working-class subjectivity

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at
Sun Feb 11 17:59:54 MST 1996

Jerry wrote:

>Indeed, the writings of C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya have to be placed
>in >the historical context of an ideological and political struggle against
>Stalinism. Although Negri's theory, and the theory of many others which dealt
>at the same time with the issue of working class subjectivity is different,
>they share a common opposition to Stalinism and "Marxist orthodoxy."

Why did you put quotes around 'Marxist orthodoxy', if you're not referring
to Stalinist orthodoxy plain and simple? Does 'Marxist orthodoxy' include
Lenin and Trotsky for you, as is implied by Ralph Dumain's remark 'the
writings of James and Dunayevskaya also need to be understood as a struggle
against the Trotskyism in which they were immersed, as well as against
Stalinism' implies? This must be stated explicitly if 'orthodoxy' is to
have any sense in our discussion, and I think it should. The clearer we see
what Marx wrote and meant, the easier it is to see whether the original
positions - the orthodoxy - retain their validity or whether they need
revising. And since in my opinion Lenin and Trotsky are the nearest we get
to orthodox Marxism this century, I think the term orthodox Marxism should
be used to refer to their positions - without quotes.
> I also believe that most Marxist organizations are optimistic
>programmatically. Here's where I think there *can* be a problem.
>Revolutionaries, and people in general, need hope. But, their political
>judgment should not be clouded by their optimism.

I think the issue of the dynamics of capitalism towards a thoroughly
socialized mode of production and a continually growing working class and a
continually shrinking capitalist class (one that is therefore constantly
more and more blatantly dependent on its hordes of mercenaries for
survival) gives us an objective basis for optimism in relation to the
general tendency of historical development in our epoch. Cause for
pessimism on the other hand might be found in the subjectivity we're
discussing here, the crisis in working class leadership - the lack of a
powerful, international working class party with a consciously Marxist
revolutionary leadership. But neither pessimism or optimism are much use in
the task of assessing the current historical state of capitalism or the
consciousness and clout of working class revolutionary organizations
opposing it. I don't think they're much use in the task of organization
either, really, except in the trite sense that you fight better if you
think you're going to win, and here it's probably better to speak of
'revolutionary confidence' than 'revolutionary optimism'.

>The question, though, isn't so much what Marx wrote in Capital, but what he
>did >not write and why.

I disagree. The speculation might be interesting, but it's arid when
there's so much to appropriate and realize in what Marx (in teamwork with
Engels, as we shouldn't forget for one second) actually got written and
actually got done.

>Capital (the book) certainly does include sections on workers resistance. Was
>that an essential component of the text or peripheral to Marx's purpose in
>that >work? That is an issue that some have debated before.

It depends what you mean by essential. In Marx's letter to Meyer of 30
April 1867, he writes:

    '_Volume 1_ comprises the _'Process of Capitalist Production'_. Besides
    the general scientific exposition, I describe in great detail, from hitherto
    unused _official_ sources, the condition of the English agricultural and
    industrial proletariat _during the last twenty years_, ditto _Irish_
    conditions. You will, of course, understand that all this serves me only as
    an _'argumentum ad hominem'_.'

The 'only' might provide a clue here that indicates that this material is
subordinate and replaceable by other similar material. Obviously the
analysis of the processes in which capital involves capitalists and wage
labour could not be removed or replaced. But since it was essential for
Marx to be understood by workers, it was also essential for him to provide
a wealth of illustrative material, as in fact he does throughout Capital,
and not just in relation to the conditions of the proletariat. I have
constantly been struck by how often these illustrative examples have helped
clarify non-intuitive theoretical points for me in my own reading of Marx,
and how difficult it is to assimilate these points given a bare-bones
honed-down theoretical presentation.

>If one views capitalism as a dynamic dialectic in which the logic of capital
>and the logic of the class struggle are played out, with indeterminate and non-
>inevitable consequences, then one might emphasize, as the "Open Marxists" do,
>becoming involved in the day-to-day struggles that occur on the shop floor or
>in the community.

>Let me give an example. When I was in the SWP, we were encouraged to be
>"model" >workers. We were encouraged *not* to write grievances or complain
>about working >conditions. This was viewed broadly by the SWP leadership as
>"economistic." In >the factories, we were encouraged to raise "political"
>demands and engage in
>"larger" struggles. At the time, I thought this was a big mistake -- and said
>so. Why? It is in the course of their *daily* struggles that the working class
>>becomes class conscious and aware of their own power. This was something that
>other autoworkers who were militants knew better than the SWP leadership.

This awareness of class power, necessary as it is, can be frittered away in
struggles that fail to pose the question of whose power in society. This
has been demonstrated ad nauseam by the French and (notably) the Italian
CPs in their Stalinist tactic of general strikes about everything but the
real question of power. The whole of the Transitional Programme of the
Fourth International is rooted in this question of relating everyday
struggles to the larger issues of power. Engels wrote to Bernstein (17 June
1879) about the necessity of going beyond daily struggles:

        'For a number of years past the English working-class movement has
    hopelessly  describing a narrow circle of strikes for higher wages and
    shorter hours, not, however, as an expedient or means of propaganda and
    organization but as the ultimate aim. The Trades Unions even bar all
    political action on principle and in their charters, and thereby also ban
    participation in any general activity of the working class as a class.
    [snip] ...One can speak here of a labour movement only in so far as strikes
    take place here which, whether they are won or not, do not get the movement
    one step further. ...'

Your view of 'capitalism as a dynamic dialectic in which the logic of
capital and the logic of the class struggle are played out, with
indeterminate and non-inevitable consequences' is self-contradictory. If
there's a logic, it operates in a determinate and even inevitable manner -
certain premises give rise to other certain results. I think you're fudging
questions of level here. The logic of capital requires, inevitably, greater
and greater concentration and centralization of capital, continuous
expansion of constant capital in relation to variable capital and so on.
The logic of the class struggle requires, inevitably, that either capital
wins, in which case the process continues and ratchets up one more notch of
tension in the contradictions of the mode of production, or labour wins -
and here's the fudge! Because if labour doesn't win at the power level,
then capitalism continues and the contradictions go on mounting.

What's inevitable - like the great West Coast earthquake - is a number of
cataclysmic crises as capitalism by the logic of its processes drives the
contradictions within society (the relations of production) to a level of
tension that cannot be contained. What's not inevitable is the outcome of
the cataclysm - and here orthodox Marxism (Lenin and Trotsky) is quite
clear. If the working class is not organized and led in such a way as to
take power in society and start building socialism by way of a
revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, then barbarism will ensue.
Capitalism is not reversible.

There is as little fatalism in this view of the logic of capital and the
class struggle as there is in the logic of chemistry and its production of
salt from the fusion of sodium and chlorine. It's the way the processes
work. The question is what social consciousness can do with these processes
- understand them, control them and ride them, or ignore them and be at
their mercy.

>>Working class subjectivity has as its main goal its own abolition.

>I believe this is one of Negri's central points.

Maybe, but where do you stand on it?

>>The whole political problem of relating the logic of capital to working class
>>action is one of where to aim for strategic results, and deciding what
>>strategic results you want.

>Working class political action can not, I believe, be expressed simply as a
>strategic process. There is also: a) the theoretical question concerning the
>effects of working class self-activity on capital; and b) the development of
>class consciousness (by no means a simple process to address).

>>The thing is, if your strategic objective is less than .... <snip>

>Who is "your"? I am not referring to the political positions of groups on the
>Left (which, at best, represent a small minority of the working class).
>Instead, I am addressing the question of the processes whereby the class as a
>whole develops, asserts its own will, and comes into conflict with capital.

'The class as a whole' is a figment, unless you are completely in thrall to
objectivism. What 'develops, asserts its own will, and comes into conflict
with capital' at the political level is the class as an organized force
with a given leadership or leaderships, one of which inevitably comes to
the fore at any given historical conjuncture.

The slighting reference to 'groups on the Left (which at best represent a
small minority of the working class)' is just a cough and a spit away from
pure idealism - a class with an identity and spirit of its own divorced
from the sordid reality of Stalinists, ex-Stalinists, Trotskyists,
Anarchists, Social-Democrats, Budweiser, religious and narcotic dope and
the FBI and the CIA. Our groups on the Left are what at present constitute
the Party - fragmented and uncertain in their relationships with the
working class, but the actual alternative to the pro-capitalist leaderships
of the Stalinists and the Social-Democrats, or the purely bourgeois
parties. However agreeable it would be, it is not historically possible to
abstract away the party of the working class - working class subjectivity
is something in the process of creation, and the political part of this
process is taking part in leftwing groups.

I will be categorical. There is no way to understand the subjectivity of
the working class without relating it to the development of a revolutionary
party capable of resolving the historical task of the abolition of wage
labour and capital. One of Hegel's books (a beauty) is called 'Positions of
Thought in relation to Objectivity' or something similar. The book we are
potentially collaborating on would be entitled 'Positions of
Class-Consciousness in relation to the Capitalist Mode of Production'.
Hopefully it will clarify the positions of various parties and groups in
relation to the central questions of our epoch and make easier the
development (by a process of fusion and ever sharper focus on the really
important issues) of a party capable, like the Bolsheviks, of leading a
huge popular revolution to the abolition of capitalism in one or more
countries and the first steps in the construction of socialism.

In this context I think the question Carlos puts: 'es un estudio partidario
o es un estudio academico?' receives some kind of answer. An academic
discussion with no party impact will make no contribution to defining the
tasks that are central to our epoch and get us no closer to a solution.
Party discussions without an intellectual edge to them will be less
adequate than they should be dealing with the same problems.

>>Re- dynamic: <snip>
>>Re- non-reversible: <snip>
>>Re- unstable:<snip>

>Capitalism, of course, is all of these. However, capitalism will not breakdown
>>of its own accord. Only the working class, the "gravedigger", can end
>capitalism and abolish the wage system. How does this happen? What, in
>_Capital_ explains this process from the standpoint of wage-labour?

My objection to this will be clear from what I've written above. Capitalism
may very well break down of its own accord in one of its terminal crises
(the 'Death Agony of Capitalism' is not a mere figure of speech). If it
does this spontaneously and no party is in place, barbarism will result.
Only the organized revolutionary working class can put socialism in its

'Capital' indicates a couple of ways this might happen. Its insistence on
the various functions of capitalist agents, its discussion of which of
these are purely capitalist and which are necessary in any system of
production and distribution, and the fact that they are carried out by
others than the capitalists (whose central function is not working, but
ensuring control is maintained) point to things that the working class will
have to take over. Various aspects of state intervention on behalf of
various classes are discussed in detail ( such as the legislation on
vagrancy, compulsory labour, the Poor Laws etc in Cap 1), again providing
pointers. But really the process of ending capitalism from the standpoint
of wage labour is one of having enough organized political power to remove
capitalist legislation and put socialist legislation in its place and
enforce it. In a very real sense, the sequel to Capital is the October
Revolution. Read October as an appendix to Capital showing us the first
steps on the road to ending capitalism and abolishing the wage system. And
remember that Capital makes it clear that capitalism as a system is
international, which means that only its abolition on an international
scale will make it possible to abolish the wage system. October ended
capitalism nationally, but didn't replace it with socialism - the law of
value and the wages system exerted unceasing pressure on the Soviet Union
(Preobrazhensky is good on this, of course, though as Trotsky noted
somewhere, a bit abstract politically).

All these things are pointers to tasks that must be carried out if
capitalism is to be abolished.

>Were what became Volumes 2 and 3 intended for publication?

>What about the "Preface to the French Edition" (1872) of VI?

The Preface to the French Edition seems utterly irrelevant to this
discussion. As to vols 2 and 3 and their relation to vol 1, isn't Marx's
letter to Meyer of 30 April 1867 crystal clear on this?

   'The knowledge that a man of high principles has been secured for our Party
   compensates me for the worst. ... [snip] ...
   I had to make use of _every_ moment when I was able to work to COMPLETE MY
   BOOK [my emphasis], to which I have sacrificed health, happiness and
   ... [snip] ...
   _The first volume_ of the work will be published in a few weeks by _Otto
   Meissner_ in Hamburg. ... [snip] ...
   _Volume I_ comprises the _'Process of Capitalist Production'_ ... [snip] ...
   I hope the whole work will have been published a year from now. _Volume II_
   gives the continuation and conclusion of the theories [This refers to our
   present Vols 2 & 3], _Volume III the history of political economy from the
   middle of the seventeenth century_ [referring to our present Theories of
   Surplus Value].
   As for the International Workingmens' Association, it has become a power in
   England, France, Switzerland and Belgium. Establish as many branches as
   possible in America. ... [snip] ...

Just about as irrefutable evidence as you could wish of the way Marx
combined theory and practice, all of it Party work.

>Do you think that the subject matter of the last 5 of Marx's proposed 6 books
>was "sterile"? In addition, Marx planned (while he was still writing the
>drafts >for what became V3) a subsequent volume on competition. Is that a
>subject as well?

Not at all. What's sterile is arguments about them that use them as an
excuse to avoid appropriating what we actually have.



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