In terminology used by some critics of capitalism, statism and various authoritarian systems, wage slavery is the condition under which a person must sell his or her labor power, submitting to the authority of an employer in order to prosper or merely to subsist.
The first articulate description of wage slavery was made by Simon Linguet in 1763, describing how it undermined beingness and individual autonomy, by basing them on a materialistic concept of the body and its liberty i.e. as something that is sold, rented or alienated in a class society:
According to this view, then, the fundamental differences between a chattel slave and a wage slave are:
1. The chattel slave is property ("capital"). As such, the chattel slave's value to an economically rational owner is in some ways higher than that of a wage slave who can be fired, replaced or harmed at no (or less) cost, since the chattel slave's owner has made a greater investment in terms of the money he paid for the slave. For this reason, in times of recession, chattel slaves couldn't be fired like wage laborers. American chattel slaves in the 19th century had improved their standard of living from the 18th century and, as historians Fogel and Engerman's reported, slaves' material conditions in the 19th century were "better than what was typically available to free [i.e. wage slave] urban laborers at the time". This was partially due to slave psychological strategies under an economic system different from capitalist wage slavery:
Similarly, various strategies and struggles adopted by wage slaves are deemed to have created extra-capitalist structures (unions, welfare institutions etc) that can constrain the destructive mechanisms of wage slavery. These institutions could test the limits of wage systems and eventually lead to their overthrow, though they can temporarily also appease the masses; preventing the overthrow of the elites that often take credit for the creation of these institutions.
2. A wage slave's starkest choice is "work for a boss or face poverty/starvation". Indirectly, prison, beatings, insults and other punishments, including death lay in store for those who try to survive without working for (or becoming) a boss (e.g. workers trying to democratically run a capitalist's factory, live freely in buildings or grow and collect food, medicine and other goods freely from the land and factories capitalists own etc). If a chattel slave refuses to work, a number of punishments are also available; from beatings to food deprivation--although economically rational slave owners practiced positive reinforcement to achieve best results and before losing their investment (or even friendship) by killing an expensive slave.
3. Unlike a chattel slave, a wage slave can sometimes choose his boss, but he can't choose to have no boss unless he wants to face starvation, poverty or status diminution.
4. “The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it may be, because of the master's interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it, has no secure existence. This existence is assured only to the class as a whole. The slave is outside competition; the proletarian is in it and experiences all its vagaries.” (Karl Marx)
The similarities between chattel and wage slavery were certainly noticed by the workers themselves; for example, the 19th century Lowell Mill Girls, who, without any knowledge of European radicalism, condemned the "degradation and subordination" of the newly emerging industrial system, and the "new spirit of the age: gain wealth, forgetting all but self", maintaining that "those who work in the mills should own them. In their 1836 strike, this was one of their protest songs:
Noam Chomsky, who believes that such sentiments are "just below the surface", has used the militant history of labor movements, Bakunin's theories about an "instinct for freedom", Kropotkin's mutual aid evolutionary principle of survival and Marc Hauser's evidence supporting an innate and universal moral faculty, to explain the incompatibility of such oppression and greed with certain aspects of human nature.
Supporters of wage and chattel slavery have linked some of the unavoidable features of reality (the subjection of man to nature) with the seemingly avoidable conditions of social structures (the subjection of man to man); arguing that hierarchy and their preferred system's particular relations of production represent human nature and are no more coercive than the reality of life itself, which therefore cannot be improved upon by social structures--only made worse. Consequentially, any well-intentioned attempt to fundamentally change the status quo is naively utopian and will result in more oppressive conditions.Bosses in both of these long-lasting systems argued that their system created a lot of wealth and prosperity. Both did, in some sense create jobs and their investment entailed risk. For example, slave owners might have risked losing money by buying expensive slaves who later became ill or died; or might have used those slaves to make products that didn't sell well on the market. Marginally, both chattel and wage slaves may become bosses; sometimes by working hard. It may be the "rags to riches" story which occasionally occurs in capitalism, or the "slave to master" story that occurred in places like colonial Brazil, where slaves could buy their own freedom and become slave owners themselves Social mobility, or the hard work and risk that it may entail, are thus not considered to be a redeeming factor by critics of capitalist wage slavery:
The methods of control in wage systems, differ substantially from those in chattel systems. For example, in his book, Disciplined Minds, American physicist and writer Jeff Schmidt points out that professionals are trusted to run organisations in the interests of their employers. The key word is ’trust’. Because employers cannot be on hand to manage every decision, professionals are trained to “ensure that each and every detail of their work favours the right interests – or skewers the disfavoured ones” in the absence of overt control. Schmidt continues:
"The resulting professional is an obedient thinker, an intellectual property whom employers can trust to experiment, theorize, innovate and create safely within the confines of an assigned ideology." Schmit goes on to show with statistical evidence that subordination to elite ideology, including aggression, is greater among those with more schooling, a conclusion corroborated in other studies as well. In Propaganda (1928), the father of public relations Edward Bernays argued that "[t]he conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. Similarly Walter Lippmann argued that "the manufacture of consent" amounted to "a revolution" in "the practice of democracy" and allowed the "bewildered herd" to be controlled by their betters.
Some supporters of chattel slavery claimed that those who hadn't studied in depth the economic and social aspects of slavery, could not form a reasoned opinion on the matter. Similarly, some modern economists believe that the uneducated are not in a position to reject economic systems involving wage slavery. For example Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson asks: "…without the disciplined study of economic science, how can anyone form a reasoned opinion about the merits or lack of merits in the classical, traditional economics?
Wage slavery played a very important role in the modern consolidation of the nation-state structure that originated in the pre-capitalist "...feudal period with battles for power between feudal lords, kings, the Pope and other centers of power which gradually evolved into systems of nation states in which a combination of political power and economic interests converged enough to try to impose uniform systems on very varied societies...In the course of the development of the nation state system, there also developed on the side various economic arrangements which about a century ago turned into what became contemporary corporate capitalism, mostly imposed by judicial arrangements, not by legislation, and very tightly integrated and linked to the powerful states, [which are] [un]distinguish[able]...from the multinational corporate system, the conglomerates that rely on them, that have a relation of both dependency and domination to them...[T]heir intellectual roots...come out of the same neo-Hegelian conceptions of the rights of organic entities that led to bolshevism and fascism."
The close link between property and the state has been noted by many outstanding thinkers. For example John Locke, who in 1690 wrote that "[t]he great and chief end...of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property" or Adam Smith who described how "...as the necessity of civil government gradually grows up with the acquisition of valuable property, so the principal causes which naturally introduce subordination gradually grow up with the growth of that valuable property... Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions...The appropriation of herds and flocks which introduced an inequality of fortune was that which first gave rise to regular government. Till there be property there can be no government, the very end of which is to secure wealth, and to defend the rich from the poor"This tight link between property and state was also noted by John Jay (who repeatedly said that "Those who own the country ought to govern it,")and by US Founding Father James Madison, who said that government "...ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority."
In this respect, statist welfare measures can be seen as a consequence of the elite's fear of dispossession--yielding to some degree in order to appease the organized pressure of wage slaves.
Though seemingly paradoxical, the most prominent current critic of wage slavery, the anarchist Noam Chomsky, has defended the temporary use of state power on the grounds that it prevents even more oppressive forms of authority and wage slavery:
"I don't think the federal government is a legitimate institution. I think it ought to be dismantled, in principle; just as... I don't think people ought to live in cages. On the other hand, if I'm in a cage and there's a saber tooth tiger outside, I'd be happy to keep the bars of the cage in place even though I think the cage is illegitimate...The centralized government authority is at least to some extent under popular influence... The unaccountable private power outside is under no public control. What they call minimizing the state transferring the decision making to unaccountable private interests is not helpful to human beings or to democracy... so there is a temporary need to maintain the cage, and even to extend the cage."
Wage slavery exists in various systems, including communist states, but given the prevalence of modern capitalism, it is often described as a lack of rights in the market system; especially in the absence of extra-capitalist structures stemming from some degree of democratic input (welfare system, retirement income, etc.). The concept seeks to point out how the only rights a worker has are the rights he or she gains on the labor market. S/he faces starvation when unable or unwilling to rent him/herself to those who own the capital and means of production. Capitalists, and sometimes a state elite, own the means of life (land, industry etc) and gain profit or power simply from granting permission to use them. This they do in exchange for wages. Though most opponents of wage slavery favor possessions for non-exploitative personal use, they oppose the "freedom" to use property for the exploitation of others; claiming that private ownership of the means of life is theft and that sometimes a person's freedom ends where another person's begins (e.g. my freedom to opress, kill, steal etc violates yours). Given that workers are the majority, they believe that the elite maintain wage slavery and a divided working class through their influence over the media and entertainment industry, educational institutions, unjust laws, nationalist and corporate propaganda, pressures and incentives to internalize values serviceable to the power structure, state violence (the police will arrest workers who freely collect food & medicine or try to democratically run a capitalist's factory), fear of unemployment and a historical legacy of exploitation under prior systems:
Adam Smith, who offered an argument for markets based on the notion that under conditions of perfect liberty, markets would lead to perfect equality, articulated in the Wealth of Nations some factors in the development of wage slavery:
The interest of the dealers in any particular branch and trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from and even opposite to, that of the public.... [They] have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public...We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate... It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily... [while] [t]he man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible to become for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life.
The extreme subordination generated by wage slavery has also been recognized by right wing bosses like US financier & railroad businessman Jay Gould (1836–1892), who famously said "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half. The concept of wage slavery suggests that even where the conditions of chattel slavery do not apply, wage earners may experience social and psychological predicaments which are similar to those stemming from chattel slavery.
Anthropologist David Graeber has noted that, historically, the first wage labor contracts we know about whether in ancient Greece or Rome, or in the Malay or Swahili city states in the Indian ocean were in fact contracts for the rental of chattel slaves (usually the owner would receive a share of the money, and the slave, another, with which to maintain his or her living expenses.) Such arrangements were quite common in New World slavery as well, whether in the United States or Brazil. C. L. R. James made a famous argument that most of the techniques of human organization employed on factory workers during the industrial revolution were first developed on slave plantations.
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A disparity in bargaining power compels wage slaves to accept a predicament they wouldn't otherwise consent to. Some critics of capitalism argue that wage slavery is present in all capitalist societies, even the richest ones. This has to do with two factors:
To this argument, Marx added:
"The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers...Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army, they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois state; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is...The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason the social forms stringing from your present mode of production and form of property historical relations that rise and disappear in the progress of production this misconception you share with every ruling class that has preceded you. What you see clearly in the case of ancient property, what you admit in the case of feudal property, you are of course forbidden to admit in the case of your own bourgeois form of property...You are horrified at our intending to do away with private ownership of the means of production. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society."
Many advocates of wage slavery claim that consumer choice in capitalist societies constitutes an improvement in the standard of living and that today's wage slaves have many more consumer choices than chattel slaves. They claim that the market system reflects "what people want" and that people "vote with their dollars". There is indeed evidence that many wage slaves in the 21st century have higher standards of living and more consumer choice than chattel slaves in the 18th and 19th century (although 21st century wealth inequalities are vast); but some historians don't find the comparison of vastly disparate time periods to be particularly revealing. Historians Fogel and Engerman, for example, reported that slaves' material conditions in the 19th century were "better than what was typically available to free [i.e. wage] urban laborers at the time Wage slaves' standard of living has improved since the beginning of the industrial revolution and similarly, American chattel slaves in the 19th century had improved their standard of living from the 18th century
Critics of capitalism claim that "voting with dollars" means that those with more dollars have more votes. They maintain that several undiscussed factors affect consumer behavior. For example, educational institutions cater to the ideological needs of the biggest employers (government, corporations); the media are profit seeking corporations selling affluent audiences to advertisers and relying primarily on business and government information; intellectuals tend to get ahead in the hierarchy and become influential by adopting and disseminating ideas that are serviceable to power; and a stated purpose of the advertising industry is to artificially "create wants" and stir away from consumer choices that may harm capitalist power (e.g. the most popular newspaper in England, the Daily Herald went out of circulation because of advertiser discrimination; news organizations stir away from programs hinting at systemic causes for societal problems even if these programs are popular.). All this, they claim, distorts the framework of consumer choice and the psychological make up of consumers in a way that reflects elite interests and will, rather than that of consumers. Furthermore, in state capitalist societies, corporations in conjunction with governments have pushed for measures such as elimination of public transportation and alternate forms of energy, as well as propaganda to justify subidies to high technology industry through military expenditures. These measures, as well as the subsidies, bailouts and protectionism that allowed many countries to develop and create products at the public's expense (and without their consent), altered available choices and ideas and also allowed many industries to become competitive in subsequent "free markets whose development had therefore little to do with consumer choice A number of psychologists and environmental experts have presented evidence showing that rampant western consumerism is harming the planet (and human beings), and becoming a substitute for activities that are emotionally more fulfilling. Most importantly, critics claim that "consumer choice" is only half the story, because people are not only consumers— they are also workers, and very often, their choice in the capitalist work environment is "work for a boss or starve"; i.e. it is limited to a (sometimes possible) choice among bosses and it doesn't involve choices and decisions regarding production, distribution, working hours, regulations, hierarchy etc (i.e. the choice to have higher control over one's productive life therefore one's destiny) because the workplace and the economy (including the advertising industry and entertainment industry) are not run democratically.
Already in the 19th century, Marx had pointed out some of the ways in which technology could be used to alienate workers: "Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labor, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labor, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. What is more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labor increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time, or by increased speed of machinery, etc." Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm believed that the lack of worker's control and unhappiness/ dissatisfaction at the workplace means that people compensate their emptiness by seeking substitutes elsewhere (religious fundamentalism, drugs, consumerism etc). Fromm thought it very likely that a democratic, not-for-profit work environment would enable more choices for workers, having a drastic effect on subsequent consumer choice and all the mechanisms currently associated with it (advertising, marketing, concentration of capital etc) as well as on the human psyche. In Manufacturing Consent and "The Myth of the Liberal Media" Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky present a substantial body of evidence showing striking qualitative and quantitative differences in the coverage of facts and events in the corporate capitalist media on the basis of their serviceability to elite groups. Their propaganda model identifies 5 major institutional factors affecting media behavior. In order to be hired, journalists, like other intellectual wage laborers, are pressured to internalize the ideological constraints of the institutional structure-- a task that usually starts in educational institutions and works as a filtering system. Therefore, unlike journalists in totalitarian states, western journalists can serve elite interests without being subject to state coercion. As their counterparts in totalitarian states, they identify freedom with the elite that dominates their power structure:
"We have a free press, meaning it’s not state controlled but corporate controlled; that’s what we call freedom. What we call freedom is corporate control. We have a free press because it’s corporate monopoly, or oligopoly, and that’s called freedom. We have a free political system because there’s one party run by business; there's a business party with two factions, so that’s a free political system. The terms freedom and democracy, as used in our Orwellian political discourse, are; based on the assumption that a particular form of domination—namely, by owners, by business elements—is freedom."
In a thorough study of war coverage comparing Soviet and western journalism, Media Lens concluded that
"[l]ike the Soviet media, Western professional journalists adopt and echo government statements as their own, as self-evidently true, without subjecting them to rational analysis and challenge. As a result, they allow themselves to become the mouthpieces of state power. It is fundamentally the same role performed by the media under Soviet totalitarianism."
A number of economic think tanks and analysts have favored a return to the days of Keynesian state capitalism, suggesting that the increased inequalities and slower rate of world economic growth in the neoliberal period (from the 70s till the present), as well as the "undemocratic... virtual senate of investors and lenders" created by financial liberalization, exacerbate the conditions of wage slavery.
Other economists consider wage labor to be the central cause of the capitalist business cycle:
The key to understanding the business cycle is to understand that, to use Proudhon's words, "Property sells products to the labourer for more than it pays him for them; therefore it is impossible." In other words... the system is based upon wage labour and the producers are not producing for themselves.... Capitalism is production for profit and when the capitalist class does not (collectively) get a sufficient rate of profit for whatever reason then a slump is the result. If workers produced for themselves, this decisive factor would not be an issue as no capitalist class would exist. Until that happens the business cycle will continue, driven by "subjective" and "objective" pressures pressures that are related directly to the nature of capitalist production and the wage labour on which it is based. Which pressure will predominate in any given period will be dependent on the relative power of classes. One way to look at it is that slumps can be caused when working class people are "too strong" or "too weak." The former means that we are able to reduce the rate of exploitation, squeezing the profit rate by keeping an increased share of the surplus value we produce. The latter means we are too weak to stop income distribution being shifted in favour of the capitalist class, which results in over-accumulation and rendering the economy prone to a failure in aggregate demand. The 1960s and 1970s are the classic example of what happens when "subjective" pressures predominate while the 1920s and 1930s show the "objective" ones at work...At its most basic...the resistance to hierarchy in all its forms... is the main cause of the business cycle.... [C]apitalists in order to exploit a worker must first oppress them. But where there is oppression, there is resistance; where there is authority, there is the will to freedom. Hence capitalism is marked by a continuous struggle between worker and boss at the point of production as well as struggle outside of the workplace against other forms of hierarchy.
Arguably, there is as much difference (e.g. in economic policies, popular participation, atrocity levels etc) between states termed "communist" as there is between states termed "capitalist-- in spite of the lack of distinctions (as well as propagandistic labeling) that has been applied (particularly to the former), due to elite ideological influence in wage systems. In fact, even opponents of wage slavery who condemn abuses by states termed "communist," have credited certain communist parties with providing forums of public participation that helped ameliorate conditions of wage slavery, among other things. However, the isolation of some states termed communist has prevented them from acquiring the foreign technology required for an economic growth that can sometimes allow workers to struggle more effectively for a less oppressive form of wage slavery. North Korea is a case in point. In contrast, South Korea, applying a mixture of trade with state controls and protectionism --originally through a harsh dictatorship-- developed into an industrial powerhouse with a workforce that is better equipped to combat wage slavery. At the same time, some analysts have pointed out that a less oppressive form of wage slavery would have been achieved by communist, socialist, and other radical or reformist movements in places like Vietnam and Guatemala, were not for the attacks by states termed "capitalist" like the US and France--which feared the demonstration effect of successful and independent socioeconomic development in the third world, from which they derive cheap labor and resources. This was a development that, according to Noam Chomsky, was monolithically labeled "communist" and "totalitarian" as a pretext to act against it and maintain the exploitation that is seen in "free market" zones in places like Bangladesh, Burma, Indonesia, Guatemala, Haiti etc Such policies seem compatible with the observation of Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang, that the developed countries want to prevent economic independence in the third world by forcing them to institute "free market" policies, which "kick away the ladder because the rich countries developed with extensive state intervention and protection of what US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton called "infant industry".
Alleged benefits of state economies over private ones include non-profit production, increased equity among citizens, the ability to maintain employment (thus consumption) in times of recession (which increases demand and helps the economy get out of recession); the development of "natural" monopolies such as electricity, water, gas, railways, landline telephones etc, and the improvement upon capitalist monopolies and competitive markets in pricing and production of socially optimal quantities due to the decline in the profit motive, which, in capitalist monopolies causes them to "produce only up to the quantity where its profit is maximized... [which] under normal circumstances [is] lower than the socially optimal one" while in a competitive market it may cause overproduction, phenomena such as the 80/20 rule and other inefficiencies due to the absence of communication among competitors and lack of "freedom to set the price, as a rival can always undercut them until the point where lowering the price further will result in a loss.
Anarchists, who have also been called "libertarian communists", believe that as long as any elite is in power, oppressive forms of authority such as wage slavery will continue. They describe how in all self-designated "communist" states the working class follows orders and does not do away with wage labor— at the point of production workers just switch bosses (from capitalists to state bureaucrats). The state bureaucracy controls the means of production—not the workers. This, they argue, is why Vladimir Lenin's view of socialism was that it "is nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people,"who must trust the benevolence of their leaders.
Anarchists believe that true socialism (self-management and worker's democratic control of the means of production) will come only with the elimination of both, capitalism and the state, via the creation of a decentralized system of free associations with consumer and worker's councils, regional federations, national assemblies and part-time rotative delegates with no power above others i.e. with no professional politicians, as was achieved to some extent, during the Spanish anarchist revolution. As the Infoshop FAQ points out:
"Anarchists consider one of the defining aspects of the state is its hierarchical nature. In other words, the delegation of power into the hands of a few. As such, it violates the core idea of socialism, namely social equality. Those who make up the governing bodies in a state have more power than those who have elected them. Hence these comments by Malatesta and Hamon: 'It could be argued with much more reason that we are the most logical and most complete socialists, since we demand for every person not just his [or her] entire measure of the wealth of society but also his [or her] portion of social power."
The rejection of the state is also advocated by some libertarian Marxists, such as Anton Pannekoek, who observed talking about revolution that "this goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting itself for the bourgeoisie", but can only be "realized by the workers themselves being master over production." Libertarian socialists thus believe that rejecting such goals on the grounds that they were featured regularly in the rhetoric of leaders like Lenin and Stalin, is as illogical as rejecting freedom and peace on the grounds they were stated goals of Hitler and many other dictators. As Noam Chomsky says: "No rational person pays the slightest attention to declarations of benign intent on the part of leaders, no matter who they are. And the reason is they're completely predictable, including the worst monsters, Stalin, Hitler the rest. Always full of benign intent. Yes that's their task. Therefore, since they're predictable, we disregard them, they carry no information. What we do is, look at the facts. That's true if they're Bush or Blair or Stalin or anyone else. That's the beginning of rationality. Just as critics of capitalism don't believe that improvements in the standard of living under capitalist wage slavery justify it, critics of state Communism don't think communist wage slavery is justified by the fact that the poorest workers in Communist Russia in the late 80s (during the 'fall of communism') were better off than the poorest workers in 1916 (right before the Bolshevik take over), or 1918 (right after).
Chomsky has found striking similarities in the elite managerial ideology of wage slavery in communist and capitalist states:
...Lenin was to decree that the leadership must assume "dictatorial powers" over the workers, who must accept "unquestioning submission to a single will" and "in the interests of socialism," must "unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process." As Lenin and Trotsky proceeded with the militarization of labour, the transformation of the society into a labour army submitted to their single will, Lenin explained that subordination of the worker to "individual authority" is "the system which more than any other assures the best utilization of human resources" or as Robert McNamara expressed the same idea, "vital decision-making...must remain at the top...the real threat to democracy comes not from over management, but from under management"; "if it is not reason that rules man, then man falls short of his potential," and management is nothing other than the rule of reason, which keeps us free.
Workers didn't control the workplace democratically. They worked for wages provided by their superiors in hierarchical institutions like corporations and the state—therefore, wage slavery continued. Fascist economic policies were widely accepted (and praised) in the 1920s and 30s and foreign (especially US) corporate investment in Italy and Germany shot up after the fascist take over. In Germany, this foreign investment, in conjunction with Hitler's economic policies, led to economic growth and an increase in the standard of living of some Germans, though critics do not believe that such improvements justify fascism nor wage slavery. Fascism has been perceived by some notable critics, like Buenaventura Durruti, to be a last resort weapon of the privileged to ensure the maintenance of wage slavery:
"No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges."
Analysis of the psychological implications of wage slavery goes back to the Enlightenment era. In his 1791 book On the Limits of State Action, classical liberal thinker Wilhelm von Humboldt exlained how "whatever does not spring from a man's free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness"— and so when the laborer works under external control, "we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is.
More recently, investigative journalist Robert Kuttner in Everything for Sale, analyzes the work of public-Health scholars Jeffrey Johnson and Ellen Hall and concludes that "to be in a life situation where one experiences relentless demands by others, over which one has relatively little control, is to be at risk of poor health, physically as well as mentally." Under wage slavery, "a relatively small elite demands and gets empowerment, self-actualisation, autonomy, and other work satisfaction that partially compensate for long hours" while "epidemiological data confirm that lower-paid, lower-status workers are more likely to experience the most clinically damaging forms of stress, in part because they have less control over their work.'' Stress and other emotional problems, might be closely related to suicide and diseases such as obesity and nicotine addiction.
Wage slavery, and the educational system that precedes it "implies power held by the leader. Without power the leader is inept. The possession of power inevitably leads to corruption… in spite of… good intentions … [Leadership means] power of initiative, this sense of responsibility, the self-respect which comes from expressed manhood, is taken from the men, and consolidated in the leader. The sum of their initiative, their responsibility, their self-respect becomes his … [and the] order and system he maintains is based upon the suppression of the men, from being independent thinkers into being 'the men' … In a word, he is compelled to become an autocrat and a foe to democracy." For the "leader", such marginalisation can be beneficial, for a leader "sees no need for any high level of intelligence in the rank and file, except to applaud his actions. Indeed such intelligence from his point of view, by breeding criticism and opposition, is an obstacle and causes confusion. Wage slavery "implies erosion of the human personality… [because] some men submit to the will of others, arousing in these instincts which predispose them to cruelty and indifference in the face of the suffering of their fellows.
According to anarchist Murray Bookchin, "a hierarchical mentality", stemming from mechanisms such as wage slavery "fosters the renunciation of the pleasures of life. It justifies toil, guilt, and sacrifice by the 'inferiors,' and pleasure and the indulgent gratification of virtually every caprice by their 'superiors.' The objective history of the social structure becomes internalised as a subjective history of the psychic structure… Hierarchy, class, and ultimately the State, penetrate the very integument of the human psyche and establish within it unreflective internal powers of coercion and constraint…By using guilt and self-blame, the inner State can control behaviour long before fear of the coercive powers of the State have to be invoked." Similarly, the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin pointed out that "power and authority corrupt those who exercise them as much as those who are compelled to submit to them. "Power operates destructively, even on those who have it, reducing their individuality as it 'renders them stupid and brutal, even when they were originally endowed with the best of talents. One who is constantly striving to force everything into a mechanical order at last becomes a machine himself and loses all human feeling."
As the Infoshop FAQ points out "Tacitus said, 'We hate those whom we injure.' Those who oppress others always find reasons to regard their victims as 'inferior' and hence deserving of their fate. Elites need some way to justify their superior social and economic positions. Since the social system is obviously unfair and elitist, attention must be distracted to other, less inconvenient, 'facts,' such as alleged superiority based on biology or 'nature.'"— "facts" that may be internalized by the victims themselves.
"Most of the evil of the world comes about not out of evil motives, but somebody saying get with the program, be a team player…When a person feels, I am not personally responsible, I am not accountable, it's the role I'm playing or these are the orders I've gotten, then you allow yourself to do things you would never do under ordinary circumstances. [My book] The Lucifer Effect is really a celebration of the human mind's infinite capacity to be kind, or cruel, caring or selfish, creative or destructive. To make some of us be villains and some of us heroes. And it all depends on the situation. When we have total freedom, we choose situations that we know we can control. But when we're in situations where other people are in charge, in the military, in prisons, in some schools, in some families, we are – we can be transformed.
The magnification of negative human tendencies in wage labor-based state and corporate systems has prompted some experts to regard them as psychopathic. For example, using diagnostic criteria from the DSM-IV; Robert Hare, a University of British Columbia Psychology Professor and FBI consultant, provides a detailed analysis comparing the legal person embodied in the modern, profit-driven corporation to that of a clinically diagnosed psychopath. His findings corroborate typical psychopathic behavior such as superficiality, callous unconcern for the feelings of others, incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, diffusion of responsibility, emphasis on short-term goals, predatory egotism, reckless disregard for the safety of others, deceitfulness: repeated lying to and deceiving of others for profit, incapacity to experience guilt, failure to conform to the social norms with respect to lawful behaviors etc.
In Marx's opinion,"[t]he following elements are contained in wage labor: (1) the chance relationship and alienation of labor from the laboring subject; (2) the chance relationship and alienation of labor from its object; (3) the determination of the laborer through social needs which are an alien compulsion to him, a compulsion to which he submits out of egoistic need and distress...(4) the maintenance of his individual existence appears to the worker as the goal of his activity and his real action is only a means; he lives to acquire the means of living…" And so "the more the worker expends himself in his work, the more powerful becomes the world of objects which he creates in face of himself, and the poorer he himself becomes in his inner life, the less he belongs to himself. It is just the same as in religion. The more of himself man attributes to God, the less he has left in himself. The worker puts his life into the object, and his life then belongs no longer to him but to the object. The greater his activity, therefore, the less he possesses … the alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labour becomes an object, takes on its own existence, but that it exists outside him, independently and alien to him, and that it stands opposed to him as an autonomous power. The life which he has given to the object sets itself against him as an alien and hostile force… the alienated character of work for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his work but work for someone else, that in work he does not belong to himself but to another person.
German-Jewish psychoanalyst Erich Fromm argued that wage slavery fosters alienation and is "connected with the marginalisation and disempowerment of those without authority" because "[t]hose who have these symbols of authority and those who benefit from them must dull their subject people's realistic, i.e. critical, thinking and make them believe the fiction [that irrational authority is rational and necessary], … [so] the mind is lulled into submission by clichés … [and] people are made dumb because they become dependent and lose their capacity to trust their eyes and judgement." [Erich Fromm, To Have or To Be?, p. 47]. Fromm noted that advertising, consumerism, and other means of off-work elite control, also contribute to these psychological effects.
Psychologists themselves are subject to these pressures and often work on behalf of elites—helping individuals adjust to the status quo, pathologizing rebellion against authority and sometimes participating in advertising, propaganda, unnecessary profit-driven drug prescriptions, war and torture.
It is important to note that wage slaves, just like chattel slaves, remain so even if they identify with their oppressors or think of themselves as free due to propaganda, self-deception, or false consciousness. Critics of capitalism point at the fact that chattel slavery was once also perceived as legitimate because of the ideological influences of its power structure, and that, in fact, moral arguments were offered in its favor.. Noam Chomsky claims that there is no reason to believe that one day humans won't look back at the days of wage slavery with the same moral outrage with which they react to chattel slavery. People, in his view, have to learn that they are not free, and engage in the kind of "consciousness raising" activities that enabled women in the women's movement, to perceive that they were oppressed.
In many instances —such as Stalin's Gulags, the Holocaust and various wars— wage slavery was only one of several interlinked contributing factors (others being racism, nationalism, social Darwinism etc). Some experts deem that tens of millions of human beings die every year due to the direct and indirect consequences of systems based on wage slavery (e.g. wars, work-related injury/illness, deaths associated with rampant consumerism, environmental destruction, suicide, people dying of hunger and disease because they don't have access to the means of life and it's not profitable to help them, etc).
Environmental degradation and the handling of nuclear weapons by people following orders for wages hint at the mass suicidal tendencies of hierarchical systems such as wage slavery. This may be due to an incompatibility with the moral and survival instincts that developed in the more decentralized pre-civilization power structures that possibly encompassed most of hominidae evolution—though too little is known about Homo Erectus to know for certain. Anecdotal evidence suggests that humans retain strong altruistic and anti-hierarchical tendencies. Also, the anecdotal evidence in Lawrence Keeley's book "The Myth of the Noble Savage was counterbalanced by William Eckhardt's statistical and mathematical evidence, which together produced the possible conclusion that primitive warfare among the more violent tribes was constant but of a very low intensity, and mainly psychological. According to Eckhardt, wars of civilizations produce far more destruction than all of the primitive wars, both absolutely and proportionally. Agriculture meant that humans shifted from taking what nature offered to a mode of control of nature. This shift to control ultimately led to the creation of our current forms of civilized hierarchy--probably based on the creation or magnification of abstract notions of land ownership. The perceived psychological roots and ramifications of facts such as that "[t]he human status as top mammal depends without question on [agricultural] food production" and that the "[h]unter gatherer... lifestyle, in terms of long-term stability and reliability, has been the most successful in human history has prompted anarcho-primitivist author John Zerzan to consider wage slavery as simply part of a continuum of "hierarchy... domestication...[c]onformity, repetition, and regularity [that] were the keys to civilisation upon its triumph, replacing the [relative lack of disease...egalitarianism, autonomy] spontaneity, enchantment, discovery [and lack of strict hierarchy...between the human and the non human species] of the pre-agricultural human state that survived so very long
However, according to Anthropologist David Graber, the picture is in some respects more mixed: "There were hunter-gatherer societies with nobles and slaves, there are agrarian societies that are fiercely egalitarian. Even in . . . Amazonia, one finds some groups who can justly be described as anarchists, like the Piaroa, living alongside others; say, the warlike Sherentre, who are clearly anything but. While most anarchists believe that people should be able to seek non-technological ways of living, they think it possible to achieve an anti-authoritarian society devoid of wage slavery and artificial alienation without resorting to such drastic measures as dismantling modern civilization, which would entail such seemingly unrealistic actions as renouncing all technology and massively reducing the earth's population. Even if desirable, a voluntary reduction in birth rates and safe decommissioning of industry would require a long transitional period (probably centuries) that could only consist of something like a traditional anarchism According to the Anarchist FAQ, however, "few anarchists are convinced by an ideology which, as Brian Morris notes, dismisses the 'last eight thousand years or so of human history' as little more than a source 'of tyranny, hierarchical control, mechanised routine devoid of any spontaneity. All those products of the human creative imagination farming, art, philosophy, technology, science, urban living, symbolic culture are viewed negatively by Zerzan in a monolithic sense.'
The general environment of obedience and subordination created by those who are forced to rent themselves in order to survive and/or prosper—from police and lawyers, to the general population— entails that wage slavery is a primary element of law formation and enforcement, though in many parts of the world, to varying degrees, grassroots struggles have also been able to exert a positive counteracting influence. The subordination to the needs, interests and perceptions of elite groups in society has an inordinate influence on most aspects of the law—distorting the framework used to apply our intrinsic moral and intellectual faculties. This also means that the law doesn't exist in a vacuum. Apart from the direct influence of powerful groups, it is also shaped by other factors. For example, educational institutions catering to the ideological needs of the biggest employers (government, corporations); natural mechanisms that induce intellectuals to get ahead in the hierarchy, make money and become influential by adopting and disseminating ideas that are serviceable to power; the mainstream media—which are profit seeking corporations selling affluent audiences to advertisers and relying primarily on business and government information; economic phenomena like capital flight, nationalistic and commercial values and propaganda spread by a huge advertising industry and powerful government apparatus, the threat of unemployment or even the passivity and ideology spread by spectator sports and entertainment industry The influence of elite groups on the law and conception of "democracy" is seen in even the most advanced government systems prior to the era of corporate globalization. For example, in the first part of his magisterial two volume work The Transformation of American Law, Morton J. Horwitz writes:
"During the eighty years after the American Revolution, a major transformation of the legal system took place... [which] enabled emergent entrepreneurial and commercial groups to win a disproportionate share of wealth and power in American society. The transformed character of legal regulation thus became a major instrument in the hands of these newly powerful groups."
Similarly, the President of the Continental Congress and first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, John Jay said repeatedly that "The people who own the country ought to govern it. Accordingly, police function developed in the context of maintaining a layered societal structure and protecting property.
This ideology has often been rationalized with appeals to "the tyranny of the majority"; self-servingly assuming that 1) rule by the minority is better because the masses are incapable of organizing themselves effectively; and 2) democracy always means majority rule, rather than "people having a say over decisions in proportion to the degree they are affected by them which entails respect for the legitimate rights of minorities.
Noam Chomsky believes that the rationalizations for this elite government function have been fallacious:
Marx's indictment of elite systems of justice contains similar observations:
"The civilization and justice of bourgeois order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and drudges of that order rise against their masters. Then this civilization and justice stand forth as undisguised savagery and lawless revenge...the infernal deeds of the soldiery reflect the innate spirit of that civilization of which they are the mercenary vindicators....The bourgeoisie of the whole world, which looks complacently upon the wholesale massacre after the battle, is convulsed by horror at the destruction of brick and mortar." More generally, Marx perceived that "[y]our very ideas [of freedom, culture, law, etc] are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class."
A large percentage of lawyers do work to defend the interests of corporate and state elites— though the potential for change becomes apparent when despite pressures, incentives and other elite-driven selection processes, some determined lawyers don't. The law has also been shaped by their struggles, as well as those of other constituencies e.g. labor movements, women's and civil rights movements or even the liberal values of economically conservative elites who don't want state oppression to affect them personally, or are in favor of oppression only to maintain their privileges (thus opposing laws against gays, ethnic groups, abortion etc). Nevertheless, if it's true, as Frederik Douglass said, that "power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will wage slavery, so long as it exists, will remain a strong factor ensuring the resiliency of a system of law that overcriminalizes the powerless and decriminalizes the powerful. The law can ensure that moral principles are applied, but will tend to do so only when it does not fundamentally alter the hierarchical status quo that is at the root of most crime in society. Given that most lawyers and judges will resist the idea that they maintain a system of injustice, this double standard will be maintained by ignoring the corrupting influences of elite rule on the general population, and through the application of rationalizations, selective rationality and morality (e.g. criminalizing marijuana and other drugs rather than the more lethal tobacco, punishing petty thieves rather than big exploiting corporations, prosecuting subnational terrorists rather than state war criminals, criminalizing individual support for terrorist groups, but not state support for dictatorships or terrorist groups like the Contras, etc). Wage slavery also contributes to making powerful groups unaccountable to the law (e.g. US violations of international law, police brutality etc). The capacity to unjustly and arbitrarily influence or violate the law is related to the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few. Those who advocate the elimination of wage slavery and the decentralization of power and wealth, (e.g. anarchists) maintain that the law —together with the general culture—should more pervasively reflect human instincts of justice and freedom and should therefore be used not to maintain hierarchy, but to maintain an absence of hierarchy by placing a heavy burden of proof on those who advocate authoritarian measures such as violence and exploitation. Such legal notions are based on the belief that hierarchical institutions magnify the worst features of human nature (violence, greed etc) and that by relinquishing their subordinate role as subservient, unthinking and insentient "cogs in a machine", people would feel more independent, responsible and aware of their actions; they wouldn't be indoctrinated by centers of power, and would become appalled by behavior that now is condoned within the hierarchical institutional structures. From this perspective, the root causes of war and environmental destruction lie in hierarchical mechanisms like wage slavery. In other words, if the state was eliminated and people directly controlled the economy democratically, they would use it for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of elites, and would therefore foster values of solidarity, equality, peace, generosity, creativity and long term survival of the planet.
Several assumptions underlie this rationale:
1 - In hierarchies there's an incentive to not be completely honest with one's superior and to tell him/her want s/he wants to hear. This lack of honest communication builds up the higher it goes up the hierarchy and is reflected once again onto the society by those powerful enough to exert influence primarily the elite who, having a lot to lose, have strong incentives to subordinate and atomize the general population by spreading untruths.
2 - It becomes easier to abuse people when one has power over them.
3 - Human beings often numb their independent sense of morality when they subordinate themselves to arbitrary decree from above (one can dismiss one's complicity in a destructive system by simply saying "I'm just following orders" or "I'm just doing my job, earning my bread," "My superiors are good and know what they are doing" etc).
4 - Under authority people tend to become instruments of someone else, instead of free agents directing their own destiny, discovering and gaining a taste for more freedom. This entails that even when the outcome of actions is positive, the framework in which they're undertaken will remain to a large extent amoral and fortuitous. From this point of view, hierarchical structures like the state and capitalism foster dependence and a lack of personal responsibility vis a vis humanity and the environment—allowing those on top to influence the lives and thoughts of society, and corrupting human behavior:
According to some thinkers, however, there's something called the "bad apple theory" that argues states are natural structures. Anthropologist David Graeber explains it:
Some historians , like Howard Zinn argue that most soldiers do not go to war out of an intrinsic desire to kill. They have to be trained, deceived and desensitized:
Similarly, Noam Chomsky explained how
The struggle against wage slavery has often been linked to other anti-hierarchical struggles. For example, Mujeres Libres (English:Free Women) was an anarchist women's organization with over 20,000 members in Spain that aimed to empower working class women by pushing the idea of a "double struggle" for women's liberation and (anti-capitalist anti-statist) social revolution. The organization argued that the two objectives were equally important and should be pursued in parallel. In the revolutionary Spain of the 1930s, many anarchist women were angry with what they viewed as persistent sexism amongst anarchist men and their marginalized status within a movement that ostensibly sought to abolish domination and hierarchy. They saw women's problems as inseparable from the social problems of the day; while they shared their compañero's desire for social revolution and vehemently opposed the Nationalists, they also pushed for recognition of women's abilities and organized in their communities to achieve that goal. Citing the anarchist assertion that the means of revolutionary struggle must model the desired organization of revolutionary society, they rejected mainstream Spanish anarchism's assertion that women's equality would follow automatically from the social revolution. To prepare women for active roles in the anarchist movement, they organized schools, women-only social groups and a women-only newspaper so that women could gain self-esteem and confidence in their abilities and network with one another to develop their political consciousness. Despite these activities, the group refused to identify itself as feminist due to feminism's perceived association with upper class, conservative women in Spain who called for capitalist political reform. Unlike other leftist women's organizations in Spain at the time, the Mujeres Libres was unique in that it insisted on remaining autonomous from the male-dominated CNT, FAI, and FIJL and fought for equal status with these established anarchist organizations.
According to Murray Bookchin, "it is not until we eliminate domination in all its forms … that we will really create a rational, ecological society." [Murray Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 44] In other words, to save the planet, people must "emphasise that ecological degradation is, in great part, a product of the degradation of human beings by hunger, material insecurity, class rule, hierarchical domination, patriarchy, ethnic discrimination, and competition.. "[N]ature, as every materialist knows, is not something merely external to humanity. We are a part of nature. Consequently, in dominating nature we not only dominate an 'external world' we also dominate ourselves.
From this point of view, the materialistic and competitive "grow or die" maxim of capitalism is inherently anti-ecological. A centralized state structure, though partially restraining of destructive market forces, cedes great power to a few individuals, which has the consequence of standardising and disempowering the majority while imbuing it with an inability to handle the complexities and diversity of life and its ecological systems.
According to the viewpoint of Austrian economical theory, what is exchanged between individuals is irrelevant for the result. In the context of Austrian economics, the concept of compensation would extend to cover everything received by workers from employers for their labor. For consistency then compensation in forms other than wages should also be condemned by those who consider capitalist production wage slavery. That is to say, anything other than a revolutionary restructuring of the labor-employer relation leaves the original condition, the one advocated by the school in question, largely untouched.
Further, utilizing the Misesian analytics of individual action, human beings must always engage in production in order to consume and survive. Thus, man would be enslaved to nature itself. If man is always enslaved in some form or another, according to this view, the concept of slavery is of little use in order to draw distinctions between what is a coercive interpersonal relationship and what is not, thereby defeating the analytical purpose of wage slavery theory.
Wage slavery is also in contradiction to the Rothbardian notion of self-ownership. Under this view, a man is not free unless he can sell himself, because if a man does not own himself, he must be owned by either another individual or a group of individuals. The ability for anyone to consent to an activity or action would then be placed in the hands of a third party. Further, the third-party's ownership would also be in the hands of yet another individual or group. This regression of ownership would transfer ad infinitum and leave no one with the ability to coordinate their own actions or those of anyone else. The conclusion is therefore that if under wage slavery, self-ownership is not legitimate, there is no right for anyone then to claim enslavement to wages in the first place.
According to Eric Foner, black abolitionists in the U.S. regarded the analogy of wage earners to slaves, symbolized by the term "wage slavery," as spurious. When Frederick Douglass escaped slavery and took a paying job, he declared "Now I am my own master." According to Douglas, wage labor did not represent oppression but fair exchange and former slaves for the first time receiving the fruits of their labor. According to abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, "wage slavery" (in a time when chattel slavery was still common) was an "abuse of language.