by BAR contributor Danny Haiphong
Born in genocide and slavery, the U.S. state “can neither reform itself out of economic crisis without attacking the poor, nor manage the exploitation of the oppressed without intensifying state repression.” U.S. imperialism has devolved to a permanent state of war -- and war fatigue. The population is pauperized as “capitalist competition and consolidation lead to the permanent replacement of large sections of the workers and uncontrollable under-consumption.”
The Unraveling of the US State
by BAR contributor Danny Haiphong
“Nothing illuminates the unraveling of the US state better than the anti-Russian hysteria that has engulfed Washington.”
The role of the state in an imperialist social society is to enact organized violence against the oppressed classes for the benefit of the oppressor class. The state is often defined as "government," but it is much more than that. Organized violence doesn't merely stem from the politicians placed into power by the oppressor class. Violence against the oppressed is wielded through armed bodies such as the police and the military. The media is another arm of the state tasked with enforcing the consent of the governed. Under imperialism, every institution of the state works together to ensure that the profits of the rich are protected and bolstered.
The US state enacts violence on behalf of the global imperialist system. And no other society in the history of the imperialist system can match the scale and frequency of the violence that is directed by the US state. For over two centuries, the US state has protected the wealth of a small class of capitalists whose roots are firmly planted in the enslavement of Africans and the mass murder of the indigenous people in the Western hemisphere. Consistent capitalist development amid periodic crises eventually led to the US state taking the lead in global affairs, especially after Europe was decimated by the Second World War. But just like all stages of political economy, US imperialism has reached its terminal stage.
“Under imperialism, every institution of the state works together to ensure that the profits of the rich are protected and bolstered.”
The US state has begun to unravel as a result. Nothing illuminates the unraveling of the US state better than the anti-Russian hysteria that has engulfed Washington. The US state's headquarters has spent most of the last year or so investigating US President Donald Trump's alleged ties to the Russian Federation. Allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections have yet to be verified with definitive proof. The US state has desperately sought to keep the narrative alive by inciting the accusation against the Trump Administration whenever it interacts with Russians. Impeachment talks have resurfaced after information leaked from the bowels of the New York Times regarding a meeting held between Trump's son and a Russian lawyer last year. The two parties allegedly discussed incriminating information against Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Yet no such information is needed since Hillary Clinton's political career is rife with examples of criminality. What is really at stake is the stability of the imperialist system as a whole. The US state has lost control over its political apparatus. Neither Bernie Sanders nor Donald Trump were supposed to lead successful campaigns. Trump's victory represented a nightmare for the US state, and not because of his billionaire status or his racist, demagogic character. His rise to formal political power exposed the US state’s deep crisis of legitimacy.
“The US state has lost control over its political apparatus.”
The US state's crisis of legitimacy is ultimately a reflection of a deeper economic and political crisis. High-tech, finance dominated capitalism has reached a point where the contradiction between productivity and profit cannot be reconciled. And it is the condition of workers that has suffered the most. According to Shadow Stats, real unemployment remains stagnant at 22 percent if discouraged workers are taken into account. Capitalist competition and consolidation has led to the permanent replacement of large sections of the workers and uncontrollable under-consumption. Half of the population makes less than 30k per year and cannot afford a $500 emergency. But the system is more technologically advanced and productive than ever, which has precipitated a state of stagnation never before seen in capitalism’s history.
The economic condition of the system has left the US state in a desperate condition itself. Two recent studies reveal the depth of the US state's political crisis. While the US state blames Russia for Trump's electoral victory, evidence suggests that Clinton's enthusiasm for war may have been a leading cause of her demise. According to a joint study by Francis Shen and Douglas Kriner, states hit hardest by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars tended to vote against Clinton. Yet the connection between war fatigue and Trump's victory has been completely ignored by the US state. That's because it is far easier to blame racist, pro-Russian agents for Trump than it is to admit to the reasons why the system is in crisis.
“The US share of global GDP has been declining for decades, with China set to surpass the US in real economic terms in the coming years.”
This is not to say white supremacy plays no part in the crisis of the US state. Indeed, Trump's mix of white nationalist sentiment and economic populism cannot be separated from the US state's white supremacist roots. However, denying the systemic crisis at hand is just as bad as denying the role of white supremacy in US society. The US state is unraveling because it is losing control of the operative forces of the system. It can neither reform itself out of economic crisis without attacking the poor, nor manage the exploitation of the oppressed without intensifying state repression. Such a delicate situation presents both a danger and an opportunity for the people and the planet.
The danger is that economic crisis leads to a world war with Russia and China. US military officials have long considered the possibility. RAND published a report in 2016 that focused on whether a war with China would be a winnable one. Another study published by the Pentagon earlier this month examined how US military strategy must shift given the collapse of American empire around the world. China's rise as the most influential economic power has been a top concern for the US state's military brass. The US share of global GDP has been declining for decades, with China set to surpass the US in real economic terms in the coming years.
“The conditions exist for a revolutionary movement on a scale grander than even the great socialist movement of the 20th century.”
Whether the US state will risk a nuclear war with Russia and China remains to be seen. Anti-Russian fever in Washington and the constant US military buildup against the two countries provides little cause for optimism. But rather than mourn for stability in Washington, activists and organizers should be cheer on the unraveling of the state and prepare for the war that is already here. A capitalist crisis is just over the horizon and the condition of the masses cannot improve under the current stage of the system. A state of war already exists for the vast majority of humanity. The conditions exist for a revolutionary movement on a scale grander than even the great socialist movement of the 20th century.
The unraveling of the US state presents an opportunity to return to the work that produced US-based socialist movements led by figures such as WEB Du Bois, Claudia Jones, and George Jackson. That work consists of developing a new radical imagination with the people themselves. It also means staying true to the grueling work of developing socialist parties and organizations capable of responding to the crises at hand. The US state will continue to unravel but is incapable of handing over power to the people on its own. Its fate will ultimately rest in the hands of an engaged vanguard of revolutionaries dedicated to doing whatever is necessary to define and lead the struggle for victory in the historic class struggle for peace, justice, and socialism.
Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be firstname.lastname@example.org