- Category: Theory
- Created on Saturday, 11 May 2013 21:45
- Written by Bromma
The following piece was written as a response to a new piece called "A Commune in Chiapas?" It first appeared on Kersplebedeb. Without endorsing all of its verdicts, I want to point out that is is both a powerful indictment of Euro-chauvinist fantasies about the Zapatista story, and an introduction to the complex process of mutual transformation through which the Mayan people transformed the Zapatistas, and the Zapatistas in turn transformed the people. It is highly relevent to our own discussions of what new communist beginnings might look like.
-Intro by Eric Ribellarsi
Class, Colonialism and the Zapatistas
I started off wanting to like “A Commune In Chiapas?” (This major essay about the Zapatistas, written for the English “liberation communist” journal, Aufheben, is distributed as a pamphlet by Arm the Spirit/Solidarity, Canadian anti-imperialist publishers who represent u.s. political prisoners such as David Gilbert, Albert Nuh Washington and Jalil Muntaquin.) I appreciated its willingness to criticize radicals who “project their hopes onto this ‘exotic’ struggle.” I was ready to agree with its skepticism about the rhetoric of Subcommandante Marcos, about romantic views of indigenous life, about social democracy masquerading as “civil society.” I was glad to see that the pamphlet included some background history about Mexico and a chronology of the Zapatista uprising. Most of all, I looked forward to its attempt to analyze the events in Chiapas from a class perspective.
I shouldn’t have got my hopes up. “Commune” is actually a pretty conservative piece of writing. Conservative in its view of class. Conservative in its distaste for national liberation struggles and radical anti-colonialism. Above all, conservative—even predictable—in its Eurocentric assumptions about Indians. A narrow form of academic Marxism acts like parental web-screening software, preventing the authors from seeing even the basic outlines of the Zapatista struggle.
The January 1, 1994 uprising in Chiapas resulted from a fusion of indigenous peoples’ struggles for survival with a band of revolutionary Marxist guerrillas. This fusion produced an innovative movement which slammed a body blow into global capital. “Commune,” on the other hand, was written by theoreticians who lack respect for indigenous struggle and apparently have little use for real-life revolutionary Marxist guerrillas. Not surprisingly, their main message is that the Zapatistas have limited historical significance.
The pamphlet’s aim is not so much to learn lessons from the Zapatista struggle as to grind ideological axes. The authors claim to represent the voice of moderation, avoiding what they see as twin errors: wishful thinking about Chiapas (which they ascribe to autonomist Marxists, among others) as well as a dismissive attitude among self-styled “ultra-left” groups in Europe. But actually “Commune” is squarely in the dismissers’ camp. Like them, it disdains what it calls “anti-imperialist and Third Worldist ideology.” Like them, it applies a series of formulaic litmus tests to the events in Chiapas, and judges the Zapatista struggle as essentially backward.
- Category: Theory
- Created on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 20:43
- Written by Eve Mitchell and Tyler Zimmerman
This article by Eve Mitchell and Tyler Zimmerman is part of an ongoing discussion about what type of theories and strategies can lead to the liberation of women as part of the all around struggle for communism and human liberation. It is a direct response to an earlier article by Nat Winn titled "Not for herself alone: beyond the limits of Marxist Feminism." The Mitchell/Zimmerman piece originally appeared on the Gathering Forces blog. Other parts of the discusion are here and here.
For Herself, and Therefore, for the Class: Toward a Methodological Feminism
by Eve Mitchell and Tyler Zimmerman
Recently, Nat Winn, a member of Fire Next Time and Kasama weighed in on a discussion of Marxist-Feminism begun on the FNT blog originally by Ba Jin and ZoRa B'Al Sk'a and with a response by Eve Mitchell of Unity and Struggle. We welcome the energetic engagement by all parties including those commenting on the Kasama blog on what remains one of the most critical questions of our time: the content and forms of women's liberation.
The scope of Eve's response did not go beyond clarifying the relationship between Federici and James, and discussing broadly the Marxist-Feminist methodology, including the Wages for Housework campaign. Nat has challenged the practical implications of Wages for Housework which is supposedly linked to the political failings of Marxist-Feminism.
What may at first sight appear in Nat's response as merely strategic difference (for instance, whether or not there should be an emphasis on intervention in struggles around reproductive freedom versus that over domestic and reproductive work), belying it is the crucial question of method that must be unpacked.
In Nat's comments, we observe an unnecessary antagonism being drawn between two completely valid arenas of struggle; the content and form of reproductive labor on the one side and reproductive freedom on the other (there is no coincidence in the double use of "reproduction" here which we'll expound further down). The origin of this antagonism is located between a splitting of the subject and object. This is done through a dualistic reading of "economics" and "politics," or, to use the terms Marx employed in the "Preface" to A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, "base" and "superstructure." But there is an immanent unity between subject and object as well as between base and superstructure and what Marxism represents is precisely the unification of these categories. The tragedy of orthodox Marxism is that it represents a reification of them; that is, regarding an abstract duality of the subject and object as a real thing that plays out in the real world in terms of forms of organizing and concrete political orientations.
We'd like to say a little bit about the importance of Marx's conception of labor and unity of subject-object. Only then will the political divergences with Nat come into relief.
Marx's conception of labor and the unity of the subject-object.
Marx's early philosophical texts directly fleshed out his conception of self-, or life-activity, which later in works like Capital, he discussed simply as "labor." In "Estranged Labour," Marx writes,
"For in the first place labour, life-activity, productive life itself, appears to man merely as a means to satisfying a need — the need to maintain the physical existence. Yet the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species — its species character — is contained in the character of its life activity; and free conscious activity is man's species character. Life itself appears only as a means to life." (76)
Self-activity, or labor, is universal; meaning it exists in all modes of production. Further, it is defines our humanity. It is the ever-expanding process of satisfying our needs, introducing new needs, and developing new ways of fulfilling our needs. Labor encompasses everything from our jobs under capitalism to tilling the land under feudalism to creating art and poetry to having sex and raising children.
But labor is not just what we do; it is our ability to choose, reflect upon, and change our labor process. Labor is our process of changing the external world and our internal selves. Later in "Estranged Labor," Marx writes,
"It is just in the working-up of the objective world, therefore, that man first really proves himself to be a species being. This production is his active species life. Through and because of this production, nature appears as his work and his reality. The object of labour is, therefore, the objectification of man's species life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he contemplates himself in a world that he has created. In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labour tears from him his species life, his real species objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him." (77)
Here Marx's conception of the subject-object becomes clear. The external physical world is acted upon by humans, (labor is subjective), but the physical world is also an objectification of human labor, or self-activity (labor is objective).
Marx restated this concept in a polemic against the German "materialist" Ludwig Feuerbach. In the "Theses on Feuerbach," Marx argues that sensuousness is not something merely subjective, perceptive, and one-sided, as Feuerbach postulated. It is also objective and used toward the transformation of the external world. Human beings are both thinking subjects of the world but also objects of their own creation through labor. This is what Marx calls the metabolic relationship between man and nature.
While the subject-object dialectic is universal–meaning it exists in all modes of production–under capitalism, this process is interrupted. Our self-activity is no longer unified with our conscious will, and the subjectivity of our self-activity is turned against us. We do not produce for use, and do not have access to our multi-sided needs and corresponding activity; the world we have created is not our own but alien to us, or estranged from us. In contrast, communism is the movement toward uniting the subject and object, or the completely free state of conscious self-activity in which we produce for use; as Marx states in "Estranged Labour," we make our life-activity itself the object of our will and consciousness (76). A lot more can be said about this. For more elaboration, see the Unity and Struggle post, "The Communist Theory of Marx."
Politics and economics, a duality or a totality?
The base/superstructure concept adapted by orthodox Marxism has reified the subject-object split. It sees the "base," or economy, in a structuralist/sociological manner that exists independently of human initiative and which determines all activity and thinking. So capital, wages, and money are mere objects. On the other hand, "superstructure," or politics, is understood as subjective and confined to ideas or an abstract kind of activity that isn't metabolic with nature but divorced from it and determined by the base.
Marx never had a dualistic understanding of these categories and posited quite conversely that "economic categories are only the theoretical expressions, the abstractions of the social relations of production." (Poverty of Philosophy, MECW 6, 165) For Marx, capital, wages and money are the various phenomenological forms of alienated labor; they are subjective and objective social relations in disguise, not ahistoric things as political economy conceives. The economy and politics, or capital, wages and money can only be separated logically because concretely and in the real world they exist as a social and dialectical whole.
A dualistic conception of economy and politics ignores Marx's emphasis on living labor and fails to understand the unity of subject-object.
The splitting of the intrinsic unity of the subject-object and the dualistic reading of base/superstructure creates a dynamic where struggles around work are seen as narrow and economistic.
Struggles that emerge broadly around the wage, and which are not always simply about getting higher wages for a small group of workers, are not automatically economistic. And struggles that take place outside workplaces are not automatically political. For example, it was precisely the "economist" types who sought women's liberation through selling their labor-power during second wave feminism. Such a strategy was predicated on capital's fundamental social relations and confined gendered alienation to a question of receiving "equal wages for equal work."
This economism is typified precisely by a disconnect between the struggle to maintain access to abortion and the struggle against the gendered division of labor. This typically looks like mass protests that emerge to keep abortion legal without consideration not only for what sections of the class have access to sexual/reproductive healthcare but why there's a contradiction between many white women who are oftentimes coerced into keeping children and black women who face forced sterilization.
Economism refuses to challenge the racial and other important divisions within the class and which allow it to be recuperated by the movement's "official" leaders, by capital, the State, and the value-form. This also implicates various problematic forms to combat the encroaching hand of the State over women's bodies whether it be by petitioning, lobbying, symbolic protests, etc. Demands against the State are just as easily absorbed by the ruling class into new forms of rationality as demands for higher wages directed to employers, and many forms wind up acquiescing the fight before one actually begins.
When we enter the factory gate, or the domicile kitchen, we don't leave the political world behind us. Likewise, when we exit, we don't leave the realm of economics. There are manifold "political" dynamics that manifest at work, that implicate race and gender, from the wage scale, to the division of labor, to sexual harassment. Such factors not only undercut the specific, local, or sectoral interests of workers engaged in that workplace but become generalized features of class life institutionalized by the State. Similarly, outside of work, in the streets where women are fighting to maintain access to abortion have all kinds of economic implications.
Given this, the abstractions "economics" and "politics" cannot be separated. Our sense is that it is partly the job of communists to tease out the political implications of various spontaneous struggles that emerge, whether they take form at work or in the streets.
Marxist-Feminism, production and reproduction, labor and capital: finite or universal?
The methodology of orthodox Marxism, whereby the subject and object are split into a determining base (object) and a determined superstructure (subject), necessarily has consequences for how the content of women's liberation is to be understood. And this framework is exactly why reproductive labor and reproductive freedom are counterposed. For Nat,
"women's liberation from a communist point of view has to do with unleashing the capacity for every woman to be able to reach her full human potential in a society where human knowledge and technology along with natural resources are shared in common."
"women's liberation [is]...far beyond a discussion about waged and unwaged labor and an economic struggle for wages for housework."
If, then, women's liberation goes beyond labor, what we are dealing with is a framework that is ahistorical. Patriarchy is not something that statically exists separate from the mode of production; under capitalism patriarchy takes the form of gendered alienation, the gendered division of labor, etc. We cannot understand patriarchy without a critique of political economy and vice-versa. Furthermore, the form of reproductive labor under capitalism, which is gendered, exists in a unity with controlling our bodies as a means of production, and determining what kind of labor-power capital needs. This coincides with a racial division of labor which we've discussed above.
There can be no "reproductive freedom" if reproductive workers aren't freed from the gendered division of labor, i.e. unless there is a coordinated attack against the multifarious forms of alienated labor. Under the capitalist gendered division of labor, women's uteri and women's bodies are both means of production of labor-power that they are radically separated from. This condition is reinforced by the State in many forms, from limiting women's access to abortion and forced sterilization, to austerity measures that force women to increasingly bear the burden of caring for young, elderly, and disabled members of the class.
In relegating the gendered division of labor into an objective "base," and similarly assigning reproductive freedom to subjective "superstructure," Nat sets up a false dichotomy that can have devastating practical consequences. According to Nat,
"There has been an aversion to [the fight over reproductive freedom] in Marxist Feminism, perhaps because it is not a strictly 'working class' struggle. But this to me is a rigid type of Marxism which narrows everything down to the relation between labor and capital. To me this is a mistake. A revolution isn't a narrow economic act, it is a complex struggle involving real world alignments, consciousness, and political struggles. When we ignore real politics we stay isolated."
Again, labor/self-activity/production is posed as either objective economics on the one hand or subjective politics on the other. Further, this rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of Marx's conception of "labor." In contrast to this dualistic framework, we can return to Wages for Housework and the Marxist-Feminist methodology.
Wages for Housework emerged out of very real struggles of women in the post-war period and departed from the theory of the role of reproductive labor as a whole, struggles that find their historic origin in the split between productive and reproductive labor. The split of these two was necessary toward the development of the capitalist division of labor (which had a visible gendered content). In previous modes of production, reproductive labor was not so distinct, and individuals were not radically separated from the means of production and confined to a single sphere of work. This passage from Mariarosa Dalla Costa's and Selma James' "The Power Women and the Subversion of the Community" is not only illuminating but quite emphatic:
"In the same way as women are robbed of the possibility of developing their creative capacity, they are robbed of their sexual life which has been transformed into a function for reproducing labor power: the same observations which we made on the technological level of domestic services apply to birth control (and, by the way, to the whole field of gynaecology), research into which until recently has been continually neglected, while women have been forced to have children and were forbidden the right to have abortions when, as was to be expected, the most primitive techniques of birth control failed." (30)
Here, Dalla Costa and James confirm that labor and capital aren't narrow, they are universal categories. Certainly they've been narrowed in the orthodox Marxist tradition from Kautsky to Althusser, both in their theoretical scope and in their practical conclusions. But labor isn't just wage labor and capital isn't just factories. Labor and capital express the universal antagonistic movement between living labor and dead labor which is capital. This dynamic is one where things control us rather than us controlling things, between monotonous, one-sided work in the division of labor and the social relations between things we make. This is the picture Marx gives us from "Estranged Labour" to the "Critique of the Gotha Programme" and nowhere does he see labor and capital as reductive by any stretch.
Reproduction constitutes all those various labors that are essential to maintaining human beings and which are also historically developed; where the "nature" of humans change as they deepen their consciousness and many-sided labors, as opposed to a narrow naturalist and fixed conception of reproduction (babymaking).
We are told by Nat that "the discussion was suffocated in its scope because of its confinement within in a certain 'workerist' conception of how to look at women, sexuality, reproduction, and liberation." Nat counterposes and unnecessarily polarizes defending abortion versus struggles over reproductive labor and this is done precisely with the dualistic understanding of "base" and "superstructure" rooted, again, in the split of the subject-object. This also has bodily implications: where a woman' hands are concerned, it is economic, where it concerns her uterus, it is political.
Nat points out that Wages for Housework was not relevant in the 60s and 70s (and is still not relevant today) because it has never had popular currency with women engaged in struggle. Nat writes:
"Ultimately I think that women's liberation from a communist point of view has to do with unleashing the capacity for every woman to be able to reach her full human potential in a society where human knowledge and technology along with natural resources are shared in common.
To do that there needs to be a break away from the traditional role of women, namely traditional roles of giving birth to and raising children and other domestic roles.
Now due to the development of global capitalism since the 1970s, but also due to the fight of women at that time against traditional relations, there has been a break away from tradition.
The Wages for Housework tendency was correct in stating that a break from the home in and of itself would not liberate women or destroy capitalism. However, it was wrong politically to not unite with what was correct. We need to recognize the necessity of such a demand when placed within an overall communist vision of women's liberation."
We agree with Nat that women needed to break the isolation of the home in order to develop their communist potential, and that Wages for Housework never caught on. We also agree that revolutionaries should develop a strategy that both understands the current conditions and is informed by the self-activity of the class. But our approach is distinguished specifically by Marx's subject-object dialectic.
The Marxist Feminists understood the relationship between the objective conditions of society and the subjective self-activity of the class. They used this understanding to develop a programmatic strategy that would resolve contradictions within the class in favor of revolution (and abolition of gendered value relations):
This was a time in which capitalism was in crisis, and needed a strategy to overcome crisis (which later materialized in strategic shift from Keynesianism to neoliberalism). Entering into the workforce and receiving higher wages there would only allow capital to subsume increased labor-power, which would solve the crisis in the interest of capital. Wages for Housework would have caused increased devastation to capital by forcing capital to concede profits for unwaged domestic labor. In other words, the Marxist-Feminists argued that equality politics would add labor to women's plates instead of forcing capital to relinquish profits for work already being done. On top of this, Wages for Housework would have broken the isolation of the home and the patriarchy of the wage. Again, this strategy is based on the subject-object dialectic.
In contrast, Nat's arguments against Wages for Housework (and for engaging in reproductive rights struggles) is based on the assumption that when a programmatic strategy is not popular, it is not relevant and should be abandoned: "In fact, the ideas of Marxist Feminism have never caught on among large sections of women outside activist circles."
Are things valid only to the extent that masses of people say they are? Is Marxist-Feminism invalid because it has not been a banner waived or slogan employed by millions of women? We don't think Nat is implying this, but in its logical extension are found a host of problems, including working within the various trade union bureaucracies or the Democratic Party, or that revolutionaries should fight for all sorts of things just because they are popular. In any case, it seems that here Nat is conflating the subject and object, arguing that the current activity of the class, whatever the form, is the objective conditions of capitalism. The practical implications of this methodology is to "meet the class where they are at...and leave them there," meaning the current activity of the class dictates the program, strategies and tactics, instead of dialectically informing them.
Marxist-Feminism, like Marxism itself, is the distillation of the experiences of working class women. Where else does theory come from but those experiences? What was Marxism if not the logical content of the working class movement considered in its totality?
Programmatic strategies for women's liberation today
As stated in "Marxist-Feminism vs. Subjectivism: A Response to Fire Next Time", there is no problem in asking if Wages for Housework is relevant today. However, this must be done through grappling with the subject-object dialectic.
On the one hand, we must look at the objective conditions of capitalism and how that manifests in a gendered way today. One side of this Nat explains, including recent legislative and right-wing attacks against women's access to abortion. In the comments to Nat's post, commenter Liam Wright adds to this to include street harassment, rape and gendered assault. To this we would add super-exploitation in feminized workplaces, from nonprofits and schools to street sex work/prostitution and maquiladoras. We have explained above how these issues are at once both economic and political.
We would also include unwaged reproductive labor in the home (the majority of housework is still done by women in the home). However, the character of labor in the home is different today than it was in the 60s and 70s. A contradictory result of second wave feminism was that many of the things that women traditionally did in the home have been broadened out and entered into the circulation of capital. For example, the introduction and expansion of the fast food industry has on the one hand offered some relief to women but on the other, established a new sector of highly exploitative workplaces. This is both a win and a loss for women and therefore the class. It is also relevant that many more women are in the workforce these days; according the the U.S. Census, in 1960, only 15% of women worked full time, and in 2010 this number was up to 43%. This is not to say that struggles around unwaged, reproductive labor are irrelevant, but that workplace issues are far more relevant for women today.
The other side of the subject-object dialectic includes looking at the subjective activity of the class. Nat points toward mobilizations to defend abortion/women's health clinics. While these struggles are absolutely worth paying attention to, they are simply not representative of a generalized activity of the class. A large majority of the class is not mobilized at this time.
These expressions in content are a small sector of the class engaging in liberal methods to stop anti-abortion bills and restore funding to nonprofits. This strategy does not illuminate the State's interest in capital and patriarchy. Instead, it relies on the State to be women's protector, and ensures women's exploitation and eroded communist potential through protecting women's "right" to sell labor-power in nonprofits.
In the comments, Liam Wright points to Slut Walk as another strata of women's self-activity. While Slut Walk was a bit more broad, it was a series of permitted marches that culminated in open mics where people shared stories about being raped, sexually assaulted, stalked etc. There was no confrontation with the State or capital. In some ways, Slut Walk sought to break down the public/private split (women's bodies and sexuality is reserved for the private reproductive sphere), yet it did so only to rebuild women and reaffirm their subjectivity. This is important work that is necessary in building up women's ability to stand up to patriarchy and in developing a social fabric woven from the objective conditions of gendered alienation. This consciousness-raising activity, a historical carryover from the strategies of the 60s and 70s, is a hugely important aspect of our work as organizers and revolutionaries. However, consciousness-raising does not substitute for direct confrontation with patriarchy, and therefore capital and the State.
To be clear, we are not arguing for political abstention from liberal or reformist struggles, or consciousness-raising circles, when they are expressions of the self-activity of the class. However, a principled intervention would not be to participate in legislative reform but to argue for a strategies that would seek to damage capital, break down gendered antagonisms within the class, and forefront the demands of women. This is precisely what the Marxist-Feminists did during second wave feminism.
This gets back to Nat's fundamental question: what forms of activity should we practically engage in today?
Based on the analysis above, we would argue that Wages for Housework does not seem like a relevant strategy today. Instead, here are some examples of concrete areas of struggle that speak to the objective experience of women in the U.S. today:
- Grassroots clinic defense takeovers and/or nonprofit worker committees/unions that build solidarity across worker-"client" lines. This model would build on the work of the Jane Collective, socializing the skills women need to control their own bodies while taking advantage of the de-skilled advances of capital (for example, in general everyone who works in an abortion clinic, right up to the front desk girl, knows how to perform a manual abortion and there are no specialized skills needed for a large majority of medical abortions). This model could be broadened out to things like hormone therapy, HIV and STI treatment, and health care in general for the class.
- Neighborhood groups engaged in tenant struggles with the capacity to deal directly with violence against women in the community.
- Parent, teacher, and student alliances that struggle against school closures/privatization and for transforming schools to more accurately reflect the needs of children and parents, for example on-site childcare, directly democratic classrooms and districts, smaller class sizes, etc.
- Sex worker collectives that protect women from abusive Johns and other community members, and build democratically women- and queer-run brothels with safe working conditions.
- Workplace organizations in feminized workplaces like nonprofits, the service industry, pink collar manufacturing, etc., or worker centers that specialize in feminized workplaces and take up issues and challenges specific to women.
Having said all of this, we want to stress again that any strategies we call for are premature, given the lack of generalized movement among working class women today. Of course, it is still important to struggle in ways that we see as best given the circumstances. However, it is impossible to know whether these activities are the best strategy for today without collective self-activity in opposition to gendered value relations. We raise this to say that it is actually possible that wages for housework is a relevant demand. Only the self-activity of the class will clarify this for us. It is not the task of communists, as Marx once famously said, to write recipes for the cookshops of the future.
- Category: Theory
- Created on Tuesday, 05 March 2013 19:24
- Written by NPC
The problem that much communization theory points out is that, if your revolutionary praxis is simply to emphasize (materially and ideologically) labourers as a class (by building up industry, focusing the entire society toward developing productive forces rather than re-organizing the "insides" of the means of production to be more amenable to those using the means and the product, etc) then you are simply affirming the value-form as such, which IS very much the class relation...
...In short, Value-form theory tries to describe capitalism. It is a negative critique of capitalism. Whenever the article above says "Value-form theory" or "VFT," you can almost always replace it with "capitalism," since value-form theory is NOT claiming that these things are facts of nature, but facts of capitalism which can (and ought to be) abolished--i.e., it is not an overdetermining totality.
The following is a response from NPC to Nat Winn's article entitled Getting to communism: negating the value form in practice.
"Again, revolution is about more than abolishing the value-form. The method here is one that ignores the realm of politics, the confrontation with the state, armies, and the whole repressive apparatus. It ignores geo-politics. It doesn't deal with any classes outside of workers and capitalist in analyzing the end of capital. What you have here is not a look at a totality but a rigid binary. The complexity of revolution is just not dealt with at this point."
I would first point out that this argument could, verbatim, be applied to basically all the works of Marx himself -- particularly Capital. It basically says that we should NOT engage in economic argument because economic argument does not include all these other things. But that means you are just critiquing something based on what you want it to be, rather than what it actually is (it has a scope which is a priori limited).
Only among communization's critics have I heard of communization as a be-all-and-end-all plan for revolution. Among communization's supporters, I've heard of communization as, alternately, a fresh economic/structural analysis (in the structural wing), or a swath of incendiary outreach materials calling people to action (in the voluntarist wing).
It's certainly true that communization doesn't provide immediate tactical advice. It doesn't provide much revolutionary strategy. Most of the structural works of TC, Endnotes, etc. hardly talk about "the superstructure" at all. But I'd also point out that communization never pretends to be both a necessary and sufficient theory for making revolution.
Honestly, it just seems silly that anyone would consider it as such -- and, again, I literally know of no one (other than its critics) who see it like this.
For those of us who use communization theory we use it for what it is good for -- economic analysis, outreach, reminders of the deeper economic reasons that previous socialist projects were unable to fundamentally challenge the value-form (their failure was absolutely not just superstructural). It also helps to remind us that we ought to talk about the abolition of the working class a little bit more than the affirmation of the working class.
It's also not like anyone is actually thinking that abolition of the value-form happens overnight or that revolution would be evenly distributed -- and its convenient that the above article excludes such quotes as this:
"So there will a "transition" in the sense that communism will not be achieved overnight. But there will not be a "transition period" in what has become the traditional Marxist sense: a period that is no longer capitalist but not yet communist, a period in which the working class would still work, but not for profit or for the boss any more, only for themselves: they would go on developing the "productive forces" (factories, consumer goods, etc.) before being able to enjoy the then fully-matured fruit of industrialization. This is not the programme of a communist revolution. It was not in the past and it is not now. There is no need to go on developing industry, especially industry as it is now. And we are not stating this because of the ecology movement and the anti-industry trend in the radical milieu. As someone said forty years ago, half of the factories will have to be closed.
Some areas will lag behind and others may plunge into temporary chaos[...] Nobody knows how we will evolve from false capitalist abundance to new ways of life, but let us not expect the move to be smooth and peaceful everywhere and all the time."
[[That is from Dauve's intro text on communisation (here: http://www.troploin.fr/textes/60-communisation-uk). Dauve, alongside Aufheben, is in the more "voluntarist" camp (though they engage with the structuralists much more) which is brushed over fairly quickly in this overview.]]
There is no eliding the real problems of reorganizing production -- the point is simply that there is NOT a period in which we have an industrial build-up emulating capitalist styles of factory organizaton, managed with moneyed-wages or labor vouchers and justified in the terms of the people working now and enjoying the fruits of that industry later, once the production base is properly "built up." Clearly, models more similar to that may be necessary if revolution occurs (again) exclusively in areas that have few means of production -- but the neoliberal redistribution of these means of production TO the "third world" makes that less and less likely.
But these natural presumptions based on the economic theory in most of communization are more or less ignored in the above critique -- even though they are precisely the presumptions that DO begin to make tactical and strategic suggestions for revolution.
Instead, the critique just misses the point by attacking communization for not being something that it never claims to be -- i.e., a roadmap for revolution.
Communization theory NEVER claims that we should "look at revolution strictly through the capital-labour relation." It simply claims that the capital-labour relation is kind of really important to judging whether or not your "communist revolution" is very communist (or even very anti-capitalist) -- and I would definitely affirm that point.
On the second topic: Communization does claim to be a real critique of the value-form. This article sort of vacillates between acknowledging that the abolition of the value-form is necessary (in which case the differences between communizaton's affirmations and the article's become less clear) and the opposing argument that communization misportrays abstract value (and therefore one would presume that it's a non-issue).
I think that it's obvious that we have to abolish the capitalist value-form, the question is simply again one of whether or not one tries to "use" that value form for a period of time (the "socialist transition period") for the benefit of the working-class -- and the point from communization is that this only reinforces the proletariat class category rather than beginning to take it apart (it, like the state, did not tend historically to "wither away"). And this affirmation basically ignores the class struggle -- which, despite the above article's claims to the contrary, is all about the abolition of the proletariat as a class (since its nature as a class is relationally determined by the existence of the bourgeoisie exploiting it).
But there is also a significant problem with the article's portrayal of the value-form:
First: communization theory doesn't deny the labor-theory of value. It simply points out that if you affirm labor as a category defined by capital you are also affirming capital by affirming its interdependent category -- i.e., they are arguing precisely against "economism" as traditionally defined and as often practiced by political tendencies which see unions or wage struggles, for example, as the primary grounds of revolutionary activity.
Second: The above critique ignores the nuance in Marx's theory of exchange-value and its relation to abstract labor, and misportrays communization's approach to exchange-value (which is NOT equal to "the value-form").
The article quotes from Endnotes: "Rather, in a fundamental sense value — as the primary social mediation — pre-exists and thus has a priority over labour."
Based on this, the article then claims: "It is also the case here that labor is not seen as the primary producer of value. Capital or value "has a priority over labor. This leads to a political call within Communization to abandon the class struggle."
Unfortunately, this is a misquotation. Endnotes in the quote is actually talking about how CAPITALISM (i.e., the capitalist value-form) posits itself as originary. This is clearer if you also quote the paragraph sitting a little BELOW the one quoted by the above critique:
"While it seems true and politically effective to say that we produce capital by our labour, it is actually more accurate to say (in a world that really is topsy turvy) that we, as subjects of labour, are produced by capital. Socially necessary labour time is the measure of value only because the value-form posits labour as its content. In a society no longer dominated by alienated social forms — no longer orientated around the self-expansion of abstract wealth — the compulsion to labour which characterises the capitalist mode of production will disappear. With value, abstract labour disappears as a category. The reproduction of individuals and their needs becomes an end in itself. Without the categories of value, abstract labour and the wage, "labour" would cease to have its systematic role as determined by the primary social mediation: value."
This "world that really is topsy turvy" is the world of capitalism, in which capital makes itself into the primary source of productivity, centering the M-C-M' cycle around the M more than the C (or the use-value in it, for that matter). The critique conflates Endnotes' descriptions of how Capital PORTRAYS ITSELF, with the obvious acknowledgement that how Capital actually operates (as exploitative of labour) is evident in Marxist theory.
But the bottom of that quote also gets to another interesting point: "with value, abstract labour disappears as a category." This is interesting in particular because it ties abstract value back to its roots (in Marx) with exchange-value. Here Endnotes is NOT talking about simple "abstract" human labour (or "general human force" as Marx says). Though Marx at times uses this definition, he also acknowledges how problematic it is, since the definition (borrowed from Smith and Ricardo) pretends that "labour" or "work" in capitalism is the same, transhistorical practice of human physical exertion, when really labour as a category is created BY the social relations of capitalism itself. Marx, therefore, translates this transhistorical abstract labor into a more relevant category: exchange value (in an oppositional unity with use-value to create value as such).
The above critique then argues that Value-form theory poses a "monetary theory of value," simply because it acknowledges that exchange value does, in fact, exist and operates much as Marx describes it -- as capitalism's own particular form of "abstract labour" which will be abolished alongside value itself. The abolition of value as such clearly does not mean the abolition of use-value, but the severing of use value from exchange value (and thus the destruction of the wage and money as the form of quantified, generalized exchangeability). Again, Endnotes says it clearly: "Without the categories of value, abstract labour and the wage, "labour" would cease to have its systematic role as determined by the primary social mediation: value."
The "labour" quoted here means SPECIFICALLY CAPITALIST labor--not general human work (which is OF COURSE productive in the simple sense and of course abstractable in that it all requires physical exertion--this is not Marx's point). The problem that much communization theory points out is that, if your revolutionary praxis is simply to emphasize (materially and ideologically) labourers as a class (by building up industry, focusing the entire society toward developing productive forces rather than re-organizing the "insides" of the means of production to be more amenable to those using the means and the product, etc) then you are simply affirming the value-form as such, which IS very much the class relation. It is the very exchangeability (NOT exchange but the POTENTIAL for exchange or its future possibility--exchange does not PRECEDE production) which makes labour itself productive of value (again, value is, in capitalism, not just use-value but also monetary "exchange" value). Obviously physical human work can also produce things that are useful -- but that is NOT "labor" in capitalism or "value" in capitalism.
This doesn't mean that labor does not create value or that money (or capital) is primary in the circuit. I.e. it does NOT (as the above article claims) argue that exchange has to come first. NO, it simply argues that the potential of exchangeability exists--without the ACT of exchange itself yet occuring. This is, again, the SOCIAL part of the relation -- the presumption (and perceived necessity) of the M-C-M' cycle perpetuating itself and the wage being generally exchangeable for goods. In fact, the ACTUAL exchangeability does not have to exist in every instance for labor to be extracted -- all kinds of things (rampant inflation, product shortages, rationing, collapse of a certain currency, etc.) could disrupt that actual exchangeability in a given instance--but in general "abstract labor" would remain abstracted. Marx is fairly clear on this.
There is no basis in the actual works of communization theory for claims such as this:
"Production is concrete labor. Period. Abstract labor is only expressed through the process of exchange. This abstract process subsumes concrete labor and negates its objectivity, thus also negating its role as creator of value. The value-form as validated through exchange in it's totality is the primary creator of value and the contradiction between capital and labor is a relation internal to the value-form process which must be abolished as a process."
For communization theorists, abstract labor exists not through the process of exchange but through the potential of future exchange -- the wage is paid AFTER the work is done and BEFORE it is exchanged for other goods. Value AS SUCH is the production of use-values ("concrete labor" in the above quote) in the interests of exchange (rather than use). Exchange is therefore embedded (as the incentive) in the production itself. That's the topsy-turvy aspect of capitalist relations to productivity, which Endnotes references. Capitalism itself poses (quantified--monetary) exchange as originary, even though exchange HAS NOT HAPPENED yet. The communist point is that things can be made as ends in themselves rather than ends-to-more-money (capitalism) or ends-to-more-things ("productivist" socialism).
In short, Value-form theory tries to describe capitalism. It is a negative critique of capitalism. Whenever the article above says "Value-form theory" or "VFT," you can almost always replace it with "capitalism," since value-form theory is NOT claiming that these things are facts of nature, but facts of capitalism which can (and ought to be) abolished--i.e., it is not an overdetermining totality. The article constantly confuses this, acting like Value-form theory IS saying that the capitalist forms it describes are totalizing or overdetermining--that they are, in short, facts of nature--and thus provides a very poor perspective on what Value-form theory is actually saying or how capitalism works.
- Category: Theory
- Created on Saturday, 02 February 2013 13:04
- Written by Charlie Post
Is the working class divded? How is it divided? What does this mean for revolutionary strategy? A new book by a Zak Cope, Divided World, Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism which some see as theoretical evidence for the politics of third worldism has sparked a great deal of debate? Kasama will be posting a series of reviews of Cope's work in order to spark discussion on the relation between class composition, imperialism,and revolutioinary strategy. Other posts can be found here and here. The following review by Charlie Post is from the webzine New Socialist.
Workers in the Global North: A Labor Aristocracy?
Review of Zak Cope, Divided World, Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism (Kersplebedeb, 2012)
By Charlie Post
A specter has haunted anti-capitalist radicals and revolutionaries for more than 150 years—the specter of working class reformism and conservatism in the global North of the capitalist world economy. Why have those who Marx called the "grave-diggers of capitalism," the wage-earning majority of the industrialized societies, embraced politics that either seek to "balance" the interests of capital and labour (reformism) or blame other workers for falling living standards and working conditions (conservatism)?
- Category: Theory
- Created on Saturday, 02 February 2013 14:19
- Written by M-L-M Mayhem
Is the working class divded? How is it divided? What does this mean for revolutionary strategy? A new book by a Zak Cope, Divided World, Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism which some see as theoretical evidence for the politics of third worldism has sparked a great deal of debate? Kasama is posting a series of reviews of Cope's work in order to spark discussion on the relation between class composition, imperialism,and revolutioinary strategy. We've posted reviews by Matthijs Krul and Charlie Post. The following is a critique of Charlie Post's review on the MLM Mayhem blog.
The Theory of Labour Aristocracy and its Discontents: a meta-review of Cope's "Divided World Divided Class"
Although the position Charlie Post takes in his thorough, and thoroughly backwards, review of Zak Cope's Divided World Divided Class was predictable, the review itself tells us more about the state of critical thought amongst marxist theorists at the centres of capitalism than anything else. We could point out that the fact that Post begins by snidely claiming there is no empirical basis for the theory of the labour aristocracy is a rather humorous attempt at empty rhetoric: he knows that numerous revolutionary political economists such as Samir Amin have provided an empirical framework to apprehend a labour aristocracy because he argued with their frameworks in his own analysis (simply because your empirical framework is in disagreement with another doesn't mean that there is no empirical data, it just means that you are calling one set of empirical data into question with your own); he should also be aware that his own empirical data was called into question with another framework of competing empirical data. We could also point out that his argument from authority where he claims that the theory of the labour aristocracy was disproved by a non-marxist (though anti-capitalist) political economist Anwar Shaikh is somewhat laughable. The real point, however, and one that Post cannot help but miss, is that any attempt to prove or disprove the theory of the labour aristocracy through empiricism can only go so far: just us Cope can find the data to prove the theory, Post can mobilize opposing data to supposedly undermine this data, and Cope could probably reply with another pie chart or set of statistics, and Post would reply again... round and around it goes.
- Category: Theory
- Created on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 16:39
- Written by Matthijs Krul
Is it really so easy? I would argue it is not. It falls to me to defend the currently very unfashionable proposition that a socialist mode of production, recognizable to the Marxist tradition as well as to non-Marxist opponents of capitalism, actually requires a system of central planning and cannot permit any kind of market socialism to exist in the scale and manner Ackerman suggests... Firstly, that market socialism cannot overcome the limitations of capitalism, and secondly, that the failure of Soviet central planning does not condemn the idea of central planning. In fact, I will argue that the flaws in Ackerman’s design and the Soviet model of central planning are remarkably similar: both are rooted in the failure to overcome capitalist production, as opposed to distribution... The most significant shortcoming of almost all market socialisms, including that of Ackerman, is that they share with neoclassical economics and the liberal tradition generally the exclusive focus on the process of exchange.
This piece comes to Kasama from Matthijs Krul.
On Communism and Markets: A Reply to Seth Ackerman
In his recent essay on Jacobin, Seth Ackerman makes a number of common arguments in favor of some form of market socialism over and against central planning as well as other designs for non-market, non-capitalist economies. The essay contains much that most socialists could agree with. He rightly cites the failure of the neoclassical argument for general equilibrium to apply in real-world situations under the devastating theoretical impact of the Cambridge capital critique and the so-called ‘theory of the second-best’, and the lack of statistical evidence proving the superior efficiency of market capitalist societies over those of the former Soviet bloc. The historical record of capitalism to achieve general efficiency, equity, and democracy is, in short, atrocious, and neoclassical economics always serves first and foremost as apologetics for this system – we probably need not go into this further.
Also understandable is Ackerman’s negative response to models of a post-capitalist economy along the lines of some form of direct democracy, such as Albert and Hahnel’s “Parecon” approach. For Albert and Hahnel, democratic councils would gather data from individuals regarding their preferences, debate these according to socialist and ecological norms, and process them into a planning system, which would regularly update its information according to the same political processes; all this in order to regulate production for human need. Ackerman is justifiably skeptical of the workability of this proposal, as it would require millions of political debates about millions of input-output processes from wildly divergent sources and for wildly divergent ends. If every aspect of the planning system would have to be truly democratic – in the sense of being up for immediate political input ‘from below’ – any system with more than a rudimentary division of labor would quickly come to a shuddering halt.
For Ackerman, this is proof of the validity of the so-called calculation problem, an old argument from liberal critics of Marxism (in particular the Austrian school of economics), alleging that it is a priori impossible for centrally planned economies of any kind to operate: only prices, the argument runs, are accurately able to convey the necessary decentralized and distributed information that makes up the relative exchange value of goods. Therefore, in any system seeking to replace prices (and by implication, profits) with some form of central management, there necessarily follows a shortage of information in the decision-making process in production and exchange, with the familiar results of shortages, gluts, famines, and failures of supply.
For the liberal critics, and especially the Austrian school, this argument against central planning has often been generalized against any attempt to interfere with the market process: after all, if this argument holds, any interference at all will prevent ‘getting the prices right’, and thereby move the economy away from optimal allocation of goods and services. However, even the mainstream economic literature abounds with debate as to the accuracy of this proposition, with much of the debate revolving around the significance and extent of the presence of externalities, that is, costs not internalized into the price system but nonetheless real from a social or ecological viewpoint. But even taking the pervasiveness of externalities for granted, the critique of government intervention allows the left little substantial political room for maneouvre – at most mere management of market failures. This does not satisfy Ackerman, who is committed to superseding capitalism as a social system, and therefore he is faced with a plausible economic answer to this critique.
Ackerman’s solution is to propose a market socialist alternative, which would have prices (and thereby evade the calculation problem), but not profits – a handy solution if ever there was one, having one’s cake and eating it too. In this, he follows some of the market socialist critics from Eastern Europe, who responded to what they saw as the political-economic failures of their countries under Soviet-oriented rule by formulating a happy middle between a planned economy and the ‘anarchy’ of market capitalism. This proposal boils down to leaving intact the free market in the sphere of production and exchange, with autonomy of firms and competition between them, but by socializing the commanding heights of the economy in the sphere of finance and credit, in particular the banks: “A constellation of autonomous firms, financed by a multiplicity of autonomous banks or investment funds, all competing and interacting in a market — yet all nevertheless socially owned.”
Of course, if one has this, but permits profits to be pocketed by the capitalist class, one would simply have a kind of social-democratic capitalism with nationalized banks – perhaps radical, but not necessarily anything novel. Ackerman realizes this and confronts the problem of profit under market socialism with admirable clarity. His proposal is a compulsory purchase of all private financial assets – stocks, bonds, investments, and so forth – and to deposit them into a “multiplicity of socialized banks and investment funds owning and allocating capital among the means of production”. Any surplus firms would generate would then (presumably as dividend) be allocated towards this socialized fund, and thereby the capitalist class would be eliminated from the social division of labour – the euthanasia of the rentier interest, at least, as Ackerman notes. Now, this would still leave the tremendous inequalities generated by the buying, rather than expropriating, of the capitalists’ financial assets. But here Ackerman has a simple solution as well, a classic left social-democratic measure: one simply caps the total assets an individual (or family) may have. Socialism in two steps!
Is it really so easy? I would argue it is not. It falls to me to defend the currently very unfashionable proposition that a socialist mode of production, recognizable to the Marxist tradition as well as to non-Marxist opponents of capitalism, actually requires a system of central planning and cannot permit any kind of market socialism to exist in the scale and manner Ackerman suggests. To do so, I must also analyze the significance of the central planning efforts of the Soviet Union, seen by friend and foe alike in these debates as the prototype of such a system, and access to what extent it really did ‘fail’ (as Ackerman takes as decisively proven), and what this might imply. It is no small task, and I will necessarily have to be somewhat summary in my arguments, but the significance of this debate makes it essential to get this right. I do not wish to make a virtue of orthodoxy, but market socialist critiques such as those of Seth Ackerman have been a dime a dozen in the history of the communist movement, and they have never been convincing nor been able to make themselves practical within actual anti-capitalist revolutionary movements. I would argue this is no coincidence, for they contain a number of fundamental flaws that Marx and his immediate successors already identified. In this reply to Ackerman, I will argue two things. Firstly, that market socialism cannot overcome the limitations of capitalism, and secondly, that the failure of Soviet central planning does not condemn the idea of central planning. In fact, I will argue that the flaws in Ackerman’s design and the Soviet model of central planning are remarkably similar: both are rooted in the failure to overcome capitalist production, as opposed to distribution.
The most significant shortcoming of almost all market socialisms, including that of Ackerman, is that they share with neoclassical economics and the liberal tradition generally the exclusive focus on the process of exchange. This stands in stark contrast to Marx’s primary interest, the process of production. It is not for nothing that Marx considered the classical economists’ emphasis on exchange to be a powerful ideological weapon of the bourgeoisie. As long as distribution and exchange are the central categories of social relations, the market will seem to be the natural, self-evident form in which one-off exchange between individuals takes place, at least in societies with an advanced division of labor. But, for Marx, it is precisely this fetishism of commodities, this exclusive focus on the sphere of exchange and distribution, that hides the essential nature of capitalist society. In Capital, after discussing exchange value, he then famously writes: “Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labour-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face – ‘No admittance except on business.’ Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced. We shall at last force the secret of profit making.”
This secret, the core of capitalist social relations that must be overcome to overcome capitalist society altogether, is the process of capitalist production. It is there that capitalist social relations are reproduced on an ever-expanding scale through the repeated separation of workers from the means of production, and the generation of surplus value that results from this separation. Whatever value is produced in capitalist society can only be distributed within the market, but is never generated in it: whatever you gain in exchange, I lose. Marx for this reason distinguished between the labor in capitalist society that immediately produces surplus value, and the manifold kinds of labor that are involved in exchange, transport, marketing, and so forth. The latter do not reproduce capitalist social relations, and therefore fall in the sphere of distribution. This is not to say distribution in this sense is not important: indeed, it forms by far the largest part of the everyday experience of capitalism in contemporary Western societies. But this is exactly what leads to mistaking all the economic activities of the market for the reproduction of capitalism itself. This is why Marx considered it a form of fetishism. The process of production under capitalist conditions is what reproduces capitalist society – the actual application of labor and technology that allows modern-day society and its accumulative drive to exist. The everyday significance of the sphere of distribution – with its apparent equality of buyer and seller and the smooth machinery of the price system – give rise to the appearance that this is what capitalism is all about, not what happens behind the doors of the factories, sweatshops, and mines. If market socialism does not address the sphere of production, it does not address the fundamental conditions of capitalist society, and therefore does not succeed in overcoming it.
So it’s no surprise that in Ackerman’s example, nothing at all is said about the production process itself. In his concern to evade the calculation debate’s critique of central planning, he permits the central conditions of capitalism to perpetuate themselves: the separation of workers from the means of production, which are not the banks and other distributional institutions, but the factories, mines, sewing machines, and tractors. If nationalizing banks and investment itself had the power to create socialist conditions by themselves, the Royal Bank of Scotland would now be in the vanguard of socialism – which is sadly not the case. Even if all banks were nationalized, and a good deal else besides, as was de facto the case under total war conditions in various capitalist societies during WWII, there would still be a capitalist mode of production. Private appropriation of surplus is not the central feature of capitalism, although this permits a capitalist class to exist independently in political terms. Rather, its central feature is coercing working people to work on means of production not held in common, means that are used for the purposes of accumulation for its own sake. Even if one were to have a 100% tax on profit, and nationalization of banks, hedge funds, and pension funds, as Ackerman’s proposals seem to reduce to, this would be a left social-democratic version of capitalism, perhaps a radically egalitarian capitalism: but a capitalism nonetheless. It would be nothing to sneeze at, but not achieve his aim of an actually socialist society; with capitalist production left intact, so is exploitation, the alienation of working people, and the politics of growth for its own sake.
The reason for this is that, as Marx pointed out, the root of exploitation under capitalism is not insufficient wages per se, or the depredations of finance, but the theft of alien labor time. Not only is labor under capitalism alienated from the means of production and is the worker alienated from society’s general interests, but more importantly, the process of exploitation under capitalism necessarily implies that for accumulation to take place on one end, the worker must be paid less than the value of her labor-time on the other. The more capitalist production expands, the less time the worker has for herself. This is why so much of the history of socialist activism does not revolve around higher taxes on the wealthy or the nationalization of the commanding heights, but about reducing the share of their total lifetime workers are forced to produce for the reproduction and expansion of capitalist society – for example through pensions and social security, or overtime laws.
The struggle over exploitation is fundamentally the question of whether the worker has the time to fully develop her intellectual, social, and creative powers, or must devote this time instead to the reproduction of a hostile, alien, and benumbing society, with no time to call her own. Here central planning comes back into view. The aim of central planning, what Marx calls “the society of associated producers”, is therefore not just to socialize the process of exchange and distribution of goods – though as Ackerman rightly notes, this is a ‘bread and butter’ question in its own right – but to develop the productive forces to the degree that the necessary labor-time for all workers can bereduced to a minimum. This leaves maximum time for playing, singing, socializing, sports, art, music, writing, debating, and all those things that have been considered the good things in life and the birthright of humanity since the classical age.
There is no known process of the market that can achieve this aim, for the logic of the market is blind to the process of production, and concerns itself exclusively with private accumulation and consumption. Just as we do not care, in practice, about the appalling conditions under which our clothing and our food is made, in Ackerman’s market socialism the condition and work of the producers is of no significance. Their alienation is not abolished by the mere phrase ‘socializing finance’; as long as they are subject to the coercive pressure of competition and accumulation, each other’s eternal counterparts, they cannot fully realize their talents and potential as individuals and can therefore society is a hostile force for them.
Ackerman’s society, in short, would socialize capital, but not abolish it. It would socialize exploitation, but not abolish it. It would not work towards the fullest development of the creative, intellectual, and social capacities of the majority, and would not apply technology, the embodiment of reduction of necessary labor-time, to this end. As Marx wrote: “economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself.” This applies to market socialism as much as any society, and Ackerman’s proposal keeps at arm’s length “the very possibility of defetishizing economic life”, to borrow from David McNally’s critique of market socialism, Against the Market. “To reject this possibility is to embrace the inevitability of alienated labor, of exploitation, and the unplanned and anarchic drive towards competitive accumulation”.(1)
Seth Ackerman also confronts us with a new problem, however – a historical one. Doesn’t the Eastern European experience under ‘really existing socialism’ disprove the possibility of central planning? Is central planning really necessary to overcome the limitations of market socialism outlined above? The Soviet (and Soviet-dependent) experience plays a central role in Ackerman’s argument against the very possibility of a centrally planned society. For Ackerman, Soviet-type central planning was simply too radical; by ignoring the centrality of the market it represented a kind of bureaucratic utopianism whose only result was a shortage of toilet paper at crucial moments. Ackerman only barely acknowledges the very real accomplishments of Soviet society: “when Communism came to poor, rural countries like Bulgaria or Romania they were able to industrialize quickly, wipe out illiteracy, raise education levels, modernize gender roles, and eventually ensure that most people had basic housing and health care”. But this is not enough for him. Central planning seems to be unable to go beyond the point of the achievement of mere basic provisions. It can achieve no more than a mid-table economy in GDP per capita terms, with shoddy cars and insufficient toothpaste. This will not do, for the aim of socialism cannot be universal equal poverty, but the possibility of abundance for the widest possible share of society. If central planning cannot achieve this, then we must reject it. But is that true?
I argue that the conventional narrative of central planning’s failure must be radically revisited. Ackerman himself already notes that the central planning system performed not much less efficiently than most actually existing capitalisms of today. The Soviet strategy was based on a classic model of high investment rates, financed by the artificial repression of living standards and the (forcible) distribution of the surplus population unproductive in agriculture into the cities as an industrial working class, generating an enormous increase in the productivity of labor. The idea is that such productivity gains are then reinvested into heavy industry, further generating productive capacity, and so forth. This model was followed not just by the USSR, but in a different way also by China, Japan, South Korea, and other nations.
Using mainstream productivity and growth models, the liberal economic historian Robert C. Allen compared the central planning and collectivization of the Stalin period to various alternative approaches. In his book Farm to Factory, Allen astounded orthodox economic historians by finding that the ‘Stalinist’ approach (albeit credited to Preobrazhensky) was the best possible result among the alternatives(2). But, the narrative goes, Soviet planning could undertake labor-intensive industry well, but not capital-intensive industry. While the USSR could compete in sheer quantities of steel and coal and cars produced, as their propaganda often boasted, it couldn’t compete in spheres of production requiring substantial R&D and rapid technological upgrading of goods. Robert Allen’s account, for example, uses this as the explanation of Soviet failure. However, I believe evidence points to a very different conclusion.
William Easterly and Stanley Fischer’s World Bank study of the ‘Soviet climacteric’ argues that Soviet R&D on civilian production actually increased substantially between 1959 and 1984, rejecting the common notion that the Soviet arms race combined with the inflexibility of Soviet production caused the consumer economy to come to a standstill.(3) Moreover, Brendan Beare’s correction of the Easterly and Fischer paper has demonstrated that due to statistical mistakes in the reconstruction of the data, the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor in the Soviet economy was much higher than is commonly believed.(4) In other words: previous scholars claimed that when the Soviet surplus population ran out, the USSR was unable to efficiently replace labor with machinery, leading to an inability to make the leap from labor-intensive to capital-intensive production. But Beare’s data show that the ratio of this replacement of labor by capital may not have been as bad as previously thought, but in fact may have been quite high, as it was in Japan, which did not experience such stagnation. Nor did investment itself falter: even as late as 1989 the Soviet investment share of GDP was a staggering 35%. In short, Soviet central planning did not fail due to its inability to develop or implement labor-saving technology.
Why do I mention all these technicalities? Simply to make the important point that the traditional narrative, in which the Soviet central planning model collapsed due to the inherent flaws in such a system’s ability to expand and deliver the goods, is untrue. The failure of Soviet and Eastern European planning is no less real than it was before, but it must be understood as a contingent, political failure, located not in the concept of central planning itself, but in the limitations of the Soviet version. By most statistical measures, even those of outright foes of the Soviet Union, their central planning system was an overwhelming success in terms of growth, increases in productivity, and raising the potential living standards. It is not a coincidence that the USSR was the only state ever to make the American ruling class tremble – no mean achievement. Contrary to Ackerman however, I would argue its ultimate failure rested not so much in these categories. It failed for reasons not dissimilar to the flaws of Ackerman’s market socialism. The Soviet Union failed not because it was too socialist, but because it was not socialist enough.
The one weakness of the Soviet model was that it was still a form of the 20th century ‘developmental state’, that is, part of the general push of the past century of poor and underdeveloped countries to develop the productive forces (as Marxists would say) and to modernize at all costs. In so doing, it achieved tremendous things, but it was still subject to the logic of accumulation characteristic of all the negative aspects of capitalism. The workers of the USSR never saw the ‘switch’ from the development of heavy industry to the point in which the enormous productive capacities so generated would actually be used in their favour: when production would no longer be for exchange or reinvestment, but for general use. Their working days were long and intense, and as illustrated by the propaganda of Stakhanovism, they were ever exhorted to work harder and longer for the accumulation of a socialized surplus.
This brings me to the similarities between the failure of the Soviet model and the problems with Ackerman’s plan. Since the USSR arguably lacked a capitalist class, the surplus so accumulated was socialized, but not used for the purpose of general needs. The technology developed was socialized, but applied to further generate surplus, not to reduce the necessary labor-time to a minimum. Finally, the ultimate yardstick of the USSR was its military-industrial competition with the USA, not the fullest development of all. In short, just like Ackerman’s market socialism, Soviet society fell short of true socialism. Soviet society, and the Eastern European states dependent on them, asked its working class to postpone the move to a recognizably socialist form of production as long as the country, isolated and surrounded, needed to develop. Investment, the distribution of goods, housing and healthcare: all these were socialized, but there was no ‘society of the associated producers’ sought by Marx. The result was that competitive production would lead to the preservation of exploitation. This is exactly the same flaw I outlined in Ackerman’s plan: a failure to overcome capitalist production means a failure to overcome capitalism itself. In this sense, the Soviet economy is actually closer to Ackerman’s ideal than he realizes.
I would argue then, contrary to Ackerman, that the failure of actually existing central planning is not one of its potential, but historically one of its politics. The drive for accumulation for its own sake makes sense, when productivity in poor countries must be developed so that socialism can mean general abundance, not general poverty. I completely agree with Ackerman when he points to the importance of whether the supermarkets are full or empty. But there can be no market-based socialism, because capitalism ultimately does not reproduce itself in the market, but in production. Soviet central planning is in this respect a step up from that, as it socializes not only all spheres of distribution and surplus, but also consciously aims for developing productivity so that ultimately the ‘switch’ can be made towards a general needs-based society. However, it failed this test. The working class resisted this accumulation, as it represented the perpetual postponement of their personal development in the name of the general interest. This resistance took the form of a resistance to work, since this and this only was the remaining locus of capitalist logic in the Soviet system: hence the endless thefts from the workplace, the low quality of production, the shoddiness of the finished goods, the sullen, passive noncompliance with the state apparatus and its designs, and finally the fruitless attempts by the Soviet state to remedy these by draconian measures and moral exhortations. The problem with Soviet-type central planning was therefore a political, not a technical one.
Central planning is simply not the problem Ackerman makes it out to be. In fact, we see it at work even in ‘normal’ capitalism all the time. As soon as push comes to shove, and the liberal-democratic societies are threatened by total war, they approximate central planning in their production methods as closely as their political systems allow. Capitalist firms rely on high-level central planning all the time in the modern economy. Just-in-time distribution, Amazon’s on-demand system, modern supermarket provisioning, international cargo shipping, air traffic coordination: all these are examples of sophisticated and accurate central planning in the contemporary world. Our computing techniques and capacity have improved by several factors since the Cuban Missile Crisis: there is nothing technical stopping us from applying this technology in the benefit of socialist humanity rather than a small elite of owners and investors. But if we do not want to repeat the mistakes of market socialism and of Soviet planning both, we must put the conditions of production at the forefront of our transition to socialism. Let us learn all we can about logistics, about organizational theory, about planning models. Let us take the enormous technological capacities and productivity of capitalist society, “which has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals”, and use it to reduce to a minimum the work expected from everyone; especially dirty, unpleasant, and degrading work. Our unprecedented expansion of free time will see not just a flourishing of culture and the intellect, but also of many more ideas to perfect the process of production and distribution to the benefit of all. Then the realm of freedom will truly begin, and with it a new, socialist, history of humanity.
1) David McNally, Against the Market (London/New York, NY 1993), p. 184.
2) Robert C. Allen, Farm to Factory (Princeton, NJ 2009).
3) Easterly, William and Stanley Fischer. 1995. “The Soviet Economic Decline”, in:World Bank Economic Review vol. 9, p. 341-371.
4) Beare, Brendan K. 2008. “The Soviet Economic Decline Revisited”. Econ Journal Watch 5:2 (May 2008), p. 135-144.
- Category: Theory
- Created on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 23:38
- Written by Matthijs Krul
The following appeared on the mccaine.org blog.
The concept of value itself is relevant because we need an anthropological/economic/social explanation of the generalized commensurability of goods under capitalism. This is a very strange thing historically and anthropologically speaking, and by no means is it obvious that you can have *all* different kinds of goods as well as *all* different kinds of labors, with all their unique attributes, be commensurable through a process of competition, mediated by money. A society like that can only reproduce itself if particular things hold, such as the generalized production for exchange, the generalized competition between workers and between capitals, as well as the prehistory that generates both, and finally a yardstick that, as it were, ‘underwrites’ money as the form of appearance of this general commensurability. That yardstick is socially necessary labor time, which Marx calls value (and in Vol. 1, exchange value, as he equalizes them for the purposes of explanation there).
Why a Theory of Value?
The gentleman from Unlearning Economics asked me recently in response to my rebuttal of Steve Keen’s critique of Marx’s theory of value why indeed there is any need for a value theory at all. It seemed to him labor as the measure of value was simply assumed by Marxists, and even if their explanations of the economy were clearly better than others and they can rebut the critiques of Keen, Bose and others, it is still not clear why there should be such a thing as a ‘labor theory of value’ at all. I find I often run into this problem with many intelligent, critical people who are by no means unwilling to take my Marxisant analysis seriously, but who simply do not get what kind of thing a theory of value is, let alone Marx’s; and then indeed it must seem a strange and unnecessary quasi-metaphysical imposition. Now initially I thought this as well, and before I fully immersed myself in Marxist thought I was quite hostile to the notion of the labor theory of value, or even the need for such a theory at all. And indeed neoclassical economists have spent more than a century trying to refute both Marx’s theory and the need for such a theory at all. However, it is not so much just Marx’s arguments in Capital itself that convinced me, as my wider reading giving me a more historically and anthropologically grounded perspective about production and exchange in history, and I would venture to say the concept of a theory of value can only make sense if put explicitly in this wider context.
- Category: Theory
- Created on Sunday, 20 January 2013 18:32
- Written by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson
The following comes to Kasama from Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson, a prisoner and member of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter. As always, Kasama shares this piece for discussion. No endorsement of its analysis is implied.
Wimyn Hold Up Half the Sky! On the Question of Wimyn's Oppression and Revolutionary Wimyn's Liberation versus Feminism (2008)
by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson
“Women comprise one half of the population. The economic status of working women and the fact of their being specially oppressed proves not only that women urgently need revolution, but also that they are a decisive force in the success or failure of the revolution.” - Mao Tse-tung, Peking Review, 1974
We acknowledge that presently, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC) lacks a substantial femyl membership. Because of this situation some mistaken views have developed concerning our position on the questions of wimyn’s oppression and liberation. That we lack a femyl presence right now in no way reflect our views on these fundamental questions. Actually the major cause of this predicament is the uncommon circumstances under which our Party was founded, namely, by brothas who are isolated away from sistas by their confinement in various U.S. prisons. Another contributing factor is that unfortunately very few prison activists have maintained active ties with wimyn prisoners, with the result that these sistas’ ideological and political educations and active involvements in social justice struggle has been minimal. However, we are in the process of taking affirmative measures to remedy these situations. And along with these efforts it is also imperative that we set out our line and position on wimyn’s oppression and liberation with special attention given to the plight of New Afrikan wimyn.
- Category: Theory
- Created on Sunday, 20 January 2013 19:21
- Written by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson
The following comes to Kasama from Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson, a prisoner and member of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter.
UNITY—STRUGGLE—TRANSFORMATION: LEADERSHIP & CADRE DEVELOPMENT (Right On! #27, Spring 2012)
The object of a revolutionary organization is to unite (and unite with), mobilize, organize, and lead masses of oppressed people to achieve fundamental economic, political and social change and collective security. Founded in 2005, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC) arose within the most oppressed strata of U.S. society, the imprisoned masses, to take up the banner of revolutionary struggle on behalf of New Afrikans and all oppressed and exploited people. We aspire to become, but are not yet, a functional vanguard party of the oppressed.
We will be formally constituted once we transition to the outside, build bases in the oppressed communities, hold a founding convention and elect a free world central committee and an executive committee (politburo). We will be functionally constituted only when the oppressed urban masses embrace us as their revolutionary leadership.
Even while we remain a primarily prison-based organization, we have an important revolutionary role to play which is to transform the slave pens of oppression into schools of liberation. This is the first phase of our Party's strategy, along with transforming the oppressed communities into base areas of cultural, social and political revolution in the context of building a worldwide united front against capitalist-imperialism. The two aspects of our strategy are dialectically related and will advance the overall strategy of advancing the World Proletarian Socialist Revolution.
At this point, comrades are learning and struggling for ideological and political clarity on how to build and consolidate the Party's structure and a mass anti-racist, anti-imperialist and revolutionary movement around it. There are issues we need to work out relating to organizing on both the inside and outside. There are issues, some of them long-standing, that have been raised by our supporters and detractors we need to address. Some of these people do not understand, or refuse to accept, the need for revolutionary leadership, discipline and organization. There is also the question of who should be in leadership positions and how to achieve a balance between democracy and centralism.
On Organization and Security
The term “organizing” is often used loosely on the Left, especially by those who oppose forming, joining or subordinating themselves to any sort of disciplined political organization. Although they may exhort the virtues of “solidarity,” they actually practice extreme individualism, which runs counter to building a movement for collective social change.
Obviously, one cannot be a political organizer and not be part of a political organization. One implies the other. An organization is a body of people—not one person acting alone—who share common purpose and goals and have an organizational structure. The members must perform certain functions assigned to them that advance the purpose of the organization. This calls for leadership and a degree of discipline or everyone will be acting individually without accountability or responsibility, which is the definition of disorganization, and this leads to the opposite of “solidarity.”
Joining and remaining in an organization involves important considerations, such as whether one trusts, believes in, agrees with, and understands the organization's purpose and goals. To the more mature and committed members, these are issues of special concern and determine whether they will whole-heartedly commit themselves on a long-term basis to the organization and its goals and purpose. Transparency is therefore important so people know, understand and trust the organization and what it is about. Without this, the organization cannot have even the foundations for 'security.'
Comrade Safiya Bukhari, a former BPP and BLA cadre explains:
“By definition, security means freedom from danger, fear and anxiety. Individual and organizational safety and well-being begin with the knowledge of what you're about, what the organization is about, your limitations, your strengths and the organization's strengths. Knowledge is the key to security. History has shown that the best security depends on the internal strength of the organization and the internal principles of the people who make up the organization.”1As an example of solid organizational and individual principles, she points to the creed of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), which states, “I will steal nothing from a brother or sister, cheat no brother or sister, misuse no brother or sister, inform on no brother or sister and spread no gossip.”
These principles, she observed, express...
- Category: Theory
- Created on Tuesday, 04 December 2012 12:53
- Written by Mike Ely
“El templo de la perspectiva” de Tom Greenall y Jordan Hodgson. Es una representación artística de la historia de nuestro planeta y nuestro lugar en ello (en un pilar de capas) construido como monumento visual. Una exploración secular del significado, contexto y reverencia.
18 de marzo, 2012
“La política es tan simbólica como analítica…”
“La audiencia que necesitamos es descubierta a través de medios sociales y culturales, no simplemente atraída con palabras.”
“Como señalara Lenin: el oprimido que se levanta demanda saber cómo vivir, y cómo morir (no sólo qué creer).”
“La gente necesita expresiones ínter-humanas vivas; expresiones sobre la concepción del mundo y la moralidad que sean más que simples catálogos sobre visión del mundo y moralidad.”
Siempre me he sentido frustrado con el presupuesto que podemos atraer gentes hacia la política revolucionaria principalmente “explicándolo” todo —como si, de repente, las personas adquirieran consciencia, militancia, y determinación en la lucha por una nueva sociedad, en gran parte porque se les diga una serie de explicaciones respaldadas por elaboradas estructuras de análisis. Yo he llamado este problema “el fetiche de la palabra”. Un nombre más formal (si necesitáramos otra etiqueta) pudiera ser racionalismo.
Entretanto vemos, tanto en la sociedad como en política a nuestro alrededor, sugerencias de que las “explicaciones,” incluso detalladas y correctas, no son suficientes —y vemos con frecuencia gentes quienes son atraídas a políticas bastante irracionales a través de poderosos medios simbólicos.
Podemos trazar el surgimiento y caída de la fantástica, extravagante, política de Louis Farrakhan —la cual combina el completamente engañoso misticismo con visceral llamado al auto respeto, superación personal, orgullo y mordaz enajenación política.
O podemos ver a grandes secciones del pueblo emergiendo a la vida política durante esta Primavera Árabe, liberándose de décadas de represión y, en su mayor parte, atraídos en primera instancia por la profunda resonancia de “¡Allahu Akbar!” y la ingenua esperanza en la justicia de la ley Shariah.
¿De dónde viene ese poder?
El racionalismo secular con frecuencia asume (en ocasiones con una intencionalidad inflexiblemente simple) que las “ideas incorrectas” provienen de la mezcla de ignorancia y adoctrinamiento por parte de clases “externas” —y así asume que el antídoto contra el error es simplemente martillar las ideas correctas en el desinformado— método que he llamado “tira tus ideas, toma las mías”. Hay en ello, no obstante, un elemento verdadero —nosotros debemos ser evangelizantes sobre el comunismo. Pero a menudo eso ocurre muy unilateralmente. En otras palabras, ese racionalismo concibe a la gente, las ideas, la cultura y el cambio de modo bastante plano, simple —y su fracaso lo confirma.
Yo creo en la divulgación de las ideas y exposiciones revolucionarias. Yo pienso que la teoría revolucionaria jugará un rol poderoso en el reagrupamiento del nuevo movimiento social revolucionario. A menudo me he sentido ofendido por el falso estereotipo del militante comunista “sólo como vendedor deambulatorio de periódicos de puerta en puerta, por los laterales”. Después de todo, yo he escrito, diseñado, redactado, promovido y fomentado periódicos radicales toda mi vida. Y pienso que nosotros deberíamos (¡ahora!) estar desarrollando penetrantes, atractivos, irresistibles centros de noticias, opinión, análisis, sátira, humor y teoría.
Pero… pero… además de todo eso, al mismo tiempo, pienso que deberíamos crear y usar nuestro nuevo medio revolucionario evitando la repetición ingenua de los presupuestos ideológicos y prácticas del racionalismo previo.
He aquí algo que con frecuencia se pierde: La política es tan simbólica como analítica. La atracción política es también visceral y cultural. Atracción que incluye “ganar” con las palabras. Ello nos requiere valentía sobre representar nuestras creencias.
Pero, de una manera polifacética, la audiencia que necesitamos será alcanzada por diferentes atracciones culturales y sociales, no sólo “ganadas” por las palabras.
Como Lenin brillantemente una vez describiera, los oprimidos que se levantan venían demandando saber “cómo vivir y cómo morir”, no sólo qué creer. Para ser capaces de ejecutar un proceso real de forjar una base política de masas, tenemos que aprender de nuestra audiencia (es decir, “del pueblo”) también; no se trata de un proceso con sólo una dirección de acción sino una interacción. Ese es el proceso que Mao llamó la línea de la masa.
Yo estoy diciendo (entre otras cosas) que los movimientos políticos necesitan afianzarse y conectar en un desesperado sentido de comunidad (en una sociedad de aislamiento y atomización humana). Un movimiento por una nueva sociedad necesita poseer poderosos símbolos y rituales (a partir de los cuales la gente tome sentido y exprese creencias comunes a través de vías no-racionales). La gente necesita expresiones ínter-humanas vivas; expresiones sobre la concepción del mundo y la moralidad que sean más que simples catálogos sobre visión del mundo y moralidad. (Y aquí nos referimos a cosas como rebeldía, no respetabilidad, internacionalismo, amor al pueblo, altruismo, solidaridad, pensamiento crítico, metodología científica, modestia, perceptibilidad, una honesta y auto-crítica fidelidad a la verdad, y más).
Remachando: Nosotros necesitamos entender qué significa que una frase (como “¡Allah Akbar!” o “¡Libertad Ahora!”) desarrolle un profundo poder simbólico. Y tenemos que identificar y apreciar esos temas culturales, y esas expresiones que tienen poder para los inconformes y visionarios en nuestra sociedad —todo lo cual es aplicable (aún con inevitables cambios mayores) a nuestro proyecto de profundo cambio social y liberación.
Una política radical exitosa necesita palabras que sean evocativas y penetrantes —no es suficiente que sean palabras precisas. Todo movimiento social revolucionario exitoso (sin excepción) posee gran poder simbólico. Dentro de los Estados Unidos, el Black Panther Party, tuvo muy penetrante y poderoso espíritu inventivo cuando creó su poderoso simbolismo en política.
Hombres y mujeres negros vestidos con cuero, boina y fusil —en aquel momento, en aquel contexto, en aquella encrucijada— hicieron que millones de corazones palpitaran de emoción. Cuando los Panthers anunciaban a seguidores y enemigos por igual: “Blood to the horse’s brow and woe to those who cannot swim” —allí había análisis en la poesía y poesía en el análisis.
Justo un ejemplo importante. El slogan de los Panthers “Power to the people” [El poder al pueblo] retorna una y otra vez desde los 60. Es un slogan de aquel tiempo que posee renacimiento continuo.
A pesar de las bien conocidas fallas de Eldridge Cleaver —nosotros haríamos bien al estudiar su brillantez desarrollando nuevos símbolos y poderosos slogans popularizando una política con palabras vivas que no eran híper intelectuales. Y obviamente, no podemos simplemente copiar slogans que fueron exitosos: necesitamos entender cómo el simbolismo cambia con el tiempo.
En los 60, slogans como “Black is beautiful” o “drop out and expand your mind ” y en ocasiones una ingenua vibra comunal, tuvieron todos poderoso significado (y atracción) para millones de personas que emergían del racismo y conformismo de los 50. Incluso, cuando tales temas no fueron explícitamente políticos, en sentido estereotípico, ellos ayudaron a la formación del contexto y precondiciones para la política revolucionaria de masas. Pero entonces, justo diez años más tarde, la cultura Punk fue edificada sobre el enojado rechazo del pensamiento “paz y amor” Hippie —y expresó un nuevo lenguaje simbólico y artístico de rebelión. El Hip Hop tuvo entonces su propio lenguaje y estética, su representación del agravio y orgullo callejero. El tiempo pasó y nuevas expresiones ganaron poder simbólico.
Así, el rápido movimiento cultural puede poner pesada demanda sobre nuestra creatividad. Tenemos que estar bien atentos y prontos para, incluso, oír lo que se dice en el aire. Y tenemos que ser suficiente creativos para percibir el uso de expresiones nuevas, agarrar sus poder potencial y adoptarlas.
En breve: Nosotros necesitamos concebir el proyecto mismo de desarrollo alternativo de una sociedad postcapitalista mucho más allá que un asunto conceptual y analítico (tal como es expresado por ideas particulares e importantes: ¿Cómo desmantelar el antiguo Estado? ¿Cómo planear la economía? ¿Cómo reorganizar las fronteras para reconocer la autonomía y liberación de los pueblos indígenas?; etc.)
Nosotros además necesitamos estar desarrollando (articulando pero también manifestando) una moral alterna y sentido para el pueblo (en lugar de la actual competencia despiadada y en lugar del sentido egocéntrico, atomizado, burgués, enfocado simplemente en la acumulación para sí o placer para sí o la salvación religiosa de sí).
Esto incluye la identificación de “esferas de experimentos” (en nuestro alrededor) donde podamos (junto con otros) tratar de acarrear y refinar simbolismo, moralidad y conexiones a sentido, de modos tales que puedan representar al movimiento y la sociedad que sobreviene (análogo, quizás, a las bases de áreas rurales donde las fuerzas de Mao desarrolló su “Camino de Yenan” —cuya promesa entonces asió a China como una conversión de masa).
Algo de esto está dentro de los movimientos de lucha —donde el pueblo combina sus esfuerzos para demandar cambio. Pero no se encuentra solamente allí.
Iniciación Comunista 1
Yo tuve un amigo quien fue criado Católico Romano, y fue alistado (por alguno de nosotros) en la Unión Revolucionaria, una organización maoísta embrionaria. Tuvimos una “reunión” de reclutamiento —en la cual discutimos nuestra unidad política, desacuerdos, su pasado, sus aspiraciones, su situación, etc. Entonces le explicamos que había sido aceptado, y le dijimos dónde y cuándo sería la próxima reunión interna de la organización.
Nos miró contrariado, casi con espanto. ¿Cómo… —preguntó— sin ceremonia? ¿Sin ordenación? ¿No tengo que hacer juramento? ¿No hay celebración de bienvenida? ¿No hay ritual para compartir métodos secretos y conducta? ¿No hay entrega de distintivo, carnet, signos secretos? ¿No hay código de conducta privada? Mi compañero estaba disgustado —sentía que no había sido realmente “conectado”.
Él estaba entrando a un estadio superior en su vida, estaba pasando una “puerta” principal para su vida y la vida de la sociedad —estaba haciendo un profundo, consciente, cometido hacia el mundo, los oprimidos y el futuro. Eso, para él, y para nosotros, representaba todo. Y nosotros (como movimiento) no obstante, no marcábamos el evento, no lo corroborábamos, ni lo celebrábamos —ni sabíamos cómo.
Los fundamentalistas reciben a sus nuevos miembros con pasajes de renacimiento y bautismo —con palabras y rituales comunales que las gentes han hallado plenos de significado por siglos. Toda agrupación histórica ha recibido a los nuevos convertidos mediante eventos distintivos. Eventos que marcan la identidad y pertenencia (incluido el bautismo y el bris del mohel). Hay evidencias, de los albores de nuestra emergencia como especie, que muestran una asombrosa diversidad y poder de signos, rituales funerales y entierro de los muertos. Los fundamentalistas estimulan a la gente quebrantada y afligida a que sean “nacidos de nuevo”. Los católicos disponen de un sofisticado sistema para el auto examen y la confesión. Muchas agrupaciones sociales han desarrollado sus ideas sobre el perdón y cómo expresarlo.
Pero, aquí, durante los embrionarios días de nuestro nuevo movimiento comunista de los 70, habíamos prestado atención sólo a las palabras que nos definían (las explicaciones). Identificábamos las necesidades legalistas de transición (fundamento de unidad, acuerdos, acometimiento, y aceptación de la disciplina). Pero nosotros ignoramos (casi militantemente) el simbolismo necesario, los marcadores culturales por medio de los cuales los humanos definen el significado para sí mismos, y el sentido de su momento.
Ahora, al inicio de nuevos proyectos, no queremos hacerlo de una manera exagerada…haciendo una parodia revolucionaria de las sociedades secretas. Sin embargo, tenemos que hacerlo.
Y, aun siendo un movimiento tan lleno de palabras, nosotros con frecuencia no hemos sabido hablar sobre estas cosas —más allá de “ninguna cadena tradicional nos atará” (la cual es una preciosa noción de negación, al margen de la necesidad creativa de afirmación crítica). En otras palabras, si no estamos ligados por tradiciones, bien —entonces ¿cómo estaríamos vinculados? ¿Cómo expresaríamos esa unión, ese vínculo, ese lazo de comunión unos con los otros? ¿Y cómo todo este vínculo emerge, mientras la revolución avanza de ser la convicción de un pequeño grupo social, hasta ser el clima político en comunidades enteras?
Yo pienso que hay elementos de la práctica comunista que son buenos puntos de partida —incluida la orientación de Mao Zedong en “Contra el liberalismo” (un ensayo argumentando a favor de la honestidad y el proceder correctamente entre revolucionarios). En la práctica colectiva que los maoístas llaman “crítica mutua y autocrítica” —enfrentando los errores (incluso, grandes errores) por vías colectivas de tal modo que se ayude a los compañeros en la superación a través del compromiso y confianza personal para la transformación.
Iniciación Comunista 2
Yo asistía a una conferencia de jóvenes comunistas en la cual hablaría sobre investigación, escribir y la expresión de ideas. Y escuché la historia de un joven hermano indagar con un veterano comunista (una persona mayor) por consejos sobre la forma “correcta” para iniciar relaciones sexuales con alguien él consideraba muy especial.
Había algo conmovedor y positivo en esto. Él estaba consciente sobre la actitud machista que como norma enfrentan las mujeres. Y él estaba consciente sobre el deseo de nuestro movimiento para crear las condiciones que permita a las mujeres jóvenes unirse, sin que se sientan “carne fresca” para los hombres sin compromisos dentro del movimiento. Y este joven quería iniciar unas relaciones consistentes con nuestros valores y demás.
Pero, desafortunadamente, él había entrado a un movimiento que no había vertido mucho pensamiento sobre este asunto. No había (que yo sepa) mucha discusión, debate, síntesis, ensayos, sumarios sobre estos procesos cruciales en la vida humana. Estos procesos están profundamente envueltos en la liberación e igualdad de la mujer —maternidad, noviazgo, matrimonio, intimidad, experimentación, solidaridad viva, cuidado de los niños, educación libertadora, divorcio, resolución de conflictos interpersonales, perdón y transformación, cuidado y responsabilidad uno por el otro en la enfermedad y muerte, formas de celebración y festividades.
(Colateral: Hay un interesante libro sobre la proliferación de festivales de comunidades en la Rusia Soviética… ¿cuánto entendemos de esto como parte de una nueva sociedad y su cultura?)
Un movimiento revolucionario vivo necesita ser envuelto por un sentido de nueva cultura revolucionaria, no sólo arte sino modos del ser y sus significados. Vías simbólicas que expresen ese significado y ese ser. Un movimiento revolucionario vivo necesita acumular, transmitir cuerpo de prácticas y debates de la nueva “sabiduría,” la cual ayuda a la gente imaginar (en el ahora), cómo una nueva sociedad puede manejar todas las muchas contradicciones de la vida humana.
Un sistema cultural como ese no puede ser inventado desde cero —como si nosotros y la sociedad fuéramos hojas de papel en blanco. Es un sistema que los pueblos vivos crean, recrean, refinan y transforman una y otra vez —un proceso de experimentación al cual deberíamos dar bienvenida y en el cual deberíamos participar activamente.
 La traducción literal de esta frase poética no hace sentido en español… y no encuentro ningún significado por el cual pueda traducirla. Lo más cercano que puedo decir en español es “Candela al jarro hasta que suelte el fondo” pero no ajusta en el contexto. Mi mejor opción es no traducirla.
 Negro es bello y Descuélgate y expande tu mente, respectivamente.
 Mike se refiere al Brit Milah o ceremonia judía, el pacto de circuncisión. En lenguaje yiddish: Bris. El Mohel es la persona entrenada para realizar la circuncisión a niños a los 8 días de edad.