Oligarch Fight! Bezos’s billionaire soap opera against Microsoft in court

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos takes Microsoft to court over a government contract. And although this type of thing certainly isn’t new, this particular situation gives a bleak glimpse into an oligarchic future.

Christian Patterson
2020-02-25
Underground Mall

Jeff Bezos is tangling up the courts with a lawsuit against Microsoft, because the US Department of Defense gave Microsoft a $10 billion cloud contract.

Back in May 2019, the JEDI contract was open to bidders, but it was universally understood to be a contract catered to Amazon.

Vanity Fair wrote:

“Much of the language of JEDI, in fact, seems specifically tailored for Jeff Bezos. “Everybody immediately knew that it was for Amazon,” says a rival bidder who asked not to be named. To even make a bid, a provider must maintain a distance of at least 150 miles between its data centers and provide “32 GB of RAM”—specifications that few providers other than Amazon can meet.”

The lawsuit was halted, however, after Oracle CEO and Trump supporter, Safra Catz, filed a lawsuit against the contract. Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone:

“JEDI would have put Amazon in charge of standardizing the Pentagon’s disorganized mish-mash of computer systems, but federal claims court judge Eric Bruggink just stayed the award.

“This started as a lawsuit filed by would-be bid competitor Oracle, whose co-CEO, Safra Catz, is reportedly one of Trump’s biggest supporters in Silicon Valley. The suit suggested Pentagon procurement officer Deap Ubhi’s involvement in the JEDI negotiations constituted a conflict. Ubhi used to work for Amazon and in 2017 tweeted, “Once an Amazonian, always an Amazonian.””

A few months later, by October, the Pentagon awarded the contract to Microsoft, rather than Amazon. In November, Amazon challenged the contract award in court.

Then, on February 13th, right before the contract was scheduled to go through, a judge halted it, until Amazon’s challenge goes through the court.

Amazon’s objection is that Trump personally dislikes Bezos, due to Bezos owning the Failing Washington Post.

All of that, on the surface, is a pretty boring news story. Oh great, Oligarchs fighting over money that has no bearing on anyone who works for any company.

It will “create jobs”, but only because we live under an economic system where exorbitantly expensive government contracts are the only mechanism to create new jobs. But that, in itself, is a poor mechanism to create jobs anyway.

What the JEDI contract shows is the stratification of oligarchy being the characteristic of the US government. Sure, it’s been that way my whole life, but, it’s also clearly changing into something more.

In a more traditional capitalist system, contracts like this are determined by the capitalist exerting their class interest, and the working class pushing back with their class interest. This is why unions are important, because they provide a mechanism for counter-balancing capitalist interest.

But this drama between Amazon and Microsoft present a more accelerated dynamic: the government and the capitalist class are collaborating, by outsourcing conventionally government duties (the IT of the Pentagon) to a private corporation, in order to maximize profits.

If somewhere like Amazon and Microsoft doesn’t allow unions, then isn’t it the government’s job to at least do the bare minimum for the workers? That’s how we’re told it works.

We conceive of capitalist governments as being a collaboration between different class and interests of the country, coming together to make compromises. Some of the government is AOC and Ilhan Omar, and some of the government is Michael Bloomberg and Mitt Romney.

However, as Marxist philosopher Nicos Poulantzas points out, capitalism has to have that eclectic class character to enforce itself, and protect capitalist class interests. Capitalists are terrible at governing a capitalist economy, because they only know how to focus on short-term interests, which disrupts the long-term interests of capitalists, and blocks the ability of the capitalist state to reproduce itself.

This means that we can look at the government and see an eclectic group protecting interests. But those aren’t the real power centers of the political-economy. The power centers lie in oligarchs, the Pentagon, the CIA, lobbyists, etc, who maintain the base of the State.

The power in the US is moving closer and closer to this base. Power is moving closer and closer to the capitalist class itself, rather than just the brokers of that power within the capitalist government.

Ultimately, all of this is slippery. It’s hard to pinpoint why this lawsuit feels so wrong, because it’s hard to pinpoint a specific, unique thing about it. I also don’t know if I’m equipped to point out exactly what I want to about it.

It also doesn’t signify a fundamental change in the way the US, and capitalist political-economies broadly, work. But, it does gesture towards a slipping towards something new – something that always existed, but organized with a different distribution of power.

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