Only the Political Economy of the Working Class Can Lead the Way Out of the Crisis

July 29, 2014

Below, we summarize the first part of a speech presented by Michael Thorburn at the October 25, 1999 meeting of the Chicago Branch of the Workers Party.

For some time now, governmental leaders have been advertising “globalization” – based on the “free flow” of international capital – as a “new economic era” which will insure world prosperity. This process of globalization is generally characterized as a “technological revolution” arising from such things as advanced communications systems, an international division of labor, etc.

But such advertisements for “globalization” and the “free flow of capital” cover over the main thing. Today, capital is a social relation in which the means of production – the very tools needed by human beings to secure their material existence – are owned by a few while the vast majority of people are reduced to the status of wage-slaves for these capitalist owners of the means of production.

“Globalization” arises from the struggle of the biggest monopolies and capitalist states to extend these social relations of exploitation and domination – their ownership of the means of production – over the entire world. “Globalization” means that countries and continents are put up for barter and domination. The demand for the “free flow of capital” is a demand for the surrender of economic and political sovereignty, is the program of international finance capital for gobbling up the resources, the economic infrastructure and the very lives of the peoples of other countries. Today, in the conditions of deepening economic crisis, the “free flow of international capital” is part of the program of the big monopolies to come out on top – to continue their ferocious struggle for the economic domination of other countries as well as to defeat their competitors. In fact, as history shows and present reality confirms, capitalism can only “resolve” the struggle of competing capitalists for domination through war.

Workers in the U.S. must keep in mind that this entire struggle for world-wide domination rests, in the first place, on the most thorough exploitation of the American workers. . . .

The capacity of capital to expand and to “create wealth” rests on one and only one thing – the exploitation of the workers. Capital expands by soaking up the surplus labor of the workers. And the workers go into the factories owned by the capitalists, not through their own free will or choice, but because, under capitalism, they have been separated – by force of arms – from the tools necessary to create their own subsistence. They cannot secure their livelihoods without selling their labor-power as a commodity to those who have monopolized society's means of production.

Human beings are often characterized as “tool-creating animals” and indeed this capacity is one of the most important and distinguishing characteristics of the species. By using science to create and use tools, humans are able to transform, to humanize, nature not merely adapt to it. By creating tools humans are able to provide themselves with food, shelter and other means of subsistence and advance more and more from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. Tools – the means of production with which humans create their material conditions of existence – are a fundamental part of the foundation of human civilization.

Over thousands, in fact hundreds of thousands of years, humans have mastered the laws of the natural world and created a vast machinery of production which, when set in motion by human labor, is capable of producing an abundance for all. But capitalism has forcibly separated the great mass of humanity from these tools. As a result, we can only subsist by selling our ability to work to the capitalist exploiters.

Private ownership of the means of production is the condition upon which the exploitation, poverty and enslavement of the people rests. . . . Bourgeois political economy does everything to mystify this basic condition which forms the foundation of capitalism, because once it is brought out, no one can defend it. No one can defend – on the basis of any modern, humane or democratic notion – private property in the means of production – the right of a few to rule and to accumulate untold riches on the labor of others, by the enslavement of the great mass of humanity. . . .

New Forms of Exploitation

Over the last several years, we have already seen just what the struggle to “increase the international competitiveness of U.S. capital” means for the workers of our country. It means new and more intense forms of exploitation. It means downsizing and restructuring, the wiping out of millions of jobs. It means downward pressure on wages to the point where today the rate of exploitation is 500%. In other words, on average, a worker produces the value of his/her wages in one and half hours, while the value created during the other 6 and a half hours goes to the capitalists as profit. It means the slashing of such vital benefits as health care and pensions. It means the widespread substitution of part-time and temporary work for full time employees.

The entire attack on social legislation – the so-called welfare reform, the privatization of health care and social services as well as the dismantling of labor legislation such as workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, laws restricting child labor and overtime, etc. – is a program for reducing the price of labor power. These laws, a product of countless struggles of the working people, not only created a minimum floor which increased the general level of wages but also forced society to recognize that workers had at least some measure of rights as human beings. This recognition gave the workers certain economic claims on society, claims on production which are guaranteed through the creation of a social sector of the economy, which to a certain limited extent restricted the political economy of capitalism and commodity production. In denying these rights and privatizing the social sectors of the economy, the capitalists are not only forcing down wages but denying that the workers have any existence, any reason to live, other than to be exploited by the capitalists if and when needed. . . .

The bankruptcy of the capitalist system is seen in the fact that in country after country economic life is grinding to a halt and the productive forces at the disposal of society are actually being destroyed.

to be continued. . .