Marxism is Abolitionism
As I sit here in my office cube, restrained from leaving work by the necessity to bring home money to keep a roof over my head, heat, electricity, food, medical care and paying for retirement – I might as well have shackles. Now I’m not a literal slave – though many in the world still are, either by physical compulsion, prison or debt. In the twenty-millions, and that is all a side effect of capitalism, made possible by capitalism. 1 million prisoners work for almost free for corporations in the U.S. Chattel slavery was defeated in the U.S. in 1865, after all, yet there are still debt slaves and some literal slaves in the U.S. But the majority are now virtual slaves, ‘wage’ slaves. Some people will get angry about the use of the word ‘slave’ in this context, but then, it is not, even by definition, owned by any one category or people.
Many of you reading this are chained to one job or two or even three. Even the homeless in the U.S. have ‘jobs,’ even the hungry, even drug dealers. It may be blue collar, white collar, pink collar, it might be well-compensated or poorly-compensated, it might be union or non-union or just plain part time, at-home or day-labor. You may dream of being independently wealthy, being your own boss as a businessman, artisan, artist or independent contractor. Most of us just want a better wage for our labor. Or to get a job that doesn’t bore to tears. This is the bit of freedom that exists. Bargaining with the dominant class to soften our imprisonment. Another crust of bread, please, sir?
For the hundreds of years of African slavery in the U.S., in the Caribbean and in South American countries like Brazil, ‘abolitionism’ meant the abolition of slavery. Now the funny part here is that being an ‘abolitionist’ was not the most popular duty in those days. Now it is. We can all watch ’12 Years a Slave” and go, tsk, tsk. What a horrible institution.
Yet Marxism is looked at as something beyond the pale. Well, chattel slavery abolitionism was beyond the pale for many years. It took a civil war in the U.S. for it to become acceptable. It took a revolution by the slaves in Haiti for it to become acceptable there.
Marxism is merely the abolitionism of the wage slave.
Now why do I say this? Well, ask your fellow worker if he or she thinks they are a ‘wage slave.’ Depending on their mood, nearly all will say ‘no.’ Yet is this not odd? Of course, no one has ever told them about the concept. This is America, after all. We are taught that working for the profits of others, having our conditions of labour mostly dictated to us, having our living conditions dictated by various employers, landlords, banks and their government, and living for the weekends - is ‘eternal’ and normal. Other than work, workers are supposed to go to school, get married, have babies, produce more workers, have parties and die. That is ‘life,’ but it is not all of the life that can be had. Most of it is really taken up working, usually for someone else, the boss, now euphemistically called a ‘supervisor’ or ‘manager.’ Working dominates almost everything. Even sleeping takes second place – as, other than dreams and recuperation, it is a void. Entertainment and much ‘culture’ is designed to hide this simple fact, as it rarely engages in the thing that we all do the most. Isn’t that odd?
Yet do you think all the slaves in the U.S. south thought chattel slavery would end? Do you think all the slaves sat around thinking about Nat Turner or Demark Vesey every day? Making weapons? Or how they wanted their own farms? Or when to run from the plantation? Or sabotage? Not really. They actually taught the slave-owners how to raise rice – as it had been done in Africa very efficiently. They invented the practice of inoculation, which was then ‘borrowed’ by the slave owners. I believe the majority of slaves thought slavery was … eternal, and they just tried to get by day by day. Just as many think that working for the ‘man’ is eternal. And try to get by, day by day.
Now let’s get back to the slave at issue. The wage slave. You. Can you envision any other way of living? Perhaps making work something less ‘slave-like?’ I think you can.
March 3, 2014