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Late Stage U.S. Capitalism Fosters Death and Despair, But Can It Foster Class Unity?

Late stage U.S. capitalism fosters death and despair, but can it foster class unity?

Originally published: Black Agenda Report (September 18, 2019)   | 

Self-determination is still an unknown concept to many despite the efforts of the movement for Black lives and related organizations.

From the perspective of the global proletariat, late stage capitalism has proven to be the most exploitative and insufferable stage of the system. Five individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population. Three individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population. The capitalist class headquartered in the U.S. and the West has facilitated a global race to the bottom by way of endless austerity, automation, and full-scale privatization. Intensified policing, surveillance, militarism, and media consolidation have kept late stage capitalism from its own contradictions and the tireless struggle of workers around the world for a more humane existence.

Capitalism’s perseverance does not mean that the system is thriving. What it means is that the capitalist class has externalized the costs of the system entirely on the toiling masses. Precarity has produced enormous growth in the areas of death and despair. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), an ever-growing number of people in the United States are dying from suicide. Suicides for individuals age 25-64 in the U.S. have increased by forty one percent between the years of 1999-2016. The authors of the study found that access to lethal means (like living near a gun shop), social alienation, and a lack of access to healthcare have greatly contributed to the increase in the suicide rate, especially in rural communities in the United States.

The study confirms an ongoing trend. As employment becomes precarious for a large section of the U.S. population and basic needs more difficult to obtain, white Americans have found themselves especially prone to the diseases of despair. An earlier study released in 2015 found that addiction and suicide were to blame for the massive increase in the death rate (22 percent) for non-college educated white men examined during the period of 1999 to 2014. As Glen Ford posited, “Working class people of all ethnicities have lost a great deal of economic ground under late stage capitalism in America, but the uneducated white males have also lost what they were led to expect was their special place in the racialized pecking order.” In other words, one of the major consequences of late stage capitalism is an erosion of the material privileges of whiteness for middle-aged male workers to a greater degree than at any point in the history of the White Man’s Country.

Make no mistake, the U.S. is still a White Man’s Country. The richest white men would rather their brethren die than give up a share of their profits to economically validate white racial privilege. Late stage capitalism has eviscerated the social contract that once guaranteed that the standard of living for allwhite Americans would stand well above the condition of Black America and the darker races of the world. The United States’ settler regime has reserved other forms of death and despair for Black America. Mass incarceration, which warehouses nearly one million Black Americans, has shortened life expectancy in the United States by five years and is largely the reason why Black men die younger than any other group.For every five years spent in prison, one can expect their life expectancy to decrease by seventy-eight percent. Prior to incarceration, Black American lives are placed in grave danger by the military occupation of their communities by the police. Law enforcement encounters are now the sixth leading cause of death for young Black men.

Unlike white American deaths, Black deaths are normalized by the dehumanization of Blacks under a white supremacist regime. The corporate media ignores the despair that state-sponsored terror breeds for Black families under late stage capitalism. Yet a recent study of Black teens showed that suicides among this group have increased by 60 percent from 2001-2017. Black youth are growing up in conditions of depravity, but their existence is virtually erased by the prevailing discourse in society. Black Americans are held captive at the bottom of the class ladder in the United States and have seen what little wealth they gained from centuries of struggle looted from them by banks in the economic crisis of 2007-2008. The median Black household has barely $1700 dollars to its name. It should come as no surprise, then, that growing poverty and state terror would take an emotional toll on Black Americans.

People in the United States are so insulated by the ruling class that the misery of late stage capitalism is largely considered a domestic problem. Under late stage capitalism, murder and misery are global affairs. U.S. militarism has come at the cost of over 30 million peoples’ lives around the world since the end of World War II. Mass graves are extremely profitable, and war is the most valuable export of the U.S. capitalist class. U.S. military industrialists pad their profits with lucrative contracts doled out from the always rising 1.48 trillion-dollar military budget. The very existence of a corporate giants such as Raytheon is made possible by Washington’s commitment to keeping the world “safe” for corporate plunder.

The saying “what goes around, comes around” is all too relevant under the regime of late stage capitalism. Decades of economic misery imposed by U.S. capital abroad has come back around to the motherland of empire. Endless wars abroad are an extension of mass surveillance and incarceration that the ruling class employs within the U.S’ settler colonial borders. The high-tech, de-industrialized “gig” economy coupled with a high-tech surveillance state has greatly intensified the alienation of labor. In Marxian terms, alienation stems first from the working class being forced to sell its labor to the capitalist class in order to meet its needs. The worker, stripped of the means of production, possesses only labor as an exchangeable commodity and is left with the choice of starvation or exploitation.

Under late stage capitalism, toiling laborers in the billions have no control over the direction of society and are scarcely able to purchase the products created from their labor. Rebellion is subdued by the militarized state. Defeated workers are bombarded with neoliberal fantasies of individual grandeur while being constantly reminded by a corporate media that they are only as good as the profit that capitalists can accumulate from them. The working class in the U.S. is overworked, underpaid, and disconnected from their labor, nature, and themselves. This has created a profound sense of alienation which, alongside the dehumanization of white supremacy, lies at the heart of the despair that has spread far and wide across the United States and much of the Western world.

It remains to be seen whether the death and despair produced by late stage capitalism can foster class unity. White supremacy is not just a great divider; it is thegreat annihilator of class consciousness. The impulse for working class solidarity continues to be arrested by the racist and imperialist contradictions of U.S. society. While socialism in the United States has gained popularity in recent years following the emergence of Occupy Wall Street movement and the Bernie Sanders campaign, self-determination is still an unknown concept to many despite the efforts of the movement for Black lives and related organizations. A revolution, or a transition of power from the oppressor class to the oppressed classes, is not possible in the United States without the direction and leadership of a revolutionary movement for Black self-determination led by and for Black Americans.

This will require nothing short of a great Black grassroots political conversation in the 21stcentury. The conditions for such a conversation to erupt continue to fester and grow, but it is the job of all involved in the movement for socialism to encourage its formation. Profound and epochal social change in the United States has never occurred in the face of widening oppression alone. A massive shift in popular expectations is also required—something many who participated in the Black movements for self-determination from Reconstruction to the post-World War II period understood. Late stage capitalism has dampened expectations on a mass scale. No greater evidence of this exists than the election of Barack Obama. For eight years, Obama governed on the principle that Black Americans needed to swallow austerity, mass incarceration, and endless war or be left helpless to the White Man’s Republican Party.

The Obama era taught us that the conditions of late stage capitalism cannot in and of themselves facilitate a socialist movement that centers self-determination in its analysis and work. Instead, Obama paved the way for the current struggle between “democratic” socialism on the one hand and the so-called “populist” and white supremacist brand of Republicanism led by Trump on the other. Completely missing from this struggle is the independent voice of the Global South and its historical ally, Black America. The struggle for socialism will inevitably stagnate without an internationalist and self-determinist component. While late stage capitalism won’t win the class war for us, it has demonstrated in several instances that there will be no shortage ofcrises from which to seize the time.

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