Mass Protest Is Rising — Can It Confront Global Capitalism?

The world is now experiencing an era of increasing class struggle and popular protest, as the global economy struggles to recover and international tensions rise in the wake the Russian invasion. Revolt took off around the globe in the aftermath of the 2008 world financial collapse that put an end to two decades of the “globalization boom.” Popular insurgencies have since escalated on the heels of the pandemic and, although particular movements may rise and fall, there is no letup in sight. In the first four months 2022, mass labor strikes and unionization drives dominated. breaking out in industries and countries around the world.

Civil strife is on the rise, as well as political conflict. Global capitalism is emerging in a new phase as inequality rises exponentially and mass hardship and deprivation increase. This puts the world in a dangerous situation that borders on civil war.

In the two years preceding the COVID-19 epidemic, more than 100 major anti-government protestsThe world was swept away by it, in rich and poor alike. toppling some 30 governments or leadersProtesters are being targeted by the state, resulting in an increase in violence. From Chile to Lebanon to India, Iraq to India and France to the United States to South Africa to Colombia, Haiti to Nigeria to Haiti, Nigeria to Nigeria, Haiti to Nigeria and Haiti to Nigeria, mass popular struggles seemed to be taking on an anti-capitalist nature in some cases (although others were driven primarily by right-wing sentiments). Students, workers, often migrant workers, Indigenous communities and anti-racists were all involved in anti-capitalist movements.

However, the “global spring” of 2017-2019 was but a peak moment in the popular insurgencies that spread in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse — a veritable tsunami of proletarian rebellion not seen in decades. Occupy Wall Street, which was started in the U.S., sparked similar movements across dozens of other countries, the Arab Spring, as well as the Greek workers movement, were two of the mass uprisings following the Great Recession. Some of these struggles experienced setbacks or defeat. The global revolt continued to ebb and flow through the 2010s, but it did not end. A new wave of protests broke out in 2017.

Protesters were forced off the streets by the pandemic lockdown in 2020. The lull was temporary: Protesters were back in the streets within weeks of the lockdown. out in force againDespite the dangers associated with public congregation and quarantine. There are also these mobilizationsProtests against George Floyd’s May 2020 police murder sparked an anti-racist uprisingThe largest ever mass protest in American history, it attracted more than 25 million mostly young people to the streets of hundreds upon hundreds of cities across the country. Many Black Lives Matter protesters called for the defunding of police departments — and for investment in a broad range of social services and supports. This call for expanding a social safety net posed a direct challenge to neoliberal capitalism, which funnels state dollars out of working class communities and social welfare programs and into policing, “defense,” and corporate welfare. The BLM protests prompted solidarity actions around the world as 2020 wore on.

The Pew Research Center is conducting ongoing polls in the U.S. about views towards capitalism and socialism (although it is unclear what people think of capitalism and socialism). According to its 2019 pollAlthough the Pew poll didn’t break down responses by age, 42 percent of respondents in the United States supported socialism. However, a 2018 Gallup pollIt was found that 51 percent of people aged 18-29 viewed socialism favorably. Seen in historical context, another Gallup pollIn 1942, 25 percent of the U.S. population supported socialism. This rose to 43 percent in 2019.

Yet, it is astonishingly beautiful another pollThe survey found that the support for socialism increased by nearly 10% among young people in 2020 in the midst the pandemic. This poll found that a full 60 percent of millennials and 57 percent of Generation Z supported a “complete change of our economic system away from capitalism.” Worldwide, a 2020 pollA majority of people (56%) believe that capitalism is doing more harm to the environment than good. According to the poll, India and Thailand had the highest levels of distrust in capitalism (75 percent and 74%, respectively), while France was close behind with 69 percent. Majorities voted against capitalism in many Latin American, Asian, European, Gulf, African, Latin American, and European countries. Only in Australia, Canada and the U.S., South Koreas, Hong Kong, Japan did majority disagree with the assertion capitalism does more harm than good.

This anti-capitalist sentiment was expressed by mass protestors during the pandemic. There was a clear radicalization among workers and the poor, and a stronger sense of solidarity across and within borders that intensified during this pandemic. No less than 1,000 strikes ripped across the country Within the first six month of the contagion. Workers protested for their safety. Tenants called for rent strikes, immigrant justice activists surrounded detention centres; anti-incarceration organizers demanded that prisoners be released; auto, fast food and meat processing workers went on wildcat stops to force factories to close down; homeless people occupied empty homes; and health care workers at the front lines demanded the personal protection equipment they needed to do their job and stay safe. Wildcat strikes were mostly organized by the rank and file, not by the union leadership.

COVID-19 was therefore the lightning bolt that preceded the thunder. “Just a few weeks after lockdowns were widely imposed, protests began to reemerge,” noted the Carnegie Endowment. “Already in April [2020], the number of new protests rose to a high level; approximately one new significant anti-government protest every four days.” And there was no letup to mass protest in 2021, fueled, in the words of the Endowment, by an increasingly authoritarian political landscape and “rising economic insecurity” that “brought public frustration of the boiling point.” It added that many countries that did not previously appear in the tracker registered protests that year. The global class struggle heated, and the first four month of 2022 saw mass labor strike. breaking out in industries and countries around the world.

The Devastating Effects Of Capitalist Globalization

In all of their diversity, many of these fights had — and have — a common underlying denominator: an aggressive global capitalism in crisis that is pushing to expand on the backs of working masses who can tolerate no more hardship and deprivation. Capitalist states face spiraling crises of legitimacy after decades of hardship and social decay wrought by neoliberalism, aggravated by these states’ inability to manage the COVID contagion and the economic free-fall it triggered. The extent of polarization of wealth and power, of deprivation and misery among the world’s poor majority, already defied belief prior to the outbreak. Only 17 global financial conglomerates managed $41.1 trillion dollars in 2018, more than half of the world’s gross domestic product. In the same year, 36 million millionaires and 2400 billionaires dominated the richest 1% of humanity. controlled more than half of the world’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent — nearly 6 billion people — had to make do with just 5 percent of this wealth.

Globally, 50% of people live on less that $2.50 per day. full 80 percent live on less than $10 per day. One in three people suffer from malnutrition on the planet. Nearly a billion people go to bed hungry every night, while another 2 billion are affected. food insecurity. The number of refugees fleeing from war, climate crisis and economic collapse is already in the hundreds of millions social fabric is torn apartSeveral entire communities are left in ruin in remote areas. These conditions have been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent pandemic.

Oxfam, an international development agency reported this past JanuaryThe COVID-19 pandemic’s first two years saw the 10 richest men in the globe more than double their fortunes, going from $700 billion up to $1.5 trillion. 99 percent of humanity suffered a drop in income, and 160 million more people were forced into poverty. The World Food Program (WFP) reported in May that “the outlook for global acute food insecurity in 2022 is expected to deteriorate further relative to 2021,” a year which, according to the WFP, “surpassed all previous records.” The war in Ukraine “is likely to exacerbate the already severe 2022 acute food insecurity forecasts, given the repercussions of the war on global food, energy and fertilizer prices and supplies.”

Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people, have been displaced from countrysides in the Global South in recent decades by neoliberal policies, social cleansing and organized violence such the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror,” both of which have served as instruments of mass displacement and for the violent restructuring and integration of countries and regions into the new global economy. The megacities of the globe have become the epicenter for mass protests as the displaced move into them.

The International Labour Office reported that 1.53 billion workers around the world were in “vulnerable” employment arrangements in 2009, representing more than 50 percent of the global workforce, and that in 2018 a majority of the 3.5 billion workers in the world “experienced a lack of material well-being, economic security, equality opportunities or scope for human development.”

As digitalization drives a new round worldwide restructuring it promises an increase in precariatization among workers who have employment as well as to expand the ranks human beings excluded from the labour market. While the climate crisis will cause water and food shortages and displace hundreds of million more people, increasing vulnerability to natural catastrophes and increase exposure to water and food,

This social crisis is a major one. This social crisis is explosive. It fuels mass protests by the oppressed. It also leads to the ruling groups to deploy a more omnipresent global state police to stop the rebellion of the global working class and the popular classes. The social fabric is being torn apart as the post-pandemic world sees a growing civil war. The crisis creates huge political tensions that must managed by the ruling parties in the face of social disintegration and political collapse across many countries. It fuels geopolitical conflict when states try to externalize social or political tensions. This accelerates the fall of the post World War II international order, increasing danger of international military conflict (see the Ukraine conflict).

Pandemic Repression and Global Police State

COVID-19 was, in some ways, a blessing in disguise to the ruling class. The contagion temporarily drove protesters from the streets and provided capitalist states with a break to gather their repressive forces, and deploy them against restive people. The need for these states’ security cannot be explained by the brutality and repression these states unleashed on their own citizens. The pandemic, on the contrary, was a convenient smokescreen that allowed for the repression and brutality of these states against their own citizens.

The case of India is quite instructive. The case of India is revealing. 150 million workers went on strike in January 2019. The protests against proposed changes in the citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims continued for months. A second general strike was held in 2020. 250 million workers and farmers — the single largest labor mobilization in world history. The government’s pandemic curfew conveniently hampered the civic uprising. As the virus spread, the government started to impose strict local lockdowns. It targeted neighborhoods that had been affected by the protests. Residents were locked up in these areas for weeks by heavy police barricades. The government also forced tens and millions of striking migrant workers into marching to their villages for lockdown. There, they endured pitiless state repression which included extreme dehumanizations, deaths in custody, mass arrests, and mass detentions (all this while MukeshAmbani, the richest man in IndiaHe increased his wealth to $12 million Per hourDuring the pandemic

The United States saw a wave in worker mobilizations before the COVID-19 epidemic. This was led by a number. mass teachers strikes in 2018 and 2019, exploded due to unsafe working conditions in schools and dismal working conditions during the pandemic.

Particularly brutal state repression was used to stop the massive 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Fearful of losing control, the ruling groups left no holds barred in unleashing the state’s repressive apparatus against the largely peaceful protesters, leaving at least 14 dead, hundreds of wounded and some 10,000 arrested. (I witnessed the use of tear gas and stun grenades by militarized officers and national guard units against protesters in my home city of Los Angeles.

Governments around the world centralized the response to the pandemic and many declared states of emergencies, in effect, imposing what some called “medical martial law.” Such centralized coordination may have been necessary to confront the health crisis. But centralization of emergency powers in authoritarian capitalist states was used to deploy police and military forces, to censure any criticism of governments, to contain discontent, heighten surveillance and impose repressive social control — that is, to push forward the global police state. In country after country, emergency power was used to ban protests, on the grounds of spreading COVID-19, harassing dissidents, censoring journalists, and making minorities feel guilty. Minimum of 158 governments placed restrictions on demonstrations.

In many countries, governments required citizens to carry documents verifying their “right” to be out of their homes during the lockdown. The idea was to get citizens used to producing paper on demand and asking permission to exist in public spaces. Rodrigo Duterte, the strongman president of the Philippines, issued these words. shoot-to-kill ordersFor anyone who defied the stay-at home lockdown, while his government intensified its campaign of extra-judicial execution of thousands of suspected criminals. Latin America charged Amnesty InternationalIn order to enforce quarantine requirements and curb protests, governments used punitive, arbitrary and repressive tactics. “Added to the structural challenges and massive social and economic divides present prior to the pandemic, these measures only combine to perpetuate inequality and discrimination across the continent.” Such repression was widespread around the world. As I detail in my new book, Global Civil War: Capitalism-Post PandemicCapitalist states used the pandemic in every country to create a pretext for repressing the protest movements that had reached a crescendo just before the outbreak.

While a major government response may have been necessary from a public health point of view, it became clear that the “new normal” as the world emerged from the pandemic would involve a more extensive global police state, including permanent mass surveillance and a new biopolitical regime in which states could use “public health” as a new pretext for keeping a lid on the global revolt. States used what international relations scholar Kees van der Pijl referred to as a “bio-political emergency” to further normalize and institutionalize state surveillance and repressive control in a way reminiscent of the aftermath of the 2001 attacks. In the wake of those attacks, 140 countries passed draconian “anti-terrorist” security legislation that often made legal the repression of social movements and political dissent. These laws remained in force long after the 2001 attacks.

Political Violence Pandemics

A recent report from Lloyd’s of London, a global insurance and financial conglomerate, warned that “instances of political violence contagion are becoming more frequent” and headed towards what it terms “PV [political violence] pandemics.” It identified so-called “super-strains” of political violence. Among what Lloyd’s deems as these super-strains are “anti-imperialist” “independence movements,” social movements calling for the removal of an “occupying force,” “mass pro-reform protests against national government[s],” and “armed insurrection” inspired by “Marxism” and “Islamism.”

State responses to this “political violence” are big business. A 2016 report found that 80% of respondents were satisfied with their state’s response to this “political violence”. Global Riot Control System Market, 2016–2020,Which wasPrepared by a global business intelligence firm whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, in the next few years there will be a multi-billion-dollar boom in the worldwide market for “riot control systems.” The report forecast “a dramatic rise in civil unrest around the world.”

History shows that labor militancy has been linked to mass protest and capitalist expansion. This is due to the fact that these waves are triggered by major political changes, wars, crises, and capitalist expansion. Through capitalist globalization as well as the neoliberal Counterrevolution, the ruling parties were able to stop the last major cycle worldwide mobilization. This time, however, the circumstances are different. Due to the ecological meltdown and increasing threat of nuclear confrontation, global capitalism is facing limits to its expansion. This crisis is unprecedented and even existential. The global economy and society are increasingly interdependent and integrated. Global communications link communities across borders and on a global scale to support each other.

The only way out of the social crisis facing the majority of humanity is to reverse the trend of increasing inequalities by reducing wealth and power and taking drastic environmental measures. The challenge for emancipatory struggle is to transform mass revolt into a project that can challenge global capital and bring about such radical redistribution. The global revolt has not spread evenly and faces many obstacles, including fragmentation, capitalist culture absorption, and, for the most part, a lack of coherent left ideology and a vision for a transformative project that goes beyond immediate demands. To fight back effectively, disjointed movements will need to find ways for them to come together in a larger project of emancipation and to develop creative strategies to help push this project forward.