The End of Capital and the Future of Work*
By Kostas Lampos, PhD
In recent years there has been much discussion about a certain end: Some speak of the “end of history”1, others mention the “end of work”2, while the dark powerful hubs of obscurantism present the “end of the world” in the form of eschatological prophecies by charlatans or Hollywood-style creations by certain “future predictors”.
Work, either in the form of food collection activity, or in the form of classical music creation and scientific research in the field of astrophysics and molecular biology, constituted –and still constitutes- the basic element of organized social co-existence and at the same time the sole power for development, setting in effect the measure for any civilization. Hence, it is only logical for one to wonder whether the “end of history”, or the “end of work”, means the end of organized social co-existence, or even the end of civilization and ultimately, the end of history.
However, if we examine the relevant “theories”, we shall find out that Fukuyama considers “liberal democracy as the final step of humanity’s ideological development and the final form of human governance, in such a way that it constitutes the end of history”3. So, sibly, Fukuyama’s argument is that “liberal democracy”, the political expression of manic capitalism4, is the final, i.e. the superior form, of human governance. According to Fukuyama this means that the human civilization has reached the end of its evolution and hence the end of its history. This theory, to which Fukuyama’s sponsors gave massive publicity, is not only naive and unscientific, but also ends up being an obscene ideological fabrication by someone who acts as the apologist of a neoliberal, globalised, barbaric and disastrous capitalism and who implies that after capitalism there is only chaos. The fact that Fukuyama himself, in response to the flood of negative reviews, tried to refute what concerns the “end of history” 5, without at the same time distancing himself from the basic premises of his theory, does not alter the unscientific and deeply reactionary nature of his attempt to form an ideology.
Now, regarding the “end of work”, Jeremy Rifkin’s theory” is based on the fact that the scientific and technical revolution has led developments to the level of “mass replacement of workers by machines, which will force all nations to re-examine the role of human beings in the social process… the transnational (overnational?)corporations announce that their profits rise steadily while in the meantime the same corporations announce massive job cuts… We are entering a new phase in the global history, one in which fewer and fewer workers will be needed… the end of work… technological innovations and market forces lead us to a world with almost no working hands at all”.6
Rifkin’s mistake is that he identifies work with “working hands”, i.e. the living form of labor. This happens because he misinterprets the fact that the working person –“living labor”- during his historical course creates, for the improvement and efficiency of his productive process, tools, machinery and automation systems, also known as “means of production” (Produktionsmittel). Marx called the means of production, in contrast to living labor (lebendige Arbeit)7, objectified labor (vergegenständliche Arbeit)8, i.e. labor that is not the expression of dexterity embodied in certain materials, but becomes an object, which, to a certain extent replaces living labor -and thus he also calls it “dead labor”, (tote Arbeit)9
In reality, according to this concept, the total available labor, i.e. the “total productive capacity” (Produktivkräfte)10 in a society, in its most simplified form, equals to the sum of the total quantity of living – subjective – labor and the total quantity of the means of production –the dead – objectified historical labor.
During the course of humanity, one form of labor has been violently disrupted by the other and this led to the violent division of society and humanity as a whole into two main classes: the class of the producers of living labor and the class of those who usurp the historical labor. Even today, albeit in different forms in various periods, the total productive activity of each society is being organized on the basis of this division. The history of human civilization has basically progressed using the potential of this relationship involving the living and historical form of labor, in the field of the total economic activity of each society.
These relations, known as “forms of production” (Produktionsformen), or “relations of production” (Produktionsverhältnisse)11 form the “hard core of power” within the framework of a given society, which in turn shapes what we call “socioeconomic system” according to its particular interests. One of the various relations of production which appeared during the historical course of humanity, in particular the one that violently turned the historical form of labor into capital, which came as a “result of the right of the organizers of production (der Kommandeuren der Produktion) to appropriate and dominate the products of labor”,12 took the form of “capitalist relations of production”.13
From a general viewpoint, we are witnessing a never-ending and painful effort on the part of the producers of living labor, i.e. the working people, to create more and better “means of production” –historical labor- in order to be able to satisfy all their personal and social needs with less effort and to achieve more freedom, prosperity and happiness. A process in which “the quantity of utilized living labor (will) steadily diminish as far as its quantity is concerned by the objectified labor itself”,14 so that humanity will leap someday “from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom”, to uninhibitedly quote Karl Marx, who is still as relevant as ever.
Unfortunately, by breaking up the historical form of labor and alienating from its creators, i.e. the producers of living labor, the historical form of labor at the hands of its usurpers is forced to push its creators to the fringe of economy and society. Through this process of constantly increasing substitution of living labor by historical labor we reached the present era: living labor, i.e. the traditional proletariat, becomes a surplus labor force and is excluded from the process of production. Furthermore, as “surplus society”, it is displaced from the historical labor, i.e. the “machines that form the new proletariat.”15
This absurdity of turning science, technology and culture into “proletariats” makes the working humanity obsolete in order for a handful of “transnational (overnational?) companies” to maximize their profits while at the same time turning the dictatorship of capital over labor, i.e. over the working humanity, into “a necessity”. Obviously, this has been a result of the violent activity on the part of the barbaric and manic capitalism, which deceived humanity, as it promised “Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood”, delivering instead Slavery, Inequality and Hostility.
It is also obvious that in order for the break up of labor to stop and for its unity and autonomy to be reinstated, all forms of ownership of the means of production must stop (i.e. abolition of capital, not as a material thing, object, money or machinery etc, but rather as “social relationship, as historical means of production”)16. The means of production must become communal with the establishment of “relations of self-management, or self-regulation, of unified labor”. These relations will free human civilization from the obscure myths and the various forms of oppressive power and consequently the necessary and proper conditions will be shaped: Conditions that will allow the reunification and immediate self-determination of society, the reconciliation of humanity, and will pave the way for the New Freedom of Man, for a “civilization of Love, Knowledge and Creation”.17
It is important to highlight that Rifkin, together with tens of thousands of scientists and millions of working people, points out that “the high tech revolution could mean fewer working hours and more benefits for millions of people. For the first time in modern history big multitudes might be liberated from long working hours and would devote their spare time to activities that please them”.18
Capital, however, responds with successive attacks of mental and ideological disorientation, increasing –rather than decreasing- working hours and forcing at the same time millions of workers to become unemployed. All this takes place in the name of the so-called competitiveness and naturally at the altar of profit maximization.
The clash of the -arbitrary and lacking any historical justification- capitalist voluntarism with reality, which has been shaped by humanity’s accumulated struggles and sacrifices in thousands of years, is still spreading disaster and leads to the barbarism of neoliberal globalization and US hegemony. Rifkin observes the following, as far as this clash is concerned: “These two totally different ideas regarding the relationship between technology and labor clash more and more on the eve of the new high tech revolution. The question is to whether the technologies of the Third Industrial Revolution will materialize the dream of endless profits or the world’s dream of greater freedom. The answer depends mainly on which of the two visions of humanity’s future is intense enough, so that the next generation devotes to it its energy, talent and passion”.19
It is obvious that Rifkin, being a prominent social democrat, does not challenge capital, and being a scientist who is part of the capitalist system, washes his hands in the name of a pretentious and fake “neutral science”, “tossing the ball outside the field”, where the “next generation” is supposed to be sitting. Of course we need to acknowledge that Rifkin does not exclude the possibility that the Third Industrial High Tech Revolution would not necessarily mean the end of work. Still, he does not make any arguments in favor of this possibility. This however does not reply to the question, since the clash involves work versus technology, according to Rifkin’s rationale, the possibility that “work will not end” means the end of technology or something else, which is not named. This impasse is the result of a false assumption by Rifkin, who sees an opposition between work and technology but not between capital and work.
It is well known, however, that history does not present problems that lack mature solutions. It is also known that in the era of virtual reality there is always a clash between the true self and its appearance. Thus, the problem of the clash between work and capital is presented as a problem of clash between work and “technology”, in essence between the living form of work and the historical form of work. The objective is obvious: capital will remain “innocent”, remaining outside the scene of the clash –hence, if “technology” wins in the form of capital, we are then presented with the “end of work” and the perpetuation of “neoliberal democracy”, in other words of the capitalist system.
On the contrary, when putting the problem into its right perspective, the clash that takes place involves capital and work. On the one hand, capital as a social relationship and as a historical mode of production –which no longer express anybody, except a sad bunch of mischievous warmongers, who commit continuous crimes against humanity and civilization- is incapable of providing solutions to the problems of society and humanity and is also unable to bring progress in the next phase. On the other hand, work as a totality, with all its peaceful and creative forms, represents, as the creator of global wealth and civilization, the whole of humanity. Hence, the resolution of this conflict will unavoidably be linked to the following:
a) the defeat of obscure myths regarding “divine will” and ideological fabrications involving concepts like “free market” and eternity of capitalism.
b) the end of capital as a social relationship and historical mode of production. And consequently,
c) it will be linked to the triumph of the forces that support unified work, socially sensitive science and universal civilization.
These forces will prepare the next steps towards progress in order for humanity to attain a better world, the world of Liberty and Equality, Democracy of Direct Consultation and Civilization of Ecumenical Humanism.20
1 Francis Fukuyama, The end of History and the Last Man, Livanis publications, Athens1992., (greek edition).
2 Jeremy Rifkin, The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era, Livanis publications, Athens 1996, (greek edition).
3 Fukuyama, The end of History, p. 13.
4 See also, William Greider, One World Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, Kastaniotis, Athens 1999, (greek edition).
5 See for example Fukuyama, «No, the end of history has not arrived», interview with Aristotelia Peloni, Ta Nea daily newspaper, 5 April 2006.
6 Rifkin, The End of Work, p.50.
7 Karl Marx, Das Kapital, in Marx-Engels Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1973, vol. 25, pp. 19, 51, 97, 99, 180, 271 and 412, (german edition)
8 Ibid, vol. 25, pp. 18, 99, 180, 223, 225, 227, 236, 249, 271, 392 and 412.
9 Ibid, vol. 23, p. 198.
10 Ibid, vol. 25, pp. 257, 274, 456, 457, 815-818.
11 Ibid, vol. 25, pp. 12, 49, 90, 93, 95, 99, 105, 741-743.
12 Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1974, p. 215, (gertman edition).
13 Marx, Das Kapital, vol. 25, pp. 884-889
14 Ibid, vol. 25, p. 223.
15 Jacques Attali, Millennium. Winners and Losers in the Coming World Order, Random House, New York 1991, p. 101, refers to Rifkin, The End of Work, p. 64.
16 «Capital is not a thing but a specific social relationship of production, belonging to a specific socio-historical formation and this relationship is depicted as a “thing”, which in this way acquires a specific social character »: Marx Karl, Das Kapital, vol. 25, p. 822.
17 Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Boukoumanis publications, Athens 1974, (greek edition).
18 Rifkin, The End of History, p. 73.
19 Ibid, p. 117.
20 See also, Kostas Lambos, «The 21st Century Humanism is our Humanism», in www.Infonewhumanism.blogspot.com, 21 November 2007 and www.monthlyreview.gr, 30 November 2007.
Athens, 17 August 2008
* Kostas Lambos (email@example.com) holds s PhD in Economics from Freie Universität Berlin. He has taught History of Economic Theories and European Economic history at the University of Macedonia, State and Greek experience of Development, Technology and Labour relations at the National School of Public Administration and also Economic Planning and Cooperative Economy at the Athens Technological Institute (TEI). He is a prolific writer and his articles have been published in the Monthly Review magazine and website since 1982.
*Published by : http://coto2.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/the-end-of-capital-and-the-future-of-work, and by
MONTHLY REVIEW, 46/10.2008, Pages 54-60 (Greek Edition)