From racial division to class unity
|The world we have known is being profoundly transformed by the microchip and the electronic production it makes possible. The microchip was introduced in the early 1970s and is a light, tiny cheap device that can be widely used in production. This tiny device is significant way beyond its size. In the past, technological developments were labor-saving, that is, they made human labor more efficient. Computers and robotics replace human labor and, as technology develops, eliminate it from production.
For the first time in history human beings can be released from mindless and backbreaking toil, finally freed to realize ourselves as fully human. This is true because electronic technology can provide the wherewithal to supply the food, shelter, transportation, computers, health care, education and recreation for everyone. This is no longer a utopian statement. In 1940, 50 percent of the work force was involved in direct manufacture to produce the goods then available. Today, 22 percent of the work force produces many more goods. Hundreds of years ago, almost everyone had to participate in agriculture in order to eat. Now three percent of the population grows enough food for everyone else. The same transformation is taking place in all areas of production. Raising children and providing them and ourselves with an orderly and cultured existence in which all are provided with the full fruits of human civilization can now become the work of society.
Under capitalism, however, this liberating technology has been turned into a nightmare for the majority of the world. Labor-replacing technology has simply been used to lower the cost of production and increase the wealth of the capitalists. No human being can work as efficiently or as cheaply as a robot. They produce faster and more efficiently than human labor and they don't take breaks, need vacations or ask for a raise in pay. As electronics extends around the world, wages are being driven down as workers are compelled to compete not only with one another but with these electronic counterparts. The results are clear. The World Bank reports over 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day, while wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of 477 billionaires.
Thus, the impoverishment we see all around us and around the world is due not to material shortages but to the political and economic system: private ownership of the means of production. The kind of productivity increases made possible by electronics make it possible to raise people's standard of living, whether they are employed or not. Realizing this potential of the high-tech revolution requires the distribution of the fruits of production according to need, not profit.
Yet, no matter how much wealth the capitalists accumulate through the use of this technology, the underlying processes tell the true story. Capitalism depends upon making a profit on an ever expanding scale. Profit is derived from the extraction of surplus value - or unpaid labor - from the workers. Laborless production in the robot does not create surplus value, thus capital cannot create a profit. Capitalism is based on the exchange of commodities. As the need for human labor is increasingly eliminated, workers lose their only means of buying. The capitalists cannot sell. The intricate interconnected system of buying and selling that is essential to the operation of the capitalist system is permanently undermined. No manner of maneuvering (whether its driving down wages, using slave labor or robots) will allow the capitalists to escape the reality that these developments, objectively, signal the end of the capitalist system and with it, the foundation for their privilege and power.
©1998 Speakers for a New America Books
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Last updated 4/27/15