The contemporary neoliberal system is fundamentally unjust. It is filled with blood-sucking billionaires whose entire existence of grotesque opulence is structurally predicated on the continual exploitation of the working class – a powerful force in whose hands lie the productive powers of humanity.
Through the wretched brutalization of labor, the rich enact a process of capital accumulation whose end result is the fattening of bourgeois pockets at one pole and the growth of dehumanization and social murder at the other. While one group of people lives in an oasis of wasteful abundance and sadistically revels in the elitist social status signified by this unnatural wealth, the other group is left to die in diseased conditions, forced to live a life of unjustified toil in the slums and ghettos of abject poverty.
This situation is justified through the legal sanctification of private property, through the acceptance of crude selfishness, and through the normative establishment of the right to oppress others in the name of personal liberty.
The sheer cruelty of this state of affairs is bound to elicit resistance from the proletariat, whose living conditions of neo-slavery leave him/her with no other option than to revolt against the denial of basic necessities. To manage these counter-hegemonic threats, today’s billionaires have consolidated a militarist apparatus of repression, embodied in the state’s increasing use of its monopoly over violence and the expansion of the carceral system.
The rebelliousness of the surplus population, or the reserve army of labor, generated by neoliberal dynamics of fiscal conservatism and privatization is kept in control through the regular deployment of violence, which weakens the militancy of subalterns and convinces them of their disposability. Thus, the glittering world of commodities and billionaire personalities inevitably entails its dark underside: the constantly enforced exclusion of the poor from the material world created by their own hands and the protection of bourgeois control over the means of production from the democratizing tendencies unleashed by the collective subjectivity of the proletariat.
Taking into account the stark inequalities that dominate the general landscape of late-stage monopoly capitalism, one can draw only the following conclusion: eat the rich. Neoliberalism only displays in a more unadorned fashion the primary contradiction that has characterized capitalism from the beginning, namely the contradiction between social production and private property.
Capital, or the logic of the endless self-expansion of money, results in the organization of all the forces of production into one effectively organized social process. This socializing tendency is facilitated by the centralization of capital i.e. the expropriation of many capitalists by few. In the words of Karl Marx, the progressive advancement of this centralizing tendency develops
“the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialized labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime.”
However, the immense productivity of capitalism is constricted by the suffocating narrowness of private property. Capital is profit-seeking and can’t exist without the inherent drive toward the maximization of surplus-value. This drive manifests itself through the control of the production process with the help of which private capital appropriates the most of the wealth produced through the socialized methods of production, with little share to the actual producers.
In this way, the control of capital over the production process prevents the flourishing of the creativity inherent in human labour; the need to extract surplus value means that the rigidities of top-down control and mechanical conformity create relations of production that are in conflict with the liberating potential of the productive forces. That’s why Marx notes:
“Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”
The presence of systemic contradictions does not, however, spell the automatic death of capitalism. These contradictory tendencies need to be accelerated by the construction of subjective dispositions that kindle the fire of working class militancy and weaken the legitimacy of the bourgeoisie. In the words of Georges Sorel:
“The spirit of class struggle does not arise mechanically from conflicts over salary; experience teaches us that these conflicts can be resolved in a way conducive to social peace and inspiring solidarity between classes. In order to produce and, above all, to maintain the spirit of separation it is necessary to have institutions capable of generating and developing it.”
Class hatred toward the bourgeoisie plays an important role in giving political velocity to the economic movements of class struggle. Through hatred, the proletariat shuns the illusions of symbolic unity promoted by the instrumental philanthropy and feigned generosity of the ruling class. It comes to accept as a basic fact the irreconcilability of the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Instead of looking upon the ruling class with admiration and envy and aspiring to imbibe their elitist attitudes, the working class regards the bourgeois civilization with angry contempt.
This represents the political delineation of the proletarian identity, the reduction of class battle to a pure and primitive antagonism between two definitively demarcated class identities, and the conversion of the collection of individual labour-powers into a social mass, a unified mass worker. Recognizing the usefulness of this destructive power of class hatred, Antonio Negri comments:
“The hatred for the despotic power that dead labor [labor as embodied in machines and other commodities] tries increasingly to exercise over living labor [the human capacities denoted by laborers] – this hatred, even if it is shot through with pessimism, exercises a function which, if not creative, plays a certain maieutic role. It is a basis, a fundamental “rip” in the “lining of History,” in the “sediment of the Institution”, or in the “artifice of the Law.””
The historical content of class hatred is supplied by the politically organized remembrance of the existential degradation wrought by capitalism upon the social body of workers. Talking about the deficits that prevented German Social Democracy from pre-empting the rise of Nazism, Walter Benjamin remarks that the organization
“thought fit to assign to the working class the role of the redeemer of future generations, in this way cutting the sinews of its greatest strength. This training made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than that of liberated grandchildren.”
In other words, what was lacking in the social democrats’ futurist vision of socialist utopia was the absolute negativity of capitalism. According to Benjamin, the transition from capitalism to socialism should not be conceived of as “the progressive unfolding of something already promised – liberated grandchildren whose lives will enjoy full human vitality” – but should involve “the deepening of opposition to the existing order, strengthening the proletarian resolve to abolish (negate) capitalist society.”
A communist plan can’t just look forward; it has to look backward for reasons why revolutionary changes might be necessary. Breaking this linkage between the transcendence of overcoming and the immanent facticity of oppression destroys the emotional foundations of class hatred. In fact, proletarian hatred itself is based on the opposition to the bourgeoisie’s abstract futurism, which has sacrificed present lives in the name of an ill-defined notion of progress.
This image of a promised capitalist heaven needs to be smashed by the historical memory of the working class. And this ponderous past needs to be lightened by the political will of revolutionary hatred, by the declaration of an unrelenting war against the bourgeoisie. Only this orientation can help us advance in terms of socialist theory and practice. As Mario Tronti writes:
“The first step continues to be the recuperation of an irreducible working-class partiality against the entire social system of capital. Nothing will be done without class hatred: neither the elaboration of theory, nor practical organization. Only from a rigorously working-class viewpoint will the total movement of capitalist production be comprehended and utilized as a particular moment of the workers’ revolution. Only one-sidedness, in science and in struggle, opens the way simultaneously to the understanding of everything and to its destruction. Any attempt to assume the general interest, every temptation to remain at the level of social science, will only serve to inscribe the working class—in the most powerful way possible—within the development of capital.”
Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com.
Previously published at Midwestern Marx, May 12, 2021
From the archives: