The Real Movement

Communism is free time and nothing else!

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.

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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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Getting beyond ‘regime change’ (Part 2)

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 two of an essay is intended to address this failure.

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2. Targeting the sources of the enemy’s power

While Sharp recommends a strategy of non-violent resistance that exploits the political weaknesses of a regime, communists aim for the material transformation of the society as a whole, for abolition of wage labor and the state. For this reason, our strategy must exploit the material vulnerabilities of the state, not merely its political weaknesses.

We don’t seek the replacement of the present Republican administration by a Democrat administration, nor even the replacement of both Democrats and Republican governments by a radical government of some third party. 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.

This requires the sort of strategic considerations normally not found among those who aim for mere cosmetic, political changes to society. We must identify the sources of the state’s social power which are not at all to be confused with the sources of the political power of any party.

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Getting beyond ‘regime change’ (Part 1)

INTRODUCTION: Why read Gene Sharp’s book?

I have proposed communists aim to realize a communist society within ten years. The aim may seem unrealistic for two reasons: first, it would appear we are nowhere near technically capable of putting an end to the connection between labor and subsistence. Without being able to produce enough goods to feed, house and clothe the entire population of the planet, communism is not possible.

Second, even if it were technically possible to put an end to wage labor, there does not appear to be sufficient willingness on the part of the working class to act in that direction. On the streets of Europe and North America, at least, the working class do not seem inclined to fight for their own emancipation.

With regards to the first objection, let me state that in 1930 Keynes argued that with just 2% increase in productivity, we would have a work week of just 15 hours. Since 1930, the average increase in productivity has easily exceeded Keynes’ projection. Technically, conditions are now ripe not just for a reduction of hours of labor to 15 hours per week, but for the complete elimination of wage labor — for a society founded on each according to need. I have concluded that there is no objection on account of technical capacity for a fully communist society today.

Still, such a society is not possible without struggle. The fascists no more want to part with our labor power than they want to part with their monopoly on the means of production. If we are to realize communism, we must force that society into existence through our own struggle. To judge by the level of class struggle the objection that the working class is unwilling to emancipate themselves may seem to have some merit, but it has never really been tested in the streets.

In my opinion, the problem here is not that the working class are opposed to the end of wage slavery. Rather, communists have failed to put this option before them. Communists cannot just invent a society founded on each according to need, of course, but if such a society is already technically possible today, the problem has to be in the sphere of consciousness — and this points to a failure on the part of communists.

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 essay is intended to address this failure.

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FUZZY LOGIC: What is communism anyway?

I find it helpful to think about the bourgeois epoch as a period of transition between individual production carried on separately and directly social production. This transition is essentially the replacement of the conditions of individual production with the conditions of directly social production.

Contrary to most Marxists who neatly divide up this transitional period into capitalism and socialism, I make no necessary division. The transition can unfold under the rule of the bourgeoisie or under the rule of the proletariat. If the transition takes place under the rule of the bourgeoisie, we call it capitalism; if it takes place under the rule of the proletariat, we call it socialism. This means in theory, at least, there is no sharp fixed or fast division between the two forms of transition. The distinction between capitalism and socialism is political: which class rules.

This makes it very hard to tell just by looking at various “socialisms” that have emerged in the 20th century and say with a fair degree of precision whether they were socialist or capitalist. To give an example of what I mean: Folks who know more about the subject than I do nevertheless sharply disagree whether the Soviet Union was socialist or capitalist or even a completely different animal altogether. There is no real consensus on how to classify the Soviet mode of production among Marxists.

I have tried to finesse this problem by suggesting the SU was a capital — not “capitalist”, but the thing itself: a giant capital.

The peculiar thing about a capital as a unit of production is that it has none of the features we normally associate with a capitalist economy. Internally, a capital has no money relations; production is carried on according to a plan; there is no tendency toward over-production, unemployment or crises we take as essential to the definition of capitalism.

These features of a capitalistic economy are expressed in the exchange relations between capitals, not in their internal operation.

All forms of directly social labor look alike

If you observed the operations of a capital internally , it would be hard decide whether it was a capitalist organization or a commune – both are essentially identical in their operation internally, forms of directly social labor.

To give an example: a cooperative managed by the workers essentially will function identically to a capitalist firm. This is so true that it only takes the briefest examination of the operation of a cooperative to understand how superfluous the capitalists are to modern capitalist production. There is nothing the capitalist does that the workers can’t do themselves cooperatively.

Assuming I am correct on this, it may be impossible to really tell whether the SU was a socialistic or a capitalistic society. In either case the SU would still have functioned pretty much the way it did.

This leads to a rather disturbing conclusion: Insofar as the actual operations of the Soviet mode of production was concerned it was entirely irrelevant which class was actually in power. In truth, there are only so many ways you can manage directly social production. Technically, both a capital and a commune work the same way. Politically, of course, it makes all the difference which class is actually calling the shots, but technically politics is irrelevant.

The ambiguity of class rule

This might explain why even as the classification of the SU as socialist or capitalist is very controversial, so has been the classification of what we call fascism. Even my personal working definition of fascism — a state managed capitalist economy — begins to look very ambiguous. Indeed, many communists define the SU as state-managed capitalism.

To nail down the difference between capitalism and socialism in practice, we now have to nail down things that are by their very nature fuzzy and ambiguous: class rule.

Honestly, how do you tell which class is actually in power? What evidence do you have that one or the other class is ruling class.

But there is a problem that is even more intractable than that one: Even if you could establish that a particular society is ruled by the working class, does the rule of the working class guarantee the society is socialist? In fact, we all know that the working class can act as its own capitalist? Is it possible to have capitalism without capitalists? Fascism without either capitalists or capitalist private property?

If the technical condition of directly social production do not allow us to differentiate between capitalism and socialism, the political conditions offer even shakier grounds for differentiation than the technical conditions. Literally, we could have a completely fascist society without either capitalists or capitalist private property.

Fuzziness

We assume we can tell the difference between fascism and socialism, but the reality is that it is mostly a matter of individual prejudice. Look at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or even the People’s Republic of China. There is no consensus even among communists over how to characterize these societies.

We just make it up as we go along. We talk a lot of shit about what a socialist society looks like, but the reality is that the markers most communists employ use to differentiate capitalism from socialism are pretty fuzzy.

I just want to put this out there because a lot of people think they know what communism is but actually rely on very fuzzy definitions. They can’t even agree on whether the defunct SU was socialism or not, much less classify China. The definitions most communists take as settled and obvious begins to break down the moment we apply any critique to it.

Definitional issues

But let me state something else: every characteristic we think defines socialism is wrong. We are looking for socialism in the wrong place.

I think I have made the case that the alleged markers for a socialist community are not as persuasive as they appear. We can’t look at the technical conditions of production and tell whether the society in question is capitalist or socialist. Further, we cannot look at the political condition of the society as a whole, i.e., which class is actually ruling. and tell the difference.

Even if we discovered a society where production is based on a community of social producers, and even if these social producers ruled through their own association, we still could not determine with a high degree of confidence whether the society was in fact capitalist or socialist based solely on these characteristics.

Whether a society is capitalistic or socialistic has nothing to do either with its technical conditions of production nor the form of state. Certainly these characteristics are important — no society can be socialistic without them — but they are not, of themselves, sufficient for definitively classifying the society in question as socialistic.

Accumulation versus free development

If I am correct about this what additional characteristic is necessary for the society in question to be classified as socialistic? I think Marx offers a clue in his discussion in the so-called fragment on the machine. Socialism, Marx seems to be saying, aims for,

“The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.”

What distinguishes a socialist community from a capitalist community is not its technical or political conditions, but whether labor time is reduced to a minimum to make room for the development of individuals, rather than accumulation. Marx actually doubles down on this assertion by quoting an anonymous writer:

“‘Truly wealthy a nation, when the working day is 6 rather than 12 hours. Wealth is not command over surplus labour time’ (real wealth),‘ but rather, disposable time outside that needed in direct production, for every individual and the whole society.’”

In my opinion, the only way to tell whether a particular society is socialist is whether or not labor time is being reduced for everyone.

Communism is free disposable time and nothing else.

Jehu, what is your philosophy?

I received this request from @RealRomCade:

“Could you go over your whole philosophy with me. Not debating, I’m just not sure I quite understand it all seems really complex I’d like to understand. If you have the time of course.”

A good deal of what I write might appear obscure to most people. This, of course, in large part results from my poor writing skills. But it is also caused by the nature of the argument I am making, as well as the nature of the political position against which I am arguing.

To be honest, it is not always clear from my writing what I think the two sides are in this debate. I want to try to rectify this somewhat in the following discussion. The argument I will be making here is a logical one. As such I will discuss labor theory of value only briefly. I want to explain the logic behind my approach, not so much the theory that underlines that logic. If you want to know more about the theory that, I think, supports my approach, you will have to read Marx’s Capital.

If I am successful, you should have a better idea of the logic of my main argument. If I am unsuccessful you can post questions in the comments section and I will clarify my points.

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Abolish Wage Labor by 2027: Is such a movement possible?

 

I want to be absolutely clear on what I am calling for here:

Communists must lead a fight to reduce hours of labor to zero in the next ten years; to completely abolish wage labor as an institution within a decade and realize full communism in North America and Europe by a date certain: 2027.

For purposes of this discussion, I define full communism as the complete abolition of wage labor: the end to the requirement of labor as a condition for access to the means of consumption; to replace this system by the free access to the means of consumption; and to replace present society, founded on wage labor, by one founded on the principle of “From each according to ability to each according to need.”

This replacement would include the abolition of both money and the existing state.

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Why the working class have become the biggest opponents of less work

One of the biggest problems with convincing workers to reduce their labor hours is that they focus on dollars rather than what dollars buy. If a worker works 40 hours a week and earns $10 an hour, a reduction of her work week from 40 hours to ten hours would reduce her nominal wage from $400 to $100.

Workers can do simple math and the math unambiguously tells them that a reduction of hours of labor translates into a reduction of nominal wages. No worker would accept a reduction of nominal wages unless compelled to for some reason. Not surprisingly, it is on this common-sense reaction by the worker to a fall in nominal wages that Keynesian fascist economics is founded.

Needless to say this is a big problem for communists.

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Can we get to communism in one go?

A 2014 essay by Jasper Bernes and Joshua Clover, The Ends of the State, on the state and revolutionary strategy argues a proletarian revolution can’t achieve more than it initially accomplishes:

“As we and many of our contemporaries have argued, the immediate establishment of these new social conditions, to the greatest extent possible, is in the present not only the likely course a revolutionary unfolding might pursue, directly or indirectly, but, given the objective material conditions, its only hope for eventual success.”

As I read this passage, the authors of the essay, (who are associated with Endnotes), seem to be saying that a proletarian revolution is strictly limited to what it can initially accomplish by the sheer force of the revolution itself. After that initial shockwave, it settles down into a course of development typical of capitalist accumulation. If a proletarian revolution cannot get to full communism in a single go, it simply becomes a form of capitalist development?

To use an analogy: if a star doesn’t have sufficient mass, it does not produce a black hole, but settles down to live its remaining life as a dwarf star. Likewise, to reach communism in one go requires sufficient material development that is not necessarily given. Absent sufficient material conditions, the revolution must fail.

The hypothesis is provocative, so I will examine it here.

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We must act now to directly challenge the system of wage slavery

@Gattungswesen_ has objected to the argument in my latest post, saying it “is predicated on an outdated analysis of capitalist society.” I want to take this post to respond to some of most important points raised.

If I can summarize it, @Gattungswesen_ makes these points:

  • 1. “the majority of workers in the west don’t produce anything and what they do produce is superfluous.”
  • “Surplus value is extracted in such a way that capitalism can do without workers.”
  • “there is now a surplus population as well as a massive reserve army of labour who struggle to find work.
  • “Capitalism requires workers less and less to produce surplus value”, “So workers have no bargaining chip anymore.”
  • “the capitalist class don’t need our labour time to create profit”

Based on these points, @Gattungswesen_ concludes that my proposal that the working class get control of its own labor power (i.e., put an end to their competition through an association, a union) is not going to work.

In a later exchange, @Gattungswesen_ extended his argument:

“As for my points: The subsumption of the labour process has changed from a formal one to a real one. Relative surplus value characterises this real subsumption, which sees an increase.in productivity and the expulsion of workers from the production process. This is characterised by a decrease in wages, the precariousness and pauperisation of work, and the automation of the production process. This leads to an absolute decrease in workers producing things.

“Relative surplus value characterises this real subsumption, which sees an increase in productivity and the expulsion of workers from the production process. This is characterised by a decrease in wages, the precariousness and pauperisation of work, and the automation of the production process. This leads to an absolute decrease in workers producing things. A consequence of this is that those producing surplus value are becoming less relevant and irrelevant in the labour/capital relationship.

“This means a surplus population exists that is not valorising or expanding capital. The proletariat can no longer reproduce itself. The identity of the worker that characterised the former period of capital no longer exists. If a mass of superfluous workers produce a mass of superfluous products then it is not possible to reproduce the identity of the worker that was paramount to the struggles of the former period of capitalism. The proletariat no longer have the power to effect change through demands on capital. They can no longer champion the worker as an indispensable element in the labour/capital process.

“If this is your analysis then fine. But if your strategy seeks to produce communism through some critical mass of withdrawing labour and waiting for capitalism to crumble, then it is ignoring the analysis.”

I actually agree with most of what @Gattungswesen_ has to say here. By and large most workers in the West do not produce anything and a great deal of what they produce is superfluous. And there is a huge surplus population of workers who are struggling to find work. Capitalism today requires far fewer workers to produce surplus value and, as a result, workers have little or no bargaining power in today’s highly globalized economy.

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A revolution is too important to leave to chance; we need to plan ours

Here is blog post of a conversation I had with a member of the Libcom.org collective. I need to emphasize that Libcom is a collective twitter account but that this conversation only took place with an individual libcom collective member.

It was a very interesting conversation for me that forced me to go well beyond where I was in my thinking on the subject of making a proletarian revolution and actually articulate how this might happen in an organic fashion. In particular, and for the first time, I articulate the idea that we cannot leave revolution to emerging spontaneously as so many communists accept. We have to plan the revolution even down to the details of setting a date certain for it.

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