Platypus Question No. 9: The paradox of Left politics

by Jehu

In question 9, the Platypus group asks about the role of political organization in relation to labor issues.

“9. What role, if any, do you assign to political organization, such as an actual or potential political party, in working to progressively transform contemporary relations of work and unemployment? What should be the relationship between any such organization and the working class?”.

I think it is important to state, following the premises of historical materialism, as outlined by Marx and Engels, that there is no social organization that can give the working class control over work and unemployment. As many writers note, labor itself is premised on the fragmentation of the conditions of labor. This fragmentation cannot be overcome through any political organization nor by the establishment of a working class political party. One of the most important defects of the Left’s approach to labor and to overwork and unemployment is the idea these can be addressed by political measures and political organization.

But labor rests on the fragmentation of the conditions of labor and politics rests on labor. Unless this realization is our starting point, we risk confusing the actual relation between overwork and unemployment to politics.  Overwork and unemployment cannot be overcome through politics, but are the product of politics. Overwork and unemployment are themselves the result of employing political means to overcome the fragmentation of the conditions of labor.

Which is to say, the problem of overwork and unemployment are the product of fascist state economic policies alone.

This truth is impossible for the Left to ever grasp, since the Left is itself only a political expression of present class contradictions. As a political expression of class contradictions, the Left imagines every problem as a political one to be resolved by political means. In fact, we could go so far as to say, the Left is nothing more than the working class conscious of the fragmented character of its conditions of existence, but taking this fragmentation as the necessary starting point, means and aim of its activity.

This is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the Left’s ambiguous attitude toward the world market and its attitude toward “globalization”. It is obvious that within the world market the conditions of labor are split up among a number of competing national capitals. These divisions of the conditions of labor must be overcome, yet in their overcoming fascist state economic management is eroded. The simple-minded Leftist thus swings back and forth between the neoliberal “Vision of Europe” and fascistic vision of a national autarky. It is, in turn, repulsed by the “neoliberal agenda” and disquieted by “the threat of fascism” of a Golden Dawn or a Tea Party lurking on the margins of political life.

Which imagined threat poses the greater one at any time can be seen by Leftists rapidly scurrying to the other end of the political spectrum. When the neoliberal “Idea of Europe” is in ascendancy, the Left lurches in the direction of Golden Dawn and national autarky. When suddenly, the fascists appear on the ascendancy, the Left enthusiastically embraces “Europe”.

In the advanced English speaking countries, however, who have mostly stood outside “The Vision of Europe”, the Left looks on the world market with indifference. It’s concerns are entirely parochial, limited, oriented toward purely national issues of fascist state economic policies. Only insofar as the world market actually impinges on its national political activity does the class experience its own fragmentation. When this happens, the class seeks to put an end, not to the fragmentation itself, but to its expression in national politics.

I have to insist that this is not a defect of proletarian (Left) politics that can be remedied by other forms of politics nor by an improved, reformed, Left politics. This is the limit on Left politics, political action and political organization, which is materially imposed by the law of value itself. Insofar as the proletariat acts within the limits of politics it acts within the conditions of the class and, therefore, on the basis of its own fragmentation. The question then is not “What should be the relationship between any such organization and the working class?”, but what should be the relationship of the class to itself, to its own material fragmentation.

Posed this way it is obvious that working class must put an end to its fragmentation and, therefore, to itself as a class.

The Left, however, cannot conceive of anything but political action and organization and politics itself cannot be anything but a national politics. Since the state is a national form, neither bourgeois or proletariat class can undertake political activity except in the form of a national politics. Even when this political action is extended to the sphere of the world market, it only assumes the form of competition between states. In this competition, each state stands at the head of its own national capital, organized, more or less, along national lines. The national capital, which appears in its ideal form as the state as general representative of the “national interest”, competes with other capitals organized much the same way.

In this competition, the law of value operates exactly as it does in the competition between capitals on the national level. Which is to say, once the national state assumes the function of national capitalist, its scope of activity is determined by the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. This law produces a mass of superfluous capital in all nations at once, on the one hand, and a surplus population of workers in all countries at once, on the other. It leads to the concentration and centralization of capital in the hands of the most powerful states, whose dominance is made possible by historical causes and by the positions they control within the world market. It also leads to less powerful states putting their national capitals at the disposal of larger more powerful national capitals.

Which is to say, the emergence of the fascist state, i.e., the state as the national capitalist, immediately gives rise to what the Left refers to as “neoliberal globalization”. Neoliberalism is not a defect of corrupt national politics or imperialist (globalist) pressures, but the operation of the law of value. The very same laws that compel the state to assume control of the national capital, doom it as well.

The Left never wants to hear that the development of the productive forces bound up with the world market must bring an end to the state. The idea is dismissed as “the ideology of neoliberalism”, or written off as “accelerationism”. Just as the proletariat as a class can only conceive of disposable time as a personal and social catastrophe — as overwork and unemployment — the Left can only conceive of the collapse of fascist state economic management as the end of society itself, as a end of all civilization. No matter how they look beyond “The Event”, there is only chaos and suffering.

On the other hand, politics comes to an end once the proletariat begins to conceive of its task as putting an end to its divisions bound up with the world market.