By Andy Barns
A world of immense abundance in resources, tools, and goods, has only been possible due to the labor of hundreds of millions. These millions do not have control of these things, at least not entirely. That is the core of the problem, and the desire of a small elite to maintain control is the barrier that prevents us from a wide-open, pleasant future.
It is plain to common sense, upon observation of the real world, that human suffering is far more widespread than necessary. Not just in foreign lands, but also here in the United States. Even in the wealthiest nation on Earth, it is clear that most of the poor and working class are uncomfortable. Little to no economic mobility, oppression from the state in the forms of police brutality and mass surveillance, lack of adequate medical care, etc. The oppression may be economic or racial, it could take the form of low wages or deportation. The suffering can be systemic, as in the case of a deeply flawed judicial system, or it can be communal, where crumbling public infrastructure or social services interfere with life. There are plenty of examples, from homelessness to long working hours, which attest to the fact that for most people life in modern capitalism is a constant struggle.
This is quite clear to those who live through this on a daily basis.
It is also evident that this struggle is unnecessary. Thinking purely in terms of money: the intensity of wasted labor and tax dollars into the military machine is a testament to lost opportunities, opportunities to invest in communities which need school heating or proper water systems. Massive tax breaks to corporations, and indeed the millionaires and billionaires who own them, clearly do no good for the common working person. Surely, the wealth squandered in the offshore hoards of the billionaires could be used to give every young person a chance to have higher education? In 2017, the 42 richest billionaires made enough profit to end global poverty.
Not merely in terms of raw monetary value can the obsolescence of poverty be expressed, for the capitalist industry of the world produces countless products and heaps of them, sitting on the shelves of the world, it could be appliances or clothes but regardless there is an endless supply of goods. Why is there even want in the world? Not just retail: in 2018, there are six empty homes to every homeless person in the United States. What is the need for homelessness? Or food: in terms of raw caloric amounts, accounting for the vast fields of grain produced in the US (largely dumped into meat production) the country could feed the world by itself. What is the need for hunger?
There is no shortage of either money or goods to solve the world’s, and people’s, problems.
Common sense tells us that all of this abundance exists as the result of billions of humans going to work every day. Yet the decisions about how this great wealth is distributed are under the control of a small elite, numbering only a few ten thousands at most, who benefit from controlling the wealth while the rest of us struggle needlessly. Commonly produced wealth… yet privately stolen wealth.
One of the great American myths is the idea that all wealth is personally earned by individual gumption. Millionaires are millionaires because of “their own hard work”. Those of us who struggle daily to pay our bills are simply not working hard enough. This myth could not be further from the truth.
All modern wealth is the product of the common effort of countless human beings. Take for example: the iPhone. The person who buys it did not make it of their own hands, and Steve Jobs certainly did not conjure it out of the thin air by his mere genius. It was the result of many scientists working for years (thanks to government grants) on the technology that makes the phone possible. It was the result of thousands of factory workers across the globe who assembled it, often on low wages and in poor working conditions. The raw materials of the phone were mined by miners, transported to different production plants by drivers and pilots, and marketed by workers at slick storefronts, lit up by light bulbs powered thanks to the labor of workers at the power-plant.
The immensity of the wealth, technology, and production needed to make the world of apps and texting a reality was possible only because of common labor.
House building companies rely on the framers, and those framers themselves rely on a small team of perhaps no more than ten workers at a local lumber yard. Yet the possibility of house construction itself is thanks to the common labor of those ten workers, and the common labor of twelve framers. These 22 persons are more essential to the construction of a useful and needed object, to say nothing of the electricians, drywallers, plumbers, etc. than the one, or two, owners of the construction company who take all credit for building “their” empire.
You can point to any example of large capitalistic enterprise and you will find the same thing. Society is not possible without the common labor of all. Yet we have class of those who commonly produce and a class of those who steal the commonly produced wealth.
Despite the glaring fact that all wealth, all technology, and the whole of society is only possible due to the common labor of millions, American society is plagued by myths of individualism. Although everyone is, in an important sense, unique, that is not what I am referring to. We as a society are educated to believe that once you are born poor you can become rich. Statistically, this is just false. We are also taught that the success of a company, or even a whole nation, is the result of one or few great geniuses, and that we as lowly workers should “be thankful” for the opportunity for work for them. What we are really doing is making them richer at our expense.
What these and other individualist myths try to do is obscure the fact that we live in a stratified class society. We are all a part of an economic class, whether we accept it or not. Those persons who were responsible for the building the house are part of a class of laborers who make all of society’s wealth. They may have different interests and tastes, different religions. They may have ambitions and dreams, families or not. They may even change jobs or residences. At the end of the day, they are still laborers who have to work and pay their bills.
The injustice of modern society is not that they are forced to work at one job forever, it’s that wherever they work, they have no control over the products they produce. That control belongs to the class of persons who own the companies they work at, and who sell the products they produce to market. These persons also consider themselves individuals. But they are really a part of a class which controls the vastness of the socially produced wealth, while the rest of us needlessly struggle.
The essential difference is that they control, by way of law and brute force alike, the tools used in common to produce all of society’s wealth. They do not need to work for a wage. All they do is own, sell, and invest. They sit, like a king, upon the artifacts of common production, self-assured that they have a god-given right to command.
This is the tyranny of the owners over the producers. The workers, all those who labor in common to produce and reproduce society every day, have the right to control the products of their labor. The problems of poverty of the world stem from the fact that they, as of yet, do not.
In order to solve the problems of our world, mass democracy on a previously unknown scale is needed. If the people who work in and run the world have complete economic and political power in all aspects of life, they will run the world better and with more prosperity than our current rulers. How, and why, will mass democracy bring us closer to a world we all want to live in? The problems that face civilization today are best solved by the workers themselves. It is simply common sense that those persons who live in and run the world should have control over the world. No human being has a god-given right to control the labor of others, without themselves laboring, and without those others having a say in the process of labor itself. This is the basic moral principle behind mass democracy.
The existence of poverty is because the owners of productive property control the products of our common labor. They sell to market, in competition with other owners of productive property, without regard to human needs. We already produce more than enough for make life prosperous, free, and leisurely for all. But because the social system of capitalism requires that all things be sold, and that all profits of sale must be invested for more profitability, poverty persists among plenty. Distribution by sale is now becoming obsolete because of the sheer mass of common productive powers. Scarcity is a thing of the past. The growing perception that society is wrong, is only a reflection of this fact.
Capitalism has developed technology and innovation in all sectors. This the defenders of capitalism are correct about, no doubt. What they fail to see (or perhaps ignore) is that as capitalism develops the productive powers of humanity, it makes itself obsolete. As more and more is produced, and more efficiently, distribution by market becomes illogical. As our machines become more advanced, less human labor is needed to make the same goods. As transport and communication become more global, national borders become utterly silly… sustaining them a drain on our collective energies.
And yet, we still sell by market despite the abundance. We still compete feverishly for the “best jobs” when our machines are capable. We kill each other for being born a few hundred kilometers too far in the wrong direction. This isn’t because capitalism is natural or inevitable. It’s because certain actors, part of the ruling class of owners and investors, have a vested interest in the system. They gain from it where we toil under it. Their tyranny has sustained capitalism long after it was perfectly logical to abandon it.
If the workers who make everything in common, control everything in common, then they will have the freedom to produce for the common good, rather than for market sale. As a result, poverty can be wiped out and our working hours can also be reduced. Fifty hour, even forty hour working weeks are absurd, an artifact of a social system of un-elected capitalists under constant pressure to compete profitably with other capitalists. With their rule vanquished, and the tools and technology of common production actually under common control, society can reorganize labor to produce for all of our needs with fewer hours of labor and less waste. This means more free time and a healthier environment.
Those who make all things in the world, those who live in the world, drink its water, breathe its air, are the ones who should be in control of the world. Capitalism has done its job: in the 500 or so years of its existence, it has elevated technology and industry to a level where human misery can be abolished and want destroyed. But now it stands in the way of our common progress, and it must be swept aside. Only when the power is secured with the people will the future really begin.