Speculating on where growing inequality in the United States might lead, economist Robert H. Frank warned in the New York Times that “extreme inequality might one day spawn a violent revolution, as has happened in many other countries.” But he quickly added that this was “hardly something to hope for.” (1)
Whether revolution is something to hope for depends on which side of the growing inequality divide you’re on. Contra Frank, people working for desperation-level wages, or forced into idleness, or bearing the brunt of government austerity programs, may indeed hope for a revolution.
On the same day Frank’s warning appeared, the Times explored a growing reality for tens of millions of retail workers, who want full-time jobs but are increasingly relegated to low-paying, part-time work and lives of poverty. Might they hope for a revolution?
Part-time workers in the U.S. service industry average $10.92 an hour, compared to an average of $17.18 for the dwindling number of full-time workers. Replacing full-time jobs with part-time hours means businesses cut costs and pay out more to management and shareholders. Employees get the shaft.
It has always been true that business and political leaders don’t care a whit about you and me, but in North America, Western Europe and Japan, there was a time when labor militancy, strong unions, and ideological competition with the Soviet Union bought concessions that raised the material standard and economic security of the bulk of people.
No more. The number of unionized workers has shrunk, communist and socialist parties have disappeared, wizened or marched resolutely to the right, and businesses have intensified their exploitation of workers, with their political servants paving the way.
Business leaders and politicians don’t “give a fuck about you and me”, the organic intellectual George Carlin once observed.
True, but as the Frank article makes clear, there is one respect in which business and political leaders do care about everyone else—whether we’ll turn to revolution.
1. Robert H. Frank, “When low taxes don’t help the rich”, The New York times, October 27, 2012
4 thoughts on “It’s a Big Club—And You’re Not in It”
“… communist and socialist parties have disappeared, wizened or marched resolutely to the right… ”
This isn’t true of all communist parties, even if it is true of some. Most countries have active and ideologically sound parties (although the level of “soundness” is bound to vary somewhat, as has always been the case).
We should join our communist parties, learn from them, and fight for Marxist-Leninist positions. We certainly should not dismiss them as relics from another era or being somehow otherwise irrelevant – that’s doing the work of the Right on their behalf (not that I’m accusing, for a single moment, this article of doing anything like that).
Relatively few parties have disappeared completely, those that have marched to the right have been replaced by others that show no signs of doing so, and there are growing numbers of young communists around, too (although it would be fair to say they do not currently exist in system-threatening numbers in the West, capitalism’s continuing decay will inevitably swell their ranks).
And if this is true in the heartlands of imperialism (US, Canada, EU, etc) then it is all the more so outside of the imperialist countries.
If anyone on the Left (broadly speaking) has marched rightwards to oblivion it’s the social-democrats and the non-Marxist / anti-Marxist, “small s” socialists.
True, the international communist movement of 2012 does not, unfortunately, possess the the strength it did up until the late 1980s – but it is still strong, and now faces a historical moment of great opportunity. We just don’t hear much about all that it in the West (no surprise there).
Building on the past successes of this movement and its constituent parties, and critically understanding and learning from its mistakes and setbacks, can best be done by joining the national/regional communist party and actively participating in political struggle. There is no substitute for this.
“The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice” (from Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach).
P.S. Really great to see the continuing flow of outstanding analysis from this page, particularly with regard to the anti-imperialist output around Syria, Libya, Iran, etc. – which happens to be another area in which the communist party (in Canada, where I’m resident, but also among other parties) has been virtually the only voice on the Left not regurgitating imperialist garbage.
Maybe the ruling class would just get into it. ‘A capitalist will sell you the rope to hang him with’ — and then he’ll demonstrate its use on your neck.
History is a cycle of wealth concentration and wealth redistribution and back again. We are at the extreme end of wealth concentration now. Interesting things will happen in the near future.
Yes, correct of course. But what really scares me is the thought of what they are capable of doing in order to _prevent_ social change. Social and political forms in western “democracies” grow more and more authoritarian. Just think about the policy of the Obama-administration when it comes to drone-assassinations!