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Žižek: The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie

In a text from early 2012, Zizek delineates our current post-industrial capitalist era as a phase of "transition from profit generated by the exploitation of labour into rent appropriated through the privatization of knowledge".

In the transition, a new class of bourgeoisie is emerging:

"If the old capitalism ideally involved an entrepreneur who invested (his own or borrowed) money into production that he organised and ran, and then reaped the profit from it, a new ideal type is emerging today: no longer the entrepreneur who owns his company, but the expert manager (or a managerial board presided over by a CEO) who runs a company owned by banks (also run by managers who don’t own the bank) or dispersed investors. In this new ideal type of capitalism, the old bourgeoisie, rendered non-functional, is refunctionalised as salaried management: the members of the new bourgeoisie get wages, and even if they own part of their company, earn stocks as part of their remuneration (‘bonuses’ for their ‘success’).

This new bourgeoisie still appropriates surplus value, but in the (mystified) form of what has been called ‘surplus wage’: they are paid rather more than the proletarian ‘minimum wage’ (an often mythic point of reference whose only real example in today’s global economy is the wage of a sweatshop worker in China or Indonesia), and it is this distinction from common proletarians which determines their status. The bourgeoisie in the classic sense thus tends to disappear: capitalists reappear as a subset of salaried workers, as managers who are qualified to earn more by virtue of their competence (which is why pseudo-scientific ‘evaluation’ is crucial: it legitimises disparities). Far from being limited to managers, the category of workers earning a surplus wage extends to all sorts of experts, administrators, public servants, doctors, lawyers, journalists, intellectuals and artists. The surplus takes two forms: more money (for managers etc), but also less work and more free time (for – some – intellectuals, but also for state administrators etc)."

The new bourgeoisie's discomfort is taken by Zizek to be a driving force behind the recent wave of global protest:

"The notion of surplus wage also throws new light on the continuing ‘anti-capitalist’ protests. In times of crisis, the obvious candidates for ‘belt-tightening’ are the lower levels of the salaried bourgeoisie: political protest is their only recourse if they are to avoid joining the proletariat. Although their protests are nominally directed against the brutal logic of the market, they are in effect protesting about the gradual erosion of their (politically) privileged economic place... These are not proletarian protests, but protests against the threat of being reduced to proletarians. Who dares strike today, when having a permanent job is itself a privilege? Not low-paid workers in (what remains of) the textile industry etc, but those privileged workers who have guaranteed jobs (teachers, public transport workers, police). This also accounts for the wave of student protests: their main motivation is arguably the fear that higher education will no longer guarantee them a surplus wage in later life."

Some questions for discussion:

* Do you agree with Zizek's view of the Occupy movement as a struggle of the already privileged to retain their social status?

* As material production has been increasingly automated over the last century, less manual workers are needed, and the long predicted "end of labor" vision is here in a sense - so how come we still go to work?

* In what way does the rise of immaterial production ("content production" or "affection production") relate to the redundancy of labor in material production?

* Doesn't this shift portray the still pervasive work regime (8 hours / office / every day) as an ideological construct, rather than a real need to survive?

* What in Zizek's analysis of the current unrest echos Adorno's 1970's critique of free time?


The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie is a short text that was published in January 2012 in the London Review of Books and is still available to read here

Please note the new venue:

we're going to try out the DUO Multicultural Arts Center (DMAC), located on 62 E 4th street. To get in you'll need to use to buzzer for "ROD RODGERS & SASSI KARATE CENTER - Office", and take the stairs on the left to the 5th floor.

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  • Jeryl

    "Don't act. Just think."

    "This is a direct reference to Marx's Theses on Feuerbach where he famously hails philosophers as agents of revolutionary change: "Philosophers have hitherto-for only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." Last year, Žižek modified his take on Marx, "in the 20th century we have tried to change the world too quickly, the time has come to interpret it again, start thinking."

    "Don't get caught in the pseudo-activist pressure to do something. Let's do it," 'rise up' and so on, Žižek exclaims, "The time is to think."

    "As is the case with revolution itself, "critique", "Philosophy" and "thinking" too must pass over from an incisive, critical, destructive phase (which paves the way) into a creative one in order to truly be emancipatory. "

    Žižek on Revolution, Part 1.
    Resurrecting the political imagination.

    February 7, 2013

  • Jeryl

    Zizek joins Occupy Wall Street in New York-- 10/9/11

    "Remember that today, those communists are the most efficient and ruthless capitalists. In China today, we have capitalism, which is even more dynamic than your-American capitalism but doesn't need democracy."

    1 · January 28, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "I am what you might call abstractly anti-capitalist," he says. "For instance, I am suspicious of the old leftists who focus all their hatred on the United States. What about Chinese neo-colonialism? Why are the left silent about that? When I say this, it annoys them, of course. Good!"

      "I don't see any continuity with old-style communism in my approach. So why do I then call it communism?" he says when I ask him about it later. "As to its contents, though, the problem is always the same. It's the enclosure of the commons. Marx was talking about land and property when he wrote about this, but today intellectual property is our commons, information is our commons."­

      "Beneath every Communist,” said Mr. Zizek, “there is a secret bourgeois snob. At least I admit to it.”­

      © Slavoj Žižek 2012 All rights reserved

      January 30, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "Former Communists generally are emerging as the most efficient managers of capitalism because their historical enmity towards the bourgeoisie as a class perfectly fits the tendency of today’s capitalism to become a managerial capitalism without a bourgeoisie – in both cases, as Stalin put it long ago, ‘cadres decide everything.’ (An interesting difference between today’s China and Russia: in Russia, university teachers are ridiculously underpaid – they are de facto already part of the proletariat – while in China they are provided with a comfortable surplus wage to guarantee their docility.)"

      February 3, 2013

  • Jeryl

    " Marx, as they [ Hardt and Negri] see it, was historically constrained: he thought in terms of centralised, automated and hierarchically organised industrial labour, with the result that he understood ‘general intellect’ as something rather like a central planning agency; it is only today, with the rise of ‘immaterial labour’, that a revolutionary reversal has become ‘objectively possible’. This immaterial labour extends between two poles: from intellectual labour (the production of ideas, texts, computer programs etc) to affective labour (carried out by doctors, babysitters and flight attendants)…..Hardt and Negri are here describing the process that the ideologists of today’s ‘postmodern’ capitalism celebrate as the passage from material to symbolic production, from centralist-hierarchical logic to the logic of self-organisation and multi-centred co-operation…. "

    January 21, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "The difference is that Hardt and Negri are faithful to Marx: they are trying to prove that he was right, that the rise of the general intellect is in the long term incompatible with capitalism. The ideologists of postmodern capitalism are making exactly the opposite claim: Marxist theory (and practice), they argue, remains within the constraints of the hierarchical logic of centralised state control and so can’t cope with the social effects of the information revolution..The paradox is that what Hardt and Negri celebrate as the unique chance to overcome capitalism is celebrated by the ideologists of the information revolution as the rise of a new, ‘frictionless’ capitalism." ~ Zizek. The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie

      A copy of Hardt and Negri's Multitude can be downloaded here (pdf file is too big for Meetup):­

      January 21, 2013

  • Jeryl

    You can watch the entire documentary film, Zizek! by Astra Taylor here:

    "ZIZEK! is both an unforgettable lesson in philosophy and a compelling portrait of an intellectual maverick.

    Zizek! is a feature documentary exploring the eccentric personality and esoteric work of the "wild man of theory": the eminent Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek.

    American/Canadian documentary film directed by Astra Taylor. Its subject is philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek, a prolific author and former candidate for the Presidency of Slovenia in the Council of Presidents of Yugoslavia.

    Slavoj Žižek (pronounced [ˈslavoj ˈʒiʒɛk]; born 21 March 1949) is a Slovenian continental philosopher and critical theorist working in the traditions of Hegelianism, Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. He has made contributions to political theory, film theory, and theoretical psychoanalysis."

    January 7, 2013

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