This issue of Endnotes has been a long time coming. Its publication was delayed due to experiences and conversations that compelled us to clarify our analyses, and at times to wholly rework them. Many of the articles in this issue are the products of years of discussion. Some articles spilled over into such lengthy pieces that we had to split the issue in two. Endnotes 4 will therefore be forthcoming, not in another three years, but rather, in the next six months. Here, by way of explanation for the delay, we describe some of the questions and quandaries that gave birth to this issue and the next.
The first two issues of Endnotes called for a renewed focus on the struggles of our times, unencumbered by the dead weight of outmoded theories. However, we ourselves provided little analysis of struggles. Partly, that was because class conflict was at a low ebb at the time we were writing, and that made flights of abstraction more attractive. But it was also because we didn’t know what we wanted to say about the struggles that were ongoing, and we thought it best not to pretend otherwise. We began this journal as a place for the careful working out of ideas. We didn’t want to rush to conclusions for the sake of being topical.
That said, the milieu of which we form a part — the so-called communising current — did offer an analysis of struggles, which we found attractive.
Participants in the milieu observed that, even in factory struggles, the re-emergence of an affirmable working class identity seemed to be off the table: workers were self-organising, but without illusions about the revolutionary potential of such self-organisation. For example, in certain factories — in South Korea, in France, in the US, and elsewhere — workers took over their workplaces, not in order to run them on their own, but rather, to demand better severance pay. Meanwhile, many struggles were erupting outside of the workplace — concerning students, the unemployed, racialised minorities — with no interest in finding their way in. Workers in what were once bastions of working class strength (industry, construction, mining and utilities) could no longer offer up their struggles as a container for the needs of the class as a whole. Struggles over “reproduction” were supplanting those over “production”, even if the former seemed to lack the power vis-à-vis capital historically wielded by the latter.
The communising current also provided the following analysis of these struggles. They seem to hobble forward on two legs. Their first leg is the limit of struggle: acting as a class means having no horizon outside of the capital–labour relation. Their second leg is the dynamic: class belonging is then experienced as an “external constraint”, as something to be overcome. In the anti-globalisation movement, the dynamic of class struggle became autonomous from the struggle itself: the abandonment of a class position served as the basis from which to attack capital. The present crisis was supposed to force the legs of class struggle to walk together. Struggles were expected to re-emerge within the workplace, around a structurally “illegitimate” wage-demand.1 The forms that had characterised class struggle since the restructuring (radical democratism, activism) were to be overcome in a return to basics: abandoning a class position, from within the workplace, was going to be possible only as the generalised overcoming of class society.
That wasn’t what happened. Instead we got the Arab Spring, Indignados, Occupy, Taksim, as well as plenty of riots. As we discuss in “The Holding Pattern”, in this issue, these struggles seemed more like a transformation of the anti-globalisation movements, as well as their extension to a wider portion of the population. That is not to say that recent struggles undermined the theory of communisation (or that dynamic struggles won’t re-emerge within the workplace). Much about these movements confirmed the communising perspective: an intensification of struggle was not associated with the return of a workers’ identity. As we argue, it was precisely the unavailability of a constituting identity — around the working class or otherwise — that was at play in the dynamics of the movement of squares.
In light of these struggles, it seems clear that now is not the time for pronouncements, but rather careful analysis. In Endnotes 1 and 2 we tried to dismantle the twin traps set for us at the end of the last century: tendencies either (1) to stray from an analysis of capital’s self-undermining dynamic, in order to better focus on class struggles occurring outside of the workplace, or else (2) to preserve an analysis of crisis tendencies, but solely in order to cling to the notion that the workers’ movement is the only truly revolutionary form of class struggle. We managed to evade these traps, towing along some meagre analytical tools. Now is the time to put those tools to work, to try to understand the new sequence of struggles in its unfolding. We must be open to the present — its tendency to surprise us, to force us to reconsider every supposedly fixed truth — while remaining intransigent about the revolution as communisation: there will be no theoretical compromises.
Endnotes 2 emphasized the role of surplus populations: populations with tenuous connections to waged labour. Surplus populations have been expanding due to a secular decline in the demand for labour, attendant on a reactivation of the contradiction of capitalist society. This social form, based on the centrality of labour, undermines that centrality over time. Capitalist growth thus undoes the terms of the relation on which it is grounded: the production of surplus populations alongside surplus capital is the final result of the immediate process of production.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the surplus population is going to become a new revolutionary subject. On the contrary, the growth of surplus populations undermines the consistency of the revolutionary subject, as such. It is no longer possible to see capital as a mode of production with a future, integrating more and more people into it through “development”, i.e. industrialisation. Instead, the industrial working class is shrinking, almost everywhere. The workers’ movement, which previously organised itself around the hegemonic figure of the semi-skilled worker, can no longer provide consistency to the class. Nor can any other subject present itself as the bearer of an affirmable future.
The growth of surplus populations is precisely the disintegration, the decomposition of the class. Thus, the surplus population is not affirmable — not only because it is a position of subjective destitution, or abjection — but also because it is massively internally differentiated within itself. More than that: its growth is the increasing differentiation of the class as a whole. What role do surplus populations play in struggles, today? “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats”, in this issue, provides a case study of the 2010–11 British anti-austerity movement and riots and enquires into the empirical applicability of the “surplus population” category.
Since the publication of our last issue, “Communisation and the Abolition of Gender” appeared in the anthology Communization and its Discontents.2 This text was the product of a ripening debate with Théorie Communiste, which has since turned a little rotten.
In their attempt to reconcile a feminist dual-systems approach with their previously elaborated theory, TC got lost in a debate with themselves about how many contradictions there are in modern society. For us, it makes no more sense to speak of a contradiction between workers and capital than it does to speak of one between men and women. In fact, the only “contradiction between” is the one with which Marx begins volume one of Capital, namely, the contradiction between use value and exchange value.3 Ultimately, capitalist social relations are contradictory because they are based around the exchange of equivalent values — measured by the socially necessary labour time of their production — and, at the same time, they undermine that basis, since they tend to displace human labour from the production process (that expresses itself, paradoxically, as overwork for many and un- or underemployment for others).
The economy is thus a social activity that is based on a logical contradiction, which unfolds, in time, as unfreedom, as a practical impossibility for human beings to be what they must be: “The working population therefore produces both the accumulation of capital and the means by which it is itself made relatively superfluous; and it does this to an extent which is always increasing.”4 This contradiction gives rise to multiple antagonisms, within capitalist societies, of which the class antagonism is one. Others exist around: race, gender, sexuality, nation, trade or skill, religious faith, immigration status, and so on. It would be impossible to think all the antagonisms of capitalist society if antagonism and contradiction were not clearly demarcated (otherwise it would be necessary to come up with a different contradiction for every antagonism).
The point is that social antagonisms, in capitalist society, are articulated and rearticulated in relation to capital’s contradictory logic. As “The Logic of Gender” demonstrates, in this issue, gender in capitalist societies is constructed around the distinction of spheres, one of which we call “directly market-mediated” and the other “indirectly market-mediated”. This distinction is not separate from class society. Instead, it is fundamental to the production of value. The capitalist mode of production could not exist without a distinction of spheres, which until now has never been rigorously defined. In this issue, we devote ourselves to a clarification of concepts, to understanding the basis and transformation of the gender relation in capitalist society. This clarification allows us to better grasp the processes of de-naturalisation of gender — what Butler calls its troubling — as well as the complex dynamics, first, of gender’s ongoing deconstruction (the loosening of compulsory heterosexuality, the possibility of affirming gender-queer and trans-identities) and, second, gender’s constant re-imposition, especially in light of the recent crisis and austerity measures.
This interest in gender is part of a more general theoretical turn. The workers’ movement privileged the class antagonism above all others because it saw the working class as the future of humanity — if only it could be freed from its connection to capital. The affirmation of class identity was supposed to be the only possible basis on which to overcome capitalism. Insofar as workers self-identified along other lines, that was considered a false-consciousness, which was opposed to a true, class-consciousness. The effect of this orientation was often to emphasize the struggles of certain workers (white, male, citizen) over others within the class. Equally, that pushed the struggles of those “others” into channels where they ended up replicating the productivist perspective of the workers’ movement: women demanded that their labours in the home be recognised as productive, via the wage; formerly colonised populations undertook their own programs of heavy industrialisation, with all that that entailed, namely, a vast toll of human suffering.
In spite of all that, participants in the workers’ movement expected that other forms of identity — non-class based identity — would disappear with the further development of the productive forces. The movement described non-class identities as atavistic holdovers from earlier modes of production. There was no need to consider them as anything other than moribund. But capitalist social relations do not necessarily undermine non-class forms of identity. On the contrary, capitalist social relations transform, or even modernise, at least some of those identities. To be done with the workers’ movement — to recognise that there is no longer a class fraction that can hegemonise the class — means that it is necessary to rearticulate the relation between class and non-class identities. “The Gender Logic” is part of this theoretical effort. Chris Chen’s “The Limit Point of Capitalist Equality”, an intake in this issue, is another.
It is imperative to abandon three theses of Marxism, drawn up in the course of the workers’ movement: (1) that wage-labour is the primary mode of survival within capitalist societies, into which all proletarians are integrated over time, (2) that all wage-labourers are themselves tendentially integrated into industrial (or really subsumed) work processes, that homogenise them, and bring them together as the collective worker, and (3) that class consciousness is thus the only true or real consciousness of proletarians’ situations, in capitalist societies. None of these theses have held true, historically.
On the one hand, many proletarians lived out large parts of their lives outside of the capital–labour relation, languishing in the home as housewives. On the other hand, in workplaces, capital profited from the employment of workers who were not formally free (or not entirely so): slaves, “natives”, the undocumented, women. In the course of the twentieth century, “race” continued to play a major role in determining who would be formally free, who would get work, and especially, who would get “good” work when it was available. Processes of racialisation and abjection have been intensified — though also transformed — during this period of the disintegration of the capital–labour relation, when many proletarians find themselves excluded, partially or fully, from that relation.
In “Logistics, Counterlogistics and the Communist Prospect”— another intake in this issue — Jasper Bernes argues that the global restructuring of capitalist production, in our times, is capital’s response to a situation in which labour has become super-abundant: capital leverages huge wage differentials across the globe, in order to reduce costs and control outbreaks of labour unrest. Supply chains exist largely because capital makes use of them to arbitrage labour markets. For that reason, the logistical infrastructure provides no prospects of a new collective worker appearing on a global scale. It has, rather, undermined such a possibility, by further fragmenting the working class. Bernes thus concludes that supply chains are strategic objects of contemporary struggles only insofar as they may be interrupted.
Bernes’s article is in part a response to Alberto Toscano, who has criticised the “partisans of communisation” in several recent pieces. He accuses them of lacking a properly strategic orientation, that is, an orientation towards doing whatever “needs to be done to prepare the kinds of subjects that might take communising action”.5 For Toscano, there is a lot of preparatory work to do: for example, we need to figure out how to read the logistical infrastructure, not as something that needs to be torn down, but rather, as a site of “anti-capitalist solutions”.6 Since the communising current lacks a positive conception of how to get out of capitalist society (that is, other than abstractly negating that society) Toscano has called it an “intransitive politics”, and he links this perspective, symptomatically, to a lack of a strategic thinking.7 With this label, Toscano elides two ideas, one concerning the transition from revolution to communism (the “transitional state”), and the other concerning the transition from present-day struggles to revolution (“transitional demands”). With respect to the latter, it is of course true that the revolution will not fall from the sky. It will not come from nowhere and suddenly be everywhere. If revolution is to emerge at all, it will do so only in response to the limits that actual struggles confront, in the course of their unfolding. The rupture must be a produced rupture. That is the “transitive” position that Endnotes has put forward since its inception.
But that position is precisely the one Toscano rejects. For Toscano does not see how it is possible for revolution to emerge out of the limits of present-day struggles. He cannot lay “all trust in a kind of learning-by-doing that seems wantonly indifferent to the gargantuan obstacles in the way of negating capital”; with respect to that negation, “you can’t make it up as you go along”; and again, “the path is not made by walking it”.8 Apparently, the path will have to be made by individuals who are able — somehow — to chart out the way for proletarians to take, in advance. Here, we enter the cunning world of the strategists.
In “Spontaneity, Mediation, Rupture”, in this issue, we attempt to reconceive the relation between struggle and revolution through a re-articulation of central concepts from the history of revolutionary theory. An open-ended approach to struggle is necessary, one that is neither carelessly dismissive nor naïvely affirmative. Class struggle is not simply the site of a spasmodic reaction to capital’s impositions, but the place where the contradictions of capitalism play out, in ways that are immanent to proletarian experience. It is only in the course of intensifying struggles that the strategic questions of an era can be asked and answered, in a concrete way; only here that tactics, strategies and forms of organisation — and even the meaning of communism itself — can take concrete shape. Strategies emerge as responses to the specific limits of a sequence of struggles. They cannot be imposed from the outside.9
Endnotes 3 thus tries to fashion tools with which to talk about present-day struggles — in their own terms, with all their contradictions and paradoxes brought to light, rather than buried. The question remains, how do those struggles relate to revolution? Here, we insist: revolution is a possible outcome of struggles today, but only as communisation. That’s because the revolution will have to be the abolition of the value form, for that form is no longer a viable way to organise our existence. Direct human labour accounts for a diminishing portion of social production, while an imposing mass of technologies and infrastructures, destroying the ecological conditions of human life on earth, confronts us as the primary force in social life. Yet the buying and selling of labour still structures every aspect of our lives, and capital remains our main mode of interaction with one another. How might we actually get on without it? There are no easy answers — especially considering that the reproduction of each of us, today, depends on a productive apparatus flung far across the continents. The question of revolution is nonetheless still posed — abstractly, speculatively, but necessarily so — by the contradictory character of the central relation on which society pivots. And this question can only begin to approach concretion in struggles themselves.