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Category: Anti-Politics

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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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..

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Land, Wilderson and the nine billion names of God

I thought about a post bringing together Land’s nihilism with Wilderson’s Afropessimism but that’s like writing the 9 billion names of God. The nine billion names of God is, of course, the name of a 1950s short story written by British writer Arthur C. Clarke.

Clarke tell the story of a group of Tibetan monks who have taken on the onerous task of recording all the names of God in the belief that this would fulfill the purpose of the universe. Once the names of God have been duly recorded, and its purpose fulfilled, God would bring the universe to an apocalyptic end. Toward this end they engage a group of computer programmers to automate the process of revealing God’s many names so as to bring the task to its rapid completion.

Although ridiculing the monks for their superstition, the programmers set about the task of automating the process of revealing God’s names. However, fearing the monks would stiff them once the program has run and the nine billion names of God revealed without any effect, The programmers time the completed run so that it ends after they are safely away with their final pay. When the run is completed and as the programmers are about to board their plane home, they look up and see the stars winking out one by one.

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MEMO TO ANTIFA: Fuck Chomsky, the fascists are already in power

How many people disputed my claim that Chomsky is a pig? Show of hands.

An article posted to Libcom, 6 reasons why Chomsky is wrong about antifa, is important not just because it confronts that pig, but also because it is the first real defense against the charge that antifa is a misdirection of the energies of the radical Left:

Noam Chomsky recently made some comments about antifa, and militant anti-fascism in general, which were as ill-timed as they were ill-informed. Here’s what we think he’s got wrong about the subject.

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, the spotlight has been turned on the reality of fascist violence in America. The murder of Heather Heyer is only the most recent in a year which has seen numerous other killings (such as the two on the Portland MAX in May and Timothy Caughman in New York City), with the 2015 killing of nine worshippers at Denmark Vesey’s church in Charleston by Dylann Roof showing a continuity of far-right violence long before the election of Donald Trump.

Despite all this, many liberal talking heads have also decided that now is the time to condemn those opposing the fascists. Perhaps the most upsetting, has been the intervention of Noam Chomsky, given how important a figure he was to our politics when we were growing up. But what did Chomsky get wrong?

(NOTE: I would call the antifa movement communists, i.e., anarchists and Marxists, but some say the movement is more inclusive than this, so I will settle for the less precise term, radical. In any case, my comments here will be solely directed to communists in antifa.)

The Libcom article focuses on six points that pig Chomsky made against antifa and offers a defense of sorts.Since everyone will probably wants to add their voices to the chorus, allow me to speak up as well.

In the first place, Fuck Chomsky!

I don’t even know why you pay attention to that asshole. His idea of radical is voting democrat. Even giving him a platform is to play to the section of radicals who continue to hold him in some esteem despite his awful history. You want to deny fascists a platform but you give a platform to people who advocate voting for fascists? What sense does this make?

The real burn for antifa is that Chomsky hurt your feelings. He called you insignificant, provocative, illiberal, unrealistic and unconstructive. Your feeling are hurt and now you want to strike out at your critics, but is this article really the best you can do? There is no acknowledgement in this article of observations which might be valid no matter the source.

Antifa is certainly the inheritors of any number of similar movements in history which all share in common one salient characteristic. They failed and left behind nothing in their wake. The antifa movement, even if it can be justified on political grounds, has to take into account these previous failures.

You don’t have to have an answer to the failures of movements that came before you, but you do have to be working on a solution. That solution cannot be limited to street fighting and similar sorts of actions.

To Chomsky’s charge that you are provocative this is nothing new. Communists have always been provocative and will likely continue to be provocative until wage slavery is abolished. The fascists feed off spinning resistance to oppression and exploitation as the cause of social conflict and they are very adept at it. Even someone as obviously non-violent as King was accused of being a troublemaker by his peers in the clergy — both black and white.

You will always be called troublemakers because any alteration of existing relations is trouble for our exploiters. Chomsky can get in line and take a number. The problem here is not that you are troublemakers, but that you aren’t very good at it.

You folks know just like the rest of us that the fascists already completely control the state power in this country. Fascism is not a threat sitting on the margin of mainstream politics to be employed by Washington as it sees fit. That is Chomsky’s view of things.

The US is today a fascist dictatorship which employs organized fascist street thugs when necessary. Fascism is not limited to one party, the GOP, or one politician, Trump, but is a pervasive features of all political relations in the US. To deny a platform to the fascists we literally have to abolish the state; and then march on Washington, burn it to the ground and pour salt on the Earth.

Washington is the fascists’ platform, not some speaking engagement on some college campus. While you are entirely correct that denying fascists a platform is not wrong in principle, your effort in this direction is ineffective. You don’t even scratch the wax finish on the fascist paint job.

I want you to think seriously about the proposition that you can be the toughest and most brutal in a direct confrontation with the fascists. Go ask the folks in Pyongyang how tough and brutal the US can be. Go ask the folks in Hanoi how tough and brutal the American fascists can be. Ask Gaza, Iraq, Syria how tough and brutal the American fascists can be. You are kidding yourself to think you can be anything like that. That you can raze entire cities to enforce your demands.

The shit you are facing in confrontations with fascist street thugs is nothing like the brutality American fascism is capable of. It is, in fact, a device to keep you occupied and distracted. To keep tension raised while the mainstream fascists dismantle the Trump administration brick by brick.

How is it that some folks been demanding removal of confederate icons for decades without getting a hearing, but now they are coming down? Do you really think that is you? Do you really think they are doing it because they suddenly don’t like white supremacy? You have finally won Mitt Romney over to anti-fascism?

Not likely. The bourgeoisie always employs proletarians as a shock force to crush its enemies. And once its enemies are crushed, they turns on the proletarians and crush them. We have seen this play out time and again, including the Red Scare of the early 20s after World War I and McCarthyism in the 1950s, after World War II. Read a fucking book, please.

Today two factions in the ruling class may be fighting for control of the state power, but tomorrow it’s your jobs, your homes and your social media accounts. One side will win and then you and your organizations will be destroyed. And they will quote Chomsky on MSNBC as they come for you.

We got to do better than this. We have to begin thinking strategically and not just reacting. Fascist street thugs are not our target. Our target is Washington and we need to think through how we bring it down.

The first rule of strategy is don’t make dumb promises

Marxists who want to insist on their differences with anarchists can certainly find a lot of support for this position in Marx’s writings. Marx and Bakunin did not hesitate to make their differences known to the point it ultimately crippled and destroyed the first international.

The most important difference between them is in fact something they never actually had to grapple with in their own lifetimes: What social arrangement would exist after the bourgeois state was overthrown? Bakunin, a Proudhonist, believed nothing should replace the state. Marx insisted the present state would be replaced by an association.

Notice here that there was no difference between Bakunin and Marx with regards the existing state, the bourgeois state. Both thinkers agreed that it had to be overthrown. The question that separated them is what would happen next. While Bakunin thought a stateless society was possible immediately after the overthrow of the bourgeois state, Marx held that this would be unrealistic given the state of the productive forces of society.

For Marx, in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the bourgeois state, the working class would be forced to organize itself as a ruling class and impose its dictatorship over the old classes. This dictatorship would have two important tasks: (a) crush the resistance of the old classes; (b) expropriate their property and employ it to speed up the development of the productive forces.

The first task is probably uncontroversial. No one in their right mind would let capitalists keep their property, guns and political power, otherwise what is the point of making the revolution in the first place? Bakunin’s real objection to Marx’s argument likely hung on the idea that the workers commune would take all of this newly expropriated property under its control and manage it socially.

To give an example: there would be no distribution of land to the peasants; land would be nationalized and managed by the commune. The land of the aristocrats would be seized by the commune and its cultivation would be managed by the commune, not divided up again among the peasants. The commune would have a monopoly on ownership of land and this monopoly would be enforced by its political dictatorship.

As anyone can see, this is patently a state.

Between capitalism and communism

With all land monopolized by the commune, the most advanced techniques and scientific knowledge would be implemented to speed up agricultural development. This acceleration of the development of production in agriculture would be ensured by removing the barriers created by the drive for profit. The peasants would become social producers and their private means of production would be replaced by a new social production infrastructure.

According to Engels, Marx even speculated that the peasant’s interest in the land could be ‘bought out’ by the commune to ease the transition. This would be possible, since, in Marx’s view, the commune should also establish a monopoly over money. It could print up currency in whatever quantity was necessary to simply purchase the peasants interest in the land, much as the Fed does today with the toxic assets of the financial sector.

For Bakunin, of course, this sort of idea was anathema, a cursed attempt to replace one dictatorship with another. His (Proudhon’s?) idea seems to be that property would be distributed among the population and managed through a federation of producers. The goal Bakunin had in mind was to prevent the sort of central control that could give rise to the very sort of communal monopoly on the means of production Marx advocated.

There is, in my mind, some logic to this objection, because what Marx was actually proposing was to do exactly what capital was already doing. Capital was already in the process of monopolizing the land and subjecting it to the most advanced technical and scientific methods of production possible. The peasants and other intermediate classes would be brutally expropriated and forced into the ranks of the propertyless mass, the proletarians

Marx wasn’t promising peasants they could avoid this fate; he simply promised there would be no brutality; the peasants could be part of the commune and decide how to accomplish this transition. The peasants didn’t have to accept, of course. They could cling to their tiny plots of land. They could oppose the revolution. It didn’t matter. Even absent a proletarian revolution, capital would expropriate their small holding anyway. And capital wouldn’t negotiate how to get it done.

As Engels put it, “it is the duty of our Party to make clear to the peasants again and again that their position is absolutely hopeless as long as capitalism holds sway”. The peasant could climb on-board with the antisemites if they want, but it would not save them from their fate. The commune could not prevent the abolition of the small producers, it could only promise no force would be employed to do this.

There were two paths to the demise of the small producers and we all know which path they chose. To put this another way, Bakunin’s objection to Marx’s proletarian dictatorship was no objection at all in reality. Nothing anyone did could avoid what was going to happen to the peasants. Capital was going to expropriate the small producers and then capitals would turn on each other and kill each other off in a bloody conclusion to the capitalist epoch.

Don’t make dumb promises

However, I believe there is a second lesson in this example: There was no way Marx’s idea could ever work; it was the biggest ‘Hail Mary’ in socialist thinking. The real purpose of the idea (in my opinion) was never to actually implement this scheme, but to stop fucking communists from making dumb promises they could never fulfill.

No one could promise peasants they could be saved from extinction, unless you were the worst sort of charlatan. At best, you could promise them that the process would not be as brutal as it was going to get as capital entered the 20th century. It didn’t do anyone any good to make promises to peasants and other intermediate strata that we could protect them from what was coming. As Engels put it presciently in 1894,

“[We] can do no greater disservice to the Party as well as to the small peasants than to make promises that even only create the impression that we intend to preserve the small holdings permanently. It would mean directly to block the way of the peasants to their emancipation and to degrade the Party to the level of rowdy anti-Semitism.”

No, the communists could not save peasants from ‘Jewish bankers’ and we never even should try to engage them on that level. They were already extinct as a class; we could give them hospice, but no protection.

This isn’t a politically palatable position, (who runs on a platform that says, “Your economic position is hopeless and you have no future as a class, vote for me.”), but communists are not magicians; they cannot just promise everything will be an idyllic agrarian utopia if people just vote for them. They had to honestly state what was possible and what was not possible given the actual material state of society at the time.

If you are willing to lie to people to win, what sort of morality is this? At a time when progressives are offering a smorgasbord of false promises in the form of universal basic income, jobs guarantee or a $15 minimum wage as solutions for the social ills created by capital, it would do communists well to remember that nothing will prevent wages from going to zero and unemployment to 100%.

Ideas that promise this can be prevented are false and should not be part of our strategy.

Rethinking Marx’s Grand Strategy

Of the three men Marx, Bakunin and Lassalle, it might be helpful to think of their differences in terms of grand strategic thinking. Each of the three had a unique grand strategic idea.

Lassalle’s is probably easiest to describe as it is this way by Wikipedia:

“Lassalle considered the state as an independent entity, an instrument of justice essential for the achievement of the socialist program.”

This attitude toward the existing state is in marked contrast with that of both Bakunin and Marx. Despite their differences with Lassalle, however, Bakunin and Marx had entirely different strategic views of the existing state. Bakunin is generally held to have rejected any involvement with, or action in relation to, the existing state.

A Proudhonist in outlook, Bakunin’s view can likely be characterized this way in a quote from Graham:

“[Pretending] to establish order among men, [states] arrange them forthwith in hostile camps, and as their only occupation is to produce servitude at home, their art lies in maintaining war abroad, war in fact and war in prospect.” Governments arouse and manipulate nationalist feelings, such that the “oppression of peoples and their mutual hatred are two correlative, inseparable facts, which reproduce each other, and which cannot come to an end except simultaneously, by the destruction of their common cause, government.”

In the Proudhonist theory of the state, government was the “common cause” of social conflict and divisions; for Marx, it was the reverse: the state was not the cause of social divisions, but a product of those social divisions. As long as society remained divided by classes, classes would give rise to states that, essentially, were only dictatorships of one class over another:

“But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms. “

Three thinkers, three different views of the state, three different grand strategies.

Lassalle’s grand strategy is likely the easiest to understand: The working class should aim to gain control of the state through universal suffrage. It would then use the existing state to implement radical reforms in the form of a comprehensive practical program.

For Bakunin’s grand strategy, the working class should aim for the immediate abolition of the state. Since the state was itself the common cause of social conflict and divisions, abolition of the state was the common remedy.

Marx’s grand strategy is likely the least understood and most often misstated. Like Bakunin, Marx believed the working class should aim for the abolition of the existing state. However, in Marx’s opinion, the state was a product of class society and could not be completely abolished until class society was. In the best scenario, the working class could put an end to existing state and replace this state with its own association.

According to Marx, initially, the association would retain features of the old state it replaced in that it would still be an instrument of class repression. The working class would employ its association to repress its class enemies, with all the brutality this implies. But the state power would also be used to speed up the development of the productive forces by concentrating under its control all instruments of production. This latter effort would eventually result in abolition of social conflict and divisions; making possible the final abolition of the state.

This greatly complicates reducing Marx’s ideas to a bumper sticker. With Lassalle, it is easy to state his objective: Seize the state. With Bakunin, it is also easy to state his objective: Abolish the state. With Marx, it is nuanced: Abolish the existing state, replace it with our association, develop the productive forces and eventually the state will go away.

Try putting that on a bumper sticker.

While Lassalle wanted to seize the existing state, Marx wanted to abolish it. But while Bakunin also wanted to abolish the existing state, he argued that nothing should replace it, while Marx argued for an association.

Marx’s grand strategy after Marx

Here is where it start to get complicated; and where I think Marxists lose the thread of Marx’s thinking. Certainly Marx’s differences with Bakunin are fundamental: Marx thinks the state is a product of social conflict while Bakunin thinks the state is the cause of social conflict. However Marx’s differences with Bakunin is based on the actual material state of society. Which is to say, Marx thought the state had to be abolished, but did not think it could be abolished on the basis of then existing economic reality.

Marx’s differences with Bakunin, although resulting from a different analysis of the relation between class society and the state, had to change as society itself changed. If in 1874 the state could not be abolished because class society could not be abolished, this was by no means a permanent feature of society; rather, whether the state could be abolished was determined by the actual state of development of the productive forces.

It was possible that with the development of the productive forces of society, in theory at least, we could one day get to the point where both class society and the state could be immediately abolished in one and the same stroke. Development of the productive forces was the only way to put an end to classes and class society — and thus the only way to be finally rid of the state.

But — and this is what many Marxists miss — development of the productive forces is exactly what capital does. It is entirely possible that capital could develop the productive forces to such an extent that the simultaneous abolition of both class society and the state could be accomplished.

Marxists, however, have dropped the thread of Marx’s argument on this score. Ask a Marxist today and they will insist that there has to be a more or less extended period of time — the duration of which is never quite defined — where wage slavery has been abolished, but society is not ready for full communism. There is in fact nothing in Marx’s theory of the state that says this must be true.

To give this a practical example: Suppose in Marx’s day, the period of socialism would have lasted –say — 140 years, would it still be 140 years in the 1930s? Would it still be 140 years today — almost 140 years after Marx’s death? Does the proletariat get time served off its sentence of hard labor? In another 140 years from now, will it still take another 140 years?

Ask a Marxist this question and watch them gaze dully into the middle distance.

Marxists who, today, still reproach anarchists for seeking the immediate overthrow of the state in its entirety don’t have a leg to stand on; not because Bakunin was right in his dispute with Marx, but because it has been 134 years since that dispute played out.

Our grand strategy as communists today cannot look like Marx’s in 1848. To try to make it look the same would be to deny history itself. What sort of historical materialism is it that denies history?

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”.

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

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?

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

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.

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