Building Alternatives

“To my mind, the so-called ‘socialist society’ is not anything immutable. Like all other social formations, it should be conceived in a state of constant flux and change. Its crucial difference from the present order consists naturally in production organized on the basis of common ownership by the nation… 

To begin this reorganization tomorrow, but performing it gradually, seems to me quite feasible. That our workers are capable of it is borne out by their many producer and consumer cooperatives which, whenever they’re not deliberately ruined by the police, are equally well and far more honestly run than the bourgeois stock companies”  

Engels, Letter to Otto Von Boenigk (1890).

Capital strike is a problem for working class strategy and strength, as Adam Smith, Kalecki & Sweezy keenly observed. It makes sense not just to disrupt or tear down (though certainly that, see Marx, Piven, Domhoff & Zizek), but also to build fortifications around that fundamental vulnerability, as well as to build an answer to conservatives’ play on the fear of loss. See Rudolf Meidner.

…  Jodi Dean cites Chomsky discussing the importance of working class organize-to-rule strategies, including sit down strikes, co-operative takeovers of languishing industries and economic sectors (think green technology), and a build-up of broad working class-conscicous support for such initiatives:

“In one of the suburbs of Boston, about a year ago, a multinational decided to close down a profitable, functioning facility carrying out some high-tech manufacturing. The workforce and the union offered to buy it, take it over, and run it themselves. The multinational decided to close it down instead, probably for reasons of class-consciousness. I don’t think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like the Occupy movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.” 

Radicalizing Unions & Middle Classes is Absolutely Essential Socialist Work

How I stopped worrying about pride-based working class factionalism and learned to love the capitalist bomb:
First, the more inequality we have, the more we can segregate benefits and costs. More importantly, inequality is the capitalist mechanism for diversifying preferences and converting costs into ostensible benefits. Like the fly-ridden, rotting bone scraps left by the export fishing industry to Lake Victoria African working families, a rich man’s costs are benefits to surplus labor–thus, global happiness is maximized, and thanks to the magic of capitalist accounting (Cost column gone!), exploitation can continue to rampage on. Further, in capitalism–and here’s where union busting is important– failure to maximally *exploit* inequality diminishes welfare, we will recall from Dr. Summers’ 1991 advice on the international distribution of pollution. It’s all perfectly logical, and totally insane, as Jose Lutzenburger realized just before he was fired.
While surfacely it might kind of seem that working class factionalism is anti-inequality, unfortunately because the working class needs access to the surplus, society’s wealth, in order to successfully challenge the ruling capitalist class and overcome its logic (see above), prideful factionalism is really just hobbling yourself. Overthrowing a ruling class requires discipline. As well, healing class-faction injuries assists discipline.
Not destroying, but rather radicalizing unions and the middle class is absolutely essential, strategic radical work, even if it’s an unglamorous pain in the ass. Destroying the labor aristocracy doesn’t take any working class help. The capitalists will do it by themselves, and make themselves another managerial class. The point is not to abject, but to convince as much of the labor aristocracy as possible that they are really the working class’ potentially-heroic  fifth column. They don’t have to complete their contract with the capitalist devil by embracing the controlling ideology of  meritocracy, becoming addicted to commodity status baubles, and handing over their loyalty. They can use their advantages and strengths for progress.

Communism is the Father of Capitalist Culture

It is communism that elicits culture in capitalism. Britain’s Channel 4 and The Independent newspaper report the story “Modern Art Was CIA Weapon” of how the CIA in the mid-20th century promoted and used modern art–Abstract Expressionism–to flog the idea that capitalism can foster artistic freedom, where communism cannot. However, the extent to which the market fosters artistic freedom was greatly exaggerated–by the elite cadre of American secret police that temporarily, for propaganda purposes, fostered that freedom. And that little mid-century “long leash” blip of freedom depended on capitalists who believed that they had to compete with communism for world opinion.

Capitalist Artistic Freedom (2 AA Communist Batteries Required)

Without communism, do we have freedom in capitalism? For the working class, the post-communist evidence points to “not much” or “no.”

Interesting in the report are 2 subplots:

1) The mid-20th century division of labor/personnel between the CIA and other ruling institutions in the US, and
2) An early chapter in the long tradition of media manipulation:

“The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world.”

The Capitalist Press

Communism is a Concrete Universality

“Therein resides the dialectic of the Old and the New: it is those who propose the constant creation of new terms (‘postmodern society,’ ‘risk society,’ ‘information society,’ ‘postindustrial society,’ etc.) in order to grasp what is going on today who miss the contours of what is actually New. The only way to grasp the true novelty of the New is to analyze the world through the lenses of what was ‘eternal’ in the Old. If communism really is an ‘eternal’ Idea, then it works as a Hegelian ‘concrete universality’: it is eternal not in the sense of a series of abstract-universal features that may be applied everywhere, but in the sense that it has to be re-invented in each new historical situation.” Slavoj Zizek. 2009. First as Tragedy Then as Farce.