Thoughts on Argentina's Conjunctures :: Recuperating Work, Recovering Life (2005-2007)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

How to begin to think about the formation of a new political consciousness in the workers making up the recovered enterprises movement in Argentina

The Hungarian Marxist theorist Georg Lukács seems to be a great place to start. In his influential 1920 masterpiece, History and Class Consciousness, Lukács continues the Marxist line of critique of capitalism and its bourgeois advocates by extending the dialectic into the cultural spheres of everyday life. According to Lukács, his formulation of a theory of class picks up where Marx left off (Lukásc, 1920).

Lukács's Theories of the Reification of Class Consciousness
For Marx, his main project, finding its most cogent formulation in his three volume opus, Das Kapital, is to bring the hidden logic of capitalism to light by, as Braverman puts it, using the dialectic method towards "the demystifying of technology" (1974, p. 445), the meticulous detailing of capitalism's mode of production rooted in labour processes and social relations of domination, and the unraveling of the true "value" of the most fundamental aspect of capitalism: the commodity, the actual embodiment of "labour-power" (Das Kapital, chapter 1).

Like Marx, Lukács too is about unraveling the hidden and taken-for-granted logic of capitalism but, rather than rooting his analysis at the base (the economic), Lukács starts to look at the implications of capitalist logics at the superstructural, cultural level. For Lukács , "formal rationality" (Feenberg, 2002, p. 167) - also called "technocratic thinking" (Ritzer, 2000, p. 142) or, more broadly, the privileging of "technological progress" (Marcuse, 1962, p. xii) by modern societies - "is the basis of capitalist culture" (Feenberg, 2002, p. 167). Lukács's analysis, according to Feenberg, thus brings to the forefront how capitalist modes of thinking and action root themselves in an abstracted, fragmented, and piece-meal society; analytic forms of thought; the privileging of technological and scientific imperatives over human ones; and, ultimately, "the autonomization of production units under the control of private owners" (Feenberg, 2002, p. 166) (on this latter theme, see also: Braverman, 1974 and Noble, 1984). Based on Marx's discovery of the law of a commodity's value - the labour embedded in commodities and at the root of "exchange value" - with its tendency, ultimately, towards domination of the labourer by the effacement of the real value of commodities - "labour-time," or the quantity of socially abstracted human labour embedded in it (Das Kapital, chapter 1) - Lukács extends this logic to the cultural realm, showing how the "degradation of [the proletariat's greater] life and work" (Feenberg, 2002, p. 166) is a consequence of making abstract things into objective, stand alone things divorced of all their human values. For Lukács, it is in the interest of dominant social groups to protect the objectivity of things and processes and to conceal the social relations at the heart of capitalist processes and objects - in other words, to reify the capitalist system's processes and objects and hold them separate and apart from the social relations that bring them to bear and sustain them. This veiling of the real social relations inherent in commodified things and economic processes upholds hegemonic social structures and hides, in Marcuse's words, the "potentialities" (Feenberg, 2004, pp. xi-xii) and "real possibilities" at play in historically contextualized alternatives (Marcuse, 1964, p. xi). Ultimately for Lukács, it is only through the formation of a "class consciousness" that the working class can ever come to see these socially contingent alternatives to capitalist forms of domination and thus break free from the bonds of social control. (Note that Marx, Marcuse, and C. Wright Mills also have much to say about this).

The Formation of a New Workers' Consciousness from Within the Struggles of the ERT Protagonists
Might Lukács - in conjunction with Marx, Marcuse, Feenberg, Braverman, Cleaver, and others - be a good place to begin to understand the formation of a radical political consciousness amongst some of Argentina's recovered enterprises protagonists? Might it help me come to a conceptual understanding of what many workers told me in their own words: That the struggle of occupying their workspaces, the subsequent threat of repression, and the continued fight for legal recognition of their worker coops have consequently helped to ingrain a radicalized consciousness in some of them that was, for most, not their before the occupation (see also: Ruggeri et al., 2005)? In other words, how did the "events" (see Maurizio Lazzarato) of their struggles to recover their work, workspaces, and the role of their workspaces within the greater cultural milieus and community spaces that surround recovered enterprises help form workers' new politicized subjectivities? Were these subjectivities already-always there and rooted in Argentina's strong industrial base and union culture? Why is there a tendency for these new subjectivities to not transform into a vanguardist understanding of the ERT protagonists' political plight? Or were these subjectivities transformed in some new way by the imminent moments of the struggles they are engaged in, that is, from within their actual experiences of struggle? And, how were these workers inspired or motivated to take the difficult journey of resistance and control of their workspaces against such daunting political odds in the contemporary Argentinean conjuncture?

For a few inspiring reads on the transformation of consciousness in the working and marginalized classes: