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Category: communization

What’s wrong with this statement?

This is from the final chapter of Mike MacNair’s groundbreaking 2008 book, Revolutionary Strategy: The Challenge of Left Unity:

I began this book with the argument that it was necessary to go back over the strategic debates of the past in order to go forward and effectively address strategy now. The primary focus of the book has been to attempt to understand critically the various strategic choices made by socialists between 150 and 80 years ago, rather than echoing uncritically one or another side of the old debates, as often occurs with the left today. It is necessary to follow the former course because those choices have led up to the defeats, demoralisation and disorientation that currently affects the socialist movement internationally.

Notice the timeframe.

MacNair’s book was published in 2008. This would set is his book in the period roughly between 1858 to 1928 — which is to say, roughly between the time Marx penned his prediction that the capitalist mode of production would break down and the actual event, the actual breakdown, in 1929.

In an interview last year on the Alpha to Omega podcast, MacNair had this to say about how the leading Marxists of that period, following the death of Engels, approached their work among the working class:

“We think the capitalists class are going to screw things up really badly. The regime is going to screw things up really badly. We can, by self-help, build up our organization and our skills to the point where when things really do get screwed up, we can intervene and take things over.”

In other words, the leaders of that period leading to the 1929 expected something catastrophic to occur. When it occurred, they expected the capitalists class would lose control of the affairs of society. The proletarians would get their chance to step in and assume power.

This assumption was not spurious. It was the conclusion explicitly projected in Capital, volume 1, chapter 32 as the inevitable result of capitalist accumulation:

“As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarians, their means of labour into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”

If that projection had not been explicit enough, in 1880, Engels produced a pamphlet that became required reading for all young Marxists of the day — the Communist Manifesto of its time — Socialism. This little pamphlet again reiterated Marx prediction of a breakdown and warned that even if the working class did not seize power, the state would be forced to take over production:

In any case, with trusts or without, the official representative of capitalist society — the state — will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. This necessity for conversion into State property is felt first in the great institutions for intercourse and communication — the post office, the telegraphs, the railways.

If the crises demonstrate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie for managing any longer modern productive forces, the transformation of the great establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock companies, trusts, and State property, show how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange, where the different capitalists despoil one another of their capital. At first, the capitalistic mode of production forces out the workers. Now, it forces out the capitalists, and reduces them, just as it reduced the workers, to the ranks of the surplus-population, although not immediately into those of the industrial reserve army.

But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.

Okay, so what is my point?

Why waste your time once again quoting stuff I have quoted dozens of times in the past?

Simple: the strategy MacNair is talking about in his book was meant to prepare the working class to act when what we now know as the Great Depression plunged society into the long nightmare. That’s when they were supposed to seize power!

But by that time the workers’ movements were long past the time when they were politically capable of seizing anything — that strategy was thwarted by the Great War.

Nothing can revive MacNair’s strategy of patience — it’s as dead, dead, dead as the Marxists who created it.

Ask Tsipras.

“Capital’s Lapdogs”: How communization theory also misreads the proletarian revolution

This is part two of the notes I made on the text, Revolution: program or communization?, which purports to be a primer on communization theory. Part one can be found here.

NOTE: The original text is in French. I have based this critique on an English translation, supplemented with a web-based translation service. Where necessary, I have edited the text and placed it [in brackets] to make it more comprehensible to me. It is possible some parts of the authors’ argument has been mangled in the process and I apologize for this.

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“Capital’s Lapdogs”: How communization theory misreads the proletarians

I apologize for this to my readers, but I cannot help myself. I have been reading another of these trashy anonymous communization manifestos — this one, titled Revolution: program or communization?, which purports to be a primer on communization theory.

Unfortunately, even by the standards of communization theory writings, it is ghastly. But since I come across very little in the way of critical engagement with the underlying argument of communization theory, I am forced to wade through this shit.

This primer in particular stinks of warmed over Open Marxism.

NOTE: The original text is in French. I have based this critique on an English translation, supplemented with a web-based translation service. Where necessary, I have edited the text and placed it [in brackets] to make it more comprehensible to me. It is possible some parts of the authors argument has been mangled in the process and I apologize for this.

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The SCUM Manifesto and the Abolition of Wage Slavery

As I was banned on r/communization last night, I accused of parroting Valerie Solanas, author of the SCUM Manifesto in 1967. I had never heard of this person before last night, so I went to read it. I was actually surprised both by the manifesto and by the accusation that I was parroting many of Solanas’s ideas.

If you are familiar with Solanas and her SCUM Manifesto, my surprise may not be what you think it is. I was very impressed with her argument.

Here are some of her choice quotes:

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.

This is certainly more profoundly revolutionary sentiments than anything I have ever read on r/communization since I joined it, or any communization screed with which I am familiar.

Solanas also wrote this in 1969:

There is no human reason for money or for anyone to work more than two or three hours a week at the very most. All non-creative jobs (practically all jobs now being done) could have been automated long ago, and in a moneyless society everyone can have as much of the best of everything as she wants.

And, finally, this gem:

What will liberate women, therefore, from male control is the total elimination of the money-work system, not the attainment of economic equality with men within it.

This manifesto was decades ahead of its time on a number of fronts and addresses issues communists still grapple with today.

The text is highly controversial: did Solanas mean it to be taken literally or was it satire on the level of Jonathan Swift? Solanas (and many who knew her) at times appears to take either side of this controversy. In any case, I am going to spend some time examining it. I hope to write something about it in the next few days.

The Human Strike Revisited

As I said, I distrust all anonymous manifestos like Human Strike Has Already Begun & Other writings by Claire Fontaine. My skepticism, however, doesn’t stop me from reading them like some manifesto-junkie looking for a quick fix. So, despite my misgivings, I spent some time absorbing the unnecessarily dense nonsense of this sect.

Claire Fontaine — a group, not a person, who nevertheless prefers to go by the pronoun, ‘she’ — appears to align with Tiqqun in the communization milieu. As a member of that school of thought, it is necessary that they bury their argument in an unintelligible language as is on full display in the essay, “Existential metonymy and imperceptible abstractions”.

As near as I can tell, “existential metonymy” is a nonsense phrase invented to make the rest of us think Claire has something profound to say.

This is their opening statement:

‘Human strike’ designates the most generic movement of revolt. The adjective ‘human’ in this case doesn’t have any moral connotation, it is just more inclusive than ‘general’, because every human strike is an amoral gesture and it is never merely political or social. It attacks the economic, affective, sexual and emotional conditions that oppress people.

The interest and the difficulty of this concept lies in the fact that it is a concept that thinks against itself. And thinking against ourselves will be the necessity of the revolts to come, as desubjectivisation (taking distance from what we are, becoming something else) will be the only way to fight our exploitation. In fact our new working conditions see us being exploited as much in the workplace as outside of it, as the workplace has both exploded and liquefied and so gained our whole lives.

Thinking against ourselves will mean thinking against our identity and our effort to preserve it, it will mean stopping believing in the necessity of identifying ourselves with the place we occupy.

Basically, the human strike is the idea of thinking against ourselves, because the ability to conceptually separate from ourselves will be the only way to fight our exploitation.

Fair enough, but we could restate this idea in far less metaphysical terms:

The human strike are actions directed against our position as wage slaves within the present mode of production and against our own activity, which reproduces that position. We strike against ourselves because this is the only way to fight our exploitation. The human strike means we must no longer act within the roles we play in the present mode of production.

It follows from the above that we cannot judge the results of the human strike by the standards of present society, because the human strike aims to sweeps away present society including the position from which we presently perceive it — that of wage slaves. The result cannot be measured in terms of employment, wage increases or increased consumption. To the casual observer of present society, the result of the human strike necessarily resembles nothing less than a catastrophe.

 

I distrust all anonymous manifestos like this one…

Six points on Kontra Klasa’s “Notes on the Transition”

I have been reading this interesting piece by Kontra Klasa, Notes on the transition to communism. The essay, reprinted in the July 2018 issue of INTRANSIGENCE, tries to update communist strategy to meet the conditions of the 21st century. I thought it had some ideas worth considering, so I will highlight them here in a short note.

There has also been a reply to this piece which I am in the process of reading. I will post some notes on that reply at a later time.

*****

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“We’ll get back to you on that later.” –Benanev and Clegg

This is the final part of this series. I know you are as happy to hear this as I am to say it. I want nothing more than to put these unethical charlatans behind me.

*****

How the geniuses at Endnotes buried the critical role of the state and crippled the argument for communization

In the next two sections of their essay, titled, respectively, Surplus Populations Under Deindustrialisation and Surplus Capital Alongside Surplus Populations, Benanev and Clegg must now explain how technological unemployment did not lead to the collapse of wage slavery as Keynes predicted. They have to show, why, despite growing surplus capital and a growing surplus population of workers, capital still managed to create hundreds of millions of new wage jobs world wide after 1973. Somehow we have to get a mass of excess capital and a mass of technologically unemployed workers to combine into millions of shiny new fast-food jobs and favelas.

Simple enough, right?

I thought so too. So, imagine my shock when, having not yet even begun to offer us an explanation, Benanev and Clegg summarily throw in the towel and tell us,

“Unfortunately we will be able to do little more that touch on this subject matter here, leaving a more extended treatment to Endnotes no.3.”

I was so disappointed.

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How Benanev and Clegg tried to obscure the role of the post-war state in maintaining wage slavery (Part 1)

I want to emphasize two points about what the Endnotes collective is trying to accomplish with this essay, before moving on with the rest of this useless economic argument for communization. In this post and the next, I want to set up an argument that will be important for what follows.

That argument can be stated as follows:

The continuous intervention of the bourgeois state in the economy is now essential to the maintenance of the system of wage slavery.

This is what the Endnotes collective is trying to conceal with their blatant bastardization of Marx’s theory. This bastardization is premised on two essential arguments:

First, Benanev and Clegg, writing on behalf of the Endnotes collective, strip Marx’s theory of its fundamental categories, value and surplus value. This reduces Marx’s theory to a description of a technical process of production. In this technical description, worthy of a first year introduction to microeconomics textbook, technical changes in in methods of production lead inevitably to scarcity of wage employment. As Keynes puts it, technological development leads to technological unemployment; the means of economizing on the employment of wage labor in production outruns the pace at which capital can find new uses for wage labor.

Second, having throttled Marx’s theory with this purely technical description of the capitalist process of accumulation, Benanev and Clegg offer historical evidence that Marx has been refuted. Wage employment did not become scarce, say these two academics. Marx’s theory was an incomplete description of process of capitalist accumulation:

What Marx did not foresee, and what actually occurred in the 1890s, was the emergence of new industries that were simultaneously labour and capital absorbent, and which were able to put off the decline for more than half a century. The growth of these new industries, principally cars and consumer durables, depended on two 20th century developments: the increasing role of the state in economic management, and the transformation of consumer services into consumer goods.

In this post, I want to address these two allegations level by the Endnotes collective against Marx’s theory in reverse order. In the next post, I will provide supporting empirical data for my argument.

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Where Marx went wrong — according to Benanev and Clegg

I am continuing with my examination of the Endnotes collective’s economic argument for communization. This argument is outlined in Endnotes 2, in an essay, titled Misery and Debt, by Aaron Benanav and John Clegg.

In two sections of their essay, respectively titled “The crisis of Reproduction” and “From Re-industrialization to De-industialization”, these meatheads summarize the alleged defects of Marx’s theory of accumulation this way: Marx identifies a shift from labor-intensive to capital-intensive industries. This results in a fall in the demand for labour in new industrial lines as well as old. At first, the unemployed wage workers thrown off by this shift, tend to be reabsorbed into the circuits of capitalism. But, In time, they tend to outgrow this function and become absolutely redundant. Capital thus tend to produce a population of wage workers who become absolutely redundant to the needs of capitalist production. Left unchecked the relative decline in labour demand becomes absolute. At first, this prediction by Marx was born out by the evidence available in his time, say the writers.

Over time, both a growing population of workers and a growing mass of capital would be unable to find a place in the production process. In this way, the proletariat as a class progressively is locked out of all productive employment. Capital proletarianizes the small producers, but these newly created proletarians cannot sell their labor power because, by gaining employment, they undermine their own material conditions of existence. Wage-labor is inseparable from the accumulation of capital, but the rising productivity of social labor reduces the demand for wage labor. Thus, in a society based on wage-labor, the reduction of socially-necessary labor-time expresses itself in a growing scarcity of jobs.

All good, right? Marx predicted the end of capitalism based on the growing scarcity of wage employment?

Well, not so much.

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