The fact that the United States spends far more on its military than any other country hasn’t stopped its global imperialist grip from slipping throughout the last half century. No matter how much money Washington has thrown at its armed forces, it’s remained in a geopolitical position that the Pentagon itself admitted in a 2017 report to be rapidly diminishing.
It’s failed to prevent Vietnam from becoming socialist, to the effect that it now lacks what would be a useful southeast Asian military ally in its cold war against China. It’s lost Russia as a client state due to the rise of Vladimir Putin. It’s found itself increasingly overtaken by a new multi-polar world order led by China. Its reckless invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in decreased international respect for Washington and a galvanization of anti-imperialist solidarity within southwest Asia to Iran’s benefit. Its sanctions on Xinjiang have lost it all political influence within China by alienating the Chinese masses from Washington.
If the imperialist beast can be so weakened by its own contradictions despite its unparalleled military strength, and if this process of imperial decline isn’t even near its most severe stage yet, an equivalent implosion can occur for the U.S. military during its attempts to retain internal control amid the coming decades of instability. Brute force isn’t enough to keep the imperialists in power. There have to be the right social, economic, and environmental factors in place. And when those factors are lost, a breakdown occurs in the empire’s functionings.
I’m going to examine how the changes within these areas that we can expect to see will weaken the military, starting with the facet that’s already undergoing the most upheaval:
The military’s social support system
By social support system, I don’t just mean the social cohesion within the military’s ranks, though I’ll get to that shortly. I mean the attitude of the masses towards the military and the state that commands it. If a capitalist state loses its perceived legitimacy among the masses, it will be vulnerable to getting toppled, with armed rebel groups gaining the ability to persuade vast amounts of people to defect to their side. For communists in the U.S., who seek to create such groups and make them into strong enough organizations for the masses to viably join them, the encouraging thing is that state violence and persecution historically galvanize revolutionary socialism. As Lenin wrote:
The bourgeoisie sees practically only one aspect of Bolshevism — insurrection, violence, and terror; it therefore strives to prepare itself for resistance and opposition primarily in this field. It is possible that, in certain instances, in certain countries, and for certain brief periods, it will succeed in this. We must reckon with such an eventuality, and we have absolutely nothing to fear if it does succeed. Communism is emerging in positively every sphere of public life; its beginnings are to be seen literally on all sides. The “contagion” (to use the favourite metaphor of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois police, the one mostly to their liking) has very thoroughly penetrated the organism and has completely permeated it. If special efforts are made to block one of the channels, the “contagion” will find another one, sometimes very unexpectedly. Life will assert itself. Let the bourgeoisie rave, work itself into a frenzy, go to extremes, commit follies, take vengeance on the Bolsheviks in advance, and endeavour to kill off (as in India, Hungary, Germany, etc.) more hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands of yesterday’s and tomorrow’s Bolsheviks. In acting thus, the bourgeoisie is acting as all historically doomed classes have done.
This blowback from capitalist state repression, where provocations from the state produce greater ideological radicalization and will towards resistance among the masses, has been chipping away at U.S. influence abroad quite visibly in the last year alone. The torture of journalists and political dissenters, massacres of protesters, and censorship of anti-imperialist voices which Bolivia’s CIA-installed coup regime carried out immediately prompted Bolivia’s masses towards guerrilla insurrections which managed to seize large chunks of land from the government following the coup’s inception in 2019. Then within a year, the anti-coup movement proved too big to repress, forcing the regime to allow new elections through which the socialists have come back to power.
Throughout the rest of the sphere of imperial control, the equivalent acts of capitalist state violence are bringing the masses closer towards the equivalent type of victory. The Haitian dictatorship’s brutality against journalists and protesters is galvanizing a mass movement against neo-colonial rule. Israel’s indiscriminate massacres of Palestinian civilians are reaffirming mass Palestinian support for the anti-Zionist resistance. The Colombian neo-colonial government’s world-shocking recent atrocities, where protesters have been getting massacred by the dozens and helicopters have been shooting citizens in broad daylight, has encouraged the people’s anti-austerity strike and given a moral mandate to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC) and the country’s other armed revolutionary groups.
These explosions of the global class struggle are bringing the military power of the neo-colonial states into question. A statement last week from FARC presented a compelling case for Colombia’s armed forces to defy their orders to brutalize their fellow citizens: “Do they [soldiers and police] believe that by killing their Colombian brothers they are excluded from the tax, pension, labor and health reforms? Do they believe that by defending the institutionality and the interests of the transnationals and the oligarchy, their standard of living will improve?”
It’s this increasingly obvious absurdity of the role that these neo-colonial footsoldiers have taken on, whether in Colombia or in any other given hyper-exploited country, that’s already paralyzing the global bourgeoisie’s military power and enabling revolutionary guerrillas to gain and retain more ground than they would otherwise. This is apparent in India, where the military remains unable to effectively combat the country’s communist insurgencies. As Foreign Policy’s Sumit Ganguly observed last month:
Although the Indian Army has had extensive counterinsurgency experience and has, for the most part, acquitted itself creditably, it is extremely loath to be deployed within the nation’s borders. Shooting at its own population is a task the military takes on with supreme reluctance for two reasons. First, it detracts from the military’s principle function: the defense of the nation’s borders. Second, the military is also concerned that repeated deployments aiding civil operations within the country could promote fissures within its ranks. These are, however, not the only issues that have dogged India’s counterinsurgency strategy. Another important problem is New Delhi has never developed a dedicated counterinsurgency force that can be deployed as needed across the country. Instead, it has a veritable alphabet soup of paramilitary organizations that are not specifically trained to tackle either rural or urban insurgencies.
In other words, the Indian state is afraid that the “contagion” of pro-communist sentiments will spread, whether among outraged citizens or among morally uncertain military members, if it takes its counterinsurgency efforts too far. The more pronounced capitalism’s contradictions become, the stronger the resistance of the masses grows, and the more incentives the capitalist state’s armed forces have to join a revolution — like how the Russian czar’s soldiers refused orders to fire on demonstrators and then joined the striking workers right before the Bolshevik victory. It’s because of this potential for fissures among the ranks of the official armed forces — especially in countries like India where the chain of global capital is relatively weak — that the state also cultivates paramilitaries as backups.
The same dynamic is unfolding in Colombia, where the neo-Nazi elements behind the government’s counterinsurgency doctrine have proliferated paramilitaries to partner with the police and military in countering the protests. Colombia’s rebels will no doubt one day gain the strength of the ones in India, where the state has been showing fatal incompetence at fighting off the communist guerrillas despite the state’s recent successes at diminishing the ground the guerrillas hold.
This incompetence was shown when India’s Maoist Naxalite insurgents ambushed police last month, managing to kill 23 officers and seize the weapons, ammunition, and armor from the dead. This loss for the state could have been avoided if the state didn’t have a broken counterinsurgency doctrine which caused an intelligence failure. But such weaknesses for a capitalist state are unsurprising when capital itself has become as weak as it is in India, and when the bourgeoisie therefore start reacting in the counterproductive ways Lenin described.
The U.S. government is embracing paramilitarism in anticipation of such a scenario. It’s normal for U.S. police to accommodate armed right-wing vigilantes at public events, especially during the last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. Since 2011, the FBI has decentralized its operations, and therefore freed the numerous extremists within its ranks to conduct low-level investigations with impunity. There’s even evidence that the U.S. intelligence community has been behind the manufacturing and propagation of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which has radicalized many reactionaries to participate in militia activity. There’s also a movement towards popularizing private police forces, with the app Citizen aiming to create its own corporate security firm.
Despite these efforts to fortify the armed strength of the counterrevolutionaries, the fascist Indian state’s parallel proliferations of violence are proving to speed up the process towards revolution. As the Indian Marxist Saikat Bhattacharya assessed two years ago, before the bleedings of the Indian police forces that we’ve seen since then:
This region is full of revolutionary potential. India, Bangladesh Nepal and Pakistan from the point of demography can become a stunning story of economic growth. Nepal has already seen anti-kingship/monarchy movements by armed communists. The successful merger of armed communists and constitutional communists and their electoral victory may prove to become a new model for Third World revolutionaries in the coming days…the New Delhi Hindutva fascist regime is talking about pushing Muslims of Eastern India into Bangladesh. These will create deep tensions within Bangladesh and ultimately destroy its economy. Thus revolutionaries may capitalise in Bangladesh too, despite the fact that the first two stages are partially complete there.
Will the same accelerations towards revolution occur in Colombia, Haiti, and the other most brutal neo-colonies following their current crackdowns? History suggests so.
The precedents, both historical and present, are there for a country’s armed forces becoming ineffective against an insurgency amid destabilizing factors. So the American state is cultivating unaccountable armed entities to provide reinforcements should the police, the National Guard, and the military become reduced to such a compromised position. The questions are: will these destabilizing factors come to the U.S.? And if they do, will this paramilitary backup plan be enough to defeat the rebels?
The military’s economic support system
What are these destabilizing factors that can wreak such fatal damage to a capitalist state’s armed forces? As for the example countries I’ve mentioned so far, the root of the instability is economic dysfunction, to the effect that the masses are incentivized to mount strikes, demonstrations, and armed rebellions. These actions from the masses have appeared in neo-colonies like Colombia and India, and may conclude with a repeat of the Russian revolution within these and other neo-colonies, because these countries are designed to be impoverished. As the Marxist scholar Michael Parenti has said, the Global South isn’t underdeveloped, it’s overexploited. So the masses there tend to gain a greater revolutionary consciousness than the masses within the imperialist countries do.
Due to U.S. imperialism’s ongoing economic hegemony over its neo-colonies, the revolutionary struggle within both the neo-colonies and the core imperialist countries is discontinuous and wrought with mostly successful obstacles. Global capital has been weakening with the decline in U.S. profits over the last half-century and the Covid-19 global depression, but the imperialists are still thus far able to hold back the brewing revolutionary tide aside from in Bolivia. What will kickstart a global loss of social support systems for capitalist states worldwide, and will make the armed forces of these states less able to access resources, is the coming collapse of the dollar.
There’s debate among economists about whether a drastic dollar decline will happen within this next year (as the finance expert Stephen Roach has been predicting), but the shift towards a multi-polar world has made this collapse inevitable. Washington’s hubristic sabotage of its global relations, as well as its inadvertent solidification of an anti-U.S. bloc through its aggressions against its rivals, have accelerated the global transition away from the dollar as the reserve currency. As historian Alfred McCoy assessed in anticipation of the 2020s:
For the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness. After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2030 the U.S. dollar eventually loses its special status as the world’s dominant reserve currency. Suddenly, there are punitive price increases for American imports ranging from clothing to computers. And the costs for all overseas activity surges as well, making travel for both tourists and troops prohibitive. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget. Under pressure at home and abroad, its forces begin to pull back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter. Such a desperate move, however, comes too late. Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying its bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace.
This outcome is considered by the U.S. imperialist technocrats to be a strategic nightmare scenario for Washington. In 2000, the neoconservative think tank the Project for the New American Century warned in its report Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century that “as the leader of a global network of alliances and strategic partnerships, U.S. armed forces cannot retreat into a ‘Fortress America.’”
As imperial decline prompts Washington to try to sustain the Afghanistan war through privatizing U.S. forces there, to expand its military occupations into the areas surrounding China in an attempt to retain dominance over Oceania, and to plan for fortifying the U.S. military presence in the areas surrounding Russia, this financial house of cards is going to ruin these desperate attempts to protect U.S. hegemony. As McCoy describes, even Washington’s most populated neo-colony India will be forced to buck the empire’s strategic partnership.
This will leave both the U.S. and India — as well as the numerous other neo-colonial states and U.S. client states that depend on Washington for suppressing their populations — wrought with instability despite Washington’s frantic efforts to consolidate its military power into the American hemisphere. Like Washington’s great expansions of AFRICOM over the last decade and the growing U.S. occupations of Oceania, the empire’s militarization of Latin America’s right-wing regimes via SOUTHCOM have been about holding back the growing influence that China, Russia, and Iran hold over the empire’s neo-colonial asset countries in the Global South. Yet when U.S. financial dominance inevitably goes away, not even all these projections of imperial armed might will be enough to keep Washington dominant.
“Yang Jin, an expert at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that when the US imposes pressure on China and Russia, it also withdraws from many regions with unsolved problems, and these regions such as the Middle East and Central Asia are all closely related to the interests of China and Russia,” China’s Global Times reported this week. “So Beijing and Moscow must keep close coordination to handle the upcoming situation, including how to establish a new order to replace the US-dominated one once the latter gets totally dysfunctional, Yang Jin said.”
While Washington will be able to opportunistically sow instability amid this global breakdown of the most vulnerable states, like how the imperialists have destabilized and carved up Libya and northeastern Syria over this last decade, the kinds of resource extractions that the U.S. has been able to carry out through these interventions won’t make up for the empire’s losses of global productive forces. If the imperialists can no longer exploit the labor of the Indians, or the Colombians, or other victims of neo-colonialism, they won’t be able to sustain their internal economic structure. A deep depression will indeed occur within the U.S., one which both intensifies the revolts from the country’s masses and weakens the country’s armed forces.
After we see the global U.S. military retreat that McCoy predicts, Washington will shift its war machine and its capital towards trying to hold on to the imperial holdings that it still has access to. A 2019 Pentagon report calls for the U.S. to extract untapped Arctic oil in the coming decades of glacial thaw, showing that the imperialists will go north to dip into its alliance’s remaining natural reserves. (This trend of imperialism migrating northward is reflected by how Washington’s imperial partner Canada plans to get military drones of its own by 2025.) Disaster capitalism will proliferate within both the borders of the imperialist countries, and within the neo-colonial areas that the imperialists still control.
For-profit paramilitaries will expand their operations across Latin America, and within the impoverished parts of the country. Big Tech will expand its reach into our daily lives through profiting off of an ever-growing surveillance apparatus, and through partnering with the police and the military to build up their high-tech weapon supplies. Private armies will be built by the billionaires, who are preparing to retreat to isolated luxury doomsday bunkers. Austerity, privatization, tax cuts for the rich, taxes on the poor, and wage cuts will all be added onto. The prison-industrial complex will be expanded upon through ever greater additions to the ICE concentration camps, which have already been speedily growing in these last several months of unprecedented refugee influxes.
Will this inward turn of imperialism be enough to prevent revolution within the U.S? As Stalin assessed, revolutions happen where the chain of capital is weakest, and capital is going to remain strongest within the core imperialist countries even amid capitalism’s global unraveling. But this is only in relative terms; when the capital of the imperialists is isolated, capitalism won’t be able to fulfill its sustaining function, which is to perpetually expand into new markets.
As Michael Parenti has observed, there can be no such thing as “capitalism in one country.” When the foundations of the imperialist structure fall out, no amount of foisting the costs of imperialism’s crises onto the masses will be able to make up for this loss in profits. What will happen is a collapse of the social support system that makes the U.S. military so strong, and an implosion of the economic support system that keeps it so wide-reaching.
In this near future where the once seemingly invincible United States government has gotten reduced to the kind of uncertain dominance that the governments of Colombia and India have, an additional destabilizing factor could be all that’s needed to make the military collapse. This factor will be global warming.
The military’s environmental support system
For the U.S. to have the kind of military reach that it does, there has to be an array of favorable environmental factors. Factors which are about to disappear, ironically due to the unparalleled greenhouse gas emissions that the U.S. military produces.
This was articulated last year by Michael Klare, author of All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, who revealed how concerned — yet at the same time in denial — the imperialist military technocrats are about the climate crisis:
Climate change is a threat in their eyes because it’s going to degrade their ability to deal with conventional military problems. It’s going to create chaos, violence, mass migrations, pandemics, and state collapse around the world, particularly in vulnerable areas like Africa and the Middle East. At the same time, the military’s own bases are very vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of rising seas and forest fires, storms, and floods. Climate change, then, represents a threat to American armed forces because it’s going to interfere with their ability to carry out their job…Virtually every East Coast naval base is eventually going to be underwater, and nobody is willing to say out loud what the cost of relocation is going to be. For example, the Naval Academy at Annapolis is already flooded on a regular basis, and it won’t be long before that will be underwater year-round. Even though people in the Navy are aware of this, the magnitude of the threat is so great that nobody is willing to say out loud what really has to be done to address it.
By 2030, sea levels will have risen so much that the odds of one-in-a-century or worse floods happening will have doubled or more across the U.S. By 2040, says the 2019 Pentagon report, it’s likely that the U.S. will start experiencing power grid failures the likes of which the country has never seen due to climatic disasters. By 2060, enough of the land within U.S. borders will be rendered uninhabitable by global warming that 1 in 12 Americans in the country’s southern half will have been forced to migrate to safer areas. This will cause rapid urbanization in the “safer” zones that proliferate poverty and drive society closer towards collapse, creating internal refugee crises on top of internal refugee crises. All of these factors, along with the social and economic ones I’ve explained, will combine to dramatically weaken the military.
The military is preparing for these events insofar as it acknowledges their unavoidability. The 2019 Pentagon report calls for massive permanent military infrastructure on U.S. soil to stave off climate collapse, and a 2016 U.S. Army War College report lays out a strategy for crushing rebel groups when such destabilizations occur; namely where the military invades and occupies the country’s major urban areas, cuts off internet and cell phone access within these occupied zones while making local media only produce official military propaganda, utilizes mass surveillance to weed out rebels within these areas, and brings home the same approaches towards counterinsurgency that Israel has developed for Gaza.
So the U.S. has a more coherent plan for trying to crush rebels than India does (if one that isn’t inclined to share the Indian military’s concerns with avoiding heavy civilian casualties), and it has access to better military resources. But so is the case for the Colombian government, which has developed a doctrine for crushing the country’s class struggle on what it calls a “molecular” level and receives ample military technologies and counterinsurgency training from Israel. And even there, the military’s reliability isn’t a sure thing, given the shared economic deprivation between the citizenry and the armed service members that the FARC describes.
While a communist rebel army’s members are motivated by economic desperation, a capitalist state can only have as many fighters on its side as it can pay — or as many self-styled “freedom fighters” as are willing to volunteer for the anti-communist militias. When the economic basis for having a highly privileged police caste disappears, and when the government starts ordering the slaughter of huge amounts of civilians, the armed forces become more subject to the kinds of defections and internal rifts that India fears will soon happen to its own army.
And the climate crisis is going to make these weaknesses within the state’s fighting forces all the more severe. As many military bases get submerged and many law enforcement headquarters buildings are forced to be abandoned as well, the masses will notice their rapidly deteriorating circumstances, see the growing vulnerability and violence from a deteriorating fortress state, and be inclined to join the side of the rebels.
According to the 2019 Pentagon report, water shortages are going to make this destabilization for the U.S. army worse. Unless the military can acquire advanced new technologies in water capture for its missions within the most arid parts of the world, the troops won’t be able to survive within these areas. The report says that because of this looming shrinkage of habitable conditions, the military already “is precipitously close to mission failure concerning hydration of the force in a contested arid environment.” The same loss of viability for U.S. military operations will appear in those lands within U.S. borders which get too hot for millions of people to live.
As the 2017 Pentagon report on the collapse of U.S. power concluded, the military’s plans for mass surveillance, extreme censorship, psychological warfare via propaganda, internal occupations, and Israeli-style warfare operations are how U.S. power can be “adapted” so that counterrevolution can prevail within U.S. borders:
States and traditional political authority structures are under increasing pressure from endogenous and exogenous forces… The fracturing of the post-Cold War global system is accompanied by the internal fraying in the political, social, and economic fabric of practically all states…The United States and its population are increasingly exposed to substantial harm and an erosion of security from individuals and small groups of motivated actors, leveraging the confluence of hyperconnectivity, fear, and increased vulnerability to sow disorder and uncertainty…while the favorable U.S.-dominated status quo is under significant internal and external pressure, adapted American power can help to forestall or even reverse outright failure in the most critical regions
The intensifications of CIA propaganda directed at those within U.S. borders we’ve seen during the last decade, where a previous ban on domestic governmental psychological operations has been lifted and we’ve been consequently inundated with fabricated reports about a “Uyghur genocide” in Xinjiang, are part of this internal power consolidation. These efforts to paint socialist China as genocidal and tyrannical, where colonialism’s evils are projected onto colonialism’s greatest challengers, serve to dissuade the masses from gaining class consciousness and therefore be more demobilized when the military moves in to try to clinch territorial control. This reflects the Pentagon report’s conclusion that “the U.S. homeland, individual American citizens, and U.S. public opinion and perceptions will increasingly become battlefields.”
Will these measures work? While the deeply reactionary culture within the military (which is even more pronounced within law enforcement) will make armed forces defections to the revolutionary side amid this chaos rare, and while much of the U.S. population will never stop believing the CIA’s counterrevolutionary propaganda, there will be many variables which further weaken the fighting forces of the bourgeoisie and give the revolutionaries openings.
Breakdowns will emerge within the cohesion and coordination of the country’s armed forces, leading to factionalism and infighting among the counterrevolutionaries along the lines of the MAGA Capitol Hill storming that many soldiers and police recently participated in. In this destabilized environment, the right-wing radicals within these institutions will be able to operate without the accountability that the Capitol Hill terrorists have received, ruining the ability of the counterrevolutionaries to act with unity. Simply due to a need to take care of their families and personal wellbeing amid the chaos, many police and soldiers will lose the will incentive to fight the rebels and will abandon their posts (if those posts still even exist where they live). And those who do keep fighting will gravitate to militias whose fighting abilities may be similarly dubious to those of India’s backup paramilitaries.
In such a chaotic environment, which we know is coming (“when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life,” the climate scholar Jem Bendell has written to Americans), the bourgeoisie’s best option will be to lean into paramilitarism like they have in Colombia. If Israel — or a military remnant of Israel — still exists by then, a desperate U.S. ruling class will no doubt try to make these paramilitary forces more formidable by bringing Israeli training to the militia members, like how the Israelis have trained Colombia’s death squads. Preparations for this Zionist-coordinated terror campaign are already being made, as evidenced by how Israel has been training U.S. police in recent years. Those same police will be the ones who join the American death squads of these next few decades.
But if conditions have already gotten dire enough within the core of the empire that these tactics from the neo-colonies need to be fully brought into U.S. borders, how likely will it be that the counterrevolutionaries then prevail? The foundations of their imperialist order will have fallen out, and they’ll be fighting against a Marxist-Leninist force which offers the masses hope amid the darkness that’s been brought to this land by colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.
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