradictions within capitalism, the police and carceral state have been waging war against the internal colonies with increasing ferocity.
The racist impact of this repressive campaign can’t be reduced to a simple narrative of class, in which these communities have been getting statistically targeted more solely due to them being statistically poorer than white communities. The data shows that poverty doesn’t explain police racism; crime, despite being made more likely by poverty, has been found to not be the determining factor behind the rate of police presence (and therefore police brutality) within a given community. The real cause of the disproportionate amount of police encounters with nonwhites is racial bias within law enforcement. Because there are racial disparities between the people the criminal justice system targets even after racial differences in crime rates are factored in, the racially disproportionate rates of police altercations and incarceration can’t mostly be explained by racial wealth disparities, nor by the consequent racial disparities in crime rates. The explanation is the white supremacist culture that continues to prevail within the system.
None of this means race and class aren’t directly intertwined. The racism of the carceral and police state can primarily be traced to racial prejudice rather than to a general classism, yet classism itself couldn’t exist without racism. Racism is the tool that capitalism uses to justify colonizing certain peoples, and colonization is how capitalism can be kept going within its highest stage of development. So this war that the state is disproportionately waging against U.S. imperialism’s internal colonies is another war to preserve capital. It’s an internal version of imperialism, where the nations the empire has enslaved, forcibly annexed land from, and heavily exploited through immigrant labor are being ever more heavily repressed. This repression is done so that they’ll be less likely to fight back, and take what’s theirs. The ongoing existence of the United States is incompatible with a scenario where the people it’s exploited to build its imperial wealth get reparations.
The development this war is responding to is not necessarily the growth in poverty itself, but the weakening of capital that’s produced this poverty. It’s a war for capitalism’s survival, with the internal colonies being the foremost targets as per capitalism’s colonial nature. Racial capitalism exists, therefore repression under capitalism is intertwined with race.
This is why neo-colonies like Sri Lanka tend to carry out state violence against their own ethnic minorities. In another synchronicity, the ruling class of a place like Sri Lanka and the U.S. government both actively seek to further destroy the livelihoods of their people. Sri Lanka commits a greatly disproportionate amount of its governmental budget to the military while neglecting the needs of the masses, like how the U.S. continues to overspend on the military while underspending on social funding. This attitude from the modern bourgeoisie that the people’s conditions need to perpetually get worse was demonstrated in a Bank of America economics research memo from this year, which said “By the end of next year, we hope the ratio of job openings to unemployed is down to the more normal highs of the last business cycle.” In other words, they hope the people will lose their leverage in the labor market by becoming even more economically desperate, because that’s objectively what’s needed to keep profits up.
The consequences for these oppressed communities in the core have been an intensification of their oppression on all fronts, and at the same time an increase in chaos that makes it harder for them to assert their autonomy. With more poverty comes more violent crime, more gangsterism, more mental illness, more drugs, more of a general lack of time or energy for people to focus on anything other than their immediate survival. As well as more police harassment, though as I explained the police will harass certain people regardless of whether the poverty is there. The social ills these communities have been increasingly experiencing are being used to justify an intensification of this war against the country’s own people, like how the refugee crisis is used to justify waging war against those refugees. Even though in both cases the cause is capitalism, the forces of reaction encourage us to view the cause as lying with capitalism’s victims.
Cultivating chaos & using it to justify further war-making
This argument the reactionaries are making is one based in ignorance and emotionally motivated resentment, not in compassion or factual analysis. They point to the crises capitalism has created, and say the people impacted by these crises are the ones to blame for their own misery. Even in the cases where those within these impoverished communities are more clearly culpable for their actions, like with violent crime, the reality is that this violence wouldn’t be a crisis if the socioeconomic problems were addressed. The solution the reactionaries have is not to address these problems, but to escalate the repression and terrorism against the victims, as well as to further harm their living standards through more privatization, wage cuts, austerity, regressive taxation, and corporate deregulation.
Like the countries that have been destroyed by imperialism, these communities are treated as sacrifice zones, and the turmoil that inevitably comes to them due to their engineered destabilization is regarded as grounds for military intervention. The militarized police occupying nonwhite U.S. communities serve the equivalent function to the U.S. military in imperialist-targeted countries, where the U.S. is fighting the same terrorist groups that its own policies have created. During the era of imperial decline, the police have even been getting directly armed by the military, with excess arms equipment from the War on Terror being funneled into police departments. The training of U.S. police by Israeli forces is another example of this importing of imperialism’s global tools for exacting violence.
And the police state isn’t even done being strengthened. In this last month’s Assault Weapons Ban bill, the supposedly “left-wing” Democrats slipped in a measure to increase funding for law enforcement, and to expand surveillance. The Biden White House even proudly admits this, acting like its measures to hold police more “accountable” mean anything substantial when the police exist to wage war against the internal colonies. This has come at the same time that the FBI recently raided a Black communist party for its supposed ties to Russia, yet another way that U.S. wars are facilitating repression at home. The Ukraine war narrative is being used to justify a new Red Scare, foremost directed towards the Black Power movement.
The natural reaction to this situation, in which the machine of capital discards ever greater chunks of humanity to keep profits up, is to be angry. And being angry about this is good. What’s important is how we choose to use this anger. It’s not productive to react to our conditions by viewing all states as one’s enemy, because the state we in the core live under is actively waging war against certain other states. Neither is it productive to treat the social ills created by capitalism as good things. The ultra-leftist position that gangs are viable avenues for revolution is informed by an analysis that’s detached from the actual conditions of capitalism, in that it fetishizes capitalism’s destructive consequences. It looks at the chaotic, violent outcomes of society’s collapse, and views them as what’s needed for addressing the people’s needs. This is on the other end of the spectrum from the view that capitalism’s symptoms demand that the system be strengthened, but it’s destructive in a parallel fashion, because it redirects revolutionary energy in a counterrevolutionary direction.
Gangs aren’t revolutionary, because they operate according to an ideology that’s not based in class struggle, but in blunt, practical reaction to the circumstances the system creates. One indication of this is that gangs are military governments which seek access to the black markets, naturally making them at odds with the currently existing socialist governments. But at the core of the problem with gangs when it comes to revolutionary organizing is that they’re driven by a certain set of ideas, ones which are more compatible with fascist terror groups than with revolutionary organizations. For this reason, there exist white supremacist gangs that help do the racist repressive work of the state within the prison system, as well as gangs that operate within the police departments themselves. The racially motivated executions that police gangs regularly carry out have been known about by the government for decades, and have been tacitly enabled because of their usefulness in the war on the internal colonies.
Even when gangs aren’t white supremacist, and are formed within oppressed communities, they serve the role of agents for the state’s engineered destabilization of these same communities. These types of gangs are last ditch efforts for autonomy from peoples who’ve been deprived of autonomy by their government, makeshift regimes that fill the power vacuum left by a hollowed out social order. Ironically, this means they facilitate the criminal activities that hurt their own communities, and that are for this reason assisted by the state.
The state couldn’t have as effectively flooded minority neighborhoods with drugs, and then used the destruction that came from this as justification for expanding mass incarceration, without the help of the gangs which perpetuate the black markets. It couldn’t have incarcerated the Brown communist leader Cheyenne, and then see him get murdered while in prison, without the help of the leaders within his own gang who backstabbed his attempt to form a multiracial revolutionary gang coalition. The structure of gangs guarantees that whenever something occurs which makes revolution not in their interests, whether a war with another gang or a disagreeable decision from a revolutionary party, they’ll reject efforts to make them into revolutionary entities.
Due to their fundamentally self-interested nature, the gangs serve as proxies for the state, helping to perpetuate the chaos within oppressed communities that’s necessary for keeping revolution at bay. The path to revolution doesn’t run through fetishizing them, nor through fetishizing the lumpenproletariat in general. The notion that any organization or individual is necessarily revolutionary merely because they come from a dispossessed group is idealism, not materialism. Materialism says that to carry out revolution, we’ll need to undo the damage that capitalism’s manufactured chaos has caused towards so many communities, rather than celebrate this chaos and call it revolutionary.
To undo this damage, we need to do what the Black Panthers did: find what the needs of our communities are, and put in the work to address those needs. The Panthers provided defense, food, legal help, and other services for their people, not the least of which was education on revolutionary theory. To win the masses over towards the revolutionary cause, we must act as their servants, rather than expect them to flock to us as soon as we’ve reached the satisfactory level of ideological purity. People act according to what their best interests get shown to be, and if we show them their interests lie in revolution, we’ll gain their support.
This is only a brief summary of what is to be done when it comes to our conditions. The nature of our task is far more complex than this, because the crisis the system has created is complex and multilayered. There’s so much pain that can’t be speedily undone through some simple solution. Generations of war zone conditions within the impoverished neighborhoods have left many among the underclass with PTSD. Gang ideology, with its focus on honor-based retaliation, has nurtured an ultraviolent mindset among those who embrace it. I’ve personally seen how this mindset can lead members of oppressed groups to harm their own people. And other organizers I’ve talked to who have backgrounds in the hood have had similarly troubling stories to tell, including about themselves from before they became reformed. The violent social conditioning that the system creates can lead its victims down dark paths, which is the tragedy we must reckon with while resisting the system. We can’t save everybody from the darkness our social order has imbued within them, and if they refuse to give up the ultraviolent mentality, enabling them will only hurt our cause.
The ruling class points to this reality that the dispossessed communities function as war zones, and claim this means there needs to be even more police, even more people locked up, even more neoliberal attacks on the people’s living conditions. But the ruling class brought the wars and the poverty, both inside and outside the country. When we’ve overthrown the ruling class, we’ll be able to rebuild the world.—————————————————————————
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