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.
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.
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.
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.