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From new introduction to ‘High Tech, Low Pay’

Artificial forces of capitalist revival are exhausted

Published Sep 2, 2009 6:14 PM

Following is the fifth part of an excerpt from the introduction by Fred Goldstein to an upcoming reprint of the groundbreaking work “High Tech, Low Pay,” written by Sam Marcy in 1986 during the early stages of capitalist restructuring. Goldstein is the author of “Low-Wage Capitalism: Colossus with Feet of Clay.” Read parts one through four in the Aug. 13, Aug. 20, Aug. 27 and Sept. 3 issues, the last referring to various schemes like credit bubbles to stimulate the economy.

In the present crisis, none of these measures is available to restart the system in any significant way.

The two wars now underway in Iraq and Afghanistan are draining the coffers of U.S. imperialism. Overall militarization has largely been accomplished. New rounds of military development are technology intensive, such as laser-guided bombs, satellite-guided missiles, Predator drones, high-tech missile ships and fighter planes. Current imperialist wars are limited and heavily dependent on air power. The hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on militarism are essential to the system, but, at best, military spending can only help to slow down the economic crisis. It cannot restart the capitalist economy and generate prosperity.

The long period of creating a regime of low-wage capitalism, with a working class in debt and living closer and closer to the poverty level, has intensified. As this trend deepens it only aggravates the crisis of overproduction by further reducing the buying power of the masses. Driving down wages any more will only intensify the contradictions of the system.

Further use of credit on a major scale is a vanishing option. Credit has been stretched to its limit as a mechanism for reviving capitalist accumulation. The government’s handout of trillions of dollars in financial bailouts to the banks and other financial institutions has stretched the credit option even beyond the limit.

Capitalism has reached a point where, even if the trillions of dollars that the ruling class is spending in an attempt to mitigate the crisis were to result in a revival, it would be weak and short-lived, leaving many millions unemployed as jobs continue to be lost even as capital accumulation expands. Capitalism is entering a period of permanent and deepening crisis for the masses.

In the present crisis the historic methods of reviving the profitability of capitalism, of restoring capitalist accumulation and prosperity, appear to have run their course, as they did leading up to the Great Depression. This is what has the ruling class running scared.

Marx’s proposition about the inevitability of social revolution, already quoted, bears repeating here. It was phrased in the most general way:

“At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with existing relations of production or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution.”

This is a summary of the broad contours of history. The specifics can only be filled in by analyzing the concrete development of the productive forces of capitalism at each stage.

Sam Marcy in his foreword to this book gave an economic characterization of the period that pointed clearly in the direction of the present profound crisis of capitalism.

“The justification for each new social system as against its predecessor is that it raises society to a higher level. It has done so in each succeeding social order by raising the productivity of labor. The great achievement of capitalism was that it not only promoted a tempestuous development of the productive forces, of science and invention on an unheard of scale, but it raised the productivity of labor. Over a period of centuries it laid the basis for raising the material standards of society and the wage levels of the working class as a whole.

“The distinctive feature of this particular phase of capitalist development, the scientific-technological phase, is that while it enormously raises the productivity of labor, it for the first time simultaneously lowers the general wage patterns and demolishes the more high-skilled, high-paid workers. It enhances the general pauperization of the population.”

But Marcy looked beyond the crisis to the future of the struggle. He discussed the changing character of the working class from a revolutionary, optimistic point of view that was firmly rooted in a materialist analysis.

He spoke at that time of the fundamental trend arising out of the objective changes in the capitalist economy: the vast expansion of lower-paid workers and the decline of the higher-paid, which he regarded as one of the most significant and profound developments to emerge in the history of capitalism.

Its significance is ultimately political. It means that the lower-paid workers, the downtrodden and oppressed who can ill afford to be held down by a conservative labor leadership, will ultimately become the predominant voice in the labor movement and provide it with the militant and ultimately revolutionary energy to challenge capital. He showed that this transformation of the working class must ultimately have a political expression.

The consciousness of the workers is forced to catch up to their condition. A delay in this process is inevitable, but overcoming this lag is equally inevitable. Being ultimately determines consciousness. Historical circumstances have delayed this radical development among the workers. But Marcy’s projection of the pauperization of the working class has developed more fully since he wrote.

To be continued.