Given that scientific communists, & others, value transparency, something strongly championed by the Communist Party of Great Britain & its paper, the Weekly Worker, below are excerpts from emails to do with trying to get these three pieces into the paper.
(1) At first I thought a letter to the WW would be enough to respond to Mike Macnair’s conception of politics, but as I wrote I saw more & more interesting angles. On 16 April I emailed the editor outlining what I’d written, & a few days later, Monday the 20th, he agreed to publish the first part of it that Thursday. (That’s why the first piece posted here is in the WW‘s style – including its prohibition on the contractions we use all day long.)
But as often happens, things change, & a 3 May email said “[t]he plan now is to go for your two articles in consecutive issues starting May 14” (at that time the second article was going to cover what became #2 & 3).
(2) But then a slot appeared for the 7 May issue: “[i]t’s very interesting and clearly expressed, Jara (although I know Mike disagrees with it)” (5 May).
The same day I suggested it being three articles; the response was “in principle the idea of a third article would be fine” (6 May).
Then the day the paper came out:
“In the end we decided to use a different theoretical article to fill the gap this week.
For two reasons:
1. We do want to get Mike’s final article in the current series [on the maximum programme] out of the way before we embark on your series.
2. We would like to see your follow-ups before we commit to three articles.
I have to confess that Jack Conrad was not impressed by your first part, so it would be better to have at least the second part and then decide. We will discuss this again collectively at the weekend.
Sorry for messing you about.”
(3) A hiatus followed. The prospective second article was expanded into two, & these were submitted on Sunday 2 August.
10 August I got the request for a re-write, this being based on the opinion sought from Mike Macnair, the writer of the article that mine were a response to:
Mike Macnair has given his considered view of your three-part series and we have accepted his recommendation that it should be reduced to two parts (approx 5,000 words each). On that basis we would be prepared to publish it.
Below are Mike’s thoughts. Let me know what you think.
Note that this week’s issue of the paper is the last before our August
break: the following issue comes out on September 3 and we could possibly run your articles on September 3 and September 10 if you are prepared to rewrite along the lines suggested.
There are aspects of the text which look interesting, and it is at the end of the day an elaborate defence of Marxist “orthodoxy” as to the withering away of politics, against my point, but in an unusual way.
(a) It takes up much too much space for what it is (total 18,329 words: Part I 5624 words of which 332 notes; Part II 5538 words of which 415 notes; Part III 7167 words of which 564 notes). If this was – as it could be with revision – a systematic counter to what I wrote on the maximum programme, it could be defensible; but it takes no account at all of that series (or, for that matter, of the books I reviewed in the second part of that series, though he cites Hudis with approval from an online source), but presents itself merely as a response to a couple of paragraphs in my December 2014 polemic with Cutrone.
(b) It is characterised by systematic violation of Occam’s Razor
(imperceptible entities are multiplied, i.e. unnecessary levels of
taxonomies) and by the phenomenon which made Marx characterise Bentham as the “leather-tongued oracle of the bourgeoisie”, i.e. the (often unnecessary and sometimes tendentious) invention of specific Jara-Handala-ite terminologies.
(c) I am pretty confident that the core ‘move’ in the argument, which is to argue that my definition of ‘politics’ is ‘narrower’ than his proposed definition of ‘politics’, simply fails at an elementary logical level (the nearest approach to support for it is citation in the FNN of a Foucaultian piece; when he tries to work out the implications he is forced to substitute use of “ruling” and “de-ruling” and “government” and “self-government” in ways which are both un-rigorous and internally inconsistent; there is certainly nothing like an attempt to “do” a rigorous analysis of the place
of the idea in a larger totality using Hegel’s Logic or one of the sub-Hegelian Marxist derivatives. My version of ‘politics’ is, in fact, broader than his … unsurprisingly, since my argument, to which he objects, is that there is ‘politics’ in the absence of the state and of class, so that his definition of politics needs to be narrower than mine to avoid this result.
These objections could be met by revision, cutting some aspects of the
argument as unnecessary and developing others (I probably still wouldn’t agree, but that’s neither here nor there; the question is whether the exchange would be politically/ theoretically/ educationally productive for readers).
Just to get some sense of how the 17K words (without the notes) are used:
Context and opening argument 3124
Exposition of Macnair’s point 2129
Argument for ‘politics’ to include non-issues & ‘politicising’ 1121
Human needs & ‘political living’ 4002
The ruling class does not rule (Fred Block) 842
Ruling and ‘de-ruling’ 1185
‘Communising’ and ‘self-governing’ 1866
Relation to Marx’s CGP schema 2363
I think he could not unreasonably be asked to cut to two double pages by dumping most of the first article, giving a much shorter exposition of the argument to which he objects, shortening and making more rigorous the arguments of Part II and the middle parts of Part III (e.g. either dropping the Foucaultian ‘post-Marxist’ aspects or bringing the argument more explicitly up-front so that the reader can see explicitly what it is), and dumping both the Fred Block argument (which was plausible Eurocommunism in 1977 when it was written but looks archaic now) and the material on CGP.”
The next day I let the editor know that “[u]nfortunately I won’t be able to make the time […] to do the suggested alterations (not that I follow what they all mean). Anyway the pieces only repeat what readers already know & can find in the paper. Hopefully lots of other readers will get some discussion going on both basic conceptual matters & topical problems.”
(4) I emailed Mike Macnair at his college address on 4 August, saying in part, “for your information & as a matter of courtesy please find attached the three pieces I’ve written.” As I didn’t get a response, I later wrote, “I sent an email to this address the other week but I guess you didn’t receive it. I can re-send it if you want.” The comrade has yet to reply.
From ruling through anti-ruling to integral living
Ruling, anti-ruling, integrating
[suggested titles: I’m obviously not one for snappy headlines]
This is the last of three pieces occasioned by a Mike Macnair article (December 18 2014) which included a conception of politics, one that surprised and puzzled me. In the first article (XXdateXXX) I presented his argument and offered some comments, having contextualised it with a sketch of what the communist project, communising, has to be about when viewed scientifically, and we’ll find it useful to return to this. In the second article (XXdateXXX) I showed how Mike’s conception was unnecessarily narrow, so I applied Marx’s generative and productionist processual ontology to political matters to identify the necessary abstract constitutive elements of a more adequate conception, that of the political dimension of human living, within which politics, as an activity, is only a part.
Simply drawing upon, re-working, and extending some existing ideas, concepts, and evidence, I’ve followed where the argument has logically led, and it has revealed the bare outlines of a conception. Perhaps surprisingly, from a seemingly empty shell, a number of ideas and concepts have been born, and these will be built upon, allowing a better grasp of not only the present and the past but also what’s involved politically in the process we value, communising, especially in identifying its necessary transitions, the carnal achievement of which is always contingent, never guaranteed.
I’ll apply the political conception that has emerged from my analysis to elaborate upon the nature of the communising process, identifying the political dynamics and political forms corresponding to the sequence Marx made in his Gotha analysis. This was his evaluation of the 1875 draft founding programme of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany (Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands), a letter sent to German comrades, published as Critique of the Gotha programme after he had died. But first two other matters, namely, showing the limitation of the idea of there being a ruling class in capitalist society; and identifying common ways of ruling, thereby showing the limitation of oft-invoked dichotomies such as hegemony/domination and consent/force.
“The ruling class does not rule”
Fred Block said this1 when arguing that the ruling social class of capitalist society has undergone a division of labour, with executive managers and manager-owners of capitals, busily trying to accumulate surplus-value, being complemented by a coordinating state run by executive managers, including politicians, working as societal steersmen. There’s also been the Foucault madness seeing government everywhere as a disciplinary force, with one tentacle even controlling our libido.2 But by and large both conceptions actually refer to ruling (call it governing-over, if you want), and this legitimates my reserving the g-word proper to denote philanthropic governing (either co-governing or self-governing), a different kind of political generative means, the mode of political living that is de-ruling.
But Block had put his finger on a difficulty in the ruling class conception, namely, that it usually ascribes a class consciousness, understanding, foresight, and will to the class as a whole, or sections of it, which then succeeds in enacting it as state policy and practice. This requires political cohesion, expertise, generation of an ideational climate, access to state managers, and an awareness of what is necessary to either reproduce or modify societal conditions in the face of current and longer-term weaknesses and threats. A knowledgable collective subject. It would mean that state behaviour could largely be traced back to a directing ‘brain’, the top of the class; the state as their pseudo-public instrument, under immediate class control, putty and puppets in their hands.
We’re accustomed to being with people, praising them, blaming them, and it takes an effort to think about our interactions in a different way, including how we attribute responsibility for the occurrence of events. What I’m getting at is that social relations, albeit needing people to create and sustain them, can have causal force themselves and so bear responsibility. Having the onticity of a force, such a relation has emergent causal forces generated by the behaviour of the people who are using and are organised by that relation. It means that some features of events are not due to the causal forces of people, either deriving from their individuality or made available to them by their groupal or social positions. And that is exactly what is novel about ruling in a society living from and through capitalist production, one using the capital relation to organise the productive forces: it is the first human society where the most consequential kind of ruling is immediately by a social relation and not immediately by human beings, including those dastardly capitalists.
In the most fundamental sense, in virtue of the most consequential causal forces at work, no-one rules capitalist society: it is ruled by a social relation. That relation is the capital relation, more accurately its value dimension. This is the first time in human classed history that a kind of society isn’t ruled directly by people necessarily organised as a social class. It means the capitalist class is not a ruling class, the ruling class of capitalist society. It also means that because ruling is done by a social relation, and not another kind of social entity such as a class – and this is a crucial point – we need to recognise that the concept of ruling class is not the most general conceptualisation of the agent of ruling: for that we can use the term ruling force. The value dimension of the capital relation is the ruling force of capitalist society, whereas in all other class societies the ruling force was a class, making it a ruling class. Block didn’t go far enough, in two senses: in capitalist society not only does the ruling class not rule, the class isn’t even a ruling class; moreover, and to the contrary, it is a ruled class, just like the working class. We need to acknowledge this explicitly.
Because contemporary society is ruled by a social relation, and not people, because ruling is not done consciously by even one person, this explains why the emancipatory task of the sole occupant of a social relational-position with this capacity, the worldwide working class, is not a project solely benefiting the working class, making it a class project, but one benefiting the whole of humanity, making it a humanist project. Capitalists themselves need to be emancipated from the capital relation.
But of course, I exaggerate – and Marx did too: even in the Paris manuscripts he showed he knew all this;3 but as Block put it, Marx’s analysis was “clouded by his polemical intent to fix responsibility for all aspects of bourgeois society on the ruling class”.4 Yes, the capitalist class is itself ruled – putting into perspective moralistic criticism of ‘capitalists behaving badly’ – but it is also the case that the capitalists, their senior executive managers, and senior state managers, rule over the working class. This complexity is best captured by saying the first-order ruling force is a social relation, the value dimension of the capital relation, a relatively abstract way of ruling, and second-order ones (governing-over) are social groups (governors, oppressors), including the capitalist class and all these senior managers, exercising a more concrete way of ruling. (Importantly, other second-order ruling forces are social oppressors not engaged in exploiting those who hire out their labour-power.) First-order ruling is necessarily immediate whereas the second-order kind is necessarily mediated in and through the control form. Block was half-right.
Distinguishing power, force, violence, coercion, domination – and rule
[no doubt, given column width, this will have to be shorter]
It’s important to be clear about the similarities and differences between the six realities listed in the sub-heading. I’ve spoken of force and power as general onticities, but those words are more usually used to describe political onticities. Power, the general onticity, is a force giving an entity the capacity to do something through action (rather than by suffering, being on the receiving end of action: that’s the exercise of a susceptibility). Power, the political onticity, is political power, the force that when exercised causes domination;5 that capacity can be possessed by a social relation (necessarily sustained by people), or by a person-in-relations or a group-in-relations (in the last two cases it’s the joint production of people and the means available to them given the social relational-positions they occupy). Force, the general onticity, is either a power or a susceptibility with exercisable capacities. Political force is a kind of political power, the one possessed by a person-in-relations or a group-in-relations, with the capacity either to threaten violence or to carry it out. (Obviously threatening can occur even if the capacity to exercise political force is lacking: the illusion of force, pseudo-force, the exercise of quite a different capacity.)
Coercing is trying to make people do things they don’t want to do; political coercion is a quality of some exercises of political power, and it isn’t necessarily violent. As already said, political domination is the condition achieved by the exercise of political power, and the dimensions of its identity can be social, intergroupal, groupal, or interpersonal, sometimes necessarily co-existing. And ruling, as we know, consists in control of access to valued entities and control over the quality of relations.
Ways of ruling – and of de-ruling
So how does this help us understand how ruling, and de-ruling, is achieved? Don’t we already have adequate accounts? The oft-repeated hegemony/domination, consent/force, consensus/legitimacy/force, true/false consciousness? Even abstractly a dichotomy may not be adequate, but when it is presented without an extensive detailing of how it is concretised in many different situations, spatially and temporally diverse, one is justified in being sceptical. Electoral abstention rates go from 20% to near 50% for national elections, up to 70% for Euro and local elections; that’s not a display of widespread consent but rather indifference and resignation. In practice we don’t rely on dichotomies, we invoke in ad hoc fashion all sorts of reasons (fear has been a favourite since the Twin Towers attack). The point is, we haven’t done the conceptual work to generate a more comprehensive account. So how can we add a bit of complexity to this, a dose of reality?
In such a case, lists are best when they are exhaustive, but their principal utility is not classificatory but offering a tool, a conceptual vocabulary, to help discover what is happening – and then what to do. Göran Therborn has examined how processes of sense-making (he calls them ideological processes) make people subjects, not just subjugating them (ruling them) but also qualifying them to act and to suffer – even to contest and overcome their subjugation. In effect he identified and described six pervasive ways of ruling: if a different way of ruling is not deemed possible it’s achieved by a sense of inevitability, deference, and resignation; if the contrary, present rule is accepted because of accommodation, a sense of representation, and being scared, even afraid.6
It means the effects of the unqualified exercise of different political forces, all at the same degree of abstraction-concretion, are as follows, some being ways of ruling, others of de-ruling.
- Ruling forces:
(1) Ruling powers: the exercise of political power results in political domination. So the exercise of exploitative power causes exploitative domination; that of oppressive power causes oppressive domination; (non-violent) coercive power, (non-violent) coercive domination; and violent power (ie force), violent domination. (2) Ruling affordances: the exercise of political susceptibility results in being ruled. A sense of inevitability; trained deference; spontaneous meekness; merging self with the ruler or with the fetish; habits realised as routines; political indifference; political resignation; accommodation; sense of representation; frightened, fearful, feeling terrorised.
- De-ruling forces. The exercise of de-ruling powers or susceptibilities result in co-governing, even in self-governing: (1) De-ruling powers: so the exercise of emancipatory power causes emancipation; liberatory power, liberation; liberatory administrative power, liberatory administration. Mundanely, abstaining is a degree of conscious refusal lacking in indifference. (2) De-ruling affordances: anti-authoritarian disposition; egalitarian sensibility; empathy, regard and care for others, comradeship, altruism; confidence to act; belief in success, ‘the future is ours’.
Importantly, this means that the political dimension of human living, not politics, isn’t about power, more accurately its exercise, nor even about ruling as such, but about the configuring, and re-configuring, of political forces and their exercise, that is, the dynamic between the exercise of ruling and anti-ruling forces, with the latter subject to two inner-dynamics, initially between re-ruling and de-ruling, and then amongst de-ruling forces between co-governing and self-governing. As each of these necessary dynamics marks a phase in the prospective history of communising, they provide a meta-strategic framework. This is all a bit different from ideas such as ‘taking power’, ‘seizing power’, ‘seizing the state’ and ‘smashing the state’.
If humanity can reproduce by self-governing, refraining from ruling, then political living will have ended, and, as I elaborate below, living would be simply integral – be it social, intergroupal, groupal, interpersonal, or intrapersonal. Decision-making would be in an integral form, that is, in a governing form, not a political one.
So politics has its time, and we can envisage it having had its time. All entities have their limits, marking them off from others, and this applies to their temporal identity. Instead of taking time as an external metric, and applying it to entities, quantifying duration and rates of change of time, we can understand the temporal quality of an entity as having both a generative and a generated dimension. In this an entity can vary in its temporal extensions, simultaneously being directed into the past, future, or the ephemeral present; hence Ernst Bloch’s analysis of fascism in Germany.7 And temporalness can also be either ‘stretched out’ or ‘compressed’, made dense, lived intensely, with years, even decades, ‘packed’ into weeks or days. Frozen times; heady days. All this is possible through two kinds of inner-relations: a set that is a figuration of generative temporal forces, whose work is then realised as stable times or crisis – more particularly as, eg, the turnover time of capital or the developmental cycle of domestic groups, and, more generally, as the life cycle.8 Temporalness is necessarily generated from within: an entity has endochronogeny.
And this is no less the case with the political dimension of human living. Its temporality arose before a sporadic societal surplus product was created, when humans first contested the quality of relations, those between people and those between people and valued entities. As described below, its demise comes with the end of ruling, with the widespread achievement of self-governing. The transformation of ‘the political’ is so radical that what remains deserves a new label: the residue of politics is governing matters, an aspect of the integral living of the universal class for-itself.
Communising – again
And so, the political, which we all have a certain justified preoccupation with, if not obsession. It’s no surprise that the central political concept, the denotation of the most forceful relevant onticity, is not disagreements, or decision-making, but the mode of ruling, especially in how it relates to political practical imperatives, on one side of the causal structure, and to political practices on the other. So there’s a two-step movement here: through the mode of ruling, this generative means, the attempt is made to regularise, to institutionalise, to bring order to the political dimension of human living, because order is a forceful condition assisting action that’s directed at satisfying political practical imperatives. The principal imperative is control: control of access to valued, thus significant, entities, and control over the quality of relations. It means control is primary, and that possession and ownership are secondary. Importantly, control of access is not so much about the providing of a right of way (rights and duties; custom, law; codified or the test of either reasonableness or precedent) as it is about securing that way. This is what security, and its politics, is all about: securing in place (and time) propitious conditions for valued practices.
This conception of ruling, through inversion, locates the content of the political practical imperative of any social subordinate, here that of the proletariat, allowing identification of its own political task: to undermine that order, to dis-order it, to re-order it on a basis that allows control to be exercised in and through two universalising projects, each being the class as struggle: the proletariat’s generalising affirmation as an emancipatory struggle against exploitation and oppressions, and, simultaneously, its individualising affirmation as the individual and collective engagement in liberatory experiments – the two projects constituting the joint pursuit of freedom-from and freedom-to, which I mentioned in my first article. These projects, in promoting human flourishing at the expense of suffering, encourage humanity to transform into the universal class for-itself.
This political task requires, after a rupture with capitalist society, the discovery of how to institutionalise a mode, and sub-modes (particular ways), of re-ruling, all the while trying to make it anti-ruling (but never nihilistic), the fulfilment of lack, the achievement of absence, by encouraging the development of de-ruling forces at the expense of re-ruling forces (this is what a dynamic is). This effects four transformative transitions: changing the superordinate mode of ruling from it being a mode of re-ruling to it becoming a mode of de-ruling; within the latter, making the superordinate sub-mode self-governing rather than simply co-governing; so that the superordinate political mode becomes anti-ruling rather than ruling; all this amounting to the living of freedom less as emancipation and more as liberation. Importantly, the shift to de-ruling isn’t just moving from one political form to another, but moving to the only more abstract political form with the capacity to realise, through communising, the universal class for-itself.
So politics is about control – perhaps only freaks are upfront about this. Two processes of control have already been identified, concerning entities in general and relations in particular. If de-ruling is to be extended then a third societal control process is required, control over a kind of human relation, the intrapersonal: self-control. With citizens being educated, learning that freedom is the recognition of necessity, learning to take more and more responsibility, exercising greater self-discipline and better judgment, it means that alter-discipline, including coercion and even violence, doesn’t have to be exercised by authorities – done on behalf of society, more accurately benefiting its anticipated leading social force, the working class, the bearer of the potential to become the universal class both in-itself and for-itself. The citizenry has the opportunity to become their own authors, their own governors, perhaps progressing to become non-citizens by managing to take over all the work hitherto done by state bodies: living becoming less alienating, more authentic, less opaque, more transparent, as what had been relinquished by previous generations and made strange, is now made familiar and one’s own, bringing it home.9
This extending of de-ruling requires, as a minimum, three processes. First, de-ruling has the best chance to become predominant when social classes no longer exist, which means social class relational-positions need to be phased out. As Stalinism shows, the state ownership of productive (and destructive) means can allow the productive forces to be organised by a social relation other than the capital one, ending the mutual constitution of the two social classes, but it leaves extant a social class, the working class, because it remains dependent on hiring out its labour-power for sustenance, and that is how it’s reproduced. Workers without capitalists.
The only way to eliminate the worker social relational-position is for the right mode of production to emerge, and for certain conditions to prevail. It requires producers and providers (labourers) to associate, to cooperate without becoming owners, rather than be employed by capitalists or public authorities as workers; and for the capitalist mode of production and the state-stratum mode10 to be replaced by the associated mode (communal, communist, if you wish): the associated mode of production and service provision is the ‘right’ mode. But this is not enough: de-commodification is needed. This in turn requires participatory hierarchical societal planning, not just economic planning. By contracting to submit to the plan that they have helped develop, individual labour becomes immediately social and no longer abstract, their product no longer a commodity. As such, from being a worker, they transform themselves by becoming a social associate, melding into the collective societal endeavour.
The second process encouraging the spread of de-ruling is political vigilance: defending the rule of the working class (albeit modified in secondary ways by maintaining the support of allied classes and/or strata, or at least their quiescence); monitoring the conditions and consequences of all occurrences of social surplus labour; and ensuring that unauthorised such labour is not performed, be it for a social class, a stratum of state managers, or a stratum within voluntary associations.
The third process is extending individual and collective self-regulation, the self-government of human activities and control over non-human forces. Necessary here is significantly reducing time at work to allow new habits to develop. Independent of extending the scope of planning, more and more workplaces need to be governed associatively (and this can occur in those organised by either the capital relation or the state-stratum relation), with everyone being encouraged to participate. Essential is the phasing out, the absorbing into civil society, of the work of the governing stratum of society, re-uniting the living by each person of economic and political matters as a single, sublated, integral form, phasing out alter-governing positions (specialised ones, occupied by ‘them’, ‘the others’: the authorities, the politicians), ending the dividing of people into those who govern and those who are governed.
This sublating is of the greatest import, signalling the transition of the communising of humanity from a mode of political living to a mode of integral living; the living of integrity, not of a series of fragments; authentic living, not alienated living; living solidarity, not estrangement; living an integral society, not being subjugated by an integral or other state;11 a homogenising, a pulling-together through a totalising transformation. From first- and second-order economic and political living (the matricular living of an unstable unifying-differentiating, of a unity-in-difference) to the living of a sublated lack of separate orders. It means two processes are going in opposite directions: whilst the immediate nature of labour is being transformed from private and abstract to social and concrete, immediate living as a whole is being transformed from alienated separate ‘spheres’ (seemingly concrete in their excluding particularity) to a sublated oneness, the many-in-the-one, a simplifying of form, of societal organisation, the authentic living of the concreteness of each particular immediacy as connected, as integrated with all others, as a concrete abstractness, as abstract. The life-blood returning from the sand.
It means communising transitions from being a political project to becoming an integral project. Political living transitions from being first- and second-order living to becoming integral living, integrated, not split. The communising process is not just the communising of politics, economics and culture, of cultural, political and economic behaviour, of the economy, culture and polity, the communising of society – no, the communising process has proceeded to become not the communising of society but of humanity, of its generative and generated dimensions, the communising of both intra-human practice and the interaction between humanity and the rest of nature, animate and inanimate, the communising of the metabolic practice of the species, communising fully accomplished (vollendet).
As de-ruling extends, anti-ruling would be transitioning from a more abstract mode of de-ruling, more negative than positive in its positivity, to a more concrete configuring of de-ruling forces as a mode of self-governing (rather than co-governing as such), to realise affirmative individual and collective self-governing. Co-governing is an inadequate label because there would be a healthy, philanthropic, pervasive yet partial, practical ‘merging’ of self and other. Living conditions would, increasingly and spontaneously, engender an awareness that the welfare of others is a need of one’s own, not simply a possible want, causing the ‘boundaries’ of one’s thought and felt self (and non-conscious self) to extend and involve others, making living vicarious in a healthy way, as another dimension of philanthropic practice. Enveloping others and being enveloped would develop a more collective self, the transformation of the self-other inner-relationship by an increasingly intensive communising. Call it practising non-erotic love, being in love. The new woman, man, and child – communising humanity communised, an increasingly expansive communising, on both a more extensive and intensive scale.
But self-governing has its limits of possibility, as does co-governing which also has its volume of necessity: self-governing can never eliminate the need for certain co-governing. This isn’t an either/or onticity, be it voluntaristic or authoritarian. It’s just that some practices are best done with co-governing – not least because they can’t be done on a coordinated individual basis, however intensive that collective self may appropriately develop. And complementary self-governing will enhance efficiency, it will be philanthropic: taking responsibility for one’s own contribution, monitoring one’s actions, regulating oneself, changing one’s behaviour.
With de-ruling extending, the political dimension of human living would be transformed by transitioning the superordinate generative mode of political living from it being a mode of ruling to it becoming a mode of governing, more particularly self-governing. From rulers and ruled, from governors and governed, to a community of self-governors.
This transformation is so radical that, as I have said, it makes no sense, it would be unwarranted, to continue speaking of there being a political dimension of human living. What remains of political matters, the ensuring of widespread participation in deciding, implementing, monitoring, and back to devising, revising and deciding – the continuity within the discontinuity – amounts to nothing other than governing matters: the political dimension of human living has morphed into the governing dimension of human living, more accurately it has become integral human living; the generative force has transformed from a political mode, the ‘articulation’ of ruling and anti-ruling, into the governing aspect of the integral mode. The integral is no less than the form of the universal class for-itself. The full philanthropic development of politics is realised not as politics but as government, self-government. With the sublating of ruling, the universal class for-itself comes into being. The communising of humanity would have transformed from a narrow political, economic and cultural project into an undifferentiated integrated project. Integral living would have arrived.
The significance of this is hard to exaggerate: the erstwhile political, now the organising of communist society, is regulation, order, association in an integral form, achieved not by ruling but by governing, self-governing. This is what the integrating of humanity, the sublating of alienation, looks like. The integral generative mode for living communally (communistically, associatively) is necessarily individual and collective self-governing. With self-government becoming the norm, the normal way of living, so unremarkable it would escape comment, it would be like fish lacking a word for water.
The Gotha analysis schema
So how does this account compare with Marx’s Gotha analysis?12 The industry standard for mapping post-capitalist society is particularly light on political detail, something I have tried to address, but in 140 years now, most of us have adhered to the taboo that talking about the future, any future, is speculative, utopian. But those who may benefit from trying to create socialist society are fully justified in being exasperated when saying, you want us to give up what we know for something you admit you know hardly anything about? You want us to trust you with our welfare? Are you crazy? Do you think we’re that irrational? There is no doubt that we need to exercise our scientific imaginations.13
In his analysis Marx sketched a contingently necessary sequence, from capitalist society to the dictatorship of the proletariat (his rarely used phrase for the rule of the working class),14 then through the lower phase of communism to the higher phase. The sequence is necessary because how we choose to live can only be within the physical possibilities afforded by the society’s production of goods and provision of services (and how children are turned into adults), and of these possibilities what is practically possible requires certain enabling conditions, including the existence of the requisite forces. And the sequence is contingent because human living is an open development, determined but not pre-determined. It’s a world of surprises, magnified by our limited knowledge: unforeseen forces exercised, well-known others inexplicably lying dormant, unanticipated interactions, our plans frustrated; and our claims to knowledge may prove inadequate, our expectations based on ignorance.
If we are indeed able to achieve a sustainable political and cultural rupture with capitalist society, initiating the rule of possibly the whole working class,15 then, concerning the mode of political living, scientific communists (including professed Marxists) should argue for the creation of conditions encouraging the diminution of re-ruling forces and the growth of de-ruling forces, moreover those of self-governing. Likewise we should argue for conditions both allowing the de-commodification of production and provision, and shifting distribution away from the monetised wage fund (allowing it to acquire more the character of a social consumption fund) towards personal accounts of labour time units accruing from demonstrated need and individual work (duration plus premiums for intensity and difficulty, the latter in terms of skill and harshness).16 (Note that needs is left out of Marx’s formulation of an even more advanced, healthier, kind of society, the lower phase of communism.) The combined effect of this is to transform labour from being immediately private (and, contingently, mediately social) to becoming immediately social, thereby ending abstract labour; as a correlate, goods and services are simply use-values, lacking a value dimension and thus the quality of being a commodity. We would also argue that labourers do a mix of jobs: indoors/outdoors, brawn/thinking/emotional labour, of different statuses – all subject to the fact that not everybody can achieve the requisite expertise or competence.
The movement of value-bearing use-values (commodities) would be doubly recorded: a monetisation of a social labour time which can be compared with the socially necessary average; and that average, as an aggregate of individual labour times, so non-social, that is, not socially necessary, used in planning as a marker of efficiency and other considerations when comparing economic units. In contrast, movements of use-values would only be inscribed with their time aggregates, and compared as part of mutual learning between producers/providers, and to improve planning efficiency. Interestingly, here the labour is socially recognised immediately and yet, in being concrete (social) labour, its magnitude has the quality of being individual (albeit aggregated), so not socially necessary – unlike the labour borne by sold commodities whose magnitudes always contribute to the punitive and ever-changing socially necessary average, labour stripped of its particulars, exposed in its abstractness. In these conditions the temporal magnitude of a use-value has these three qualities: it is individual, not socially recognised except as a parameter for remuneration and planning; it isn’t involved in the application of a socially necessary standard; and by comparing it to the social average the relative efficiency of its production or provision can be identified. This draws out the important difference in social effect between a mere social average (as found in the use-value), which may or may not be acted upon, and one with the force of necessity (the commodity), one that immediately regulates, even punishes.17
Scientific communists would also argue that the state, initially a set of organisations largely unsupervised by the rest of society, be socialised through such measures as the dissolution of certain bodies; the ending of other practices; the increasing performance of its still-relevant activities by coordinated collectives (leftie vocab for organisations); and, with adequate training and experience, the frequent rotation of staff between hierarchical positions.
There’s an important difference between the state as the principal organiser of threats, coercion, and violence, and the state as public, not private, publicly controlled, not privately controlled. In Engels’ day the state did much less economic and life-sustaining work, including coordination, and was easily seen as fundamentally a gang of violent men, a fictive family ostensibly offering protection, keeping order, making life secure. Today, the centralisation of much work in state organisations – a preliminary socialisation (communisation) – is a start, but the communising task is how to transform the rule of the officeholders, and the network of offices, into de-ruling administration, ultimately into co-governing and self-governing administration. Is there anything other than a paucity of scientific knowledge on this?
This period ends when, in effect, all labour is immediately social, meaning that all goods and services are simply use-values. This is the start of what Engels and Marx had come to identify as communist society. There would be no need for a means of purchase, one of the utilities of whatever functions as money. And the other uses of money? No need for it being a unit of account, even for credit purposes (economic activity would be recorded as aggregated individual labour times – the clock-watching, albeit now altruistic and philanthropic, continues); nor money as a means of unilateral payment (paying a debt, making a gift); nor as a store of wealth (non-communal wealth would solely reside in one’s personal property: consumption goods, including perhaps a home). With digitisation, withered money wouldn’t even have the utility of being recyclable.
So no abstract labour, only individual concrete labour; no value production, only use-value production and provision; no social classes, only voluntary associations. Participatory hierarchical planning to allocate productive/providing forces, and the production, provision, and allocation of use-values. We’d argue for a transition in distribution from individual labour calculation plus need towards plain want, whatever the individual desires (Global Ambrosia, or, if you prefer, Ambrosiastan) – subject, of course, to constraints of resource availability and, the biggie, climatic conditions.
The expectation would be that by now almost all de-ruling would have become self-governing, and that re-ruling would be unnecessary. However, if persistent oppressions still existed, scientific communists should support the exercise of rule, including force, upon those responsible for sustaining oppressive organisation. (The committing of oppressive acts is secondary.) It seems inescapable that there would need to be a spatially-based supervisory hierarchy, perhaps organised sporadically (with the concomitant problem of preserving institutional memory), one even capable of practising violence, the strike of last resort. Nevertheless, given the conditions described, the expected highly predominant mode of political, now integral, living would not be ruling, nor even co-governing, but self-governing.
In the first article I denoted the start of this epoch, the eventual realising of the universal class for-itself, as marking complete communising, the successful completion of the communist project. In a limited sense that’s true; but communising would still have work to do, not least in increasingly satisfying whatever each person wants.
The degree of communising described would mark what can be called, as with Marx, the lower phase of communism. However, he never spoke of the higher phase – ever. At the start of this section I simply parroted the error. What he said in his Gotha analysis was “[i]n einer höheren Phase der kommunistischen Gesellschaft”18 ([i]n a higher phase of communist society): a, not the. This dual view of his was not necessarily binary. Indeed, because Russian nouns lack articles, Lenin may have been done a disservice at marxists.org as the error appears repeatedly in the five other major European-language translations of State and revolution. Moreover, who else may have been under the binary misapprehension, be they Engels, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, plus all those trained at cadre school?
This second phase of communist society would start when distribution becomes pure want. Beyond that, what can one rationally say? Well, in the Paris manuscripts Marx had said “communism is not as such the goal of human development – the form of human society.”19 But here he was using a different conception of communism, namely, “the abolition of private property” in the means of production, “the positive supersession of all estrangement, and the return of man from religion, the family, the state, etc, to his human, ie social existence”, all part of “the emancipation and recovery of mankind.”20 The Gotha analysis, by contrast, is solely focused on the possibilities created by changes in social production conditions, and, as we have seen, it allowed him to outline three societal figurations.
But we should end with a phrase of Engels’ mentioned last time, one describing what he envisaged if all went to plan and the state withered away: “[s]tate interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and by the direction of processes of production.”21 What is glaringly absent in the replacement is unmediated human contact, people getting together – deciding on the contingencies, such as which things and which production. Instead of being governed (by the state) what orders people in Engels’ account are two non-human, technical forces: the requirements of “things”, and the requirements of ‘the economy’. This is truly odd. Humans becoming functionaries, tools, of what they have made. It’s like a dystopia designed by Gastev.22 Is this what will become of human freedom as the recognition of necessity?
Summarily, we can envisage communising, a mode of political living and later (and perhaps even earlier) of integral living, as a sequence of at least six epochs:
- communising epoch 1: often described, perhaps erroneously, as original communist society. The accepted historical record may show my ignorance, but I take it there wasn’t a stable societal surplus product and so social classes couldn’t exist. However there would have been societal division based on, eg, age sets, gender, the more proficient – including those reputed to communicate with inanimate forces, non-humans, ancestors, even the unborn. But did these divisions, besides perhaps helping to produce a distribution of status and prestige, result in persistent, not occasional, oppressions: ie, were there rulers in the absence of classes? Were any social groups oppressed, even if they didn’t know it because of the dominant societal views, including the expectation anyone may have had of what amounts to equality and, more generally, fairness? Also how socially unbridled was it to practise freedom-to? I take it that being oppressed consists in suffering socially imposed restrictions upon one’s capacity to flourish in virtuous ways. Did oppression only come with class society, ie with exploitation? Is that likely, is that really plausible? What’s the evidence?
- Independently of this, humans surely would have contested the quality of relations, those between people and those between people and valued entities. This may have been as co-governing and/or as self-governing, but if conditions were indeed socially oppressive then these disagreements would have been practised not as governing but as politics: a mode of ruling would have been used. In any case, privileges may have been allocated to the societal superordinates of any consequential hierarchy. Lastly, there’s also the matter of living through pre-scientific knowledge: doesn’t that preclude the possibility of living authentically, living the absence of alienation?
- communising epoch 2: class society, a minority controlling both the production and distribution of a largely stable societal surplus product and the quality of relations. The superordinate mode of political living is ruling. Communisers (communists) have tried to do what they can; with the creation of capitalist labourers, the proles, their historical subject with the adequate potential capacity had been born. The communisers were now in business.
- communising epoch 3: the rule of the working class, following a rupture with capitalist society. Scientific communists arguing for participatory hierarchical societal planning to become more pervasive at the expense of value production; for de-commodification when conditions allow (a rational proviso of this whole schema); for producers, and providers too, to freely associate in making goods and providing services; and for distribution to shift from wages plus need to premium-adjusted individual labour time plus need. Concerning the articulation of the mode of re-ruling and the mode of de-ruling, we’d argue for the latter to become both predominant and increasingly self-governing at the expense of co-governing; we’d combat any politics and practices of proletarian corporatism and chauvinism (please see the first article).
- communising epoch 4: the lower phase of communist society, coming into being when all labour becomes immediately social – so no abstract labour and no value production. Also no social classes, and no loitering violent gang (the state). Participatory hierarchical planning allocating productive/providing forces, and the production, provision, and allocation of use-values. We’d argue for a transition in distribution from individual labour calculation plus need towards plain want, whatever the individual desires – subject to the resource constraint and climatic conditions. We’d expect that by now de-ruling would largely have become self-governing, transforming political living into an aspect of integral living. The universal class for-itself would now be in being.
- communising epoch 5: the second phase of communist society, coming about when distribution becomes pure want. All labour still immediately social. Integral living remains largely as self-governing. Well, all that’s the expectation arising from what we know.
- communising epoch 6+: the generative dimensions of other phases cannot be identified, let alone described.
Relating this periodisation to the regulation of the principal political practical imperative (control of access to valued, thus significant, entities, and control over the quality of relations), we can compare the necessary times of governing, ruling, the political dimension of human living, and integral living:
– – – – – – – – – – – – co-governing & self-governing – – – – – – – – – – – >
– ? -; ruling (2nd-order forces) | (1st & 2nd) | (1st <, & 2nd) |
– ? -; – – – – – political dimension of human living – – – – – |
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . | integral living >
CE1 | – – – – – – – – – CE2 – – – – – – – – -| – – CE3 – – – | CE4, 5, 6+ – ->
[NB Formatting problem: hence ‘- – -‘ and ‘. . .’; also ‘|’ may be unaligned.]
Developing the earlier idea that the political is necessarily about ruling, human political history is now understood as a struggle between some people using modes of ruling and others using modes of anti-ruling, especially the latter as a mode of self-governing to sublate the political dimension of human living as an aspect of integral living. Human political history is a management struggle, controlling the management of human affairs. The management of government, of administration. The scientific communist aim is none other than to make us all managers, make us all governors, make us all administrators. This gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘the managerial revolution’.23
I started these three articles by discussing Mike Macnair’s conception of politics. After outlining a conceptual framework I used it to look at the communising process and Marx’s Gotha analysis. Applying the mode of ruling concept I argued for two scientific communist conceptions, of the political dimension of human living and of the communising epochs of human development – with obvious implications for political strategy and the content of any programme, be it transitional, minimal, maximal, or, importantly, delimited in some other way. Marxism, quite perversely given what it aspires to achieve, has a highly underdeveloped conception of what’s involved in politics. So I’m making a Kevin appeal: can we please talk about the elephant in the room? In this nothing would please me more than the rational rejection of what I have presented, and the development of more plausible ideas and concepts to apply in our work.
1. F Block ‘The ruling class does not rule: notes on the Marxist theory of the state’ (1977) in his Revising state theory: essays in politics and postindustrialism Philadelphia 1987 pp51-68.↩
2. Daniel Zamora ‘Can we criticize Foucault?’, 2014: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/foucault-interview/.↩
3. “[W]e shall see how the capitalist, by means of capital, exercises his power to command labour; but we shall then go on to see how capital, in its turn, is able to rule the capitalist himself” Karl Marx ‘Economic and philosophical manuscripts’ (‘EPM’) Early writings Harmondsworth 1975 p295.↩
4. Block p54.↩
5. It was dissatisfaction with Nicos Mouzelis’ unargued reduction of what is ruling, the polity, and politics to mere power (realised as domination) that led me to recognise that mode of domination (his key political concept) is in fact one of several generative means of ruling, thereby requiring a more abstract concept, mode of ruling: Post-Marxist alternatives: the construction of social orders Basingstoke 1990 pp73-9.↩
6. G Therborn The ideology of power and the power of ideology London 1980 pp93-8. Also seriously neglected has been the excellent Thomas Mathiesen Silently silenced: essays on the creation of acquiescence in modern society Winchester 2004, an updating of a 1978 book (in Norwegian). Here, surprisingly, like Durkheim and Weber, neither refer to the other’s work.↩
7. Heritage of our times Berkeley 1991 part 2 (Erbschaft dieser Zeit  is best translated as Legacy of these times).↩
8. Respectively, Marx Capital: a critique of political economy Vol 2: the process of circulation of capital  Friedrich Engels (ed) London 1978 part 2; Meyer Fortes ‘Introduction’ to Jack Goody (ed) The developmental cycle in domestic groups Cambridge 1958 pp1-13; Erik Erikson Identity and the life cycle New York 1959.↩
9. Coincidently, Alfred Schuetz, newly an exile, wrote ‘The stranger’ and ‘The homecomer’, 1944-5 (both online). Not to sound too Benjaminist or Blochist, ‘mystical’ or ‘spiritualist’, but a class, too, can be in exile – even without having gone anywhere.↩
10. The state-stratum mode of production and service provision exists when production/provision conditions and the social surplus product are controlled by a stratum of senior state managers. This has been the predominant mode in Stalinised non-capitalist societies.↩
11. On the integral state: Christine Buci-Glucksmann Gramsci and the state  London 1980 pp90-110, 282-90.↩
12. Marx Critique of the Gotha programme : https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/index.htm.↩
13. Fictional scenarios can also be didactic, eg Evgeny Preobrazhensky From NEP to socialism: a glance into the future of Russia and Europe  London 1973, presented as lectures delivered in a 1970 Moscow: https://www.marxists.org/archive/preobrazhensky/1921/fromnep/index.html.↩
14. Hal Draper The ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ from Marx to Lenin New York 1987 chapter 1.↩
15. All actions said to be on behalf of the working class, all of it, can only ever be the actions of a class minority, so substitution always occurs; the question is how benign can it ever be. (This also applies to the idea that the whole working class can either take power or rule.)↩
16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_economics; http://www.participatoryeconomics.info/.↩
17. On this difference: Peter Hudis, ‘Yes, there is an alternative – and it can be found in Marx’, 2014, end of part II: http://www.praktykateoretyczna.pl/czasopismo/yes-there-is-an-alternative-and-it-can-be-found-in-marx/; videos, podcasts and other articles on this and post-capitalist society at http://www.internationalmarxisthumanist.org/authors/hudis-peter.↩
19. ‘EPM’ p358.↩
20. ‘EPM’ pp358, 349, 358.↩
21. “Das Eingreifen einer Staatsgewalt in gesellschaftliche Verhältnisse wird auf einem Gebiete nach dem andern überflüssig und schläft dann von selbst ein. An die Stelle der Regierung über Personen tritt die Verwaltung von Sachen und die Leitung von Produktionsprozessen.” Anti-Dühring : http://www.mlwerke.de/me/me20/me20_239.htm#Kap_II (compare with https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/ch24.htm – at the end).↩
22. Aleksei Gastev, choreographer of man as instrument of The Machine, the metallisation of the revolutionary body: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksei_Gastev.↩
23. James Burnham The managerial revolution: what is happening in the world New York 1941.↩
Postscript (6 July 2016)
Today I came across a remarkable book online which may affect the above Gotha section: Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution. Its argument came from the prison writings of Jan Appel, who after emigrating from Germany to Holland in 1926 took part in its collective development by perhaps 10 council communists (the Group of International Communists – Groep van Internationale Communisten, often referred to by its German acronym, GIK). It was first published in 1930 in German. 60 years later another small group brought it out in English. The argument is c. 130 pages:
http://www.aaap.be/Pages/Transition-en-Fundamental-Principles-1930.html (improvement on the marxists.org – eg, title of Chapter One; also has PDF)
http://www.aaap.be/Pages/Transition-de-Fundamental-Principles-1930.html (Grundprinzipien kommunistischer Produktion und Verteilung; also PDF of the 1970 re-publication).
My argument focused on labour-time accounting, as does the GIC’s; similarly, but in contrast with the information flows we take for granted today, the GIC say they weren’t aware of the Gotha analysis: “these Marginal Notes only came to our notice after we had concluded our study. They correspond so closely with the outline given here that our work to some extent appeared as if it were no more than a contemporary elaboration of Marx’s conception” – ‘Epilogue’, 1990 pp198-9 (“Diese Randglossen hatten wir erst nach Abschluß unserer Studie zur Hand. Sie deckten sich so vollkommen mit der hier gegebenen Darstellung, daß unsere Arbeit gewissermaßen nur als die zeitgemäße Ausarbeitung der Marx’schen Auffassung erscheint” – 1970 p135).
The ‘after’ is italicised by Mike Baker, the 1990 translator and editor, and appears as such at marxists.org, but not at Association Archives Antonie Pannekoek which followed the original German. Given this independence it is surprising that the backcover of the 1990 book starts by saying it is ‘based upon’ the Gotha analysis (PDF; at marxists.org, beneath the Contents, in full but without attribution). This impression endures: “[t]he GIC was meticulous in assembling Marx and Engels’ comments on the topic of communist society, and their ideas are seemingly an elaboration on Marx’s brief comments in the Critique of the Gotha Programme” (David Adam ‘Marx’s Critique of Socialist Labor-Money Schemes and the Myth of Council Communism’s Proudhonism’, 2013: http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/marx%E2%80%99s-critique-of-socialist-labor-money-schemes-and-the-myth-of-council-communism%E2%80%99s-proudhonism.html – many comments were generated by its re-posting at https://libcom.org/library/marx%E2%80%99s-critique-socialist-labor-money-schemes-myth-council-communism%E2%80%99s-proudhonism).
[Suggested title; not the snappiest but it accurately describes what’s here. ‘The elements of politics’ isn’t so stilted but it misleads: I don’t address contingent matters; & politics is quite different from political living in the conceptualisation made here.]
Last week I commented on Mike Macnair’s conception of politics (December 18 2014), having placed it in the context of a partial account of the nature of the communist project. Now I’ll outline how political activity (one meaning of politics) can be understood as just one result of the process of politicisation, a process which itself forms part of what can be called the political dimension of human living. I’ll identify and briefly describe this dimension’s necessary elements, and in the final, third, article I’ll apply the conception to the communising process and to Marx’s analysis of the draft Gotha programme. Some of my suggestions may be unfamiliar, but I think they pass the literary Flora test, the collegiate and generous Liam Mac Uaid principle, “’I can’t imagine anyone will find that controversial’”.1
It’s important to bear in mind that Mike’s argument wasn’t the main concern of his article, and no doubt he has much more to say on the matter. Even so, his surprising conception of politics was unambiguous, identifying its necessary aspect as disagreements subject to decision-making, the latter’s most efficacious conditions being collective decisions, binding in nature, implemented by collective action. So his focus in how to conceive of politics is upon the practical task of how to proceed in the face of people disagreeing. That task requires that a certain kind of decision has to be made, namely, an agreement on action. This conception of the necessary aspect of what’s involved in politics is included within the one I argue for, but only as a small part of it.
Mike’s conception of politics is unnecessarily narrow, but it is expandable. It’s behavioural, describing a particular practice, one complying with a procedure. It wasn’t a word he used, but these disagreements, including discussions of options, concern issues. It’s what people have become aware of. So in a real sense there was a time when they weren’t aware of them, and as such those issues were then non-issues. This is an interesting road into how we can better understand politics.2 There are a number of processes here: why non-issues remain non-issues, how they’re kept that way, how non-issues become issues, how attitudes and opinions are formed, and why action may take place. All this is part of the problematising of reality, and it’s a key political process; it’s the politicising of daily life, of our lives, it’s a process necessary for setting us free. If politics is the behaviour then politicising, through practices such as problematising reality, is the proximate means of its genesis. And any comprehensive conception of politics needs to explain why politics has its different contents and forms, and so, crucially, also its absences; that is, it needs to describe how all this, absences as well as presences, come into being. Simply saying people will always disagree is insufficient.
Reality isn’t always represented in language and other media, as is demonstrated when we experience surprise, make discoveries, live tacitly, and learn. We necessarily live ideologically, we live in and through practices that qualify us to act and to suffer, the principal suffering being our subjugation to exploitation and oppressions, to being ruled. Our ideological living is practically adequate for the kind of society we live within and collectively produce. This develops within us a spontaneous understanding and feeling of both ourselves and the world more generally; it means this suffering is usually recognised as its effective opposite: an imperfect society, sometimes harsh, often frustrating, but with lots of opportunities, largely satisfying, pleasurable, exciting, fun – not dreary like politics and all those politicos.3
However, in recent centuries the species has developed scientific practices that can temper the unavoidable distorting effects of ideological living, furthering our efforts to develop less alienating, more authentic, less opaque, more transparent, understandings, feelings, and behaviours. Communists and anarchists aspire to be part of this scientific endeavour, not least in helping the great majority of workers to become qualified to decisively undermine the rule imposed upon them by the capital relation and other oppressions.
Problematising reality can really upset the apple-cart. It’s a skilled accomplishment to recognise, identify, explore, and adequately represent a problem, and to learn about it, discovering within it issues that matter, how best to contextualise them, to frame them, and then promote them. Living dominant ideologies often makes it very difficult to problematise reality, even to discover issues whose pursuit one would benefit from. Nevertheless, once an issue is presented in an attractive, engaging way it can interest others, mobilising them, even becoming one of their perceived interests.
Turning non-issues into issues drags both the future and the past into the present: hitherto potential issues are now discussed, the-future-is-now-born; and hitherto non-issues are now issues, the-past-is-now-known. In both cases, the first ontic, the other epistemic, until ‘the turn’ unknown presences couldn’t be acknowledged as absences and then put to political use.
This problematising perspective, in breaking with immediacy, strikes at the heart of one of today’s most pervasive capitalist ideologies, the saccharine practice of issues-and-concerns, the one best delivered with a smile that melts. As Mikhail Sholokhov and Pete Seeger didn’t say, where have all the problems gone?
Mike would surely not deny any of this. The point is, his conception as stated, cannot admit, as political matters, the problematising of reality, the existence of non-issues, nor politics being the proximate result of politicising. However, they do exist, and do so in the first instance as political potentials, as resources that can be involved in political practice.
Consider another matter. Surprisingly Mike was silent on whether political conditions could ever do without any of these long-lasting powerful (and patientive) realities: commodities, money, alienated political society (usually termed the state, including its conditions of practice), power, domination, law, the vices of bureaucracy, classes, exploitation (systemic or occasional), oppressions (ditto), rulers and ruled, ideology, and the twofold sense of human alienation, namely, relinquishment and estrangement. All 14 of them.
And when discussing the possible end of politics, why no reference, if only because of reader expectation, to the formulation found in our ABC: “[t]he government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and by the direction of processes of production” (my emphasis)?4 Likewise, why the silence on the idea of freedom as the recognition of necessity, a cautionary, disciplinary restraint upon voluntaristic decision-making?5 That idea is at the core of Marxist political prescriptions for any kind of society, not least one without a state.
The necessary elements of political living
Mike’s conception of politics, with its focus on the behavioural aspect of practice, with just one purpose identified, leaves out of consideration most of the elements of Marx’s generative and productionist processual ontology. Crucially, it means he fails to communicate that the complexity of human living has a lot to do with it consisting in both generative and generated dimensions – not a ‘flat’ ontological idea but ‘stratified’, sometimes called negative and positive reality.
As may seem obvious now, just as we wouldn’t regress from a critique of political economy to behavioural economics, this generative and productionist processual ontology suggests that we might need a conception not of politics as such, a behaviour, or even of politicising, a proximate generative means, but an expansive conception, such as the one I’ll outline here, what I term the political dimension of human living, an aspect of which is indeed behaviour.
So the central political concept wouldn’t be politics, nor politicising, but mode of ruling. This is the correlate of that for economic production, and, not surprisingly, it’s a figuration of human relations used to organise ruling forces (powers and susceptibilities), a relatively enduring generative means, imposed by some upon others to encourage societal order. What the mode of production is to economic living, the mode of ruling is to political living, to politics.
This alternative conception reveals itself best by focusing on identifying the necessary aspect of the political dimension. (What participants think they are doing is quite another matter.) It means decision-making is simply one moment of one kind of political practice. The conception is ‘broad and deep’, and explaining this draws attention to qualities that the political shares with other dimensions of human living. Hence the need for a general and quite abstract discussion, and this will be summarised in eight sections: the three ologies (methodology, etc); differentiating ontology; ideology/science; kinds of human needs; forces; kinds of human relations; ways (modes) of living; and the nature of practice.
(1) People often talk generally of philosophy, indeed, you even get former Eurocommunists turning it into a football-related business. (Were they always petty bourgeois chancers, I can hear some wondering?) Professed Marxists, and the pioneers, have also been known to speak a lot about dialectics.6 Indeed, one may ask, and I don’t know whether this is a matter of the dialectics of nature or of society or of both, but do crabs think we walk sideways? In any case, all practice worth its salt is said to accord with a method, and all methods of working, including those used when trying to discover knowledge of the world, are defended, they’re justified, as being the best available for the job (methodology). One justification is that what the methods yield conforms to a conception of what it is that counts as knowledge, that it satisfies the conditions of knowledge (epistemology). In turn, an attempt may be made to justify this ology by saying it is the nature of an examined entity that permits what can be known about it (and that it is the nature of examining humans that puts limits on our access to this), and this quality of the entity is part of what it is, of its being, and this may come to be known (becoming part of its ontology).
It is the case that any conception is a putative contribution to knowledge, it claims epistemic status, and it also necessarily presupposes the truth of claims to the nature of the being of the particular that is examined, it makes ontological claims whether these are stated or simply implied. Furthermore, any body of knowledge necessarily has as accompaniments all of these three ologies, and this is so even if this dependence is unacknowledged – or denied.
(2) There are important differences between being, becoming, and the development of being-becoming. Any entity is an example of its class, its type, and necessarily has those properties; and the class lacks independent existence: kill the generative forces that created the entity and you kill the class, depriving its members of their ability to reproduce. The entity, through interaction with others, can acquire and lose both necessary and contingent qualities, but its being and identity remain the same if there is no change in its capacity to be something, to have possibilities. This is its generative dimension, its figuration of necessary (essential) and contingent forces, be they powers or susceptibilities, the exercise of the former causing activity, and of the latter, passivity, perhaps indifference. In contrast with being, becoming is not change as such but change in the entity’s generative dimension. And when becoming itself changes, becoming develops.
These are the three orders (qualities) of being. Unless demonstrated to the contrary we can assume they apply to all entities, more accurately to their generative dimension. The first order can be called the ontic, plain being (from the Greek, on, meaning being; the present participle, be-ing, denoting the usual exertion of force); the second order, becoming, the genomic (hence the Genome Project, and an entity being ontogenomic); and the third, the development of being-becoming, the ontogenomogenic (because entities exhibit ontogenomogeny). Knowledge of these three are, not surprisingly, ontology, ontogenomology, and ontogenomogenology. Bit of a mouthful, but that’s science for you.
The last-mentioned ology, when applied to our species, can improve upon materialism by being, as in Marx’s hands, human geo-historical sensuous naturalism, a humanism: “[h]ere we see how consistent naturalism or humanism differs from both idealism and materialism, and is at the same time their unifying truth”; see also the first, fifth, ninth, and tenth theses on Feuerbach.7
And the societal realisation of humankind’s potential to overcome its alienation is the achievement of communism, which is the enactment of a practical naturalism, of a practical humanism, the deed complementing the word that is humanist naturalism: “[t]his communism as fully accomplished naturalism is humanism, and as fully accomplished humanism is naturalism”.8
(3) When we try to get to grips with the nature of politics, perhaps not even its nature in capitalist society, we need to be especially wary of the common sense we dwell within, the spontaneous understandings, the ideology, we cannot but live. It’s an important reason why scientific endeavour is valued, its unavoidable heuristic procedure being retroduction, ie examining by methods of abstraction-concretion what is generated by people and others, and trying to identify and describe the exercise of causal forces constituting the ways of being-becoming (mechanisms) that explain what has happened; these mechanisms, working singly or together, being labelled laws.
We should be clear about our attitude to science and any ism, be it Marxism, Leninism or whatever-ism: we should not aspire to be Marxist or Leninist but to be scientific, scientific communists. Marx was not an Engelsist. Engels was not a Marxist. Both tried to be scientists. Indeed, Engels contrasted utopian socialists with scientific ones. In their time socialism and communism referred to the same state of affairs. For example, in 1875 Marx’s Gotha analysis only spoke of “kommunistische Gesellschaft” (communist society); in 1878 Engels’ critique of Eugen Dühring talked only of “Sozialismus”. Today they are not synonyms, but it was the case before the outbreak of the First World War.
(4) To help us develop a satisfactory conception of the political dimension of human living, investigating human needs should be heuristic as without these being satisfied it would all be over.
I’ve been saying human living, not life, to emphasise that the referent is alive, vital, active, involved in a process (and not simply a practice, as should be clear by now), and that it isn’t just its product (life), that it’s dynamic, not static, not a fixed ‘that’s life, it’s there, in the display cabinet, with a pin right through its heart’.
Needs are rarely peculiar to an individual, they’re generic, with some necessary, others contingent. And they are temporally specific, being variously eternal (they win out, so we perish), transhistorical (outliving a dominant mode of production), historical, epochal (or phasic), conjunctural, or ephemeral.
At a certain degree of concretion-abstraction, needs are exhaustively biotic, psychical, economic, political, and cultural. Concerning the inescapable force of the first, Sebastiano Timpanaro had to remind those who should have known better (many of whom are now dead – or chronically ill).9 Psychical needs include mental stimulation, play, having fun, being appreciated, companionship, and the touch of a fellow human being – hence the design of imprisonment and psychical torture. Economic ones are satisfied by the providing of goods and services (use-values). The political, by the achievement of rule, establishing order. And the cultural, by the providing of meaningfulness and feelingfulness, in a word, sensefulness.
An important complexity here is akin to Marx’s identification in the Grundrisse that necessarily occurring within production, as its co-constituting conditions, are distribution and consumption: a spatial (and temporal) distribution of the productive forces, and their consumption during the very act of labouring.10 Similarly, as each person has all of these five generic needs, each dimension is also lived within all the other dimensions; so, eg, the political dimension isn’t just found in explicit politically-directed practices, it’s also a necessary co-constituting condition in biotic, psychical, economic, and cultural practices as well. Call these first-order and second-order expressions of the dimension. This ‘multiplies’ human living, making it matricular, as in the mathematical operation when rows are thrown into columns and out pop generated terms, something bigger and new. And so Kurtz and immigration: we called for labour, and people came instead.
[a possible wording if a sub-heading is needed to break up the text; but the previous sub-heading refers to all 8 points]
The last four sections concern how attempts are made to satisfy needs. That is, forces are organised by people using human relations and relations with other things to constitute arrangements, modes, and through these the forces are exercised as people go about their business. Importantly, the correlate of needs is the practical imperatives.
(5) As said, forces are exhaustively either powers or susceptibilities, respectively the capacity to act or to suffer. In perhaps every society the attempted satisfying of each kind of need is consciously pursued, in directed and dedicated practices, and in establishing a standard way of working, a pattern, a regularity in behaviour, each dimension of human living partially arises as a distinct institutionalisation. Hence talk of separate spheres, levels, fields, areas, regions, realms – all these spatio-visual thing-like (reified) metaphors. But this static imagery of human living is misleading, a false friend, not least because of the second-order expressions of each dimension that I just mentioned. Given this it makes more sense to speak more abstractly, of dimensions, aspects, instances, or even moments – a forceful, temporal, a dynamic imagery favoured by Hegel and Marx.
Given that most analyses largely ignore susceptibilities, especially their causal effect, it’s worth looking at two examples. Colonisation is usually explained in terms of the exercise of power. However, in trying to explain why most of the Muslim world was colonised, Malek Bennabi argued that stagnation and decadence had made it colonisible, it had acquired the social quality of colonisability (colonisibilité).11 This is the point: in an encounter all parties exercise forces, with even the colonised at times being passive in their activity, their suffering, in exercising their capacity to be led, to be dominated, to be ruled in those different ways. The Iraqi, on his leash, in Abu Ghraib. One can also apply this idea to the imperialist working classes since the late 1970s.
Another example concerns “das Arbeitsvermögen oder die Arbeitskraft” (the capacity for labour or labour-power).12 However, Kraft means force, and labour-force is really warranted here as in its capitalist form the referred to capacity consists in at least four forces, not all of which are powers: a capacity for labour (that is, to create use-values); a capacity to create value; a capacity to create surplus-value; and a capacity to be formed by the capitalist. The last is a susceptibility, an affordance, a providing, an offering – hence the current ideology of the flexible worker: available, adaptable, supple, manipulable, malleable, mouldable, to be formed, re-formed, de-formed. Indeed, at times Engels chose to speak not of labour-power but of labour-force; in English, in 1881, he wrote in Labour Standard, the weekly newspaper of the London Trades Council, “[t]he average price of a commodity is equal to its cost of production […] If this be true of all commodities, it is true also of the commodity Labour (or more strictly speaking, Labour-force)” and “the free working man – free from servitude but also free from any earthly possessions save his own labour force” (original typography).13
(6) At a certain degree of abstraction-concretion, exhaustively five kinds of human relations are necessarily involved in each dimension of human living: intrapersonal, interpersonal, groupal, inter-groupal, and social. None exists without the others, each is simply an aspect of the complexity of human living. Marx described each of them in Capital: the trials of the individual worker (and capitalist) are detailed; the relationship between a worker and her employer; the life of the trade union trying to combine and protect workers; the collective struggle between workers and capitalists; and, in terms of social scientific knowledge, Capital provides a unique understanding of the capitalistic social, the capitalist ontogenomogene, identifying the most abstract and forceful determinants of how humans live in societies largely regulated by the capital social relation. Discovering the nature of capitalist sociality, and relating it to the socialising of the working class, was his primary heuristic activity, the focus of his epistemic labours.
Sociality, as a quality of humanity, is found in one kind of the relations both between people and between people and other entities. The social is not the conceptual opposite of the individual: no, it is an aspect of the historical organisation of a kind of living, such as the economic. So the social aspect of the human relation called capital is what is used to organise the forces of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption in particular ways. The social aspect of the capital relation, in virtue of it coming to constitute the economic ontogenomogene of humanity, instigates the historical society or formation called capitalism, regulating economic life largely by means of the law of value (and within this by the disciplinary force of socially necessary labour time), the causal forces that are the being-becoming of a particular form of the capital relation, the value relation. The capitalist ontogenome has development because some processes at work cannot but undermine others, their joint operation is contradictory, and eventually crisis erupts, threatening societal reproduction. The scientific communist argument is that one class, the working class, is being educated to rule, to manage a communising ontogenomogene and the forms of its corresponding society.
(7) Bringing together the last two sections, relations are used to organise forces into an arrangement, a figuration, and with agents (or patients) exercising those forces the three elements co-constitute a way, a manner, of acting (or suffering), what Marx called eine Weise, usually translated as mode. It means the mode, the way, has both a generative dimension and a generated dimension. Best known is his application of the concept to capitalist economy, but neglected is a list he gave, showing that he saw this onticity as pervasive: “[r]eligion, the family, the state, law, morality, science, art, etc, are only particular modes of production”; saying straight away, “and therefore come under its general law”, which is, “[…] the movement of private property or, to be more exact, of the economy. This material, immediately sensuous private property is the material, sensuous expression of estranged human life. Its movement – production and consumption – is the sensuous revelation of the movement of all previous production, ie the realization or reality of man.”14 The “general law”, suffusing current human living, is the being-becoming, the ontogenome, of alienated human living (in its capitalist form), generating both subjugation and qualification to act and to suffer. In the late 1850s Marx was able to detail this as the law of value.
So it’s reasonable to apply this concept to generic needs other than the economic kind. It means we have modes of political production, cultural production, affective production, and cognitive production; and modes of non-consciousness production, and consciousness production; and modes of fantasy production. Question is, why hasn’t this been said before? Why hasn’t this been applied, if only mechanically, just to see what it can yield? This is truly puzzling.
Similarly, we can apply to the other dimensions Marx’s idea that economic living transforms when current social relations of production are having such a deleterious effect upon productive forces that crisis eventually leads to new social relations coming into being, resolving the contradiction. So perhaps the principal political contradiction is that between the ruling forces and the social relations of ruling. It makes the job of politics either managing this contradiction or exacerbating it. We know where Varoufakis stands on this.
As each mode is an arrangement of relations used to organise forces it means there are sub-modes which can be used to promote particular ways of being-becoming. Hence how societal leadership (hegemony) is exercised is a sub-mode of ruling. Likewise the exercise of power (resulting in domination). Inquiry can establish whether these sub-modes exist on their own or do so analytically (ie discursively) as part of an arrangement. Also, as each figuration involves people, it is necessarily sensuous, and as it usually endures it can be said to constitute itself as a sensuous structure. Although the arrangements can prove to be temporary, most of the time people either reproduce or modify them, rather than effect transformation.
The development of social forces, perhaps not always internally connected to classes, can motivate political forces to develop competing modes, not of anti-ruling but of re-ruling; hence the transitions through ‘passive’ revolution, and times of dual power. The opposite of this is the means implicit in Marx’s argument that the working class can transform humanity into a universal class for-itself, of humanity realising in practice what the working class currently lives as a potential: an adequate mode of de-ruling. As we know all too well, what this involves is part of our 140 years of inadequate conceptualisation and practice. A focus of the third, final, article will be an elaboration of anti-ruling, re-ruling, and de-ruling.
(8) Before examining the political dimension itself there is one more step, identifying and describing the nature of practice. Much of it has already been said, it just needs dressing. Practice consists in these six elements: in conditions (the relations between them constituting a condition in its own right), a subject using means upon an object creates both a product and other outcomes, causing practical imperatives to be satisfied to a particular degree.
The product is then usually distributed (that is, circulated), sometimes exchanged, to be consumed. The product of each kind of human living is within its own generic continuum: economic products are either use-values or waste (including intended use-values that fail to be socially recognised); political ones are in a continuum between order, through resistance and rebellion, to mayhem; the cultural is the sensefulness-senselessness continuum; the affective experiences affects, feelings, emotions, moods, sentiments, and its quasi-absence, flat affect; and the cognitive is the meaningfulness-meaninglessness continuum.
If it wasn’t clear, other outcomes are that each of the other five elements of practice is either reproduced, modified, or transformed, as are the relations between them – and this also applies to the supervening mode of practice itself, which the individual practice instantiates.
A practical imperative, the practical correlate of need, arises from the way of living, and it’s a disciplinary property of practice: if it isn’t satisfied it upsets the status quo, even endangering the whole population – witness the ‘zoning’ of Greece by an act of omission, the Eurozone shovelling sand all over the cogs of the Greek banking machine. A practical imperative is a social condition co-produced by the exercise of forces and the needs of people and other entities. Abstracting from it being largely human in its nature, some inquirers conceptually objectify it, reify it, even personify it, calling it systemic needs.
In politics, symbols are readily recognised as useful in promoting a message, in encouraging ‘the right’ cognitive practice, for the right thoughts, ideas and opinions to spring forth. But affectivity, well, it just happens, right? Well, no. In an affective encounter people exercise their affordance to be affected, to experience affects, feelings, emotions, etc; and what they experience are the potential feelings, emotions, and moods, as it were, that are being actively presented to them, borne, evoked, by what can best be called pathophors. This is almost never an automatic process: people have to be sensitised, to be trained, ‘to feel the right way at the right time’. The obvious political prescription is that we systematically identify which pathophors would be useful in our work. Wilhelm Reich sensed this when trying to explain the success of fascists in Germany.15 Symbols too can be pathophors – witness the swastika, or even the word.
If cognitive processes can generate representational consciousness then affective processes produce presentational consciousness. The consciousness of experience is acognitive because it is solely affective: what’s experienced requires interpreting before we have a thought about it – but it’s felt immediately.
Lastly, necessary conditions of successful activity and passivity include two mental aspects of being-becoming, both a practically adequate consciousness and non-consciousness (the unconscious and more), all being the result of the exercise of psychic forces. The constituents here are cognitive and affective, conative and averse, and the fantastic.16 We must never forget the political salience of wishes, daydreams, longings, fantasies, dreams – and of their impoverishing, pervasive absence. This is a rich area for political communication – witness capitalist advertising. So what is it to be: the privatising of hope and desire or the socialising, the communising, of hope and desire? (Insert your own emoticon.)
This corrects the ‘being determines consciousness’ formula, which has become a dualist, dichotomous, torn-asunder, mechanical, unidirectional causal complex, either denying or denigrating the prospect of mental activity being causal, of it becoming leading, of it being other than derivative: reasons, feelings, and longings are indeed causes. Albeit requiring practice, hope is a potential not-yet.17
The abstract conception of political living
We can summarise the relatively abstract nature of the political dimension of human living, improving upon the approximation made in the final paragraph of my previous article. The elementary, the simplest necessary, political relation is between the rulers and the ruled. The elementary political dynamic is between ruling and anti-ruling. So the elementary political generative means are the mode of ruling and the mode of anti-ruling. The elementary political conditions are a dynamic between ‘superordination and subordination’ and ‘freedom as the recognition of necessity’. The elementary political contradiction is between the ruling forces and the social relations of ruling. The elementary political behavioural dynamic is ‘order or rebellion’. Politicisation involves the problematising of reality, generating issues to be framed and then pursued. The purpose of political behaviour, politics, is – even if unacknowledged – the attempted satisfaction of political practical imperatives, the practical correlate of political needs. The elementary and principal political practical imperative is control: control of access to valued, thus significant, entities, and control over the quality of relations. Political outcomes range from order through resistance and rebellion to mayhem. All this provides the ontogenomogenic setting, the distal causal forces, for considering more concrete matters such as class-party-state and programme.
The final article will explore ideas around the mode of ruling concept to better understand what’s necessarily and contingently involved in the political dimension of human living. Through a consideration of the communising process we will be able to infuse into Marx’s Gotha analysis much more detail about the necessary politics involved. This is the dynamic world of ruling and anti-ruling, with the latter harbouring a dynamic of re-ruling and de-ruling, and de-ruling itself hosting a dynamic of co-governing and self-governing. We’ll also see what futures are possible for the political dimension, and for politics narrowly conceived.
1. Paul Demarty ‘Headlong into a trap’ Weekly Worker April 9: http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1053/headlong-into-a-trap/.↩
2. Matthew Crenson The un-politics of air pollution: a study of non-decisionmaking in the cities Baltimore 1971.↩
3. An exemplar in how not to evangelise, spreading the news of exploitation and oppressions, was brilliantly described last year by Pablo Iglesias (a co-founder of Podemos) in a way that may surprise readers; every ‘leftist’ publication should carry the text: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/pablo-iglesias-podemos-left-speech/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-T5ye_z5i0 (with English sub-titles).↩
4. “An die Stelle der Regierung über Personen tritt die Verwaltung von Sachen und die Leitung von Produktionsprozessen” Friedrich Engels Anti-Dühring : http://www.mlwerke.de/me/me20/me20_239.htm#Kap_II. This is a transition of Aufhebung, sublation, superseding whilst partially preserving, but it seems Engels preferred here a linguistic construction that emphasised discontinuity within the continuity – see my previous article on the uniqueness of this transition. Another translation (hereafter ‘cf’) is Marx Engels Collected Works Vol 25 p268 (all volumes accessible at http://thecharnelhouse.org/2014/04/29/copyright-controversy-over-marx-engels-collected-works/).↩
5. Anti-Dühring: http://www.mlwerke.de/me/me20/me20_032.htm#Kap_XI; MECW Vol 25 pp104-6; John Hoffman The Gramscian challenge: coercion and consent in Marxist political theory London 1984 chapter 5.↩
6. The arguments of Joseph Dietzgen: https://www.marxists.org/archive/dietzgen/index.htm; Stuart Macintyre A proletarian science: Marxism in Britain 1917-1933 Cambridge 1980.↩
7. “Wir sehn hier, wie der durchgeführte Naturalismus oder Humanismus sich sowohl von dem Idealismus, als dem Materialismus unterscheidet und zugleich ihre beide vereinigende Wahrheit ist” Karl Marx ‘Economic and philosophical manuscripts’ (‘EPM’) : https://www.marxists.org/deutsch/archiv/marx-engels/1844/oek-phil/3-5_hegl.htm; cf MECW Vol 3 p336. On Feuerbach: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm.↩
8. “Dieser Kommunismus ist als vollendeter Naturalismus Humanismus, als vollendeter Humanismus Naturalismus” K Marx ‘EPM’: https://www.marxists.org/deutsch/archiv/marx-engels/1844/oek-phil/3-2_prkm.htm; cf MECW Vol 3 p296.↩
9. S Timpanaro On materialism  London 1975.↩
10. K Marx Grundrisse  Harmondsworth 1973 pp88-100.↩
11. M Bennabi Islam in history and society  New Delhi 2006 pp14, 47-8.↩
12. K Marx: http://www.mlwerke.de/me/me23/me23_161.htm#Kap_4_3; Capital: a critique of political economy Vol 1: the process of production of capital  London (Penguin) 1976 p270.↩
13. F Engels July 9 and August 6 1881 MECW Vol 24 pp402, 415.↩
14. K Marx ‘EPM’ Early writings Harmondsworth 1975 pp349, 348-9; relevant is “[sie] sind nur besondre Weisen der Produktion” (link as note 8).↩
15. W Reich Sex-pol: essays 1929-1934 L Baxandall (ed) New York 1972; all editions of The mass psychology of fascism comply with Reich’s decision to gut the Marxist arguments he had made in the first two German-language editions (1933 and 1934).↩
16. A fantastic fantastic analysis is Yael Navaro-Yashin Faces of the state: secularism and public life in Turkey Princeton 2002.↩
17. Ernst Bloch The principle of hope  3 volumes Oxford 1986.↩
What is the nature of politics? In the first of three articles Jara Handala takes issue with Mike Macnair
[the above sub-heading was added by the Weekly Worker editorial team]
December last year I was struck by a somewhat surprising conception of politics outlined by Mike Macnair, who posed whether it was reasonable to believe that the species could ever do without politics.1 Although this was not taken up in the paper, that is no reason why it should not be discussed now.
After offering a context I will recount Mike’s argument in some detail for the benefit of readers, given the time lag. I will comment on what it says and does not say, and in the following articles I will outline how this can be incorporated into an expanded and more adequate conception of politics, one that can be termed the political dimension of human living.
Most professed Marxists who write about capitalist and post-capitalist society are preoccupied with the economic dimension, and a narrowly conceived one at that. Their accounts usually fail to recognise that social structure is sensuous, they lack an adequate conception of the mental aspect and, except for the work of Paul Cockshott, Allin Cottrell, and Pat Devine, we know very little of how a feasible, socialising economic living could be planned and administered with widespread participation.2
Explaining why capitalist crises break out is one thing, but we also get the most arcane and detailed discussions, which leave even most Marxists scratching whatever. We can hardly dragoon researchers into less explored areas, even whole dimensions of human living, but the division of labour is so skewed, one wonders whether we are still sleepwalking along the fantastic corridor strewn with the garland, ‘The economic crisis automatically produces first resistance, then socialist struggles’.
The result is that we cannot apply to our work anything resembling a comprehensive scientific account of political living, psychical living, motivation, including the connections they form. For more than six years, in so many countries, even in southern Europe, 50% of under-25s are unemployed, the overall rate 25%, real wages down 10%-15%, the social wage turning to dust. Yet there is hardly a murmur, and not surprisingly our explanations are largely pedestrian, only matched by our initiatives and policies. Not to sound all Platypus here, but simply looking reality in the face, both the class and its aspiring leaders really are not doing that well.
In the last 25 years some rethinking has been provoked by the dissolution of most Stalinist states, the desiccation of almost all Stalinised parties, their wilting and turning to compost, and most crucially seeing social democrats turning against state capitalism, morphing from capitalist fundamentalists to capitalist-market fundamentalists. Social democracy, as a capitalist workers’ party, is always subject not only to the pressures of elections, workplaces and street protest, but also to the complete expression of the practical imperatives of capital, of a society sustaining and sustained by the productive forces organised by the social relation called capital. Its ties to the trade unions (there has been little movement) remain threatened by its behavioural, ideational and affective transition from statisation to marketisation. Hence the talk of the Democratic-Party-isation of social democracy, making it a safe space for ‘business’.
We are living the tough love of ‘strivers, not skivers’, a fail culture, where failure is personal, bad choices. Messed up? Take responsibility. Suffering? Your fault. Unhappy? Blame yourself. It is the capitalist symbiosis of the state disciplining, and being funded by, the land of opportunity. David Peace: “Keith’s back. Back with his new teeth – Police State took them out, he laughs. Welfare State put them back in – Fucking country, says other lad”; Werner Bonefeld: “Crudely put, the purpose of capital is to accumulate extracted surplus value, and the state is the political form of this purpose”.3 So more than one way to skin a cat. Better learn quick.
And if that wasn’t enough then there is the perennial capitalist antibiosis of the state towards the slightest stirring of independent working-class action. The arch-antibiotic, Otto von Bismarck, very much with us, as enlivening and as necrotising as ever. The present, as always, a partial outgrowth of the past, the accumulation of all that dead labour, surveilling us through the eyes of corpses.
In steps a ‘new’ communism (Jodi Dean, the exasperating Žižek, etc), following on from the earlier argument of communising, that it is a process, not an end state (Théorie Communiste, etc),4 and even the thought that Lenin was not a Leninist, that Leninism, a spectre spawned by Zinoviev and Stalin, competed for by Trotskyists, has had its day and perhaps (?) should not exist (Ian Birchall).5 None of this is before time.
Speaking of which, Marx’s death is halfway between The wealth of nations and the attempted coup in the Soviet Union, and Spain 1936 the mid-point between now and Marx starting the Grundrisse. Politically we simply have not kept up. We have been living not in the end times, but out of time, treading water not above an open drain, but an open sewer. We have become irrelevant when what the world needs more than ever is capitalistic socialising growing over into communising.6
Politics, initially, is always in command: it has primacy.7 It is where it all comes out in the wash – the detritus, the residues, the blood. If war is the continuation of politics by other means, likewise economics. Of course, they reciprocally determine – and for some of us there is the base-superstructure imagery for reassurance, for orientation, if they ever get lost in the complexity of the building – but the economic dimension, even though it both sustains life and forms and re-forms classes, is one more terrain where politics is fought out. That is the difference between physical possibility and practical possibility: the former provides the entity with a capacity, but for practice to ensue a full set of enabling conditions are needed: the right contingencies have to be present. There is no need to speak of determination ‘in the last instance’: if practical imperatives are not satisfied then ‘after the event’ causal forces just carry on doing their work unopposed, unleashing a reality check, disciplining all. Just like the skiver, fail to be practically adequate and you suffer the consequences. Bankruptcy hearings, broken relationships, insolvency law, chronic illness, even structural adjustment programmes. State managers take their jobs seriously. There is a policy, a procedure for everyone, even the Greek quasi-government.
In all this heartache, in all these destroyed dreams, in all this misery, it is simply that the economic dimension of human living makes largely understandable, renders intelligible, much of what goes on in the other dimensions,8 because the latter, in being both practically adequate correlates and necessary conditions in the securing of the sustenance for human living, unavoidably have a heavy economic stamp upon them. Through reciprocal causal relationships they exert pressures and establish functional limits upon economic processes but they are not reducible to their economic involvement: they each display an identity that is surplus to this, but each is inescapably dependent in their independence because they need the other dimensions as some of their very own conditions of existence – even the luftmentschn do not really live off air. Although most of the time there is a troubled harmony between and within the dimensions – they live antagonistically, even contradictorily – the show is usually kept on the road, and, together with a kind of sex, they jointly reproduce the species, they provide babies, goods, and services – all that is enjoyed by Mr and Mrs Bagose.
Correspondingly, successful political practice is not a matter of fiat: it is regulated by realities, it has to be practically adequate, it has to satisfy not just political imperatives, but also physical (including biotic), psychical, cultural and economic ones. This perpetual regulation has causal effects; it supplies political pressure, perhaps reigning in the more hare-brained schemes. Mao can initiate a ‘Great Leap Forward’ (for others), Idi Amin can ‘Africanise’ the economy (for others), but it does not mean everyone will eat (but the leaders will).9 So, yes, politics is in command, but it does not decide the success of political action – that is in the gift of all of the forces constituting the imperatives, not just political ones.
Capitalist society has developed a single social force, the social class of labourers organised capitalistically, with a societal relational-position, relatively enduring (structural), unique in human history. It confers upon the working class the potential to lead humanity in transforming exploitative and oppressive conditions into more philanthropic circumstances, reducing the opportunity for class relations to emerge, and enacting both a current and a prospective freedom, both emancipation and liberation, freedom-from transitioning into freedom-to. (Yes, emancipation and liberation differ, and importantly so, being two kinds of freedom, of liberty.)10
With less cause for humans to be vicious, with the taming of the dark side, this is civilising, with more cause for humans to be virtuous, daring to love, with human flourishing reducing the incidence and intensity of human suffering, with authenticity growing at the expense of alienation, dignity at the expense of degradation, with the coming into being not of uniformity, but a new unity, or at least quite peaceful coexistence, of humanity’s many differences; with all this a twofold condition develops, life suffused with opportunity to care better for one another, complemented by the reality of solidarity – its living, not a mere moral appeal – a growing awareness that the healthy development of all is the necessary precondition for oneself, that the welfare of others, their faring well, is a need of one’s own.
The communist movement – and it is surprising to say this – is a supremacist movement, yet a very strange one: one with an absent object, uniquely aspiring for humanity to exercise supremacy over absence, the absence of social classes. It is the ultimate liberation movement, not perfecting humankind – a delusion because it is impossible – but testing how far humanity can allow its virtues to flourish at the expense of its vices, for philanthropy to rule misanthropy. We are the virtue squad, not the vice squad. Although we are prepared to be vicious at times, when necessary, in a revealing sense we need to recognise that communism is the living of grace, it is graceful living, the pervasive caring for each other.
Time will show whether humans prove capable of this: truth is a practical matter. The communist hope is a rational, justifiable, affective correlate of the humanised world as it is – all of us living under the same sun, the same clouds, the same light.11
For the first time in history there has been the creation of a social force physically capable of all this – and we have the good fortune to be part of this force. Talk about bearing a responsibility.
The working class is a class in-itself, it is composed of workers, and in its coming into being, its genesis, its proletarian nature is unavoidably part of its social genetic identity; and, although it is unusual to say this, it is also a class for-itself from day one: for itself, that is, in it being variable capital, put to work each day. From that moment it is a class for-an-other, the capitalist class: its identity, its self, is an other, it lives in the skin of someone else – in order to exist it necessarily assumes a foreign form, a form of capital, variable in its ability to produce value. This is another inescapable part of its social genetic identity: the working class is a kind of capital. Capitalists created and continue to create workers: workers do not create workers – they lack that power. What workers are exercising here is their susceptibility to become workers, a necessity because, in lacking independent access to their sustenance, they must rely on others, like Mrs Moneybags the Mediator.
So, in being organised by capitalists using the capital relation, potential labourers come into being as workers in and through the capital form, and cannot but act as capital. It means the working class immediately acts collectively in a threefold sense: as a class in-itself; as a class for-itself-as-capital; and as a class for-an-other-as-capital, for the capitalist class. And its social genetic identity, developing into its social genic identity, are lived simultaneously as both capitalist and proletarian.
The political challenge involves three transitions:
(1) to transform that class, the class for-itself-as-capital, into a different kind of class for-itself, unexpectedly not the particular of the working class for-itself (a necessarily chauvinistic, corporatist project) but passing through the particular of the working class for-itself-as-an-other for a second time, but now not as capital, but as a potential for the whole of humanity, to develop into the particular of the realised universal class in-itself; and
(2) at the same time, into the particular of the potential universal class for-itself, the collective agent (and patient); with
(3) the capacity to direct society in a universalising endeavour, to bring about its organic, spontaneous development on the most loving, philanthropic basis the species can achieve, for it to realise itself as the universal class for-itself. At the moment of achieving that class status its goal will be reached: the dissolution of all classes – thereby extinguishing even itself, its extant social quality. Complete communising means the communist project will transition: it will be superseded whilst being partially preserved (sublated) by a project or projects unknown.
The historical task of the working class, the proletariat throughout the world, is to realise the potential of being-becoming borne, as it is even today, by its innate social identity, its constitution as the realisable universal class both in-itself and for-itself. That is a very different kettle of identity politics. That is a very different kettle of constitutional politics. It also shows how inadequate, uninformative and misleading it is to speak of ‘the left’. The working class project is not simply different: it is qualitatively unique; it is the first class project that is not class-specific, the first one not to cultivate class chauvinism, and the first lacking a class-specific goal. This distinctiveness is because its project is the universalising of humanity, humanity devoid of class organisation. The working class’ project is not a class project, for it is a humanist project.
The uniqueness of this task, in terms of both its intrinsic difficulty and the history of the species, is rarely stressed: it would be the first time an attempt could be made to create a society that was not ruled by a minority class of property-owners. To try to transition away from private property, having been schooled for centuries in acquisition and possessive individualism, with habits ingrained and institutions laid down, poses peculiar and recalcitrant problems. Witness the experience in the 20th century of trying to develop post-capitalist societies. But this is the political challenge facing humanity, and not just the current bearer of the realisable universal class both in-itself and for-itself.
Through learning12 and hard work, humanity may develop its capacities for what may now be understood as a task, subject to planning, and adequately exercise its powers and susceptibilities. But there are no guarantees: it is inherently risky. It may not just have severe setbacks, but fail, and fail, and fail again, dwelling in Groundhog Day, eventually ending up as the mother of all compilations on YouTube. The anticipation that failed.
Despite our best efforts – over not even many centuries, but millennia – this endeavour may turn out to be an entelechy with a bad infinity: a perpetual process with an ending you don’t want to know about, one without development, continually driving up against the wall at the end of a cul-de-sac. Contrary to our current rationally evidenced expectations, this may be its nature. It is not that this potential proved unfulfillable: it is simply that our conception proved wrong, epistemically inadequate. The potential was something else, a potential with a different content. We had been mistaken. The gorgeous mistake.
In this scenario what we had in mind proved in practice to be an illusion, a phantom, a fantasy. It had never existed. Unwittingly it would have proved that we had been engaged in a utopian project. Yes, although at a certain phase of human development it had been physically possible for humanity to start developing towards being a realised universal class for-itself, with the opportunity to transform that potential into a realisation, to eliminate systemic (but presumably not occasional) exploitation and oppressions, and all the rest, it had proved in practice impossible. Humanity’s efforts would have been shown insufficient. They weren’t up to the job – it was beyond them. The task was unrealistic because it was unrealisable. In the face of imperatives, the requisite forces either could not be summoned or they could not be exercised. Perhaps through a lack of adequate knowledge, including foresight, through poor performance, the species would have been seen to have wasted time and effort on the unachievable when it would have been more sensible, more rational, to have tried something that could have worked.
But this we cannot know in advance because – and this is a fundamental point – humans are involved in an open development: there are always new necessities and contingencies coming into being, others fading from the scene, the obduracy of their imperatives and the exercise of their causal forces both modifying the effects, even the exercise, of extant forces. It means our condition is necessarily determined but not predetermined – more accurately, as Ernest Mandel put it, it is parametrically determined given that possibilities are constrained.13
Our knowledge is fallible, it is incomplete, but much of it is testable, can be rationally evaluated, and are corrigible. Rationally, given knowledge of both our current emancipatory potential and liberatory potential, we have a duty to try to transform that potential into reality. This is not a wager: facts secrete rational values, they confer duties, they dictate rational behaviour. It is irrational to turn our backs on this real potential, to refuse the opportunity to engage with it, to simply try to enjoy life or to fade away.14
So a unique opportunity has been presented to humanity now that it has developed the quality of being a realisable universal class both in-itself and for-itself. It is why politics since the 1850s is not simply of historical, civilisationary importance, but of species importance. And this at a time when we are sleepwalking (again), stumbling through the carnage of the Capitalocene that we ourselves, as capital, are busily creating, the terrestrial period misnamed the Anthropocene: its generative force is not humanity as such, in its nakedness, but its being cloaked, threateningly and dangerously, in a historically specific working form.15 It matters how each of us acts in the world, even how we conceptualise and offer descriptions, explanations, evaluations, justifications, prescriptions, and predictions. Our current labours, or lack of them, the presence of absence, are always the co-makers of history, and of the future. This is so independent of human recognition.
Given this, it is striking, perverse, a disgrace, that a political movement like Marxism has never discovered a practically adequate conception of politics to guide the work of communists. For all the criticisms, the time of Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas, the state derivation debate centred in Germany, all this tailing into the work of Simon Clarke and of Bob Jessop,16 this was a time of promise. Forty years on, we hardly have pieces to pick up.
However, Mike Macnair, the Marxist, is doing his best with the Lego. He often makes surprising points and comes up with novel formulations. Back in December, in a joust with Platypus’s Big Bill, Chris Cutrone, a number of points were made by Mike on the nature of politics and whether it could ever end. Without saying so, the argument for his conception of politics developed as a sequence of four approximations, and this was the first:
… it is illusory to imagine a human future without politics. I emphasise that this is *not* a CPGB position as such. ‘Politics’ is ambiguous and the assertion of the permanence of ‘politics’ can risk ‘buying’ liberalism, or the permanence of the *state*, or – worse – some variant on Nazi lawyer Carl Schmitt’s ‘decisionism’. It is therefore necessary to specify what I mean by ‘politics’: that is, disagreements and conflicts, including sharp ones, about the common affairs of human society as a whole and/or of particular human groups and about the application of their resources, and the associated phenomena of argument, coalition-building, institutions (whether formal or customary) for decision-making in the face of disagreement, and from time to time coercion.
[paired asterisks denote emphasis]
So politics is “disagreements and conflicts”, and it has two objects: “the common affairs of human society as a whole and/or of particular human groups”, and the crucial practical matter of “the application of their resources”. Additionally, politics is about four other things: “the associated phenomena of argument, coalition-building, institutions (whether formal or customary) for decision-making in the face of disagreement, and from time to time coercion.”
His next paragraph elaborates on disagreement:
That politics, in the general sense in which I have described, will persist is nonetheless an important point. There is no ground either in anthropology or recorded human history for supposing that the supersession of *class* or, for that matter, of occupational specialisation, will lead to the disappearance of human *disagreement*. Most fundamentally, even if the result of future capitalist or socialist development was that resources became genuinely unlimited (as in the science-fiction dream of ‘my own uninhabited planet …’), everything we know about humans indicates that in spite of real diversity we are a *social* rather than an individual-territorial species. Social interactions are seriously important to human wellbeing. And social interactions imply disagreements … Secondarily, but more immediately, we are unlikely ever to arrive at abundance in the sense of ‘Anyone can have whatever they want’ (even if, as some theorists argue, aspirations to unlimited acquisition are an artefact of capitalist, or of class, society). And many individual dreams will require cooperative action to be put into effect. Plenty of space for disagreement and conflict here.
- Politics – to repeat, “disagreements and conflict” – will persist because there is no good reason to doubt that humans will ever stop disagreeing; especially, one could add, over important matters, those necessarily involving pressing practical imperatives.
- No argument is offered to explain why “social interactions imply disagreements”, or whether this relationship is causal and, if so, how.
- A central claim of the socialist idea has been that humanity can create abundance at the expense of rationing, the latter’s historical means being either administrative decision or prices (which are actually the admin decisions of many authorities, the sales team of each capital, in varying conditions of competition). Achieving abundance is necessary, but insufficient, to transition from ‘to each according to their need and work’ to ‘to each according to their want’. The argument has been twofold: a significant rise in the social productivity of labour boosting supply (great ideas from newly emancipated workers, including even more scientific knowledge incorporated into technology); and demand falling through significant changes in wants (defetishising of use-values, less keeping up with the Patels, and socialist shopping being what shopping should be: boring, mere admin, not Paris Hilton on a day out). A principal weakness here is that changed circumstances, not least product and process innovation, continually create new needs and a penumbra of wants. It ensures that initially demand always exceeds supply, so distributive decisions have to be made: rationing will almost certainly always be with us – but, in the best case, only trivially so?
Mike then says: “it is a present political vice of both mainstream politics and the left to try to do politics without disagreement”. It is currently managed with a public preference for “consensus” paired with “the suppression of dissent”, and self-censoring fronting as “diplomatic unity”. It means that disagreement is practised privately as “clique intrigues”. He could have noted that this is hypocrisy, given the vogue for transparency amongst almost all advocates of democracy; and that the condemnation of factions necessarily coexists with disagreements being pursued by … de facto factions, which at least, in comparison with the official picture of atomised political subjects, has the virtue of facilitating some sorting out of proposals prior to their wider presentation – although its unavoidable vices are the institutionalising of dishonesty and secrecy. As a socialist advert, and as prefigurative political behaviour, one can only agree with Our Graham (not Norton): do I not like that.
Mike continues, making the last three approximations of his argument:
If we move from the ambiguities of ‘politics’ in the utopia of ‘social order without politics’ to the more precisely defined utopias of ‘society without disagreements’ or ‘politics without disagreements’, it should be apparent that the explanation can be much more straightforward. Politics is about disagreement in making *decisions for collective action*. ‘Politics without disagreement’ is an ideologisation of the real need to *actually be able to take and implement collective decisions*: ie, that it is necessary that the ‘losing side’ be bound by a collective decision when it comes to be implemented. The implication is that there comes a point at which dissenters have to – at least temporarily – shut up in order to get on with the common action decided on.
- Any social order will have politics – so that includes subsistence societies, those lacking the creation of a regular social surplus product. Mike implies that all societies have a social order, a regular, a standardised (that is, institutionalised) way of proceeding – even one with a capricious dictator. Like fascists, communists and anarchists cannot but believe in order: as a human universal it needs to be recognised – accepted practically if only to make life easier. (Perhaps we should adopt the slogan on the national flag of a three-times dictatorship, ‘Order and Progress’; Auguste Comte wanted it on the flag of his hoped-for Western Republic, with, on the other side, ‘Live for Others’. Altruism and solidarity sound good too.)17
- The second approximation: “Politics is about disagreement in making decisions for collective action”.
- And “collective” appears again, in the third step, Mike effectively prescribing that collective decisions should be the norm – it is captured in the first part of this: “the real need to actually be able to take and implement collective decisions”. In capitalist ideology, it is everyone feeling that they own the decision, even when they disagree with it.
- It can be added that in the communising societies we envisage, decisions should (always?) be collective, and the conditions spontaneously encouraging (even ensuring?) mass participatory decision-making. (Below I mention delegation and representation; one can add, what are their limits, and when is it desirable and undesirable?)
- To return to Mike’s argument. The final step has just been implied: as it is essential that decisions are carried out (after a presumably informed, non-threatening discussion), that they result in action, “it is necessary” that the minority does not obstruct (that they “be bound” to) what has been decided by everyone. Unity is strength; not just a trade union principle, but symbolised by a bundle of rods bound together (in Italian, fascio) – the human need for solidarity can take contradictory political forms. (I assume that when Mike says “dissenters have to – at least temporarily – shut up” he does not mean that literally: a principle established through the pages of this paper is that minorities, indeed everyone, are entitled to say whatever they want; it is just that the decision has ‘earned the right’ to be tested in practice, and that can only be done if the prescribed action has the opportunity to take place, without obstruction.)
- Curiously, Mike does not speak of delegates, representatives, direct and indirect decision-making, or majority and minority, only of “coalition-building”, “decisions”, “the ‘losing side’”, “dissenters”.
- There is no talk of democracy – which, anyway, is a highly ambiguous word, used to refer to so much, when more informative descriptions are readily available; in fact it usually collapses, without loss of meaning, into ‘widespread participation in decision-making’. In any case, as a bald statement, what does it mean to speak of ‘the rule of the people’ – compared to whose rule?
The ideology inflates this *valid* point into the idea that agreed collective actions without disagreement would *always* be better … the proletariat as a class needs collective action, and hence binding decisions … Hence workers’ organisations are particularly prone to ideologise common action to the point of trying to exclude disagreement; though, in reality, as Marx, Engels, Liebknecht and Bebel already saw against Lassalle, the attempt to exclude disagreement in fact *weakens* the ability to achieve common action.
- For the anti-capitalist and communising processes to be efficacious, collective action is needed, which in turn needs binding decisions – otherwise things go off at half cock, wasting time; meaning that, for philanthropic decisions, unnecessary human suffering occurs at the expense of human flourishing.
- But the open expression of verbal (and non-verbal) disagreement is an emancipatory and liberatory asset: as mentioned, facts secrete rational values, and people have a duty to express themselves, because when dissent is encouraged, and its work circulated, the society benefits from considering unorthodox ideas, concepts, views, evidence and arguments, which may even raise new questions and encourage the search for new evidence; disagreeing also challenges received wisdom, countering the ossifying of organisations; and, in improving the likelihood of making the most efficacious decision for collective action, it promotes the attempt to discover (practical) knowledge, to discover the decisions and means (including procedures) most consistent with the emancipatory and liberatory epistemic interest.
To summarise Mike’s argument. The idea of a “future without politics”, a “‘social order without politics’”, is examined using the conception of ‘politics as disagreements about the affairs of particular groups or of humanity as a whole’. So now it is a question of “‘society without disagreements’” – and yet the (uncited) evidence shows the impossibility of “‘politics without disagreements’”. And, given that humans act (if only because imperatives need satisfying for life to continue), and usually do so in consort, “Politics is about disagreement in making decisions for collective action”. More accurately, these are “collective decisions”, and for them to be implemented properly they must be “binding” on all, especially opponents.
So the end point is this: politics consists in disagreements about the affairs of particular groups or of humanity as a whole, proceeding to make binding collective decisions about collective action that will be carried out. It is politics-as-agreeing-to-act.
In the next two articles I will outline how Mike’s conception of politics can be incorporated into a more expansive one: the political dimension of human living. I will also show how this more adequately describes and explains political matters. My focus will be on ruling, not deciding. This is the elementary, the simplest necessary, political relation. Therefore the elementary political generative means is the mode of ruling, not the decision-making event. The elementary political behavioural dynamic is ‘order or rebellion’, not ‘eternally disagreeing, but eventually deciding before acting’. Politicisation involves the problematising of reality, generating issues to be framed and then pursued. The purpose of political behaviour (politics) is, even if unacknowledged, the attempted satisfaction of political practical imperatives, not agreeing-to-act. And there are two prizes at stake in the political contest, and they are certainly worth fighting over: the control of access to valued, thus significant, entities; and control over the quality of relations.
1. M Macnair, ‘Fantasy history, fantasy Marx’ Weekly Worker December 18 2014: http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1039/fantasy-history-fantasy-marx/.↩
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Cockshott; P Devine Democracy and economic planning Cambridge 2010.↩
3. D Peace GB84 London 2004; W Bonefeld, ‘Free economy and the strong state: some notes on the state’ Capital and Class Vol 34, No 1 (2010), pp15-24: https://libcom.org/library/free-economy-strong-state-some-notes-state-werner-bonefeld.↩
4. J Dean The communist horizon London 2012; https://libcom.org/library/theorie-communiste.↩
5. J Bustelo, ‘Lenin was not a Leninist’, 2013: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=7727; I Birchall, ‘Lenin: yes! Leninism: no?’, 2014: http://rs21.org.uk/2014/08/02/leninism.↩
6. I treat communising and socialising, and their cognates, as synonyms, as was the case before the First World War. Preferring communising distances the project from the much more limited aims of most of today’s professed socialists. Also, speaking of communising stresses process over momentary outcome.↩
7. T Mason, ‘The primacy of politics: politics and economics in national socialist Germany’ in his Nazism, fascism and the working class Cambridge 1995 pp53-76: https://books.google.com/books?id=e0Rz1ciobugC&printsec=frontcover&dq=mason+fascism+working+class&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnvdn0n8bJAhXBmg4KHfFsD5gQuwUIJDAA#v=onepage&q=mason%20fascism%20working%20class&f=false.↩
8. M Fisk, ‘Feminism, socialism, and historical materialism’ Praxis International Vol 2, No 2 (1982), pp117-8, 123-30: http://www.ceeol.com/aspx/SearchArticles.aspx.↩
9. F Dikötter Mao’s great famine: the history of China’s most devastating catastrophe 1958-62 London 2010.↩
10. Given that scientific communists are proud rational libertarians it is gratifying, whatever one thinks of their politics, that at least one organisation remembers this: the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. As with fun and pleasure, we have lost the freedom argument.↩
11. Paraphrase of Haim Hanegbi (2001): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWnqw4jLHyo (date provided by Eran Torbiner).↩
12. G Mergner Social limits to learning: essays on the archeology of domination, resistance and experience W Templer (tr) New York 2005:https://books.google.com/books?id=s_W9BAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=mergner+social+limits+learning&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=mergner%20social%20limits%20learning&f=false.↩
13. E Mandel, ‘How to make no sense of Marx’ [on Jon Elster], 1989, section 4: https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1989/xx/nosense.htm. Mandel died twenty years ago, July 20 1995.↩
14. B Springsteen, ‘Racing in the street’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLwK98Ywgto.↩
15. I Angus, ‘The problem with “Capitalocene”’, 2014: http://web.archive.org/web/20141207164709/http://climateandcapitalism.com/2014/09/17/problem-capitalocene/ (no longer on the site: http://climateandcapitalism.com/2014/09/17/problem-capitalocene).↩
16. J Holloway and S Picciotto (eds) State and capital: a Marxist debate London 1978; S Clarke, http://homepages.warwick.ac.uk/~syrbe/Publications.html; B Jessop, http://bobjessop.org.↩
17. A Comte A general view of positivism  J H Bridges (tr) London 1908 p431: https://archive.org/stream/generalviewofpos00comt#page/430/mode/2up.↩
The next three posts are an argument exploring the nature of politics, including its temporal limits, that is, when it came into being & how it may wither away. It’s an attempt at scientific communist analysis, with a focus on this glaring fact: perversely Marx, Engels, & those using their ideas, have a deeply underdeveloped conception of the political dimension of human living. Principally there is a need for the concept of mode of ruling, the generative force of political living. This spawns, amongst others, the concepts of ruling & anti-ruling, re-ruling & de-ruling, co-governing & self-governing.
Only anti-ruling can undermine politics. The sublation of political living (& its necessary symbiosis with economic living & cultural living) results in its opposite, integral living: alienation is sublated as authenticity. With the sublating of ruling, the universal class for-itself comes into being, & the integral is its form, & hence also the form of communist society.
Exploitation & oppressions are the result of ruling, & politics only exists when there’s ruling. Correspondingly, opposing ruling is to be anti-political. The communising effort tries to make politics wither, stripping it from decision-making, managing, administering, governing. What remains of political matters, the ensuring of widespread participation in decision-making & implementation (the continuity within the discontinuity), amounts to nothing other than governing matters. The political dimension of human living has morphed into the governing dimension of human living, just one necessary process of integral living; this occurs because a figuration of modes of ruling has been undermined to extinction by the generative force of governing, namely modes of governing, those of co-governing & self-governing.
The posts are quite lengthy, & without colour pictures, videos, etc., almost certainly a strain on the eye. So I’ll try to find out if there’s a way to post the three original Word files, or perhaps have them as PDF’s.
These paragraphs from a letter sent this week to the Weekly Worker, paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain, give a further flavour of the three posts:
[. . .] achieving socialism, communism ([. . .] synonyms), is engaging in a process of communising, which starts for us as undermining the capitalising of people’s lives, and it requires the decommodifying of goods and services. It involves the development of authenticity at the expense of alienation. Call it the integral living of the universal class for itself. Socialists need to reclaim talk of freedom, fun and pleasure, individual and collective responsibility, and be their champion. We need conceptions of freedom-from and freedom-to: emancipation from exploitation and oppressions, and the living of liberation in individual and communal projects, some even exploratory and experimental. We promote human flourishing at the expense of suffering.
We are for developing self-control, making redundant the alter-discipline of authorities; in engendering awareness that the welfare of others is a need of one’s own, the boundary of one’s self is transformed, extending and involving others; enveloping others and being enveloped develops a more collective self. It is the practising of non-erotic love: communists are philanthropists. Democracy, ie widespread participation in decision-making, is simply the means giving us the best chance to develop the good life for the whole species, all the while respecting that freedom recognises necessity. Communising means discovering how to institutionalise enthusiasm in a non-commodity form.
If a scientific understanding of economic life requires a conception of mode of production then that of political life requires a conception of mode of ruling. Power is simply one way to rule; leading society, invoking fear and hope, are others. Communising consists in developing anti-ruling at the expense of ruling, with the former harbouring a dynamic of re-ruling and de-ruling, and de-ruling itself hosting a dynamic of co-governing and self-governing. Each of these dynamics marks a phase in the prospective history of communising. In all this, communising requires the working class and its allies to use a mode of anti-ruling to govern both control of access to valued, thus significant, entities, and control over the quality of relations. In being anti-ruling, communists are anti-political; it makes us integral, not political.
Communising is an attempt to create a community of self-governors. The organisation of communist society is regulation, order, association in an integral form, and it is achieved not by ruling but by governing, self-governing. This is the sublation of alienation. Human political history is a management struggle, the management of valued entities and relations. The scientific communist aim is none other than to make us all managers, make us all governors, make us all administrators. This gives a new meaning to ‘the managerial revolution’. It is contingent whether humanity is either capable of this or indeed desires it.
I have explored these ideas, and the nature of politics for scientific communists, in what would have been three articles for the WW. The editorial team wanted them re-written as two, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the time to do this. They are available however at https.thrutheeyesofcorpses.wordpress.com.
[Two changes made in the penultimate paragraph: it’s more exact to speak of “in an integral form”, rather than “[t]he integral organisation of communist society”, because the latter can’t be organised in any other way (the quality is necessary, not contingent); & the final sentence is an addition.]
Mehdi Ben Barka just disappeared. Amilcar Cabral got a bullet. Eduardo Mondlane a book. Ruth First a parcel. Walter Rodney, the gift of an unwanted accessory to his car. And so did Ghassan.
That was 43 years ago today. He was 36.
In less than two years’ time, 10 June 2017, there will be a 50th anniversary, a Golden Jubilee. Quite appropriate really, as a possible etymology is yobel, Hebrew for ram, the ram’s-horn trumpet. Heralding the third Jewish supremacist occupation of Palestine, following those from before the end of the Mandate and then from May 1948.
In 2017 the Jewish-Israeli supremacist state will be 69 years old. No mutual pleasure here. First, 19 years consolidating occupation; then, as if that wasn’t enough, a new one for 50 years. That’s more than 72% of the state’s time on this earth, presiding beyond its legal borders. That’s one hell of a record, even for a rogue state. Its employees & supporters are surely proud of its misanthropic work.
~ photo courtesy of Liberal Humanist (a former wiki editor) ~
~ both courtesy of the informative analyzegreece.com ~
Ontology is the set of accounts concerned with the generic constituents of what exists – & therefore of what doesn’t exist. It doesn’t have to be abstract. In fact the more comprehensive ontologies are able to describe everyday concrete matters & explain their occurrence. It doesn’t have to be ahistorical. In fact the more adequate ontologies detail matters of all sorts of temporalities: transhistorical, historical, phasic, conjunctural, ephemeral. They are also able to differentiate between what is not just contingent or necessary but also to identify & describe the necessarily contingent & the contingently necessary, &, to go beyond Jessop, the contingently contingent & the necessarily necessary.
But this is not my point. If one’s analysis describes not just what is (being) but also what either can or must be (becoming), the matter of change, then it is more adequately described not as an ontology, the ‘ology’ (logos, reasoning) of ‘on’ (the Greek for being), but as an ontogenomology, the ‘ology’ of ‘onto-genome’, being-becoming. (The neologisms are necessary, as is the torrent to come.)
(1) the entity has being in virtue of its configured conditioned, & conditioning, forces (powers & susceptibilities), & becoming in virtue of some of these. Its becoming, its capacity to change, is expressed, realised, with the exercise of these change-inducing forces;
(2) in changing, the entity shows that it isn’t just its current realised being but that it is in-development, it is being realised as something different, & this is disclosed in the continuities & changes of its being-becoming, demonstrating that it has the property of ontogenomogeny, constituting it as an ontogenomogene (& not simply, in virtue of its being, as an ontogenome, with the attendant quality of ontogenomy);
(3) just to be clear, the entity has ontogenomogeny as a consequence of either external changes or internal developments, the latter being the expression – the work, the exercise – of some of its forces either (a) immediately, or after causing (b1) their re-figuration or (b2) the gain or loss of forces;
(4) the qualities of ontogenomy & ontogenomogeny separately constitute the object of inquiry of ontogenomics & ontogenomogenics;
(5) the analysts here are ontogenomologists & ontogenomogenologists (known in the trade as OG bods & OGG bods); &
(6) they do their best to produce ontogenomologies & ontogenomogenologies (although Foucaultians insist that they write ontogenomogenealogies).
(1) what exists is different from its description (call the latter a second-order existence). Marx & others are mistaken in constantly speaking of entities having a logic or of being presupposed or posited (Grundrisse). No, these are concepts of thinking, of discourse, of argument – not concepts of first-order existence. (Notwithstanding that Edgley argued for an ontologic.) Instead, each entity is an instance of its kind of ontogenome, giving it its necessary & most of its contingent ways of being, & in so far that it has the quality of developing then it is an instance of its kind of ontogenomogene, providing it with its necessary & most of its contingent ways of being-becoming, of changing.
So capital accumulation is the result of a particular ontogenome that develops; in other words, the process involving the organisation, exercise, & regulation of productive forces by the capital relation is the expression of a distinct ontogenomogene. Or to apply the other term of Fromm’s distinction between being mode & having mode, capitalist production doesn’t have a logic, rather in being the realisation of both its ontogenome & its ontogenomogene it shows that it has both an ontogenomic & an ontogenomogenic;
(2) each & every ontogenomogene has a temporal & spatial identity, living its own time & space. Instead of taking time & space as an external metric (and applying it to entities, quantifying magnitudes & rates of change of time & space), we can understand temporality & spatiality as ‘coming from within’ the entity, as qualities of both its generative & generated dimensions. A complexity is that it’s not unusual for temporal extensions to be variously directed, simultaneously, into the past, future, & the ephemeral present. And temporalness can also be either ‘stretched out’ or ‘compressed’, made dense, lived intensely, with years, even decades, ‘packed’ into weeks or days. Frozen times; heady days. In developing temporalness & spatialness from within, each ontogenomogene has the qualities of endochronogeny & endospatiogeny; &
(3) to summarise categorically, & also to apply the above to what is conventionally described as methodology & epistemology, we have a fourfold triad that is the process of applying inquiry methods to entities to generate knowledge about them: methodics – methodologists – methods & methodologies; epistemics – epistemologists – epistemologies; ontogenomics – ontogenomologists – ontogenomologies; ontogenomogenics – ontogenomogenologists – ontogenomogenologies.
Yes, we are mortal, but we can especially thank Mrs Dubinsky for delivering Harold into this world. The best companion one can have in trying to understand Marx’s political approach is the five-volume study by Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution.
His other significant literary contribution are his arguments against the sect form of political organisation, against those professed Marxists who put the perceived interest of their group before that of both the working class as a whole & our struggle towards creating a more socialistic society. But then arguments have never swayed these peeps from the true path, from the ever tighter spirals they contort.
Hal died 26 January 1990, having seen the Berlin Wall breached. We continue to do our best in honouring his name, his work, his life – and his ma.
It seems in Dec & Jan Norman Finkelstein spoke for quite a few hours with Paul Jay of The Real News Network, & c. 20min segments have been posted on YouTube. There are eight in all, a total of 3hrs. It ends with Paul saying Norm might appear soon in a TRNN-hosted debate on BDS; let’s hope so.
Thankfully there are lots of Norm vids on the net, & this series started in the vein seen many times before. But then it took another route to the heart. Norm has spoken before about his parents – perhaps most notably in the film American Radical – but this time it was different.
In segment #1 Norm speaks of his eureka moment when identifying Joan Peters’ fraud concerning her historical demography of Palestine. (Poor Joan died two days before the French cartoonists; but not before the Israeli ambassador to the UN phoned, conveying sweet words from Murderer-in-Chief Netanyabu, of “how grateful he was for all she had done for Israel” – Chicago Tribune, 7Jan15.)
But after that touching interlude, back to Norm. Starting in #2 the conversation gets a lot more intimate, about his parents. Matters of the greatest import, but hilarious moments too. And by #7 we learn that for what is now seven years Norm has never received an invite from a New York university to give a lecture. Columbia has the only centre for Palestinian studies in the US, NYU has one for Near Eastern studies, both heavily populated by professed leftists in decision-making positions. No invite. Seven years. Nothing. So much for solidarność. An absolute disgrace. Simply unbelievable.
Minor point: at the very beginning Paul says Norm had just told him he’s never seen American Radical, & says he’ll ask him to explain, but if he did unfortunately it doesn’t appear in the uploads.
In a later post I shall discuss the questions that Norm surprisingly dodged in #7. True, I haven’t known those questions to be put to him before, but given his outlook I didn’t think they were that awkward for him.