From Global Farm To Global Table: The Capitalist Pandemic
Whether believed the subject of hysterical conjecture or conspiratorial creation, the fact is that we face a new and different virus that may threaten life more than previous forms. It is also true that up to the moment that includes more than a quarter million victims, most who suffer the illness survive and they represent the overwhelming majority. Nevertheless, the threat is to all humanity and must be treated as such and that will call for transformative changes of a nature previously unimagined by most though strongly suggested by many going back to the beginning of the present problem. That problem is not the current pandemic but its origin in the form of a political economic system which began in its industrial form in the late eighteenth century and was presently tending toward one of its regular crises called a recession. That was before this viral attack provoked a greater crisis dubbed by many a return to conditions of what was called a “Great Depression”, and this not referring to presently profitable forms of individual therapy but to the breakdown of an entire global system.
America survived that past collapse by instituting a social democratic form of capitalism at odds with the fascist form which at the same time “saved” Germany, both forms later getting into a war that saw tens of millions killed and the victory, for a while, of the social democratic, liberal welfare style of capital. That prevented blatant starvation and mass death in the streets by instituting social policies to help much but not all of the local working class while ultimately slaughtering that same class in Korea, Vietnam and other places representing conflict with the market system of private profit for some, only available at deadly loss to many.
America and the West’s return to the more blatant fundamentalist worship of the deity of unimpeded market forces which hold society in total contempt began back in the 1970s but it should be understood that the system did not change at all, in its essence. Whether run by fascists or social democrats only the way it manifested its profits and its manner of forcing the loss were different in style. If some populations were rewarded with steady diets, decent jobs and comfortable housing, others suffered malnutrition, wretched poverty, and mass murder under military assaults that went beyond the incredible slaughters of world war two, at least in per capita numbers. While some 60 million are said to have perished in that war, mostly among victorious Russians and the losers, Germany and Japan, the death tolls and wreckage later inflicted on Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were much greater and might have approached 100 million if the population base had been the same.
Under the market forces of private profit and public loss, the good life for some necessitates absolute misery for others. The problem is not simply reducible to greedy or murderous people but the organizational components of society which reduce them to support of a greedy murderous system that can have no other outcome, no matter how much rhetoric is expanded nor however sincerely about striving for democracy and a better life for all. Continuing to organize society on the basis of capitalist market forces rewarding private profits to investors by robbing the workers who create its largesse and then consume it, mostly by becoming debtors, will not only prolong but greatly increase the scandalous evidence of human and environmental destruction all around us, including the present virus.
While ideas run rampant, many thoughtful, many more bordering on insanity, of a plague created and arranged by a criminal lab in China, but somehow run by Americans, the same lab but this time run by the Chinese, somehow ignorant that it would kill their own people, or simply a plot by evil mysterians setting about to destroy civilization in favor of the Elders of Gay Latino Mormons of Color, reality is as usual far more complex and much less subject to fantasy. The international system that industrial capitalism brought into being and that was wisely criticized at its inception by Marx and Engels has become more globally dominant and in its modern form features a relatively tiny group of fantastically rich and powerful individuals and their corporate entities which dominate the production and procurement of food, clothing, shelter and everything else almost everywhere on earth, and this only by treating them as commodities for purchase at a market and unavailable to any without the money or credit line enabling them to make those purchases.
While individual possession of wealth and power has advanced far beyond any ancient imperial kingdom governed by alleged earthly gods and now allows staggering riches to be held by a nearly microscopic in size “identity group”, it keeps hundreds of millions sinking into debt, poverty and wars. We of the majority are being kept divided into other “identity groups” in battle with one another for a small part of what we greatly produce while minority rulers enjoy a form of perverted socialism in which the many support the few in ways that would have made past bloody emperors envious.
That global rule now means that Chinese capital owns land and manufacturing facilities in the USA while American capital does the same in China. National competition still seems the order of the day but its form is not what it was in past ages, since financial wars now loom as large though not quite as obviously deadly as the military form. If Chinese investments are taken out of America, or vice versa, each nation would suffer greatly, until and unless its people democratically took over the economies and saw to it that the wealth of the nation went to the people of the nation, the actual creators of that wealth, and not a bunch of investors most of whom whose only job was to be born to rich parents. For every tale of a poor person from the ghetto becoming rich, the Horatio Alger fictions that work as a drug for so many, there are a hundred thousand realities of trust fund babies, infants born with tens of thousands when not millions of dollars already waiting for their signature upon achieving legal age. And even if and when they turn out to be decent, loving, caring human beings, the system guarantees that their efforts to make life better will only work for some and never for all. The present pandemic is only the latest evidence of what we need to confront and change, radically, not just for a pandemic of the moment but the disease humanity has suffered for much too long.
The wet markets in China, said to be the possible source of the virus, are in essence no different than the dry markets in China or anywhere else. They exist to return private profit to investors, and those may well be Americans in the global economic environment. It is a fact that Wall Street and its Beijing equivalent are partners in that marketplace, no matter the radical difference in their governments, and American financial firms, Goldman Sachs for one, own farmland in the very vicinity of whatever bat cave or wet market where this virus may have started. But rather than the virus being dealt with locally by Darwinian natural selection and with modern technology’s help, where possible, it took on the global status of capitalism’s unnatural selection. Under those market rules, forests do not create trees but produce profitable lumber and farms do not create crops but profitable food, and whether wet, dry, cooked or raw, kale, bacon, dog food or organic soup, the product is a commodity to be consumed at the market and turn a profit in the process or it will not originate in the first place.
21st century globalized capital has assumed a pace that involves finance, profits, losses, war, peace and tourism to advance at electronic speeds previously unimagined and turn up all over the world in a matter of not just days but often seconds. It can no longer be dealt with only by national organizations but must finally be confronted by international action which may originate nationally but will have no meaning unless democratically undertaken internationally. And this will mean the direct opposite of imperial national powers of the past, like the old British and the more recent USA, and even the newly emerging China-Russia more humane based market ideologies; they cannot be allowed to dominate the global population.
It may be necessary to radically change not only commercial but individual travel habits but if these help achieve a cleaner air quality while allowing people to remain closer to home even while doing their jobs, this is only one of the many possible positive outcomes of this crisis. The fact that a new generation of social critics has formed and is unhesitant to challenge the system of capital is another hopeful sign that unity among generations may bring about more substantial change than ever achievable before. We may not have to return to family farming exclusively but larger entities that grow our food need to be, like larger entities that manufacture our products, owned and run by their workers, in true democratic form, to benefit all the people, and this crisis is also making that fact far more clear to far more people.
Democracy is hardly what will be achieved this November in the American election when the usual minority will select a president in the lesser evil billion-dollar sham that passes for electoral freedom, but it must and will be achieved in the immediate future for all humanity or there will be further pandemic hell to pay for civilization. Capitalism, like slavery and feudalism before, has outlived whatever benefits it brought to some. Its individual benefits have gone far beyond humanity’s ability to bear the costs and we, the majority, must see to its end before it brings about ours.