Platypus Question No. 7: “The politics of work and the broader project of social emancipation”

by Jehu

In question 7, the Platypus group asks about the relation between “the politics of work” and other political struggles:

“7. Given the breadth of issues and struggles pursued by the Left historically and today–race and racism, gender equality, environmental concerns, globalization, militarism, etc–what is the relationship between the politics of work and the broader project of social emancipation? Exactly how central or peripheral is the politics of work to social emancipation as such?”

The question, as formulated by Platypus, makes it appear as if the “politics of work” is, somehow, narrowly focused. Side by side with the “narrow” “politics of work” are the “broader” issues of race, gender, the environment, globalization and militarism. But what is racism but an artifact of the competition between white workers and black workers over which will sell their labor power to capital? Is there another facet of “racism” of which I am not aware? What is the “broader” issue of “gender equality” except that each woman worker will sell her labor power on equal terms with men?

The problem, I think, is casting wage slavery within the narrow confines of politics — as the “politics of work. Reduced to politics, the issue of wage slavery is a struggle over the sale of labor power and the terms and conditions of such a sale. The “broader” issues related to this sale then appears as concerns of specific individuals who, in competition with others, suffer disadvantages owing to any number of reasons — many of them arising from historical causes. These disadvantages have an impact on who can sell their labor power, on what terms, and with which stipulations, but never touch on wage labor itself.

This is nothing more than an example of the Left adopting the view of bourgeois apologists and simple-minded economists. In this view, the transaction between the buyer and seller of labor power is an entirely voluntary one, informed by all the principles of liberty and scrupulous attention to the God given rights of each property owner. These two property owners — one with money, the other with a commodity for sale — meet in the neutral environment of the market. The state stands in the background to ensure that, on no account, are the rights of each to their property violated and to enforce the terms of the mutually agreed upon contract. This simplistic bourgeois nonsense is imported into the critical thinking of the Leftist, where what must be explained is why this ostensibly civilized atmosphere is suddenly invaded by the carnage of genocide and war. Why in this environment where each owns his property and all exchanges are voluntary, is there environmental degradation, inequality and capital flight.

In the United States, for instance, newly freed black labor was heavily regulated by the state after the overthrow of Reconstruction. According to Wikipedia:

“In the United States, the most notorious Black Codes were laws passed by Southern states in 1865 and 1866, after the Civil War. These laws had the intent and the effect of restricting African Americans’ freedom, and of compelling them to work in a labor economy based on low wages or debt.”

Wikipedia adds, “The defining feature of the Black Codes was vagrancy law which allowed local authorities to arrest the freed people and commit them to involuntary labor.” According to the same source, between 1893–1909, “every Southern state except Tennessee passed new vagrancy laws.” These laws were accompanied by laws which excluded African Americans from essential political rights and by an intense campaign of violence directed at African American laborers as they moved from the semi-feudal conditions of southern agriculture into industry.

Any serious study of the history of race in the United States after reconstruction must conclude that racial oppression is itself only an expression of competition over the sale of labor power. To treat racism on par with wage slavery is, therefore, to conceal both the essential character of racism and wage slavery. Wage slavery itself must be seen as involving not simply the sale of labor power, but the frenzied, ugly, competition to sell it. There is nothing civilized or “normal” about placing one’s human capacities as a mere commodity on the market for sale. There is no way this can be seen as just another consensual exchange between buyer and seller as it is so often portrayed in economics and the apologies of the bourgeois simpletons. It is a measure of the stupidity of the Left that wage slavery can be seen as a “normal” act that can be stripped of its inhuman character. Somehow, we can have a “civilized” wage slavery without all this mucking around with racism or gender inequality, etc.

You want to see wage slavery as it really is?


This is wage slavery as it really appears for the participants:


And this

There is no wage slavery without violence, without the most inhuman treatment of others, without the most evil competition between workers. You fucking Leftists need to wake the fuck up. All of your identity politics is just complete bullshit, which can’t even begin to capture the violence of existing social relations that is the normal condition under which labor power is daily bought and sold.