What does it take to beat capitalism when the deck is stacked against us

by Jehu

cardsOn Monday, I showed both the workers and the capitalists view economic choices through the lens of capitalist relations of production. The fact that both classes view the crisis of capitalism through the same filter means the both accept the same false choices in the crisis. It is not true in the least that the working class is brainwashed by the capitalists to act against their own interests. Rather, because both classes see the crisis from their respective positions within capitalist relations of production, they arrive at the same general conclusions.

Those conclusions are consistent with capitalist relations and, therefore, imply a definite outcome: labor exists only to fatten profits.

This explains why, in the Boeing negotiations and the GM restructuring, the workers capitulated to the demands of their respective companies. In the debate on employment and economic growth this reality is reflected in the fact that the workers, although they have an interest in lower prices for necessities (deflation), will ultimately choose higher prices (inflation), because higher prices appear to be the necessary condition for their jobs. Both the capitalists and the workers realize that new “job creation” now requires constant depreciation of the purchasing power of wages. For this reason, when Boeing threatened to move it facilities unless the workers capitulated to its demands, the union promptly folded.

In my post on Tuesday, I argued that although both classes view events through the same relations of production and arrive at the same conclusions, these conclusions necessarily stack the outcome in favor of the capitalists. What both classes know is that “job creation” depends on profit — the capitalist will not create additional jobs unless he knows there is additional profit to be made by this investment. Creating jobs to address unemployment requires, if nothing else, that wages should fall to a level that is consistent with creating new jobs or saving old ones.

I want to emphasize that this argument implies no bourgeois propaganda at all nor any ideological role for simpletons like Krugman; the workers arrive at the conclusion that they must agree to reduce their wages because they have a profound and extremely sophisticated practical grasp of the laws of the capitalist mode of production. All the Boeing workers had to do was look at the large number of states that entered bidding for their jobs to understand how those laws work. We give entirely too little credit to the sophistication of working class in this sort of practical grasp of its circumstances.

In the present crisis, the capitulation of the class in both US and Europe can be blamed not on their lack of will to fight, but on their grasp of the futility of the fight on premise of capitalist relations of production; which is to say, within existing social relations, the outcome is a foregone conclusion: defeat of the working class and its absolute submission to capital.

Every poker player knows that when you are in a game where the house has stacked the cards against you, the only plausible course of action is to leave the fucking table. But not the Left — No, they are entirely too well-read in Hegelian philosophy, Foucault or Mao to notice how the conditions of capital production create its own premises in the thinking of both classes. It may very well be true that capitalist relations of production serve only the capitalist, but reform. Somehow, political struggle between the two classes can overcome real material relations of production.

Eighty fucking years of food stamp socialism — how’s that working for you? In the capitalist mode the subsistence of the worker is made dependent on profit — if there is no profit to be made there is no job; on the other hand, the worker is utterly dependent on a job if she is to live and feed her family.

The Obama administration has made it abundantly clear that it is only interested in “private job creation”, i.e., production for profit. According to Politifact, President Obama touted his record this way:

“During a speech on the economy in Galesburg, Ill., President Barack Obama touted his record on job creation.

“Referring to his Republican critics, Obama said in the July 24, 2013, speech, ‘They’ll bring up Obamacare — this is tried and true — despite the fact that our businesses have created nearly twice as many jobs in this recovery as businesses had at the same point in the last recovery, when there was no Obamacare.'”

Notice how the president makes no mention of any public job creation? Well, that is because there was none — jobs in the public sector have been ruthlessly gutted. According to Calculated Risk blog,

“[The] public sector has declined significantly since Mr. Obama took office (down 726,000 jobs). These job losses have mostly been at the state and local level, but more recently at the Federal level.  This has been a significant drag on overall employment.”

Thus employment in the Obama years has been heavily dependent on profitability of capitalist firms.

At the same time, capitalist production in these private firms relies less than ever on direct labor to produce material wealth. The worker is thus forced to concede her wages in order to prop up profits as a condition for having a job. From the point of view of the worker, this is a necessary sacrifice, driven by forces that are beyond her control. Within existing relations of production the worker cannot find employment except on terms that make her very survival more difficult.

If the class is to survive, employment has to be severed from profit; the job of the worker can no longer be dependent on the profit of the capitalist. However, the workers, no less than the capitalists, are predisposed to believe that employment is dependent on profit. Even in Greece or Spain, where unemployment is at unprecedented post-Great Depression levels, it has not yet occurred to them that profit and employment must be severed. As Eurozone crisis demonstrates, thinking outside the relations of production is not easy; it constitutes a revolution in the consciousness of the majority of society. However, this revolution in consciousness is already given in the Boeing and GM disasters as the false choice between wages and jobs.

We want a job and we want this without our wages being reduced or inflated away. And there is only one condition where both of these aims can be achieved: reduction of hours of labor. Unfortunately, since the idea that labor hours must be reduced and employment severed from the profit motive requires a leap in the consciousness of the working class, there is nothing to say this leap will take place. All we can say is that absent this leap in consciousness, the working class will be locked into a false choice where increasingly they can only find a job on ever more unsatisfactory terms. Eventually they will encounter a situation where jobs are unavailable even on condition they offer to work for wages of Bangladeshi workers. Moreover, if Europe slips into actual deflation, we can expect intensified efforts to drive not only real wages, but also nominal wages down. The capitalists will not accept a fall in profits without a determined effort in that direction, no matter the consequences.

I think it is important to soberly recognize even outright reduction of nominal wages may not trigger a response on the part of the working class if there is no clear alternative to it. The working class really does look at its choices through the lens of capitalist relations of production. That lens makes it appear as if employment can only grow if profits grows; the corollary of this view is that the class must accept reduction of wages to secure employment.

So anyone who is banking on the working class rising up and throwing off its chains because wages fall is living in a dream world. This cannot happen unless the working class sees an alternative outside existing capitalist relations of production for profit.