Don’t Despair, Organize
April 2, 2019 8:10 AM   Subscribe

“This summary of the predicted outcome of Marx’s immiseration thesis is oft dismissed as incorrect and economically deterministic. For now it is sufficient to show that, in recent decades, the immiseration thesis itself—not the predicted final outcome—has been proven correct: real wages have decreased in proportion to the overall increase in productivity and enrichment of the capitalist class. Whether this, in turn, moves the wheel of history in a direction of widespread upheaval—a scenario that think tanks are warning of and the intelligence communities are preparing for—will be a matter of time and destiny. ” The Actuality of Marx’s Immiseration Thesis in the 21st Century (Regeneration)
posted by The Whelk (7 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
productivity is best understood as a measure of rate of exploitation.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:24 AM on April 2, 2019 [12 favorites]

Well, I guess it's up to you and me, Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon. Let's get guillotining.
posted by bunbury at 8:29 PM on April 2, 2019

For anyone interested we are not actually advocating the guillotine.

But it is important to note the old mid-century arguments against Marxist theory no longer hold, the harder you work the less you earn. We've managed to recreate the conditions that Marx was writing in - the middle class prosperity and redistribution of the 20th century might be been as largely a fluke, an interruption in the wars.
posted by The Whelk at 8:56 PM on April 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

I am provisionally open to the use of guillotines, but only after the proper war crimes tribunals, conducted by properly appointed revolutionary commissars.

That said, understanding productivity as a measure of rate of exploitation is useful even if you don’t want to smash the bourgeois state and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Our cultural discourse tends to center the experiences and interests of the small fraction of the population that owns great masses of capital and thereby doesn’t have to work for a living. From the perspective of those lucky few, increased productivity is a good thing, since it means that they get to skim more from the people who work for a living.

From our perspective, increased productivity is at its core a measure of how much money we’re leaving on the table — it’s a measure of the extent to which we’re failing to protect our interests.

This is true regardless of what methodology we may decide to adopt in order to better protect our interests / pick up the money we’re leaving on the table. Methodologies include but are not limited to:
  • Joining unions and bargaining collectively
  • Founding soviets and transferring all power to them
  • Asking nicely for raises
  • Praying to one or many gods for deliverance
  • Swiping huge amounts of office supplies
  • low-key refusing to do work. Alternately, doing quick and shoddy work and using the time we’ve thereby won back to do things that matter (write novels, run side hustles, play candy crush, whatever)
Some of these methodologies can involve guillotines, some of them won’t involve guillotines. But the important thing is retraining oneself to recognize that the language of “productivity” inherently centers the interests of the capital-owning class. By treating productivity as a good thing, we’re thinking like a football team that likes it when the other team’s score rises. Once you start thinking that, it’s inevitable that you, maybe without even realizing it, start committing own goals.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:49 AM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

(fun fact: although the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, it’s surprisingly easy to macguyver together a guillotine out of stolen office supplies)
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:53 AM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

A more historical take on the immiseration thesis: Crisis and Immiseration: Critical Theory Today
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:24 AM on April 3, 2019

It feels (to me) that the .01% have realized they can hybridize Immiseration and Bread and Circuses to keep the guillotines at bay.
posted by CheapB at 11:17 AM on April 4, 2019

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