Politics and the New Class: Revolution or Ruin
A technological revolution is rapidly developing on the basis of digital computers, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and related technologies. This revolution is growing in power exponentially, and is moving toward eliminating the need for labor in production. Most profoundly, it is creating an objective basis for the elimination of private property, because the end of work demands an economy that distributes goods on the basis of human need, rather than on the basis of money.
The new technology is creating a new class of workers that is forced out of the productive process and who cannot survive in the old society. The purpose of this article is to track the development of this new class, using the “employment-population ratio,” to measure statistically the progress of the technological revolution in relation to the labor market.
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. The technology revolution has freed the growing new class to fight for a new world of economic abundance and political liberation. This fight, to be successful, must unify a class that has a long history of class and racial division.
Technology and Class Development
During the period when the United States first became independent from Great Britain, its economy was dependent on household production, because international demand for U.S. agricultural exports was weak and inconsistent. One reason for this was that Great Britain endeavored to suppress competition from its former colony with restrictive tariffs and shipping prohibitions. This attitude changed radically in the context of cotton exports, after the invention of a mechanized cotton gin that separated seed from fiber.
In Empire of Cotton, Sven Beckert shows how the U.S. became the world’s leading producer of raw cotton, on the basis of readily available supplies of slave labor, land, and credit. The rapid expansion of U.S. cotton production in the 19th Century was unmatched by traditional cotton producing nations such as India and Egypt, where production was conducted within peasant households. In the U.S. South, slaves were worked to death in order to maximize profits.
By 1840, U.S. cotton comprised 70 percent of all imports to Great Britain. This is noteworthy because the industrial revolution was primarily based in cotton textile factories. On the eve of the American Civil War in 1860, cotton textiles were the leading U.S. industry. This relationship was singled out by Karl Marx as early as 1846:
“Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery there would be no cotton, without cotton there would be no modern machinery. It is slavery which has given value to the colonies, it is the colonies which have created world trade, and world trade is a necessary condition for large-scale machinery.”
The legacy of slavery remains an obstacle for class unity today, because of the way the post-Civil War social order was established. Instead of democratically distributing land to freed slaves and to poor whites, the cotton growing area known as the “Black Belt” South was re-organized around State sponsored violence, re-assertion of domination by the Southern planters (former slave owners), and Wall Street financial control. Democratic rights were suppressed by a fascist political State, and violence and extra-legal terror were used against any attempts to unite the workers across racial lines. The result was the colonization of the Black Belt South, and racial divisions within the working class became politically reinforced throughout the country. Because the rural South includes the Black Belt, it remains the poorest region of the country today.
Today the revolution in electronics, by replacing labor with robots, artificial intelligence, and biological engineering at all skill levels, is creating a new class. This new class is increasingly objectively united by a growing common equality of poverty. This technology revolution cheapens production and increases profits. Higher levels of economic productivity are inevitably achieved, leading to a permanent crisis of over production, further destroying the market, in particular the market for labor.
Unity isn’t automatic. It has to be consciously fought for by people. Even as the old privileges and divisions are being undermined by the technological revolution, there are still ideological differences within the class along gender, religion, nationality, and especially racial lines. Nonetheless, the American ruling class is no longer giving anything to anyone. Whether the new class realizes it yet or not, all are victims of the capitalist system.
New Class Development
To track the development of the new class, we use the employment-population ratio. This represents the employed as a proportion of the total number of people residing in the country.
Let’s look at the employment-population ratio by gender between 1980 and 2017 for the country as a whole, and separately for men and women. During this period, the labor force size was growing moderately, averaging 1.4 percent increase per annum, increasing from 106 million in 1980, to 160 million in 2017. The rising trend line up to year 2000 is driven by increases in women entering paid employment, but this positive trend line reverses after 2000, and then is driven down sharply by the 2007/08 recession. Between 2004 and 2017, women’s ratio declined by five percentage points. The ratio for men declined by five percentage points across the entire time period 1980 to 2017, and dropped dramatically during the 2007/08 recession.
These trend lines demonstrate that men’s long-term worsening ratio was offset by women’s long-term improving ratio up to 2000, but after that both ratios trended in negative directions. Second, the recovery from 2007/08 was only partial. The inevitable next economic crisis will start from a lower level and drive the ratio to a new low. This has particular significance in a country where the social safety net has been shredded, millions are homeless, and the majority of the working class is one paycheck from destitution. In summary, the material conditions for the introduction of revolutionary thinking is maturing, and now is the moment for revolutionaries to be able to play their role of developing the consciousness of this objective communist class.
Graphs, along with the percent data showing the ratio by gender, education level, race/ethnicity, and region, can be viewed online with this article at rallycomrades.lrna.org. These graphs demonstrate the worsening of the ratio within the rural South in comparison to other regions, a worsening ratio since year 2000 among all education levels, and narrowing of race/ethnic differences, due to lowering of the white ratio toward level of Latinos. The declining white population-employment ratio reflects the growing hardship faced by white workers, and the increasing development of the objective basis for unity among the growing new class regardless of color. It is essential that revolutionaries find the means to translate this objective reality into political unity based on common class interests.
Urgency for Class Unity
The deteriorating employment-population ratio is one labor market indicator of the development of a new class, but it is not the only indicator. Approximately 40 percent of the U.S. workforce is paid low-wages, is “involuntary part-time” (needs full time work but can’t find it), is currently unemployed, or has experienced long-term unemployment and has dropped out of the labor force altogether. These growing sets of workers are ultimately being driven out of production by the electronic revolution. Exponential increases in the power of the electronic revolution is rapidly growing the new class. This reality makes it more urgent for revolutionaries to bring revolutionary consciousness to this new class, as well as to the rest of society.
Declines in the employment-population ratio over the past 17 years demonstrate that a new class is developing within the wealthiest country on the planet. This growing new class of workers reflects the technological opportunity for a world free from economic toil. However, this positive development must be politically acted upon, to realize the benefits. Achieving such a world depends upon political unity of the new class around a revolutionary vision, a vision consistent with the material world, that is based on the rapid development of the qualitatively new means of production.
The ruling class is daily demonstrating its strategy for turning the new class against itself racially, ethnically and regionally, using any and all tactics. Falling prey to these tactics can only result in a society ruled by violence and fascism. Now is a time to consolidate a new politics of unity and to understand that failure to do so will result in the ruin of our collective future.
The electronic technological revolution is creating the material foundation for realizing the promise of human freedom and life-long happiness. Now is the moment to seize our future and realize the promise of our species.
January/February 2017. Vol27.Ed1
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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