communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: occupy

Global Working Class

SWWorld(Wildcat Germany)

Uprising or Class Struggle?

The concept of class has become popular again. After the most recent global economic crisis, even bourgeois newspapers started posing the question: “Wasn’t Marx right after all?” For the last two years Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ has been on the bestseller list – a book which describes in a detailed way how historically, the capitalist process of accumulation resulted in a concentration of wealth into the hands of a tiny minority of capital owners. In western democracies too, significant inequalities have led to an increase in fear of social uprisings. This spectre has haunted the world in recent years – from riots in Athens, London, Baltimore, to the revolts in North Africa, which at times got rid of whole state governments. As usual during these times of unrest, while one faction of the rulers call for repression and weapons, the other raises the ‘social question’, which is supposed to be solved by reforms or redistribution policies.

Global crisis has de-legitimated capitalism; the politics of the rulers and governments to make the workers and poor pay for the crisis has fuelled anger and desperation. Who would still dispute that we live in a ‘class society’? But what does that mean?

‘Classes’ in the more narrow sense of the word only emerge with capitalism – but the disappropriation from the means of production on which the property-less state of the proletarian is based, has not been a singular historical process. Disappropriation is a daily reoccurrence within the production process itself: workers produce, but the product of their labour does not belong to them. They only get what they need for the reproduction of their labour power, or that according to the living standard that they have claimed through struggle.

In principle, class societies don’t recognise any privileges by birthright, rather the ownership of money determines one’s position in society. In principle capitalism makes it possible to have a career that starts from being a dishwasher to becoming a stock market speculator (or at least a small entrepreneur, which is the hope of many migrants). At the same time, members of the petty bourgeoisie or artisans can descend into the ranks of the proletarians. Climbing up the social ladder is rarely the result of one’s own labour, rather of the ability to become a capitalist and to appropriate other people’s labour. (The mafia, as well, possesses this ability.)

In actual fact, a process of class polarisation takes place, which Marx and Engels had already grasped as an explosive force and precondition for revolution. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority.”(Manifesto) Immanuel Wallerstein declared Marx’s thesis of class polarisation to be his most radical one, which – once related to the world system – has been proven to be true. Polarisation means, on one hand, proletarianisation, on the other hand bourgeoisification.

Capital is not simply wealth accumulated in the hands of a few. Capital is the precondition and result of the capitalist process of production, in which living labour creates value, which is appropriated by others. For capitalism is not typically the ‘exploitation’ of a single worker by an artisan master, but the exploitation of a big mass of workers in a factory. It is a mode of production based on the fact that millions of people work together although they don’t know each other. They produce value together, but together they can also refuse this work and question the social division of labour. As labour power, workers are part of capital; as the working class, they are capital’s biggest enemy within.

Generations of ‘scientific management’ researchers have tried to expropriate workers’ knowledge of how to produce in order to become independent from them. They have established parallel production units in order to be able to continue production in case workers go on strike. They have closed down and relocated factories in order to be able to increase exploitation of, and control over, new groups of workers. But they were not able to exorcise the spectre. During the strike-waves of 2010, for the first time it haunted all parts of the globe simultaneously. These struggles are currently in the process of changing this world. Even academia has become aware of it and after a long time has turned the working class into an object of their research again – as numerous publications, new magazines and web-pages demonstrate, through which left-wing social scientists try to create links between workers in different continents. In Germany for the last 25 years, workers were left alone with their struggles – here, as well, social movements and intellectuals have started referring to them again.

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Choke points

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Mapping an anticapitalist counter-logistics in California

While it is indisputably within the sphere of production that the value-form is created and the obfuscation of social relations under capital begins, perhaps the notion that it is within sphere of circulation that the value-form can begin to be destroyed necessitates more tactical experiments explicitly targeting this realm in the US context of struggles.

From: Degenerate Communism

The post-Occupy stagnation of class struggle within the US context is becoming increasingly typified, in this period of ever deepening crisis, by a rather simplistic dual nature. The more radical milieus that emerged in the midst of Occupy, those that precipitated the emergence of a political non-subject, the refusal to enter into an articulable “political” discourse, the intentional lack of “political” demands, etc. have retreated into a period of convalescence, through which hopefully will emerge more critical self-reflection and evaluation of the post-Occupy landscape. On the other hand, the more traditional leftist elements within Occupy, those that felt the need to frame their struggles in purely positive prefigurations (e.g. direct democracy advocates, certain political reforms, calling for political and economic accountability, a tempering of capital – not its abolition) have ushered in a series of reactionary forays back into a politics which grotesquely repeats old narratives of identity politics and/or single-issue reform. That this bifurcated nature of the current antagonism aligned against capital presently exists in the North American context, should come as no surprise since this binary was inherent in the generalized functioning of Occupy from its inception. There was a clear rift between what seemed like metaphysical sets of qualities and temperaments, which concretely manifested as very different sets of politics and/or antipolitics. Reductively (admittedly problematic), this split, this Janus of Occupy, could be interpreted as a series of contradictions that effectively formed into the limits of that struggle: prefiguration vs. abolition, prescriptive language vs. refusal of discourse, affirmative politics vs. negative antipolitics, and perhaps most contentiously, as Zuccotti Park vs. Oscar Grant Plaza.

The claim that Occupy ushered in questions of class and wealth into the forefront of the American popular consciousness is not enough, for it presupposes that counter-ideological consciousness-raising is in and of itself revolutionary. In the current crisis, the restructuring of globalized speculative capitalism in this age of neoliberal austerity, the raising of revolutionary consciousness seems inherently redundant. False consciousness is a meaningless concept now, as most proletarians (our understanding of the term broadly being all those excluded from the means of production, not only those that sell their labor-power) will recognize something fundamentally wrong with the social, economic, and political relations under the capitalist mode of production, yet even with this understanding we cannot extricate ourselves from our roles in the maintenance and reproduction of these relations by our counter-ideological will alone. This is one of the fundamental ironies about the current crisis; we viscerally feel the weight of capital’s increasing exploitation and can identify it as such, yet we still have not been able to overcome our implication in its prolongation and reproduction.

In the context of Occupy, consciousness-raising stopped at merely calling attention to the widening income gap in the United States. It couldn’t move from superficial condemnations of wealth inequality to cogently theorizing disruptions to the production of surplus-value and the accumulation of capital, let alone the abolition of the value-form in its entirety. This is not surprising, given the dissolution of all pretense towards class identity, the decline of American manufacture and the transition into pure post-Fordism, the rise of service work and immaterial labor, the rise of indentured servitude via the debt relation, increasingly precarious labor, and of course the persistent ideological conception of capitalism as the end of history with no alternative. Faced with these relatively deterministic qualifiers, it would simply be idealistic revisionism to impart a much more radical reading of Occupy’s potential than there actually was. That said we are concerned with taking from Occupy’s demise the fragmentary remains of certain tactics in their stillborn form. While they failed to become extensively generalized both within the moment and the immediate aftermath of Occupy (hence aborting their ability to become communising measures), the tactics we are choosing to excise and examine from that context are those that seem, theoretically of course, to possess a certain dormant potentiality. Admittedly, this process is purely speculative, as in any tactical translation from one unique moment with its own exigencies to another moment not yet manifested can only be one of conjecture (prefiguration encounters limits, theory informed by praxis supersedes them). This essay is merely a set of interrelated questions-without-answers about the potential to disrupt the valorization of capital in the present post-Occupy US context. If they are to be answered at all, the answers are only to be found in our generalized direct confrontation against capital and its abolition, in the immediate process of the production of communism itself.

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The Wreck of the Plaza

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In an epoch characterized by disequilibria political and economic, none has been more perplexing than the inability to match means with ends. Everywhere, violent eruptions find no demand or objective around which to cohere, while struggles for the most minor of reforms burn with revolutionary intensity. Either the means overrrun their ends, or they find no end at all. In Turkey and Brazil, demonstrations over a change in the price of transit, or the development of a city park, provoke violent conflicts of an almost insurrectionary intensity. In France, teenagers barricade their schools against the withdrawal of a pension that is as yet fifty years off. Any pretext, any provocation can become the adventitious occasion for mobilization of antagonism that finds no outlet, no name or program. Do we suppose that French kids are really concerned about what will happen to them once they are ready to retire? Does any young person expect the current social order to last that long? What can it mean when a .20 real increase in transit fares becomes the occasion for petrol bomb attacks on the National Assembly, when a conflict over a half acre of green space sets in motion a national uprising involving millions? What can be glimpsed through this gap between tactics and strategy, discourse and praxis, between the slogans and signage of a social movement and what one is willing to do with friends and strangers on a given evening after the future has come to an end?

Three years ago we wrote from an absent future we had encountered on the grounds of the American university. Today, the absence of that future is everywhere present. Neither capital nor its would-be antagonists can provide a compelling portrait of the next decade, let alone the next century. All the sci-fi utopias of flying cars and robot servants, of full automation and zero work, seem truly ridiculous. No one can imagine capitalism providing a series of progressive social reforms, any more than they can imagine seizing the state and the economy to provide a more egalitarian distribution of resources. No, the future presents only as ruin, apocalypse, burning metal in the desert. There is no possibility of an instrumental linking of means to ends, a linking of people to party, party to program. Everywhere, means exceed their ends; everywhere, the registration of social catastrophe must find its occasion lacking any remedies carried forward from the past. In such a conjuncture, the masses are opportunists; they find in immediate and often trivial demands an opportunity to mobilize grand antagonisms which otherwise find no clear expression.

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