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Moment of Truth: The Thank You For Your Service Economy

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

People are wondering, okay, what's next? After the current order destroys itself, what fresh horror will emerge? Now that the contradictions of democracy perverted by capitalism have revealed themselves, after the snake eats its tail, and chews all the way up into its own heart, what misshapen, radiation-mutated phoenix will rise from its ashes?

Recent think pieces have bemoaned the failure of the left. Rightly so. Quite rightly. The diagnosis is a lack of Leninism in the blood. Leninism is nostalgically pined for both for its leadership and its roots in the laboring class.

The reason for the left's suspicion of a Leninist vanguard party is clear enough, with China and the former Soviet Empire providing spectacular examples of the pitfalls of allowing anti-democratic, authoritarian regimes to dominate the fight, even the rhetorical fight, for economic justice. Even before Stalin, on whose shoulders most of the historical burden of Soviet totalitarianism is heaped, Lenin's treatment of soviets daring to assert autonomy, and the prematurely Orwellian impulses evinced by the Bolshevik party, were enough to give Emma Goldman pause. No romanticism of the professional revolutionaries of the early 20th Century is going to wash away the gray flavor of oppressive social engineering and attempts to stamp out bourgeois, culturally and sexually exploratory, and religious values from above. In the USA, the fear the left has maintained of despotic rule is the Jeffersonian one giving the Constitution its suspicion of concentrating power in any one of the three branches of government. Unfortunately, the framers were notoriously lacking in sufficient suspicion of capital, but that's our burden now, isn't it?

Then there's the other question of what the left misses of Lenin's charms: why has the left become so isolated from labor? Everyone on the left I know who has tried to return to their ideological roots in the working class has maintained some distance from wage slavery. I've known progressives that turned to organic farming. Many, of course, become teachers. I know middle-class people, or those who assume they're middle-class, who have eschewed the class-enemy status of what we call "the professions" for something more like trades: furniture makers, chefs, bicycle mechanics, nurses, journalists, barbers, electricians. Contractors of various types. People who work with their hands or their minds or their environment in beautiful ways. This is how they escape the drudgery that is work, by finding the dignity in it. But dignified work is not what working-class work is about.

I have a friend who became an EMT and then a fireman, who finds himself an ideological outlier among his coworkers. The truly working class people I have any contact with from my past are cops or in some arm of the justice system, and every one of them stands at least as far right as "conservative," if not further. The one thing even they have in common with those who seek economic justice, though, is an aversion to wage slavery.

Everyone's keen on avoiding wage slavery. Some are satisfied to get a salary, figuring as long as they're not being paid by the hour, they're not getting an hourly wage, so they're not wage slaves. Where unions have clung to any of their former power, it's been among those who want to make sure to keep themselves combative with the managerial class, and away from wage slavery. And that impulse in itself has kept them at odds with the masses which those who diagnose the left's problems call "the working class." Unions have become cast as anti-worker, and, inasmuch as they're a hedge against wage-slavery, they are.

How are we ever going to return to the beautiful Leninist solidarity with the worker if we're legitimately afraid of becoming him?

The sad fact is that the worker is doomed. We all know it. Since the industrial revolution, he's been doomed. No one wants to be him, and he even hates himself so much that he votes against his own interests at every opportunity, as if to plant his flag against himself right in his own foot.

Given that the worker is an ideological/cultural-aesthetic leper, is it any wonder that identity politics has replaced a broader economic critique? Who wouldn't rather organize as a woman or a transsexual or a black person than as a worker? Workers are wage slaves, and doomed. Their fight, even if it succeeds, will always end up with them working in a factory, or at a fryer, or pushing a broom. But when one fights for one's people, one is fighting not for a position on an assembly line, but for dignity, success, privilege, education, the ability to be a doctor or a pilot or a president of something, and to live in an upscale neighborhood with the winners, not in some tenement with the doomed workers.

Given all this, what is to be done? Specifically, what should the left be doing? Currently, the answer is, we just wait around for the capitalists to replace all the workers with robots, push the unemployed out into the street, and then either eradicate them in some mass extermination or provide them a basic income. Realistically, I'd say we're looking at a combination of extermination and welfare, like we have now, but more so.

But the extermination of the industrially useless, if pursued at the current pace, keeping up the appearance of death as an accidental byproduct of one's failure to secure a place in the meritocracy, is going to take forever. But a capitalism that takes the bull by the horns and clears its streets of tent encampments with flame-throwers or some other mechanical mass-murder street-sweeping machines would be courting a moral revolution, something neo-liberalism was designed to avoid.

While all this is happening, the fossil fuel industry is collapsing. Those in the elite with their wits about them are transitioning their investments to the war industry. Wars themselves are transitioning from conflicts over oil to conflicts over food and water. Arms and the making of war are going to dominate once the fossil fuel industry falls. The war economy is poised to replace the oil economy.

This is convenient for the left, because the military is the one part of the United States government that never suffers from austerity. It's ideologically immune from the right, and the neo-liberal non-conservative center likes to show it a grudging admiration as well.

If the masses of unemployable workers are not to be massacred in some quick and clever way, they must be maintained materially, but capitalists don't give sustenance for free. However, if you're in service to the military, it's arguable that you're inevitably in service to capital, and therefore worthy of life. What's being floated even now is a commitment to service as a rite of passage. Some kind of service. A year or two of service. What kind of service? What do you care? You'll be of service. How noble.

Universal basic income and universal healthcare are inevitable, but only in exchange for service. If citizenship and at least temporary or partial service can be conflated, and I'm sure they can, this is the path of least resistance. It could even be the end of the carceral state. Why keep people in prison, or effective prison, when you can put them into service?

And so we are destined for what we could call a service economy, right? You do your service, we include you in the economy.

Yet, aside from our usual task of convincing the powers that be to take care of people's basic needs, instead of exterminating them, where is there room for the left in this scheme of things? We can fight for equal distribution of upper-rank privileges in this service/war economic hierarchy, of course. And I guess we can try to make sure working conditions are dignified. It's the least we can do in solidarity with the laboring class.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day.

Moment of Truth


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