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(en) die plattform: From the devaluation of things: a look out of the workshop window - Von Gooo in collaboration with Alfred Masur (ca, de, it, pt)[machine translation]

Date Wed, 28 Apr 2021 08:37:01 +0300

A lot of people didn't even notice, but over the past few years the stuff we buy has gotten amazingly cheap. My childhood was in the 1970s, and it wasn't until just before I moved out that my parents could afford to expand the living room and buy furniture for it. The 50s kitchen was not thrown away until years later. We weren't surprised, nor did we see ourselves as poor. ---- A black and white television set in 1960 still had to work 351 hours and 38 minutes. At the beginning of the 1990s, a tube device was only earned after almost 78 hours. Today you have to work around 28 hours for a flat screen TV. ---- In 1960, 250 grams of butter still had to be worked for 39 minutes, in 2010 it was 5 minutes, currently it is only four minutes.

In 1960, one liter of whole milk still had to work 11 minutes; in 2012 it was only three minutes.

In 1960, a pair of women's pumps still had to work 14 hours and 29 minutes, in 2012 it was only 5 hours and 2 minutes.

A high-quality men's shirt can now be earned in a good two hours, whereas in 1960 it took almost eight hours. (1)

I would like better numbers for that. For example, the equivalent value of a craft or service would be interesting - cutting hair takes just as long today as it did in 1960. If we had much older figures, we would certainly see a rapid acceleration. How far can that go?

At first glance it looks like a positive development: "It's great when everything gets cheaper", some wage earners with a small budget will think. In this spirit, Henry Ford, automobile entrepreneur and pioneer of assembly line production, also hoped to reconcile the workers with capitalist exploitation through mass consumption. "Working on the assembly line is no picnic, but they'll come to terms with it when they can finally afford a Ford-branded car," he may have thought. Of course, he was driven less by philanthropy and more by the desire to prevent a socialist revolution by the workers.

At first it seemed to work out; In the rich countries of the western world, after the Second World War, it looked as if the class antagonism had been overcome under the sign of mass prosperity. But cracks appeared in the 1960s and 1970s: revolts by students and young workers made it clear that freedom-loving people would be expected to sacrifice a large part of their lifetime to wage labor even if they were to do it - so to speak Compensation for pain and suffering - TV, living room furnishings, and vacation travel can afford.

Furthermore, the cheaper products for the local workers are bought because of the more blatant exploitation of the slaves of the "2. and 3rd world ". A seamstress in Bangladesh earns around 2% on a shirt that she sews. Price of a t-shirt currently at KIK: € 2.99. It should not be forgotten that the low prices in our supermarkets are also due to the use of migrant workers, who have to toil in some industries under 3rd world conditions in Germany: that hardly anyone in Germany can and wants to harvest the cheap asparagus and that is why workers from Eastern Europe are used for this, word has got around; the working and production conditions in the meat industry also briefly came into focus last year thanks to the Tönnies scandal.

Food production as a whole is subject to an insane drop in prices. The price dumping of the large food chains is forcing farmers to use increasingly industrial methods and to use more chemicals and poison and not take animal welfare into account. In the meantime the prices have fallen so low that it doesn't seem to work anymore, see farmers' protests. The (green) bourgeoisie hopes for salvation in an increase in prices and thus better conditions in production. The proletarian looks fearfully at his grill....

Another downside of the cheaper products is becoming more and more obvious, not only in view of industrial agriculture: the rapid destruction of nature. Every day 150 animal and plant species disappear from the earth forever. (2) By burning coal and oil on a massive scale, we have started a daring experiment with the climate of our planet, the likely dramatic consequences of which we are only just beginning to anticipate.

To sum it up: under capitalist conditions the cheaper products do not serve the well-being of the people, but the increase of profits. It is a dubious blessing that is bought by the alienation of wage labor, the over-exploitation of the third world and the destruction of nature.

The use value of goods also suffers in various respects from the compulsion to maximize profit. On the one hand, excess use values are often simply destroyed. Out of 100,000 laptops of a certain type, 70,000 are sold. The rest? Is not sold cheaply, but scrapped. - Why? Because the market has to be created for the successor model, space is being created for it. The destruction of returns at Amazon made headlines two years ago, but is actually less due to the particular malevolence of this group than to common practice. (3)

Of course, it is also not in the interest of increasing sales if the goods would last too long. After the warranty expires, most of the devices break on time, in contrast to the "expensive" devices from 1960. Although this was already mass-produced goods and assembly line work, regional wages still had to be paid, even with the suppliers. The procurement of the raw materials was certainly at least as cruel as it is today.

Today's flat screens are only used on average for half as long as the old tube TVs. There is even a scientific term for premature aging of products: Planned Obsolescence . However, there is still no agreement among the experts as to whether the phenomenon is more caused by the deliberate installation of "predetermined breaking points" and the poor repairability of the products or, above all, by the constant desire of customers for a successor model. (4)

What is certain is that consumer re-education worked quite well; we always want something new and the stuff no longer has to last: 18 percent of clothing is only worn twice at all, 20 percent less than once a quarter. (5) The devaluation of things is also reflected in the lack of appreciation we show them. However, value can quickly become relative. The screw on the workshop floor, which I do not want to bend over to, becomes infinitely valuable if it is missing during assembly on the construction site and the nearest hardware store is 30 kilometers away. Pandemic delivery bottlenecks are currently showing us this.

On the subjective side, the devaluation of things goes hand in hand with an increasing alienation of people from things: We forget how to repair the devices we use or even understand how they work. While in the 1990s it was still common to unscrew the case of your home PC, tinker with it and replace components, the inner workings of today's laptops are for most users a book with seven seals. This increases our powerlessness and dependency on the apparatus we use, which is ultimately nothing other than our powerlessness and dependence on social conditions. Our clumsiness in dealing with things is also reinforced by the high degree of social division of labor and the fact that

How do we get out of there? The capitalist system cannot be fundamentally reformed. So revolution, "appropriation of the means of production by the producers" as it is called in the classic writings of the old workers' movement? How can we imagine that under the given circumstances? - Today, less than ever, it can be a matter of simply continuing the existing production and distribution apparatus under the control of workers' councils. Who wants to imagine all of our broiler fattening plants, large slaughterhouses, car factories, nuclear power plants and shopping malls under self-administration? No, large parts of today's production would either have to be shut down without replacement or fundamentally redesigned in order to satisfy the purposes of free humanity and not to destroy nature any further.

On the other hand, certain areas of production are absolutely vital and must be kept running if the revolutionary project is to be successful. In his book "The Conquest of Bread" from 1892, Peter Kropotkin writes about the French revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries:

"Great ideas were born in these epochs - ideas that shook the whole universe; Words were spoken that still make our hearts beat after a century has passed.

Meanwhile there was a shortage of bread in the suburbs.

The moment the revolution occurred, work inevitably ceased. The circulation of goods stalled, the capitalists hid. In these epochs the employer had nothing to fear: he lived on his pensions if he did not speculate on the misery; the wage laborer, on the other hand, saw himself condemned to a meager lifespan, which tomorrow could even be questioned. The famine was on the horizon.[...]

In 1871 the commune perished for lack of fighters. She had not forgotten to decree the separation of church and state, but she had thought too late about ensuring the livelihood of all her fighters. "(6)

According to Kropotkin, the revolutions of the past failed because they concentrated on conquering the state and reshaping the political system, but failed to wrest access to essential goods from the rule of the market and private property and to secure them for all. What use are "big ideas" if there isn't enough to eat?

In 1871 it was about bread, how about today? Water will quickly become an issue, what about electricity and the Internet, for example? How much more are we dependent on the capitalist infrastructure today and how much less are we able to provide ourselves with what we feel is necessary?

"It is evident," continues Kropotkin, "that the slightest shake of private property must lead to the complete disorganization of the entire regime based on private enterprise and the wage system." The fear of this disorganization seems to be one of the deeper reasons why in In most modern revolutions, despite all their anger and courage to fight, the masses shrank from the decisive step and did not take production into their hands. In 2011, the Egyptian despot Mubarak was forced to resign through strikes, mass demonstrations and street fights. But the insurgents failed to withdraw the Suez Canal and the textile factories of Mahalla (7) from the access of the state and capital and to submit them to joint administration by the working population.

But the fear of revolutionary appropriation is not unfounded. "The acquisition of these forces is nothing more than the development of the individual abilities corresponding to the material instruments of production," (8) write Marx and Engels. If the wage earners acquire all of the modern machine park and, moreover, want to use it more sensibly and humanely than the capitalists - then they must acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to deal with this gigantic machine park. But knowing this is not the best. How do we want to turn the world off its hinges when we don't even manage to fix our bike or laptop?

The social revolution demands a multitude of skills, most of which we first have to learn (again): It starts with ensuring the supply of essential things during the social upheaval without the management of the capitalist company organization, whereby some improvisation will certainly be necessary. We must also learn to maintain, repair and reuse things. In agriculture and food production in particular, but also in many other areas, it is important to find alternatives to today's production methods that are less resource-wasting, natural-destructive and less harmful to employees and consumers. In doing so, older, manual processes will probably have to be used in many cases, whose knowledge is rapidly disappearing. The point is not that "everything used to be better", but that we will have to draw on the entire wealth of human experience - from indigenous peoples' botany to modern computer technology - in order to heal the disasters that capitalism has left us with Has.

But what does all of this mean for us in the current situation, where a social revolution seems far away? - It would be very welcome if more people start experimenting with different approaches to things in the here and now. On the one hand, because a less alienated use of the objects around us can give us back a little autonomy in everyday life, develop our skills and last but not least - it is fun. On the other hand, as preparation for the great revolution in production that we are striving for.

There is more than enough material for practicing and acquiring in the honey pots of the modern economy: their dumpsters. And we don't just mean the containers in grocery stores, but also the waste bins from event and trade fair construction companies and similar companies. Or take a look at the containers in the "recycling" yards, there are, for example, so many bicycles that it can really make you angry. Often these wheels are essentially intact, perhaps just having a flat tire or an incorrectly adjusted gearshift. Nevertheless, they are not allowed to give the employees out. And this, although the waste management law responsible in this case requires the avoidance of "harmful[n]... effects on people,

"1. Avoidance of waste;
2. preparation for reuse;
3. recycling;
4. Other recovery, e.g. energetic recovery;
5. Elimination. "(9)

In the case of a bicycle, recycling would mean melting down, which could produce a kilo of steel with a tremendous amount of energy; energetic utilization would be impossible; Elimination - what is that supposed to be? So it would be both factually correct and, funnily enough, even legally required to simply give the bikes out and get them back on the road with a few simple steps. But those in charge of these recycling centers probably suspect - or it was told to them by some higher authority - that it would not be conducive to the prosperity of the economy if they were too strict with the letter of the law here.

Anyone who no longer wants to work in this system or simply cannot find a job has a fantastic capital for such experiments: time. Because time is not money. Time is time. If I have enough, what's the problem if it takes a long time? Those who have paid work and possibly still have children will of course tend to have less free time. But even in this case it can be worthwhile at least sometimes to resist the temptation of the supposedly "practical" solution of buying a new one and to get your hands dirty with repair attempts and improvisation. It certainly helps in this context if it is possible at least to some extent to break through the isolation of the nuclear family and to try out more communal forms of everyday life and child-rearing.

There are plenty of ideas for a new do-it-yourself movement to be awakened. One example is the "Repair Manifesto" with the beautiful motto: "If you can't repair it, it doesn't belong to you!" (10) Repairs not only have to be worthwhile again, but could also represent an increase in the original value, for example in a Resource-saving improvement of the weak points that have occurred. The Japanese terms "Kintsugi" (11) and Wabi-Sabi (12) give us an interesting idea of a cultural enhancement through repair. Alfred Sohn-Rethel's essay on the "ideal of the broken" from the 1920s can still be inspiring in this context: He describes his observations about the idiosyncratic behavior of the poorer residents of Naples, who maintained their sovereignty in dealing with the world of things, especially by creatively inventing new repair solutions for their basically scrap-ripe technical devices. On the other hand, they were rather suspicious of new, perfectly functioning, but precisely because of this incomprehensible functionality. (13)

It should be noted that all of these ideas and practical attempts on their own have little potential to break the system. Separated from a general socio-critical perspective, they can quickly end in dead ends or niches that are smoothly adapted to the circumstances. In recent years, for example, an upcycling trend has emerged that simply represents a niche in the market for enterprising artisans who turn scrap metal into luxury goods for a higher-income audience - more of a fad. Conversely, in times of social cutbacks, the government might think that it would be more cost-effective to simply give the poor free access to local recycling centers instead of Hartz4 ...

Everything therefore depends on whether the attempts proposed here can be successfully incorporated into a revolutionary project that attacks the prevailing conditions in all their facets - from wage labor to gender relations, from the school system to urban development. In the context of a general resistive movement, a creative spirit of appropriating things through repair and improvisation could well develop subversive power.

So, with this in mind: get down to business! We don't necessarily need (only) specialists - but the basics of tool use, farming, mechanics, electronics, etc. are essential. Know-how is, however, a crucial point. Communicate and share knowledge - not just anarchist theory - but everything that brings us forward in struggle and life, tap raw material sources, open spaces, organize division of tasks. What we need above all is the will to take our own things into our own hands again in the truest sense of the word.


(1) Institute of the German Economy 2019.

(2) https://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/tiere/150-arten-sterben-pro-tag-aus-groesstes-artensterben-seit-ende-der-dinosaurier-zeit-droht-16660249
(3) https://t3n.de/news/amazon-vernichtung-retouren-neuwaren-1086628/

(4) http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wirtschaft/geplante-obsoleszenz-konsumwuensche-und-murks-verkuerzen-die-lebensdauer-von-geraeten/11441178.html

(5) https://www.greenpeace.de/sites/www.greenpeace.de/files/publications/20151123_greenpeace_modekonsum_flyer.pdf

(6) Peter Kropotkin: The Conquest of Bread, Chapter: Food, on the Internet e.g. at: https://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Die_Eroberung_des_Brotes

(7) https://de.labournet.tv/video/6360/die-mahalla-arbeiterinnen-der-aegyptischen-revolution

(8) Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Die deutsche Ideologie, MEW Vol. 3, p. 67f.

(9) Waste Management Act 2002, version of 05.07.2020

(10) de.ifixit.com/Manifesto

(11) de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi

(12) de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-Sabi

(13) http://www.magazinredaktion.tk/magazin/heft2/neapel.php

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