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Tag: superfluous labor time

Platypus Question No. 5: Overwork, unemployment and the state

5. What remedies exist to address overwork and unemployment?

For the fifth question, the Platypus group asks what might be considered an adequate remedy to overwork and unemployment.

“5. Historically, the left has sought to remedy the problems of overwork and unemployment, through various means: full employment; a guaranteed minimum income regardless of employment; and/or shorter working hours for those employed. Which of these, if any, do you consider to be adequate responses, and how, if at all, should the Left pursue them?”

The question itself is evidence of a fallacy that is deeply embedded in Left politics, a fallacy Platypus seems to explicitly accept in their introduction to the questions:

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Platypus Question No. 4: The Great Depression, the Left and the Politics of Work

In question 4, the Platypus group asks about the historical influences that inform the politics of work:

“4. In the history of the Left, what examples do you regard as informing your attitude towards the politics of work and unemployment today, and what is relevant about these touch points?”

In think the seminal event in the formation of the Left’s attitude (not my attitude) toward the politics of work and unemployment is its inability, eight decades later, to come to grips with the Great Depression. To a large extent Marxism is precisely at the same point it was in its classical period and in some important aspects it has regressed.

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Platypus Question No. 3: Overwork and unemployment

In question 3, the Platypus group asks about the twin social diseases of overwork for some and unemployment for others:

“3. If the widely observable phenomenon of overwork and unemployment is a necessary feature of capitalist society, why and how is this so? What kinds of social necessity, in the present organization of the world, do you take to be underlying this phenomenon?  Then, given your understanding of the nature of this necessity, what would it mean to radically transform it?”

This question, as it is posed, is completely misleading; it is imprecise. First, from the point of view of the working class, what constitutes overwork? Asked this way, it is obvious that the premise of the capitalist mode of production is the overworking of the laborer, her unpaid labor. Her necessary labor — labor required for her existence — is only made possible by the performance of labor that is superfluous to her. “Overwork” is, from the perspective of the worker, not unusual, but the very premise of her physical existence. Moreover, from the perspective of the capitalist, the overworking of the worker to the point of exhaustion is a premise of his existence.

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David Graeber’s much needed discussion of “Bullshit Jobs”

There are interesting inversions in the results of labor theory, which, I think, most Marxists often do not grasp. For instance., labor theory suggests once wage labor emerges it already carries the seed of the principle “From each work_stress2according to his ability, to each according to his need”. The complete detachment of labor from satisfaction of needs begins with detachment of the labor of the worker from the surplus product of her labor. If this is true, once wage labor emerges communism is the inevitable result of the development of the mode of production itself. By that I mean the realization of communism is nothing more than the culmination of the process whereby the worker is increasingly stripped of the product of her labor.

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Can We Completely Abolish Labor, Right Now (Part 3)

5. Capitalistically Determined, Materially Determined and Superfluous labor times

If I understand Postone’s argument in his book Time, Labor and Social Domination, (and he can speak to this if I am misreading him) in the capitalist mode of production value (i.e., ‘socially necessary labor time’) appears in not one, but two distinct, historically determined forms. So far as I know, Postone is the first theorist since Marx and Engels to show how these two forms of labor time are embedded in the capitalist mode of production itself. He defines the two forms of value for us as,

“the total labor time determined as socially necessary by capital, on the one hand, and the amount of labor that would be necessary … were material wealth the social form of wealth, on the other”.

There is, as Postone explains, a duration of socially necessary labor time that arises from the material needs of the social producer, the combined body of all workers engaged in social production, and a distinct and separate duration of socially necessary labor time that arises from the needs of the capitalist mode of production itself. I will refer to the total labor time of society as the capitalistically determined labor time and the amount of labor that would be necessary if material wealth were the social form of wealth as the materially necessary labor time.

money-toilet-paperThere is nothing to say that these two durations of socially necessary labor time must be the same. In fact, the recurrent crises of the capitalist mode of production is nothing more than the forcible adjustment of these two durations of socially necessary labor time. Moreover, as Postone shows in his reconstruction of Marx’s category of superfluous labor time, the aim of capitalist production is the constant and ever increasing extension of labor time beyond that duration required for the needs of the social producers. Which is to say, the aim of the mode of production is to maintain and increase, by all means at its disposal, an imbalance between the two durations of socially necessary labor time — to constantly generate labor that is completely superfluous to society.

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Can We Completely Abolish Labor, Right Now? (Part 2)

3. The problem of identifying economic waste in a capitalist economy

As I argued in the previous section of this series, if we are going to set as our aim the complete abolition of labor, there is a big question posed by the problem of a capitalist economy. To reiterate it briefly: In an economy based on directly social labor, particular forms of concrete labor appear as abstract homogenous labor. The labor of the doctor, the janitor, the autoworker or the soldier do not appear in these concrete forms but only as wages, salaries, etc. The same is true for the various sectors of the economy — industrial, services, agriculture and the state. Finally, whatever waste might be present in the economy, and which would serve as the material basis for a reduction of hours of labor, appear in the economy as just another cost.

One expenditure of abstract homogenous labor is exactly identical in every way to every other expenditure of abstract homogenous labor

economicwasteThere is, therefore, no way to tell industrial production from industrial waste, medical care from murdering civilians simply by going through the North American Industry Classification System and cherry picking what labor is useful and what labor is not. If medical care is useful, is it still useful when it is being used to return a soldier to the battlefield? If industrial production is assumed to be useful, is it still useful when the product is military materiale? Is the industrial labor producing military boots more or less useful than the labor expended bussing a table in a restaurant? We can make moral judgments on this, but Obama’s morality is different than mine.

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