I have been reading a lot of communization literature of late. I am impressed by the implications of the argument for communization, but if you have been keeping up with my blog, you know I am terribly disappointed.
Here is what I have learned from the Communization School so far:
- In Clever Monkey’s opinion, it appears communizers have no idea who is doing the communizing, nor exactly any idea of what it is they are trying to communize.
- From Theorie Communiste, I have learned that communizers have been unable to explain how communization differs from what we used to call socialism.
- The Endnotes collective insists communization is not on the agenda at this time, despite arguing that the proletariat is superfluous to the production of material wealth.
This last point is very important, in my opinion. Both Theorie Communiste and the Endnotes collective argue that communization is not a call to immediately communize anything.
Let me focus in on this critical defect in the argument of both the Endnotes collective and Theorie Communiste (TC).
It seems to me that the direct communization of the social forces of production is only possible if, effectively, labor has been rendered superfluous to the production of material wealth already. We should expect that the production of material wealth requires so little living labor that society could rely on the voluntary contribution of each individual in production.
Absent this condition, communization is a silly unrealistic slogan.
On the other hand, if labor actually has been rendered superfluous by the development of the social force of production, why would we not demand immediate communization? What is the purpose of communization than a call for immediate abolition of wage labor and realization of a society founded on the principle of to each according to need?
Communization explicitly states that communism is at least technically possible right now. However, in their essay, Communization in the Present Tense, TC offers a polemic against what they call “communism as immediatism.”
Essentially, Theorie Communiste argues “Wage labor may indeed be superfluous, but now is not the time for communization.” This view is not based on the technical problem of what we can achieve right now, but a political assessment based on a highly dubious view of the present state of the class struggle — a view that overestimates the objective position of the enemy relative to the working class.
I will briefly examine their assessment now.
Like the Endnotes collective, TC argues that communization and communism are not on the agenda today, but it must emerge sooner or later:
In the course of revolutionary struggle, the abolition of the state, of exchange, of the division of labor, of all forms of property, the extension of the situation where everything is freely available as the unification of human activity in a word, the abolition of classes are ‘measures’ that abolish capital, imposed by the very necessities of struggle against the capitalist class. The revolution is communization; it does not have communism as a project and result, but as its very content.
Communization and communism are things of the future, but it is in the present that we must speak about them. This is the content of the revolution to come that these struggles signal in this cycle of struggles each time that the very fact of acting as a class appears as an external constraint, a limit to overcome. Within itself, to struggle as a class has become the problem it has become its own limit. Hence the struggle of the proletariat as a class signals and produces the revolution as its own supersession, as communization.
TC’s definition of communization is shorthand for a communist revolution. However, in TC’s definition, communization does not aim to create communism; rather, communism is the actual content of the revolution itself. In this revolution, the material conditions of existence of the proletarians as a class, as wage laborers, appear as an external limit that they also must abolish. The real movement of society, communization, does not begin until the proletarians encounter this external limit. Which is to say, to communize society, the proletarians must put an end to wage labor.
However, rather than stating this requirement clearly, TC, like Endnotes, seems to opted for simply rebranding the failed project of 20th century Socialism in order to make it palatable to a new generation of radicals.
The tip-off comes when TC begin their argument with the typical boilerplate of socialist-minded radical Keynesianism. According to TC, there was this period before 1970 or so when the working class was mostly satisfied with the newly emerging post-war fascist order. TC adds there own twist to this narrative, but it remains consistent with the narrative of the radical Left:
“Until the crisis of the late 1960s, the workers’ defeat and the restructuring that followed, there was indeed the self-presupposition of capital, according to the latter’s concept, but the contradiction between proletariat and capital was located at this level through the production and confirmation, within this very self-presupposition, of a working class identity through which the cycle of struggles was structured as the competition between two hegemonies, two rival modes of managing and controlling reproduction. This identity was the very substance of the workers’ movement.”
So, according to TC, workers were comfortable with the social welfare state, despite the fact it accorded with the interests of capital … and then everything went to shit.
The golden age of the social welfare state gave way to an all out assault on the working class by their own capitalist classes: restructuriing of the labor process, globalization, austerity, yadda yadda yadda:
“With the restructuring that was completed in the 1980s, the production of surplus-value and the reproduction of the conditions of this production coincided.”
Following the restructuring of 1970s and 1980s, argues TC, the proletariat can no longer act as a class without confirming its complete subordination to capital.
Simply stated, today when the working class struggles against capital, they put their own survival at risk. Thus they are forced to make concessions to capital to safeguard their survival as workers. The existence of the workers as mere workers now forms a limit on the class struggle.
There is so much wrong with this silly radical Leftist narrative, I barely know where to begin.
For the moment, please note that TC, like all of their peers, manage to miss the most important single event in the 20th century: the complete breakdown of the premises of capitalist production at the start of the 1970s. How is it that no one notices the complete collapse of production based on exchange value — or, as it is commonly known, the collapse of Bretton Woods?
Moreover, TC ignores the fact that the collapse of production based on exchange value came on the heels of two rather devastating inter-imperialist wars, where the proletarians of every nation gaily followed their own bourgeoisies into battle to fall on their fellow workers in bloody combat, not once but twice. This doesn’t really sound like rival hegemonies. It sounds like wage slaves killing themselves atthe behest of their masters.
Thus, between 1914 and 1971 — a short sixty year period — we have an inter-imperialist war that cost 20 million lives, the rise of fascism, the Great Depression — an unprecedented economic collapse that brought world commerce to a standstill — another inter-imperialist war that cost another 80 million lives, the emergence of a new global hegemon, all capped off by the collapse of production based on exchange value?
Perhaps, it was not the working class that met the limits of its existence as a class, but the bourgeois mode of production itself that met its limit.
In fact, TC offers no rational reason for why the brief post-war fascist social welfare utopia, which they characterize as “two hegemonies, two rival modes of managing and controlling reproduction”, suddenly and without warning gave way to the all out global assault by capital on the working class in the 1970s and 1980s.
The problem with TC’s discussion of the golden age of fascism and the one-sided class war that followed is not just that it fails to provide any real explanation for the sudden collapse of the so-called social compromise following World War II; this boringly familiar Leftist narrative completely misreads the relation between capital and the working class after 1971.
What TC offers here is a complete inversion of the actual relation between capital and labor. In this telling, the working class has its back against the wall and finds its options as a class limited by its objective position in the mode of production. In fact, the breakdown of production based on exchange value means that even if the capitalist paid the worker no more than the absolute value of her labor power, and not a penny more, this wage would still be incompatible with the production for profit.
Production for profit is no longer possible based on the essential premise that labor power is purchased at its value.
This places the working class in a rather strong position: to plunge the capitalist mode of production into complete economic chaos, all the working class has to do is defend the value of its wages. This advantage is missed by TC because they missed both the collapse of production based on exchange value (which Marx directly predicted in the Grundrisse) and the implications of this collapse for the capitalist mode of production (which Henryk Grossman addressed in his restatement of Marx’s theory in 1929).