texts for 23rd march reading group

The next of The Commune’s London reading groups on ‘communism from below’ takes place from 6:30pm on Monday 23rd March at the Old Red Lion, near Angel tube station.

The subject of the discussion will be “capital, alienation and commodity fetishism”. Does the alienation of labour only exist in an economy where commodities are produced for the purpose of market exchange? How is alienation from the natural environment related to workers’ alienation from their labour? To what extent can we see a “humanist” trait in Marx? The suggested reading is:

The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof (section four of the linked page, from Capital volume one)

The Labour Process or the Production of Use-Values (section one of the linked page, from Capital volume one)

Estranged Labour (from the 1844 Manuscripts)

A comrade will also be giving a lead-off on the subject of Istvan Meszaros’s work Marx’s Theory of Alienation, although such is the size and density of this text, it is not necessary preparation for the discussion.

All are welcome. Email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com for further details or if you would like to be posted printed copies of the texts.

One thought on “texts for 23rd march reading group

  1. I went to this meeting with another comrade from the ICC (International Communist Current) and a couple of our sympathisers. There were a couple of short presentations at the beginning on the subject of alienation and commodity fetishism, most of which I agreed with, in particular, the criticisms of the ‘Althusserian’ view that the whole business of alienation in Marx was just a hangover from his youthful, Feurerbachian humanism and that the mature ‘scientific’ Marx wasn’t interested in the concept at all. There was general agreement that the concept of alienation is important as a guide to the kind of society we want to create – ie in seeing the depth of the problem we face, we can better understand the radical nature of the solutions that communism has to offer.

    The discussion veered off towards two other questions: whether or not there is a significant movement of the working class in the central capitalist countries, and the problem of the term ‘self-management’ as definition of what communists are aiming for.

    On the class struggle, comrades from the Commune responded well to a couple of versions of the idea that workers’ resistance today is much more significant in a country like China than in the UK or Europe. I supported these responses by emphasising the importance of the oil refinery strikes, a view which the Commune comrades seemed to endorse. On the other hand, their framework for looking at the class movement seems somewhat limited to the recent period and to the British example, so we suggested future discussion could look at placing today’s struggles in a more historical and global context.

    Evidently we don’t agree with the Commune’s approach to the trade unions and the possibility of regenerating them, which seems to us to be one of the strongest ties linking them to their Trotskyist past. But that’s a matter to take up in another discussion.

    The main point of disagreement at this meeting was over the question of self- management. The presentation on commodity fetishism had emphasised workers’ self-management as a means of overcoming the tendency for production and the product to escape the control of the producers. The problem with this term is that it generally conveys the notion of the future society as a network of independent self-managed enterprises linked by exchange relations, as in the Paul Cardan/Solidarity booklet The economics of a self-managed society, which seems to have influenced the Commune’s outlook. For us it is important to emphasise that the producers can only maintain control of production by suppressing the commodity form and this entails overcoming the whole notion of the separate enterprise. Some of the responses we were given from the Commune comrades seemed to be targeted at the standard Trotskyist argument which insists on the need for production to be in the hand of the ‘Workers State’; but our criticism of the concept of self-management comes from a very different angle – the angle represented, for example, by Bordiga’s critique of Gramsci’s approach to the factory occupations in Italy in 1920, since the latter had put the question of running the enterprises above the problem of destroying the bourgeois state. Time (and further discussion) will tell whether this is a discussion about substance or about semantics.

    The atmosphere of the meeting was fraternal, with the stress on open debate. The main problem at this level was the venue – we were holding the meeting in the corner of a noisy pub and it was often difficult to hear what people were saying. The meeting was compact enough to cope but it wouldn’t have worked at all if a few more people had turned up.

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