by Rainer Shea
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Rainer’s Newsletter, Mar. 10, 2023
March 20, 2023
American workers are stuck in a prison, a prison that they’re kept in through the perpetual threat of homelessness. This isn’t truly a rhetorical point, it’s an empirically proven reality. Nearly two-thirds of the country’s workers are now living paycheck to paycheck, meaning this last year’s inflation has made them easier to coerce. That’s the directly stated goal of the capitalist ruling class at this stage. A Bank of America memo from last year said decreased worker living standards will represent greater leverage for employers. The consequences of this are the destruction of these people’s mental and physical wellbeing. They’re being strained, abused, and exploited while having to choose between this and living on the streets.
In response to a viral video about this from last year, where a transgender Starbucks barista reacted to harassment from a transphobic customer by breaking down, Redditors who can relate to the barista to some degree have observed what a grim situation people like them face:
“I was a Starbucks barista and the hours weren’t the problem. The problem is they are cutting labor, we’re expected to endure abuse from customers, and we were sometimes not even given breaks that were mandated by law.”
“[The barista was] apparently neurodivergent, according to the original video, which, yknow, probably has a whole lot to do with why he had a breakdown in the first place. I’d like these “GET A REAL JOB” clowns try to function in a fast paced customer service job while being stuck with a brain that likes to throw up a blue screen of death every time it gets too much sensory input. These jobs are absolute HELL for those of us on the spectrum and there’s next to no resources to help us cope with that. I wish more people realized that.”
“Doesn’t help that Starbucks has a cult-like work culture where corporate tells their staff to value high customer connection, low drive times, drink standards with no short cuts, and store cleanliness. Oh, and do all this while understaffed since they’re not gonna pay enough to maintain a fully staffed store. All their values contradict each other under the best of circumstances, but with labor shortages it’s all but impossible. But they’re gonna keep telling the serfs to do it all because that’s the Starbucks way. /end rant. Anyway, as someone who unfortunately works there, 8 hours is definitely too long most days lol.”
This is the routine that workers are trapped in. The only reason they “choose” it is because it’s the only way they can avoid something potentially even worse. Which is why the breakdown that American capitalism is experiencing, where in incremental steps the system’s vitality goes away, represents an ultimately good thing. To an accelerating degree, the proletarians have been becoming de-proletarianized, shoved out of their jobs and into the economy’s periphery by a system that’s contracting too much to accommodate them. We saw this when the 2008 crisis turned into what’s been a permanent depression for the working class. We saw this when the corporations handled the pandemic by rendering tens of millions terminally unemployed or underemployed. We’re seeing this as the new housing crisis exacerbates all the other economic stress factors which drive workers out of the workforce.
As this latest downturn develops into what’s already become the worst housing catastrophe in the country’s history, and can only get worse due to the Fed’s unsustainable crisis mitigation measures, the proportion of people who can no longer access the old normal lifestyle can only go up. The last generation experienced the loss of the “American dream,” this one is experiencing the loss of the meager new substitute for that dream.
It’s not just that this collapse process is making more of the imperial center’s workers alienated from the means of production. It’s that it’s making more of them unable to even participate in these means. They’ve been freshly deprived of their ability to be proletarians. According to anecdotal evidence from my activism experiences, this is making more of them into revolutionaries, as their unemployment has given plenty of them the sense that they might as well take action within their communities. This little source of hope is the first hint of the opportunity that the revolutionary movement is going to gain. Because the moment is coming when American capitalism’s breakdown vastly speeds up, and when many millions more are put in that same situation of being separated from the economy’s core workings. Whether the catalyst is a power grid breakdown, an even more destructive pandemic, or simply the new economic unraveling we’re seeing the initial stages of, the end outcome is a scenario where the workforce has been greatly shrunken. That’s what the elites are consciously driving towards, as they’re working to replace as many workers as possible with AI devices.
With no revolutionary organizational structure to guide this growing, hollowed-out element of society, it can’t use its freedom from the capitalist routine to assert its own power. It can at best join the lumpenproletariat, which is a social class that can’t constitute a revolutionary vanguard so long as it remains detached from the means of production. That’s what’s happened in my Northern California area amid its perpetual economic collapse of the last generation, which has led to the emergence of a new black economy that depends on crude scams. The dispossession of the people will only produce revolution when we’ve built the institutional forces that can educate, train, and mobilize the people towards overthrowing the capitalist state, and then establishing a workers state.
Such forces will have to be genuinely separate from the state, including the state’s liberal ideological wing the Democratic Party. This means being principled anti-imperialists, because the way the Democratic Party gains influence over radical spaces is by fooling radicals into thinking they must compromise on anti-imperialism to appeal to liberals. Liberals are not the only demographic we need to try to win over. If we view them as the ones who solely hold the power to make us succeed, we’ll simply end up rendering ourselves too compromised to win.
During the present moment, the dividing boundary in this geopolitical narrative war is Ukraine, though that will change once the empire shifts to a new propaganda epicenter. Winning the geopolitical war is what will shift the balance of power, and give these prisoners and outcasts of capital the opportunity to defeat the system. As when the organizing spaces which represent the class liberation movement become narratively freed from Democrat control, the state’s means for holding back the movement will be lost, and the class struggle will escalate.
After that point, the nature of the fight will switch to something more direct. The state will resort to the raids, extrajudicial arrests, massacres, paramilitary violence, and bombings it’s employed throughout history. Censorship will become even more intense, and the state will now have to narratively justify what’s in effect a war against its own people. That will be when the great test of our struggle comes. If we’re unprepared, we’ll be crushed, and the people will continue to live either under dictatorial corporations or in lumpen desperation. If we’ve gotten the training programs, means for mass mobilization, and education necessary for winning against the state, we’ll free the people.
Rainer uses the written word to deconstruct establishment propaganda and to promote meaningful political action. His articles can also be found at Revolution Dispatch.
If you appreciate my work, I hope you become a one-time or regular donor to my Patreon account. Like most of us, I’m feeling the economic pinch during late-stage capitalism, and I need money to keep fighting for a new system that works for all of us. Go to my Patreon here. Follow Rainer on Twitter, Youtube and Substack.
From the archives:
Ralph Nader, Dahr Jamail and Matthew Hoh: Iraq War—Twenty Years Later + Peace in Ukraine – Say NO to Endless U.S. Wars
Finian Cunningham and Jodi Dean: Western Capitalism’s Historic Crisis: There’s Actually A Socialist Alternative
One Year of Ukraine War: The World Demands Peace + Vijay Prashad: How Far Will it Go?
American Capitalism’s Growing Dysfunction, by Rainer Shea
Inflation, Layoffs, and the $1 Trillion War Budget, by Scott Scheffer
Kill Capitalism Before It Kills Us, by Paul Street
Daniel Lazare: America’s Fate: Revolution or Fascism? interviewed by Finian Cunningham
Collapse Isn’t A Politically Neutral Thing, by Rainer Shea
This Is What It Looks Like When An Empire Cannibalizes Itself, by Rainer Shea
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If Mr Shea were serious about “promoting meaningful political action”, then he might begin by allowing serious debate on his own Substack site where he routinely bans anyone who disagrees with him. Not all of us socialists share his openly Stalinist views, but all of us have something to say to open our minds, and maybe his too.
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It is a mistake to think that the capitalists are united. Each capitalist’s goal is to enrich himself, and he can only do that if he has customers with money in their pockets. That happens if some of the =other= capitalists are paying decent wages. If you think about that for a while you see one of the main contradictions inherent in capitalism: each capitalist trying to climb over the backs of other capitalists. The system is only maintained by a delicate balance that fails frequently, resulting in “depression” or “recession” or other such states. The contradiction’s overall result is constant chaotic agitation and suffering for those who are not rich. That agitation is called “the churn” by the character Amos Burton in the television series “The Expanse” (I don’t know whether that’s in the novels too). I think that’s a good descriptive name for it.
I’ve just asked a friend of mine who is a big fan of “The Expanse.” She tells me that there is an entire novella titled “The Churn,” devoted to that topic. The author is James S. A. Corey. I’ll have to read it now, to see whether I should start recommending it to people for political insight.
Thanks, Lefty. I so enjoyed The Expanse.
Well, now I’ve read the novella. It turns out that what Corey had in mind by the term “the churn” was something a little different than what I was thinking about capitalism. That’s more apparent in the novella than in the tv series. Still, if I may be permitted to give a slightly different meaning to the term, I think the word “churn” is a good description for the way that capitalism grinds down so many people.