The Real Movement

Communism is free time and nothing else!

Month: April, 2017

The implausible logic of an invisible committee

So I have been reading one of the older documents from The Invisible Committee, “To our friends”, and it is increasingly clear why they choose to remain invisible: beyond a few well formulated catchphrases, they offer nothing but a warmed over rehash of the disaster capitalism hypothesis of the Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein. Similar to Klein’s silly argument, the folks in the Invisible Committee propose to overthrow “government” while ignoring the fascist state, labor and production for profit. By avoiding the problem of the existing state, the Invisible Committee find themselves in the rather bizarre position of advocating activists disrupt the production of material wealth, rather than abolish the production of social wealth, i.e., capital.

I offer some comments on their argument below.


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You don’t ‘build’ communism: It’s not a commodity; it’s free time

There is this recurrent theme in communist literature that portrays communism as if it were a commodity to be produced and it goes something like: We have to build communism. Communism, in this proposal, is conceptualized as a the product of decades of constructive effort.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

Anyways, you get the idea: socialism is not a set of social relations but product, essentially the iPhone 7 of historical development. If we want this new fancy society, iSocialism, we will have to build it from scratch beginning now or some time in the not too distant future.

Visions of what this imaginary future will look like once constructed can range anywhere from a banal  Capitalism-without-poverty-and-inequality, to something akin to Jodi Dean’s endless general assembly, where everyone has to discuss every detail of management of society before we all get to work.

Like constructing a bridge or designing a new mall, various models for this new product are displayed. Most of these ideas are dead on arrival, of course; producing more questions than answers and descending into eye-rolling levels of minutiae: How is the production stuff organized? How are things to be distributed? Who will build the roads, take out the trash, get widgets from Guangdong Province to Capetown?

There are 7 billion people on this planet who have to be fed, clothed and sheltered under any mode of production, while simultaneously we are pulling back our species from the brink of a self-inflicted extinction event. These 7 billion people each have their own interests and their own ideas on how to satisfy those interests that may or may not (mostly not) be addressed by any or all of the various blueprints floating around. To make things worse, we have to make critical life and death decisions about basic necessities under a threatening environmental deadline and battered by ruthless economic competition. These are hardly the optimal conditions for making this sort of deliberate, highly complex decisions that would then have to be ratified by billions.

But the model of socialism as a thing to be constructed, built, manufactured, coded or otherwise produced, an analogy borrowed from commodity production, is fatally flawed: communism is not product, it is not a commodity that rolls off an assembly line. You can manufacture an iPhone, assemble a car, construct a house, but you can’t get to communism by any of these methods.

The entire analogy that conceptualizes communism as something to be built has to be rejected: Communism is not soviet power plus electrification of the whole country.

Lenin. Was. Wrong.

If communism is not a product — a commodity — to be built, what is it? Communism is free, disposable time away from production, from labor, from building; time for individuals to realize their own self-development through their self-activity and in association with others. Communism places the entire wealth of mankind at the disposal of fully rounded individuals. There is no blueprint for self-development, no model for self-activity, no necessary form of association — all of these flow directly from individuals who have the sum wealth of humanity at their disposal. You can’t get to communism through a construction project, but only through free disposable time.

To be honest, the radical implications of communism as free disposable time for the mass of society deeply troubles communists. They are so used to thinking of communism as a massive construction project, stretching over decades and involving billions of people, where they serve as project managers, owing to their theoretical clarity. The idea that the new higher society flows directly from the self-activity of individuals is difficult for even the most radical communist to grasp. It seems only right that a billion individuals, motivated by a common will, marching in lock step, can breach the barrier between capitalism and communism far more quickly than a billion self-directed individuals.

The analogy collapses, however, once you realize that the self-directed activity of individuals is itself communism. There is no way individuals marching in lock step can breach this barrier because its the marching in lock step part that has to be abolished. Capitalism trains us to march in lock step, in ever larger phalanxes, precisely to appropriate our surplus labor time as profit. We don’t have to march in lock step to produce what we require, but only to produce surplus value for the capitalists. The expropriators of our surplus labor require us to organized in this way, not to meet our needs, but theirs. In fact, for communism to appear as an empirical necessity, almost all labor must be undertaken solely for this purpose.

In other words, for communism to appear as free time and nothing else, the only real purpose of labor must be the production of surplus value. This is where we are now.

The most deadening conception of communism possible is, thus, the idea that it is something to be constructed, a commodity, product. Historically, this conception of communism might have been justified in early 20th century Russia, but it is now entirely destructive to the idea of communism. Lenin was justified in defining communism as soviet power plus electrification of the whole country, in the same way capitalist exploitation was historically justified by rapid development of the forces of production of material wealth. Both sought to create what Marx calls the material basis for a higher mode of production.

However, we are no more confined to backward forces of production today than the characters in Star Trek — if anything we are threatened by the ever growing superfluity of labor power and means of production. There is no justification whatsoever to remain wedded to Lenin’s conception of communism. We are free to define communism as what it is, free disposable time for the vast majority of society and nothing more. What individuals do with their free time is no more our concern than how they spend their weekends, nor does this free activity require any necessary form apart from their particular aims.

Any definition of communism (or socialism) contrary to free time should be condemned. Communism is free time and nothing else. If you’re not fighting for free time, you are not a communist.

Chris Wright: “… the turn away from commodity money is the monetary expression of the crisis of valorization of capital”

Chris Wright offered this comment to my post, You can’t beat UBI without a real alternative. As a restatement of my argument, I find it far more succinct and intelligible than my own writing. I print it here for readers of this blog to see for themselves.


Hey Jehu,

Do I have this correct below, as far as it goes? I am trying to tease out in my own head why whether or not fiat/nominal/credit money can function as measure of value (which is what fiat currency cannot do, even though it can perform the other functions of money as far as I can tell) matters. You clearly draw theoretical and political conclusions from it about next steps (reduce the working day), what communism is (free time, that is, a world without labor or money, though based on some recent arguments, one has to investigate “labor” as a concept rather carefully, since if it equates with productive activity, then we will never be free of labor despite accelerationist fantasies, though we may well be free of commodified labor or servile forms of labor, that is, productive activity as form of domination), and why orthodox Marxism and the Left in general are functionally apologists for labor and/or money. I do disagree that they are “charlatans” or “liars”, but rather that they have ideological commitments, desires for political effectivity (the militancy/activist gig), and a material existence that strongly lends itself to labor ontologies, market socialism, etc., just like most of the rest of humanity when it comes to thinking this through, they don’t need to lie. they just need to be far more normal and critical than they would like to imagine themselves to be. And frankly, those of us who do not subscribe to such things appear to be crazy. Why wouldn’t we?

Okay, sorry, too much preface.

You argue that we have to ask ourselves: Can fiat currency replace commodity money in the measurement of value as Marx argues real money must do (otherwise it does not act as money and is merely an arbitrary symbol, which for Marx money simply cannot be reduced to)? Your answer is that it cannot, not because you are a “gold bug” and think everything would be okay if we went back to the gold standard and fiscal responsibility, but because the turn away from commodity money (gold or otherwise) to fiat currency is the monetary expression of the crisis of valorization of capital that finds one of its turning points in the 1971-3 conversion to inconvertible paper money, but which had intimations as early as the move to the Gold Dollar standard and Bretton Woods. Given the necessity of money to generalized commodity society (c.f. “The Commodity Nature of Money in Marx’s Theory”, Claus Germer, in Marx’s Theory of Money, Fred Moseley ed., Palgrave 2005 for a clear defense of the necessity of commodity money in Marx), whether or not one has a value-form notion of value, something akin to Postone and Kurz, or an old-fashioned embodied labor theory of value, a crisis of the money-form indicates a crisis in the essence of capital, not merely the surface. Or to put it another way, if the surface of money, the appearance of appearance, is in crisis, then the crisis is fundamental in nature.

The move to IPM reflected a necessary move in relation to the crisis of valorization, in which the superfluity of labor power for the production of material wealth is coming into fatal contradiction with labor as the social form of wealth. It was going to be impossible for gold or any commodity money to represent the total claims to wealth because the amount of “fictitious capital” associated with financial transactions, military production, and other kinds of unproductive labor was increasingly far beyond the amount of value being generated by productive labor. As a result of this, pegging currencies to commodity money would directly express this crisis, but not merely express, it would exacerbate it by causing the total system of payments to become paralyzed.

Thus, currencies had to “float”, that is, become dependent on the stability of states (initially and largely still the stability of the United States and hence the dollar because ot its central role as world currency thanks to its role after WWII and in the purchase of primary commodities, such as oil), who had the ability to print currency on demand to meet quantitative currency requirements, whereas they could not simply add to stocks of money commodity (gold in this case). [Why not? Why not just dig up more gold? Why not go to bimetallism? Why not platinum? Why not simply choose suitable commodity as money commodity? What made commodity money unable to accommodate the crisis of growing quantities f fictitious capital?]

However, this relies on a fundamental irrationality even from the perspective of capital: currency ceases to function as a measure of value, which it had as commodity money, just as with a a 1lb metal weight. That is, a pound of metal that exists only as measure of other “things” with weight, not as a metal object as such, though if it were not also a thing with weight, it could not serve as an objective measure of weight. Same with commodity money. Fiat, not being related to a money commodity, which could be gold, silver, etc., it honestly matters less than that money be a commodity, has no capacity to function as “measure of value”, even as it can function as means of exchange and circulation.

Why should this matter?

Firstly, for everyday people it doesn’t matter.

Secondly, capital seems to get along just fine as is. However, the argument would have to be that not only does this indicate a crisis, but also that it masks the crisis on one level and also exacerbates it on another.

The masking matters insofar as not understanding the nature of the problem precludes grasping the actual situation of capital and the Left then simply expresses the reigning ideology of financialization and is as irrational as ‘economics”. This means that the Left cannot perform the only possible useful task it has, which is to grasp the conditions of the possibility of communism, instead of being defenders of shortening the working week and following on the undermining of money and value, they support 1) more jobs (arbeit mach frei) and 2) Universal Basic Income, which reinforces the validity of more money as solution. Rather, for Jehu the crisis of commodity money indicates that capital itself is bringing about the end of jobs and money and instead of opposing it, we should embrace it with radical conclusions, to the extent that it matters at all what the Left embraces.

You can’t beat UBI without a real alternative

If there is anyone who is as opposed to universal basic income (UBI) as I am, it seems to be Andrew Jackson. His most recent polemic of this failed idea, Basic Income and the left: The political and economic problems details an exhaustive list of defects that are often overlooked or swept under the rug entirely by UBI’s supporters:

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Frederick Harry Pitts and the New Reading of Marx

Frederick Harry Pitts has produced a paper, Beyond the Fragment: The Postoperaist Reception of Marx’s Fragment on Machines, that disputes the idea that changes in the mode of production lead to the breakdown of production based on exchange value and communism. Pitts asserts that, when Marx’s criticism of political-economy is understood as a critical theory of society, it does not predict the breakdown of exchange value. He admits his assertion has implications for radical politics today.

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The schizophrenic debate over the impact of automation

It looks like jobs should be going away, but the impact of automation may be overestimated, says this 2 part series, Nowhere to Go: Automation, Then and Now. Instead of seeing robots replace human labor, we may be witnessing machines progressively marginalizing human beings to menial, low paid labor in sectors characterized by stubbornly low productivity.

In the sixties, communists like James Boggs predicted that industrial labor was destined for abolition. Automation had already crushed the resistance of the working class and would rapidly set them free of productive employment altogether — much as it has already reduced agricultural labor to a negligible expenditure of the social labor day. The industrial proletariat would be left with no place to sell their labor power and nowhere else to go.

However, the writer explains, instead of automation gradually abolishing wage labor as Boggs and many of his contemporaries predicted:

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