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Jameson in the NLR in 2004 on full employment and utopia:

Marx’s anti-humanism, then (to use another term for this position), or his structuralism, or even his constructivism, spells a great advance over More. But once we grasp utopianism in this way, we see that there are a variety of different ways to reinvent utopia—at least in this first sense of the elimination of this or that ‘root of all evil’, taken now as a structural rather than a psychological matter. These various possibilities can also be measured in practical-political ways. For example, if I ask myself what would today be the most radical demand to make on our own system—that demand which could not be fulfilled or satisfied without transforming the system beyond recognition, and which would at once usher in a society structurally distinct from this one in every conceivable way, from the psychological to the sociological, from the cultural to the political—it would be the demand for full employment, universal full employment around the globe. As the economic apologists for the system today have tirelessly instructed us, capitalism cannot flourish under full employment; it requires a reserve army of the unemployed in order to function and to avoid inflation. That first monkey-wrench of full employment would then be compounded by the universality of the requirement, inasmuch as capitalism also requires a frontier, and perpetual expansion, in order to sustain its inner dynamic. But at this point the utopianism of the demand becomes circular, for it is also clear, not only that the establishment of full employment would transform the system, but also that the system would have to be already transformed, in advance, in order for full employment to be established. I would not call this a vicious circle, exactly; but it certainly reveals the space of the utopian leap, the gap between our empirical present and the utopian arrangements of this imaginary future.

I can understand the anarchists’ resistance to the “jobs for all” demand in terms of their resistance to state-based solutions. I can’t, however, understand the casting of a demand like this one as “moderate,” “liberal,” or “Obama-ist.”

(And, yes, I understand that the OWS demand wouldn’t be “Jobs for All, Everywhere,” per Jameson’s paragraph.)

Written by adswithoutproducts

October 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm

17 Responses

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  1. I think a lot of people just don’t think this kind of riddle demand has any point, it will just afford a pretext to critics – there’ll be the autonomists to say see these people are really just moralizing and inviting Obama to force the disabled and children into slavery here in the US, there’ll be the liberals who say see they are longing for Stalinism, there be the charges of “hysterical reformism” from the academics, and arguments about what is really meant. Additionally, the demands working group was delusional enough to present its list – end the wars, tax the rich, use the money to fund public works – as sane and reasonable, likely to be achieved if only the bongo playing motley crew stopped talking about expropriating the expropriators and all their wild utopian fantasies. Thus they offered this slogan/demand as centrepiece of an unpleasant theatre of naiveté, a charade whose only effect can be to affirm unreasonable beliefs about the current ruling class that many people find offensive after what’s happened since 1989.


    October 23, 2011 at 2:43 pm

  2. I mean, as you note, immediately there’s a chorus saying “see this is just another way of saying ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs’ like every politician” and one has to admit it could sound that way, especially as the demands did have this mainstream pundit way of suggesting the wars should be ended because they cost too much and it will all be savings, no reparations owed, all the years of profits and plunder taxed in the imperial metropolis alone. The whole posture of the proposal was “we’re mainstream” – a nationalistic perspective that would reaffirm blurring and challenged divisions (the GA will demand for all the US occupations but not for those elsewhere, and doesn’t give a fuck what the empire does to those it rules outside the homeland borders), so that it fact one could say the principle purpose of the demands working group’s propiosal appears to be to nip internationalism in the bud, to really stamp that incredible (and most significant, most radical, most promising for the future) feature of this movement out in an emphatic and permanent way.


    October 23, 2011 at 2:57 pm

  3. This is what is up on, which is as far as I can tell the actual Web site for OWS:

    “Demands Working Group

    Posted Oct. 21, 2011, 3:01 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt

    A group claiming to be affiliated with the General Assembly of Liberty Square and #ows has been speaking to the media on behalf of our movement.

    This group is not empowered by the NYC General Assembly.

    This group is not open-source and does not act by consensus.

    This group only represents themselves.

    While we encourage the participation of autonomous working groups, no single person or group has the authority to make demands on behalf of general assemblies around the world.

    We are our demands. This #ows movement is about empowering communities to form their own general assemblies, to fight back against the tyranny of the 1%. Our collective struggles cannot be co-opted.”

    So… not sure who you are talking about as making whatever demand you think is not right.

    Also, a la Bob Black, there’s something to be said for a “no employment” demand as opposed to “full employment”. If I was really concerned about demands, I’d argue about it.

    Rich Puchalsky

    October 23, 2011 at 3:09 pm

  4. There’s also a strange game played around these demands that suggest real widespread brain damage, really destroyed rationality and concentration. Because there are some who say (like Jameson) here’s a, impossible demand. And plainly no sane person would suppose these demands will be met by this ruling class. The idea is, let’s just demand this as an expression of the kind of society we think we should have, and since we are not the motley crew but the Krugmans, the respectable people, our demands will not suggest we have any problem with rich people, servitude, “family values”, or executions. But we’re not so foolish as to suppose this is anything more than the wish list of a population who if it were in any position to attain these demands would have no reason to wish for them. Fine! But then if people refuse to sign on, they are accused by those favouring demlands as interfereing not with this spectacle but with the actual attainment of the desired policies and benefits – they are accused of actually objecting to ending the wars, to universal health care, to public works and good roads, and indeed to interfering with other people’s attainment of these goods. That high income intellectual workers (like Henwood) can go through this routine and accuse those who won’t sign his avowedly “utopian” demands of opposing the achievement in practise of their contents,, as if it were rational – that elite intellectuals can exhibit such a breakdown of logic and concentration – says a lot. It would not have happened this widely ten years ago..


    October 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm

  5. I’m still agnostic (and a bit confused) about what the “demands” should be, whether there should be “demands” in the first place, what the difference is between a “demand” advanced by an occupation and, say, an e-petition sent to your local Congressman etc. The point of this post was simply to point out that the demand of full employment (if that’s what is meant by “jobs for all,”) certainly isn’t at base a “liberal” one, at least if it means something like Jameson’s description above.

    I also very much agree, LCC, that there is a serious issue at play w/r/t internationalism / nationalism and such demands – or the very situation of occupation in the first place. But again, I’m also confused about what the answer is. Just as I am about what the real ramifications of any, say, socialist advancement in the developed / imperialist countries would be w/r/t to the rest of the world. (Social imperialism vs. a disabling of some of the ideological and economic factors that not only permit but actively encourage imperialism in the first place.)

    the wish list of a population who if it were in any position to attain these demands would have no reason to wish for them.

    Definitely. But again, I guess I’m wondering about whom the “demands” are addressed to – or who they might be addressed to. Are the demands necessarily address to the “ruling class,” or mightn’t they be addressed, in a sense, to “ourselves.”

    I definitely agree about Henwood’s belligerence. He seems to be systematically (intentionally? nefariously?) misunderstanding what is going on here.

    Rich – I wasn’t objecting – here – to any demand, so I do follow your first query. I am, however, deeply suspicious of “no employment” demands – can’t think of anyway that would work other than through social imperialism, Eloi / Morlock segregation. There’s lots of stuff in the world to go around, sure, and it may not be made around “here” – but someone is working somewhere to make it etc.


    October 23, 2011 at 3:45 pm

  6. Bob Black is sort of worth reading, especially since you can read a couple of short essays free on the Web somewhere. Basically he envisions a world in which people work much more like people working in hunter-gatherer tribes — which he takes from ethnographic research to be a couple of hours a day of “ludic” fun-like activities. Heightened productivity from automation, plus giving up on overproduction necessitated by the need to always keep expanding, does the rest. It’s not too different from the supposed end stage of communism, in which everyone does everything, but he does a fairly good job of pointing out how the left became committed to a kind of workism that really isn’t necessary.

    I have all sort of doubts about many aspects of this, but it’s not based on social imperialism. And if we’re talking about utopian demands, I’d rather talk about the post-scarcity society than about full employment.

    Rich Puchalsky

    October 23, 2011 at 11:55 pm

  7. I’m afraid we’re not anywhere near there yet. I’ll keep counting on employment until we (all) actually are “post-scarcity.”


    October 24, 2011 at 1:03 am

  8. Thanks ads. I think we could all be post-scarcity very quickly; it the imperial core populations got rid of their imperial ruling classes it would huge empower all of humanity, and outside the core elites, humanity is much more advanced politically. Outside the core elites there is very little attachment to capitalism or aversion to planning or collective/cooperative control of productive means and resources. With resource and technology sharing there would be I think even with the climate problems very moderate workloads. But I do think the petty bourgeoisie and elite workers of the core tend not to really deeply grasp how much labour goes into reproducing them, since they do so little of it and see so little of it; Bob Black is absolutely worth reading, a contemporary LaFargue, and he’s not really making concrete proposals, but lurking in his vision is the idea that the core elites like himself will always be fed warmed lighted moved around networked entertained and housed by others.

    I’m agnostic too. The only think I am sure of is that it’s counterproductiuve for a bunch of wealthy petty bourgeois professional dissident culture workers to think they can take charge and order everyone around and then scold, defame, insult those who don’t immediately recognise their authority and wisdom and start the campaign from “the left” to portray the occupiers as this age old motley crew, depraved layabout narcissists who don’t want to work, these spoilt, lazy, “twinklers” (and ressentimental racial undermen and exhibitionist queers) who ruin everything, whose selfishness and childishness and bodily undiscipline ruiin everything fort the hardworking virtuous Christians. And that’s what Henwood and friends are doing and that’s really unfortunately. They’ve even got an Oxbridgian (Natasha Lennard) to play the role for the cameras and say “its about how we fuck” etc. The racism they’re tapping for the displays of contempt is really just short of Thomas Carlyle watermelon eaters. The demand drama is being used for a push to try to reestablish that same old paradigmatic vision – the responsible white men who should be in charge, who are rational and reasonable and knowledgeable, versus the destructive motley carnival who needs controlling. And what the demands working group is trying to cover up with all this blame-casting is how ineffectual they are and how unfit to advise or lead and how resentful they are of the loss of authority and stature they – white, brevetted, propertied, mostly male – experience as part of this blossoming of revolutionary spirit. And they show how much they fear and hate it really, so they concoct this funny theatre where they can say “look people, my fellow Americans, these twinkling effeminate bongodrummers not only don’t want a haircut and a job, they don’t even want you to have healthcare or a job!”


    October 24, 2011 at 3:22 am

  9. Well, yes. I didn’t intend this post to be “pro-Henwood” – when I wrote it I hadn’t even realised that he was one of the ones forwarding this demand. And his behaviour has been boorish since the start of this – as if he is absolutely (deliberately?) blind to the nature of the thing at hand.

    I’ve written a bit about how intellectuals tend to treat “twinklers” and the like in a different context – maybe you’ve read it, LCC. About the Communism Conference.

    On the general issue of moderating demands to build constituencies, I am – as above – confused. My tendency is to think that you start small in your coalescing demands, get a lot of people under the tent, and then events further radicalize those involved. Worked that way with the student occupations – started with just the demand over tuition, but then as people became invested (and agitated) expanded to Living Wage and onward. Occupation as auto-pedagogical space and so on….

    On post-scarcity – definitely agree that it is obtainable. But I’d rather think about it once we’re there. Historically, premature considerations of this type have had nasty, unforeseen effects – c.f. H.G. Wells and the Fabians panic about “degeneration” – and the weird racist, social imperialist and / or fascist turns that this can lead to.


    October 24, 2011 at 10:01 am

  10. …that said, I will admit that the student movement didn’t or only rarely transcended reformism. Which was fine, in my eyes, given the nature of the situation. But obviously an argument that could be made in response to my “big tentism” (as well as consensus-based decision making….)


    October 24, 2011 at 10:03 am

  11. sorry ads, i know you know all this, i’m just venting!


    October 24, 2011 at 10:25 am

    • No – these are helpful conversations!


      October 24, 2011 at 10:28 am

  12. “the only think I am sure of is that it’s counterproductiuve for a bunch of wealthy petty bourgeois professional dissident culture workers to think they can take charge and order everyone around and then scold, defame, insult those who don’t immediately recognise their authority and wisdom and start the campaign from “the left” ”

    Let’s be fair to the dissident culture workers — it isn’t just them. As far as I can tell, every existing tendency anywhere near OWS has seen OWS as a yummy food source that can be digested by its ideology, given how naive “those people” are always portrayed to be. Dissident culture workers write blog posts that scold because they can’t do anything else, but that doesn’t mean that they are a particular problem, comparatively, it only means that they are visible to people who read blog posts. It is kind of annoying to read from various radicals about how the repression that they are eagerly awaiting will turn people into good clones of themselves, but it’s not a particular characteristic of theirs to suppose that events will do this, and their opinions are not what the people in a local Occupy group that I’ve met are particularly concerned with. Much more concerned with how to deal with shelter in winter, how to deal with police, how to deal with group consensus, etc.

    Rich Puchalsky

    October 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm

  13. “I only know that all the poor people work in the factory, perhaps as a punishment for being so poor.”

    – Robert Walser


    October 25, 2011 at 5:26 am

  14. Rich you’re right of course.

    I think it’s great that the demands working group has demands, and that Henwood has demands – the problem is their addressing their demands to anarchists who can’t enact the policies any more than the demands working group can. They are demanding that other people agree to make declaring these demands the agenda of this growing movement that has strains that are revolutionary and that are achieving a real shift of consciousness profoundly establishing the illegitimacy of the current arrangements of property and power which really do threaten species survival and which we must begin the long, hard multigenerational work of abolishing, right now. Which doesn’t mean Henwood and friends shouldn’t pursue the realisation of these demands, and get a hundred million signatures to them and a million people to walk up to capitol hill to present them and see if they can coerce compliance. I doubt they will manage it, but would applaud their effort and would sign their petition though its not what I would like to see become the official collective posture of this mass revolt. I would much rather see Jubilee and demands that illustrate and emphasise the illegitimacy, violence, lawlessness and ruthlessness of the ruling class, demands that expose the reality of class relations, than these demands for widespread opportunity to be exploited performing lifelong drudgery to pay the richest back with interest. Jobs for all is great, but without debt amnesty it could easily become another step toward the establishment of a new slave society.


    October 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm

  15. It’s too easy for the opponents of social revolution to ask ‘Well what would you do?’ They must first know what it’s like to have their precious system collapse around them in violent ruin.


    December 10, 2011 at 2:42 pm

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