Capitalist Crisis and social control



By: William I. Robinson*

President Joe Biden’s decision, last April 15, to expel 10 of the Kremlin’s diplomats and impose new sanctions against Russia for its alleged interference in the 2020 US presidential elections –which Russia already answered- caused the Pentagon to carry out naval exercises off the coasts of China a few days later. The two actions represent an escalation of aggressions with Washington’s zeal to intensify the “new cold war” against Russia and China, leading the world increasingly towards international political-military conflagration.

Most observers attribute this war, instigated by the United States, to rivalry and competition over international hegemony and economic control. However, these factors only explain this war partially. There is a bigger picture –which has been overlooked– that drives this process: the crisis of global capitalism.

This crisis is economic, with chronic stagnation in the global economy. But it’s also political, a crisis of legitimacy of the State and of capitalist hegemony. In the United States, the dominant groups strive to divert the generalized insecurity produced by the crisis towards scapegoats, like immigrants or external enemies like China and Russia. The growing international tensions legitimize the increase in military and security budgets and open new lucrative opportunities through the conflicts and extension of the transnational systems of social control and repression.

The levels of global social polarization and inequality being currently recorded are unprecedented. In 2018, the richest one percent of humanity controlled more than half of the global wealth while the 80 percent of the poorest had to settle for just 5 percent. These inequalities undermine the system’s stability, while the gap grows between what the system produces or could produce and what the market can absorb.

Transnational corporations registered record profit levels between 2010 and 2019, at the same time that corporate investments diminished. The total amount of money in reserves of the 2,000 largest non-financial corporations in the world rose from 6.6 billion dollars to 14.2 billion dollars between 2010 and 2020 –an amount above the total value of all the foreign exchange reserves of the planet’s central governments– at the same time that the global economy remained stagnant.

The world economy has come to depend increasingly on the development and deployment of systems of war, transnational social control, and repression, simply as a means of profiting and continuing to accumulate capital in the face of chronic stagnation and saturation of global markets. The events of September 11, 2001 marked the beginning of an era of permanent global war in which logistics, war, intelligence, repression, monitoring and tracking, and even military personnel are more and more in transnational capital’s private domain.

The Pentagon’s budget grew 91 percent in real terms between 1998 and 2011, while globally, state military budgets as a whole grew 50 percent between 2006 and 2015, from 1.4 billion dollars, to 2.03 billion. During this period, the military-industrial complex’s profits quadrupled.

The multiple conflicts and social control campaigns in the world involve the fusion of private accumulation with state militarization. In this relationship, the State facilitates the expansion of opportunities for private capital to accumulate profits, like facilitation of the global sale of armaments by companies from the military-industrial-security complex. Global sales of armaments on the part of the 100 largest manufacturers increased 38 percent between 2002 and 2016.

In 2018, the then-US President, Donald Trump, announced the creation of a sixth service of his armed forces, the so-called “Space Force,” on the pretext that it was necessary for the United States to face growing international threats. But behind the scenes, a small group of former government officials with strong ties to the aerospace industry lobbied for its creation for the purpose of expanding military spending on satellites and other space systems.

Last February, the Federation of American Scientists denounced that behind Washington’s decision to invest no less than 100 billion dollars in a renovation of the nuclear arsenal, the companies that produce and maintain said arsenal constantly lobbied. The Biden administration announced with fanfare in early April that it was withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan. However, its 2,500 soldiers in that country pale in comparison to the more than 18,000 private contractors deployed by the United States, among them at least 5,000 soldiers on the payroll of private military corporations.

But while the profit of transnational capital and not the external threat is the explanation for the expansion of the US state and corporate war machine, this expansion needs to be justified by official State propaganda and the new cold war serves that purpose.

The zeal of the capitalist State to externalize the political consequences of the crisis increases the danger that international tensions will lead to war. American presidents historically have the highest approval rating when they launch wars. George W. Bush’s rating reached an all-time high of 90 percent in 2001, as his administration was preparing to invade Afghanistan, while his father’s administration, that of George H. W. Bush, achieved a rating of 89 percent in 1991, following his declaration that he successfully concluded the (first) invasion of Iraq and the “liberation of Kuwait.”

* Professor of sociology and global studies at the University of California, at Santa Bárbara. Siglo XXI recently published his book (in Spanish)El capitalismo global y la crisis de la humanidad” (Global capitalism and the crisis of humanity)


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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