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OBEDIENCE AT WORK
26 February 2012
Antigone1984 has always been impressed by the following passage on page 758 of One Hundred Years of Socialism by Donald Sassoon published by I.B. Tauris in 1996. However, we do not entirely share Sassoon’s pessimism as to the possibility of change for the better.
As I write, all advanced capitalist countries are governed according to the principles and rules of liberal democracy. The market for consumer goods appears to be the economic counterpart of politics: individuals exercise their consumer sovereignty by walking up and down the aisles of supermarkets, opting for Daz over Persil, before casting, as sovereign citizens, their ballot for the Left or the Right. Yet, as Terry Eagleton has written: “…..What goes on in the supermarket is nothing at all like what happens in the chapel or the crèche.” I would add that what goes on in the supermarket is nothing at all like what happens at work, the place where consumers, metamorphosed into producers, earn the money which empowers them to be consumers. In the world of production, authority, hierarchy and discipline prevail. We vote for whomever we like, we buy whatever we can afford, but at work we do as we are told. Socialists have traditionally tried to intervene in the world of work and, after one hundred years of struggle, producers – in Europe at least – work a little less, and in far more salubrious circumstances, than they did a century ago, and perhaps with greater dignity. But they have not increased their control over their conditions of work at a pace remotely comparable to the expansion of political democracy, the increase in material prosperity, the extension in social welfare, or the advance in science and technology. Controlling capitalism has proved far more difficult than controlling anything else, because capitalism is a system based on the control of the many by the few – the reverse of the conventional definition of political democracy….It may well be that the only way back to the Garden of Eden, towards freedom and individual autonomy, would be to eliminate work or, at least, to work as little as possible. That hierarchies may never be eliminated does not make them any less undemocratic or unpleasant. Rape may always have existed and may never disappear; yet we continue to view it as an act of outrageous brutality.