New Class Demands Distribution According to Need
The introduction of labor-replacing technology is giving rise to a whole new class of workers, rendered superfluous to a system which no longer needs their ability to work. This is a new proletariat, a global new class drawn from almost all social strata. Within the employed sector, nearly a third is part time, contingent, below minimum wage workers. Many are recent immigrants. Many more are youth, abandoned by society, with no future. Growing numbers are formerly securely employed workers, once the stable base of support for capitalism, now being forced into homelessness and absolute destitution.
Electronics has expelled these workers from their former relations to the capitalist class, which owns the means to produce wealth in society. No longer able to bargain for better wages and working conditions, this new proletariat is the only class placed in a position to overturn the system that has expelled them. There is no reform they can gain. They must reorganize society in their interests.
Class refers to people’s relationship to how the wealth of society is produced, not simply income. Throughout the twentieth century, as industrial capitalism advanced, wealth and poverty polarized. As long as capitalism had room to expand and workers and capitalists fought over how the social product would be divided, reforms were possible.
Today that polarization is qualitatively different from what we have experienced in the past. It is a result of a fundamental economic shift. The element that places the new class in this position is robotics. Step by step robotics eliminates workers from the workplace. The wholesale destruction of various divisions of labor makes whole sectors of the workforce permanently redundant. This means permanent unemployment for large segments of the working class. Capitalists will not feed those whom they do not need.
This segment of the population that no longer exists for capitalism is external to capitalism and is therefore in an objective position to reorganize society in its own interests. Permanent exclusion from the means of obtaining their basic needs compels these workers to fight for the distribution of the social product according to need. This is what makes the new class revolutionary, despite the historical social divisions in the working class, created and fostered by capitalism.
Absolute impoverishment characterizes a sector of the new class. The cutting edge of American destitution is homelessness. A 2004 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 27 cities found that African Americans make up 49 % of the homeless, with whites at 35%, Latinos at 13%, Native Americans at 2% and Asians at 1%. However, in rural and suburban areas, where poverty is growing faster than in the cities, the majority of homeless are white. HUD estimates that the number of homeless in suburbs and small cities is almost 50% of all homeless.
According to a report from the National Center on Family Homelessness, 1 in 30 American children were homeless in 2013, a total of 2.5 million children. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that the number of homeless veterans tripled in 2 years, to nearly 50,000 in 2013. With the increasing trend toward passing laws criminalizing the homeless, greater numbers of homeless are seeking shelter in hiding, away from possible prosecution. The Vehicle Residency Research Program found that about 50% of Seattle’s homeless population is living in vehicles.
In Silicon Valley, the contrast is enormous. Business Insider reported that nearly 55% of workers do not make the $90,000 annually to afford housing. In 2014 the area had the fifth largest homeless population in the country. Then, in December 2014, San José moved to dismantle one of the largest homeless encampments in the country, “The Jungle,” in the shadows of the capital of Silicon Valley wealth creation. Meanwhile, in viaducts all across the Rust Belt, tents have been erected to house the absolutely destitute. Some of these are employed, well-educated, and students.
The progression of the introduction of electronics has now hit the more stably employed sector of society. This formerly bribed sector of the industrial working class, along with a section of the intelligentsia, historically connected the mass to the capitalist class. The destruction of this economic middle section of the working class is of the greatest political importance. It is here that we find the recently dispossessed section of the new class, which is educated, socially conscious and used to organization. This employed sector is constantly being hurled into the growing ranks of the structurally unemployed and into absolute destitution.
The rulers’ goal is to stop the revolution from proceeding on a class basis. Their aim is to guarantee that the new class does not unite. They use every divisive ideology history has handed them. In the past period of industrial development, temporary unity of the privileged section of the working class was possible. It was not possible for the workers to unite as a class. Racism, backed up by the social privileges granted white workers over Black workers, kept people divided. Today, white workers are finding themselves on the street corner begging for food alongside Black workers. Whether the new class recognizes it or not – white, Black, immigrants are all victims of the capitalist system.
The hitherto unknown breadth of equality of poverty is creating the basis for real class unity. This is the historic role and possibility of the new class. It does not mean unity, no matter how objectively necessary, will be easy to attain.
Consciousness lags behind the objective changes we are observing. Therefore, the intellectual grasp of unity, the subjective side must be fought for. The destroyed relationship between capitalism and this new class, combined with the objective equality of poverty that is the basis of their unity, is the reality revolutionaries must rely upon. The new class can only achieve their goals by fighting for a society in which all people can benefit from the abundance that robotic production promises.
This Building Block article is one of a series that explains a basic concept of the revolutionary process, challenging readers to explore its meaning for political work in today’s environment.
July/August 2016 Vol26.Ed4
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