Elon Reeve Musk

Bill Woodrow, English Heritage - Humpty Fucking Dumpty, 1987


Americanism in the era of the generalized aestheticization of capital

Elon Reeve Musk (born in 1971, in South Africa, naturalized American) was chosen by the North American magazine Time as the “Person of the Year” for 2021, in its annual edition that highlights the profile of the winner, who can be a man, a woman, a couple, a collective of people, a machine. The announcement made on December 13 with the choice of Musk as the 2021 champion threw a bucket of cold water on many people here in Brazil, as apparently he would have displaced Jair M. Bolsonaro in this “election”. In 2020, the winners were President Joe Biden and Vice Kamala Harris, who won the election over Donald Trump (2016 Person of the Year).

The magazine made curious awards in past decades, such as the leader of the Indian independence movement Mahatma Gandhi (1930), the president of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1932, 1934 and 1941), the prime minister of China Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong May-ling were "Husband and Wife of the Year" (1937), the German Chancellor of Germany and criminal of humanity Adolf Hitler (1938), Soviet leader Josef Stalin (1939 and 1942), British leader Winston Churchill (1940 and 1949), American troops who fought in the Korean War (1950), those who were in the Hungarian uprising (1956), Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev (1957), Pope John XXIII (1962), leader of civil rights struggles of black Martin Luther King Jr. (1963), American women (1975), Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (1978), Polish trade union federation Solidarity leader Lech Walesa (1981), the microcomputer (1982), leaders who contributed to the Soviet overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev ( 1987 and 1989) and Pope John Paul II (1994), Amazon.com owner Jeff Bezos (1999), Facebook (now “Meta”) founder Mark Zuckerberg (2010), “color revolutions” protesters (2011), among others.[1]

Comparing the names of the winners with the dates, it can be observed that the choice of the Person of the Year is not a bolt from the blue sky, it could be someone who in some way is of interest to big American capital, to US imperialism. The choice is not always so obvious and the chosen one may be chosen for negative reasons, as was Hitler. In disclosing the choice, the Time publishes a small text full of short and appealing phrases, Slogans. Of the chosen one of 1939, Stalin, the following was said: “Joseph Stalin came a long way to deify himself [sic] in life. No flattery is too transparent, no praise too broad for him. He became the source of all socialist wisdom.”[2] And the winner of 1957, Khrushchev, was chosen for denouncing the one who would have tried to be “God” in life. But not just for that.

Khrushchev, treated as the "peasant son and corn commissioner despised by the party's senior intellectuals, eliminated all his serious rivals"[3]fulfilled one of the requirements to be chosen by Time, which is to displace competitors. It was like this with Roosevelt (1932) who won the elections for President of the United States over Herbert Hoover, Biden and Harris who beat Trump in the electoral race. Musk has overtaken Bezos as the richest man in the world. The chosen ones are presented from a triumphalist vision of the individual. The difference is that now, the Person of the Year becomes someone widely disseminated on social networks, which are no more than a product of the generalized aestheticization of capital. On Twitter alone, Musk has 66 million followers.

Time's ad for Musk calls him a "taciturn, blue-skinned [sic] man-god," portraying him as the world's richest man who does not own a home and who "recently sold his fortune."[4]. Musk appears not only as a champion of North American capitalism, but what Time does is build a myth without which capital cannot exist. It's unusual, because his portrayal is that of some kind of penniless billionaire. But not quite. Musk is at the forefront of companies in which substantial capital has been invested. He is a director of the company (startup) space space SpaceX founded in 2002, which displaced aviation giants and promises to take big capital to Mars, and the automotive industry Tesla Motors founded in 2003, in addition to being inserted in financial speculation businesses, such as cryptocurrencies[5], Among others.

It is not the first time that Musk has been chosen to be the face of great American capital. In 2017, the magazine Rolling Stone called him “the architect of tomorrow”[6]. But the award of Time it works as a push at a time of capital crisis and after Musk found himself involved in scandals, such as the serious failures in the autopilot systems of Tesla cars that caused accidents, when he was accused of almost not paying income tax, when he used his account on Twitter to publish barbarities, attack opponents, protest against policies that did not benefit him, etc.

SpaceX began to receive enormous resources from the US government, which established a policy of privatization of the space program, passing the manufacture of NASA rockets and spacecraft to private companies with the promise of producing a spacecraft capable of arriving on Mars in mid-August. decade of the 2030s. An expedition of such magnitude is shrouded in much speculation – it is not known whether it will work –, which comes at the center of a “space race”, between Musk and Bezos, who acquired the company Blue Origin, responsible by launching a little rocket that made a quick flight of about 10 minutes.

Musk represents a lot to American capitalism. The old myth of self-made man needs to be incarnated by big shots like him, who reproduce the image of “prodigious” and “visionary” entrepreneurs, who command businesses that are a great showcase of capital. It is not possible to say to what extent Musk's companies seek to make money by producing electric cars and space rockets, or if all this is part of a large advertising campaign that appropriates state resources, because in fact it is all of these at the same time. In the era of social networks, from image to image, capital has become completely aestheticized, within a process of complete financialization of capitalism that comes from before, since the 1970s. actor Robert Downey Jr. was inspired by Musk to play businessman Tony Stark in the movie “Iron Man”. Capitalism's 4.0 revolution, which seeks to replace the entire workforce and human beings with extremely advanced technologies, has a face and an agent in Musk.

Antonio Gramsci, in his analysis of Americanism and Fordism, says that the new methods of industrial work created by Frederick Taylor and introduced in Henry Ford's automobile factory in the second decade of the XNUMXth century were “inseparable from a certain way of life, of think and act; it is not possible to succeed in one field without obtaining tangible results in the other”,[7] so that the hegemony of American capitalism can only be obtained if it builds a great consensus, and the fabrication of the figure of Musk serves this purpose, as other businessmen of his time served, such as Ford, Donald Trump and Steve Jobs (Apple), or still serve, like Bill Gates (Microsoft), among others. However, as Gramsci says, hegemony is not only made of consensus, it is also made of force.

Musk is heir to a wealthy family in South Africa, which had mining as one of its businesses. Electric vehicles manufactured by Tesla rely on the production of batteries made from lithium ions. The largest deposit of this relatively rare metal is found in our neighbor Bolivia, with 21 million tons of lithium. The world has 80 million tons, and 50% of that are in the so-called “Lithium Triangle”, with deposits concentrated in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Brazil also has considerable reserves, but nothing comparable to Bolivia. After the 2019 coup that removed Evo Morales from the presidency, Musk published a tweet saying that “We're going to hit whoever we want! Deal with it". O tweet was a response given to the following provocation posted on Twitter: “You know what people don't care about? The US government organizing a coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia so you can get lithium there”[8]From then on, the coup in Bolivia also came to be called the “Lithium coup”. Musk's statement sounded like a clear support for the reactionary subversion that took place in the Andean country and for others that may occur to guarantee the exploitation of the natural resources that capitalism needs.

Samuel Doria Medina, a Bolivian businessman and vice-presidential candidate for Jeanine Áñez – interim president after the overthrow of Morales – said that Bolsonaro and Musk were discussing the opening of a Tesla factory in Brazil, and proposed that they should take the opportunity to “build a giant factory in the Salar de Uyuni [where the large deposits are] to supply lithium batteries”.[9]

With the defeat of the Bolivian coup and the Brazilian crisis, this, in part, does not seem to have gone beyond a series of tweets - for now. On the other hand, it is clear that the seductive and “entrepreneurial” face of capitalism coexists with the imperialist face, willing to overthrow governments and destroy countries to satisfy its interests, especially now that the United States has its greatest challenge in Chinese capitalism. Musk not only knows that[10] how it represents the era of aestheticized capitalism, in which the generalized production of goods is accompanied by the generalized aestheticization of capital, which, in turn, seeks to aestheticize life, society, politics, hiding real social relations.

*Rodrigo Jurucê Mattos Gonçalves is a professor of history at the State University of Goiás (UEG). Book author The conservative restoration of philosophy: the Brazilian Institute of Philosophy and bourgeois autocracy in Brazil (1949-1964) (Gargoyle Editions).



[1] The complete list is available at: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,2019712,00.html, accessed on 16/12/2021.

[2] LEVINSTEIN, Joan. Joseph Stalin: 1939, 1942 (Notorious Leaders). Available in: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2019712_2019694_2019592,00.html, accessed on: 16/12/2021

[3] LEVINSTEIN, Joan. Nikita Khrushchev: 1957 (Notorious Leaders). Available in: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2019712_2019694_2019593,00.html, accessed on 16/12/2021.

[4] BALL, Molly; KLUGER, Jeffrey; DE LA GARZA, Alejandro. 2021 Person Of The Year: Elon Musk.https://time.com/person-of-the-year-2021-elon-musk/, accessed on 16/12/2021.

[5] ThisIs Money. Meet the 3 cryptocurrencies chosen by Elon Musk. Available in: https://www.istoedinheiro.com.br/conheca-as-3-criptomoedas-escolhidas-por-elon-musk/,.

[6] STRAUSS, Neil. Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow. Available in: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/elon-musk-the-architect-of-tomorrow-120850/.

[7] GRAMSCI, Antonio. Prison Notebooks, Volume 4: Themes of Culture, Catholic Action, Americanism and Fordism. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2001, p. 266.

[8] PARÁ, Lucas; Editorial Brasil de Fato. “We will hit whoever we want”, says Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, about Bolivia. Available in: https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2020/07/25/vamos-dar-golpe-em-quem-quisermos-elon-musk-dono-da-tesla-sobre-a-bolivia.

[9] Idem.

[10] WATERS, Richard (Financial Times). “I'm just trying to get people to Mars and free them from the drudgery of driving cars,” says Elon Musk. Available in: https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2021/12/estou-apenas-tentando-levar-pessoas-a-marte-e-liberta-las-da-chatice-de-dirigir-carros-diz-elon-musk.shtml, accessed on 17/12/2021. Musk stated: “I think people are forgetting a little bit about the progress that China is making. It's amazing. […] The work ethic, the sheer number of smart, hard-working people in China is wonderful to behold – both amazing and slightly frightening. And they will accomplish many things.”

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