Noam Chomsky on “Capitalism, Property, Technology, Government and the Social Order” (1997)

Published on Aug 12, 2013

Wage slavery refers to a situation perceived as quasi-voluntary slavery, where a person’s livelihood depends on wages, especially when the dependence is total and immediate. It is a negatively connoted term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor by focusing on similarities between owning and renting a person. The term wage slavery has been used to criticize economic exploitation and social stratification, with the former seen primarily as unequal bargaining power between labor and capital (particularly when workers are paid comparatively low wages, e.g. in sweatshops), and the latter as a lack of workers’ self-management, fulfilling job choices and leisure in an economy. The criticism of social stratification covers a wider range of employment choices bound by the pressures of a hierarchical society to perform otherwise unfulfilling work that deprives humans of their “species character” not only under threat of starvation or poverty, but also of social stigma and status diminution.

The exchange of money and debt for work traces back to the disintegration of the “playful”[12] work in hunter-gatherer gift economies and the establishment of prostitution as a “fundamental feature of human civilization”.[13] Similarities between wage labor and slavery were noted in ancient Rome by Cicero,[14] while the pervasive practice of voluntary slavery in medieval Russia indicates the previous historical coexistence of slavery and voluntary choice.[15] Before the American Civil War, Southern defenders of African American slavery invoked the concept of wage slavery to favorably compare the condition of their slaves to workers in the North.[16][17] With the advent of the industrial revolution, thinkers such as Proudhon and Marx elaborated the comparison between wage labor and slavery in the context of a critique of societal property not intended for active personal use,[18][19] while Luddites emphasized the dehumanization brought about by machines.

The introduction of wage labor in 18th century Britain was met with resistance — giving rise to the principles of syndicalism.[20][21][22][23] Historically, some labor organizations and individual social activists have espoused workers’ self-management or worker cooperatives as possible alternatives to wage labor.[6][22]

According to Noam Chomsky, 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 explained 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.”[72] Both the Milgram and Stanford experiments have been found useful in the psychological study of wage-based workplace relations.[73]

Noam Chomsky has argued that political theory tends to blur the ‘elite’ function of government: “Modern political theory stresses Madison’s belief that “in a just and a free government the rights both of property and of persons ought to be effectually guarded.” But in this case too it is useful to look at the doctrine more carefully. There are no rights of property, only rights to property that is, rights of persons with property,…” “[In] representative democracy, as in, say, the United States or Great Britain […] there is a monopoly of power centralized in the state, and secondly — and critically — […] the representative democracy is limited to the political sphere and in no serious way encroaches on the economic sphere […] That is, as long as individuals are compelled to rent themselves on the market to those who are willing to hire them, as long as their role in production is simply that of ancillary tools, then there are striking elements of coercion and oppression that make talk of democracy very limited, if even meaningful.”[94]

In this regard Chomsky has used Bakunin’s theories about an “instinct for freedom”,[95] the militant history of labor movements, Kropotkin’s mutual aid evolutionary principle of survival and Marc Hauser’s theories supporting an innate and universal moral faculty, to explain the incompatibility of oppression with certain aspects of human nature.


~ by mindcontrolinsweden on February 14, 2014.

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