The Real Movement

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Category: Anti-Politics

Some important caveats regarding Autonomy’s proposal to reduce the work week

In January of this year, Autonomy Scotland, an independent, progressive think tank, embarked on a new initiative to shorten hours of labor in Britain. This initiative began with the publication of a proposal, “The shorter working week: a radical and pragmatic proposal”.

The extraordinary proposal by Autonomy sets a medium-term goal of a transition to a four day, 32 hour full-time working week by 2025. For firms over 250 employees a non-compulsory option to reduce working hours to 28 hours per week would be provided to all employees. Under Autonomy’s proposal, the public sector would be the first to adopt the shorter working week without a reduction of pay. A board composed of trade unions, government and business leaders would aim to increase productivity in sectors of the economy that have seen low investment in technology.

While I support much of this proposal, I do think there are important caveats that must be mentioned.


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Does the radical Left have a future?

A few more words about Richard Seymour’s great book, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. Let me say that I love this book. I love it not for the argument the author makes, but because he has eloquently put the matter almost exactly where is should be: namely, does radical politics have any future at all?

He appears to say, ‘Yes.’

But I think the implications of his argument is, ‘Probably Not. At the very minimum, the Corbynistas have a very heavy lift to radicalize the moribund Labor Party.’

And, that makes me very happy.

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The Not So Strange Rebirth (Of Zombie Leftism)

Leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn addresses delegates on the third day of the annual Labour Party Conference in Brighton, south east England, on September 29, 2015. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEALLEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

I came across an interesting review of a book by Richard Seymour. The review, by Louis Proyect, is titled Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left. The original book, by Seymour is titled, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. I have not read the book, because, I don’t buy books and this one is not available as a torrent, yet. So, to be quite clear, this is not a review of Richard Seymour’s book; rather, it is a review of some reviews of Richard Seymour’s book — a meta-review wherein I wonder aloud about the strange love-hate relation the radical Left appears to have for fascism.

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Unpopular Opinion: A proletarian revolution is not the way we get to communism

Is a political revolution the best way to get to communism?

This is the stark question raised by a recent article by an anonymous PhD student in theoretical astrophysics who blogs at Cold and Dark Stars. In a recent blog post titled, “Red giants: statistical fat tails and revolutions as inverse risk-management”, the author takes on the problem of devising a credible path to communism.

The problem identified by the writer is this:

“Revolutions are abrupt changes: extreme, highly variable, non-linear, almost unpredictable, but usually under-predicted – in short, they are black swans. I’ve talked about the black swan before – basically it is a pop-finance/statistics term that describes highly impactful but unpredictable events, like the invention of the internet, the publication of Ulysses by James Joyce, or  the October Revolution. Other black swans are earthquakes, nuclear meltdowns, and terrorist attacks. This “black swan”  dynamic makes revolutions incredibly epistemically opaque to us, and also bounds the type of questions we can ask about them.”

Communists, on the other hand focus on long-term historical analysis to develop their radical program. There is thus a profound disconnect between the events on which we base our strategy and spontaneous events like a revolution. The question raised by author is what do you do when the event you want to exploit to get to communism has an extremely low probability of happening.

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We must begin to imagine the end of the world

Two huge holes in Endotes appear to be their insistence that catastrophism is wrong and that the catastrophe hasn’t already happened. Anyone who thinks Endnotes adds any new ideas for the problems we face has to address their lack of clear understanding of LTV and strategy.

There are remarkable similarities between Endnotes’ communization and Wilderson’s afropessimism. If Wilderson asserts that the world is irreconcilably anti-Black, Endnotes asserts it is not just irreconcilably anti-Black, but also irreconcilably anti-communist.

I think it is more accurate to refer to communization as “communist pessimism”. There is no room whatsoever for anything approaching communism in today’s world.

To realize communism we must literally destroy the world. Zizek’s observation that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism offers something of a solution for us: we must begin to imagine the end of the world. If the world is irreconcilably anti-Black and if the world is irreconcilably anti-communist, our only option is to seek the complete destruction of the world. I am not speaking metaphorically here. The world itself must actually be destroyed in the Landian sense of that term.

Communism today must be as nihilistic as Landian accelerationism.

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Civil War in Catalonia?

And so Spain’s political-economy finally capitulates to capital after almost a decade of crisis.

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Response to Badiou: After politics, what?

Consider the following popular writers who have to one extent or another disputed the conclusions of Marx’s labor theory of value:

  • Negri and Hardt
  • Foucault
  • Lefebvre
  • (add your own favorite ‘theorist’ here.)

Based on what any one of these writers has written, ask yourself how do we get rid of wage slavery? Do they have any idea? For instance, what is Negri and Hardt’s solution to the problem of abolishing wage slavery? Foucault’s? Lefebvre’s? I mean, these guys write very interesting books. And if you are looking for a pleasant evening reading, any would be fine.

But what do they have to say about abolition of wage slavery that is relevant to what you are trying to do? What strategy do they suggest? Do any of these people give you any suggestions about how you stop being a wage slave? Do any of them speak directly to you and your circumstances as a wage slave?

Tell me where in all of the works by Negri and Hardt do they say, “If you don’t want to be a slave, do this, this and this.” I mean, whatever your criticisms of Marx, at least he said, “If you don’t want to be slaves, form yourselves into a political party, win the struggle for democracy and use the state power to emancipate yourselves.”

Does Foucault offer any ideas on how to end wage slavery? Does David Harvey? So, why do you read them? What possible interest do you have for their ideas? Do you really want to spend the rest of your life reading people who have no idea how to end wage slavery?

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Socialism: Lassallean and Leninist

One of the difficulties of the so-called struggle for socialism is the proliferation of definitions of socialism. These differences fall into two broad categories.

In the first group, we have those socialists who trace their intellectual lineage to Lassalle, including the modern social democracy movement, like the Democratic Socialists in the United States (DSA). The folks in this group typically identify socialism with the existing state, the capitalist state, the dictatorship of capital.

In the second group, we have the socialists who trace their intellectual lineage to Marx. This includes a bewildering array of groups from so-called orthodox Leninist parties like the Communist Party in the United States historically (although not at present) and an even more bewildering array of splinter groups. Folks in this group typically identify socialism with the overthrow of the existing state, and its replacement by a self-governing commune.

(NOTE: I didn’t include anarchists and similar tendencies in the discussion at this point, because they don’t envision any sort of state. Anarchists envision the direct establishment of a stateless, classless society that I here will refer to as full communism. I will address the anarchist view later)

Thus between the first and the second group of socialists we have a difference over whether socialism is possible under the existing state. Lassalleans, like the DSA, assume the existing state is a neutral body that can serve to implement a fully socialist program. Marxists, like most communist parties and their splinter offshoots, assume the state is a dictatorship of capital and must be overthrown prior to the establishment of a fully socialist program.

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Is the struggle for socialism regressive?

Here is a question I recently posed to followers of my Twitter account:

“If full communism is now possible has the struggle for socialism now actually become regressive?”

This is me trying to understand the implications of the idea full communism in one leap is now possible. If full communism is possible right now, what does this imply about the so-called struggle for socialism.

The question probably is startling to my readers. So let me address the implications of saying communism is possible right now.

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Labor hours reduction and the abolition of capitalism: An outline for an essay

NOTE: This outline has been developed based on Marx’s argument in Capital, volume one and volume three. In particular, I borrow the salient points of Marx’s theory from chapters seven and fifteen in volume one and chapter fifteen in volume three.

Any errors are the result of my misreading, not the author.


INTRO: The production of surplus value, i.e. profit as a direct function of hours of labor:

“the past labour that is embodied in the labour-power, and the living labour that it can call into action; the daily cost of maintaining it, and its daily expenditure in work, are two totally different things.” -Capital, Volume 1, chapter seven

“The fact that half a day’s labour is necessary to keep the labourer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent him from working a whole day.” (Ibid)

“The labourer therefore finds in the workshop the means of production necessary for working, not only during six, but during twelve hours.” (Ibid)

“If we now compare the two processes of producing value and of creating surplus-value, we see that the latter is nothing but the continuation of the former beyond a definite point.” (Ibid)


1. Thus, in Marx’s labor theory of value, the production of surplus value, i.e., profit is nothing more than labor of a duration that is longer than that required for the subsistence of the worker. In first place, a reduction of hours of labor acts on this duration, by reducing it and by reducing the duration of labor that is in excess of that required for the subsistence of the worker. A reduction of hours of labor that does not go so far as to impinge on the duration of labor required to produce the subsistence of the worker, must reduce the absolute quantity of surplus value, i.e., profit, produced by the worker for the capitalist.


2. What impact might this have on a system of production of material wealth founded on the production of surplus value, i.e., profit? As we have seen, the reduction of hours of labor in first place reduces the absolute quantity of surplus labor time and thus reduces the absolute quantity of surplus value. In a system founded on production for profit (capital), profit is the goad of all investment. With his profits suffering the impact of of a sudden fall in the absolute mass of surplus labor time, in theory at least, the capitalist can respond by extending hours of labor and by increasing the intensity of the labor he has employed.


3. Since an extension of the individual hours of labor of his workers is not possible (hours having been fixed by law or by direct action on the part of the workers), what other recourse does the capitalist have for extending aggregate hours of labor? If he wishes to recover his profits, the capitalist can extend hours of labor, not by extending individual hours of labor, but by employing more workers. Two hundred workers, each working four hours, can create as much value as one hundred workers each working eight hours. If hours of labor are cut in half, the capitalist can offset this reduction by doubling the aggregate number of workers he employs.


4. The first and most immediate effect of a fall in profit subsequent to a reduction of hours of labor is an increase in the employment of labor power; this being the simplest methods of recovering the lost profits for the capitalist. From where do these additional workers come? In first place, they come from the domestic industrial reserve army of workers; those workers who are by and large utterly cut off from all productive employment in normal times. This includes, in the United States, for instance, a huge mass of black and brown workers, who, owing to rampant anti-blackness, have been permanently imprisoned in the labor reserve (often literally by mass incarceration in prisons). It also includes, a rather sizable number of migrant workers who travel to the US in search of employment. And, finally, it includes a very large number of workers who are now employed, but in jobs that produce no value, such as defense industry workers, and household labor of the very wealthy. These superfluous workers too form a part of the reserve army, but their labor is seldom tapped for productive purposes even in normal times; they are a hidden reserve of capital, whose cost is expressed in rising prices rather than increased unemployment..


5. A reduction of hours of labor that goes so far as to reduce profits to zero has an effect of forcing capital to tap all available sources of additional labor power for the production of surplus value, i.e., profit. It may be asked how a fall in profits results in increased employment of labor power? Surely the capitalist has fewer profits with which to hire labor power. To ask this question is to ask how, at the very nadir of a depression, when profits are at their lowest, capital finds means to increase investment. A surplus population of workers is accompanied by a mass of excess capital, which, like these workers, is unable to find productive employment for purposes of self-expansion of the invested capital. According to Marx:

“This plethora of capital arises from the same causes as those which call forth relative over-population, and is, therefore, a phenomenon supplementing the latter, although they stand at opposite poles — unemployed capital at one pole, and unemployed worker population at the other.” Capital, volume 3, chapter 15

The same forces than condemn a huge mass or the worker population to the industrial reserve army, produces a huge mass of excess capital that cannot find productive investment. A reduction of hours of labor operates so as to require the mobilization of this excess capital for capital’s self-expansion.


6. A second question might now be asked: Even if a reduction of hours of labor has the effect of increasing employment, isn’t it true that with increased employment of labor power, labor costs (wages) also rise? Two hundred workers working four hours may indeed produce as much value as one hundred workers working eight hours, but the wages of two hundred workers is twice that of one hundred workers. If, before, half the day was spent producing the wages of one hundred workers, now the entire day is spent producing the wages of two hundred workers. What have I missed? The absolute mass of surplus value is still zero.


7. Marx’s answer is that more value can be created in less time with the two hundred than could be created by the one hundred previously. While the duration of labor is the same in both cases, 800 hours, with 200 workers the density of the labor time is increased. Based on England’s experience in the 19th century, Marx discovered that fewer hours of work allowed the workers to work with greater intensity. This enabled them to produced the same amount of value in less time, or, conversely, more value in the same period of time. Although one would assume that value is fixed in relation to its duration, Marx discovered that a labor period of shorter duration created the same or more value than the labor of a longer duration. -Capital, Volume 1, chapter fifteen


8. The effect occurs because the worker is no longer being worked to the point of exhaustion and can maintain greater attention to task for shorter periods. Although we assume the workers works with the same intensity over the entire workday, this is obviously not true. Labor after lunch, for instance, may have entirely different productiveness than labor when the worker is fully rested first thing in the morning. In the course of the labor day the workers capacities are progressively used up, degraded, by the act of labor itself. A shorter period of labor exerts less degradation than a longer period of labor, allowing the worker to be more productive. The conclusion seems to be that two hundred workers, each working four hours, will be more productive than one hundred workers, each working eight hours.


9. Modern industrial studies seem to confirm Marx’s observations. See, for instance, studies drawn on labor hours experiments in Sweden.


10. But we haven’t exhausted the impact of labor hours reduction on the mode of production. Increased employment of labor power, the employment of the industrial reserve, migrants and superfluously employed workers, is the most readily available means for offsetting a reduction of hours of labor, but it has material requirements itself. These additional workers cannot be employed unless the means upon which they will labor has also increased. This means additional raw materials, additional machines, additional technology and science, less waste in production and greater efficiency. In a phrase, a reduction of hours of labor calls upon the entire mode of production to increase its productivity by intensifying the employment of improved methods of production.


11. A reduction of hours of labor, therefore, has the effect of accelerating capital’s own revolutionizing of methods of production. The aim of this revolution is to further reduce the necessary portion of the labor day in order to increase the unpaid portion. Reducing hours of labor not only has the effect of reducing that portion of workers who are locked out of productive employment and decreasing the mass of excess capital sloshing around the economy, (which is the primary source of speculation), it also accelerates capitalism headlong into its inevitable demise. The most important result of reducing hours of labor is the effect this reduction has on capitalistic automation.


12. This impact should be prized by communists; it is the very one we seek because it is the creation of the material foundation for communism. We don’t, in first place, fight to reduce hours of labor in order to reduce unemployment — in fact we want to abolish all employment — but because a reduction of hours of labor, in and of itself, makes possible a world without labor.