The coronavirus pandemic is thriving under capitalism, and in the process creating conditions for an even more repressive system to emerge.
Capitalism was in crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic, and existing conditions of inequality, dispossession, and ecological ruin set the stage for the deadly success of the coronavirus. But how has COVID-19 changed capitalism, and where is the system headed now? The system shock of the pandemic has provoked growing resistance from the working class. At the same time, the wealthiest fraction of society has exploited the crisis of COVID-19 to accelerate their accumulation of wealth and violent dispossession of the world’s majority. Professor William I. Robinson argues that humanity is now on a path towards the election of a “global police state,” unless it can be stopped by organized resistance from below. TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez speaks with Robinson about his new book, Global Civil War: Capitalism Post-Pandemic, in the first of a multi-part interview.
William I. Robinson is Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Among his many books are Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity; Into the Tempest: Essays on the New Global Capitalism; The Global Police State; Global Civil War: Capitalism Post-Pandemic; and Can Global Capitalism Endure?
Post-Production: Jules Taylor
Maximillian Alvarez: Welcome, everyone, to The Real News Network podcast. My name is Maximillian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News, and it’s so great to have you all with us. The Real News is an independent, viewer-supported, nonprofit media network. That means that instead of relying on corporate cash and billionaires, we need each one of you to invest in the work of our journalists so they can strengthen and expand our coverage of the voices and issues you care about most. So please take a moment and click the link in the show notes or head on over to therealnews.com/support and become a monthly sustainer of our work. And a big shout out to all of our amazing members who already contribute.
“The old is dying and the new cannot be born,” as the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci famously wrote in his prison notebooks 92 years ago. “In this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear,” he wrote. For quite some time now, even before COVID-19 turned the world upside down, it has felt like we are living in an interregnum, a weird and exhilarating and terrifying space between the dying of the old order and the establishment of whatever new order will come next. From the election of Donald Trump and the manifest bankruptcy and social degradation caused by decades of neoliberalism, to the war in Ukraine, resurgent fears of nuclear war, two and a half years of pandemic emergency, and our planetary acceleration towards climate collapse, all signs on whatever road we’re currently on seem to have the same message: The old normal is gone and there’s no going back. But what lies ahead is still anxiously unclear.
Nevertheless, in his new book, Global Civil War: Capitalism Post-Pandemic, published by PM press, professor William Robinson details the ways that the system shock of COVID-19 coupled with the development and expansion of new digital technologies and the acceleration of economic trends that have been stoking an ongoing crisis in the capitalist world system before the pandemic have all combined to set humanity on a path towards the erection of a global police state, even more violent dispossession and inequality, and uncertain survival of our species. But the future is not written yet. Resistance to this monstrous world order is mounting around the globe, and we have no choice but to fight for a future worth living in.
To talk about all of this and more, I’m honored to be joined once again on The Real News by professor William Robinson himself. Professor Robinson is distinguished professor of sociology, global studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Among his many books are Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, Into the Tempest: Essays on the New Global Capitalism, and The Global Police State, which came out in 2020 and is in many ways the companion book to Global Civil War. We’re going to be talking about both of those books together, how and why professor Robinson wrote them, and what they can tell us about the moment we are in right now.
Professor Robinson, thank you so much for joining me again on The Real News.
William Robinson: Thank you so much for having me on. It’s a real privilege.
Maximillian Alvarez: Right back at you. And it’s been quite the experience reading your two most recent books. I feel both a lot of thoughts in my head and a lot of fears in my body, so we’re going to tiptoe through that. But these are really important books that you’ve put out, and you cover a whole lot of ground in them. But I think that they really do frame the situation that we’re in in a really important way, because in many ways, we’ve been so close to the reality of living in a state of emergency that it’s hard to step back and think, let alone see the larger trends that are taking shape in our world. And I think that you’ve done an incredible job, an incredible service to try to sketch the outlines of this world order that is taking shape, and also trying to look at the roots of that that extend well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before we really dig into the meat of Global Civil War, I wanted to ask if you could just say a little bit about your process of writing both of these books in the midst of a pandemic. What was the germ of the idea out of which these two books grew? What was the process of writing the books like? And what revelations started to emerge from that process?
William Robinson: Right, yeah. Well, I’ve been thinking about writing, researching, speaking about global capitalism really for the last 25 years, as a qualitatively new stage in this permanent ongoing and open-ended evolution of world capitalism over the last 500 years, and theorizing that. But then, 2008 happened, the global financial collapse, and that moved us into a period of deep crisis, which is continuing to this day, that was never resolved. And so I turned my attention towards the global crisis. That was the 2014 book, Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity. But then the pandemic happens.
Well actually, there’s three new books because I published The Global Police State in 2020, and this year, there are two new books, Global Civil War and Can Global Capitalism Endure? But what happened was I was writing and thinking about and speaking about this crisis from 2008 and on, and then the pandemic hit. And it became clear to me as I started researching that and engaging with other people that the pandemic has accelerated in warp speed the crisis itself, and it’s introduced a whole new set of concerns as we face this crisis of humanity. And that book also goes into considerable detail on digitalization, because the digital transformations underway are absolutely tremendous. They’re linked to everything else.
But then the companion to Global Civil War – And both of these came out in 2022 – Is Can Global Capitalism Endure?, which is really the big summation of the crisis and what we can expect in the following years and the following decades. So if it’s possible, I would love to put out a summary here of where we’re at with this crisis.
This is a crisis like never before. This is an existential crisis. It’s multidimensional. Of course, we can talk about the economic or the structural dimension, deep economic, social crisis. We’re on the verge of a world recession, but I think it’s going to be much more than that. It’s going to be another big collapse which might even exceed what we saw in 2008. But it’s also a political crisis of state legitimacy, of capitalist hegemony, of the crack up of political systems around the world. And it’s also a social crisis of what technically we can call a crisis of social reproduction. The social fabric is disintegrating everywhere. Billions of people face crises for survival and very uncertain futures. And of course, it’s also an ecological crisis, and this is what makes it existential.
I am suggesting that the 21st century is the final century for world capitalism. This system cannot reach the 22nd century. And the key question for us is, can we overthrow global capitalism before it drags down and destroys all of humanity and much of life on the planet along with it?
So let me step back and say that we can speak about three types of crises. Of course, there are periodic receptions, the mainstream goals of the business cycle that take place about once every 10 years, but we’re in something much more serious. We’re in what we can call a structural crisis, meaning that the only way out of the system is to fund it. The only way out of the crisis is to really restructure the whole system. The last big structural crisis we had was the 1970s. The system got out of that by launching capitalist globalization and neoliberalism. Prior to that, we had the big structural crisis of the 1930s, the Great Depression. System got out of that by introducing a new type of capitalism, New Deal capitalism, social democratic capitalism, what I call redistributive nation state capitalism. And before that, just to take it back once more – Because these are recurrent, they happen, these structural crises about every 40 to 50 years – Was from the late 1870s to the early 1890s. And the system got out of that by launching a new round of colonialism and imperialism.
So now, from 2008 and on, we’re in another deep structural crisis. And I know later in the interview we’ll get into that dimension, that economic structural dimension. Technically, we call it an overaccumulation crisis. But I want to say that there’s a third type of crisis, and that actually is where we’re at: a systemic crisis, which means the only way out of the crisis is to literally move beyond the system. That is, to move beyond capitalism. So when I say that we are in a systemic crisis, this can be drawn out for years, for decades. But we are in uncharted territory. This is a crisis like no other. If we want to put this in technical terms, we’re seeing the historic exhaustion of the conditions for capitalist renewal. And the system, again, won’t make it to the [22nd] century.
As you pointed out in the introduction, the ruling groups, at this point, are in a situation of permanent crisis management, permanent state of emergency. But the ruling groups are rudderless. They’re clueless. They don’t know how to resolve this crisis. And quite frankly, they cannot. They can’t. What we’ve seen is that over the past 40 years, world capitalism has been driven forward by this trickle process that I lay out in these two new books, Global Civil War and Can Global Capitalism Endure?, of globalization, digitalization, and financialization. And these three processes have aggravated the crisis, really created and aggravated the crisis many times over. And just to summarize a couple other things here, what we’ve seen over the last 40 years is the buildup of this structural crisis and the problem of surplus capital, meaning that corporate profits in 2021 were a record high even in the midst of us all moving down and suffering. Record high profits. So the transnational capitalist class has accumulated enormous amounts of wealth beyond what it can reinvest, hence stagnation, beyond what it can even spend.
And what this has led to is this mass of what we call – I know we’re going to get into this later in the interview – This mass of fictitious capital, meaning all of this capital around the world which is not backed by the real economy of goods and services. It’s what technically we call fiat money, this unprecedented flow of money. And it’s led to this situation where in the world today we have this mass of predatory finance capital which is simply without precedent, and it’s destabilizing the whole system.
But let me conclude this introductory summary by saying the problem of surplus capital has its flip side in surplus people, surplus humanity. The more the surplus capital, the more hundreds of millions, even billions of people become surplus humanity.
And what that means is that the ruling groups have a double challenge. Their first challenge is what do they do with all the surplus capital? How do they keep investing in making profit? Where can they unload this surplus capital and continue to accumulate? But the second big challenge, because the flip side is surplus humanity, is how do you control the mass of humanity? Because there is a global class revolt underway. That’s the title of the book, Global Civil War. After the late 20th century worldwide defeat of proletarian forces, now the mass of humanity is on the move again. There are these rebellions from below breaking out all over the world. And the ruling groups have the challenge of how to contain this actual rebellion underway and the potential for it to bring down the system from, oh, no.
And finally, I’ll include very briefly – And by the way, we’re also seeing, and this ties into the Ukraine conflict, a violent crack up of the post World War II international order, a crisis of hegemony in the international system. And of course, this brings another dimension to the crisis: the threat of nuclear war, the threat of World War III. But let me just conclude by saying, is there any hope? Well, there’s two hopes, and they’re both laid out. They’re laid out of these books, these two new books, and the one in 2020, The Global Police State. Well, one, there’s a hope that we can overthrow this system. And there’s so much inspiration to take from the global revolt underway despite the problems it’s facing, this global revolt.
But the other hope, not so much to salvage humanity, but that it’s possible that global capitalism will resolve this crisis momentarily, momentarily throughout the 2020s. There’ll be another collapse, but then it could pick up again and get going again. And there could be a new period of growth, of prosperity. It’s going to be temporary.
And that’s what the ruling groups are hoping for here. They’re hoping they can put in place a new regime of accumulation, a new round of expansion and prosperity based on the digital technologies that I know we’ll be discussing later in the interview. And even if that’s going to happen, if we can at least temporarily resolve this crisis and have a new period of growth and stability, that’s going to involve some radical reform, especially redistribution of wealth downward on a worldwide scale, and a re-regulation of global markets and the global economies in regulation from above. And we don’t see that at the moment on the horizon. So that’s where we’re at now. I know I played at a whole lot, but I know we’re going to break this all down in the interview.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, baby. Just keep it coming. Like I said, we got a lot to dig into. And it took you three books to lay this out. So I apologize in advance that we’re going to try to condense as much as we can into an hour-long discussion, but we’re just going to have you back on. I’m committing you to that for future recordings. But we’ll do our best with the time that we have here. And to everyone listening, again, the best recommendation I can give is to go read Bill’s incredible and thought-provoking books, which we will link to in the show notes.
But I want to build on that, because when we were discussing how to frame such an expansive discussion, it feels like in the makeup of Global Civil War, in the makeup of the trilogy as such, we have these three distinct stages that you’re analyzing, each in their particularities and then looking at how they flow into each other, so on and so forth.
First chapter, as you mentioned, is looking at A, how crisis is endemic to the system of capitalism as such, and the historical permutations that you laid out before have been ways that the system has tried to save itself from itself. And we are approaching the point where it can no longer really do that. And I think that in the book, you give really good concrete examples of this, but for me, one of the ones that really made a lot of sense and that was very familiar for myself and our family is… I cover labor here at The Real News. My main beat is talking to workers about their lives, their jobs, their dreams, their struggles, and the ways that society has changed in the time that they’ve been on this earth.
And so many times, we talk about the ’70s and ’80s, the crisis that people remember, and that you talked about where capitalism realized that it needed to break out of any national structures and really go as global as it possibly could, so on and so forth. So for those of us living on a day-to-day level, this was obviously very intensely felt with the depressions, economic effects that people were feeling in the ’70s and the ’80s, followed by the end of the Cold War, the ’90s boom, careening towards the financial crash in 2008.
But when I talk to workers, the thing that everyone knows intimately is that from the 1980s onwards, workers have been more productive in the United States, we could even say writ large. I think workers have been working harder and longer and producing more value than almost ever before. Slavery is cheating because there you could extract value for next to nothing. But you guys listening get the point. The charts are very clear: workers have been more productive, producing more value than ever before, year by year, since the 1980s. And yet the fruits of that productivity have increasingly gone into the pockets and coffers of the ruling class.
Now, the promise that was made, the social contract, was that that wealth would trickle down and that wealth would be spread around the more that private industry was deregulated, and the market itself could dictate the shape of our society and our collective social and economic and political priorities.
Obviously that didn’t happen. So what you had is this incredibly top-heavy ruling class that is just, as Bill said, stuffing money into its pockets hand over fist and doesn’t actually have a productive… Because it’s not trickling down, because that wealth is not being spread around and put to any good social use, capitalists have to find some way to recirculate it. And then we get this expansion of financialization that we’re going to talk about in a second.
But that was a very concrete example for me where okay, people are working harder, they’re working longer, but they’re seeing less of the benefits of that. Their wages have stagnated, cost of living keeps going up. So how did we stave off that crisis? Through debt and credit. We artificially injected these mechanisms so that people in this country could maintain the fiction of a certain continued standard of living like they knew and experienced in the post-war years. So that, I think, should just give a little bit of a glimpse for folks listening about the fictitious aspect of what Bill’s talking about and how the “solutions” to these crises that capitalism has come up with are largely smoke and mirrors and they’re unsustainable and we’re reaching the point where there’s nowhere else to turn. Otherwise, we’re going to be all collectively fucked. Pardon my language.
So with all that in mind, Bill, I wanted to turn it back to you and ask if you could trace, as you do in the book, the fact that, as you write in the first chapter, well before the pandemic hit in 2020, all the telltale signs of an overaccumulation crisis were present. Could you talk a little more about how the crisis had been building before we got to COVID and what that crisis actually means?
William Robinson: Yes. Well, you laid out so much there. Yeah, you laid out… Everything you just said is really important. Let’s remember also, there’s no social contract. The only social contract was something that masses of working and poor people struggling all around the world forced on the system in the mid-20th century. The only social contract now is that you go enslave yourself for global capital if you’re lucky, and you won’t even be able to survive. And if you can’t even find out how to slave yourself for global capital, you just [inaudible].
But anyway, I want to take the story back here, before we get into that deep structural dimension of overaccumulation, to what you were pointing out. That in the post World War II period, really from the 1930s and on, there were mass revolutionary movements, socialists and communist movements, trade union movements, Third World liberation movements. In the United States, of course, the Chicano and Black liberation movement, the feminist movement, antiwar movements, peace movements. And all of these meant that in the ’60s and the 1970s, the correlation of class and social forces worldwide started shifting very dramatically in favor of the working and poor majority around the world.
And that alarmed the ruling groups, as culminated in the famous year, 1968. The system was crumbling. The hegemony of the system was collapsing. And so the ruling groups launched a counter-offensive, as you are alluding to, in the 1970s and 1980s. That counter-offensive was capitalist globalization, the neoliberal counter-revolution, of course symbolized back in the 1980s by the Thatcher and Reagan regimes, and this brings us all the way to date. It’s continuing this counter-offensive, but now the popular masses are rising up once again. And so the correlation of class and social forces once again hangs in the balance.
But I want to point something out here now to lead it into what you’re asking about the structural crisis. That crises are not an aberration in capitalism. They’re endemic to the very nature of capitalism. And part of the crisis which is endemic to capitalism itself is the crisis of social polarization. Capitalism produces all of this incredible wealth, but it concentrates it on one pole, on one side, small groups of people, and the masses are in misery.
Now, the only thing that stops that polarization, and I’m going to link this to the structural crisis and what’s happened from the 1970s to 2022, the only thing that stops that is what technically we call countervailing tendencies. Meaning the state can intervene to redistribute wealth downward through minimum wages and social programs, and that counteracts the tendency towards polarization and inequality. Masses of people can struggle, struggle, and force on capitalists, on the ruling groups, to redistribute wealth as well.
And so those counter tendencies, when capital goes global, are undermined. And so you have this incredibly accelerated process of global inequalities which are simply unprecedented at this time. Everyone now knows the data that 1% of humanity controls 52% of the world’s wealth, 20% of humanity – And that amount is shrinking, it’s increasingly less than 20% of humanity, controls 95% of the world’s wealth. That’s the 20% that can still somehow survive in the system. 80% of humanity has just 5% of the world’s wealth.
Now, that means that what we’re saying here is that the natural process of capitalism polarizing wealth was unleashed and nothing stopping it from the 1980s and on with capitalist globalization until now, until these mass struggles. What that means is that just as you pointed out, the world economy, the global economy, produces this massive amount of wealth, but the world market cannot absorb it. So you have to figure out how you counter this stagnation, how you resolve that.
But let me take it back now to this deep structural dimension. I’ll make it simple and easy to grasp, but it’s laid out in these, really, three books, not two, because the most recent is Can Global Capitalism Endure? And that takes us to –
Maximillian Alvarez: I’m going to refer to them as “the trilogy” from now on.
William Robinson: The trilogy, yeah, because that one looks right up to the rest of this century. But technically, we call what we’re experiencing an overaccumulation crisis. Meaning, again, as I said, that the transnational capitalist class accumulates enormous amounts of wealth and profits, but it can’t profitably reinvest it. Just to give a piece of data here, in 2010, the 2000 leading global corporations and financial conglomerates had $6.6 trillion that they were sitting on that they didn’t know how to reinvest. $6.6 trillion. By 2020, that has jumped up to $14.2 trillion, and I would expect that it’s more now.
So what is going on here? Well, why does it accumulate all of this wealth that it can’t reinvest? Well, I don’t want to get too technical, but radical political economists have always debated whether these crises start in the circus of production or if it starts in the market itself, what’s technically called overproduction, underconsumption. Too much is produced, people can’t consume that.
Well in my books, I’m saying both of those are correct. The rate of profit, meaning if I’m a capitalist and I’m going to invest in some productive activity, I’ll only do so if I think I can get a good return, a good rate of profit. That rate of profit has been declining. It was 15% in the post-World War II era. In the 1980s, it went down to 10%. In 2017, it was only 6%. So capitalists don’t productively invest.
But then as I mentioned, and I know I’m getting technical here, but that’s then this problem of the lack of investment in the productive economy, the real economy of goods and services upon which we all depend, that gets expressed as a market relationship and overproduction, underconsumption, which is what I was mentioning. 80% or more of humanity can’t consume with that inequality that I was discussing.
So what’s gone on here then, and this is just as you pointed out in your summary, is that how, in the face of chronic stagnation, in the face of this crisis of overaccumulation, how has the global economy been sputtering along? How has growth continued, even anemic rates of growth? Why have we not had another collapse like 2008? It’s coming, of course. And that is just as you pointed out, because the ruling groups have turned to four different mechanisms to keep the economy moving along, even anemically.
One, you mentioned, is debt-driven growth. And that’s not just in the United States, that’s worldwide. Right now, global debt including corporate debt, personal or consumer debt, and government debt is approaching $300 trillion. Now, that compares to the real global economy of $75 trillion a year in goods and services. $300 trillion. So debt-driven growth has kept us moving along, and it cannot continue. It cannot continue.
Secondly has been financial speculation. The transnational capitalist class doesn’t invest productively, but it invests in what we can call the global casino, every imaginable type of financial speculation in the global casino. To give you one example of the data I’ve been using, again, the real economy of goods and services is valued at $75 trillion worldwide. But speculation just in derivatives, a derivative is a type of speculative financial instrument, is now at $1 quadrillion dollars. And you heard right. $75 trillion is the real economy that we all live in. $1 quadrillion is speculation just of derivatives. And there’s dozens of these speculative instruments. So this is unimaginable. We’ve never been in a situation like that. And financial speculation can’t continue because as I mentioned previously, the out of control global financial system is destabilizing the whole world.
The third way that the transnational capitalist class has continued to accumulate, and this is the first book in the trilogy, The Global Police State, is by what I call militarized accumulation. So you expand systems of warfare. You promote conflicts. You build border walls and systems of refugee control, mass systems of mass incarceration, systems of state surveillance and surveillance and tracking. You do all of these things for two reasons. One, to keep people into control, and we’ll come back to that later. But secondly, just in and of itself, it’s immensely profitable.
Look, Russia invading Ukraine, I condemn that invasion. But this is not something bad for the military-industrial complex. It’s not something bad for the global police state. It’s not something bad for any of the corporations, and financial conglomerates can make profits in this. The US already spent $50 billion to send weapons to Ukraine and tens of billions more are coming. But even after Russia invaded Ukraine, military budgets are going up everywhere around the world. And this is a way that’s what I call, again, militarized accumulation, of keeping the economy going through social control, warfare, conflict, et cetera, in the face of this stagnation.
And the final thing that’s kept this, and this is linked to the other three, kept the global economy sputtering along but now it can’t, now it can’t, the collapse is coming, is the massive printing of money by especially the US Treasury, but also other governments around the world, especially the EU, the European Union governments, and several other ones, China and the big countries in the Global South. The technical term is quantitative easing. And in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, just the US federal government printed $16 trillion. Now, we call it quantitative easing because they just throw it out through the banks. They give it to the banks. The banks are supposed to then circulate that for productive investment, but they don’t. They just speculate on it. So you’re just throwing out this mass of money with no backing in the real economy. That was $16 trillion after 2008.
Then came COVID, and that’s the second book in the trilogy, and other tens of trillions just thrown out there. So the estimate now is. from 2008 to the present, this just printing money and throwing it out there, this quantitative easing, has approximately $35 to $40 trillion. And remember, compare that to the whole global economy of goods and services is $75 trillion. So you have, that’s what I said previously, this massive fictitious capital not backed by the real economy destabilizing the whole system. It cannot continue. And the ruling groups know it. That’s why they’re raising interest rates. So all of this is what’s happened. We’re talking about the structural dimension of crisis. We haven’t gone to the political dimension, ecological, anything else. All of this has kept the economy going along, has disguised the fact that this deep structural crisis, there’s really no way out of it at this point, and a new collapse is coming.
I might just conclude. I know I’ve spoken a lot, but I might just conclude with one word on financialization because now it’s on everyone’s lips, that term. It is incredibly complex. No one can wrap their mind around it. Best economists in the world – I’m a sociologist – Can’t fully understand what’s going on because we’re in a new ballgame with financialization. But very, very simply, what financialization means is two things. First, it means that you turn anything into a financial asset. It used to be I buy a house, I get a loan from my local bank, over 30 years I pay that local bank back. But once you financialize those mortgages, they’re bundled into millions of different mortgages and they’re speculated over and over and sold to anyone in the global economy as these packages. So you’ve turned actual houses, a physical thing, I’m sitting here in my house, into a financial instrument.
So financialization means the whole world is turned into a financial instrument. Nature, everything is turned into a financial instrument, and then it’s speculated. And because we have a globally integrated financial system, there’s no such thing as a national financial system. It’s all one circuit of global finance capital, and it zips around the world in fractions, in nanoseconds, controlled by computers and algorithms. This financialization also places us in this brand new extremely dangerous ballgame. We have a dictatorship. It’s a dictatorship of global finance capital.
And anyway, I know I put out so much out there that we need to break it down, but that’s a summary of, let’s say, the structural or economic dimension of this multidimensional crisis of global capitalism.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, it’s really, really important even if we can’t drill down on every single point of that, to again, set the table, because these are terms that we hear a lot thrown around. As you mentioned, often our eyes can glaze over whenever someone tries to explain it to us. But I would stress for folks listening that so much of what Bill is describing, you have seen and felt and observed around you for years. And especially if you watch and listen to and read the work that we do here at The Real News, I would say a lot of the coverage that we do is undergirded by all of this.
I’ll stick with my own coverage here just to save time. But you guys know, for the entire year, we’ve been covering the crisis on the nation’s freight railroad system. We’ve been talking to workers like locomotive engineers, conductors, dispatchers, and so on and so forth about what this crisis looks like, where it came from. And they all said the same thing. They’re like, this has been happening for decades. This has been a long arc that has led us to where we are. And I would encourage you guys to think about what those railroaders told us here at The Real News. They said that the companies, it was eight… I think it’s seven companies that own the major freight railroads here in the United States. It’s a fixed infrastructural thing. No one’s going to be building new freight lines anytime soon.
And so what these companies have done is essentially formed a cartel, an oligopoly where they can continuously jack up prices. They can continuously slash their workforce and pile more work onto fewer workers. The quality of service has been plummeting for years if not decades. Workers are being run into the ground, even dying on the job because they’re forced to work ridiculous hours with these draconian attendance policies, so on and so forth. And yet when workers really pushed in the latest contract negotiations for better quality of life protections, for basically improving conditions on the railroads so that they can rehire people, retain people, so on and so forth, the railroads had the gall to tell President Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board that workers, or they said labor, has contributed nothing to our record profits. That has all come from our financial savvy and risks and investments.
And so the reason I bring that up is because if you look at something like the railroads and you’re like, okay, this is a service that is being provided for customers. It’s something that our supply chain depends on, and structurally, it’s in crisis. Workers are pissed. Customers are pissed. And yet the companies are making record profits. How can that be? But again, if you listen to what Bill’s saying, you take that veil off and you realize that’s not what this thing really is. It’s not about the service. People like Warren Buffett, companies like BNSF and CSX have realized that this is just another profit-generating widget. It could be anything. It could be major league baseball for all we care. But what we are seeing is a society organized around the paradigm of extract as much capital from whatever you have control over as you possibly can. And all of us are the worse off for it.
And just one other concrete example to help listeners along, we just ran an interview with Vince Quiles, the badass organizer in Northeast Philly who is leading the unionization effort at the Home Depot there in Philly. This is a quote from Jonah Furman’s writeup of the union drive in More Perfect Union, which was published in September. So Quiles was getting fed all the same union busting talking points for management, and he fired this back. So here’s what Jonah writes:
“Quiles began asking why the company couldn’t pay its workers more. Last year, Home Depot made $16 billion in profit. In a meeting with a regional vice president, Quiles questioned why the company couldn’t pay premiums for operating machinery like forklifts, or for translating for Spanish language customers, or for working in multiple departments. The regional manager touted that the company had spent $1 billion on employee compensation.”
And here’s what Vince said in response: “’You spent $1 billion on over 500,000 employees, and $15 billion in stock buybacks’ – Not to mention $7 billion more on investor dividends.”
So you have this massive disparity between what Home Depot is investing in terms of the workers that we think are making the business run. But for them, again, it’s just an engine to generate profit through fictitious capital. You extract the real capital from the business and then it gets cycled into this fucking circus of fictitious capital. And that’s happening all around us, the railroads, retail, agriculture, housing. This is, as Bill said, such a crisis that we are not going to tweak our way out of. It needs a systemic overhaul.
And then we got COVID-19. So in many ways, COVID really accelerated a lot of these trends, as Bill lays out brilliantly in his book. So I’m going to read really quick from the book where you set up COVID, and then I’m going to toss it back to you, Bill, to walk us through how states were responding to this, how capital responded to this. Give us that bird’s eye view that you do so well. So here’s what Bill writes in his book:
“The Coronavirus may not have been caused directly by global capitalism, but it did pull back the veil of a global capitalist system that had been wrecking calamity on the poor majority of humanity long before the outbreak began. The pandemic left in its wake more inequality, more political tension, more militarism, and more authoritarianism. Or rather, there were more of these things through the pandemic. Capitalist states around the world, unable to cope with the pandemic and the fallout from the socioeconomic implosion it triggered were exposed as callous instruments of wealth and corruption,” amen to that, “aggravating many times over the political dimensions of global capitalist crisis, that of state legitimacy and capitalist hegemony.
“Just as with everything else that occurs in society, the pandemic did not unfold on its own terms, but in the context of capitalist society, driven above all by the implacable logic of accumulation and on the terrain of all the existing relations of power, inequality, and oppression. The pandemic, therefore, was not solely a biomedical phenomenon. It was as much a social as economic, political, and environmental.”
Okay. Walk me through this, Bill. So pandemic hits. Shit goes down very quickly. But some of the changes, the changes that you talk about are really setting the stage for a pretty horrifying post-pandemic global order. So break this down for us.
William Robinson: Yes. Yeah, so we can talk about an emerging post-pandemic capitalist paradigm, this new capitalist paradigm. Let me identify five things that we need to think about with regard to the pandemic. And the first is that a digital revolution was already underway. I know later in the interview, hopefully we have time to talk about digitalization because the digital transformations were already coming along online over the last 10, 15 years, but then they got a radical turbocharged boost by the pandemic. And now they’re really going to have this incredible transformative impact.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, I would just say I think that when we’re talking about the tentacles of The Global Police State, as you write about, digitalization is a fundamental part of that. So we’ll definitely circle back to it. But by all means, if you want to talk about how… Because again, we all feel it. We’re all forced onto our computers. Everything’s over Zoom. This was a catalyzed evolution, as it were, in an already ongoing process of digitalization. So go bring in as much as you want right now.
William Robinson: Right, yeah. I’ll come back to the details of the digital revolution, but that’s only part of it. This interview is done by Zoom, for instance. But that’s only a small part of it. And digital currency is coming as well. But we can come back to the nitty gritty of the digitalization. But what I want to say with regard to the pandemic is that the pandemic gave an incredible boost and accelerated this digitalization, which is leading to this massive new round. First we had the round of restructuring transformation world capitalism launched by globalization from the 1980s right up to the present. And that led to this incredible, which we were talking about, this incredible polarization of wealth and power. And it led to the precarization of labor, the massive surplus humanity, the attacks on working and popular classes that you were just talking about. That’s the transformation we’ve had over the last 40 years. But now we are just on the verge of this new round of radical restructuring transformation driven by digitalization and given a boost in the arm by the pandemic.
But the second thing about the pandemic we want to think about is that, and post pandemic now, it’s opened up enormous new possibilities for transnational capital to accumulate wealth, to make profit. The global corporations and financial conglomerates got these incredible new opportunities for accumulation through the pandemic and the post-pandemic aftermath. The third thing about the pandemic we want to think about, and if there’s time in the interview breakdown, and you’ve mentioned this also, is the incredibly enhanced ability of the ruling groups to impose social control and discipline on the global working population by the transnational capitalist class and the state and bureaucratic elites.
And I want to read you something because this is absolutely dramatic. Again, this third of these five points on what we can think about with the pandemic is the incredibly heightened social control that it involves applying the digital technologies and applying the new biopolitical regime that has come about. So this isn’t… I’m just reading a brief quote from The Economist. Now, The Economist, I read it religiously because it gives you the thinking of the ruling groups, especially the neoliberal global elites. The title of this article, it came out in May of 2022, very recently, is titled “Big Brotherly Boss”. And it’s talking about how when everyone went online – And by the way the remote work through online is now being globalized. It’s not just for professors like me or journalists like you. It’s becoming much, much more generalized and it allows this incredibly enhanced social control. So The Economist, this is their article, “Big Brotherly Boss”, and I’ll read a little excerpt.
“Both the scope and the scale of corporate surveillance has ballooned in the past few years since the pandemic. Global demands for employee-spying software more than doubled between April 2019 and April 2020. Within weeks of the first lockdown in March 2020, search queries for monitoring tools rose more than 18-fold. Surveillance software makers’ sales jumped. At Time Doctor,” that’s one of these surveillance software companies, “which records videos of user screens and periodically snaps photos to ensure that they are at their computer, they suddenly, these sales, tripled just in April 2020, while those at DeskTime more than quadrupled. Employers can follow every keystroke or mouse movement, gain access to webcams and microphones, scan emails for gossip, or take screenshots, leaving the surveilled worker none the wiser. Last year, Fujitsu, a Japanese technology group, unveiled artificial intelligence software which promised to gauge employees’ concentration based on their facial expression.”
And then the article goes on to note that 60% of corporate employers around the world are now using such surveillance software on their workers, and another 17% are considering doing so. So this gives you just one little example of the extent to which the pandemic has turbocharged the new digital technologies which allow for the global police state, which allow for these new types of surveillance and control. So you are talking about the workers in the trains, in the transportation system, but they have computers. They’re computerized now. So it’s not just those of us talking in front of the computer screen, but anywhere where there are computers, there’s these new possibilities of social control. And that’s the third thing we want to think about with the pandemic and this situation of global capitalism and its crisis.
The fourth is that the pandemic and its aftermath is resulting in an acceleration, and you spoke about this, of what were already unprecedented global inequalities, including expanding the massive under and unemployed workers and surplus humanity, including also accelerating the shift to precarious labor. Now, we have this data. We know how unbelievably the top richest 1% of humanity became incredibly more wealthy during the pandemic and through the pandemic and the rest of us went down. I have dramatic data in the book on that, Global Civil War. But this came out after the book. This is January 2022. It’s by Oxfam, and I’ll read, again, just two paragraphs for me.
“The 10 richest men doubled their fortunes in the pandemic while the income of 99% of humanity fell during the pandemic. A new billionaire minted every 26 hours as inequality contributes to the death of one person every four seconds.” And then this report says the world’s 10 richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion at a rate of $15,000 per second, or $1.3 billion a day during the first two years of the pandemic that has seen the income of 99% of humanity fall and over 160 million more people forced into extreme poverty. “If these 10 men were to lose 99.999% of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99% of all the people on this planet,” said the report. They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people. So this is the fourth part of this story of the pandemic, how it has aggravated all of the contradictions of global capitalism and how it has accelerated even more worldwide inequality precariatization.
But finally, and here is the upbeat part that, and I know would love to get talking about the global revolt, which didn’t start with the pandemic at all. That really reached a crescendo from 2017 to 2019. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise, in part, for the ruling groups because they could declare a global lockdown and they forced people off the streets at a moment when there were these uprisings all over the world.
But the point is that even during the pandemic, and let’s remember here in the United States, George Floyd was murdered. And then in May and June, 25 to 30 million largely young people came out into the streets in the midst of the pandemic, the single biggest mass mobilization in the history of the United States, the history of North America, the history of North America. And so part of the story of the pandemic is as it aggravates all of these existing contradictions and the crisis, it has actually accelerated the global revolts underway. That global revolt is unprecedented. And we have dramatic data that maybe we’ll get into as we break all of this down.
But that’s a quick overview. Let me just conclude the comments on the pandemic. The other thing we’re seeing, the pandemic is part of this new biopolitical regime in which we’re seeing a fusion of these new technologies, a blurring of the lines between physical, digital, and biological worlds that’s driven by these new technologies. But these new technologies, just as you said, are immersed in the existing power relations, and they are controlled by the transnational capitalist class.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and even just thinking about all this, what I propose, dear listeners and dear Bill, as we’re recording this, I think we should keep going, sketching this out. And I got a follow-up question on the global resistance and the larger contours of the global police state. I would propose that we do a part two to this, really zeroing in on that dialectic. And I promise that we’ll be able to do that sooner rather than later, because I got all these thoughts in my head.
But I would point listeners to another Real News podcast that we published back in April where I got to interview Kevin Kleiman. And the title for that was “How Big Tech Used COVID to Pull Off One of the Biggest Grifts in History”. So I spoke to Kevin about this, all of the big tech, basically everyone in Silicon Valley was salivating when COVID-19 hit. And state governments, local, federal, people were all too happy to just throw more money at these companies to try to innovate some sort of solution to a global health crisis. And what Kevin and I discussed in that is that big tech really didn’t do shit to mitigate the crisis, but it did make a whole lot of money, and it did get and seized upon a once in a lifetime opportunity to control sensitive biometric data and so on and so forth. And once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s not going back.
And therein lies what Bill’s alluding to, that these structures are being built up. This pillage is ongoing. And there’s a path dependency that occurs as more and more forms of surveillance become more and more regularized in our society, whether that be Amazon tracking its warehouse workers and their “time off task” down to the second, whether that be, as Bill said, bosses using your webcam to track whether or not your eyes are looking at the screen. And the reason I think that we should take another full hour to dig into that is because I want to really impress upon listeners, as Bill does in his book, the global contours of this and the violent manifestations of this.
One example I would give, outside of the US, we republished a really important piece from MintPress News. They do great work over there at MintPress. Go check them out. But they did an investigative report about a border crossing in Israel-Palestine that is using AI facial recognition technology to track children, men, women passing through this gate. And so that’s where all this shit is going. And frankly, we should be scared, because if we’re not, we’re not really appreciating the full scale of the problem. But as Bill said, with increasing forms of oppression and control come naturally in dialectically and essentially renewed forms of resistance and creativity and so on and so forth. And we have to know which side we’re on there.
But I wanted to, since we won’t be able to sketch out all of that in this conversation, I want to hook it back to something that you said earlier, Bill. Because you talked about something that didn’t click as much for me when I first read the book, but the more that I thought about it really made horrifying sense. You talked about how the erection of a global police state, the expansion of these systems of war, surveillance, violence and social control, that when that has merged with the crisis of capitalist overaccumulation, you’ve got a really sinister recipe there that, in many ways, it’s like an extension of Eisenhower’s famous warning about the military-industrial complex. But it is that on steroids. Eisenhower, what he was saying is if you have a permanent military industry in this country that is based on profit, it’s going to keep pushing for more war so that its profits can stay up.
I’m being very reductive. But that’s what was really horrifying to me reading your book, is thinking about how the digitalization and these technologies of control developed through the pandemic, but also how that sector of the “economy” has become a target for the transnational capitalist class, or the TCC as you talk about, to reabsorb some of this overaccumulated capital. So I guess could you flesh that part out a little bit more?
William Robinson: Absolutely. And then I know that we have limited time in the interview, I hope maybe afterwards we can conclude by talking about the global revolt, because we want to remember that the ruling groups are reactive. They are reacting to the mass revolt from below. They are reacting to their inability, their fear that they’re not going to be able to hold this together and keep the masses under control. So that’s the dynamic, is a struggle from below and the ruling groups try and respond. And also we want to remember that everything that many of the listeners will be in the United States, not all, of The Real News Network, but this is all global.
And so you mentioned Palestine, and the two countries that are most advanced in these social control and global police state technologies are Israel and China. And it’s not surprising that the US military and US police forces are going to China and going to Israel and saying, teach us and help us with these tech technologies. So this is global. That’s why it’s a global police state, not a US police state.
But what I mean by global police state are three things. And one is that this crisis and the unprecedented inequalities, mass suffering, and evisceration forces the ruling groups to intensify systems of social control and repression to keep a lid on rebellion. That’s part of the global police state, and they’re utilizing the digital technologies, et cetera, to do so. But the second, which you’re asking me to comment on because I… Let me jump to the third. The third is that all of this means that we’re moving towards ever more intensified systems of dictatorship, authoritarianism, and of course the threat of fascism, neofascism, the United States, Brazil, et cetera. That’s part of the global police state, these new systems of political systems of dictatorship, et cetera. So there’s three elements of a global police state.
But the one you asked me to comment on is so important here that, while the ruling groups need to repress and control, doing so is enormously profitable. It offsets the crisis of overaccumulation, the structural crisis of capitalism. And it’s not just military budgets. Of course, the military and security and intelligence budgets in the United States is well over $1 trillion now, and it’s going up and up. But all over the world, military budgets are going up. But the confusion is to think that militaries’ accumulation global police state is just official government budgets. It’s much, much, much more than that. And it’s linked to political, ideological, cultural, social, all these other dimensions of this crisis and the struggles we’re involved in.
So let me give just an example about, and some of the listeners will know this because this has been around for a little while now, but it is so revealing. So we have a war against immigrants here in the United States, but that war is being waged around the world. It’s being waged in Europe, people coming from North Africa in the Middle East. It’s being waged in South America where the poor regions from Bolivia and Peru move on to the richer regions of Argentina, for instance. All over the world, you have right now 78 border walls are being constructed to either contain people inside or to keep them out. And that’s all over the world in all five continents. But let me get back to the point: how this is all linked.
So many of the listeners and viewers will be familiar with ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Committee. They bring together the 500 top global corporations that operate in the United States from all over the world, they’re here in the United States, with policy-makers, elected officials at the state level, not federal, but at the state level. And they come together several times a year, but they have one big meeting a year in which the corporations draft legislation that they want implemented for their profit-making purposes. And they hand it to the state legislatures and say, go back to your states and pass them in your state governments, and therefore we’ll finance your electoral campaigns, et cetera, et cetera.
So the big one, I forgot the year that it happened. It was right when the first extreme anti-immigrant law was passed in Arizona. I think it was 1070, don’t quote me on it, Law 1070 in Arizona. And right before that happened, the big meeting of ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Committee, took place in Colorado. And the big companies that that year had drafted this legislation on behalf of the corporations was Correction Corporation of America and Geo Group, the two that run these private for-profit immigrant detention centers. Now, these corporations, maybe they’re not racist in their minds. It is irrelevant. The point is the way they make profits is by having a war on immigrants and militarizing borders. That’s their interest in making profit. Their interest is not in repressing immigrants, just making profits.
So they pass this draconian legislation and lo and behold, three members of the board of Corrections Corporation of America are the governor of Arizona, her chief assistant, and another high-level official in the state government of Arizona. So ALEC drafts this legislation, hands it to the governor of Arizona, Arizona passes it. Now in our public discourse, we say it’s because these people are racist. Well, they probably are, but the point is that doing all of this, because this is militarized accumulation. This is turning the global police state into a profit-making enterprise. Wildly profitable. And so you have that war on immigrants and then copycat legislation in some 30 or 40 states throughout the 2010s. This incredibly intensified war on immigrants.
Now, in order to sustain the war on immigrants, you need racist ideologies. Immigrants are taking our jobs. They’re dirty, they’re lazy, they’re criminals, they’re rapists, et cetera, et cetera. So you get the cultural and the ideological dimensions and the political dimensions all tied around with how the crisis of global capitalism leads the ruling groups to seek profit-making through social control and repression. That’s an example. One tiny little example replicated thousands of times over all over the world, how military and repression and et cetera is part of profit-making, which is really taking over the global economy. That’s why we have this incredible militarization of the global economy. That’s part of the story. Again, I’m laying out more than we can possibly unpack here, but that’s a big part of the story of Global Police State, if that makes sense.
Maximillian Alvarez: It is. And again, I think this will be a great table setting, big picture discussion that we can build on and look more concretely at how that system works. But again, Bill’s books are chock full of them. I underlined a number of these passages. This was in the first chapter, but you have a whole chapter on it. And then of course the book proceeding this was on the global police state. But you write, “By 2018, private military companies employed some 15 million people around the world, deploying forces to guard corporate property, providing personal security for transnational capitalist class executives and their families, collecting data, conducting police paramilitary counterinsurgency and surveillance operations, carrying out mass crowd control and repression of protesters, managing prisons, running private detention and interrogation facilities, and participating in outright warfare. The private security business is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in many countries and has come to dwarf public security around the world.”
And so again, that’ll lead us into part two of this discussion, but it also leads us into, I suppose, where we should end up for part one of this discussion, talking about resistance because you mentioned the George Floyd uprisings. In many ways, like a direct resistance to this global police state, to its racist roots, to an oppressive, extractive planet destroying society, rotting capitalist order that uses the police to enforce its machinations and to keep us from doing anything about it. So people really, really showed up. They burned down a precinct in Minneapolis, for God’s sake. We couldn’t be clearer about who the enemy is on this front.
But thinking about where we started with this conversation, thinking about how this system, this profit-dependent, overaccumulating, incredibly wasteful system is driving us, careening us towards environmental collapse, potentially the collapse of human civilization. It is a fundamentally suicidal and sociocidal system.
And I’m feeling like my climate anxiety right now is through the roof. After this week, after the new COP26 report, not only are we not going in the right direction, we are doubling down and accelerating our path in the wrong direction right now. And I look around, and like so many others, I’m baffled that we are not responding accordingly, and sure as hell aren’t at the governmental level. And then I realized again, that’s the expectation. That’s the logical expectation of a species in crisis. You would expect these states to actually say, hey, we got to do something about this now. Otherwise, we’re all screwed. Instead, what we see is just dumping more and more money into the military, into the police, and so on and so forth.
And it dawned on me at some point. I was like, oh, that is their plan. That is them preparing for what they know is coming. They’re not going to waste time and effort and resources to try to fix this broken system. They are already putting in the borders, the prisons, the policing technology, beefing up the private and public policing forces to essentially create an iron grip on the resistance that they know is going to come the worst that this gets. And so as the dialectic heats up, as the stakes get higher, people are going to resist that harder.
And so I wanted to ask, Bill, by way of focusing us on that question of resistance, which we’ll pick up on in part two of this episode, could you say a little more about what you observed through the course of the pandemic, where this resistance is coming from, the shape that it’s taking? And any final thoughts that you have about where this grassroots movement is coming from and where folks should be focusing their energies right now?
William Robinson: Yes. Yeah, fantastic. And just to note that you’ve observed that the states meeting and the COP meetings, they’re doing absolutely nothing. They’re making things even worse. But that’s because, remember, these states are controlled by the transnational capitalist class, by the elites. The only way they’ll do anything to help resolve our crisis, existential crisis, is by having no other choice because of mass resistance and revolt worldwide holding them in check. And so that’s where we need to get to as part one. Part two is to then overthrow the system itself.
It’s good that we end here, because I want to end on a very hopeful note. This global revolt has been underway certainly since the financial collapse of 2008. Let’s remember that capitalist crises arise at times of intense social and class struggle. As we speak there’s an incredible escalation of not just unionization drives in the United States, but class and social struggle around the world.
So I want to talk about this crisis of state legitimacy and capitalist hegemony, because when people reject the system is when they rebel. And just to take the example of the United States, and I quoted, I cited this in the trilogy there. 60% of millennials in the United States interviewed in… We have a representative sample. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, 60% of millennials said they support, and this is the actual quote, “a complete change of our economic system away from capitalism”. That’s 6 out of every 10 young people. Then generation Z, generation Z comes after millennials, is 57%. So that’s a crisis of hegemony for the ruling system. Majority of youth don’t want capitalism, but that’s replicated all around the world. I don’t have the data in front of me, but then I quoted another worldwide survey that showed over 50% of people around the world don’t want capitalism.
So that is this deep crisis of hegemony for the ruling groups. And so the global revolt, everyone remembers, of course, right after 2008, there was like it by Wall Street in the United States and other things going on. There was the Arab Spring, there was all over the world. But that didn’t stop. It might have disappeared from the headlines throughout the 2010s. That continued and it reached a crescendo in fall of 2019. Sometimes, we have too much short-term memory. That’s the problem. In 2019, we had the social explosion in Chile with a million people. In 2019, we had the revolution in Sudan. 2019, everywhere you look around the world, there were these mass uprisings. In December of 2019, going into January 2020, there was a general strike in India with 150 million people, the biggest labor mobilization in history. That then increased one year later, another general strike in India, December 2020, to 250 million people.
So you have this unbelievable explosion of resistance all over the world. In the United States, there were 1000 strikes in the first six months, worker strikes, of the pandemic. That’s apart from the George Floyd uprising. Worker strikes, 1000 strikes. I can go on and on all around the world, this mass uprising. But maybe we can conclude with this, because you’re saying that’s the hopeful thing, this mass uprising. Of course, there’s this political polarization around the world between the insurgent popular and mass working forces, working class forces that I just mentioned. But there’s also an insurgent far right, a neofascist right. And that is an unbelievable threat that we need to confront.
So I’ll conclude by saying we have this global revolt from below, but it faces deep challenges. One of the big challenges here is that you have this proliferation of social movements of every kind. You have student movements, women’s movements, trade union movements, environmental movements, and anti-racist movements, anti-austerity movements, everything you could possibly imagine, which you have a organized political left around the world, which is, for the most part, in crisis and not existent. And so you have all of these movements which are extremely important on their own, but they need to be aggregated into an overall project of emancipation in an agreed upon project of radical transformation, anti-capitalist project. And we don’t have that. So you have this tragic disjuncture between all of these social movements and revolts and the lack of a crisis on the organized institutional left around the world.
Now, obviously, we can’t talk about the details of what that means here, but what it means is that we don’t have that unifying emancipatory project which all these troubles can push towards. And in the final chapter of Global Civil War, which is the second of this trilogy, I lay out four different challenges. That’s the first one. And I think, for me, it’s the most serious challenge. But for instance, you saw it. Let me conclude with this, then. You saw it in the George Floyd efforts. On the one hand again, you have 25 and more million people. I took to the streets myself also here in LA. I saw the tear gas and the cops beating people. I’m a little older, I took a step back and all of that. So you have this urging, this urging. Everyone wants this radical change. They can feel it to take to the streets. They’re risking their lives. But you had a very low level of political and ideological consciousness among these heroes and heroines among the young people.
And so the demand became to defund the police. Well, that’s important. Yes, it is. We have to remember that the police are merely the coercive instruments of the capitalist state to protect private property from the mass of the property list, which is the majority of people in the United States, the mass of working and poor people who have no property. That’s the role of the police. It’s simply the frontline physical face of the capital state. As I put in the book, you don’t see corporate boardrooms. You don’t see government officials in backrooms. They’re the ones that are directing the police, which are simply that instrument, that coercive instrument.
So just to conclude then here, I’ll conclude with this, is that my hat off, millions of hats off to the young people that took to the streets during George Floyd, and it’s not their fault. The absence of a clear left that can then take that and raise the political, ideological, analytical, theoretical consciousness to then target the system itself beyond the police as the face, we didn’t have that. So around the world, we’re seeing the tragedy of these mass social movements and really a crisis and inability of the left with bankrupt ideas of the 20th century which no longer serve. But I know that leads to even more discussion, what I just laid out. But that’s where we’re at.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah, man. As always, that is powerfully and poignantly put. And again, I think it serves perfectly to lead us into part two of this incredible discussion that we are having here on The Real News Network podcast with professor William Robinson. As I mentioned up top, William is distinguished professor of sociology, global studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Among his many essential books are Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, Into the Tempest: Essays on the New Global Capitalism, and the essential trilogy that we’ve been discussing today and we’ll discuss further in part two of this interview: The Global Police State, Global Civil War: Capitalism Post-Pandemic, and Can Global Capitalism Endure?
So we’ll leave you all with that for now, but stay tuned for part two of this discussion where we’re going to build on what Bill just discussed, and we’re going to really look deeper at the race towards the future between the transnational capitalist class and the global police state that they are erecting to protect themselves, and the essential resistance around the world that is mounting to that, and the task at hand for all of us who consider ourselves part of that.
So for now, we will leave you all. Bill, thank you so much for joining us today, man. I’m really looking forward to part two of this discussion.
William Robinson: On the contrary, thank you, Max for having me on. It’s a real pleasure and a privilege to be on The Real News Network.
Maximillian Alvarez: To all of you listening, this is Maximillian Alvarez, editor-in-chief at The Real News. Before you go, please take a moment and head on over to therealnews.com/support. Become a monthly sustainer of our work so we can keep bringing you important coverage and conversations just like this. Thank you so much for listening.