Rethinking Anarchism

Obsolete Lenin
October 14, 2009, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I have four jobs- two in the fast food industry, one in a large multinational clothing retailer, and another as a substitute teacher. On my way to work today, I was thinking about the different flavors of alienation I have to look forward to. First, I will have to “manage” classrooms of children for eight hours. I have to follow a lesson plan set out by another teacher and approved by the state. But despite the drawbacks, teaching will be the easiestand best-paying job I will do all week. I will get several breaks, including a full paid hour for lunch. I can use the computer while at work. In fact, I’m writing this while on the clock right now.

After my day of substitute teaching, I’ll head to a fast food restaurant for a second full shift. At the restaurant, I’ll work on an assembly line, closely monitored and supervised by management, unable to answer my phone and confined to a ten-sq. foot area for eight hours. I will be physically and emotionally exhausted by the time I get home at the end of the day.

It seems to me that each of these types of work will give rise to different kinds of demands stemming from the particular nature of the alienation workers in each industry confront. Fast food workers are alienated at an intellectual level and a physical level. We have to produce emotion and feeling on the demand for customers. In addition, our bodies are put to work, our motions Taylorized down to the last twitch.

Teachers face a much more subtle alienation. Teachers are forced to “teach to tests” and stick to state-sanctioned curriculum. They are alienated from the students they teach, who confront them as alien objects that must be controlled and somehow brought to reproduce state-sanctioned knowledge. The alienation of teachers is primarily at an intellectual level.

Lenin claimed that socialist consciousness would have to come to the working class from outside because workers would only be able to advance to “trade union” consciousness, making “economistic” demands on their own. However, I think there is a tendency for the demands of workers to become more inherently “political” and less “economistic” as capitalism advances. How can a teacher make a demand without calling into question the legitimacy of the state’s plan?

I believe all workers should organize. However, I think it is worth noting that as workers refuse to perform the most alienating types of labor or as technology makes these jobs obsolete, most workers will face circumstances that are alienating on a more intellectual than physical level. As capitalism advances, every demand will be a demand for workers power, since every demand will be a refusal of capital’s right to manage the social factory. Similarly, as capitalism seeks to manage its crisis, the power of the state has become increasingly interwoven with the power of the bosses on the shop floor. The economic has become political, the political has become economic. Lenin is obsolete.


6 Comments so far
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i really like this post. curious to know what you make of this –

“(…) in jobs with a repetitive content (telemarking, cleaning, textile workshops), the subjective implication with the task performed is zero and this leads to forms of conflict of pure refusal: generalized absenteeism, dropout-ism, sabotage… In telemarketing, for example, absenteeism is the number one problem for the departments of human resources, which rack their brains in search of strategies to deal with it: from the relocation to the old colonies of the mother firm (Marruecos and Argentina in the case of Spanish firms) to the contracting of more blackmailed subjects (women heads of household between 40 and 50 years of age) or the attempt to inculcate loyalty among the workforce, changing telemarketing to one of the branches of professional education. On the other hand, in jobs where the content is of the vocational/professional type (from nursing to informatics, to social work to research) and, as such, the subjective implication with the task performed is high, conflict is expressed as critique: of the organization of labor, of the logic that articulates it, of the ends toward which it is structured… This can be seen very clearly in the mobilizations of nurses in France in the 90s, in the present struggles of the intermittents in the media also in France or in the free software impelled by programmers all over the world in the face of the logic of proprietary software of the big corporations. Finally, in those jobs where the content is directly invisibilized and/or stigmatized (the most paradigmatic examples are cleaning work, home care, and sexual work, especially – but not only – street prostitution), conflict manifests as a demand for dignity and the recognition of the social value of what is done. “Fucking, fucking it’s a service to the community” chant the whores of Montera street in their demonstrations against the constant police harrassment and the criminalizing plans of the mayor of the city of Madrid. (…)”

Comment by n8

Thanks, Nate! That quote is awesome. That’s pretty much what I was trying to get at.

I think the big question is whether political leadership of the working class in likely to accrue to the more-implicated sectors than the more alienated sectors. What are the possibilities for articulating a politics of the most alienated workers?

Another interesting reference for this stuff is Sergio Bologna’s piece on the origins of council communism, which basically says that the councilism was a movement of the skilled workers in Germany focusing on a more rational system of production, excluding the “mass” workers from participation. The “skilled” workers were also the base for social democracy in Germany.

On the other hand, there is the “Other” workers movement discussed by Karl Heinz-Roth in “The Other Workers Movement in Germany.” He claims that there was a movement of mass workers that expressed itself in more insurrectionary, violent ways.

All of this is interesting in considering contemporary debate about the Precariat, a working class subject currently without autonomous political expression.

Comment by Erik

Wow, your six, short paragraph personal essay detailing your extensive work history did an excellent job refuting a whole school of thought. I can see you did an amazing out of historical research and immersion in modern marxist-leninist parties and am greatful for all the time you spent writing it.

Comment by When is it to be done?

yeah, you’re right. i’m just a stupid worker. what right do i have to draw on my personal work experiences to criticize theories of working class revolution? i should probably just leave it to the professional revolutionaries, since they have the time to do an amazing amount of historical research, unburdened as they are with the trouble of working for a living.

Comment by rethinkinganarchism

i’m glad i’ve helped you to realize that your bland generalities are just that. but please don’t think that you are stupid when you are only misled, or that we admit no professional revolutionaries in our cadres, when we only admit workers.

Comment by When is it to be done?

oh, the workers aren’t stupid, just misled? once you get out of grad school, we’ll be streaming into the ranks of your vanguard party to fight and die under the leadership of your genius.

Comment by rethinkinganarchism

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