A conversation around types of labor has pierced an important hole in the fake reality bubble we in the Western world are living in today. Some have made the distinction between the service economy jobs and “proletarian” labor. This is a distinction that we must hone in on to better understand the changing world and our role in it.
Socialists, Communists, anti-imperialists of all stripes emphasize “the working class” as the revolutionary subject in overcoming capitalism, and sublating it for a more just economic mode where the profits derived from production are held by the public body.
But hidden within this umbrella classification—“the working class”—is a contradiction. We need to recognize that not all “work” is equal. We have proletarian labor, which by and large has been outsourced to the rest of the world, and service jobs which have multiplied like a plague, masking the contradiction of capitalism and ultimately retarding its demise.
For the past 17 years, I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley, a semi-rural, back-to-the-land Disney World two hours north of New York City. Underlying this supposed utopia, are multiple, compounding economic issues. Housing is completely unaffordable, homelessness is rampant, wages are falling. What’s happening in the Hudson Valley is a microcosm of the acute problem facing the entire nation.
The Hudson Valley has historically been home to America’s infamous robber barons and that trend continues today with a heavy presence by Peter Buffett and George Soros, who both have built intellectual fortresses (The NoVo Foundation, Bard College) within 10 miles of where I sit as I type this. These oligarchs, like their predecessors, have a vested interest in rolling back the progress of industrial capitalism to a Neo-feudal society, rather than letting it progress towards communism. The Hudson Valley is a hotbed of environmental and conservation efforts. Shutting down industry is a favorite pastime of the area’s most beloved Left-wingers.
But it wasn’t always this way. The Hudson Valley used to be an industrial hub. We produced things like bricks, textiles and cement. But now our economy is dominated by service work, specifically education, healthcare, retail and tourism. We don’t make anything. And most well-to-do liberals and leftists are totally blind to this problem. They believe they can save the economy through music festivals where musicians and artists barter with “health care workers” for massages and dental cleanings. They’ve extended their fantasy economy with a “local currency” claiming they are “making the community more resilient”. A glance at the member directory where you can spend your local currency reveals a plethora of consultants, artists, yoga, green gurus. Even the few businesses selling socially necessary items, like lumber and (plant) milk are doing so in an artisanal, boutique way, not meant for industrial mass consumption. If the delusional emphasis on the service industry as some sort of economic salvation weren’t enough, to add insult to injury, we have a knack for turning our old factory buildings into affordable housing for artists, sometimes unabashedly advertised specifically to “usher in gentrification”. We are host to a literal clown show living inside the decaying shell of the industrial remains.
The Starbucks barista is the perfect mainstream illustration of why the service economy is so hollow, built on a fake reality, dependent on fake consciousness and upholding the ruling order. Marketing is modern sorcery. Marketing has a large majority of people under the spell of fake, displaced value. The supposed “Marxists” consult their text to declare that it is The Starbucks Barista who is Making the Drink and therefore adding value to the product, the coffee beverage, in its final commodity form. This is a magic trick. This is what magicians do, they distort your perception by tapping into your irrational mind and play with your senses in order to deceive, to distract you from their sleight of hand performed right under your nose.
The Starbucks barista is a performer. Starbucks isn’t selling coffee, they are selling “the world’s best coffee drinking experience.” And experiences are nice, but experiences do not have a collective social value. The collective social value is the mass production of coffee. And the barista has no role in that. Which is quite sad when you think about it. The barista is an actor in a play—a play the customer doesn’t even realize they are experiencing. They are so immersed in the experience, they view the barista as the primary worker. This explains why bleeding heart liberals cry foul when you bring this up. You are destroying their immersion. The barista represents the toiling masses that had to work so hard to bring you your cup of coffee. Much like how people project their guilt about the suffering of humanity onto animals, the service worker becomes the animal, the pet, the servant for the comfortably afflicted liberal who is so sad the world is the way it is.
We are a Servant Economy Extraordinaire
The Hudson Valley is an advanced version of the plans our ruling elite have for the rest of the Western world–continuing the slow death of our productive economy and turning us into an army of servants. In a way, I am from the future, trying to warn you. The service economy is a dead end. The only thing it brings is the veneer of progress without any. It’s a simulation. It’s a new gilded age, a speculative bubble, a virtual reality for a totally controlled and servile population.
The sick thing about all of this is that they are literally preparing us for a planned collapse of the economy.
We Don’t Produce Anything
A “steady-state” aka degrowth economy has been in the works since the 1970’s when the hegemonic think tank, Club of Rome published Limits to Growth. Service sector work goes hand in hand with a degrowth economy. Nothing is produced, you just create a giant pyramid of people servicing each other. In an economy ruled by economic scarcity, and cascading pyramid of servile work, everyone is competing. We all become pets of the ruling class, living in a dog eat dog world. Most of our production has been outsourced to the third world (and China), and most of our service work involves importing these goods and micromanaging every moment from freight docking to consumption, even post-consumption life cycle of the product. This is not “steady-state” at all, but a controlled demolition guided by entropic pessimism. This is quite literally reactionary, fascism, holding back the progress of humanity.
The financial capitalists that run the world have slowed the industrial machine of the Western World to a steady hum, keeping the forces of production (and human abundance) at bay for half a century. And it’s playing out as a crisis in every sector, housing, food, health, you name it. Degrowth is the ideology that makes us complicit, the ideology that turns us all into servants of capital. Service sector employees. When in our hearts, our deepest human desire is to be producers, producers of abundance for all of mankind.
We Want Meaningful Work
Imagine a world where coffee shops existed for the sake of public gathering and conversation, not to purchase an overpriced “coffee drinking experience”? The baristas in this world wouldn’t have to work out of an obligation to pay debts, but out of the pure love and art of coffee making. If we all worked 20 hours a week towards proletarian labor, and the value derived from that labor was shared by the public, we could all live so abundantly that service work would be done for the love of humanity, and become life’s prime want!
But we won’t get there if we keep denying reality and letting the marketing magicians fool us. It’s in the interest of the ruling class to make us think we have to be servants in this Neo-feudal hellscape. Underpinning this entire situation is that we have deindustrialized and de-proletarianized our entire economy. We need to bring back industry. We need real proletarian jobs. We need to organize our government around the needs of the people, like the United States constitution intended. We need to nationalize our most essential industries, like energy and food production. We need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. We need to put people to work. We need to give people socially meaningful work, rather than perpetuate the degrowth servant economy.