Dauve and Martin again, from the early seventies. To me, the text feels very seventies. Its atmosphere is one of rejecting states, bureaucracies, and mediations and trying to connect with another directly, 'taking matters in our hands.' I don't even know what 'taking matters in our own hands' means or why it's desireable. It seems to me that all institutions arise as the arrangements people who have taken matters in their own hands introduce. It also seems to me that institutions can be useful--it saves us from having to do everything new and differently each time we do something (I read Hegel as making this point in the Philosophy of Right). To me, some problems occur when institutions lose their adaptive capacities, get into negative feedback loops, become unresponsive. Other problems occur because the institutions we have developed to preserve and protect capitalism; they are difficult to subvert, undermine, infiltrate, eliminate--that takes a revolution.
At any rate, the text unfolds in an outline, A-K. My comments will follow along.
A. Wage labor as a social relation.
The general point is non-controversial, repeating Marx's discussion of the violent imposition of wage-labor as well as the critique of the fiction of free contracts. But, there is a further element in the discussion that strikes me as reductive:
The two pillars of modern society, exchange and wage-labour, are not only the source of periodic and constant disasters, but have also created the conditions which make another society possible. Most importantly, they compel a large section of the present world to revolt against them, and to realize this possibility: communism.
Are exchange and wage-labor by themselves the source of periodic and constant disasters? Do exchange and wage-labor themselves create these conditions which make another society possible by themselves? In other words, are they necessary causes? sufficient causes? quasi-causes? Do they by themselves compel revolt? It seems to me that there are additional factors that matter, factors that are inter-related: ideology, social relations, technological development, resistance. To be sure, all these factors come up in the text. But their relation to the two pillars isn't clear. And, insofar as communization seems to require the abolition of exchange and wage-labor, it seems that they are the most important factors in and of themselves. They are in effect the 'true basis' of capitalism.
It's curious to me that the problem isn't identified as commodity production and exchange. First, to focus on exchange seems to confine the inquiry to circulation and to leave out production (although it could be the case that wage labor is the opening to production; if that's true, then this first point goes away). Second, I don't think exchange is a problem (or even a pillar of modern society). Exchange does not require exchange value. We can easily imagine communist exchanges on the basis of need, desire, and pleasure. One group might exchange the corn they grow for the milk and leather produced by another group. The groups don't have to exchange these in any proportion other than community need.
B. Community and the destruction of community
The discussion here naturalizes the relation between exchange and exchange value. That is, the story of primitive communities trading with one another moves directly and naturally to the idea of labor time. The assumption is that the only way exchange could have arisen is on the basis value understood in terms of quantity of socially necessary labor time.
This circulation could only be achieved by exchange, i.e., by taking into account, not in the mind, but in reality, what is common to the various goods which are to be transferred from one place to another. The products of human activity have one thing in common: they are all the result of a certain amount of energy, both individual and social.
I am not disputing that exchange under capitalism relies on exchange value. Rather, I am saying that the origin story here makes exchange value into something natural and inevitable rather than something arbitrary and contingent. It could be otherwise. There are a variety of ways to exchange goods and services. Because they don't appear, exchange is equated with exchange value and made responsible for the demolition of the primitive community.
Part of the effect of the 'criminalization' of exchange (that is, the theorization of exchange as the culprit) is that the community ends up being characterized in an awfully romantic way, as a kind of primal unity. The sexual division of labor doesn't appear. In fact, there doesn't seem to be any kind of division of labor or relation of power. Dauve and Martin write: "the exchange relation destroys the community. It makes people see each other, and themselves, only as suppliers of goods." This is completely unconvincing. Even under capitalist exchange (rather than simple exchange) people see themselves as more--as mothers, poets, Christians, lesbians, Algerian ... Capital incites differential identification; many of these identities are deeply satisfying, whether on their own, as a fantasy of a more reconciled and authentic life, or as compensations for capitalism's deprivations.
Now the opposition between workers and non-workers is introduced, as if it did not appear in non-capitalist contexts. "Great irrigation projects" take place -- but I thought these were already present in, say, Mesopotamia and China thousands of years before the beginnings of commodity production. The text continues with some opaque remarks about the state: it's unclear whether the state is an institution directly correlated with capital or whether they allow for other state formation. The basic point is that capitalism creates a 'universal economy.' If this is another way of describing capital's global dimensions, its capacity to subsume ever more domains of life, then I agree.
The rise of capitalism depended on the accumulation of dead labor in machines. This is partially right, but the role of states in forcing people off the land and into factories is understated, to say the least. Ideological components don't figure into the story at all. In my reading, though, Weber and Polanyi have something to teach us about the rise of capital. And, of course, so does Federici. Anyone who finds these theorists useful, should be hesitant about adopting Dauve and Martin's analysis here as anything more than a narrow schematic.
My criticisms of the mini history not withstanding, they make an important point:
Communism has nothing to do with the idea that workers have to partially or totally recover the surplus value for themselves, for a simple and obvious reason: some of the resources must be used for the renewal of equipment, for new production, etc. The point is not that a handful of people take a disproportionately large share of the surplus-value. If these people were eliminated, while the rest of the system remained the same, part of the surplus-value would be given to the workers and the rest would be invested in collective and social equipment, welfare, etc.: this is in fact the programme of the left, including the official CPs. Actually the logic of the system of value would always result in the development of production for a maximal valorization. As long as the basis of society is a mechanism mingling two processes, a process of real work, and a process of valorization, value dominates society. The change brought about by capital is to have conquered production, and thus to have socialized the world since the 19th century, with industrial plants, means of transportation, storage, and quick transmission of information. But in the capitalist cycle the fulfilment of needs is only a by-product, and not the driving force of the mechanism. Valorization is the aim: fulfilment of needs is at best a means, since what has been produced must be sold.
They are absolutely right to point out the systemic nature of capitalism: the system does not go away when workers control factories. Although this might be better than working for a boss, what it means is that workers adopt the attitude of the capitalist toward themselves, pushing themselves with an eye to competing in the market. I see this as a Marxist version of Foucault's discussion of the entrepreneurial attitude that neoliberalism attempts to induce people to take toward themselves, except they are identifying it with a group (workers who control factories). Their argument, then, seems to be that as long as production is oriented toward exchange, it will be oriented toward valorization. And, my addition or qualification would be to add the term capitalist: as long as production is oriented toward capitalist exchange. Or, as long as markets are the mechanisms for exchange rather than, say, discussion, planning, the articulation of needs, the goals of a group, the desire for a better world, or any host of other things.
Although neither monopolies nor state power appear in this section, in general, the discussion of competition is straightforward with no big surprises. I particularly appreciate the following:
The motive force of competition is not the freedom of individuals, nor even of the capitalists, but the freedom of capital. It can only live by devouring itself. The form destroys its content to survive as a form. It destroys its material components (living labour and past labour) to survive as a sum of value valorizing itself.
No Marxist would blink at the emphasis on competition as entrapping capitalists as well as workers (it's already there is volume one of Capital), and the further gloss is also nicely orthodox. Still, it is so clearly and powerfully said. It makes me want to think about other forms that destroy their content in order to survive as forms. And, it makes me wonder about possibilities for occupying or using the forms, perhaps to destroy inegalitarian substantializations (for example, gay rights advocates who have seized the family form against itself). In other words, it could be interesting to think of the destructive capacity of a form as a weapon against the system within the system.
The discussion here is an interesting reflection on the underlying social dimension of crises in capitalism. Ultimately, any crisis, insofar as it is a matter of the relation which between value and production (which it has to be under capitalism) is a social crisis. So, it's not first and foremost a matter of industrial over-production or of under-consumption because workers' pay doesn't keep up. The problem is capital's need for profits, its need to continue to accumulate. This need, capital's own self-valorization, drives everything. It reminds us that production under capitalism is first about profit; that it sometimes overlaps or coincides with need is contingent.
There seems to be an omission, though, in the discussion of workers in this section. The text refers to productive workers, unproductive workers, and the mass of the unwaged whom capital 'cannot integrate in any way.' What about the reserve army of the unemployed? It seems to me that these so-called 'unintegrated' masses are integrated into capital in a very precise way: as a threat. They are always potential workers and this potential makes them deeply threatening to the waged.
G. Proletariat and revolution
The text says that revolutions originate in real needs that have become unbearable. Findings in empirical political science say otherwise. Revolutions are most likely to occur when a period of rising expectations is followed by a sharp reversal.
The description of revolution has implications for the description of the proletariat as the desperate, as those with nothing to lose but their chains, as those without reserves, as those who cannot liberate themselves without destroying the whole social order. On the one hand, this description employs familiar rhetorical tropes with a powerful history. On the other, because the rest of the argument claims that any glorification of the proletariat is counter-revolutionary, it seems to me to be necessary to think more about the description and its implications.
Some disarticulation: those without reserves--does this mean those who are forced to sell their labor power, who live paycheck to paycheck, unable to get ahead or deal with disasters? Or, do those who are able to sell their labor power actually those with reserves insofar as they have enough skills, enough 'human capital' to participate in the market in some form or another? Or, maybe it refers to those who have no skills, as well as no family or state connections to draw on. These would be the most desperate and destitute, those that political science tells us are not likely to engage in revolutionary struggle--their lives are too miserable, too focused on basic survival; they also lack the skills and discipline that enable them to engage in long term struggle.
Marx and Engels thought that those with nothing to lose but their chains were waged workers. These were those with skills enough to liberate themselves and through this liberation to destroy the whole social order. Marx and Engels tended to dismiss the lumpenproletariat or rabble. So, my question is whether Dauve is here shifting the revolutionary impetus from workers to the lumpenproletariat (or, perhaps, to third world masses, whether in their home countries or as immigrants.
Dauve says that "their emergence as the proletariat derives not from being low paid producers, but from being "cut off", alienated, with no control either over their lives or the meaning of what they have to do to earn a living." The problem with this is that Dauve has already said that no one under capitalism has control over their lives -- no one is free. Everyone is subjected to the dynamics of valorization. The same is the case for meaning--he has already told us that exchange determines who we are.
[I should add, though, that reflecting on this has made me uncomfortably aware of a certain incoherence in my own Zizek-inflected understanding of the proletariat. On the one hand, I endorse the idea of proletarian as a politicization of the working class; it's a term that relies on the standpoint of class struggle for its description rather than one that is primarily empirical or sociological. On the other hand, I have adopted the term proletarianization as the term for the dissolution of the middle class, increasing precarity and immiseration, the decapacitation of people in the wake of neoliberalism etc. Now it seems to me that I need to figure out the relation between the two terms, and I think that something is going to have to give. Possible line of salvage: the description of the process is a description from a political position.]
Back to Dauve: "Being what produces value and can do away with a world based on value, the proletariat includes for instance the unemployed and many housewives, since capitalism hires and fires the former, and utilizes the labour of the latter to increase the total mass of extracted value." Yet he also says that the proletariat has offered no positive values or role, that its actions are those of negation. These claims don't mesh well together. All that's necessary, though, is to be more dialectical, to acknowledgement the positive within the negative, the alternatives that are present but repressed. Dauve doesn't want to do this because he is trying to separate his view from from the dominant views on the left of his time, a left wedded more to a working class struggle that maintains the working class than sees revolution on its horizon.
"The proletariat is not the working class, rather the class of the critique of work." It seems to me that this needs to be understood as a critique of the conditions in which we work, conditions that shackle work to the capitalist mode of production. Dauve, though, inflects it differently, emphasizing that the proletariat is only potentially the destruction of the old world, "real only in a moment of social tension and upheaval." The terms 'potential' and 'real' create problems here. I would say that even in times of tension and upheaval the destruction of the old world remains potential; destruction and upheaval are also opportunities for the reinforcement of the worst aspects of the old world. And, moments of cooperation, alliance, the smooth running of the system are also opportunities wherein we glimpse other possibilities. So, I reject the idea that proletariat is only subversive when it unifies and organizes to destroy the society of classes (and I really reject the idea that at such moments 'there is only one social agent: mankind'--this is one of the places where the text feels very seventies to me; it posits a unified humanity and in that moment effaces antagonism).
Still, the discussion of the blurring of work and non-work (casualization, workfare, early retirement, long periods of education, temp work) is so precient that I wonder if I am missing something that tells me the text was updated in the 90s. Yet it isn't clear to me how it fits with the discussion of the proletariat as real only in a moment of social tension and upheaval. It seems to me that the examples of temp work etc are examples of proletarianization in ever more domains of life, in domains of life that had won security for a middle class in the fifties and sixties but are now front lines of exploitation. These kinds of work themselves subvert a previous mode of life, ushering in a worse one.
H. Formation of the human community
This section is filled with statements about communism. It's the end of value, or exchange for its own sake rather than for the sake of needs. I agree.
"Communism is also the end of any element necessary for the unification of society: it is the end of politics." Why? Because "all the elements of life are part of the community" and "all separate activity and all isolated production are abolished." I find this so muddy as to be nearly impossible to think with. If region X wants to irrigate its land and region Y wants to keep its part of the river full and flowing, or if region X wants to protect its rain forest and region Y needs some of the proceeds of the forest for survival or other people in region X don't want to protect the rain forest but want to develop something else, then we have politics. We have disagreement, division, and decisions. No community is a seamless unity without division and conflict. And, there are multiple elements that knit groups together (which is why I don't get the first sentence at all): norms, institutions, rituals, laws, exchange, tradition, roads, communication. Dauve, though, thinks that the level of development of material production can get to a point where it makes harmony possible and necessary. Unity is produced at the level of production, so it's not necessary to use external force. I am assuming he means a state or network of states, maybe even a system of laws. I disagree. States are the ways we make ourselves present to ourselves as a collective; the laws are the ways we make ourselves do what we should even if we don't feel like it. States and laws are vehicles for producing the educational and cultural apparatus necessary for producing people willing and able to live and work together to attend to their collective needs not their immediate personal, local, or occupational ones (so, I think people need to learn critical thinking and analysis; education is important, and not a matter to be left up to immediate wants or something like utility; I would expect that there would be serious disagreement on this front, particularly if we are talking about a communist world or even a communist region, country, or city).
Communism reconciles man and nature: really? I think it is necessary for confronting climate change, but I wouldn't call that reconciliation. Modes of domination and compromise will still be unavoidable. Likewise I disagree with the claim that under communism there is no difference between work and play: it will still suck to have to wash dishes and change diapers and take care of kids and carry things from one place to another; and, it will still be fun to hang out, drink, enjoy music, dance, etc. Now, one might think that my remarks are unfair because Dauve says: "communism does not turn work into something perpetually pleasant and joyous." Yet he follows this with a statement that to me suggests he is not thinking at all of domestic labor (which is likely) and so underplays the 'sticking power' of work: "Human life is effort and pleasure. Even the activity of the poet includes painful moments. Communism can only abolish the separation between effort and enjoyment, creation and recreation, work and play."
What, then, is communization? Abolition of value. I understand this to me stopping production for the sake of valorization and instead producing for the sake of needs. This makes sense to me, especially because Dauve acknowledges that we might go ahead and use the factories we have, unless we think that their conditions are too destructive of a quality of life that we want to keep.
Dauve writes that communization:
will circulate goods without money, open the gate isolating a factory from its neighbourhood, close down another factory where the work process is too alienating to be technically improved, do away with school as a specialized place which cuts off learning from doing for 15 odd years, pull down walls that force people to imprison themselves in 3-room family units - in short, it will tend to break all separations.
Another seventies feeling, one that sees fundamental problems of capitalism in terms of separation, mediation, and alienation, I would say in terms of categories that are more aesthetic than political, more about an ultimately individual authenticity where authentic life is lives in harmony with others. Politics, on the other hand, recognizes irreconciliable divisions and assertions of power. The goal is for one's own side to win. What matters is equality and the end of exploitation, not harmony and the end of separation. Put another way, the challenge of communism is the relation between collectivity and separation: how are we collective even in our separate lives and pursuits, our separate contributions to us all. Not everyone wants to live in a giant dorm --and for good reason. Fifteen years of study may be too little. It's better for some factories to be at a distance from where we live (say, chemical processing plants or paper mills).
A further aspect of the discussion of communization is the rejection of a vanguard and of a seizure of power by the workers. "Vanguard" seems to designate a group that intervenes from the outside (the problem of "external" that I mentioned earlier). If one recognizes vanguard as those who are actively and consciously struggling, then they don't seem outside at all but part of the overall setting. Dictatorship of the working class (I wonder why he doesn't say "proletariat" here) is rejected because the working class isn't ready to rule; consequently, such a government is really rule by representatives of the working class. This point might make sense in Dauve's context, writing against working class parties and the stagnant, corrupt late socialist regimes. But, it makes less sense for us now, especially if we think of the ways that proletarianization confronts a wide array of skilled and educated people and the way that governance is distributed throughout society.
A nice point about the party: "The way the party, the organization of the revolution, constitutes itself and acts, depends on the tasks to be realized."
J. States and how to get rid of them
Dauve writes: "The State was born out of human beings' inability to manage their lives. It is the unity - symbolic and material - of the disunited." No! The state is a way humans manage their lives. Right now its a way that the ruling class manages the rest of our compliance and/or oppression. No state is a unity; each is a divided, so divided that it is misleading to say (as I was about to) a divided site of conflict because the state is not a site. Whether one things in terms of ideological state apparatuses, governmentality, networked sovereignty, distributed power, none of these ways of thinking about states treat the state as a unity. Now, that does make the problem of seizing a state a vexing one. In practice, it tends to be the case that where the military goes, the state goes, even more than with a figurehead or legislative body.
K. Communism as a present social movement
How is communism present in its actuality? In people's spontaneous attempts not to comply with and obey the logic of exchange, and in the relations between themselves that these attempts nourish. Even though this seems very seventies, I don't completely disagree. I just think it is too narrow and that this narrowness makes it misleading. As I argue in The Communist Horizon, I think communism is actual in a number of different ways, ways that configure our contemporary setting, that give it the shape that it has (these include the history of communist thinkers, struggles, parties; the epithet "communist" and the Red Square, the Idea and emancipatory energies mobilized as communism, the dynamics sets in motion in capitalism, contemporary possibilities of connection and convergence, and the actuality of revolution). There are also multiple ways that capitalism requires relations not based on exchange and Dauve's point occludes this--the primary examples are love, care, and reproduction.