by Kevin B. Anderson, International Marxist-Humanist Organization
Adapted from a presentation to the Chicago Convention of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization, July 13, 2018.
Today’s Nuclear World, Capital, and the State
In January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their famous “Doomsday Clock” on the danger of nuclear holocaust to “two minutes to midnight–the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.” This resulted, they wrote, primarily from Trump’s threats of “fire and fury” against North Korea and his vow to upend the Iran nuclear pact, and also from North Korea’s continuing weapons tests and “Russia’s deployment of a new ground-launched cruise missile” (“It is 2 minutes to midnight: 2018 Doomsday Clock Statement,” Jan. 25, 2018). Even after tensions eased with North Korea, the administration continued plans for an estimated $2 trillion buildup of US nuclear weapons. While some of this began under Obama, according to arms control expert Lawrence Wittner, Trump’s escalation includes plans for “low-yield” nukes that the military could use under a new “nuclear posture” that “lowers the official threshold for use of U.S. nuclear weapons,” allowing the military to “employ them in response to non-nuclear attacks upon civilians and infrastructure, including cyberattacks” (“Trump’s Getting Us Ready to Fight a Nuclear War,” History News Network 6/18/18). Related to this is a massive buildup of US naval forces in what the Pentagon is suddenly calling the “Indo-Pacific,” and which is clearly aimed China as a rising power (see “Tomgram: Michael Klare, Is a War with China on the Horizon? TomDispatch 6/19/18)
This brought to mind the sixtieth anniversary of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom, first published in 1958 during the most fraught days of the Cold War, when threats of nuclear annihilation filled the discourse and Marxism had to be reconceptualized for our time as Marxist-Humanism. One of the book’s greatest achievements was its development of the theory of totalitarian state-capitalism for the nuclear age, in terms of the Hegelian absolute, of life “in an age of absolutes, on the threshold of absolute freedom out of the struggle against absolute tyranny” (p. 24). Nothing signified the absolute development of the contradictions of capitalism more than nuclear weapons, which threatened, then as now, to wipe humanity off the face of the earth at the same time that new, humanist liberation movements were developing everywhere, from civil rights, to African liberation, to the peace movement itself.
Just as the Great Recession a decade ago bared the danger of outright systemic collapse after decades of complacency about the underlying stability of the capitalist system, Trump’s wild nuclear threats last fall laid bare the fact that we are still in the nuclear age, wherein a single leader can order mass destruction far beyond anything even Hitler carried out.
Since those wild threats of last year, Trump has held his photo op with Kim Jong-un, but who besides his apologists believes that peace is at hand on the Korean peninsula and in the region? At the same time, the Trump administration continues to move closer toward war with Iran, continues to support Saudi Arabia’s murderous war on Yemen, while accelerating its war at home against immigrants by forcibly separating thousands of children from their parents in a policy reminiscent of slavery or the Nazi concentration camps.