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.