[Marxism] Imperialism and the US working class (Was YADL)

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Sat Apr 4 18:37:11 MDT 2009

Marv has another message replying to mine where he concedes standards of
living of working people in the U.S. have in general not declined, "But this
does not take into account the contemporary need for two income households,
vast amounts of unpaid overtime and family stress, and mountains of mortgage
and other debt which has been required to sustain the great bubble in
consumption - chickens which have now come home to roost."

What Marv says about two-income households should be complimented with some
thinking about the one-child or no children households a growing phenomenon
among anglos in the United States and among the dominant nationalities (and
perhaps others) in the other major imperialist powers. The number of
children being born to these sectors of the population are well, well below
the replacement rate, i.e., the creation of future generations is being
sacrificed to current consumption. 

That tells us something about the compulsive consumerism of advanced
capitalist societies. As Marv may realize if he remembers some of the things
I've written over the years, it would be wrong to say that I believe the
U.S. population, and especially anglos, enjoy a high standard of living.
Quite the contrary, I think they suffer it. 

Marv seems quite obsessed with my use of the word "bribe" to describe the
relationship between imperialism and its domestic labor force. He insists
there is no such thing as a labor aristocracy and so on. In using the word
"bribe" I was just echoing Lenin, but clearly what is involved isn't the
conscious acceptance of a pay-off. What is involved is this.

The imperialist countries grow rich as the expense of the colonial and
semicolonial countries. The overwhelming majority of the population of
imperialist countries share in this imperialist privilege -- and most of
them are quite aware of it: people know they have a much higher standard of
living, and in the case of Western Europe and Japan a fairly broad if
somewhat frayed social safety net, than in the third world. This relative
privilege is  the material basis for the backwardness of the U.S. working
class. These are NOT workers who have nothing to lose but their chains. They
also have their privileges to lose. 

As for declining living standards and wages in some sectors, it is necessary
to analyze things concretely. For example much is made that wages have
dropped in half in meatpacking in two decades, or some such figure. But
these are not the same workers as worked there 20 years ago. A lot of the
former workers, or their children, are now occupying the better-paying
"service" jobs Marv describes. The ones working there now are mostly
immigrants who are decidedly better off materially in these plants than they
were before in Mexico or Central America. 

If the situation of relative privilege of U.S. workers is not one of the
major underpinnings of their impotence as a class, then another explanation
needs to be offered. And it needs to be an explanation grounded in
*materialism,* at least that's what I think. 

Finally, this is a side issue, and not really an issue with Marv, but I
often see the assertion that U.S. consumer or household debt increased
demand in the economy. But it seems to me that UNLESS total indebtedness
grew at a rate higher than the average rate of interest of all consumer
debt, which I don't believe happened, then the net effect of consumer
indebtedness was to depress demand, not increase it. This may not show up in
bourgeois statistics because loan sharking and usury are probably classified
as useful and valuable "services" that consumers "buy," and so the amounts
paid in interest are ADDED to total consumption rather than subtracted from

And, in the few individual cases I'm familiar with, consumer debt, apart
from housing, has always represented a drag on household consumption, a
mechanism through which a "bank tax" is added to many purchases. Another
illustration, I think, that people in the US do not ENJOY a high standard of
living, they suffer it due to having been brainwashed into compulsive


More information about the Marxism mailing list