NELSON PEERY SPEECH TO THE HIGH TECHNOLOGY CONFERENCE, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, 1996

 

 

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to this conference on

high technology and society. This is no small accomplishment for a person

who, in his youth, had worked with a plow and a horse.

 

Perhaps only a person who has done such work has seen enough changes in

the economy and consequently in society to visualize what the current

ongoing historic changes in the economy mean for our social future.

 

Along with the horse and plow of my youth I also had a Grandfather full

of pat country words of wisdom. One of his sayings that I've learned to

appreciate was, " A heap see and few know." As I watch the political

sycophants of big business carrying out their charade called "grappling"

with the social destruction around us, I often think of Grandpa.

 

Why does a city decline? The obvious reason is the growing lack of

community pride. Teen age pregnancy? The youth have lost their morality.

Narcotics? The criminal element is out of control.

 

This pandering to the most backward section of society could work while

the people were stunned by the socio economic catastrophe and believed the

malarkey coming from those they thought were friends and protectors.

Perhaps history will record that Newt Gingrich was the best thing to ever

happen to the poor of this country. When they get more of the same advice

from those they know are their enemy, an awakening is possible. In this

sense I would like to skip a description of the millions of homeless, the

tens of millions of jobless, the acres of burned out neighborhoods, the

slaughter of our youth, the "in your face" looting of the public treasury,

the decline of education and the threatening complete elimination of the

social services. The important thing is to understand why this is happening

and what the political results are bound to be.

 

When and why did government grow big with the alphabet programs and when

and why did it suddenly need to shed itself of these programs?

 

The major task of government is to create the structural programs and

policies that allow the economy to function. For example, when the

government was the instrument of the farmers, that government did the

things necessary to protect and expand the farm. The Indians were cleared

from the fertile lands, slavery was protected and extended, shipping lanes

for export were cleared and frontiers expanded. As the farm gave way to

industry, the government transformed itself into a committee to take care

of the new needs of industry. At that point government began to grow.

Industry needed literate workers, so the school system expanded under a

Secretary of Education. The army needed healthy young men to fight the wars

brought on by industrial expansion, so a school lunch program was started.

As industry got big, a Department of Housing and Urban Development provided

order to the chaotic burgeoning cities it created. As industry and the

workers moved outward, a Department of Transportation brought order to the

transportation chaos. In other words government became big government in

order to serve the needs of industry as it became big industry. The workers

were kept relatively healthy and the unemployed were warehoused in such a

manner as to keep them available for work with every industrial expansion.

 

Now the rub. New means of production changed the game. Not only were

expanding sections of the working class superfluous to production, but the

new mode of hi tech production no longer needed a reserved army of

unemployed. Nor did it need healthy young men for a infantry war. As

industry gave way to the new electronic means of production, it downsized.

The government necessarily had to follow suite.

 

If we knew the consequences of our actions we probably would not get out

of bed in the morning. The scientists pursuing their craft could hardly

visualize what the engineers would do with the marvels they were creating

in the laboratory. The engineers, as they applied the marvels of science to

the workplace, probably never understood the effects it would have on the

capitalist system. Nor did the capitalist, in their scramble for the market

and its profits understand the effect they were having on history.

 

As the application of these new scientific marvels to the workplace

expanded, a new economic category, the structurally unemployed, was

created. A hundred and fifty years ago, Marx and Engels coined the term

"the reserve army of the unemployed." This was the industrial reserve to be

thrown into the battle for production as the need arose. The structurally

unemployed was something different. They were a new, growing, permanently

unemployed sector created by the new emerging economic structure.

 

Naturally, robotics entered industry at the lowest and simplest level.

Its first victims were the unskilled and semi skilled workers. For

historic as well as racist reasons, the black workers were concentrated

there. The widespread liquidation of the blacks in the industrial work

force was looked upon as another brutal act of American racism. They could

not see the effect of robotics on the white unskilled and semi skilled

workers. They were scattered throughout the general white population and

especially in the suburbs. The African Americans were concentrated in a

relatively small urban area and the percentage of black laborers to the

African American population was higher than white laborers to the white

population.

 

The consequent creation of the ghetto - the black, permanently destitute,

rotting inner core of the formerly central working class area of the city

was also accepted as simply the result of racist economic policies of

capitalist industry.

 

The economists, their inquiry tainted with racist ideology and unable to

understand the difference between the reserve army of unemployed created by

industrial capitalism and the structural, premanant joblessness created by

robotics came up with the term "underclass." This term actually was a

derivative or perhaps a take-off from the Marxist term, "lumpen

proletariat" or beneath the working class.

 

Within the political shell but outside the economic relations of

feudalism, new economic classes, the bourgeoisie and the modern working

class were created from the serfs. Some of these ex serfs did not make it

into either of these new classes. They formed what Marx referred to as the

Lumpen proletariat. This social flotsam, created at the beginnings of

industrial capitalism, existed as best they could on the periphery of

society until the system finally absorbed them.

 

Those who coined the term "underclass" perhaps thought this was a group

unable to keep up, and once falling behind and supported by welfare

consciously accepted an existence outside the capitalist relations of

worker and employer. Perhaps they saw them as something not quite, but akin

to the lumpen proletariat of the beginnings of industrial capitalism.

 

Racism allowed for this term to be quickly and widely accepted. From the

battlements provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from the oak

paneled sanctuaries of the universities it must have seemed that a sub

class of blacks, reliant on welfare, had lost the work ethic. Worse, they

were creating a sub culture of immorality and criminality in the midst of a

great expansion of wealth and productivity.

 

A more concrete look will show several things. First, that the new

productive equipment was polarizing wealth and poverty as never before.

Absolute wealth in the form of 145 billionaires and absolute poverty in the

form of some eight million homeless are new to our country. The second

polarization was the increase in production accompanied by an increase in

unemployment and joblessness.

 

Most important, a concrete look would show that the so called underclass

is in fact a new class. History shows us that each qualitatively new means

of production creates a new class. Previously, each new class has been the

owners or operators of the new equipment. This new class, created by

robotics, is not simply driven out of industry, it is driven out of

bourgeois society. There is a historical parallel.

 

It might be noted here that Marx made a little historical or semantic erro

r naming the industrial working class the "proletariat." The Roman

proletariat, once a working class, was driven from the workplace by the

introduction of slavery. They ended up absolutely destitute and outside

society. They were fed by the state and in exchange produced babies who

would grow up to be soldiers. The proletariat did not and could not work

because they could not compete with the labor of slaves. The comparison is

clear. We are witnessing the creation of a real, if modern, proletariat.

 

Further, and perhaps most importantly, it should be noted that in

history, no system has never been overthrown by an internal class. The

feudal system was overthrown by the classes outside the system, not by the

serfs. The concept of class struggle has been convoluted to express the

struggle for reform which is the only possible social struggle between two

classes internal to a society. Class struggle begins when qualitatively new

means of production bring about an economic revolution and the economic

revolution forces a social revolution. The struggle of the old reactionary

classes inside society against the new class outside the society over who

is going to create a new social order is the class struggle.

 

The social system is under attack as the electronic revolution destroys

its economic underpinning. This underpinning is value created by the

expenditure of human labor. In proportion to the use of robotics the new

system becomes more productive and more unable to distribute that

production. The modern proletariat has no choice but to join with the robot

in the final assault against the existing social and economic order.

 

 

 

 

 

We are not facing a recurrence of the Egyptian or ancient Chinese

collapse of civilization. On the contrary, we stand at the end of

pre-history. Wageless production cannot be distributed with money. The

contradiction between the modes of production and exchange has reached its

limits. Production without wages inevitably results in distribution without

money. This objective economic demand will sweep aside any subjective or

political system that cannot conform to it. Communism moves from the

subjective arena of the political and ideological into the realm of the

objective and economic.

 

Since there are no concrete economic connections between today and

tomorrow, consciousness plays the decisive role in this revolution. We must

consciously fight for the future. Blind rage against the ongoing

destruction of life will not bring change. This future will not evolve

automatically as did the rosy dawn of capitalism.

 

How will the movement aquire this decisive consciousness? As with all

changes of quality, it must be introduced from the outside. An organization

must be built for the specific purpose of bringing this consciousness to

the new class, and not only the new class. Since we are entering a social

revolution, this message must be taken to all of society. Filling our

future with a content made possible by the marvelous new means of

production depends entirely upon the leadership of an organization of

visionaries capable of arousing and enthusing the masses.

 

Philosophers of ancient Greece declared that their slave system was

necessary in order to allow another class of people leisure time to create

the culture and education necessary to uplift the free population. Economic

and social contradictions within their system of human slavery brought it

to an end. Today, in the robot, we have an efficient and willing producer

capable of freeing up the totality of humanity so they may fully commit

themselves to the age old struggle for a cultured, orderly and peaceful

life.

 

Does it take much genius to see that the social and moral ills of our

time are the result of controlled scarcity? Does it take genius to

understand that the new terrible social ills are the result of and not the

cause of the destruction of a society? Does it take genius to understand

that abundance, which today is the cause of starvation and misery, will be

the foundation for tomorrows leap into a new and orderly world? Does it take

genius to see that privilege and all its hateful ideologies can only be and

will be overcome by unfettered abundance?

 

Visionaries, unlike dreamers proceed from the real world. Any person who

has been forced onto the streets by the private use of robotics cannot help

but visualize the possible world wherein robotics are used for the benefit

of society rather than by individuals whose only interest is profit.

 

Yester-years dreamers were the destitute, the exploited, the downtrodden.

The visionaries were the owners of the new mechanical means of production.

Today, that world stands on its feet. The visionaries are those who have

been driven from the factory and from society by those who own the more

efficient electronic means of production. They visualize their social

liberation, the happy prosperous future if only they could collectively own

and direct the instruments that are destroying them. The dreamers are those

wallowing in increasingly valueless wealth, still believing that wageless

production can be circulated with money.

 

Humanity stands at its historic juncture. Can we, who understand today,

visualize tomorrow with enough clarity to accept the historic

responsibilities of visionaries and revolutionaries. I think so. Humanity

has never failed to make reality from the possibilities created by each

great advance in the means of production. This time there is no alternative

to stepping across that nodel line and seizing tomorrow. Thank you.