Sunday, 28 August 2016

Letter to an unknown car valet

My fellow in irrelevance,
Millions of them. Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name them. We're going to colonize another planet.             HHGTTG
We are confronted with, or should I say, we must directly experience, what it is to be expelled from the essential proletariat. We have arrived at the point in history where mechanisation has inverted the relative significances of useful and useless toil. The reserve army of labour has become a generalised condition and no longer stands in relation to a standing or regular army of workers. Then, it falls to us, we pacified livestock kept below decks in the cargo hold of the B Ark, to consider what it is that 'unemployment' means in a situation where 'employment' has become economically superfluous. Can it be, as our senses tell us, that the subjective condition resultant of 'the abolition of work' is worse than work itself? We know of course, that the proletariat is not defined purely by those in work but by all those existing in relation to the labour process. But we also know that it is only those who are in work who have the potential to effectively refuse it. This army of shadows that we belong to has no capacity to abolish the apparatus that has already crumbled away around us - and yet we remain held in place as if we were working a 12 hour shifts. We are confronted in our state of worklessness, in the superfluity of our class, not by the adventure of our existential freedom but with the anxiety of scratching out personal survival in circumstances of material abundance, and where the refusal of work has already been anticipated and implemented, taken out of our hands, before we can effect it as the fulfilment of our subjectivity. What is it, as we are herded into the warehouse of collective uselessness, that the organising apparatus wants of us? It doesn't want our labour power, and it doesn't want us to enjoy our freedom. This state of dependency realised by our exclusion from the process by which we have up until recently ensured our reproduction, now ensures that this condition of unemployed positivity is imposed as a qualitatively distinct order of affliction.


Where the contradiction of work was fixed on the one side by the noisome transaction in which survival was ensured through agreeing to exploitation and on the other side by the potential to subjectively withdraw labour and thereby interrupt the productive process, we now find ourselves in a situation where we have lost both poles of reference. The process of our exploitation has passed beneath the threshold of any formal transaction and now operates as an environmentalised or generalised condition characterised by the domesticated catch-all of 'harvesting'. The objective denial of contracted work thereby also denies the potential for subjective withdrawal of labour. Where the distinct life phase of work is abolished, all experience is thereby reduced to work. I feel the argument around 'superfluous' and necessary labour time, and the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom, as inherited from Marx is now a bit old fashioned. I think the issue has already been resolved upon the terrain of domestication and that 'free time' is already more productive of 'value' (those units assigned significance, appropriated and materialised as infrastructure of domination) than labour. The freedom that must result from domestication is a captured 'free range' type that is determined by a machinery for optimising becoming. It is also worth noting here that even the framing of 'exploitation' (the situation beyond direct relations of domination) has lost traction and is more or less obsolete; a process of integrated optimisation does map directly onto exploitation where alienation remains a significant factor... To emerge from the domesticated environment is to encounter earth gravity after spending months in space, the effect is  inhibitive of physicality. Marx had no conception of intelligent machines, and still less of machinic seduction - but his definition of a machine as a structure that uses people (where people use tools) still stands.

Every point of contact with the environment that sustains our life is also a cannula through which something of our being is abstracted from us. Worklessness, in its starkest form, is perhaps exemplified by drug trials and the sale of organs and blood products but even this misses the insidious perpetuality of extraction which, like the fabled Native Americans, makes use of everything produced within domesticated life-world. The exploitative environment raises post-workers like livestock, directly harvesting from them those biological, relational, intelligential and affective products which it binds into its own expansion. As the process of abstraction humanises itself, humans are reduced below their previous condition of machine components to the status of organic hosts and incubators of biotechnological materials. We have ceased to function as the bearers of labour power but are transformed into a materialised form of fixed capital and congealed labour. We are no longer appendages to machines but have been transformed into machines.


Then, it is of interest to us when any creatures of the B Ark refuse labour reassignment, and take action as if they still had subjectivity, as if they still had the capacity to strike back against their environment. Over recent months, phantom antagonists have caused themselves to appear subjectively within distant localities of the productive process as if they were living through the Winter of their Discontent. It is no accident that in circumstances where the mechanisation of manufacture is accelerating and, as a consequence, living labour is reduced to a minimum input, that the most significant of recent labour disputes, where concrete work seeks to assert itself as necessary to the reproduction of abstract labour and against the systemic imperative to reduce it to a state of pure instrumentality, should have occurred in the logistics sector of the economy - that is, it is strangely not strange that class conflict should erupt precisely where labour appears at its most ineffective. Upon the terrain of the shadow economy, where all useless tasks are performed, an army of shadows, comprised of all useless beings, is on the march.


The inconsequential proletariat's refusal, its historically perverse refusal, of the expulsion of labour from the productive process, its willing embrace of work where this has become superfluous, having necessarily taken a regressive, anal-sadistic turn, might yet prove itself a veritable spanner in the works. In both repudiating and acquiescing to history's imperative of realising itself as subject and object, the shadow-proletariat commandeers the B Ark Potemkin and sets the controls for the heart of the solar anus. 


The Klenian binary good worker/bad worker drifts into the dyadic compliant worker/self-abolishing worker and initiates a biphasic erotics orchestrated around the post-production line's anal sphincter. Self-organisation becomes inseparable from the contractions and relaxations of the contradictory compulsions to both retain and expel the matter of subjectivity.
Every block has a dog shitting area to facilitate the collection of dog shit which would otherwise foul the barren pavements and asphalt. All recyclable garbage is collected and poured into the vats. Boy Scouts organise vast shit hikes to fertilize the truck farms surrounding the cities. The Great Glut
In 2015/16 a number of high profile struggles have been conducted around the nature of work and the status of labour within transport and logistics industries: the dispute at Southern Rail ostensibly revolves around a de-manning issue with subsidiary disputes concerning safety and breaking the union; London Underground drivers struck over multiple issues of safety, manning, shift/contract changes; the types of disputes at Uber and Deliveroo centred on the now-form dependency of self-employed contracted drivers (over hourly rates versus per delivery rates, around uniform, around sick and holiday pay, around the ever decreasing returns of the driver glut); the endless but unorganised conflicts in hyper-warehouses (Amazon and Sports Direct) over hours, security, washing up time, low wages, zero hours contracts, sick pay, breaks.

Historically, a certain breed of drivers were rightly perceived by organised labour as the most petit bourgeois fragment of the proletariat. There are notable exceptions, such as rail and Mail drivers but, by definition, the driver, working alone for long periods, has often proved the least socialised member of the workforce. The crisis that is experienced as their own reproduction, in a situation where drivers are amongst the most casualised of all workers, induces many to seek to stabilise their predicament by taking the option of 'self-employment'. This is a stratagem that rarely succeeds, and the relative autonomy of ownership over the means of production is more than off-set by institutionalised 'cut-throat' competition, as well as having to take on ever growing operational risks and costs. Where they have the putative legal status of business clients, drivers are reduced to mere living representations of the company brand - their predicament is set off through dependence for their operating licence on corporations that, by flooding the market with licences and expanding the driver pool, perpetually force down consumer prices whilst tightening the bonds of dependency. Independent drivers, drivers attempting to work outside of the licensing companies, do even worse.


Labour disputes at the capillary end of the logistics sector reproduce the major characteristic of the periphery itself, a condition of economic marginality that directly articulates its remoteness from the centres of world-production. As the shadows of workers, delivery drivers do not have the significance of rail network drivers, they have no potential for stopping the road system, and they have much less significance than the workers producing the stuff they deliver. The continuum of labour significance is indexed to the relative proximity to the mechanism of material production - a production line worker is 'close' to the heart of the world, a delivery driver or shop worker is very far from it.  


For those looking to the horizon for decisive events, a strike within a substanceless industry seems peripheral, gratuitous and meaningless. This is not real work, it does not reproduce the conditions of the proletariat, and nor does a strike against it seem a real strike. The Deliveroo strike did gain some publicity, it had novelty value in the establishment media due to the nature of the company, and had more coverage than might be expected given the numbers of workers involved. Such factors do not set the heart racing but this is one of those cases where intrinsic and demonstrable insignificance is precisely the significance. One of the strikers' complaints was that although they were contracted as self-employed, Deliveroo imposed conditions that overly constrained their autonomy and reduced them to the status of employees, but without any of the welfare/contractual benefits. In effect, Deliveroo drivers are reduced to autonomous representations of the company and function as the now-form of the sub-worker or 'dead man' (shadowy job types of zero status where individuals may be replaced at will and without interruption to the process) in the context of general worklessness.

The peculiarity of such incidents of crypto-class conflict belongs partially to their marginality and partially to the strikers' deployment of representations of the strike process against the company's representations of the brand process. Intuitively, the strikes of private company delivery drivers and amongst other similar sub-workers is learnt, and that their 'action' is not integral to the relations between contractor and contractee but brought in from outside and added on. There is a performance element: this is what happens in strikes; this is how strikers behave; this is what the temporality and process of a dispute looks like. These factors, seeming to demonstrate a conclusive irrelevance, actually illuminate a new phase of subjective opposition to work which contradicts capital's expulsion of labour from production and brings into question the nature of the conceptualisation of the 'abolition of work'.


It is commonly understood that the 'abolition of labour' refers to living labour, but it is the hold of past labour that is really in question when considering this as a relational precondition of communism. Living labour merely conforms to the constraints of its environment and as such it's form will wither away under changed circumstances (as is currently occurring). Surplus value, the goal of commodity production, is generated from the presence of living labour in the productive process, but living labour is present only to the extent that it is held in place by 'dead' or 'fixed' labour. Whilst instantiations of this surplus value are actualised within the 'live' combination of labour power with its environment, the system of value production is itself the product of (indistinguishable from) the materialisation of past labour as a system of relations. Every instantiation of labour power is thrown into a world where labour power is already formally realised as a commodity for exchange, and where the exchange relation is the pre-dominant constraint upon every potential relational activity. For this reason, the 'abolition' of labour power as a commodity will not necessarily transform an environment where the search is already on for a simpler raw material that will replace it. Where labour fails to produce value, and functions only as a cost-constraint upon further systemic expansion, the question of its abolition becomes superfluous, particularly if some living component better than labour becomes available. Where the social momentum of dead labour continues to determine the character of human interactions, living labour must be defended as the only position from which the bearers of labour power may strike against their conditions. Up to this point, the communist theory of the abolition of labour has tended to conflate itself with the expulsion of labour by productive forces - the consequence is anti-humanism, and an apologia for objective 'progress'. At the level of lived experience, the expulsion of labour diminishes the subjective capacity for class conflict and supplants it with a pacified environment. The subjective component necessary to the abolition of labour is entirely absent. 


A more efficient form of indirect domination has been sought out to replace work as instrument of realisation, and this is now becoming operative. The post-work economy, as Adorno and Camatte indicated in their different analyses of the nature of domestication, can also be grasped as the direct exploitation, via bio-technological processes, of the valences of being itself. The exploitative blurring of work and post-work is now a common trait of production, it is not beyond the imagination to see this process extending into 'anti-work' forms whilst also anticipating and precluding communistic 'pre-conditions'. It is at the point where labour process suppresses labour power, that we begin to make out how it is not the present state of things but the past state of things that must be overthrown.


The dehumanising effect upon individuals of the processive expulsion of labour, as the Deliveroo and Uber drivers seem to demonstrate, is also the reason that it may have become necessary to subjectively defend work. The objective abolition of labour, as this progresses through the economy, is not freeing individuals from work but has intensified their dependency upon the productive apparatus whilst also, by removing them from the workplace, suppressing their potential to make a social intervention. We discover that where labour has not been abolished by the workers themselves, it has not been abolished at all. An abreactive component is essential to working through the wage relation's overthrow - and it is this factor of 'acting out' which recent logistics conflicts are highlighting. The 'by themselves' element is what realises and fixes the emancipatory project within the social imaginary.


The specific performative element of such industrial disputes is precisely the means by which the question of the defence of inessential jobs has been opened up. It is because Deliveroo and Uber drivers are economically marginal that their struggle reveals the consequence for individuals of the expulsion of labour, which is not 'free' time but a state of dependency without opportunity for redress. Where it is taken up, the struggle of the sub-worker, of the superfluous worker, begins to 'double' with Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty where theatrical intervention within everyday life depends upon the realisation of ritualised performance. To stage a strike where this is all but irrelevant is to inflict a cruel judgment upon the dependency of those creatures on a process tending always to persuade consciousness into a state of flowing and abstracted immanence.


Operating on the eternal principle of cussed consciousness, where the subject formation, if it is to implement its dignity (not 'in' but 'as' the role of labour) never takes the the traffic system's suggestion of a first exit, is thereby bound by pre-modern and quixotic obligation to slay the project of left-accelerationism. The shadow proletariat's abreactive release from itself must occur on its own terms, in its own moment, and this inevitably involves the refutation of the framing of this event by both productive relations and productive forces. It is for the reason of not taking the next left, of not evacuating through the first exit, that humanity contra history is relying on delivery drivers to withhold their shit.


The slightly incantational quality of such disputes, where the theatre of class struggle is re-enacted by those who have arrived too late to implement the workers' republic, is progressively realised wherever it encounters something in the world responsive to it. The inessential strike becomes real where 'its symbolism and interconnections are consciously/unconsciously related to all organs and on all levels' - it is the epitome of a for-itself magical thinking and only becomes active where it applies the operative-aesthetics of a strict utilitarian realism. The Deliveroo strike throws us into the strange situation where we must contemplate an anti-work defence of work; it is here that we discover how the 'whirling of the spirit' must also disclose its meaning:

But true theatre, because it moves and makes use of living instruments, goes on stirring up shadows, while life endlessly stumbles along. An actor does not repeat the same gestures twice, but he gesticulates, moves and, although he brutalizes forms, as he destroys them he is united with what lives on behind and after them, producing their continuation.
The difficulty is always a matter of interruption and 'stirring up' of the sediments of social process - the question is not whether work is historically obsolete but whether its withdrawal or imposition as a mode of experience furthers the project of bringing to consciousness the processes of world production. There is no doubt a tragic irony in re-approaching the representational aesthetics of workers' subjectivity when all our efforts have been directed at the destruction of the complex of repression surrounding the Stakhanovite cult, but such repudiations were drawn from the integration of workerism into the productive apparatus, a determinative relation that no longer applies. Where labour is in the process of expulsion, workerism attracts an other meaning. It is true that the repressive theatricality of the workers' movement, a complex mechanism by which it might continue to sing the Red Flag as a sort of knowing Victorian moral positioning, whilst failing to articulate its true function within social reproduction, has long been an object of analysis for the ultraleft. Just as morality exists cheek by jowl with child prostitution so there is a correlation between the repressive consciousness necessary to the functioning of this world and staged manifestations of otherworldliness (the footage of Togliatti's funeral set within the tragicomic discourses of Uccellacci e Uccellini springs to mind.) 

The ultraleft tendency away from the mechanisms of 'representation' and towards direct participation has always been framed as a refutation of the righteous misdirections implicated within the Mayday parade. Direct, even immanent, participation finds its perfect formulation in the theory of communisation where all separation between productive activity and realisation is overcome. The repudiation of representation is perceived as a necessary moment in escaping the muck of ages where the variation of image distracted from the unchanging structure.
[...] a classical theater was substituted for the unconscious as a factory: representation was substituted for the units of production of the unconscious; and an unconscious that was capable of nothing but expressing itself – in myth, tragedy, dreams – was substituted for the productive unconscious.                 Dolce & Gabbana
The refusal of representation as a precondition for the practice of processive immanence is a distinctive feature of the ultraleft critique of work (it appears both amongst the communisers and accelerationists although in sometimes contradictory forms). Representation is, after all, a common enough mechanism of misdirection and displacement within the repressive relations of direct domination, but it progressively loses any organisational significance wherever capitalist vitalism has shoved it aside. Where the relation of indirect exploitation has occupied the space of repressive domination, the overthrow of 'authorities' becomes a formalised feature of the new terrain. Accelerationist 'desiring production' optimises the revolt of subject formations, encouraging them to upload images of their pulling over statues. Where authority is always already relativised, the revolts of the subject become another means for implementing the law of abstract interchangeability amongst all things (leaders, political principles, crowds as much as other everyday products). Where the critique of work has fallen into line with the mechanical expulsion of labour from production, and gleefully taken up the 'anti-humanist' ideology of essencelessness, it is transformed into a thuggish affirmation, putting the boot into the potential for human community.

Strategies of representation, and post-representation, as these are deployed variously by regimes of repression and regimes of exploitation have defined the current moment as this continues to be defined by 'shock and awe', the 'Arab Spring' and the valorisation crisis - the same afflicted images are repeated but attributed to a succession of actants. As an example, the successive occupations of Tahrir Square by rival subjects is perhaps the most remarkable event of the 21st Century, performing the eminent substitutability of contents compatible with the same form - not only were these divergent crowds contained by the same architecture, they were stratified by the same organisational technologies: as Tahrir so Uber. Capital has a revolutionising effect upon traditional relations but where these are supplanted by ideology, indirect exploitation also supplants direct repression, at which point revolt against the patriarch is just another channel for releasing further flows of commodified activity. Where revolt follows the path of least resistance, only realising that which is already latently present, it is not revolt at all but compliance. Similarly, where the abolition of work is nothing but the affirmation of the expulsion of labour, it is not the abolition of work. Thus the condition of domestication, where revolt and abolition realise further productive potentiality, refers to the threshold at which the 'private theatre of representation' is replaced by 'the fantastic factory of nature and production.'


I did not expect to find myself arguing for the abolition of the abolition of work so it seems important to dig a little deeper for the factors of its formulation within the formulation itself. Up to this point, I have argued that the argument against the abolition of work is derived from an innovation in the industrial relations of the 'shadow economy'. I have also hinted that 'the abolition of work' has become the left's latest racket, just as 'dignity in work' was before, and as such it is to be, for the moment at least, refused. I have begun to wonder whether the very idea of work refusal is a result of the undue influence of the academy upon communist thought, and which because of its ignorance of concrete labour has implemented the platonic ideal of functioning above it. But that is by the bye, it is enough to keep in mind that communist theory is now the preserve of those who have never got their hands dirty and that must have some swerving effect upon its content. I have always argued that the principle, 'never work' has no significance except in the situation where the living element has interventionist potential within the workplace. Never work is inseparable from the potential to make good on the threat against the momentum of dead labour at the point of production. In every other situation, never work, abolish work, anti-work becomes a fetish, a jingle of ideology.


Beyond all that, which in a certain light might appear sufficiently plausible to pass cursory consideration, there is another factor. Or rather, it is good manners to expose one's argument from another, less flattering, angle and in Artaud's terminology, to cruelly 'reveal the device' of its construction. In line with the productive imperative for novelty, and for the creation of an effect greater than the work put into it, I find active within me the always deplorable desire for self-differentiation. Pathetically, I want to say something different. Then, a 'mere pounder after all,' I conform to the rules for the appearance of the contrarian. I am constrained to express, but also to express nothing but the constraints of a prefabricated ambivalence. Even then, I am no Žižek or Debord, I cannot hope to arrive at any sort of discourse-defining fork in the road. I am not Janus but incarnate a lesser, factory farmed, level of two-facedness. I am set in motion as some mini-Trump, a spark-striking Farage, snarking and gnashing amongst all the millions of other similar content-providing entitites who as Burroughs describes in The Great Glut are 'bloated and stink of carrion and sewage, belching coal gas.' In desperate search of content, objectively mocking those who once picked for coal, I rake over the same patch of earth that has been turned over a million times. Behold, we are reduced to a state of subsistence thinking. I find nothing, no artefacts, no seeds, no roots, no grubs, no worms. No coal. I am confronted with nothing but the texture of an agitated ground that is become some sort of soul's mirror. How to redeem myself? Well, I have referred above to shadow-workers and, presuming that writing is nothing but the apposite placement of quotation, I will leave you with one from a book we both admire, written by an author who knew something of the addictivity of self-harming delusion: I have no house, only a shadow. But whenever you are in need of a shadow, my shadow is yours.


The B Ark must be built!


Yours etc.


Another goose that laid a leaden egg

 

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