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‘Profound changes in capitalism are reshaping working class’

Published May 17, 2007 9:01 PM

Fred Goldstein of the Secretariat of Workers World Party represented the party at an International Communist Symposium in Brussels, Belgium, on May 4-6. Below is the text of his talk to that gathering.

Today I would like to take up a theme that is the subject of an upcoming book on globalization, imperialism and the struggle for socialism in the 21st century that I am working on for my party. I raise it because there are profound structural changes in world capitalism that are reshaping the international working class. This transformation is already affecting the class struggle everywhere and will continue to do so as these structural changes deepen, particularly in the United States, and our party tries to see where we are in the unfolding of the post-Soviet phase of the struggle for socialism.

The globalization of capitalist production and services that is now underway requires a further extension of Lenin’s work on imperialism. His book, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” is the bedrock and starting point of all analysis of imperialism. The outline of imperialism’s fundamental features—the domination of monopoly, of finance-capital, its predatory nature, etc.—are as applicable today as they ever were. And it is only in terms of Lenin’s basic categories and Marx’s labor theory of value that the global restructuring can be analyzed and understood.

There are two new realities that dominate the globe in the present period. The first is the collapse of the USSR and Eastern Europe and all its attendant negative consequences for the liberation movements and semi-independent regimes which lost whatever protection against total imperialist domination the socialist camp could offer. Of course, this collapse was preceded by the retreat of the Chinese revolution and its opening up to capitalism. And this has been accompanied by the drastic widening of the door to India for the multinational corporations and banks.

The second new reality is the scientific-technological revolution that has enabled the imperialist ruling class to expand in new ways. The expansion of the multinational corporations in the wake of the collapse of the USSR and Eastern Europe, their first real territorial expansion in 75 years, is not merely a quantitative extension of the reach of the monopolies. The expansion also represents a qualitative leap forward.

A multitude of advances in the productive forces—computerization, fiber optic cables, satellites, super-freighters, automated port technology, Internet technology, software used to control and monitor global production, etc.—have created a new international division of labor which is affecting the class struggle and requires new strategy and tactics. It represents a significant evolution of capitalism.

In the earlier period of imperialism, there was a dominant international division of labor overall in the world capitalist system. The oppressed peoples in the colonial and semi-colonial areas were mostly confined to doing the back-breaking work of supplying natural resources, working the mines and plantations, the ports, building roads and railroads, etc. They supplied the imperialist centers where manufacturing and administration was located. Under these circumstances, the opportunity for the imperialists to create direct wage competition between the oppressed and their own domestic working classes was limited.

The super-exploitation of the oppressed and the garnering of super-profits, so clearly described by Lenin, were constrained by geography and geology. To engage in super-exploitation required establishing a labor process. But under the old methods of production, the location and degree of super-exploitation were largely determined by the location and richness of the mines, oil wells, arable land, available workers and so forth.

The development of the productive forces has set the bosses free from these limitations on their spheres of super-exploitation. Today, low-wage workers can be subjugated by capital virtually anywhere in the world, regardless of geography or geology.

With the scientific-technological revolution the most advanced labor processes, that is, the super-exploitation of labor, can be established almost anywhere that the bosses can find workers—whether in Singapore, Lesotho, Costa Rica, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Romania, Spain or the southern United States. The production of commodities, from the simplest to the most complex, can be broken up into different stages, these stages parceled out by the monopolies to coordinated global production networks, and surplus value realized in markets thousands of miles from production at minimal transportation costs.

And this development has taken place virtually simultaneously with the global expansion of the exploitable labor force. By some bourgeois estimates, the collapse of the USSR, together with China’s “open door” policy and the penetration of India, has brought 3 billion people into the orbit of imperialism and perhaps 1.5 billion workers who are newly available for super-exploitation and are living in low-wage, high-unemployment areas.

A worldwide wage competition is being organized by the bosses, pitting low-wage workers in the countries suffering from the legacy of imperialism and colonialism against the workers in the imperialist countries. Marx showed as early as 1847 in the Communist Manifesto that competition among the workers is the basic weapon of the bourgeoisie to keep the workers from overthrowing capitalism.

He also analyzed wages as the price of labor power that is bought at its value, which, he showed, is what it costs to maintain a worker and his/her family. In his analysis of wages and the value of labor power, Marx demonstrated that the necessary means of subsistence was determined differently for each nation according to the standard of living shaped for the workers under specific historical conditions. The poorer the country, the lower the necessary means of subsistence. The more developed the country and the stronger the organization of the workers, the higher the accustomed necessary subsistence.

In the present phase of global capitalist restructuring, the national determination of the price of labor power, of the necessary means of subsistence in the imperialist centers, is being dissolved in one job category after another. Wages are more and more being determined internationally and being driven by the bosses in the direction of the lowest global level. To the capitalists, the necessary means of subsistence should be what is required in Mumbai or Shanghai rather than in Detroit or Stuttgart.

When Lenin analyzed the results of the export of capital by the monopolies, he showed how imperialist super-profits fortified the privileges of sections of the workers in the imperialist countries and created a corrupted social base of support for the ruling class.

However, with the reorganization of the capitalist international division of labor, the export of capital, the essential economic feature of monopoly capital, is more and more becoming an instrument not only for the destruction of the most privileged workers, but for rolling back all the social and economic gains won through struggle for generations. This process is not only weakening the basis for opportunism, it is eroding the objective basis for working class support for capitalist exploitation. And where the objective basis is undermined, the subjective is sure to follow. That is materialism; that is Marxism; being determines consciousness.

The stability in the U.S. is no longer based primarily on the privileges of the workers. It is fragile, conditional and based primarily upon a ruthless offensive by the ruling class.

The advanced workers must be made conscious of the machinations of the bosses to engineer this wage competition. The answer is not to deny jobs to workers in India or Mexico. They need jobs, too. We must strive to explain to the U.S. workers what their bosses have done to Mexico, what the British imperialists did to the Indian workers and peasants. And the issue should be turned around. There must be jobs both in the U.S. and in Mexico—not either/or. And they must be jobs at living wages. Workers in the U.S. must know that their fate is bound up with the fate of the workers in India and Mexico. White workers must know that their fate is bound up with that of Black, Latino and Asian workers, and that means immigrant workers, too.

This struggle will require the highest international solidarity, cross-border organizing and coordination to counter the global schemes of the bosses; and capital has given the workers the technological means to facilitate such organizing. It will require the most strenuous struggle against national oppression and for class unity to break up attempts to divide our class; and it needs the greatest efforts on behalf of solidarity with immigrant workers, whose plight is just another part of capitalist globalization and the fever for low wages that has gripped the bosses in the wake of the collapse of the USSR.

International class solidarity abroad and class solidarity at home are fundamental prerequisites for the struggle for socialism in the 21st century on the road to working class power.