Back in the day, after the rate of profit first wobbled and the fell off the table some 51 years ago (which should tell you all you need to know about the ultimate inevitable collapse of capitalism, and its cohort, the permanent crisis); as the bourgeoisie started to get themselves sorted, deciding that sds (students for a democratic society) was on to something with “Bring the War Home;” after overthrowing Allende, winning the hearts and minds of OPEC, and especially after beating back the US strike wave of 1974; after all that, the bourgeoisie presented its once and future attack on living standards, wages rates, social welfare, racial equality, public education, on the workers and the poor, as freedom, as the defense of the rights of property against the totalitarian tendencies of “big government.”
Remember that? Probably not, since hopefully you’re not as old as I am. But I wouldn’t lie to you. Milton Friedman and the Chicago boys were the theorists of the rights of serial killer mass murderer entrepreneurs, i.e. the democracy of property-holders; Pinochet was the practice; Chile was the lab. Democracy at work, motherfuckers: whoever accumulates the most corpses, wins. Dead majority rules.
Allende himself was a democrat too, but not so good on the practice part, having attacked and disorganized the cordones, the only institutions capable of opposing the serial entrepreneurial murderers all decked out in eagle insignias and sheepskins.
Like those other principles of capital accumulation– supply and demand, free markets– democracy is a term designed to obscure the class content, the social relations, at the core of the struggle over wealth, which is nothing other than time, the time consumed in the reproduction of daily life. Democracy means anything and nothing. Everyone’s a democrat and no one is.
Like heroin, democracy’s a near perfect commodity. You’re ready to die for it and that suits the dealer just fine. You’ve already paid.
As a form of governing, democracy for all is inseparable from its foundation in the slavery of others, in the private ownership and commercial trafficking of human lives. Capitalism puts a finer point to it of course, opting to dispense, (some of the time) with the direct, immediate, particular, unmediated ownership of lives; preferring some/most of the time the indirect, general, social, mediated ownership– that of ownership of the means of subsistence and the means of producing the means of subsistence, and through that mediation, the commercial traffic in human lives. Nuance can’t be overrated when it comes to capital. Even when the nuance is that of a hammer hitting a nail.
Everybody’s a democrat, like everybody’s middle class, like everybody has certain inalienable rights, like everybody’s created equal. Until they’re not. Then it becomes an aspiration. Somebody wants to be a democrat. Somebody wants to be middle class. Somebody wants inalienable rights. Somebody wants to be created equal. Then democracy and its democrats are no longer imperatives, they’re contingencies.
The relations of power, of property and class, shred the ideology of democracy.
This is where the bereft left steps in; determined to rescue the myths of democracy from the necessary and necessity of debasement, the bereft left is committed to constraining, restraining the struggle against capital within the membranes of democracy.
The bereft left agitates, organizes, struggles for a “movement,” “in the streets,” to defend “democratic rights,” as if any movement was ever in the streets to defend democratic rights. As if the history of the opposition to capital isn’t at essence, and to have the barest shot at success, an opposition to private property and to the republic for which it stands.
The bereft left democrat demands an end to voter suppression laws and gerrymandering, claiming “one person, one vote,” as if there’s ever been any such thing with capitalism; as if there’s ever going to be any such thing.
The struggle is not about one person, one vote. It’s about one class versus another. The revolutionist, always more realistic and practical than the democrat, opposes voter suppression laws not because he/she/we believe in “being fair”– as if we’d allow a banker or manager or foreman to vote; the revolutionist opposes voter suppression laws in order to unite the class against attacks on parts of itself ; and, as a transitory step, to target the institutions of the bourgeois order that enact these laws, that uphold these laws, that execute these laws, for disempowerment and replacement .
The bereft left democrat “demands” an end to “police racism and brutality.” The revolutionist identifies the police as the agency of enforcement for the racist, brutal nature of capitalism and advocates as a transitory step, the complete disarming and abolition of the police as a force, and the arrest of the individuals making up the police.
The bereft left democrat wants a democratic response to immigrant labor. Maybe a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Certainly humane treatment of migrants at the borders.
The revolutionist says immigrants are workers, let them in. We want them here so we can organize them on our side in this battle. No one is illegal. No one should be arrested or deported for seeking safety and welfare. No workplace raids. No checking of “papers.”
The bereft left democrats wants a “working class oriented movement for union power,” ignoring a) the decline in union representation to less than 10 percent of the work force b) the role played by unions in containing the struggle of workers and preserving the rule of capital c) the need for a working class movement to transcend, overcome, and overwhelm, the union form, which form is intrinsically connected to, dependent upon the fragmentation of the class.
At least in this, the bereft left democrats put the truth to the notion that the working class “left to its own” can only “produce” a trade union consciousness. That truth is that trade union consciousness is the “best” the left democrats, the vanguardists, the parties, can come up with; a truth that is then imposed upon the working class’s struggle against capital.
The left democrats raise the banner of a $15 or even a $25 minimum wage, revealing not just a lack of imagination, but their tacit allegiance to the capitalist ideology that the wage varies according to the quality and/or quantity of work.
The revolutionist rejects precisely that capitalist notion, instead pushing forward the demand that since “one man during an hour is worth just as much as another man during an hour” (Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy); since all workers sacrifice time to the bourgeoisie’s need for accumulation, all workers should be compensated at the same and highest rate. Janitors, computer programmers, child care workers, brain surgeons, locomotive engineers, teachers– one big wage is the transition, the mediation in the transition to the abolition of the wage system:
But this idea, that the kinds of labour a worker does have different value, that he is paid more or less than another worker, is a completely capitalist invention. The bosses invented it to have another instrument of political control of the working class. Let’s not forget that the Party and the unions support this capitalist invention. They accept that the money a worker gets should be based on the different quality of the work he does….
So it’s clear that the political problem is to attack all the tools of political control that the boss holds and that he uses to bind the working class and force us to serve his productive ends and to take part in our own exploitation. The workers’ weapon for fighting this tool is the refusal of the wage as compensation for the quantity and quality of work…It’s the demand for a wage that is no longer fixed by production for the bosses, but by the material needs of the workers. That is: Equal increase in the base wage for everyone…
[The workers] all want a guaranteed wage that will let them live and they don’t give a shit about merit increases, increases in the percentage, variables, etc. That is, all the mechanisms that the bosses with the unions have invented to tie wages more tightly to exploitation and to divide workers among themselves. — Nanni Balestrini, We Want Everything, Verso, 2016.
The bereft left democrat plays the allegiance, the supplication, to democracy like a trump card, or an ID card, or a credential. It’s an indication of “seriousness,” of “maturity,” of “civility,” and most of all, “manners.”
In-fucking-deed. Manners are everything when you’re dealing with a ruling class that uses white phosphorus on people, particularly people of color, at every opportunity.
The bereft left democrat thinks that by engaging in “democratic struggle,” the battle for “democratic rights,” class consciousness will inevitably, if not magically appear, even if such a struggle occurs at the very moment when “democratic rights” are proving obsolete, archaic, inadequate to the task of social reproduction.
The bereft left democrats’ belief in democratic demands for democratic rights during imagined democratic struggles is precisely the interior complement to the pseudo-Marxist notion of “stages theory”– that there is somehow necessarily an abstract template for the development of society and social struggle that all must be made to fit.
Stages are a form the content of which is capitulation to capital.
Stages are for actors, poseurs, and democrats. Power is built in the struggle against all of those.
S.Artesian June 2, 2021