In this era, the "development" of peoples, of regions, or of nation-states has become an almost universally sought after process of unquestioned desirability. Countries are ranked in terms of their degree of development: there are the underdeveloped, the less developed, the developing, and, at the top of the hierarchy, the developed countries. The degree of development is the macroeconomic and macropolitical index of successful social evolution.
So universally accepted are the goal and process of development that they are embraced by the apologists of both capitalism and socialism. In mainstream Western economics, development always, implicitly or explicitly, refers to some form of capitalist development. The relative importance of the public and private sectors may vary, but the core social relations are either assumed to be capitalist or there is discussion of how to modernize and create such relations. Among the critics of capitalism, development means socialist development, or socialist accumulation, as Preobrazhensky so honestly put it, not so long ago.
When we examine the writings of mainstream "development" economists, we find either descriptive theories of the processes of capital accumulation or strategies and plans for speeding up those processes. All of the now classic works on economic development are of this sort. They include Rosenstein Rodan's seminal 1943 essay on how Eastern Europe could be developed after World War II, Ragnar Nurske's strategies of big push development, W. A. Lewis' ideas on how to use inflation to transfer value from workers to capital to increase savings and investment, Ranis and Fei's less optimistic strategy for raising agricultural productivity to facilitate the mobilization of rural workers, Hirshman's recommendations about orchestrating unbalanced growth and many others. Over and over, we see that economic development "theory" has been elaborated as a part of very concrete strategies to accumulate capital and its class relations. When we examine the writings of the socialist critics of capitalist development, we find attempts to show the unevenness of such development, how local development is often blocked by structures of dependency, or, to the degree that development does proceed, how it fails to meet people's needs. In turn, such critics try to show how development could proceed more swiftly and more evenly under socialism. Socialist development, its proponents argue, constitutes a radical inversion of capitalist development, one that cleanses the development process of exploitation and delivers it into the hands of the people. Such is the rhetoric of socialists and communists from Lenin through Mao and Castro to Kim Il Sung.
So complete is the intellectual hegemony of this consensus over the desirability of development that it has been able to define much of the terrain of political debate during the last forty years throughout every region of the world, but especially in the "underdeveloped" or "less" developed countries.
However, it is not at all obvious that we should accept this political terrain. We must ask ourselves whether it makes sense to engage all our energies in battles over which kind of development is most desirable and should be pursued? Should we throw ourselves into the construction of alternative development plans or, should we not pause a moment, step back and examine the framework itself, ask ourselves if this is a reasonable, or even a desirable framework for discussion and struggle? If it is, then we have lost nothing in the process. If it is not, then we may save ourselves enormous amounts of misdirected energy and wasted time.
I. To begin our consideration of the terrain of development, let us look first at the theory of that zone of development about which we know the most, that zone with the longest and most debated history: capitalist development. Here we can find apologists and critics, managers and saboteurs, reformers and revolutionaries. Always the problem is the same, to identify the most fundamental characteristics of the system which evolve in the process of development -- either to encourage that evolution or to block it. Of all the theories of capitalism that have been put forward, Marxist theory has undoubtedly been the most widely influential among critics of capitalism. It has also, not surprisingly, been the most frequently reviled and rejected by defenders of that system. The overtly apologetic nature of many of those attacks, however, and their failure to convince vast numbers of capitalism's critics, explains in part the persistence over time of Marxism's influence throughout the world.
More serious threats to Marxism's status as the most influential critical theory of capitalism, are the challenges which have been put to it by other non-Marxist opponents of capitalism. In recent years such challenges have taken several forms and come from several different quarters. The most interesting among these challenges, to my mind, are those which have been formulated within the environmental movement and among those connected to a variety of grassroots social movements.
The central theme of both of these critiques has been that Marxism has failed to adequately address the problems created by industrialism: both in terms of the relations among people and in terms of the relations between people and the rest of the natural world. The environmentalists, of course, have concentrated on the latter shortcoming, arguing that Marx's own enthusiasm for the "progressive" nature of industrialization, despite the perversions of capitalist exploitation, blinded him to the fundamentally destructive character of that development. The most severe of these critics are the Deep Ecologists who see Marxism, along with all other Western philosophies, as anthropocentric ideologies which justify the artificial separation of people from the rest of nature and which, at best, see humans as benevolent caretakers standing above and beyond the rest of life. They see the continuing proliferation of pollution and ecological crisis throughout the world, including the "socialist" world which calls itself "Marxist" as testimony to the fundamental failure of Marxist theory and practice to either perceive or address the rapacious and destructive nature of modern industry and consumer society.
Among those social critics linked to other grassroots movements, the critics of Marxism have also attacked what they see as its misplaced preoccupation with capitalism as opposed to industrialism. As with the environmentalists, they see industrialism as the more encompassing category --and for the same reason: the presence of social problems and conflicts within existing socialist societies which parallel those of Western capitalism. If socialism is the positive practice of Marxism as the ideologists of the Eastern Bloc claim, or if Marxism fails to provide a critique of such socialism --which has failed to alleviate the negative consequences of industrialism, then, in either case Marxism fails as a theory and practice offering any hope of going beyond the blight of capitalist or socialist development.
The Marxism that both groups of critics have attacked has almost always been the orthodox formulations held by Marxist-Leninists both East and West. As a result, much of their critique has been correct and irrefutable. Unfortunately, they have chosen too easy a target and have failed to confront much more sophisticated formulations of non-orthodox Marxism which include critical analyses of "socialism" that provide answers to the charge that the critique of capitalism should be replaced by one of industrialism. In what follows I spell out just such a Marxist analysis of how all existing "socialisms" fail to offer any real alternative to capitalist development. Unlike the critics of Marxism, however, this is done, not by replacing the theory of capitalism by the theory of industrialism, but rather by grasping all existing forms of industrialism as forms of capitalist accumulation. Such an approach justifies a continuing use of Marxism as an indispensable tool for understanding the world of "development" as we know it.
From a mainstream economic point of view, economic development is normally understood as a process of economic growth in aggregate and per capita output combined with qualitative change in institutions, industrial structure and product mix. From the Marxist point of view, economic development is a process, which involves the accumulation or expanded reproduction of the most basic social relations: those between the capitalist and working classes. These are relations of social struggle in which the capitalists seek to put workers to work producing profits, while the workers seek to escape or rupture this form of domination. In this perspective the accumulation of money, fixed capital and commodities, as well as that of alienation, state functions, "crime" and class antagonisms are all moments of the expanded reproduction, or development, of the social relations of class.
How is such development measured? We know the mainstream economic answer: with aggregates such as nominal or real gross national product. What Marx shows us is how these monetary measures can be understood in terms of value whose substance he defines as labor. Bourgeois economists often criticize this theory arguing that machinery and raw materials (what they call capital) also play a role in the production of wealth and should be viewed as other sources of value -- thus their production functions of the sort: Q = f(K,L). But Marx's theory is a social theory, not a technological one. The heart of capitalist social command is labor, so machinery and raw materials, viewed socially, are just necessary moments in the organization of that command. In turn, money, which measures and organizes that command is the quintessential expression of value. In capitalist development everything has a money price. Therefore, GNP measures the market value of output and the growth of GNP is always produced by the accumulation of value through the generation and reinvestment of profit or surplus value. Socially necessary labor time is the yardstick, with which, in the form of money, capital measures all the elements it accumulates within its development: commodities, productive capital, labor power, and so on.
Thus, the elaboration of the labor theory of value provided Marx, and can provide us, with a central theoretical tool for analysing capitalist development in terms of labor, its central social content. For example, when Marx examines how value is generated and accumulated, he analyses these processes in terms of the exploitation of workers through the extraction of surplus value, or surplus labor. In turn, expanded reproduction involves expanded exploitation.
Now, let us briefly examine the radical inversion of the capitalist development process sought by those socialist critics who base themselves on Marx. In general, they have embraced his critique and have proposed alternative forms of development, especially what they consider non-exploitative forms of development wherein the workers own (either directly or through the state) and control their own means of production. With workers' control, socialists argue, there can be no exploitation, and development can proceed without the nasty characteristics associated with capitalist exploitation. Most debate among socialists concerns how to achieve workers' control and how to organize socialist development once that control is obtained.
Socialist development, then, is juxtaposed to capitalist development by the absence of exploitation through the presence of workers control. The radical inversion consists of the following: whereas under capitalism, the capitalists dominate the working class, under socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the working class will dominate the capitalists. Whereas under capitalism, capitalist domination is based on their ownership or control of the means of production and takes the form of an exploitative extraction of surplus labor, under socialism the workers will own and control the means of production and thus eliminate exploitation by retaining their own surplus.
Is this vision of inversion satisfying? Does it get to the heart of the problems with capitalist development? Certainly, the theory of exploitation is at the center of Marx's critique and certainly attempts to eliminate exploitation strike at the core of capitalist development. However, there are reasons to think that not only does the socialist project fail to accomplish the proposed inversion, but it also fails to propose sufficient positive content to constitute a substantive alternative.
We can agree with the socialists that exploitation involves the capitalist extraction of surplus labor through their control over the means of production. However, what this formulation of the theory of exploitation misses is that Marx's critique of surplus value concerns both terms: surplus and value. The socialist formulation focuses on value but ignores the issue of surplus in the following sense. Socialists generally are critical only of the capitalist appropriation of the surplus, which they associate with the value form. The socialist elimination of exploitation involves getting rid of the parasitic capitalists, their anarchic market system and thus of value. In this vision, the surplus remains, but it is now in the hands of the workers who can dispose of it as they will. Planning is substituted for market allocation and the surplus itself remains exempt from critical consideration.
But this is one sided and contrary to Marx's own method and analysis. For Marx, value was only understandable within the context of surplus value. It was not just a form, separable from its content. Value does have a form, exchange value, but it also has a content: imposed labor and the link between value and surplus value is that in the normal course of capital accumulation, the capitalists only impose labor when they can impose surplus labor. This should be obvious from the simple observation that within capitalism no value producing process can reproduce itself unless it produces surplus value. Thus the very existence of value is tied up with the existence of surplus. The socialist program for trying to get rid of the form of value -- exchange value -- while retaining the surplus, can, at best, produce merely a change in the form of value rather than its abolition.
But, it will be objected, all societies, at least all that grow, generate a surplus! Surely you are not suggesting that the overthrow of capitalist development requires the elimination of the surplus which allows for growth? To answer this question requires us to go beyond a static analysis and to address the dynamic of capitalist development: the reinvestment processes, which produce accumulation. What is the role of surplus value in this process? Concretely, the surplus value, or labor above and beyond that necessary for current consumption, takes the form of investment goods. And what is the object of the production of these investment goods produced with surplus labor? Why investment of course, which the capitalists say is aimed at increasing the production of goods and services. But as Marx showed, and we daily experience, the production of useful commodities is totally secondary to the production of profit. In social terms, therefore, investment means the further imposition of work, and more surplus work to boot. Therefore, capitalist development is primarily the accumulation of more capital and more workers.
This is the real, intertemporal meaning of exploitation. It is not just the extraction of a surplus upon which the capitalists live and fatten themselves. It is not just greed. It is the extraction of a surplus for the purpose of extracting future surplus. It is the imposition of work for the main purpose of being able to impose more work in the future. The capitalists are capitalists, not when they consume the surplus, but when they invest it, i.e., when they impose more work.
And this is exactly what the socialist critique of capitalist development fails to deal with. By focusing uniquely on the question of who owns or controls the surplus and demanding workers' control, it fails to come to grips with the substance of value and surplus value: endlessly imposed work. To answer the question posed earlier about post-capitalist surplus: certainly such a society will have its surpluses, but the production of those surpluses will be subordinated to the growth of needs, and among those needs will be the constant reduction of the capitalist life sentence to hard labor!
Thus the first failure of the socialist project is that it is unable to constitute a true negation, or inversion, of capitalist development. Instead it amounts to a change in form, a change informed by an humanitarian, egalitarian impulse perhaps, but still only a change in form. By not recognizing and dealing with the content of capitalist development -- the endless imposition of work -- socialist development becomes merely a different organizational form of this imposition. Socialism is capitalism metamorphosed, but not mutated.
The results of this failure are strikingly evident in the programs and accomplishments of socialists today. In the place of private ownership or control of the means of production, they would (or have) substituted state ownership and control. In the place of the market allocation of resources and distribution, they would (or have) substituted more or less centralized state planning. In the socialist utopia, though nowhere yet in practice of course, the state with its ownership, control and planning represents the interests of the workers.
But when we look to see what is to be done (or is being done) with this ownership and control, when we look to see what is being planned, what we find, still surviving this socialist "inversion," is the content of capitalist development: unending work. Whether we look at the development projects of the socialist countries or the alternative plans of socialist critics in capitalist world, all we see is a continuing desire to put people to work. From Andropov and Gorbachev's roundups of "slackers" to Cuban drafts of labor for sugar harvests, to omnipresent promises that "after the revolution" everyone will work, we find the same preoccupation. Not surprisingly, we find woven throughout socialist ideology, explaining and justifying this continued concentration of human energy in labor, a new, refurbished "work ethic" in which the worker hero of the revolution has become the worker hero of production! Today, in the midst of Gorbachev's efforts at reform, giant signs, white on red, proclaim "SLAVA TRUDU" (Glory in Work) throughout the Soviet Union. "Productividad" became a keyword of Cuban socialism. Such slogans are little more than Calvinism in secular, socialist garb.
This brings us to the second great failure of socialist development: its inability to articulate any new positive content for the future of humanity. It changes the form of that evolution, reorganizes it, makes it more egalitarian --everybody is to be a worker -- but in so doing, it continues the unidimensionality of capitalism.
This becomes clear when we ask about how to measure the degree of socialist development. From those who answer that we can use the same value measures we have used to evaluate capitalist development, we have an implicit admission that the content of their socialist development remains the same as under capitalism. All temperatures can be measured with a thermometer; all labor-based development can be measured with value. From those who refuse the homology and deny the relevance of value for measuring socialist development, we still obtain responses, which confirm the continuities between capitalist and socialist development. Many who think value in terms of form, have suggested measuring socialist development directly in terms of the labor hours embodied in production -- again a naive admission that socialism is still a labor-based social order. Others, wanting to abandon value completely, would measure socialist development in terms of the rising productivity of labor and of the growth in the availability of social wealth -- again conceived as the product of labor.
These socialists cannot escape capitalism because they embrace its very soul for their own: work as the fundamental organizing principle of society. In fact, the socialist work ethic they have created is frequently only one manifestation of a cosmology in which they generalize this capitalist principle to all of history, a cosmology called dialectical or historical materialism.
For these socialists the positive content of socialist development consists partly of an egalitarian humanism that comes with the elimination of the exploitation of one class by another. Partly it consists of the liberation of work that they think the end of such exploitation makes possible. Most contemporary socialists base these views on their reading of Marx, whom they see as exhalting labor as a privileged domain of human experience and as condemning capitalism for confining and distorting the development of human labor for its own ends.
But this understanding is not only based on a misreading of Marx, who saw work as one, but as only one, potentially creative sphere of human activity, but also a failure to grasp the multidimensional opposition which the working class raises against capitalism. We do not struggle just to be better workers; we struggle to become multifacited human beings. We struggle against capitalist, and socialist, efforts to reduce us to "mere worker."
This brings us to the most important source of the failure of socialism to even visualize, much less implement a viable, attractive alternative to capitalism. That source is its inability, or unwillingness, to either see or analyse the full range of working class struggle within and against capitalism. All the socialists see, and thus theorize, is workers' resistance to capitalist control over production. Thus their program of workers' control under socialism. What they don't see is how workers also struggle against the capitalist effort to subordinate all of their life energy to work. When Marx describes the struggle to reduce the working day in chapter 10 of Capital, the socialists see only resistance to capital, not resistance to having their lives dominated by work as such. Should we be surprised that when the socialists take power, they expect all workers to become Stakonovites in the service of the revolution, working long subbotniki for free?
Because it embodies such a narrow vision of the advantages of socialist work over capitalist work, the socialist development project fails to embody the incredible diversity of positive demands and directions of change always present at each moment of working class struggle. What space can there be for non-work activities in a socialism that does not even recognize that people struggle first and foremost to cease to be defined in terms of their work? What space can there be for positive new directions when socialists can not even recognize that the liberation of work requires the progressive liberation from work, that the only way non-alienated work can emerge is for there to be a dramatic reduction in the centrality of work in social organization? In the course of my argument I have proceeded from the analysis of capitalist development through its socialist critique to an examination of how the project of socialist development fails to constitute a real alternative and appears only as a change in the form of capitalism. In exploring how socialists fail to imagine, much less achieve, a real inversion of capitalist development I have argued that the most basic cause lies in their failure to grasp the most fundamental characteristics of capitalism and the class struggle.
From these observations I conclude that the only true inversion of capitalist development will be one that involves the overthrow of its social content as well as its form. A true inversion must involve the overthrow of the organization of society around the endless imposition of work. It will not do to continue that imposition under the rubric of a reorganized socialism, however egalitarian. Work must be displaced from its central position in society. Only thus can both present and future time be opened to real alternatives.
The basic elements of all this can be found in Marx's own writings. His labor theory of value points straight to the centrality of work in capitalist command. His analysis of surplus value and accumulation focuses on the endlessness of the process. Capitalism did not invent surplus labor, he wrote, and went on to show that what it did invent was the endlessness of its imposition. Why did Marx hate money so much? Because it is the quintessential distillation of homogenized labor, of the reduction of all of human life to labor. Why did he see the rapid development of technology within capitalism as a progressive force --despite the distortions and costs of that development? Because it potentially facilitates the liberation from work and from value! And what forces drive toward this liberation and the dissolution of capitalist development? Those of working class struggle.
From his analysis of the diversity and rigidities which use-value poses against homogenizing value, through his discussion of the constant resistance raised by living labor against dead labor, to his vivid portrayal of the manner in which workers' struggles force the development of productivity and precipitate crisis, Marx constantly includes in his analysis of capitalist development consideration of an antagonistic working class alternative. And as we follow his work on the history of capitalist development from original accumulation through the struggle over the working day to the crisis of labor value and the emergence of disposable time as the substance of working class value, we see that antagonistic alternative growing and changing right along with capital. From living labor power, to collective worker to revolutionary subject, the working class challenges all of capitals' determinations. Thus, only within an analysis of the evolution of our own struggles can we find any real alternative to capitalist development. When we begin to reexamine Marx's work on working class struggle and to push beyond it we see two things: the first, to which we have already alluded, is a refusal to take work as an all-defining characteristic of human being; the second, a corollary of the first, is the constant effort to liberate diversity and creative multilaterality from capitalist homogeneity. It is in the long history of workers' struggle against the universal imposition of work that we can locate the essential ingredient of real revolutionary inversion. It is among the diverse working class projects that tend to rupture and go beyond capitalist development that we can locate the positive content of a real alternative to capitalist development.
II. It is in this diversity that we come to the source of real alternatives to capitalist development. Those alternatives live in the reality of working class autonomy. Autonomy has many significations. First and foremost, there is the autonomy of working class initiatives against capitalist or socialist attempts at social hegemony. For far too long has Marxism thought working class struggle in the limited form of resistance to capitalist depredations, as the response of victims to exploitation. Marx, though not enough Marxists, saw that the struggle of living labor was the lifeblood of capitalism and only its ability to harness working class imagination guaranteed its continued control. Yes, the working class responds to capitalist attacks, but it also initiates its own demands. It did not just resist the extension of the working day, but once successful, passed over to the attack and has been reducing it ever since. Yes, workers resist attempts by capital to reduce wages and benefits, but at other times they initiate their own demands for more income and better working conditions, demands which have repeatedly ruptured profit rates and accumulation precipitating crises of development.
In fact, the more closely we read Marx, and explore the dynamics of capitalist class relations, the more we come to realize that the energies of those capital has bludgeoned into working class are the most autonomous forces within the system as a whole. Capital, after all, is dead labor which seeks to reign vampire-like over the living labor of workers; capital's very life is based on its ability to feed on the life forces of workers and harness them as work. Autonomy is thus pre-eminently the domain of the working class in which capital appears as a parasite, taking its lead from workers rather than leading them. Rather than the usual Marxist image of the capitalist with a whip, better the image of would-be managers riding the tiger's back trying to coerce or cajole their mount along different lines of development, frequently coming within a hair's breath of falling off when the tiger rears or comes to a sudden halt, always in danger of the tiger turning around and ripping these upstarts from its back. We can carry this metaphor too far, for the working class "tiger" is actually a multitude, but, with respect to thinking the autonomy of the class vis Ã vis capital, this metaphor serves its purpose.
Secondly, and no less important, not only does the working class exercise autonomy from capital by initiating its own demands, but these demands have at least a negative and often have a positive content. Negative in the sense that they tend to rupture capitalist development. Refusals: to work, to accept the price form, to be reorganized, to accept new alignments, to be malleable, such rigidities can break the circulation of capital, can cause it to freeze, stagnate and rot. Or, sudden unexpected new moves, new energies taking off in unforeseen directions incompatible with current capitalist structures, break the efficacy of these structures as harnessing limitations. Rigidities and innovation, both can rupture capitalist command, precipitate crisis and open spaces for self-activity.
Self-activity may be positive in the sense that even as it ruptures capitalist development it may spill outside and beyond it, coursing in new directions, out of control. Here is the most complete autonomy, beyond negation, autonomy that sets itself out as something else, with its own project, its own directions. Thus, in the spaces opened by the rupture of capital's valorization emerges working class "self-valorization" or the self-determination of new ways of being and acting.
Third, working class autonomy necessarily involves diversity, the explosion of capitalist homogeneity. Where capital has imposed homogeneity on people through the universality of work, those people pose their own diverse directions, their own heterogeneity. The only unified working class project is the overthrow of capitalist or socialist development, the rupture of all imposed unity, especially the end of the capitalist created category of working class. People struggle against being defined as workers both by refusing work and by elaborating their existence, their capabilities, their activities beyond work into new spheres of being.
Here again we see the poverty of both the capitalist and socialist development projects. Unable to liberate human potential from constant subordination to work, both projects build structures that restrict and channel human energy into a narrow and limiting range of activities -- those that are productive of surplus and more work. Marx, it will be remembered, was able to celebrate the historically progressive role of capitalism over feudalism because he thought it created more room for human diversity. But at the same time he condemned it because of its failure to remove all constraints, its failure to utilize workers' ever expanding productive powers to remove the shackles of work. So too must we avoid, or undermine, any social form, actual or projected, which would seek to impose unacceptable limits to the autonomous elaboration of human potential.
Politically, the capitalist and socialist refusal of autonomy takes the form of the centrist demand that all particular projects be subordinated to the general interest of development. Among capitalists diverse autonomous demands must not be allowed to challenge or undermine the central processes of profit making, investment and growth. Among socialists, such demands must not be allowed to impede the realization of the general interests of the working class, which in practice turn out to be the party's plans for realizing surplus, investment and growth. Thus the autonomous activities of women, blacks, peasants, students, industrial workers, and so on, must be either integrated within the overall development process (which eliminates their autonomy) or suppressed.
In opposition to these integrative or repressive practices, stand real autonomous struggles of people for their own self-determination. Third World peasants struggle to preserve or create their own communities and refuse their subordination via market or collectivization to the slogan of industrialization. Women everywhere struggle for control over their own bodies and lives and refuse to set aside their feminist demands in the interests of "class" struggle. Blacks in the U.S.A. fight to build their own culture and reject white leadership in the name of class unity. Students, in all countries, demand a chance to learn and refuse the repressive structures of schooling, whatever the ideological mantle. Ethnic minorities around the world fight for the right to maintain and elaborate their own unique cultural structures and practices. In short, these irreducible autonomous demands challenge the very notion of any general working class interest other than the overthrow of capitalist or socialist hegemony. These demands, by posing themselves as rigid against capital's need to circulate, or as mobile against capitals' rigidity, construct a new and quite different vision of revolution as the explosive eruption of unconstrained, self-directed diversity. They constitute an alternative vision of post-capitalist society as a composite ensemble of autonomous approaches to life in which the sphere of politics becomes the terrain on which the dialectic of independence and cooperation is played out within and among an increasingly varied global collection of communities.
Central to the emergence of self-valorizing autonomy is the conquest of new spaces, moments and resources, their liberation from capitalist colonization. Peasant seizures of land, youth occupations of buildings, squatters' takeovers, the use of a school copier to run off leaflets or of a business computer for play or organizing, the liberation of time (hours, weekends) and space (vacant lots, bedrooms, even whole homes) from reproduction, the preservation of forests for play or ritual, taking time from the job, all these conquests open new opportunities for self determined activity. From the micro appropriations of individuals and small groups to larger scale seizures by communities (of land, state expenditures) there is a simultaneous narrowing of the scope of capitalist or socialist development and a widening of the potential for self-valorization.
In the Third World, one of the most obvious and most interesting, because most elaborated, forms of such direct appropriation for self-valorization is that of peasant land seizures to gain space and resources for community self-development. Such appropriation is neither simple redistribution to gain greater income security nor simple rupture of capitalist accumulation. With control over sufficient land (and other resources) peasants have the possibility of subordinating production to community needs rather than accepting the subordination of their own time and energy to the requirements of capitalist development. This includes the expansion of the sphere of non-work activities such as: fiestas that not only provide occasion for strengthening vital community ties but also build strength for further struggle, or, time and space for communion with the rest of nature that both enriches individuals and groups and strengthens them for dealing with capitalist alienation.
But how do we know when self-determination is really self-valorization? How do we know when land seizure or other forms of appropriation are simply reorganizations of the capital relation? After all, we have seen that a key feature of capitalist development is its ability to tap the energies of the working class and harness its imagination. We cannot rely upon any short-term subjective sense of self-satisfaction, for capital leaves a certain space for that. Critical theorists have been thorough in teaching us about the mechanisms of co-optation and instrumentalization. Their work reminds us that what we may feel to be play, may only be a moment of the re-creation of labor power. The power they perceive in capital is that of a structure to channel, limit and incorporate anomaly. But they have never developed an analysis of self-valorization. It is their greatest weakness. They have not learned how to recognize when self-activity becomes absolutely disruptive of capital accumulation and autonomously self-constituting.
To be able to recognize such moments we need two abilities. First, we must be open to the possibility of their existence. We need to recognize how fragile the structure of capitalist "hegemony" can be, how frantic its efforts to freeze and shape change can be, how its own stability is constantly threatened and is often in open crisis. Second, we must train ourselves to identify those currents and activities which break free of capital's structure and open out into newly liberated space.
To recognize the fragility of capitalist structures we need to examine them piece by piece, connection by connection, and discover their weaknesses, their lines of possible collapse. Marx does this in the Grundrisse and in Capital but many Marxists today don't seem to be able to see or extend this process. In his analysis of circulation, for example, Marx focuses on the separation of buying and selling to pinpoint the possibility of crisis. In his analysis of the labor market, he shows us the extreme difficulty with which capital imposes and maintains a market supply of labor power. In his analysis of production we are shown capital constantly being forced to have recourse to new technologies to decompose new levels of working class power to refuse work, or to appropriate wealth. Such are the fragilities of capital. We could multiply examples. At each rupture, at each moment of crisis, when the working class cracks the structures of control, it is always an open question of whether capital will be able to discover new ways of suturing its wounds, of overcoming the crises of its command. It is always possible that we will be able to mobilize enough power to prevent that from happening.
We maximize the chances of total inversion by being clear about the patterns of our own autonomy. What are the characteristics of activities that rupture and escape capital's structure? They are activities that open paths leading in unknown directions. Activities that flow and swirl, that rush ahead, breaking down or sweeping around capital's structural obstacles, these are activities which refuse to be dammed, to be frozen into capital's own lifelessness. Capital is above all objectionable because it is boring. It repeats itself endlessly. It reproduces itself almost exactly. The best it can achieve is self-reproduction through metamorphosis. Self-valorizing activities are all the contrary, they are fluid, moving, their patterns of change are not cyclical, they fly off in all directions refusing the rigidities of structure, they are the very restlessness of life itself.
In an earlier period, workers escaped from the factories of New England or the haciendas of Rio de la Plata into the vastness of the North American West or into the Pampas to elaborate new life styles and ways of being as pioneers or Gauchos. Similarly, in Mexico and Central America there was flight from coercive development into the mountains or other free areas. As open spaces were increasingly fenced in, workers had to stand and fight for the land which gave them some autonomy from capitalist development. Today, in Mexico and elsewhere, the fight for land continues in rural zones, while in the cities, urban squatters and radical youth carry on similar space wars for self-development.
The restless struggle for self-valorization goes on in every sphere from the points of production and distribution to those of culture and reproduction. Take, for example, the case of music, an area where many Marxists see only capitalist commercialization. Not only are there entire spheres of folk and peasant music which persist as vital moments of struggle, but even in the evolution of popular, mass-market music (e.g., rock and roll) we find a constant escape from co-optation into new areas of invention and protest. No matter how fast capital moves to commercialize and profit from a new musical form, two things happen. First, mass distribution often spreads, sometimes at a global level, music that critiques capital and articulates demands that are incompatible with it. By so doing capital serves working class interests of circulating a common language of struggle. Second, in response to the attempt to co-opt and industrialize a given musical form, the creativity of musicians escapes into new forms, attacking, satirizing, mocking or just leaving behind yesterday's innovations with today's inventions.
The use of land and music for autonomous purposes are merely two examples of the kinds of self-activities that can and have repeatedly escaped capitalist control.
In the terms of thermodynamics, self-valorization is at the heart of the capitalist problems of entropy. Against capitalist attempts to convert life-energy into work, self-valorization constitutes the expanding sphere of high entropy, the self-defined expenditure of energy. All workers, who work less for capital and redirect their energy into activities that create new ways of being outside and against capitalist accumulation, are agents of self-valorization. To capital and its planners, they are chaotic elements to be molded into the structures of accumulation or eliminated. For us, they are agents of subversion and creative artists of new worlds.
In the language of the biological metaphor that Marx used so often, self-valorization goes beyond metamorphic change to become mutation. Its variations are not marginal but essential. Self-valorizing activities are those whose essence is different from capital. In the place of the one-dimensional tyranny of work, we find new values, new arrangements of relationships and new processes of meaning. The translation of improved productivity into more free time creates endless possibilities. The vast array of those currently being explored has barely been recognized, much less catalogued.
Unlike capitalist or socialist development and growth which are unidimensional and thus measureable through a single yardstick, these diverse experiences of self-valorization cannot be measured in the same way. Because they constitute an explosion of incomparable dimensions, each demanding a different measure, a different method of evaluation, a different interpretation of meaning, no unique positive measure is possible. The only unified way to measure their elaboration is negatively by measuring the decline of capitalist imposed work, whose reduction leaves space for these varied activities.
The pattern of self-valorizing activities also differs radically from the vertical and hierarchical character of capital's work structure. Although one's position in the hierarchy may change, always the lines of communication are fixed to create divisions (sexual, racial, ethnic, etc.) and separations that are functional to control. Self-valorizing activities refuse this structure of connection and reestablish connections every which way, but especially horizontally, bridging the divisions and gulfs that are key to the structure's stability. Every inassimilable linkage weakens the structure. The multiplication of linkages tends to dissolve the structure because the structure is only a carefully limited arrangement of linkages. Ice melts into water as molecules gain energy and agitate themselves out of their frozen set of linkages. So self-valorization is the unchainable power to dissolve the capitalist ice age into flowing new rivers of life. This proliferation of horizontal connections among self-valorizing parts of the class circulates the innovations of struggle and the results of non-capitalist social experiments. The joint self-organization of diverse peasant groups can speed such circulation and widen the breeches in accumulation. Linkages among innovative struggles on widely dispersed factory shop floors, prisons or university campuses can widen spaces for self-valorization in each one. In general, the refusal and bypassing of hierarchy and divisions with the class is extremely important in recomposing working class power and creates new room for workers' own demands and projects to circulate, mutate and grow.
These incredibly diverse and fluid patterns are what many socialists have been unable to see, especially those who embrace a "structuralist" Marxism. They reproduce the frozen fixity of capitalism in their interpretation of Marx. They generalize the rigidities of capitalist structure to a philosophy of history. They project those rigidities backwards to analyse even the least capitalist of societies and, much more disastrously, they project those rigidities forward as an integral part of their projects for socialism. Instead of recognizing the fluidity of working class self-valorization, and thinking revolution and new society in terms of openness and diversity and lack of structure, they tinker with capitalist structures, pronounce such and such a marginal rearrangement of work as a step forward in the transition and proceed, when they can, to use the state to try to impose the modified structure on the rest of us. And then, when these self-satisfied socialists perceive resistance to this continued imposition of structure, they loose all their self-righteous fury against those "idlers, misfits, delinquents, and petty bourgeois reactionaries" who dare to speak up or act against their narrow conception of a new society. And in socialist society after society, the class struggle continues between a state that uses Marx to justify the continued imposition of work and people who continue to resist being "workers" and continue to elaborate their own self-valorizing projects.
The more severe the police state apparatus of a Pinochet capitalism, or of a Stalinist socialism, the deeper underground and the more diffuse the patterns of self-valorization become. But still, however hidden from view, they flow, mutate and circulate, drawing off energy from capitalist or socialist development. And as they circulate, in a multiplex circulation that is not at all that of capitalist exchange, they establish ever more connections and linkages gaining more and more energy and power until at those moments when they succeed in cracking the dominant structure, they rush with all their power into those fissures widening them and threatening total dissolution. Need we recall such moments as 1905 in Russia, 1910 in Mexico, 1917 in Russia, 1936 in Spain, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in France, 1970 and 1976 in Poland, 1977 in Italy, 1978 in Iran, 1980 in Poland? These are only a few, particularly dramatic moments of sudden revolutionary rupture by self-valorizing forces which had been circulating and gathering and finally not only ripped open the immediate structures of domination but posed new alternative approaches to social organization: the soviets, new peasant communities, workers' councils, mass organizations, solidarity and a multitude of other less recognized and less studied moments of self-organization.
Development or autonomy? The line has been drawn before, many times, and is still being redrawn. Many battles are currently engaged. Inside their structures, the managers and planners of capitalism and socialism are hustling frantically to patch up cracks in the framework of accumulation, straining to perceive the new directions of workers' struggles and anxious to find effective means of co-optation or repression. Here we find officials of the International Monetary Fund, multinational bankers, central bankers, government bureaucrats, military leaders, union bureaucrats, political party leaders and a wide variety of their underlings, intellectual apologists, hatchet men and followers who are either dedicated to the current order or who can see only chaos beyond its walls. This is a sober crew, usually deadly serious in their attempts to hold their system together, anxiety ridden in both their personal careers and their sordid intra-class squabbles. Inside and outside, are those guerrilla legions whose self-organized struggles are pitted against various aspects of the present order and whose autonomous efforts sometimes carve out or break into the new spaces for self-development I have been discussing. This is a more disparate, rambunctious crowd, alternatively charged with insubordinate anger in its battles and exuberant in celebrating its victories.
Among the ranks of the forces of reaction and reform the job hierarchies are all spelled out, the paths to power fairly clear. Among the crowd of guerrillas space and opportunity are riskier but more loosely and flexibly organized. Among the functionaries of capital the payoffs are formalized in wage scales and the possibilities of corruption. Among the revolutionaries the benefits are more diverse. For a while some of them can be measured in money but already diversity embodies dimensions of meaning that escape such measure.
Development or autonomy? Because the war is a guerrilla war, barricades are frequent but not fixed and for the most part we are all free to choose sides as we will. For those who choose to side with the planners, their rules of the game were all spelled out long ago. For those of us who would side with the guerrillas, the elaboration of strategy is an ongoing process of sharing and invention.
To strengthen our own self-valorizing movements and increase the likelihood of our being able to shatter the structure of capitalism once and for all, we need to learn both from the evolution of past movements and to invent new patterns. We need to learn to be fast, to be fluid, to avoid self- structuring, to be unpredictable, untrappable, innovative and creative in ways that escape any attempt to fix us in a structure through which others can harness our energy as work, whether it be the work of production or that of reproduction. Instead of holding desperately to one model of self-organization (e.g., the Leninist party) we need to constantly invent new forms of self-organization by making new linkages, new connections, absorbing new approaches, always being ready to cast off old methods the moment they begin to freeze up. The history of the working class is rich with such invention and mutation. The patterns of class struggles today are no less rich with multiple determinations and approaches.
We learn by making connections, by touching, by sharing experience, by forming tentative, temporary alliances among autonomous groups. Groups that we know will sometimes follow parallel courses, sometimes converge, sometimes diverge, and that is as it should be, both during the revolutionary struggle and beyond capitalism. Just as all individuals must follow their own unique paths through the world, sometimes touching others, sometimes going along side by side, often separating, so too with autonomous groups. The problem of revolutionary politics is not to bring about a convergence of paths, but rather to seek, through contact and alliance, to make the struggles complementary in their refusal of capitalism and in their demand for more time and space for unique autonomous activities.
Long ago Marx grasped something absolutely basic in working class politics when he refused utopianism and teleology in favor of an open-ended revolutionary project of invention. It was, perhaps, the most important of his legacies. And it has too often been the most neglected. The refusal of utopianism is not the refusal of imagination or of dreams. It is the refusal of a unified project. It is the refusal to accept that any one individual or social group be allowed to impose their vision of social organization on others. The rejection of utopia means the embrace of multiplicity, the liberation of invention in all directions. We can appreciate, as Marx did, the inventiveness of a Fourier, or of any other visionary, we can even allocate space and resources for the exploration of such visions, without seeking to impose one on all.
Autonomy, as we have seen, is not just autonomy from capital; it also means autonomous plurality beyond capital. Those whose spaces of self-valorization are urban, concrete and vertical should not pretend, or be allowed, to dictate norms to those of us whose activities of self-valorization require forests and pastures, open huts and mountaintops. Or visa versa. Autonomy means constantly evolving variety. Indeed, the acceptance of the politics of self-valorization implies a world of increasingly diverse communities, large and small, urban and rural, where people with interests in some common ways of being draw together for shorter or longer periods of time. A non-hierarchical world of free association (as Marx used to say) where the reduction of necessary labor time liberates increasing amounts of time and energy for the realization of many-sided potentials and multidimensional personalities.
III. The question which invariably arises from Third World militants in response to the foregoing analysis goes something like this: "Ok, let's suppose we accept all of what you have said, that the overthrow of capital must involve the abolition of the centrality of work and the creation of new spaces and times for self-valorization. But how is this possible in underdeveloped countries? Isn't this theory itself the product of class struggle in rich, developed countries? How applicable can it be in under- or less- developed countries where there is large-scale poverty and limited resources? Even if we overthrow present capitalist regimes, won't we be condemned to impose work on ourselves in order to achieve the standards of living so many desire?"
How to respond? Yes, the theory is partly (but only partly) the product of class struggles in "rich" developed countries. But no, it is not premised on the supposition of wealth and high productivity. Let us explore this further.
Clearly, the higher the productivity of labor, the more material wealth can be obtained with a given amount of work and thus the less work is required to produce a given amount of wealth. Therefore, the higher the average level of productivity, the more free time can be liberated at any given level of production. So, at first glance we are led to suspect that less developed countries with lower average levels of productivity would be able to liberate less free time for the same level of per capita consumption as a more developed country. But, there are a number of things about this logic that need to be made explicit and discussed.
First, is it really legitimate to analyse relative "productivity" in different countries and say it is higher in one than the other? Can we compare average productivity levels, say in Korea and the United States? This seems to me very problematic. We must recognize that the process of accumulation has always been a global one from the beginnings of capitalism. For example, the British textile industry of the 19th Century was based on cotton production in the United States and the enslavement of African peoples. Could we at that point in time say productivity was high in Britain and low in American and Africa? Isn't it more to the point to say that high productivity in the Satanic mills of Manchester was directly tied to and dependent on the ability to enslave Africa and put it to work in America? In the 20th Century is capital accumulation any less global? Is it not as true today as it was then that capitalism has constructed a world system of labor, machinery and raw materials, a global factory, within which it puts us to work? Today, in the United States, as it was in Britain two centuries ago, what is called high "American" productivity is directly dependent on an international network of multinational corporations and trading links that mobilize workers all over the world in one elaborate system of production and reproduction. Certainly, it makes sense to discuss the level of productivity of that system as a whole, the productivity of the entire, interconnected, integrated process. But if we try to separate out this part or that part, this factory or that country we have to recognize that whatever the local level of productivity, it is both a beneficiary and a victim of its position in the system as a whole.
From this perspective we are forced to recognize that what the so-called international hierarchy of development (the developed, developing, less- or under- developed countries/regions) really consists of is a global system at a given historical level of capital accumulation and the various countries (or regions) play more or less specialized roles in that system.
New York, London and Paris specialize in the organization of financial capital; the American and Canadian mid-West, the Argentinian pampas and the Mekong Delta specialize in food grain production; the American North-East, the German, French and Japanese industrial zones specialize in the production of the means of production; Chile, Zambia, Bolivia as well as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Venezuela and Nigeria have specialized in mining raw materials; Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and the Northern Mexican border have specialized in the production of electronics and other light consumer goods manufacturing. The key word in this list is "specialized." None of these areas or countries is self-sufficient or autarchic. They are all tied together and integrated through the sinews of trade, capital flows and immigration.
This is the capital that needs to be overthrown and replaced. This is the system of productivity that needs to be appropriated and transformed by self-valorization. Getting rid of all the ills associated with the present system: too much work, very uneven distribution of material standards of living, exploitation, war, repression, alienation, and so on, ultimately requires the global liberation of society from capitalism.
The very serious question posed by our militant assumes that all this cannot be accomplished at once and that class struggle proceeds in a fragmented, partial manner. And this is true enough. Not only does capital rule by harnessing the differences among us for its own purposes, but I have argued that our own struggles proceed, to a large degree, autonomously from one another.
The problem posed by the question grows out of this difficulty: to the degree that our struggles proceed in isolation, whether of ethnic group, income class, industrial group, or nationality, they are weakened. If any one group in the international system tries to free itself from capitalist domination in isolation, it will in turn be isolated and weakened. This was one great lesson of the Russian Revolution. The revolution was able to overthrow most of the Czarist state, yet, unable to break out of its isolation and unable to tap the productivity of the world economic system, Russia was thrown back onto its own, limited resources. In this situation, the Bolshevik party leadership was able to argue forcibly, in justification of their repressive imposition of work, that the only way the Soviet Union could "develop" was to engage in "primitive socialist accumulation" and later socialist accumulation tout court.
It is this historical experience which continues to plague us to this day. We all struggle, we mobilize as much power as possible, we try to rupture the circuits of capitalist accumulation and create spaces for our own self-valorization, but we constantly face the problem of isolated defeat or of limited success. This is a basic problem of all national liberation struggles. If the giant Soviet Union was forced into socialism by limited resources, how can any lesser country escape the same fate? Certainly it has befallen Cuba, and China, and Mozambique, and Angola, and Vietnam, and North Korea, and Nicaragua.
We can see this as one more, large scale application of the capitalist principle of divide and conquer. To the degree any group of people ruptures capitalist command and carves out their own space, capital responds by doing its best to isolate that space, to sever its connections with the rest of the system, to prevent it from drawing on the productivity of global social production and forcing it to rely on its own limited resources. Today people are being starved to death on a vast scale in Ethiopia and in the Sudan through this strategy of isolate and destroy. Elsewhere, throughout the world there are endless examples of people being starved, or just kept weak and powerless, on a smaller scale: that of the village, the family or even the individual.
One of the problems with contemporary Marxist-Leninist programs of national liberation is that they play right into the hands of this most basic of capitalist strategies. Unlike the workers and peasants who launched the open-ended revolt of 1917 that was defeated by isolation, Leninists today have embraced the Soviet example as holy precedence and have rationalized socialist development as a desirable alternative to capitalism. They are not afraid of isolation and the low levels of productivity it can entail. Why should they be? As we have seen, work is their religion and, of course, for some, connections with Western, more or less free market capitalism, can be replaced with new connections with Mother Russia.
But, some will object, severance of connections to the global factory may not be our choice, it may be imposed upon us, as the Western Powers did to Russia, or, on a smaller scale, to Chile after it expropriated the copper mines. This is true. The question is should this isolation be embraced as a deliverance from the contagion of evil and be used to impose more work in the construction of a new kingdom on earth, or should it be fought and connections reestablished with workers elsewhere? Today it is not an exaggeration to say that only Nicaragua's ability to mobilize mass support in the United States and Western Europe has limited the U.S. government's military and economic repression of that revolution.
There is a profound lesson here. If it is true in general that working class power is a function of the ability of autonomous groups to circulate their struggles, to make alliances, to make their efforts complementary, then it is also true in the case of countries and the class struggle at a global level.
To give one kind of answer to the initial question about the possibilities of going beyond a work centered society in "less developed" countries: I would say that, on one level, the fear is well founded. If you are isolated, either by choice or by force of circumstances, you will indeed be thrown back on local resources and thus on low levels of productivity. Under these circumstances the liberation of time for self-valorization will be more difficult. The conclusion to be drawn, however, is obvious: just as you seek to gain power locally by linking various autonomous groups, so, too, on an international level must you seek to avoid isolation through the building of international networks of alliance and support.
This answer, however, does not satisfy me. There is another set of factors which must also be taken into account when assessing the possibilities of going beyond capitalism, in all countries, Third World or otherwise. This concerns those structures of production and consumption, of material wealth and free time, of individual and social activities, desired and fought for by the peoples in any given area. In short, this second set of factors concerns the content of self-valorization.
Too often revolutionary militants assume that people everywhere desire to consume and structure their lives along the patterns of middle class workers in the industrial countries, especially those in the United States and Western Europe. This is a mistake, from two points of view. First, although part of those patterns are the result of the struggles of workers in those countries, another part is the result of capitalist attempts to structure and control consumption and reproduction. These attempts have given rise to a whole literature critiquing patterns of consumption in developed capitalist countries, a literature which includes Critical Theory and some of its post-modernist descendents, the consumer movement and the environmentalist movement. All three of these phenomena have taught us how the "consumption patterns" produced by development should be avoided, not be emulated. Second, it is also a mistake because, more simply, the assumption is often, perhaps mostly, not an accurate reflection of people's real desires and aspirations. Middle class consumption patterns have a certain diversity. But the wide variety of cultural traditions and lifestyles around the world are infinitely more diverse. So too are people's ideas about the most interesting ways to live and to explore the possibilities of life. The analysis of self-valorization points to the need for a phenomenology of self-activity, for an appreciation and acceptance of the actual desires and aspirations of individuals and social groups. This does not mean those desires need be examined uncritically. We can extend the critique of consumption in the West to desires elsewhere. But we can do so in a manner designed to inform but not dominate, much less assume away those desires.
The truth is there are a great many peoples whose preferred lifestyles do not demand either the kind or the levels of material production current in the developed countries. (And many of these people live in those same countries.) In assessing what levels of productivity are required to make possible both desired material wealth and desired free time, much attention must be paid to determining just what those desires are, both quantitatively and qualitatively. It may not be going too far to suggest that many leadership groups acting as functionaries of capital around the world are made up of individuals who, as a group, are not only seeking to emulate Western patterns of consumption but are also justifying the imposition of work on others on the assumption that they too aspire to emulation.
One last point, as I argued in section I, the issue of surplus labor must be grasped in dynamic terms. What characterizes capitalism is the subordination of necessary labor to surplus labor. Going beyond capitalism requires the inversion of this relationship: the subordination of surplus labor to necessary labor. In the language of self-valorization, this means that no more labor should be undertaken than required to generate, in the present and future periods, the combination of wealth and free time (to enjoy that wealth) desired by any group. This is not a formula that can be given a priori. It should be determined by a political process of wide-open discussion and debate. This is a debate which capitalists and socialists try to keep off the political agenda. It is an agenda item which, again and again, though often in limited form, workers have fought for, and sometimes achieved. Because it is one way of talking about both the undesirability of capitalism and the processes of self-valorization, it should be at the very center of discussion.
Where it is, militants may often find that the desires of their contemporaries are not only quite diverse but also quite different from what they expect. Here is the most important point with reference to the question we are exploring: to the degree that those desires are directed more toward the achievement of free time and less toward the consumption of produced wealth, the problem of the level of productivity is reduced. Moreover, viewed dynamically, for any desired level of consumption and leisure, the same political process can also decide on a path for achieving those goals. Yes, people may want more material goods, but they may also want to go about the process of raising production in a less than fanatical manner. They may choose a rapid path, with much work, or they may choose a much slower and more leisurely approach to their desired level. One thing is certain, without being aware of and open to such investigation of the diversity of possible desires, revolutionary militants may well find themselves isolated from their contemporaries and their political programs ignored or rejected.
Again the case of the Soviet Union is paradigmatic. The Bolshevik leadership could rationalize to themselves the massive imposition of work and the wholesale exploitation of the peasantry on the basis of low levels of overall productivity but they never convinced the majority of the Soviet people, who, we can now see, have desired quite different patterns of work and leisure. As a result, the history of the Soviet Union, since not long after the revolution, has been one long story of resistance to socialist development. While the Gorbachev reforms may mark the final defeat by the Soviet people of Stalinist methods of imposing work, even the most cursory reading of the reforms being implemented reveal not an abandonment of accumulation but mere a shift to new forms of control, including the oldest one of all: the market. There are many reasons to think that the history of post-revolutionary China is quite similar and that the latest recourse to freer markets also represents a desperate attempt to harness the ever rebellious forces of self-valorization through the oldest of capitalist ploys.