It has been said that what the bourgeoisie produces above all are its own gravediggers. This means that the bourgeoisie, in its never-ending drive to maximize profits, is forced to constantly revolutionize the productive forces, and along with them, the whole relations of society. The entire process creates a new class whose very survival depends on overthrowing the old order and creating a new society where the interests of the immense majority are met.
This process is underway. Economic revolution, brought on by advanced electronic technologies is permanently shattering the historic connection between the workers and the capitalists. As this process makes its way through society, not all at once, but in stages, ever-broadening sections of the workers are thrown into the ranks of a new class. It is not simply the growth of poverty that is significant today. It is that this destruction is beginning to penetrate the vast "middle" in American society — that sector that has up to now been the faithful guard and stable base of the capitalist system. For revolutionaries, the driving into destitution of these millions is of strategic importance. The process sets the stage for political polarization, the separation in thinking of the people from their rulers, and the opportunity for a conscious revolutionary movement.
The Rust Belt region — “the industrial heartland of America” — has the largest concentration of these dispossessed workers in the U.S. Historically, they have been the pillars of strength of capitalism. But, today, these workers, once well taken care of by the capitalists, are being discarded by the class to which they have given their loyalty. Because they once had good jobs, owned property, are educated and know organization, they have the capacity to put up a fight. Their actions will determine the political direction of society. Revolutionaries must influence their consciousness to insure that the process unfolds in the interests of humanity.
This article will look at the strategic considerations that make this strata of workers key to revolution and what this means today for revolutionaries.
Evolution of the Rust Belt
An economic and historical understanding of the central role this region has played in the economy explains why it continues to be of strategic importance to the future.
The Rust Belt is the economic region concentrated primarily in the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Western New York, and Minnesota. The region evolved as it did because of history and objective factors. From the beginning of this country, the United States divided into regions. The Northeast became the commercial or economic center because, originally, it shipped finished commodities back to England. The South became the center for the development of agriculture for export. Southern Minnesota, Northern Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa were agricultural regions that produced corn and wheat. The West developed somewhat independently due to its geographical location in relationship to the rest of the country.
Giant industry was concentrated in the region that ran from western New York along the Great Lakes and waterways that allowed shipping to take place within the U.S. All the necessities of industry existed in this belt —the waterpower of the Niagara Falls, fast flowing navigable rivers for transportation, and natural resources. Northeastern Minnesota, for example, had the Mesabi Range, which provided iron ore. The Ohio River provided access to the great coalfields of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.
The automobile was at the heart of this region's development. The automobile built the American economy. Auto was vital to the growth of the petroleum industry and a major consumer of steel and other industrial products. The automobile demanded the construction of streets and highways. People moved to the cities and suburbs. Supermarkets and shopping centers sprung up. The character of America changed.
In the 1950s one out of six workers was employed directly or indirectly in auto. In Detroit, its epicenter, huge industrial complexes like Ford River Rouge employed up to 100,000 workers. Toledo and Flint and small towns throughout the Midwest depended on the auto industry. Auto, as well as steel and rubber, became the backbone of the new consumer society and market economy. This region, and the billions in profit it provided, made it vital to the consolidation and expansion of the capitalist system. For this reason, the capitalists had to control the workers of this region.
Every step the capitalists took to secure profits nationally and internationally, from the 1930s to the post-WWII period, demanded that they maintain steadfast control over this region's workers. Above all, they needed a stable workforce. The workers, especially those in auto, had the capacity to disrupt production, and they were in a position to lead the rest of the country's workforce. They had strong union locals, newspapers, access to Congress, and were politically influential. No other sector could dominate what the rest of the workers did. The labor upsurges of the period took place within this context.
These battles were as important to the revolutionaries as they were to the capitalists. Revolutionaries joined the battlefront in order to break the workers free from their interdependence with the capitalists. Independent thinking sets the basis for independent political activity, which is the prelude to revolution. However, a deal was struck to rally the movement behind the Democratic Party, the Roosevelt Coalition, and the New Deal. The expanding economy provided the material foundation for the capitalists to offer concrete benefits, and in so doing, subordinate any effort for political independence.
New Strategic Considerations
Things have changed. Today, automation is replacing human wage earners, creating untold poverty. This is occurring on a massive scale in the Rust Belt. States that were once at the heart of manufacturing. Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, for example, now have the lowest growth rates in gross domestic product. The looming collapse of the auto industry promises greater permanent unemployment. Across the region, almost a third of families live below the poverty line. Already nearly one in three Ohioans live in a household with insufficient income to pay for housing, food, or health care. In Cleveland, which at one time had the most Fortune 1000 corporate headquarters, almost 30% percent lived in poverty in 2007, up from 27% just a year earlier. Almost 32% of the residents of "Steel City," in Gary, Indiana, live below the poverty line. In Benton Harbor, once an industrial town, one third of its residents now earn below $10,000 a year. One-third of Detroiters — the former auto capital of the world—now live below the poverty line. About 45,000 Detroit homes have had their water shut off for inability to pay. The Detroit area has the highest foreclosure rate among the nation's largest metropolitan areas. The new homeless are straining already full social service agencies. In Flint, where General Motors was first headquartered, miles of empty auto factories surround the town. The poverty rate there is almost 35%.
In any war, what is of supreme importance is to attack the enemy's weak point. In the U.S., the historical strength of the bourgeoisie lies in their connection to the bribed strata and through them, to the working class as a whole. But today this stratum is a weak link in the capitalist front. It is breaking away.
Strategy is the determination of the main blow. The strategy of revolutionaries is always to break the ideological connection between the workers and the capitalists. Nothing can move forward until the masses organize politically in accordance with their class interests.
Rust Belt is Key
In this sense, the Rust Belt remains key strategically. Today it contains the greatest concentrated mass of dispossessed anywhere in the country. In the past, the ideological connection of these workers to the capitalists could not be broken because there was no objective foundation for it to happen. Capitalist and worker formed a unity within the capitalist system, driving the process forward, but incapable of destroying it.
Today, labor-replacing technology is an antagonism to the capitalist system, destroying the unity of the previous period, and exposing the bourgeoisie's weak flank. If revolutionaries hit where the bourgeoisie is weak, they disorganize the entire capitalist front.
The workers are entering into battle against the state. Revolutionaries must throw their subjective blow at the point of connection between the capitalists and the workers. This stratum will play a critical role in politicizing and organizing the rest of the new class.
This will be a process, but the conditions are ripening. Michigan's Macomb County, for example, was once one of the richest counties in the country. With a racial composition of 91.4 percent white and 2.6 percent black, these workers were vocal in their opposition to busing and public housing. In 2004 Macomb County went 84% for George Bush. However, in the 2008 election, these workers voted overwhelmingly for an African-American president. Part of this response resulted from the massive union education campaign. It shows what education can do. But the other part is that, although wealth still exists in this county, poverty is growing, no one has any solutions, and minds are opening.
As the social motion gets underway, revolutionaries must be more political, determining from the line of march which battles are inevitable. As Sun Tzu said, "whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight."
The struggle for nationalization illustrates this point. Nationalization is the battle, and the Rust Belt workers are in position to lead it. Analysis shows that economic changes are going to force the auto industry to downsize or go out of business. They will have to demand that the government nationalize healthcare and, eventually, the auto industry itself. The capitalists will use these battles to regroup, shifting the burden onto the people's backs.
Revolutionaries must be in position to utilize such motion to introduce consciousness. These kinds of battles will determine which way America goes.
Without polarization, society cannot move forward. But this does not guarantee that people will move in humanity's interests. The rulers have highly bribed and propagandized this stratum of workers for a reason. Yet, these workers are not a monolith. As with all processes, they will move on the basis of destruction and splitting.
What is in the revolutionaries’ favor is that, at a certain point, old ideas don't work anymore and people seek new ideas that do. A sector of workers will move toward fascist ideology. Another sector will move toward revolution.
The Rust Belt is strategically significant for the reasons that have been outlined. As the struggle unfolds, it will touch different segments of American society. Revolutionaries must reach out, helping to form a conscious force that can play a critical role in the revolution for a new world.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
P.O. Box 477113 Chicago, IL 60647 firstname.lastname@example.org
Free to reproduce unless otherwise marked.
Please include this message with any reproduction.