Dreamers of a successful life

The practices and the languages adopted by the Movement seem to suggest an alternate type of socialization, different than that based on the exchange of equivalent values. The "technical-scientific intellect", "off-the-books" labor, the feminist movement, young proletarians, etc. may be seen as parts"”not reducible to any whole"”of a composite praxis in which production and emancipation are intertwined. This praxis cannot be understood through an identity principle founded on categories of commodity. As far as social change is concerned, what counts more and more is not the commonly accepted definition of labor force, but rather all the aspects of the activity of these individuals who find themselves in opposition to that definition. What counts is the qualitative consistency, profoundly varied, of their "doing". To understand this proliferation of the concrete and the different within socialized labor requires a constellation of materialistic concepts which are totally detached from that universality characteristic of the "general equivalent" and which are not used as the bases or synthesizing elements for the actual processes of liberation. Thus it is the empirical-perceptible determinateness of human labor, the specific qualitative richness of labor's use value, which constitutes an autonomous and powerful means for understanding the totality of the production process. The directly social dimension of labor"”within which dimension there is no further distinction between "complex" and "simple" labor, though the concept of immediate production is modified"”makes of use value, of physicality, a criterion for understanding which is not at all retrograde, but rather, in the end, "post-Galliean", that is to say, more significant than the quantification and the equivalent-assigning which prevail in exchange systems. Men and women, factory workers and marginal workers of every species, the partly employed and the partly unemployed, all derive from their articulated presence within the system of production a welter of insights, techniques, and testes that are antagonistic to the assigning of value. Dreamers of a successful life perceive in the process of labor the means to escape from their dreamland; in the tangible"”yet blocked and incomplete"”separation between production and the assigning of value, they perceive the principal route for a dialectic of liberation. However, it happens"”and here one may think of the parabola traced by the "great disorder" of 1977"”that the new level attained by the socialization of labor may not come to be manifested in the milieu from which it sprang, that is, in the production of material goods and in the scientific apparatus needed for such production; labor agitation has not affected the forms of the production process, and has not been able to attack in a wide-ranging and significant way the link between the functioning of capitalist management and the functioning of coordination as exercised by the "generalized intellect". One finds"”and one will doubtless find for a long time to come"”a striking gap between a movement which re-produces itself daily in the process of labor and the self-expression of that movement, which quite often is situated "elsewhere". "Out of delicacy I have forfeited my life" or: The painful myth of a "pure socialization" The consequence of this "impasse" is that the rethinking for purposes of emancipation of the relationship between labor and socialization, instead of arriving at a transformed and enriched conception of production, gives rise to an extraordinary burgeoning of ideology, the principal characteristic of which is a pining for a "pure" socialization, detached from the sphere of material activity and by design not related to the historical forms by which nature is appropriated. If bodies continue to be measured, their equivalents determined, if they continue to be mortified by the capital-labor exchange, then the possibility of reaching a non-mutilated socialization seems to lie in an indefinite expansion of interpersonal relationships, brought about through interaction: agitation, behaviour, needs, languages. Work and interaction, of "instrumental action" and "communicative action", are seen"”in this confused pot of ideology"”as two totally separated poles, without any reciprocal connection: on the one hand the praxis of labor, divided down the middle but conceived under a single heading as the imparting of value (and thus"”as far as the activity of the individual is concerned"”totally devoid of relationships, operating as monolog); on the other hand, free relationships based on dialog between people who grant each other "reciprocal recognition" as bearers of petitions for emancipation. In short: in the realm of production, a sanctioning of the uncontested hegemony of exchange value; in the realm of distribution only, a rediscovery of use value. In fact, the distinctive aspect of this fantasy-land socialization is a sort of "struggle for recognition" on the part of unhappy minds: unrepressed individuality must be embraced with all needs and desires by other individualities, if only on the letters-to-the-editor page of the newspaper. Antagonism is de-materialized and constantly reduced to the pastime of critical reflection on the inauthenticity of daily life; in the background looms the all-powerful category of commodity-form (the crisis of which is not perceived in the realm of production), which constrains and inhibits reciprocal recognition in relationships based on domination. What is required for interaction between individuals to flow freely is, in reality, the maintenance of that universality and equivalence of values promised by the system of equivalent exchange"”but these promises are always betrayed by the essential inequity of the selling and buying relationship which prevails between capital and the labor force. In short, "pure" socialization, which is irrelevant or inadequate in defining the praxis of labor, boils down to the demands for a "fair exchange", or one which will not make the warm-blooded interior space of individuals seem worthless. The point if this: If one cannot detect in the fabric of agitation the ready possibility for a socialization which is no longer regulated by the marketplace, but instead based directly on labor, taken as the possession of the power and the skill to produce, or labor "as subjectivity""”then it is inevitable that the relationship between labor and socialization should continue to be mediated by the distribution aspect. A "just" exchange thus represents a final, twisted illusion that the abstract form in which wealth is produced is being reconciled to the disparate natures of individuals, who aspire to a communication-circulation freed from domination relationships. So there is no reason to be astonished that this version of socialization comes into being already "separate""”with agitation and liberation campaigns constituting an autonomous universe"”it does not even conceive the need to define"”precisely by means of violence"”the separation between antinomical elements present in production. The ideology of liberation, frozen in the purity of those quarantees which have been given to workers, is not capable of envisaging the degree of liberty which can result from the use of violence as a function specific to the further socialization of labor. Needs and ideology. The Heller case Also entwined in the distribution perspective appear to be "theories of needs", variously construed within the movement. What is almost always ignored is the more or less complete lack of autonomy of the "system of needs", that is the dependence of the system on the historical form of labor. This oversight is found even in the most penetrating authors. Ms. Heller, for example"”and the example is significant because of the weight which her theses have carried with our comrades"”has detected, in the various connotations with which Marx employs the term "need" the clear presence of a "judgemental" approach in economic critiques: according to Heller, actual "determinations of value" are at the bottom of the principal Marxian categories. "In his works," Heller writes, "the principal tendency is to consider concepts of need as extra-economic, historical-philosophical categories, that is, as anthropological categories of value, and as such, not susceptible to definition within the economic system." These needs, then, precisely because they burst out of and transcend the narrow boundaries of those concepts found in political economics, constitute the foundations necessary for a superior organization of production. But this transcendental conception of needs, which become the true privileged seat of subjectivity regained, cannot help but pay the price of its ethical and anthropological origins. The system of basic needs, precisely because it is situated in a space structurally different than that occupied by the "real abstractions" of capitalist society, becomes rather ineffective as a means of critiquing from within the full weight of economic categories, and instead is limited to coexistence with these categories, bringing no substantial changes to them. Heller, unlike many of her readers, carefully refrains from confining the new needs to some unspecified expansion of consumerism and instead strives to read them in relation to a reconsidered appreciation of the goal- and planning-oriented nature and labor. Nevertheless, she cannot help feeling that the "counter-economy", to which her writings implicitly refer, in no way undermines the universally prevailing system of wage-earning labor; rather, she limits herself to defining marginal spaces within which a renewed "system of ethical conduct" can be cultured. Ethical Marxism, even in the most up-to-date versions, cannot avoid papering over the relationship which exists between critiques of capitalistic economic forms and the composition of subjectivity, preferring to consign the latter to a "theory of values". More generally, the pretense of deducing the transformed form of labor in a "society of confederated producers" through studying the articulation and the quality of social needs amounts to repeating the point of view found in the great bourgeois ideologies and applying it to the specific theme of the transition to communism. Quite early, Hegel and Smith pointed unhesitatingly to the infinite multiplication and specification of needs as the distinctive trait of post-feudal society. Thus they turned from the marketplace to labor: the omnipresent exchange of products is such that the individual no longer works for his own concrete need, but for the abstraction of a generalized need; consequently labor too becomes abstract and generalized. The quality of the need conditions the quality of the labor; the abstraction of need is precursor to the abstraction of labor; the modern form taken by the distribution of wealth determines, for Hegel and Smith, the form of the production of wealth. From the beginning, the anthropology of need has celebrated its rites in the domain of distribution: this fate has befallen Heller as well, for she limits herself to creating a mirror image of the classical figure of "homo oeconomicus", replacing this character with the equally anthropological model of an individual rich in radical needs. Labor and needs: Toward a critique of the movement Marx, in fixing the relationship between needs and labor, reverses the order of the sequence and locates the genesis of needs within the structure of abstract labor: "Inasmuch as labor is labor to earn wages and its immediate goal is money, a general wealth is set as its object and aim ... Money as goal here becomes the means for the general laboriosity. People produce general wealth so that they can gain possessions of its token." If the immediate goal of abstract labor is not this or that particular product but rather "the general form of wealth" (money), then it is clear that social needs no longer represent either the point of departure or the point of arrival for the process of production; instead they constitute a "middle term" in the route travelled by "money as capital". Needs themselves are seen as needs for a general equivalent. And, given that this general equivalent is the specific product of paid labor, the "system of needs" necessarily tends to reproduce that particular link between individuals and general wealth which is established precisely by the capitalist form of labor. Therefore: the needs of paid labor consist in the reproduction of paid labor. When the accent is placed emphatically on the antagonistic immediacy of needs one loses sight precisely of that "expanded reproduction" of the prevailing social relationships, of the labor force taken as goods, which is implicit in the "system of needs" that has evolved from the abstraction of value. Thus one neglects the "coercion to repeat" which is inherent in the general equivalent. Then the smug and unanalytical adoption of one's own existential radicalness"”silent or vociferous, it hardly matters"”as a pole of inevitable conflict comes near to being a labor of Sisyphus, a flight which "always amounts to a forced repetition of the state from which one fled." In the same way, as far as collective processes are concerned, the "Americanization" of the behaviour of non-working class labor and the extremist struggles opposing industrial reform and defending the old class organization can be seen as two from among the many possible examples of a "radical needing" in which is inscribed a priori the reproduction of domination. Other examples: the forms of agitation by which needs are manifested come under discussion as a matter of course. Is it necessary to repeat that Carniti's hard-nosed brand of labor unionism is a hand-me-down from the ruling class? And that even the most extreme forms of agitation cannot redeem a content that is subaltern? That one can prepare oneself for full employment, while still being less advanced than the young proletarian who has many jobs, all precarious, all interchangeable, and who wants nothing to do with a permanent position? To represent the collection of needs which the movement exhibits as a pluralistic, evenly-weighted set of elements without hierarchy is an illusion that has no sense: there is always hierarchy, and one must find what the principle is that regulates and classifies. To this end, Marxian arguments show clearly the necessity of discussing the theme of needs in terms of the all-important form which labor activity assumes. This necessity prevails whether the perpetuation of capitalistic relationships of production or the exact opposite is being considered. Either one or the other: either needs are ordered by money and abstract labor, or they are filtered and arranged in a hierarchy. In accordance with all the ramifications of the social aspect of the labor process, which is no longer measurable in terms of the law of value. Obviously, to take the productivity of the "social individual" as a critical parameter for needs does not mean resorting to any very idealistic "regulatory idea"; on the contrary, what organizes the chain of needs here, elevating some and pushing others into the margin, is not the future of the utopian society, but the present reality of a divided production in which there exists, on the material level, a different and highly efficacious coalition of the forces of production, amounting to a new principle of synthesis. In short: from the reality of a broadened concept of labor stems a hierarchy of needs oriented toward emancipation, a hierarchy which is antithetical to the one mandated by the general equivalent. The social work-day, the individual, the body In the composite structure of the social work-day, in its inhomogeneous and fragmented articulation, time does not pass evenly. Time is not always the empty and abstract index for assigning value, a unit of measure in itself. The simultaneous presence"”and the rather haphazard combination"”of work as "coordination" and "supervision", together with embryonic elements of counter-economy, submission to the machine or nomadism among many and various precarious activities, establishes a pluralistic perception of time, a diversified perception deeply marked by the "space" of the experience. Unremunerated social cooperation, or what little of it is found today"”and that seeming something of a fetish"”as a potent aspect of human labor, restores to production time body and quality, feeling and relationships, the pleasure of understanding and the desire to organize with the greatest possible tactical intelligence one's own hatred. Within this "diachronic zone" of the work-day is also situated the problem of hedonism, of realized happiness, of the restored power of the category of the individual, beyond any ideological parody of the self. In the experience of production"”as rich as it is conflict-ridden"”of a young worker or a young engineer, in that externalness of the particular assigned task, in that internalness where the consciousness of cooperation lies, the potential "full significance" of the individual no longer appears as an effect of the poverty of social relationships"”as in precapitalistic economic organizations"”but rather the result of the acknowledged universality of these relationships. Hatred and scorn at "working under the boss" express the potential for an immediate correspondence between the production activity of the individual and that of the species; thus the possibility for an automatized appropriation in the external realm and a full appreciation of "internal nature", that is, precisely of the individual and his or her body. If capitalistic society conceals the connection between labor and nature ("The bourgeoisie has good reason to attribute a supernatural creative force to labor", as Marx said)"”subsuming the connection beneath the rubic of productive labor, in which productivity is something purely social-on the other hand the connection is rehabilitated in "qualitative" time, which infiltrates the work-day, pointing to the contradictions in it. The natural corporeal reality of individual, his or her socially enriched senses, instead of constituting the tedious and superfluous empirical zone in which value is produced, suggest a different criterion of productivity, no longer based on the blind necessity of self-preservation or "time-saving", but rather on the variegated time of conscious planning activities. Which, after all, is what Marx alluded to when he spoke of the composer of music and the work of art as anticipations in terms of form of production without domination. Translated by Jared Becker

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Jul 3 2006 13:05


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