Friday, December 11, 2009


C.L.R. James, You Don't Play With Revolution:

All right my friends, there we are. I wanted to get something clear: in your studies of Capital, as you read, never lose sight of the worker in the process of production. Alfie, you never lose sight of him. If you lose sight of that, you are losing sight of Marxism. Now Marx wrote a lot about the selling of this and pricing and all that, but that is where he began and that is where he stayed all through. He went into various aspects of production, commodity exchanges, prices, the level of prices, ownership, and so forth -- he went into all of this, but he never lost sight of what is happening to the worker. The increase of capitalist production meant the greater suppression of the worker, and Marx says you cannot keep doing that to human beings.

Many of the people I know don't sleep on a daily basis. They sleep on a weekly basis. They work two or three jobs, with several-hour breaks in between. No single employer will overwork them because no single employer wants to court health insurance or overtime. So they underwork everybody, rotating the bodies 24/7.

Being "underworked" means squeezing the maximum out of a person in an abbreviated block of time, while denying them the "hours" needed to live. Such hours must be accumulated elsewhere, often by employers similarly predisposed. This produces remarkable incongruities within any single operation: for example, as concerns the alertness of those operating heavy machinery around aircraft. One might think this important! Instead, it is merely the cost of doing business in a competitive way.

It's pretty clear what this does to people, insofar as people deserve consideration -- which in contemporary economics they do not. People are inputs, and they serve a purpose exterior to themselves. What happens to them matters only insofar as the law says it matters; otherwise, what happens to people is just another part of "how things are."

Insisting that what happens to people matters regardless of what the law says, is to take a step toward the kind of perspective that Marx embodied. It is instructive to consider the ways in which we are daily discouraged from doing so, and to ask ourselves who benefits.


Anonymous said...

in all this (false? hyped?) hoohah over porcine flu, i never heard one news commentator say: 40% of american workers have not ONE DAY of sick leave that they can take.

not one day. and most of those who do have sick leave are fearful of using it.

a doctor has recommendations for how to deal w/flu? such a quaint notion...

C├╝neyt said...

You have to hand it to employers for finding new ways to screw people over. It's tremendously clever. And that's part of our problem--defining what employers should do (which isn't necessarily bad) instead of what people should be able to get. Regulation has its place, but you can't regulate a system into something new; a common form of political Lamarckism which works about as well as the biological one did.