Understanding the world situation
Another aspect of ‘Low-Wage Capitalism’
Published Dec 2, 2008 6:30 PM
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
“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
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.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
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