A bombing in the Saudi coalition’s war against Yemen
What does capitalism do when faced with its own lack of sustainability? When the tendency of the rate of profit to fall drives capital into a contraction that can’t be recovered from? When imperialism’s goal—to compensate for capitalism’s crisis of overproduction by perpetually expanding capital into new global markets—can no longer be fulfilled amid imperial decline? This is the crisis that capital and empire have found themselves in for the last half-century, starting with the steady decline in G20 profits that’s been occurring since the 1970s economic crash.
As economist Michael Roberts has concluded upon analyzing this decline, capitalism’s only hope for survival in the next few decades is to suppress the global class struggle so that a new wave of globalization can occur, this one facilitated by the high-tech sector:
The world economy is in a Long Depression. However, world capitalism will not stay in this depressed state. Eventually, probably after another slump that will destroy sufficient value (the value of means of production, fictitious capital and employment), profitability for those capitals that survive will rise again to start a new upwave in investment and growth. This assumes, of course, that the class struggle does not lead to the forces of labor triumphing over capital in any major imperialist economy. A new wave of globalization is thus possible. There are yet more human beings in the world to be exploited and there are always new technological innovations that can provide a new cycle for expansion of value and surplus value.
Despite this potential light at the end of the tunnel for capital, the measures that the bourgeoisie took to keep capitalism afloat for the last several decades have come at the cost of making increased class struggle far more likely. This is because these measures have been the intensification of global inequality via neoliberal policies, and the exporting of these policies through the late 20th century’s wave of globalization.
Looking at the sequence of events, it’s apparent that these changes were made in direct reaction to the beginning of this long depression, which may have even been anticipated by neoliberalism’s initial arbiters. It was in 1973, the year when the profit rate began to sharply fall after peaking, that the CIA installed the Pinochet dictatorship. Guided by the radical free market ideology of Milton Friedman, whose academic disciples the “Chicago Boys” facilitated Chile’s post-coup economic policies, the dictatorship served as the original testing ground for the socioeconomic model that’s been used to keep profits up amid capitalism’s great contraction. Neoliberalism, with its goal of redistributing wealth upwards through austerity, privatization, deregulation, and regressive taxation, was spread into virtually every corner of the globe.
Margaret Thatcher said that there was “no alternative” to neoliberalism for a reason: in capitalism’s post-1973 stage of crisis, the only way to keep profits positive is through pushing the costs of this crisis onto the proletariat. What’s come from this restructuring is an engineered collapse of society throughout the capitalist world, one where the number of people living in poverty since 1981 has dramatically increased. This trend has accelerated in the year-and-a-half since Covid-19 began impacting the global economy, with virtually the only gains in living standards—both during the pandemic era and during the last two generations—occurring within socialist China. A war has been waged against the world’s working class, one so devastating that it’s made humanity overall far poorer than fifty years ago even as China has lifted over 800 million out of poverty throughout the last several decades.
This is an intensification and expansion of the manufactured impoverishment which colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism had created prior to neoliberalism’s introduction. “What was going on was a process of dispossession that bulldozed people into the capitalist labour system, during the enclosure movements in Europe and the colonisation of the global south,” writes Jason Hickle, author of The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions. “Prior to colonisation, most people lived in subsistence economies where they enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor. This way of life was violently destroyed by colonisers who forced people off the land and into European-owned mines, factories and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place.”
Faced with capital’s contraction, and with the decline of U.S. hegemony, colonialism and imperialism have carried out an even more destructive version of this process. The Association for Responsible Dissent estimated that by 1987 alone, 6 million people had died as a consequence of covert CIA operations, with their installations of murderous dictatorships, death squads, facilitations of wars, and regular manufacturings of humanitarian crises like the one in Pol Pot’s Cambodia. And over 12 million have died due to Washington’s wars since World War II. This has been a continuation of the colonial genocides, which had already depopulated 9 out of 10 of the indigenous population within the Americas, wiped out millions of Africans, and killed millions of Asians amid Japan’s colonial occupations.
During the era of neoliberalism, imperialism’s destruction of human life has accelerated in many respects. Since 1990, over 4 million Muslims have been killed in NATO’s wars. This has occurred in the context of the growth of global poverty that neoliberalism has engineered, and the genocidal environmental destruction by U.S.-installed neoliberal regimes like Brazil’s Bolsonaro. While loss of human beings and nature has always been routine for capitalism and colonialism, this latest stage in the system’s evolution is an effort to make the destruction more intensive. To carry out another extermination campaign of the scale that occurred during the initial colonization phase. What other conclusion can one come to when seeing studies like the one Columbia University’s Earth Institute put forth this year, which estimated that 83 million people will die due to global warming by the end of the century?
This death toll is not inevitable. It’s merely what will happen should capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism be allowed to continue existing going into this century’s end. China’s reforestation, reductions of poverty even amid the last year’s global depression, and surpassing of its Paris climate accord emission reductions goals have shown that socialism is capable of making us avoid this die-off.
But imperialism will do all within its power to stop us from achieving this, to keep the system running under the illusion that there’s no alternative. And like was the case for those deadly 20th century CIA operations, which were tasked with preventing socialism from developing throughout the Global South, the methods they’re using to carry out this preemptive counterrevolution are as destructive as the system’s other facets. For example, Yemen, one of the epicenters for imperialism’s current acceleration of bloodshed, used to be socialist until the imperialists placed its people under siege for counterrevolutionary purposes.
After the imperialists succeeded at carrying out a counterrevolutionary coup in the Soviet Union—an event which led to a great humanitarian crisis all on its own—the socialist republic in southern Yemen was forced to fold to the forces of capitalist restoration. Then when the Yemenis continued to defy Washington by having their government oppose the Persian Gulf war, Washington refused aid to the struggling country. This explicitly punitive measure, which has led to an increasingly cruel paradigm of global U.S. sanctions rationalized by the “Yemen precedent,” helped facilitate Yemen’s spiral into its current bombed-out neoliberal hell. Via predatory loans, the IMF exploited the country’s weakness to fully apply the “structural adjustment” policies that it had already imposed upon the rest of Washington’s neo-colonies, and that it would impose on its soon-to-be client state Russia.
The 90s were the peak of Washington’s economic preeminence. But with the rise of China, the loss of Russia as a U.S. client state under Putin, and the failures of the “War on Terror,” the imperialists have since experienced a geopolitical contraction in addition to the accelerated profit decline. So they’re reacting with desperation. They’re continuing to back the genocidal Saudi war against Yemen, desiring to win their proxy war against Iran. They’re carrying out haphazard drone strikes that kill civilians in Afghanistan and other places, to negative international attention. They’re trying to use proxy terrorist groups like the ETIM, ISIS, and the new generation of Mujahideen to destabilize Afghanistan so China can’t develop its BRI projects there, and so foreign capital can exploit Afghanistan’s $1 trillion worth of minerals. They’re manufacturing a humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia through sanctions, and through backing the terrorist group the TPLF. They’re driving Lebanon into failed state status in reaction to the ongoing presence of Hezbollah, which recently demonstrated the empire’s growing weakness by bringing Iranian fuel into the country.
The empire is applying these destabilization measures to ever-growing amounts of countries, from Haiti to Cuba to Nicaragua to Ukraine to Myanmar to Thailand. Some of these countries have been targeted to undermine existing socialism, others to preemptively undermine potential socialist revolutions, others to sabotage Chinese investment, others to create fascist proxy war states (like in the case of Ukraine). But all of these cases are underlied by the same mindset of fearful capitalist reaction. This engineering (or attempted engineering) of failed states is the logical conclusion of neoliberalism’s goal of bringing society’s collapse for capitalist utilitarian purposes. Of “making the economy scream,” as the Chilean coup’s preceding economic warfare tactics have been referred to. After bringing the Chile model to Yemen, and then bombing it into becoming one of the world’s most fragile states, the imperialists are making more than its economy scream. Within the country, they’ve manufactured the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, one that the unfiltered neoliberal policies have exacerbated in all areas—especially water access.
There’s no end to the extent to which capital and empire aim to expand these horrors. The more the system contracts, the more the ruling class will proliferate this destruction and chaos. Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? wrote that the only way out of our cycle of compounding crises is to rally towards a vision for a system that can replace the current one:
If capitalist realism is so seamless, and if current forms of resistance are so hopeless and impotent, where can an effective challenge come from? A moral critique of capitalism, emphasizing the ways in which it leads to suffering, only reinforces capitalist realism. Poverty, famine, and war can be presented as an inevitable part of reality, while the hope that these forms of suffering could be eliminated easily painted as naive utopianism. Capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that it is to say, capitalism’s ostensible “realism” turns out to be nothing of the sort.
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