There’s a strange way in which today’s capitalism is repeating in reverse the early capitalism in which although workers are, in reality, wholly dependent on capitalism, they are formally – legally and ideologically – treated as independent contractors. This spurious reconfiguration of the worker as entrepreneur unites informal workers in the third world and precarious workers in the first
This is something that struck me very strongly when reading The Making of the English Working Classes. Industrialisation began with outsourcing. Or rather, with putting-out, which Weber describes like this:
The peasants came with their cloth, often (in the case of linen) principally or entirely made from raw material which the peasant himself had produced, to the town in which the putter-out lived, and after a careful, often official, appraisal of the quality, received the customary price for it. The putter-out’s customers, for markets any appreciable distance away, were middlemen, who also came to him, generally not yet following samples, but seeking traditional qualities, and bought from his warehouse, or, long before delivery, placed orders which were probably in turn passed on to the peasants.
This is the system which was gradually absorbed into factory-based textile production — and with it the destruction of previous social life, and the structuring of life around the working day.
Now, as with so much else, we’ve taken a loop around from centralised production, and are replaying the pre-industrial system at an octave’s difference. That means opportunities to recreate social life, to escape the homogenous regimentation of the factory — but also a return to the forms of exploitation most present just on the cusp of the industrial revolution.
Hence there’s plenty of reason for politicised microserfs to turn back to history, explore how the peasants of the 18th century were — and weren’t — able to assert themselves against the putters-out.
[crossposted to the art of thinking praxis]