Capitalism: an Outdated System of Unsustainability

In this week’s readings, “Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency” by Andreas Malm and “In the Shadows of Coronavirus” by Antonio Y. Vázquez-Arroyo, the two authors analyze the coronavirus and climate change in the context of capitalism and socioeconomic inequality. The essays describe how current issues have illuminated the immense correlations between social inequality, political corruption, and the intricate consequences of colonialism and capitalism in light of global catastrophe. Additionally, the issues brought to light by the coronavirus pandemic have demonstrated the immense failures of our current capitalist system, and demonstrate why we must take action to dismantle it.

An extremely important theme within the works of Andreas Malm and Antonio Y. Vázquez-Arroyo is the inevitable downfall of environmental stability (and the human race) regardless of our hypothetical success in handling the coronavirus. As Malm states on page 6 of his essay, “Every measure taken to contain [the virus] was advertised as temporary, like police tape marking off a street, and so we can just as easily envision a planet lifted back to the status quo ante” (Malm 6). Whether or not we are able to take control of the coronavirus situation at hand, we still must admit to the crippling reality of capitalism which is essentially destroying the planet. The moment the virus is out of the picture, people will most likely race to the streets to indulge in the consumerist wonders that they had to leave behind when the world was on lockdown. In other words, people will feel more inclined to spend their money without regard for the ecological consequences. He details, “Private consumption might be more alluring than ever. Who would want to stand on a packed bus or train after this? Unutilised capacity in car and steel and coal plants will burst forth and stockpiled inputs fall in line with the supply chains. Out of sight, the oil drills back in operation, hammering away” (Malm 6). If the virus and the other climate and sociopolitical upheavals which are occurring at the moment do not overtake the human race, then the eventual ruin of our environment at the hand of capitalism will. Throughout their essays, the two authors detail how capitalism interacts with other aspects of our failing world to emphasize the need for drastic structural change. 

One severe way that capitalism has failed society is through the disproportionate effects of catastrophe on different people groups, and the priorities placed on lives in higher socioeconomic classes. Vázquez-Arroyo presents the fact that response to global catastrophes is generally dependent on the “racial, gender, and class discursive and ideological conceits” involved (Vázquez-Arroyo 4). The reality of differing vulnerabilities in the light of the coronavirus and climate change are absolutely major players in the decisions of inaction or apathy presented by figures such as Trump. When the most affected group of a catastrophic event is a minority which is already systematically oppressed, it is less likely that government officials (and people in general) will pay as much attention and place as much immediate importance on the issue. For example, Vázquez-Arroyo notes the vulnerability of refugees, prisoners, and “people in many other colonial and neo-colonial situations and spaces within the planetary order ruled by capital” (Vázquez-Arroyo 6). The hierarchical inequalities resulting from colonization and capitalism have endorsed immense disparity between the impact of catastrophes on vulnerable groups and the external reactions to the issue. This structural violence is present in the impact of corona on communities such as the Bronx, as well as in cases of environmental racism where the effects of environmental damage are seen in the health of minority groups first. Consequently, Vázquez-Arroyo suggests that structural violence in light of disproportionately damaging catastrophes (like covid and climate change) endorses the presence of rebellion and social change.  

Given the structural corruption at play in  these complex issues, it is obvious that  the “solution” must herein lie in the dismantling of the unjust, unsuccessful societal systems themselves. Vázquez-Arroyo states in his essay that the responsibility of people in power is “ to change institutional arrangements that increase vulnerability, in order to avert the threat, not just to aver it” (Vázquez-Arroyo 8). Similarly, Malm asserts that “An enemy of higher order must be overcome, and not for a month or a year or two: the shutdown of fossil capital would have to be permanent” (Malm 21). Both authors emphasize the fact that a feasible solution to the global catastrophes at bay lie outside of the realm of individual action and must be attacked head on. Collective action and political change are necessary to combat the oppressive warlike threats which we are facing. This can only be possible through the dismantling of capitalist structures, as the mere concept of capitalism is incredibly unsustainable for the environment and for the well being of society.

In response to this need for great structural change,  Malm’s article suggests a “war communism” which entails the complete dismantling of capitalist thought and the concept of private property in the social and political life of the modern population. He asserts that “capitalism will not die a natural death,” so we must take extreme and direct action to take it down while we can (Malm 73). Malm’s communism recognizes that our time to slowly progress society towards more sustainable practices is up, and we now need to drastically alter the foundations of our lives in order to save ourselves from mass extinction. I of course cannot be sure if Malm’s specific suggestions are the end-all-be-all to the intersectional issues at hand, nor am I secure in believing that enough people would be on board with the concept of combative communism. However, I do think that if we were to save our species and our Earth as we know it, we would require some extreme division from capitalism and an emphasis on the immediacy of impending climate and societal catastrophe.

In conclusion, the coronavirus pandemic and the culmination of global crises occurring at the moment have demonstrated the failures and severe consequences of capitalism.  It is evident given these essays and the culmination of readings from this course that our time to work slowly towards sustainability is no longer an option. As the pandemic and vast array of tragedies  occurring at the moment have brought to light, our current system is no longer working. It cannot sustain us and our irresponsible actions, and it kicks the most vulnerable populations to the curb when consequences begin to arise. For the sake of our survival and equality in global and environmental health, we must find a way to cease our dependence on capitalism before it is really too late. 

Word Count: 1104

Question: Why are people so opposed to communism? In my experience, a lot of devout christians are fundamentally against communism. Why is this, and how can we attempt to change this mindset?


Malm, Andreas. Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency: War Communism in the Twenty-First Century. London: Verso, 2020. 

Vázquez-Arroyo, Antonio Y. “In the Shadows of Coronavirus.” Web log. Critical Times (blog), April 29, 2020.

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