The title of this post requires some explanation. In a recent post, I discussed an essay by Jacques Wajnsztejn of the journal Temps Critiques in which he took aim at interpretations of the November attacks in Paris by public intellectuals such as Olivier Roy and Alain Badiou. Wajnsztejn also occasionally writes for Yves Coleman’s publication Ni patrie ni frontières, hosted on the Mondialisme website.
As the editors of Internationalist Perspective explain below, in their introduction to their exchange with Wajnsztejn back in 2006, he belongs to communization current in France. Communization is not a term Wajnsztejn prefers, and he has in the decade since had his share of run-ins with the self-declared communisateurs, but for him it means basically the same thing it does for Roland Simon and the French group Theorie Communiste: an emphasis on the immediate transformation of conditions without any period of transition. Like Theorie Communiste, Temps Critiques believes that the revolutionary potential of the industrial working class has been exhausted.
One major contrast between Wajnsztejn and Simon, to take the two most prominent figures, is that the former works within a more humanist framework than the latter. Simon is decidedly an anti-humanist. You’ll see this in the article, with its emphasis on the “anthropological” dimension of capital’s periodization as opposed to its “structural” dimension, taken over from Camatte. Hence the “human face” referred to in the title: “Capitalized society tends to suppress all the human figures that were necessary for capitalism’s progress towards maturity.” Wajnsztejn and Temps Critiques also disagree with Theorie Communiste et al. about the continued validity of the law of value; whereas the latter believe programmatism’s decline to be linked to a temporal mediation immanent to the valorization process itself, the former believe the old formula of value-accumulation to have been transcended altogether.
Patlotch and assorted others fault Wajnsztejn — along with the nihilist communists (the Duponts), communizers (Simon, Mattis, Lyon), and left communists in general (Dauvé, etc.) — for not being more adamantly anti-Zionist. But this says more about the particular obsession of Western leftists with the case of Israeli nationalism than the universal anti-nationalism maintained by left communists on principle.
I disagree with the communizers, humanist and anti-humanist alike, about the permanence of proletarian decline and its potential reconstitution as a revolutionary subject. Nevertheless, this is an interesting article. Enjoy.
Temps Critiques is a review that is part of the movement of the communisateurs. What they mean by communization is that the revolution can only succeed and be emancipating if it undertakes from the very beginning a communist transformation on all levels, from the production of food and the way we consume it, to transportation, housing, learning, traveling, reading, doing nothing, loving, not loving, debating and deciding our future, etc, without any period of transition. The comrades who publish this review say that it is not an in crowd publication devoted to pure theory, but rather a place for critical activity in France and elsewhere; an effort to conceive political action, taking into account the transformations of capitalism and its new contradictions.
They take note of the changes that have occurred in the way capitalist society functions, and think that capitalism has realized the unification of its forms of domination (the institutionalization of the world market, the dissolution of classes as subjects, the generalization of the political forms of authoritarian and managerial democracy).
They also recognize that the system encounters increasing difficulties to reproduce itself on the basis of what constitutes its fundamental value: (abstract) labor. While production continues, and valorization proceeds somehow (though more and more surplus value goes to the financial sector instead of to production), capitalism’s logic of power and domination, which is not just an economic logic, also leads to a crisis of the social relation.
From this, they draw a startling conclusion: the decline of the historical role of the working class. For them, the revolutionary proletariat is a thing of the past.
What they see is a resurgence of a critical movement outside the proletariat. This movement is not just intellectual, it expresses concretely the refusal of the tyranny of capital and of the myths of the society based on labor, the refusal to let individuals be reduced to a mere economic or social value.
For Temps Critiques, this movement expresses the “becoming-otherwise” of the relations between the individual and the human community.
April 25, 2015
The slightly provocative title, indicates the historical moment from which we begin: the defeat of the last global revolutionary assault of the 1960-1970s. This assault marked the extreme limit of a classist and proletarian politics, especially in the example of the Italian “Hot Autumn” (1969).1 Nonetheless, this last assault already comprised an understanding of the need for a revolution on a human basis,2 for a critique of work and for the supersession of classes, as was noticeable in May 68 France and 1977 Italy.3
The defeat did not result in a counter-revolution as there had been no genuine revolution. Rather, a double movement ensued: the restructuring of corporations and the “liberation” of social and inter-individual practices as if, all of a sudden, all barriers to the development of the society of capital were swept away. The straitjacket of the old bourgeois society was thrown off, even though society had already lost its bourgeois character after the two World Wars, Fordism, and the real domination of capital, conservative ideas remained obstacles for the revolution.
What was presented as a “recuperation” by the 1968 movement actually was capital’s last leap forward through class struggle that still was expressed in the law of value, the centrality of labor and in struggles around them (cf. LIP and other struggles about workers’ self-management, skilled workers’ revolts, or the resistance of the last steelworkers and miners).4
The change occurred in the late 1980s when the dynamics of capital ceased to rely on a dialectic of class relations. If classes still exist, they only do under the form of sociological categories or as fractions without any possibility of class recomposition (the original hypothesis of the Italian workers’ autonomy is obsolete).
The 1970s crisis reminds us all that conflicts between capital and labor were located within a capitalist social relation, defined by the mutual dependence between the two poles of the social relation, whatever the temporary balance of power. The dynamic of capital no longer results from this antagonistic conflict, but from the dominance taken by both dead labor (mainly machines) over living labor (the labor force) and from the integration of techno-science into the production process. The productive worker tends to become less and less the producer of value but rather an obstacle or a limit to this process in what we call the “inessentialization of the labor force.” The increased precarization of the labor force cannot be understood as a reform of the industrial labor army as theorized by Marx, i.e. as a phenomenon of pure proletarization because the labor force is “too numerous.” The transfer of labor force from center to periphery, in emerging countries, does not belie this analysis. First, if we take the example of China, for a few millions of new jobs, how many tens of millions of peasants cram into the peripheries of the metropolis? Second, if we take Korea and India, there industries are gradually replaced by high-tech companies and very modern facilities where the same substitution process capital/labor is taking place.
This tendency explains, at least in rich countries, why the idea of a guaranteed income is slowly gaining momentum, for the ideology of work persists, not as value but as discipline. Hence, it becomes impossible to claim any worker identity, since this relies on the idea of an essential participation of this class in the transformation of the world. In the true sense, we see the collapse of a whole world with its values, those of the workers’ community. Traces of this community can be found in factory struggles (2009), such as that of Continental, where the workers occupied the factory, although with no intention to run it in a different way (the 1970s cycle of struggles was over). Struggles taking place at the end of the affirmation of a worker identity have ceased to challenge the condition of the worker within the factory. This affects the reproduction of the wage relation as a whole. Paradoxically, this general crisis of the wage relation does not allow for a frontal assault by wage earners. In recent struggles, even though they sometimes used violent forms, employees did not oppose the wage system but sought only to trade their exclusion from the production process through actions that broke with large unions’ strategies (boss sequestrations, threats to production facilities). Against the nihilism of capital, which dismisses employees when profits rise, employees currently answer with resistance — at best — and with some kind of right to withdrawal. Those practices are certainly not radical in the sense of a direct and immediate subversion of the relations of domination. That would require combining radicalism as form (the use of illegality, including violence) with radicalism as content (the critique of work and wage); that is, giving positive content to revolt. Yet they are radical in what they express negatively: they are the defensive backfire of the employees against their inessentialization in the current restructuring. The nihilism of neo-modern capitalism is no longer opposed by the perspective of some sort of socialism (what positive content could they find there anyway?) but by the end of all affirmation of the worker identity and its program.
We are in the grotesque situation where rulers keep on wishing to extend the legal retirement age while CEOs keep on dismissing their old workers! The contradiction in the inessentialization of labor in a society dominated by the social imaginary of work is simply neglected, to avoid acknowledging the wage system crisis. The focus is then on the broad equilibria to be reestablished or maintained (budgetary rigor, debt constraints, active/inactive ratio, etc.).
But this collapse also affects what some call the “real economy,” which benefits not a “casino economy” but a totalization of capital, which allows power strategies that promote capital flows over the globe particularly where the situation is favorable. This replicates Fernand Braudel, for whom capitalism was not a system but a process of mastering the path and temporality of money.
Capital pushes back its own limits
- the socialization of property (corporations), production and knowledge (recent significance of the General Intellect);
- the socialization of income (a large share of employees’ income is indirect) and prices (increasingly artificial or administered as we have shown in Crise financière et capital fictif (L’Harmattan. 2009).
…These two first points are the result of an ongoing process, which started at the transition from the formal to the real domination of capital — even though this periodization does not fully satisfy us.
- the encompassing of the contradiction between the development of productive forces and the narrowness of production relations did not lead to a “decadence” of capitalism through the limitation of the growth of productive forces, but on the contrary, to a headlong rush in technological innovation. Contrary to what the Marxist theorists of “decadence” believed — obsessed by the contradiction between growth of the productive forces and the limits of production relations — capitalism does not hinder the productive forces, but encourages them. Initially, in the name of Progress, nowadays in the name of power, capitalism rushes into the dynamics of endless innovation. Capital has a thirst for wealth, hence its difficulty in holding the vessel on the ideological and reproductive course of “sustainable development” (see the shale gas issue).
“Fictivization” makes obsolete the traditional division between the different forms of capital (financial, commercial, industrial) and makes obsolete the idea of a progression of those forms towards completion under the industrial form, typical of both capitalism and… communism. This development of fictitious capital is no longer temporary, as Marx thought in his time, and is certainly no “unnatural” drift of capital, as is claimed by all the disciples of a moralization of capitalism, who indiscriminately denounce the casino economy, speculative finance, or traders’ risk appetite. It has become a structural component of capital in what we might call its progress towards totality. With the extension of fictitious capital, total capital tends to presuppose itself, leaving out any valorization through labor.5 It also tends to emancipate itself from the immoderate growth of fixed capital (accumulation). This growth devalues through the accelerated obsolescence of machines, and is a factor that inhibits the movement of fluidity required by its overall dynamics, which is now characterized by strategies for seizing wealth by a power through the circulation of value.
This is a new dimension of valorization in a process of “globalization” that performs — besides the fusion of all the functions of money — a networking of space and a territorialization in three levels:
- The top level of the network (I) controls and directs the totality. It includes the dominant states (those taking part in major Summits) and a few emerging powers, such as China, central banks and financial institutions, multinational corporations and wider informational spheres (IT, communications, media, culture). At this level of power, value is only comprehended as representation.6 It is also the level of control of wealth and harnessing of financial flows. Here, capital dominates value, allowing it to develop fictivization and to reproduce itself on this basis. It is reproduction that can be characterized as “contracted” in the sense that while the ends remain dynamic, they are conjugated with a static vision of world resources.
- The second level (II) is where material production and the capital/labor relation still dominate, even though value tends to be more and more autonomous of what used to be called productive labor, supposed to produce value. This sector still produces wealth but also constitutes a hindrance to global dynamics, like agriculture during the first industrial revolution. Either because immobilized capital has become a burden too heavy to carry regarding the expected earnings and the adaptation to the quantitative and qualitative variations of demand; or because the multitude of SMEs that compose it are losing their own dynamics, they are reduced to an outsourcing role for huge networks knit by transnational corporations, whose main goals are altogether different. It is also in this sector that job fluctuations count within a competition made fierce by globalization but also by a new mode of organization that increasingly exports problems from center to periphery, according to a spider web scheme. The parent company and some of its branches, which work in level I, externalize their problems to the next web circles in level II, and, in the extreme, to level III (black economy, offshore factories). Each circle tends to tighten up conditions in the next circle in order to ensure a leeway for the less favorable situations to come. The link between the different levels is quite clear in the “financial” crisis, where on the one hand level I banks bailed out by dominant forces and on the other hand, unemployment hit level II with new offshorings or permanent closures.
- The bottom level (III) contains the producers from the periphery and dominated states, which suffer global prices for their exportations, as well as rentier states, which take advantage of the increasing scarcity of natural resources. Level III is the one that suffers a plundering of its natural resources, which fuels the possibility for fictivization in level I not only thanks to low production costs (“undervalued” according to Marxist metaphysicians) but also by feeding capital flows in financial markets. The old distinction between the “right” capitalist profit and the “wrong” precapitalist rent no longer holds, as for a long time old forms of rents — such as the oil rent — have been sources of huge capital transfers, now relayed through mafias in different republics of former USSR. They rightfully stand alongside other forms of rent in level I, and in particular within the “global oligopoly” that controls cognitive capital and major innovations. These last three points do not really constitute a second phase or a completion of the real domination of capital, but rather a new step in the totalization process of capital, made possible by the rupture that the revolution of capital has represented.
Contradictions do not disappear but are transposed
In the “Fragment on Machines” Marx hypothesized a supersession of the law of value thanks to the development of a General Intellect. This hypothesis has become reality… without any emancipating perspective for the workers. The old socialist program of a transition phase to communism was eventually made real by capital. Capital now dominates value, which becomes evanescent7 once this capital itself can determine what is value and what is not. Value becomes representation and is not measurable by some substance (decreasing work time or potentially obsolete machine) that constantly looses value while produced wealth nevertheless increases. We stumble here onto the foundation of political economy and its critique: the confusion between wealth and value. According to the logic of the law of value, value has to decrease when wealth increases… but current “value creation” shows that value can increase without any wealth increase. The capitalization of society thrives on that basis. Tendentially, any activity becomes the object of valorization. However, these transformations cannot be interpreted as some preconceived plan, organized by an almighty capitalist class, and neither as an unconscious process without subject nor reflexivity, pure demonstration of a capital that has become automatic. If we sometimes have the feeling that domination is exerted through objectivized processes that are unrecognized as such (it is obvious in the relation to work), domination processes keep on taking direct forms, as can be seen in the remnants of the nation-state refocusing on regalian functions. This is why the state seems to rigidify, to be nothing but a Ministry of the Interior in charge of security, to the point that many today forget the state’s redeployment as a network.
The confusion comes from the “revolution of capital” that gives the illusion of a capital losing interest in its overall reproduction by seemingly focusing on short term management objectives in place of a long term strategy of reproduction. Capitalized society apparently has no great project, does not form a “system.” However, “sustainable development” shows that that is not the case.
That is why we prefer to use the notions of “non-systemic domination,” “capital,” and “capitalized society” rather than “capitalist system.”
The network-state in the revolution of capital serves as an infrastructure for capital and no longer as a superstructure for the benefit of the ruling class. The state is no longer the state of the ruling class, in charge of obscuring and containing “the social question,” as the night-watchman state. Nor can it work any longer as its capitalist welfare form, as a mediation of mediations by forging a class compromise, or as a supermediation in the nation-state/republican ideology.
By synthesizing and representing the reciprocal dependency between the two classes of the capitalist social relation, it has realized Marx” prediction about the political withering away of the state and the transition to the simple “administration of things,” without the emancipatory aspects. Unlike the original nation-state, which used to take political decisions, the network-state reduces politics to management and contents itself with media impacts and efficient control over social relations by permeating them down to the last detail. With the end of classes as antagonistic subjects, the state does not have to represent forces; it does not even have to represent the general interest, as it materializes that interest directly in face of what now appear only as particular interests to which the state concedes particular rights. Hence the feeling that there is an explosion of rules and laws to control, secure and manage, while large institutions related to the nation-state are fading away8 or becoming independent, while the universality of Law and Rights is declining. Contrary to “rights from,” which supposedly founded civil society’s autonomy from the democratic state, rights are nowadays “rights to” that we can “shoot” at a state whose prerogatives are total, as laws pervade every nook and cranny of what used to be “private lives.” The PACS,9 for example — all the concocted measures for the future homosexual marriage and the consequent adoption would do as well as examples — illustrates this temporary crystallization of a sexual-financial intermediary between the old institution of democratized bourgeois marriage and the pure sexual combination of classified ads and of cybersex. Hence the potentialities of capitalized society become the social needs of individuals. We face a caricature of the old civil society now limited to the collision of private interests with one another. Corporatisms make their return — this is not only a journalistic-sociological catchphrase — even though they take new forms and go beyond the scope of workplaces. Today, anyone can organize their own little demonstration, block an highway toll booth, assault their prefecture or their McDonald’s, go on hunger strike, and then be received by the authorities. All of this is saturated by a discourse on “social issues” by the media and the state together, the latter often speaking through members of what is still called “civil society.” The state advocates “citizen conferences” or for “consultation and involvement of citizens” in order to give them back the floor. “Citizens’ movements” are established and will establish themselves as the new mediators solving “societal problems” while they actually are nothing more than intermediaries. The “citizenist” aims to become a powerful mediator and citizens’ movements seek to give a “new meaning to social issues.” Their moral aspect should allow them to overcome the scattering of particular interests and to practice politics differently. There is an interaction between the state and citizenists with the goal of ensuring a reproduction and management of social relations made difficult by the globalization of capital. Capitalized society needs to produce its own challengers in order to locate its missing anchors.
Crisis of traditional mediations10
First, a crisis of labor, which becomes “in excess,” even though it is not the end of labor but a broadening of employability, unemployment and precarity… The labor constraint persists at least in its ability to remain the prerequisite to access rights and, of course, for an income. But labor has lost some of its intrinsic value in favor of an extrinsic value (as the source of survival and sociability). Labor is no longer what workers do (concrete labor), but has become abstract labor, the foundation of a social relation of domination that is more than exploitation (the “productive labor” issue is outdated).
Second, a crisis of the welfare state and its “social democracy.” Paradoxically, the state refocuses on regalian functions without returning to its previous form, the night-watchman state. Hence it is not “police everywhere, justice nowhere” as claimed by modern leftists, but the state is nonetheless everywhere, multifaceted. Indeed, its socialization functions have become pervasive, where once they worked through centralized intervention, nowadays they work through networks of protection and control, in liaison with multiple co-working organizations and forces “in the field” (security staff in municipal transport companies, neighborhood troubleshooters, sports organizer, etc.).
Finally, the last element, because they were pillars of the old state form, large institutions are collapsing. Those institutions follow a double movement. On the one hand, they tend to become autonomous of the central power in order to keep on existing while state authority seems to weaken. The best example of this can be found in Italy during the so-called “Years of Lead” and the consequent “mani pulite.”11 On the other hand, the executive power tends to absorb this independence, by directly integrating the institution into executive power (e.g. in France and Italy, the relations between political power and Justice). Implementing international — and particularly European — rules of subsidiarity of powers completes the job in the sense that national institutions — already in crisis on their own territory — have to take a back seat to international institutions and transnational agreements (see e.g. the Bologna Directives for a new kind of school and teaching or Schengen agreement for police forces).
An anthropological revolution
The revolution of capital is not only a restructuring and globalizing of the relation to an “external nature” (what do-gooders call the economy), but also a revolution of an “inner nature.” Capitalized society tends to suppress all the human figures that were necessary for capitalism’s progress towards maturity: the risk-taking entrepreneur, the civil servant in search of rational and impersonal organization, the good worker, the stabilizing couple and family, professional training, and so on. They all give way to artificial life processes (virtualization), which are but the twins of the aforementioned fictivization process. Capitalized society has incorporated the technician system, just as capital had incorporated techno-science, rendering pointless any attempt at reappropriation on these bases. Capitalized society is the tendency for capital to become an environment, a culture, a specific form of society, a symbiosis between the state under its network form, the broader power networks (large corporations, ICT, and culture) and sociality networks. Individuals’ subjectivity now tends to become inwardly determined. Needs are being produced — this could not be anticipated by the young Marx in his emancipating vision and his idea of potentially unlimited needs, which became the ideology of the “consumer society.” Capitalized society is unable to think its needs outside of any techno-scientific activity, and seems to have no goal but its own accelerated reproduction. On this basis, it only tries to solve self-created problems, never questioning the sense nor the end of its development. The emerging social imaginary seems to lack consistence when it calls for a total mobilization of all human resources in the name of increasingly murky purposes. What workers used to perceive as a discipline at work and for work, even through exploitation, appears more and more as harassment at work and pure domination.
We are witnessing a collapse of the imaginary, which is disguised, case by case, as a climate, financial, energy, ecological, or social crisis. That opens up the field for new social meaning and new collective action. However, “remaking society” is a deceit. Individual/community tension has to solve the aporia of an age-old opposition between individual and society and the impasse of the opposition between on the one hand the abstract universality of the Enlightenment and French Revolution, and on the other hand the current development of particularisms and cultural relativism presented as concrete universals.
1 The Hot Autumn (autunno caldo in Italian) of 1969-1970 was a massive series of strikes in the factories and industrial centers of Northern Italy.
2 As opposed to the theory of revolution relying on the sole working class [translator’s note].
3 See J. Guigou et J. Wajnsztejn, Mai 68 et le mai rampant italien. L’Harmattan. 2008.
4 LIP is a French watch and clock company whose turmoil became emblematic of the conflicts between workers and management in France. The LIP factory, based in Besançon in eastern France, was having financial problems in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and management decided to try to close it. However, after strikes and a highly publicized factory occupation in 1973, LIP became worker-managed. All the fired employees were rehired by March 1974, but the firm was liquidated again in the spring of 1976. This led to a new struggle, called “the social conflict of the 1970s” by the daily newspaper Libération. Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT) union leader Charles Piaget led the strike. The Unified Socialist Party (PSU), which included former Radical Pierre Mendès-France, was then in favor of autogestion (workers’ self-management) [translator’s note].
5 See La valeur sans le travail. Vol. 2 of Temps critiques’ anthology. L’Harmattan, 1999.
6 See the new corporate and media catchphrase “value creation.”
7 See L’évanescence de la valeur, L’Harmattan, 2004.
8 The movement in defense of particularities only espouse the movement of capital by transposing it from the economic sphere to its own sector, the management of subjectivity. Therein lies the source of a general trend towards contractualization of social relations. If we consider the law on sexual harassment, we realize that we are not essentially dealing with special protective measures for women, but with the enactment of a rule that must end “naturally” unequal human relations to fit with the legal and economic law of private property, in this case applied to our own bodies. For further developments on the issue, see J. Wajnsztejn: Capitalisme et nouvelles morales de l’intérêt et du goût, L’Harmattan, 2002. Or more recently, by the same author: Rapports à la nature, sexe, genre et capitalisme, Acratie, 2013.
9 In France, a civil solidarity pact (French: pacte civil de solidarité), commonly known as a PACS (pronounced: [paks]), is a contractual form of civil union between two adults for organizing their joint life. It brings rights and responsibilities, but less so than marriage. The PACS was voted by the French Parliament in November 1999, largely to offer some legal status to same sex couples [translator’s note].
10 See J. Guigou: « L’institution résorbée », Temps critiques n° 12, article n° 103.
11 The Years of Lead were a political phenomenon related to the Cold War that was characterized by left- and right-wing terrorism and the strategy of tension, beginning in Italy and later spreading to the rest of Europe.
……Mani pulite [clean hands] was a nationwide Italian judicial investigation into political corruption held in the 1990s. Mani pulite led to the demise of the so-called First Republic, resulting in the disappearance of many parties. Some politicians and industry leaders committed suicide after their crimes were exposed. In some accounts, as many as 5000 people have been cited as suspects. At one point more than half of the members of the Italian Parliament were under indictment. More than 400 city and town councils were dissolved because of corruption charges. The estimated value of bribes paid annually in the 1980s by Italian and foreign companies bidding for large government contracts in Italy reached 4 billion dollars [translator’s note].
Translation : Corentin Debailleul Re-reading : Alastair Davidson