Among other questions, that one popped into my head, part of an on-again-off-again interest in comparing autonomist marxist theoretical perspectives with historical inquiry. Some day when I have time I’d like to do some proper writing about this. It’s going to be a minute.
[Note to self – take notes on welfare capitalism and post-operaismo ideas about general intellect/real subsumption etc.]

For a variety of reasons, I want to know more about the late 19th and early 20th century US, so I’ve been reading this book – Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in American, 1870-1920. (I like the title, by the way, because it says clearly where, when, and what the book is about.)

A few notes, quickly and quite compressed, on some gears unexpectedly turned in my head by this, mostly theoretical matters. More detailed notes later. (This also reminds me I need to finish the Bruno Ramirez and David Montgomery books and take notes on those too.) There’s a bit on the United Mine Workers and strikes around the turn of the 20th century. The UMW leadership were class collaborationist, for unions as a form of simultaneously mitigating and maintaining capitalism — unions as an institution of capitalist planning. Government played into this – arbitration, mediation, and so on. Worker militancy helped bring mine owners to the table, and the owners were mostly among the last to get on board here, to understand the UMW and government perspective. I don’t have the book in front of me but if I remember right, the UMW as an institution helped create unrest among the mine workers, it’s not simply a case of institutions capturing some worker mobilization/militancy that pre-existed or was external to the union.

Theoretical points… assessing success/victory is tied to perspective. First, from the perspective of the class in itself, getting more is a victory. From the perspective of the class for itself, this is less clear. Second, I for one have tended to see the class in itself as simply variable capital and the class for itself as unrest. That’s too simplistic. Worker unrest is not always necessarily the class for itself. (A very obvious example is hate strikes.) Militancy and radicalism are not the same. The relationship between those two, and the relationship between the mobilized class in itself and the class for itself, is something to think more about. I think it might be useful here to think about trajectories rather than snapshots – think in dynamic terms rather than static ones; I’m thinking of some remark that I can’t fully remember that Badiou makes, about the future anterior, about assessments hanging from a future moment.

Also, on class composition analysis. First, I think technical composition and political composition of the class tend to map onto class in itself and class for itself (or at least, I have tended to understand these cataegories this way). That’s insufficient. Second, another slightly better but still not adequate way to undersand these categories: technical composition is the class in itself as variable capital; political composition includes the class for itself and the mobilized class in itself. That is: the political composition of the class is not always the class for itself; the class’s political composition does not always take the form of the class for itself, as nice as it would be if that were so. (Again, success/victory is perspectival.) Third, how and when it does and does not do so is something to think more about. Likewise think more about how to bridges these, draw out elements – maximizing the effects of militancy (in terms of radicalism), magnifying or sustaining as much as possible how the political composition of the class takes the form of the class for itself, how the mobilized class in itself contributes to the class for itself. This is tied to communist tasks.
Fourth, about analyses or theories — a fair few folk tend, in my opinion, to get the relationship between the technical composition and political composition backward, and tend to overplay the role of variable capital and the labor+valorization processes in shaping the mobilized class (whether in itself or for itself). A charitable interpretation would read this stuff as saying something like this – “given what work was like and so forth, it’s not surprising that workers did what they did.” That’s reasonable. But “it’s not surprising that” is not an explanation, it doesn’t tell us how things actually came about and I’m not sure it helps much in thinking about what may come about. A worse interpretation (which I think people often hold, unfortunately) expresses a stronger causal link: “work was like this, and so therefore workers did what they did.” This version tends to minimize subjective factors like culture and consciousness and ideas and so on, and involves a sort of determinism. It also tends to paper over contingency and the role of actors who shaped events/outcomes. As just one example, we could probably see a lot in common between the Western Federation of Miners and the United Mine Workers. Arguably there’s a common class composition etc among the two. What are to my mind the more interesting matters, though, are the important differences between them. Perhaps the technical composition did play some important role in that, I don’t know, but I doubt it was the major determinant. To the degree that class composition analysis helps shed light on these differences, great. To the degree that it doesn’t, it’s quite limited.


One other thought, not related to the above but to the latest discussions with Don Hamerquist, about incorporative capacities of state and capital — I agree that these capacities exist, and agree that reformist struggles aim at these. In a way this is present in the stuff about the UMW. But the big questions, I think, are about what’s really the difference between fighting to hasten the end of capitalism and fighting for palliatives. Reforms and demands aren’t necessarily/inherently incorporable (or, don’t necessarily/inherently produce *only* incorporable results, they’re not necessarily reducible to their incorporable qualities, I’ve been trying to argue for a possible excess produced in these – this relates to the in-itself/for-itself stuff too). Likewise absense of demands and subjectively aiming to hasten the end of capitalism aren’t necessarily/inherently irrecuperable. I don’t think this means we necessarily disregard concerns about recuperation so much as I think that the burden of proof will have to lie on demonstrating how suggested alternative perspectives avoid recuperation. Or better avoid it, anyway — and it’s also important I think to identify the possilibities of recuperation that face our prefered alternatives…. I have some notes on this somewhere w/r/t noncontractualism and that action where workers shut down a very large expensive facility, got all their demands met and were told “next time, whatever you want, come talk to us and we’ll see that you get it with a lot less work.” I think there’s an oblique tie here as well to the PNAB stuff — producing struggle as a need, almost as an end itself. (I think that’s probably one of the qualities of the class for itself.) Part of the overlap with IA perspectives and ours.