Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Here’s How Much Worse Things Will Get If Capitalism Isn’t Overthrown

A supermarket during the 2019 California blackout wave
A supermarket during the 2019 California blackout wave

In his novel The Man in the High Castle, which depicts a Nazi-dominated world, Philip K. Dick describes a dynamic where the Reich, despite holding enormous power, makes itself progressively more volatile and reactive. At one point in the book, a character observes that “most high-placed Nazis are refusing to face facts vis-a-vis their economic plight. By doing so, they accelerate the tendency toward greater tour de force adventures, less predictability, less stability in general. The cycle of manic enthusiasm, then fear, then Partei solutions of a desperate type...all this tends to bring the most irresponsible and reckless aspirants to the top.”

This satirical vision of Naziistic excess parallels the dynamic that’s now making the capitalist world collapse. The ruling elites, by refusing to address the plight of the global poor and ignoring the environmentally and economically unsustainable nature of capitalism, are making civilization ever more unstable. As civil unrest spreads around the world in reaction to the decline of living standards, and as a recession looms that will be worse than the last, the political and business class throws crumbs to the suffering masses while seeking militarized solutions to the growing chaos. The neoliberal regimes in Ecuador and Chile aren’t going to yield to future protests much beyond the minor concessions they’ve made so far. They’ll respond to further uprisings by escalating their police repression, which in Chile’s case has already come to mirror the brutality of the Pinochet era.

The manic enthusiasm that America’s capitalist class has engaged in during the last few years, wherein the Trump administration has encouraged stockholders by wildly deregulating corporations, has started to turn to fear. Anxiety over a new recession has increased in recent months, reflecting upon the larger attitude of dread over systemic instability that’s spread among the rich in the last decade. At this year’s World Economic Forum, the wealthy attendees passed around a form letter by billionaire investor Seth Klarman, who wrote that “It can’t be business as usual amid constant protests, riots, shutdown and escalating social tensions...Social cohesion is essential for those who have capital to invest...It’s not hard to imagine worsening social unrest among a generation.”

The solutions of a desperate type that the capitalists are carrying out consist of a series of authoritarian profiteering approaches which Naomi Klein calls the “shock doctrine”: further privatization of services, police state crackdowns, the proliferation of private security and surveillance capitalism, the increased militarization of society, and the mass detention of refugees for the profit of prison companies. These policies are naturally being exacerbated amid the rise of the most irresponsible and reckless political aspirants, like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and Jair Bolsonaro.

This is capitalism eating itself during its decline. Even when the system fundamentally damages itself, like during this last month’s wave of California electricity shutoffs as a result of corporate greed and climate change-created fires, opportunistic business interests take advantage of the crises and reinforce capitalism; the backup-generator company Generac Holdings has seen its profits soar as a result of the power outages. Whether it’s disaster materials or security services or immigrant-policing operations, commodities that can be useful during the climate crisis are being profited off of amid a paradigm of crisis capitalism.

How much worse will things get if the cycle continues for decades longer, if people don’t rise up to overthrow capitalism in time? In California alone, the power company PG&E predicts that these arbitrary power shutoffs will continue for ten years as the company’s woefully neglected infrastructure is slowly improved. During the great economic crash that’s going to hit during the 2020s, non-wealthy Californians will find themselves in increasing economic desperation as they try to manage these disasters. Fires, droughts, and floods will disrupt more and more people’s lives, further straining the economy and making it harder for infrastructure to be repaired.

In response to the growing humanitarian crises and social unrest, the U.S. military will have a growing role in American urban areas. The statements from U.S. military authorities in recent years have repeatedly revealed that government officials are preparing to carry out military crackdowns in response to climate change, with the most recent of these telling statements coming from last week’s report by the U.S. Army. These excerpts from the report state that: 

Most of the critical infrastructures identified by the Department of Homeland Security are not built to withstand these altered conditions...The power grid that serves the United States is aging and continues to operate without a coordinated and significant infrastructure investment. Vulnerabilities exist to electricity-generating power plants, electric transmission infrastructure and distribution system components...The US Army will be called upon to assist in much the same way it was called upon in other disasters…[there is] no question that the [Syrian] conflict erupted coincident with a major drought in the region which forced rural people into Syrian cities as large numbers of Iraqi refugees arrived.

Sometime during the 1990s, author William Gibson famously said that “The future is already here — it's just not evenly distributed.” As time goes by, it makes more sense to view his assessment in an ominous light. The bleak reality of post-invasion Iraq, where war continues and the remaining stable areas are defined by stark inequality and resource shortages, is what the rest of the world will soon face if the system isn’t upended.

Our salvations will be anger and action. The Iraqi people, like us Americans, are victims of capitalism and empire. They lost their socialist government when the U.S. invaded them in 2003 and installed a neo-colonial puppet regime which is run by predatory corporations. But this year, the Iraqi people began an anti-government protest movement that continues to grow, with many people even defying curfews because of how much they hate the regime that the U.S. forced upon them.

Are you as angry as they are? Would you be willing to keep showing up to protests amid police repression, to go on strike when you’re called upon it, to take time out of your schedule to help build the organizations that the socialist movement will need in order to win? I’m sure you’re angry if you’re aware of all of the ways I just described the capitalists are going to ruin our collective future. These are the actions that you’ll need to take if you want to seize control of the direction that history goes in.

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