The Invisible Armada

The War in Ukraine

By Mauricio Lazaretto

8 July 2022

“In this final phase, economic and political catastrophe is just as much the intrinsic, normal mode of existence for capital”

Rosa Luxemburg (1913)

The slogans “No War,” “Peace Now,” “Not With Putin, Not With Biden” seem weak and powerless until they find strength in an “Against Putin and Against Biden.” Opposition to war must be rooted in a relentless struggle against the different forms of capitalism and sovereignty that are fighting each other to divide the “global market” and that have been mobilized to organize domination, exploitation, and war.

The International Socialists’ call to action from the Zimmerwald Conference of 1915 is reminder of a simple truth that is now actively forgotten. War is “the attempt on the part of the capitalist classes of each nation to foster their greed for profit by the exploitation of human labor and of the natural treasures of the entire globe” – such that the main enemy is, or also is, inside our own country.

We are shocked and disoriented as if the disruption of this war were something new, like a bolt of lightning across the clear skies of peace. However, since the US State Department declared the end of history (1989) with peace and prosperity under Uncle Sam’s watchful eyes, the Pentagon and the American military have been involved in an impressive series of humanitarian missions to promote fraternity between peoples:

Panama 1989

Iraq 1991

Kuwait 1991

Somalia 1993

Bosnia 1994-1995

Sudan 1998

Afghanistan 1999

Yemen 2002

Iraq 1991-2003

Iraq 2003-2015

Afghanistan 2001-2015/2021

Pakistan 2007-2015

Somalia 2007/8, 2011

Yemen 2009-2011

Libya 2011, 2015

Syria 2014-2015

Although it has not rivalled these achievements, after Chechnya and its past wars of extermination (with Western complicity) through the filter of fighting terrorism as the enemy of humanity, Russia has taken up the banner by annihilating all traces of the Syrian Spring to save the Assad regime while also carrying out “special military operations” in its zone of influence (Georgia, Moldavia, Ukraine…).

Yet wars between powers never occur without implicating the wars between classes, race wars, and wars on women carried out by each state for its own account.

In fact, contemporary political movements are completely cut off from the tradition that put them at the center of political action and debate for questions of war and revolution. To the extent that we can wonder whether the greatest victory of the counterrevolution was to make us believe that these questions had been resolved forever, when as long Capitalism and the state reign, these issues will always be present.

How did we get to this point?

To understand the current war, we need to go back to the fall of the Berlin Wall and explain the strategic changes that went unperceived at the time due to a lack of analysis of the revolutions of the twentieth century.

Westerners represent the greatest danger to peace in the world because they are aware of the dual decline that threatens them: the decline of Europe starting with the First World War and the decline of the United States starting in the 1960s. They constantly sow political and economic disorder and spread chaos and war because they were so wrong about the new political phase that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Westerners (and, more specifically, American governments, the entire industrial and financial establishment, and the armed bureaucracy of the Pentagon, as distinguished from the American people divided by a latent civil war!) were convinced they had won when they had lost, even though they lost in a different way than the Soviets. This very important point explains all the catastrophic choices they have made over the past thirty years – and the decision to expand NATO towards Russia, a trigger for the war in Ukraine, is surely not the last.

The journalist Alberto Negri recently wrote: “In 1997, the United States was warned by George Kennan, architect of the policy of containment of the Soviet Union, that ‘expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era’ and it would ‘impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking,’”

To understand why Americans continue to make catastrophic choices leading us straight to disaster, we must look back at the twentieth century, because it was not “short” (Hobsbawn) or “long” (Arrighi) but because it was the century of revolutions and counterrevolutions. The most important of them, the ones that shaped our present, took place in the global South.

For those in the West, the market economy and democracy won the clash of “civilizations” in the twentieth century. All that remained was to capitalize on victory by imposing “neoliberalism” and human rights throughout the world.

In reality, the twentieth century was the century of “revolt against the West,” the century of wars against its imperialism, the century of global civil wars (not only European ones) that continued after the Second World War. We must start there to understand anything about our current situation.

Westerners focused on East vs. West did not grasp that, in less than a century, anticolonial wars had reversed the relationship of force between North and South. “Oppressed peoples” had attacked the economic and political division between the center and periphery that had regulated the functioning of capitalism since 1492. European power was based on the separation of the world proletariat between workers who furnished abstract labor in the North, and the proletariat, peasants, women, slaves, and serfs who guaranteed devalued, free, poorly-paid labor in the South, in addition to domestic work that was free throughout the world.

The great merit of the Bolshevik revolution was to open the way for the revolution of “oppressed peoples.” It would change the relationship of force forever.

And yet, after the Second World War, the United States had waged a fierce political and economic war against the South (the “Third World,” as it was known). They effectively succeeded in dismantling world revolution but this revolution had sedimented into radical changes in the organization of the world market and in the societies liberated from imperialism such that anticolonial revolutions, despite having abandoned the communist or socialist project, were the source of the distribution of contemporary political power and the displacement of the centers of Capitalism from the North to the South and East.

The major innovation is not found in the digital revolution, cognitive capitalism, biopolitics, the bioeconomy, etc. (all of these concepts translate a limited, Eurocentric point of view) but in this change in the relationships of politico-economic forces.

The reconfiguration of capitalism did not play out primarily in the North but in the global South, as it has become increasingly clear.

For Giovanni Arrighi, the core conflict of the second half of the twentieth century “is the power struggle in which the US government sought to contain, through the use of force, the joint challenge of nationalism and communism in the Third World.”[1]

The only Operaist to have understood the revolutions of the twentieth century, he demonstrated that the monetary counterrevolution that began with the decision to end the gold standard for the dollar (1971) represented a direct response to the most important anticolonial war of the post-WW2 era, the one that launched the call to all countries of the South to mobilize against imperialism. “What must be done to bring about another Dien Bien Phu?,” asked Fanon for an Algeria still under French occupation.

While European Marxists only connected capitalist reorganization to capital-labor struggles and competition between capitalists, Arrighi asserted that American policies at the turn of the 1960s-70s were aimed “primarily at freeing the US government's struggle for dominance in the Third World from monetary constraints.”

The (external and internal) costs of the war waged by the Americans against the Viet Cong “not only contributed to the profit squeeze, but were the most fundamental cause of the collapse of the Bretton Woods' regime of fixed exchange rates and the precipitous devaluation of the US dollar that ensued.”

Colonies are just as “modern” as Manchester factories; they are part of the chain of value in the same way as Detroit or Turin, and they emerged as the most propitious place for revolutionary subjectivation by putting the center in crisis from the periphery.

“As in the case of the liquidation of the gold-dollar exchange standard ten years earlier, war and revolution in the South, rather than inter-capitalist competition among the world's three largest economies, were the primary driving force of the monetarist counterrevolution of 1979-82.”

The monetary weapon mobilized against the South had heavier repercussions for class struggles in the North. “But the strongest stimulus for the change came from the unsolved crisis of US hegemony in the Third World rather than the crisis of profitability as such.” The differences between North and South at the end of the nineteenth and at the end of the twentieth century are “more significant than those of labor and capital.”

However, essential things happened in the East and South in the first half of the century as well because the revolutions that would be victorious after the Second World War were organized and accelerated after the massacres of the “Great War.”

Communists played a central role at the heart of these struggles that reversed a few centuries of colonization because they transformed Clausewitz’s “little war” into revolutionary war or “partisan war.” A strategic invention that is just as important as it is now forgotten by those who want to change the world. It would define a change in the “world market” comparable to the one we are now experiencing, and it helps explain it.

The major conservative Carl Schmitt (a Nazi in his time and always anticommunist) had the merit of recognizing the vast political energy and power released by anticolonial revolutions while his Operaist admirers, like Mario Tronti, who introduced him to the Italian left, only showed unbearable condescension for these “peasant” revolutions.

“The irregularity of class struggle” organized in partisan war, connected to more classic forms of combat waged by the Red Army or the People’s Army “calls not just the military line but the whole edifice of political and social order into question […]The alliances of philosophy with the partisan, established by Lenin […] produced nothing less than the demolition of the whole Eurocentric world, which Napoleon had tried to save and the Congress of Vienna had hoped to restore.”[2]

A career officer like Clausewitz “could not […] bring about the partisan, only a professional revolutionary like Lenin could. Yet the partisan of Russian bolshevism is not much from a sociological perspective – I mean, in its concrete reality – compared to the Chinese partisan. Mao himself raised an army of partisans and its partisan elite.”

In a 1969 conversation with a Maoist (Joachim Schickel), Carl Schmitt stated that partisan wars introduced the global aspect of struggle: “the problem of the partisan was not only an international problem, but a global one.”

He added that, in 1949, after the declaration of the People’s Republic of China “we thought there would finally be world peace, and less than a month later, Korea started,” without forgetting Dien Bien Phu, Algeria, Castro, and others (which he defined in 1969, at the same time as Hannah Arendt, as a “global civil war”).

Raymond Aron fell into the same Eurocentric prejudice as the Operaists like Tronti because he wrote to Schmitt “that the problem of the partisan was a problem of poor peoples” without industry, and, we could add, burdened with technological and organizational delays. Western Marxists shared his predjudice.

I am not bringing up partisan war to commemorate its history because it will continue to occur, driven by “poor peoples” and other political forces, and will always succeed in undoing imperialists, even after the defeat of socialism.

New distribution of power on the world market

At the end of the Cold War, this revolutionary power transformed into productive neo-capitalist power contained and directed by the sovereign state, for which the most striking example is China. After the Cultural Revolution, the reformist “Marxists” converted the immense energy of the revolutionary machine into labor, science, and technology.

Even if it was under the form of “state capitalism” (“market socialism” in Chinese), a geopolitical reversal took place between North and South, one that was also manifest in the failure of all neocolonial wars waged by the United States (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.) and by the unstoppable migratory flows towards the North of the subjectivities born in the struggles for liberation from colonialism.

Revolutions (violent or non-violent, like in India) created a multipolar world in which the ex-colonies and semi-colonies play a central role, something the United States cannot not and will not accept. It continues to dream of being an Empire when it does not have the internal or external economic and political strength to impose its will unilaterally (despite its enormous army).

After the Cold War, there was no longer the confrontation between socialism and capitalism (world revolution was defeated long before 1989); there were different capitalisms and different sovereignties fighting for economic and political hegemony over the world.

The United States, however, has told itself a story that does not correspond to the real relationship of force between state-economic powers. “Capitalism” and the “State,” sworn enemies of the revolutions of the twentieth century, seem to have won, but capitalism and the state are not the same everywhere and, above all, they are under American control everywhere (like in Europe!). On the contrary, just as it was a little more than a century ago, this victory of capitalism over communism has unleashed a competition (“real” competition, not the neoliberal one!) that is always on the verge of spilling into war. Unlike 1914, this war would be nuclear and could lead to definitive ecological disaster.

The mistakes and responsibilities of the United States are immense, just as immense as the cowardice, spinelessness, and servility of Europeans since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

First “mistake”: once the USSR was gone, there would only be one power, the United States, a sign of the end of history (in reality, a sign of the end of American hegemony). Strangely, Negri and Hardt’s book Empire fell into the same “ingenuity” as its enemies because the transformations caused by revolutions consolidated a multiplicity of forces that it was impossible to submit to the unilateralism of American hegemony. Waking from its dreamy sleep, the United States would declare the Chinese its main enemy and with them all states (Russia first) that would not declare their allegiance.

Associated with the illusion of Empire, the second mistake resulted directly from the first: once communism was defeated, only terrorists resisted American hegemony. Islamic terrorism was elevated to the rank of principal enemy against which an infinite war would be waged. In reality, terrorism was only an epiphenomenon, fed by the United States and Westerners themselves, of the rise to power of ex-colonies and semi-colonies that were consistent, solid, and threatening in a different way.

Third mistake: the Pentagon and the American army did not understand the political context and did not learn anything from the “partisan wars” they had waged (and lost!) because they continued to be systematically defeated by all the “poor peoples” that they wanted to submit to their will. Even if the partisan war of post-socialism did not have the grandeur of the project and organization of the war waged by communists, it was enough to defeat the most powerful techno-politico-military entrepreneur on the planet.

What I have euphemistically called “mistakes” (in reality a suicidal strategy for the United States and homicidal for the rest of the world), have produced (it is worth repeating) seventeen wars since 1989, millions of deaths, the destruction of cities and countries, the consuming and wasting of vast fortunes and natural resources, and the jeopardizing of an already discredited rule of law.

The economy, weapon of mass destruction

There is another weapon of mass destruction in the hands of American imperialism that is used on a global scale against all people on the planet: the “economy.” A dual-edged sword, because it is the source of “economic” chaos that increases and multiplies the disorder of struggles between state–powers and plunges capitalism into war and fascism. The real reason for the war that did not begin with Ukraine is in fact the “economy.” It describes the framework in which states express their sovereign power.

For more than fifty years, we have paid for the doomed attempts to stop the decline of American power. Starting in the 1960s, this percentage continued to decline, eroded in the 1970s by Germany and Japan and, for the past thirty years, by the powers resulting from revolutions (China, India, etc.).

The victorious “economy” of collectivism had nothing to do with the ideology-laden narrative of neoliberalism (market, offer, demand, autoregulation, self-entrepreneurship, etc.). The First World War produced a hybrid of the state, monopolies, war, society, labor, technology, and science that no “governmentality” (not that of Foucault or liberal governance) could ever fit back into the “market” of supply and demand. What is known as neoliberalism would produce not competition but the strengthening of monopolies and oligopolies (the only monopoly dismantled was that of the unions, while public monopolies were systematically privatized); not self-regulation but the wild development of every possible imbalance; not democracy but a strong, authoritarian state, a democracy compatible with fascism; not a new bio-cognitive “production” but appropriation, pillage, and theft by finance.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel explained the nature of the mantra of this predatory economy, economic competition: “Actually, capitalism and competition are opposites. Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition, all profits get competed away. The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear […] competition is for losers.”

In the same way, balance – another major signifier of the neo-classical and neoliberal ideology – implies the certain death of Capital, whence its constant and necessary reproduction of “differences” (of wealth and poverty, with inequality in income, land, access to healthcare, education, lodging, etc.).

The end of the gold standard made money into a formidable weapon that debt policies transformed, starting in 1979, into the largest program of wealth capture and imposition of privatization in the history of capitalism.

The strategy of the “market economy” (financialization, globalization/colonization, monopolistic centralization) produced the contemporary form of wars of colonial conquest starting with the plunder of Africa in the 1980s, followed by Latin America and the countries of Southeast Asia, to arrive at the end of the last century in Europe (Greece as an example for all Europe of the imposition of creditors’ interests).

The victorious economy produced conditions that made it impossible: vast profits and colossal debt, unprecedented wealth concentrated with a few individuals and poverty for millions. The United States has the highest concentration of profits, the fruit of financial pillage, and the highest debt rates on the planet. Capitalism will not be able to escape the pincer of vast profits/colossal debt except through fascism and war. And there is no remaining trace of this “axiom” of the revolutionary tradition.

The predation of financial capitalism to counter the decline of the United States also acts on the proletariat of countries in the center, eliciting forms of low-intensity civil war in countries where this wild capitalism has been imposed. The nascent civil war gnawing at them was not created by Trump. He only named it and consolidated it. It is surely the weakest point of a power that claims to be global. Its foundations are built on sand. It is another clear sign of its decline, the corruption of its institutions, the failure of its political system based on the racist division of society since its birth.

The victorious economy quickly showed where it would lead us: the so-called “neoliberalism” was supposedly developed to avoid the disadvantages of classical liberalism, in other words war between imperial powers, civil war, fascism, Nazism, the economic and financial crisis that laissez faire produced between the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth centuries. In reality, in both identical and different ways, we have now reached the same disastrous impasse: permanent economic and political crisis, “strong” state, new forms of fascism, racism, nationalism, sexism, wars and civil wars that have not taken on the genocidal tone of the first liberalism simply because there is nothing like the Soviet revolution, nothing like the workers’ insurrections in the North, and nothing like the long wars waged by communists in the South.

While the economy is doing poorly, democracy is doing no better. The centralization of political power in the executive, the marginalizing of parliament, and the constant state of emergency are the flip side of the economic concentration. The two concentrations of power (economic and political) are converging and one reinforces the other. Separating the economy from politics, in other words separating state policies from class struggles, can only lead to confusion, ambiguity, and collusion with highly dubious political forces, as Giorgio Agamben showed during the pandemic.

The war in Ukraine marks a new stage in the world’s becoming fascist, in particular the European Union, which found intact the hatred, racism, and identity politics that it has harbored since the nineteenth century. The war has unleashed the most aggressive impulses that had been repressed by the experience of fascism and Nazism: Germany has decided to accelerate its rearming by investing 100 billion euros and Japan is preparing to accept American nuclear missiles on its territory.

“Fascism” is always a possible option of the “market economy.” In an article from 1929, one of the founders of neoliberalism summarized the reality taking shape around us as “dictatorship within the boundaries of democracy.”

In their inability to escape their own impasses, economy and politics have turned to century-old remedies.

Why Putin invaded Ukraine

War broke out in this multipolar framework devastated by the economic wars that the United States does not want to claim (at least not in words!). It cannot accept the new world order called for by China, India, and others, including Russia, because it would not be able to compete and because unbridled capitalism does not allow compromise or regulation. On the contrary, driven by the astronomical profits/limitless debt pair, the Americans are blocking this new world order at every possible turn by developing chaos into a political strategy.

It is in the Americans’ interest to maintain war and disorder because is it only in chaos that their military can guarantee the superiority that their economy no longer ensures. Russia aims to establish a cordon sanitaire between themselves and NATO; the Americans aim to gain Chinese submission through submission of Russia. China and India have refused to vote against Russia at the UN because they are aware of the stakes and of the fact that they risk being the next targets of Western “democracies.”

The confrontation between the Atlantic alliance and Russia is a textbook case of this strategy. I will let ambassadors and members of the military describe the escalation over the thirty years since the collapse of the USSR that led to this conflict.

An Italian ambassador who read recently declassified documents from the period of the Soviet Union’s disintegration wrote the following: “From declassified American, German, British, and French documents, it is clear that Kremlin leaders received different assurances from the West – François Mitterrand, Giulio Andreotti, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl himself: NATO would not move an inch to the east, ‘not one inch eastward’ as James Baker said as US Secretary of State at the time. Baker said that he had no thoughts of endangering Soviet interests and confirmed not once but three times that the Atlantic alliance would not move. […] He said the same to Gorbachev and Shevardnadze and, when the Russian Defense Minister, Marshal Yazov, asked Thatcher’s successor, John Major, if he thought any European countries would join NATO, he was told that nothing of the sort could happen.”

In 2003, a disastrous decision, the second Gulf War, with its thousands of deaths to take revenge on America’s “main enemy,” led to a second decision that broke Western promises. None of the countries of the North wanted to be involved in this dead-end endeavor in Iraq. Only some of the countries of the former Warsaw Pact sent troops. To reward them for their participation in Operation Desert Storm, the United States gave them immediate entry into NATO.

In 2007, Putin asked to work on developing a new world order. For him, it surely meant the possibility of conducting his internal policies without interference (crushing minorities – see the destruction of Chechnya – dismantling opposition parties, media control, power and wealth-sharing with oligarchs, physical elimination of opponents, and more) but it was also a recognition of the new relationships of force.

The Russians only became truly worried in 2008, when NATO wanted to have Georgia and Ukraine join the alliance. The same year had other very important effects on the relationship of forces at play. 2008 was the year of another disaster, again originating in the United States, that spread panic across the globe and heightened tensions between powers: the largest financial crisis since 1929. The economy that had defeated communism added chaos to chaos, disorder to disorder.

In 2014, NATO and Europe supported and recognized the coup d’état in Ukraine with the goal of continuing expansion to the east by militarizing the area (they began arming Ukraine at that time). The United States is an unrivaled specialist in coups d’état. Between 1947 and 1989, it has directly or indirectly organized seventy of them, most of which touched or affected Latin America. Now, it is experimenting with new configurations, like the coup d’état against the PT (Workers Party) in Brazil that opened the door for Bolsonaro – the noticeable departure in this case: it was organized by the US Justice Department.

A summary of the very significant statements made by an Italian officer on NATO’s strategy to Italian television (RaiNews) has been circulating recently on social media. While calling for Putin to be tried for war crimes, Leonardo Tricarico, former chief of staff of the air force and Italian forces during the war in Kosovo (Ukraine is not the first war in Europe since 1945), maintained a level of lucidness that has been lacking from our media and politicians:

- The General Secretary of NATO “talks too much” without consulting allies

- NATO represents the point of view of the United States and is indistinguishable from it

- NATO does not listen to Italy, which is more interested in the Mediterranean, and it is caught up in anti-Russian hysterics, obsessed with expansion to the east

- NATO chose to accept all the demands of the fiercely anti-Russian Baltic states

- NATO promised Ukraine a place in the Atlantic alliance, offering protections it could not guarantee

“They threw oil on the fire and this is the result.”

Putin reacted according to the “crazy” logic that governs relations between powers (he is not the only “crazy” one in this story). The death of civilians is the least of his concerns, and the risk of uncontrolled escalation is very present. Sleepy Joe speaks about a third world war between naps; Putin puts the soldiers managing the nuclear arsenal on alert; NATO representatives speak of the possibility of conflict using non-conventional weaponry as if it were normal. We need another Kubrick to record this madness. With even greater anxiety, because the contemporary actors in this drama are clearly more dangerous!

With innocents dying under the bombardments in Ukraine, we can only be caught between two cynicisms playing fast and dirty to decide the future functioning of the world market. The Russians do not want to yield to America’s hegemonic will manifested by the installation of nuclear missiles in Romania and Poland and those it wanted to install in Ukraine, while the chaos strategy of the United States is completely “rational”: regroup after an nth debacle in Afghanistan; isolate Russia (to isolate China next) and break up the nascent alliance between the two former communist powers; realign the Europeans behind the US and, through NATO, continue to dictate their ”foreign policy.”

The West thinks this is the way to avoid its decline.

The confrontation between the United States and Russia that is the backdrop to this war is not between a democracy and autocracy but between economic oligarchies that resemble each other in many aspects, in particular as rentier oligarchies.

“It is more realistic to view U.S. economic and foreign policy in terms of the military-industrial complex, the oil and gas (and mining) complex, and the banking and real estate complex than in terms of the political policy of Republicans and Democrats. The key senators and congressional representatives do not represent their states and districts as much as the economic and financial interests of their major political campaign contributors” (Michael Hudson). Of these three rentier oligarchies, the military-industrial and the gas/petroleum have largely contributed to the strategy that led to the war. The first is the largest supplier of NATO, the second wants to replace Russia as the main supplier of Europe and, eventually, appropriate Gazprom.

Lenin, war and revolution

There is no point in making proposals for the future resolution of the conflict (avoid making Ukraine fall prey to East and West, give it a status like Finland, etc.). It does not interest us, even if we could enter into this game of strategy, because our problem lies elsewhere: starting a discussion to find a political position in the monstrous circumstances that have taken shape in recent years and that we don’t have the courage to face. Because the war in Ukraine risks making war and wars part of our daily life for years to come.

The clearest position in relation to the war remains that of the revolutionary socialists at the time of the First World War that I cited at the beginning. The situation is very similar to the one experienced by the Bolsheviks in 1914: war between economic-political forces to divide the power and wealth of the world (Lenin said at the time “to divide the slaves”!), carried out by criminals ready to do anything for power and profit (Biden and Putin), and a very weak opposition, disorganized by the betrayal of social-democratic parties (today, opposition is non-existent).

By voting for war credits, socialist parties rallied to the different nations and thereby determined the impossibility of revolution in the West and the start of the integration of the workers’ movement into the State-Capital machine. The first thing to avoid is copying the behavior of the socialists at the time, in other words siding with one of the powers, taking part in the logic of one of the states at war, and confusing its interests with those of another power, because Biden and Putin are both “enemies of the proletariat.”

At the beginning of the imperialist war, Lenin announced his call to action that would only become victorious at the end: transform imperialist war into revolutionary war, inviting soldiers not to target proletarians on the other side of the front but to turn their rifles against their officers, their states, and their capitalists.

The situation has profoundly changed but the position of revolutionaries in the first half of the twentieth century still holds truths for us today: inventing a new internationalist perspective capable of circulating between the proletariats of “every country” even if it is not possible to turn rifles against the war machine. There is no other alternative than overthrowing imperialisms, dethroning those in command, and building autonomous political organizations.

What should surprise us is not the apparent unreality of these calls to action but the fact that critical thought has studiously avoided confronting “war” and “revolution” for fifty years. This surprise led Eric Alliez and I to publish Wars and Capital as war was knocking at our door and this same stupefaction with the irresponsibility of contemporary political thought led to my most recent book on revolution (The Intolerable Present, the Urgency of Revolution).

Despite their denial by critical thought, wars and revolutions continue to determine the beginning and end of major political sequences. War is as integral a part of the Capital-State machine as production, labor, racism, and sexism. Since the First World War, all of these elements have been indissolubly integrated and work together as a whole. And like a century ago, they will lead to situations like the ones we are experiencing now.

The Marxism of the first half of the twentieth century, the one that organized and practiced “partisan war” still has things to teach us, even if many of the concepts and calls to action have aged and are impractical today. Its strategic thought in opposing war and capitalism has been completely ignored when it can provide a direction for thought and action if we are able to repurpose it for our times.

If they are not accompanied by strategic thinking about war and revolution, poststructuralism, deconstruction, biopolitics, Spinozism, ecological thought, feminist theories, the micropolitics and microphysics of power, and all the efforts produced since the 1960s to construct an alternative to class struggle (without finding it!) remain impotent, because wars and revolutions are unfortunately always and still the “natural” results of the action of capitalism and its states.

Without reinventing strategic thinking at the level of the contemporary State-Capital machine, the alternatives are bleak: instant destruction in nuclear war (even conventional war would suffice: in 2021, governments spent more than 2 trillion on armaments, half of which was by the United States and European Union, far ahead of China and Russia; in the last twenty years, military spending has doubled!); destruction over time by climate change; implosion of class struggles as Marx predicted in the Manifesto of the Communist Party. I repeat: without thinking realistically capable of articulating war and revolution under the new conditions of action of capitalism, states, and contemporary political movements, this is what awaits us.

Maurizio Lazzarato

Translation: Ames Hodges

[1] Giovanni Arrighi, Adam Smith in Beijing. Lineages of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Verso, 2007).

[2] Carl Schmitt, The Theory of the Partisan: A Commentary/Remark on the Concept of the Political, by Carl Schmitt (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2004).