In contrast to what IP’s leaflet defends, we at Temps Critiques think that it is precisely because the working class cannot quit its place within the social relation, and thus cannot question its dependency on the pole of capital in this relation, that the trade unions retain an important role. In so far as they express the permanency of this dependence, their “betrayals” only show that the perspective of autonomy of the class within that social relation is an illusion.
The solidarity IP calls for is therefore not fundamentally different from what the unions advocate. Their only difference is that IP defends assembly-forms that are deemed to represent the autonomy of the movement (and yet we saw their limits in several recent movements in France), and that IP insists this solidarity must be “class-based” (which is contradicted, in the same leaflet, by a constant reference to “human beings” rather than proletarians).
The group “Mouvement Communiste” seems to have a better understanding of what’s going on when it exhorts the workers of VW simply to sell their skin dearly and even to uncouple completely the demand of a guaranteed wage from any effective work (and that is an important first: a group that is officially part of “left communism” which implicitly recognizes that the law of value is senseless, or at least broken!), which seems today, precisely on a “human basis,” a minimal staring point for a critique of work and the subversion of this world.
If what we raise is of interest, it becomes understandable why we cannot intervene in this kind of struggle, with leaflets such as IP’s. For it to be such that it can be passed out and understood while at the same time singing IP’s little tune, it must stretch too wide to bridge the gap between, on the one hand, the typically leftist claim that the unions betray the class which is revolutionary in its essence, and on the other hand, the affirmation of the human dimension of the revolution.
JW’s comments raise an important question: does the working class have the capacity to refuse to accept the place assigned to it within the social relations imposed by capitalism? Is the proletariat able to make a break and oppose itself to the relations of capitalist exploitation and to move in a revolutionary direction? JW doesn’t seem to think so. That is what informs his comments: any manifestation of the working class is seen, not as an attempt or a possibility of a development of revolutionary consciousness, but only as an occasion to reinforce its own alienation.
JW postulates that the revolution is no longer possible because the law of value, as a result of the real domination of capital, has invaded all the pores of society and has integrated the workers in a system of consumption, while the ideology (nowadays: anti-terrorist campaigns) is there to assure their submission to capitalism. There is no hope that a development of revolutionary class consciousness can occur.
If the working class cannot through the development of its struggles develop its consciousness, as JW seems to think, if it cannot break with its situation of being exploited and subject to the law of value, how is revolutionary change possible?
JW champions the struggle of those who are excluded, those who engage in pillaging stores and other forms of recuperation, which he considers attacks on the logic of the law of value. But while such forms of social radicalism are not to be condemned, they essentially affect the circuits of distribution, and often express the feelings of individuals being overwhelmed, who are improvising to survive, and all too often reflect, and reinforce, their atomization.
But can one claim, as JW does, that they are part of a fundamental questioning of the law of value? Furthermore, is it not paradoxical that JW praises the leaflet of “Mouvement Communiste” which invites the worker “to sell his skin dearly” by demanding the continued integral payment of his wage, as a break with the commercial logic of this system of exploitation? It is because he is placed within the capitalist relation that the worker is forced to see himself as a simple object: he is a commodity in the social relation and sells his labor power as a commodity. Therein lies the dialectic of his situation: it is because the human being and his labor become an object that the human being can think of this object outside of himself. Just as it is the inhumanity in which capitalism places the individual, which impels him to seek his humanity again, it is the fact of being placed in a situation of being an object that impels the working class to extricate itself from this status. It’s not by demanding the sale of this object for an excessive price that this goal is advanced. Besides, the workers of VW recently accepted a “fat” severance bonus in exchange for their acquiescence. Hardly a victory.
Our view is different. One can say indeed that the workers struggle remains within the framework of capitalism. But there is a process that, starting from the reality of exploitation, contains the potential for a collective reflection and thus perception and questioning of the social relation in which proletariat and capital are situated. It’s not because this process begins that it is bound to lead to a development of revolutionary consciousness, but such a development is not possible outside of this process. The first is a condition to the second.
The immediate struggle of the workers is against effects, not against causes. It’s only after many repetitions, detours, errors, and defeats, that the “lesson learned from history completes the process of working class consciousness”.
I think we should distinguish the content from the process. The process is the capacity, of isolated individuals, to come together for a common interest, and to think together about how to fight, how to obtain something that is denied to them (a wage raise, the retention of one’s jobs) What is it then that makes it possible to go from a movement for economic demands to the understanding that the class is a part of the social totality within which those demands can never be met? There is no opposition between them, no qualitative leap from one to the other. Their relation is rather one of dialectical contradiction between the immediate and the final goal, between the more immediate particular moment and the more historical totality.
The immediate goal, the particular moment, implies that the working class remains submitted to the economic structure and its laws. The proletariat will express its revolutionary nature only when it becomes part of a total process, that is, when it forges a link to the final goal, which will propel it beyond capitalist society, by going beyond the law of value and acts of recuperation. The workers can only seize the social productive forces when they eliminate the mode of appropriation of their labor to which they have been subjected until now, and with it the whole old mode of appropriation.
It is indeed this internal dialectic which makes the situation so difficult for the proletariat: it can only meet its needs by abolishing the social and economic relation in which it finds itself, and not, as JW seems to defend, by acts of recuperation.
Why does consciousness not develop in a linear way? Why are the same mistakes, the same limitations, so often repeated? How to get out of this apparent deadlock? Fighting collectively is a first attempt to move from a state of being a passive object, subjected to a socio-economic relation, to a state of being a subject taking control of its own existence. It is an awaking to the social reality. It is the passage from the isolated individual facing its immediate situation, to becoming a human, by changing the relation between its labor and society, becoming part of the social whole. The simple fact of being able to see oneself as object, is therefore a factor of transformation, because it allows the individual to become conscious of his position, her situation, the interests he has in common with others, and, as a result, to bring those interests to bear on the whole of society. In this way, the individual links him/herself, little by little, to the totality.
This again shows the dialectical nature of consciousness: the immediacy which constantly goes beyond itself so that workers can incorporate, into the immanent movement, elements that are further removed from their immediate consciousness. It is concrete elements that trigger the awakening of consciousness and this consciousness in its turn transforms the working class. The more the economic crisis progresses, the more the unity of the economic process can be grasped in practice. The concrete element of the immediate situation impacts the perception of the totality.
As for solidarity, it goes without saying that it should not confounded with charity, with trade union benevolence, or with isolation…But, as far as I know, the unions don’t call for an extension and generalization of the struggle in order to move to the next stage of becoming conscious, in which the workers manifest themselves as subjects, and no longer as objects for sale, objects of “negotiations”.
December 19, 2006
JW’s Second Response to FD
I maintain indeed that the working class cannot liberate itself from this dependence on the capital pole of the capitalist social relation. It can, at best, as a class, only reverse the relation of force and affirm itself as the dominant pole, which was finally its program in historical social democracy, then in Bolshevism and in certain councilist fringes. It is also this perspective that opened the way to the theorization of a "transitional phase". But what was still possible at the time of the formal domination of capital is no longer possible in the phase of real domination. (I point out that our characterization of formal domination/real domination is not primarily chronological, but structural, and approaches that established by Camatte or more recently of B.Astarian or C.Charrier of La Matérielle) and particularly since the great struggles of the 60's - '70's which marked the last proletarian assault, its defeat and, at the same time, the rupture of an historical thread (“Temps critiques” n°12). In this configuration, it, along with others, is not a question of saying that "any manifestation of the working class seems to be considered (by us) the occasion to reinforce its own alienation", but to recognize that there is no longer any possibility of affirming an identity of struggle which is a working class identity; that one can no longer base oneself on the traditional distinction between defensive struggles and offensive struggles, these latter being the point of departure for the assertion of the class and for a revolutionary perspective. "Workers" struggles are hopeless today. I do not particularly pit the struggles in the suburbs [last year] (I never employed the term "excluded," because it is inappropriate) against workplace struggles, since except for those that disrupt the “public function,” which retain their importance insofar as they carry this struggle into the sector of reproduction, a sector where the crisis of capitalist society is played out today, they often express the same despair.
That FD still distinguishes between sectors of production and sectors of distribution shows to what extent he is unaware of the process of the unification of capital that Marx nevertheless anticipated in the Grundrisse. In an epoch where capital is in a state of flux, he still reasons in term of accumulation and stocks. Apart from the blockage of production (material to be sure), he thus sees nothing coming and wonders “what revolutionary change is possible?" But what I know is that the strikes of the present period, Celatex, Kronenbourg, and others that test the limits, the revolts in the suburbs, the anti-CPE struggle, and even that of VW, are not struggles of producers, but precisely of individuals who do not produce or whom we prohibit from producing.
To imply, as FD does, that the working class is at the center of the revolutionary process from its position in production and by its capacities to block production, is today worthy of the FO and the CNT Vignoles [“radical” unions], the aficionados of the general strike! While waiting, as FD recognizes, the workers of VW pocketed the bonuses, but that simply reinforced their own alienation. And to say that that does not open a perspective is not to recognize that the revolution is not possible?
FD appears not to understand what I understand by the law of value (there is however the possibility of procuring our texts on value: “Value Without Labor”, “The Evanescence of Value”) and willfully or not to constantly confuse value and “value” when I speak about the nullity of the law of value (implying “value-work” in my remark related to the leaflet of MC), and he responds by saying to me that value is everywhere! That is exactly what we claim and it is indeed for that reason that the law of the value does not apply (or no longer applies, according to the angle of criticism). I would not like to engage in mockery, but how is one to react to a phrase that says, “It is not by asking for an excessive price that we advance things?”
I invent nothing, but I see from here the bad old days which would await us in a “transitional phase” according to FD, in which socialism would be marked by its non "excessive” character, and one does not see which kind of “mosquito” might bite the proletarians so that they go into action.
Several dogmas are condensed here: belief (religious) in the law of the value, but revisited by the point of view of a moralist and a Proudhonian of the “just price”; labor power conceived as a pure commodity, independently of the relations of force. This mythical viewpoint is found when he tells us that capitalism is inhuman and that the proletariat will have to rediscover its humanity. Capitalism is not seen as a social relation, but as a kind of monster against which a particular class (symbolizing the humanity of productive work, I suppose) having a "revolutionary nature" (FD) must rise up and bring the revelation: the humanity of man (“My God, make it happen, and quickly").
It persists when one says to us “the more the economic crisis progresses, the more the unity of the economic process can be grasped in practice. It’s a matter of a concrete element of the immediate situation which also has an impact on the perception of the totality.” This last point provides me with a transition to finish with the question of consciousness: the fact that value seems to triumph everywhere (I will not develop here the fact of whether there is, indeed, a triumph, autonomization, or evanescence, according to the critical perspectives stated) is not what blocks consciousness.
Here again, FD does not understand capital as a social relation. He opposes a human nature (he speaks of “satisfying needs,” another way of saying that use value is good) to a system of exploitation from outside that dominates it (the “system of consumption,” another way of saying that exchange value is bad). The second covers over the first as a false consciousness that must be torn off, so that the use value can be freed. On the one side there are proletarians and on the other society; on the one side, proletarians and on the other a state, a simple emanation of the ruling class, and so forth. Consciousness is then the product of the practical and collective struggle against the false consciousness that is ideology. But then consciousness would have to have accumulated a veritable war chest in the course of nearly two centuries of struggle, and the mask of ideology would have been torn to shreds a long time ago. In a more general sense, it is not ideology that opposes us, but the world, our world, the one that we produce and reproduce (and here lies the reciprocal dependence of capital/labor), the one that we can also subvert – though nothing is ineluctable, neither the crisis (how many times has it been announced under the form of the “final crisis,” or the softer form of the “deepening crisis,” or FD’s “economic crisis that is worsening”), nor the revolution.
December 26, 2006
FD's Second Response to JW
I continue to refer, in spite of the changes intervening within capitalism, to a working class tradition of discussions where one can take into account different appreciations without having to ridicule, to deform the thought of the other. In the answers that I formulate to JW, I refer to that which he writes, and suppose that he does the same. It is true, that in responding I did not refer to the works that he quotes. In the same way, he did not take into account the texts of IP that are the bases for my reasoning.
One can consequently understand certain distortions in the understanding of the thought of the other.
The question at issue is relatively simple and does not demand abstract circumlocutions; and I will repeat it: if the proletariat is no longer the revolutionary subject, in the process of becoming, who can fulfill that function?
The response given, such as I can perceive it through what is probably an alienated reading, and an interpretation which I hope is non-dogmatic, somewhat eludes the problem. JW situates the problem without grasping, it seems to me, the question of reification. The working class is a class for capital, to take up old formulations, and is destined to remain so, because of its real submission to capital. This assertion must be discussed, and various explanations have been provided to try to understand this situation. But what I raise as a problem is not that of the nature of the alienated connection with capital today, or of its historical evolution, or of the changes which have taken place within capitalism, but that of the possibility (or not) of going beyond reification. I did not receive any response, except that of being treated dogmatically, following my reaffirmation, perhaps being too schematic, that the proletariat continues to constitute, for capitalism, a contradiction.
If this is not the case, it is necessary to accept reification as an inescapable mode of thingification, rendering any movement going beyond it impossible, making unthinkable any situation of the autonomization of thought, any attempt at putting in question the situation of alienation, any concrete possibility of doing away with reification and thus opening the possibility, starting from the material conditions of the working class, of constructing other social relations. It is for that reason that IP formulates no demands, minimal or maximal, of the sort of “selling oneself dearly.” What we defend, is the necessity of unification, of solidarity, which seem to me to be elements that necessitate a conscious determination making it possible to overcome atomization, fragmentation, what post-modernity sets in motion today.
At VW, what is posed is not the closing of the factory, but its maximum profitability, by replacing the human factor with the machine. It is the normal process - historical - for the accumulation of capital. And it is true that the trade union demands can come to nothing; and so too the shutting down of the factory. On the other hand, what occurs between the workers (whether the future excludes them from production or not) raises something else and risks provoking something else. Indeed, all these workers (on strike, working, independent, active, or not...) are likely to develop, in word and in acts, a questioning which can lead to this other thing, to imagine that the pure and simple acceptance of restructuration cannot be the only solution.
Overall, the bourgeoisie in Belgium has understood this. It does everything possible so that this questioning does not arise, while reinforcing the ideological discourse through its traditional organs which are the trade unions, but also by sending into the streets the governmental Socialist Party, while sending the Liberal Prime Minister "to negotiate" with "German" employers. The height of this ideological offensive was the speech from the King of Belgium, at Christmas, who began his short speech with a kind thought addressed to the workers of VW!!!
To what does all that correspond? Why such a media barrage, if is not to try to attenuate the risks of reaction of this working class which by stopping work, also cuts the bonds of reification, overcomes, in fact, by this negative act of NO WORK the thingified relation to valorization, positioning itself, even if still in a minimal way, no longer as an extension of the machine, but as a possible artisan of an solidaristic reflection opening up other possible horizons.
Unfortunately, there is no "accumulation" of class consciousness, but the lessons can be drawn from past experiences and conveyed within the class. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie has university crucibles where its ideological weapons can be remodeled, readapted to its needs.December 26, 2006
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