“End Notes” 1: A Review

July 26, 2009 at 5:56 pm (Uncategorized)

This article was written by a comrade from Internationalist Perspective.

“End Notes” is the new publication of comrades who left “Aufheben,” apparently because of disagreement over how much emphasis should be put on discussion with the milieu of the “communisateurs,” especially “Théorie Communiste.” As can be seen in the first number of End Notes, these comrades are determined to pursue the discussion with TC. Indeed, this number is largely a debate between “Troploin” (Dauvé) and TC, with the promise that in “End Notes” 2 their own positions will be articulated. 

 

What “Troploin” and TC (indeed the milieu of the communisateurs) share is the conviction that proletarian revolution must from its onset lead to immediate communisation, overturning the law of value, wage labor, indeed work as it has historically taken shape. There is then no place for any period of transition. What separates these two currents is “Troploin’s” insistence that communisation, understood as the abolition of work, has been the immediate project of the proletariat since its advent as a class; this was the case in 1795, in 1848, in 1917, in 1936, in 1968, as it is today. The historical and political conditions for the actualization of that project are not constant for “Troploin” – today, for example, we are not in a revolutionary period – but that is and has always been the sole project of the proletariat, one frustrated by the forces of capital, especially the left, whenever a revolutionary situation arose. For TC by contrast, the historical conditions for communisation are of recent date, emerging only after the epoch of the formal domination of capital and the first phase of its real domination (Fordism); after 1968, indeed only in the last 40 years. Until the present, second, phase of the real domination of capital, the abolition of work was not on the historical agenda. What was on the historical agenda was the proletariat, labor, as the capitalist class; the proletariat, labor, replacing the bourgeoisie as the ruling class, and owning and operating the means of production and exchange, with work under the commodity form as the basis of social and economic life, only under the management of the workers.

 

Where “Troploin” insists that historically, in both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, the proletariat never sought to raise itself to the level of a class managing commodity production and motivated by the project of work, though such ideologies were perpetrated by the left of capital, Social-Democracy, the Bolsheviks, the unions, but instead sought the abolition of work, TC argues that a project of the management of commodity production was the only one that the proletariat under the prevailing historical conditions could advance. Where “Troploin” insists that the proletariat at each revolutionary moment was betrayed by the left (though as TC points out, without explaining why the proletariat allowed itself to be led by the left), TC argues that it is only in the current epoch, the second phase of the real domination of capital, that communisation, the abolition of work, is on the historical agenda. 

 

The historical questions of exactly how the proletariat “behaved” at each revolutionary conjuncture, and how capital re-asserted its domination, is an extremely important issue. “Troploin”’s claim that the proletariat did not simply embody a productivist ideology, and acceptance of the value-form until the 1970’s is one I share. Opposition to such a vision and ideology can be seen throughout the historical existence of the proletariat, even as much of the left, of “orthodox” Marxism, with roots in the working class, did, indeed, have the productivist vision that “TC” attributes to the proletariat as a class. Yet “Troploin” needs to answer “TC”’s question: if the proletariat has been committed to a project of communism and the abolition of work from its inception, how was that project frustrated at each turn by the left? But what seems missing from even “TC”’s critique of what it sees as the a-historical character of “Troploin”’s analysis; what seems missing from both currents, is a focus on the value-form itself, and Marx’s analysis of it. It is as if the proletariat and its project can be separated from the historical trajectory of value production itself. “TC” would claim that it pays careful attention to changes in the structuration of capitalism, with its theory of three successive phases in the domination of capital. Yet, in the second phase of the real domination of capital, when “TC” claims the proletariat’s project is now immediate communisation, the power of capital over the proletariat — not just the coercive power of its state, but its ideological hegemony — has not been smashed. Indeed, neither “Troploin” nor “TC” seem to say anything about how the spread of the value-form from the immediate process of production to shape the whole of life, and the power of reification, has affected the proletariat and its capacity to actualize a project in which the objective is the abolition of wage-labor. Nor do either of these tendencies, at least in the texts included in “End Notes,” discuss whether the science and technology that has made the real domination of capital possible is itself potentially utilizable for communism or is, rather, integrally linked to capitalism and the value-form. Similarly, neither “Troploin” nor “TC” seem to have anything to say about the specific facets of the life of the collective worker  — the creativity that capitalism cannot extinguish because it is necessary, in however a distorted form, to the survival of capital, the historical memories of the proletariat and its struggles that persist even under the real domination of capital — that might counteract the reifying power of capital, and that point to an actualization of the revolutionary potential of the collective worker.

                                         Mac Intosh

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