Lots.

(I wrote a blog post of my notes on the gender article and then decided to take notes on the rest, as I read it.)

On the editorial
http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/17

“The first two issues of Endnotes (…) provided little analysis of struggles. (…) That said, the milieu of which we form a part — the so-called communising current — did offer an analysis of struggles, which we found attractive.

Participants in the milieu observed that, even in factory struggles, the re-emergence of an affirmable working class identity seemed to be off the table: workers were self-organising, but without illusions about the revolutionary potential of such self-organisation. For example, in certain factories — in South Korea, in France, in the US, and elsewhere — workers took over their workplaces, not in order to run them on their own, but rather, to demand better severance pay. Meanwhile, many struggles were erupting outside of the workplace — concerning students, the unemployed, racialised minorities — with no interest in finding their way in. Workers in what were once bastions of working class strength (industry, construction, mining and utilities) could no longer offer up their struggles as a container for the needs of the class as a whole. Struggles over “reproduction” were supplanting those over “production”, even if the former seemed to lack the power vis-à-vis capital historically wielded by the latter.”

I think the characterization “bastions of working class strength (industry, construction, mining and utilities) could no longer offer up their struggles as a container for the needs of the class as a whole” is misleading in that the conditions through which this so-called offering up occurred are unaddressed. What was this ‘offering up’? Where did it come from and why did it end?

On production/reproduction, I think the gender article can be read as showing that the wage is a reproductive institution such that all wage struggles are in a sense reproductive (as opposed to at least some struggles for shop control, though struggles over the pace and intensity of work could arguably be considered struggles over working class reproduction as well). So I’m not sure the productive/reproductive characterization exactly captures the differences.

That aside, I don’t think that’s really true and I definitely don’t think there’s any logical or structural necessity to it. Historical factors make it unlikely, but then, the emergence of this identity as a result of earlier cycles of struggles was also unlikely due to historical factors. It reminds me of the bit of v1 of Capital where Marx talks about the English Factory Acts, he says something along the lines that the working class was stunned by the capitalist class’s attack and so took a while to react. I don’t know what that response will be in our time, assuming there will be one, but I think predicting stuff being off the table is premature. (BTW in general from what I’ve read of Theorie Communiste they tend to overemphasize identity as cause and even more so to exermphasize explaining it as an effect of capital-side structural forces. I’m told Endnotes disagree with TC on some of this, but the piece has shades of that, I think.)

There are also instances where something like this identity is constituted and effective in struggles currently – in the US among the more high profile there are the events in Madison in 2011 and the Republic Windows occupation (which is mentioned as an example of struggle for severance pay rather than job control and so taken as confirmation of the communization theorists account, but that struggle when it happened was one that happened in terms of worker identity, and after the occupation it has become an effort to create worker ownership modeled in part after the occupied factories in Argentina). In Canada there’s been really big strikes by various public sector workers (postal workers, teachers, airlines, and prison guards). This isn’t to say all of those are awesome or whatever but just to say that the bit here about ‘affirmable working class identity’ being off the table strikes me as overstated in a way that doesn’t generate insight.

A friend said that the key bit is the bit about workers rejecting the mistaken idea that affirmation of worker identity had revolutionary potential.

That would make sense, but it implies that the absence of such revolutionary potential is established. It’s not. It’s asserted. (Just to be clear, I’m not making a strong counterclaim like ‘revolutionary affirmation of worker identity will happen!’ I’m not even trying to establish its possibility. I’m saying the claims ruling it out are overly broad.) I think that also implies that such potential used to inhere in the identity in a previous era. I think neither make sense. I think the relationship between this identity stuff and revolutionary potential is both more complicated historically and more underdetermined/open in the present than this allows for.

Again that bit in chapter 10 of v1 springs to mind, about the class finding its feet, or the history of mining and the IWW – mining’s restructured in the 19th century, gives rise to local unions that federate, that form the WFM, then the Western Labor Union and the American Labor Union then the IWW. In a way the IWW shows up like 3 or 4 decades late to the party. Here too I think that bit in ‘Holding Pattern’ about subjective and objective being out of sync is on point.

On Republic, I think it’s complicated. Republic supports the ‘struggle against class’ bit of the analysis. But that struggle also drew on and constituted a kind of worker identity. Thinking about it further that makes me think the TC thing on worker identity/programmatism bundles together two claims, about kinds of demands and about identity. I think Republic suggests they’re more distinct and at least relatively independent of each other than the TC sort of analysis lets on, at least as I read them. (And I stand corrected that Endnotes differ from TC here, sorry John if I came off like I was putting words in you all’s mouths, not my intent.) It’d be interesting to push on those theoretical points via some close engagements with that case in Republic. I think there’s probly a lot similar that could be found in struggles over pensions, like when steel companies declare bankruptcy – retirement pensions are I think closer to severance pay than they are the stuff that TC talk about in terms of programmatism, and so are similar on the demand side, and yet retiree struggles/struggles for retirement are intimately related to issues of worker identity.

“Struggles were expected to re-emerge within the workplace, around a structurally “illegitimate” wage-demand. The forms that had characterised class struggle since the restructuring (radical democratism, activism) were to be overcome in a return to basics: abandoning a class position, from within the workplace, was going to be possible only as the generalised overcoming of class society.” (They cite ‘The Present Moment’, from SIC number 1.) But, Endnotes, umm, notes, this didn’t happen. Instead, other movements did, which they discuss in “Holding Pattern” and about which they add in the editorial “Much about these movements confirmed the communising perspective: an intensification of struggle was not associated with the return of a workers’ identity. As we argue, it was precisely the unavailability of a constituting identity — around the working class or otherwise — that was at play in the dynamics of the movement of squares.”

That’s interesting, but the absence of “a constituting identity” is different from the impossibility of worker identity playing such a role. (I’m not arguing it will happen or even that it’s possible, just saying here that I find the point asserted without argument.)

“In light of these struggles, it seems clear that now is not the time for pronouncements, but rather careful analysis. In Endnotes 1 and 2 we tried to dismantle the twin traps set for us at the end of the last century: tendencies either (1) to stray from an analysis of capital’s self-undermining dynamic, in order to better focus on class struggles occurring outside of the workplace, or else (2) to preserve an analysis of crisis tendencies, but solely in order to cling to the notion that the workers’ movement is the only truly revolutionary form of class struggle. We managed to evade these traps, towing along some meagre analytical tools. Now is the time to put those tools to work, to try to understand the new sequence of struggles in its unfolding. We must be open to the present — its tendency to surprise us, to force us to reconsider every supposedly fixed truth — while remaining intransigent about the revolution as communisation.”

I’m not sure if I know what the bit about the workers’ movement is meant to refer to. (“the notion that the workers’ movement is the only truly revolutionary form of class struggle.”)

The stuff on ‘surplus populations’ is interesting. But…

“The workers’ movement, which previously organised itself around the hegemonic figure of the semi-skilled worker, can no longer provide consistency to the class.”

When and where did this hegemonic figure exist? (And again how did it work, and where did that hegemony come from? I think the claims to break down would make more sense if the thing that is supposed to have broken down was treated in more detail.)
Also, this quote is a pronouncement. As is “Nor can any other subject present itself as the bearer of an affirmable future.”

“surplus population is not affirmable — not only because it is a position of subjective destitution, or abjection — but also because it is massively internally differentiated within itself.”
Wage-earners have sometimes been in positions of destitution and ‘massively internally differentiated.’ And the idea that a single sector like semi-skilled workers in mining (as Endnotes mentions) could once ‘offer up their struggles as a container for the needs of the class as a whole’ means that internal differentiation could once be made to fit under the hegemony of some affirmable identity and future. (At least according to the claims asserted in this piece.) So the appeal to differentiation doesn’t actually support the point made.

Also, I think if we look at other periods of production of surplus population, it’s not the case that there was no *possible* ‘affirmable future’ (must a future be actually possible to be affirmed? if so, why?) or ‘constituting identity’ or hegemonic figure. Rather, often there was an absence of such a thing, and then one was produced. Again the bit from chapter 10 of Capital v1 about the working class taking a while to find its feet…

(On other periods in time, here’s stuff on the 1930s – http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1510 )

I don’t really get or care about the stuff on what is and isn’t a contradiction and whatnot.

They quote Marx, “The working population therefore produces both the accumulation of capital and the means by which it is itself made relatively superfluous; and it does this to an extent which is always increasing” and then they write “This contradiction gives rise to multiple antagonisms, within capitalist societies, of which the class antagonism is one. Others exist around: race, gender, sexuality, nation, trade or skill, religious faith, immigration status, and so on.”
Is this saying ‘the production of surplus population encourages antagonistic relationships between constituencies’? If so, yup. That’s what this next bit sounds like – “The point is that social antagonisms, in capitalist society, are articulated and rearticulated in relation to capital’s contradictory logic.” Or is this saying ‘the source of conflicts and tensions among constituencies is in the capital relation’? That’s what this sounds like – “gender in capitalist societies is constructed around the distinction of spheres, one of which we call “directly market-mediated” and the other “indirectly market-mediated”.” If that, then nope, that’s too economic reductionist.

“The workers’ movement privileged the class antagonism above all others because it saw the working class as the future of humanity — if only it could be freed from its connection to capital. The affirmation of class identity was supposed to be the only possible basis on which to overcome capitalism. Insofar as workers self-identified along other lines, that was considered a false-consciousness, which was opposed to a true, class-consciousness. The effect of this orientation was often to emphasize the struggles of certain workers (white, male, citizen) over others within the class. (…) participants in the workers’ movement expected that other forms of identity — non-class based identity — would disappear with the further development of the productive forces.”

It would be nice if there were some sources for this specified. This reads like a flattened out strawman and an expression of some people’s common sense about past movements more than it does as the result of analysis of past movements. I’m sure tendencies like this existed, but they existed in relation to other tendencies. Plus… “The effect of this orientation was often to emphasize the struggles of certain workers (white, male, citizen) over others within the class.” What about the struggles of immigrant women workers then? Are they not part of ‘the workers movement’, because they weren’t dominant/hegemonic? Over all, why ‘the workers movement’ as single and homogeneous, instead of something made up of differences and conflicts?

“To be done with the workers’ movement — to recognise that there is no longer a class fraction that can hegemonise the class — means that it is necessary to rearticulate the relation between class and non-class identities.”

Why is this a matter of identity? Why is ‘the workers movement’ a matter of one class fraction having hegemony over the class? And why is there no longer such a fraction possible? The claim isn’t ‘no fraction is currently hegemonic’ the claim is ‘no fraction could be hegemonic.’ (Again I think the claims about the present condition would be better if rooted in an analysis of the conditions that are supposed to have ended.)

“It is imperative to abandon three theses of Marxism, drawn up in the course of the workers’ movement: (1) that wage-labour is the primary mode of survival within capitalist societies, into which all proletarians are integrated over time, (2) that all wage-labourers are themselves tendentially integrated into industrial (or really subsumed) work processes, that homogenise them, and bring them together as the collective worker, and (3) that class consciousness is thus the only true or real consciousness of proletarians’ situations, in capitalist societies. None of these theses have held true, historically.”

I think the claim here would be better if qualified as ‘the theses of some marxists’ and preferably if those marxists were named. Because otherwise this sounds to me like an ahistorical strawman that flattens out intellectual diversity in the marxist tradition.

I’d like to read the pieces by Alberto Toscano that the editorial mentions.

“If revolution is to emerge at all, it will do so only in response to the limits that actual struggles confront, in the course of their unfolding. The rupture must be a produced rupture.” Yup.

“An open-ended approach to struggle is necessary, one that is neither carelessly dismissive nor naïvely affirmative. Class struggle is not simply the site of a spasmodic reaction to capital’s impositions, but the place where the contradictions of capitalism play out, in ways that are immanent to proletarian experience. It is only in the course of intensifying struggles that the strategic questions of an era can be asked and answered, in a concrete way; only here that tactics, strategies and forms of organisation — and even the meaning of communism itself — can take concrete shape.”

yup.

“The question remains, how do those struggles relate to revolution? Here, we insist: revolution is a possible outcome of struggles today, but only as communisation. That’s because the revolution will have to be the abolition of the value form, for that form is no longer a viable way to organise our existence.”
I agree except for the final clause – no longer viable meaning what, and why ‘no longer’, when did this viability end, and how?

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