Political Precariat

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Yves here. This post dovetails with a Cfdtrade classic, Richard Kline: Progressively Losing, which I urge to read in full. Key sections:

Those anywhere to the liberal side of the Anglo-American political spectrum have been on a long losing streak. As of this summer of 2011, they are wholly in disarray. In my considered view, ‘progressives’ lose because they do not have it as a goal to win. Their principal concern is to criticize the moral failings of others in society, particularly the moral failings of those in power.

At best, progressives seek to convert. In the main, they name and shame—ineffectively. American ‘progressives’ distrust political power, period, are queasy about anyone having it, and suspicious toward anyone who actively seeks it, including other putative progressives. The contest as progressives conceive it is fundamentally a moral one: they believe they are right, and want their opposition to see the light and reform/conform. Thus, they don’t frame what they engage in as a fight but rather as a debate.

There has been another and more radical trend on the left-liberal end of the spectrum previously. That trend derived from radicalized, Continental European, immigrants, it sourced much of labor activism, and is largely extinct in America as of this date. It is the atrophy of this latter muscle in particular which has rendered progressive finger-wagging impotent….

The first key point is that the tradition of progressive dissent is integrally a religious one. The goal isn’t usually power but ‘truth;’ that those in the right stand up for what is right, and those in the wrong repent. The City on the Hill and all that, but that is the intrinsic value. This is a tradition of ideas, many of them good, many of them implemented—by others, a point to which I’ll return. Coming forward to a recent and then present American context, consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as progressive:

Anti-colonialism
Anti-militarism
Abolition
Universal, secular education
End to child labor
Universal suffrage
Female legal equality
Consumer protections
Civil rights
Conservation/environmentalism

Consider as well notable progressives who have held executive or even power positions in national governance. I struggle to name one…..

The key point is that the tradition of radical activism is integrally an economic one, and secondarily one of social justice. It was pursued by those both poor and ‘out castes,’ who often had communal solidarity as their only asset. It was resisted by force, and thus pursued by those inured to force who understood that power was necessary to victory, and that defeat entailed destitution, imprisonment, and being cut down by live fire from those acting under color of authority with impunity. This was a tradition of demands, many of them quite pragmatic. Few were wholly implemented, but the struggle to gain them forced the door open for narrower reforms, often implemented by the powers that be to de-fuse as much as diffuse radical agitation. Consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as radical:

Call off the cops (and thugs)
Eight hour day and work place safety
Right to organize
Anti-discrimination in housing and hiring
Unemployment dole
Public pensions
Public educational scholarships
Tax the rich
Anti-trust and anti-corporate
Anti-imperialism

While few radicals have made it into public executive positions either, they are numerous in politics, especially at the local level where communal ties can predominate. Radicals have always worked in organized groups—‘societies,’ unions, and parties—which have been a multiplier for their demands.

Critically, these are grievance-driven policies. One could say that the goal of radicals is to force an end to exploitation, particularly economic exploitation since most radicals come from those on the bitter end of such equations. As such, many of them have specific remedies or end states. Notably absent are ‘moral uplift,’ better society objectives other than in the abstract sense. Further, since so much of radicalism is communally based it has often been difficult for radicals to form inter-communal alliances.

By Alphan Telek, a PhD candidate at Science Po Paris and Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. He is the Director of Turkey Office of Political and Social Research Institute of Europe. Follow him on Twitter: @AlphanTelek. Originally published at

The groundbreaking concept ‘precariat’, coined by British economist Guy Standing, reflects the emergence of a new social class by identifying a 40-year long precaritisation process under neoliberal capitalism, due to changing relations of production and distribution. However, the concept has come under some concerted criticism from social scientists.

Firstly, it is criticized for enshrining a ‘Global North’ point of view. According to this critique, the concept cannot be deemed a global phenomenon in that it does not appropriately cover the different labor conditions of the Global South. Secondly it is argued that rather than pointing to the situating of a new social class, the concept in fact describes a particular ‘condition’ of labour relations around the world.

Where reviewers of Standing’s theory accept that the precaritisation of labour has taken place, they reject the assertion of a different global class structure under neoliberal capitalism. According to them, post-1980 labour conditions constitute just one historical phase of the proletariat under late capitalism. In short, for them, the formation of a new global class structure, whose main component is the precariat, is out of question.

But academics perhaps do not see the potential strength of this concept. Its power comes from its explanatory relationship to daily life and its transformative potential in socio-political life.

Moreover, this debate about the precariat is closely linked to current debates in socialist and progressive thinking. Progressive thought cannot afford to disregard a rapidly changing daily life and it cannot stop thinking about how to transform these new – unjust and unequal – relations into political energy to topple the fusion of plutocracy and political castes around the world. The criticisms – done mostly on behalf of socialist and Marxist thought – display something of a stagnant position in the face of this new world. Gradually, they fall out of touch with daily life and people’s experiences, willingly or unwillingly confining themselves to narrow identity issues.

Against this, I would like to defend the explanatory power of the precariat with regard to daily life and its potential transformative power in socio-political life. If we properly define daily life (the relations of production) in today’s capitalism, we can help the least advantaged segments of society (workers, immigrants, poor employees, women and young people who think that they have no future under this system, but who simultaneously have problems with the narratives offered them by emerging authoritarian populist regimes) to gain their social power, making them a stronger player in this chaotic world.

Therefore, the concept ‘precariat’ provides key insights into daily life under today’s capitalism. However, only if we can build on these a political programme for the precariat, can the concept fully realize its potentially transformative power in socio-political life. This is where the approach of left-transformation (as outlined by my colleague and myself in a series of articles on openDemocracy) may provide some of these new terms, so that we may begin to think, for example about the need for ‘transformers’ both against plutocracy and populism. This new political program, crucially, will keep all the different identities, whether north-north or north-south, together in the same ranking, and recognizing their common struggle. This is precisely how the strategy of left-transformation can make the precariat a ‘political’ force for change.

Explanatory Power of Precariat: A New Form of Daily Life

Karl Marx’s influence is largely due to his theory’s explanatory power regarding daily life among workers of the nineteenth century. ‘Scientific socialism’ could explain rather well the relations of production at the time. In connection with this, he and Friedrich Engels depicted political discourses and targets for the workers, whom they wanted to empower socially. Had the working class of the nineteenth century had enough social power, the class could have challenged the capitalist relations of production and in Marx’s vision, it could have built its own, socialist society. Methodologically speaking, the fusion in comprehending daily life and cultivating the political adaptability required for the success of nineteenth century Marxism is what we need again today.

However, today there are few enough glimpses of a similarly effective strain of progressive thought. Today’s progressive thinking has clearly confined itself to some narrow and ineffective academic confines (passive journals, trade unions, academic conferences etc.) far away from the daily lives of people. Few persons today can understand what intellectuals (and socialist intellectuals) say, let alone the larger part of the population, workers, immigrants and others. The relationship between Marxist theory and daily life (let us say ‘society’) has for a long time been broken, for a lot of reasons.

Amongst these, we find one reason, which also explains the emergence of the precariat: i.e. 40 years of technological innovation and politico-economic decisions, which have made a different, new world possible.

The basic guiding doctrine of this new world is an overarching neoliberalism, with varying mutations in different geographies. The sought after relations of production and its affects have always been same through all these mutations, so that increasingly, most of the people around the world share a common, class life-style (that of the precariat). This puts them into a relationship of class solidarity in the making that remains unrealised. In this regard, there is no separation line between Global North and South. Common experiences, sufferings, expectations, fears, life-styles make them the members of an identical class.

Guy Standing’s evaluations of a new social class structure (and the precariat) take root right here. As he puts it, the new class structure is shaped according to new relations of production, relations of distribution, relations to the state and class-consciousness. If we understand these factors, the daily life of the precariat can be properly explained. Then we can build a political program on the basis of its real needs and future desires, unveiling the potential social power of the precariat in political life.

New Relations of Production: Socio-Economic Insecurities

Guy Standing asserts that the relations of production under neoliberal capitalism are shaped according to the existence or non-existence of seven socio-economic sources of security.Insofar as people’s social and individual experience suffer from a lack of these socio-economic goods, they share the features of the precariat. Economic insecurities push them to say, “We do not have a future”. And this sense of deprivation of a future is clearly seen in the push factor in what is called economic migration as well as in the recent street protests in , deemed as Global South countries.

The common experiences of the precariat life-style emerge alongside the lack of labor market security.People have tremendous difficulties finding a job and in most cases, the unemployment rates only ever rise. This makes people vulnerable, forcing them to accept any precarious and short-term job. Secondly, the forms of employment security that include protection against arbitrary dismissal have been directly targeted by neoliberal regulations both in the Global North and the South. Today, only a tiny proportion of employees have this employment security. Thirdly, the supportive character of the workplace in a secure job once offered a person prospects in terms of a career and guarantees against skill dilution. Nobody today can say that workplaces do justice to employees in terms of this security.

Fourthly, Standing claims that work security covers health regulations and protections against workplace accidents etc. It should be underlined that the main difference between Global North and South countries is the distribution of such safety nets. Most of the time, Global South countries experience more workplace accidents than Global North countries. However, the basis for this type of security is under the constant threat of being dismantled in the Global North as well, as in the struggles to defend welfare and health services in the workplace.

It is also very well known that the further security that lies in representation (the trade union’s collective voice as a protection in the workplace) has long been targeted by neoliberal regulations. The skydiving numbers of trade union members after 1980 are not a secret for both Global North and South. Lastly, there is no income security that can sustain a minimum wage for an honorable life.  All these economic insecurities are real in the lives of people both from Global North and South countries.

New Relations of Distribution and Class-Consciousness

Moreover, the relations of distribution have also been shaped under neoliberal capitalism. The members of the precariat, in most cases, depend solely on money wages. As Standing claims, the precariat that can relieve his or her condition. Depending on a money wage, the precariat feels trapped by the desires and demands of employers since he or she can be fired anytime and find himself or herself in a desperate situation of sheer survival. It all shows the precariat that they do not have an exit strategy or an alternative. The relations of production and distribution under neoliberal capitalism destroy the social power of large segments of the population.

Standing argues that as a result of these daily inflictions, people become more isolated, angry and stressed. Though they share in this precariat life style, they feel as if they are on their own, if not against, still one person alone in relation to the other. For Standing, this is an essential element in the make up of this particular class-consciousness. I can add that I have also observed these feelings during my field interviews with bank employees in Turkey. Though they earn a much better salary than other employees in different sectors, they feel isolated and under stress due to lack of guarantees (social income), performance pressures, and a deprivation of the sense of solidarity with their colleagues. I think these feelings are common for people who live under neoliberal capitalism since it has sucked out all the social power from large parts of our societies.

Now most people are far away from being taken into consideration by their fellow employees and/or their superiors. In this way, they have been socially weakened and their demands have been pushed off the radar. The explanatory power of the precariat detects these common experiences and sufferings of people.

Yet by dint of the same factors, the concept also has the potential for power in our socio-political lives. It is clear that the members of precariat should know each other and that they should articulate this shared class-consciousness, which can strengthen them considerably in their daily lives. I think the precariat is in need of a political movement like that fostered among the working class by Marxists and socialists in the nineteenth century. If properly established, the precariat has a huge political potential for transforming this world of injustices, inequalities, scapegoating and social suffering. In this regard, the concept of left-transformation may provide just what the precariat needs.

Transformative Potential of the Precariat in Left-Transformation

Against its critics, the precariat is a concept and a social force, a class, that has the most potential for transforming the world. Who else can do it? Is there any strong or potentially strong group or identity that can struggle against plutocrats and populists without falling into the trap of neoliberalised identity issues? Who can still believe that this role is confined to the proletariat? That belonged to an old world, and was a key part of what is nevertheless an old struggle. Now, we need a new set of ‘transformers’, with new symbols and new programmes.

If we want to empower people socially against financial institutions, governments, bureaucracies, populists and plutocrats, the precariat has to be political. This will bring back the social power with which they can acclaim their political, social, economic and cultural rights (like the working class before 1980). If social and economic sufferings are common around the world, then the response of the precariat should be a common one. A new political programme, new solidarities and new discourses, that correspond to this commonality, can provide what the precariat needs. Briefly, for a just and honorable life, we need the political precariat. Can the idea of left-transformation help this new political programme into existence?

Left-transformation is an idea trying to fuse the daily experiences of the precariat with a political programme. It demands political and social justice for the precariat. It calls for political justice because we have witnessed that governments have been captured by political castes following their own interests rather than those of the people they pretend to serve. These castes, ruling on behalf of the precariat, have excluded people from all decision-making processes. They have ruined the world with wars, corruption and exclusionary political practices. They have implicitly or explicitly supported racism, anger and hatred towards others since only in that situation can they continue to maintain and even increase the hold of their power among the people.

In addition to this, the precariat in non-western countries such as in Turkey, Iran, China, Russia, India etc. has witnessed an unrelenting violation of basic rights like freedom of expression. Against all these, political justice requires new constitutions and autonomous, accountable decision-making processes in politics. It also wants to guarantee the full protection of basic rights. These basic rights cannot be touched unless there is a crime against humanity (destroying people’s social and economic rights are also crimes against humanity).

Political justice demands that we learn our lessons from the experiences of social movements and try to apply these successful models and examples experienced in small communities and on the local scale. There needs to be a productive relationship between social movements and the national and supra national governance of the world.

On the other hand, social justice demands social and economic rights for all people, including the precariat as we :

Furthermore, the idea of social justice requires strengthening people economically: giving them economic rightssuch as universal basic income, job security, and democracy at the workplace, levying taxes on riches, wealth and rentier benefits etc. The underlying principle in the economic field is to make people economically robust so that they are not affected by the flows of market and rents. For a decent life, people must have a right to free education, free health services, social protection and service of child-caring etc. However, strengthening people in relations of production by giving them some kind of security is not enough. The distribution of wealth is not fair also. There should be new mechanisms and concepts to cope with this situation. Housing policies, wealth transfers, limits on inheritance, taxes on rentier benefits are some mechanisms of the transformative movements to curb the deepening inequalities in the society. Without a new economic system – relations of production and distribution – initiating these policies, it is impossible to ensure social justice.

The transformative potential of the precariat is much higher than we expected. The rise of recent political movements, which emphasizes political and social justice against plutocracy and political castes, are clear examples. Recent large-scale street protests in Tunisia and Iran, the formation of new political movements such as France Insoumise, Diem25 in the EU, MeRa in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Razem in Poland, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum in England, Bernie Sanders in the United States, the harsh criticisms levelled by Kevin Kühnert and the young German social democrats against the German SPD, elements of the Five Star Movement, the social justice emphasis of Iceland’s new Prime Minister, recent street protests in Armenia against corruption and nepotism, all indicate the common ground of political precariat. These are the first moves. There are many more political movements taking up the support of the precariat and on the way.

In a nutshell, the concept of the precariat has basically two sources of strength: the explanatory power of daily life and its transformative potential in the socio-political world. However, we need a political precariat in order for it to realize its transformative role. The idea of left-transformation with its ‘justice’ politics corresponding to the desires, demands and senses of a rising precariat, can pave the way to the necessary political programme. Last but not least, progressive thought for today needs this class-based push or else it will continue to lurk in the wings.

_____________

Guy Standing, “Precariat The New Dangerous Class”, p. 10.

Ibid.

Guy Standing, .

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63 comments

  1. Disturbed Voter

    Life isn’t a polite chat at tea time between nice little old ladies. It is fight club. And don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Those who don’t see a fight club, who don’t bring a metaphorical gun to the fight, need to stay back with the nice little old ladies.

    1. yup - Missing the Point

      Precisely.

      The biggest problem today is that the progressives don’t understand what game the other side is playing. One side it playing total war; long-term, well-financed and thoroughly strategic. The other is more of a reactionary, intellectual branding exercise.

      And don’t forget that the former is actually a profitable business model able to finance that war, while the latter is an unsustainable, expensive charity. One side rapes the Gulf with an oil spill and the other side holds a concert to help the locals pay for it. How stupid is that!?

  2. A. Sapien

    —The transformative potential of the precariat is much higher than we expected. —

    to start, sorry to be harsh. the writer needs to be an uber driver for a few weekends. (unlike that author of “nickeled and dimed” whose name escapes me)

    from time to time I take shifts at a ‘precariat’ job. A brand name, virtue-signalling, very fawned over tech co. who all of you will know (but not Uber. I’ve been an Uber driver too).

    From my rubber-meets-the-road corner, precariat workers have zero time to erudite over broader issues like: class consciousness or political trends. The real world ain’t the university faculty lounge or a symposium.

    You: run around like bee drones or chickens with their heads cut off—especially as if your job uses a internet-connected device as literally everything is logged—especially GPS coordinates/speed/gyroscopic movements/steps, etc.

    If your stats don’t match the established parameters, you might get a phone call from ‘support’ inquiring about your situation.

    You might not know the names of many of your co-workers because the turnover is so high or you’ve never shared a shift with them before.

    And when you do have down time, due to atomized nature of the work, quite likely you sit alone and eat lunch or take a coffee as you’re the only one on break at that time….like this Hopper painting, “Automat”

    But you keep you head up, be pleasant to your co-workers and the public and keep fighting the good fight.

    the last thing on your mind is political mobilization. you just want to go home, walk the dog, eat and sleep. and get a find job of course

    1. jrs

      ok but the question then is how does it differ from how the labor movement was formed? Remember it consisted of people working very long work hours, it created the 8 hour day, before then days were 12, 14, 16 hours etc. and that was the labor movement. It was not formed by those who had boatloads of time to erudite and yet they were very class conscious. So how was it possible then? A blanket handwave of “life is hard now”, while illuminating and educating for those not so precarious, really doesn’t answer anything as life was indeed extremely hard then as well.

      I think maybe it was made possible by the fact that those in it actually lived in proximity to others trapped in the same situation and lived and socialized in their limited free time with those in the same situation.

    2. Adam Eran

      First: you’re thinking of Barbara Ehrenreich for Nickled and Dimed

      And yes, the agenda is to keep people exhausted, living precariously. Looks to me like that will continue until it stops working.

    3. JCC

      It seems to me that is the whole point of the article. Marx was right for his time. New methodes of enlightment are needed… desperately. I also have lived the life of a precariat and I’ve still seen people a heckuva lot worse off.

      jrs is right, it has been done before and it can be done again. Saying it’s impossible and just accepting things the way they are because it is just too difficult is no answer.

      The biggest problem I see is only that it will take some time, and the longer a “story” isn’t concocted that grabs the attention of the the majority precariat, the longer it will take. In any case, nobody ever said it would be easy.

  3. Newton Finn

    Essential reading on this subject is “Reclaiming the State” by Mitchell and Fazi. Unless progressives come up with a viable vision of a nurturing and inclusive national government, and then use that vision as a weapon in political campaigns against candidates who support global neoliberalism, the left will concede the political arena to the neoliberals and those on the right who favor of a more xenophobic and exclusivist form of nationalism. One the key components of that nurturing, inclusive state is the humanitarian use of fiat money, as explained in MMT.

    1. Anarcissie

      I doubt that major social changes are going to occur any time soon because of ideology. Major social changes (like revolutions, significant elections, economic collapses, and so on) occur because of material conditions. If the precariat so-called were ripe for organization, it would already be organizing itself. It would not be very concerned with bourgeois schemes like Welfare or MMT, which at this stage are more appropriate for ruling-class legislative discussions than for a serious revolutionary movement.

      1. Arizona Slim

        The precariat get shamed. A lot.

        They’re told that they have a hard time making a living because they didn’t do enough networking, because they didn’t brand themselves properly, because they didn’t create an effective social media presence, and on and on it goes.

        It takes a while to realize that all of this shaming is BS, that the system is very much stacked against them, and that it’s hard to fight the system unless they organize.

  4. AbateMagicThinking But Not Money

    The word ‘precariat’ sounds as if it could refer to the wealthy and super-wealthy who suffer from an irrational fear of being in reduced circumstances due any prospective moves to better the conditions of the poor.

    Let the comfortably wealthy remember that the ‘balm of the precariat’* is inevitable.

    Let us stick with ‘the poor’.

    Pip-Pip

    *The Grim Reaper.

    1. Mattski

      Standing’s getting a lot of credit here. But food sovereignty advocates and many others in France and the Spanish-speaking world have been talking about precarity for a long time. Guy Bourdieu was talking about the idea–in precisely these terms–at least as far back as 1998.

      That takes nothing away from the piece above. But there is a huge lag in the adoption of terms that describe our situation here in the U.S. Few US citizens, including most liberals, understand the meaning of “neoliberalism” even now. The global movement for food sovereignty is by far and away the world’s biggest social movement–who in the U.S. has heard of it? (Many who have use the term in an entirely toothless manner.) Keeping us disconnected from currents of the rest of the world is the mainstream media’s job.

  5. John

    The political organizing might come after the torches and pitchforks phase. In the face of out of control climate chaos, progressive ideas such as those listed might be moot.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Neoliberalism and the International Corporate Regime are a new and deadly threat to humankind. The precariat is one byproduct of the looming destruction their forces so deftly build for our future. As a class the precariat is fractured and dysfunctional.

  6. David

    What’s clear, I think, is that “the poor” as they existed in the past are no longer with us. Fifty years ago, nearly all of “the poor” had jobs, some security of employment, social benefits, free education and health care and the possibility of a better life for their children. I probably count as a child of “the poor” of those days. Even a hundred years ago, “the poor” had communities, churches, mass political parties and social capital, not to mention the possibility of growing some of their own food. They had trades unions and workers education associations, as well as access to education for their children.
    The “precariat”, as described, is new. It consists of a casualised workforce, without protection or organisation, without social capital, without mass political parties or churches, deliberately indebted and exploited, and obliged to pay (or try to) for things that used to be free. And whereas the middle-classes (in the European sense) were largely spared the precarious existence of “the poor”, these days, large sections of the middle class are in just as precarious a situation: families one monthly salary away from oblivion, with debt-laden children who will never have their own home.
    This ought, therefore, to be the moment for the Left. But what was the Left has become a vague, ragtag coalition of “liberals” and “progressives”, who didn’t have the guts for a fight, whether with guns or knives, and instead turned their weapons on each other. Their favourite tactic (following the Marxists of the 1970s) was to ridicule and browbeat their opponents into submission. In the sealed container of competitive identity politics this was effective enough, but it was completely useless in the mundane business of getting people to vote for you. As traditional loyalties to parties that were once of the Left decay, the successor parties of today have nothing to offer voters apart from hatred and intolerance: their favourite word is “anti”. They resemble a sado-masochism club with a very exclusive membership policy. But you can’t build a political movement based on being anti everything and having no positive proposals at all. This, I would suggest, is the ultimate meaning of Clinton’s 2016 defeat, in that her entire programme amounted in practice to being against Trump and insulting people. But voters don’t vote for things like that.
    They do, though, vote for parties that take their concerns seriously and promise to do something about them, whether these parties are notionally of the Left or of the Right. For decades, liberals and progressives thought that the majority of the people could simply be taken for granted or written off. Now they are finding that the traditional electorate of the Left is being poached by the Right, they are reacting with cries of hysteria about “populism” and “nationalism.” If they wanted these votes, they are there for the taking, but in the end they don’t want them. Better to avoid challenging money and power, and go back to purging people from your movement because they aren’t radical enough. Better, as Milton has Satan say, to reign in hell than serve in heaven.

    1. Pym of Nantucket

      Is the human condition worsening in aggregate or simply not improving as much as we expect or as much as it could given the vast power of technology? Perhaps our own inherent idealism is the biggest problem. Most of the statistics for human well being for our species are improving; death rates due to war and violence are steadily decreasing everywhere. The troubling statistics which seem to be going in the wrong direction are related to the environment, and more recently, mental health in rich nations. We seem to expect a “peak well being” moment when the environmental contamination undermines the improvements coming from technology but honestly, that hasn’t happened yet. The same goes for death due to warfare: we’re all expecting the levee to break soon to disrupt the trend of steadily decreasing rates of human slaughter due to wars.
      Personally I’ve been involved in politics on the left for a long time, and I regularly have to take vacations from the pessimism of the volunteers and stalwart party members who focus on small issues and who usually tend to ignore the steady improvements in the human condition over the years. Meanwhile, the hard core leaders in most parties purporting to represent the disenfranchised almost always come from the bourgeoisie, in some cases this hypocrisy is what holds these parties back. I’m certainly a member of the entitled class who has the luxury of taking a break from being a leftist any time I want, since I am a white middle class male living in North America. My privilege is not at risk any time soon.
      I think if we focus on preventing annihilation of terrestrial DNA based life as a result of humans being too short sighted or disorganized to prevent it, we’re generally going in the right direction. I’m becoming convinced that setting any goals higher than that is simply impossible given how selfish we are. The last six thousand years of human activity certainly seems to be a good indication of what humans will continue to do for the next century or so: recurring disappointment that the benefits of technology are reaped by the ruling class though slow steady improvements for the poor nevertheless continue. The difference now is that we have the means to wipe ourselves out, where before we did not. The small scale improvements come because we are all working to improve our lives with technology.

      1. jrs

        The troubling statistic that is going in the wrong direction is income inequality, your leftists comrades even if they are too pessimistic about what is possible, correctly pick up on that.

        But yea sure none of it matters long term if survival of the biosphere is no longer possible. It merely makes life miserable for everyone in the meantime, and there may be those who have given up on long term human (and most animal and plant) survival to such a degree that making life less miserable in the meantime is the priority: think hospice care.

        1. Tony Wright

          Great comments Pym and jrs.
          I would add two comments:
          Firstly, if we dont stop overpopulating the planet we will progressively succumb to the biological consequences of same which apply to any species, i.e. Conflict(war), disease, famine. In our “exalted” state of development we have added massive pollution (anyone been to India, China or Calabria lately?), and now anthropogenic climate change.
          Secondly, I think this whole situation has created an increased , and understandable, sense of ” we’re all f….., so we might as well live for the day while we still can” amongst millennials in developed countries , who might otherwise be more engaged in agitating for the necessary changes in society.
          Passive mass acceptance of the various invasions of privacy to which we have all succumbed during the last fifty years are I think another reflection of this shrug your shoulders hopelessness.

          1. Pym of Nantucket

            I agree that the best way to slow down the inevitable destruction of all life (c.f. The Second Law of Thermodynamics) is getting rid of the insane penchant for population growth we have, which I think requires us to increase our efforts to have greater education for women. There’s still that nasty prisoner’s dilemma problem where the society with the greatest population tends to prevail over societies which aren’t growing as fast. Not sure what to do about that. There’s a chance that automation is a way to allow societies which are sustainable to still have enough might to avoid being overwhelmed with the ones that have the most kids.

          2. c_heale

            I think the problem is not overpopulation but industrialization and fossil fuels. If we didn’t have cheap energy we wouldn’t have overpopulation because many people wouldn’t survive – not just from hunger but from cold and medicine, too. Automated societies use more total energy (including manufacturing and waste disposal costs) than non-automated societies. But if peak oil (and peak many other things) is correct, then we are going to have some very difficult decades ahead of us and we will probably revert to a subsistence society.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        “The last six thousand years of human activity certainly seems to be a good indication of what humans will continue to do for the next century or so: recurring disappointment that the benefits of technology are reaped by the ruling class though slow steady improvements for the poor nevertheless continue.”

        That’s not what the last six thousand years of Indian human activity in North and South America amounted to. Their six thousand years of human activity amounted to broadscale ecological upgrade
        and shared general benefits and improving life over hundreds of thousands of square miles. The Indian Nations actually had social-economic answers to some of these social economic problems.
        But Western Man won’t see that as long as Western Man keeps confusing Western Man in specific with “humanity” in general.

  7. juliania

    It does seem to be a case of ‘pull yerself up by yer own bootstraps’ to label those whom I would call the disenfranchised as ‘precariat’. The name links for me to the word ‘precarious’, and while it may be an apt description , it’s no rallying cry the way ‘workers of the world’ was and is.

    If you want an example of a people formerly heartbroken and downtrodden that have in a relatively short space of time gotten their mojo back, take a look at Russia today. If ever a nation was cast into the depths of demoralizing precariatanism it was that country after communism under Yeltsin.

    It’s staring us in the face – Russia revitalized – but hey, let’s pretend they’re the bogeyman instead.

    That should work.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Indeed. The Russians I know are very proud of how their country has revitalized. And, no, they aren’t a bunch of raving Putin fanboys and fangirls.

  8. Jamie

    This article together with the intro by Kline is a very thought provoking post. First of all I note that everyone knows what a “progressive” is without bothering to (adequately) define the term. Kline seems to confound “progressives” and “radicals”. So let me be the first to admit I have no idea what a “progressive” is. One can note that there is unhappiness with the current situation and dissent from the apparent path mapped out by leadership. I find it hard to recognize any meaning in the term ‘progressive’ other than “someone who wants things to be ‘better’ than they are”, with ‘better’ described by any of hundreds of more or less universal quality of life terms. So healthier, safer, more equal, happier, more productive, less apathetic, more involved, more connected, less isolated, less alienated, less angry, less frustrated, more fulfilled people, and cleaner, healthier, more diverse, more abundant, ecologies…. the list never ends.

    But just avowing allegiance to one or more of these enhancements to life as we know it does not constitute a political program, goal or objective, nor provide any assistance in figuring out how to “make things better”, or even a description of what such a better life would look like.

    When positing the precariat as a “new” set of conditions offering a new opportunity to organize, one has to recognize the reactionary potential that is built into the definition of this “new” condition. If ‘precariat’ is construed as a loss of job security, income security, health security etc… the natural impulse of an organized precariat will be to restore what was lost, which makes for a very conservative, backward looking movement, albeit a “progressive” one in that it seeks a “better” condition than the one we currently endure.

    As a child of the fifties, I would not want to return to those times, even if it meant a return to “job security” corporate patronage, and a decent living income for a large swath of the population. We were radicalized by the fifties because, while not precarious, it was a stifling, conformist society that demanded obedience, rewarded passivity and rejected the pursuit of happiness through any other means than chasing wealth.

    It is not the precariousness of life that is the problem, it is the injustice. It must certainly be true that a wealthy society (we are a wealthy society by almost any measure) could and should provide a basic degree of safety and security to all its citizens. But if that alone is the goal, there are many dystopian societies that will fulfill it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, Kline does NOT confound progressives and radicals. That’s why he had two lists. I also provided a link to his post, which talks about liberals, progressives, and radicals.

      Progressives want to be morally correct and win arguments. They seem to think at best that effective persuasion will lead people to change behavior.

      Radicals have economic grievances. They make demands and take risks.

      The point in his piece is the only time progressives have gotten anywhere in the US is when they’ve teamed up with radicals.

      1. Jamie

        I may be too much of an old fogey to grasp the new political situation. But a list of desiderata does not a definition make. Whatever happened to the old distinction between “root” change and “reform”? Does it no longer serve? I will continue to think of ‘radical’ as someone who sees structural flaws in the system and wants to replace it while ‘progressive’ is someone who supports the system, but wants to tweak it to make it “better”. It seems to me the idea, that the important distinction is the willingness to “take risks”, confuses radicalism with extremism. Replacing a functioning system with an untried new one is inherently risky, but that does not seem to be what Kline has in mind.

        Looking again at the article, I see that you are right. Kline does not confound radicals and progressives. He simply uses the words in unfamiliar ways. The confusion about that was mine alone. Perhaps I am still not clear, because I see little advantage to assuming his point of view, which still seems very reactionary to me. If I were seeking some moral high ground from which to disparage “progressives”, perhaps I would favor his view.

        One last observation: I don’t think much of the second important distinction he tries to draw between the economic radicals and the social justice progressives. Marxists may focus on the material because they perceive justice in material terms. But the idea that activists are motivated by economics rather than a sense of justice leaves me cold. It is because of their sense of justice that they take risks… not because of their desire to have more stuff, but because of their desire to have stuff more justly apportioned. It may be that the new situation with “social justice warriors” is that they have claimed the word ‘justice’ for their own narrow ends, and perhaps we need to push back against that. Ceding them the word does not serve.

        1. JTFaraday

          Without wandering through these particular weeds, the way I understand these terms is thus:

          Radicals wanted to replace the capitalistic state. Economic progressives want a better deal. So, it is progressive to organize the Uber precariat into a new labor movement to make them employees and get a better deal.

          Some have argued that this has historically made labor an inherently conservative force that preserves the capitalist state and the culture that serves it and not the revolutionary subject of Marxist analysis, making this one of the things Marx got wrong.

          This, for example:

          “The editorial collective describes itself as “communist”; its members want the abolition of capitalism, which because of its powerful self-reinforcing tendencies can only be overcome by a coherent social force. But what group of people has enough in common to imagine itself as a social force and also has the strategic leverage to change the world? Unlike many socialists, the editors of Endnotes do not reflexively answer, “The working class.” They ask the question in order to show that this cannot possibly be the answer.”

          Perhaps we don’t need to be this radical, where we understand the labor movement as at best making some progress while conserving a capitalist economy and the culture that serves it, but that’s how I understand the term.

          As for “social justice warriors,” this is a term of abuse the reactionary right deploys against liberals and the left and college students.

          1. JTFaraday

            The thing about employment is that capitalist governments have used it as a means of inserting a middle man (the employer) and a state of being or mode of activity (the state of being employed) between the citizenry/citizenship and the government.

            This *is* inherently conservative.

            1. JTFaraday

              And this is something I think the American right understands far better than the left. When it comes to policy, the right is more than happy to force employment on YOU, but they understand that defining themselves as labor, politically speaking, is a losing proposition.

              Which is why you almost never see them do it. Even today’s Trumpertantrums are split between MAGA-jobs and MAGA-white-male-western civilization privilege.

      2. bones

        I don’t think you can distinguish progressivism vs radicalism based on single issues, or these two lists. I mean “taxing the rich” is hardly radical. It was part of the liberal consensus for decades. Whereas environmentalism is potentially way more radical than anti-trust or unemployment insurance (in so far as sustainability and capitalism are incompatible). Radicals have also been very preachy (“trying to win arguments,” or “be right”) at times and in certain guises, although this is one of the more annoying qualities about contemporary “progressives.” I appreciate attempts to distinguish between the two because its important to do. But that this can be accomplished based on single-issue activism (whether economic or otherwise), just doesn’t cut it. In fact, part of the reason it is difficult to distinguish progressives and radicals is because there is a great deal of overlap between the two in terms of issue politics. That’s what the Socialists around the world discovered when the welfare state was being created. I am not taking issue with the whole of the two articles (which make valuable points), just this single idea.

  9. DJG

    Wow. Thanks. There is a lot to digest here.

    Some ideas:
    –There is in interesting point up top, which is that much radicalism in the U S of A came from immigrants fro the Continent who didn’t want to put up with Anglo-American “norms”–that is, becoming solutions to the Servant Problem. Emma Goldman comes to mind. The solution? Since the 1930s and 1940s, the U S of A only allows in political reliables. There’s nothing quite like having bitter Cuban exiles lecture the rest of us about how “socialized medicine” is a great evil. This is a part of the immigration debate that doesn’t come up much, the importation of rightwingers–and not just Henry Kissinger.

    –Intriguing observations on the word “precariat.” It occurs to me that it is too heady to use this term–but the phenomenon is proletarization of jobs. You can distinguish factory Taylorized labor from the work of farmers, people in the trades, artisans, and white-collar careers in that the latter groups had control over their labor. This is no longer the case. So are they precarious? Or have the jobs been digitized, made way-too-measurable, and reduced to labor by a proletariat of medical-records transcribers, customer-service clerks, and so on?

    Proletarization of work means that this paragraph from above can no longer be put into effect: While few radicals have made it into public executive positions either, they are numerous in politics, especially at the local level where communal ties can predominate. Radicals have always worked in organized groups—‘societies,’ unions, and parties—which have been a multiplier for their demands.

    –I was recently at a conference of arts people. They were much concerned with “social justice,” a term used above. The problem, though, is that upper middle class people believe that they should dispense the justice. So I’d rather stick to economic equality. There is tremendous cooptation of “justice” going on these days. Think of the current fandango with Gina Haspel and the “glass ceiling” she’s supposed to break through. Justice for Gina! Let’s redistribute wealth instead.

    –I am not as doubtful about the U S of A having leftist leaders. FDR is a good example. By current standards, FDR is a commie. I’ll take that kind of communism any day.

  10. akaPaul LaFargue

    Guy Standing a founder member and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), a non-governmental organisation that promotes a basic income for all.

    1. c_heale

      Surely a basic income will be at the will of the state. I can easily see this becoming a coercive measure…

      1. Mel

        Also armed attacks on your house. There’s no lack of things that can be coercive measures if a state gets away with them.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        So would a federal job guarantee.

        “Joyfully attend the Sons of Trump national rally, patriot. Or no federally guaranteed job for you.”

        1. jrs

          just since everyone’s existing experience of jobs are plenty coercive to begin with, it will be even more natural there.

  11. JMM

    This article reminded me of this book, which has been on my to-read list for a while: “General Theory of the precariat”. PDF link (published by the author, nothing fishy here):

    1. JCC

      I’m reading it now. There is a of the book at which is another interesting site.

      I think the review is relatively positive and something to keep in mind as I read through General Theory of the Precariat.

  12. freedeomny

    I have a friend who is quite smart and she always says “follow the money”. So I thought it was interesting when we got into an “argument” (I thought it was a discussion) about Rachel Maddow and MSNBC. I said why are you watching that show when you constantly say “follow the money” as your litmus test as to what the “truth” is. Rachel Maddow doesn’t give a shit about you or the truth…

    The coming fight will be with the top 20% – the I’ve Got Mine crowd who the 1% are paying to be their boot-lickers while still holding fear over their heads – fear of slipping into the 80%. And the progressives are going to have to learn how to fight.

    1. Pym of Nantucket

      So the 20% is pretty much just about every single person in North America and Europe by the way (about 6500 bucks a year gross earnings). Did you mean 2%? 0.2%? I’m guessing the vast majority of the anti 1% crowd are in the 1%. From the data I’ve seen for 2018, I’m in the 0.1 to 0.01% range and I consider myself to be an average person in my suburban neighbourhood.

      It’s easy to overlook how disenfranchised the people in Africa and Asia are when we are muttering about how well off those doctors and lawyers are down the end of the street.

      1. jrs

        What are you talking about? Many people even plenty middle class people are more likely to have homeless encampments just down the end of the street from them as doctors and lawyers. I know this first hand. They are very lucky to not be those homeless? Oh indeed, but they see their daily reminders of how life is even in the “1st world”.

      2. FluffytheObeseCat

        When the extreme poverty and precariousness of life in the global South is used the way you used it above, it serves to diminish awareness of the impact of local inequality. It is local inequality that drives the whole skewed system, and anchors it in place.

        The para-professional with student loan debt, a car note, and a mortgage is cowed by the sight and smell of the poor and homeless who wander down the block where she works…… not by distant misery in other countries. Her lack of power is real, irrespective of what her ~$27,000 salary could buy her on the other side of the globe. As the addict on the sidewalk, ten feet from the door of her workplace, reminds her daily.

        It is local inequality that cements power in the hands of the already powerful. Manipulative whataboutery that hinges on pointing away from what we can address aids the cementation process. Which is why media and academic ‘intellectuals’ favor the tactic.

        “Oh, how dare you complain about your lot in life; their are poorer people of greater virtue elsewhere!!” is a manipulative, dishonest gambit. One that is beloved of the sinecured and the well-to-do.

        1. AbateMagicThinking But Not Money

          FluffytheObeseCat:

          Good comment. Someone said ‘all politics is local’ so it is pitiful to make wage comparisons across international borders. And I’m wondering what USD 27,000 would buy you in SF for example.

          Terms like income and poverty are always relative and meaningless until you are in the position to stop whatever your employees are doing in your country and move it to a country with a badly skewed exchange rate.

          Therein lies the great paradox; love of country. The forces of order maintain that their love of country is greater than anyone’s, while at the same time seemingly hand-in-glove with those who’s love of country is clearly questionable. Perhaps the military life, in wrenching participants from their geographical roots breaks the all politics is local ‘rule’.

          Putting one’s hand in a glove is always an adventure – especially here with Australasian spiders in abundance.

          Pip-Pip!

        2. Pym of Nantucket

          I don’t agree that local inequality drives the system or cements power. I’d say that wealth and ownership cement power because it allows the wealthy to buy possessions, influence, politicians, weapons and labour. The move from physical ownership (when currency was linked to physical objects) to virtual ownership over the past few centuries more deeply entrenches the wealth by making it more difficult to redistribute (confiscate), thus worsening the poor wealth distribution. I also think there has been a concerted effort in the past 40 years in North America and Europe by the wealthy to push a philosophy that wealth redistribution is bad. I completely agree with you that the rich should struggle against the richer, especially like you say, for the principle of it. However, if the definition of poverty is the bottom x% of the population, then by definition, poverty cannot be eliminated. Meanwhile, for centuries, all metrics of human development have steadily increased (a 50th percentile person today is much better off than a 50th percentile person from a century ago). Personally I’m more worried about that trend reversing due to war, environment or overpopulation. I think all three of those risks are amplified by us all thinking we can just keep growing in numbers, and this problem is most severe in the bottom 50% of the world’s population where poverty means death and their most likely interaction with our society is to have bombs land on them sent by us. I’d be happy to seem some outrage, instead of indifference to the very large problems.

          1. kev4321

            One of the key attributes of “power” is the ability to take advantage of others. The U.S. health care system is a great example of the powerful imposing a system of tribute against the wishes of the powerless. This implies a localization of power relationships, but these inequalities can certainly exist through trade or financial arrangements. I would also point out that “metrics of human development” based upon how much stuff one has ignore the more important metric of security and dignity in social relations.

        3. eg

          I encounter this “whataboutary” from a friend with teeth-grinding regularity. It’s the worst sort of goalpost moving.

      3. kareninca

        I don’t have the leisure to think a lot about the “disenfranchised” of Africa and Asia, when there are homeless people lining the streets where I live. And when I have family friends who are missing teeth because they can’t afford dental care, and others who are skipping health insurance since they can’t afford it. I’m glad that you feel that the world is becoming better because people overseas are in some places seeing improvement, but really that is not relevant to Americans, except for the elite. So I’m guessing you are very comfortable, and don’t have people whom you are close to who have these problems, whose bills you feel obliged to help with. BTW I do donate to overseas charities, but I am now starting to send more to Remote Area Medical, which serves mostly indigent Americans.

      4. drumlin woodchuckles

        Is this White Privilegist Guilt-Mongering? Designed to disperse and demoralize the Uber drivers and task rabbiters?

    2. freedeomny

      20% in the US, not the world. And I was referring to an economic class of people who make well above what the average Americans makes….and specifically those who believe and watch MSM for validation of their not rock the boat views. Again, this is just my opinion. If you are in that lucky economic class but believe that things need to be fairer in the US and watch MSM with a jaundiced eye – you are probably not part of the I’ve Got Mine crowd – congratulations….

  13. Scott1

    In this the Basic income sounds great. We have decided around here mostly the Federal Jobs Guarantee is superior to the BIEN or Guaranteed Income.
    My invented currency provides money at times of sickness & for ed at maturity, assuming free ed till then.
    Giving Government money to people at the right times is key to not needing to give them money all the time.
    I think of my model nation as Company, Country, & Work of Art. There are best practices in finance & economics. Employing them is the art of it.
    “A guy can’t make it on their own in this world.” Henry as dying, “To Have & Have Not” -Ernest Hemingway

  14. oh

    I think the introduction by Kline was right on target. The description of progressives was very apt. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of being a purist too. I tried to read the rest of the article but it was way above my head!

  15. Musicismath

    I find it useful to think of Anglo-American progressivism as a form of secular religion. In particular, Calvinism or Puritanism. The Puritan hopes he is one of the elect, but worries that he may not be. The progressive considers herself “savvy,” woke, someone who “gets it” and is “on the right side of history,” but needs to pedal hard through each daily news cycle to keep up. The Calvinist or Puritan is daily preoccupied with answering the eternal question: am I indeed a member of the elect? Am I among the saved? He tests his faith and looks for external signs of his election to assuage his spiritual anxiety. The progressive goes on social media, doing the daily work of wokeness, working through her anxiety 280 characters at a time, hoping her language choices won’t trip her up and reveal that she has been an *ist all along. This too is a test of faith.

    Mostly, though, the easiest and most convenient way of demonstrating election/wokeness in this fallen world is gaming the hierarchies within the actually existing social communities believers are embedded in. Hence the work of shaming, excommunication, guilt-tripping, and gaslighting that are part and parcel of what Mark Fisher called the “vampire castle” of actually existing online progressivism (that believes itself to be leftism). It s on guilt, and is obsessed with sin and excommunication, because it is, essentially, transmogrified Calvinism.

    1. David

      Agreed, in that Calvinism and its close relatives believed that precisely because you were “saved” you had to demonstrate your saved status by being virtuous. Today, it’s a commonplace observation that entire groups (white males for example) are damned by their very existence, irrespective of anything they may have personally done, just as other groups are inexplicably elevated to Saved status. And just as at the time of the Reformation, the Saved agonise in the darkness of the night about whether they are, in fact, saved or not, and whether they can be sure. But the difference is that Calvinists (and radical Protestants generally) actually believed that they had to do something practical to demonstrate their status, not just deliver sermons and chastise sinners. So they set up charitable institutions, fed the poor, educated the masses. Find me the progressive who gets their hands dirty like that. Indeed, a Clinton-like contempt for the masses could plausibly be a descendant of the popular supercilious Protestant morality which dismissed the damned, the lost, the “preterite” as Pynchon wonderfully dubbed the abandoned of the world.

      1. Musicismath

        Yeah, that’s a really good point. Another instance in which the “left’s” current obsession with the politics of language above all other concerns closes off genuine, concrete forms of action.

        1. JBird

          The closing of other actions by the obsessing with the politics of language is the goal, not a problem as actions that lead to effect reforms is something to be avoided.

      2. HotFlash

        Indeed, a Clinton-like contempt for the masses could plausibly be a descendant of the popular supercilious Protestant morality which dismissed the damned, the lost, the “preterite” as Pynchon wonderfully dubbed the abandoned of the world.

        No coincidence that Our Hillary was Methodist. Although (only God can save you, but He can do it after you are born if He wishes) is less final than Calvin’s (God who knows all has predestined every person for either Heaven of Hell, nuthin’ you can do about it), both agree that ‘good works’ will not save you, in fact they are seen as the effects of salvation, not the cause.

  16. Roland

    Telek writes:

    “Karl Marx’s influence is largely due to his theory’s explanatory power regarding daily life among workers of the nineteenth century. ‘Scientific socialism’ could explain rather well the relations of production at the time.”

    Telek is embarrassingly wrong here.

    Marx’ description of classes concerns people’s relationship to the control of the means of production.

    Marx’ class framework is not necessarily tied to any particular technology or time period.

    Here it is, to quickly recap:

    1. If you control capital and live off the proceeds of that capital, then you are a bourgeois.

    2. If you control some capital, but also need to perform labour in order to make your living, then you a petty bourgeois.

    3. If you cannot live except by the sale of your labour to those who control capital, then you are a proletarian.

    You will notice that none of the above definitions refer to any particular sort of technology. Labour-saving devices are labour-saving devices. Information technology merely did to the white-collar proletarians in our time, what earlier inventions had done to the blue collar proletarians.

    Those Turkish bank workers to whom Telek refers are simply proletarians. They are people who must sell their labour to the people who control the banks, who are bourgeois. This is not complicated.

    Notice, too, that there is no reference to education or income level in those Marxist class definitions. There is such a thing as a well-paid proletarian. There is such a thing as a well-educated proletarian.

    When conditions for the sale of labour are favourable, a proletarian can earn enough to purchase such things as a personal home, higher education, or foreign travel.

    However, the purchase of such things does not change the relationship of the proletarian to the control of the means of production: the proletarian remains dependent on the sale of his or her labour. Unless the proletarian acquires control of capital, he or she remains a prole.

    Reliance on the sale of one’s labour is intrinsically precarious, and the overall terms of trade will favour those who control the most capital. Over time, in a capitalist society, the bourgeoisie come to own and control almost everything, while the proletarians become immiserated.

    The petty bourgeoisie, for their part, gradually get liquidated by the process of capitalism. The petty bourgeoisie cease to be a socially and politically distinct class. Some of them do well and become full-fledged bourgeois, but most will get proletarianized.

    The ruin of the shopkeepers of Main St. America, first by the “big boxes,” and then by Amazon, is one example of how the petty bourgeoisie gets liquidated as a class. The petty bourgeois class was not politically or socially strong enough to stop the bourgeoisie from eating them.

    The loss of professional control, being experienced by many doctors and lawyers in our time, is another example of how the petty bougeoisie gets liquidated and proletarianized. “Proletarianized” does not necessarily mean impoverished, at least not at first. What it means is that as capitalism continues to mature, even the members of well-established professions are being made to experience a change in their relationship to the control of their means of production. These formerly independent professionals will come to sell their labour to the bourgeoisie, who will then tell them what to do and why.

    So you can see that there is nothing about a “precariat” that demands a new terminology. “Precariat” is just a word used by those who are afraid of the words bourgeois and proletarian.

    The solution–as Telek notes, and as Marx would have told him a long time ago–must be political. Right now, the bourgeoisie are the politically dominant class in global society. To protect itself, and by corollary to protect the majority of humanity itself, the proletariat needs to become the world’s politically dominant class.

    To get back to the critique of radicals and progressives at the beginning of this post, I might add that perhaps the main problem was the over-modesty of the political goals, characteristic of a proletarian class which has yet been unready to rule.

    It is worth bearing in mind that there was a Marxist dialectic to the rise of the bourgeoisie to political predominance. Remember that for a very long time the bourgeoisie themselves were a class who were dominated and exploited by the aristocracy and the clergy. Over the course of many generations’ worth of class conflict, the bourgeoisie got beaten again and again by the superior political and social power of those other classes. Indeed, the very notion of the bourgeoisie being a politically dominant class, in their own right, would have seemed absurd a few centuries ago.

    1. marieann

      Thank you for this wonderful short and succinct explanation.
      I had always thought of us all as working class- those who work for money. I prefer working class to precariat.
      Of course I am of the generation where working class meant unions and unions meant power for us.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Well . . . “working class” used to mean decently-paid union-protected jobs-for-decades in stable industries.

        Precariat means people who have no “job” at all, but merely hoped-for little tasks for an hour or a day at a time maybe. No security, no life-planability. If all you have is a car and Uber, and then Uber goes bankrupt. . . after it exterminates all the cab companies, then who do you drive for for pay? In time to avoid losing the car and having to go sleep under a dumpster? That’s the precariat.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          If you say to the boss: ” I want a raise.”

          And the boss says: ” I can get ten interns who will pay ME to get to do your job. Now shut up and get back to work” . . . you may be a precarian.

          Though now that I think about it, even that example assumes a level of “job security” ( as long as you shut up and stay shutted up), that the precarians don’t even have.

    2. precariat

      Great background on Marx.
      “Precariat” is just a word used by those who are afraid of the words bourgeois and proletarian.”

      Academic theories aside, ‘precariat’ suggests a former proletarian who finds no place in the economic, political, or cultural system except to be preyed upon and to die. So, my apologies to the academics, but ‘precariat’ has an immediacy and a connotation of uncertainty and even danger that proletarian does not. The shift from industrial capitalism to technological capitalism means that some humans — and their labor potential — are no longer needed.

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