Gustav Klutsis, Electrification of the Entire Country (1920).
• XI: Conceptions of labour and nature as they relate to utopian desire.
• XII: The figure of the working class and its place in the capitalist dream-world, with a postscript on the role of technology in this relation.
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The conformism which has marked the Social Democrats from the beginning attaches not only to their political tactics but to their economic views as well. It is one reason for the eventual breakdown of their party. Nothing has so corrupted the German working class as the notion that it was moving with the current. It regarded technological development as the driving force of the stream with which it thought it was moving. From there it was but a step to the illusion that the factory work ostensibly furthering technological progress constituted a political achievement. The old Protestant work ethic was resurrected among German workers in secularized form. The Gotha Program already bears traces of this confusion, defining labor as “the source of all wealth and all culture.” Smelling a rat, Marx countered that “the man who possesses no other property than his labor power” must of necessity become “the slave of other men who have made themselves owners.” Yet the confusion spread, and soon thereafter Josef Dietzgen proclaimed: “The savior of modern times is called work. The … perfecting … of the labor process constitutes the wealth which can now do what no redeemer has ever been able to accomplish.” This vulgar-Marxist conception of the nature of labor scarcely considers the question of how its products could ever benefit the workers when they are beyond the means of those workers. It recognizes only the progress in mastering nature, not the retrogression of society; it already displays the technocratic features that later emerge in fascism. Among these is a conception of nature which differs ominously from the one advocated by socialist utopias prior to the Revolution of 1848. The new conception of labor is tantamount to the exploitation of nature, which, with naive complacency, is contrasted with the exploitation of the proletariat. Compared to this positivistic view, Fourier’s fantasies, which have so often been ridiculed, prove surprisingly sound. According to Fourier, cooperative labor would increase efficiency to such an extent that four moons would illuminate the sky at night, the polar ice caps would recede, seawater would no longer taste salty, and beasts of prey would do man’s bidding. All this illustrates a kind of labor which, far from exploiting nature, would help her give birth to the creations that now lie dormant in her womb. The sort of nature that (as Dietzgen puts it) “exists gratis,” is a complement to the corrupted conception of labor. Continue reading “Labour, Nature, and Dream (Reading Benjamin’s Theses XI & XII)”