Autonom(ous)(ist) Marxism - Half baked anarcho-syndicalism?

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omar
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Jun 1 2009 03:36
Autonom(ous)(ist) Marxism - Half baked anarcho-syndicalism?

The background to this post is that as part of a graduate school course on "advanced problems on social theory"; i've been investigating the autonomous marxism of negri et al in italy. the primary texts i've been using are negri's pamphlets like domination and sabotage in "books for burning"; "marx beyond marx" and the stuff available on the net, particularly on libcom. secondarily i've been using wright's excellent "storming heaven" and lumley's "states of emergency" to ground the work. i should also note that the excellent "black flame -the revolutionary class politics of anarchism" vol.1 has been immensely influential on my thinking lately; especially it's chapter on the relation between anarchism and marxism.

i'm now finalising my first draft and have reached a tentative conclusion that autonomous marxism, from tronti's strategy of refusal all the way up to hardt and negri's empire and multitude is really a kind of half-baked anarcho-syndicalism. i'm interested to hear other people's thoughts>>> but heres a vague (half-baked) outline of mine.

self-valorisation-people develop autonomous needs and desires incompatible with capital.
vs. chomskyan anarchism-fundamental desire for creativity and cooperation that could originate in mental organisation of the brain.

social factory-through the circulation of commodities capital dominates the world of reproduction, housework, culture, education, identity are all terrains of struggle.
vs. anarcho-communism-all labour is inherently immeasurable and collective, thus the necessity for communes not factory socialism

strategy of refusal-refusing to participate in reformist struggles that merely ameliorated exploitation and the use of forms of struggle that refuse the logic of capitalism
vs. anarcho-syndicalism- natural evolution of social movements who practice this strategy to a whole class that can act this strategy at a global level.

class recomposition-founding the revolutionary unity and consciousness of the proletariat on the material conditions which they live and work and seeking to change those through struggle.
vs. prefigurative politics-integrating people with the values of communism through their actual lived experience of those values. i.e. one big union prefiguring co-operation in production.

thoughts, comments, hints, clues?

Angelus Novus
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Jun 1 2009 06:18
omar wrote:
i'm now finalising my first draft and have reached a tentative conclusion that autonomous marxism, from tronti's strategy of refusal all the way up to hardt and negri's empire and multitude is really a kind of half-baked anarcho-syndicalism.

I'm going to get into trouble again for saying this, but: there is no Autonomist Marxism.

The groups and individuals in the Anglo-American countries that claim to represent it (Cleaver, Midnight Notes) are really promoting a sort of bastardized Operaismo with some anarchoid garnish.

Operaismo in Italy was actually quite Leninist, though not in the caricatured sense of the word. The mistake, as far as I can tell, is made when Anglophone anarchists assume that any political tendency that emphasizes extra-parliamentary activity and opposition to trade unions is necessarily "anarchist".

And to call Hardt & Negri "anarcho-syndicalist" is an insult to "anarcho-syndicalism". Negri these days is nothing but a solid mainstream reformist, from his praise of the German Greens to his lavish encomiums to the European Union. Only, gullible American radicals have been snookered by the likes of Harry Cleaver into thinking that Negri is some kind of radical. Dude has been coasting for 30 years on his reputation from the 1970s, only unlike Joschka Fischer, he hasn't been denounced as the charlatan that he is.

P.S. Just to prove how diplomatic I can be, I really love that "bolo bolo" booklet by PM.

Parker
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Jun 1 2009 11:41

Agree largely with Angelus Novus. I still wonder why Negri has such a great reputation in the Anglo-American academy, given how utterly disastrous and discredited his political career has been. (Well, actually, I do know the answer ...)

Kambing
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Jun 2 2009 08:26

I agree that there are a few similarities between autonomist Marxism and anarcho-syndicalism, but I think you (Omar) are overstating them. There may be a certain convergence in that they both combine elements traditionally associated with anarchism and Marxism. My understanding of the historical development of these tendencies is that anarcho-syndicalism arose out of the interaction between anarchism and the industrial labour movement—and thus was influenced by early Marxism—but has more recently been influenced by the dominant lifestylist/identity politics tendencies in the anarchist movement (both adapting to and critically reacting against them). Autonomist Marxism emerged from encounters between 'workerist' strains of Marxism (with various degrees of Leninism) and extra-parliamentary social movements dominated by identity politics and/or lifestylist anarchism.

However, while anarcho-syndicalism is oriented towards anarchist organising within the sphere of labour (i.e. the workplace), autonomist Marxism brings a Marxist analysis of labour to bear on areas of struggle outside of the workplace (i.e. areas usually considered to lie outside of the direct labour/capital relation). So in this sense they are actually mirror images of each other.

I really don't know enough about anarcho-syndicalist theory to comment on how the specific concepts you outline line up with their autonomist counterparts. My understanding of the autonomist concept of value is that it is generated not only within the narrow sphere of production but also within the sphere of the reproduction of labour (i.e. the 'social factory' concept you mention), and that it is 'excessive' or only incompletely captured by capital. This does seem to 'fit' well with some anarchist ideas and practices, but I'm not sure of their particular expression within anarcho-syndicalist theory. Could you elaborate on how some specific anarcho-syndicalist theorists have analysed labour as being 'immeasurable'? For comparison, I would say that (excluding Negri's more recent work), autonomist Marxists tend to conceive of labour-as-value as being ultimately 'immeasurable', yet still subjected to capitalist measurement.

Quote:
Angelus Novus wrote:
there is no Autonomist Marxism

Sorry Angelus Novus, but ideas don't work that way. Regardless of your opinion of their ideas, there are actual people—theorists and activists—who are developing, discussing, and applying these ideas in various struggles. Even if autonomist Marxism is merely 'a sort of bastardised Operaismo with some anarchoid garnish'—which I agree is actually a fair characterisation of some cruder forms of autonomist Marxism—how on earth does this mean that it does not actually exist? Surely 'the groups and individuals in the Anglo-American countries' you refer to constitute a fairly identifiable if heterogenous autonomist Marxist current. These theorists are obviously influenced by their own readings, reinterpretations, and recontextualisations of Operaismo, but for the most part they take it in a different (and IMO more useful) direction compared to the 'post-Operaismo' of Negri, Virno, et al. For example, Midnight Notes (or De Angelis and other contributors to The Commoner) have not rejected 'value' as a useful analytical concept, and their understanding of the commons and enclosure is more historically grounded compared to the 'information society' hype which Negri and some of the 'digital autonomists' have embraced. The idea that 'so-called primitive accumulation' is an ongoing process is very useful—though by no means unique to autonomist Marxism.

Autonomist Marxism as a tendency should not be conflated with the work of Negri—while perhaps the most prominent in intellectual circles, he is by no means representative of autonomist Marxism as a whole, particularly as it is understood within Anglo-American movements. Arguably, Negri is no longer a Marxist as such—he is an autonomist Spinozan with (post)structuralist influences. However, 'autonomism' or 'autonomist Marxism' can be a useful label to refer to Operaismo, post-Operaismo, some strands of 'open Marxism', and related currents which share various traits, concepts, and historical connections. Specifically, autonomist Marxism is identifiable by its (useful) analysis of class struggle and value within the sphere of social reproduction, and by its (problematic) emphasis on the role of labour over capital.

So, I'd argue that autonomist Marxism certainly does exist as a relatively distinct political and theoretical tendency, with some minor influence in various social movements and within academia. Broadly speaking, autonomist Marxism is a political tradition arising out of the interaction between a certain strand of Marxist theory and roughly 'anarchist' forms of political practice. Thus, it is not surprising that there are some commonalities with anarcho-syndicalism, as noted by Omar. But despite my reservations about the 'one-sidedness' of much autonomist theory, and my real dislike for Negri's political theory in particular, I think it is unfair and inaccurate to label it as 'half-baked anarcho-syndicalism'.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 2 2009 10:59
Kambing wrote:
Sorry Angelus Novus, but ideas don't work that way.

Yeah, sorry, I have a tendency to aim for arresting generalizations. Of course to the extent that there are people who apply the label to themselves, it certainly does exist.

It's just that I think the label is applied to phenomena that are far too heterogeneous to be subsumed under a common label (Cleaver groups together Council Communism, Anarcho-Communism, Operaismo, Johnson-Forest, Socialisme ou Barbarie). Whereas "anarcho-syndicalism" refers to a rather clearly defined tendency of the historical workers movement. So "anarcho-syndicalism" is quite specific, whereas "Autonomist Marxism" is expressive of a sort of vague affinity thought to exist between different historical currents (albeit currents that we all probably have varying degrees of sympathy for).

The other thing is just purely methodological: I don't like Cleaver's use of terms like "self-valorization", and I think Holloway is pretty keen in his critique of how the Cleaver/Midnight Notes sort of Autonomist Marxism positivizes class struggle, in a way rather contradictory to Marx's own intentions in Capital:

Marx wrote:
The labourer is the owner of his labour-power until he has done bargaining for its sale with the capitalist; and he can sell no more than what he has i.e., his individual, isolated labour-power. This state of things is in no way altered by the fact that the capitalist, instead of buying the labour-power of one man, buys that of 100, and enters into separate contracts with 100 unconnected men instead of with one. He is at liberty to set the 100 men to work, without letting them co-operate. He pays them the value of 100 independent labour-powers, but he does not pay for the combined labour-power of the hundred. Being independent of each other, the labourers are isolated persons, who enter into relations with the capitalist, but not with one another. This co-operation begins only with the labour-process, but they have then ceased to belong to themselves. On entering that process, they become incorporated with capital. As co-operators, as members of a working organism, they are but special modes of existence of capital. Hence, the productive power developed by the labourer when working in co-operation, is the productive power of capital. This power is developed gratuitously, whenever the workmen are placed under given conditions, and it is capital that places them under such conditions. Because this power costs capital nothing, and because, on the other hand, the labourer himself does not develop it before his labour belongs to capital, it appears as a power with which capital is endowed by Nature a productive power that is immanent in capital.

I think the "Open Marxism" folks, with their notions of inverted subjectivity, are far closer in their grasp of Marx than the "classically" Autonomist folks like Cleaver. The emphasize of the former on "negativity" might seem like mere semantic quibbling, but I think it makes a world of difference.

And incidentally, since Postone seems to be a favorite punching-bag around these parts recently, I think the overly literalist reading of "capital as subject" by the Postone-ites is the opposite pole of "labor as subject" by the Autonomists Marxists. The "Open Marxism" school neatly subverts this dichotomy.

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Joseph Kay
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Jun 2 2009 18:31
omar wrote:
i'm now finalising my first draft and have reached a tentative conclusion that autonomous marxism, from tronti's strategy of refusal all the way up to hardt and negri's empire and multitude is really a kind of half-baked anarcho-syndicalism

there's definitely similarities between workers tactics in the Italian hot autumn of '69-70 and the movement of '77 with anarcho-syndicalism - namely direct, confrontational action accross the social sphere, under the direct control of workers and tending to an insurrectionary volatility. however i think the subsequent theorists lumped together as 'autonomists' progressively move away from this (Holloway et al perhaps excepted), until in the recent Negri, Virno, Bifo, De Angelis etc it's completely lost.

omar wrote:
self-valorisation-people develop autonomous needs and desires incompatible with capital.
vs. chomskyan anarchism-fundamental desire for creativity and cooperation that could originate in mental organisation of the brain.

i think 'self-valorisation' is actually a belated discovery of proudhonism by former leninists - we can valorise our own labour without those pesky bosses and the state! this is particularly true in stuff like Virno's notion 'exit'... now there were proudhonian syndicalists in and around the old french CGT, so arguably this is a similarity with the revolutionary syndicalism from which anarcho-syndicalism emerged. but while anarcho-syndicalism moved away from proudhonism towards libertarian communism, the trajectory of 'autonomous marxist' theory has arguably gone from communist to neo-proudhonist.

omar wrote:
social factory-through the circulation of commodities capital dominates the world of reproduction, housework, culture, education, identity are all terrains of struggle.
vs. anarcho-communism-all labour is inherently immeasurable and collective, thus the necessity for communes not factory socialism

i think the social factory thesis says more than capital dominates all spheres of life and thus sites of struggle exist outside the workplace (a revelation to former workerist leninsts, but something anarcho-syndicalists had known since at least the CNT rent strikes of the 30s, the mujueres libres, anti-clerical activities etc). the notion of the social factory contends that value is produced everywhere human activity takes place, a positivist hangover from their workerist origins, which leads to all sorts of dodgy practice - the aforementioned neo-proudhonism, since the problem with capitalism is reduced to "distinctly feudal" (Negri & Hardt) bosses and states leeching off potentially 'autonomous' labour, and not the way value structures the entirity of social life (they explicitly argue against the law of value, usually based on giving Marx's 'fragment on machines' the status of divine prophecy).

omar wrote:
strategy of refusal-refusing to participate in reformist struggles that merely ameliorated exploitation and the use of forms of struggle that refuse the logic of capitalism
vs. anarcho-syndicalism- natural evolution of social movements who practice this strategy to a whole class that can act this strategy at a global level.

like i say this was a similarity, but i don't see much Trontian influence on todays 'autonomist marxism.'

omar wrote:
class recomposition-founding the revolutionary unity and consciousness of the proletariat on the material conditions which they live and work and seeking to change those through struggle.
vs. prefigurative politics-integrating people with the values of communism through their actual lived experience of those values. i.e. one big union prefiguring co-operation in production.

the various permutations of class composition (re-, de-) are useful concepts, but they seem to have been largely eclipsed by 'the multitude' in contemporary 'autonomist marxism.' one big unionism was never really an anarcho-syndicalist thing either, that really belonged to the revolutionary syndicalism of the IWW etc. anarcho-syndicalists often sought to establish workers councils to administer production, they did not expect the whole class to join the union. that said there are all sorts of tendencies making up anarcho-syndicalism, some much more anarchist ('the uncontrollables' of 1937 etc), some much more revolutionary syndicalist.

anyway, just my thoughts. been reading up on anarcho-syndicalist history lately, and used to read a lot of 'autonomist' stuff, so an interesting question.

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Joseph Kay
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Jun 2 2009 18:34
Kambing wrote:
However, while anarcho-syndicalism is oriented towards anarchist organising within the sphere of labour (i.e. the workplace), autonomist Marxism brings a Marxist analysis of labour to bear on areas of struggle outside of the workplace (i.e. areas usually considered to lie outside of the direct labour/capital relation). So in this sense they are actually mirror images of each other.

i really don't think this is a fair characterisation of anarcho-syndicalism. whilst certainly it focussed heavily on the workplace, there was always conflicts accross the social sphere - from anti-church activities to rent strikes to the mujueres libres to the self-education in the centros obreros. the world beyond the factory gates appeared novel to those emerging from leninist workerism, but wasn't new to the class struggle or other tendencies within it.

Skraeling
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Jun 3 2009 23:09

hmmm...i see some similarities but some differences too. some of the similarities have been noted (though i have some reservations), and soem of the differences have been noted too (as noted above, operaismo & autonomia are largely leninist. a lot of the italians wanted to investigate the class struggle to bring new life to the party form, to make it more relevant to the conditions and struggles on the ground. (however, o & a have had some libertarian components and moments).

another important difference is that o & a view anarcho-syndicalism, iirc, as a product of the past. o & a view self-management (a key ingredient of anarcho-syndicalism IMHO) as a product of a certain class composition that was dominant before WWI that was decomposed by the factory assembly line by c. the 1920s IIRC. ie. they view self-management as an anachronistic ideology of skilled workers on workshops who love their work and want more control over it. while assembly line workers don't love their work, they refuse it and don't want control over it, they want to leave the factory. (however, Tronti's critique of the syndicalist IWW seemed a bit off the mark as the IWW was composed of travelling hobos and precarious workers and unskilled workers).

the modern anglo autonomist marxists i have met tended to see anarcho-syndicalism as hopelessly out of date, dogmatic and workerist -- there were some interesting exchanges in australia between rebel worker (anarcho-syndicalist) and love and rage (a student group that was autonomist marxist). while they see autonomist marxism as very up to date, fetishise precarious workers when they are only 20-30% of the workforce in australasia, and fetishise the affinity group network form of organisation (as developed by the anti-summit movement) as the form that is best suited to our current class composition (or is it decomposition?), and tend to reject formal structures like anarcho-syndicalist organisations as being a potential brake on the class struggle.

another difference: the criticism that 'autonomist marxists' lack strategy, they just run around chasing or tailing the latest workers' resistance that pops up, that means in practice they can operate like headless chooks running around doing strike support and running themselves ragged. they tend to see all struggles as important as each other, and don't see some as more important/strategic. i don't think anarcho-syndicalism does this, it's much more strategic and has a clearer strategy.

also, anglo autonomist marxists seem to romanticise all struggle as class struggle, including lifestylism, social centres, summit hopping and nationalist movements in the third world (eg, zapatistas). ie. they take a largely uncritical approach to struggle, and don't see 'reactionary' elements and moments in them. while anarcho-syndicalists are very critical of lifestylism and isolated social centres (tho i hear some punks are in the Spanish CNT), and are much more internationalist and critical of nationalism, and are a bit more sceptical of summit adventure activism tourism.
(sorry if i am mixing up and conflating many different trends here -- operaismo, autonomia and modern anglo autonomist marxism -- but as Cleaver et al lump all these trends together, i might as well do it too)

another difference might be: how does operaismo & autonomia stress on workers' autonomy from unions fit with anarcho-syndicalist stress on the centrality of revolutionary anarcho-syn unions for bringing about a revolution?

another similarity is that operaismo & autonomia and anarcho-syndicalism are both criticised for lacking theory, and stressing practice, class struggle on the ground (altho o & a are a bit more theory heavy than anarcho-syn, and i read in Steve Wright's book there was sometimes a split in some operaismo groups between the theory heavy leaders of the operaismo who stayed at home, and the rank and file who went out into factories)

harry Cleaver wrote an article on the similarities b/w Kropotkin's communism and 'autonomist marxism' -- i remember reading it ages ago and thinking hang on, this doesn't seem right, i wonder if cleaver has read kropotkin in depth. but i may be wrong
http://libcom.org/library/kropotkin-self-valorization-crisis-marxism
got nowt to do with anarcho-syndicalism tho

'joseph k. wrote:
i think 'self-valorisation' is actually a belated discovery of proudhonism by former leninists - we can valorise our own labour without those pesky bosses and the state! this is particularly true in stuff like Virno's notion 'exit'... now there were proudhonian syndicalists in and around the old french CGT, so arguably this is a similarity with the revolutionary syndicalism from which anarcho-syndicalism emerged. but while anarcho-syndicalism moved away from proudhonism towards libertarian communism, the trajectory of 'autonomous marxist' theory has arguably gone from communist to neo-proudhonist.

i normally associate Proudhon with self-managed small business capitalism par excellence, rejection of class struggle and strikes, co-ops and mutual banks, reformism etc. -- how is that compatible w/ self-valorisation?
(but yeah i know you mean the proudhonist proto-syndicalists in the first international and paris commune like Varlin but stilll...)

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Joseph Kay
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Jun 4 2009 22:09
Skraeling wrote:
i normally associate Proudhon with self-managed small business capitalism par excellence, rejection of class struggle and strikes, co-ops and mutual banks, reformism etc. -- how is that compatible w/ self-valorisation?

i'm thinking of Virno's 'exit', specifically modelled on US factory workers 'fleeing' to become homesteaders on the frontier, as well as his notion of 'ius resistentiae' (right of resistance) - borrowed from Spinoza's rising mechant class in the Dutch Republic - which is "a conservative violence, in the good and noble sense of the term" protecting something that already exists, parasited on by a "distinctly feudal" (negri & hardt) capitalism.

the premise of self-valorisation seems to be that the problem with capitalism is that our potentially 'autonomous labour' is 'dominated' by capital, and we need to free it. it reminds me very much of Proudhon tbh, and the Marxian 'theory' that justifies it reminds me more of theological gymnastics the way the fragment on machines gets raised to divine prophecy.

but i'm only talking about those 'autonomous marxists' i'm most familiar with; Virno, Negri & Hardt really. I've read them closely, but only read bits and pieces of the others tbh.

Kambing
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Jun 5 2009 05:44
Angelus Novus wrote:
I think Holloway is pretty keen in his critique of how the Cleaver/Midnight Notes sort of Autonomist Marxism positivizes class struggle, in a way rather contradictory to Marx's own intentions in Capital

I agree that the autonomist focus on the positive aspect of class struggle is a political and theoretical weakness, and Holloway does have a more dialectical approach (though his 'In the beginning is the scream' is cringeworthy, this is due to his failed attempt at Zapatista-esque 'poetic' writing rather than his conceptual starting point in alienation and antagonism). However, in practice any attempt to realise autonomist-style positive struggle will tend to result in a negative, antagonistic encounter with the power of capital, which may have a correcting effect on their theoretical shortcomings. In contrast, one-sidedly 'negative' theory that focuses on the totalising power of capital tends to lead to abstract critique and pessimistic inaction, with little engagement with actual class struggle. This 'pessimism of the will', lacking a political praxis grounded in class struggle, is a more serious and self-reinforcing error than the autonomists misguided 'optimism of the intellect'.

Joseph Kay wrote:
i think the social factory thesis says more than capital dominates all spheres of life and thus sites of struggle exist outside the workplace (a revelation to former workerist leninsts, but something anarcho-syndicalists had known since at least the CNT rent strikes of the 30s, the mujueres libres, anti-clerical activities etc). the notion of the social factory contends that value is produced everywhere human activity takes place, a positivist hangover from their workerist origins, which leads to all sorts of dodgy practice - the aforementioned neo-proudhonism, since the problem with capitalism is reduced to "distinctly feudal" (Negri & Hardt) bosses and states leeching off potentially 'autonomous' labour, and not the way value structures the entirity of social life (they explicitly argue against the law of value, usually based on giving Marx's 'fragment on machines' the status of divine prophecy).

Again, I think it is important to distinguish between post-operaismo theorists such as Negri and Virno—who may be 'autonomists' but are not really 'autonomist marxists' any longer—and the likes of Caffentzis, Cleaver, De Angelis, etc, who still see labour (however 'immaterial' or 'social') as being structured by capitalist processes of measurement, accumulation, and commodification, and thus as still producing value for capital. Perhaps they are too keen to obscure the differences between productive and reproductive forms of labour, but unlike Negri et al they do not see all labour as being 'non-productive' for capital.

There is an important strand of autonomist Marxism that sees the difference between 'productive' and 'non-productive' labour as a direct expression of class struggle—capital seeks to transform all activity into a source of direct economic value, while labour seeks to extract itself from this value system. This analysis links the commons/enclosure struggle directly to capitalist production and value (hence positing class struggle as value struggle). This does have the weakness of collapsing more complex circuits of value into an inside/outside dialectic, thus overlooking or underemphasising the ways in which 'outside' value systems are still indirectly drawn into capitalism through their role in the reproduction of labour or the realisation and circulation of value, even if they are not directly producing value for capital. But it is not the same as Negri's current analysis which sees capital as 'Empire', a form of political domination purely external and parasitic to immaterial production and the social organisation of 'the Multitude'. I think there are some useful ideas in the Midnight Notes strand of autonomism, though it is incomplete as an understanding of capitalism and class struggle.

Joseph Kay wrote:
i really don't think this is a fair characterisation of anarcho-syndicalism. whilst certainly it focussed heavily on the workplace, there was always conflicts accross the social sphere - from anti-church activities to rent strikes to the mujueres libres to the self-education in the centros obreros. the world beyond the factory gates appeared novel to those emerging from leninist workerism, but wasn't new to the class struggle or other tendencies within it.

Obviously anarcho-syndicalists can and do involve themselves in conflicts outside of the workplace. But if they move away from a focus on workers self-management of production as their primary revolutionary strategy, are they not moving away from 'anarcho-syndicalism' as such, just as the autonomists moved away from workerist Leninism?

Skraeling wrote:
I normally associate Proudhon with self-managed small business capitalism par excellence, rejection of class struggle and strikes, co-ops and mutual banks, reformism etc. -- how is that compatible w/ self-valorisation?

I definitely see the link here, with some autonomists interpreting self-valorisation in rather Proudhonist terms, thus advocating autoproduzione (self-production) rather than autogestion (self-management). There is some influence here from Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the smith or artisan—the ideal (revolutionary?) subject as an autonomous and mobile yet socially-embedded producer-consumer. This strain of autonomism has some currency in the anarcho-punk scene and squatting/social centre movement, as a theorisation of DIY production. While this is an improvement on the consumer politics of pure lifestylism, it is still very limited as a form of effective class struggle (it is rather classically petty-bourgeois, when you come right down to it). To me, while the 'artisan' is a rather attractive concept for a post-capitalist subject—it certainly beats the bourgeois star artist or proletarianised designer as a way of organising creative activity—it is doomed as an attempt to overcome capitalism, as it can be so easily drawn back into capitalist processes of accumulation and dispossession. This is precisely the problem with a lot of autonomist (and anarchist) strategies for resistance or 'exodus'—including some forms of anarcho-syndicalism. (While of course Leninist and social-democratic strategies tend to be narrowly 'political', and thus readily integrated into State structures of power).

Angelus Novus
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Jun 5 2009 07:13
Kambing wrote:
(though his 'In the beginning is the scream' is cringeworthy, this is due to his failed attempt at Zapatista-esque 'poetic' writing

No dude, he's totally trying to write like Ernst Bloch. Everyone I talk to who has read both immediately agrees. Bloch's works always begin with these truncated declarative statements ("Ich bin. Aber ich habe mich nicht. Darum werden wir erst." etc.).

Whether one appreciates Bloch's expressionist German is a question of taste (I rather like it), but in transfers rather poorly into English, where it just sounds goofy.

I disagree that the Open Marxism folks necessarily lead to political passivity, though. I think their whole riff of "subject-object inversion" neatly subverts the tidy opposition of "structure vs. agency".

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Jun 5 2009 07:59
Kambing wrote:
Obviously anarcho-syndicalists can and do involve themselves in conflicts outside of the workplace. But if they move away from a focus on workers self-management of production as their primary revolutionary strategy, are they not moving away from 'anarcho-syndicalism' as such, just as the autonomists moved away from workerist Leninism?

i would have tended to agree 6 months ago, at least to the extent that anarcho-syndicalism stressed self-management of production as a goal. we were criticised for conflating such a view with a more proudhonist perspective in our pamphlet, and so i've gone back to the history books and realised there's a lot more to anarcho-syndicalism. at its best, anarcho-syndicalism has been a means of class struggle for libertarian communism accross the social terrain - the CNT had a 'union of unemployed workers' which went and ate in restaurants for free, organised rent strikes, was involved in anti-clerical activities etc. so i think at its best anarcho-syndicalism already recognised society beyond the workplace as a site of revolutionary struggle, even if it (correctly) maintained that the communisation of the means of production was a prerequisite of any revolution.

in many ways the Spanish experience forshadows the Italian one, and for the same reasons, i.e. we see the development of extra-workplace struggles as a material necessity (over rents, food prices...), the emergence of groups like the Mujueres Libres and Lotta Feminisata in response to the domination of the struggle by men etc. Like i say i think there's a similarity, but a subsequent divergence. in that sense its right that they come to be mirror images of each other, in terms of practice at least - summit hopping & social centres vs industrial agitation.

Kambing wrote:
Again, I think it is important to distinguish between post-operaismo theorists such as Negri and Virno—who may be 'autonomists' but are not really 'autonomist marxists' any longer—and the likes of Caffentzis, Cleaver, De Angelis, etc, who still see labour (however 'immaterial' or 'social') as being structured by capitalist processes of measurement, accumulation, and commodification, and thus as still producing value for capital. Perhaps they are too keen to obscure the differences between productive and reproductive forms of labour, but unlike Negri et al they do not see all labour as being 'non-productive' for capital.

isn't the problem that Negri sees all labour, no, all human activity as being 'productive' ("biopolitical production" of subjectivities etc)? But yes, fair point, i'm much more familiar with the post-operaists, having only read bits and pieces of Cleaver and De Angelis. Unlike Cleaver, De Angelis does seem to lose class struggle though in his analysis of 'value struggles' - which again shows how disparate this apparent school of thought is i guess.

Kambing
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Jun 8 2009 05:50
Angelus Novus wrote:
I disagree that the Open Marxism folks necessarily lead to political passivity, though. I think their whole riff of "subject-object inversion" neatly subverts the tidy opposition of "structure vs. agency".

My criticism wasn't really directed at the Open Marxism people, who I understand to have a somewhat more dialectical approach, but rather at traditions such as structuralist Marxism and the Frankfurt School that approach capitalism as a total structure of power, to be subjected to philosophical critique rather than actively struggled against. This seems to be broadly characteristic of tendencies arising from 'Western' or 'critical' Marxism—interpreting capital in (positive but static) social and structural terms, and resistance in terms of (negative or disruptive) individual critique, rather than seeing them both in terms of the 'structured agency' of class struggle.

Joseph Kay wrote:
isn't the problem that Negri sees all labour, no, all human activity as being 'productive' ("biopolitical production" of subjectivities etc)?

Yes and no. He does see all activity as being 'productive of subjectivities' (in a kind of fuzzy cult studies 'identity and agency' way), but he also argues that no human activity is now 'productive labour' in the sense of producing measurable value for capital. Hence his discarding of the working class vs capital framework for the purely political relationship of the multitude vs empire. As far as I can tell, Negri seems to think that we have already achieved global communism in terms of production and social organisation; we just need a political exodus from the parasitic global 'state' (empire). His actual evidence for this is somewhat lacking; as far as I can tell it is largely based on stale pomo waffle and (now rather flacid) dotcom hype.

Negri's 'postbiopoliticalcore' thing seems pretty theoretically weak to me, more like a (no-longer-actually) academically trendy shout-out to Foucault and Queer Theory than an actual argument. Some of the 'digital autonomists' like Nick Dyer-Witheford and Tiziana Terranova have produced some worthwhile work drawing on Negri, and it is interesting that the 'bleeding edge' of online commerce seems to attract a lot of capital without any obvious way to actually generate a profit, but the whole network society/informational capitalism thing remains a bit virtual at this point.

I would definitely recommend the 'commons and value struggles' wing of autonomist theory over Negri's current stuff. For example, the recent Midnight Notes article on the economic crisis is a useful counterpoint to all the analyses that focus on the actions of factions of capital while excluding any agency for labour. But it bends the stick a bit too much the other way, and doesn't really stand on its own all that well.

Joseph Kay wrote:
De Angelis does seem to lose class struggle though in his analysis of 'value struggles'

De Angelis may have moved away from class analysis, as although he explores the circuits of capital he tends to neglect labour as such in favour of communities and commons. But I don't think this is a necessary consequence of the value struggle perspective. It can be useful to connect Marx's analysis of capitalist value with a broader anthropological approach to value, in which case class struggle can be seen as a (dominant, but historical and particular) form of value struggle.
It helps to remind us that if capital--and thus labour--are totalising, they are not actually total. I'd say it is the autonomists' development of the Marxist concept of value which is their most useful theoretical contribution--bringing in a more anthropological concern with social reproduction while (at its best) retaining a critique of capitalist exploitation, alienation, and subsumption.

Coming back to the original topic of this thread, I'm not aware of a specifically anarcho-syndicalist counterpart to this theoretical contribution, though I suppose that some forms of autonomist value theory would be quite compatible with anarcho-syndicalist organising and action. David Graeber's work on value might fit--I believe he is a member of the IWW, and his theoretical work is certainly informed by his politics, but in terms of theory he draws (critically) on structuralist anthropology and Mauss more than any identified anarcho-syndicalist theoretical current. He also seems to have an affinity with some forms of autonomism. I guess the issue is that for all their attempts to unify theory and practice, autonomist Marxism is mostly used as a label for a (now rather tangled) theoretical current, while anarcho-syndicalism is a form of political practice. They are not really in the same conceptual category, so while you can look for commonalities and divergences, it is tricky to do a straight comparison.

omar
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Aug 23 2009 05:27

dissertation is up on libcom. i think it provides a decent overview of autonomist marxism and anarchosyndicalisms uneasy tensions theoretically and pragamatically.

Lessons From Defeat: Antonio Negri, autonomist Marxism & anarcho-syndicalism from seventies Italy to today
http://libcom.org/library/lessons-defeat-antonio-negri-autonomist-marxism-anarcho-syndicalism-seventies-italy-toda

Kambing
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Aug 28 2009 05:50

Hi Omar,

Thanks for posting this. I think your outline and critique of autonomous Marxism is pretty good, covering what I'd agree are the key distinguishing concepts of classical autonomism. I know there are debates over the exact nature of the relationship between operaismo/autonomist Marxism and the broader autonomist movement, and I'm sure some partisans will take issue with the way you present it, but I don't think that's all that central to your argument in any case.

I do think that a sharper distinction could be drawn between operaismo proper, autonomist Marxism, and the later 'post-autonomist' works. I might have put even more emphasis on the association between the experience of defeat and the postructuralist turn in (post-)autonomism—poststructuralism does seem to have a very strong affinity for the aftermath of failed struggle (eg. post-1968 in France, or the triumph of neoliberalism in the UK and USA in the 1980s).

You raise the issue of class 'de-composition', which I think points to one of the main weaknesses of the autonomist approach. Their non-dialectical approach only sees the positive dimension of self-valorisation and refusal, and not the ways in which class recomposition merely alters the conditions of capital accumulation, through the expansion and renegotiation of the working class rather than the destruction of class as such. Thus, I would actually flip the terms—while workers may be actively involved in class recomposition, the extent to which the working class (as the objectified subjectivity of alienated labour) is recomposed actually reflects the adaptation of capitalism to the new conditions brought about through struggle, not a path of escape. Class 'decomposition' should thus be the goal of communist struggle, while it is in the interests of capital for the working class to be continually recomposed.

I'm still not sure you've quite made your case for anarcho-syndicalism as a more viable or successful alternative. Many of the stances you attribute to anarcho-syndicalism would also be claimed to some degree by almost every class-struggle anarchist and libertarian Marxist tradition, and you haven't really pointed out many specifically anarcho-syndicalist successes. (Eg. I'm pretty sure that the NSW BLF was primarily influenced by Stalinist, Maoist, and eurocommunist traditions--perhaps with some 'rank and file' pressure, sure, but as I understand it the BLF's turn to more 'social' issues had a lot to do with Jack Mundey from the CPA using his established authority as a trade union leader to pressure the 'rank and file' to take on those issues, rather than the other way around. Mundey was undoubtedly influenced by shifts in the broader working class at the time, particularly among working class youth, but I don't think the green bans etc reflect an anarcho-syndicalist approach to class organising or even an anarcho-syndicalist theory of class consciousness).

Anarcho
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Aug 31 2009 20:24
Skraeling wrote:
i normally associate Proudhon with self-managed small business capitalism par excellence, rejection of class struggle and strikes, co-ops and mutual banks, reformism etc. -- how is that compatible w/ self-valorisation?

Markets do not equal capitalism. Even Marx and Engels recognised that! What Proudhon advocated was self-managed market socialism, not capitalism. His arguments for workers self-management are lengthy, much more than Marx and Engels. He did reject strikes and was a reformist, but he was well aware there was a class struggle and sided with the working class repeatedly.

Skraeling wrote:
(but yeah i know you mean the proudhonist proto-syndicalists in the first international and paris commune like Varlin but stilll...)

For Bakunin, his ideas were “Proudhonism widely developed and pushed to these, its final consequences.” The links with Proudhon and subsequent revolutionary anarchism are many. And many of Proudhon's ideas found expression in the Paris Commune:

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/the-paris-commune-marxism-and-anarchism

Ironically enough, Marx praised all of them -- without mentioning the obvious theoretical influence....

MT
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Sep 2 2009 05:57
Quote:
Markets do not equal capitalism. Even Marx and Engels recognised that!

Any arguments backing this up?

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waslax
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Sep 2 2009 07:59
Anarcho wrote:
What Proudhon advocated was self-managed market socialism, not capitalism.

If capitalism had never existed perhaps there could have been such an economic system as self-managed market socialism. Perhaps. However, given that capitalism did come into existence, and became the dominant economic system by the time Proudhon began his political theorizing, market socialism (self-managed or not) was by then a non-starter, just another version of capitalism. Whether you agree with that or not, you seem to imply it when you write that:

Anarcho wrote:
He did reject strikes and was a reformist, but he was well aware there was a class struggle and sided with the working class repeatedly.

[italicization by waslax]

Anarcho wrote:
And many of Proudhon's ideas found expression in the Paris Commune:

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/the-paris-commune-marxism-and-anarchism

Ironically enough, Marx praised all of them -- without mentioning the obvious theoretical influence....

Well, if the influence was obvious, then there wasn't any need to mention it, was there?

Redpoet
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Dec 31 2012 22:36

I have not even read this whole thing yet,but I have read the conclusion which you all need to understand. I don't think any of you even know what autonomous Marxism is or that just like anarchism, marxism, communism, syndicalism, there are varying forms and interpretations. Your interpretations, though, seem to have been made merely in order to attack the basis of an autonomous Marxism of your own creation. Anyway, this just comes from another part of this same archive.

Response to Sergio Fiedler's Attack on Autonomous Marxism

"This is an article published in the last Green Left Weekly run by the Democratic Socialist Party (leninist, ex-trotsquists) in Sydney Australia. Love & Rage has directed me to write a response, but if comrades from this lists want to write their own it would be a fantastic contribution to the political education of our group. Most of the criticism are directed to Harry Cleaver, so it would really good for us to have a few words from him. Thanks." - Sergio Fiedler
Preliminary comment:
I agree completely with Dave Grahm that engaging in a polemic with Zanny Begg et al is pointless, and with Jerry Levy that they attack because they feel threatened. Therefore my comments are directed to their readers and not to them. My remarks are aimed at clarifying views that they have partially obscured and misrepresented and in so doing making clearer some of the ways in which I, and perhaps some other "autonomist Marxists" really do differ from their perspective, both in theory and in political orientation. I would note, as well, that many of those I would, or have, asociated with what I call "autonomist Marxism" do not view themselves in those terms at all.
Autonomous Marxism -- DIY revolution
By Zanny Begg
Amongst the student left there has been increasing support for ``autonomous organising'' of the oppressed. Tactical discussions about the best path towards liberation for groups such as women, gays and lesbians, and indigenous people -- including when to forge alliances and when to organise separately, the relationship between ideology and class society, and the role of revolutionary organisations which unite oppressed individuals in struggles for liberation -- have been subsumed into a strategic panacea: organise autonomously. ``Autonomous Marxism'' has emerged as the theoretical justification for this emphasis.
Comment: the term "autonomous Marxism" suggests that this Marxism is autonomous from something, but from what? From "orthodox marxism"? Certainly. But it was to avoid such interpretation that I coined the term "autonomist Marxism" (-ist not -ous) to describe a thread within the Marxist tradition in which the idea of working class autonomy was central to both theory and politics.
As the name implies, autonomous Marxists see themselves as within the Marxist tradition. They point to the factory occupations in Italy in the 1920s as examples of autonomous organising.
Comment: those I have associated with this perception and its highlighting of the power of workers autonomy have pointed to many historical moments including the worker and peasant risings in Russia, the workers councils in Germany and Italy, workers councils in Hungary in 1956, and so on. But more basic has been the exploration of how bottom-up worker struggles have both forged and transcended various forms of organization, how the changing composition of the class has generated and left behind specific organizational forms. This exploration has generally been motivated by efforts to understand the rejection of various official organizations of the class, e.g., political parties and trade unions, and their policies by the rank and file, or how those organizations have come to play a repressive and constraining role vis a vis workers struggles and how workers have taken the initiative (i.e., acted autonomously) either against or outside those organizations.
Many of their theorists came out of the section of the socialist movement which described the Soviet Union as a new form of capitalism, ``state capitalism'' (such as the International Socialist Organisation -- ISO). Those grouped around the journal Aufheben, which was first produced in the United Kingdom in 1992, explain in their editorial that they reject capitalism in its ``Eastern'' and ``Western'' varieties.
Comment: The critique of the Soviet Union as "state capitalist" predated the ISO by decades, but did indeed involve people such as C.L.R.James and Raya Dunayevskaya who had been Leninists-Trotskyists within the socialist movement. AUFHEBEN is a very recent arrival on this terrain.
The Aufheben editorial in issue one attributes the collapse of the ``New Left'' (the non-Stalinist left and social movements that emerged in the mass radicalisation of the 1960s) to three errors. The first was the collapse into reformism by many former revolutionaries who joined social democratic parties (such as the Greens). The second was the collapse into ``frantic party building'' and the ``bankruptcy of Leninism'' of the small revolutionary parties (hence these theorists break from currents such as the ISO). The third was the fall into the ``wet liberalism'' of identity politics and postmodernism.
Comment: I'll let AUFHEBEN speak for themselves.
Harry Cleaver, a US theorist, provides one of the clearest explanations of autonomous Marxism. He describes it as a tradition within the Marxist movement which emphasises the ``autonomous power of workers, autonomous from capital, from their official organisations (e.g. trade unions and political parties) and indeed, the power of particular groups of workers to act autonomously from other groups (e.g., women from men)''.
Comment: This is correct.
Work and exploitation
Cleaver argues that capitalism is a system based on the ``boundless imposition of work''. He asserts that traditional Marxists have focused on the form of exploitation under capitalism, wage labour, but have ignored the substance, the reduction of life to work.
Comment: This is also correct.
Cleaver rejects the notion, which he ascribes to ``traditional Marxists'', that it is possible to end exploitation but keep work; that is, to create a classless society in which people still labour, but in an unalienated form. He argues that Karl Marx, in writings such as Capital and Grundrisse, recognised that people struggle against work ``not just because it is capitalist work (through which they are exploited) but because there is more to life than work''.
Comment: I do NOT reject the notion that "it is possible to end exploitation but keep work". What I reject is the notion that human being is reducible to homo faber, or put differently that the transcendence of capitalism should or must involve the replacement of capitalist class society by a one class society of workers. Chapter 10 in Volume One of CAPITAL makes quite clear, as far as I am concerned, that Marx understood that workers struggle against being "mere worker." And his forcast of the displacement of labor value by "disposable time" in the GRUNDRISSE also shows his perception of the struggle to go beyond lives defined uniquely by work. This said, I would add that the category "work" or "labor" as a meaningful generic concept applicable to a wide range of human activites is a modern concept that only make sense within capitalism. Both before and, hopefully, after capitalism there is no justification for regrouping the diversity of human activities under this singular rubric.
But Cleaver distorts Marx for his own purposes. Marx and Frederick Engels argued that it is human beings' ability to labour which sets them apart from the rest of the animal world by allowing them to develop consciousness, language and society.
Comment: In a body of work that exceeds 50 volumes (the current COLLECTED WORKS+) these two men said many things at many times and they are not always consistent. They were both men of the Enlightenment with its anthropocentric perspective and desired to clearly differentiate human beings from "the rest of the animal world". But what made the "worst of architects better than the best of bees" for Marx (section one of chapter seven of volume one of CAPITAL) was not that humans work and other animals do not, but that that human work (and other activities) is guided by a self-conscious mind and will. (Clearly they were city boys without much connection to other kinds of animals, but no matter.) The notion that human beings are defined as such by work is merely a secular version of the protestant work ethic and has served as an ideological rationale for the imposition of work and the subordination of life to work. Capitalism alienates people from their labour because its product is privately owned and in the hands of the capitalist becomes the means of oppressing them.
Comment: Marx specified four, not one, form of alienation. First, workers are alienated from their work (not because the product is privately owned but because the capitalist commands their efforts telling them what to produce, how to produce it, at what rhythm, with what machines, etc. In short their work is no longer an expression of their own will and personality, neither individually nor collectively). Second, workers are alienated from their product (partly because the product is the property of the capitalist but mainly because access to their own products is premised upon their continued work for capital, in other words, capitalist ownership of the product is one means through which the imposition of work is reproduced). Third, workers are alienated from each other (because the division of labor is organized by the capitalists for purposes of control as well as production, to divide and conquer a resistant working class, a necessary condition to retain control and generate profits, where the power of cooperation of the collective worker is managed and usurped by capital[assuming everything goes according to plan of course]). Fourth, workers are alienated from what Marx called their species-being, i.e., that which defines their humanity, both individually and collectively: their ability to act according to their autonomous will vis a vis nature and each other. All this is spelled out in the 1844 MANUSCRIPTS.
Under socialism, workers will no longer be alienated from their labour because they will collectively own the means of production and their product will be distributed to each according to their needs.
Comment: This is a very old and orthodox formulation of the idea of socialism that centers on socialism being differentiated from capitalism by the property ownership of the means of production shifting from capital to labor. Leninists in general, including Trotsky, argued that the workers "owned" the means of production in the Soviet Union and therefore it was socialist. But of course the "ownership" was purely formal and while the state controlled the means of production (to the extent that it was able) "in the name of" the working class it actually used that control for very capitalist purposes: the imposition of work, the extraction of surplus and the expanded reproduction of the these same relationships. Distribution, of course, was rarely "according to need" as the even older communist maxim would have it, but mostly "according to work" just like in Western capitalism. The history of 20th Century socialism -East and West-- makes it quite clear, I think, just how inadequate this focus on property ownership is. Not only have self-titled "socialist" countries used state control to exploit, but many Western self-titled "capitalist" countries have had many, many state enterprises where the means of production are owned by the state but where that ownership has meant exactly the same as private ownership: more work and more exploitation. The real issue is control, ownership is just a juridical relationship, and what is done with that control. What makes capitalism capitalism is that control is wielded to impose work as the fundamental form of social organization and to impose it endlessly. The transcendence of capitalism, therefore, must involve an end to that dynamic and the liberation of work from being a means of domination. That can only happen, I maintain, through the creation of a society in which work is one, but only one, valid form of human self realization.
In a classless society, labour itself will wither away as the notion of work becomes meaningless in a society without scarcity or oppression. This is the meaning of Engels' famous dictate, ``Freedom is the recognition of necessity''.
Comment: If, as this author believes, human being is defined by work, then how could work wither away and the species survive? And why would the absence of scarcity end work when work is defined by Marx (in chapter seven of volume one of CAPITAL) as human beings transforming non-human nature? For Marx work may not be either the only, or even the most, important form of human activity but he certainly viewed it as, in its unalienated form, a creative, life-giving process. Indeed in the fetishism of deistic religions human-being-which-creates is projected as God-the-creator.
Cleaver distorts Marxism in this manner to justify what he thinks should be the demand of revolutionaries: ``Refuse to work!''. Of course, for the mass of unemployed people locked into long-term poverty, this demand has already been realised. Unperturbed, Cleaver asserts that the focus of revolutionaries should be on alternative ``ways of being'' rather than ``working''.
Comment: I have never sought to "justify" the struggle against work, which has been very real and continuing from before Marx's time through our own, but to understand that refusal in terms of Marxist theory. As for "the mass of unemployed people," not only has their struggle against work not entirely succeeded but they are often condemned to way too much work: the work of looking for a job/wage (and thus making the labor market function), the work of reproducing their labor power, i.e., themselves a potential waged and immediately unwaged labor, the work of procreating and rearing the next generation of both waged and unwaged workers, and so on. We all work, whether we are waged or unwaged, the point is that people struggle to reduce their work for capital and co-opt what work they must do for their own purposes. The above statement shows an abysmal ignorance of the reality of "the unemployed" who are all too "employed" in the ways mentioned.
Cleaver proposes a lifestyle solution whereby ``every nook and cranny'' becomes a ``site of insurgency'' against the system: housewives strike in the home, students refuse to study, workers play computer games rather than process data and the unemployed refuse to look for work.
Comment: It is not that I "propose" such a solution, but that I (and many others) have pointed out how the capitalist colonization of "every nook and cranny" of everyday life reproduces the class antagonism on all these terrains and that such struggles inevitably follow. As a result capital's would-be total hegemony (celebrated by the critical theorists) is actually challenged and subverted at every turn.
Cleaver takes this idea further when he asserts that it was not the power of the imperialist economic system which divided the world into rich and poor, but the power of the people in underdeveloped countries who refused to work for a low wage which led to these countries' economic situation. He argues, ``Underdevelopment is a measure of their [workers in the Third World] strength not just their weakness''.
Comment: This statement reflects an inability to understand imperialism as the dynamic of class relations. It pictures imperial power on one side and worker resistance on the other. But imperialism is capital working at an international level to ensure control at the local level and the dynamics of that process is the dynamics of the class struggle. In Lenin's book IMPERIALISM there is nice, to the point, quote from Cecil Rhodes (that Lenin made no use of) to the effect that British capital required an empire abroad to control the workers at home. Africa was enslaved and put to work in the New World as an integral part of the class struggle in Europe. Recent work by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediger on the rise of an Atlantic proletariat is rewriting this history in a most useful manner. Of course capital "divides" and "divides" hierarchically, e.g., higher and lower income, rich and poor. But the history of that division, like that of other "divisions of labor," e.g.,on the shop floor, is not a one-sided history of business shaping the world to its heart's desire. It is the history of class struggle and the power of workers against the power of capital. Thus there are many areas in the world where workers are poor, i.e., low on the international income hierarchy but where there is little direct investment because they are also rebellious and insistent on their right of self-determination. The post-WWII history of capitalist counterinsurgency has been a history of the attempts by business and the state to pacify such resistance and stabilize pools of not only cheap but useable labor. The two things are not the same and should never be confused. The above statement is typical of a kind of Marxism that is blind to the power of so-called poor workers to resist and sees them only as victims.
Workers and ownership
The only way wage labour can be freed from exploitation, giving working people the luxury of exploring ``alternative ways of being'', is if workers abolish private ownership of the means of production. At the moment, workers who played computer games all day would probably just get the sack, and the unemployed in the Third World can starve to death if they refuse to look for work.
Comment: The portrayal of the struggle for alternative ways of being as "a luxury" which can only come after the revolution is typical pie in the sky Leninism in which the crafting of post-capitalist society is confided to the wisdom of the party and communism a distant, some-day, goal. How different from Marx who wrote "communism for us is not a state at which we aim, but the process of working class struggle." The creation of alternatives to the alienated being of capitalist society is not a luxury but a necessary part of regaining and maintaining ones self-determined humanity amidst the madness of capitalist society.
It is the central feature of a social revolution -- the change in ownership of the means of production from one class to another -- that autonomous Marxism rules out. According to Cleaver, ``Unfortunately ... a great many Marxists have been all too quick ... to again and again into the ideology of turn-of-the-century revolutionaries who wanted to `take over the means of production'''.
Comment: Once again, a repetition of the focus on "ownership" without regard to the content of control. Those that I have associated with the autonomist tradition of Marxism have never ruled out workers taking over the means of production. Some have even thought about it in traditional ways, the councilists for example. But more recently with growing demands by workers for less work, many have recognized that one fundamental reason why workers want to "take over the means of production" is so they can work less, as well as work more safely, at their own rhythm, be in control, cooperate, etc. Just as the author of this article would define capitalism by capitalist property ownership without regard to the social content of the control that ownership conveys, so too, here, we see a evocation of revolution without regard to what workers would do with the control of the means of production if they had it. The Bolsheviks probably suspected, and soon discovered, that Russian workers wanted to work less, and immediately began to devise ways of making them work longer and harder -processes that led from Lenin's embrace of Taylorism and "organizing competition" to Stalinist slave labor camps and Stakanov.
Organisations influenced by autonomous Marxism, such as the student group Love and Rage, try to cover this retreat from class by arguing that domestic labourers, students and the unemployed are ``equal partners in the struggle with waged labour''.
Comment: There is no "retreat from class" in autonomist Marxism --as in some forms of postmodernism and identity politics. On the contrary, there is a close preoccupation with the diverse forms of work and with the complex composition of the working class. To recognize that the working class includes unwaged labor takes no more than a reading of Marx on the reserve army. To recognize that the struggles of the unemployed are important takes no more than familiarity with the struggles of the unemployed in the 30s or with the welfare rights and civil rights struggles of the 60s, etc. To recognize that in capitalism education is designed to reduce human beings to workers and that student struggles can subvert that reduction requires only looking around, at the student movement o f the 1960s or at current UNAM student strike in Mexico City. To refuse to see these things, to hunker down in a blindness to contemporary class dynamics seem symptoms of a petrified ideology.
It is true that the student and other social movements (such as the women's liberation movement) can inspire people into action and lead struggles against capitalism. The mass radicalisation of the 1960s was spurred by such movements.
But, on their own, these movements do not have the power to overthrow the capitalism system. It is only when the various movements of the oppressed fuse with the struggle of the working class against capitalism that revolution is possible. It was precisely the inability of the students in the 1960s to make a revolution alone that meant the mass radicalisation subsided, leaving the capitalist class shaken but still in power.
Comment: First, the stubborn refusal to recognize students and women and their struggles as moments of the working class, and the insistence on limiting the application of that august title to waged workers not only reeks of Marxist orthodoxy but blinds one to actual class dynamics. Second, the "various movements of the oppressed' in the 1960s WERE complemented by the struggles of the waged, struggles that ruptured the Keynesian productivity deals and undermined profits helping to throw capital into crisis. "Mass radicalisation subsided" NOT because these struggles were unconnected but because capital succeeded in shifting the terrain of conflict and by so doing outflanked the movements of the time. At any rate no one ever suggested, that I can remember, that ANY specific movement, or subset of movements had the power to "overthrow capitalism on its own." On the contrary a central theme of autonomist Marxist analysis has been that of the circulation of struggle and the limits to it. The argument above attacks false targets.
The unquestioning acceptance of the ``principle'' of autonomous organising by oppressed groups misses this point. Independent movements of the oppressed, be they the women's liberation movement or a movement for indigenous rights, are essential, both in the struggle against the injustices of capitalism and in the construction of a new, socialist society. As Marx pointed out, the liberation of the oppressed must be the work of the oppressed themselves.
Even after the revolution in Nicaragua in 1979, the gay and lesbian movement had to keep fighting homophobia, and in Cuba, a vibrant women's liberation movement is needed to combat persistent sexist attitudes in the population.
But liberation from oppression that is entrenched by capitalism is impossible whilst capitalism remains intact. Therefore, revolutionaries need to build alliances between the different movements of the oppressed and seek to organise the mass of the working class into action.
Comment: The kind of autonomist Marxism being attacked here has never existed. Autonomist Marxists, as I just pointed out above, have been extremely preoccupied precisely with the issue of the building of alliances, the search for complementary in struggle, the acceleration of the circulation of struggle and so on. What is denied, on the other hand is the special privilege Leninists arrogate to themselves (like the academic gurus of critical theory) of "seeking to organize the mass of the working class into action." This old arrogance has demonstrated its powerlessness over and over again. Today, with a multifaceted class struggle taking place all over the world, the arrogance of thinking that several billion people can be "organized" by enlightened Marxists is ludicrous.
People organize themselves, in diverse ways according to the varying patterns of the class composition and yes, they do it, to some degree, autonomously of what others are doing. The problem is in crafting linkages among the diverse struggles and in finding ways (not ONE way) for them to complement and reinforce each other.
It is not a ``principle'' that demonstrations, such as rallies for women's rights, should be ``autonomous''. The feminist movement should seek to convince all sectors -- trade unions, migrant organisations, student organisations and so on -- to actively support its demands; what forms this takes is a tactical decision.
Comment: To be autonomous does not mean to be isolated, it means to take the initiative in one's own struggles vis a vis others with different preoccupations. It means not to subordinate particular demands to some abstract general demand of "the class" as dictated by Marxist intellectuals or Party gurus. Of course different struggles or movements "should" seek support; indeed as a general rule they DO seek support, certainly the ones mentioned above have. But the issue of complementarity goes beyond "support" or "solidarity."
Revolutionary organisations
Bringing down capitalism requires more than various ``autonomous'' social movements exerting pressure on the system. Marxists understand that the working class and all oppressed people need to create an organisation which brings together the disparate struggles for justice into a struggle against capitalism.
Comment: Here we get to a real, practical disagreement. What is evoked here is the old orthodox Marxist myth: the central Leninist organization that "organizes" the workers to fight for the general class interest, that in fact subordinates the concrete "economistic" demands of various sectors to the "political" demand for the overthrow of capitalism (defined of course merely, as we have seen above, as the expropriation of capitalist ownership of the means of production by the "proletarian" state).
At the heart of every successful revolution there have been revolutionary organisations: Lenin's Bolshevik party led the Russian Revolution, the Sandinista National Liberation Front led the Nicaraguan Revolution, the July 26th Movement led the Cuban Revolution.
Comment: The Bolshevik Party did NOT "lead the Russian Revolution"; it led the taming of that revolution and resubordination of the Russian working class to the accumulation of capital. Russian workers and peasants "led" the revolution, created organs of their own power which were undermined and subverted by the Bolsheviks as quickly as possible in order to concentrate power in their own hands. And to what end? At least Lenin was honest: to restructure the Russian economy along the lines of German state capitalism, only with the Party in command, in the name of the workers.
Because autonomous Marxists reject the idea that the goal of revolutionary organising is that the working-class seize power, they also reject the idea that workers need to form organisations or parties around this aim. Cleaver asserts that the Leninist party is ``worse than useless'' because it ``freezes working-class self-activity in manageable forms''. Love and Rage's platform rejects the ``vanguardism'' of revolutionary parties as ``reproducing'' the existing power structures in society.
Self-declared ``vanguard'' parties have a deservedly bad name. After Joseph Stalin's rise to power in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s, Communist parties around the world dictatorially imposed their line (which came from Moscow) on the masses, with tragic consequences for many revolutionary struggles. And in the Trotskyist tradition, small groups calling themselves ``the vanguard'' have proclaimed from the margins of struggles that they have the only program capable of leading the masses to power.
But for revolutionaries, the challenge is to understand the dynamic between mass struggle and revolutionary leadership. As Jim Percy, a founder of the Democratic Socialist Party and a pioneer of party building in the anti-Stalinist left in Australia, pointed out:
``Revolutions are made by masses of people, not by parties, not by elites. We may help organise the masses, we may help educate the masses around the ultimate goal of socialism, we may help unify the social struggles that develop spontaneously, but the motion itself, the force for social change, comes not from a small party, not even from a large party, but from social reality as a whole, from the masses, not from the vanguard.''
Revolutionary situations open up only when masses of people start to reject the exploitative nature of capitalism. But if they remain disunited, the various social movements will not develop revolutionary perspectives or have the power to dismantle the structures which oppress them.
It is only by coalescing into a united organisation or party that our power can match the power of the capitalist state. Revolutionary parties collectivise the lessons of past struggles and bring together the needs of oppressed groups into a systematic fight against the capitalist ruling class and its state.
Comment: for all the anti-Leninist rhetoric here, the authors perspective remains Leninist with the same solution: "a united organization or party" that can "match the power of the capitalist state." What is either not understood or is rejected by this old Leninist argument is that "the seizure of power" and the construction of an alternative organization that can "match the power of the capitalist state" amounts to no more today than it did in 1917: the creation of a mirror image, which remains the same only inverted, to be substituted for the original image.
The point of revolution is to change the meaning of power, not to substitute the power of one class for that of another. The point is to abolish the state, not to substitute one state structure for another. What history teaches is that every attempt to substitute the mirror image fails to get us beyond the image itself. This is the point that Marcos has made in explaining the EZLN critique of the Left opposition in Mexico. And it is a good one. We know today that the power of class domination takes many forms. We know too that people struggle against virtually all those forms, on every terrain. But the struggle against capitalist domination is not only the struggle against capital but also a struggle against domination. Our political problem is neither the seizure of "Power" nor the creation of a "socialist" state. It is rather that of finding ways to abolish Power through the crafting of new kinds of politics, i.e., new ways of negotiating differences while minimizing antagonisms. Our weaknesses lie not in the absence of the mythological all uniting party, but in those differences which still obstruct our collaboration. Yes, about this we disagree most profoundly.
Autonomous Marxism rejects both the importance of the working class as the key agent of fundamental social change and the need for the working class to take state power. It proposes instead that revolutionaries focus on the different oppressions that people suffer under capitalism -- sexism, racism, homophobia, class -- as isolated forms of oppression. It thereby fails to provide a strategy capable of moving beyond capitalism.
Comment: Wrong on both counts. Autonomist Marxists have always insisted on the centrality of the working class. Where they have differed from orthodox Marxists of the sort we have here, has, over time, been their perceptions of the complexity of what constitutes the working class and of the ability of various sectors of that working class to take the initiative in the class struggle. The need to recognize the complexity of the class struggle -treated by this author as working class and non-working class struggles- does not involve "focusing on different oppressions" but merely recognizing and understanding the diversity of issues and terrains of struggle with the object, not recognized here, of finding ways for these diverse struggles to become ever more complementary and mutually reinforcing so as to achieve the abolition and replacement of ALL the manifold forms of capitalism.
What is correctly observed here is that in general autonomist Marxists do NOT provide ONE strategy for moving beyond capitalism but rather seek a multiplicity of interrelated and complementary strategies for getting beyond capitalism and building a new world which, as the Zapatistas say, contains many worlds.

Redpoet
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Dec 31 2012 22:38

And I would now add...this rather simplistic description of my own which I placed on my facebook page so that people who have no idea what autonomous Marxism is, might have some grasp of the concept.

To describe a little of my personal view of all this, my thoughts in brief.

"A little about autonomist Marxism. This is in no way intended to be in any way exhaustive, nor does it represent anyone's views but my own.

Most people trace autonomist Marxism back to the anti-Stalinism of the middle fifties. I go back further into its roots.

Marx, including but not certainly limited to the Grundrisse, is a good starting point. Of course, Marx also wrote the basic line in one sentence. "The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves."

From there it would be onto some of the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, and to some types of left communism and the Workers Opposition in early Soviet days. I think it is back in there that you find the first inklings of what would become autonomist Marxism.

The main articulation of this trend in the 50s, I think comes from CLR James (and from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956), and then onto Workerism or Operaismo and via people like Tronti, Bologna, and Negri right into the heart of the Autonomous movement in Italy of the 70s and 80s. I would include here the type of feminism represented most especially by the Wages for Housework movement.

Of course, in America I would include Harry Cleaver, Midnight Notes, and ZeroWork.

It is continued on with some of the theory of the Zapatistas and, at least, some of Empire Theory of Hardt and, again, Negri . as well.

Autonomous Marxist theory includes and centralizes around the self organization of the working class, construction of identitiy, grass roots struggles, and sees workers as the subject driving the class struggle and history (not capital as in the more traditional Marxist view). Autonomist Marxists emphasize the importance of the dynamic nature of class composition.

Autonomous Marxists see the working class as not only autonomous of capital, but autonomous of any party.

Autonomist Marxists have absolutely no use for the vanguard party, but do see a role for a Marxist organization (which, I feel, is best defined by CLR James).

Autonomist Marxists, true to their name, respect allow for the autonomist development of various movements of the "multitude," for example, African American Liberation movement, Women's movement, Gay and Lesbian movement, Landless movements, youth and student movements, anti-war movements, etc. etc. etc.

Steve Wrights book “Storming Heaven: Class composition and struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism” is a good starting point for a little historical and analytical understanding of this trend of Marxism.

PS: Everyone seems to spell autonomous differently. I seem to spell it different ways all on my own and from place to place."
I oppose the whole concept,of the vanguard party.

One reason there has NEVER been true Marxian revolution can be found in the fact that virtually the entire "marxist intelligentsia" has been petit bourgeois and bourgeois. This includes everyone from Marx and Engles to Lenin and beyond. This is not to negate the basics of Marxism or of the works of Marx, but when it comes to the practice of revolution and organizing it, what is necessary is the self activity and the self organization of the working class, not some party of petit bourgeois intellectuals and the like acting on BEHALF of the class, then as in revolutions such as 1917 eliminating Soviets of Workers and replacing them first with Soviets of some workers and peasants and other petit bourgeois elements, then eliminating Soviets altogether. That path leads to state capitalism, central plannig, nationalization, socialism, but never trie communism. Again, socialism is not some preliminary stage of communism, it is antagonistic to it. It is just another form of capitalism. The working class must and can smash the state not merely seize it, must valorize itself, must eliminate surplus value based upon commodity exchange, must produce for itself not for some form of state capital, must in other words destroy the capitalist relations of production completely, etc. Only the working class can do all this. Only the working class is truly a revolutionary class whose final goal is the elimination of all classes, including itself. Is there a role for some form of Party of Marxist Intellectuals in all this. Yes, there is, but it's role is NOT to replace the class, not to be its vanguard, not to take over. It's role is to assist and to support at most and to stay out of the way. Noel Ignatiev in a comment related to the late, great CLR James put it this way, "The task of revolutionaries is not to organize the workers but to organize themselves to discover those patterns of activity and forms of organization that have sprung up out of the struggle and that embody the new society, and to help them grow stronger, more confident, and more conscious of their direction. It is an essential contribution to the society of disciplined spontaneity, which for (CLR) James was the definition of the new world." The working class can and must develop its own "intellectual" elements in its own way. Is all this utopia? No, the working class creates communism every single day. It has demonstrated numerous times it's capacity. the vanguard party idea was an understandable but flawed concept which has only served to prevent the true development of the class, and a true communist revolution. I would also add that by working class I absolutely DO NOT mean only the industrial proletariat. Marx spoke of the industrial working class when it was but a very small part of everything, but he could see it was the future and that even in his time was hegemonic in its outlook. Today, even if the industrial happens to be predominant in many places in sheer numbers, it is not the future, it is not hegemonic and it alone can no longer be called the proletariat. Just as Marx looked to the future, so must we.

ocelot's picture
ocelot
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Jan 2 2013 16:55

Confucius say, person who post massive quote dump on 3-year old thread, talking to him-/herself.

syndicalist
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Jan 2 2013 17:30
ocelot wrote:
Confucius say, person who post massive quote dump on 3-year old thread, talking to him-/herself.

I feel for the poster.