Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

BREXIT: SOME IMPLICATIONS FOR WORKING-CLASS POLITICS IN GENERAL

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Certain individuals from liberalism-addled sections of the Indian ‘radical’ left – particularly those intent on championing the bankrupt programmatic line of democratic revolution in a pig-headed way – have been quick to assert on social media that Great Britain’s exit vote from the EU confirms their thesis that globalisation has not weakened the nation-state but actually strengthened it.

 

Some other individuals among their fair-weather sympathisers and supporters – especially those who are given to frequent bouts of social media-aided verbal diarrhea, and who tend to swing wildly between the populism of national Bolshevism of the self-proclaimed radical left and that of political formations such as the Aam Aadmi Party — have gone so far as to suggest that we are headed for World War III. From this sort of reading they intend to draw, as is their wont, validation for the bankrupt politics of shameless class-collaboration and tailism, which they purvey under various rhetorically-charged ‘radical’ labels of ‘democratic revolution’.

 

Such grandiloquent assertions are demonstrations of theoretical vacuousness and strategic insolvency. And the reading of the situation that underpins such statements suggests that this predicted World War III would merely be yet another edition of the previous two world wars, both in essence and appearance. Since such a reading pays absolutely no attention to the changed political composition of the capitalist world-system – and to the differentia specifica of its current conjuctural character – it is incapable of either revealing anything useful about the nature of the globe-enveloping conflict, which would be substantively different from the earlier world wars, or registering the fact that we have actually already been smack in the midst of just such a global conflict for, at least, the past three decades.

 

This reading of theirs is hastily impressionistic, terribly superficial, perniciously one-sided, foolishly linear, historically illiterate and politically compromised. What they don’t get at all – and this is because they clearly have no taste for historically grounded dialectical thinking in all its complexity and complications – is that the surge in various kinds and forms of reactionary nationalism and ethno-cultural chauvinism across the world symptomatises not the strengthening of nation-states but precisely their crisis. More accurately, the global ascendancy of such chauvinist politics symptomatises the decadence of the re-orientated sovereignty of nation-states.

 

We need to understand that a geo-political formation such as the EU, as an embodiment of the post-Westphalian order of nation-states, was not, as the advocates and ideologues of such an order would have us believe, the outcome of some noble collective effort to ensure that nothing like the two catastrophic world wars, which wracked the Westphalian order of national states, would be repeated. Rather, the EU, as a post-Westphalian (re-)configuration of nation-states in Europe, was precisely the culmination of that which the two world wars – but particularly, World War II – sought to accomplish.

 

Such a claim would appear much less outrageous if one were to make sense of the crisis of the Westphalian order of nation-states in Europe, a crisis that manifest itself in the two world wars, in terms of the crisis of its underlying political-economic structure. The nation-state has so far always been the basic unit of territorially organising international division of labour, aka the capitalist world-system. However, the Westphalian nation-states were constitutive of organising the differentiated international division of labour in a situation that was characterised principally by the globalisation of only the moment of circulation, exchange and/or value-realisation in the circuit of capital. That explains, among other things, the self-enclosed and insuperable nature of their respective sovereignties.

 

On the other hand, nation-states in a post-Westphalian world – and particularly the nation-states that comprise a geo-political formation such as the EU – are constitutive of organising the differentiated international division of labour in circumstances characterised by the transnationalisation of the production and labour processes. This means nation-states now function as basic units of organising the international division of labour in a situation characterised by the globalisation of virtually the entire circuit of capital.

 

In the Westphalian order, the nation-state exercised its sovereignty to manage social labour engaged in a nationally enclosed production process in order to ensure competitive advantage for its national territoriality of production in the globally integrated sphere of exchange. The nation-state now is, however, orientated to exercise its sovereignty in order to enable the effective operation of the transnationalised production chain by way of contributing its executive-managerial mite in the efficient functioning of the division of labour constitutive of this transnationalised production process. The nationally delimited arbitrage of wage and labour it enforces within its sovereign territoriality, not without a more-than-little reliance on various so-called pre-capitalist and pre-modern forms of power and labour relations at times and in certain places, – and the so-called comparative advantage this concomitantly ensures –, is meant to accomplish precisely that: the efficient operation of the transnationally integrated production process.

 

We would, at this point, do well to attend to the fact that the current phase of capitalism characterised by the globalisation of the circuit of capital almost in its entirety – something that is geo-politically manifest in the post-Westphalian arrangement of nation-states such as the EU — emerged out of the previous phase of capital that was defined largely by the globalisation of merely the circuit’s moment of circulation and exchange. This mutation of the earlier phase into what we have now, it must be clarified here, was effected by a crisis the former had generated for itself. The accentuation of class struggle within self-enclosed national sovereignties, effected in the process of enabling and ensuring their respective competitive advantage in the globally integrated sphere of exchange, resulted in a progressively accelerated unleashing of productive forces and the concomitant diminishing of living labour. This made it increasingly difficult for production processes to remain enclosed and self-contained within nationally defined territorialities without driving capital accumulation into an abyss of unmitigated crisis. Inter-imperialist rivalries for colonies within and outside Europe, Fascism, and, eventually, the two world wars in quick succession, were the result.

 

The recomposition of the global capitalist regime of accumulation by way of transnationalisation of the production process is something the two world wars – but decisively the second – were clearly driving towards. The EU, as a post-Westphalian arrangement of nation-states, in being the institutionalisation of a new form of differentiated international division of labour that serves a transnationalised production process, demonstrates it’s a culmination of that which the two world wars had decisively pushed the globe towards.

However, the political-economic moment that came to be symptomatised by such post-Westphalian arrangement of nation-states as EU has been the moment of permanent crisis of political economy. As observed above, the transnational integration of production process was due to the accentuated unleashing of productive forces and thus a progressive increase in organic composition of capital. The technological change in the overall industrial process its further unfolding has led to  — by way of an unprecedented rise and shift in the quantity and quality of automation of production — has meant two mutually related things: increasing functional simplification of the labour process and same-skilling, and a progressive diminishing of living labour employed in the production process. The first has unleashed hitherto unobserved levels of competition and precarity in the realm of social labour.

 

That, needless to say, affords the system a huge leverage by way of which it has various segments and sections of social labour mutually regiment one another. The national states, in such circumstances, find themselves exercising their sovereign power as enabling agencies of such regimentation at all levels of the socio-economic formation within their respectively sovereign territorialities. But since progressive decline of living labour employed in the production process is an integral aspect of such precarity-induced regimentation of social labour, a progressively deepening crisis of capital accumulation has necessarily been coterminous with such precarity-induced regimentation. It’s precisely such a situation that has compelled capital to adopt financialisation as the dominant mode of its accumulation. Something that, in turn, has served to further heighten the already unprecedented levels of precarity in the realm of social labour.

 

At this point, it would probably be useful to detail yet another dimension of the interplay of these two contradictory but mutually enmeshed tendencies of precarity-induced regimentation of social labour, and the deepening of the crisis of accumulation due to attendant decline of living labour employed in the process of value-creation. We can clearly see, following the Marx of ‘Fragment on Machines’ (Grundrisse), that deeper the crisis of capital accumulation the greater the expulsion of living labour from production process by capital in its bid for enhanced productivity, and thus greater the precarity and precarity-induced regimentation of social labour. This, however, also means that greater the expulsion of living labour from production process deeper the crisis of capital accumulation. This is precisely how and why capital is, in Marx’s words, a “moving contradiction”.

 

So, the more living labour is expelled from production process to beat the crisis of accumulation the deeper that crisis tends to become. Hence, in order to manage that crisis, capital unleashes the productive power of living labour even as it seeks to regiment living labour through a process of capturing the productive power thus unleashed. This, as Marx has demonstrated in Capital, is borne out by the direct relation between the increase in organic composition of capital and the burgeoning of the industrial reserve army, aka the relative surplus population, which serves to regiment the productively-employed living labour suffering under the imposition of increasing intensity of work, even as the latter regiments the former in the process of being subsidised by it. This, it ought to be stated here in passing, is the level of industrially inflected social process where the viciously competitive politics of various kinds of identitarian chauvinisms plays out.

 

The post-Westphalian functionalisation of nation-states to, at once, induce and police migration of labour, both within and across nation-states, by way of internal colonisation, occupations, and imperialist and sub-imperialist meddling within the sovereign territorialities of relationally and relatively less powerful nation-states, is nothing but a geo-politically institutionalised expression of this political-economic process of moving contradiction.

 

Clearly, the system in its operation cannot afford to allow labour to be as globally mobile as capital because that would push capital accumulation towards its own extinction. This is precisely the reason why nation-states continue to be indispensable politico-ideological units of organising international division of labour even in a situation where the production process is transnationalised. And yet, it’s precisely this transnationalised production process – together with functional simplification of the overall labour process, which is its condition of possibility– that has rendered those nation-states the agencies that simultaneously enable and police migration, orientated as they now are by political regimes determined more and more by a variety of majoritarian and majoritarinising chauvinisms.

 

This, not surprisingly, has resulted in a situation where the geo-social and the geo-political dimensions constitutive of territorially sovereign nation-states are no longer fully congruent and in sync with one another. Thanks to migration, both internal and foreign, the neat arrangement of regions constitutive of the sovereign territoriality of a Westphalian nation-state is significantly diminished. Increasing migration of labour, both internal and foreign, has resulted in the geo-social dimension of the nation-state – or, for that matter, the geo-social dimension of a politically demarcated region within the nation-state — overflowing its geo-political dimension. This is the root of the crisis of (territorial) sovereignty symptomatised by the post-Westphalian nation-state. Institutional arrangements such as the EU, we would do well to bear in mind, are the dialectically articulated expressions of such crisis-causing political-economic processes. Such institutional arrangements, even as they reinforce those processes and the crisis of sovereignty they constitute, are not the first cause of that crisis.

 

In fact, if one were to carefully inquire into the nature of virulent nationalisms that are currently on the rise, one is likely to figure that such nationalisms no longer correspond to territorial sovereignty of nation-states in the traditional Westphalian sense. Rather, such nationalisms – and sub-nationalistic chauvinisms of different kinds — are politico-ideological exertions of different segments of social labour in their competitive bid to position themselves better vis-à-vis one another within the deterritorialised – or transnationalised – production/labour process. This is the glocalising essence of capitalist globalisation.

 

The unprecedented rise in precarity, thanks to functional simplification of the overall labour process, which has created the new category of the footloose “mass-worker” moving rapidly across factories, trades, sectors, regions, nations and continents, has served to further intensify the chauvinistically-articulated competition among various segments of social labour. And yet it’s this mass-worker, thanks to it being the objective embodiment of mobile labour, that has revolutionary-internationalist potential like no other proletarian social subject ever before. However, what has been thwarting the actualisation of this potential is the fact that precarity of segmentation – or the crisis of the law of value – continues to be animated and articulated by the law of value and the logic of segmentation respectively. Something that, therefore, produces the glocalised neurosis of nationalist chauvinisms mentioned above.

As a consequence, the globe-enveloping conflict will be – actually already is – nothing like the previous two world wars. It’s no longer a war purely among nationally defined states. Rather, what we have at hand – something that is destined to further intensify — is a generalising state of deterritorialised civil war. The institutionalised repressive apparatuses of nation-states are now only one among the many actors in this far more dispersed and thus far more intractable global conflict, which clearly reveals the crisis of the Hobbesian state of yore and its monopoly over violence. In such a situation of highly dispersed globalised confict, it will not do to see the state merely in terms of its institutionally congealed forms. One would do well to go beyond what is empirically immediate and grasp the repressive functioning of the state, and resistance against it, by looking closely and carefully at each subject-position involved in this conflict of global proportions in terms of its situation in the larger dynamic of social power, and the vector of transfer and extraction of labour-time that articulates this dynamic. Clearly, the inseparability of the state-form from the movement-form is now far more evident than ever before.

In a situation like this, which is characterised by class struggle being waged in the cathected and distortionary garb of racial, and other forms of ethno-nationalist and ethno-cultural, chauvinisms, the adoption of the dialectical approach while analysing socio-political reality becomes even more important. It is equally important that one discerns the fundamental distinction between Marx’s “scientific dialectic” and the speculative dialectic in order to uphold and adopt the former. The “scientific dialectic”, which is produced arguably through Marx’s epicureanisation of the speculative dialectic, enables one to see the good in the bad and the bad in the good. This is in striking contrast to the speculative dialectic that seeks to make sense of reality in terms of good and the bad, or, more precisely, good is the bad and bad is the good. Therefore, the speculative dialectic, insofar as political strategising goes, is destined to be reduced to the nonsense of petty-bourgeois ambidexterity. Something that Marx had quite accurately criticised Proudhon for.

 

A strategic intervention underpinned by Marx’s “scientific dialectic” will be one that is able to concretely envision a politics of “subtraction” (Badiou) and “denegation” (Althusser). The speculative dialectic, on the other hand, will, at best, generate a reactive politics of system-reinforcing seriality of negation of the negation, and progressive ‘democratisation’. That, in fact, has been the bane of class-blind radical interventions in struggles against racial and other forms of ethno-cultural oppression. As a result, such radical interventions have, ironically enough, failed to enable those struggles to break with the paradigm of race- and ethno-culturally blind ‘class-antagonistic’ politics of subjective forces situated in the realm of majoritarianised identities. And while the doorstep of the latter is pretty much where the blame for Brexit– or the political ascendancy of Narendra Modi in India and the possible ascension of Donald Trump in the US for that matter – ought to lie, the responsibility of the radicals of anti-racism, anti-casteism, etc., is, on those counts, only a wee bit less.

 

Adopting Marx’s “scientific dialectic” would mean that we grasp how the bad of reactive and reactionary ideological self-representation of various kinds of chauvinist politics has in it as its good radical core its performative dimension. This means the bad of chauvinist ideological self-representation is not the good of performative radicalism, but that the good of radicalism is in the bad of chauvinist ideological self-representation as its interrupted performative core. The task of theorisation, which seeks to develop a strategy of radical intervention and revolutionary generalisation, is to constantly separate out one from the other by way of concrete analysis of the concrete situation.

 

This analytical approach ought to be applied with dispassionate rigour to both majoritarian and minoritarian chauvinisms if one is truly committed to developing an effective strategy of revolutionary transformation of the crisis-ridden, barbaric conjuncture of the capitalist world-system. Of course, this is not to be mistaken as a plea for equivalence of chauvinisms. Whether the immediate political effect of a chauvinism is progressive or not depends on its positioning within the larger balance of class forces. To that extent, minoritarian chauvinist expressions must, from a revolutionary perspective, be treated differently from the majoritarian chauvinist ones. And yet, this engagement with the former by subjective forces of revolutionary transformation should be such that the performative radical core of such minoritarian chauvinist politics is demonstrated to its constitutive subject-positions in order to enable them to move towards generalising that performativity by separating it out, in their practice, from its ideological self-representation, and thus breaking with the latter in that process. Any passively reactive, or reformist-liberal, champinoning of minoritarian chauvinisms by radical subjective forces, without any engaged effort on their part to demonstrate how the performative radical core of such politics is separable from its ideological self-representation, yields nothing but lobby politics. Such politics serves to further imprison the oppressed minorities in their socio-political ghettos, which, in turn, bolsters the ideological hegemony of chauvinist politics in general and the concomitant political dominance of majoritarian chauvinism in particular. In the final analysis, such bleeding-heart, reactive politics is condemned to do nothing other than ensure its own continued existence by reinforcing the current post-fascist situation of fascisation of the entire conjuncture.

 

All this analysis, however, does not merely pertain to the UK and Europe. Once we start making sense of the structural-functionality of nation-states constitutive of the current conjuncture in terms of transnationalisation of the production process we will see that the post-Westphalian order of nation-states is not simply a continentally – or regionally – delimited institutional arrangement such as the EU, but is actually a generalised condition of nation-states that extends beyond the EU to the rest of the world as well. This, for one, would reveal the hollowness of claims made recently by a top-dog ‘Marxist’ economist – who is also one of the main ideologues of the thoroughly bankrupt parliamentary left in India – about how nation-states in the Third World have had a different historical trajectory than those constitutive of the post-Westphalian arrangement of the EU, and are thus intrinsically different from them.

 

Such claims by this economist, needless to say, are an exercise in saving the appearances in order to continue validating that which can no longer be validated: the national-Bolshevist politics of both democratic and so-called socialist revolutions. In fact, in this respect there is not much by way of which one could distinguish India’s parliamentary Indian left from most of its so-called radical versions, even the ones that claim to uphold a programme of socialist revolution. For another, and this is even more important, this would help explain not only Brexit, but also the ascendancy, and possible rise, of such post-fascist neoliberal dictators as Modi in this part of the world, and Trump in the US respectively.

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