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
A Turkish translation is available: Emperyalizm Günümüzde Bir Komplo Uygulamasıdır
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/stable/48504790. 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