1990s >> 1996 >> no-1104-august-1996

Dogs, Cats & Wage Slaves

Dogs, specifically domesticated kind, are nature’s sycophants. They beg. They perform tricks upon command. Their tails wag upon the merest pat from their masters. They are ever loyal. They know their place.

Dogs do not reject their masters. As a canine Lenin might have observed, the dog is incapable of reaching an independent consciousness. Urging dogs to stand up for their dignity is as pointless as distributing cleanliness manuals to rats.

Cats, on the other hand, are remarkably sensitive to their own needs. These are nature’s materialists, ever heading to where food and shelter is available and there settling for as long as their needs are satisfied and their human providers leave them alone. Try as they might, humans will fail to train cats to beg or jump through hoops or pretend to sing the national anthem. Cats purr when they get what they wart and they depart when they don’t. You will rarely see a cat on a lead.

Now, with all due excuses in advance for the implied anthropomorphism of all this, there is a conclusion which merits a few moments of the reader’s political contemplation. Capitalist culture is based the expectation that the working class can be turned into dogs. The good wage sieve is essentially a well-trained pup whose loyalty to the master who holds the lead is undying and whose bark is reserved for anyone threatening to invade the masters’ property. Workers are educated as pups are trained, with a few bones on offer to the graduates best able to jump to the appropriate orders of their future bosses. BBC’s One Man And His Dog could well be a documentary about job training, except for the obvious fact that most “job-seekers” (as the unemployed have now been reclassified) are denied such splendid rural scenery as the back-drop for their exploitation-seeking. In capitalist culture the tail-wagging wage slave, content in a squalid kennel, running to fetch the sticks which the master throws and fearful of the stick which the master wields, is the most ideal of dehumanised creatures of the profit system.

Of course, some capitalists tend to become strangely sentimental when it comes to pet dogs in ways that rarely extend to their employees. The billionaire inhabitant of Buckingham Palace, for example, is reputed to have quite a soft spot for a corgi with a belly-ache after eating too much lunch (which is perhaps why she reserves the British beef for visiting heads of state), but is not known for her concerns about workers dying as they wait in queues for hospital appointments. Other capitalists patronise charities concerned with animal welfare (usually excluding the welfare of the defenceless suckers whom they chase and shoot for sport) while resenting every penny they are forced to pay towards the welfare of their wage slaves. Cruelty to domestic pets is a crime. If the dogs of the rich and famous were transported in conditions which have become customary for rush-hour users of the buses and underground trains there would soon be a campaign formed to put an end to it.

Now, the great unconscious fear of the bosses is that workers become rather more like cats. At the very least, cats are like high-class prostitutes, sitting on their owners’ laps and purring, with one eye on the smoked salmon and the other on their claws should the would-be owner make a single false move. At their best, cats are animals who know their place in a way that dogs never will: in the sun, near the food and drink, never far from the open air and long leisure hours of idle roaming, peaceful napping and hot sex. What characteristics do capitalists less admire in their workers than those?

Dogs are pack animals. Humans (with the exception of Millwall supporters and marching Orangemen) are social, but not pack animals. In short, we are socially interdependent, but we have sufficient consciousness to survive and prosper alone as well as in groups. Dogs survive either by total dependence upon the pack or by domesticated submission to an owner. Cats are not pack animals and are never quite owned by those who imagine themselves to be cat-owners.

The revolutionary socialist is the lion of the capitalist jungle. Not content to hunt the pack or be trained into the domesticity of wage slavery, the socialist looks at the world from a position of strength. There are more workers than there are capitalists. We are stronger than them. We are the ones they depend on to protect them as a class from one another and, above all, from us. We are intelligent enough to know our way round the jungle and find our way out to the other end. And our capacity to rise up scares the hell out of those who would like the working class to be forever weak and bowed.

Freedom does not depend upon humans becoming more like cat – just less like dogs. Like cats, we might learn that there is more dignity in walking away from tyranny into the unknown than putting up with lousy treatment forever. But the message of this rather strange piece is not that SOCIALISTS SAY WORKERS SHOULD BECOME MORE LIKE CATS. Rather, SOCIALISTS SAY WORKERS SHOULD BECOME MORE LIKE HUMANS. This means refusing to adopt the political posture of the dependent canine and resting satisfied with the reformers’ offers of bigger bones. Instead, let those who think they can own us learn soon that our bite is as bad as our bark – and our bark can become a roar.