Why must the organization of the proletarians be global?

Here is a question directed to me from ask.fm. Due to space limitations, a portion of my answer was cut off, so I am publishing in full here:

“can you expand on your idea that class is a totality (assuming global) and not national?”

This is determined by the proletariat itself, its material conditions of existence, and in first place, by the material requirements of directly social production. Uniquely for the proletariat, the productive forces employed by it only exist as a totality within the world market. For this class, as opposed, for instance, to the peasant, the means of production cover the entire globe and can only be set in motion by the combined effort of the entire class together.

The producer here is not the individual workers each employing her own means of production, but the collective body of workers, who are compelled to cooperate to employ what is essentially a single gigantic machine which operation must be coordinated as if under a single will although it is spread out over both time and space. In this highly developed mode of social labor, no single act of labor is complete in and of itself, but only appears as a link, or stage, in a chain of much larger and more sophisticated act of production. The workers are bound together in an act of social production in which their own actions are inseparable from the acts of billions of others

workers-unite-tag1This imposes unique constraints on the proletariat that are unprecedented in all of human history. The action of a worker in Shanghai, must be coordinated with the actions of workers in New Delhi, Durban, Oslo, Bogota and Chicago. And these separate acts of production are separated not only in space over the face of the globe, but perhaps by months or years in time.

The global character of the means of production created by capitalism necessarily must be reflected in an association of producers that is itself global in nature. The association of the social producers must, by definition, extend beyond every border where the mode of production has already extended modern trade. This is because the labor of the social producers is a single act of production although composed as it is of billions of separate acts. A single machine requires a single will to set it in motion, i.e., a mass of individuals who cooperate according to a predetermined plan. It requires, in other words, that the totality of production be brought under the conscious control of the individuals concerned.

How can this be achieved? How is it possible to subordinate the productive activities of billions of individuals to a single will? It just doesn’t seems possible without some sort of despotic power over these individuals, right? This implies not social emancipation, but converting all of society into a miserable work house.

This is usually as far as most “socialists” get before they throw up their hands or let their imaginations take flight with fantasies of “market socialism”. The contradiction between the material needs of production (which are not and cannot be subject to debate and democracy) and the self-activity of individuals appears irresolvable. This contradiction is indeed real and can only be resolved on the basis of a very high level of development of the productive forces. It requires, in first place, that the material needs of production can be satisfied in very little time.

So long as the needs of production consume the greater portion of the time of individuals, society is condemned to poverty and the despotism. This poverty is not simply (or even primarily) the lack of means to satisfy wants, but the lack of opportunity for self-activity and self-development. Only when directly social production appears on the stage, does it become possible for the material needs of production to be so reduced that self-activity and self-development become ends in themselves. The measure of this state of society is the free disposable time enjoyed by all members of society.

A global association of the producers, therefore, sets as its immediate aim the constant expansion of free disposable time away from labor. But the constant expansion of free disposable time is nothing but the abolition of labor, the working class itself and classes generally.

A reply to Reidkane on the class character of proletarians

In 1846, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels met together with a few other communists to lay out their common approach to the social revolution then developing in Europe. The results of their work, hqdefaultas we all know, was an unpublished manuscript now known as the German Ideology. In it Marx and Engels elaborate on a method of social analysis we now refer to as historical materialism.

That document makes a number of claims about the proletarians which we today might consider heresies. Three in particular are the subject of the commenter, Reidkane:

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The ‘reformism’ of less work and the dull stupidity of Marxists.

Here is a comment on my blog post that was posted to Reddit’s socialism subreddit:

REDORDEAD: hmm yes in the age of austerity, in which an out of control falling rate of profit is causing massive reduction in work hours, automation of labor and mobilization of the world reserve army of labor the solution is the reformist demand for shorter work hours. what century are you living in?

WORKThe comment was fascinating to me, not just because I have heard it before, but also because I had no idea what it means. Reduction of labor is reformist? How so? On what basis does the redditor make this charge? Intrigued, I asked for clarification:  “Can you tell me what is reformist about demanding the end of wage labor?”

REDORDEAD: Thats not what you’re demanding. You’re demanding a reduction in the working day which capitalism already accomplishes through the rising organic composition of capital. Even Marx point out in Capital Vol. 1 that the movement for the 8 hour work day saves capitalism from itself by regulating the coercive laws of competition which cause the abuse and long-term exhaustion of the working class.

That’s not to say it can’t be a revolutionary demand given the right economic conditions, almost anything can be linked to the revolutionary demands of socialism given a mass party and disciplined mass line. But it seems worse than most, especially given the conditions today. Not sure why it’s significant at all, though it is time to think about tactics and less about theory.

This clarification had a lot of features in common with another comment posted to Reddit regarding the same blog post:

“It is thoroughly reformist. Your whole strategy is to simply fight for shortened work hours, increased hourly wages, etc. Nothing here about the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat… Congratulations, you’ve discovered economism.”

It appears that, in the thinking of these two critics, the reduction of hours of labor isn’t revolutionary because it doesn’t involve the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat, a direct demand for socialism, and a political party dedicated to this demand that practices a method of leadership that seeks to learn from the working class.

And this argument has some validity and much historical accuracy: both the ten hours day and the eight hours day were won without any fundamental alteration in the capitalistic nature of political relations. I am fascinated by this argument because, when all the dogmatic assertions are set aside, it suggests real material changes in the mode of production aren’t real without the right politics.

The problem with this reasoning is that capitalism is the production of surplus value; self-expanding value, etc. In their debates with the anarchists, Marx and Engels were stubbornly insisted on the primacy of economic relations over political relations.

Moreover, Marx almost never discussed capital without reiterating his definition of the mode of production, as he does, for instance, in chapter 15 of volume 3 of Capital:

“The purpose of capitalist production, however, is self-expansion of capital, i.e., appropriation of surplus-labour, production of surplus-value, of profit.”

Now, what has to be grasped is that, this old fart had already spent two fucking volumes of Capital defining and discussing capital yet he wants to emphasize — again — what he means by the term. In other words, after having already spent two volumes of Capital and 15 chapters of a third volume discussing capital, Marx feels the need to again reemphasize exactly what capitalism is!

Since capital is the production of surplus value, and since the production of surplus value varies with the length of the working day, how can the reduction of hours of labor be economism? It really can’t be economism and no amount of micro-sectarian ranting can make it economism. So, what is intended by activists who slap that label on reduction of hours of labor? What is intended by folks who call reduction of hours of labor reformist or economism?

I really think it is meant to draw attention to the fact it doesn’t necessarily involve the dictatorship of the proletariat, the association of laborers. People who make that charge really are trying to say I am neglecting the need for association of producers. I really have no answer to this charge. I just wanted to open my ears and for once understand why folks keep saying it. Implicit in this charge is the view that any measure, no matter how far reaching its implications, is a mere “reform” unless it is linked to the political rule of the working class.

This sort of view may in fact be valid for any measure you can imagine — except reduction of hours of labor. To understand why, simply think of a reduction of hours of labor carried to its extreme limit: hours of labor equal zero. Can capitalism exist on this basis?

Now, the argument might very well be that we can’t get to zero with a capitalist state — but that is a completely different argument. That is an argument that has nothing to do with the measure itself, but with the resistance of the capitalists and their state. Since the folks running the show today have always resisted less work for the producers, I don’t expect them to suddenly have a change of heart. Their resistance, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with reduction of hours of labor itself. They will just as viciously fight against higher wages, basic income or any other measure that appears to threaten the appropriation of surplus labor.

The difference, however, is that no matter how high wages go, they will never create communism; no matter how many food stamps you hand out or how high you raise the minimum wage or how good your health care system is — none of this can lead to communism. Because none of these measure touches on the heart of the problem: Labor itself.

However, reduce hours of labor to zero — and you will have communism before you ever even reach zero. The reduction of hours of labor is not like any other reform because no other reform touches on the critical role labor plays in the mode of production.

You can nationalize private property all day long; replace the existing state with an association of producers; or turn money into worthless labor chits — none of these measures directly touch on labor itself. Reduction of hours of labor alone can do this. The logic of my argument follows directly from Marx’s definition of capital as the “appropriation of surplus-labour, production of surplus-value, of profit.”

This is the problem we face, the conceptual obstacle post-World War II Marxism seems unable to surmount: How can the proletariat work out its own emancipation without turning back to the failures of 20th century political parties? How can the working class continue to focus on the seizure of state power, when the development of the productive forces themselves — expressed both in the form of globalization and its attendant neoliberal ideology — are undermining the very capacity of nation states to implement sovereign management of their own national capitals?

The political parties of the 20th century were based on the concept of what is today called accelerationism by some. This strategy is stated simply in the Communist Manifesto:

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

The vision Marx and Engels evoked in this passage is that of a political power held in the hands of this class who basically would do what capital has itself done over the last 170 years: create the material conditions for communism. Going back to the political parties of the 20th century is not only impossible, it is unnecessary.

If Marxist writers like Postone, Kurz, Hudis, Harman, Kidron, Mohun, Sheikh, Tonak, etc. are correct, capitalism has already converted the largest portion of the labor day into superfluous labor time. At this point the proletariat need only to complete the process: convert the superfluous labor time into free disposable time for themselves. Marxists often assert that capitalism, even if it generates its own collapse,  is incapable of creating a communist society; yet, they have never once been able to describe what this latter act of creation consists of.

What is it that only the proletariat can accomplish? It certainly is not creating the material condition for communism — according to Marx in Capital, volume 3, capital itself does this without any assistance from proletarian political rule.

“Development of the productive forces of social labour is the historical task and justification of capital. This is just the way in which it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production.”

So, what can the proletariat do that the bourgeoisie cannot? Since of all classes in modern society, the proletariat alone gains nothing by expenditures of unnecessary hours of labor, it can convert the surplus labor time of society into free disposable time for all.

Thesis on competition within the working class

Theses on competition

What are the prospects for social emancipation when the progressive abolition of labor is called unemployment and treated like a disease? competitionThe capitalist mode of production can only present the abolition of labor in the form of unemployment.

This is a feature of competition: labor going away leads to competition between classes over who will bear the burden of it going away. The capitalist class does not want to bear this burden, so it seeks to push it off on the working class. If labor can no longer be employed profitably, the solution sought by capital is to idle a mass of workers, to save profits.

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There is no “American economy” anymore: The Left must act globally

The Economic Populist blog has a post written by Robert Oak that is very good, “Corporations Hoard Cash While Americans Go Without A Job”. The main aim of the post is to show how American corporation are using various means to fatten their bottom lines. The subtext of the post, however, is that, contrary to the assumption of most Leftists, there is no longer such a thing as an “American economy”.

child-labor-2Much of the time Leftists spend in discussions and activism focuses on how Washington policy can influence the “American economy”. However, if Oak is to be believed, much of what might be called an “American economy” is simply a local pool of labor in a much larger labor market. That pool of labor is being “arbitraged” against other pools of labor in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to the disadvantage of all workers globally.

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“The real fruit of their battles …”

This is part three of a three part series. Part one can be found here; part two can be found here

3. “What Marxists once meant by ‘class consciousness’ is no more.”

wotwuIn the previous section of this essay, I argued, properly understood, Marx and Engels assumed the proletarian social emancipation does not take the form of a conflict with the ruling class. To say this has implications for the present crisis is an understatement. I think it goes a long way toward explaining why the most remarkable feature of the present crisis is the lack of a class struggle — which absence has been puzzled over by both bourgeois ideologues and by Marxists.

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Reformist Reforms, Revolutionary Reforms and Capitalism

I read this  from Douglas Edwards (@SebastosPublius) and it triggered some thinking on the problem of reform versus revolution:

“What’s really needed is a grand unified theory of non-reformist reforms, how they’re supposed to lead to real change…”

I thought One interesting aspect of Peter Frase’s essay on UBI was his brief discussion of reform versus revolution. There is, according to some activists “reformist-reforms” 16612892-reforma-o-revolucion-eleccionand “revolutionary reforms”. For instance, there is probably common agreement that universal basic income or a jobs guarantee are reform. The question we are asked to consider is whether these reforms are reformist or revolutionary. There even appears to be a third category of certain reforms that not quite “revolutionary”, but are “utopian”.

Frase recounts how a dispute arose over whether UBI is “utopian” enough. One of the parties to the dispute  defines utopian as a measure that “proposes to dramatically overhaul society into an entirely unprecedented structure that will usher in a nearly perfect world.” As might be obvious to our “Revolutionary Left”, this sort of debate happens on the pink fringes of communism, where people “think globally, act locally” and mostly “vote Democrat.”

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Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Eye Suspiciously

Just finished reading the article by a former Occupy person in the most recent Rolling Stone, “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For”. The article shows the potentially perverse results that can happen when the argument of the Left ignores the question of association of the working class.

FORCEDLABORIt should be clear that most of the proposals in Jesse Myerson’s article are not fascistic in and of themselves. Actually, many of them appear directly drawn from the proposals in the Communist Manifesto — for instance, public ownership of land, means of production, and finance. Thus his proposals can be rightly considered a continuation of a long tradition of communist advocacy for radical social change.

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Marxian Hipsters, Old Skool Marxists and the Abstract and Fetishized Notions of Social Emancipation

worksource-oregon-job-fairThe hipsters of value critique can often be heard describing present society as one founded on an abstract and fetishized mode of social domination. Most of the rest of us have no idea what the fuck any of that means, but we know it sounds pretty impressive. If pressed to explain what this bullshit even means, the value critique hipster might refer to Adorno or some other theoretical heavy, as does the writer of this blog post, “The All-Penetrating Ether of Society: Adorno, Exchange, and Abstract Social Domination”:

“[A]ccording to Adorno, unlike the ‘idealist’ ‘subjective and ‘reflexive’ prognosis of reification, which centres on the undialectical appearance of the thing, and criticism that seeks to dynamize these things, the trouble is with the social ‘conditions’ that structure human interaction.

In Adorno’s view the later is theorized by Marx’s analysis of the fetish character of the commodity, which Adorno reads as a social category that expresses the objective social form of existing social relations.

“the fetish-character of commodities is not chalked up to subjective-mistaken consciousness, but objectively deduced out of the social a priori, the process of exchange.”

Ah!”, I nod in what appears to signal agreement, mostly because I don’t want to expose my complete inability to understand a single damn word the blogger wrote, “Yes, we must objectively deduce something that requires eight semesters of Hegelian philosophy out of something else that requires mastery of Capital, volumes 1, 2 and 3. Uh … by the way, would you like fries with your order?”

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What if there is no such thing as a socialist “economy”?

chaplin-charlie-modern-times_01According to a post on the NorthStar blog by Gavin Mendel-Gleason and James O’Brien, at least part of the problem socialism has gaining purchase among the working class is that socialists have difficulty describing what it will look like:

“Nothing springs from the naked void fully formed. We need to examine the best avenues open to us for changing our current social direction into a society we would like to bring into existence.”

This is creating a problem for socialists, because, as the writers explain, socialists have so far been unable to coherently describe the society they propose to replace the present mode of production:

“Socialists are often loathe to get into the exact details of what a socialist economy would look like. This is caused, perhaps in equal measure, by complete ignorance and an extensive knowledge of just how large the space of possibilities is. Indeed many proposals have been given about how a socialist economy might best be run.”

And here, of course, the problem only gets worse.

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