questions on endnotes - a history of subsumption

21 posts / 0 new
Last post
Sewer Socialist's picture
Sewer Socialist
Offline
Joined: 7-09-15
Oct 7 2016 04:08
questions on endnotes - a history of subsumption

I don't understand Endnotes' rejection of Theorie Communiste's analysis of a periodization of subsumption, available at https://endnotes.org.uk/articles/6 as "The History of Subsumption" in Volume 2 - I tentatively disagree, but I don't entirely understand their logic, so it seems very possible I am missing something.

Their rejection seems to have two reasons: one, that subsumption solely applies to "the immediate production process". But what is the immediate production process? Industrial production? Why isn't reproduction an immediate production process; one which produces the commodity known as labor-power? Is it not an increase in the subsumption of labor when reproduction is also subsumed?

And the second rejection is that periodization can not be applied, since in some areas, real subsumption is only just beginning. But can there not be a general identification of a new era, a new tendency influenced by a higher level of subsumption, more areas being subsumed?

What is the implication of this? If this new phase - the death of programmatism - is not to be linked to subsumption, what is it to be linked to? Why is it important to disassociate it from subsumption? The article just sort of ends abruptly.

Just when I thought they were going to agree with TC, when Endnotes laid it all out in such a way that I agreed, they zig when I'm zagging.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 7 2016 14:47

Sewer Socialist,
You ask some good questions though not sure if any End Notes people post much on here.
I'm more at the Troploin end of communisation theory. I see Dauve is listed on your profile so you maybe familiar with their differences with TC but if not these are worth a read:
http://libcom.org/library/correspondence-between-parts-of-the-riff-raff-...
http://libcom.org/library/communisation
Also these are relevant to the discussion more generally:
http://libcom.org/library/notes-endnotes and
http://libcom.org/library/communisation-its-theorists-friends-classless-...
Others might find these linked texts of value even if you are familiar with them already.

'Internationalist Perspectives' are also worth exploring for a different take on the application of Marx's theory regarding the formal and real subsumption of labour to the modern world of global capitalism, though I have some differences with them also.

Craftwork's picture
Craftwork
Offline
Joined: 26-12-15
Oct 7 2016 16:57

RE: the immediate process of production

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/economic/

('Immediate' is also translated as 'direct')

Sewer Socialist's picture
Sewer Socialist
Offline
Joined: 7-09-15
Oct 7 2016 20:07

to clarify what i'm trying to figure out, do i properly understand the two positions? am i rejecting the position of endnotes because i do not understand it, or do i understand their argument properly, but reject it?

Tom Henry
Offline
Joined: 26-09-16
Oct 8 2016 05:23

There is, as I see it, a lot of confusion amongst those who discuss Marx’s idea of formal and real subsumption of labour or what could equally be termed the formal and real domination of capital. Below I am hoping to offer a simple way into these concepts that instead of creating more ambiguity and muddle, gives us an opportunity to use these concepts effectively in our perception and critique of the world around us and the history we inhabit. (I have not backed up my argument with copious texts and quotes and page references because I don’t want them to get in the way of what is intended to be a simple exegesis – but I am happy to provide pointers to the bases of my argument).

Most recognise that Marx is describing a transition between two distinct phases of capitalism.

The first, the formal phase is the domination of labour by proto-capitalists who in the main are extracting absolute surplus value from their workforces. It is important to understand that these emergent capitalists understand the sense of re-investing in an enterprise in order to enable its expansion. These entrepreneurs, who formed economic movements, demonstrated the understanding that all businesses must expand or die. This was a crucial development in history because it also followed the logic of the State – a phenomenon that must also expand or die. The marriage of this understanding of business and the maintenance of States is part of the revolution of the ‘modern’ era.

The second, real phase of domination of labour occurs when the emergent capitalists as a whole, indeed society as a whole, recognises that in order for business to grow it must move from the acquisition of absolute surplus value to wealth generated by relative surplus value.

(Because this recognition of factors that influence economic gain is a phenomenon outside of philosophical musings or political ambition it did not constitute an ‘ideology’ as such at the time, it ‘only’ - more importantly, of course - changed the way people lived their lives. It took an astute and lucky philosopher and historian, Karl Marx, to uncover the real significance of this change, but he was only able to do it much later.)

It is the notion of relative surplus value that is consistently either misunderstood or neglected in accounts of the transition from formal to real domination of labour. What must be understood, in my opinion, is that the economic sphere several hundred years ago saw a great deal of people who directed enterprises becoming aware (for various reasons, including the rise of Protestantism, or the work ethic) that businesses had to expand or they would die. These people then searched for better ways of expanding businesses and increasing profits. The most obvious way of doing this is to make workers work harder and longer – and this results in an increase in, what Marx termed, absolute surplus value. However, many people realised that if techniques involving the production process could be improved along with developments in the technology used to produce commodities then more profits could be made within the same amount of labour time – this is what Marx describes as acquiring relative surplus value. This is, as Marx insists, the revolution of capitalism.

It is only by understanding the importance of this change – the change from exploiting labour via methods that acquire absolute surplus value, to exploiting labour via methods that acquire relative surplus value (getting more out of people for the same amount of time, or less, and the same amount of effort, or less) – that we can understand why the modern era is represented by a sudden and explosive development of technology. As the practice of finding ways to increase profit and wealth via the methods needed to extract relative surplus value became the common driving force in societies then more and more people who were able to live from the increase of wealth were inexorably driven to create technology and processes that would increase production levels and capabilities. This is why the steam engine was invented. This is why the world now has nanotechnology. This is why we see apparent revolutions in technology and organisation so often (for me, by the way, these revolutions only seem to deepen misery and escalate boredom, even though they may extend life for some, and provide them with the amusement of computer games).

It was not, therefore, some mysterious magical alchemy that gave rise to the Industrial Revolution and the incredible technological advances that we have seen: it was the result of the process by which relative surplus value could be extracted from labour. So, for me, until I realised the significance of the fact of the process by which relative surplus value is acquired I was unable to explain why capitalism was really any different to any other form of economy or exploitation, and I was stuck within a narrative that could not explain the sudden rise of technology and the Industrial revolution.

So, the period of the real subsumption of labour is that in which society, as a whole, walks to the tune of relative surplus value. When humans enter this phase they have, to use Jacques Camatte’s concept, become domesticated by the economic process.

Libcom has discussed formal and real subsumption before:

https://libcom.org/forums/thought/formal-real-subsumption-28012008

But nowhere in this discussion is there any examination of relative surplus value, despite Marx insisting on “the crucial importance of relative surplus value” in the discussion of the concept of the formal and real subsumption of labour [Capital Volume 1, page 1023, original emphasis, Penguin edition, 1976 – ‘Results of the Immediate Process of Production’].

Real subsumption is neither as simple nor as vague as Revol68 described in https://libcom.org/forums/thought/formal-real-subsumption-28012008. A definition that was endorsed by the thread:

“In formal subsumption old forms of production are assimilated into the circuits of capital ie peasants producing for and being paid by capitalists, whilst real subsumption is when the very processes of production are transformed by capital ie modern factory farming.”

While absolute and relative surplus value are discussed by groups such as Endnotes and Theorie Communiste, and the other groups mentioned by Spikeymike, there is no genuine connection made between the idea of the formal and real subsumption of labour and the core motor of capitalism: the extraction of relative surplus value. Even Jacques Camatte misses the simple importance of relative surplus value, although he uses Marx well to describe what our lives are now like under capitalism.

In the quote below from Endnotes (taken from the article linked to by Sewer Socialist: https://endnotes.org.uk/articles/6) we can see how torturous their attempts are to come to grips with what Marx is saying.

Quote:
“In “Results of the Direct Production Process” (hereafter Results) Marx associates the categories of formal and real subsumption very closely with those of absolute and relative surplus-value.11We can identify more specifically what distinguishes real from formal subsumption in terms of these two categories.
“Formal subsumption remains merely formal precisely in the sense that it does not involve capital’s transformation of a given labour process, but simply its taking hold of it. Capital can extract surplus value from the labour process simply as it is given — with its given productivity of labour — but it can do so only insofar as it can extend the social working day beyond what must be expended on necessary labour. It is for this reason that formal subsumption alone could only ever yield absolute surplus value: the absoluteness of absolute surplus value lies in the fact that its extraction involves an absolute extension of the social working day — it is a simple quantity in excess of what is socially necessary for workers to reproduce themselves.12
“The subsumption of the labour process under the valorisation process of capital becomes “real” insofar as capital does not merely rest with the labour process as it is given, but steps beyond formal possession of that process to transform it in its own image. Through technological innovations and other alterations in the labour process, capital is able to increase the productivity of labour. Since higher productivity means that less labour is required to produce the goods which the working class consumes, capital thereby reduces the portion of the social working day devoted to necessary labour, and concomitantly increases that devoted to surplus labour. The relativity of relative surplus value lies in the fact that the surplus part of the social working day may thus be surplus relative to a decreasing necessary part, meaning that capital may valorise itself on the basis of a given length of social working day — or even one that is diminished in absolute length.13 The production of relative surplus-value, and the real subsumption through which this takes place, are driven by the competition between capitals: individual capitalists are spurred on to seize the initiative by the fact that, while the value of commodities is determined by the socially necessary labour-time for their production, if they introduce technological innovations which increase the productivity of labour, they will be able to sell commodities at a price above their “individual value”.14 “ [The History of Subsumption, Endnotes 2]

Instead of looking more directly at what the extraction of absolute and relative surplus value consists of, they sink into an attempt to define words and terms in order to give some indication that they know what they are talking about. However, and please forgive me for my apparent harshness, a prudent reader will, I think, come away from this quote (indeed the whole article) with the suspicion that Endnotes in fact do not understand what they are attempting to explain. However, it should also be noted that Theorie Communiste and all those (as far as I am aware) who have tried to explain to us the meaning of real subsumption have failed to get to the point, so they are in respectable company.

The fact of the matter, it seems to me, is that to understand these things we need to understand how it was that capitalism emerged. But this is not as complex as the endless reading list some will provide indicates… it rests on discovering the significance of what Marx said about relative surplus value.

I hope to add something on the notion of the recent conclusions on ‘programmatism’ (a formulation shared by Endnotes, Theorie Communiste and the likes of Maoist Alain Badiou and possibly even Slavoj Zizek, despite his forthright ‘Jacobinism’) another time.

Sewer Socialist's picture
Sewer Socialist
Offline
Joined: 7-09-15
Oct 9 2016 01:03

well, can we take a look at the changes in the reproduction of the proletariat? with inventions such as washing machines and microwaves (and microwave dinners) as well as in forms of entertainment such as television and movies, could we also identify a that we have experienced real subsumption in the reproductive sector, though not at the same time as the generally accepted beginning of real subsumption in industrial production?

it seems like these innovations have been part of the commoditization of many aspects of daily life over the last half century or so. i realize that this might not seem to directly line up with the concept of surplus value - there is no value involved in unpaid reproductive labor - but reproductive labor is an inalienable part of the process of selling labor power. workers are not actually paid for the products of their labor, but for their labor-power, which must be daily reproduced.

to quote endnotes, "The difference between paid/unpaid on the one side, and waged/unwaged on the other is blurred by the form of the wage, by what we must name the wage fetish. The wage itself is not the monetary equivalent to the work performed by the worker who receives it, but rather the price for which a worker sells their labour-power, equivalent to a sum of value that goes one way or another into the process of their reproduction, as they must reappear the next day ready and able to work. However, it appears that those who work for a wage have fulfilled their social responsibility for the day once the workday is over. What is not paid for by the wage appears to be a world of non-work. Therefore, all “work” appears to be paid tautologically as that which is work, since one does not appear to get paid for that which one does when not “at work”. However, it is imperative to remember that Marx demonstrated that no actual living labour is ever paid for in the form of the wage."

or is there a better (or additional) phenomenon to explain the social / cultural shift around 1968 - 1973? how better to explain the material basis of the "social factory"?

Tom Henry
Offline
Joined: 26-09-16
Oct 9 2016 23:42

I am going to move my post #5 to the more direct discussion on formal and real subsumption: https://libcom.org/forums/thought/formal-real-subsumption-28012008 - but I will leave it here too.

I think that although my post is deeply relevant to the discussion here begun by Sewer Socialist (SS), I also realise that I have not directly addressed SS’s original question, so this is what I will attempt to do here, but really briefly.

The ‘problem’ with the periodisations of formal and real subsumption that TC put forward and Endnotes cautiously reject is that both the support for and rejection of the claims that real subsumption are based upon constitute a misapprehension of Marx’s definition of real subsumption.

The claim of TC that the period of real subsumption of labour emerged between 1914 to 1968 can be immediately questioned by referring to the fact that if this is the case then how was Marx able to describe such phenomena decades before its appearance?

TC note that the period of “real subsumption is a transformation of society and not of the labour process alone” [from the Endnotes article], and in this they are surely agreeing with Marx. However, because they say that this began in 1914 they are implying that Marx came up with the concept without recourse to what he saw occurring around him. For TC then Marx’s idea of the real subsumption of labour is a massive feat of prophecy.

Why do they travel this theoretical line?

The reason is, I think, that they feel the need to salvage the failure of the ‘workers’ movement,’ with its parties and leaders, from the ‘accusation’ that it was always doomed to failure. So, what they now say is that there was a time for the workers’ movement but that time is now gone. It is also really important to note that when they (TC and Endnotes) are arguing this (see ‘Communisation and its Discontents,’ B. Noys) they are also arguing that the ‘transitional state’ was once a viable strategy but is not now.

When TC et al use the term programmatism they are referring directly to the establishment of the Transitional State – that is the seizure of the old State apparatus in order to facilitate the emergence of communism through education and the ramping up of production. TC – like Alain Badiou – now argue that although that was once a reasonable strategy it is not now and, instead, the ‘revolutionary party’ should not ‘seize power’ in a Jacobinist fashion but dismantle it in favour of universal direct democracy – i.e., don’t have a transitional state – go straight to what they term ‘communisation.’ This, of course, is what some anarchists said all along.

Although Endnotes seem to reject the idea of a period of real subsumption from the theoretical offices of TC they do not make a good case for it. This is why we might be confused by their position, and why it is hard to understand what they are getting at. If Endnotes are keen to do away with the “historical concept of subsumption,” as they write, then they are not rejecting TC so much as rejecting the concept of the transition within the rise of capitalism between the acquisition of absolute surplus value to the really, fully developed, capitalist acquisition of relative surplus value.

The transition to a society in which the real subsumption of labour became dominant and inevitably world-conquering occurred long before 1914.

The other thing that is happening with TC and Endnotes - and the Maoist Alain Badiou - is that they are all (secretly?) realising that the anarchist objection to the transitional state was probably correct. But they do not want to abandon the marxism that facilitated the transitional state (in the USSR etc), and they also don’t want to be forced to admit that they are just repeating the anarchist line, as if they are admitting that the anarchists were right all along.

Who do we hate more than the Romans?:

As Rosa Luxembourg said in 1906 when she worked out that the General Strike was a good idea but, since it was tinged with anarchism, decided to call it the Mass Strike:

Quote:
“Anarchism has become in the Russian Revolution [of 1905],
not the theory of the struggling proletariat, but the ideological signboard
of the counterrevolutionary lumpenproletariat, who, like a school of
sharks, swarm in the wake of the battleship of the revolution” [Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, 1906].

And as Alain Badiou says today, in a very distinct echo of the concept of communisation:

Quote:
“We know today that all emancipatory politics must put an end to the
model of the party, or of multiple parties, in order to affirm a politics
‘without party,’ and yet at the same time without lapsing into the figure of
anarchism, which has never been anything else than the vain critique, or
the double, or the shadow, of the communist parties, just as the black flag
is only the double or the shadow of the red flag” [Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis, 2010].

Yes, we live now in age of washing machines and non-work, but this is the logical progression from the time when the extraction of relative surplus value became the logos of society – the advent of the real subsumption of labour was always the time when society was transformed. It was the reason that Marx was able to say that even the bourgeoisie were proletarian:

Quote:
“The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence” [Marx, The Holy Family,1845].

Sewer Socialist's picture
Sewer Socialist
Offline
Joined: 7-09-15
Oct 10 2016 00:02
Quote:
Although Endnotes seem to reject the idea of a period of real subsumption from the theoretical offices of TC they do not make a good case for it. This is why we might be confused by their position, and why it is hard to understand what they are getting at.

Yes, I think you're right. I don't quite understand TC's position, but I understand Endnotes' even less.

That said, I think TC & Endnotes aren't afraid that abandoning the "transitional state" is to abandon marxism. I think they take the Lukacsian position - that marxism is a real science, and that what constitutes marxism isn't a political program, but analyses (or, even more open, just a method or methods of analysis); these analyses might allow the construction of a particular program and criticize another without being unmarxist. I think their conception of the DoTP as revolution is marxist enough - negation of the negation, right? You could definitely say that they want to retain Marxist language for one reason or another, but I don't think they're being unmarxist, really.

Anyway, is the position of TC position salvagable, if you throw out the names of the periodization? The names are surely a misnomer - I think they do not really intend to imply that there only existed formal subsumption before 1914.

That is, are the periods roughly 1848 - 1914, and 1914 - 1968 attributable to subsumption, if we recognize that subsumption is an ongoing process? The precise years aren't particularly important to me here, but I think they're trying to identify the years where the phenomenon had its most visible mark on society.

While marx saw formal and real subsumption during his life, surely he didn't see the end of it? It seems that he saw it in some industries, sure. But as it is a process that happens unevenly, couldn't formal subsumption have continued to 1914? Instead of understanding 1914 to be the beginning of real subsumption, can't it be understood as the end of formal subsumption in industry? And again in 1968, can it be said that relations of work (this time, outside industry, and possibly in the sphere of reproduction) had been subsumed again that a new period might be identified?

In other words, can it be said an increased level of real subsumption had managed to transform society again in such a way that daily life (outside the workplace) was itself reproducing bourgeois society in ways that daily life was not in previous times, including reproductive labor as well as mass-produced entertainment - "the spectacle"? Or is it better to identify this trend with another phenomenon than subsumption?

And thanks for the explanations - I feel like I have a much better grasp on the concept. I'm still not sure if I understand the point of the identification of subsumption, so I'm kind of throwing a position out there that I'm not quite sure about. It seems like the subsumption of reproductive labor might be linked to this periodization, but I also feel like I might be overreaching here. It also seems possible that multiple phenomena are at work here.

Tom Henry
Offline
Joined: 26-09-16
Oct 10 2016 05:54

Yes, the genius of Marx here was to identify the fact that capitalism rests entirely on the acquisition of relative surplus value. He identified that the Western economy had entered that mature phase of capitalism - the phase, in fact that makes capitalism capitalism. He saw that it altered society in such a way that all citizens of that society now reproduced not a human society but an inhuman or anti-human society, a society that reproduced labour power and value to the exclusion of all else. Previous State societies – for example, mediaeval society – did not demonstrate such an anti-human quality because, despite the bloodshed and tyranny, people were regarded as humans, not as commodities. If the dreadful philosopher, Stephen Pinker is right (and, counter-intuitively, he actually is right) that the levels of violence have dramatically lowered in the modern age per capita, then we can conclude that the most inhuman society is also the most peaceful. And as Marx noted, not even the ruling class of his time escaped the fact that they served capital rather than their own selfish interests, or rather, if they refused to re-invest and improve production methods and preferred to squander their cash and live like the old style nobility then they were soon to lose their power.

Those who indicate that Western humans are now more colonised, as it were, by capital than they were in 1914 because of such things as the consumer society are really noting two possibilities. Firstly, that the only way to smash capitalism is to revolt against boredom. Secondly, that humans may be so deeply embedded within the logos of capital, or rather that the logos of capital is so deeply embedded within them, that any solution they come up with, such as revolting against boredom, will be another solution that extends and deepens the reach and success of capital. But they are also wrong to think, if they do, that humans are more deeply capitalised now than before, because the lessons of the ructions around the First World War are that the workers tried to self-manage their exploitation as workers rather than to abandon work. They had no choice in this, of course. They lived in a mass society, as do we. What else could they do? Capital, to personify it, is clever: it leaves no space for an alternative. Although the communisers say that there is now no need to have a transitional state, or a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ they would be forced to institute these things because they would emerge as the revolutionary experts and they would realise that people, particularly the agricultural sector, need educating, just like they did under Stalin, and just as Marx and Engels argued in their analysis of the ‘obstacle’ of the peasantry (see The Marx-Engels Reader, 1987, p543). As TC wrote in 2011:

Quote:
“The essential question which we will have to solve is to understand how we extend
communism […] how we integrate agriculture so as not to have to
exchange with farmers” [Théorie Communiste, 'Communization in the Present Tense', in B. Noys, 'Communization and its Discontents']

And here we get onto the ground Jacques Camatte opened up. If capital transformed humans so long ago (except maybe for the ‘peasantry’!), tamed them, domesticated them and made them believe that there was no alternative to labour, no alternative to work, and that, as Marx stressed, humans are the labouring animals, then just how is it that these same humans are going to overthrow capitalism – and how are the ‘revolutionaries’ going to inspire them, apart from making vague and amorphous ideological (that is, in Marxian terms, “unscientific”) appeals to the masses like every other salvationist political party or religious cult?

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 10 2016 12:58

Briefly in reflecting on SS's and TH's last 2 posts.........There are to my mind some connections between the approach of Camatte and that of Internationalist Perspective in IP's extended application of Marx's 'Formal/Real' analysis, but perhaps because they do concentrate precisely on the distinction between the extraction of absolute and relative surplus value in their examination of the historical development of capitalist economic crisis at a global level, they identify some 'objective' reasons why it is at least conceivable that the tendencies towards 'domestication' are reversible in some circumstances. Can we really say that 'society' at a global level has so completely subsumed labour that there is no escape short, as some Nihilist Communists would have it, of an ecological catastrophe sending humanity back to square one in our evolution? Like others IP are a prisoner of their previous attachment to the Left Communist fixation on the historic significance of 1914 to the old Labour movement rather than global conditions. Even now we have to recognise that the real domination of capital is still not a reality for everyone in the globe even if it is arguably the dominant form of capitalism influencing everyone indirectly through imperialist competition.

slebowitz
Offline
Joined: 11-02-12
Oct 10 2016 21:51

Hi,

Check out the long article in Endnotes 4 on the history of the labor movement:

The History of Separation

There is a long discussion of the TC periodization around formal and real subsumption, and an attempt to break new ground in the debate. I would be curious what you all think:

Quote:
In this article, we begin from what we consider to be the grain of truth in TC’s distinction between formal and real subsumption. Rather than two phases, we argue that their distinction roughly corresponds to two aspects of the world in which the workers movement unfolded. The first “formal” aspect had to do with the persistence of the peasantry — extended here to include the persistence of old regime elites whose power was based in the countryside — as a kind of outside to the capitalist mode of production. This outside was in the process of being incorporated into capitalist social relations, but this incorporation took a long time. The second, “real” aspect was the “development of the productive forces”, that is, cumulative increases in labour productivity and the accompanying transformations, both of the productive apparatus and of the infrastructure of capitalist society, on which it relies.

the text continues:

Quote:
However, the concepts of formal and real subsumption are inadequate to the task of explaining the history of the workers’ movement. The two aspects of the movement that these concepts vaguely describe are not distinct periods, which could be precisely dated, but rather unfold simultaneously, much like the formal and real subsumption of the labour process itself. Nonetheless TC’s periodisation of communism remains close to our own. The key periodising break, for us as for TC, begins in the mid 1970s. The two aspects of the workers movement which we have described were both radically transformed in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Very best,
SL

Sewer Socialist's picture
Sewer Socialist
Offline
Joined: 7-09-15
Oct 11 2016 00:19

ok, so they do think there is something salvageable in what TC wrote on the topic. that wasn't really made clear in their critique, which was confusing.

thanks - i'm reading endnotes in order right now, 1-4, so i'll read that after i finish 3.

Tom Henry
Offline
Joined: 26-09-16
Oct 16 2016 10:56

Build the B Ark! (It might make sense later!  )

I don’t think that the transition from the formal to the real subsumption of labour ‘unfold simultaneously’, as Endnotes claim. And I don’t think that formal and real subsumption ‘of the labour process itself’ unfold simultaneously either. I think this analytical reading reveals that Endnotes are not getting the point that the transformation of society from a society of human labourers (as Marx would have it, since he thought that the defining feature of the human animal was its natural instinct to labour) to a society of commodity labourers – through the emergence of the trick of acquiring relative surplus value – is the crucial turning point in modern history. Yes, it should be considered that some sectors of labour were still under formal subsumption, but it should not deflect from the point that Marx was trying to indicate: which was that once the acquisition of relative surplus value was a societal motor then real subsumption had occurred. In basic terms this is really where Marx and Weber work together to describe the modern age – the Protestant Ethic became the ideology of the acquisition of relative surplus value, even though this fact has largely gone unrecognised. Indeed, even though the bourgeoisie were probably unaware of their immersion in a new ideology. Remembering that the quest to create relative surplus value is the revolutionary refinement of the concept of re-investment in enterprises.

The real subsumption of labour did not occur in the 1970’s, what occurred then was a development which established what we now can see: which is that those in essential productive, in contrast to reproductive, work, are so reduced in numbers that they are almost invisible. Production happens elsewhere and Western pro-revolutionaries are left to rely on teachers (and other managers) to halt the economy (lol) or wonder whether they should pack their bags, learn Mandarin, and head to China. When once many of us radical types had jobs in factories or in distribution networks (or at least knew people who did) etc, we now are either unemployed, or working in service industries such as cafes, or as managers and experts in schools, universities, info technology, etc. But lo! It seems that times have already moved beyond this juncture – the expulsion of our bodies from productive labour has ended, in practise, in our final, our last resort demand – not for the end of work but for its return:

Quote:
The dehumanising effect upon individuals of the processive expulsion of labour, as the Deliveroo and Uber drivers seem to demonstrate, is also the reason that it may have become necessary to subjectively defend work. http://insipidities.blogspot.com.au/2016/08/letter-to-unknown-car-valet.html#more

So what we have with Endnotes (and TC) is not a history of formal and real subsumption as it applies to the labour process, but a history of how they imagine workers have responded to their situation within capitalist society. In fact, though, what we really see is not how proletarians are responding. What we actually receive through the texts of the communisers is a reflection only of how they are responding to a situation they are trying to understand in order to be able to say something effective (a leadership impulse). But our understanding (this is a general philosophical point) always comes after the fact. They have used these terms (formal and real subsumption), basically, to describe a period when it seemed ‘sensible’ to pursue the program of a workers’ movement (programmatism), even though, as they argue, history has shown this to have not been viable, and a period (culminating in the present era, as they would have it) when the workers’ movement is patently an historic artefact. Thus the political experts of the far and libertarian left seem as lost as ever. But at least they are now beginning to see how the solutions of the long-distant past were no such thing.

The problem with this, as anarcho-syndicalists, amongst many others, for example Terry Eagleton, and TC as noted above, might argue, is that the revolution is still about taking over production and managing it in the interests of ‘the people.’ Even Endnotes state that revolution is not possible without the reality or imminent potential reality of global abundance (Marx’s ‘realm of necessity’). This means having a program, up one’s sleeve at least, of self-management. What if everyone just buggers off to go long term camping after the revolution (of course they won’t because their work ethic is who they are)? The problem with self-management is that, in fact, self-management soon becomes management by experts who think they know best, as happened in the period 1917-21 in Russia. Even those who are most representative of the labourist ideology of self-management, such as the Kronstadter’s, will be shot down like partridges if they refuse to follow the experts’ plan. For an unexpected and illuminating take on the position of those in Kronstadt in 1921, which also includes discussion of the topic of formal and real subsumption, see: http://insipidities.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/the-ineluctable-im-stepping-through_19.html

The other thing that needs to be made clear is that the position of TC and Endnotes reflects the position of Alain Badiou, the Maoist – and this is significant, if not another lol moment. There are plenty of recent texts available online in which his viewpoint on the party and the transitional state – ie programmatism – are explained by him. This should make us worry about what communisation (the abandonment of the program of the transitional state and the party) really consists of. If one reads The Foundation Pit by Andrey Platonov one can learn about the reality of communisation in practice. We are, as the nihilist communists always said, stuck in a Leninist Loop. The task we have before us is to escape this loop. But no one can tell us how to do it, because no one knows. Life is not as easy or as straight-forward as I thought it was when I was young (lol….).

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 17 2016 11:11

Some random comments on the above...
Although the composition and distribution of the global working class has changed radically since Marx's day and further since the first world war it seems an exaggeration to suggest that ''those in essential production, in contrast to reproductive work are so reduced in numbers that they are almost invisible'' even in the so-called 'western world' and even if 'logistics workers' are incorrectly removed from the productive category.
Not convinced a phase of workers self-management under the conditions of global capitalism need necessarily or inevitably be permanently derailed by the imposition of rule by capitalism's management experts. Maybe TH is expressing an irrational fear here of 'specialisms' more generally irrespective of the material and social conditions in which they are reproduced. There are more problems with self-management and it's ideology than this and maybe it is anyway just necessary to 'live though the struggle' to have any possibility of moving on?
As an aside looked at from a different angle, that of working class conditions within capitalism rather than a means of 'building socialism within the shell of capitalism' etc, it seems 'programitism' in it's various social-democratic forms was ''viable''.

Tom Henry
Offline
Joined: 26-09-16
Oct 17 2016 12:47

Hi Spikeymike,
A couple or three of things. First I'd like to know what you think of my explication of relative surplus value above. Secondly I am curious as to why you suggest I am expressing an 'irrational fear of specialisms' - I take this to mean that I am being stupid/hysterical, but I also don't quite understand what you mean. Thirdly, I am intrigued by your notion of 'living though the struggle', since I am now to old to do that, as indeed I would suggest anyone alive right now is too.
All the best, my good friend.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 17 2016 14:01

TH,
Certainly don't think you are stupid since you seem to have a better grasp than I of some aspects of the fault lines in EN/TC's use of a Formal/Real analysis (which I have been reading/discussing with some others off-line), but the NC's team (and you?) seem to display an underlying view of communism as viable only on the basis of a reversion to simpler forms of social organisation implicit in the reverse notion of historical progress put forward in opposition to some mechanical Marxists - maybe I'm wrong about that. The 'living through' comment was just a reference back to the bogspot link concluding sentences leading up to the ''..all other destinations have to be exhausted..'' since I'm baffled as to what that means in practice if not all those efforts that are otherwise condemned as inevitably doomed by their own intrinsic nature.
I struggle with the very abstract content of NH's contribution to 'Insipidities' that I've not read for while though your contributions here are better.
Still working through some of this stuff.

Tom Henry
Offline
Joined: 26-09-16
Oct 18 2016 06:49

Spikeymike,
It's unfair to accuse someone of being irrational without putting a good case as to why. I also think it is odd that instead of keeping to the theme of the thread you choose to attempt to publicly devalue what I am saying by reference to something unrelated that you presume I think, despite the proviso of 'I may be wrong,' and despite, much more importantly and ironically, saying I may have a better grasp of the theme of the thread! Effectively I now have nothing left to say here, since in order to 'prove myself,' I would have to answer your ideas about what you think I think about other things. You are, for the record, incorrect in your evaluation of what I think about the viability of communism, but that discussion (which would be really interesting) is not for this thread.
I am a bit disappointed by this. If SS wants to continue discussion with me then pm me.
Send my regards to Khawaga!
TH

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 18 2016 09:11

TH, Perhaps I assumed more agreement with some of the 'Nihilist Communist' approach than was warranted. But don't go off in a huff, others would still be interested in the so far two way discussion with SS - promise to keep a low profile on this thread if you do!

Khawaga's picture
Khawaga
Offline
Joined: 7-08-06
Oct 18 2016 14:34

This is an interesting thread. Hopefully I'll have time to post something here later because I strongly disagree with TC's use of formal and real subsumption as a periodization of history. Formal and real subsumption is something very specific to labour and I'd say that the process of subsuming labour is something that is ongoing with reference to particular types of concrete labour. For example, only recently has esports become formally subsumed as labour; moreover, I think it is hard to talk about, for example, creative labour (of the culture industry) being really subsumed given that the way in which culture is produced is often (but not always) conducted in the same way as 150 years ago.

jesuithitsquad's picture
jesuithitsquad
Offline
Joined: 11-10-08
Oct 18 2016 22:50
khawaga wrote:
I think it is hard to talk about, for example, creative labour (of the culture industry) being really subsumed given that the way in which culture is produced is often (but not always) conducted in the same way as 150 years ago.

I've somehow managed to never think about this before and it's an interesting observation I'd love to see flushed out more. Any suggested readings by chance?

Also just to add, Tom Henry's contributions have been thought provoking and I do hope they stick around. That said, I didn't read malice into spikymike's comments, but it's likely I don't understand all the interpersonal issues involved.

Khawaga's picture
Khawaga
Offline
Joined: 7-08-06
Oct 19 2016 14:26

jesuithitsquad, IIRC the textbook The Culture Industries (or maybe the title is The Cultural Industries) by David Hesmodhalgh discusses how creative labour is, for all intents and purposes, unchanged. There are more texts on this topic, but I can't remember any titles at the moment.