"Workers' Lib"

Jamal Hannah jamal at bronze.lcs.mit.edu
Fri Sep 15 20:30:27 MDT 1995


Lisa said:
> I like "liberator" for a paper's name, and workers' lib is nice too.
> But use the word worker and you start sounding like a marxist again!

Yipes!  Marxists? Here?!  I'm shocked, truly.  (grin)

> MIM's approach sounds rather moralistic and exclusionary, as anyone
> who is not "productive" is a parasite who benefits from the system.
> By productive I think MIM is not referring to production of surplus
> value, but to production of physical items which meet some human
> need.  But what about the rest of us poor slobs?

I cant help but point out that most of the resistance to MIM's
position is based on moral grounds.  (you know, Stalin was evil
and all that.  Personally I wish MIM would just drop the
defense of Stalin and focus on present issues.. but perhaps they
feel that it's impossible to justify specific arguments in
their Line without some defense of Stalin.  One thing that
we all most likly want to know is, do they want _another_ Stalin,
or are they simply defending the old one and dont want a new one..
or is this point irrelevant?)

> I recognized myself as a wage-laborer in need of more humane wages
> and working conditions when I was a school teacher.  Was I
> productive?  Not of surplus-value for my employer.  A school district
> doesn't have capitalist profits, does it?  But what does it matter?
> Was I not still a worker, ripe for marxist/socialist awareness?
>
> I was still a worker when I measured and cut fabric and clerked in a
> shop.  Would it be more noble or worthy or "productive" to work in
> the fabric factory?  Either way, my work produced profits for someone
> else.  Will someone still be needed to cut fabric and collect
> work-coupons in a neighborhood sewing shop after the revolution?  I
> think so.
>
> But if I quit school and start sewing my own designs and selling
> clothes for a living, then I would own a business, and I'll be "petty
> bourgeois" and a traitor to the working class?  Because I get to keep
> the profits myself?

If you work for yourself and do all the work on your own, there's
no contradiction, I think.  If you hire other people and then treat
them like crap in order to increase production and to stay "competative",
then this is a problem.. but it's your own workers you have to face.
If you decide not to even deal with the workers who are pissed
but let the cops deal with them, the "shit gets deeper".  Of course,
thats the way it works in capitalism.  Worst of all.. if you were to
get people in other countries who were desperate to do the work for
you cheaply, and rely on the government there to keep people
from demanding self-determination or better wages... well, you
get the idea.  Anyway, I'm sure you wouldnt do all that stuff.

All in all, its not really your fault personaly, it's the system...
and the system would force you to do certain things, as a capitalist,
in order to "Stay competative".  If you dont, you end up in some
sub-market which isnt really significant anyway.  I'd be suprised if
MIM were obcessed with small-time businessmen.  The real enemy
these days is the huge corporations.  (too bad so many small businessmen
identify with the interests of the big corporations on ideological
grounds.. but thats what the Republican and Democratic Parties are for)

> I was a wage-worker when I worked for state government, inspecting
> sewage treatment plants and protecting environmental water quality by
> writing permits to control the levels of substances in treated
> wastewater before it is discharged to streams and lakes.  Was I a
> servant of capital?  a servant of state power?  a servant of the
> people?
>
> What does it matter?  Does anybody think that the need for
> environmental regulators will disappear after the revolution?  Will
> such environmental scientists still need college degrees to know what
> they are doing?  If the capitalists hate the regulators now and
> complain about the "costs" of meeting the rules, is that a sign that
> env. reg'ors are behaving left-ily, even though hired by government
> under the present "status quo"?

The capitalists hate anything that stands between them and profits.
Many people who might be further to the left but see social democracy
as a workable solution (reforming capitalism to allow a few more
people to be comfortable) are pushing the government to do some
things that capitalists dont like.  It's prolonging the agony, really.
Either the regulations will "save" capitalism from showing it's
ugly underside, or things will get worse and worse.  There's
a problem with the idea that if things get worse they'll get better,
though:  if the right has absolute power it can put a lot of people
into prison and screw up a lot of things.

I think that social democracy created a class of people (liberals)
who are members of capitalist society that know they benefit from
government help, so they go on defending this.  A person who started
out shit-poor but got some help from welfare and public education
and managed to achive some higher status will tend to have faith
in the perticular system that helped them.  Many capitalists like
to argue that it was World War II that ended the depression
(basaicaly arguing that going to war and killing people
and winning is ultimatly profitable..  well, they are
probabaly right) but in fact it was FDR's government
programs which made it possible for many more people to participate
in the capitalist system.  Man, its all really ironic.. the right
and some large chunks of the left both contribute to the conviction that
social democracy is the same as revolutionary convictions.  It isnt.
Of course one would have looked stupid at the time of FDR to oppose FDR.
The real battle was lost by the left before FDR was elected, I guess.

> What's the point of discriminating between workers and workers?
>
> Lisa R

I know where youre coming from, Lisa.. MIM is pretty relentless
about it's position, but all of us who were lucky enough to
get a good education and access to resources are truly caught
in a catch-22 situation: we cant relate to those people suffering
the most in this country and outside of it.  We cant relate to them
because of how we live and how we think.  I cant really imagine much
revolutionary potential from folks like the ones on this list..  (or
most people on the Internet), but groups like SDS and the Black
Panthers showed that it's possible for people to break
out of the petty-borgeoise mentality and try to push for a
real revolution in the here-and-now.  (ultimatly the government
can crush any movement that starts to show promise though.. this
is still a serious problem.)

Rather than completely rejecting everything MIM says because
they make us feel guilty (and saying "dont listen to these Stalinists"),
we should at least admit that we either dont feel compelled to dedicate
our lives to helping the downtrodden directly.. or underline our
fears and aprehensions.  You see, the dialectical process of this
resulting conflict will mean that individual "Marxists" will
either abandon class struggle altogether (seeing that it would mean
giving up too much that is important to them), or they will
eventualy formulate an ingenious theory that is relevent to the
present day: the kind of theory that makes modern revolution possible.
If we do not face these issues directly and think about them, we will
never get anywhere.  I say "ingenious" because right now everyone
is convinced that revolution is pretty much impossible.  I also
notice that some capitalists posess the attitude that they can create
something which people initialy would claim was impossible. (like a new
product that makes lots of money) and thats partialy how capitalism
continues to perpetuate itself.  This is a human ability not
specific to capitalism.. it's just missing from a lot of leftist
thinking right now.

 - Jamal



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