The New Serfdom and its Useful Idiots: Boots Waiting to Stamp on the Face of Humanity

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.” —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

“There’s a primordial American tradition going back to the founders of being freedom-obsessed . . . to the point where we’re always so afraid of the government coming for us that we’re blind to other types of threats.” —Anand Giridharadas, MSNBC 

While much of Orwell’s description of totalitarianism in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four were drawn from critical observations of the Soviet Union and Stalinism, many of the elements of Orwell’s description—cult of personality, historical denialism/negationism/revisionism, omnipresent mass surveillance, pervasive propaganda, the thought police—are arguably more apt to China under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party led by President Xi Jinping.

These elements also appear, albeit in different form, in US society in the era of corporate rule. For example, the network of social media platforms profoundly shaping opinion in American society are aggressive in their surveillance of what are essentially utilities in a world where social interactions are increasingly virtual (See my article in Project Censored, “Defending the Digital Commons: A Left-Libertarian Critique of Speech and Censorship in the Virtual Public Square.”) Information that does not align with the “official” narrative is labeled as false or disappeared. The disseminators of “false information” are likewise labeled or disappeared (banned and deplatformed). For a recent example, see “Dr. Erickson Downplays the Threat of COVID-19. The Pro-Panic Crowd Turns on the Fog Machine.

Anand Giridharadas’s complaint about freedom-obsessed Americans is a prevalent sentiment among the cultural managers embodying the social logic of corporatism. Consistent with Sheldon Wolin’s description of the contemporary character of the American shadow-of-a-former-republic in his landmark Democracy Inc., what he calls “inverted totalitarianism,” Americans are now more customers than citizens, a transformation that negates democracy by meeting consumer needs—transforming the republic into a corporate state. As Michael Lind points out in this new book, The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite, the two major parties have become brands of the corporate state that organize and sell partisan sentiment to voters in stage-managed political marketplace. Likewise, the progressive practice of substituting for concrete individuals abstract categories defined by gender, racial, and religious identity populates the political landscape with branded groups competing for power. In such a world, it becomes obvious to such influencers as Anand Giridharadas that individual liberty is problematic.

As much as the corporate media has worked to paint China as the hero of the coronavirus pandemic, collective popular outrage at the chaos the Chinese government has generated by allowing the virus to wash over the planet has been difficult to contain. When governments across the world respond and legitimize the outrage, the media is obliged to report the obvious. But they have to be careful in doing so. To amend Michael Parenti’s observation that the media do not tell us what to think but what to think about, the media also tell us how to think about it. Part of making the world aware of China’s role is Trump’s constant identification of China as the culprit and contrasting his long-standing antagonism with China to the Democratic nominee’s long-standing and friendly relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. I am of course talking about Joe Biden, known to many as Beijing Biden because of his status as a fellow traveler to the CCP. But it’s not only Trump who raises awareness of the CCP. The populist movement in the West, which of course includes Australia, has opened up space for a greater understanding of the role China plays in globalist ambition. Indeed, it is the Anglo sphere that has amplified the voice to the nationalistic fraction of the bourgeoisie. (One of the major player in this is Steve Bannon, former advisor to Trump and currently the host of the popular podcast War Room Pandemic. Bannon is relentless in his criticisms of the CCP and the threat it presents to the world.)

There is a turning in the air (I do not mean here to validate the Strauss–Howe generational thesis). So CNN is out with a story: “China has been trying to avoid fallout from coronavirus. Now 100 countries are pushing for an investigation.” In the story we’re told that Russia has joined around 100 countries backing a resolution calling for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic. The highlighting of Russia’s entry into the fray is an interesting choice. The story could have identified any number of other countries joining to back a resolution. Context is important. China’s striving to avoid blame for the virus has enjoyed considerable help from corporate media outlets, CNN one among many. Given CNN’s pro-CCP slant, they have to report this development within the establishment frame, namely by suggesting the debunked Trump-Putin conspiracy pushed by the establishment through most of Trump’s first term. These are the not-so-subtle moves of delegitimization. With the tactic of dividing the world between the malevolence of the alleged Trump-Putin alliance (the populist threat), on the one hand, and benevolent US-China cooperation (the globalist wonder), on the other, criticism of China is portrayed as “racist.” So when President Trump called SARS-CoV-2 the “Chinese virus,” reporters seized the opportunity of a novel virus to treat the standard practice of calling a virus after its place of origin in a completely novel way. When Trump told a reporter insinuating that he was responsible for COVID-19 deaths to ask China about those deaths, CNN commentators called the president a racist.

Because of the way this event has devastating the working class, and the fact that more than a billion Chinese have a boot stamping on their human faces (it must not be forever—and nothing is inevitable), it would seem that, if you are truly on the left, which is marked by a choice of comrade, namely the working men and women of the various nations, then you would applaud the move to hold China accountable. Moreover, if you understand the world correctly, then you would also register surprise. This is a hopeful moment. The resolution was drafted by the European Union pushed by Australia. Australia has been particularly bullied by China. The substance of the resolution is an inquiry into China’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. China says wait until after the pandemic when it will have a vaccine as a gift for humanity. For those who have been following the crisis, justice demands the world confront the Chinese Community Party. Of course, the world should have been confronting China all along, but COVID-19 has punctured the corporate framing of Chinese benevolence, so we must seize the opportunity.

Why should people be surprised? Because the asset classes of several leading countries have worked with China to expand its power and influence, to help it colonize Africa and command global supply chains. Some countries, like the United States, have even been investing in Chinese biotech laboratories, such as the one in Wuhan, China, a possible source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has infected the world. The corporate media, which appears to care more about undermining Trump than about the country they purport to serve, accuses Trump of trying to shift attention to China and away from his own record, which, to hear them tell it, is the worst of any president in history. “This is not normal” is the line to describe Trump without having to engage in any substantive critique of his presidency, which has been, on many levels, remarkably successful, especially in changing the conversation. Beneath the accusations of deflection and racism is a desire to keep up a favorable impression of China and defame populism. But the problem of China can no longer be effectively concealed. And this development promises to put the problem of globalism into stark relief. The crisis has opened Pandora’s box—only the treasure this time is the world’s potential liberation from the curse of globalism. Of course, from the globalist’s perspective, the box is still full of evils, the principle ones being popular democracy and personal liberty. The rabble is as unworthy of these ideals as it is incapable of managing them.

Where will the globalists find their popular forces among the rabble to close the box back up? Enter China’s useful idiots, the foot soldiers of the corporate project to elevate China’s profile and dismiss its critics as racists and conspiracists. I’m talking about the identitarian types who get upset over criticisms of China and its handling of the virus that originated in Wuhan. Who praise China for helping the world. These idiots hail from what some might find a surprising source: the left. But it is not surprising. The situation is decades old. What pretends to be the left these days—and, again, this has been true for decades—are the middle-class kids of the professional and managerial class, woke and postmodern, who drape their bodies in communist chic or the other-becoming and put up big character posters on the walls of their dorm rooms (largely abandoned thanks to the party for whom their idiocy is useful). These faux-leftists run with a much larger set: the identitarians who embrace Marcuse’s warning of oppressive tolerance and stifle fundamental freedoms. 

The character of this ideology is Maoist. They’re the ones who mob intellectuals to recreate the scenes of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, who cheer on antifa as it “keeps our communities safe.” They’re the ones who mock Christians while fetishizing Islam. Their love of China and Iran parallel the alliance. They’re the ones who, not experiencing any real aggression apart from that which they initiate, redefine the faux pas as “microaggression.” They’re the postcolonialist/third worldists who capitalize the word “Black” and not “white” in order to symbolically invert an imagined hierarchy, substituting for concrete individuals abstract categories reified by an ironic essentialism. 

These are the idiots thrown into gear when popular attention turns to the labs in Wuhan as the source of the SARS-2 outbreak, accusing the accusers of racism the same way they did in 2015 when news stories of China’s 50-lane traffic jam nightmare went viral. (Remember that freak-out on social media? That was an early indicator that a deep pathology had sunk into the youth of America. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has usefully analyzed this situation in speeches and essays. You should check it out.) Any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, no matter how small, no matter how playful, is deeply offensive because is exposes the irrationalism of state bureaucratic totalitarianism—the same state bureaucratic logic that privileges the professional-managerial class into a technocratic structure, the administrative apparatus, that provides an opportunity for power and status. Thus the social logic of corporatism has colonized the lifeworlds of those groomed to take up positions within its structure. Indeed, the university system (which may not, unlike the vast majority of those infected, survive this virus) has been retooled to socialize the young into the necessary roles. This bunch takes up CCP’s rhetoric in obvious and dissimulated forms conflating the party’s interests with the Chinese proletariat. If you attack the CCP and its functionaries, then you attack the Chinese people, as if the CCP could possibly represent the interests of the Chinese proletariat. So why do they boo instead of cheer on the move to hold China responsible for their deceit? It isn’t obvious? Because it’s the progressives who pitch in with the transnational corporate elite striving to establish the New Serfdom.

This is the context in which young people can pretend to be on the left while serving the wishes of technocratic desire. The transnational elite, the globalists, who are denationalizing countries, dismantling Westphalia and the republican machinery the working class require to democratically transform their countries—the globalists who advance the social logic of totalitarian control of the masses. The models of governance practiced by the CCP and the corporate machine of Western civilization converge because they seek the same ends: bureaucratic collectivism in the service of the privilege and leisure of a New Aristocracy, their castles and forts far more grand than that of which any feudal lord dreamt. The social media platforms of the West surveil and censor in the manner of the CCP—the progressive doesn’t merely get in line; he becomes an agent of oppression, cancelling, deplatforming, heckling, mobbing, name calling.

This is not an accidental parallel. The globalist banker/corporate Wall Street fraction of the bourgeoisie, its mouthpiece the mainstream media, especially the agenda setters, The New York Times and The Washington Post, redirect criticism of the CCP for the sake of the asset class they represent, taking up the party’s propaganda that attempts to redefine criticism of a totalitarian ideology as racism against the Chinese people and portraying the sovereign people as freedom-obsessed troublemakers, as if this is a bad thing.  In keeping the transnationalist project going, it is vital for the globalists to disrupt the growing call for accountability, or at least shape it towards their ends. This is why Trump, the only president in decades to stand up to the CCP, is smeared as a racist and Beijing Biden (or somebody like him) must be put in his stead, so that the establishment can continue to work hand-in-hand in a beautiful relationship with China to establish a new world order based on global feudalism.

The pathology manifests itself in a profound blindness to the obvious. Loathing of the West in the West is so deep that some claiming to be on the left see the Western establishment isolating China as part of a long-term imperialist strategy, capitalists up to their old ways, apparently ignorant of the way China and elites of the West actually constitute an alliance, as if an alliance with this character would of their own volition pursue a New Cold War against the Chinese state. This presumes the establishment thinks in nationalist terms when they are really globalist. This is the world we want, not the world as it is—the world they want. To repeat: this deep confusion is fed by hatred for the West taught for decades by departments of our education system in required general education programming, pushed out into residence halls and reenforced by a woke student body. And so it was that when Anand Giridharadas decried America’s obsession of freedom, he prefaced it by repeating the mantra that we are a country founded on genocide and slavery. Former president Barack Obama did the same in his most recent address to graduating seniors.

Be not deceived. Governments have moved to confront China because they needs to deflect attention from the fact that it is globalization that lies at the heart of the woes of the working class while acknowledging the suffering of the people who might rebel against them. The globalist fraction of the bourgeoisie is in the midst of a legitimation crisis and the corporate state must at least appear to listen to the worker as they rebuild corporate state hegemony in the wake of a man-made disaster. Our job on the populist left is to encourage governments to follow through, to go beyond an exercise in hegemony and dismantle the transnational system and chart a return to Westphalia—we have to use this moment to reverse the decades-long project to transform the proletariat into the proles of Orwell’s nightmare. Thus the silver lining of COVID-19 and the overreaction to it, as pathological as that has been in itself, is the potential delegitimization of the transnational project that opens up an opportunity for the left populism that represents the genuine interests of working people, that restores the sovereignty of the people and subordinates the corporation to the popular will and individual liberty. This is why the establishment smears Trump with the fake threats of Putin and Russia while apologizing for the real threat of Xi and China, a brutal totalitarian regime with no equal.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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