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(en) Red & Black Forum on Anti-Capitalist Currents Report

From Jura Books <a-infos-@chaos.apana.org.au>
Date Sun, 19 Aug 2001 12:57:57 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Red and Black Forum on Anti-Capitalist Currents:  Some Critical Thoughts on
>From Rebel Worker paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network, Vol.20 No.3(172)
Aug-Sept. 2001, Subs. $12 pa or air mail $25 (Aus.) overseas
PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW Australia

Day 2 of the Red and Black Forum - held over the weekend of July 28th and
29th at the University of Technology, Sydney - was when speakers associated
with the Love and Rage milieu spoke of the autonomist ideas that underpin
their activities.  Whilst I don't profess to be expert in autonomist
theory, I shall, however, from my own revolutionary syndicalist and
libertarian marxist perspectives, endeavour to highlight those aspects of
autonomism that I regard as inadequate for purposes of fighting capitalism.
Sergio Fiedler presented the fundamentals of the autonomist perspective
(which I hope I represent here with some degree of accuracy):  Autonomism
stresses that the class struggle between worker and capitalist is central
to the history of capitalism, and that workers develop forms of
organisation that parallel technical and managerial developments in the
forces of production.  For instance, during the decades prior to the First
World War when the skilled worker typified the average proletarian,
syndicalist strategies were appropriate organisational responses to the
existing level of technological development.  The bourgeoisie introduced
taylorist and fordist methods of reorganising production in order to, not
only increase the productivity of labour and the volume of output, but
also, to eliminate the material basis of the skilled workers - and hence
their industrial and political power - by replacing them with unskilled
workers attending mechanised production lines.  The working class responded
by adopting some variation or another of the vanguardist party model, by
which it's assumed that a vanguard of professional revolutionary
intellectuals is necessary to keep the class struggle on track to
socialism;  this became the appropriate political form for the new
conditions.  Autonomist analysis thus seeks to emphasise the development of
class composition which it sees as taking place through seemingly
ever-recurring cycles of composition, decomposition, recomposition, etc.,
in response to technical change brought about by the bosses.
Classical marxian theory was overly concerned with the study of capital
formation to the detriment of class formation, according to the
autonomists; and the neo-liberal era, being supposedly post-industrial in
character, was crying out for revolutionary strategies that would be
qualitatively different from those of yesteryear that addressed themselves
solely to mass workforces; so as a corrective to these perceived
deficiencies, Harry Cleaver, in 1979, felt compelled to write <M>Reading
Capital Politically.
Here, the class struggle between worker and capitalist is still central to
revolutionary activity, but the forms that this activity takes under
conditions of neo-liberalism necessarily differs from those of the 'old
days'.  But what are the most appropriate forms for revolutionary activity
in the neo-liberal era?  I shall quote Sergio from a recent posting on the
Love and Rage discussion site [Re: Brief Intro to Autonomist Marxism by
Nick Dyer-Withford ... 7/08/01]:  "What autonomists do is basically
contributing at creating working class autonomy and self-activity.  In the
current 'post-industrial' phase of capitalism, this involves creating
autonomous spaces for both activism and new forms of social relations.
Communism in the here and now sort of thing.  This can be social centres,
helping to organise the unemployed or workers in the 'new economy' like
call centres, help to set up communication networks such as Indymedia,
well, creating all sorts of organs of struggle and life which are
independent from the bureaucracies of the State and capital."  In another
posting [(Love and Rage) Brief Intro to Autonomist Marxism by Nick
Dyer-Withford ... 6/08/01], Sergio says that the "undermining of
capitalism" will be achieved by, not a singular "mole" such as Marx's
industrial proletariat, but by a "tribe of moles" which will adopt a
"lateral, polycentric concept of anti-capitalist alliance-in-diversity,
connecting a plurality of agencies in a circulation of struggles."  
The revolution itself will occur after a protracted period during which
class conflict moves like a "spiralling 'double helix'" where "[w]orking
class composition and capitalist restructuring chase each other over ever
widening and more complex expanses of social territory.  As long as capital
retains the initiative, it can actually harness the momentum of the
struggle as a motor of development, using workers' revolt to propel its
growth and drive it to successively more sophisticated technical and
organizational levels.  The revolutionary counterproject, however, is to
rupture this recuperative movement, unspring the dialectical spiral, and
speed the circulation of struggles until they attain an escape velocity in
which labor tears itself away from incorporation within capital - in a
process that autonomists refer to as autovalorization or self-valorization.
 For behind the perennial renewed conflict of capital and labor lies an
asymmetry of enormous consequences.  Capital, a relation of general
commodification predicated on the wage relation, needs labor.  But labor
does not need capital.  Labor can dispense with the wage, and with
capitalism, and find different ways to organize its own creative energies:
it is potentially autonomous [ibid.]."   Whatever one thinks of the
descriptive validity of such a highly abstracted analysis of the class
struggle, one cannot be too impressed with the practical prescriptions that
have been drawn from it.  While the extravagant use of metaphor allows for
pretty much any kind of interpretation as far as practical activity is
concerned, there does, however, remain an insistence on the primacy of the
labour and capital relationship.  The practical political prescription, in
contrast, recommends the formation of alliances amongst social elements
that are marginal, or, at best, peripheral to the labour/capital
relationship ("activists", the unemployed, call centre workers, etc.):
these elements appear to have little in common to provide a basis for
alliance .  If autonomists are serious about fighting capitalism why not
call for an effort to assist the self-activity of workers in sectors that
have some real chance of shifting the balance of class forces in favour of
workers?  Why cite call centre workers as being targets for autonomist
self-activity?  The struggles of self-organised call centre workers will
have a serious chance of developing into a formidable anti-capitalist force
only if they link up with self-organised workers elsewhere, along
industry-wide lines.  The last thing call centre workers should be
contemplating is an alliance with squatters, the unemployed, or some other
marginalised group - unless they're seeking a quick exit into oblivion (or
should that be decomposition?). 
The political prescriptions cited above seem to belie an unwillingness
to<M> fight the bosses in a real and concrete manner: the purpose seems to
be a desire to retreat from engagement with capitalist society into
"autonomous spaces" where  "new forms of social relations", "communism in
the here and now", and no doubt, other forms of dilettantism can be
experimented with, while capitalism functions as per usual outside.
Traditional marxists called this utopianism;  anarchists call it
lifestylism;  both regard it as having no ability to abolish capitalism.
Social centres certainly have a useful role to play, but they can only be
brought into being as a result of struggle.  For example, it's possible for
workers to win from their boss, as a result of a demonstration of
collective strength, a space at their workplace at which to hold meetings,
use as a leisure centre, etc.:  such a victory would comprise a real
extension of the workers' control over their job, and constitute in real
terms, a shift in power in the relations of production from the boss to the
workers.  The autonomist proposal above, however, seems to want to 'ordain'
social centres into existence, and then wait for workers to gravitate
towards them - a utopian illusion.  At best, some moderate success may be
had in creating subcultural hangouts here and there, but no more.
The idea that a viable movement for the positive abolition of capitalism
can be founded on the basis of an un-centred alliance of the marginalised
is literally quite fantastic, and is made possible by the autonomists'
blind acceptance of bogus bourgeois concepts such as 'post-industrial
society' and 'new economy'.  Post-industrialism and post-fordism are
ideological devices that bourgeois management experts have harnessed to con
workers into participating in their own exploitation via the use of
'associative democracy' in decentralised 'self-managed teams', etc.  The
concept of mass organisation amongst workers is also scoffed at by
proponents of post-industrialism and post-fordism as belonging to a bygone
age. These techniques serve no purpose other than to increase the rate of
exploitation, and create confusions amongst workers as to what their real
interests are.   A feature that proponents of the new economy thesis are
trying to peddle is that information will become so abundant and easily
accessible that investors will be able to divert capital during periods of
expansion and thereby avoid crises.  Recent crashes in Mexico, Thailand and
Indonesia, however, continue to demonstrate that investors don't divert
capital when riding an expansionary wave even if all the available
information suggests a crash is imminent.  The dead white males, Marx and
Keynes noted this fact in their time, and it's still true!  I would advise
that autonomists proceed with caution if they choose to consort with
post-industrialists and new economists.  
The question must be asked: whence will the high levels of class
consciousness required to bring about a transition to classless society
come in the autonomists' schema?  The unemployed?  Squatters?  Punk
musicians?  High levels of class consciousness only come to workers
involved in battles with the bosses in the strategic centres of capitalism,
and are then communicated to workers in the more peripheral sectors as the
latter become incorporated into these struggles.  Why?  Because only in
industries such as the railways, big construction projects, mining,
trucking, stevedoring, etc., do workers get a glimpse of the real power
that their economic role wields in relation to the economic whole and in
relation to the power of the ruling class. Through successful rounds of
democratically self-organised collective bargaining they develop an
understanding that centralised and hierarchicalised decision-making is not
necessarily a pre-ordained inevitability, nor is it necessarily compatible
with the social decision-making potential that the workers themselves
possess.  Workers' self-management of the process of struggle - in which
the mass meeting is sovereign and delegates are strictly mandated to carry
out the will of the meeting -  contributes to further raising class
consciousness beyond economistic wants to socialist demands.  It is only
the workers' democratic control of the process of battling the bosses
within the coherent capitalist whole that produces socialist consciousness.
According to the autonomists' own theory the primary battle is between
labour and capital, yet they choose to avoid this battle.   Annette
Maguire, in her talk on situationism, criticised, quite rightly, the
situationists' theoretical emphasis on the process of commodity circulation
and associated social appearances to the exclusion of the material basis of
production. While the situationists comprehended that workers' councils
played a necessary part in the transition to a society beyond the
spectacle, a classless society, they had no idea how to concretely go about
catalysing workers' self-activity toward this end.  The autonomists, I
fear, are in the same boat.  Conscious revolutionaries need to be directing
their efforts towards assisting workers engaged in self-organised attacks
and encroachments upon the bosses' legal bourgeois rights to manage.
Capitalism can be abolished only when the working class assumes control
over the means of production.     
Peter Siegl.

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