Against Bourgeois Pacifism – Wade Rawluk

The pacifism of the bourgeois pacifist is the illusion behind which the violence of the bourgeoisie stands. Yet the bourgeois pacifist cannot see this violence. The conscious action of the libertarian socialist is the force which smashes this illusion and allows the people to overcome the violence which the state and capital generate through their very existence. The bourgeois pacifist believes that all conflict can be ended through moral force and forms of nonviolent activism that do not go beyond the bounds set by capitalist norms.

When the bourgeois pacifist opposes the state one of three strategies is usually chosen. In the first strategy the bourgeois pacifist accepts the bourgeois state and only wishes to make it obey his moral norms. Such a quest is quixotic since it does not understand that the capitalist state uses violence to promote the interests of the ruling class. The second strategy involves the attempt to abolish the capitalist state without arming the working class. No matter how successful such nonviolent tactics may be at first, if people are not ready to defend themselves by force of arms the armed power of the capitalist class will defeat them before or after a postcapitalist order is established. The third strategy involves establishing communities whose social relations are noncapitalist without challenging the existence of the state. No matter how attractive the new order is, the state will ultimately have power over these unarmed communities and as a result these utopian communities will not be able to displace the power of the capitalist state.

But what if the bourgeois pacifists win power by becoming part of the capitalist state structure? In such a case the use of the bourgeois electoral system is not one in which the running of candidates enables one to build worker, community and armed forces councils as an alternative libertarian socialist government. One begins to use the capitalist state structures as a means to eliminate imperialist war. Such reformism is a crossing of class lines for any libertarian socialist since it involves an acceptance of the capitalist state as a morally good end in itself, not just a means. The abolishment of the state ceases to be a practical end and the internal logic of capital begins to unconsciously guide the hands of such revisionist “Greens.”

The bourgeois pacifist believes that all conflict can be ended through moral force and forms of nonviolent activism that do not go beyond the bounds set by capitalist norms.

Often there will be some pacifists who seek to abolish imperialist war by abolishing imperialist armies, without abolishing the imperialist state. When all the armies are abolished an international “police force” would keep violence from erupting again. But who, may we ask, is to be this police force? NATO intervenes in the Balkans in the name of peace. NATO wishes to expand its mission as a peacekeeping and anti-terrorist force beyond its borders. Is NATO this peace police? Is this use of NATO the means by which the turncoats in the Green Party wish to promote nonviolence internationally? If capitalism is the source of violence how can we end the violence when we are supporting the institutions of violence that the capitalists use to enforce their rule? The idea of an international force, consisting of imperialist troops to prevent war is as absurd as an imperialist war to end all wars. Such an international force does not eliminate the armed power of the capitalist state or eliminate all conflict. It does increase the power of the state to the nth degree.

The problem with bourgeois pacifism is that it confuses the suppression of social contradictions with the creation of conditions in which social contradictions can be expressed in a nonviolent way. We can see the differences in the approaches bourgeois pacifism and revolutionary libertarian socialism take to the questions of the interpretation of the second amendment to the US constitution on the domestic level and the question of imperialist war on the international level. The second amendment says “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Bourgeois statist ideology interprets the term “people” to mean the bourgeois state, while those who hold high the black banner of Bakunin-Kropotkin interpret the term “people” to be the working masses. When bourgeois pacifism tries to achieve its goals through practical activity, rather than through the changing of consciousness, it is inevitable that some organization which exists as a state, even if it calls itself by a different name, will be the entity that controls the means of defense. Since social contradictions cannot be suppressed, the response that nobody will have any means of defense is clearly seen to be an illusion based on a utopian dream. To keep “anyone” from having weapons one needs a state armed against the community it supposedly represents to keep people from possessing weapons. When the utopian dream is made concrete in the realm of practical activity, the dream quickly turns into a statist nightmare.

When one seeks to suppress social contradictions, especially those between different factions of the working class, one will seek to establish oneself in a “neutral” position above the combatants. When one seeks to eliminate the conditions which cause social contradictions to take a violent form one realizes that one is in one of the opposing camps in the class war. When one realizes that the opposed forces are the exploited class, whose victory ends the exploitation that exists as the cause of capital’s need to rule through violence, and the exploiter class, which benefits from violence, one will be ethically compelled to support the exploited class and establish a society based on liberty and communism. In a free communist society contradictions are not based on the exploitation of one social group by another and thus the economic incentive for contradictions taking a violent form are greatly diminished.

The pacifist might think that allowing the masses rather than the state to create the militia would lead to unlimited violence. In reality, the opposite is the case. If one tries through practical activity to suppress contradictions on a domestic level by using the state, one might have the illusion that the state is a neutral force that mediates disputes between the people and when necessary uses this “militia,” i.e. police or national guard, to suppress such disputes. In reality, the state can never be neutral. The bourgeois state uses its power of suppression as an instrument of the class whose exploitation causes the conditions for social conflict to become violent. Hence the “militia,” by being in the hands of the bourgeois state encourages greater violence than a militia controlled by the workers.

The same is true on the international level. The imperialist forces of NATO see themselves to be the neutral power that exists above smaller warring powers. In reality, imperialism is not a neutral peacekeeper. Imperialism seeks to extend its dominion. Ultimately, it will take some side in the conflict it wishes to “mediate.” Imperialism may oppose one of the warring parties by siding with the other or it could fight against both. Ultimately, imperialism will seek to dominate everyone and those who seem to be the beneficiaries of its actions will be as dominated as those whom imperialism openly opposes. Pacifism becomes the ideological rationale imperialism uses to justify its aggression. Yet pacifism, if it is to use practical activity to achieve its goals, must use violence to suppress social contradictions. It is shown in practice that simply trying to change people’s consciousness does not bring about an end to war because the world, being a material world, can only be changed when practical activity is changed. It is not the changing of consciousness that by itself changes practical activity but it is the changing of practical activity that is reflected in the changing of the consciousness of those who are involved in such practical activity.

Pacifism becomes the ideological rationale imperialism uses to justify its aggression.

If pacifism is to be successful it must engage in the practical activity which can suppress social contradictions. Of course by doing so one simply gets oneself more deeply involved in these contradictions. The logical end of pacifism is, in the realm of practical activity on the domestic level, to arm and use the police against the people. On the international level NATO is armed and used against the peoples of the world when their governments do not support the imperialists. Of course one could hope that by teaching people how to meditate they would all eventually become enlightened and cease to engage in violence, regardless of the production relations that exist in the real society that people live in. In reality, this never works because one cannot use a change in consciousness to eliminate social contradictions. It is false to say that the key is to work hard and convince enough people to change their violent behavior through the changing of their consciousness. The question is a qualitative question of choosing between focusing on methods that change human social relations or focusing on methods of consciousness transformation that cannot change human social relations.

The problem with those who try to achieve pacifist goals through the changing of consciousness is that they base their whole program on the ideology of bourgeois individualism. The problem, as some might conceive it, is that people as individuals engage in violent action. Therefore, the solution is to change the activity of the individuals by changing their consciousness. But people do not exist as atomic individuals. They exist as social individuals and their activities toward one another are based on their activity as part of larger social groups whose unity is based on the material activity that they are commonly engaged in. Hence, to eliminate the causes of social violence one cannot simply change individuals. One must change social relations if the violence that arises from such negative social relations is to be stopped.

…to eliminate the causes of social violence one cannot simply change individuals. One must change social relations…

It is only when one tries to suppress contradictions through the means of practical activity that the results of the attempted suppression can be universal and complete. Yet the attempt to change the practical activity of man as a means of suppressing contradictions only produces the opposite of pacifist aims. One would have to establish a force that would suppress social contradictions. This inevitably involves the use of violence. Police violence is the domestic result and imperialist war is the international result of such practical activity. When one tries to suppress contradictions through changing consciousness the attempted suppression will fail. The first reason for this is the fact that the attempted change in consciousness only affects individuals psychologically and does not change social relations. The second reason is that relatively few individuals ever are willing to change themselves by transforming their consciousness. The attempt to change consciousness as a means of suppressing social contradictions can only succeed in having a few individuals personally live according to pacifist norms.

If the goal of suppressing social contradictions through the individual transformation of consciousness cannot be universally achieved then the goal cannot be said to have been successfully achieved. A society with only half its population at war is still a society at war. It is not surprising that, frustrated with the tactic of changing consciousness as a means of achieving the suppression of social contradiction, the bloody tactic of changing the practical activity of man is chosen instead. But this causes the attempt to achieve such a suppression of contradiction to become its opposite because such an attempt necessitates the use of force.

The libertarian socialist does not pretend to abolish all forms of conflict for all time. The idea of ending all forms of conflict is an example of the most dangerous form of utopianism, which is dangerous precisely because such an idea becomes its opposite by being put into practice. This is a hard but necessary truth to learn. The libertarian socialist is not so naive as to believe the dangerous utopian myth of a world without contradiction. Such a myth is an example of the worst form of metaphysical thinking. But the libertarian socialist knows that with the abolishment of the state and capital the underlying reasons driving imperialism’s historically unusual propensity to go to war will be done away with. With the economic compulsion behind capitalist war gone it will be easier for communities in a libertarian socialist world to resolve their contradictions and conflicts without having those conflicts become war.

Peace on the basis of the cosmopolitan concept of a united world without regard to the question of class is an idea which when it is adopted by the peace movement tends to harm the cause of the proletariat. In what is such cosmopolitan unity to be found? Usually it is in the idea of humanity as a species being or in some religious idea. Such a mystified idea is nothing but a mask for bourgeois interests. Which ideology shall cosmopolitan humanity unite around? It is quite likely that the battle to determine what quack ideology man is supposed to unify around to prevent war will in fact initiate further wars.

Thus it is not a cosmopolitan attempt to base social unity on the ideal of a humanity that transcends classes but the revolutionary attempt to abolish class divided society which unifies people.


January 27, 2011 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, anti-otoriter / anarşizan, isyan | 1 Comment

About the domination of the commodity – L’Insécurité Sociale

L’Insécurité Sociale on how the commodity form and commodity production has come to dominate social life, and how the things we create at work come to control us.

Aspects of the domination of the commodity
In traditional societies, whatever the status of their members, the hierarchy, rules and norms which divided human beings into rulers and ruled were counterbalanced by a whole collection of rights and duties and were regularly transgressed by social practices ( festivals, etc ). Moreover, the relations of dependence and authority which bound people together were essentially personal relationships. Oppression was real but it was transparent. On the other hand, from the moment that market relations became widespread, and commodities extended to the buying and selling of labour power through the wages system ( an extension which both permitted and accompanied the establishment of capitalist relations of production ) it was no longer the relation between people that was decisive but the production of commodities.

With the domination of capitalism, human relationships no longer seem to depend on men and women, but are fulfilled and determined by a symbol : money. Since all human activities can be represented and transformed by money they become a collection of objects, subject to laws that are independent of human will. Relationships between people take place through the things which are produced and through the relations between these commodities.

In capitalist society all goods are produced for sale, for profit. They can therefore only exist as commodities, defined by their value. In this way the millions of different kinds of objects produced by human activity are reduced to a common denominator — their commercial value — and measured by a common standard : money. This allows them to be compared and exchanged, to be entirely dominated by the market.

As money becomes the universal abstraction through which everything must pass, people are most often led to see themselves as potential competitors for whom an absence of relationships finds its compensation in the fetishism they bear towards cornmodities. Commodities and the hunger to possess present themselves as expressions of personality, through a proliferation of objects which have no use other than to bring in money, while being at the same time prosthetics replacing human activity. Capital responds to human needs with a profusion of artificial satisfactions : for those individuals who aspire to “rediscover” nature it serves it up to them functional and mechanised; for those stifling under the weight of constraints it procures leisure activities; and those who seek love as a refuge from their emptiness are submerged in cheap eroticism. Never has any society so united, so linked human beings to one another, to the extent of making their activities dependent on those of others; yet never has any society made people so indifferent to others, and more hostile to them as well, since the ties which unite them — the market and competition — also seperate them.

The logic of the domination of commodities is also a system of generalised waste and destruction : goods are manufactured not to last in order to bring about other sales, natural resources are plundered, food resources are denatured, the “surplus” agricultural products of one part of the globe are destroyed while the other parts are kept in a state of shortage, a war economy becomes generalised . . .

The internal logic of capitalism is such that the goods it produces cannot be considered apart from the market process. Commodities are not “neutral” goods ( use values ) for which it would be sufficient to remove them from their submission to money ( exchange value ). Commodity exchange and use are only two aspects of the same social relation. Capitalism has fused production, sale and use into a coherent whole. People will prefer to deprive themselves of what might logically appear essential rather than deprive themselves of the latest gadget which will cause them to be ” in fashion “. Through consumption there takes place a process of distinction from those who won’t buy this or that product, and a process of identification with that group which has bought the same product, use of which is supposed to make us live those moments we don’t live and permit us those relationships we don’t have. The important thing is that the advantage should be apparent and it matters little that it is only apparent.

The point has been reached where the necessary deterioration of objects is calculated and decided. The market must not be clogged with products that last too long. They represent money which is tied up. The faster that capital turns over, the faster it resumes the form of money in order to lose it again in once more becoming a concrete commodity, the more it brings in. It is reinvested increased by a profit. Everything must circulate quickly.

To achieve this, the commodities offered on the market form an extremely hierarchised whole. There isn’t just one or just a few commodities for any given need but a whole multitude, either of the same or competing brands. This diversity claims to respond to the variety of people’s needs : “the customer must have a choice !” In fact, they only have the choice permitted by their financial means and social function. Many commodities respond to the same need but are differentiated by their quality and price. Different products may correspond to different uses. But these different uses are not available to the same individuals. Like production these uses are socially determined.

In order to disguise the alienation of the human being, who is first reduced to the role of producer and then of consumer, capitalism has to maintain the illusion of a separation between production and consumption. The separation between production and consumption thus appears as a natural division between two quite distinct spheres of social life. Nothing is less true. Firstly, the frontier between what is called time of production and what is called time of consumption is unstable. Into which category do cooking and a number of other activities fall ? Secondly, every act of production is also inevitably an act of consumption. You can only transform matter in a certain way and for certain ends. At the same moment that you destroy — or if you prefer you consume — certain things, you obtain — or if you prefer you produce — other things. Consumption involves production : production involves consumption

The concepts of production and consumption are not neutral. The capitalist use of the concept of production obscures the fact that human beings are part of their milieu, and of the totality of nature. A chicken becomes an eggmaking factory. Everything is interpreted in terms of domination and use. Man the producer — supposedly conscious and master of himself — sets out to conquer nature : wishing to be his own master just as he is the master of the object he fashions, he doesn’t thereby cease being an object himself, his own object.

Aspects of the abolition of the commodity
Since communism is the creation of new relations between people which will lead to a very different human activity, it must be understood that production will not simply be what it is today only without money. Even if, for want of a better term, we still speak of production to describe the processes by which a part of human activity will be devoted to the reproduction of existence, and in which the human ability to create, to innovate and to transform will be expressed, the disappearance of exploitation and the abolition of money will mean that this production no longer implies the subjection of people to its fulfilment, since it will be they who will decide its goals, its means and its conditions. It will thus be an expression of their humanity and it will not strip people of their other dimensions ( love, play, dreaming, etc. ). Within a communal social order, producers will no longer exchange their products; in the same way the human activity incorporated in these products will no longer appear as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them. No longer having the quality of value, these goods could not be hoarded or exchanged ( in accordance with this value, whatever its method of measurement ), nor, even more conclusively, could they be sold. They will have no other goal than to satisfy human needs and desires as these are felt in a given period.

With the elimination of commodity production the domination of the product over the producer will disappear. People will rediscover the links with what they make. With the disappearance of money goods will be freely available and free of charge. It will no longer be a question of having a certain amount of money in order to have the right to obtain this or that thing. Communist society will not be an extension of our “consumer society”. It will not be an immense supermarket in which passive human beings will only have to help themselves. There will no longer be a scramble for exploitable resources without concern for the future, nor a rush for useless gadgets which give the illusion of invention and novelty.

Even if it is decided to save one or two well-made articles from this pile of rubbish, human activity will be both simpler and richer. Thus a number of the consequences of production tied to the “needs” of profitability and competitiveness will be eliminated : waste, pollution, the international division of labour, the reduction of the importance of human activity in the manufacture of products etc.

Communism is not the appropriation of value by producers but its negation. The fact that a product has been produced by this or that person will in no way imply the persistence of the principle of property, not even “decentralised”. Productive activity will no longer be tied to the idea of ownership, but to individual and collective creativity, and to an awareness of satisfying human needs, both as an individual and as a community.

With the substitution of common ownership for exchange, goods will cease to have an economic value and will simply become physical objects which human beings will be able to use to satisfy some need or other. In this respect these objects will be fundamentally different from those ( even those of the same appearance ) which capitalism has created and developed. It will not be a question of simply appropriating the goods of the past, but of rethinking them, and sometimes replacing them, according to the criterion of enjoyment rather than of profit. Corresponding to this change of aim will be an equally profound change in the productive process, and thus a rethinking of technology involving, in addition to the use of the “achievements” left by capitalism, the rediscovery of technologies previously abandoned as unprofitable, and innovations which do not subject human beings to machines.

This new organisation of productive activity will not eliminate the need to estimate the needs and possibilities of the cornmunity at any given time. But these will no longer be reduced to a common denominator measured according to a universal unit. It will be as physical quantities that they will be counted and will interest people. Still once again communism must not be reduced to problems of calculation. This would only mean replacing the perspective of a human community with a technocratic ideal, that of perpetuating work as a social activity external to human beings. In the past communists put forward the idea that the distribution of products could be regulated by the introduction of labour vouchers corresponding to average social labour-time, after having made certain deductions for the common funds. In fact, the existence of such a common standard measuring both product and work could not correspond to a real abolition of wage labour and exchange, and thus of value. Moreover it would be necessary — in all “fairness” — for ( otherwise perfectly arbitrary ) adjustments to be made in respect of the difficulty of the work, of its level of interest, etc. So there would be a return to “economic calculation”, requiring a “unit of value” whether this was expressed in money or directly in labour-time. Communism on the contrary, as a society without money, will not need any universal unit of measurement but will be able to calculate in kind. The attraction of this or that object will come from the object itself and no longer from a value allocated to it more or less arbitrarily. Its production and use will be determined according to what it implies for human beings and for nature.

With the disappearance of market value will go the division of the human being into producer and consumer. For communist humans, consumption will not be opposed to production, for there will be no contradiction between taking care of oneself and taking care of others. Production will change in the course of becoming creative activity. The group or the individual will express themselves through what they do. Unless it is imposed by the nature of a product, people will no longer need to hurry all the time as they will no longer be constrained by the necessity to produce commodities. “Consumers” will not be able to blame “producers” for any imperfections in what has been made by invoking the money they have paid, since none will have been given in exchange, instead they will simply criticise from the inside, not from outside. What will be at issue will be their common effort.

This translation is based on one made in London in the 1980s. Taken from John Gray – for communism

January 27, 2011 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, sistem karsitligi | 1 Comment


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