Are you sad because a bout of Covid-19 disrupted your life with illness, bills, or even the death of a friend or family member? Are you anxious because your benefits have ceased and you can’t find a new job? Are you worried because the brain fog after Covid has persisted so long? Are you angry because you are being evicted or are short of food? Maybe you are one of the statistics being counted in the supposed wave of the mentally ill? After having Covid, people were 55% more likely to be on antidepressants and 65% more likely to be on antidepressants than uninfected contemporaries (NYT 2/16/22).
We will argue that the new stressor of Covid is only another one added to those that capitalism already provides: poverty, racism, poor social services, sexism, police violence. High quality housing, education, health care, recreation and a healthy environment are difficult to attain and maintain even for middle and modestly high-income workers. In addition, we now live in a world in which we are witnessing the imminence of climate disaster, the rising risk of nuclear war, the increased frequency of pandemics, and the worsening of inflation causing desperation among millions. We urgently need to prepare to change this system. Let us begin by examining the ways in which the powerful in our society try explain away its deficiencies by blaming them on deficiencies within us, within our bodies and minds.
Inflation is the latest way the capitalist system’s crises are deepening the oppression of workers around the world. Capitalism is driven by competition and profit accumulation and generates global economic and political instability. While inflation is depriving U.S. workers of some of life’s necessities, the U.S.’s export of inflation to other countries is even more devastating. Such an absurd and abusive system cries out for a more sensible alternative.
Workers in southern and north-western Pakistan have been devastated by severe flooding over the last several weeks. Thirty-three million people are affected, mainly being displaced, by what may be the worst flooding in the history of Pakistan. The official death count from the floods is at about 1,400 people; unofficially, the estimate is over 4,000 dead. There is nothing natural about the scope of this disaster. The blame is squarely on capitalism. Namely, climate change, mass poverty and neglect of developing infrastructure, all caused by the drive for ever increasing profit at the expense of the working class. Many reforms, like decent housing and new sewers, would save many lives and spare many workers the loss of their homes, but those reforms seem like a distant impossible dream. In fact, the situation keeps repeating and will continue to worsen as capitalist crises only get more severe.
Worsening climate change brought heavier rains than usual into this region which destroyed the homes and belongings of millions of poor workers, who the capitalist system sees as expendable. Many of those displaced and killed were among the millions of workers in Pakistan who were forced out of the countryside by the abject poverty of the agricultural system under capitalism that leaves small farmers on their own. Recent droughts, also worsened by climate change, left family farmers in the impossible position of staying on their barren land to starve or heading into the cities to find work at poverty wages (ARY News, 9/2). These workers were forced by the conditions to settle on the banks of rivers, among the riskiest places to live but one of the few ways in the cities for the working class to have access to water.
We’ve all heard the news by now: the more than 150,000 people who live in Jackson, Mississippi haven’t had drinkable water in their homes since late July and no water at all from August 28 until September 7. As of then, you could at least flush a toilet. Even the local elementary school had to close. It is no surprise that 82% of Jackson’s population is black and 27% are poor.
Not only do tens of millions of people around the world hate capitalism and want to see it replaced with a society run by and for workers, but they have felt that way for many generations. 125 years ago, Edward Bellamy wrote the novel Looking Backward, a powerful and intelligent critique of capitalism, a system that Bellamy considered cruel and wasteful. It was written at a time of great inequality and great workers’ struggles and also soon after Karl Marx had published his searing analysis of capitalism in the Communist Manifesto. Marx also raised ideas about how a post-capitalist communist society would work, most profoundly from each worker according to ability and to each according to need. Looking Backward is Bellamy’s vivid description of the egalitarian society that he saw replacing capitalism.
The August 8 raid by the FBI on Donald Trump’s residence and playground in Mar-a-Lago certainly got everyone’s attention, especially Trump’s. And while the legal battle is playing out over Trump’s taking boxloads of Top Secret and Classified files to his basement (and what was in his safe?), this really reflects something much deeper than the specific criminal acts that are alleged. It could more accurately be described as “The Empire Strikes Back!”
The increasing political divide in the US, reflected on almost any issue from immigration to abortion rights to vaccines, reflects the debate going on in the political class over how to save the US empire. As US imperialism faces ever greater challenges internationally, this debate takes on a more urgent, and sometimes violent, nature. The US empire is slipping away and there is a fierce struggle going on over how to save it. Basically, we are witnessing what goes on inside the loser’s locker-room, with each side blaming the other, and all of them being at least partially right!
To quote Ahilan Kadirgamar, a political economist at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, the uprising is “a revolt and not yet a revolution, because it doesn’t want to change fundamental social relations… or property relations.”1
All of us who yearn to see a mass movement of workers united across national, racial and gender lines against capitalism and imperialism should remember and learn from the life of Walter Rodney. A Guyanese historian and activist who was murdered by his own ruling class in 1980 at the age of 38, Rodney understood the pitfalls of pseudo-socialism and neocolonialism like few others. And also like few others, he combined a profound understanding of history from a Marxist perspective, the ability to convey his knowledge and learn from broad swath of workers, and a commitment to actively participate in workers’ struggles. It is that combination that made him so dangerous to the Guyanese rulers.
There is a runoff election upcoming in Colombia on June 19 between a staunch right winger, Rodolfo Hernández, and a so-called leftist, Gustavo Petro, both of whom got more votes in the first round than the centrist candidate representing the status quo. “So-called” leftist is the key word here, because, to quote Petro, he is fighting for “democracy and peace, not socialism.” 1 He wants to raise taxes on the rich, combat hunger, increase access to health care and education, and halt oil exploration, but he envisions accomplishing this by allying himself with liberal politicians in order to “ pass progressive liberal reforms.”2