Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Marx, too, sees the alienation from the body as a distinguishing trait of the capitalist work-relation. By transforming labour into a commodity, capitalism causes workers to submit their activities to an external order over which they have no control and with which they cannot identify. Thus, the labour process becomes a ground of self-estrangement ... Furthermore, with the development of a capitalist economy, the worker becomes (though only formally) the "free owner" of "his" labour-power, which (unlike the slave) he can place at the disposal of the buyer for a limited period of time. This implies that "[h]e must constantly look upon his labour-power" (his energies, his faculties) as his own property, as his own commodity
... But only in the second half of the 19th Century can we glimpse that type of worker - temperate, prudent, responsible, proud to own a watch ...
The situation was radically different in the period of primitive accumulation when the emerging bourgeoisie discovered that the "liberation of labour-power" - that is, the expropriation of the peasantry from the common lands - was not sufficient to force the dispossessed proletarians to accept wage-labour. Unlike Milton's Adam, who upon being expelled from the Garden of Eden, set forth cheerfully for a life dedicated to work, the expropriated peasnts and artisans did not peacefully agree to work for a wage. More often they became beggars, vagabonds or criminals. A long process would be required to produce a disciplined work-force. In the 16th and 17th centuies, the hatred for wage labour was so intense that many prolearians preferred to risk the gallows, rather than submit to the new conditions of work.
This was the first capitalist crisis, one far more serious than all the commercial crises that threatened the foundarions of the capitalist system in the first phase of its development. As is well-known, the response of the bourgeoisie was the institution of a true regime of terror, implemented through the intensfication of penalties (particularly those punishing the crimes against property), the introduction of "bloody laws" aginst vagabonds, intended to bind workers to the jobs imposed on them, as once the serf had been bound to the land, and the multiplication of executions. In England alone, 72,000 people were hung by Henry the VIII during the thirty-eight years of his reign and the massacres continued into th late 16th century. In the 1570s, 300 to 400 "rogues" were "devoured by the gallows in one place or another every year" (Hoskins 1977:9). ln Devon alone, seventy four people were hanged just in 1598 (ibid.).
But the violence of the ruling class was not confined to the repression of transgressors. It also aimed at a radical transformation of the person, intended to eradicate in the proletariat any form of behavior not conducive to the imposition of a stricter work-discipline. The dimensions of this attack are apparent in the social legislation that, by the middle of the 16th Century, was introduced in England and France. Games were forbidden, particularly games of chance that, besides being useless, undermined the individual's sense of resionsibility and "work ethic." Taverns were closed, along with baths. Nakedness was penalised, as were many other 'unproductive' forms of sexuality and sociality. It was forbidden to drink, swear, curse.
It was in the course of this vast process of social engineering that a new concept of the body and a new policy toward it began to be shaped. The novelty was that the body was attacked as the source of all evils, and yet it was studied with the same passion that, in the same years, animated the investigation of celestial motion.
Why was the body so central to state politics and intellectual discourse? One is tempted to answer that this obsession with the body reflecs the fear that the proletariat inspired in the ruling class. It was the fear felt by the bourgeois or the nobleman alike who, wherever they went, in the streets or on their travels, were besieged by a threatening crowd,begging them or preparing to rob them. lt was also the fear felt by those who presided over the administration of the state, whose consolidation was continuously undermined - but also determined - by the threat of riots and social disorder.
Yet there was more.We must not forget that the beggarly and riotous proletariat - who forced the rich to travel by carriage to escape its assaults or to go to bed with two pistols under the pillow - was the same social subject who increasingly appeared as the source of all wealth. It was the same of whom the mercantlists, the first economists of capitalist society, never tired of repeating (though not without second thoughts) that "the more, the better," often deploring that so many bodies were wasted on the gallows. - Silvia Federici, The Caliban and the Witch, pp. 135-7.