New Subjects; New Alliances – Sergio Fiedler

Uploaded as part of the Anarchism in Australia project.

Author: Sergio Fiedler, Love and Rage- Collective of the Autonomous Left.
Originally Published: ?
Retrieved from: copy of Love and Rage website, 2002.

New subjects; New Alliances
“Something broke in this year; not just the false image of modernity sold to us by neo-liberalism, not just the falsity of government projects, of institutional alms, not just the unjust neglect by the country of its original inhabitants, but also the rigid schemes of a Left living in and from the past. In the midst of this navigating from pain to hope, political struggle finds itself naked, bereft of the rusty grab inherited from pain; it is a hope which obliges it to look for new forms of struggle, that is, new ways of being political, of doing politics; a new politics, a new political morality, a new political ethics is not just a wish, it is the only way to go forward, to jump to the other side”.

Subcommandant Marcos

1-Lenin beyond Leninism

To be a Leninist today is to be no longer one. The radical changes in the relation between capital and labour brought by neo-liberalism over the last twenty years around the world, far from only undermining the projects of the traditional Left and diminish the working conditions and living standards of millions, have also posed left-wing activists with the possibility of imagining and developing new forms of political action and collective organising against capitalism. In this respect, I believe that Lenin´s theory of the party continues to be a relevant tool in informing our politics and the way we organise. What I am about to propose of course is not a repetition of the archaic orthodoxies of the Leninist left in their LA version. Here I am not trying to work out the “genuine” version of Lenin as against the “corrupted” and “distorted” Leninism of the ISO, DSP and others. Purity of thought is an epistimological impossibility. Rather I suggest the need to make a new interpretation of Lenin; an interpretation in the light of our present needs and desires.

Certainly there is no place in the world nowadays where Leninism with its the notion of centralised and single vanguard party hold any credibility among social movements. The fall of the Soviet block, and the disastrous authoritarianism and narrow minded sectarism of most trotsquist and Maoist organisations seem to have vindicated the anti-authoritarian claims about Leninism made by Anarchists, Libertarian communists and Feminists.

For those who, like myself, have been wandering around in and out of left-wing groups for quite sometime, these critiques of the Leninist Left seems powerfully familiar. The main problem raised by them is about how the politics and structures of left-wing parties and unions, which in theory claim to defend the interests of the oppressed, reproduce pathological models of repression that suppresses freedom of expression and creativity within their own ranks. In the case of Leninism as we know it, the core strategy has been to build a revolutionary organisation on the basis of an elite of professional cadres -the revolutionary vanguard-, who in turn narrowly define the course of political action in term of a single political line handed down evangelically from the top to bottom by a centralised leadership.

By creating a highly hierarchical and centralised apparatus of knowledge, the Leninist organisation tends to subsume the diversity of labour and the class struggle within a single analytical perspective whose truthfulness and authenticity is always taken for granted. All those who disagree are immediately pathologised as ignorant, obtuse, revisionists, anarchists and so on. By the same token, the verticality of the process of ideological production embedded in this model disempowers party members and activists by privileging the views of the leadership over the autonomous collective elaboration and experience of ordinary people in the struggle. To put it in Hegelian terms, the revolutionary leadership places itself on the stage of rationality, while the “masses” in general remain on a primary stage of perception and spontaneous understanding or false consciousness . If they are to become revolutionary, therefore, they must be dragged out from their backwardness by the infusion of the party leadership’s own interpretation of class consciousness.

According to this view, the workers fragmented experience of the process of production cannot give them a correct viewpoint of society as whole. Therefore, driven forward by their rebellion against exploitation, but incapable of leading themselves, workers can only constitute the troops at the disposal of an staff of revolutionary experts. These experts always assume to know what is the better for the struggle. As most anarchists have argued, the power relations emerging from this situation inevitably lead the reproduction beforehand of the same power relations existing in capitalist society, and thereby carrying the seed of a new ruling class ready to take over once the old one has been overthrown.

In this spirit of this critique, the central argument of this paper is that LA should more openly reject the Leninist model of vanguard party as outmoded and affirm the centrality of alliance politics as a cornerstone for building a revolutionary movement. To this end it does not simply suffice to stress alliances among different currents as desirable strategy in an abstract manner (as the LA constitutions does) or as a moral position universally valid at all times and places. It is necessary above all to find a political justification that is grounded on an analysis of the material condition that make up the theatre of our struggles.

The irony is that some really good arguments for alliance politics as against Leninist party politics can be found in a reinterpreting of Lenin’s own method of class analysis. While the rejection of Leninism as we know it is absolutely necessary, I still can’t treat Lenin as a dead dog. After all the fact is that more than often the narratives of Anarchism and Feminism have fallen in the same patronising, moralist and elitist vanguardism that Leninism has; and that is not a good reason to shuck them in the bin. You simply can’t judge a dead man for the worms you find in his corpse. I am convinced you may find in Leninism the seeds of a totalitarian dictatorship, but you can also find the seeds of workers liberation. There is no contradiction in this. It is not enough to say Lenin was the creator of a horrific party machine that led to Stalinism without recognising the fact that his thought captured the imagination of millions of activists for decades and decades for a damn good reason. So the positions should be not how to avoid Leninist methods as if they were “intrinsically evil”, but ask ourselves what Leninism has to offer today to our struggles, what do we need from it that still remains relevant to the Left. The point is not to reject completely Lenin’s ideas, but to make them work in a different way, transform them from a closed and totalising system of thought to an open and liberating one so that they do not become an obstacle to the struggle, but a weapon of it. This may sound an oxymoron, but for revolutionaries ideas are really practical things. As Brian Massumi once said, ideas are like bricks, you can use them to build a prison or smash a window . The point for us is to make both ethical and pragmatic decisions, and to use Leninism to smash the window and to release ourselves from the conceptual prison, even of Leninism itself. This rejection of Leninism as an effective form of political organisation in the current historical context is then in this paper not so much based simply on the desire to be part of a more anarchistic and libertarian organisation, but paradoxically on a new interpretation of Leninism itself. How come?

2- From the professional to the mass worker

The political success of the Bolshevik Party in becoming a mass working class organisation and leading the Soviets to power in 1917 was rooted on the ability of Lenin to understand revolutionary practice and theory from the actual view point of labour as subject of change. He understood that labour becomes an objective factor of production in so far as it is already a subjective agent whose creative powers are appropriated by capital. Here the subjectivity of the proletariat referred directly to its class composition, that is, to its internal structure which is defined by the technical and social division of labour of the productive process, the cultural & political capacities for self-organisation and the intra-class distribution of power within the workforce itself.

The main thrust of Lenin´s method was to model the organisational structures of the party on the basis of the class composition of the Russian proletariat at the time so that the party could relate to the more dynamic and politically conscious elements within the working class to develop its organisation . The spontaneous militancy of the high skilled sections of the Russian working class -the professional proletariat- provided, for Lenin, the social basis for building the party and the organisational paradigm of its internal structure. The principles of democratic-centralism, as outlined by Lenin therefore, were no other than the reflection of the rigidly hierarchical workplace arrangements of late 19th century capitalism, which placed highly skilled workers on top command in relation to the rest of the workforce, including the peasantry. This hierarchical feature of the Russian working class was further strengthened by the marked division between mental and manual labour, the differences between the city and the countryside, the high levels of illiteracy and the existence of an authoritarian political regime. Under such historical conditions the building of a centralised vanguard of professional revolutionaries did make sense if revolutionaries were serious about taking the workers movement forward. The Bolshevik party was an effective weapon of struggle in pre-revolutionary Russia because it was historically specific to the composition of the working class at that point in time. The political efficiency of the party of Lenin and Trotsky rested on historical conditions of production. However Bolshevism was limited for the same historical reasons. As the professional proletariat became its main core of militant mass support, the party was only externally representative of the whole working class, given the fact that the professional proletariat was a relatively independent section of workers in regard to the rest of the workforce. There was a considerable separation between the social movement of all workers and peasants and their political and social leadership. This created an in-built tendency -as defined by the structural constrains of the period- within the Bolshevik Party to develop into elitism and authoritarianism.

The success of Bolshevism in Russia inspired revolutionaries all over the world to take up Lenin´s ideas on organisation. Their effort, however, was doomed to failure. As a response to the influence of the Russian Revolution and the widespread emergence of revolutionary class activism early this century, capital pursued a dramatic restructuration of production (socialisation of labour) on a global scale in order to atomise the high skilled factory workers which constituted the social basis of most emerging Communist Parties. Underlined by the depression of the late 1920s, the professional proletariat of the manufacturing industry would be replaced irreversible by the mass proletariat of the assembly line. Capital pursued the radical reorganisation of the regime of accumulation along new lines as a response to the influence of Bolshevism among the working classes. While Taylorism and Fordism functioned as means to eradicate radical tendencies through the massification of production and deskilling of the workforce, Keynesian reformism would institutionally recognise the antagonistic and autonomous nature of labour by trying to deflect the subversive potential of the newly formed working class, integrating its social and political organisations within the social consensus of a new State-form, the planner-State.. For the sake of macro-economic stability, a new juridical consensual structure alleviated the historical frictions between capital and labour. Despite the fact that this strategy sought to defuse the basis for revolution, it had to do it in such a way as, for the first time in modern history, to recognise the impact of working class power within the structures of capitalism itself. The social basis of the post-war economic boom were forged on this social pact among classes where the proletariat was to be acknowledged as a “partner” within the process of production. As a result of this, the struggles of the period were essentially reformist; against capital but always within it.

As capital shifted to mass production and deskilling of the workforce, the social basis for professional vanguard parties were destroyed. The new class composition of the working class, as embodied in the subjective figure of the mass proletariat of the assembly line, opened up the stage for a new type of organisation, the mass reformist parties of the post war. The shift of the Communist and Socialist parties from revolutionary to electoral politics are the more evident example of this. Sociologically, their mass character reflected the softening of the hierarchical relations among workers within the factory floor. Their social constituency was fundamentally located among the entire waged workforce of the newly emerging industrial workplaces. These new vanguard parties led the struggles of the mass proletariat pushing capital into a sustained reformist path. They, however, had still a limited political and social scope. Despite having a broader social composition than the Bolsheviks, these reformist parties were limited by their parliamentarism and the hegemonic role granted to the factory and waged proletariat over the unwaged and other oppressed groups.

3-Leninism and the political economy of the social proletariat

The end of the post war economic boom since the late 1960s is rooted in a new cycle of social struggles at global stage that escaped the abilities of the Keynesian class consensus to contain them. The refusal of the mass proletariat to moderate their wage demands within the institutional limits of the planner-State and to put up with the inhuman conditions of mass production manifested in an upsurge of militancy that upset the entire stability of the economic boom. This impact of this militancy merged with that of the emerging social and national liberation movements that sprang everywhere in the world at that time questioning the imperialistic drive by the capitalist metropolis . As a result, since the 1970s onwards, capital once again is forced to restructure its relation with labour in order reestablish macro-economic stability, this time however, through the dismantling of the Keynesian consensus and the turn to the “free market” as epitomised by the neo-liberal (economic rationalism) project of right-wingers like Pinochet, Reagan and Thatcher. While Keynesianism was based on a fundamental recognition by capital of the power of labour, under neo-liberalism the bosses seek to unshackle themselves as much as possible from their relation of dependency to the working class by braking it up through the smashing of workers organisations and a new reorganisation of production.

In contrast to the post war period, the project of capital is this time one of social exclusion, not social inclusion; not of reform, but of total contra-revolution destroying social gains of decades and decades of struggle. As labour is finally excluded from any serious juridical arrangements of class consensus, a new barrage of austerity measures is put in place to destroy the social welfare system, while monetary policies drive wages down, trade unions are disarticulated and financial markets deregulated. These are the marking characteristic of the current period of global capitalist accumulation. Each country in the world, some first and others later, have been through more or less the same process over the last twenty five years. Capital, attempting to escape the structural constrains imposed by working class struggles, had pursued the greatest geographical mobility and temporal fluidity possible ever experienced in the history of capitalism. This has changed the entire landscape of capitalist production on a worldwide scale, as it brings about the progressive decomposition of the mass proletariat through deindustrialisation, automation, tertiaritation, flexibilisation and casualisation of labour. This shift, however, has not meant the death of the working class, but rather its reconstitution on a new basis. Through the massive socialisation of production brought by neo-liberalism, the productive process has tended step by step to dismember beyond the factory walls. The dispersion and fragmentation of labour throughout society has meant the emergence of a complex social network of distinct and interconnected labouring processes exploited by capital. A social factory is gradually taking over and with it a new working class subjectivity -a new class composition- has emerged: the social proletariat.

According to Antonio Tony Negri , the process underlying the appearance of this new working class composition can be defined in terms of what Marx called the final shift from the formal subsumption to the real subsumption of labour under capital . For Marx, subsumption refers to the extent to which labour in general is absorbed by and within capital as a value creation activity. Under formal subsumption -approximately at the beginnings of the industrial revolution- capital imposes wage labour as form of production, but there remained entire realms of productive human activity -such as pre-capitalist and reproductive relations of production, family life, intellectual work, popular culture, art, leisure time and so on- not fully penetrated by capital and only externally dominated by it. Real subsumption, in contrast, is a subsequent phase of development, where all labour, productive and reproductive, has reached historically unprecedented levels of socialisation and therefore mutual integration. For Negri, the decline of the factory as a single locus of production and the dispersion of work throughout society signals that capitalist society is entering this phase of real subsumption . Deindustrialisation is only one side of a broader process through which capital is permanently diversifying its command across new zones of exploitation. Labour has become decentered very rapidly, taking on different directions. Scientific-technological labour, informal labour, domestic labour, child labour, seasonal and migratory labour, casual and part-time labour, service labour, unemployed labour have become as economically relevant to capital as factory work. Indeed all these activities become increasingly integrated. Circulation of money -marketing, commerce, finance and banking- plays a crucial role in their coordination as it becomes intertwined with production itself, turning into a mayor area of profit extraction.

The material and ideological reproduction of labour through education, welfare, transport, recreation, training, family life and culture has also entered once and for all the sphere of production, becoming even more implicated in capitalist accumulation. The old Marxist conceptual distinction between unproductive and productive labour, and between basis and superstructure has been rendered finally obsolete as those sphere become intertwined in a single network of production. Culture, for example, can no longer be regarded as ideological reflection of the economic base since it has become a mayor source of profit itself making up to 35 percent of the world trade . As to mention another example, the productive processes sustained on domestic labour by the so called marginal underclasses known as informal economies are being permanently integrated into this network. Family based micro companies among immigrants or shanty town dwellers may operate with backward technologies and draw innovation from popular culture or indigenous traditions, and yet have higher productivity than well established industries in some operation to the extent of providing big companies with services through subcontracting, reducing the dependency of capital on wage labour.

The concept of social proletariat is then an attempt to grasp the new class composition of the working class as it unfolds under different sites of production integrated by the circulation of capital, so that socioeconomic functions seen as marginal to capitalist accumulation in the past have become now central to it, from the informatics industry to the domestic and informal economies. This new working class then is not made only of factory workers, but also of teachers, clerks, shop assistants, bank workers, health care workers, students, some types of professionals, bar attendants, domestic workers and part-timers and so on. While the mass proletariat of the assembly line was concentrated in a single place, the social proletariat is part of a more diverse system of value creation. A new complex division of labour has emerged, making the boundaries between manual and intellectual labour to blur in so far as capital mobilises more and more workers intelligence into production giving them greater role on communicative and coordinative tasks in order to maximise their own exploitation. Notions of team-work, for example, so popular among new age bosses, are not so much mechanisms to give workers an illusory sense of control over management and production, but an actual recognition by capital that workers know better than anyone else how to run production. At the end of the day of course the bosses are the ones who makes the profit, but they would not be able to do it without relying on the intellectual insight of workers. Intellectual activity becomes directly productive. The digitalised operation of informatics network system have made this intellectuality even more productive, turning cybernetics into a new site of proletarisation.

The emerging of the social proletariat marks a qualitative change in the nature of the class struggle. Although its dynamic is still centred on the extraction of surplus value, that extraction has been displaced into multiple locations. As the locus of production is decentralised throughout society, a new and enormous variety of struggles have emerged beyond the factory floor. As labour diversifies and broadens, so does the class struggle. Accordingly, the social proletariat professes new demands, new needs and new desires. They are not only related to better wages and working conditions, but also to issues of quality of life such as heath, education, leisure, sexuality, environment, community and so on. Under the political economy of the social proletariat, class conflict then is not only confined to the struggle between workers and bosses within workplaces, but includes the collision of entire communities with the corporate order of capitalism across different points of struggle. The imperative of capital to maximise the extraction of profit by driving incomes and the social spending down and expanding infrastructure clashes with its own need to reproduce an educated and healthy working class by providing the population with social services and high levels of consumption. The imperatives of capital to use sexism and racism to divide the workforce clashes with its need to maintain an stable parliamentary democracy to maintain political legitimacy. These contradictions encourage the permanent formation of social and protest movements taking up a wide spectrum of issues, not always located at the immediate point of production but also of reproduction of the labour force; not just in the workplace, but in educational institutions, the family, cultural practices and so on; not only through trade unions and strikes, but coalition building and cultural groups.

Take the women’s movement since the late 60s as an example of this. Having dispense with the classical Marxist notion that domestic labour is outside the class struggle, this social movement brought into light the importance of women’s role in the reproduction of labour -through child-rising and housework- as a form of exploitation distinct from and yet interconnected to wage-labour, and challenged the reliance of capital on the patriarchal organisation of the family that made the household dependent on the income of the male worker.

The struggle of students, ethnic groups and other marginalised groups also parallels that of the women’s movement in so far as they challenge capital strategy of segmenting and dividing the working class by privileging particular sectors -waged over unwaged, skilled over unskilled, male over female, heterosexual over queer, locals over immigrants, white over coloured and so on. The struggles against racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination, therefore, are not separated of distinct from the struggle of the social proletariat but different expressions of it. Self-valorisation in the period of real subsumption becomes more than ever the realisation and respect for difference and human dignity. The struggles of the social proletariat are particular struggles that seek to recognise and embrace the internal diversity of the working class as against the subordination of this diversity to the single project of capitalism: profit . Each struggle represent specific, and sometime contradictory autonomous resistances, that co-exist in their local needs and singularities but whose success depend on their capacity to establish connection among themselves against capital. Yet the strength of these struggles is precisely their differentiated character. Difference not only clashes with the expanding drive of the existing system of accumulation to reduce the plurality of labour to the unifying function of valorising capital, but presupposes that no single governmental act of repression can irreversible destroy the new labour movement. While a rebellion may be suppressed in one place, there will be always another emerging somewhere else.

So what are the consequence that this changes in the subjectivity of the working class brings to bear on revolutionary practice. The emergence of the social proletariat recasts the question of the revolutionary party or organisation on a different level of analysis. Tony Negri argues that the efficiency of the class struggle brought by the new plural composition of labour no longer depend on the existence of a hierarchical and formalised vanguard of militants, whose disciplinary practices and professional elitism have rather began to jeopardise collective action by reducing the diversity of social movements to a single leadership and political line . This does not mean a rejection of the importance of revolutionary organisation, but indeed, as follows from Lenin´s methodology itself, a recognition of the need for a new type of revolutionary practice that corresponds to the existing composition of the working class. From this point of view, we can say that the transformative potential and political externalism and verticalism of the mass and professional vanguard parties has become historically irrelevant to the needs of the class struggle today. In fact, once the dispersed and multifaceted character of the social proletariat is grasped from a Leninist perspective, we must inevitable conclude that any productive political militancy has to be located within, subordinated to the desires of the new class subjectivity. The role of the vanguard -those politically more active- must be that of guarantor of class self-valorisation and autonomy, facilitating of connections between different social movements and struggles. Under the political economy of the social proletariat, Leninism displaces the norm of its own origin. To be a Leninist today is to be no longer one. There are no universal narrative of revolution that defines beforehand our practice, only a plurality of proletarian resistances from which we are permanently innovating our politics, experimenting with it, learning from experience and theorising it. This requires the definitive dissolution of the disciplinary and authoritarian top down structures and programs of the traditional workers and revolutionary parties into a diverse and horizontal network of political activists bringing into the struggle different analysis and perspectives. Decentralisation of the productive process imposes a more flexible network of organised resistances. Here party unity will not be the result of the subordination of activists to a single program and central committee with its demands of perpetual sacrificial offering, but of a functional and democratic multi-centralism that establishes, as Michael Foucault would say, the strategic connections between different points of resistance and desire that make the revolution possible.

An organisation of revolutionaries today does not necessarily require of formal leadership or membership, even less a newspaper. We must get rid of the little fascist within ourselves to give way to the productive forces of the imagination, to a healthy sense of madness because even in madness there is some good reasons to fight the system. The task is to shed the invisible uniform the traditional leftists wear in their minds, languages and behaviour. Our creativity to reach people is far more greater to be limited by traditional party mechanisms. We must perpetually reinvent our means, rather than be entrapped by the deadly repetition of the same old catechism: “this is the way our tradition have always done it”. The point for the revolutionary Left today is to create difference, propel diversity. Like the Zapatistas in Mexico, we must stand for revolutionary pluralism. What is going to bring the diverse struggle of the social proletariat together is our collective effort to unite them into a radically democratic and plural movement that will maintain its autonomy while permanently struggling against power structures. The role of organisations like LA must be not to attempt to direct movements from the top as some time happens in regional meetings, but participate in them as equals with other organisations and people. We can only lead by obeying. Leadership is action, not position. Through our participation in the campaigns we argue for the most radical and democratic mass movement possible, one that gives every person the ability and confidence to be full part of it, and a sense of her o his own power to change the world.

In the context of this analysis, the alliance politics of today is not about unity on the top or closed door agreements among different political currents tied up with meticulous ordered constitutional procedures. That’s the “popular front” of Stalinism. Alliance politics is not either a temporary unity of action where left-wing groups drop in for a visit and then drop out when they do not see any chances of selling papers or recruiting new members. That’s the “united front” of Trotsquism. A genuine alliance politics in this period is fundamentally about creating connections and horizontal network of activists of all walks of life; it is about developing autonomous spaces of communication and action between different campaigns and people; it is about linking different social sectors of the social proletariat in manner that no a sectional struggle is seen as more important than the other; it is about an alliance of ideas; an alliance that creates the condition for the formation of a new critical subjectivity.

I see the existence of LA within the student sector as a step on that direction, but it is still far from being a broad and horizontal network of activists as envisaged above. We are certainly knot that tie together activists involved in different campaigns, though student politics remains the most lively aspect of our campaigning. I hope this paper contributes to clarify issues and raise new political questions so that bit by bit through our discussions during the rest of the year we can be able to develop a consistent alternative vision of the world and the struggle without being trapped by that vision. I’ll leave some more practical suggestions perhaps for a next paper. For now we need to clarify the main political questions ahead of us. Thanks for reading.

Love and Rage
Sergio Fiedler

PS: “In our dream kids are kids and their work is to be kids…I do not dream of the agrarian distribution, of big mobilisations, of the fall of the government and elections, or whatever. I dream of kids and see them being kids…..We, the zapatista kids, think that our work as kids is to play and to learn”

Subcommandant Marcos