“They say it’s gonna get better but it ain’t seeming like it.” —YoungBoy Never Broke Again
Goodbye shuffle, hello Adele. Adele asked the steaming giant Spotify to nix the shuffle button for her album and they ended up hiding it for her. Few other artists would get such a privilege but there is a good case for nixing the shuffle for everyone.
These days a whole song let alone a whole album is hard to catch on. Songs often go viral based on ten-second TikTok clips. TikTok made me feel old for the first time. It was too fast for even a millennial like me. I heard an interesting critique of millennials from the left by some people from Gen Z which I thought was worth sharing. Millennials in their view were too focused on themselves. Millennials recognized the crisis we are in but ultimately longed for a capitalist life like their parents. The youngest people are always the most radical so it’s worth noting the continued evolution of revolutionary consciousness growing from anti-capitalist to collectivist as evidenced by the rise of mutual aid.
Time itself is sped up these days. We have so much stimulus and little time for reflection. As time goes into hyper-speed it is space that is condensed amidst the stay-in-place nature of the lingering pandemic. At this point the pandemic is likely permanent for the poorest people in the world. For the rich space is condensed but for the poor space has spread out to chase capital as migration and delivery becomes key to a pandemic economy.
Consuming a whole album these days simply takes too much time. There is a similar thing happening with the market of books as Jacobin recently explored by studying the nature of self-publishing on Amazon. The idea now for many authors is to produce several books a year that could be consumed for as low as 99 cents a pop for the consumer. Such art is to be taken as candy.
Does this mass production of culture line up with a declining rate of profit? The so-called neoliberal shift to privatization is in part due to the rise of an oligarchic class and the accumulation of capital. But it also has to do with a declining rate of profit and these things are related even if they have dialectical impacts on the ruling class. The concept of privatization is to create a source of revenue. Rather than taxing the rich, the idea is to create money through surplus value itself. Providing a basic service to someone without it passing through the business cycle becomes a missing opportunity.
The rich then get richer but each lurches forward to make more profit becomes more difficult over time. Therefore further exploitation is necessary. If someone can only be so exploited on the job clock they can be extracted from off of it. For the poor, the times get more and more desperate and this, in theory, is balanced by an increase in technological development and therefore in the quality of life. In practice, this is only fulfilled when such technology is necessary to keep the poor person profitable for the rich person. The rich face their own paradox of getting more and more wealthy personally while struggling more and more to run a profitable business.
However, all of this will be made worse by climate change. Socialism’s inevitability is clear based on formulaic calculations but there is a possibility of continuous expansion of capitalism based on its continual destruction of the climate. Take the example of instincts going extinct. We already see people having to pollinate their own plants. This is new labor to be exploited.
Imagine the world where instead of each leap forward by capitalism leading to its demise we find ourselves in the worst of both worlds where each leap forward by capitalism destroys the natural habitat in which it resides. This leads to the market of said location becoming non-capitalist, with massive death by people residing there being the solution for capitalism.
Such a non-market would therefore not be the birthplace of socialism but rather simply the death of a non-profitable market through the death of people who can no longer be exploited and therefore are of no use. This continues until all markets and people die. There is no new orientation.
Such destruction of markets allows capitalism to keep growing in pockets rather than the peak at a low rate of profit.
Much of this legwork is being done according to Ajay Singh Chaudhary if I understand him correctly. Where is some of the new profit coming from? Much of it is coming from security jobs. Guarding borders and assets already accumulated becomes a new way to make money.
Ajay Singh Chaudhary argues that refugees can continue to provide new ways of making profit in the following ways: “can be mined for data, exploited for informal economies, or leveraged for geopolitical advantage.” The optimism of traditional Marxism is turned on its head by Chaudhary: “Financialized supply chains are structured to allow firms to ignore or skirt local, national, internationally legal or even physical attempts to restrict the flow of extraction. They facilitate the shift of risk to the actor—whether at-will contractor, off-the-books migrant employee or indigenous community in a resource-rich area—structurally least able to absorb it.”
Imagine then capitalism doesn’t end. Only the world does. The risk of capitalism when pushed onto disposable people only fails when this person dies. Rather than having the rich have a risky low-profit end game for themselves the risk is not actually a financial one but rather a social one. The rich can only win in this scenario and the poor may win once or twice, but the risks will keep on coming.
Thus the surplus population will continue to be forced into capitalism’s money-making rather than be supported from outside of it. They will be absorbed of and disposed of, perhaps not making more profit but this problem appears to solve itself for the rich when the threat of a surplus population negating the lack of surplus value becomes a non-factor by exporting the risk onto those who would in a non-capitalist market be absorbing the excesses of profits.
Another trend traced by Chaudhary is that capitalism has invaded all aspects of life: “We should see these “services” instead of as facilitating the frenzy of these lives, as shifting literal time and energy not to these individual consumers but rather to the needs of “always-on” capitalism, creating the very crises to which these services respond. They don’t strictly fulfill consumption ends; they are part of the production. Every moment of life is integrated, profitable, from literal labor hours to the production of micro-units of digital value (via social media and other avenues) in the hours-for-what-we-will.”
For those overworked by capitalism, they will pay extra for convenience off the clock. Therefore the lack of profitability which brings down a worker’s wage enough so they seek extra ways of making money can actually create a new avenue for profit based on their lack of time and energy or the deterioration of their mind and body.
But we still are left with the unsatisfying question of accumulation. If accumulation happens shouldn’t that spell bad news for growth, threatening the existence of capitalism itself? If I am understanding Michael Roberts correctly we won’t see another roaring 20s in the 2020s (with the last economic recovery of the 1920s being the optimistic spin by wide-eyed economists).
The reason for this is that capitalist markets weren’t destroyed by COVID, they just retreated and reoriented and even worse, consolidated. For a recovery to happen we would have to not just have a temporary pause but either growth that comes from the creation of new markets that haven’t yet been mined for profit or through the destruction of old markets within the decline and a replacement of these non-capitalist markets with new ones.
The former mode of capitalism (creation of new markets) may be pretty much exhausted which should by Marxist theory mean socialism but the issue we face is that our ecology being destroyed may mean that capitalism can die in spurts and we could be left with only two worlds: the world where there is no life and the world with capitalism, where the world with no life replaces capitalism gradually.
If we take Roberts at his word then the crisis in capitalism without recovery is possible. This is not as obvious as it appears. Ajay Singh Chaudhary’s work shows that crisis can come through ecological destruction, not only through the decline of the rate of profit (and therefore the decline of capitalism as a system). This crisis can make new ways to profit by incorporating people within the capitalist system who have may no longer have been exploitable within their end game capitalism at home.
This goes hand-in-hand with Rosa Luxemburg’s commentary on imperialism: “The number of consumers can grow while the population decreases. In fact, the capitalist method of producing a world market goes hand-in-hand with decimation and even extermination of whole tribes.” Even if Matt Taibbi wants to spoil the fun and make a white nationalist Thanksgiving mandatory this is a relevant analysis for this time of year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Taibbi said the new authoritarianism was the War on Christmas. What a drag! As Nikki McCann Ramirez puts it: “You’re arguing with your uncle, in drafting your mom into the war on Christmas, we are not the same.”
A quick diversion into the Trumpenleft (Paul Street’s term for fascist grifters who pose as leftists) occurred to me during Taibbi’s attack on Howard Zinn. It seems to me the Trumpenleft and the corporate media basically have the same goals. It is partly lazy culture war narratives to get the masses angry. However, their theory is also mixed with the condescending and stereotypical views of the working class which gives them their intellectual heft I guess. The only item of substance they do is to target the left. (Slavoj Zizek had a fascinating article on how Biden and Trump both had the same goal of defeating the left and that they had different tactics to do it which may be related).
The corporate media and the Trumpenleft despite their bickering save their real disdain for the left who they both view as going too far. For both the Trumpenleft and the liberal media the left threatens American and capitalist traditions and is the main target. Both would be better to accept the left’s view that the existential threat is climate change and capitalism itself and work to address this.
The opposition between liberal corporate media and the Trumpenleft is a smokescreen as the Trumpenleft are filled with resentful cast-offs obsessed with people like Rachel Maddow for running us into a new Cold War. While this is a fine critique of Maddow I am not sure if the Trumpenleft’s tabloid approach of presenting us in a war against the ubiquitous “woke mob” is any less dangerous.
In fact this approach may be more in touch with how to mobilize modern nationalism. It appears obvious that Maddow’s attempt to mobilize a national image around the Democratic Party and the security state was dead on arrival and that even Joe Biden in rhetoric if not in practice has shifted to the Trumpian definition of nationalism.
The Rittenhouse soap opera, where a white nationalist who killed two people at a protest and subsequently triggered the Trumpenleft by saying Black Lives Matter only goes to show that the staid intellectualism of the Trumpenleft may be to the right of even naive murderers of protestors!
One more thought on this. Chris Cutrone had some insights into the American right that were fascinating. Why did they hate Kamala Harris more than Bernie Sanders, for example? And yes we should look at identity here but for all the babies I will expand to a more supposedly “materialist” analysis.
According to Cutrone, the right saw Sanders as a socialist but Harris as a communist. This was because the right correctly recognized that Harris was more authoritarian in her use of the state while Sanders was perhaps more bureaucratic. For Sanders, it wasn’t so much that he would violate freedom but more so that he had the wrong ideas about how to organize a prosperous economy.
Harris gets a harsher critique because she is seen as a neoliberal globalist manager whose ideal world is run by elites behind the scenes with the goals of the government projects outweighing democracy. Trump offers a slice of red meat democracy, letting people behind the curtain, allowing them to have nationalism along with the undemocratic corporate state.
The view of Harris of course is largely accurate to the ideals of neoliberals but also true to corporations and the capitalist mode in general which the right will still defend. The reason the right tolerates the state is because it does know that capitalism produces crisis and a strong police and military effectively segregates some people from it. State intervention for everyone would erase the good life the right feels they have away from the state, a tautology they make by only supporting the state in its militaristic forms.
The New York Magazine rightly notes that the corporate media has attacked Biden from the right: “The conventional wisdom has deemed that Biden is getting his just deserts for trying to govern as a liberal. “The concerns of more centrist Americans about a rush to spend taxpayer money, a rush to grow the government, should not be dismissed,” scolded a New York Times editorial. “Biden misread his moderate mandate,” concluded Matt Lewis at the Daily Beast, while Maureen Dowd at the Times declared that the Democrats’ “overweening efforts” in Congress were “putting off many voters who are still struggling just to get by.””
The corporate media is framed by the Trumpenleft as an arm of the omnipresent woke left and hence in the pocket of big capital. Meanwhile, the corporate media frames the Trumpenleft as a populist left-wing insurgency and bashes them for it. Both straw man each other as the leftist vanguard. Preposterous!
On a related note, the inflation arguments have become ridiculous. To say that Biden has spent too much on the poor is such misinformation it just is overwhelming to sort through it. The media did a lot of damage by bringing Trump to power but they may have got even more dangerous in the Biden era. The Trumpenleft further muddies the water by framing Biden as a senile old man captured by cancel culture activists which really has nothing to do with politics at all. It does mobilize the bourgeois right which is what the Trumpenleft wants.
Joe Biden is a failure because he has been way too focused on economic growth for the rich at the cost of the environment. His continued commitment to oil and militarism in order to appease the inflation hawks is extremely harmful. The reason the recovery isn’t what people want it to be is not because of Biden’s nonexistent spending on the working class nor is it because of his nonexistent shift to clean energy, let alone to degrowth. Nor is it because of his nonexistent pivot away from the forever wars.
Rather the recovery is lacking because there was no room for recovery. The pandemic was a massive money grab for big business. Getting the economy flowing again is not a model for success. If anything the moderate emergency Keynesianism during the pandemic proved to be more effective than the market, which now has rising prices thanks to climate change caused supply chain issues and a refusal by corporations to invest in warehouses to store goods.
This of course is related to an unaffordable renting economy where individuals, states, and corporations all live in debt to keep up the illusion. Now prices are too high but that’s not because of inflation but rather because of the increased leverage of corporations. Likewise, the strikes by employees come from a realization that the market really doesn’t pay workers a living wage and that even keeping a human being healthy enough to do work is not really being met.
When work was lost for many this became a crisis but the surprise was how much a crisis there was when work returned. We learned how false the promise of work was in the first place. It’s not unlike the premise of Squid Game where a return to normal is so bad that people are willing to risk quite a bit.
This is related to the dynamic laid out earlier. There is no guarantee that capitalism’s failure becomes the people’s success. Everything is too sped up. Technological innovation happened so quickly that most of the carbon emissions have happened after climate change was acknowledged by big wigs as a threat to the existence of the species. If anything green energy is seen as a supplement to an energy market growing too quickly for fossil fuels rather a replacement of them.
How does this all relate to the idea of playing an album straight through rather than an algorithm of singles meant to optimize the listening experience? For capitalism, there is no such thing as happenstance. There is no time to let the music come to you in an organic way. Every moment of time must be squeezed out. Everything is predictable and disappointing at the same time.