Day 40: Capitalism 3.0 V. 1.2

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Today let me begin by suggesting the following: inherent in many debates about social justice is a problematic kind of temporality. We can see this for example when people mainly focus on discussing communism/socialism in a post-revolutionary scenario, trying to imagine ways of re-distributing wealth and democratizing the production process. Similarly, these are the ways in whch we address issues of immigrant labor, exploitation, unionization, or any other kind of regulatory measure that might counteract the exploitative nature of capitalism as we find it. The problematic temporality here is that we are inclined to talk about capitalism after production has already happened. Hence, we actually talk about capital and its flows, rather than about labor and its fucntion in the production of capital. If there is a flaw in revolutionary theory it is not the inability to imagine a post-revolutionary social scenario, as conservatives so unfoundedly tend to claim. There are plenty of accounts of how to re-structure society and the distribution of capital. However, there are surprisingly few accounts of how to restructure the actual productive apparatus (not structurally, but logically), resulting in the fact that many post-revolutionary scenarios are in fact based on the same capitalist production processes that are just arranged in a more “just” form. I.e. we redistribute wealth, restore rights to the worker etc. What this means in essence, however, is that we locate exploitation logically in the post-productive flows of capital, not essentially in production. Even the Fordist assembly line could be reformed by assigning the worker more control over her product, removing competition between workers and by paying wages “according to her abilities.” This would de facto solve the description of alienation put forth by Marx (division of labor, alienation of worker from product, alienation of worker from herself and others via competition and need to transform human being into commodity, etc.). And this would be after a proper Marxist revolution. Much talk, however, is obviously a lot less revolutionary than this and leaves the production process entirely untouched (again: locating exploitation and alienation enturely in the post-productive flow of liquid capital). Talking about the role of the subject in relation to affective labor and cognitive capitalism does for me one essential thing: it brings back our discussions to the production process and forces us to engage with the possibility that the actual way of producing things and non-things cannot be salvaged and is logicall inherently alienating, hence must be re-thought and completely discarded, or liberated in drastic ways. This for me leads to a lot more rigorous and revolutionary analyses than post-productive scenarios of re-distributing wealth, or revamping labor law–especially in a time where post-Fordist production seems to partially grant the wishes of the proletariat that would seem to counteract Marx’s definition of alienation. Consider this analysis:

Twenty years of restructuring of the big factories has led to a curious paradox. The various different post-Fordist models have been constructed both on the defeat of the Fordist worker and on the recognition of the centrality of (an ever increasingly intellectualized) living labor within production. In today’s large restructured company, a worker’s work increasingly involves, at various levels, an ability to choose among different alternatives and thus a degree of responsibility regarding decision making. The concept of “interface” used by communications sociologists provides a fair definition of the activities of this kind of worker – as an interface between different functions, between different work teams, between different levels of the hierarchy, and so forth. What modern management techniques are looking for is for “the worker’s soul to become part of the factory.” The worker’s personality and subjectivity have to be made susceptible to organization and command. It is around immateriality that the quality and quantity of labor are organized. This transformation of working-class labor into a labor of control, of handling information, into a decision-making capacity that involves the investment of subjectivity, affects workers in varying ways according to their positions within the factory hierarchy, but it is nevertheless present as an irreversible process. Work can thus be defined as the capacity to activate and manage productive cooperation. In this phase, workers are expected to become “active subjects” in the coordination of the various functions of production, instead of being subjected to it as simple command. We arrive at a point where a collective learning process becomes the heart of productivity, because it is no longer a matter of finding different ways of composing or organizing already existing job functions, but of looking for new ones.

What if the departure from the forces of alienation that described the industrial worker in Marx’s time is precisely part of the capitalist logic that informs production today? Would this not suggest that we need to radically re-vamp and adapt our analytical framework? Don’t we then have to assign the affective production and immaterial inclusion of the worker a central role in entirely new formulations of the concept of alienation–and: is the concept of alienation in fact theoretically more helpful to envision alternatives than the concept of exploitation (for the reasons indicated above)?

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10 Comments

  1. Ooooo, I cannot keep up with you. Just made my Baudrillard reply. Btw, which book/chapter/article by JB would you recommend to support the ideas you articulated in that post?

  2. Still reading PR – I think I have developed a text allergy, maybe. Long, uninterrupted lines with no pictures scare me. The size of the PR paperback is just perfect for me. I guess that’s also why I often try to adorn my posts with in-line images. Nae, no allergy, I am just a victim of consumer culture:-) Must give it an even harder try.

  3. Hi there!
    Yeah, reading _PR_ for the first time can be a somewhat daunting task. It has infected me at this point, however, and I have re-read it about 5 or 6 times by now (and I still feel like I should read it again–I’ll teach it again in the fall, though).
    As far as JB is concerned, there is, of course, _Simulacra and Simulation_, but that is actually not as interesting as people always say it is (to me, at least). My favorite essays, which should be widely available, are: “The System of Objects,” “Consumer Society,” and “For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign.” Especially the latter is very important for the discussion we are having. I am sure you can find each of them somewhere on the internet.
    There is also a fascinating essay by German critic Jost Mueller called “Die kritischen Intellektuellen und die Vergesellschaftlichung der Intelligenz.” It is an essay on “mass-intellectuality” and directly responds to the problems raised in this thread. I am not sure if that one is available inthe internet, though.

  4. Oh no, PR is, oddly enough, not at all daunting. I read it slowly so that it won’t end too soon. What I meant was the blog font (most blogs) – I#ve switched to Firefox, and font seems to generally smaller (even though I increased it already).

  5. Did you and Cabbage get my mail? Wanted to send you a draft version of the logo – and now noticed slight paranoia on my part. Could that get you into trouble??

  6. Dear anaj, I am writing to you from sunny Guantanamo, Cuba. It is great fun here. People always say it is terrible and wrong, but there is even this really burly guy whose only job is assisting people in writing e-mails that let people know how much fun we are having. Isn’t that nice?

    The food is great as well–they have a special cook who is serving us a low-carb, low-protein diet (top notch! it is called the gitmo-beach diet). I needed to shed some pounds anyway and was never able to do it on my own. They really help you down here.

    We always think of prisons as dark and dreary. Not so! There is sunlight and bright halogen spots 24/7 and they also perpetually play music. They do not even have to turn it down for the night–must have cool neighbors here! Only downside: not everybody likes Ace of Base, but well.

    I was even thinking about getting a timeshare down here, but then I heard that Gitmo doesn’t really belong to anyone–makes timeshares difficult to sell. Apparently the US has been trying to pay rent to Cuca for decades now, but for some strange reason Cuba always refuses to accept the check (something crazy about not willingly renting this place out, occupation, human rights, … no idea–crazy communists, right?). Well, gotta go now. There are lots of activities planned for today. I was told that this afternoon we’ll do some waterboarding. Not exactly sure what it is, but it sounds like fun. Seriously, it’s like Club Med here.

    cheers, jetsam

  7. *Sigh with relief* – I am glad they’re taking good care of you down there. Will be working on the final version tonight and send you a postcard.

  8. p.s. please wait with circulation until I have a final version. Plan is to have that by tonight.

  9. I’m going to tackle System of Objects (the neat new brown Verso Radical Thinkers edition) soon. I’m sorry I haven’t had a lot of useful things to say of late. Feel as though I’m 100 years behind the times. 😉

  10. I’m with the others CJ. Your blog is a lot of up with which to keep. . . . Um. I should probably read the capitalism posts that came before this but I don’t have the strength, I’m afraid. Perhaps tomorrow.

    Regarding the restructuring of productive relations within the productive process itself, have you ever read B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two?

    The University where I work is doing some interesting things as well, particularly at its Lowell Center for Sustainable Production. Oh, and our Provost wrote an interesting book in which you might find some of the theoretical viewpoints fleshed out just a little. It’s called The Point of Production. Sorry about the plugs, sort of off-topic from your purely theoretical pursuits. Enjoyable posts. I look forward to reading the rest.


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