The Platypus Affiliated Society presents a moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A addressing issues of global capital, trade unions, workers rights, international solidarity, and immigration, in light of recent economic and political change. Held on Thursday April 23, 2009, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Abraham Mwaura, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, organizer at the Republic Windows & Doors Factory.
Chuck Hendricks, Unite Here organizer
Aaron Hughes, representative at the International Labor Conference Erbil Iraq, and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War
James Thindwa, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice
Platypus Review 9 | December 2008
To change the world, we need a movement. This movement must be made up of millions of people and thousands of organizations. These organizations must build and push the movement forward. How do we get to this point? We have to start with leadership.
From 12 to 155
As a union organizer, I train workers to lead their shop floor and industry wide struggles. In the case of my union, we call the leaders in the shops “committee members.” These folks organize for fights with bosses, deal with issues on the shop floor, and negotiate contracts.
Every June for the last five years there has been a major citywide rally on behalf of all of the members of my union. For my part, I was responsible for organizing workers at one of the major food service companies in Chicago. All the workers of this company are part of the union. For the big citywide action on Michigan Avenue in 2007, only 12 out of 650 workers showed up. Not even half of the committee came.
The union committee did the day-to-day work of running the union. There were no qualifications for membership in the committee. Everyone who wanted to be on the committee was welcome; no one was ever turned away. If you joined the committee, you were not given any clear expectations. The committee was comprised of twentyfive volunteers who were neither the most respected nor trusted workers in the shop. And they were the ones expected to move the union forward?! The organization of the union was catch as catch can. It was a weak union, and that’s definitely not what we needed.
Twenty-five individuals that did not have the ability to mobilize their co-workers, did not have any responsibility, and did not have the skills or the knowledge to win issues on the shop floor, produced a weak union.
One year later, the same march takes place, and workers from the same shop come out to Michigan Avenue. This time, 155 workers came.
This was made possible by a strong and fighting union. This union has a committee that pushes co-workers to fight; a committee that both carries out the daily functions of the union and believes in a long-term class-based political program; a committee with members trained to become better leaders, who can target and recruit new committee people. The union needed committee members who would constantly challenge each other to be stronger and better organizers. In other words, leadership was needed.
We can build a successful movement by developing leadership skills and leaders who can be held accountable.
The worker-led organizing committee shrunk to twenty, with some workers from the first committee, and some were new members. The philosophy and expectations of the committee members changed. Committee members agreed to a minimum set of requirements: they had to have the respect of the group, and the desire to lead their co-workers. Each committee member agreed to take responsibility for organizing a group, to attend meetings, to recruit more leaders, to get training, and to do the work of building a movement. Those that did not agree and those that did not live up to the responsibility got off the committee. The committee was changing from a hodgepodge group of volunteers to a body ready for leadership.
I recently sat on a panel at the “Platypus Readers and Writers Forum.” The discussion was supposed to focus on how the Platypus Review could become a better newspaper. But, the panelists and the audience were interest in having a different conversation. The forum moved in the direction of the age-old debate between “theory” and “practice,” or between “thought” and “action.” After three hours we all agreed that both were necessary in a radical movement for social change.
Everyone on the left has heard and said it before. We are all wrong. The problem today is not about theory, the “right line,” or militant action. The problem is one of leadership. The question should be: how do we get more people to accept our theories and to take part in our actions, so we can build enough momentum to be able to actually accomplish the goals of our movement?
It is impossible to build real organization, to direct our actions, thoughts, and goals into a single vision, in a Left when “leader” and “leadership” are treated as dirty words. Those in leadership roles (official or unofficial)— even in large organizations—are treated with disdain, disgust, even as enemies.
On the Left today, the concept of leadership is synonymous with authoritarianism, dictatorship, oppression, and control. This antipathy towards leadership has stalled our efforts: we waste time working to limit the power of our own organizations, instead of figuring out how to use the power of our organizations against the current system. As a result, constant infighting and petty personality disputes destroy our ability to achieve our actual goals.
This negative vision of leadership has produced broad acceptance of “diversity of tactics,” “anti-authoritarianism,” “consensus decision making.” These and a host of other leftist ideas were a rejection of the centralized leadership and bureaucratic structures of the left before the 1960s.
Students for a Democratic Society, founded with exactly these concepts in mind, once had 100,000 members nationwide. In 1969, it gave way to the Weatherman Faction, which in turn became the Weather Underground. The potential for a strong organization was lost; the radicals that could have led SDS ended as a few dozen people isolated from any broader movement. This story has become far too common throughout the history of the left.
Today, the movement has no structure and no power. Because of the ever-shrinking and splintered organizations, it’s impossible to think beyond our own small circle of friends or “affinity groups.” Some Chicagoans who participated in the 2008 Republican National Convention reported that during the planning for blocking traffic, certain affinity groups couldn’t even commit to the rest of the organization to hold certain intersections, in case they “felt like going somewhere else.” This has become the norm, the views of every small group is of equal importance, and every person within that group is allowed to opt in or out at anytime.
Activists no longer view their roles as leaders of a movement, nor consider themselves responsible to organizations. Individuals are not expected to, nor desire to, recruit others into organizations or activities. Recruitment and training are not priorities. Discipline and planning are limited to one-off actions, not long-term organizational plans. Individualism has run amok, and the outcome is libertinism, not political power for the masses of humanity.
This sentiment is not just anti-leadership, it is anti-organization, and ultimately it is anti-power. This is not due to a political theory, either; it is merely the product of our own internal fear. In the face of constant defeat, the vast majority of the left, regardless of label, has adopted this anti-power ideology. We have complacently accepted our own situation, resigned ourselves to symbolic protest and resistance, and accepted our minority status. We are being held back by our own fear of being right, of being wrong, of winning, of losing, of anything. We are afraid of looking over the edge, seeing the abyss before us, and having to leap. We are more afraid still of leading others off that cliff into creating a new world. We are terrified of the responsibilities and burdens of that leadership.
This must change. We must learn to be leaders.
This is not the leadership of unaccountable government leaders, top-down and based on patronage or the power of the law. Nor is it the self-appointed ideological leadership of communist parties. The position of leaders in a real emancipatory movement must come solely from one factor: the ability of the leaders to lead those involved in the organization into a struggle for liberation and power. Taking responsibility and leadership is the ultimate act of believing in your politics. It is the ultimate act of believing in yourself. You must create the new or it will never come. And we are more afraid of the new than what we know.
Timothy’s path to leadership
I will never forget meeting Timothy, one of the first members of the new committee in my union. He was on the prior committee and had worked there for seven years. Like so many of us, Timothy felt his life was out of his hands, and just wanted to talk about his problems. His wife was robbed, his daughter had asthma and frequently ended up in the hospital, and he’d been in and out of prison.
Timothy wanted to be safe. He wanted to have control over his life. But Timothy had only fought for himself; he had never been challenged to act like a leader and challenge his friends/co-workers to stand up.
It would have been easier for me to just accept the history of this shop, and just say this is what “the workers” wanted. Instead, I chose to challenge him and to push others to do the same. I made him reconsider the role he and his co-workers could play. Along with workers’ strength, we talked about his life and what kind of man and father he wanted to be.
Timothy wanted his union to fight, although he wasn’t sure what that meant. He did know, however, that only a handful of people in the shop floor would talk about the problems, that nothing ever got fixed, and everyone felt weak for way too long. Timothy agreed to get trained and to challenge his co-workers to organize toward their common goals.
At a certain point, Timothy decided he was going to lead and organize a new area of the site because the company was cutting people’s hours and giving more work to certain “favorite” workers. He got four more committee members to start a petition; they convinced the whole department to sign it and deliver it as a group. The night before the delivery, the committee leaders called their coworker followers to make sure that they would be there.
They trusted the leadership’s decisions, and, despite their fears, 76 of them gathered to present the petition as a group. Timothy and four other committee members confronted the General Manager with the petition. Within twenty minutes, the Manager agreed to pay them thousands of dollars for the time the company had cut.
Leadership and the future of the Left
Finding and developing new leaders at the shop was not easy, but it proved that a strong organization, and a strong movement, is only possible through the development of leadership. Developing leadership for the movement requires creating long term plans for the growth of an organization, recruiting new members, training a new generation of leadership, and planning and carrying out campaigns for short-term victories.
A leader’s priority is to widen the base of support, train people to carry out necessary tasks, and immediately give newly recruited people responsibilities. Without training, and short-term goals, the membership will slowly decline and leadership will inevitably fall off. By planning and accomplishing things together members both old and new will learn to trust each other and the power of the leadership. As members go through the ups and downs of campaigns, wins and losses, they will learn the effectiveness of their own organizations and learn to trust in the leadership of those that are taking the bold step of leading people into difficult struggles. Larger goals become attainable, and more people will have been through difficult struggles and will have learned how to fight and win.
Timothy did just that, he became a man that was respected and built an organization that was feared. As he moves forward he will be able to change dozens—and will ultimately lead hundreds—of working class people. This has also allowed Timothy to build a better relationship with his wife and daughter. It taught him restraint, planning, patience and respect. When working class people learn to feel respect in their own lives, and feel power in the places of work and the community, we have advanced the possibility of real transformation.
We must not fail to recruit people into our organizations. We cannot be afraid to directly ask a person to recognize that they have a stake in changing the world, and share our vision of struggle with them. Many people on the left are just waiting for the revolution to come. We cannot just assume that someday the workers of the world are going to flock to our ideas. The revolution will never come by itself. A revolution will only be possible by the organized actions of the Left.
I lead people. I’m proud of leading people. I think leading people is the most important thing I can do in my life. I do not lead everyone. I don’t lead people in every area of their lives. I don’t lead people to do things against their self-interest. I am not unique in my leadership ability. But I can and will lead people in a social movement.
Each one of you gets to make the same choice I made, the same choice Timothy made. Who do I want to be? What is the better me? As you answer those questions, believe that it is our duty as revolutionaries to make sure other people can answer them as well, and can realize their visions. Everyone wants a better world, but it is up to us to get the world there.
Two dominant ideas on the left today are used to treat leadership negatively and not as a necessity: “we are all leaders” or “we have no leaders.”
The left is wrong and will continue to lose until it recognizes that fact. It is imperative that we learn to take leadership seriously and work to develop it. There is only one thing that should be avoided on the left, and that is losing. It is time to do something different. It is time to lead. |P
Platypus Review 9 | December 2008
For the “Left” that is critical of him, the most common comparison made of Obama is to Bill Clinton.
This critique of Obama, as of Clinton, denounces his “Centrism,” the trajectory he appears to continue from the “new” Democratic Party of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) expressed by Clinton and Gore’s election in 1992. Clinton’s election was seen as part of the triumph of “Third Way” politics that contemporaneously found expression in Tony Blair’s “New” Labour Party in Britain.
The idea of such “Third Way” politics is that, compared to the prior political polarizations that developed around the Reagan and Thatcher neoliberal assault on the Keynesian-Fordist state and the resistance against this trend by traditional “social-democratic” politics, the “radical Center” expressed the possibility of a deeper and more effective political transformation. — What if the “Third Way” politicians were correct?
While the “Left” attacks Obama for being too Centrist or Right-wing, a neoliberal in blackface, the Right attacks Obama for being a closet “socialist” (or “Marxist”!). But both attacks neglect the fundamental transformation of politics that has taken place over the course of the past generation, since the “Reagan Revolution”: the Right cynically because they wish to demagogically drive their conservative-reactionary politics ever further; and the “Left” more despairingly because they have never made proper sense of the crisis of the Keynesian-Fordist state, and so have thought that the neoliberal Right’s efforts can be simply reversed with a “progressive” outcome — that Keynesian Fordism had been progressive and not regressive in terms of social emancipation.
Behind this lies a deeper confusion that informed the problematic politics of the 1960s “New” Left, and behind that, the reformism of the Left of the 1930s. The “Old” Left had jumped on the bandwagon of FDR’s New Deal reforms — and the remaking of Europe and Japan as well as the postcolonial “developing” states in a Keynesian-Fordist “social-democratic” image after WWII. The “New” Left responded to this conservatization ambivalently, however, attacking the authoritarian liberalism of JFK and LBJ in the 1960s, but then attempting to stave off its collapse in the 1970s-80s. In this the post-’60s “Left” has been as mistaken in its defense as it had been previously in its attack.
The “social democratic” politics of the mid-20th Century involved tying the workers’ movement to state policies, depoliticizing labor struggles and eviscerating the remnants of the socialist movement of the early 20th Century. The collapse of such Keynesian-Fordist reformist politics began in the 1970s and has carried through the ’80s and ’90s to the present. The displacement of the reformism associated with the Democratic Party (and Labour in the U.K.) by a “new” Right starting in the 1970s was facilitated by the demobilization of the working class as a social force with its roots in the 1930s, the period of the Stalinization of Marxism — the transformation of Marxism into a reformist ideology.
The alliance of such “Marxism” with liberalism and social democracy in the Popular Front against fascism in Europe and with FDR’s Democratic Party in the 1930s and during WWII, despite the Cold War against the USSR and its allies that followed, collectively remade the world in its image of politics. What was most important about the politics of the mid-20th Century was not the struggles, however epic, it contained and expressed, but rather how such politics repressed possibilities for social emancipation.
The challenge “Third Way” politics has offered to the terms of both the Old and New Left, emerging from the crisis of the Keynesian-Fordist state in the latter part of the 20th Century, has not been met. The changes this politics has augured are askew of the mainstream conceptions of “Left” and “Right” as they were established in the mid-20th Century, after the collapse of the Left into a conservative phenomenon in and through the Popular Front of the 1930s, and the subsequent failure to renew emancipatory politics in the 1960s. Indeed, the “Left” since the 1960s has been trapped in an essentially conservative pose, trying to hold back the tide of neoliberal changes. The problems inherent in this can be summarized by the divisions the “Left” accepts between “personal” and “government” responsibility, or between libertarian and authoritarian politics — the opposition of individual to collective freedom.
To take one prominent example, Adolph Reed, in a variety of writings and statements in other media prior to the election, has excoriated Obama for his rhetoric of “personal responsibility” regarding the problems facing black Americans. For Reed (as for Jeremiah Wright, and Jesse Jackson, Sr., who in off-air comments expressed a desire to “cut his nuts off” after Obama made a Fathers’ Day commentary about black “dead-beat dads”), Obama’s rhetoric of personal responsibility falls in with the neoliberal politics of disclaiming public (governmental) responsibility for social ills and “privatizes” them instead.
Of course Reed is right to criticize such rhetoric by Obama. But the question remains whether today we ought to proceed as if the main enemy was the rhetoric of the 1965 Moynihan Report, “The Negro Family: the case for national action,” which infamously identified a supposed “culture of poverty” pathology beyond the possibility of state amelioration, and sought to disenchant the 1960s Great Society expansions of the 1930s New Deal. While Reed and others in the 1960s rightly pointed to the essential affinity between the roots of neoconservatism of Moynihan et al. and the paternalism of liberal reformism, they failed to properly clarify the relation between the reformist politics of labor organizations and the state policies and agencies into which these groups were integrated (such as the National Labor Relations Board) in the mid-20th Century.
The question is whether the terms of such political battles of the 1960s era are still pertinent — whether we ought to place our hopes in reversing policy changes that have occurred from Reagan through Bill Clinton to George W. Bush — or do we need instead to interrogate the terms of this (apparently) perennial struggle so as to be able to adopt an entirely different and potentially more effective framework for emancipatory politics. For the most significant change from the 1960s to the present has been the decimation of the — reformist, non-class struggle — workers movement.
An authentic Marxian Left would not oppose the politics of the governmental responsibility — of the capitalist state — to that of individual persons. A Marxian approach would neither devolve social responsibility onto individual persons nor would it invest collective responsibility in the form of the capitalist nation-state. Nor would it disclaim personal responsibility but would pose it very differently than liberals do — whether they be liberals of the moralizing “conservative” kind or of the supposedly more radical lifestyle-choice variety.
A Marxian approach would argue that the working class has, at the levels of both individual-personal and collective responsibility, to struggle for socialism — and that Leftist intellectuals have a responsibility to help facilitate this struggle.
Rather than the illusions in Obama — either positive or negative — that associate him simply with the vicissitudes of movement along a spectrum of “Left” and “Right” informed fundamentally by Keynesian-Fordist state policies or their undermining by neoliberalism, a response to the “Third Way” politics Obama represents needs to be formulated that recognizes a historical trajectory that is not reassimilable back into the social politics of the mid-20th Century. For such politics had been settled by the time of Clinton’s election in 1992, after the Reagan-Thatcher “revolution” and the destruction of the Soviet Union. There is a line of continuity between Clinton and Obama, but not one of betrayal of the Left but of historical changes for which the “Left” has been ill-prepared.
The triumph of neoliberalism, as well as of “Third Way” politics of the “radical Center” at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st Centuries cannot be understood properly as a move to the Right that can be reversed by undoing it or by repolarizing politics according to an earlier mode of government policies. They must be seen as part of a deep-rooted historical trajectory that can only be defeated through a new politicization of the working class for socialism, a politics that has been neglected since the early 20th Century.
We must learn the lessons of the 20th Century not learned by those who came before us, and not accept the terms by which they rationalized their failures. Obama, as the latest sign of “change” in this on-going trajectory, underscores this necessity.
Like the “Third Way” we should not accept the opposition of individual and collective social responsibility in conceiving our politics. Unlike the “Third Way,” we should not affirm the forms of state and civil society in which these different dimensions of social responsibility are mediated in today’s late, “post-revolutionary” capitalism. We should rise to the challenge of the necessary double-sided critique that can meet the conservative politics of the “Third Way” in terms of its — and our — own historical moment, and not in the obsolete and, even in their time, mistaken and ineffective terms of a moribund “Left.”
Since his election, Obama has made it clear that he wishes to steer clear of outdated polarizations — as well he should, if he wants to be an effective politician. We should not treat this merely as “political” equivocation or obfuscation, but rather as clearing the way to a potential better recognition of social reality. For a long time now, the “Left” has been adept at skirting the issues and accepting, however tacitly, the terms of social politics set by others. For it is as true that “government [of the capitalist nation-state] is not the answer” as it is that neoliberal “free market” reforms have been a farcical debacle — with tremendous costs to humanity. But the historical failure of the Left is what brought us to this impasse of the 20th Century, the 21st Century opportunity of the “Third Way” and its politics of the “radical Center.” The vacuum of historical politics has been filled, and we need to address this present effective space for politics and not remain self-marginalized, in disdain of it.
We cannot continue the preceding “Left’s” follies in accepting the terms and attempting to re-fight the battles of the 1960s and the 1930s (and their aftermath), in an endless “rear-guard action,” without denying our social reality in its most fundamental respects. Obama has not been a transformative figure in the sense of bringing about a change. Rather, Obama’s victory expresses a change that has been already long under way — and about which the “Left” has remained confused and in denial for far too long, as a result of its abandonment of Marxism.
For a Marxian approach should seek to occupy the vital, radical center of political life, if social emancipation beyond capital is ever to be achieved. Not the intellectual cynicism of “postmodernism” or the despairing utopian politics of an “anarchist” withdrawal from mainstream political life, but an open assault on the on-going conservatizing strategies of depoliticization and the consolidation of power that takes form in ever more socially opaque and inaccessible ways.
Reversing this can only happen in the context of a reinvigorated workers’ movement that would seek to centrally reorganize social life, at a global scale. Today, this must begin with the integrated North American working class, who, occupying the beating heart of the world of capital, has a unique historic responsibility and potentially emancipatory role to play, for whose abdication all of humanity will continue to pay a terrible and escalating price. Addressing the ideological clarification necessary for overcoming this deficit of working class politics will be possible only through Marxian critical theory, carried on by intellectuals trained and dedicated to do this.
As Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), the great revolutionary Marxist politician of the early 20th Century stated it, during the disintegration of the international Marxist workers’ movement in the First World War,
Socialism is the first popular movement in world history that has set itself the goal of bringing human consciousness, and thereby free will, into play in the social actions of humankind . . . to try to take its history into its own hands; instead of remaining a will-less football, it will take the tiller of social life and become the pilot to the goal of its own history. (The Crisis of German Social Democracy, AKA the Junius pamphlet, 1915)
We need to resume this fight. |P
Platypus Review 4 | April—May 2008
“We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.”
I just turned thirty. Fifteen years on the Left—that’s half my lifetime now and what it means to me has changed consistently over the years: from punk rock kid with a mohawk and tattoos on my ribs and shoulders to a union leader with a mortgage and kid and the responsibility of thousands of workers on my shoulders. I often find myself thinking back to when my politics were just forming and how simple those days and those politics were. Things were clear: America was bad, veganism was good, pacifism was good, hierarchy was bad, jobs were for suckers and school was for sellouts, squats were a pure form of existence and love was meant to be free. Anarchism was clear, it was simple and we knew how the world should be. We reached for that world by forming small collectives, putting out zines or records, doing punk concerts where we preached to our fellow punks and complained about the world. Being an anarchist meant living and thinking as an anarchist more than it meant making anarchism a reality.
Most of my time as a young anarcho-punk I had a job; I was an apprentice painter. I worked in the same place my dad worked. After years on the same job sites with him, I was only making about two bucks less than him an hour. He had a bad back from years on the job, and no way to ever even think about retiring. I never thought about doing anything to make that job better paying and safer or providing for my future; I was too busy picketing fur stores and running a record distro for punks.
This all changed when my daughter was born; it became far more important to me to make my life better for Lexy and myself. I organized a union.
At first I tried putting in place lessons I learned from the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which was very little. Mostly they had great slogans, signs, chants, songs… heck they even had IWW yo-yos and bike lights. But as a Wobbly, I didn’t know how to talk to my co-workers about fighting capitalism and making our jobs better. Five years as an anarchists prepared me for nothing when it came to the actual struggle. I never got another co-worker interested.
This was my first departure from being a straight-line American anarchist. I reached out to a mainstream union, the painters’ union, in order to help organize my co-workers. I was taught very little by the Painters Union, but I was able to become a union member, with health insurance and a decent life. But more importantly I was part of the mainstream of the US Labor Movement. For roughly two years I straddled an odd line: I was still an anarchist—in many ways still an anarchist punk doing things like Food Not Bombs and Copwatch—but I was focusing more and more on getting workers to organize against their bosses.
After a few years of being in the Painters Union, while maintaining all of my ties to the Baltimore Anarchists Scene, I was offered training from another US union to learn how to really organize workers. I’ll never forget that I was told, “you’d get a chance to organize like it was the 1920’s again, because we don’t care about the Labor Laws.” I jumped at this chance and left the comfort of the Baltimore Anarchists I had been a part of for seven years. At the time, I really thought I was going to learn a lot and then come back to the IWW.
That wasn’t to be the case. When I moved to Connecticut and later to California my ties were cut, and my ideology was no longer going to be formed by Angel who brought me into the anarcho-punk community or Flint Jones who brought me into the IWW. Those years shaped me, but it was my time in the wilderness, in the desert of southern California, where there were no leftists, that made me who I am.
It was the reality and the responsibility of organizing workers at tribal casinos that taught me that the black and white perspectives that are so common among anarchists are not simply based on ideological decisions, but rather decisions based on hopelessness or laziness. Ideology makes complex situations clear-cut, but the problem for me is this: the world we live in and organize in is not clear-cut. The simple days of Baltimore where just that, the simple days. The ideology of those days didn’t fit with the reality of struggle.
For three years I lived in California and didn’t see another anarchist, or, for that matter, another leftist. What I saw and lived with in California was a handful of non-ideological young union organizers. We were in a place where there was no history of the left, and no history of even liberalism or unions. We were left to make our own ideology and build our unions the way we thought made sense, from scratch, like it was the 1920’s all over again. Half jokingly, we called ourselves the “red guard of the union,” but the point was that in California, anarchism was no longer a vision I could use to move forward or view my life. I spent my days knocking on the doors of poor immigrants and working class white folks, talking to them about their lives. I saw that veganism didn’t matter and I dropped it. I saw that the police were not the problems, they were the tools of the problem, and so I ignored Copwatch. I saw that Food Not Bombs didn’t fix a problem, it was putting a band-aid on a hemophiliac and I ended my relationship with it. I saw that my punk tattoos hurt my relationships with workers rather than helped and I covered them up. I spent my nights with my fellow organizers/radicals/ revolutionaries/friends pushing ourselves by engaging in self-criticism. We sometimes called them “struggle sessions” because of how tough we were on each other. But it was this time that refined my vision of a new world and the way to get there.
In California, theory did not matter. In California, democracy and perfection did not matter. In California, three things mattered: 1. Did you push yourself? 2. Did you push your comrades? 3. Did you push workers?
Even in this, I continued to believe that I could make my new political insights merge with my version of anarchism: perhaps anarchism wasn’t about freedom, but about winning power for workers. After 12 years on the left and three in the deserts of California, I was coming back to a major city with my mind set: I was an anarchist, who believed that my goal was to build working class power and to do that by building working class organizations.
For my first two years in Chicago, I continued on the same path I had in California. I built my union and thought of myself as an anarchist. I was wrong.
A few months ago I started getting involved with group called “Finding Our Roots: Midwest Anarchist Organizing.” I sat through meetings with the folks that I thought would be on the same page as me. I heard proposals on “Tribal Sovereignty,” “Race and Anarchism,” “Bicycle Workshops,” “Democracy vs. Consensus,” there was nothing about organizing. To them anarchist organizing was about “us” as anarchists or it was about what “others” are or should be doing. They could only talk about the “others” in tribes or in races that weren’t represented; they could only talk about the way anarchists govern themselves and about the culture of the left through bikes or recycling or gardening.
I had come to believe that anarchism was about working class power, but the political concerns of these anarchists made me question this belief. I spent years like Mao’s frog at the bottom of a well. I stared up at the sky and saw something so small. I saw the world of the folks at “finding our roots.” My life made me jump out and see the world around. Our struggle is so big. We are so small and we have so much to do. I felt all alone as the ideology of half my life faded away.
The world is not black and white; the world that I am in, that I organize in is full of shades of gray. After 15 years on the left, I have emerged from the bottom of my well, and not only am I able to look at the whole world, I am comfortable seeing the dirt and the grime that has to accumulate under my fingernails.
“This, therefore, is a faded dream of the time when I went down into the dust and noise of the Eastern market-place, and with my brain and muscles, with sweat and constant thinking, made others see my visions coming true. All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. I did.” T.E. Lawrence.
I think this quote gets to the heart of what it means to be an organizer. It means to see the full capacity of your class, it means to have faith in yourself and those around you and lead them into a struggle. It means to place your heart and soul on the line. It means to work for the world that you want. It means to be dangerous and it means to have the responsibility of the world on your shoulders. Yesterday I was an anarchist; today I am an organizer. I am ready to lead the working class in a struggle and I am ok that the politics are less clear. |P
A teach-in, panel discussion, and moderated audience Q-and-A on the failure of the Left in Pakistan, held on February 2nd, 2008, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
-Ayesha Siddiqa (author of Military Inc, Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy) on “Pakistan’s Military Economy”
-Manan Ahmed (University of Chicago) on “The Populism of the Bhuttos”
-Atiya Khan (Platypus, University of Chicago) on “The Vicissitudes of Leftist Politics in Pakistan”
Platypus Review 2 | February 2008
In the spring of 2006, after years of activity on the Left, I joined the IWW. I joined because it cared little for Leftism. And because it began every meeting with a song.
After years of dodging the crossfire of competing claims to revolutionary truth, I breathed happily at last in meetings where no one tested my position on Cuba or the Green Party or state capitalism vs. deformed workers states. At last: an organization that, instead of building walls around itself, tried to tear down barriers and build “one big union” of all workers, believing that only when we struggle together can we end the system of wage slavery. No party programs, no denunciations of false revolutionaries, only one repeated call: to organize. Is it—can it be—enough?
I decided that the problem of the Left is much deeper than its endless quarreling over trifles. I realized: the Left is bad at organizing not only because it is so unpleasant that few people want to be a part of it, but more importantly because its entire structure of being leads it in other directions.
The state of affairs was different in earlier days of the left, when the “international workers movement” was almost synonymous with the movement for “socialism.” Socialism was widely identified as the set of ideas and practices that developed when workers organized and struggled for change. Intellectuals might synthesize and add nuance to these ideas or suggest changes in these practices, but socialism as a whole was integral to the organized activity of the working class.
A crucial change took place in the twentieth century, when Leftists began to argue that simple “trade union consciousness” was not enough for revolution, and that large social democratic parties could betray the working class even when most of the working class was organized within them. The change was first inspired by the Bolshevik interpretation of the Soviet and German Revolutions, but the new attitude soon spread among anarchists as well as Communists, and later among the young radicals of the New Left. The Left became a sphere of its own, where correct revolutionary ideas could develop and compete for ascendancy. It became a base where groups of conscious militants could gather to form competing parties or cells, to agitate and show their ideas to the people, to hurl propaganda of words and deeds at capitalism, in hope that the people would follow them when the smoke clears. The Left now acted for the people, but ‘the people’ was now clearly distinct from the Left.
But this in itself is not the trouble. The Left was quite right to recognize that its ideas are not simply those of the people. But just what is the relationship between the people and Left ideas? The Left has made itself into an almost-ethereal sphere that floats above and in front of society, casting down its aspersions and advice—and then swearing in exasperation when people refuse to listen. Maybe it's time that leftists began to think of ourselves as people.
It's time that we developed ideas not only of what should be done and what the world should be, but of how our ideas relate to the people we are, organized in the ways we are organized, relating to other people in the ways we really and potentially relate to them. It's time that we asked how people could participate in remaking our ideas and in changing the world with them. It's time, in short, that we took to heart the realization of Feuerbach that “even in thinking and in being a philosopher, I am a man among men.”
It is not just that Leftists should act humanely to other people, but that we should understand ourselves as a part of the people, in specific social relations that structure our actions and ideas. We should study our own sociality and transform it as we transform society around us. And we should organize as people who aim for a world governed not by the Left, but by us all.
And so I joined the IWW, a group of people dedicated to working together through our world and our ideas. Turning from Left to left, descending from rarefied heights, I lived through a minor Copernican revolution, learning to look at the world and its transformations “from below.” A Copernican revolution, because it was not simply a change in strategy, but a change in perspective. The task of the left now appeared to me anew: not to ignore the goal of revolution, but to see the goal constituted in a process of social organizing. Not to think up how (other) people should act to change the world, but to place ourselves and our ideas among people who might change the world, and to find the standpoint necessary for this change.
The IWW became, for me, such a point on which to stand. It is not the only possible standpoint, and it faces many problems. But what sets the IWW apart from most other organizations is that it organizes toward revolution. Beginning from the premise that not all “trade union consciousness” is the same, the IWW develops ways of organizing that can generate revolutionary consciousness: by organizing democratically and autonomously, we feel our collective power, and we come to understand the obstacles that lie ahead.
Democratically: because socialism will come not when Leftists take power, but when people, together, turn leftism into revolution.
And autonomously: because our organization enables us to control our own destiny, however slightly, in ways not fully determined by the structures of capital. Because it is not so much our Leftism that enables us to act democratically and autonomously, but our forms of organization that enable us to be leftists.
And with a song: because a song that brings people together is also an organization. In song, the Industrial Workers of the World develop together our ideas. We look together at the wage system. We build up our fellowship and our resolve. And we strike. |P
Platypus Review 2 | February 2008
Confronting the confusion and fragmentation that wrought progressive politics in recent decades, Ernesto Laclau’s work attempts to theorize the path to the construction of a radical democratic politics. Drawing on Gramsci’s concept of hegemony to devise his own theory by that name, Laclau describes the processes of social articulation that creates popular political identities. By redefining democratic politics as the construction of hegemony, Laclau reminds political actors of the work necessary to construct the plurality of democratic structures vital to any emancipatory political project. In December 2007, Laclau sat down to talk about the use and misuse of Marx’s theories, and what he sees as the essential questions for political theory today. Laclau teaches political theory at the University of Essex and at Northwestern University, in Chicago.
In describing the process of uniting disparate social demands behind a common politics, your work argues that the proliferation of social movements and politicization of certain identities in recent decades offers the potential for a deepening of the democratic process and presents new possibilities for social emancipation. Politics is to be understood as process through which demands are articulated by particular identities; immigrants, public-housing residents, the unemployed, etc. Do you see this emphasis on the plurality of political demands as a challenge to the creation of a coherent progressive politics?
I think we are dealing with two edges of a sword, because on the one hand it is obvious that the horizontal proliferation of social demands in recent decades is enlarging the area from which an emancipatory project can be launched. On the other hand to put together all of these social demands in a coherent project is more complicated than when people thought that there was just one social agent of emancipation which was the working class. For instance, I remember thirty years ago in San Francisco; everybody said that we had all the conditions for a very large emancipatory movement, popular pole etc., because we had the demands of the chicanos, the demands of the blacks, the demands of the gays, but at the end of the day, some of these demands clashed with the demands of the other groups, so nothing happened. There have been attempts like the Rainbow Coalition of Jesse Jackson to put together a plurality of these demands but the task is not easy; the Rainbow Coalition didn’t have a particularly good end. So I think that the dilemma of contemporary politics is how to create a unity out of diversity. That is the political challenge that we are facing today.
Your work describes the process of radicalizing political demands as the process through which disperse localized claims become discursively linked such that political subjects come to identify themselves in common as the bearers of rights that are not being met by an institutional order. This unity then becomes asserted as the demand for the radical overhaul of the institutional order, or some process of radical reform or revolution. Does this common antagonism provide a sufficient mechanism of unification among ‘the people’ of democratic politics to allow them to carry out the task of self-governance?
Well, I have tried to argue that all demands taking place in a public sphere are always internally divided. For instance you can have a demand for higher wages, but if it is articulated in some kind of repressive regime in which the demand is not immediately responded to, on the one hand the demand will have its particular content (higher wages), but on the other hand people will see the demand as a challenge to the existing system as a whole. Because of this second, more universal side of the demand, the demand could generate other social demands whose content is very different from the first; for instance, student demands for increasing autonomy in schools will start to form an equivalential relation so that the two demands, higher wages and increased autonomy- which are very different from the point of view of their particularity, come to be seen as equivalent in their opposition to a regime which is challenged by both. Thirdly lets suppose that you have a third demand: the demand for freedom of the press from some liberal sector. Again this demand is a particularity that establishes the opposition to an existing state and creates some equivalential relations and in this way it constructs what I would call an equivalential chain. Now, at some point you would see not only the individual demand, but the chain of demands as a whole. At that point, because the means of representation of this chain is one individual demand- this demand is charged with the function of representing the whole. This is an example that I have used in my work: the demands of Solidarno?? in Poland. In the beginning there were the demands of a group of workers in the Lenin shipyards in Gda?sk, but because these demands took place in a situation in which many other demands were not recognized by a repressive regime, these demands assumed the function of representing the whole. This is what I call an empty signifier. Why empty? Because, if the signifier is going to represent the totality of the chain, it has to abandon its only relationship with the particular demand from which it originated, and it has to represent a vast array of demands which are in an equivalential relationship; so it is less clearly a particularity and more and more a universal, and at the same time it is a hegemonic signifier because it has the function of representing- through its particular body- the universality transcending it. As I see it, this is the process of generation of a popular will as a whole. But as we were saying before there are counter tendencies that go against this popular representation of the collective will. For instance there is the tendency to reduce each demand to its own particularity so that this equivalential effect- the construction of the popular will- is finally defeated. And in the societies in which we live, these two tendencies- the tendency toward universalization through the production of empty signifiers and the tendency towards the particularism of the special demands- create a tension that is the very terrain in which the political is constructed.
Your work offers an attempt to theorize the possibility of a democratic system that can remain open to the constant flux of the social and the possible inclusion of political otherness. Do you see the creation of such a system as the main task of emancipatory politics. Does this participatory dimension ensure the progressive nature of a democratic system?
I think so. I think that the construction of a democratic system depends on two dimensions that are to some extent at odds with each other, and to some extent are complimentary. On the one hand- democracy involves the extension of the points of rupture through which the underdog expresses itself. This is the horizontal dimension, which is given by the horizontal expansion of demands: the chain of equivalences. On the other hand you have the vertical pole, which is the unification of this chain around some kind of a central signifier. Now these two tendencies are not brought together by some sort of square circle: there is a tension between the two, but the two are necessary in order to construct democratic politics. Let me give you an example: in Argentina in 2001, we had an economic crisis. As a result, many sectors that had been excluded from the public sphere started demonstrating and carried out actions that brought about their entrance into the public sphere: the piqueteros, the occupation of factories, the cutting of routs and so on. On the other hand, there was the political system as such- and at the beginning this horizontal pole negated the possibility of participation in the political system; their motto was, ‘que se vayan todos’ (‘out with all of them’), meaning the political class as a whole. This however could not be a lasting politics, because there was going to be one who remained in power, and if this one was elected by nobody it was not going to be particularly desirable. So we arrived to the election in 2003 without popular participation and the election resulted in the most classic partydocracy; but things turned out all right because the one who was elected was Kirchner, and Kirchner had a project of expansion of democracy. Between the vertical pole of politics and the horizontal expansion of popular demands there was some kind of a process of mutual re-alimentation. The political spectrum has moved far more to the left than it was in 2002.
I think one could also pose the question: to what extent were those demands that were more integrated into the system under the Kirchner administration actually met? I think this tension you describe is at the root of the debate about co-optation vs. participation- along with unification and institutionalization we often see the de-radicalization of many groups. How can one remain critical to the way in which these different social actors become integrated into the democratic process, given the fact that some of their demands are met, and some are not?
Well listen, Lenin used to say that politics means walking between precipices. You can go to one side of the precipice as opposed to the other side. Cooptation is one possible precipice. If you have some demands that are partially met, and you are integrated into the system, in that case there is cooptation and you have clearly a failure of the emancipatory project. If on the other hand you keep a purely sterile position of protest outside of the system, in the short or long term what is going to happen is that the movement disintegrates because it is reaching nothing: it is a moment of total political sterility. In between these two extremes you have to find a medium way, which is politically effective. In Argentina we cannot say whether this medium terrain has been reached or not. And I don’t know if actually when we speak about these types of processes a definite answer can ever be given. But there is not doubt that the political spectrum as result of the integration of these two dimensions has moved sharply to the left. It is a far more left wing public sphere than the one we had in 2003. Perhaps the second example that I was going to give you is even more telling: the example of the construction of the hegemony of the Italian communist party after the Second World War. After the Second World War there was a discussion about how to build up party politics in Italy and there were two positions; one position said: well we are the party of the working class; the working class is an enclave in the industrial north, so we have to be the party of the industrial north. The other position which was more Gramsician, and in the end imposed itself because Palmiro Togliatti, who was the general secretary of the party, supported it, said: no we are going to build up the hegemony of the party also in southern Italy, where the working class is very weak. So how should we do that? Well, simply we will transform the premises of the trade union and the party as the uniting point of a set of diverse social struggles. For example the struggle for the supply of water, the struggle against the mafia, the struggle for food cooperatives and so on. So that in the end many disperse demands came together in the same equivalential chain. So there you have the bad possibility that you proposed- these demands on the one hand acquire much more solidity by becoming unified to the communist party equivalential chain- they became more effective. But on the other hand they became subordinated to the communist party general ideology, so the possibility of their sterilization through a party controlling mechanism was there. But at the same time if they had remained disperse and so on they would have had no effect. And in fact in the 50’s and 60’s in Italy the communist party was a powerful mechanism for transforming Italy into a more democratic society, because through this mechanism many parties that were previously excluded from the public sphere became incorporated into the public sphere. Later on in the 1960’s they started having problems because a new set of demands that they could no longer control came to the fore. You had the feminist movement, which in Italy was not like in the Anglo-Saxon world, a movement of students and intellectuals, in Italy it was a popular movement; you had a demonstration of 10,000 women in the streets but they were proposing advocating things that could not enter into the communist project. They were for instance advocating copulation without penetration. And so it was difficult for them [the communist party] to observe that. And at the same time there were wildcat strikes that passed over the trade union organization while the communist party was trying to consolidate the trade union organization. And then there was the student movement in ’68, and so on. The communist party at that time lost the way a bit, and their decline as a hegemonic force in the left started from that period. But in the previous twenty years they had been a powerful force of democratization in Italy. And there you have these two dangers that we were mentioning were quite operative.
These political demands, when they start out at least, are isolated to specific social instances: to specific times and places. In each instance they respond to different power structures and social problems. We can see how a political demand could be created that would not be of very much use to emancipatory politics because it is very arbitrary or very specific to a particular problematic. In your vision of politics is there room for weighing the content of different demands and prioritizing them?
I don’t want to give the impression that I am saying that it was simply a subjective failure of the communist party, because the truth is that all of these new types of demands were responding to an objective change in capitalist development. At the beginning of the second post-world war period, you still had the inheritance of the old structure of the working class movement: capitalism was essentially industrial capitalism, the trade unions were essentially industrial trade unions, and around the big industrial cities in the west you had the so called red belts- which were constituted by the trade unions, the communist party and so on- which were the focus of a strong proletarian culture and identity. Now then comes the transition to post-Fordism, firstly the industrial workers start loosing centrality- there is a terciarization of the economy. And so if you wanted to have radical protest, they were not going to come, as in the past, from typical working class values, they were going to come from some kind of imaginary re-aggregation of things: the culture of the young, ethnicity and this set of things, which were totally different in nature. Now the big communist parties in the West, but also the Labor party in Britain, were constituted around the old industrial union identity. At the moment when this new proliferation of demands started they were quite unprepared to meet this historically changing climate. Today the red belts no longer exist, neither in France nor in Italy, not even in Britain; the trade unions have lost all their old centrality. This is where we come back to your first question: you have a dispersal of social demands, a new way in which they had to be put together, and no objective mechanism which ensures that the centrality of what we have called the empty signifier, is going to be linked to a class position. It is going to be linked to the ability of these elements to put together a much wider set of social demands.
Let me give an example: Marx, in Capital asserted that unemployment is simply a temporary phenomenon that had to be conceptualized in terms of the industrial reserve army. If two workers are unemployed, they are unemployed but they are still functional to capitalism because there is a demand for employment that is more than the request for workers. So the result is that these two unemployed workers are still functional- this is what Marx thought- for capitalism, because they push down the level of wages and increase the rate of profit. Marx thought that project had a limit, which was the subsistence level: if the wages went below the subsistence level, the workers rise and the system cannot work. Let’s suppose that you have two unemployed workers, and these unemployed workers are enough to push down wages to the subsistence level- so they are still functional. Now let’s suppose that instead of two unemployed workers, you have four unemployed workers- in that case these two more are no longer functional because they cannot push the level of wages below the subsistence level. And the more you have unemployed workers, the more you are going to have a marginal mass which is no longer functional in terms of capitalist rationality. Now the evolution of world capitalism has lead to a situation in which the marginal mass of the unemployed in third world countries- even through the disguised unemployment in advanced capitalist countries- is an increasingly considerable section of the population, so that the possibility of defining places of resistance in terms of precise positions in the relations of production is increasingly put into question. For instance in the 1930’s in the middle of the world economic crisis, Trotsky said that if unemployment continued the way in which it was at that moment in the capitalist world, one would have to rethink the whole Marxian theory of social classes, because the idea that it is through a precise position in the process of production that the contestation of the system takes place- is put into question, and as a result of this, the centrality of the working class as a homogeneous category was necessarily questioned. Now, everything that has happened since the 1930’s goes in that direction- that is to say you have more marginal sectors- in Africa, but also many kind of phenomena in the advanced capitalist countries and you will see that the relative role of the trade unions is constantly decreasing in representing the traditional working class, and that these other sectors are not represented by any kind of corporative organization, but are largely left to an articulation which has to be essentially political. We are living in a different world. I think one can think of globalized capitalism as a force that is marginalizing many people but not necessarily in terms of their position in the process of production. For instance globalized capitalism creates ecological problems, and you can have people resisting the installation of factories in some areas because of the polluting effects; you can have an imbalance between different sectors of the economy created by international finance. So you are in a society that is creating more and more dislocations through the process of globalization. The theory of Marxism finally is a theory of an increasing homogenization of social structure under capitalism. It said, as a result of capitalist development, the middle classes and the peasantry will disappear, and the end of the conflict of history will be a simple show down between a homogenized working class and the bourgeoisie. But this is not what has happened. What has happened is that there is an increasing heterogeneity in the social structure, but this heterogeneity has not brought about a diffusion of social conflicts. What has been generated is the proliferation of points of rupture in capitalism that as a result has brought to the fore the need for creating a unification through political means of what classical Marxism thought was going to be an automatic result of the development of economic forces. So if you look today at the anti-globalization movement or the alter-globalization movement- you see this proliferation of things. In the meetings in Porto Alegre, you see that there are all kinds of specialized workshops: women’s empowerment, homosexuals in California, anti-institutional groups and so on, each with their particular organization and separate issues. On the other hand, there is the attempt to create themes that circulate among all these different groups, creating some kind of global consciousness. Now this is very different in terms of internationalization than the classic internationals of the 19th or 20th century, which were based in the common identity of the worker through the trade union and the parties. Here you have a very heterogeneous social base, but however, some efforts at universalization.
Accepting the fact that we can no longer see an analysis of wage labor as revealing an inherent contradiction in social reality under capitalism that will lead to a necessary emancipatory movement in politics- would you none the less agree that Marx’s analysis of capital, as a reified form of expression of value continues to be useful in analyzing the organization of social life? To what extent do you see the problem of the universality of the commodity form in mediating productive activity, and the resultant subordination of other forms of social wealth, as an obstacle to progressive politics?
I think it is, to that extent I would accept your point, but I want to be precise about what this means. I think there is a logic of commodity production which Marx has clarified better than anybody else, much better than, for instance, classical political economists: Smith or Ricardo. On the other hand, we have to see exactly where the antagonism created by the commodity form lies. I would agree that the commodity form, and especially the commodity form as incorporated by capitalism, is the source of strong antagonistic potentials. But where does the moment of antagonism lie? There are two possibilities, which I have tired to analyze in my work. Firstly there is the possibility that the very form of commodity is the source of the antagonism, or there is the possibility that the form of commodity clashes with something which is external to it. Let me explain what I want to say: in some sense, the analysis of Marx leads to the idea that the contradiction between worker and capitalism is to be derived from the very logic of capital. If it is going to be derived from the very logic of capital, you have to reduce the social actors to that very logic. For instance, capitalism doesn’t count as a capitalist with a particular psychological structure etc., it has to count only as a buyer of labor power. And the worker has to be reduced to the category of seller of labor power- if the antagonism is inherent to the economic form: worker and proletariat. But the problem comes that if you reduce that relationship to the economic form, there is no antagonism at all. Why? Because you can say perhaps, well- there is an antagonism because the capitalists extract the surplus value from the workers. But that is not the description of an antagonism in the least; it is simply a technical way of organizing production. The antagonism only arises if the worker resists the extraction of surplus value by the capitalist. But you can analyze logically the category of seller of labor power as much as you want, and you will not see at any point that the notion of resistance is a logical consequence. So, the resistance comes if you introduce something external to the relations of production. For instance if you say, we don’t want wages going below a certain level because the worker cannot subsist life, cannot send his children to school, so on and so forth. But in that case the antagonism is not inherent in the relation buyer-seller of labor power, but between the relation of production and the way in which the worker is constituted outside the relations of production. In that case two consequences follow: firstly, that the resistance is not an automatic effect of the relations of production and in fact, in different circumstances and changes in the level of wages, workers react in very different ways. Secondly, and this is the most important point, if now we are dealing with the capitalist relations of production, with the capitalist logic and something which is outside it, as it is from the perspective of the worker- there is no reason to think that the only resistance to capitalism is going to come from the worker, because as we were saying before it [capitalism] can create ecological problems, it can create imbalances between economic spheres, center and periphery, and so on. And in that sense you are dealing with more heterogeneous antagonisms to capitalism that have to be created through political articulation, and the theory of hegemony is exactly about the logics of this creation.
In approaching politics, do you think we should understand capitalism as representing a historically specific, reified form of social relations that poses a challenge to the greater social control over production? In confronting the ubiquity of the commodity form in capitalist social relations, should we think of our politics in terms of a radical break with capitalism, or should we look toward other forms of social organization for the root of the problem, and possible solutions?
There are several questions there. Firstly, social control is control by whom? Because if it is an instance that one calls the state, the question is to what extent this state is a representative of the social will or to what extent this state is some kind of institutional excrescence which is separated from the social will, because the question is how to constitute a social will, and how to have this social will crystallized in an institution. The attempt to think that automatically the state represents the social will lead to the whole disaster of the Soviet experience. So if one thinks of a more democratic mediation of the social will, the problem is how particularity and universality can be combined in such a situation. I completely agree that savage capitalism, in which the mechanism of the market controls everything is a disaster as much as the bureaucratic state of the Soviet system. But the whole problem, which is the problem we have been discussing from the beginning, is how this social control is going to be constituted: through what kind of institutional mechanisms, how the will of the people will act, how you supercede the opposition between the particularism of the different wills and the different social elements. So we are in the center of a hegemonic project.
Secondly, lets go to a category like reification; I totally reject that category. But the reason is that that category is part of a whole scheme: the category of reification was invented by Lukács, actually, although it is some ways present in Marx in the analysis of commodity fetishism. But basically the problem of Lukács was that he saw that the workers were not directly advocating socialism: that in many cases, workers could be co-opted into the system. And he said they had reified consciousness, which he called false consciousness. There is, he said, a distinction between the materiality of the class in which this process of reification operates, and the consciousness of the proletariat, because it is not in the class as a materiality- empirical workers- it has to be crystallized in an instance different from the materiality of the workers, which is going to be the party. So the party plays the role of fulfilling the class-consciousness of the proletariat. The point is that in order to speak of reification, alienation, true consciousness, you have to have the notion of a contradiction which is at the level of the relations of production which is exactly what we were putting into question before by saying that there is a moment of heterogeneity, because to say alienation means that you had to have something as a true consciousness.
If you compare, for instance, Lukács and Gramsci, you immediately see the difference. For Lukács the agent of revolutionary change, or emancipatory change, not necessarily revolutionary, is the working class. For him the position of the worker in the relations of production is what destines the worker to be a revolutionary or emancipatory agent. Now the problem was that he saw that the workers as empirical agents did not live up to this emancipatory project, which their position destined them to. Now he said they are alienated because they have been reified by capitalism, and so between the place where the consciousness of the proletariat is constituted and the materiality of the proletariat as a class, there is going to be a gap. So this makes necessary the instance of the communist party, and the communist party had to be the true embodiment of the class-consciousness of the proletariat that the proletariat as a class cannot develop. Now the position of Gramsci is completely different: globalized capitalism creates a multiplicity of conflicts, and the task is to bring about this consciousness in something that would be a revolutionary, an emancipatory project, but this emancipatory project does not have a privileged point of anchoring as it does for Lukács, in the relations of production. So this hegemonic construction- the construction of working class hegemony, is a necessary process related to a class position within the relations of production. This construction means that you are bringing together a set of heterogeneous elements, through which capitalism creates different types of imbalances and dislocations, around a center. The argument works in a completely different way than in Lukács, and there is no place there for categories such as alienation or reification. |P