Friday 1 August 2008

Basic Lies At The Heart of The System- The Story of Your Enslavement

Capitalism is, of course, founded on a number of obvious deceits.
Deceits so obvious that you can't ignore them, so they just fool you into arguing them away.

The classic one is to convince you that relative poverty doesn't matter.
Only absolute poverty.

In other words, we're all materially better off than our ancestors were two hundred years ago.

So the relative gap between rich and poor doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter that our share of the gains has been disproportionately small- because at least we've gained.

But relative wealth matters.
Because- duh!- relative wealth is relative power.

And you have proportionally less of it than a peasant farmer of the seventeen fifties.

And the point of this post, is to explain how. To explain the definition of wage slavery.

Basically, it has to do with the fact that capitalism had its origins in the days when for most people, life was based on a subsistence economy.
Most people provided for themselves, and if they didn't, they starved.
Capitalism offered them a deal. It took away the risk of starvation.

And in return, the masses sold their birthright.

They agreed to have their share of the gains frozen at a fixed rate.

What exactly do I mean by this?
Well, I mean that the people, in the space of a couple of generations, sold THEMSELVES.

At the start of the eighteenth century, everyone is kind of self employed.

The peasant farmer has to spend ten hours a day tilling his field to provide the three turnips his family will eat and the fourth turnip the family will exchange for other necessities.
The weaver has to spend ten hours a day spinning the cotton to purchase enough turnips to feed his family.

Eighty percent of the population pretty much live on turnips. If you keep a cow, you milk it, and only when it is old do you enjoy that rare luxury- meat.

Well, none of this sounds much of a life you say. Ten hours work a day to live in a hovel eating turnips.

But the point is that the overall production cycle, from the point of view of the peasant farmer/weaver, remains something under his control; he controls the value of his labour.
And the point is, if a scientific/technological/agricultural advance occurs that makes it possible to produce twice as many turnips in the same furrow within the same time- what happens?

The peasant farmer gets more free time. He can choose just how much of that free time to put into extra labour, or not, as the case may be. If everyone used the advance simply to do less work, than progress would carry on at the same slow rate it had done for centuries. If however, everyone continued to use the freed labour to carry out more work, the pace of advance would accelerate.

So what was put in place at the end of the eighteenth century, was a system designed to do exactly that. A system designed to ensure that whatever the advance, the vast majority had to labour exactly as hard as before.

Wage slavery.

The interest economy is based as much on continual devaluing of labour, as it is of money.

How does this come about?

Well, in two related swoops, the late eighteenth century seizes two social changes which remove from the average human being the right to determine the value of his efforts.

The enclosure acts kill off the peasant farmer- he now becomes a farm labourer.
Before, he laboured ten hours to produce four turnips.
Now, he will labour ten hours to produce five turnips- and will be paid better, the cost of five turnips. Further more, since he is being paid for his labour, he gets the price of five turnips day in, day out. He is guarded against off days. In the short term, this new life is less precarious.

The weaver too, leaves his cottage. With other weavers, he spends his ten hours producing more cotton than they would have done singly, this pooling of resources gets more cotton spun. And they are paid at the end of the day, more than they would have made from their own efforts.

So initially, everyone is better off, not just in relative, but in absolute terms.

And the motor for rapid technological advance is in place.

Because what happens next, is that soon the former cottage weavers, are spinning three, four, five times as much in their factories as their labours would have done twenty years previously. Thirty weavers produce enough cotton to pay for six hundred turnips every day. But each is paid enough to buy five turnips a day. His labours produce more, but his share of the advance has been set at a limited rate. Because he doesn't sell the cotton that has been produced, he simply sells his labour. And the price for that has been fixed.

Put bluntly, an exchange rate has been set for labour- one we still pretty much follow.
It equals; one hours unskilled labour= one eighth of the tokens needed to purchase a subsistence existence for the day.
The value of the labour can increase if skills are added, but it is the labour time put in that is sold as a commodity, and not the product of such labour.

And this is so much more significant than first appears so. The sale of actual labour as an actual commodity in itself, rather than rewards being issued for the products of such labours has consequences long term that the system hopes you cannot see.
Because the long term consequences are the curious logic of today's society, with that twisted peculiarity that most people have been brainwashed to ignore.

The technology paradox.

The technological advances of today mean that we have much much more labour going begging than we know what to with, in real terms. It's just badly organised. The amount of human labour needed to produce six hundred turnips now is a minimal fraction of what it was two hundred years ago.

Technology. Thats the key. Over two hundred years we have built an infrastructure that actually means, that we can enjoy a standard of living beyond the wildest dreams of the eighteenth century peasant farmer. And the amount of human effort needed to be put in to achieve that, is much, much less.

So there is a problem. Your labour in one sense, is worth so much less. But in another, it's worth so much more.
What do I mean by this?

Bluntly, much less of your labour is needed. But your labours achieve so much more.

Let's cut the old and children out of the equation.

Let's assume 2 billion people working to put a roof over their heads every day.

We do not actually need 80 billion man hours a week to keep our society going and not just keep it going, but keep it advancing perpetually.
The point is, the amount of man hours ACTUALLY needed to maintain the status quo, continually decreases.

In fact, we do not need 80 billion man hours a week to keep the entire globe living in a lifestyle the residents of Bel Air would envy.

So what is the point?


The point is the maintenance of wage slavery. It's not to keep the down the OBVIOUS poor.

But you and me. The ones who THINK we're doing OK.

We think we're the professional middle classes.

In absolute terms, we're well off, compared to the peasant farmer of the eighteenth century.
In relative terms though, we're no better off.
In fact, we're worse off.
Because we don't have the stake in our society that he did. We have far les control over what we get back for our efforts than he did.

We look at all we've got and think we're better off. No. Human culture is more advanced. But our share of that advance, in real terms, is disproprtionately small.

Because in the seventeen fifties, most material wealth was in the hands of people. Some were rich, some were poor. Of course there was a gap between rich and poor.

But today, the real location of much of that wealth is cleverly hidden.
Its hidden, because those in control keep much of the wealth locked in the corporations.

But it means much the same. The bulk of the wealth of the world is in the control of a handful of people.
One shouldn't just look at the salary these people pay themselves, but the actual wealth under their control. And when you do that, you realise that the gap betwen the wealth under the control of a member of the Board of directors of HSBC and YOU, far exceeds the gap between the wealth under the control of George III and a peasant farmer.

The sinister point is this. Wage slavery IS slavery. Of course it is. Hidden cleverly, but the whole point is to keep you controlled by the token system. And not giving your share. By not giving the people the power to determine how their efforts are used, but by fastening as many support structures on to the treadmill as is possible.

The capitalist system has built itself on this premise; work forty hours a week, get the basic necessities. Put a lot more in, we'll give you more.
Not too much more though.

The problem is, what to do with your forty hours.

And the answer is; create a wastage economy.

We don't need 80 billion man hours a day. We could probably maintain things in the appalling condition they are on about 10 billion. If we did a bit of sensible global restructuring, we could all live as the most affluent in the West do, on 20 billion man hours.

The system carries on ploughing towards its own destruction, because it rests on several basic necessities.

The basic premise to remember, is that we do have to feed everybody. But we also have to retain the fixed exchange of labour put in to materials got out.

The point is, to find ways of wasting human energy. One hour's work is not going to give you back a share of what that one hours work has meant to the human infrastructure, it will give you back a set of tokens ultimately linked to how much material goods you need to subsist.

So for a start, we write off a certain fraction of human energy. I suppose we might as well be honest and say that it is, most often the least skilled. We decide that the least useful section of the human race shall labour not. The rest of us shall take on their workload, but they shall still be fed, on subsistence levels- or what, in our modern world, we see as subsistence levels.

The rest of us shall get more than subsistence levels- we shall get tumble dryers, more TV channells, bigger cars- but to do so, we shall still accept the sale of our labour. And it will take us forty hours of labour a week at least to achieve this.

And the labour isn't needed. So the system favours labour wastage. The economy actually needs ways to use up what is, effectively, cheap labour.

Here's one for you- the workerless factory. It is pretty much possible now to have factories with next to no employees. But the technology involved costs more than using people.
Good thing, you say. At least it provides jobs.

Now we have it.

Provides JOBS.

Can't you see????

You've fallen for the trick.

You have to work to get fed.
You have to work eight hours a day to get fed.


We deliberately create waste. We create as much packaging as we can. We move things around as much as we can. We centralise production and at the same time fracture it in such a way as to actually use as much energy as we can- and the main reason given is that it keeps labour costs down.

Using up as much ENERGY as we can for the LEAST amount of tokens.
That's the trick.
To waste energy.

We keep most of the world in as poor a state of development as we can. You can talk all you like of the developing world. As it stands, it ain't going to get any better. Why? Because we can't find enough to do with our energy in the west, we produce far too much junk to find a home for, we don't need the other 80% of the world doing the same. So keeping it as it is, is the best solution.

Let the villagers of Darfur be raped and pillaged. Let Mugabe murder his own people. Let the whole continent tear itself apart.

Let them consume, but not produce.

Never forget, Iraq uses up energy. Bottom line is, that's partly why we're there. It's good for the economy.

And they waste our energy too.

Because so much of what we produce is produced to keep the system going, not the infrastructure. The trade system. To furnish commercial premises so they can carry on selling. To maintain us living in individual homes when living in communal hotel blocks would actually make more sense in today's world.

I work in a building where twenty companies are based. All with photocopiers, phone systems, printers, fax machines.
All produced to use up energy. All USED to use up energy.

Marketing companies, recruitment agencies, mortgage brokers, consultancies.


I live in a street of about forty homes.

Each with their own cookers, micro waves, washing machines, tumble dryers etc. Do we all use these things continuously?


Capitalism cannot take us forward.

Capitalism will not terraform Mars.

Only when we the people ourselves control the human infrastructure and resources are allocated properly, in proportion to contribution put in, on terms democratically agreed by the people themselves, will we truly live in an efficient society that can truly handle the problems of the twenty first and twenty second centuries.

The problem is, the only people who benefit from keeping things as they are pay for the adverts that punctuate the news bulletins that tell you what to think.


Anonymous said...

Great post. You're preaching to the converted, here. I work for a marketing company. Everything we do is complete insanity, is 100% bullshit and is utterly nullified by the competing marketing company who does the same nonsense for our clients' competitors. We should be jointly incarcerated for exploitation.

I however see critical connections between the treachery of our society and the treachery of our own minds and instincts. I suspect that society will not evolve in the manner you hope until individuals evolve to the point of defeating the illusions in their own heads. Not an easy task. I'm no expert on societies but I have poetic evidence of the internal chaos from many times in history - the oldest being Augustine, sixteen hundred years ago! Think how much simpler life was then; how fewer and quieter the instruments of societal madness. The hurdles are infinitely higher today, the battle never more hopeless.

And yet my finger is on the resignation button as my bosses are aware. I prepare to leave the workforce and restructure my life into one devoted to fighting this hopeless battle. Why? Because nothing else is remotely interesting to me anymore. Because nothing else is real.

Bless you for sharing your wise and useful ideas.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what your saying rather more than you'd think from reading Question That, but it isn't going anywhere.

Socialism is a non-starter. The status quo is far from perfect, but compared to the past it is pretty damn good. I wish people wouldn't do it down so.

Anonymous said...

Let me elaborate some more. Apologies if this comes across as rather blunt, but I am of the opinion that considering the events of the 20th century, arguing with Marxists is something that really shouldn't be necessary any more. Communist ideology led to more deaths than Nazi ideology; in Cambodia, China, Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe etc; yet for some reason Communist ideology is still given respect in the 21st century while neo-Nazis are (rightly, of course) condemned and ostracised.


Only when we the people ourselves control the human infrastructure and resources are allocated properly, in proportion to contribution put in, on terms democratically agreed by the people themselves, will we truly live in an efficient society that can truly handle the problems of the twenty first and twenty second centuries.

is so much bullshit. Because, you know what, PEOPLE already do "control the human infrastructure...". We call them CEOs, Presidents and Prime Ministers. How else is it supposed to work? You think of it as being 'us' ("workers", or whatever your chosen distinction is) and 'them', but once PEOPLE get into positions of power over other PEOPLE the outcome is generally pretty dismal. The tyranny of North Korea, to the dismal failure of Nyerere's "failed" socialist Tanzania. I'm not sure what other outcome you could possibly anticipate?

This idea you seem to have (you mentioned it in the population thread a couple weeks ago as well) of 'society' somehow democratically ruling itself belongs in a f***ing fairy-tale book. It is delusional, for the simple reason that people are self-interested; always have been and always will be. Even small-scale experiments of this type of socialism fail for this exact reason, never mind trying to apply it to a city or a whole country!

Anonymous said...

You should really read James Beninger's book The Control Revolution. There's much about the mechanized world that has at its root the desire for control: as Beninger puts it, the control of production, distribution and consumption. The technologies designed to foster or augment this control (e.g. cameras that can literally cover an entire city, or satellites that can read the paper you're perusing over your shoulder) are those that are developed and implemented most readily.

Anonymous said...

Just one point
Capitalism is about per capita (per head) as much as it is about capital (money).

Some of the growth in proportional wealth in developed countries (ie the EU and tiger economies) comes from increasing the per capita wealth.

Of course the rich and the very rich in any country generally ride on the crest of the wave, so the rich and the very rich in the uk get proportionally richer, whilst the poor get proportionally poor.

The average income in the uk is said to be £36,000 per annum, and house prices reflect that.

Unfortunately anyone earning less than £36,000 is forced to rent (making landlords or "buy to let landlords" even richer - money for nothing and your tricks foe free) and or forcing people to pay silly money $120,000 to £180,000 for what is essentially a shoe box - a studio flat or a one bedroom flat with less than sixty square metres living space, absurdly high council taxes, and possibly no parking (or bike sheds) and little if any parks or green spaces.

When one is a student one can manage in a cell like 10 foot by six foot room or bedsit (hey, at least it's life away from home and the parents)

But I'd say that proportionally someone living in a mud hut is possibly better off than someone living in a studio flat with a £150,000 mortgage round his neck.

But life is relative, and priorities are relative. And at least in the uk we have lost any and every sense of value or worth, whether it is paying £40-100 for a pair of shoes or pumps, whether it is paying £40-100 for a meal out, or whether it is paying £40-100 for a night out on a Friday night.

Christ it costs £7.30 for adults to go to the cinema, and £4.90 for children. You need £25.00 to take the wife and two kids to watch a movie (have a day out so to speak), and that's before you buy the popcorn, or the big macs after.

How many families with two kids can blow £40-100 on a day/evening out?

Anonymous said...

So many good points here Mr Ingsoc... but the solution you propose.. I am with ian-qt. We cant do much good by substituting one flawed and mad system with a system of absolute control... I am of the opinion that only individuals opting out to as large a degree as possible makes any sense. I do... I mean as far as possible I do not associate with or support the excesses of capitalism and its main agencies.. my effort makes only a miniscule difference to the world, but it makes all the difference to me. We are free not to buy useless stuff we dont either need or want or to work in demented jobs like Mr Fantasy Writer Guy describes.. but I cant make other people do that unless they want to, voluntarily...

Anonymous said...

FWG- I actually work in that field myself :)

I actually see all economic models as essentially linked to the state of technological development at the time. As I say, capitalism isn't a system, it's a phase.
The motors that drive it dictate it can never be an end result, the idea that it can be is as demonstrably false as perpetual motion- and for similar reasons.

My view is he system will come to and end- and part of the reason why is at this point, the alternative will work better.

You couldn't have brought in capitalism in 1450- it couldn't have worked in such a society. It can only work in a phase of what we might call global infrastructural construction.

You seem to be much where I am- I earn my wage by using the talents the system pays for.
But like you, trying to do something about opening people's eyes does sem to me to have become almost the only thing that matters.

Ian- This is the problem with im.
Most Marxists never understood Marx.

Actually, I wouldn't describe myself as a socialist. Not at all.

Whether Communism as practised in the twentieth century did more than pay lip service to Marx, is a moot point, but my view is that it listened to Marx about as much as Ian Paisley listens to Christ.

I prefer to use terms such as 'Left Libertarian'. The model I propose is what I tentatively call Democratic Communism- though the problem with that is the negative overtones of the word Communism.

Marx actually opposed 'positive communism', the idea of a state owning everything. He actually advocated 'negative communism', a negation of ownership, and ultimately, a negation of the state.

Myself I see all'socialist' systems as essentially turning out the same- in fact I see National Sociaslism as the actual socialist model, and I see twentietrh century communism as really being much the same.

The point is to remove positions of power that aren't democratically controlled.

I see no reason why modern technology doesn't make it possible for the entire population to be the legislature and judiciary, and simply appoint executives who can be dismissed at will, with diffeent executives controlling different spects of the infrastructure, but dispensing with central government as we know it.

The point is, as society evolves self- interest increasingly co-incides with co-operation.

It's just how self-interests organises that co-operation.

X-dell- Which says a lot, doesn't it? The only new technology being pushed, is technology to keep us under control, DNA fingerprinting, CCTV, etc.

But the system isn't any longer pushing forward REAL social advance.

In many parts of the world, the infrastructure is retracting and decaying, not expanding.

I shall look out for it, it would probably appeal to me.

Quasar- Interesting that you quote £36,000, because it depends what you mean by average. 36K is the MEAN Gross earnings of a full time worker.
The MEDIAN Gross earnings of ALL workers- is £22,000.

Which means the man in the street takes home around 1,400 a month.

Since the average man in the street can't get a mortgage, and rents are what they are, with bills and council taxes, the average person lives on about 200 a week, after he's paid his bills, but before he's bought his food.

Which seems not much better than subsistence to me, given the cost of living.

Mutley- I certainly don't advocate a system of absolute control- quite the reverse.
In fact, you could argue I recommend direct consumer choice :)

While we live under the present system, it's hard to make much of a difference as an individual.

But we can opt out as far as possible, by refusing to allow ourselves to be token driven.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is, compared to most of human existence and most of history, the way things are now, in the 'developed world', is pretty damn good. Modern medicine and modern technology is something we should all be grateful for, and that came about as a consequence of the types of organisation that we now call capitalism.

This idea that 'society' is 'evolving' - that there's some kind of progress that is inevitable and it always moves forward, always moves in a direction of improvement is in my view wrong. There is nothing inevitable about progress, and wrong-headed ideas that deny economics and deny the reasons why we are where we are are likely to instead fling us backwards. You and people who think like you are not the problem, but IMHO 'left libertarians' can inadvertently be of assistance to those who are the problem - the primitivists, anarchists and Marxists I was referring to in my previous comment.

You can call me a cynic, or a conservative, if you want - but I just don't believe in an "evolving society" that will overcome self-interest to render power structures (of the corporate or the governmental type) un-necessary. That to me is wooly thinking.