working-class subjectivity

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at
Wed Feb 21 14:49:21 MST 1996

Apologies for the length of this bit of dialogue. But it's a big theme. If
you think we're going on about nothing, say so and give examples.

On 16 Feb 1996, Bryan A wrote his latest contribution to this discussion:

H.>>[on Negri, GRUN., CAP:]
  >> it is difficult to make any case but a rhetorical one
  >> for any fading [of class antagonism].

B.>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.

Be interesting to see what you come up with.

H >>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.

Marx complained that Hegel ossifies his categories particularly in the
Encyclopedia (around 1830), and especially in comparison with the fresh and
vigorous development of ideas in the Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807).

H >> [Capital] ... 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.

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

I'd be surprised if it was. Does Negri take up the failure of the *tactic*
(not a strategy) of the general strike in the case of the Italian CP? The
use of removal of labour as mere pressure within the system to gain
economic benefits or as a mere safety valve? Does he consider the *extent*
of the refusal of labour required to bring capitalism down in, say, Italy,
or the question of how a sufficiently large-scale withdrawal of labour
should be organized politically? There's a hell of a difference between *my
individual* refusal to work, and the most strategic sectors of the whole of
the working class doing so.

H >> [Capital] ... 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.

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

Be explicit about Bazarov, please.

H >>  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.)

B >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.

Note to postmodernists: 'local-global systemic dynamic' can also be written
'national and world events/developments', but it loses that kinky hypnotic

H >> 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 >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.

This deviation he seems to have shared with most postmodernists and their
forerunners (Rosemary Hennesy makes a big thing of this in 'Materialist
Feminism and the Politics of Discourse', Routledge, 1993).

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.

H >> What sort?

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

Well, give us an example of non-rudimentary dialectics! And I'm not sure I
agree with the 'rudimentary' characterization here. If events are people
acting in relation to certain historically given social and economic
conditions (a certain amount of accumulated labour, distributed and
organized according to the fields of force generated by certain given
relations of property and production) - then their subjective understanding
of their situation will affect the extent to which they can
change the given setup. Thorough understanding enhances their chances -
*if* the (natural) historical development of a mode of production, say, has
reached a level at which the break to a new one is feasible. The
relationships involved are not individual, though they are borne by
individuals (like language). This means that for individuals to affect
them, they must forge a collective subject that has the social clout to
grab hold of the right social levers and press the right social buttons,
all the while fighting off the collective enemy subject who's disputing the
control room with them. This all depends on a dialectic view that admits of
collective entities like capital and mode of production that develop
according to a logic of their own 'behind the backs' of the individuals
whose daily activities reproduce these entities. 'They are not aware of it,
but they do it nonetheless' ('Sie wissen es nicht, aber sie tun es'), as
Marx puts it. When a subjectivity, such as the party of the working class,
attains a sufficient grasp of its own situation (the character of the class
in relation to the mode of production, the role of the party in relation to
the class, etc) and has sufficient strength to mobilize the whole class
behind its project of change - then you get something like the October
revolution. A subjectivity, once again doesn't have to be perfect to
achieve its social goals, but the degree of perfection (qualitative and
quantitative) will affect the scope and character of the achievement.
Remember Marx in the Critique of the Gotha Programme talking about
socialism being born with the blood and filth of capitalism all over it
('these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as
it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist
society.'). What's rudimentary about this dialectic?

B>>  >        I'm interested in the ways in which GR's model of the
 >>  >self is not just classless but stateless.  Here Marx insists on the
 >>  >production of the social, possibly in terms of those who have "gained
 >>  >over their own social interconnectedness" (161-2).  [snip]  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.

H >> 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.

B >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?

1.  The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. Defend the
revolution at home and do what you can to aid the workers and oppressed
still under capitalist rule in their revolutionary efforts. After all these
decades of Stalinism it might be difficult for some to envisage the
enthusiasm and solidarity a successful challenge to capital will engender
in the working class worldwide. Think back to the response of the class in
1917. Think of the militancy of the class after the war in the late 1940s
and the work the CPs had to do to contain the workers and constrain them to
Stalin's territorial coexistence. Think of the immediacy of the shockwaves
generated worldwide by what happened in France in 1968.

2.  Anarchism has never come close to winning power. It might, however, as
a petty bourgeois force, lend its strength to the proletarian struggle. Its
contributions after a revolution could be creative, but won't be anywhere
near the centre (or centres) of power. Check out some of Marx's own
passages on cooperation in the new mode of production - they're pretty
similar to the above. Good luck if you're trying to harness Marx (even the
Marx of the Grundrisse) to the anarchist wagon - you'll need it! Before the
hegemony of socialism is established worldwide, point one obviously holds.

3.  A useful book to introduce at this point might be The New Economics by
Evgeny Preobrazhensky (1926). It deals with problems concerning the
position of the class in relation to a transitional form of the mode of
production, with a workers' state in isolation besieged by imperialist
economic hegemony.

H >> 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.

B >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.

It *is* historically bound, just like the reality we live in. We can't wish
ourselves out of our epoch. It's an epoch of wars and revolutions, an epoch
of the transition from capitalism to socialism. The subjectivity needed to
solve the problems posed by the epoch is one adequate to seeing through the
overthrow of capitalism and the setting up of a workers' state with a
regime adequate to defending it and promoting the revolution of the workers
in the rest of the world. 'Resistance' is not enough, it won't overthrow
anything. It assumes the continued existence of the enemy. This isn't a
game of football where one team wins (or there's a draw) and both teams
carry on as before. It's a battle for control where only one will can
emerge victorious. You can't have a partly capitalist and partly workers'
state (situations of dual power are extremely transitory in character). I'm
afraid 'non-statist' is a non-starter - class society abhors a vacuum here.
'Non-statist resistance' sure, for ever and ever - forty generations from
now we'll still be putting up 'non-statist resistance' - to barbarism. As
for 'pre-triumphal', I don't know what you're referring to - please
explain. As to the parties on offer, my money's on the Fourth International
as it gets its act together, at present mainly in Europe and Latin America.
The Stalinist and Maoist traditions have too many betrayals (both of
revolutionary developments and Marxist principles) to do anything but
maintain a weakening grip on certain sections of the class or conduct
struggles arising from certain national peculiarities (as in Peru) in which
they find it difficult to mobilize the masses in their own nation, let
alone those in neighbouring or distant countries. Remember also, a party is
not a thing, it's a set of relationships in dynamic interaction with the
class and the society as a whole. It's the task of revolutionaries to get
those relationships right and get the interaction to move the way we want.
The greater our understanding of the objective character of the society
we're out to change, the better our chances of concentrating party work on
interventions that make a difference and keeping sectarian distractions to
a minimum.

H >> 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.

B >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...

Too restrictive for what - you must be explicit. Formulate your
reservations! Gramsci is a kind of Marxist reversion to Spinoza - a great
read. But where does he stand on Stalinism? How much abstraction does he
need to avoid this question?

H >> 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.



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