The arc of capitalism is one where the system contracts, losing the robustness that it had when it was in the process of replacing feudalism. Its demand for limitless growth inevitably runs into obstacles, and that forces it to eat itself. Because there’s no way for capital to reverse its decline, and the interests of our ruling class necessitate that the system continue, society’s trajectory becomes one where inequality and unfreedom get ever more severe. Capitalism’s self-cannibalization can’t be stopped, so the bourgeoisie increasingly resort to the only rational option for their class: engineer a restoration of feudalism, completing the cycle. The consequence is that bigger and bigger amounts of both humanity and nature get sacrificed to keep the dying machine of capital running.
A theory for counterrevolution
This is the historical development that’s made Peter Thiel possible. An individual with a profoundly cynical mindset about how power relations should work, and intentions for reshaping society to perfectly fit that mindset, would neither exist nor be able to gain influence if not for our present conditions. What makes Thiel so dangerous is not his personal potential for changing history—he’s only one person, and “great man theory” ignores the role of the surrounding circumstances—but rather the ideas that Thiel represents. His radical agenda for accelerating the process of neoliberal anti-egalitarianism, in which democracy must be wholly discarded even in its bourgeois sense, is consistent with where our socioeconomic model is headed. The unhinged far-right politicians who he’s trying and failing to get into office are still part of a trend that the ruling class as a whole seeks to foster.
If Thiel weren’t here, capitalism’s decline would still progressively incentivize the ruling class to do what he’s doing. He and the others who embrace anti-democratic capitalism see the logical conclusion of where our social order is going, and they’ve decided to view it as a good thing rather than fight against it. The capitalists and capitalism sympathizers who don’t want such a rejection of an open society aren’t relevant to this historical process, except for how they serve to slow the transition towards that scenario. Their moderate thinking only delays the trend towards complete corporate dictatorship. Under our current socioeconomic order, the trend is incurably one in which the elites fight off revolution by utilizing capital’s fighting wing, i.e. fascism. The only way to stop this is by creating a different system, which our cultural hegemony views as unthinkable. Therefore as long as one hasn’t broken from this hegemony, they’re knowingly or unknowingly acting as a historical agent in fascism’s favor.
What Thiel has done is adopt an unapologetic, uncompromising program for maximizing the advancement of his own class interests, and consequently come to act as a billionaire who’s trying to bring about fascism. He bases his ideas off of the dark enlightenment, a “neo-reactionary” strain of thought which views the democratic and egalitarian values of the Enlightenment as hindrances to liberty.
The reasoning behind this, shared by the original architects of the neoliberal era, is that letting the people decide how the economy should run would amount to a tyranny of the majority. In his book about the theory behind the dark enlightenment, the strain’s guiding philosophical writer Nick Land states as such, referring to “the reactionary insight that democracy poses a lethal menace to liberty, all but ensuring its eventual eradication…democracy is fundamentally non-productive in relation to material progress, is typically under-emphasized. Democracy consumes progress. When perceived from the perspective of the dark enlightenment, the appropriate mode of analysis for studying the democratic phenomenon is general parasitology.”
Land argues that democracy creates parasitology because from the neo-reactionary perspective, and by extension from the perspective of modern bourgeois self-interest, economic and political democracy sabotage the individual’s potential for utilizing capital to advance “progress.” It does this by turning the population into “parasites,” who siphon the resources which the capitalist needs to help society. Such an idea presupposes that capitalists are the only ones with a social role that can enable somebody to advance society, which is self-evidently absurd.
One doesn’t need to be a capitalist to create great art, or to be a great architect, or to be a great inventor. In many cases, somebody can contribute to societal progress simply by being a worker, as it’s the workers who create the basis for an economy. Under socialism, the workers are better able to use this power to advance progress, now unhindered by the extractive presence of a capitalist class. This presence is ironically a parasitic one. The dark enlightenment’s central myth is that a capitalist’s role is not as a parasite, but as an innate facilitator of progress, therefore needing to be given the authority of a dictator.
Thiel’s ilk don’t embrace this myth out of an honest analysis about how historical progress works, they embrace it out of material self-interest. The past and present socialist projects have carried out progress that capitalism hasn’t been capable of: bringing about economic development while avoiding capitalism’s recession cycle; reducing poverty while it’s gone up across the capitalist world; building prosperous economies that haven’t depended on imperialist extraction. This has made them able to reduce the phenomenon of people living off the government, not by punishing those in need but by giving them opportunities. Socialism has brought enough economic robustness to give everybody upward mobility, while capitalism proves itself increasingly unable to do so. By Land’s reasoning of wanting to minimize welfare dependency and maximize productivity, supporting socialism is the rational stance.
Then there’s the fact that Land’s measuring societal progress solely according to how much work the population is doing assumes modern capitalism’s high proportion of “bullshit jobs” (jobs with no function other than to generate profits) are actually essential. By the reasoning of an ideology that solely prioritizes profits, any job is innately in service of “material progress,” regardless of whether it’s necessary outside the profit-obsessed framework. In the long term, a socialist society is capable of using technology to render essentially all of our current jobs bullshit jobs. Outsourcing virtually all labor to machines, while maintaining prosperity, is an achievable goal.
The only reason socialism’s achievements are dismissed by reactionaries is because reactionaries seek to defend the interests of a certain social class, and therefore define “progress” in terms of what benefits this class rather than what benefits society as a whole. In turn, they fetishize the concept of work, acting like the full outsourcing of labor under communism would merely turn everybody into parasites. Would we all truly be parasites, or would we simply be functioning without having to serve a parasitic minority class? To insist on keeping the paradigm of mass-scale labor when this has been technologically outmoded would be as illogical as wanting everyone to continuously dig and fill in a hole. Why do something objectively pointless? The increases in labor and growth that existing socialism has achieved aren’t the end goal in the development towards communism, they’re only steps in the transition towards a higher stage of civilization. Capitalism at this point does nothing besides keep us stuck in a lower stage.
I’m engaging with the dark enlightenment’s ideas not because they pose the biggest ideological threat to class struggle—the minority who share them are neither likely to change their minds nor winning over many others to their side—but because exposing their intellectually dishonest nature illustrates the viable alternative to capitalism. The success of China’s socialist project refutes the argument that capitalism is indispensable for material progress. The PRC’s workers’ democracy is behind all of the communist achievements I’ve listed. And helping the American left recognize this fact, thereby rejecting the propaganda narratives our ruling class has created about China, advances the class struggle.
The goal of Thiel, and of the social force he represents, is to prevent this reality from being recognized so that their necro-political project can continue. Land describes the dark enlightenment’s goal as “a functional dis-solidarization of society that tightens feedback loops and exposes people with maximum intensity to the consequences of their own actions.” The fallacy in Land’s reasoning is again apparent, as on a mass scale, the only people who can apply these lessons about how to get by under capitalism are exceptions. Statistically, the vast majority will live their entire lives in poverty, whether or not they absorb these lessons. Only a small fraction can thrive under such a system, and in the long term few can even survive it.
Imposing dictatorship in the midst of societal collapse
To defend his taking this stance that virtually everyone should be condemned to feedback loops of misery that they can never escape from, Land ridicules “The Universalist creed, with its reflex identification of inequality with injustice.” He clarifies that: “This does not compel even the most hard-hearted neo-reactionary to suggest, in a caricature of the high Victorian cultural style, that social disadvantage, as manifested in political violence, criminality, homelessness, insolvency, and welfare dependency, is a simple index of moral culpability. In large part – perhaps overwhelmingly large part – it reflects sheer misfortune.” Yet his argument is nevertheless that trying to eliminate this misfortune is futile. He points out how the anti-poverty measures of social democracy aren’t compatible with the goal of keeping capitalism functional during its contracting stage. If capitalism isn’t compatible with egalitarianism, he concludes, egalitarianism should be rejected as an obstacle towards a working society.
This idea too depends on disregarding what the PRC has proven, which is that building a sustainable economic system can be compatible with eliminating poverty. The key variable is whether dictatorship of the proletariat gets implemented, which social democracy is opposed to doing.
The partisans of our social order have constructed a fictional reality in which we don’t have any successful examples of socialism to point to, and therefore the current socioeconomic system is the best possible one. Cuba’s superior Covid vaccine; China’s greening of its desert lands; the high-speed rails of the four Asian socialist republics; all of these examples are ignored, overridden by CIA fairy tales about Xinjiang concentration camps and north Korean abuses. The people under our capitalist dictatorship are deprived of an accurate standard of comparison for their conditions, versus the conditions of the socialist countries. Which blunts the development of their class consciousness. So capital’s consumption of everything is allowed to continue in increasingly unrestricted fashion as the decades go by, its destruction of the climate slowed only by the work the socialist republics are doing to bring down emissions.
Thiel and the other tech billionaires have convinced themselves they’re proving right the notion that capitalists are indispensable for advancing society. In practice, all they’re doing is providing better tools for the state to inflict cruelty upon those the system has made most vulnerable. Thiel’s data mining firm Palantir is among the companies that have been assisting ICE with catching immigrants. ICE has used its surveillance information to either put these people in inhumane detention facilities, or deport them back to the Latin American countries imperialism has made inhospitable. As the global working class suffers due to the Ukraine war that U.S. imperialism provoked and perpetuates, and as the Ukrainians themselves undergo a humanitarian disaster, figures like Thiel and Musk are profiting from it. Every other facet of our necro-capitalist order, from the prison-industrial complex, to big pharma, to big oil, to the private military contractors, to the utilities corporations, to the Wall Street stock trade betting on water, is in its own way exploiting today’s growing catastrophes.
Necro-politics is defined as when a particular group exercises its power to decide who lives or dies. The longer capitalism lasts, the bigger the feedback loop of crises, and subsequent projects to exploit those crises. The more the system becomes necro. Capitalism has never not been necro, like how the United States in essence has never not been fascist. What’s happening in the 21st century is that these most destructive components of our system are growing more and more pronounced, to the effect that the system’s existing destructive impacts get multiplied.
It’s estimated that global warming, which has already exacerbated global inequality, will bring the largest upward wealth transfer in U.S. history. In terms of the costs of human lives that the climate crisis could have, the anticipated number is 83 million during the next few generations. It’s likely that the refugees will be in the hundreds of millions. And that’s not including internally displaced people in places like America, who will encounter inhospitable scenarios in the millions. All of these processes started decades ago, we’re experiencing the initial stages of the chaos right now. The proliferation of pandemics is another part of it; Covid-19 may not be the deadliest virus we see during our lifetimes, because global warming has greatly heightened the risk for outbreaks of all kinds.
If the ruling class keeps succeeding in its campaign of de-solidarization, there’s nothing we’ll be able to do to fight against civilization’s unraveling. The people won’t have a means for banding together for support during these hellish times. The capitalist world’s transition into a series of failed states will accelerate to the point where places like the U.S. and Canada resemble devastated imperialist target countries like Ukraine and Libya.
Land, who wrote The Dark Enlightenment in 2013, has to at some level be feeling encouraged by the coming of the pandemic. So must Thiel, along with Musk (who’s a longtime partner of Thiel’s that’s likely absorbed Land’s theory, in his own intellectually shallow way). This is because after explaining the dark enlightenment’s program for reshaping society into total corporate dictatorship, Land concludes that a great shock to the system is what’s needed for carrying forth these changes:
(1) Replacement of representational democracy by constitutional republicanism (or still more extreme anti-political governmental mechanisms). (2) Massive downsizing of government and its rigorous confinement to core functions (at most). (3) Restoration of hard money (precious metal coins and bullion deposit notes) and abolition of central banking. (4) Dismantling of state monetary and fiscal discretion, thus abolishing practical macroeconomics and liberating the autonomous (or ‘catallactic’) economy. (This point is redundant, since it follows rigorously from 2 & 3 above, but it’s the real prize, so worth emphasizing.) There’s more – which is to say, less politics – but it’s already absolutely clear that none of this is going to happen short of an existential civilizational cataclysm.
The longer revolution is delayed, the more society will come to resemble this. The shrinking of government’s functions to law enforcement and the military, with even law enforcement being incrementally replaced by private police forces, is the logical conclusion of neoliberalism. Biden has overseen bipartisan coordination towards furthering austerity, waging war, growing the police budgets, and expanding the migrant camps. Within this corrupt and hollowed out state is a growing network of vulture capitalists. Mercenary contractors have appeared in the racial tensions epicenter Minneapolis to violently detain bystanders, and to surveil local civil rights activists. Prison profiteers are using forced labor contracts within the ICE facilities. Big tech has exploited the pandemic to expand its reach, working with the intelligence community to build an unprecedented mass surveillance apparatus. Palantir is part of this, operating closely with the CIA. And in our political system itself, the tendency is towards the full abandonment of democratic pretenses that Land describes.
The intensification of gerrymandering, bought elections, other types of rigging is in effect bringing an end to representative democracy, reverting our political order to its original state of settler authoritarianism. The final step will be a version of the January 6th coup attempt that’s successful, and that has the backing of the military/intelligence centers. The likely scenario is an extreme crackdown against dissent in reaction to the next big social unrest spike, resembling the martial law that the U.S. military imposed on Baghdad during the Iraq insurgency. In that environment, there’s no way even the illusion of democratic representation will be possible, as the population will be getting terrorized on a mass scale. Both by the government, and by the fascist paramilitaries, which are getting training via the Ukraine conflict.
All Thiel has to do to facilitate this anti-democratic shift is supply the instruments for repression which the state, along with the neo-feudal corporate states emerging from society’s breakdown, will use to wage counterrevolution. On the level of individual journalists or activists, big tech’s role is to carry out the monitoring of their output, the censorship of their revelations, and the coordination of black propaganda campaigns against them; Palantir once formulated a scheme for using strategic disinformation to target Wikileaks, an operation that’s since been applied throughout the persecution of Assange. On the level of mass terror, their role will be to supply the state with the data necessary for an expanded version of the ICE raids. Incarcerating, torturing, and executing large amounts of people for political reasons is how dictatorships always function. And when fascists say “constitutional republicanism,” dictatorship is what they mean.
To resist this, the people must be educated about the psychological operations that the ruling class is using to carry forward these reactionary processes. Thiel is an insidious presence, because he’s built a power structure pervasive enough to often make it so that people assist in his movement’s schemes without knowing it. The biggest example of this is the Ukraine psyop.
Most Americans, including essentially all liberals and many leftists, have absorbed the idea that Russia’s action was unprovoked. By thinking in the way the military/intelligence complex wants them to, they’re unintentionally supporting the historical dynamics which are leading them to an extremely dark fate. War profiteers like Thiel depend on the Ukraine conflict, fascist militias are being strengthened by it, big tech censorship is being advanced by it, and war in itself is the health of the state. The best thing we can do at this juncture to stop Thiel’s movement is combat NATO’s propaganda on Ukraine. This both disrupts the war machine, and readies more workers for absorbing the revolutionary theory that they need to assert their class interests.
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