part one is from nihilist communism.
We do not know what anyone means when they describe the proletariat as a social category. If they are implying
that members of the working class as a social body have something between themselves other than their experience of work then we utterly reject this. MD have a penchant for champagne and Tarkovsky movies whereas our neighbours prefer White Lightning and WWF wrestling, our economic position, however, is identical. We refute all identity politics as ideology and we absolutely refuse to view the proletariat as a political/sociological constituency equivalent to ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference. The proletariat has no existence independent of capitalism.
There is no space in the world that is not ultimately dominated by capitalism – the proletariat is always collectively
determined by capitalist pressures. When/if the proletariat abolishes capitalism it will be driven into that position by capitalist imperatives. There is nothing outside the dominion of capital, perhaps occasional fleeting moments, but not culture nor social form, how could there be? To assert, as Autonomists do, that there are other processes by which value is generated independent of capital is to mystify the nature of exploitation. Activists go looking for signs, they create narratives whereby discreet events are connected together in a totalised movement towards revolution, they tend towards an uncritical acceptance of liberationist politics which they see as part of that movement. Such fateful soothesayings lead negation back into contained forms of engagement.
What there is in the world that is not determined by capitalism is the entirely mute but donkey-stubborn ahistorical
resistance of human flesh; it is the body and its desire not to be productive that resists capitalism. Ok, this is a completely negative formulation, but we have seen how pro-consciousness values always end by flipping into their opposite. The body remains unchanged, enslaved but fundamentally unhelpful. Bodyresistance is a drag on maximisation; in its unmediated form it cannot become articulate other than in times of crisis. When production stops then the body speaks and production stops when the body speaks; all other representations of the working class in political form serve only to keep productivity going – one way or another improving messages arrive always from above. The proletariat is a mute and ugly body that has been electricprodded into existence; it has no worth other than its integration into the productive machinery from which capital is generated. It is this integration of the human body (and its tendency towards rest) with the productive form (and its tendency towards maximisation) that gives the proletariat its revolutionary thrill. The body’s impulse is to shrink from the machine and the machine’s impulse is to shrink from the body, no other intimacy was ever so frigid. Only the proletariat has the capacity to engage so up-close with the productive process and feel no love for it. All other social movements and categories end by floundering in the drying mudflats under the burning rays of a merciless sun.
In its resistance to work , the proletariat will not be motivated by political values but by its selfish interest to assert its species being; its bodily desire to be human floods across the barriers of its separation. There is nothing nice or noble or heroic about the working class – it is essential to the productive process which constitutes the structure of our reality and therefore essential to revolution and the abolition of reality based upon production.
Militants and otherness
As mere anecdotal evidence, and briefly touching on the matter of pro-revolutionary consciousness which we understand to be a proposed solution to the problem of engagement and organisation, we should like it to go on the record that we have met with several workplace militants and for the most part they have no political consciousness. Many of these militants are very antipolitical; we would say they were post-political. But how did they become militants if they did not receive political instruction? Their condition is one of absolute refusal of the legitimacy of the manager, an absolute intransigence over specific workplace issues and a kind of terrifying site-specificity – producing in them an absolute refusal to look at the wider picture (like Ahab on the back of the white whale they are consumed with a madness for not escaping). We do not endorse such militants; we see them as being stuck in a loop of restricted gestures which their identity seems to depend upon. What would they do if they had not their struggle? It is a fact of our experience that most workplace militants are quite mad and/or not especially nice people to know; it is important not to get wrapped up in their personal feuds but still we would argue that these mad-eyed prophets are in advance of those who are politically motivated, in advance and waiting in the desert, gone mad with waiting, gnawing at locusts, sitting on poles. Some of them, and of a certain age, cite Pink Floyd, and not Marx, as the biggest influence on their lives. They required only a narrative of otherness, something that was not contained in the usual cause and effects of everyday life to legitimise their dispute. Will the misty master break me, will the key unlock my mind? For such people, the A to B thinking of most pro-revolutionary activists is too basic and not even appropriate to the situation. To them it means nothing to ”speak in a language the workers understand” because nobody has ever spoken such a language.
Political priorities and consciousness
The absurdity of pro-revolutionary consciousness is its content (its beautiful form, a cloud softly crackling as it passes behind the eyes, and behold: enlightenment!). If it were a commodity of high use value then those who possessed
it would have a capacity for establishing political priorities and getting to the heart of the matter – and yet they faff about, getting nowhere. All those who pursue consciousness are completely at odds with one another over its content and the means of its transmission; those who have no power and continue to pursue political consciousness fail to understand that political consciousness is something deployed, by those who have power, as a mask of their power.
If the workers were to have consciousness, then what would its content be in non-revolutionary situations?
What precisely is the most radical position for workers to take on Northern Ireland, to support the UFF, or the Real IRA, or the Peace Process, or not to get involved at all? What is the most radical position for workers to take on the recent riots in the north of England, to support the ethnic identity of the Pakistan nationalists, to understand the riots as working class resistance to fascism and not, say, the entrenchment of the leadership of particular forms of primitive accumulation (drug gangs, the expulsion of Hindus, protection rackets, etc, accumulation of national capitals in Pakistan), to support the integration of both so-called communities in a harmony of different identities, to support the white working class who have no political representation, or not to get involved at all? What is the most radical position the working class could take on asylum seekers and how would this be demonstrated?
What is the most radical position the working class could take on policing, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, CCTV,
and how should that be demonstrated? How would the working class express these politics if it decided on them?
If these questions could be parachuted into the workplace by activists as ideological issues then at best it could wind
everybody up into camps of conservatives and radicals, with the radicals being no more revolutionary than the conservatives, but it is more likely that most people would continue to be uninterested.
It is a simple fact that the working class have no power over these issues and therefore to hold opinions on them would be a form of self-tantalising torture. It is impossible to know what is the most radical opinion to be held, because every opinion may be undermined by further facts. Just as feminism, black power, and gay rights have been de-radicalised by a capitalism that has not only tolerated them but fostered them as niche markets.
As private individuals we have our ethical opinions and values but in our public guise as Monsieur Dupont we have learnt that it is a waste of energy to hold ecological, anti-fascist, or anti-nuclear opinions. We have no power over these things and even if we could mobilise enough support for them we think the apparent radicality of such causes is very suspect and possibly less radical than the current situation of instability of pressures and forces – possibly less radical but we don’t really know, so it is better for us to stick to what we do know until someone comes along with a model of urgent consciousness that really works.
It seems as nice as pie to advocate the transmission of revolutionary ideas to workers in struggle so that they have a wider perspective on the world and are therefore more prepared to engage with society at a higher level, but when you get to the nuts and bolts of it – the actual details of how it should be done – then there are immediate problems.
The most glaring of which is that in this transmission of ideas and goals, the pro-revolutionary party also imports into the very heart of the revolutionary project a reproduction of the capitalist social relation: workers organised by revolutionary experts. We see this missionary work, this hierarchical relation, replicated in everything from the support for rebellion in Chiapas to the handing out of leaflets by activists visiting picket lines. We see it in the vague pronouncements that usually appear at the end of such leaflets; where calls are made to the working class, or it is stated that some kind of leap of intellectual faith and working class solidarity (consciousness) is needed before capitalism can be threatened: “When will you workers wake up?” We see it also in the cosy social and political world that the revolutionary experts and activists have built for themselves, where they can create their own importance through their political activism.
On economic determinism and autonomism
One comrade writes to us, in opposition to our mechanistic concepts, which he characterises as “economic determinism that denies the complexities of social processes etc,” and attempts to supersede by advocating “the development of the class struggle and the autonomous organisation of the class in it, a condition for the consciousness of the possibility [for revolution]”. Harry Cleaver writes in Reading Capital Politically, “With the working class understood as being within capital yet capable of autonomous power to disrupt the accumulation process and thus break out of capital, crisis can no longer be thought of as a blind ‘breakdown’ generated by the mysteriously invisible laws of competition”.
There is a lot of dust blown up in these statements and nothing is very clear, but what is common to them is the use of the term ”autonomous,” which we find very interesting. We would like to expand the discussion of consciousness to include both these ideas on the ”complexity of social processes” and the use of the concept of autonomy.
Many of the arguments we have come up against from communists are stated in Cleaver’s book (which we recommend very highly but with which we disagree in almost every detail beginning with the title and its Phd thesis style), however there is no reference in the otherwise complete index for the concept of autonomy. So, how can the working class be both inside and autonomous of capitalism (if by “autonomous of” we mean not determined by)? Cleaver appears to argue that the proletariat becomes autonomous when it becomes politicised, which we immediately and emphatically disagree with because we think politics is always a manoeuvre away from the [question of the] ownership of production. But then he goes even further and says that reality is not simply imposed by the ruling class but is a matter of response and counter-response within the class struggle. This seems fair enough on one level until we remember that we still live in capitalism, and that all of the reforms won in the political struggles of the working class have helped capitalism run more effectively.
The idea of a world that is not simply imposed from above is quite appealing at first but then we have to address the idea of escape from that dialectic. The model Cleaver argues for is one in which working class struggle wins its victories on the terrain of the ruling class. In other words it is a dialectic in which the antithesis operates as a function of the way things are: every resistance feeds into domination and allows it to penetrate further and more effectively.
Every victory of this apparent autonomy is manifested in the world of capitalist determination. Perhaps Cleaver is,
in effect, making a case for the autonomy of political values and principles that float free of economics. He wants to salvage the political ideals of the 1960s; it is the same kind of argument used by those who advocate “real democracy,” like Castoriadis or Bookchin. The questions begin with: is autonomy an ideological mirage generated by capital in the heads of its rebels; how does this politicised set of practices, called autonomy, escape economic determination? How should the working class be organised when they are already organised by capital?
Capitalism itself has given the revolutionary role to the working class, so what need is there for another tier of middle management politicos? The autonomist mode of struggle seems to argue for acts that will register only in the world the way it is. How is it possible to judge them as advances for the revolutionary tendency when they also become weapons of the ruling class against us (equal opportunities policies, for example, which have facilitated the idea of worker participation in management, touchy-feely personnel strategies, and antiracist and anti-sexist capitalism). How is it possible to escape the conditions set by the unofficial dialogue that this sort of struggle becomes?
Much of the argument from communists against us has come from this autonomist direction. We think it would be helpful if some of these claims were made more explicit. For example one communist has argued to us that white workers must come to respect black workers before there can be a revolution. This is the sort of position Cleaver takes in his book, where he argues white workers’ racism oppresses black workers and impedes the communist movement. We think this mistakes the symptom for the cause. If all the symptoms are put right, that is, if all the nastiness in capitalism is removed, would that in any way affect capitalism itself? It is a question that takes us right back to the origin of this discussion on consciousness. If it is truly believed that before revolution can occur certain political-institutional reforms have to be set in place then there is no purpose in being a pro-revolutionary.
Better to work to get the reforms done first. We should not hold onto illusions about the nature of capitalist power; capitalism is fundamentally not racist, sexist, or prejudiced in any form. Anti-racism is now a specific project of all capitalist political institutions. Autonomists would argue that this is because militant self-organisation has forced this reform onto the capitalists; in fact such militancy has merely opened up possibilities for the breaking free of capitalism from traditional social forms. Prejudice and bigotry impedes the smooth running of production. It, like national borders, must be altered to serve capital more efficiently (the reduction of people to ethnic identities, which has been the project of identity militants, is a new form of racism which works much more effectively within the distributive, state-funded, sphere).
It is not the role of pro-revolutionaries to take up a political position on prejudice. It is not for us to improve life conditions within the capitalist form and obscure with side issues the tyranny of the commodity which goes unchallenged in the competition of identity markets (for funding). However, as individuals of course it is our ethical responsibility to oppose bigotry whenever we encounter it. We must not confuse our personal ethics with Revolutionary Movements.
Another communist has said that, “the socialist revolution has to be a conscious act which could be described as the people involved as having ‘socialist consciousness’”.
We certainly agree that the working class are conscious, that is, awake for 16 out of 24 hours a day.
We agree that the people involved in the revolution are likely not to be asleep. But to be conscious and to have
socialist consciousness is not the same thing. To be conscious means to have your senses fully engaged with your brain and your mind filled with any old nonsense. Socialist consciousness implies the implementation of a shared set of principles. We think there are practical problems with this implementation, because we look at the history of revolution and we see a history of failure. If consciousness were enough then the revolution would have happened a century ago when many millions were socialists.
At the moment, it could be argued, only a tiny minority has this consciousness. If the revolution must be initiated
by the participation of the working class, then the absence of their socialist consciousness is cause for comment.
We, on the contrary (based on our tiny experiences and our readings of the histories of these failed revolutions), think it likely that the revolution will spread like insects caught in the wind. We think that many people involved will not know what they are doing beyond the practical task at hand, which will be an impulse to take power, to take control of their immediate working environment. It is likely that there will be many causes and ideas running through people’s heads at this moment: reformist political, religious fervour, trade unionist, this revolutionary party, that revolutionary tendency, revengist against the boss or society, whatever. As the working class takes power there will be any number of ideas appearing in their heads and these will be echoes of the capitalist form. Many of these ideas will be seriously discussed
and will seem to have the utmost urgency. But as soon as occupation of the factories is fully secured then a new material base will begin to configure and at that point new ideas, the ideas appropriate to collective ownership and collective dictatorship over events, will begin to form.
What matters is the event itself, the seizure of production, and not the idea that motivates it, because the act itself, if
it is on sufficient scale, will collapse capital. From that moment other forces take hold.
The revolutionary subject
We recognise the industrial proletariat as the revolutionary subject not because we are romantically attached to its way of life, we do not think in terms of salt of the earth, or even that, in some dark way, the workers know how society really works. We are not interested in setting our gladiator against the pet subjectivities of other theorists; we have simply reached our conclusions because we can see no other. For us, everything political is contained; politics as a practice is itself a technique for relating the social back to the economic without antagonism.
The questions we have asked have been hard for us: ”How are women, organised as women, going to stop capital?” “How are blacks, organised as blacks, going to stop capital?” “How are women or Blacks organised as workers going to stop capital?” Many theorists have tried to expand the definition of the working class to include political elements within it. Thus the struggle of women by themselves for their position in the workplace is viewed positively because they are struggling consciously, that is, politically, for a defined political end. We, contrarily, see in this politicisation of struggle precisely the route by which it will be utilised to improve productivity, because political consciousness is precisely the factor that tricks workers into forgetting where their real power lies. Women do not harm capitalism by establishing themselves as equals to men in the workplace, blacks do not harm capitalism because they establish themselves as equals to whites. Equal opportunity legislation is a source of great pride in capital’s civilisation of itself. The ongoing victory of women and of blacks in this area is proclaimed by capital as its own victory, its own selfcivilising
progress towards a free, happy, equal society.
Political demands may be satisfied under capitalist terms and used as a ground for further exploitation. This is the
function of politics, and radical politics in particular. The truth of the workers’ struggle against capital is not political, it is the truth of capitalism itself: the capitalist economy depends upon the exploitation of workers to reproduce itself and its conditions. Therefore the workers alone, because of their centrality to the productive process, have the capacity to stop production. Only they can reach past the roaring engines and press the off switch. It may seem that they would never desire to do this, and it is true they may never want to stop capitalism; they may never even conceptualise what capitalism is. But desire and consciousness do not come into it; the workers are forced into struggle by the very conditions in which they work; it is in their interest to go against capital because although capital is dependent on them, it is also hostile to them. That is, it is driven to cut their wages in real terms (either by redundancies, relocations, or increased productivity deals). To survive, workers have to improve or simply maintain their interest within production, so they are forced into conflict with capital, which has the opposite intention. This blind pursuit of interest, if followed to its limit, is enough to bring capital to a crisis.