Lots of Awkward Questions

Today, are any struggles that might exist for communistic social relations
exclusively the struggle of just one class, the famous grandiose
"Proletariat" as "class for itself"? Or in reality, do pro-communistic
struggles by necessity involve diverse radical social movements and awkward
material struggles, which are likely in practise to contain elements from
more than one "class"? Or is it the movement itself which defines the class?
In which case what are we to make of the conflicts in social and economic
interests to be found in practise within the various movements and
struggles? Can all questions of social difference and conflict be reduced
exclusively to a question of "class"? Is there a "real movement" one can
really put ones finger on, or is it just a romantic myth? And does the
marxist mythology of the universal revolutionary "Proletariat", and total
"Communism" after the "Revolution", bear any relation to the real need for
practical solidarity and practical struggle in the present, however
imperfect these may be?
     Is there any good reason why what remains of small farmers, peasants,
self employed artisans, permanently unemployed and so on, shouldn't be
included in the struggles for communistic social relations alongside wage
labourers in revolt? Despite growing encroachment and enclosure and
dispossession it is not yet the case that all these people are fully
proletarianised and fully absorbed into wage labour. Nonetheless, is it not
the case that many of them are still capable of seeing the need for, and
having a desire for, communistic relations? And struggles don't just stand
by and wait for the supposedly convenient moment when dispossession of
virtually everyone is complete, they break out anyway while the process is
still going on.
     Sometimes small farmers, peasants and artisans are capable of being
pro-communistic, and this isn't necessarily dependent on their
proletarianisation. The peasant has an objective direct interest in
resisting the exploitation of the landlord and the userer even while they
are still a peasant, and they might see the overall need for communistic
social relations from the point of view of petit-bourgeois rationality. At
this point the vulgar Marxist would jibe that the peasants and their friends
aren't strong enough on their own to form a class capable of leading a
revolution against the bourgeoisie. However the depressing evidence of
recent years unfortunately suggests that a similar jibe could now be made
about any supposedly universal revolutionary "Proletariat".
     Also would it not also be useful for social revolts to aim to bring in
and include some of the small farmers, who could provide good food for the
social revolt to eat? You certainly won't get good healthy food from the
ecodisaster of big industrial agribusiness, whether controlled by the
capitalists or even by collective workers' self-management?

     Today is it not the case that when social revolt breaks out it is not
so much any more about forming and building class but more about destroying
class? What it forms is less likely to be a clunky tanky "class-party" but
instead a radical insurgent diverse mass of humanity. The bog standard
ultra-left Marxist formulation that the "Proletariat" as the "universal"
class comes together as a "class for itself" to "overthrow" Capital, impose
the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat", and in the process succeeds in
abolishes itself as a class, is a bag of very awkward and not at all
satisfactorily explained contradictions. In reality there is a problem of
class formation, and in reality there is never a perfectly fully formed
Proletariat for itself.
     Is it not actually the case that what we are seeing now is the mass of
atomised individual exploited "proletarians" already engaging half way in
the process of abolishing themselves as a class by conspicuously refusing to
come together on a mono-class basis and impose the "Dictatorship of the
Proletariat" in the first place?!!! The workers have been unable to continue
living up to the expectation the big employers once had of them; to act as a
fine strong coherent corporatist body of fordist workers. Now, in addition,
the workers are inclined to resist both capitalist work, and their
apocalyptic supposed "historic mission", as laid down for them by marxism.
The workers strike against themselves, and as capital decays, the
proletariat as human variable capital decays with it. As "Troploin" have put
it; "no dynamic capital, then no dynamic proletariat"
     And in reality wouldn't the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" just turn
out to be the ultimate collective capital?; capital revolutionising itself
in the form of an intense bourgeoisie-less state capital? Increasingly many
individual proletarians refuse or are unable to unite on the basis of a
conservative workerist identification with, and fetishising of, their own
fundamental impoverishment and misery under wage labour exploitation, a
condition they despise so much that half the time many of them refuse to
consciously even think about it any more.
     Instead, if they openly revolt, in addition to direct industrial
disputes, they are just as likely to a) Express their suppressed needs and
desires through proud individual rebellion, or radical hedonism, or
individual semi-antagonistic lifestyle alternatives, or b) Join together
with other individual proletarians and a smaller number of disillusioned
members of other classes in radical diverse social movements and social

     The majority of workers are not individually paid up members of the
official trade unions, nor are they members of any formal unofficial unions.
For a variety of material and historical reasons the majority of workers are
unlikely ever to become members of formal unions. The majority of individual
trade union members are not actively involved in the organisation. It is
increasingly visible to many workers that the trade unions are unable to win
any significantly large gains for the majority of their own members, never
mind the workers as a whole, only win and defend some temporary gains for
certain "key" entrenched sectors. Some traditional industrial militancy does
continue, like the recent wave of wildcat walkouts in the Post Office in the
U.K. for example. But it is heavily sectoralised and contained and doesn't
have as much leverage as it used to. Some of the industries in which it
occurs, like the Post Office, just aren't as important today as they were
ten or twenty years ago.
     The decentralisation of much of production, together with new systems
of "dispersed fordism" and "globalisation", have undermined the sectoral
collective bargaining power of many workers. In the seventies if the miners
in the U.K. went on strike they could bring down the government. Today if
all the miners remaining in the U.K. went on strike how many people would
even notice? Industrial militancy and fist waving alone don't necessarily
make you strong, you also need some essential leverage. Some groups, like
posties, transport workers, firefighters might still possess a degree of
this. But the need to break out of exclusive industrialism and workerism has
become obvious.

     There are millions more workers who don't struggle openly. They remain
silent, collapse in on themselves, become depressed or neurotic, or they
turn to religion or drugs or alcohol, they burn out and become nervous
wrecks, go mad or become ill to the point they are no longer able to work
efficiently or work at all. In the U.K., one of the industrialised developed
centres and certainly not a "third world" country, on any given work day
there is an average of 6 million workers and people of working age who are
officially too sick to work, that's if you total up the long-term sick and
unable to work with the short term sick and those phoning in sick. In 1980
in the U.K. there was 0.5 million of working age on long-term sickness
benefit or incapacity benefit. Today the figure is well over 2 million.
Against capitalist work and production, for many workers who do not have the
strength to struggle openly, the weapon of default is growing ILLNESS. I am
myself an unemployed temp worker getting older and tired and ill.
     In the sixties and seventies and early eighties, the production line
would often be stopped by a strong coherent body of workers forming a strike
committee, or shopfloor assembly, or flying picket, or workers council.
Today all over the world the production line is just as likely to be stopped
by half the workers burning out and falling to pieces on the job, slowing
down or even collapsing from exhaustion, while the other half desperately
find ways of skiving off, dodging, running away and individually escaping. A
dignified organised conscious worker activism or worker militancy, whether
in the union or not, is no longer a realistic option for the majority
because they are too tired or too burnt out or too drugged up or too ILL.
Only a minority are still capable of maintaining it to any extent.
     Workers' sickness becomes a major problem, both for them and for
capitalist production. Even in social insurrectionary situations such as
have recently occurred in Bolivia or Argentine, the formation of "workers
councils", or autonomous "union committees" and "strike committees", or
"peoples assemblies" is only half the story of the real crisis in the bulk
of production. Yesterday production would be periodically interrupted by
moments of class formation. Today millions of workers worldwide have been so
burnt out and worked to the limits of exhaustion that production is
increasingly being stopped indefinitely by physical class-collapse.
     The "Proletariat" as a class are irrepairably fragmented, atomised,
shattered. But the twist in the tale is that the "capitalists" are losing
too. Despite all the humbug talk of "recovery", the social landscape is
becoming less successfully dynamically "capitalist". It is becoming more
lumpen-bourgeois BARBARIST instead. The social clashes, which in the first
place were never strictly totally centred on one big supposed opposition of
"Proletariat versus Capital", increasingly break down into a drawn out
series of fractured conflicts between a dispersed diverse déclassé mass of
billions of humans on the one hand, and a fractious collection of
lumpen-bourgeois barbarist elites on the other. Neither a unitary action nor
a unified consciousness is instantly possible.
     Maybe the silver lining to this gloomy cloud is that we are not going
to get one big "Dictatorship of the class-party" with its inherent
neo-stalinist dangers, magically leading us to one big total
centralist-integralist "Communism". Is it not instead the case that the
potential in the real historic movements in the real world right now is for
diverse dispersed free and open social revolts leading to many diverse
dispersed free and open "communisms"?
Paul   Feb 2004