Socialist Register 2020: Beyond Market Dystopia

Beyond Market Dystopia: New Ways of Living
Volume 56 of the Socialist Register

Each year a new volume of the Socialist Register appears, effectively laying out for socialists and communists what are burning issues of the day—we now have 56 years of coverage, and many of the burning issues are now in a full blaze. This year’s edition was published before the global pandemic, the 40 million additional unemployed in the US alone, and the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd. The whole world watched the video and responded with a movement that is more widespread than was Occupy Wall Street in 2011 or the first Black Lives Matter upsurge in 2014.

In the preface to Socialist Register 2020, co-editors Greg Albo and Leo Panitch discuss much of what the working classes of the world are confronting with capital’s market dystopia. At one point they cite Colin Leys, a former co-editor of the Register from his 2001 text, “Market-Driven Politics, Neoliberal Democracy and the Public Interest”

A strong non-market domain, providing various core services, as the common sense of a civilised and democratic society may sound far-fetched in an era of market-driven politics. But it is debatable whether it is really as far-fetched – as hard to imagine or as absurd – as the world towards which market-driven politics is tending, in which more and more of the workforce is absorbed in ever-intensified competition for ever higher output and consumption, while the collective services for which democracy depends gradually decay.

The editors go on to state that “It is precisely this sensibility that informs this volume, Beyond Market Dystopia: New Ways of Living. By challenging our contributors to address what are the actual and possible ways of living in this century, we saw this as way of probing how to get beyond the deep contradictions of neoliberal capitalism. We did not want contributors to conceive their remit as future-oriented per se, but rather to see their mandate as locating utopic visions and struggles for alternate ways of living in the dystopic present. To this end, a number of he essays interrogate central dimensions of ‘how we live’ and ‘how we might live’ in terms of educating our children, housing and urbanism, accommodation of refugees and the displaced, and (to lean on that all too common phrase) the competitive time pressures for ‘work-life balance’. These are all key questions, of course, of ‘social reproduction’, a theme Register. They are the counterpoint to ‘economic reproduction’ and ‘how we work’ at the heart of several essays here. Today, this involves exploring and exposing all the hype and contradictions of the so-called ‘gig economy’, where automation’s potential for increased time apart from work is subordinated to surveillance, hazardous waste, speed-up, and much else that makes for contingent work and precarious living. Finding new ways of living cannot but confront both these obstacles.Yet even amidst all that appears so new in today’s capitalism, classical socialist themes, dilemmas, challenges, and struggles are still very much with us. Indeed, several essays in this volume undertake political archaeologies of the past to find their vestiges providing new meaning for the practices of socialism in the twenty-first century.

We will meet for ten weeks to consider eleven of this year’s presentations, one essay per week except for our last session (see schedule below). This reading of the Socialist Register could become a regular feature of MEP summers: it allows for frequent participation but takes into account that all of us may miss a week or more due to summer travel and vacations.

Four of the ten sessions remain as follows:

August 24 • What Should Socialism Mean in the Twenty-First Century?
Nancy Fraser author will be present

August 31 • The Affordable Housing Crisis: Its Capitalist Roots and the Socialist Alternative
Karl Beitel author will be present

September 14 • Communism in the Suburbs?
Roger Keil
And The Retroactive Utopia of the Socialist City
Owen Hatherley
both authors will be present

Discounted copies of the book (2 remaining) are available from The MEP. Write to: info@marxedproject.org or to revsgroup@gmail.com for information. A separate product line will be an on-line item —check website after 6/20 for ordering information.

Working The Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centers

An author presentation & discussion with Jamie Woodcock

Co-sponsored and hosted by Interference Archive

Call centers have become synonymous with low-paid and high stress work, dictatorial supervisors and terrifyingly precarious job contracts. However, rarely do we have access to the experience of workers in this context. For Working the Phones, Jamie Woodcock spent time working undercover in a UK call center in order to provide insights into the daily experiences of call center workers, and to understand and analyze methods of control and resistance that exist within the highly regulated environment. Call center work has become emblematic of the shift towards a post-industrial service economy, and all the issues that this produces, such as the destruction of a unionized work force, isolation and alienation, loss of agency and, ominously, the proliferation of surveillance and control which affects mental and physical well-being of the workers. The talk includes three parts: first, it makes an argument for the use of workers’ inquiry as a method to study contemporary work conditions, in this case involving an undercover activist ethnography; second, it draws on heterodox and critical Marxist theory to understand the transformation of work; third, it focuses on the challenges of resistance and organization in contemporary work through a concrete example.

Jamie Woodcock completed his PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is currently a fellow at LSE. His research interests include: digital labour, technology, management, critical theory, and the sociology of work. Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres is published by Pluto Press, further information: https://t.co/O4wr47ZGF3

Organizing in the Era of The Gig Economy

Organizing in the Era of The Gig Economy
Peter Rugh

The gig economy has been called the future of work, but it’s really just plain 19th-century-style exploitation dressed up in techie garb, harkening back to ye auld days before the labor movement won things like the eight-hour work day, the right to unionize, pensions, health care benefits, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits and job security.

Companies like Uber, Lyft, Taskrabbit and Handy are taking advantage of the 2008 recession that pushed workers off payrolls and into a precarious job market where there is less work to go around and wages aren’t close to what they used to be. In order to get by, today’s labor force has to take what it can get. More and more, they’re forced to turn to software platforms that hyper-exploit contingent labor. But while Silicon Valley is turning back the clock on workers rights and fracturing moments of class unity, workers all over the world are organizing and fighting back. Come to consider how we can become more organized as a class here in the New York City area.

About the speaker: Peter Rugh is Associate Editor at The Indypendent. He has previously conducted journalism for BBC, VICE and VICE News. In addition to reporting on the gig economy, Peter has also worked in it and will share his first-hand experiences along with those of other on-demand workers.

Suggested Reading:
Apped to be Screwed
Voices from the Gig Economy — Peter Rugh
What’s Yours Is Mine; Against the Sharing Economy— Tom Slee
Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus—Douglas Rushkoff