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#3 Emancipation of-from Labor

Alexei Penzin & antijob.nu.ru /// Dialogue No. 2: So where the hell are your classes?

The problem of class in contemporary society is one of the most common and wide-spread rebukes hurled at the Left. “Where are your classes? Show us the oppressed class, the class with that special historical potential, the class that might become a revolutionary subject!” Some of the Left’s representative will answer argumentatively, that the working class was re-dislocated in the process of the international division of labour. Others still might also say that post-industrialism has, in a certain (medial, ideological) way, displaced the theme of production, and with it, the worker, from its society of consumers. For some reason, the opponents of the Left never ask question as to the ruling class of today. Maybe this is because the answers are more than obvious: today’s heavy-weight bourgeoisie has long since lost any semblance of humility, as their appearance in the mass-media takes on the splendour of a religious ceremony. If big business marks itself so openly, opposing itself to the rest of society, its totality cannot help but produce an oppressed class. In this society, everyone belongs to the proletariat, which is separated from the upper classes by an ever-widening gulf that seems impossible to breach. Distributed unevenly, the normalizing anaesthesia of “prosperity” only serves to hide a growing class distance, which we are no capable of imagining in any clear form.

The problem of class in contemporary society is one of the most common and wide-spread rebukes hurled at the Left. “Where are your classes? Show us the oppressed class, the class with that special historical potential, the class that might become a revolutionary subject!” Some of the Left’s representative will answer argumentatively, that the working class was re-dislocated in the process of the international division of labour. Others still might also say that post-industrialism has, in a certain (medial, ideological) way, displaced the theme of production, and with it, the worker, from its society of consumers. For some reason, the opponents of the Left never ask question as to the ruling class of today. Maybe this is because the answers are more than obvious: today’s heavy-weight bourgeoisie has long since lost any semblance of humility, as their appearance in the mass-media takes on the splendour of a religious ceremony. If big business marks itself so openly, opposing itself to the rest of society, its totality cannot help but produce an oppressed class. In this society, everyone belongs to the proletariat, which is separated from the upper classes by an ever-widening gulf that seems impossible to breach. Distributed unevenly, the normalizing anaesthesia of “prosperity” only serves to hide a growing class distance, which we are no capable of imagining in any clear form.

 

Alexey Penzin (A.P.): How did your project begin? With which ideological orientations is it connected?

antijob 1: The site antijob.nm.ru is one of the projects of the group Autonomous Action, represented by the journal “Avtonom” (on the web: www.avtonom.ru ). Our ideology is more or less anarachist. When we founded Autonomous Action, we didn’t want to use the term “anarchism”, because we felt that today the word “anarchy” was a loaded term with negative connotations. The idea of antijob has been around since some time in the year 2000. We publish compromising material, which exposes companies that injure the rights of their employees. That is, somebody was hired by some company, which then let him down in some way, so now the person describes this experience and publishes it on our site. Aside from this material, our site also contains many theoretical texts, including critical theories of the capitalist system of hired labour, consumerism, the society of the spectacle etc.

A.P.: One could say that you are reaching out to a certain segment of post-Soviet reality, in which an entire stratum of small, medium and large capitalist enterprises are forming along with the apparatuses that support them, a field of companies, corporations, and offices, where relations between the employer and the employee are beyond the rules that have governed labour relationship to date.

antijob 1: Actually, we don’t focus so much on monitoring events in factories; we are more concerned with office workers. We want to get in touch with people interested in concrete problems, offering them means of resisting their specific situation, and beyond this, an introduction into our view of things in general. It’s important to form class consciousness in the milieu where there is no real understanding of the fact that everything under the sun has already been divided, so that you need to apply some kind of collective action, if you want results. It’s also necessary to prompt them as the direction of the social struggle, which is based on the clear division between our interests and the interests of the bosses.

antijob 2: It’s obvious that today’s capitalism is much more complex and much smarter than during the late 19th century / early 20th century. Of course, all of those old divisions – bourgeoisie, proletariat – are still applicable today, but today, they far better concealed, which presents us with the challenge of developing a new theory, to allow us to recognize today’s proletariat and today’s bourgeoisie.

A.P.: Let’s see if we can start to clear this up. If you accept the premises of the theory for examining post-industrialist capitalism, you could say that we now face a social formation, in which immaterial production has become increasingly important, such as the service industry, the mass-media and information technologies. At the same time, rituals of consumption are very wide-spread. The work force is distributed and divided accordingly. Even if you accept the premises of this simple model when you look toward the West, you might still wonder how analyze post-Soviet Russia? It seems to me that we see some kind of divergent, negative variation on the evolution of this form. During the last 10 years, much of the Soviet industry has been dissembled and stripped; at some point, the factories simply stopped working and their workers became society’s most problematic segment. The newly formed class of big entrepreneurs only received their capital with the wreckage of industry, making speculative use of the fact that resources were being sold for peanuts. In correspondence, a very fragile understanding of the “middle class” has emerged as a service infrastructure of big business.

antijob 2: You just used the term “middle class”. This term is one of the corner stones of contemporary liberal ideology, and nothing more.

A.P.: I agree. But how can you define the oppressed subject, the contemporary class of hired services? Is this class unified, or is it fragmented in different fractions with different interests and form of consciousness? In how far can the term “hired worker” or “employee” be applied equally to the factory worker, the office employee? Isn’t the term too general? Doesn’t it actually contain a number of completely different things?

antijob 1: The question really is very confusing and is full of propaganda elements. In contemporary texts by anarchist or radical leftwing theorists, the term “working class” actually means all hired personnel. We see any employee as a worker, regardless of whether his job is at a factory, an office, or wherever. So actually, it’s far more important to see how in fact this person feels, how he identifies himself, as a worker or as something else.

A.P.: OK, so why don’t we compare an office worker in Moscow with a worker in some failing factory, whose salary is several orders lower, who doesn’t play the game of consuming, and lives a completely different life. What do these two people actually have in common?

antijob 2: It’s still actually the same. The office worker has the same problem as the guy who slaves away in the factory, if their employer can get away with treating them like an animal with no any rights. The principle doesn’t change according to what we do or how much we earn. Both he and I are employees.

A.P.: OK. Let’s say that there’s a common class consciousness, which you would like to bring to the forefront. How would you describe the common ideological structure that could bring solidarity to the both of you, to the factory worker and the office employee?

antijob 3: For an example, both of us, he and I, can simply stop doing our job.

antijob 2: We can both exert pressure on our employers in the same way. The only difference is that it is much easier and the same time much harder for office workers to organize. It’s easier in the sense that in the office, there are only five of us, while in the factory, we would be talking about a hundred people. But then again the guys who work at the factory probably grew up in a working-class environment, so they won’t just let you fire strike-breakers without any problem. In the office, with its corporate morality of “every man for himself”, this can happen far more easily.

A.P.: In a way, one tells office workers that they should be happy with their jobs, which are extremely well-payed in comparison to other sectors of hired labour. You should be grateful that they keep you around… This is why there are no rules of the game, only money as an universal mediator, capitalism in its purest or most savage form. One could ask whether people who work at an office actually want liberation, or whether they simply yearn for regulations, like in the West, which would order the sale of their prized commodity, their highly qualified labour?

antijob 1: Today, it hardly seems likely that anybody wants anything else. But no-one really knows what will happen 5-10 years from now.

antijob 2: The employers are digging their own grave. The office-class is constantly comparing its salaries, it’s very sensitive to the smallest changes. So anyone who works in an office for miserly pay simply has to explode at some point; it’s inevitable. So because of this, there’s permanent tension. The office worker sits and waits, but up to now, he hasn’t yet punched his boss in the nose.

A.P.: Doesn’t all of this correspond to the classical Marxist view of the petit bourgeoisie? On the one hand, this social stratum has much in common with the working class. On the other hand, it has not yet proven capable of producing a clear-cut ideology of resistance, so that it tends towards conformism instead. In other words, the petit bourgeoisie aren’t really an independent class, because they diffuse and join the dominant force of the time. Today, this dominant class is the New Russian Bourgeoisie. This is they haven’t punched anyone in the nose, even if they are very tense. But tomorrow, if a worker’s movement arises, they might soon be punching.

antijob 2: Office workers are a part of the working class. It is this class and its elite that is the target of massive neo-liberal propaganda.

antijob 3: They are the aristocracy of labour, which really is afraid of losing something. In Russia, there’s also an fundamental difference: the factory workers have an extremely low degree of mobility, meaning that they work in one place for their entire lives. If you fire him, he will encounter a mass of problems. But if you fire the office worker, he will go and apply for a job in a different corporation. So maybe this is another reason for why they are socially passive…

antijob 2: I’ll say it again, with Marx. Office workers are not in control of their means of production, which means that you can understand them as workers. The proletarian is a worker who has understood that he has nothing to lose but his chains. So an office worker can actually become a proletarian, once he recognizes his situation. The class struggle takes on different forms – legal battles, sabotage, and even actions subject to criminal prosecution. These are all things that you can find in both the world of offices, and among classical factory workers.

A.P.: Have there ever been precedents for a successful self-organisation of office workers?

antijob 1: We once had this person who organized something like a union in the Russian branch of the Mars company. He started printing anonymous flyers and so on. This made everyone at the corporation paranoid; they all started suspecting one another. In the end, he was fired. Or there was also an anonymous site for McDonalds employees, which made revelations about their methods of working with personnel. The site was very successful in the press, although this didn’t change much. There is obviously a real need for new strategies for these zones of hired labour.

A.P.: It’s interesting that the variety in contemporary labour corresponds to the diversity of contemporary theories from the left. One could, for an example, posit that anarchism or autonomism and their more individualized types of resistance are actually very good for use in the office, where individualism is more highly developed anyway.

antijob 2: But actually, autonomism is actually far more well-developed as a theory. It is, in effect, a mutation of the exploitative State itself. All hierarchical structures, like political parties, are far more fragile, to the security organs, for an example. The form with the best chance for survival is the organisational principle of the matrix, a mass of cells, that can block in order to reach a common goal.

A.P.: So let’s recapitulate. Keeping in mind that all of these transitional variants and conceptualization are diffuse, they still have a certain base of conditions in common, most of all the sale of labour. Knowing this, one could formulate the question as follows: can we build the basis for a solidarity between these fragmented fraction of hired labour?

antijob 2: Exactly, fragmented, but fragmented from the outside, through propaganda. Actually, all hired labour is related from the very beginning. This is the consciousness that we need to return to hired labour.

antijob 3: Today, everything is interconnected. An office worker or programmer in Moscow can’t develop his software without the hard-disks that some worker makes in his distant factory. The products of their labour are both connected to one another from the very beginning, which already creates a strong precondition for uniting. The means of resistence could work in exactly the same way. Just as a factory worker can make defective disk drives, a programmer can write code that has a purposeful mistake that is extremely difficult to find. The main thing that unites the one with the other is knowing that the people above don’t give a shit about their employees, no matter where they work. They are being pressed out like lemons. This is why unites both Vasya from the factory and some Dima from the office.

antijob 1: Our goal is propaganda work, as well as working with concrete labour conflicts, however many parties are involved, be they two people or one hundred.

A.P.: Doesn’t this mean that it is your goal to normalize labour relationship within the framework of the existent system?

antijob 1: Of course not. In anarchist-communist theory, there is the term of revolutionary gymnastics. At the moment, we don’t have the objective conditions necessary to start a social revolution within three months. But revolutions will never be able to work if people don’t have experience in social struggle. Which is why we see these conflicts as a way of preparing people for more active means of making a difference.

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