Work and Politics in the World Enterprise

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* Book: La Fábrica del Emprendedor: Trabajo y política en la empresa-mundo (The Entrepreneur’s Factory: work and politics in the world enterprise). Jorge Moruno.


currently available only in Spanish


From an interview of Jorge Moruno by Carlos Delclos:

"* CD: Let’s talk a little bit about the woods that new path is being blazed in, beyond the electoral world. You recently published a book in Spain, The Entrepreneur’s Factory (‘La Fábrica del emprendedor’), about how work has changed in recent years and how this is reflected in dominant discourses and ideologies. How would you describe these changes, broadly?

JM: I think that we are facing a civilizational change, but I don’t mean this as an umpteenth prophecy announcing the end of capitalism. What I mean is that there are certain mutations taking place in the fields of production, communication and culture that affect every aspect of our lives. No one can represent all of society and the social movements.

The main change has to do with the decline of the employment society, which we had naturalized as the only way of thinking about the regulation of the social organism. As employment loses its centrality, the social apparatus that defined economic expansion after World War II—through investment, production, demand, employment, consumption and rights—falls apart. Work understood as life-long employment will never return. In historical terms, it hasn’t been around very long, anyway. Work understood as life-long employment will never return. In historical terms, it hasn’t been around very long, anyway.

So we’re at a historic crossroads. On the one hand, the current crisis is accelerating the oligarchical counter-revolution that began in the 1970s. On the other, the crisis of salaried work is not limited to one possible outcome. It contains different possibilities, some of which favor well-being and social or individual autonomy. The totalitarianism of the financial oligarchy seeks to submit everything to market logic, signalling that the days of accessing security through employment are over. Meanwhile, employment continues to be imposed as the way through which we access the means to live.

So we are rethinking work beyond employment. As the volume of work overwhelms our ability to create employment, wealth seeps through the hinges of the twentieth century labor market. What we see now, following André Gorz, are two competing designs of society in a dispute for power over time. One proposes that we carry out an array of activities that are submitted to the market’s moods and a life of precarity. The other proposes that we carry out multiple activities during the time we have for life liberated from the constraints of capital. This would mean that everyone works, works less, in different ways, innovating more and living better. Thus, a basic income would be one of the possible pillars of welfare in the 21st century, as the reverse of the debt economy. So we are rethinking work beyond employment.

* CD: A great deal of your critique focuses on a figure that is idealised in the English-speaking world as the embodiment of the creative impulse. So I have to ask: what is wrong with being an “entrepreneur”?

We have to be precise here, and separate the particular from the general. As Marx once said, a black person is not a slave. A black person is a black person, and it is only under certain social relationships that he or she is forced into slavery. Similarly, the labor force’s ability to work is only a commodity under capitalist social relations.

What do I mean by this? I mean that what is intrinsic to human beings, like production, is naturalized and interpreted according to very particular ways of understanding our conditions. There’s nothing wrong with a lot of the ideas that structure entrepreneurial rhetoric, like innovation, cooperation, autonomy or creating. My critique has more to do with the particular way in which those aspects are articulated under neoliberalism.

To borrow a term from Ernesto Laclau, many of these concepts are what he would call “floating signifiers”, concepts whose meanings are being disputed. If we focus on the pamphlets and posters of the 1960s, or from Italy in the 70s, we could change the word “communism” to “enterprise” or “entrepreneurial initiative” or any other term the management world likes, and we’d get a slogan quite similar to what you’ll read in HR Magazine.

The neoliberal version of the “entrepreneur” reinterprets a desert of precariousness, competition and uncertainty as an opportunity to improve your personal development and capture what the market offers for yourself. But my critique is not some nostalgic appeal to the disciplinary factory of yesterday, which is neither possible nor desirable. It is specifically a critique of the neoliberal interpretation of the social composition of work today, and of the production of a new subject that updates and internalizes capitalist desire as his or her own.

Creative, autonomous work and the desire to leave the disciplined factory were the starting point of the proletarian struggles that precede us. The problem lies in the conditions we’ve arrived at after the capitalist counter-revolution. The problem lies in the conditions we’ve arrived at after the capitalist counter-revolution. And the question that we must ask now is how we think about democracy based on our present reality.

* CD: One of the key ideas in your book is the World Enterprise. What is this exactly?

JM: It is the intensive spatial, temporal and oneiric culmination of the economic totalisation of society under capitalism. It is Facebook asking you, “What’s on your mind?” We have become batteries that produce data, sharecroppers of information and demand, consumption’s day laborers.

The World Enterprise is defined by the fusion of capital and life and the negation of the conflict between them. There are no longer two different terrains. When the desire for a better life is linked with capitalism’s desire to maintain itself, there is no capitalist Other different from one’s self. As people, we are told to be shareholders of our own labor power. We work like stock options, vying for a place in the market and trying not to become toxic assets. We work like stock options, vying for a place in the market and trying not to become toxic assets.

This is not an ideological veil that keeps us from seeing a supposedly pure and perfect reality behind it. The World Enterprise is our daily reality. We are in the belly of the whale. There is no exit and we can only struggle against its domination and liberate what already exists. As Rosa Luxembourg said, we will only triumph if we do not forget to learn.

* CD: There’s no escape from the belly of the World Enterprise whale?

JM: You have to dissolve it from the inside. There is no exit, no outside for us to seek refuge in. When we try to change life, our cynicism takes over. It sounds like a joke, or a figure in a museum. We’ve lost the ability to project a movement of life that can look towards what it wants to do, rather than simply maintain what exists. We are left with a conservative demand, scared, asking for mercy, so that everything stays as it is.

Storming the heavens involves jumping into the abyss, Storming the heavens involves jumping into the abyss.into the possibility of building a society that is conscious of its power, a society with autonomous subjects capable of instituting themselves. How long has it been since we’ve been on the offensive, and not simply reacting to their attacks?

Today, work and life are integrated, they don’t even bother to reconcile. Capitalist social relations are collapsing our social arteries with that cholesterol called merchandise. Our daily lives, our private time, our biographies are all shadowed by our ability to develop a commercial spirit, to become our own brands. You are free because there are lots of television channels. You can dream of having the latest Apple product. You can consume whatever you can think of as long as you can pay for it. You can desire all the women you see in advertisements, with all the patriarchy underlying that.

But who rules, and from where? No one knows for sure. Since the spatial revolution inaugurated by globalization, we have not been capable of defining the enemy. Never before has this been so at hand, just as we feel it slipping through our fingers. I could say that the key is to work our neighborhoods or to exercise power from the State. All of this is necessary, for sure. All of Antigone’s gestures are fundamental. But power slips through our hands like soap.

First, lets stop the hemorrhaging. Only then can we operate. Let’s go back to the zero-point of politics. There is no instruction manual. We need a new Renaissance that casts doubt on the sacred words and liberates thought from the cloisters. We need a certain madness to reclaim our sanity. If we focus on the shortfall between our desires for great changes and their real impact on daily life, we will fall into frustration.

We should not be foolish. If we take a step back and look at our time, at first it seems that everything remains the same. But, Eppur Si Muove—and still it moves. There you have 15M, Occupy, Gezi and so on. It takes a lot to get very little, but there is no other option. Our situation is Quixotic and Machiavellian: we must open a new way, without the means do so." (