Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Capitalist reality

Since its establishment capitalists have identified two key elements of class power: mobilization of public opinion and control of the State. The masters of capital have taught the working class a priceless lesson. You will not get what you want unless you mobilize in order to capture State power, i.e. power to turn the State into one whose dominant objective is to further the interests of the working population. It’s not impossible; it only looks that way. To secure class interests the goal is a political one.

At no point in history was capitalism able to operate "profitably" without first committing a massive theft of resources. In England this was termed The Enclosures and began when the wealthy wanted to export wool to Spain. They enclosed the commons where the peasantry traditionally could obtain wood and water and grow subsistence crops. This process continued and was repeated many times. The conquest of the Americas and Australasia can be interpreted as the greatest enclosure in human history. The Enclosures tells us: Private wealth comes from the enclosure of the common wealth via state intervention on the side of the incipient capitalist class. In other words, state sanctioned robbery for private benefit. The state is not a neutral actor. David Harvey calls this process "accumulation by dispossession." It goes on today all the time. Capital has always needed and used the state to fix the process in their favor and to murder and remove inconvenient people impeding the process of (as Marx termed it) primitive accumulation.

Knowing this is important when debating the right libertarians (or propertarians) about capitalism. Libertarians claim that what we have today is a form of corrupted capitalism. We just need to get the "state out of the way." We just need to get back the "genuine" capitalism of yore. But history shows us that that corruption was enabled by the state and christened the dawn of the capitalist era. The role of the state is key to the profitability of capital. There is no uncorrupted capitalist past to go back to. The modern day propertarian libertarians represent the interests of small capital, that is, the petit bourgeoisie. This pretty much explains their ideology. They oppose the power of big capital and its control over the state (that's where their program seems to coalesce with the reformist left). But their program is attached to a capitalism that never existed. It has never been the case that small capital was hegemonic. It is big capital that makes the rules by which the small capitalist plays. The libertarians use the language of "freedom" and "liberty" and individual entrepreneurship to build an ideological framework to build a mass base for what is really a reactionary program. They want a share of the action that big business enjoys. We are a cooperative species, living in communities and with complex social relationships. "Running our own lives" as a proposed response to social issues is the problem and can never be the solution.

It is true that with class societies such as slavery and feudalism, we were severely exploited and once capitalism emerged we became “free,” - free of what allowed us to live, land and tools. To survive, we were forced to become wage laborers.  In capitalism our capacity to work thus became a commodity, something bought and sold. The buyers, our employers, owned this capacity just as they owned the buildings, and like any privately owned property, the owners were legally free to use our labor power as they saw fit.

Our bosses hired managers who had one goal — to see to it that their companies made as much money as possible. Then the capitalists took the profits and expanded their businesses. To make these things happen, they did whatever they could to convert as much of our labor power as possible into actual work effort. Capitalists herded us into factories, so that they could watch us and make sure we worked with due diligence for as long as possible each day. Factory whistles told us when to begin and when to end our daily labors; failure to obey their commanding sounds resulted in us being disciplined or fired. The managers who observed us discovered that dividing tasks into simpler details made us more efficient. Why not, they reasoned, assign different workers to each detail, and in this way economize on skilled labor and lower the overall cost of producing a pair of shoes, a straight pin, or a piece of meat. When they had to, they hired women and children to do the least skilled jobs; they got the kids from orphanages when we wouldn’t send our children into the dark, satanic mills. Repetitive detail work lent itself to the introduction of machinery. Soon series of mechanically connected machines were  configured into assembly lines. These controlled more completely the pace and intensity of our work. In Karl Marx’s famous words, we became “appendages to the machines.”

The great capitalists organized the markets in which we toiled so that core firms—automobile manufacturing plants, for example—were surrounded by parts supplier plants—such as those producing automobile steering assemblies. The supplier companies delivered the parts “just-in-time,” that is, only when needed by the core companies, thus saving money on inventories, storage space, and, most importantly, our labor. Employers also used modern electronic technology and the enormous pool of underutilized labor worldwide to offshore and outsource as much production as possible to places with lower wages. They used their tremendous political power to get governments to do their bidding: through laws, subsidies, tax breaks, and austerity measures that raised our economic insecurity.

 In this richest of countries, nearly 28 percent of all jobs pay a wage that, with full-time, year-round work, would not support a family of four at the meager official poverty level of income ($23,021 in 2011). Wages have stagnated in terms of purchasing power for the past forty years; for production and nonsupervisory private sector workers they are barely higher today than in 1973. Fewer and fewer of us have pensions other than social security, which itself has become less generous. The same can be said for health care, paid vacations and holidays, and paid leaves, none of which are legally mandated. Unemployment and part-time work threaten all of us, and insufficient employment is made more likely both by the control mechanisms described above (for example, the job displacement effects of mechanization and outsourcing) and the greater likelihood of financial meltdowns in the global economy.

 Capitalists use whatever legal and political entities they can bend to their will. The powers of the U.S. government and most state governments are bought. This is also true for most governments in the world and those that don't knuckle under are subject to military attack carried out by state power; the  government provides public and private thugs for capitalist enforcement actions. Capitalism lives on exploitation, destroys in order to expand endlessly and devours mindlessly anything in its path in order to grow without bounds. Socialists challenge those who deny the existence of an economic class division. We are fundamentally and increasingly a world divided between haves and have-nots. We have resisted control when we could. But whether we did or not, our work became ever more controlled and stressful.

Adapted from here

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