Home > political-economy, shorter work time > What help for the 99ers? (Part four: It’s not personal)

What help for the 99ers? (Part four: It’s not personal)

December 19, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I did not mean to go on this long on the dire future of the 99ers. I wanted only to show the connection between their demand for assistance and the demand for the abolition of the State — and, of Washington, which is the headquarters of the machinery of State, its coercive machinery of repression and imperialist adventures. Nevertheless, I am drawn to extend this thread by things which occur to me in the course of considering the 99ers, who are our family and friends, neighbors and buddies, and who, without some bold step by us all, will become the fulcrum to impose a devastating austerity on us all.

“The law, in its majestic equality,” says, Anatole France, “forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.” In this elegant sentence, France encapsulates the entirety of the relation between the individual and modern society: the State exists as an immediate totality; ideally, its laws are meant to apply to all equally without regard to the circumstances of any particular individual. Seen in the most favorable light, all we can hope to achieve under the conditions of modern society is the equal application of State laws over a society composed of individuals who are anything but equal in their actual circumstances, wants, needs or desires. To actually function as the representative of a society gripped by such vast inequality as our own, Washington essentially must be indifferent to that inequality, to presume no more than the typical circumstances. Only by being indifferent to the manifold miseries of its citizens can Washington truly represent them.

And, this is also true for unemployment: insofar as Washington is concerned, the unemployed worker is a devastating insult to the Puritan Ethic — it is the tool of Satan’s workshop, a potential source of civil unrest and Bolshevik militancy, an existential threat to the existing order. But, this worker as constituted by capital are not the actual living breathing individual workers as they really exist. but only the collective mass of these immediately social laborers, which mass exists as a totality and only within this totality. This collective worker is, of course, composed of individuals of varying demographic characteristics which are to each, on the one hand, advantages — such as education, skills, and social, familial, ethnic relationships, etc. — and, on the other hand, disadvantages — skin color, national origin, sexual orientation, language, etc. Position within this hierarchy of the collective laborer, thus, appear altogether arbitrary and at once the result of certain fixed prejudices within the society or the result of certain “objective” qualities — education, skills, etc.

The State, for its own purpose, as representative of society, may enforce laws preventing discrimination against certain individual characteristics, or promote the development of certain skill sets or level of education, but, to the extent it pursues these goals, it does not do so because of its desire to improve the lot of the individual worker, but to perfect the collective worker as a collective worker — that is, as a body capable of producing surplus value.

Washington’s indifference to the fate of the 99ers should not be confused with an indifference toward unemployment in general; Washington is keen that the collective worker should work as many hours as can be squeezed into a single social workday and seeks to maximize those hours through its fiscal and monetary policies. Its goal, whether unemployment be high or low, always is to work this collective body to the legal limit of the workday. It is, by contrast, only indifferent to which individuals composing this collective body actually work and which starve. Washington’s indifference to the 99ers, to quote Tom Hagen, “is business not personal.”

The indifference of Washington to the fate of the 99ers is only a reflexive expression of its hostility to reducing the legally mandated limit on hours of labor. Since the aim of the State is always and under all circumstances to maximize its enlargement, it must, of necessity seek to extend the work day not merely beyond the time needed to produce the commodities required by the collective body of workers, but also beyond that required to the collective body of capitalists to expand the scale of production. Since, capital’s hunger for profit knows no bounds, the State knows no limit to its own enlargement. Thus, the State’s ceaseless stimulation of profitable economic activity results in the ceaseless expansion of the State itself. Washington decries unemployment, but only to the extent that employment reaches what it calls “full employment” — a euphemism for that level of employment where additional State action produces no additional surplus value. It is the task of a vast army of economist functionaries, public, private and academic, to determine by any number of measures where precisely this level is — and, it is the subject of much controversy, which, to the uninitiated, can be confused with an actual interest in the conditions of the working class as individuals, but, in fact, it is just business.

Even if we assume, as does the progressive or vulgar Marxist, that the expansion of the State is necessary for the general improvement of the population of workers who are under increasing financial distress, and suffering misery, it cannot be denied that this expansion must come at the expense of the workers themselves. Their polite demands for laws to be passed to improve the lot of working families amounts — although the progressive would be horrified at the suggestion — to a demand for confiscation of the property of “the rich”, and the assumption by the State of the role of social capitalist. Indeed, it is the self-evident implications of their own demands that cause progressives to pull back from this implicit logic and submit themselves to meekly following in the wake of the Party of Washington — being entirely satisfied with whatever meager realization of their demands against the existing order can be achieved in the cloakroom of Congress. They are reduced to a mere lobby, another one of the special interests with their hands in the pockets of the taxpayer fishing through them for spare change.

On the other hand, their craven cowardice when facing the implications of their own demands, leads them to turn on the workers themselves and chastise them for over-consumption, gluttony and spoiling the planet. The worker is now transformed from a vulnerable victim needing the protection of the State into a greedy malevolent hedonist caring only for his own satisfaction and the world be damned. The logic of the demands require the State erect protection of the working class at their own expense, hence, consumption must be curtailed and taxes raised so that the State, having impoverished the worker, can now rescue him from his impoverishment. In this regard we see a slew of new and increased taxes on the substances commonly consumed by the population of workers that can be labeled as “sinful” — taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline, etc. — to fill the ever widening black hole that is government’s need for new sources of revenue.

Progressives completely miss the point here: for government expenditures to have an economic effect, i.e., a stimulative effect on employment, they must be entirely superfluous both to the consumption of the working class, and to the requirements of capital as such; that is, to the productive employment of labor and the expansion of the means to productively employ labor. But, the phrase, “the consumption of the working class”, includes the consumption of both those workers who are productively employed and those workers who are unproductively employed, as well as those who are altogether unemployed and living on government assistance. Simply put: to render “aid” to the 99ers by political means, the State must be indifferent to them and their daily increasing misery; it must do precisely those things which offer no assistance to them, impoverish them still further, and meet no human need, whatsoever.

It’s not personal; it is just the way the mode of production operates.

  1. December 27, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Great series. I plan to share this with the students in my class on anarchism since I recently asked them about this subject.

    I’m am really enjoying this blog but I normally read my blogs through Google Reader. Is there a particular reason that your RSS feed only presents part of the post and requires the reader to come to the site to see more? It doesn’t appear at first glance that you rely on advertising. It would be really nice to be able to read the whole article from the RSS feed. I hope it’s something you might consider changing.

    • December 28, 2010 at 2:04 pm


      Thanks for your comments. I am happy to see things getting out there. I think I have fixed the RSS problem. Please, let me know if it is still a problem.

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