Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Origins of Bourgeois Individualism - Part 5

Workers against capital: Living labour totally separated or alienated from the means of production owned by capitalists with the sole aim to extend the political command of the dead objectified labour of workers through the expansion of the working population. The separation or alienation of living labour from the means of production means that in order for it to reproduce itself it must be rewarded with monetary wages, with abstract "value" so that living labour itself may be reduced to "abstract labour" or "labour power". This "trans-mutation" of living labour into abstract labour is entirely fictitious, except in the politico-institutional terms made possible by the "separation" of living labour from the means of production!

It is because bourgeois economics refuses, as it must, to acknowledge the violence of the wage relation that it must also deny the theoretical and institutional role of "money" in its "scientific analysis". Bourgeois economics is therefore met with a dilemma: on one hand, it needs to present the capitalist economy as an "objective process" that can be observed and controlled "scientifically" and that is subject to "economic laws". On the other hand, bourgeois economics must leave the economic "system", its "mathematical and scientific necessity", open to the possibility of "free choice" in the determination of "market prices" for the allocation of social resources, to allow for the possibility of "profits" (for these would be impossible in a Walrasian system of simultaneous exchange in "pure" competition), and for the undeniable "disturbances" or "crises" to which the capitalist system falls regularly and cyclically victim through "political interference" with the self-regulating free market mechanism.

Bourgeois economic theory "models" the (capitalist) "economy" in such a way that "crises" can occur only as "exogenous disturbances" that cause "dis-equilibria". Equally, its ideology of "pure and free exchange" through competitive behaviour makes it impossible for it to theorise the existence of "value" and therefore of "profits" and thence, above all, of "capitalist accumulation and growth". Growth is utterly incompatible with bourgeois economic analysis because its ideology of "equivalence" all but prevents it. The question arises then: how is it possible for economic agents or market participants in such a mathematically-determined "system" to be and act like "individuals" in the "free market"? How indeed are "disturbances", "crises", "externalities" and "profit and growth" at all possible once "the economic system" has reached a position of "equilibrium"? In short, how is "economic science" compatible or consistent with the existence of "economic decisions" taken by "free individuals"?

Bourgeois economics must posit the "freedom" of the individual, even as an economic agent in a "system" that is "scientifically" determined. As we have seen, the "freedom" of the "individual" is a necessary precondition for the fiction of "wage labour", of living labour as "separate" from the means of production and from the "co-operative labour process" or "social labour" that can then be "measured" and "paid" with money wages as "individual labour" or "abstract labour" or "labour power". But the very social antagonism that the wage relation generates and foments between living labour and capital means also that different capitals are in rivalry with one another over the access to "markets" (social resources) and "living labour". It is this inter-capitalist "rivalry" that requires political mediation by a "collective capitalist" that can act in the interests of "capital as a whole" - especially in regard to workers - and therefore as "social capital" to ensure the reproduction of its system and social relations of production.

Importantly, just as capital brings together and "concentrates" workers in one place and in one labour process of production, so does workers' antagonism to the wage relation induce the concentration of capitals the better for these to contrast the attempt by living labour to retake control over the means of production! There is therefore a "concentration of (workers by) capital" and also a corresponding "concentration of capitals" by workers. It is this antagonism between workers and capital, for one, and also between capitalists that determines the various levels of social conflict and antagonism in terms of "profitability" and therefore of the "distribution of income" in capitalist societies and between capitalist nation-states. (Understanding this process provides most answers to the current upheaval between bourgeois elites in the eurozone, and between the US and export-dependent countries as well as "emerging countries".)

Clearly, then, one aspect of bourgeois "individualism" involves the need to rationalise and "measure" politically the living labour of workers in the division of social labour so as to reduce this to "abstract labour". Another aspect involves the "camouflaging" of the transmutation of living labour into abstract labour through the wage relation by presenting the "reward" of living labour with the "exchange" with money wages that stand for "dead objectified labour" into the "free choice of the individual consumer"! And finally the third aspect of the bourgeois mystification of the wage relation involves the "individual investment or saving decision" by the individual capitalist in antagonistic conflict with living labour and with other capitalists. This last element is important to underline the fact that the antagonism of the wage relation affects not just the relation between workers and capital, but also between capitalists and, to some extent, also between workers! In other words, the wage relation ensures that capitalist societies are exquisitely and ferociously "antagonistic societies" in which "money capital" tends to dissolve all social bonds and all forms of human co-operation and solidarity. Worse still, as we shall see, the wage relation and the need for capital to perpetuate it tends to transform capital into a "barrier to social production".

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