Categories
System Assessments

10 ways COVID-19 is showing us the cracks in a global capitalist system.

Pictures added by Regina Larsen.

In the past few months, the pandemic has laid bare the horrors of our global neoliberal system. Here’s some lessons I’ve learned since the outbreak of COVID-19:


(1) All the resources and labor funneled into the military has done little to protect us from this crisis, and may even wind up exacerbating the spread.

Instead of investing in healthcare, workers’ time and energy has been wasted on  nuclear bombs, costly wars based on manufactured threats (that fail to even accomplish their real goals), and marketing meant to sway public opinion in favor of the war industry. 


(2) The US military is more concerned with its public image than the lives of its soldiers, or the lives of the American people.

As this disease rapidly spreads, militaries can’t even be bothered to protect their own soldiers and sailors, with the US Navy going so far as to fire Capt. Brett Crozier for trying to protect his sailors from infection after several aboard the aircraft carrier tested positive for the novel coronavirus.


“More than a dozen soldiers at installations across the United States and overseas told Army Times they’re frustrated with commanders still sending troops to the field, forcing soldiers to come to work to do mundane tasks that aren’t mission essential, and failing to test potentially sick individuals.”

Soldiers’ fears grow as commanders train through coronavirus outbreak, Army Times

A soldier assigned to 2nd Infantry Division on the joint base told Army Times, “in terms of PT and daily battle rhythm, absolutely nothing has changed.” The soldier goes on, “this is all taking place at a base which is in the epicenter of the outbreak in the US. We have over 100 cases in the two counties that surround JBLM and where a majority of families live, and over a thousand cases throughout the rest of Washington.” Apparently it’s “good leadership” to needlessly put thousands of soldiers and civilians at risk of infection so long as you don’t hurt public perception. According to a US Navy veteran we spoke to (who wishes to remain anonymous), this focus on public image at the expense of public safety has always been how the military operates, especially when it comes to the recruits themselves:


“The military wants to be able to control the soldiers; that’s what the chain of command is all about. You’re basically not a US citizen, you’re owned by the military. It’s a propaganda issue [in regards to Capt. Crozier being relieved of duty] is what it is. […]

“They’re less concerned with the lives of sailors or soldiers; they’re more concerned with the propaganda. […] I mean, that goes way back. Look at Vietnam. They [just] cared about selling a war to America.”


He further remarks on how US military conditions are simply not capable of handling a disease outbreak like this, highlighting, again, that retaliatory measures against those speaking out is more about controlling soldiers “through fear” than it is about a genuine security risk that could harm the American people. 


“What do we do with all these soldiers in basic training? In barracks? They don’t want to be there. […]

“Your living quarters are very small in a military ship. They don’t have [their own] rooms—there’s like 30 guys living in this small space. It’s worse than prison, really, as far as proximity goes. They’re all gonna get infected…there’s no way around it. […] I mean, look at [the spread of the virus in] cruise ships, and a Navy ship is even worse.

“All these people in small spaces. […] When you’re in basic…[training is] going on 12 months a year—all branches of the service. […] You have 80-100 guys living in barracks of bunkbeds, so yeah, it [COVID-19] gets in there, it spreads like wildfire.”


It’s worth considering that pneumonia and influenza killed more soldiers and sailors in the first World War than did enemy weapons, and that many researchers believe the spread of Spanish Influenza was significantly aided by wartime conditions (e.g. cramped quarters, and the war taking precedent over containing the outbreak).


(3) So-called first world countries have extremely poor healthcare systems.

These wealthy neoliberal countries seem almost entirely unable to address this public health crisis. In Italy, political officials delayed early containment, allowing the disease to spread quickly. In the US, faulty and delayed testing has led to widespread confusion. Containment was also severely worsened by political officials and media coverage downplaying the severity of the virus. Further issues are brought on by the US for-profit healthcare system, particularly tying health coverage to employment:


“More than three million Americans just lost their jobs in the middle of a global pandemic. For those whose jobs offered benefits, that also probably means they’re losing their health insurance, too — exposing yet another way in which the US health system is vulnerable amid a public health emergency.”

How do 3 million newly unemployed people get health care?, Vox News


(4) Capitalist governments are more concerned with corporate profits than the actual people they govern.

Many political officials seem more concerned with protecting their personal assets, than their people. Healthcare workers are struggling to find/keep housing with landlords viewing them as a liability, and of course, capitalism doesn’t guarantee housing…even if you’re on the frontline protecting people from a public health crisis. 


“These are the same people who are going to take care of you if you wind up in the hospital, or God forbid the ICU. And if I’m sleeping in my car, I’m not functioning my best. … If you want people to help, they have to have a place to live.”

nurse from Hawaii who recently faced eviction (no name given to respect request for anonymity)

While the death toll rises, people are hoarding resources to try to make a profit off the pandemic, while major media outlets continue to address the real victims of this crisis—the wealthy. For example, this article by The New York Times frames a guy hoarding hand sanitizer (with the intention of price-gouging) as the victim, while a headline by The Washington Post reads The struggle to argue for opening the economy without sounding as if you’re okay with more people dying…the article itself is behind a paywall, naturally.  


(5) Capitalist unity ranges from fragile to nonexistent; the European Union appears to be nothing more than lip service.

The European Union has all but abandoned Italy, with no plans to send medical assistance or supplies despite Italy being one of the worst-hit countries. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic bitterly commented: “European solidarity does not exist. It was a fairytale.”


“This is a shocking failure of European solidarity. The impression in Italy, Spain and Serbia and so on is that the weaker links will be left alone.”

— head of a European think tank

Meanwhile, China and Cuba, long depicted by capitalist countries as anti-humanitarian, have stepped up, sending medical equipment and personnel to combat the outbreak in Italy. 


(6) The United Nation and the World Health Organization are not the peaceful, humanitarian organizations they pretend to be.

Iran is facing US economic sanctions on top of the COVID-19 breakout. Over 3000 Iranians have already died from the disease, and sanctions make the novel coronavirus all the more deadly.  


“Following correspondence about the U.S. government’s illegal sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and its direct impact on the health of the Iranian people, unfortunately, so far, the United Nations and other relevant organizations including the World Health Organization, which claim to defend the rights of humanity, have taken no effective measures to lift the cruel sanctions against our dear children, women, men and patients.

“Instead, despite the urging of scientists, physicians and even some elected US officials to lift sanctions amid a worldwide Covid-19 disease pandemic, this irrational, ruthless American government has further tightened sanctions against the Iranian people.”

Alireza Marandi, President of The Academy of Medical Sciences of Iran

Now the Iranian government is being forced to request emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Considering the IMF collaborates with the United Nations, and the IMF’s decades-long track record of “imposing unnecessary and often harmful conditions on borrowing countries,” silence from the UN is very likely the real solidarity of capitalists. That is, the US has long been obsessed with gaining control in Iran, and thanks to the corporatization within the UN, it’s unsurprising the UN is complacent with the US waging economic (and now medical) warfare against the Iranian people. 


(7) The US is falling back on racism and xenophobia, blaming China in an attempt to derail how both the Republicans and the Democrats have put Americans at risk, while protecting corporate interests. The government is further using the crisis to push policy through under the radar.

While Republicans downplayed the servety of the outbreak, the Democrats held primaries in several states during the coronavirus outbreak (bringing the legitimacy of the Democratic primaries into question). A close up during a recent press briefing revealed Trump had crossed out “corona” and replaced it with “Chinese” in his notes, indicating his calling the disease “Chinese Virus” is an intentional ploy to redirect blame onto China for the US’s inability to slow the spread of the virus. 

Blaming China is an especially nonsensical response, seeing as the pandemic is linked to capitalist land development and agricultural practices, climate change, and the US’s defunded and privatized healthcare system. Sentiments that China is covering up conditions, ignores that this is happening in the US now thanks to hospital privatization.

Further, agricultural practices in the US have actually been specifically noted as a risk for novel diseases. 

The following video by The Real News Network goes over how anti-Chinese racism around coronavirus is an extension of colonialist and racist sentiments built into the US socioeconomic system. It’s also worth noting that building up China as a threat relates to (2), that is, this outside “threat” is likely being leveraged as a way to control military recruits who are becoming increasingly frustrated with poor leadership. All branches continue to insist many members are “essential” despite there being a lack of pressing tasks for these members to even attend to…is the GOP using China as a manufactured threat to bolster the military’s both internal and external credibility amid growing concerns from soldiers that leadership is recklessly managing the crisis? 

The US government is not just utilizing China to divert blame from its own inability to stop the spread of the virus, the government is using the crisis itself to mask huge political moves from the public-eye (e.g. Shock Capitalism). The following image depicts just one example of this disturbing push towards quietly implementing neoconservative policies, such as increasing surveillance and policing.

Shock capitalism is a concern everywhere. Israel’s lockdown over coronavirus has halted Palestinian human rights work, but hasn’t ended over-policing and violent abuse


(8) We have been lied to about what matters.

Many of the institutions and ideologies we’ve been told are vital to society are only hindering a response to the outbreak. Lack of paid sick leave, largely justified as being a privilege one needs to earn rather than a right, is worsening the spread of the disease in the US. Aggressive policing in New York City isn’t protecting people, it’s worsening the spread of the virus, thereby putting more people at risk. And prisons aren’t the closed systems people seem to think they are, and, unsurprisingly, cramped living quarters, unsanitary/violent conditions, and poor healthcareseverely increase the risk of prisons becoming hotspots for the disease

Further, the shutdown of many businesses is proving (1) many of this work is not necessary (e.g. corporate lawyers, lobbyists), and (2) Marx’s labor theory of value is extremely relevant today.


(9) The pain many people are experiencing did not start with coronavirus.

We all depend on each other every single day, often in ways we don’t even consider. This disconnect begins to look like a caricature with the outbreak hitting countries like the US and Italy. Consider the farming co-operative near Rome, started by formerly exploited African fruit farmer:


“Many of the founders took part in the Rosarno revolt, an uprising in January 2010 in which hundreds of African fruit pickers whose labour was being exploited in Italy’s citrus groves rose up in support of a workmate seriously injured in a racist attack. The rebellion broke the silence surrounding the conditions of immigrant workers in the Italian countryside.”

“A beautiful thing”: the African migrants getting healthy food to Italians, The Guardian 

These workers are now working “twice as hard” in response to the COVID-19 outbreak because they want to, and because they care about the scarcity many local households are facing. Don’t be grateful for grocery store workers putting their health at risk to give you food…stand in solidarity with them and demand working conditions be made safer. Stop with this notion that people are only willing to work if they’re treated like garbage, or showered with wealth. Stop with the guilt-complexes, the superiority-complexes…morality, shame, and narcissism do nothing but obscure the system hurting people. 

Don’t be grateful for their exploitation feeding you or making your medical supplies, which is essentially what the sentiment “be grateful, there’s children starving in Africa” boils down to. Join hands together in the fight for workers rights…children in Africa don’t need to be starving in order for you to eat and it’s high time we realize that. Right now there are people in refugee camps worried about the outbreak worsening already poor living conditions, there’s elderly people in Italy more fearful of loneliness than the virus, and in Africa, many of us are more worried about starvation than coronavirus thanks to Western oil companies polluting the farmlands and waterways forcing us to become reliant on imports…keep in mind we don’t profit off oil extraction, we’re just left with the consequences.


(10) This is a class war…workers need to stand together in solidarity; further, this crisis really highlights how many people think pessimistic escapism is optimism.

The working class are all feeling the same pain, even if we’re isolated from one another by country, citizenship, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. The problem is capitalism. We—workers, students, the unemployed, professionals—we need to stand together. This is a class war that we did not start. We need to stand together in solidarity right now, and we need to reject the ruling class’ plea that “we are in this together.” We, the workers, are in this together…if the exploiters would like to join in our fight for socialism, then they must do so on our terms. Corporations telling you “we are in this together” are trying to maintain the system that gives them all the power.

Be wary of the media telling you about the small business owner and the landlord that is only renting out the second floor of their house…they are using these people as a bludgeon against the working class. These people are not the ruling class, and we urge them to join together with us in solidarity. It is the international corporations that make it near-impossible for small businesses to survive. It is the ruling class that has led to the proletarianization of physicians, forcing doctors and nurses to work under exploitative and overly-demanding conditions

While it often seems as if the ruling classes aren’t themselves even happy, they are nonetheless the class with power. They are the class with a monopoly on violence that they’re quick to use if their power comes into question (e.g. police, military, etc.)…I don’t refrain from taking food from Bill Gates because I respect him, I refrain from doing so because I would be beaten, imprisoned, and/or killed. The ruling class is hoarding resources, enabling them to induce scarcity in areas to force people to do labor under conditions they would not normally agree to. They are manufacturing consent, and the COVID-19 crisis is making that glaringly obvious. 

Corporations telling us “we are in this together” are not being optimistic. Optimism is not pretending the world is already just when there is overwhelming evidence that it is not! That is the Just-World Phenomenon, and it is a way of excusing inequality. It is either cruel or pessimistic. That is, it is pessimistic to fall back on pretending the world is already just because that means it is you that thinks there is no hope of it getting better. If you cannot see hope in people discussing exploitation with passionate anger, it is you who is negative, not the people who are outraged…that outrage is fueled by the positive-thinking that things can get better if we stand together in solidarity and fight to make them better. 

There is a violent class war happening, and people need to realize socialists didn’t start it…socialists want to end it. Wealth is not an identity like race, religion, or sexuality. It is the material hoarding of resources at the expense of others. 

And if that doesn’t make you angry, you’re just not paying attention. 


Categories
System Assessments

COVID-19 is showing us just how flawed the US economic system really is.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the near shutdown of the service industry. This has similarly led to mass unemployment in nearly every industry. Further, many people seeking work are now finding HR departments aren’t hiring, and many workers doing freelance/commission work have seen a standstill in project requests. Many of these people do not qualify for unemployment benefits. Without a freeze on rents and mortgages, we are hurtling straight for a housing crisis. 

Are we a failstate?

Hurtling towards a housing crisis

We faced a housing crisis in the early 2000s, and the government bailed out the banks, leaving regular people homeless and/or in insurmountable debt to this day. All of this talk of delaying rent payments means working Americans are going to be forced to shoulder the burden of this pandemic, while there is already talk of massive corporate bailouts.

Further, members of the House and Senate traded stocks in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in the States, protecting their assets rather than the American people. This is both Democrats and Republicans doing this! The Democrats even held presidential primaries during the outbreak…how is this acceptable to ask older or more vulnerable folks to come out to vote during a pandemic? How is it acceptable to ask younger, healthier folks to risk the health of others if they want to vote? The two candidates largely differed in their stance on healthcare reform, an incredibly important topic considering the current pandemic, and the DNC is essentially telling people in these districts, “come risk your own health and/or the health of others if you really want a say in American healthcare.” This is not the response of a legitimate political party. Meanwhile, the Republicans have been downplaying the pandemic, despite early warnings from public health officials. This is more than incompitent, this is corruption, plain and simple. Or more accurately, this is the system behaving as it’s intended to. That is, protecting the extremely wealthy by exploiting the working class. 

Public health issues going unaddressed 

Government inaction has already led to the spread of COVID-19—delayed testing worsened the spread of the virus, and in large part, their delayed response was in reaction to earlier cutbacks to public health funding.

For many still with work in the service industry, they continue to work paycheck-to-paycheck (78% of workers in the US live paycheck-to-paycheck). Without a freeze on rent, many of these employees will ignore symptoms and go in anyways, worsening the spread of COVID-19. Not to mention, many people in America still do not have healthcare. Well-funded media outlets are largely ignoring this connection between the pandemic and class, which is unsurprising as the people who own mass media outlets benefit from austerity policies. 

Is this economic crisis anything new?

Check out this great video for a brief history of wealth and inequality in the West:

What do we do?

Beyond a RENT STRIKE, we need to move away from this profit-driven economic system towards a more socialized one. With all this talk of GDP and stock portfolios, you’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten what an economic system is. So let’s be clear here:

An economic system is a resource distribution system.

With people starving, sick, and homeless…it may be time to reevaluate what we’re doing here because it’s not working. Hopefully our other article on COVID-19 makes it clear that this system hasn’t been working for a long time. If any of this is ringing true for you, please consider getting involved in a socialist party, such as Socialist Resurgence…at the very least, I urge everyone to check out what they have to say about this crisis and its subsequent economic recession in the article The disease is capitalism: global economic crisis


Categories
System Assessments

Isolating COVID-19: alienated crises, and the crisis of alienation

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

― Helen Keller

Neoliberalism largely functions via alienation, and crisis is not excluded from this. The inherent instability of capitalism inevitably leads to crisis; however, the experience of crisis is very often isolatedㅡby geographical region, time, or type. For example, economic expansion requires environmental exploitation, but for many, this exploitation is happening over there. They don’t see it and they don’t experience the direct negative consequences of it, so even if they’re aware it’s happening, it feels distant. They are physically isolated from the crisis of an oil spill. We can also feel temporal isolation from a shared crisis. The majority of people will feel the crisis of being unable to find work at some point in their life. Yet, the unemployment crisis often feels like a personal crisis because we are the only one feeling the crisis in the moment. Time separates our experience of the crisis. Then there is the most complex way crises are alienatedㅡthat is, by type. Homelessness, incarceration, routine hunger, being without care during a medical illness, drug addiction…while these are all crises, they’re very often viewed as completely independent and unrelated experiences. In reality, these crises are not unrelated, and for the Left, the relationship is obvious. A capitalist economic system directly causes (or severely exacerbates) all of these crises (see footnote [1], as well as Capital by Karl Marx, or for a soft-intro on the concepts of capitalism and alienation, check out Pod Damn America’s podcast episode Matt Christman’s Softcore History).

The Spectacle of Crisis

“By alienation is meant a mode of experience in which the person experiences himself as an alien. […] The alienated person is out of touch with himself as he is out of touch with any other person. He, like the others, are experienced as things are experienced; with the senses and with common sense, but at the same time without being related to oneself and to the world outside positively.”

― Erich Fromm, The Sane Society 

The segregation of crisis experience keeps people alienated from one another, and from a shared reality. The individual in crisis can’t help but feel alone, unable to relate to the experiences conveyed by others. Beyond loneliness, this can further lend to feelings of rejection, shame, or resentment. Feeling emotionally defensive, the individual will now be even more likely to dismiss or minimize the emotions of others in crisisㅡthe alienation from crisis recognition. Alternatively, they may feel unable to convey solidarity with wordsㅡthe alienation from language[2]. Capitalism alienates us from ourselves, from each other, from our labor…but it also isolates us from collective reality, leaving us with the spectacle in the absence of shared experience. The spectacle is “separation perfected,” or,

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. […]

The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation.”

― Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle


Note: Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle can be a difficult text to comprehend…for a very approachable and entertaining intro to the ideas it covers, check out Peter Coffin’s youtube channelㅡspecifically his video Cultural Appropriation and The Spectacle


In the midst of social distancing recommendations, COVID-19 is actually connecting crises that we generally experience as segmented, unrelated personal crises. Unemployment, food shortages, inability to access adequate treatment/care, loneliness, boredom…instead of experiencing these crises as a series of personal experiences, we are made all too aware of their connection to the pandemic. Connect this pandemic to our economic system of production, and class consciousness becomes increasingly likely. Why are authority figures acting like “business as usual”, when we all know someone who’s been laid off? Why is there relief going towards stabilizing the stock market, but the elderly are still being forced to go into public spaces to buy groceries? How can we shift to online schooling when there’s families without the computers/technology necessary for this to be a viable option? What good is good healthcare when so many people can’t afford to see a doctor, or to even self-quarantine? ICE agents continue to make arrestsㅡwon’t this type of policing prevent many from seeking testing when they show symptoms? What are containment measures for the incarcerated? Where do I get tested? How am I supposed to pay for an ambulance ride when I have to make rent and my hours have been cut down? I might be sick, but how am I going to pay for groceries if I miss my shift and pay a babysitter now that my kid’s out of school? 

Right now, the depressed person that feels socially alone, the sick person made to keep going to work, the hungry person worried about how she’ll feed her kids without school lunch…these crises are always happening under capitalism. Yet they normally appear segmented, and therefore seem unrelated and uncommon. But now the obvious relation these crises have to the COVID-19 pandemic links them all. Crisis alienation is worn down by a crisis we know is happening everywhereㅡthe illusion that these are personal crises cannot be maintained in the way it normally is.

One may argue that there are frequent shared crises to look back onㅡthe collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11 may come to mind if you’re American. Putting aside the fact that this being an American crisis means it was a physically isolated crisis, let’s consider that manyㅡperhaps mostㅡAmericans felt alienated from this event. The spectacle of crisis always has this way of feeling performative, even optional. We can choose to partake in this communal crisis (and we’ll often want to because we’re isolated and therefore seek out social connection); however, the knowledge that you can “opt out” is always there. Even if opting out isn’t an option for you, the knowledge that it is for other people gives the crisis this sense of artificiality. This has nothing to do with whether or not one should partake, rather the material and mental option to “opt out” and resume “business as usual” is concretely there, whether or not you think that option is a moral one. For the vast majority of Americans, the option to “opt out” of the crisis of 9/11 existed. While far less spectacular, COVID-19 isn’t a crisis most people can ignore. They can’t ignore that their spouse or roommate lost their job. They can’t ignore that their parent or college professor is in a high-risk pool of individuals. They can’t ignore their children being out of school. These aren’t choices, they’re crises acting upon them, whether they like it or not. This isn’t just spectacle, and for many well-off people in the US, this may be the first “national crisis” they genuinely can’t choose to “opt out” ofㅡhopefully this clarifies the distinction here between shared crises and the spectacle of shared crisis (which can still very much be real crises for a great many people).

Cultural Myths and Independence

For many, the COVID-19 crisis is being experienced in physical quarantine, yet this crisis may push many towards a more social, less individualistic understanding of human connection. That is, one where human relation goes beyond the exchange of goods and services. The pandemic makes it clear just how reliant we are on one another. Not only is the lone wolf a myth, it’s a dangerous one. Human love is central to everything we do on this earth…you can only “opt out” by living your life in delusion. The compulsion to control all the wealth on earth for one’s own consumption is just that, a compulsion. The nationalist fixation on “securing the border,” the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, and, perhaps most peculiar, the wealthy scrambling to purchase fallout bunkers and helicopter escape pads…this is the neurotic behavior of an obsessive-compulsive. It is the physical manifestation of a debilitating mental obsession that one is entirely self-reliant in the face of the obvious lived reality that one is simply not. Not only will these material pursuits not lead to salvation, there is also the obvious reality that other people produced these things. No one person can build a luxury fallout shelter on his own (you couldn’t even extract the natural resources needed on your own!), and this unavoidable reality leads one to the schizophrenic fascination with commodity ownershipㅡhoarding. We need a global reconciliation of our relationships with our fellow men, and this is going to require a conscious reduction of materialism, e.g. the endless pursuit of possessions, not that we ought to abandon material analysis in favor of philosophical idealism.


Note: It is interesting how modern capitalism has muddied the meaning of the terms idealism and materialism, such that colloquial usage is almost directly opposed to the original philosophical meaningㅡsee the article Why was Marx a materialist?. This is arguably, on the societal-scale, an indication of how neoliberalism has alienated us from language[1], as it has alienated us from the material world (reality) on the whole. 


“The need for speed and newness, which can only be satisfied by consumerism, reflects restlessness, the inner flight from oneself.”

― Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche 

Perhaps COVID-19 will make clear to more people that capitalism is not a rational system, so much as it is a rationalizing system, and, in the words of Erich Fromm, “rationalizing is not a tool for penetration of reality but a post-factum attempt to harmonize one’s own wishes with existing reality.” Previously it was unimaginable that labor pause for even a moment, lest we risk our supposedly-fragile social ties to one another and inevitably devolve into violent chaos. Yet, with the closing of factories, schools, churches/Mosques, football stadiums, amusement parks, and resorts, this century-long assumption is dissolving. And in fact, it’s becoming more clear that we don’t need police, lawyers, and military to “maintain order”…we don’t need professionals to negotiate the distance between us, as it’s this thinking that’s caused that social alienation to begin with. We don’t need the authority of capitalism to enforce labor because production in pursuit of obscene wealth doesn’t actually create systems that care for people.

This isn’t a rational economic arrangement, rather it’s the rationalization of the addict, the obsessive-compulsive…it’s no surprise that late-stage capitalism is marked by an exponential rise in mental health crises. Further, it’s no surprise that reduced isolation (such as in the form of a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous) is more often than not the remedy to a “personal” mental crisis. Neoliberalism and its fixation on hyper-individualism is the delusion and the crisisㅡthe lone wolf, the entrepreneur, the self-made man, the girl boss…these are selfish aspirations. This isn’t a moral judgement, it’s an acknowledgment that excessive self-interest, as well as excessive self-evaluation, are both compulsive responses to severe alienationㅡfrom oneself, other beings, and reality:

“The failure of modern culture lies not in its principle of individualism, not in the idea that moral virtue is the same as the pursuit of self-interest, but in the deterioration of the meaning of self-interest; not in the fact that people are too much concerned with their self-interest, but that they are not concerned enough with the interest of their real self; not in the fact that they are too selfish, but that they do not love themselves. […] Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either”

― Erich Fromm, Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics

“Selfishness is not identical with self-love but with its very opposite. Selfishness is one kind of greediness. Like all greediness, it contains an insatiability, as a consequence of which there is never any real satisfaction. Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”

― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom 

People often repeat the phrase “ignorance is bliss,” but ignorance of neoliberalism’s far-reaching influence on all aspects of life will not end in a personal feeling of well-being. Pursuit of personal happiness exclusively will not lead to happiness. The fact that anyone thinks otherwise is a testament to just how alienated we are from ourselves. The classification of narcissism and greed as morally wrong, but still personally beneficial, is a collective delusion. One that signals the complete infiltration of capitalist dogma into every last aspect of life. You’re not apolitical, you’re not moderate or practical, and you’re not uninterested…you very likely don’t know enough to even make such a claim. You’re distracting yourself because the only thing you fear more than non-existence is existence. The only thing scarier than death is life.

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

― Helen Keller

________________________________________

[1] “Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside of himself as a completely separate entity, two courses re-open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable state of powerlessness and aloneness. By one course he can progress to “positive freedom”; he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of his emotional, sensuous and intellectual capacities; he can thus become one again with man, nature, and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course open to him is to fall back, to give up his freedom, and to try to overcome his aloneness by eliminating the gap that has arisen between his individual self and the world. This second course never reunites him with the world in the way he was related to it before he merged as an “individual,” for the fact of his separateness cannot be reversed; it is an escape from an unbearable situation which would make life impossible if it were prolonged. This course of escape, therefore, is characterized by its compulsive character, like every escape from threatening panic; it is also characterized by the more or less complete surrender of individuality and the integrity of the self. Thus it is not a solution which leads to happiness and positive freedom; it is, in principle, a solution which is to be found in all neurotic phenomena. It assuages an unbearable anxiety and makes life possible by avoiding panic; yet it does not solve the underlying problem and is paid for by a kind of life that often consists only of automatic or compulsive activities.”

― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom 


[2] “Among the many forms of alienation, the most frequent one is alienation in language. If I express a feeling with a word, let us say, if I say “I love you,” the word is meant to be an indication of the reality which exists within myself, the power of my loving. The word “love” is meant to be a symbol of the fact love, but as soon as it is spoken it tends to assume a life of its own, it becomes a reality. I am under the illusion that the saying of the word is the equivalent of the experience, and soon I say the word and feel nothing, except the thought of love which the word expresses. The alienation of language shows the whole complexity of alienation. Language is one of the most precious human achievements; to avoid alienation by not speaking would be foolish — yet one must be always aware of the danger of the spoken word, that it threatens to substitute itself for the living experience. The same holds true for all other achievements of man; ideas, art, any kind of man-made objects. They are man’s creations; they are valuable aids for life, yet each one of them is also a trap, a temptation to confuse life with things, experience with artifacts, feeling with surrender and submission.” ― Erich Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man 

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the near shutdown of the service industry. This has similarly led to mass unemployment in nearly every industry. Further, many people seeking work are now finding HR departments aren’t hiring, and many workers doing freelance/commission work have seen a standstill in project requests. Many of these people do not […]

Categories
System Assessments

Capitalism in Nigeria, and a call for unity of the proletariat!

Statistically, 1 in 5 Nigerian children will die before the age of five. The bulk of this mortality rate can be attributed to preventable illness—tetanus, malaria, nutritional deficiencies [1]. One of the leading causes of death in Nigeria is diarrheal disease [2], which is unsurprising considering 30% of people have no access to clean drinking water, and over 70% are subject to inadequate sanitation conditions [3]. Yet, it feels strange to say this country has poor infrastructure, seeing as it currently has over 150 oil fields and over 1400 active oil wells [4]. In fact, Nigeria is the largest crude oil producer in Africa, and in 2010, Nigeria was the fourth largest petroleum supplier to the United States [5]

The petroleum industry in Nigeria provides 65% of the Nigerian federal budget, and the industry is the source of 95% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. The top four petroleum extractors in Nigeria are Exxon Mobile (American), Chevron (American), Statoil (Norwegian), and Shell (Dutch). Other significant extractors include Addax Petroleum and Nexen Inc, both Chinese companies  [4]

While the most significant companies are actually American (US) or European, they do not abide by the environmental standards typical to those regions. For example, 80% of all wastewater coming from Nigerian industrial facilities receives no form of treatment whatsoever [5], and while 4m litres of oil are spilled annually in the United States (note: the US has surpassed Nigeria in gas and oil extraction), 40m litres are spilled in just the Niger Delta region of Nigeria annually [6]

Spills in the Niger Delta have gone unaddressed for decades (e.g. plans for clean up have been highly politicized, resulting in delays and inaction). The extent of spills and the lack of clean-up has led to severe soil and water contamination within the area. Life expectancy in the Niger Delta is 10 years below the national average, with national Nigerian life expectancy already being one of the lowest globally. Further, a high proportion of those residing in the Niger Delta rely on fishing and farming for work, so contamination has led to widespread unemployment and hunger—you can’t grow plants in polluted soil and fish can’t live in polluted waters. As noted in The Guardian, “multinational oil companies operate to severe double standards. While efforts are made to clean up spills in the US, Scotland or Norway, oil is left to flow unabated in Nigeria.” [6] It’s interesting that this article specifically cites the US and Norway, seeing as, of the top three petroleum companies in Nigeria, two are American and the other is Norwegian. Beyond contamination leading to hunger and loss of work, people who live in oil-rich regions are often forced from their homes for these profiting companies:

“A new report, The Human Cost of a Megacity: Forced Evictions of the Urban Poor in Lagos, details repeated forced evictions of the Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin communities [in Nigeria] carried out since March 2016 without any consultation, adequate notice, compensation or alternative housing being offered to those affected. Some evictees drowned as they fled police gunfire, while at least one was shot dead.” [7] 

Was Nigeria always this way?

The country  known today as Nigeria was once divided into several different regions. Before contact with imperialist Europeans, the communal people of these regions had their own economic systems, where we the people provided the labor needed to feed one another, without the need for profiting capitalists at the very top. Families would rely on the food they grew or the fish they caught, and we maintained the farmlands and the waterways, as we understood that the sustainability of these resources was fundamental to life. We could organize our societies free from the influence of commercialism, giving us an easy connection to the products of our labor. Without oil industries poisoning the land, our bushes were green and our waters were abundant with fish. 

There are at least 250 different documented ethnic groups and tribes in Nigeria today, reminding us of the various cultural communal regions that once existed here. We existed in relative peace with one another and with the ecosystem:

“Separate villages had differences in customs and culture, although there were similarities as well.  Within a specific Igbo community government was often similar to democracy. […] Leadership was not hereditary.  High ranking men who held titles were not considered kings but rather helped run assemblies. Although these men presided over assemblies, everyone had a chance to speak and offer an opinion.  […] Igbo communities traded with each other although the economy was primarily based off of subsistence farming of crops such as yams. […] Hard work was valued so even the wealthiest participated in farming.  […] All of this would change with the arrival of British colonizers and Christian missionaries.” [8]       

The changes that brought on the Nigeria we know today were instigated by the British industrial revolution, an event that would ultimately poison every aspect of human society, regardless of geographic location. Capitalism was on a destructive mission to conquer and colonize, and us Nigerian people were not to be excluded from such damaging goals. We were indoctrinated into the world capitalist orbit, and the corruption, injustices, and constant social disorder it brought on…these problems continue to weigh heavily on us today. 


A Brief History: colonialism, oil, and civil war.

Petroleum production has actually been declining in Nigeria; nonetheless, Nigeria has been a major (typically, top 10) exporter of gas and oil since the 1970s [9]. With petroleum being such a lucrative industry, it may be hard to understand why the country of Nigeria has the highest population of people in extreme poverty—86.9 million (June 2018). To clarify, Nigeria has the highest population of people in extreme poverty, not merely the highestest proportional population. For comparison, India has the second largest population of people in extreme poverty—71.5 million. Yet the overall population of Nigeria at this time (2018) was less than 200 million, while India’s population exceeded 1.3 billion. Proportionally, 46.7% of people in Nigeria lived in extreme poverty in 2018 [10]. Also in 2018, Nigeria’s oil revenue hit $26 billion in only seven months [11]! What is going on here? 

Much of this extreme inequality comes down to rampant corruption within the Nigerian government, a government established after a multitude of military coups and an all-out civil war beginning in the late 1960s. Which, to anyone familiar with US foreign policy and the concept of shock capitalism (see The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein) and the long historical relationship between the US government and foreign military coups, this may be setting off some alarm bells. Does this corruption have anything to do with US-style intervention? Well, in 2012, the Journal of American History (Vol. 99, Issue 1, Pages 155-165) published a piece on the Nigerian Civil War, noting the role of US involvement:

“New evidence reveals that a tax battle waged by U.S. oil companies contributed to the regional and ethnic tensions leading to the outbreak of war. In the prewar oil boom period in Nigeria, U.S. independent oil companies undertook intensive lobbying and propaganda campaigns to convince Nigerians that newly imposed Libyan-style tax laws would force them out of business. In turn, they argued, the regions where they operated, as well as the ethnic groups inhabiting them, would be relegated to perpetual poverty. This campaign thus exacerbated ethnic tensions, falsely heightening the stakes over which the war was to be fought.” [12]

Beyond this, we know from declassified documents that British military forces took interest in the civil war for similar reasons: “our direct interests are trade and investment, including an important stake by Shell/BP in the eastern Region.” Further, Commonwealth Minister George Thomas wrote in August 1967, 

“The sole immediate British interest in Nigeria is that the Nigerian economy should be brought back to a condition in which our substantial trade and investment in the country can be further developed, and particularly so we can regain access to important oil installations.” [13]

Shock capitalism is when companies use “shock” events to push through neoconservative policies or governance that would not normally ever be agreed upon democratically. The lack of political stability during a civil war provided the environment needed to push through a corrupt, highly militant government—particularly, one that would benefit Western oil companies. This needs to be made clear: Western commercial industry, as well as Western military forces, are why the current Nigerian government is corrupt in a way that benefits US and European industry. Under our current capitalist system, regions like this need to exist, making it all the more inappropriate that capitalists frame philanthropy and foreign aid (e.g. more intervention) as the only viable solution to extreme poverty in Africa. 

National Debt and Foreign Aid

Like many countries in the global south, Nigeria is a country being kept in a state of under-development because it benefits global oligarchs, be they American, European, Russian, Chinese, or even Nigerian. Capitalism requires foreign resource and labor extraction (e.g. outward expansion). This requires dependent nation-states, which requires such nation-states lack an independent system of production, so that they must rely on foreign countries. This is often justified further with claims of owing a debt, that is, these nation-states are said to “owe” foreign powers for colonial development and the continued relationship of forced dependence. Typically, paying this “debt” is an insurmountable task, thanks to privatization, deregulation, concessions, etc. From the start, the debt was never meant to be paid off, as is typical of debt in general (see Debt by David Gaeber, as well as the eloquent critique of Graber’s approach in Jacobin by Mike Beggs, or the classic analysis of capitalist economy, Capital by Karl Marx). Rather, debt is an excuse for continued exploitation of labor and resources, effectively enslaving residents of the nation-state into a type of perpetual indentured servitude. 

If capital needs you for labor, they need you alive. If automation or another region provides that labor, they don’t. In the case of Nigeria, exploitation primarily boils down to environmental resource-extraction. It is therefore unsurprising that we see such high rates of mortality here. It’s also worth emphasizing that without socialist reconstruction of Nigeria, poverty, unemployment, and a high death toll will persist.


Call to Action

Considering the failure to adequately distribute resources under a capitalist economic system, socialism is the only truly viable solution here. For our Nigerian masses we need to go beyond fiscal federalism, or the ethnic nationalities’ restructuring agenda driven by acquisitive interests of capitalism (that is, creating new territories of capitalist exploitation). Socialism has the potential to restructure our material existence. What to restructure, if we have a proper understanding of Ernesto Che Guevara and Cabral’s contributions to Humanity, is our ideological and material relations between the few exploiters and the majority exploited—the haves and the have-not!

If socialism is to replace our cruel capitalist system, we need a mass movement. We need the mass mobilization and organization of all suffering people. We need to spread class consciousness and socialist ideas. We cannot rest idly and expect change.  

Thus, we assert, wherever we are, we need to prioritize fighting injustice. We need to remain wary of false liberal solutions that seek only to prolong the viability of capitalism. This requires unity and organisation of the exploited social classes. The more Nigeria and other African nation-states embrace prescriptions of capitalism, the more we can expect economic insecurity,  as well as ethnic and religious divisiveness.

The present challenge is to arouse the consciousness of the masses, of the exploited people. We need to convey the harms of capitalism, and the alternative of socialism. That is, our primary goal must be to teach the working people and the poor masses the connection between their material conditions and the economic system (capitalism) dictating our social and political systems. Ideological posturing is not enough here, we need organization and concrete goals.

In regards to our goal of education, we need to connect the material realities people experience to the political. We, the proletariat of Nigeria—working people, unemployed, students and youth, academics, women, traders, farmers, professionals, etc.—we must unite against this oppressive and anti-nature system. Beyond this, we must have solidarity with the other working classes of the world—workers of the world, unite! 

Unite4Action-Nigeria

Today, our environment has been destroyed from crude oil exploration. We can no longer farm or fish, and we are blocked access to the wealth capitalists “earn” from these crude oil sales that are ultimately destroying our previous ways of life. Our ecosystem in the Niger delta has been destroyed, we are dying from cancerous diseases, and the oppressive nature of this system silences us from speaking out against it. Our hope is that through Unite4Action, we can be given a platform to speak out against the harsh oppression we face. Only through solidarity with one another and fellow workers of the world, can we change this unfair system allowing the very few with extreme wealth to dictate production and distribution. While capitalism is destroying conditions all over the world, conditions are exceptionally dire in Nigeria, as we outlined at the start of this article (e.g. ecological destruction, mass hunger and disease, violent authorities forcing families from their homes, extreme poverty). In Nigeria, our goal is to spread community support for democratic socialist ideas. If you are interested in this initiative, (1) you can support Unite4Action-Nigeria by helping us purchase organizing materials, (2) if you’re in Nigeria and would like to aid with on-the-ground organizing, email contact@unite4action.org, (3) email or comment suggestions/proposals for organizing—we’re in the early stages of building Unite4Action, and we’d love to have more teams involved.

Beyond this initiative by Unite4Action-Nigeria, we’re interested in pushing for socialism in other ways. To contact us about getting involved with Unite4Action (note, we’re open to new ideas!), or to access links to other socialist organizations, see our page LINKS AND MORE, for international political parties like Socialist Resurgence. Solidarity forever, comrades!

Categories
Tasks and Perspectives

Global Working Class Unity!

With the global mobilization of the working classes of the world we see growing evidence of global class consciousness. The persistent, yet hidden truth is that the foundation of our societies is built on working class labor. As global class agitation rises and mass organization demands that the workers of the world replace these oppressive and exploitative rulers, it becomes increasingly clear that we need global systemic changes. The old system must be uprooted and replaced with international socialism.

Throughout various periods of history, the proletariat workers have had opportunity to unite and overthrow their oppressive regimes. Yet their attempts were thwarted by docile workers willing to bargain with the ruling classes. These class traitors typically sympathized with their oppressors due to a variety of underhanded attempts by the ruling classes to confuse the workers class interest with their own, primarily through isolation, disorientation, and misdirection. This is often accomplished by increasing the availability of aesthetical aspects of bourgeois life, pushing a false media narrative, and eliminating channels of communication between comrades. For example, the archetypal white American suburb of the 1950s physically and ideologically seperated this so-called “middle class” from other workers. They could view themselves as homeowners, fundamentally different from urban renters. Homeowning pushed them to sympathize with the capital-owning classes, as they were encouraged to conflate personal property with private property (the means of production). Another example is fascistic ideaology that confuses ruling class antagonism with some ethnic, racial, or gender identity. The rulers with their monopoly on the means of production and their growing profits extracted from slavery, wage labor, and manufactured scarcity…this is not the problem, says fascism, it is “the Jews” or “the gypsies”—the mysterious other. Such a misdirection requires social isolation from this other, and a false understanding of one’s own class position.

The oppressors maintain control over the means of production, and subsequently our choices, tastes, and culture. They own and/or control all legitimate sources of news, media, and communication, allowing them to frame degrading material conditions as the fault of an other, and improving material conditions as the result of their own generosity and competence. They mute class consciousness, yet their efforts are losing effectiveness. The global proletariat have an opportunity to evolve this exploitative system if we can ward off false consciousness. With the threat of growing environmental disaster, this becomes increasingly crucial that we spread class consciousness and unite with our fellow proletariat comrades from all over the world. We cannot let ignorance pull workers towards becoming self-destructive class traitors, who protect the ruling capitalist class due to a false understanding of class and their own class position.

Under our current global economic system, ecological collapse is inevitable. The future well-being of humanity and our environment requires change through class consiousness. It require active organization. It requires these things on a global-scale. With that, I assert with urgency, workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose, but your chains.