The Hope in Life After Capitalism
These are turbulent times. All such times in history have their own content and dynamics. It is up to us, those who live in these times, to understand what stage we are in and how to emerge from it, having created the best possible outcome in the world we were given.
The fundamental content of our time is the dramatic transition to electronic/digital production, that replaces jobs ranging anywhere from harvesting crops to writing software. The relationship between wage labor and capital is being destroyed by this process. The capitalist system depends on workers receiving a wage, which they use to buy from the capitalists what they need to live. The ability of the resultant part-time, contingent workforce and the unemployed to buy the products that are produced is being destroyed. The ability of the capitalists to make profits based on human labor is being destroyed as human labor is being replaced with robots and artificial intelligence. As a consequence, we see the beginning of the end of capitalism.
The ruling class knows this and is defensively scrambling to prepare for a world in which it can maintain its private property and luxurious lifestyle without capitalism. It is essential for us to contrast that future with another, the vision and preparation for a cooperative society that will end private property and prioritize the needs of humanity, the earth, and all life.
Attempts to Maintain a Profit and Private Property
How is the ruling class attempting to maintain profit and private property? We’ve seen for many years that less money is being made through the production of actual goods and services, and more from moving money from productive capital to speculative capital. According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 1955, 12% of all corporate profits were from the financial sector. That figure doubled to 23% in 2015. Yet all this leads to speculative bubbles like the 2000 dot-com bust and the mortgage meltdown which began in 2008, with the ruination of millions through lost jobs, foreclosures, and the wiping out of retirement savings.
The tech industry is leading the way in the pursuit of profitable strategies. Both Google and Facebook make the vast majority of their revenue from advertising, 88%, and 97% respectively, compared to other sectors of the economy that actually produce goods and services. What they provide is nominally free to us, but we pay for it through constant exposure to ads, the invasion of our privacy through the personal information we are forced to provide, and the costs of advertising that are passed on to us. The tech industry employs relatively few people compared to the massive wealth they generate; when Instagram was sold to Facebook in 2012 for a billion dollars, it only had 13 employees. Such figures clearly show that the capitalist economy in the long term cannot be maintained.
Manufacturers of products like cell phones are still able to make huge profits. These manufacturers exercise a monopoly on technology through intellectual property rights. The iPhone X that you pay $999 for costs only $370 to manufacture. According to the 2016 government report “Intellectual Property and the US Economy,” intellectual property in 2014 accounted for 38.2% of the US GDP, or $6.6 trillion.
Another strategy is the privatization of public property and services. Civic jobs are contracted out to private companies where the pay is less. 8.5% of all state and federal prisoners are incarcerated in private prisons, according to the Sentencing Project. Public dollars from Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act subsidies are funneled through private insurance companies. In the rapidly growing charter school sector, even those that are “non-profit” benefit private real estate and management interests. Valuable public properties are turned over to private entities by revenue-starved local governments. In Benton Harbor Michigan, a private golf course has replaced a city park that fronts on Lake Michigan. All of this means the loss of our precious common public resources that are supposed to belong to all of society.
These temporary strategies can only be sustained for so long. In the end, they cannot overcome the shrinking ability of the ruling class to make a profit off of human labor and the shrinking capacity of workers to buy products and services. These strategies lead to increased impoverishment and polarization of wealth. This is accompanied with increased militarism of our borders and cities, voter suppression and anti-union court decisions, austerity in the public sector, environmental devastation, police violence, and dangerously divisive rhetoric that are all part of the ruling class fascist offensive.
It Doesn’t Have to be This Way
Contrast that path with the potential that now exists to build a cooperative society, where the priority is the well-being of the people and the planet. Technology in the hands of the working class opens the way to change, that could be used to serve our needs. People would have the opportunity to contribute to society’s real needs, instead of taking any job that provides a paycheck. It would give us the means to produce all of our necessities and more, and give everyone the free time to develop as human beings.
Without being shackled by the private property interests of the ruling class, our health care system could cover everyone, be equal and comprehensive, and actually focus on our physical and mental health. There could be a decent roof over every head. Education could concentrate on our youth’s well-being and implement innovation. We could take care of our families, our elderly and disabled. We could raise our cultural level and learn languages, become musicians, writers, artists, and filmmakers. We would be able to prioritize measures to eliminate fossil fuels, return our oceans, lakes, and rivers to health, keep the air and land clean of chemical contamination, and maintain a safe and healthy food supply.
Even now, there are countless examples of passionate community spirit, innovation, creativity, and compassion, that is freely given: artists’ cooperatives, community gardens, church soup kitchens, caregiving for family and friends, river clean-ups, volunteer home building and repairs, open-source software and wikis and cultural collectives. If we can do all this swimming against the centuries-old tide of capitalist individualism and selfishness, think what could be unleashed if the ruling class and its system of private property were removed from the picture!
Getting There From Here
It will not be easy to get the kind of society we need to thrive, but understanding that capitalism is being destroyed can shape what we do. We need to keep our eyes on the prize – keeping to the line of march that leads us to our vision, not being distracted by calls to go back to the “good old days,” or to “fix” the capitalist system. We have to quickly understand new manifestations of struggle and point them in the direction of systemic change.
We have to forge the broadest possible unity in the fight for the necessities of life, such as housing, healthcare, water, education, decent jobs, and necessary social services. We must fight for the unity of our class against the divisive actions and rhetoric that pit us against each other, like immigrants against other sections of the class, the homeless against those that are housed, or youth against the rest of society.
We spread a vision of a cooperative communist society, while we fight shoulder to shoulder with all who fight against the growing poverty, social and ecological destruction, fascism and war.
It is indeed a mighty task, but by doing so we will be playing our essential role in the liberation of humanity.
January/February 2019. Vol29.Ed1
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