“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.” Well, Elon, if only your government would be benevolent enough to take you up on that offer…
Yes, those were the exact words of Musk’s heroic, brave stance against the “fascistic” lockdown regulations, articulated on a medium he knows all too well – Twitter. As if the official ruling of the State of California would ever be in place for a reason, a state where thousands have died to COVID-19, which has been previously considered (according to the LA Times) as the epicentre of the current viral outbreak… As if their efforts to regain control over its spread should have to interrupt what goes on in Musk’s factory of over 10,000 workers?
Elon Musk has been an unstable, untouchable force for a while now. He has put at risk masses of jobs with his reckless tweeting, and paid his way out of facing justice, with money he earned from his shares in his innovations at Tesla. Except these weren’t his innovations, they were innovated by people under his employ, ideas which Musk would go on to expropriate – along with the labour of those who brought said innovations into reality. These teams of innovators were not even assembled by Musk, but by executives also under his employ, using money he earned from PayPal, a project again built off of labour expropriation and capitalising off of past ingenuity. If we trace Musk’s money to it’s real origins, again it is linked to expropriation: this time from his father’s profiteering from the racist system of apartheid South Africa. What has Elon Musk contributed personally to place him above the law, to excuse his callous endangering of human life?
And sadly, Elon is not the only billionaire behaving badly throughout the pandemic. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, has an infamous history of profiteering from treating his workers with appalling inhumanity. Striking, unionising, or appealing for your own human decency as a worker, is strictly forbidden at Amazon. And when Amazon workers in New York, such as Chris Smalls, have finally been forced to take a stand and protest for such inconveniences as hazard pay or protective gear, Bezos responds mercilessly, dismissing these workers, and tracking others to make sure they are not dissenting. Even speaking out for company climate action is grounds for dismissal by Bezos, a man who owns a major US media corporation, and has recently been granted an unprecedented level of access to the Pentagon for someone of his position. But remember, it’s definitely the lockdown that’s fascistic in character here.
Telling people to go back to work “if they can”, as Musk advocates, or as Boris Johnson now is quasi-dictatorially pushing through in the UK (no, seriously, go ask Scotland and Wales, or even members of Johnson’s own cabinet!), unfairly target the lower social classes, whose often manual labour cannot be completed at home. The argument for this action, usually somewhat along the lines of “mUh eCoNoMy” or “incoming crisis bad” (I paraphrase), has been characterised by some left-leaning media in the UK as an attempt to save the billionaires. Personally, I don’t agree with this characterisation – and before the rightist readers get all excited and comfortable, let me explain why.
The economy is not one physical entity. It is not one unadjustable machine that we must continuously appease, and when we treat it as such in forming opinions or deciding upon any course of action, this can be incredibly detrimental societally. In this state, it is little more than what Max Stirner might call a “spook” – not only in the sense that it is haunted by all of the people we are intending to sacrifice to COVID for it, but in the sense that it is merely a social construction turned into an all-consuming focal point for policy. When it is safe, actually safe that is, to re-emerge from lockdown, we will still have the earthly resources and human manpower to resume production and labour. And yet, because of this packaged view of the economy, we won’t – because we will refuse to alter the inner mechanics of transaction or betray certain societal institutions (*ahem* private property as capital *ahem*). It is not that the billionaires are screaming for relief, no, they are screaming for their ransom; they are holding us hostage.
There is a way to keep everyone safe and then make sure we get the necessary jobs, goods and services after it ends at the same time. The way, to put it simply, is to take Musk up on his offer. Send the army in to repossess the factories and warehouses, take the exploiters into custody, and retrieve the profits of stolen labour. Use those profits to give the workers better wages and conditions, to empower them to stand up for their rights, and to welcome them to the public sector. Temporarily prevent anyone from taking large amounts of money out of the country, and establish democratic councils to hand production and distribution back to the people. You’ll be grateful for doing this once the incoming crises from global warming start to hit the profiteers’ economy as COVID-19 did.
There is no institution or practice more responsible for death and misery, more detrimental to progress or our responses to crisis, or more worthy of our condemnation, than that of privately owned capital.
Image: Dmoberhaus via CreativeCommons