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Reading Capital, Jože Barši, REC

Posted on | July 1, 2009 | Comments Off

Reading Capital – Proletarians of All Countries Unite!

In the fall of 2007 I joined a group of political science students who got together once a week for reading sessions of Marx’s Capital (Vol. 1) at the Workers-Punks University in Ljubljana. After political changes in Slovenia and ex-Yugoslavia in the beginning of 1990s Marx’s theory almost vanished from the universities, and at the same time the Slovenian translation of his Capital is almost impossible to find anywhere. Although, because of the world financial crisis, reading Capital is becoming more popular, I do not believe in solving this crisis through a work written in 19th century. But its rereading, I think, is recommendable; with it we must redefine or reinvent Capital. To read Marx not so much as a thinker, rather as someone who demands his theory becomes socially effective.

I would like to present just a small part of the text; I worked on from 2007 till revised and scanned version of the whole first book of the Capital, which I finished in Belfast in the summer of 2008. The book, which as I said is impossible to get in Slovenian language, was offered for free in the form of packet containing 700 sheets of paper in a few bookstores in Ljubljana as a part of a project by Museum of modern art in Ljubljana titled Museum on the Street.

The importance of the work is visible in one of the prefaces where Engels wrote the following:

“Thus not a single word was changed in this third edition without my firm conviction that the author would have altered it himself. It would never occur to me to introduce into “Das Kapital” the current jargon in which German economists are wont to express themselves — that gibberish in which, for instance, one who for cash has others give him their labour is called a labour-giver (Arbeitgeber) and one whose labour is taken away from him for wages is called a labour-taker (Arbeitnehmer). In French, too, the word “travail” is used in every-day life in the sense of “occupation.” But the French would rightly consider any economist crazy should he call the capitalist a donneur de travail (a labour-giver) or the worker a receveur de travail (a labour-taker).” (1)

What happens after the victory of Taylorism is the loss of the ownership of labour. The worker is not the owner of labour, but he is just a part of the machine. Of course partly to blame is also Lenin because he was enthusiastic about the conveyer. But I would like to rethink Engels’ formulation from his preface. Conceptually the owner of the labour is the one who is able to perform it, which is the worker. The capitalist is the labour-taker, because he buys the workers ability to work. What the capitalist has is working places, raw material, business etc. Although this commonly used mistake seems irrelevant at the first sight, it is actually crucial when it comes to negotiations between the trade unions and the capitalists.

If I return to the time of ex-Yugoslavia and remember the front page of the newspaper Delo (Work) where it was written: “Proletarians of All Countries Unite!”. After the political changes in the early 1990s the sign vanished. At that time this statement was considered a catchphrase in which nobody really believed. But if I remember this sentence today it seems very important within the context of division and conflict between the migrant and local workers. The migrant who comes to Europe seeking a better life is pushed in a conflict with the local worker, because he is cheaper and more useful. He has no citizen and social rights, he is unorganized and as such more suitable for exploitation. And so the migrants are the new proletariat which is being used in the struggle against the old local proletariat. Of course the idea: “Proletarians of All Countries Unite!” is still catchphrase, but it should be understood very seriously. Privately I could even be a racist, but I know that for the common good, and with that my own benefit, I must accept the universality of the idea of solidarity. Solidarity should not be just an idea, the conception of the citizen and the conception of the inhabitant should be equal. Further on being a part of the economical process should also insure the rights and duties that derive from citizenship, irrespective of being a citizen of the state where you work or not.

Ljubljana 23. 2. 2009 Jože Barši

1. www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ – 7k

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