frank talk's blog

And here I thought nobody read my stuff! My formal registration as a masters student has been taking some time and every few weeks a new obstacle presents itself. The latest insert in this saga is an accusation of plagiarism. Apparently one of the fine readers tasked with reading my proposal got it in their mind that work I submitted was not in fact my own. Spurred on by his/her suspicions the still unnamed academic decided to google chunks of my text. Google, for its part, came back with the name frank talk and this page. The short of it is that I now have to prove that I am in fact frank talk, and that my crime was to have plagiarized myself. Fucken unbelievable… but true.
Armed with a bag of weed and some time, I have locked myself into a room, reading the tiresome history of primitive accumulation. Not the actual historical of process, but the concept. Not the noblest of occupations for a militant with time… Immersed in this stuff I began wondering (prodded by Negri and a friend’s challenge) what a ‘immaterial common’, which does not make reference to the notion of public could consist in philosophically. My obsession over the last month, or more, has been non-payment and the possibility of its being seen as a common (particularly in so far as it has as its consequence, decommodified access to water). The problem is posed as follows: In what sense are potentially unrelated acts of non-payment a common. If my usage of the common does not require ‘common’ intent on the part of the (commoning) participants, is it not potentially flawed? Certainly intent is implicit in the concept. And would this not allow the researcher/Negri-head to insert his or her own undertanding as the master arbiter of the common. Perhaps the question can be asked another way. Does a value-creating network (in so far as the numerous acts of non-payment become an affective netork) require that each individual part share the same representations of the network as a whole (philosophically this seems impossible). But perhaps the objection is less a matter of concept as much as the political usage of a concept. The tradition of the last 100 years (at least) of left politics teaches us that to negate the private (to common) is to affirm the pubic (the common). As we have already noted our own common lacked an appropriate institutional notion of the public (it should be noted that in our age of postmdernism/real subsumtion the concept of the public is in decline - in fact, this is the context in which Negri reworks the concept of common) Perhaps here we need to ask a philosophical question, that is, what would a non-dialectical common look like? In our own case we have literally millions of people united by a single negation – non-payment with arguable very different reasons. Neibour doesn’t pay so that he can buy a carton of cigarettes, or neibour b says “well I can get away with so why not” or the guy across the road thinks it more important to send his daughter to a model c school and uses the money for transport costs or, or... (The way these things are mediated however would be far more complex). That is, there are whole ranges of things that are being affirmed. Consider as well that it this common act, non-payment, when it came under threat, spawned a series of defensive movements and continues to dictate the path of cost recovery initiatives. A ‘common’ slogan in the anti-globalisation movement (particularly amongst its anarchist and autonomist currents) is One no Many yeses. It’s a great slogan that invokes D&G either or, or,…and although our humble “refusal to pay common” may not have been what the Zapatista’s had in mind, the slogan is now ‘common’. If we move with this formulation we can say that the act of non-payment is the common. It should also be clear how this act, this strategic possibility, may be link to the payment boycotts (organised) struggle. And intent cannot be inscribed because the condition of claim is clear.
This is a beginning: a way of getting started as I think through the last 30 years of struggle and crises in South Africa. But it’s also more than that (or maybe less). It’s a contribution to completing my masters. * When asked by the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal to describe my research project in a single line, I wrote the following: “The research will examine the relationship between Johannesburg’s restructuring of the delivery of basic services and Marx’s concept of primitive accumulation (PA), through a survey of the effects of neoliberal cost recovery practices on the life strategies of urban poor communities.” Reading this sentence again, I am struck by its narrowness and inability to represent the scope of the kinds of stuff that I want to talk about. * One tendency in recent usages of the concept is to invoke the PA in relation to neoliberalism in order to narrativise - within a Marxist framework - aspects of capital’s accumulation strategy that occur outside of the ‘traditional sites of production’ and operate through extra economic strategies of dispossession. That is, the project tends to be an exercise directed at theoretically rescuing the explanatory power of Marxism for the current context, and as such, tends to be an ideologically driven intervention . Secondly, there is a real sense in which the concept describes a specific historical moment in the history of capitalism . Finally narratives of the process of primitive accumulation, particular the histories of the development of capitalism in the south, have often done tremendous violence to local contexts and histories. That is, the history of the concept is not a good one. Against (or different from) these usages of the concept, my own thinking has focused on the ongoing process of primitive accumulation in relation to the idea of separation , and is explicitly situated on the terrain of subjectivity. Still, I can’t ignore the nagging question, why use the concept at all then? And with that we arrive at the first task of this project i.e. to determine the extent to which the concept of primitive accumulation is useful in approaching “the effects of neoliberal cost recovery practices on the life strategies of urban poor communities”. * A very smart friend of mine visited a while back. At the time I was writing a report for the CSVR where I used the concept of PA. Because my friend is really smart, I used the opportunity to get his take on what I had written. He liked it except for the fact that I had used this concept (PA) and he told me as much. My friend is a Deleuzian, or at least he was on this occasion, and as such, he suggested that instead of PA I should use the concept deterritorialisation. Like my friend I like the concept, and like him, I agree that it would work in this context. At the time however, I wondered whether the usage of deterritorialisation might not alienate my co-author on the project. Another reason for not using the concept deterritorialisation on this occasion was the fact that outside of a very small community of very smart people, the concept is either not known or completely misunderstood, and the labour of the usage would need to be carefully explanatory, first in a general sense and then in the specific sense of PA. I chose against my friend’s advice to stick with PA. Our current project has no such restrictions (except maybe not being smart enough) so the notion now presents itself as a very real alternative. * DeAngelis? In his essay, ‘Towards A Theory Of Globalisation As Strategy’, Massimo De Angelis, offers a means for characterising aspects of neoliberal restructuring within the broader narrative of capitalist strategies of accumulation (De Angelis, 1998a). Following Perelman, De Angelis argues that the notion of primitive accumulation, used by Marx to describe the emergence of the preconditions for capitalist production, may be understood, not simply as a particular historical phase of capitalism, but as a “continuous phenomenon within the capitalist mode of production”. The term ‘primitive accumulation’ was used by Marx to describe the process of separation and dispossession of people in relation to the social means of production and reproduction, creating a section of the population with no means of survival but their labour power. De Angelis argues that in contrast to the accumulation strategies associated with, for instance, factory production, primitive accumulation does not rely on the “silent compulsion of economic relations”, but is instead imposed through ‘direct extra economic forces’ such as the state (De Angelis, 1998b: 9). An important element of this analysis is its demonstration of the relationship between strategies of primitive accumulation and worker struggles. De Angelis, building on the work of Polanyi, argues that capitalism is characterised by a double movement of the market and struggle: “On the one side there is the historical movement of the market, a movement that has no inherent limits and therefore threatens society’s very existence. On the other, there is society’s natural propensity to defend itself, and therefore to create institutions for its protection”. For De Angelis the second movement often involves processes of commoning, which may be characterised as the creation of “social spheres of life” aimed at providing “various degrees of protection from the market”. The commodification of all life and the dismantling of the protections won through worker struggles may therefore be understood as the creation of “new enclosures” in so far as the process implies the ‘enclosure’ of what would otherwise be held in common. In other words, such ‘enclosures’ bring about “a separation between people and their conditions of life, through the dismantlement of rights, entitlements, etc … The aimed end result of these strategies of enclosures share the same substance: to forcibly separate people from whatever access to social wealth they have which is not mediated or co-optable by the market … New enclosures thus are directed towards the fragmentation and destruction of “commons”. Under neoliberalism, people have been separated from those basic resources considered essential for all life, such as water, housing, electricity, health care, education, and so on, that have been made into areas for greater accumulation by a few. Whereas people previously had unlimited access to a naturally occurring resource such as water, today water has become big business with individuals having to now pay for it as a commodity. In this way, people have been forced to hand over the control of their individual and collective lives to the rule of profit and the market. In the context of neoliberalism and the crises in capitalism, primitive accumulation strategies become the primary means by which neoliberalism addresses the limits posed to accumulation by the successive protections won by workers and communities. * Another very smart friend of mine – this one is fond of discussing every single theoretical discovery he has come across with me – insisted I read DeAnglis?, and I did. I immediately liked it and was grateful to my friend who indirectly is responsible for setting me along this path. The thesis seemed to explain well what was happening in relation to South Africa’s experience with neoliberalism. That is, the commodification of basic services was a process that had at its end the separation of people from the means of social reproduction. How could the forced mediation of access to water and electricity be anything else? Certainly this was as perniciously a process of dispossession as the hut taxes imposed a century earlier (even if the crisis wasn’t the same) ? However, De Angelis’s frame of reference was the welfare state, the context in South Africa is however extremely different. In short I needed to understand what is being enclosed. What was the common? This is how I approached this problem when writing up the CSVR report. During the 1980’s the struggles of communities worked to create various protections against the market. While these struggles were largely concentrated in townships, they had a significant effect in de-legitimising the apartheid regime and profoundly affected the life strategies of communities. In particular, township resistance of the 1980s utilised strategies, in particular service payment and rent boycotts, that would contribute to the augmenting of household social income. Thus resistance allowed for the elaboration of life strategies under apartheid that allowed for people’s survival in this system and articulated a social common held and reproduced in struggle. The refusal to pay for the basic conditions of reproduction (water, electricity and housing) became a dynamic front in the struggle against apartheid, enjoying almost universal support and massive participation in many townships across the country (decades later these life strategies would come to present the central challenge to the new government and its attempts to remove the barriers to “the natural working of the market” in a neoliberal South Africa). The near insurrectionary mood of communities and the local economic crisis, saw the apartheid state implementing several reforms aimed at removing obstacles to accumulation and the free movements of the market while attempting to pacifying resistance. Such reforms sought to address these problems through a two-pronged strategy of ‘total onslaught’ and ‘inclusion’ – complete repression of Black resistance as well as the gradual inclusion of parts of Black communities in aspects of governance, the improvement of services to certain parts of Black communities (e.g. the electrification of parts of Soweto in the early 1980s) and attempts to restructure the labour market. With the apartheid state’s strategy extending to include concessions to the liberation movement, by the early 1990s, with the release of political prisoners (including Nelson Mandela), and the unbanning of political organisations, the road to change became that of a negotiated settlement. For the liberation movement, however, this new configuration of strategy was to dramatically alter its vision of the post apartheid future. Concepts like ‘people’s power’ began to disappear or were harnessed towards the ends of assuming state power in a neoliberal world order. Thus, when the African National Congress (ANC) ‘came to power’ through electoral democracy in 1994, it intensified the restructuring of the South African economy along neoliberal lines. Notably, however, the most profound limit to this process is the life strategies of township communities. Thus, the deepening of the commodification of basic services depends, to a large extent, on the transformation of these life strategies. As noted by McDonald? and Pape, the role of local government shifted, under GEAR, from a redistributive one (imagined in the RDP and probably partially elaborated in the first two years of democracy) to an ‘enabling’, or ‘facilitating’ one (McDonald?, 2002: 4). In this way, the central social responsibility of government has become one of establishing the means for increasing redress rather than delivering access directly. Under this model, real access has come to be determined by market forces, with the state becoming the facilitator of this logic. However, as facilitator of this logic, the state is tasked with disciplining these life strategies as the limit to the free working of the market. The limits of the transition have meant that neoliberal orthodoxy defines the parameters of the state’s approach to service delivery. What has emerged, as a result, are two conflicting narratives of the social commons created in the payment boycotts of the 1980s. For the state, cost recovery programmes have necessitated a de-legitimation of the ‘commons’ in the interest of restructuring parastatals and state institutions along lines appropriate to its macro-economic priorities. For many communities and critics of the government’s growth path, by contrast, the commons have come to represent the central redistributive challenge of the new state and need to be institutionalised. In the first narrative the payment boycotts of the 1980s were merely a means of leveraging the position of the liberation movement in relation to the apartheid state. The persistence of non-payment in this context has been characterised as a pathology of ‘a culture of non-payment’ that requires the intervention of the state only in restoring law and order (i.e. payment). The second narrative, in contrast, treats the commons as a fundamental part of the reproductive needs of poor communities, and the social income secured therein, as one of the few protections the most vulnerable have in relation to the capitalist market. The clash of these narratives represents the conceptual basis for the contemporary conflict between the state and communities in relation to basic socio-economic services and their ‘delivery’ * The CSVR narrative was very attractive . Primarily, it allowed me to frame the entire thrust of the restructuring of basic services in terms that placed struggle at its centre. This approached also presented, in a reasonably original manner, the limits of neoliberalism in South Africa , and a narrative of the South African social movements in terms of a profound continuity between the struggle against the commodification of basic services and the struggle against apartheid. The argument was, however, open to a number of obvious criticisms. Firstly, it simply assumes the link between people’s life strategies and the payment boycotts. Secondly, it tends to homogenise these life strategies and township communities in the process. Finally, it moves too quickly and so that the logical leaps are not always easy to follow. Although the bulk of these problems could be dealt with through a longer and more directed project (like my MA), some of them, at least, could be addressed by developing the concept of life strategies. * The concept presented itself while reading Foucault’s ethics and thinking through the resistance to prepaid meters in Soweto. With respect to the latter, while we had a sense that the entire history of cost recovery interventions were converging and becoming clarified through the installation of these meters, the only concept we had to describe what was being transformed was the “culture of non-payment”. Of course subjectivity was an option, but who knows how to deploy such a concept, and so much work seems to precede it (hopefully this work is a contribution to getting some of that work done). At the time prishani’s writings were focusing on life, and the manner in which neoliberalism generally, and the meters specifically, were commodifying it. It was also clear to us that the meters were not just the product of governmental rationalities but were specifically pedagogical in their approach to life. The meters were about teaching new life strategies, which at the time initially meant something like ‘the strategies people have for taking care of themselves’. One only needs to look at the promotional information that Johannesburg Water distributed to realise that this was an explicit aim of the programme. * In what sense were the payment boycotts a common? Without emphasising any spatial connotation, the payment boycotts were maintained in part through the creation of no go areas that were facilitated through the development of a complex networked response to the presence of state officials. It is, as Andy Clarno would say, the creation of an ungovernable space. Essentially, through a whole range of tactics a particular condition is created, an affect whose effect is the commoning of services. But even if we move beyond the spatial affects, and acts of collective solidarity, to individual acts of the refusal to pay - and the significations of that act, which allow for its valorisation and reproduction – we recognise an effect, the commoning of services . The fact that these services are about accessing the means of life, the strategic investments made in obtaining them can be considered part of the strategies people construct in taking care of themselves - that is life strategies. Further, the fact that such strategies often involve investments in collective action and shared meanings clarifies their potential social investment. That is life strategies may converge through their creation of common meanings and networks. The common is essentially created in the creating of these networks and meanings. * In what sense is the installation of prepaid meters an aspect of primitive accumulation ? In so far as these life strategies imply the creation of common meanings and networks aimed at accessing the means of social reproduction, the transformation of these life strategies has the effect of separation implied in the definition of primitive accumulation. That is separation from the social means of (re)production. * Transforming township life strategies becomes the primary task of overcoming the limits of the neoliberal restructuring of basic service delivery. But this is no easy task. In the last ten years the state has variously experimented with a series of ideological and punitive interventions aimed at this task. At the ideological level, campaigns such as Masakhane were launched emphasising good citizenship through the payment for services. That is, it attempted to remake the meanings of non-payment. On the other hand, cut-offs and the attachment of property were used as retroactive measures to ensure compliance. However, in comparison with the strategy that would succeed it (prepaid meters), the elements of these two aspects of the state’s response seemed dislocated. Where government and parastatal public relations departments carried out the ideological interventions, cut-offs and attachments were treated as administrative actions and presided over by low-level officials. The introduction of operation Gcina ‘manzi, in many ways, marks the evolution of neoliberalism’s strategy in this regard and explicitly brings these together - the prerogative to save (implicit in the name of the programme) and self-disconnection. * Subjectivity, a far more difficult concept, tends to animate life strategies and determine how they invest different acts (for instance, the non-payment for services). We should also note that while life strategies tend to imply subjectivity, they are not coextensive. Instead, I tend to think of life strategies, as an effect of subjectivity; however, in following the paths of a strategy, subjectivity is also remade. This also seems to imply that life strategies are a negotiation of available freedom and ideas of self. However, life strategies do not simply encounter “available freedoms” as a closed set, but are potentially the means through which the limits of the latter are marked or opened up. I also want to pose this concept (life strategies) against that of survival strategies. The latter seems far too narrow, and reactionary, in the sense that its objects are externally given. From this perspective, the most attractive aspect of this concept is that it allows me to say a few things about subjectivity without it having to be the explicit focus (which seems to me to be an impossible research task). Our definition of life strategies as ‘people’s strategies for taking care of themselves’ no longer describes the direction in which the concept is developing. We have already seen its relation to social means of production and its elaboration of collective investments. For now the following formulation will have to do: by life strategies, I imply that which is constructed, as a negotiation of people’s available freedom and notions of self, through assuming various strategic positions as a means towards creating the conditions of life. * Hardt and Negri’s Empire takes up the theme of Primitive Accumulation as well. However, where theorists such as David Havey have tended to invoke the concept in relation to notions of inside/outside, Hardt and Negri offer an analysis of a properly postmodern form in which the distinction increasingly becomes untenable. Their analysis contrasts postmodern PA with the figures of modern primitive accumulation that highlight the relations between inside and out and wealth and command. In relation to the latter, they argue that processes of PA were experienced differently depending upon mediations of the geographies of imperialism. So, for the type of PA described by Marx (ostensibly European), wealth came from outside while command arises internally. On the other hand in Europe’s colonies, wealth came from inside, while command came from outside. In the postmodern era, what disappears is not PA (“capitalist relations of production and social classes must continually be reproduced”) but the play between inside and outside (or rather, it declines). Further under postmodernism, social wealth - the subject of appropriation - increasingly becomes immaterial: “social relations, communication systems, information and affective networks”. Equally as “the proletariat is becoming the universal figure of labour, the object of proletarian labour is becoming equally universal. Social labour produces life itself.” They go on to argue that information (the figure of postmodern wealth) carries through its networks both wealth and the command of production such that “informational accumulation destroys or at least destructures the previously existing productive processes, but immediately integrates those productive processes in its own networks and generates across the different realms of production the highest levels of productivity” * Negri’s conception of postmodern primitive accumulation, in spite of a few deficiencies opens up a whole new set of questions that we can discuss when we meet. But a few connections should become clear 1. Firstly that the common of our life strategy thesis is in fact a product of immaterial labour. 2. Such a conception of PA opens up a whole range of possible narratives that speak to the manner in which the post apartheid context has facilitated the widespread appropriation of common . 3. In South Africa the intensive integration of labour (through technologies such as prepaid) elaborate forms of biopower that reconstitute township life strategies as a means to facilitating their insertion into the collective biopolitical body. 4. The forms of reconstitution of life strategies take the figure of entrepreneurialism as an all encompassing master narrative of social production , forcing our thesis into dialogue with various pieces of research on governmentality (not least of which is the work of AvS) This is where things start getting interesting. However this was only a begining and maybe u can already see where I am taking this… * The following is an outline of the practical process of researching life strategies in relation to water and prepaid meters. The research will develop a narrative of the various cost recovery interventions led by the South African state over the last ten years, with a specific focus on the introduction of prepaid water meters. It will try to identify the manner in which these interventions have been shaped by, or have responded to community resistance and what has often been referred to as the 'culture of non-payment'. From this perspective the research will also seek to identify the manner in which the actual introduction of prepaid meters has altered the strategies through which people create the conditions of their lives. In addition, the research will attempt to understand the relationship between instances of resistance and these life strategies. Through the above process, it is intended that we begin understanding the effects of neoliberalism and commodification on people's reproduction (including the whole range of social relations embedded therein). Finally, it is hoped that through this research the concept of life strategies may be developed with a specific focus on its relationship to subjectivity. With these broad objectives, the research will attempt to answer the following questions: o What was the specific economic and political context of the ANC government’s adoption of an ostensibly neoliberal approach to the delivery of basic services? o How did this approach specifically alter the provision of water? o What were the challenges faced by municipalities in rolling out this process? o How was 'prepaid' framed in relation to these challenges? o What were the specific challenges encountered in the roll out of prepaid technology in Soweto? o What is the relationship between these challenges and various acts of resistance against commodification (including non payment)? o What is the relationship between these challenges and the social history of Sowetans (eg. the payment boycotts of the 1980s), in particular their experiences of water delivery? o To what extent do such social histories mediate people’s practices in relation to approaches to non-payment before the implementation of prepaid water meters? o How do the social histories of Sowetans mediate their responses to prepaid water meters? o What other factors mediate people’s responses to prepaid meters? o How has the delivery of water though prepaid systems altered people’s approaches to essential activities such basic hygiene, sanitation and nutrition? o How has the introduction of prepaid affected peoples approaches to ‘non-essential’ activities such gardening and recreation? o How has the system effected the financial planning of households, in particular the household budgetary regimes and priorities? o How has the introduction altered the relationships within the household and with the broader community? o What has been the effect of these meters on what is often called ‘housework’ or feminised work necessary for the reproduction of the household (e.g. cooking cleaning fetching water)? o What kinds of strategies do people develop in order to resist or navigate the effects of the system in the relation the categories outlined above? Literature Review A detailed survey of literature related to the above themes and research questions will be conducted. In addition, audio-visual material will be sourced from Indymedia-SA. Household Critical Ethnographic Studies Five households will be selected in Phiri, Soweto. The researcher will spend a substantial amount of time with each household, interviewing members, observing their behaviour, and initiating conversations, debates and discussions with and amongst them to understand their approaches to life and living. The households will be selected to illustrate differences with regard to the nature of Phiri (representing the different sections), and differences with regard to the responses of households to 'cost recovery' practices. The researcher will attempt to construct through the above a social history of each household, and map household strategies for living over time. In particular, attention will be paid to access to income, employment strategies, payment for basic services, differentiation of roles in the household, decision-making, etc. These themes will, however, be expanded on through interaction with the five households. The researcher will construct a specific set of questions for members of households to understand their strategies with regard to prepaid meters. These will be designed in such a way as to understand the effects of prepaid meters on the social histories that would have already been constructed in the manner outlined above. The researcher will try to draw 'rhizomatic maps' from the information gathered in the above manner to pull together similarities and differences of experiences amongst the five households, in this manner allowing the local experiences to determine the answers to the overall research questions. It will be difficult to set from the beginning a finite number of interviews as the process of interaction that will have initiated this project will also determine who and what exactly the interviews will focus on. In summary, this project will involve a number of semi-structured interviews with various members of households about various issues related to their choices and strategies for living. It could be said that this project will be a series of 'conversations' with members of households in Phiri about life.
something i wrote for alternatives. it a bit too much like all the stuff i write but anyway. Sedition Winter has become a season of rebellion in South Africa. In August last year, thousands of protestors from the sleepy town of Harrismith in the Free State descended on the N3 highway. Armed with placards and song, the protesters charged that after ten years of democracy not much had changed for the country’s poor. The “better life for all” that had been promised in 1994, and repeated with each successive election, had not arrived, while access to housing and basic services such as water and electricity were increasing mediated by the cold logic of the market. The state’s response was unequivocal. In scenes reminiscent of the heady days of the struggle against apartheid, shotgun-wielding policemen fired rubber bullets at the fleeing protesters. When the enforced calm finally returned to Harrismith, one protestor was dead. The planned blockade of the highway was over before it had started. Those who had been identified as the leaders of the protest were rounded up and charged with public violence and, for the first time in a new South Africa, sedition. The events in Harrismith are, however, part of an older narrative of betrayal that began in 1996 when the ANC government adopted the Growth Employment and Redistribution Strategy. Based on the advice of the World Bank policy experts, GEAR was a dramatic shift away from the parties stated commitment to addressing the imbalances of apartheid and set the South African state on a path of neoliberal restructuring. Realising that the new policy would never win popular support, the full weight of Mandela’s messianic appeal became focused on left criticism of the new economic policy and GEAR was dubbed non-negotiable. Under the regime of GEAR, the commodification of housing, water and electricity was deepened and thousands of people across the country were evicted or cut off from essential services for non-payment. GEAR was transforming bare life as it animated the poor’s daily struggle for survival. With no other option, poor communities turned to protest actions against the effects of GEAR, in particular cut-offs of basic services. The context of non-negotiability of GEAR, set in 1996, would, however, determine the state’s ultimate response. As the 2005 winter sets in, literally exacerbating the daily struggle for survival, South Africa is again engulfed in protest as communities across the country take to the streets. In the past month, communities from the most far-flung corners of South Africa have risen up, demanding the ‘delivery of basic services’. At stake is bare life itself. Although the charge of sedition would finally be dropped against the thirteen community activists in Harrismith (largely due to intense local political and media pressure), the state’s response to the uprising offers a unique insight into the rationality underpinning GEAR. The message is clear. Responsible citizens must grin and bear the stench of their poverty in the national interest. Bare life itself has become non-negotiable. Anything less is sedition!
I have not posted for some time. Partly because i am generally lazy, but i also created a new blog elsewhere and have been posting stuff there. However, since i made some friends on info exchange i thought i could republish my last two blog postings. The first is a conversation, or rather a lecture, on wage discipline in South Africa. The second is a few ideas i am testing in preparation for writing something for publication about the introduction of prepaid technology in the delivery of municipal services. as usual comments are not only welcome, but desired Wage Disciple: A few months back, spurred by a friends challenge, I bowed at the feet of one of my many masters (this particular master also enjoys the title of ‘our leader’) and asked a question. What follows is a snippet from our discussion (or rather his lecture) on yahoo messenger. Its point of reference is mainly South Africa and I have left it virtually untouched except for the deleting of my distracting nods and exclamations of agreement. I also took out anything that would betray my lack of imagination, wit and intelligence ...that is, i took out everything i said. hi F, i need your help with a small matter. or rather i need u to explain this notion of the 'extension of the wage discipline'. It came up in a friendly polemic. this is, perhaps a problem only because of my poor formulation, but i am moving from the view that a feature of this period (our time) is the extension of forms of disciplining of the class so that it extends beyond the factory. However I was backed into a corner for my historically inaccurate deployment of the notion. F : no, not at all. It's a very important issue. F : What I mean by extension of wage discipline is precisely what you write, that wage labour is being exploded beyond the factory walls to become an all-encompassing metaphor, a master narrative of social inclusion whose propping up at the level of everyday discourse is specifically aimed at disabling an imagery based on radical decommodification F : anyway, the reason I am writing this has not only got to do with the disappearance of wage labour as a conduit of social citizenship and as a meaningful/dignified social reality for the poor... F : ... in fact the rise of wage labour as master narrative, disembodied from its more conventional meanings, has for me to do, quite simply with the fact that no matter how wage labour has become insignificant as a social reality or force, it is increasingly placed at the centre of the policy discourse... F : ...and it is put at the centre of policy discourse not as something that can be realistically attained or generalised (not even in the form of public works job creation, let alone full employment policy) but because it is a myth that has to engender in the poor representations geared to the individual's entrepreneurial self-activation (hence the disciplinary function of wage labour) F : from this point of view, what i am finding in my PhD is chilling. I mean, this use of wage labour as a metaphorical and disciplinary device is theorised openly by govt and its rising intelligentsia in ways that are clearly aimed at forestalling and preventing the spread of radical decommodification themes across the social body. This is just blatant. F : exactly. I mean, the broader implication of all this is that political work on representations, and genealogies and counter-genealogies of discourse is crucial, and all projects of liberation based on some historical mission of waged employment will just disable ourselves and play in the enemy's hands. For this reason I think that the whole discourse of the "right to work" has to be unpacked, no matter how useful it is for tactical advances F : and at the same time the issue is not limited to South Africa. Wage labour is crucial to the whole project of postcolonial modernity, not so much in terms of social policy or collective bargaining, but as the attempt by the state to harness social subjectivity through myths that fondle its radicalism while disabling the far-reaching implications of its demands F : Anyway, I think this whole issue is crucial because it is here that you can crack the ANC's libidinal-political economy and its appeal, so we should debate this whole wage labour issue more thoroughly instead of wasting time with things like organisation vs spontaneity (just to mention the latest Durbanite contributions... dionysusstoned: i that’s not just the effect of the my fetish of spontaneity I decided to put this on my blog after resuming the debate with another very smart friend of mine. She however remains unconvinced. Although I am wholly unqualified to offer anything like an account of her position, I will venture a summary of her main argument. For A the wage, and by implication wage discipline, refers more specifically to arrangements implying disciplinary technologies of societies in which the mass worker is the hegemonic figure of the class. Therefore, to invoke the concept of the wage discipline, in the context of the decline of wage labour, tends to obscure matters and undermine our ability to understand precisely ‘the hows and whats’ of those strategies of control which characterise neoliberal governmentality, while taking into account their continuities with the older disciplinary strategies. She said a lot more and perhaps I will return to this later and write more. (dionysusstoned is a name i sometimes write under) Prepaid and Primitive Accumulation: The text that follows is an outline of an argument that I would like to test. It follows from my political interest in municipal services restructuring in post apartheid South Africa and its significance in relation to the transformation of the state and capitalism. The argument is in two parts. This is the first: Proposition One: In so far as prepaid meters (electricity and water) involve the forced separation of people from their social means of production/reproduction they may be characterised as an aspect the ongoing process of primitive accumulation. 1) Non-payment for basic services (water; electricity; housing) invests the “life strategies” of township communities. 2) These life strategies are the product of the of various process within these communities, centrally the payment boycotts of the 1980s 3) In spite of this characterisation (2) they are however not wholly circumscribed within the ideological formations. They ar, in contrast, a practical responses to the challenges of bare life 4) Their defence/attack, however, has historically invested various ideological co-ordinates. (These investments animate the conflict between the alliance left and NSM over the historical position given to the payment boycotts and the appropriate tactical models for a post apartheid South Africa. For the former they were no more then tactic meant to obtain political leverage against the apartheid state and cannot structure post apartheid responses to the crises in the delivery of basic services. For the latter the tactics of 1980s are valorised in the current context by the persistence of the socio-economic conditions that ‘gave rise’ to them). 5) The process of commodification of water and electricity is reflected in the movements of strategies for its collection and distribution 6) Non-payment presents the limit of the ongoing process of commodification of water in South Africa 7) As such (6) the investment of non-payment in the life strategies of township communities presents the state with a subject standing partially external to the forces of the market and frustrates the restructuring of municipal services (and the South African state and economy). 8) The commodity form of water and electricity is disorganised in confronting these life strategies 9) Therefore, overcoming the limits to commodification presented by investments in non-payment is dependent on the transformation of these life strategies. 10) Non payment secured for township communities a form of social income reproduced in struggle 11) Such transformations are therefore aimed at the separation of people from this income 12) Attempts to transform these life strategies through the explicit functions of ideology as well cohesive and punitive measures to police these life strategies have simply failed or met with fierce resistance. Notably the illegal reconnection of services has made such interventions meaningless 13) Prepaid meters as a response to the failures of these strategies attempts to bring together the ideological and cohesive aspects of previous strategies while reducing the cost of intervention 14) Their precise function however may be described as pedagogical in the sense that it attempts induct communities in alternative life strategies (with functions beyond the specific relationships between household and the delivery of basic services) 15) It is in this sense that we draw a link between the ongoing process of primitive accumulation and the restructuring of the delivery of water and electricity. This might seem a little cryptic without a context. maybe that will come as well.
[comments in this entry are part of a process of working through this problem. They are as such experiments and therefore provisional. This means they will most likely change as understanding grows and deepens] In this place where the old left continues to break the lines of struggle to bow to the alter of the organized industrial worker, it is important to note how work has/is changing. This thing affective labour is important in all this. I have always found this to be difficult concept. But I think it means something like work that produces affect. This is usually linked to the way in which emotions are generated by the performance of tasks. Last night I went into the quickly expanding chain of Nandos with a friend. Nando’s is one of the few successful fast food multinationals locally grown and their success has been determined not only by it ability to make chicken but the extent to which it understood the organization of work and creation of value within this economy. Standing to the side of the counter as we waited for our number to be called, my friend pointed an odd piece of paper facing the people who take orders. It read: “{smile} Hi, my name is {your name} welcome to Nandos what do you crave”. The media campaign that accompanies this chicken chain boasts that Nandos will satisfy your craving. How does this labour invest value in the chicken. It has no effect, on the size or taste of the chicken. It attempts to produce an affect that is associated with the chicken, perhaps outwardly expressed as a smile in relation to the word crave. This is comparable to the work of a comedian. In fact comedy is becoming more common in other forms of labour generally. Recently I flew Kulula-dot-com, a small new airline which has managed to survive in spite of the general crises in this industry. On their plane their staff use comedy in their flight announcements. This labour of the stewards attempts to enrich the flight – in the form of a service – to enrich the value of the flight. The way Kulula competes with the bigger airlines is by charging for on flight drinks and extra’s. But it seems that they also extract more ‘value adding’ labour from their in-flight crew to compensate for the lack of material value in the form of commodities (your drinks) provided by the airline. The skills for this kind of work are also different. They require a particular character, personality and arguably investment in the dominant social order. The kinds of knowledge’s and experience that are valorized are also markedly different. Simply it can be said that the comedy of the airline crew and the speech given by Nando’s counter staff add value to the respective commodities that are associated with them. This component of their labour is immaterial, adds value to the product without being directly associated with the mechanics of producing the commodity. It is labour whose only aim is the production of a specific affect that is value. Now why should this change the way we understand the proletariat. Ask any post graduate sociology student and they will tell you that this kind of immaterial labour has always been part of the circulation of commodities. However what makes our current period so interesting is the manner in which the circulation of commodities comes to be defined by the hegemony of immaterial labour of which affective labour is one component. So we have to explain immaterial labour more generally and how the hegemony of immaterial labour poses a challenge to the traditional working class solidarity project.
Recently the editor of the M&G wrote a really damaging critique of new South African social movements. The piece was vicious and full of the nationalist politics that has quickly filled the vacuum of the departure of the liberal humanist politics that determined much of middle class South Africa’s opposition to apartheid. We wrote a really good response to her, but in the end it was limited because the nation still figured as the organizing principle of the article. Simply we were trying to make and win the debate on terms set by nationalist politics. We cannot win this debate unless we sacrifice our communism to the vacant stagist politics of the older left in which nationalist politics is a necessary point on the way to socialism. I may have dropped this philosophically while i was a student but like so many activists in the postcolonial world letting it go completely is strategically difficult and often means being confined to an even smaller political cell. A friend of mine recently mused that although our politics was extremely radical and necessary at the local level, and the global level, when we look at it from the perspective of the nation it can be reactionary. I agree with this. But what does it mean? Should I, as Negri and Hardt (see their magna carter shit on this site) suggest, resolve to form an alliance with power in my own country so that we can deal with the monarch in the form of the US and hope Empire is better? Or do we go on struggling at every point where power renews its attack on autonomy? Any help on this problem is welcome?
The crazy irony of capital. As it commodifies life it loses its final boundary. The final confrontation will be over life. The struggle shifts from the need to generalise the refusal of work to the generalisation of the refusal to pay. Capital has nowhere left to go. No boundary to break. We are its final boundary and perhaps it will break on us. Can its recuperation be found elsewhere? Capitals future lies between the matrix and star trek; Space travel and a new colonial project, or the suspension of its attack on autonomy in the mediation of the matrix. Short of this, nothing remains. We so fucked we can finally win. Is this to deterministic?
The negotiated settlement provided the institutional foundation on which the new South African state was built. But it also prescribed the forms of engagement between state and society for this new state. These became fixed in the national imagination in the short path between CODESA and the GNU. The ANC’s return from exile marked the opening up of a new terrain in its struggle for national liberation. Despite heated contestation over the relevant strategic approach to ending apartheid, the ANC chose to use mass struggle only as a means of leveraging its position at the negotiating table. This required that the full weight of the liberation movement be given over to managing (including suspension of) bread and butter struggles. Many of the organisations of the liberation movement became solely directed to the pacification of its members. What this produced, by the time an agreement had been reached for the handover of power, was the institutionalisation of a negotiations-centric polity. The result was that the entire ‘machinery’ of the new state and the liberation movement became hostage to the terrain of negotiation as an end in it self. Ten years on this terrain has become increasingly incorporated into the national imagination as prescriptive of the only legitimate form of societal contestation. It is this imagination that has ensured that any form of dissent has become anathema to the dominant current within government/ANC and its various institutional arms. From IDASA to COSATU the effect has been one of generalised quiescence, evincing a broader trajectory within civil society that forecloses systemic critique and mass struggle. Within the derivative languages of this national imagination – i.e., ‘constructive engagement, nation building, batho pele etc. - any real space for fundamental ideological and strategic contestation has been closed down. The end result? South Africa has shifted from a colonialism of a special type to a homogenisation of a special type. The introduction of neo-liberal ‘ restructuring’ of the local state and service delivery, forced poor communities to struggle against evictions and cut-offs on a terrain that foreclosed the possibility of institutional remedy through negotiation. These struggles sat uncomfortably with the constructed national ‘imagination’. In this context, the active resistance coming from the new social movements was seen as out of sync with the ‘peacetime/reconstruction’ agenda of the government/ANC. What this meant was that their forms of engagement were treated as inimical to nation building and the corporatist politics that were rapidly institutionalised as part of harmonising racial and class relations in South Africa. Instead of recognising the conflict of interests between rich and poor for what they are, the pathological need to project South Africa as a homogenous, entity (i.e., one big happy family) has been prioritised. In the self-constructed religion of nation building, everyone gets along in spite of their differences and those who would upset this delicate balance of family planning are to be seen and treated as heretics. In the South African hallways of power nationalism’s priestly caste jealously protect the image of harmony that the market demands. As a result, it has been widely accepted that there is no terrain of engagement between civil society and the state outside of negotiation processes and corporatist structures. State antagonism to communities resisting the installation of pre-paid meters or bank evictions become justified by the objective interest of the nation. This has meant nothing less than the institutionalised marginalisation of these community groups, who have little recourse other than to engage in mass struggle. Resistance to government policy outside the safe environs of the corporatist deal making fora are treated as criminal and illegitimate, and those who dare go outside the sanctioned forms of engagement risk becoming enemies of the state. The very character of the ‘imagination’ of the nation has therefore provided the basis for the widespread criminalisation of dissent. You don’t belong if you question (not to mention act against) the dominant framework of the ‘rainbow nation’ that has been constructed by South Africa’s emergent comprador class. This then lends itself to people’s struggles being characterised and/or categorised in relation to the shifting notion of the national interest. You are a whitey, a foreigner, a misled stooge of the former two categories, unpatriotic, agent provocateur, all of the above, and may therefore be dismissed. On the horizon of the national imagination the rainbow learns to shift according to the needs and demands of the ruling class/party/magnum leader. The supreme irony is that the national ‘othering’ of the social movements is precisely what shuts the door on the possibility of the state engaging with social movements on the fundamental socio-economic issues that affect the majority of South Africans. As social movement are forced back on the street with their grievances the vicious circle is complete.
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