Saturday, December 26, 2015

Under the Christmas tree, the beach! This season's communising measures...


Happy Christmas fellow wage-slaves! I'm re-reading this Endnotes #2 text and wanted to share a great segment from it:

"The theory of communisation emerged as a critique of various conceptions of the revolution inherited from both the 2nd and 3rd International Marxism of the workers’ movement, as well as its dissident tendencies and oppositions. The experiences of revolutionary failure in the first half of the 20th century seemed to present as the essential question, whether workers can or should exercise their power through the party and state (Leninism, the Italian Communist Left), or through organisation at the point of production (anarcho-syndicalism, the Dutch-German Communist Left).

On the one hand some would claim that it was the absence of the party — or of the right kind of party — that had led to revolutionary chances being missed in Germany, Italy or Spain, while on the other hand others could say that it was precisely the party, and the “statist,” “political” conception of the revolution, that had failed in Russia and played a negative role elsewhere.

Those who developed the theory of communisation rejected this posing of revolution in terms of forms of organisation, and instead aimed to grasp the revolution in terms of its content.

Communisation implied a rejection of the view of revolution as an event where workers take power followed by a period of transition: instead it was to be seen as a movement characterised by immediate communist measures (such as the free distribution of goods) both for their own merit, and as a way of destroying the material basis of the counter-revolution.

If, after a revolution, the bourgeoisie is expropriated but workers remain workers, producing in separate enterprises, dependent on their relation to that workplace for their subsistence, and exchanging with other enterprises, then whether that exchange is self-organised by the workers or given central direction by a “workers’ state” means very little: the capitalist content remains, and sooner or later the distinct role or function of the capitalist will reassert itself.

By contrast, the revolution as a communising movement would destroy — by ceasing to constitute and reproduce them — all capitalist categories: exchange, money, commodities, the existence of separate enterprises, the state and — most fundamentally — wage labour and the working class itself."

So what the hell are 'communist measures'? There's a text on communist measures here, but one Libcom posters note that:

'communisation is a movement at the level of the totality'. So it's not a question of particular acts being communising, and enough of them adding up to communism/revolution, but that acts take on a communising character depending on the movement of which they're a part. This is all a bit abstract, so I'll give an example.

Let's imagine a single factory closes down, and is occupied, taken over and self-managed by its workers. This may or may not be a good thing; I doubt many communisation theorists, even those most critical of self-management would begrudge workers trying to survive, though some argue occupying to demand a higher severance package would be a better approach than assuming management of a failing firm. But a single act like this doesn't challenge the totality of capitalist relations, it would just swap a vertically managed firm for a horizontally managed one, leaving the 'totality' unchanged.

However, if factory takeovers were happening on a mass scale, such that they could start doing away with commercial/commodity relations between them; and at the same time there were insurgent street movements toppling governments; mass refusals to pay rent/mortgages and militant defence of subsequent 'squatting'; collective kitchens springing up to feed insurgents (whether they're 'workers' in a narrow sense, or homeless, or domestic workers, or unemployed or whatever); and free health clinics being opened either by laid off doctors/nurses, or in their spare time, or in occupied hospitals and other buildings... If this was happening across several countries then we might be looking at a communising movement at the level of the totality; toppling state power, superseding commercial relations, making possible social reproduction (housing, food, health) without mediation by money, self-management of the activities necessary for this etc (rather than self-management of commodity production and wage labour).

All a long way to say that: a) things can't go on the way they are, and b) the struggle against the way things are can't necessarily be the same as struggles of the past.

Time for some more reading!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

I designed a poster...


It's been a while, but here's my latest poster for the Labour History Project. It's a play on Lenin's famous text, the red flag, etc etc.

If you're in Wellington make sure to get to this event and help support the work of the LHP: http://www.lhp.org.nz/?p=1208

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Upcoming AK Press fundraiser in Wellington - 26 September



A fundraising celebration of radical and independent publishing in Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond!

AK Press is a worker-run, collectively managed anarchist publishing and distribution company, in operation since 1990. On March 21st of this year, a fire in a building behind AK’s caught fire and the fire spread to AK’s warehouse. Two people living in the building died in the fire, much of AK’s inventory was damaged by water and smoke, and the city has deemed their building uninhabitable. While they have suffered a major blow they are carrying on and continue to publish and distribute anarchist and radical literature around the world, including to Aotearoa New Zealand. But they need all the help they can get and all money raised at this event will go directly to their fire relief fund.

More information about AK Press and the fire can be found at http://www.akpress.org/fire-relief.html

Speakers so far:
Jared Davidson
Mark Darby
Rebel Press
The Freedom Shop
Kassie Hartendorp
Faith Wilson
Leilani A Visesio
Kerry Ann Lee
Maria McMillan
Pip Adam
Scott Kendrick
Don Franks
Ken Simpson
Barry Pateman
Murdoch Stephens

With music by:
Mr Sterile Assembly
Te Kupu
Gold Medal Famous
The All Seeing Hand

When: Saturday September 26, 2015
Where: Moon, 167 Riddiford St, Newtown, Wellington
$10 to $10 million depending on how generous you're feeling!

Readings from 6:30 pm, music from 9pm
AK Press books will be available for sale through The Freedom Shop.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance (review)


Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance
By Scott Nikolas Nappalos, ed. (Alberta, Canada: Black Cat Press, 2013)
Review by Jared Davidson, first published in LHP Bulletin 64.

Lines of Work is a fascinating, at times bleak and emotive volume of stories about work and its effect on our lives. How fitting then, that my review copy was waiting for me after my usual 20-minute trip home from work had stretched to four hours, thanks to the flooding in Wellington of 14 May 2015. Work (with a little help from the weather) had kept me away from my loved ones even more than it already does on a day-to-day basis. That period after clocking out was clearly not my own time, but that of capital.

The thirty-two stories in Lines Of Work explore similar examples of contemporary working life. It brings together texts originally published on “Recomposition”, an online publication run by a collective of worker radicals based in the US and Canada. Written between 2009 and 2011, we hear from a range of people in various jobs, including non-profit organisations (which are no different from the rest). The writers are not professionals, and rightly so—the purpose of Lines of Work stems from a desire to link and explore the everyday experiences of people who work as an organising tool. As we know, “the personal is political”, and Lines of Work is an example of a radical praxis that supports the power of discourse without drifting into a Foucauldian abyss.

“In the eyes of dominant culture and the opinions of political culture” writes editor Scott Nappalos in the Introduction, “stories play second fiddle. In political life, literature is at best an emotional tool for theory, something to motivate people around a cause or worse, simply pure entertainment.” Yet “looking at stories in that way is out of step with working life. The lives of working-class people are filled with stories people share every day about their struggles, perspectives, and aspirations” (p.1).

With this in mind, Lines of Work asks us to take a serious look at the way stories can help us build a better society. “There is something powerful in the process of someone who participates in struggle finding a voice to their experiences… reframing the role of stories requires us seeing this process as both part of being an active participant in social struggles, and as a way to participate” (p.2). In doing so a transformation can occur, opening “up space for deeper work” (p.2). Stories about work should be seen “not only for their beauty, tragedy, and motivating power in our lives, but also as a reflection of workers grappling with their world and creating new currents of counter-power autonomous from the dominance of capital and the State” (p.7). Stories of work, therefore, are a “part of workers’ activity to understand and change their lot under capitalism… through storytelling, [the stories] draw out the lessons of workplace woes, offering new paths and perspectives for social change and a new world” (blurb).

As another reviewer has pointed out, “a good amount of these jobs—finance, food service, clerical work, manufacturing bullets for imperialist wars—are not the seeds of a future society but a blight on the present one. There is no straight line from these jobs to a libertarian communist society, nor are most of them (except for the bullet factory, really), strategic ‘choke points’ of capital, as the present theories of circulation dictates that we seek out. A revolutionary struggle would be waged to eliminate these jobs, not to make them cooperative”. Yet this is not necesarily the point of the book. While it may lack the “what next” element some readers crave, Lines of Work is a welcome addition to the subjective aspect of working-class experience that is often missing from theoretical accounts of struggle.

In Lines of Work, the stories are organised into three sections: resistance, time, and sleep. The theme of “resistance” “gives accounts of trying to correct problems at work, and collective lessons that came out of those struggles” (p.7). What struck me about this section was the arbitrariness that so many workers have to deal with in their day-to-day work, from not being allowed to celebrate birthdays to managerial changes to a roster. These are not tales of general strikes or historic moments, but stories of little struggles: of the mundane yet important tasks that can either foster resistance or keep a workforce down. Some victories are shared, but so are many losses and regrets at what happened, or what could have been done differently.

“Time” was my favourite section and the largest in the book. It covers “the world of work, in all that it demands and takes from us” (p.7). What this means is spelled out in rare, intimate detail, and in a way that instantly resonates (well, for me at least). Travel to and from work, repetitive on-the-job tasks, shitty customers, shitty bosses, sexism and difficult workplace conversations, racism, identity, class, job control, poor health, despair—are explored across workplaces totally different yet unsurprisingly the same. I light-heartedly explained this to a friend as “the commonalities of crappiness”. But in all seriousness, what is great about this book is how the stories connect the common elements of working life, and place our own experiences of work into an international context.

The section titled “Sleep and Dreams” shares examples of how capital invades what is supposedly our “own” time: our sleep. Who hasn’t dreamed about work? Had a nightmare of turning up to work a job they quit years ago? “Awaking from a work dream only to find one’s work day only beginning is perhaps one of the banal horrors shared most widely by the entire worldwide proletariat”. These stories of dreams and (lack of) sleep are sad yet fascinating in their own right. But the underlining idea of un-free time and the reproduction of capital (in the form of what we do in between clocking out and signing in) is a strong critique of work as a separate activity of life—of alienation. It is the perfect way to end an engaging and highly readable expose of contemporary working life, and how unnatural the wage relation truly is.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Lunchtime talk - a few pics


Thank you all who attended my lunchtime talk. Images by Llewelyn Jones, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa.