In one paragraph from his latest book America: The Farewell Tour, Chris Hedges lays out what he sees as the logical conclusion of America’s era of corporate capitalism:
As deteriorating infrastructure and ongoing layoffs continue to beset the nation’s cities, more dramatic signs of neglect will appear. Garbage will pile up uncollected on curbsides. Power grids will blink on and off. There will not be enough police, firefighters, or teachers. Pensions will be slashed or paid sporadically. Decent medical care will be reserved for the rich. Those who die because they cannot afford health care-now 45,000 uninsured people a year-will perish in greater numbers. Fuel and food prices will climb. Processed food laden with preservatives, sugar, and fat will become the staple diet. At least a quarter of the population will lack adequate employment. Law and order will break down. Crime will become endemic, and in a nation where nearly everyone can get a gun, death rates from violence will rise. Riots, if the unraveling is not halted, will erupt across the country like wildfires.
With the country now being poised for a financial crash that many experts think will be worse than the one from 2008, this scenario looks realistic. But in the last year, signs have been appearing that the world’s poor and working classes are mobilizing to overthrow the plutocracy instead of being helplessly hurled into dystopia.
This January, strikes broke out around the world, with workers having participated in rebellions throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Throughout the spring, teachers carried out strikes for better pay and working conditions in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Africa. As these strikes continued for much of the rest of the year, hotel workers around the country started strikes during the fall. At the same time, the Poor People’s Campaign repeatedly carried out civil disobedience to demand economic justice, a strategy that Extinction Rebellion has mirrored in its climate action protests. Then France’s Yellow Vests created massive and intimidating protests in opposition to neoliberalism, which have spread throughout Europe and inspired working people around the world.
2017 didn’t have nearly as much organized, direct action from the world’s lower classes. This last year has been unprecedented in the past few decades of the worldwide labor movement, and the people have been moving to take down corporate power from many other fronts. Many of the people who’ve been assigned to do slave labor in America’s for-profit prisons have recently been organizing strikes for their freedom. The protests after the Parkland shooting, which were focused not just on gun control but on the violent consequences of social inequality, are also ultimately part of this intensification of class conflict.
These events, and the similar developments that we’ll no doubt see in the coming years, perfectly follow the predictions of the sociologist Peter Turchin. In 2012, Turchin observed that the three factors which precede social upheaval are the concentration of wealth and power in the control of elites, a decrease in living standards, and government indebtedness. Following the trajectory of society at the time, Turchin and his team concluded that the next major wave of social unrest would come in or around 2020. As Turchin has said about this finding, “My model suggests that the next [period of social unrest] will be worse than the one in 1970, because demographic variables such as wages, standards of living and a number of measures of intra-elite confrontation are all much worse this time.”
The unprecedented nature of America’s current wealth inequality supports Turchin’s point. Anthropology shows that some kind of mass uprising in our society is now unstoppable. Our job is to channel this unrest in a direction that will lead to the defeat of corporate power, an end to America’s wars, and the complete systemic implementation of economic and social justice.
There are countless ways this revolutionary anger can be diverted into societal self-destruction. Hate groups, far-right militias, and advocates of anarchic violence and terrorism have found many new supporters in recent years, and the rise of opioids and other self-destructive forms of personal stimulation are also the products of economic distress. But there are also good people out there who are trying to bring everyone towards constructive outlets for their frustration at the system. And in 2019 and beyond, they’ll help guide us towards a mass revolt.
Groups like the Democratic Socialists of America will continue to grow, as well as more radical organizations like the Socialist Equality Party. The Poor People’s Campaign and groups like it will keep disrupting corporate capitalism with blockades and sit-ins. The events of the Yellow Vests will keep being an avenue for working class anger, and even bigger protest movements will no doubt emerge in the coming years.
The people who’ve been fighting for equality in recent years have already created some changes, like the New York free college tuition policy that Bernie Sanders made possible, the minimum wage hikes that many American cities and states have enacted this year, and the concessions from Macron that the Yellow Vests have won. If we keep working to build our social movements, these changes could give way to an upheaval of capitalism. And given all that’s happened this year, history’s trajectory is in favor of this goal.