The Dutch writer’s response to our Open Letter

by Jehu

The writer of the Dutch critique makes the following points:

1. Jehu predicts, if working time is not drastically reduced, this will lead to barbaric competition between workers for jobs. By this, Jehu does not mean the loss of control of the owners over the means of production and communism. Jehu argues instead that the outcome will be “Unnecessary suffering of the working class of every country”. This is utopian socialism in its entirety, criticism of what is seen as the excesses of capitalism, preservation of the capitalist relations of production by humane actions of intellectuals who want to do something for the workers.

2. The author refers to Jehu’s call for an immediate reduction of hours of labor, a “Trotskyist transition requirement”.

3. The author says, Jehu’s call for immediate formation of mutual aid committees between employed and unemployed shows that “Jehu’s understanding of the history of the workers’ movement has stalled” in the 19th century.

4. Jehu says capitalism is dead, but capitalism is a production relationship that exists in both in times of full employment and times of massive unemployment. Capitalism can only be broken by the worker’s struggle that overthrows the state. Only after the state is overthrown does the transformation of capitalist relations of production begin with the elimination of wage labor.

5. Jehu accepts the notion of “essential production”. He thus accepts the idea “that weapon production is ‘essential,’ luxury production for the wealthy is ‘essential,’ and police, security, and military perform all ‘essential services’.

6. According to Jehu, capital flight is beneficial to weaker national capitals. Perhaps this is so, but in making this argument Jehu clearly believes that his solutions presuppose the survival of capital.

7. Jehu claims that higher labor costs will give automation a powerful boost that will undoubtedly spur the development of productive forces. This is the sort of technocratic and productivist approach to the problem of the elimination of scarcity that we find in more Communists.

8. Unlike Jehu, Marx never had an approach to historical crisis that expected communism from further capitalist development.

I think these are an accurate restatement of the Dutch writer’s concerns. I will try to address them briefly later today.

*****

Additionally, the writer, Fredocorvo, has thoughtfully forward us a copy of an English translation of his critique, which I print in full below:

Hi, I’m ‘the Dutch writer’. I understand you made up your idea about my critique on the basis of a machine translation. Here follows my translation of the complete critique into English. However this translation will neither be perfect:

Fortunately, there is no lack of manuals on what to do in the current pandemic. One of the worst examples of this is this Open Letter, which I will use as an opportunity to outline how a real alternative to capitalism can come about and how it can be promoted. I do not pretend to be able to summarise the contents of the Open Letter. In the absence of scholarly lectures in Das Kapital, the Grundrisse and Marx’s Notebooks, I confine myself to a number of solutions that Jehu puts forward.

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First of all, the pompous appeal to unspecified ‘communists’ all over the world, i.e. from precursors that English called utopian socialists, via the libertarian anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, via Trotskyists, Titoists and various Communist Lefts, to the Stalinists who may or may not have defended or still defend various terrorist regimes in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba, etc. as ‘real existing socialism’. Jehu clearly does not wish to place himself within the history of the workers’ movement and its bourgeois afterbirths, but for those who do like labels, I put the stamp ‘Communisator’ on it. In doing so, I do injustice to the innumerable variants within this movement, namely equal to the number of individuals who call themselves Communisators, many of whom will not be happy with the Call.

At first reading, however, I felt so addressed in my vanity by the addition of ‘prominent’ and the noun ‘thinkers’ that Jehu sticks as a tail on the rather vulgar sounding ‘communist’, that I diligently read his flaming appeal further. And what do I see? A call for a drastic reduction in working hours. Finally, someone who wants to bring back the ‘labour’ under which I suffer when I cut my coupons, and maybe even wants to abolish wage labour, of which I have been an opponent all my life. And Jehu predicts, if working hours are not drastically reduced to the current number of hours for “essential production”, a barbaric competition between workers for jobs threatens a total class or class war. Jehu is extremely vague about its content. But every right-thinking citizen is clear about the horrors of the class war, i.e., eh now, of course, not talking about the loss of control by the owners over the means of production and thus the wealth produced, but: “unnecessary suffering of the working class of each country”.

See, that is utopian socialism, criticizing what is seen as excesses of capitalism, maintaining capitalist relations of production by humane actions of ‘intellectuals’ who want to do something for the workers.

I also recognize only too well the Trotskyist transition demand of the reduction of working hours with which social democracy and the trade union movement organized “struggles” in the late 1970s and early 1980s that led to the reduction of wages. Jehu expresses some distrust of the trade unions, but the ‘mutual aid funds’ he mentions as the only means of struggle are in fact nothing more than a re-establishment of trade unions from the time when Marx was writing Das Kapital, and where Jehu’s understanding of the history of the workers’ movement has got stuck. Jehu probably never heard of the insight of the German and Dutch Communist Left, among others, that in the 19th century these strike and support funds only worked for the wage-earners as long as the entrepreneurs were in competition with each other and only an outside leadership was effective. Around the change from the 19th to the 20th century, this ‘leadership policy’ out of self-preservation of parliamentary parties and trade union movement turned against the workers and against what became known as the ‘mass struggle’ and finally the appearance of the workers’ councils as the organs of that mass struggle.

Jehu assumes that the old production relations with today’s suddenly exploding mass unemployment have been broken and that those in power are striving to restore them. But capitalism, wage labour, is a production relationship that exists both with (an imaginary) full employment and with mass unemployment. Capitalism can only be broken by massive and independently organized workers’ struggles that paralyse, overwhelm and shatter the bourgeois state. Only then does the transformation of capitalist production relations begin by abolishing wage labour, i.e. by establishing a direct relationship between worker and product through the hour of work, rather than, as hitherto, through the market and/or the state. (See First Edition of ‘Fundamental Principles’ GIC 1935).

Jehu also makes important concessions to the lie of ‘essential production’, with which capital suggests that those who have to continue working at the risk of their own lives do so in the interests of the elderly and the weak. But apparently, arms production is also ‘essential’, production of luxury for the rich is ‘essential’, and the police, security services and army provide all ‘essential services’, we hear from the state, and Jehu … is silent about this.

There is more nonsense to be found in the proposed solutions. For example, capital flight is presented as beneficial for the weaker national capitals. Maybe so, but Jehu is clearly saying that his solutions presuppose the survival of capital. In the same vein, Jehu claims that higher labour costs will give robotization a powerful boost that will undoubtedly bring about a leap in the development of productive forces. This is a technocratic and productivist approach to the problem of the elimination of scarcity that we find in more Communisators. All this beauty appears on a blog that calls itself “the real movement” with reference to a quote from Marx’ and Engels’ writing The German Ideology.

“For us, communism is not a situation to be brought about, not an ideal to which reality should be directed. Communism we call the real movement that abolishes the present conditions.”

For what I have understood from historical materialism, the real movement is that of capitalist society, especially at times of economic crisis, such as today, and the movement of the workers for independent class goals as its consequence. Marx understood very well that the moments of an economic crisis in his time were extremely limited by further possibilities of development of capitalism on a global scale. But he seized every opportunity that arose, and which set workers in motion, to drive this movement further by revealing its true meaning: particularly during the European Revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune in response to the Franco-German war. Never has Marx used this kind of historical crisis, in which we now find ourselves, to call for the prevention of class war … , and never at those historical moments, he expected communism to result from further capitalist development. On the contrary, Marx called for what could then still be seen as “historically necessary” (to use a word from Hegel) suffering of the working class, to shorten it with the revolution and to take the path towards socialism.

Jehu, Open Letter to Communists of The Whole World: Total Class War Is Coming, (The Real Movement)