Imperialism’s decline, the contraction of capital, & the desperate fascist effort to delay revolution
Rainer Shea, OPEd News, August 17, 2022 — The situation in Ukraine is crucial for communists in the 21st century to study, because it provides a look at how the capitalist ruling class will react as states worldwide continue to become less stable. Ukraine’s breakdown in social services, shrinking of zones in which laws can be enforced, and efforts by the bourgeoisie to take advantage of the crises are an accelerated version of what’s happening throughout the rest of the capitalist world. The climate crisis, the pandemic, and the global depression from capital’s contraction are taking civilization towards collapse, causing the bourgeoisie to go into crisis mode.
To get a full sense of why the rise of the Ukrainian fascist regime represents such an ominous development for the global class struggle”-and why there’s still hope for revolution despite this”-I’ll first delve into the nature of this crisis of capital.
An economic system that’s being deprived of its means for survival
Capitalism is being forced to eat itself. It’s facing a progressive decline in the rate of profit, and a waning of U.S. hegemony that’s cutting off capital’s ability to expand into the peripheral countries. The only way capitalism has been able to survive in the last century is by colonizing more of the globe. Throughout the last generation, it’s continued to partially succeed in this with the Iraq invasion, the coups within places like Ukraine, and the ongoing looting of Syrian oil by the U.S. military. But these victories for imperialism have come at the cost of making Washington less able to maintain credibility in the world’s eyes.
It can’t get the Global South to support its military adventurism, with most of the globe recognizing how hypocritical its rhetoric about “sovereignty” and “human rights” are. Its investment in the Ukraine proxy war, which was supposed to pay off with a weakening of Russia that allows for destabilizing broader Eurasia, has failed to bring Russia’s collapse. Washington’s hope for revitalizing its colonization projects has been thwarted by the rise of multipolarity. Now the United States, and the rest of the capitalist countries, face a future where their capital and social stability continue to weaken.
Lenin concluded that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism because it’s the stage in which capitalism has developed into a monopoly paradigm, where a financial oligarchy rules the capitalist state and mandates that capital be exported into new markets. Imperialism isn’t merely a preferred policy under this paradigm, clarified Lenin. It’s what the system requires to maintain itself. Without imperialism, a capitalist economy will be like modern Russia’s: lacking in the ability to keep its capital strong enough, or its workers well-bribed enough, for long-term safety from revolution.
The main reason capitalist Russia hasn’t so far undergone revolution since its catastrophic descent into neoliberalism is that under Putin, it’s stopped being a U.S. client state, and has therefore at least been able to undergo some comparative improvements in living standards during the last two decades. Now that Russian capital is being forced to contract for reasons not even fundamentally related to the sanctions (which are letting Russian businesses fill the void left by foreign capital’s migration), the country’s people are getting subjected to more austerity, and are therefore becoming more likely to mobilize towards revolution. The imperialist countries, their stability dependent on the continuation of imperialist extraction, will at some point become as weak in their capital as Russia’s is. Then they’ll fall apart likely faster than Russian capitalism eventually will.
Capitalism, deprived of its capacity for maintaining the colonization paradigm that’s kept it alive for so long, is now being forced to rely upon self-cannibalization. As Lenin assessed, capitalism in the age of monopoly capital and financial oligarchy is a decaying capitalism. It relies on parasitism, which provokes the countries it exploits to fight for their economic independence. If the range for extraction starts to shrink, as it is now, the system starts to implode.
Perpetuating wars to create profits for the military-industrial complex, carrying out blatant acts of theft from the countries it wages war against, and profiting from the migrant crises the wars create are how capital can benefit from imperialist wars during imperial decline. Capital can’t expand into new markets, something essential for imperialism to perpetuate itself. Since the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, which themselves infamously led to failures in nation-building after the initial corporate plunder within them, imperialism has been failing to acquire additional neo-colonies. Its project to create a new wave of colonization throughout southwest Asia by instigating the Iran-Iraq war has failed to produce the intended outcome of turning both of these countries into extractive sources. Iran has held out against imperialist regime change efforts, while Iraq has largely collapsed into a contended territory with unstable borders, its capital increasingly embracing Iran as an ally.
Because the imperialists have been unable to take the region they call the “middle east,” and are consequently now pulling out of it to pivot towards militarily encircling China, imperialism’s comprador force Zionism has failed to blossom into a new large-scale colonial project. Israel’s occupation of Lebanon has been beaten back by the armed struggle of Hezbollah, Israel’s project to create settlements within Yemen has become limited by the victory of the Houthis, the resilience of Assad has prevented Israel from advancing its strategic interests within Syria, and Iran’s growing influence has created a bigger regional check on Israel’s terrorism activities. Without a means for subduing these or the other parts of Eurasia, the imperialists have no way to win on the grand geopolitical chessboard. They can turn Ukraine and the rest of eastern Europe into a neo-colony, a project currently progressing through the latest wave of neoliberal shock policies within the country. But this isn’t an expansion of their imperial reach, it’s another example of capitalism consuming itself. One that will exacerbate contradictions within the post-Soviet countries, and inevitably bring new explosions of class struggle.
This is because whatever further extractive benefits they can draw from eastern Europe are isolated, not accompanied by any revitalization of neo-colonialism throughout the Global South that would restore imperialism’s former strength. The imperialists can’t prevent China’s Belt and Road Initiative from undoing neo-colonialism’s inequities. They’re only able to partially frustrate China’s progress by sowing chaos throughout the countries that may join the BRI. These meddling actions have at the most kept more vulnerable countries like Sri Lanka from joining the Chinese bloc, and such victories are by no means permanent; class struggle is intensifying, and at some point the people within these countries will mobilize to throw off neo-colonial rule. Imperialism’s only hope for stopping capitalism in the imperial center from rapidly collapsing is to prevent a new wave of revolutions, a task which Zionism’s innovations in repression can help with.
The occupation of the Palestinians as a model for preventing revolutions
Increasingly having to rely on themselves amid U.S. imperialism’s decline, the Zionists are leaning into the global fascist connections that their supremacist ideology has given them, strengthening Israel’s alliances with other settler-colonial states like Colombia and Brazil. With the help of Israeli military technologies, Colombia has been waging war against anti-austerity protesters throughout this last year, and Bolsonaro’s Brazil has been tightening its repressive apparatus. This parallels the Israelification of the increasingly militarized and deadly U.S. police state, whose “Blue Lives Matter” supporters are the same kinds of American fascists that support Israel out of anti-Arab racism.
Faced with the growing threats to capital, the global bourgeoisie are mobilizing to revitalize the fascist movement, strengthening the alliances between their ideologies of racial supremacy and anti-communism. Hindutva fascist India and Euromaidan fascist Ukraine are other examples of regimes Israel has been forming such bonds with. The imperialists have had their Zionist puppets create a global testing ground for surveillance, restrictions on freedom of movement, counterinsurgency techniques, and military technologies. The exporting of these tools to the other oppressor countries is a way to preemptively wage war against the uprisings the imperialists know are coming.
These armies are waging their counterrevolutionary war already, a war against poor people, the racially marginalized communities who disproportionately make up the poor, and those fighting to end this intersecting dynamic of oppression. The police raids, state-sanctioned murders of unarmed people of color, and brutality against demonstrators that constantly happen in the U.S. are the tactics the capitalist state is using to try to terrorize the masses into submission. The Israeli police training program has gone along with the War on Terror’s importing of military equipment to make U.S. law enforcement more effective in its violence, and the equivalent is happening in places like Colombia. It’s a campaign to suppress liberation efforts in both the core and the neo-colonies, waged so that imperialism might delay its demise long enough to successfully win its geopolitical game against China. The seemingly unrelated developments in U.S. politics from the last decade or so, like the return of great-power competition and police militarization, have been intertwined in this sense.
The longer the empire tries and fails to regain its global dominance, the more apparent it becomes to the ruling class that repressing the existing colonies”-both on the peripheries and within U.S. borders”-is essential for capitalism’s survival. The ruling class can no longer afford to bribe the workers in the core through a substantial welfare state, or to let up on its austerity measures throughout the peripheries. It must perpetually intensify neoliberal attacks on the working class in both places, as we continue to see in the austerity policies of the Fed and in the equivalent measures of the IMF. Because the bourgeoisie have no choice but to relentlessly intensify their war against the global working class, even after they’ve already been intensifying it for half a century, they must increasingly treat the working class (and those pushed out of the working class by capitalism’s crises) as enemies in a military sense.
Despite the recent victories of several “pink tide” politicians across Latin America, namely Gabriel Boric in Chile, Pedro Castillo in Peru, and Gustavo Petro in Colombia, the contradictions the imperialists are engineering within these places continue to get worse. These contradictions are offset only when the working class manages to organize an independent political force, like has recently been the case in Chile. These moderate politicians are not like the MAS in Bolivia or the Chavistas in Venezuela, who’ve expanded upon the regional struggle against neo-colonialism established by Cuban socialism and the Sandinistas. Leaders like Petro are working to reinforce capitalism, only carrying out substantial reforms when pressured by the labor movement. They’re also enabling the fascist military forces which seek to revamp their terror campaigns after the far-right retakes power. In both the neo-colonies and the core, liberation will only come from the bottom up, because reformism inevitably enables the transition towards unfettered fascist terror.
In Ukraine, the imperialists have already exploited this innate vulnerability within capitalist states to the maximum extent. They’ve torn down the bourgeois political system’s fragile defenses, and installed a succession of governments which carry out fascist terror campaigns both official and paramilitary. It’s not just a repeat of Nazi Germany, which itself was a product of U.S. imperialism in multiple ways. It’s another case of the imperialists replicating Zionism, both in ideology and in practice, to advance their goal of waging war for the preservation of capital.
How capitalism wages class war when the state is falling apart
The driving ideology of Ukraine’s post-maidan regime parallels Zionism, in that it seeks to forcibly relocate a population (the Russian speakers in the country’s east) so that a favored group (the western element that’s more culturally tied to Europe) can gain the land left over from this ethnic cleansing. Zionism didn’t directly inspire this ideology, its roots are in the original Nazi Lebensraum idea and in the American “manifest destiny” which influenced Hitler. But because of the Kiev regime’s compatibility with Zionism, it’s become another one of Israel’s fascist partners, receiving Israeli weapons shipments and getting help from Israeli soldiers. Fitting with how the regime views Russian-tied people in the way Israel views Palestinians, Zelensky has taken direct inspiration from the Israeli occupation on how to repress Ukraine’s targeted groups, incorporating the National Guard into daily life so that Israel’s infamously brutal police state can be replicated. The post-maidan Ukrainian National Guard is itself on record for committing atrocities, making for Zionism’s cruelty to be copied in yet another place.
This extreme law enforcement clampdown doesn’t mean the Ukrainian state is strong. Since the chaos began eight years ago, Ukraine has been a failed state. The Nazi militias Washington has been backing for the last decade have effectively replaced the police as the chief enforcers of order, gaining so much influence that they’ve been able to routinely carry out their hate crimes without law enforcement doing anything about it. Their violence against Romas, Jews, LGBT people, journalists, and communists has been able to continue unchallenged because after the coup, the militias inflicted traumatic pain upon the country’s people. The turning point was the Odessa Massacre of May 2nd, 2014, in which anti-regime protesters got burnt alive. The massacre made the country terrorized and debilitated enough for the regime to be able to ban the communist party, to ban the displaying of communist symbols, to ban the distribution of Marxist literature, and to ban speech challenging the state’s glorification of the anti-Soviet “liberators.” The regime’s failure to protect the victims of the beatings, pogroms, and executions by fascist vigilantes has been part of a deliberate policy.
All of this repression has been necessary for preventing a revolution in the wake of the last decade’s destabilizing events. The civil war, a consequence of the Odessa Massacre and the regime’s other human rights abuses, has led to a breakdown in state services. The neoliberal policies have wrecked people’s livelihoods after they’d already been ravaged for a generation following the collapse of socialism. The oligarchs and U.S.-backed politicians have looted state funds, making the corruption even more severe than it was prior and further damaging the economy. Now the war’s escalation, provoked by Kiev’s plans to invade Donbass, has virtually cut the economy in half and enabled even more foreign exploitation.
Because of these extreme capitalist contradictions, the people can’t help but overwhelmingly reject their government’s attempts to sow false consciousness. The narratives from the nationalists about the Jews being to blame for the inequalities, and about Russia being responsible for absolutely everything the country is facing, are not being internalized by the average Ukrainian. The evidence of their own government’s vileness and negligence is too great, especially amid the healthcare system’s failures throughout the pandemic. So people are still organizing, and are still accessing the banned communist theory online when they possess the revolutionary consciousness to seek out such information.
So the population isn’t completely politically demobilized, but until the places outside the separated eastern territories also get liberated from fascism, the country’s communist movement will remain dormant, its members unable to build any above-ground presence. Those involved in organizing must be careful to keep their activities fairly concealed, or else they’ll be attacked by the well-armed minority of fascists. And the rise of the internet has made the population better able to access Marxist readings than they would be in past generations, but Ukraine’s internet is considered only partially free, and is subject to whatever censorship measures the unelected security state deems necessary. Communists in a situation like this don’t have the option of creating a public, highly visible wing for their organization; they can only operate as communists in a clandestine sense, needing to consider not just the stalking activities of the vigilantes but the mass surveillance efforts of the government.
Such is the reality of living under fascism, even a type of fascism where the state is progressively imploding. If the state loses control, it can send paramilitaries to fill in the gaps throughout the more lawless areas. When capitalism collapses, its pig state enforcers will be replaced with militia pigs, able to carry out violence with even more impunity. That is, unless communists manage to militarily overpower these reactionary forces.
This is an arena in which American communists, namely the Black Panthers, can serve as examples of how to preemptively beat back fascist violence. Their strategy of providing armed protection for their communities was born out of their conditions as colonized peoples within the imperial center, and it was because of this experience’s influence on their theory that they could build the country’s most successful communist party thus far. As Huey Newton said about how their militancy let them reach the people: “To recruit any sizeable number of street brothers, we would obviously have to do more than talk. We needed to give practical applications of our theory, show them that we were not afraid of weapons and not afraid of death. The way we finally won the brothers over was by patrolling the police with arms.” Which isn’t necessarily the action plan that communists should try to replicate in precision, especially if communists aren’t operating within communities of color, or if they’re white themselves. But the lesson from it is easy to see: arm and train to keep your community safe, and your organizing will be less vulnerable to reactionary terror.
The conditions of those of us in the imperial center increasingly resemble those of post-maidan Ukraine. Capitalism is collapsing here too. The country is descending into failed state status as services break down, our society is being hit by events like the pandemic and climate-exacerbated natural disasters, and the ruling oligarchy is exploiting our crises to further their neoliberal shock policies. In this deteriorating environment, our own fascists are gaining more and more prominence, mobilizing to harass the LGBT community, attempt coups, commit racial mass shootings, and carry out violence against protesters without being challenged by the police. Police departments are themselves filled with those who share the white supremacist worldview, and many police stations harbor supremacist gangs that execute their racial targets ritualistically. Journalists are coming under increasing threat of violence from militias and law enforcement alike, as if these two categories could truly be called separate. They share the same terroristic goals, as further shown by how police have been deputizing militias in recent years to counter demonstrators. When this happened in Kenosha, it let Kyle Rittenhouse feel impune when he fired on protesters, an action which the settler court system then let him go for.
With the weakening of capital, and the subsequent weakening of the capitalist state, communists have growing potential for victory. But collapse doesn’t in itself make revolution more likely, that can only happen if communists build a party which can fill the role as the vanguard. We must train, equip, and educate our cadres for the tasks ahead, engaging in the exercise and martial arts activities which make up some of the base requirements for defending from fascists. We must get ourselves the arms training that will be needed for surviving our conditions should they reach the point that they have in Ukraine.
This is how we’ll keep our cadres alive, and keep our communities safe enough not to become paralyzed with the fear of violence. Violence that the fascists are already exacting on a routine basis. If we don’t do this, U.S. capitalism will manage to carry on in a fascist cocoon form, waging an intensifying war against marginalized peoples and tapping further into its colonial resources until the land has been utterly ravaged.