Late Capitalism and Neoliberal State Decay
Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor, butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love of Revolution. Pass on the torch. Join us, give your life for the People.
— George Jackson
Part 1: Democracy or Dictatorship?
Over half a million U.S. Americans have died from the coronavirus disease since it was declared a global pandemic in March 2020. The public health response has been nonexistent: there has been no national mask mandate, no public sector production of essential materials (neither ventilators nor vaccines), and few or no science-based government policies aimed at containing the virus to begin with. Instead of mobilizing public action to facilitate social life, the state ‘stimulated’ the private sector to maintain profitable conditions for Capital and to preserve neoliberal social relations, injecting over six trillion dollars into ‘the economy’ in less than a year. In a word, the neoliberal U.S. state has produced a humanitarian disaster costing hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of jobs simply because its decadent ruling class now lives off of the Fed’s money printer.
At the same time, neoliberal bureaucracy — the language of bullshit — officially argues to this day that “nothing can change the trajectory of the Covid pandemic,” the assumption being that nothing could have changed it back then either.
Corporate politicians like Biden feed us that line not because they want to, but because they have to. Take a look around, the United States is a one-party state right now, and that party is neoliberal capitalism. Biden is a nobody; he could be replaced with any other rapist in a suit from either of the main political parties and we would hear the same old lies.
The United States is a profoundly undemocratic society; its political system is and always has been a democracy for an insignificant minority, a democracy for the ultra-rich. This does not make the U.S. a people’s democracy, but rather a dictatorship of the ruling class. The same two capitalist parties have been in power since the end of the Civil War in 1865: the victorious Republicans, the capitalist party which first promoted the abolition of chattel slavery, and the defeated Democrats, the party of the former enslavers.
Dēmokratia. Dēmos, ‘the People’; kratia, ‘power, rule’. The definition alone settles the debate. Asking if the People have power in the United States is exactly like asking if the Dēmos had power in ancient Greece. Their sole existence as the People necessarily indicates their subordination to another dominant class. In today’s world of late capitalism, the transnational ruling class is made up of a microscopically small section of the population: those few unproductive members of society who already own all of humanity’s basic means of subsistence, but call them ‘private property’ and coerce the dispossessed classes into working on them. The rest of the people — workers, or the vast majority of human beings on earth — own nothing but their labor-power, which they must sell daily and hourly on the capitalist ‘free market’ for the rest of their lives to survive.
We need to wake up and admit to ourselves that the capitalist way of life is antithetical to popular democracy. Ever since finance capital’s mobilization of fascism in response to the great capitalist crises of the early twentieth century (World War I and the Great Depression), capitalism has been a totalitarian political-economic system. It’s no wonder that the term ‘totalitarianism’ plays a central role in the dissemination of anticommunist propaganda, used to blur ideological lines and portray the Soviet Union as a dictatorship comparable to Nazi Germany. That way, liberal and conservative intellectuals join forces to demonize the world’s first proletarian revolution, and ironize the real socialist alternative that the USSR asserted against capitalist hegemony.
Until we collectively understand our own situation, we cannot act together to improve it. That situation is not the Covid-19 pandemic, which has already spread uncontrolled throughout the U.S. for over a year, but the situation triggered by the pandemic: a crisis of global capitalist-imperialism which has caused a reactionary surge rivaling the fascist reaction in the early 1900s. Capitalism in crisis is precisely the reason why neoliberal henchmen like Biden have no choice but to tell millions of suffering people that there is no alternative to nationwide mass death.
The capitalist crisis of 2020 is unparalleled for two main reasons. Foremost, neoliberal globalization has produced an interconnected world economy, meaning the shutdown of supply chains or industrial plants in one country sets off a chain-reaction of negative economic effects on all countries. Yet because of the structural adjustment programs that the World Bank and IMF forced onto Southern economies, the Global South is now the factory of the world, and the North its department store. Scientifically containing the virus requires lockdowns, quarantines, and an a-growth macroeconomic reorientation, none of which are profitable when running a gigantic department store (i.e. a capitalist economy built on endless mass consumption of mostly useless commodities).
Secondly, the currently dominant mode of neoliberal capitalism is fundamentally incapable of dealing with the social ills that it creates. Neoliberalism, as a political-economic reorganization of the economy, amounts in practice to the policies of financial capitalism: privatization of national industry and deregulation of markets, corporate tax cuts at home and economic liberalization abroad, and outsourcing to the South coupled with domestic austerity measures. These have all played the intentional role of crippling state budgets and slashing the rate of public investment into social services and actual human development.
Meanwhile, the total absence of central planning and coordination against the coronavirus in neoliberal capitalist states was both a cause of their public health disasters, and an effect of their own political economy. In retrospect, the level of austerity required to maintain neoliberalism had doomed it to this fate from the very start; it was just a matter of time before Mother Nature decided to hurry along the process. What I mean to say is that neoliberalism’s privatization of the public has always undermined its own long-term viability, and all that was needed for us to clearly see the signs of state decay was the appearance of a new virus, which quickly killed off millions of people in neoliberal capitalist states.
One glance at international Covid data shows not only the utter failure of the ‘advanced capitalist states’ to contain the virus, but also the stark divide between public health outcomes in the Global North and those in the Global South. Remarkably, the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union have had more total cases and deaths than all of Africa, Asia, and South America combined, despite them containing five billion fewer people than the listed continents. The United States alone has suffered 118 times the amount of deaths from Covid-19 (569,197 at this moment) than China (4,636), despite having a population four times smaller.
The disproportionality of these numbers is no coincidence. The Tricontinental Institute has coined the term ‘CoronaShock’ to address “how a virus struck the world with such gripping force; how the social order in the bourgeois state crumbled, while the social order in the socialist parts of the world appeared more resilient.”
This divergence mainly has to do with the implications of a pandemic on labor. Vijay Prashad points out, for example, that worldwide lockdowns essentially caused the “largest inadvertent general strike in modern history.” Labor produces the most value from Capital, so it’s only natural that global capitalist-imperialism immediately came under intense pressure. The U.S. state’s ‘solution’ to this problem was mass human sacrifice (in the name of ‘reopening the economy’) paired with police repression. “Our human capital stock is ready to get back to work,” the White House economics adviser observed in late May 2020.
We have to know what our enemy is — Amerikan capitalist-imperialism — and who its hired guns are: Democrats and Republicans. Understand that capitalism has a mind and body of its own which rapaciously pursue profit no matter the human cost. Capitalist growth necessarily develops inversely to the misery of people. To think for a minute that it was ‘unrealistic’ for the United States to contain the spread of Covid-19 is completely delusional. Open your eyes, other countries in the world have done it! Artificial scarcity, unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, and overwhelmed healthcare systems are not the effects of a natural disaster, but neoliberal bureaucracy and capitalist structural inefficiency. On the other side of the neoliberal coin of bureaucracy is American fascism.
Part 2: Neoliberal Fascism and the Cult of Capital
Capitalism in the United States has historically taken one of two routes when faced with an internal contradiction as antagonistic as the one arising from this pandemic: social democratic reform (i.e. the New Deal and construction of the post-war welfare state), or the restoration or entrenchment of class power to the richest strata of the population (i.e. neoliberalism and the rise of supply side, ‘trickle-down’ economics). Politicians and the media touted ‘reopening the economy’ as the only way forward from day one, yet the U.S. has suffered the most deaths from the pandemic in the world. Maintaining neoliberal social relations amidst outbreaks of an infectious new virus required human sacrifice on a mass scale, all to perpetuate the meaningless plunder of global wealth.
The ruling class and its political puppets would of course never acknowledge this fact, but its media corporations have no choice. Media could not possibly conceal the fascist orientation of the United States and its ruling class, so they instead seek to sanitize and naturalize totalitarian capitalism, re-presenting violence against the working class as an inherent outcome of, in this instance, a ‘natural disaster’. Class war becomes a fact of life, something that is neither questioned nor recognized. For example: Business Insider reported in January that “Workers lost $3.7 trillion in earnings during the pandemic,” and published an article with the headline, “Billionaires made $3.9 trillion during the pandemic” the very next day yet without making the obvious connection.
Nations throughout the Global South whose labor and resources are exploited by transnational corporations are the primary sources of capitalist superprofits, and therefore lie at the heart of global capitalist-imperialism. Without the colonization of nations like Haiti, Myanmar, and the Congo, the Global North would have never become the ‘developed world’, and the Global South would likewise have never become the ‘underdeveloped world’. The Global North exploited the South, and the South developed the North. As George Jackson put it,
[The United States] is a huge nation dominated by the most reactionary and violent ruling class in the history of the world, where the majority of the people just simply cannot understand that they are existing on the misery and discomfort of the world.
The profits of capitalist-imperialist superexploitation mostly go toward enriching that insignificant minority of billionaires and their collaborating class strata. Yet as Jackson points out, people living in the United States often do not fully appreciate the objective economic relationship that exists between the imperialist North and the (neo)colonized South. Workers in the North either cannot understand their role in imperialism, or subconsciously recognize their position within the labor aristocracy and therefore oppose the abolition of capitalist-imperialism, fearing that they might feel some of the same miserable and uncomfortable conditions that their states have imposed on the rest of the world’s population for centuries.
Workers contribute to the empire, but the empire dictates to the workers; workers participate in imperialism by default and share of fraction of its stolen wealth (in relatively higher wages and better standards of living), but wage slavery is the condition which imprisons them within that way of life and prevents them from overturning it. Paradoxically, for instance, the United States working class simultaneously serves as an accomplice of American imperialism, funding the nearly trillion-dollar ‘defense’ budget through taxes and consenting to decades-long wars, and as its domestic source of surplus value, facing increasingly severe austerity measures under neoliberalism and its own exploitation in the capitalist labor process.
The neoliberal restoration of class power officially began in the United States on October 6, 1979 when the Fed increased interest rates by 20 percent and prepared the way for the implementation of supply-side economics. Just six years prior in 1973, the U.S. State Department gave the ‘Chicago boys’ free reign to test neoliberal economics in Pinochet’s Chile after having supported his fascist coup against Allende’s left-leaning government.
This international component of the neoliberal project was not accidental; the transition to neoliberalism ultimately relied on the ‘structural adjustment programs’ forced on national economies in the Global South, indebting the South to the North to maintain the latter’s profitable conditions for the circulation and accumulation of Capital amid a stagflation crisis. From the start, neoliberalism required the reorganization of the means and relations of production in Southern nations, some of which could only be achieved by military interventions or invasions like those of the Iraq War and Chilean coup d’état.
Aimé Césaire wrote in Discourse on Colonialism that
[Hitler] makes it possible to see things on a large scale and to grasp the fact that capitalist society, at its present stage, is incapable of establishing a concept of the rights of all men, just as it has proved incapable of establishing a system of individual ethics. Whether one likes it or not, at the end of the blind alley that is Europe… there is Hitler. At the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler.
If Hitler lies at the end of capitalism for Césaire, then for us he must lie at the beginning of late capitalism, the stage we are living through now. “At its core,” George Jackson further explains, “fascism is an economic rearrangement. It is international capitalism’s response to the challenge of international scientific socialism.” According to Jackson, fascism is in its most advanced form in the United States:
The United States was not existing in a vacuum when fascism first swept the Western world on the heels of two great depressions. My reading of history indicates that the U.S. was in greater economic, social, and political crisis after the 1929 stock market crash than any other Western country except possibly Germany. The same trends, the same experiments, the same internal battles were fought by the same forces for the direction of the nation’s economy… But of course the middle and rightist intellectuals were thinking in terms of a new direction for capitalist growth, not in its abolishment — a ‘New Deal’ much like those of Nazi, Fascist, and Falangist Europe. No serious or honest student could miss this likeness. F.D.R. was a fascist… [he] was born and bred in this ruling class of families [and] his role was to form the first fascist regime, to merge the economic, political, and labor elites.
Fascism has no particular ideology. Jackson emphasized this when he wrote that “it develops nation to nation out of differing levels of traditionalist capitalism’s dilapidation.” Even the term ‘fascism’ is only an Anglicization of original Italian fascismo, which alluded to the Latin fascis of the ancient Roman Empire and had nothing to do with the symbols used by other fascist states like Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Because of European capitalism’s state of crisis in the early twentieth century, German Nazism and Italian Fascism both falsely presented themselves as revolutionary ‘third positions’ against both capitalism and communism. Even as Germany and Italy blatantly contradicted this ideological assertion, their populations overwhelmingly supported fascism.
You cannot understand Amerikan fascism by comparing the United States to Italia Fascista or Deutsches Reich: that’s the equivalent of looking at the present through discolored glimpses of the past. Nazism and Italian Fascism built personality cults to promote ideological devotion to the state, which was now merged with corporate power; neoliberal Amerikan fascism has instead built a cult of Capital — a McDeath Cult — promoting ideological devotion to free-market fundamentalism, which is the Corporation.
The ‘exceptionalism’ of the United States lies precisely in the (temporary) triumph of neoliberal fascism on the world stage. The United States is to NATO as Nazi Germany was to the Axis Powers — the only difference is that the Axis Powers never secured international hegemonic status like NATO has. Amerikan fascism is paradoxical because its ideology is post-ideological. Neoliberalism embraces its capitalist orientation and instead focuses on culture, fomenting a pervasive atmosphere in which it is simply assumed that capitalism is all there is.
George Jackson’s Blood In My Eye (1971), finished just days before prison guards assassinated him, is an essential reading on Amerikan fascism. Many of its sections read as if they were written yesterday, and Jackson provides the strongest and most dialectical analysis of fascism that I have read. His critique of the “psycho-social dimensions of fascism” will ring a bell for anyone living in the United States:
The trappings of this pseudo mass society are empty, cheap, spectacular leisure sports; parades where strangers meet, shout each other down and often trample each other to death on the way home; mass consumption of worthless super-suds or aspirin; ultra-nationalistic events on days to glorify the idiots who died at war and other days to deify those who sent them out to die. A mass society that is actually a mass jungle.
CoronaShock therefore has almost nothing to do with the coronavirus itself. As we have seen, countries with far greater populations and higher population densities than the United States have successfully contained the virus. The People’s Republic of China mobilized its public and did what had to be done to prevent a disaster like the one here in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, the other socialist states in the world have also succeeded in containing Covid-19: Vietnam, whose population is just under 100 million people, has recorded 2,659 cases and 35 deaths; Laos and DPR Korea have both remarkably counted zero deaths from the virus.
Rather, CoronaShock refers to neoliberal decay and capitalist realism; to the fascist culture fostered by the United States in which death, destruction, and self-destruction are socially accepted and even encouraged; and in the most literal sense, it refers to the shocking realization that an infectious virus can only do two things once unleashed into a mass jungle: spread and kill.
All Power to the People.