Road killed meat is good, my friends. Between October and the end of April (remember our English North Sea Coast climate is cold…) I eat whatever I find dead on the road while out on the bicycle for a run: a Muntjac deer (once), rabbits, hares, pheasants (the most common Michelin bounty) and  a chicken (once).

Advantages of road killed meat:

1. It did not die by your own hand. If you buy meat, you had a hand in the animal’s suffering and death. There is no getting away from it.

2. It is generally organic, wild and free.

3. You are cleaning up the roads by eating it, and so it is Green and clean.

4. You may bless the dead animal as you eat and thus honour its life and gift to you. Make a point of this.

5. Scavenging thus is honourable as well as safe: I have been dining off the A11, the B1150, the A140, the A1151 and other Norfolk (UK) roads thus for more than 20 years, and never once has the meat  thereof affected me adversely in any way.

On the other hand, if you really hate meat then you will not touch roadkill, either!

Veganism is really a lifestyle choice in my view: we must not pretend that it has any political significance, though it may well be of spiritual significance in a non-violent lifestyle.

Vegetarianism, on the other hand, is the Tao of nutrition (Vegetarians live longer, etc), as well as politically highly significant (reducing CO2 emissions etc, reducing cruelty) and humane, and I would be a vegetarian if it were not for my partiality to roadkill!

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Blind Carbon Copy: Consumerism or Liberation? By Ben Courtice

Comment: This article by an Australian comrade, Ben Courtice, who hails from Footscray, is so up to the mark and so of the moment that I am going to republish it to ensure that it gets the widest readership possible beyond the shores of his country.

OCT 31, 2010


Consumerism or liberation? (link to the original article on Ben’s blog)

In a recent seminar on trade unions and the climate movement, I observed a surprising disagreement between some of the socialists present. It was started by a comment from Melbourne University academic (and Socialist Alliance activist) Hans Baer, who suggested that the “treadmill of production and consumption” had to be challenged, that we need to challenge consumerism and the alienation of work that makes people buy things to feel better. 

Liz Ross of Socialist Alternative took umbrage and declared that this was against the idea that workers could create and enjoy wonderful technological products, tearing down a straw figure that Hans was supposedly arguing to stultify the creativity of the working class.

A more nuanced response came from a member of Solidarity, Chris Breen, who suggested he was fine with rich people giving up their second house but against the idea that ordinary people should be asked to sacrifice.

The disagreement over consumerism highlights a strategic debate among environmentalists, but also an important debate on the left.


Consumerism has often been a convenient scapegoat for conservatives, a way of blaming problems on the consumer not on the capitalist system that creates consumerism. Barry Commoner related the following hypothetical scenario to show that how pointless the consumer’s decisions tend to be:

You go to the store to buy a refrigerator. You and the storekeeper have no idea how the thing was delivered from the factory. It could have come by railroad or truck. If it comes by truck, it causes four times as much pollution as if it came by railroad, because the fuel efficiency is four times lower. But what am I going to do, go into the store and say, “Listen, I’m an ecologist. I must have a refrigerator delivered by railroad”?

Simplistic liberal consumer-sovereignty arguments are in fact not ana argument against consumerism, but an argument for enlightened consumerism. As such they pose no challenge to capitalist relations and we can expect the left to reject them. This is a debate between the left and the right in the environment movement, a debate that sorely needs to be had since in the 1990s “green consumerism” became the dominant form of environmental consciousness.


Jonathan Neale, in his (generally quite good) book Stop Global Warming: Change the world (Bookmarks, 2008) entitles a chapter “Sacrifice is not the answer”. This is a counter-intuitive notion for many environmentally aware people: hasn’t our over-consumption of resources caused the ecological crisis? Don’t we have to cut back, to “sacrifice” some of the rich world’s consumption? Neale explains the weakness of this approach as it relates to convincing people to take action. This is my summary of his argument:

Many liberal environmentalists say the pampered masses (of the rich countries) must sacrifice some of their luxuries for the sake of the environment and the world’s poor. More equitable sharing of the world means some have to give up. “Live simply, so others may simply live” is the mantra of this political current.

For the well-off middle classes (and particularly people in the rich world), sacrifice is like charity: giving up a small part of their privileges to make themselves feel better. For such people, talk of sacrifice only reinforces an elitist mentality.

But for poorer, working class people, sacrifice has another connotation. It’s the sacrifices made for the boss at work and the government, sacrifices that are never reciprocated or repaid to those making them. It is the mantra of the last three decades of decreasing standards of living: longer work hours, lower wages and less social services. Talking about “sacrifice” won’t go down easily with broad sections of the population. In particular, when you consider that the majority of the world’s population do not have much to sacrifice, and actually want more not less as part of a just solution.

But if this elitist notion of “sacrifice” is not useful, does that mean we have nothing to say about consumerism more generally? In reality it is a complicated and rich topic of discussion for the left.

Affluenza and the growth fetish

Australian author Clive Hamilton has written two books against consumerism, Growth Fetish and (with Richard Denniss) Affluenza: when too much is never enough. The authors explain that a growing level of material wealth is not matched by growth in happiness.

There are many levels to engage with their argument, and valid criticisms to be made. Not all left critics appreciate the scope of what Hamilton is analysing, however. Brian Webb wrote a criticism of Hamilton’s views in the Socialist Worker magazine in 2006 (published by the predecessor of Solidarity, the International Socialist Organisation).

Webb summarised Hamilton’s argument (as expressed by Hamilton in aQuarterly Essay) like this:

Hamilton argues that modern capitalism has transformed society such that the idea of class is redundant. “Affluence” means that working Australians have become selfish, identify primarily as consumers, and consequently the ideas of class and solidarity are no longer relevant.

Poverty and oppression now only exist at the margins of the system, which has eliminated structural oppression. The “defining problem” that parties need to concern themselves with is alienation.

…As a solution he proposes the “politics of wellbeing” – that instead of economic prosperity we need to focus on our consumer choices and lifestyle.

Hamilton’s thesis is a dangerous one. It is pessimistic and elitist, and disarms the left ideologically against the free market.

…The left needs to rebut Hamilton and in the process become clearer about the principles and issues around which it can build influence.

Webb rebuts Hamilton’s arguments that the idea of social class is redundant. Yet the underlying reality – that most of the population are still in the wage-worker class – is not the whole picture. My reaction to Hamilton and Denniss’ books was not so much that class analysis was missing but that their centrepiece, criticism of consumerism, did not go deep enough.

Neoliberalism (usually called “economic rationalism” in Australia) saw a massive restructuring of the working class by outsourcing and privatisation, breaking up large centralised workforces into atomised and competing groups of workers, which has been one of the factors in the decline of the union movement. Hamilton conflates this with a shift from industrial to consumer capitalism considering it an established reality rather than an ongoing process of class struggle.

The change in emphasis from the production to the consumption sphere is one shared with postmodern social analysis, except that postmodernism accepts consumption at face value, with little appreciation of its historical purpose or personal significance. It was not ‘modernity’ that had changed; it was capitalism that had morphed from industrial capitalism into consumer capitalism… This transition’s effect on the definition of self has been as profound as the effect of the transition from feudalism to industrial capitalism, and it is this basic truth that postmodernism has unwittingly grasped. (Growth Fetish, p. 149)

The observation that capitalism is increasingly dominated by marketing is not new to Marxists. Sweezy and Baran analysed it well in their 1966 classic Monopoly Capitalism. Hamilton provides a useful survey of the psychology of consumerism. He criticises the culture of work too, or more precisely the culture of overwork.

But the alienation of work remains unchanged. The impulse to consumerism remains tied to the alienation of work. This is not explored systematically enough; for that, we have to turn to (for example) Sharon Beder’s Selling the Work Ethic (Zed Books, 2000). Marta Harnecker’s Rebuilding the Left (Zed Books, 2007) also includes an historical analysis of how the work ethic turned into the consumer ethic. For Liz Ross – a published author on union struggles – to conflate work with “creativity” may have been an accidental error, but it’s definitely an error.

“Affluence” is a dangerously vague term. In Stop Global Warming, Jonathan Neale quotes Vincent Navarro:

An unskilled, unemployed, young black person living in the ghetto area of Baltimore has more resources (he or she is likely to have a car, mobile phone, and TV, and more square feet per household and more kitchen equipment) than a middle class professional in Ghana, Africa. If the whole world were just a single society, the Baltimore youth would be middle class and the Ghana professional would be poor. And yet, the first has a much shorter life expectancy (45 years) than the second (62 years)… It is far more difficult to be poor in the United States… than to be middle class in Ghana.

In some ways this is the argument made by Hamilton and Denniss, but they consider the relatively few poor in the rich countries not relevant to the overall problem of consumerism.

But Neale adds, “That person in Baltimore may not need those extra things, but he or she does not want to give them up. They are a sign that at least they have something. Possessions are the way people in their society keep track of power and powerlessness.” Neale goes on to search for “the sort of measures that can stop global warming without ordinary people having to sacrifice what they hold dear.”

The other side of the coin

Now, having poured scorn on the middle class moralists who patronise what they see as the pampered masses, let us be even handed and consider the absurdity of this profound love that people supposedly have for their flat-screen TV or their new hair-dryer. We all know that people do get obsessed with these things. Cars, entertainment/sound systems, cars with sound systems – these are all things by which many people measure their social worth, hold dear even. Do socialists have to protect that?

Let’s think of an analogy: Many people invest a lot of self-worth in being promoted into management at work, but socialists and unionists have always considered that to be a sell-out or cop-out. Consumerism parallels this. A small section of the world’s working class can afford the trappings of luxury that consumerism provides. Many of the world’s poor working people aspire to join them. To accept this as a given – as some socialists seem to do – is akin to thinking that to attain some dignity at work, some control over one’s conditions of work, the only way is to get a promotion or set up one’s own business. Either mistake fails at class analysis, simply following a superficial expression of class identity, idealising working people’s shallowest wants.

Without joining the condescending middle classes who consider working people too stupid and greedy to liberate themselves, socialists need to steer a course that finds a way out of the consumerist nightmare and appeals to the people who are engaged in it. Telling people to sacrifice is usually not the best approach, as a PR strategy, but finding ways to promote better lifestyle rather than more consumption are important.

Webb’s article defends workplace collectivism and working class altruism against what he sees as Hamilton’s conservative and right-wing views. Hamilton, on the other hand, looks to “downshifting” for his solution: voluntary opting out of the system of overwork and overconsumption.

Webb rightly suggests that “Hamilton’s downshifting may connect with the widespread sentiment that we are working too hard, but it is an individualistic solution that ignores those that don’t have the option of accepting a lower income or cannot change jobs or negotiate lower hours with their employer.” I can vouch for this: a professional IT worker, for example, may easily find a part-time position, but for an industrial maintenance fitter like me (with a similar skill level, in a different industry) part-time jobs are basically unheard of. And for unskilled casual workers, knocking back one shift often leads to being passed over for future shifts.

Hamilton, to be fair, doesn’t just rely on individual downshifters:

While the downshifters might be seen as standard bearers in the revolt against consumerism, the social revolution required to make the transition to a post-growth society will not come about solely through the personal decisions of determined individuals. The forces devoted to buttressing the ideology of growth fetishism and obsessive consumption are difficult to resist, and they are boosted immeasurably by governments’ obsession with growth at all costs. Making the transition to the new dispensation demands a politics of downshifting. Political downshifting can be defined as the entrenchment within popular culture , public and private institutions and, ultimately, government of a predisposition to promote the quality of social and individual life rather than surrendering to the demands of the market.

Which presumably is why Hamilton has now run as a candidate for the Greens.

Two sides of a bad coin

Let’s rescue the class struggle from Hamilton’s dismissal. The destruction of unions and working life perpetrated by neoliberalism is not a done deal, it is a continuing process. That workers have already lost so much in this battle makes their conditions of struggle in the workplace all the more difficult, but not irrelevant. Consider the upheavals these last few weeks in France, or here in Australia the massive street protests against the WorkChoices laws in recent years.

But let’s not ignore the real issues raised by Hamilton either. Let us not reduce the class struggle to the workplace, nor to simply gaining a larger share of the pie. As Hamilton notes, “The cold war ideological divide was not about the desirability of economic growth. On that all agreed.” The left does not have to follow the productivist path: capitalism won over state socialism, and that should settle it. The only strong holdout from the 20th century socialist states is Cuba, and its survival has a lot to do with the alternative ideology provided by Che Guevara’s critique of Soviet economic planning.

This confusion over productivism is not new on the left, but the ecological debate has made it a confusion that must be dealt with.

Wikipedia defines Productivism as the belief that measurable economic productivity and growth is the purpose of human organization (e.g., work), and that “more production is necessarily good”.

It is hard to debate “productivism” in the abstract. For example, if we challenge that “more production is necessarily good” with the alternative that “better production is necessarily good” are we still productivist? How do you define vague terms like “better” or “good”? Do we mean production of consumer goods, or production of the necessities of life (food, shelter etc)? Are we referring to the (re)production of social relations, as discussed extensively by Marx?

A 1970s article by Fredy Perlman, recently republished here is a good starting point for any reader not familiar with this last, crucial point about reproduction of social relations.

Capitalism is not just something that occurs when a boss exploits a worker: it is a global economic system. It impacts everyone, not just workers. The exploitation of workers’ labour is the key element for the survival of capital, but the reproduction of the whole system hinges on those workers not challenging their role in its reproduction. Ideology is key, and consumerism is the ideology of modern capitalism – so much so that otherwise astute analysts like Hamilton even think that consumer capitalism is a new stage surpassing industrial capitalism.

Living well, not better

He who is richer is not who has more, but who needs less.
Zapotec saying, Oaxaca, Mexico – quoted by Bolivian delegation at the UN

Challenging consumerism is an important part of defining a politics that can liberate not just the working class, but all humanity, from capitalism. There are elements of this idea in the global left. The Bolivian government of Evo Morales has been promoting the indigenist concept of Living Well as a way to respect and preserve life on Earth.

The culture of Death is capitalism, what we, the indigenous peoples, say that it is To Live Better, better at the cost of another. The Culture of Life is socialism, which is Living Well.

What are the deep differences between Living Well and Living Better? I repeat again, Living Better is to live at the cost of another, exploiting another, extracting the natural resources, raping Mother Earth, and privatising basic services. (The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth, Evo Morales, Bolivian Foreign Affairs ministry 2010)

Of course, there is a long way to go before this ideology really sinks into the masses – even in Bolivia. As Bolivian vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera explained in 2007:

The outlook according to which the indigenous world has its own cosmovision, radically opposed to that of the West, is typical of latecomer indigenists or those closely linked to certain NGOs … Basically, everyone wants to be modern. The Felipe Quispe [Indigenous] insurgents, in 2000, were demanding tractors and internet.

Let’s consider the lessons of trade unionism again. If the skilled, better paid part of the workforce spurn unions and seek to join management or go into business for themselves, there is a strong encouragement for less skilled, less educated workers to follow that example. Efforts to unionise are undermined. To organise an effective union, it is usually with an alliance between at least some of the more skilled workers and the greater mass of unskilled and semi-skilled.

Bridging the gap

The left in the first world cannot wait for the impoverished third world masses to beat down the doors of imperialism and destroy our enemy from without. Nor can we rely on the spontaneous wants of workers to mobilise them against capitalism in the heartlands of imperialism and consumerism. We have to find struggles that break out of the logic of capitalism while providing tangible benefits to the working people who we want to see mobilised.

One most obvious such struggle is to halt climate change. Capitalism keeps inventing new schemes to try to fix the problem (or be seen to be trying): emissions trading, efficiency measures, feed-in tarriffs and so forth. Some of these measures do produce verifiable results (although not emissions trading!) but none of them really solve the problem. That takes a inter-industrial plan, out of the hands of the big corporate interests of the day like mining corporations, car manufacturers and the oil companies. And for all the false solutions marketed by capitalist governments, they cannot paper over the worsening climate crisis when floods, droughts, wildfires and heatwaves kill thousands at a time.

On a less grand level, what should the left advocate as a solution for rising petrol prices? Wage rises at work? Or increasing public transport services to the level where most people no longer need a car? The second solution is not an easy ask of capitalism, but it does actually solve the problem. It is also a threat to a key sector of capital – the auto industry (I recently wrote an article on that). The auto industry is close to the largest part of consumerism, measured by cost (after housing, but houses are more of a necessity in some ways).

I also recently wrote an article about utopian ideas and rehabilitating them on the left. Many practical cooperative schemes are dismissed by the traditional left because they look naïvely utopian, hippy even: community gardens and organic food co-ops, for example. But would the left dismiss such co-operative efforts if they were like the Black Panthers’ free school breakfast program, not a hippy trip at all but a real help to a community they were trying to organise?

Prejudices and preconceptions on the left, based on the arguments of yesterday, often hinder the development of new, creative and necessary responses to the problems of capitalism.

An aside: the IS tradition and the environment movement

Talking of preconceptions hampering people, Solidarity and Socialist Alternative especially are still wed to the Cold War debates that saw their political tradition (the UK-based International Socialist Tendency, which includes Jonathan Neale) defend a theory of State Capitalism to explain the Soviet Union’s problems – and, in a kind of guilt by association, the Cuban system as well. Hence they are probably unaware of the profound and useful anti-productivist criticisms of the USSR made by Guevara, and even tend to downplay or ignore the significance of the (pro-Cuban) Bolivian and Venezuelan revolutionary processes that are unfolding before us in real time. 

It is less understandable that these groups would have so much trouble grasping the nettle of productivism. Coming from a Trotskyist background, one would expect they might be independent of the productivist ideology of Stalinism and Social Democracy. Sadly, most of the Trotskyist groups in Britain at least were stridently anti-Stalinist in form, but often melted into social democracy in content, joining or defending the Labour Party and often opposing new social movements outside the unions (women’s liberation, gay liberation, ecology and so on).

The IS were never as blinkered as some of the truly awful cults like the Socialist Labour League (parent to today’s Socialist Equality Party). Yet I recall that until the 1990s in Australia the ISO regarded the Greens and the environmental movement broadly as a liberal distraction, unworthy of socialist participation. Fortunately most of them have in practice overcome this sectarianism, although Socialist Alternative are having the hardest time grappling with it.

Thank you Ben! Check out Ben’s own blog, here:
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Communism and the Family, by Alexandra Kollantai

No apologies for republishing another old classic, which is also in my pamphlet collection…

First Published: in Komunistka, No. 2, 1920, and in English in The Worker, 1920;
Source: Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai, Allison & Busby, 1977;
Translated: by Alix Holt.

Women’s role in production: its effect upon the family

Will the family continue to exist under communism? Will the family remain in the same form? These questions are troubling many women of the working class and worrying their menfolk as well. Life is changing before our very eyes; old habits and customs are dying out, and the whole life of the proletarian family is developing in a way that is new and unfamiliar and, in the eyes of some, “bizarre”. No wonder that working women are beginning to think these questions over. Another fact that invites attention is that divorce has been made easier in Soviet Russia. The decree of the Council of People’s Commissars issued on 18 December 1917 means that divorce is, no longer a luxury that only the rich can afford; henceforth, a working woman will not have to petition for months or even for years to secure the right to live separately from a husband who beats her and makes her life a misery with his drunkenness and uncouth behaviour. Divorce by mutual agreement now takes no more than a week or two to obtain. Women who are unhappy in their married life welcome this easy divorce. But others, particularly those who are used to looking upon their husband as “breadwinners”, are frightened. They have not yet understood that a woman must accustom herself to seek and find support in the collective and in society, and not from the individual man.

There is no point in not facing up to the truth: the old family in which the man was everything and the woman nothing, the typical family where the woman had no will of her own, no time of her own and no money of her own, is changing before our very eyes. But there is no ne d for alarm. It is only our ignorance that leads us to think that the things we are used to can never change. Nothing could be less true than the saying “as it was, so it shall be”. We have only to read how people lived in the past to see that everything is subject to change and that no customs, political organisations or moral principles are fixed and inviolable. In the course of history, the structure of the family has changed many times; it was once quite different from the family of today. There was a time when the kinship family was considered the norm: the mother headed a family consisting of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who lived and worked together. At another period the patriarchal family was the rule. In this case it was the father whose will was law for all the other members of the family: even today such families may be found among the peasantry in the Russian villages. Here the morals and customs of family life are not those of the urban proletariat. In the countryside, they observe norms which the worker has long forgotten. The structure of the family and the customs of family life also vary from nation to nation. Among some peoples such as the Turks. Arabs and Persians, a man is allowed to have several wives. There have been and there still are tribes where the woman may have several husbands. We are used to the fact that a young girl is expected to remain a virgin until marriage; however, there are tribes where it is a matter of pride to have had many lovers and where the women decorate their arms and legs with the corresponding number of bracelets. Many practices which might astonish us and which might even seem immoral are considered by other peoples to be quite normal and they, in their turn, consider our laws and customs “sinful”. There is, therefore, no reason to be frightened of the fact that the family is in the process of change, and that outdated and unnecessary things are being discarded and new relations between men and women developing our job is to decide which aspects of our family system are outdated and to determine what relations, between the men and women of the working and peasant classes and which rights and duties would best harmonise with the conditions of life in the new workers’ Russia. That which is in be With the new life should be maintained, while all that is old and outdated and derives from the cursed epoch of servitude and domination, of landed proprietors and capitalists, should be swept aside together with the exploiting class itself and the other enemies of the proletariat and the poor.

The type of family to which the urban and rural proletariat has grown accustomed is one of these, legacies of the past. There was a time when the isolated, firmly-knit family, based on a church wedding, was equally necessary to all its members. If there had been no family, who would have fed, clothed and brought up the children? Who would have given them advice? In days gone by, to be an orphan was one of the worst fates imaginable. In the family of old, the husband earns and orts his wife and children. The wife for her part is occupied with housekeeping and with bringing up the children as best she can. But over the last hundred years this customary family structure has been falling apart in all the countries where capitalism is dominant and where the number of factories and other enterprises which employ hired labour is increasing. The customs and moral principles of family life are changing as the general conditions of life change. It is the universal spread of female labour that has contributed most of all to the radical change in family life. Formerly only the man was considered a breadwinner. But Russian women have for the past fifty or sixty years (and in other capitalist countries for a somewhat longer period of time) been forced to seek paid work outside the family and outside the home. The wages of the “breadwinner” being insufficient for the needs of the family, the woman found herself obliged to look for a wage and to knock at the factory door. With every year the number of working-class women starting work outside the home as day labourers, saleswomen, clerks, washerwomen and servants increased. Statistics show that in 1914, before the outbreak of the First World War, there were about sixty million women earning their own living in the countries of Europe and America, and during the war this number increased considerably. Almost half of these women are married. What kind of family life they must have can easily be imagined. What kind of “family life” can there be if the wife and mother is out at work for at least eight hours and, counting the travelling, is away from home for ten hours a day? Her home is neglected; the children grow up without any maternal care, spending most of the time out on the streets, exposed to all the dangers of this environment. The woman who is wife, mother and worker has to expend every ounce of energy to fulfil these roles. She has to work the same hours as her husband in some factory, printing-house or commercial establishment and then on top of that she has to find the time to attend to her household and look after her children. Capitalism has placed a crushing burden on woman’s shoulders: it has made her a wage-worker without having reduced her cares as housekeeper or mother. Woman staggers beneath the weight of this triple load. She suffers, her face is always wet with tears. Life has never been easy for woman, but never has her lot been harder and more desperate than that of the millions of working women under the capitalist yoke in this heyday of factory production.

The family breaks down as more and more women go out to work. How can one talk about family life when the man and woman work different shifts, and where the wife does not even have the time to prepare a decent meal for her offspring? How can one talk of parents when the mother and father are out working all day and cannot find the time to spend even a few minutes with their children? It was quite different in the old days. The mother remained at home and occupied herself with her household duties; her children were at her side, under her watchful eye. Nowadays the working woman hastens out of the house early in the morning when the factory whistle blows. When evening comes and the whistle sounds again, she hurries home to scramble through the most pressing of her domestic tasks. Then it’s oil to work again the next morning, and she is tired from lack of sleep. For the married working woman, life is as had as the workhouse. It is not surprising therefore that family ties should loosen and the family begin to fall apart. The circumstances that held the family together no longer exist. The family is ceasing to be necessary either to its members or to the nation as a whole. The old family structure is now merely a hindrance. What used to make the old family so strong? First, because the husband and father was the family’s breadwinner; secondly, because the family economy was necessary to all its members: and thirdly, because children were brought up by their parents. What is left of this former type of family? The husband, as we have just seen, has ceased to he the sole breadwinner. The wife who goes to work earns wages. She has learned to cam her own living, to support her children and not infrequently her husband. The family now only serves as the primary economic unit of society and the supporter and educator of young children. Let us examine the matter in more detail, to see whether or not the family is about to be relieved of these tasks as well.

Housework ceases to be necessary

There was a time when the women of the poorer classes in city and country spent their entire lives within the four walls of the home. A woman knew nothing beyond the threshold of her own home, and in most cases had no wish to know anything. After all, in her own home, there was so much to do, and this work was most necessary and useful not only for the family itself but also for the state as a whole. The woman did everything that the modern working and peasant woman has to do, but besides this cooking, washing, cleaning and mending, she spun wool and linen, wove cloth and garments, knitted stockings, made lace, prepared – as far as her resources permitted – all sorts of pickles, jams and other preserves for winter, and manufactured, her own candles. It is difficult to make a complete list of all her duties. That is how our mothers and grandmothers lived. Even today you may still come across remote villages deep in the country, far from the railroads and the big rivers, where this mode of life has been preserved and where the mistress of the house is overburdened with all kinds of chores over which the working woman of the big cities and of the populous industrial regions has long ceased to worry.

In our grandmother’s day, all this domestic work was necessary and beneficial; it ensured the well-being of the family. The more the mistress of the house applied herself, the better the peasant or craftsman’s family lived. Even the national economy benefited from the housewife’s activity, for the woman did not limit herself to making soup and cooking potatoes (i.e. satisfying the Immediate needs of the family), she also produced such things as cloth, thread, butter, etc. which had a value as commodities that could be sold on the market. And every man, whether peasant or worker, tried to find a wife who had “hands of gold”, for he knew that a family could not get along without this “domestic labour”. The interests of the whole nation were involved, for the more work the woman and the other members of the family put into making cloth, leather and wool (the surplus of which was sold in the neighbouring market), the greater the economic prosperity of the country as a whole.

But capitalism has changed all this. All that was formerly produced in the bosom of the family is now being manufactured on a mass scale m workshops and factories. The machine has superseded the wife. What housekeeper would now bother to make candles, spin wool or weave, cloth? All these products can be bought in the shop next door, formerly every girl would learn to knit stockings. Nowadays, what working woman would think of making her own? In the first place she doesn’t have the time. Time is money, and no one wants to waste time in an unproductive and useless manner. Few working women would start to pickle cucumbers or make other preserves when all these things can be bought in the shop. Even if the products sold in the store are of an inferior quality and not prepared with the care of the home-made equivalent the working woman has neither the time nor the energy needed to 1 perform these domestic operations. First and foremost she is a hired worker. Thus the family economy is gradually being deprived of all the domestic work without which our grandmothers could hardly have imagined a family. What was formerly produced in the family is now produced by the collective labour of working men and women in the factories.

The family no longer produces; it only consumes. The housework that remains consists of cleaning (cleaning the floors, dusting, heating water, care of the lamps etc.), cooking (preparation of dinners and suppers), washing and the care of the linen and clothing of the “family (darning and mending). These are difficult and exhausting tasks and they absorb all the spare time and energy of the working woman who must, in addition, put in her hours at a factory. But this work is different in one important way from the work our grandmothers did: the four tasks enumerated above, which still serve to keep the family together, are of no value to the state and the national economy, for they do not create any new values or make any contribution to the prosperity of the country. The housewife may spend all day, from morning to evening, cleaning her home, she may wash and iron the linen daily, make every effort to keep her clothing in good order and prepare whatever dishes she pleases and her modest resources allow, and she will still end the day without having created any values. Despite her industry she would not have made anything that could be considered a commodity. Even if a working woman were to live a thousand years, she would still have to begin every day from the beginning. There would always be a new layer of dust to be removed from the mantelpiece, her husband would always come in hungry and her children bring in mud on their shoes.

Women’s work is becoming less useful to the community as a whole. It is becoming unproductive. The individual household is dying. It is giving way in our society to collective housekeeping. Instead of the working woman cleaning her flat, the communist society can arrange for men and women whose job it is to go round in the morning cleaning rooms. The wives of the rich have long since been freed from these irritating and tiring domestic duties. Why should working woman continue to be burdened with them? In Soviet Russia the working woman should be surrounded by the same ease and light, hygiene and beauty that previously only the very rich could afford. Instead of the working woman having to struggle with the cooking and spend her last free hours in the kitchen preparing dinner and supper, communist society win organise public restaurants and communal kitchens.

Even under capitalism such establishments have begun to appear. In fact over the last half a century the number of restaurants and cafes in all the great cities of Europe has been growing daily; they are springing up like mushrooms after the autumn rain. But under capitalism only people with well-lined purses can afford to take their meals in restaurants, while under communism everyone will be able to eat in the communal kitchens and dining-rooms. The working woman will not have to slave over the washtub any longer, or ruin her eyes in darning her stockings and mending her linen; she will simply take these things to the central laundries each week and collect the washed and ironed garments later. That will be another job less to do. Special clothes-mending centres will free the working woman from the hours spent on mending and give her the opportunity to devote her evenings to reading, attending meetings and concerts. Thus the four categories of housework are doomed to extinction with the victory of communism. And the working woman will surely have no cause to regret this. Communism liberates worm from her domestic slavery and makes her life richer and happier.

The state is responsible for the upbringing of children

But even if housework disappears, you may argue, there are still the children to look after. But here too, the workers’ state will come to replace the family, society will gradually take upon itself all the tasks that before the revolution fell to the individual parents. Even before the revolution, the instruction of the child had ceased to be the duty of the parents. Once the children had attained school age the parents could breathe more freely, for they were no longer responsible for the intellectual development of their offspring. But there were still plenty of obligations to fulfil. There was still the matter of feeding the children, buying them shoes and clothes and seeing that they developed into skilled and honest workers able, when the time came, to earn their own living and feed and support their parents in old age. Few workers’ families however, were able to fulfil these obligations. Their low wages did not enable them to give the children enough to eat, while lack of free time prevented them from devoting the necessary attention to the education of the rising generation. The family is supposed to bring up the children, but in reality proletarian children grow up on the streets. Our forefathers knew some family life, but the children of the proletariat know none. Furthermore, the parents’ small income and the precarious position in which the family is placed financially often force the child to become an independent worker at scarcely ten years of age. And when children begin, to earn their own money they consider themselves their own masters, and the words and counsels of the parents are no longer law; the authority of the parents weakens, and obedience is at an end.

Just as housework withers away, so the obligations of parents to their children wither away gradually until finally society assumes the full responsibility. Under capitalism children were frequently, too frequently, a heavy and unbearable burden on the proletarian family. Communist society will come to the aid of the parents. In Soviet Russia the Commissariats of Public Education and of Social Welfare are already doing much to assist the family. We already have homes for very small babies, creches, kindergartens, children’s colonies and homes, hospitals and health resorts for sick children. restaurants, free lunches at school and free distribution of text books, warm clothing and shoes to schoolchildren. All this goes to show that the responsibility for the child is passing from the family to the collective.

The parental care of children in the family could be divided into three parts: (a) the care of the very young baby, (b) the bringing up of the child, and (c) the instruction of the child. Even in capitalist society the education of the child in primary schools and later in secondary and higher educational establishments became the responsibility of the state. Even in capitalist society the needs of the workers were to some extent met by the provision of playgrounds, kindergartens, play groups, etc. The more the workers became conscious of their rights and the better they were organised, the more society had to relieve the family of the care of the children. But bourgeois society was afraid of going too far towards meeting the interests of the working class, lest this contribute to the break-up of the family. For the capitalists are well aware that the old type of family, where the woman is a slave and where the husband is responsible for the well-being of his wife and children, constitutes the best weapon in the struggle to stifle the desire of the working class for freedom and to weaken the revolutionary spirit of the working man and working woman. The worker is weighed down by his family cares and is obliged to compromise with capital. The father and mother are ready to agree to any terms when their children are hungry. Capitalist society has not been able to transform education into a truly social and state matter because the property owners, the bourgeoisie, have been against this.

Communist society considers the social education of the rising generation to be one of the fundamental aspects of the new life. The old family, narrow and petty, where the parents quarrel and are only interested in their own offspring, is not capable of educating the “new person”. The playgrounds, gardens, homes and other amenities where the child will spend the greater part of the day under the supervision of qualified educators will, on the other hand, offer an environment in which the child can grow up a conscious communist who recognises the need for solidarity, comradeship, mutual help and loyalty to the collective. What responsibilities are left to the parents, when they no longer have to take charge of upbringing and education? The very small baby, you might answer, while it is still learning to walk and clinging to its mother’s skirt, still needs her attention. Here again the communist state hastens to the aid of the working mother. No longer will there be any women who are alone. The workers’ state aims to support every mother, married or unmarried, while she is suckling her child, and to establish maternity homes, day nurseries and other such facilities in every city and village, in order to give women the opportunity to combine work in society with maternity.

Working mothers have no need to be alarmed; communist not intending to take children away from their parents or to tear the baby from the breast of its mother, and neither is it planning to take, violent measures to destroy the family. No such thing! The aims of communist society are quite different. Communist society sees that the old type of family is breaking up, and that all the old pillars which supported the family as a social unit are being removed: the domestic economy is dying, and working-class parents are unable to take care of their children or provide them with sustenance and education. Parents and children suffer equally from this situation. Communist society has this to say to the working woman and working man: “You are young, you love each other. Everyone has the right to happiness. Therefore live your life. Do not flee happiness. Do not fear marriage, even though under capitalism marriage was truly a chain of sorrow. Do not be afraid of having children. Society needs more workers and rejoices at the birth of every child. You do not have to worry about the future of your child; your child will know neither hunger nor cold.” Communist society takes care of every child and guarantees both him and his mother material and moral support. Society will feed, bring up and educate the child. At the same time, those parents who desire to participate in the education of their children will by no, means be prevented from doing so. Communist society will take upon itself all the duties involved in the education of the child, but the joys of parenthood will not be taken away from those who are capable of appreciating them. Such are the plans of communist society and they can hardly be interpreted as the forcible destruction of the family and the forcible separation of child from mother.

There is no escaping the fact: the old type of family has had its day. The family is withering away not because it is being forcibly destroyed by the state, but because the family is ceasing to be a necessity. The state does not need the family, because the domestic economy is no longer profitable: the family distracts the worker from more useful and productive labour. The members of the family do not need the family either, because the task of bringing up the children which was formerly theirs is passing more and more into the hands of the collective. In place of the old relationship between men and women, a new one is developing: a union of affection and comradeship, a union of two equal members of communist society, both of them free, both of them independent and both of them workers. No more domestic bondage for women. No more inequality within the family. No need for women to fear being left without support and with children to bring up. The woman in communist society no longer depends upon her husband but on her work. It is not in her husband but in her capacity for work that she will find support. She need have no anxiety about her children. The workers’ state will assume responsibility for them. Marriage will lose all the elements of material calculation which cripple family life. Marriage will be a union of two persons who love and trust each other. Such a union promises to the working men and women who understand themselves and the world around them the most complete happiness and the maximum satisfaction. Instead of the conjugal slavery of the past, communist society offers women and men a free union which is strong in the comradeship which inspired it. Once the conditions of labour have been transformed and the material security of the working women has increased, and once marriage such as the church used to perform it – this so-called indissoluble marriage which was at bottom merely a fraud – has given place to the free and honest union of men and women who are lovers and comrades, prostitution will disappear. This evil, which is a stain on humanity and the scourge of hungry working women, has its roots in commodity production and the institution of private property. Once these economic forms are superseded, the trade in women will automatically disappear. The women of the working class, therefore, need not worry over the fact that the family is doomed to disappear. They should, on the contrary, welcome the dawn of a new society which will liberate women from domestic servitude, lighten the burden of motherhood and finally put an end to the terrible curse of prostitution.

The woman who takes up the struggle for the liberation of the working class must learn to understand that there is no more room for the old proprietary attitude which says: “These are my children, I owe them all my maternal solicitude and affection; those are your children, they are no concern of mine and I don’t care if they go hungry and cold – I have no time for other children.” The worker-mother must learn not to differentiate between yours and mine; she must remember that there are only our children, the children of Russia’s communist workers.

The workers’ state needs new relations between the sexes, just as the narrow and exclusive affection of the mother for her own children must expand until it extends to all the children of the great, proletarian family, the indissoluble marriage based on the servitude of women is replaced by a free union of two equal members of the workers’ state who are united by love and mutual respect. In place of the individual and egoistic family, a great universal family of workers will develop, in which all the workers, men and women, will above all be comrades. This is what relations between men and women, in the communist society will be like. These new relations will ensure for humanity all the joys of a love unknown in the commercial society of a love that is free and based on the true social equality of the partners.

Communist society wants bright healthy children and strong, happy young people, free in their feelings and affections. In the name of equality, liberty and the comradely love of the new marriage we call upon the working and peasant men and women, to apply themselves courageously and with faith to the work of rebuilding human society, in order to render it more perfect, more just and more capable of ensuring the individual the happiness which he or she deserves. The red flag of the social revolution which flies above Russia and is now being hoisted aloft in other countries of the world proclaim the approach of the heaven on earth to which humanity has been aspiring for centuries.



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Music and Islamophobia

Les voici en direct de la France…Cheb Mami et Susheela Raman en concert ensemble…

Je ne parle pas arabe non plus mais, donnez votre coeur au coeur de la musique…

Qui ne peut pas dire, en écoutant cette chanson, que l’arabe n’est pas une belle langue…?

A bas l’islamophobie!  A bas la haine et la peur…

Nous aimons nos camarades – femmes et hommes – des pays arabes!

Paix, Amour, Révolution!

Ecologie, Egalité, Fraternité….

Ouf, bof! Malheureusement ce n’est pas de l’arabe dans la chanson,

c’est du telegu du sud de l’Inde!

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What is Commodity Fetishism?

It occurred to me, while writing my last post on The Female Eunuch, that few people know what commodity fetishism is. It is a term used by Karl Marx, in Chapter 3 of Volume One of Das Kapital. However, since the 1970s I have owned in pamphlet form a rather sexy modern explanation by the anarcho-syndicalist scholar Fredy Perlman, and I reproduce it here in full, with apologies to the the excellent I hope that this is helpful to my readers.

The Reproduction of Everyday Life – Fredy Perlman

Fredy Perlman’s analysis of alienation and the reproduction of the economy in daily life.

The everyday practical activity of tribesmen reproduces, or perpetuates, a tribe. This reproduction is not merely physical, but social as well. Through their daily activities the tribesmen do not merely reproduce a group of human beings; they reproduce a tribe, namely a particular social form within which this group of human beings performs specific activities in a specific manner. The specific activities of the tribesmen are not the outcome of “natural” characteristics of the men who perform them, the way the production of honey is an outcome of the “nature” of a bee. The daily life enacted and perpetuated by the tribesman is a specific social response to particular material and historical conditions.

The everyday activity of slaves reproduces slavery. Through their daily activities, slaves do not merely reproduce themselves and their masters physically; they also reproduce the instruments with which the master represses them, and their own habits of submission to the master’s authority. To men who live in a slave society, the master-slave relation seems like a natural and eternal relation. However, men are not born masters or slaves. Slavery is a specific social form, and men submit to it only in very particular material and historical conditions.

The practical everyday activity of wage-workers reproduces wage labor and capital. Through their daily activities, “modern” men, like tribesmen and slaves, reproduce the inhabitants, the social relations and the ideas of their society; they reproduce the social form of daily life. Like the tribe and the slave system, the capitalist system is neither the natural nor the final form of human society; like the earlier social forms, capitalism is a specific response to material and historical conditions .

Unlike earlier forms of social activity, everyday life in capitalist society systematically transforms the material conditions to which capitalism originally responded. Some of the material limits to human activity come gradually under human control. At a high level of industrialization, practical activity creates its own material conditions as well as its social form. Thus the subject of analysis is not only how practical activity in capitalist society reproduces capitalist society, but also how this activity itself eliminates the material conditions to which capitalism is a response.

Daily Life in Capitalist Society
The social form of people’s regular activities under capitalism is a response to a certain material and historical situation. The material and historical conditions explain the origin of the capitalist form, but do not explain why this form continues after the initial situation disappears. A concept of “cultural lag” is not an explanation of the continuity of a social form after the disappearance of the initial conditions to which it responded. This concept is merely a name for the continuity of the social form. When the concept of “cultural lag” parades as a name for a “social force” which determines human activity, it is an obfuscation which presents the outcome of people’s activities as an external force beyond their control. This is not only true of a concept like “cultural lag.” Many of the terms used by Marx to describe people’s activities have been raised to the status of external and even “natural” forces which determine people’s activity; thus concepts like “class struggle,” “production relations” and particularly “The Dialectic,” play the same role in the theories of some “Marxists” that “Original Sin,” “Fate” and “The Hand of Destiny” played in the theories of medieval mystifiers.

In the performance of their daily activities, the members of capitalist society simultaneously carry out two processes: they reproduce the form of their activities, and they eliminate the material conditions to which this form of activity initially responded. But they do not know they carry out these processes; their own activities are not transparent to them. They are under the illusion that their activities are responses to natural conditions beyond their control and do not see that they are themselves authors of those conditions. The task of capitalist ideology is to maintain the veil which keeps people from seeing that their own activities reproduce the form of their daily life; the task of critical theory is to unveil the activities of daily life, to render them transparent, to make the reproduction of the social form of capitalist activity visible within people’s daily activities.

Under capitalism, daily life consists of related activities which reproduce and expand the capitalist form of social activity. The sale of labor-time for a price (a wage), the embodiment of labor time in commodities (saleable goods, both tangible and intangible), the consumption of tangible and intangible commodities (such as consumer goods and spectacles)-these activities which characterize daily life under capitalism are not manifestations of “human nature,” nor are they imposed on men by forces beyond their control.

If it is held that man is “by nature” an uninventive tribesman and an inventive businessman, a submissive slave and a proud craftsman an independent hunter and a dependent wage-worker, then either man’s “nature” is an empty concept, or man’s “nature” depends on material and historical conditions, and is in fact a response to those conditions.

Alienation of Living Activity
In capitalist society, creative activity takes the form of commodity production, market production of marketable goods, and the results of human activity take the form of commodities. Marketability or saleability is the universal characteristic of all practical activity and all products. The products of human activity which are necessary for survival have the form of saleable goods: they are only available in exchange for money. And money is only available in exchange for commodities. If a large number of men accept the legitimacy of these conventions, if they accept the convention that commodities are a prerequisite for money, and that money is a prerequisite for survival, then they find themselves locked into a vicious circle. Since they have no commodities, their only exit from this circle is to regard themselves, or parts of themselves, as commodities. And this is, in fact, the peculiar “solution” which men impose on themselves in the face of specific material and historical conditions. They do not exchange their bodies or parts of their bodies for money. They exchange the creative content of their lives, their practical daily activity, for money.

As soon as men accept money as an equivalent for life, the sale of living activity becomes a condition for their physical and social survival. Life is exchanged for survival. Creation and production come to mean sold activity. A man’s activity is “productive,” useful to society, only when it is sold activity. And the man himself is a productive member of society only if the activities of his daily life are sold activities. As soon as people accept the terms of this exchange, daily activity takes the form of universal prostitution.

The sold creative power, or sold daily activity, takes the form of labor. Labor is a historically specific form of human activity. Labor is abstract activity which has only one property: it is marketable, it can be sold for a given quantity of money. Labor is indifferent activity: indifferent to the particular task performed and indifferent to the particular subject to which the task is directed. Digging, printing and carving are different activities, but all three are labor in capitalist society. Labor is simply “earning money.” Living activity which takes the form of labor is a means to earn money. Life becomes a means of survival.

This ironic reversal is not the dramatic climax of an imaginative novel; it is a fact of daily life in capitalist society. Survival, namely self-preservation and reproduction, is not the means to creative practical activity, but precisely the other way around. Creative activity in the form of labor, namely sold activity, is a painful necessity for survival; labor is the means to selfpreservation and reproduction.

The sale of living activity brings about another reversal. Through sale, the labor of an individual becomes the “property” of another, it is appropriated by another, it comes under the control of another. In other words, a person’s activity becomes the activity of another, the activity of its owner; it becomes alien to the person who performs it. Thus one’s life, the accomplishments of an individual in the world, the difference which his life makes in the life of humanity, are not only transformed into labor, a painful condition for survival; they are transformed into alien activity, activity performed by the buyer of that 1abor. In capitalist society, the architects, the engineers, the laborers, are not builders; the man who buys their labor is the builder; their projects, calculations and motions are alien to them; their living activity, their accomplishments, are his.

Academic sociologists, who take the sale of labor for granted, understand this alienation of labor as a feeling: the worker’s activity “appears” alien to the worker, it “seems” to be controlled by another. However, any worker can explain to the academic sociologists that the alienation is neither a feeling nor an idea in the worker’s head, but a real fact about the worker’s daily life. The sold activity is in fact alien to the worker; his labor is in fact controlled by its buyer.

In exchange for his sold activity, the worker gets money, the conventionally accepted means of survival in capitalist society. With this money he can buy commodities, things, but he cannot buy back his activity. This reveals a peculiar “gap” in money as the “universal equivalent.” A person can sell commodities for money, and he can buy the same commodities with money. He can sell his living activity for money, but he cannot buy his living activity for money.

The things the worker buys with his wages are first of all consumer goods which enable him to survive, to reproduce his laborpower so as to be able to continue selling it; and they are spectacles, objects for passive admiration. He consumes and admires the products of human activity passively. He does not exist in the world as an active agent who transforms it. but as a helpless impotent spectator he may call this state of powerless admiration “happiness,” and since labor is painful, he may desire to be “happy,” namely inactive, all his life (a condition similar to being born dead). The commodities, the spectacles, consume him; he uses up living energy in passive admiration; he is consumed by things. In this sense, the more he has, the less he is. (An individual can surmount this death-in-life through marginal creative activity; but the population cannot, except by abolishing the capitalist form of practical activity, by abolishing wagelabor and thus de-alienating creative activity.)

The Fetishism of Commodities
By alienating their activity and embodying it in commodities, in material receptacles of human labor, people reproduce themselves and create Capital. From the standpoint of capitalist ideology, and particularly of academic Economics, this statement is untrue: commodities are “not the product of labor alone”; they are produced by the primordial “factors of production,” Land, Labor and Capital, the capitalist Holy Trinity, and the main “factor” is obviously the hero of the piece, Capital.

The purpose of this superficial Trinity is not analysis, since analysis is not what these Experts are paid for. They are paid to obfuscate, to mask the social form of practical activity under capitalism, to veil the fact that producers reproduce themselves, their exploiters, as well as the instruments with which they’re exploited. The Trinity formula does not succeed in convincing. It is obvious that land is no more of a commodity producer than water, air, or the sun. Furthermore Capital, which is at once a name for a social relation between workers and capitalists, for the instruments of production owned by a capitalist, and for the money-equivalent of his instruments and “intangibles,” does not produce anything more than the ejaculations shaped into publishable form by the academic Economists. Even the instruments of production which are the capital of one capitalist are primordial “factors of production” only if one’s blinders limit his view to an isolated capitalist firm, since a view of the entire economy reveals that the capital of one capitalist is the material receptacle of the labor alienated to another capitalist. However, though the Trinity formula does not convince, it does accomplish the task of obfuscation by shifting the subject of the question: instead of asking why the activity of people under capitalism takes the form of wage-labor, potential analysts of capitalist daily life are transformed into academic house-Marxists who ask whether or not labor is the only “factor of production.”

Thus Economics (and capitalist ideology in general) treats land, money, and the products of labor, as things which have the power to produce, to create value, to work for their owners, to transform the world. This is what Marx called the fetishism which characterizes people’s everyday conceptions, and which is raised to the level of dogma by Economics. For the economist, living people are things (“factors of production”), and things live (money “works,” Capital “produces”). The fetish worshipper attributes the product of his own activity to his fetish. As a result, he ceases to exert his own Fewer (the power to transform nature, the power to determine the form and content of his daily life); he exerts only those “powers” which he attributes to his fetish (the “power” to buy commodities). In other words, the fetish worshipper emasculates himself and attributes virility to his fetish.

But the fetish is a dead thing, not a living being; it has no virility. The fetish is no more than a thing for which, and through which, capitalist relations are maintained. The mysterious power of Capital, its “power” to produce, its virility, does not reside in itself, but in the fact that people alienate their creative activity, that they sell their labor to capitalists, that they materialize or reify their alienated labor in commodities. In other words, people are bought with the products of their own activity, yet they sec their own activity as the activity of Capital, and their own products as the products of Capital. By attributing creative power to Capital and not to their own activity, they renounce their living activity, their everyday life, to Capital, which means that people give themselves daily, to the personification of Capital, the capitalist.

By selling their labor, by alienating their activity, people daily reproduce the personifications of the dominant forms of activity under capitalism, they reproduce the wage-laborer and the capitalist. They do not merely reproduce the individuals physically, but socially as well; they reproduce individuals who are sellers of labor-power, and individuals who are owners of means of production; they reproduce the individuals as well as the specific activities, the sale as well as the ownership.

Every time people perform an activity they have not themselves defined and do not control, every time they pay for goods they produced with money they received in exchange for their alienated activity, every time they passively admire the products of their own activity as alien objects procured by their money, they give new life to Capital and annihilate their own lives.

The aim of the process is the reproduction of the relation between the worker and the capitalist. However, this is not the aim of the individual agents engaged in it. Their activities are not transparent to them; their eyes are fixed on the fetish that stands between the act and its result. The individual agents keep their eyes fixed on things, precisely those things for which capitalist relations are established. The worker as producer aims to exchange his daily labor for money-wages, he aims precisely for the thing through which his relation to the capitalist is re established, the thing through which he reproduces himself as a wage- worker and the other as a capitalist. The worker as consumer exchanges his money for products of labor, precisely the things which the capitalist has to sell in order to realize his Capital.

The daily transformation of living activity into Capital is mediated by things, it is not carried out by the things. The fetish worshipper does not know this; for him labor and land, instruments and money, entrepreneurs rind bankers, are all “factors” and “agents.” When a hunter wearing an amulet downs a deer with a stone, he may consider the amulet an essential “factor” in downing the deer and even in providing the deer as an object to be downed. If he is a responsible and well-educated fetish worshipper, he will devote his attention to his amulet, nourishing it with care and admiration; in order to improve the material conditions of his life, he will improve the way he wears his fetish, not the way he throws the stone; in a bind, he may even send his amulet to “hunt” for him. His own daily activities are not transparent to him: when he eats well, he fails to see that it is his own action of throwing the stone, and not the action of the amulet, that provided his food; when he starves, he fails to See that it is his own action of worshipping the amulet instead of hunting, and not the wrath of his fetish, that causes his starvation.

The fetishism of commodities and money, the mystification of one’s daily activities, the religion of everyday life which attributes living activity to inanimate things, is not a mental caprice born in men’s imaginations; it has its origin in the character of social relations under capitalism. Men do in fact relate to each other through things; the fetish is in fact the occasion for which they act collectively, and through which they reproduce their activity. But it is not the fetish that performs the activity. It is not Capital that transforms raw materials, nor Capital that produces goods. If living activity did not transform the materials, these would remain untransformed, inert, dead matter. If men were not disposed to continue selling their living activity, the impotence of Capital would be revealed; Capital would cease to exist; its last remaining potency would be the power to remind people of a bypassed form of everyday life characterized by daily universal prostitution.

The worker alienates his life in order to preserve his life. If he did not sell his living activity he could not get a wage and could not survive. However, it is not the wage that makes alienation the condition for survival. If men were collectively not disposed to sell their lives, if they were disposed to take control over their own activities, universal prostitution would not be a condition for survival. It is people’s disposition to continue selling their labor, and not the things for which they sell it, that makes the alienation of living activity necessary for the preservation of life.

The living activity sold by the worker is bought by the capitalist. And it is only this living activity that breathes life into Capital and makes it “productive.” The capitalist, an “owner” of raw materials and instruments of production, presents natural objects and products of other people’s labor as his own “private property. But it is not the mysterious power of Capital that creates the capitalist’s “private property” ;living activity is what creates the “property,” and the form of that activity is what keeps it “private.”

Transformation of Living Activity into Capital
The transformation of living activity into Capital takes place through things, daily, but is not carried out by things. Things which are products of human activity seem to be active agents because activities and contacts are established for and through things, and because people’s activities are not transparent to them; they confuse the mediating object with the cause.

In the capitalist process of production, the worker embodies or materializes his alienated living energy in an inert object by using instruments which are embodiments of other people’s activity. (Sophisticated industrial instruments embody the intellectual and manual activity of countless generations of inventors, improvers and producers from all corners of the globe and from varied forms of society.) The instruments in themselves are inert objects; they are material embodiments of living activity, but are not themselves alive. The only active agent in the production process is the living laborer. He uses the products of other people’s labor and infuses them with life, so to speak, but the life is his own; he is not able to resurrect the individuals who stored their living activity in his instrument. The instrument may enable him to do more during a given time period, and in this sense it may raise his productivity. But only the living labor which is able to produce can be productive.

For example, when an industrial worker runs an electric lathe, he uses products of the labor of generations of physicists, inventors, electrical engineers, lathe makers. He is obviously more productive than a craftsman who carves the same object by hand. But it is in no sense the “Capital” at the disposal of the industrial worker which is more “productive” than the “Capital” of the craftsman. If generations of intellectual and manual activity had not been embodied in the electric lathe, if the industrial worker had to invent the lathe, electricity, and the electric lathe, then it would take him numerous lifetimes to turn a single object on an electric lathe, and no amount of Capital could raise his productivity above that of the craftsman who carves the object by hand.

The notion of the “productivity of capital,” and particularly the detailed measurement of that “productivity,” are inventions of the “science” of Economics, that religion of capitalist daily life which uses up people’s energy in the worship, admiration and flattery of the central fetish of capitalist society. Medieval colleagues of these “scientists” performed detailed measurements of the height and width of angels in Heaven, without ever asking what angels or Heaven were, and taking for granted the existence of both.

The result of the worker’s sold activity is a product which does not belong to him. This product is an embodiment of his labor, a materialization of a part of his life, a receptacle which contains his living activity, but it is not his; it is: as alien to him as his labor. He did not decide to make it, and when it is made he does not dispose of it. If he wants it, he has to buy it. What he has made is not simply a product with certain useful properties; for that he did not need to sell his labor to a capitalist in exchange for a wage; he need only have picked the necessary materials and the available tools, he need only have shaped the materials guided by his goals and limited by his knowledge and ability. (It is obvious that an individual can only do this marginally; men’s appropriation and use of the materials and tools available to them can only take place after the overthrow of the capitalist form of activity.)

What the worker produces under capitalist conditions is a product with a very specific property, the property of saleability. What his alienated activity produces is a commodity.

Because capitalist production is commodity production, the statement that the goal of the process is the satisfaction of human needs is false; it is a rationalization and an apology. The “satisfaction of human needs” is not the goal of the capitalist or of the worker engaged in production, nor is it a result of the process. The worker sells his labor in order to get a wage; the specific content of the labor is indifferent to him; he does not alienate his labor to a capitalist who does not give him a wage in exchange for it, no matter how many human needs this capitalist’s products may satisfy. The capitalist buys labor and engages it in production in order to emerge with commodities which can be sold. He is indifferent to the specific properties of the product, just as he is indifferent to people’s needs; all that interests him about the product is how much it will sell for, and all that interests him about people’s needs is how much they “need” to buy and how they can be coerced, through propaganda and psychological conditioning, to “need” more. The capitalist’s goal Is to satisfy his need to reproduce and enlarge Capital, and the result of the process is the expanded reproduction of wage labor and Capital (which are not “human needs”).

The commodity produced by the worker is exchanged by the capitalist for a specific quantity of money; the commodity is a value which is exchanged for an equivalent value. In other words, the living and past labor materialized in the product can exist in two distinct yet equivalent forms, in commodities and in money, or in what is common to both, value. This does not mean that value is labor. Value is the social form of reified (materialized) labor in capitalist society.

Under capitalism, social relations are not established directly; they are established through value. Everyday activity is not exchanged directly; it is exchanged In the form of value. Consequently, what happens to living activity under capitalism cannot be traced by observing the activity itself, but only by following the metamorphoses of value.

When the living activity of people takes the form of labor (alienated activity), it acquires the property of exchangeability; it acquires the form of value. In other words, the labor can be exchanged for an “equivalent” quantity of money (wages). The deliberate alienation of living activity, which is perceived as necessary for survival by the members of capitalist society, itself reproduces the capitalist form within which alienation is necessary for survival. Because of the fact that living activity has the form of value, the products of that activity must also have the form of value: they must be exchangeable for money. This is obvious since, if the products of labor did not take the form of value, but for example the form of useful objects at the disposal of society, then they would either remain in the factory or they would be taken freely by the members of society whenever a need for them arose; in either case, the money-wages received by the workers would have no value, and living activity could not be sold for an “equivalent” quantity of money; living activity could not be alienated. Consequently, as soon as living activity takes the form of value, the products of that activity take the form of value, and the reproduction of everyday life takes place through changes or metamorphoses of value.

The capitalist sells the products of labor on a market; he exchanges them for an equivalent sum of money; he realizes a determined value. The specific magnitude of this value on a particular market is the price of the commodities. For the academic Economist, Price is St. Peter’s key to the gates of Heaven. Like Capital itself, Price moves within a wonderful world which consists entirely of objects; the objects have human relations with each other, and are alive; they transform each other, communicate with each other; they marry and have children. And of course it is only through the grace of these intelligent, powerful and creative objects that people can be so happy in capitalist society.

In the Economist’s pictorial representations of the workings of heaven, the angels do everything and men do nothing at all; men simply enjoy what these superior beings do for them. Not only does Capital produce and money work; other mysterious beings have similar virtues. Thus Supply, a quantity of things which are sold, and Demand, a quantity of things which are bought, together determine Price, a quantity of money; when Supply and Demand marry on a particular point of the diagram, they give birth to Equilibrium Price, which corresponds to a universal state of bliss. The activities of everyday life are played out by things, and people are reduced to things (“factors of production”) during their productive” hours, and to passive spectators of things during their “leisure time.” The virtue of the Economic Scientist consists of his ability to attribute the outcome of people’s everyday activities to things, and of his inability to see the living activity of people underneath the antics of the things. For the Economist, the things through which the activity of people is regulated under capitalism are themselves the mothers and sons, the causes and consequences of their own activity.

The magnitude of value, namely the price of a commodity, the quantity of money for which it exchanges, is not determined by things, but by the daily activities of people. Supply and demand, perfect and imperfect competition, are nothing more than social forms of products and activities in capitalist society; they have no life of their own. The fact that activity is alienated, namely that labor-time is sold for a specific sum of money, that it has a certain value, has several consequences for the magnitude of the value of the products of that labor. The value of the sold commodities must at least be equal to the value of the labor-time. This is obvious both from the standpoint of the individual capitalist firm, and from the standpoint of society as a whole. If the value of the commodities sold by the individual capitalist were smaller than the value of the labor he hired, then his labor expenditures alone would be larger than his earnings, and he would quickly go bankrupt. Socially, if the value of the laborers production were smaller than the value of their consumption, then the labor force could not even reproduce itself, not to speak of a class of capitalists. However, if the value of the commodities were merely equal to the value of the labor- time expended on them, the commodity producers would merely reproduce themselves, and their society would not be a capitalist society; their activity might still consist of commodity production, but it would not be capitalist commodity production.

For labor to create Capital, the value of the products of labor must be larger than the value of the labor. In other words, the labor force must produce a surplus product, a quantity of goods which it does not consume, and this surplus product must be transformed into surplus value, a form of value which is not appropriated by workers as wages, but by capitalists as profit. Furthermore, the value of the products of labor must be larger still, since living labor is not the only kind of labor materialized in them. In the production process, workers expend their own energy, but they also use up the stored labor of others as instruments, and they shape materials on which labor was previously expended.

This leads to the strange result that the value of the laborer’s products and the value of his wage are different magnitudes, namely that the sum of money received by the capitalist when he sells the commodities produced by his hired laborers is different from the sum he pays the laborers. This difference is not explained by the fact that the used- up materials and tools must be paid for. If the value of the sold commodities were equal to the value of the living labor and the instruments, there would still be no room for capitalists. The fact is that the difference between the two magnitudes must be large enough to support a class of capitalists-not only the individuals, but also the specific activity that these individuals engage in, namely the purchase of labor. The difference between the total value of the products and the value of the labor spent on their production is surplus value, the seed of Capital.

In order to locate the origin of surplus value, it is necessary to examine why the value of the labor is smaller than the value of the commodities produced by it. The alienated activity of the worker transforms materials with the aid of instruments, and produces a certain quantity of commodities. However, when these commodities are sold and the used-up materials and instruments are paid for, the workers are not given the remaining value of their products as their wages; they are given less. In other words, during every working day, the workers perform a certain quantity of unpaid labor, forced label, for which they receive no equivalent.

The performance of this unpaid labor, this forced labor, is another “condition for survival” in capitalist society. However, like alienation, this condition is not imposed by nature, but by the collective practice of people, by their everyday activities. Before the existence of unions, an individual worker accepted whatever forced labor was available, since rejection of the labor would have meant that other workers would accept the available terms of exchange, and the individual worker would receive no wage. Workers competed with each other for the wages offered by capitalists; if a worker quit because the wage was unacceptably low, an unemployed worker was willing to replace him, since for the unemployed a small wage is higher than no wage at all. This competition among workers was called “free labor” by capitalists, who made great sacrifices to maintain the freedom of workers, since it was precisely this freedom that preserved the surplus value of the capitalist and made it possible for him to accumulate Capital. It was not any worker’s aim to produce more goods than he was paid for. His aim was to get a wage which was as large as possible. However, the existence of workers who got no wage at all, and whose conception of a large wage was consequently more modest than that of an employed worker, made it possible for the capitalist to hire labor at a lower wage. In fact, the existence of unemployed workers made it possible for the capitalist to pay the lowest wage that workers were willing to work for. Thus the result of the collective daily activity of the workers, each striving individually for the largest possible wage, was to lower the wages of all; the effect of the competition of each against all was that all got the smallest possible wage, and the capitalist got the largest possible surplus.

The daily practice of all annuls the goals of each. But the workers did not know that their situation was a product of their own daily behavior; their own activities were not transparent to them. To the workers it seemed that low wages were simply a natural part of life, like illness and death, and that falling wages were a natural catastrophe, like a flood or a hard winter. The critiques of socialists and the analyses of Marx, as well as an increase in industrial development which afforded more time for reflection, stripped away some of the veils and made it possible for workers to see through their activities to some extent. However, in Western Europe and the United States, workers did not get rid of the capitalist form of daily life; they formed unions. And in the different material conditions of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, workers (and peasants) replaced the capitalist class with a state bureaucracy that purchases alienated labor and accumulates Capital in the name of Marx.

With unions, daily life is similar to what it was before unions. in fact, it is almost the same. Daily life continues to consist of labor, of alienated activity, and of unpaid labor, or forced labor. The unionized worker no longer settles the terms of his alienation; union functionaries do this for him. The terms on which the worker’s activity is alienated are no longer guided by the individual worker’s need to accept what is available; they are now guided by the union bureaucrat’s need to maintain his position as pimp between the sellers of labor and the buyers.

With or without unions, surplus value is neither a product of nature nor of Capital; it is created by the daily activities of people. In the performance of their daily activities, people are not only disposed to alienate these activities, they are also disposed to reproduce the conditions which force them to alienate their activities, to reproduce Capital and thus the power of Capital to purchase labor. This is not because they do not know “what the alternative is.” A person who is incapacitated by chronic indigestion because he eats too much grease does not continue eating grease because he does not know what the alternative is. Either he prefers being incapacitated to giving up grease, or else it is not clear to him that his daily consumption of grease causes his incapacity. And if his doctor, preacher, teacher and politician tell him, first, that the grease is what keeps him alive, and secondly that they already do for him everything he would do if he were well, then it is not surprising that his activity is not transparent to him and that he makes no great effort to render it transparent.

The production of surplus value is a condition of survival, not for the population, but for the capitalist system. Surplus value is the portion of the value of commodities produced by labor which is not returned to the laborers. It can be expressed either in commodities or in money (just as Capital can be expressed either as a quantity of things or of money), but this does not alter the fact that it is an expression for the materialized labor which is stored in a given quantity of products. Since the products can be exchanged for an “equivalent” quantity of money, the money “stands for”, or represents, the same value as the products. The money can, in turn, be exchanged for another quantity of products of “equivalent” value. The ensemble of these exchanges, which take place simultaneously during the performance of capitalist daily life, constitutes the capitalist process of circulation. It is through this process that the metamorphosis of surplus value into Capital takes place.

The portion of value which does not return to labor, namely surplus value, allows the capitalist to exist, and it also allows him to do much more than simply exist. The capitalist invests a portion of this surplus value; he hires new workers and buys new means of production; he expands his dominion. What this means is that the capitalist accumulates new labor, both in the form of the living labor he hires and of the past labor (paid and unpaid) which is stored in the materials and machines he buys.

The capitalist class as a whole accumulates the surplus labor of society, but this process takes place on a social scale and consequently cannot be seen if one observes only the activities of an individual capitalist. It must be remembered that the products bought by a given capitalist as instruments have the same characteristics as the products he sells. A first capitalist sells instruments to a second capitalist for a given sum of value, and only a part of this value is returned to workers as wages; the remaining part is surplus value, with which the first capitalist buys new instruments and labor. The second capitalist buys the instruments for the given value, which means that he pays for the total quantity of labor rendered to the first capitalist, the quantity of labor which was remunerated as well as the quantity performed free of charge. This means that the instruments accumulated by the second capitalist contain the unpaid labor performed for the first. The second capitalist, in turn, sells his products for a given value, and returns only a portion of this value to his laborers; he uses the remainder for new instruments and labor.

If the whole process were squeezed into a single time period, and if all the capitalists were aggregated into one, it would be seen that the value with which the capitalist acquires new instruments and labor is equal to the value of the products which he did not return to the producers. This accumulated surplus labor is Capital.

In terms of capitalist society as a whole, the total Capital is equal to the sum of unpaid labor performed by generations of human beings whose lives consisted of the daily alienation of their living activity. In other words Capital, in the face of which men sell their living days, is the product of the sold activity of men, and is reproduced and expanded every day a man sells another working day, every moment he decides to continue living the capitalist form of daily life.

Storage and Accumulation of Human Activity
The transformation of surplus labor into Capital is a specific historical form of a more general process, the process of industrialization, the permanent transformation of man’s material environment.

Certain essential characteristics of this consequence of human activity under capitalism can be grasped by means of a simplified illustration. In an imaginary society, people spend most of their active time producing food and other necessities; only part of their time is “surplus time” in the sense that it is exempted from the production of necessities. This surplus activity may be devoted to the production of food for priests and warriors who do not themselves produce; it may be used to produce goods which are burned for sacred occasions; it may be used up in the performance of ceremonies or gymnastic exercises. In any of these cases, the material conditions of these people are not likely to change, from one generation to another, as a result of their daily activities. However, one generation of people of this imaginary society may store their surplus time instead of using it up. For example, they may spend this surplus time winding up springs. The next generation may unwind the energy stored in the springs to perform necessary tasks, or may simply use the energy of the springs to wind new springs. In either case, the stored surplus labor of the earlier generation will provide the new generation with a larger quantity of surplus working time. The new generation may also store this surplus in springs and in other receptacles. In a relatively short period, the labor stored in the springs will exceed the labor time available to any living generation; with the expenditure of relatively little energy, the people of this imaginary society will be able to harness the springs to most of their necessary tasks, and also to the task of winding new springs for coming generations. Most of the living hours which they previously spent producing necessities will now be available for activities which are not dictated by necessity but projected by the imagination.

At first glance it seems unlikely that people would devote living hours to the bizarre task of winding springs. It seems just as unlikely, even if they wound the springs, that they would store them for future generations, since the unwinding of the springs might provide, for example, a marvellous spectacle on festive days.

However, if people did not dispose of their own lives, if their working activity were not their own, if their practical activity consisted of forced labor, then human activity might well be harnessed to the task of winding springs, the task of storing surplus working time in material receptacles. The historical role of Capitalism, a role which was performed by people who accepted the legitimacy of others to dispose of their lives, consisted precisely of storing human activity in material receptacles by means of forced labor.

As soon as people submit to the “power” of money to buy stored labor as well as living activity, as soon as they accept the fictional “right” of money-holders to control and dispose of the stored as well as the living activity of society, they transform money into Capital and the owners of money into Capitalists.

This double alienation, the alienation of living activity in the form of wage labor, and the alienation of the activity of past generations in the form of stored labor (means of production), is not a single act which took place sometime in history. The relation between workers and capitalists is not a thing which imposed itself on society at some point in the past, once and for all. At no time did men sign a contract, or even make a verbal agreement, in which they gave up the power over their living activity, and in which they gave up the power over the living activity of all future generations on all parts of the globe.

Capital wears the mask of a natural force; it seems as solid as the earth itself; its movements appear as irreversible as tides; its crises seem as unavoidable as earthquakes and floods. Even when it is admitted that the power of Capital is created by men, this admission may merely be the occasion for the invention of an even more imposing mask, the mask of a man-made force, a Frankenstein monster, whose power inspires more awe than that of any natural force.

However, Capital is neither a natural force nor a man- made monster which was created sometime in the past and which dominated human life ever since. The power of Capital does not reside in money, since money is a social convention which has no more “power” than men are willing to grant it; when men refuse to sell their labor, money cannot perform even the simplest tasks, because money does not “work.”

Nor does the power of Capital reside in the material receptacles in which the labor of past generations is stored, since the potential energy stored in these receptacles can be liberated by the activity of living people whether or not the receptacles are Capital, namely alien property. Without living activity, the collection of objects which constitute society’s Capital would merely be a scattered heap of assorted artefacts with no life of their own, and the “owners” of Capital would merely be a scattered assortment of uncommonly uncreative people (by training) who surround themselves with bits of paper in a vain attempt to resuscitate memories of past grandeur. The only “power” of Capital resides in the daily activities of living people; this “power” consists of the disposition of people to sell their daily activities in exchange for money, and to give up control over the products of their own activity and of the activity of earlier generations.

As soon as a person sells his labor to a capitalist and accepts only a part of his product as payment for that labor, he creates conditions for the purchase and exploitation of other people. No man would willingly give his arm or his child in exchange for money; yet when a man deliberately and consciously sells his working life in order to acquire the necessities for life, he not only reproduces the conditions which continue to make the sale of his life a necessity for its preservation; he also creates conditions which make the sale of life a necessity for other people. Later generations may of course refuse to sell their working lives for the same reason that he refused to sell his arm; however each failure to refuse alienated and forced labor enlarges the stock of stored labor with which Capital can buy working lives.

In order to transform surplus labor into Capital, the capitalist has to find a way to store it in material receptacles, in new means of production. and he must hire new laborers to activate the new means of production. In other words, he must enlarge his enterprise, or start a new enterprise in a different branch of production. This presupposes or requires the existence of materials that can be shaped into new saleable commodities, the existence of buyers of the new products, and the existence of people who are poor enough to be willing to sell their labor. These requirements are themselves created by capitalist activity, and capitalists recognize no limits or obstacles to their activity; the democracy of Capital demands absolute freedom.

Imperialism is not merely the “last stage” of Capitalism; it is also the first.

Anything which can be transformed into a marketable good is grist for Capital’s mill, whether it lies on the capitalist’s land or on the neighbor’s, whether it lies above ground or under, Boats on the sea or crawls on its floor; whether it is confined to other continents or other planets. All of humanity’s explorations of nature, from Alchemy to Physics, are mobilized to search for new materials in which to store labor, to find new objects that someone can be taught to buy.

Buyers for old and new products are created by any and all available means, and new means are constantly discovered. “Open markets” and “open doors” are established by force and fraud. If people lack the means to buy the capitalists’ products, they are hired by capitalists and are paid for producing the goods they wish to buy; if local craftsmen already produce what the capitalists have to sell, the craftsmen are ruined or bought-out; if laws or traditions ban the use of certain products, the laws and the traditions are destroyed; if people lack the objects on which to use the capitalists’ products, they are taught to buy these objects; if people run out of physical or biological wants, then capitalists “satisfy” their “spiritual wants” and hire psychologists to create them; if people are so satiated with the products of capitalists that they can no longer use new objects, they are taught to buy objects and spectacles which have no use but can simply be observed and admired.

Poor people are found in pre-agrarian and agrarian societies on every continent; if they are not poor enough to be willing to sell their labor when the capitalists arrive, they are impoverished by the activities of the capitalists themselves. The lands of hunters gradually become the “private property” of “owners” who use state violence to restrict the hunters to “reservations” which do not contain enough food to keep them alive. The tools of peasants gradually become available only from the same merchant who generously lends them the money with which to buy the tools, until the peasants’ “debts” are so large that they are forced to sell land which neither they nor any of their ancestors had ever bought. The buyers of craftsmen’s products gradually become reduced to the merchants who market the products, until the day comes when a merchant decides to house “his craftsmen” under the same roof, and provides them with the instruments which will enable all of them to concentrate their activity on the production of the most profitable items. Independent as well as dependent hunters, peasants and craftsmen, free men as well as slaves, are transformed into hired laborers. Those who previously disposed of their own lives in the face of harsh material conditions cease to dispose of their own lives precisely when they take up the task of modifying their material conditions; those who were previously conscious creators of their own meagre existence become unconscious victims of their own activity even while abolishing the meagreness of their existence. Men who were much but had little now have much but are little.

The production of new commodities, the “opening” of new markets, the creation of new workers, are not three separate activities; they are three aspects of the same activity. A new labor force is created precisely in order to produce the new commodities; the wages received by these laborers are themselves the new market; their unpaid labor is the source of new expansion. Neither natural nor cultural barriers halt the spread of Capital, the transformation of people’s daily activity into alienated labor, the transformation of their surplus labor into the “private property” of capitalists. However, Capital is not a natural force; it is a set of activities performed by people every day; it is a form of daily life; its continued existence and expansion presuppose only one essential condition: the disposition of people to continue to alienate their working lives and thus reproduce the capitalist form of daily life.



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Brief Thoughts On A Feminist Classic

The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer, was a literary bomb thrown at patriarchy in 1970 by a libertarian Australian woman. I still have a battered copy. I read it in 1978 and I was a convert! It is angry, courageous, taboo shattering, and enormous fun to read.

Who, among us men, really wanted the deodorised, reduced, oppressed and limited women whom Germaine Greer described? In pungent prose, marrying anarchism with feminism, Greer took on all that was wrong with the production of modern womanhood in 1970. It was revolutionary for its time, but limited by its unapologetic universalisation of middle class female experience. I found it very inspiring when I read it myself in 1978. Reading Greer made me a believer in the feminist cause.

In fact, contrary to my hopes, feminism did not hold the answers to predominantly male behaviours such as rape and the making of war, and in reality only bourgeois feminism is about men’s behaviour. How men behave, well or badly, is a complete irrelevance to an inclusive feminism, a feminism that means anything at all to working class women! Socialist feminism, which is primarily about the restablishment of equitable gender relations in the context of a move towards socialism, is a very different animal to the bellyaching of bourgeois feminism.

Socialist feminists are concerned with the rights of sex workers, equity, female rights and freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace, reproductive and fertility issues, sex trafficking, women’s autonomy from men, and much more.

Male marxism always focussed on the sphere of economic production; the needs of the (usually white) male worker. It was and is far too simple a model of human reality, as gender affects every realm of existence.

Socialist feminism, or feminist marxism recognises that the sphere of reproduction – the physical reproduction of the human species – is as important an economic and cultural sphere as the former, and that a society free of gender bias and gender oppression will actually be PRIMARILY centred around the needs of woman and childbearing/childrearing, the most important of all productive activities, since it is to do with the spiritual, cultural and educational needs of the people who will form the society to be; the people Dr. Rupert Read calls “future people”, who are badly served in a society where the commodity form, the fetishism of commodities, and the commercialisation of human relationships, militate against a spiritually healthy childhood.

A gender neutral society would also, naturally, be a society where the capitalist commodification and exploitation of sexuality, and the patriarchal violence associated with a real imbalance of social and economic power between the sexes, would be replaced by an ethic of solidarity, equitable behaviour, and fraternal relations between women and men.

See Mary Mellor’s book Breaking the Boundaries: Toward a Feminist Green Socialism (Virago, 1992) for more, and Laurie Penny’s funny and insightful article in the New Statesman:

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A Profound Ignorance: Father Jean Meslier on the Christian faith

Une ignorance profonde, une crédulité sans bornes, une tête très faible, une imagination emportée: voilà les matériaux avec lesquels se font les dévots, les zélés, les fanatiques et les saints.

Il serait juste que les grands de la terre et que tous les nobles fussent pendus et étranglés avec les boyaux de prêtres.

Le christianisme ne s’est répandu qu’en promettant le despotisme, dont il est, comme toute religion, le plus ferme soutien.

Jean Meslier (1664-1729), premier philosophe de l’athéisme en  France (selon Michel Onfray).

The link to this great man is in English! An atheist and communist philosopher who was a Catholic priest for his supper, secretly incubating one of the most subversive documents in the history of Catholicism all his life!

What a story! Jean Meslier’s Testament was published posthumously. After which I believe the Catholic church dug our rebel hero atheist priest up and reburied him in unconsecrated ground.

How that’s for gratitude at having their religious bullshit exposed?

Recommended further reading:

On religion:

Error, Illusion, and Imposture, 1729

On communism:

On the Great Good and Advantages for Men if They All Lived Peaceably, Enjoying in Common the Goods and Conveniences of Life

The Testament of Jean Meslier has, for the first time, been  published in book form in English. Order it here if you live in America,, and here if you live in the UK:

Why bother with Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion when you can go to the source for your atheism, and read, from an insider to and practitioner of the Catholic faith, an exposure of the scandal and disgrace of institutional Christianity, by the magnificent Meslier?

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