This is a chapter from the book:
The Democratic State
Chapter 5: The ideal collective capitalist — The social state
By subjecting its citizens to the rule of law, the state forces them to maintain themselves as private proprietors, in competition with each other on the basis of the private property which they may or may not have. However, competition has adverse effects on competitors which undermine their ability to continue, endangering the whole system of private property. The state therefore takes additional measures to ensure that individuals can indeed maintain themselves in accordance with their own resources. It performs compensatory activities in the interests of maintaining the system of private property, which means taking notice of the differences in property and cementing the differences which property creates, a class society. As the ideal collective capitalist the state provides the real capitalists, the owners of the means of production, with those necessary conditions for competition which are not reproduced in competition. As a social state with social services, it preserves the class of competitors with no property, so that it can continue being useful as a means for private property.
a) Money and the different sources of income
Securing private property is exactly the same as forcing each private individual to restrict himself to his own property in competition, leaving him dependent on the property owned by other individuals. In this situation, the individual’s access to the wealth of society comes from taking advantage of the usefulness of whatever he can call his own. He hopes to effect an exchange by holding something hostage against the other people’s needs. In order that resources as qualitatively different as land, capital and labor can be compared, the state guarantees a valid, objective standard, namely money, the means for social exchange. In this way the state ties all activities of its citizens to their disposal over money. Since everything can be had for money and only for money, nothing can ever be had except in exchange for money. The availability of this universal equivalent is a basic condition for competition, a condition that must be enforced by a power separate from all the competitors if it is to be truly universal and not subject to their conflicting interests.
Individuals thus have access to the wealth of society by using whatever resources they have to augment private property and thereby draw a corresponding income. Since this is the way society’s wealth is created and distributed, the state officially recognizes things as disparate as the productive use of land or capital and wage labor as equally valid ways of earning a living. When it sees that its citizens’ incomes are constantly jeopardized by the effects of competition it takes measures to ensure that the various types of income are sufficient to permit the reproduction of each class. This can only be done by addressing the specific difficulties of those who own the means of production and those who do not. The former it helps by systematically removing the obstacles to accumulation created by their competition. As to the other competitors, they get their income when they render their service to the owners of the wealth of society, and so secure for themselves the pleasures of freedom by giving it up. In this way everyone gets just what their resources can bring in. No wonder that meritocracy is held in such high esteem, when so many members of society have no property but themselves as a means of consumption.
b) What the state does for the owners of productive property
1. Since the use of productive property is based on trade between the owners of the various elements of production and includes transactions between producers and consumers, society is dependent upon the existence of material conditions of circulation. The state provides a functioning system of transportation and communication which, being a general prerequisite for the augmentation of private property, also limits this growth. Since these “infrastructural” facilities represent expenses to all private owners, interesting them only as a means for their individual wealth, they are organized in such a way as to minimize costs. The state, which values the principle of private gain, either compensates for the lacking profitability of such enterprises, which because of the size of the necessary capital outlays are organized as joint stock companies, or constructs and operates the highways, etc., directly. It supports productive property by spreading the infrastructural expenses uniformly over the whole of society by charging user fees or through its own deficit.
2. Once commodity trade is assured not only formally (by law) but also materially, entrepreneurs are able to draw revenue from their private ownership of the means of production only if they are able to produce their products at the least possible cost, since they are faced with a limited effective demand (competition). The amount of profits depends on the volume of sales. It therefore depends on the share of the market they can conquer with their products, and thus on the cheapness of their products. They strive to organize production so as to lower their unit production costs, since whether or not they can make a profit depends on technical progress in their application of labor and materials. The profitability of private property is based on the application of scientific knowledge, which entrepreneurs are not directly interested in working out, although they need it. Knowledge of the laws of nature has a bearing on their livelihood only in so far as it helps them to lower their production costs by providing special production methods or instruments. The organization of scientific research is an expensive matter, and does not provide the least guarantee that its results will actually be useful for the purpose of the enterprise. Nobody has the aim of finding out about nature, but everybody has a stake in the private utilization of such knowledge. Since knowledge is by its nature rather difficult to make into private property, the research of natural laws is not generally a profitable enterprise.
The social necessity of scientific research, which presents itself only as the desire to utilize it privately, forces the state to institutionalize a sphere of science separate from the material production process. By guaranteeing academic freedom, the detachment of scientific research from all particular interests, the state ensures the objectivity and unlimited development of this research, and therefore its usefulness for a mode of production dependent upon the control of nature.
Since the purpose of, and reason for, the institutionalization of scientific research is the subordination of society’s knowledge to the interests of private property, the state also strives to have research conducted on technology, the practical applications of natural laws. In this way it allows for the private utilization of science. However, whether or not it is actually used is subject to the criteria of profitability (see Capital I, pp. 392-93 and Capital III, p.262.) The state rewards efforts made and expenses incurred by private persons in the development of special methods of production by contract research, and by the right to temporary exclusive utilization. The patent, “intellectual property,” as well as industrial espionage, are expressions of the contradiction involved in the private disposition of society’s knowledge.
Citizens, who think highly of science as an indispensable means of progress, and who are continually informed in school and public life about the usefulness of its discoveries, are not only confronted with the many familiar practical devices testifying to the potency of science and technology. They also face the uselessness and even danger of science when it comes to solving those problems which are created by bourgeois society. Since science actually is a means for the economic purposes of society, it is also held responsible for the positive and negative effects of its application. Since it serves society by formulating laws revealing what can be done with natural objects, and is thus the prerequisite for the most varied effects, it itself receives not only praise but also criticism.
This criticism is not infrequently put forward by scientists themselves. After all, it is their profession to serve society and the state with their science, to make themselves useful. So it is that certain “effects” of their efforts mobilize the citizen in them. Armed with their authority as scientists, they take a stand on political questions and criticize the statesmen for not making full use of the science and technology available. These are the technocrats who make suggestions on how to steer society more efficiently.
Or they attribute the negative effects of the capitalistic application of technology to the alleged “two sides” of nature itself, declaring the destruction of nature and people to be an inevitable by-product of progress. Therefore they conjure up the alternative of either carrying on the same way and using progress to heal the wounds it inflicts, or foregoing all comforts and restricting the national economy, which means above all that people must tighten their own belts. This is the alternative between propaganda for progress and ideas for saving energy in everyday life. One or the other ideology is publicly ventilated depending on the climate of the moment. For instance, consider the debate about atomic power, in which criticism of capital is virtually unheard of!
Some people attribute the negative effects of the capitalistic application of science to a deficiency of science, questioning the latter on philosophical and epistemological grounds. Or they make philosophical contributions to moral armament, preaching peace and humanitarianism and saying man is a speck of dust.
All these variations of false criticism of the state, society and science are based on an interest in having scientific knowledge utilized better for the purposes of this society, an interest which takes for granted that science must be subordinated to the principle of private property.
3. The industrial application of scientific and technological progress requires that it be mastered in practice by the wageworkers employed by the owners of productive property. The state sets up not only the institutions of research but also that of apprenticeship, and organizes courses of training for the abilities required by the various vocations. Since the usefulness of the proficiency made possible by the state is decided by the technical requirements imposed by the utilization of property, the training system promises neither those trained that they will be needed, nor capital that it will be able to use them productively. It is therefore not in the immediate interest of the owners of means of production to conduct education and training, whether general education at the elementary school level, more detailed knowledge at the secondary school level, or specialization at the university level. And this even though they greatly appreciate the results of the education process as a prerequisite for making profits. Businessmen regard the practical training necessary for specialized activities within their factory as a necessary evil today just as much as they did the training for limited activity within their factory at the dawn of industrial production. The state has to force them by law to provide it, which they proceed to turn to their own advantage by exploiting their apprentices and by concluding contracts that tie the trainee to the company beyond the training period.
In the U.S.A. training in specialized technical knowledge takes place in trade schools run as private businesses with all the expected scandals of shoddy preparation, or in community colleges. The businessmen on principle refuse to involve themselves in the lengthy and formal training of their workforce, and nevertheless complain incessantly of its poor quality, even going so far as to blame it for their own problems in competition.
For citizens, who are interested in the benefits of education, the necessary discrepancies between the purpose and the means are constant cause for complaint about the poor organization of the public education system.
4. With the creation of general prerequisites for the productive utilization of property, the proprietors must not only rely on their own skill and resources for prevailing in the competitive struggle. Their business success also depends on certain indispensable conditions for production which must be available on the market. When competition leads to the result that those industries which provide such conditions cannot be run profitably, the state secures them by socializing the burdens which private property does not carry. It takes over (part of) the costs which interfere with profits. In the interest of functioning property, it assumes the “social duty” of intervening in the course of private business. It subsidizes the basic materials industries, energy production and agriculture. In the most extreme case it resorts to nationalization, which has nothing at all to do with an attack on private property.
For reasons of cost, capitalistic industry disregards the destruction of natural resources, using science and technology solely in order to liberate production from the limits nature sets on the profitable utilization of private property. More and more, the progress of science thus gives industry the means to destroy nature and humans. This is why the state forces entrepreneurs, with due tardiness, to observe its regulations on environmental protection. These rules take account of the calculations of private business, therefore abound in exceptions, and are only enforced sporadically. In order not to damage those who cause the damage, the state itself makes efforts to protect the environment, using the wealth of society to keep nature usable for capital. Environmental activists accuse the state of failing when it plans the reckless exploitation of nature and protects profit interests, therefore accepting calculated and uncalculated “risks” and catastrophes, and not only in the case of atomic energy.
Depending on their particular social position, citizens are prone to regard these actions by the state as a violation of the principles of a free market economy, unfair protection of economically inept groups, or a necessary obligation the state has brought upon itself due to the destructive effects of its foreign trade policies on these groups. Leftists cite these measures, which are designed for the purpose of protecting private property, as proof that the capitalist mode of production has caused its own perpetrators to realize that private property is obsolete, and ask the state to be more consistent in taking action “against” it. They actually regard it as support for their illusions that those affected by such measures complain about them and accuse the state of socialist machinations.
5. Private proprietors live off the augmentation of their property. They are not only recognized by the state for this kind of livelihood, but also receive from it the necessary material prerequisites. However, they restrict each other through their competition. The state regulates this by special legislation guaranteeing respect for the property of others even under the special conditions resulting from the ways of doing business in the various trades. It supplements the general laws on private property by laws which protect it in those transactions necessary for its increase through trade and production. Whether these special laws appear separately in the civil code or as an independent body of law differs from country to country. This is however irrelevant for their explanation.
Commercial legislation regulates the purchase and sale of commodities by laws which lay down who belongs to the trading class and is thus allowed to perform the private acts peculiar to it. Aspects of the change in ownership which collide with the purpose of the exercise (brokerage, freight forwarding and storage) are fixed as mutual obligations and expected performance. The parties in question constantly fight over who should bear the costs incurred due to the variable times elapsing over the various distances over which trade occurs. For these reasons the state restricts the parties in such a way that the necessary costs remain a means for their profits. The same is true of trade credit, by which private proprietors make the continuation of their business independent of the cash at their disposal. The state makes it compulsory to keep a promise to pay.
Industry must temporarily dispose over wealth administered by banks (bank loans) to augment its own wealth. With its banking legislation, the state sorts out the conflicting interests of industrial capital and banking capital in such a manner that the profits of the financial or credit institutions (which exist separately from productive capital) serve as a means for the productive utilization of capital. The state dictates to the banks the boundaries within which they may pursue their advantage at the expense of other businesses (minimum reserve ratio, etc.), and imposes accounting rules on the businesses to obligate them to prove their credit standing.
The fact that industry is dependent upon landed property, that it is restricted by other ways of utilizing land, also causes the state to act. Arguing that land is a commodity whose supply cannot be arbitrarily increased, it restricts the free market here by allocating the land with zoning laws. Proposals for reforming land law should also be spared the suspicion of being communistic, since the state infringes on landed property only for the sake of private property in general and therefore always respects this limit.
The productive utilization of property is endangered by the efforts of workers in coalition. They fight for higher wages and better working conditions, which diminishes the profits of the property-owners and jeopardizes their free disposal over private property. The state counters these dangers with labor legislation, laws which make the worker’s right to personal freedom end where the right of property begins. Although the equality of rights for labor and capital keeps workers’ demands within limits that guarantee their usefulness for capital, this does not mean that this equality of rights matters much to the owners of means of production. They form alliances to resist efforts to regulate the wage labor relationship, efforts which threaten to impose duties on them and fill their books with red ink. The friends of labor on the left take this as proof that socialism consists in fighting for the rights of workers (to remain workers, of course!)
With laws against restraints of trade the state reacts to the tactics of forming alliances by which businesses secure advantages in the competitive struggle. They apply this competitive technique since on the one hand, they see their profits endangered on the market, while on the other hand, they can meet the necessity of making their products cheap only by increasing their capital assets. After all, the size of the capital applied is crucial for how well it can compete. Thus they agree to fix prices or merge their businesses. Anti-trust law is directed against the effects of such collusions and combinations on free competition, since they hinder other proprietors from using their property, but it also recognizes their necessity by admitting many exceptions. Finally, with corporation law the state guarantees that different owners function as one enterprise. By overseeing a free trade in shares, stipulating liability, and so on, the state ensures that the private property invested in a corporation is freely available for its operations, and also protects the company’s business from the arbitrariness of its shareholders.
6. The basis of the relation between the state and the capitalist class is that the state, as a separate entity, provides for those necessities of capitalist competition which the individual capitalists disregard or fail to create due to their competitive interests. By administering those conditions of business which are not themselves businesses for the capitalists, the state as a political institution promotes the capitalist class interest. As the ideal collective capitalist it is a means of the capitalist class as a whole, which may very well mean that its institutions and laws conflict with the competitive advantage of particular capitalists. The knights of private property expect only favors, gifts and help from the public power. The small limitations of their accumulation by the state in the interests of this same accumulation cause them to complain loudly. This in turn is pointed out by democratic statesmen as proof that they could not possibly be agents of a class state! This is the ideology that accompanies the constant lobbying of office-holders big and small, the unswerving struggle of financially strong citizens for special privileges. The inevitable corruption and scandals do not usually get much of a rise out of the democratic public, since the public is quite aware of this business basis of political careers. A regard for “the economy” is the very least one can ask of a statesman, after all.
The school of super-democrats is an exception. We include in their ranks the revisionist parties of the left and intellectuals of the Baran and Sweezy stripe. Their theory of state monopoly capitalism is most cunning. They regard the fully developed ideal collective capitalist of today, in contrast to yesterday’s state, as a product of the decay of bourgeois rule. Their complaints about its subservience towards the monopolies (who in turn have unjustly conquered the political command posts because they are economically on their last legs) are the prelude to their program of an antimonopolistic democracy, a magnificent concept for replacing declining and malfunctioning capitalism by a form of rule healthy for all of society. Like all “late capitalist” idiocies, this Mr. Clean idea has been discussed in all kinds of variations, so that the above characterization will certainly be rejected as being too simple. May we therefore repeat that the diversity of these theoretical approaches is only appropriate to the common interest they are based on. And this interest is not directed against exploitation and its administration by the state, but against its faulty organization. A look back at the former East bloc societies reveals that a real collective capitalist can in fact stage a state monopoly democracy, but the only efficient aspect of its economic system is the celebration of the wageworkers and their new employer.
Fascists also regard the influence exerted by the capitalists, especially by their “unproductive” section, as the downfall of the state and the people. Their criticism of capitalism of course is not directed against exploitation. Rather, they complain that the capitalist class does too little to promote the strength of the state. In their practical dealings with the bourgeoisie the fascists therefore have turned out to be quite benevolent. The conditions for accumulation imposed by the state have amounted to the obligation to accumulate unconditionally in the national interest, which business gladly has consented to do even if they have had to obey certain directives concerning what to produce.
c) What the state does for its wage-earning citizens
1. Those citizens who cannot draw an income from utilizing their own property must use their personal freedom in a way very characteristic of bourgeois society. They must perform useful services for other property, wage labor, whether directly in production and trade, or indirectly in state institutions. Whether they can draw an income in this way, and how much of one, depends on how much they do for their employers (which does not mean that they are paid for the performance itself.) They compete as suppliers of their services for the existing jobs and the incomes connected with them. They compare vocations in terms of the limitations which the conditions of employment itself and the size of the income impose on them. In the hierarchy of jobs based on the twofold measure of effort and remuneration, they attempt to climb as high as possible. The competition among wageworkers presupposes their suitability, corresponding skills and knowledge for the vocations, but the acquisition of such knowledge is of no economic advantage. Therefore, the state organizes an education system alongside this competition, allowing individuals to qualify for working life before they enter it. The right to an education enjoyed by youngsters is just the way the state obligates its citizens-to-be to acquire the general knowledge equally necessary for all jobs (compulsory education), and then to develop their abilities for a particular vocation, to specialize.
Since the purpose of the education system is to prepare youth for useful functions in the economy and the state, because their specific usefulness is the condition for their income, education in the bourgeois state does not form individuality but limits it. The state ensures that individuals are fairly distributed over the hierarchy of jobs by making their access contingent on how they perform in school. It regulates the competition of those being educated by institutionalizing the comparison of their performances. Tests, continual evaluation of the knowledge mastered within given periods of time, decide whether a young person must start heading toward the lower rungs of the vocational ladder, or whether he or she can take part in higher education which promises agreeable work and good pay. This is therefore another field of state activity which, by subjecting all citizens to the same conditions (equal opportunities!), perpetuates the differences between them. In this case, the differences are those which youngsters show on the basis of their families’ economic status.
The education system can be divided into the following stages in accordance with its purpose.
The elementary education stage is compulsory for everybody. It is for imparting the knowledge required for menial activities, and at the same time selecting those pupils allowed to attend higher schools. Along with the basic reading, writing and arithmetic abilities and familiarity with nature that are required for pursuing a vocation, pupils are taught the attitudes one needs to endure a lifelong existence as a wage-earning citizen.
Depending on the performance pupils show in this stage, they may go on to apprenticeship, vocational training for a job in production. In America much apprenticeship is handled by the trade unions. In Europe the state makes private companies responsible for this, which is therefore a steady source of conflict between the state and the firms. The firms are against a broad, thorough technical training and an extensive theoretical education since they are interested in using the apprentices as quickly as possible. The state organizes the indispensable minimum of technical and civic instruction in its vocational schools. It grants the right to the necessary training, but not without obligating all those interested in vocational advancement to defray the costs themselves, another burden on the family.
Alternatively, there are higher schools (or college preparatory “tracks” in North American high schools) whose graduates get acquainted with additional scientific results. This is a precondition for a number of higher occupations, on the one hand, and for a university education, on the other. Here, too, the curriculum is not directly related to a certain profession but functions as a testing ground for the selection process and a prerequisite for the specialization to follow.
Universities provide education for those professions requiring more advanced knowledge. Science departments teach the knowledge and skills necessary for mastering nature, while humanities and social science departments teach the ideologies of bourgeois society in a scientifically embellished form. For this latter group of disciplines with their unshakable endorsement of the foundations of bourgeois society, objective knowledge would be highly unsuitable. Instead, they place all knowledge at the service of the most tentative solutions of an unending stream of real or imagined “problems” of bourgeois techniques of exercising power. In the midst of all this, the universities make sure to educate the next generation of teachers.
The state pins its citizens down to earning a living through specialization in a certain vocation and being useful within a fixed system of social labor. It organizes this constraint by making its young citizens compete inside the education system. The selection is a negative one, as low achievement excludes one from further education. Thus, the state forces everyone to be interested in acquiring knowledge only to the extent to which they require it to complete their training and pursue their vocations. Anything going beyond that is regarded as superfluous both by the educator and by the person being educated. Bourgeois society therefore depends on the existence of knowledge, at the same time having no interest in it, since it is only going after the utility of knowledge for its citizens’ various functions within the division of labor.
The freedom of science, its protection by the state from particular interests striving to bring it under their influence, is therefore the opposite of what many people like to think. It does not mean scientific activity is removed from the realm of social purposes. On the contrary, this is how bourgeois society, based on competition, organizes science in a way useful to it. Freedom of science guarantees both the attainment of necessary knowledge and its dependence upon the practical needs of society. By being separated from the sphere of material production, science is made subordinate to it.
This is reflected in the correctness of natural sciences alongside the falseness of social sciences. The natural sciences meet the requirements of the capitalist mode of production by discovering the laws of nature and how to apply them. Their independence from particular interests guarantees that they generate objective knowledge that can be used for mastering nature. The social sciences, with their biased pluralism, correspond to the way the state handles the needs, wills and interests of its competing citizens. They are therefore quite critical when they give heed to particular interests and generate false knowledge. False knowledge is useful for supporting the necessary false consciousness of private citizens who subject themselves to the laws of capital, laws they bring about themselves without understanding. (Needless to say, some people in addition subject other people to these economic laws!) This instrumentalist attitude toward knowledge is ensured by the competition between academics for career- promoting prestige inside and outside the university. And if a thought against law and order comes into circulation here or there, the discussion is broken off.
The humanities are so troubled by the contradiction between their aspirations to be useful and the uselessness of their false knowledge that they start to reflect on themselves. Not surprisingly, they find in their theory of science that the way they are is the way they have to be, at the same time that their pluralism must leave some things out. Real knowledge criticizes bourgeois society, and its application is damaging to it.
The state grants the right to education, but not without demanding sacrifices. It bestows on many people the bitter experience of defeat in the competitive struggle even before the start of working life, and does not even guarantee those who complete their education successfully that they will be able to profit from their abilities on the labor market. The state therefore incurs the anger of its citizens who, in their disappointment, insist that education should be a decent means for their advancement.
One therefore hears complaints about an educational crisis as soon as there are more applicants than “opportunities.” The demand for more support of education can be morally underscored by expressing concern about the nation’s competitiveness. When the purpose of education, to provide society with the people it needs, induces the state to restrict admission to certain university studies, people are sure to take the matter to the Supreme Court. They ironically resort to the law to rebel against realities whose necessity lies in the power of the state and its function. People also like to confront the effects of competition in the educational sphere, that is, the equality of opportunity that actually exists, with an ideal of it, forgetting that there are always winners and losers when performance is compared. They therefore end up pursuing the very same concerns the state has, with its interest in fully utilizing its reserves of talents.
When critical parents see that their children cannot take school stress they call for better tests, which, in order to be objective comparisons of performance, do not bother testing real knowledge but are more like crossword puzzles (multiple choice). And when the ignorance being tested has absolutely no relation to the vocation for which the student is twisting his brain, there are invariably complaints about how remote from actual practice and obsolete school learning is. The modernized forms of drill cannot escape the fate of the traditional humanistic “dead weight” since people want to see some benefit from it. And young people are called “over-obedient” for lacking the proper “human,” i.e. civic, attitude. Both rightist and leftist critics of education concur that passive citizens are not good citizens, although they end up with quite different curricula. The emancipatory education practiced in liberal or reform institutions has the advantage that it spares the students the last shred of fitness for working life, replacing any conveyance of knowledge by an endless debate about having a critical attitude towards one’s job and the state.
The purpose of the education system is to develop individuals in a one-sided fashion, to give them specialized, reduced skills for a job. This means that the state considers it an almost superfluous burden to organize the process of distributing its budding citizens over the hierarchy of jobs by establishing an education system open to all to settle who will be what. Its purpose of giving its citizens lifelong functions within the division of labor had been attained just as well by the medieval way of simply passing a vocation down to the next generation among the common people and giving civil servants a clerical and/or estate-specific education. Like all other democratic achievements, the right to education had to be wrested by industrial wageworkers from the state which had just given them their freedom. Just as their overseers could no longer perform their function by corporal punishment and fines alone in view of the new machinery, they themselves could not meet the necessity to earn a living in large scale industry without an elementary education. The workers achieved what idealistic philosophers, intent on promoting the unity of the nation, could not bring about by their treatises on the necessity of public education. As victims of large scale industry the workers forced the state to meet industry’s requirements, after the factory schools had turned out to be just as useless for generating free workers (that is, workers able to do changing work) as the efforts of enlightened philanthropists. The state met the demand to abolish education as a privilege by establishing compulsory attendance at school as a means of selection. This guaranted that the workers’ children would be given the minimum of knowledge and civic virtues they needed, while sparing them the burden of superfluous knowledge.
Idealist philosophy accommodated the state’s interest in having modern humanities by adopting this interest as its immanent theoretical point of view. It fought against religious belief by dissolving itself into individual disciplines, each one proceeding instrumentally. A university committed to the bourgeois state could meet the task of giving higher officials a learned attitude. However, it was of limited use for the general education the state had to provide to meet the requirements of large scale industry. The freedom of science, i.e. the subordination of professional thinking to the purposes of the state which already distinguished philosophy, guaranteed that social science developed immanently into a reliable instrument of the class state, namely, into a partisan view of social phenomena spread over individual sciences but always guided by an interest in upholding bourgeois society. (This explanation contrasts with those crude materialistic ones that try to prove the usefulness of science for capital without mentioning the state, i.e. denying its freedom, or that derive the process of thinking from certain “economic form determinations” and similar nonsense.)
2. With the one-sided skills and civic-mindedness they have acquired in the education system, citizens are left by the state to take up the vocation of their choice by competing on the labor market. Forced to find a buyer for their abilities (labor power) in order to earn a living, they continually contribute to an excess supply of labor in relation to the demand. The state, which gives the demand side the freedom to decide when it is profitable to purchase labor, is well aware that the free choice of careers goes hand in hand with unemployment, and sets about providing social security. It obligates those who depend on their wages, but who cannot continuously support themselves by pursuing their vocations, to do so anyway by mandatory unemployment insurance. It forces them to restrict their income as a precautionary measure by paying contributions, and grants them in the case of unemployment a reduced income for a limited time (unemployment benefits). These restrictions make them ready to accept worse- paying jobs, which the state promotes by imposing conditions that can be tightened depending on the state of the economy (obligations to report and to accept “reasonably” worse jobs), and by providing incentives (occupational retraining). Here the state is prepared to show special respect for unemployed women by suddenly recognizing that housework is a vocation. The stinginess with which the state calculates unemployment compensation (in accordance with the length of employment and financial assets of the family, available only to one family member, etc.) makes it understandable why wageworkers take such pains to avoid being unemployed.
Those dependent on wages therefore demonstrate a willingness to work hard. They increase their efforts not only to maintain their income at a tolerable level, but also to prove that the purchase of their labor is worth it for the employer and thus to secure their jobs. However, there is not much latitude for such demonstrations since the production process is organized in such a way as to press a maximum of labor out of the workers whether they like it or not. By compelling them to pay for health and accident insurance the state does justice to the inevitable assault on workers’ health caused by their employers’ maximum utilization of their labor. Workers must accept illness as a self-understood side-effect of their labor, and the precaution for coping with it and the resulting inability to work is again compulsory. It diminishes their working income by the premiums they pay. When they are sick they receive their full wages for only a limited period of time, while longer illnesses and lasting disability due to accidents or occupational diseases mean a reduction of their pay. The resulting incentive to go back to work is helped along by checkups from medical examiners appointed by the insurance or welfare agency. Since health and accident insurance thus gives workers no protection from illness but merely enables them to return to the place that makes them ill, the state has come up with some ideas for limiting the inevitable disability. It requires those who take advantage of wage-labor to moderate their use of it by safety regulations, on-site medical care, and paid vacations.
Since the state permanently exposes wageworkers to the social causes of illness while at the same time obligating them to be healthy, it must provide public health services, the institutions they need in order to regain their ability to work. The efforts of medicine are limited by the necessities of wage labor and are therefore not equivalent to a struggle for health. This is demonstrated by all the rules for preventing illness as long as it has natural causes, while medicine is helpless when it comes to the much-lamented social causes of illness. Medicine can’t make wage labor healthy, and it is pure cynicism when experts on psychosomatic medicine transform the social reasons for infirmity into a psychological attitude and work out ways to make the ill willing to endure their ruination while maintaining their usefulness.
A worker’s life being a process of ruination, it becomes increasingly difficult to show the required performance on the job as one grows older. Early on, the state starts forcing workers to prepare for the legally stipulated time when they are no longer expected to meet these requirements with old age insurance. For the monthly deductions from their working income they are given a reduced subsistence during those years when they must live in forced idleness with their run-down bodies as either premature or timely pensioners. To avoid jeopardizing the usefulness of the active working force by excessively burdening it with the cost of supporting the old, the state builds homes for them. It builds too few of them, and they also cost people money. This makes families start considering what is cheaper and easier: to pay for a wretched home or drag grandma and grandpa along in their domestic idyll.
The various forms of insurance are therefore social institutions which have nothing to do with providing security for those who pay for them. First of all, everyone needs them because at some time or other their usefulness will have to be renewed or be forever lost. The inevitability of distress for wageworkers is what gives these institutions their social character. Their purpose is to maintain wage labor as a means for private property, which fact is not hidden, but revealed, by the obligation of the employers to pay part of the contributions. As for these employers, who for obvious reasons are not obligated by the state to insure themselves, they can satisfy their need for security, over and above their being able to live off their property, by taking out all kinds of voluntary insurance. The latter differ from compulsory insurance not only by the privileges they offer but also by the fact that they can be used to make money!
Since social insurance calls for sacrifices and offers little security, the state is faced with complaints from its citizens. When they see how damaging wage labor is for them, they demand compensation and start comparing the cost of their insurance with the benefits. On the one hand, they find it unjust that there are so many restrictions on the availability of their insurance, and demand acknowledgment of how useful they have been. On the other hand, they like to accuse those who are forced to rely on social insurance benefits of being useless and nothing but a burden on their hardworking fellow citizens.
The unemployed insist on their right to a job, as if there was such a thing as employment in this society without the threat of unemployment. For their helpless attempts to avoid a social drop they harvest the accusation of being unwilling to work and shirking, which they are forced to take to heart.
Citizens’ complaints about the shortcomings of health insurance also have two sides. When it comes to their own illness they take their right to help for granted, while other citizens are always malingering and driving up the cost of insurance when they draw benefits. Many people therefore find heedlessness of one’s own health to be not only a necessity (fear for one’s job is justified!), but also a virtue.
Socially useless old-age pensioners, who would like to spend the last years of their lives in peace and expect thanks for their former efforts, meet with contempt from all those who subscribe to the ideology that one can only make demands if one shows achievement. This leads to laments about the cold-hearted treatment of the aged, alongside an unabashed praise of young people, who should be given plenty of attention because theirs is the future. And the stupidity of the old, who see their own, faded virtue in the usefulness of youth, competes with the pride of the young, who refuse to see that their vitality is the best way to grow old fast.
The state justifies its measures in view of this double discontent by saying the risks of life are inescapable and that everyone must contribute in solidarity to diminish them. It praises its social measures as being a necessary addition to the merit system to give everyone the chance to live a worthy life. It counters laments about the injustice of unemployment by claiming to be powerless against trends in business, contending that those responsible are the entrepreneurs, who can be sure of the energetic support of this very same state. It responds to complaints about the drudgery of wage labor by defending the merit system, or by demanding that work places be “humanized,” i.e. that the “necessities” of the capitalist production process be adapted to the workers’ physical and psychological bounds to make their ruination more attractive and more effective. It defends itself against the widespread attacks on its public health system (which are based on the mistaken assumption that the state’s purpose is simply to fight disease) by making comparisons with bygone times when plagues and early death were commonplace, and urges its citizens to somehow live a healthy private life. This state complains about its citizens’ “obsession with achievement and consumption,” accusing them of provoking their own ruination all by themselves. By propagating moderation in consumption and healthy nutrition, it tries to reach into a sphere where it cannot use the force of law, trying to induce them to take account of their usefulness for society by keeping fit. And since the important thing is to show performance although you don’t benefit from it, the state praises youth as the ideal of usefulness. It adds that of course one must also not look down on the old, but relieve the state of some of the burden of paying for them by keeping them at home.
When the state makes it clear that it is not willing to make its citizens’ social rights into anything other than what they are, namely a compensation forcing wage workers to continue existing as such, leftist pro-labor types can’t think of anything better than to glorify those rights on the grounds that the workers fought for them! These leftists take the necessity of wresting even the lousiest concessions from the state as a reason for upholding them as holy workers’ rights. With this cynical praise they open up the broad field of accusations that the state is “incompetent,” as well as the revisionist fight for rights.
The alternative fascists regard the state’s social expenses not only as a burden, just as all democrats do, but also as a danger to the strength of the nation when it comes to the function of these expenditures. They object to maintaining labor-power which cannot be fully used, declaring that the state has an unconditional claim to service and a willingness to make sacrifices on the part of its citizens. They take the necessity to compete under capitalism with all its consequences as a reason for the state to select individuals according to whether or not they are willing and able to do their duty.
3. The workers’ reward for their usefulness and willingness is the highly acclaimed free sphere of private life, which is respected in a democracy. However, this sphere has its limits. The first limit is given directly by wage labor itself. Private life begins when work ends, and what one can do with it is a question of money. Since wageworkers are allowed to buy anything but cannot afford everything, they buy only what they need. And they divide up their time on the same principle. They are forced to regard their private freedom as a sphere of necessity since they must make sure they maintain the source of their income, i.e. their capacity to work. When attempting to satisfy their wishes they realize not only that they have too little time and money to do so, but also that a spontaneous use of their private freedom always goes against the kind of consumption necessary for continuing their labor. And they even have trouble satisfying those needs which are functionally related to maintaining their working capacity, due to the social conditions their shallow pockets are not equal to.
This calls the state to the scene, which comes up with additional social services designed to prevent the difficulties of private life from becoming a hindrance to working life. These measures are therefore not to be confused with gifts. Their social function consists in inducing wageworkers to use their free time for reproducing their labor-power in spite of everything. This means new duties and sacrifices, and subjects the realm of individual freedom and liberty to the necessities of exploitation.
Since workers own no property they must rent a place to live. This elementary condition of life makes them dependent on landlords, who are out to use their property to make money. The state regulates the collision between the necessities of private life and the landlord’s right to maintain and increase his property by laws of tenancy, which take equal account of both sides and therefore guarantee the tenant neither a secure abode nor an affordable rent. The state reacts to the shortage of cheap housing, of course not by abolishing private property in real estate! It acknowledges real estate as a source of income and implements housing policies. One of these consists in supporting the efforts of those dependent on landlords to free themselves from this burden by aiding savings earmarked for buying a homestead, granting bank loans and deducting mortgage interest from taxable income, which make owning one’s own home a lifelong problem once and for all, although not for the banks. The ideological name of this new form of sacrifice for workers is “one’s own four walls.” Since those in need of a real cheap place to live cannot afford the luxury of saving for a home of their own on top of paying a lofty rent, the state provides publicly assisted home-building. The assistance here consists in giving property owners tax relief, subsidies, etc., to induce them to build housing and rent it out for a while at a price that covers their costs. Another state measure for mitigating the collision between the need for cheap housing and the justified profit of landlords is to pay rent subsidies, thereby transforming tax money into profit which landlords can make despite the poverty of the tenants.
The time and effort required to go from home to work and back detract from the workers’ availability for their employers, and this too calls the state into action. It sets up a traffic network that takes account of both the needs of private traffic and the need for mass transportation facilities, since many workers cannot afford to buy and operate their own car. The masses are thus free to choose between prolonging their work hours into their leisure time, or spending more of their precious money just to get to work.
Democratic citizens are not simply ordered around all day long. They have next to no choice about how to get through the day, it is true, but in their free time they get to witness the politicians in charge debating about the laws they are free to pass, and to form their very own opinion about it all. The state organizes the sphere of the media, granting easy access to all information and knowing that its free journalists never fail to supply the ideology to go along with it. The political branch of the media is the news, which constantly presents events at home and abroad from the prevailing national point of view, portraying the latest developments in politics and business as inevitable after a consideration of all the pros and cons, and illustrating by reports about crimes and hurricanes that the state is indispensable. The message is always the same although every measure and every event, whether war, subway construction or the Olympics, is commented on by all kinds of different experts in a great display of pluralism. The media also satisfy citizens’ desire for entertainment, that is above all a need to compensate the detriment of working life. It seems that people really want to unwind from the pressure of the daily grind with movies and moronic game shows which treat their audience with absolute contempt. And no entertainment can be had without its ideological message, namely, one can’t have everything, but we won’t be stopped from singing, because at Heaven’s gate everyone is equal. Thus, every civilized nation has its mass culture.
The state does justice to the need for physical compensation of the stress of wage labor by providing recreational parks and sports facilities. This, too, is no present for the working population but is tied to conditions. Admission fees, membership fees, and the restrictions of club life turn the enjoyment of doing sports into the question of how ready one is to make sacrifices. Since most people have had enough exercise due to their one-sided exertion at work and prefer to spend their time and money on other things, the state agitates for health and keeping fit, making it clear that it’s not the fun of sport that counts anyway. It tells its citizens to simply regard every bodily movement as sport, from shopping to taking a walk, and not to be idle lest they stagnate. And when young people are actually enthusiastic about sport, the state is quick to take advantage of it. It promotes competitive sports (this redundant term referring to sport as a profession, as is clearly evident from the effect on the athletes), since international success in this field is an excellent means for demonstrating the nation’s prowess.
Those intellects who express concern about our “leisure society” quite evidently assume that the natural thing for people to do is work. Their free time is taken to be a problem. Going away for the weekend, perhaps even with a surfboard on the roof of the car, is something working people don’t seem to be fully entitled to do. It gives social thinkers the impression that modern capitalistic life consists mostly in free time, and makes them worry about whether the masses are capable of making proper use of it. After all, they might be too stupid to realize that their free time is not just for doing whatever they want, but involves the duty of at least restoring their physical and mental powers, if not of improving their minds, which would really please the intellectuals.
4. For all who do not make it through the competition at school and at work and who can therefore not sustain themselves, the state has welfare measures. It knows that its society constantly produces pauperism and declares this a public concern. Public welfare payments are intended to enable the recipient to live independently of it. They are available only to those who do not refuse to take on reasonable work, which does not mean those who refuse are given nothing at all. There is always a place for them in an institution, a stay in prison without any broken law. The way the state treats its citizens when they are in extreme distress thus also makes it clear that it is not there for them, but that they should serve the common good by taking care of themselves (which means being of use to others).
Finally, since even the expenditures for poorhouses, night shelters and meager welfare payments are too high for the state, it remembers how morally minded its citizens are and invents the principle that public welfare is “secondary.” The welfare office bestows its boons only on those who cannot be helped by their family or by private charity, i.e. organizations and foundations which appeal to the morality of those still able to work, going after their coins on the street, at their doors, at school, etc. The state supports those foundations so that the practice of morality is not limited to the accidental compassion of individuals. Beyond the destitution visible in their immediate vicinity, people are confronted with the organized presentation of distress they are expected to feel responsible for themselves. Thus, even people who are no great believers discover how useful churches are and show solidarity with their fellow citizens. With their donations they save the state money, which it happily acknowledges since it then has all the more for furthering private property.
5. It cannot be doubted that the state is interested in maintaining the class of wageworkers. But it is even less disputable that the way it provides for those citizens who must rely on their labor is not good for them. Everything the state does in this area boils down to forcing workers to practice an art which deserves little admiration. They have to cope with the consequences of their service for property, enduring the effects of the immediate production process and subordinating their private lives to the purpose of being useful manpower. As a result of its freedom-promoting activities the state is therefore faced with the workers’ demand that they be allowed to exist, which it cannot help acknowledging in the interests of their useful service. It proceeds to lay down limits to exploitation and to act as the protector of labor-power to prevent it from being used in a way that threatens to destroy it directly. The statutory determination of the normal working day is the state’s reaction to the fact that the free play of forces on the labor market would deprive workers of all livelihood. Since there is always a surplus of people forced to sell their labor-power in order to live and employers can therefore dictate the conditions, unhampered free competition will invariably lead to a working day too long for workers to endure and too low-paying to sustain them. The state’s efforts to prevent employers from exploiting the workers’ competition to such an extent that their lives are immediately threatened are of course anything but an attack on the basic situation of the working class. This is amply evident from the text of the laws. For example, Article 618 of the German Civil Code: “The party entitled to the services of another shall equip and maintain the rooms and implements he must provide for the performance of these services, and shall organize the services to be performed under his direction, in such a manner that the obligated party is protected against a danger to life and limb so far as the nature of the service permits.” A real social state, it takes the fact that employees are forced to work overtime, beyond the normal amount, as a reason to fix specific limits for this and to define the conditions under which it is permitted.
These manifold protective measures, which are celebrated as progress under capitalism, all fall under the criterion the public power applies whenever it decides to provide special rights for wageworkers. The effects of wage labor must be limited at that point where they make wage labor impossible as a means of livelihood, and therefore become a “social problem” without yielding any benefit. The point of legislation preventing the reckless decimation of the workers, who are subject to the capitalists’ will and the “technical necessities” resulting from this will, was summed up by Marx as follows:
What could possibly show better the character of the capitalist mode of production than the necessity that exists for forcing upon it, by Acts of Parliament, the simplest appliances for maintaining cleanliness and health? (Capital I, p.481).
Safety provisions for workers, including even the “observation of mores and propriety,” regulations for prevention of accidents and special rules for the exploitation of young people and pregnant women: this is the miserable way the state acknowledges its citizens’ trouble surviving their service for property. This is how it protects their human dignity! The need for the state to restrict the workers’ ruination in the production process indicates not only that the owners of the means of production are unwilling to do so of their own accord. It also demonstrates the power their property gives them to achieve their ends against the competing workers.
The regulations the state issues to protect workers from their employers thus prove to be the counterpart of those it issues to force property owners to make their profit without preventing other proprietors from making theirs (section 5 b). The small difference between them lies in the nature of what is being threatened by competition and cannot persist without state intervention in each case. While competition between proprietors jeopardizes the productive utilization of property, so that the state imposes restrictions to guarantee such utilization, competition between wageworkers leads to a destruction of their existence, which concerns the state because it makes people useless.
Free workers sell their labor-power in order to make a livelihood, and if this is rendered impossible they fight the effects of the competition they are forced to endure. They join together to form coalitions to refuse to work and thereby obtain better working conditions. The protective measures mentioned above were wrested from the state by the struggles of the working class, and once instituted they become the starting point for all kinds of attempts on the part of the owning class to avoid sustaining losses from the reduced exploitability of their workers. Every limit on exploitation imposed by the state after militant action by the workers simply challenges the capitalists to make new changes in the relationship between pay and required work in their own favor. It has therefore become a normal occurrence in bourgeois society for workers to periodically fend off their employers’ attacks on their existence. Since the interests of labor and capital are irreconcilable, the state is confronted with class struggle, which continually interferes with the functioning of society. None of the state’s efforts to maintain property and wage-labor can create social peace, since each measure merely gives a new form to the antagonism on which the state is based, so that the workers always have a new reason to strike.
The democratic state has no reason to prohibit workers’ coalitions since the free settlement of their conflicts with management is the most effective way for the two parties to perpetuate their relationship, which is after all a contractual one. The state therefore responds by legally regulating labor disputes. It sets circumscribed limits on them, banishing the inherent danger to private property by permitting them only to the extent that workers recognize the rights of private property. It grants the workers the right of unionization and issues laws on how this right is allowed to be used. The state makes the hostile classes into negotiating partners by granting collective bargaining autonomy, the obligation to reach agreements that allow one side to alter the production process as it pleases while obligating the other side to refrain from militant actions until the contract is up for renewal again. The state also passes laws that lay down when a strike is legal and when it is not. A strike must be socially adequate. It must not be aimed at annihilating the other side (i.e. its property), and it must also show a concern for third parties that are inevitably involved. Here the state even includes itself. The economic state of the nation and the whole democratic constitutional system set limits on the workers’ demands to change the relationship between pay and required work. This means that the workers’ interest in a halfway decent livelihood is acknowledged only conditionally from the start. The ideological fanatics of collective bargaining autonomy regard it as an idyllic lack of state interference in wage disputes. However, every article of the relevant laws demonstrates that this right to autonomy is nothing but a codification of trade union struggle, whereby the state turns class struggle into a mass of obligations for workers’ coalitions. (If these obligations are breached the unions are treated the way loyal citizens called for from the beginning.)
In their enthusiasm about collective bargaining autonomy and the right to strike, democrats like to forget that these laws are the way the state intervenes to make sure every wage negotiation is a compromise in the interests of private property. Not even the definition of the “wildcat strike,” a strike conducted without state supervision of the ritual, prevents democrats from demanding more perfect strike legislation. And the decisions of the diverse labor courts on wage disputes, showing that the only unequivocal line of state settlements is that trade unions must be restricted, also leaves fans of democracy cold. With their illusions about the state being passive in this sphere, they do not realize that their complaints about a need for better legal codification of labor’s right to fight (usually with a reminder of the disadvantages of having illegal unions) are ultimately a desire for prohibitions. They do not see that the legalization of labor struggles is the way the state obligates labor to compromise, be loyal and make sparing use of its only means of struggle, the strike.
In advanced capitalist countries, trade unions are often so attached to this illusion that they have nothing better to do than aim for cooperation in establishing social peace, and fight for due recognition of working citizens in this capacity. They even participate in wage disputes as a way of fighting for recognition of the trade unions, collective bargaining autonomy, democratic rights, etc., all at the expense of the workers.
By legalizing the unions’ struggle in accordance with the needs of the other side, the state makes it serve its own goal of maintaining the class antagonism. In addition to making it harder for the workers’ militant organizations to disturb the social peace, the state also enables the proprietors to take full advantage of the compromises (that are usually reached without militant measures) for the duration of the wage agreement. The requirement that labor keep the peace once an agreement is concluded is an open invitation to management to modify the conditions of work. This makes the production process a continual source of reasons for militant action by the unions. The state responds to capital’s violations of the workers’ rights stipulated in the collective agreements by issuing laws concerning employees’ representation and co-determination in industry. The essence of these laws is that workers are obligated to put up with their boss continually disturbing the company peace. They are allowed to have their interests represented within the company, but this shop committee is committed to preserving peace in the shop. It must be heard and kept informed, may take legal steps against violations of the law (which are obviously a matter of course in factories) and see to it that the workers do not drink, smoke or ignore safety regulations. But, it has no authority to decide anything. This institution is designed to have workers react to their mistreatment in the factory, not by turning to militant trade union actions, but by lodging complaints in the nice prescribed way. It is propagated with the ideology of strengthening the employees’ position in their perpetual fight with the boss.
Since the shop committee is elected by the workers, it is unmistakably a tool for representing their interests as far as democratically-minded trade-unionists and revisionists are concerned. They are therefore most eager to apply for such posts and then, instead of achieving anything for the workers (which is impossible through this institution anyway), they agitate them to give great support to a union-oriented shop committee. They thereby reinforce the propaganda of the other side, that militancy is superfluous. To prove the importance of their brand of shop committee they draw comparisons with corrupt ones that fawn on management (whereby these ones praise their good standing with the bosses as the reason for their effectiveness). With its laws on employees’ representation the state has thus managed to carry a very democratic dispute right into the sphere of production, namely, the dispute over the best way of getting along without a labor struggle. And trade unionists, of all people, have nothing better to do than participate in it with their dream of codetermination, as if the antagonism between management and labor were an accident.
d) The institution of the bourgeois family
With its measures guaranteeing wageworkers a free and therefore restricted existence, the state is not yet finished meeting its citizens’ rightful demands for a livelihood. It even makes sure the freedom to love whomever one wants cannot be enjoyed at will, but is subordinated to people’s function for society. The state subjects love to the necessities of its citizens’ self-preservation, obligating men to defray the costs of mother and child, while requiring women to bring up the children and also serve the men’s domestic needs. By legally stipulating that the relationship between man and woman, which conflicts with the utilitarian principle of bourgeois society, must involve sustenance duties based on a division of labor, the state frees both itself and property from the social burden of caring for those who do not work. It thereby insists that love serve a useful purpose, which citizens must pay dearly for. The institution of the bourgeois family, which imposes few restrictions on people of sufficient means, rounds off the bleakness of life as a wageworker by offering a marvelous alternative. One can either do without love and children and afford a few more pleasures or prove one’s affection by fulfilling family duties and sharing increased worries for the rest of one’s life.
With its family law, the state turns love into a means for sustaining the class of working people. It links the freedom to love with the regulation of love as a lasting matrimonial and family relationship, defining man, woman and child by the force of law as private persons having certain rights and obligations. This makes feelings the basis for a system of mutual claims and restrictions, which destroys them. No wonder a lot of people marry only because a baby is on the way. The state permits a relationship between man and woman only on the terms of a contract under family law, namely, marriage (including “common- law marriage”!). This transforms love and faithfulness into the obligation to form a “conjugal community” and provide mutual maintenance, while other relationships are declared to be premarital or extramarital intercourse, which may also lead to obligations. By compelling the husband to draw a sufficient income, the wife to manage the household (or vice versa nowadays) and both to exert parental power over the child, the state makes sure those united in a family lovingly restrict each other to meet the requirements of a working life that shows little consideration for them.
Children, which are one of society’s necessary expenses, are at their parents’ mercy. In other words, they pay for their upbringing to be independent competitors by being directly dependent for years on the resources and expectations of their parents. For their parents they are a burden so they are supposed to be obedient and strive for success in competition to be able to take care of themselves. Consequently, as they grow up they have less and less reason to show the thankfulness and respect their parents demand. In their rebelliousness and longing for independence they invariably see the constraints of society solely as a conspiracy of the old against the young. They are soon disillusioned about the freedom of independent life in competition.
A man who settles down with a woman buys, for this cut in his income that was too small in the first place, a cramped domestic existence alongside his job. Instead of finding the relaxation from work there that he desires, he is confronted with the troubles of his wife and kids, who want more than just their allowances from him. The sphere of the family thus becomes an additional burden, its sparse pleasures being continually soured by the unfulfillable demands its members make on each other, which is why men are not only keen on TV and taverns but can even see advantages in work.
A woman presiding over the household is locked into an existence in the service of her husband and children, into the monotony of performing tedious yet laborious tasks. Her social function, for which she is publicly recognized, is her personal sacrifice for her family’s well-being, her drudgery with obstinate children, her daily concern to provide her work-worn husband with a comfortable evening and good children despite their small budget, and relieve him of all domestic troubles. As a reward she gets to keep herself attractive and ready to satisfy his need for relaxation.
Since family members have to take care of each other, the state relieves its overburdened finances by making the family pay for all the vicissitudes of proletarian life before its own wonderful social welfare measures take effect. It thus leaves no doubt as to why it subsidizes family savings.
With additional measures the state ensures the continuing usefulness of the love which its marriage and family law has subordinated to maintaining the class of wageworkers. To counteract the rise in the cost of living, it provides tax relief that reduces the pressure on business to pay higher wages and even flows back to the state in part through the family’s additional consumption (in the sales tax). It acknowledges that a worker’s wages are too meager to carry the burden of children by granting tax exemptions for dependents and child benefits, which still do not make it affordable to have children. The state thus honors the contribution parents make to society without relieving them of their troubles. And when the dependence of children on their families’ resources interferes with their becoming especially useful citizens through higher education, the state grants financial aid earmarked for this purpose. And since workers have neither large gardens nor time for trips to the country, the state builds a few dismal playgrounds where the kids can be deposited.
Since such support is never sufficient, a working-class family must be maintained by having the wife neglect it, if at all possible, and supplement her housekeeping money by doing badly paid work. The institution of the family thus provides a cheap and willing labor supply for business and price-cutting competition for male workers, while saddling working-class women with the double burden of wage labor and housework, unless they want to devote themselves to their children and do without bare necessities for themselves and the family. The requirements of the family, for the sake of which wives go to work, constantly hinder their ability to work, so that the state takes measures to make mothers somewhat freer from the burden of children and more useful as employees. The additional costs of day care for the family make women even more willing to convert all their free time into working time. The state counters the conflict between the requirements of working life and unprofitable child rearing by issuing laws to protect working mothers, that enable them to devote themselves exclusively to their families for a brief time without losing their jobs. During those times when the surplus of manpower is such that the state would like to see more women unemployed and busy at home again, it supplements these efforts to keep women useful by permitting them to work only if they can prove their children are taken care of. In such times it saves unemployment benefits by rediscovering that housework is an honest profession. When capital can once again use women, the state enables them to work even though they are indispensable at home by running and supporting day-care centers, which take children in custody for a considerable fee and help groom them for their later tasks in society.
By institutionalizing the family the state has created new burdens that constantly jeopardize the emotional ties on which the family is based. It consequently sees to it that families continue on with their useful aspects even after all feeling has vanished, making an institution of mutual torture. It supplements the freedom of private life by providing marriage counseling and child guidance in the media and in government agencies, which compete with the Church in giving advice on how to keep from killing one’s loved ones. By passing laws on prostitution and pornography it regulates surrogate amusements as a rather dubious bourgeois profession, all in the interests of the family. In order to keep up the personal bond together with its obligations even after no bond is left, divorce laws make people’s separation contingent on legal and financial arrangements that chain society’s less moneyed members to each other by making spouses pay for their determination to give up a broken home, each in his own way. When the personal restraint family members put on each other takes the form of brute force against the children, the state sees a need in extreme cases to interfere with parental rights. Then its youth welfare authorities complete the job of neglecting the kids. And those who do not want to take the vows of marriage after the kids are born are also obligated to provide for them by laws on paternity and illegitimate children and in homes for single mothers. Children are punished for having no parents or benevolent relatives by being put in orphanages.
For those without financial difficulties, the family, like all the social institutions of the state, is not a burden but a benefit. The children, who guarantee the family property, do not encumber their mother but are prepared the whole time by nannies and boarding schools for their careers as successors. One’s wife serves as a showpiece inside and outside the mansion, divorce is a matter to be handled by one’s tax and investment consultant, and sexual amusement is taken for granted as an accompaniment to one’s useful domestic idyll, as an item on one’s expense account.
The state makes relations between the sexes its “fundamental unit” and obligates the human means of production to devote their romantic inclinations to maintaining their class. This tends to destroy the human material in order to make it useful to private property . The institution of the family constantly impairs the restoration of the worker for wage labor. It makes the production and upbringing of potential wageworkers dependent on their parents’ arbitrary decisions, and impairs the usefulness of women for private property by limiting them to the domestic sphere, which they are again not supposed to live entirely for.
The family is therefore a subject of state propaganda intended to induce citizens to do the impossible by reconciling their family duties with their other duties toward society, whereby more importance is attached to one or the other depending on the nation’s requirements of the moment. The oppression of children by their parents, and the specific kind of exploitation reserved for women constitute the bleak reality of family life, a reality which, due to its emotional basis, takes the form of personal torment. This is the reality that is affirmed in the public hymns of praise about the high value of the family for society.
Conservatives like to glorify motherly love, stress the deeper meaning of making sacrifices for one’s fellow creatures and praise the fulfillment of having a cozy home in this impersonal and automated world of ours. This shows their interest in having everyone assent joyfully to their subjection to these socially useful brutalities. And they are invariably quick to lament how the family is going to the dogs and falling prey to materialism nowadays. With the support of the churches they preach against the growing immorality, the increasing number of working wives and mothers, the liberalization of gender-specific education, divorce and abortion laws, and demand that the authoritarian structure of the family be saved at the family members’ expense since that is allegedly what the state is based on. They also aver that the future of old-age pensions, the economy and the army is at stake, and that nobody is willing to produce the new generation for the nation any more.
State propagandists of the modern woman and family keep on proving that the reason why there is a women’s rights issue in bourgeois society is that the special service women are forced to perform for competition sets them in opposition to this competition. Those in charge proclaim an “International Women’s Year” especially for the purpose of propagating phrases about partnership, equal rights and emancipation to agitate women to bear their double burden and make the family fit its social purpose better. The agitation in the Year of the Child makes the appropriate corrections.
Such talk is readily accepted only by those people with secure economic positions who can expect their families to bring them few burdens and much joy, by women who are free to leave boring housework behind, and husbands who want more “open-minded” wives, who go through life together with their liberally tolerated extramarital affairs, their marital quarrels and their one or two pampered and (if too much trouble) neglected children, unless they become bored enough to get a divorce. These people, who can afford these easy ways of coping with family destruction and can practice the immorality going along with the family while maintaining their families, are the ones recruited by the women’s movement. Women’s lib deals with the problems of women, their dependence on men due to the forced subordination of love to society’s requirements, by advocating that women seek liberation in their usefulness as women, their “capacity for love and understanding,” i.e. beyond the specific person they love and understand. They consider this mental satisfaction of needs to be liberation, and act as if the whole world of capital and states were nothing but a fight between cocks and pussies. They publish magazines that promote equal rights for women in the army and on the covers of magazines. With its return to woman’s real nature, spontaneously fulfilled maternal bliss, the women’s movement became generally acceptable once and for all.
Revisionists, by contrast, remain true to themselves and fit the women question into that endless series of scandalous inequalities and injustices that are waiting for real democracy. Never forgetting their beloved working class, they have nothing but praise for the solidarity within a working-class family (citing Engels as a forerunner), while prudishly lamenting the immorality of the upper classes. Their position is strikingly similar to fascist ideas about the health of the people and moral purity. Revisionists thus support the pro-family attitude of those who need a family because they have nothing else.
Workers preserve their families by submitting to the requirements of property even after hours and additionally ruining themselves under their own roof. Equal rights for the proletarian woman means having to take a worse-paid job in addition to drudging at home. To live with such self-sacrifice these people must therefore perform well in the field of morality as well. They do not waste a lot of time dreaming about the joys of love which are supposed to brighten up sad workaday life, but prepare early on for a family life full of self-denial in which nobody can expect much except for duties. Once a working man is stuck with a family, he seeks solace in sights of full-busted women, dirty jokes and going to the bar, while expecting his wife to be efficient, thrifty, tidy, undemanding, well-groomed, etc., i.e. to show all the virtues that make his domestic life bearable. He expects his children to be seen and not heard, to make themselves useful until they are useful, which should be as soon as possible. The woman, brought up to be a mother, accepts the fate of working two jobs for the sake of the family, expects her husband and children to acknowledge her selflessness, and comforts herself with TV and magazines when she has a few moments to herself. Since these virtues are dictated by need and thus provide neither benefit nor satisfaction, there are always working-class men who prefer to blow their money in the bar or the whorehouse instead of at home, working-class wives who neglect their homes and children, and working-class children who cause trouble not only for their parents. And alongside certain categories in criminal statistics, alongside family and youth series in the media, there is the daily drone of pop songs about love making the world go round.
e) Social state ideals
Our investigation of the ways in which the democratic state ensures the freedom of all its citizens, whom it considers equal, has clarified the concept of the social state. It is no coincidence that “social” means both “pertaining to society” and “pertaining to activities designed to alleviate unfavorable conditions of life in a community, esp. among the poor” (Random House Dictionary). The bourgeois state can only preserve its society, which is not just any society but the capitalism that makes this state necessary in the first place, by counteracting capital’s ruination of a whole class of people. While the ideal collective capitalist regulates competition between capitalists so as to ensure their business success as a class, its social measures are forms of organizing modern poverty, thereby staving off working-class revolts in the interests of sheer survival and ensuring the continuing usefulness of this class.
The satisfaction with which this organization of poverty is promoted always expresses therefore the tamed and relativised dissatisfaction with the old forms of “Manchester” capitalism. In Germany, the first major social state institutions were set up to accompany Bismarck’s law against socialists, being expressly intended to undermine the social democratic movement of the time. This not only demonstrates what the social state has to do with class struggle, but also that the state’s concessions in this area are very relative. From the point of view of the state’s basic democratic mission (see chapter eight), politicians are most keen on saving money on their compensatory measures depending on the economic situation.
It is not surprising that some citizens insist on appealing to this state to go about creating a different society. Citizens are dependent on a public power existing alongside society to protect them in their competition, so they inevitably consider the true purpose of the state to be to serve their interests. Thus, when confronted with the practical proof of the state’s uselessness as a positive means for their social existence, it is logical for them to consider it terribly unfair for the state to impose duties on them while granting rights to other citizens. They seek to mold the advantages they desire into an ideal social state. The next step is the moral transcendence of this false consciousness, the ideal of social justice, with the corresponding conviction that one’s own benefit is everyone’s benefit.
The confrontations between the state’s real activities and its ideals are a normal part of the squabbling among the bourgeois political parties. And this is perfect for the politicians trying to show that only they are the right ones for “dealing” with the diverse conflicts of bourgeois life. Their fight over who is provided the most social security is really about who’s best at hitting people over the head.
It’s different with those who think the question of making the social state come true can actually break the system, and turn their ideal into a militant program intended to shake capitalism to its foundations. Revisionist efforts to realize freedom, equality and social justice keep up the illusion that the state exists to make its citizens happy, denying that its purpose is to secure class society. They push themselves and their followers into battles for social rights which either end in terrible defeats or, if the state is too weak to crush them, lead to workers’ and peasants’ states. Their crucial argument for fighting for rights is that it can be done. Thus, whereas the working class once applied force to wrest concessions from the enemy with regard to its existence, today’s friends of the workers create a history of attempts to realize ideal rights instead of a history of class struggles. It is a particularly nasty element of this position that its adherents celebrate everything the working class had to fight for just because they fought for it, thoroughly disregarding what the bourgeois state’s services for the workers really are.
The translation of this false critique of the state into learned Marxism is almost comical. The people guilty of this fraud have “difficulties” explaining the state as a class state, because they commit the errors of bourgeois science in their own one-sided way. So they can’t help doubting whether the class state can be explained at all. They eventually came up with a list of dos and don’ts for state theory. One political scientist wants to “take Marxist discussion as far as possible off the one-sided track of the so-called ‘correct derivation’ of economic processes and political developments from the ‘motion of capital.’” Another poses the following brilliant question before (not) dealing with the class state:
If the state is to be understood as an instrument of class domination, how can one interpret measures which are taken by or through the state for the benefit of the working class?
He adds that “this debate, conducted under the catchword ‘social state,’ is also far from being concluded.” Perhaps we should send a letter saying the debate is concluded, to him and all the others who ascribe functions to the state which it does not have and therefore never see its real function, who thus get into trouble with Marx and fumble on with the help of bourgeois political science. Such Marxist discussion of the state is a part of the bourgeois discussion of whether the 19th century class state still exists or whether the state’s increased activities in the past hundred years have marked its transformation into a social state. Such theoretical disinterest in explaining the state combines with a practical interest in having it to produce the most reactionary garbage ever written since the advent of revisionism. The prizewinner is the idea that the workers might have no more reason to play the revolutionary actor in view of the social state!
May we therefore summarize the concept of the social state, the realization of social justice, in the words of the great prophet Martin Luther, who knew what equality and freedom have to do with each other: “What is justice other than that everyone does what befits his station?”