Things Fall Apart

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The US is currently on the precipice of WWIII, Americans are dying from preventable diseases at far higher rates than the citizens of nations with functioning governments, the Biden administration is ‘fighting racism’ by racially targeting Black Socialists for arrest, large banks are once again being bailed out, nearly all of the hysterical charges leveled against the American right in recent years have been disproved, the Biden administration is doing its best to bury dissent with propaganda and censorship, and the politicians in line to assume political control are the most corrupt, least capable, people in the country. The US is in a bad way.

The current press practice of channeling ‘left’ and ‘right’ news to their respective audiences has its basis in a struggle for power. With the establishment press acting as government propagandists to the urban bourgeois while the right-wing excludes the power of capital from its explanations of government dysfunction, Americans are left talking past one another. There is no shared basis for discourse, and therefore for resolution of differences. In fact, this ‘aesthetic’ politics, based in sentiment tied to Federal policies that lift the fortunes of some groups while crushing the fortunes of others, misrepresents factual (material) political differences as a matter of personal taste.

In 1975 there were 4.5 manufacturing workers for every worker in finance. By 2023, this ratio had fallen to 1.5, with a preponderance of the difference coming from declining manufacturing employment. This outcome is the result of Federal policies intended to deindustrialize the US like NAFTA. It also explains the waning political influence of manufacturing workers relative to the urban bourgeois. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The historical basis of left analysis in class politics has been flipped on its head, with the liberal-left channeling Jonah Hill’s character in the movie Don’t Look Up when he prattles on about the ‘cool rich.’ The joke was directed at Donald Trump’s followers, if not his donors. But it fits the establishment left even better. The CIA, FBI, NSA, MIC (Military Industrial Complex), and large corporations now represent the institutional base of this new-new-left. These used to be the base of the old political right. So, the choices are to imagine that these institutions are now forces for good, or that the CIA has finally realized its long-held dream of manufacturing an ‘anti-communist left.’ My vote is for the latter explanation.

How did ‘we’ get here? The deindustrialization of the US disempowered the rural and regional constituencies that now trend Republican. Federal support for Wall Street and Silicon Valley has empowered the bourgeois constituencies of the Democrats. Deindustrialization illustrated the venality and lack of foresight of American oligarchs, who imagined that breaking the back of organized labor would make at least some Americans richer. This program was ultimately both racist and classist. American oligarchs imagined that they were uniquely capable of managing capitalist production. If you don’t care about workers or the environment, it isn’t that hard.

This arrogance was in part based on misunderstanding the unique position of the US exiting WWII. The US had the only intact industrial infrastructure in the world. However, monopoly power is fundamentally different from skill. The ‘greedflation’ of the present, where companies raise their prices because they can, is an example of monopoly power put to malevolent use. But this has always been how capitalists operate. The New Deal, and the domestic constraints that it placed on capitalist predation, was what made the US livable in the post-war period.

Four decades later, this effort to pose Federally engineered outcomes as the result of ‘markets’ has lost its credibility. The US is in the midst of a new round of bank bailouts as the political leadership launches WWIII, as if to re-demonstrate that World Wars I and II were imperialist projects by assigning ‘economic competition’ as the rationale. Question: why is the US engaged in a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine? Answer: because Europe was integrating Russian oil and gas into its industrial production. Question: why is the US engaged in a Cold War against China? Answer: because China reproduced capitalist production at a much later stage in the evolutionary process.

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Graph: Manufacturing employment, the numerator in the graph at the top of this piece, can be seen collapsing around 2001, when China was given the privilege by the WTO (World Trade Organization) of flooding the US with low-cost consumer goods. This decision was made by many of the same neoliberal American ideologues who promoted NAFTA, Joe Biden included. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

Little of this new-old American strategy is being honestly explained, or executed with competence. To the extent that the urban bourgeois know about the failures of the Biden administration, they grant intentions that haven’t been demonstrated during Mr. Biden’s half-century in public office. And while ‘politicians lie,’ the segregation of news by political affiliation means that Democratic politicians now lie to Democratic constituencies, while Republicans lie to Republican constituencies. This explains the cult-like feel of contemporary press accounts, as well as the arrogance that allows Twitter warriors to claim ignorance of basic facts as a virtue.

This politics, framed around what its proponents don’t know, is part of a larger negative politics. Here is ‘philosopher’ Jason Stanley stating that he doesn’t know anything about history, economics, or sociology, but that he does have strong views regarding the origins of fascism. While Stanley comes across as personally likeable, this intentionally siloed view lacks the capacity to scale the contribution of his ‘philosophy’ to the rise of fascism in the same way that economist and former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke can’t explain the Great Depression in terms of the ordinary workings of capitalism.

Question: who needs an economist who can’t explain the Great Depression? Mr. Bernanke has plenty of theories regarding it, and he shares mainstream theories of the ordinary workings of capitalism. What he can’t do is explain the transition from the ordinary workings of capitalism to the Great Depression without bringing in a wide variety of factors that contradict his theories regarding the ordinary workings of capitalism. As an economist, he must look outside of his field to cogently explain what transpires within his field.

Note that the liberal-left theories of fascism that predominate in the US, particularly since 2016, explicitly reject both history and economics as causal factors. Mr. Stanley’s theory, as best I recall, is that fascism is the case where a malevolent politician (‘Hitler’) uses state propaganda to coerce people into following him / her. Actual history had Adolf Hitler rising to power through the selective use of political violence tied to a promise to put German workers unemployed by the Great Depression back to work. And he did so. So, how does one dissociate the impact of rational promises— to put unemployed people back to work, from the power of propaganda?

The political divide that emerged from the Great Recession in the US was largely the one that went into it, only slanted even more by the Federal government. While I disagree with some of the framing, this paper provides a framework for understanding how some groups (the urban bourgeois) emerged from the Great Recession better off, while others emerged significantly worse off. The top graph in this essay illustrates that manufacturing employment in the US continued to shrink relative to finance even after the social catastrophe of the Great Recession.

This state-adjacent new-new-left applied the siloed logic of liberal technocracy (‘experts’) to the post-Great Recession landscape to conclude in Bernanke-like fashion that history and economic relations have no bearing on left politics. What does have bearing? A paper-thin moralism. Some people are good, and some people are bad. The role of the good people is to spend their days crushing the bad people (fascist logic?). The ‘good’ people in this telling are by-and-large the urban bourgeois who benefited from the Obama years, while the ‘bad’ people are the dispossessed former factory workers who didn’t.

Missing is that displaced manufacturing workers share something with finance and technology workers: they exchange their labor for a wage when they can. And manufacturing bosses and oligarchs share something with finance and technology oligarchs: they substantially control American political economy. NAFTA was conceived and implemented at the behest of industrial oligarchs and Wall Street to crush industrial workers. Irrespective of what the Federal Reserve does, finance and technology workers well may be in the process of rediscovering the brotherhood of labor that they currently reject.

Following the ouster of Mr. Trump in 2020, this new-new-left had exactly what it had been clamoring for, a liberal Democrat in the White House. Given the sense of impending catastrophe at present, it may be difficult to remember precisely how much sniveling bullshit went into selling Joe Biden. While Americans have been dying far out of proportion to the citizens of functioning nations since manufacturing employment fell off a cliff in the early 2000s, as of 2021, the first year of Mr. Biden’s presidency, life expectancy for Americans was 6.3 years less than that of functioning nations.

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Graph: the US is an extreme outlier in terms of falling life expectancy. Americans now live 6.3 years less than the citizens of nations with functioning governments. The new-new-left strategy has been to blame the victims— drug addiction, alcoholism, obesity, etc. However, the benchmark nations in the graph above (‘comparable country average’) by-and-large treat these as public health problems and treat them. The US only treats those who can afford to pay. Source:

Given the class dimension of this public health catastrophe, poor and working people are dying at much higher rates than the urban bourgeois. Basic arithmetic suggests that if life expectancy has fallen by 6.3 years, but the rich and urban bourgeois have been largely unaffected, then life expectancy has fallen by significantly more than 6.3 years for poor and working people. This would be called genocide if it happened elsewhere. In fact, it was (rightly) called genocide when Mr. Trump was overseeing it. Missing in the present is recognition that Mr. Biden’s stewardship has been much worse than Mr. Trump’s in this regard.

This class dimension is important. Most of the Americans that Mr. Biden has killed are poor whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. And the Covid-19 pandemic was global, meaning that it is the failures of the American healthcare system that set the US apart, not the pandemic itself. Malinformed liberals were still blaming the previous administration for pandemic failures when Joe Biden oversaw half again (50%) more deaths from Covid than the US experienced under Mr. Trump. Recall, the liberal-left (rightly) condemned Donald Trump for his pandemic failures. The most likely explanation for the silence regarding Biden’s failures is that his supporters know nothing about his actual policies.

In what type of society can life expectancy fall off the proverbial cliff without alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power? Answer: in a society where the rich and powerful are well taken care of and face little risk of being held to account by those doing the dying. I couldn’t get an early warning essay about mass deaths of Americans published in the left press because the facts are so far outside of what is reported by mainstream sources that they seem nonsensical. However, readers are invited to scour the medical literature for evidence of a functioning healthcare system. After trying to put a brave face on Obamacare, those paying attention are now in full-fledged panic.

One might have imagined, given claimed interest in social justice, that the American left would have been outraged by charges recently filed against members of the African People’s Socialist Party / Uhuru Movement by the FBI (read: Biden administration) for allegedly receiving several thousand dollars in contributions from an agent of the Russian state during the time when the US and Russia were on friendly terms. Former US President Bill Clinton received $500,000 from Russia in 2010 for giving a short speech there. The obvious implication is that the African People’s Socialist Party is being harassed because its members are African (Black) Socialists, and not rapey ex-presidents.

Were genocide against vulnerable populations and race-targeted policing by Federal agencies not enough, Joe Biden sharpened his working class bona fides by shelving his promise to raise the minimum wage shortly before he ‘PATCOed’ rail workers. The apparent difference between Biden and Ronald Reagan is that Mr. Biden claimed to feel badly afterwards. Creating an anti-labor left has been the wet dream of the CIA since it was established. Biden was on the wrong side of every issue the American left cared about until the new-new-left came around to his vision of government as service to power.

Shortly after Mr. Biden PATCOed the railway workers, the bomb-train disaster in East Palestine, Ohio occurred for the very reason that the railway workers had threatened to strike— inadequate staffing that left overworked rail workers exhausted and unable to adequately address safety concerns. In other words, donor-class rail executives, now earning record profits, were given precedence over the rank-and-file workers who actually do the work. Imagine the HBO series ‘Succession,’ in which a rich family spends its time playing pirate-finance games without producing anything of value, then it kills a town and gets the president to bail it out.

Looking at the political benches of both parties, America as it is currently configured is doomed. While I favor socialist / communist political economy, there is no way to get there without bringing people together toward that goal. This makes the takeover of the American left by the CIA and its representatives on the American left particularly disheartening, if not surprising. The Marxist battle isn’t against workers who don’t share Marxist views. It is against power, not the powerless. There is no left without class analysis. The current American frame of left versus right conflates workers with bosses. And the current political setup in the US guarantees crises that are unsolvable and that never end. This is how capitalism works. Humanity needs another way forward.


Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.