We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noon day as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.
In the recently published parliamentary report 'Underachievement in Education by White Working Class [sic] Children', a description is given of the failure of consciousness amongst what has become a 'reserve army' of un- and semi-employed human beings languishing in a state of abject dependency upon processes from which they have been more or less expelled: 'Poverty of expectation bears harder on educational achievement than material poverty, hard though that can be [...] And these expectations start at home. White working class culture is characterised by low aspirations and negative attitudes towards education.'
It is as if a large section of what once had been the working class, has, in fact, taken 'the road not taken' and thereby passed into a condition of alternate history. As a result of labour's expulsion from the productive process, the working class has been cut off from history, its situation now resembles something like the iconic oxbow lake which its children are currently ignoring in geography lessons. Communities once defined by their centrality to the labour process, now subsist in diverticula external to the intrinsic mechanisms of the economy.
Today, many speak of a “jobless recovery”, but if the “general law of capital accumulation” applies then all capitalist recoveries are tendentially jobless. The tendency of “mature” industries to throw off labour, whilst facilitating expanded reproduction, also tends to consolidate a surplus population not fully absorbed by the subsequent expansion. This is due to the adaptability of labour-saving technology across lines, which mean that the manufacture of new products tends to make use of the most innovative production processes. Yet process innovations last forever, and they generalize across new and old capitals, while product innovations are inherently limited in their ability to generate a net expansion of output and employment. Here the problem is not merely that product innovations have to emerge at an accelerated rate to absorb the surplus thrown off by process innovations, it is that an acceleration of product innovation itself gives rise to an acceleration of process innovation.
The systemic formation of an archipelago of negatively valued 'outlying' (after Gladwell) colonies in which are maintained surplus populations of redundant workers, might seem to run counter to the general tendency of capitalism to include everything within the domain of what is reducible to general abstract equivalence (and thereby award its belonging via monetary value) - how is it possible that capitalism has since generated an 'outside' as its by-product, as its waste pile?
The presence of a surplus population also seems to suggest an unconquerable limit to capitalist expansion, which, strangely is now drawn from 'within' the process rather than occurring externally in the form of a 'far flung' edge to empire. The limit to capitalist expansion was previously presented as extrinsic to its basic mechanism, now the limit is encountered intrinsically as a set of unexpected and non-recyclable redundancies.
The expulsion of large proportions of the industrial working class from the productive process has triggered a 'cultural' transformation of its class consciousness which one of the contributors to the above mentioned parliamentary report presents in terms of, 'A lot of the careers and jobs that were the bedrock of white working-class family life for many decades and generations have vanished and have not been well replaced.'
There is then, at work within this ontological metamorphosis of the working class, an objective and necessary event where labour is excluded from its once vaunted role within social production, which is then compounded by a subjective secession of the working class from 'mainstream' society that manifests as a radical disinvestment from established cultural norms. Sections of the working class have gone feral and are 'forgetting' their station in the history.
Undoubtedly, it is worthy of record that an alien, if dependent, exterior at the heart of 'de-industrialised' economies is forming in the same juncture where national borders are being superseded by, and previously too remote interiors are being included within, globalised production. This is all the more intriguing where the phenomenon is considered alongside the periodisation of class struggle as described by communists inhabiting the Théorie Communiste life-world. For these theoreticians, the potential form to be taken by 'communism' is finally constrained by the historical form of capitalist productive relations. Historically, the 'workers' movement' had first idealised communism as a 'republic of labour' where productive activity 'for need' became an institutionalised principle.
The positivity of the proletarian pole within the class relation during the phase of formal subsumption and the first phase of real subsumption is expressed in what TC term the “programmatism” of the workers’ movement, whose organisations, parties and trade unions (whether social democratic or communist, anarchist or syndicalist) represented the rising power of the proletariat and upheld the programme of the liberation of labour and the self-affirmation of the working class. The character of the class relation in the period of the programmatic workers’ movement thus determines the communist revolution in this cycle of struggle as the self-affirmation of one pole within the capital-labour relation. As such the communist revolution does not do away with the relation itself, but merely alters its terms, and hence carries within it the counter-revolution in the shape of workers’ management of the economy and the continued accumulation of capital. Decentralised management of production through factory councils on the one hand and central-planning by the workers’ state on the other are two sides of the same coin, two forms of the same content: workers’ power as both revolution and counter-revolution.
The programmatic workers' movement and its affirmation of the pole of labour were first diverted by cross-class social pacts, the transitional demands associated with improved standards of living, and fordist productive relations, but then became unsustainable, even as an ideal, as a result of the 'flight' of capital in search of cheaper and unregulated labour markets. Specifically, this transformation of productive relations, realised through a programme of de-industrialisation, initiated a new 'wave' of class struggle where 'autonomy' and 'self-organisation' became the means for framing an active critique of collaborationist structures such as trade unions and political parties of the 'traditional' left.
However, the modality of 'self-organisation', becoming a principle and end in itself, immediately presented the working class with yet a further historical constraint upon the conception of 'communism'. The achievement of a particular of autonomy within a general context of integration is only ever realisable as relative autonomy. The limit of self-organisation is soon encountered by the measure of its unavoidable participation within the totality of productive relations. Autonomy implies secession, but the totality of relations had already set in motion, in part through the ideology of workers' control, the process of an incorporated autonomisation of components (outsourcing, downsizing, etc). The movement of deregulated capitalism is nothing but the autonomisation and reintegration of active parts - thus self-organisation realises a latent tendency within capital.
Everywhere, as soon as self-organisation is established (and currently you can hardly escape it), people are fed up with it; it weighs heavily on the movement. As soon as it is initiated, it “winds us up”, because it reminds us bluntly what we are and what we no longer want to be. It is here, within self-organisation, against it, that the struggle of the proletariat as a class produces its own existence as a class as a limit to be surpassed. Autonomy is only ever the liberation of the worker as worker.
Thus, the working class is confronted with a doubled limit to its own activity as it attempts to oppose the productive relation, either through the frame of 'programmatism' or as 'self-organisation'. The historical limitations placed upon its activity are nested within the historical development of the generalised relations of production. At this point, those communists inhabiting the Théorie Communiste life-world, perceive the reasons why the struggle against capitalist social relations cannot be sustained through any further developments in possible modes of proletarian potentiality. The working class, at the point of its expulsion from the productive process, finds itself in an untenable situation and, according to the communising tendency, must quit before it is fired.
Not only is revolution not the result of an overgrowth of the power of the class, the victory and affirmation of its place in the capitalist mode of production, but, moreover, the content of this qualitative leap is to turn against that which produces it. This turn against is the overthrow of the hierarchy of the instances of the mode of production that is the mechanic of its self-presupposition. The causalities and normal order of these instances (economy, gender relations, justice, politics, ideology…), which concur in its reproduction under normal conditions, is undermined. The theory of revolution as communisation is not a prediction, but it is the present class belonging as the limit of struggling as a class, and the present contradiction between men and women, which puts their very definition into question. Therefore, it renders a certain theoretical paradigm obsolete: that of the simple and homogenous contradiction which resolves itself in the victory of one of its terms.
If the working class is to overthrow the relations of production of which its fragmented form is the product, it must both act from out of its fragmented form and without any hope of returning to what is now revealed to be a spurious class identity. The form which was the working class and which is located at the precipice of its expulsion from capitalism, must, as it disintegrates to dust, take the productive relation with it to oblivion. If labour is not to be, then the environment of which it is a product, the same environment which it has produced, also cannot endure.
At this point, those communists inhabiting the Théorie Communiste life-world propose what they call communisation as the historically authentic mode of the proletariat's struggle against its structured dependency upon capital. They perceive communisation as a specifically environment-changing activity which does not subjectively reinforce latent tendencies within prevalent conditions but introduces new generalisable relations from out of self-instigated events.
There is a qualitative leap when the workers unite against their existence as wage labourers, when they integrate the destitute and smash market mechanisms; not when one strike ‘transforms’ itself into a ‘challenge‘ to power. The change is a rupture. [...] [The proletarians can] fight against market relations, seize goods and the means of production while integrating into communal production those that wage-labour can’t integrate, make everything free, get rid of the factory framework as the origin of products, go beyond the division of labour, abolish all autonomous spheres (and in the first place the economy), dissolve their autonomy to integrate in non-market relations all the impoverished …; in this case, it is precisely their own previous existence and association as a class that they go beyond as well as (this is then a detail) their economic demands. The only way to fight against exchange and the dictatorship of value is by undertaking communisation.
It is not clear how communising activity pertains to those negative outlier populations which have no leverage upon the productive process, nor by what means they might constitute a communising movement - there is always recourse to theft of course, but that is a supremely expropriative form, the means by which capital is returned to its primal circuits and revitalised. These surplus populations are the pure in-itself waste-product of the productive process, wholly characterised by inertia and incapacity. What sort of communising can a surplus population realistically undertake where activity itself, where 'work' itself, has become alien to it? By what means might the workless overthrow work from the outside?
The surplus population is an outcome of, but is not directly reproduced within, the productive circuits of capital and labour, it has come to, having congealed already outside of the process. It does not produce its world, it does not embody 'the proletarian pole', and thus cannot make objectively relevant its struggles for life... quite the reverse, its abject dependency on an external power indicates that it is, historically, no longer identifiable as the proletariat. Furthermore, with regard to the surplus population, the term 'capitalism' no longer describes the process by which its life-world is maintained. The exterior has become a neo-barbaric colony over which the entirety of the labour-capital process rules as a despotic neo-subject. In relation to the negative outliers at its periphery, capitalism is not capitalism.
Changing circumstances and changing oneself coincide: this is revolution.
The question of the unity of the proletariat, a question which is inherent to the revolution as communisation, is equally at stake in the concept of conjuncture.
The contradictions which oppose the middle classes, the unemployed and the precarious, the surplus masses of the periphery or the ghettos, the ‘core’ of the working class, the employed but constantly threatened workers, etc., to capital, to its reproduction, to exploitation, to austerity, to misery, etc., are not identical each to the next, and even less to the contradiction between women and men. The unity qua class of those who have nothing to live on but the sale of their labour power is something that the proletariat finds and confronts as objectified, against them, in capital; for themselves, this definition is only their separation.
The emphasis, for those communists inhabiting the Théorie Communiste life-world, is consistently placed upon 'struggle'. Beneath their framing of class antagonism (which, the proletariat, accessing a source of collateral energy, must take to capital) lies a conception (and if historically constrained, then still essentially ahistorical) of the capacity for self-transformative activity. The human community is conceived as the result of human activity, qualitatively different activity to that which produces other social relations but recognisable as 'activity' nonetheless. Then, how is the surplus population to be understood from within the communisers' frame of reference if it both does not produce the world in which it is trapped and cannot produce a different world into which it might escape?
To put that question slightly differently, is it possible to theorise life in the diverticulum on other terms than as a problem to be resolved through activity? To do this, and screening out the underlying assumptions at the core of political economy, a more mythic (perhaps fictive or counterfactual) register of abstraction should be accessed so to gain another awareness of the process by which the outliers of surplus population are formed, maintained and intensified. Where everything of significance has been included, what does it feel like to live on the outside, in a state of dependency?
One is trying to get
the inside of what one is outside inside, and to
get inside the outside.
The expelled population is also exteriorised from its significance to economic process - it is qualitatively irrelevant. The status of the post-proletarianised human is quite distinct to that of those populations still yet to be incorporated in world production. Following the expulsion of labour, it as if vital peasant energy expropriated by industrial process has been used up and that, after all, human capacity is proved to be remarkably finite. The archipelago of redundant populations is characterised above all by an atmosphere somewhere between lassitude and exhaustion - something comparable to that of the 'air' attributed to the Marshalsea.
Whilst the surplus population retains some secondary function within the system and exerts a satellite's gravitational pull upon wage costs (as well as producing certain unregulated objects), this importance is not intrinsic to the population itself - it does not legally possess that which it sells. It is not in a position where it might withdraw its labour from the production of the world, but instead subsists in a condition where its capacity for labour has been permanently withdrawn from it.
However, as has been noted above, to this processive outcome there is also added a subjective component by which the surplus population also slams the door upon the possibility of its return to production. I have given the mythic designation 'negative outlier' to the complex of processive and subjective components which constitute surplus populations - outlier is a mathematical term taken up in a book by Malcolm Gladwell to present a theory of success (it is a book I have not read).
An outlier, on Gladwell's terms, is a figure whom, from an objectively generated and statistically exceptional position located at the far edge of ordinary social process, develops the capacity to dictate new terms to process and thereby modify the constraints of the life-world. The figure is not individually extraordinary so much as positionally unlikely. Where this improbability is combined with... hard work, certain outliers are enabled to undertake, in americanese, game-changing contributions.
We are already familiar with the processive constraints of stochastic selection in biological evolution, whereby a perpetual rain of randomly generated mutations at the level of the gene are generally ignored but are, upon very rare occasion, selected by the skewed requirements of fittedness for the life-world. We are already overly familiar with the refrain, many are called but few are chosen as a rationalisation of success. But then, the mechanism of success within fixed contexts has never been worthy of too much attention.
Of more interest are the deselected and expelled components of the labour process - and the crepuscular afterlife into which they are cast out. Like the outliers to which Gladwell refers, surplus populations, which are arranged like Saturn's rings about the core of capital's productive mechanism, solidify into blots on the landscape as a result of the blind distribution of resources - they do not become what they are as a result of any intrinsic characteristics.
A surplus population is not a surplus with regard to the absolute number of human beings in the world, it is not a matter of 'too many mouths to feed'. Living redundancy is an outcome of the means by which wealth is generated and distributed, the result of successive replacement of variable capital by fixed capital (of wage costs by technology)... surplus populations are expelled from the community of capital because it is technologically developing past the stage where such concentrations of labour power are necessary to it.
The economic mechanism by which a population becomes surplus has already been alluded to above - typically, capital flight from industrialised areas in pursuit of cheap labour induces a spiral of disinvestment and disadvantage in local communities where lost jobs are not replaced and entire populations become fixed into an environment characterised by habitual dependency upon extrinsic intervention for their survival.
Through the process of preferential attachment (with reference to the network effect) capital flees to where capital already is and away from where it isn't. The process resists all governmental interventions intended to reverse it - the continued impoverishment of the north in the UK relative to London and the South East is an illuminative example (capital flees south from 'traditional' industry towards finance, high tech and the housing boom.) It can be assumed that preferential attachment occurs without reference to rationality or decision. Or prejudice. It is an automated process of attraction and not deliberately directed against specific communities, even where this seems to be yet further evidence of ethnic or regional hostility.
The last phase of political consciousness available to surplus populations occurs in the form of a victim's allegation that someone is to blame - it is the last form, because it was also the first form... the critique of personalised power. However, whilst the expulsion of communities overlays existing social tensions around race and deprivation, the expulsion of labour from wealth production is an event which cannot be reversed by institutional intervention. The event of becoming surplus is an outcome seemingly always inflicted upon the same communities, but the process of expulsion of labour itself is driven by a blind necessity as the productive process seeks to universalise its internal congruency. The prolonged continuance of surplus populations indicates that a historical threshold has been passed and the labour-subject is abolished.
The lived outcome of preferential attachment is a constant over the long term: the poorest are further impoverished by capital flight whilst the wealth of the richest increases. This version of the distribution/attachment model is termed the Matthew effect, which places particular emphasis on the process by which further impoverishment occurs relative to further enrichment. A mutual and subjective intervention at the level of class composition feeds back from both sides into the process of exacerbating wealth inequalities... the wealthy construct fortresses around their gains whilst the excluded begin to positively identify with their exclusion.
Intellectually, at least, there is some resonance between the developmental logic of capital's expulsion of labour with the evolutionary process termed genetic drift. Where an environment passes into a state of addiction, or positive feedback, it begins to lose certain of its characteristics and becomes 'fixed', overspecialised and fragile. Capitalist society has lost much of its capacity for flexibility and although it has generated many innovations, these are all of a single type (for example, the command system of processes has become universally digitised). As Endnotes observe (cited above), 'Here the problem is not merely that product innovations have to emerge at an accelerated rate to absorb the surplus thrown off by process innovations, it is that an acceleration of product innovation itself gives rise to an acceleration of process innovation.'
Populations do not gain new alleles from the random sampling of alleles passed to the next generation, but the sampling can cause an existing allele to disappear. Because random sampling can remove, but not replace, an allele, and because random declines or increases in allele frequency influence expected allele distributions for the next generation, genetic drift drives a population towards genetic uniformity over time. [...] Once an allele becomes fixed, genetic drift comes to a halt, and the allele frequency cannot change unless a new allele is introduced in the population via mutation or gene flow. Thus even while genetic drift is a random, directionless process, it acts to eliminate genetic variation over time.
A historic threshold is crossed with the generalised expulsion of labour from the productive process, it is an event by which the general category of activity is torn from out of world production. The 'historic drift' which characterised the development of the capitalist mode of production has come to a halt, and is now 'fixed', with its core component, labour exteriorised (an example of what Nick Land calls a degenerative ratchet). According to the developmental logic of the productive relation, there is no means to reincorporate that which has been expelled. The transformed world which is the qualitative outcome of quantitative human activity is so altered that it has become unresponsive to all such activity. And yet, strangely, where 'an existing allele' may 'disappear' and be lost from the world forever, the embodied communities of expelled labour continue to subsist, accreted to the exterior of the productive system, increasing in number, spreading outwards.
The negative outlier communities forming around capital's periphery have achieved the communists' goal of a society where work is abolished but they have done so without accessing the marxists' transcendent category of for-itself activity, of which alienated labour is merely a temporary, historical guise. If, as marxists assert, the human domain is characterised by world-changing activity, then the formation of negative outlier communities, situated in a state of radical passivity, seems to indicate either a departure from the human or that activity is no longer the human community's definitive category.
It is strange, this holding on by marxists to the transhistorical category of purposeful action, which finds its historical culmination in the theory of communising activity. Strange, and becoming stranger, as 'activity' itself is left behind by a progressive tendency towards inaction and passivity amongst the proletariat. Where marxism has analysed labour as an alienated subcategory of activity in order that the ideal of activity for-itself might be retained as the means of transcending determinate conditions, the communities set in motion by the expulsion of labour come to perceive activity, all activity and especially self-liberatory activity, as yet another burdensome form of work.
Marxism is caught in a quandary: on what terms might it theorise unproductive populations and yet also retain a labour intensive (participation-heavy) ideal of world revolution? Political revolution now seems to imply a backward step to an earlier form of productive relation... it appears dependent upon the mass worker subject (already discounted by the critiques of bolshevism.) How can there be popular revolution, if the populace has no live involvement in the process of world-production? Is communisation really the means of social transformation?
The incongruity of communisation lies in its adherent's periodisation of the proletariat's political development from programmatism to autonomy and from autonomy to the objective necessity of communisation, even though communising activity, properly speaking is located much earlier on the timeline of productive relations, and not as its completion. Specifically, communisation was a historical method of work-activity correlative, and interchangeable with, the concept of bolshevisation. That is to say, communisation is not the historical form most appropriate to the expulsion of communities from the labour process but is 'genetically' fixed to an earlier version of the productive relation, and specifically to the USSR in the 1920's (as is recorded in novels such as Platonov's The Foundation Pit wherein the discourse is indistinguishable from that of the present day's 'communising tendency')
The developmental logic of negative outlier communities has taken a radical turn away from all forms of activity. They have become structurally intolerant to and incapable of receiving the message of communisation. It is unlikely that such communities have any active consciousness of communisation's tendency to result in the mass extermination of those who resist it (who amongst them has even heard of the Holodomor, the terror-famine?) but there is a structured aversion to all forms of motivational ideology, and a natural immunity to any further efforts of world-changing. There is an insuperable resistance within such communities, expressed as an inertia in relation to institutionalisation, to the discourse of the fanatic, of which they have already had a bellyful.
Then, they have turned away. Then, they are dependent on production but not of it. Then, a tidal causeway is the only means of approach. Then, they have undergone an irreversible mutation which renders them unresponsive to conscious participation in world-formation. Then, there is no message that will reach them. Then, they are founded on the principle of energy dissipation and not energy conservation. Then, they will never undertake an expropriative manoeuvre. Then, they will never return to the locus of production from which they have been expelled. Then, they will live another history, not belonging to the continuity of accumulated forces of production. Then, they will gradually shrink away to nothing as the lifelines which maintain them are severed, or. Then, they have turned towards another horizon and, having loosened existing ties are opened to receive some other, cosmic, influence. Then, they are not acting and nor are they being. Then, it is something else. Then, they are refugees but they are not waiting for the moment that they might return.
If the expulsion of labour indicates the historical juncture where the category of activity has become impossible and is suspended from its function as the defining principle of species being, then by what means other than activity will the human community realise itself? It is a question of fittedness to context: into what belonging is the community's belonging to be situated? Into which environmental mode of relating is humanity to fit? There is an analogy here between negative outlier communities and that tiny number of individuals defined by the theoretical break instigated by Nihilist Communism. On both scales, the globally generalised and the infinitesimal, the problem of 'reintegration' or belonging is initiated against a background of the objective impossibility of activity: to what greater world process is expelled labour to integrate, and to which communist tendency will the nihilist communists belong? Neither are in a position to return and yet both must belong to something greater than themselves, if only to the evolutionary dead-ends to which they are assigned, if only to the terms of their own disappearance. The negative outlier community terminates the criteria of what is to be done, and of what it is... its only concern is the nature of its belonging. Similarly, given the multiple and overlapping interdicts implied by nihilist communism, the problem its progeny set concerns how such individuals, and the burden of negation which they carry, might be included on their own terms within a communist grouping, even when these terms are the express intent of introducing the process innovation of mortality, the endgame, into the group form.