This essay comes with a caveat: that the process of descent into a failed state has already been very much at play. And for a long time, too. At least since the 2008 economic crash, the core of global imperialism has been transitioning into the kind of instability which its military has inflicted upon nations like Libya and Yugoslavia. And during this last year in particular, the collapse has been accelerating.
Within today’s capitalist world, particularly the core imperialist countries, the system is held together by a type of cultural hegemony which fits our increasingly grim conditions. This cultural hegemony goes deeper than the set of myths and propaganda narratives that the imperialist media spins to justify the U.S./NATO empire’s perpetual war operations, or the free market fundamentalist dogma that our ruling class uses to justify its cruel neoliberal economic designs. These ideological constructs remain dominant in our culture because for the average person in our society, no cohesive alternative cultural narratives are detectable. It’s due to our lack of culture and guiding ideology that the hypocritical, dishonest ideologies which our ruling class has manufactured are allowed to go unchallenged.
The ruling class of the U.S./NATO empire justifies the heinous actions of its military forces, the brutality of its internal police states, and the cruelty towards the poor of its neoliberal economic deprivation by claiming that everything it does is necessary to combat some grand evil. Whether this evil is Islam, or communism, or the very presence of opposition to Washington’s war narratives, the threat is portrayed as being so all-encompassing and enormous that it should solely occupy our political concerns.
In The Foundations of Leninism, Stalin concluded that “the chain of the imperialist front must, as a rule, break where the links are weaker and, at all events, not necessarily where capitalism is more developed, where there is such and such a percentage of proletarians and such and such a percentage of peasants, and so on.” In other words, the potential for proletarian revolution is increased more by the weakening of capital in a given country than by any other aspect of the material conditions.
Something feels bizarre about living in the current era, the era in which the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists just concluded that we’re metaphorically 100 seconds away from the extinction of humanity. This strange feeling has been present for a while now, going back to when the Bulletin’s “Doomsday Clock” reached 2 minutes to midnight in January of 2018 for the first time since 1953.
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.
Welcome to the latest stage in the process of reaction that’s occurring within the U.S. ruling class amid Washington’s imperial decline. This is the stage where after Trump’s personality cult has escalated a petty political dispute into violence, the liberal technocrats who will soon have control over the White House are escalating their war against dissent.
This pandemic is being used as a tool in the U.S. settler-colonial empire’s battle against the colonized populations. This weaponization of the outbreak is coming at the same time when rapidly increasing global inequality is heightening capitalism’s contradictions, and when the oppressed nationalities that for so long have lived under the boot of U.S. capitalism are in turn intensifying their fights for liberation.
As I see the United States become ravaged by globally unsurpassed amounts of pandemic deaths, along with unemployment, rising mental illness, growing hunger, and evictions, I keep thinking back to one of the books that I read during my politically formative teenage years: Addicted to War by Joel Andreas. In its updated 2002 version, it observed how war was draining the country’s resources, with the U.S. having been set to spend an unprecedented $396 billion on the military during the fiscal year of 2003. “Since 1948 the U.S. has spent more than $15 trillion to build up its military might,” it says. “Just how much is $15,000,000,000,000 worth? It adds up to more than the cumulative monetary value of all man-made wealth in the U.S.”
Whenever I hear about an instance of imperialist online censorship, or a short-term plan by a ruling class technocrat to further the erosion of free speech, I wonder: what’s the endgame of this? How far do these oligarchs plan to take their campaign to control the flow of information and suppress dissent? Because the destabilizing events the U.S. empire has undergone during the last year is small compared to what the climate’s meltdown will ultimately do to the capitalist world; as professor Jem Bendel concluded in his 2018 paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, at this point in the deterioration of the climate we need to view “collapse as inevitable, catastrophe as probable and extinction as possible.”
Why is the global capitalist class refusing to give up neoliberalism, even as neoliberalism creates growing dissension among the lower classes and rising risk of proletarian revolution? Because in a paradigm where profits have overall been declining since the 1970s, neoliberalism serves as the way for the rich to push the costs of capitalism’s crises onto the backs of the poor. Neoliberalism was implemented because the 20th century model of social welfare states had become incompatible with the capitalist goal of endless growth.
Liberalism, particularly the type of liberalism from after World War II, has advertised itself as the only alternative to chaos and barbarism. As Henry Kissinger said in order to rationalize helping the side of the liberal geopolitical bloc:
In 1937, the storyteller H.P. Lovecraft wrote this about the direction that capitalism was taking:
“Capitalism is dying from internal as well as external causes, and its own leaders and beneficiaries are less and less able to kid themselves…The only avenue of survival for plutocracy is a military and emotional fascism whereby millions of persons will be withdrawn from the industrial arena and placed on a dole or in concentration camps with high sounding patriotic names. That or socialism—take your choice. In the long run it won’t be the New Deal but the mere facts of existence which will be recognized as the real and inevitable slayer of Hooverism.”
As this year’s economic crisis has developed, the U.S.-centered corporatocracy has desperately been trying to maintain the illusion of growth, or at the least the illusion that the current contraction is sure to end and things will return to normal. But as unemployment claims in the U.S. have continued to rise, and factors like the cold war with China have thrown the NATO countries into further economic chaos, it’s become clear that the stock market has been overly optimistic about a coming recovery. Market Watch wrote last month that “The rebound will be much more gradual than the V-shaped pattern investors are betting on.”
The Iraq invasion was a prelude to our current war run-up, the war run-up that the United States would experience when its global imperial hegemony came under threat during the 2020s. Like was the case in 2003, the empire’s propaganda machine has inculcated its narratives into the minds of a solid majority of the public. Like was the case in 2003, the main target of the empire’s violent rage is merely a scapegoat for the crises that the U.S. has been experiencing. The difference is that in 2020, America’s cultural psychosis is being directed towards preparing for a war far larger than the Iraq War, a war so destructive and costly that it could end up breaking U.S. hegemony for good.