Workers of all Generations are One Class
Today there are four basic generations of workers in American society and culture. They are each born of historical periods and their lives are shaped by the demands and limitations placed upon them during their respective given times. These generations living today are referred to as the Greatest Generation, born before World War II, the Baby Boomers, born post-WWII, Generation X, born after 1965 and before 1980 (now between 34 and 54), and the Millennials, born in the 1980’s and 1990’s (now between 20 and 30.)
Each generation of workers was born into a particular stage in the development of the capitalist economy, and each in their turn has held different relationships to the basic institutions of social life required to carry out capitalist relations. The material life of these various generations arise out of these factors that are independent of the wills of individuals or social groups within each given generation.
It is to be expected that the ruling class will seek to ideologically divide our class along any lines available to them. They cannot, however, simply divide at will. The ideological divisions they attempt to create must be rooted in historic development. The previous period was dominated by industrial production. A wide division of labor was required to carry out the functions of the economy. Under these conditions not all labor was exploited at the same rate.
There is now, and has historically been, an inequality within the working class itself. Skilled or educated workers earn more than the unskilled or manual workers. Based in historical developments, there are material inequalities that exist between women and men, between white workers and Black, immigrants and native workers and so on. The ruling class then uses these material differences to ideologically divide our class.
As the previous way of life becomes problematic for a greater number of people, particularly the young, the ruling class is attempting to exacerbate the “generational divide.” The attempt to pit workers against one another on the basis of age is nothing new. The notion that generations have different values, and therefore get different results out of life independent of historic development, is not a particularly new idea. The idea that old folks “just don’t get it,” or that the youth will be “the death of us all” are not new concepts.These notions are ideological and foisted upon us to divide us along a false consciousness. However, under the rapidly changing material conditions, this old line about generational divide is taking on new dimensions.
As the economy changes, so do the economic relationships available for the workers of each generation. The application of the microchip has, for over forty years now, been destroying the base of industrial capitalist relations. Shifts in technology that are inching ever closer toward laborless production are forcing an epochal shift to take shape and to accelerate. We see the development of wider and wider permanent unemployment, underemployment, debt, and for many, permanent marginalization.
Gen X and Millennials
Generation X and the Millennials have been most deeply affected by the introduction of the microchip to industrial production, and the subsequent debt economy that is replacing the productive one. Generation X is widely defined as being born after 1965 and before 1980. When the term was first introduced into the popular lexicon, it was largely interchangeable with the term “slacker.” The generalizations concerning so-called Generation X focused on their supposed disillusionment and malaise. This demonization of the first downwardly mobile generation was, and is, of great importance to the propagandists of the ruling class. They reduce the downward mobility of our class as a whole to blaming the victim.
Generation X lost over 45% of its net worth following the bursting of the housing bubble of 2008. 50% of all student debt is held in this country by people between the ages of 30 and 49. This means those who fall within the Generation X, with some overlap into the older Millennials. Generation X and the Millennials are far more in debt than their economic predecessors. The fact that Generation X were so affected by the housing crisis makes perfect sense, given their position in history. This group find themselves just outside of the prosperity of the past. For the Millennials the picture is even more grim.
The Millennials, born after 1980 and stretching into the late 90’s, hold 40% of the student debt. They are quite likely the most educated generation in American history. Yet, at 25% of the population, they make up 40% of the unemployed and 60% of workers earning the minimum wage. Home ownership for Millennials is at 36%, far below the national average of 65%. 36% of Millennials live with their parents. If this historical process teaches us anything it is that without the intervention of our class, the historical process paints an even grimmer picture for working class children being born today.
Pitting the Class Against Itself
In addition to demonizing the Generation X and Millennial generations and younger the bourgeoisie heaps a portion of the blame for the current economic and social crisis upon the Boomers and the Greatest Generation. The owners of capital make the argument that the workers of the previous generations have somehow bankrupted the social safety net. This is all the more stunning given how dire things are becoming for the most devastated strata of these generations.
In the past five years the poverty rate has increased from 9% to 15% for those over the age of 65. There are currently 8.5 million seniors facing food insecurity and millions more on the brink. Meanwhile the message of the capitalists is that the retirement age must be raised because people are living too long. For instance, in September of 2009 Newsweek literally ran a story entitled “The Case For Killing Granny.” This is the ideology being shaped by the ruling class. The goal of the the ruling class is to get our class to value the their demands over our very lives.
Whether through the loss and attacks on the social contract as experienced by the retired workers, or the inability to enter into the social contract by the younger workers, every generation is being affected by this major shift to production without labor.
Today stories of automation have appeared on 60 Minutes and in major newspapers such as the New York Times, as well as the Los Angeles Times, and countless other periodicals. A video on Youtube entitled “Humans Need Not Apply” has gone viral, garnering over 3 million views in roughly 2 months.
The ruling class must find a way to frame these changes in a way that does not conflict with their right to own the means of production privately . The generational divide is just one tool in their ideological arsenal. The ruling class must assassinate the character of the young as deficient and without merit. They must condition us to fear and hate our own children. They must get us to ask “when is it time to cut the cord?” The bourgeoisie asks us to ask ourselves when is it the right age to drive our children to homelessness. Is it 25? Perhaps 30?
The ruling class must also set the young against their own parents and grandparents. The attacks on public sector workers are coded attacks against the workers of the previous generation who secured any kind of reform. These workers are being portrayed as spoiled pensioners who had it good for too long. Arguments are often framed as though this group of workers somehow robbed the future generation. The ruling class sells the public that people are living longer, and that this is an economic problem. The ruling class teaches us to place the economy, the bourgeoisie’s right to exploit and exclude us at will, above the longevity of our own lives.
The ruling class is an owning class. They rule by virtue of their ownership. They can directly control wages. They own the means of production and control the State that serves their interest. The political superstructure serves their class rule, so that they can ensure the building of more prisons and the passing of harsher laws. They can control our ability to sustain ourselves as well as limit our freedom.
But under new, changing conditions, the contest for the hearts and minds of the American people is there to be waged. The present ruling class has the largest propaganda system that any ruling class in the course of human history has ever had at their disposal, but the divisions that the ruling class attempts to foist upon the workers are illusory. The new technology is eliminating any material basis for dividing the class along generational or color or gender lines. Now more than ever there is a basis for class unity. And a class united can change the world.
People of all generations are asking questions. We have answers. We have but the truth, and this paper. Rally, comrades, workers of all ages. There is a new day to be won.
March/April 2015 Vol25.Ed2
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