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All Masters, All Slaves

Jubilee understands that it is only through working to free others that we free ourselves. If there are twenty-seven million slaves, what of the rest of us? Only the most naïve might think of the contemporary subject as truly free. We are all masters and slaves. The establishment wishes us to think of ourselves only as masters of the world. This is literally true for many: the number of individuals owning stocks is at an all-time high. The restructuring of pension plans to allow employees direct choice within the stock market, the growth in profit-sharing, together with the explosion of choice in individual investment, makes us all capitalists. We are even told to look forward to the privatization of the Social Security program to allow individuals to invest their contributions on Wall Street. More people than ever before share in the wealth created by exploiting the labor of others.

But our role as masters only underscores our role as slaves. It is not merely others who are exploited; after all, they are likely to own stock too. Never have our jobs been less secure. The corporation's responsibility to shareholders – who are, after all, people similar to us, or perhaps, through profit-sharing, are quite literally ourselves – means that layoffs are a constant threat. And never has the workplace been so cutthroat: who does not live in fear that one's superiors – or underlings! – will decide that this is the day to call one's bluff? Coupled with this vertiginous lack of job certainty is the direct enslavement we suffer to others through debt. Between student loans, mortgages, automobile loans, and credit cards, personal debt is at an all-time high. And with the world thoroughly capitalized, there is no refuge to avoid enslavement. Under late capitalism, art, phenomenology, sex: these are all first and foremost sources of profit, thereby subject to its inexorable laws.

Neither can we turn to Marxism. Not only has it been colonized for profit wherever possible – what highly paid professor in the humanities does not purport to be a Leftist? – the analytic model developed under Marxism runs aground against this new blurring of identities. Marx's analysis depended on clear distinctions between bourgeoisie (slaver) and proletariat (slave). Yet under late capitalism our complicity in the system is total. We are each other's masters; we enslave ourselves. To that, Marxism's critique has no answer.

Yet while Marxism failed as a means of analysis, the unpredictable swiftness of Communism's collapse in the East Bloc a decade ago demonstrates the possibility of self-awakening and liberation within individuals. Once the populace understood they were enslaving themselves and the bleak regimes controlling them were of their own invention, they stopped believing in them. Communism collapsed overnight.