Some (not so) final thoughts on privilege theory and Marxism

by Jehu

6: Communism and the complete indifference of the most privileged workers to the rest of the class

If “orthodox” Marxists were being the least bit honest in the debate over privilege, they would have to admit that the overthrow of the capitalists does not of itself and cannot eradicate inequality within the working class. police-beating-kids-2Why they make such a fuss on this point and cannot accept this admission as the starting point of an honest debate is beyond me. They continue to insist that getting rid of the capitalists of itself is sufficient to end all inequality, when this argument is clearly untenable.

No less than Marx himself explained that the overthrow of the capitalists does not do away with inequality, but only the inequality that rests on private ownership of the means of production. This form of inequality is done away with — no longer is a parasitic stratum of society able to live off the labor of others. However it must be admitted openly, as Marx himself did, that getting rid of the parasites will still leave us confronting what is likely to be historically unprecedented levels of inequality within the working class.

If this is true, it becomes obvious why those at the bottom of the hierarchy of labor may be less than confident that those at the top of the heap will not simply turn their backs on the rest of us and grab the greater share of the fruits of labor. There is in fact nothing in the history of the white worker to suggest he will not simply treat his black, woman or foreign born counterpart as he has always done. There is nothing in the history of the workers of the advanced countries to suggest they will not simply try to replace the owners of capital as new exploiters.

The history of the most privileged sections of the working class indicates they have no concern with the situation of the less privileged members of the class. This is not an argument based on some hypothetical assumptions about the future society, but one demonstrated daily by the complete indifference of the most privileged sections of the working class in the US and Europe to the actions of their respective fascist states. What case can be made for this when in practice we see how Germany’s working class has abandoned Greece’s working class to its fate? What case can be made when we see how the UAW and IAM sold out their younger members to save the pensions of the older workers? What case can be made for it, when we see how the American Left continues to support Obama, despite his war crimes, in return for food stamp socialism?

The advocates of privilege theory would be out of their fucking minds to accept the assurances of “orthodox” Marxists on this.

The position of the “orthodox” Marxists is only the ideological expression within Marxism of the standpoint of the most privileged sections of the global working class — a standpoint that assures us in every election year that all inequality will be abolished if we just elect more Democrats. Workers at the bottom of the hierarchy of labor will not be assured that once the class gains power — which means, when the most privileged sectors of the class, who carry out the daily functions of the state machinery, control the unions, fill the critical positions in the division of labor, etc., gain power — that inequality within the class will be abolished. If you have ever been a member of a union, you know that is complete and utter bullshit.

The thing is the advocates of privilege theory set such a low standard of proof on this score that the stubbornness of “orthodox” Marxists becomes all the more bewildering. It is not as if privilege theory advocates demand the summary abolition of wage slavery, they only demand that each worker have the opportunity to sell their labor power; which is to say, far from demanding the end to all exploitation and inequality, they just want a fucking job.

However the limited character of the demand — that it superficially expresses only a demand for the bourgeois right of a commodity seller to sell her commodity on an equal footing with other commodity sellers — belies its inherently revolutionary content. The less privileged worker wants only to be able to sell her labor power without restrictions, as does the more privileged worker — she wants, in other words, no restrictions on her ability to sell herself into slavery. In this sense, she only seeks to arrive at the situation of the more privileged worker — she becomes a productively employed wage slave and nothing more.

However, even this minimal, bourgeois, demand cannot be met within the limits of bourgeois relations of production without bringing down the entire mode of production. The mode of production is the production of surplus value and seeks, therefore, to extend the labor of the employed section of the working class for as long a duration as is possible within legal limits. It naturally results in overaccumulation of capital and the formation of a mass of excess capital and a mass of unemployed laborers.

The demand that every worker have the right to sell their labor power without restrictions thus runs into the logic of the mode of production itself, where a mass of unemployed workers is constantly created at the opposite pole of the process of accumulation. Thus, without ever violating bourgeois right, the demand for a job for every worker violates the material conditions of the mode of production itself.

Every worker cannot sell her labor power without restriction, unless the hours of labor of all workers are reduced together. But reduction of hours of labor is, simultaneously, reduction of the mass of surplus labor time, of surplus value and, therefore, of profit. Thus one and the same measure that puts an end to the privileged position of one section of the class on the sale of labor power, also brings the capitalist epoch to a close once and for all.

The opponents of privilege thus point to the necessity to put an end to wage labor itself.