When War Will No Longer Save the System

“A Month of War Has Transformed Ukraine.” Photo: The Atlantic

by Raúl Zibechi

Many facts point out that the great companies of the military industrial complex are reaping juicy profits since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But other facts confirm the opposite; they say that the capitalist crisis is deepening: the threat of recession in the United States, the rising of prices throughout the world, or the difficulties of China in maintaining the global supply chain, to give a few examples.

We can agree with William I. Robinson in that the wars have helped capitalism to overcome its crises and that they divert attention from the deterioration of the legitimacy of the system (https://bit.ly/3vDQjNV).

His concept of militarized accumulation, the fusion of private accumulation with state militarization, becomes useful in understanding the processes at play (https://bit.ly/3Fb5RMa). He considers repression necessary in order to sustain the accumulation of capital in this period of growing social unrest. 

However, it is likely that we are facing the radicalization of the global elites, that they seem inclined to incite massive genocide against part of the population of the planet, if they come to believe that their interests are in danger. In fact, the destruction of the planet continues advancing, despite the declarations and conventions that claim to defend the environment.

Every time that one way of resolving situations enters into crisis, the elites escalate toward another model even more destructive. Since war is no longer enough to assure the indefinite accumulation of capital, it is employed with another objective: to maintain the dominant classes in their place of privilege when capitalism runs dry. 

I believe that the theses of Robinson, interesting in and of themselves, as well as the other analysts, don’t take into account that we are not facing situations similar to those of the two world wars of the 20th century, or the cold war, but new systemic derivations. Strictly speaking, we should no longer speak of repression, or of crisis, because the mutations underway go beyond these concepts.

First of all, because the West has never before been challenged by a non-European nation, like China, that was a victim of the colonialism and racism that still persist, and in the mode of international relations. This doesn’t mean that the Chinese elite are less oppressive than those of the West. Or that they are some kind of alternative, now that they all reason in the same way..

We are not only facing conflicts for preeminence within western capitalism, as in the previous wars. Now the racial factor has a determinant weight, and as such, the occidental elites do not hesitate —as in Iraq and Afganistan— in destroying entire nations, including their people. 

The invasions are measured by distinct yardsticks according to the geopolitical interests and the color of the victims’ skin. In the same moment that the Russian army invades Ukrain, that of Turkey is invading Kurdish territories in the north of Syria, but the mainstream media doesn’t give it the same importance. (https://bit.ly/3P7PxAu)

Secondly, we mustn’t overlook the world revolution of 1968, now that it puts us up against completely different realities: the peoples have organized and they are in movement. This is the central fact, not so much the economic and political crisis. The peoples, indigenous, black and mestizos of Latin America, the oppressed people of the world, are placing limits on capital that it considers unsustainable. And that is why it retaliates with paramilitaries and narcos.

The third is a consequence of the first two. We are facing something bigger than the crisis and which turns out to be much deeper — the decomposition of the world that we know, the crisis of the modern, western, capitalist world, which is much more than the crisis of capitalism understood as mere economy. 

In broad strokes, the situation created in 1968 can be resolved with the installation of a new system, less unequal than the current one, or with the annihilation of the people. I believe we are facing an unprecedented threat because the elites (from all over the world) feel, as they haven’t since 1917,  that the oppressed peoples threaten their interests.

We are in a transition toward something that we don’t know, that could be dramatic, but that has more the form of decomposition than of orderly transit. As Immanuel Wallerstein said: of controlled transitions are born new oppressions. That is why we should lose our fear of the collapse of the current system, which could be anarchical, but not necessarily disastrous.*

The problem is that we don’t have strategies to confront this period. With the notable exception of Zapatismo, we have not built the knowledge base and ways of doing things to resist in militarized societies, in which those above bet on genocidal violence to continue dominating. It is not simple, but we should work on it, or resign ourselves to being targets of the powerful. 

*In Marx and Underdevelopment

This article was published in La Jornada on May 6th, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/05/06/opinion/013a1pol English translation by Schools for Chiapas.