About the domination of the commodity – L’Insécurité Sociale
L’Insécurité Sociale on how the commodity form and commodity production has come to dominate social life, and how the things we create at work come to control us.
Aspects of the domination of the commodity
In traditional societies, whatever the status of their members, the hierarchy, rules and norms which divided human beings into rulers and ruled were counterbalanced by a whole collection of rights and duties and were regularly transgressed by social practices ( festivals, etc ). Moreover, the relations of dependence and authority which bound people together were essentially personal relationships. Oppression was real but it was transparent. On the other hand, from the moment that market relations became widespread, and commodities extended to the buying and selling of labour power through the wages system ( an extension which both permitted and accompanied the establishment of capitalist relations of production ) it was no longer the relation between people that was decisive but the production of commodities.
With the domination of capitalism, human relationships no longer seem to depend on men and women, but are fulfilled and determined by a symbol : money. Since all human activities can be represented and transformed by money they become a collection of objects, subject to laws that are independent of human will. Relationships between people take place through the things which are produced and through the relations between these commodities.
In capitalist society all goods are produced for sale, for profit. They can therefore only exist as commodities, defined by their value. In this way the millions of different kinds of objects produced by human activity are reduced to a common denominator — their commercial value — and measured by a common standard : money. This allows them to be compared and exchanged, to be entirely dominated by the market.
As money becomes the universal abstraction through which everything must pass, people are most often led to see themselves as potential competitors for whom an absence of relationships finds its compensation in the fetishism they bear towards cornmodities. Commodities and the hunger to possess present themselves as expressions of personality, through a proliferation of objects which have no use other than to bring in money, while being at the same time prosthetics replacing human activity. Capital responds to human needs with a profusion of artificial satisfactions : for those individuals who aspire to “rediscover” nature it serves it up to them functional and mechanised; for those stifling under the weight of constraints it procures leisure activities; and those who seek love as a refuge from their emptiness are submerged in cheap eroticism. Never has any society so united, so linked human beings to one another, to the extent of making their activities dependent on those of others; yet never has any society made people so indifferent to others, and more hostile to them as well, since the ties which unite them — the market and competition — also seperate them.
The logic of the domination of commodities is also a system of generalised waste and destruction : goods are manufactured not to last in order to bring about other sales, natural resources are plundered, food resources are denatured, the “surplus” agricultural products of one part of the globe are destroyed while the other parts are kept in a state of shortage, a war economy becomes generalised . . .
The internal logic of capitalism is such that the goods it produces cannot be considered apart from the market process. Commodities are not “neutral” goods ( use values ) for which it would be sufficient to remove them from their submission to money ( exchange value ). Commodity exchange and use are only two aspects of the same social relation. Capitalism has fused production, sale and use into a coherent whole. People will prefer to deprive themselves of what might logically appear essential rather than deprive themselves of the latest gadget which will cause them to be ” in fashion “. Through consumption there takes place a process of distinction from those who won’t buy this or that product, and a process of identification with that group which has bought the same product, use of which is supposed to make us live those moments we don’t live and permit us those relationships we don’t have. The important thing is that the advantage should be apparent and it matters little that it is only apparent.
The point has been reached where the necessary deterioration of objects is calculated and decided. The market must not be clogged with products that last too long. They represent money which is tied up. The faster that capital turns over, the faster it resumes the form of money in order to lose it again in once more becoming a concrete commodity, the more it brings in. It is reinvested increased by a profit. Everything must circulate quickly.
To achieve this, the commodities offered on the market form an extremely hierarchised whole. There isn’t just one or just a few commodities for any given need but a whole multitude, either of the same or competing brands. This diversity claims to respond to the variety of people’s needs : “the customer must have a choice !” In fact, they only have the choice permitted by their financial means and social function. Many commodities respond to the same need but are differentiated by their quality and price. Different products may correspond to different uses. But these different uses are not available to the same individuals. Like production these uses are socially determined.
In order to disguise the alienation of the human being, who is first reduced to the role of producer and then of consumer, capitalism has to maintain the illusion of a separation between production and consumption. The separation between production and consumption thus appears as a natural division between two quite distinct spheres of social life. Nothing is less true. Firstly, the frontier between what is called time of production and what is called time of consumption is unstable. Into which category do cooking and a number of other activities fall ? Secondly, every act of production is also inevitably an act of consumption. You can only transform matter in a certain way and for certain ends. At the same moment that you destroy — or if you prefer you consume — certain things, you obtain — or if you prefer you produce — other things. Consumption involves production : production involves consumption
The concepts of production and consumption are not neutral. The capitalist use of the concept of production obscures the fact that human beings are part of their milieu, and of the totality of nature. A chicken becomes an eggmaking factory. Everything is interpreted in terms of domination and use. Man the producer — supposedly conscious and master of himself — sets out to conquer nature : wishing to be his own master just as he is the master of the object he fashions, he doesn’t thereby cease being an object himself, his own object.
Aspects of the abolition of the commodity
Since communism is the creation of new relations between people which will lead to a very different human activity, it must be understood that production will not simply be what it is today only without money. Even if, for want of a better term, we still speak of production to describe the processes by which a part of human activity will be devoted to the reproduction of existence, and in which the human ability to create, to innovate and to transform will be expressed, the disappearance of exploitation and the abolition of money will mean that this production no longer implies the subjection of people to its fulfilment, since it will be they who will decide its goals, its means and its conditions. It will thus be an expression of their humanity and it will not strip people of their other dimensions ( love, play, dreaming, etc. ). Within a communal social order, producers will no longer exchange their products; in the same way the human activity incorporated in these products will no longer appear as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them. No longer having the quality of value, these goods could not be hoarded or exchanged ( in accordance with this value, whatever its method of measurement ), nor, even more conclusively, could they be sold. They will have no other goal than to satisfy human needs and desires as these are felt in a given period.
With the elimination of commodity production the domination of the product over the producer will disappear. People will rediscover the links with what they make. With the disappearance of money goods will be freely available and free of charge. It will no longer be a question of having a certain amount of money in order to have the right to obtain this or that thing. Communist society will not be an extension of our “consumer society”. It will not be an immense supermarket in which passive human beings will only have to help themselves. There will no longer be a scramble for exploitable resources without concern for the future, nor a rush for useless gadgets which give the illusion of invention and novelty.
Even if it is decided to save one or two well-made articles from this pile of rubbish, human activity will be both simpler and richer. Thus a number of the consequences of production tied to the “needs” of profitability and competitiveness will be eliminated : waste, pollution, the international division of labour, the reduction of the importance of human activity in the manufacture of products etc.
Communism is not the appropriation of value by producers but its negation. The fact that a product has been produced by this or that person will in no way imply the persistence of the principle of property, not even “decentralised”. Productive activity will no longer be tied to the idea of ownership, but to individual and collective creativity, and to an awareness of satisfying human needs, both as an individual and as a community.
With the substitution of common ownership for exchange, goods will cease to have an economic value and will simply become physical objects which human beings will be able to use to satisfy some need or other. In this respect these objects will be fundamentally different from those ( even those of the same appearance ) which capitalism has created and developed. It will not be a question of simply appropriating the goods of the past, but of rethinking them, and sometimes replacing them, according to the criterion of enjoyment rather than of profit. Corresponding to this change of aim will be an equally profound change in the productive process, and thus a rethinking of technology involving, in addition to the use of the “achievements” left by capitalism, the rediscovery of technologies previously abandoned as unprofitable, and innovations which do not subject human beings to machines.
This new organisation of productive activity will not eliminate the need to estimate the needs and possibilities of the cornmunity at any given time. But these will no longer be reduced to a common denominator measured according to a universal unit. It will be as physical quantities that they will be counted and will interest people. Still once again communism must not be reduced to problems of calculation. This would only mean replacing the perspective of a human community with a technocratic ideal, that of perpetuating work as a social activity external to human beings. In the past communists put forward the idea that the distribution of products could be regulated by the introduction of labour vouchers corresponding to average social labour-time, after having made certain deductions for the common funds. In fact, the existence of such a common standard measuring both product and work could not correspond to a real abolition of wage labour and exchange, and thus of value. Moreover it would be necessary — in all “fairness” — for ( otherwise perfectly arbitrary ) adjustments to be made in respect of the difficulty of the work, of its level of interest, etc. So there would be a return to “economic calculation”, requiring a “unit of value” whether this was expressed in money or directly in labour-time. Communism on the contrary, as a society without money, will not need any universal unit of measurement but will be able to calculate in kind. The attraction of this or that object will come from the object itself and no longer from a value allocated to it more or less arbitrarily. Its production and use will be determined according to what it implies for human beings and for nature.
With the disappearance of market value will go the division of the human being into producer and consumer. For communist humans, consumption will not be opposed to production, for there will be no contradiction between taking care of oneself and taking care of others. Production will change in the course of becoming creative activity. The group or the individual will express themselves through what they do. Unless it is imposed by the nature of a product, people will no longer need to hurry all the time as they will no longer be constrained by the necessity to produce commodities. “Consumers” will not be able to blame “producers” for any imperfections in what has been made by invoking the money they have paid, since none will have been given in exchange, instead they will simply criticise from the inside, not from outside. What will be at issue will be their common effort.
This translation is based on one made in London in the 1980s. Taken from John Gray – for communism
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- anti-otoriter / anarşizan
- antropoloji, arkeoloji
- bu topraklar
- ekokoy – permakultur
- ekolojist akımlar
- ekotopya heterotopya utopyalar
- kadın ve doğa / ekofeminizm
- kent yasami
- kir yasami
- komünler, kolektifler
- kooperatifler vb modeller
- savaş karşıtlığı
- sistem karsitligi
- somuru / tahakkum
- sınırlara hayır
- tarim gida GDO
- türcülük, doğa / hayvan özgürlüğü
- totoliterlik / otoriterlik
- tuketim karsitligi
- yerel yönetimler
- yerli – yerel halklar
- yeşil kapitalizm