Amid the chilly October weather, comrades gathered atop the informally christened Red (and Black) Hill at Barnsdall Art Park to discuss Wages of Labor, the first section of Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. In this first section, Marx lays bare the exploitation at the root of the capitalist system. Capitalism at its foundation is unhappiness and the capitalist class must avoid worker organization at all costs. The discussion between the attendants was varied, with divergent tendencies coming apparent as the topics went their course.
Austerity and the public sector
The verdict is in: the cuts are coming. Of course, this is not too much of a surprise for anyone who has kept themselves abreast of the steady drumbeat emanating from the obfuscationist bourgeois press. The drumbeat of austerity tells us that we need to batten the hatches, make sacrifices, and persevere in the tough times that are unavoidable. Only through our collective effort, the frantic bourgeoisie counsel us, can we pull ourselves out of this quagmire. This seductive rhetoric conceals the true root of the crisis: capitalism and its defenders. With each austerity edict, the genuflected cronies of the ruling class, the unions and their leftist allies, echo their masters’ declarations. The ruling class and its allies will use any measure deception and deflection to hide its role in the crisis and bring the working class back into the cross hairs.
A recent, and especially disgusting, illumination of their depravity is expressed in the twisting of the Bell scandal to further bludgeon the working class into submission. The Bell scandal, itself caused by flagrant ruling class chauvinism, has become the watchword for the cuts facing public sector workers today. The effects of the scandal are carefully deflected away from its true perpetrators and towards the proletariat. The bourgeoisie know no morality, as they expose public sector workers to attack under the pretense of “transparency.” In few places is this more stunningly expressed as in the recent round of cuts facing Los Angeles city workers.
In response to the Bell scandal, LA City Controller Wendy Greuel posted the salaries of LA city employees. The vicious nature of the cuts expose themselves, as Greuel speaks the venom of austerity’s justification: “This is an important step to provide greater transparency and openness in how taxpayer dollars are spent.” Knowing full well the perception that city employees traditionally earn more than their private sector equivalents, it’s no wonder the city jumped on the opportunity to further justify cuts which it has been pursuing for months. Neighboring cities have also followed suit.
The race to the bottom has begun!
In the face of the onslaught, what is a proletarian to do?
After a lengthy discussion the depth of capitalist crisis, of which austerity becomes a stunning necessity whatever faction of the ruling class has power, a comrade at the meeting asked the age old question What is to be done? With the depth and extraordinary character of the crisis staring down the working class at every avenue—threatening our very livelihoods with the frightening clamor of economic destitution—how does one resist in the face of such a beast? The discussion turned towards the role of lifestyle in resisting capitalism. Is a radical lifestyle necessarily part of resisting the domination of capitalism? Here, the discussion was split between two broadly delineated camps.
On one side, the viewpoint was that there is no free time, as it were, within capitalism. Everything is necessarily framed within the confines of Marx’s concept of socially necessary labor time, or, the time needed for workers to recuperate their labor power after a day at work. The creative power harvested by capitalists, through the extraction of surplus value, is not inexhaustible. The workers must be given a certain timeframe to recover from their toils. Free time fulfills this function and it stems from this that the entire existence of the proletariat is necessarily either subservience to capitalism or a resistance to it. Capitalism cannot be ignored.
The other side held a dissenting view; that what one does in their free time is not necessarily defined by where they work or what their bosses want. In this time, away from the rigmarole of wage slavery, one is able to oppose their economic condition by engaging in activities which foster a sense of self-sufficiency; such as home grown food and other DIY projects. Does not an independent, determined drive towards self-sufficiency lay the seeds of capitalism’s demise?
These disagreements were not completely reconciled, but the comradely discussion that ensued provided a clarification of where agreements were to be found: whatever the role of lifestyle in resisting capitalism, there is the risk that these lifestyle options, while engaging the creative powers drained out of us by capitalism, could serve a cathartic function. If one has their gardening collective, in which they manage to reclaim a smidgen of their humanity wrested away by brutal economic exploitation, the risk of not seeing the need, or urgency, of furthering the communist project–the connections of local struggles one may be engaged in with the global resistance to capitalism–becomes a very real danger.