Why socialism? Because of Wednesdays.

by on April 2, 2009 · 17 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Labor, Organizing, War and Peace

Watching the clock under capitalism: Dali-inspired melting clock / e-potpourri.

Editor: The Ocean Beach Peoples Ragthe OB Rag – originally got its name, in part, from the Austin, Texas, underground newspaper The Rag – which flourished in the sixties and seventies.  Not too long ago, the folks who used to publish The Rag went online – like us – and rekindled the ol’ underground into a blog: The Rag Blog. On occasion, we repost their articles that seem interesting, like this one, which is a reminder that only in this country (and certain dictatorships), is the word “socialism” a “bad” word.

By Keith Joseph / The Rag Blog / April 1, 2009

Socialism is once again up for discussion, so I thought it was time to propose an answer to the question: why socialism? And my answer is: Wednesday. What is Wednesday? Wednesday — or as my old man used to call it: hump-day — is the third day in the work-week. Once you get through Wednesday, only two more days to go until the weekend. What is the weekend? The weekend is real life — the work-week is its interruption. Work is what we do when we are not alive, when we stick our necks into the machine and the vampires suck our life for profit.

On Wednesday mornings I wake up and think: “What day is it? It’s Wednesday. Oh, I’m halfway there.” Halfway to where? To the weekend, yes, but also more importantly, even if less obviously, halfway to celebrating the waste of my life, the waste of five beautiful days that cannot be gotten back so I can say on Friday with a foolish grin “TGIF.”

I first noticed the horror of work under capitalism when I finished celebrating the end of high school. On the last day of high school I thought like some kind of an idiot, “I will never have to get up this early again.” The memory of the alarm clock, my mother screeching my name as I ignored the alarm clock — it still makes me shudder — weighed on me, and I thought it was really over. Little did I know it had only just begun.

I painted houses after high school and worked my way through college and kept painting houses for a few years after I graduated college. I remember the feeling of sacrilege, of wasting something beautiful, holy, and irreplaceable as I sweated outside on ladders of various heights to earn a day’s pay ($60 a day at the beginning, when I finally quit painting I was making $140): I am trading a perfect day, in the perfectly healthy body of a twenty year old for $60. I will never have this day again and I certainly will never be able to buy it for $60. It is priceless and I sell it for $60. What kind of fool am I?

I still sell my days. The horror of it isn’t so biting. That is really how we are desensitized. Not through violence on TV but by our willingness to sell our days, our weeks, our months and our years — our lives for a mess of porridge and a plasma TV. Individual resistance is futile, revolution is necessary — the slow long process of dismantling capitalist social relationships and the horror of wasting lives for the profit of a few.

My daughter is only six years old — already she is in training. Every weekday morning she wakes up and gets ready for school and my wife or I drop her off on our way to work. She asked me the other day, “How long do I have to do this for?” (get up every morning and go to school). I answered her, “Honestly, it never ends. After school you have to go to work. They let you retire just after your body starts falling apart, just before you are about to die.” I tell her the truth so she will understand why socialism is necessary.

Socialism is necessary because work under capitalism is a life-sapping process that also infiltrates our lives outside of work. The most basic level of experience — our relationships to ourselves and others — is corrupted by capitalist social relationships. Marx covered some of this ground in his rightly celebrated 1844 Manuscripts (also known as the Paris Manuscripts). He explains that human beings are alienated in four main ways: from each other; from their own possibilities; from their activity at work, and from the result or product of their labor. Marx’s text is full of rich insights and each form of alienation has the possibility of sustained discussion. Indeed, plenty of ink has been spilt analyzing these texts.

I only want to add that work is drudgery because it is organized under capitalistic social relations. Our jobs are not to make, produce, or create anything; our job is to produce surplus value (surplus value is the source of all forms of capitalists’ income: profit; rent; and interest). As a head of U.S. Steel once boasted, “The job of US Steel is not making steel, it is making money.” And our job is to make money for one capitalist enterprise or another. But this is not the only way to organize work. The hatred that most of us feel for work under capitalism is not a hatred for work in general. Indeed, work under different conditions can be challenging, interesting, fun, creative and self-fulfilling.

One of the things that makes Marx’s 1844 manuscripts so fascinating is his discussion of work as the vehicle for self-realization. Work can actually become the opportunity to not only discover your self but to create your self and develop humanity as a whole at the same time.

One example used by Marx is the development of human senses through work. Musicians, for instance, not only create music but develop the human ability to hear –work holds the possibility to create not only objects outside of ourselves but the creation of ourselves. Many of us have had this sort of experience outside of capitalist work relations. For instance, I enjoy writing. It is not only an opportunity to put ideas on paper, but it also allows for the creation of the ideas. The work develops the self and its capacities and the finished product is then a way to understand ourselves and the world more deeply. But writing as a job would be quite different in most cases. I wouldn’t choose my topics, I would have to write in a style that conforms to someone else’s expectations, and I would have an artificial deadline — when, what, and how I write, under capitalism, would be dictated by another.

This is one reason many people don’t enjoy writing, because the process is learned in school settings that are very much intended to mimic, as training, the conditions faced by workers (the whole point of education under capitalism is to produce willing and able workers, i.e., people with skills capital needs and people who are willing to work under exploitative conditions enforced by illegitimate authority. You learn to accept authority and hierarchy as the norm — “Go to the principal’s office” — and you learn to have your most intimate activities dictated by outside forces, i.e., when to wake up, when to eat, when to use the bathroom, and when to go home).

When I tell someone I worked as a house painter they often will respond: “I like painting.” I answer, “That’s because you never did it for a living.” When you paint a room in your apartment or house, it is your own freely chosen activity. You determine when, how, and why the work will be done and you keep the product (the painted room) of your labor. This is non-alienated work. One way to know the difference between alienated and non-alienated work is through your experience of time. Alienated work is when you watch the clock with unimaginable longing: “Is it lunch time yet?” “Is it time to go home yet?” You don’t watch the clock when you are performing non-alienated labor, and time seems to pass quicker than usual. The surprising thing is that not only is non-alienated work far more enjoyable and fulfilling, it is ultimately “more productive.” You can get far more work done in non-alienated settings.

Under capitalism non-alienated labor, whether playing music, programming, painting, writing, or laying brick happens in between “work,” on the weekends (if we are lucky enough to have weekends off) or in the evenings (if we are working the first shift), but one of the main objectives of socialism is to transform work so that it is no longer the interruption of life but instead the activity that makes life most interesting and fulfilling.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Molly April 3, 2009 at 7:47 am

Very interesting. You’re brave to print it – risking turning off your ‘local’ readers. I’m glad you guys did “print” it – because you’re right, ‘socialism’ is a nasty, despicable term that we have learned to ignore, misunderstand, and hate. Why? because we are the most capitalistic country in the world. Capitalists hate socialists, period. So, in a capitalistic society like this one, we’re trained – in school, at work, at the dinner table, to hate socialists and socialism. The capitalists don’t want us to understand socialism and that hairy guy Marx, because then we just might figure out why capitalism is all screwed up.

But don’t break out the champagne yet, my budding socialists. In fact, socialists have been predicting the fall of capitalism for … what – a century and half? Capitalism is very resilient.

And don’t forget, there is an American brand of socialism. It is very democratic, very from-the-ground-up view, and it is very anti-greed, anti-inequality. Before World War I, it wasn’t necessarily a dirty word yet.

These European governments and politicians who call themselves ‘socialists’ are not – really. Those countries that call themselves ‘socialist’ or even – OMG – can’t even say the word without shivers of fear and trembling – ‘communist’ – are not really.

True ‘communism’ is the absence of government – that is NOT what they had in the Soviet Union, and of course, that is not what they had in Eastern Europe, in Albania, for instance, and is NOT what they’ve got in China today.

From what I know about the history of the OB Rag, it was part of the New Left of the sixties, a perspective that rejected the old left of the Soviet Union, of China, etc. The New Left was/is totally democratic, grassroots, against authoritarianism of any kind, anti-racist, anti-sexist. That seems to be what the people of the OB RAg were/are, am I right?

Anyhow, you guys are brave to post stuff like this. It makes us thimkk. Even if you don’t like or agree with socialism, it’s important to understand it – the concept, the ideas – which this article helps to lay out. Thanks.

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avatar nunya April 3, 2009 at 9:45 am

For some reason this article reminded me of this article by William Pfaff.

Global Capitalism: The Suicide Version

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20090324_global_capitalism_the_suicide_version/?ln

…The free market originated in 19th century Britain in what is called by historians the Great Transformation. As the English political philosopher John Gray describes it in “False Dawn,” a prophetic book (in 1998) on the destructive effects of globalization, that transformation tore from their local roots the economic markets that since medieval times and before had been tied to communities, and had evolved through the needs and adaptations of those communities and their immediate neighbors.

Because of their origins, these markets were constrained by the need to maintain social cohesion. In mid-Victorian England, in part because of the development of transportation and communications, these community-rooted markets—“embedded in society and subject to many kinds of regulation and restraint”—were destroyed.

They were replaced by deregulated markets that ignored social and communitarian constraints, and functioned only according to the rules that suited themselves. Because of their inter-communication and interaction, they no longer set prices according to what the farmer, artisan and community could bear. The free market created a new economy in which the prices of all goods, including labor—or, probably one should say, labor above all—were set or changed without regard to the effects upon local society. Welcome to the world of capitalism “red in tooth and claw.”…

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avatar Shawn Conrad April 3, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Try going to school to make more that $140 a day. I find most people that relish the thought of socialism are those that cannot compete with capitalists like me.

So get back on your ladder and get my house painted before I get one of the gentlemen standing outside of Home Depot to do it for half price.

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avatar Frank Gormlie April 3, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Shawn – you’re not a capitalist, dude, you’re a wage-slave; you sell yourself daily. A worker, going to school, to become a highly-paid worker.

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avatar Shawn Conrad April 6, 2009 at 10:23 am

Frank,

Even if I agreed with that, which I don’t, I at least am not sitting around crying about the handouts I don’t get.

I am an indentured servant, sure, but I do not need anyone, especially the government, to get me through life. I am fine with trading 8 hours of my day to support all of hte wonderful things I get to see and do as a direct result of my wage-slaving.

Now I am going to go outside and decide if I should take the motorcycle or the Corvette to go have sex with my hot girlfriend.

Hippies…you petered out in the late 60s early 70s, and don’t have the time or energy to start a new revolution.

So very sad…

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avatar Frank Gormlie April 6, 2009 at 10:57 am

Oh Shawn. Sounds like you’re a libertarian, si? The less government the better?

That was Ronald Reagan’s mantra, all the while building up the defense department and police agencies.

If it was left up to the capitalists, they would rather you work 12 hours a day, no Sat’s off; they’d feed cocaine to the younger workers, I mean the younger ones, Shawn, not you, you know the ones around 8 to 12 years old. And if there was an accident at work, too bad, sorry, there’s plenty of other workers ready to take your cubicle or seat or pair of shoes.

And at lunch, if you got poisoned by some food you bought from a sketchy food cart, sorry, that’s tough luck. And if you had to go to the restroom, sorry, wait for the end of work.

If you’re chatting with fellow workers about improving the conditions, you’re fired! No unions here.

In fact, for real efficiency, your boss would simply keep your check, and then mark off your expenses for the food and clothes you purchased at the company store, and for your rent for staying in the company shack.

This was all reality for workers at the turn of the 20th century, before working people forced government to regulate employers, numbers of hours per day worked, food, ages of workers, other conditions.

You’re standing on the heads of millions of indentured servants who came before you, and who paved the way for you to enjoy your motorcycle, corvette and non-hippie lifestyle.

And the hippies helped you too, but that’s another story.

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avatar Frank Gormlie April 6, 2009 at 11:00 am

O, Shawn, I forgot, your parents were hippies!

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avatar Shawn Conrad April 6, 2009 at 11:09 am

You win Frank. Let me know when you all get things straightened out in corporate America.

Thanks

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avatar Shawn Conrad April 6, 2009 at 11:13 am

Frank,

My parents were bikers. Well, my Mom was, but I never met good old dad before he dies a few years ago. I would say he was more of a trucker than a hippie or biker.

Regardless, their ideals are far from mine. Any of my family that were hippies are still stuck in Johnstown so my experience with hippies centers around failure to even get out west.

You will also have to excuse me if I do not find you an expert on working in general.

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avatar Frank Gormlie April 6, 2009 at 11:35 am

ha ha ha. gee, go ahead, and have a laugh at my expense.

ya can’t get away from hippies,dude. You’re surrounded. We have you on all sides.

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avatar Shawn Conrad April 6, 2009 at 11:57 am

I know I am surrounded. I can hear the excited ideas slowly tapering off into dreams of what could have been through the blue, cloudy haze.

Rent and expenses are slowly chipping away at the numbers though.

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avatar Frank Gormlie April 6, 2009 at 12:09 pm

t’would be good to see ya dude sometime soon

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avatar Shawn Conrad April 6, 2009 at 12:14 pm

When I cannot get you to go east 100 feet to see me, what’s a wage-slave to do? We’ll be over there all day Sunday celebrating rabbits that were crucified by the Italians for laying eggs.

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avatar Frank Gormlie April 6, 2009 at 12:27 pm

“Sunday celebrating rabbits that were crucified by the Italians for laying eggs.”

got a good laugh outta that one

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avatar Dave Gilbert April 6, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Nice thread!

At the risk of over simplifying the differences between the right & left I’ve found that most right wingers are more concerned about themselves and their immediate family while Lefties are more concerned about the bigger picture i.e., what can I do to make this a better world for myself, family and neighbor.

As an independent and a moderate I walk the down the center of those beliefs knowing that each side has valid points. Maybe growing up and coming of age during the Woodstock era could constitute me as a Hippie, but those ideals will always be here just like the idea that’s what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine will be always be here too.

I work for myself because I know that nobody is going to give me a handout nor I would never want one, but I also know that not everyone has their “stuff” together so I’m glad there are programs to help my fellow man. If I want to personally help out a homeless person for example that’s my prerogative. If not, that’s my choice too…but how is a simple hello and a smile to a homeless person really going to cost me anything?

What goes around comes around isn’t just about Karma, it’s also about our collective beliefs about classes and “isms” as well. Good ideas will always prevail no matter what party you may be affiliated with.

Just my 2 cents

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avatar Benny Teller April 23, 2009 at 10:59 am

You missed April Fool’s Day by a day. This was still a good laugh though. Thanks! :)

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avatar Benny Teller April 23, 2009 at 11:02 am

OHH I take that back…one of the dates says April 1st…SORRY!

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