The Real Movement

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Month: July, 2017

Professor Jodi Dean’s most amazing confidence trick

So, here is an interesting way to pose the problem of realizing the abolition of wage slavery by Jodi Dean:

“[Insofar] as the people politicized are people divided…the place from which the people are understood is necessarily partisan.”

Dean takes this to mean,

“The question of the party precedes the question of the state.”

By “The People”, Dean means, of course, the working class, although, for some reason, she seems incapable of saying this directly. According to Dean, then, all bourgeois politics rests on the fragmentation of the working class. Assuming she is right, how should we address this fragmentation?

According to Dean, we have to “pose the party as a possibility” — a very odd turn of phrase. Dean can’t just open her mouth and explicitly state that the fragmentation of the working class is the premise of politics and thus the working class constitutes itself as a party in its struggle against wage slavery.

In Dean’s argument, the party is necessary because the working class is fragmented. Rather than proposing that the working class should put an end to its fragmentation, Dean proposes it should organize itself, on the basis of this fragmentation, as a party. Unless the working class does this, all discussion of seizure of the state is a fantasy.

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Here is the problem: The working class cannot simply lay hold to the state; it must break it. Dean wants to seize the state. But as a Marxist she knows that, since the Paris Commune, communists have aimed to abolish the state. It is unclear from the text whether Dean believes that seizure of the state is the same as its abolition.

Do communists think the revolution has two separate stages: first, seizure, then abolition? If this is true, why didn’t Marx conclude from the experience of the Paris Commune that the working class should first seize the state and then put an end to it? Dean is likely making shit up, like most Marxists, but when you call out Marxists on shit like this, they get all huffy and accuse you of being ultra-Leftist.

But, I didn’t say it, Marx did:

“But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”

If, according to Marx, the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes, what does it have to do with this machinery? The Commune, said Marx, had “to become a reality by the destruction of the state power”:

“[The] merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested and restored to the responsible agents of society.”

According to Marx, the Commune, “breaks with the modern state power”. Frankly, I don’t see anything here about seizing the state; Dean must be reading Clinton campaign literature. Certainly the Democraps want to “seize the state power” from the GOP, but Communists only intend, “the destruction of the state power”.

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The question Dean must answer is this: Does the destruction of the state power also require the working class constitute itself as a party? Indeed is the destruction of the state power even possible so long as the working class are fragmented, “a part of a constitutively open and incomplete set”. This question is absolutely necessary to answer in theory and in practice because, according to Marx, not just politics, but labor itself rests on the fragmentation of the working class. To put an end to the state, we have to put an end to labor; but to put an end to labor, we have to put an end to the fragmentation of the working class.

In fact, even a cursory examination of the problem forces us to the conclusion that “a constitutively open and incomplete set” can put an end to nothing. This was already true to some extent in the days of the Paris Commune, even in the relatively autarkic conditions that prevailed at the time. How is it possible to accomplish today in the age of neoliberalism and globalization?

Every working class, even when it is highly organized and disciplined is no more than “a part of a constitutively open and incomplete set”. And this for the reason that every nation within the world market is itself, “a part of a constitutively open and incomplete set” of the total capital of the world market. Trying to emancipate the social producers from wage slavery on this basis is like trying to emancipate the work force of a single factory.

The fragmentation of the working class is a global phenomenon. Dean really has to explain how her (national) political party — and this is all a political party can hope for — can overcome this (global) fragmentation.

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In her essay Jodi Dean has to perform a confidence trick and she has to do it before our eyes and with our knowing participation. According to Wikipedia, this means Dean has to exploit (among other things) our credulity and naïveté. And, indeed, she already has begun to work on our psyche before she even finishes with the brief opening lines of her essay.

She offers us an unpalatable choice: either we can’t take power or we just don’t want to. Obviously, no one reading this rag wants to accept either option and this allows her to offer a third choice. It’s not that we don’t want to take power or that we are incapable of taking power, but that we don’t have the right equipment, a party.

Everybody has run into this situation. You have to do something and you want to do that thing, but you don’t have the right equipment for the job.

In truth, virtually no one think she is right in her assertion that the working class hasn’t made a revolution because it lacks a political party. Twentieth century politics is replete with every sort of political party imaginable. So, Dean has to convince us of this “truth”, but she has to do it in a way that at least doesn’t invoke the twin failures of Leninism and Social Democracy. This fact is critical to explaining her discussion of the Paris Commune, a familiar but little studied event from 150 years in the past.

Almost everybody knows about the Commune; it almost has attained the status of uncontested virtuousness; and, most of all, it was lead by non-Marxists. People can blame the failures of the Soviet Revolution on the Bolsheviks, but no one can blame the catastrophe that the Paris Commune became on Marx. Marx opposed it; although he defended it as any good comrade had to once it was in play. And he wrote a touching eulogy about it that graciously overlooked the fact that it was doomed to disaster from the first.

His touching eulogy struggled to drag some positive lessons from a frightening catastrophe. The effort went off well, and Marxists today are almost as uncritical of the Paris Commune as every other variant of communism. In light of her savage attacks on the heavily anarchist tendencies of Occupy Wall Street, it probably is no surprise then that Jodi Dean turns to the Commune for her confidence trick.

Uncritical veneration of the Commune is probably the only thing Marxists and anarchists agree on.

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Very early on in her essay, Dean sets up the argument for her party and it is rather interesting: before the Commune, there was no “The People”, just an amorphous mass, “The Crowd.” “The People”, as such, only takes shape as the result of the constitution of the Commune itself.

“It’s not quite right to say that what the people wanted was the Commune”, Dean explains. “The people are an effect of the positing of the object of their desire. They don’t precede it. What precedes it is the crowd.” To restate this bizarre argument in plain English, The People did not create the Commune; rather, the Commune created The People. Before the Commune, there was just this formless mass of individuals who were fragmented beyond all belief by their divisions. The Crowd blindly broke through existing political relations:

“The crowd forced an opening, an interruption that changed the political setting. It ruptured suppositions of order, inciting thereby attempts to expand, enclose, and target the unleashed intensities in one direction rather than another.”

Perhaps I am reading this wrong, but it sounds like Dean is saying history (or, at least, politics) has no logic to its trajectory. Did anyone else get that feeling when they read that passage from Dean? Certainly even a rushing river doesn’t tell us about the specific vector of every atom composing it; so, it is highly likely we can’t completely explain the actions of a few thousand people in Paris in March 1871 by relying only on historical economic forces

But does this reality force us to assume that only an amorphous mass, “The Crowd”, existed prior to March 28? Does it force us to assume that “The People” are only constituted as such after March 28?

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This is the confidence trick Dean employs. If you accept her assertion that only an amorphous mass existed prior to March 28, 1871, the constitution of the Commune now becomes necessary to explain “The People”. The constitution of “The People” then becomes a purely political act, rather than material economic act.

Dean has now created in your mind a gap or crevice through which she can now drive her notion of “The Political.” And what is “The Political?” “The Political” is that form necessary to overcome the fragmentation of “The People”. As the Commune shows, this fragmentation is not overcome by actual changes in the material relations of society, but by political changes. Specifically, some political form (yet to be itself specified) constitutes “The People.”

Dean states this explicitly, going so far as to assert that “The Crowd” did not create the Commune:

“That the March 18th crowd event was followed by the Commune does not mean that the crowd created the Commune or that the Commune was an expression of the constituent power of the people expressed by the crowd.”

It turns out the Commune not only preceded “The People”, it preceded itself:

“It was an already existent political possibility, attempted yet thwarted in revolts in October and January.”

Dean’s argument thus comes down to this: even before the Commune existed in reality, it was an idea that gave rise to itself. “The Crowd” did not bring it into existence through the events of October and January; it was an idea borne by a few hundred militants.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the vanguard party, courtesy of Prof. Jodi Dean.

To put this in plain English, it was in the form of the aspirations of a few thousand militants, a vanguard, so to speak, that the Commune form preceded its arrival.

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Again, according to Jodi Dean, in the winter of 1870-71 there were a relatively small number of militants in Paris who wanted to organize an insurrection to depose the state and replace it with a Commune. In the fantastic language of Professor Dean, these militants constituted the idea of a Commune that brought about the reality. The crowd rejected this idea several times but ultimately broke with the state and revolted.

This revolt, however, doesn’t explain the Commune according to Dean; rather the ideas of the militants explain the conversion of the crowd into the people.

It would appear from this telling of the myth that surrounds the Commune that the vanguard played a critical role in constituting the People. Only we have a problem: the Commune was a catastrophe — very heroic, very inspiring, but a catastrophe nonetheless. How do we explain the catastrophe?

Professor Dean has given us only one side of the story and this side goes completely according to her argument: the commune was the product of the persistence of a committed band of militants who spread the idea of a commune among the population. When “The Crowd” revolted against the state, the idea of a Commune was already popular among the population. Following this popular idea, the population immediately proceeded to make it a reality.

Everything was by the vanguardist playbook.

And it ended in a catastrophe.

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If the place from which the people are understood “is necessarily partisan”, why did this necessarily partisan place lead directly into a catastrophe? We know from the experience of both the Soviet revolution and Social Democracy that this catastrophe is not unique to the Commune. What the Commune, the Soviets and Social Democracy have in common is that they all end in catastrophe. It seems to me that unless we figure out why this happened in three separate cases, we will keep ending in catastrophe.

A clue to the problem may lie within Dean’s initial premise that, “the people politicized are people divided.” Dean seems to think this fragmentation can be overcome by purely cosmetic (i.e., political) means of a political party. Let me suggest a different reading of history that shows this idea that the fragmentation of the working class can be overcome through the artifice of a political party is terribly wrong.

The divisions among the working class are not now and have never been merely political; instead, they are founded on the division of labor. To put an end to these division is impossible unless we can put an end to the division of labor — every Marxist knows this already. Dean is essentially arguing that these real material divisions can be papered over long enough for the working class to gain state power.

The problem with this idea is that the mode of production is founded on labor, i.e., it rests on the fragmentation of the working class. Further, the mode of production is not passive; it struggles frantically to increase fragmentation of the class wherever and whenever this fragmentation diminishes.

We already know this; if the class seeks to put an end to fragmentation by unionization, capital responds by replacing labor with machines. Should the working class of one country increase its cohesion, capital responds by moving off-shore. Capital is a living thing and responds to our own efforts to reduce our fragmentation.

In Accelerationism, Autonomism and a host of other tendencies, this has long been acknowledged. Capital evades every effort to end the fragmentation of the working class and thus both labor and politics. Professor Dean hasn’t told us how we deal with this problem.

Her essay is trash.

Getting beyond ‘regime change’ (Part 4)

A summary of the argument so far in my latest essay, “Beyond regime change”:

  • Part 1: Argues communism is much more than a mere political revolution or movement.
  • Part 2: Argues communists should avoid direct military or political confrontation with the state.
  • Part 3: Argues communists have to revolutionize the consciousness of the working class.

Assuming that the capitalist mode of production can be brought down if the working class simply reduce its hours of labor to the point that the rate of profit collapses, what I intend to show in part four of this series is how that result can be produced. My intention in this post is not to create this strategy by my lonesome, but to illustrate, based on the principles Sharp describes in his book, what such a strategy would look like if communists decided to pursue it.

Although the strategy I will outline here is simple, it is fraught with a number of difficulties that must be discussed. In first place, it is a matter of some controversy whether this sort of strategy can work even in theory. Most Marxists today have dismissed the core assumption in Marx’s theory that the profits of capital are determined by the unpaid labor time of the working class.

Beyond this group of Marxists, a much larger group of communists, both Marxists and anarchists, are either unfamiliar with Marx’s theory or reject it entirely. This latter group of communists tend to gravitate around some version of Keynesian theory, which recognizes no role for labor in profit and looks to the state to address the problems of capitalist production.

I would think it is fair to say almost all communists today either are unfamiliar with Marx’s basic argument or reject it entirely, which adds a level of additional complexity to the discussion of strategy. This is no place to address objections to the strategy on theoretical grounds, but it is necessary to recognize such objections exist and must be settled if we are to move forward.

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Second, even if no such objections existed or those objection could be settled by honest debate, we still have to deal with the fact that the capitalist mode of production is highly opaque. It is impossible to trace the profits of any capitalist firm or country to the unpaid labor of its working class. This is because the profits of firms and of countries is not directly related to the unpaid labor of their working class, but is the share of each firm or country in the total loot squeezed from the working classes of all firms and countries.

This poses a much bigger problem than the theoretical one, because it means the working class have no idea that our unpaid labor time is the sole source of all the profits of capitalist firms and economic growth of national economies. Not only do we not know we can bring down the mode of production by reducing our hours of labor, we have no idea there is any connection between our labor time and the social ills of capitalism. While the peasant could see the portion of the product of their labor that was expropriated by the lord, the expropriation of the capitalists takes place behind our backs, so to speak.

Thus any strategy to overthrow capital and the state has a task that is a rather unprecedented: we literally have to educate ourselves as a class in a scientific critique of capitalism, to teach ourselves how capitalism works. This is not something that can be done in a classroom and it certainly cannot be done in some sectarian study circle; it has to be done live. And it has to be done not for a few advanced workers but for all of us, because we aim not just for abolition of wage slavery and the state, but also for the replacement of wage labor and the state by a self-managed association of social producers.

We cannot manage society if we remain ignorant about the conditions of social production. It is not enough for a relatively small vanguard to understand why we fight the way we do and for what we a fighting. For our aim to be achieved, each of us (or, at least, a solid majority) must understand the strategy. Our strategy must be as simple and easy to understand as basic reading skills or the voting process.

This task imposes a unique burden on communist activists that is far more difficult than that of the democracy activists in Sharp’s color revolution. All revolutions in history required some level of political consciousness among the population to achieve its aims. In the past, political consciousness may have been sufficient to overthrow an existing regime, but sill insufficient to establish democracy. In any case, the alteration in relations was purely political and did not directly touch on actual material relations.

By contrast, our revolution is aim at the material transformation of society, not just its political relations. We require a level of consciousness that is a magnitude beyond that required for mere political change. We face not just the problem of a regime that will fight to the bitter end for its survival and has at its disposal the full force of the state, but also a set of social relation that are shrouded in mystery and superstition. We have to figure out creative ways to break through the gauzy opaque film that conceals capitalist relations from us.

I would suggest this cannot be accomplished outside a conscious determined struggle for communism itself.

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GRAND STRATEGY:

Speaking of grand strategy, Sharp has this to say::

“Grand strategy is the conception that serves to coordinate and direct the use of all appropriate and available resources (economic, human, moral, political, organizational, etc.) of a group seeking to attain its objectives in a conflict.”

Following Sharp, I have attempted to answer a number of question that go to the heart of strategic thinking. Again, these are just my answers to the questions posed by Sharp. A collective communist strategy may adopt altogether different answers.

  • What are the main obstacles to achieving communism?

Technically, the main obstacle to achieving communism is whether we can feed, clothe and house ourselves without requiring . labor from each member of society. This is a technical question and cannot be answered based on what we wish to achieve but on the material development of the productive forces themselves.

Beyond this, however, is our consciousness. This is not a political consciousness — so-called class consciousness — but a scientific understanding that permits us to pierce the opaque veil of capitalist relations which conceal the link between our unpaid labor time and the profits of capital. This scientific consciousness is no more a product of everyday life than knowledge of how the universe works is a product of every day observation of nature. It must be acquired by engaging and transforming capitalist society.

  • What factors will facilitate achieving communism?

Achieving communism will be facilitated by our self-education and self-organization in the struggle to overthrow the existing state. Understanding of the nature of capitalist relations and the role labor plays in its functioning will be facilitated and advanced only by directly engaging in the struggle for communism. This understanding cannot be acquired from books nor by spontaneous political struggles over everyday social issues.

  • What are the main strengths of the capitalist state?

The state controls a highly disciplined military with a deep bench of experienced military leaders. It also control the entire political system in most advanced countries, with almost 400 years of experience ruling in the United States alone. Beyond this, the state machinery of the advanced countries is supported by access to enormous quantities of surplus value within the world market that allow them to run both massive trade and budget deficits for decades on end.

  • What are the various weaknesses of the state?

The weakness of the state is that ultimately it rests on the surplus labor squeezed from labor power. The labor power that produces the surplus value necessary for the state and both its military and political power is formally in our hands, (although this does not imply we actually effectively control it at this time.) The possibility that the labor power now only formally in our hands becomes effectively managed by us through increase understanding of how capitalism works and increased organization to overcome competition is a huge source of vulnerability.

  • To what degree are the sources of power of the existing state vulnerable?

Technically, wage slavery is extremely vulnerable to our collective power. However, as a practical matter, this vulnerability is limited by the very appearance of capitalist social relations, our understanding of capitalism’s vulnerability to our actual material position in production and our own organization. No power is real if those in the position to wield it do not recognize it or are unable to wield it due to their lack of organization and skill.

  • What are the strengths of the working class?

The most important strength of the working class is that it is in possession of the only commodity that can make real capital out of capital. The production of surplus value, and thus the production of profit, cannot take place without the labor power of the worker. Our labor power is indivisible from our physical persons. Thus the production of profit requires our compliance.

  • What are the weaknesses of the working class and how can they be corrected?

We are not conscious of our actual power. This is in large measure not the product of ideological factors, but the product of our competitive fragmentation and lack of organization, as well as the opaque nature of our role in capitalist production. This competitive fragmentation is a problem not just within each country but also between countries. The working class is a global productive force divided along every conceivable line. The mystification of our role in society is, in the final analysis, a product of this competitive fragmentation.

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CHOICE OF MEANS:

Speaking of the means chosen by a population in their struggle, Sharp has this to say::

“At the grand strategic level, planners will need to choose the main means of struggle to be employed in the coming conflict. The merits and limitations of several alternative techniques of struggle will need to be evaluated, such as conventional military warfare, guerrilla warfare, political defiance, and others. In previous chapters we have argued that political defiance offers significant comparative advantages to other techniques of struggle. Strategists will need to examine their particular conflict situation and determine whether political defiance provides affirmative answers to the above questions.”

Our aim is the abolition of the state, of the political system bound up with the state and the replacement of government of people by the administration of things. The abolition of the state requires that we put an end to the production of surplus value itself. It is impossible to bring the production of surplus value to an end without at the same time abolishing wage slavery.

Our chosen method of struggle, the direct disruption of the production of surplus value by reducing our labor time, will avoid both military and political confrontation and engagement with the existing state. Unlike a conventional political struggle which targets the state, our effort at first will be largely educational and organizational: we intend to convince the working class to reduce their hours of labor. The struggle requires we to raise our understanding of the mode of production, organize ourselves to wield our labor power as a weapon in the struggle against capital and prepare ourselves to manage society after capital is overthrown.

As a initial action, I am proposing we undertake campaign, “Fridays Off.”  Initially starting out small, with the “Fridays Off” campaign we will engage in actions designed to disrupt the labor process beyond 32 hours per week. This includes, but is not limited to disruption of the morning commute; interruption of the labor process on shop floors and in offices, action to force suspension of brick and mortar shopping sites and online shopping; strikes and other job action as appropriate to enforce our unilaterally imposed 32 hours limitation on hours of wage labor. Initially setting a goal of a reduction of the work week by one day (eight hours), we will continue to reduce hours of labor over a set period of time (five year?) until the work week is abolished entirely.

Economically, our initial efforts will have only small results, of course — a mangled commute here or the disruption of an online shopping site there — serving more educational aims than actually affecting the profits of capital, but we must start somewhere to learn our real power. To paraphrase Marx, “The whole thing begins with the self-education of the commune.” The working class cannot learn to manage society until it has learned to managed its own labor time; to decide for itself when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins.

Sharp offers a number of ideas in an appendix many of which can be adapted to our efforts for promoting and enforcing a reduction of hours of labor, so long as we keep in mind that our objective is to disrupt the production of surplus value and avoid any engagement with the state.

Labor power is the only commodity that can convert capital into real capital. This places the working class in a irreplaceable position in the operation of the mode of production. A campaign to reduce hours of labor strikes capital at it weakest, most vulnerable point. In our struggle to collectively reduce our hours of labor, we will learn how to manage our labor power collectively and lay the foundation for the new society.

Getting beyond ‘regime change’ (Part 3)

We will not realize communism in ten years unless we plan how our actions will produce this result. Put simply: there is something terribly wrong with our approach to the struggle for emancipation and we need to fix it. The symptoms of this failed approach is the vague, ineffective strategic thinking on the part of many communists. No one seems to know how we get from here to a communist society or even to socialism. No one knows how the daily struggle for survival becomes a struggle for emancipation.

This is part three of an essay intended to address this failure.

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6. STRATEGY

In chapter six of the booklet, Sharp emphasizes the need for strategic planning — a topic few communists ever bother to study.

Ask the typical communist in the United States how revolutions happen and s/he will likely tell you revolutions are largely spontaneous. We are gripped by the myth that revolutions are largely unplanned events, mostly triggered by economic or political conditions. A close reading of history, however, will demonstrate that economic or political conditions are insufficient to explain revolutions.

If revolutions were explained by political and economic crises, why were there no successful revolutions in the 1930s. Why did we instead see the rise of fascist regimes in Germany, Italy, Japan, France, the UK and US? Why is that today, in the face of 1930s style depressions in Greece, Spain and Portugal, have the proletarians of those countries not spontaneously acted to take power?

Most communists can’t even tell you what it is they actually hope to achieve by this effort. Of the handful who can tell you, most of what they describe looks a lot like today’s economic system. Some may want a society that look like a giant cooperative market without private ownership or with a subordinate role for private ownership. Others imagine a society that more resembles the failed Soviet mode of production.

But even among the communists who can talk persuasively about the sort of society they hope to see replace the present one, the strategy to achieve it looks pretty much the same.

Almost all communists who have ever bothered to understand how capitalism works know that it could not survive for even a single day if the working class collectively refused to produce surplus value. Without surplus value, there is no profit; without profit, there is no capitalism. .

The difficulty with getting to the end of wage slavery appears to be getting the proletariat on the same page with this model of capitalism. Nobody seems to have any real idea how we get everyone on the same page; and no one thinks this is at all very weird for a movement that has existed for almost two centuries.

Clearly, relying on the possibility that we will all get on the same page as the result of political and economic crises is a non-starter. It may happen of course, but I would not hold my breath waiting for it to happen. A realistic strategy can’t rely on what “might” happen; it has to try to make things happen.

Read the rest of this entry »

Getting beyond ‘regime change’ (Part 2)

We will not realize communism in ten years unless we plan how our actions will produce this result. Put simply: there is something terribly wrong with our approach to the struggle for emancipation and we need to fix it. The symptoms of this failed approach is the vague, ineffective strategic thinking on the part of many communists. No one seems to know how we get from here to a communist society or even to socialism. No one knows how the daily struggle for survival becomes a struggle for emancipation.

This is part two of an essay is intended to address this failure.

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2. Targeting the sources of the enemy’s power

While Sharp recommends a strategy of non-violent resistance that exploits the political weaknesses of a regime, communists aim for the material transformation of the society as a whole, for abolition of wage labor and the state. For this reason, our strategy must exploit the material vulnerabilities of the state, not merely its political weaknesses.

We don’t seek the replacement of the present Republican administration by a Democrat administration, nor even the replacement of both Democrats and Republican governments by a radical government of some third party. Our aim is the abolition of the state, of the political system bound up with the state and the replacement of government of people by the administration of things.

This requires the sort of strategic considerations normally not found among those who aim for mere cosmetic, political changes to society. We must identify the sources of the state’s social power which are not at all to be confused with the sources of the political power of any party.

Read the rest of this entry »

Getting beyond ‘regime change’ (Part 1)

INTRODUCTION: Why read Gene Sharp’s book?

I have proposed communists aim to realize a communist society within ten years. The aim may seem unrealistic for two reasons: first, it would appear we are nowhere near technically capable of putting an end to the connection between labor and subsistence. Without being able to produce enough goods to feed, house and clothe the entire population of the planet, communism is not possible.

Second, even if it were technically possible to put an end to wage labor, there does not appear to be sufficient willingness on the part of the working class to act in that direction. On the streets of Europe and North America, at least, the working class do not seem inclined to fight for their own emancipation.

With regards to the first objection, let me state that in 1930 Keynes argued that with just 2% increase in productivity, we would have a work week of just 15 hours. Since 1930, the average increase in productivity has easily exceeded Keynes’ projection. Technically, conditions are now ripe not just for a reduction of hours of labor to 15 hours per week, but for the complete elimination of wage labor — for a society founded on each according to need. I have concluded that there is no objection on account of technical capacity for a fully communist society today.

Still, such a society is not possible without struggle. The fascists no more want to part with our labor power than they want to part with their monopoly on the means of production. If we are to realize communism, we must force that society into existence through our own struggle. To judge by the level of class struggle the objection that the working class is unwilling to emancipate themselves may seem to have some merit, but it has never really been tested in the streets.

In my opinion, the problem here is not that the working class are opposed to the end of wage slavery. Rather, communists have failed to put this option before them. Communists cannot just invent a society founded on each according to need, of course, but if such a society is already technically possible today, the problem has to be in the sphere of consciousness — and this points to a failure on the part of communists.

We will not realize communism in ten years unless we plan how our actions will produce this result. Put simply: there is something terribly wrong with our approach to the struggle for emancipation and we need to fix it. The symptoms of this failed approach is the vague, ineffective strategic thinking on the part of many communists. No one seems to know how we get from here to a communist society or even to socialism. No one knows how the daily struggle for survival becomes a struggle for emancipation.

This essay is intended to address this failure.

Read the rest of this entry »

FUZZY LOGIC: What is communism anyway?

I find it helpful to think about the bourgeois epoch as a period of transition between individual production carried on separately and directly social production. This transition is essentially the replacement of the conditions of individual production with the conditions of directly social production.

Contrary to most Marxists who neatly divide up this transitional period into capitalism and socialism, I make no necessary division. The transition can unfold under the rule of the bourgeoisie or under the rule of the proletariat. If the transition takes place under the rule of the bourgeoisie, we call it capitalism; if it takes place under the rule of the proletariat, we call it socialism. This means in theory, at least, there is no sharp fixed or fast division between the two forms of transition. The distinction between capitalism and socialism is political: which class rules.

This makes it very hard to tell just by looking at various “socialisms” that have emerged in the 20th century and say with a fair degree of precision whether they were socialist or capitalist. To give an example of what I mean: Folks who know more about the subject than I do nevertheless sharply disagree whether the Soviet Union was socialist or capitalist or even a completely different animal altogether. There is no real consensus on how to classify the Soviet mode of production among Marxists.

I have tried to finesse this problem by suggesting the SU was a capital — not “capitalist”, but the thing itself: a giant capital.

The peculiar thing about a capital as a unit of production is that it has none of the features we normally associate with a capitalist economy. Internally, a capital has no money relations; production is carried on according to a plan; there is no tendency toward over-production, unemployment or crises we take as essential to the definition of capitalism.

These features of a capitalistic economy are expressed in the exchange relations between capitals, not in their internal operation.

All forms of directly social labor look alike

If you observed the operations of a capital internally , it would be hard decide whether it was a capitalist organization or a commune – both are essentially identical in their operation internally, forms of directly social labor.

To give an example: a cooperative managed by the workers essentially will function identically to a capitalist firm. This is so true that it only takes the briefest examination of the operation of a cooperative to understand how superfluous the capitalists are to modern capitalist production. There is nothing the capitalist does that the workers can’t do themselves cooperatively.

Assuming I am correct on this, it may be impossible to really tell whether the SU was a socialistic or a capitalistic society. In either case the SU would still have functioned pretty much the way it did.

This leads to a rather disturbing conclusion: Insofar as the actual operations of the Soviet mode of production was concerned it was entirely irrelevant which class was actually in power. In truth, there are only so many ways you can manage directly social production. Technically, both a capital and a commune work the same way. Politically, of course, it makes all the difference which class is actually calling the shots, but technically politics is irrelevant.

The ambiguity of class rule

This might explain why even as the classification of the SU as socialist or capitalist is very controversial, so has been the classification of what we call fascism. Even my personal working definition of fascism — a state managed capitalist economy — begins to look very ambiguous. Indeed, many communists define the SU as state-managed capitalism.

To nail down the difference between capitalism and socialism in practice, we now have to nail down things that are by their very nature fuzzy and ambiguous: class rule.

Honestly, how do you tell which class is actually in power? What evidence do you have that one or the other class is ruling class.

But there is a problem that is even more intractable than that one: Even if you could establish that a particular society is ruled by the working class, does the rule of the working class guarantee the society is socialist? In fact, we all know that the working class can act as its own capitalist? Is it possible to have capitalism without capitalists? Fascism without either capitalists or capitalist private property?

If the technical condition of directly social production do not allow us to differentiate between capitalism and socialism, the political conditions offer even shakier grounds for differentiation than the technical conditions. Literally, we could have a completely fascist society without either capitalists or capitalist private property.

Fuzziness

We assume we can tell the difference between fascism and socialism, but the reality is that it is mostly a matter of individual prejudice. Look at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or even the People’s Republic of China. There is no consensus even among communists over how to characterize these societies.

We just make it up as we go along. We talk a lot of shit about what a socialist society looks like, but the reality is that the markers most communists employ use to differentiate capitalism from socialism are pretty fuzzy.

I just want to put this out there because a lot of people think they know what communism is but actually rely on very fuzzy definitions. They can’t even agree on whether the defunct SU was socialism or not, much less classify China. The definitions most communists take as settled and obvious begins to break down the moment we apply any critique to it.

Definitional issues

But let me state something else: every characteristic we think defines socialism is wrong. We are looking for socialism in the wrong place.

I think I have made the case that the alleged markers for a socialist community are not as persuasive as they appear. We can’t look at the technical conditions of production and tell whether the society in question is capitalist or socialist. Further, we cannot look at the political condition of the society as a whole, i.e., which class is actually ruling. and tell the difference.

Even if we discovered a society where production is based on a community of social producers, and even if these social producers ruled through their own association, we still could not determine with a high degree of confidence whether the society was in fact capitalist or socialist based solely on these characteristics.

Whether a society is capitalistic or socialistic has nothing to do either with its technical conditions of production nor the form of state. Certainly these characteristics are important — no society can be socialistic without them — but they are not, of themselves, sufficient for definitively classifying the society in question as socialistic.

Accumulation versus free development

If I am correct about this what additional characteristic is necessary for the society in question to be classified as socialistic? I think Marx offers a clue in his discussion in the so-called fragment on the machine. Socialism, Marx seems to be saying, aims for,

“The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.”

What distinguishes a socialist community from a capitalist community is not its technical or political conditions, but whether labor time is reduced to a minimum to make room for the development of individuals, rather than accumulation. Marx actually doubles down on this assertion by quoting an anonymous writer:

“‘Truly wealthy a nation, when the working day is 6 rather than 12 hours. Wealth is not command over surplus labour time’ (real wealth),‘ but rather, disposable time outside that needed in direct production, for every individual and the whole society.’”

In my opinion, the only way to tell whether a particular society is socialist is whether or not labor time is being reduced for everyone.

Communism is free disposable time and nothing else.

Jehu, what is your philosophy?

I received this request from @RealRomCade:

“Could you go over your whole philosophy with me. Not debating, I’m just not sure I quite understand it all seems really complex I’d like to understand. If you have the time of course.”

A good deal of what I write might appear obscure to most people. This, of course, in large part results from my poor writing skills. But it is also caused by the nature of the argument I am making, as well as the nature of the political position against which I am arguing.

To be honest, it is not always clear from my writing what I think the two sides are in this debate. I want to try to rectify this somewhat in the following discussion. The argument I will be making here is a logical one. As such I will discuss labor theory of value only briefly. I want to explain the logic behind my approach, not so much the theory that underlines that logic. If you want to know more about the theory that, I think, supports my approach, you will have to read Marx’s Capital.

If I am successful, you should have a better idea of the logic of my main argument. If I am unsuccessful you can post questions in the comments section and I will clarify my points.

*****

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