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Commentary :: Labor
So the Yoke Becomes Easier and Capitalism Criticism 2.0
28 Dec 2017
God has decreed definitively: salvation and life in abundance for people - not punishment and destruction. This new life begins with the emaciated and exhausted. It begins with those who are exploited by their employees and must work damn hard day after day. God's reign is the new life.

Political Sermon on the Digitalization of Work

By Bernhard Emunds

[This sermon at an ecumenical church service on the Day of Labor, April 27, 2017, is translated from the German on the Internet,]


Isaiah 55, 1-5

"Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without a price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, and steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader, and commander of the peoples.
Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you."

Matthew 11, 25-30

At that time Jesus declared: "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."


Buy without money. Corn, wine and milk without payment.
A little land, overrun again and again by the superpowers

The fallow land becomes the scene of a luxuriant feast.
The best that the Orient has to offer is there, exquisite foods in which the invited guests are refreshed. Everyone is invited!
Buy without money, a feast for everyone in which nothing is spared:
God's economy, God's entirely different economy.

A yoke that does not press or weigh heavily.
Jesus makes light the burden little people bear with difficulty.
Rest for those who as day-laborers must fight for their survival with hard work.

God has decided definitively: salvation and life in abundance for people – not punishment and destruction. This new life begins with the emaciated and exhausted. It begins with those who are exploited by their employers and must work damn hard day after day. God's reign is a new life.

Jesus knows the father. He knows his decision that God's reign begins now.

A light yoke, rest for those who in the past had to secure their livelihood with hard labor:
God's different economy, the economy of God's reign.

That the yoke becomes light, that we all will hardly have to work for what we need, is an ancient dream. This dream is now talked about everywhere. The blueness of heaven is promised with the formula "Industry 4.0." Digitalized production creates an abundance of goods. Hardly anyone needs to work. A high "basic income" could ensure everyone's access to this abundance.

In faith, we are skeptical when the blue of heaven is promised – as though God's reign could be realized now in this world – without any deductions. In a faith that is socially informed, we could ask: what is the underlying interest when the blueness of heaven is promised? In this case, it is clear. The keyword "Industry 4.0" was invented by German industry. It will become concrete where the digital modernization of production conquers world markets with the digitalized products of German engineering…

Interests stand behind the "industry 4.0" hype… The intense increase of labor productivity in industry and in business-friendly services is all-pervasive… If productivity increases so intensely that most persons have no jobs anymore and are not needed, that would be a nightmare. Still, this is not new.

Why is this a nightmare and not a dream? Paid work provides income and is the most important foundation of social security for many. Having a reasonable heard work, a work from which one can live, means contributing something to society.

Our society refused the unemployed and precarious workers. All those who signed up with Hartz IV are denied this experience of being acknowledged as equal members of society. But many others have this experience of equal rights through paid work. This experience is one of the most important social foundations of democracy. Reasonable paid work for everyone is necessary as long as nothing else mediates this experience of acknowledgment and self-esteem.

Let us return to the global history, the global economic history of the last decades and the last two centuries. The yoke has actually become lighter. Work productivity has strongly increased over a long time – even if this increase was slight for several years in industrial countries. Altogether, for the world as a whole, many things are better than only a few decades ago. There is less hunger, less privation and not only less war. A much larger part of the world's population has attained a respectable standard of living, more goods and shorter working hours.

We may not repress the distressing needs for those whom life has become worse, not better. There is infinitely much to do. But Christians can say something of God's reign has come – obviously not as a whole and not without deductions, but only in a fragmentary way, in beginnings or attempts that are always endangered, in beginnings that can be destroyed by backward steps. God will first completely realize his reign in the future at the end of this age. Then his completely different economy will grasp reality and characterize our reality.

Great chances are not joined with the digitalization of industry and the business-friendly services and with the rise of labor productivity in industrial sectors.

Having to work less in these sectors does not mean only a few persons will have paid work. When less work is necessary, everyone will do less paid work and have more time: more time for relation s and partnerships, for caring work and political engagement, for leisure, play, and musical activities. Paid work could become less important – while remaining important for everyone.

Better compatibility of occupational paid work and family caring work for both genders is possible by using new digital possibilities and not only by reducing working hours.

If work productivity actually increases robustly in industry and in business-friendly services in the next years and decades, that need not be the end of work or the end of the work society. The expectation that the structural change of the economy will accelerate is obvious in the structural change from industry to person-friendly services.

The productivity of agricultural work has also increased enormously since the industrial revolution. Hardly anyone works in agriculture today in Western Europe. Presumably, hardly anyone will still be working in an industry in a few decades in our latitudes. "The future of work is work for people!" This 15-year old credo of Professor Friedhelm Hengsbach is more actual than ever with "Industry 4.0."

The future of work lies in health, care, education and musical activities and their support.

"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?"
The rise of labor productivity makes the yoke of life easier so the temporal possibilities grow for relations and activities that really nourish us. This change will not come by itself. We must organize it. The profit interests of owners of wealth by themselves only rarely lead to improving the vital life- and development interests of the majority of the people. In relation to profit-driven developments of the economy, these vital interests of people must be wrested from the economy.

What technologies will be introduced? How can Big Data be prevented from the total control of employees? How can the possibilities of all employees be enhanced with the
Digitalization of work so these possibilities are not only concentrated at the top of the company hierarchy? How can we prevent the high demands of the new technologies from intensifying the division into a highly trained core and secondary fringe employees?

How can digital technologies be used so employees' time sovereignty and the compatibility of occupation and family increases for both genders?

How can the structural change toward person-friendly services be advanced so secure jobs arise with good chances of personal development? For years, precarious jobs arose with person-friendly or household-friendly services. Much illicit work or moonlighting occurs today. German politics slept through the structural change to person-friendly services and did not promote that change.

Instead, many political actors put their hope in industry. This has a tradition in Germany. Despite a leap in work productivity, people hope there will be just as many employees in ten, twenty or thirty years as today. Apart from a massive reduction in working hours, that can only happen when the quantity of produced goods increases enormously by expanding German industrial exports and expanding production.

But why is more and more produced with great exactions that feed no one? Why is more and more money amassed to buy what does not satisfy?

The yoke becomes lighter. Paid work that nourishes us must be gained and does not happen by itself.

May God's strengthening and gentle spirit call all thirsty ones to the waters!


Karl Marx' Crisis Theory is More Actual than Ever

By Volkhard Mosler

[This article published on 11/9/2008 on Marx 21 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

"Capitalism contains crisis as rain clouds contain rain," said Jean Juares, a 19th century socialist. Profits increase in the neoliberal model, not investments (Nicolas Krowall). The competitive pressure drives businessmen to reduce the share invested in labor and wages. Instead, they invest in technology so they can produce just as much with less human labor. The result is disastrous for the whole system.

A specter goes about again. In view of the financial crisis, Karl Marx is being rediscovered everywhere. The Frankfurt Rundschau journal recently had him on its front page. "The Bankruptcy of Capitalism" was announced on another front page. The Hamburg Morgenpost newspaper asked, "Was Karl Marx right?" Even finance minister Peer Steinbrueck told "Spiegel": "Certain parts of the Marxist theory are not inverted."

In fact, what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote 150 years ago in The Communist Manifesto seems like a description of contemporary conditions: "The modern middle-class society that generates enormous means of production and transportation is like a wizard or sorcerer that cannot control the underground subterranean forces that it created."

Crisis Theory

In a later work "Das Kapital," Marx described the law driving the capitalist system into crisis. As his central thesis, the cycle of upswings and downswings is due to the chaotic nature of capitalism based on competition. Since there is no central planning of the economy, every business tries to gain the largest possible share of the market by producing as many products as possible. This leads to constant production surpluses where more is produced than can be sold. This is reflected in the profits of businesses. Working hours are lengthened, wages lowered and jobs shifted or completely eliminated. Then the employees have less money to buy things which intensifies the crisis until the system goes into recession. Such economic crises come and go in capitalism and become worse with time.

The Falling Profit Rate

Marx discovered a special mechanism that operates behind the process of the upturns and downturns of the capitalist economy. He described this as the "law of the falling profit rate." He did not think the revenues would be lower. Rather, the relation of their investments to the profits would be reduced in the course of time. Real value arises from human labor. The value produced by workers is always greater than the wage they receive for their labor. Therefore, the businessman appropriates some of the value that his employees gain. This "surplus value" is the basis of the profit.

The competitive pressure drives businessmen to reduce the share invested in labor and wages. Instead, they invest in technology so they can produce just as much with less human labor. A capitalist can enlarge his piece of the cake by rationalizing production, increasing productivity and the constant reduction of employed workers. However, the result is disastrous for the whole system. The number of workers does not increase as fast as the investments. Still, labor is the source of profit, the energy that keeps the system alive. The crisis is already pre-programmed – if the investments become greater and greater without a corresponding expansion of the source of profit.

Marx saw that the success of capitalism in making enormous investments in the form of new assets must entail a fall in the profit rate and constantly intensifying crises.

Recently, the micro-electronics- and computer industries gave a classic example of this process. The firms that were first on the market made gigantic profits. But the prices collapsed dramatically when the productive capacity of the branch grew and more rivals entered the arena. The profit rate fell and the weakest firms like Nixdorf, for example, went under. Individual firms believe they can raise their profits through new technologies. They could do this as individual firms. However, pursuing their individual competitive goals produced the opposite effect since the common goals of all capitalists were undermined. That is what Marx meant by the contradictory nature of capitalism. This does not mean the profit rate falls continuously in the history of capitalism. If that were the case, the system would have come to a standstill long ago. Marx himself mentioned a series of "counter-veiling forces."

Counter-veiling Forces

An extraordinary increase in the exploitation rate depresses the living standards of workers. This is an example of a fact that counteracts the fall of the profit rate. Access to cheap raw materials through foreign trade is another. The price reductions or "devaluation of constant capital" are most important, according to Marx.

Increased productivity in industrial branches that produce products like machines or raw materials causes a decline in the value of their products in every branch. This decline means more than the means of production becoming cheaper. It also brings about what Marx called the "moral wear-and-tear" in the use of capital. Capitalists with older and more expensive machinery face rivals with newer and cheaper equipment and have a competitive disadvantage. The older machinery is subject to a forced devaluation. This reduces the value of constant capital and counteracts its tendency to grow.

Still, this devaluation represents a loss of value for the impacted firms. For that reason, it increases their problems at least in the short term. There are parallels here to the growth of unemployment or the reserve industrial army, as Marx described. Higher unemployment helps the capitalists in their offensive against the organization of workers in production and in this way contributes to the production of potential surplus value or profit. However, unemployment in the short term magnifies the problems of capitalists in selling their products or realizing a profit.

So there is no simple way out of these problems for capitalists. The effect of "counter-veiling forces" is strongest in crisis times. This is important to understand. When the system expands quickly and the accumulation multiplies, the growth of the organic composition of capital has the upper hand over the counteracting tendencies. As a result, the profit rate falls. Nevertheless, crises can at least temporarily help capitalism get over its problems. Considering another aspect of the system – the role of the banks – is rewarding to better understand the dynamic of the crises.

Banks, Stock Exchanges, and the Credit System

The profit of industrial capitalists does not only result from the surplus value produced by the workers. Parts of that profit go to landowners as rents, to the state as taxes and to banks and investors as interests. Industrial capitalists are ready to hand over a part of the bounty to banks and other financial institutions since they play a useful role in the system. Great sums of money must be accumulated before they can invest. Until this point is reached, they can deposit their surpluses at the bank and borrow capital if they do not have enough money.

The banking system actually helps accelerate the process of accumulation. This happens by redirecting the money from those hesitant in investing to those willing to invest.

Banks are powerful institutions and aid in accelerating the centralization of capital into great monopolies. They also help drive weak capital in the red into bankruptcy when they block their credits. The interest rate for loans rises when the upswing reaches its peak. The demand for investment loans grows. The exploitation of future profits nourishes speculative businesses on the stock exchange and in the commodity trade. Capitalist are ready to bet on increasing profits and prices enabling them to repay their debts with interests. However, the financial market and the stock exchanges are always dependent on profit or surplus value generated in production.

The financial markets represent what Karl Marx called "fictional capital." Their activities do not create any new assets or expand production. Therefore, they ultimately depend on the health of the real economy while playing with the profits gained by the workers. While the stock prices may be exaggerated, they stand in a relation to the dividends poured out by the businesses which depend on the profitability of the economy.
When profits fall, businesses reduce their dividend payouts and this lowers the price of their shares. Markets create speculative bubbles that must burst sooner or later. This has real effects.

The banks could collapse. They lend "the money of other people." The bank becomes insolvent when all the investors try to get back their money. The bank cannot survive this if the state or Central Bank does not intervene. The whole financial system can collapse as happened most dramatically in 1931. A credit-crunch as with the current 2008 financial crisis means even reliable firms cannot borrow money anymore. The possibility of revitalizing their machines or paying for their credits is taken from them. In the worst case, they could be driven into bankruptcy.

The Crisis Today

What we witness today is that the unending worldwide crisis replaces the earlier ups and downs of the economy, the constant change of upswings and downswings. The German economy has not recovered from the 1974 crisis though the country likes to present itself as an exemplary or model country of growth. The economic upturns have become flatter and shorter. They are no longer enough to substantially reduce unemployment. There are still not enough investments to overcome the crisis. This is true for Britain, France and Japan and not only for Germany.
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