As I have discussed elsewhere , homo sapiens is unique among the animal species found on Earth. In order to survive, its members for the most part have to, or desire to, convert the various resources found on the Earth, animal, vegetable and mineral, into other forms, objects, or items. The mechanisms for doing this include hunting/gathering, agriculture, crafts production, and individual and mass manufacturing. The first of these was, as far as we know, a shared activity/function. Once societies became more technologically adept and the various means for conversion/production were developed, ownership of the means of production, whether they be organized agriculture beyond individual farming, or the organized production of crafts, or eventually, as the technology was developed, manufacturing, became privatized. In the industrial age, this system --- defined by the private ownership of the means of production--- was organized under an economic construct which we call "capitalism."
Capitalism has two major goals: to produce profits for the capitalists (owners) from the trading and manufacturing processes as well as enabling them to accumulate additional amounts of capital. "Profit" is defined as an excess value beyond the value of the plant, raw materials, and labor required to produce the particular product. To do this, the capitalists employ workers who by their work add value to the plant, equipment, and raw materials supplied by the capitalists. The profits thus come from the value added (known in Marxist terms as "surplus value") by the workers which are not returned to them in the form of wages and benefits.
Karl Marx by Robert Diedrichs, 1970. Courtesy WikiCommons. He explained it all; still the best one we have.
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Throughout the history of capitalism, the
owners and the workers have been in a constant struggle over the share of the
surplus value produced by the workers that actually goes back to them. In
Marxist terms, that conflict forms part of what is known as "class struggle." The other part is over the control of the
governmental apparatus that controls the operation of the economic system in
which the means of production operate and are operated. Lenin defined this governmental apparatus in
summary terms as "the State." The
controllers of the State are known as the "ruling class." Under capitalism, that is, of course, the capitalists,
the owners of the means of production.
Beginning in the 19th century, in the industrialized countries, workers began organizing themselves politically (through political parties) and economically (through trade unions) to attempt to gain a larger share, over time, of the surplus value that their labor produced, as well as some level of control over the organs of state power. It happens, when one looks back at the history of the 20th century (excluding the period of the two World Wars but including the period of the Cold War -- otherwise known as the last 47 years of The 75 Years War Against the Soviet Union), that there were periods of time in the several major capitalist countries of Western Europe and North America in which, through the bourgeois democratic process as defined by the ruling class, at least some workers got at least some reasonable share of the surplus value they produced. These times corresponded with, varying from country to country, their political and economic strength.
But with certain exceptions here and there,
capitalists have never been much on sharing. One
response of 20thcentury capitalism to a growth in the strength of
the labor movement in a given country was the imposition of fascism. Briefly, fascism is a system of unitary,
total, non-democratic control of the state apparatus by a given political party
in a capitalist nation, through the institution of dictatorship. The classic, 20thcentury, form of
fascism, imposed by the ruling class to crush the rising strength of the
working class, was of course to be found (with differences in the details) in
Italy, Germany, and Japan.
Capitalism, in its own terms, has been hugely successful. Indeed, in this century, with the advent of globalization, it has triumphed around the world. As the union- and political strength of the workers in the old industrialized countries has declined while the availability of cheap labor in the industrializing countries has become ever more wide-spread, profits have risen ever-higher. At the same time, the concentration of both income and wealth has become ever more tightly controlled by those at the top-end of the economic scale. In the 20th century, workers in the capitalist ("bourgeois") democratic states were able to express their dis-satisfaction with their shares through both political and trade-union activity. But, as noted, in most capitalist countries these institutions have been effectively destroyed. 21st century workers in the capitalist countries (that is, most countries with any kind of developed industrial economy) no longer have their traditionally effective means of protest. Thus, they are much less are they able to fight back in the attempt to get a greater share of the pie, as they did to some extent in the 20th century.
However, the problems experienced by most national working classes have been exacerbated in the 21st century. But, with no place to go on the Left many workers have been wooed over to support the Right, both with false promises of governmental programs in their interest plus strong appeals to various forms of racism and xenophobia. There are numerous European countries in which this has already happened, such as Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Poland. There are others in which the Right is in the process of gathering serious support, such as Austria, Germany, and Italy. But of course, the prime example is the Trumpite U.S.
Now as is well-known the U.S. has had a serious infection of white supremacy and racism from the time of its founding. In modern times, the Republican Party has been exploiting this infection since the time of Goldwater. As I have said previously, Trump has simply ripped the mask off what has been Republican political policy for the last half-century-plus. And then, because there is no effective Left alternative--- even of the capitalist sort --- in the U.S., through the use of wide-open racism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and mysogny, Trump has been able to appeal to a chunk of the white working class in the United States which is indeed being squeezed evermore tightly by the triumph of the capitalists, as epitomized by none other than Donald J. Trump. (Actually, we of course don't know just how economically successful or not he personally has been. Possibly one of history's most successful con men, but it may all be a bluff, that is a con on a gigantic scale. But that is another story.)
Yes, of course there is the marvelously effective Republican propaganda machine, led as it has been since the 1990s by Fox"News" and more recently by Breitbart and its clones. But as capitalism, in its own terms, has become ever more successful, producing ever-rising profits and ever-further concentrations of wealth and income, workers have been more-and-more left behind. When leaders like Trump, and those in the European countries that are going in the same direction, can effectively mobilize hatred of "the other," as well as make obviously false promises of "draining the swamp" (see the membership of his cabinet) and "making Washington work for you" (see the massive Republican Income Upwards Re-Distribution Act of 2017), in the absence of any effective Left, a certain proportion of the workers are going to gravitate to their message. This is one thing that Trump got absolutely right. You can fool some of the people all of the time: P.T. Barnum, in the forthcoming movie, "The Greatest Showman."
Jumbo feeds baby Castoria. GOP tax plan: from one Repub. to another
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In summary, in many of the industrialized capitalist countries, capitalism has triumphed to an extent never before seen. On its way to victory, capitalism destroyed most vestiges of effective opposition that it had previously allowed within the system. But workers have grievances and they are intensifying. And so, if there is no Left, where do they go? Some, particularly those susceptible to the racism and xenophobia of Trump and his cohorts, go to the Right, of course. The rest wait for the Re-Birth of the Left.
This column is based in part on my previous column, "Brexit, the Crisis of Capitalism, and Immigration," June 30, 2106, which appeared at: