Tuesday, July 25, 2006

 

Andre Gorz' critique

It's easy to mock Andre Gorz' Reform and Revolution, (PDF) for starting out as follows:


THE working class will neither unite politically, nor man the barricades, for a 10 per cent rise in wages or 50,000 more council flats. In the foreseeable future there will be no crisis of European capitalism so dramatic as to drive the mass of workers to revolutionary general strikes or armed insurrection in defence of their vital interests.


coming, as it did, on the eve of perhaps the most dramatic (if not the most revolutionary) general strikes ever to hit European capitalism - the evenements of May '68. (And according to this, most workers didn't even get that 10%, let alone the 50,000 flats.)

But he says some worthwhile things in it all the same:


It becomes necessary to show that the oppression and alienation of labour accepted for the sake of liberation in non-labour can only result in alienation of consumption and leisure; that to acquire the goods for the consumption and leisure which "liberate" him from the oppression of work, the worker is led by an infernal logic to work longer and longer hours and faster and faster, to take on overtime and bonus rates to the extent that he loses all possibility, material or psychological, of any liberation whatsoever; that the man at work is the same man as the man not at work, and that the one cannot be liberated without the other; that the basic class interest of all workers is to put an end to their subordination in labour and in consumption, and to take over control of the organization and purposes of social production; that a rise in direct wages is a priority demand for an important mass of workers, but that satisfying it is insufficient to put an end to capitalist exploitation...

As long as production decisions are dominated by capital, as long as consumption, culture and life styles are dominated by bourgeois values, the only way to live better is to earn more. But if capitalist relations of production are abolished, living better will also mean working less and less intensely, adapting work to the requirements of the workers' biological and psychological equilibrium, disposing of better collective services, greater possibilities of direct communication and culture, in and out of work, for oneself and for one's children, etc.

On the other hand, the checks and limitations imposed on scientific technical and cultural development by the capitalist criterion of profitability; the sterilization of economic resources and human energies implied by the process of financial and geographical concentration; the under-utilization of human capacities and the waste of energy necessitated by the authoritarian organization of labour; the contradiction between the law of maximum returns which dominates production on the one hand, and on the other the waste constituted by a marketing policy based on continual innovations with no use value and costly "sales promotion" campaigns, etc., all these contradictions of developed capitalism are as important if the system is to be challenged as the subjects of immediately conscious discontent: they imply a critique of the capitalist life-style, of capitalist values and rationality.

...


The mass revolutionary party exercises its directive and educational functions without pretending to know in advance the answers to the questions it will raise. Not only because these answers cannot be found within the framework of the existing system, but because their research and elaboration by permanent confrontations and debates among the rank and file is par excellence the way to provoke the participation, the prise de conscience and the self-education of the workers, to give them a direct hand in the party and the society to be constructed, and to let them grasp, through their exercise of party democracy, the profoundly authoritarian and anti-democratic character of the society in which they live.

Then there's this passage, which made me think about the kind of role that could be played by the internet, and blogging in particular, in the construction of participatory, rather than merely representative, democracy:

Therefore, the destruction of the cultural monopoly of the bourgeoisie will not take place by the mass diffusion of previous cultural production. The mass diffusion of "culture" is merely the diffusion of one kind of consumption goods amongst others. Its various forms-television, cinema, paperbacks, press - are based on the centralization of communication inherent in the "mass media". In other words, the "means of mass communication" do not allow the mass of individuals to communicate one with another; on the contrary, they allow the central communication of information and cultural products to a mass of individuals which is maintained in the state of a silent, atomized mass, destined for passive consumption by the very unilateral character of this form of "communication".

The internet seems, at least potentially, a pretty decentralised mode of mass communication.


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