Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 11 September 2011

The Society of Capital and the Source of All Evil

So much is happening on the politico-economic front that it may be well to stop and pause, climb somewhere high above the dust and din of the daily avalanche of information (always "conflicting") and see if we can take a "vue d'ensemble" (a panoramic view, as the French would style it) by elevating ourselves, intellectually and perhaps morally, "au dessus de la melee" (French again! "above the tussle").

Capitalism, of course, has managed to turn what should be "daily life" into a struggle on many "fronts" - social life reduced to something close to war, and not just between individuals, but above all between groups and then regions and nations. It is not sounding "moralistic" to state that the most basic premise of capitalist ideology is that "self-interest" can be "enlightened" in the sense that individuals can help and benefit one another if they let "free markets" determine how to go about producing their social life.

Already, of course, this view presumes (it is more presumption than assumption) that human beings are "in-dividuals" and that therefore their decisions are guided by autonomous "free choices" and not by the very "social conditions" in which they are born and raised and now live. Social groups and societies are very complex "realities" held together by much more than just "exchange" - exchange of what? "Labour"? "Services"? "Values"?

It is clear already that no incantations such as "markets" suffice to help us understand social life. "The market" and its "mechanisms" are fictions based on much more complex human realities - needs, political structures, values - than those who tell us that it is possible to separate "economics" from other aspects of social life, like "political institutions". The reason why capitalist ideology has to return to "the individual" is that it is only by reducing each of us to an isolated, disoriented, confused and helpless social "atom" can its propounders rule us far more easily: divide et impera! (Latin for "divide and rule"). The myth of "the individual" is precisely "to separate" each of us politically so that the people who run this infernal machine called "capitalist society" can rule us more easily.

The very first way to divide us is in the pursuit of our "survival" - feeding and clothing and housing ourselves. You would have thought that a human species that had succeeded in placing some of their kind on the moon would be able to do this with ease: but that is far from the case, as we know. The very highest principle of capitalist society is that the vast majority of the population has "to go to work" to survive. In other words, most of us have to live with the daily fear of being poor. Because we are "separated" by capital, our personal survival is very much an "individual" quest - almost just as much as it was for Neanderthal Man - actually in some cases even worse! Our social activity is "measured" ("paid" in wages) as a purely "individual" effort - as if our "living activity" in social production could be (a) separated from the means of production and (b) calculated "individually" in terms of "inputs and outputs"!!

That is why we wrote below about how "capital concentrates workers in one place" (the true "concentration of capital"), and then workers who push for higher wages or personal rewards force capitals to concentrate themselves ("concentration of capitals"). Put more bluntly, the combined processes of "concentration of capital and capitals" blow the cover, remove the mythology, from the true "character and nature" of capitalist production. The society of capital is a myth designed to make us behave like "atomistic individuals" so that our lives are made dependent entirely on our "individual" ability "to sell our living activity for a wage" to the nearest willing capitalist! We have therefore the non-sense that our "living activities" become a subsatnce called "labour" that can be "divided" (division of labour) and "measured" (wage payments) in terms of "pro-ducts" (what wages pay for) that represent the prior "objectification" (the pro-duct", the creation) of our "previous, dead" living activity!!

The ultimate paradox of the society of capital is that "dead labour" comes to dominate "living labour". And that is "the source of all evil". We wil return to this theme soon.

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