Stop the clock! Critiques of the new social workhouse

Submitted by Joseph Kay on February 5, 2007

What is the link between the struggle to mitigate alienation (for higher wages, shorter hours, more benefits, less work intensity etc.) and the struggle against alienation itself? The answer to this question distinguishes communist practice from merely leftist practice. In recent years, a number of ex-autonomist and leftist groups have been trying to build a broad European-wide movement around a common programme of radical demands concerning unemployment, working-time reduction and a guaranteed minimum income. In the UK, too, such demands as a 'basic income', seen as a strategy for undermining the relation between work and human needs embodied in the wage, have been taken up not only by (post-)autonomists but also by Greens and more traditional leftists. Such strategies need to be judged in terms both of whether they come out of a real movement (though this is still no guarantee of a communist content - vide social democracy) and their historical context. In times of working class strength, it is possible that achieving demands such as a reduction in working-time might serve as a basis from which we could push on towards 'the point of no return'. But when the working class is weak - as we are now - such demands merely contribute to the dynamic of capital. The articles in this pamphlet on reforms already taking place in Europe show very clearly how apparently radical demands, such as working-time reduction, have been gratefully co-opted as part of the post social democratic project.

We have put this collection of articles together because we feel that each of them serves as an important contribution to a confrontation with and critique of some of the prevailing currents in the political debate over how to take new working class struggles forward. However, this collection does not necessarily reflect a common project among the different groups; and nor do we necessarily endorse every argument expressed here. Nevertheless, you will find some common elements in the groups' perspectives - such as the refusal of work as a basic element of working class struggle, and the conviction that working class emancipation will come from working class self-activity not from mediators such as trade unions which seek accommodation with capital and the state.

The critiques in this pamphlet refer to specific demands, but they also have general applicability. The kind of radical-reformist strategies we are attacking here are likely to re-emerge in different guises again and again until the link between the struggle to mitigate alienation and the struggle against alienation itself is finally realized and transcended, and human history can at last begin.

Summer 2000