Lenin On Alliances With Non-Communists

“This statement says that not all those gathered round the journal Pod Znamenem Marksizma are Communists but that they are all consistent materialists. I think that this alliance of Communists and non-Communists is absolutely essential and correctly defines the purposes of the journal. One of the biggest and most dangerous mistakes made by Communists (as generally by revolutionaries who have successfully accomplished the beginning of a great revolution) is the idea that a revolution can be made by revolutionaries alone. On the contrary, to be successful, all serious revolutionary work requires that the idea that revolutionaries are capable of playing the part only of the vanguard of the truly virile and advanced class must be understood and translated into action. A vanguard performs its task as vanguard only when it is able to avoid being isolated from the mass of the people it leads and is able really to lead the whole mass forward. Without an alliance with non-Communists in the most diverse spheres of activity there can be no question of any successful communist construction.

This also applies to the defence of materialism and Marxism, which has been undertaken Pod Znamenem Marksizma.Fortunately, the main trends of advanced social thinking in Russia have a solid materialist tradition. Apart from G. V. Plekhanov, it will be enough to mention Chernyshevsky, from whom the modern Narodniks (the Popular Socialists, Socialist-Revolutionaries, etc.) have frequently retreated in quest of fashionable reactionary philosophical doctrines, captivated by the tinsel of the so-called last word in European science, and unable to discern beneath this tinsel some variety of servility to the bourgeoisie, to bourgeois prejudice and bourgeois reaction.

At any rate, in Russia we still have — and shall undoubtedly have for a fairly long time to come — materialists from the non-communist camp, and it is our absolute duty to enlist all adherents of consistent and militant materialism in the joint work of combating philosophical reaction and the philosophical prejudices of so-called educated society.”

-Vladimir Lenin, “On The Significance Of Militant Materialism”

Our Precarious Modernity

Guy Standing’s “Precariat”

The Precariat was a term introduced by economist Guy Standing in “The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class” to describe a section of the global workforce that lives precariously, working jobs in the service industry that do not provide necessary financial security. These workers are burdened by involuntary part-time labor, internships, short-term contracts, and zero-paid contracts that prevent employees from being provided with full benefits from the state and often times oblige them to take a second or third job or engage in other tasks outside of the workplace to make ends meet.

Some Precarians are a part of the general service economy of fast food restaurants, call centers, hotels, and other service providers. Others are located within the new “Gig Economy” of freelancers and independent contractors, selling their services as web designers, Uber drivers, writers, photographers, etc. Working students, who take on high debt and work seasonal, temporary, and part-time jobs or unpaid internships, are generally accepted to be a part of the precariat. As we have seen in both Europe and the United States, recent graduates have unusually high levels of unemployment and competition to find an entry-level job is high as well. Immigrants who either work under the table or are forced into part-time jobs that Americans won’t do also many times suffer from precariousness.

Standing identifies three main groups that are pulled into the Precariat:

First, there are the “atavists” who “look backwards.” These are the individuals who come from the old working-class families and feel deprived of what they imagine to be (whether real or not) better conditions in the past. They are relatively undereducated and are attracted by right-wing populist and neo-fascist messages that target the “others” believed to be ruining their country’s status.



Figure 1.1 Cumulative Change in Real Hourly Wages Of All Workers, By Wage Percentile, 1979-2013 (US), Economic Policy Institute


Then, there are the “nostalgics” who feel alienated from the society at large, deprived of a necessary “belonging” and a sense of home. This group mainly consists of disenfranchised minorities and migrants who do not view themselves as a part of the greater whole. They are generally quiet when it comes to political mobilization, but can explode into anger when societal pressure increases.



Figure 1.2 Estimated Number Of Unauthorized Immigrants In The U.S. Labor Force Stabilizes Since 2009, Pew Research Center


Finally, there are the “progressives” who feel deprived of their future. The progressives are those who were told by their community that if they study hard and do everything right, they would surely earn a comfortable career after finishing college. However, these precariats soon realized that these promises were not fulfilled and as a result find themselves in debt with fewer opportunities in the workplace than their parents’ generation. This is the group continually confronted with the paradox of needing three year’s work experience for an entry-level job or working unpaid internships while repaying college loans that cannot be discharged in court. This section of the precariat feels at their core both anxiety about their future and anger about their lost opportunities fueling these emotions into a “new progressive politics.”



Figure 1.3 Share Of Employed Recent High School And College Graduates With Health Insurance Provided By Their Own Employer, Economic Policy Institute




Figure 1.4 Wages Of Young College Grads Have Been Falling Since 2000, Economic Policy Institute


The Precariat, Standing claims, is distinguished from other class by a distinctive relation of production. As most work is involuntary part-time, short-term, on call, unpaid, or concierge-style work, the precariat has no “occupational identity” to give themselves, seeing their work as a means to an end and not as an existential defining characteristic of one’s life. One reason for this is that the Precariat is the “first time in history” that so many individuals have education levels above the jobs that they are performing. Much of the precariat work time is non-remunerated, being exploited both inside and outside of the workplace, yet required to continue being employed. This leads to a feeling of losing control of time, what Standing calls the “precariatized” mindset. The precariat must constantly battle for their wages. 40% of freelancers report having to spend precious free-time tracking down their unpaid wages.  Secondly, the precariat relies mainly on wages without any form of work benefits. What follows from this is the heavy debt that the precariat drags along with them decreasing their prospects of upward mobility. Unstainable levels of debt means that one misstep for them could put them into a lower social position.

Today, precarious work makes up a large portion of the economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number of part-time workers in the country at 27.37m for 2017. Of those who work varied hours, apart from the 9-5 work week, the majority are “involuntary”, meaning their choosing not to work full-time hours was not preferable. Of the 1-2m internships that are filled each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) estimates that more than half of them are unpaid, and as The Economist noted, lead to actual paid positions in only 20-20% of cases. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics has had a difficult time quantifying the exact number of independent contractors and other alternative positions (10,1% of the US economy are the latest estimates), the gig economy, consisting of both online platforms and traditional freelancers, is estimated by Intuit CEO Brad Smith (though not totally a disinterested party) to make up around 34% of the American workforce and expected to come to 43% by 2020. In total, Standing estimates in his book that “at least a quarter of the adult population” is represented in the precariat.

The Precariat, a new fighting force, it would seem, is upon us!

Politico-Economic Origins of the Precariat

The transformation that the international economy underwent starting in the 1970s-80s, the Globalization era, and the technology boom of the 90s, gave rise to this new form of the service economy. The neoliberal vision of “freeing up” markets worldwide, attacking the safety net and the strength of the labor unions characteristic of the social-democratic era, “liberating” entrepreneurial freedoms, and creating strong institutions of private property and free trade were proposed for securing the well-being of man. The opening up of new markets abroad, most significantly, the Chinese market, led to an immense shift of capital from the original core of world capital to the new emerging markets in the East. Most of these countries’ labor pools would accept wages 50 times lower than that of what OECD workers earn; this had the effect of quadrupling the labor supply (China, India, and the ex-Soviet Bloc by themselves have added an extra 1.5b workers to the labor force) which put a downward pressure on wages in the West.

As Marx showed us with the history of the relay-system that capitalist firms will continue to find sinister ways to move around laws regulating the production process when believed necessary. Where the traditional proletarian worker could organize in labor unions, capitalists have sought out “flexible” labor relations more responsive to supply and demand shifts, making it easier to fire employees. At home, employers turned to temporary workers, independent contractors, foreign workers, and interns. Zero-hour contracts, where one is given a job but not ensured a certain amount of hours one is to work, and the unpaid internship, where students and recent graduates are to work for “experience” and “exposure”, are typical of today’s economy. These structural shifts to “flexible” labor save businesses an estimated 30% more than a normal worker. In publishing and print media, for example, writers, editors, designers, and other professionals now freelance because the entire industry has been restructured, retaining only a small permanent workforce while relying on subcontracting competitive freelance labor.

The rise in freelance labor, at its onset, was touted as a “liberating” and “creative” alternative to the drone of 9 to 5 office work; the earliest industries were, in fact, those most linked with creativity and culture: the media and tech sectors. But it is false to claim that these positions are somehow free of non-alienated labor. Working on a project to project basis, freelance labor often results in more unpaid labor time and the usurpation of any finished product as intellectual property. The ability to live off of one’s creative labor power is diminished by the necessity to make ends meet. As freelance writer and editor Sarah Grey put it:

“But the “portfolio career,” in which creative workers juggle multiple clients and simultaneous projects in order to make ends meet while using those projects to market their skills and land the next project, is a balancing act. For every amazing biography of Frantz Fanon, there are many hours of proofreading corporate reports and writing websites for real-estate brokers to pay the rent, the student-loan debt, and the health insurance premiums. The freelance writers surveyed by Cohen regarded serious, long-form journalism as a luxury, something they fit in around the tedious bill-paying gigs that took up the vast majority of their time. While freelancers do sometimes enjoy more “individuality . . . liberty, independence, and self-control” (as Marx put it) than in-house workers, it is tightly restricted by the necessity of selling your labor power in an atmosphere of increased competition and downward pressure on wages.”

This model, however, has been co-opted by a whole host of industries for an expanding number of positions. Some have some attachment to creative work but many are devoid of any creativity and simply serve to increase profits.

Flexibility also means a loss of identity with a firm. While a typical worker in the 1960s, writes Standing, “could have anticipated having four employers by the time he retired,” today, he can “anticipate having nine employers before reaching the age of 30.” The national turnover rate in the United States is an astounding 45% of the American workforce who will change positions within the year. So today, when capitalists such as Patrick Petitti, CEO of Catalant Technologies lament the “outdated” way in which businesses organize their employees, claiming that the “gig-economy is coming for your office job,” the hidden message behind all the futuristic discourse is the implicit threat of precariousness on the working class.

Capital tamed labor by moving factories to the non-unionized ‘right-to-work states’ in the south. Strikes could thus be broken simply by threatening plant closure. Abroad, multinationals and small businesses alike have been able to profit from cheap labor in the global south, offshoring tech jobs able to be done at a distance, or moving entire plants from the West to other countries.


Figure 1.5 Extracting surpluses from abroad: rates of return on foreign and domestic investments in the US: 1960-2002 (Harvey)



Figure 1.6 The flow of tribute into the US: profits and capital income from the rest of the world in relation to domestic profits (Harvey)


As Professor David Harvey mentions in his “Brief History of Neoliberalism”, the neoliberal theory of technology relies heavily on the ability of capital to coerce individuals into new productive forms, manifested in the new “entrepreneurial” spirit. In a fetish-like fashion, technology has become the “magic spell” to fix everything despite its extremely destabilizing effects of labor.

“There is an inner connection, therefore, between technological dynamism, instability, dissolution of social solidarities, environmental degradation, deindustrialization, rapid shifts in time-space relations, speculative bubbles, and the general tendency towards crisis formation within capitalism.”

Automation is quickly leading to the obsolescence of certain traditional service positions such as retail salespersons, cashiers, fast food workers, and truck drivers, forcing them into non-traditional forms of work which are precarious in nature, emphasizing the flexible, competitive, and “liberating” aspects of work.


Figure 1.7 The Future of Employment, Jeff Desjardins (Visual Capitalist)


As with the agricultural positions of the past, blue-collar productive sector jobs are gradually being replaced by service sector and white collar jobs. There still remains a certain amount of productive sector employees, but they are in the minority and are getting smaller. The dislocation of productive workers, however, does not need to be a death sentence for Marxist theory. The working class has always been divided into up into different sections and subdivisions based on nationality, ethnicity, skill set, location, education, productive vs. Non-productive, etc. What links them together is that they all survive by selling their own labour. As capitalism goes through its endless transformations, the working class is constantly thrown around, adjusting to every new change, some barely hanging on for dear life. Thus, there will still be clashes between those who are a part of the system and those subject to it.



Figure 1.8 Manufacturing’s Share of Employment, Bureau of Labor Statistics

In this way, however, the neoliberal state is able to govern. In State of Insecurity, Isabell Lorey writes that precarianization has become an instrument in governing in the neoliberal era. The state is not endangered by precariatization. By constantly adjusting the necessary minimum that a worker can receive, the state ensures that there are no major conflicts while still pitting the interests (perceived or real) of different civil society groups against each other. We can see how in the United States, for example, the fears if the white, ex-middle class precariats, exacerbated by the identity politics of the populist-right, clash with those of the youth and minority driven social democratic left. Prolonging the life of the welfare state while still cutting its funding ensure continued legitimation of the system. Security is instead guaranteed through policing. Concern for relative poverty has been replaced with a concern only for absolute poverty.

Both sectors will fight to regain what privileges they previously held and it here that the interests of both sectors align. The productive sector will struggle for the return to the days of strong labor unions and the service sector, the increasing fear of losing everything. Moreover, by acting as a reserve army of available workers, the fate of both the industrial proletariat and the service precariat are inextricably linked in that the precarious workers place a downward pressure on the wages of the productive sector. These two poles are confined in the same cage and must be linked in order to realize real opposition to capital.


A “New Dangerous Class”?

The debate over the new economy pits the Precaristas, who generally agree with Standing’s thesis considering them to be the revolutionary subject and strive to organize this group, against the Labor Orthodoxy, those who either downplay the extent of precariousness, reject labeling it a “new class”, and even argue against the possibility of organizing them. This distinction is important because it reveals to what extent the Left should focus on the precariat in a larger coalition in making revolution. I will discuss this further in the next section.

In a confined context, Standing’s diagnosis has acceptable explanatory power when it comes to the rise in precarious working conditions. Standing was correct when he linked the rise in precarious work to the rise in populist parties throughout the West and using his theory, Precaristas have focused their efforts on precarious workers for social-democratic movements and bourgeois policies such as the Universal Basic Income.


Figure 1.9 Standing’s New Class Hierarchy


Standing claims that the Precariat represents a new social class, a break from the classes of the “old capitalist system.” They stand out from traditional understandings of social class in that they are linked by relative (through money power, position in society, sector of the economy) and not absolute relationships (owners and non-owners) to each other. First are the elite who earn rentier incomes and hold political power. Then come the salariat, a group defined by those with secure employment and “non-wage enterprise benefits such as pensions, paid holidays and medical leave.” Following them are the Proficians “frenetically making money” and “endangered by burn out.” The Old Working Class comes before the precariat because of their stable full-time positions, entitlements, and union-backing. Finally, above the unemployed comes the Precariat, a class distinct from other social classes.

Conceptualizing of social classes in this way, however, leads to several theoretical problems. It cannot, first of all, correctly explain class interests. For example, despite their relative difference in wage levels, the salariat, proficians, “old” working class, and precariat are all at their core laborers who have their labor-power purchased by a capitalist, giving them interests to raise their standard of living. Separating these workers into four different classes does not account for this inherent unity. At the same time, there is no distinction in these classes between small business owners and workers both of which have inverse interests. Mixing them together is a serious theoretical error. Finally, within the Precariat, Standing identifies with three supposed groups entering into the formula, the atavists, the nostalgics, and the progressives who support the rise in populism, yet this distinction again, cannot explain the differing interests why certain factions turn to the Right and others to the Left.

At the same time, there are significant problems with Standing’s thesis coming from a lack of historical and global context that warrant discussion. His class hierarchy is irrelevant because it is ahistorical; even if his distinctions did hold, they would only be applicable to today’s economy and thus would not be universal categories. The working class of yesterday was the dominated class and the service sector was much smaller compared to the modern economy. Within the American and Western contexts, we have witnessed a general “rise in standards of living”, an elevation of past proletarian elements to the level of the “middle class,” but to the dismay of the world, this class was not abolished but was exported to the periphery of the world capitalist system. Instead of the spinners and sewers of Marx’s day, clothes are now produced in Egypt, Vietnam, Turkey, and China. IT hardware is completed in the United States and Europe but moves through an international process that encompasses countries such as Malaysia where billions of dollars worth of products are produced each year to be sold in the first world and wages are kept low through forced labor, a lack of union representation, general sweatshop conditions. Resources can now be reaped from at home or around the world for processing in capitalism’s core. On an international scale, precariatization has always been and continues to be the norm. It’s the western social-democratic state that was the exception. It is for these reasons that the idea of a new “precarious class” is Western-centric and not a universally-valid concept. Instead, it is a manifestation of the new characteristic of what it means to be in the working class under western neoliberalism.

For all of these reasons the Labor Orthodoxy, such as Jacobin’s Bhaskar Sunkara, have rightly rejected the distinction of new social class, and furthermore, rejected their revolutionary potential. It is clear that the “precariat” is nothing but the non-productive working class that has existed alongside the industrial proletariat since its inception, a “segment” of the broader working class that lives on its labor as Monthly Review’s Ricardo Antunes makes clear. Precarious workers have existed before social-democracy in the west and so do they again in today’s world.

So where does this leave us? Despite Standing’s obviously flawed understanding of class structure, can a broken clock still be correct twice a day? Does the precariat still exist as a relevant concept despite the criticisms of the labor orthodoxy?

As with the working class from the productive sectors, the precariat, especially in the core, is also divided into lower and higher rungs. If a study from the Freelancers Union can be trusted, only 5% of what they define as “freelancers” are classified as “Freelance Business Owners”, meaning “freelancers” who buy the labor power of at least one other worker. Another 40% are “traditional freelancers” who don’t work under an employer. Then there are those 27% who “moonlight” (do freelance work after hours), those 18% who are classified as “diversified workers” (freelancing as a supplement to part-time work), and the 10% of “Temporary Workers.” As the June 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics Report found, while independent contractors are more likely to be in management, business, finance, sales, there are a significant amount making up portions of construction and professional services. 45% of on-call workers only work part-time and constitute significant portions of the workforce in service occupations, construction, transportation, education, and health services. 43% of them would prefer to work a traditional working schedule. Temporary workers are more likely to be minorities without higher education degrees heavily concentrated in manufacturing, transportation, and productive spheres. In general, they earn almost 41% less than traditional employees and 46% of them would prefer traditional working conditions. Students are similarly ordered, ranging from poor workers to the “middle class”, to the rich. If they are able to graduate, their prospects will manifest themselves very differently based on the amount of money-power and social capital available to them.

The Labor Orthodoxy would point to non-productive workers and see a clear discrepancy between the well-earning ranks of the service sector and the precarious workers, but this has always been the case in the West. As with the industrial proletariat, labor remains hierarchical with a large under-belly of precarity at the bottom.


Precarians: Revolutionary Subjects of the 21st Century?

So the question remains; In a region of the world where deindustrialization has taken place, and the industrial proletariat has largely been removed from the picture, can the precariat be counted on to support working class revolutionary ventures in the 21st century? Could the precariat be a revolutionary subject? While there is still a lack of historical empirical evidence, I would postulate that they could be.

Detractors from the Labor Orthodox camp claim that while there are possibilities for precarious support for proletarian movements in the third world, who have never been relieved of precariousness as the West was in the era of “class-compromise”, workers in the west still benefit from the accumulation of the past. Relative to precarious workers in the global south, they still earn more and live better lives than them. In some cases, they have more to lose than “their chains.” This leaves many ‘precarians’ open to petit-bourgeois influences, fighting to regain those lost benefits within from within the economic mode of production that they are familiar with and not seek revolutionary changes. This not specific to precariats, however, but is the largest hurdle to overcome for all workers in the capitalist core. Even despite the dismantling of social-democracy’s “class compromise”, historically, as in Engels’ time, we have seen that workers in the core are still less likely to revolt than those workers in the peripheries. Even if the proletariat does become energized with revolutionary fervor as it was in the early 20th century, the 30s, and the late-60s, it is not at all ensured that they will succeed, but that doesn’t mean that at the very least the Left shouldn’t mobilize as large a bloc as possible to aid the periphery movements in solidarity until our time comes.

The forms of exploitation under capitalism change and the left should adapt to these changes if it is to be relevant in the 21st century. While Marx views the working class in Capital from the perspective of the industrial worker when explaining the process of capitalist production, this is not all the working class is. As the 21st century progresses, the industrial proletariat will shrink to make room for an ever-larger service sector in the core. The communist movement must seek out oppressed groups other than simply the industrial proletariat to fight in the struggle with capitalism. We on the left need to come to the realization that Capital as a text, is not a Bible. It isn’t a cookie-cutter design meant to imprint the perfect form of “socialism” through use of a perfect formula. Anyone who thinks otherwise should immediately reread Lenin’s Our Revolution.

“They all call themselves Marxists, but their conception of Marxism is impossibly pedantic. They have completely failed to understand what is decisive in Marxism, namely, its revolutionary dialectics. They have even absolutely failed to understand Marx’s plain statements that in times of revolution the utmost flexibility is demanded, and have even failed to notice, for instance, the statements Marx made in his letters — I think it was in 1856 — expressing the hope of combining the peasant war in Germany, which might create a revolutionary situation, with the working-class movement — they avoid even this plain statement and walk around and about it like a cat around a bowl of hot porridge.

The scientificity of Capital and Marx’s dialectical approach that Lenin refers to in The Three Sources is not a dogmatic formula based on the teachings of a master. Marx’s true genius, his true scientific value, is that his historical materialist approach can still be used even 200 years after his death. It remains a historical constant in spite of large-scale historical transformations. For our purposes then, Capital is, as stated by Engels, a “guide to action”.

So why might the precariat show signs of revolt?

In Capital, Karl Marx outlined the structure of the capitalist economy, but absent from this, yet described in detail in both his Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts and Grundrisse, is his “theory of human needs,” the missing ingredient lacking in what Michael Lebowitz calls “one-sided Marxism.” Marx makes these needs clear in his 1844 Manuscripts:

“It will be seen how in place of the wealth and poverty of political economy come the rich human being and rich human need. The rich human being is simultaneously the human being in need of a totality of human life-activities-the man in whom his own realization exists as an inner necessity, as need.”

And again in the Grundrisse:

“In fact, however, when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc., created through universal exchange? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as of humanity’s own nature? The absolute working-out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, i.e. the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick? Where he does not reproduce himself in one specificity, but produces his totality? Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming? In bourgeois economics – and in the epoch of production to which it corresponds – this complete working-out of the human content appears as a complete emptying-out, this universal objectification as total alienation, and the tearing-down of all limited, one-sided aims as sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end. This is why the childish world of antiquity appears on one side as loftier. On the other side, it really is loftier in all matters where closed shapes, forms and given limits are sought for. It is satisfaction from a limited standpoint; while the modern gives no satisfaction; or, where it appears satisfied with itself, it is vulgar.”

For Marx, wealth is not material accumulation under capitalism but the universal need for self-development. This is why Marx’s conception of alienation is so important because it stands in total opposition to man’s inherent need to develop himself through his work. The difference between animal and man is that the animal “produces” only its immediate needs, whereas man “reproduces the whole of nature,” however, the capitalist mode of production cripples the “body and mind” of the worker and makes his labor, like that of the animal, only a “means to his physical existence.”

“At the same time that factory work exhausts the nervous system to the uttermost, it does away with the many-sided play of the muscles, and confiscates every atom of freedom, both in bodily and intellectual activity.”

Whatsmore, the machine that human labor becomes attached to is at the same time in competition with the laborer, constantly threatening him with obsolescence. Machine labor is continuously “simplified in order to make a worker out of the human being still in the making”, to make the “weak human being into a machine,” “exclusively assigned to a partial function, and that for the rest of his life, his labour-power is turned into the organ of this detail function.” The alienation of man creates “a bestial barbarization, a complete, unrefined, abstract simplicity of need.” And when he leaves the workplace, he returns to living in his “cave” that he “continues to occupy only precariously, it being for him an alien habitation which can be withdrawn from him any day-a place from which, if he does not pay, he can be thrown out any day.” Thus, the “worker’s own need for development” is the underlying reason why workers struggle at all with capitalism. Without it, the workers would remain “a heartbroken, a weak-minded, a worn-out, unresisting mass.” However, this in itself does not specify the working class as a revolutionary subject. The working class is not ‘born’ a revolutionary subject; instead, it becomes one. It becomes a revolutionary subject through its struggles. In Theses on Feuerbach, we are reminded that it is “men who change circumstances” in revolutionary practice.

Mobilizing the lower-rungs of the precariat would be a break from the strategy of past left movements, but maybe it should be one that is seriously considered. The precariat today is beyond a doubt an exploited class and a clear ally of the industrial proletariat. As Lorey stated, the precariat is governed through a politics of constant fear and anxiety, used for turning citizens towards populist politics. In order to find pockets of resistance in capitalism’s core, the goal for today’s left is to capitalize on this fear, focusing in the potential for true development of the human being in lieu of the constant insecurities of the market. Today, many in the lower rungs of the service proletariat are suffering from a lack of control in their lives, a lack of purpose, and a lack of a future. Others feel alienated entirely from American and European society entirely, whether they are ethnic and religious minorities or migrant workers; many can lose everything at a moment’s notice. Many among them feel anger towards the “elites” who brought these problems upon them. With the process of “precarianization” the worker suffers from a constant fear of losing what they have and becoming unemployed. They suffer from both a lack of financial security and opportunities in the workplace with which to develop themselves. Standing writes one lesson of the Enlightenment is that “human beings should be in control of his or her destiny”, yet the “precariat is told that it must answer to market forces and be infinitely adaptable.” Putting aside all other criticisms, he is correct on this count. This is essentially the source of the precariat’s revolutionary potential.

It is true that the state of affairs in the imperialist core are not very hopeful for a successful revolutionary environment anytime soon. Put simply, Americans and Europeans live well above the means of the global south. But we should also be reminded that economic struggle is not the only way in which proletarians are radicalized. To think otherwise would, as Engels put it, transform [the materialist conception of history] into a “meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase.” If 20th century Marxism has taught us anything, it is that superstructural conflicts and non-economic crisis can also “spark a prairie fire,” giving socialist ideology the upper hand in overturning liberal hegemony. Lenin’s Bolsheviks won support by offering “Peace, Land, and Bread” during a brutal inter-imperialist war and widespread famine and winning the support of the peasants. The Chinese and Vietnamese communist parties attached their struggle to that of their war of national liberation against the imperialist powers, again with large support from the peasantry. The Castro brothers were not even “communist” until after having overthrown the American-backed Batista. In the west, large, yet ultimately unsuccessful movements have occurred over issues ranging from civil rights, student organizations, foreign imperialist interventions, and police brutality. Like the struggle over the working day of Marx’s time, the state remains the central element which regulates precarious work. While the neoliberal state can currently ‘govern’ through precarious work in the West, it leaves significant holes in liberal hegemony from the instability it engenders that could be exploited by the Left; rampant racism, police state violence, the rise of the far-right, reckless imperialist military interventions, the continued grinding down of the social-democratic safety net, etc. Time has shown that this mass can be mobilized by the movements of the center-left but only time will tell if they can be effectively radicalized!



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Sunkara, Bhaskar. “Precarious Thought.” Jacobin. 13 January, 2012. Viewed from: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/01/precarious-thought/

Lenin, Vladimir. “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism.” From Lenin: Selected Works. Progress Publishers: Moscow. 1977

Lenin, Vladimir. “Our Revolution.” From Lenin: Selected Works. Progress Publishers: Moscow. 1977

Marx, Karl. “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.” From The Marx-Engels Reader. Robert Tucker. W.W. Norton & Company: New York. 1978. 2nd ed. p. 76, 91, 94

Marx, Karl. “Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy.” Viewed from: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch09.htm

Marx, Karl. “Capital: Critique of Political Economy.” T8: Moscow. 2016. p. 372

Marx, Karl. “Theses on Feuerbach.” From The Marx-Engels Reader. Robert Tucker. W.W. Norton & Company: New York. 1978. 2nd ed. p. 144

Lorey, Isabell. “State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious.” Verso. 2015

Desjardins, Jeff. “Visualizing the Jobs Lost to Automation.” Visual Capitalist. 30 May, 2017. Viewed from: http://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-jobs-lost-automation/

Engels, Friederich. “Engels to J. Bloch In Konigsberg.” 21 September, 1890. Marxists Internet Archive. Viewed from: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_09_21.htm

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Henwood, Doug. “No, It’s Not a Gig Economy.” Jacobin. 8 June, 2018. Viewed from: https://jacobinmag.com/2018/06/gig-economy-debunked-precarity-contingency

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Lenin on Flexibility in Revolutionary Dialectics

“I have lately been glancing through Sukhanov’s notes on the revolution. What strikes one most is the pedantry of all our petty-bourgeois Democrats and of all heroes of the Second International. Apart from the fact that they are all extremely fainthearted, that when it comes to the minutest deviation from the German model [of Socialism] even the best of them fortified themselves with reservations — apart from this characteristic, which is common to all petty-bourgeois Democrats and has been abundantly manifested by them throughout the revolution, what strikes one is their slavish imitation of the past.

They all call themselves Marxists, but their conception of Marxism is impossibly pedantic. They have completely failed to understand what is decisive in Marxism, namely, its revolutionary dialectics. They have even absolutely failed to understand Marx’s plain statements that in times of revolution the utmost flexibility is demanded, and have even failed to notice, for instance, the statements Marx made in his letters — I think it was in 1856 — expressing the hope of combining the peasant war in Germany, which might create a revolutionary situation, with the working-class movement — they avoid even this plain statement and walk around and about it like a cat around a bowl of hot porridge.”

– Vladimir Lenin, “Our Revolution” 1923

Karl Marx on “Wealth”

It will be seen how in place of the wealth and poverty of political economy come the rich human being and the rich human need. The rich human being is simultaneously the human being in need of a totality of human manifestations of life – the man in whom his own realisation exists as an inner necessity, as need. Not only wealth, but likewise the poverty of man – under the assumption of socialism – receives in equal measure a human and therefore social significance.

Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844


Engels to J. Bloch In Königsberg

“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.

We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one. The Prussian state also arose and developed from historical, ultimately economic, causes. But it could scarcely be maintained without pedantry that among the many small states of North Germany, Brandenburg was specifically determined by economic necessity to become the great power embodying the economic, linguistic and, after the Reformation, also the religious difference between North and South, and not by other elements as well (above all by its entanglement with Poland, owing to the possession of Prussia, and hence with international political relations — which were indeed also decisive in the formation of the Austrian dynastic power). Without making oneself ridiculous it would be a difficult thing to explain in terms of economics the existence of every small state in Germany, past and present, or the origin of the High German consonant permutations, which widened the geographic partition wall formed by the mountains from the Sudetic range to the Taunus to form a regular fissure across all Germany.

In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion. But from the fact that the wills of individuals — each of whom desires what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the last resort economic, circumstances (either his own personal circumstances or those of society in general) — do not attain what they want, but are merged into an aggregate mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each contributes to the resultant and is to this extent included in it.

I would furthermore ask you to study this theory from its original sources and not at second-hand; it is really much easier. Marx hardly wrote anything in which it did not play a part. But especially The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is a most excellent example of its application. There are also many allusions to it in Capital. Then may I also direct you to my writings: Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science and Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, in which I have given the most detailed account of historical materialism which, as far as I know, exists.

Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-à-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction. But when it came to presenting a section of history, that is, to making a practical application, it was a different matter and there no error was permissible. Unfortunately, however, it happens only too often that people think they have fully understood a new theory and can apply it without more ado from the moment they have assimilated its main principles, and even those not always correctly. And I cannot exempt many of the more recent “Marxists” from this reproach, for the most amazing rubbish has been produced in this quarter, too….”

Friederich Engels on the Base-Superstructure Relationship