There are two different versions of the great-power competition that Washington is waging against Russia and China. One is the version portrayed by the U.S. political and media establishment, which acts like Washington’s modern rival superpowers are eventually going to be subdued like the Soviet Union was. The other is the reality of the conflict, where Russia and China are strengthening their military alliance unlike was the case after the Sino-Soviet split, Russia is assured to win the proxy war with Washington’s puppet state Ukraine, and China has already arguably ended U.S. military primacy in the Indo-Pacific while making the Belt and Road Initiative’s success assured.
Then there’s the facet that the U.S. ruling class really doesn’t want to talk about: the longtime and accelerating decline of profits for American capitalism. As the Marxist economist Michael Roberts wrote in 2016, “the overall US rate of profit has four phases: the post-war golden age of high profitability peaking in 1965; then the profitability crisis of the 1970s, troughing in the slump of 1980–2; then the neoliberal period of recovery or at least stabilisation in profitability, peaking more or less in 1997; then the current period of volatility and slight decline.” Since then, the destabilization of U.S. capitalism has predictably sped up; in this last year, the country’s largest companies reached their lowest quarterly revenue point in more than a decade.
The trends are clear for anyone who looks past the veil of neoliberal and pro-imperialist narratives: the empire has long been losing its strength, both geopolitically and in terms of its internal capitalist machine. This is an intertwined cycle of losses, where the sanctions that Washington perpetually imposes on its rivals alienate more of its imperial allies, the U.S. experiences greater economic isolation and risks of dollar decline as a result of its belligerence, and U.S. capital further gets weakened due to these frantic attempts to make it regain its former strength.
The solution that the liberal technocrats in the Biden administration have for this dilemma is to make U.S. capital lean more heavily onto the high tech sector. Why do you think Silicon Valley, D.C. think tanks, and Biden White House officials have been telling us things about a “Great Reset” and a “Fourth Industrial Revolution?” Their goal is to revitalize capitalism amid an unprecedented moment of crisis for the U.S. bourgeoisie. They want to convince the public—as well as themselves—that by proliferating a series of new technologies, they’ll make the system good as new.
For the super rich, so far everything in this plan is working out perfectly. U.S. billionaires have gained around a trillion dollars in this last year in spite of how tens of millions of others in the country have experienced job losses or closed down businesses. Due to how the pandemic has created opportunities for Amazon, Apple, Google, and other tech giants to further incorporate themselves into people’s lives, they’ve been the predominant benefactors of this internal boom for U.S. imperialism. But the masses will have to see material benefits in order to buy into the narrative the system is selling. And this is where capitalism and imperialism’s contradictions undermine the Great Reset’s social engineering goals.
In this stage of capitalism’s crisis, the bourgeoisie can’t afford to substantially lift up the living conditions of the masses. Neoliberalism, late-stage capitalism’s tool for foisting the costs of the system’s crisis onto the lower classes, mandates that more austerity be carried out. Biden’s team has expressed this; Ted Kaufman, one of the members of Biden’s transition team, has said that “When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare. When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit…forget about Covid-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.” This was a dishonest way to argue against the idea of Biden increasing federal spending on social benefits, confirming that these next few years will see a continuation of the austerity which brought U.S. proletarian conditions to its dire current state.
While resources for the unemployed get cut off ever more, and workers become ever more exploited, machines will take on an ever greater role behind producing profits. As anthropologist David Harvey has written, Marx “talks about the way that new technologies and knowledge become embedded in the machine: they’re no longer in the laborer’s brain, and the laborer is pushed to one side to become an appendage of the machine, a mere machine-minder. All of the intelligence and all of the knowledge, which used to belong to the laborers, and which conferred upon them a certain monopoly power vis-à-vis capital, disappear.” The hope of the U.S. capitalist ruling class is that through taking this dynamic to its logical conclusion via the grand technological schemes of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the empire’s flow of capital will be sustained.
And even more importantly, they hope that the dynamic Harvey describes where automation takes bargaining power out of the hands of workers renders the U.S. proletariat unable to challenge the system. In 2019, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence—a governmental body created in 2018 to help tech companies partner with the intelligence community and the military—created a document which explained the plans that this circle of technocrats have for the country’s future. They aim to make streets typically blanketed with cameras, to totally replace retail with a home delivery system, to completely move towards self-driving cars, and to normalize an “internet of things” where all of people’s household appliances are connected to the internet.
For the means of production, this will entail a vast transfer of labor roles over to machines, given the phasing out of retail and home delivery jobs. And for the class struggle, this will mean a drastic expansion of the surveillance powers of the capitalist state, along with an upgrade of the militarized police state’s technology and more opportunities to carry out censorship against anti-imperialist journalists.
Through these measures, the U.S. bourgeoisie aims to make the proletariat more lacking in resources, more heavily exploited, more demoralized, more heavily policed and surveilled, and more cut off from information that can challenge the constant stream of war propaganda. As automation and the concentration of the job market into Big Tech continue, the tens of millions who’ve lost their jobs this past year will remain unemployed, and much of the population will find themselves excluded even from the relative advantage of being proletarians.
Will the ruling class be able to keep up profits in this near future? Maybe, but they’ll also have to face the vast potential for uprisings that will come from alienating so many of the people. And we can be certain that they won’t win the war for economic primacy against Russia and China, causing them to pour even more resources into military buildup against these countries and therefore further exacerbate the empire’s internal contradictions.
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