Burdens of Empire on the Working Class

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 6 16:24:16 MST 2003

Sam Pawlett wrote:
>Forgot to add that US imperialism has resulted in the massive importation of
>drugs into the country. The results of that on American working class
>communities is well known.

I can't think of a better source book on the hidden costs of empire than 
Baran and Sweezy's "Monopoly Capital". This passage is actually included in 
the "words of struggle" section from www.marxmail.org:

Asked if he liked his job, one of John Updike’s characters replied, "Hell, 
it wouldn’t be a job if I liked it." All but a tiny minority of specially 
lucky or privileged workers would undoubtedly agree. There is nothing 
inherently interesting about most of the narrowly sub-divided tasks which 
workers are obliged to perform; and with the purpose of the job at best 
obscure and at worst humanly degrading, the worker can find no satisfaction 
in what his efforts accomplish. As far as he is concerned, the one 
justification is the paycheck. The paycheck is the key to whatever 
gratifications are allowed to working people in this society: such 
self-respect, status, and recognition by one’s fellows as can be achieved 
depend primarily on the possession of material objects. The worker’s house, 
the model of his automobile, his wife’s clothes—all assume major 
significance as indexes of success or failure. And yet within the existing 
social framework these objects of consumption increasingly lose their 
capacity to satisfy. Forces similar to those which destroy the worker’s 
identification with his work lead to the erosion of his self-identification 
as a consumer. With goods being sought for their status-bearing qualities, 
the drive to substitute the newer and more expensive for the older and 
cheaper ceases to be related to the serviceability of the goods and becomes 
a means of climbing up a rung on the social ladder.

That being said, I am not quite sure that the kind of alienation described 
at great length in "Monopoly Capital" and that is reflected in drug use 
(either illegal like cocaine or legal like prozac and alcohol), overeating, 
binge shopping, broken marriages, clinical depression, etc., is the sort of 
thing that will make people open to revolutionary ideas. I think the cost 
of maintaining an empire will eventually become so costly in terms of loss 
of life and fortune that workers will have to act on their underlying class 
interests. That day may be rapidly approaching.

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list