Extracts taken from.....
Irregular journal of hysterical madterialism
No. 4 May 2004
Random thoughts for the day
Who says commodity relations are everywhere and have taken over
Who says the entire life of societies in which modern conditions of
production reign announces itself as an immense accumulation of
One of the things I have learnt recently by helping out one day a week
behind the counter in a leftwing bookshop is that we are not surrounded
the time by commodities. To the contrary, half the time we are
a big pile of junk that nobody wants to buy, and we have no chance of
Just because something has a price tag on it,
it doesn't mean it has a
real price or successfully competes in the market as a commodity.
in some parts of the world fresh dandelion leaves get sold as a
salads. Now there are numerous dandelion leaves growing in my mum's
garden, but even if I put pretty little price tags on them it doesn't
anyone is going to buy them.
Not all exchange relations are capitalist. Petty barter has existed on
off in various forms for thousands of years but "capitalism" has not
for thousands of years. "Capital" at the very least, to be worthy of
name which is both noun and adjective, involves a dynamic
and self-expanding extraction and accumulation of surplus "value".
isolated petty barter on the edge of tribe or community didn't
involve any of these factors. Nor of course did it involve any
dispossessed freely competing alienated wage labour incorporated in an
industrial capitalist commodity production process which has become an
essential ingredient in sustaining large scale dynamic capital
in the modern world.
Petty barter does involve a certain small
scale mutual estrangement and
mutual paranoia; you don't fully trust me and I don't fully trust you.
engage in petty exchange rather than open abundant free distribution
would be preferable. It is not at all clear that even today every
exchange that takes place has been totally and exclusively subsumed in
service of capital accumulation and nothing else. Even in the modern
not all exchange is inherently "capitalism". There is also some extra
circulation, or to put it another way the wider circulation always
some extra element beyond the needs of capital accumulation.
If you are a bunch of workers in a small
factory in Argentina during
the crisis and the boss runs away and leaves you without your wages
might you do? One thing you might do is technically set up a "workers
co-operative" as a practical means to facilitate a social occupation of
premises to demand your wages, to use the premises also for social and
community needs, as well as to sell off some of the remaining stock for
Does setting up a temporary technical "workers
co-operative" in such
circumstances make you a dynamic "capitalist" - of course it doesn't.
tactic among others in struggle, a "workers co-operative" may sometimes
useful temporary means of resistance to a wave of impoverishment. It
a problem when people make an obsession out of "co-ops" as a supposed
radical end in themselves. But workers co-ops will only be feeding into
renewed capitalist production if a wider capitalist production has
successfully began to pick itself up and renew itself. Whatever visible
organised forms might still be temporarily thrown up in industrial
these days, whether it is radical co-ops or collectives or union base
committees or councils, they are never perfect or instantly
it isn't good enough to instantly dismiss them as purely "capitalist"
Contemporaneous parallel histories: We are
living under pre-capital,
capital and post-capital all at the same time.
Are humans "social beings"? Or are they something subtly different;
individual beings that practise social behaviour most of the time?
lot of our "individuality" might come from our social interaction, not
of it has to. There is already the physical sentient animal individual
unique awareness, unique pain, unique pleasure etc. But also, part of
social individual becomes autonomous from and extraneous to the social.
projects and asserts itself beyond the social.
One can always play the linguistic trick of
insisting that everything
in human life is social because we can talk about it in social
But just because social discourse can talk about the unique it doesn't
necessarily make the unique totally dependent on social discourse. I
still have unique awareness, sentience, feelings and so on, and engage
independent individual productive and creative activity, regardless of
whether I talk about them or share them with others or not.
The social aspect of my life may be a big and
important part of my life
but it is not the total whole of my life, nor do I have to subordinate
whole of my life to it. The unique individual is not merely an
piece of fluff in an otherwise total social relation or total social
machine. We are not just useless pieces of dust waiting for a vulgar
marxism, for instance, to come along and sweep us under a collectivist
It may be part of a supposed "capitalism's" own mythology to be
not orthodox. But it is also the mythological orthodoxy of many of the
heterodox collection of ultra-lefties, ultra-marxists, post-situs and
friends to tend to see everything and anything all the time everywhere
uniformly just one thing; "Capitalism". But isn't this a bit of a
and moody way of viewing the world? Like some paranoid form of
Like some religious mania seeing everything and anything around you as
uniformly "unclean" or "Beelzebub"? And does it add up in reality to
centre everything exclusively on the capital process?
The even sillier bit comes when, after going
round pointing at
everything from the empire state building to a half eaten sandwich on a
bench and accusing it all as equally being "Capitalism" you then get
together on such a basis and stage a protest "against capitalism". If
want to talk about different forms of exchange and commodities then
about exchange and commodities, if you want to talk about wage labour
capitalist production then talk about wage labour and capitalist
if you want to talk about bourgeois economy then talk about bourgeois
economy. On the other hand if you want to talk about patriarchy and
domination then talk about patriarchy and domination. But these forces
not always fully integral or always fully interdependent. Why then
using the word "Capitalism" to describe everything everywhere all the
It's a vulgar bore. We don't believe in one omnipresent epochal total
relation, with one unified apocalyptic history, any more than we
If you go round seeing "Capitalism" everywhere
all the time, then it is
already posited in the all too pervasive creeping vulgar Marxist
"Capitalism" that "dictatorship of the class-party of the Proletariat"
the necessary inevitable outcome of such a supposed "Capitalism". It's
that a new Lenin is just about to come to power and seize the state
very October, but seeing everything as "Capitalism" all too
lends itself in practise to a lurking neo-bolshevik politics among some
The battle for ideas is not unimportant. To the contrary it is very
important. There isn't just a need for us to take a specific
communist stand against the material practise of state socialism and
neo-bolshevism and bureaucratic collectivist parties, but also to make
remake a critique of its theoretical underpinnings going right back to
Hegel. Someone like Mattick for example was quite right to provoke the
by talking in terms of "Anti-bolshevik Communism".
Today neo-stalinist attitudes can still be
found all over the place,
not just in the lefty parties, but in softy form even amongst some
ultra-leftists, autonomist marxists, class struggle anarchists, and so
Even more than a decade on from the collapse of the Soviet Union, cold
attitudes still hang over and cast a big shadow. In this respect there
immediate genuine "superseding" of the question of bolshevism versus
anti-bolshevism, even if one wanted to adopt the intellectual posture
having "superseded" it. A lot more real history and social struggle is
to have to take place for such a superseding to be genuinely possible.