There’s a ridiculously transparent rhetorical tactic that bourgeois propagandists have lately been using when capitalism’s contradictions come to light: claim that the system we now live under, with its exploding inequality and destruction of the natural world, isn’t capitalism as it’s meant to work but rather a perversion of the real capitalism. If we just make some modifications, they say, “crony capitalism” will end and the world’s trends towards dystopia will be reversed.
This line of argument is being pushed on us in sometimes very strange ways. For instance, this January the popular infotainment YouTuber Johnny Harris pointed to how our current socioeconomic system is creating inequality and environmental degradation, then laughed off the notion of getting rid of capitalism as a solution to these crises. He claimed that the root of these crises comes from a specific type of capitalism called “shareholder capitalism,” and that our crises can be solved simply by switching to what he called “stakeholder capitalism.” He cited WalMart as an example of a company that’s implementing the “stakeholder capitalism” model, then indirectly explained this bizarre praise for a notoriously exploitative multinational corporation by revealing that his video was produced in partnership with the World Economic Forum.
The video wasn’t even packaged in a way that suggested it would be an economic polemic. It was titled “How China Became So Powerful,” showing that the oligarchic technocrats who’ve co-opted Harris seek to integrate their propaganda into the public discourse under any guise they can find.
Another example of the “we don’t need to get rid of capitalism, only tweak it” rhetoric appeared in an episode from this month of Real Time with Bill Maher, where advertising theorist Scott Galloway took the argument’s absurdity even further than Harris did by claiming that “What young people are seeing today is not capitalism.” He then delivered an impassioned but deeply strange monologue where he said that the real capitalism is “full-body contact violence at a corporate level so we can create prosperity and progress.”
This is the essence of the arguments that the bourgeoisie intelligentsia is putting forth to make the case for the system’s preservation: utterly incoherent psychobabble where the arguer tries to straddle between appearing to advocate for the interests of the proletariat, and explaining why the bourgeoisie should keep their position. Like has always been the case for the efforts to foster unity between the exploited and exploiting classes, the case these intellectuals are making relies on illiteracy about economics and history. Maher showed this by replying to Galloway with the statement: “communism, we tried it. It wasn’t that long ago, just too long ago if you have that idea in your head ‘well, I wasn’t alive for it, so I shouldn’t know about it.’ Well, maybe you should, because we did try it, and I would say communism is worse than crony capitalism.”
There’s a dark undertone to this campaign to steer the masses away from class consciousness, one that’s hinted at by how these proponents of the “but it wasn’t real capitalism!” argument always couch their incoherent economic arguments with imperialist demagoguery. In the last couple of months, Harris has also been putting out videos like “The Man Putin Fears The Most,” where he praises the Russian fascist Alexei Navalny as a courageous fighter of corruption. The racist nationalism that Navalny represents, and the U.S. empire’s moves to stir up a color revolution within Russia to manufacture perceived support for this agenda, are pushed aside by Harris to further this covert Western intervention project.
These kinds of endorsements of imperialist destabilization agendas have also been frequently engaged in by Maher, who said that America should “fight back” against Russia during 2017’s Russiagate hysteria and recently claimed that China has “bought Africa.” The proxy wars in Ukraine and Syria that Washington is carrying out, as well as Washington’s ever-expanding occupation of Africa via AFRICOM in order to counter China on the continent, are omitted from this rhetoric in favor of lowbrow American chauvinism and xenophobia.
When people like Johnny Harris and Bill Maher define our cultural dialogue, the masses are stuck in a state of enforced ignorance, where they keep passively accepting the ever-more destructive machinations of global capital. While these bourgeois intellectual gatekeepers dissuade their audience from trying to coherently challenge the system, the imperialists and multinational corporations continue to drive the world towards humanitarian crisis. Global Covid-19 deaths are risingagain, especially in highly neoliberalized victims of imperialist exploitation like Brazil. The recent hurricanes in Central America, exacerbated by global warming, have created hundreds of thousands of refugees who are now being subjected to the ever-larger U.S. migrant deportation and concentration camp system. As the Biden administration seeks to tighten neoliberal policies across Latin America, many of the right-wing regimes Washington backs to carry out these measures are slipping into dictatorship, with Ecuador being in danger of a military coup and Haiti’s illegitimate leader shooting protesters.
What will the ruling class do to us in the core of the empire when the worst of the global imperialist-created catastrophes appear at home? When large parts of California become unlivable due to heatwaves and fires, much of the American population is forced to migrate amid natural disasters, and the national power grid breaks under the strain of climatic catastrophe? They’ll do to us what they’ve already done in varying degrees to the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Syrians, the Gazans, the Yemenis, and the Ukrainians: use military occupations, bombings, and economic strangulation to pacify the population for the designs the empire aims to carry out. The U.S. military has already stated that when economic and environmental factors drive large parts of the country to instability, the army will be sent in to try to maintain order.
In the long term, the only solution that U.S. imperialism can find to the infrastructure deterioration, growing unemployment, falling wages, sea level rise, water shortages, deadly heatwaves, and food distribution network collapses within its own borders is to bring the endless wars home. We’re just as disposable to the empire as the victims of Washington’s recent wars in Africa and southwest Asia, or as the impoverished Latin American refugees who’ve been driven to flee their homes by neo-colonial regimes. We’re just not yet being targeted on the same level that these populations are.
Walmart adopting “stakeholder capitalism” isn’t going to save us from this fate. Neither is “full body contact violence at a corporate level.” The jargon that the bourgeois intellectual class spews at us is meaningless in the face of what’s coming, in the face of the crises we’re already experiencing. As late-stage capitalism accelerates towards barbarism, only rich people like Bill Maher will be safe. And they’ll cheer on the military’s planned war crimes within U.S. borders with the same enthusiasm that Maher expressed while praising Obama’s 2011 campaign to invade and destabilize Libya: “of course, we should bomb first, because we have the know-how how to kick butt. That’s what America does very well.”
When you see the kind of future that our pro-capitalist cultural hegemony is leading us towards, communism-even Maher’s ridiculously grim caricature of communism-doesn’t look so bad.
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