[lbo-talk] Wacko/Sherman (was Re: Brit general says . . . .)

Ted Winslow egwinslow at rogers.com
Sun May 6 12:00:13 PDT 2007

Miles Jackson wrote:

> The trope of "personal responsibility" is a product of social
> relations
> in our capitalist, hyperindividualist society. This trope is not
> pancultural (in many human societies, our fixation on individual
> rights
> and responsibilities is extremely odd); it is, to be perhaps a bit too
> terse, ideological through and through. Moreover, instilling personal
> responsibility in people is not a precondition for creating a stable
> society; there are many other bases of social cohesion (e.g., group
> identity, religious beliefs, shared knowledge). Granted, personally
> responsible agents are absolutely necessary to perpetuate wage
> labor and
> entrepreneurship in a capitalist society, but I don't consider that
> social effect particularly admirable.

Marx's "materialism" construes the relation between "personal responsibility" and capitalist "social relations" in a way different from this. Within that framework, the relation is one of ways in which the developmental conditions constituted by free wage-labour are superior to those of slavery. One advantage of this kind of materialism is that it doesn't imply that it is itself necessarily "ideological through and through." It does, however, provide a framework within which the other self-contradictory kind can be understood and explained as "ideological through and through," another sign of this being its adherents' incorrigible misidentification of it with Marx's kind.

“The slave receives the means of subsistence necessary for his maintenance in a natural form, which is as fixed in kind as in extent — in use values. The free worker receives them in the form of money, of exchange value, of the abstract social form of wealth. However much the wage is now in fact nothing but the silver or gold or copper or paper form of the necessary means of subsistence, into which it must constantly be resolved — money functioning here as the merely transitory form of exchange value, as mere means of circulation — abstract wealth, exchange value, and not a specific traditionally and locally limited use value, still remains for the worker the purpose and result of his labour. It is the worker himself who turns the money into whatever use values he wants, buys the commodities he wants with it, and as an owner of money, as a buyer of commodities, he stands in exactly the same relation to the sellers of commodities as any other buyer. The conditions of his existence — and also the limited extent of the value of the money he has acquired — naturally compel him to spend it on a rather restricted range of means of subsistence. Nevertheless, some degree of variation is possible here, such as e.g. newspapers, which form part of the necessary means of subsistence of the English urban worker. He can save something, form a hoard. He can also waste his wages on spirits, etc. But in acting this way he acts as a free agent, he must pay his own way; he is himself responsible for the way in which he spends his wages. He learns to master himself, in contrast to the slave, who needs a master.” http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/economic/ch02a.htm


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