Revolution is the Only Answer for New Proletariat
The protests and uprisings sweeping the globe are firing the imaginations of millions of people fighting for a new world. Although the history, ideologies and immediate aims of the various social motions differ from place to place, what ties them together are the underlying objective factors. That is, the historic shift in the global economy from production with human labor to production without human labor. Capitalism, based on the buying and selling of labor power, is coming to an end — destroyed by the labor-replacing robot.
Humanity has the possibility, for the first time, of leaving the dog-eat-dog animal kingdom and of becoming truly human. Today, humanity can enter a whole new epoch of human existence. These concepts and conclusions, made by the League of Revolutionaries for a New America and its predecessor organizations, were arrived at by intensive philosophical, theoretical and practical study and research over a 43-year time span. As early as 1975, it was possible to see how the fundamentally changed economy was creating a “huge qualitatively new army of the permanently unemployed, and that every technical advance makes the position of the proletarians more untenable.”
By 1993, this process had advanced so that “increasing numbers of proletarians cannot sell their only commodity — labor power. Production with high technology is forcing industrial production (i.e. human labor coupled with electro-mechanics) off the market,” the League wrote. “The economy — based on the buying and selling of labor power — is being irreversibly destroyed. The destruction of the economy will force society to reorganize to change ownership of socially necessary property from private to public. Only then will the economy conform to the productive capacity of robots and computers.”
An antagonism is developing between the qualitatively new means of production and private ownership. This process is ushering in an epoch of social revolution. It is creating a new class — a new section of the working class — that has the potential to lead society to a new stage of world history, where the abundance the new technology makes possible is owned by society as a whole and distributed to those who need it.
History shows that the subjective — new history-making ideas introduced into the minds of the combatants — plays the decisive role. Only a class that understands its historical interests and has a vision of the desired outcome can enforce its will. Preparing the new class of proletarians for its historic role in leading society toward a new communist world is the leading factor of revolutionaries’ work in this epoch of social revolution.
What is revolution?
Revolution is an historical process in which a subordinate class overthrows its ruling class, establishes itself as a new ruling class and creates a new political system. The first stage is an economic revolution in which one qualitative means of production is replaced with another, such as the transformation from agriculture to manufacturing, and from manufacturing to industrial production.
Humanity is entering such an epoch of change today. “The early development of computers and robotics called forth the semiconductor and micro-chip. Together with the superconductor, they are creating the electronic technological revolution,” the League wrote in 1993. “The introduction of qualitatively new productive forces is putting formerly productive workers in the soup lines and homeless shelters. Many heavy industrial jobs that paid $15 per hour are now performed by robots, eliminated or shipped to low wage areas. They are replaced by minimum wage service and light industry jobs.”
At that time, few social scientists understood or accepted the actual cause of the growing destitution. The phenomena of the destruction of jobs were seen as a quantitative rather than as a qualitative process. Many said that capitalism would find a way to produce more jobs, “like they always have.” Recently, more and more writers are discussing the irreversible economic and social effects of electronic and robotic production.
In 2011 Marshall Brain, author of “Robotic Nation,” projected that robots will permanently displace 50 million U.S. workers by the year 2030. Workplace robots eliminate labor costs, giving corporations an edge over competitors, and increasing profits. He says that robot-run (drone) airplanes could eliminate 66,000 pilots by 2015. McJobs will also be wiped out as companies like Wal-Mart and Target introduce a totally automated inventory management system where robots identify, locate, stack, shelve and re-shelve merchandise. Further, competition will force all big box retailers to install automated checkout lines and robotic help systems to guide shoppers, eliminating about ten million workers.
Brain recognizes that the robotic revolution will not create jobs to replace the ones lost. “The unusual thing about the robotic revolution is that the robots will displace millions of workers throughout the economy, but the robot industry will create very few new jobs. Millions will be unemployed in America.”
The New Proletariat
Just as the steam engine created an industrial working class that replaced the existing manufacturing class, electronic production is creating a new section of workers that is forced out of the productive process and that cannot survive in the old society. New classes disrupt and disorganize the existing society. This process culminates in a revolution where the ruling class is overthrown and a new society based on the interests of the victorious class is created. This process is emerging before our eyes. Today we are witnessing the beginnings of a historically new type of class struggle.
The new global proletariat is drawn from almost all social strata. Within the employed sector, some are part-time, contingency, below-minimum-wage workers. Many are youth, abandoned by the society and without a future. Many are recent immigrants. Growing numbers are formerly secure workers who once were the stable base of political support for capitalism and are now being reduced to destitution and homelessness.
Permanently unemployed workers in the mid-West, the former US industrial heartland, now the Rust Belt, are precariously surviving with little hope of government assistance. Michigan, where robots have replaced workers on the auto assembly lines, recently announced it is permanently cutting off welfare benefits for tens of thousands of unemployed workers; other states will follow. While farmers receive subsidies not to produce food, more than two billion people worldwide fight hunger on a daily basis.
The struggle for survival of the new global proletariat is out of necessity more and more butting up against private property and the State that protects it. Darcus Howe, a British broadcaster and writer, originally from Trinidad, illustrates this in his writing about the recent London uprising. He says, “The young people involved in this spate of violence suffer from a deeper, more dangerous alienation of being utterly surplus to capitalist requirements, irrelevant and ostracized, and thus doomed to subsist on the margins, functionally illiterate, without hope or aspiration.”
As globalization generalizes these social ills throughout the world, and the existence of this new class is making itself felt everywhere, writers are grappling with its significance and how its very real needs can be met under today’s conditions.
Guy Standing, author of the well-researched Precariat: the New Dangerous Class (2011), speaks to the growth of this emerging class. Standing says, the “precariat,” a term first used in the 1980s to describe temporary or seasonal workers, are people who today lack labor markets, employment, jobs, work, skill reproduction, income and representation, and security. He writes, “Every progressive movement has been built on the anger, needs and aspirations of the emerging major class.” He describes the features of the new global class in great detail. He also focuses attention on the political instabilities and divisions that this new class can produce in society if something is not done. He advocates reforms where the State provides a basic income to the precariat and a redistribution of wealth to ease the economic inequalities of the capitalist system.
But will this solve the problem today? Such a reform was possible in an economy based in electro-mechanics, when capitalists and workers struggled over distribution of income. Then, capitalists had an interest in the State providing minimally for the needs of workers whose labor was necessary to make profits. Such a reform is impossible in an economy where robots replace workers in production, and workers are expendable. Capitalists will not provide for workers they can no longer exploit. The solution lies in the qualitatively new situation. Robotics makes it impossible for the new class to coexist with private property. It is increasingly outside of and therefore exists in antagonism to the wages system. Robotics has made reform of the capitalist system impossible. The only way for the new class to prevent being crushed is to make the gigantic means of production public property.
The objective program of the new class is therefore communistic in the true sense of the word. Owning no property, without employment or resources, it cannot move in the direction of securing individual property. Its objective demand makes economic sense: each for all and all for each, from each according to ability to each according to need.
If conscious of their role in history, the new class will launch a fight over who will wield the political power to restructure society so that electronics becomes an instrument of human liberation rather than destitution.
The Role of Revolutionaries
The new class cannot become class conscious without revolutionaries bringing them an understanding of their historic role. Just as something qualitatively new — the microchip — was introduced into the productive process, shattering the contradiction between the productive forces and relations of production, new history-making ideas must be introduced into the minds of the combatants, shattering the unity between the social struggle and reformism.
Therefore, the urgent, essential task of conscious revolutionaries is to make this decisive new class conscious that it is fighting for a new society, and give it a vision of the economic paradise that is possible if the marvelous new electronic means of production are taken over by the people.
Today, the productive power of electronics can raise the standard of living for global humanity overnight. The electronics that, in capitalist hands, is strangling humanity can set us free if it is in people’s hands.
Humanity stands on the cusp of liberation. Revolutionaries must instill in the new class the consciousness that history is moving toward communism and that they have the critical role to play in leading society toward its achievement.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011