In Breakthroughs—The Historic Breakthrough by Marx and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism, Bob Avakian writes that an increasingly globalized capitalism:
relies to a very great degree for production and for maintaining the rate of profit on a vast network of sweatshops, particularly in the Third World of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, while capitalist activity in the capitalist-imperialist “home countries” is increasingly in the realm of finance and financial speculation, and the “high end” of (not the physical production of the basic physical materials for) high tech, as well as the service sector and the commercial sphere (including the growing role of online marketing). As Lenin phrased it, this puts the “seal of parasitism” on the whole of societies such as the U.S.
In relation to that “seal of parasitism,” Bob Avakian posed two intertwined questions for research and grappling: Is there a definite and operative connection between heightened globalization and intensification of exploitation by imperialism, in particular U.S. imperialism, in the Third World (or “global South,” as it is often called) and the changing social and class composition of the U.S, as a defining expression of imperialist parasitism? The answer is yes.
This research paper is now posted at revcom.us. In what follows, I highlight some of the key findings and conclusions.
A profound transformation of the occupational structure and of the distribution of income in the U.S. has occurred over the last 45 years. This is bound up with important demographic shifts and changes, like a growing proportion of women, and proportionately more immigrants from the Third World, in the labor force. American society is very different than it was in 1970. How people enter into the economy, job prospects, living standards, the goods that people consume, declining social mobility, patterns of inequality—all this and more are part of the picture.
Different factors have been at work—but deeper imperialist penetration into the Third World, and fuller integration of the oppressed economies into the world-capitalist economy, has been decisive.
Parasitism is an important concept that V.I. Lenin, the great communist theorist and leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, worked with extensively in his analyses of imperialism, the system that dominates the world. Parasitism refers to the ways in which the imperialist countries benefit from the superexploitation of labor—horrific conditions of employment with pay that is at bare subsistence or below-subsistence levels—in the poor countries of Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The subjugation of the oppressed countries by imperialism not only distorts the economies and societies of the global South but also “reacts back” on the entire social structure of the imperialist countries. The profits, or “spoils,” of empire enable the imperialists to maintain a certain, relative social stability in the heartlands of empire in normal times. Parasitism results in the greater concentration of wealth among bourgeois-financial strata evermore divorced from organizing production.
Bob Avakian has further extended and applied this concept of “parasitism” to develop a deeper, a more scientific, understanding not only of defining economic features of the world imperialist economy today, but also ideological and cultural phenomena: like the “selfie” and “brand me” individualism rampant in America, and the aggressive chauvinism that sees America as the source of wealth and “good” in the world. People need to understand the material roots of the changes that have taken place in U.S. society. These changes have implications for revolution—for its bedrock and broader forces, and the potential for and obstacles to making revolution. And for understanding the highly parasitic society that the socialist-communist revolution must transform
In this light, Bob Avakian's New Year's Statement A New Year, The Urgent Need for a Radically New World—For the Emancipation of Humanity is essential reading—to understand the dynamics that have led to the dire situation that humanity is now confronting and why revolution, guided by the new communism that Avakian has developed, is the only real alternative to this system of capitalism-imperialism with all its horrors.
Globalization, de-industrialization, and downsizing of the last few decades have not led to a “great leveling” in the U.S. Rather, this has contributed to an increasingly fractured, polarized, and “enclaved” society—not only racially but also in terms of different social groups. America is a society marked by extreme deprivation on the bottom...income and employment gains for “credentialed” professional-technical strata...the transfer of value produced by superexploited labor in the oppressed countries to the imperialist countries...and the extreme, grotesque upward redistribution to and concentration of wealth among a smaller fraction of society.
Here are more specific findings of the study:
*By the 2010s, 80 percent of global trade was flowing through global supply chains dominated and controlled by Western transnational corporations. These supply chains connect different units of production worldwide in the manufacture and transport of goods. They combine high-tech, 21st century coordination with 19th century sweatshop conditions. Women workers are a major share of the supply chain labor force, as in the garment factories of Sri Lanka. Think about it. Apple, the iconic emblem of so-called “American ingenuity,” would not exist without global commodity chains that require and thrive on brutally “efficient” assembly lines in China, where suicide was a form of work protest in the early 2010s. Think about it, Apple would not be the U.S.'s first 2 trillion dollar company without the 40,000 children who dig tunnels and haul rocks in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
*From 1970 to 2012, the share of developing nations in world exports of manufactured goods— like auto and plane parts, apparel and electronic devices—rose from 20 percent to 60 percent. Many of these exports become part of domestic production in the imperialist countries.
*In 1950, 34 percent of the world's industrial workers lived in “less developed regions”; in 1980 that share rose to 54 percent; and in 2010 it soared to 79 percent. This industrial-labor force shift has enhanced the profitability of imperialist capital and put downward pressure on wages worldwide.
*In the U.S. over the last 40 years, manufacturing employment (traditionally better paid and more stable) declined as a share of total U.S. employment: from 28 percent in 1960 to 8 percent in 2017. The loss of millions of manufacturing jobs over this period is very much connected to global outsourcing and sub-contracting, as in border factories in Mexico, and direct investment (U.S. companies opening auto factories in China). This decline in manufacturing employment, along with more output being produced by fewer workers, is also the result of technological transformation—like robotics, information technology, transport innovations, etc.—and corporate strategies of downsizing and “more efficient” modes of workplace organization. In 2010 China replaced the U.S. as the world's largest manufacturer (measured by output).
*Two or even three service jobs are often required to replace the income of one decent-paying manufacturing job.
*The disruptive and job-squeezing effects of “deindustrialization” have hit Black and Latino workers especially hard. Many African-American workers have become part of a “surplus” labor force—unemployed or underemployed. Many of the formerly incarcerated are locked out of the labor market or channeled into poverty-wage, irregular jobs.
*A major demographic change in the U.S. economy over the last 50 years is the further leap in women's participation in the labor force, including the professions. At the start of 2020, women were the majority (slightly over 50 percent) of employees in the U.S. This change has been driven both by economic necessity and political-social struggle. The “traditional” patriarchal household (married-couple family with children and a sole male breadwinner) no longer prevails. Yet shifting gender norms are colliding with the brutal reassertion of patriarchy, including pervasive sexual harassment and entrenched inequality.
*The vast increase of low-cost imported consumer goods based on superexploitation—high-productivity/low (often below subsistence) wage labor—in the oppressed countries has allowed prices to fall (the “Walmart price”) and cheapened the cost of labor-power in the U.S. These imports have also helped sustain mass-consumer purchasing power in the imperialist countries—even with advancing de-industrialization and downward pressure on wages and employment.
*The single largest employment category in the U.S. is retail.
*Heightened globalization has gone hand in hand with heightened financialization of the U.S. economy. By the early 1990s, the finance, insurance and real estate sector surpassed manufacturing as a share of the U.S. economy (GDP).
*Imperialist parasitism—superexploitation of the labor forces of the oppressed countries and plunder of raw materials—and fierce imperialist competition for markets has contributed to growing occupational polarization in the U.S. The U.S. economy requires engineers, money managers, and information technology workers...but it also needs cashiers, hospital orderlies, and low-paid logistics and delivery workers.
*Globally, an important trend is the expansion of non-standard or what is called “informal” work—non-regulated, low pay, and irregular (legal and illegal) employment. This is what rules in the burgeoning urban slums of the Third World, where well over 1 billion desperately struggle to survive.
*In the U.S., 1 in 10 workers relies on “gig work” (freelance, contract, like Uber) as their primary income source.
*Heightened imperialist globalization has led to a significant increase in immigration (both official and undocumented) to the U.S. and other imperialist countries from the oppressed countries. Key sectors of the U.S. economy rely on immigrant labor for profitability—like construction, meatpacking, and crop farms—with workers subjected to cruel conditions of employment, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the system's edict to work and possibly die...or go hungry and homeless.
*A “brain drain” from the oppressed to the imperialist countries has severely impacted the impoverished countries—at the same that it has been a source of competitive advantage for U.S. imperialism. Seventy-one percent of tech employees in Silicon Valley in the mid-2010s were foreign born. Why did Silicon Valley end up in America? The answer is multidimensional, but the “brain drain,” especially from South Asia, is an essential factor.
*Slightly more than 1 in 4 doctors in the U.S. is foreign-born. Africa, which has the “greatest “disease burden” in the world, was losing on average 1 African-educated physician to the U.S. a day in 2015. Keep in mind that during the height of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there was an average of 45 doctors per 100,000 in Nigeria—compared to 250 in the U.S. One in 10 nursing, psychiatric, and home-health aides comes from the Caribbean and Central America alone—while basic health needs go unmet in these countries.
*A trend towards pervasive and widening income inequality is a basic feature of the U.S. labor force: income inequality between college- and non-college educated, between highly skilled and lesser skilled, etc., and within professions. Upward mobility in the U.S. is almost entirely for the college-educated but almost entirely downward for non-college educated (still the majority of the labor force).
*The traditional “blue-collar” middle class has shrunk, but the middle-class has not disappeared; rather, it has become more centered around higher-paid business and professional services.
*The labor force of the so-called “knowledge economy” (professional-financial-university/educational-information technology) is clustered in certain geographic areas, especially cities. So there are great regional divergences in income as well. This is linked with the role of cities like New York City and Los Angeles as parasitic financial-administrative-command centers of imperialist capital and empire. And with this has come the emergence of a new underclass of “urban servants” servicing “wealth workers.”
As stated at the start, the U.S. is a far more polarized, fractured, and segmented society than it was in 1970. Globalization and deindustrialization have not led to a “great leveling.”
Bob Avakian reveals the underlying reality of this capitalist-imperialist system:
This system crushes and deadens the human spirit as well as grinding away the life—or outright stealing the life—of billions of people in every part of the world.
Think of the tremendous waste—and outright destruction—of human potential that results from this. All this is the consequence of the fact that the world, and the masses of humanity, are forced to live under the dominance of this system of capitalism-imperialism.
All this is the basis on which a relatively small part of the people within this country, and a very small part of humanity as a whole, has the conditions and “freedom” to develop and apply their initiative and creativity—only to have this serve, under this system, to reinforce the “lopsided,” highly unequal and profoundly oppressive conditions in the world as a whole and for the masses of people in the world.
And all of this is completely unnecessary.
(Bob Avakian, CAPITALISM-IMPERIALISM—THE SUFFOCATION OF SEVEN BILLION—AND THE PROFOUND NEED FOR A WORLD ON NEW FOUNDATIONS)