Defense of post-wage Commonism

1. My Critic of wage-based Cyber-Socialism
2. Dapprich’s Response to an Ultra-leftist Critique of Cybersocialism
3. My Defense of post-wage Commonism

As I stated in my first article I enjoy discussing with wage-socialists and although my main argument against wage-socialism – that the domination of exchange value over use value persists and therefore efficient planning must fail – isn’t addressed, Dapprich presents other important arguments. In the first article I criticized Dapprich’s “class-centered understanding of Marx” and I think this lies at the heart of our different approaches to socialism/communism. I don’t criticize wage-socialism and real socialism primarily for its exploitation of workers, that “workers are […] robbed of both their time and the fruits of their labour“. Exploitation exists in wage-socialism and workers still lack(ed) the access to the means of production, but the distribution of goods is far more equal than in capitalism. My argument is that forcing people to work via wages (be it in tokens or money) makes wage-socialism very akin to capitalism. They share a similar socialization of humans as consumption-driven and work-averse, a similar organization of work places, ongoing privatization of care work and ongoing opposition between individual and enterprise interests and general interest. Finally, this opposition of individual and general interest doesn’t allow what is so dearly important to Dapprich and other plan economists: efficient, ecological planning. Exchange value dominates use value. This creates wrong and harmful material incentives that the state can only partially compensate. This argument Dapprich didn’t address. My response will discuss exploitation and class within wage-socialism, the wage and post-wage planning and discuss Dapprich’s different understanding of productive needs. 

Wage-socialism: Is that the end of class and exploitation? 

Wage-socialism is a polemic – I call it strategic – concept, because it is “a gross trivialisation of the, often brutal, exploitation of wage labourers under capitalism“ (Dapprich). I still use the term wage-socialism because it addresses a – for me central – link between capitalism and real socialism or real socialism 2.0.[1] I agree, wage labor under capitalism is different from wage labor under wage-socialism, though only in relative terms, not fundamentally. The most fundamental difference is that wage-socialism rids itself of a non-working class of capitalists. “In other words, their work will not be exploited to support a distinct ruling class“. Although within real socialism wages and consumption possibilities still varied substantially, they weren’t that widespread, and everybody had to work. So much to class on the consumption-side, but there is a production-side to it too. 

Wage-socialism was and again would be a class society, however not personal class domination is of central interest but depersonalized domination of exchange value which again and again creates class structures. I could rewrite Dapprich’s first paragraph just by replacing capitalism with wage-socialism “Under wage-socialism, wage labourers are deprived of the ability to provide for their own livelihood […] Under wage-socialism, everything (or almost everything) is produced through the effort of wage labourers who must spend their time toiling for the planning board/ bureaucrats/planners instead of engaging in freely chosen activities that make life worth living“.[2] A lot of critics point out that real socialism was a class society with ‘bureaucrats’ on top. Although this may be partly true because of the dictatorial political structure and huge differences between ‘state class’ and working class in some countries, it misses the central point or makes a wrong point. Firstly, the ‘bureaucrats’ did not seem to be that self-interested. Yes, they skimed of parts of the cream and yes, they held on to their power with authoritarian means. But all in all, many party ‘bureaucrats’ wanted to build an efficient and flourishing planned economy. They made a lot of mistakes, but a democratically appointed government may have made the very same mistakes – and certainly would have faced similar problems. Secondly, if we criticize wage-socialism as bureaucrat-class-domination, critic of real socialism becomes a critic of politics and domination, rather than an analysis and critic of its political economy. The main critic then goes “there are bad people at the top” – the solution: put good people on top. Discussion of the political economy of planned wage-socialism is disregarded. The critic becomes politicized and weak. ‘If only the socialist government was democratically elected’ – well, what then? If they hold on to a wage-based planned economy, they would have faced the same problems.[3] The discussion of real socialism in particular and wage-based planned economy in general shouldn’t be shortened to a discussion of politics, domination and democracy. This shortened critic we may leave to bourgeoise science.  

The question of class on the production-side is the question of how to socialize the means of production. Market socialists vote for an enterprise-based ‘socialization’: workers should control the enterprise’s means of production – cooperatives yey yey. Within cooperatives workers have formal but no factual control. They don’t really control the means of production, they still must use them to compete with other cooperatives, reduce cost, make profit, exploit themselves, etc. The ultimate rationale is still exchange value in the form of profit, rules. Although the class of capitalists is abolished, class, exploitation, and a restricted exchange-value based access to the means of production still exist in a depersonalized form – and therefore must partly be re-instituted in a personal form: the cooperatives assign a management.[4] Plan socialists vote for a society-based ‘socialization’: workers should control all means of production via a democratic (or dictatorial) state. Well, with a dictatorial state the question of socialization is off the table. But if workers control the means of production via a democratic state everything should be alright? Not if they coordinate their re/production via a wage-based planned economy. Then again, their control is formal not factual. They must use the means of production to force themselves into working hard (as they as workers do the work for money not out of motivation), on an enterprise-level it makes sense to externalize costs, maximize enterprise revenues and even reduce quality to reduce working time, on a state-level they may partly work against this. Still exchange value rules, not use value, not needs, not workers. Exploitation and a restricted exchange-value based control depersonalize class relations. Only with abolishing wage labor workers can really control their economy and build a democratic, use-value oriented re/production. 

Wage and post-wage Planning 

„His [my] [primary] objection to compelling people to work through material compensation is not that this restricts their freedom, but that it changes their motivation to work“. I’m not sure if this generally is my primary objection to wage-labor – forcing people creates a logic of exclusion, it socializes people as consumption-driven, it creates a society of domination, etc. – but it is my main argument why a wage-based planned economy was and will be inefficient. People forced to labor will (rightly) minimize their work effort and try to maximize their revenues (profit maximization on the individual level one may call it). And this disrupts the whole planning. Workers, management, enterprises are primarily interested in maximizing their individual profit against each other and against planning rationality. This atomized, particular interest than has to be turned into use-value orientation. This attempt has and will largely fail. Especially, because the economic force of competition is (rightly) suspended. When I discussed this with Dapprich on another workshop he said “that’s just a question of incentives”. And I agree: with the right incentives this wage-induced exchange-value orientation can be shaped partially into a use-value orientation. Furthermore, workers and management have a use-value orientation too and work because of and according to their productive needs – not only because they are forced to do it. I am convinced most real innovations, new products, progress in science etc. are product of this genuine interest in human wellbeing and good production itself. But this genuine interest, productive needs and motivation are not fostered and strengthened by wage labor but diminished and partly destroyed. Wage economies first force the people to work and them treat them with all their means of production, work organization, irrational hierarchies, and violence as such forced and de-motivated individuals. 

When people work for motivation, they work according to use-values – why else? This allows a rational form of planning. Dapprich sums up my argument: “But if their motivation is not to get paid, but to accomplish some benefit to society, they would, according to Sutterlütti, be more likely to make efforts to reduce carbon emissions”. This is put very friendly. A post-wage society doesn’t only build on the workers individual or collective ecological and use-value orientation, but the societal and re/productive consequences of these orientations. Let’s take an enterprise that produces in an environmentally harmful way. The first question is; why do they do it, anyway? They don’t have to lower the cost of their products at any rate – although they certainly will try to increase efficiency. Commonist enterprises may even calculate work time for a product, compare them to similar products and try to learn from the best and each other. For argument’s sake let’s assume the workers want to produce environmentally harmful because gain in output and drop in working time in their view outweighs environmental destruction. The important question is now how their partners in re/production will react. Within complex economies other enterprises provide preliminary products, do logistics, maybe cleaning, IT, etc. Each enterprise is highly depended on others. In capitalism this dependency is reduced by exchange and property: Ikea buys cleaning labor, preliminary products etc. and then can do with it whatever they want. Workers producing preliminary products or performing labor have no right to interfere with Ikea’s output or production strategy. But within a motivated re/production enterprises can’t buy cooperation with money but must earn it with deeds. „Production is societal, which implies labor of others is commanded – and this shall only be possible as far as these agree […] In an economy of use value, cooperation must prove itself on the criterion of usefulness from the point of view of the other “ (Oswald 2018: 126, own translation). To put it into philosophical terms: Abolishing wage labor prevents individual interests from being directed against the other person but allows for and strengthens mutuality and collective conflict resolution. Workers have a common goal and must find ways to reach it. 

Furthermore, such a society based on a common goal produces an entirely different orientation toward consumption. Consumption is not the primary pay-off for tiring and forced labor. With a fulfilling work live it loses in important. The end of wage labor allows for an entirely different relationship to the world. Wage laborers have to treat their bodies, minds and themselves as instruments, thus creating alienation. But this alienated self-relation cannot be left behind at the factory door but is carried into the spheres of leisure and consumption. There these subjects can’t establish resonant and fulfilling relations with their surroundings. The need for vibrant and fulfilling relations to objects, fellow human and non-human beings is thus suggested to turn into a need for accumulation of objects and relations, accumulation of world-reach (cf. Hartmut Rosa Resonance). Thus, in a post-wage-labor society our relation to consumption will be largely different. Additionally, things surrounding us are not the product of forced labor and wage violence, but of motivated production. Consumption becomes a collective reward. It is democratically decided on by squaring work time with consumption possibilities. 

Where Marx was (also) wrong: Realm of Freedom and Realm of Necessity 

Marx famously distinguished a realm of necessity (producing things we need such as food, shelter, etc.) and a realm of freedom (there we do things nobody is really affected by such as composing or painting). Dapprich’s and my “different understanding of human productive needs“ stems from this. „We do, at least for the most part, not flourish as human beings when working in fields or factories. The sort of activities that I think fulfil an important need are those that draw on our creativity or help us foster meaningful relationships to others. The creation of some piece of art is perhaps the best example of a human activity that is both productive, in the sense that it has a meaningful purpose, and is at the same time intrinsically enjoyable and helps us to flourish not just through the created output“, Dapprich points out. Dapprich already links the reality of freedom to productive output. Many other thinkers have a completely individualized, atomized – one may say bourgeois and male – concept of the realm of freedom: I’m only free if nobody cares about what I’m doing. But why should it be true that “the sort of activities needed to grow food for 7 billion people and to provide them with computers are not“ covered by productive needs? „The ‚realm of freedom‘ begins only when these [important] needs are taken care of, after the mundane tasks of necessity are out of the way“. But why is it more motivating to people creating art that nobody really needs than growing food somebody desperately needs? Is it not much more the other way around? Is it not much more satisfying to care about “important needs” than just doing something else? Marx separated freedom and necessity, where the human societal task lies in organizing the realm of necessity in a way, that it is based on and driven by freedom.  

Critical Psychology (Holzkamp et al) argues that human productive needs are fundamentally oriented towards necessity not mere pleasure (if this opposition holds true). “The urge to secure one’s own existence in the long term has evolutionarily developed as the productive need to dispose on the proactive production* of living conditions” (Sutterluetti/Meretz 2018: 112). Doing something to satisfy important need is quite at the center of a “proactive production of living conditions”. “Feminists have pointed out that, particularly in the area of care, necessities have an existential character, and there is often no room for delay (Praetorius 2015). There is a high degree of motivation involved in responding to a crying child and seeing to its well-being. Are “pleasure and necessity” not intricately connected here? And does the same not apply to software development, where the tackling of a newly detected, security-related error brooks no delay because millions of people are using the software?” 

“The commons researcher Friederike Habermann criticises Marx’s claim that “the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and outer expediency ceases” (1894, 828). She questions Marx’s opposing freedom and expediency: “As far as it (working) is determined by necessity, yes. But by expediency? When Marx wrote Capital was he in the realm of necessity? Or might he even have enjoyed it sometimes? If yes, does that render his works irrelevant to us?” (Habermann 2016, 83). Marx speaks of external expediency, but what else could that be than the proactive production*of our life conditions? Can this not also simultaneously be the self-defined inner expediency, the self-definition of purposes, ergo our unfolding in freedom, which is the freedom of everybody? Did Marx forget his Hegel here? Did he forget that necessity and freedom take opposite shapes in capitalism, and that this, however, does not apply “in all societal formations and under all possible modes of production” (Marx, ibid.)?” (Sutterluetti/Meretz 2018: 142f). 

Dapprich mentions the problem of “labour that people will not engage in out of their own motivation, but it is important enough that it should nonetheless be carried out“. But Dapprich takes an individualized and atomized perspective on this kind of work. Well, maybe nobody wants to do it, but we as a society can organize it in a more satisfying way. Maybe we as humans disposing on our means of production find a way to automize it. Maybe we as commonists come up with ways to share this work burden by rotation. And only because it is hard to find ways dealing with this category of labour, should we subject ourselves and others to the violence of wage labor, consumption-fixed life, everyday submission and dominance of exchange value over our societal planning? If we address this third category as collective and even societal beings I am sure we will find ways to deal with it. Our ancestors besides and before domination, slavery and wage labor surely found billions of ways. Should we human beings having the greatest potential for global cooperation and highest technological development be unable to do so? 

[1] For some time I have departed from the term „state socialism” to describe real socialism. I rather prefer commando socialism or wage-socialism. This has a strategic and factual side: Strategically, I don’t want to submit the term and concept of state to wage-socialists. The concept of state is a battleground, and many people argue that any generalized political organization could be called a state – e.g. a council structure. Factually, the state was a dominant feature of wage-socialism, because it replaced the market, but not its essential feature. Furthermore, even with a domination-based concept of state (state as an institution that can enforce decisions) communists and anarchists alike may argue that such an institution is needed within a post-wage society. I tend to disagree, but this is a discussion within a post-wage utopian framework I’m very happy to address. 

[2] “Under wage-socialism, wage labourers are deprived of the ability to provide for their own livelihood because they lack access to the means of production. Instead, they are left with no choice but to sell their labour power to a class of bureaucrats/planners that has monopolised the means of production and excludes the rest of the population from free access to them by the threat of state violence. Under wage-socialism, everything (or almost everything) is produced through the effort of wage labourers who must spend their time toiling for the bureaucrats/planners instead of engaging in freely chosen activities that make life worth living“. 

[3] Historically, I am not entirely sure, but I think with general elections for example in Russia or post-war Germany the government wouldn’t have been socialist at all, and even a socialist government may not have gone for a fully blown planned economy. 

[4] Management and ‚rational hierarchies‘ as such are no problem. The problem lies in the fact that this management is bound to represent opposed interest to the workers. Within cooperatives this is true: the management represents one side of exchange-value orientation: profit maximization, the workers represent partly use-value orientation (good work, good products) and another side of exchange-value orientation: maximizing wages. 

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