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From the start of the essay:
“The everyday practical activity of tribesmen reproduces, or perpetuates, a tribe. This reproduction is not merely physical, but social as well. Through their daily activities the tribesmen do not merely reproduce a group of human beings; they reproduce a tribe, namely a particular social form within which this group of human beings performs specific activities in a specific manner. The specific activities of the tribesmen are not the outcome of “natural” characteristics of the men who perform them, the way the production of honey is an outcome of the “nature” of a bee. The daily life enacted and perpetuated by the tribesman is a specific social response to particular material and historical conditions.
The everyday activity of slaves reproduces slavery. Through their daily activities, slaves do not merely reproduce themselves and their masters physically; they also reproduce the instruments with which the master represses them, and their own habits of submission to the master’s authority. To men who live in a slave society, the master-slave relation seems like a natural and eternal relation. However, men are not born masters or slaves. Slavery is a specific social form, and men submit to it only in very particular material and historical conditions.
The practical everyday activity of wage-workers reproduces wage labor and capital. Through their daily activities, “modern” men, like tribesmen and slaves, reproduce the inhabitants, the social relations and the ideas of their society; they reproduce the social form of daily life. Like the tribe and the slave system, the capitalist system is neither the natural nor the final form of human society; like the earlier social forms, capitalism is a specific response to material and historical conditions.
Unlike earlier forms of social activity, everyday life in capitalist society systematically transforms the material conditions to which capitalism originally responded. Some of the material limits to human activity come gradually under human control. At a high level of industrialization, practical activity creates its own material conditions as well as its social form. Thus the subject of analysis is not only how practical activity in capitalist society reproduces capitalist society, but also how this activity itself eliminates the material conditions to which capitalism is a response.
Daily Life in Capitalist Society
The social form of people’s regular activities under capitalism is a response to a certain material and historical situation. The material and historical conditions explain the origin of the capitalist form, but do not explain why this form continues after the initial situation disappears. A concept of “cultural lag” is not an explanation of the continuity of a social form after the disappearance of the initial conditions to which it responded. This concept is merely a name for the continuity of the social form. When the concept of “cultural lag” parades as a name for a “social force” which determines human activity, it is an obfuscation which presents the outcome of people’s activities as an external force beyond their control. This is not only true of a concept like “cultural lag.” Many of the terms used by Marx to describe people’s activities have been raised to the status of external and even “natural” forces which determine people’s activity; thus concepts like “class struggle,” “production relations” and particularly “The Dialectic,” play the same role in the theories of some “Marxists” that “Original Sin,” “Fate” and “The Hand of Destiny” played in the theories of medieval mystifiers.
In the performance of their daily activities, the members of capitalist society simultaneously carry out two processes: they reproduce the form of their activities, and they eliminate the material conditions to which this form of activity initially responded. But they do not know they carry out these processes; their own activities are not transparent to them. They are under the illusion that their activities are responses to natural conditions beyond their control and do not see that they are themselves authors of those conditions. The task of capitalist ideology is to maintain the veil which keeps people from seeing that their own activities reproduce the form of their daily life; the task of critical theory is to unveil the activities of daily life, to render them transparent, to make the reproduction of the social form of capitalist activity visible within people’s daily activities.
Under capitalism, daily life consists of related activities which reproduce and expand the capitalist form of social activity. The sale of labor-time for a price (a wage), the embodiment of labortime in commodities (saleable goods, both tangible and intangible), the consumption of tangible and intangible commodities (such as consumer goods and spectacles)-these activities which characterize daily life under capitalism are not manifestations of “human nature,” nor are they imposed on men by forces beyond their control.
If it is held that man is “by nature” an uninventive tribesman and an inventive businessman, a submissive slave and a proud craftsman an independent hunter and a dependent wage-worker, then either man’s “nature” is an empty concept, or man’s “nature” depends on material and historical conditions, and is in fact a response to those conditions.”
Understandings of capital, anarchism, communism, and introductions to communicating these ideas outside of their familiar categories are extremely difficult to come by. This would be one of the few texts that introduces basic concepts regarding the social relation of capitalism in an easy to understand and concise manner.
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