A Response to “The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class”

The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class

The “proletariat” of Marx was radically misrepresented by Lenin to include the Russian peasantry and labourers, without whom no revolution would have been possible in Russia as it was at that time, and most Marxists following Lenin have continued to include these groups. Marx though specifically distinguished the new proletariat from the peasantry and from traditional labour. The proletariat was new in that it was either responsible for the creation of the means of production or responsible for their proper operation. They were, in modern terms, the “technically literate”, or more precisely the technologically literate. For Marx the proletariat proper only existed in England and Germany, precisely because they were in the process of technological industrialization, creating the new classes of the capitalists, who paid for the new industry with gold taken from the Americas that had no other use, and the proletariat whose expertise made technologically based industry possible.

Reality, as a social product, was more and more being shaped and determined by technological production (Hegel’s term ‘aufhebung’, usually translated as ‘sublation’, in fact is close in meaning to production, specifically technological manufacture), and as the originators of such production the proletariat had a better understanding of the reality it produced than either the traditional lower classes, capitalists or the feudal gentry. As such this new class had a right to the ownership of the means of production and a right to a dictatorship over the resulting social reality. For Marx, it was inevitable that the new class would eventually recognise this and appropriate the technology they alone could produce, maintain and operate, along with the power it made available.

The educated portion of the “precariat” corresponds precisely to Marx’s proletariat, and continues to be the most potentially dangerous part of society to those with established power, since more and more that power depends on something the establishment has little to no grasp of. The establishment has a massive vested interest in maintaining that group in as precarious a position as possible precisely because they are dependent on them. Any withholding of their abilities would quickly result in the collapse of the basis of modern technological society. The fear of the establishment that opposes things like a guaranteed annual income is the fear that the technically literate would no longer ‘have’ to support the establishment in order to survive, and could simply withhold their expertise until the establishment is brought to their knees.

In pragmatic terms, if every developer and sysadmin decided they’d had enough of living in precarious circumstances and walked away, even were it limited to only those that support the financial sector, the global financial system would be unlikely to last a month, and replacing it would be close to impossible since it would require the agreement of too many people with opposed interests. Without the global financial system, the wealth of the wealthy and the power it confers would be instantaneously worthless and powerless.

That the technologically literate have never used their potential power in such a manner has more to do with the way in which as a group they tend to think and experience reality than to the machinations of the elite. Marx intuited that power and wealth in the traditional sense had little meaning to this group, and without that intuition, revolution itself is little more than the replacement of one establishment by another.  Leaving aside the “lumpen precariat/proletariat”, the proletariat proper is more interested in doing than in the reward, in making things and systems work than making people work. It is this general tendency that has allowed the established elite to maintain the new class in a precarious state, to maintain the illusion of power over those that can in fact simply “pull the plug” on the establishment at any time.  The group Anonymous is at root an anti-terrorist group, exposing terrorism whether by governments, police, or corporations; whether carried out against the underprivileged, minorities, or the higher animals; opposing it by simply drawing the public’s attention and allowing the public to register its opposition. The fear exhibited by politicians who call it a terrorist group, when it is quite overtly anything but, is a symptom of the fact that its demonstrated technical capability acts as a warning to the establishment that their own power and authority is as precarious as anything else.

Technology is, as Heidegger said, the ultimate danger to human being since it has annihilated the meaning hitherto ascribed to human being, but those who understand it most fully have the potential of redefining human being with a higher dignity than the earlier definition.  It does so in that ontologically, technology is unique in that it can be exchanged at will for its essence. In that exchange it shows (ex)change as the essence of being, and the nature of human being itself as being-ontological rather than some strange fusion of being-rational and being-animal, and simultaneously a strange “between” that is both and neither god nor beast.  Human beings are all of those things at times, yet none properly defines human being as such.  .

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