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Category: communization

CoViD-19 and Capitalist Collapse: Answers to some questions about the present emergency

SUMMARY

According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, as many as 47 million workers may lose their jobs as a result of the emergency public health measures taken to control the coronavirus pandemic. Once the pandemic is contained, those unemployed workers will return to the labor market en masse seeking work.

47 million. If we do not take steps now to reduce hours of labor, the consequences of that level of unemployment are unthinkable.

Looking for comments on this discussion paper from everyone.

*****

So, let’s answer some questions.

QUESTION: What is unique about this crisis?

ANSWER: First, it should be clear that, from the point of view of Marx’s labor theory of value, this is NOT a crisis.

According to Marx, “crises are always but momentary and forcible solutions of the existing contradictions.” Crises are internal to the mode of production; they arise from the working out of the contradictions within the mode of production itself. This event is obviously external to the mode of production. Based on reports, it began with the emergence of a viral infection of unknown origin in the People’s Republic of China, which rapidly spread to engulf most of the world market. The pandemic soon forced most nation state to take aggressive public health measures to contain it. Among these measures were so-called social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. These measures led states to close down many so-called non-essential business operations and confine citizens to their homes.

These drastic emergency public health measures had their own economic consequences: in first place, many capitals were forced to stand idle as a result of the public health measures; millions of workers have been set free from their jobs. In second place, the dependence of millions on this slender thread of survival was graphically highlighted by the emergency.

The public health measures thus interrupted both the sale of labor power and the circulation of capital.

To implement a necessary public health measure to contain the spread of a deadly disease, nation states were compelled to interrupt the global capitalist accumulation process itself; they were forced to shut it down. This makes the present emergency very different than — say — the Great Depression, the collapse of Bretton Woods, and the 2008 financial crisis, which produced the three greatest economic crises in history. Those economic contractions arose from contradictions internal to the mode of production and as forcible solutions of those contradictions.

This event may indeed be far larger in scale and more extensive than any of those crises, but the solution to this emergency is external to the process of accumulation.

***

QUESTION: Can you point to the central contradiction in this emergency on which communist should focus?

ANSWER: This is an important question. We have noticed that a lot of communists are focusing on the pandemic itself and the strategy for combating it. We think this emphasis is misplaced. The pandemic is a big problem that must be addressed, but, to be absolutely frank, it’s not our problem. It is a public health problem. Personally, we follow the advice of public health officials so we don’t get sick. We don’t take medical advice from communists, unless they have medical degrees.

However, as communists, we cannot help but consider the intersection between the necessary public health measures taken to suppress the pandemic and existing social relations. We think everyone would agree these measures have social implications. From that point of view, the central contradiction in this emergency is between capitalist relations of production and the technical requirements of the public health emergency.

As we explained above, the requirements of the public health emergency call for so-called “social distancing” to slow the spread of the contagion. But this measure has led to the interruption of the process of capitalist accumulation as millions of workers were directed to stay at home and non-essential capitalist firms were forced to close. This has produced an economic contraction that is likely larger than any previous contraction in history. As a result, the various nation states have been compelled to step in and implement assorted relief measures designed to replace the wages of the working class and to bail out idle and failing capitalist firms that are teetering on the edge of collapse.

This capacity to intervene is not uniform among nation states. In first place, the United States can operate rather freely, since it controls the world reserve currency. Next up, are those nations states, like Germany and China, who have accumulated large reserves of foreign exchange. They can, if they choose, expend some of these reserves to maintain capitalist accumulation on life support for sometime. Following these surplus nation are those countries that have standing to borrow in a pinch. They have some limited capacity to maintain their national capitals on life support, but this is circumscribed by foreign and domestic creditors. At the bottom of the pyramid are the vast majority of nations that have few resources and are utterly dependent on foreign assistance.

The recent US package amounted to about $2.2 trillion. This is roughly ten percent of its gross domestic product for 2019. It is the third and largest package passed into law. No one thinks this is the last package that will be required for this emergency; already work is continuing on a fourth package. These packages are designed to maintain existing relations of production until such time as the emergency is passed and the normal operation of the mode of production can be restored. We don’t think anyone imagines there is another nation that has the capacity to do what the United States is doing.

There is certainly no nation state in the fourth group that has this capacity. We have our doubts that there are any nation states in group three who have it without international support. In large part, all of this depends on how long this emergency lasts. Few nation states have the resources to sustain programs to replace the wages of their respective working classes and profits of capitals though these spending packages for long. Just to give an example, it would cost roughly $200 billion a month to replace the wages of 30% of the United States working class should they be unable to work because of social distancing measures — using the BLS 2019 median wage of $48,672 as our wage base.

In Europe, many people have lost their job, but this being disguised in one way or another by state programs. According to the NYT, the increase in jobless claims this past two weeks is “an American peculiarity.” Jobs are not being destroyed so fast elsewhere. Apparently, governments elsewhere are protecting employment and making it possible for workers to keep their jobs even in industries that are shut down. The state pays their wages through direct payments to employers.

The United States is late signing onto this social-fascist strategy. But it is still trying to encourage employers to maintain workers on payroll through the so-called Paycheck Protection Program. This may disguise the extent of the damage done to the productive forces in this crisis, but it does little to mitigate the actual damage. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not count workers as unemployed if they are still on payroll, even if they work zero hours.)

The most despicable thing about the program is that it forces workers to remain dependent on their employer to receive state aid.

***

QUESTION: How extensive is the damage to the mode of production in this emergency?

ANSWER: We have asserted that capitalism is dead and some take exception to this declaration. Okay, fine. At a minimum, capitalist accumulation has largely come to a standstill.

But here is the thing: capital, as we all know, is value in motion, self-expanding value. How does value in motion come to a standstill? What happens to capital, when value itself no longer circulates as self-expanding value? Can one simply turn capital off, like a light switch, for weeks, or even months, and turn it back on again, once the “All clear” has been given by the public health authorities?

Don’t be so fucking quick to answer, “Yes.”

We have never been here before. And, largely, our immediate actions will be determined by the answer we give. If we assume capital is dead, we will act one way. If we assume capital is alive and just waiting to spring back into action, like Donald Trump, we will act another way. The swift action that led to the adoption of relief measures in Washington suggest the fascist do not think capital is as resilient as communists seem to think it is.

To paraphrase that American officer in Vietnam, the fascists found it necessary to destroy capitalism in order to save it.

How bad has it gotten already?

This is unclear, but it is already unprecedented:

The Federal Reserve has predicted at as much as 30 percent of workers will be displaced from their jobs as a result of this emergency.

First, the archaic unemployment reporting system completely broke down in this emergency according to one media outlet. Basically, the monthly non-farm payroll report, which tells us how bad unemployment has become, shows that overall unemployment in the United States fell only 701,000 persons, although millions already have lost their jobs over the last two weeks. The reasons for this is the way the data is collected and published by Washington. The Economic Policy Institute has an article on the problem.

The horrendous damage actually done to the productive forces by this emergency may be hidden from official statistics for a month. This is a problem. Often, reality is only real for commies if the government reports it and the media echoes it. But the way the U.S. government collect data is deliberately designed to blunt public perception of things like rising unemployment and inflation for obvious reasons.

However, we do have access to slightly more reliable proxies.

There is the BLS weekly initial jobless claims report which shows unimaginably huge jumps in jobless claims over the last two weeks of nearly 10 million persons. This is more jobless claims than the whole of the 2008 financial crisis.

We can also look at other countries. Israel, facing the same state public health lockdown, has seen its unemployment rate jump from historic lows to 24% in a single month. While Spain has also seen a massive jump in jobless claims that has almost wiped out all employment gains back to 2013.

We have other indicators that suggest massive damage as well: the auto industry remains completely shut in; subway ridership is down 75%; airline travel is down 93%; and retail foot traffic is down 97%.

Beyond this, European purchasing managers index, a survey of purchasing managers in the services sector, is near apocalyptic levels. Italy has fallen from 52.1 to 17.4; Spain has fallen from 52.1 to 23; France collapsed from 52.5 to 27.4 and Germany plunged from 52.5 to 31.7.

Taken together, these assorted proxies suggest the public health measures to contain the pandemic are inflicting massive and ongoing damage to capitalist accumulation.

Another, less direct reason to expect unprecedented carnage to the productive forces is that we suspect the terrain of the world market has been prepared for this event in the same way years of drought prepares a region for uncontrollable wildfires. The literature has long marked the accumulation of a very large mass of superfluous capital and a very large population of surplus workers, resulting from the transformation of agriculture and the improvement in productivity of social labor in industry, combined with state efforts to engineer continuous expansion of empty labor in the tertiary sector, through massive deficit spending.

The measures taken in the present emergency appear to have punctured a bubble that has been at least nine decades in the making — back to the Great Depression. We cannot overemphasize how significant this situation is. We already have accumulated a huge surplus population from previous economic contractions that have not been absorbed back into productive employment. The emergency measures taken in response to this pandemic will easily increase those numbers by a magnitude at least. And it is likely that profound changes in the economy predicted to take place over the next decade, (e.g. widespread automation), may now be realized in a matter of months or even weeks.

Let us be clear: you do not have to be a catastrophist to understand what has happened here. In two short weeks, capital values have been destroyed and workers have been set free from production on an unimaginable scale seldom seen in a full-blown economic contraction lasting years, perhaps decades. And this has occurred not just in one or two countries, but in almost every nation on the planet and all together.

We hardly think anyone contemplating this situation can operate from the baseline assumption that capitalism has survived.

***

QUESTION: There’s probably little we can do to stop direct deposit of these ‘wages’. Or unemployment checks, etc. How do we prevent global accumulation from re-starting? Can we in any way control the restoration of capitals and restoration of wages?

ANSWER: The only way to prevent capitalist accumulation from restarting is to immediately reduce hours of labor. We need to replace the present emergency shutdown of non-essential businesses with a strict reduction on hours of labor of a similar magnitude. By radically reducing hours of labor and imposing compensation through a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, we can at least impose severe restriction on the scale of any future attempt to reestablish capitalist accumulation.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how this works:

It is estimated that this emergency shutdown of non-essential businesses will eventually lead to roughly 47 million workers being unemployed, furloughed or otherwise idled. This translates into an estimated reduction of GDP by about 30-35% and actual employment by about 30%.

The present approach taken by the fascists is predicated on the shutdown being ended before another relief bill is necessary. The amount of the recently passed relief measure is $2.2 trillion, but it is a mere stopgap designed to fill in temporarily until the capitalist accumulation process can be restarted. As we said above, it takes about $200 billion a month to replace the wages of those who have been laid off, furloughed or otherwise separated from their jobs. (This is assuming 30% of the working class is displaced and that they receive an average stipend of approximately $50 thousand in place of wages. The fascists won’t pay out $50k, of course, but what they don’t pay out will be lost in sales on the other end.) It does not include various other programs designed to keep capitalist firms — particularly small businesses — afloat until such time as normal operation of the mode of production can be restored. Finally, it does not include aid to the states, whose revenues have collapsed, pension funds, various independent agencies and the medical system, which is being stressed beyond belief.

Now, try funding this (or something like) this month after month after month — in Nigeria or Venezuela, where oil prices have now collapsed because demand has collapsed in this emergency. This approach obviously cannot work anywhere but the United States and a handful of very rich countries.

Communists, especially those in the rich countries, who advocate this approach need to check their privilege, as the saying goes.

The approach we advocate is simple: since we are already looking at a 30-35% collapse in GDP and employment, and since capitalist accumulation has already been halted by this public health emergency, why not just lock things in right here? This would mean a dramatic reduction of the forty hours working week to 28 or 24 hours per week  — let’s say, three 8 hour days. Instead of trying to deficit spend our way to a restoration of capitalist relations of production, we could impose a reduction of hours of labor on a scale that is similar to 30% unemployment already made necessary by the public health emergency.

What are the advantages?

First, the absolute accumulation of excess capital and a surplus population of workers has been stopped for the most part, globally. By locking in a deep reduction of hours of labor at this point, we prevent the capitalists from restarting it. We could go further and reduce hours of labor still more to 15 hours or even ten hours — imposing draconian limits on accumulation and forcing introduction of automation to compensate for a rapidly shrinking labor pool.

Second, as satellite data is showing, the present level of employment hours is having a dramatic impact on global climate change. Reduction of hours of labor has an immediate impact on this problem that can be visualized noticeably. We would be doubling down on this positive development.

Third, as more writers are beginning to note, reduction of hours of labor has a positive impact on the cohesiveness and wages of the working class. This is, by far, the most important factor for communists to think about. On the other hand, we want to warn those who are complacent about the restoration of capitalist accumulation that the damage done to labor markets in this period is unimaginably extensive and will take a long time to heal. Forty-seven million workers frantically looking for work is not something we should ever want to see happening in the United States. (Just picture that in your mind.) But this is exactly what is likely to happen if the emergency passes and the status quo ante is restored.

To give an example: retail brick and mortar is likely never coming back. That’s one out of every four workers in the United States. Where will those workers go for jobs?

Fourth, reducing hours of labor, especially in the rich countries, will, naturally, cause capital flight. As bizarre as this sounds, this is actually a good thing. Africa, Asia and Latin America need investment. They will not get it unless capital currently locked up in the rich countries is forced to flee to the less developed regions of the world markets. A dramatic reduction of hours of labor here will accelerate this process.

Fifth, reducing hours of labor will accelerate automation. There is no better way to force capitalists to introduce improved methods of production than to drive up labor costs. Reducing hours of labor can do this by increasing the cohesiveness and bargaining power of the working class — just as leaving 47 million workers unemployed can weaken the working class, by leaving it balkanized and fragmented.

***

We are calling for a shift in the strategy of communist that takes into account the new reality created by the emergency measures imposed by the state on the capitalist accumulation process. Because of this pandemic, the state has been forced to do what communists have been aiming to do since the time of the Communist Manifesto: shut down the capitalist accumulation process.

Admittedly, it has happened in a way we did not expect. The pandemic is a black swan. And it takes a second to wrap our heads around the fact that it happened. Workers are off the job not because of a general strike, but because the state has closed all non-essential businesses. This did not happen the way we expected it to happen. But it happened! The accumulation process has been shut down. This is actually where we are now!

The state has been forced, very much against its will, to shut down all non-essential businesses; to shut down the accumulation process itself. What can we do this very instant to keep it shut down? There are millions of workers who are now set free from productive employment; they are unemployed. We need to fight to convert this huge mass of unemployment into free time for every member of society. The alternative is one relief bill after another as the state tries desperately to maintain the old relations of production.

We cannot let another opportunity pass us as happened during the Great Depression when capital ground to a halt and workers fought for a shorter work week, but were given the New Deal stimulus program and World War II instead.

(This document is being updated and is available for comment here)

How the breakdown of production based on exchange value altered the terrain of Marxist strategy

At this point we have to ask ourselves two questions:

  1. How does the breakdown of production based on exchange value affect the terrain of classical Marxist strategy?
  2. Why would this impact on strategy have already been built into Marx’s assumptions from the beginning?

To begin to answer these questions it is necessary to understand what it means to say “production based on exchange value breaks down”.

According to Marx in the fragment on the machine, breakdown occurs because direct employment of human labor in production has been eclipsed by machines as the primary means of production of use-values. As machines become more important to the production of commodities than the direct expenditure of human labor, exchange value ceases to be the measure of use value.

In plain English, prices and profits begin to fall, an economic condition economists call deflation. Collapsing prices and profits are a signal to capitalist firms to curtail production. They begin to cut back their schedules, reduce orders, lay off workers, cut wages — all of which only serve to aggravate the crisis.

However, it is important to note that Marx argues exchange value itself ceases to be the measure of use value. This statement does not mean wages, prices or profit are too high or too low; rather, it implies that the very structure of production itself has changed. It is no longer individual production carried on for exchange.

Commodity production has been replaced by a cooperative social form of the labor process, involving the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, and the socialization of the instruments of labor for use as means of production by a combined, socialized labor.

Apart from whether society recognizes the material change that has occurred here, the actual transformation of production from individual production carried on for exchange to cooperative social form of the labor process is a real, material alteration in the material economic foundation of society.

As Marx explains in chapter 1 of Capital, use-values become commodities only because they are products of private labor carried on independently. These individual producers do not come into contact with one another until they exchange their products and their products do not exhibit a social character except in the act of exchange. Only by being exchanged do the products of labor acquire a uniform social status as values. The only evidence we have of the uniform social status of use-values as values are their exchange values.

Cooperative social production of the sort Marx identifies in chapter 32 involves no exchange of the products of labor similar to what he discusses in chapter 1 — a fact he even telegraphs by explicitly citing the modern factory example in chapter 1. Exchange value is, therefore, entirely foreign to this sort of mode of production.

This is a big problem for capital for two obvious reasons.

First, Marx traces the origin of money to exchange value. This would suggest that a system that is incompatible with exchange value is, therefore, incompatible with money. Given this, we should expect to see the breakdown of production based on exchange value to be expressed in a massive global monetary crisis of the sort that occurred at the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

Second, labor power is simply a use-value unique to the mode of production, whose historically specific use for capital is the production of surplus value. If exchange value ceases to be the measure of use-value, this situation is true not only for a newly produced pair of shoes, but also for the labor power of the worker who produces them. If money (exchange value) is incompatible with social production generally, so is the buying and selling of labor power.

This is essentially the argument made by Grossman in his remarkable reconstruction of Marx’s theory of breakdown in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression: at a certain point in the development of the mode of production, either wages have to be cut continuously or a reserve army must come into being. What mattered is not that wages were too high, but that they would always be too high.

It is also the argument made by Keynes from the viewpoint of the bourgeois class:

“A fall in real wages due to a rise in prices, with money-wages unaltered, does not, as a rule, cause the supply of available labour on offer at the current wage to fall below the amount actually employed prior to the rise of prices. To suppose that it does is to suppose that all those who are now unemployed though willing to work at the current wage will withdraw the offer of their labour in the event of even a small rise in the cost of living.”

“Wages must be cut continuously,” says Grossman, “or massive unemployment will result.”

“Oh, I have a plan for that,” Keynes responds.

So how do you cut wages once and for all?

Simple, if you sever your national currency from commodity money, it now will always express the exchange value of commodities, including labor power, as zero. No matter how high wages appear to be in currency denominated terms, its real (i.e., exchange value) equivalence will always be zero.

Revisiting Mike Macnair’s “Revolutionary Strategy”

According to Macnair, revolutionary strategy is the long-term framework within which communists develop their plans to achieve their goals over a series of tactical struggles. He suggests communists begin with a review of the strategy proposed by Marx, Engels and the classical Marxists in the period leading to First World War 1914 for two reasons:

First. in some respects social conditions we live under in the 21st century are more like that of Marx’s time than they are to the period after the outbreak of World War I. The world market of the late 19th and early 20th century was both more ‘globalised’ and more dominated by finance capitals than the world market that dominated the 20th century with its cold war and imperialist blocs. Also, the workers’ movement was only just beginning to emerge as an organized force. This is much closer to our own situation than the period of massively dominant socialist and communist parties that characterized the 20th century.

Second, World War I triggered a political crisis within the workers’ movement that led to the world historical defeat of the proletarian revolution. The legacy of this world historical defeat of the proletarians remains with us today and forms the subject matter of Macnair’s book. In my view, however, Macnair’s explanation of this defeat is painfully simplistic, irrelevant, if not complete nonsense. Essentially, the world historical defeat of the working class is reduced to the alleged theoretical weaknesses of strategic ideas introduced by Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg and the isolation of the revolution in Russia in the 1920s. Per Macnair, the alleged theoretical weaknesses of these communists were transmitted to other revolutions in due time, leading the revolution into a blind alley.

Macnair then makes this bogus argument:

When you are radically lost it becomes necessary to retrace your steps. In the present case, this means retracing our steps to the strategic debates of the early workers’ movement and the Second International, which defined the strategic choices available to socialists in the early 20th century, and in this sense led to the blind alley of 1918-91.

On its face, the argument might seem logical. You’re in a place you have never been before, lost, so what do you do? You try to get back to the last place you can recognize — a place with clear landmarks. You search the horizon, looking for the landmark in the distance that you recognize as the place where you began your journey. You want to use this starting point to reorient yourself.

But there is a problem — a huge problem.

Macnair has made an argument that in some respects life in the 21st century looks more like the period from 1858-1928 than it does the period from 1929-1991. As I noted in my last post, the dates he chose are significant: in 1858, Marx was busy writing what we now recognize as the Grundrisse. In those notebooks, in his fragment on the machine, he made his famous prediction that capital was embarked on a process that would eventually eliminate the need for direct human labor in production. Labor would become superfluous. This would lead to the collapse of production based on exchange value.

The other bookend in Macnair’s time frame, 1928, is equally significant in that it is the last year before the start of the Great Depression in 1929. With the start of the depression, capitalist production began to collapse; as would be expected, commodity money is withdrawn from circulation by its owners and employment collapsed. In one country after another, governments are forced to intervene and sever their currencies from precious metals. Only after governments sever the connection between their national currencies and gold do their economies begin to stabilize. For the first time in human history, no industrial country issues a commodity-based currency. Production based on exchange value had disappeared as Marx predicted.

The problem with retracing our steps as Macnair suggests is that somewhere around 1929 the landscape was fundamentally altered to such an extent nothing that remains is recognizable. There are no landmarks. Our maps are completely obsolete. Where rivers once ran, there aren’t even dry beds. Mountains have becomes valleys.

It is said that no strategy ever survives contact with the enemy. How then was Marx and Engels strategy supposed to survive the collapse of production based on exchange value?

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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