Capitalism without a working class

Karl Marx and other socialists believed that capitalism depended on exploitation of workers, and that workers could liberate themselves by taking control of the means of production.

But the driving force in capitalism today is to eliminate workers as much as possible.  Manufacturing jobs are being eliminated through automation.  Now service jobs are being eliminated through use of artificial intelligence.

The end result would be a capitalism without workers—just investment in capital goods such as robots and AIs.

I don’t say this would ever happen completely, and it wouldn’t happen any time soon, but this is the direction we’re heading.

Treating people as unnecessary, and telling them that they are unnecessary, is wrong and very dangerous.

Almost everyone has it in them to do something that is useful and beneficial to others.  An economic system should be set up to honor and encourage this.  Investing in machines rather than investing in people is a choice, not a law of nature.


David Harvey, the Marxist geographer, an interview reprinted by Jacobin magazine from the Spanish magazine Catasi, remarked as follows—

In the 1980s-90s there was a lot of deindustrialization in the West, much of it due to technological change, and the Left tried to defend against this in order to protect traditional working-class populations.

But it lost that battle, losing a lot of credibility in the process.  Now we are seeing artificial intelligence is going to do the same thing to services as automation did to manufacturing.  The Left is in danger of protecting something that is going to disappear for technological reasons.

I think we should be a creative left that embraces AI, automation and the whole idea of completely new job and employment structures — pushing far ahead of where capital is at in that regard.

But that also means an alternative politics.  The classical working class no longer exists in many countries, and the basis of traditional-left politics has disappeared along with it.  Of course, it hasn’t gone away entirely, but it’s been seriously undermined.

So, we need a new form of left approach focused on what I’d call anti-capitalist politics: not simply focused on the workplace, but on the conditions of everyday life, of housing, of social provision, of concern for the environment, of cultural change and cultural transformation.

Source: Karl Marx Is Useful for Our Time, Not Just His

On the other hand, catastrophic climate change may create a world in which the labor of everyone is needed for survival and all these issues are wiped off the blackboard.

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2 Responses to “Capitalism without a working class”

  1. silverapplequeen Says:

    I went to Jacobin & read the article. I agree with David Harvey wholeheartedly. As someone who voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, it is refreshing to find out why I was so thoroughly betrayed by him & that vote. Losing welfare was a real blow to single mothers like myself. I specifically wanted free healthcare for the United States & I am STILL WAITING. I was pregnant when I cast that vote for Clinton in 1992 …. my son is now 26 years old.


  2. philebersole capitalism without a working class | Homo Symbolicus's Blog Says:

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