The economic crisis has had a devastating effect on the lives of young people, the working class, and the poor. Horror stories of homelessness, unemployment and poverty have become commonplace. This has fueled massive anger in society, which exploded last year in the form of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Even the mainstream media is forced to reveal the bleak future that lies ahead, although they fail to recognize capitalism as the root cause. Recently, the NY Times reported on the toll of the recession on those who they cheekily described as “fortunate enough to have work.”
“These are anxious days for American workers. Many ... are underemployed. Others find pay that is simply not keeping up with their expenses … Good benefits are harder to come by, and people are staying longer in jobs that they want to leave, afraid that they will not be able to find something better,” (NY Times, 06/18/12).
The article tells of a 59-year-old van driver from Atlanta whose pay was cut from $9 an hour for 40 hours to $8 an hour for significantly fewer hours. Last month, she made only over $200. She is receiving eviction notices due to missing rent payments and is avoiding necessary medical procedures because she simply cannot afford them. She says, “I’m looking for something else, anything else. More hours. Better pay. Actual benefits.” Her story is just one of millions across the country.
It is important to note the backdrop which frames this period of crisis. Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, said, “Unfortunately, the wage problems brought on by the recession pile on top of a three-decade stagnation of wages for low- and middle-wage workers.” On top of this, add high inflation for “college, health care and even recently, food.”
College graduates filled with hopes of landing jobs in big firms and buying homes are instead being forced to work part-time in retail. If they’re lucky enough to land that part-time job, they have to beg for as many hours as they can get just to make ends meet. Gary Miller, a recent college graduate, said “you have everybody competing for entry-level positions.”
In conditions where real unemployment stands at about 16%, according to Paul Krugman, many have given up on their original goals of working within their field and still many others have altogether lost hope for finding a job.
Describing the conditions of depression in the 1930s, Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky wrote about “a whole generation of young people who have never had a job and have no hope of getting one” and how the unemployed are “forced to live at the expense of society,” (Leon Trotsky, Marxism in Our Time, 1939).
His description would match the real conditions for millions today and is just as relevant as the time when it was originally written.
Karl Marx described capitalism’s propensity to crises and suggested that this is part of the normal functioning of the capitalist system. In Capital, he states that capitalism “dispels all fixity and security in the situation of the laborer … it constantly threatens ... to snatch from his hands his means of subsistence.”
As we enter the election season, Obama and Romney try to explain how their policies can overcome these issues and bring “prosperity.” But the unpleasant truth is that capitalism and the two parties of big business cannot offer a way out for working people. Half the respondents in a NY Times/CBS poll thought “the next generation of Americans would be worse off,” while only about 25% believed there are prospects of a better future, (04/2012).
While class consciousness remains still limited, the prolonged crisis and economic instability creates favorable conditions for the rapid growth of radical anti-capitalist and socialist ideas.