- Capitalism and Alternatives -

'Liberty in the workplace' versus job rotation

Posted by: Barry Stoller on January 17, 19100 at 10:41:15:

The industrialized abundance that modern socialism must be based upon (would the working class overthrow the bourgeoisie for only lower standards of living?) requires centralization and labor discipline (as I pointed out here and here). There's no way an assembly-line---or even a street-paving crew---can permit the anarchist 'ad hocary' of day-to-day individual liberty in the workplace. If a worker refuses to show up or to do such-and-such a task, production will be hampered, even stopped. That means commodities people expect on the communal store shelves will not be there.

Let's look at individual (read: market) democracy as opposed to majoritarian rule to illustrate the intellectual bankruptcy of 'liberty in the workplace.' I said here:

Pollution. If one (even one) person wants to pollute, then ALL of society is subjected to pollution. In order to free everyone from pollution, that one polluting person must be stopped (nothing voluntary about that)...

The same applies to job rotation.

If one (even one) person wants to do only skilled work, then everyone else must take on the added unskilled work that the one shirker leaves undone... [In order to free people from having to do exclusively unskilled work, skilled work must not be appropriated exclusively.]

Let us imagine that job rotation is voluntary.

It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that everyone will choose to play guitar and that no one will choose to maintain sewage (following a real life example from communitarian living at the East Wind intentional community, as reported by Kat Kinkcade in Is It Utopia Yet?): what if everyone wants to play guitar, leaving 'other jobs' to 'someone else'?

William Morris has brought us to this problem before:

And yet if there be any work which cannot be made other than repulsive, either by the shortness of its duration or the intermittency of its recurrence, or by the sense of special and peculiar usefulness (and therefore honor) in the mind of the man who performs it freely---if there be any work which cannot be but a torment to the worker, what then? Well, then, let us see if the heavens will fall on us if we leave it undone, for it were better that they should. The produce of such work cannot be worth the price of it.(1)


But seriously...

Returning to guitar playing versus sewage, what if SOME people decided, enough is enough, I'm dealing with the mess?

The free rider problem occurs, does it not?

Some people deal with the sewage work---while others continue to play guitar. Fine.

But do the guitar players get to enjoy the benefits of the sewage work? Those who did the cleaning might, logically enough, resent the guitar players who didn't contribute.

Thus, those who did the sewage work might declare their sewage work private property.

Private property, as any one over the age of 10 knows, is the fundamental precondition for social division of labor, hierarchy, classes, class antagonisms, and (subsequently) the creation of a state which is expected to resolve class antagonisms.

Taking our example further, sewage work as private property begets the primary conditions for commodity exchange. Some people do sewage work, now turned into private property, for others---but only to trade for other services or goods. Division of labor would then be accelerated. A universal equivilant (money) would develop...

But, and this is important, if 'liberty in the workforce' prevented industrialization (predicated upon centralization and work discipline) as before posited, then commodity exchange could only aspire to a preindustrial level.

Such as natural exchange in feudal times. (Will the proletariat want to risk its collective neck for that?)

Therefore, we see that 'liberty in the workplace' as a socialist concept is devoid of meaning. The idea of independent agents exchanging services freely---which is where 'liberty in the workplace' logically enough leads---is actually a theoretical construct for capitalist apologists.

Free exchange of commodities, even commodities (or services) produced by one (unalienated) worker who owned his / her means of production, is, of course, not capitalism. It is not socialism, either, however! It is the atomized peasant proprietorship that led to capitalism. Why does this form of exchange lead to capitalism? Private property.

Without assiduous job rotation, specialization will ensue. Specialization is a predicate of private property. Private property is the fundamental precondition for hierarchy, classes, class antagonisms, and (subsequently) the creation of a state which is expected to resolve class antagonisms...

'Liberty in the workplace' is a dead letter.



1. Morris, 'Useful Work Versus Useless Toil,' News From Nowhere and other writings, Penguin Classics, p. 305.

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