The social contract that supports the existence of the United States, and the role of the United States as a global imperialist power, was built on the promise that Americans would always benefit from empire. As the continent was being colonized, the settler masses were won over to the side of capitalist reaction through economic incentives, with the U.S. capitalist class making these settlers part of a relatively comfortable labor aristocracy in exchange for their complicity in the genocide of the colonized peoples. Throughout the era of global U.S. imperialism, this has been extended to an arrangement where out of desire to materially benefit from the spoils of empire, the people of the imperial core support their government’s violent subjugation of foreign nations.
In order for this worldview among the masses of the imperial core to reflect material reality, though, the masses have had to continue to make up a labor aristocracy. And in the era of neoliberalism, especially the neoliberalism of the post-2008 era, the bubble of economic privilege has shrunk. After decades of disappearing social services, privatization, falling wages, deteriorating workers rights, and the shifting of the tax burden onto the poor, the people of the U.S. have acquired a record amount of credit card debt that’s effectively driven half of them into the poverty level. This year’s loss of tens of millions of jobs, which is being exacerbated by a continued rising of U.S. unemployment, has financially broken many of the people who were already suffering prior to this year.
The foundations of U.S. capitalism are falling out. And it’s threatening the social contract that the empire has depended on. Just look at the social unrest that’s still reverberating throughout the U.S. after four months. Just look at the millions of people who’ve come to like the idea of socialism when faced with the neoliberal economic deprivation of the Covid-19 era. The country’s ruling class needs to find a way to restore the normal balance, or at least the amount of balance that’s considered normal under an economic system which feeds off of crises. They need to keep the American populace from developing a revolutionary consciousness that could lead to the overthrow of the empire.
How can they maintain popular consent for empire when the contradictions of capitalism and imperialism are threatening to radicalize millions of more people in the U.S. towards becoming Marxists? By substituting actual material prosperity in the U.S. for the illusion of prosperity. By using censorship and propaganda to prevent the people of the imperial core from finding out how people in socialist countries like China live, and to convince America that the deteriorating society they live in is a shining example of economic superiority.
Trump’s base is being acclimated to this narrative most of all. The president’s line on the economy is that it’s doing “amazingly well,” and he and his administration are trying to spin narratives about spectacular job recoveries. Lately, Republican senators have been going on Fox News and making statements like: “President Trump created the strongest economy in our history…We’re going to rebuild that economy through President Trump’s America First Agenda.” Bourgeois politicians and pundits from both partisan camps will continue to propagate variations of the belief that U.S. capitalism is proving to be resilient, that we’re not actually experiencing the worst depression in a century.
The official unemployment numbers that portray the jobless rate as around 3% smaller than it actually is help reinforce this illusion of relative prosperity. “Relative” is the key word. What’s crucial for convincing Americans that they’re in a society with acceptable living conditions is to make them think that the alternative economic systems to neoliberalism are unquestionably worse.
It’s why we’re being bombarded with media claims that China is an autocratic dictatorship whose people have no freedoms, and whose government is committing increasingly outlandish atrocities in Xinjiang. It’s why the right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation recently also described the other five Marxist-Leninist countries the DPRK, Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos as “Marxist dictatorships.” It’s why Venezuela’s economic crisis is consistently blamed on socialism, while the catastrophic impacts of U.S. economic warfare against the country aren’t mentioned. The consensus needs to be maintained that socialism always leads to massive suffering and injustice, and that capitalism is therefore the only logical system to have.
In his essay about the necro-capitalist system that the U.S. has, Gerry Canavan writes that consensus for the necessity of our neoliberal dystopia is “reinforced on the level of ideology by a wonderful and terrible double-bind of perpetual threat: things must be this necrocapitalist because, if they were not, our society would be even more necropolitical and wretched than it is now. That is: necrocapitalism’s own horrors are perpetually taken as proof of necrocapitalism’s necessity, even its own self-prophylactic. We ingest the poison to keep ourselves from becoming even sicker.”
This is the argument that 2020s political radicals will be met with by ruling class propagandists: no matter how bad your life gets, overthrowing the system and replacing it with a proletarian democracy will lead to something far worse. These kinds of warnings will come with neo-McCarthyist rhetoric, such as accusations of people being agents of foreign powers and calls to hunt down radicals for treason. According to the ideology of the Cold War 2.0, any action or speech that goes against the U.S. State Department and the corporate ideology must be countered with swift fury.
This is the atmosphere in which the rising censorship against anti-imperialist media is taking place. The censorship campaign, which consists of social media purgings of accounts that express disfavored messages, bannings of accounts with any supposed ties to U.S. adversaries, and suppression of search result access to sites that discuss anti-imperialism or class struggle, serves to shut more people in the imperial core off from information that conflicts with the ruling class ideology. Along with the propaganda, this suppression effort will only get worse in the coming years.
The U.S., along with loyal Washington allies like Britain and Australia, are becoming isolated paranoid states that allow less and less freedoms. This disappearance of liberties and cutting off from the rest of the world are how the ruling class aims to retain control over the empire’s internal population at a time when U.S./NATO hegemony is waning, and when the neoliberal world is falling into economic disrepair partly as a result of the imperial decline. Isolation, concealment, and indoctrination are what the imperialists have to rely on when the population is benefiting less and less from empire.
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