Sunday, October 16, 2011
For the sake of argument, I'll assume that this movement is basically aimed at transcending capitalism somehow. I'm aware that this is not a realistic assumption. The immediate demands of the movement have been for plausible reforms, while the long-term goals of the occupations have yet to be resolved. It's too early for that to have happened. But it's not possible to speak of strategy without assuming shared goals, so I'm assuming a shared commitment to some form of anticapitalist transition. Computing the possible scenarios for such a transition is not utopian thought, in the negative sense, but the most hard-headed labour of conceptualisation. It involves descending carefully from the most abstract hypotheses, through a series of mediations, to the most concrete determinations. At the most abstract level, this can include rigorous conceptual work on something as apparently esoteric as value theory. We saw with the (sometimes heated) discussion of Poulantzas that defining 'non-productive' labour with reference to the extraction of surplus value, and then deciding whether it belongs to the working class, has potentially profound political-strategic consequences. Negri's account of value and the concept of 'immeasurability' has a similar role in co-determining certain of his strategic orientations.
I say strategic thought is not utopian 'in the negative sense', because one of the authors best known for utopian thinking, William Morris, also put the same impulse to work in elaborating strategies for the transition to socialism. (Here I'm cribbing the discussion from Perry Anderson's Arguments Within English Marxism). Morris' work preceded the long strategic divide between revolutionaries and reformists, but the problems he addressed himself to were exactly those that would cause the divide, and he had sufficient foresight to see it coming. For the sake of brevity, I'll say that he generally (not without complexity) took the side of revolution in this debate. He argued that the structural unity of the capitalist order was such that it could not be gradually reformed out of existence. The parliamentary system, he suggested, could potentially be used by revolutionaries but would usually be of greater use in sustaining the 'fraud' of the rulers and securing the acquiescence of the ruled. And he argued that the capitalist state would have to be opposed by a counter-power, a commune, a Committee of Public Safety representing the combined power of the working class, forming a rising new pole of legitimate authority that can "be sure that its decrees will be obeyed" rather than those of Westminster. He thought it would be a violent process, largely because of the insurmountable opposition of the capitalist state. And he foresaw one of the most important conditions for revolution: the decomposition of the state in a situation of dual power, as sections of the army break away and support the revolutionary government.
I'll leave the thumbnail sketch of his views there, and just draw your attention to what I think anyone could learn from this. For what is at stake in Morris' exposition is a detailed, insightful analysis of the nature of the problem - class society, the capitalist mode of production, capitalist class power, state power, ideology, and their intersection - as well as of the possible agents of opposition (the working class and its allies), the potential forms of power that they might have (the commune, the Labour Combination, the Committee of Public Safety) and the difficulties they could face (ideological illusions, poor leadership, a greatly superior opponent, etc). And while Morris doesn't himself subject each plank of his thinking to exacting critical enquiry, nor press his analyses to the most abstract points - it's a piece of futurology, not sociology - those organising for the anticapitalist transition would necessarily have to develop a rigorous body of analysis along those lines. That's what the project of historical materialism, and the profusion of strategic concepts such as 'hegemony', the 'united front', and so on, is essentially about.
So, we have a movement that is undertaking a great challenge, that of creating a viable movement to create a viable, systemic alternative to capitalism. It is not committed to a single route to that end. This is no disadvantage in itself for the time being - it is only disadvantageous if the question of strategy is neglected when it needs to be debated. But the methods of organising being settled on, the assemblages of agents organised around them, and the manner of their inclusion, do bear a strategic freight. Implicitly, for example, the decision to occupy a public space and 'reclaim' it is an attempt to create a form of direct democracy that recognises the undemocratic nature of the capitalist state. Or, again implicitly, the fact that these germinal communes are being created in squares and not in workplaces indicates that, whether or not class is recognised as a central antagonism behind this struggle, productive relations do not form a direct strategic locus for the organisers There are a number of similarly implicit strategic arguments one could draw out from this movement and its tactics thus far. But the point is that it remains implicit as yet. The issues will become more explicit as the agenda of the movement advances, its problems become more complex, and the conditions of viable unity are more and more urgently on the agenda.