Impe­ria­lism Today is Con­spi­ra­cy Praxis

Lese­zeit88 min

Are not the inter­na­tio­nal car­tels which Kaut­sky ima­gi­nes are the embry­os of ›ultra-impe­ria­lism‹ (in the same way as one ›can‹ descri­be the manu­fac­tu­re of tablets in a labo­ra­to­ry as ultra-agri­cul­tu­re in embryo) an exam­p­le of the divi­si­on and the redi­vi­si­on of the world, the tran­si­ti­on from peaceful divi­si­on to non-peaceful divi­si­on and vice versa?

Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, VII

Table of Contents

1. Intro­duc­tion

Over a cen­tu­ry ago, Lenin decisi­ve­ly advan­ced and cla­ri­fied Mar­xist thought with his pam­phlet, Impe­ria­lism: the Hig­hest Stage of Capi­ta­lism. Lenin’s inter­ven­ti­on enab­led a sci­en­ti­fic under­stan­ding of deve­lo­p­ments which, while reco­gni­zed in embryo by Marx and Engels, had not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly deve­lo­ped in their time to allow for their full under­stan­ding. Howe­ver, Lenin set out to show that in that mere quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry sin­ce the death of Engels, a qua­li­ta­ti­ve chan­ge in the essen­ti­al natu­re of capi­ta­lism had occur­red: capi­ta­lism had beco­me impe­ria­lism. Bet­ween Lenin and us, today, stands the rise of fascism, WWII, the Chi­ne­se Revo­lu­ti­on, deco­lo­niza­ti­on, and, of cour­se, the recon­quest of more or less the enti­re glo­be by the ruling class tri­um­phant. In short, the world has chan­ged a gre­at deal. Lenin’s insights are of gre­at rele­van­ce, but they can­not be wren­ched from their living con­text and mecha­ni­cal­ly appli­ed to our own.

The deba­te which the KO (Kom­mu­ni­sti­che Orga­ni­sa­ti­on) has hos­ted so far has included a num­ber of thoughtful attempts to grapp­le with this ques­ti­on: how has the expe­ri­ence of half a cen­tu­ry of socia­lism influen­ced the struc­tu­re of the eco­no­my of the now post-socia­list count­ries. This has lar­ge­ly focu­sed on Rus­sia, of cour­se, but has obvious and inte­res­t­ing impli­ca­ti­ons for under­stan­ding Chi­na and the rest of the pre­vious­ly libe­ra­ted third of huma­ni­ty now back under the ruling class yoke. What has been sor­ely missed is an ade­qua­te enga­ge­ment, howe­ver, with the fol­lo­wing, com­ple­men­ta­ry ques­ti­on: how did the strugg­le against half a cen­tu­ry of socia­lism alter the struc­tu­re of capi­ta­lism?

This ques­ti­on will be the chief focus of this essay. Our point of depar­tu­re will be Lenin’s astu­te obser­va­ti­on that impe­ria­lism must be unders­tood as »capi­ta­lism in tran­si­ti­on or pre­cis­e­ly, as mori­bund capi­ta­lism.« (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, IX) Impe­ria­lism is the hig­hest, which is to say the last stage of capi­ta­lism. Lenin is very clear about this: the sys­tem as a who­le would not be drag­ged back down a rung, would not revert to non-impe­ria­list capi­ta­lism (this is the essence of his con­tro­ver­sy with Kaut­sky). So for Lenin, impe­ria­lism not only poin­ted to the end of capi­ta­lism, but real­ly was alre­a­dy the begin­ning of that end. »Mono­po­ly,« which Lenin cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fies as, once gene­ra­li­zed, coter­mi­nous with impe­ria­lism, « is the tran­si­ti­on from capi­ta­lism to a hig­her sys­tem« (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, VII). The basic assump­ti­on under­ly­ing most of the deba­te so far has been that Lenin’s ana­ly­sis was right but his timing was over-opti­mi­stic: impe­ria­lism is the last stage of capi­ta­lism, but it has per­sis­ted far lon­ger than Lenin cle­ar­ly thought likely.

But Lenin’s esti­ma­ti­on that the impe­ria­lism of his time alre­a­dy repre­sen­ted the trans­for­ma­ti­on out of capi­ta­lism was inde­ed cor­rect. His exces­si­ve opti­mism lay not in his chro­no­lo­gy, but his teleo­lo­gy: the assump­ti­on that the end of capi­ta­lism must mean the end of class socie­ty in gene­ral. This is not the case. No serious theo­re­ti­cal mate­ria­list can deny, at least, the prin­ci­ple that an alter­na­ti­ve is pos­si­ble. Inde­ed, this is impli­cit in all our poli­ti­cal work: if socia­lism and com­mu­nism were tru­ly ine­vi­ta­ble, why spend so much time and effort try­ing to make revo­lu­ti­on? Impa­ti­ence? Of cour­se not: we enga­ge in the poli­ti­cal strugg­le becau­se we know that we can lose - we know that the ruling class can win. Inde­ed, they are very clo­se to doing just that.

And if many self-sty­led Mar­xists have for­got­ten that we are doing poli­tics – con­scious­ly sha­ping the world in our own inte­rests – still more have made a far grea­ter error: they have fai­led to reco­gni­ze that the ruling class is doing poli­tics as well. The sine qua non for the advance­ment of the com­mu­nist pro­ject of human libe­ra­ti­on will be rid­ding our­sel­ves of the pet­ty-bour­geois patho­lo­gies which have so cor­rupt­ed and cripp­led Mar­xism: aca­de­micism, mys­ti­fi­ca­ti­ons, obscu­ran­tism, struc­tu­ra­lism, etc. We need to return to the keen awa­re­ness of poli­tics found in Marx, Engels, Lenin, Sta­lin, Gramsci, Mao, Hox­ha, San­ka­ra, New­ton, and all other gre­at Mar­xists, but so sor­ely miss­ing today. We have to under­stand the con­scious, acti­ve, and deli­be­ra­te respon­ses which the ruling class has made in reac­tion to the par­ti­al suc­cess of the first wave of socia­list revo­lu­ti­on and the ever-vary­ing, dai­ly strugg­le bet­ween capi­tal and labor.

The sin­gle most egre­gious, anti-mate­ria­list devia­ti­on which under­mi­nes Mar­xism today is the hys­te­ri­cal aller­gy to »con­spi­ra­cy theo­ries.« Even if Lenin dis­missed the pos­si­bi­li­ty of ongo­ing, mass-coope­ra­ti­on of the world bour­geoi­sie at the hig­hest level (i.e., ultra- or inter- impe­ria­lism), his ana­ly­sis neces­s­a­ri­ly assu­mes that so long as capi­ta­list impe­ria­lism per­sists, inter­nal con­cen­tra­ti­on of power in ever fewer hands must con­ti­nue apace. In Impe­ria­lism he alre­a­dy declared that »Ger­ma­ny is gover­ned by not more than 300 magna­tes of capi­tal, and the num­ber of the­se is con­stant­ly dimi­nis­hing« (Lenin,Impe­ria­lism, II). Cete­ris pari­bus, how many magna­tes of capi­tal should we expect are real­ly gover­ning Ger­ma­ny, or any other capi­ta­list coun­try today? And what could the coor­di­na­ted con­trol by such a small num­ber, a num­ber who­se power is ille­gi­ti­ma­te and must hide behind a demo­cra­tic faca­de, look like other than end­less con­spi­ra­ci­es?

2. Impe­ria­lism after the Estab­lish­ment of the USSR

The decisi­ve deve­lo­p­ments in the world sys­tem sin­ce Lenin’s time have only streng­the­ned the ten­den­cy towards power con­cen­tra­ti­on, and by exten­si­on con­spi­ra­cy as its mani­fes­ta­ti­on. Abo­ve all, tra­gi­cal­ly, the revo­lu­ti­on which Lenin right­ly fore­saw as a neces­sa­ry reac­tion to imperialism’s ten­den­ci­es (which he thus assu­med would arrest them) did occur, but was incom­ple­te. The core power cen­ters which remain­ed in the hands of the capi­ta­lists ruling class were tur­ned into fort­res­ses for the recon­quest of the earth.

This is a sta­te of affairs which Lenin fai­led to ful­ly ima­gi­ne. He sta­tes that ongo­ing, sus­tained coope­ra­ti­on among­st the impe­ria­list bour­geoi­sie in the mutu­al divi­si­on and explo­ita­ti­on of the world is impos­si­ble in the long run, becau­se the balan­ce of power bet­ween them is dyna­mic and ever-shif­ting. When the divi­si­on of ter­ri­to­ry con­tra­dicts the real power dyna­mics, Lenin asks, »what other solu­ti­on of the con­tra­dic­tions can be found under capi­ta­lism than that of force?« (Lenin VII) Well, as a mat­ter of seman­ti­cs, one might say: true enough: if the impe­ria­lists can resol­ve the­se con­tra­dic­tions among­st them­sel­ves wit­hout inter-impe­ria­list war, we are per­haps right to say we live under a sys­tem fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fe­rent than that descri­bed by Marx.

Set­ting asi­de, howe­ver, seman­ti­cs, is the­re not one deve­lo­p­ment which in fact makes this sub­stan­ti­ve sta­te of affairs pos­si­ble? Is the­re not one thing with the wond­rous power to help the impe­ria­lists set asi­de their dif­fe­ren­ces and make peace– name­ly, working class revo­lu­ti­on? As Marx obser­ved as far back as in 1848, the June insur­rec­tion in Paris

united, in Eng­land as on the Con­ti­nent all frac­tions of the ruling clas­ses, land­lords and capi­ta­lists, stock-exch­an­ge wol­ves and shop-kee­pers, Pro­tec­tion­ists and Free­trad­ers, govern­ment and oppo­si­ti­on, priests and freethin­kers, young who­res and old nuns, under the com­mon cry for the sal­va­ti­on of Pro­per­ty, Reli­gi­on, the Fami­ly and Socie­ty. (Marx, Capi­tal I, Ch. 10, Sec­tion 6)

The same point is made, with even grea­ter rele­van­ce, at the very start of the Mani­festo: »all the powers of old Euro­pe have ente­red into a holy alli­ance to exor­ci­ze« the spec­ter of com­mu­nism: »Pope and Tsar, Met­ter­nich and Gui­zot, French Radi­cals and Ger­man poli­ce-spies.« In Lenin’s time, of cour­se, the ten­den­cy to unite against revo­lu­ti­on was not strong enough to over­co­me the ten­den­cy towards vio­lent inter-impe­ria­list con­flict. Inde­ed, the capi­ta­lists-impe­ria­lists’ ina­bi­li­ty to over­co­me their dif­fe­ren­ces, and the resul­tant first World War, resul­ted in not­hing so dis­as­trous for all capi­ta­lists as the first suc­cessful socialst revo­lu­ti­on and the estab­lish­ment of USSR.

Coe­val with, and in part dri­ven by, the dyna­mic of both inter-impe­ria­list war and ultra-impe­ria­list coun­ter-revo­lu­tio­na­ry strugg­le (abo­ve all against the USSR) emer­ged fac­tors which decisi­ve­ly alte­red the natu­re and capa­ci­ty of the impe­ria­list ruling class– all, essen­ti­al­ly, in the form of mono­po­ly or ultra-mono­po­ly: air­force, a mono­po­ly over the sky; the comms indus­try, and ever gro­wing mono­po­li­stic con­trol over human com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on; the deve­lo­p­ment of high­ly advan­ced and cen­tra­li­zed intel­li­gence agen­ci­es, con­fer­ring a mono­po­ly on infor­ma­ti­on and per­haps gra­du­al­ly power and force more gene­ral­ly; and final­ly under the arbi­ters of the lat­ter an unpre­ce­den­ted con­trol over inco­me streams (open and covert) uni­ma­gi­nable in Lenin’ time, brin­ging with them the cor­re­spon­ding capa­ci­ty to bri­be, sub­vert, ass­as­si­na­te, cor­rupt, etc.

It is far bey­ond the scope of this paper to ful­ly sche­ma­ti­ze the natu­re and con­tent of WWII. But we must draw atten­ti­on to a few sali­ent facts. One is that Nazism (instal­led abo­ve all by a con­spi­ra­cy of Ger­man capi­ta­lists– essen­ti­al­ly the con­ti­nui­ty of tho­se 300 magna­tes men­tio­ned by Lenin, with Ame­ri­can sup­port) very expli­cit­ly pit­ched its­elf as a sort of pro­gram for ultra-impe­ria­lism: the Nazi pro­po­sal was a world divi­ded up rela­tively ami­ca­bly bet­ween the Ame­ri­cans, Ger­mans, Bri­tish, and Japa­ne­se. The Nazi regime was also at least par­ti­al­ly con­cei­ved as an ultra-impe­ria­list wea­pon, ten­ta­tively accept­ed or even encou­ra­ged by the other gre­at Wes­tern Impe­ria­list powers to crush the revo­lu­tio­na­ry Soviet Union.

Whe­ther one con­cei­ves of the war as inter-impe­ria­list con­flict or ultra-impe­ria­list coun­ter-revo­lu­tio­na­ry (re)conquista (it was of cour­se all of the abo­ve and more), it is clear that once again at the con­clu­si­on of this con­vul­si­on yet grea­ter tracts had been wres­ted from the hands of the ruling class. A net gain for huma­ni­ty had been won, albeit at uni­ma­gi­nable cos­ts (though cos­ts no revo­lu­tio­na­ry ever ques­tio­ned: no Mar­xist ever thought it would have been worth accep­ting ens­lavement then in order to »save lives«, though many self-sty­led Mar­xist have eager­ly adopted just this posi­ti­on today).

Part of the reason the ruling class fai­led so spec­ta­cu­lar­ly in Euro­pe was, of cour­se, their own arro­gan­ce, their belief in their own noxious pseu­do­sci­ence (i.e., the inher­ent infe­rio­ri­ty of slavs, the »expert sci­en­ti­fic con­sen­sus« of the capi­ta­list West at the time). Par­ti­al­ly becau­se of the willful poli­ti­cal strugg­le of the mas­ses– inclu­ding con­spi­ra­ci­es, such as the Soviet con­spi­ra­cy to under­mi­ne the com­pe­ting con­spi­ra­cy of cer­tain Nazi fac­tions to arran­ge a truce with the USA in order to joint­ly focus on the USSR (as bril­li­ant­ly fic­tion­a­li­zed in Soviet clas­sic, Seven­teen Moments of Spring).

Nevert­hel­ess, at the con­clu­si­on of WWII the major capi­ta­list powers were far from defea­ted. Much of the socia­list world was left with a shat­te­red popu­la­ti­on, despera­te­ly see­king to rebuild on sal­ted earth. The vast majo­ri­ty of wealth plun­de­red by the fascists forces, along with most of their lea­ders, were respec­tively recup­er­a­ted and inte­gra­ted into a now uni­fied impe­ria­list camp under Ame­ri­can hegem­o­ny. A frau­du­lent, super­fi­ci­al »den­a­zi­fi­ca­ti­on« in Ger­ma­ny cover­ed up for the empower­ment of all the same social forces behind Nazism, muta­tis mut­an­dis in Japan (see, in par­ti­cu­lar, The New Ger­ma­ny and The Old Nazis, Tetens; Mar­tin Bor­mann —Nazi in Exi­le, Man­ning; All Hono­ura­ble Men, Mar­tin; Gold War­ri­ors, Seagra­ve – inde­ed, all the Seagrave’s work – ; see also the exten­si­ve mate­ri­al available rela­ted to this the­me pro­du­ced by Dave Emory).

Here, we see the essen­ti­al point: the empi­ri­cal­ly obvious fact of the total ultra-impe­ria­list hegem­o­ny estab­lished over the capi­ta­list world by the USA after WWII. This hegem­o­ny is estab­lished, not mere­ly for the joint explo­ita­ti­on of the third world, but even more so (and always over­lap­ping with the for­mer, which in libe­ra­ting its­elf con­stant­ly strug­gles towards socia­lism) out of the exis­ten­ti­al strugg­le against com­mu­nism, the »cold war«. With the end of the end of cold war and the glo­bal coun­ter-revo­lu­ti­on, the clock was not set back to 1917. The expe­ri­ence of socia­lism fun­da­men­tal­ly chan­ged the enti­re world. The tri­um­phant capi­ta­list class not only plun­de­red the coll­ec­ti­ve wealth of the socia­list world, but its coll­ec­ti­ve expe­ri­ence and know­ledge. The capi­ta­lists taking over socia­li­zed pro­duc­tion, par­ti­cu­lar­ly in Chi­na, enjoy­ed a posi­ti­on of power and cen­tra­li­zed con­trol which had been pre­vious­ly uni­ma­gi­nable within capi­ta­list social relations.

This is an arran­ge­ment which Lenin never expli­cit­ly explo­red. His rejec­tion of ultra-impe­ria­lism never grapp­les with the pos­si­bi­li­ty of a world inde­fi­ni­te­ly divi­ded (peaceful­ly or not) bet­ween capi­ta­list and socia­list sta­tes. He cer­tain­ly never grapp­led with the pro­s­pect of las­ting socia­list con­s­truc­tion fol­lo­wed by coun­ter-revo­lu­ti­on. Sin­ce this is the world which did, infact, emer­ge, it is the one with which we must grapp­le – using the very many hel­pful tools pro­vi­ded by Lenin, appro­pria­te­ly and un-dogmatically.

3. Excur­sus: Impe­ria­lism as a Distinct Mode of Pro­duc­tion – a Theo­re­ti­cal Possibility?

As was noted abo­ve, Lenin repea­ted­ly empha­si­zes that impe­ria­list capi­ta­lism is »capi­ta­lism in tran­si­ti­on or pre­cis­e­ly … mori­bund capi­ta­lism.« (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, IX) What is par­ti­cu­lar­ly inte­res­t­ing and signi­fi­cant, is that in the body of the ori­gi­nal pam­phlet, Lenin is very cau­tious and avo­ids con­clu­si­ve­ly sta­ting what it is tran­si­tio­ning into. This may, of cour­se, sim­ply be the »Aeso­pian lan­guage« Lenin lamen­ted having to wri­te in, in order to eva­de Tsa­rist cen­sor­ship. Within a few months of its initi­al publi­ca­ti­on, in the artic­le »Impe­ria­lism and the Split in Socia­lism« published in Octo­ber of 1916 and often included as an appen­dix to the pam­phlet, he does inde­ed sim­ply assert « impe­ria­lism is alre­a­dy dying capi­ta­lism, the begin­ning of its tran­si­ti­on to socialism.«

Whe­ther inten­tio­nal, howe­ver, or a sym­ptom of cen­sor­ship, the inde­ter­mi­nacy of the ear­lier text has pro­ven more accu­ra­te than the con­fi­dence of the sub­se­quent artic­le, assu­red that not­hing other than socia­lism will emer­ge. For they help illu­mi­na­te the rea­li­ty that impe­ria­lism cle­ar­ly under­mi­nes the fun­da­men­tal con­di­ti­ons neces­sa­ry for the capi­ta­list sys­tem descri­bed by Marx. As Mol­ly Klein notes, in one very limi­t­ed and qua­li­fied sen­se, of cour­se, we might even ack­now­ledge that what is being con­s­truc­ted is a form of socia­lism – in so far as that term figu­res as the ant­onym of indi­vi­dua­lism and not of capi­ta­lism. What is evi­dent­ly and con­cre­te­ly occu­ring is the dra­ma­tic socia­liza­ti­on of both pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­ti­on. Howe­ver, it is done hier­ar­chi­cal­ly, as oppo­sed to the ega­li­ta­ri­an con­no­ta­ti­ons of socia­lism as we com­mon­ly use the term. What we see forming is not a Soviet Socia­list Repu­blic, but some­thing more like a Pla­to­nic, ie. fas­co­id aut­ho­ri­ta­ri­an-hier­ar­chi­cal, Republic.

It is hel­pful here to con­sider a few remar­kab­ly pre­sci­ent pas­sa­ges from Marx hims­elf in Capi­tal III, which have been poin­ted out in this con­text by Mol­ly Klein. They are worth quo­ting at some length. Here is Marx on the impli­ca­ti­ons of the for­ma­ti­on of joint stock com­pa­nies, ita­lics in the ori­gi­nal, bol­ding added:

  1. An enorm­ous expan­si­on of the sca­le of pro­duc­tion and of enter­pri­ses, that was impos­si­ble for indi­vi­du­al capi­tals. At the same time, enter­pri­ses that were form­er­ly govern­ment enter­pri­ses, beco­me public.

  2. The capi­tal, which in its­elf rests on a social mode of pro­duc­tion and pre­sup­po­ses a social con­cen­tra­ti­on of means of pro­duc­tion and labour-power, is here direct­ly endo­wed with the form of social capi­tal (capi­tal of direct­ly asso­cia­ted indi­vi­du­als) as distinct from pri­va­te capi­tal, and its under­ta­kings assu­me the form of social under­ta­kings as distinct from pri­va­te under­ta­kings. It is the aboli­ti­on of capi­tal as pri­va­te pro­per­ty within the frame­work of capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion itself.

  3. Trans­for­ma­ti­on of the actual­ly func­tio­ning capi­ta­list into a mere mana­ger, admi­nis­tra­tor of other people’s capi­tal, and of the owner of capi­tal into a mere owner, a mere money-capi­ta­list. Even if the divi­dends which they recei­ve include the inte­rest and the pro­fit of enter­pri­se, i.e., the total pro­fit (for the sala­ry of the mana­ger is, or should be, sim­ply the wage of a spe­ci­fic type of skil­led labour, who­se pri­ce is regu­la­ted in the labour-mar­ket like that of any other labour), this total pro­fit is hence­forth recei­ved only in the form of inte­rest, i.e., as mere com­pen­sa­ti­on for owning capi­tal that now is enti­re­ly divorced from the func­tion in the actu­al pro­cess of repro­duc­tion, just as this func­tion in the per­son of the mana­ger is divorced from owner­ship of capi­tal. Pro­fit thus appears (no lon­ger only that por­ti­on of it, the inte­rest, which deri­ves its jus­ti­fi­ca­ti­on from the pro­fit of the bor­rower) as a mere appro­pria­ti­on of the sur­plus-labour of others, ari­sing from the con­ver­si­on of means of pro­duc­tion into capi­tal, i.e., from their ali­en­ati­on vis-à-vis the actu­al pro­du­cer, from their anti­the­sis as another’s pro­per­ty to every indi­vi­du­al actual­ly at work in pro­duc­tion, from mana­ger down to the last day-labou­rer. In stock com­pa­nies the func­tion is divorced from capi­tal owner­ship, hence also labour is enti­re­ly divorced from owner­ship of means of pro­duc­tion and sur­plus-labour. This result of the ulti­ma­te deve­lo­p­ment of capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion is a neces­sa­ry tran­si­tio­nal pha­se towards the recon­ver­si­on of capi­tal into the pro­per­ty of pro­du­cers, alt­hough no lon­ger as the pri­va­te pro­per­ty of the indi­vi­du­al pro­du­cers, but rather as the pro­per­ty of asso­cia­ted pro­du­cers, as out­right social pro­per­ty. On the other hand, the stock com­pa­ny is a tran­si­ti­on toward the con­ver­si­on of all func­tions in the repro­duc­tion pro­cess which still remain lin­ked with capi­ta­list pro­per­ty, into mere func­tions of asso­cia­ted pro­du­cers, into social func­tions. […]

This is the aboli­ti­on of the capi­ta­list mode of pro­duc­tion within the capi­ta­list mode of pro­duc­tion its­elf, and hence a self-dis­sol­ving con­tra­dic­tion, which pri­ma facie repres­ents a mere pha­se of tran­si­ti­on to a new form of pro­duc­tion. It mani­fests its­elf as such a con­tra­dic­tion in its effects. It estab­lishes a mono­po­ly in cer­tain sphe­res and ther­eby requi­res sta­te inter­fe­rence. It repro­du­ces a new finan­cial aris­to­cra­cy, a new varie­ty of para­si­tes in the shape of pro­mo­ters, spe­cu­la­tors and sim­ply nomi­nal direc­tors; a who­le sys­tem of swind­ling and chea­ting by means of cor­po­ra­ti­on pro­mo­ti­on, stock issu­an­ce, and stock spe­cu­la­ti­on. It is pri­va­te pro­duc­tion wit­hout the con­trol of pri­va­te property.

Asi­de from the stock-com­pa­ny busi­ness, which repres­ents the aboli­ti­on of capi­ta­list pri­va­te indus­try on the basis of the capi­ta­list sys­tem its­elf and des­troys pri­va­te indus­try as it expands and inva­des new sphe­res of pro­duc­tion, cre­dit offers to the indi­vi­du­al capi­ta­list; or to one who is regard­ed a capi­ta­list, abso­lu­te con­trol within cer­tain limits over the capi­tal and pro­per­ty of others, and ther­eby over the labour of others. The con­trol over social capi­tal, not the indi­vi­du­al capi­tal of his own, gives him con­trol of social labour. The capi­tal its­elf, which a man real­ly owns or is sup­po­sed to own in the opi­ni­on of the public, beco­mes purely a basis for the super­s­truc­tu­re of cre­dit. This is par­ti­cu­lar­ly true of who­le­sa­le com­mer­ce, through which the grea­test por­ti­on of the social pro­duct pas­ses. All stan­dards of mea­su­re­ment, all excu­ses more or less still jus­ti­fied under capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion, dis­ap­pear here. What the spe­cu­la­ting who­le­sa­le mer­chant risks is social pro­per­ty, not his own. Equal­ly sor­did beco­mes the phra­se rela­ting the ori­gin of capi­tal to savings, for what he demands is that others should save for him. The other phra­se con­cer­ning abst­en­ti­on is squa­re­ly refu­ted by his luxu­ry, which is now its­elf a means of cre­dit. Con­cep­ti­ons which have some mea­ning on a less deve­lo­ped stage of capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion, beco­me quite meanin­g­less here. Suc­cess and fail­ure both lead here to a cen­tra­li­sa­ti­on of capi­tal, and thus to expro­pria­ti­on on the most enorm­ous sca­le. Expro­pria­ti­on extends here from the direct pro­du­cers to the smal­ler and the medi­um-sized capi­ta­lists them­sel­ves. It is the point of depar­tu­re for the capi­ta­list mode of pro­duc­tion; its accom­plish­ment is the goal of this pro­duc­tion. In the last ins­tance, it aims at the expro­pria­ti­on of the means of pro­duc­tion from all indi­vi­du­als. With the deve­lo­p­ment of social pro­duc­tion the means of pro­duc­tion cea­se to be means of pri­va­te pro­duc­tion and pro­ducts of pri­va­te pro­duc­tion, and can the­re­af­ter be only means of pro­duc­tion in the hands of asso­cia­ted pro­du­cers, i.e., the latter’s social pro­per­ty, much as they are their social pro­ducts. Howe­ver, this expro­pria­ti­on appears within the capi­ta­list sys­tem in a con­tra­dic­to­ry form, as appro­pria­ti­on of social pro­per­ty by a few; and cre­dit lends the lat­ter more and more the aspect of pure adven­tu­r­ers. Sin­ce pro­per­ty here exists in the form of stock, its move­ment and trans­fer beco­me purely a result of gambling on the stock exch­an­ge, whe­re the litt­le fish are swal­lo­wed by the sharks and the lambs by the stock-exch­an­ge wol­ves. The­re is ant­ago­nism against the old form in the stock com­pa­nies, in which social means of pro­duc­tion appear as pri­va­te pro­per­ty; but the con­ver­si­on to the form of stock still remains ens­nared in the tram­mels of capi­ta­lism; hence, ins­tead of over­co­ming the anti­the­sis bet­ween the cha­rac­ter of wealth as social and as pri­va­te wealth, the stock com­pa­nies mere­ly deve­lop it in a new form. […]

The cre­dit sys­tem appears as the main lever of over-pro­duc­tion and over-spe­cu­la­ti­on in com­mer­ce sole­ly becau­se the repro­duc­tion pro­cess, which is ela­s­tic by natu­re, is here forced to its extre­me limits, and is so forced becau­se a lar­ge part of the social capi­tal is employ­ed by peo­p­le who do not own it and who con­se­quent­ly tack­le things quite dif­fer­ent­ly than the owner, who anxious­ly weighs the limi­ta­ti­ons of his pri­va­te capi­tal in so far as he hand­les it hims­elf. This sim­ply demons­tra­tes the fact that the self-expan­si­on of capi­tal based on the con­tra­dic­to­ry natu­re of capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion per­mits an actu­al free deve­lo­p­ment only up to a cer­tain point, so that in fact it con­sti­tu­tes an imma­nent fet­ter and bar­ri­er to pro­duc­tion, which are con­ti­nu­al­ly bro­ken through by the cre­dit sys­tem. Hence, the cre­dit sys­tem acce­le­ra­tes the mate­ri­al deve­lo­p­ment of the pro­duc­ti­ve forces and the estab­lish­ment of the world-mar­ket. It is the his­to­ri­cal mis­si­on of the capi­ta­list sys­tem of pro­duc­tion to rai­se the­se mate­ri­al foun­da­ti­ons of the new mode of pro­duc­tion to a cer­tain degree of per­fec­tion. At the same time cre­dit acce­le­ra­tes the vio­lent erup­ti­ons of this con­tra­dic­tion — cri­ses — and ther­eby the ele­ments of dis­in­te­gra­ti­on of the old mode of production.

The two cha­rac­te­ristics imma­nent in the cre­dit sys­tem are, on the one hand, to deve­lop the incen­ti­ve of capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion, enrich­ment through explo­ita­ti­on of the labour of others, to the purest and most colos­sal form of gambling and swind­ling, and to redu­ce more and more the num­ber of the few who exploit the social wealth; on the other hand, to con­sti­tu­te the form of tran­si­ti­on to a new mode of pro­duc­tion. (Marx, Capi­tal III, Ch. 27 Pt 5, ita­lics in ori­gi­nal, bold added).

Marx may be slight­ly limi­t­ed here by his teleo­lo­gi­cal ten­den­ci­es, his belief in a his­to­ric mis­si­on for capi­ta­lism and the near ine­vi­ta­bi­li­ty of socia­lism. On the other hand, as Klein notes, the ori­en­ta­ti­on and cal­cu­la­ti­on was a high­ly jus­ti­fied rea­ding of the pro­ba­bi­li­ties inher­ent in the balan­ce of power bet­ween capi­tal and labor at Marx’s time. It is the tech­no­lo­gi­cal and tac­ti­cal advan­ces made by the capi­ta­list class in the last deca­de of the 20th cen­tu­ry that fun­da­men­tal­ly alte­red the cir­cum­s­tances. At any rate, the good mate­ria­list in Marx pro­vi­des a crys­tal clear and pene­t­ra­ting ana­ly­sis, all the more so given how inchoa­te the pro­ces­ses were which he has so pro­found­ly gras­ped. Abo­ve all, what is clear from this is that the joint pro­ces­ses of mono­po­liza­ti­on and finan­cia­liza­ti­on can­not coexist with the nor­mal ope­ra­ti­on of capi­ta­list rela­ti­ons which form the main object of his inquiry. He does not speak about a new-non-socia­list Mode of Pro­duc­tion– but he also cle­ar­ly does not enter­tain the idea that capi­ta­lism can car­ry on as the domi­nant mode in this fashion for as long as we ima­gi­ne it has!

This is the decisi­ve point, and con­fu­si­on of the lazy mecha­ni­cal dog­ma­tism which reli­es on the aut­ho­ri­ty of Marx or Lenin in try­ing to fore­c­lo­se the pos­si­bi­li­ty of an alter­na­ti­ve Mode of Pro­duc­tion emer­ging out of capi­ta­lism. While the pre­ce­dent for such a pro­po­si­ti­on is not strong in eit­her, the noti­on that Capi­ta­lism could per­sist for so long fol­lo­wing the same basic laws is in far grea­ter con­tra­dic­tion with the spi­rit of both Marx and Lenin’s work. It is also worth empha­si­zing that what the Ruling Class is attemp­ting is extre­me­ly ambi­tious, ris­ky, and very likely to fail. It is up to us, howe­ver, to reco­gni­ze what it is and ensu­re that they do not succeed.

To estab­lish Lenin’s under­stan­ding of impe­ria­lism as neces­sa­ry and irre­vo­ca­bly a tran­si­ti­on out of capi­ta­lism, it will be wort­hwhile to include a num­ber of rele­vant citations:

Pri­va­te eco­no­mic and pri­va­te pro­per­ty rela­ti­ons con­sti­tu­te a shell which no lon­ger fits its con­tents, a shell which must ine­vi­ta­b­ly decay if its rem­oval is arti­fi­ci­al­ly delay­ed; a shell which may remain in a sta­te of decay for a fair­ly long peri­od (if, at the worst, the cure of the oppor­tu­nist abs­cess is pro­tra­c­ted) but which will ine­vi­ta­b­ly be remo­ved. (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, IX)

Capi­ta­lism in its impe­ria­list stage leads direct­ly to the most com­pre­hen­si­ve socia­liza­ti­on of pro­duc­tion; it, so to speak, drags the capi­ta­lists, against their will and con­scious­ness, into some sort of a new social order, a tran­si­tio­nal one from com­ple­te free com­pe­ti­ti­on to com­ple­te socia­liza­ti­on. Pro­duc­tion beco­mes social, but appro­pria­ti­on remains pri­va­te. The social means of pro­duc­tion remain the pri­va­te pro­per­ty of a few. The gene­ral frame­work of for­mal­ly reco­g­nis­ed free com­pe­ti­ti­on remains, and the yoke of a few mono­po­lists on the rest of the popu­la­ti­on beco­mes a hundred times hea­vier, more bur­den­so­me and into­le­ra­ble (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, I)

The old capi­ta­lism has had its day. The new capi­ta­lism repres­ents a tran­si­ti­on towards some­thing. (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, II)

In other words, the old capi­ta­lism, the capi­ta­lism of free com­pe­ti­ti­on with its indis­pensable regu­la­tor, the Stock Exch­an­ge, is pas­sing away. A new capi­ta­lism has come to take its place, bea­ring obvious fea­tures of some­thing tran­si­ent, a mix­tu­re of free com­pe­ti­ti­on and mono­po­ly. The ques­ti­on natu­ral­ly ari­ses: into what is this new capi­ta­lism »deve­lo­ping«? But the bour­geois scho­lars are afraid to rai­se this ques­ti­on (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, II).

Mono­po­ly which has grown out of capi­ta­lism and exists in the gene­ral envi­ron­ment of capi­ta­lism, com­mo­di­ty pro­duc­tion and com­pe­ti­ti­on, in per­ma­nent and inso­lu­b­le con­tra­dic­tion to this gene­ral envi­ron­ment. Nevert­hel­ess, like all mono­po­ly, it ine­vi­ta­b­ly engen­ders a ten­den­cy to sta­gna­ti­on and decay.« (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, VII )

At the same time the mono­po­lies, which have grown out of free com­pe­ti­ti­on, do not eli­mi­na­te the lat­ter, but exist abo­ve it and along­side it, and ther­eby give rise to a num­ber of very acu­te, inten­se ant­ago­nisms, fric­tions and con­flicts. Mono­po­ly is the tran­si­ti­on from capi­ta­lism to a hig­her sys­tem. (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, VII)

Iro­ni­cal­ly, tho­se who deny the core con­ten­ti­ons of this essay gene­ral­ly see them­sel­ves in line with Lenin’s cri­tique of Kaut­sky. Howe­ver, the point Lenin tire­less­ly makes pre­cis­e­ly in his cri­tique of Kaut­sky is that capi­ta­lism will not retre­at from impe­ria­lism back to a less aggres­si­ve form, and thus per­sist in some sort of rela­tively sta­ble sta­te. Com­pe­ti­ti­ve capi­ta­lism cea­se­l­ess­ly under­mi­nes its own pre­con­di­ti­ons through con­cen­tra­ti­on and mono­po­liza­ti­on. The­re is a clear ten­den­cy for mono­po­ly to expand to the point of abo­li­shing com­pe­ti­ti­ve capi­ta­lism enti­re­ly. »Capi­ta­list mono­po­ly grows out of capi­ta­lism, but is nevert­hel­ess in a per­ma­nent inso­lu­b­le con­tra­dic­tion to this gene­ral envi­ron­ment.« (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, VIII). Keynes hims­elf famously remark­ed that what capi­ta­lism nee­ded was »eutha­na­sia of the ren­tier.« Lenin fur­ther ack­now­led­ges the regres­si­ve, coun­ter-pro­duc­ti­ve ten­den­cy of mono­po­ly to, for ins­tance, crush a new tech­no­lo­gy if that amounts to an easier means of main­tai­ning his position.

The essen­ti­al point of Marx’s, rei­te­ra­ted in the long quo­ta­ti­on abo­ve, and ana­the­ma to Den­gists, is that capi­ta­list rela­ti­ons of pro­duc­tion, at a cer­tain point of deve­lo­p­ment, beco­me a fet­ter on pro­duc­tion. As he empha­si­zes, »the real bar­ri­er of capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion is capi­tal itself.«(Marx, Capi­tal III, ch. 15). In the ear­ly stages of capi­ta­lism, it very much encou­ra­ged the ever grea­ter pro­duc­tion of useful things. Howe­ver, it had alre­a­dy rea­ched a point of regres­si­on by Marx’s esti­ma­ti­on in Euro­pe in the mid 1800s! (So much for Fox­conn sweat­shops being essen­ti­al to deve­lo­ping the means of pro­duc­tion). What is none­thel­ess signi­fi­cant here is Marx’s obser­va­ti­on that through the cre­dit sys­tem, par­ti­cu­lar fac­tions of the ruling class were able to over­co­me the limits of pri­va­te pro­duc­tion wit­hout losing– and, infact, actual­ly expan­ding– their capa­ci­ty to (coll­ec­tively) pri­va­te­ly appro­pria­te the sur­plus product.

Lenin obser­ved, very simi­lar­ly to Marx, how this was achie­ved pre­cis­e­ly through financialization:

Scat­te­red capi­ta­lists are trans­for­med into a sin­gle coll­ec­ti­ve capi­ta­list. When car­ry­ing the cur­rent accounts of a few capi­ta­lists, a bank, as it were, tran­sacts a purely tech­ni­cal and exclu­si­ve­ly auxi­lia­ry ope­ra­ti­on. When, howe­ver, this ope­ra­ti­on grows to enorm­ous dimen­si­ons we find that a handful of mono­po­lists sub­or­di­na­te to their will all the ope­ra­ti­ons, both com­mer­cial and indus­tri­al, of the who­le of capi­ta­list socie­ty; for they are enab­led — by means of their ban­king con­nec­tions, their cur­rent accounts and other finan­cial ope­ra­ti­ons — first, to ascer­tain exact­ly the finan­cial posi­ti­on of the various capi­ta­lists, then to con­trol them, to influence them by rest­ric­ting or enlar­ging, faci­li­ta­ting or hin­de­ring cre­dits, and final­ly to enti­re­ly deter­mi­ne their fate, deter­mi­ne their inco­me, depri­ve them of capi­tal, or per­mit them to increase their capi­tal rapidly and to enorm­ous dimen­si­ons, etc. (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, II)

Throug­hout Capi­tal, Marx empha­si­zes that capi­ta­lism indu­ces ever more socia­li­zed pro­duc­tion, just in pri­va­te hands: human work beco­mes ever more inte­gra­ted, inter­de­pen­dent, and coll­ec­ti­ve. And as both Marx and Lenin, ever opti­mi­sti­cal­ly, empha­si­ze, this pro­cess lays the foun­da­ti­on for socia­lism, by seve­ring the ori­gi­nal link in capi­ta­list rela­ti­ons bet­ween the per­so­nal pri­va­te pro­per­ty of the capi­ta­list (i.e., his con­cre­te capi­tal in the form of a fac­to­ry, firm etc.) repla­cing them with the (limi­t­ed) coll­ec­ti­ve owner­ship of means of pro­duc­tion pools of capi­ta­list (i.e. joint stock com­pa­nies). The ten­den­cy under finan­cia­liza­ti­on is for the­se pools to expand and inter­pe­ne­tra­te, pro­gres­sing towards the joint owner­ship, by the enti­re capi­ta­list class, of the enti­re social pro­duct via their sta­tus as »capi­ta­list«, their owner­ship of capi­tal, claims on invest­ments and access to lines of cre­dit. One can see, then, how straight­for­ward it should be to sim­ply redis­tri­bu­te that coll­ec­ti­ve owner­ship of all social wealth to the enti­re­ty of pro­du­cers themselves.

If we main­tain the pos­si­bi­li­ty, theo­re­ti­cal­ly, that the asso­cia­ted pro­du­cers do not suc­ceed, howe­ver, in sei­zing that social con­trol (i.e., brin­ging about com­mu­nism) it remains the case that the­re is a pro­found dialec­ti­cal link bet­ween com­mu­nism and wha­te­ver we want to call this post-capi­ta­list impe­ria­list sys­tem. It is thus enti­re­ly fit­ting that the slo­gan of the hig­hest point of human libe­ra­ti­on, the moment when com­mu­nism was most near­ly achie­ved by the most pro­gres­si­ve van­guard of huma­ni­ty, the Gre­at Pro­le­ta­ri­an Cul­tu­ral Revo­lu­ti­on, was and is the slo­gan of impe­ria­list finan­ce capi­tal: poli­tics in com­mand of the eco­no­my.

For what the pro­ces­ses tra­ced abo­ve both per­mit and neces­si­ta­te is the ever grea­ter direct, con­scious, poli­ti­cal deter­mi­na­ti­on of the eco­no­my by an ever smal­ler group of »insi­ders«. Thus as Lenin obser­ves, »we no lon­ger have com­pe­ti­ti­on bet­ween small and lar­ge, tech­ni­cal­ly deve­lo­ped and back­ward enter­pri­ses. We see here the mono­po­lists thrott­ling tho­se who do not sub­mit to them, to their yoke, to their dic­ta­ti­on« (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, I) He fur­ther sta­tes that

the deve­lo­p­ment of capi­ta­lism has arri­ved at a stage when, alt­hough com­mo­di­ty pro­duc­tion still ›reig­ns‹ and con­ti­nues to be regard­ed as the basis of eco­no­mic life, it has in rea­li­ty been under­mi­ned and the bulk of the pro­fits go to the »geni­u­ses« of finan­cial mani­pu­la­ti­on. At the basis of the­se mani­pu­la­ti­ons and swind­les lies socia­li­zed pro­duc­tion; but the immense pro­gress of man­kind which achie­ved this socia­liza­ti­on, goes to bene­fit … the spe­cu­la­tors. (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, I)

Lenin fur­ther direct­ly lin­ked the­se deve­lo­p­ments to the nas­cent mili­ta­ry-indus­tri­al-com­plex, not­ing that

Finan­ce capi­tal has crea­ted the epoch of mono­po­lies, and mono­po­lies intro­du­ce ever­y­whe­re mono­po­list prin­ci­ples: the uti­liza­ti­on of ›con­nec­tions‹ for pro­fi­ta­ble tran­sac­tions takes the place of com­pe­ti­ti­on on the open mar­ket. The most usu­al thing is to sti­pu­la­te that part of the loan gran­ted shall be spent on purcha­ses in the cre­di­tor coun­try, par­ti­cu­lar­ly on orders for war mate­ri­als, or for ships, etc. In the cour­se of the last two deca­des (1890 – 1910), France has very often resor­ted to this method. (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, IV)

We see here not­hing but the gra­du­al dic­ta­tor­ship of impe­ria­list finan­ce capi­tal over the enti­re sta­te and eco­no­my. This is wiel­ded, as Marx empha­si­zed abo­ve, not just against workers but pro­gres­si­ve­ly against all other stra­ta: »expro­pria­ti­on extends here from the direct pro­du­cers to the smal­ler and the medi­um-sized capi­ta­lists them­sel­ves. It is the point of depar­tu­re for the capi­ta­list mode of pro­duc­tion; its accom­plish­ment is the goal of this pro­duc­tion. In the last ins­tance, it aims at the expro­pria­ti­on of the means of pro­duc­tion from all indi­vi­du­als«. It is also important to note here how Marx empha­si­zes that through this pro­cess, Capi­ta­lism abo­lishes not only its struc­tu­ral eco­no­mic foun­da­ti­ons, but its moral-his­to­ri­cal legim­ia­ti­on: risk.

The essen­ti­al cor­ner­stone of capi­ta­list ideo­lo­gy, the most effec­ti­ve and begui­ling pre­text by which capi­tal has tra­di­tio­nal­ly obscu­red its usur­pa­ti­on of sur­plus-value from workers, has been risk. The priest-sci­en­tists of capi­ta­lism, the (poli­ti­cal-) eco­no­mists, have long into­ned that the capi­ta­list risks his own pri­va­te pro­per­ty (which he has acqui­red through noble abst­en­ti­on from con­sump­ti­on) when he enters into a capi­ta­list under­ta­king. This was based on a ker­nel of truth. In the balan­ce of class power and struc­tu­ring rela­ti­ons of pro­duc­tion we call capi­ta­lism, indi­vi­du­al capi­ta­lists did have to take risks. They had to pre­dict, often with limi­t­ed infor­ma­ti­on about the future, that a con­su­mer mar­ket would exist for a given pro­duct. They had to invest their own capi­tal in all the ele­ments of pro­duc­tion nee­ded to pro­du­ce that pro­duct befo­re they could even bring it to mar­ket. And, of cour­se, they ris­ked the very real even­tua­li­ty that by the time they brought that pro­duct to mar­ket, the expec­ted demand would not be the­re. Which is to say, they did inde­ed risk their sta­tus as capi­ta­list– for if they real­ly mis­cal­cu­la­ted, they may be left with no more capi­tal to try again— or worse, with less than not­hing, i.e. a ticket to the debtor’s pri­son. Capi­ta­lism emer­ged from a con­junc­tu­re in which cer­tain indi­vi­du­als (tho­se who beca­me capi­ta­lists) had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to gain power in this way– and not in any other. They could not have sim­ply wil­led them­sel­ves into being aris­to­crats – they would have, if they could. « Men make their own histo­ry, but they do not make it just as they plea­se; they do not make it under cir­cum­s­tances cho­sen by them­sel­ves, but under cir­cum­s­tances direct­ly encoun­te­red, given and trans­mit­ted from the past« (Marx, 18th Bru­mai­re).

This is, per­haps, a good point to try and high­light a serious devia­ti­on which has emer­ged among­st the screen-dama­ged soi-dis­ant »left«. This is the cate­go­ry error of trea­ting terms like »socia­list« or »com­mu­nist« as if they have a simi­lar mea­ning or use to the term »capi­ta­list«. The for­mer indi­ca­te an poli­ti­cal-ideo­lo­gi­cal alle­gi­ance and ori­en­ta­ti­on; the lat­ter, at least prin­ci­pal­ly, and in the way in which it is used by Marx, descri­be a posi­ti­on in a rela­ti­onship, i.e. someone who owns capi­tal, who draws his wealth from capi­ta­list under­ta­kings. It has not­hing at all to do with one’s sub­jec­ti­ve ideo­lo­gi­cal ori­en­ta­ti­on. The­re are, rather tra­gi­cal­ly, a good deal more peo­p­le who have been begui­led into belie­ving in and sup­port­ing some­thing they call »capi­ta­lism« than the­re are real capi­ta­lists. On the other hand, many if not most actu­al capi­ta­lists not only have no par­ti­cu­lar per­so­nal alle­gi­ance to capi­ta­lism per se, but inde­ed actively seek out more secu­re and sta­ble forms of explo­ita­ti­on when­ever they are available. To be a capi­ta­list is, after all, to occu­py among­st the most inse­cu­re and vola­ti­le posi­ti­ons of ruling class domi­na­ti­on in the long histo­ry of class society.

His­to­ri­cal­ly, we know that actual­ly exis­ting capi­tal has always been tho­rough­ly all­er­gic to risk: when­ever and when­ever pos­si­ble, capi­tal has fled to any form of rent or direct expro­pria­ti­on. And intern­al­ly, within the dyna­mics of the gene­ral capi­ta­list sys­tem, via the mecha­nisms of finan­ce, the most domi­nant, powerful capi­tals have con­sis­t­ent­ly pivo­ted towards the sub­or­di­na­ti­on of other wea­k­er capi­tals, to plun­der, to ens­lavement, to theft, fraud, etc..Thus again Marx, in the pas­sa­ge abo­ve, empha­si­zes that:

All stan­dards of mea­su­re­ment, all excu­ses more or less still jus­ti­fied under capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion, dis­ap­pear here. What the spe­cu­la­ting who­le­sa­le mer­chant risks is social pro­per­ty, not his own. Equal­ly sor­did beco­mes the phra­se rela­ting the ori­gin of capi­tal to savings, for what he demands is that others should save for him. The other phra­se con­cer­ning abst­en­ti­on is squa­re­ly refu­ted by his luxu­ry, which is now its­elf a means of cre­dit. Con­cep­ti­ons which have some mea­ning on a less deve­lo­ped stage of capi­ta­list pro­duc­tion, beco­me quite meanin­g­less here. Suc­cess and fail­ure both lead here to a cen­tra­li­sa­ti­on of capi­tal, and thus to expro­pria­ti­on on the most enorm­ous scale.

Marx is ges­t­uri­ng here towards not­hing less than what the tri­um­phant ruling class has para­ded ever more osten­ta­tious­ly in the past three deca­des: »too big to fail,« the socia­liza­ti­on of all risk, the pri­va­tiza­ti­on of all pro­fit. The con­cen­tra­ti­on of finan­cial wealth, poli­ti­cal power, and infor­ma­ti­on turns »spe­cu­la­ti­on« into a mis­no­mer for a »spe­cu­la­ti­ve« class which is the most acti­ve of all forces in sha­ping the eco­no­my, through the mani­pu­la­ti­on made pos­si­ble by its sheer sca­le. The sub­li­ma­ti­on of capi­ta­lism, the trans­for­ma­ti­on of the haut-bour­geois into a cas­te with direct poli­ti­cal con­trol of all social pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion. As must be rei­te­ra­ted again and again, any deve­lo­p­ment of this sort must look like not­hing other than a vast web of con­spi­ra­ci­es. This is exact­ly as Lenin descri­bed: »Poli­ti­cal reac­tion all along the line is a cha­rac­te­ristic fea­ture of impe­ria­lism. Cor­rup­ti­on, bri­be­ry on a huge sca­le, and all kinds of fraud.« (Impe­ria­lism and the Split in Socialism)

Now that we have estab­lished the theo­re­ti­cal foun­da­ti­ons laid by Marx and Lenin for under­stan­ding how and why capi­ta­list impe­ria­lism could, under cer­tain con­di­ti­ons, deve­lop into some­thing best unders­tood as a fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fe­rent mode of pro­duc­tion, we must return to the his­to­ri­cal record, and con­sider the evi­dence as to whe­ther such a turn of events did in fact occur. First, howe­ver, we must explain the sort of »ultra-impe­ria­lism« we are not arguing for here.

3.1 Vul­gar »Mul­ti­po­la­rism« is the Real Modern Kautskyism

To under­stand how and why impe­ria­list capi­ta­lism could deve­lop into some­thing like Ultra-Impe­ria­lism, we need to brief­ly exami­ne the reasons why Lenin cor­rect­ly rejec­ted Kautsky’s ide­as in his own his­to­ri­cal con­text. Lenin finds in Kaut­sky not one but two, see­mingly dia­me­tri­cal­ly oppo­sed, vari­ants of revi­sio­nism. On the one hand, the­re is the idea that impe­ria­lism is a pre­fer­red, but not essen­ti­al stra­tegy of capi­tal. This means that one can oppo­se and resist impe­ria­lism wit­hout oppo­sing capi­ta­lism per se. The ideo­lo­gi­cal basis for this devia­ti­on are the pet­ty-bour­geois who are them­sel­ves squeezed by impe­ria­list finan­cial capi­tal, and would love to go back to a hal­cyon past. As dis­cus­sed abo­ve, Lenin cor­rect­ly shows that capi­ta­lism ine­luc­ta­b­ly pro­du­ces the con­di­ti­ons which gene­ra­te finan­cia­liza­ti­on, mono­po­ly, and impe­ria­lism: any hope to turn back the clock is pure nai­ve­ty, a »pious wish«. Worse, it indu­ces the workers to sub­or­di­na­te them­sel­ves to the futi­le refor­mist lea­ders of the pet­ty bourgeoisie.

On the other hand, Kaut­sky also pro­mul­ga­ted the idea that impe­ria­lism could be an ulti­m­ate­ly pro­gres­si­ve step towards world­wi­de com­mu­nism. The appar­ent­ly vast con­tra­dic­tion bet­ween the­se two devia­ti­ons beco­mes clear when one under­stands the his­to­ri­cal con­text of refor­mism of which Kaut­sky was a fore­most pro­po­nent. In the milieu in which this deba­te was occur­ring, one of the most vexa­tious issues was that of some sort of United Sta­tes of Euro­pe. Lenin hims­elf had in 1915 cam­pai­gned for just such a con­cept as an inter­me­dia­te stage resul­ting from anti-mon­ar­chi­cal, demo­cra­tic revo­lu­ti­ons in various sta­tes in Euro­pe (Lenin, after ear­nest con­sul­ta­ti­on with fel­low Bols­he­viks, got his own slo­gan to this effect retrac­ted at the Bern con­fe­rence of the RSDLP in Febru­ary-March 1915. He beca­me con­vin­ced his posi­ti­on was »one sidedly poli­ti­cal« and that eco­no­mic­al fac­tors nee­ded to be hash­ed out in the par­ty press. Trots­ky, for his own part, and unsur­pri­sin­gly, flir­ted with more noxious­ly chau­vi­nist ite­ra­ti­ons of the idea). Wit­hout get­ting lost in the weeds, howe­ver, the essen­ti­al dan­ger that Lenin saw from Kaut­sky in this respect was pre­cis­e­ly the idea of ultra-impe­ria­lism as the poten­ti­al expres­si­on of inter­nal (social-demo­cra­tic) reform on exter­nal capi­ta­list-impe­ria­list policy.

The cor­re­spon­ding dan­ger is this: that the working class may be indu­ced into pas­si­vi­ty, or even into coope­ra­ti­on, with the ruling class pro­gram– in this case, some­thing like a United Sta­tes of Euro­pe – belie­ving that the inter­nal refor­mist strugg­le could make it pro­gres­si­ve. Both devia­ti­ons do in fact stem from the fun­da­men­tal theo­re­ti­cal fail­ure to grasp the inter­nal lin­kage bet­ween mono­po­ly capi­ta­lism and impe­ria­lism, and the insis­tence that the lat­ter is mere­ly one poli­ti­cal choice of many which the mono­po­lists may take. In the con­text of this essay as a who­le, it is wort­hwhile to make clear that the fun­da­men­tal error of Kautsky’s theo­ry of ultra-impe­ria­lism is the noti­on that impe­ria­lism is a poli­ti­cal choice. By con­trast, the core con­ten­ti­on of this essay is that impe­ria­lism names tho­se cir­cum­s­tances in which the enti­re­ty of capi­ta­list rela­ti­ons are fun­da­men­tal­ly sub­or­di­na­ted to a sort of con­scious com­mand and con­trol that can be well unders­tood as »poli­ti­cal« – but that neces­si­ta­tes impe­ria­lism.

The modern form of this strain of revi­sio­nism is not, in fact, »ultra-impe­ria­lism« – which in Kautsky’s sen­se is hard­ly advo­ca­ted any­whe­re, and in a non-Kaut­sky­ite sen­se appro­xi­ma­tes important truths. Inde­ed, the two most dan­ge­rous ite­ra­ti­ons of Kaut­sky­ite impe­ria­lism today are: 1) Libe­ral Human Rights Impe­ria­lism and 2) Pseu­do Dis­si­dent Mul­ti­po­la­rism. The first is rather obvious, even the worst Mar­xists are lar­ge­ly inu­red to it, and no one who falls for it is worth try­ing to rede­em. The 2nd, howe­ver, is more subt­le, and inde­ed is pro­ba­b­ly among the most per­ni­cious, in part becau­se it often expli­cit­ly posi­ti­ons its­elf in direct con­tra­dis­tinc­tion to an (ahis­to­ri­cal, cari­ca­tures­que) image of »Kaut­sky­ism«.

When we look at what the mul­ti-polar stra­tegy real­ly ent­ails, howe­ver, the par­al­lels are obvious. The core dan­ger that Lenin saw in Kautsky’s theo­ry of ultra-impe­ria­lism was that workers would be indu­ced into pas­si­vi­ty and hitch their wagon to some seg­ment of »good« refor­mist bour­geoi­sie, who would keep the capi­ta­list world sys­tem int­act, but in a nicer, more ami­ca­ble fashion, thus crea­ting the con­di­ti­ons for the final strugg­le towards socia­lism. Now, is this pic­tu­re real­ly much dif­fe­rent than that which inspi­res tho­se who put their faith in Xi, or Putin, or Duter­te, or Lula etc. ? The­se are all in fact hard­ly distin­gu­is­ha­ble fla­vors of the same poi­so­no­us myth: that some good impe­ria­lists (and they are all impe­ria­lists) might sof­ten or mode­ra­te or ease the cir­cum­s­tances of glo­bal bar­ba­rism to give socia­lism a bet­ter chan­ce. And this myth has pre­cis­e­ly the same results which Lenin so per­cep­tively fore­saw and fought against: poli­ti­cal pas­si­vi­ty and, when the decei­ved are ine­vi­ta­b­ly burnt, as they must be, nai­ve­ty, nihi­lism, sub­jec­tion and defeat. This is Kaut­sky­ism today.

3.2 Impe­ria­lism in and sin­ce WWII

To under­stand the his­to­ri­cal con­di­ti­ons which pro­du­ced the modern impe­ria­list sys­tem as a qua­li­ta­tively dif­fe­rent Mode of Pro­duc­tion, we should brief­ly con­sider the degree to which Lenin did enter­tain a form of »ultra-impe­ria­lism,« as well as why he ulti­m­ate­ly rejec­ted it:

Let us con­sider India, Indo-Chi­na and Chi­na. It is known that the­se three colo­ni­al and sem-ico­lo­ni­al count­ries, with a popu­la­ti­on of 600 – 700 mil­li­on, are sub­jec­ted to the explo­ita­ti­on of the finan­ce capi­tal of seve­ral impe­ria­list powers: Gre­at Bri­tain, France, Japan, the USA, etc. Let us assu­me that the­se impe­ria­list count­ries form alli­ances against one ano­ther in order to pro­tect or enlar­ge their pos­ses­si­ons, their inte­rests and their sphe­res of influence in the­se Asia­tic sta­tes; the­se alli­ances will be ›inter-impe­ria­list‹, or ›ultra-impe­ria­list‹ alli­ances. Let us assu­me that all the impe­ria­list count­ries con­clude an alli­ance for the ›peaceful‹ divi­si­on of the­se parts of Asia; this alli­ance would be an alli­ance of ›inter­na­tio­nal­ly united finan­ce capi­tal‹. The­re are actu­al examp­les of alli­ances of this kind in the histo­ry of the 20th cen­tu­ry — the atti­tu­de of the powers to Chi­na, for ins­tance. We ask, is it ›con­ceiva­ble‹, assum­ing that the capi­ta­list sys­tem remains int­act — and this is pre­cis­e­ly the assump­ti­on that Kaut­sky does make — that such alli­ances would be more than tem­po­ra­ry, that they would eli­mi­na­te fric­tion, con­flicts and strugg­le in every pos­si­ble form?

The ques­ti­on has only to be pre­sen­ted cle­ar­ly for any other than a nega­ti­ve ans­wer to be impos­si­ble. This is becau­se the only con­ceiva­ble basis under capi­ta­lism for the divi­si­on of sphe­res of influence, inte­rests, colo­nies, etc., is a cal­cu­la­ti­on of the strength of tho­se par­ti­ci­pa­ting in the divi­si­on, their gene­ral eco­no­mic, finan­cial, mili­ta­ry strength, etc. And the strength of the­se par­ti­ci­pan­ts in the divi­si­on does not chan­ge to an equal degree, for the even deve­lo­p­ment of dif­fe­rent under­ta­kings, trusts, bran­ches of indus­try, or count­ries is impos­si­ble under capi­ta­lism. Half a cen­tu­ry ago Ger­ma­ny was a mise­ra­ble, insi­gni­fi­cant coun­try, if her capi­ta­list strength is com­pared with that of Bri­tain at that time; Japan com­pared with Rus­sia in the same way. Is it ›con­ceiva­ble‹ that in 10 or 20 years’ time the rela­ti­ve strength of the impe­ria­list powers will have remain­ed unch­an­ged? It is out of the ques­ti­on. The­r­e­fo­re, in the rea­li­ties of the capi­ta­list sys­tem, and not in the banal phi­lis­ti­ne fan­ta­sies of Eng­lish par­sons, or of the Ger­man ›Mar­xist‹, Kaut­sky, ›inter-impe­ria­list‹ or ›ultra-impe­ria­list‹ alli­ances, no mat­ter what form they may assu­me, whe­ther of one impe­ria­list coali­ti­on against ano­ther, or of a gene­ral alli­ance embra­cing all the impe­ria­list powers, are ine­vi­ta­b­ly not­hing more than a ›truce‹ in peri­ods bet­ween wars. Peaceful alli­ances prepa­re the ground for wars, and in their turn grow out of wars; the one con­di­ti­ons the other, pro­du­cing alter­na­ting forms of peaceful and non-peaceful strugg­le on one and the same basis of impe­ria­list con­nec­tions and rela­ti­ons within world eco­no­mics and world poli­tics. But in order to paci­fy the workers and to recon­ci­le them with the social-chau­vi­nists who have deser­ted to the side of the bour­geoi­sie, over-wise Kaut­sky sepa­ra­tes one link of a sin­gle chain from ano­ther, sepa­ra­tes the pre­sent peaceful (and ultra-impe­ria­list, nay, ultra-ultra-impe­ria­list) alli­ance of all the powers for the ›paci­fi­ca­ti­on‹ of Chi­na (remem­ber the sup­pres­si­on of the Boxer Rebel­li­on) from the non-peaceful con­flict of tomor­row, which will prepa­re the ground for ano­ther »peaceful« gene­ral alli­ance for the par­ti­ti­on, say, of Tur­key, on the day after tomor­row, etc., etc. Ins­tead of show­ing the living con­nec­tion bet­ween peri­ods of impe­ria­list peace and peri­ods of impe­ria­list war, Kaut­sky pres­ents the workers with a lifel­ess abs­trac­tion in order to recon­ci­le them to their lifel­ess lea­ders. (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, IX)

It is first of all inte­res­t­ing and signi­fi­cant that the one »ultra-ultra-impe­ria­list« alli­ance which Lenin does ack­now­ledge was one for­med pre­cis­e­ly in respon­se to a radi­cal, ega­li­ta­ri­an, anti-colo­ni­al revo­lu­ti­on – i.e. the Boxer Rebel­li­on. It is also inte­res­t­ing to note that Lenin qua­li­fies his argu­ment with the caveat »assum­ing the capi­ta­list sys­tem stays int­act,« though our con­ten­ti­on is that in a meaningful sen­se its fun­da­men­tal cha­rac­ter has chan­ged. Final­ly, we must real­ly eva­lua­te the core of Lenin’s argu­ment, and whe­ther it actual­ly holds.

Lenin asserts, cor­rect­ly, that the dyna­mics of capi­ta­lism will pro­du­ce an ever shif­ting balan­ce of forces bet­ween the major impe­ria­list powers, or more pro­per­ly their domi­nant car­tels. The more powerful car­tels will demand a redis­tri­bu­ti­on of sphe­res of influence, and force it through war. Thus no ultra-impe­ria­list alli­ance could hold, inde­fi­ni­te­ly. Is this, howe­ver, real­ly cer­tain? Is it not pos­si­ble that, after two mas­si­ve inter-impe­ria­list con­vul­si­ons of the 21st cen­tu­ry enab­ling two mas­si­ve waves of revo­lu­ti­on, the sur­vi­ving capi­ta­list could not find some way to sett­le their differences.

Of cour­se, any account of the world sys­tem after WWII must assu­me that they have, becau­se for more than half a cen­tu­ry the major impe­ria­list powers have suc­cessful­ly avo­ided a major inter-impe­ria­list con­flict. So the ques­ti­on is not if, but how, a las­ting inter-impe­ria­list peace was bro­ke­red – par­ti­cu­lar­ly, under what con­di­ti­ons for the rele­vant par­ties. And in fact, while important details remain hid­den, the broad terms are both evi­dent and very wide­ly unders­tood in out­line by most, if not always unders­tood in their full signi­fi­can­ce. A tho­rough account of this pro­cess is of cour­se far bey­ond the scope of this paper. Our object here will main­ly bring to light threads which have been igno­red or under-app­re­cia­ted by many Mar­xists, but which are essen­ti­al for under­stan­ding our cur­rent moment.

After WWII the remai­ning capi­ta­list powers were bri­ga­ded into a rela­tively peaceful block under the lea­der­ship and domi­na­ti­on of the USA, with Japan and Wes­tern Euro­pe as signi­fi­cant satraps (the Tri­ad, in Amin’s ter­mi­no­lo­gy). What is the pro­per term for the USA, and the arran­ge­ment it con­s­truc­ted in the­se cir­cum­s­tances? Ultra-impe­ria­list? Super-impe­ria­list? The latin pre­fix is not very important, but the fact of its unpre­ce­den­ted domi­na­ti­on over the capi­ta­list block is bey­ond ques­ti­on. On the broad, macro-eco­no­mic level, this took the form of the Bret­ton-Woods sys­tem. Iro­ni­cal­ly, this was con­cei­ved by its orga­ni­zers as a veri­ta­ble Kaut­sky­ite ultra-impe­ria­list fan­ta­sy, spe­ci­fi­cal­ly desi­gned to cons­train impe­ria­lism and finan­cia­liza­ti­on in the inte­rests of capi­ta­lism. Keynes, after all, had a keen sen­se of financialization’s ten­den­cy to under­mi­ne its own capi­ta­list base, as evin­ced in his remarks about the need for low inte­rest rates in order to effect the »eutha­na­sia of the ren­tier.« It is not worth thras­hing out here the major trends in inter­na­tio­nal poli­ti­cal-eco­no­my from this era; they have been well docu­men­ted by Amin, and very com­pe­tent­ly defen­ded by com­ra­de Yana in her artic­le »Impe­ria­lis­mus und die Spal­tung der kom­mu­nis­ti­schen Bewe­gung.« At any rate, we will return to this issue in our dis­cus­sion of the labor aris­to­cra­cy below.

It is also doubtful that we must bela­bor here the more direct means by which the USA incre­asing­ly sub­or­di­na­ted its juni­or part­ners, often to the latter’s detri­ment. The laun­dry list of orga­niza­ti­ons, public and pri­va­te, through which this was achie­ved are well known and scar­ce­ly denied now even in social-demo­cra­tic mil­leus– the Mar­shall Plan, NATO, SEA­TO, the Tri­la­te­ral Com­mi­si­on, the Bil­der­berg Group, the World Eco­no­mic Forum, the World Health Orga­niza­ti­on, etc. – alt­hough important covert aspects of this pro­cess, in terms of the reinte­gra­ti­on and refi­ne­ment of the fascist power archi­tec­tu­re of the Japa­ne­se mili­ta­rists and the Nazis (par­ti­cu­lar­ly via Bohrmann’s and Gehlen’s respec­ti­ve orga­ni­zai­tons) deser­ve more atten­ti­on that they often recei­ve. The recup­er­a­ti­on of Euro­pean fascist forces in ser­vice of sub­or­di­na­ting Euro­pe to a lar­ger, anti-com­mu­nist / ultra-impe­ria­list pro­gram, espe­ci­al­ly any poten­ti­al­ly rebel­lious sec­tions of the working class, has been well cover­ed by Danie­le Gan­ser (NATO’s Secret Armies). Fur­ther­mo­re, as Alfred W. McCoy docu­men­ted meti­cu­lous­ly in his essen­ti­al text, The Poli­tics of Hero­in in Sou­the­ast Asia, the exi­gen­ci­es of WWII occa­sio­ned the near total inte­gra­ti­on of major orga­ni­zed crime net­works under the direct mono­po­ly con­trol of the Ame­ri­can intel­li­gence apparatus.

Inde­ed, it is an unavo­ida­ble logi­cal con­se­quence of our cur­rent geo­po­li­ti­cal order that any »black mar­ket« or cri­mi­nal acti­vi­ty bey­ond a tri­vi­al sca­le can hard­ly func­tion wit­hout tight inte­gra­ti­on into intel­li­gence agen­cy con­trol­led net­works – this is often ack­now­led­ged in the case of drug traf­fi­cking, the ille­gal arms trade, of the mer­cena­ry mar­ket, but the­re is a pecu­li­ar reti­cence to ack­now­ledge that it is evi­dent­ly the case with respect to human traf­fi­cking. So too is it the case that much wild­life pro­tec­tion, espe­ci­al­ly in the third world, amounts to litt­le more than a new sil­va regis for the ruling class, achie­ved by pseu­do-cha­ri­ta­ble orga­niza­ti­ons like the WWF (which fit­tingly enough also func­tions as a cover for mer­cena­ry fun­ding). As plans by the EU to exempt cor­po­ra­te jets from a plan­ned future fuel tax make clear, cri­mi­na­liza­ti­on, rest­ric­tions, and sanc­tions in our actual­ly exis­ting cur­rent order will con­ti­nue to func­tion as a means for estab­li­shing exclu­si­ve mono­po­lies for the ruling class via the cri­mi­nal or covert intel­li­gence (again, as McCoy shows, the­re is no real distinc­tion) they control.

This ten­den­cy of the incre­asing ext­ent and varie­ty of sta­te and regu­la­to­ry cap­tu­re to trans­form the ruling class into some­thing more like a cas­te and some­thing less and less intel­li­gi­ble in terms of the his­to­ric libe­ral order bequea­thed by the revo­lu­tio­na­ry bour­geoi­sie rea­ched its most bra­zen form in the lock­downs of the past two and a half years. Ana­to­le France once remark­ed that »the law, in its maje­s­tic equa­li­ty, for­bids rich and poor ali­ke to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to ste­al their bread.« Coro­na rest­ric­tions, like­wi­se, ban­ned tho­se with man­si­ons and lar­ge estates, as well as tho­se resi­ding in squ­al­id one-room apart­ments, from lea­ving their »home«, or enjoy­ing the fresh air out­side their »home« (whe­ther that home included fields and forests or not) wit­hout a mask. In various ins­tances they ban­ned the poor as well as the rich from wage-labor, or public trans­port, public health care –espe­ci­al­ly if they were unvac­ci­na­ted. Tra­vel by pri­va­te jet has been by and lar­ge unim­pe­ded by bor­der rest­ric­tions, and at any rate, anyo­ne with a pri­va­te doc­tor can get »vac­ci­na­ted« accor­ding to their incli­na­ti­on. Despi­te the many requi­re­ments to be vac­ci­na­ted in order to live, work, or be reu­ni­ted with one’s fami­ly, the­re have never been any vac­ci­ne requi­re­ments to own a busi­ness, or any other asset. And of cour­se, throug­hout many waves of eco­no­mic rest­ric­tions, it was almost always the case that lar­ge mono­po­lies could remain open, while SMEs could not– eco­no­my of sca­le was sur­pas­sed by the straight­for­ward tyran­ny of sca­le, the direct poli­ti­cal thrott­ling of any remo­te­ly inde­pen­dent capital.

At the risk of get­ting ahead of our­sel­ves here, howe­ver, it is important in this sec­tion to trace one cru­cial part of the genea­lo­gy of our cur­rent order which has been some­what under-enga­ged with by the insti­tu­tio­na­li­zed Mar­xist tra­di­ti­on (with signi­fi­cant excep­ti­ons), and that is to do with the mono­po­ly achie­ved over the money sup­p­ly and the essen­ti­al role play­ed by cen­tral banks in the con­so­li­da­ti­on of gene­ral mono­po­li­stic power. The fact that Marx died befo­re he could com­ple­te his plan­ned sec­tions of Capi­tal regar­ding the cre­dit sys­tem and the natio­nal debt may per­haps play some role in this imba­lan­ce. A more dif­fi­cult issue is that the cri­ti­cism of »ban­kers« or arti­fi­ci­al­ly iso­la­ted »finan­ce capi­tal« – con­cei­ved of as para­si­tic on the other­wi­se healt­hy body of capi­ta­lism– has been a main­stay of fascist and fas­co­id politics.

That such cir­cum­s­tances have made some reluc­tant to enga­ge in a tho­rough exami­na­ti­on and cri­tique of capi­ta­list mone­ta­ry poli­cy, cre­dit, and ban­king prac­ti­ce is under­stan­da­ble, but not accep­ta­ble. Mar­xists must have the intellec­tu­al and moral matu­ri­ty to hand­le pro­ble­ma­tic texts with cri­ti­cal dis­cern­ment, not flee from any­thing which they fear might infect them. This ten­den­cy is part and par­cel of the same absurd prac­ti­ce of Wes­tern Mar­xist par­ties over the past two years to eit­her igno­re, defa­me, or even worse, actively aid the sta­te in hin­de­ring the grea­test mass pro­test mobi­liza­ti­on of the last cen­tu­ry becau­se sta­te and cor­po­ra­te media dub­bed said pro­tests »right wing«. The scan­da­lous lack of sci­en­ti­fic bea­ring among such Mar­xists, who eit­her could not be bothe­red, or were too coward­ly, to enga­ge with the actu­al par­ti­ci­pan­ts of said pro­tests (and dis­co­ver their often broad­ly left-wing com­mit­ments and ori­en­ta­ti­ons) is a black mark on all of our names which will serious­ly hin­der us in the important poli­ti­cal work which stands befo­re us.

In this regard, it is wort­hwhile here to note that per­haps the sin­gle grea­test source of infor­ma­ti­on for Lenin’s Impe­ria­lism was J.A. Hobson’s Impe­ria­lism: A Stu­dy (1902). Hob­son was an open anti-semi­te, and his anti-sem­tism runs through much of his work, inclu­ding his Impe­ria­lism: A Stu­dy its­elf. The anti-semi­tism he indul­ged in was pre­cis­e­ly that typi­cal of the sys­tem-cri­ti­cal pet­ty-bour­geo­sie, who see in it a way to excul­pa­te capi­ta­lism from its own ine­vi­ta­ble ten­den­ci­es towards mono­po­ly and to bla­me, ins­tead, a nefa­rious jewish plot. The point is that Lenin was able to cri­ti­cal­ly iso­la­te and extra­ct the useful infor­ma­ti­on from the text, wit­hout con­ta­mi­na­ti­on (or, evi­dent­ly, any fear the­reof, trus­ting in his and his fel­lows abili­ty to defeat this strain of thin­king sim­ply by forceful­ly advan­cing a bet­ter ana­ly­sis, Mar­xism, which enjoys the incom­pa­ra­ble attrac­ti­ve­ness of truth and vali­di­ty, and which would ine­vi­ta­b­ly be pro­ven supe­ri­or in revo­lu­tio­na­ry pra­xis). In the cur­rent cri­sis, the ruling class engi­nes of dis­in­for­ma­ti­on are revi­ving and reinven­ting innu­me­ra­ble varie­ties of anti-sem­tism with which to ens­na­re, con­fu­se, and mis­di­rect the mas­ses coming to class consciousness.

Thus it is Lenin, relent­less roo­ter-out of anti-Semi­tic impos­ter ana­ly­ses, whom we must emu­la­te when we con­front the tex­tu­al mate­ri­als and inter­ven­ti­ons available to us, and work to attain his abili­ty and his wil­ling­ness to learn from non-Mar­xist pet­ty-bour­geois cri­ti­ques of impe­ria­lism and finan­cia­liza­ti­on, like Hobson’s, while simul­ta­neous­ly cor­rec­ting them and explai­ning the ori­g­ins and func­tion of their per­ver­si­ons. As he observed:

the mons­trous facts con­cer­ning the mons­trous rule of the finan­cial olig­ar­chy are so gla­ring that in all capi­ta­list count­ries, in Ame­ri­ca, France and Ger­ma­ny, a who­le lite­ra­tu­re has sprung up, writ­ten from the bour­geois point of view, but which, nevert­hel­ess, gives a fair­ly truthful pic­tu­re and cri­ti­cism — pet­ty-bour­geois, natu­ral­ly — of this olig­ar­chy. (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, III)

While mindful of the limi­ta­ti­ons of pet­ty-bour­geois cri­ti­cism, it is worth not­ing that they enjoy far more resour­ces, lei­su­re time, and liber­ty than the working mas­ses. They also may have a bet­ter under­stan­ding of cer­tain aspects of the real ope­ra­ti­on of class rule, at the level of manage­ment, orga­niza­ti­on, and admi­nis­tra­ti­on. The divi­si­on of intellec­tu­al labor lea­ves us no choice but to rely on the gene­ral mass of out­put, cri­ti­cal and other­wi­se, of a varie­ty of pro­fes­sio­nals, in sci­en­ces, in finan­ce, in jour­na­lism, in govern­ment, for per­cep­ti­on of the world sys­tem as they and we repro­du­ce it.

Thus in the spi­rit of Lenin, it behoo­ves us to look cri­ti­cal­ly, but serious­ly, at the mate­ri­al gene­ra­ted by dis­si­dent sec­tions of the pet­ty-bour­geoi­sie, and inde­ed the bour­geoi­sie its­elf, while taking the grea­test care to distin­gu­ish dis­si­dent non-Mar­xists (like Cathe­ri­ne Aus­tin Fitts, John Titus, Robert F. Ken­ne­dy, Jr, Wall Street On Para­de, Naked Capi­ta­lism, or the often very repul­si­ve Viney­ard Saker and Zero Hedge aut­hors) from mere impos­ters and frauds (like Fabio Vighi, Off-Guar­di­an, The Larou­che Orga­niza­ti­ons, or MAGA COM­MU­NISM). Need­less to say every case can’t be easi­ly deci­ded (who knows what the deal is with Gior­gio Agam­ben or Rei­ner Fuell­mich). But that the­re must be an incre­asing amount of genui­ne dis­si­dent out­put from finan­ce and medi­cal pro­fes­sio­nals and aca­de­mia seems assu­red by the Mar­xist-Leni­nist ana­ly­sis of impe­ria­lism explai­ning how the domi­nant fac­tions of the bour­geoi­sie also incre­asing­ly prey on each other, and the ine­vi­ta­ble con­se­quence of the wealth con­cen­tra­ti­on is that ever grea­ter rungs of the bour­geoi­sie are cast down into the mas­ses, or at the very least face the serious pro­s­pect thereof.

The sub­se­quent sec­tion will draw in par­ti­cu­lar from bour­geoi­sie and pet­ty-bour­geois cri­tics of mone­ta­ry poli­cy such as Micha­el Row­bo­t­ham and Alfred Owen Cro­zier, as well as more gene­ral and radi­cal (albeit »con­ser­va­ti­ve« or »right­wing«) cri­tics of what they descri­be as the »finan­cial coup« which has occur­red sin­ce the late 90s, Cathe­ri­ne Aus­tin Fitts and John Titus. For the sake of time we will focus on the USA, but must note that important deve­lo­p­ments were pre­ce­ded by the for­mer ultra-impe­ria­list power from which it took over the man­t­le of capi­ta­list-impe­ria­list hegem­o­ny, the U.K. It is bey­ond the scope of this paper to do more than sign­post signi­fi­cant moments.

4. The Nixo­ni­an Gam­bit and its Precursors

The more or less com­ple­te car­te­liza­ti­on of the U.S. eco­no­my was com­ple­ted by the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry– in this respect the U.S. illus­tra­tes well the link iden­ti­fied by Lenin bet­ween mono­po­liza­ti­on and impe­ria­lism, with Ame­ri­ca initia­ting the Spa­nish Ame­ri­can War in 1898. As Lenin hims­elf obser­ved, this “stir­red up the oppo­si­ti­on of the” anti-impe­ria­lists, the last of the Mohi­cans of bour­geois demo­cra­cy, who declared this war to be »cri­mi­nal.« (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism IX) Such resis­tance, wit­hout any will to oppo­se the capi­ta­list roots of impe­ria­lism, natu­ral­ly fai­led. Again, we see the clear assump­ti­on on the part of Lenin that bour­geois demo­cra­cy was alre­a­dy essen­ti­al­ly over in his time.

The­re is good reason to belie­ve that, by the last deca­des of the 19th cen­tu­ry, finan­cial capi­tal had rea­ched a degree of con­cen­tra­ti­on in the United Sta­tes, such that eco­no­mic cri­ses could be reason­ab­ly well pre­dic­ted (at least in the short to medi­um term) and deli­bera­te­ly indu­ced through coor­di­na­ted efforts of ban­king cartels.The choice of the term »indu­ced« here is deli­be­ra­te, and it is meant in the sen­se in which it is used in medi­ci­ne: the capi­ta­list class had by no means acqui­red the capa­ci­ty to rid capi­ta­lism of its ten­den­cy towards cri­ses (had they even wis­hed to do so) but the long­stan­ding capa­ci­ty of domi­nant capi­tal fac­tions to exploit cri­ses was refi­ned fur­ther into the capa­ci­ty to deli­bera­te­ly has­ten or pro­vo­ke them in oppor­tu­ne cir­cum­s­tances. Alfred Owen Cro­zier argued that the finan­cial panics of 1873, 1893, and 1907 were arti­fi­ci­al­ly crea­ted by Wall Street Ban­kers in order to advan­ce their coll­ec­ti­ve finan­cial and / or poli­ti­cal interest.

In the case of the 1893 panic at least, the­re is very strong evi­dence it was pro­vo­ked inor­der to pres­su­re con­gress to repeal the Sher­man Anti­trust Act, inclu­ding a coor­di­na­ted cam­paign by the Natio­nal Ban­kers’ Asso­cia­ti­on to with­draw loans. (Titus 42) By the 20th cen­tu­ry banks could not only force legis­la­ti­on but also flaut what laws did exist. A 1911 report from the Office of the Comp­t­rol­ler of Cur­ren­cy (OCC) found that »ful­ly 60% of banks were rou­ti­ne­ly vio­la­ting one or more dif­fe­rent pro­vi­si­ons of the U.S. code« (Titus 51). As Titus obser­ves, »In this light, the sta­tu­to­ry crea­ti­on of the pri­va­te­ly owned Fede­ral Reser­ve in 1913 in rea­li­ty repre­sen­ted the anoin­ting of the Fed’s owners as the dons of a mas­si­ve­ly powerful cri­mi­nal enter­pri­se, head­quar­te­red in New York.« (Titus 51) The crea­ti­on of the Fede­ral Reser­ve is a clas­sic case of popu­lar sen­ti­ment being redi­rec­ted to fur­ther the aim of ruling class con­so­li­da­ti­on: the mas­ses were outra­ged by the Banks after the 1907 crash, par­ti­cu­lar­ly JP Mor­gan Cha­se. The popu­lar out­cry for more regu­la­ti­on was exploi­ted to jus­ti­fy the gran­ting of the very same ban­kers more direct con­trol over fede­ral cre­dit, insi­der info, and the US money sup­p­ly (Fitts, »The Black Bud­get of the United States«).

In not­ing the cru­cial role play­ed by the sta­te in has­tening the tran­si­ti­on from feu­da­lism to capi­ta­lism, Marx obser­ved that »Force is the mid­wi­fe of every old socie­ty pregnant with a new one. It is its­elf an eco­no­mic power (Marx, Capi­tal I, Ch.31). As noted abo­ve, the two World Wars, as well as the depres­si­on bet­ween them, gave a huge impe­tus to the ten­den­ci­es towards ruling class con­cen­tra­ti­on alre­a­dy iden­ti­fied as so advan­ced by Lenin. This includes the sus­pen­si­on of important ele­ments of bour­geoi­sie demo­cra­cy; the grea­ter sta­te coor­di­na­ti­on of the eco­no­my, which in a capi­ta­list sys­tem inva­ria­bly means the even tigh­ter direct inte­gra­ti­on of the sta­te and capi­tal; and the ela­bo­ra­ti­on of and empower­ment of intel­li­gence and poli­ce services.

As we saw abo­ve, the cri­ses of capi­ta­lism, mani­fest­ing in an inter-impe­ria­list war, did crea­te the pos­si­bi­li­ty and, in the Soviet Uni­on, the rea­li­ty of a socia­list revo­lu­ti­on over­thro­wing capi­tal. The ruling class, it must be end­less­ly rei­te­ra­ted, are not pas­si­ve. They actively plan, orga­ni­ze, and coor­di­na­te to advan­ce their inte­rests– inde­ed, they have more means, and more time to do so than anyo­ne else. By exploi­ting the work of others, they are freed to enga­ge all their ener­gies in the work of exploi­ting, i.e. main­tai­ning, defen­ding, and expan­ding their posi­ti­on of power. As the con­tra­dic­tions of capi­ta­lism shar­pe­ned, we must ima­gi­ne that capi­ta­lists neces­s­a­ri­ly stro­ve to over­co­me, resol­ve, or defer them. In doing so we must not fan­ta­size that they have any sen­ti­men­tal com­mit­ment to capi­ta­lism per se. We must ima­gi­ne their choice dic­ta­ted by their real mate­ri­al inte­rests and fears – not »under cir­cum­s­tances cho­sen by them­sel­ves, but under cir­cum­s­tances direct­ly encoun­te­red, given and trans­mit­ted from the past« (Marx, 18th Bru­mai­re).

Fitts argues that through a num­ber of mecha­nisms the U.S. Govern­ment through the first half of the 20th cen­tu­ry achie­ved more or less com­ple­te con­trol over the U.S. eco­no­my by estab­li­shing a »com­man­ding posi­ti­on in the cre­dit mar­kets.« (Fitts, »The Black Bud­get of the United Sta­tes«) As both a con­ces­si­on to, and a means up capi­ta­li­zing on, real and sys­tem-threa­tening working class dis­con­tent in the gre­at depres­si­on, FDR estab­lished the Exch­an­ge Sta­bi­liza­ti­on fund (1934) and Social Secu­ri­ty (1935). The ESF is an undis­c­lo­sed fund which can tap fede­ral cre­dit and is ans­werable only to the Pre­si­dent and the Secre­ta­ry of the Tre­asu­ry. It is important to recall here, becau­se its fami­lia­ri­ty now almost obscu­res its signi­fi­can­ce, how dra­ma­tic an altera­ti­on in capi­ta­list rela­ti­ons is ent­ail­ed by the estab­lish­ment of the wel­fa­re sta­te. Tec­to­nic shifts in the dis­tri­bu­ti­on of risks are effec­ted in this peri­od, some in favor of various fac­tions of labor, some of capi­tal. As Klein notes, food stamps, for ins­tance, sub­stan­ti­al­ly insu­re con­su­mer com­mo­di­ty pro­du­cers against risk. From the stand­point of the sys­tem as a who­le, this must be seen as the more direct deter­mi­na­ti­on of how sur­plus is dis­tri­bu­ted via govern­ment policy.

The pre­de­ces­sor of the Depart­ment of Housing and Urban Deve­lo­p­ment (HUD) was also for­med in 1934 (the Fede­ral Housing Admi­nis­tra­ti­on) fol­lo­wed sub­se­quent­ly by the GSEs Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac. As Fitts obser­ves »the Fede­ral Reser­ve (that is the car­tel) to set the pri­ce of money, the ESF, the GSEs, and lat­ter­ly HUD, have pro­ved to be powerful forces for regu­la­ting money flows and demand in the US eco­no­my.« (Fitts, »The Black Bud­get of the United Sta­tes«) WWII and the Cold War engen­de­red both the reform of the U.S. Mili­ta­ry, endo­wing it with a »war­ti­me mili­ta­ry bud­get and force struc­tu­re in peace­time«, and the pas­sa­ge of the CIA Act in 1949 »crea­ted a bud­get mecha­nism that allo­wed the CIA to spend as much money as it wan­ted »wit­hout regard to the pro­vi­si­ons of law and regu­la­ti­ons rela­ting to the expen­dit­u­re of govern­ment funds« (Fitts, »The Black Bud­get of the United Sta­tes«) Taken tog­e­ther, the­se levers enable tho­se who the run the U.S. govern­ment (i.e. the van­guard of the ruling class) to exert direct yet secret (i.e. covert­ly plan­ned and initia­ted) con­trol over the com­man­ding heights of the U.S. economy.

The alre­a­dy sub­stan­ti­al eco­no­mic con­trol over the glo­bal eco­no­my which such a posi­ti­on ent­ail­ed was radi­cal­ly expan­ded with the super­ses­si­on of the Bret­ton-Woods sys­tem. As noted abo­ve, Bret­ton Woods must be unders­tood as an inter-impe­ria­list com­pro­mi­se under U.S. hegem­o­ny, which employ­ed finan­cial repres­si­on to enable pro­duc­ti­ve capi­ta­lism. To a signi­fi­cant ext­ent, the sys­tem did hin­der the out­right domi­nan­ce of powerful sta­tes– and pre­cis­e­ly as Lenin pre­dic­ted, such an inter-impe­ria­list peace could and did not hold. Rather than open impe­ria­list war, howe­ver, the van­guard of the Ame­ri­can ruling class under Nixon embark­ed on some­thing per­haps more radi­cal: the initia­ti­on of total finan­cial dic­ta­tor­ship over the rest of the capi­ta­list bloc.

What Lenin per­haps could not have fore­seen was that the gam­bit was effec­ti­ve: Nixon suc­cee­ded. And he suc­cee­ded pre­cis­e­ly becau­se bet­ween the opti­ons of Dol­lar-dic­ta­tor­ship or revo­lu­tio­na­ry com­mu­nism in the form of the USSR, Chi­na, Viet­nam and the enti­re deco­lo­ni­al wave, the ruling clas­ses of Euro­pe, Japan, and along with them the com­pra­dor eli­te the world over had no choice but to accept the for­mer. Inde­ed, Nixon’s gam­bit was initia­ted direct­ly in respon­se to the thre­at to glo­bal capi­ta­lism (and class socie­ty in gene­ral) posed by the heroic resis­tance of the Viet­na­me­se mas­ses to Ame­ri­can Imperialism.

In Nixon’s gam­bit, descri­bed very well by Peter Gowan in The Glo­bal Gam­ble, we see the Ame­ri­can van­guard of the capi­ta­list ruling class respon­ding to a cri­sis (or, inde­ed, a num­ber of cri­ses, inclu­ding the eco­no­mic thre­at from the U.S. posed by Japan and Euro­pe, the risk of deva­luing the dol­lar, the Viet­nam war) by con­so­li­da­ting and sei­zing more power and more con­trol, in the pro­cess fur­ther alte­ring the sys­tem. In par­ti­cu­lar, the suc­cess of the Ame­ri­can ruling class in estab­li­shing what Gowan calls the »Dol­lar Wall Street Regime« none­thel­ess instal­led them in an excee­din­gly pre­ca­rious posi­ti­on over a much more vola­ti­le sys­tem, ridd­led with its own distinct con­tra­dic­tions. Among­st the most signi­fi­cant of the­se lay in their rela­ti­onship with the dome­stic labor aris­to­cra­ci­es of the tri­ad, an ana­ly­sis of which gets us very clo­se to under­stan­ding the com­ple­xi­ties of our cur­rent moment.

5. The Roles of the Labor Aristocracy

In her artic­le »Impe­ria­lis­mus und die Spal­tung der kom­mu­nis­ti­schen Bewe­gung,« com­ra­de Yana signi­fi­cant­ly ele­va­ted the level of the dis­cus­sion by serious­ly inte­gra­ting the issue of the impe­ri­al labor aris­to­cra­cy into her ana­ly­sis. Up until that point, it had recei­ved strikin­gly litt­le dis­cus­sion, though Lenin’s cla­ri­fi­ca­ti­on of their role was one of the most signi­fi­cant and impactful con­tri­bu­ti­ons to ari­se from his Impe­ria­lism pam­phlet. Her com­pa­ri­son of tho­se who deny the signi­fi­can­ce of impe­ria­lism in the inte­rest of »working class unity« with tho­se who deny gen­der imba­lan­ces in the name of the same was par­ti­cu­lar­ly astu­te. Howe­ver, Yana notes that she is una­wa­re of any works which attempt to quan­ti­ta­tively compa­re the amount mem­bers of the labor aris­to­cra­cy are exploi­ted ver­sus how much they recei­ve as divi­dends from impe­ria­list super-explo­ita­ti­on of the periphery.

In fact, just this has been done with tre­men­dous depth and rigor by Zak Cope in his two texts, Divi­ded World, Divi­ded Class (2012) and The Wealth of (some) Nati­ons (2019). They are, so far as the pre­sent aut­hor is awa­re, the most up to date and exten­si­ve exami­na­ti­on of the labor aris­to­cra­cy, and though fla­wed, are of tre­men­dous importance. Cope’s fin­dings indi­ca­te that, in strict­ly for­mal, eco­no­mi­stic terms, the majo­ri­ty of labor aris­to­cra­ci­es in the impe­ria­list core count­ries sin­ce WWII have enjoy­ed a rate of real explo­ita­ti­on approa­ching zero– or, in some con­texts, even in the nega­ti­ve: por­ti­ons of the wes­tern working class have at various points recei­ved more via impe­ria­lism then they have lost via the explo­ita­ti­on of their own wage labor. Lar­ge swaths of the labor aris­to­cra­cy do have some meager amount of capi­tal, in the form of their savings, their pen­si­on funds, their uni­ons, their homes, inde­ed, in some sen­se in the natio­nal tre­asu­ries they have a cla­im on. Cope’s texts are an essen­ti­al cor­rec­ti­ve to the chau­vi­nist deni­al of the labor aris­to­cra­cy which one most typi­cal­ly asso­cia­tes with Trots­ky­ites, but evi­dent­ly, based on Yana’s artic­le, is also an issue in the KKE.

Tho­se who deny the importance of the labor aris­to­cra­cy in the 20th cen­tu­ry in the inte­rest of cyni­cal, imme­dia­te poli­ti­cal gain, howe­ver, rob of us of an essen­ti­al means of poli­ti­cal cla­ri­fi­ca­ti­on and enligh­ten­ment. Wit­hout it, we can­not explain the chau­vi­nism and natio­na­lism of impe­ri­al core popu­la­ti­ons. We can­not explain the fail­ure of com­mu­nism in the­se regi­ons over the past cen­tu­ry. And, inde­ed, we can­not explain cru­cial ele­ments of Actual­ly Exis­ting Socialism’s col­lap­se. One of the most essen­ti­al means by which the capi­ta­list-impe­ria­list block was able to under­mi­ne socia­lism was to con­vin­ce lar­ge popu­la­ti­ons in the socia­list world that the stan­dard of living enjoy­ed by the impe­ria­list core was a result of »capi­ta­lism« (rather than impe­ria­lism) and the stan­dard of living in the socia­list world that of »socia­lism«. This obfus­ca­ti­on signi­fi­cant­ly under­mi­ned the legi­ti­ma­cy of socia­list sys­tems, and encou­ra­ged coun­ter-revo­lu­tio­na­ry sentiments.

That said, we must also cri­tique the eco­no­mi­stic and exces­si­ve­ly third-worl­dist con­clu­si­ons of Cope, in par­ti­cu­lar the idea that wes­tern workers defen­ding their inte­rests (fight­ing wage reduc­tions etc.) are not worth sup­port­ing – or even that some wage reduc­tion might be neces­sa­ry for wes­tern workers for an equi­ta­ble dis­tri­bu­ti­on of glo­bal wealth. Com­ra­de Jan Mül­ler cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fies how such poli­ti­cal lines are wea­po­nized to give an ultra-left cover to neo­li­be­ral poli­ci­es (»Kri­ti­sche Anmer­kun­gen zur Theo­rie der ›Arbei­ter­aris­to­kra­tie‹) The main­ten­an­ce of the impe­ria­list sys­tem is mons­trous­ly expen­si­ve – expen­si­ve, direct­ly in terms of the cos­ts of mili­ta­ry expen­dit­u­re, pro­pa­gan­da and poli­ti­cal repres­si­on, bri­be­ry etc. – the bill for which the high wage working class and pro­le­ta­ria­ni­zed pro­fes­sio­nals of social demo­cra­cy foot pri­ma­ri­ly, and which they also lar­ge­ly per­so­nal­ly car­ry out– but also expen­si­ve from the point of view of total assets available for appro­pria­ti­on in the sen­se that it very often ent­ails the des­truc­tion of pro­duc­ti­ve capa­ci­ties (fixed capi­tal, as well as varia­ble capi­tal), and also expen­si­ve in terms of oppor­tu­ni­ty-cos­ts, i.e. in the sen­se that impe­ria­lism, like capi­ta­lism its­elf, is, as Marx stres­sed, a fet­ter on human pro­duc­ti­vi­ty. As Samir Amin and others have exten­si­ve­ly docu­men­ted, much of impe­ria­list pra­xis has invol­ved frus­t­ra­ting attempts by the peri­phery to pro­duc­tively employ capi­tal in auto­cen­tric accu­mu­la­ti­on. For the labor aris­to­cra­cy, even at the height of its pri­vi­le­ge, the impe­ria­list sys­tem has ent­ail­ed tre­men­dous frus­tra­ti­on and ali­en­ati­on, poli­ti­cal sub­or­di­na­ti­on and repres­si­on, and moral dis­sa­tis­fac­tion. The labor aris­to­cra­cy live worse lives, both moral­ly and mate­ri­al­ly, than they could under com­mu­nism. At any rate, what is most signi­fi­cant about the labor aris­to­cra­cy for our pre­sent pur­po­ses that it is under direct attack.

Lenin alre­a­dy reco­gni­zed important dialec­ti­cal ten­si­ons inher­ent in the ela­bo­ra­ti­on of a labor aristocracy:

On the one hand, the­re is the ten­den­cy of the bour­geoi­sie and the oppor­tu­nists to con­vert a handful of very rich and pri­vi­le­ged nati­ons into ›eter­nal‹ para­si­tes on the body of the rest of man­kind, to ›rest on the lau­rels‹ of the explo­ita­ti­on of Negroes, Indi­ans, etc., kee­ping them in sub­jec­tion with the aid of the excel­lent wea­pons of exter­mi­na­ti­on pro­vi­ded by modern militarism.On the other hand, the­re is the ten­den­cy of the mas­ses, who are more oppres­sed than befo­re and who bear the who­le brunt of impe­ria­list wars, to cast off this yoke and to over­throw the bour­geoi­sie. (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, Appen­dix)

In the strugg­le of inter­na­tio­nal capi­tal against revo­lu­tio­na­ry com­mu­nism after WWII, the Labor Aris­to­cra­cy took on new signi­fi­can­ce: the ruling class’s posi­ti­on was pre­ca­rious, capi­tal was on the defen­si­ve, and major con­ces­si­ons had to be made to dome­stic workers to both keep them doci­le, and to fur­nish pro­pa­gan­da for »capi­ta­list pro­spe­ri­ty«. This arran­ge­ment had evi­dent con­tra­dic­tions: the empower­ment of any other class is unfa­vorable to the ruling class. Any class with inde­pen­dent funds and lei­su­re time can more easi­ly orga­ni­ze and coor­di­na­te to advan­ce its own inte­rests through com­mu­ni­ty orga­niza­ti­ons, poli­ti­cal par­ties, etc. Thus the sta­cked inte­rest of the ruling class in making and kee­ping us poor: with time and money we can defend and advan­ce our inte­rests. This is pre­cis­e­ly why Marx empha­si­zes that histo­ry is the histo­ry of class strugg­le. The war bet­ween the mas­ses and the ruling class is a zero-sum game. A shorter work day is more time, not just for lei­su­re, but to plan, orga­ni­ze, and revolt; bet­ter food or bet­ter edu­ca­ti­on for workers trans­la­tes into more ener­gy and grea­ter capa­ci­ties for advan­cing our own inte­rests. As Tony Benn once obser­ved, »an edu­ca­ted, healt­hy, and con­fi­dent nati­on is har­der to govern.« So the ruling class tole­ra­ted the estab­lish­ment of a broad labor aris­to­cra­cy only inso­far as it was abso­lut­e­ly neces­sa­ry– and when it wasn’t, they imme­dia­te­ly set about dis­mant­ling it.

As ever, con­tra­dic­tions abound. Par­ti­cu­lar­ly in the post WWII era, the wes­tern labor aris­to­cra­cy acqui­red a secon­da­ry, but extre­me­ly important func­tion for capi­tal: that of con­su­mer of last resort. As a signi­fi­cant nexus of capi­tal rea­liza­ti­on, they also acqui­red extre­me importance for the mone­ta­ry and finan­cial sys­tem: as a tax base, and as owner/​buyers of homes, pen­si­ons, and mor­tga­ges. The Dol­lar Wall Street Regime initia­ted by Nixon in important ways made the ruling class van­guard and the enti­re glo­bal capi­ta­list eco­no­my depen­dent on a money sup­p­ly that requi­red a fair­ly wealt­hy labor aris­to­cra­cy to sus­tain it. If Ame­ri­cans, for ins­tance, weren’t wealt­hy enough to sus­tain both the per­so­nal debts which enable bank-money crea­ti­on and to pay the prin­ci­pal via their taxes on the natio­nal debt which enables the reser­ves, the enti­re sys­tem would be untenable.

The lar­ger this labor aris­to­cra­cy, the lar­ger and more pro­duc­ti­ve the clas­ses of super exploi­ted must be, and the lar­ger in turn must this always pro­ble­ma­tic sub­al­tern class grow. Yet the ruling class can­not main­tain inde­fi­ni­te­ly a lar­ge wealt­hy labor aris­to­cra­cy. Inde­ed, the con­tra­dic­tions in this arran­ge­ment must have cer­tain­ly beco­me evi­dent in the neo­li­be­ral pro­gram, which saw a mul­ti-level assault on the glo­bal working class inclu­ding the Wes­tern labor aris­to­cra­cy. It is per­haps in this con­text, if not ear­lier, that the ruling class van­guard pivo­ted towards what Fitts has descri­bed as the »finan­cial coup«. They must have alre­a­dy unders­tood at some level when the Nixo­ni­an gam­bit was initia­ted that they would need (and could now real­ly con­cei­ve of and imple­ment), much more direct means for con­trol­ling the popu­la­ti­on. It is note­wor­t­hy that the sum­mer of 1971, when the US ter­mi­na­ted con­ver­ti­bi­li­ty to gold, was also the sum­mer in which The Limits to Growth was first pre­sen­ted in Moscow and Rio de Janei­ro. The sum­mer also con­cluded with a gre­at tra­ge­dy for com­mu­nism glo­bal­ly, the Lin Biao incident.

The­se three points help us grasp the ori­en­ta­ti­on of the ruling class at the moment– the risks and the oppor­tu­ni­ties available to them. As is almost always the case when the ruling class makes a signi­fi­cant move, and one asks »why?« the ans­wer is both »becau­se they can« and »becau­se they must.« The vic­to­ry of the capi­ta­list-roa­ders– sup­port­ed of cour­se by Kis­sin­ger and Nixon with ple­n­ti­ful Gol­den Lily gold via Mar­cos – should per­haps be seen as the (begin­ning of the) end of the first wave of glo­bal com­mu­nist revo­lu­ti­on. The crus­hing of the revo­lu­tio­na­ry mas­ses and sub­or­di­na­ti­on of the wes­tern-backed Den­gist cli­que was almost cer­tain­ly inter­pre­ted as such by the Wes­tern Ruling class, and play­ed a lar­ge part in their con­fi­dence to initia­te the Neo­li­be­ral assault. It also direct­ly fur­nis­hed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to estab­lish Sou­the­ast Asia as a major zone of pro­duc­ti­ve capi­tal invest­ment to sub­sti­tu­te for the deindus­tria­liza­ti­on neces­sa­ry in the dome­stic poli­ti­cal strugg­le against the impe­ri­al labor aristocracy.

Very signi­fi­cant­ly, as Klein has empha­si­zed, the coun­ter-revo­lu­ti­on in Chi­na in par­ti­cu­lar also gave the ruling class the expe­ri­ence of a radi­cal­ly con­so­li­da­ted posi­ti­on of con­trol and well ‑inte­gra­ted, wide, deep, soci­al­ly vibrant net­work for the crea­ti­on and dis­tri­bu­ti­on of poli­ti­cal power. The high­ly func­tio­ning com­mu­nist social orga­niza­ti­on, as it hap­pen­ed, could be modi­fied at key nodes – with ade­qua­te vio­lence and deceit – to make some­thing bet­ter for their pur­po­ses than the capi­ta­list ruling clas­ses had been able to achie­ve in the impe­ri­al capi­ta­list sta­tes. It behoo­ves us to note, at this point, the utter absur­di­ty enter­tai­ned by so many of our com­ra­des: that the pro­ge­ny of the cli­que which crus­hed Chi­ne­se com­mu­nism, ens­laved the Chi­ne­se mas­ses, and han­ded their coll­ec­ti­ve wealth of the on a sil­ver plat­ter to their Ame­ri­can mas­ters in the form of loans which the Chi­ne­se mas­ses will never recup­er­a­te are meaningful­ly ant­ago­ni­stic to the ruling class van­guard in the West. The same is ima­gi­ned with regards to Vla­di­mir Putin and the cli­que around him– Putin, who over­saw the mur­de­rous plun­de­ring of the for­mer Soviet Uni­on, and who was hand­pi­cked by Yelt­sin, working in con­stant coor­di­na­ti­on with Clin­ton, to shore up and con­so­li­da­te con­trol over the Rus­si­an popu­la­ti­on after the Rub­le cri­sis (which was its­elf to a signi­fi­cant ext­ent a result of the tur­bu­lence cau­sed by the Dol­lar Wall Street Regime). Capi­tal had been so rapa­cious, the cri­sis show­ed, it had left a sta­te too weak to enforce a sus­tained explo­ita­ti­on of what was left of the USSR. Putin was evi­dent­ly given the brief to rec­ti­fy this. The fan­ta­sy that Putin or Xi, despi­te their real poli­ti­cal his­to­ries, poli­ci­es, posi­ti­on in pro­per­ty, and real mate­ri­al bases of poli­ti­cal power, have a genui­ne­ly ant­ago­ni­stic rela­ti­onship with the ruling class who pla­ced them in power is absurd, whe­ther it comes in the form of ima­gi­ning them as pur­suing their own diver­gent impe­ria­list inte­rests or pur­suing some sort of (per­haps reluc­tant) anti-impe­ria­list strugg­le with the West. Their lock-step enforce­ment of the mons­trous ruling class assault on huma­ni­ty over the past two years, under the cover of this risi­ble »Coro­na­vi­rus« fable, puts this mat­ter bey­ond any doubt.

What is per­haps even more scan­da­lous is that the mas­ses of the impe­ri­al core, with all their ves­ti­gi­al labor-aris­to­cra­tic pri­vi­le­ges, are more advan­ced in many respects than the Com­mu­nists who would pro­po­se to lead them. This abo­ve all takes the form of »con­spi­ra­cy theo­ries«, which even in their most vul­gar form, when orga­nic, express the real intui­ti­on on the part of the mas­ses that the ruling class is ever more unac­coun­ta­ble, and that they the mas­ses are being disen­fran­chised and dis­pos­s­es­sed. The vast majo­ri­ty of workers the world over are never sho­cked or appal­led by ‘con­spi­ra­cy theo­ries’ – they will gene­ral­ly con­sider them, inspect the evi­dence, and reject when appro­pria­te. But class con­scious workers never dis­miss out of hand the idea that the ruling class con­spi­re (lar­ge­ly covert­ly and often cri­mi­nal­ly) to sub­ju­ga­te them – their every day expe­ri­ence is a con­stant remin­der of the end­less chain of ruling class con­spi­ra­ci­es against their interest.

Inde­ed, the only class in the world which mani­fests this shrie­king ter­ror of ‘con­spi­ra­cy theo­ries’ is the impe­ri­al pet­ty-bour­geoi­se, the class which lives almost exclu­si­ve­ly by flat­te­ring the bour­geoi­se. That mem­bers of this class have gai­ned an out­si­zed influence in Mar­xist orga­niza­ti­ons is evi­dent. And the ideo­lo­gi­cal bia­ses which they impo­se, often uncon­scious­ly, have been pure poi­son for the com­mu­nist move­ment. This is the class which demands that we reject or igno­re con­spi­ra­cy theo­ries becau­se we will ali­en­ate the public. In the­se demands they do as they have been trai­ned, and refer not to the real con­cre­te public, but to the arti­fi­ci­al, manu­fac­tu­red, hall-of-mir­rors »public« con­tri­ved by the spec­ta­cle. Among the real mas­ses, »con­spi­ra­cy theo­ry« is not taboo. 90% of Ger­mans do not belie­ve the US. Govern­ment is tel­ling the full truth regar­ding 9/11- 40% belie­ve in a secret world govern­ment, and more belie­ve the govern­ment is cri­mi­nal. Tele­pho­ne polls fre­quent­ly find rough­ly half of Ame­ri­cans do not belie­ve the Bush-Che­ney regime’s account of the 9/11 attacks. One must keep in mind that tele­pho­ne polls are ske­wed towards older and wealt­hi­er Ame­ri­cans, who are much more likely to belie­ve the govern­ment and con­su­me tele­vi­si­on news. A 2007 poll- just befo­re Barack Oba­ma was brought in to mas­si­ve­ly shore up the popu­lar legi­ti­ma­cy of the govern­ment, found more than half of tho­se pol­led wan­ted Con­gress to depo­se Bush and Che­ney regar­ding the attacks with 67% say­ing the 9/11 com­mi­si­on should have inves­ti­ga­ted the col­lap­se of buil­ding 7. Repea­ted polls car­ri­ed out joint­ly by NYT and CBS– cer­tain­ly no sys­tem cri­tics – found that a small mino­ri­ty of Ame­ri­cans, never more than a quar­ter, and as low as 16% in April of 2004 thought the Bush regime was tel­ling the truth when they denied having pri­or know­ledge about the attacks. A 2007 poll found that more than 60% of Ame­ri­cans belie­ved it was some­what or very likely that peo­p­le in the fede­ral govt had fore­know­ledge about the attacks and cho­se not to respond. (Opi­ni­on Polls About 9/11 Con­spi­ra­cy Theo­ries- Wiki­pe­dia)

Cathe­ri­ne Aus­tin Fitts, a real (now dis­si­dent) mem­ber of the ruling class, once observed:

You know, I’m a con­spi­ra­cy foot-sol­dier, you know, I was brought up to engi­neer con­spi­ra­ci­es my who­le life. I’ve been part of thou­sands of con­spi­ra­ci­es throug­hout my life. I grew up in a world whe­re peo­p­le were powerful, and they used con­spi­ra­ci­es to build their future. You build the future one tran­sac­tion and one pro­ject at a time- and it always invol­ves invest­ment, it always invol­ves resour­ces, it always invol­ves money, and of cour­se you always do it as a con­spi­ra­cy becau­se you need to keep your mouth shut becau­se if you don’t, peo­p­le will stop you – I’m not say­ing the­se are ille­gal- I’m just say­ing that con­spi­ra­cy is the fun­da­men­tal tool that peo­p­le use to build their future. Now if you deni­gra­te them you’re going to be hel­p­less, and power­less, and clue­l­ess about how the world works. So just stop with this, becau­se you know we need to get in the busi­ness of start­ing and run­ning suc­cessful con­spi­ra­ci­es becau­se that’s what wins. (Minu­te 1:13 Trish Wood is Cri­ti­cal, May 7, 2022)

Tho­se at the top know they con­spi­re, tho­se at the bot­tom know they are con­spi­red against. We should not con­cern our­sel­ves with the, glo­bal­ly spea­king, extre­me mino­ri­ty who seek to flat­ter the for­mer by con­vin­cing them­sel­ves they don’t.

6. The Finan­cial Coup

Unfort­u­na­te­ly, this sec­tion will have to be extre­me­ly abbre­via­ted and under-cited in the inte­rest of publi­shing this paper in time for the Kom­mu­nis­mus Kon­gress in Berlin.

As noted abo­ve, Cathe­ri­ne Aus­tin Fitts, after emer­ging suc­cessful­ly from a deca­de of liti­ga­ti­on with the DOJ- poli­ti­cal per­se­cu­ti­on for expo­sing the machi­na­ti­ons of the first Bush Regime- has work­ed to expo­se what she refers to as the Finan­cial Coup. In essence, she has argued that, start­ing in the late 90s at the latest, a fun­da­men­tal decis­i­on was made to »give up« on the United Sta­tes. One can hard­ly ima­gi­ne, after all, that with the suc­cessful con­quest of the com­mu­nist world, the ruling class had any inten­ti­on to make good on the wel­fa­re sta­te com­mit­ments it was forced into under the unfa­vorable bar­gai­ning con­di­ti­ons of the Cold War. This was embark­ed on par­ti­al­ly through a con­cer­ted pro­gram of dere­gu­la­ti­on which Fitts refers to as the »gre­at poi­so­ning«, floo­ding con­su­mers with life-shor­tening, toxic pro­ducts (inclu­ding vaccines).

More important­ly, howe­ver, this has meant brin­ging to insol­vence the Tre­asu­ry which has under­ta­ken the com­mit­ments to the public, and the per­ver­si­on or ces­sa­ti­on of all sta­te func­tions other than repres­si­on and plun­der. This pro­gram, the essence of Rea­ganism, was car­ri­ed out in every cor­ner of public func­tion, but Fitts con­cen­tra­tes her atten­ti­on on a node fused to Wall Street and its con­cre­te defrau­ding of the Ame­ri­can sta­te, the mas­si­ve trans­fer of wealth to undis­c­lo­sed sources. Fitts ana­ly­sis is, of cour­se, extre­me­ly limi­t­ed by her class posi­ti­on, pro­fes­si­on and poli­ti­cal com­mit­ments. None­thel­ess, she deli­vers such a wealth of insights, into so many mat­ters which the com­mu­nist move­ment has under­app­re­cia­ted, that she is worth quo­ting here at some length (this is tran­scri­bed from a pod­cast inter­view). It beg­ins with the now well-estab­lished fact that, eco­no­mic­al­ly, the cur­rent, sup­po­sedly pan­de­mic-indu­ced cri­sis, was visi­ble in the repo mar­kets in sum­mer of 2019 befo­re the virus its­elf had been announced:

The G7 cen­tral ban­kers came tog­e­ther – pri­ma­ri­ly G7 ban­kers gather every year in Jack­son hole through one of the Fed mem­ber banks and its a place whe­re they go to dis­cuss and deve­lop poli­cy. So at the mee­ting in Jack­son Hole in August 2019, the cen­tral ban­kers met and voted on a plan cal­led the Going Direct Reset. Now the World Eco­no­mic Forum, which is a – you know the Davos Group to me is just a mar­ke­ting arm of the Going Direct Reset. The real plan is dri­ven by the cen­tral ban­kers. And this is a re-engi­nee­ring of how the gover­ning sys­tem and finan­cial sys­tem on pla­net Earth works. For me, it star­ted in the 90s. I call it the finan­cial coup. Now it’s acce­le­ra­ting into a much more aggres­si­ve coup. The Finan­cial Coup that star­ted in 1998 was meant to be invi­si­ble to many peo­p­le, and we bubbled the eco­no­my with debt, so that ever­y­bo­dy thought times were good, and did­n’t rea­li­ze the chan­ges in con­trol that were being engi­nee­red quiet­ly behind the sce­nes. So they voted on this plan and it is a plan which has seve­ral parts. One is mas­si­ve prin­ting of cur­ren­cy and debt that chan­nels money to the insi­ders who are free to buy ever­y­thing up on the mono­po­ly board, as well as demand des­truc­tion of the out­si­ders‹ com­pa­nies and busi­nesses and cash flows …

So lets say on a block you have a big publicly traded cor­po­ra­ti­on with a big box store, and then you have a hundred litt­le busi­ness: you decla­re the hundred litt­le busi­nesses non-essen­ti­al, and then all the cus­to­mers go to the publicly traded big-box store, and that runs their pro­fits up which runs the stock mar­ket up. So you are play­ing a game of con­so­li­da­ting all the wealth into what Geor­ge H.W. Bush used to call ‘tigh­ter and righ­ter hands.’ While you are in the busi­ness of des­troy­ing a mil­li­on small busi­nesses in Ame­ri­ca, you wan­na con­fu­se peo­p­le enough so that they don’t rea­li­ze what’s hap­pe­ning. So you tell them there’s pla­gue and there’s a dise­a­se and they’­re all gon­na die, and it’s to help peo­p­le. Its basi­cal­ly a game of eco­no­mic war­fa­re, and the more you can keep them stu­pid and going in cir­cles and not under­stan­ding what is going on and the more scared, the fas­ter che­a­per easier it is for you to do it.

TW: What is the pur­po­se of it at the end of the day, what are they try­ing to achieve?

CAF: So what they’­re try­ing to achie­ve is a socie­ty whe­re the resour­ce use by an indi­vi­du­al is much smal­ler. So the top– depen­ding on whe­re you cut the num­ber, lets just say the top 1% – get to live till they’­re a hundred and for­ty-five, becau­se bio­tech­no­lo­gy makes that pos­si­ble, and then the peo­p­le who are not in that per­cent live a much less poli­ti­cal­ly powerful, much less resour­ce rich, kind of life. Redu­ce ever­y­bo­dy essen­ti­al­ly to slavery. now if you look at the histo­ry of slavery, under­stand that slavery is the most pro­fi­ta­ble busi­ness ever, the best invest­ment busi­ness ever crea­ted. But slavery was can­cel­led the last time around becau­se you could­n’t per­fect col­la­te­ral– you could­n’t put down some of the slave rebel­li­ons. Digi­tal tech­no­lo­gy gives you the abili­ty to per­fect col­la­te­ral and put down all rebel­li­ons- If you can get a com­ple­te con­trol grid into place. And so it gives them the tec­no­lo­gi­cal abili­ty to redu­ce evrey­bo­dy to essen­ti­al­ly slavery- and its a mind con­trol­led slavery: its 2030 you’ll have no assets and you’ll be hap­py. That’s the visi­on. And the 1% can afford to live till their 145, and live very wealt­hy lives, becau­se the resour­ce use has been so cut back in the gene­ral popu­la­ti­on. (Trish Wood Is Cri­ti­cal, May 7, 2022 – Minu­te 55:00)

Of cour­se, what Fitts descri­bes fol­lows logi­cal­ly from Lenin’s ana­ly­sis. He obser­ved in his time that:

It was pos­si­ble in tho­se days to bri­be and cor­rupt the working class of one coun­try for deca­des. This is now impro­ba­ble, if not impos­si­ble. But on the other hand, every impe­ria­list “Gre­at” Power can and does bri­be smal­ler stra­ta (than in Eng­land in 1848 – 68) of the “labour aris­to­cra­cy”. Form­er­ly a “bour­geois labour par­ty”, to use Engels’s remar­kab­ly pro­found expres­si­on, could ari­se only in one coun­try, becau­se it alo­ne enjoy­ed a mono­po­ly, but, on the other hand, it could exist for a long time. Now a “bour­geois labour par­ty” is ine­vi­ta­ble and typi­cal in all impe­ria­list count­ries; but in view of the despe­ra­te strugg­le they are waging for the divi­si­on of spoils, it is impro­ba­ble that such a par­ty can pre­vail for long in a num­ber of count­ries. For the trusts, the finan­cial olig­ar­chy, high pri­ces, etc., while enab­ling the bri­be­ry of a handful in the top lay­ers, are incre­asing­ly oppres­sing, crus­hing, rui­ning and tor­tu­ring the mass of the pro­le­ta­ri­at and the semi-pro­le­ta­ri­at (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, Appen­dix).

Mol­ly Klein inde­ed pre­dic­ted with remar­kab­le pre­cis­i­on that the ruling class was gea­ring up for some­thing like what was put into place under the pre­text of »Coro­na« long befo­re any men­ti­on of the pla­gue in 2019.

As was shown abo­ve, the excep­tio­nal poli­ti­cal cir­cum­s­tances of the Cold War, of the exis­ten­ti­al strugg­le with revo­lu­tio­na­ry com­mu­nism, forced the ruling class to cul­ti­va­te a broad labor aris­to­cra­cy. In the cir­cum­s­tances of both the coun­ter-revo­lu­tio­na­ry strugg­le and the inter-impe­ria­list strugg­le within the tri­ad (as well as inter­nal con­tra­dic­to­ry ten­den­ci­es within the money sup­p­ly) a stra­tegy was adopted by the van­guard of the ruling class which allo­wed them, via the Ame­ri­can Dol­lar, the Ame­ri­can Mili­ta­ry, and the covert intel­li­gence net­works con­trol­led by the USA, to estab­lish unpre­ce­den­ted power over the capi­ta­list bloc and sub­se­quent­ly the world.

Dialec­ti­cal­ly ent­wi­ned with the con­so­li­da­ti­on of power over the glo­be by the Ame­ri­can-led capi­ta­list ruling class was the con­so­li­da­ti­on and con­cen­tra­ti­on of power within the ruling class its­elf. Just as, on a macro-sca­le, capi­ta­list nati­ons were forced, at pain of accep­ting the revo­lu­tio­na­ry com­mu­nist alter­na­ti­ve, to sub­or­di­na­te them­sel­ves to Ame­ri­can lea­der­ship – so too, the dyna­mics of this pro­cess meant that the con­cen­tra­ti­on of glo­bal power gene­ra­ted an incre­asing­ly con­so­li­da­ted and covert real lea­der­ship within the United Sta­tes van­guard. The power of hier­ar­chi­cal­ly orga­ni­zed, intel­li­gence-led power struc­tures to achie­ve domi­nan­ce in such cir­cum­s­tances was, when one sur­mi­ses the big pic­tu­re, ine­vi­ta­ble. It is thus not ter­ri­bly sur­pri­sing that the most powerful »capi­ta­lists« today are not real­ly capi­ta­lists at all, but direct crea­tures of the ultra-impe­ria­list mili­ta­ry-intel­li­gence-indus­tri­al com­plex. Indi­vi­du­als like Gates, or Musk, or Bezos, do not run capi­ta­list enter­pri­ses which take risks pro­du­cing goods for a con­su­mer mar­ket. Their wealth is drawn from forced con­sump­ti­on, forced in the sen­se that tax­pay­ers must »buy« the pro­ducts via sta­te bud­gets, or lite­ral­ly forced to con­su­me them by legal and poli­ti­cal means. An enti­ty like Ama­zon, which never made a pro­fit but con­tin­ued to be inves­ted in by tho­se with insi­der know­ledge, and only star­ted to making pro­fits when it recei­ved govern­ment con­tracts, can­not be unders­tood as a capi­ta­list enter­pri­se. It is a direct mecha­nism of ultra-mono­po­ly con­so­li­da­ti­on.

This rever­si­on to incre­asing­ly naked and direct forms of explo­ita­ti­on is accom­pa­nied by a cor­re­spon­ding explo­si­on in the spec­ta­cle neces­sa­ry to obscu­re it – the mas­si­ve tele­com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons struc­tu­re, the end­less dis­in­for­ma­ti­on. Ele­ments of this trans­for­ma­ti­on are obfus­ca­ted by the per­sis­tent husks of capi­ta­list rela­ti­ons, but the fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fe­rent order we now live under is clear upon the sligh­test serious reflec­tion. Much of the sur­veil­lan­ce and con­trol tech­no­lo­gy we are incre­asing­ly sub­jec­ted to, for ins­tance, is explai­ned by a lazy, half-baked sort of ana­ly­sis as the despe­ra­te search for »clicks« and »data«. If this were true, the con­su­mer power of the popu­la­ti­on thus assu­med would have to be lar­ge enough for their dif­fe­ren­ti­al purcha­ses to jus­ti­fy– to make pro­fi­ta­ble – such mas­si­ve out­lays of capi­tal. Yet this is occur­ring as the broad mas­ses, even in the West, see their purcha­sing power shrink expo­nen­ti­al­ly. Again, down the rab­bit who­le some­whe­re, all this sur­veil­lan­ce and data is »pro­fi­ta­ble« not becau­se of a real capi­ta­list mar­ket, but becau­se someone (govern­ment and »pri­va­te« intel­li­gence agen­ci­es) is buy­ing it for its uti­li­ty in exer­ting direct con­trol. Data is not the »new oil«: the »new oil« is the mas­si­ve­ly expan­ded capa­ci­ty of the ruling class to exploit you by using the data, direct­ly and indi­rect­ly, which they have accu­mu­la­ted about you. We, and our coll­ec­ti­ve, impen­ding ens­lavement is the »new oil«.

A pro­per account of the evo­lu­ti­on of impe­ria­lism sin­ce the 1970s, which will be cover­ed in a sup­ple­ment to this essay in the near future, would need to address in par­ti­cu­lar the con­so­li­da­ti­on of ruling class power achie­ved through 9/11 and the »War on Ter­ror«, the 2008 Finan­cial Cri­sis, and, of cour­se, the manu­fac­tu­red spec­ta­cle »pan­de­mic« of the past two years. It would also need to look at the BRICS, abo­ve all Chi­na, as important labs for ruling class expe­ri­men­ta­ti­on in down-sizing and re-dis­tri­bu­ting labor aris­to­cra­tic pri­vi­le­ges, per­haps along more naked­ly racial / cas­te lines.

Hop­eful­ly, howe­ver, enough has been shown to sug­gest that the extre­me con­so­li­da­ti­on, disci­pli­ne, and unity of the cur­rent inter­na­tio­nal ruling class can hard­ly be ove­re­sti­ma­ted. And in their suc­cessful (until now) strugg­le against the revo­lu­tio­na­ry mas­ses, as well as non-capi­ta­list rungs beneath them, they have fun­da­men­tal­ly alte­red the glo­bal order. They are now in a posi­ti­on whe­re they can and need to exert far more direct con­trol over the popu­la­ti­on – whe­re they can no lon­ger tole­ra­te any remo­te­ly free or inde­pen­dent capital.

The grea­test chall­enge for the ruling class in this tran­si­ti­on is, of cour­se, popu­lar revo­lu­ti­on. They are car­ry­ing out the most deli­ca­te dance in the con­trol­led demo­li­ti­on of pri­vi­le­ged social demo­cra­ci­es which they no lon­ger need, but which for­med the basis for the mili­ta­ry might through which they enforced their writ throug­hout the glo­be. They are jugg­ling with fraught ques­ti­ons of how to main­tain con­trol of their assets while defrau­ding all of us. They evi­dent­ly intend for a mas­si­ve reduc­tion in enti­re popu­la­ti­on, as well as a dra­ma­tic reduc­tion in the living stan­dard of tho­se popu­la­ti­ons which are left to work for them. It is worth recal­ling that this does not neces­s­a­ri­ly always mean attack­ing the least pri­vi­le­ged, espe­ci­al­ly over which they have reason­ab­ly solid con­trol. The Nazi pro­gram cap­tu­red essen­ti­al liquid capi­tal for its­elf through the plun­de­ring (»arya­niza­ti­on«) of bour­geois and pet­ty-bour­geois Jewish pro­per­ty. The ruling class are pur­suing the­se aims through diver­se stra­te­gies, always, always, under cir­cum­s­tances not »cho­sen by them­sel­ves, but under cir­cum­s­tances direct­ly encoun­te­red, given and trans­mit­ted from the past.« Among­st the grea­test risks in this deve­lo­p­ment are post-soviet (and Chi­ne­se) mas­ses with a real living memo­ry of socia­lism, and with far less of a sta­ke in the cur­rent order than the wes­tern mas­ses still despera­te­ly clinging to their ever more mise­ra­ble »pri­vi­le­ges«.

Over this gre­at roling sea of the mas­ses the ruling class can never impo­se its will direct­ly. It must effect its aims through chan­ne­ling our own ener­gy. Just as Lenin observed:

Not­hing in our times can be done wit­hout elec­tions; not­hing can be done wit­hout the mas­ses. And in this era of prin­ting and par­lia­men­ta­rism it is impos­si­ble to gain the fol­lo­wing of the mas­ses wit­hout a wide­ly rami­fied, sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly mana­ged, well-equip­ped sys­tem of flat­tery, lies, fraud… (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, Appen­dix).

In our time, not­hing can be done wit­hout the spec­ta­cle. Much of the plun­de­red wealth of the recon­que­r­ed socia­list world in par­ti­cu­lar was fun­nel­ed into the »dot-com boom«, the mas­si­ve invest­ment in tech­no­lo­gy for sur­veil­lan­ce, pro­pa­gan­da, ent­rain­ment, dis­in­for­ma­ti­on, and mani­pu­la­ti­on. At its most effec­ti­ve, this mobi­li­zes the most powerful ener­gies of the mas­ses. It does this at gre­at risk of acti­vat­ing them. The Coro­na fraud work­ed not just through ter­ror and force but also my mis­di­rec­ting the very best instincts of huma­ni­ty, or soli­da­ri­ty and our cor­rect intui­ti­on that capi­tal would expo­se us to need­less risks for the sake of pro­fit. The mas­ses in Rus­sia and Ukrai­ne– like most of the form­er­ly socia­list zone– lar­ge­ly saw through the Coro­na fraud, and are among­st the least vac­ci­na­ted or other­wi­se com­pli­ant popu­la­ti­ons in the world. They are are­as of tre­men­dous revo­lu­tio­na­ry poten­ti­al, which of cour­se should be direc­ted at their own com­pra­dor govern­ments. The real revo­lu­tio­na­ry desi­re to fight real fascism of the Rus­si­an mas­ses is being direc­ted into a con­flict, about which our very last assump­ti­on should be that it actual­ly revol­ves around a real fun­da­men­tal con­flict bet­ween the respec­ti­ve ruling class fac­tions orchest­ra­ting it. Our first ques­ti­on should be: what are the aims of the joint (or ultra, or super, or coll­ec­ti­ve) impe­ria­lism in this con­flict. What aspects of their pro­gram are advan­ced? How are the mas­ses most dan­ge­rous to them run through the meat grin­der, how is mili­ta­riza­ti­on and the con­tin­ued »sta­te of emer­gen­cy« jus­ti­fied? How is the living stan­dard of the mas­ses fur­ther redu­ced, and direct ruling class con­trol of the eco­no­my advanced?

Or per­haps one could start with a simp­ler ques­ti­on. Com­ra­de Yana excel­lent­ly descri­bes the com­pra­dor natu­re of the Rus­si­an bour­geoi­sie and sta­te. She shows how effec­tively sur­plus value and resour­ces are extra­c­ted from Rus­sia for the bene­fit of the impe­ria­list ruling class. Anyo­ne can see how the good cop bad cop show bet­ween Putin and the West is ever­green pro­pa­gan­da for both par­ties‹ key audi­en­ces: not­hing makes Putin more appe­al­ing to the Rus­si­an Mas­ses than the lie, end­less­ly spread in Wes­tern Media, that he is fight­ing the West. But one must real­ly ask, after con­side­ring Yana’s ana­ly­sis: what bet­ter arran­ge­ment could empire pos­si­bly ima­gi­ne in Rus­sia? Is the­re any con­ceiva­ble order more effec­ti­ve at ensu­ring the smooth and sus­tained explo­ita­ti­on of the Rus­si­an mas­ses than the one they alre­a­dy enjoy under Putin’s stewardship?

Lenin obser­ved that »Capi­ta­lism, which began its deve­lo­p­ment with pet­ty usu­ry capi­tal, is ending its deve­lo­p­ment with gigan­tic usu­ry capi­ta­lism.« (Lenin, Impe­ria­lism, III) We might obser­ve here also that capi­ta­lism, which began with pira­cy and the slave trade, is rever­ting to the same. Inde­ed, in an extre­me­ly per­cep­ti­ve inter­view in March of 2022, Isa Blu­mi com­pared the pra­xis of the cur­rent ruling class to pira­cy. Mol­ly Klein has refer­red to neo-bar­ba­rism in the past. In the spi­rit of Lenin’s mocking obser­va­ti­on that the only impro­ve­ment that Kaut­sky had mad on Hob­son was repla­cing »inter-impe­ria­lism« with »super or ultra impe­ria­lism«, we might obser­ve that the seman­ti­cs are unim­portant here. What is clear is that the ruling class can and must resort to more naked explo­ita­ti­on, obscu­red only by the ela­bo­ra­te machi­nery of spec­ta­cle. As such, they have never been more vul­nerable; com­mu­nism has per­haps never been more achievable.

In exploi­ting the pro­found nost­al­gia and coll­ec­ti­ve memo­ry of socia­lism and the anti-Nazi strugg­le in Rus­sia, the ruling class is play­ing with fire. Per­haps in their hub­ris, and in their mali­g­ni­ty, they can­not grasp the human power which they are try­ing to usurp in this gam­bit. Our most imme­dia­te hopes must resi­de in the Rus­si­an and Ukrai­ni­an mas­ses, who the ruling class are arming with extre­me cau­ti­on, and inde­ed at their extre­me peril. One of the obvious func­tions of the war is jus­ti­fy­ing and cove­ring up a sub­stan­ti­al mili­ta­ry build-up in Euro­pe, becau­se final­ly the­re is real­ly the pro­s­pect of revo­lu­ti­on in Euro­pe. The heroic strugg­le of the peo­p­le of Don­bass shows us the way for­ward. In 2014, in respon­se to the Nazi-putsch, the mas­ses of Don­bass ral­lied around a call, not to join Rus­sia, but to re-estab­lish the Donetsk – Kri­voy Rog Soviet Repu­blic. This was a con­scious step towards the buil­ding of the uni­ver­sal soviet which is our only hope, and which the near-uni­ver­sal domi­na­ti­on of the glo­be by the ruling class, and their unbrid­led assault on vir­tual­ly the enti­re glo­bal popu­la­ti­on, makes con­ceiva­ble and pos­si­ble. We must only tear our­sel­ves from the spec­ta­cle, reject the drop down menu of the day which the wall-to-wall ruling class sound and light show pres­ents us, and deter­mi­ne our own path.

For a long time the com­mu­nist move­ment in Euro­pe allo­wed its­elf to be depen­dent– for infor­ma­ti­on, and for much else— on the main­stream struc­tures of capi­ta­list-impe­ria­list socie­ty. This was under­stan­da­ble, becau­se the social-demo­cra­tic com­pro­mi­se enshri­ned in the labor aris­to­cra­cy gave a real, if miti­ga­ted, demo­cra­tic con­tent to main­stream enti­ties. They were in real and signi­fi­cant ways accoun­ta­ble to an (albeit only par­ti­al­ly) enfran­chised popu­la­ti­on. This has long cea­sed to be the case. The main­stream media, in the broa­dest sen­se, is now enti­re­ly hol­lo­wed out, con­trol­led, and hosti­le to the inte­rests of the broad mas­ses ever­y­whe­re. On the other hand, ever grea­ter mas­ses are shed from sys­tem-con­for­mi­ty every day. The capa­ci­ty, here in the West, to orga­ni­ze our­sel­ves on a mass sca­le in pur­su­it of our inte­rest is grea­ter than it has been in decades.

Con­spi­ra­cy comes from the latin con-spi­ra­re : to brea­the tog­e­ther. That is to say, to do that which the ruling class has ban­ned – with house arrest, rest­ric­tions, distance, and masks – from over the past two years. Or more pro­per­ly– as is evi­dent on the end­less occa­si­ons when we catch them behind the sce­nes, inva­ria­bly unmas­ked and inti­ma­te – what the ruling class has reser­ved as their exclu­si­ve right. It is time we reject their rest­ric­tions – on our actions and on our thoughts, time we reco­gni­ze the rea­li­ty of ruling class pra­xis, and time we con­spi­re to achie­ve our own interests.


Spe­cial ack­now­led­ge­ment must be given to Mol­ly Klein, who is not only the source of much of the ana­ly­sis pre­sen­ted here, but has hel­ped tre­men­dous­ly in put­ting tog­e­ther and editing this essay. This work is also par­ti­cu­lar­ly indeb­ted to the ana­ly­ses of Phil Gre­a­ves, Jacob Levich, and Hieropunk.

Amin, S. (1990). Mal­de­ve­lo­p­ment: Ana­to­my of glo­bal fail­ure. UNU / Zed Books.

Gowan, P. (1999). The glo­bal gam­ble: Washington’s Faus­ti­an bid for World Domi­nan­ce. Ver­so.

Lenin, V. I. (2013). Impe­ria­lism, the hig­hest stage of capi­ta­lism: A popu­lar out­line. Inter­na­tio­nal Publishers.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1988). The eigh­te­enth bru­mai­re of Lou­is Bona­par­te, with expl­ana­to­ry notes. Inter­na­tio­nal Publishers.

Marx, K., Engels, F., Man­del, E., Fern­bach, D., & Marx, K. (1991). Capi­tal: A cri­tique of poli­ti­cal eco­no­my. Pen­gu­in Books in asso­cia­ti­on with New Left Review.

Row­bo­t­ham, M. (2012). The grip of death: A stu­dy of modern money, debt slavery and des­truc­ti­ve eco­no­mics. Jon Carpenter.

SAN­DERS, CHRIS, and CATHE­RI­NE AUS­TIN FITTS. »The Black Bud­get Of The United Sta­tes: THE ENGI­NE OF A ‘NEGA­TI­VE RETURN ECO­NO­MY.’« World Affairs: The Jour­nal of Inter­na­tio­nal Issues, vol. 8, no. 2, 2004, pp. 17 – 34. JSTOR, https://​www​.jstor​.org/​s​t​a​b​l​e​/​4​8​5​0​4​790. Acces­sed 24 Sep. 2022.

John Titus, »2021 Annu­al Wrap Up: Sove­reig­n­ty with John Titus,« Sola­ri Report, Febru­ary 2022

Pic­tu­re: »Death to World Impe­ria­lism,« 1919, by Dmit­rii Moor

Note: The artic­le has been upt­da­ted, main­ly in chap­ter 5 and 6 at 7 pm 25 Sep­tem­ber 2022

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