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Understanding the world situation

Another aspect of ‘Low-Wage Capitalism’

Published Dec 2, 2008 6:30 PM

Deirdre Griswold
WW photo: Gary Wilson

We’ve discussed in this conference two books that elaborate our view of how changes in capitalism have impacted the working class: “High Tech, Low Pay” by Sam Marcy and the newly published “Low-Wage Capitalism” by Fred Goldstein.

Marcy’s book, written in 1985, showed how the scientific-technological revolution was changing the means of production and the working class itself. A big shift was taking place in the economy to fewer manufacturing and more service jobs. New technology led to the further deskilling of jobs. The bosses were looking for workers who, because of their oppression, would be forced to take jobs that paid less. More women and more people of color were being hired in the U.S. Marcy predicted this would begin to undermine the social weight of the more privileged, generally white male workers.

Lenin had first described the development of a privileged labor aristocracy in the oppressor countries in his book “Imperialism.” Marcy showed how this was starting to break down under the counter-pressure of the new trend. He predicted a shift in consciousness of the working class, with oppressed workers playing a leading role in the new struggles and greater potential for the solidarity of all workers.

Comrade Larry Holmes in his opening remarks explained how Comrade Fred’s new book on low-wage capitalism builds upon this very important thesis. And that this phenomenon—the leveling down of the better-paid workers, which preceded the current economic crisis but continues ever more fiercely—is the material basis for the solidarity between Black, [email protected] and white workers that burst out in this election and changed the political landscape in the U.S. with the election of the first Black president.

This is not to take anything away from Barack Obama himself and his extraordinary skills as a political figure. But there have been many other skilled Black leaders over the years, and they didn’t stand a chance. Even Jesse Jackson, who had a movement behind him, couldn’t get the Democratic Party nomination, let alone win in the general election.

We’ve talked about the reasons why a strong grouping in the ruling class would want Obama to represent them at this very difficult time for U.S. imperialism. That certainly made it easier for Obama to get decent treatment in the media, to raise funds and to reach out to the millions. But none of this would have happened if the hard-core racism represented by McCain and Palin had resonated with a larger section of the workers, or if the unions and other multinational, working-class organizations had not mobilized to get out the vote.

“Low-Wage Capitalism” brings Marcy’s thesis up to date by devoting much attention to the international division of labor that now exists with the rapid spread of globalization. It also shows how the changes in the way capitalism works today validate once again the most basic teachings of Marxism and Leninism.

However, I want to bring up another aspect of Goldstein’s book, one perhaps still difficult to raise in this country because of the steady drumbeat of anti-communism by the ruling class ever since the Russian Revolution and especially during the period of the Cold War.

Just as important as its analysis of imperialist globalization and the way in which that has dragged down the wages of workers in the U.S. is what the book has to say about the tearing down of the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe.

Let’s remember that Marcy’s book, which predicted an upsurge of the workers, was written in 1985—23 years ago. Why has it taken so long for the political impact of the scientific-technological revolution to be felt here? How were the capitalists able to stave off until now the crisis of overproduction that was clearly visible in the stock market crash of 1987, when the market lost a quarter of its value in just one day? What gave them and their system a new lease on life, a new confidence that they could ruthlessly continue their offensive against the workers and get away with it?

What came to their aid, as Goldstein explains, was the final collapse of the system of workers’ states in Europe, which had lasted as a competing social system for more than 70 years. This had a catastrophic effect on the workers there. Every social index—life expectancy, infant mortality, the rise of infectious disease and hunger, the sexual oppression of women, growing antagonism among the different nationalities—showed that the return to capitalism was a huge step backward.

Workers in capitalist Western Europe, where social democracy had been strong and promised great things if only the evil communists could be overthrown in the East, were also put on the defensive. It wasn’t long after the downfall of the Soviet bloc that many of the social benefits won by the workers there began to be cut back.

The fall of the USSR also contributed to China’s decision to rely more on the market in building up its economy. This meant opening up in a big way to foreign investment and the production of goods for export.

These two developments—the dismantling of the Soviet Union and its East European allies and the further opening up of China to foreign investment—actually doubled the number of workers available for worldwide imperialist exploitation.

WWP, from its beginning, understood the great contradictions in the Soviet Union between its socialized means of production and the privileged bureaucracy that arose because of its isolation, its economic underdevelopment and its lack of skilled workers in the early days of the revolution.

All this was made immeasurably more difficult by the combined assault of the imperialists. Fourteen imperialist countries invaded the new workers’ state in 1919. The German fascists destroyed huge areas of the USSR and killed tens of millions in World War II.

The U.S. imperialists threatened the USSR with nuclear war and forced it into an enormously expensive arms race. All this wore down many of those in leading positions in the Communist Party so that when the counter-revolution came, it was party leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev who initiated the so-called reforms, and the workers were totally confused.

While we never closed our eyes to the problems in the USSR, we also understood that it remained a bastion of strength against the rapacious imperialists. The USSR aided innumerable national liberation movements. It helped the Cuban Revolution survive imperialist sabotage, invasion and blockade.

Its very existence forced the imperialists to allow better conditions for the workers, especially in Western Europe. It kept the exploiters from being able to plunder one-sixth of the earth’s surface for its valuable minerals, timber and oil.

All this changed once the USSR was pulled down.

We need to understand not only the U.S. but the world in order to chart a path to victory for the working class.