4 min read

Bewildering Social Convulsions

Bewildering Social Convulsions

Of the Labor Movement in the United States, Friedrich Engels wrote, "That the laboring masses should feel their community of grievances and of interests, their solidarity as a class in opposition to all other classes; that in order to give expression and effect to this feeling, they should set in motion the political machinery provided for that purpose in every free country — that is the first step only. The next step is to find the common remedy for these common grievances, and to embody it in the platform of the new Labor Party. And this — the most important and the most difficult step in the movement — has yet to be taken in America." and he was right.

I've already written at length about the psychology of those living within capitalism's capacity to reform it, and insofar as it has not been meaningfully challenged by an organized working class (because it cannot be reformed, only overthrown, and this is what our system and "practical" political culture encourages), and as a result, reactionary capitalist class understands the mechanics of Marxism better than many Marxists themselves (or else it couldn't be so obscured that exploitation is the lifeblood of capitalism), so I'm going to simply focus on Marxian economic reality, for a moment.

By way of demonstration, I'd like to talk about Bar Rescue. It's central figure is Jon Taffer, he has "rescued" thousands of businesses nation-wide. One thing he encounters frequently is business owners who fundamentally insist their business has a character that is not simply a money-making vehicle, and that's what makes them resistant to change, but seems to insulate them from feeling bad for underpaying and mistreating labor, performing a poor service for the community, and often time representing public health risks (sanitary, drunk drivers, etc.). Taffer fundamentally understands, and seeks to impart to owners that their business doesn't have a "soul" or a "culture"; the people who work for you have souls and constitute a culture, etc. and capitalism declines you the ability to say your emotional investment in a specific expression of business overrides your fiduciary duty to run a capable business that complies with regulation and basic human decency towards your workers and community.

The meta-narrative however is that Taffer is speaking to Marxian economic reality, and in so admitting through these rescues that the process of operating a business under capitalism is not a competitive one, but an inherently adversarial one– if they cannot underpay workers to pad margins, they must capture consumers, and another common stream in the show is bars being cannibalized by other businesses, and Taffer rescues them in order to do something similar back, and the result is always that there are fewer consumer choices, but between what? We're also talking about an industry whose necessity lies in the vast difficulty of nutritious food in grocery stores, and their broad access to wholesale produce, for example. This is where understanding the Marxian reality makes capitalism easier to understand by knowing how to navigate it– you know which rules to comply with, and which ones are simply customary and not statutory.

The system functions as designed (gamifying exploitation) and those who thrive in it often understand this reality and can mask it under the guise of consumer choice, a free market, etc. when these other forces are omnipresent; acknowledging it is not an act of moral character, just of an act of awareness– this is similar to investors who short predatory businesses like Herbalife, or buying credit default swaps to short the subprime market. Successfully navigating it to highlight a necessary reality about the economy is ultimately still about the one purpose of a business, which is to generate profit; this can include paying workers well, and those workers should be organized, etc. but again the system as designed does not reward it, it rewards being adversarial, and those rewards, again, expand as the gulf between ownership and labor expand and reconsolidate.

Another example of this is Taffer attempting to use "bar science" to streamline the process of consumer capture and product output– much of it is, rather than merely pseudoscientific, borderline doxological in its pursuit of higher purpose under capitalism; he creates things like the "butt funnel" to encourage social interaction by physically manipulating the spaces in a bar, where your eyes fall on a menu, "meeting the market" and reading the demographics, to engineer what "regulars" would want, while also dictating who those regulars are and what they want. It's a familiar spin on reactionaries taking progressive language and ideas, the scientific notions of a planned economy, etc. but in this case, with Taffer using the realistic rules of compulsory consumerism and western capitalism to inform running a business in a community, rather than fundamentally reforming these same tendencies being drawn on. This activity, again, doesn't carry moral character, it's an acknowledgement of the true mechanics of our economy– rather than breaking out of it, it seeks to be a more efficient participant.

As far as predation goes, Bar Rescue is not particularly egregious (all things considered), perhaps overly charitable to the motives and mindset of small business owners, which many argue capitalism should naturally incline towards anyway– this is fundamentally the liberal positioning on this, and if it were true and occurring under the real, material conditions of western liberal capitalism, it would be a dramatic social coup for market reform liberals, but it's not, this much is obvious.

Let me leave you with a thought from Engels, and one I think a labor movement that has not yet begun synthesizing a truly American vision of a society by and for the working class might find useful, "The process of fusing together these various elements of the vast moving mass — elements not really discordant, but indeed mutually isolated by their various starting-points — will take some time and will not come off without a deal of friction, such as is visible at different points even now."; essentially, an incitement for us to really suffer the pains of the dialectic to understand ourselves and each other and what is creating and sustaining wedges between our various parts of our moving mass.

See you in orbit.