Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Labour Is Capital

An interesting article I came across from the Italian Left Communist group; Countdown provocatively titled; Marxism is Dead! Long Live Marxism! which deals with the fact that in todays Capitalist economy work has no intrinsic value, that is being a shoemaker is of no more importance than working for the Colonel at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The rise of the so called service economy in North America and Europe, and the end of industrialization in these countries, has seen industrialization shipped offshore but it has also seen service work shipped offshore, call centres, computer programing, etc.

Once upon a time the proletariat was seen as blue collar industrial workers today with Capitalisms ascendance around the globe the proletariat is everywhere, waged and unwaged, working in factories or at home, no longer is there a commons for peasants, the peasants have moved to the cities to become the informal economy of the shanty towns.The revolutionary ideas of the elder Herr Dr. Marx now become more prophetic, that labour as abstract labour, as the creator of value, as the very essence of capitalism, is not free, is not liberated but everywhere enslaved to the machinery of capital itself.

Capitalism has no face, only masks as Marx said. The new capitalism the shareholder stakeholder capitalism of today, where we identify as workers, consumers, citizens, stockholders, is the abstract captialism that Marx predicted.
The capitalist is one expression of capitalism the machine, the worker/consumer/citizen/shareholder is another. Both are needed for the continuation of capitalism itself. Capitalism can only be abolished now with the abolition of the proletratiat, through its self recognition of itself as the very source and being of captialism.

It is not a matter of smashing the machines like the Luddites, or of nationalisation,or of decalring the State to be socialist, but of recongizing that we are the machine of capitalism and that we can rehape our society to our needs, not the need for making Quarterly profits. The moment we have a mass recognition that our subjective feelings of alienation, which result in many spectral or spectacular forms, is our alienation from the system we have created, will allow us to take over our lives, and thus end the system which is out of our control. This then is the spectre haunting globalization it is the contradiciton facing those who want to promote global capitalism and those who oppose it. They are both dancers in this pantomine but the point they miss is who is playing in the band. The band is those who have taken autonomous action to change their conditions, such as the current revolutions that have occured in Latin America especially Argentina and Bolivia.

As Marx said at that moment the proletariat will have reached class conciousness not of itself as a class, which is in opposition to capitalism, but as a class for itself, as the very source of capitalism. Communism then becomes possible, not as a form of state or governance, through our selfish decision that the abundance we create is available for all to use. Which until this moment in history has been limited by the capitalist means of production and distribution.

The lifespan of orthodox Marxism mirrored
the rise of this industrial working class in Europe
and North America. The critique of the bourgeois
order produced by this class reflected its exclusion
from bourgeois politics, the parasitism of unproductive
capital, and the erosion of its position
in the work process. It was a claim for inclusive
status on behalf of industrial labour as industrial
labour, but not a critique of capital, as the value
form of this industrial labour. The Marxism that
rested on and drew sustenance from this new
industrial working class and its struggle, was a
critique of capital, but from the standpoint of a
class protective of its status as a class. The spontaneous
socialism of the working class movement
produced a Marxism limited to the sovereignty of
industrial labour in the bourgeois order.
The critique to be found in the late works of
Marx (Grundrisse (1857-8), Theories of Surplus Value
(1862-3), Das Kapital (1864-1867)) was a critique
that was never consistently taken up by the leading
theoreticians of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals.
This was Marx’s critique of capital as a critique of
the value form of labour. It was a critique of the
very form taken by labour in the capitalist mode
of production – abstract labour as the source of
value, and constitutive of the form of social
domination characteristic of this mode.2 It was
therefore a critique pointing to the necessity of the
abolition of value producing labour as such.3 This
critique was unappreciated not because of the
personal failings of the leading Marxists of this
tradition. In the attempt to establish Marxism as a
source of authority for working class struggles,
those very struggles, rooted as they were in a
specific stage of development of industrial capital,
and generative of specific forms of social consciousness,
militated against a full grasp of Marx’s
mature critique. In the context of the period in
which it was written, Marx’s critique of the value
form was ahead of its time, pointing as it did to a
development of abstract labour and value that lay
only in the future.

Capital was conceptualised by Orthodox
Marxism as a thing separate from and opposed to
labour. Capital and labour were thus polarities,
discreet opposites, each standing in an external
relation to the other. Labour was an entity whose
essence was denied by the existence of capital – the
source of its oppression understood as something
outside it. This dualist conceptualisation is to a
large extent explicable if it is remembered that the
parties of the 2nd International were an organic
part of the first real working class movements.
These movements were struggling to assert the
integrity and dignity of industrial labour as a
legitimate producer of wealth. While Social
Democracy articulated this sentiment in the form
of a collectivist state socialism, syndicalism offered
a purely corporatist version, and Bolshevism a
modernising variant in the circumstances of backwardness.
But all were in the last analysis variants
of a class representation of labour as wage labour.
By contrast, Marx’s critique of capital was as a
form of appearance of value, the substance of which
was alienated (abstract) labour. The critique and
negation of capital was at the same time the critique
and negation of abstract labour – the abolition of
the proletariat as a class. The implication of Marx’s
critique is that the expression of the domination
of capital through the medium of a class of
capitalists is secondary; while the exercise of
domination through the value form (the rule of
an abstraction which presents itself as natural
necessity) is primary. Insofar as the critique of
capital by Orthodox Marxism equated the abolition
of capital with the abolition of the capitalist
class (a change of property relations), it had no
critique of labour as wage labour.
Understanding capital as a thing, a selfcontained
entity, meant understanding labour as
an equally self-contained entity. In such an
understanding the source of change for capital or
labour derived not from the internal contradictions
of the capital-wage labour relation, but from forces
external to either side of the polarity. It followed
from this that Orthodox Marxism had no
understanding of the dialectic of the social relation
of capital – of the necessary development and
dissolution of this relation. Without an understanding
of the self-movement, the selfdevelopment
of this relation, the strategic aim of
Orthodox Marxism, in all its variants, was to
represent the proletariat in its finished, capitalist
form, as wage labour.

The significance of the Keynesian approach to the crisis
of capital, was that, on the one hand, it understood
the importance of wages for profitability, and
therefore stability of accumulation, and at the same
time understood this as a means of incorporating
the proletariat into the capitalist political economy.
Keynesian state socialism offered a solution to the
underconsumption aspect of the crisis of accumulation,
and neatly complemented the commercial
strategy of mass marketing/advertising (pioneered
in the US in the twenties) that would create the
citizen-consumer. Fordist mass consumption thus
provided a neutralising of the class struggle over
distribution and a hoped for stimulus to economic
growth (through the avoidance of chronic depression).
Bourgeois citizenship as consumption became
central to the Social Democratic strategy of
achieving the inclusion of the working class in
bourgeois society, and thereby “civilizing”
capitalism: providing due recognition of the claims
of labour and stabilising capital’s circuit of
reproduction. Inclusion for the majority of the
working class, which was achieved in the capitalist
heartlands by the 1960s, thus completed the historic
task of Classical Social Democracy. This explains
why Social Democracy has eventually had to
transmute into a managerialist version of economic
liberalism. This latest explicit embrace of the market
should not be seen as a betrayal of its earlier
principles, but a natural terminus for them. It is
merely the logical extension of a strategy of securing
for the “included” masses their individual rights
as citizen-consumers (i.e. as full participants in the
valorisation of capital)

The history of the capitalist mode of production
in the second half of the twentieth century is the
history of the developing hegemony of the value
form as the regulator of social life. The basis of the
capital relation, which was its origin, and remains
its essential underpinning, is the separation of the
direct producers from the means of production, a
separation ensuring the selling of labour power,
which as abstract labour (labour abstracted from
any aspect of use or skill), constitutes the substance
of value. This mode of production demands the
perpetual revolutionising of the means of production
(division of labour/mechanisation) to produce
commodities in the shortest possible time (highest
possible labour productivity). Such revolutionizing
drives the homogenisation of work (i.e. skills
become more perfectly interchangeable, and the
identification of workers with particular kinds of
useful work is eroded). A mode of production
resting on abstract labour thereby inevitably
produces a homogenisation of the work process.
This development was not of course the smooth
unfolding of a pre-established trajectory. It was at
every juncture the outcome of class struggles
generated by the wage-labour/capital relation. The
struggles of the period 1875-1950, for inclusion and
for the autonomy of work, eventually resolved into
a reconfiguration of the terms of engagement of
wage-labour and capital. As the challenge to the
right of the bosses to manage was defeated, the
workers’ movement was gradually reconstituted
around a different perspective. In the context of
the democratic counterrevolution after the Second
World War, the struggle to establish juridical rights
for all workers regardless of skill or job performance
– over unemployment, guaranteed pay (a living
wage), conditions of work, pensions – displaced
the struggle for the autonomy of work; the new
emphasis on the statutory paralleled the homogenisation
of work. Not surprisingly this trend
spelled the demise of craft based trades unionism
and the diminishing resonance in the social
consciousness of class distinctions based on
occupational categories.

The birth of Orthodox Marxism (the first post-
Marx Marxism) coincided with a working class
experiencing the erosion of predominantly precapitalist
social relations by capitalist commodity
production. Its most class-conscious elements
aspired to the sovereignty of industrial labour
whilst preserving the community and solidarity
of established craft traditions. The working class
being formed was in effect straddling two modes
of production – it was already experiencing the
formal subsumption of labour, but not yet the real
subsumption of labour (Marx 1976, pp.1019-1038).
For semi-capitalist labour in transition to fully
capitalist labour, oppression and exploitation was
seen to lie outside the act of labour itself (in a class
of landlords and employers). The Marxism that
was built on, and drew sustenance from this class
experience relied on the categories of base and
superstructure, forces and relations of production,
and economic determinism, but not those of value
and abstract labour. By contrast, in the fully
developed capitalist labour anticipated by Marx
(the product of real subsumption), social
domination was intrinsic (internal) to labour itself;
it lay in the very act of value producing labour.
But the new industrial proletariat, and the Marxists
who championed its cause, would not fully
grasp the nature of a value form that was then
still in the early stages of its development.
Today, the proletariat is incorporated more
firmly into the circuit of the production and
realisation of value via mass consumption, is more
indifferent to the content of work, and thus more
conditioned to the value imperative that flows from
abstract labour. This means that the proletariat will
in the future be less and less able to confront capital
as a force external to itself, and more and more
must experience capital (value) as internal to its
activity, the very form of its (waged and thus
alienated) labour. The value imperative, as a form
of domination experienced as natural necessity,
must be seen by the proletariat as a force that lies
within itself as wage-labour. Marxists can no
longer retail the orthodox view of class struggle
as the struggle against capital as object, external
to the proletariat as subject; the proletarian
struggle must henceforth be seen as a struggle to
abolish itself as labour. This is the theoretical truth
posed by the development of the value form.

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