Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reading Capital Politically, Part 2

My last posthad a selection of quotes from Reading Capital Politically. There were so many that I retained some quotes until this blog entry.

[...] the overwhelming majority of the people are put in a situation where they are forced to work to avoid starvation. The capitalist class creates and maintains this situation of compulsion by achieving total control over all the means of producing social wealth. The generalized imposition of the commodity-form has meant that forced work has become the fundamental means of organizing society - of social control. It means the creation of a working class - a class of people who can survive only by selling their capacity to work to the class that controls the means of production.

Most fundamentally, the view of the commodity as use-value is the perspective of the working class. It sees commodities (e.g., food or energy) primarily as objects of appropriation and consumption, things to be used to satisfy its needs. Capital sees these same commodities primarily as exchange-values - mere means toward the end of increasing itself and its social control via the realization of surplus value and profit.

The preoccupation of the working class with exchange-value and the preoccupation of capital with use-value, however, are both the outgrowth of capital's success in imposing its social system.

Because of our need for this use-value of food, capital understood early on that its control over food as a commodity gave it control over workers. This was why the most basic means of production stripped from workers in the period primitive accumulation was land - the traditionally necessary precondition for producing food. Thus the fundamental use-value of food for capital is the power to force the working class to work to get it.

One way in which the old dichotomy between politics and economics has often been posed has been to label as "economism" struggles by workers which are deemed solely quantitative, for example, more wages, shorter workday, and so on. These struggles are said to be within capital, which is itself essentially quantitative. "Political" struggles are only those that challenge the "quality" of capital itself, that is, that threaten the "revolutionary" overthrow of capital via the seizure of state power. From what we have seen already, it should be apparent that struggles over the length and intensity of the workday (how much the commodity-form is imposed) are at once quantitative and qualitative: quantitative because they concern the amount of work that will be done for capital, qualitative because they put into question the realization of enough surplus value to maintain capital's control

[Quoting Marx:] ". . . the idea held by some socialists that we need capital but not the capitalists is altogether wrong. It is posited within the concept of capital that the objective conditions of labor -- and these are its own product -- take on a personality toward it, or what is the same, that they are posited as the property of a personality alien to the worker. The concept of capital contains the capitalist."

Men do benefit from women's work; whites do benefit from blacks' lower status; local workers do benefit from immigrant workers' taking the worst jobs. Therefore, the struggle to destroy the divisions generally finds its initiative in the dominated group, since the other side cannot be expected to always work to destroy its privileges. The efforts to overcome racism, sexism, imperialism, or the exploitation of students in the 1960s were led by the struggles of blacks not whites, women not men, peasants not Americans, students not professors or administrators.

[...] to conceive of the value of a commodity as being the direct result of the work of producing that individual commodity is to lose the social character of value and to see it instead as some metaphysical substance that is magically injected into the product by the worker's touch.

[Quoting Marx:] ". . . the real level of the overall labour process is increasingly not the individual worker. Instead, labour-power socially combined and the various competing labour-powers which together form the entire production machine participate in very different ways in the immediate process of making commodities, or, more accurately in this context, creating the product. Some work better with their hands, others with their heads, one as a manager, engineer, technologist, etc., the other as overseer, the third as manual labourer or even drudge. . . . If we consider the aggregate worker, i.e., if we take all the members comprising the workshop together, then we see that their combined activity results materially in an aggregate product which is at the same time a quantity of goods. And here it is quite immaterial whether the job of a particular worker, who is merely a limb of this aggregate worker, is at a greater or smaller distance from the actual manual labour."
These very important concepts should lead us once and for all away from any tendency to try to grasp value in terms of individual cases.

When Marx wrote, for example, in Chapter 15, Section 3, on the employment of women and children, he saw these persons being drawn ever deeper into the industrial machine to be chewed up daily and left to recuperate at night in the same fashion as male workers. There was no need for any special theory about the family, housework, or schoolwork, because these constituted negligible parts of the day. But later, with the expulsion of women and children from the mines and the mills and the factories, with the creation of the modern nuclear family and public school system by capital, such a theory is vital. Today, we must study how capital structures "free time" so as to expand value. We must see how housework has been structured by capital with home economics and television to ensure that women's time contributes only to the reproduction of their own, their husbands', and their children's labor-power. We must see the desire for the reproduction of life as labor-power behind capital's propaganda that it is in the interest of the individual or the family to have a "nice" home or a "good" education.

Both housework and schoolwork are intended to contribute to keeping the value of labor-power low. The more work done by women in the home, the less value workers must receive from capital to reproduce themselves at a given level. The more work students do in the school, the less value must be invested in their training and disciplining for the factory (or home).

[...] the labor an "average person" can perform, say, in the United States of 1775 and in the United States of 1975, or in the United States of 1975 and in upland Papua of 1975, is quite different. When put concretely this way, the vagueness of the notion vanishes. Workers of all these periods and places could be trained to perform "average labor" today in a New York City factory or office. But the amount of training our 1775 farmer or our 1975 tribesman would require would be substantially more and of a different order, involving not just linguistic, mathematical, or mechanical skills, but regularity and discipline.

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