Disabled In A Capitalist Society
Above Photo: From Countercurrents.org
Since the major aim of capitalists is to see that maximum production can be extracted from labor, exploitation of workers becomes a key factor. Ordinary workers, thus, face constant harassment, humiliation, misery and burden of work. Disabled, in addition, face alienation and abuse both from the employers as well as society.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary offers two definitions of disability. They are ‘ a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements,senses, or activities’ and ‘ a disadvantage or handicap imposed by law’. These two definitions seem at odds with each other and almost two different terms are being defined.
In an effort to clear such controversy, a British organization, Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) which was founded in 1970s put forward another perspective on disability. This organisation was built explicitly to further the political self- activity of the disabled community. (How capitalism contributed to Modern Conception of Disability, themighty.com). In one of their founding documents, UPIAS draw a distinction between disability and impairment. This is the first major piece of the social model. Bridging the gap between physical and legal disability, the document says, ‘ in our view, it is society which disables physically -impaired people. Disability is something that is imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society….
Dealing with disability
The exploitative nature of capitalism impede progress of disabled people. Author and activist Marta Russell wrote a number of groundbreaking and insightful essays on the nature of disability and oppression under Capitalism. ( Capitalism and Disability , Selected writings by Marta Russel, Edited by Keith Rosenthal,Hardback 224 pages). In this volume, essays analyse the way in which modern phenomenon of disability is shaped by capitalist, economic and social relations. The wide ranging essays discuss theoretical to the topical the emergence of disability as a ‘ human category’ rooted in the rise of industrial capitalism and the transformation of conditions of work, family and society, to the critique of the shortcomings of purely ‘ civil rights approach’ to addressing the persistence of disability in economic sphere . The writings also focus on the changing position of disabled people within the overall system of capitalist production utilizing the Marxist economic concepts of the reserve army of the unemployed , the labor theory of value, and the exploitation of wage – labor .
The effects of neoliberal capitalist policies on the living conditions and social position of disabled people relating to welfare,income assistance and social security programs are clearly visible in modern society.
It is often claimed that disabled persons are invisible, disregarded by mainstream society, and irrelevant to workings of society. But analysis by Marta Russel has attempted to explain that the ‘ unemployables ‘ have been deliberately shut out of the labor force due to a capitalist economy that so far has dictated their exclusion by measure of econo mic calculations that favour the business class. (Disablement, oppression and political economy, posted on August 10 2019, by Marta Russell, mronline.org). Disabled persons “….are further oppressed in capitalist societies by having been purposely shifted onto social welfare or segregated institution for similar reasons – to keep workers who could not be profitably employed out of the mainstream workforce but also to exert social control over the entire labor supply.. ” As Marx explains, capitalism is a system of ‘forced labor’ and coercion as means of production are in the hands of capitalists, they try to ‘ eradicate all viable alternatives to wage labor for mass population’ (Deborah Stone ‘The Disabled State’).
Under a socialist society, reasonable accommodation would be based on the needs of people with impairments and the ability of labor to provide it. (How Capitalism Frames Disability, March 23 2017, by Jenny Rellick, socialistworker.org). Acess to school would be a high priority need , and labor would provide accommodations based on availability of labour after high priority need like food shelter and medicine are satisfied. Workers would not face discrimination.
Collective human action has the power to uplift disabled and treat them equally in the Marxian concept of all according to their abilities to all according to their means that leaves no room for oppression of the disabled persons.
Sheshu Babu is a political commentator