Monday, 6 September 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

"There are two kinds of people in the world, those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.”

Reading G.M. Tamas's article 'The Truth About Class' (pdf here), for whom there are two kinds of communists: Roussean socialists, who believe in the intrinsic goodness of the people (including in these are the unlikely bedfellows of EP Thompson, Mauss, Bataille, and Polanyi), and actual communists, who believe in the self-abolition of the proletariat as only a class of capitalism. Tamas himself is a rare case of a dissident from neo-liberalism to communism, and brings a robust clarity to his rare apostasy.
Now I should be type 2, but find myself often falling into type 1... (perhaps especially in my (non)-participation in the debate over the right to work slogan.

A few points disputing the clean lines of Tamas's division. First, the idea that type 1 (Roussean) involves a return to 'simpler and transparent' relations wouldn't hold up, for anthropological reasons, in the case of Mauss and Bataille. Gift economies are at least as complex, if not more, than capitalist economies, and perhaps one of the attractions of capitalist economies is that they remove all the 'messy' temporal negotiations of gift economies, gratitude, charity etc. (which often take malignant 'caste' forms of condescension - Maria Edgeworth's remarks on the need for gratitude get caught up in this very unpleasant 'economy', when it comes to servants and slaves - and Edgeworth is by no means the worst example of such problems).

Second I think Tamas lines up too clear a division of piling class malignancy onto 'pre-capitalist' caste relations. While I wouldn't want to defend the intrinsic 'goodness' of the people, nor deny the imbrication of the working class as class of capitalism, I do think he underestimates how capitalism parasites on and generates a new discourse of 'canailles'. To defend equality, to defend the fact that the working class aren't stupid, etc., may not be 'Marxist' per se but it a necessary task.
This leads to the major problem of the assumption of the emergence of a 'pure capitalism' that throws workerism/Roussean socialism into crisis and paves the way for true Marxism. This of course makes sense in terms of the crisis of social democracy, the affirmation of the worker etc. (and chimes with Theorie Communiste's theorisation that such affirmations belong to the stage of formal subsumption / 'programmatism' in the stage of real subsumption, and are now obsolete in true real subsumption). I think the question here lies on the 'purity' of that 'pure capitalism', to repeat/iterate the point above. If social democracy is dead, for example, it doesn't seem to be dead for the banks, and the assumption that the ground is clear for true Marxism doesn't seem to be yielding the results one would suppose, as Tamas, being a clear-sighted and logical thinker, concedes.
Therefore, perhaps especially in the case of crisis, I think a necessary tense and contradictory inhabiting of these two tendencies might be possible: a defence of past gains, without seeing these as Marxist, rather 'true socialism', and a re-tooling of the self-abolition thesis that does not conform to capitalism's current round of devalorisation.
On the ground then, a defence of job security, and work as possibility against devalorisation / attacks / neo-liberal re-organisation, coupled with taking the opportunity, as Nina rightly suggests, to re-think work/value/accumulation.
A fudge then...


it said...

A fudge indeed. I've been reefed (beached? moored?) on the humanist/anti-humanist - subject of history/subject of capital - labour as productive/refusal of work thing for years now, as is manifestly clear (in its unclearness) in everything I try and write about these things. Hoping to solve the problem by roughly 2013, at which point the world would have hopefully ended anyway. Good to see you the other day.

Benjamin said...

good to see you too, and I like the five year plan (should be AHRC funded....), as philosophers we certainly don't want to be in the solution business, how vulgar...