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Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:22

André Gorz

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André Gorz (1923-2007)


A year before André Gorz committed suicide with his wife Dorine in September 2002, at the age of 84, he wrote a book, Lettre à D. Histoire d’un Amour - an homage to Dorine. There, he said:

"You’ve just turned 82. You are still beautiful, graceful and desirable. We’ve lived together now for 58 years and I love you more than ever. Lately I’ve fallen in love with you all over again and I once more carry inside me a gnawing emptiness that can only be filled by your body snuggled up against mine.

He was 83. A year later they took their own lives so as not to be separated by Dorine's terminal cancer. They were together for 60 years, and this final act brought to an end a life of remarkable intellectual and political activism.

Gorz who was born as Gerhard Hirsch and was also known by his pen name Michel Bosquet was an Austrian and French social philosopher. a journalist, and co-founded in 1964 of the weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.. He was a friend and supporter of Jean-Paul Sartre and for a good part of his life was immersed in the philosophies of Phenomenology and Existentialism. He leaned towards an existentialist version of Marxism which supported and advocated the significance of the subjective.  He broke with Sartre after (the student uprising of) May '68 and became more concerned with political ecology, becoming one of its leading theorists. His central theme was work: liberation from work, just distribution of work, alienated work, etc. He was also one of the advocates of a Guaranteed basic income.He was a leading left thinker of his time and Sartre once claimed that Gorz had the "sharpest brain in Europe". (Wikipedia) His disagreement with Sartre typified the pattern of his relationships with other intellectuals and political movements. He continued to grow, to change, to transcend, and to follow his own moral, political and intellectual intuitions rather than to become addicted to dogma and orthodoxy.

His father wass Jewish, his mother Catholic. The father converted to Catholicism in 1930 to avoid the emerguing anti-semitism and the young Gerhard was shipped off to Lausanne in Switzerland at the outbreak of the Second World War. There he completed his degree in chemical engineering in 1945, and in 1954 took up French citizenship.


He met Sartre in 1946, and the latter became a close friend. In 1949 he moved to Paris and worked as a journalist and private secreatary. It was when working as an economist journalist on L'Express in Paris that he adopted the name Michel Bosquet.

In the late 1950s he published two books, Le Traître (Le Seuil, 1958 (prefaced by Sartre) and La Morale de l'histoire (Le Seuil, 1959) -  both of which adopted an Existentialist/Marxist approach. By the 1960s he had become a leading figure in the New Left, and Marxist Humanism. He was friendly with Marcuse and strongly identified with the Frankfurt critical theorists. He was deeply involved with the french Union movement - particularly the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (advocating worker co-operatives and self-management systems) and the National Union of Students of France. In 1964 he published Stratégie ouvrière et néocapitalisme (Le Seuil, 1964), criticizing Capitalist economic growth and analysing the options for trade unions. He also left L'Express and co-founded Le Nouvel Observateur weekly (under the name of Michel Bosquet).

He saw the May '68 uprising, and the students' demands and manifestos as vindication of his Existential Marxism and as an appropriate critical analysis of the repressive role of the State. His analysis embraced issues of Alienation, Institutionalisation and human emancipation and led him to the writings of Ivan Illich, publishing several of his writings in Les Temps Modernes.

Hie was increasingly taken with the work of Illich and inexorably moved away from his earlier Marxist leanings. His philosophical and political transformation led to a break with his colleagues in Le Temps Moderne, which from 1969 he assumed the editorial responsibility. In April 1970, his article Destroy the University (Détruire l'Université) provoked the resignation close colleagues.  In 1974 he himself finally resigned from Les Temps Modernes. In addition, his position as an economist at Le Nouvel Observateur became untenable and rte was replaced by mosr ctraditional economists. It was at this time that he also broke with Sartre.

At this time he was becoming increasingly interested in the relationship between capitalist expansion and environmental issues. In particular, he wrote a combative article against the nuclear industry. The State electricity agency responded by withdrawing its advertisement from Les Temps Modernes. He responded by ptrying to ublishing a special edition of the magazine on nuclear issues. When the editorial board refused his request, he subsequently published it in the Que Choisir? consumers' magazine. 


His increasing interest in environmental issues led to him becoming a leading figure of political ecology, publishing regularly in the ecologist monthly magazine Le Sauvage, related to Friends of the Earth. In 1975, he published Ecologie et politique (Galilée, 1975), which included the essay Ecologie et liberté, "one of the foundational texts of the ecologic problematic". Gorz's ecology was further strengthened by his reading of the Club of Rome's 1972 report, Limits to Growth.(Wikipedia)

In 1980, as François Mitterand (the Left Wing candidate) was being elected to the French Presidency, Gorz published perhaps his most famous and influential book, Farewell to the Working Class. It came at a time when Margaret Thatcher was locked in a struggle to the political death with the British miners unions. It warned of the changes in the global economy and the impending problems for the unions that were wedded to a philosophy giving primacy to the proletariat in the class struggle. He suggested that change might be brought about not by the working class, as orthodox marxism predicted, but by the newly emerging and burgeoning middle class. He foresaw the disappearance of the working class as a political force, much against the prevalent ideologies of the time.
Gorz argues that changes in science and technologies have broken the power of industrial workers, especially the skilled. He suggests that they are no longer central to the socialist project. Their place has been taken by the new social movements - the womens' movement, the gay movement, the ecology movement etc. - by those who refuse to acceptthe work ethic so crucial to early capitalist societies. He believes that their affirmation of personal autonomy and liberation renders these groups the bearers of utopian visionary socialism. He argues his point through a critical analysis of time (much as the British theorist  E. P. Thompson and the French Marxist Henri Lefebvre).
This notion is developed more fully in his later Critique of Economic Reason, (1989)Gorz suggests that it was Marx's modernist utopian conception and glorification of work which lay at the root of the failure of Soviet communism. According to Gorz, Marx believed that work carried the seed of liberation for the proletariat, but that the enslaving nature of mechanized work was never fully anticipated by Marxists or, although recognized, was never taken as a factor which would alienate the workers from the utopian ideals of the Revolution. In other words, the glorification of work under communism served only as a mask for the alienation of the workers from the creation of their own agency in the process of history. Gorz further maintains that even had the Revolution led to direct worker control over the means of production this would still have led to similar alienation, simply because of the scale of the industrial enterprise needed to bring Russia into full industrialization. He, like the Bolsheviks, asserts that such dramatic industrialization process could only have been accomplished through massive centralization of resources. His thesis is that we now need a new utopian model which understands the liberation of the workers not through work, but from work . 

His central concern is the liberation of time and the abolition of work. He points out that work has not always existed in its present form. Our current understanding comes from the emergence of the capitalist econoimic system which requires that work be done for another in return for a wage and under time and spatial conditions and for a purpose determined by the employer. As he notes, the terms "work" and "job" have become interchangeable that one "has" and is understood as the sale of one's time. Under these circumstances, work is always only a means of making money and not an end in itself. (The latter sense is the same as that implied by  Freire when he says that "by making the world we make ourselves!").

Within a Marxist context, the difference between wage labour and self-determined labour is the same as the difference between exchange value and use value. We work for a wage in order to have enough money to ourselves purchase enough time from society (in the form of manufactured commodities and foods as well as leisure. Self-determined work, in contrast, is not concerned with the exchange quantities of time. It is an end in itself, and is essentially the heart of the creative process (of creating oneself). Sale is not the object of this kind of creation - but consumption by oneself, family or friends. According to Gorz, the abolition of work (through automation etc) will only be emancipatory if it allows for the creation and development of the creative process inherent in autonomous activity.

Gorz maintains that the abolition of work is already in pprocess with the likely massive levels of unemployment inherent in new technologies already beginning to appear. (The large scale homelessness and unemployment of the 1990s were a validation of Gorz's theory). He maintains that this process will continue and accelerate and tghat if widespread social unrest is to be aviloded then it is imperative that ways be immediately developed to facilitate the creative work of autonomous, self-determined activity. Gorz argues that a necessary condition for this development is that a distinction be made between the right to work and the right to earn a living. This in turn means that communities develop[ and maintain thr ight tgo produce at least ppart of their goods and services that they consume without the need to sell their labour. This suggests different forms of community stuctures and collectivities based in part upon Illich's notion of conviviality and access to tools. Farewell to the Working Class is more than a warning, but a thesis on how these necessary social and economic changes might be accomplished threough a reconfiguration of the way we organise our social lives. This theorising led him to point out in Métamorphoses du travail  Metamorphosis of Labour (1988)how Capitalism was using personal investments which were not paid back and led inexorably to the conclusion that the only way to avoid the coming social and economic crisis was for the development and acceptance of a Guaranteed basic income, independent from "labour. It was a concept which dovetailed easily with his growing concerns about ecology and the impending global environmental crisis and which has been picked up and developed since by others, notably the Americasn Sociologists Stanley Aronowitzand social philosopher Murray Bookchin.

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