By Ron Jacobs
June 26th, 2022
Most of us know there’s something wrong in the world. Some of us know it’s even worse than what we’re used to. A plague stalks the planet despite efforts to control it—efforts rejected by those whose agenda demands an angry god, a Darwinian approach to their fellow humans, or both. The numbers of migrants and refugees is in the tens of millions. They flee wars, poverty, criminal violence and natural disaster only to find persecution, hatred and violence on their journeys and at their destinations. Fewer and fewer people own more and more of the world’s wealth; a statistic that means the rest of the world’s people have to share what remains. The level of inequality is impossible to fathom for those of us who are not among the world’s richest and irrelevant to those who are. Police forces in rich nations and poor continue to brutalize that part of the population the economic system has no need for. In many nations—especially the United States—those forces murder Black people rates vastly disproportionate to their presence in the population and their power in the society. Lurking behind this all is climate change caused by humanity and its economic enterprise.
Some of us seek answers to the dilemmas posed above. Politicians of all stripes acknowledge the situation and then move on to something they can cash in on. Even those politicians willing to address the multitude of crises refuse to publicly name the underlying cause. To do so would be a heresy. No politician can afford to call out capitalism for the architect of death that it is. Instead, they contrive programs that attempt to accommodate the very system that lies at the crux of the dilemma. Those on the outside—in the streets and organizations demanding change—have for the most part refused to go deep enough in their analysis and begin the work required to overturn capitalism. In part, this is because the task is so overwhelming. At the same time, too many of these groups and individuals refuse to address the fundamental issue under capitalism: the issue of class.
The paragraphs above very briefly describe the essential premise of a new book by William J. Robinson titled Global Civil War: Capitalism Post-Pandemic. Robinson, who has written extensively about global capitalism, surveillance and the climate crisis, is a professor at UC Santa Barbara, takes a fairly deep look into the nature of our world as it slowly moves out of the COVID-19 pandemic and into what now exists. The situation he describes is a contradictory one where the tools utilized to deal with the pandemic risk becoming tools for even greater government and corporate surveillance of the population. This risk exists because we have become more used to providing data to authorities in the name of controlling the pandemic. In contradiction, the greater use of surveillance techniques—even if the original intention was benign—has intensified challenges by certain segments of the population to the authorities gathering the data. Although much of that resistance in the US has been from the right, in Europe and elsewhere sections of the left have also been involved.
In Global Civil War, Robinson argues that the world capitalist system was already in crisis prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Indeed, the 2008 recession was the beginning of this particular crisis. The years immediately before the pandemic (2017-2019) included numerous indicators of an economic upheaval along the lines of the 2007-2008 crisis. The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus overrode those indicators and turned the capitalist system on its head. However, in a manner similar to 2008, it was the very culprits of the economic crisis—banks, financial houses and corporations—which received the bulk of the money distributed by the various capitalist governments affected. It was only after pressure from certain quarters and politicians that working people were provided some temporary relief. As that relief disappears, one can see the very crises that existed prior to the pandemic reappearing around the world, often in a manner considerably more cruel and desperate.
Robinson’s text describes the essentials of neoliberal capitalism, emphasizing its birth in the computer and information technology “revolution” of the 1980s and 1990s. At the same time, he reminds the reader that neoliberal capitalism is but capitalism’s latest incarnation and that capitalism has always needed crisis in its equation. Indeed, it is the ups and downs of capitalism most graphically represented by the stock market that ensures the richest will never stop getting richer. He discusses a new revolution in digitization ( he calls it a fourth industrial revolution) as the impetus behind the latest phase of capitalism. It is a phase that excludes even more of humanity from its riches by automating more and more work. A phenomenon championed in the business pages of capitalist media and is often a theme of science fiction novels is one which ensures disaster for a fair measure of humanity.
This is why humans fight back. The existence of protest movements against the vagaries of capitalism have not gone away. However, they also have not been radical enough in their naming of the system which is the root of the inequality, the systemic racism, the differences in medical care, and the precariousness of existence. That system must be named and it must be removed. In fact, the system peels off the demands of the protests that it can assimilate. For example, the recent designation of Juneteenth as an official US holiday, while long warranted, does little or nothing to change the economic oppression faced by Blacks or others in the US working class . Until the system is named and the focus is its replacement with one that is considerably more just, protests against white supremacy, gender discrimination, and other similar phenomena will not end those phenomena. Nor will those protests against poverty and inequality resolve those issue. Then, there’s climate change; a reality tied explicitly to the capitalist need for profit and one that might well kill us all if it’s not addressed quickly and honestly. In other words, with the understanding that capitalism is the cause and that modern capitalism is that system’s worst expression of it.
Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: [email protected].