The following is an excerpt from the Introduction to Global Civil War: Capitalism Post-Pandemic, which has just been released by PM Press.
Not far from my home in Los Angeles are about a hundred houses that have been boarded up for years. The houses were bought up by the city in the late twentieth century through eminent domain in order to make way for an extension of the 710 freeway that dead ends into my El Sereno neighborhood. But opposition from affluent communities further east eventually killed the project, leaving the houses to lay vacant. Meanwhile, there were on any given night in 2020 some 130,000 homeless people in the city, a thousand of whom died in the streets in the first ten months of that year.
One may imagine that this homeless crisis was the result of a shortage of housing. Yet in 2020 there was a surplus of luxury homes, so much so that 93,000 housing units in the city laid vacant. The problem was not the lack of housing units but the lack of profits to be made by the corporate real estate developers who could not find enough high-income people to rent or purchase their speculative investment properties. In fact, nearly seventy percent of residential units in the city were owned by these corporate developers and investment funds that also owned seventy-six percent of all empty lots, accounting for twenty-two square miles of vacant land.
As the coronavirus ripped through Los Angeles in 2020, and as many families who lost employment due to pandemic closures faced eviction from their rental units, the homeless and housing rights activists stepped up their struggle for shelter, fearful that the virus placed those living in the streets at great risk. Organized into a “Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community” movement, twenty unhoused families who were living in cars and encampments, with the support of several hundred peaceful community activists, removed the boarding in a number of the empty state-owned houses one cold winter day on the eve of the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday and settled in. But the comfort of a roof over their head did not last long. At least fifty police patrol vehicles surrounded the homes on the very night before the holiday to violently evict the occupants, for the most part, mothers and young children. The police used battering rams to knock down doors, hogtying and dragging out anyone who resisted and arresting sixty-two people for trespassing and burglary.
The violence and cruelty of city authorities against its most vulnerable residents is emblematic of what took place around the world in the face of the Covid-19 contagion. If humanity survives into the twenty-second century, historians will surely look back at the pandemic as a before-and-after turning point. In a period of weeks, the global economy tumbled into freefall, with losses estimated at over $8 trillion in just the first six months of the contagion. The pandemic was devastating for the world’s poor majority, as hundreds of millions faced unemployment, poverty, hunger, and death. Contrary to popular perception the pandemic did not cause the crisis of global capitalism, for this was already upon us. It did, however, intensify this crisis many times over, further catalyzing trends and processes well underway prior to the outbreak. If the pandemic was a time of great suffering and deprivation for several billion people it was also a golden opportunity for ruling classes to increase their wealth and to heighten their control and surveillance. It set off political and civil strife around the world as governments, unable to cope with the fallout, were exposed as callous instruments of wealth and corruption.
The pandemic is therefore but a staging point for a larger story. Global Civil War: Capitalism Post-Pandemic is about the world that is emerging in the wake of the plague. The extent of polarization of wealth and power, of deprivation and misery among the world’s poor majority, already defied belief prior to the outbreak. In 2018, just seventeen global financial conglomerates collectively managed $41.1 trillion dollars, more than half the GDP of the entire planet. That same year, the richest one percent of humanity led by 36 million millionaires and 2,400 billionaires controlled more than half of the world’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent – nearly six billion people – had to make do with just five percent of this wealth. The result is devastation for the majority. Worldwide, 50 percent of all people live on less than $2.50 a day and a full 80 percent live on less than $10 per day. One in three people on the planet suffer from some form of malnutrition, nearly a billion go to bed hungry each night and another two billion suffer from food insecurity. Refugees from war, climate change, political repression and economic collapse already number into the hundreds of millions. Global capitalism is emerging from the pandemic in a dangerous new phase. The contradictions of this crisis-ridden system have reached the breaking point, placing the world into a perilous situation that borders on global civil war.
Such savage inequalities are explosive. They fuel mass protest by the oppressed and lead the ruling groups to deploy an ever more omnipresent global police state to contain the rebellion of the global working and popular classes. Global capitalism is emerging from the pandemic in a dangerous new phase. The contradictions of this crisis-ridden system have reached the breaking point, placing the world into a perilous situation that borders on global civil war. The stakes could not be higher. The battle for the post-pandemic world is now being waged. Global Civil War provides the “big picture” synthesis of a global capitalism mired in deep crisis, cascading social and political conflict, and the breakdown of the post-WWII international order. This “big picture” helps us contextualize the current worldwide political conjuncture as we tumble towards global civil war and step into an unknown future.
Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission