This original article by Toilers’ Struggle’s author is being republished as part of the reorganization process.
Inspired by the growth and dynamism of the occupy movement and its general message, the issue of social inequality and its consequences has once again become a near ubiquitous topic of conversation and debate.
No longer is it being contemplated and expressed in the form of tasteless and cruel jokes about so-called lazy, mooching individuals who cannot pull their own weight in society, who deserve, more or less, what they get. Millions have found themselves forced to confront, in the physical forms of public campsites, mass protests, demonstrations, and constant media reports, the shameful realities in which generalized social inequality between rich and poor has accelerated and deepened profoundly since the economic crisis began several years ago and how more and more people who previously felt inoculated from the pressures of being hurled downward into the status of gross poverty have felt the pinch. This has resulted in the beginnings of a cultural redefinition and transformation of how we approach and consider the matter of social inequality as well as how we react to it.
A (very) brief history of social inequality
Since the dawn of civilization and the emergence of class society, social inequality has been both a man-made creation as well as a burden bequeathed by nature. Whereas the property-holding ruling classes of history’s past were able to live the most lavish of lifestyles and express the most decadent human excesses through their exploitation of the labor of others, the productive forces (the tools and resources we use to create our means to existence) also limited the ability of mankind to facilitate the creation of inexpensive but quality materials and products to ensure everyone a prosperous existence.
The capitalist class and its system of production, distribution, and exchange of our needs and wants, and directly as a result of business competition, developed the productive forces of humanity to degrees unimaginable prior to. Yet the productive potential inherent did not lead to any mitigation in the levels of general social inequality that existed; in many ways, they were reinforced or intensified as the capitalists sought to profit as much as they could off the backs of their workers – just like all other ruling classes that existed previously.
As the capitalist system matured and won victories for itself across the world, it also began a process of decline as the more advanced capitalist nations (i.e., the USA, Britain, France, and Germany) found it ever more difficult to ensure profits on the scale needed to sustain massive corporations that emerged out of a long course of mergers and conquests of market rivals. Social gains made by workers in struggle had to be rolled back. The working class had to pay and pay dearly with its standard of living to ensure the capitalists could accumulate as much wealth as they could in a situation of increasing costs and declining profits.
The credit crunch and crisis of 2008 emerged as a financial meltdown that was the expression of a much more deep-seated crisis of profitability that had been building up in the global system since the 1970s. Social inequality between workers and bosses had already grown by leaps and bounds between those years. As the recession ripped, and as the capitalists sought to profit as much as they could from the downturn, workers wages were slashed, benefits were either cut or eliminated, pensions, healthcare, and social services were put up on the chopping block, unemployment rocketed to levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and all while the richest investors, bankers, and financiers saw profits grow to new, historic heights.
The integral crisis of capitalism, of its private profitability, the social austerity for the producers and service cuts for the poor, the increasing wealth for the layabout owners and shareholders, of a society witnessing itself divided acutely between those with fabulous, fantastic wealth and power at one pole and increasing misery, poverty, and suffering for countless millions at the other, social inequality has become a powder keg; it has reached somewhat of a boiling point whereby it has compelled hundreds of thousands worldwide to take to the streets, establish protest camps, and bring down governments to emphasize vehemently to the super-rich 1% that these realities were no longer to be tolerated as such and that whether they liked it or not the situation was going to change.
The destitution and deplorable consequences as a result of a decaying capitalism in crisis were brought out from the shadows, brought out from those individuals suffering in relative isolation from one another, those unable to tell their stories, and made public in common displays of frustration and indignation. And while it is still rather rough-hewn, a general class hatred of the rich and of their political system has re-emerged and proliferated.
Far from the past narrative of the poor and downtrodden being berated as the cause of their own situation, now it is rightly the rich and their politicians in government who have become the target of ire as those directly responsible for the stagnation in the economy, their unwillingness to help pay the costs of a recession they stated previously required the cooperation of all in making “sacrifices,”and the vast private hoards of social wealth they have amassed in the process.
So how is this possible? How could this “most perfect of economic systems,” as capitalism is so often described, foment such glaring and disgusting social inequality, one that puts billions in the hands of a tiny 1% of humanity while billions below it live and work in worsening poverty?
The roots of inequality
Present-day structural social inequality has its roots in the capitalist mode of production and distribution. Under capitalism workers receive only a small portion of the total value they create in a given workday. We are paid, depending of course on the concrete situation in the labor-market, only what the capitalists believe we need to keep ourselves functioning and upbeat enough to return to work day in and day out in order to produce quality products or services.
At the end of the day, the products we create or the services we perform belong to or are done in the financial interests of the bosses. They then offer up such proceeds of labor for sale on the market and pocket the price of sale over the costs. Hence, capitalists “earn” money by doing nothing more than robbing workers and appropriating the value created through their labor. One of the most basic of social conditions for capitalism to function is for the owners of the means to produce our needs and wants to do whatever it takes to acquire more and more of the social wealth created through the labor of the working class for themselves.
Taken to its logical conclusion with the development of capitalism over hundreds of years, the capitalists have accumulated vast sums of social wealth while the working majority finds itself not only living in poverty, in a situation vastly unequal with the bosses in power, but is also forcibly prevented from changing its circumstances of existence through the control and utilization of advanced technology to meet human needs and not capitalist greed.
Overcoming social inequality
What is truly remarkable about current social struggles and movements developing against Wall Street and the bankers is that they recognize the fact that the current levels social inequality and the depredation inflicted on the 99% are not the results of some innate, natural process; it is the bosses, their system, and their greed that has driven more and more into conditions of social deprivation.
Previously, and up until quite recently, it was the arguments of the neo-Malthusians that shaped the discourse on social inequality. Overpopulation and a dearth of required resources were blamed for the high levels of poverty witnessed around the world and the general inequality of social conditions that accompanied them. The possibility that there was actually plenty of goods to go around, that humanity had reached pillars of productive capabilities unknown throughout the its history despite its massive growth in population, that the system by which we as a people distributed the products of labor made impossible the fundamental redressing of social inequality was not considered.
Once we understand modern poverty and social inequality as the systemic outgrowth of capitalism can we start to do something about them. And there is evidence that such a connection is being solidified by thousands of young people, the unemployed, students, trade unionists, and workers of all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. The struggle against rampant social inequality is a struggle against capitalism. By taking power and control out of the hands of the bosses in the workplace and bringing down their poverty-facilitating, austerity government, the working class portion of the 99% can use what has been bequeathed to us by capitalism to eliminate for good poverty and crass differences in social inequality that have developed.
Only a social revolution that does this can effectively put the masses into power and set about fulfilling the task of constructing a new, better society based on democratic planning of the economy for human need not private greed, genuine democracy for the producers, collective ownership, and therefore social, political, and economic equality. This is the sole means by which the world’s woes can be overcome.
December 8, 2011