by Gene Grabiner
Capitalism grows and sows alienation as it accumulates and expands accumulation. The capitalists, of course, accumulate and accumulate, (not only for personal gain—they are not hoarders or misers, but to expansively accumulate capital, itself). This is what economists term, ‘growth.’ But it is growth with a vengeance, growth like a cancer; and it has metastasized, globally. Capital reproduces itself through expanded reproduction on an ever-grander, ever-extended scale until it is the global occupant instead of humanity.
Yes, of course people are all over the globe, but they have not yet emerged into the true measure of their own humanity. And that cannot happen unless and until they win themselves back from capital and, in so doing, save the world. As accumulation grows, so grows alienation. Workers are alienated or separated from their product, from each other, and from themselves. So, the capitalists then come to embody the tumor of alienation, which on its other pole is the daily life experience of wage-labor.
While wage-labor may be alienated, the capitalists are aliens. It is true as science fiction has so long warned us: “they are here,” “they walk among us.” They are the well-documented aliens. As the privacy, the true insularity, the gated and garrisoned world of the capitalists grows, the privacy of the rest of the ever-more-alienated people diminishes. Likewise, the immiseration of the people grows—a psychic immiseration if not a material one.
Among other struggles over contested ground, the struggle to preserve, protect and expand privacy for all is also a struggle against, e.g., the NSA and corporate spying on us all. Still, this is only a sort of holding action, given how ruling social forces use, are using, and will use communication and expression/repression. But the true reclamation of privacy is also actually the true and fullest expansion of publicity.
To fully win back the sphere of the private, we must fully inhabit or occupy the sphere of the public through mass restoration of the Commons at a higher level. As the Commons is restored both off and on-line, the private more and more will be reclaimed by those to whom it is denied. The restoration of Fourth Amendment privacy is at the same time the achievement of total public existence—what has been called the Public Opinion State that is enshrined in the First Amendment.
The Occupy Movement contained this insight, whether explicitly or implicitly. The Occupy Movement asked the proper questions and, in many respects, provided among its demands, the appropriate answers. The issue is this: how, effectively, to move from posing those questions to the full attainment of those answers? How to build the bridge to the future; and in so doing, how to build the future itself? For Occupy, the difficulty lay in the very anarchic character of that movement which, on the one hand was its romantic beauty and attractiveness but, on the other, its lack of a program, a way to move forward.
For this substantive forward motion to occur, the centrality of labor is key. When a mass global popular front/united front movement is crystallized, and all begin to understand and act on the fact that “Workers Create the Wealth,” we humans will no longer be kidnapped by those aliens. In fact, this is the only salvation for the aliens themselves. It is the only way to set them on the path toward becoming human.
Gene Grabiner, PhD, is SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, has been Vice-President, Grievance Chairperson, and a Contract Negotiator for the Faculty Federation of Erie Community College, (FFECC/NYSUT), AFL-CIO.