The idea of a ‘golden age’ for humanity is a common theme in our history. Usually it has denoted a ‘heaven’ or ‘nirvana’ that is only attainable for the individual by leading a morally good life, and is delivered upon death, or after some almighty Armageddon-like clash between Good and Evil. In addition to such religious depictions, secular idealists have pondered whether we can become so wealthy economically that we can live the life of Riley. Furthermore, Star Trek enthusiasts have argued our species will become as ‘One’, do away with money etc., after we make First Contact with aliens, itself achieved by making technological breakthroughs. All these notions are, however, dreamy and unrealistic. The recognition of this has now led many to accept the way things are – with the drudgery of 9-5 work, immense dissatisfaction, terrorism and war – as an eternal fact of human existence, at least until we are all wiped out by nuclear apocalypse or global warming. So, on the one hand, we have dreamy religious idealists, on the other, cultural pessimism. This blog argues for a superior view: that the golden age is obtainable by society based upon the knowledge left to us by Karl Marx and some successors – it is a thing that can be ‘scientifically’ understood, and armed with a scientifically-thorough vision of this, the public becomes unstoppable in achieving it.
Marx’s unequalled genius in analysing the laws of capitalist development that flow from the exploitation of propertyless labourers shows how we get to the golden age. It is simply not something that can be delivered by capitalism. Why? Because capital itself is an amalgamation of congealed abstract labour – its growth can only be premised upon the subjugation of the majority. No golden age can ever exist whilst there is capital, because capital itself is like a blood-sucking vampire. Furthermore, investment can only take place when there is a decent rate of profit – else, capitalists do not invest in the things that make our lives easier. Hence society’s resources currently only get deployed if it is profitable to do so, rather than to enable a standard of living worthy of human beings. Additionally, the capitalistic rate of profit must always fall as enterprises become so over-burdened with the value embodied in new machinery (from which no new value can be created), in relation to a relatively fixed stock of living labour from which value can be extracted. So our work, rather than leading to extra steps towards the good life, ultimately only slows down the tempo of society’s progress. So, despite everyone working hard, we have stagnant economies. We’re doing all this for nothing.
Now, if a worldwide revolution took place that threw off the shackles of capital, work could immediately begin to take place to consistently improve the machinery in order to shorten the working day and make it less burdensome. Eventually robots could do all the boring stuff, leaving humanity free to develop in any way it wanted to. The individual would be free to become fully-rounded with highly cultivated talents, or simply just lounge around, whatever is preferred by him or her, and society would leap forward in an unbounded way. That would be the golden age.
So, what changes are required to get rid of capital? Labour has to become directly social, rather than only indirectly-social as it is with capitalism. Instead of production for a capitalist’s profit, society would ensure production is directed to meet people’s needs. So instead of the dual character of the commodity as use-value and exchange-value, what gets produced are simply articles of use that have been requested by others and democratically discussed as part of an overall conscious plan. Corresponding to the collapse in the dual character of the commodity, labour also no longer has a dual character. Instead of labour being an unholy alliance of value-producing labour and useful labour, it becomes only useful labour, thus destroying the source of why work under capitalism is both objectively and subjectively a terrible form of suffering. With society’s conscious plan, labour is no longer exploited – value-producing labour has ceased to exist, and therefore capital itself ceases to be. With this massive shift in society’s priorities – the destruction of the commodity-form, the destruction of capital, and the changed character of labour, the golden age will see money wither away and the human race would at last be emancipated. Corresponding to that, the basic source of so many tensions between people disappear as does the oppressive nature of the State, and so we have a world of peace rather than one that is constantly on the brink of destroying itself. Now, there’s a golden age worth fighting for.