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by Franz Schandl and Gotz Eisenberg
Friday, Aug. 08, 2014 at 2:30 PM
We face the continuing dissolution of traditional types, forms and rules, not a new type, a new form or a new rule... What was once called estrangement or objectification should appear as workers' own interest. .. Karl Polanyi spoke of a dis-embedded economy.
SELF-DETERMINATION MEANS MARKET DETERMINATION
The twelve hour day promises work without end. Pressure on wage-earners constantly increases.
By Franz Schandl
[This article “Tollwutiges Wesen” published on July 7, 2014 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, http://www.streitzuege.org/2014/tollwietiges_wesen.]
If people knew a decade ago what is a typical employment and what is an atypical employment, this distinction has become increasingly meaningless. Today regular paid labor is shriveling and so-called dependent employed persons (what a malicious and disparaging term!) are becoming constantly fewer.
Unlike the typical, the atypical is abnormal. We face the continuing dissolution of traditional types, forms and rules, not a new type, a new form or a new rule. This makes working conditions amorphous and shapeless and aggravates any interest policy, particularly union policy since problems seem very individualized and simply cannot be worked out collectively in the old ways.
In short, people increasingly rely on themselves since they fall out of the old patterns. The precarious need not unconditionally be a journey downwards. However this danger exists in many cases and the fall is often programmed. Even those who can prevail on the labor market must fear running aground tomorrow. Anxiety is now the goad that leads us against our rivals.
We live in times of dissolution of traditional work- and class relations. Collectives can carry out fewer and fewer collective agreements or maintain existing agreements. The definitions of working hours are slipping. Almost no one talks of reducing working hours today. Reducing working hours could endanger the location and the economy and no one wants that.
Dismantling protective communities (unions, labor boards and works councils) has long been on the agenda. These institutions can hardly defend themselves because firstly they are obliged to the location and secondly they are ready to swallow everything for a job and thirdly they have long been beneficiaries of the system themselves. In the meantime there is no longer action, only reaction. The pure defensive prevails. Yielding to preserve other achievements is always possible. However this tactic is nothing but the delay of ruin. Changing is hard when one is so integrated and compromised (verhabert).
The economy is a rabid phenomenon. Businesses are central on the market, not provisions. Competition and discipline, authority and command, hostility and mistrust, conquest and destruction, exploitation and harassing dominate. Money is the medium, a free medium that makes one free and sets others free. In any case it keeps all members of society on their toes so only submission appears as a practical possibility. Since capital must always be quick in its decisions, access to the lifetime of employees must be rigorous and not restricted. All legal standardizations are a horror; “total readiness for work” is urged.
Businesspersons now want to extend normal daily working hours from 10 to 12 hours. In a very banal way, overtime should be paid as regular hours to save costs. Working 12 hours certainly diminishes the life possibilities of the impacted, the capability of regeneration, concentration, scheduling and communication… There are not enough fresh workers who can be sent in the next round. The cynicism of capital is obvious even if it is not striking since we have long accepted this madness as normality.
The union is not against this on principle; it only sets conditions. The OGB president Erich Fogler would only agree to the 12-hour day if a six-week vacation were joined to more than 25 years of service. The holders of regular jobs who are dying out are played off against all atypical workers, precarious workers and degraded workers. Who can still put together 25 years of dependent paid labor in the middling future? A general deterioration is exchanged for a partial improvement. That cannot be. What appears as a balance is an abdication. Conversely people must not be handed over to this unmerciful greed of capitalist incursions. Labor representatives actually think more nationally than capitalists.
Ten years ago people could read on the economic pages: “Total flexibility is expected of the employee, from working hours and place of work to form of employment.” The traditional labor contract of industrial society was marked by employees offering their labor power to businesses and businesses paying them a certain work income and relieving their risk.” The social breach with the collective contract is described as follows: “Employment contracts are increasingly individualized in the form of contracts for work or free contracts of employment geared to the result realized by individuals. Work is no longer a spatially or temporally pre-defined gainful employment.”
So it is. Place, time and application of life possibilities are not self-determined. Self-determination means market determination. What was once called estrangement or objectification should appear as workers’ own interest. Corresponding to the market has to be our elementary need. We have to follow it like a train of capitalist lemmings.
Flexibility has nothing to do with individual sovereignty. Rather it means being completely handed over to the outward demands. The flexibility of people is nothing but the dictation of the markets. The flexibilized are trained along economic needs and do not direct themselves. Submitting to the so-called practical necessities is vital. Capital decides according to its business cycles whether 16 hours is slave labor, 12 hours is regular work, 8 hours is normal work, 4 hours is short-time work or zero hours is unemployment. Whatever is offered has to be accepted. Whoever refuses is kicked out – out of the traditional nets of the social state – mind you – not only out of work. Refractoriness is met with sanctions. Whoever does not serve is bumped off or given the boot.
People are quickly expropriated of their life. Capital wants to determine everything in free authoritarian rule – place, time and application – without contradiction. According to the motto, if I need you, I use you. If you are not of any use to me, I do not need you. That calculation could not be more wicked. But it is the calculation that is generally accepted. So it is on the market, especially the labor market. If one doesn’t want this, what should be done against this alleged natural law of commerce?
The more rigid the employment contracts, the freer they are. The more flexible the more unfree. This is still true for workers and employees. Flexibilization as we know it today means being handed over to outward pressures and demands and has nothing to do with individual sovereignty. People should take machines as an example. They should run when they make a profit and stop when they do not.
Yes to individual flexibility means No to economic flexibility! Enabling people to take their life in hand so they stop submitting to capital is crucial, not perpetuating them in their weak state. A clear Yes to time sovereignty is appropriate. Time sovereignty means people do what they like according to their needs and not according to some laws of the economy. Grasping these ideas would be a great achievement.
We can only speak of good life when people have their own life and are not dependent or in bondage to the economy.
“THE VICTORY OF THE ECONOMY OVER LIFE”
On the Ideas of Robert Kurz
By Gotz Eisenberg
[This article published on July 18, 2014 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.nachdenkseiten.de/?p=22438.]
On July 18, 2012, the journalist and radical capitalism critic Robert Kurz died of the consequences of an operation. He lived and worked in Nurnberg. He was a co-editor of the Krisis journal and member of the Krisis group until this broke down in internal conflicts. He meddled argumentatively in leftist debates again and again and wrote the books “The Collapse of Modernization,” “Black Book of Capitalism” and “Money without Value.” On the second anniversary of Robert Kurz’ death, Gotz Eisenberg recalls several of his themes and his courage to resist powerful spirit of the times currents proclaiming that a world beyond goods and money is conceivable and possible.
Under pre-capitalist conditions, life context and production formed a unity. Work place, farm, agricultural yearly cycle and personal circles of large families represented an integrated connection. Libidinous relations and work relations went out with the ark. As long as people produced practical articles mainly for their own needs, an expenditure-oriented work rhythm and a corresponding cyclical time structure prevailed. Needs for contact and sociability, nursing, senior care and child-rearing mixed in the work executions and interrupted them shortening or extending them according to the time of the year. Many feasts and holidays eased the work year and ensured the periodic breaking down of inhibitions and calming of the senses. An alteration of extreme work intensity and idleness occurred. In the course of a day, one and the same person pursued very different activities that he or she did not regard as “work” despite all drudgery and nuisance. It was simply his or her lifestyle.
The rural life had its own values and dignity despite all material poverty, distress and dependence on worldly and religious masters. Nevertheless people lived in a “bitter age of bread,” not in a Golden Age as the Italian filmmaker and author Pasolini wrote. As long as human activities were not subject to economic rationality and its mathematical calculation, these activities were not work but coincided with time, movement and the rhythm of life itself. What the English historian Edward P. Thompson described as “moral economy” ruled. Moral economy knew the category of “enough” and had exact ideas of just and appropriate prices for vital essentials.
To produce more than what was necessary to satisfy one’s needs seemed senseless and even immoral. Production and occasional exchange were bound to traditional forms of morality and religiously-marked notions of right life. A capitalist society and operational rationality or economic reason cannot develop under such conditions. In the words of Michel Foucault, “life and time are not work but pleasure, uncertainty, festivity, rest, needs, accidents, desires, acts of violence, robberies etc. This explosive, momentary and discontinuous energy transforms capital into continuous labor power offered on the market.” This process can be viewed as the greatest behavior-modification experiment of all time and world-historical training (Dressurakt) which succeeds when the whip of the foreman is not necessary any more and people experiences their capital-exploiting disaster as their fulfillment.
The “social big bang” (Klaus Dorner) of the industrial revolution blew up the unity of the agrarian and artisan community around 1800. The unity of housekeeping or domestic science was essentially torn into three parts: the economic production system, the social system and the nuclear family.
We call this explosion and the after-shock triggered by it and noticeable in the present the modern age. It unties the economy from the connections in which it was previously embedded. In combination with machinery, factory – or manufacturing work was liberated from all admixtures as pure working hours and the source of a constantly growing productivity in the following period. The English sociologist Anthony Giddens described this process as dis-embedding (German, Entbettung). The Hungarian-Austrian historian Karl Polanyi spoke of a “dis-embedded economy.” In a short lucid text titled “The Victory of the Economy over Life,” Robert Kurz referred to Polanyi who described the process of dis-embedding as follows: The economy first liberated itself from the limitations imposed on it with anonymous markets supplying produced goods whose goal is the multiplication of money mutating to capital and no longer the satisfaction of needs. Money remained restricted to the role of a medium as long as there was goods production. It stood in the middle between two qualitatively different commodities as a mere medium of exchange. On the other hand, the modern economy is based on the transformation of money from a medium into an end-in-itself. The relation of commodity and money has changed. The commodity stands in the middle between two outward forms of the same abstract form “money.” This observation obviously only makes sense when there is a larger sum of money at the end than at the beginning. Money as a fleeting manifestation of value has changed into capital which encourages the goal of production. Profit is accumulated in the form of money. A market economy in which businesses oriented in profit compete with each other and all people become dependent on earning money first arose through this new economic logic. Money becomes independent as an end-in-itself and fetish of the modern age. The pressure of competition ensures that every individual business is forced to obey the rationality of money in all decisions. That is called the market economy. The young Walter Kempowski heard its basic rule from his father in the following abridged version: “Supply and demand rule the economy; the weak are crushed. This is clear so get a move on!”
The material substance of production is subjected to an abstract and purely quantitative economic calculation. “Money works like a social robot,” Robert Kurz said, “that cannot distinguish between toxic and non-toxic, beautiful and ugly or moral and amoral.” The market economy makes life ugly; the beauty of the world disappears. In 200 years of capitalism, the planet is transformed into a single stinking garbage dump and made storm-resistant. Kurz called this the “death drive of capital.” For 200 years, we have not had “capitalism” as a finished developed social system. Rather in Robert Kurz’ words, “the realization history of this production method has become a total world-relation today.” At first as only a segment of society, capital fed itself from branch of production to branch of production. In the course of the third micro-electronic industrial revolution, productivity gained a new quality through the synchronicity of automation, rationalization and globalization. More workers are made redundant than can be absorbed by expanding markets. Mass unemployment becomes a structural world condition. The unemployed are a waste product of the abstract exploitation of value that cannot be integrated any more. The unemployed are no longer a reserve army of labor. Real capitalism has become an appendage of the speculation bubbles blown up by the financial industry. The increase of money has largely emancipated itself from living labor and functions without the roundabout of production of real objects or services. Money itself becomes the only good produced by the financial industry by means of increasingly daring and less and less governable operations on the financial market.
The logic of dis-embedded money penetrates all areas of life around two hundred years after production was dis-embedded from petty-bourgeois living connections and become independent as abstract, capital-exploiting labor. A perverted re-unification of work and life occurs. The life torn and fragmented by the “social big bang” becomes a whole again completely capitalistically ruled by the imperatives of integrated and de-regulated money. When Francis Fukuyama proclaimed liberal free enterprise democracy as the victor of history given the collapsing eastern bloc and history as ended, Robert Kurz commented ironically humanity actually entered a “Nirvana of money.” The logic of commodity and money triumphs in all areas and penetrates all pores of society into the everyday lifestyles of people. People understand themselves as living commodities, money-subjects. They speak of themselves and their lifestyles in economic terms and strive for permanent commodified self-optimization. The face becomes the logo of their personal brand displayed in the so-called social networks for advertising ends. A society whose only imperative is enrichment, consuming and having fun should not be surprised when the commodity- and money-subjects run wild and dissolute and ruthlessness spreads. The enlightened Helvetius knew no argument against robbery and manslaughter could be derived from a merely instrumental reason. Whatever benefits is allowed; everything else is metaphysics. A tendency to barbarism and violence is inherent in a completely capitalized and economized world. Do we have any reason to oppose this prognosis of Robert Kurz in view of the global atrocity of the last months and years? When I invited the Zurich ethnologist and psychoanalyst Paul Parin to a seminar with Lothar Baier and Robert Kurz in Italy, he wrote back that he first regarded Robert Kurz’ theses in his book “The Collapse of Modernization” as exaggerated and apocalyptic. Then he said “I fear he was right” after the bursting of the dotcom bubble and the series of wars in former Yugoslavia.
Instead of a humanity coming to reason using the enormous material and intellectual powers developed in the bosom of the capitalist production method, humanity is becoming more and more the appendage of an unleashed economy. Long ago society liberated itself from its economic pressures because of higher productivity. Long ago spirit and bodies did not have to be mere instruments serving listless executions. Long ago the punishment of 8-hours daily work or forced unemployment was not an imperative.
Robert Kurz did not tire reminding us of the possibility of restraining the wild economy and keeping it on a short social leash. We need an economy that orients its practices by natural realities and criteria of material needs and ecological compatibility and no longer acts according to money-categories and the equivalence-criteria of the goods exchange. Imagining a world beyond commodities and money and doing our utmost practically for its realization become increasingly urgent. Intellectual courage is the prerequisite.
Robert Kurz seems everything other than utopian.
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