Jobs and free stuff
Platypus Review 124 | March 2020
THE CURRENT POLITICAL POLARIZATION in the U.S. is not Democrat vs. Republican or the minorities of race, gender and sexuality against straight white men: It is between the politics of free stuff vs. the politics of jobs — demands for more free stuff vs. demands for more jobs.
“Democratic socialist” candidate for Democratic Party nomination for President Bernie Sanders has responded to charges that he is actually a communist with the assertion that the U.S. is already socialist, but it is a socialism for billionaires. The kernel of truth in this is that there is already government subsidy and other kinds of support for capital. The question is, why is this so? Corruption? Or rather is it actually in the interest of society? Of course it is the latter — the general interest of capitalist society, which both Parties serve (as best they can).
Karl Marx observed that the productive activities of general social cooperation are a “free gift to capital.” What did he mean? The social process of production is not at all reducible to the paid wage-labor of capitalist employees, but includes the activity of everyone in society. As Frankfurt School Director Max Horkheimer wrote, in “The little man and the philosophy of freedom,” “All those who work and even those who don’t, have a share in the creation of contemporary reality.”
Whether in terms of Andrew Yang’s proposed “freedom dividend” of free money for all in a UBI or free public education and health care for all, the question is not who’s going to pay for it, but rather how can capital make use of it. These are not anti-capitalist demands but demands for the better functioning of capital. The question is, what are we going to do in our society with all the fruits of our production — with all our free stuff? How can we make it benefit everyone? Is it just a matter of better shaving off more crumbs?
Yang proposes that the invaluable but currently unpaid labor of mothers, inventors and artists should be supported by society. Marx called this the communism of the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need” in a society in which the “freedom of each is the precondition for the freedom of all.” We already live in capitalism according to this principle, but capital fails to fulfill it.
The Democrats propose to make capital fulfill its social responsibility; the Republicans think it already does so as best as possible, and any attempts at government intervention to make it do better no matter how well intentioned the reforms will actually be counterproductive. The result will be stagnation and lack of growth, undermining society along with capital. Without people working there can be no greater social benefits of production; without jobs there can be no free stuff.
This is the essential difference in U.S. politics or really in capitalist politics everywhere: progressive capitalism vs. conservative capitalism. Not spendthrift vs. frugality or kindheartedness vs. cynicism or liberality vs mean-spiritedness, nor is it optimism vs. pessimism or idealism vs. realism. It is a division of labor in debate over advocating how to keep people working and how to distribute freely the products of their labor. It is not a difference in principle or one of honesty vs. deception: both sides are sincere — and both sides are self-deceiving.
Marx observed that the free gift to capital
is the “general social intellect.” But that general social intellect has become
the “automatic subject” of capital. How do we make it serve us, instead of us
serving it? All politicians in capitalism want the same thing. The problem is
that capitalist politics is not as intelligent as the society it represents.
This is the true meaning of socialist politics — to realize the general social
intellect — which today unfortunately is inevitably just a form of capitalist
politics, whether by Sanders, Yang or Trump. They all want to better serve us —
which means better serving capital. | P
 See my “Robots and sweatshops” as well as “Why not Trump again?,” Platypus Review 123 (February 2020); and “The end of the Gilded Age: Discontents of the Second Industrial Revolution today,” PR 102 (December 2017 – January 2018) and “The future of socialism: What kind of illness is capitalism?,” PR 105 (April 2018), available online at: <https://platypus1917.org/2020/02/01/robots-and-sweatshops/>, <https://platypus1917.org/2020/02/01/why-not-trump-again/>, <https://platypus1917.org/2017/12/02/end-gilded-age-discontents-second-industrial-revolution-today/> and <https://platypus1917.org/2018/04/01/the-future-of-socialism-what-kind-of-illness-is-capitalism/>.
 Horkheimer, Dawn & Decline: Notes 1926–31 and 1950–69 (New York: Seabury, 1978), 51.