- Capitalism and Alternatives -


Posted by: Barry Stoller ( Utopia 2000 ) on September 27, 1999 at 01:25:27:

One of the weak points of current socialist discourse, I believe, is the concentration upon exploitation (wages) instead of alienation (work choice). In the industrialized nations, after all, even poverty is affluent compared to many other nations. When critics of socialism insist that the Western working class has 'never had it good,' of course they are wrong---the early 1970s still represents the relative high point of working class struggle in terms of material concessions---but they are nonetheless making a valid observation: the Western working class does have its automobiles, TV, fast food, clothing, etc., and these acquisitions---as time has shown---petition a great deal of loyalty to current power relations.

A fertile field for agitation in relatively developed, affluent nations, I believe, is alienation. Indeed, I believe that our 'you can have it all' culture is even hospitable to such an approach. Many people, especially young people, who currently work 'menial,' 'dead end' jobs (in the service industry) cope day to day on the notion that, eventually, they will 'better' their prospects through continued education, promotion, etc. I think these people would agree that 'shit' jobs are reprehensible. What remains to be done is to demonstrate to them that such jobs are 1) more ubiquitous than perceived, 2) vital to the capitalist mode of production, and 3) assigned to the overwhelming majority of workers regardless of efforts to escape them.

Some statistics: Only 25% of American jobs require any level of skill above a high school education.(1) Only 23% of Americans earn (i.e. are able to purchase) a B.A. or above. Talk about a planned economy! Consider, as well, the recent publicity given to Wonderlic 'I.Q.' tests that demand low levels of educational aptitude for most available jobs.(3)

One solution is to smash the social division of labor and allow each individual not only an education but an opportunity to participate in some of the more interesting work that society produces. This, obviously, would be greatly facilitated by a transformation of our consumerist way of living that necessitates such 'menial' work (such as private restaurants instead of public dining halls). A rotation of labor would certainly recommend widespread reconsideration of many jobs presently being performed. Perhaps, as Owen proposed, the young would perform the more physical tasks, then 'graduate' into the managerial positions as they got older (and wiser), thus insuring everyone a chance to participate in skilled work.

Is this contrary to Marxist theory? Recall these famous lines of Engels:

It is true that, to the mode of thought of the educated classes..., it must seem monstrous that in time to come there will no longer be any professional porters or architects, and that the man who for half an hour gives instruction as an architect will also push a barrow for a a period, until his activity as an architect is once again required. It is a fine sort of socialism which perpetuates the professional porter! (4)

Of course, I expect this to go over with only the 75% of Americans who statistically possess no chance of ever performing any 'challenging' work. That simple majority is good enough for me.

1. Business Week, 28 November 1994, p. 34.
2. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1996, table 243, p. 160.
3. 'Wonderlic's president, Charles F. Wonderlic Jr., said variations of the 12-minute [!] test used in New London have been given to 125 million people since his grandfather founded the company in 1937. Mr. Wonderlic said hundreds of employers have used his suggested maximum scores to exclude overly qualified applicants for positions where creativity could be a detriment.' (New York Times, 19 September, 1999, sec. A, p. 3.) This test certainly substantiates Vance Packardís claim that '[the] work of some clerical people is so routinized, dull, and easily learned that people are often chosen for their special capacity to endure boredom.' (The Status Seekers, David McKay Co., 1959, p. 34.) This 'special capacity' is presumably nothing more than American public schooling.
4. Engels, Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science, International, [1894] 1935, pp. 228-9.

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