The middle of the 20th century was a historical turning point in two ways. One was that this timeframe likely marked the start of a geological period in which the impact that human civilization had on the planet couldn’t be undone. Many scientists consider 1950 to be the year when, amidst the boom of industrial development after World War II, human-created species extinction and pollution produced an irrecoverable new epoch called the Anthropocene. The correlating event of 1950 was the emergence of a new way in which society was structured, one where a mentality of perpetual war created the conditions for the stripping of liberties and the domination of a powerful class over culture and politics.
This takeover didn’t involve the replacement of capitalism with total government control over life, as thinkers like George Orwell speculated would happen with the advent of whatever dictatorship would emerge in the 20th century. Instead, the bulk of the repressive measures happened in the capitalist world, and capitalism was the driving force behind that loss of freedom. The anti-communists of the mid-20th century, especially liberal supporters of capitalism like President Truman, embraced a strategy for undoing the working class gains of the New Deal. This strategy centered around associating American socialists with the demonized Soviet Union. In this new climate of anti-Russian hysteria, supporters of social and class equality were marginalized while corporations and the central government became more powerful.
As Gore Vidal wrote:
“We can date from January 1950 the strict governmental control of our economy and the gradual erosion of our liberties, all in order to benefit the economic interest of what is never, to put it tactfully, a very large group.”
The new power structure was facilitated by the network of state propagandists and secret police operatives who’d emerged with the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947, and by the anti-Russian alliance between Western states that was created in 1949—which is still called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The U.S.S.R. didn’t pose any serious military danger to the West, as the Soviet bureaucracy was concerned with maintaining control over its own population and didn’t have any plans for global expansion. But to stop the spread of the communist ideology, and to maintain an atmosphere of hatred towards a foreign adversary, the American national security state had to constantly put out propaganda against the Soviet Union, while engineering its own military buildup. The goal of the capitalist world’s engagement in the Cold War wasn’t Soviet “containment,” as it was claimed, but to continue the power of the ruling class.
In this situation, where the largest empire in history is armed with both a secretive and unaccountable police apparatus and a series of nations that serve American interests under the guidelines of NATO, old concepts of liberty and national sovereignty vanished. Since World War II the U.S. has interfered in the politics of over 85 countries, and America has invaded 37 nations during this timeframe in a series of wars that have killed over 20 million people. America has practiced torture, with the CIA’s brutal treatment of prisoners throughout the Vietnam War having set a precedent for the torture that’s taken place during the War on Terror. The CIA has used covert psychological operations to influence public opinion since the agency was started, and since 2013 the use of secret U.S. government propaganda on American citizens has been officially legal. The U.S. government now targets whistleblowers routinely, with the recent arrest of Julian Assange threatening to remove any remaining protections for government leakers. Since 9/11, the U.S. has created the most invasive mass surveillance system in history, with all of Americans’ phone calls and emails being stored and recorded by state computers. The U.S. Treasury is currently sanctioning over a dozen countries, with the sanctions mainly targeting their civilian populations. And, as WikiLeaks has revealed, U.S. servicemen have regularly committed war crimes throughout America’s most recent wars.
Despite claims that drones make wars more humanitarian, the emergence of drones has in many ways exacerbated America’s slaughter of innocent people. In modern times, America’s military operations, especially its air wars, have been increasingly indiscriminate and deadly towards civilians. During 2017 and much of last year, America dropped bombs on an average of one every 12 minutes, and in 2018 the U.S. dropped more munitions on Afghanistan than it ever did before. American drone strikes have also gone up vastly in the last two years alone, with drone operations in Afghanistan being estimated to have killed at least 23 civilians so far in 2019.
These things have matched or far surpassed any transgressions from America’s enemies. But according to the worldview that Americans are told to accept, none of this history should change the belief that America is a beacon of democracy that promotes peace and humanitarianism. Politicians and major media outlets almost never mention war, except when they’re promoting attacks against one of the designated enemies who appear in the headlines. The preferred view for the American public to have about wars is one that’s exceedingly patriotic, while vague enough that they don’t think about the deadly details of the conflicts, or the costs that they have for American society.
America’s extreme economic inequality and lack of civil liberties are also ignored by mainstream political rhetoric, with people’s attention constantly being diverted towards outrage against a political opponent, fear of a foreign enemy, or a colorful new item in consumer culture. The vast U.S. military machine is sustained in large part through these efforts to conceal and distract. As infrastructure crumbles and the social safety net is in tatters, politicians claim that it’s “entitlement programs” and not the excesses in military spending that are wasting the country’s resources. And the draft isn’t needed to maintain America’s global troop presence, since enough impoverished young people join the military for its perceived career benefits.
This approach for keeping the people complacent about lost liberties and perpetual war is representative of the particular model of totalitarianism that we’ve been living in for the last several generations. Called “inverted totalitarianism” by the political theorist Sheldon Wolin, this system of control officially allows for dissent while mass media and a political police force stamps out the potential for dissenters to actually gain power. It’s a distinctly corporate form of dictatorship, where people are sold products and political candidates to give them the feeling that the society they live in exists with their consent.
When people have been taught all their lives to view every aspect of society from the perspective of markets and profit, and to hate socialists or anyone who’s labeled a “socialist,” they come to see this corporatized paradigm as normal or even favorable. 80% of Americans effectively live under private totalitarian governments, working for corporations that police their daily activities and often keep them under video surveillance. Out of these workers, around half are poor according to the modern definition of poverty, and 80% live paycheck to paycheck. Yet in conventional thought, the fact that the workers have willingly surrendered their rights to the corporations by signing contracts is taken as proof that they have no right to object to their conditions. This is a view that doesn’t consider how taking these jobs is usually their only option for staying out of destitution. Even though corporations have a stranglehold over politics and daily life, Americans are told that they’re the ones who’ve brought about the current state of their government and their own diminished their standing in society.
Ultimately this logic of private enterprise justifying oppressive systems applies not just to the withholding of worker’s rights, but to for-profit prisons, surveillance capitalism, polluting industries, and the military industrial complex. There are mainstream commentators who argue that perpetuating war is justified because it protects some American jobs and advances corporate profits. In 2016, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said that there would be “a significant loss of jobs, of revenue here in the United States” if the U.S. stopped arming Saudi Arabia in its mass slaughter of the Yemeni people.
And in 1999 the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman explicitly stated the power structure’s philosophy:
“For globalism to work, America cannot be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is…The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonald-Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”
The subjugation of workers, the daily killings of people in brown-skinned countries, carbon emissions and pollution from pesticides, the loss of privacy and intimacy amid intensive social media surveillance, slave labor in private prisons, and the coercing of refugees into for-profit detention camps are all rationalized by the corporatocracy as necessities for accumulating more wealth. The prevailing ideology is one that treats human beings and nature as commodities, with people like the refugee camp prisoners being held in contempt as the least valuable of those commodities.
The irony is that while war hysteria and hatred of migrants are created through nationalism, the traditional concepts of nations and borders no longer exist. The U.S, Israel, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and the European countries are all part of one alliance of capitalist powers which let multinational corporations decide their internal affairs and foreign policy, and which use global financial institutions like the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund to make disobedient countries conform to their economic interests. If the political and economic manipulations from these institutions don’t make a country obedient, the next option is military invasion.
The main source of oppression in the world is not Putin, Assad, Maduro, or the other leaders who are vilified by Western propaganda. It’s the power structure of corporate totalitarianism which dominates world politics, with the individual countries within the structure being just props for the people of different regions to invest their patriotic energy into. And within the disfavored countries, the cause of oppression isn’t communism but capitalism. Russia is now a neoliberal petro-state, where 3% of the population owns 90% of the wealth, and China continues to have billionaires and poverty despite the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to make the country more equal. Capitalism is the force that’s keeping civilization in a state of endless war, artificially created economic stagnation, and militant hierarchy.
This is what capitalist totalitarianism has looked like since the start of its modern version. But as the earth’s climate destabilization feedback loop continues, the power structure will need to drastically change in order to survive. If we let these changes go through instead of replacing global capitalism with a new system, by the end of this century humanity will be locked into a state of dictatorship that’s much more extreme than before.
America’s Republican Party, which still denies the existence of anthropogenic global warming, is an outlier within the world’s ruling class. Otherwise, elites are preparing to try to re-stabilize their power structure by implementing climate change solutions that they approve of: carbon taxation, geoengineering, and a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” where companies invest in renewable technologies. These things are either insufficient to solve the problem or likely to create new environmental disasters; trying to artificially create a cooler climate could harm the planet more than the already existing climate change, and the technologies that capitalists are hoping to adopt would require mining very limited rare earth minerals and creating more pollution. If the capitalists are allowed to decide how humanity responds to climate change in the coming decades, the planet will ultimately become extremely damaged, and the instruments of control over the population will be vastly expanded.
Part of the elite’s proposed fixes for climate change is the creation of “smart” cities, which may involve the hyper-connected G5 internet system that many governments are trying to install. This would give the government unprecedented ability to digitally surveil in the name of safety. As the Trump administration opens the possibility for an eventual nationalized 5G network, officials are framing it as a necessity for protecting Americans from supposed threats from China. As the destabilization of the climate creates greater and greater crises, the state’s impulse to push through authoritarian measures in the name of national security will no doubt intensify.
With the current trends of increasingly militarized police, declining freedom of speech, and ever-widening inequality, society could be more totalitarian than ever by the time nationalized 5G comes to America. In this scenario, the new surveillance system would be what’s used to give people more reminders not to step out of line. And it would be the logical conclusion of how corporate despotism has worked so far; rather than having technology regress under dictatorship, as would have likely happened if the dictatorship were in the form of a totalitarian government, society has seen massive technological advancements largely because of innovators who work in corporations. But instead of making society more equal and free, the Internet and mobile devices have been used to impose more surveillance, and to enrich tech companies at the expense of the slave laborers who help manufacture computer products. 5G is where all of this has been leading towards.
Just as the oligarchs plan to continue their drive towards internal repression, they don’t want to let climate change or the world’s other crises stop the continuation of war. War is needed to keep disobedient countries under the power of the global capitalist dictatorship, and to maintain an environment where people accept a hierarchical society. The American empire, which has already lost so much geopolitical leverage and economic power that it’s likely to collapse after the next major upset, will soon be replaced as the engine for the capitalists to enforce their agenda on the world.
After the U.S. enters its post-empire state, which in all likelihood will happen by the end of the 2020s, another authority which unites the corporate power structure will emerge, likely consisting either of a new version of NATO or of an arrangement where corporations rule directly. Since the Western world has already become locked into a cold war with Russia and China in recent years, this political and military alliance will likely become engaged in nuclear tensions with these two countries indefinitely. Through such developments, our current era of perpetual war could go on for the rest of the 21st century.
These reforms are how the capitalist class, which has mainly tried to hide the deterioration of the climate so far during the Anthropocene, plan to continue their rule after the warming becomes impossible to deny. The emergence of the Anthropocene was linked with the emergence of this era’s capitalist totalitarianism, and the evolution of the Anthropocene will entail the evolution of the corporate regime’s means for holding power.
The question is whether the people of the world will accept the ruling class’s climate change “solutions” and security state expansions, or carry out a revolution that makes society free and equal. It’s whether the pro-labor, civil rights, and anti-war movements which were pushed to the margins during the 20th century will return and transform the world for the better.
Realistically, the next few decades will be a war between the capitalists and the revolutionaries that has a similar nature to the conflict between the U.S./NATO empire and the Russia/China axis. As pro-worker movements rise around the world, the ruling class is framing its war with these movements as a battle between freedom and slavery even though the opposite is the case. In France, the Yellow Vest protesters have been frequently targeted with police violence, and an American protest movement would no doubt experience the same. Even if capitalism is soon defeated in one country, the new revolutionary government will have to defend itself from relentless capitalist sabotage, as has been the case for every country that’s so far broken away from capitalism.
But these struggles will be the cost of achieving liberty. We must persevere in our fight against capitalism, or the systems of corporate control will continue to tighten around us.