Rights and classes Ruthless Criticism

Rights and classes

[Translated from broadcast by GegenStandpunkt, June 15, 2009.]

Continued from Part 1: Freedom and Equality

The state dictates that everyone has to get by with whatever means he has – and in this, the state recognizes everyone equally. It is the state which in the first place forces the “employed population” to carry only their skin to the market and to spend their whole lives doing it. And this is precisely how it guarantees the real owners that they are sure to find this human material which serves to increase their property. Freedom and equality – these are the fundamental rights that a class society dictates and consolidates.

Class society – nobody wants to hear about that any more. It is supposed to have been overcome since the state freed the workers from their initial lack of rights. No longer are there different rights for different classes, as in feudalism: the state did away with its one-sided preference for the propertied class, and instead transformed into a constitutional state which no longer grants special rights according to income or status, but bestows the same rights on all its citizens quite neutrally; namely, equality and freedom. The worker is also entitled to the protection of his property, is no longer exposed to the whims of the factory owners but can assert rights against them, and can even defend himself – to some extent, which we will soon talk about – with the help of a union. But – has the state then done away with classes and their conflicts? First, a few more comments on the subject of “property and ownership.”

The property of the worker which is protected by the state consists, as Part I stated, in nothing but himself: he can offer only his labor power as his sole source of money. The whole “free development of the personality,” which Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees, begins for him with the fact that he cedes his labor power to an “employer.” His freedom consists in losing it – and he sells his freedom for a time settled with the “employer.” In this contractual agreement with the man who is now his user, it is of course included that the yield of the work effort commanded by the user of the work belongs solely to him. Of course, in the contract the owner of the labor power wants as little use as possible to be made of his labor power, that he works as little as possible, and he wants the highest possible wage for it. If he does not succeed in exchanging his labor power, it looks even worse for his “free development.” But even and especially when the exchange transaction succeeds, when he finds a user, the use of his property is always detrimental to the preservation of this property. Since the interest of the user, hence the capitalist, in what he procures is that he wants to buy his free command over labor power as cheaply as possible, he saves on wages as much as possible; secondly, in the use of this labor power he wants to get the maximum performance from it. Even if limits are set to it: this use always means the wear and tear of labor power – which once again casts a light on the antagonism between both kinds of property: the property of the worker is used up, so to speak, in the course of, and just for, increasing the property of the capitalist. This is not due to evil or human wickedness, but rather is the imperative of his property “capital”: this must increase, and this is why he handles the production factor “labor” as he does. The profit interest does not give a rat's ass about the mental and physical health of labor power and does not ask how much money a worker needs to be able to buy his necessary sustenance, maybe even an additional amenity – it faces the vital interest of the worker hostilely and destructively. It is the same from the worker's perspective: when he brings his property into the exchange transaction, he risks its loss.

When the state appoints all its citizens owners – something right and fair to those who really command over property, thus over capital in the form of means of production and money, whereas for the others it is about a constraint – it is deliberately indifferent to the completely different means which the owners have, ignores that labor power becomes one's means only if the capitalist owner can use it for the increase of his capital, and just in this way the state sets these owners against each other. All production in a capitalist nation begins with this conflict, their whole economic existence is based on it – thus on the absurdity that the parties are dependent on each other and at the same time their interests exclude each other, the activity of one owner is opposed to the other.

This contradiction is one that is enshrined in law. If it means each may do the best for themselves with whatever he has, thus with his property, then this is rightly considered solely a compulsion: then one must also watch out – one receives nothing as a gift – that one makes something for one's self from one's means. So one constantly faces other owners who want or need the same thing. They also line up with their property and want to give as little as possible of it and to gain as much as possible for it, which means nothing other than: they are constantly in conflict with each other. That is shown in the basic conflict of this society between the owners of labor power and the owners of capital, but it is clear that the whole “social environment” of capitalism is pervaded by this systematic conflict. Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it: “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others ...” In all its wisdom, the Declaration thus knows that in this type of society, people who are fully entitled to develop their “rights and freedoms” get in the way of equally entitled other people. What is cheerfully regarded as a guide to fairness and decency is in truth information about the fact that the individuals in this society are a barrier to each other – insofar, and only because, they run around as legal personalities.

This absurdity is made tenable by the law‚ “law” meaning: the state, which knows about the potential conflicts of its society because it produces them, fixes what is allowed and what not. An owner can not simply do what he wants, the state has implanted itself in his will with its laws. When the state assigns to all owners their rights, then it is also the authority which controls and regulates the traffic of entitled citizens with each other. It has appropriated the monopoly on violence for this: with it, it forbids its citizens from carrying out their conflicts with violence. As everybody knows, it does not thereby prevent conflicts being carried out, and indeed time and again also violently, but now it is the authority which judges whether a violation of the law has occurred. And because it makes the law itself, it defines this as an attack on itself, as a violation of its monopoly on violence, and it already has a punishment for every offense – as can be read in the codes of law and seen in case law. If the owners clash with each other, the state treats it as a conflict of the rights which it has ascribed to them. It oversees their observance and it decides who has the right in the conflict – it positions itself between them and forces them in all their affairs to relate themselves to it. So the state governs the conflicts which it creates.

Once more on the basic conflict between labor and capital: labor power is exposed to destruction by its use. The state protects this property by ascribing rights to it in cases of industrial safety, working hours, etc., which vice versa impose barriers on the capitalist in using the worker. The guideline of the state is: what the workers must do – just work – they must also be able to do, it may not be made unusable through its use. (This is served by something else that cannot be dealt with here, the so called “social insurances.”) This protection of labor power means vice versa: it is designated with these rights – work; something different is not in question for them, they have to allow this use be made of them.

This is very clear in the right to strike. As an individual, a worker is at the mercy of the capitalist's superior economic strength: he is forced to compete against his peers, with disastrous consequences: they underbid themselves in wages and overbid themselves in motivation to work. The state grants them the right to defend themselves; the right to a union, which takes charge of this, consist in nothing but rules for how they must proceed as far as this defense may go. The defense inevitably attacks the use that the capitalist wants to make of his property because concessions can't be squeezed out any other way. However, the squeezing out of concessions must move within a juridically stipulated framework: they must be bound to the maxim of allowing the continuity of work against the destructive attack of capital – nothing more. It is quite clear, the law forbids “destructive strikes,” that is an attack on the property of the capitalists in general. Both parties settle their disputes from the outset with the aim of cooperating again – with the familiar result: the intimidation of labor power persists, and the increase of capital continues. No doubt this is a contradiction, but precisely in this way the state obligates the parties to the conflict so that they always continue to decide and can decide their conflict.

If it is maintained that the law nevertheless has the inestimable advantage of “moderating” conflicts and ensuring a “peaceful solution,” that turns the world upside down – to put it politely. The conflicts which the law “moderates” are those which it brings into the world itself. And by “moderating” these conflicts, it ensures their continued existence. With its monopoly on violence, with its enormous apparatus of police, judiciary, etc., the state controls the conflicts of its citizens which are inevitable given the kind of wealth production which it has prescribed for them. The state pacifies its society with this monopoly on violence – and thereby files one single report that this wealth production is based on violent conflicts and causes them. To repeat the conclusion of the previous analysis: the law dictates and consolidates a class society.