It’s been a while since I wrote here and I apologise. I’d like to be more predictable and regular. it’s not for want of subject matter, It’s finding the time. Anyway, I came across this essay and thought I’d fill the gap with it. It’s more of my ramblings about Marx, Capitalism and Modern Society, so read on at your own risk.
Marx’s great error, it seems to me, was in trying to refute the very certainties he himself proclaimed. He was right to adapt the Hegelian Theory of Dialectic to describe our society’s political growth, and he should have stuck to it. My argument is that if you do, it is clear that the Synthesis in the dialectic between the Capitalist and the Proletariat is the Consumer. The Consumer both buys the products of Labour and also sells his own Labour in the market. According to Hegel’s Theory of Dialectic, the Consumer now becomes the next Thesis. And the Antithesis of the Consumer, is, I suggest, the Non-Producer.
Not the non-consumer because there is no such person. We all consume. Rather, the tension in modern society is between those who produce and those who don’t, those who work and make money and those who, for whatever reason, do not. Brutally put, the Employed and the Unemployed. This non-producing person still consumes, if only the bare minimum that social security and/or charitable payments provide for, as bare as that can be for most people in the world. Unless they’re rich for some independent reason – they wrote a hit record, inherited money, won the lottery or are living on a Civil Service pension or whatever – this consumption, useful though it is (Capitalism needs consumption as much as it needs production), does not cover the other half of the Hegelian equation because they do not sell their labour in the marketplace. They don’t produce.
This Antithesis includes, first of all, the unemployed members of the workforce, but they’re OK, they’re part of the Capitalist plan. Business needs an available labour supply, and as far as business is concerned, it does it no harm if a portion of the workforce are unemployed and even better if they are finding it hard to get work, as this means they are more likely to take a lousy job for little pay if needed. This is good for the employer, not good for the employee.
From the point of view of the employed, the Capitalist system works better for those who have added value, such as special skills and/or talents, or some other rare qualification, such as the willingness to work in hostile situations. All of these will get you a premium payment for your labour. They are likely to be in demand somewhere eventually, especially if you’re willing to travel and have little or no home life or anyway are prepared to leave your home for work. People with premium value can sell their labour for more money, but they will likely find they have to work sixty hour weeks and longer to earn it. As Marx warned, Capitalism will always strive to get the maximum production for the least cost. Members of the workforce with premium status can sell their Labour on the open market for large amounts of money, like rock stars and star actors and such, or highly skilled programmers and market traders. Those ones probably get close to living the dream of riches by which, surely, we are all seduced, at least a little bit, but as any of them will tell you, it is a 24/7 life of focus on the product. Lovely if the product is music, but getting anything done in this world divides into three stages – Inception, Facturing, Completion. And the Facturing, the getting it done and dusted, is the long arduous part and it’s the same for everyone.
For some that’s all they know, just banging away at the boring bit in the middle a cog in the production process. So not only do the high premium people get more money, they also get more of the fun bits, the start and finish of a product. As Plato more or less concluded in “The Republic”, there just isn’t any human way to achieve a state of perfect justice in this world.
So the majority settle for what they are given, what they can negotiate with their average or below average skills and talents. The employer says how much they will be paid and what they have to do to get it and they agree or turn the job down. Unions still make a show of standing up for the workers, where they can get the organisation strong enough, but they invariably lose in the end if that is what the industry needs, because the whole economic system of the world depends on labour flexibility. There is no progress, no hope of change in “maintaining our current agreement”. The best money, the most profitable market, is in innovation. No more same old same old for fifty years and you retire. I reckon that within this century, people will be used to the idea of four or five different careers in their long working lives. And that’s those who can find work in any career.
The rest of the non-producers are those who cannot or will not produce. If they cannot, through mental or physical incapacity, European society, for now, pays for them at least to live in adequate homes and be sufficiently fed, and in most societies there is a mechanism of some sort to protect the weak. In Europe even the Will Nots are maintained, the worst blagger having only to show up for a few courses and temporary jobs to stay in the system. But there have always been and always will be people among the Consumers, the Producers, the Employed, who wonder why this is so, why we pay for these feckless spongers, and you may have noticed they are becoming more vocal. They don’t have to be out and out fascists, they often sound like reasonable people, and they get their air time, if largely on Fox TV. They are working people without empathy.
Those non-producers, unless they turn to crime, or get lucky and win some money, or fall off the edge of society, take to the road or to drugs or die young one way or another, those never-to-be producers will not reap the rewards of Capitalism, not if Capitalism has its way, and it would not be surprising if they lost all support in a future dystopian version of modern Capitalism. If Capital had its blind will, we would get rid of non-producers, in the same way Plato banishes them to the forests below Athens. Bundle them away and let them survive as best they can. They make movies about it all the time. Elysium would be the latest to address that clean and cruel concept of social organisation.
As you will have guessed by now, I endorse the Hegelian idea as proposed by Marx, so I believe there has to be a Synthesis between the Employed and the Unemployed, if I may thus encapsulate the two opposing social roles in our society. But what is that Synthesis, how is it to be acheived, who can tell? That’s the pleasure of history, and its tragedy. You can only read it backwards.
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PS – I was looking for images of Marx and came across this:
Good looking lad, wasn’t he? And an interesting thought.