working-class subjectivity

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at
Thu Feb 8 16:19:19 MST 1996

(I sent this a couple of days ago but it doesn't seem to have arrived. This
is a second try.)

Here are a few comments, as brief as I can make them, on one or two of the
points  brought up so far.

Jerry wrote:

> The working
>class, which is itself created by capital, has an antagonistic
>relationship to capital. The logic of capital is not the same as the
>logic of wage labour. Workers are not merely objects of capitalist rule.
>They are a class which itself can and does resist the logic of capital.

Right as to the working class and workers. Wrong as to wage labour. Wage
labour is a category of capital, therefore the logic of wage labour is in
fact the logic of capital. In as far as the working class is wage labour,
it is inexorably linked to capital and cannot go beyond it. But the working
class, in becoming aware of itself (in Hegel/Marx terms 'for itself') also
becomes aware of its exploited, alienated, dependent position - and its
potential for doing something about it. But by doing something about it in
any real sense, such as removing for good the conditions creating its
exploitation, alienation and dependency, in other words capital and the
rule of capital, it at the same time gets rid not just of its polar
opposite, the capitalist class, but also gets rid of itself as the working
class. Working class subjectivity has as its main goal its own abolition.

>The question is: how does one relate the logic of capital to the working
>class as subject capable of autonomously acting in defense of its own
>interests? This is both an important theoretical and practical question.

As above, but with a few more qualifications. The logic of capitalist
development confronts the working class with an incredible range of attacks
on its class interests. 'Autonomously acting in defense of its own
interests' can affect anything from a very narrow part of this range to the
whole lot. The simple fact of expressing the action as 'defence' is
limiting. It'd be better to put 'pursuit' or 'promotion' or 'realization'.
The whole political problem of relating the logic of capital to working
class action is one of where to aim for strategic results, and deciding
what strategic results you want.

If the strategic result you want is maintaining a certain level of wages
within the capital-wage labour setup, you have economism.

If it's the setting up and maintaining of institutionalized working-class
access to such things as health, education and welfare within the
capitalist system, you have reformist welfare state labour in times of
working class strength.

If it's maintaining your own institutionalized regime of government,
co-management or whatever, where your power base is the working class but
the accepted hegemony (nationally or internationally, depending on the
regime in question) is capitalist/imperialist, then you have
class-collaborationist Stalinism or Social-Democracy.

The thing is, if your strategic objective is less than the abolition of the
rule of capital on an international scale and its replacement with the
cooperative, socialist rule of the producers, then the logic of capital
will continue to dominate history and determine the position of the working
class and the areas in which it will be forced to act - thus determining
its consciousness in these central areas.
>> But to take Negri and Lebowitz as a starting point rather than Capital
>> itself is lopsided.
>Both Negri and Lebowitz took Marx as the starting point.

Fine, as long as this emphasis is maintained in the discussion.

>> ... disregards the
>> importance of Capital for establishing limits to voluntaristic attempts to
>> disregard the objective processes at work within the capitalist mode of
>> production.
>I think I'll let Bryan talk more about Negri if he is willing. What are
>the "limits" that you are referring to in regard to "objective processes"?

Important limits are those involved in Marx's characterization of capital
as a dynamic, non-reversible, unstable mode of production, that already in
his day had outlived its 'progressive historic task' of disciplining,
developing and universalizing social production. (All features at the
centre of Lenin's characterization of the imperialist epoch as an epoch of

Voluntaristic attempts to disregard these processes:

Re- dynamic: any policy aiming at curbing the drive of capital to overcome
national or cultural barriers to its rule, or curb its tendency to
concentration and centralization (monopolization). Eg petty-bourgeois
anti-trust agitation and legislation, national bourgeois opposition to
supranational capitalist domination, or labour or bourgeois protectionism
as opposed to free trade (see Marx on this last in some brilliant,
concentrated polemics in 1847, Collected Works vol 6).

Re- non-reversible: the notion that it's possible to go back to some
imagined period of glory (free competition, post-war welfare state, some
Peronist golden age of plenty etc). This non-reversibility is what gives
force to the alternatives: socialism or barbarism - there is no third way
of enlightened, tamed, curbed capitalism.

Re- unstable: the biggest sinners here with respect to voluntarism must be
all the brood of the AustroMarxists. Rosdolsky's good here in relation to
Bruno Bauer. In Sweden, the paper of the United Secretariat is full every
week of good advice to the capitalists and their government as to how it
would be perfectly feasible and reasonable to implement certain policy
suggestions of theirs tomorrow which would increase production, improve
society and benefit the working class. The message is that you can
stabilize society even though it is rooted in the capitalist mode of
production. 'If only the capitalists and their governments would listen,
they would save themselves and us a lot of unnecessary aggro.' I think, and
I'd like to get opinions on this, that a lot of this comes from a utopian
interpretation of the equilibrium schemes in Capital Bk II. Instead of
interpreting these as an indication of the practical impossibility of ever
attaining equilibrium under capitalism (the sense of the schemes as far as
I'm concerned), they are taken as policy recipes indicating the
attainability and desirability of equilibrium 'if only the capitalists
understood their own best interests'.

>There is both continuity and discontinuity between the _Grundrisse_ and
>_Capital_. To take an obvious example, the Hegelian influence on Marx is
>much clearer in the _Grundrisse_. The question raised above regarding the
>role of analyzing pre-capitalist modes of production within _Capital_ is
>itself a large question. What is your perspective on the relationship
>between the 6-book-plan and _Capital_? This was a question addressed by
>both Negri and Lebowitz.

Exactly the point I was trying to make. The Hegelian influence is
all-pervading in both Gr AND Cap because Marx made the dialectical method
his own - only on a materialist basis not an idealist one. In Gr Marx works
using directly Hegelian terminology - in his own work for himself he didn't
need to 'translate' or 'paraphrase' such terms in order to avoid
misunderstanding. In Cap, written for publication, his audience could have
no such familiarity with Hegelian concepts or language, so a lot of his
intellectual shorthand had to be refashioned.

In relation to the analysis of pre-capitalist modes of production I'd like
to insist on the focus of a birthright to a place in production (even as a
serf or a slave) which had to be stripped away before the 'free'
working-class could emerge. The significance of this for us lies in current
developments in the ex-Soviet Union, where the workers' state (regardless
of the corruption and tyranny of the Stalinist regime) gave its citizens a
place in production *as of right*, and where the attempted reintroduction
of capitalism and a bourgeois state is running slap bang into analogical
problems. Being stripped of your birthright is highly provocative, it riles
folk and they do not cooperate. This is an aspect of what's happening today
in the attempted process of capitalist restoration that can be very easily
explained on the basis of the kind of interpretation of the processes
analysed in the Grundrisse and Capital that I've indicated above, but which
have received almost no attention in the discussions I've seen.

My limited experience of arguments focusing on shortcomings in Capital
related to a failure to realize its original plans is that they are
sterile. The reason is that they usually counterpose Capital, the
Grundrisse and various other writings or actions of Marx instead of seeing
them as supplementary parts of a whole life devoted to providing the
foundations for, building and improving a party of the international
working class for the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by
socialism. I'll come back to Capital and what I see as its achievements in
relation to the working class as subject in another posting.

Bryan wrote, among other things:

> I'm more comfortable with NEgri's insistence on class
>antagonism.  N. argues that this tension and force is present very
>strongly in the GRUNDRISSE, and fades somewhat when CAPITAL 1 appears in
>print. [snip]             "The objectification of categories in CAPITAL blocks
>>revolutionary subjectivity"
>[snip] This last bit is crucial: Marxism is about the makeup
>and dynamic progress of the working class within and against capital.
>Here Negri links analysis with action, subjectivity with insurgency.

Well, telegraph style: 'fades somewhat' seems to be a euphemism for
'disappears', and I disagree entirely. 'blocks revolutionary subjectivity'
is completely wrong. I would argue the development of the concept of
capital in Capital and its presentation of the way the various categories
work and interact in society provides the best possible guide for
revolutionary subjectivity. It didn't seem to harm Lenin's or Trotsky's
revolutionary subjectivity any, and they and their party actually realized
the abolition of capitalism in what became the Soviet Union.

>Hugh's raised some enormous questions.  As a way of answering them, I
>want to return with: is it a good and/or productive question to oppose
>the sense of evolution within capital (what Jameson, following Horkeimer,
>calls "the natural history of capital") to the question of subjectivity?

I think the perspective here must be that as long as capital survives it
will develop (in its revolutionary form of evolution) and this will oppress
the subjectivity of those opposed to it. Subjectivity will not develop
spontaneously beyond economism or putschism (again Lenin's right on this).
The party will be able to develop its own awareness of its historical
possibilities in the same way Marx developed his critique of capital and
his own political activities, by understanding what's going on, where it's
heading and what processes can help and what might hinder party objectives.
It's incredibly important to remember that there will be no perfect working
class consciousness or working class revolutionary party under capital -
and when capital is abolished, working class consciousness and the working
class party will no longer be needed in the same way. The consciousness and
the party needed are 'good enough', not 'perfect'. This is in no sense
belittling the tasks involved, but it makes the whole thing more manageable
and less utopian.

>Although this opposition at first seems dynamic and heuristic - iron laws
>versus spontaneity, time vs. space - it seems more likely that both fold
>into the famous formula of THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY, where history makes and
>is made, and humans make and are made by their history.
>        Yet I'm doing Hugh a disservice by pulling his shading of
>emphasis into a dialogic.  But discussions along these lines all too
>easily fall into this sort of opposition (an old anarchist vs Marxist
>canard, for example), and it's best to air it to compress it back into
>theory and praxis.

You'll have to be more explicit.

>I resist, however, the linear development of CAPITAL from the
>notebooks.  My last reading of GRUNDRISSE suggested new directions in
>terms of the state and some working class constitution that CAP 1 didn't
>answer for me.  CAP 2 and 3 don't look to go much further - in other
>worsds, the clarity and focus of CAPITAL shouldn't be seen as
>simultaneous signs of synthesis.

Tell us which directions, please. Also, don't leave Theories of Surplus
Value out of contention. I'm thinking in particular of the way Marx chases
Rent to ground and the knotty problems concerning 'productive' and
'unproductive' labour, about which more some other time.

That'll have to be all for now. More later. I've tried to keep it short -
thanks for your time!



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