Chaos, crisis & catastrophe – capitalist decay in the 2020s

By Laura Fitzgerald

It’s been dubbed the Age of Disorder. The 2020s and the present era of capitalism could also be described aptly and alliteratively as the Era of Chaos, Crisis and Catastrophe. Multifaceted crises of and for the system define the epoch of today. These crises that are intrinsically rooted in today’s capitalism, are interconnected, and also each has dispersive and dynamic qualities of its own. 

These crises include those of war and imperialist rivalry; a growing period of ‘stagflation’ including a spiralling cost of living/food/energy price crisis; the climate and ecological crisis. 

New Cold War 

The era of globalisation and neoliberalism has given way to a new period of intensified rivalries between two main imperialist powers – the US and China, the latter of whom is closely allied with Russia. This is rooted in the reality of global capitalism today, including the long-term decline of the economic prowess of US capitalism, and therefore of US imperialism. This decline was symbolised by US imperialism’s ignominious exit from Afghanistan that heaped yet more misery upon the Afghan people who have suffered decades of imperialist occupation only to face another stint of Taliban rule. 

The emergence of new global capitalist powers, most especially that of China, means this tension is a constant danger – a “New Cold War” between nuclear powers. 

Inter-imperialist conflict has been massively intensified in light of Russia’s despicable invasion of Ukraine. Six months on and with no end in sight, a conservative estimate is that over 50,000 have lost their lives. Fourteen million have been displaced. Cities have been destroyed. Putin’s vicious brutality has been met with a ratcheting up of militarism by Western powers, with a sevenfold increase of NATO troop presence in Europe and a €200 billion increase in military spending by EU states alone. 

The inter-imperialist rivalries of this era show that capitalism is incapable of delivering peace, a grim reality with a brutal human toll. 

“The unemployed were hungry. The employed are hungry now.” — Bertolt Brecht 

Coming out of the Covid lockdowns, the failure of the capitalist market meant labour shortages and supply chain issues that caused inflationary pressure – swiftly compounded by the repercussions of the war on Ukraine. “Costly food and energy are fostering global unrest” lamented The Economist recently. The severity of rising food and energy bills is such that numerous mouthpieces of the capitalist establishment are intimating their fear about the class strife and class struggle that will ensue. 

Meanwhile, working-class and poor people the world over are worrying about putting food on the table, keeping the lights on, or are hungry and cold. 

And it’s a global crisis. Pew Research has indicated that inflation rates have doubled in 37 of the 44 richest countries since 2020. The research also indicated that Turkey, for example, has an inflation rate of 54.8%!

Unlike the last period of ‘stagflation’ in the 1970s, the current one is unprecedented, coming after more than a decade of decline in real wages. Any attempts by the capitalist class to blame price rises on rising wages must be met with derision. The problem is profit in every sense. A prolonged squeeze on wages and conditions facing the world’s working classes has enabled soaring profits. 

Ecological crisis – profit-drive ruining lives & nature 

Capitalism’s climate and ecological catastrophe – the system’s addiction to the burning of fossil fuels and its continued destruction of the environment for profit – is at an advanced stage such that it is increasingly entwined with the other crises of the system. In Pakistan at the time of writing, floods have submerged one-third of the country as the death toll mounts, breaking records for their terrible scale. Extreme weather events, rising sea levels and maimed ecosystems already mean there are over 20 million climate refugees annually. Recent predictions have spoken of 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050. 

The Covid crisis itself – and global excess mortality associated with Covid was 14.91 million in 24 months of the pandemic – has to be understood in the context of the ecological breakdown resulting in the unrelenting extraction of profit from nature. Scientists were warning for years about the likelihood of a pandemic but short-termism of the profit-system meant governments were woefully underprepared and the likes of vaccine patents – the privatising of scientific and medical advancement that should be for the public good – served to impede the system from dealing more effectively with the crisis. Yet scientists are warning of new pandemics on the horizon, with global inequality and the destruction of the environment cited by authors in the Nature Medicine Journal as the roots of the threat, and main impediments in addressing it. 

“Socialism or barbarism”

“By occupation, by theft, by extortion, by extermination… by the expropriation of natural resources… by the use and the threat of military force… capitalism… is a rampaging tiger committed to the destruction or absorption of all other ways of life except its own.” So wrote the phenomenal revolutionary socialist and anti-war trailblazer, Rosa Luxemburg, over a century ago. The multifaceted crisis of and for capitalism in the 2020s are woven thoroughly into the fabric of a decaying system. The extraction of profit from workers, from nature — the essence of the system – is causing a multifaceted and unprecedented crisis. 

This is no series of unfortunate events. This is no short-term blip. The billionaires who increased their wealth by over $10 trillion during the pandemic – the super-rich capitalist elite who profit directly from the exploitation of workers and nature – they are the depraved beneficiaries of the chaos and cruelty of the inequality, immiseration and war that’s rife. 

Rosa Luxemburg also talked about “socialism or barbarism”. Every single step in the direction of working-class, poor and oppressed people struggling and organising against the status quo is an assertion of humanity in the midst of inhumanity. Every single movement of solidarity to wrestle wealth out of private hands into the pockets of working people is a plus. 

The future of humanity and the planet requires that such a struggle is intensely imbued with a socialist programme that’s for breaking with capitalism; that can really build an alternative to the unacceptable status quo.

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