Worst Year Ever? It’s not 2020 – It’s Capitalism

Wildfires in Northern California on Aug. 18, 2020. Credit: Dripwoods on Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0. (source)

It seems that not a day goes by without someone complaining about 2020 being the worst year ever. And it is true that this year has earned that title for many of us. Starting with a pandemic, more horrifying racist murders by the police, record breaking fires in California, record breaking number of storms in the Atlantic, massive unemployment, and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Yes, 2020 has truly been the worst year that most of us can remember.

But as much as we would like to attribute all this chaos to a particular time and space, and hope that 2021 will come to change our lives for the better, we have to recognize that these crises have nothing to do with what year we are in, but with the economic system that governs our lives.

Let’s start with the pandemic: for years epidemiologists had been warning about the possibility of a pandemic. But instead of heeding these warnings and reducing the risk factors such as mass deforestation and unregulated and destructive agricultural practices, the capitalists have continued full steam into the global health crisis that we find ourselves in now.

Not only did the people in power completely fail at preventing this pandemic, but they have also completely mismanaged it. Instead of what a reasonable society would do, which is to pool its resources to help the majority, this capitalist society has left millions to fend for themselves while a tiny group of people amass an exorbitant amount of money and resources. In the U.S. alone, while 40 million people have filed for unemployment, billionaires have increased their net worth by $637 billion.

If this deadly virus wasn’t enough of a threat, the racism of this society continues to destroy lives in this country. So far this year, 1,019 people have been murdered by police, with Black people dying this way at more than twice the rate of whites. This racist violence is no accident, and not an issue of just a few bad apples in the police. The police as an institution exists to ensure the continuation of capitalism which uses racism to divide the working class majority when it could be uniting against the actual enemy, the capitalists.

And how can we ignore the fact that climate change is causing more extreme climatic events each year? California fires have burned 1.6 million acres, at a rate to surpass the 1.8 million acres burned during 2018, the worst fire season ever recorded. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Ocean is predicted to experience 25 named storms in a year, something that hasn’t been forecasted ever before. But no matter how much scientists sound the alarm bells that global warming is being caused and accelerated by human activity, the capitalist economic system is not going to change course and stop prioritizing profits. It literally can’t, without ceasing to exist.

So, if 2020 wins the award for worst year ever, so long as we continue to live under capitalism, then 2020 could easily lose that award to 2021.