Poverty in our time presents itself to us in the form of an austerity of welfare, both subjectively and objectively. It presents itself to us subjectively because we are alienated from our capacities to care for others. It would of course be incorrect to argue that we all lack these qualities to the same degree. However, broadly speaking our capacity to look after each other is undermined by the professionalisation of these capacities. The doctor. The nurse. The care worker. The councillor.
Day in day out, those who work in these roles perform intricate operations, operations which they have been trained for and perform as a matter of routine every day. In as much as we can say that the repetition that results from specialisation leads to different workers having different capacities, we can say that our dependence on them presents itself to each of us as a lack of these skills within ourselves.
The machine like quality of this repetition may be more difficult to comprehend due to the particularity of individual cases, to the particular challenges of taking care of particular individuals and the particular nature of the relationship which may develop when different individuals care for each other. However, the exact nature of the individual touch does not mean that there is no such thing as common sense when caring for others. Training courses in care work and instruction manuals for councillors attest to this.
It is from this common sense, or rather the opportunity to develop our own better form of a common sense, which we have been alienated from us as a result of the rationalisation and attendant professionalisation of these skills. This alienation is a form of poverty which underpins all others. Indeed, how can it be otherwise when the capacity to reproduce radical otherness and engage in the process of working class self-valorisation is contingent on our ability to reproduce ourselves?
In this context, the cuts to the welfare state present to us the content of the “historical sabotage that the class operates” referred to by Negri. However, the perspective is reversed and it is the capitalist class which is sabotaging us! Every laid off doctor, nurse, care worker, and councillor is one which effects the capacity for communities and individuals to continue to exist. In the disappearance, or rather transformation, of these relationships, the subjective factor of the lack of capacities within ourselves becomes an objective lack outside ourselves. As such, there is no radical other which exists outside of the dynamic of class struggle and our radicalised Robinson Crusoe must be abstracted back in, firstly back into the autonomous working class of which the radical other forms a constituent part, and secondly back into the broader dynamic of class struggle between classes. To argue otherwise is idealism.
Surplus value, whether in it’s capitalist form as profit or its working class form as surplus-self valorisation, continues to serve as a historical dynamic and comes back to haunt us as usual. Alienation persists and presents itself to us as crises of social reproduction in our communities.
The foruth and final part of Martin’s four article series on welfare, alienation and the poverty of radical otherness through the lens of Robinson Crusoe will be out tomorrow (11/03/17) on consented.co.uk – read part two here