working-class subjectivity

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at
Wed Feb 14 18:32:52 MST 1996

Bryan wrote:

>Thanks for your persistence, Hugh-

Thanks for the gracious reception ... I should have replied earlier.

H >> Well, telegraph style: 'fades somewhat' seems to be a euphemism for
  >> 'disappears', and I disagree entirely.

B >It isn't a euphemism in my book.  This is exactly how I read Negri's
  >take: that class antogonism as an issue or trope is not so strong in CAP
  >1 as in the GR.  IT therefore "fades somewhat" - of course it doesn't
  >disappear.  Sheesh.
  >        If you're talking about Negri, not me, then I retract this - and
  >we can hash it out.

OK, we can discuss it - I like your 'of course'. The question of what
degree of 'fading' there might be depends on what you mean by 'issue or
trope'. I think if you appreciate the dialectical analysis of capital as a
process wholly dependent on the antagonistic relationship between the two
elements of a) capital as the means of production in the hands of the
bourgeoisie and b) wage labour, and also acknowledge that the whole of
Capital is devoted to proving and demonstrating this in detail, then it is
difficult to make any case but a rhetorical one for any fading. To my ears
the Negri quote:  "The objectification of categories in CAPITAL blocks
revolutionary subjectivity" just sounds like an echo of Marx's criticism of
the late Hegel compared with the young Hegel, and it is completely
baseless. It misses the relationship between the Grundrisse and Capital of
a no-holds-barred not-for-publication preparatory examination of the
foundations of the labour theory of value and its ramifications on the one
hand and the scientific development of the same theory, explicitly intended
for publication, on the very foundations earlier put down and tested on the
other. The works complement each other, they don't stand in any kind of
antagonistic relationship.

Just in passing, it's worth emphasizing that the only really substantial
difference between Marx at the time of the Poverty of Philosophy and the
Manifesto and Marx at the time of the Grundrisse and Capital lies in the
enormous explanatory clarity gained by the elaboration of the concept of
labour power - but the economic and philosophical antagonism between
'accumulated labour' and 'actual labour' as the basic definition of human
enslavement and exploitation is constant, and provides the motive force
driving Marx's investigations and activities throughout his life.

H >> I would argue the development of the concept of
  >> capital in Capital and its presentation of the way the various categories
  >> work and interact in society provides the best possible guide for
  >> revolutionary subjectivity. It didn't seem to harm Lenin's or Trotsky's
  >> revolutionary subjectivity any, and they and their party actually realized
  >> the abolition of capitalism in what became the Soviet Union.

B >Can you develop this point at greater length?  I'm not willing to use
  >Soviet biographism to think through Marx's writings.  In what ways does
  >this presentation of categories provide the best possible etc.?

It shows the importance of the reproduction _every day_ of the social
relationships giving rise to inequalities of wealth. It shows that without
the constant renewal of the deal making over the use of labour power to the
capitalist, no surplus value would be produced and no wealth (hence no
power) could accumulate in the hands of the capitalists. It thus
demonstrates the political threat to the capitalist system of refusing to
work. It also exposes the central social contradictions as those between
the classes of wage labour and capital internationally, giving a guide to
policy priorities. This was of the utmost importance in Russia, given the
apparent contradictions between the aristocracy and the peasantry, and the
potential confusion introduced by the radical intelligentsia. It provides a
very clear perspective on the fundamental antagonism between the interests
of the classes, and thus a handle for dealing with problems of opportunism,
class collaboration etc. One of its most important contributions is the
removal of sentimentality and moralizing from political work, and I don't
mean emotion or moral sense. Given the fundamental immorality of the
exploitative relationship capital is based on, the useful, purposeful
reaction becomes activity to abolish that relationship, without getting
bogged down in symptomatic phenomena which, however distasteful are not
fundamental - in other words, the enemy is more fundamentally the bourgeois
regimes in say the United States, Sweden, Germany, Britain, France and so
on than military dictatorships such as those that devastated Chile, Brazil
and Argentina. To make this clearer, the position of revolutionaries in
Argentina was to mobilize the hatred of the dictatorship with a perspective
of overthrowing not just the fascist regime but the bourgeois state that
produced it and survived it. As the dictatorship collapsed before
revolutionary forces had the necessary power to challenge the state, this
position enabled revolutionaries to use the dying months of the
dictatorship to set up offices to publicize and organize their socialist
policies. Simply put,the analyses given in Capital teach us where to build
our political bridgeheads and let us keep right abreast of events in their
historical significance as they happen. (For corroboration of this, just
read the daily responses of Lenin and Trotsky to national and world events
and compare their conclusions with those of their non-Marxist
contemporaries and those of later historians.)

Perhaps this was a bit abstract? The category of wage-labour is shown to be
a category doomed to permanent subjection and increasing exploitation under
the rule of capital. The revenues of industrial, merchant, and finance
capital and of land rent are all shown to be taken from the aggregate
surplus value of society, produced by the working class and appropriated by
the capitalists without paying any equivalent. So, however complicated they
appear, the manifestations of profit all boil down to the exploitation of
labour by capital. Which it becomes the first task of the revolutionary
Marxist to abolish.

B > So, "no." [in answer to: is it a good and/or productive question to oppose
  > the sense of evolution within capital (what Jameson, following Horkeimer,
  > calls "the natural history of capital") to the question of subjectivity?]
  > The totalizing force of capital rules out any useful focus on
  > working-class subjectivity outside of a discussion of capital's
  > progress.  If there's no outside to capital, as Santiago puts it, then
  > all subjectivities are within, and must be treated intestinally.
  > This seems right.

With the proviso that we don't get bogged down in those sterile discussions
of the late 60s and early 70s about subsumption under capital, where all
sorts of fatalist nonsense was rife (with voluntaristic corollaries a la
Cultural Revolution of course).

B >What I was writing on was this opposition of subjectivity and natural
  >or even spontaneity vs (revolutionary) evolution.  Folks on the left have
  >often teased this duality apart in favor of one side or the other for
  >decades back into the nineteenth century.  You treat this opposition as
  >two elements of a necessary synthesis, which makes sense.  Dialectics of
  >a sort.

What sort?

B >>>I resist, however, the linear development of CAPITAL from the
  >>>notebooks.  My last reading of GRUNDRISSE suggested new directions in
  >>>terms of the state and some working class constitution that CAP 1 didn't
  >>>answer for me.  CAP 2 and 3 don't look to go much further -

H >> Tell us which directions, please. Also, don't leave Theories of Surplus
  >> Value out of contention. I'm thinking in particular of the way Marx chases
  >> Rent to ground and the knotty problems concerning 'productive' and
  >> 'unproductive' labour, about which more some other time.

B >        I'm interested in the ways in which GR's model of the
  >post-capital self is not just classless but stateless.  Here Marx insists
  >on the horizontal production of the social, possibly in terms of those
  >who have "gained mastery over their own social interconnectedness"
  >(161-2).  There's a passage about true freedom and work as composing, of
  >"self-realization, objectification of the subject," of the liberating
  >effect of historical self-knowledge - not as idiotic (literally) fanciful
  >egoism, but as part of the revolutionary project - but without the
  >benefit of state or other vertically-organized authority (611).  This
  >leads, in fact, to an explicit formulation of revolutionary subjectivity:
  >"Forces of production and social relations - two different sides of the
  >development of the social individual - appear to capital as mere means,
  >and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation.  In
  >fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation
  >sky-high." (706)  This is of course consciousness - but it leaves method
  >fully open as a question, not confining us to certain modes of party or
  >state.  Hugh's proven right a few pages later, when a discussion of the
  >production of self by labor and capital (748) yields immediately
  >statements about the necessary and progressive self-demolition of capital
  >(749).  Here my reading opposes your Leninism, Hugh, because I don't find
  >a necessary constitution of the party in the GR at all.
  >        Ah - baby is more demanding than the dialectics.  Later.

Lots here, needs doing a bit at a time. First 'post-capital' must be
interpreted as after the establishment of world hegemony for a socialist
mode of production. This immediately provides the conditions for a
withering away of the capitalist and working classes. Everyone will be
involved in both productive labour and the various necessary but sometimes
non-productive tasks involved in distribution, planning, welfare etc. I
would say the stateless aspect is almost tautologous - the state is after
all a machine for the promotion and maintenance of ruling-class interests
in societies based on class antagonisms. Other, non-oppressive, forms of
collaboration and decision-making will be developed on the basis of a
cooperative, transparent mode of production with universal access to and
participation in management.

Leninism is obviously not constituted out of the text of the Grundrisse as
such. It is constituted out of the focus provided by the Grundrisse and
Capital on the historical and economic tasks of the proletariat, taken in
conjunction with the activities and experience of Marx and Engels in their
party work. That's what State and Revolution is all about. It's what
Trotsky's theory of the Permanent Revolution and the Transitional Programme
of the Fourth International are all about. The problem, in a nutshell, is
one of creating a revolutionary working-class subject adequate to the
historical task of abolishing the capitalist mode of production and
replacing it with a socialist one. No party - no adequate revolutionary

What I'm saying, to put it very bluntly, is that a 'theory of working-class
subjectivity' is nothing but a 'theory of the party'. Why? Because
working-class subjectivity is the aggregate of the positions held by
individuals and groups within the class IN RELATION TO THE HISTORICAL
POSITION AND TASKS OF THE CLASS - and this consciousness is concentrated in
the party. Once again, the day working-class subjectivity realizes itself
fully, in action as well as thought, will be the day it abolishes itself as
a class. The adequacy of the subjectivity of any subdivision of the class,
or the class as a whole, to its historical position and historical tasks
must be mapped out on the coordinates of what defines this position and
these tasks objectively - hence the importance of Capital (and Grundrisse)
in this matter. Hence also the living Marxist tradition of the party of
class struggle - the I and II Internationals, the Bolsheviks, and the III
and IV Internationals.

The great historical task facing humanity today is the concrete resolution
of the issue of socialism or barbarism. The working class is the only
social force in a position to achieve this resolution without taking
humanity into barbarism. This brings the added dimension of the whole of
human subjectivity into the coordinating framework of the revolutionary
party - the fundamental party character of working-class subjectivity
necessarily assimilates to itself the best (most adequate) elements of
non-working-class consciousness.

This has been a very general outline of my position. I hope we can get down
to mapping out a few adequate and inadequate subjectivities later.





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