To move forward, the Left must admit it has been a failure for forty years
A tweep tweeted this gem the other day and I honestly didn’t know how to respond to it:
“Inequality grew faster under Obama”
It would be no surprise to learn that the guy who wrote the tweet self-identifies as a “Breitbart conservative”. For some on the Left, his opinion can be safely ignored, because, as we all know, the ‘real cause’ of growing inequality in society is Boehner or the Koch Brothers, or the Tea Party. When you think about it, his argument is no more politically opportunistic than someone describing herself as an Obama Democrat blaming Boehner for the low wages of the working class.
While, by every measure, the headline is correct, what does it even mean to say inequality has grown faster under Obama? Is the tweep suggesting growing inequality is Obama’s fault? Is Obama personally responsible for it? Is the tweep implying the crisis would have turned out differently if, say, McCain or Romney had been elected?
I mean, as a communist, I have answers to headlines like this; but my answer operates on a whole different level from mainstream party politics. There are so many people who blame basic shit about capitalism on one or another party, administration or politician. And — yes — this would be intolerable for a communist or some advanced thinker, but, on another level, it is how the rest of the world actually thinks about capitalism. Most of the working class thinks the problems associated with capitalism can be blamed on Obama or Bush or some party.
Politics is superstition
And, frankly, I don’t see how anything can possibly change this view of the world, because, in large part, it is determined by the division of labor — the fragmentation of labor itself shrouds all social relations in mysticism and superstition. All politics is superstition and cannot be anything but superstition. But there has to be some way for activists to cut through the superstition and I don’t mean just on the level of radical critique of existing relations. I also mean on the level of simple trade union consciousness, on the level of everyday life.
For instance, while it may be thought of as unusual, there is no reason in principle that an Obama Democrat and a Breitbart conservative cannot be members of the same trade union. When it comes to trade unions, these sorts of political differences count for nothing. I have personally experienced that range of political opinion within my classes teaching 1199SEIU members.
But is this sort of thing capable of going beyond simple trade unionism? Can there be a “no politics” or “anti-politics” movement that aims for something more than negotiating the next labor contract? An “anti-politics” movement means you cannot discuss politics or bring politics into the movement at all. You don’t formulate political demands, you don’t discuss political action or concern yourself with, or respond to, political elections, etc. You don’t even organize political protests. Instead you narrowly focus on the immediate aim of your class organization.
The Left has to admit its complete failure
To be clear: It is not even possible to begin a discussion like this until the Left admits it has been an utter failure for the last 40-odd years. The Left refuses to admit to this fact and keeps trying to blame its failures on the capitalists or politicians. We are constantly told that the failures of the Left can be blamed on neoliberal ideology infecting parties or the capitalists (as if the capitalists have ever been in favor of emancipating society).
Honestly, I don’t know where some of this shit comes from. You cannot blame the capitalists for being capitalist — that is simply fucking irrational. Of course they are going to be capitalists. It is simply astonishing how often radical scribbling begin with complaints about neoliberalism or globalization or monetarist ideology as if the radical writer expected something different from the capitalist class.
One of the most astonishing (and most remarked on) features about this crisis is that the Left remains marginal even with almost 20% of the labor force unemployed in the United States. And, by Left, I mean all variants of that term in its broadest, most inclusive, meaning — from progressives to mildly social democrat to Leninists to anarchists. To be completely frank: The Left has been on the losing side of every battle, at every point in time and on every issue where it has engaged the capitalists in the past four decades.
The Left Legacy: Forty years of failure
Radical activism is permanently isolated on the margins of political life and has been thoroughly defeated on every political issue in the last 40 years — yet radicals have never even once questioned their horribly failed approach to social emancipation. The state has imprisoned them, pushed them to the brink of starvation, invaded other nations at will, and murdered children in their beds in a dozen countries without any consequences at all.
But, it appears, no one on the Left wants the marginal influence of the Left to produce radical change if it means they have to change their pet ideas about anything. So, after 40 years of growing poverty, most, if not all, of these ‘radicals’ still defend a failed system of food stamp socialism; after 40 years of stagnant wages and employment, they still insist labor is necessary and that jobs must be created and a basic income handed out by the fascist state; and after 40 years of almost continuous wars of aggression, they still defend the state as essential for the protection of the working class.
For 40 years the Left has lost every battle it has engaged in with the capitalists. I don’t think anyone can point to a single victory by the Left over that time — but still the Left refuses to face its utter failure. And this is true no matter what variant of the Left you choose to define as “THE LEFT”. That includes all of you fucking progressives, you democratic socialists, you fucking Leninists, and you goddamned anarchists.
Not. One. Victory.
You haven’t even stopped one fucking war in the past forty years — and people mostly hate war. That is how much of a fucking failure you are — you can’t even stop a war no one wants. Jesus, the Left can’t even get a single fucking cop arrested for shooting an unarmed young man in broad daylight in front of a dozen witnesses.
This is the Left. THIS IS THE LEFT! You are fucking pathetic! You keep failing because you keep trying to do the same dumb ass shit over and over again. The Left has no killer instinct anymore. It has no desire to destroy the capacity of its enemies to subjugate the class. It wants to reform its enemies, to give us a humane capitalism.
All politics is dead
Despite 40 years of abject failure, the radical Left think they can alter existing political relations in a way that promotes human emancipation. This cannot be done. Nothing of existing political relations can be salvaged — not even your precious food stamp socialism can be allowed to survive. Society is not going to be able to exit the crisis either through incremental political reforms or even through a comprehensive political revolutionary effort.
Politics is a dead end and has been a dead end at least since the end of World War II. There is only one way to cut through the fetishistic nightmare of bourgeois politics: Setting an aim that is immediately revolutionary, while, at the same time, being simple, straightforward and measurable. There is no way a radical alternative to existing political relations can emerge except in the form of the direct opposition to the continuation of wage labor itself. So, if you are not ready to undertake the radical abolition of all existing relations, starting immediately with wage labor, don’t even bother to call yourself radical.
You cannot begin a movement for social emancipation based on assumptions that normalize wage slavery. If your movement assumes wage slavery is normal, necessary or natural, you will always act politically as though wage slavery is normal, necessary or natural. You have to begin where you want to go: That wage slavery is a reprehensible and unnecessary evil that must be directly abolished through social action; that wage labor is an unnatural condition for any human being; that wage labor is an obscenity that has no place in a civilized society.
If you do not begin with the argument that wage labor is the present day version of chattel slavery and segregation, you are not interested in social emancipation.
Normalizing the perverse
There is no possibility that wage labor will be gradually abolished; it will take a movement to end it immediately and for everyone together at once throughout the entire world market. Wage labor is the last possible form of labor. Once wage labor is gone, all labor and all social relations founded on labor will go with it. We desperately need a movement that has no other aim than the immediate end to wage labor. A movement that doesn’t care about anything but that singular aim. A movement that only cares about one method of achieving this, the direct action of the members of society.
Today, I think, activists no longer have the imagination to conceive of an end to wage labor; at best they only want to manage it ‘rationally’. But we need a movement with the imagination to grasp how abominable wage labor really is.
Part of the problem is that nowadays people think chattel slavery and race segregation were always unacceptable in American society. They weren’t. It was once normal in society to own another person and even be elected president as a slave-owner. You once could run for and get elected president even if the voters knew you owned human beings and regularly forced them to fuck you when you felt the urge. In fact, You could get elected president even if you owned human beings as if they were cattle, fucked them whenever you felt like, and even if one of the human beings you owned and fucked was commonly known in polite society to be the half-sister of your wife.
That is how normalized slavery was in America at one time. It took a long period of agitation for slavery and Jim Crow to be rejected by American society and a lot of people died trying to get society to the point where owning human beings was considered at least a reprehensible character flaw.
Today almost everyone believes wage slavery is normal. People even run for office bragging that they ran a business and hired wage slaves to produce surplus value. They even promise to run the fascist state itself “like a business”. This situation is made even more politically difficult because although labor is today completely unnecessary, it appears to be necessary because the working class has no means to life except to work for wages. A reprehensible institution like wage slavery will always appear to be necessary to them because people do not go to work to produce things, but to earn money. Thus, people who do the most ridiculously and obviously unnecessary or even counterproductive shit for wages think their job is necessary because it pays the bills.
Wage labor is not necessary
Many on the Left will agree that wage labor is a social evil, but they insist it is a necessary evil, a natural consequence of the need to feed, house and clothe mankind. However, during World War 2, the US devoted 40 percent of its industrial capacity to prosecuting the war against Germany and its allies, yet experienced no significant shortages of necessary goods. Forty percent of U.S. GDP was devoted to a completely unproductive war effort and nobody complained “We can’t afford to spend that much time away from growing food or building cars.” Or, “But, who will build the fucking roads?”
No one asked, “How can we possibly spend all that time building tanks and warships when so much infrastructure investment is needed?”
Surprisingly, despite all talk of no room to reduce hours of labor during the Great Depression, when it came to killing German workers plenty of spare time was found by Washington for that purpose. But when it comes time to emancipate society from labor, all of a sudden there is no room in the work day to accomplish this.
Another source of objections come from Leftists who insist, despite conclusive historical evidence, that people cannot afford to work less. If this is true why the fuck are we not all working 72 hours as was the norm in the 19th century? Did the reduction in hours from 72 hours to 40 hours drive the working class into poverty? People making this ridiculous argument need to bring out the fucking data to prove it. Reducing hours of labor has the exact opposite effect: it reduces profits and forces the capitalist to produce more goods with less labor at lower prices. Not one Leftist opponent of reducing hours of labor has ever produced a single piece of evidence that reducing hours of labor reduces wages, because the entire argument contradicts almost 200 years of empirical data.
All objections to reducing labor come down to this: some people want to control everyone else and reducing hours of labor makes this impossible. Indeed, everyone on the Left has their own pet projects that, they argue, makes reducing hours of labor impossible: “green energy”, “infrastructure investment”, “social security”, etc. All of these pet projects are just another way to maintain a grip on the disposable time of society. All of the objections to reducing hours of labor come from people who think they have a better use for your time than you do.
Wages: The price of repression
Well, let’s just be clear about a few things: That murderous cop who killed Michael Brown would not have been there to kill him if you were not working long hours to pay his salary. American, French and British jets would not be flying over Iraq and Syria, if you were not working long hours to pay for them. Washington would not be able to maintain a vast network of military installations around the globe, if you were not putting in incredible long hours of unnecessary labor to finance it. Your long hours of labor, which you think are necessary to pay your bills, only make death and oppression possible over the entire planet.
Look at your paycheck: Forty percent of everything you earn goes to fund the global machinery of repression, war and exploitation. Your taxes are the carrying cost of the very state some of you dumb Leftists think is vital for protecting the working class from the capitalists. Your labor funds the state; your labor funds the Koch Brothers and ALEC; your labor funds Obama and his military adventures. You can complain about Obama or the Koch Brothers or killer cops all you want, but your labor pays for everything you hate about them. If you are not willing to take on wage labor directly, your labor only serves to enforce your subjugation.
Even when Leftists know their labor funds the entire apparatus of repression — as Marxists do — they refuse to actually acknowledge it in their agitation. And they blame who? The capitalists, or politicians or even the workers. They blame everybody but themselves and their tired ass strategy. Marxists are the absolute worst because they should know better, but they no longer fucking care because it is not politically correct, i.e., the working class is not able to understand how capitalism works.
The social necessity of wage labor
There is today no materially necessary reason for keeping wage labor at all — it survives solely because the two classes depend on it as classes. Without a growing mass of wage labor the working class cannot sell its labor power nor can the capitalists make a profit. The reason for the continuation of wage labor is social not material.
And this problem cannot be addressed through politics because Washington is a machine for ensuring the constant expansion of wage labor. Every political party seeking power in Washington has its own plan for maintaining wage labor in one form or another.
Thus, getting rid of wage labor cannot be a political movement, but must be directed against the state itself and, for all intents and purposes, wage labor itself must be seen as the state. A movement against wage labor is a movement against the state and, therefore, a movement against both classes, labor and capital.
Moreover, getting rid of wage labor is not as difficult as the Left tries to portray it. Since our Leftists seem unable to imagine a complete elimination of wage labor let me offer this simple program for completely eliminating it within five years:
How to abolish labor within 5 years in five simple steps:
- STEP ONE: In the first year, add one three day weekend per month every quarter. By the end of the year, the work week will be reduced to four days
- STEP TWO: In the second year, add one four day weekend per month every quarter. By the end of the year, the work week will be reduced to 3 days
- STEP THREE. In the third year, add one 5 day weekend per month every quarter. By the end of the year, the work week will be reduced to 2 days
- STEP FOUR. In the 4th year, add one six day weekend per month every quarter. By the end of the year, the work week will be reduced to 1 day.
- STEP FIVE. In the 5th year, add one full week off per month every quarter. By the end of the year, the work week will be reduced to 0 days
A five year plan to reduce hours to zero gives the capitalists and managers and workers all the time they need to adjust schedules and introduce improved machinery to compensate for the reduction of hours of labor. And I know the capitalists will not object to this plan because they all swear labor does not produce profit, capital does. At any point during the reduction, the process can be slowed if a complete abolition of paid labor creates an undue burden on society.
The entire process can be managed by our unions and does not require the state. Moreover, since the state accounts for 40% of the American economy, it is the single largest consumer of labor power. It will thus be forced to reduce its reliance on labor power just like any corporation. (In fact, the easiest shit to get rid of are all those jets flying over Iraq and all of those military installations spread around the world.
Once you aim for the end to wage slavery, everything becomes really simple, straightforward and measurable. There is no more need for fussing around with complex mathematical formulas invented by simpleton economists to determine the proper and balanced fiscal and monetary policy for Washington bureaucrats. Instead, Washington bureaucrats can do what they do best — stop working.