Finally getting back to this article: http://libcom.org/library/beyond-ultra-left-aufheben-11

Quotes below. Notes later.

From aufheben’s intro:

“If one looks at the trajectory of the historical workers’ movement, one might easily conclude that, far from trying to abolish the proletariat and the conditions which give rise to it, it has – at least as represented by its dominant traditions – acted to affirm (even generalize) the proletarian condition and to attain recognition for the working class as workers, that is, as subjects within bourgeois society. Instead of the revolutionary watchword, “Abolish the wages system!”, which Marx suggested,[3] the workers’ movement inscribed on its banner the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!”

This assessment of the outcome as opposed to the stated intentions of the workers’ movement can be applied to all its dominant traditions, both ‘Marxist’ (social democracy and Stalinism) and non-Marxist (labourism, syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism). The most extreme example, is of course, the large parts of the workers’ movement that have supported the USSR, where the identification of socialism with modernization of the ‘national economy’, the proletarianization of the peasantry, the building of huge factories and exhortations to
labour-discipline and productivity – in short, with capitalism – reached its apogee
(…) it could all be summed up in terms of betrayals (…) In this view, these tendencies were at one moment on the workers’ side, but at crucial moments go over to the side of capital and do so through the failings of their leadership. The point is to defend a pure tradition of – depending on one’s ideological perspective – classical Marxism or true anarchism – a red or a black line – from how such traditions expressed themselves historically. Hidden in such
assumptions is generally the idea that, with the right leaders or organization, those historical movements would have succeeded and communism would have ‘won’; thus the task becomes to rebuild (or maintain or create) organizations that next time won’t betray us.
(…)
The ‘historic ultra-left’ refers to a number of such currents which emerged out of one of the most significant moments in the struggle against capitalism – the revolutionary wave that ended the First World War. Ultra-leftism offers an explanation of why the workers’ movement
failed to get rid of capitalism, and why in particular the Russian Revolution failed to deliver. Whatever its subsequent history, the ultra-left did not emerge as tiny sects or groups of dissidents but as a part of a mass social movement when the dominant tradition of social democracy was thoroughly discredited and it seemed as though the meaning of the workers’ movement and communism was up for grabs.
(…)
in the crucial formative years after 1917, many sections of the world communist movement, including a majority of those in Italy and Germany (the areas of Western Europe which seemed closest to revolution), had or would develop a different understanding of what a communist break from social democracy amounted to, than that displayed by the leadership of the Bolsheviks. These differences would lead to splits.

In 1920, in the build-up to the first proper[17] congress of the Third International, Lenin laid out what he considered the difference between ‘Bolshevism’ and these other tendencies in his (in)famous pamphlet – Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.

One of the two main wings of the historic ultra-left, the Dutch/German Left, parted from the Third International on the basis of the debate opened by Lenin’s polemic, on issues like what sort of party communists should form, the attitude to take towards parliament and
trade unions, etc. The other main wing – Bordiga’s Italian Left – essentially sided with Lenin at this point and only opposed Moscow’s dominance of the world communist movement later
(…) there are good reasons to connect the two traditions. Despite the apparently fundamental difference over the role of the party that leads to mutual incomprehension between partisans of each tradition, their political analysis of certain crucial issues, such as grasping
the counter-revolutionary nature of the USSR and its CPs, opposing united and popular fronts and maintaining a revolutionary opposition to capitalist wars, identified them together as the ultra-left
(…)
today the term ‘ultra-leftism’ is not used simply to describe the hard adherents of these historical traditions of the communist left; we can see it as an area defined by certain political positions and attitudes, which may or may not be taken from the historic ultra-left.
(…)
There is a tendency for many who identify with the ultra-left to define themselves negatively in relation to the left. There is the class struggle, the left relates to it one way, the ultra-left denounces this. The ultra-left becomes a negative impression of the
left.
(…)
The class struggle can be seen as a wave that advanced to a high point around 1919 and as it receded left ideas around like flotsam in its wake. What these traditions represent is an attempt to maintain the historic lessons of this high point in the class struggle, despite the
retreat of that movement. Moreover, the limits of that wave of class struggle – its inability to generalize as world revolution – led to varying revolutionary experiences in different countries expressing themselves in different lessons being drawn… and it is these that
lie at the root of the historical spilt between the Lefts. Part of the price that these tendencies paid for maintaining the more or less revolutionary ideas in the circumstances of the more or less complete capitulation of the workers’ movement to Stalinism, anti-fascism and
the mobilization for another slaughter was that the ideas became somewhat frozen and ideological. When theory becomes an ‘ism’ – a specific set of positions separate from the class struggle – it is a sign of the retreat of the movement. There is a stiffness in the way
many groups and individuals identifying with the ‘ultra-left’ express themselves. For many, the adoption, reproduction and assertion of these positions mechanically in the face of the class struggle acts to reinforce their own identity as ‘revolutionary’, while reducing their
ability to recognize and relate to the contradictions of real social movements. To think that the positions are simply revolutionary, or that adopting them makes one revolutionary, reifies what being revolutionary is.
(…)
As we said in our first editorial,[27] the ’60s and ’70s saw a re-emergence of a whole series of theoretical currents, which included the ultra-left. But while a number of groups that sprung up regurgitated as ideology the theories they were discovering, others worked to actually develop theory adequate to the new conditions. The task before the new generation was to take up ideas, such as those of the historic ultra-left, in a non-ideological way.”

**

Their intro mentions the editorial from Aufheben #1. Here’s most of it, from here. http://libcom.org/aufheben/1-editorial-0

“the success of the proletariat in abolishing itself and capital requires theory. At the time of the first world war the theory and praxis of the classical workers’ movement came close to smashing the capital relation. But it was defeated by capital using both Stalinism and social democracy. The domination of the workers movement by Stalinism and social democracy that followed was an expression of this defeat of both the theory and practice of the proletariat.
The first stirrings from the long slumber began in the fifties following the death of Stalin and with the revolts against Stalinism by East German and Hungarian workers. This rediscovery of autonomous practice by the proletariat was accompanied by a rediscovery of the high points of the theory of the classical workers movement. In particular the German and Italian left communist critiques of the Soviet Marxism, the seminal work of Lukacs and Korsch in the critique of the objectivism of Second International Marxism which Leninism has failed to go beyond.

The New Left that emerged from this process was in a sense the reemergence of a whole series of theoretical currents – council communism, class struggle and liberal versions of anarchism, Trotskyism – that had largely been submerged by Stalinism. But while a number of groups that sprung up to a large extent just regurgitated as ideology the theories they were discovering, there were some real attempts to go beyond these positions, to actually develop theory adequate to the modern conditions. The period is marked by an explosion of new ideas and possibilities. The situationists and the autonomists represent high points in this process of reflecting and expressing the needs of the movement.

The rediscovery of the proletariat’s theory happened in a symbiotic relation with the rediscovery of proletarian revolutionary practice. The wildcat strikes and general refusal of work, the near revolution in France in ’68, the ‘counter cultural’ creation of new needs by the proletariat, in total a successful attack on the Keynesian settlement that had maintained social peace since the war. But with capital’s successful use of crisis to undermine the gains of the proletarian offensive began a crisis in the ideas of the movement. The crisis was a result of the attacks on practice. We can see a number of directions in the collapse of the New Left.

One was a reformist turn: Under the mistaken notion that they were taking the struggles further – marching through the institutions – many comrades entered the Western social democratic parties. This move did not act to unify and organise the mass movements and grassroots struggles but rather encouraged and covered up the decline of these social movements. Those who avoided the mistake of being incorporated into the system fell into twin errors. On the one hand many embroiled themselves in frantic party-building. They were persuaded that the problem with the movement so far was the lack of an organisation to attack capital and the state. While they built their party the movementwas breaking up. They were blind to the history of Trotskyism as the ‘loyal opposition’ to Stalinism.

On the other hand many of those who recognised the bankruptcy of Leninism fell into a libertarian swamp of lifestylism and total absorption in ‘identity politics’ etc. Meanwhile from Academia came a sophisticated attack on radical theory in the guise of radical theory. The libertarian critique of Leninism – that it is an attempt to replace one set of rulers with another set – was transformed into an attack on the very project of social revolution. While appearing in their discourse to be exceptionally radical, the political implications of the postmodernists and poststructuralists amount to at best a wet liberalism, while at worst a justification for nationalism and wars.

The collapse of the new left parallelled the retreat of the proletariat as a whole before the onslaught of capitalist restructuring. In Britain we had the debilitating affect of the ‘social contract’ under Labour and the exceptionally important defeat of the miners strike. Elsewhere the crushing of the Italian movement and so on.

This brings us to the present situation. The connection between the movement and ideas has been undermined. Theory and practice are split. Those who think do not act, and those who act do not think. In the universities where student struggles forced the opening of space for radical thought that space is under attack. The few decent academic Marxists are besieged in their ivory tower by the poststructuralist shock troops of neo-liberalism. Although decent work has been done in areas such as the state derivation debate there has been no real attempt apply any insights in the real world. Meanwhile out in the woods of practical politics, though we have had some notable victories recently, ideas are lacking. Many comrades, especially in Britain, are afflicted with a virulent anti-intellectualism that creates the ludicrous impression that the Trots are the ones with a grasp of theory. Others pass off conspiracy theories as a substitute for serious analysis.

We publish this journal as a contribution to the reuniting of theory and practice. Aufheben is a space for critical investigation which has the practical purpose of overthrowing capitalist society.”

**

– note to self: the various groups mentioned in Aufheben’s intro and in TC’s intro are probably worth knowing more about and reading more from. Follow up on that at some point.

From Theorie Communiste’s introduction to itself.
They define “the concept of programmatism” as struggling with the goal of “the increase in strength of the class within the capitalist mode of production and its affirmation as the class of productive work, through the taking of power and the putting in place of a period of transition. Practically and theoretically, programmatism designates the whole of that period of the class struggle of the proletariat.”
This bit about the whole period doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe ‘dominates’ is better than designates? Because either this is a claim that all class struggle, in theory and in practice, was programmatist, which is false, or this is a claim that the dominant and/or most frequent manifestations of class struggle took this form, which is closer to true. Even then, though, what’s the geographic scope of this claim? France? Europe? The world? And, there were currents which didn’t fall into this and which are worth talking about and thinking about. Also, “the increase in strength of the class within the capitalist mode of production and its affirmation as the class of productive work, through the taking of power and the putting in place of a period of transition” is a pretty restrictive definition. The CIO in the U.S. doesn’t fit into this, for example, nor do the 1934 strikes, as they didn’t really seek to take power or implement a period of transition.
“The central theoretical question (…) how can the proletariat (…) produce communism?”
This strikes me as the sort of question that loads of people have asked, and it’s an awfully general question. I don’t find much of what immediately follows this illuminating. (For instance “we have undertaken a work of theoretical redefinition of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital (…) This contradiction is exploitation.”) I wonder if some of this is that TC was trying to think its way out of marxist categories I never really had? I dunno.
“we were able to grasp: the impossibility of the affirmation of the proletariat”
– That strikes me as taking words too seriously and as not recognizing that terms can mean multiple things. Talking favorably about the words work and workers does not mean that one is talking favorably about exploitation or surplus labor of any kind. An ‘affirmation of the proletariat’ *terminologically* need not be an ‘affirmation of the proletariat’ *conceptually*. (Similarly, a vocabulary of negating the proletarian condition might not actually involve a coherent concept of negating the proletarian condition.)
“the critique of any revolutionary nature of the proletariat as a defining essence”
– that’s important and correct
I’m skeptical of TC’s remarks on real subsumption.
“restructuring has abolished all specificity, guarantees, ‘welfare’, ‘Fordian compromise’,”
– This is an overstatement and again one with vague geography. Restructuring in most places has rolled back *many* guarantees and welfare programs. Not ended them all. Furthermore, the extent of these policies and practices was much higher in France than the U.S. so the extent of the rollback in the U.S. is not as great. The attacks on the European working class’s living standards is basically americanization. Furthermore, it would be good if there was recognition of the hierarchies of access to these guarantees, at least in the U.S. (I assume there were some similar dynamics in France as well.)
“The restructuring of the capitalist mode of production cannot exist without a workers’ defeat. This defeat was that of the worker’s identity, of the Communist parties, of ‘actually existing socialism’, of trade unionism, of self-management, of self-organisation. It is a whole cycle of struggles in its diversity and its contradictions which was defeated in the ’70s and early ’80s. Restructuring is essentially counter-revolution. Its essential result, since the beginning of the ’80s, is the disappearance of any productive worker’s identity reproduced and confirmed within the capitalist mode of production.”
– If this means that the affirmation of proletarian condition that they refer to is an affirmation that takes place via institutions of capitalist governance then I have a bit more time for this, though again this is massively overgeneralized. Furthermore, in calling restructuring counter-revolutionary it would be good to specify whether or not (or which of) those aspects of the cycle of struggle defeated by counter-revolutionary restructuring were actually revolutionary or not.
“the proletariat can only oppose itself to capital by calling into question the movement in which it is itself reproduced as a class. The proletariat no longer carries a project of social reorganisation as an affirmation of what it is.”
– As with so much else, this relies on defining a new contemporary condition in contrast to a prior outmoded condition. And it does so in a way that asserts points about that prior condition without much argument or evidence about that prior condition. Which means that the defining contrasts, the novelty, of the new era are also basically just asserted without evidence or argument. (Reminds me of this quote from Gilles Dauve: “About thirty years ago, when Invariance (J. Camatte) and others began making much of that formal/real distinction, a friend of ours said: “To them, real domination means that from now on everything will be different.” (…) It is simply not true that the attempt to take over capitalism and run it in the place of the bourgeois, or even a play a large part in its management, ever was a big (or the main) characteristic of the workers’ movement. (…) The “affirmation of labour” was neither a dominant feature of working class history, nor a major cause of revolutionary defeat.” http://libcom.org/library/correspondence-between-parts-of-the-riff-raff-collective-and-gilles-dauve )

The category ‘radical democratism’ is interesting, they define it as the theoretical or practical “disappearance of any worker’s identity so as to ratify the existence of the class within capital as a collection of citizens and/or producers, an existence to which it asks capital to conform. In opposition to this, but on the same basis, the ‘direct action movement’ thinks of itself as already being new ‘disalienated’ social relations opposed to capital.”
“revolution is the abolition of classes. This supersession is the moment when, in the class struggle, class belonging itself becomes an exterior constraint imposed by capital.” I don’t know what this means because it seems to me that class being is always a product of constraint. If this is a matter people begin to see class status as imposed on them and they take steps that really undermine the production of class socially, then I have more time for this but I don’t see what this has to do with the periodization TC uses.

*

TC on Aufheben’s decadence series.
TC suggest Aufheben don’t seem to grasp the “mutual involvement between proletariat and capital.” (I do like TC’s skepticism about Aufheben’s Hegelian vocabulary.)
TC criticize “the perspective of the revolution as affirmation, as the triumph of the proletariat; to this perspective we counterpose the revolution as the abolition of the proletariat in the abolition of capital.” I’d need to see what the difference is in a worked out way, at this level of compressed theoretical presentation it sounds like a semantic distinction.
TC criticize Aufheben for “understand[ing] the supersession of the capitalist mode of production as something rather formal. For example, the Bolsheviks are ‘reproached’ for planning ‘from above’. According to this view the Bolsheviks developed capitalism because of the forms they decided to adopt for the labour process: one-man management, bourgeois specialists, Taylorism; but didn’t they rather ‘develop’ because wage labour remained?” Form vs content strikes me as being more heat than light here. (Also “Must we deduce that communism is planning ‘from below’?” Surely a communist society will involve some form of planning, and it won’t be in a top-down fashion.)
“the Bolshevik counter-revolution remains formal” took place in a “historic phase of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital, a phase in which the revolution could only lead to the rising strength of the class within capital and its affirmation as a dominant pole of society.” That’s quite deterministic and implies letting the bolsheviks off easily.
“the Russian Revolution [was] a revolution whose content was the autonomous affirmation of the class and which found, in labour’s claim to be able to manage society, that is, in labour’s very strength within capital in the transition to real subsumption, the revolution’s own limitation turned against itself. (…)The revolution as affirmation of the class transforms itself relentlessly into the management of capital, turning into counter-revolution; revolution provides counter-revolution with its own content.”
– is this a matter of vocabulary, or concepts? It’s not clear to me that the Bolshevik ‘affirmation of the proletariat’ really had much to do with anything. Furthermore, it’s not clear to me that this explains anything really about why the counter-revolution took the particular direction it did. As in: let’s say we accept all this stuff about affirmation of labor and whatnot, does that mean it could only go one route from there? Or were there other factors that shaped how this affirmation of labor played out? And again that Dauve quote is relevant here I think. Also, this talk of counter-revolution would be enriched by a discussion of what the revolution was. I find Meghnad Desai convincing that the Russian Revolution wasn’t really a workers’ revolution at all and I find people in Mattick’s circle similar convincing, that the revolution was a jacobin style bourgeois revolution in a largely peasant country. That I think offers a somewhat different account than ‘the revolution affirmed work’.
TC write, again in determinist fashion, that during “formal subsumption” and the “first phase of real subsumption” that “the revolution could only present itself as the affirmation of the proletariat” and this “becomes inevitably an economism.” Why is this the only form revolution could take then? And how is *this* not economism on TC’s part?
“the crisis theory of Mattick, which in its objectivism, can’t be used as it is, and must be criticized”
– I agree with that.
“the critique of the concept of the revolutionary nature of the proletariat”
– and I agree that this is important
“the struggle ‘for’ the wage, will never result in anything but the wage”
– I mostly agree with this, though I think it’s more complicated. I want to come back to this.
(I agree with Aufheben here: “Capital is compelled to relate to the working class by other means than the wage, and the state is its necessary way of doing this.” TC’s reply, “the state, its civil services, its army and police, are attributes of value, of wages and exploitation” sounds like semantics to me.)

**

From Theorie Communiste’s response to Aufheben
http://libcom.org/library/aufheben/aufheben-13-2005/theorie-communiste-responds

“we define the current cycle of struggles as a situation (…) which precludes any confirmation of a workers’ identity
(…)

the proletariat is defined as a class within capital and in its relation with it, that is to say as the class of value producing labour and more precisely surplus-value producing labour. (…) Its capacity to abolish capital and produce communism lies in its condition as class of the capitalist mode of production. (…) The proletariat’s capacity to bring about the abolition of the capitalist mode of production is contained in its strict situation as a class of this mode of production.
(…)
What disappears in the current cycle of struggles” is any working class “identity which [the working class] could oppose to capital
(…)
Self-organisation or the autonomy of the proletariat are not stronger or weaker constant tendencies in the class struggle, but determinate historical forms that it has taken.
(…)
Self-organisation and its content, workers’ autonomy, arose from (…) a specific relation in which the proletariat was able to find in itself its foundation, its own constitution, its own reality, on the basis of a workers’ identity which the modalities of the reproduction of capital had long been confirming. For the theories of self-organisation and of autonomy, it was a question of making the link between immediate struggles and the revolution via those elements in the struggles which could manifest a rupture with the integration of a defence and reproduction of the proletarian condition: the conquest of its identity autonomous from capital, autonomous from the political and union forms of this integration. Self-organisation and autonomy were only possible on the basis of the constitution of a workers’ identity, a constitution which restructuring has swept aside. It is the proletariat’s very ability to find in its relation to capital the basis for constituting itself as an autonomous class which has disappeared.
(…)
Self-organisation and autonomy are not constants whose reappearance could be awaited with more or less patience; rather they constitute a completed cycle of struggle. For there to be self-organisation and autonomy it is necessary for there to be a self-affirmation of the productive class in opposition to capital. Today self-organisation and autonomy have paradoxically become the preserve of groups and militants (cf the clear evolution in France starting with the struggles in the steel industry in 1979) and above all of ‘radical unions’.
(…)
If autonomy disappears as a perspective it is because the revolution can only have the communisation of society as its content, that is to say the abolition of the proletariat. With such a content, it becomes inappropriate to speak of autonomy and it is unlikely that such a programme would involve what is commonly understood as ‘autonomous organisation’.”

That sounds like semantics to me.

“the extraction of surplus-value in its absolute mode can be understood only on the level of the work process. Capital takes over an existing labour process which it lengthens and intensifies; at most it is content to regroup the workers.”

That’s a mistake. First of all, absolute surplus value does not only happen in situations where capitalists took over labor processes that pre-existed capitalism. That’s simply false empirically and as a reading of Marx. Second, it’s not the case that lengthened work hours only remake the labor process. Lengthened work hours impact the lives of employees off the clock, and impact others in employees’ lives.

“The relation between the extraction of surplus-value in its relative mode and real subsumption is much more complex. We can’t be satisfied with defining real subsumption only on the level of transformations of the labour process.”

Indeed. But it’s a mistake to understand *formal* subsumption “only on the level of transformations of the labour process” and it’s a mistake to distinguish absolute surplus value from real subsumption.

“Real subsumption is a transformation of society and not of the labour process alone.”

So is formal subsumption. Furthermore so is the transition to capitalism and primitive accumulation… (by the way the story of formal subsumption, in which capitalists take over pre-existing labor processes, doesn’t fit very well with the story of the proletariat created via primitive accumulation). Also speaking of the transformation of society… think about the hand loom weavers Marx discusses early in v1 of Capital. The value of their labor time drops with the introduction of machine weaving. Their lives are remade by this change. It’s not a change limited to the labor process. Far from it.

“as far as real subsumption is concerned, the criterion for its dominance has to be sought out in the modalities of reproduction of labour-power (social and political modalities): social welfare systems, the invention of the category of the unemployed, the importance of trade unionism, etc. All this naturally accompanies the transformations in the labour process: the decline of handicrafts and domestic industry caused by the first phase of large-scale industry. In order for there to be real subsumption, according to my view, modalities of reproduction of labour-power must be created which are adequate to the transformations accomplished in the labour process. That is to say those modalities which ensure (and confirm) that labour-power no longer has any possible ‘ways out’ of its exchange with capital in the framework of this specifically capitalist labour process.”

Again I fail to see the real differences with formal subsumption, and how this is about relative surplus value specifically.

Oh yeah, also, “missing sixth chapter” is an annoyingly misleading title for that section of Marx’s manuscripts.

“Capital, as society (in the sense that the two preceding quotes seek to define), is a perpetual work of the formation of its inherent contradictions at the level of its reproduction which undergoes phases of profound mutations. It is possible to go so far as to say that the real subsumption of labour under capital is defined as capital becoming capitalist society, i.e. presupposing itself in its evolution and in the creation of its organs.”

Part of the issue then is when capitalist society as a kind of society emerged. TC’s points imply that capitalist society didn’t exist until what they call real subsumption. That strikes me as absurd.

I just don’t care about the hegel-or-not, alienation-or-not conversation at the end.

**
This was a draft that Aufheben considered using as an intro when they published TC’s reply to Aufheben.

http://libcom.org/library/introduction-%E2%80%98-reply-aufheben%E2%80%99-former-member-aufheben

“while mainly intended to be a part of a ‘conversation’ Aufheben was having with TC and with its readers about TC, the draft introduction was, at the same time, a move within a conversation that was occurring within Aufheben.”

“A question is whether the difficulty of TC is to do with the importance of what they are saying – and perhaps the resistance it produces in the reader – or down to a lack of clarity in the way they express themselves? The answer is perhaps a bit of both.”
Yup.

The intro mentions criticism of TC in Dauve and Nesic’s To Work or not to work? Is that the question? Gonna have to read that. “TC’s claim is that their theory is the theoretical product – the right way of taking forward the thinking carried out by [the French ultraleft] scene.7 Dauve in his continuing writing and activity is a main representive of an alternative theoretical direction taken by those emerging from that mileu,8 and of course that would not agree with TC’s opinion. Interestingly while situ types might in the past have accused Dauve and his friends of determinism9 this is now exactly the charge that he is making against TC.” I want to follow up on all that.

“Aufheben has occasionally taken up of the idea, quite a commonplace on the left, that the difference between workers struggles now, and in the 60s and 70s is that between defensive and offensive struggles. For TC this underestimates the profoundity of the defeat of the old workers’ movement. There has not been simply a retreat of essentially the same kind of class struggle which could then re-emerge in much the same form.
For TC, both the leftist wait for a return of the old workers movement – of assertive unions and proper social democracy – and the ultra left watch for a return of the forms of self-organisation and proletarian autonomy, which it opposed to those institutions, are hinged on a cycle of struggles which is past.
(…)
For the ultra left the class struggle in the form of proletarian autonomy and self-organisation is good (or at least potentially revolutionary) and unions are bad (or at least irredeemably counter-revolutionary) thus if they appear to be connected this is only because the latter repress, recuperate and hold back the former. But one knows that that in the period up to the 70s which TC call programmatism much of the wildcat strikes that the ‘ultra-left’ has been excited by were in actual fact led by rank and file shop stewards. Also one can observe that when workers did actually organise themselves against the official unions there has been a overwelming tendency either for the forms they have set up to become new unions or for them to drift back to acceptance of the official unions. When ultra leftists ackowledge this they generally try to understand it in terms of a tendency towards autonomy and proper revolution which has been defeated again and again. Revolutionaries are then given the role of transmitting the lessons of those defeats, so that next time the revolution won’t be betrayed by the wrong roads of union accomodation, or social democracy, or leninism or nationalism etc. TC thus undermine the identity of those who see themselves as champions of the good side of workers activity – autonomous, self-organised – against the bad one – incorporated, accepting of representation. They do this by seeing this opposition as part of a historical period, a period which may have certainly involved splits and conflicts but in which workers autonomy and union power were part of a continuum of workers struggles that shared in the same model of emancipation and revolution, one based on an an affirmation of the class.”

On the stuff on plant closures and struggles that don’t affirm workers’ identity… I agree that “we are hardly dealing with forward steps for labour.” I’m not sure what to make of “If leftists see in these actions a partial return of working class identity (trying to fit the Vilovoorde struggle into demand for and defence of a ‘Social Europe’ for instance) and ultra leftists may see the encouraging signs of return of workers autonomy, for TC what is apparent is the contrast to the struggles of the earlier cycle of programmatism, the way that a labour identity is not reproduced.” I’m not sure that’s actually true, at least for the U.S. analogs. Nor do I see why this supports the claims about the *impossibility* of affirming working class identity.

“struggle can no longer be resolved in the confirmation and affirmation of a worker’s identity as a basis of further capitalist reproduction.”
That’s an overstatement on TC’s part.
As a result of this blocked path of representation “the possibility of a revolutionary conclusion of this cycle of struggles is opened up.”
I’m not convinced that’s true.

“while TC have clarified their picture they have not answered all our doubts. Athough they recognise that it is necessary to take up the question in a more empirical way, their account remains pretty abstract and to be convinced we would want both more empirical treatment but also to understand better the mediations between their – what to us are still somewhat abstract – schema and more empirical concrete history. Part of our problem is a certain skepticism with regards to the inevitable schematism of such a stages approach – where the concrete developments are presumed to be explained by referencing the stage of capitalism they fall under. Considering that this started as an exchange around in part the theory of decadaence, there is the curious formal similarity that just as in the theory of decadence this stage was meant to eliminate the possibility of any reformism, TC’s second phase of real subsumption is meant to eliminate all accomodation of the class within capitalist reproduction and make revolution, in its real sense as communisation, the necessary climax of this cycle of struggles.”

I want to read these: ‘Social Democracy: No Future?’ in Aufheben no 7 and ‘Re-imposition of Work in Britain and the “Social Europe”’ in Aufheben no 8

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