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
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
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
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.