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The Glass Floor – Theorie Communiste

Amidst a sudden lack of happenings or information about them in Greece, in what seems like a defining moment of their struggle regarding the issue of revolutionary violence, here is an interesting article about the composition of the conflicts at play. (We do not necessarily agree with this position, but it is interesting):

“The riots1 (or the riot, spread out and fragmented in time and space) which broke out in Greece following the murder of the young Alexander on the evening of 6th December 2008, are productive of theory. They are practically – that is to say consciously – the self-understanding of this cycle of struggles in its current phase – they are a theoretical and chronological landmark. With all its limits, this movement is the first proletarian reaction (albeit non-global) to the crisis of restructured capital. In terms of its production of theory, this movement can be considered, more or less arbitrarily, according to six essential characteristics:

  • The praxis and discourse of these riots make of the current crisis of capitalist reproduction a crisis of the future of this mode of production.
  • The characterisation, in a topology of the reproduction of capitalist social relations, of the moment of oppression and coercion in the self-presupposition of capital.
  • The question of whether the rioters had a “peripheral” character in relation to a “core” of the working class, that is to say the question of the unity of the class and of its recomposition.
  • The overcoming of what was the contradictory dynamic of the anti-CPE movement in France, and this bears some relation to the second point.
  • The overcoming in the struggle of the objectivity of the course of capital and the activities of the classes involved as choices, decisions, tactics, and strategies.
  • The questioning of the theory of value and of the crisis of the capitalist mode of production in the light of an attack of capital outside of production and the spreading of practices of sabotage.

(some points have been gathered under one chapter)

1. The future
We can obviously refer to all the analyses of the permanent crisis of the educational system in Greece (and the recurrence of the struggles that take place there): its increasingly unbearable selectivity, “the intensification of student labour”, the permanent lie about the opportunities it opens up, the fact that from being a “social elevator” it becomes a mere “reflection of injustices and of social cleavages”. Studying becomes purely and simply the acceptance (without compensation) of all the relations of exploitation that give their form and content to the global education system. It is necessary to call all this to mind, and TPTG’s text ]The permanent crisis in education: On some recent struggles in Greece does this very well. But this is not enough – we have to go further. If, in many countries, education happens to be a particularly unstable and restless sector of capitalist society, it is not only because of the “reforms” that the reproduction of capital has imposed on this sector, but because it is the reproduction of capital that has become problematic. It is by becoming problematic, that is to say by being in crisis as reproduction, that the self-presupposition of capital designates, at first, as the place for the crisis, sectors of society where its reproduction takes a specified form in relation to society itself. It affects primarily the “entrants”, and constructs the social category of youth. This crisis of reproduction is concentrated in places specialising in reproduction, designating the precarious youth as its principal actor (the 600 Euros generation) of which the students remained the principal representatives throughout the movement. It is in this regard that the student movement was this general movement of riots.

Some Greek texts, like those of TPTG and Blaumachen, speak about university as a “fraction of capital” and consider the universities as work places – and places of exploitation. Consequently, the blockade of universities is understood as a hindrance to general reproduction, if not to production tout court, to the extent that the student is considered as the producer of a specific commodity- her labour-power. In such an approach, we should distinguish between what is said and what is implied, that is to say of what such an analysis – theoretically false – is the true symptom.

Unless they are private universities in which particular capitals requiring at least the average profit rate are invested, and in which the student is a consumer who buys the lesson as a commodity, universities are not fractions of capital (even in this case, universities would not be a productive sector). They are an essential function of the production / reproduction of labour-power, but regardless of their utility, to the extent that – via the state – it is money as revenue that functions here, and regardless of the necessity of the rationalisation of their performance (the less the student dawdles in his studies, the less it costs), they are not capitalist companies, as for any faux-frais of production. In studying, the student (we are not speaking here about the fact that “being a student” has become a position on the labour market for precarious jobs: there are “student” jobs, whether they are held by students or not) does not enter into a relation of purchase–sale of their labour-power and produces no commodity containing a surplus-value that her employer (the administration of the university) appropriates. The student must put a lot of herself into the production of her commodity – complex labour power – but she does not buy it from – nor sell it to – herself. As long as this commodity remains attached to his person, pure subjectivity, it does not enter any productive relation with capital. Even if we accepted the idea that the student manufactures a commodity, she would not be a productive worker (productive of capital), but at the most a petty independent producer bringing her commodity to market. We can here point out that this “left-wing idea” of the student as producer of a commodity is a recurring theme of the right-wing: each is the petty entrepreneur of their own person.

In the true self-understanding of the movement as anti-capitalist, what makes of it an anti-capitalist movement – the crisis of reproduction – produces a false self-understanding: the student is a productive worker, and the university is a capital. This “false” understanding is a true symptom of the situation which structures the “student” revolt. The movement did not construct itself as anti-repression, anti-government or anti-university-reform (and in this it breaks with the continuity of the student revolts in Greece). Indeed, in the school and university students’ revolt, it is really the reproduction of capitalist society which is at stake, which is the object of the contradiction. However, as such, this revolt is stuck – despite all the shows of sympathy and solidarity from the “population” – in the institutional forms of this reproduction, as a “breach of contract”, as the failure of a corrupted state under the close watch of the IMF and lying about its own functioning to the European Commission.

The capitalist mode of production itself has run out of future.

[What we have seen in Greece] is an original species of revolt, prefigured by earlier riots in Los Angeles, London and Paris, but arising from a new and more profound understanding that the future has been looted in advance. Indeed, what generation in modern history (apart from the sons of Europe in 1914) has ever been so comprehensively betrayed by the patriarchs? […] My “baby-boom” cohort bequeaths to its children a broken world economy, stupefying extremes of social inequality, brutal wars on the imperial frontiers, and an out of control planetary climate. (Mike Davis, The betrayed generation, interview given to a Greek magazine.)

If, in the Western capitalist area, the instances of sharper social conflicts are concentrated on the precarious youth (united in the riots in Greece, contrary to what happened in France in 2005 – 2006 between the banlieue riots and the anti-CPE struggle), it is because “youth” is a social construct. It is here that the link between the student movement and the riots lies, and in a totally immediate way, it is the labour contract which summarises this link. The crisis constructs and then attacks (in the same movement) the category of “entrants” depending on the modalities of their “entrance”: educational training, precariousness (and those who are in a similar situation- the migrants). The main thing here is the labour contract which places this labour power in its relation to capitalist exploitation at the level of the changing needs of the market, the mobility of capital, etc. It is something that can be seen, in a more or less violent way, everywhere in Europe and in the USA. It is the crisis of reproduction as such that annihilates the future and constructs the youth as the subject of social protest. The future, in the capitalist mode of production, is the constantly renewed reproduction of the fundamental capitalist social relation between labour-power and means of production as the principal result of capitalist production itself. The crisis of financialised capital is not simply the setting, the canvas, the circumstance underlying the riots in Greece: it is the specific form of the capitalist mode of production running out of future, and by definition it immediately places the crisis at the level of reproduction.

The transformation of the student movement into a generalised movement of proletarian riots which took as their target the reproduction of capital as such in what would make this reproduction possible (we will see later that the limits of these riots lies here), that is to say the institutions, the state, the violence, the ideology, exchange, the commodity, has produced its actors from an already existing material. Since the Second World War, the development of capitalism in Greece has been chaotic, destroying previous social relations rather than constructing new ones that would involve and define the whole of society. A good example of this – the entry into the European Union – was, so far, the last step taking place. The Greek bourgeoisie has always shown a faintheartedness, placing it far behind the big capitalist powers (even since “independence”), and has looked more overseas than towards its own national territory. Greek capitalist industry, which first developed under the form of a couple of enclaves most often in the hands of foreign capital (as was the royal family), is now decrepit. Employment relies on the merchant navy, tourism and the construction sector that is linked to it, and administration. The revolt against a capitalism that never allowed it to live properly is intrinsic to Greek society.

The riots of December 2008 stand in the conjunction between this predatory capitalism whose organ is a state run by clientelist mafias, and the crystallisation, which this capitalism creates in the student movement, of a social defiance built from hatred and contempt. Because, in Greece, the student movement is a “social milieu” that largely goes beyond the situation of students and school children. In such a capitalism, the “margins” of the “600 Euros generation” can quickly come to represent the whole social functioning, especially when they are already organised, like in the Exarchia district in Athens, in a whole network of resistance and alternatives (social centres, printing-houses, cafés, associations, crafts, jumble sales, sewing workshops…), that is to say when they are massive and view capitalism and the state as one would a foreign army of occupation. The riots movement is not a student movement not only because the students and schoolchildren were immediately joined by a whole fraction of the precarious and immigrant population, and benefited from the sympathy and occasional participation of a part of the population, but also because the student movement was already not a “student” movement. The student situation is a social and political situation; that is to say a conflictual relation to the state, which is at the same time a future exploiter (the administration is almost the only job opportunity opened) but also a potential exploiter, which by turning someone down condemns him to a social no man’s land. In this situation, produced by the very functioning of capitalism, the constraint and the exteriority of the capitalist social relation appear as a state, a point of departure, rather than as an activity (we can see here simultaneously the force and the limits of these riots). The production of one’s class belonging and of the capitalist social relation as an exterior constraint, which is an activity of the class within the relation itself, appear here as a state of exteriority whose only social foundation is violence. It should be noted that the “exteriority” to which we refer is intrinsic to a class activity which includes for the class, against capital, its own putting into question: we are absolutely not speaking here of a militant exteriority, of interventionism or activism. Whatever the specific limits of the movement considered here, it would be completely wrong to apply the schemes of the critique of militantism and interventionism to it.

Logically the targets of these riots were the institutions where the reproduction of the mode of production acquires a separated form, separated from the society of which they are the political, economic as well as ideological institutions of reproduction, as well as the forms of circulation in which capital returns to itself. When the future is already looted and when practically and consciously a movement takes place at this level of reproduction, even if the latter remains understood and attacked as structures separated from production, there can be no demands, because there is no longer any alternative and not even the illusion, like in Italy at the same time, that one can exist. It is in this crisis of the reproduction of the social relations that, in the self-presupposition of capital, the moments of coercion and normality, of which the riots were not only the update but also practically the shaping, are fixed.

The police and the army are the last word in the self-presupposition of capital in the face of resistance to the provisions taken by the capitalist class in the spheres of work, social security (health, retirement…), and education. To be a precarious or migrant worker means, directly in the relation to work, that one must work whenever the boss needs it, must accept to work unpaid overtime and to be fired according to the vagaries of the moment. It also means being beaten up or attacked with acid for a single demand or even complaint. To be a precarious or migrant worker is already to live under a reign of terror, and for a “stable Greek” worker, the terror of work are the “incidents” whose multiplication corresponds to the intensification of exploitation. Absurdly, the wage and the reproduction of labour-power tend to become illegitimate for capital itself (cf “Revendiquer pour le salaire”, Théorie Communiste 22)2. This is the crisis of reproduction, the running out of future. It is also for the proletariat, in the very objectivity of capital, the reproduction of its class belonging that becomes an exterior constraint in the very relation of exploitation that reproduces it as a class and links it inseparably, as a class, with capital. Everywhere in these riots a feeling is expressed that capital is in “breach of contract”: “Will we earn enough to be able to have children?”

The riots in Greece show the end of the period that started, in the current cycle, with the strike wave in 1995 in France and the “anti-summit” gatherings of the end of the 90s, that is to say the end of radical democratism3 as the expression and fixation of the limits of class struggle. No other future is possible, because there is no longer a future: the alternative is dead.

Recall the anti-WTO demonstrations and the “Battle of Seattle” in 1999 which opened a new era of non-violent protest and grassroots activism4. The tremendous popularity of the World Social Forums, the millions-strong turnouts to protest Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the widespread support for the Kyoto Accord – all augured enormous hope that an “alter monde” might yet be born. Meanwhile, the war did not end, greenhouse gas emissions soared, and the social forum movement has languished. An entire cycle of protest came to an end just as the Wall Street boiler-room of globalized capitalism exploded, leaving in its wake both more radical problems and new opportunities for radicalism. The revolt in Athens ends the recent drought of anger. Its cadre seems to have little tolerance for hopeful slogans or optimistic solutions, thus distinguishing itself from the utopian demands of 1968 or the wishful spirit of 1999. This absence of demands for reform (and, thus, any conventional handle for managing the protests), of course, is what is most scandalous, not the Molotov cocktails or broken shop windows. It recalls not so much the student left of the 1960s as the intransigent revolts of underclass anarchism in Montmartre in the 1890s or Barcelona’s Barrio Chino during the early 1930s.5

The lack of future lies not only in the disappearance of the promise of a better life, but also in the putting at stake of the possibility of being able to survive and to reproduce one’s own body, as made of flesh and bones. And, wanted or not, proletarians are made of flesh and bones. This is not their fault: to be made of flesh and bones is a completely social constraint and a social condition, the proletarian is the first purely physical worker, a subjectivity without object (he has no objective or personal relation to any means of production or subsistence). When the proletariat is attacked in its physical constitution, it is its social definition which is at stake.

At the same time, the “slogans of hope” and “optimistic solutions” are still current in Italy. One can see in this dissonance a simple effect of the contrasting economic situations in Italy and Greece, where the degree of trust that investors have toward the state has just been downgraded. But tomorrow, Italy could be the scene of a wave of riots similar to Greece and Greece, the scene of a large movement pressing for reformist demands alongside the flowering of grass-roots collectives. We should keep in mind that class struggle is a global – but not homogeneous – process and that struggles do not take place on a chronological axis in which there would be “avant-garde movements” and “anachronisms”. If the situation in which the proletariat acting as a class is in such a contradictory relation to capital that its struggle can be its own abolition, if this situation is the dynamic of this cycle of struggle, it stills develops itself in a chaotic manner. In some places, through wage demands that the capitalist mode of production neither can nor wants to fulfill, in others, through large self-organised grass-roots movements that propose alternatives, and in still others, through riots that produce one’s class belonging as an exterior constraint and the relation of exploitation as a coercion pure and simple. Nobody is ahead of their time; nobody is backward, because nobody is independent.

All the same, in this chaos, all the terms are not identical and do not have the same relation to the dynamic of this cycle considered as a totality. The dynamic of this cycle is the swerve that some current practices create within what is the general limit of this cycle of struggles: to act as a class. Presently, the class activity of the proletariat is more and more torn in an internal way: as long as it remains the action of a class, it has capital as its sole horizon (because all liberation of work and affirmation of the proletariat as the dominant class have disappeared), simultaneously in its action against capital it is its own existence as a class that it faces and that it must treat as something to do away with. The majority of the current struggles have to live through this swerve, this internal split, and the riots in Greece did not escape it.

To act as a class entails a swerve towards oneself, to the extent that this action entails its own putting into question in relation to itself: the proletariat’s negation of its existence as a class within its action as a class (and this is the swerve in the action as a class). In the riots in Greece, the proletariat does not demand anything and does not consider itself against capital as the basis for an alternative, it simply does not want to be what it is anymore.

At the same time, despite its larger scale, and the fact that it put into motion a large part of the working class, the Italian “Onda anomale” has to face – if only because of its simultaneity with the riots in Greece – its dead-ends, its lack of perspective. The riots in Greece mean that the Onda has no perspectives, does not point to the future of class struggle. Conversely, the very simultaneity of these struggles (Italian or Greek) give to these riots in Greece a meaning they would not have without this simultaneity, that is of pointing out, in the fact of acting as a class, the very nature of the current limits of class struggle within itself considered as a whole.

This entanglement, as swerve, of the elements of class struggle already has a meaning: that of the putting into question by the proletariat of its existence as a class in its struggle against capital. In Greece, the principal content of this putting into question was to show and to shape the reproduction of social relations as including coercion.”

-Theorie Communiste

This is only part one of this text. For the rest visit:


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