Here are some reflections on another thought-provoking post on Labour and Time by Leniency. Apologies from Ben if I got anything wrong or misunderstood – given that I do not have always the sufficient philosophical vocabulary to deal with writings where so many thoughts and multiple references are presented in a condensed form. I do refer to his arguments, it is worth reading the whole post in the first place.

On the issue of time

Time is one of the central elements in Marx’s analysis and Bensaid is one of the best authors to identify multiple temporalities in Capital (His Leaps, Leaps, Leaps, on the other hand, is a real gem which focuses on the time of politics against the time of Capital). Ben is right to point out to the working class struggles (absenteeism, strikes) against the despotism of capitalist time. It was interesting for me to see how both in the history and at present tea breaks, for instance, (apart from the usual claim for reduced working time) have been very important issues of struggle for the workers, workers claiming time on their own at the workplace, reminding, with dignity, to the capitalist that their domination will never be complete. Whereas in previous fieldwork in industrial clusters in Istanbul (where working conditions resonate Engel’s Manchester), I witnessed how neoliberal forms of control first eliminated collective tea breaks to prevent collective talks which might dangerously lead to thinking and action.

Yet, if the differentia specifica of capitalist society is not exploitation of the workers by capitalists (although it also requires and includes this), but abstract domination of capital over individuals in society (I follow M. Postone and N. Pepperell here), then there is extreme pressure capital puts on the individual capitalists as well with respect to time: The working hours of the labourer in a subcontracting company are increased because buyers put new standards for just-in-time production on the subcontractor; the trader in the London Metal Exchange (LME) has to make decisions about price offers in five minute out-cry Ring Sessions, which will determine the global referencing price; hedging at the LME has been first developed against price risk, because by the time the ships brought copper from Chile to England (with a travel time of three months), price of copper had already changed. That is why, apart from the important socioeconomic struggles at the work place, which ‘resist’ the time of Capital (but which are still ‘politically retarded’ as I mentioned in the post on Working Class Struggle as Information Conduit post), we should also imagine, for a post-capitalist vision, a completely novel understanding of time. I say “imagine”, because only novel forms of social practices can really alter experience of time and space. But imagining the new does not exclude completely some positive dimension of capitalist time: the production of goods at a tremendous quantity and speed, for instance, can and should be used for the meeting of the needs of millions of people. How you can take this positive dimension of production (even if it is related to the forces of competition) and insert it into a socialist configuration without falling back again into capitalism, is another question, which I am still thinking of though…

On the issue of negativity and resistance

Ben engages with the argument that real abstraction and real subsumption totalised everything to leave no room for agency. He offers a more relational approach which emphasises the articulation of negativity with a struggle ‘within and against’ despotism of capitalist time. I do share his criticism but wants to emphasise some points in relation to the way in which he substantiates his proposal:

1)    I agree that some approaches, which look from the perspective of totality, have implications of absorbing all forms of agency. But the idea of de-ontologising totality does not need to be incompatible with agency. Real abstraction “really” looks like absorbing any anthropology. But it is itself a very particular form of enacted social practice. For instance, after I did my fieldwork with the metal traders, producers and brokers, I tried to think of them as if I was an anthropologist who travelled to a capitalist society from a completely different world and recorded what they did in their everyday life as anthropological rituals, which are alien to me. In completely different locations of the same commodity market, individuals’ rituals contributed to the making of an impersonal power of the market (in their language, the market behaves, likes, dislikes, has a sentiment, which is independent of the people who participate to it). Their everyday rituals (buying, selling, consuming, producing, networking, hedging, gathering information, keeping stocks, offering new supply…etc.) contributed to the making of the market price, which assumed an independent character and to which all market participants were subject to. In turn, while buying, selling, producing….etc. they acted according to this market price. It is this anthropological root or practically enacted nature of real abstraction, which makes change not only a matter of agency (who can break the barrier of totality), but as an immanent possibility. Yet, struggle does not guarantee real change: Several struggles in history have been incorporated into capital (which requires another post to discuss)

2)    I do agree with “within and against” strategy. I do agree that the “immediacy of the relational extraction of value in labour provokes resistance, which is vectored through historically conditioned lived experience.” This is the potentials offered by the proletarian situation. But I think the ‘utopian traces of the critique of labour itself’ as Ben mentions is equally significant. I had already mentioned this problem in my Ontological Problem of the Worker. If we will be against the imposition of value-form, we should remember that this is not something a class of individuals imposes on another class. As Mark Fisher reminds in Capitalist Realism, we talk about a ‘centerless’ form of domination, of which workers’ reality is a part.

3)    Even though I do agree with the emphasis on the “collective” articulation, there are some very interesting things individual forms tell us about negativity. In Pasolini’s Accattone, the pimp who wanted to work for the woman he loves could not subjugate to the transformation of his body into a proletarian chose negation in his own death (see Fabio Vighi’s political reading of the film via Zizek and Agamben and his special analysis of signs which refer to exclusion, negation and death The stories of workers I heard or myself witnessed include those unemployed family fathers who burnt themselves out of despair, those young men in poor neighbourhoods who cut themselves (and say that their physical pain replaces suddenly a much deeper one or take a pleasure they can not explain), those who always depend on someone because they hate the idea and practice of being a “worker” (about whom I will post a working class portrait I wrote). I do not necessarily see a point of resistance in those stories, but they tell us smg. about reality of class experience, which can be very important for the organisation of collective action.

4)    I also do agree that labour process offers points of collective articulation for ‘within and against’ strategy. But we need to develop what we understand from labour processes in contemporary capitalism, what are the diverse forms of mediation by which labour experiences conflict and antagonisms….etc. Migrant rural workers in the developing countries experience direct conflicts with labour contractors, public sector workers with their managers who are themselves employees, small farmers with middlemen and moneylenders, home-based female workers with intermediaries sent by factories. But each time there are mediated yet broader levels of conflict in which different actors are involved (landowners, government, banks, large traders, factory owners…etc.). We are trying to transform a centerless form of domination, yet, collective organisation has to be made in multiple centers of conflict. Qualitative improvements in the latter does not necessarily lead by itself to a better achievement of the former.