Let’s Stop Being Surprised at what Capitalism Has Wrought

Image by Mike Erskine.

This would be a good time  to stop being surprised by shit going crazy and coming apart.  What did we expect? This is capitalism-imperialism, folks, a virulent and exterminist oppression system that crushes humanity and livable ecology. We get rid of that system and replace it with revolutionary socialism or the madness and calamity we are experiencing will only deepen and expand.

An ocean disturbance goes from tropical storm to Category 5 Hurricane off the western coast of Mexico in one day? Of course it does. The tempest hit a patch of insanely warm Pacific water heated by the climate change produced by capitalism’s addiction to the reckless eco-exterminist mass extraction and burning of fossil fuels.  One extreme weather event after another – including shockingly powerful and rapidly formed hurricanes and cyclones – now results from the capitalist climate catastrophe.

Nobody should be surprised when weather disasters become bigger and develop faster than the experts expected.  We are in uncharted territory. The profits system is running an experiment that’s never been undertaken before. It is turning the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber.

This is the amoral anarchy of capitalism, which requires constant expansion and is heavily and irretrievably addicted to fossil fuels. This is the madness generated by capitalism.  There’s no plan for the common good under the bourgeois system, there’s just the constant and relentless pursuit of private profit, livable ecology and the common good be damned. If allowed to continue as the dominant mode of production beneath a political and ideological superstructure dedicated to its protection, it will cancel all prospects for a decent human future. There’s no social justice, decency, and democracy on a dead planet. Capitalism needs to be radically replaced by revolutionary (eco-)socialism – and soon.

The US southern border is teeming with turmoil as millions try to escape misery in different parts of Latin America?  Of course it is What did we expect? US-American capitalism-imperialism has been imposing savage poverty, inequality, debt servitude, authoritarianism, and violence on its southern hemispheric neighbors for well more than a century.  The US does this out of a systemically driven determination to exploit Latin America’s natural and human resources and to keep it out of the influence of rival capitalist-imperialist powers. The methods of US control and oppression have included the funding, training, equipping and political protection of  Third World Fascist dictatorships and death squads, backing and engineering coups, imperial trade and investment deals, embargos and other economic sanctions, the imposition of crippling debt, and climate policies that have ruined vast swaths of Latin American agriculture.

The mass murder of Black people by US police in US metropolitan areas continues unabated despite the massive George Floyd Rebellion three-plus years ago? Of course it does. What did we expect?  Capitalism-imperialism brought millions of Black people up and out from US slave plantations and the Jim Crow South and dumping them in hyper-segregated ghettoes in towns and cities from which capitalism was removing decent paying industrial jobs.  Urban police have the job under “late” capitalism of keeping these deindustrialized people of color penned up in ghettoes and prisons, stuck in abject poverty, kept out of profitable residential and commercial spaces.  The notion of “defunding the police” under capitalism is infantile nonsense.

A lethal pandemic swept across the world for three years, killing 7 million? Epidemiological experts expect new ones to do the same thing very possibly on a bigger scale in coming years?  Of course. What do we expect? Capitalism’s relentless expansion, without which the profits system cannot survive, destroys vast swaths of natural habitat, bringing humans into ever close contact with species that bear and spread deadly zoonotic viruses from which humanity was previously insulated.  The capitalogenic climate catastrophe is causing species migrations that further break down previous epidemiological barriers. And capitalism flies millions around the world every day, guaranteeing the rapid and wide spread of new viruses.

The world teeters closer to terminal nuclear war, helping (along with global warming) push the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock closer to Midnight than it has ever been?  Of course it does. What did we expect? Capitalism is a system of competition, rivalry, and conflict not only between individual capitals but also between capitalist-imperialist states, for control of and access to markets, raw materials, labor supplies, technologies, and more.  There’s no way under capitalism for one nation state to remain forever the one and only major power, the role to which the US aspired and attained to some degree after  World War II. The leading capitalist-imperialist states butting heads with each other in the increasingly “multipolar” world system today – the United States, Russia, and China – are armed to the teeth with (ever more lethal) nuclear weapons, first developed during the second of the last century’s two massive inter-imperialist global wars (and used twice by the USA in 1945, largely as a warning to the first state that tried to break out of and challenge the world capitalist system – the Soviert Union). With the US menacing the other two great world powers in their immediate regional spheres of influence (Eastern Europe and the far eastern Pacific), chances of catastrophic nuclear war are probably higher now than they were during the Cold War. Trigger zones include Ukraine, Taiwan, and of course the Middle East, where Israel’s escalated crucifixion of Gaza (after the October 7 Hamas terror attack) has the potential of setting off a wider conflict.

Then there’s the little problem of fascism, usefully defined by the US-based group Refuse Fascism as follows:  a “qualitative change in how society is governed. Once in power, fascism’s defining feature is the essential elimination of the rule of law and democratic and civil rights. Fascism foments and relies on xenophobic nationalism, racism, misogyny, and the aggressive re-institution of oppressive ‘traditional values.’ Truth is obliterated and fascist mobs and threats of violence are unleashed to build their movement and consolidate power.’”

Fascism is advancing around the world, nowhere more menacingly than in the world’s top imperialist state the United States, which exhibits chilling parallels with the late German Weimar Republic. One of the two dominant US political parties, the Republicans, has crossed into fascist space while the other reigning party, the Democrats, functions as its complicit enabler (while advancing its own more traditional form of authoritarian class rule).  The election-denying, climate-denying, anti-science, anti-truth, book-banning, anti-intellectual, white supremacist, women-hating, gay-bashing Republi-fascists control the US Supreme Court, the US House of Representatives, and more than 20 highly empowered (under the US federal system) US states. Their maniacal putschist leader Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors” Trump (who was furious that Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Three Percentrers were prevented from bringing AR-15s to the January 6 putsch attempt) is by far and away their runaway 2024 presidential candidate. This noxious wannabe fascist strongman essentially directs the House Republicans and has the support of more than 70 million Americans, many if not most of whom think that political violence is necessary to “save America.” Herr Trump promises violent “Retribution” to all his political enemies and has an army of policy wonks working up a vast and ambitious blueprint for the consolidation and expansion of Christian white nationalist governance.  He stands a decent shot at winning back the White House, notwithstanding his current 91 felony indictments. All but a small minority of  the Republican office-holders who dislike Trump and don’t share his full fascist world view are too afraid of his base to break from him.

But of course.  Why is this Amerikaner fascism surprising? Capitalism regularly makes transparently illegitimate and inauthentic its “democratic” (one person, one vote)  and “equality before for the law” (unbiased rule of law) pretenses while recurrently generating crises that require big government intervention of some kind.  It also sustains and utilizes (even as it reshapes) the  longstanding revanchist, divisive, and oppressive forces of racism, sexism, nativism, fundamentalism, and nationalism, all of which are critical for the maintenance of capitalist class rule at home and imperial expansion abroad. And it soullessly cheapens human life, rendering billions of people disposable (an essential read here is Henry Giroux, The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy) in ways that help fuel the sadistic dehumanization at the heart of fascism.

It’s a toxic mixture that generates fascist potential and reality like white on rice.  It’s in the nature of the beast. At a certain point, the democratic, humanistic, and “rule of law” pretenses become expendable for much of the ruling class.  The revanchist tendencies of sexism and racism and the like are harnessed not to the preservation of previously normative bourgeois democracy but to capitalism with a new political superstructure: capitalism with an open boot on the neck of the masses. Anyone who tells you “it can’t happen here” is hopelessly out of it in 2023.

My discussion here includes what might be called the four horsemen of the 21st Century apocalypse that the half millennium-old system of capitalism-imperialism has now brought to the fore: ecocide, pandemicide, potentially nuclear global war, and fascism. These horsemen – let’s keep the gender intact to reflect capitalism’s deep connection to patriarchy – do not merely stand next to each other, as in addition.  They lethally reinforce and expand each other, as in multiplication. It’s not ecocide plus potentially nuclear war plus pandemicide plus fascism.  It’s ecocide times potentially nuclear war time pandemicide times fascism.  Thus, for example, the ecocide that capitalism breeds damages global profitability in ways that intensify the inter-imperial competition that accelerates the drift toward global war. The passions of ultra-nationalism that imperial rivalry and war intensify feed the fascist and authoritarian menace within nations. The increased south-to-north migration that capitalogenic ecocide sparks fuel xenophobic neofascist nationalism/nativism within rich nations. Domestic authoritarianism/fascism crushes movements for climate sanity, public health (including responsible pandemic prevention and response), peace, social justice, science, and intellectual freedom.  I could go on.

As things stand now, a radical reckoning and outcome seems written into the historical-material moment.  The now very old bourgeois-democratic regime in all its different national variants (the US version is linked an archaic 18th Century slaveowners’ Constitution that combines with the special strength of fundamentalist Christianity, massive arming, settler-imperialist racism, and a long geographic insulation from proximate national threats to produce a distinctive menace to humanity) is on its last legs. The question is what type of radical replacement will follow in its wake: (a) the terrible and oppressive radicalism of neofascism or (b) the liberating radicalism of revolutionary socialism on the path to the abolition of class rule and of all oppressive and exploitative social relations.

We desperately need (b) and therefore must urgently shed the fatalistic pessimism and intimately related reflexive anti-communism that is so common among the damn near useless (to be candid) Western left. As Marx and Engels said in 1848, it’s either “the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large” or “the common ruin” of all. On the current trajectory, with which “the left” is deeply complicit (in both active and passive ways), the odds are with (a). But it’s not about the odds, it’s about human agency; it’s not merely about understanding history from some academic Mandarin perch on high, at the top of some academic or mindfulness mountain, it’s about engaging in the real world- historical terrain to spark and join a fight for the liberation of all humanity from the exterminist yoke of capital.  It’s about fighting to change history on behalf of (b), which is both our only option and possible given the great splits and divisions that have opened up between different factions of the ruling class and the great turmoil those divisions beckon.

We need a socialist revolution.  The only crazier than saying that is NOT saying it given what capitalism has wrought.

This essay appeared earlier on The Paul Street Report.

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