communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: production

The Author as Producer (Walter Benjamin, 1934)

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Address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism, Paris, April 27, 1934

The task is to win over the intellectuals to the working class by making them aware of the identity of their spiritual enterprises and of their conditions as producers. –

Ramon Fernandez

You recall how Plato treats the poets in his projected State. In the interest of the community, he does not allow them to live there. He had a high idea of the power of poetry. But he considered it destructive, superfluous – in a perfect community, needless to say. Since then, the question of the poet’s right to exist has not often been stated with the same insistence; but it is today. Certainly it has rarely been posed in this form. But you are all more or less familiar with it as the question of the poet’s autonomy: his freedom to write whatever he may please. You are not inclined to accord him this autonomy. You believe that the current social situation forces the poet to choose whom his activity will serve. The bourgeois writer of popular stories does not acknowledge this alternative. So you show him that even without admitting it, he works in the interests of a particular class. An advanced type of writer acknowledges this alternative. His decision is determined on the basis of the class struggle when he places himself on the side of the proletariat. But then his autonomy is done for. He directs his energies toward what is useful for the proletariat in the class struggle. We say that he espouses a tendency. [1]

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A Sick Planet (Debord, 1971)

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Written by Guy Debord in 1971, this text was intended for publication in Internationale Situationniste 13, which never appeared. It was first published in the French edition of the present collection in 2004. It may also be found in Guy Debord, Oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard, 2006, pp. 1063-9). Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, published in English, 2008. PDF

‘POLLUTION’ IS IN FASHION TODAY, exactly in the same way as revolution: it dominates the whole life of society, and it is represented in illusory form in the spectacle. It is the subject of mind-numbing chatter in a plethora of erroneous and mystifying writing and speech, yet it really does have everyone by the throat. It is on display everywhere as ideology, yet it is continually gaining ground as a material development. Two antagonistic tendencies, progression towards the highest form of commodity production and the project of its total negation, equally rich in contradictions within themselves, grow ever stronger in parallel with one other. Here are the two sides whereby a sole historical moment, long awaited and often described in advance in partial and inadequate terms, is made manifest: the moment when it becomes impossible for capitalism to carry on working.

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The Belly of the Revolution: Agriculture, Energy, and the Future of Communism

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by Jasper Bernes (2018), from Materialism and the Critique of Energy

In the days when man’s members did not all agree amongst themselves, as is now the case, but had each its own ideas and a voice of its own, the other parts thought it unfair that they should have the worry and the trouble and the labour of providing everything for the belly, while the belly remained quietly in their midst with nothing to do but to enjoy the good things which they bestowed upon it; they therefore conspired together that the hands should carry no food to the mouth, nor the mouth accept anything that was given it, nor the teeth grind up what they received. While they sought in this angry spirit to starve the belly into submission, the members themselves and the whole body were reduced to the utmost weakness. Hence it had become clear that even the belly had no idle task to perform, and was no more nourished than it nourished the rest, by giving out to all parts of the body that by which we live and thrive, when it has been divided equally amongst the veins and is enriched with digested food — that is, the blood.

Many on the left still subscribe to a view of technology that G.A. Cohen, in his reconstruction of Marx’s thought, called “the fettering thesis.” From this perspective, the technological forces that capitalism employs in its quest for productivity-driven profit are the foundation upon which an emancipated humanity will erect its new dwelling. Humane cultivation of these forces is, however, “fettered” by capitalist social relations. Capitalism is pregnant with what could be, a deployment in the conditional tense of given productive forces. In a resonant moment of triumphal phrasing at the end of the first volume of Capital, Marx describes capitalism as tending toward a moment of crisis, its property relations an “integument… burst asunder” by the maturation of increasingly centralized and concentrated productive forces. The consequences, for Marx, are clear: “The knell of capitalist property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” At a critical point in the development of capitalism, the fragmented, unplanned allocation of wealth that characterizes production for profit in competitive markets no longer conforms with the complex, industrialized labor process of modern workplaces: only socialist planning and the supervision of the direct producers themselves can make effective use of the technology whose adolescence the bourgeoisie oversaw. Today, many will advance these arguments only with significant caveats, avoiding some of its more embarrassing iterations. Few would argue, for instance, that the deskilled, socialized labor of the factory system contains the germ of a new world in the making. They will not hesitate, however, to pour new wine into old bottles and say much the same thing about 3-D printers and self-driving cars… [READ PDF]

Simon Clarke’s Guide to Capital: All Three Volumes

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Simon Clarke’s homepage / publications. Guide to Capital as doc / pdf


Capital, volume 1, Chapter 1.

Background:

The first chapter of Capital is both the most important, in that it introduces the basic concepts of Marx’s theory of value, and the most difficult.

Marx first began to work out his theory of value in the Grundrisse (1857), but the discussion there is very convoluted and incomplete. The first version of Chapter One of Capital is to be found in the Critique of Political Economy (1859), whose first chapter is in many ways the best introduction to Chapter One of Capital. The discussion of the Critique differs in a number of ways from that of Capital:

  1. In the Critique Marx does not make the fundamental distinction between value and exchange-value that is made in Capital
  2. in the Critique the argument has a much more ‘Hegelian’ flavour: the argument is entirely formulated in terms of the development of the contradiction between (exchange)-value and use-value
  • the logical and historical development of the argument are both present, but are separated: a logical analysis is followed by a historical one, whereas in Capital the two are more closely integrated
  • Marx devotes much more attention to money in the Critique (and in the Grundrisse) than he does in Capital, (the discussion of money in Capital refers the reader back to the Critique)
  1. The explanation of the theory of value in the Critique is rather different from that in Capital. In the Critique the discussion of commodity fetishism is more closely integrated into the discussion of the theory of value and it is clear that for Marx it is the ‘qualitative’ rather than the ‘quantitative’ dimension that is important: i.e. the theory of value is a theory of the way in which, through money and exchange, private labours are brought into social relation with one another. In Capital the exposition emphasises the quantitative dimension first: the theory of value as a theory of the ratio in which commodities exchange, before discussing the qualitative dimension.

The version of the first chapter of Capital in the English translations is a revised version that first appeared in the third German edition. In the first two editions the first chapter was shorter (roughly the first two sections of the later version and shorter versions of the third and fourth sections), and there was also an Appendix on ‘The form of value’ that was integrated into the third section in the rewrite. The change was made in an attempt to make the first chapter more comprehensible but it does introduce some differences in emphasis. (A translation of the first version of Ch. 1 and the Appendix is published, in a very tortuous translation, in Value Studies by Marx (A. Dragstedt, ed.). A much better translation of the Appendix has been published in Capital and Class, 4, 1978.)

Chapter One of Capital offers us a sociological theory of the market. Marx does not see the market simply as an institution in which individuals meet to exchange commodities, to be understood in isolation from the production of commodities, for exchange itself has implications for production. It is through the price mechanism that apparently independent producers are persuaded to produce in accordance with social needs: if too much of a commodity is produced, the price falls and less will be produced: producers will direct their labour into the production of other goods. If a producer is inefficient he or she will not get full recognition in the market for the work he or she has done, and so will be compelled to increase efficiency. Thus the market is the place in which the labour of individual producers is brought into relation with that of other producers, and so of society as a whole. The market is a particular way of allocating social labour, appropriate to a particular kind of society in which individuals work independently of one another to produce goods for the use of others. Thus the relation between individual producers in a commodity producing society is not directly recognised as a social relation – the producers do not get together to plan production as interdependent members of society. Instead the social relation between these producers takes the form of a relation between things, between the goods they exchange for one another. The exchange ratio, or exchange value, of commodities, is not, therefore, merely a relation between inanimate objects, but it expresses the relation between the labours of the individuals who have produced those commodities. This idea is the basis of Marx’s theory of value.

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Insurrection and Production

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Angry Workers World

An empirically heavy mind-game for the debate on working class strategy: First steps in a six-month revolutionary transition period in the UK region

Dear fellow travellers,

We’ve written a few texts on ‘revolutionary strategy’ before, focusing on the relationship between workers’ existence within the social production process, experiences of day-to-day struggles and the possibility of a wider working class movement – termed by others as a ‘social strike’. [1] While we maintain that we will only be able to make fruitful organisational proposals through an analysis of the concrete day-to-day struggles of our class, we think that it can’t do any harm to discuss what we think a revolutionary situation in the 21st century could look like. Thinking about tomorrow might make clearer our view on today.

We are not alone in this. Since the uprisings in 2010/11 (‘Arab Spring’ etc.) and the general upsurge in social movements and global strike waves in the last ten years or so, the radical and not so radical left have had a lot of discussions about transitions, post-capitalism, social strikes or the era of riots and coming insurrections. In this text we will briefly engage with some of the main ideas that have been put forward in these recent analyses of revolution and fundamental social change. We do this to point out some limitations to these theories, as well as to draw out their political implications. The two main camps we look at here are, unsurprisingly, given the title, that of those in the radical milieu who favour an insurrectionist approach to political action (riots on the streets, spontaneous proletarian action, or that done by those on the margins, the so-called ‘surplus population’) and those that tend to concentrate on workers at the point of production and their collective power but who maybe don’t relate this to a wider view on general proletarian impoverishment and other areas of life and struggle. We put forward our perspective that tries to move beyond the traditional insurrectionist and syndicalist approaches to think in less abstract ways about what a communist revolution would actually entail. To this end, the main part of the text consists of an empirical study of what we term the ‘essential industries’ in the UK region, which comprise roughly 13 million workers. We think this will be the backbone of our strength in the revolutionary transition period in order to reproduce ourselves while the counter-revolutionary forces try and crush us. While this seems like a bit of a flight into the idealistic, unknown future, we think that reconsidering the relationship between proletarian violence, insurrection and production on the level of 21st century class composition will help ground our current practical political orientation. This at a time of general political disorientation (of which we see Corbyn-mania as an obvious sign!) in the wake of defeats and containment of the upsurges we have experienced and witnessed around the world in recent years. In short, we hope that in the course of the following text we put some basic assumptions about a communist revolution into a more concrete context. We try and do this in seven steps by looking at:

a) the reality of recent struggles with a brief review of the 2010/11 uprisings from a revolutionary perspective
b) the revolutionary essence of capitalism: short remarks on the debate about ‘surplus population’ (riots) vs. ‘global working class’ (global production) to tackle the question of what capitalism’s main revolutionary contradictions are
c) the material (regional) divisions within the working class: some thoughts on the impact of uneven development on how workers experience impoverishment and their productive power differently
d) the regional backbone of insurrection: empirical material about the structure of essential industries in the UK region
e) whether anyone can say ‘communism?’: brief conclusions on revolutionary transition
f) the basic steps of organising revolution: what would a working class revolution have to achieve within the first months of its existence
g) revolutionary organisation. Here we propose that this perspective on ‘revolution tomorrow’ does not leave us untouched today, for it asks for certain organisational efforts in the here and now. We sketch out what those could be.

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On Communisation and its Theorists

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Endnotes – If the term “communisation” is missing from Endnotes 4 this is due partly to the topics we covered, and partly to our frustration with the way this word has become associated with a new theoretical brand and/or radical identity. We will return to the theme of communism in the present tense in Endnotes 5, but as a preview of that issue we here publish a critical take on “communisation” by some friends of ours and the classless society (Freundinnen und Freunden der klassenlosen Gesellschaft). We don’t agree with it all, and we will include a response in the forthcoming issue, but in the meantime we hope it will provide food for thought. This text was originally published in the Friends’ journal Kosmoprolet as a response to Théorie Communiste’s critique of the Friends’ 28 Theses on Class Society. A translation of TC’s original critique can be found here.

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Listen, Anarchist!

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A personal response to Simon Springer’s “Why a radical geography must be anarchist”

by David Harvey

Simon Springer (2014) has written a lively and polemical piece in which he argues that a radical geography must be freshly anarchist and not tired-old Marxist. As with any polemic of this sort, his paper has its quota of misrepresentations, exaggerations and ad hominem criticisms, but Springer does raise key issues that are worthy of discussion.

Let me first make clear my own position. I sympathize (but don’t entirely agree) with Murray Bookchin, who in his late writings (after he had severed his long- standing connection to anarchism), felt that “the future of the Left, in the last analysis, depends upon its ability to accept what is valid in both Marxism and anarchism for the present time and for the future coming into view” (Bookchin, 2014: 194). We need to define “what approach can incorporate the best of the revolutionary tradition – Marxism and anarchism – in ways and forms that speak to the kinds of problems that face the present” (2014: 164).

Springer, judging from his piece, would want no part in such a project. He seems mainly bent on polarizing the relation between anarchism and Marxism as if they are mutually exclusive if not hostile. There is, in my view, no point in that. From my Marxist perspective, the autonomist and anarchist tactics and sentiments that have animated a great deal of political activism over the last few years (in movements like “Occupy”) have to be appreciated, analyzed and supported when appropriate. If I think that “Occupy” or what happened in Gezi Park and on the streets of Brazilian cities were progressive movements, and if they were animated in whole or in part by anarchist and autonomista thought and action, then why on earth would I not engage positively with them? To the degree that anarchists of one sort or another have raised important issues that are all too frequently ignored or dismissed as irrelevant in mainstream Marxism, so too I think dialogue – let us call it mutual aid – rather than confrontation between the two traditions is a far more fruitful way to go. Conversely, Marxism, for all its past faults, has a great deal that is crucial to offer to the anti-capitalist struggle in which many anarchists are also engaged.

Geographers have a very special and perhaps privileged niche from which to explore the possibility of collaborations and mutual aid. As Springer points out, some of the major figures in the nineteenth century anarchist tradition – most notably Kropotkin, Metchnikoff and Reclus – were geographers. Through the work of Patrick Geddes, Lewis Mumford and later on Murray Bookchin, anarchist sentiments have also been influential in urban planning, while many utopian schemas (such as that of Edward Bellamy) as well as practical plans (such as those of Ebenezer Howard) reflect anarchist influences. I would, incidentally, put my own utopian sketch (“Edilia”) from Spaces of Hope (2000) in that tradition.

Social anarchists have typically been much more interested in and sensitive to questions of space, place and environment (core concepts that I think most geographers would accept as central to their discipline). The Marxist tradition, on the whole, has been lamentably short on interest in such topics. It has also largely ignored urbanization and urban social movements, the production of space and uneven geographical developments (with some obvious exceptions such as Lefebvre and the Anglo-French International Journal of Urban and Regional Research that began in 1977, and in which Marxist sociologists played a prominent founding role). Only relatively recently (e.g. since the 1970s) has mainstream Marxism recognized environmental issues or urbanization and urban social movements as having fundamental significance within the contradictions of capital. Back in the 1960s, most orthodox Marxists regarded environmental issues as preoccupations of petite bourgeois romanticists (this was what infuriated Murray Bookchin who gave vent to his feelings in his widely circulated essay, “Listen, Marxist!”, from 1971’s Post- Scarcity Anarchism).

Shortly after I got interested in Marx and Marxism in the early 1970s, I figured that part of my mission might be to help Marxists be better geographers. I have frequently joked since that it proved much easier to bring Marxist perspectives into geography than to get Marxists to take geographical questions seriously. Bringing Marxist perspectives into geography meant taking up themes on space, place making and environment and embedding them in a broad understanding of “the laws of motion of capital” as Marx understood them. Most social anarchists I know (as Springer admits) find the Marxist critical exposé and theoretical account of how capital circulates and accumulates in space and time and through environmental transformations helpful. To the degree that I was able, and continue to work on, how to make Marx’s critique of capital more relevant and more easily understood, particularly in relation to topics such as urbanization, landscape formation, place- making, rental extractions, ecological transformations and uneven geographical developments, I would hope that social anarchists might appreciate and not disparage the effort. The contributions of Marxism in general and Marxist political economy in particular are foundational to anti-capitalist struggle. They define more clearly what the struggle has to be about and against and why.

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