This paper is devoted to first define the theoretical outlook of the relationship that exists between the working class and the capitalist class by unpacking the law of development as per Marx’s work, of the unity and struggle of the opposites. To indicate the existing contradictions emanating from the various interest in relation to the various industrial revolutions. In order to give an account of the fact that the advancement of all the industrial revolutions has happened through the manipulation of this law, by the ruling class. The paper will also justify on the reasons that the Marxist perception is used, instead of another theoretical outlook, by providing the difference between the idealist notions and materialist philosophical understanding of the society in order to expose the current definitions linked to the 4th industrial revolution. In conclusion, the paper will share recommendations that the working class can advance in order to consolidate its class interest and advance the revolution.
At the core of understanding the notion of the unity and struggle of the opposites, lies the appreciation of dialectics, according to Vladimir Lenin, “Dialectics in the proper sense is the study of contradiction in the very essence of objects.” 1 Lenin’s assertions are vital because, in every change that occurs in society, it is important to understand the essence of how such change occurs, its driving forces, its elements, and of course its formation. This means that such a process requires the study to be informed by a particular outlook because all social studies do not happen in isolation from a particular outlook derived to understand society. It is important to state that, the outlook should be a product of that particular society, in order to then give the full account of the necessities of the changes that occurred. Therefore the unity and struggle of the opposites of anything should not be understood in isolation from dialectics.
The kernel of the unity and struggle of the opposites is the appreciation that, change in society occurs due to the fact that there are ongoing contradictions and to be more specific, our focus should be on the contradictions that occur within the human race, underpinned by the class antagonisms. This will assist us in understanding the essence in which the unity and struggle of the opposites happen, as a distinct scientific phenomenon in any society, with regards to the changes that inventions such as the industrial revolution occurs. The first contradiction is on the premise of the outlook to be used to understand society, and it can be broken down to the two competing schools of thought-the idealist outlook and the materialist outlook. Both outlook then serves as the fundamental basis in which the unity and struggle of the opposites is perceived.
Vladimir Lenin best describes the two outlooks, when he says that, “The two basic (or two possible? Or two historically observable?) Conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation). 2 This means, the first outlook is purely obsessed with, the outlook that perceives things as isolated, static and one-sided, often what many would say, ‘things are as they are”. Such assertions regard all things in the universe (mind the usage of all things here) their forms and their species, as eternally isolated from one another and absolute, with only a form of change, possible only on the basis of an increase and a decrease in quantity or simply just a change of place.
The idealists when analysing the industrial revolution will only focus on its linear historical mechanism, in order words to just draw timelines, that the first industrial revolution happened through the invention of production which was based on water and steam, the second industrial revolution based on the mass production through the division of labour with electrical energy as its catalyst, the third industrial revolution based on the introduction of electronics and information technology for further automatization of production and that the fourth industrial revolution is based on cyber-physical systems. 3 The idealist perception isolates the industrial revolution from the political, economic and social aspects, and poses it as a mere development in production, without stating the fact that, such a revolution has kept the capitalist mode of production as its fundamental basis which has taken many forms in society.
Moreover, the idealist argues that the cause of such an increase or decrease or change of place is not inside things but outside them. Which means that the motive force is external, they believe that all the different kinds of things in the universe and all their characteristics have been the same ever since they first came into being. All subsequent changes have simply been increases or decreases in quantity. They contend that a thing can only keep on repeating itself as the same kind of thing and cannot change into anything different. Which also means that with regards to the industrial revolution, the change that occurs is based on the qualitative aspects of production, measured in time and space and that such is external to society. This in many ways places the drivers of the industrial revolution and the source, and the subjects as mere factors of production, in other words, idealists would argue that the labour forces which have been affected in all forms of industrial revolutions are just mere factors of production and not sources of production, and the capitalist class- has been the prevailing catalyst of such a revolution.
This in many ways disregards the fact that in the advancement of the industrial revolution, there is a unity that occurs between the working class and the capitalist class, such unity exists in many ways. Firstly it happens due to the fact that the proletariat is the source of labour which has been paramount in advancing any form of the industrial revolution, and the fact that post the production process of any product, the working class forms part of the consumers of the same products they produced, of course with the working class in many cases does not afford the commodities produced and may be forced to then request financial assistance from the banks to purchase them. While the capitalist class continues to enjoy the surplus achieved. The idealist views such relations on the basis that capitalist super-exploitation, alienation, competition, the individualist ideology of capitalist society and the capitalist market utility have one distinct factor- that is they can all be found in all forms of society and will exist forever unchanged.
In contrary to the idealist perception is the outlook of materialist dialectics, which holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things. This means that the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts with the things around it. The industrial revolution does not happen on a linear mechanism, it is a product of the class struggle and reflects the forms and kinds of the class relations in a particular period. As Chairman Mao argued to emphasise this point, “This further means that, the fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is an internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development. Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while its interrelations and interactions with other things are secondary causes.” If we were to look at the working class, from the materialist perception, we will make the appreciation that, the class firstly exists on its relations to the mode of production, and this symbolises the unity within the working class, which can be understood through political supremacy.
This is derived from the fact that the working class is in a greater population from its class counterparts- the capitalist class. That its unity is not artificial but an ongoing political process. But this does not mean that the working class cannot be fragmented, that its political supremacy will always exist, because with the advancement of any industrial revolution there is political competition amongst the working class on the basis of universal suffrage, symbolised by different political parties, division of labour and with the advancement of the fourth industrial revolution a replacement of labour power with automotive mechanisms, through the introduction of advanced machinery.
The political supremacy of the working class has for many years been isolated from achieving unity from within, if such unity exists, it is used advanced by narrow nationalist politicking, which has many individuals that tend to aspire to be part of the capitalist class. This happens through the belief that the political supremacy of the working class only exists through the achievement of universal suffrage, this phenomenon, isolates the working class from governing themselves, by making them believe that their power is only to vote, but not to form and implement policies that are reflective of the interest of the advancement of the working class. The understanding of universal suffrage as a mere process of voting and not governing, disregards the words of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels when they said that, “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.”
John Foster in his book, Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution: Early industrial capitalism in three English towns, appreciates that one of the biggest threats towards the political supremacy of the working class is that, the capitalist class has influence over the formation of some trade unions. This means that the capitalist class, has not only been prepared to dilute labour power through the introduction of machinery, but it is also willing to create quasi-working class formations in order to weaken the political supremacy of the working class, because at the core of all revolutions lies the ability of the primary motive forces to find political mechanisms that can mobilise the oppressed masses through a clear political program shaped by class analysis. Therefore in as much as there is a need to decrease the labour power of the working class- the proletariat to be specific (through the advancement of the fourth industrial revolution), there is also a need by the capitalist class to control those that will end up unemployed, through quasi-political formations.
The capitalist class realises that the decrease in the labour power needs to be managed, through political means and of course in many instances ideological facilitation, this gives an account to the fact that, in as much as many careers are becoming extinct in the capitalist market, there is an existing political program that aims to have a huge number of the children of the working class and the poorly educated in faculties that will soon be meaningless in the advancement of the fourth industrial revolution. The managing of the students happens through making them receive an education system that is not addressing the already existing societal problems and letting them be institutionalised so that they can be busy studying and be alienated from broader society. This does not mean that the children of the working class must not be educated, but it raises questions, on the quality of the education received. The capitalist class cares about an increase in quantity because it means that its ideas get infiltrated even in the poorest societies.
Now that we have seen that the fourth industrial revolution needs to be understood from the political, economic and social aspects, it is paramount to discuss the means in which the working class can advance its ideas in order to use political supremacy and surpass the capitalist class in relation to the industrial revolution. The following can form part of the recommendations that can be implemented:
- Land expropriation without compensation: The land to be expropriated needs to be used to advance vertical human settlement, in this way the usage of land will enable space and have a meaningful commercial benefit to the working class and the poor. In this way home production can be achieved, even the elderly can participate in the economy, because the production of commodities will happen in their homes, at their disposal and the huge number of labour power that is retrenched due to the fourth industrial revolution can then focus on performing various forms of production of commodities at home. This will also strengthen the family unit, delink the dependency of the working class and the poor from the ruling class and therefore maintain political supremacy.
- Expansion of artificial farming in townships: This is critical for food security, and increase to various kinds of healthy food to the working class and the poor making them independent from the need to work in order to get money to purchase food. In fact, this will also maintain the political supremacy of the working class because it will increase its life expectancy and deepen human
- Different tactic in the mobilisation of the working class: There is a need for trade unions to mobilise in the so-called white-collar industries, unorganized forms of labour and the need for the vanguard Party to mobilise and create programs for the unemployed masses in order to maintain the revolutionary base which makes up the political supremacy of the broader working
The working class needs to understand that it is the primary motive force of the revolution and that the technological advancements should not be perceived entirely as a process of the capitalist class, but that working class itself is capable of making such advancements in order to maintain, promote and enhance its interest. Karl Marx made it clear that “Men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces.” This means that it is only through a scientific understanding of the current material conditions that, not emotions that the greater advancements of the working class can be possible. Therefore we need to understand that the contradictions presented by the fourth industrial revolution symbolises the unity and struggle of the opposites and in such unity, the working class is still lacking behind, we need to take over and advance the fourth industrial revolution, because it is one of the most important elements of building a socialist society!
Written by Bhekithemba Mbatha