The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie – Slavoj Žižek, London Review of Books, 26 January 2012.
Interesting take on Marx’s notion of the ‘general intellect’ – “by which he meant collective knowledge in all its forms, from science to practical know-how”.
He claims there is a shift from the selling of commodities that derive their exchange value from the human labour used in production to the renting of resources including knowledge – rent appropriated though the privatisation knowledge and resources.
Any attempt now to link the rise and fall in the price of oil to the rise or fall in production costs or the price of exploited labour would be meaningless: production costs are negligible as a proportion of the price we pay for oil, a price which is really the rent the resource’s owners can command thanks to its limited supply.
In a passage redolent of Bauman’s wasted lives as the collateral damage of global capitalism Žižek writes
In the ongoing process of capitalist globalisation, the category of the unemployed is no longer confined to Marx’s ‘reserve army of labour’; it also includes, as Jameson notes, ‘those massive populations around the world who have, as it were, “dropped out of history”, who have been deliberately excluded from the modernising projects of First World capitalism and written off as hopeless or terminal cases’..
The general thrust of the argument seems to be that a paid proletariat involved in production is much less central to capitalism than it used to be and increasingly surplus to requirements. Rents produce massive profits part of which are paid in salaries to a bourgeoisie that manages corporations but it is ‘surplus’ salary in the sense that its allocation is less to do with merit or competence and more to do with ideological and political objectives. In this sense they are being paid more than they are worth by any normal economic criteria. Most middle class and student protest is to do with maintaining their salaried position in the system rather than overthrowing it.
These are not proletarian protests, but protests against the threat of being reduced to proletarians. Who dares strike today, when having a permanent job is itself a privilege? Not low-paid workers in (what remains of) the textile industry etc, but those privileged workers who have guaranteed jobs (teachers, public transport workers, police). This also accounts for the wave of student protests: their main motivation is arguably the fear that higher education will no longer guarantee them a surplus wage in later life.
One thing that is not covered in the article is the role of those that rent and consume. There is still a great deal of production of material goods that require effective demand and a market. In addition many of the salaried bourgeoisie get their wages from administrating one way or another the poor and excluded and, in the process of which, legitimate the inequality and ideologically disguise the role of the poor in maintaining the system. Is this the commodification of the poor or their constitution as a resource for rentiers?