The politics of affirmation... or the politics of negation?

The politics of affirmation... or the politics of negation?

What is it that defines communist politics from the politics of the rest of the left? This blog argues that communist politics are a politics of negation; a movement to abolish the present state of things.

Political debate often tends to quickly polarise into simple binaries. This is perhaps even more so online. Mainstream politics has its liberals/conservatives and left/right; radical politics has its anarchist/Marxist and reform/revolution. Almost invariably these dichotomies are false ones, obscuring the subtleties of the debate and leading to endless circular slanging matches with the protagonists becoming evermore entrenched.

However there is one pairing I’ve often found useful; that of distinguishing between leftist politics, and communist ones. This is not to use ‘leftist’ as a slur, as many (generally North American) post-leftists and primitivists are wont to do (as indeed are Trots with ‘ultra-left’), but rather as a political term to distinguish between the politics that characterise ‘the left of capital’ – Trots, union bureaucrats, NGOs – and the communist movement.

To this end, I tend to use the following definitions: Communist demands are those which stress the concrete material needs of the class (wage demands, universal healthcare etc, the length of the working day, through to a rejection of wage labour altogether!). Leftist demands are those which stress how capital should be managed to accommodate the struggles to impose those needs (tax this! nationalise that!).

While this definition is fine to distinguish communist politics from those of your typical Trots in many situations - as they try to run union candidates to manage the struggle ‘better’ on the workers behalf, or demand the nationalisation of the banks (oops, it’s now ‘real nationalisation’), or call for higher taxes on the rich etc (rather than the concrete things we want them to finance) - it doesn’t adequately address a whole host of other political positions which cluster around leftism – such as support for national liberation movements and identity politics, particularly with regard to gender, race and sexuality (and with the SWP’s recent Islam-affair, ethno-cultural identity too).

For example, consider prominent platformist Wayne Price’s argument that

Central to anarchism is the belief in self-organization and self-determination of the people. But there are topics on which many anarchists reject the pro-freedom position, paticularly involving free speech and also national self-determination.

Here, he clearly envisages particular groups – implicitly workers, women, ethnic minorities, and more controversially and explicitly “oppressed nations” - as subjugated and in need of affirming themselves, of practicing ‘self-determination.’ Indeed, “revolutionary anarchists must be the champions of every democratic freedom, every struggle against oppression, whatever its immediate relation to the class struggle as such” (my emphasis). The oppressed must assert themselves. (The fact there are ample precedents for this position within the anarchist tradition is not at issue here.)

I would juxtapose this leftist approach to one of my favourite political quotes, from Gilles Dauvé, which for me typifies a communist one.

If one identifies proletarian with factory worker, or with the poor, then one cannot see what is subversive in the proletarian condition. (…) The proletariat is the dissolution of present society, because this society deprives it of nearly all its positive aspects. Thus the proletariat is also its own destruction. (…) Most proles are low paid, and a lot work in production, yet their emergence as the proletariat derives not from being low paid producers, but from being "cut off", alienated, with no control either over their lives or the meaning of what they have to do to earn a living.

I will for the time being ignore that Dauvé is talking only of the proletariat and not other possible subject-positions (I hope to return to the important differences – not hierarchies - between class politics and race/gender/sexuality politics in a future blog). The important thing here for me is that Dauvé is outlining a politics of the dispossessed, a negative politics that must destroy both its adversary and itself in the course of its liberation. That is to say, a politics of negation.

This is in contrast to the example above (of which Wayne Price is only a convenient example as I have that quote to hand as I write); a politics of self-determination of the oppressed, a politics of affirmation. Let’s consider another example. Anti-racist Action write:

We have much less of a problem with "Black pride" or "Black power" than we do with "white pride" or "white power." The reason is that if you're Black and you've grown up in a world where being Black = being treated like and looked upon as shit, then to say "fuck you, I'm PROUD to be Black!" challenges the racism you've lived under and the racist assumptions that some people have about Black people. So when people of color turn the tables on racists and claim their "second-class citizen" status as a point of pride, we see that as an effective anti-racist strategy.

This is a much more glaring example of the politics of affirmation than the one above. It’s also an example of what Friedrich Nietzsche called slave morality. For Nietzsche, master morality determines what is good - be it wealth, power, the arts or anything - and lives by it. By contrast slave morality looks at the values of the powerful, and inverts them. For Nietzsche, the case in point of this was the Christian churches praise of poverty and humility (in 'this life' at least, lol). The prolem with slave morality is that it exists as a permanent reaction to some master, it makes a subordinate position inseperable from any politics based on it. It means a politics of perpetual victimhood; the lefties feigning surprise at police battons, lapping up fresh martyrs. The point is not to heroically suffer, but to win!

However, ever the individualist Nietzsche also targeted socialists and anarchists as typifying a ‘herd mentality’ characterised by envy of wealth and power, a desparate cry of weak victims. So here we must set Nietzsche on his head, so to speak. It is easy to see how the politics of the oppressed discussed above mesh with slave morality; anti-consumerism (Buying stuff bad! Dumpster diving good!), anti-imperialism (Imperialism bad! Resistance good!), Class War Federation (Toffs bad! Workin’ clarse caricatures good!), black pride (White good? Black good!), gay pride (Straight good? Queer good!), much anarcha-feminist health (Patriarchal medicine bad! DIY herbalism good!), and even heavyweight theorists like Toni Negri, Harry Cleaver and other ‘Autonomist Marxists’ who have a tendency to pose the working class as an autonomous force external to and in conflict with capital which must affirm itself (Capitalist valorisation bad! Self-valorisation good!) [see Aufheben’s discussion along similar lines (pdf file)]. None of this is to say individuals or groups fall neatly into one category or t'other, only that the difference between communist politics and leftist ones appears one of kind rather than one of degree.

But Nietzsche is usually seen as a philosopher of affirmation who would see negation as the rallying cry of the weak and envious herd. How does the politics of negation outlined above avoid the trap of slave morality? Simply that communist politics, by asserting our concrete material needs makes no reference to the values of capital at all. We determine for ourselves what it is we want not as 'the oppressed' but as human beings cut off from control of our lives, that is as proletarians. These needs may or may not coincide with what capital determines as good; neither a knee-jerk asceticism nor a fetishism of the working class as is, but an assertion of our concrete material needs. Our subversive potential comes not from being oppressed, but from being alienated, separated from the potential our own activity creates. By contrast the politics of the oppressed sees self-determination as the reassertion of the repressed identity or subject position. An assertion of national independence or black pride. It is a politics of affirmation, affirmation of oppressed subject positions.

Communist politics is not about affirming ourselves as workers, or as women, or ethnic minorities, or nations… but at destroying these categories along with the capitalist social relations to which they have come to belong. Being a woman or having a certain skin pigmentation, or sexual preference, or country of origin should carry no more implications for a person’s social role than their eye or hair colour or height or blood type generally does today; they are not sources of pride, much less revolutionary subjectivity. Similarly, for communists the working class is not something to be celebrated, but the class against work and classes. This blog has dwelled on a somewhat theoretical delineation. But my hope is the implications for concrete communist politics are more easily drawn now such a delineation has been made.

This blog is also available in Russian thanks to kotob.

Comments

no1
Nov 18 2008 13:08

Excellent post, very clear thinking. I'm not convinced that self-affirmation can be excluded in the process of liberation though. Take for example black nationalism in the US. The Black Panthers stressed the concrete material needs of slave descendents as the basis of their struggle ; they organised free food for children to fight extreme levels of poverty ; they organised their own ambulances since ambulance services often refused to enter black areas ; they organised armed teams of legal observers to protect blacks against police brutality and miscarriages of justice ; etc. But to get to that point they had to first unite on the basis of a shared condition of racist oppression, and this required rejecting how they were viewed by the dominant group through affirmation of their shared black identity. Affirmation of Black Pride and Black Power didn't mean they wanted to remain in the condition they found themselves in, they weren't the expression of a slave morality, but it meant "we've had enough of this and we have the power to change it", i.e. the aim was to negate the relationship of racist oppression. Even the mental views of the nation of Islam played a positive role in this process at some point.

This comment is a bit off topic - but I don't think it's crucial to start off with great politics, what's far more important is that you learn and evolve your politics in response to the experiences you make. People with iffy politics can achieve great things if they learn from their experiences while those with the best politics achieve nothing if they blindly hold on to them and don't continuously adapt them to the situation they are in. I like Chomsky's advice that people should organise against the things they want to fight using the methods that make most sense to them, until the the limits of these become apparent.

Joseph Kay
Nov 18 2008 13:21
no1 wrote:
Affirmation of Black Pride and Black Power didn't mean they wanted to remain in the condition they found themselves in, they weren't the expression of a slave morality, but it meant "we've had enough of this and we have the power to change it"

hmm, interesting point. but it seems to me this mirrors the class consciousness of workers in struggle - 'we're getting fucked over, this is bullshit,' rather than a politics of affirmation per se. although of course in the real world these things get mixed up and over-layed on one another; some panthers might have been very much into affirming the 'black nation,' others might have been proletarian militants who happened to be black, others might have held elements of these contradictory views at once. how much was it the case they could only organise around concrete material needs after establishing shared 'blackness'? surely the shared condition was their dispossession, racially accentuated for sure, and this is why (iirc) the Panthers saw themselves as part of a cross-racial revolutionary movement rather than trying to build an independent black nation a la the Nation of Islam (who i'm not convinced played a positive role any more than Hezbollah do for providing hospitals)?

no1 wrote:
This comment is a bit off topic - but I don't think it's crucial to start off with great politics, what's far more important is that you learn and evolve your politics in response to the experiences you make. People with iffy politics can achieve great things if they learn from their experiences while those with the best politics achieve nothing if they blindly hold on to them and don't continuously adapt them to the situation they are in. I like Chomsky's advice that people should organise against the things they want to fight using the methods that make most sense to them, until the the limits of these become apparent.

yes, totally. i certainly wasn't born with clearly thought-out politcs or the ability to quote dauvé off the top of my head! posts like this aren't intended to have a go at the people or groups named, but to provoke critical thought; it was clear, rational criticism from comrades that has been (and continues to be) one of the main things driving my political develpment, i've had all sorts of crap politcs down the years embarrassed

i guess my hope is clarifying what we understand as communist politics clarifies how we should relate to various struggles, what elements we should promote, what elements we shoud reject, what kind of demands we should make or advocate making etc, as well as developing clear arguments for doing so.

Jason Cortez
Nov 18 2008 16:13

just a note, the Panthers in fact organised around practical action (the need for a road crossing) at the same time as drawing up their ten point program. They used both to build the Party. I think folks are always going to identify themselves in terms of affirmation to some extent, it's part of the process of gaining confidence.

Joseph Kay
Nov 18 2008 16:25
Jason Cortez wrote:
I think folks are always going to identify themselves in terms of affirmation to some extent, it's part of the process of gaining confidence.

this may be true, it's certainly widespread. but i think there's a difference between people doing something, however understandably, and us basing our politics on it. my argument is that communist activity should be centred on concrete material needs and that communist propaganda should be aimed at moving people away from the politics of affirmation, which lead to the leftist dead ends i listed in the blog.

no1
Nov 18 2008 23:53

How does this affirmation/negation criterion work for national liberation ? There's an interesting example re. the Iraqi resistance. In early 2004, oil workers were getting royally fucked by the US occupation who were using their military power to exacerbate exploitation, e.g. Bremer's ban of unions and slashing wages etc. After a 3 month struggle, the Basra oil workers threatened they'd join the armed resistance, and bingo, the minister of oil hurried to Basra and signed a big wage increase. Note how the oil company bosses but not the occupation authorities actually supported the workers' demands during the struggle. Would you have supported the oil workers if they had joined the resistance?
http://www.basraoilunion.org/2005/01/soc-workers-win-their-fight-for-higher.html

I've always been baffled by the general hostility on this site to anti-occupation and anti-colonial struggles. I think, if you live under a brutal occupation, you have every right to fight it by whatever means seem appropriate. Of course I understand the problems. I think your affirmation/negation criterion is useful for analysing the situation. The proponent of politics of affirmation would go something like "we're an oppressed nation and our people need to be free so let's free ourselves". Then after national 'liberation' has been achieved, the same people will go "rejoice, we're free now, hurray, btw. since we understand the needs of the nation so well we're your new boss", and continue similar economic relationships with the former occupier/coloniser. The proponent of politics of negation would say "we're fed up with foreign soldiers killing us, stealing our wealth, letting their companies exploit us, let's put an end to this relationship of enslavement" ; then after the anti-occupation/colonial struggle has been won they'd go "it's actually the relationship of enslavement we want to end, so let's get rid of the new boss class next".

I suppose the real problem with politics of affirmation is that, it seeks to maintain a group of people, previously defined by shared oppression, over which a new elite can rule. So what starts off as a rejection of oppression can seamlessly be transformed into acceptance of a new form of oppression. But with the politics of negation, once the oppressive relationship has been overcome, the previously oppressed group loses it's definition and you seek out another oppressive relationship to attack. See this for a current example(sorry - link to trot site): http://wsws.org/articles/2008/nov2008/obam-n17.shtml.

Quote:
...the Nation of Islam (who i'm not convinced played a positive role any more than Hezbollah do for providing hospitals)?

Well, the obvious example is Malcolm X, a young deliquent who became politicised in prison when reading their nutty theories about white devils that are the result of a failed experiment by black scientists, the natural rulers of the world. I think these theories are a good example of Nietzsche's slave morality, but they played an important positive role because they allowed blacks to question a reality of oppression that seemed natural to them - in the same way that capitalist exploitation seems natural to most workers - and to start analysing that oppression. Of course Malcolm X later went beyond that and regretted some of his actions as an NOI preacher: " I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then — like all [Black] Muslims — I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years. The sickness and madness of those days — I'm glad to be free of them." Of course, once he overcame these ideological limitations he became a dangerous political figure, and he was murdered shortly after.

Joseph Kay
Nov 19 2008 09:46
no1 wrote:
Note how the oil company bosses but not the occupation authorities actually supported the workers' demands during the struggle. Would you have supported the oil workers if they had joined the resistance?

i remember talking to Ewa J at the time, when i had far more muddled politics. iirc they threatened to go on 'armed strike' as opposed to 'joining the resistance', and blockaded the depot with fuel tankers, lying under them with lighters at the ready to show the coalition troops sent to strike-break that they were serious - a more graphic example of dauvé/marx's 'nothing to lose' is harder to imagine! now there definitely were/are nationalist elements to the basra oil union, but what is positive in it is the class basis, it would be an absolute tragedy to see workers fighting on a class terrain of strikes etc (armed or not) dragged into nationalist 'resistance' and the pointless cycle of slaughter it entails. communists should certainly argue against it, whist stressing support for class-based action, internationally if possible.

this relates to another point, class struggle is the only way to put an end to war; the basra oil workers have been a glimmer of hope in the absolute mess that Iraq is in at the moment, offering a means of struggle against the concrete policies of the bosses whatever their flag (a major spark for the struggle was the coalition re-appointing ba'athist - iraqi nationalist - bosses). this is true internationally; arguably the 2 train drivers who refused to move arms for the war were more significant than a million impotent 'not in my names.' similarly the class struggles in iran offer a perspective aside from supporting the militarily weaker nation 'against imperialism', which will be the rallying cry of many on the left if Iran is bombed (a retreating possibility it seems).

no1 wrote:
But with the politics of negation, once the oppressive relationship has been overcome, the previously oppressed group loses it's definition and you seek out another oppressive relationship to attack.

in response to 'national oppression'/imperialism, communists should not argue for national independence but against the very concept of nationhood as such. this may be unpopular, and we have to be careful how we go about it (pointing out the nationality of the boss guarantees nothing etc), but nationlism is a dead-end for the working class which offers us nothing but mutual slaughter. what i'm talking about as negation doesn't require an oppressive relationship at all, because it's about asserting our concrete material needs in the here and now, which is also the basis on which we hope to found a future society, 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.'

this is what i mean by "We determine for ourselves what it is we want not as 'the oppressed' but as human beings cut off from control of our lives, that is as proletarians" - we are affirming a humanity which doesn't yet exist; we will lose our definition as 'proletarians' under communism, that's the point, and we won't require another oppression to oppose in place of capital because we will have established a free humanity acting to meet its self-determined needs.

no1 wrote:
I think these theories are a good example of Nietzsche's slave morality, but they played an important positive role because they allowed blacks to question a reality of oppression that seemed natural to them - in the same way that capitalist exploitation seems natural to most workers - and to start analysing that oppression.

slave morality may be a 'natural' starting point for slaves, but as you acknowledge it must be gone beyond. i don't think it's a necessary 'stage of consciousness' or anything, any more than workers must first join Class War Federation before becoming communists. and we certainly, as libertarian communists should be making communist arguments; that the answer to racism is to abolish race, that the answer to exploitation is to abolish class etc.

no1
Nov 19 2008 16:01

Joseph K. wrote:

Quote:
slave morality may be a 'natural' starting point for slaves, but as you acknowledge it must be gone beyond. i don't think it's a necessary 'stage of consciousness' or anything, any more than workers must first join Class War Federation before becoming communists. and we certainly, as libertarian communists should be making communist arguments

I agree and I think it's very worthwhile to establish theoretical delineations that help formulating these political arguments. But... :

Quote:
it would be an absolute tragedy to see workers fighting on a class terrain of strikes etc (armed or not) dragged into nationalist 'resistance' and the pointless cycle of slaughter it entails.

Slaughter always seems pointless, but couldn't you say the same thing about, say, the Spanish civil war? I think when ordinary people take up arms, whether it is the Spanish civil war or Iraq, it is because they see it as a meaningful way to change the situation they find themselves in, regardless of the ideology used to justify the use of violence.

Quote:
in response to national oppression/imperialism, communists should not argue for national independence but against the very concept of nationhood as such. this may be unpopular, and we have to be careful how we go about it (pointing out the nationality of the boss guarantees nothing etc), but nationlism is a dead-end for the working class which offers us nothing but mutual slaughter. what i'm talking about as negation doesn't require an oppressive relationship at all, because it's about asserting our concrete material needs in the here and now, which is also the basis on which we hope to found a future society, 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.'
this is what i mean by "We determine for ourselves what it is we want not as 'the oppressed' but as human beings cut off from control of our lives, that is as proletarians" - we are affirming a humanity which doesn't yet exist; we will lose our definition as 'proletarians' under communism, that's the point, and we won't require another oppression to oppose in place of capital because we will have established a free humanity acting to meet its self-determined needs.

The fact is that, for example, the concrete material needs for Palestinians are affected by the blockade of fuel, the EU stopping food aid, Israeli incursions, collective punishment, checkpoints, etc. Being merely exploited by greedy bosses will seem like a much preferable state to be in. So what advice will you be giving them as a libertarian communist? If you're telling them that the important thing for them is to reject the very concept of nationhood they'll think you're mental, because that doesn't do anything for their concrete material needs. Also, I can't see why opposition to occupation is necessarily nationalist - since imperialism is a consequence of global capitalism, shouldn't it be possible to formulate a communist response that directly relates to people's concrete needs?

Since WW2, libertarian communism has been pretty irrelevant as a political movement that affects the course of history. I think this is because the major conflict has been between the core countries of capitalism and the periphery that needs to be integrated into the capitalist system and maintained in a subjugated status, in short imperialism. If what you're saying is right, then libertarian communism hasn't got anything to offer those in the periphery whose concrete material needs are primarily affect by imperialism/neocolonialism and only to a lesser extent by alienation. I don't find this satisfactory.
In fact, since we in the core countries are not in a position to put an end to imperialism and neocolonialism by overthrowing capitalism ourselves, I think it would be immoral and a violation of internationalist solidarity to tell proletarians in the periphery they shouldn't fight imperialism and neocolonialism.

I like the approach of taking people's concrete material needs as a point of departure for formulating political positions. In fact I think that only an ideology able of directly relating to these needs and showing a concrete way forward will find sufficient support to affect anything.

Joseph Kay
Nov 19 2008 16:55
no1 wrote:
Slaughter always seems pointless, but couldn't you say the same thing about, say, the Spanish civil war? I think when ordinary people take up arms, whether it is the Spanish civil war or Iraq, it is because they see it as a meaningful way to change the situation they find themselves in, regardless of the ideology used to justify the use of violence.

do you not see a distinction between workers defending a revolution and wars of national liberation? between an armed strike and joining al-sadr and co? between maknho and hezbollah? between workers fighting in their own interests and workers fighting 'for their country'? the ideology of nationalism serves the purpose of getting workers to die for 'their' country, by killing workers from other countries. imposing our needs on capital will provoke violent reactions, but this is an escalation of a struggle for our concrete material interests, not the pointless slaughter of dying for your nation. people may well see taking up arms for king and country, or allah, or whatever as "a meaningful way to change the situation they find themselves in", that doesn't mean communists should support it.

no1 wrote:
The fact is that, for example, the concrete material needs for Palestinians are affected by the blockade of fuel, the EU stopping food aid, Israeli incursions, collective punishment, checkpoints, etc. Being merely exploited by greedy bosses will seem like a much preferable state to be in. So what advice will you be giving them as a libertarian communist? If you're telling them that the important thing for them is to reject the very concept of nationhood they'll think you're mental, because that doesn't do anything for their concrete material needs. Also, I can't see why opposition to occupation is necessarily nationalist - since imperialism is a consequence of global capitalism, shouldn't it be possible to formulate a communist response that directly relates to people's concrete needs?

aside from the fact the words of a few communists for or against events half a world away are of little import, a libertarian communist approach is to encourage palestinian workers to act in their own interests, independent of their bourgeosie and the various gangsters vying for control, and to make as many links as possible with israeli workers. obviously this is very difficult in a situation of intense nationalism and factional allegiance, but things like statements of solidarity from say, israeli or palestinian teachers for their striking counterparts could begin to put proletarian internationalism into practice. i'm obviously not advocating flying in and berating everyone waving a palestinian flag; however it's clear that the national liberationist gangs of Hamas and Fatah (and lets not forget the zionist movement) offer the working class nothing but bloodshed.

no1 wrote:
Since WW2, libertarian communism has been pretty irrelevant as a political movement that affects the course of history. I think this is because the major conflict has been between the core countries of capitalism and the periphery that needs to be integrated into the capitalist system and maintained in a subjugated status, in short imperialism. If what you're saying is right, then libertarian communism hasn't got anything to offer those in the periphery whose concrete material needs are primarily affect by imperialism/neocolonialism and only to a lesser extent by alienation. I don't find this satisfactory.
In fact, since we in the core countries are not in a position to put an end to imperialism and neocolonialism by overthrowing capitalism ourselves, I think it would be immoral and a violation of internationalist solidarity to tell proletarians in the periphery they shouldn't fight imperialism and neocolonialism.

well there have been numerous post-war workers struggles of the kind i advocate in the first world, whether they self-identified as libertarian communist is neither here nor there; communism is a 'real movement' not a political one. there are also various ongoing class struggles in the 'peripheral' countries like Egypt and Bangladesh for example. i'm not saying imperialism shouldn't be opposed, but that you don't fight it by picking up an AK and shooting at economic conscripts (or highly paid mercenaries for that matter). in light of half a century of national liberation/anti-colonial struggles establishing nothing but the rule of capital via indiginous bourgeoisie and the IMF/WB in place of formal imperial rule and at great cost in bloodshed, it would be 'immoral and a violation of internationalist solidarity' to encourage other proletarians to tread this path.

i also don't think it's accurate to say third world proletarians are primarily subjugated by imperialism, and only secondarily by alienation. they are dispossessed, and the fact many of the policies that fuck them over originate from offices in Washington and not palaces in Cairo or Dhaka (or Lima or Jakarta...) is very much of secondary importance. there can be no such thing as national independence in a global capitalist world, it's an impossible goal to which national liberationists would sacrifice countless lives, against which libertarian communists should advocate class struggles on an international basis. we are a tiny minority of the class, we have very little influence and our ideas may well appear counter-intuitive to many, so therefore we have to give great thought as to how we express them. but i don't think we can go soft on national liberationists just because they're more popular than us, as they offer the class nothing but bloodshed and broken promises.

Boris Badenov
Nov 22 2008 00:05
Joseph K. wrote:
this may be true, it's certainly widespread. but i think there's a difference between people doing something, however understandably, and us basing our politics on it.

But if people do it anyway, isn't it going to affect their politics regardless of whether they are based on identity games or not?
It seems to me that people really have to give up the labelizing slave morality of leftism if they are to understand communism as it should be understood; you can't do both at once, and insofar as as label politics is "certainly widespread" (and I would argue that's an understatement), what chance do communist politics really have, realistically speaking?

Great post though. I really enjoyed it. I don't think Negri deserves to be lumped in with the leftists though; he's better than that, imo.

Joseph Kay
Nov 22 2008 01:44
Vlad336 wrote:
It seems to me that people really have to give up the labelizing slave morality of leftism if they are to understand communism as it should be understood; you can't do both at once, and insofar as as label politics is "certainly widespread" (and I would argue that's an understatement), what chance do communist politics really have, realistically speaking?

well, communist politics are very much in the minority at the moment. i think a lot of that relates to material circumstances (class defeat, a generational break in the culture of collective action etc), and a lot to the ideology which has grown out of those circumstances. however, we have our politics and have to make our arguments, and i think the climate is shifitng more favourably; i've had workmates telling me how they feel like they have no control over their lives or what they do at work, which is basically gilles dauvé's take on the proletarian condition! my hope is these admittedly abstract theoretical musings can be a small contribution to clarifying exactly what we mean by communist politics, how they differ from leftist ones, and most importantly what the practical/tactical/strategic implications are, so when we're having these discussions in the real world we're in a position to coherently put forward communist politics in plain english (for me at least, clarifying something on a more abstract level can help articulate particular concrete politics more easily, since once the underlying assumptions are understood arguments and tactics can be pitched accordingly).

Vlad336 wrote:
Great post though. I really enjoyed it. I don't think Negri deserves to be lumped in with the leftists though; he's better than that, imo.

glad you enjoyed it. the thing with negri is, while clearly being far more philosophically sophisticated than your average leftist, he does affirm the working class as an autonomous force against capital (see the aufheben article linked in the blog for some good quotes/analysis of this), and thus opens the way for all the 'self-valorisation' crap that to various degrees praises drop-out politics through to 'entrepreneurship inserted in a market' (bifo, iirc) as somehow anti-capitalist - all because capital comes to be understood as simply the imposition of command on autonomous labour ('Empire has a distinctly feudal character'), so getting rid of the boss through self-employment becomes 'anti-capitalist.' negri is not without his insights, and i've learned a lot from reading his and other stuff from that milieu, but mostly from critical engagement with it. his main problem is his inability to theorise defeat, which probably fits with a politics of affirmation which at least made some sense at the high point of the class struggle in 70s italy as the working class did somewhat autonomously impose its needs on capital. and in Empire he does suggest getting enough body piercings can prevent capital 'disciplining bodies for labour', which is possibly the worst reading of foucault's ideas on discipline i've ever seen tongue

tsi
Nov 22 2008 17:42

Fantastic blog. I think that this is a useful distinction and that it can help clarify a lot of what mires communists in countless hours of circular debate over the proletarian condition and things like "identity politics" and national-liberation movements. I would like to see some prop made that bears this distinction in mind.

Spikymike
Nov 23 2008 15:14

I agree almost 100% with Joseph's arguments here. Almost because I like to keep a bit of individuality while I search for a bit I don't agree with!

I think another part of 'leftist' poitics, as opposed to those of pro-revolutionary communists, which runs alongside the support for self-determination' of 'oppressed' groups is the historical link with the radical wing of capitalism in it's fight with the old fuedal order in which 'democracy' ( as well as nationalism) was the defining concept.

Thus even some of our most radical groups (such as Solidarity in Britain) 'communism' became to a large extent defined in terms of an extension of democracy or the establishment of real democracy or workers democracy, or self-management etc etc, confusing issues around the organisation of the class struggle (with these concepts still being problematical on this level) with the revolutionary destruction of capitalist social relationships and the development of truly human relationships.

We may live in a more integrated capitalist world today but modern capitalist forms are still emmerging in many parts of the world and the old 'radical' ideas still have some material basis.

Joseph Kay
Nov 23 2008 16:01
Spikeymike wrote:
I search for a bit I don't agree with

that's the spirit comrade, ruthless criticism cool

Spikeymike wrote:
I think another part of 'leftist' poitics, as opposed to those of pro-revolutionary communists, which runs alongside the support for self-determination' of 'oppressed' groups is the historical link with the radical wing of capitalism in it's fight with the old fuedal order in which 'democracy' ( as well as nationalism) was the defining concept.

i think you've got a good point here, and it adds a historical perspective that's completely absent from the blog. i've just been looking at an essay arguing 'multitude has to replace class', and the argument is an analogy to feudalism and for 'radical democracy of the multitude' (basically following negri/hardt, who return to spinoza, a founder of bourgeois liberalism to give it some philosophical meat. unnourishing mechanicaly reconstituted meat, but i digress). i can't really post up criticisms made of a draft essay by a friend of a friend i've seen in confidence, but i'll try and adapt them to more general fragments i can post up on here (btw i'm not an academic! a student comrade was asked to look at it and discussed it with me).

the analogy to feudalism and the return to spinoza certainly features heavily in the 'autonomist' stuff about 'the multitude' and 'the commons', as they affirm living labour against dead labour, capital is reduced to the rule of the boss (the 'law of command' replaces the law of value), and stuff like 'exiting' the capital relation into self-employment/co-ops, 'autonomous self-valorisation of living labour' is put forward as anticapitalist, when it's actually closer to the petit-bourgeois utopia of small independent businessmen of early bourgeois thought (e.g. Adam Smith). Paolo Virno even cites the american frontier as the model; workers 'exiting' wage labour to become independent landowners. A lot of this stuff is in the Aufheben critiques of Immaterial Labour and Paolo Virno's Multitude.

Joseph Kay
Sep 28 2009 21:47

this blog is now also available in Russian thanks to kotob.

Steven.
Sep 28 2009 22:57

You should put that in the library and just tagged with your name and "Russian", and whatever the word for Russian in Russian is...

Joseph Kay
Sep 28 2009 23:17
Steven.
Sep 28 2009 23:21

We should also stick up the Spanish translation of the Parecon debate at some point - it's in the e-mail account.

James MacBryde
Oct 30 2015 15:12

Negation of the negation

Quote:
Communist demands are those which stress the concrete material needs of the class (wage demands, universal healthcare etc, the length of the working day, through to a rejection of wage labour altogether!)

I object to the expression 'communist demands'. One, it is ambiguous. Does Mr Kay mean the demands that communists are making or the demands that communism is making? Let's assume the former as it would be ridiculous to think that communism itself could ask anything of anyone. In which case, I object to the examples he cites as 'communist'. These demands are not exclusive to 'communists'. The British Labour Party has never been communist yet has made all these demands at some point in its history with the exception of the last one, of which I'm certain many of its members would happily applaud.

James MacBryde
Oct 30 2015 16:51

Purely coincidently, you have come close in your 'blog' to one feature that does distinguish communism from the political, left-wing of the bourgeoisie. That feature is that communism makes no specific demands at all. It demands nothing but asserts all: it asserts itself.

Marx, in the manifesto of our party, did not say that communism, or communists demand universal and free public education for all children, he simply said that this would be one measure that would arise out of the course of the class struggle.

This is not a game, Mr Kay, and I suggest you find yourself an alternative career -- perhaps in the family business -- and leave the work of revolution to the professionals.

ocelot
Oct 30 2015 16:55
James MacBryde wrote:
This is not a game, Mr Kay, and I suggest you find yourself an alternative career -- perhaps in the family business -- and leave the work of revolution to the professionals.

Woo-hoo! We gotta live one here!

Khawaga
Oct 30 2015 17:51

Yeah,thank God we got some professional activists on this site, finally the revolution can begin.

And sorry to say Mr. Professional, your reading comprehension is rather limited if you actually believe that that is what JK argued.

plasmatelly
Oct 31 2015 09:59

I gotta thank Mr MacBride for resurrecting this thread and drawing my attention to it. I haven't come across this blog before, just want to say its the best bit of writing I've read for ages.

Joseph Kay
Oct 31 2015 10:28

I'm not sure how much I agree with this any more tbh. At least it seems like pro-negation/anti-affirmation is a bit simplistic.

So take class; affirming the work ethic/identification with your job can be conservative even when mobilised in e.g. a wage dispute. But affirming your solidarity, having each others' backs etc isn't (not necessarily anyway), and actually supports trying to change (i.e. negate) your condition.

Or with race; there's affirmations that see black cops, black mayors, black presidents as progress, and this clearly supports the existing structures. But there's the affirmation of saying 'black lives matter', which - given as race is about marking some people out as less-than-human - is at the same time negating white supremacy. (Affirming whiteness otoh is always going to be reactionary, for the same reasons - it reasserts the hierarchy of human/less-than-human).

So (some) affirmations and a politics of negation aren't necessarily opposed.

Spikymike
Oct 31 2015 19:02

Actually J.MacBryde is right to at least question the phrasing of material needs in terms of 'communist demands' when I'm presuming the text is rather just seeking to associate the latent communist potential of the collective working class struggle for material needs that are often expressed in terms of 'demands' in common parlance. Not sure why they then felt the need for the added dig at Joseph.

James MacBryde
Nov 1 2015 15:41

plasmatelly writes:

Quote:
I... just want to say its the best bit of writing I've read for ages.

Joseph Kay writes:

Quote:
I'm not sure how much I agree with this any more tbh.

Thank you for your honesty, Joseph.

James MacBryde
Nov 4 2015 13:37

ocelot writes:

Quote:
We gotta live one here!

Existence would be a better description of our current condition.

Khawaga writes:

Quote:
God we got some professional activists on this site

Just tell me who, and let me at 'em!

Spikymike:

Quote:
...at least question the phrasing of material needs in terms of 'communist demands' when I'm presuming the text is rather just seeking to associate the latent communist potential of the collective working class struggle for material needs that are often expressed in terms of 'demands' in common parlance.

Can someone translate: I am a simpleton?