Monster Capitalism

I read Mike Davis’ tour de force, The Monster Enters (O/R Books), when I was sick and in bed and thought that I might have COVID-19. Originally published in 2005, the book has just been reissued with a new, nifty wham bam introduction that lays the blame for the current pandemic where it rightfully belongs on the doorstep of the noxious nexus that has brought about monstrous slums, industrial farming, corrupt political regimes and the failure of public health services in the U.S. and many other countries in the world.

Subtitled “COVID-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism,” The Monster Enters, offers a rich historical tapestry, going back to 1918-1919, and before that, plus heaps of scientific information, eye-opening prophecies and a wealth of metaphors that keep a reader entertained. Davis also sees a way out of the mess and suggests that what the world needs now is universal health care, the end of poverty, and research and development of antibiotics and vaccines.

An essay titled “The Monster Enters” was published in the March April issue of New Left Review and is available online.

Casting himself as a kind of detective who aims to solve the mysteries of the pandemic that has moved from China to the United States, and every continent except Antarctica, Davis traces the ways that twenty-first century diseases have jumped from species to species: from bats, chickens, chimps and pigs to humans. He points out that scientists have long predicted the pandemic that now ravages the globe.

He offers quotations from scientific journals, like Lancet and from activists/politicians like Ralph Nader who warned long ago about a “world war of mutant viruses taking millions of casualties.” The author of several contemporary classics such as City of QuartzEcology of Fear and Planet of Slums, Davis seems to have enjoyed writing The Monster Enters. Page after page he writes ahout the “perfect epidemological storm,” influenza as “an accessory to murder,” “stealth epidemics,” and “the influenza underworld.”

Like a dogged detective, he reveals the criminals, like John Bolton—the arch-conservative and warmonger—finds good guys to honor and praises grass roots democracy in China even as he lambasts the Chinese “Orwellian culture of secrecy and deception.”

Right before I finished The Monster Enters I went to one of Sutter’s clinics in Santa Rosa where a young, hip doctor named Gabriel Dianes checked my vital signs, listened to my heart and lungs and inserted a “nasal stick” up my left nostril to test for COVID-19. I won’t get the results for another 3-4 days. “Go home, rest, drink plenty of liquids and take Tylenol,” the good doctor told me from behind enough gear to protect him against all kinds of monsters. I did what I was told to do and more. I got into bed and finished reading The Monster Enters. By afternoon I felt like I was mending. I have the feeling I don’t have COVID-19. I’ll know for sure soon enough. Meanwhile, read Mike Davis’ new updated book before the monster rebounds and we spiral down again.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.