Some Thoughts on Anti-Capital
A while back I was asked by a member of the group behind Anti-Capital to give some feedback on the political outlook of the publication. At the time I was re-entering politics after a long period of personal detachment, and I couldn’t really give a decent reply. I still don’t think I can give a great reply – In answer to the question ‘What is to be Done?’ I can honestly give only the famous answer attributed to Socrates: “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.”
But I can write something by way of observation. S. Artesian’s article on the Trump election states “We’re nothing and nobody.” A useful perspective. As another nobody, I think there is some common ground for discussion.
Looking at the data for loss of working hours due to stoppages in the UK paints a striking picture. Beginning in the 1960’s there is an upsurge, reaching a peak in 1979, and declining again to a historic low in the 1990’s, an ebb which continues to this day. The peak in September 1979 was 11 million hours lost. The stat for May 2017? 50,000, 220 times less than in the seventies.
In the late 1930’s Trotsky believed that capitalism was in the throes of it’s ‘death agony’. The only thing holding back the banks of revolution from overflowing was the Stalinist and reformist leadership of the working-class. All that was necessary was the replacement of the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ leaders by the ‘Bolshevik-Leninist’ leaders and the union of the subjective and objective conditions would be complete, communism was just a stones throw away.
And yet capitalism did not collapse or continue on it’s path of stagnation. It did produce a social cataclysm and destruction of life on an unprecedented scale – World War Two. It also produced the 1950’s and an unprecedented period of growth which belied the attempts to explain it away as an illusory growth. Capital came close to collapse, but it recuperated.
In the 70’s and 80’s the struggle returned. The 70’s were a high point for Left Communism, it saw the formation of the ICC and the ICT (Then the IBRP). The Communist Left believed that capitalism had entered it’s phase of ‘decadence’ in or around 1914, since then it had been on a constant downhill path. The period between the 50’s and the 70’s notwithstanding, capitalism was rapidly heading towards collapse and social revolution, save for the influences of the social-democratic, trade-unionist, Stalinist and Trotskyist leadership of the class movement.
That old leadership did collapse. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant the rapid decline of the old Communist Parties. In Britain the old CPGB didn’t survive long after the fall of the Berlin wall. Thatcher and Reagan broke the backs of the trade union movement. Since that time union membership has seen a long term decline, which if present trends continue could soon lead to the total dissolution of the unions. The old social-democratic parties survived, only on the basis that they completely abandoned even the pretense of being workers’ parties.
The old leadership was not broken by the upsurge of the revolutionary workers’ movement. It was broken by capital. The decline of the unions, for example, is a result of the long term trend towards the growth of precarious forms of employment – the ‘gig economy’. Capital always presupposes the existence of wage-labour, it can never overcome this limit within itself, but by reorganising that labour it can recuperate itself and make null some of the attempts against it.
This is the second perspective I find useful in this publication – defeat. As Artesian’s article on Trump also mentions, the current historical period has to be analysed as the end result of the offensive of the bourgeoisie against the working-class, both in the long and short terms. We are not living in the ‘death agony’ or the phase of ‘decadence’. We live in a period defined by crisis, but also by recuperation. The facts must be confronted soberly if we are to move forward.
This should not be taken as a simple lament for the halcyon days of the 70’s. The old movement did not fail for external reasons alone, but also for internal ones. In it’s attempts to mediate between labour and capital and redistribute wealth to the working-class it embarked on an endeavour that was, at bottom, utopian. Social peace under capitalism can never be concluded to the benefit of the working-class. As long as society is capitalist society, peace by definition favours the interests of capital.
We need to go beyond the old workers’ movement. This going forwards will require discussion and critique. It will require new ideas and new forms of organisation. It will require equally old ideas and forms of organisation, or at least it must preserve what was genuinely revolutionary and critical in the old ideas and forms. As long as Anti-Capital commits itself to being a forum for precisely this discussion, then it will have achieved something.
I’ll conclude with some observations that arose in the course of recent discussions I was having on the subject of class consciousness.
There is a perennial danger in the socialist movement, a belief which was expressed in Lenin’s infamous work prior to the 1905 revolution, that workers’ by their own actions can only achieve a ‘trade-union consciousness’. That viewpoint is self-evidently false.
But there is another danger. It is a danger which is expressed at times consciously, at times unconsciously, of believing that every action of workers in their own interests is inherently revolutionary. I myself have been guilty of this even very recently. The most absurd expression of it was in a recent discussion where I was told that we were living in a revolutionary situation (!) and that wildcat strikes (what wildcat strikes?!) absenteeism and petty theft were all forms of revolutionary class activity.
The same individual insisted that all workers have an essentially communist consciousness, and that the only reason for the lack of revolutionary action was social stability. Once the system was destabilised enough, the class would revolt automatically. Phrased in these terms, this is an inherently absurd viewpoint, one which leads to innumerable questions of why history is not filled with innumerable revolution, or why the ones which did occur did not see an amazingly rapid spread in a short period of time.
Yet this is the viewpoint that is offered as an ‘alternative’ to the politics of the old left by contemporary adherents of ‘communisation’. The revolution will be accomplished not by the organised action of the working-class, but by a simple adding up of multiple individual actions – strikes, petty theft, absenteeism – an adding up which finds it’s most absurd expression in a recent libcom thread where an ‘anarchist’ expressed the idea that the revolution could be accomplished if everyone simply stopped working.
Despite all the phrases these nihilists throw around about ‘ideology’, their viewpoint is completely ensnared by ideology as much as, if not more than contemporary Leninism. Far from being the sort for escape from the world of value production, all it provides us with is another dead end.