Our Time Demands a Cooperative Society
In this, our time, we are witness to changes that take our breath away. And while it is a time of great challenges, it is also a time of great opportunity to put forward a vision of a cooperative society that is now possible.
The chain of the effects of technological developments on productivity, the quantity and quality of employment, the declining standard of living and polarization of wealth, increased repression and war, as well as resultant environmental destruction may seem to be sending us hurtling towards unthinkable conclusions.
It’s becoming harder for global capitalists to find workers in any corner of the world willing and able to survive on wages that can compete with robotized production. Facing strikes and suicides, Foxconn, which employed 1.2 million workers in China, decided to automate, going from 10,000 robots in 2012 to a million in 2014, making products for Apple, HP, Nokia, etc. Production of much clothing has fled from China to Central America, the Middle East and Africa. Will there be anywhere left to go after that runs its course?
In the United States, which is somehow expected to continue its role as the primary global consumer, labor force participation is at a 35 year low at 63.2% of the civilian non-institutionalized population holding a job or seeking work. A recent study showed that even minimum wage workers, such as retail salespersons and cashiers, are in danger of job automation by computerization. It’s becoming more commonplace to read facts on the declining standard of living and the obscene, worldwide polarization of wealth and poverty. Historic public services and the safety net are falling victim to austerity measures under false outcries over deficits.
To be able to control the inevitable upsurge, all kinds of measures are being put into place that limit voting rights, detain and deport immigrants, and incarcerate youth that can no longer be employed. Elected officials are replaced by Emergency Financial Managers, and pension rights are swept away under false bankruptcy. The Supreme Court has fixed the rights of corporations as people and given them free rein to spend as much on their free speech as they want. Their next line of attack, by way of the Harris v. Quinn case, is the right of public employees to have effective unions.
In the face of all these negative developments, where can we find direction and hope? By understanding that in spite of their seeming totalitarian power, the ruling class is on the strategic defensive. They are running out of their preferred options of control, social bribery and deceit, and forced to resort to the instability of fascism. By focusing on the basic economic demands that capitalists are unable to meet, using the opportunity to introduce new ideas to the inevitably more open and receptive minds, and pointing out the superiority of public property to private property, we can show that the material foundation of communism has been laid.
A Cooperative Society is on the Public Agenda
There have always been historical impulses towards a cooperative society. Idealistic and religiously motivated people have gathered to live together in egalitarian communities, in essence withdrawing from society as a whole. Producer and consumer cooperatives have been established for centuries all over the world in response to the objective need for mutual support. In 1871 workers took over the city of Paris and established the Paris Commune for 71 days. Socialist revolutions in the Soviet Union and China brought State collectivization of agriculture and the process of industrialization to these countries before the encirclement of capitalism halted their move forward.
There is a long history of the division of the practical struggles of the mass of people for survival and justice on the one hand and the ideological struggles for a democratic cooperative society on the other. In the United States these ideological movements have more often than not been separated from the struggles of labor unions for a decent standard of living, the movements for civil rights and equality, and the reform fights for basic needs such as housing, health care, education and social services. It could not be otherwise while there was room for successful reform under capitalism and a rising standard of living for most people. But now, as the prospect for significant reform is vaporizing before our eyes and the reforms we have won are being taken away, the fight for survival becomes objectively a fight for communism, a real and concrete solution to our problems.
There is plenty of evidence that, since the latest downturn, public opinion on capitalism is changing. The Brookings Institute in 2013 found that 42% of Americans do not think that capitalism is working for us. A survey by Pew in 2012 showed that 66% of Americans see strong or very strong conflicts between rich and poor, a rise of 19% in 3 years, and that the strife between rich and poor is now a bigger issue than other social conflicts, including conflicts between immigrants and native-born Americans and tension between Black and white Americans. All of this is not lost on Democrats, who are opportunistically taking up the call for narrowing the gap between rich and poor (including Robert Reich’s film Inequality for All) while all the time enacting policies that reinforce corporate control of government and make the gap wider.
As a result of being the hardest hit, the minds of young people in particular are being opened to socialism. In February of 2012 the share of young adults 18-24 who are employed had dropped to 54.3%, the lowest since it began being measured in 1948. Those of that age working full time have seen their weekly median earnings decline 6% since 2007. Many are also saddled with school debt. No wonder they formed the foundation for Occupy and the signature posing of the 99% vs. the 1%. A Pew Research Poll in December of 2011 found that 49% in the 18-29 age-group say they have a positive view of socialism. While these opinions are likely tenuous, they represent more receptivity to political education.
New kinds of movements that represent a cooperative community spirit are arising in response to basic economic demands. An offshoot of Occupy, Strike Debt, is cancelling millions in peoples’ medical debts by buying up bad debt for pennies on the dollar through public contributions. There are many attempts to establish WSDEs (worker self-directed enterprises). Community gardens are proliferating. Worker centers are becoming the new organizing form of labor. There is a growing eco-socialist movement with wider realization that capitalism and the salvation of the earth and its people are completely incompatible. Yet without the power to reorganize society these cooperative yearnings will remain unfulfilled.
Road to the Future
But what are we striving towards? What would a new cooperative democratic society look like? It would be foolish to try and predict in detail; many forms could evolve based on the specific history of different places. We do know that to have a stable and just society, necessities such as good food, housing, health care, educational and cultural opportunities, services for vulnerable populations and effective mass transportation will have to be abundant and distributed equally. To have a livable world we will have to eliminate the ravages of militarization and ecological destruction and develop the collective knowledge, wisdom, and political power to live in harmony with the environment.
The building of community will be important. Sustainable practices for food and energy production and conservation will vary according to different localized ecological systems and historical practices. Yet larger regional and global perspectives will also be essential to promote equality and prevent narrow and selfish outlooks. They will also be needed to manage global resources, share scientific and cultural knowledge, and coordinate areas such as production and transportation.
What lies between us and that world? The two most important related factors at this point in time are consciousness and hope. There must be consciousness among great numbers of our class of the utter inability of capitalism to solve the problems of economic justice, war, and environmental destruction. They must understand the science of how societies change and the utmost importance of the critical times that we live in. Our class must have hope that change is inevitable and good change is possible, that things don’t have to be the way they are, and that human nature is up to the job. They must have a good and clear vision of where we need to go.
These are our times and these are the tasks of the League. That is why we are organizing ourselves to bring widespread propaganda to those striving for a just and livable world, who will allow us to penetrate deeper into the basic social movements. Together revolutionaries will push the messages of consciousness and hope to expand outward into wider and wider circles. The time is ours, the cause is righteous, and we have the tools and the will to do the job. Let’s get going.
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