The Problem of Production
In my recent piece “Is Anarchy Left Wing?” I attempted to recognize that anarchism, life without rulers, existed long before dead white men coined the term. The left wing is a wing of capital, and cannot remove itself from capital. Rather than abolish work and production, leftist wish to merely reorganize them. To them, producing for “the people” is much preferable to producing for capitalists. Leftists believe that by restructuring and renaming certain aspects of work, it can be made tolerable, or even enjoyable! Frederick Engels wished to “abolish competition and replace it with association.” Peter Kropotkin used the railways of his time as an example of the benefits of association…
“The railway net of Europe—a confederation of so many scores of separate societies—and the direct transport of passengers and merchandise over so many lines which were built independently and federated together, without even so much as a Central Board of European Railways, is a most striking instance of what is already done by mere agreement.”
Those who still cling to production refuse to see the true coerciveness of capital. Workers today are literally forced to work. In the first world, they are faced with vagrancy charges and an empty stomach for not working. In the third world, they are faced with murder and starvation. In a world where people were not faced with these things, would they really choose to work?
The vast majority of work…the work that truly forms the basis of our civilization…is extremely dangerous. Kropotkin, in the same piece referenced above, mentions “those people who died by thousands in digging the tunnels,“ barely touching on the roots of the railroads he goes on to glorify. The steel and coal that powered those railroads were ripped from the earth in horrid conditions, at the cost of many lives. Even today, our industries operate at the cost of mine collapses, oil spills, and black lung. The mountains of refuse in developing countries that we “recycle” give heart disease to those who forage through them. We do not yet know if the earthquakes in our backyards are caused by fracking.
Without the ever present threat of violence or hunger, would people choose to risk their lives for production? The answer to this can be seen in the laws that the state imposes on us to prevent us from escaping capital’s grip. The laws in many places against water collection and dumpster diving make it clear that independence from the system does not come without consequences.
Besides being inherently dangerous, what is really wrong with production? Karl Marx spoke of alienated labor…
“…the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful becomes the alien world of objects which he creates over and against himself, the poorer he himself – his inner world – becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. It is the same in religion. The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. The worker puts his life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object.” -Karl Marx
When we produce things under the yoke of capital, we are selling our labor. We do not directly benefit from the things we produce, we merely get paid a wage in the hopes that these things will be sold for money to pay our wages. Those in the service industry, who do not directly produce things, are also alienated, playing the role of servants to those who come to spend their wages. Work is not growing food in your garden. It is not helping a friend build a house. Laboring for things that directly benefit yourself is not work. It is simply called living.
Work is torture…literally.
“The French word travail (and Spanish trabajo), like its English equivalent, are derived from the Latin trepaliare – to torture, to inflict suffering or agony. The word peine, meaning penalty or punishment, also is used to signify arduous labour, something accomplished with great effort. The German Arbeit suggests effort, hardship and suffering; it is cognate with the Slavonic rabota (from which English derives “robot”), a word meaning corvee, forced or serf labour. In romance languages, words from the Latin laborare have come to mean ploughing or tilling the earth, although in Italian, lavoro also means work in general. The Latin meaning was anything accomplished with difficulty and struggle.
The English “work” has an Indo-European stem werg-, via Greek ergon, meaning deed or action without punitive connotations; and Latin urgere, to press, bear down upon or compel. It is cognate with Gothic wrikan, to persecute, and Old English wrecan. Thus, in the word “work”, violence is latent, and it appears in the form wreak, when we speak of wreaking havoc or vengeance.” -Jeremy Seabrook
The Bible tells us that we should be proud of our work, because we are slaves to it.
“So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot.” -Ecclesiastes 3:22
Work, by its very definition in some languages is oppressive. It is no wonder that many traditional cultures did not even bother with such a concept.
“There was no separate word for work. Work was part of one’s kinship obligations…a means of being in touch with nature as part of a reciprocal relationship of receiving and giving back.” -Herbert A. Applebaum
Work, and its industrialized cousin, production, cannot be reformed. Even Marx, who so sharply pointed out its machinations, could not bring himself to reject it entirely…perhaps because he never really worked a day in his life…perhaps because he lived in a time already so firmly entrenched in technology and production that he could not imagine a world without it. Two hundred years later, the leftists of today hold even tighter to the machine, pointing to the Internet or 3D printing as means of liberation.
But to make computers, to make 3D printers, to make even batteries, requires people to do the type of jobs that will only be done through coercion. Slavery, in one form or another, is responsible for building and maintaining civilization. From the relatively advanced society of ancient China to the Pyramids…from the serfs of Medieval Europe to the Atlantic slave trade. We now exist as we do because of slavelike conditions in China and Africa. The very metals that make our cars and computers are dangerously dug from the ground in one continent, and shipped, in process that can take weeks, to another to be manufactured into things. In a world where we were free to provide for ourselves if we so wished, would this process still continue? Do we even have enough resources left on the planet to continue it?
At current production rates, British Petroleum estimates we have about 50 years of oil left. While we may have enough rare earth metals in the earth to make smartphones and PCs for everyone in the world, the uneven distribution of these metals means we would have to tear up large swaths of land to do so. If we didn’t have to, would we willingly destroy and drain the earth as we are doing now? Given to our own devices, what incentive is there in destruction?
Even if factories were run democratically, they would still be factories. Workers would remain workers. No amount of reformation or reorganization can change this, and it is not clear if many Leftists even want to. Take this example from near-revolutionary France in May of 1968…
“The idea that “the means of production belong to the working people” was translated to mean that the workers own the particular factory they work in. This is an extreme vulgarization. Such an interpretation would mean that the particular activity to which the wage struggle condemned someone in capitalist society is the activity to which they will be condemned when the society is transformed. What if someone who works in the auto plant wants to paint, farm, fly or do research rather than assembly line car production ? A revolution would mean that workers, at that moment, would go all over the society, and it is doubtful that many of them would return to the particular car factory that capitalism had condemned them to work in.” -Fredy Perlman
Anyone that wishes to change society in any meaningful way must see production for what it really is…humans being coerced by machinery and distanced from themselves…pillaging the environment and being distanced from nature.
“In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.” -Bob Black