By Jason Fiore
The COVID-19 crisis in the U.S. has been exacerbated by mass consumption of right wing conspiratorial fake news that downplays the seriousness of the crisis and upholds market liberalism as the solution. What is new about this is that Trump’s populist victory has brought conspiracy theory out from the shadows directly into the mainstream information market. Conspiracy theory has become a direct part of the multimedia information hegemony in which capitalists invest billions in DC think tanks that figure out diabolical ways to influence consumer opinion and ensure that consumers do not act rationally. What is not new is the lie that market liberalism is the real solution for crisis after crisis. Whether crises be market or socially driven, right wingers constantly demand more power and authority be given to the wealthy political and capitalist class over everyone else, and we are expected to have faith that we will be provided for. This did not happen in the past, and it isn’t going to happen now.
The U.S. and most other countries suffer from a lack of participation in democracy. This doesn’t simply mean lack of participation in voting or getting people elected,although the U.S. political machine is indeed one of the narrowest and least accessible. But in a more direct and meaningful way, participation in democracy means things like forming unions and grassroots worker and consumer organizations that organize ordinary people and have the power to create and win campaigns around real social problems. So, this kind of democratic participation is actually subversive to market liberalism since it’s based around meeting the social needs of ordinary people — something markets fail at. In crises such as the one we currently face, some uptick in democratic participation is usually observable. In the U.S. this can be observed in some increases in strikes and other shop-floor actions, as well as increased activity among some healthcare-related consumer groups. But state governments have already been influenced by right wing lobbyists to open early, instead of heeding the advice of medical experts. The result will be re-opening the flow of profits to the wealthy while ordinary workers face threat of eviction if they don’t work, or possibly being infected with a potentially deadly disease if they do.
In the short term, it will take a major increase in democratic participation to have a real positive alternative to these terrible conditions. If we are effective at this, we can increase consumer protections and safeguards, bringing about things like rent freezes and reductions and comprehensive universal healthcare. In the long term, we believe that a self-managed libertarian alternative to capitalism can withstand crises better, by focusing on production directly for use (instead of producing commodities that continue to pile up in landfills), accessibility, solidarity and direct participation.
We will also need to find ways to battle the multimedia information hegemony that convinces masses of people that conspiracy theory is factual and that directly improving our own lives is against our better interests. So, we need working class journalism and theory that brings libertarian ideas into the mainstream and popularizes them. We need to overpower the voice of big capital with the voices and stories of the masses of everyday working people.