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The Age of Happiness - Page 34

Purchasing power is a license to purchase power. The old proletariat sold its labour power in order to subsist; what little leisure time it had was passed pleasantly enough in conversations, arguments, drinking, making love, wandering, celebrating and rioting. The new proletarian sells his labour power in order to consume. When he's not flogging himself to death to get promoted in the labour hierarchy, he's being persuaded to buy himself objects to distinguish himself in the social hierarchy. The ideology of consumption becomes the consumption of ideology. The cultural détente between east and west is not accidental! On the one hand, homo consomator buys a bottle of whisky and gets as a free gift the lie that accompanies it. On the other, Communist man buys ideology and gets as a free gift a bottle of vodka. Paradoxically, Soviet and capitalist regimes are taking a common path, the first thanks to their economy of production, the second thanks to their economy of consumption.

In the USSR, the surplus labour of the workers does not, strictly speaking, directly enrich their comrade the director of the enterprise. it simply strengthens his power as an organizer and a bureaucrat. His surplus-value is a surplus-value of power. (But this new-style surplus-value is nevertheless subject to the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. Marx's laws of economic life are confirmed today in the economy of life.) He earns it, not on the basis of money-capital, but on the basis of a primitive accumulation of confidence-capital gained by his docile absorption of ideological matter. The car and the dacha which are thrown in to reward his services to the Socialist Fatherland, to Output and the Cause, foretell a form of social organization in which money will indeed have disappeared, giving way to honorific distinctions of rank, a mandarinate of the biceps and of specialized thought. (Remember the special treatment given to Stakhanovites, to 'heroes of space' and scrapers of catgut and canvas.)

In capitalist countries, the material profit gained by the employer from both production and consumption is still distinct from the ideological profit which the employer is no longer alone in deriving from the organization of consumption. This is all that prevents us from reducing the difference between manager and worker to the difference between a new Jaguar every year and a mini lovingly maintained for five. But we must recognize that the tendency is towards planning, and planning tends to quantify social differences in terms of the ability to consume and to make others consume. With the differences growing in number and shrinking in significance, the real differences between rich and poor is diminishing, and mankind is levelled into mere variations on poverty. The culmination of the process would be a cybernetic society composed of specialists ranked hierarchically according to their aptitude for consuming and making others consume the doses of power necessary for the functioning of a gigantic social computer of which they themselves would be simultaneously the programme and the printout. A society of exploited exploiters where some slaves are more equal than others.

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