Electronic Revolution and the New Class of the Structurally
(page 1 of
By Nelson Peery / National Organizing Committee
at this conference on high technology is no small accomplishment
for a person who, in his youth, worked with a horse
and a plow. But perhaps only a person who has done such
work has seen enough changes in the economy to visualize
what the current ongoing historic changes in this economy
mean for our social future.
with that horse and plow of my youth, I had a grandfather
who was full of pat country phrases. One of his favorites
that I've learned to appreciate was, "A heap see
and few know." As I watch the political sycophants
of big business carrying out the charade that they call
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."
Teenage 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 people were stunned by the socioeconomic
catastrophe around us and while they were believing
the malarkey coming from those they thought were friends
history will record that Newt Gingrich was the best
thing that ever happened to the poor of this country.
When they get more of the same advice from those they
know who are their enemy, then perhaps 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 social services.
The important thing is to understand why this is happening
and what the political results are bound to be.
and why did government grow big with their alphabet
programs, and when and why did it suddenly need to shed
itself of these programs? The major tasks of government
is to create the social 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.
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 wars brought on by industrial
expansion, so a school lunch program was initiated.
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 each industrial expansion.
the rub. New means of production changed the game. Not
only are expanding sections of the working class superfluous
to production, but the new mode of high-tech production
no longer needs a reserve army of unemployed. Nor does
it need healthy young men for an infantry war. As industry
gave way to the new electronic means of production,
it downsized. The government necessarily had to follow
we knew the consequences of our actions, we probably
wouldn't get out of bed in the morning. The scientists
pursuing their craft could hardly visualize what the
engineers would do with the marvels they had created.
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
capitalists, in their scramble for the market and its
profits, realize the effects they were having on history.
Structurally Unemployed as a New Economic Category
the applications of these new scientific marvels to
the workplace expanded, a new economic category, the
structurally unemployed, was created. Some 150 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 were
something different. They were a new, growing, permanently
unemployed sector created by the new emerging economic
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 workforce was looked
upon as another brutal act of American racism. It was
difficult to see the effects 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 total African-American population
was higher than that of white laborers to the white
consequent creation of the ghetto the black, permanently
destitute, rotting inner core of the formerly central
working class area of the city was accepted as simply
the result of racist economic policies of capitalist
industry. The economists, their inquiry tainted with
racist ideology, unable to understand the difference
between a reserve army of the unemployed created by
industrial capitalism and the structural, permanent,
joblessness created by robotics, came up with the term
"underclass." This term actually was a derivative
or perhaps a takeoff from the Marxist term "lumpen
proletariat" or beneath the working class.
are the origins of that term? 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 the new classes. They
formed what Marx referred to as a lumpen proletariat.
This social flotsam, created at the beginnings of an
industrial capitalism, existed as best it could on the
periphery of society until the system finally absorbed
who coined the term "underclass" perhaps thought
this was a group unable to keep up, and once falling
behind and supported by welfare, consciously accepting
an existence outside the capitalist relations of employer
and employee. Perhaps they saw them as something akin
to the lumpen proletariat of the beginnings of industrial
allowed for this term to be quickly and widely accepted. From
the battlements once 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 subculture
of immorality and criminality in the midst of a great expansion
of wealth and productivity. More