The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

The Pandemic and Changes in Thinking


Covid-19 has thrown a stick of ideological dynamite into my social media feeds, and I’m still looking at all the debris and trying to make sense of it. Never before have I seen, from people who I’d previously thought of, even dismissed as, liberals, so much contempt, disdain, and outright hatred for capitalism itself. I’m seeing this from the most unexpected sources. To be sure, there are plenty of comments that are relatively tame—people pointing out the importance of grocery store workers, delivery drivers and others who actually do the work that keeps society functioning. But a surprising number have taken longer steps, questioning or even attacking capitalism itself—that is, a system in which profit for a few individuals is prioritized over human lives.

And yet, for many of these people, illusions remain in the Democratic Party. To them, the fault lies entirely with Republicans, as if things would be materially different with a Democratic administration. But their own expressed opinions contradict this.

Let me make it plain: To be an office holder, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, requires swearing an oath to “uphold and defend the Constitution,” which means an oath to defend private property in the means of production, which means defending the system that is now openly proclaiming private profit of more value than human life. It matters nothing if some particular politician says, “human life is more important than profit” if that politician then supports a system that places profit over human life; that merely means that particular politician is either foolish, or (more likely), duplicitous.

And so the difference between Republicans admitting profit matters more, and Democrats claiming human lives matter more while continuing to support a system that says the opposite is, in practice, no difference at all.

The antidote for capitalist barbarism is socialism, and the path to socialism does not go through a capitalist politician who claims to be “nicer.” If a person or political party supports private property in the means of production, that puts that person, whatever rhetoric accompanies this support, on the side of Wall Street, and against those who, as more and more people are observing, are actually necessary for society to function—that is, the overwhelming mass of humanity.

Agree, or disagree. What cannot be argued is that the pandemic is causing major shifts in the thinking of millions of people, and these shifts are not inclining them to support capitalism. However much one is inundated with propaganda insisting our only way to change things is through the ballot box, and the only choices there are D or R, and thus we must accept capitalism as permanent, the experience of millions upon millions is convincing them that such a “choice” is intolerable.


Author: skzb

I play the drum.


  1. And the big bailout the Republicans AND Democrats just passed nearly unanimously sends a few lousy bucks to middle class and working class families, while giving literally billions to private companies who have been buying back their own stocks for years.

    And they are manuevering to make sure Big Pharma has a monopoly on any vaccine that is someday developed to save people from this virus. That way they can make obscene profits on the lifesaving procedure most likely discovered using taxpayer-supported research.

  2. The vaccine maneuvering won’t work—luckily. Other countries would ignore any such patent if it was even granted.

    Capitalism is definitely showing the true bloodiness of its colors—not even attempting to hide it. This has made quite a few people hold new thoughts.

  3. skzb

    Yes. Every day it’s more out in the open.

  4. Don’t underestimate the global elite’s ability to enforce its intellectual property monopolies. There are many leverage points. Countries that have refused to toe the line have been wantonly destroyed to send a message to the remainder. Iran and Venezuela are suffering cruely under the sanction regime while the virus spreads like wildfire through their population. Their only crime that I can determine is a refusal to lick the bottom of the Western boot.

  5. Just how many of the people lauding store clerks and nurses as heroes will support (demand!) massive pay rises when the current crisis abates?

    The current crisis gives the general public a chance to see/hear the actual logic of the stystem and to locate how they are valued within it. Yet there isn’t a whiff of real anger in the air. One doesn’t hear of CEOs having to hire extra security to save them from the peasants with pitchforks.

  6. skzb

    A valid question, Maggie. Certainly not all of them, but I think some. And the anger is building–listen to Amazon workers, auto workers, teachers. I don’t think the middle of a pandemic, where survival depends on self-isolation, is the time for the sort of mass action that would require more security. But we are seeing states (notably Britain, the US, I think Germany, India) attempting to quickly push through laws designed to suppress protest, so obviously some of those on the other side are worried about it.

  7. One can see the scheming even through what is supposed to be altruistic. Kroger’s decision to give $300 dollar hazard bonuses to “Frontline Workers” instead of the $2 dollar per hour other retailers, Target in particular, are giving is because the majority of their stores are union. They do not want to have to go into negotiations having proven they can afford to pay $2 more per hour.

  8. What part of the Constitution prescribes private property in the means of production? Curious, because I swore that oath (city of Bisbee Arts Board), and was rather proud of it.

  9. Emma:We had a discussion here a few years back on wether the US constitution would obstruct a socialist system or not.
    My reading is that it is really quite neutral about property.
    Both the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments provide for due process protections for “life, liberty and property.” But due process just means that the proper pry has to be followed.
    Article 1 provides that: No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; … pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts,
    But the Contracts potion just prohibits states—not the federal government.

    Conservatives will argue about some nebulous emergent property rights but the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled in support of those. Funny how conservatives seem to forget their love of strict constructionist readings.

    So, the US Constitution isn’t particularly an impediment to socialism. There are myriad pieces of legislation that are barriers but legislation can be easily changed if one cares to do so.

  10. Online Forum on Coronavirus tomorrow at 1pm EDT; 12 Noon Minnesota time:

  11. skzb

    I had thought this obvious and beyond question; clearly I was wrong. Seems I now need a constitutional scholar to set this straight, since I certainly am not one. If any of you know one, please direct her or him this way.

    The question is:can the working class expropriate the means of production without violating the Constitution. On a certain level, really, it doesn’t matter, because the force of the state will certainly be employed against any such attempt; but now I’m curious.

  12. (Caveat—not a Constitutional scholar) If a party amenable to socialism were to sweep the elections and win control of the House, Senate and Presidency, And if they then appointed sympathetic justices, I don’t think there is anything in the Constitution that would then prevent them from passing a sweeping reform and expropriate the means of production. This is the case where the workers first expropriate the mechanisms of the State.

    Now, could there be a better canvas upon which to draw a new society— certainly. As we’ve seen for quite some time, people without the interests of anyone other than themselves have enacted all sorts of things without Constitutional challenge.

    If a group wins power through some non-constitutional means then they can do whatever they want.

  13. IANAL, much less a constitutional one.

    But — When FDR required everybody to turn in their gold coins, that was constitutional. Stock shares are not gold coins, but there’s a kind of similarity. You don’t necessarily get to keep whatever kind of property you happen to have.

    All levels of government can use eminent domain to take land it needs, provided it pays the amount of money it thinks the land is worth. If you disagree you can sue the government in a government court. If the government can take your land because it needs it, and give you not other land but money, likely it can take your stock shares and give you money for them. Because it needs them. The Fifth amendment has traditionally been interpreted to apply not just to land but to any property including trade secrets and contract rights. Stock certificates would count.

    One obvious way to do it would be to pay book value for the corporation. Or the lower of book value and the stock price on the day of sale. Or there are multiple other possibilities. The more uncertainty about the price, the lower the trading price, within some bounds. At some point speculators would buy stock hoping a lawsuit might bring them a profit.

    Politics would be a possible block. If 55% of the voters wanted it, it probably wouldn’t happen. If 95% of the voters wanted it, but the stockholders were willing to pay a lot of bribes/contributions/campaign-donations to stop it, would it happen then? I don’t know. Maybe.

  14. For all that you think Bernie Sanders is the People’s Judaean Front, I think we can still thank him and a few new Congresswomen for moving the Overton Window. In particular you can now say the word “socialism” in public without the media laughing in your face. A few years ago I said here that “socialism” has a branding problem in the United States and that brand has had a miraculous turn around in the last four years.

    Before you say this is rising from the consciousness of the working class, it still requires work to bring it to pass and Sanders did the work: all the work? No. Enough work? No But quite a lot of valuable work and work that frankly could not have been done by an avowed Marxist statesman or party under these particular historical circumstances.

    That being said, the pandemic has shown that even a 100% effective Sanders government, even starting in 2016, would not have been able to fix everything.

    I still worry that the fascists have a head start and that they did a lot of damage to populism. Witness that the new tack from “liberal” media is to conflate right wing and left wing populism as equivalent. But the current crisis has knocked them back a bit on that front as well.

  15. Privateiron: Ironically, I think we can thank the Republican propaganda machine as well! Think about when they were pushing the list of “horrible, socialist” policies that AOC was advocating. Every single individual item on the list polled at +70% with the general public. I think that did a lot of work to destigmatize the word. If sensible, main stream policies are all “socialist”, then how bad can socialism be?

  16. Privateiron & larswyrdson:Yes, the window has been expanding to the left and it seems (as the post mentions) that people are coming to realize that there are definite problems with Capitalism.

  17. skzb

    I agree with Steve. I remember Will Shetterly pointing to a poll that more than 50% of young voters (I don’t recall what definition of “young” was being used) had favorable reactions to “socialism” and negative reactions to “capitalism.” This was before the 2016 election campaign, and certainly before Senator Sanders began his drive. So, no, I don’t think it reasonable to credit him or other politicians for this change in thinking; I believe they are using it more than causing it. The question is, will this hatred of capitalism be harmlessly channeled into “vote Democrat,” or will the working class succeed in breaking free of the dead end of capitalist politics. I’m pushing for the latter.

  18. Yeah. Capitalism rolls on in its bloody way. People notice this and the general window moves away from Capitalism.
    People, like Sanders, now find they are able to get more traction. Correlation, not causation.
    This window seems to be gathering an increasing number of people.

    At the same time, others wallow in the blood generated by an economic system nearing the end of its usefulness. Some from a misbegotten notion that they have to remain at the “top” and others seeming to embrace various forms of what are essentially death cults.
    This window seems to be shrinking but growing increasingly strident and desperate.

  19. The market is a poor model for health care because people do not choose to get sick (despite what the enemies at Partnership for America’s Health Care Future may say).

    But now with millions losing their jobs and the health insurance industry sharpening their knives, the illusion is failing more miserably than ever before.

    I even read that China offered its Covid19 testing formula but the US refused and insisted on creating its own test that could be owned, controlled, and profited from.

    Oh well, there goes New York. They were not going to vote Trump anyway…

  20. This coronavirus may well be the closest thing to Capital in how it moves ruthlessly and globally with utter disregard for any thing. Perhaps this similarity is not being lost on people (at least subconsciously), and hence the ideological dynamite in your feed.

  21. It is kind of a chicken and egg problem. If it’s “just going that way,” then no political leader deserves credit ever. Sanders has been doing this for decades and he finally found a demographic that agrees with him. People are genuinely worried that there is no young Social Democrat or young Marxist/Revolutionary Socialist for that matter, generating any traction to succeed Bernie as the new standard bearer for real progressive politics. At the very least, functioning as a focal point for people looking to organize is something worthwhile.

    The biggest complaint we SDs have with Sanders is that he played this campaign as if it was a gentleman’s game rather than an urgent struggle with people who are unfit and unprepared to govern. It’s a thin line to walk between telling the truth and not looking unstable under the current standards of electoral politics. But he should have pushed a lot harder. At least regarding his personal story, I am probably beating a dead horse. He’s never going to be President and the current election cycle is already set between the polite Right and the Proto-Fascists.

    A new breaking point might emerge next year when everyone who still has insurance will see their rates go up 40-50% while millions will probably have lost their coverage with their jobs. There is also a lot of evidence that all the loony “Socialist” countries are facing less financial cost from the crisis; so there may be a clear counter-example to “American Exceptionalism.” Will the next administration and Congress paddle as hard as FDR did to save capitalism or will they double down on the politics of fear? I am not optimistic that we are going to see principled reform before the 2022 elections (or even after) and I am skeptical we’ll see an actual revolution in that time frame (at least from the left.) We would need conditions at least as ripe as 1929-1933. In that scenario I would venture collapse or fascism have higher odds than real socialism. In fact that is how the odds played out in the 1930s for most of the developed world. (The Soviet Union was like Louisiana; it started so low on the absolute scale that it kept developing UP towards other nations industrialization during what was a depression for people who actually lost something.)

  22. Um. Wait a minute, though, Steve. About your remark that to vote for Democratic politicians is “bad”, because they “pledge to uphold the Constitution.” I thought though, that the editors of the WSWS (of which I’m still not sure whether you’re a member, incidentally, or of SEP: I haven’t been able to work that one out!) were very pro-US-Constitution, and thought this document a great social advance – because otherwise the US would be prone to dictatorship; either that of a monarchy like “King George”, or a theocracy like the Massachusetts colony; or one like the Soviet Union under Stalin?

    So- just because they pledge to uphold this essentially c18th Enlightenment document, it makes the representatives and senators evil capitalists??

    So what would people’s representatives pledge to uphold, under Trotskyism??

    Anyway. I wanted to mention to you my feelings about these current affairs, and so will use this as my opportunity to do so. Personally – I’m being honest here – I don’t think you or anyone will get a large mass of the people to vote for Marxism/a Marxist party; because – especially in America – they instinctively feel this to be anti-democratic – and “anti-individual”. Ditto, obviously, revolution! If they won’t vote left, I can’t see how they would revolt.

    So I certainly believe the way forward, for now at least, to be in the form of democratic socialism, or, for the US, left-liberalism, I suppose: as you *have no labor party*.

    The problem does seem to be, that democracy, as well as democratic socialism, on both sides of the Atlantic, appears to be traduced! In the UK I think we can put a lot down to the unfair influence of Israel – who, however, unlike Russia, nobody seems to be blaming! And to sinister money funding the likes of Nigel Farage.

    In the US – well can we just put it down to political ignorance, on the part of too many of the masses? (And probably, more masses-misleading propaganda.) Because, Bernie Sanders lost several of the primaries – I just looked it up! That’s why he had to give up the race: not because he is an evil supporter of capitalism, or something..

    As for Trump, I have seen polls saying his approval rating during this crisis has gone up! Is this true?? Why it it true?? How stupid are people?

    I am however certain that coronavirus WILL, and is, changing people’s attitudes. (Maybe Mother Earth has just had enough, eh?? ) How long this will take to show itself in a positive way is, however, anyone’s guess…

    I certainly think that both Johnson and Trump should be thrown out, once the crisis is over. But – Johnson will try and hang on like grim death – and is the US going to *have* a 2020 election?

    Biden is a useless candidate, obviously, btw. The Democratic Party are too much into compromises. Sticking to progressive guns is what is needed. I don’t caee about ideologies; I’m too antinomian. Policies are what I care about.

  23. I’ve just read all the comments from the top: and it looks like Steve Halter has explained the legal ramifications with the Constitution and socialism. Thanks, Steve Halter! Of course, every administration – and Supreme Court – interpret the Constitution their way, don’t they??

    I also find privateiron’s comments about the Overton window very true..

    And what effect do people here think *religion* still has on US politics?? At one time I was thinking Dawkins and friends, bores though they are, had at least broken the Religious Reich’s stranglehold on US politics. Now I think the Reich’s still doing OK as long as it has a nationalist demagogue’s coat-tails to hang on to.. Will coronavirus weaken both the Church and the elite’s power now though, as the European Black Death did???

  24. I’ve just read all the comments from the top: and it looks like Steve Halter has explained the legal ramifications with the Constitution and socialism. Thanks, Steve Halter! Of course, every administration – and Supreme Court – interpret the Constitution their way, don’t they??

    I also find privateiron’s comments about the Overton window very true..

    And what effect to people here think *religion* still has on US politics?? At one time I was thinking Dawkins and friends, bores though they are, had at least broken the Religious Reich’s stranglehold on US politics. Now I think the Reich’s still doing OK as long as it has a nationalist demagogue’s coat-tails to hang on to.. Will coronavirus weaken both the Church and the elite’s power now though, as the European Black Death did???

  25. Steven – Are there plans to produce the audiobook for the Baron of Magister Valley (one day soon?)

  26. The French constitution does block a real socialist revolution (through it’s reference to the 1789 Human Rights declaration which features an article 17 protecting private property : the state can only expropriate by paying the exact value expropriated before the expropriation takes place).
    I’d be quiet surprised if there was nothing of the sort in US law.

    The point being that a socialist revolution would need to expropriate with no compensation (at least for the main shareholders of the largest compagnies) just like the freeing of slaves was not compensated.

  27. OL:n the US. This is addressed in the “takings” clause of the Fifth Amendment: ” nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    On the surface, this would seem an impediment to Socialism, but there are a number of ways toward:
    1) a new amendment can always change any prior piece of the Constitution.
    2) The “just compensation” phrase can be challenged in a number of ways. Generally, it is taken to mean the market value. If, there is no market (no private property = no market) then there is no market value.
    As another argument, it could be argued that owners of private property are indeed compensated under a socialist system as they now have housing, medical needs met, etc.

  28. One might argue along the lines that rich capitalists gained their fortunes through unjust means equivalent to theft, and therefore “just compensation” is to steal it back from them.

    This obviously wouldn’t fit through today’s Overton Window, but if revolutionary sentiment were to suddenly rise…

  29. OL- Since so much of law comes down to precedence, it is worth noting that the US government DID compensate slave owners for their slaves. 900+ slave owners in DC were paid $300 each for their slaves, to end slavery in the Capitol while buying their loyalty. The same offer was made to the Border states, although they all turned it down.

    Contrast that with the famously broken promise of 40 acres and a mule, reparations for labor stolen from the African American slaves. 400,000 acres were actually distributed before Andrew Johnson stripped it all away.

    So if there is any question of the relative protection of private property vs. labor in the US, I think that sums it up.

  30. To expand on larswyrdson’s comment, the “District of Columbia Emancipation Act” was enacted in 1862.
    With the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, no compensation was provided on former slave owners as, being illegal, slavery had no need for a just compensation (for the slave owners.) Thus, the example is quite supportive of a lack of compensation for private property once said private property is no longer a legal category.

  31. skzb

    OL: That makes a lot of sense.

  32. skzb

    Steve Halter: True and on point. The issue is making “said private property” be no longer a legal category. Traditionally, including the US Civil War, that’s what social revolutions do.

  33. If for some reason the new government wanted to compensate stockholders for their shares, it could pay them in dollars all on one day, and then in the next few weeks inflate the money supply until the dollars were mostly worthless. Then issue new currency.

    I understand that the US government captured the confederate treasury printing presses, and also the US Mint had made their own confederate plates to devalue that currency. If they had wanted to really rub salt into the wound they could have paid slave-owners for their freed slaves in confederate money.

  34. Seems like it might be about the perfect time for a rent strike and a general strike.

  35. Get the landlords in on it.

    You don’t pay them your rent. They don’t pay the bank their payments either.

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