It is difficult today to recall the full extent of the Great Capitalist Celebration that commenced three decades ago in 1991-1992. In the midst the U.S.-led Gulf War against Iraq, the crumbling of the Soviet bloc, the demise of the Soviet Union itself, and the increasing incorporation of China into the world economy, U.S. President George H.W. Bush triumphantly announced the creation of a “New World Order.” Capitalism, we were told, had triumphed once and for all. Nothing would stop the endless expansion of the U.S. dominated world empire. The United States as the new “unipolar” power was about to expand the so-called “Washington Consensus”: a plan for neoliberal globalization, proletarianizing vast new sections of the world population. Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man announcing the permanent victory of liberalism was all the rage in the establishment media.
It was at this moment, in 1992, that Samir Amin published a little book with Monthly Review Press, entitled The Empire of Chaos. The opening chapter, “A World in Chaos,” began by asking: “Shall we conclude” from the dominant globalization ideology “that all societies on the planet must subordinate themselves to the criteria of rationality that govern the global expansion of capital? This view, though dominant today, is not merely illogical and erroneous but infinitely dangerous.”
Why did Amin—who shared MR’s viewpoint— arrive at a conclusion that was the complete opposite of the received doctrine, thirty years ago?
The answer can be found in some of the historical processes highlighted in his short book. For Amin, a widening globalization in the absence of a supranational state, coupled with declining U.S. economic hegemony, would rapidly generate new fissures within world capitalism. The primary source of chaos was the continual process of imperialist subordination of the periphery (and semi-periphery) of the capitalist world by the triad of the United States, the European Union, and Japan. Neoliberalism, which had “no scientific value,” was simply a universal power grab by capital that was bound to create ever more serious clashes on geopolitical and cultural lines between state and civilizations, along with intensified class struggles within states. The mature capitalist system at the core of the world economy was prone to economic stagnation and financialization (a view that Amin developed more fully in his subsequent work). The overall political trajectory, thought Amin, was toward a breakdown of liberal democracy and a “descent into a sort of subordinate fascism” characterized by increased racism, misogyny, and the rule of force. On top of all of this, capitalism was generating ecological contradictions that constituted a growing source of global chaos.
If we look at the world today, the “infinitely dangerous” trajectory that Amin projected for the capitalist system seems to have come about. Ours is a world of:
- secular stagnation and financialization in the capitalist core;
- imminent environmental catastrophe;
- COVID-19 and a growing epidemiological crisis;
- a constant hybrid war without definite boundaries, now intensified by the U.S. launching of a New Cold War against China;
- the renewal of the third world debt crisis; and
- the growth of fascist movements nearly everywhere.
In the age of surveillance capitalism, with increased monopolization and censorship of social media, the world communication system is, in many ways, descending into bedlam.
It is hard to see all of this as anything other than the “empire of chaos” that Amin and Monthly Review projected at the moment of capitalist triumphalism. If the victory of capitalism represents, in Fukuyama’s terms the “end of history,” it is only in the sense that it threatens world exterminism—what Fredrick Engels famously called “social murder.” The simple fact is that the productive forces unleashed by humanity in the course of world history are too great to be left in the hands of an anarchic system of class-based competition and monopoly that has, as its primary object, the accumulation of capital ad infinitum and is based on deepening world inequality.
All of this points to what István Mészáros, another major contemporary thinker at Monthly Review, called “the necessity of social control” or, the incessant struggle to create a rational socialism in place of the chaos, crisis, and catastrophe of contemporary capitalism. Here, the object has to be the creation of a world of substantive equality and ecological sustainability. If there is an “end of history” inscribed in the struggles of the vast majority of people on the planet, this is it. And it is to this world of equality and sustainability that Monthly Review is committed. Only a reasoned, revolutionary struggle for socialism can counter the current world descent into chaos. Our unwavering commitment to this struggle has informed the work of Monthly Review and MR Press since our founding more than seventy years ago.
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—John Bellamy Foster