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The insurrection in Ecuador, October 2019

Last October, there was a fearsome struggle in Ecuador against the government’s decision to end subsidies for fuel, which was reversed after nearly two weeks of protests, riots, blockades, and occupations.

In February 2019, the government of Lenin Moreno signed a $4.2 billion financing deal with the IMF, which was conditional on cutting government spending. Moreno decided to achieve this by firing a number of government workers, privatizing certain state-run enterprises, and ending subsidies for fuel.

On Tuesday night, October 1st, it was announced that subsidies for fuel — worth around $1.3 billion a year, and which had been in place for some four decades — would end that Thursday. The price shock was immediate and brutal — a more than 25% rise in gasoline prices, and a doubling of diesel prices. Trade unions and indigenous movements immediately announced their intention to strike and demonstrate against the decision.

On Thursday, October 3rd, transit workers took the lead, taking to the streets and blockading major highways and roads in the two major cities, Quito and Guayaquil. The protests almost immediately took on a militant air, with barricades being thrown up and strikers clashing with police. The government declared a state of emergency.

Ecuador Political Crisis

After two days of battling the police for control of the streets, the transport unions called for an end to the strikes, with leadership declaring that their disagreements had been expressed, and that they hoped the government would listen to their demands. Over 350 people had been arrested, including union leaders; government officials said that 60 police officers had been injured, and a dozen police vehicles destroyed.

However, other groups, especially those of the indigenous communities, continued to rally, and called for a national general strike the following Wednesday, October 9th. La Confederacion de Nacionalidades Indigenas del Ecuador (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE), a huge nation-wide coalition of various indigenous communities, announced that they would be mobilizing indefinitely until the reinstatement of the fuel subsidies.

CONAIE drove the insurrection to new heights on Monday, October 7th. Tens of thousands of indigenous activists and militants had spent the weekend travelling from every corner of the country to the cities, particularly the capital city of Quito. There, in coordination with angry urban workers and students, they quickly overwhelmed security forces and seized control of highways, universities, government buildings, and other urban spaces, including brief occupations of the General Comptroller’s Office and the National Assembly. The Moreno administration quickly packed up and fled, relocating the government to the port city of Guayaquil. Meanwhile, CONAIE declared a “state of exception” in indigenous territories, effectively rendering them autonomous from the central government; dozens of state security personnel were subsequently arrested by indigenous militants for violating this newly declared sovereignty. Meanwhile, several oil fields in the Amazon were attacked and forced to shut down 165,000 bbl/day of production.

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The battle continued on for the rest of the week. Running street battles between demonstrators and police were constant. A national strike took place on Wednesday, October 9th, with the unions coming back to the streets. Police officers continued to be arrested by the indigenous forces, usually for a scold-and-release. La Casa de la Cultura (House of Culture) became the central headquarters for the militants in Quito, where large assemblies were held to discuss and coordinate the insurrection. Occupation and sabotage of oil infrastructure continued; by Friday, October 11th, production had been reduced by 900,000 bbl/day (an odd figure given by the energy ministry, since most sources have Ecuador’s oil production at typically around 500,000 bbl/day) .

On Saturday, October 12th, peace talks were finally announced between CONAIE and the Moreno administration, even as the latter announced a curfew and deployed the military to help control the streets. But within a day, Moreno capitulated; fuel subsidies were re-instated, the IMF austerity plan was cancelled, and further talks were planned between the government and the indigenous communities to devise a different set of spending cuts and taxes. After celebrating, the thousands of indigenous activists and militants spent some time cleaning up the streets of debris, before starting the trek home to their rural villages.

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Overall, the insurrection is a fascinating case-study in organization, power, and militancy. At first glance, the almost two weeks of chaos look like a series of daily riots; but this characterization overlooks the intense level of organization, planning, and logistical coordination that was present. An interview from Crimethinc with a participant lays out the dense networks of solidarity and cooperation that made the sustained insurrection possible. There was the coordination of transport for tens of thousands travelling to the capital from the mountains, jungles, and lowlands, as well as food distribution centers, volunteer medical brigades, childcare services, entertainment, popular assemblies, and so on. All of this synced up with a fierce level of militancy, where thousands armed with sticks, stones, shields, rockets, petrol bombs, and molotovs battled state security forces for control of urban territory, while their counterparts in the hinterlands staged decisive strikes on oil infrastructure. And it should be noted that none of this was a spontaneous or sudden outburst of reactive anger; they had no illusions that the struggle was about anything other than forcing the state to reinstate the fuel subsidies. They were ready to fight and shed blood from day one, and had planned accordingly.

The insurrection is also noteworthy when situated against the deepening crises and contradictions of capitalism and Earth’s ecology. On Friday, September 27th — mere days prior to Moreno’s explosive announcement — the Global Climate Strikes took place. Millions around the world, including contingents in Ecuador, rallied in the streets to protest against political inaction around fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis. An important cause, but one with very little teeth, and which was quickly eclipsed by the potent force of the fuel subsidy protests. The contrast in form between the two movements (peaceful demonstrations vs. violent confrontation) is matched by the contrast in content (demanding political action against carbon emissions vs. demanding popular access to carbon energy). This dynamic has emerged in other parts of the world, notably in France with the successful rebellion of the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) against the Macron administration’s new tax on fuel.

This could be chalked down to the different social bases of the two causes — a relatively abstract and long-term vision of conservation, embraced by professionals and the middle-class, versus an immediate and harshly material necessity to defend the already empty pockets of the laboring masses from further deprivation. But CONAIE’s history has in fact been in opposing extractive capitalism, and upholding an indigenous environmentalism. In fact, perhaps the main reason why the disruption of oil production during the uprising was so effective was because CONAIE and other groups had been engaging in such actions for many years. So why did they rise up in defense of fossil fuel subsidies?

Because, they are not naive, or detached from the day-to-day material lives of their constituents. Fossil capitalism must be stopped — but this cannot be done on the backs of the masses, who depend on carbon energy to live and yet never had any real choice in the matter. The transition must be at the expense of those who benefited: the already wealthy and powerful. Thus, the attempts by capital to impose greenwashed austerity while protecting its ability to profit must be opposed.

And in Ecuador, at least, it seems that the mainstream environmental movement has recognized this fact; in an interview with Truthout, the local leader of Fridays for the Future states her intention to connect the student/climate activist organization with the country’s indigenous movements. If this goes well, then it will be a landmark in building a militant social composition that fights against the ecological devastation of capitalism, while remaining rooted in the lives of the masses.

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4 reasons to prioritize the study of the Bolivarian Revolution

The Russian Revolution has a disproportionately prominent position in the imaginations of modern revolutionaries in the West. Regardless of how smart and insightful Lenin was, and the trailblazing  efforts of the Bolsheviks, the hard truth is that the Russian Empire in the early 1900s was a totally different society than the ones we are dealing with today. Instead of focusing so much on the Russian Revolution, would-be revolutionaries should put much more energy into studying the Bolivarian Revolution, which is still playing out in Venezuela today, and which will have continent-wide ramifications. Now of course, the Bolivarian Revolution can be a controversial topic, and there are a lot of disagreements within the radical left about whether it is “truly socialist” or whatever; but regardless of these debates, I think we can all agree on the basic fact that the last couple of decades have seen some truly remarkable experiments in revolutionary praxis happen in Venezuela.

The first and most obvious reason to study the Bolivarian Revolution is that it is actually contemporary, starting in the 1990s and continuing today, as opposed to taking place 100 years ago during a totally different historical context. It started at the dawn of the information age, during an era of relative peace and a uni-polar US-controlled world order, and rebelled against neoliberal capitalism. These factors still mostly hold today, although the geopolitical context is certainly changing quite a lot, with the rise of China and Russia as economic and military rivals to the US, respectively. Compare this to the situation in the early 1900s. Basic technologies we take for granted today, like electricity and oil-based transportation, were just barely getting off the ground; the world was getting ravaged by vicious wars between evenly-matched imperial powers, in the worst violence that humanity has ever seen; and capitalism, in its modernist-developmental phase, was non-existent or peripheral to many regions that were still largely feudal in nature — such as Tsarist Russia.

Second, the Bolivarian Revolution took place in a highly urbanized country, which is again a stark contrast to Russia in 1917 (~20% urban), or really any country that saw a revolutionary socialist movement take power in the 20th century, like China, Vietnam, or Angola (Cuba is a possible exception, since in 1960 it was almost 60% urban). This is a huge factor for revolutionary politics, since the socio-economic and political dynamics of cities are extremely different than that of the rural countryside. Cities tend to be “fully capitalist”, with people totally subsumed by markets and wage-labor. In rural areas, markets have a presence but tend to exist alongside other social relations. The economic basis is also wildly different, with cities being orientated around industrial and service sectors, while rural areas revolve around energy and resources (agriculture, mining, etc), and corresponding differences in class and social composition. Given that the West is heavily urbanized, we should look closely at how radical politics has taken such deep roots within Venezuela.

Third, the Bolivarian Revolution was largely a peaceful process that combined electoral politics with autonomous social movements. This is quite novel in the history of revolutionary socialism; the closest parallel to this was the Allende government in Chile in the 1970s, which only lasted three years before being overthrown by a military coup. Chavez’s democratic road to power is crucial to study, given how hegemonic and popular democratic institutions generally are in the US, other developed countries, and wide swathes of the Global South. Despite the structural limitations of bourgeoisie democracy, its hegemony means that revolutionaries have to figure out some way to engage with it — albeit in a very different way than Western electoral parties, socialist or otherwise, have done so thus far. Hence the need to learn from the electoral experiences of Venezuelan socialists. The key lesson is probably in the relationship between electoral politicking and non or extra-electoral organizing, which has taken place across a dizzying number of cooperatives, clinics, affinity groups, neighborhood associations, etc., and how they feed into each other — a process that is much more complicated and interesting than current debates on the matter in the US and the West have acknowledged thus far.

Fourth, the Bolivarian Revolution is a revolution based on oil. The Chavez administration has used Venezuela’s oil industry as the material base for organizing and mobilizing the Venezuelan masses, turning its huge profits into funding for the aforementioned network of grassroots cooperatives and associations. This worked as long as oil prices were high (which was an explicit policy goal of Chavez), but their collapse has been the key factor in the recent crisis and potential end of the Bolivarian Revolution. This whole experience is an important lesson in the relationship between political economy and revolutionary strategy, and strategic questions about revolution and global processes — namely, imperialism and climate change. Venezuela’s oily socialism was dependent on exports to the US, which is obviously untenable for any serious revolutionary project in the long-term. And dependence on oil is itself untenable given the ongoing climate crisis. The (failed) attempts of the Bolivarian Revolution to break from US imperialism and fossil fuels must be studied; whether we can figure out how to actually overcome our material entanglement with US imperialism and fossil fuels will make or break all future revolutionary struggles.

Why are revolutionaries so obsessed with the Russian Revolution?

This is a silly question, on the face of it; of course revolutionaries are obsessed with the first successful communist revolution in history (regardless of how the revolutionary state evolved or devolved afterwards). And I don’t think I have to go out of my way to prove that most of the socialist movement in the US looks to the Russian Revolution and the works of Lenin as the basis for their thinking about revolutionary strategy. But the real question is: why just the Russian Revolution? Why doesn’t the Chinese Revolution and the works of Mao figure in just as importantly? And what about revolutionary movements closer to home: the Black Panther Party, or more recently, the Zapatistas in Mexico, or the socialist movement in Venezuela?

The main reason is probably that it is a consequence of historical momentum. The Russian Revolution had a massive impact on global politics, and the communist government made a lot of effort to export its ideas and practices abroad. The rise of Stalin and the exile of Trotsky contributed to this, with the latter’s followers working hard to spread their interpretation of the Russian Revolution, the USSR, and Marxism, in competition with the official line of the CPUSA. Despite the fact that the Chinese Revolution happened a full half-century later than the Russian Revolution, the Chinese communists didn’t prioritize exporting their model (an observation noted in Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che), and so relative to Trotskyism, Maoism has remained more marginal.

Eurocentrism is also probably a big factor. Russia is generally imagined to be “white”, “Western”, and/or “European”, and thus for Western socialists its easier to imagine and relate with narratives about the Russian Revolution, than more recent struggles in the darker nations. This is despite the fact that, in terms of what the social and material context of the different revolutions were, there doesn’t seem to have been much difference between Russia in the 1910s and China in the 1940s: both nations were largely agricultural, with a marginal industrial base, and totally wracked by war. Indeed, it is arguable that both of these cases are pretty damn far off from what the current conditions of struggle are in the industrialized West!

This is why, aside from when I need to tickle my fancy for history, I am generally not interested in studying the details of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions. It seems far more important to examine case studies much more relevant to the current situation. The Black Panther Party is one such case, since they were arguably the most important revolutionary group on US soil in the post-WW2 era. Also important are the more recent radical movements in the rest of the Americas: the Zapatistas in Chiapas, various militant social movements in Brazil, and the socialist movements in Venezuela and Bolivia. The Venezuelan case is particularly noteworthy, given that they seized state power in a largely urban country, through participation in the country’s democratic institutions, while also maintaining and even expanding autonomous spaces for grassroots experimentation and mobilization. Of course, things there have been spiraling out of the control for a couple of years now; but regardless, the Venezuelan Revolution is a much more worthy example to obsess over, than one on a different continent that happened a hundred years ago.

US Marxist-Leninist electoralism in the ’70s and ’80s

I recently read two good things on US Marxist-Leninist groups in the ’70s and ’80s: Out of Oakland: Black Panther Party Internationalism During the Cold War (2017), and “Lessons From One Left to the Next: Revolution in the Air Revisited”.  The first is a book on the Black Panther Party (BPP) and its international organizing efforts, and the second is a book review on the New Communist Movement.

It is extremely interesting to see how the BPP, as it started to fall apart after 1971, started to very rapidly turn toward electoral politics.  And this turn didn’t even try to maintain much of a veneer of revolutionary communism.  In 1973, the BPP more or less fully pivoted away from revolutionary struggle and focused on electing Bobby Seale as Mayor of Oakland, and Elaine Brown to the Oakland city council.  Their leaflets urged voters to “Elect Two Democrats”; they advocated for the economic benefits of having police officers live within city limits; and they proposed a “Multi-Ethnic International Trade and Cultural Center” on the grounds that it would help trade and cultural exchange with developing countries and help grow local businesses and tourism.  By the end of the decade, the BPP was basically nothing more than an appendage of the Democratic Party; Elaine Brown attended the 1976 Democratic National Convention as a delegate for Jerry Brown’s presidential campaign.  (Malloy 217-9).

What the hell happened?  The book doesn’t go into much detail, since its much more about the way BPP’s politics and philosophy on internationalism changed over time, than about the internal dynamics of the party domestically.  My own hypothesis, as argued here, is that the BPP was materially dependent on social bases outside of its lumpen-proletarian core membership, namely elite white liberals and black businessmen.  For a short while, these groups were willing to support the BPP in its radical program.  But as the Vietnam War winded down and the US government opened up space for the emergence of a black middle class, these groups became increasingly moderate, and the BPP was forced to follow this moderating trend.

Of course, the BPP wasn’t the only revolutionary group operating during this time period, even if it was the biggest and most visible.  The New Communist Movement saw a number of radical left groups organizing explicitly around Marxist-Leninist lines in the ’70s and ’80s, in the aftermath of the New Left movements of the ’60s.  Unfortunately this area of organizing seems rather understudied comparatively to the ’60s movements, which is why resources like Paul Saba’s bare-bones website, part of the Marxists Internet Archive, are so useful.  The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which is now a creepy cult around its leader Bob Avakian, is one relic from this era.  Another large and relatively well-organized group was the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), which was founded in 1977 and collapsed in 1982 — perhaps for the better, given that the party opposed gay liberation, supported the Khmer Rogue, and called on the US to arm mujaheddin fighters in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in ’79.  This report, written by a leading member who resigned in 1980, seems like very interesting and insightful reading on the trials and tribulations of the CP(ML).

Around the same time, another very interesting group formed, the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS), which unlike the CP(ML) was largely composed of people of color organizing around national liberation movements.  The LRS was a merger of I Wor Kuen (made up of Chinese Americans), and the August 29th Movement (made up of Chicanos).  It soon merged with the East Wind Collective (made up of Japanese Americans), Seize the Time (made up of Blacks and Chicanos), and Amiri Baraka’s Revolutionary Communist League.

Sounds super cool, right?  Except, skimming through the documents, the most active campaigns that the LRS seems to have engaged in was…campaigning for Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party primaries in 1984 and 1988.

What is it with Marxism-Leninism and milquetoast electoralism???

But snark aside, the post-’68 movements are extremely interesting, not to mention important, given that they were attempting to organize and (supposedly) trying to stir up revolutionary struggle at precisely the time when capitalism was restructuring into its modern neoliberal form.  Taking a closer look at the activities and internal debates of the New Communist Movement groups could tell us a lot about how to deal with such a terrain of struggle, give us a better understanding of US radical organizing that is more recent than the ’60s, and of course give us valuable lessons for today at a time when the debate within the radical left around democratic socialism, revolutionary struggle, and the Democratic Party is heating up.

Google and Microsoft workers are starting to rebel against imperialism

Several weeks ago, Google workers successfully got the company to not renew its contract with the Pentagon around the development of artificial intelligence technologies for drone warfare — a surprising victory, and a demonstration that such struggles have room to continue to grow and move into more radical directions.

Now, a similar struggle appears to be developing at Microsoft, where workers are vocally upset at the company’s contract with ICE.  This contract isn’t new, but the current political mood has shifted drastically into one of disgust and anger at the Trump administration’s policies around family separation and child detention at the border, and so its an opportune time to shed light on one’s company’s connections with odious institutions.  And as discussed in the case of Google, this is also an opportunity for Microsoft workers to push for workers’ control, as argued in this piece from Notes From Below from Wendy Liu, a former Google worker, which dives deeper into issues of engineering ethics and worker power.

It is interesting to examine how the two struggles reveal particular contours of contemporary imperialism.  Project Maven is about drone warfare, which is primarily taking place across the Greater Middle East (North Africa to South-West Asia), in areas that have been drawn into the increasingly flailing and unending War on Terror.  The Azure-ICE contract is about immigration and border control, whose main hot-spot is at the US-Mexico border, where people are attempting to flee northwards away from gang warfare and generalized social decay, which is in no small part due to the effects of US-backed militarization and free trade policies.  The infrastructure that keeps imperialist violence in operation in these areas is sprawling and monstrous, far beyond the scope of tech contracts.  But nonetheless, the fact that tech workers are struggling to deny the Pentagon access to cutting-edge AI tech, and ICE access to advanced cloud-computing, should be a good morale boost for all.

Notes on Endnotes on class decomposition and technical labor

As summarized in my last post, the main essay series of Endnotes Issue 4, “A History of Separation”, is all about dismantling orthodox Marxist mythology around the importance of the industrial worker as the main protagonist of overthrowing capitalism and establishing socialism.

A key part of this argument, which I didn’t touch on in the summary, is relationship between technology, class, knowledge, and political identity.  Back in the earlier stages of industrial production and industrial labor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when revolutionary workers’ movements were blossoming, it was very easy for a worker to see themselves as part of a class that was the actual force that built and maintained society.  Workers sweated and toiled alongside each other in massive centralized plants, stitching clothes, building cars, refining oil, chopping trees, etc.  Workers were key to the production process, and they understood the process just as well as, if not better than, the capitalists who pocketed the profits.

However, as development and industrialization proceeded (under both capitalist and Marxist-Leninist regimes), worker knowledge of the means of production diminished.  The industrial use of technology fragmented the labor process, separated the supply chain across entire regions and countries, and made work repetitive and dull, and in general, destroyed the old basis for a common, positive identity around being an industrial worker.  From “The Strange Victory of the Workers’ Movement”:

In spite of the development of the productive forces, labour, it was insisted, remained the source of all wealth, its latent power and knowledge reflected precisely in that development. That turned out not to be true: knowledge of the production process was no longer located in the place of the collective worker, but rather (if anywhere), in the place of the collective technician. That was a key point because — while it upended the foundation-stone of the workers’ movement — it also finally confirmed Marx’s perspective in the “fragment on machines” (reproduced more soberly in Capital).

…It was increasingly the case that human labour was no longer the main productive force; science — often applied to the worst ends of industrial “development”— took labour’s place. That profoundly affected workers’ self-understanding, their experience of what they did and their place in the world: workers could no longer see themselves as building the world in the name of modernity or a better, more rational way of living. On the contrary, that world was already built, and it was entirely out of their hands. Modernity presented itself as this imposing thing, which workers’ confronted, not as subject, but rather, as an object to be regulated and controlled.

…Society is no longer just the means of production, a set of factories that can be taken over and self-managed by the workers who run them…The bases of social power are now much more dispersed. They are located not just in the repressive apparatuses of the police, the jails and the armed forces and the so-called “ideological” apparatuses of schools, churches, and television. They include also power stations, water-treatment plants, gas stations, hospitals, sanitation, airports, ports, and so on. Just like the factories themselves, all of this infrastructure relies on a legion of engineers and technicians, who keep the whole things running from minute to minute. These technicians possess no collective workers’ identity, nor were they ever included in the programmes of the workers’ movements.

The comments on the rise of science, and the importance of technical labor, stuck out since of course it connects with what I’ve been musing about regarding the current politicization and radicalization of workers in the tech industry in the US.

To me, what’s key here is the fact that the workers’ movement did not adapt or evolve in step with the evolution of class as it was restructured by capitalism, to acknowledge the growing importance of scientific and engineering labor in the increasingly complicated complex of production, distribution, and circulation.  Some groups did this, but had to split from the old vanguard in order to do so.  Two examples that I’ve taken a closer look at: 1) the Students for a Democratic Society’s “Port Authority” statement looking at the new class composition of the US, that included skilled technical workers, and 2) debates among French Marxists in various parties over the nature of the new classes in light of the post-1968 period.

The latter is particularly interesting in the context of the comments by Endnotes because it precisely shows how class recomposition provoked crisis and splits in Marxism and the workers’ movement.  The French Communist Party (PCF) stuck with the industrial workers as their social base, but bizarrely tried to build a reformist coalition with the new middle classes who they saw as non-revolutionary and more conservative.  This was presumably a reaction to the fact that parts of this middle class, particularly the skilled technicians, played a key role in the upheavals of 1968, even as the PCF was playing a backseat counter-revolutionary role (which begs the question why they continued to see these classes as less radical than themselves).  Meanwhile, theorists like Serge Mallet of the  an Alain Touraine adapted the old logic of the workers’ movement to uphold the skilled technical workforce as the new vanguard of technologically advanced and automated capitalism, as the only fraction of the working class which could grasp the complexity of post-industrial society.

However, at this point in time, it certainly doesn’t seem like any identity around a “collective technician” has emerged, let alone one that is revolutionary and anti-capitalist (yet!).  Nonetheless, its very worthwhile to go back and look at these older debates around the class nature of technicians and engineers and scientists, to help us in the present figure out how to go about composing a revolutionary proletarian composition that is dynamic and cohesive across an increasingly fractured landscape.

Notes on Endnotes’ “A History of Separation”

Endnotes Issue 4, “A History of Separation”, is all about situating the workers’ movement of the 1800s and 1900s into its historical context.  It continues with Endnotes  rather heretical central thesis that the industrial proletariat is not the class that will overthrow capitalism, and that in fact capitalism will not automatically create a revolutionary class in the first place.

Here is a summary of the arguments that stood out to me.


The workers’ movement of the 19th and 20th century was couched in a very specific identity, that of the industrial worker.  This identity was rooted in the conditions and experiences of laboring in the factories, but also in the institutions and social spaces built by the workers’ movement to help reproduce this identity and pave over divisions of language, religion, etc.  This was all closely connected to the orthodox Marxist valorization of the industrial worker as the producer of all value in society, and thus the rightful heir to the wealth being produced by capitalism.

This not only informed, but overdetermined the class politics of the era.  Early communists believed that capitalism, as it developed, would inexorably proletarianize the rest of society, expanding the ranks of the industrial workforce and uniting them in the factory across divisions of nation, language, religion, etc., and creating a revolutionary force that would overthrow capitalism and establish socialism, a dictatorship of the proletariat.  This seemed correct for a time as industrialization, urbanization, and the expansion of the industrial workforce proceeded; but as capitalism developed and became fully mature in the mid-20th century, the real long-term trend became deindustrialization and the marginalization of industrial workers, as automation steadily reduced the relative need for industrial labor, and produced all sorts of different sectors and strata of workers with no real shared experience or identity — and in particular, a growing population of surplus people of no use to capital.  Capitalism did not unite the masses into a homogeneous collective industrial class, but instead alienated and separated them from one another; the only unity produced by capitalism is the unity of being atomized from everybody and everything, and being dependent on the market.  Unity-in-separation.

The excessive focus on the industrial worker by the workers’ movement also explains the policies of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist states, which took hold in societies which were backwards and agricultural.  These states saw their primary task as developing the productive forces and creating the proletariat in the first place, and so ruthlessly attacked and undermined and displaced peasants and other rural/agricultural classes, driving them into the factories.  The underlying logic was to produce the revolutionary class that the old regime, dominated by feudal elites who stifled capitalism, had failed to produce.  But this focus on expanding industrial production and industrial workers replicated in the socialist bloc the same dynamic as in the capitalist bloc: the tendency toward the technological displacement of workers and the production of alienation and separation.

Deindustrialization and the full realization of unity-in-separation also meant that the shortcomings of the workers’ movement — whose self-identification revolved largely around the figure of the semi-skilled white male worker — became obvious, thus leading to the relative increase in importance of the various social movements around gender, race, sexuality, etc. in the 1960s and afterwards.  With the identity of the worker no longer able to mobilize a strong and powerful force, other identities became more materially powerful.

None of this is about whether communists at various times had mistaken ideas in their heads about how to go about revolution.  Rather, it is an assessment about how the leading revolutionary strategies of history were emergent from their specific material context, with regards to the particular phase of global capitalism at the time.

Since the long-term tendency of capitalism is the production of a unity-in-separation, the task for revolutionary communists is to engage with the problem of composition, of how to add up different fractions of the exploited masses into a revolutionary force.  What’s necessary, then, is not “class consciousness”, but a “consciousness of capital” as the common enemy of all of our disparate and differentiated lives.  From the last paragraphs of the second-to-last section:

Ours is a society of strangers, engaged in a complex set of interactions. There is no one, no group or class, who controls these interactions. Instead, our blind dance is coordinated impersonally, through markets. The language we speak — by means of which we call out to one another, in this darkness — is the language of prices. It is not the only language we can hear, but it is the loudest. This is the community of capital.

When people make the leap out of that community, they will have to figure out how to relate to each other and to the things themselves, in new ways. There is no one way to do that. Capital is the unity of our world, and its replacement cannot be just one thing. It will have to be many.


So how much of this do I agree with?  A lot, I think.  Its absolutely necessary to not be weighed down with the traditions and myths of the past, and moving beyond the heroic figure of the industrial worker in favor of examining capitalism and class as it actually exists today is a vital task.  In this regard the arguments of Endnotes echos that of Autonomist Marxism, and indeed “A History of Separation” starts with a quote from Mario Tronti.  There is no doubt that the working class today is heterogeneous and stratified, encompassing everybody from software developers to teachers to meatpackers to waitresses.  Building a basis for unity must be the point of organizing, not something assumed or asserted.

The points on automation and decomposition are also on the mark.  This essay goes into more depth on the question of automation and employment, and reaches more or less the same conclusion: that while automation expels the working class from some segments of production, there is a corresponding increase in labor demand in other sectors, mainly lower-wage and more precarious service work, or what Endnotes terms as “surplus population” (surplus to the core sectors of capital but not to the capitalist economy).

I’m not nearly as pessimistic as the essay is with regards to the problem of composing a revolutionary force.  At the risk of sounding like a simpleton I think it is pretty easy to assert that there is more that binds us than separates us, and despite the mass production of unity-in-separation its not at all a hard sell for most people that regardless of our occupations, national backgrounds, etc. we all gotta eat, and we all have to take shit from some kind of boss.  Pushing this generic observation to actual material alliances built around class struggle is another story, of course, but I’m optimistic about these prospects based on the organizing I’m seeing around me, particularly in the tech industry where workers across strata are working together and slowly grasping toward a common identity built through struggle.

Indeed reading Endnotes makes me outright optimistic, despite them being labelled as “bleak” by magazines like N+1, possibly because it echoes what I’ve been hypothesizing on my own in recent years: that the key task of revolutionary communists is to act as catalysts for different fractions of the working class to come together in common struggle, by facilitating communication and collaborative efforts, unveiling avenues of concrete solidarity, and doing whatever else it takes to recompose the working class.