Wednesday, 4 April 2012

On councillism

One in a series of old texts that I am retrieving and collecting together, and sometimes reworking. Often this renewed effort exposes deeper, unworkable, internal contradictions. Sobeit!

Investigative constraints
1. I am at pains to relate the question of workers councils to the existence of many millions of people and their relation to their environment rather than to the question of political positions, this involves the application of certain theoretical filters.

2. To this end, I did not want to find myself in agreement with the left-anarchist position on self-management but I did not want to simply disagree with it.

3. It may seem strange, it does to me, to propose a critique of events and actions that have not yet occurred, but my interest is not so much located in the future as in the alterations that are effected within possible positions we are able adopt in the present with regard to possible future events. Obviously, the alteration in definition of a future goal transforms the activities that are deployed in the present which are aimed at achieving/relating (to) it. I say 'obviously' but as the goal only really exists in purposeful activities in the present, its transformation is quite subtle and complex.

4. Specifically, in attempting to think through algorithms and the functions within processes playing out or unfolding it removes that terrible, and tragic, burden of having to decide which reality to choose (as if that were in any way possible).

5. The more decision, policy making and so on are contextualised, the less the tyranny of 'either/or' will dictate - in the case of any proposed free decision making at any critical juncture mere prejudice and fear have a much greater impact than any of us are prepared to admit.

There will be workers’ councils
There will be workers' councils, if there is a genuine economic crisis of capital, there will be workers' councils.

The problem ought not to be viewed as the advocacy of councils within a milieu where it is set up on its merits against other options, as a strategy or solution that must be pursued, but of what happens next, what happens once the councils are established.

It is inevitable, as capital flees from industrial crisis, i.e. from its inability to reproduce the commodity form, that process will attempt to manage itself immanently. During any objective crisis in the productive relation, the proletariat will go with the pressure of necessity and step in to take control of production - general economic conditions will force such a move, the proletariat will respond positively initially to ensure the survival of its environment, and because that will seem like the only realistic option open to it. It will attempt to manage 'business as usual' because it will not yet understand the contradiction in that act, i.e. that its continued existence within the productive relation (and production itself) is contrary to its interest.

At this juncture, and before, there will be no reason to advocate the goal of self-management when this 'solution' will inevitably emerge anyway as a mechanical working out of the 'liberated' forces of production. The problematic of this ‘working out’ lies in how these liberated forces then pattern humanity back onto the productive process through the ideological pressure of skewed ‘necessity’. We know that the councilists and left anarchists want the council form to express the institution of the triumph of use over exchange.

Councillism should, therefore be understood, as the proposed organisational solution to the problem of production. However, it is not at all clear to communists that councils are the solution to the problem of production or that the problem of social organisation should be set within the frame of production. Thus, the communist critique of councillism focuses its energies both on the tendency to propose solutions (which it describes as 'solutionism') and on the framing of communism in terms of production (which it calls 'productivism').

Upon the appearance of the council form, the question of its effectiveness will remain: Will the council form ever have sufficient capacity to direct and transform the autonomous character of the forces of production? There is no evidence that it will. The question of how living labour might command the accumulated circumstances it has inherited remains unanswerable.

The question beyond that of the relation of council form to crisis, the question raised after that of the councils' established existence as the embodiment of suspended value production, is located in the critiques which will be developed because the councils exist, because of their mechanical function within production, their relation to use-value, their role in the return to the commodity form through use-value, but also, in the other direction, the relation of the council form to the prospect of a genuine human community.

It is perhaps too much to expect that productive forces will somehow forget their exploitative character and allow themselves to be socialised as easily as many left-anarchists imagine. Class based existence is written through the processes of the factory and this patterning will automatically attempt to reassert itself behind, beyond and through any decisions (and decision making bodies) set up 'against' it, and in favour of, socialised production.

Most left-anarchists will be transported into patriotic ecstasies by the coming-to-be of the council form because the manifestation of the form itself is their ideology. They will not be troubled by the form's intrinsic, mecahnistic or just-so quality as it relates to crises in production. For them, every appearance of the form can be explained historically as a break with its past failures. As the councils are established, the anarchists will institute their bureaucracies, principles, and declarations that set the limit of society and humanity itself as the celebration of the form. These partisans of the council, and of the enthusiasm for 'self-management', will be the last to recognise that these ideologies also function as a 'fetter' on the struggle of the proletariat against the conditions of social production. The continued arguments for the revolutionary nature of the council form will soon become, as the form is realised, the reactionary defence of a higher stage of alienation.

By contrast, the critique of councillism, sited within the discourse of alienation, will be directed against the objective character of the forces of production. This critique will be undertaken both by communists, who will illuminate the non-identity between communism and the council form, and by the individualist anarchists via their revolt against councillism’s generalised imposition of work, and the ideological character of social 'necessity'.

The theoretical critique of workers' councils begins in the general tendency experienced in all historical examples of the form - that is, self-management of production by the proletariat has always, and without exception, facilitated the return of capitalism. The question of the nature of this facilitation is open to discussion in this seminar: either, 1) the councils were too weak, not generalised or organised enough to impose themselves; or 2) they are, in their essence, an emergency capitalist form which is made to appear when all other forms are unable to function.

Workers councils and productive forces
That the workers will take control of production. That the workers are a product of production. That production will be the product of the workers. That production is the combination of past and present labour. That if capitalist exploitation is removed from production then production and labour are liberated from capitalist exploitation. That the passage from capitalist production to social production will be facilitated by proletarian control of production. That capitalism has produced the proletariat. That the proletariat will bury capitalism. That capitalism has produced the proletariat and that the proletariat will produce the end of capitalism. That the proletariat will cause the beginning of communism. That the passage into communism will be piloted by the proletariat. That the proletariat, the product of capitalism, will produce in its turn, communism. That the beginning of the next phase will be found in the end of this phase. That the essence of the next phase will be found in the accumulated techniques of this phase. That the powers inappropriately developed in this phase will be put to proper use in the next. 

And Hegel wrote:
Hence it is that, in the case of various kinds of knowledge, we find that what in former days occupied the energies of men of mature mental ability sinks to the level of information, exercises, and even pastimes, for children; and in this educational progress we can see the history of the world's culture delineated in faint outline. This bygone mode of existence has already become an acquired possession of the general mind, which constitutes the substance of the individual, and, by thus appearing externally to him, furnishes his inorganic nature. In this respect culture or development of mind (Bildung), regarded from the side of the individual, consists in his acquiring what lies at his hand ready for him, in making its inorganic nature organic to himself, and taking possession of it for himself. Looked at, however, from the side of universal mind qua general spiritual substance, culture means nothing else than that this substance gives itself its own self-consciousness, brings about its own inherent process and its own reflection into self.
It is strange, or I think it is strange, this notion of an inherited objectivity that was developed out of subjective revolt against inherited objectivity. It is strange, or I think it is strange, that the struggle to break free from inherited forms should be conceived as a developmental emergence: the bud, the blossom the fruit. I also think it is strange that after everything, that after all the myriad details of history, Marx should carry over the model of inheritance as the means for explaining the passage of one form of human society to another. It is also baffling that much of what capitalism is, ie what Marx called the forces of production, as well as the human needs that this specific form of production presupposes, should be carried into communist society. 

It seems not to have occurred to many who advocate self-management to consider whether the character of technological progression, a progression driven solely by production of commodities, might cause human society, as it is realised in its needs, to regress. In other words it could be that it is not possible for the proletariat to manage all moments within the development of productive forces equally - in most situations the character of the productive forces (what they are, what they do) is in active revolt against self-management.
Under communism - if there is no incentive or compensation for working - there is never any guarantee that all of the separate, democratic worker-controlled, enterprises will agree on what to produce. The number of components in a toaster, a kettle, a car, or a computer, is quite large. If we take that communist idea that people can work a small number of hours a day, decide what they want to do with the products of their labour, it becomes increasingly unlikely that every separate raw material will be mined, refined, and henceforth that every separate component will be produced in every separate factory (at the present lots of components are produced in different countries before assembly) at the right time in the right quantity and then all transported to the right place so as to be assembled. If we take Marx's idea of alienation as not having control over the product of your own labour, how will anything change so long as the factory and the production of highly technologically advanced goods remain? At which point will the worker at the factory producing washers no longer feel the labour to be alienated? If she gets a vote on where the washers get sent? She may work less hours, which I'm sure she'd appreciate, but quite seriously how working on a factory production line producing washers not be alienated labour?
Given that the productive forces dictate the reproduction of the productive relations and that communist revolution is realised by the proletariat expropriating the productive forces then marxists define communist society as capitalist productive forces under workers' self management, or, as Lenin said, soviet power plus electrification. I find this conception of Marxist revolution, of the objective continuity in the accumulation of productive activity, to be an unprepossessing prospect - it is as Wellington said of Napoleon's strategic genius, 'he's just a pounder after all'. Marx is just a pounder after all.

As if there were nothing to dispute about the specific nature of the productive forces; as if the material that has been developed from alienated labour can be divided from the exploitative relation which set the process in motion; as if, even as we make the break from capitalism, we are condemned to live within the modes of existence that we have inherited from it - that we are objectively, and not merely contingently, of its lineage. The metaphors of pregnancy that Marx deploys as some sort of threat of inevitability through which capitalism's limit was set by objective social development, now come back to haunt us... it seems we cannot escape the womb of our castrating mother, our revolution is dictated by what we are in revolt against.

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. 
Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society -- after the deductions have been made -- exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labour. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labour time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labour (after deducting his labour for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labour cost. The same amount of labour which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.

Note on text. This text was written to the conventions of the message board where it first appeared. It has been distributed as a pamphlet by others without my input or any further revision. I think the text is fairly weak in places but generally okay. I have worked a little on the weakest of the weak places. I do not know if I have made them stronger. I do not say that this version surpasses other available versions, only that this is now the version that I am deliberately making available. 

1 comment:

  1. "There will be workers' councils" seems a little quick. I mean, while in essence correct, it conceals what is IMVHO the actual question, one which in my extremely humble opinion is the essence of the question for any and all communists.

    -- how do the councils form?