“We are capital’s livestock.”
People are whistling past the graveyard.
We think that someday soon the vaccine will come and life will return to normal. And our imaginary future will return with it. That imagination, those former imaginations of the future — for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren — have been constructed and refined over a lifetime, and for each of us, some social imaginary or another has been the foundation of our psychosocial stability.
I have very bad news.
Our imagination of the future, even the near-term future, is now as dead as the 234 odd species that went extinct yesterday. The suppressed perceptions of this new and unpredictably protean reality are a major contributor to the kind of bewildered, angry, even psychotic behavior that we see proliferating with each passing day. Fear generates anger. Uncritical anger generates many forms of lunacy.
None of this started yesterday, or even with the pandemic, or even with Trump. Capital has always exported its crises elsewhere when it could get away with it, through conquest and pillage and fraud. Kicked the problems down the road, as it were.
But now the road has come to an end, and capital is confronted with limits more intransigent than workers and slaves and the colonized, who can be swindled, bewildered, bullied, and in emergencies killed or left to die. Capital has been confronted by the laws of nature, which refuse capital’s control.
Capital has rampaged through the biosphere in search of returns on investment, as its money-metric has left it blind to the brute fact of our own absolute dependency upon a web of life too subtle and complex to comprehend. Climate change. Topsoil loss. Ocean acidification. Mass extinction. Poisoned waters. Deforestation. Superstorms. Wildfires. Floods . . . Pandemic.
The swindled, bewildered, and bullied are reaching limits, too. Prior to the pandemic that eclipsed the rest of the news, the world was roiled with discontent, manifest in strikes, street rebellions, and riots. Here in the US, in the midst of a pandemic, murders of black people by an organized crime network called the police sparked a rebellion that remains in the street as this is written.
Capital sees it all through one lens: these are limits to growth . . . by “growth” they mean their own capital accumulation. Our own bewilderment is all that prevents us seeing the simple truth of capitalism. (a) Enclosure makes us all dependent upon general purpose money to survive. (b) Capital has a lot of money, while the rest of us fight for enough — a scarcity economy that pits one against all. (c) They have it, you don’t; and in this way, they command you and me, and we obey or starve.
It is indeed a ruling class.
Covid-19 has flown in like a great black swan and landed on the teetering edifice of capital, accelerating the tip. All the crises that were incipient are now manifest. Hospitals are overflowing, as people who are uninsured or under-insured are given the choice between death and economic ruin. Millions are out of work, as millions more have been dragooned into the most dangerous work. Just days ago, we learned that US GDP had fallen 33 percent (annualized) in the second quarter of 2020 — an astonishing number that outstrips any drop ever seen since these numbers were first calculated.
It would have been much worse if we subtracted government spending, much of it unfortunately in ‘defense’ spending, without which all would be lost. Government spending has boosted what numbers there are with no reference to the fact of 52 million claims for unemployment. Forty-seven percent of these claims are for job losses that are permanent. Conservatively, one in five American adults is now out of work. And it seems that any extension of unemployment benefits will come with a drastic cut from $600 a week to $200.
A tsunami of evictions is in the wings, and up to 28 million people are now in danger of becoming homeless. 30 million Americans are already food insecure. Small enterprises as well as many big retail outlets will go under as people tighten their belts, accelerating job loss yet more.
I know Sherry and I aren’t ever going to a restaurant again until there is a proven vaccine. Does anyone think that the numbers of customers for small enterprises is going to pop back up to normal? Restaurants, hair cutters, salons, gyms, theaters . . . not me, not now. We still treat going to the grocery store like we’re preparing to handle fissionable material.
As this is written, more than 4.5 million cases of the virus have been confirmed, over half still active, and deaths confirmed from Covid-19 have climbed to 155,000. Epidemiologists and public health experts are telling us that we need to implement draconian measures, a near-full lockdown again, and try to start over. The government, meanwhile, is doing next to nothing.
It’s capital’s government, its purpose to sustain accumulation by any means necessary. Capital must accumulate, and if you and I have to be debilitated or die to sustain that accumulation, then so be it.
How many of us can now be rolled over by a single trip to the hospital, a check-engine light, or a leak in the roof? A third of American households can now be devastated by one unexpected bill of $400. Since precarity and poverty fall the hardest on the internally colonized, black and brown, these numbers will be . . . already are . . . even worse.
It was already bad before the pandemic. In February, we learned that household debt in the US had passed $14 trillion, more than $43,000 for every man, woman, and child. This debt is a liability for us; but it’s an asset for creditors — Wall Street, that is. When the repossessions begin, it’s capital that gains. When the small fish landlords go broke, the bigger fish landlords will further concentrate ownership and power.
Finance, insurance, social media, and real estate are doing just fine. Amazon has gone wild. This year, in 182 days, Jeff Bezos made $56.7 billion. If you earned $50,000 a year, it would take you saving every penny for 1,134,000 years to catch up to what Jeff made in less than six months.
Steve Mnuchin, movie producer, hedge fund manager, and Trump’s Treasury Secretary, put it plainly with regard to cutting unemployment payouts: “We’re going to make sure that we don’t pay people more money to stay home than go to work.”
Work to make us money, or starve, motherfuckers!
Under Trump, corruption and crony capitalism have become epic and obvious. Most of the money from the first emergency run went directly to Wall Street, and most of the rest went to the firms that least needed it. More than 11,000 temp companies , for example — firms that collected a toll for linking you to a shit temp job — may have reaped as much as $7.9 billion from the bailout, meaning they were getting paid twice, once by skimming off your shitty wages and again by the Fed.
It’s driven many of us mad. With all these cutbacks, ammunition sales have spiked. Ammunition!
Fear generates anger. Uncritical anger generates many forms of lunacy. In the gun-happy United States, as we are faced with the threat of a runaway virus, people are . . . buying ammunition? Can we shoot the virus? Are we really a cultural one-trick pony? Do we think we can topple the virus like it’s Saddam Hussein?
Here’s the real deal. While you and I are trying to slip the punches of the crisis, capital is scheming. And capital is scheming about one thing above all. How can they turn this to their advantage? There is one answer to this, and one only. They are going to use this to consolidate their power over the rest of us, to further discipline labor. They want us more desperate, more dependent, more pliable and obedient, so they can work us harder, longer, and for less than they did before.
There is a class war; there always has been one. The only people who’ve consistently understood this antagonism were the capitalists themselves. And they’ve prosecuted it as hard as they can, even as they used their monopolies on cultural production and ideology to bewilder us about what they were doing.
“No war but the class war” has been the battle cry of the left, but the ruling class lives by it, every day, every hour, every minute. They are the parasite, and you are the host. They are the swindlers, and you are the chump. The chief of state at this very moment has made a career of swindling people. It’s not a mystery that he ascended to the throne with the help of many who have been consistently chumped by capital all their lives. We are capital’s livestock. And this was true before the pandemic, before Trump formed his swindler’s cult.
Here’s the good news, sort of. About possibilities. Because capital stands for a class, but it’s at bottom a relation, like master and slave is a relation. That relation was secured through the stability of a meshwork of institutions, relations, social structures, an obedient civil society, and the mailed fist of the state. The crisis we are living through right now has destabilized it all. So, our early imaginations of the future are gone; but so are theirs. There are fissures appearing in the old order that can be exploited, abandoned spaces that can be occupied.
Look at the street actions that are still ongoing directed against the police — the very spearpoint of the state that capital built. The veils are falling. Young people, enduring years of precarity, are mobilized. The left grows with each passing day. The Republican Party is about to fracture, and the Democratic Party establishment has become a naked emperor — a crude George W. Bush redux. We will have an election this year for POTUS that pits two sexual predators and racists, both with the approximate intellect of a goldfish, against each other. A new independent Biden campaign effort has humorously named itself Settle for Biden. This is the state of utter decadence and disrepair in which we find ourselves . . . and ourselves are all we can count on to get us out.
What to do?
There’s no one answer to that. No war but the class war is still war, something the ruling class thrives on. It’s easy to fall into that episteme, because what capital does makes us angry. But war is all-encompassing, its aim to dominate or destroy. You can’t simultaneously advocate for a society based on cooperation instead of hostility and mobilize hostility as your primary means to get there. Resistance need not be warlike. Certainly, there are times (it’s all about the timing) when confrontation is desirable, even necessary. But the secret that capital knows and we need to learn is the same one the CIO knew before labor leadership was domesticated. We depend on them . . . but they depend on us, too. So how do we increase our solidarity (by that I don’t mean ideological affinity — a counterfeit solidarity) and defeat capital at the same time? How do we withdraw our labor?
There is one answer to this. General strike. But as soon as we recognize this as a necessity — our only option really at the end of the day — we enter into the realm of the practical . . . a place the left can ill afford to abandon. Many ‘leftists’ abandoned it long ago, when leftism was driven out of the street and into the academy. Now we have to take it back or perish.
How do we survive a general strike long enough to make it work? And here is where there is a giant hole in the heads of many of my own comrades . . . a hole that was in my own head for years. There is a hole in our heads where autonomous communities need to be, where we work together, practically, to self-provision and build mutual support. Around this we can establish solidarity with something more substantial than than the gauze of ideological affinity.
I love it that you agree with me. Can you garden? Carpenter? Fix plumbing? Forage? Evade surveillance? Fix a motor? Cook for 20? Use a chainsaw? Perform emergency medical measures? Change tires? Secure online communications? Mix concrete? Dumpster dive? Re-purpose trash? Purify water? Tend to the sick? Supervise a roomful of kids? Make a cache? Research and develop targeted intelligence? Butcher? Can? Dehydrate food? Deliver a baby? Raise chickens? Play an instrument? Speak a second language?
How long can we say, and mean . . . I quit?