Happy May Day!
I wonder why it is that May Day never caught on in the United States. It is, after all, an American holiday to begin with – it commemorates the Haymarket Square massacre and the eternal war that capital wages on labor. We stand today at a turning point in history, as we do every day of every year of every century.
There can be no doubt that on May Day 2012, labor is not at a high point. The latest turn of the technological revolution has brought into sharp relief the eventual obsolescence of the laborer. While capital has dreamed of this since before the Luddites took up their pitchforks, the increasing intelligence of inanimate objects is beginning to reach the point where this doesn’t just seem like a pipe dream. In every field, the human labor intensity has invariably decreased. What began with heavy industry is moving into light industry, from then on to retail and logistics and soon to overtake the professional labor classes.
I don’t know how this squares with the way that the division of labor and capital has fundamentally shifted in the last two centuries. When one looks at the actual occupations of the 1%, one of the most striking features is how much of them derive their income from labor. Investment bankers & traders, lawyers, doctors, managers, consultants – their money comes from selling their labor rather than investing their capital. They too will be obsolescent sooner or later, and probably sooner than they think.
Therein lies the paradox of this May Day – while labor seems near a nadir, capital does not seem to be ascendant. There is no doubt that large corporations more or less control the United States government…but where are the capitalists? Congress’s strings aren’t pulled by the shareholders of Goldman Sachs & JP Morgan, but by its management. Goldman Sachs’ shareholders are mostly…well, us. Individuals to a small degree, but primarily large institutional investors…which in turn primarily comprise pension funds, 401(K)s, and other vast pools of money answerable in some abstract sense to the 99%.
A fundamental string running through the last 30 years of politics is not how capitalists have seized control of the institutions of democracy…but how the managerial class has seized control of the institutions of capitalism.