The power structure that now dominates the globe is a logical extension of the project for colonizing Africa, Oceania, and the Americas that the European imperialist powers began over five centuries ago. From the start of this project, it’s been a constant rule for those in the colonizing powers that one’s society is at war with a weaker enemy. The indigenous people, who have been portrayed as not capable of running things, have had to be brought under the colonial boot according to the ideology of imperial conquest. And in accordance with the global rise of capitalism that colonialism precipitated, the same dynamic of subjugation has existed between the poor and the rich.
Throughout their efforts to defeat their enemies, the imperialist powers of the last millennium and the empires that came before them have constantly been fighting against adversaries that can’t be totally subdued, even after they’ve been greatly weakened by slavery and mass extermination. The ethnic and religious groups that have been subjugated by imperialism have virtually all been able to survive, and have continued their cultures and their collective will to find self-determination. So they’ve constantly posed a challenge to the power of imperialism even as imperialism has ruled supreme, much like the existence of the proletariat has constantly put the rule of the bourgeoisie into question. The same tension has ultimately existed during every other unjust hierarchy.
To maintain their control over this constant threat from the oppressed, the ruling class in the age of imperialism has used unprecedentedly powerful tools of warfare against groups which have stood in their way. Covert CIA operations alone are estimated to have killed at least six million people. The U.S. has used vast bombing campaigns, starvation sanctions, and most recently drone warfare to kill tens of millions of people since World War II. These methods of genocide have been replicated to great extents by Israel during its war against the Palestinians, and by Saudi Arabia during its war against the Yemenis. This all is added onto the millions of deaths that occur annually because of the poverty that’s sustained by global capitalism, and to the frequent killings of poor people by the ever-deadlier police states throughout the capitalist world.
Despite these methods of warfare, imperialism and corporate power continue to be challenged. American hegemony is declining amid frayings of alliances among the NATO powers, failures from the U.S. to carry out its foreign policy goals in countries like Syria, and the rise of Chinese influence. Massive protests have broken out in neoliberal Third World countries like Chile and Honduras, and worker struggles are intensifying in places like France. Those in the global underclass are fighting as hard as ever, and in places like the DPRK and Venezuela they’ve already gained dominance through proletarian democracy. A power struggle is still in motion.
It’s in motion because of the contradictions of capitalism, which have become heightened during the era of capitalist imperialism. By subjecting entire nations to invasions, severe poverty, and apartheid, imperialism makes the oppressive dynamics of capitalism so pronounced that revolts from the colonized people become inevitable. Added onto the conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat that’s inherent to all capitalist societies, this self-destructive aspect of imperialism have led to vast decolonization movements and successful socialist revolutions throughout the last century.
As the U.S. empire weakens, this liberation movement is naturally gathering strength. The recent resurgence of Third World revolutionary energy is present even in Bolivia, where strong socialist and indigenous strains threaten to overtake the fascist regime that’s been installed in the country. But there’s still a way that the bourgeoisie can remain dominant in an era after the fall of the U.S. empire, and even in an era after the climate has collapsed.
This transition can be accomplished by making the means for wielding political and social power–such as steady access to electricity, the ability to use weaponry, and reliable nourishment and shelter–available only to the rich. In the developed world, capitalism has sustained itself by letting most of the population share in the technological and economic gains that the system creates, however unequally they’re distributed. The United States and most other core imperialist nations have never experienced a socialist revolution because conditions for the broad masses haven’t deteriorated enough to provoke an effective class uprising. Many bourgeois leaders have deliberately tried to maintain this balance by allowing the welfare state to be expanded, which has deterred the proletariat from pursuing revolution. But faced with the collapse of the climate, the ruling class has overwhelmingly decided to keep making society ever more unequal instead of reducing inequality.
Even in more progressive capitalist countries like Iceland, the prevailing decision within the political establishment has been to continue neoliberalism and not try to alleviate the wealth gap. Austerity has increased throughout almost the entire capitalist world since the 2008 financial crisis, wages have kept falling, and the power of the big banks and corporations is greater than ever. And the collapse of the climate hasn’t driven capitalist governments to resist corporate power, it’s caused there to be more privatization of services and more capitalist efforts to profit from crises. 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and 2017’s Hurricane Irma both caused there to be a wave of privatizations in the impacted areas, and the U.S. army and private military contractors used both disasters to increase the militarization of society.
A recurring part of these responses to climate change has been an effort to more clearly define boundaries between the wealthy areas and the poorer areas. The lines between the wealthy areas (called the green zones) and the poor areas (called the red zones) was how the U.S. decided to distribute resources in Iraq during its post-invasion efforts to reconstruct the country. The green zone/red zone dichotomy, despite not usually being defined with such explicit language, is being increasingly applied to how resources are distributed around the globe. The homes and neighborhoods of the rich are protected from the threats of climate change–like was the case during 2018’s California fires–while poor communities are the ones that suffer.
There’s a political purpose behind this environmentally created inequality, one that’s understood by the billionaires who’ve prepared for a later stage of the climate crisis by creating luxury survival compounds for themselves. It’s to deprive those outside the wealthy enclaves of the resources that they’ll need to survive, or at least to live with modern comforts, as the climate deteriorates. The logical conclusion of climate apartheid, as this 21st century class divide has been called, is a new kind of despotism that’s emerging while capitalism collapses. In a world that’s no longer climatically stable, and where resources have become scarce, the capitalist class will only be able to maintain their status and lifestyle by concentrating wealth at the very top. In other words, by replacing capitalism with a nakedly oppressive system that has virtually no social mobility.
Now that capitalism has reached the long-anticipated point where it consumes too much of nature to be able to sustain itself, the elites are creating a new system which is much more centralized and tightly controlled than the one that preceded it. Since the Industrial Revolution, bourgeois societies have typically been liberal, with freedom of expression usually being legal and the proletariat being able to heavily consume and make a living when the economy was doing well. But now democracy is deteriorating around the capitalist world, and the neoliberal economies are in a perpetual state of decline that makes economic participation harder for the proletariat.
Whereas capitalist markets overall grew massively in the 20th century, in the 21st century they’ve been shrinking. Trade and economic growth are slowing down, and the post-recession economic expansion has been dependent on financial bubbles and beneficial mainly for those in the upper strata. In the U.S. alone, unemployment and underemployment still haven’t recovered from their pre-recession levels, and the global economy becomes more unequal every year. The next financial crash will create a situation far worse, one that’s exacerbated by the decline of the dollar and by the irreversible economic damage of climate change.
All of these destabilizing factors within capitalist markets are naturally causing capitalist political systems to become less free, and capitalist economies to be more controlled by the state and its partnered corporate monopolies. Economic and climatic disruptions have caused a global rise in reactionary politics and a subsequent decline in democracy throughout much of the capitalist world. And the 2008 crash has caused the U.S. government to transfer many trillions of dollars to the biggest banks, enabling these private financial institutions to become larger than ever.
Similar trends will follow as the collapse of capitalism continues. Power, both political and economic, will become consolidated as the system eats itself. The capitalist class will remain capitalists in the traditional sense only when they’re profiting in some way from the world’s disasters, or when they manage to profit from the labor of the few proletarians who manage to get jobs within the isolated societies of the rich. Otherwise they won’t exploit the proletariat nearly to the extent that they used to, because society won’t even be functional enough for labor and commerce to be robust. Most of the people in the world will be driven into poverty, become climate refugees, or simply die off, leaving the bourgeoisie with no choice but to shrink their business operations and retreat to their green zones.
In such a situation, the ruling class will still be the dominant group, and they could expand their power in new areas. They could pursue capitalist development in eventually hospitable places like Greenland and Antarctica, they could colonize Mars, and they could even build cities that float on the ocean. But they’ll still need to stop the world’s underclass from overthrowing them, which will be harder than ever after the climate and economy have collapsed. Whether the bourgeoisie can retain its dominance amid the riots, vast influxes of refugees, and massive organized rebellions will depend on whether the bourgeoisie or the proletariat gain the upper hand over political and military power.
The military will be such an important factor because like has been the case in most situations of potential revolution, the group with the military and police on its side will be the group wins. And unless much of the global proletariat becomes well armed, like the ones in India’s Maoist militias have, this importance of who controls the state’s military forces will continue to apply. In this situation of an overwhelmingly unarmed global proletariat, the proletariat’s only current route for taking control of the militaries of the capitalist governments is to overwhelm these governments through mass civil disobedience.
The proletariat has succeeded in this goal many times since the proletariat first achieved it during the Russian revolution. It most recently succeeded when mass strikes overthrew Sudan’s U.S.-backed dictatorship in April 2019. But this will need to happen in dozens of other places before the proletariat can truly tip the balance of global power in their favor. And the bourgeoisie is militarily safeguarding capitalist influence from the recent protests while regaining lost bourgeois territory in other areas. The armies and militarized police in France, Chile and the other besieged capitalist countries have so far used violent repression to stop protesters from taking control of the state apparatus. And last month’s U.S.-created coup in Bolivia, which was carried out by fascist paramilitary leaders and has been solidified through brutal repression, has restored bourgeois control over the country.
The bourgeoisie will continue to use these kinds of tools to try to fortify and gain territory, whether this will involve a paramilitary crackdown within the United States, a military coup in Mexico, or an invasion of socialist Venezuela. And in the territories that they manage to control, the bourgeoisie will intensify policing and surveillance to extreme levels. In the U.S., which already has highly militarized police and a thorough digital state surveillance system, border security managers are using a private Israeli security firm to build a wall of total surveillance along the southern border. In the communities around the firm’s surveillance towers, people aren’t able to evade being directly watched. The firm plans to ultimately expand this intensely monitored zone to the entire perimeter of the country. This is one facet of the mass surveillance, censorship, and police state aspects that are being established around the capitalist world.
As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels recognized, the capitalist society that emerged from the old feudalist society did not abolish the ancient class antagonisms. It introduced new forms of oppression and new kinds of struggles between classes, ones that have mainly revolved around wage disputes and workplace rights. The new system that’s emerging amid late-stage capitalism is one which centers around a more severe type of class disparity than the one between employers and workers, which is the disparity between dictators and peasants. The U.S.-installed neoliberal regimes in Iraq and Honduras, which have kept their populations largely poor and unemployed while making their societies heavily militarized, are early examples of what will become the prevailing governing model.
And always throughout this process of social collapse, there’s going to be an effort from the bourgeoisie to suppress or exterminate the sections of humanity which exist outside the green zones. When the victims of the crises in Iraq, Honduras, and elsewhere have fled to the core imperialist nations, these nations have responded by putting them in inhumane camps, deporting them back to the dangerous areas, and attacking them with chemical weapons. When people have been driven to homelessness by decades of neoliberal economic deterioration, the U.S. government has responded by making it easier for the homeless to be arrested. There’s an increasing drive to rid the world of the people whose presence interferes with the continued functioning of the class hierarchy, to cut away the excess within the red zones so that those in the green zones can make business continue. Because in the end, the green zones are the only ones that matter.
In doing all of this, the bourgeoisie aims to finally end class antagonisms, to make themselves the undisputed power players in a world where those in the underclass are killed off or brought under control. At least this is how the bourgeoisie ideally hopes that events will unfold. Despite their best efforts, the class struggle isn’t going away any time soon, and there are still countless opportunities for history to be brought in a different direction. The world’s peasants and workers must fight back before it’s too late.
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