Extracts taken from.....
Irregular journal of hysterical madterialism                No. 4   May 2004

Random thoughts for the day

Very boring


Who says commodity relations are everywhere and have taken over everything?
Who says the entire life of societies in which modern conditions of
production reign announces itself as an immense accumulation of commodities?
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 all
the time by commodities. To the contrary, half the time we are surrounded by
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. Sometimes
in some parts of the world fresh dandelion leaves get sold as a delicacy for
salads. Now there are numerous dandelion leaves growing in my mum's front
garden, but even if I put pretty little price tags on them it doesn't mean
anyone is going to buy them.

Not all exchange relations are capitalist. Petty barter has existed on and
off in various forms for thousands of years but "capitalism" has not existed
for thousands of years. "Capital" at the very least, to be worthy of the
name which is both noun and adjective, involves a dynamic self-reproducing
and self-expanding extraction and accumulation of surplus "value". Ancient
isolated petty barter on the edge of tribe or community didn't necessarily
involve any of these factors. Nor of course did it involve any impoverished
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 accumulation
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. So we
engage in petty exchange rather than open abundant free distribution which
would be preferable. It is not at all clear that even today every moment of
exchange that takes place has been totally and exclusively subsumed in the
service of capital accumulation and nothing else. Even in the modern world
not all exchange is inherently "capitalism". There is also some extra
circulation, or to put it another way the wider circulation always involves
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 what
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 the
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. As one
tactic among others in struggle, a "workers co-operative" may sometimes be a
useful temporary means of resistance to a wave of impoverishment. It becomes
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 a
renewed capitalist production if a wider capitalist production has actually
successfully began to pick itself up and renew itself. Whatever visible
organised forms might still be temporarily thrown up in industrial struggle
these days, whether it is radical co-ops or collectives or union base
committees or councils, they are never perfect or instantly "communism". But
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? While a
lot of our "individuality" might come from our social interaction, not all
of it has to. There is already the physical sentient animal individual with
unique awareness, unique pain, unique pleasure etc. But also, part of the
social individual becomes autonomous from and extraneous to the social. It
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 discourse.
But just because social discourse can talk about the unique it doesn't
necessarily make the unique totally dependent on social discourse. I can
still have unique awareness, sentience, feelings and so on, and engage in
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 the
whole of my life to it. The unique individual is not merely an inconvenient
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
sociological carpet.

It may be part of a supposed  "capitalism's" own mythology to be heterodox
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 as
uniformly just one thing; "Capitalism". But isn't this a bit of a mystical
and moody way of viewing the world? Like some paranoid form of buddhism?
Like some religious mania seeing everything and anything around you as
uniformly "unclean" or "Beelzebub"? And does it add up in reality to try and
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 park
bench and accusing it all as equally being "Capitalism" you then get
together on such a basis and stage a protest "against capitalism". If you
want to talk about different forms of exchange and commodities then talk
about exchange and commodities, if you want to talk about wage labour and
capitalist production then talk about wage labour and capitalist production,
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 are
not always fully integral or always fully interdependent. Why then insist on
using the word "Capitalism" to describe everything everywhere all the time?
It's a vulgar bore. We don't believe in one omnipresent epochal total social
relation, with one unified apocalyptic history, any more than we believe in
     If you go round seeing "Capitalism" everywhere all the time, then it is
already posited in the all too pervasive creeping vulgar Marxist notions of
"Capitalism" that "dictatorship of the class-party of the Proletariat" is
the necessary inevitable outcome of such a supposed "Capitalism". It's not
that a new Lenin is just about to come to power and seize the state this
very October, but seeing everything as "Capitalism" all too conveniently
lends itself in practise to a lurking neo-bolshevik politics among some of
the ultra-left.

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 libertarian
communist stand against the material practise of state socialism and
neo-bolshevism and bureaucratic collectivist parties, but also to make and
remake a critique of its theoretical underpinnings going right back to
Hegel. Someone like Mattick for example was quite right to provoke the issue
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 on.
Even more than a decade on from the collapse of the Soviet Union, cold war
attitudes still hang over and cast a big shadow. In this respect there is no
immediate genuine "superseding" of the question of bolshevism versus
anti-bolshevism, even if one wanted to adopt the intellectual posture of
having "superseded" it. A lot more real history and social struggle is going
to have to take place for such a superseding to be genuinely possible.