Let's go back to the 2000s and briefly examine three works of science fiction that by accident or design present images, situations, or plots that contain elements of our times (the future of these works). Let's begin with the first episode, "33," of the TV series Battlestar Galactica. It is the first show of the first season. It aired on January 14, 2005, two years after the Iraq War began. It's has a convoy of 50,000 humans who survived the destruction of their planet (Caprica, population 50 billion) being relentlessly pursued through space by human-made robots and androids called cylons. Wikipedia provides this excellent description of the nightmarish situation: "The [human] fleet must execute a faster-than-light (FTL) jump every 33 minutes to escape the Cylons, who consistently arrive at the new jump coordinates approximately 33 minutes later. After over 130 hours and 237 jumps, the fleet's crew and passengers, particularly those aboard Galactica, have been operating without sleep..."
What we instantly recognize in all of this is the relentlessness of Trump in our post-Obama times. Trump is the cylons; liberals are the Caprican humans. The liberals cannot sleep because the terrifying tweets do not stop. Some are sent in the middle of night ("Trump insults NBA star Lebron James in midnight Twitter tirade"). And they are more and more monstrous, racist, and fascistic. When a liberal tries to rest, to close their eyes for a moment, they are aroused and enraged by another blast of psychotic tweets. How is this not like "33"?
The second movie is the 2008 Sleep Dealer. Directed by Peru-born artist Alex Rivera, this work, which I describe in greater detail in this post, is about Mexican workers in Mexican cities who operate service and construction machines in the US, and this means their labor is exploited by the US economy without the direct or physical presence of their brown bodies. The lovers in Sleep Dealer even have a romantic moment on a beach that's separated by a "HUGE wall" that plunges right into the sea. The director makes it clear that this "fucken wall" only ends when the border between the North American countries ends.
The third film, Children of Men, is even more terrifying. It actually has immigrants in cages. This is the future imagined in 2006 by Alfonso Cuarón Orozco, the UK-based Mexican director. In the future, 2027, the human race is inexorably heading to extinction because of global-wide infertility. The world is turned upside down. Instead of covering the oldest person on the planet, the media is obsessed with the youngest one (around 18 years old). Surprisingly (and this detail will receive more consideration in another post), the crisis has made society meaner. The UK, where the film is set, is now a police state that's hunting down and deporting undocumented aliens. It seems "this sceptered isle" wants a death that's as pure as possible.
African, Arabs, and Eastern Europeans are raw-tossed into cages before deportation. It all looks a lot like the images Border Patrol released of the detention center in McAllen, Texas during the peak exposure of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.
PHOTOS JUST RELEASED:
These are the first photos we are seeing of Trump child-jails.
The images are out of a detention center in McAllen, TX, and were released by Customs & Border Protection.
They won’t let media take their own pics.
Have to imagine the reality is even worse. pic.twitter.com/bfEhxRqTI5
— Kaivan Shroff (@KaivanShroff) June 18, 2018
The only big difference is Trump's cages have children; whereas the cages in Children of Men do not, and with good reason: There are no more children in this apocalyptic future.
But there is another aspect of Children of Men I want to consider. It concerns the film's militant leftist group, the Fishes. Not only is it fighting for the rights of undocumented immigrants, it's also in the middle of a deadly power struggle between Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the group's leader, Julian (Julianne Moore). Both want to control the organization. Both are dead by the end of the film. We can easily read in this sub-plot the real-world fate of so many leftist movements (militant or otherwise). But why does it always have to be like that? Is it because the enemy has too much power? The owners of capital—and therefore the state itself—can expect to win the day because it's easier for them to unite? The left is always chopping itself to pieces because they're too many of us?
I think a part of the answer is actually found in the new movie Sorry to Bother You, which ends (SPOILER) at what appears to be the beginning of a revolution. In the third part of the film, we learn that the corporation WorryFree is actually transforming humans into powerful human-like horses. Some have huge cocks. They can also work longer and much harder than standard humans. The interesting thing about this is how closely this capitalist monster resembles Stalin's Soviet Apeman. The concept is basically the same. Stalin wanted to blend humans with gorillas and chimpanzees to produce a super-army. Stalin told his scientists: “I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.” What the connection between the fantasy of WorryFree human-horse-cock workers and the fantasy of Soviet apeman soldiers exposes is how the form of power that even organizes neoliberal society is not that different from that which once organized what many call "real existing socialism." It is this understanding that has made certain contemporary Marxist theorists turn to a more radical critique of capitalist social and power structures.
Some, such as Werner Bonefeld, believe nothing in the system can be recovered. The whole of it has to go. The late and brilliant Moishe Postone was also on this wavelength. But he also believed that any attack of capitalism that has any hope of deeply transforming society must first recognize that capitalism is historical and therefore a contingent formation. By this maneuver, the disconnection of the system from the past (time immemorial), opens the possibility for its total demolition in the future. But I think these critiques are missing an important aspect of capitalist domination—and as a consequence socialism (which is the social critique to capitalism from within it): its major political and economic innovations have resulted from the co-development of war, the state, and markets.
I do not want to go on forever, and so I will make this as brief as possible. My one and only example in this post: If one digs deep enough, they will find that the Bank of England (founded in 1694—the birthday of the second capitalist empire) has the exact same root as 20th century socialist economic planning: war. With the former, it was a way of providing kings with cheap money (borrowed at 8 percent) for wars, particularly against France. With the latter, and this is a point made by the historian Quinn Slobodian in his book Globalists: The End of Empire and The Birth of Neoliberalism, it is the world wars in the first half of the 20th century.
[The German economist Moritz Bonn (1873–1965)] saw 'modern planning' born in the war, when 'scarcity of commodities and shortage of man power led to an attempt at substituting central state control over production and consumption for consumer sovereignty.' Planning was secular, not a socialist, faith. 'Total War and the Defense of the Realm Act, not Marx and Engels, were [its] parents.' In common with many recent historians, Bonn argued that war planning had permanently extended the horizon of possibility for governments... Wartime expediency became peacetime expectation after 1918. The guiding hand of the state in economic affairs became the new normal in both capitalist and socialist states.
The massive demand for money and the production of arms meant that states had to centralize and focus their economies and populations. The better the planning, the better the war effort. This fact was not lost on governments in North America, Europe, and Asia. After World War Two, state budgets in the West and Japan increased dramatically. All major capitalist societies became, essentially, socialist, in the sense of planned economies, government intervention, and Keynesian expenditures. This is the social democratic moment on Continental Europe, the Beveridge Report in the UK, and the New Deal in the US. But my point is this: real existing state planning is a war innovation that emerged from the state-market complex, and as such, it is consistent with all other major capitalist social and structural innovations. Indeed—and here I connect with Bonefeld—neoliberal governance does not simply revert to the 19th century form (small state), but instead structurally adjusts big government (socialism). It's now concerned not with protecting the welfare of labor but the market, which, neoliberals realized, ain't cheap.
A leftist critique of the system that ignores (or fails to fully factor in) the crucial co-development of state, war, and markets will surely end up with the cousin of the horse-cock workers, the super-ape soldier.