working-class subjectivity

Bryan A. Alexander bnalexan at umich.edu
Fri Feb 16 01:09:30 MST 1996


Glad to see this continuing - and so politely!  See, it can happen...

Bryan Alexander					Department of English
email: bnalexan at umich.edu			University of Michigan
phone: (313) 764-0418				Ann Arbor, MI  USA    48103
fax: (313) 763-3128				http://www.umich.edu/~bnalexan

On Thu, 15 Feb 1996, Hugh Rodwell wrote:

>...
[on Negri, GRUN., CAP:]
> 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.

I accept the rhetorical distinction (and consider it important, as a
student of rhetoric), but am not sure about Negri's more strategic
differentiation.  Thoughtful comments like these are sending me back to
MBM - give me a week or so.

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.

Complementarity leaves open quite a lot of space for work...
	But I think Negri is speaking more for the post-1960 world than
to either a transhistorical or historicized CAPITAL.  His opposition to
rigid categories smacks of the New Left and the Stranger Still Left, of
May '68 and Autonomia - the sense of an oblique criticism of capital and
its accepted forms of resistance (the state CP in Italy, for example)
seems present through MBM.  How thoroughly does N. buy into this?  This
is the burden of our brief flurry on that one paragrapg from COMS LIKE
US: how much is Negri accepting, and how much is he investigating, from
the 60s/early 70s?  Based on a reading of LABOR OF DIONYSUS, I'd say the
latter - but this might not be so clearly true for MBM.  Back to my reread!

> ...
> 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 is purest Negri, so far.  So far, so good.

 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.

Nice distintion, btw.  Not Bazarov, but not weepy either.

 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.)

Oh! I was wondereing when you'd be coming back to 1910s-20s Soviet
politics.  Alright, this makes more sense, in terms of seeing and working
with the local-global systemic dynamic.
>
> 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.

Again, back to NEgri (backwardly).  We seem to have isolated one Negri
deviation: an apparent overfocus on the local.  This seems consistent
with Autonomia, but worth another look at THE POLITICS OF SUBVERSION.
 >...
> B >What I was writing on was this opposition of subjectivity and natural
> history,
>   >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?

The rudimentary sort that abstracts out two tendencies from one apparent
whole, then, after abstraction, reunites them.
 >...
> 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.

And lots here.  Two complications:
	1. The biggie of course is how to handle the transition when
you've extirpated capital in one part of the world, but not the whole.
	2. Your model for cooperation sounds identical to, say, anarchist
Spain, or Kropotkin's communs.  Comments?
>
> 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
> subject.

This seems historically-bound.  Aside from my problems with the statism
found here, I have the more general question: Marx's method seems to
leave open many questions of insurgent organization.  (Witness the
different modalities of "dictatorship of the prol.," or the shifting
models of the state within the Paris Commune drafts)  So what types of
revolutionary subjectivity are there?  Can we have a pre-triumphal
nonstatist resistance?  What sorts of parties has time offered?
	This is a vast question, of course.  I'm not looking for easy
answers  (but wouldn't mind any).  Yet this is an area we, as a list,
need to address more openly and thoroughly.

>
> 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.

See my above notes.  with all due respect, the party - as a stable
scheme, or even a fluid one - seems too restrictive.  Then again, my
rereading of Grasmci is sliding me away from this...

>
> 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.

Yes, let's.
>
> Cheers,
>
> Hugh
>
> Cheers,
>
> Hugh
>
>
>


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