Capitalism is intimate with revolutions. Bourgeois revolutions had to usher it into history, revolutions have threatened it from the start and, beginning in 1917, popular revolutions have been ushering it out of history. For it is, contrary to liberal myths, the most unnatural form of social production humanity could have chanced on, founded as it is on the ‘the separation of free labour from the objective conditions of its realisation’, ‘from the soil as [our] natural workshop’ and from other means of production.
This simple fact is less widely understood than it should be because many socialists do not grasp, as the Bolsheviks and the Third International did, that capitalism and imperialism go together. They exploit working classes and colonial and semi-colonial nations. Both resist. Nations as well as classes struggle for socialism on the terrain of capitalism’s geopolitical as well as political economy. Moreover, every egalitarian community that encountered capitalism has opposed it and today Indigenous peoples that have survived its onslaught continue resisting it in the name of ancient rights, land, the environment and community.
In class struggles between increasingly politically organised capitalist and working classes, the latter forced welfare concessions, regulatory restrictions, and taxation on the former to protect labour, the land and society.
Internationally, in the dialectic between uneven and combined development, powerful states vainly sought to preserve their imperial dominance through economic, political and military means, often in competition among themselves. Those resisting them attempted to develop productive forces through protection and state direction, asserting economic sovereignty. This resistance, not the extension of the world market or imperialism, spread productive capacity around the world. Success in challenging imperialism through economic development was greatest and most sustained where a successful popular revolution displaced private capital from political power. The result of these struggles among and against imperial powers has been multipolarity or what Hugo Chávez more accurately called pluripolarity, referring to the multiplicity of poles of power and the variety of their national capitalisms and socialisms.
Early pluripolarity led to competition between Britain and its old and new challengers – France, Germany, the US and Japan – not only for markets but also for colonies and ‘economic territory’ because they could still take and hold weak states and stateless territories.
This competition culminated in the First World War and a veritable Thirty Years’ Crisis (1914-45) of capitalism and imperialism, undermining their foundations with its two World Wars and Great Depression. In its course, class and national struggles culminated in the defeat of fascism, two earth-shaking revolutions – the Russian and the Chinese – and the colonial revolt against the West. The outlines of these crises are worth tracing.