A Socialist Alternative (Prug, Korsika, Kostanić)

From Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park, from Athens to Madrid, millions have mobilised and are mobilising against the dictatorship of capital, whatever its local expression might be. Although such massive protests and upheavals would have been unimaginable just a few years ago, with the onset of the great recession in 2008, it seems millions are saying, once again and in a united voice: ‘We have nothing to lose but our chains!’ History that was halted and buried by the epigones of the ruling class has escalated and made visible what will always determine the capitalist system of production: a class-divided society driven by werewolf’s hunger for surplus-labour.

Inspiring as these events are, they have yet to seriously challenge the accumulation of capital. In achieving such long-term goals, questions of a more steady organisation beyond occasional protests inevitably have to be addressed. It is crucial to conceptualise policies as well as organisational forms that will not only pose demands, but will also have the strength to achieve them. Michael Lebowitz put it succinctly when, criticising the old saying ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there’, he stressed that the contrary is actually the case: if we don’t know where we are going, no road will take us there.

It is precisely at this point that imagining and developing a socialist alternative is of crucial importance. This involves both practical and theoretical work, as it is equally important to envision such society or the goal we are trying to achieve, while at the same time working on the practical, organisational issues, that is, measures through which the goal can be achieved. One of the most urgent tasks at hand is to improve the living conditions of the working class and to effectively combat the austerity measures that are devastating it. This panel will tackle both these issues in envisioning the society in which full human development will finally be possible and in which mankind will achieve the ascent from kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.

Toni Prug – Tracing Egalitarian Social Accumulation: The Case of Privately Rented Housing in the UK

Michael Lebowitz’s analysis of the one-sidedness of Capital and subsequent Marxism calls for the perspective of needs and self-development of wage-labour. I argue that such perspective necessitates a broader category, one which includes a broader workforce: the future (children, youth, students), the former (pensioners, elderly), the informal (household, care), the formal unwaged (interns, volunteers) and those unable to work or deprived of the opportunity to work (unemployed, disability).

Traditionally, and within the national accounting framework in particular, labour that is called into action as a result of the state production and the redistributive function of the public sphere is treated as unproductive. This is shown by the fact that, in the accounts, the work of government creates no social surplus. On the contrary, I will argue that – from the perspective of workforce – state pooling of resources (taxes), production and distribution according to need (goods, services, money transfers) calls into being productive labour and wealth creation. I develop Marx-Lebowitz circuits of reproduction by adding workforce and its needs, and the state, its sources of funding, functions and products.

In a Marxian analytic framework, this permits us to combine analyses based purely on the value-producing function of labour as seen from the perspective of capital and analyses that seek to examine the nature of the value produced from the standpoint of workforce, its welfare and self-development. I will argue that the public production of goods and services distributed at either near zero cost to end users (health, early education) or significantly under the market prices (housing, care) – observed from the standpoint of workforce – constitutes egalitarian social accumulation. According to this logic, recent decades of privatizations can be seen as processes destructive of such wealth, incurring negative cost in the self-development (production and reproduction) of the workforce.

Finally, to demonstrate it empirically, using disaggregated national data on rented dwellings from 2009 (private sector, housing associations, local authorities), I will develop ratios, recent historic trends and absolute calculations of the negative cost of privately rented housing in the UK.

Toni Prug is a PhD candidate at the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary, University of London.

Anej Korsika – What Is To Be Done with What Is To Be Done?

Lenin’s famous 1902 pamphlet What Is To Be Done? is conventionally portrayed as a sectarian document that introduces the idea of party vanguard. As Lenin argues, the working class in itself and by itself cannot achieve more than the trade-union consciousness. What is needed therefore is a group of revolutionary socialist intellectuals that are able to introduce a proper revolutionary consciousness from without. It is then convenient to dismiss Lenin en bloc and argue that a socialist alternative must take a radically different approach.

Be that as is it may, one cannot argue that struggles we have witnessed in the recent years, for instance, the Arab revolutions, Occupy Wall Street, or Indignados, do not have a common denominator. They are all rooted in the crisis of capitalism, but none of them has been able to build effective organisational forms that could really address and combat the core of the capitalist system. This is why a different, dialectical and much more difficult path must be taken when addressing Lenin, instead of a simple dismissal.

I will try to add a small contribution to this demanding task by outlining a twofold political contextualisation. I will ask what does Lenin’s pamphlet mean when we contextualise it in its own time and, more importantly, what could and perhaps even should it mean in our own time.

Anej Korsika is a member of the Workers and Punks’ University and a PhD student at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana.

Marko Kostanić – Socialist Programmes: Social and Political Contradictions

In this paper, I will outline some basic contradictions with which we are confronted in the process of organising a socialist alternative in current conditions. These contradictions will be indicated through the following interconnected problems:

  • A discrepancy between the coherence of political and economic analyses of the capitalist mode of production and political strength, or social visibility, of the left that is conducting these analyses;
  • Historical experiences of the twentieth-century socialist projects between ideological baggage, sectarian misleading and urgent necessity to learn from that experience;
  • Organisationsfrage, as always, but with the strong emphasis on the fact that this problem should be targeted through the question of the social reproduction of political labour power;
  • Political dynamics between short-term and long-term strategies from the perspective of political engagement on different levels, such as workplace vs. monetary policy.

Marko Kostanić is a member of the Center for Labor Studies (Zagreb).

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