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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Voies de l’émancipation

by Laurent Etre

Capitalism Today : The Ways of Emancipation

Translated Saturday 26 January 2008, by Isabelle Métral

Quynh et Jean-Claude Delaunay, "Lire le capitalisme contemporain. Essai sur la société du XXème siècle" (Analysing contemporary capitalism : An Essay on XXth Century Capitalism) (1)
To take stock of all the changes in society brought about by capitalism within a single generation, Quynh and Jean-Claude Delaunay argue, one needs to take a fresh look at labour, and thus to re-initiate Marx and Engels’ founding method about a hundred and fifty years ago.

This does not mean that we must read the Capital over and over again or devise a new philosophical approach, but it means we must start from the observation of today’s current social trends while keeping at a distance from the ceaseless flux of current events. The authors insist that it is not the end of labour that defines the promise of a new civilisation but maybe rather its transformation. Central to their essay, and illustrative of their approach, is the authors’ attempt at building a theory of what they call the service society.
This notion is not to be opposed to the consumer society, or to industrial society, in the sense that services might be said to transcend mass consumption. For in the service society the manufacture of commodities (i.e. industry) subsists; indeed, industry remains an essential dimension of today’s capitalism, the difference being that the service society promotes consumption as a potential factor of emancipation. Services, the specificity of which is that they are consumed in the very process of being produced, even make up an ever growing part of industrial production itself. As services dramatically reduce the distance between consumers and producers, they are potentially productive of social relations that involve a sharper awareness of their nature and might potentially be no longer determined by the frantic search for profit.
Once they are united on the basis of the social relation specific to services or “service relation”, salaried workers are destined to take over from the working class since the historical role of the latter has come to an end. Even so the defence of all the rights it has conquered for the whole of society (such as labour laws, public services and so on) must remain the basis of all resistance to capitalism.

(1) Le Temps des cerises-Fondation Gabriel-Péri, 2008

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