Do Your Multiplication

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

All I’ve got left, writing-wise, for 2022 is six reflections on one of the smartest things I’ve heard this year: Noam Chomsky’s recent comment to the effect that humanity today is up against four apocalyptic “horsemen”: ecocide, pandemicide, potentially nuclear war, and fascism:

1. Please note the gender of horsemen. Patriarchy runs richly through each of these four great scourges.

2. The worst of the “four horsemen” (I suggest a fifth below)  is arguably the first one, with the climate crisis in the lead – the biggest issue of our or any time.  There’s no public health, demilitarization, democracy, social justice, and rule of law on a dead planet. At the same time, the odds of annihilation through nuclear war do not get worse with each day we go without a terminal exchange.  We just stay lucky.  Climate pollution is different: the risk of passing terminal tipping points rises with each day of mass emissions that raise atmospheric carbon saturation to ever more lethal and exterminist levels. Every tricky day in which you are not killed by a climate change-driven high intensity weather event or drought just brings you closer to the day when you will be as long as you and your species continue to emit 37 billion metric tons of CO2 or so into the atmosphere each year.  It all accumulates, hovers, cooks, and kills.

3. Contrary to mass sentiment, the first and (arguably) worst menace is not merely about gradual and creeping change.  Natural history becomes no less dramatic and revolutionary than human history when quantity changes to quality.  The climate crisis and other and related “ecological rifts” (to use John Bellamy Foster’s useful phrase) will move quickly, dramatically and disastrously as things heat up (no pun intended).  Indeed, we have already seen an intensified tempo of negative environmental transformation evident in numerous related forms of extreme weather across the planet.  For millions in the world’s vast super-impoverished periphery, the ecological horseman has already arrived.

4. Each of Chomsky’s four horsemen are fundamentally rooted in the underlying world imperial capitalist system. Ecocide reflects the endless “treadmill of accumulation” (Foster) imposed by capital’s relentless competitive race to expand its production and sales and its access to “cheap nature” (Jason Moore and Raj Patel) in the form of energy, raw materials, and labor power.  There’s simply no collective and sustainable plan for the species’ survival under the anarchic and amoral rule of capital, just a mad rat’s race for more.

The emergent pandemicide is a reflection of how this mad scramble erases critical boundaries between humans and other animals and thereby opens the door to a lethal wave of zoonotic viruses that carry real exterminist potential.

Imperialism, the birther of modern military-industrial complexes and nuclear weapons, is itself the product of capitalist competition.  It is mad competition between capitals having taken on national form.

And fascism is the outcome of (among other things) capitalism’s inherent tendency towards the concentration of wealth and power, which renders transparently inauthentic and illegitimate the bourgeois system’s democratic pretense even while it generates multiple crises that require “big government” intervention. Add in the system’s requirement for the scapegoating of demonized Others to sustain class rule and hierarchy and it’s clear that capitalism sets the stage for bourgeois democracy’s final collapse (underway now) and the transition to authoritarian rule – to capitalism with an iron fist, that is to fascism.

Perhaps we should consider capitalism itself the leading apocalyptic horseman.

5. Contrary to what Chomsky said in the interview where he brought up “the four horsemen,” there are almost certainly no solutions to these problems under the fifth horseman: capitalism-imperialism.  The soulless, accumulation-addicted and anarchic imperialist world system (with far too many “sovereign” states) is hard-wired for human extermination at its very material base and all the way up through its political and ideological superstructure. It can’t be tamed. It can’t be properly relegated.  It must be overthrown as soon as humanly possible.  The Revolutionary Communist Party is 100% correct: It’s “revolution, nothing less.”  Marx and Engels put it very well in 1848: it’s “the revolutionary re-constitution of society at large or the common ruin of all.”

6.  As Charlie Kimber, the National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party of the United Kingdom, suggested in a brilliant speech in defense of Leninism earlier this year, Chomsky’s horsemen need to be understood in their proper mathematical relationships to each other.  It’s not ecocide plus pandemicide plus potentially nuclear war plus fascism.  Not at all.  No, it’s ecocide times pandemicde times potentially nuclear war times fascism.  The horsemen don’t just add to each other, they multiply each other. Thus, for example, the pandemicide is fueled and furthered by the climate crisis, which shrinks natural barriers between humans and other species carrying zoonotic diseases.  The climate crisis fuels (no pun intended) fascism by compelling millions and millions of nonwhite people in the “developing world” to try to migrate to rich and whiter nations in the core of the world system, something that stirs up nativist border obsession and anti-globalist paranoia in those nations. Fascism, itself strongly attached to fossil fuels (as Andreas Malm and the Zetkin Collective have shown), worsens ecocide by demonizing and attacking environmentalists and pro-environmental policy and by promoting the accelerated extraction and burning of coal, oil, and gas. Fascism feeds imperialism with  its glorification of military nationalism and organized violence. Imperialist war blows up efforts to solve the climate crisis.  It does this through the direct mass use of fossil fuels and by sending nations scrambling to extract and burn more such fuels.  Imperialism and war destroy meaningful efforts to contain pandemicide by diverting resources from public health to militarism.

I could go on and on. It’s an awful simultaneous equations system courtesy of the underlying multiplier that is the accumulation-mad system of class rule called capitalism.    Homo sapiens will be stuck on this treadmill of death unless and until it fights through and past all its real but lethal polarizations of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, nationality, culture, and religion/irreligion to achieve the ultimately required polarization – the one that pits all decent humanity against not merely the capitalist class but against the underlying material base and broad political and ideological superstructure of the capitalist system. It’s not about getting revenge against the evil Dickensian Gradgrinds, Krupps, Rockefellers, Gates, and Musks and its’ not about getting ten cent rides on the 1960s Moscow subway; it’s about ending and replacing their system with a new revolutionary socialist order that sweeps not merely their wealth and power but also their beliefs and value and indeed the whole ideological system that sustains their exterminist rule into the dustbin of history.

*This essay also appears on The Paul Street Report. Readers might also enjoy that journal’s previous essay, titled “Anymore Late Bulletins from Noam Chomsky?”

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).