Automated Socialism or Robo-Feudalism
“What Is To Be Done in 2017?”
Let us discuss two futures.
In the first, the changing climate has been abated. The working masses of humanity have taken democratic control of not only their government, but their workplaces. They have decided, owners of Exxon be damned, that coal and oil must be retired, and renewable energy must be built up. They direct the wealth of all of society towards providing healthcare, education, and a quality of life for everyone. They are on their way to eliminating wealth inequality, because they have eliminated the class and government structures that create it. Automation continues to advance, but because it is held in common, its productivity is put to the service of meeting the needs and luxury desires of the increasingly shrinking working class. It is believed here that one day, robots will end work, freeing mankind to build a sustainable future across the stars.
In the second, we do not speak of climate change, but climate changeD. Billions around the world have died in wars over water, or through the desertification of food-growing regions. Hundreds of millions flee the coastlines as infrastructure is swallowed like Atlantis beneath the waves.
In the second, the wealthy have escaped the consequences. The CEOs of Exxon and Shell live in what we might call Robot Plantations: fully automated, walled-off compounds where farming, manufacture, and security are all completely automated. These plantations do not provide the breadth of luxury we have today, but they provide enough for a few billionaire families to live in comfort and leisure. At most, they decide what flavors the robots shall attempt to genetically engineer, or the shape of chair for the 3D printer. Perhaps they are consumed in war with other plantations over resources, or trade across the wastelands.
It is not as far-fetched as it may seem – major accounting firms say automation is expected to replace 38%1 of American jobs within the next 15 years alone. We are approaching an era of self-driving taxis, self-brewing lattes, and drone-delivered packages. It is estimated that of the 5 million jobs lost in manufacturing since 2000, 88% were due to automation rather than simply the result of “off-shoring.” And a growing number of billionaires is “increasingly concerned about basic American political stability and the risk of large-scale unrest,” so they are building bunkers, bomb shelters, and safe havens around the world. They already live in gated communities guarded by security cameras – is it so inconceivable that these cameras and gates could be replaced by armed, robot guards and impenetrable walls?
With robots like IBM's Watson performing cancer analyses, and general purpose robots like Baxter replacing lawyers, retail workers, and baristas, major sectors of both the manual labor and white-collar job markets will be filled with robots – and there will be nothing to replace them. CGP Grey points out that: “Today, the census measures hundreds of jobs, but they don't make up a significant portion of the economy.” And of the 32 jobs that employ the highest number of Americans, “With the transportation industry at the top – continuing down the list, all of this work existed in some form 300 years ago, and all of it is an easy target for automation.” Together, the list encompasses 45% of all jobs in America, and Grey points out that '”given that even in our technological wonderland, new kinds of work aren't a significant portion of the economy, this is a big problem. [Automation] is not bad, but rather, it is inevitable. It's a tool to produce abundance for little effort. We need to start thinking now about what to do when large sections of the population are unemployable. We need to start thinking about what to do in a future where for most jobs, humans need not apply.”
What is the purpose of civilization if, in its current form, it has no use for billions of human beings?
What is the purpose of automating work, if it does not free all of humanity from the need to work?
When the robotics and the wealth derived from it are owned by a few pioneering billionaires, what guarantee is there that this wealth will uplift civilization itself, and not merely a wealthy few?
And perhaps most importantly – what becomes of the working class if the vast majority of work is done by robots owned by the capitalists?
The only viable solution is that the wealth of the robots must be socialized and taken into public ownership – ideally, the entire machinery of production and retail would be democratically controlled by the working class. Our campaign strives not only for office in the short term, but the grassroots building of a democratically run, nationwide movement towards socialism.
Barring this maximum achievement, we could start a Universal Basic Income, one high enough to provide a quality standard of living for all human beings. By heavily taxing now-automated profits, we could provide a higher standard of living and life expectancy.
Thoughts on the Democratic Party
Thoughts on the Democratic Party
In the US, there is basically one party - the business party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to those policies. As is most of the population.
I have chosen to run as an independent socialist, and to reject running as a Democrat. Leaving the Democratic Party a few years ago was not a choice I made lightly, but it is one I am proud to have made.
The short version is: I left the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party is not capable of sticking to its own morals and values, because it is funded by rich people and corporations who have a financial interest in undermining those values.
I grew up under George W. Bush and was raised by good liberal Democrats. I firmly believed that the Republicans were the only problem and that if we could just get a Democrat in office, everything would be better.
I fought for Obama in 2008 against the Clinton machine – I argued that nothing would symbolize the necessary repudiation of the Bush years like electing the black Kennedy. It was not the time to play it safe, to listen to the voices of fear who said a black man could never be President, to concede ground to the system that had crashed the economy – it was the time to dare to believe.
I cried when Obama was elected. We were going to pass single-payer healthcare, shut down Guantanamo Bay, and stop sending my friends from high school to kill and die in the Middle East. With a Democrat congress and a historic victory, how could our progressive wave fail to sweep away the wreckage of the old order?
Simple: We were betrayed by the corporate interests who fund and control the Democratic Party.
The first obvious betrayal was when Senate Democrats killed the public option for healthcare in a Senate Finance Committee deal. Universal healthcare dramatically reduces costs and improves outcomes over time – but it would hurt the insurance companies who donated to Democrats like Max Baucus and Corey Booker. That's why they vote against single-payer options or prescription drug reform.
The second obvious betrayal was the expansion of the drone war. It turns out that when Barack Obama was opposed to interventions in other countries, it was only the ones that led to media unfriendly American body counts. He was more than happy to expand drone strikes into Yemen to help a Saudi-led coalition – a Saudi-led coalition armed by an American Congress that is funded by the defense industry. When Northrup-Grumman and Raytheon give milions to Democrats like Diane Feinstein and Susan Davis, why would they vote against expanding the war machine abroad?
The most obvious betrayal came in 2011, when, for the 3rd year in a row, Barack Obama promised to shutter Guantanamo. He made that promise in every State of the Union address for 8 years. Guantanamo is still open, and still committing war crimes in the name of the United States.
Democrats did not jail the bankers because they are funded by the bankers. They expand the drone war because they are funded by war profiteers. They betray American workers because they are funded by capitalist class.
The thing is, most Democratic voters know this. Most Democratic voters share my values of inclusion, of support for gay rights, of wealth redistribution and corporate accountability; of greater government oversight; but most importantly, of the elimination of wealth from the political process and the destruction of its concentration in the hands of so few. Most Democratic voters are not part of the capitalist class and we welcome their support for working-class, independent, left-wing politics.
As long as the Democrats are the wholly owned subsidiary of the wealthy (and I have good reason to believe they will never change), I can and will not join them. I cannot, in good conscience, encourage anyone to support such a corrupt, corporate structure. It is the weakness of the Democratic Party that has allowed the right wing to continue to gain ground in this country.
We must not waffle on trans rights, on the truth that Black Lives Matter, or on the working peoples' conquest of power in the workplace and Washington. The strongest platform from which to fight is a platform of independent, working-class politics. We must be composed of and funded/organized by the working class.