“Labour itself can only exist on the premise of this fragmentation.” K. Marx and F. Engels

by Jehu

I want to address the big problem I see with communistic subreddits.

To do this, let me first define what I mean by the term, “communistic reddit”: A communistic reddit is a reddit that concerns itself directly with the need for the abolition of wage slavery and the establishment of communism.

This definition is in contrast to what I would call a “political reddit”. On a political reddit, like, for instance, r/socialism, you will find a wide variety of concerns. The most recent posts to r/socialism at the time of this writing include things like:

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with these types of posts. They are topical, appealing to a wide variety of interests and in many cases exposing outrages — the lifeblood of r/socialism. If this is the sort of thing that floats your boat, r/socialism is the place for you; a mad jumble of outrage and bourgeois electoral politics, but a bit thin on how we get to what they call “a post-capitalist society.”

By contrast, lets look at a few recent posts from r/leftcommunism, an avowedly communistic subreddit:

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with these sorts of posts either. They are the lifeblood of r/leftcommunism. Not particularly  topical (although there are some exceptions), appealing to a narrow variety of interests and, in many cases, nostalgic for the theory and practice of the 20th century worker’s movement.

*****

Robert Kurz once made the point that, in theory, communists stand for the abolition of wage labor. However, this idea only exists in theory. When it comes to their practical efforts, communists are pure and simple reformists.

“Social emancipation thus remained a simple promise of an imaginary future. First, it will be necessary to cross the vale of political tears, before seeing the promised land of “socialism” and occupying it in practice.”

In theory, communists are really quite radical. In practice, however, they appear no more radical than a member of the Green Party or the Democratic Socialists of America. This split is moreover expressed in a split in what is on offer on Reddit: on the one hand r/socialism with its ever growing list of daily outrages and politics; and, on the other hand, r/leftcommunism with its constant posting and reposting of dry lifeless tracts from dead or near dead theorists.

If you want to experience the imaginary future, you can visit r/leftcommunism, where that future can be seen through the eyes of long dead men and women.

If you want to act in the present, however, join the DSA — because those who, in theory, hold to the imaginary future, have nothing concrete to offer by way of a realistic plan of concrete action.

So this is what we have: ICP or DSA. Bordiga or Bernie.

*****

Those who hold to our imaginary future have been unable to articulate a strategy to realize that future here and now.

Thus, all practical movement toward our imaginary future have been left in the hands of those who think only limited reforms are possible; in the hands of people who think our imaginary future is imaginary. These are people who truly believe that our prospects are defined by the Overton windows of bourgeois electoral politics.

They think we can reach our imaginary future by a series of political approximations each of which brings us closer to our final aim. But how high do wages have to rise to reach communism, a mode of production where there are no wages? How full must employment be before no one has to sell their labor power to acquire the means of life? There is no approximation in wages for the principle of ‘to each according to need‘. There is no approximation in terms of employment for free disposable time.

Communism is not just capitalism with full employment and a living wage. It is the abolition of employment and wages. Communism is not national health insurance. It is not a comfortable retirement at the end of a life of arduous labor. Whatever you think of these reformist programs, they are not communism; they are not even a weak political approximation of communism. There is no way to get from where we are now — even assuming the best of economic circumstances — to communism without putting an end to everything associated with present society.

Kurz put it succinctly:

“[Historical] materialism “pisses its pants”, so to speak, as soon as it is called upon to define the so-called socialist revolution. On the one hand, it blindly assimilates the bourgeois form of the political movement, in all its manifestations (from the concept of revolution to that of the political party), which indicates the character of the old Marxism as a simple secondary offshoot of the bourgeois Enlightenment and of socialization via the commodity form.”

Astarian and Dauve confirm Kurz’ insight when, after more than a hundred pages of esoteric nonsense, they admit:

“The theory of revolution assumes an understanding of the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society. … Here much remains to be done to understand why and how communisation will get production under way again without productivist measures. These questions go beyond the scope of this text.”

We can also point to open Marxists like John Holloway, who, after imploring us to change the world without taking power, admitted he had no idea what the goddamn phrase means:

“How then do we change the world without taking power? At the end of the book, as at the beginning, we do not know. The Leninists know, or used to know. We do not. Revolutionary change is more desperately urgent than ever, but we do not know any more what revolution means. Asked, we tend to cough and splutter and try to change the subject.”

The difficulty for these theorists is that the chasm between wage slavery to communism cannot be bridged by politics and politics is the only form of action they understand.

*****

This much should be obvious, since all political action implies the application of state force, while communism is a stateless society. There is no political approximation for the complete abolition of the state. Further, all political action involves a conflict between classes, while communism is a classless society. There is no political approximation for the complete abolition of classes.

Marx and Engels solution to this intractable conundrum consisted of two observations:

  1. The proletariat was not a class. (German Ideology)
  2. The Commune was not a state. (Civil War in France)

Since the proletariat is not a class and since its rule did not constitute the rule of a class, the transition from capitalism to communism should, at least in theory, pose no obstacle for its social revolution.

Since that time, however, both Marx’s defenders and detractors have insisted that, contrary to Marx, the proletariat is a class and the dictatorship of the proletariat is a state. And this despite numerous protests by both Marx and Engels to the contrary. Marxists have thus been forced to explain how a class realizes a classless society and how a state realizes a stateless society. In fact, Marxists cannot explain how this would happen. Instead they have tried to gaslight us into believing that we can use politics to abolish both classes and the state.

*****

And this presents us with the most pertinent question:

If politics is not an effective means to abolish classes and the state, what means exist to accomplish this task?

Frankly, no one knows how to answer this question, which is why they all keep telling us that the actual overcoming of capitalism deserves further study.

The reason why no one knows the answer to this question is that everyone assumes it has something to do with political struggle against capital and the state. In fact, the question has nothing to do with this struggle. The premise of both capital and the state is labor; and, as Marx and Engels argued in the German Ideology, the existence of labor rests on its fragmentation. This implies that if the proletariat wants to put a end to labor, it must put an end to its fragmentation. The abolition of wage labor thus means the abolition of labor’s fragmentation.

But how do we end the fragmentation of labor?

Contrary to the thinking of most communists today, I do not believe this is primarily a matter of political consciousness and organization. There are actual material forces in society that constantly impose ever greater fragmentation on the proletariat. These forces must be overcome by the proletariat through its direct action. One of the most powerful forces operating to fragment the proletariat is at least in part described by Marx in his lectures, Wage Labor and Capital:

“The laborer seeks to maintain the total of his wages for a given time by performing more labor, either by working a great number of hours, or by accomplishing more in the same number of hours. Thus, urged on by want, he himself multiplies the disastrous effects of division of labor. The result is: the more he works, the less wages he receives. And for this simple reason: the more he works, the more he competes against his fellow workmen, the more he compels them to compete against him, and to offer themselves on the same wretched conditions as he does; so that, in the last analysis, he competes against himself as a member of the working class.”

Let me suggest that the chief economic force fragmenting the proletarians is competition over the sale of labor power. It is not and has never been the presence or lack of political consciousness or self-organization. Indeed, both political consciousness and self-organization are themselves determined by competition among the proletarians over the sale of their labor power. In the labor market, the proletarians relate to one another as hostile competitors.

The abolition of wage labor presupposes that the proletarians put an end to their competition over sale of their labor power to the capitalists — a competition, moreover, they cannot possibly win because they each are merely being forced to compete against themselves.

To put an end to competition, we have to put an end to wage labor. Communists can ignore this truth if they want, but they will never realize their goal without directly attacking wage labor itself.