'Libcom' and commodity fetishism

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 23 2008 15:21
'Libcom' and commodity fetishism

split from What would an anarchist society look like?

fort-da game wrote:
I’m guessing here but the reasoning, I think, behind Libcom’s line on this is to disassociate itself from the anarchists’ critique of commodity fetishism because it wants to avoid if at all possible criticising the proletariat’s perceived consumerism, which is taken as a given, and its possessions as an objective index of need. It seems from these statements that Libcom does not accept that the social relation is expressed through its products but that things have an objectively given use-value. It is here that a lifestylist residue reappears in the fetishised appreciation of the thing which is severed from and eclipses the conditions of its manufacture.

in my case at least, there's no projection onto others of 'consumerism' - i really do spend money on these things (drink/drugs/clubs/clothes...) to ameliorate an often boring existence, spending the best part of my waking life doing pointless shit for a wage. in this respect, this kind of consumption is an expression of alienated social relations, although it doesn't follow i wouldn't want to drink or take drugs or dance or wear nice clothes in a communist society. thus i don't think this relates directly to a critique (or absence thereof) of commodity fetishism; remember that commodity fetishism is things appearing as they really are - social relations between objects and material relations between people. as 'libcom consumerism' is accompanied by a critique of underlying social relations, i don't think it's neccessarily true that existing working class culture is separated from relations of production. i wouldn't say any of this means a desire for nice stuff is a bad thing per se, and certainly compared to anarcho-ascetism.

fort-da game wrote:
From this it is a small step to imagine communism as the continuing production of the same objects via the same processes, where everything is the same but branded differently. Because of its critique of anarchism, Libcom’s version of communism is stripped of anything that might indicate a break with capital.

this directly contradicts my thoughts on 'what an anarchist society would look like' expressed above, so i'm not sure which amalgamated 'libcom' entity you're addressing.

fort-da game wrote:
The thinking goes something like: ‘we need to sell our idea of a communist society, we cannot attack capital at the level of alienation or commodification because the proletariat has passed into the stage of total subsumption and identifies wholly with its role and with its possessions (oh get me another shirt, get me another tie, get me another wollen). Therefore, the only option is to attack the critique of commodity fetishism as ‘lifestylist’ and propose to the workers a governmental solution on the level of ‘everything is going to be the same but you will be in charge’.

it would really help if you'd quote this libcom amalgam you're responding to, because as i say this is directly contradicted by many of the posts above. and like i say commodity fetishism is emphatically not 'liking nice stuff', it is things appearing as they really are, as social relations between things and material relations between people. the critique of this is at the very least implicit above, where i discussed production no longer ruled by value, with workers able to consciously weigh up desires for less work, more enjoyable work, a livable environment etc - i.e. social relations amongst people determining material production.

fort-da game wrote:
One thing is certain, the proposals put forward by Libcom within this discussion are not communism

who is 'Libcom'? i'm an admin, you mean me? or an amalgam of your imaginings? i mean as i've said, the position you're criticising is contradicted by the posts on this thread, i'm not sure who's expressing it.

fort-da game wrote:
The class struggle will continue upon the territories that Joseph K refuses to engage: where dead labour guarantees existence and where activity is expressed in terms of alienated labour. There can be no communist factories as there can be no communist state or communist prison or communist police force, army etc. There can be no communist capitalism.

well we can call them communist happy production centres if it makes you feel better, but semantic games aside we will still make stuff according to our abilities and needs, and some of those needs (such as for hypodermic needles it has been suggested) are best met by forms of mass production, albeit qualitatively transformed under the concsious control of its agents. quite how people deciding how long, under what conditions and by what processes they work is "capitalist", "alienated labour" or "dead labour" is entirely unclear to me.

fort-da game wrote:
The arguments Joseph K puts forward exist somewhere within the spectrum of capitalist politics where liberal investments in the liberating potentials of dead labour, sprinkled with utilitarian/malthusian calculations concerning the optimum shoeing of 7 billion workhorses (as if human existence is captured at the magnitude of ‘billions’), crunch up against simple workerist sentimentality, ‘See personally i wouldn;t care if i had to work on a production line, or sweep the streets or do a bit of cleaning, thats life, i've done some of those jobs in the past and tbh someof them are probably more fulfilling than the shit I do now.’

you're quoting cantdocartwheels and seemingly attributing his views to me. this kind of amalgam argument is either lazy or dishonest, so please stop it. furthermore, i don't see any inherent problem with considering optimality, just that communist optimality is a completely different judgement to capitalist optimality, taking into account the pleasureability of a task, effort-reducing innovations, the externalities on the environment/community etc. To be explicit, this is not something that can or should be explicitly calculated, but something immanent to freely associated labour in common - simply by doing a task people make innovations and learn how to do it better (whether better is defined crudely as more output, or as more enjoyment, less effort, less externalities etc).

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Sep 23 2008 16:15

Commodity fetishism isn't about desiring commodities, as people who are not familiar with the idea often assume. It is not a critique of "consumer culture". Its the way in which commodities come to appear to have an independent existence as actors in capitalism, seperate from the humanity which created them, and appearing as an immanent fact seperate from social activity - see bourgeois discussion of what "oil" is "doing" for instance. Social relations between things, and objective relations between people. The analogy Marx uses is not with sexual fetishism,such as someone desiring something non-human like a shoe, sexually which would be anarchronistic. It is with religion, the way in which the human mind creates fetishes (as in a religious icon) and imbues them with agency. The things they create come to have power over them.

The point is, there is no way out of capitalism other than revolution or death. The anarcho-asceticism of lifestylists Joseph K mentions is a belief that this isn't true, that we can live differently now. This usually leads to alternative forms of consumption - "independent" music and second hand clothes for instance - anyway. So the point is that given libertarian communists (against what you say) usually understand what capitalism is, and how to get rid of it, worrying about something inescapable in the here and now is a waste of time and effort, and usually involves retreat into some kind of dropout subculture.

But I have no idea what this "Libcom" creature is which is telling you that workers have no agency to take the fight to capital due to "subsumption", so they have to "rebrand" capitalism in some sort of Sorelian fantasy. The libcom groups workers' bulletins say nothing remotely like this, and the discussion in the thread says the opposite. Is it because the website is nicely presented or something?

fort-da-game wrote:
There can be no communist factories as there can be no communist state or communist prison or communist police force, army etc. There can be no communist capitalism.

This is a poor argument. As has been expressed above, a factory is being defined a site with a larger productive capacity than small workshops. No-one has said that they will not be fundamentally transformed in communism, that abstract labour will not be abolished. As no-one has advocated a communist society involving commodity production, wage labour, capital accumulation and private property, I’m assuming you’re repeating the crypto-primitivist argument that capitalism = technology when you say people are advocating "communist capitalism". There is nothing inherently capitalistic about machinery, what is capitalistic is its use, the purposes and ends towards which it proceeds. Does your logic extend to saying, there can be no communist medicine, no communist schools, no communist workshops, no communist electric drills, no communist chemicals etc?,

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Sep 23 2008 17:39
Django wrote:
Is it because the website is nicely presented or something?

i suspect, from both his freudian username and his previous posts - and please correct me if i'm wrong - fort-da game is jumping into a psychoanalytical explanation of 'Libcom''s politics without stopping to see if the politics actually expressed conform to his expectations.

安藤鈴
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Sep 24 2008 04:39

I largely agree with Django and revol68.

Commodity fetishism, at least in the manner Marx uses, has little to do with desiring the latest IKEA couch or what not. It is not 'consumerism' as depicted in Fight Club, for example.

If I was offended by the idea of mass produced IKEA couches, then I would not be interested in revolutionary action but join a Christian-socialist group.

Revolution has nothing to do with moral puritanism and abstaining from an Ipod, but about radically changing very real economic relations, which ultimately will allow more people to own IKEA couches and Ipods!

Rei.

fort-da game
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Sep 25 2008 15:54
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you're quoting cantdocartwheels and seemingly attributing his views to me. this kind of amalgam argument is either lazy or dishonest, so please stop it.

I am responding to a discourse, I don't know you as indiivduals – it is neither dishonest nor lazy, it is an attempt to engage you in general terms.

Quote:
There is nothing inherently capitalistic about machinery, what is capitalistic is its use, the purposes and ends towards which it proceeds. Does your logic extend to saying, there can be no communist medicine, no communist schools, no communist workshops, no communist electric drills, no communist chemicals etc?,

How do you know there is nothing inherently capitalist about factories? What is your proof? You know the pound of flesh speech in Merchant of Venice, how are you to determine where the capitalist social relation begins and ends? No revolutionary attempt has ever managed this before, so what makes you think you are capable of it? In response to the second part of your statement, I am saying that people have never, by act of renunciation, separated themselves from their addictions/adhesions. Consciousness is a product not a determining force, it has never been possible to 'decide' that a factory is now nice and not nasty.

Please don't take me for an idiot, this is not about individual consumer habits. It seems to me that you only want to engage an 'ascetic' response to commodity fetishism, you want to argue that I am an ascetic or that I put forward an anti-materiralist viewpoint (whatever that is). This is incorrect, you are not responding to what I am saying. It is the case that Libcom was formed as a break from such discourses which had a certain currency in the late '90's, so my reference to this break is appropriate. To sum up in genreal terms, I think you have gone too far in your rejection of the rejection of consumerism and now have no working understanding of the function of commodities – I think you are stuck with an ideology, so that if someone says, 'what is an anarchist society to be like?' you start talking about working in factories. Because of your ideological break with anarchism you cannot allow yourself a critique of conditions, based on actual experience, you are afraid to fall into the paradox of criticising the technology which you also see as being liberating. Anyone who questions the specific limits of your ideological predicament is a 'primitivist'.

We all spend our wages on objects of our preference. It would be truly absurd to spend money on what we didn't like – over the summer, I spent a lot of money on and enjoyed consuming numerous bottles of fine quality champagne, I like fine things, I drink my tea out of a spode china cup and saucer – but that doesn't mean I don't at the same time know champagne is basically piss; and that every thing, at its heart, records the conditions of our life. This doesn't change because of a change of government, which is basically what you are proposin – your arguments for rationalisation of production are basically at the level of HG Welles, there is nothing human in it, nor can you allow yourself, because of your demographic, to be so weak as to allow the human to enter into it. If we talk communism you talk machines, and how being against machines is wrong. It is you who are the moralists – it is you who possess such certainties.

I still do not think you are responding to the issue here. I do not think you have a practical understanding of the action of commodities upon life, you merely repeat an abstract theory of it. The society you are in favour of after the revolution, as you represent it, is so similar to present society, that I do not see the need for revolution at all – in terms of cost/benefit, is it worth going through the blood letting just to arrive at the same place? Or put another way, what exactly is it that you are proposing when you say we have to all continue working in factories? Where is the break between capitalism and communism?

Your arguments were made at the level of burger bars and liking clothes and drugs – I quoted that, and used it as a starter point. You have defined your politics in these terms; you like nice clothes and after the revolution you want nice clothes. When the question of revolution comes up, or what a society might be like after the revolution, the first thing you talk about is crinkle cut chips. I think this is a mistake. Not because I am against 'consumerism' or whatever, but because I see the products of capitalist society as basically expressive of capitalist relations. Things embody and represent the actual relations of production... the question is whether 'liberated' factories could produce objects which no longer dictated to lived life but served/facilitated life (i.e. took their proper place as objects). The follow up question concerns the nature of 'congealed' labour, its hold over consciousness and its 'autonomous' hold over the present as it acts as a kind of inertia on the larger scale – things and behaviours attached to them all tend to be of the same character the greater the scale.

The follow up question to this must deal with the capacity of lived existence at the level of will or subjective values, or consciousness, or 'revolutionary' politics or whatever you want to call it (which is an effect of the conditions that have produced it) will ever have sufficient energy to overcome its past determinations and dictate to its conditions. All history suggests that this is impossible, all history suggests that workers are produced by factories and not the other way round. You think political reform is impossible, you think communism is not possible through the ballot box, why? Because you know that the instruments of the state dictate to the individuals who attempt to dictate to it. It is the same issue with the factory system. All previous attempts at direct workers' control have failed at the level of what has been produced by them. The revolutionary productive relation has failed always at the same juncture, i.e. when it has gone from revolt to production; it has failed to satisfy need and the class struggle begins again at the level of this failure. Time and again capitalism has proved to be in advance of communist 'solutions' to the contradictions of capitalist life.

These questions are the real issues of commodity fetishism, and here you have to admit that you don't know what the answer is. None of us have solutions to the hold of dead labour. That is, we don't know unless we believe in some objective theory of progress, do you? Maybe, if you admitted that you don't know the answers here, things might go better. But maybe you are just believers after all, you have your answers and if we all believed together, things would turn out nice.

jonnylocks
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Sep 25 2008 16:01

word to your fat mother. it's as annoying as 'in a dialectical relationship with' or 'anti-hierarchical' or 'fascistic'.

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Sep 25 2008 16:09
fort-da game wrote:
I am responding to a discourse, I don't know you as indiivduals – it is neither dishonest nor lazy, it is an attempt to engage you in general terms.

i'm sorry, but it's nothing to do with knowing people personally, it's about talking over the heads of the actual people in a discussion to some imaginary third party, which i'm afraid is either dishonest (deliberate misrepresentation of the participants' views, selectively conflating them) or lazy (can't be bothered to quote people and respond to their actual points because you've already decided what you want to say regardless how it corresponds to the actual views expressed).

fort-da game wrote:
To sum up in genreal terms, I think you have gone too far in your rejection of the rejection of consumerism and now have no working understanding of the function of commodities – I think you are stuck with an ideology, so that if someone says, 'what is an anarchist society to be like?' you start talking about working in factories. Because of your ideological break with anarchism you cannot allow yourself a critique of conditions, based on actual experience, you are afraid to fall into the paradox of criticising the technology which you also see as being liberating. Anyone who questions the specific limits of your ideological predicament is a 'primitivist'.

this is precisely the point, while you're criticising "in general terms" the actual specific things people are saying contradict the amalgam position you're criticising, thus you're offering an explanation (over-reaction to lifestylism) of an undemonstrated phenomenon (the alleged non-criticism of aliented/alienating capitalist labour processes).

fort-da game wrote:
Maybe, if you admitted that you don't know the answers here, things might go better.

Who's claiming to have all the answers? 'Libcom'?

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Sep 25 2008 16:13
fort-da game wrote:
Things embody and represent the actual relations of production... the question is whether 'liberated' factories could produce objects which no longer dictated to lived life but served/facilitated life (i.e. took their proper place as objects).

the first part of this quote seems to answer the second. why, when the actual relations of production are freely associated labour in common should the products of our labour come to stand over us as masters of our activity?

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Sep 25 2008 17:19

Fort-da-Game, I’ll try to respond to you as best I can, but I still don’t understand what this ‘Libcom’ is which is providing you with arguments. There are lots of people who disagree with each other here, and none of the arguments you are ascribing to “libcom” can be found in their “official” texts, workers bulletins etc. Some of your post is self-referential gibberish which does not take into account the conversations, who is saying what, and whether they actually stated what you are imagining they do.

I don’t know who the “you” is you are responding to since you quote me and Cantdocartwheels, refer to Joseph K and then discuss what “Libcom” thinks again. If you are using “you” to refer to a “discourse” then I honestly worry. The people you reference might have common opinions, but there will be differences, we are members of different organisations etc.

fort da game wrote:
How do you know there is nothing inherently capitalist about factories? What is your proof? You know the pound of flesh speech in Merchant of Venice, how are you to determine where the capitalist social relation begins and ends? No revolutionary attempt has ever managed this before, so what makes you think you are capable of it? In response to the second part of your statement, I am saying that people have never, by act of renunciation, separated themselves from their addictions/adhesions. Consciousness is a product not a determining force, it has never been possible to 'decide' that a factory is now nice and not nasty.

I “know” because I have a definition of what capitalism is. Given the statements above, you don’t. If you are unable to “determine where the capitalist social relation begins and ends” then surely you are in no position to say that “there can be no communist factories”. To answer your question, capitalism is specific form of social relations premised on the dominance of the commodity form as the end to which production proceeds, the movement of commodies on the market, the private ownership of the means of production, the commodification of activity as wage labour, and the use of this alienation of labour within the capitalist system of value to extract surplus value from labour, producing profit and capital.

Opposed to this system of class, commodity, property, value and capital is communism. Communism is premised on collective ownership of the means of production, free association of producers, the abolition of classes, production for social need, the abolition of the state, the abolition of wage labour etc. The difference is pretty marked. I should add that these definitions aren’t mine, but those of a whole host of writers within the workers movement – communists, anarchists etc. They are very well established.

A factory in capitalism works by permanently producing objects for the market, where they assume their own “movement” and go their own way. The factory is owned by a private company, not the workers, as are the products of their work. The workers are paid a wage in return for the sale of their commodified hours to the company, and have no control over their working conditions except when they fight for concessions. They do not work because they want to produce these things because people need them, they work because they require the money necessary to live – the products of their work are an alien concern, having little to do with them.

Accordingly the space is organised towards this end. The internal division of labour is sharp. Their are no collective decision-making processes. It carries on producing, and changes in the arrangements are in response to the needs of capital, or sometimes workers demands, but the physical organisation can only reflect the social organisation.

In communism, it will likely be necessary to have large production facilities because of the size of machinery or products, the scale of the number of things needed, practicality, eg, producing lots of sterile things in one secure environment and so on. But the communist “factory” is an entirely different proposition to the capitalist one. It is owned collectively, by the wider material human community. The things it produces are not commodities with their own independent life, going their own way regardless of the workers. Rather, they are produced in response to concrete human needs, as decided by democratic decision making organs. The workers, rather than being there for the money necessary to live, are there because of the concrete needs of the human community of which they are part, their activity, rather than being governed by the need to gain the money necessary to live, is governed by the necessary behaviour of that community: from each according to ability, to each according to need.

The difference is very clear.

In response to the second part, people’s activity in capitalism is not regulated by “addiction” (I don’t know what “adhesion” in this context means). Even if it was, your statement is incorrect – I know a number of former drug addicts, as I imagine you may also. Activity is regulated on many interlinked registers – culture, biology, upbringing etc – but the activity which upholds capitalism stems from its organisation: we must participate or starve. But at the same time, the interests of the workers, those with no capital who must sell their time and energy to capital in return for a wage, are fundamentally opposed to capital’s: their interest is to work less for more, capital’s interest is to get them to work more for less. They have no decision making role, as society is governed by the needs of capital accumulation, not their needs, and so they must make demands of it. This instability requires the defence of private property by force – the state.

fort da game wrote:
Please don't take me for an idiot, this is not about individual consumer habits. It seems to me that you only want to engage an 'ascetic' response to commodity fetishism, you want to argue that I am an ascetic or that I put forward an anti-materiralist viewpoint (whatever that is). This is incorrect, you are not responding to what I am saying. It is the case that Libcom was formed as a break from such discourses which had a certain currency in the late '90's, so my reference to this break is appropriate. To sum up in genreal terms, I think you have gone too far in your rejection of the rejection of consumerism and now have no working understanding of the function of commodities – I think you are stuck with an ideology, so that if someone says, 'what is an anarchist society to be like?' you start talking about working in factories. Because of your ideological break with anarchism you cannot allow yourself a critique of conditions, based on actual experience, you are afraid to fall into the paradox of criticising the technology which you also see as being liberating. Anyone who questions the specific limits of your ideological predicament is a 'primitivist'.

We all spend our wages on objects of our preference. It would be truly absurd to spend money on what we didn't like – over the summer, I spent a lot of money on and enjoyed consuming numerous bottles of fine quality champagne, I like fine things, I drink my tea out of a spode china cup and saucer – but that doesn't mean I don't at the same time know champagne is basically piss; and that every thing, at its heart, records the conditions of our life. This doesn't change because of a change of government, which is basically what you are proposin – your arguments for rationalisation of production are basically at the level of HG Welles, there is nothing human in it, nor can you allow yourself, because of your demographic, to be so weak as to allow the human to enter into it. If we talk communism you talk machines, and how being against machines is wrong. It is you who are the moralists – it is you who possess such certainties.

If it is not about individual consumerism why are you premising your critique of “Libcom” on the idea that it “goes to far in its rejection of the rejection of consumerism”? Clearly, you do not understand what commodity fetishism is. Again, it has nothing to do with “consumerism”. Its affect on consciousness is alienation – the manner in which the individual comes to see herself and her activity as commodities for sale to others, in line with a world of commodities. Don’t get upset if people correct your total misunderstanding of what is a very specific concept with a very specific history.

Again, you are simply responding to the arguments of this fantasy Libcom creature, where in reality no-one has said anything remotely like what you are claiming. There is not even a common “discourse” which approaches it. No-one has argued for a “change in government”, in fact they have argued for the destruction of the state and the fundamental transformation of human relations. No one has argued for a Wellesian state-capitalist “rationalisation” of the production process, but for the form and process of the work necessary for a material human community to be decided upon by that community itself, democratically, the distinction between “worker” and “consumer” abolished.

The tools which are used are irrelevant – the community will base its (dramatically reduced) workload on the tradeoff between the desire to minimise the work necessary and to make that work as pleasurable as possible. The division between “work” and “life” is overcome. If when we talk communism we have to correct the moralising of self-identified ascetics about an essential and therefore un-materialist understanding of “factory” which they cannot even define then so be it.

fort da game wrote:
Your arguments were made at the level of burger bars and liking clothes and drugs – I quoted that, and used it as a starter point. You have defined your politics in these terms; you like nice clothes and after the revolution you want nice clothes. When the question of revolution comes up, or what a society might be like after the revolution, the first thing you talk about is crinkle cut chips. I think this is a mistake. Not because I am against 'consumerism' or whatever, but because I see the products of capitalist society as basically expressive of capitalist relations. Things embody and represent the actual relations of production... the question is whether 'liberated' factories could produce objects which no longer dictated to lived life but served/facilitated life (i.e. took their proper place as objects). The follow up question concerns the nature of 'congealed' labour, its hold over consciousness and its 'autonomous' hold over the present as it acts as a kind of inertia on the larger scale – things and behaviours attached to them all tend to be of the same character the greater the scale.

This is something Joseph K said, not either of the people you quoted, again showing your dishonest mangling of different opinions into a fantasy straw “you” who you can cut down. All of this has been dealt with above, and elsewhere, and in the stated views of the people you are ascribing fantasy views to. The way in which “things” in society embody the social relation is in their existence within the commodity-form. Communist production is a negation of this form. In a communist world, we will still have shirts, but they would not be commodities going their own way.

fort da game wrote:
The follow up question to this must deal with the capacity of lived existence at the level of will or subjective values, or consciousness, or 'revolutionary' politics or whatever you want to call it (which is an effect of the conditions that have produced it) will ever have sufficient energy to overcome its past determinations and dictate to its conditions. All history suggests that this is impossible, all history suggests that workers are produced by factories and not the other way round. You think political reform is impossible, you think communism is not possible through the ballot box, why? Because you know that the instruments of the state dictate to the individuals who attempt to dictate to it. It is the same issue with the factory system. All previous attempts at direct workers' control have failed at the level of what has been produced by them. The revolutionary productive relation has failed always at the same juncture, i.e. when it has gone from revolt to production; it has failed to satisfy need and the class struggle begins again at the level of this failure. Time and again capitalism has proved to be in advance of communist 'solutions' to the contradictions of capitalist life.

These questions are the real issues of commodity fetishism, and here you have to admit that you don't know what the answer is. None of us have solutions to the hold of dead labour. That is, we don't know unless we believe in some objective theory of progress, do you? Maybe, if you admitted that you don't know the answers here, things might go better. But maybe you are just believers after all, you have your answers and if we all believed together, things would turn out nice. .

As I have argued above, classes exist materially, in real social relations you don’t appear to deny, and their material interests are fundamentally opposed. It is this contradiction which leads to strikes, wildcats, occupations etc, the existence of which you cannot deny. They may to some degree be caught by bourgeois ideology, but revolutionary ideology points to the material nature of the contradiction – our role is to argue push the material interests to their natural conclusion. If you think that people were still incapable of overcoming their “determinations” when they were communising their workplaces in revolutionary upheavals you are mad. You have no understanding of the history of revolutionary junctures at all. If you are referring to Spain or Russia the situation does not resemble what you have described at all. Workers did not just reproduce class society because they knew no other way – the communist spirit went down fighting.

Additionally, you claim that the “you” you are referring to has abandoned anarchism. Both I and Joseph K are members of anarchist organisations. It is you who are abandoning the principles of revolutionary anarchism by claiming that workers are forever doomed to reproduce the conditions which determined them. You preclude the existence of anything after capitalism. This is wrong on many levels, but most fundamentally because it is ahistoric. If social organisations perpetually reproduce themselves then slave society, feudalism and capitalism could never have come into existence.

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Django
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Sep 25 2008 17:33

In fact if you just said at the beginning that you think revolution is impossible you could have said at the beginning. It would have been easier.

fort-da game
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Sep 25 2008 20:03
Joseph K. wrote:
fort-da game wrote:
Things embody and represent the actual relations of production... the question is whether 'liberated' factories could produce objects which no longer dictated to lived life but served/facilitated life (i.e. took their proper place as objects).

the first part of this quote seems to answer the second. why, when the actual relations of production are freely associated labour in common should the products of our labour come to stand over us as masters of our activity?

No, the actual relations of production are not reducible to immeidate activity – the question is whether we can turn capitalist process to communist ends. You say yes. I say no – there is more historical proof for my scepticism than for your credulity.

I think you have got stuck in a role supplying technological solutions, of making things work which do not even exist, and this has caused you to reverse the proper ordering of your approach. I think you are intelligent people, but the form of discourse you have adopted, which is solutions-led, means you are trapped into arguing positions in public which you have reservations about in private (or at least there has to be a discrepancy between your propagandist work and your actual opinion.)

It is specifically this left-out aspect of ideological fetishism, which doesn’t even really supply your needs as its proponents, that I am most interested in. You are intelligent enough to know that rationalisation of production will not satisfy, no matter how it is filtered through ideological forms of ‘communism’, the diversity of human need – and it is need first that must dictate.

Why do you think I disagree with you? I am not stupid, I know all your arguments, I have made the same points myself. But it is not enough, it has no basis in anything but possessing some truth-product. The fact that the content of proposed solutions does not in any way satisfy my intellect forces me to drop the role of propagandist, how can I convert others of positions I know to be unrealistic?

I would define communism as the institution of radical need, because it is need and not activity that defines us, I would guess that the degree and form of technological development would respond to this. I would guess that the period of workers’ self-management, if it is to pass the initial revolutionary phase, will be defined more in terms of decomissioning than in re-directing production towards pre-established quantities of ‘need’ according to the direction of centralised planning.

The communist’s role is articulating critique and discontent, the organisation of society is now and always will be settled at a level beyond what you or I say – as soon as we pass on to the terrain of arguing how a new world might work, we are talking bollocks, you know that as well I do.

The arguments put forward by Django are ones I have already had to give up, they do not explain the reality in which we live, nor do they act upon it to change it. He thinks only those who don't understand can disagree, but I do understand, I know it although I have never been able to write it as he does, because I know it is not adequate. It is not a case that the proletariat have not yet reached this level of argument/awareness but rather that they have left it behind – his reduction of human existence to 'producers' is enough to demonstrate this. Communism is not political economy.

fort-da game
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Sep 25 2008 19:59
Django wrote:
In fact if you just said at the beginning that you think revolution is impossible you could have said at the beginning. It would have been easier.

No, it makes it much more difficult. Most people think revolution is impossible – beginning from this is more honest I think, rather than assuming they haven't received your truth. We have different notions of honesty though.

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Sep 25 2008 20:29

fort-da, you seem to miss the point of what Joseph K. and Django are saying entirely. Nobody thinks that production under communism would be identical to production under capitalism, placing production under workers' management within the context of a free society is inherently going to change the form and products of that process. If only because certain products only make sense within a capitalist context.

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Sep 25 2008 20:42
fort-da game wrote:
No, the actual relations of production are not reducible to immeidate activity – the question is whether we can turn capitalist process to communist ends. You say yes. I say no

if you could quote where i've said this, it would really help since everything i've said has been about transforming labour processes under workers' control. the nearest i've said is that certain existing practices 'point beyond themselves.'

fort-da game wrote:
you are trapped into arguing positions in public which you have reservations about in private (or at least there has to be a discrepancy between your propagandist work and your actual opinion.)

again with the psychoanalysis. i thought you said you didn't know anyone here personally? so how do you know what views we express in private, and if they differ from the views expressed here? for my part at least, they don't. in fact i went for a run with another libcommer earlier and we discussed this thread, i didn't suddenly change my opinions. i'm not sure how anything i've said here is in contradiction with propaganda i've been involved in, i mean it's perfectly possible of course since i'm obviously fallible and most likely inconsistent like everyone else, but the onus is on you to show how, say Tea Break is in contradiction to my arguments here (although even then the topics are completely different; a specific struggle now vs speculations about a future society).

fort-da game wrote:
as soon as we pass on to the terrain of arguing how a new world might work, we are talking bollocks, you know that as well I do.

well we're certainly being speculative, and i don't have the hubris to think my musings provide a blueprint for the millions who would actually create said society, who are obviously capable of thinking for themselves and collectively finding ways to meet their needs better than those of any one would-be intellectual.

fort-da game
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Sep 26 2008 15:56

I didn’t properly reply to Django’s exposition of productive relations. The first thing that struck me was the form it took; almost literally, the arguments used in it are a 150 years old. Django contributed nothing to his own arguments, recited like a catechism, other than his adherence to them. I find this somewhat disquieting when it is the nature of commodity fetishism generally, and in ideological form in particular, that is being discussed here.

Django says I don’t know what commodity fetishism is, an absurd allegation in that ‘it’ is not a ‘thing’ but an effect of human relations which is indexed to the degree of interpellation of the subject. Marx calls the commodity fetish a ‘mystery’, this because it is an effect and not a tangible thing, nobody can say what ‘it’ is, we can describe its effect, as an effect, we can explain the conditions in which it functions. But there is a surplus there which is never reducible to either description or explanation, it remains a mystery which is why leftists prefer not to talk about it and instead focus on how many tractors must be produced according to the next five year plan.

The discussion here concerns the appearance of past labour in current activity. It is an essentail part of the communist ABC to critically engage with the ‘rising organic component of capital’, as this presents us with an alternative in theory: either we percieve that the productive relations are objectively constituted in ‘history’ (whatever that is) and a politifcs of ‘libertion’ is then formulated along the lines Django sets out, i.e. the liberation of the productive relation from its historical scaffolding, its ‘fetters’; alternatively, beginning from a theory of alienation, we see that the ‘objective’ development of capitalist process embodies the class relation and that it is not sufficient to imagine that the removal of the wage relation is equivalent to the communisation of society but that a complete a break as pssioble must be made from previous forms, and a total transformation of our society embarked upon.

Django clearly argues that it is the removal of the fetters of private ownership of production, the wage relation, production for profit which is the fundamental precondition of communist society. However, we see from the few examples where this has occurred, that these measures have not been sufficient to abolish the capitalist social relation which has always managed to reassert itself, against the will of the ‘producers’ as Django calls them, and recommense, almost autonomously capitalist production. I would suggest this ‘recommencing’ of capitalist relations on the terrain of the revolution is due to the continued presence of commodity fetishism which has been carried over through the unexamined relation of men to labour.

My argument is that factory production is so complex that it cannot function without the ‘force’ of capital behind it.... precisely because the impetous of the proprtion of dead alienated labour continues to dominate live inputs. The factory system demands a certain rationalised environment to operate, without that environment, connections between the various parts of production begin to fail. The machines ‘demand’ certain behaviours of the workers otherwise the machines don’t work properly. I would suggest that the demands of the machines involve an environment of private ownership, wages, capital, class society – it is for this reason, i.e. at the level of 2nd nature, that counter-revolutoin at the level of need, and production for need, spreads more effectively than revolution.

Now, it could be, I do not say it is impossible at all, that the productive forces as inherited from capital might be dominated by the needs and activity of living people. It could be that the tendency of process to alienate living labour might be inverted by redressing the automatic aspect of production (the tendency of the organic component to rise) through the increasing of the proportion of decision making input – this would take the form of a ‘governor’ on the process, via meetings where critique is privileged above mere consent, and to which the process is made to respond. But this, precisely, is what Cantdocartwheels is against. They have argued that only the ‘workers’ involved should have input into the direction of specific industries and thus emphasise the automatic, i.e. the capitalised, fragment of production.

fort-da game
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Sep 26 2008 16:23
revol68 wrote:
oh look it's a communist that has fallen into fatalism, of course if fort da game was properly skeptical of any future blueprints for communism he'd be unable to say whether or not factories would exist, to the contrary he has a much more speculative concept of communism that magically cleanly breaks from previous means of production. Those of us who see the necessity of large scale production in communism instead have a concept of communism rooted in the possibilities of the present, and indeed it is this contradiction between the possibilities contained within the means of production and how the social relations of capital limit them that is one of the biggest impetuses towards social revolution or at least makes it possible to imagine revolution in the organisation of society.

I am not so dishonest or lazy as to not accept that this is well put. However, my concern remains the struggle against conditions, not the formulation of 'possibilities' that exist in the present. And in this case, the reason this discussion is taking place, I don't like the way in which such perceived possibilities are used as a means for shutting others up... the way 'possibilities' become real in discourse, it is the revolutionary's equivalent of selling unsecured mortgages.

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Oct 5 2008 15:34

But we have to ask ourselves to what level these so-called desires for commodities are our own, or if they are creations of the advertising industry. I don't watch television and therefore I don't see very many adverts and, not surprisingly I don't "desire" many of the things my friends do, such as iPods, designer clothes, alcohol, tobacco or electronic widgets. I do, however, find the things I see in stores that legitimately interest me such as vinyl records to be quite enjoyable.

Pepe
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Oct 5 2008 17:02

Are you saying that its natural to like records, but wanting an i-pod is just a result of being brainwashed by advertising?

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Global Dissident
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Oct 5 2008 23:27

No, I'm saying my desire for vinyl records is internal, I have never once seen a commercial for them, yet I still desire them. I have only once or twice seen an advert for an iPod and have only desired for one immediately after seeing an ad for one. Since I never watch T.V. the marketing messages are not reinforced and the false desire subsides. I suppose a desire for iPods could be natural if one was aware of their existence, but had never seen an ad for one.

Mike Harman
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Oct 5 2008 23:30

Well I've seen plenty of adverts for iPods on the tube etc., and still don't want one. I did finally break down and get a phone contract with a semi-decent phone last year instead of a crappy pay as you go one, but that was mainly due to a few mates having one (and nearly free internet access bundled with it).

Also, there's plenty of ways old records are marketed - discographies, the shops themselves, reviews, discussion forums - marketing isn't just about advertising.

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Oct 5 2008 23:38

This point about marketing is pretty irrelevant to this discussion but I'll address this point anyway (Django, Joseph and others adequately responded to the initial): marketing is much simpler than just adverts. Our entire culture is propagated to market goods, services and ideologies to us. The idea of "vinyl" (the using of which require spending a lot more money than just illegally downloading MP3s) is sold throughout culture, from magazine articles to films like Hi Fidelity, to the general idea of "cool", which is of course affected by all those things.

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Oct 5 2008 23:53

My idea of cool is that things that were around pre-agriculture are Gigacool, pre-industrialism are way cool, pre-WWII are cool, after 1975 are royally uncool and all things made after 1985 are the devil's work.

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Oct 6 2008 00:07

Global dissident, what is a false desire?
If I want to buy something because I think it will make me happy then why not. I have recently bought some vinyl and playing the records makes me happy, so does listening to the mps on my computer and so did paying to go to a gig and hear the songs. As far as I can understand it you've failed to respond to django other than accusing him of reciting old arguments (none of which you've actually countered). In a communist society I will not sell my labour, I will choose to give time to my community and my comrades. I would be working partly out of a desire to supply my comrades with what they need and desire and partly out of gratitude for their having supplied me.

Making things in a factory is no more inherently capitalistic than growing vegetables in a field is feudal. It is the social relation that makes a factory capitalist not the factory itself (depending of course on our definition of factory)

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Zanturaeon
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Oct 6 2008 06:16

I like having all kinds of crazy semi-useless shit. Fancy gadgets, crazy clothes, etc. I don't know why everyone else is in it, but for me attaining communism is about making sure not only that everyone has all of their necessities and has to do compulsory, lame work as little as possible, but also that everybody can wear cool t-shirts and spend late nights speculating about nano-bots, not just privileged workers in the first world. I like commodities. More commodities, better commodities! Cool stuff is cool.

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Oct 6 2008 06:50

can everone who thinks commodity fetishism means liking commodities please read Django's first post on this thread, kthxbai.

fort-da game wrote:
my concern remains the struggle against conditions, not the formulation of 'possibilities' that exist in the present.

in terms of practical activity, ditto. doesn't preclude speculations about what the future may look like - something you seem to agree with with your speculations that machines are inherently reliant on alienated labour etc...

fort-da game wrote:
My argument is that factory production is so complex that it cannot function without the ‘force’ of capital behind it.... precisely because the impetous of the proprtion of dead alienated labour continues to dominate live inputs. The factory system demands a certain rationalised environment to operate, without that environment, connections between the various parts of production begin to fail. The machines ‘demand’ certain behaviours of the workers otherwise the machines don’t work properly.

now there's a certain truth that machines tend to have a rhythm of their own etc, but much of this is because they're designed according to capitalist rationality (i.e. to minimise socially neccessary labour time). there's no inherent reason machines can't be used to emancipate us from repetitive toil... and even if machine production does necessarily reduce labour to boring button-pushing, the point being made on the thread is that in an anarchist/communist society we could choose whether an hour of that or 8 hours of more craft-like labour was more appealing, whether we want to try and lose all distinction between work and non-work, or whether we decide that some tasks will be a bit dull/unpleasant regardless, but we can use technology to minimise the time spent doing them.

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redboots
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Oct 6 2008 09:19

Maybe Im not clear on the debate, but it seems like things as such are not the problem. Nor is advertising especially. The problem is that we do not control the means of production. I think that there would be less things produced that were crappy and meant to simply compete with other stores, but I imagine we would still have high quality electronics etc, as long as we could produce them in a manner that was good for the Earth (as it relates to our needs which does include sane ecological balance). And no booze? Have you met Anarchists ; )

fort-da game
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Oct 7 2008 14:19
jef costello wrote:
As far as I can understand it you've failed to respond to django other than accusing him of reciting old arguments (none of which you've actually countered). In a communist society I will not sell my labour, I will choose to give time to my community and my comrades. I would be working partly out of a desire to supply my comrades with what they need and desire and partly out of gratitude for their having supplied me.

Making things in a factory is no more inherently capitalistic than growing vegetables in a field is feudal. It is the social relation that makes a factory capitalist not the factory itself (depending of course on our definition of factory)

Firstly, you seem to have confused me with somebody else, I assume the quoted part refers to my arguments. I have not responded to Django's arguments as they had nothing to do with the thread, I was not asking for a colour by numbers definition of commodity fetishism. Your account of communism is simplistic and religieuse; if it were demanded that we work harder to defend what we had 'won' you would work harder without questioning where the demand came from; if an NEP type reform was imposed then what choice would we have but to accept it because it is the 'social relation' that has imposed it? Production can swap backwards and forwards between capitalism and communism at will because it is the 'social relation' that is decisive? But what is the relation of the social relation to alienated activity, to past alienated activity carried forward? How is the social relation represented to us? How can I tell my freely given activity is not contributing to the return of capitalist production? A factory system is based upon compression of processes; no individual can have access to the wider process, therefore s/he has no awareness of whether what he contributes, or the workings of the system in general, is 'for the good' or not. No awareness that is other than a sense of grievance and an evaluation of how that grievance is responded to within the structure of the process.

The 'social relation' is a shorthand it ought not become a fetish.

fort-da game
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Oct 7 2008 14:26

Red Boots:

Quote:
Maybe Im not clear on the debate, but it seems like things as such are not the problem.

Yes, things are the problem but not a problem in the sense of renunciation.

It is important to think in general terms what a fetish is and also specifically how commodity fetishism works. A ‘thing’ is the compression of past activity into material form which then participates in present activities. A fetish is a thing in a relay of commands which stands in the place of someone telling you what to do (i.e. a traffic light or a fire alarm has a complete set of learnt social relations which are compressed into people's ‘automatic’ responses to its interventions – i.e. an orange light means speed up). A commodity fetish refers to the a compressed relay of commands fixed into material form which function in our lives to reproduce capitalist social relations.

Furthermore, there is a ‘problem’ with things when it is decided that we no longer want to respond to the specific compressions of command relays contained within them; the question becomes whether we can separate a perceived use-value from a specified relay of commands and the social relation which they express. Is it possible to use the same things in different circumstances and to different ends? The obvious answer is the one you give:

Red Boots:

Quote:
The problem is that we do not control the means of production.

But maybe we won’t be able to extract the use-value of things from the command relays which they were embedded in. For a number of marxists this problem is overcome via the advocacy of historical thresholds, they see the material development of things (or the progressive socialisation of production) as an objective precondition of communist society – for them, the use-values are ripe for picking by new forms of social relation. However, for what it’s worth, I don’t agree with them; I think they abandon a critique of both alienation, and exploitation (to use the parameters of the Dauve-T/C debate), I think they forget how a fetish functions in social relations. I would therefore suggest that communism is not a matter of us ‘controlling’ the means of production (which are not the same means as the capitalist means of production) but of instituting ‘our’ question, ‘how are we going to control the means of production?’ It is a question which has no 'answer' but which must be constantly set so as to interrupt a drift into life being dictated to by dead labour.

Joseph K:

Quote:
now there's a certain truth that machines tend to have a rhythm of their own etc, but much of this is because they're designed according to capitalist rationality (i.e. to minimise socially neccessary labour time). there's no inherent reason machines can't be used to emancipate us from repetitive toil... and even if machine production does necessarily reduce labour to boring button-pushing, the point being made on the thread is that in an anarchist/communist society we could choose whether an hour of that or 8 hours of more craft-like labour was more appealing, whether we want to try and lose all distinction between work and non-work, or whether we decide that some tasks will be a bit dull/unpleasant regardless, but we can use technology to minimise the time spent doing them.

The gist of what you say here is not at issue. I would just say though that the category ‘machines’ is not appropriate, it should always be ‘this’ machine and how it is to be related to processes.

But the misunderstanding here has never been about ‘machines’ or no ‘machines’. The issue is about the political use of an argument about machinery to define Libcom’s politics against the discourses of other strands of anarchist discourse. I have little in common with these anarchist worldviews except to say that I think their intuition concerning ‘things’ in negative terms is closer to the truth of how our existence is governed than the ‘solution’ which you propose (i.e. workers’ self-management). My argument concerned the fetish-like function of your worldview which proposed an answer to the disfunctions of capitalism as if that answer were the end of it, as if there could be no further discussion, and as if human beings were so simple that they would really be satisfied by the panacea of ‘controlling’ production. My argument, which hasn’t changed, is that your solution functions in your disputes with other anarchists as a fetish and an ideology.

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Oct 7 2008 15:32
fort-da game wrote:
I have little in common with these anarchist worldviews except to say that I think their intuition concerning ‘things’ in negative terms is closer to the truth of how our existence is governed than the ‘solution’ which you propose (i.e. workers’ self-management).

well this is certainly a point of disagreement. i don't agree use-values should necessarily be viewed in a negative light, the power of the fetish is not the thing but the social relations, not just recited as mantra but critically so. i cannot see how an mp3 player for instance compresses 'command relays' - it pre-supposes a certain division of labour and automated mass production for sure, but i've argued above there's nothing inherently capitalist about these things, and you've agreed with my 'gist.'

fort-da game wrote:
My argument concerned the fetish-like function of your worldview which proposed an answer to the disfunctions of capitalism as if that answer were the end of it, as if there could be no further discussion, and as if human beings were so simple that they would really be satisfied by the panacea of ‘controlling’ production.

whereas this seems to be a misunderstanding. the thread was inviting speculation as to what an anarchist society would look like - workers' control is a fundamental facet of anarchism so it's unsurprising it came up. But it's not the be all and end all, by any means. In fact it was many of the posters from whom you amalgamated this mysterious 'discourse' who were actually arguing we should use technology to reduce the time we spend working (under our own control) to free up our lives for other pursuits.

fort-da game wrote:
My argument, which hasn’t changed, is that your solution functions in your disputes with other anarchists as a fetish and an ideology.

this seems to echo the criticism of 'ironic consumerism' made by revol68 and others recently (which i don't know if you saw), which claimed that regulars posting up about shoes they bought etc was simply a reaction to lifestylists who are no longer even there to wind up. i think that criticism missed that there's nothing neccessarily ironic about consuming use values and boasting about it. i certainly don't think there's a fetish here in the marxist sense - and if you mean a freudian fetish we're back to 'oh noes, people like stuff!', which i'm sure isn't what you're saying.

As to ideology, of course the prevailing ideas constitute an ideology. Does this necessarily mean these ideas are closed and dogmatic? No. The denial of ideology is ideology par excellence, i don't see the problem with a bunch of communists having an ideology per se. Can you elaborate?

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Oct 7 2008 16:00
fort-da game wrote:
jef costello wrote:
As far as I can understand it you've failed to respond to django other than accusing him of reciting old arguments (none of which you've actually countered). In a communist society I will not sell my labour, I will choose to give time to my community and my comrades. I would be working partly out of a desire to supply my comrades with what they need and desire and partly out of gratitude for their having supplied me.

Making things in a factory is no more inherently capitalistic than growing vegetables in a field is feudal. It is the social relation that makes a factory capitalist not the factory itself (depending of course on our definition of factory)

Firstly, you seem to have confused me with somebody else, I assume the quoted part refers to my arguments. I have not responded to Django's arguments as they had nothing to do with the thread, I was not asking for a colour by numbers definition of commodity fetishism. Your account of communism is simplistic and religieuse; if it were demanded that we work harder to defend what we had 'won' you would work harder without questioning where the demand came from; if an NEP type reform was imposed then what choice would we have but to accept it because it is the 'social relation' that has imposed it? Production can swap backwards and forwards between capitalism and communism at will because it is the 'social relation' that is decisive? But what is the relation of the social relation to alienated activity, to past alienated activity carried forward? How is the social relation represented to us? How can I tell my freely given activity is not contributing to the return of capitalist production? A factory system is based upon compression of processes; no individual can have access to the wider process, therefore s/he has no awareness of whether what he contributes, or the workings of the system in general, is 'for the good' or not. No awareness that is other than a sense of grievance and an evaluation of how that grievance is responded to within the structure of the process.

The 'social relation' is a shorthand it ought not become a fetish.

Only if your factory is not run along communist lines. Of course if all the workers are alienated then this is true. But the factory would not be a communist one so that's where it falls down.
A factory without foremen and where workers were in control would not be the same as one where they are forced to work.
For example a communist factory would be run on a schedule agreed and organised by the workers, if for example, it was more efficient to run the machines 24 hours a day then workers might decide to do a night shift or they might decide not too. They would not have omne imposed upon them by a boss.
I think your definition of the word factory precludes it being communist, as such this argument will always be circular as mine does not.

Quote:
; if an NEP type reform was imposed

Again, if an NEP programme was imposed there would not be communism, the imposition of something (leaving aside the non-communistic nature of the NEP) requires a ruling class and therefore such an imposition cannot be made in a communist society.

Quote:
Production can swap backwards and forwards between capitalism and communism at will because it is the 'social relation' that is decisive?

It is the social relation of the worker to capital that defines captital so yes, if the social relation changes then the mode of production will change. Methods of production will not remain identical if the social relation changes, this is obvious, but it does not necessarily mean that we abandon all advances made in the field of production. The factory was of course a capitalist invention, but the hospital was a feudal invention doesn't mean that a communist society would dispense with hospitals. Or my original example of the field. You might dismiss django's post as 'colour by numbers' but it sems to me that you might be in need of that.

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Oct 7 2008 16:00

Double post

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