New Forms and Visions of Social Life
By Tom Binger
[This article originally published in: arranca, September 27, 2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.linksnet.de/artikel.php?id=1328.]
More and more goods and services are produced by fewer and fewer workers through the continuous increase of social productivity under capitalist conditions of production. This positive trend in itself could definitively remove material distress and the universal pressure to paid labor at least in the highly developed metropolitan societies. Nevertheless the capitalist form of wealth production actually causes a growing impoverishment, cutting social benefits, slashing pensions, reducing public budgets, limiting public goods, an increasing social selectivity of the education system, the precariousness of nearly all working conditions and a growing number of unemployed. In bidding farewell to all the promises of development and prosperity, capitalism also loses its historical legitimation in the rich metropolises.
In a more principled political-economic perspective, the reduction of necessary paid labor to a minimum caused by technological development marks an absolute limit in capital’s possibilities of exploitation. The possibility of the self-abolition of capitalism predicted by Marx is becoming concrete. Capitalism’s law and authority are lost without the exploitation of living labor. At the same time the general increase of social productivity creates the material possibilities that a solidarian society can be more than a more just administration of shortage. There is no economic automatism in the transition to another form of society. Without the “real movement to abolish existing conditions” which Marx and Engels emphasized in the Manifesto, the crisis of capitalist exploitation can lead to a general disintegration of social life and an unbridled escalation of internal and external violence.
The crucial starting point for developing social alternatives is the dissolution of the material foundations of the capitalist work society. There is no material necessity any more for maintaining a universal pressure to work. Full employment on the basis of paid labor is neither desirable nor realizable with the achieved standard of productivity. Paid labor can no longer be the standard for a rational material security of individuals and the key for participating in general social prosperity.
Political concepts with alternatives to the neoliberal reorganization of the social state tied to the crisis of the capitalist work society were presented in the last months by the internet forum links-netz, the civil rights organization Committee for Basic Rights and Democracy and the medical relief organization medico international (1).
They propagate a guaranteed minimum income independent of paid labor and construction of a social infrastructure with an expanded array of public goods and services. A reasonable basic security should be guaranteed for all people and the general compulsion to work ended at last. Under these conditions, a multitude of non-marketable but socially useful and less estranged activities could be developed. If “the capitalist market- and competition society” cannot survive historically (2), developing new forms of sociality beyond the state and the market that make possible a better life for all is now imperative.
ALTERNATIVES TO THE NEOLIBERAL REORGANIZATION OF THE SOCIAL STATE
By formulating a concrete utopia, links-nets, the Committee and medico offer an orientation for social struggles and political movements. They present a political alternative to defensive and anachronistic positions that are limited to defending the fordist variant of the social state. After the definitive end of full employment, the social security system can no longer rest on transfer of wage income. Therefore the alternative concepts propagate a new form of social security based on a universal basic security and building the public infrastructure. The guarantee of a dignified social life for all members of society is the highest goal.
A radical criticism of the dominant concept of work and a fundamental redefinition of socially necessary and meaningful activities are central in all the alternative designs. A new concept of work must bid farewell to fixation on classical industrial work and normal fordist working conditions. A work concept limited only to paid labor ignores organized forms like housework, personal work and voluntary work. A new more comprehensive understanding of work must put in question in principle the distinctions of manual labor and brain-work and housework and occupational work. A new work concept should include all the activities of persons directed productively at other persons. Since the social division of labor is still the most important foundation of socialization and the decisive basis of rule, exploitation and inequality, there cannot be a social alternative without radical redefinition and redistribution of work.
SOCIAL POLICY AS SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE
A social infrastructure accessible for everyone and a basic income granted without conditions are the essentials of an alternative form of social policy. The strategic goal is reducing the universal pressure to work and making possible activities beyond paid labor. The health and education sectors are cited as examples for a social infrastructure in the links-nets concept.
A social policy oriented in the development of a comprehensive social infrastructure must assure collective health care for all people corresponding to current medical, technical and scientific standards. Health care includes the prevention and avoidance of health injuries, the whole area of care and dealing with long-term injuries, not only healing sicknesses and compensating injuries. The goal is an independent life with little pain for all, not the restoration of capacity for paid labor. An expanded health concept is diametrically opposed to the individualization of risks of sickness and the privatization of insurance benefits as necessitated by the current health care reform. A qualitative debate about health care may not leave untouched the expensive monopolistic structures of the public health system and the dominance of the pharmaceutical industry and high-tech medicine.
First of all, building and safeguarding public institutions like schools, universities, adult evening classes and libraries are central. These institutions must be accessible to everyone free of charge as an indispensable part of the social infrastructure. Reducing the social selectivity of the education sector and increasing its permeability for the so-called long-distance education classes are vital. Adequate public institutions and an active integration concept are necessary. The political goal is turning away from the function of the education system as an institution of social selection and elite instruction in favor of a general expansion of the educated class. All forms of self-organized mediation of education should be promoted and the mammoth educational institutions democratized through introduction and development of a real structure of self-government or autonomy. A qualitative debate about education frontally opposes the dominant logic of elite education, student fees and privately financed research.
The question about the social prerequisites that are essential for a `good life’ for all underlies all these debates around a social infrastructure. By providing public goods and a social infrastructure, social policy creates the material foundations for developing new forms of socialization and for self-determined activities beyond traditional paid labor.
THE GUARANTEED BASIC INCOME
The guaranteed basic income would bundle together previously separated forms of social security like unemployment benefits, income support, pensions and grants or tuition aid and make unnecessary a gigantic machine for control and allocation. The basic income must be awarded to every person without discriminating conditions. It may not be tied to citizenship but should cover all who have their permanent center of life in a certain society. Its exact amount can only be the result of intensive social and political discussions. The basic security must have a higher level than the earlier income support as a benefit keeping one from poverty and making possible participation in cultural and social life. The minimum standard is the guarantee of a dignified life according to social standards and possibilities. Possibilities for earning additional money should be available to everyone.
By granting a qualitatively high base income to all members of society unconditionally, other forms of social work can be financed and the pressure to paid labor greatly reduced. An adequate basic social security makes possible the full development of self-determined activities in the political and cultural realms as well as non-commercial forms of social reproduction and productive socialization. Basic security is actually the positive answer to the crisis of the capitalist work society. The far-reaching uncoupling of labor and income contradicts essential premises of the capitalist exploitation logic and therefore contains a dynamic that points beyond the system. Its realization is more a question of the social and political hierarchies of power in society than material possibilities.
THERE IS ENOUGH MONEY
The dissolution of the bond of social security systems to so-called normal working conditions also necessitates an alternative form of financing. Separation from the insurance principle based on individual acquisition of claims to benefits and the changeover to a universal tax base are crucial. By bidding farewell to contribution financing, all kinds of revenue could be available for financing social security. The past social security contributions could be replaced by a graduated social system of fees to finance the infrastructure. Economic entities like businesses and households would be primarily taxed. The taxation system altogether must be set on a broader foundation to pay for this expanded social infrastructure. Profits- and corporation taxes, property- and inheritance taxes could contribute to this financing.
The political and economic resistance that opposes every alternative form of socialization is the problem, not the financing of an alternative form of social security. The two concepts of an alternative socialization then become the material authority when they join with a powerful social movement for their realization. In the past, the debate over concrete transformation concepts hardly went beyond the little leftist-academic circle. This debate often quickly decayed to a pure intellectual game. What a pity! What is ultimately at stake is the guarantee of a dignified social life for all persons irrespective of income, gainful activity, social status, gender or citizenship.
APPROPRIATION OF GLOBAL WEALTH
Fundamental objections against the alternative concepts appear when the international dimension of the neoliberal crisis and the reorganization of the social state are considered. The proposals of the Committee for Basic Rights and Democracy and links-netz are very strongly tailored to the social and economic conditions of western metropolises. However alternative concepts of social justice must ultimately bid farewell to the reference point of the national social state on the background of globalized capital. Their emancipatory character will be proven by whether they really include proposals for a global project of social justice.
Medico formulates a global project of social justice in the search for alternatives beyond paid labor, full employment and the national social state. The starting point is the ambivalent dynamic of globalization. An enormous impoverishment, exclusion and deprivation of rights face the creation of an inconceivable material and symbolic wealth. Medico sees the material basis for an alternative form of socialization in the complete world-social appropriation of this wealth. Medico explicitly formulates the global range of social rights unlike links-netz and the Committee that refer their concepts only to the European context. Joined to the concept of “cosmopolitanism” developed by Hardt/ Negri in Empire, the medico theses show a possible alternative to limiting the solidarian security of social life to citizenship. “Cosmopolitanism” makes “every person at the place of his or her residence into a bearer of citizen and social rights”. Concepts of social rights and guaranteed basic income lose their exclusive character through such a connection.
To not remain mere utopia and abstract ideal, alternative social concepts must start out in the concrete living conditions and forms of human reproduction. In the South and East, the globalization process has already now forced millions of people to secure their survival in the networks of the informal economy. The experiences of social self-organization bound with informality are drawn in the search for solidarian forms of the economy. Together with the family and communitarian networks emerging from the worldwide migration movements, they make possible essential experiences for a “globalization from below” according to medico. A form of the solidarian economy that is neither oriented in the private economy nor fixated on the state must be joined to these real experiences of another socialization without idealizing the framing conditions of shortage and poverty. The crisis of the capitalist world economy itself ultimately makes the new forms of a solidarian and moral economy a sheer necessity for survival for more and more people.
(1) Cf. Joachim Hirsch/ Heinz Steinart. “Is There an Alternative to Neoliberal Social State Reorganization? Social Policy as Social Infrastructure”, under: www.links-netz.de. Peter Grottian/ Wolf-Dieter Narr/ Roland Roth. “There are Alternatives to Repression 2010 – Human Rights-Democratic Reorganization for Basic Security and Work instead of Repressive Dismantling of the Social State” under the Internet address of the Berlin Social Forum, www.sozialforum-berlin.de; medicointernational “Beyond the National Social State: Medico Theses on a Global Project of Social Justice” under www. Medico.de rubric “Health for All”.
(2) Joachim Hirsch: “Another Society is Necessary. On Social Policy as Social Infrastructure” under www.links-netz.de.