Underneath the bluster of a Trump administration that still acts like the United States is the world hegemon, the ruling class is working to pragmatically respond to the loss of America’s status as a dominant power. In 2017 the Pentagon put out a report that admitted American global influence is rapidly declining, and now that the U.S. is sure to soon lose its superpower status, the corporatocracy has to address this issue.
How will they address it? The answer can be found by recognizing a basic reality: whether or not the corporatocracy can hold onto the U.S. as their dominant engine for carrying out imperialism, they’ll always do everything possible to make imperialism continue in some form. Imperialism is how the U.S./NATO capitalist class have gained their wealth, so they’ll try to maintain it or else they’ll lose a vast amount of this wealth. I’ve covered in another essay the means through which our ruling class will try to retain control over the population of the imperial core. In this one I’ll detail the ways they’ll try to keep up the cycle of imperialist exploitation.
1: Take drastic measures to retain control over the empire’s remaining neo-colonies
It’s clear why Washington’s Latin America policy in the last few years has become like a modern version of Operation Condor, the Cold War-era effort by Washington to imprison or kill tens of thousands of anti-imperialists within Latin America. The ever-tightening sanctions on Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, along with all the recent coup attempts against the Chavista government, have demonstrated this. The neoconservative plans for regime change against Cuba and Nicaragua, along with Washington’s so far unsuccessful campaign to remove Mexico’s left-leaning president, show where this backlash to Latin American anti-imperialism will likely go in the coming years. The empire wants to do in all the hemisphere’s remaining anti-imperialist countries what it did to Bolivia last year: oust the disfavored leadership and install a right-wing regime.
Therefore we can expect a long-term and intensifying series of U.S. propaganda campaigns to demonize these governments, along with all the economic warfare, coup attempts, or military invasions that Washington finds necessary to carry out its regime change ambitions. But whether or not any of these projects succeed, Washington’s existing neo-colonies will experience repression akin to the repression within the core imperialist countries.
This is to say a campaign of terror against the populace. Already, this last year has seen a return to the brutality of the Pinochet era in several U.S.-aligned countries throughout the region. In response to last year’s anti-austerity protests in Chile, the country’s right-wing billionaire president sent in security forces to kill dozens of protesters and injure or arrest thousands of them. Ecuador’s neoliberal government has carried out similar repression in response to its own lower class uprising. Since Bolivia’s coup regime took power last November, it’s enacted ethnic cleansing against its indigenous population, created death squads, and arrested or killed journalists and political opponents.
In all these places, it’s becoming clear that the reactionary leaders ultimately seek to recreate the conditions of the region’s past dictatorships. Brazil’s Bolsonaro has prepared to enact the same kinds of repression from the country’s era of military dictatorship (an era which Bolsonaro admires). Bolivia’s regime has postponed the next election after mobilizing the military in order to intimidate the socialist opposition. Honduras’ U.S.-installed regime has already become a dictatorship.
The Latin American right hopes that fascism will stop the contradictions of capitalism and colonialism from bringing about a wave of revolutions. And Washington is eager to help foster this fascism, with Pompeo having said last December that the U.S. will help its partnered Latin American regimes “prevent Latin America protests from becoming riots.”
A similar brand of U.S.-backed fascism is emerging in Israel and India, which are two crucial military allies for the empire. Washington’s goal is to stop socialist and anti-colonialist revolutions from overthrowing any of its most strategically important international partners, a goal that will involve carrying out extremely violent measures if necessary. We’re seeing this in the indigenous genocide that Bolsonaro’s policies are creating, in the perpetual Israeli campaign of terror against Gaza, and in the genocidal policies of India’s ruling fascist BJP.
2: Intensify neo-colonialism within the territories the empire manages to keep control over
The empire sees maintaining control over its Latin American neo-colonies as particularly crucial, and has gone so far as to threaten invasion against some of the disobedient Latin American countries, because Latin America is where neo-colonialism will primarily take place in a world where U.S. hegemony is over. China’s greatly increasing economic presence in Africa, as well as in Latin America to a lesser extent, have limited the empire’s options for practicing neo-colonialism; China’s Belt and Road Initiative is having the effect of reversing the international inequities caused by Western colonialism, and China’s foreign investments have left many Third World countries in a stronger position economically—and therefore in a position less vulnerable to the machinations of Western corporations, the World Bank, and the IMF.
So within the Latin American countries that the core imperialist countries retain reliable control over, neo-colonialism is going to become extremely intensified. Faced with the collapse of the U.S. empire, the only way the plutocrats can keep profits up is by drawing more capital from the labor of the proletariat-both in the core imperialist countries, and in the empire’s remaining colonies.
Which countries will bear the full brunt of this aggressive neo-colonialism? Brazil, the largest economy in South America, has shown that it will be one of them; the country’s fanatically neoliberal government has been partnering with Elon Musk in opening new factories for Tesla, and it plans to let Musk profit from the country’s lithium supply. Other countries that are sure to help Musk in profiting from South America’s lithium are Chile and Bolivia. This is evidenced by a tweet from this year from Bolivian entrepreneur Samuel Doria Medina, who wrote that Musk and Bolsonaro should “build a Gigafactory in the Salar de Uyuni to supply lithium batteries.” It’s notable that Doria Medina is the vice-presidential candidate alongside Bolivia’s coup-installed president Jeanine Áñez.
The recent campaigns from Musk and other plutocrats to act as neo-conquistadors in Latin America tie in with the recent efforts from Latin America’s neoliberal leaders to further enact austerity and privatization. Bolivia’s coup regime has laid out ambitions for enacting drastic neoliberal policies, which it’s now putting into action; the group Friends of Bolivia observed six months after the coup that “Bolivians continue to suffer violent repression and savage austerity measures under an illegitimate regime, which is now putting lives in danger during the coronavirus crisis.” The same is happening in Lenin Moreno’s Ecuador, where a paradigm of austerity has greatly worsened the impacts of the pandemic. The U.S. hand behind Ecuador’s cruel recent neoliberal policies have been described by the columnist Yanis Iqbal:
“In October 2019, Lenin Moreno imposed an austerity package and also borrowed 4.2 billion USD from IMF (International Monetary Fund). These austerity measures ended the fuel subsidies worth $1.3 billion annually, laid off 23,000 state employees, privatized social infrastructures, fired approximately 3,000 workers employed in the health sector and removed 300 personnel working in the control of pandemics.
“The sudden imposition of these neoliberal measures forced the people to come out in protest. The government responded to these protests in a rough way and used its police force to repress the growing opposition. This left 7 dead and 1340 injured. During those times, the influence of USA’s imperialist clout was clearly outlined by the Secretary of State Michael Pompeo who had said that Moreno should try his maximum “to institutionalize democratic practices and implement the necessary economic reforms”. Pompeo was euphemistically alluding to Lenin Moreno to implement IMF’s catastrophic Structural Adjustment program.”
Bolsonaro’s Brazil, where the educational system has been destroyed amid drastic austerity and privatization measures, is another example of this neoliberal accelerationism throughout the region. What all these countries could eventually become like is Honduras—where the lower class communities have become so devastated by poverty, gang violence, and crime that the poor are forced to flee to more stable areas. The benefactors of this extremely unequal future will be the companies that are engineering it to advance their own interests.
3: Profit from the wars and crises that these late-stage imperialist operations produce
The increasing success of neo-colonialists like Musk shows that finance imperialism has no mother country. And the ongoing profit increases for the high-tech sector, military and security contractors, and the prison-industrial complex show that the same is true for these facets of the corporatocracy.
The current refugee crisis, which was itself created by U.S. wars and destabilization efforts in Latin America and the Middle East, is one of the catastrophes that these corporations are exploiting. Companies like Microsoft are making hundreds of millions by supplying ICE with technology and resources, making up part of the effort to profit from human rights abuses against desperate Third Worlders. Private prison companies are also benefiting from the Trump administration’s campaign to put migrants and undocumented people into inhumane detention centers, or to deport them back to the areas that have been devastated by imperialism and neo-colonialism.
The decline of the U.S. empire is producing an enormous amount of violence and instability as Washington reacts with belligerence; the U.S. has been at war since 9/11 because it’s struggling to salvage its waning global military influence, and the intensified neo-colonialism in places like Honduras and Bolivia has produced poverty and violence. Neoliberalism, which itself is a symptom of U.S. imperialism’s decline, is producing widespread poverty within the imperial core as well. So the byproduct of these engineered crises, such as refugee influxes and risks of civil unrest, are being profited off of in various ways-with the war on immigrants being just one avenue for corporations to take advantage.
Surveillance capitalism is another facet. Israeli security contractors like Elbit have been making money off of building surveillance towers along the U.S.-Mexico border, a project that senior director of Customs and Border Protection at Elbit Systems of America Bobby Brown says will ultimately be expanded “not only to the northern border, but to the ports and harbors across the country.” The Intercept’s Will Parrish writes about how the CBP’s business partners have been profiting from filling the various needs of the U.S. national security state:
“The agency has received considerable criticism for its often-brutal treatment of migrants. But a large percentage of its operations involve routine police work. Between 2013 and 2016, for example, roughly 40 percent of Border Patrol seizures at immigration enforcement checkpoints involved 1 ounce or less of marijuana confiscated from U.S. citizens. Yet not as much attention has been paid to how the agency uses its sprawling surveillance apparatus for purposes other than border enforcement.
“In 2017, as companies built prototypes for Trump’s border wall in San Diego, CBP stationed one of its RVSS towers nearby to monitor political opposition, citing the “emerging threat of demonstrations,” records show. The tower deployment lasted for eight months beginning in September 2017, according to a federal contract tender posted online. The only significant demonstration to occur was a peaceful rally that greeted Trump in March 2018 as he conducted a photo-op tour of the wall prototypes.”
The national security state, as well as its partnered tech companies Google and Amazon, aim to expand this intensive surveillance from the border to all facets of American society. The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, an organization created by big tech players and the military-intelligence complex, has said it aims to create a ubiquitous AI-driven mass surveillance system and make typical American streets “blanketed with cameras.” All of this will be useful in the efforts to stop a lower class revolt within the imperial core.
What will help fulfill the military needs of these operations-both in the homeland and abroad-are the mercenary contractors in the vein of Blackwater. In 2018, Blackwater USA infamously placed an ad proclaiming: “We are coming.” They declared this at the same time Trump started a partial drawback of troops in Syria and Afghanistan, indicating that these wars were about to be privatized. Since then, Blackwater founder Erik Prince has retained a role within the Trump administration, and Prince’s new company has begun operating in Iraq. Blackwater’s sales pitch last year to provide mercenaries in the effort to overthrow Venezuela’s government also shows the kind of role the company will have in future parts of Operation Condor 2.0.
In yet another example of how America’s wars are coming home, this month Trump sent law enforcement officers in military gear to patrol Washington DC. The lack of uniform insignias among these officers have prompted the question of whether they were in fact Blackwater personnel. Questions like these will no doubt keep appearing as the late-stage imperialist national security crackdown continues.
We’re entering a new era of imperialism, one where mega-corporations profit from a world that’s experiencing climate collapse, global depression, and the violent blowback from a dying old empire. In this new order, the U.S. itself will be a rogue fascist state with vastly diminished global influence, while plutocrats like Musk, Gates, Prince, and Bezos profit from a form of imperialism more naked than the nationalistic one which preceded it. This is the imperialism of corporate plunder.
Can the new order last?
Will this new version of imperialism be sustainable? Since most aspects of it involve profiting from some form of crisis, it perfectly fulfills Karl Marx’ expectation about how capitalism will eat itself. And the natural resources it aims to exploit, from South America’s lithium to the Arctic’s oil, can’t be extracted without multiplying the environmental crises capitalism has already caused.
It’s no wonder why Musk is trying to colonize space; the planet is being strained to the breaking point by the endless drive towards growth from neo-imperialists like him. And it’s no wonder why Washington think tanks and Silicon Valley are excited about creating a “fourth industrial revolution” which pertains to the high-tech sector; in a world where the neoliberal economies are contracting and capitalist global economic leverage is shrinking, the ruling class needs some new breakthrough that maintains the cycle of industrial expansion.
So far as these innovations in capitalism and empire enrich American billionaires (who have indeed gotten at least $434 billion richer during the pandemic), they’ve been a success. But they’re a “success” that’s leaving hundreds of millions of people in poverty, with at least a hundred million expected to become severely impoverished within the next decade as a result of the emerging “climate apartheid.” And already the “Greater Depression” has pushed tens of millions of people in the U.S. alone into unemployment.
If these dispossessed people successfully revolt, the capitalist class won’t be able to continue their operations no matter how they restructure imperialism. So the plutocrats are ready with their armies, militarized police, and private mercenary forces, prepared to strike against all future uprisings. Will this be able to save them?
Covid-19 Commercialism Is About Undermining Social Cohesion
There’s an initially obvious dissonance around the advertisements and business schemes that corporations are carrying out amid this year’s pandemic. It’s clearly distasteful for these companies to be profiting off of a disaster, and this naturally creates a sense of unease despite the attempt from these companies to convey earnest intentions. But it seems like nothing more than the usual commercialized shallowness until you realize that it has a very political purpose: to keep the people confused and socially fragmented during a time of economic crisis and growing class conflict.
In the last few months, tens of millions of people have permanently lost their jobs, which is creating a collapse of retail, exacerbating the new housing crisis, and bringing financial ruin to much of the American population. In August, which is when the government will stop giving special relief funds for the unemployed, the situation will get even worse. As this prompts our society to gain more negative attitudes about capitalism, the ruling oligarchy is trying to perpetuate the status quo by keeping people politically demobilized and uneducated about how to bring about revolution.
Throughout the history of neoliberalism, these traits have been instilled among the masses through a combination of engineered scarcity and propaganda. When poor and working people are struggling to survive, they’re more prone to ignore politics in favor of day-to-day concerns. And when the only information they’re exposed to is pro-capitalist political propaganda or advertising, they can’t develop the consciousness required for joining a revolution.
The pro-capitalist propaganda that we’re being exposed to in this moment usually involves the promotion of imperialist narratives; the anti-Chinese and anti-Venezuelan bluster that’s now being weaponized by both major presidential candidates represents the kinds of anti-socialist, nationalistic sentiments the ruling class seeks to propagate among the people. And to keep the population loyal to capitalism, or at least sympathetic towards those who profit from it, there’s an onslaught of Covid-19 commercialism and public relations campaigns for corporations.
We’re seeing companies create comforting ads about life in quarantine, seeing somber messages from companies about how much they care about our experiences during the pandemic, and sometimes seeing corporate brands be awkwardly placed next to directions towards Covid-19 testing sites. We’re also seeing the companies and wealthy figures who stand the most to gain from this crisis work to sell the solutions they’ve come up with. Google’s CEO is marketing a series of technological fixes to the state of New York. Bill Gates is also partnering with Governor Andrew Cuomo to proliferate his technologies throughout the state.
“It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent pandemic shock doctrine is beginning to emerge,” commentator Naomi Klein wrote last month. “Far more hi-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.”
In another fulfillment of the established patterns of neoliberalism, the social conditions that these companies are profiting off of is an exaggerated version of what life has long been like under late-state capitalism: systematically isolated from the community at large, filled with transactions that make daily activities commodified and artificial, and culturally defined by consumerism. Reflecting how advertisers have long tried to get people to associate their products with their personal identities, companies like Google and Amazon are now trying to get people to see them as friends that will help us all out during a difficult time.
And as far as the goods and services of these companies will benefit people during the pandemic, they’ll be able to make a case that they’re improving people’s lives. But look below the helpful Amazon deliveries and useful Google communications tools, and you’ll find the realities of current global capitalism that the Covid-19 ads don’t talk about.
You’ll find large corporations refusing to re-hire many of the workers who lost their jobs this year, all in order to save money. You’ll find that the executives of these companies have collectively gained hundreds of billions of dollars by profiting off of the pandemic, all while poor and working people suffer under a plutocrat-controlled government that’s soon to impose even more austerity. You’ll find that these companies are getting hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate welfare. You’ll find that at the same time, income inequality throughout the neoliberal world is sure to vastly increase as a result of the pandemic.
You’ll also find that despite the humanitarian image these companies project, the system they’re perpetuating is making Covid-19 lead to a myriad of human rights abuses and humanitarian crises. ICE is putting more and more refugees and undocumented people into overcrowded and unsanitary detention facilities. U.S. global bombing campaigns have been increasing during the pandemic. Recently tightened U.S. sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, and other countries are killing people in what amounts to genocide. The Navajo nation is being devastated by the virus, and other colonized communities dying from the pandemic far more than white ones are. America’s broken neoliberal healthcare system is unable to protect the poorest people from the pandemic, and the homeless are among the most vulnerable.
But these things aren’t shown in the messages that the corporatocracy produces. We’re supposed to think about how much a certain company cares about us, or how much a certain product can improve our lives during the pandemic, or which imperialist presidential candidate is tougher on China. And despite the advertising slogan “we’re all in this together,” we’re not encouraged to think about what’s happening to those in less comfortable positions than us. The cruelties and horrors that are happening can’t be acknowledged, because this would expose the deep rot of the system. And when evils like police brutality can’t be ignored, companies try to co-opt and sanitize the calls for justice.
The result is an environment where people can’t find a cohesive cultural narrative to grasp onto, aside from what’s presented to them by corporations and imperialist demagogues. Perhaps more than ever, neoliberalism has separated them from the rest of society and subjected them to the influence of advertisers. Covid-19 commercialism isn’t just about making money, it’s about deterring capitalism’s victims from thinking for themselves.
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