Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 15 October 2011

Capital And Technology - Toward an Alternative Individuality

As we just saw in our fierce but devastating short critique of Krugman and Eggertsson below, bourgeois economics simply does not allow us even to mention the notion of "profit" or (worse still) "value". Because in bourgeois economic "science" there is no concept, let alone explanation, of "value and profit", even "progressive economists" such as Paul Krugman have to present capitalist crises as the result of "exogenous shocks". In other words, the present crisis of the capitalist "system" is not and cannot be due to the social antagonism intrinsic to the wage relation and therefore "endogenous" (indeed at the very "core and centre") of capitalism. Instead, any "crises" must be the result of "disturbances" that are external to the "market mechanism" because this mechanism is seen as a simple "distributive device" for the pure exchange of "endowments" that "individuals" possess at the start of the "exchange". Note here how bourgeois economics pre-supposes the existence of "endowments" prior (!) to the beginning of the market exchange that will determine and fix the relative "prices" of the goods to be exchanged on the market in accordance with the "free choice" of the "individual consumers".

The most fundamental and imprescindible condition for the existence of capitalist social relations of production, of the capitalist "system", is that there be workers that provide the living labour for the capitalist to exploit and that these workers be absolutely "free from" (!) any social or other "bond or link" from either the means of production or the pro-duct of living labour itself. Note how this "freedom" is defined in purely "negative" terms: the workers are "free from" all links and bonds and "rights" that may interfere with their "alienating" or "selling" their living labour - their "positively free living activity", which is the birthright of every human being - to the capitalist "individually" (not as a "class" or in union with other workers through "social labour"). That is why capital understands "freedom" in this purely "negative" sense - as utter destitution, as absolute poverty -, and also "individualism" in this purely formal sense, of the human being totally separated and alienated both from the means of production ("endowments" he does not possess) and from the pro-ducts of his living labour - which he can only purchase as a "free consumer" on the "free market".

But how "free" is the worker as a "consumer" in choosing to re-purchase from the capitalist the pro-duct of his own living labour which now, in the form of a "money wage" paid to him, stand in opposition to him as an alien power that is "dead, objectified labour"? Let us recall that the worker is not "free" to decide what he produces in the labour process or when or how. This is because "before" the worker gets to re-purchase the pro-ducts of his living labour it is the capitalist (!) who decides what the worker can "consume" (the product) and how he produces it (what means of production in the shape of machinery and technology are utilised in the production process) and how the worker "consumes" the product of the worker's living labour. (That utter beast that went by the name of Steve Jobs is perhaps the most illustrious and horrid recent example of how the capitalist completely arrogates to himself the right to make all these decisions - all the while exploiting millions of workers in China and winning accolades for being such a "genius" in the process!)

So, not only is the not worker "free" to decide "what" he produces; he is not therefore "free" to decide "how" he produces! And that is because (remember) the means of production - the machinery and technologies and materials used in production - are all "owned and designed" by the capitalist!! This is a point of paramount importance! The whole notion of "the captain of industry", of the "entrepreneurial spirit", of "capitalist innovation" from Schumpeter onwards depends on this! The reason why the capitalist - the entrepreneur - must retain control over the process of production is that the ability of capital to retain its violent command and usurpation over living labour depends on what is produced and how and where and when it is produced!!!

Put differently, the process of production, which includes both the "technologies" and the "products" that are ultimately produced for the "free choice of consumption" of the worker, must be controlled by the capitalist because they are of fundamental importance in determining the degree of control and command that the capitalist has and retains over the living labour of the worker!! Clearly, therefore, the entire concept of "innovation", of "creative destruction" developed by Joseph Schumpeter occupies a central role in the delineation and specification of a "Will to Power" on the part of capitalists against workers and - more precisely - in the "isolation" of living labour as the aggregate of "individual labours". It stands to reason that technologies and products that tend to emancipate living labour (workers) from the command and control of the capitalist - through the labour process and the "mode of consumption" - will be utterly deleterious to the reproduction of the capitalist's command over workers, in the workplace and in society at large!!

This thoroughly political and antagonistic aspect of capitalist industry is something that bourgeois economists wish to hide and to mystify with their dual trickstery in terms of, first, presenting the capitalist production as a "system" that equates mathematically "quantities" or "existing realities" with one another; and, second, presenting the decision-making process of production as a function of "consumer choice" freely expressed in the marketplace!

One of the salient points we must make in this presentation is that the capitalist must always present the decision-making unit of the wage relation not as a "group of capitalists" utilising the full power and violence of State machinery against "individual workers", but rather - because of the essential need of capital "to isolate" workers individually - as decisions made also by "individual capitalists". The obsession of capitalist society, of the bourgeoisie, with the deification of "the free individual", of "the personality" - from Steve Jobs to Lady Gaga - lies entirely in this essential need. Were the bourgeoisie to encourage any form of social solidarity, any form of alternative "individuality", it would be digging its own grave because it would undermine the ground on which the wage relation stands!

In an imminent intervention we will seek to inquire into the possible "alternative individualities" that we can develop to oppose the rule of capital and to dissolve the wage relation.

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