Consider the scenario presented by the TV series Mr. Robot, wherein a group of hackers aims to take down the giant conglomerate E Corp-known by the head hacker Elliot Alderson as Evil Corp. To put an end to Evil Corp’s hegemonic control over finance, the hackers sabotage its ability to keep count of how much debt people owe it. When the first big digital attack happens in the show’s universe in 2015, Evil Corp is struggling, hundreds of billions of dollars have been lost, the public is protesting Evil Corp over its failures to provide for society’s needs, and the capitalist world is falling into a depression.
Watching Mr. Robot in 2020, the parallels to how capitalism has actually fared in the years after the 2008 crash are apparent. Without help from hackers, the global economy has entered a place far worse than it was in during the last recession, the big banks have become on the verge of collapse, and the increasingly impoverished masses are protesting the evils of the capitalist power structure. Yet like the besieged billionaires in Mr. Robot, the ruling class haven’t lost their power simply because of this initial catastrophe. Unless the aspiring revolutionaries successfully maintain their war against the system while presenting a viable alternative for the masses to embrace, the only people who end up getting hurt by the crises will be the lower classes.
Evil Corp CEO Phillip Price expresses this by saying that he isn’t worried about the ramifications from the hack, because the people who seek to end capitalism are merely human beings like himself-except he has the weight of the largest conglomerate in history behind him. “When you have that,” Price says, “matters like this, they tend to crack under that weight.”
The upper hand that Price and the others in his class have amid the crisis is further shown by his statement to Alderson that “World catastrophes like this, they aren’t caused by lone wolves like you. They occur because men like me allow them. You just had to stumble onto one of them.” Price was speaking from the position of confidence that’s afforded to the super rich, who don’t just stand above the hardships that crises cause but are able to come out of them richer than before.
Power profits from disaster, and during the era of neoliberalism the capitalist oligarchy has come to regularly exploit a certain “shock doctrine” formula. This formula was perfected in Chile, where Pinochet’s dictatorship came to power after the U.S. overthrew the country’s socialist former president Salvador Allende. Washington’s approach for undermining Allende’s presidency, as Nixon famously said, was to “make the economy scream.” When this was accomplished, Milton Friedman’s approach for economic “shock therapy”-wherein living standards and economic stability are rapidly undermined by neoliberal austerity policies-made the U.S. corporatocracy carry out its plan to destroy Chile’s former checks on capitalist power.
The shock doctrine has since been the norm of how global capitalism functions, facilitating the implementation of Reaganomics, the corporate looting of post-invasion Iraq, the fraudulently “necessary” 2008 Wall Street bailout, and all the other developments that have exacerbated global inequality in recent decades.
This March, former Chicago mayor Rahm Enmanuel encapsulated the mentality of this crisis capitalist paradigm by writing: “The United States was careening toward a global depression when President Barack Obama named me his first chief of staff, and in those dark days, I uttered a phrase that’s followed me ever since: ‘Never allow a good crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do the things you once thought were impossible.’”
Because of a vast influx of corporate welfare, trillions of dollars in Wall Street bailouts, and various approaches for profiting from this year’s pandemic, U.S. billionaires have used the shock doctrine to collectively get over $600 billion richer (as of June). This week alone, Jeff Bezos added a record $13 billion to his net worth in one day. At the same time, tens of millions of lower class people have lost their jobs, and 25 million more will lose their unemployment benefits when the government stops giving them out this next week. Around half the country is already in poverty, and will continue to slip deeper into it as the depression gets worse.
As is the case in the hypothetical timeline for late-stage capitalism that Mr. Robot depicts, the capitalist class remains in power for as long as they hold control over the state. At the behest of Evil Corp and the other centers of capital, the U.S. government puts millions of Americans under surveillance, passes special security laws, and uses the police to counter protests. The hacker group can’t continue their war against Evil Corp without narrowly avoiding defeat at the hands of the FBI.
In our timeline, the capitalist state’s repression has gone far beyond this. Trump’s Department of Homeland Security is sending federal agents to cities to carry out Gestapo-style arrests. The U.S. national security state aims to impose a far more extensive surveillance system in response to this year’s events, one where many streets are blanketed with cameras and where people’s appliances constantly track their moves. Already, tech plutocrats are profiting off of helping bring about the first aspects of this techno-tyranny.
The struggle against capitalism isn’t as simple as waiting for capitalism to experience a great crisis; as Price observed, crises are a routine part of how capitalism functions. Without an adequate power structure to carry out the revolution that the masses want, the anger of the masses will be impotent, and the ruling class will ultimately come out on top. Mr. Robot recognizes this. When Alderson replies to Price’s remark about crises by stating that “I am a leader,” Price says: “Then where are your followers? Can’t force an agenda, Mr Alderson. You have to inspire one.”
To overcome capitalist repression, and to get the capitalist class out of power, we need to build a movement that can undermine the control over the state which the capitalist class holds. It’s this lesson that’s led me to adopt Marxism-Leninism as the agenda which I seek to inspire, since Marxism-Leninism’s objective is to destroy the capitalist state and replace it with a proletarian-run democracy.
If we achieve this, the capitalist class will no longer be able to retain their hegemony, because they’ll lack the means to prevent the will of the masses from prevailing over their own interests.
To carry out this agenda, we can’t act as lone wolves who merely cause disruptions to the social order without building up the organizational structure to actually challenge capitalist hegemony. This would be adventurism, which works against Marxism. The complexities and obstacles faced by the revolutionaries in Mr. Robot are a good demonstration of these realities about how revolution works.
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