Friday, May 16, 2008

Arguments for Marxism, no.84

Marxism and the agency of change: Norm argues for the role of the working class. And he's right.

(Note: the 84 in the title is a random number, but I'm sure if you go back through my blog you'll find around that many, mostly under my "Marxish" category Let's call this one no.83!)


Transpontine said...

Norm's post is spot on, but I wonder whether he's updated his Marxism from his former trotskyist comprehension (I know he's dropped a lot of the baggage but I am talking about fundamentals). It seems to me that the approach taken in his post lends itself more to an autonomist understanding which stress the active role of the working class not just in politics but in social and technical development (e.g. the notion of immaterial labour and the way that the internet is being driven by this rather than by capitalists). From this perspective it isn't so much that capitalism creates certain kinds of populations but that these populations create themselves (and much of what capitalism takes the credit for) within a capitalist world.

Hutnyk said...

Yep, interesting and positive in the main part, but is it a report card on Marx that we want to have Norman G deliver? He says "Marx got many things wrong. But some he got right". Thus red pen corrections replace red critique. Lets do a proper exam - where are we on the development of political capacity today? Consider Geras's list: 'political capacity: the result of characteristics it [the working class] possessed [past tense] - geographical concentration, trade union and political organization, literacy, technical competence, political and economic experience'. (Nepal aside) I wonder if we can recognise 'increasing' capacity today, or just immaterial skills, good typing, complicity and reification. Geras cites 'populations educated, increasingly aware, competent - and not well-shaped for tolerating being dictated to'. This seems like wishful thinking in the context of the murder/death/kill I see on my screen every night. I of course want to transduce wishful thinking into something more, but we need also to make a real assessment of Left failings. An encouragement grade might be to mark this as: good effort but need to try harder.

Red Salute


bob said...

Hmm. Well, I favour an autonomist understanding of Marxism over a Trotskyist one. The self-activity of the working class was the central point of the autonomist critique of orthodox Marxism, and here Norm's approach does support that.

(But then, I would argue that those versions of Marxism which miss the self-activity of the working class, including many Trot versions, aren't actually Marxist...)

But I am suspicious about the more recent (post-)autonomist turn to immaterial labour. I think the Hardt/Negri/Virno/De Angelis versions of this all push a little too far. See recent Aufheben for good critique of this turn.

Nonetheless, your point about the populations creating themselves is absolutely right.

As for Norm's "red pen corrections", well, I think Marx got so many things wrong that we need the red pen. However, I don't think Geras wields as thick a pen as you suggest John. The past tense is about Marx observing his time' Norm's point is that it is still true.

It is however interesting to look at the fate of the working class and its capacity: "geographical concentration, trade union and political organization, literacy, technical competence, political and economic experience".

Some of these are more true than ever in a globalized/digital age; others are less true. This is what the autonomists call the compostion, decomposition and recomposition of the proletariat in its struggle with capital: in Transpontine's words, labour recreating itself within a capitalist world.

So, murder/death/kill is not the only reality, whatever your screen tells you. Our screens don't like to show us, but we could also see Colombian and US trade unions networking to fight Free Trade agreements[1], thousands of glass and tyre workers in Turkey poised to strike against multinationals[2], the solidarity of South African dock workers saving the lives of dissidents in Zimbabwe due to their wildcat actions[3], Namibian zinc miners rising up[4], Egyptian working class challenging neo-libearlism[5], the unionization of Wal-Mart workers under the most difficult of conditions in China[6], Indian gust workers on strike in the US[7], Iranian sugar cane workers and shipyard workers taking on the theocracy[8][9].

The spectacle of murder/death/kill in some parts of the Middle East is a seductive one, which encourages the descent of Marxism into sloppy "anti-imperialist" thinking. But a global view of the working class reveals a different picture.

Phew, didn't mean to get so heavy.

John said...

You should have been around last night at Goldsmiths to recite your list of struggles - of which I follow, but you could also mention the great advances in Nepal, Malaysia... sorry - to recite your list of struggles in front of Stanley Aronowitz who was, in a talk on the 'crisis', only saying pretty much what 'we' were saying 15 years ago as student activists, but this time with a heavy euro-american nation Magazine/CNN/Radio 4 bias. I found it worrying, even where he was mostly on message (aka radical leftie from NYC). Simply put, I do not share the 'we' or the 'in crisis' that was being promulgated seemlessly by Stanley - however nice a bloke he is, his NY radical melancholia is a big blindspot. He told us there were no anti-colonial movements anymore. And spoke as if Seattle was the beginning and end - and not a consequence of a long built campaign - Genoa, Gothenburg, Madrid, Amsterdam, and earlier with reformasi in Indonesia, Malaysia, the farmer's mobilzations in India etc.

When I say murder/death/kill (reference is not just middle east) I guess I mean it as code for condeming the way 'we' are not saying all that must be said everytime some old Leftists trot out the autocard (and I mean the routine lines promulgated by both trots and autonomists). I can't be reciting such lists as liturgies that show I read more than The Guardian, but it is what we need to do, I fully agree.

Red salute.