The United States and the other core imperialist countries haven’t had socialist revolutions because the masses within them have been kept complacent. They’ve directly or indirectly benefited from the exploitation of colonized peoples, enjoying relative economic advantages despite their being subordinate to the capitalist class. Even as inequality has increased in the last generation or so, this has let the system keep them from taking action. They’ve been told that they need to be loyal to their country, that they can get ahead if they try, that capitalism gives them a better lifestyle than socialism would.
What happens when the comforts of the American people are taken away? As the country passes into the greatest economic unraveling in a century, the system is being confronted with the possibility that a consciousness shift will happen.
To create this shift, we’ll need to accept that the system isn’t going to take us out of our hardship. We won’t get back the decades-low official unemployment levels from earlier this year, or the relative prosperity of the 1990s, or the large American middle class of the mid-20th century. Our living standards, which have been declining for decades under neoliberalism, are going to keep going down.
This is why the Trump White House is still trying to convince people that things will turn around, claiming that the economy will recover rapidly after the quarantines end. In reality, this is far from the worst that conditions will get, and right now they’re far worse than the government admits they are. Around forty million Americans are unemployed, which is almost double the official figure. This makes the nationwide unemployment rate well over 20%, which represents a tipping point for the death of the economy.
In an environment where small businesses are getting rapidly trapped in liquidation and bankruptcy, local business owners are largely not going to revive their operations. And the big companies that have laid off many of their workers largely aren’t going to hire those workers back, simply for the reason that they can greatly cut down on costs by hiring far fewer workers than they did before the virus. If they can keep their operations going now, they’ll be able to continue with this arrangement.
The owners of these big corporate monopolies are pretty much the only ones who will come out of this crisis richer. The workers and the growing masses of unemployed people will be left with nothing but a band-aid stimulus check, and whatever social services they can gain will no doubt be cut by a government that’s eager to impose more austerity. The tech companies that have won out from the pandemic need to maintain a relatively tiny workforce to continue functioning, meaning tens of millions of people will remain out of work so that the CEOs of companies like Google and Amazon can maximize profits.
In this restructured version of neoliberalism, those lucky enough to find work will more likely than before have to participate in the “gig economy.” Service jobs like home delivery and housecleaning, the remaining retail jobs, and other lower-wage work opportunities will become more normalized. The alternatives to these things will be homelessness, a criminal lifestyle, or a desperate attempt to live off of welfare.
This situation has already become the reality for at least half of the country’s population, since around 50% of Americans are poor by the modern definition. But as the factors for economic collapse converge, the record household debt that these lower class Americans have accumulated will become even less manageable. There won’t come a time when the opportunities from before the crash reappear for these struggling households, because a depression has come that will likely extend beyond the 2020s.
Big tech has consolidated the job market. Deglobalization is making for a post-pandemic outcome where commerce and trade will be more tightly restricted. A new housing bubble is taking effect, exacerbated by a repeat of the disastrous financial lending schemes that produced the last crash. These crises are creating more developments that will harm the economy long-term, like a collapse in prices for oil and other major industrial commodities, a risk of mass defaults and bankruptcies because of unsustainable mass household debt, and a massive increase in fiscal deficits.
It’s all leading to capitalist societies finding themselves in poverty and disrepair when they confront the crisis that will come from climate change: rising sea levels, intensifying storms, heat waves, severe droughts, abnormal fires, increasing agricultural dysfunctionality, food chain collapses, viruses that are intensified by the shifts in the weather and the degradation of ecosystems. These things aren’t five or ten years in the future, they’re present right now, and they’re impacting us more all the time. The system isn’t going to save us from these things. It will use the military to try to maintain order, leave us to fend for ourselves, and let the rich retreat to their secluded doomsday shelters near the poles or in the American heartland.
This is the role the system has given you as a lower class person: a statistic, one that can either end up as a servant for the upper class or become another liability to be cast aside. The capitalist class doesn’t care what happens to you; they’ve been crunching the numbers about how many of you will die from Covid-19 if they reopen the economy early. And they’ll take the same approach when the question becomes how many of you will die if left without aid during the climate crisis. You’re only useful to them as far as you can increase their profits. Otherwise you’re completely dispensable.
If this sounds sad, remember that it’s a reality which colonized and Third World people have had to face for centuries. Gazans have long been surrounded by poverty and state violence, Chileans have been living under extreme economic inequality since the U.S.-installed Pinochet dictatorship did its damage, and indigenous peoples on several continents have been experiencing genocide for generations. Naturally, these victims of colonialism and imperialism have long been much more engaged in revolutionary struggle than First Worlders have, and in numerous countries they’ve installed socialist or anti-colonial governments. We’ll need to reach their level of commitment in order to win our own battle for liberation.
Like the colonized and exploited peoples of Cuba did before they carried out a socialist revolution, we have to build a mass movement that can bring down the capitalist state. We must expand organizations which have the goals of decolonizing America and creating a socialist worker-run democracy. We must organize within our communities towards carrying out out civil disobedience and equipping revolutionaries for combat. We must abandon the colonial chauvinist, pro-bourgeois ideas that kept us tethered to the system, then take example from past Marxist-Leninists in how to take the system down.
And to abandon these ideas, we’ll first need to give up hope that we stand something to gain by being loyal to our country or defending capitalism. The material rewards that we’ve enjoyed from participating in the system are disappearing, and being replaced with a new reality that resembles the Third World. Don’t hesitate to disobey the system’s rules, because the system has nothing to offer you in return for your compliance.
If you appreciate my work, I hope you become a one-time or regular donor to my Patreon account. Like most of us, I’m feeling the economic pinch during late-stage capitalism, and I need money to keep fighting for a new system that works for all of us. Go to my Patreon here. Follow Rainer on Twitter, Youtube and Medium.
From the archives: