Is there a political path to communism?

I got this question on my ask.fm:

“In a recent post you said you didn’t think there is a political path to communism. Can you elaborate on that some? What might a non-political path look like?”

The answer to this question has to begin with the basic premise of historical materialism taken from the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. “

In my reading of this statement, I can only come to the conclusion that communism as a political movement can only arise if the real movement (trajectory) of society ends in communism. To put this another way, a political path to communism is only an expression of real historical changes in the mode of production. Communist politics are nothing more than an expression in political relations of material changes in the mode of production.

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Jeremy Roos’ failed critique of 20th century communism

In 2016 it is astonishing to still see this sort of stuff written by radicals:

“All class struggles under capitalism must therefore start from the most elementary question of social reproduction: how to make a living and reproduce the “general conditions of life” without direct access to the means of subsistence. As Manuela Zechner and Bue Rübner Hansen show in their contribution to this issue, the recent transformations and crises of capitalism have pushed this question to the heart of contemporary movements: How do we sustain ourselves under conditions of austerity, precarity and unemployment? How do we provide care (personal, medical, psychological) in the face of a crumbling welfare system? How can we build social power by increasing our reproductive resilience?”

In his most recent essay, Towards a New Anti-Capitalist Politics, Jeremy Roos argues that, in the 21st century, the class struggle must begin not with wage labor, but with what he calls social reproduction.

What is social reproduction? Apparently it means we have to figure how we can make a living and reproduce without a job; how will workers survive when they can no longer sell their labor power to capital.

This would be a generous interpretation of Roos’ argument, however. In fact, Roos seems intent to establish a laughable theoretical proposition that, “Reproduction is always prior to production, as the latter cannot continue without the former.” Based on this nonsense he also insists, the Left must “shift attention back towards the related struggles taking place within the sphere of realization.”

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Are socialists just better managers of capitalist exploitation?

It is generally assumed among socialists that society cannot go from capitalism to communism in one leap, but, like Rooksby, I am unclear exactly what socialists think can be accomplished on the day after they get elected or otherwise seize power. If I read him correctly, it appears as if Rooksby imagines self-styled socialists (or what passes for socialist these days) can and must be satisfied to simply manage capitalism for a longer or shorter period of time.

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Fully assimilated liberal drivel

mcm_cmc has been think about life after capitalism, and, apparently, it is not all abundance and partying naked on the beach:

“I will argue that it fails to deal with various very real limitations on automation, increased consumption and the fulfilment of desires. Furthermore, in attempting to think in a utopian manner about possible post-capitalist societies it is necessary to consider questions of changing social relations and relations between humanity and nature that the luxury communism vision avoids.”

B2zqi09CQAAXRqTThe phrase, “fully automated luxury communism”, is an interesting attempt to describe a vision of communist society that is not (a) founded on an egalitarian shared poverty; and, (b) a state regulated workhouse.

Whether this idea succeeds or not is not the point, since it apparently began as a joke in the UK Left.

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Three reasons why my argument for reducing hours of labor may suck big time

There seems to be three major categories of objections to my argument on hours of labor:

First, what material impact will a reduction of hours of labor have on the operation of the capitalist mode of production?

chair-on-the-beach-1082-2560x1440A fall in the rate of profit produced by shorter hours will cause bankruptcies in a lot of marginally profitable industries. The capitalists will not simply respond to a fall in profits by paying workers more.  When hours are reduced, the capitalists will unleash an assault on the living standards of workers. Thus, a reduction of hours of labor will lead to an offensive against the social conditions of the working class.

Second, is a reduction of hours of labor incompatible with, or opposed to, the conventional Marxist argument that the working class must seize political power?

My argument exudes a hostility toward the working class seizing political power. My proposal for reduction of hours of labor treats the capitalist mode of production as an abstraction from the class struggle. Marx insisted that objective economic processes were an expression of class forces. The idea that reduction of hours of labor can lead to communism on its own is economism. Essentially, ending capitalism means abolition of private ownership of the means of production, and the capitalist nation-state system. In isolation from the seizure of state power and nationalization of private property, proposals for changes to the mode of production, like reduction of hours of labor, are reformist.

Third, will the working class itself support a demand for reductions of hours of labor?

Workers believe reducing hours of labor will reduce their income. Hours of labor reduction might result in a shift in such that most workers will actually see their wages fall; although some rise. With a reduction of hours of labor, wages might increase relative to profits, but still fall overall. A reduction of hours under capitalism will only intensify the social crisis of the working class.

***

I’m pretty sure that does not exhaust the list. But they are interesting arguments anyways. Question 3 really is the killer, because if workers think they will be poorer they will never support it. Oddly enough, this was never a problem in France’s 35 hours law. Also average hours of labor in the US right now is about at 34.6 hours per week. Depending on the industry, hours of labor in October varied from 45 hours per week (mining) to 26.2 hours per week (leisure/hospitality). Retail, for instance, regularly runs a work week of less than 32 hours. Most people in the private service sector never see 40 hours per week.

I will probably address these three objections separately in the near future.

Land, Accelerationism and the “impending human extinction”

If you want to make the case against Nick Land, you could not do it more completely than the case made against him by Alex Williams. According to Williams, Land seeks to dissolve humanity “in a technological apotheosis”. The terminology is just completely over the top: Land has ‘hijacked’ Deleuze and Guattari, “bringing out an implicit inhuman pro-capitalism.”

16l0i3aNote Williams admit this so-called “inhuman pro-capitalism” is already implicit in  Deleuze and Guattari. He cannot possibly accuse Land of having invented it as I have so often accused Marxists of inventing ideas said to originate with Marx. If Land has done anything, it is only to tease out of Deluze and Guattari an inhuman pro-capitalism that was already present.

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An exchange with a Left Accelerationist

I had a short exchange with a Left Accelerationist, @nervemeter, on Twitter this week. It was an interesting discussion, so I am publishing it here. The original context is on my twitter account. I have made some edits to it for clarification.

Nervemeter: I don’t think [Nick Land] thinks the “blind process” is at all communism-bound. & I don’t think he thinks we can drive it there.

Jehu: And you accept that conclusion?

social_anxiety_1Nervemeter: Well, not entirely, but that there is one of the major dividing lines between [Right and Left Acelerationism]. I’m skeptical about the 1st part, but generally agree with the second. We can (I hope) find ways to steer blind cosmic-scale processes. But I don’t quite think capitalism is a machine fated to produce communism of its own momentum. It might create *conditions* for communism, that is, it might make communism *possible*, but never *necessary*. That’s my very sketchy take on it, anyway.

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Left Accelerationism as product re-branding

Indian_call_centerWhat makes Land’s Accelerationism the purest and only valid existing expression of Accelerationism today?

Well, at least in part, it is because Land’s self-styled critics, such as, for instance, Alex Williams, write shit like this:

Where Deleuze and Guattari ultimately counseled caution, to accelerate with care to avoid total destruction, Land favored an absolute process of acceleration and deterritorialization, identifying capitalism as the ultimate agent of history. As Land puts it, “Capitalism has no external limit, it has consumed life and biological intelligence, [and it is] vast beyond human anticipation.” Here, the deregulation, privatization, and commodification of neoliberal capitalism will serve to destroy all stratification within society, generating in the process unheard of novelties. Politics and all morality, particularly of the leftist variety, are a blockage to this fundamental historical process. Land had a hypnotizing belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity. In this visioning of capital, even the human itself can eventually be discarded as mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilizations. As Land has it, through the acceleration of global capitalism the human will be dissolved in a technological apotheosis, effectively experiencing a species-wide suicide as the ultimate stimulant head rush.

Marxists look at Land and they are scandalized by his writing; writings that violate their petty bourgeois sensibilities.

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Proletarian Revolution versus The Real Movement of Society: A reply to Siddiq

revolutionA comment by Siddiq on my blog argues that I am off-base by suggesting there is no need whatsoever for a conscious revolutionary subject. I want to take a moment to respond and explain my apparent difference with value critique writers like Robert Kurz.

In contradiction to value critique theorists like Kurz, I assume the collapse of capitalism and emergence of communism are one and the same event. Disputing this opinion, the commenter writes,

“First hand experience, and historical precedent, leads me to agree with Kurz that there is no guarantee that capitalist collapse will lead to some sort of emancipation.”

His argument is based on his direct experience in Zimbabwe in the aftermath of its recent crisis, where he observed economic crisis led not to a post-capitalist order, but to

“grassroots capitalism, in which the entire population hustled to survive by any means PERMITTED, most of which involved entrepreneurship and trading.”

I take this to mean, in the aftermath of the crisis, people tried to reconstruct their lives on the basis of barter relations. This is not at all unusual; as the commenter points out, evidence of this sort of thing can be found in any number of countries hit by an economic catastrophe. I can personally attest to seeing just this sort of behavior in the aftermath of the Argentine crisis with my own eyes. So I can vouch for the general view expressed in the comment, if not to the specifics in the case of Zimbabwe.

So what is the takeaway from these sorts of experiences with economic crisis and their political impact?

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Anselm Jappe and the end of the wertkritik school?

JappeI might turn out to be wrong, but based on my reading of Anselm Jappe’s “Towards a History of the Critique of Value”, I think wertkritik has encountered its limits. In the essay, Jappe shows that all you can get from wertkritik is an ever longer laundry list of dumb shit that will go when labor goes. This effort played a crucial role historically by challenging Marxism in all of its varieties, but it cannot do what we need right now — indicate a path forward.

Jappe states wertkritik has refused to come up with practical actions based on its methodology, but this is a specious argument: What he should have said is what the critics say themselves: wertkritik cannot provide a practical guide to action.

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