In all honesty, I have not read another journal in the last several years which has excited me so much. All the essays were characterized by a lucidity and concreteness which I found refreshing. In addition, there is a marked tendency to do several things that I like a great deal: 1) focus on the activity of the class rather than sniping at "left" groups (while recognizing that they all want to put people to "work" !); 2) connect the activity of the class to changes in the political-economic organization of society in a concrete fashion; 3) attempt to draw out from various struggles the significant common elements; 4) -understand the class in terms of its own activity, rather than some external standard; 5) avoid the usual prattle about "revolutionary class consciousness"; 6) understand the class as a product of its own activity as well as a product of social conditions. These features I found common to all the articles. I also have some criticisms that apply to all of the first issue.
The main problem is the notion that Capital has a "strategy" and the working class has one as well. You are not the first people tc talk in such terms, and I have always been somewhat uneasy with this idea. To a large extent, capitalism still operates "behind the backs' of active human agents. The notion of "strategy" as a coherent plar made in advance and then put into operation implies more control and volition than I think exists today.
It seems to me that there are two sides to this problem, theoretical one and a practical one. On the level of theory, the notior of strategy (unless it is made much more precise) flies in the face o Marx's argument that one of the fundamental features of the capitalist mode of production is the lack of conscious collective contro of the economy exercised by the capitalists. The laws of the systerr express themselves through competition: all decisions are modifiec after the fact, i.e. through the exchange of commodities on the market after they have been produced. If you want to argue that this no longer characterizes the capitalist mode of production, or that it has been seriously modified—both in itself and in relations to other features of the system—this has to be done explicitly and rigorously. I would still argue that this feature of the system as a whole, both within the national context and on a worldwide basis, still holds sway. I am not saying that we must be true to Marx for the sake of "purity"; rather, if we wish to move beyond his analysis (and in some areas we must), this must be done openly and systematically. Domestically and internationally, capitalism is still marked by disproportions, over-production, over-accumulation, wasted labor, and so on. It can only regulate itself through the market—which implies a belatednessto every "strategy," even more so, perhaps, at the present level of the development of the productive forces.
On the practical level: if you wish to argue that Capital has a strategy, you must specify how this strategy is formulated and who is doing it. Here we run into the questions of the state, the multinational corporations, etc. The relationships among the various capitalist agencies and institutions must be spelled out, along with the process by which decisions relating to this strategy can be implemented on a systemic level. The implication of the Carpignano essay, at least, is that the state is the locus of this strategy. To the contrary, I see the state still as a dependent factor in the capitalist system (private capitalism, that is; the question of state capitalism remains unclear): while it has a vision of the needs of the system as a whole, it can only operate within clearly defined limits. (Here I urge you to read Paul Mattick's Marx and Keynes: The Limits of the Mixed Economy.) The state must function as a prop of the private sector, trying to support the production of surplus value in that sector while also absorbing the surplus working population which is no longer needed in that sector. But in performing the latter task, it must be careful not to compete with the private sector; and while remaining a prop for the private sector, it can also not help becoming a drain on the social surplus value produced in that sector. To argue that the state—or capital—has a strategy would imply an understanding of the foundations of the capitalist mode of production (in particular, the sources of profit) that is clearly beyond the scions of capital
. As for the working class having a strategy, many of the above criticisms are also appropriate. Here again we must be precise: what is the aim of this strategy? What are the means it recognizes as the path to those aims? Where and how is this strategy formulated? How is this strategy then generalized throughout the class? On the first two questions: I think we can safely argue that there has been a unifying thrust to much working class activity in the past decade—an attempt to increase income without performing more work. The means, of course, are strikes, slowdowns, sit-ins at welfare offices, sabotage, etc. But can we call this a strategy? I lean toward the notion of a thrust of activity: longrun goals are seldom articulated or clear, relationships between goals and means are not explicitly recognized (the sources for no small part of the activity described in ZEROWORK is not always an attempt either to increase income or decrease productivity), and the implications of all this—that to realize the goal of a total separation of work and income would mean the end of the capitalist system as we now know it— are not seen. Finally, I am politically uncomfortable with the notion of "strategy" in relation to the working class because it can so easily be used to justify the specialized activity of a specific group of people—those who will formulate the strategy for the class. This is not to argue that your analysis includes or implies the existence or the attempt to bring into existence such a group. For me, the proletariat movement develops itself through its successes and failures, through accumulated experiences, new social relationships, and new sets of ideas. This process is far from resting at any sort of final stage now. Individuals or groups of individuals may be able to articulate a strategy now, both for the short- and the long-run. However, no matter how directly this is linked to the experience of the class, this can only remain partial and incomplete. To freeze it is to turn this strategy first into a "program" and second into an ideology. And this can only become a stumbling block to future self-development of the proletarian movement. I am not arguing that you are doing this—if I thought so I wouldn't be writing this letter. Rather, I simply want to point out what strikes me as a potential political danger in this sort of analysis.
Another problem in ZEROWORK is the over-emphasis on money and work in the depiction of working class struggle. Much more attention must be paid to the self-organization of these struggles, to the new social relationships and ties developed in them, and to the movement towards the "autonomy" of the class. The struggles must be placed in a framework larger than the workplace, namely, capitalist (or bourgeois) culture as a whole, as well as working class culture, if there is still such an animal. Some people have said to me that the struggles described in ZEROWORK fit within the "consumerist" logic of the system. Now, I don't think so, but this is a problem that should be confronted. Where, how, do these struggles threaten to "burst the integument" of the system as a whole? What are the possible dangers of the recuperation of the system? What new relationships do the struggles imply between "work" and "leisure?" And so on. Are there limits to workers' demands for more income?
I really do have to end here. I look forward to your collective responses to these issues.
Fraternally, Pete Rachleff Pittsburgh
I think you must consider very closely the meaning and implications of the statement on page 4 that "the struggle has obliterated any distinction between politics and economics, the distinction that previous phases dominated conceptions of a revolutionary organization." I think this particular statement is vital because it encapsulates the substantive position and the tasks of ZEROWORK and many others. I don't think the articles show how the class struggle has brought about this obliteration: what I think they do is present analytical material in terms of which the relation of politics and economics can be understood concretely in this particular phase. Or if these terms will not suffice, they show how the real development of the class struggle has long superseded the categories through which it was concretely understood by the Second International and provide the materials for developing new categories for grasping "particularity" and "generality" in the present phase.
Your remark on politics and economics would be OK in my view if you went on to say that the struggle has created new distinctions which have yet to be overcome in theory and in practice. For if no"distinctions" exist, then the most immediate struggle of the class becomes a struggle against the capitalist mode of production as such. What is required is more than an "abstract" statement about the wage being a political as well as economic instrument of class oppression. The wage has always been an instrument of "political" control: once you escape from an objectivist understanding of economic categories, this is perfectly clear. The wage struggle always carries, therefore, a qualitative as well as a quantitative dimension. In the last phase of struggle this has become critical as the quantitative struggle could only succeed as a qualitative struggle which freed the wage from productivity. In turn, this meant challenging accumulation as the independent variable and substituting the wage—as a use-value—in its place. But does this development move the wage struggle from the sphere of economics to the sphere of politics, obliterating the distinction between the two? I think not: what I think it does is posit the economic content of political struggle —which the left has been quite unable to understand mainly because it is part of the crisis and not part of the struggle. In general, then, the articles in ZEROWRK present the materials through which the problem of political organization for revolutionary class struggle can be posed again concretely in terms specific to this phase. In other words, I see ZEROWORK and the other various initiatives around as reopening the classic questions of revolutionary theory and rescuing them from the limbo of sectarianism. To do this openly really does mean making some enemies, and there are tactical reasons why this might be difficult. But not doing so also has its price.
Let me add that my hesitation about the use of the concepts of composition/recomposition stems precisely from this point: that precisely because the categories embrace the totality of the struggle in it historical movement they can all too easily obscure the mediations of its elements at any particular phase in the movement. We need to be quite clear in the description of the crisis of Keynesianism, for it appears that the collapse of Keynesianism, brought about in the most general terms through a contradiction between workers needs and the methods capital imposed on the class for the satisfaction of those needs, has actually left capital without a strategy. In other words, its various tactical responses—unemployment, cuts in the social wage, runaway shops, etc.—do not add up to a process through which working class struggles can be assimilated and transformed into a motor of capitalist development. Then, is the next phase of capitalism going to be one of chronic disequilibrium in which the various tactics adopted by capital—such as high organic capital development and high wages— don't constitute a coherent strategy in the Keynesian sense, but nevertheless cohere: an equilibrium of disequilibria? Are we entering a phase in which crisis is not just a tactic deployed by capital in order to instigate a recomposition, but a mode of existence of capitalism? This is really germane to your thesis: if it was through and against the Keynesian strategy that the class was able to develop an autonomy that generalized its particular struggles (obliterated the distinction between politics and economics), then the tactic of capitalist response is inevitably one of disaggregation. Moreover, it is perhaps possible that what the last phase had done is to deny capital the use of an explicit coherent strategy for some considerable period. Somebody once told me that Thomas Mann remarked that ambiguity was the highest achievement of the bourgeois mind: is it possible that what is now called crisis is their new strategy and that the bastards are perfectly equipped to manage it for a good few years to come?