In June 2020, not anticipating the current moment, I rhetorically asked about the liberal project of reviving the economy in Baricada Romania: does the state save capital and support militarization?
I noticed then, that unlike the crisis of 2008-2009, economic recovery was taking place through the excessive militarization of Romania and its engagement in the arms race. This was transpiring in a somewhat similar way as during the cold war and other periods in which the war industry “saved” the economy. At the time, the prime minister stated, among other things, that “the government’s priorities include investments in industries such as the military.” This launched initiatives such as the acquisition of the Patriot missile system, which had been promoted by the country’s president since his first term. Part of its total $3.9 billion cost had increased the budget allocated for 2020 at the Ministry of National Defense with 18%, and by 13% at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which includes the budget of the Romanian Intelligence Services, too.
At that time, I observed that in this increasingly troubled world with various contradictory scenarios for the future, there was a risk that the current crisis of capitalism will be resolved not only by the militarization of the economy, but also by the fasciztization of politics and society. The promotion of racialized hatred, as well as the provocation of conflicts between ethnic groups or between social classes, could easily justify both the police state and militarization.
As I concluded in 2020, through the war industry, capital is increasingly in need of these investments to save itself, while other branches of industry are struggling to recover from the recession. Perversely, Romania’s leaders also offered the opportunity to make a career in war to the dismissed and unemployed labor force during the pandemic. President Iohannis had said, at the time, that the Romanian Armed Forces could be made available for participation in missions and operations outside the territory of the Romanian state. Further, “important resources for equipping the Romanian Army make it possible to achieve national defense capabilities within the collective defense system NATO and, at the same time, coherent multi-annual programs can offer the Romanian industry the chance to relaunch, especially through institutional cooperation with the profile companies of our allies.”
It’s getting clearer now. The war in Ukraine is a war in which capitalism is trying to overcome the deep crisis it has reached since 2008. It adds to the list of other wars that have erupted in the 21st century, from Iraq to Afghanistan and Yemen, which have channeled the great geopolitical conflicts of contemporary global capitalism into armed clashes. Michael Roberts, in a recent contribution, claimed that “the Long Depression of the 21st century may have begun in 2009, but the economic forces that caused it were underway as early as 1997 onwards. (…) It was then that the average rate of profit on capital in the major capitalist economies began to fall and, despite some small bursts of recovery (mainly driven by economic slumps and huge credit injections), the profitability of capital remained near all-time lows. (…) Profit drives investment in capitalism; and so falling and low profitability has led to slow growth in productive investment. Instead, capitalist institutions have increasingly speculated in financial assets in the fantasy world of stock and bond markets and cryptocurrencies. And the imperialist bloc increasingly looks to compensate for weakness in the ‘global north’ by exploiting further the ‘global south’. (…) So far, there is little sign that capitalism can get out of this Long Depression, even if the current Ukraine disaster is resolved. To end the depression would require a cleansing of the economic system through a slump that liquidates the zombie companies that reduce profitability and productivity growth and increase debt burdens. (…) The only hope of escape from the impact of the Long Depression and more wars is for the coming to power of democratic socialist governments based on working people, which can sponsor a real united nations to end economic crises; reverse environmental disasters for the planet; and achieve a peaceful development of human society.”
Russian capitalism (its need to increase its own sphere of economic influence) has created an unexpectedly good lever for the renewal of Western capitalism through this war, which is both a war of Russian imperialism against Ukraine and a territorial proxy war between Russia and the United States.
This clash of the two capitalisms will not lead to the disappearance of this regime anytime too soon. On the contrary, it will create even deeper and longer-lasting economic crises around the world, creating the conditions for the generalization of armed violence. Ideologically and discursively, this war will certainly lead to the strengthening of capitalism through the total degradation of the eastern but still capitalist enemy of the “free world”—that is, the supposedly just world of “perfect capitalism,” the Western one. Eventually, as a later effect of the long and deep energy and economic crisis, the survivors suffering most from the wars of global capitalism will revolt in a way that will endanger this regime.
But current super-militarization is also designed to deter such riots. This war is a tool of post-neoliberal capitalism that will further annihilate any explicit criticism of the system. In the beginning of the pandemic, utopias regarding other possible worlds after capitalism appeared because it seemed impossible that this regime would continue; the return to the old normal was not desirable. In the effervescence of escalating war and ideological struggles that incite armament, such utopias and their authors will be removed by various means. Exploitation, inequality, the rotten enrichment of the oligarchs on the stage of global capitalism—the subordination of nature and human life in all its hypostases to profit—will become taboo subjects, and those who bring them into question will be harassed to extinction. Then, maybe after 5-10 years of militarization, capital will be satisfied with a solution to tame capitalism. And some survivors will start over with promises of peace and prosperity and a green transition.
Meanwhile, as I observed in a March 10, 2022 article published in Gazeta de Artă Politică, in a Romania underdeveloped regarding social infrastructure, directing public money to militarization will result in even more victims of poverty, and even greater economic inequalities. Even more people will die than before without reaching old age, and social fascism directed against the population, which becomes surplus from the point of view of violent capital, will be strengthened.
Today, everyone is telling everyone else how they should think, what they should say, what they should do NOW, and what they should leave for tomorrow, the day after, and so on.
War is waged in every corner of everyday life for everything uncertain (material goods, analysis, future plans).
Some left-wing public intellectuals are beginning to define the “Eastern Left” against the “Western Left,” and not against capitalism.
The systemic violence of capitalism has now taken us to a time when positions (even within camps that a few months ago we wanted to consider united against the common enemy) tend to break on the line of new ruptures, pushing people to confrontational extremes.
The creation of more and more barriers between the Western and Eastern Left not only supports the potential for reviving nationalisms, but also reduces the chances of at least thinking about the alternative to capitalism, which is now trying to survive not only through the war of Western versus Eastern spheres of interest, but also through the geopolitical war between the “good left” and the “bad left.”
And this ultimately works as an instrument to justify the imperialist armed clashes that seek to save capitalism in favor of capital.
This war is also a gas war. Energy independence (from Russia) is considered the number one priority on today’s EU economic development agenda. The big winner of this turn is the USA.
War is used as an argument for becoming independent of Russian gas as a form of boycotting Russia as an aggressor of Ukraine. It is, of course, an argument for supporting militarization, which also serves the profits of armaments corporations.
But do the ethnicity and national origins of gas cause rising energy prices? Or is it instead that energy is speculated upon on stock exchanges. And stock markets are reacting to politics.
Has “Russian gas” prevented Europeans from being more advanced at this time with alternative sources of heating? Or are these the interests of large corporations regardless of their national origins?
In the entire profit chain, from producers (which can be both private and public), through the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, where traders sell and buy based on reactions to political decisions about sanctions against Russia, to the private energy suppliers in Romania—everyone now justifies their profits through ethnicized arguments. They say that they would not want to make so much profit and leave consumers in the lurch or in the cold. They just wanted the “innocent” liberalization of prices on the energy market. Russian gas, Russia, and the Russians are to blame.
All this is happening at a time when global capitalism has reached the stage of restructuring towards a new American hegemony in competition with China and Russia.
Since the 1970s, the political economy of neoliberal globalization has sought to remove any barriers to the free movement of transnational capital, services, and goods. The labor force enjoyed this freedom of globalization to the extent and in the directions in which capital needed cheap labor.
And now the crisis of global capitalism, which has been transforming from one crisis to the next since 2008, has reached a stage where it wants to be solved by dismantling its own founding principles (that of the free movement of capital). But this can’t be done peacefully. Economic warfare is not enough for this. Conquering spheres of interest involves armed conflict.
Now the interests of global policymakers are changing. New rules are being made, written in the blood of innocent people in Ukraine. And they push us all into the logic of total war. Now the great Western powers are pursuing a limitation of globalization in the sense of transnational movement of capital without any barriers. Or, better said, they are looking for a kind of bipolar capitalist globalization, separated in two parts by the economic and military barriers set up between the spheres of Eastern and Western influence. In this sense, they are using a rotten capitalist morality that classifies capital into “good capital” and “bad capital.” But this effort does not mean the end of globalization. Capitalism still needs the mechanism called “spatial fix,” i.e., solving the crises of capitalism by territorial incorporation of new areas of interest.
When we think about the possibility of transnational anti-imperialist solidarity against all wars, we are in fact critical of capitalism, trying to carry on the critique of capitalism in various parts of the world fragmented by the interests of capital into “East,” “West,” “South,” or “North.” Our position is also one against racism. Or more precisely, against racialized capitalism. The latter works not only through the economic mechanisms of capital, but also in everyday life, as also shown by the double standards put in place in European societies towards refugees differentiated by color or by people’s supposedly cultural and biological “essence.”
In this endeavor, it is helpful to observe the close connection between unequal development, as a core feature of capitalism, as well as class exploitation, racist oppression, and patriarchal domination. All of these are connected because the conditions that make the perpetuation of capitalism possible are not only of economic nature. Meanwhile economic, classist, racist, and patriarchal violence dominate all areas of life. Beyond this, once again, we see how the systemic violence of capitalism destroys lives through cold or hot wars, wars between civilians of various ethnicities, wars between states, and proxy wars through which great imperialist powers clash through the semi-periphery countries of capitalism.
Is any post-war hope still possible in these semi-peripheries? “Post-socialism” in Romania, for example, has meant the loss of thousands of jobs and transnational migration for millions of Romanian citizens (due to how the privatization and bankruptcy of its productive economy were “achieved”). Meanwhile, “post-covid” has meant the energy crisis, highlighting how the militarization of the country and the increasing replacement of public policies (health, housing, environment, education) with state policing measures during the pandemic forecasted the outbreak of the current war in our region. Instead of imagining a different type of “normal” than that of patriarchal and racist capitalism, it seems that both the struggle against socialism and the struggle against covid has been a dystopian exercise that prepared us for a more frightening present and future.
The Romanian anti-communism of the last 30 years has justified economic transformations such as privatization, dependence on foreign direct investment, putting the state in the service of capital, the dislocation of the labor force, and much more. Confusing the critique of state socialism with the celebration of capitalism as the only possible world, anti-communism also made great efforts to ideologically de-legitimize the socialist alternative. This took place by stigmatizing any criticism against capitalism through socialism’s association with Ceaușescu, by idealizing capitalism as the supposed guarantee of democracy, and the like.
Because all this happened on the stage of neoliberal capitalism, which in the 1990s also integrated Romania into the flows of globalization based on the free movement of capital, the most visible (and most mobilizing) critique of the latter took the path of nationalism. The path of Romanian nationalism, in the case of Forța Dreptei, Force of the Right, supports the national bourgeoisie. On the other side, in the case of AUR, Romanian nationalism calls the oppressed to patriotic revolt. Once crystallized, these nationalisms can be called upon at any time to mobilize the population for imperialist wars, for which no one would otherwise want to sacrifice their lives. To be against all wars is to be against sacrificing people who are already exploited by capital in its bloody wars, and against turning them into soldiers of the nation purified by bloodshed.
Therefore, a new socialist internationalism would need to connect several critiques: that of global capitalism, that of national capitalism, but also that of state socialism as it existed before 1990. Moreover, a criticism is need of nationalism and racism, and of patriarchy, which, together with class exploitation, contribute to the perpetuation of criminal capitalism. And, of course, critique is needed against wars fought all over the world as a source for capital accumulation, this being the most violent manifestation of capitalist competition adored by the enemies of equality and solidarity.
While the “cultural” construction of socialist internationalism would mean the creation of consciousness in which public intellectuals in the former “second world” might be able to contribute, the creation of the economic conditions for a non-nationalist alternative to capitalism is certainly more complicated (if not impossible) to accomplish at this very moment.
As I discuss thoughts like the above, I receive messages that I am naive, or that I do not understand human suffering, or that it is not the time now to talk about capitalism while people are dying and being expelled through the war in Ukraine. But I remain on the side of those who raise their voices, because we have nothing else against imperialist wars everywhere, and against deadly militarization. Along with others, I will continue to try to show how the great powers of contemporary capitalism and its politico-military oligarchies are responsible for the disaster of mankind. Apparently, this doesn’t help now. But it doesn’t hurt either, as it is the incitement towards a total war that damages everybody’s life.
What is more difficult for me to understand is why, in the minds of some presented as the new Eastern left, former critical approaches to the West can go hand-in-hand with the current lack of critical approach to the imperialism of all kinds, along with critique of the western left towards imperialism. I can understand that some, out of a desire to avoid any attempt to reduce Putin’s responsibility, are trying to rebalance what they feel has been unbalanced in their interpretation of the causes of the war in Ukraine. But I do not understand why they are urging us to abandon the approach that recognizes multiple responsibilities precisely for trying to reach a peaceful solution based on this.
And I don’t understand at all why there is so much enthusiasm for this kind of “anti-occidentalism” in the former local corners critical of NATO: the criticism of the West that criticizes NATO risks becoming a justification of a West embodied in NATO.
Of course, social theory tends to balance the structural perspective with that of the agency. But to assume that in the current global order there is an unrestricted political agency in the (semi) peripheral spaces of capitalism, or that it is self-evident that in the end, it is the “people” who choose its destiny beyond its political construction, is not only analytically weak, but it is also risky because it can take us back to nationalisms, this time based on the East-West dichotomy.
Let’s not think that the Romanian state will stop collecting data on its new digital platform about propaganda-through-fake-news. Proponents of this initiative have affirmed that they will counterfeit “fake news” through media speeches, press releases, interventions in TV studios, and expert opinions that tell the “truth.”
Certainly, beyond the media war against algorithms such as “Romania is a colony of the West,” “Western-style democracy has failed,” “Lack of consensus,” “Traditions,” “Spirituality,” and “Extension”—which, according to the rulers, are “markers of misinformation,” especially if they are associated with “subjects” such as NATO, Romania, Brussels, Ursula, Stoltenberg, Geoană, and others—the political and physical annihilation of those denigrated as “Russian propagandists” will follow. The ideological logic of this denigrating chain constructions is already very clear: from Putin to Russia, from Russia to the Russians, from the Russians to the East, from the East to the enemies of capitalism everywhere. Perhaps, for this reason, the new eastern left, to delimit itself from possible pro-Russian associations, chooses the side of “West” by delimiting itself from the Western left, which can still afford to be critical of Western imperialism without being annihilated by its association with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The army of “truth and consensus manufacturing” is beginning to work even harder in Romania than it was before because now it is part of the recent justification of militarization. It will blacklist everything that will come to its self-entitled “mind of truth.” From stigmatization to physical harassment, this army will annihilate any criticism as supposedly pro-Russian (criticism of NATO, criticism of militarization, criticism of capitalism, criticism of US aggression, criticism of EU policies, criticism of inequality, exploitation, etc.). Militarization kills any critical attempt against capitalism and the devastating crises it creates, economic, financial, energy, climate, health, housing.
I expect attacks like the blackest witch-hunts run in 1950s America, or, oppositely, with preconceived processes of Stalinist dictatorship. I lived something similar in Romania in the 1980s. After so many years, this deadly dynamic returns. In a way I’m glad that I’m old, maybe I don’t have much time to live to see this all become strengthened again, now in parallel with the deprivation of socio-economic rights of those with already limited financial resources. I do not want a life lived in a new cold war with proxy wars, controlled by the interests of the military oligarchs. As long as I live through it, I hope that I have the power to contribute to imagining the alternative to militarized capitalism—by embracing antiracist, anti-nationalist, and antifascist democratic socialist internationalism.
This text was originally published in Romanian by Gazeta De Artă Politică and was translated by the author as part of a collaboration in the ELMO – Eastern European Left Media Outlet network.
 These ideas are discussed here in English: https://www.focaalblog.com/2020/06/19/eniko-vincze-post-covid-economic-recovery-in-romania-forget-labor-save-capital-and-support-militarization/
 It was formed as a liberal-conservative party in December 2021, by a former leading politician, in opposition to the existing National Liberal Party, from which he resigned after he was dismissed from the presidency of the latter. The new party automatically became a parliamentary party since those who joined it were already members of the Romanian Parliament.
 AUR is the Romanian abbreviation for Alianța pentru Unirea Românilor, the Alliance for the Unification of the Romanians (the abbreviation of the party’s name in English means GOLD) was launched in December 2019. At the parliamentary elections from 2020 it won 9% of the seats.
Enikő Vincze is a Professor at the Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and housing justice activist in the local movement Căși sociale ACUM!/ Social housing NOW!, and the national network of several activist groups from Romania, Bloc for Housing.