Consider the scenario presented by the TV series Mr. Robot, wherein a group of hackers aims to take down the giant conglomerate E Corp-known by the head hacker Elliot Alderson as Evil Corp. To put an end to Evil Corp’s hegemonic control over finance, the hackers sabotage its ability to keep count of how much debt people owe it. When the first big digital attack happens in the show’s universe in 2015, Evil Corp is struggling, hundreds of billions of dollars have been lost, the public is protesting Evil Corp over its failures to provide for society’s needs, and the capitalist world is falling into a depression.
Watching Mr. Robot in 2020, the parallels to how capitalism has actually fared in the years after the 2008 crash are apparent. Without help from hackers, the global economy has entered a place far worse than it was in during the last recession, the big banks have become on the verge of collapse, and the increasingly impoverished masses are protesting the evils of the capitalist power structure. Yet like the besieged billionaires in Mr. Robot, the ruling class haven’t lost their power simply because of this initial catastrophe. Unless the aspiring revolutionaries successfully maintain their war against the system while presenting a viable alternative for the masses to embrace, the only people who end up getting hurt by the crises will be the lower classes.
Evil Corp CEO Phillip Price expresses this by saying that he isn’t worried about the ramifications from the hack, because the people who seek to end capitalism are merely human beings like himself—except he has the weight of the largest conglomerate in history behind him. “When you have that,” Price says, “matters like this, they tend to crack under that weight.”
The upper hand that Price and the others in his class have amid the crisis is further shown by his statement to Alderson that “World catastrophes like this, they aren’t caused by lone wolves like you. They occur because men like me allow them. You just had to stumble onto one of them.” Price was speaking from the position of confidence that’s afforded to the super rich, who don’t just stand above the hardships that crises cause but are able to come out of them richer than before.
Power profits from disaster, and during the era of neoliberalism the capitalist oligarchy has come to regularly exploit a certain “shock doctrine” formula. This formula was perfected in Chile, where Pinochet’s dictatorship came to power after the U.S. overthrew the country’s socialist former president Salvador Allende. Washington’s approach for undermining Allende’s presidency, as Nixon famously said, was to “make the economy scream.” When this was accomplished, Milton Friedman’s approach for economic “shock therapy”—wherein living standards and economic stability are rapidly undermined by neoliberal austerity policies—made the U.S. corporatocracy carry out its plan to destroy Chile’s former checks on capitalist power.
The shock doctrine has since been the norm of how global capitalism functions, facilitating the implementation of Reaganomics, the corporate looting of post-invasion Iraq, the fraudulently “necessary” 2008 Wall Street bailout, and all the other developments that have exacerbated global inequality in recent decades.
This March, former Chicago mayor Rahm Enmanuel encapsulated the mentality of this crisis capitalist paradigm by writing: “The United States was careening toward a global depression when President Barack Obama named me his first chief of staff, and in those dark days, I uttered a phrase that’s followed me ever since: ‘Never allow a good crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do the things you once thought were impossible.’”
Because of a vast influx of corporate welfare, trillions of dollars in Wall Street bailouts, and various approaches for profiting from this year’s pandemic, U.S. billionaires have used the shock doctrine to collectively get over $600 billion richer (as of June). This week alone, Jeff Bezos added a record $13 billion to his net worth in one day. At the same time, tens of millions of lower class people have lost their jobs, and 25 million more will lose their unemployment benefits when the government stops giving them out this next week. Around half the country is already in poverty, and will continue to slip deeper into it as the depression gets worse.
As is the case in the hypothetical timeline for late-stage capitalism that Mr. Robot depicts, the capitalist class remains in power for as long as they hold control over the state. At the behest of Evil Corp and the other centers of capital, the U.S. government puts millions of Americans under surveillance, passes special security laws, and uses the police to counter protests. The hacker group can’t continue their war against Evil Corp without narrowly avoiding defeat at the hands of the FBI.
In our timeline, the capitalist state’s repression has gone far beyond this. Trump’s Department of Homeland Security is sending federal agents to cities to carry out Gestapo-style arrests. The U.S. national security state aims to impose a far more extensive surveillance system in response to this year’s events, one where many streets are blanketed with cameras and where people’s appliances constantly track their moves. Already, tech plutocrats are profiting off of helping bring about the first aspects of this techno-tyranny.
The struggle against capitalism isn’t as simple as waiting for capitalism to experience a great crisis; as Price observed, crises are a routine part of how capitalism functions. Without an adequate power structure to carry out the revolution that the masses want, the anger of the masses will be impotent, and the ruling class will ultimately come out on top. Mr. Robot recognizes this. When Alderson replies to Price’s remark about crises by stating that “I am a leader,” Price says: “Then where are your followers? Can’t force an agenda, Mr. Alderson. You have to inspire one.”
To overcome capitalist repression, and to get the capitalist class out of power, we need to build a movement that can undermine the control over the state which the capitalist class holds. It’s this lesson that’s led me to adopt Marxism-Leninism as the agenda which I seek to inspire, since Marxism-Leninism’s objective is to destroy the capitalist state and replace it with a proletarian-run democracy.
If we achieve this, the capitalist class will no longer be able to retain their hegemony, because they’ll lack the means to prevent the will of the masses from prevailing over their own interests.
To carry out this agenda, we can’t act as lone wolves who merely cause disruptions to the social order without building up the organizational structure to actually challenge capitalist hegemony. This would be adventurism, which works against Marxism. The complexities and obstacles faced by the revolutionaries in Mr. Robot are a good demonstration of these realities about how revolution works.
Moving Towards The Worst-Case Covid-19 Scenario
As Covid-19 began widely spreading throughout the U.S., the horror of what would ultimately happen became clear over a series of weeks. The president tried to quell concerns, but his dismissive statements about the virus were so clumsy and transparently dishonest that they only fooled his supporters. Since then, the claims from the administration and its right-wing media supporters about how masks aren’t needed and the virus isn’t a serious threat have also been effective only within a narrow propaganda bubble. The tens of thousands of deaths have made the crisis too hard to deny.
Yet Trump is still trying to divert attention away from the facts that the U.S. has so far had over 140,000 Covid-19 deaths, and that the rate is still increasing. Trump has pivoted from his initial denialistic narratives, now claiming that he’s done all he can to stop the virus and that this will soon lead to the pandemic simply disappearing. If things go on like this—the haphazard quarantine measures that get sabotaged by the president, the lies from authority figures that encourage people to put themselves at risk, the push by the capitalist class to get everyone back to work—the country will reach a point even worse than the globally unsurpassed pandemic impacts that it’s experienced so far.
Three months ago, a team of pandemic experts explained three potential outcomes of the pandemic within the U.S. In the worst case scenario, spring’s wave will be followed by a larger wave in the fall or winter and one more smaller wave in 2021. The most likely alternative scenario is one where a series of repetitive smaller waves occur in the summer, and then happen consistently over either one or two years. At this point, most experts have said they expect a big uptick in cases to happen this fall or winter, and at least in the UK, the winter wave is expected to likely be larger than the one from this last spring.
Will the same be true for the U.S.? New York City doctor Robert Glatter predicted in May that “It will likely be worse than the initial wave we experienced this spring” when the second wave comes. Given all the risk factors that neoliberal capitalism under Trump has created, these dark expectations for the next year or so are looking more reasonable every day. Just look at the severe limitations that our socioeconomic system has put on people’s ability to shelter from the virus so far.
In socialist China, where the presence of the virus is still very limited in spite of its recent resurgence, tens of millions of people have been very effectively quarantined while the police had the job of doing shopping for those who were stuck inside. In capitalist countries, people have only been able to stay home as far as their bosses have let them take time off from work. And in the U.S., where the president and the right-wing media began stirring up anti-quarantine protests just a month into the major stage of the country’s Covid-19 crisis, the population has largely been acting like there’s no virus risk at all.
This widespread denial of the problem, fostered by a culture of individualism and by political polarization, has made the U.S. the most impacted country on the planet. The plans from many states to reopen schools this fall show that the system will never be willing to effectively combat the virus.
In socialist Cuba, where the healthcare system has been prepared for this kind of crisis for decades, the country has maintained a high level of medical coverage and world class healthcare service, all amid tightening U.S. sanctions. In the U.S., which is the only industrialized country without universal healthcare and has been undergoing austerity policies for decades, Covid-19 is continuing to overwhelm hospitals. Some U.S. hospitals are so close to financial ruin that just a few critically ill Covid-19 patients would make them unable to function properly. This situation isn’t going to get any better, especially as the government moves to further shrink the social safety net.
In many other countries, including capitalist ones, the government has put together programs to financially aid people during Covid-19 and the new global depression. In the U.S., tens of millions of people have become permanently unemployed, and half the country is now in poverty. Around five million U.S. workers have lost their health insurance so far during the crisis, with many more to come as the country sets in for an economic downturn that will last for a decade or longer. The $600 special unemployment checks are set to stop coming by the end of this month, after which millions of more households will slip deeper into poverty. When the next waves hit, the population is going to be far less equipped than last time to access healthcare or maintain other facets of their lives.
All the factors have aligned for the virus to keep majorly impacting the U.S. for two more years, if not longer. And the death waves that have happened so far are likely not the worst of what’s to come. This is the consequence of the neoliberal paradigm that the U.S. has so extensively embraced for the last generation or so.
Until this paradigm ends, the madness will go on. Even if the pandemic ends sometime in the next couple of years, the country is set for a long-term economic crisis, as well as exponentially damaging effects from the climate collapse. The U.S. has entered into a kind of hell that it’s systemically incapable of getting out of. So it’s no wonder why the diehard American patriots are trying to pretend that there’s no serious crisis going on, that the necessity of masks and social distancing is a matter of partisan opinion.
The only hope for escaping from this hell is to face our new reality and take the appropriate steps. As a Marxist-Leninist, I call this practice of facing reality dialectics. If we follow a dialectical analysis of the problem —which points to the capitalist state as the reason for why the virus is consuming our society —we can focus our energy on how to take the state down.
Why Are U.S. Police Forces Acting Like An Occupying Army?
Rainer Shea on Jul 2, 2020
Links to the military statements I mention:
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