by Glen Ford, Published on Black Agenda Report, April 23, 2020
The current health and economic crisis will dramatically accelerate the processes of corporate monopolization, finance capital dictatorship, and working class precarity and immiseration. The only cure is socialism.
“The duopoly parties’ refusal to establish a national health care system, beginning with Medicare for All, can only be understood in the context of the Race to the Bottom.”
If growing misery among the masses is what made revolutions, the Lords of Capital would have been deposed from their ruling perches long ago. But human beings do not spend their lives tallying cumulative assaults on their well being and dignity, and ruling classes are expert at blaming despised Others, foreign and domestic, for the ills of society. History shows us that economic crises do not become political crises that seriously threaten the ruling order until a critical mass of people come to the realization that the system itself is rotten, unbearable and incapable of meaningful reform. They must not only hate the rulers, but also hate the rulers’ system of governance more than they despise domestic Others and “threatening” foreigners. Otherwise, the Lords of Capital will simply find another face to represent their interests, defusing popular disconnect.
The world is now experiencing a unique combination of pandemic and economic meltdown that will directly kill hundreds of thousands in the imperial United States and Europe and further consolidate the wealth and power of the ruling oligarchy, while wiping out whole sectors of the pre-crisis economy and leaving the vast majority of working class people far more precarious and insecure. But Black America has for generations been twice as unemployed, five times more incarcerated, one-tenth as wealthy, and infinitely more insecure of their space/place in “the system” than whites, who are themselves suffering unprecedented mortality from “diseases of despair.”
“They must not only hate the rulers, but also hate the rulers’ system of governance.”
The current health and economic crisis will dramatically accelerate the processes of corporate monopolization, finance capital dictatorship, and working class precarity and immiseration. But that’s the direction the Lords of Capital have been moving the U.S. political economy for at least forty years. It is already broadly understood that the oligarchy has been wildly successful in directing the great bulk of national and planetary wealth to their own pockets. So, what makes this crisis a potentially transformative moment – a chance to upend the dictatorship of capital — rather than just another temporary disruption in the oligarchic order of things?
The people’s level of consciousness determines whether an economic crisis becomes a political threat to the rule of the rich. As Frederick Douglass said, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” There are tipping points in history, although correctly identifying them is easy only in hindsight. Economic collapse, famines, natural disasters and, especially, wars have most often served to tip the mass consciousness from solemn sufferance to rebellion, at least among the most volatile sectors of the oppressed.
World War One, in which the imperial powers were forced to deploy millions of colonized Africans, Asians, Caribbean people and US Blacks as soldiers in defense of Euro-American empires, produced a quantum leap in self-determinationist politics among the darker peoples of the planet. Catastrophic global war showed the weakness and stupidity of the colonial white capitalist powers who, despite their superiority in weaponry could no longer command respect and awe among the oppressed peoples.
“Economic collapse, famines, natural disasters and, especially, wars have most often served to tip the mass consciousness from solemn sufferance to rebellion.”
The Russian revolutions of 1905 (a failure) and 1917 were sparked by the Czarist regime’s catastrophic losses in wars with Japan and Germany, respectively. In 1917, the mutiny of whole units of the Russian land and naval forces provided the Bolsheviks with a Red Army and Navy to consolidate their October Revolution and beat back invasion by all the major capitalist powers of the world, including the United States. A generation later another, even more destructive war would make independence of the colonized peoples — at least of the nominal kind — inevitable, causing a rewriting of the rights of nations and peoples. In the interim between world wars, the wholesale collapse of capitalist economies laid bare the fragility of the capitalist order – especially when compared to a Soviet Union whose economy and military were growing by leaps and bounds.
Socialism became the dominant ideology of the oppressed, including the most active Black strugglers and intelligentsia in the United States. It was the revolutionary Black nationalist and socialist movements that made the Sixties a period of political change and profound danger to domestic racial capitalism and U.S. imperialism, causing the rulers to impose a counterinsurgency-type system of Black Mass Incarceration. At the same time, a Black Misleadership Class was cultivated — bound to the Democratic Party — to manage the increasingly Black cities and to limit Black politics to that which is acceptable to the Lords of Capital.
“The wholesale collapse of capitalist economies laid bare the fragility of the capitalist order.”
Capitalism, now headquartered in the United States, became increasingly a War Capitalism – which was no great leap, since European colonialism and Black chattel slavery were centuries-long forms of warfare on the rest of the planet. Of necessity, those peoples who in the modern era attempted to break free of War Capitalism had to organize themselves as War Socialist States, with all the contradictions and distortions that such a defensive strategy entailed.
After 70 years, the Soviet Union succumbed to its internal contradictions, leaving the United States as the world’s sole superpower. The global capitalist elites celebrated having outlasted their most formidable state opponent, and some of their intellectuals proclaimed the end of history, itself – as if capitalism had frozen the planet in a political equilibrium. But capitalism is chaos, not equilibrium, and feeds on war. Increasingly, it hinders rather than expands the productive capacity of the planet, as it systematically funnels more and more wealth to the oligarchy and militarily suppresses those nations and populations that either resist the racist imperial order or that have become disposable – or both.
The fatal stage of capitalism, it appears, begins when the Lords of Capital achieve true hegemony – political dictatorship – in their home countries, having snuffed out effective dissent in the permissible realms of discourse and within those sectors of the governing parties that claim to be open to “reform.” With no major organized forces to oppose them – that is, no sizeable electoral opposition party, control of both corporate-run parties, a compliant and cowed labor movement, and only marginalized opposition from the Black and Latino grassroots, in the case of the United States — the Lords of Capital engage in systematic, wholesale privatization of the public sphere and shamelessly promote policies that grow billionaires like dandelions. Those parts of the public sector that cannot be wholly privatized are made incapable of their missions through methodical starvation, under the banner of “austerity” – a fiction of state poverty that is belied by ever-expanding bipartisan war budgets and trillion dollar subsidies and bailouts of banks and corporations.
“Capitalism is chaos, not equilibrium, and feeds on war.”
The term “austerity” is not in common usage in the U.S. “Race to the Bottom” is more descriptive of actual late stage capitalist policy, a consensus among the ruling class and their duopoly parties that seeks to strip the working class of all social protections and supports so that workers will be compelled to accept any “job” they can get. Ultimately, the goal is to force U.S. workers to compete with super-exploited workers in the formerly colonized world. The Race to the Bottom is deliberate pauperization of those sections of the working class that are still useful to the rulers.
There is no consensus among the oligarchs on what to do with the excess workers and “undesirable” populations, beyond already existing mass incarceration.
The duopoly parties’ refusal to establish a national health care system, beginning with Medicare for All, can only be understood in the context of the Race to the Bottom. Protecting corporate health care super-profits is an important part of the equation, but even more central is the role that privatized health care plays in the grand scheme of austerity. Workers are far more wiling to bargain with employers for better wages, benefits and conditions if their families’ health care is guaranteed by the state as a right, not tied to the employer. That’s no way to run a Race to the Bottom, which is why the U.S. ruling class and its corporate political vassals oppose Medicare for All and have been dismantling and underfunding what’s left of the public health sector for two generations of austerity. Western Europe, whose governments established national health care systems back when socialist parties were still strong and the Soviet Union was an ideological competitor, has relentlessly cannibalized their life-saving systems for the sake of austerity. This is especially true of Britain, where last year it was reported that 200,000 nurses left the national health service under the Conservative Party’s austerity offensive. Capitalists are killer pigs, worldwide.
“Workers are far more wiling to bargain with employers for better wages, benefits and conditions if their families’ health care is guaranteed by the state as a right.”
Enter the coronavirus, societal lockdown and an economic shutdown like none ever before experienced. The U.S. was revealed as having no reserves of personnel, medical gear and equipment to fight, test or track the disease. The Centers for Disease Control is an agency, not a health care system. It can press no buttons to make a non-existent system work. The Orange Menace made things worse, as always, but catastrophe was guaranteed by lack of a public health care system worthy of the name.
The people know they have been stripped structurally naked to a killer virus, and they are outraged and afraid. In these long lockdown hours of unrelieved anxiety, many have reached, or will soon come to, a grim epiphany: they are living in a country run by people that care only for money, and millions of those that survive the epidemic will see their jobs disappear.
Under late stage capitalism, the coronavirus brings with it precarity on a massive scale. The disaster was made inevitable by a capitalist ruling class, just as an economic meltdown was in the cards due to the nature of the system. The Lords of Capital work diligently to make the lives of working people precarious – that’s what the Race to the Bottom is all about –and the fat cats can count on the government to bail them out of periodic meltdowns. But the Lords of Capital and their hirelings didn’t anticipated that the epidemic and the economic collapse would arrive at the same time.
“The Orange Menace made things worse, as always, but catastrophe was guaranteed.”
Across the abyss of race and class, the people are staring at the rulers and their shills, and growing a deep hatred of the system – deeper than hatred of Trump, who is too incompetent to cause, or defend against, a double catastrophe of the systemic kind. Bernie Sanders has proven, dramatically and beyond doubt, that there is no balm for such a disaster in the Democratic Party, which is a partner with the Republicans in the austerity regime that set the stage for the double-whammy. When the coronavirus was making an inarguable case for a national health care system, Sanders chose to surrender to the “nothing’s gonna change” man. The Democrats – all of them – are simply rich men’s toys, and of no use whatsoever in a fight.
In this time of incomparable economic and health crisis the real Left, small as it is, must make the case for socialism and the overthrow of rich man’s rule. At the beginning of this article I wrote:
” History shows us that economic crises do not become political crises that seriously threaten the ruling order until a critical mass of people come to the realization that the system itself is rotten, unbearable and incapable of meaningful reform.”
I believe that such a critical mass exists, right now. Not enough to make a revolution, but more than enough to start the process.
In 1977 Glen Ford co-launched, produced and hosted “America’s Black Forum” (ABF), the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. Ford co-founded BlackCommentator.com (BC) in 2002. The weekly journal quickly became the most influential Black political site on the Net. In October, 2006, Ford and the entire writing team left BC to launch BlackAgendaReport.com (BAR). BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford(at)BlackAgendaReport.com