*This essay was originally posted in April 2021 (and regularly updated) on Medium.com but was censored the following September. It was last updated in May 2023 to add details regarding some of the latest relevant studies and seismic economic developments.
** The (very extensive) footnotes to this essay are too long to post on the same page and are easier to read separately, anyway – please see here.
Because capitalism is working towards its own abolition by replacing commodity-producing labour with automation, capital’s profitability is increasingly dependent on: lowering real wages; higher unemployment; the monetisation of personal/private data; public debt; state contracts; the monopolisation of industry and wealth; and—frankly—depopulation
Depending on who you are, what you’ve read, and how you think, you will tend to ‘side’ with one or several theories about the COVID-19 pandemic. On the ‘acceptable’ side of ‘mainstream’ thought, viruses break out as a result of wildlife trading, habitat destruction and biodiversity-destroying monoculture (less acceptably, as a symptom of capitalism’s ever-greater dependence on labour exploitation, commodity production and the monopolisation of the ownership of industry). On the unacceptably conspiratorial side of things, COVID-19 is a computer-generated genetic code patented by pharmaceutical corporations to justify the rollout of new mRNA vaccines that we either do not need, were brought to market before meeting proper safety regulations to satisfy shareholders, or even to cause intentional harm as part of a eugenics-type depopulation programme. With some overlap, others think infection and death rates have been inflated by sleights of hand and oversensitive, cheap surrogate testing. Another theory, one that has become increasingly mainstream – as the US and China square up over the distribution of dwindling profits and therefore seek to blame each other—claims that the outbreak resulted from a man-made virus leaked, by accident or design, from a military lab. MIT researchers say conspiracy theorists place a high premium on data analysis and empiricism and “believe science is a process, not an institution” (May 8, 2021). And, yes, ‘The Great Reset’ is not simply a conspiracy theory but a 2020 book by World Economic Forum (WEF) founder Klaus Schwab, one complemented by a 2016 blogpost in which a WEF economist anticipates an increasingly rent-based economy whereby “you’ll own nothing and be happy”. Taking a step back from pure conspiracy theories that we cannot prove, one thing from the perspective of Marxist economic theory is undeniable: given the dire state of global economic growth, the timing of the pandemic could not have been more convenient for the ruling class and the needs of capital accumulation.
What we tend to hear from those who do believe in a conspiracy is that it has been driven by ‘greedy’ and ‘power hungry’ grabs on land, wealth and power. Such grabs are certainly happening all the time—Microsoft’s Bill Gates has become the US’s largest owner of farmland—and greed and power addiction play their role. Stopping there, however, conceals the essential driving force at play—the ever-rising demands of capital accumulation.
Capitalists are private owners of production incentivised to produce and sell commodities by the promise of receiving profit, a higher return than what they invested. Without that return, the incentive to produce disappears. Idle money cannot return a profit, so reinvestment in expanded production is necessary. Profits need to be large enough to sustain personal wealth and business operations, from bills to repairs and so on. Capitalism is therefore a dynamic system of capital accumulation—expanding private production—not a static one that can be indefinitely reproduced on the same scale.
Inherent contradictions abound, however. Primarily, right at the heart of production, a commodity is dualistically a use value (a utility, something useful) and an exchange value. Exchange value is labour time expressed monetarily—the one thing that all commodities have in common that make them exchangeable is labour time. The outlay on wages represents necessary labour time, the cost of reproducing workers (covering the costs of their subsistence)—the rest, surplus labour time, or surplus value, is appropriated by the capitalist and realised as profit in commodity sales/exchange.
Economy-wide output tends to roughly double every 25 years. As use values accumulate in number, exchange value tends to wither away—the amount of exchange value increases absolutely but less of it is contained per commodity, since with productive expansion, economies of scale and innovation, less labour time is needed to produce each commodity. This problem compels the capitalist to expand production, expanding the absolute mass of value to offset a fall in the rate of profit but increasingly intensifying the contradiction.
The world rate of profit trended downwards from an estimated average of 43% in the 1870s to 11% in the 2010s (Maito, 2014; Basu et al., 2022). Interest rates—interest being a form of profit—have trended towards zero for at least seven centuries (Schmelzing, 2018) perhaps five millenia (Haldane, 2015), regardless of the various political and banking regimes. The rate of GDP growth has consistently slowed down with every passing decade (from around 6% in the 1960s to 2% in the 2010s). The rate of new startups has plummeted (Lettieri, 2016); and the average lifespan of the richest corporations fell from around 60 years in the 1960s to below 20 years in the 2000s (Harvard Business Review, 2014).
In a long-run process of ‘deindustrialisation’, manufacturing labour as a proportion of the US workforce declined from 38% in 1946 to 8.4% in 2016. Around 80% of workers are now employed in services. Deindustralisation is an increasingly worldwide phenomena, strongly affecting even sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America in the 2000s (Rodrik, 2015). As the ratio of capital-to-labour becomes evermore capital-biased, labour’s task of reproducing the expanding capital grows more difficult, like climbing an ever-steeper mountain (albeit with increasingly better equipment).
Recessions therefore represent a tending-to-rise (relatively as well as absolutely) underproduction of surplus value, a deficiency of surplus labour time contained in the sum total of commodities. This tendency is also a tending-to-rise overaccumulation (surplus) of capital that cannot be (re)invested profitably in production (Grossman, 1929).
Debt rises to ‘fill the gap’ left by the underproduction of surplus value. Other measures taken by the capitalist class to counteract the problem include attacking wages, essentially to redirect or increase the amount of labour time/value going to capitalists instead of workers. With every cycle of accumulation, however, the exploitability of labour—as it is augmented and replaced by capital, increasingly in the form of automation—continues to become increasingly insufficient.
The centralisation of capital therefore becomes increasingly necessary (partly through speculation and price rises). Bigger, richer companies buy up smaller, poorer ones, preferably on the cheap after the latter have gone bankrupt, and thereby monopolise industry, (temporarily) improving profitability through efficiency gains and economies of scale. As a result, small capitalists and ‘middle class’ people (often relatively well-paid wage workers with some smallholdings in private property) are increasingly pushed down into the ranks of the working class (people wholly dependent on waged work).
Innovations that speed up and expand production, devaluing both labour and production, also disproportionately take place in periods of economic contraction, when demand and therefore prices have fallen—thus reviving accumulation as innovation and expansion become more affordable. The system therefore needs crises.
Capitalism has now entered its deepest ever crisis. Global debt and debt-to-GDP have continually hit new records since the ‘Great Recession’/‘Great Financial Crisis’ of 2007-09—indicating that relative overaccumulation is at an all-time high—led by private debt, which trebled between 1950 and 2017 (International Monetary Fund, January 2, 2019), heaped onto the backs of the public. A decade of savage austerity, whereby capitalist governments redirected large portions of public spending into subsidising capital, proved to be inadequate. Capital required a deeper recession. Instead of the official 1.7% global contraction (the first since WWII) in 2009, world GDP in 2020 shrank by 3.6% (World Bank).
GDP growth was already grinding to a halt. In August 2019, three months before China announced the outbreak of COVID-19, inverted yield curves – when long-term interest rates are lower than short-term rates, indicating that short-term returns are falling significantly and investors are selling more than buying—struck for the first time since the Great Recession. Germany’s economic output contracted by 0.1% and Britain’s by 0.2%. According to Shell, peak oil struck in 2019, meaning the fossil fuel industry—capitalism’s long-time most important industry due to the extraction, non-renewability and therefore labour-intensity involved—is now in terminal decline, with deeper and deeper extraction making it too expensive relative to returns; and the falling price of solar also expected to make fossil fuels uncompetitive as far as consumers are concerned from around 2026.
In April 2018, the World Bank recommended yet more deregulation in a report that said “high minimum wages, undue restrictions on hiring and firing and strict contract forms all make workers more expensive vis-à-vis technology”. International capital was preparing a major assault on international labour in order to accelerate moves towards automated production. After the fastest ever stock market crash in March 2020 – when a record 3.3 million people filed for unemployment in the US alone – a survey by auditing firm EY found that almost half of 2,900 executives across 45 countries were speeding up plans to automate their businesses.
Again in August 2019, James Bullard of the Federal Reserve (the Fed), the US central bank, told the Financial Times that the ‘developed world’ had experienced a “regime shift”. “Something is going on, causing a total rethink of central banking and all our cherished notions…. We just have to stop thinking that next year things are going to be normal.”
Back in 2011, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world's largest investment and asset management corporation, told Bloomberg: “Markets don’t like uncertainty, they like totalitarian governments. Democracies are messy.”
On 22 August 2019, BlackRock presented central bankers at an annual conference with a policy document titled “Dealing with the next downturn: From unconventional monetary policy to unprecedented policy coordination”. The document proposed “going direct”—central bank money printing to inject liquidity into the economy via loans (in the form of asset/debt purchasing) to certain, hand-picked commercial banks and corporations, effectively an extension of the fallout from the financial crisis.
From the middle of 2016, the Fed had been reducing its balance sheet, i.e. the debt it had been purchasing from (again, certain) banks during and after 2007-09 in an unprecedented bond-buying policy known as quantitative easing. This reduction accelerated in 2017 and in 2018 the baseline interest rate inversely crept up past 2%, making capital more expensive to borrow. (A baseline (target) rate (known in the US as the Effective Federal Funds Rate) is ‘set by’ a central bank in this way, by increasing the value of the assets on a central bank’s balance sheet.)
Inflation rose to 2.5% (partly because of then president Donald Trump’s record corporate tax cut, which enabled higher employment/exploitation/wages and thus higher demand relative to supply from both capital and workers), above the targeted stability of 2%. US GDP growth slowed down below the 3-6% Trump had promised and he started to call for the rate to be put back down to zero, a record low point at which it had languished since 2010 (contradicting his often-made complaints about the government’s rising debt ceiling).
In late 2000, as the ‘dot com bubble’ was crashing, before the ensuing recession, banks had started to panic borrow from the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB), ‘the lender of second-to-last resort’. The baseline interest rate inversely fell, by about 4.5% to 1.7%. The same thing happened from the start of 2007 when the ‘housing bubble’ started to burst, only on a larger scale, reflecting the greater level of accumulation and overaccumulation. When that option had been exhausted, banks started panic borrowing from the Fed. When that option had been exhausted, the Fed electronically ‘printed’ new money into existence so that it could keep purchasing their debt (in the form of their otherwise all-but-worthless ‘mortgage backed securities’, sold to poor workers, following deregulation, who would never be able to afford repayments once interest rates rose). The baseline rate fell from 5.5% to the record low of zero.
In September 2019, the banks started panic borrowing from the FHLB and the Fed at about the same time; and so the Fed reversed course, redoubled quantitative easing, and the baseline quickly dropped back from 2.5% to zero. For the first time ever, the (until then linearly rising) rate of monetary growth in the retail circuit (private commercial banks) began to track the rate in the wholesale circuit (issued by the Fed; which is, by the way, privately owned, by the banking industry’s shareholders).
Induced by the lockdowns, the fastest ever stock market crash in March 2020 triggered record unemployment; the price of US oil turned negative for the first time ever; and M2 velocity – the rate at which money is spent – duly dropped to a record low amid an extremely deep two-month recession. The Fed’s bond-buying programme went into hyperdrive: its balance sheet, having stood at $100bn in 2000 and $900bn in September 2008, rocketed to $9 trillion.
Within a few days of the crash, the Fed hired BlackRock to run three bailout programmes (just as it had done for the financial crisis), meaning BlackRock was instructing the Fed to buy BlackRock assets. “It’s impossible to think of BlackRock without thinking of them as a fourth branch of government,” says William Birdthistle, a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law who studies the fund industry. This kind of relationship is what Marxists call ‘state monopoly capitalism’, whereby private corporations fuse with and become increasingly dependent on the (capitalist) state for subsidies, contracts and facilities.
While all this looks like one grand plan and is one, we must stress the underlying process: demand for capital was falling in 2016 as a result of rising overaccumulation. The system needed a crisis to purge and devalue surplus capital. BlackRock and the Fed were compelled to act.
We are not just facing capitalism’s deepest-ever crisis. The system is approaching its final breakdown, since the contemporary innovation required to raise the productivity of labour—automation—is conversely abolishing the source of profit. As James Manyika, McKinsey Global Institute director, said in June 2017, “Find a factory anywhere in the world built in the past five years – not many people work there.” The labour time, profit and exchange value contained in each commodity is withering away, evolving society’s dualistic economic-technical foundation towards one singularly based on use value, necessitating a world-historic revolutionary transition to socialism (publicly owned production).
The ruling class—desperate to save capitalism; from which it derives the power to which it is addicted—is therefore compelled to resort to increasingly reckless and oppressive means to squeeze more surplus labour time out of the working class; redistribute the remaining value ‘upwards’, away from workers and competitors; and reinforce its crumbling political-legal superstructure.
The depth of the crisis of accumulation is such that the centralisation of capital is accelerating at an unprecedented pace—43% of all of the US’s locally-owned community banks, already down from 30,000 in 1920 to 9,000 in 2000, disappeared between 2000 and 2017. Capital’s dependence on public debt is reaching extreme highs. Monopoly capital has no choice but to make the state its number one customer if it is to remain profitable.
Weapons manufacturers, for example, have always lived off such a dependence. Without capitalist states waging wars, weapons manufacturers cannot remain profitable, and so bogus justifications for wars (such as Saddam Hussein’s never-found weapons of mass destruction) have to be dreamed up by the industry’s lobbyists (who may also pose as ‘politicians’).
Whether COVID-19 is real or not, exaggerated or not, the same is increasingly true for ‘Big Pharma’. Some 97% of the funding behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine came from public sources, for example. The pharmaceutical industry in the US has become so unprofitable that it has closed the bulk of its research & development (R&D) centres, relying instead on publicly-funded state military facilities. Monopolised by a handful of multinational corporations, the pharmaceutical industry needed something like a state-mandated mass vaccination programme to remain profitable.
The pandemic has also been a shot in the arm for the much-maligned (non-biodegradable) fossil-plastics industry, with the world going through an extra 130 billion masks and 65 billion gloves a month, most of that ending up in the sea.
Corruption, coercion, vilification
Whether via a conspiracy or simply rank opportunism, the pandemic response has aided capital accumulation, firstly through the price depreciation that reincentivised investment growth; and secondly through state contracts that would not have otherwise been available.
To list a few examples of rabid corruption: COVID contracts have been handed to rich ‘donors’ of political parties without any oversight, due diligence or competition (The Byline Times, February 5, 2021). Conflicts of interest among the UK government’s COVID advisors were covered up (British Medical Journal (BMJ), 9 December 2020). Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, it later emerged, had a £600,000 shareholding in GlaxoSmithKline, which was awarded a vaccine contract. US companies have been buying up hitherto publicly-owned UK GP practices; aided by hundreds of NHS consultants who have what The Guardian called “opaque” shares in private health companies (January 21, 2022). The UK government wrote off £4.3bn of £5.8bn that was stolen from its emergency COVID bailout schemes—public debt used to subsidise capital. Under threat of legal action from Open Democracy, the UK government released details about NHS COVID data deals with Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Faculty, the latter of which was linked to then UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s then advisor Dominic Cummings. To tackle soaring hospital waiting lists, the government gave the NHS £10m less than it awarded Pestfix, a pest control firm with 16 staff and no relevant experience, to make NHS personal protective equipment. The High Court later ruled that Michael Gove acted unlawfully when the government awarded a contract without a tender to the polling company owned by long-term associates of his and Cummings. The ruling was the first in a series of judicial review legal challenges brought by the Good Law Project (GLP) against government covid-19 contracts awarded with no competitive tenders under emergency regulations. Did resignations, fines or prison sentences follow? No chance.
Vaccine contracts, of course, were the big money spinner. In a deal hidden behind a “wall of secrecy”, each of Pfizer’s COVID vaccines sold to the UK government for £22 costs 76p to manufacture.
Tony Blair, another former UK prime minister, receives grants to lobby governments on behalf of The Gates Foundation, a huge investor in vaccines. As Dr Zoe Harcombe, PhD, said on Twitter, “If Blair went on The Marr Show to say ‘those who drink Cola get freedoms back and those who don’t drink Cola don’t’ and his company received $21 million from Cola, there would be outrage. The drug is different. The principle is the same.”
The many controversies over new mRNA vaccine technology could have been avoided of course, by using ‘traditional’ vaccines; but apparently rolling it out en masse for an unprecedented global pandemic was the right time to do so, despite it having been considered too toxic for humans in testing at least until 2021. “It would have to be a miraculous, Hail Mary sort of save for them to get to where they need to be on their timelines,” a former unnamed Moderna employee apparently told STAT News (January 10, 2017). Animal testing started on the same day as human trials (STAT News, March 11, 2020); and the data coming out of Pfizer and Moderna trials was either non-existent (STAT News, May 19, 2020) or seriously questionable (BMJ, January 4, 2021). An alleged cache of email exchanges between European Union officials and the European Medicines Agency apparently shows that the drug regulator was uncomfortable about fast-tracking approval for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (Le Monde, January 18, 2021). Rather suspiciously, amid accusations that adverse reactions were unusually high compared to past vaccination programmes, the Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in court papers proposed it should be given 55 years to review and release relevant documents. In June 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admitted that the vaccine’s link to heart inflammation in men under 30 was stronger than previously thought.
Moderna had promised its shareholders huge imminent returns on mRNAs. The technology may well hold great potential, but a doctor from socialist Cuba said in 2020 that it was “not yet proven effective in humans”. Corner-cutting and deregulation tends to increase with every capitalist crisis, of course, to reduce expenditure eating into profit margins.
Anyone who expected mandates to end after two doses, as initially promised, ended up looking rather naive. Perhaps the motivation behind the push for the third, fourth and fifth dose was sincere (even if it made the efficacy of the vaccines look weak); but if pharmacorp needs to make the state its biggest customer then it is incentivised, compelled even, to carry on lobbying. White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said in January 2020 that asymptomatic transmission “never drives outbreaks” only to change his mind five months later.
The panic about ‘variants’ also seemed questionable. “In reality, mutations rarely impact outbreaks dramatically” (Grubaugh et al., Nature.com, February 18, 2020). Even CNN, effectively a media arm of the Democratic Party, initially promoted this position (March 7, 2020).
Companies winning contracts for ‘vaccine passports’ would, one suspects, lobby to make them mandatory to maximise their income from sales to the state. Added bonuses from capital’s perspective could include monetising the resulting extra personal data – something that happened with the vaccines. In the US, “the FDA’s emergency authorisation process lists no explicit privacy safeguards”. In the UK, track and trace system data has been sold on from the start, leading, for one thing, to a huge rise in spam-style cons. Canadian health officials were forced to admit that they secretly accessed the cellphone location data of 87% of Canadians to monitor their movement.
Other bonuses could include capital’s increased capacity to surveil and control the movement of labour; and discriminate against, effectively, a new caste of ‘superspreaders’ and ‘the unvaccinated’ for the purposes of divide-and-rule; while also creating and marginalising surplus labour that surplus capital can no longer afford to employ.
Such (de facto domestic) passports proved to be inherently racist since ‘the vaccine hesitant’ are also disproportionately black people and other ethnic minorities, educated as they are in centuries of colonial medical abuse. When New York City disgracefully announced that proof of COVID-19 vaccinations would be required to dine indoors at a restaurant, see a performance or go to the gym, it reportedly excluded “around 69% of black people, 58% of Latino people, and the majority of residents in the Bronx”.
The British Broadcasting Corporation even promoted the idea of armbands for immunosuppressed people. As Bethany Dawson tweeted, “As an immunosuppressed Jew, no thanks.”
The lowest paid—whose wages took the biggest hit—were the least likely income group to take a vaccine. Coercive strategies had the effect of putting many people off, potentially adding to the success of any divide-and-rule strategy.
Scientists advising the UK government apparently admitted that terror tactics had been deployed. The Telegraph reported in May 2021 that, “Scientists on a committee that encouraged the use of fear to control people’s behaviour during the covid-19 pandemic admitted its work was ‘unethical’ and ‘totalitarian’. Members of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour (SPI-B) (in the UK) expressed regret about the tactics… One [said]: ‘… There were discussions about fear being needed to encourage compliance, and decisions were made about how to ramp up the fear.... Ultimately, it backfired because people became too scared.’ … The Government has been accused of feeding the public a non-stop diet of bad news, such as deaths and hospitalisations, without ever putting the figures in context with news of how many people have recovered, or whether daily death tolls are above or below seasonal averages.”
A member of SPI-B later admitted on Twitter that it only put together worst-case-scenario models for the government, forcing a decision – best case scenarios did not require a decision, so were not presented.
On 17 May 2021, Johnson, a self-proclaimed ‘libertarian’ said, “I’ve learnt that it’s much easier to take people’s freedoms away than give them back.” A few days earlier, US president Joe Biden warned: “The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do.” In December, he stepped up the sinister tone, saying that “the unvaccinated [are] looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm”.
The British Labour Party is just as guilty of ‘hygiene fascism’ as the Tories. “They’ve spent four hours cheek by jowl in some petri dish bringing god knows what into the country,” said Emily Thornberry, referring to incoming air passengers. According to Public Health England’s own figures for 25 Mar to 05 May, of 150,000 arrivals into the UK, 3,740 tested positive (2.5%). The (capitalist) Nazis, of course, falsely accused Jewish people (in general) of spreading diseases. Every economic crisis is met with greater demonisation of migrants and (relatively) tighter borders, since surplus labour that cannot be employed rises relatively as well as absolutely, while governments are also compelled to slash public spending and wages (which includes benefits/social security).
The spectre of eugenics
Ruling class followers of the landlord Thomas Malthus are alive and well, of course – in the 18th century his influence encouraged sexual abstinence and justified wars and famines as necessary to curtail the ‘surplus population’ as he thought populations grew exponentially and productive output only linearly. Both have grown exponentially, of course, precisely because labour is the source of value. His ideas were manufactured to justify low public spending and, therefore, landlords resisting taxation. Today, it is multi/transnational corporations, monopolisers of industry, who pay little to no tax.
If the ruling class cared about public health beyond reproducing a sufficient supply of exploitable labour, it would put pharmaceutical companies and general health care into public ownership instead of increasingly having them privatised and rationed, a large reason why hospitals are increasingly overwhelmed every flu season. Amid a growing population, the total number of hospital beds in Britain has been cut from 300,000 in 1988 to 141,000 in 2020.
Despite having a pandemic down as one of the biggest threats to national security, in the few preceding years the UK government slashed spending on stockpiles of protective equipment for NHS staff by 40%—another reflection of the dire state of the country’s capitalist economy. (As the oldest capitalist superpower it has the lowest rate of profit.) The British government sent untested and infected patients into care homes (which have been starved of resources and turned into de facto prisons) and covered this act up “to protect commercial interests”. Such an act smacks of culling unproductive workers. Isolation itself increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s; and is as deadly as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day (health.harvard.edu, Alzinfo.org). Indeed, a study led by epidemiologist Dr Tom Jefferson found excess deaths of 25,611 in UK care homes between March and June 2020, nearly 40% of which were not COVID-related but from hunger, thirst, neglect and loneliness.
In a ‘people’s inquiry into lockdown’ in the UK, Karol Sikora, a cancer specialist at the University of Buckingham, warned that delays in cancer diagnosis could result in the loss of between 30,000 and 60,000 lives. On 6 July, the UK government said seven million people “did not come forward” for treatment over the previous 16 months for things like cancer, heart disease and mental health issues.
Even before 2020, according to the authors of Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, life expectancy in the US alone had fallen for three years in a row, “a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the past two decades, deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism have risen dramatically, and now claim hundreds of thousands of American lives each year – and they’re still rising.”
Slashing pensions and other public expenses on the elderly, sick and impaired (who are disabled by capital’s lack of public spending and need for unemployment) means such expenditure can be transferred to subsidising capital. When the US death rate (the age-adjusted share of US Americans dying) rose slightly in 2015 for the first time since 1999, at least 12 corporations stated in annual reports that slips in mortality improvement reduced their pension payouts, by a combined $9.7bn. When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced that people could apply for up to $9,000 for a universal covid-19 funeral assistance, it sounded a bit like an incentive for familicide.
Britain and the US have done some things in recent years to repent for their past love affairs with the pseudoscience of eugenics—ideologically birthed in Britain and enacted in the US before being taken to an ultra-extreme in Nazi Germany—but eugenics has always been partly inspired by, a manifestation of, the needs of (surplus) capital.
If capitalist governments cared about public health, they would not have allowed an “evictions avalanche”—at least 130,000 households in England were made homeless during the first year of the pandemic even before the government ended a temporary ban on evictions.
If they cared about public health, they would be taking pollution reduction, which according to Harvard University causes (a conservatively estimated) one in five deaths, far more seriously – surely a greater and more persistent kind of pandemic? – instead of doubling already enormous public subsidies for the fossil fuel industry while expanding deforestation and habitat destruction.
The unprecedented extent of the ‘lockdowns’ could be viewed in a few different ways with regards to historic struggles between capital and labour: as a covert form of martial law; a contemporary upgrade on ‘the lockout’, when workers are barred from the workplace until they accept particular conditions; or perhaps as the latest acute stage in the brutal centuries-long process of social enclosure (the privatisation and atomisation of public land and space).
Then there are the new excuses for fines that can subsidise capital or relieve the collapsing tax base. Eating a kebab on a bench, washing car windscreens at an intersection and sitting in a stationary car were some of the reasons more than 50 people were fined by police in New South Wales and Victoria, for example (The Guardian, April 2, 2020). A region of Ontario in Canada mandated that people “must do formal contact tracing in their homes, even if they’re just having someone over for coffee” or face a $5,000 fine. People were effectively blackmailed when only a few COVID patients were in hospital and none were in intensive care.
The Netflix CEO showered money on pro-lockdown politicians. Social democrats such as Owen Jones, however, a member of ‘the left’ of the British Labour Party, claimed on Twitter that “lockdowns aren’t in the interests of capital”. The evidence suggests otherwise: in 2020, according to Oxfam, billionaires collectively ‘gained’ $3.9tn while workers collectively ‘lost’ $3.7tn—about 1/20th of annual GDP—a perfect example of Marx’s maxim that the accumulation of capital at one pole is at the same time an accumulation of poverty at the other. As we have said, capital accumulation requires crises.
“As the virus spread, central banks injected $9tn into economies worldwide,” the Financial Times reported (May 13, 2021). “Much of that stimulus has gone into financial markets, and from there into the net worth of the ultra-rich. The total wealth of billionaires worldwide rose by $5tn to $13tn in 12 months, the most dramatic surge ever. The wealth of US billionaires as a share of US GDP went from 10 to 15% from 2010 to 2015, and then 20% in 2020.… Not only did China’s billionaire population explosion dwarf all others in 2020, but together they added nearly $1tn to their collective fortunes, which nearly doubled as a share of GDP to 15%.”
Much of the workplace, meanwhile, has been moved to the home, saving businesses costs on office space; pushing bills onto workers; and making them work longer hours since they no longer have to commute, all combining to deepen the rate of their exploitation (the ratio of surplus to necessary labour time). According to an ADP Research Institute study published in April 2021, average unpaid overtime for employees globally rose in one year from 7.3 to 9.2 hours per week.
Confined to the home, or at least unable to wander far from it, we were made ever-more dependent on online shopping. The likes of Amazon cashed in while increasing the exploitation of their low-paid workers. The GMB union in Britain said workers across at least four different Amazon sites in the UK were told to work “compulsory overtime”.
Drastic overaccumulation, desperate measures
Because the overaccumulation of capital is so unprecedentedly high, lockdowns were arguably at this time exactly what monopoly capitalism needed. They were used to depress prices and wages through deep recessions and mass unemployment (increasing competition between workers, reducing their bargaining power); and furlough schemes (a direct subsidy to capital, putting the burden of wages on the public) that do not pay full rates; to wipe out swathes of ‘small and medium’ capital, snapped up on the cheap by ‘big’ capital (by September 2020 60% of US closures had become permanent); and to destroy surplus commodities that could not be sold at a profit, including mountains of food. Hundreds of aid organisations published an open letter (April 20, 2021) saying that, “People are not starving – they are being starved.”
Could all of this have been achieved without convincing us to stay inside and prevent riots that would have been extremely costly to police?
Torching civil rights and disenfranchising the masses—not that we’ve ever had much say on anything beyond voting every few years for privileged ‘representatives’ who break manifesto pledges—has never been an easy task (especially today, with a world population of eight billion people, most of whom are equipped with video cameras and other publishing tools on their smartphones). Such ambitions are much easier to achieve, however, if you can convince most people that giving up their rights is in their own interests or for the greater good (usually through subtle and not so subtle forms of scaremongering). People were convinced to go along with World War I through xenophobic propaganda and under the impression that it would ‘be over by Christmas’. Four years later, at least 20 million people had been savagely killed in what the last living veteran of that war, Harry Patch, called “legalised mass slaughter”—of surplus labour.
Civics Monitor said in December 2020 that 87% of the global population now lives in countries that are ‘closed’, ‘repressed’ or ‘obstructed’, up by 4% on a year earlier. “The use of detention as the main tactic to restrict protests only shows the hypocrisy of governments using COVID-19 as a pretence to crack down on protests, [as] the virus is more likely to spread in confined spaces like prisons.”
Police in South Korea arrested the head of the country’s largest independent union federation in a dawn raid using supposed social distancing violations as a pretext.
On 19 July 2021, British Parliament rammed through the third reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that enables: police to criminalise anyone using civil disobedience and direct action tactics; an increase in harsh criminal sentencing; an expansion of stop and search powers; and what looked like a racist crackdown on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, but targets anyone who wants to live ‘off-grid’.
The threat of hyperinflation
Nabarro, a special envoy from the World Health Organisation, said that vaccines won’t be enough to end the pandemic, and that lifestyles “will have to adapt”. Around the same time, a ‘new rise’ in positive tests was blamed on “the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated”. It just so happened that this ‘new rise’, at a time when the seven-day ‘covid deaths’ average had fallen to a lowly 9, coincided with the number of tests roughly doubling (see below). (For comparison, an average 900 cancer and heart/circulation deaths are recorded daily in the UK.)
On June 10, 2021 the Bank of England’s (BoE) chief economist Andy Haldane warned that the threat of inflation meant the BoE faced its biggest policy challenge since Black Wednesday in 1992, when 12% inflation amounted to a massive devaluation of pound sterling and forced Britain to withdraw from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. With restrictions in Britain having been eased, if not fully lifted, actual production could not keep up with the demand to convert devalued surplus capital back into productive capital. Pent-up demand outstripped decimated supply chains after rising bankruptcies (which started to spike in 2016), threatening inflation much higher than the 2% target (stable enough for businesses to plan expenditure; higher than average wage rises; and enough to incentivise lending and spending, since deflation indicates recession and encourages belt-tightening). More than that, inflation was induced by the COVID-19 bailouts, which investors—due to the relative shortage of profitable opportunities in production—chucked into speculation, inflating the financial and property bubbles. Inflation has also been used, of course, to attack real wages (when wages are adjusted for inflation), thereby boosting profit margins. But interest rates (borrowing costs) also go up simply because the demand for capital/investment falls—as is bound to be the case with the inevitable rise of surplus capital.
Baseline rates have of course been stuck at more or less 0% since 2010—and every time the Fed has attempted to put rates back up in order to reduce the debt, economic growth has flatlined.
Aggressive rate rises in 2022, ostensibly in response to 40-year high inflation, pushing companies without deep reserves into bankruptcy, has started to burst the biggest financial bubble in world history, an unprecedented ‘everything bubble’ that engulfed all asset (debt) classes, including US government bonds, the foundation of the global financial system (since US dollars are the dominant global reserve currency, the one used most for trade on the world market). Until April, panic borrowing from the banks had only come from the FHLB, before the Fed stepped in after the second and third biggest bank failures in US history in the form of First Republic Bank and Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). The Fed’s third quarter report in 2022 indicated that 722 banks were already effectively bankrupt (Bitcoin.com, May 6, 2023).
The baseline rate has continued to rise, however, indicating that the Fed has saved First Republic and SVB by reducing its assets elsewhere, i.e., in smaller banks. Since raising rates makes government debt more expensive to repay, lending to the US government has become riskier – returns are higher only because demand is lower (when the Fed stops buying government bonds so do foreign investors) – incentivising a switch to hard assets, inflating the value of precious metals. (China has almost single-handedly financed US debt since 2010 but in the past few years has moved its attention to stockpiling gold at record rates.) With further rate rises, at some point the already relatively dwindling tax base threatens to collapse. Interest of 1% on $30trn of national debt is $300bn but 10% takes the figure to $3trn—more than half as much as total US tax revenues of $4.9trn in 2022 (up on 2020, thanks to inflation, from $3.9trn), already short of the $6.27tn in government spending.
Ending a recession in the US has since 1958 taken an average 6% cut in the base interest rate—i.e., sufficiently cheapening capital to reboot accumulation. Negative rates may be an option, but a limited one—there is only so much cash that can be converted into stocks and bonds (hence the so-called ‘war on cash’) without causing hyperinflation. If and when that option runs out, assuming that rates fall back to zero and beyond at some point, central bank bond-buying programmes would probably go into an even higher gear than in 2020. How deep can negative rates go before hyperinflation becomes inevitable?
Keeping inflation in check requires keeping demand in check—by making competitors and workers poorer and destroying now surplus labour that capital can no longer afford to employ or even feed. A section of the ruling class will, however, eventually be compelled to trigger hyperinflation in order to torch wages, taxes and debt, to centralise capital yet further, at which point its hopes of sustaining social peace will implode.
The ruling class would therefore be naive to not attempt to (further) confuse, divide, depress, infantilise and subjugate the masses. Naive it is not. It knows that what it needs to do to keep capital accumulating is bound to impoverish more and more people and therefore create more and more militant opposition.
The ruling class may go to any lengths—warning of the need to plan for a “permanent pandemic”; and drumming up headlines that “UFOs do exist”—to keep the public in the dark about what is really going on: that it is dispossessing more and more carriages on its real-world Snowpiercer train. (On March 6, 2023, The Intercept reported that “US Special Forces want to use deepfakes for psy-ops”.)
Moving the goalposts
Managing the threat of hyperinflation and responding to the deepening difficulty of expanding capital accumulation may be what has had the biggest influence on the ever-shifting messaging.
First we were told in March 2020 that we needed a lockdown “for three weeks to flatten the curve”. Then in December 2020 we were told that, in Britain, we needed 15 million vaccinations – enough to have “covered everyone in the four most vulnerable groups” – a figure expected by the end of February 2021. Indeed, it was reached on 14 February and confirmed on 2 May. Then it turned out that the can had to be kicked yet further down the road, to ‘protect the NHS’, at a time when only 1% of NHS beds were occupied by ‘covid patients’.
The government can use ‘new variants’ from any part of the country or world at a moment’s notice to justify new/extended/harsher lockdowns or ramp up the pressure on people to get vaccinated. On 22 February, Johnson announced a roadmap to lifting lockdown completely on 21 June, but on 17 May a government minister said the chances of that happening had become “close to nil” due to the prevalence of the so-called ‘Indian/Delta’ and ‘Delta Plus’ variants, which then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock blamed on ‘vaccine hesitancy’. On 11 June, government sources said lockdown would be extended for another month. Two days later senior ministers said they had been told that restrictions could actually go on until Spring 2022. Then it was leaked that the government was considering plans to reimpose restrictions for the next five winters.
When on 5 July Johnson eventually announced the lifting of restrictions on 19 July, it was only for many restrictions (care home residents remained locked up, for one thing). The Guardian reported: “In a sign the government may reimpose restrictions this autumn, the prime minister warned the public against going ‘de-mob happy’. He said opening up – including the lifting of all limits on sports events and nightclubs – would be safest during the school summer holidays and did not say the changes would be irreversible…. Ministers will hold on to powers to ‘reimpose economic and social restrictions at a local, regional or national level’....”
A number of 'leading experts' and high-ranking politicians very clearly stated that the vaccines would eliminate transmission and illness. Yet in August 2021, Public Health England said that, “Some initial findings […] indicate that levels of virus in those who become infected with Delta having already been vaccinated may be similar to levels found in unvaccinated people. This may have implications for people’s infectiousness, whether they have been vaccinated or not.” This feels like it could be an advert for booster jabs; but even disregarding ethical and humanistic concerns, it shows the pillorying of ‘the unvaxxed’ is completely unjustified. As many pointed out, those who have reluctantly taken the jabs to access freedom have been fooled. As Annabel Fenwick Elliott writes: “... those NHS Covid passes we’ve been using to escape quarantine both when visiting other countries and upon our return are going to plummet in value. Already, UK festivals and other mass events are switching their entry requirements to require a negative test – regardless of vaccination status… The countries with the highest vaccination rates in the world were also recording enormous surges in case counts. Many of these, heavily reliant on tourism for their GDP, had rushed to inoculate their entire populations as a matter of urgency purely for this reason: to reopen for visitors. The Seychelles, for example, had by mid-May double-jabbed more than 80% of its population, but regardless, its case count was 67 times higher than ours.” Similar is true of Israel, which consequently reintroduced harsher restrictions after a “huge rise in ‘delta’ cases” despite being the most vaccinated country.
Early studies indicated that the immune system evolves to fight any coronavirus variants. Nature reports that, “Young children account for only a small percentage of covid-19 infections – a trend that has puzzled scientists. Now, a growing body of evidence suggests why: kids’ immune systems seem better equipped to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that allegedly causes the diseases) than are adults.” On 3 September, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said it would not be recommending vaccinations for 12-15 year-olds – only to be overridden by the government.
A major study released in between reported that teenage boys are six times more likely to suffer from heart problems from the vaccine than be hospitalised from covid-19.
On 20 June 2021, a leading British virologist, Julian Tang of Leicester University, claimed that under-18s would become “reservoirs” in which new variants of the virus could arise if only adults were vaccinated. Frankly, this sounds like unadulterated Nazi talk.
A day later, the World Health Organisation announced that “children should not be vaccinated for the time being” – news that Facebook censored – after a 13 year-old in the US with no known underlying health conditions died after their second dose of the Pfizer injection.
Robert Malone MD, “the original inventor of the mRNA vaccine (and DNA vaccine) core platform technology” called for a halt to the vaccination programme back in June on the basis that they are experimental by definition, breaking the Nuremberg Code established in the wake of the crimes of Nazi Germany.
The UK government pushed ahead with plans to make vaccination mandatory for nurses and carers; flagrant coercion – no doubt motivated partly by the chance to drive more nurses off the payroll so that the health service can be further privatised (20,000 of the latter quit before the mandate was dropped at the 11th hour) – that again went against the Nuremburg Code.
The UK government even set-up pop-up vaccination centres at Thorpe Park, an amusement park. How is that even legal? (Vienna went one better by turning brothels into vaccine centres with the incentive of giving the vaccinated "half an hour with the lady of their choice".)
In November, the UK government announced tighter restrictions and said that booster jabs should be taken every three months, down from six previously. This happened to coincide with slowing economic growth – down to 1.3% in the third quarter from 5.5% in the second – and an expected housing/financial crash in China, an economy that almost single-handedly cushioned the 07-09 crash globally but is now in dire straits itself.
The collapse of social democracy
The social democratic/‘democratic socialist’ ‘left’ (including many nominal communist organisations)—representing or at least led by a privileged layer of the working class, a managerial ‘labour aristocracy’—opposed banning the right to peaceful protest during the pandemic but not the lockdown legislation that effectively banned that right, thereby supporting the entrenchment of capitalist power. Taking up this position arguably helped the libertarian and fascist right to pin the brutality of lockdowns on the left.
Many on the ‘pro-lockdown left’ accused governments of delaying lockdowns precisely so the virus could spread (a conspiracy theory in itself but one too with plenty of logic behind it for reasons explained above). It argued that harder and therefore supposedly shorter lockdowns in countries with ‘socialist’ or left social democratic governments elsewhere have slowed transmission quicker and enabled reopening sooner. While this position again makes some logical sense, supporting lockdowns and a fantasy ‘zero covid’ policy in countries ruled by right-wing governments only serves to empower those governments. They surely knew these emergency powers would be abused. (Susan Michie, a behavioural scientist advising the government – a long-time member of the de facto reformist and social democratic ‘Communist’ Party of Britain – even claimed mask-wearing and social distancing would have to continue “forever, to some extent”.) Many studies have also challenged the idea that lockdowns were effective at all.
The countries that apparently achieved ‘zero covid’, such as Vietnam and China, went on to report ‘new waves’ of infection. They have also reported “immunity debt” whereby “lockdown is causing an influx of babies with a severe respiratory virus into hospitals” (The Guardian, July 9, 2021), for example, since a lack of exposure “to normal levels of viruses and bacteria”, depleting the gut microbiome—the trillions of ‘good’ bacteria that regulate our digestive, immune and neurological systems and which play a particularly important role in the first five years of life—caused “a surge in infections as normal life resumes”.
While Boris Johnson was supposedly resisting the left’s demands to impose a lockdown, the UK government struck a deal worth £119m with a US advertising company, OMD Group, urging people to ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’, a full three weeks before lockdown was imposed (The Telegraph, October 25, 2020).
The response from de facto social democratic organisations has been not dissimilar to the collapse of the Second International in 1914, when ‘the reformist wing of the Marxist movement’ betrayed the working masses by siding with ‘their own’ states instead of—like the Bolsheviks, who went on to lead the 1917 Russian Revolution—opposing WWI.
The idea that Karl Marx would have supported the measures that have been taken is surely laughable. As he once said:
“The human body is mortal by nature. Hence illnesses are inevitable. Why does a man only go to the doctor when he is ill, and not when he is well? Because not only the illness, but even the doctor is an evil. Under constant medical tutelage, life would be regarded as an evil and the human body as an object for treatment by medical institutions. Is not death more desirable than life that is a mere preventive measure against death? Does not life involve also free movement? What is any illness except life that is hampered in its freedom? A perpetual physician would be an illness in which one would not even have the prospect of dying, but only of living. Let life die; death must not live. Has not the spirit more right than the body? Of course, this right has often been interpreted to mean that for minds capable of free motion physical freedom of movement is even harmful and therefore they are to be deprived of it. The starting point of the censorship is that illness is the normal state, or that the normal state, freedom, is to be regarded as an illness.”
The point? Sick before proven healthy became the barbaric norm.
A combination of cross-class resistance, a renewed round of albeit chronically slow investment, and teetering tax bases paying off higher debts and therefore cutting or shifting subsidies, has in many places stopped lockdowns and mandates—for now. (Protests were largely censored or smeared by the BBC, ITV and Sky. Incidentally, Bloomberg reports that “dogs sniffing COVID from sweat fare almost as well as PCR tests”, a neat justification perhaps for taking police dogs on protests and maybe even a trick for reducing racist stop and search statistics.)
The protests against such measures were not ‘left-wing’, but Marxists are not ‘left-wing’, i.e. capitalist reformists. We must take such opportunities to agitate among non-Marxists and the ‘newly politicised’. As Lenin said: “To imagine that social revolution is conceivable … without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petit bourgeoisie [small business owners] with all its prejudices [our emphasis], without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses, is to repudiate social revolution.”
The communist position must be made clear. We should oppose lockdowns, mandates and domestic passports, which all profoundly increase capital’s power over the masses; and argue that only socialism—by replacing private, for-profit commodity production with socially-owned, break-even utility production—can a) disincentivise corner-cutting and deregulated production; and b) build the holistic approach needed for disease treatment and prevention. That includes looking at root causes, whether preventing wildlife trade and habitat destruction, and diversifying away from monocultures; stopping competition-inspired biowarfare; or building low-cost access to housing with high quality insulation, holistic/personalised (rather than one-size-fits-all) exercise, clean tap water (presently polluted by microplastics and traces of arsenic and chlorine byproducts pretty much everywhere), nutritious diets, all-round health care, protective equipment, and adequate sick pay so that people with symptoms can afford to stay at home. If new socialist states were to determine that COVID-19 is real and remains highly contagious, traditional vaccines should be made available on the basis of voluntary uptake while proper trials and regulations are applied to mRNAs.
Socialism is then also required to launch an independent inquiry into everything that has happened since late 2019.
Capitalism is, one way or another, responsible for our increasingly bleak malaise. With every recession the character of the state tends to become more right-wing and authoritarian. Outbreaks of mass sickness and death are features of collapsing modes of production and it is happening again now with increasing relative scarcity and the degradation of privatised, rationed public services, particularly health care and sanitation. (Water sanitation measures alone explain 75% of the decline in infant mortality in the US between 1900 and 1936, and half the total decline in mortality rates.)
The more capitalism continues to deplete biodiversity, wreck rainforests, and trade wildlife, the more likely the possibility of any zoonotic outbreaks. At the same time, we should be wary that any manufacture of zoonotic outbreaks could be utilised as cover to justify the destruction of ‘overproduced’ stock that has become unprofitable to sell. From Sadam’s non-existent WMDs to Gadaffi’s imagined assault on Benghazi, and so on, it is not as if we have a shortage of recent examples of profound ruling class lies.
The profit motive—the profit necessity, rather—does make trusting capitalist health care difficult. According to ProPublica, pharma companies underwrite three-fourths of the FDA’s budget for scientific reviews. Nearly one in three recent FDA drug approvals followed by major safety actions, according to Scientific American (May 9, 2017). The profit to be made in preventive or curative health care, furthermore, is obviously relatively low—a healthy population is not buying much medicine.
Arguably this factor largely explains why doctors are not only not trained in nutrition—in sum, the need to eat more diverse, fermented and whole foods instead of (simple/refined) carb-heavy ultra-processed ones (often sprayed with petrochemical fertilisers and preservatives, or, in the case of meats, raised on antibiotics to maximise output and profit)—but taught that medicine is more important for health than food. (Ultra-processed food, stripped of the fibre that nourishes the microbiome, is some of the cheapest food – promoted relentlessly by the biggest food corporations – for reproducing the working class, of course; enabling capital to force workers to survive on lower wages.)
With their relatively small overaccumulations that enable more room for experimentation, smaller capitalists—often startups spun off from their waged work in state R&D, which has long been the pioneer in most innovation—have led the field about the importance of nutrition and the microbiome. (Yesterday’s startups can become tomorrow’s monopolies, of course.) Such work has increasingly undermined the old gene-centric view on many chronic ‘modern diseases’ that have largely resulted from: pollution, ultra-processed food, overprescribed antibiotics (often for viral infections like flu, including for pregnant women, decimating the microbiome of both the mother and unborn child, with lasting effects), and sedentary, aseptic cultures; the latter possibly largely inspired by capital’s need to sell petrochemicals. A recent 20-year study found the use of petrochemical cleaning products to be as damaging to lungs as smoking (University of Bergen, February 16, 2018). One has to wonder whether the eminent uptick in the use of cleaning products since early 2020, indiscriminately killing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, may have had serious disease-promoting effects. (Tallying with this study, other recent comprehensive research has associated growing up with a dog or farm animals with a reduction in a child’s risk of developing asthma, respectively, by 15% and 52% (Fall, 2015).)
Health problems that are induced or manufactured by snake-oil salesmen; or that arise from the social conditions created by capitalism and its decaying nature, are often solely medicalised, treated one-sidedly as a medical rather than social issue (sickness-inducing or addictive sedatives and the like to treat, for example, depression that is often caused or exacerbated by the increasing social enclosure, alienation and hyper-individualist, anti-communal social relations of capitalist society). “Every nine minutes, someone in a US hospital dies due to a medical diagnosis that was wrong or delayed,” according to the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine. More than 250,000 people in the US die every year because of medical mistakes, making it the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.
As Dr Stuart Farrimond admits in the foreword to his book The Science of Living, “In my seven years in medicine... I was taught to skilfully hide behind a cloak of jargon and science-speak. It was only after stepping back from the profession that I discovered how truly alienated we academic types can make others feel.” Similarly, the world-renowned cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol says the ongoing “degradation of the doctor-patient relationship” is down to “medicine being turned into a business”, reducing doctors to “data clerks” who are compelled to rush their appointments like workers on a speeding-up a factory line.
In summary: although social crises are present in any mode of production – there is, of course, no utopia – they arise particularly acutely and regularly in the present mode of production either as a direct or indirect byproduct of the laws of capital accumulation and breakdown. The ever-rising demands of accumulation make corruption increasingly necessary. Corruption and conspiracy, of course, often go hand-in-hand.
Many conspiracy theories are not worth entertaining. Any canny Machevellian knows the benefits of muddying the water by anonymously floating baseless theories into the public domain. Capitalist competitors often engage in pure conspiritism to discredit each other and promote their own products, which are increasingly threatened with obsolescence (sometimes often giving conspiracies a technophobic bent; some of which does have cross-class appeal in a generational sense or because capitalism increasingly incentivises reckless production). We must be conscious of these points.
However; while the kind of analysis here is often accused of elevating and flattering the conspiratism that dominates a lot of right-wing discourse (which can, of course, veer into racist territory), such an awry form of conspiritism surely cannot be weakened or defeated by pretending it does not exist—choosing not to address it does not make it go away or lessen its impact. Equally it is plainly absurd to deny that capitalists do conspire. The ruling class conspires to enrich itself by inflicting deprivation and worse on the masses. Doing that ‘out in the open’ is much riskier than from behind smoke and mirrors. As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War: “All warfare is based on deception.”
To reject all analysis of conspiracy theories is to risk limiting ourselves to a pure, one-sided theoretical academic ‘Marxism’ without engaging in the practice of how theory can play out in the real world. It leaves us unprepared. Only by approaching all of the factors at play in the right socioeconomic theoretical context can we hope to puncture the mysticism that both the ruling class plotters and conspiracy theorists shroud reality in.
The footnotes to this essay are too long to post on the same page and are easier to read separately anyway – please see here.