The limits of capital and human life

Image: Cottombro


The irrationality of the capitalist model and the new cleavage of the working class

“The situation of the working class is the real basis, it is the starting point of all social movements of our time because it is at once the maximum expression and the most visible manifestation of our social misery” (Engels, F. The situation of the working class in England).

In the history of capitalism, from its classic characteristics to the present day, changes in the profile of the workforce reflect the capitalist production processes implemented by the logic of capital, which moves imperturbably and uncontrollably. Within this dynamic, the social relationship between work and the working class, in its most varied forms, has always existed as living objects and activities in full formal and real subsumption to capital and its imperatives of profit and accumulation in the productive process.

The logic of this relationship, that is, between capital and work, can only exist when the first (dead capital) sucks the living nature of the second (living work); it is death dominating and commanding life that operates to transform use value into exchange value, from the concrete to the abstract, from a particular purpose to a generic purpose of valorization, to obtain profit and accumulation on a social, collective and global scale as an insatiable and limitless expansion process. Worse still, within this immanent dialectic of capital, the imperative forces that govern its transformations do not exclude either the extermination of human beings and all forms of life in nature through processes seen as “normal” and naturalized by the dominant ideology when this alternative if necessary to guarantee the macabre logic of capital's autophagy in its moments of deep crisis.

Wars, colonizations, the increase in poverty, the extermination of black youth, immigrants and the proliferation of hunger and disease in various parts of the world are not accidental, they are part of genocides programmed to maintain the undisturbed process of the logic of accumulation of capital, which consists of turning money into more money, no matter how many lives are needed to guarantee its realization.

In this structure, the social relationship of production, which promotes real values, is the material productive form and has undergone mutations that directly impact productive and unproductive activity, since they merge and feed each other - even if the productive, material dimension continue to prevail in the real formation of added value. In effect, we are now facing a conversion of all forms of work, and even of life – in the most varied aspects of the human condition – to exercise the function of profit and accumulation.

In this sense, Karl Marx in The capital it is us floorplans, observes that work produces not only a product that has “use value, but a commodity, not only use value, but value and not only value, but also surplus value” (Marx, 1983a, p.155). In other words, for Marx, productive work in general is that which creates values ​​directly in the process of material production, but which also includes work (services) that contributes indirectly to the process of value creation. This trend, already observed by Marx at the end of the 2018th century, with industrialization in Europe, when the introduction of machinery and automation in productive activities increases, assumes, in the Fordist and post-Fordist period, greater clarity during the increase in the interaction of unproductive activities (services in general aimed at generating exchange values) with labor activities related to the production of goods. And, nowadays, as authors such as Antunes (2019, 2009), Tosel (1995) and Lolkine (XNUMX) observe, this relationship grows more and more in the production chains that end up, finally, being subordinated to the commodity form during production total social capital.

Supported by the analyzes developed by Marx, it is possible to locate this preview that identifies an expansion of the law of value in spheres of activities previously considered unproductive and outside the direct process of value creation located in the productive sector. In his discoveries, he does not miss the fact that there was a general tendency throughout the productive sphere of the capitalist world, a dynamic of productive relations that expanded the forms of appropriation of work, to generate values ​​beyond productive activities; a fact that crowned a logic of the most brutal expropriation of wealth (values), produced by workers, not only in the industrial productive sector, but also in services, which suffer a profound proletarianization that, in many cases, approaches the forms of work found during the industrial revolution of the XNUMXth and early XNUMXth centuries.

This phenomenon expresses the way in which capital seeks to respond to its crisis, flexibly and in all sectors, including the sphere of work, which is the main structuring dimension of the system and society founded on work in its money-commodity form. . And, as it is not faced with any serious political and social threat to the system, capital and its bourgeois representation, installed in the institutions of the current order, distort all legal orders of social work relations and create various forms of relations and contracts of employment. work as a global trend throughout the capitalist world. Outsourcing and precariousness are advancing irreversibly in all service sectors and industry, even reaching middle-class workers linked more to intellectual and cognitive activities, such as lawyers, doctors, teachers, programmers, bankers, etc.

All of this became necessary to re-establish and reinforce the hegemony of capital and bourgeois rule, with the economic policy of “austerity” which implied a reduction in social spending, diminishing the role of the State in regulating economic activity, deepening privatizations and , consequently, generating the weakening of the unions through the increase in the unemployment rate and the limitation of the political margins and freedom of action of the organizations of the working classes.

Thus, capital, in an unappealable way, starts to create complex domains of proletarianization of the working class formed by sectors of services, incorporating both segments from the popular and middle classes. These, as well as industrial workers, have been stripped of their social rights, salary advantages, stability and protection from the State in the field of health, education and housing. Such impacts on workers configure a superexploitation of the workforce and the complete subsumption of social work and life to capital. This is a demonstration that capital no longer accepts making concessions to work and the working class, restricting their profits in the way that occurred in the post-World War II period and social-democratic governments in the formation of welfare states. social, oriented by economic policies based on the matrices of Keynesian thought.

Both at the time of the XNUMXth century, in the industrial centers of Europe, particularly in England, and today, the system and the ruling class continue to be responsible not only for the terrible working conditions, but also for the degradation of living conditions. These days, it is clear that all this misery of living conditions leads to death, unemployment, hunger and homeless conditions; in addition to the development of several diseases that proliferate with a horizon without the possibility of control in sight, in the short and medium term. It is a scenario of a devastating offensive by capital, through neoliberal policies and ideologies, which scrap public health and cause privatization of all natural resources and institutions linked to the State.

In this way, capital and the greed of its business and bourgeois agents, which continue to be the driving force of capitalism in crisis, no longer hide their objectives and the contradictory logic that moves rationally and irrationally to obtain profits and accumulation. . Everything is naked, wide open, without pretense, which reaches from the great imperialist centers to the periphery. The actions and policies imposed go straight to the point, profit above all, including life and death; this is the irrationality of the capitalist model of production. Therefore, it is not a question of a dichotomy between capital and life because, in this system, the dialectical unity of its development is subordinated to its form of reproduction, where the reason for being and existing of the human being only makes sense and is justified in the its status as a creator of capital value, whether through service activities or industrial labor in the production process.

The current crisis, not created, but detonated and revealed by the coronavirus and its variants, makes clear the contempt and insignificance that the worker, the human being and life represent for the greed of the business community, which is not intimidated, even in the face of thousands of bodies that are thrown into the graves without ceremonies and accompaniment of their relatives. Our indignation and revolt must be manifested as a separate action, because we need to denounce and characterize this inhuman reality as a phenomenon intrinsic to its essence, to the logic of the system itself, which cannot be fixed – the inhuman dimension is part of its very nature. nature. After all, in periods marked by the deepening of the crisis, low expansion or decline in profit rates, the bourgeoisie does not hesitate to throw workers and their families into more miserable living conditions, to increase repression in the face of revolts and protests in order to to enforce economic, social and political measures to restore their profit margins.

Faced with this situation of the living conditions of those who live from work, capitalist production generates a series of unavoidable social contradictions. On the one hand, the system creates a set of technological diversifications in which its highest stage reaches 5G, artificial intelligence, supersonic energy, quantum physics, chips, etc. Advances that become new bases of international competition fierce in monopolized capitalist markets and, instead of having a positive impact on the working and living conditions of the direct producers of these conquests, huge portions of the working classes are pushed towards the precariousness of labor relations in situations of worsening living conditions for the majority of the working population.

In this context, millions of people are inserted into work on digital platforms such as Ifood, Rappi, Call Centers, telemarketing and Uber, masked by ideologies of “free work”, but which, deep down – with extensive and intensive workdays to more than 12 hours – is just overexploitation of workers who are now left to their own devices, without stability, protection and rights.

It is through this path that the bourgeoisie and the irrationality of the capitalist system, in a structural crisis, find space to extract profits at any cost and counteract the determining factors of their crisis. At the same time, it acts by trying to cover up this logic of organization of social life and production relations, making people believe that there is no other alternative, that is, another form of social organization of life and work.

Now, returning to the problematic of the determinations of productive restructuring and forms of work organization for the extraction of surplus value and its implications on the mutations of the working class and its struggles, we can reaffirm that workers (men-women) – expropriated of the means of production – who live off work to survive, regardless of existing mutations, continue their subsumption to capital, which has also been deepened and expanded. For this reason, the meaning of work has not disappeared, it does not represent a “new class of precariat”, as many imagine, on the contrary, both work and the working class have become more complex within several existing cleavages that have intensified, impacting working-class setting. For this very reason, work continues to exist as a good captured by capital, which sets it in motion to generate value in the surplus-value-producing relationship, within the structure of the production process.

In this sense, what we need to understand and identify is the subjectivity and way of being, of symbolic representations and perceptions of this new cleavage of the working class, its forms of rebellion, resistance and struggles; open spaces for union organizations for their manifestations and claims, without intending to domesticate them or institutionalize their struggles in the vertical union bureaucracy and, par excellence, sexist and conservative in its scale of values ​​and in terms of ideas referring to lifestyle and human relations .

This problem is aggravated by the fact that more than 60% of the working class, in various parts of the world, are in the informal sector and, in several nations, whether in the capitalist centers or on the periphery, this percentage is even greater and tends to increase. to grow. In the Brazilian case, in view of the process of deindustrialization and the primarization of the economy, informal and precarious work relationships grow unavoidably. And, as a result of these mutations in labor relations, with their new characteristics, another significant and relevant element to be considered by union organizations, their forms of organization and struggle, is the vertiginous growth of the female and young workforce, without experience of union and organizational struggle, but full of impetus, curiosities and “free” for the struggle.

In this way, the new reality imposes on unions and associations of all kinds to carry out simultaneous struggles, referring to immediate and economic issues, social and broader political struggles that affect not only workers, but also the majority of the population and the survival of humanity. . It is necessary to assume struggle flags not only referring to the work itself, but also to the environmental issue, the health and sanitation conditions of the working population's living spaces, the anti-racist and anti-sexist struggle as vital and essential issues within society patriarchal, verticalized, hierarchically centralized and dominated by social prejudices and stigmatizations, historically engendered within class relations and the dominant culture and ideology.

In 2018, the IBGE published research data on the social and racial profile of the working class in Brazil, which leads us to the conclusion that the union struggle in the country must be, above all, anti-racist. The data are overwhelming, blacks and browns that make up the country's black population are the majority among unemployed workers (64%) or underutilized (66%); on the other hand, along the same lines, blacks and browns make up 54,9% of the workforce and, for the most part, allocated in precarious work relationships. And, likewise, in this same level of importance, the female struggle is inserted, due to its weight in the working class as a whole, which tends to be the majority. According to IPEA (2019), the female presence in the Brazilian labor market, that is, the number of women between 17 and 70 years of age employed in the country, increased from 56,1% in 1992 to 61,6% in 2015, with a projection for reach 64,3% in the year 2030, that is, 8.2 percentage points above the rate in 1992.

Thus, it can be inferred that, currently, the female dimension in the labor market becomes predominant and, for this very reason, if we fail to correctly assimilate the importance that the gender struggle has in the struggles of the proletariat against exploitation and oppression , we will be on the margins of reality and the social conformation of gender characteristics in the process of production and reproduction of capital.

And, in the face of this crisis in the world of work, we could not fail to mention, yet, the insertion of youth in the labor market, their aspirations and what reality they are faced with and revolt, in an explosive way, in the vast majority of times, due to outside the trade unions and their organizations. With the hardship, demands and experiences that are imposed, they are unable to get into jobs at the first opportunity, and end up without the right to their first job and a fixed and stable income. They perceive the absence of opportunities, feel marginalized and end up resorting to informality, criminality and even suicide or, when not, sink into mental illness.

Indeed, the reality of the insertion of young people in the labor market today is added to the great mass of uberized workers, prisoners of a broad platformization of work, the vast majority directed to the service sectors, under the direction, control and exploitation of consolidated corporations in other countries – and on the rise in Brazil.

These changes in the world of work, formatting a new social composition of race, gender, and even generation, do not represent an emerging reality of a specific conjuncture, but the deepening of a historical colonial economic and social formation in Brazil, where the conformation of this country and the State since its inception, based on domination through hierarchization and racial oppression that has not yet been overcome; it continues with old and new modes of oppression and dispossession of black social power. In this way, our understanding of Brazilian social life and labor relations goes through the analysis of class, race and gender oppression in a consubstantiated relationship, which allows us to assimilate the concrete and specific reality of the class struggle in the country in its entirety. .

The importance of this starting point ensures that we understand that changes in the world of work in our country are mixed with practices and work relations arising from our specific social and historical formation, with the new morphology of work relations, generating greater complexity. in them, which preserve, to a certain extent, previous precarious relationships that merge with the new forms of precariousness. For this very reason, they are, above all, structural and worsen in a context of the crisis of the Brazilian economy and of the capitalist system which, through the State, justifies, legalizes and legitimizes the precariousness of old and new forms.

The labor reform and the outsourcing law, in 2016, aimed at reducing the social costs of work, to raise the rate of surplus value, approval of unrestricted outsourcing and intermittent work, generally worsening labor relations in the country, deepen the process of dismantling the social rights of workers conquered in past decades, through much struggle.

But the neoliberals and the hegemony of financial capital are not satisfied, they continue their policies of devastation of the condition of work in the capitalist world, since their intrinsic tendency is to cannibalize their own assumptions and periodically generate misery. and suffering on a massive scale. That is, the production of this reality, resulting from the ongoing crisis, is not accidental, but the objective and necessary result of the constitutive dynamics of the capitalist production system, plunged into its structural crisis.

In this way, we can understand that these changes in the world of work result from the need for capital to operate a greater flexibility in the form of accumulation, modifying various aspects of the industrial production process and service activities. This imperative need impacts work, generating a growing reduction in the stable factory proletariat and an increase in a precarious subproletariat (outsourced, subcontracted, temporary workers, etc.), which causes an increase in the number of female workers, young people and even children.

But, far from walking towards “goodbye to work” (Andre Goz), what is verified, from the central countries of capitalism to the peripheral ones, is an expansion of the work offered by those who need to sell their workforce to survive, in any way possible. manner. It is a configuration of reality, with an intense precariousness of work relations, under the heel of overexploitation, helplessness, illness and the violence implemented by the bourgeois State.

This is the reality of the working class in the 1970st century, with important mutations in its social composition, in labor relations and in its relationship with the State, assuming a new format from the XNUMXs onwards, with neoliberal policies and the hegemony of the financial capital. For this very reason, unions and social movements, in the face of these transformations, need to reinvent themselves, get in tune with the ongoing transformations, define new objectives, rethink their internal culture, their organizational and decision-making structure.

There is no longer room for a bureaucratic, verticalized unionism, par excellence, with a business and economicist vocation. It is necessary to embrace the current conditions of work and life of workers in a broader context, capable of articulating specific struggles to the political struggle demanded by the majority of the population and to the survival needs of humanity. Other than that, the only thing left is resignation to continue carrying this burden of this civilizing weight that has reached its historical limits.

Studying the particular conditions of this reality, in this new historical period of capitalist relations of production, its new and old elements of sociability, is the only possible way to know the necessary conditions to overcome the current situation of crisis of the unions and to advance in the construction of a new world, based on the emancipation of work, crushed in the subsumption of capital and its logic of production and reproduction.

Opening the future, therefore, to a new society in which life and our humanity can be worth more than profit, and that we are no longer obliged to sell our workforce to a logic external to human needs, converted into merchandise, to take place on the market. This is a real and possible dream to be pursued by the exploited and oppressed in the capitalist world.

* Eliziário Andrade is a professor of history at UNEB.


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