Concrete communism & the problem of the cell and the new organism

workeroftheworlduniteThere is an interesting article on the The Commune website about theorising and imagining a post-capitalist society – take a peek over here. I agree with the emphasis the author has on the problem of labour, abstract labour in particular.  At the end of the piece they point out the implication – “So one of the most fundamental tasks we face today, I believe, is to work out how to create the social conditions such that each hour of labor will really count as equal – beginning on the day after the revolution” and it does seem that this is a two-fold task.

How exactly does a system of equal concrete labour value work. In this regard I think it is worth looking to some of the experiences of people living together and trying to forge models that work.  For example, this article about the Twin Oaks community in the US has some interesting hints at the concrete practical experiments done to create an equal labour model:

There’s no getting away from the fact that when talking about communism one of the first questions that arises, once you get beyond complete rejection, is ‘how will it work’ and often the responses seem unsatisfactory.  It’s interesting to note, of course, how the Twin Oaks model uses B.F.Skinner as a theoretical background.

So on the one hand we might suggest that the commune is the space in which the problem of concrete labour will be solved.  Concrete labour needs to be a human relation, a direct relation to the people and needs that make up our lives. On the other hand it seems like you don’t or can’t simply abolish abstract labour.

There is an interesting comment to the article by Mike Macnair.  He suggests that, so far, capitalism has not fully socialised labour.  This implies that the transition to the post-capitalist situation will have to deal with the fact that “substantial parts of the productive economy and larger amounts of indispensable information and skills remain *actually* controlled by petty proprietors (family farmers, small businesses, techies, managers, bureaucrats, etc)”.  To the extent that there is specialisation and ‘expertise’ or ‘control’ that depends upon the specific concrete individual the socialisation of labour that is central to capitalism is incomplete.  The paradox is that this specialisation is a remnant of concrete labour within capitalism.  It’s value is not wholly governed by the laws of abstract labour, which is abstract precisely because it is given value on the criteria of ‘socially necessary labour time’.  Rather it’s value depends upon the concrete individual who possesses the specialised knowledge (skill) or means of production, the two often intertwined inextricably.  This intertwining is apparent in the way in which production depends upon a degree of knowledge, of skill or attunement.  It’s not hard to conceive this entwinement, we simply have to think about the idea of the person who is ‘indispensable’.  To be an indispensable worker is to be a concrete worker and the realities of this can be quite complex, which is one of the reasons why a whole range of activities require apprenticeship as a mode of entry rather than simple qualification.   This presents a problem in so far as the social product of the specialised concrete worker is under individual control and as such can be used to, put crudely, ‘extort’ extra value from society.  Within the realm of the law of the value-form this is of course a mode of resistance but only because it is a mode of resistance to the social as it stands.   When the very form of the social is in transition, how would that society deal with this particular type of concrete labour, since it cannot simply repress it, not least because the very goal of the new society is to enable labour to become concrete once more rather than abstract.  The tension lies between the need to return labour to being concrete value and at the same time socially organising the satisfaction of need through a ‘social distribution of labour products’.

To that extent Mike is right to point to the problems of the incomplete socialisation of labour under currently existing capitalism.  Whilst the former task (implementing concrete labour, without which equal social relations seem inconceivable) might require the commune as its mode of reality (“The commune is the elementary unit of resistance reality“) the latter task (implementing socially distributed labour products) points to the problem of the wider organism within which those communes operate.  We can imagine local communisms quite easily, as communes suggest, the difficulty is in imagining the interactions between the ‘cells’ of the new society.  Here the great problem, it seems, is in replacing one type of cell (commodity) with the other (commune) as the ground of the new organism (communism).  Commodities have their mode of interaction and unification in their essence; it works without us and beyond us.  That’s a material model, no need for ideas to operate at all.  In a model of a post-capitalist society it seems like the problem is in finding this type of material connection between the cells of the new society, the new organism, the market being a ‘solution’ only in so far as it’s possible to resist the return of exchange value, a possibility that seems quite difficult to conceptualise precisely because ‘the market’ (as a global form) brings back, or at least allows back in, abstract labour.  If we rely upon some sort of idea (do the right thing, be nice) then a moral code of sacrifice is in effect the solution being proposed, a model that is fundamentally problematic, not only because of it’s religious roots but also because of its tension with the goal of freedom.

The advantage capitalism had is that no-one ever deliberately tried to create it.  It simply grew.  This is one of the reasons, I would argue, that the model of the organism is so central to the way in which Marx poses the value-form and its universalisation.  The problem of communism, one posed most acutely in the problem of the immediate post-capitalist moment, is that it is the first time a conscious attempt to form society on a positive, human basis is attempted.  Marx recognises that material genesis of capitalism as rooted in the productive relations, yet the standard model of communism is its implementation through a political genesis and this is to invert the materialist framework.  Yet the fact that communism is to be a conscious human society suggests that this is a necessary fact, not a contingent one.  Communism doesn’t simply grow into being, unbless you’re happy to rest on a crude economic determinism which allows no reality to the political.  Communism has to be created.  The problem is that while it may be a necessary condition that communism has to be created through a political act it is plainly not a sufficient one as well.   Whilst the necessary conditions of communism and a post-capitalist society are political, what exactly are the sufficient conditions?

trtsky bourgeoisie are punks

Article written by

philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

2 Responses

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  1. Miguel
    Miguel at |

    This is an interesting topic, you somehow are able to pinpoint the problems of the Left and Right and yet you still leave the topic open, unbiased, i think you are a great thinker. But after reading this there are things im not getting. for example: what do you mean by capitalism not fully socializing labor? and why is this central to capitalism? I thought that people in a capitalist society thrive on innovation, and this is spilling with abstract thought. That is, in order to innovate, abstract thought has to be present. Or what am I not getting?
    I dare to say that abstract thought exists in its own way to each and everyone of us eternally. Therefore abstract thought cannot comply with the most fundamental task you mention: to make social conditions such that each hour of labor should count as equal, because abstract thinking will always emerge returning to individual grounds. Otherwise stop feeding the mind with new thoughts or imaginations and accept social norms without questioning it.
    An idea I keep thinking is why not make a standard way of living such as a nice house with sufficient needs for a family of say 4 to 6 as a worldly infrastructure, yet whoever wants more, should work harder to get, and if this ambition fails, you could always return to the original infrastructure. But i know you can already see the contradictions in this idea. Well anyways this was an interesting article and all i can say is that in trying to understand and fix the problems of hate and war on earth, we slowly reach peace and equality for all.

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

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