If there’s one thing that 2020 has shown so far, it’s that capitalism isn’t working. When COVID-19 hit in force across the world, it didn’t take long to find out that we are not, in fact, all in this together. Disproportionately, worldwide, this health crisis has been worse and more fatal for minority and poorer communities – to say nothing of the economic impact. At a time when 45.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in under 3 months, billionaires in the US have collectively gained more than $584 billion dollars.
But in this same year, we’ve also seen the amazing power of struggle. The murder of George Floyd in May, amidst the worst of the health and economic crises in America, has started the largest ever civil rights movement the US has ever seen. Echoes of it have found a home in over 60 countries across the world, including our own. It’s no wonder: we all live under the same system, and we all see the same inherent racial injustice of capitalism, the same police brutality, and the same economic violence.
Capitalism is a system where the tiny minority rule over every aspect of the lives of the vast majority. In order to maintain its power, there must always be repression – which means there will always be resistance. Protesters in America are resisting spectacularly, and have seen that justice is not found in the ballot box but in the streets. Joe Biden doesn’t represent them any more than Donald Trump does: their power is their own, just as ours is in Australia. More militant and inspiring calls than ever have come from the Black Lives Matter movement, for police abolition and structural change in communities at the minimum. For some, the logical conclusion is that we need a revolution.
Why a revolution?
If you’re an activist, or have ever wanted to change any aspect about this barbaric system, you’ll have heard that you should take your thoughts to the voting booth. Periodically, leaders like Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn, or even the most progressive versions of the Australian Labor Party, have promised “political revolutions” – that is, changing the system from the inside, reforming it into something less fundamentally anti-human.
The most genuine shades of this slogan are hopelessly misguided, and the most cynical are trying to buy off progressive votes. Either version, if they actually get into office, have had the absolute best case of being completely ineffective. So why can’t change be achieved from inside the state?
The reality is that nobody seriously contesting the state intends to destroy capitalism with it, because they know what it is. The state is fundamentally a system for managing capitalism, and serves only a secondary role as an illusion of democracy to placate the masses. Running the state is making sure capitalism in your country runs smoothly – as demonstrated with our current government’s privileging of the economy. Even for less rancid parties than the Liberals, this clearly ties their interests directly to those of big business, even before lobbying and donating groups come into play.
In Australia, this bipartisan commitment to the running of capitalism can be demonstrated in any number of ways. A recent example is that of the Adani coal mine: 61% of Australians in 2019 did not want the mine to go ahead, but the Liberals are still strongly for it, and the Labor party government in Queensland actually directly greenlit it in 2019. If your goal is parliamentary, you fundamentally see the state as an acceptable tool for change. This means that, despite some nice reforms sometimes coming along, your overall change is always hostile to the working class – the majority of people.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s suppose that an actual well-intentioned leftist party gets into government with the genuine goal of destroying capitalism. Historically, as this process happens and reforms of any major extent are introduced, every smart capitalist in the country pulls their money and resources out as a clear demonstration of their opinion. This results in even left governments having to implement cuts to appease big business: like any state, they still rely on economic prosperity for stability and revenue.
The unelected parts of the state – i.e. the justice system, police, and most notably the military – can also swoop in to fix things for capital if they get too out of hand. Military coups are a particularly obvious example, but, as the Whitlam “palace letters” show, capitalists don’t have to come to tanks to be effective.
Additionally, no country exists in a vacuum, and all countries are locked in the constant competition demanded by capitalism: imperialism. States which act against the interests of powerful blocs of capital quickly find themselves subject to sanctions, embargoes, and even invasions.
Fundamentally, however, the state is not made for us. It’s made to repress us. Genuine democratic revolution can never come from above, imposed on the people. It has to come from below, through the working class rising up and seizing power for itself. It’s a contradiction to say this could ever happen electorally.
In 2019 alone, there were serious uprisings, revolts, and beginnings of revolutionary situations in Lebanon, Chile, Spain, Haiti, Iraq, Sudan, Russia, Egypt, Uganda, Indonesia, Ukraine, Peru, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, Colombia, France, Turkey, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Brazil, Malawi, Algeria and Ecuador.
Revolution isn’t at all impossible. Revolts happen all the time. Capitalism is the cause of economic, social and environmental crises, and in times of crisis, there is space for the working class to assert its control. There are countless examples of serious revolution in the last century, with none going so far as the victory in Russia in 1917 – though analysis of the later failure of Stalinism would take another entire article to explore.
What’s impossible is a system like this to continue forever, where the tiny minority continue to grow ridiculously wealthy off the sweat and blood of the majority. Workers run the world. When workers stop, the world stops. The power is with us – and in times of crisis, it is with that power that we can make change.
The Black Lives Matter movement in America shows that even in developed, Western countries – in 2020! – this is possible. Already in a few short weeks, there is change across the US in ways that would have been unthinkable years or even months ago. 54% of Americans think that the burning down of a cop shop in Minneapolis was justified –that’s higher than the popularity of either Biden (49%) or Trump (40.2%). In 2018, the majority of Americans did not support Black Lives Matter at all. The sort of revolution we need is absolutely possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard work.
So what can we do about it?
COVID-19 is a horrific tragedy in terms of health and is set to cause an economic crisis worse than the Great Depression. In this crisis, there is space for the argument to be made that a better world is possible. But nothing changes if we don’t fight back.
Jeff Bezos, Scott Morrison, Donald Trump, and every other wretched capitalist couldn’t care less if we all sat at home thinking to ourselves how much we hate them and this system. It is when we are organised that we are terrifying to capitalism.
The other side knows this. The rich and powerful already have organisations representing their interests: private institutions like the Business Council of Australia on top of the might of the state. They wage class war as a matter of course. We need to have fighting bodies making the political arguments – doing the same for our side.
It is imperative for every activist, every rabble-rouser, everyone who won’t shut up about injustice, every hater of the state, every hater of capitalism and every socialist to get organised. We have a world to win.
Grace Carter is running for General Representative under the ‘Fight the Liberals’ ticket in the 2020 ANUSA elections.