Capitalist barbarism generates a new wave of dissent

We are witnessing capitalism’s inherent barbarism as tens of thousands of Palestinians are slaughtered at the hands of the Israeli state, with the complicity of its allies in the West.

This has motivated hundreds of thousands of people to come out on the streets across the world to call for an end to the genocide and for a permanent ceasefire.

In Australia and other so-called liberal democracies, political leaders refuse to condemn Israel’s genocide, are complicit in it, and are actively attempting to repress solidarity with its victims, for example, weaponising accusations of antisemitism.

How many Palestinians is Israel going be allowed to kill before the West forces Israel to end its genocide?

When Russia unjustly launched its invasion against Ukraine, we were lectured by Western leaders about how Russia’s actions were “completely unjustified” and that “we live in a rules-based international order”. Yet, when it comes to Israel’s act of genocide against the Palestinians, this is all cast aside.

The war on Gaza has become a radicalising force for millions of people around the world. Many are protesting for the first time and questioning the legitimacy of their governments for supporting genocide.

End of history?

Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed that humanity had reached the “end of history”; that society would evolve to embrace Western liberal democracy and that this was the most developed form of society and best guaranteed human rights and freedoms for all.

However, this was simply an ideological ploy by the ruling class to justify the neoliberal economic policies that have handed more and more wealth to the rich.

Countless wars have been waged in the name of “bringing democracy to the uncivilised”, including in Afghanistan. This is what these so-called Western liberal democratic values fundamentally represent.

Moreover, we are told there is no alternative to liberal capitalism, it is here to stay. The idea of a classless society, or of a socialist one, is the “stuff of fantasy”.

Parliamentary democracies under capitalism provide the appearance of a democratic choice for working people, but in practice, power is concentrated in the hands of a state bureaucracy wedded to the capitalist class. The failure of capitalism to address the rise in poverty, war and the accelerating ecological crisis is evidence of this.

Moreover, in countries such as The Netherlands and Italy, explicitly far-right governments have been elected, demonstrating growing support for authoritarian and xenophobic politics.

At the same time, so-called liberal democracies, including Britain, the United States and Australia, are normalising the militarisation of borders and anti-refugee and migrant policies. In their attempts to contain China and Russia, this Anglo-imperialist alliance, along with NATO, is pushing greater militarism and increasing military spending, which threatens peace and stability in the world.

As Edward Said wrote: “Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort.”

Historically, capitalism developed off the back of colonial expansion, dispossession of Indigenous populations, world wars and the destruction of nature. Today, a bloc led by the US and Western Europe maintain economic hegemony through institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Economic Forum. They’re organised and are prepared to push back against any resistance whether from the working-class movements and the oppressed, or from competing powers such as China.

Ecological crisis

The world today is the product of two centuries of predatory capitalist accumulation. Neoliberal globalisation, based on the burning of fossil fuels and unsustainable levels of production and consumption is rapidly producing a climate that will reduce the limits within which humanity can survive.

The annual global climate summit known as the Conference of Parties (COP) held in the United Arab Emirates last year was an exercise in corporate greenwashing. The parties couldn’t even fully commit to “phase out” fossil fuels, and instead spoke about a “transition away from fossil fuels”.

These annual climate summits are dominated by Western imperialist countries which prefer to adopt “gimmicks” such as carbon market schemes to making polluters pay reparations for ecological damage. Climate reparations owed by the Global North to the Global South are estimated to reach US$192 trillion by 2050.

What does it say that most of the global South, with its history of colonisation, supports Palestine, while liberal capitalist states in the global North openly support Israel?

Politics today and the global capitalist system remains fundamentally shaped by the inequalities that are the result of the carving up of the world by the major advanced capitalist countries more than a century ago.

This process was outlined by Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin’s 1916 essay, Imperialism the highest stage of capitalism, which is still relevant and useful to understanding the current conjecture.

Resisting imperialism

Under Lenin’s definition, imperialism is more than just the act of another country invading its neighbour, it relates to the monopolisation of power within the global capitalist system and its concentration within the hands of a small number of oppressor nations.

In understanding imperialism today, however, we also need to consider the following questions:

How do we view the role of China, which playing an increasingly predatory and exploitative role in the Global South? Do we view the role of Russia as an imperialist power in its own right? Does Russia represent a form of sub-imperialism as some Ukrainian socialists observe?

Does the rise of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) bloc indicate a challenge to Western imperialist hegemony that people on the left should critically support? Does BRICS open up political space for Global South countries marginalised by Western imperialist institutions?

Regarding the role of the BRICS and China, Michael Roberts said in a recent interview: “The BRICS countries are capitalist and nationalist. They do not have an internationalist perspective and certainly not one aimed at the unity of labour against capital.

“Moreover, the BRICS and other non-imperialist groupings — and certainly not China on its own — will never rival the imperialist bloc sufficiently to break it up or weaken it. Any weakness will come from within imperialist economies.

Roberts concluded that rather than look to BRICS “to bring down the imperialist bloc”, we need to build international working class solidarity and to fight for a socialist transformation within the imperialist countries and within the BRICS countries as well.

On the flip side, we should not fall for the argument that we need to “take a side” between US hegemony and Chinese hegemony, as this lends itself to openly supporting US efforts to contain China at any cost, including bringing us to the brink of World War III.

Instead, we should champion the independent struggles of workers and the oppressed and be explicit in opposing the role of NATO, AUKUS and other capitalist military alliances.

In the context of declining US hegemony the imperialist powers have a real stake in maintaining Israel as a European settler state in the Middle East as it’s “unsinkable battle ship”.

Israel for the US serves as a crucial wedge against Arab nationalism that challenges US hegemony in the region.

Israel also plays an important role in safeguarding US economic interests in the region, through the protection of trade routes.

Prior to October 7 the US was playing a role in normalising relations between Israel and a number of Middle Eastern states, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. However, the central contradiction for Israel is that it relies on US backing.

As the bombs continue to fall on Gaza, we need to build a powerful mass movement to break this nexus.

[Jacob Andrewartha is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance in Australia. This article is based on a presentation to its recent national conference.]