Class, conscience and precariat

Image: Paweł L.


Modern workers in the service sectors are not a “new” class in the making, but fractions of the working class



This article is based on a certain correlation between the “end of work” and the “conscience” of the modern salaried worker. It starts from the principle that the so-called Precariat does not constitute a new class consciousness and that, therefore, modern workers in the service sectors, financial services and social organizations, even if they are organized and even if they are present in social movements, are not a “new” class in formation, but fractions of the working class.

As such, they are part of what Hardt and Negri called the “crowd”, auspiciously as “the authentic productive force of our social world” (2001, p. 71). Coming out of the advanced stage of capitalism, much like intellectual capital, these workers have the right to social recognition regardless of what their salaried activity is, however, their organization and representation, which goes through the social movement, is the same as that of other salaried workers, suffering of the same “fetishes” and “repressions” imposed in the development process of capitalism.

Operaismo-Cognitivo[I] by Toni Negri and Michael Hardt (2001) leads us to think about the possibility of situating technological-scientific capitalism as the one in which these precarious and unemployed workers, through their mobilization, carry forward the struggle to overcome capitalism. However, it seems premature to say that “we are already sliding smoothly towards a post-value society”, as stated by Anselm Jappe, from the Crítica do Valor school[ii], referring to the current of Operaismo-Cognitivo as “blessed optimism” (2019, p.225). Because for this there has to be a departure from “abstract work” and the “fetishes” of commodities and money, or, in other words, a “reconformation” of the subject form constituted from the production of goods-commodities and services- commodities in such terms as capital applied to labor requires.

The distancing, or the disengagement imposed early on by the general process of development of technological-scientific productive forces in human doing, is a reality that no school or current today manages to deny or obstruct. But if this reality is indisputable for the “available working time”, making it gigantic, it is not, in any way, a conscious reality for the “crowds”, especially when they are still in the “defensive struggle” for rights according to the mechanisms formal structures and juridical-political organisms present in contemporary neoliberalism. And this is something that is not always adequately questioned in the guidelines of movements and organization, often beardless, of the Precariat and the peripheral crowds and/or excluded from the capitalist system and private reproduction for capital. How then to understand the precarious proletariat, its role and what is its class-for-itself situation in the face of capital?

The Precariat is neither a “new” class nor a “class in formation”. The Precariat, that is, the proletariat in precarious working conditions, was born where the conditions of exploitation of labor were always precarious and deteriorated in order to make possible the regime of private accumulation of capital. This regime has its continuation regarding contemporary precarious conditions, in which new jobs for capital workers deteriorate significantly in the face of the intense adaptation of information technologies and Artificial Intelligence – AI, as in the case of the application economy (APPS).

In this sense, it can be said that work is of the precarious type, a specific modality, therefore, of the new conditions of jobs and the conditions of the workers employed in them, salaried or not. Such is the dynamics and form of contemporary precarious work, that the authors began to use Precariat as a concept that refers to this new reality of employment and current work. Thus, it can be said that the Precariat is now made precarious by current technical or scientific conditions and new work relationships.

This article will not dwell on the obvious distinctions between countries that are more or less developed from an economic, technical or scientific point of view. We are interested here in exploring the increase in available working time and unemployment in relation to the production of goods and value, in general, and the relationship between the new workers of capital and their organization of struggle based on the production of their consciousness of class in the contemporary world of work. For example, the General Law of Value that we use here, we use it as a trend and not in an absolute, unilinear or equal way for all countries with different stages of development of capitalism.

But, in any case, we consider that for all of them and their different moments, the regime of accumulation for capital can only happen by permanently revolutionizing the productive forces, and based on their constant improvement, and competition, the current precariousness and unemployment it is inevitable and unstoppable for millions of workers around the world. The “abysmal” impacts of this reality on free market economies must be subjected to careful evaluation by the theory of social movements, the consciousness of the masses and their struggles.

In general, the commodity production system has exhausted the extraction of surplus value (surplus value) from salaried work in the same way as it did through the contractual relationship of capital workers. The Precariat exists under the conditions given by the need for capital accumulation amidst this inexorable depletion of the production of exchange values. The precarious precariat is the working class in the time of transition from real productive capital to fictitious financial capital (DUMÉNIL; LÉVY, 2014). The groups of precarious workers in the contemporary world do not differ, for example, from the workers of the beginning of the XNUMXth century, regarding the brutalization and expropriation of the workforce and the inhuman and undignified conditions of work in the factories, both from a material/technical point of view. as immaterial/psychic.

Clearly, therefore, it is not the precarious, even demeaning, current hiring and job security conditions of today's wage earners, their disqualification, or very simple qualification for service activities, activities without "status" or weakly associative, that authorizes us to think of them as an “emerging class” or “in formation” as suggested by Guy Standing: “This book deals with a new group in the world, a class in formation” (STANDING, 2014, p.9). And there is no way to specifically distinguish these wage earners from capital, the Precariat, as bearers of more or less potential qualities regarding the formation of a self-consciousness. In other words, the difficulty that, at the present time, there are almost insurmountable obstacles regarding the constitution of a new class based on consciousness-for-itself, is more related to the structure of the work itself than to simple collective formations or associative initiatives.

Even the sociological idea that social classes are “remade” (THOMPSON, 2012), and the idea that this happens and is happening in “border struggles” around the world, where social movements and the Precariat fit in, then, it is not enough to deduce that the formation of a “new” consciousness and a “new” class consciousness develops (subjectively) outside certain objective conditions of the development of a productive mode like that of capital.

Thompson's formulation in this regard concerns the struggle of the salaried classes in England from 1780 to 1832, therefore it deals with the very formation of a conscience that only very gradually constitutes itself as a class-for-itself. This class consciousness, however, is concretely solidified in the workers' struggles against capital, the latter as the adversary and enemy of the workers. This struggle involved for many decades changes in strategies against capital – direct confrontation, struggle for rights, emergence of unionism – together with theoretical variations of ideology and defensive or offensive practices of the working class.


Social classes in capitalism

For historical materialism,[iii] a class is defined by the agent's position in the “social relation” of material production. Thus, in the capitalist mode of production, the (contractual) relationship is one of inequality between the owners of the means and forms of production and the wage earners who only own their workforce. These are the two fundamental social classes, capitalists and salaried workers, around which all immediate productive social organization unfolds and, by derivation, all social relations, from production to the most general ones. This means that there are other social classes, for example, landowners and peasants, and rentiers who live on income (in this case, financiers and clergymen do not differ in terms of their social productive position).

But these other classes are not the fundamental ones, that is, they do not specifically define the relationship of domination around which the most essential contradictions of the class struggle and, therefore, the motor of history, develop. In the most acute moments of the class struggle, these “secondary” classes transit and necessarily position themselves on the side of one of the fundamental classes, capitalist or workers.

The so-called “middle class” is a generic concept used to group individuals from the most diverse classes and social strata, whose identity and location are difficult to define and treat, but which is useful for designating a group of workers, mostly wage earners. better remunerated by capital, with substantial wages and benefits that provide them with a much better life than most factory workers, or unskilled and unemployed proletarians.

In this way, the term “middle class” ended up referring to the pattern of consumption and monetary wealth of individuals, having nothing to do, therefore, with the sociological definition of historical materialism, originally defined by Marxian thought as the ownership or not of the means of production[iv]. Some authors relate the “middle class” with the power of penetration and some decision they have in certain moments of social life, such as party-political arrangements (FRASER, 2019) or the role of top management, for example, in controlling the financial system (DUMENIL; LÉVY, 2014).

At the end of the 1939th century, groups that did not own the means of production were scarce, as the differences between social classes were visible and striking: apart from the owners, there were workers who lived with very low wages in conditions of degrading misery, or the poor without steady job, living in inhumane conditions. With the development of industrial society, and mainly from the end of the Second World War (1945-1981), the development of commerce and its internationalization, and the expansion of the service and office sector grew exponentially, making the “class” appear. average” in a prosperity arrangement in the capitalist system known as the “Welfare State” (BRAVERMAN, XNUMX).

The Industrial Revolution, with the development of the chemical industry, electricity, oil and steel, which modernized factories, means of transport and communications, from the end of the 1850th century (1960) to the middle of the 1980th century (XNUMX), it was not the final stage in the development of the means and forms of commodity production. Shortly after the end of the Great War, electronic processing and remote transmission of data raised the level of production and work automation and started a third revolution, that of information technology, profoundly changing people's lives from XNUMX in the most developed countries, extending to the most remote corners of the Planet, in Asia, the Americas, Eastern Europe and Africa. We are still living this tree, the third wave of the Computer-based Industrial Revolution.

With it began the most intense and enormous revolution in the means of work, in processes and in the allocation of labor, a transformation so brutal that it displaced the workforce from factories to services, from services to mass unemployment, with migrations continents of manufacturing plants, investments and people (CASTELLS, 1999). The result was, and still is for the working class, the replacement of its labor power by machines. This was followed by the development of software, which, together with the machines, gave autonomy and operative expansiveness without the need for a worker (already known as the fourth wave of the industrial revolution, or 4.0, which highlights the flexibility and productive adaptation of robots). Even in the service and leisure sector, the profound transformation of the informational means, with the Internet, has displaced multitudes of wage earners to unemployment while at the same time demanding a handful of qualified operators and executives.

However, the contradictory nature of the valorization process establishes a constant attempt by capital to become independent of the workforce as a fundamental strategy to reduce production costs. It was seen that the essential formula of this strategy is to make dead work predominate over living work. According to the previous analysis, it is this inversion that gives rise to the phenomenon of reification of living work (sic). In the context of intensive production of information technologies, this formula happens through the metamorphosis of the cognate of the worker into a factor of production that, once coagulated in the machinery, becomes dead labor (data and/or software). This transformation is achieved through the codification of worker know-how and, therefore, it can be said that it marks what Freyssenet (Michel Freyssenet, The capitalist division of labor) considers a fourth stage of the capitalist division of labor since it has a direct impact on its technical division. (WOLFF, 2015, p. 103).

That was how the wage earners of capital, mainly the working class, saw their dream of prosperity quickly disappear. For the first time since the bourgeois project had created capitalism, the promises of general well-being through industrialization and the production of goods for the masses proved to be flawed, unfeasible, more than that, paradoxically incapable of resolving their “self-phagic” mutilation. ”. Hence, not only the current nonconformity of individuals, the emergence of social movements that seek recognition and employment, but the growing certainty that the solution can only come by overcoming the capitalist model of social reproduction itself.

The emergence, however, of the precarious Precariat is directly related to Marx's General Law of Capitalist Accumulation (The capital, v.1, chap. 23) and the Law of the Falling Rate of Profit (The capital, v.3, section III), as it explains why, necessarily, the capitalist mode of production is not only a system of inequality and exploitation, but a system that excludes the workforce. This means that the commodity production system under the regime of private capital accumulation is more than contradictory, but paradoxical, because thanks to the “law of competition” it achieves the “feat” of transforming living labor (work force that generates real wealth) into dead labor (machines and productive technology that cannot generate real wealth).


The general law of capitalist accumulation and value

Class struggle is itself the engine of history since societies of value established some kind of “status” or hierarchy with non-equivalent distribution of wealth and power. Capitalism is the modern mode of production in the immediate, economic productive organization of such societies. The class struggle takes place through the techno-scientific engine of structural transformation, “through it, beyond it”, and thereby revolutionizes the social superstructure from Antiquity to the present day.[v] Social revolutions require the confrontation of antagonistic class interests, but their existence does not lead inexorably to the most advanced stages of social struggle and revolution, even if they are in the formation of their hard core or “disruption unit” (ALTHUSSER, 2015).

In other words, there is no revolution without struggles between classes, but these “permanent” struggles do not necessarily and immediately, and in a systemic way, transform into a revolution in the structural relations of production, unless an “accumulation of contradictions”, starting with the introduction of colossal productive forces in contradiction with established contractual labor relations. The new legal guidelines for the flexibility of the hiring of labor approved today are not “simple” perversions of capital in relation to the exploitation of salaried work, but also a consequence of the technological transformations of automation and systems in the production plants and the circulation of goods with clear damage to male and female workers.

Class struggle still remains in human societies accelerating the process of social development in all dimensions (political, legal, cultural, philosophical and religious) for a long time after a revolution: “Obviously, this task is by no means purely ideological or pedagogical. . A new type of relationships requires the creation and consolidation of a new material and economic base” (PACHUKANIS, 2017, p.192).

But the modes of production, one could say, moved by their social productive forces, by applied science and technology, once appropriated as “institutions” of the reproduction of value, can only follow and reinforce the general laws that are their own. In the capitalist mode of production, the reproduction of value is given as a function of the general regime of private capital accumulation. In this case, the production of goods is the way proposed for the recomposition, at the same time, of foodstuffs/goods, and of the final capital, money, produced in accordance with the general laws of that regime. Exploited human labor is the wealth-producing instrument, to whose exploitation other ideological forms of the social superstructure contribute secondarily, such as law, the State and culture, in this case as “idolatry” to work under the conditions of capital appreciation.

This set of economic and social elements, dialectically intertwined, determined and overdetermined, is expressed in terms of the political economy that Marx developed inThe capital, and in part of Grundrisse: economic writings of 1857-1858 (Outlines of the critique of political economy), and as an inevitable unfolding of the specific functioning of the capitalist mode of production. For it, we draw, in broad strokes, the following summary:

  1. The maximum orientation of the capitalist system of production is the private accumulation of social wealth (to be converted into money), socially produced by human labor power;
  2. It is only possible to exploit the workforce, and private appropriation in whole or in part of this general wealth, through a contract (formal legal instrument) that relates, in a situation of real inequality, face to face, employers and employees;
  3. This real inequality, contractually consubstantiated, attributes to the capitalist bosses the ownership of all the wealth produced by workers who are remunerated in the form of a salary stipulated for working time;
  4. The difference between the value of all the wealth appropriated by capitalists and the wages paid to workers is really and effectively "profit", or surplus value (this is easier to measure in commodity production than in service activities). services);
  5. All social wealth, thus initially produced and distributed, is economically dismembered in the other exchanges and payments of society, and can then have a real relationship as commodities that are randomly realized in exchanges and transformed into promised money (capital in the form of stock of products, eg) in real money (the non-real part of the bourgeois economy is composed of interest on loans (fictitious) and speculation (virtual));
  6. However, the idea of ​​the free market, if it is favorable to establishing workers' wages far below the value contained in the goods (the difference is the “profit”), is unfavorable for a capitalist to offer them at the price freely arbitrated by him;
  7. But for this to happen, for this disadvantage to limit the sale prices of goods, there must necessarily be “competition”, many producers/sellers of the same or similar goods;
  8. What, then, is the great aim of every capitalist? Defeat your competitors, get a monopoly on your productive activities;
  9. In order to defeat competitors, each capitalist is forced to constantly redesign his production plant and work processes, always seeking the minimum possible amount of investment in variable capital, labor (live labor), through the application of technologies (living labor). dead) new in production, logistics and management processes;
  10. For the working class, this comes down, sooner or later, to this replacement of workers by machines and advanced scientific processes, therefore, by the disregard of living work due to dead work, in the worst that could happen to it: (a) immediate decrease in their wages; (b) disqualification; (c) unemployment; (d) despondency.

From here the modern proletariat is born, in the midst of the precariousness of the proletariat, the precarious proletariat, the Precariat. The process is practically endless, apart from some moments of inflection, such as lack of credit, economic stagnation, formal restrictions on the formation of monopolies and trusts, legislative intervention in capital enterprises, legislation conquered by workers, lack of qualified labor. But these moments are quickly overcome by the effect of competition and the eagerness to accumulate capital, and the cycle of monopolization returns, seeking to destroy other producers.

However, for workers, even if against their will, the entire systemic process of capital reproduction represents the precariousness of their workforce and the impoverishment of their living conditions. Whether due to the flattening of wages, the modalities of fixed-term work, or unemployment, there is an incontinent growth in “available” or “free” working time, with severe consequences for the world of work and for capitalism.

Marx stated that (2011, p. 587-594): “The exchange of living labor for objectified labor, ie, the positing of social labor in the form of opposition between capital and wage labor, is the last development of the value relation and the value-based production. […] As soon as labor in its immediate form ceases to be the great source of wealth, labor time ceases, and must cease to be its measure, and, in consequence, exchange value ceases to be [the measure] of use-value. The surplus labor of the masses ceases to be a condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labor of a few ceases to be the condition for the development of the general powers of the human brain. […] Free time, which is both leisure time and time for higher activities, naturally transforms its owner into another subject, and it is even as this other subject that he then enters the production process”.

This poses, after all, the adjacent discussion, perhaps the most important, even essential, if the contemporary debates around the Precariat have deepened on the “emancipation” of man made impossible by the historical reproduction of capital. If it cannot come to represent a worrying deviation from this first, and “ultimate” purpose of Marx and other Marxists, the insistence on looking for a “new class”, even “in formation”, etc., on looking in the Precariat for a “ class consciousness”, etc., as if Dialectical Historical Materialism allowed something similar to “fetishes” (HOLLOWAY , 2003).


Consciousness-for-itself / class-for-itself

The basis for the workers' awareness starts from the concrete conditions of exploitation of the workforce and private accumulation by the bosses of the result generated as general social wealth, concrete conditions that are inherent to the processes of immediate material production, objective organization of production in terms of real contractual inequality, for example, between employers and employees. The associative difficulties for the awareness of the salaried working classes have always been enormous and have depended largely on the incessant and strenuous work of the intelligentsia militant. The lack of a productive organism of concentration of the worker, such as the factory, the lack of a factory organization, given by the owner capitalist, the lack of “status” or, as now, the fluidity in the inexistence of an organization chart of the productive activity, and of a very flexible timetable lead to a new modulation of capital-work relations, typical of these precarious modalities, but not to the formation of a “new class”.

The objective conditions of organization of the current precarious groups are identical, in this case, with those of salaried workers in other activities: this can be seen in the deterioration of the conquests of labor and security rights, in the flexibilization of employment contracts, in the long and exhausting working hours, the reduction of wages, the immediate imminence of unemployment. But as for the other part, the lack of a manufacturing plant, and the fixing of their position in the organization chart, they live a reality quite different from the other workers. But we can therefore state that, in the face of such objective conditions, “the precarious is a class-in-the-making, if not yet a class-for-itself, in the Marxist sense of the term”, as Guy Standing states (2014, p. 23)?

As a whole, the exposed conditions are contemporary, in them capital establishes the continuity of its advanced reproduction, obeying, by necessity, the technical or scientific transformations of work, in all sectors of the economy, and the imperious monopolization and concentration of capital, behind profit and the unequal and perverse distribution of general social wealth: “Science is the last – and after work the most important – social property to become an auxiliary of capital” (BRAVERMAN, 1981, p. 138). The evil is immense. Precarious production and service workers legitimately try to organize themselves, much like in the past, encouraged and organized by their same objective conditions of exploitation, and with the help of some external support from the intelligentsia and class organizations.

But even so, it is reckless to predict the power of persuasion with their bosses, which weighs, however, a fighting force that often comes from some awareness of society in general (“crowd” for Hradt & Negri, 2001), such as are the objective conditions of exploitation and indignity to which these workers are subjected in the new modalities of the tertiary sector[vi]. But, most of the time, the claim is either for labor rights (“defensive”, as in Althusser, 2013), or for the fulfillment of human rights advocated by the Constitutions of the countries, as in the case of Brazil (maintaining the “status ” neoliberal constitutional).

Historical materialism establishes the objective conditions that bring about revolutions. These objective conditions are concretely given in the modes of material production, which are a certain form of social organization with a view to supplying the necessities of life for human survival. History is the history of organization and social relations in process, of contradictions and “dialectical” struggles of men. The modes of material production change in history, from precarious conditions to more developed conditions according to the most advanced technical and scientific productive forces – barter mode of production, slave mode of production, feudal mode of production, capitalist mode of production. Therefore, the objective conditions, not the subjective ones, must be sought from the productive material organization as it concretely occurs in a determined historical time.

Consciousness-for-itself or class-for-itself is the first subjective condition to be extracted from the objective conditions of material production. Individuals, wage workers of capital, subjected to such objective conditions of mercantile production, need to go beyond the individual, primary stage of their submission and expropriation, of consciousness-in-itself, and reach consciousness-for-self or class-for-self. -si. The call “Proletarians of all Countries, unite!” (MARX; ENGELS, s/d, v.1, p. 47), concerns both the union for the fight against the bosses, and the collective recognition of the proletarians, who as such, suffer from the same exploitation of their workforce and expropriation of the wealth they produce.

It is not by chance that the authors of the “Manifesto” wrote “proletarians”. Previous factory production brought together thousands of workers in factories and manufacturing conglomerates. This brought them closer, made them aware of their equal conditions of domination to the capitalists, as well as the immediate observation of the conditions of concrete misery in which they lived. This reality, therefore, these objective conditions of internal association, essential for the departure from the state of individualism to that of spontaneous organization, and later, political organization, resistance and struggle against the capitalist class, this reality, although overwhelmingly present and intense in the factory production throughout the XNUMXth century, until the mid-XNUMXth century, was still very present in factories until the beginning of the XNUMXst century, mainly in peripheral countries, less technologically developed. But in recent decades this has changed, even for these.

Consciousness-for-self is the moment when such conditions of concrete work become objectified in the consciousness of salaried workers. This depends on a complexity of social factors, but, ultimately, on the objective conditions of immediate work and the social relations of production (ENGELS, s/d, v.3). Then, externally, the representative organizations of the working class (Union, Parties) and progressive institutions (Intellectuals, Artists, Young People) of society in general are articulated, which work in a more or less integrated way to carry forward the revolutionary movement.

With all this, it is to be expected that the ideological dimensions that make up the social superstructure – cultural form, legal form, political form – intervene, and may overdetermine, yesterday as today, and in many ways, the directions and possibilities, both of the constitution of this subjective condition of consciousness-for-itself, removing it or distorting it despite objective concrete conditions, such as the very practices and tactics of confronting capital and the revolutionary apex: “the various elements of the superstructure act and react on each other , produce a myriad of effects. These effects are comparable to an infinity of accidents (their number is infinite, and their intimate connection is so distant and therefore so difficult to know as to be insignificant) through which “the economic movement” makes its way. These effects are accidents, the economic movement is the necessity, their necessity”. (ALTHUSSER, 2015, p.93).


Final considerations

Since the late 1980s, which corresponds to the post-Fordist period of production, the inescapable cycle of capital reproduction has been established globally with the endorsement of neoliberal governments. For the salaried workers of capital, what remained was the exchange of their professions for other less specialized ones, outside of the training and vocational investment chosen, total current precariousness of work in unhealthy activities, immense working hours, work on demand, for a determined time, without registration or with employment records that do not guarantee current and future social security benefits. When not, they are left with unemployment and extreme poverty, with no prospect of the future for millions of young and elderly individuals.

This is the Precariat, the modern precarious proletariat, launched in the modern forms of salaried work. This is the working class today. It is joined by the unemployed, the disqualified, the discouraged, those who will not even be included in the statistics of informal economically active people, a veritable “crowd” of the unprotected and marginalized, largely even invisible to the biopolitics of the States, such as non-regular foreigners. , indigenous peoples, indigenous populations and peasants.

In terms of organization, the objective conditions for the class struggle are partly present: exploitation and the inhumanity of relations between capital and work are present. But the associative, spontaneous and political conditions are precarious, due to the dispersion of wage earners and their professional categories, since the fight for rights is in itself “defensive”. Given the conditions of precariousness and exploitation of the workforce in the tertiary sector, the prepositions of confrontation and struggles are encouraged.

But, at least until now, in urban and peasant social movements, thinking about (working) class consciousness is as distant as the reasons for their struggles, as diverse as sexual freedom, family farming, or employability. And that is why such salaried groups or cultural movements have not yet demonstrated the real possibility of a revolution in customs, values ​​and laws, or capable of paving the way for a radical change to a new way of producing, doing, owning, enjoying for others. beyond commodity production and the regime of property and private accumulation. Nothing indicates that there is currently effectiveness in the fight for a minimum agenda that is far from consumption and life “fetishized” by the “royalty” of goods, and much of cultural goods. How to bet on the “crowd” of unemployed, precarious and excluded people?

Consciousness is always constituted in or through the production of commodities, it “circulates” in a general way in the social superstructure, predicts the paradigms and limits of sociability, and returns to it. This consciousness is “alienated” as it is given by “abstract work”[vii], even when individuals are removed from the objective conditions of management at the command of capital over their power-to-do, this awareness does not escape ideologically and practically from the difficulties for the revolutionary struggle. The subjective condition of self-consciousness or class-consciousness behaves like an “immaterial commodity” insofar as it conforms to capital and its global reproduction.

However, it is an insurmountable fact that there is a new reality: the same conditions that empty consciousness-for-self with the “end of work” in the factory continue to make “available work time” available, and with that millions of individuals compulsorily free themselves from of “abstract work” and other “fetishized” conditions in which capitalism reproduces itself. But they still haven't gotten rid of the commodity form, of capitalist mercantilism, if not so much by production, at least by the objective and subjective conditions - which have nothing to do in principle with those of association, even though association is always essential to the formation of consciousness - in-itself and consciousness-for-itself – of their circulation and exchange (PACHUKANIS, 2017).

The problem of the “fetish” of goods remains because socially individuals still relate to each other for their exchanges, and for them, and, thus, remain with the same psychic structure of work in the molds of capital reproduction. For example, active workers receive money as salary payment, and the rest, who no longer have remuneration in the form of a salary, also receive some kind of “universal remuneration” in money – this immediately refers to the same ways in which the relationship mercantile society submits labor to capital. And without ever realizing that in parallel there must be real human labor that produces the value of the same commodities, that the money they receive is only a part of the wealth generated by this labor, and what the money accomplishes is the exchange of quantum of this work crystallized in the goods they buy and sell, that is, value translated into goods under certain social, legal, political, cultural relations.

It is money, more or less linked to real production, which is exchanged for commodities and, in this way, apparently realizes the social wealth contained in them (even when the bulk of the capital that produces them is fixed capital, machines), apparently recreates the accumulation private in money (even when productive capital based on “machinery does not create any value, but transfers its own value to the product, for whose production it serves.”) (MARX, 2013, p. 460), and reproduces the validity of the relationship symbolically through salaried work (even when this is less essential). Here, the ideology of the dominant class, through its legal, political and cultural form, acts in a general way only in the consolidation and validity of the “fetishes” of the commodity as a natural value at the level of the capitalist subjectivity of the masses, insofar as they move away from “abstract work”. ” and increase in “available working time”.

For Cognitive-Operaism, the masses (Holloway, 2003), the “crowd” (Hardt & Negri, 2001) is the answer to overcoming the world of capital, because the transformation of work into fixed capital (the automated machine), the new organic formation of productive capital, leads to the “end of work”, and in the end produces a significant global pauperization incompatible with the wealth generated, thus providing the disalienation of “abstract work”, consequently, of the “fetish” of goods, of money and its accumulation, in his view, already constituting the overcoming of mercantile “value”, as far as “universal remuneration” is disassociated from merely economic or immediate work.

For others, however, what the insertion of technologies for automation in production creates is a sequence of neuroses that are increasingly verified in destructive social practices (suicide, serial killer) which as a whole coined “cannibalism” (JAPPE, 2019; KURZ, 2010). This process of capital, by always reversing itself into machinery and other technosciences, assumes for this current, that of the Critical Theory of Value, an important meaning insofar as it cheapens the value of goods by gradually reducing the real value of goods and services in contradiction with the increase in circulating money and its accumulation – money loses its real value, reproduces itself more and more as fictitious (interest) and virtual (speculative) capital. It is in this sense that the authors of the “criticism of value” understand “abstract work”, not only as a psychic or spiritual “alienation” of the worker, arising from the usurpation of the forces of production, but as the definition in abstracto e ad infinitum of which labor value of each commodity, since market exchanges take place around the average value of several makers for various works that make up the “exchange value”.

However, it is this “uncertainty” that relates the social agents in their different jobs and their different productivity when they meet randomly through goods, provided that this work-value is real, that is, performed by the worker's work force, the which has long distanced itself from the circulating value in paper currency, money which thus becomes increasingly fictitious and speculative.

Clearly, the two currents complement each other, but while Cognitive-Operaism sees in productive technologies the removal of “abstract work” and with it the possibility of alienating the human from the “fetishes” of goods and money to overcome the model of capital, the “criticism of value” bets on the contradiction of the process by providing for the degradation of the value of things in relation to the ever-increasing generation of money. That is, the scientific technification of productive work and the way in which capital invests in it to the detriment of living work that generates value and social wealth, from this last point of view, does not seem to affect the consciousness of individuals at all, even when removed from the production of goods. goods. In this sense, the supporters of the “critical theory of value” affirm the ever-increasing wave of crises of “value” in the reproduction of capital; but this does not completely extinguish the struggle of precarious salaried workers and other multicultural groups, also because, in every way, it is man who makes and remakes, at the same time, politics and the economy.

However, unless man frees himself from the fiction arbitrated by the capitalist social relationship and rescues for him what is human and universal, apart from and beyond the objective and ideological mechanisms of the alienation of know-how that were stolen from him, he will be able to acquire the awareness of the real totality and to make the necessary break with all “fetishized” forms in particular. Marx said that (2010, p. 54): “But human emancipation will only be fully realized when the real individual man has recovered the abstract citizen for himself and has become a generic entity as an individual man” in his practical life, of work , in affective relationships, and “no more separating social force from oneself in the form of political force”.

The approximate network mechanisms, the virtual interrelational space, and the occupation of public spaces, must serve for social movements to produce struggles with the precarious mobilized concretely in the objective conditions of their activities. It is necessary to unite generic ecological awareness with the demands of the world of work, unite recognition of minorities with workers. The fight is anti-capitalist for the construction of an affective and creative life for the realization of the free potential of all individuals.[viii]

*José Manuel de Sacadura Rocha He holds a PhD in Education, Art and Cultural History from Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie. Author, among other books, of Legal anthropology: towards an anthropological philosophy of law (Elsevier).



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[I] “The cognitive operaist school thinks about the impacts of automation, information technologies, including portable ones, industrial automation, robotization, and artificial intelligence, and wonders about the impacts of these technologies and science on human beings. social movements of “mass” (“mass” is the term used by Holloway (2003) instead of “crowd” by Negri and Hardt (2006)), and the struggles to confront the system as established. (ROCHA, 2022).

[ii] “This school is critical of the centrality of work and class struggle today: this is not what leads to overcoming the current social organization. Value in our market societies “creates” crises and tends to take capitalism to another phase; but the crises are seen as arising from the principles by which the capital accumulation regime and its modes of regulation guide market mechanisms, no longer maintaining a direct relationship with the political practice of class struggle, unlike tradition.” (ROCHA, 2022).

[iii] Compliant The German Ideology [1845-1846]: MARX; ENGELS, 2007.

[iv] For the sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), the concept of class is not restricted only to the position in economic production, owners or not of the production forces, but the combination of status, wealth and power capable of providing them with possession of material goods and symbolic. Thus, the “middle class” could be the one that, even though not owning the means of production, and being salaried, would have conditions of wealth and social well-being similar to capitalist owners. In this case, Marx and Engels (The German Ideology [1846], 2007) had said that the conscience of individuals accompanies the reality of their material life, and therefore, a subject earning income and living with abundance would tend to reproduce the conscience of the bourgeois class, even if he is effectively a wage earner and belongs to to the working class (dispossessed of ownership of the productive forces, etc.).

[v] “Until today, the history of all societies that have existed until our days [written history] has been the history of class struggles.”. In the 1888 edition, Engels added a note in which he stated that when the "Manifesto" was written in 1847, pre-written social organization was practically unknown, and that, therefore, they considered society to be written. (MARX; ENGELS, undated, p. 21).

[vi] The Service Sector Economic Activity Indexes (PMI/Markit) for some of the main countries, in May 2021, are: USA – 70,1%; Australia – 61,2%; Russia – 57,5%; France – 56,6%; Euro Zone – 55,2%; China – 55,1%; Italy – 53,1%; Germany – 52,8%; Brazil – 48,3%; Japan – 46,5%; India – 46,4%. (

[vii] Dialectically, concomitantly, through the usurpation of means and forms of work, specialization, partition, standardization in factory molds take place, on the one hand, therefore, immediate material “alienation” of know-how and power-to-do, as in Holloway (2003), which is even psychic in terms of the realization of the makers, at the macro social level “alienation” is culturally reinforced by political, legal and cultural strata (educational/philosophical/religious), that is, “alienation” spiritual because of the dominant ideology or hegemony (GRAMSCI, 1984).

[viii] This article was partially published under the name “The Precariat Is Not a “New Class” in: Emblemas – Journal of the Academic Unit of History and Social Sciences – UFCAT. emblems, v. 18, no. 2, 92 – 102, Jul. - ten. 2021. For the present edition, the article was revised and expanded according to subsequent suggestions and comments.

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