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Report on Jean Claude Bibi talk on Alienation

21.03.2011


Jean-Claude Bibi’s talk on “Alienation” on Saturday 19 March was well-attended. With his penetrating mind, with his having studied under David McLellan one of the world’s most brilliant scholars of alienation, and in his excellent dialectical Kreol, Jean-Claude Bibi kept the audience enthralled on this very difficult, very abstract subject for an hour. The Public Lecture, organized by the Ledikasyon pu Travayer, was at the Mother Earth Hall, and brought together mainly young adult literacy students, young workers, LALIT members, some 20 high school students, as well as four of five BPO sector employees.
By way of introduction he described present-day social arrangements around work and labour, in particular the high degree of social organization involved in the producing of, say, a shirt, but the private ownership of the product, and the confusion maintained about the sanctity of “private property”, covering both one’s toothbrush and the common product of many peoples’ labour.
He then, homed in on the term “alien” from all possible angles:
-Putting a “lyen” on one’s land or car, thus ceding ultimate ownership, when one sets it against a loan.
-Being foreign to a place (the queue at Immigration in the USA says “Americans” here and “aliens” here.)
-Being alien to our planet (an extra-terrestrial being).
-Being foreign to one’s own mind, as in the French appellation for an asylum, or mental institution, as “asile des alienés”.
-Alienating oneself from society by going and living as a hermit or together with like-minded other, in, say, a commune.
And this all set the scene for his brilliant exposé on the alienation of labour under modern-day capitalism. He explained how “labour power” or “kuraz”, as we call it so aptly in Kreol, becomes a commodity and is up for sale on what is commonly referred to as “the labour market”. And this, whereas it is part of ourselves, as beings that exist as part of nature. And, in addition to being expropriated from the product of our socially organized labour because of having no other way of surviving other than selling this labour power off, we are kept collectively “in place” by a huge apparatus called “the State”, which ensures in most time periods, that there are not uprisings a bit like those in the Arab world right now.
Debate centred around the feeling of not wanting to go work but “having to”, of being forced thus to fix a price for one’s labour power, and how the employer defines the price of one’s alienated labour under day-to-day circumstances. Afterwards there were added discussions about the new dimensions to alienation in call-centre work, where the boss alienates you from your name, your place of residence and the weather you are sitting working in, by giving you a new name for the job, making you present to live in, say, Paris and making you comment on the snow outside, when you’re sitting in Ebene in Mauritius. Bosses having the power to force workers to lie habitually like this was considered. Summing up one participant said that the source of hope is that within and amongst working people, there emerges a group that, through its intellectualization of its situation and through its experience, emerges as capable of both submitting in the short run to this alienation, while, at the same time, getting together with others to, in the long run, challenge