Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Theses on the Unions and Trade Unionism (originally written May 2001)

In light of the General Motors strike, and a host of other union-building struggles at Amazon, Starbucks, et al over the last period, it seemed worthwhile to put forward something I wrote 22 years ago, with some amended notes.  I know this blog is frequently dedicated to rejuvenating critical theory at a hopefully high level, but in the end it only matters if we contribute, in whatever manner, to both the abolition of capital and the achievement of communism.

On Trade Union Work (A Schematic Outline of Political Points) [Originally posted, I believe, on, May 2001)

1. Trade unions are a basic form of workers’ organization.  Unions negotiate the level of exploitation and the general conditions of that exploitation, such as wages, working conditions, safety, pensions and so on, for a section of the working class against the individual capitalists or corporations.  In so far as the workers will necessarily fight to improve their lot under capital’s rule, unions will perform a necessary, albeit limited, function.  It would be a completely mistaken notion to condemn workers for organizing in unions.  Many ultra-Lefts, old and new, take the attitude that the unions are completely reactionary and that the workers should abstain from organizing in unions.  This idea neglects the actual struggle of the workers. It would be ridiculous to tell the workers that they should not participate in unions because all they are doing is negotiating the rate and conditions of exploitation.  We should just as well tell them to fold their arms and accept whatever level of exploitation is handed to them until “the glorious day of the revolution”.  Rather, we must try to understand the possibilities and limitations of the unions and the union struggle.

2. The heterogeneous nature of the unions, their representation of sections of the class, and their role as mediators over the value of labor power keeps them from confronting the capitalist class as a whole, against said class’ right to rule.  What is the basis for what we have said?

3. The union apparatus may mobilize workers for fights against particular capitalists or corporations for goals attainable within the boundaries of capitalist society or in the interests of the union machinery.  However, there is no reason to believe that the union apparatus will always or even generally act in the workers’ interests even in individual cases.  Often, the union apparatus will approve the firing of “troublemakers” and even try to drive them out.  The idea that the union necessarily improves workers’ ability to defend themselves is radically false.  Nor do we have any reason to believe that a change in the leadership of a local will necessarily change that situation, though it can.  In reference to the union bureaucracy, we can liken them to cops: a cop may protect someone from being robbed, but if a community burns down the local crack houses, the cops will arrest the community people.  Working class people can be protected, but they are not allowed to protect themselves, to self-determine their lives.

4. The unions are fatally compromised in relation to capital, whether a fraction of capital or capital as a whole.  The acceptance of the possibility, nay, inevitability, of the collaboration of labor and capital forms the sine qua non of trade unionism.  In practice, the trade union bureaucracy has to make constant deals and bargains with capital and they come to see capital’s side of the struggle as valid and necessary.  Class collaboration is not a policy of union bureaucrats but the natural extension of trade unions as limited institutions.  We do not oppose the workers fighting for limited improvements in their situation; rather, we oppose limiting the workers’ struggle to the boundaries of collaboration established by the trade union framework.  The established trade unions tend to be not only counter-revolutionary, but also reactionary in daily struggles.  Trade unions act as lawyers in relation to negotiating the daily exploitation of labor, without being able to call into question the fact of exploitation itself.  They accept capital’s exploitation of labor as capital’s prerogative.

5. The unions are generally made up of the more privileged sections of the working class, who have the degree of concentration and power to organize.  The unions tend to be based on skilled labor, larger scale industries and firms, or partial ability to regulate the industry to the benefit of a stratum of capitalists in a given industry.  It is rare for the unions to constitute more than 30-40% of the working class, except for periods of upsurge in the class struggle.  This is true in the U.S, France, Germany, and Japan, to be sure.  The trade unions help establish and maintain one of the central intra-class hierarchies of the working class and work in such a way as to sacrifice non-union workers’ (or workers in other unions) interests in the name of defending the sectoral privileges of their members.  This leads them to in fact betray their own members’ interests.

6. Many people claim that the trade unions are a school of struggle for the working class.  The unions may indeed find themselves opposed (usually despite their wishes) to the capitalists, as working class institutions, while being limited by the need to accept partial victories and represent even the most backwards sections of the working class.  However, the unions are not opposed to capital as such.  Every union in the history of the United States (and everywhere else, as far as I have seen), from the NMU, to the Knights of Labor, to the FOTLU, to the AFL, to the CIO, has eventually struggled to limit workers to demands that could be met under capital’s aegis.  Only the IWW has been a different kind of organization, but only in so far as the IWW was not a union.  The IWW refused to make contracts, did not establish systems of stewards, and saw itself largely as an organizing center, rather than as a union.  In fact, one could view the IWW as a partial recreation of the International Workingmen’s Association, in terms of its structure and composition.

7. The inability to oppose capital and the capital-labor relation partially rests on the recognition of the unions by either particular capitalists or corporations or even industries as legitimate partners in the control of labor and the production of a consistent, manageable pool of labor power.  This is obvious in the case of the craft unions, but also in hiring halls and industrial unions in different periods and different ways.  It also partially rests on the increasing integration of the state and the trade unions.  The official recognition of the trade unions also means deeper collusion between capital and the unions.  Their legalism increases and things like the dues check-off system gives the bureaucrats a vested interest in staying within the law.  The integration with the state further increases the distance between the membership and the officialdom.  Finally, the unions would cease to exist without the capital-labor relation, so the union machinery and officials have a vested interest in the continuation of the capital-labor relation.

8. Some people claim that the unions can be schools for the democratic self-organization of the class and its struggles.  A careful differentiation needs to be made here between what is sometimes possible, generally only at the local level, and what has historically been true, especially, but not only, at the regional, national and international levels.  Leninists and Social Democrats have often confused temporary tolerance by the leading union bureaucrats (such as with Lewis in the CIO) with actual democratic control of the union by the workers.  At those levels, the unions have always been bureaucratic and most successful workers’ struggles find themselves in direct conflict with the unions, except when certain union officials support massive upsurges in working class activity in order to rein them in and re-institutionalize that struggle.  This history is obvious in reference to the AFL, the Knights of Labor in their last years, as well as the independent craft unions.  However, from the very beginning, even the CIO represented a section of the trade union bureaucrats from the AFL recognizing the need to rein in the mass insurgency of 1934.  At every step, as the workers became less militant or more connected to the leadership of Lewis, Hillman, Reuther, the CPUSA, etc., that same leadership came to dominate and de-rail the workers’ struggles.  The idea that the unions can provide a place for workers to begin to judge the policies of different tendencies within the class, to test their power against the capitalist class, and to democratically control themselves and their would-be leaders is absurd.  Unless one means that the workers can learn about the limitations of class collaboration by watching themselves be repeatedly sold down the river.  Rather, workers need to take control of each struggle from the unions.  Democratic control can only be asserted over struggles from outside the union machinery.

9. The response to this argument is as follows: “It is incorrect to argue that because the trade unions are limited organizations that they must always submit to the rules and laws of capitalism.  This confuses the limits of a reformist, class collaboration leadership with the limits of trade unions.  This attitude also serves as a left cover for such a policy.”  On the contrary, the idea that unions can be anything other than class collaborationist serves as an apology for trade union reformism.  Certainly, local leaderships can take a different approach, and sometimes have, but they generally face the hostility of the regional, national and international leaderships.  The power of a revolutionary local leadership has to come from the base and from workers’ struggles, not from Realpolitik within the union by this or that “party” seeking to form a “revolutionary opposition” within the apparatus.

What is the attitude of revolutionaries towards trade union activity?

1. The most basic answer is to say that revolutionaries will find themselves in the unions and in the trade union struggle.  This is not simply a struggle for daily demands against the ruling class, but a struggle for the autonomy of workers in struggle, in relation to capital and to the unions.  It is not a principled struggle to spread the influence of the unions over an ever-increasing section of the working class.  It is a struggle to foster self-reliance and the creation of independent workers’ organs to control each and every struggle and to challenge the capital-labor relation.  To abstain from unions would clear the path for the trade union bureaucrats, but neither should we seek positions in the union, except under conditions of mass rank and file action.  We can only become “better” bureaucrats by seeking positions in the unions [EDIT 11/2023: under any other conditions], a tendency with a long history.

2. The essential form that revolutionary trade union work takes is the formation of a revolutionary opposition, which does not seek leadership, but which promotes the idea that workers win struggles only through self-organization and self-determination.  The revolutionary opposition expresses the conscious idea of working class self-determination within and against the trade unions.  This opposition may not always be public (for a variety of reasons: security, repression, expulsions, etc.), but it must cohere around a complete rejection of all external limitations on struggles and for the creation of independent organs of control and information in each struggle.  At the same time, we can participate in the struggle for union democracy, union independence from state control, etc. in order to clear a greater space for struggle for those workers in the unions.  The revolutionary opposition fights against the union officialdom and ideological adherence to unionism as one of the greatest impediments within the working class to the workers’ interests and as the agents of capital in the working class.

3. The labor bureaucracy is the agent of the capitalist class within the working class.  The labor bureaucracy supports capital’s domination of labor.  This labor bureaucracy has always been, at its core, defined by a policy of class collaboration because the unions are class collaborationist.  Unlike Leninists, we see unions as inherently class collaborationist, regardless of leadership.  This has not changed.  The struggle against the labor bureaucracy is essential to the struggle against the capitalist class.  The labor bureaucracy will always choose its ties to capital over any ties it has to the workers.

4. What has been increasingly true since the 1920’s, however, is the degree to which the trade unions have become tied to the state.  The trade union officials have always been ‘the labor lieutenants of capital’, but the unions themselves are increasingly also the guardians of state authority and bourgeois legalism, sanctified by state regulation of the trade unions (see the Taft-Hartley Act, the National Labor Relations Board, the McCarran Act, and so on).  This finds its purest expression in the fascist regimes and military dictatorships, but is true of the ‘democratic’ states also.

5. This does not mean that the labor bureaucracy is the same as the bourgeois parties.  There is no choice between the Democrats and Republican (or the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Parties, or the Conservatives and Labor or the Liberal Democratic Parts and the Socialist Party, etc.), but there is a difference, at times, between the left, center and right in the trade unions.  This is possible to say because the union bureaucracy leads mass working class organizations directly representing labor against a particular employer or industry.  The control exerted over the workers determines the labor bureaucrats’ usefulness to the capitalist class, but also requires that the unions partially attend to the need of the workers.  The key, here, is that the bureaucracy must maintain control, and this may require actions a la John L. Lewis supporting the formation of the CIO and supporting mass organizing drives. [EDIT Nov. 2023: This sections requires at least rethinking and is especially open to question.  In the present where there are the normal parties of bourgeois domination, and "electoral parties" become effectively fascist parties, while the "normal" bourgeois parties behave as they did in the 1920's and 30's, failing to properly oppose even on bourgeois grounds the fascist parties, it also feels simplistic to not understand the difference for the struggles of the oppressed to oppose open regression and to simply equate bourgeois democratic conditions with fascist conditions.  In the end, based on my theses, is voting for a liberal genuinely in some sense worse or more meaningless than siding with a nominally progressive union bureaucrat?]

6. Another distinction must be made between the upper and lower layers of the bureaucracy.  Conflicts arise because lower layers of the bureaucracy are more likely to break with (or at least temporarily violate) a class collaborationist policy.  This is the case for a variety of reasons: closeness to the living conditions of the rank and file; greater pressure from the rank and file due to a more direct dependence on the members in a local; less benefits from association with the union; conflicts over being in an employee-employer-like relationship with the upper layers of the bureaucracy, etc. 

7. What does this mean?  It means that a revolutionary opposition in the unions must exploit the divisions in the union apparatus between different officials.  It is possible to win individual officials from the apparatus to the workers’ side during individual fights.  It is also possible, in a mass upsurge, pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situation, for a portion of the apparatus to break with the bureaucracy and join the revolutionary opposition.  

8. There are no recipes regarding strategy and tactics to be drawn from the above points.  There can be no concession to temporary allies in the apparatus (who we will probably have to fight tomorrow) on this.  We cannot be silent for one moment on the weaknesses and failings of our ‘allies’ because silence provides a left cover for the left-reformists and centrists.  There is ample proof of the deadliness of this policy in the British General Strike of 1926, the French General Strike of 1935, Spain in 1936-9, the CIO, and other crucial moments closer to home. 

9. A revolutionary opposition must always address the interests of the workers in the union in relation to the interests of the working class as a whole, internationally.  Many workers in the unions support the trade unions and get material benefits from the union.  Even in the face of mass struggle, many workers will have illusions in the role of the unions.  This includes a section of the revolutionary rank and file whose size and weight varies in any period.  Cooperation with particular officials is possible when we have the same goal, but must be conducted in such a way that we fight for workers’ independent organs of struggle to which everyone is subordinated. 

10. It is in the nature of what we have to propose as revolutionaries that we make the left-reformists and centrists (and trade unionists of all sorts) uncomfortable and even hostile.  We will have few allies among the union-oriented Left and trade unionists.

11. Revolutionaries also reject the notion that the unions are politically neutral.  They are not and never will be.  This is obvious in all the major imperialist powers, especially Britain, France and the United States.  The unions can never really have independence from the state and from capital, even when they have independence from all capitalist parties.      

12. Finally, I want to address one last argument which in my opinion sums up the Leninist attitude towards the unions.  It might be reasonably worded as follows:  “We also reject the notion that the unions are necessarily consigned by fate or by their non-revolutionary function to be lead by reformist or reactionary tendencies in the working class.  This is a complete falsehood.  It is possible for unions to be lead by a revolutionary party of the working class, in a way that is consistent with revolutionary politics.  The difference between revolutionary leadership and non-revolutionary leadership is this: that communist trade union leaders always fight for the full victory of the workers in every struggle, seek to push each struggle to its fullest development, and never stop a struggle from achieving the maximum victory.  Communists also do not accept agreements that constrain the right of the workers to fight (such as no strike clauses, cooling off periods, notice of strike, etc.)  The reformists hold back the struggle at every point where it comes up against their personal interests, their relations with the bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties, where it threatens bourgeois property or where it threatens to go beyond their control.  In other words, the reformists are always pulled back by the policies of class collaboration, which rest on the right of the capitalist class to exploit the working class, while the working class’ only right is to bargain for a better arrangement within the existing order.”  The problem of the first sentence is that leadership appears as the problem and the solution, rather than the class nature of the unions as mass working class reformist bodies which can be nothing but class collaborationist.  The question of who leads the unions does not change their character, but the nature of trade unions certainly changes the character of the revolutionaries who lead them.  The approach quoted above does not start from the self-activity of the working class as the central component of struggle.  It fails to take into account that any structure which the struggles of the working class give rise inevitably become integrated into capital in some form or another if they survive beyond the movement which gave rise to them.  Nor does it take into account the current conjuncture and the fate of unions in a post-Keynesian world of (choose your term of choice: neo-liberalism, globalization, new enclosures, etc.)  Those unions and relations codified the partial victory of the working class in the United States in the 1930’s, working class militancy during WWII and the new period of global expansion of capital after WWII.  They in turn became the means of managing and controlling working class struggle.  

Written May 2001

Addendum November 2023:

Need to add more clarity that in the name of the defense of a particular industry, unions can be quite reactionary.  e.g. Prison guard unions, unions in the military industry, and in general against global warming.

More than ever, Marx's comment on the relationship of communists to the struggles of the proletariat as a class in The Communist Manifesto are more a propos than ever, and yet more challenging than ever.

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.”

Friday, October 8, 2021

"The Right and the Righteous": Required Reading in a Time of (Toxic) Righteousness

Shannon Hoff's essay "The Right and the Righteous: Hegel on Confession, Forgiveness, and the Necessary Imperfection of Political Action", published in Phenomenology and Forgiveness, ed. Marguerite La Caze, is a necessary read, as profound in what kind of human beings, what kind of ethical and political being to enact in the world, as J. M. Bernstein's Dignity and Torture.

In the essay, Hoff works through the contemporary practical, moral and political importance of Hegel's final chapter of the section Spirit, "Conscience. The beautiful soul, evil and its forgiveness".  She takes up the notions of moral action, judgment, forgiveness and their implications for moral and political action, without which political and moral ideas are mere abstractions, but which are always, inevitably, one-sided, invested, imperfect.

In a contemporary moment in which righteousness predominates, Hoff encourages us to see both the necessity and imperfection of action and the necessity and imperfection of criticism.  In this context, we require both action and criticism, but action and criticism which are themselves open to being criticized in turn, that is, to communication and forgiveness.

I will not work through the entire essay, as it is not only important to work through Hoff's arguments for oneself, but I cannot in a brief note do justice to her engaging and elegant exposition of the ideas developed herein.  It is enough to quote a paragraph that epitomizes the intellectual and ethical depth of the essay:

"The criticism that supplements and completes action, then, is not a matter of condemnation that distances the critic from the actor, but a matter of establishing solidarity through communication—it is precisely forgiveness.  As we saw earlier, our actions, as necessarily one-sided and specific, do not unambiguously manifest the principle to which they aim to answer, and so they do not “speak for themselves” but require instead communication as a supplement. And communication, insofar as it is oriented toward revealing the principle that motivates action, can precisely lead to unexpected forms of identification. The “act” of an action can never, on its own, reveal the motivation of the agent, of which it is an expression. It is through struggling to understand the action on the agent’s own terms—struggling to appreciate the action and recognize the agent—that we get into a position in which meaningful criticism—criticism that would actually be meaningful to the agent and to what the agent was doing—becomes possible. Such an understanding, however, in as much as it is precisely a matter of “sympathizing” with the agent, simultaneously fosters an identification with the agent: it involves a recognition, in other words, that the agent’s actions make sense to us. Forgiveness is precisely this intertwining of criticism and identification." (p. 15)

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Working through Racecraft

Barbara J. Fields' engaging and very important book Racecraft: my draft review.

The book can be thought of as composed of several key elements. The obvious starting point is the idea of racecraft as such, but this part has two distinct aspects.

In the Introduction and the first two chapters, we see the emergence of the notion of racecraft itself, as opposed to race, and also racialization. Racecraft begins as a critique of the notion of “race” as something one can have or be, which allows the authors to challenge notions such as “being multiracial” or the idea that there is a biological notion of race which might be grasped through genetics. This is extremely important politically in the present because a biological notion of race has re-emerged into respectability not only among reactionaries, but in mainstream science and so-called liberal discourse through identity, including intersectionality. The use of racecraft to critique this re-emergence of race, which serves to obscure that race itself is nothing more than a by-product of racism, of a certain kind of relationship of power, or as Fields says,

“Starting from “ethnoracial mixture” leads to the great evasion of American historical literature, as of American history itself: the substitution of “race” for “racism.” That substitution, as I have written elsewhere, “transforms the act of a subject into an attribute of the object.”4 Disguised as race, racism becomes something Afro-Americans are, rather than something racists do.”
Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (pp. 96-97). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

This point is fundamental to her analysis, but I want to trouble it right from the start. Let us say that we approach nation, class, or gender in the same way. Would we then say that disguised as class, classes becomes something workers are, rather than something classists do? Disguised as nations, nationalism becomes something Americans are, rather than something nationalists do? Disguised as sex, sexism becomes something women are, rather than something sexists do?

Posed this way, we have two choices. The first choice is to say that, yes, in fact, all social forms are products of a definite structured social practicei, and thus class, gender, race, sexuality, nation are all merely modes of expression or modes of existence of some fundamental social relation, and thus not only race but also gender, class, nation and so on are constituted by this society rather than being per se constituting.ii One would then further have to reckon that race is not merely a product of the activity of racists or racialists, but is a determinate social category of this society as much as class, nation, gender, etc. That necessarily entails that as much as race, we have to propose that nation, class, gender, etc. do not exist outside of this form of society and would cease to exist if we managed to get rid of this society.iii

The other option is the one that Fields chooses quite explicitly, that race is distinctly, though maybe not uniquely, not like class or nation or products of material production.iv For example, race doesn’t exist in the same way that the Brooklyn Bridge and nations do. Not only that, but those who refer to “race” use it as “a euphemism for slavery, disfranchisement, segregation, lynching, mass murder, and related historical atrocities; or as unintentionally belittling shorthand for “persons of African descent and anything pertaining to them.” Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 100). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. The footnote following this includes David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness and Race and Reunion by David Blight, books one would be hard pressed to say treat race as a euphemism and a belittling shorthand for Afro-Americans, lumping them in over the next few pages with defenders of cab drivers not stopping for African-Americans, promoters of “Black English” and teachers of tolerance in place of equality, a move that seems to seek to deride and defame rather than to reason.

Importantly for my point, Fields argues that “what they are unknowingly searching for is a neutral-sounding word with racism hidden inside, which is what “race” is.” Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 102). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. But then “nation” and “class” (and maybe gender and sexuality?) are not inherently “neutral-sounding” words with oppression and domination hidden inside.

For this to not play out in this way, somehow class, nation and gender would have to be something fundamentally different from race, somehow not merely the mystification of oppression

Racecraft is more than this alone, however, as it also entails a theory of the production of racism and races.v Chapters 3 and 4 in particular take up this idea of how racism and race come to be in the American context as a product not merely of slavery, but of a specific contradiction of the endorsement of slavery by a radically democratic society that has otherwise propounded the natural and inherently universal ‘Rights of Man’. This analysis seems to provide a ground for the production of racism and race and the necessary mystification of racecraft that turns racism into race in order to make racism, that is a very specific kind of unequal relation of power and oppression, disappear into race.

However, this linking of race specifically to the contradictions of the American Revolution and American democracy with American slavery invokes a kind of historical exceptionalism first claimed by the American Communist Party, and it also essentializes democracy and slavery as separate from capitalism. I would argue that for her argument to work, in fact, slavery and democracy must float independently of capitalism because otherwise we might wonder if capitalism has not in fact produced racism and racecraft everywhere. In fact, at one point she makes a very peculiar argument that if race and racecraft were not specific to the American dilemma, how come no one has made the argument for the racial production of the Anglo-Irish relation. The 4th chapter was written in 1990, four years before the publication of Theodore Allen’s the Invention of the White Race, so at the time no one could have known that a book was being written that made exactly this argument, but Racecraft was published almost two decades after that and no mention is made in the footnotes of the presence of exactly such an argument by what is, on all accounts, one of the most widely discussed radical, class-based works on race since 1994. At the same time, as I noted above, books published before Allen (The Wages of Whiteness) and after (Race and Reunion) come in for mention and aspersions, so it feel unlikely that Fields would not be aware of Allen’s work, which was a much larger and more sustained piece by Roediger’s own admission (c.f. Race, Class and Marxism.)

The commitment to American Exceptionalism is expressed in a reification of all notions of “race” as “racism”.

“One such peculiarity is the fact that, effectively, there can be only one race, since the one-drop-of-blood or any-known-ancestry rule applies only to African ancestry;17 indeed, the rule ceases to function at all if applied to more than one type of ancestry. The cosmetic applied to the resulting asymmetry and invidiousness is “whiteness,” whose champions purport to discover “racialization”—and therefore races—all over the shop. A further sleight of hand defines race as identity so that “white” also becomes a race.18” Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 102). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Aside from the manner in which this throws the idea of racism to the wind for people of African descent in Latin America, for people of Mexican or Chinese descent in the United States, and most notably for Amer-Indian peoples all over the Western Hemisphere, it inherently ties itself to a biological notion of race with the one-drop rule. In the name of unmasking race as racism, a state of being with an activity, all that happens is the recourse to an exceptionalism associated with American peculiarity and cut-off from the broader history of European colonialism and the internal relation between race and nation in the history of capitalist society globally.

That said, she nonetheless makes short work of “amalgamation” and “multiracialism”, notions which takes as their foundation the natural validity of “race”. However, one wonders if there is a simple secular humanism underlying this point of view, one which is sound as far as it goes “racism is wrong because it violates the basic rights of human being and citizen” (Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 107). Verso Books. Kindle Edition), but which takes the abstract human being and citizen i.e. the member of a duly constituted nation, as its limit points.

Unfortunately, despite her often excellent critique of identitarian notions of race, Fields lacks a critique of identity as such and the way in which the production of identity is endemic to capital as the dominant social form. Therefore, she will counterpoise the idea of racial identity with national identity, suggesting the latter is illegitimate and the former is legitimate, in order to make the argument (in what is a point easily overlooked in the 4th chapter) that Afro-Americans did not historically see themselves as an identity or a race, but as a nation. This argument strikes me as difficult to defend, but more importantly, it echoed in my mind the position of the American Communist Party on “the Black Belt Thesis” that Afro-Americans constituted a nation. Having already had recourse to this idea that Afro-Americans are not an identity or a race but a nation, to the expression of American exceptionalism which regards race and racism and racecraft to be uniquely American, and a counterpoising of a false or ideological “race identity” with a true or good “nation identity”, strongly reminded me of the American Communist Party positions. However, nothing more than these brief turns of phrase and logical juxtapositions are present in the essays to justify any claim that Fields herself draws on the positions of the CPUSA from the Third Period, when those ideas were first formulated, or from the post-1948 return to that position amidst the Cold War.

The thesis of American exceptionalism at play in her works relies on a very specific timeline. For example, she locates the production of race as such as an outcome of the years leading up to and resulting in the American Revolution and the subsequent continuation of slavery after the revolution and the necessity of men holding to notions of universal individual rights and humanity having to at the same time make peace with and justify a system of slavery within their midst on which they grew rich and which formed a key foundation of the American republic.

This requires her at one point [citation] to claim that no such notions were forthcoming from England, which had little problem in the early years of the colonies with forms of indentured servitude for Englishmen and her claims rests to no small degree on the historical timeline put forward by Edward Morgan, which denies that there is any significant distinction between English indentured servitude and African enslavement until late in the 17th century. However, there is documented evidence that definite legal distinctions between African slaves and English indentured servants were already developed by the early 1650’s. In fact, Re Negro John Punch (1640) already began to make significant distinctions leading in the direction of the racist production of racevi and “Virginia was one of the first states to acknowledge slavery in its laws, initially enacting such a law in 1661.36 The following year, Virginia passed two laws that pertained solely to women who were slaves or indentured servants and to their illegitimate children. Women servants who produced children by their masters could be punished by having to do two years of servitude with the churchwardens after the expiration of the term with their masters. The law reads, “that each woman servant gott with child by her master shall after her time by indenture or custome is expired be by the churchwardens of the parish where she lived when she was brought to bed of such bastard, sold for two years. . . .”37vii. This undermines Morgan’s timeline, though not necessarily Theodore Allen’s from Invention of the White Race, which argues that racism and race were produced as a conscious policy of social control in response to acts of rebellion in which “Africans” (having already been stripped of tribe and people by enslavement) and Englishmen worked together, leading up to Bacon’s Rebellion.

It also requires the idea that no substantial notions of the universal, natural equality of all men was forthcoming from England in the early-mid 17th century and that American democratic impulses were largely formed against English colonial status. However, the colonial venture to North America was already a product of burgeoning hopes for free expression of religious minorities who would themselves become an essential part of the English Revolution from 1642-1651. That revolution would itself produce radical moments such as the Diggers and Levellers, who, to quote Wikipedia, were a political movement during the English Civil War (1642–1651) that emphasised popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law, and religious tolerance, all of which were expressed in the manifesto "Agreement of the People".” While I am not aware of specific historical research about the political backgrounds of those coming to the American colonies to the end of the English Civil War, it would not be surprising if a few people fleeing persecution and debtors prison in England might have been Diggers and Levellers or inspired by them, but most certainly with notions of personal liberty that would extend among the American colonialists.

In fact, as John Clegg has noted in an as-yet-unpublished paper, the distinctions between Africans and Englishmen no doubt began to develop when they did exactly because there was a history of struggle between Englishmen of different classes in which the English laborers and yeomanry had, even as they were being turned into a property-less working class, established for themselves certain rights and expectations as custom. Africans held no such history, no such fought-over rights and claims, and were thus eventually more easily turned from “not Englishmen” into “not men”, lacking themselves claims to English citizenship and the rights thus due.

Thus the idea that a notion of systemic racism and with it the ideology of race and the practice of racecraft only came into being with the suspending of the contradiction between American revolutionary idealism and American slavery strikes me as unsupportable. Allen’s own points regarding the religio-racial oppression of the Irish further addresses Field’s earlier complaint of the absence of such a point.

And yet there is a subtlety to Fields’ argument utterly lacking in Allen’s. The idea of a conscious system of social control is actually unsupportable on a number of grounds, not the least being the idea that there was in the American colonies a ruling class of unified opinion. I believe Fields is moving in the right direction, but cannot grasp the essential move of the production of non-citizens within the state, which relates to the production of Nation as a valid identity, but not race. In fact, nation and nationalism have been even more murderous and criminal than race in the last few hundred years by quite a bit. If in the name of race, tens of millions have been oppressed and killed, in the name of nation, billions have been oppressed and hundreds of millions killed. There is no ground from which to counterpoise race and nation and in fact one would be more correct to say that without race there is no American nation. Instead of taking up the complicated interplay of racism and nationalism, of the production of race and nation, these brutal fictions, Fields’ settles for Nation over Race.

It is hard to say if this is from a prior set of essentially unspoken political commitments, such as to something like the CPUSA theses on The Black National Question, or if it is a part of the working out of her philosophical underpinnings through Emile Durkheim. There is a further critique of Durkheim to be made and it is unclear to me if Fields is committed to a Durkheimian sociology or if she simply finds him engaging in thinking through the problem of race. After all, as she herself notes, Durkheim deifies, or as she says, divinizes [citation] society and for Durkheim, nation is society. The philosopher Gillian rose critiques Durkheim’s move as one which he grants validity to Society, but cannot grasp why this society has these particular values, that is, he sacrifices a comprehension of values in exchange for the validity of society over values as such, the opposite of the classic Weberian move in which the values we hold to are comprehended, but their validity is ultimately uncertain.

One wonders if there is something important to this point, which treats racism somewhat individualistically: “Disguised as race, racism becomes something Afro-Americans are, rather than something racists do.” [Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (pp. 96-97). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.] It seems to take the structural and systemic element out of race and again replace it with a voluntaristic notion of practice.

There is something in the defense of nation as valid identity, and thus identity as somewhat unproblematic, requiring only the distinction between actual identity and fake identity, that is not worked out in her work. That this functions as a naturalization of Nation and thus of the bourgeois nation-state ought to seem odd. In fact, Fields is, to the best of my knowledge, an opponent of so-called Black Nationalism, but so was the CPUSA. That is, from the perspective of the Communist Party, nationalists were incapable of realizing the Black Nation because the Black nation was a necessary liberatory moment in the proletarian revolution. Nationalist parties were incapable of truly serving the Nation, pace Lenin’s Imperialism and his later theses on national liberation. Again, I have no idea if Fields herself has any relationship to or interest in the CPUSA on these matters, but the logic of her argument seems to me to make so much more sense if the CPUSA’s theses on the Black Nation are are a part of her inheritance.

Where does this leave us? If the fundamental thesis of Fields’ work is to be cashed out, then the critique of race cannot rest on 1) an American Exceptionalism both in the production of racism and race and in democratic values, 2) a mere contradiction between democracy and a natural rights notion of universal individual liberty on the one hand and slavery on the other, and 3) a distinction between a valid National identity that is real (like the Brooklyn bridge) against an identity that isn’t one (race), that is, a missing critique of nation in particular and identity in general.

Silvia Federici, in Caliban and the Witch, actually seems to have a view of the dynamic underlying the production of race and gender very similar to that of Barbara and Karen Fields: "Indeed, the political lesson we can learn... is that capitalism... is necessarily committed to racism and sexism.  For capitalism must justify and mystify the contradictions built into social relations - the promise of freedom vs. the reality of widespread coercion, and promise of prosperity vs. the reality of widespread poverty...".

iI am going to explicitly dodge the argument over structure and agency here, not because it is not important and not because I do not have a definite point of view on the matter, but because it will take us rather far afield.
iiHere too, it would be going a bit too deep to explicate the notion of what is constitutive and what is constituting beyond saying that what is constituted at one moment becomes constituting at another moment.
iiiIn fact, she comes very close to this when she says that “and slavery, rather than something slaves were, became something slaveholders did—to the corruption of themselves, the injustice of the slaves, and the probable destruction of the country.” Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 99). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. Slavery, after all, was racialized and racializing, but it was ultimately a form of organization of labor for exploitation and thus a relation between classes, enslaved laborers and a group of capitalist slaveholders. But a problem arises insofar as capitalism is not merely something capitalists do and neither the working class nor the slave class merely merely something done by capitalists.
ivI add the “though not uniquely” because I am not aware of her views on gender or sexuality, she only counterpoises race to Nation and to bridges.
vIn the beginning of “Rogues and Geldings”, Fields makes this clear: ““Race” too often recommends itself as a guiltless word, a neutral term for an empirical fact. It is not. Race appears to be a neutral description of reality because of the race-racism evasion, through which immoral acts of discrimination disappear, and then reappear camouflaged as the victim’s alleged difference.” Racecraft might best be understood as the evasion itself, the activity of transforming racism into race. Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 95). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
vi FN 35, “Three indentured servants—John Punch, James Gregory, and Victor —ran away and were recaptured. James Gregory and Victor, both white, were given “thirty stripes” and an additional four years of servitude, whereas John Punch, a Negro, was sentenced to serve the remainder of his life. Helen Tunnicliff Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, 5 vols. (1926; reprint, New York: Octagon Books, 1968; KF4545.S5 C3 1968), 1:77”

vii including fn 36-38 citing the Virginia laws.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Contributions to The Critique of Value - Elena Louisa Lange

Recently I have had the pleasure of reading a series of essays by Elena Louisa Lange.  I highly recommend that anyone serious about the matter engage with her work, it is outstanding.

Just a few essays worth finding:
Hegel‘s Contribution to Capital. ‘Essence’ and ‘Appearance’ as Categories of the Critique of
Political Economy

Exchanging without Exploiting:
A Critique of Karatani Kōjin’s The Structure of World History\
Historical Materialism 23.3

Moishe Postone: Marx’s Critique of Political Economy as Immanent Social Critique
Chapter 31
The SAGE Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical theory

Money versus Value?:
Reconsidering the ‘Monetary Approach’ of the ‘post’-Uno School, Benetti/Cartelier, and the Neue Marx-Lektüre
Historical Materialism (2019) 1-34

The Critique of Political Economy and the ‘New Dialectic’

The Proof is in the Pudding:
On the Necessity of Presupposition in Marx’s Critical Method

The Transformation Problem as a Problem of Fetishism
Filozofski vestnik  |  Volume XL  |  Number 3  |  2019

Sadly, I find myself having to edit this recommendation with an addendum rejecting Lange's political conclusions, which remind me more of German National-Bolshevism meets anti-Germanism from the 1990's and early 2000's.

- The "woke" Left is really in power, and they are the true fascists  Also, see the absolutely terrible little book The Conformist Rebellion, which at some point I will no doubt have to read in full and review (I have read the Introduction, the first essay which is arguably antisemitic, and Nick Nesbitt's article, which is actually quite decent.)

- COVID health conventions are a trick by capital to dominate us and anyone not calling it that "fully accept or even foster neoliberal domination

- Climate change is a myth, apparently?  Or rather, "energy austerity" is fascist.

- Any support for the Palestinians is antisemitic and genocidal because apparently all of the Palestinians want to drive the Jews into the sea, as opposed to the clear and committed antisemitism of Hamas

"The escapism into sentiments of general humaneness, accompanied by the insufferable talk of “conflict”, which expresses that one is dealing with two equal opponents, necessarily presupposes the splitting off of the annihilationist anti-Semitic character of the Palestinian cause. Furthermore, any complaint about civilian casualties is propaganda if it ignores the fact that civilian life in the fully militarised Gaza Strip is first and foremost a thorn in the side of Hamas and the Palestinian majority that supports it. Hamas itself is blurring the line between civilians and combatants, raising even children as martyrs, abusing them as human shields, and then feigning grief over their deaths. None of this bothers the propagandists of compassion any more than the fact that the Israeli army does everything it can to avoid unarmed casualties. The brutally equidistant reporting, which does not even shy away from using Hamas as a reliable information source in an attempt to maximise sentimentality, fuels the delusions of those who adhere to the traditional historical revisionist hallucination of an Israeli war of annihilation against the Palestinians." [Italics mine]

Everything said here about Hamas is absolutely true.  And yet, that Likud and its allies precisely hope to push all of the Palestinians out of Israel, to cleanse it, and that they have been quite explicit about it, is a hallucination?  The conflation of the Likud regime with Israel and the Hamas organization with Gaza Palestinians does enormous violence to both the Israeli opposition to Likud and to the Palestinians who do not support Hamas, but further still says "If they support Hamas, even passively, then Israeli war crimes and atrocities are not merely justified, but in fact neither war crimes nor atrocities, but self-defense."  Not only is this not communist, it falls well below the conventions of international military law and the Geneva Convention.

- This was preceded by a very odd piece in October where she proclaimed that "I do not support Palestine. I do not support Israel."  In a way, that is a perfectly reasonable point, insofar as communists support the abolition of relations of domination, not the equality of identities that naturalizes those relations of domination.  No, it is odd because it uses Ayn Rand to oppose the idea of solidarity, not solidarity with this or that group, but with anyone, presumably including workers in struggle?  Also, by the November article, clearly marching behind the Israeli flag.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

In the Pitts

This was going to be a small reply to ellenleinwand from my post here, but it grew large enough that it needed its own post.

As I am reading Open Marxism 4, I have come across a presentation of the matter by Frederick Harry Pitts appropriate to the comments here.  Pitts, explicating Heinrich as the most representative of the New Reading of Marx (NRM) proponents, says,
"The NRM suggest that value does not consist in the amount of labour-time expended in production by any one labouring individual.  It relates to the amount of time 'socially necessary for its production' (Marx).  For the NRM, value is subject to a social validation made after the concrete expenditure of labour (Heinrich 2012).  In production, value can thus only be a potential quantity, pending validation in the exchange of commodities."

The first two sentences are quite correct.  The third sentence however begins to express a problem.  "Value" is not subject to a social validation made after the concrete expenditure of labour, the quantity of value is, unless the value-form itself is only potential until C' become M', in which case we return to traditional Marxism via the back door that production is only verifiably capitalist if the end result is successful valorization.  Like traditional Marxism, capitalism remains in exchange, but does not go into production itself, and retains the capitalism as maldistribution-modernity split Postone and the Krisis/EXIT! journals levels such a trenchant critique of.

Pitts then seems to adjust course in the next sentence by stating that "In production, value can thus only be a potential QUANTITY."  And if I may nitpick, since it is critical in such an explication to dot the i's and cross the t's, it is possible that he should say instead of "In production..." "In the exchange of commodities for money", especially as Heinrich's claim to fame is his "monetary theory of value".

However, that is followed by another statement that is evidence that the slippage back and forth is not an accident, as it immediately reappears.

"In this respect, a product of labour is not automatically a commodity.  By means of its sale it must be validated as such in order to enter into the value relation,  For a product to bear value, it must be a commodity."

Insofar as a commodity is something produced for exchange, that is, a presumed use-value for someone other than the producer, whose use-value for the producer is as something to be exchanged for another commodity or its universal form of appearance i.e. money, it is a commodity already prior to succeeding to be exchanged.  In point of fact, Marx does not refer to the C or the C' in M-C...P...-C'-M' as potential commodities, but as commodities (labour power, means of production and raw materials, that is, constant and variable capital, are already commodities because exchange has already taken place before production ever begins, and thus by the time production begins we are already wholly within the capital cycle, that is, M-C-M'.)  In other words, the value-form is present from the beginning of M-C-M', not only in C'-M'.  Let us not leave aside that assuming that we have a commodity which is a use-value sometimes and a use-value\value at other times assumes a separability of value and use-value that threats the commodity as composed of two separable realities.

Secondly, a product of labour is obviously not necessarily ever a commodity.  Marx makes this point himself, but in relation to kinds of labours that, by their form, are not possibly value-producing, such as personal services in which the labor purchased is not used to produce something for exchange with something else.  However, in the way Pitts puts the matter, in the context of the expanded capital cycle, he is not following Marx but Bailey.  He conflates what makes something a Commodity with whether or not particular units of output succeed in being valorized.

Thirdly, let's take a situation of actual capitals, as opposed to the aggregate capital of Volume 1 where particular capitals are not what is under discussion, and let us say that we had 3 producers of computers, where column 1 is MoP, column 2 is labour power, column 3 is surplus value.

Let's assume a Rate of Surplus-Value of 100%, each produces 100 widgets in an hour, with constant and variable capital and surplus-value in dollars.

Producer #1 (socially average labour time)
50 + 50 + 50

Producer #2 (poor productivity)
50 + 80 + 80

Producer #3 (fully automated, no workers)
50 + 0 +0

$410 for 300 widgets
$150 constant capital
$130 hours of labour power (value)
$130 hours of surplus-value

Each widget is worth about $1.37, therefore each producer receives $137.77, so that Producer 1 has a rate of profit ~27%, Producer 2 has a rate of profit ~6%, but Producer 3 is way ahead with a rate of profit ~64%.

In a capitalist world, insofar as the realization of value in exchange is the determination of an aliquot part of value to each capital based on its productivity relative to the average socially necessary labor time, we have the peculiar outcome that for an individual capital, it is possible to have a 0 labor power expenditure, but insofar as each producer is in the broad mesh of total capital, they all appropriate via their sales some portion of total value created by the total expenditure of labor power at the socially necessary average.

Pitts, and if he is correct, Heinrich and NML, cannot comprehend this: that an output that is not a product of labor is still a commodity and can appropriate surplus-value, insofar as it participates in the total capital cycle.  It did not become a commodity through successfully being sold, it was a commodity because it was in the total cycle.

For a product to bear value... it must be part of total capital process, it must have had money spent on its production, even if that money is only on constant capital.  The point here being, insofar as the use-value was produced in the process begun with M-C...P... C' leading necessarily to M', it cannot but be a commodity entitled to an aliquot part of the total monetary expression of value equal to its C+V.

The only exception to this is the case in which something is produced and not one unit of the output is sold.  If even one unit of the output is sold, the originating capital receives an (however infinitesimally small) aliquot part of total surplus value, although quite possibly not enough for the reproduction of that capital.

To not realize this, Pitts, and I am suggesting Heinrich as well, move loosely back and forth between treating Volume 1 as about particular capitals and as capital as a whole.  Following Fred Moseley, I hold that Volume 1 is about aggregate capital, not particular capitals, and thus everything produced is a commodity because it is considered in the total capital cycle of M-C-M'.

Finally, if Pitts is correct his presentation of Heinrich, then it implies that their notion is that Value is not merely realized in exchange, but only produced in exchange, since the output is not even a product of Commodity production if the commodities did not successfully get sold.  Taking a step further, the suggestion is that the value of the commodity is only a determinate social form through exchange.  Again, Bailey, not Marx.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

What is Communism?

Jehu does these neat little nuggets and I think he hits this, above all else, on the head.

His own blog header starts with this:
"Communism is free time and nothing else!"

That is a good start.

This is the obvious one:
"Communism can only be defined as the complete abolition of wage labor, capital and the state, and the realization of the principle of “to each according to need”. If communization has any meaning, it is that the complete abolition of wage labor, capital and the state — a fully communist society — is possible right now, immediately."

This adds a little clarity to what the abolition of the working as a class means:
"There is only one way the proletarians can abolish themselves as a class: the buying and selling of labor power must be abolished."

But what does that really entail? This is a little more specific and it is very important [all subsequent italics mine]:
"A society characterized by the communist principle requires certain definite technical material conditions so that the social product can be distributed without regard to the labor contribution of its members. These conditions may not necessarily require the complete automation of production, but they must at least guarantee that whatever living labor is required can be met by voluntary contribution of the members of society. Basically, communism requires that wage labor is already superfluous to the production of material wealth at present."

Now that is some good stuff as a basic "elevator pitch" answer to the question, "What do you mean by communism?"
It does not tell us how to get there and is not political strategy, but it puts us in the right frame of mind because there is no question that we can produce enough to take care of people, that it can be done with many fewer hours of labor than even happens now, but further that even now, wage labor is superfluous to the production of material wealth.

Postcapitalism, Basic Income and the End of Work: A Critique and Alternative by Frederick Harry Pitts and Ana C. Dinerstein

A lot of this essay is a pretty convincing poke at the anti-work milieu, whether Left or Right, Accelerationist or (post-)Autonomist.  It is very much worth reading, especially as they point out how often these theories are predicated on a very masculine and middle-class flight from reproductive labor and "bullshit jobs" (Graeber), that is, work that doesn't suit their personal (intellectual/non-manual) creativity.

That is something very important to point out and a problem I have with people for whom the abolition of labor is the abolition of "the metabolic interchange between humanity and nature".  They are quite right to point out that the problem is not generic, transhistorical labor, but the social form of labor.  As I have tried to point out in earlier posts, it is the social form of labor as abstract domination that is at issue. 

The section outlining the way in which a Universal Basic Income (UBI) conforms both to a strong statism and nationalism seems very clear.  The way in which a UBI is managed through a citizen's right opens the way to deny the UBI to non-citizens, to the disenfranchised (in the United States, for example, would this also include persons who have lost the right to vote through felony offenses?)  They make a very strong presentation on how the authoritarian Modi government in India has looked to possibly use a UBI as a way to further mobilize national-chauvinism against minority groups.

A Problem?
There is a section near the beginning of the essay that I have problems with, and maybe it is just a matter of precision on their part, or maybe it is not.

"We suggest that the postcapitalist prospectus fails on three fronts. The first is that the post-work literature is productivist insofar as it sees ‘work’ as the central relation of capitalist society and not as the antagonistic relations of property, ownership and subsistence that logically and historically precede a society in which most people are compelled to sell their labour to live, nor the specific kind of results assumed by the products of that labour in the market."

What the part I have italicized seems to suggest is that Marx's critique is not a critique of relations of production, of abstract labor as determinate social form, but of relations of distribution (property, ownership).  Moishe Postone makes a very succinct critique of exactly this view and it remains his most enduring contribution to revitalizing Marx's work.  The problem with this view, in its most succinct sense, is that it is a criticism of property and ownership that leaves labor as determinate social form, as form of domination, untouched.  The logic is then that one needs to change who owns, to change the property relations, but it doesn't take issue with production as such.

I believe that Dinerstein and Pitts do actually want to call the social form of labor into question, but you cannot do so from the perspective of the relations of distribution.  It is labor, as the contradictory unity of concrete and abstract labor, itself which must be abolished because value as the social form of wealth is itself a category of production, not of exchange or circulation, that is, not a social form produced after production that leaves production beyond critique.

This dilemma probably arises from the adoption of the position now put forward by Michael Heinrich and Christopher J. Arthur that the value-form is produced through exchange.  This so-called monetary theory of value does exactly what Marx does not: it situates value as social form of wealth in exchange, rather than in production.

This essay also dovetails with a point made by Jehu, repeatedly, regarding the crisis of capital being one of the increasing superfluity of living labor leading to technologically-driven permanent unemployment due to the increasing organic composition of capital, as opposed to the increasing organic composition of capital increasing the difficulty of expanded valorization of value and hence of a crisis of overaccumulation.  The former, which Jehu ascribes to Endnotes (fairly or not), he says is a Keynesian position (fairly), whereas the latter is Marx's position. 

Dinerstein and Pitts point to a similar issue when they say that "But this is a very narrow understanding of capitalism that sees it synonymous with labour itself and not, as we have stated above, with value, commodities and a certain historically-specific set of antagonistic social relationsbased not around labour but labour-power. With the waning of work, we are told, technological unemployment renders the wage insufficient to secure workers' subsistence. Their labour-power- the pure potential to labour- must be reproduced through other means." [Italics mine - CW]

Here again we see this attempt to drag domination and exploitation out of the relation of capital and labor in the production process.  The fixation on labor-power comes at the expense of the problem of abstract labor.

This gets a little weird at the point at which they seem to claim that UBI would destroy the class struggle by putting an end to the struggle over property and ownership:

"This is an extreme example that usefully serves to highlight how, liquidating class struggles for a nationally-constituted citizenry, abstract utopias reliant on the UBI might also treat the class struggle as a closed case whilst largely retaining the current rule of property ownership, including, crucially, that of the means of production, for which no postcapitalist or  post-work vista gives a convincing vision for redress. The basic income, as a key principle of  the proposed post-work society, breaks here with some vital preconditions of worker organisation. In his analysis of the Keynesian state, Holloway argues that the latter constituted a specific ‘mode of domination’ (Holloway 1996, p. 8) for the Keynesian state contained the power of labour via the ‘monetization’ of class conflict: ‘In the face 13 of rigidity and revolt, money was the great lubricant. Wage-bargaining became the focus of both managerial change and worker discontent’ (Holloway 1996, p. 23). The crisis of Keynesianism was, in this sense, ‘a crisis of a form of containment of labour’ (Holloway, 1996, p. 27). The basic income could become, then, another form of domination of the power of labour, only that this time, rather than relying on class conflict, aims at obliterating it." [Italics mine - CW]

The key here is the idea that capital is a "form of domination of the power of labour".  If, however, domination is all the way down to the point of production, then it seems unlikely that a UBI scheme will obliterate class conflict.  The struggle after all is not merely over wages, but over the very imposition of labor as the necessary condition of life for the vast majority of human beings, of the conditions under which that domination takes place, of the logic for which production takes place, and so on.  In other words, the struggle against capital is the struggle against more than the distribution of the means of production, but over the very way in which those means of production are themselves an expression of domination.

This comes back to the problem that if the abolition of labor in the accelerationist sense has a merely technological determinist notion of what is wrong with capitalism, so too the fetishistic putting forward of labor as something to be liberated takes us backwards to the view of the identity of free labor and freedom, as opposed to freeing humanity from the imposition of labor on individuals as a precondition for the actual freedom of all.  Only when labor is no longer imposed, that is, when an individual's access to the means of life no longer depends on the performance of labor, will human beings be free.  Contra the accelerationists, that doesn't mean that human beings won't engage in the metabolic interchange with nature, but that that interchange will not govern the relations between human beings.

My problem with Dinerstein and Pitts, in the end, is not that they go too far, but do not go far enough.

The result is an especially trade-unionist view of matters that if the workers don't have income to fight over, they have no reason to fight the system:

"The basic income effectively abolishes any means by which workers can struggle for a better deal, liquidating class struggle and purporting to resolve its contradictions at the imaginary level of a nation state paying free money to a nationally-defined people. In so doing, the vista of an abolition of work afforded by the basic income serves up the fruits of struggle prematurely, without struggles having taken place. It temporarily defers the contradictions of class antagonism without resolution through the antagonism itself. This is ironic even on the terms of the postcapitalist argument itself, insofar as class struggle would be necessary to drive up wages to the extent that employers would be motivated to worth(sic - "replace"?) low-paid workers in bad jobs with machines in the first place. Yet none of the popular imaginaries of an automated future entertain this notion, outsourcing capitalist development to technology as a neutral force as opposed to one imbricated and resulting from wider social relations."

How is it that a UBI serves of the fruits of struggle prematurely?  Is there some bizarrely Christian self-flagellation requirement without which the working class is not entitled to the fruits of that suffering?

However, as is evidently the case, it doesn't resolve the antagonism itself.  And why not?  That is not actually addressed because to do so would involve taking up the point that the only problem with labor is not that it is monetized, but that it is the necessary form of activity that produces value, that is, that there is no value-form without human productive activity in the form of abstract labor.  The point being, that capital that would cease to employ living labor qua wage-labor would cease to produce value and collapse.

But we are not done yet.  About a page later we find out that "basic income...  purports to change the social relations under which we get paid for the better, but runs the risk of doing so for the worst precisely because the class struggle contained and concealed in the formal legal relationship between the buyer and seller of labour is elided."

Now the class struggle is contained and concealed in the exchange relation between buyer and seller.  This is really explicitly the end of the Marxian idea of a critique of the relations of production for one in which the real problem is the buyer-seller relation.  And yet Marx makes explicit that this is a relation of equality, one which he goes on to mock as the seller (the worker) is taken by the buyer (the capitalist) for a good tanning in the actual labor process itself.

In the end, UBI could only be deployed in a minimal manner.  Dinerstein and Pitts are more right than they seem to realize in pointing out that maintaining dependence on monetized relations, on the money-form, thus entails the maintenance of domination, but not because value is produced there, but because monetized relations assume a commodity that produces a surplus of wealth, not merely in material form, but in the social form of value.