According to an old story from the mid-20th century, Henry Ford II and UAW President Walter Reuther toured a newly built automated Ford motors plant in Cleveland, Ohio together. As they gazed upon the labor replacing machines, Reuther was asked, “How are you going to collect union dues from these guys?” His reply was, “How are you going to get them to buy your cars?” In later versions of the tale the union man adds, “You know you can make automobiles, but consumers are still made the good old-fashioned way.”
Now, whether this actually happened, or is merely an apocryphal urban legend, it still confronts us with a sobering truth. Robots, while profitable for capitalists in the short-term, eventually make capitalism impossible. Robots put far more goods on the market than human labor and are cheaper. Yet, neither capitalists, their robots, nor the permanently unemployed workers they produce go shopping for those extra goods. In an effort to move goods and unplug the markets, credit is being offered to almost anyone regardless of ability to pay it back. But this has only created an expanding debt bubble that is ready to burst at anytime.
As a matter of course, we are witnessing the economic polarization of our society into superabundance on one side and super poverty on the other with the middle disappearing. This couldn’t continue without a growing number of workers beginning to realize they suffer from want in a land of near absolute plenty. This situation has given rise to a renewed interest in socialism. Socialism has now become not simply a good idea but a necessity and the next step in the evolutionary process of human society.
A 2016 Gallup poll showed that 58% of Democrats and Democrat leaners, as well as 55% of young people between the ages of 18 and 29, had a positive view of socialism. This year a record number of them are showing up to the polls not just as voters but as candidates running on socialist platforms such as healthcare for all, free public education, housing as a human right, Federal Guaranteed jobs, clean water, etc. Socialism is summed up as the fight for the realization of these demands through the public ownership of the robots.
It’s not like we have a choice. Just as the threat of being put out of business by competitors compels each capitalist to continue to introduce and perfect ever more robots, we have no choice but to fight for our very lives by fighting for public ownership of the robotic means of production. The alternative for a growing number of us is death by malnutrition, death from homelessness, death from pollution, death from denial of healthcare—in short, death by capitalism.
Not only does the ruling class have the political power to prevent public ownership, but they’re also expanding that political power to privatize all things public and making them the property of this or that corporation. If they can rob the public while the people starve, to enhance their wealth, then “we the people” must have political power so all may eat.