This is a very interesting text that provides a detailed account of the December “riots” in Greece and attempts to draw lessons from it that go beyond the specifically Greek context. There is a great deal in it with which we in IP agree: a call for the abolition of the value form and wage labor; the rejection of the unions and of self-management; the need for class unity (involving different strata of the collective worker (our term), full time, part-time, students, immigrants, illegals, etc., across racial or ethnic lines; most important a rejection of the fetish of legality or respect for capitalist property, public or private; a need to spread the struggle beyond sectoral or national frontiers; a clear sense that within the framework of the value form, there is only one direction that society can take: a course towards growing barbarism.
But we also have disagreements on two important issues.
First, on Blaumachen’s view of destruction as capable of creating the conditions for the necessity of communism, because “generalized destruction would make it impossible to go back”. There is a focus on destruction of “buildings, means of production, networks of distribution,” as vital to the class struggle. Woland is not talking about the destruction that capital brings in its wake and imposes on the collective worker, but about the destruction wrought by the proletariat in struggle, which involves “the destruction of the urban space. “The abolition of value necessarily begins with the destruction of things”, Woland writes. Not the destruction of the value form, or the state apparatus, but the destruction — not the expropriation/appropriation/seizure — of the productive apparatus by the collective worker. Isn’t that appropriation the step that becomes revolutionary, as opposed to burning or looting stores? And that quite apart from how capital can and does use the images of destruction to win popular support for its own violence. It is true that pillage can transform commodities into use-values (the text on Chile in the last IP is an illustration of that, and it should not need an earthquake to provoke such action), but pillage can also be either an orgy of destruction or the looting of goods for re-sale and individual profit, which Woland does not criticize (contrary to the text on Chile). One can understand rage, more so in the case of the précaires or sans papiers than the student perhaps, but is this in itself the way forward, tactically or strategically? The idea that the class that is responsible for the production of life in all its facets can and should seize the apparatus within which it is compelled by capital to labor, not burn it down, seems entirely absent here.
The value-form is a social relation, not “things”. Destroying things is not necessarily a blow to the value-form. And while we agree that the practical destruction of the value-form does not begin after the revolution but through it, we disagree with the view that this takes the form of a mere destruction of things. Especially not since capital, at this time of massive overaccumulation, is itself bent on a course of increasing destruction of things (of superfluous value).
The other issue is the rejection of demand struggles, which, in Woland’s view, are condemned to be unionist struggles, even when unions are absent. Still, he states, “we participate in demand struggles that concern us” because “by their failure”, they create the conditions to go beyond unionism.
Our view of demand struggles is in part similar: we too see them as necessary learning experiences in which the workers begin to understand the impossibility to prevent the worsening of their conditions under capitalism. We certainly don’t see it as the role of pro-revolutionaries to tell the workers what demands they should raise nor to encourage illusions about what demands capitalism can accommodate. But there is more. We have always emphasized the dynamic relation between the objectives and means in the struggles of the working class. As the means change, become more powerful because of the growing extension and self-organization of the struggle, the objectives can change too. Through the praxis of self-organization and of overcoming divisions within itself, the class begins to see what seemed once impossible, as possible. The objectives radically change. What other possible road is there to revolution? That struggles begin as resistance against wage-cuts, etc, is to be expected and does not condemn them to remain “unionist” in content forever.
Blaumachen argues that extension and self-organization do not guarantee this transformation of the content of the struggle (which is true) and that real advances are measured by manifestations of the understanding that there is nothing to defend in capitalism, that it has no future for us, which take the form of struggles without specific demands, that are necessarily violent confrontations, riots, etc. In its view, expecting defensive struggles to become automatically revolutionary because of increasing class antagonism and extension of the scale of the struggle, would reflect a teleological view of the class struggle, with the working class realizing its revolutionary “essence”, as prescribed by “history.” We agree that there is no automatism and that this teleological view is indeed implicit in the different strands of productivist Marxism. But that does not mean that this link between goals and means is non-existent. The history of the working class struggle shows both that it is real and not automatic. The complexity of the question defies simplistic schemes.
There is something healthy in Blaumachen’s insistence that the content of the struggle does not automatically change, that it is foolish to equate revolution with the working class becoming a “class for itself,” since revolution would mean the destruction of itself as a class. But its critique throws out the baby with the bathwater. How they see revolution as a practical possibility if the experience of self-organization and extension in struggles for demands would not stimulate class consciousness and thereby change the content of the struggle, is unclear to us.
Sander and MacIntosh