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Imperialism's decline, China's rise, & the war for our future

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In Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin observed that by the last quarter of the twentieth century, capitalism's original type of monopoly had been replaced by a more significant one. A monopoly that has since allowed for the bourgeoisie to solidify their control to an extent that all previous ruling classes could never have dreamed of - but that's also brought capital closer towards its implosion.

The hidden new imperialism

Whereas the old kind of monopoly allowed the countries where capitalism initially developed to merely create exclusive goods that other countries received in exchange for raw materials, the new monopoly uses capital itself as the instrument for siphoning wealth from the exploited countries. Wrote Lenin:

Typical of the old capitalism, when free competition held undivided sway, was the export of goods. Typical of the latest stage of capitalism, when monopolies rule, is the export of capital... On the threshold of the twentieth century we see the formation of a new type of monopoly: firstly, monopolist associations of capitalists in all capitalistically developed countries; secondly, the monopolist position of a few very rich countries, in which the accumulation of capital has reached gigantic proportions. An enormous "surplus of capital" has arisen in the advanced countries... The need to export capital arises from the fact that in a few countries capitalism has become "overripe" and (owing to the backward state of agriculture and the poverty of the masses) capital cannot find a field for "profitable" investment.

Lenin observed that "As long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will be utilized not for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses in a given country, for this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists, but for the purpose of increasing profits by exporting capital abroad to the backward countries." Which is just what's happened throughout the last century. To compensate for their internal economic crises, the imperialist powers have exported capital even far beyond the level that Lenin was referencing.

During the decades after World War II, where the United States had become the central imperialist country, the bourgeoisie built an empire that's simultaneously unprecedented in its scope, and invisible to the followers of bourgeois orthodoxy. They did this with debt traps throughout the so-called "Third World," enforced by CIA interventions that went unacknowledged by the official narratives about why the USA had gotten so powerful. It was through this expanded exploitation that the imperialist countries were able to build up the living standards of their people during the mid-20th century, with their social-welfare policies from this time being portrayed as independent of any outside wealth source. In reality, this prosperity was built on the blood of countless people in the exploited world, who were forced to either toil as slaves or risk being killed in the purges of the U.S.-installed dictatorships.

This was the utopian narrative that the adherents of the imperialist orthodoxy put forth: that capitalism and Americanism had reached a state of permanent prosperity and dominance, made possible by the merits of the U.S. empire's own ingenuity and moral superiority. But there was a contradiction implied in this view: the postwar economic growth was supposedly attributable both to America's greatness, and to America's place as the most powerful arbiter of global capitalist investment. The USSR didn't have this contradiction in its economic success story. It was able to build socialism in one country, achieving a rapid leap from feudalism to prosperous industrialism, without having to exploit the Global South or with any other socialist countries existing during its first several decades.

Socialism's long-term economic advantages over capitalism

The capitalist world would never be able to achieve the equivalent of what the USSR did. Capitalism in one country is impossible due to capitalism's need to expand into new markets, capitalism perpetually creates crises that blunt its capacity for growth, the rate of profit has an innate tendency to fall, and capitalism can't survive without the exploitation of peripheral countries. Therefore, the USSR and the countries that followed in its ideological footsteps would be able to bypass the economic vulnerabilities that the capitalist countries have. The vulnerabilities that arise from constantly needing to make up for an economy's internal crises by foisting the costs onto potentially unruly external neo-colonies.

While the capitalist bloc won the Cold War, prompting further claims of the liberal international order's final triumph, this reality continued to haunt the imperialists. Even well before capitalism's supposed final victory in the early '90s, capitalism was forced into an unprecedented contraction. The depression of the '70s, brought on by the start of U.S. imperialism's decline following its defeat in Vietnam, made the bourgeoisie have to dismantle the welfare state in order to keep profits up. Neoliberalism was introduced throughout the capitalist world, starting a rise in global poverty that's since remained consistent within the countries ruled by capitalist states; socialist China and Vietnam have overwhelmingly been where poverty reduction has occurred during the last half-century. And as the global working class languished in a paradigm of ceaseless losses in living standards, the working class in the exploited world were forced to fight back.

Following the 20th century's wave of revolutions, which started ongoing socialist experiments in numerous countries, Washington's neo-colonies kept breaking away. Venezuela shook off imperial control with the Chavista revolution, Bolivia elected and ultimately defended its own socialist party, and countries like Peru and Honduras were set on a path that's recently brought them anti-imperialist governments. Mexico has also gained a social democratic president, who's maneuvering towards an end to neoliberalism.

As this "Pink Tide" has progressed, Washington's geopolitical and economic grip has created the potential for anti-imperialism to triumph on a far wider scale. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were the catalysts for the U.S. empire's rapid downfall, alienating many of Washington's traditional allies and paving the way for the rise of the multipolar world - which was coming anyway. One of the empire's biggest mistakes was trying to fight China's rise, instead of cooperating with the emerging superpower. It's been like if Britain had tried to fight the USA's rise.

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Rainer Shea is writing articles that counter the propaganda of the capitalist/imperialist power establishment, and that help move us towards a socialist revolution. Donate to me on Patreon here:

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