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Circumspection! Ambivalence!

Political instructions to the demand for basic income

There are enough descriptions of the state of affairs. For avoiding further repetition, we’ll only give a rough outline of the situation in this essay: in the course of establishing new conditions of exploitation and their standards, the capitalist world market is changing. New forms of international exploitation and competition and of national and international adjustment come into existence. At the same time, notions about life and the way of life have changed both in the course of discussions on and struggles about and attempts at reform of the households adjusted to fordism and in the course of 1968 and the new social movements. The concepts of ‘globalisation’ and ‘postfordism’ are an attempt to name these changes. A pragmatic purpose of this designation may consist in criticizing the transformation of capitalism in the height of its time instead of only describing it. This amounts to speculating that theoretical critique will form a productive part of an anti-capitalist policy.

In this train of thought, ‘basic income for everyone’ may or may not be an anti-capitalist demand reacting to the dismantling of the so-called welfare state. It is an ambivalent demand in a contradictory society. There is no such thing as a policy which automatically implies an anti-capitalist tendency. The demand for basic income can be viewed as part of a vocabulary of a program of capitalist modernisation, just as the concepts of ‘postfordism’ and ‘globalisation’ can be viewed in such a light. It is situated in the centre of a disputed territory.

There are various discourses about basic income, social basic income, citizen income or however else these different concepts may be called. Most of them are based on a similar perception of high unemployment rates, social exclusion, and a crisis of the welfare system. However, while the neoliberals, for example, want to create a new cheap and flexible workforce, which the state is to protect from absolute poverty by an additional payment of 400 to 500 marks per month and person, the conference on basic income will try to place the demand for basic income in the context of leftist debates. Political issues thus begin by differentiating between neoliberalism or social democratic social technology on the one hand and anti-capitalist methods on the other.

Civic concepts of basic income refer all of them to the decline of a particular historical relation betweeen labour and subsistence. They look for a new form of the relation between labour/ social subsistence. This debate evolves around the so-called ‘normal’ labour conditions, which are being replaced by atypical forms of labour. It also evolves around the economic unit of the family, which is being replaced by a process of individualisation and amalgamation by and by. It evolves around women, who are no longer part of a system of provision by marriage but have their own place on the labour market. And it evolves around rigid regulations concerning the maintenance of industrial health and safety standards, which have to be made flexible, and so on. This motley accumulation of arguments is often summarised by the sociological slogan of the ‘end of the labour society’. As such, it is part of the discharge of the so-called keynesian welfare state. Because of an increase of international competition and exploitation, the welfare state lays down too many limits to the possible accumulation of assets. Civic visions of the welfare state work on the symptoms described above; they want to reform capitalist regulations somehow or other. The objectives are: less bureaucracy, cheaper and more flexible labour, a modernisation of the national insurance system, and the avertion of a pauperisation which might no longer be socially acceptable. Social basic income and citizen income are traded as a possible solution in these debates.

Principally, the requirement to work remains; as does the patriarchal encoding into productive and reproductive work, and into objective and care work; as do racial exclusion of refugees and the fact that it is taken as a matter of course that there is badly paid though labour-intensive work, which is more often than not carried out by female migrants.

The demand for basic income is usually estimated at ‘1500 marks plus rent for everyone’ by initiatives of the unemployed, jobber-initiatives , and leftist groups. By this demand, we want to try to attack capitalist modernisation from inside. This aim is to be reached by linking the demand to various political procedures already in existence - presupposing the fact that there is no outside, nothing like a possibility of being outside of the capitalist search for new forms of regulation . The objective is, then, to build up political connections, to make visible overlapping relations of power, and to change them. Doing so, different movements like e.g. feminist politics, jobber-initiatives, initiatives against racism etc. will be able to interlink and strengthen one another.

The demand for basic income winds ist way between unclear lines. Political demands can add on this Taking a closer look at the results of an introduction of basic income into society, we can about say the following: no more cheap labour (a person who gets 1500 marks plus rent a month does not perform cleaning jobs); no requirement to work but a reduction in working hours; no link between labour and the question of the meaning of life; no fetishism of achievements; no division of labour along the lines of company/firm/freelancing on the one hand and domestics/social work on the other; no exclusion from the welfare system, and no downgrading of immigrants and refugees or housewifes and women who perform so-called ‘side-jobs’ - though their downgrading derives from different traditions. This means the end of a long tradition of capitalist policies for the relief of poverty , the modern form of which is supplementary benefit, which includes all kinds of measures for control over the individual. These effects are neither automatically implied in the demand nor are they utopian. They are simply outlines of a political discussion which postulates that there will be no revolution but only a process of becoming revolutionary - this is to say that there will be an extension and intensification of politics at many different places at the same time. Therefore Sunday, the second day of the conference in March, will be reserved for a debate about whether or not people want to make a demand for basic income and if they do, how they want to do this in both a political and a practical way.

In accordance with this, the demand does not aim for a bill, which is to be carried out in the running or the following parliamentary term. Instead, it aims for the fulfillment of the promise of a ‘good life for everyone’. The demand for basic income appears as a demand for money. Thus, the political question arises, which policies are to constitute the basis of the above mentioned sum, and how the transformation from money into life can be brought about; how capitalism, this monster of integration, selection, and exploitation, can be successfully attacked.

Therefore there are people who have criticized that a reference to the history of the demand for basic income does not suffice as a limitation against civic concepts of social basic income or citizen income. When, at the beginning of the eighties, the initiatives of the unemployed demanded a basic income for everyone, the exploitative employer-employee relationship was placed at the centre of critique. Yet even then, there was a blind spot concerning the function of a redistributive state. The essence of the welfare state remained undefined, as did the way of handling ist benefits and restrictions. At that time, political perspectives were changed from a critical evaluation of the state to policies of appropriation. As a result, the subjects of appropriation replaced state institutions as the objects of application. In the seventies, they had shown - in Italy and France mainly - how to cope with monetary demands for electricity, telephone and rent in a different way - ‘autoriduzione’, reducing them on their own account. Marxist critiques usually refer to the gap between what is to be appropriated, i.e. social riches, and the way in which these riches are portrayed and produced, i.e. in form of money and by a well-defined hierarchy of assets/labour/private and social existence. It is this hierarchy which has to be changed. The question of this gap plainly arises in the context of the presently declining social movements and political methods. However, this gap never appears in singular. They are gaps which are not only of a value-theoretic or economic kind - marxist critique does not consider this. By a governmental payment of 1500 marks, no patriarchal relation of power is touched upon, nor any racist structure, nor any wish for oppression or hatred towards the other. It depends on political links and connections, it depends on a coming together of different methods and procedures and their extension. Thereby radical leftist theorists and pinchers moved by a will of appropriation would leave their respective and relative isolation (this is only meant to be an example).

You can find links of this kind in any left newspaper. The relation between labour and subsistence appears in many facets; be it the discussion on the requirement to work led by initiatives of the unemployed or of supplementary benefit; be it the struggle against racist policies of migration and labour; be it the feminist critique on a permanently renewed division between productive and reproductive labour, between governmental policies on labour and the poor; be it the critique on a gendered encoding of personal and low-budget services; or be it the discussion on the gradual approach of labour towards leisure between the terror of exploitation and a kind of minimal happiness which is an immanent feature of capitalism (not to get up, no stress, to do projects).

On the conference, these questions are taken up in various study-groups. The way in which they are going to be discussed and answered depends on the participants.

Diskussionstexte zur Existenzgeld-Debatte
Ökonomische und soziale Situation in Berlin

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