The high-tech sector, along with the U.S. national security state that it partners with, have lately been pushing the idea of upgrading society into a futuristic technological structure that makes life far more convenient. Last year the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, an organization created in 2018 to further the partnership between U.S. intelligence agencies and tech plutocrats, articulated this vision in a document. It called for a near future where the country’s “legacy systems” are replaced with a new paradigm of infrastructure, one that allows for self-driving cars, total home delivery in alternative to retail, and home appliances that can connect to an “internet of things.”
The paradigm of capitalism and colonialism has naturally produced a long series of backlashes from those who haven’t benefited from these systems. The first time that the resistance efforts took an entire nationwide territory from these forces of oppression was during the first series of successful anti-colonial revolutions. Starting with overthrows like the 1804 Haitian liberation from the French empire, a period in history started which can be called the First Wave of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist revolutions.
Last week, when the billionaire neo-colonialist Elon Musk was confronted on Twitter about how his company is benefiting from the Washington-perpetrated coup in Bolivia, he replied with a statement that encapsulates the ugly nakedness of current U.S. imperialism: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.” I have a feeling that when the world looks back on 2020, the time when the U.S. lashed out with such great violence when faced with its imperial decline, Musk’s declaration will be seen as the moment when the mask of the empire came off.
Consider the scenario presented by the TV series Mr. Robot, wherein a group of hackers aims to take down the giant conglomerate E Corp-known by the head hacker Elliot Alderson as Evil Corp. To put an end to Evil Corp’s hegemonic control over finance, the hackers sabotage its ability to keep count of how much debt people owe it. When the first big digital attack happens in the show’s universe in 2015, Evil Corp is struggling, hundreds of billions of dollars have been lost, the public is protesting Evil Corp over its failures to provide for society’s needs, and the capitalist world is falling into a depression.
Throughout its era as the “world police” that overthrows governments for the benefit of corporate interests, the U.S. has perfected a strategy for destroying societies and remaking them according to its own preferences. To varying degrees, this playbook for regime change has consisted of a basic formula: destabilize a society, then use propaganda and violence to impose Americanism onto its culture and governmental system. We’ve seen this carried out in Iran with the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew the country’s democracy and replaced it with the Shah, in Chile with the 1973 CIA coup that overthrew the country’s socialist president Allende and installed the Pinochet dictatorship in his place, and so on.
Mao said that “All reactionaries are paper tigers. In appearance, the reactionaries are terrifying, but in reality they are not so powerful.” We’re seeing this now in the case of Israel, whose fascistic president Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to annex the West Bank as a show of the supposed strength of the Zionist project; behind Netanyahu’s confident appearance, his actions have been driven by fears of a decline for the global empire that props up Israel.
This last week, U.S. intelligence officials and their allies in the corporate media spread the evidence-free claim that Russia has put bounties on American troops in Afghanistan. This propaganda campaign was both an attempt to reinforce anti-Russian sentiment, and a subtle way to manufacture consent for the ongoing Afghanistan war. Which prompts one to ask: why is the empire so committed to perpetuating war? Why haven’t any of the wars it’s started since 9/11 been ended, and why does it evidently have every intention of making sure they don’t end?
Updated: July 12, 2020
Matt Taibbi concluded that the 2008 Wall Street bailout had “built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors.” In this post-crash environment, the largest financial institutions gained more of a hegemonic grip than ever, with the five biggest banks having come to own almost half the industry by 2015.
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.
Covid-19 has brought about the era of biopolitics, an era that will continue for the foreseeable future. This is because the virus is far from being defeated; a resurgence of it is likely to happen this fall, and the neoliberal world’s refusal to sacrifice business for public health is sure to perpetuate the pandemic for as long as neoliberalism exists. Biopolitics is also here to stay because we’ve reached a point in the climate crisis where global weather patterns are much more compatible with viruses than they used to be. More viruses are going to appear in the coming years with increasing ferocity, which will necessitate an irreversible series of changes to how society functions.
The ruling class has more class consciousness than the lower classes do. They’re the ones who have to manage the relationship between the classes, and to keep this relationship in balance so that revolution is prevented. This makes them especially equipped to engage in what Marxists call dialectics—the practice of assessing material factors and opposing social forces. With this ability, they can adapt the power structure to be able to best respond to whatever threatens their interests.
In 2014, the CIA-tied media outlet the Washington Post published an article titled “In the long run, wars make us safer and richer.” Its author Ian Morris reasoned that wars have been necessary to carry out what it called the “civilizing process,” wherein the European empires have grown through conquest and the United States has been created through the seizing of indigenous lands. Its argument was racist and biased in favor of Western capitalist interests, and this was the point. It acknowledged that the wars which brought the U.S. empire to power, and which the U.S. empire continues to wage, are good for “us”—the people in the imperial core who benefit from imperialist wars.
Consumer society has tried to legitimize itself by making people believe that it represents a sustainable way of living. For those in the First World, all the evidence that a meltdown is coming—the deterioration of the climate, the decline of the biosphere, the diminishing of available resources—has usually existed outside of immediate view. Commercialism and the mass media, which have gained an unprecedented presence in our lives through the digital revolution, have distracted us from these realities while the machine of global capital has continued to run.
The United States and the other core imperialist countries haven’t had socialist revolutions because the masses within them have been kept complacent. They’ve directly or indirectly benefited from the exploitation of colonized peoples, enjoying relative economic advantages despite their being subordinate to the capitalist class. Even as inequality has increased in the last generation or so, this has let the system keep them from taking action. They’ve been told that they need to be loyal to their country, that they can get ahead if they try, that capitalism gives them a better lifestyle than socialism would.
Since the United States became the main world power in the 1940s, opening corporations up to the countries the U.S. empire would come to exploit in the following decades, working class people in America have filled a role more disposable than had previously been the case. Labor could be easily extracted by U.S. corporations from the Third World, because capitalism was now centered around the largest empire in world history. But now the economic order is changing, and the U.S. capitalist class is needing to adapt.