U. of Washington Professor Wants to Bring Down the Market System — Calls For 21st Century General Strike Against America

U.of  Washington professor Devon Pena writing in the far left newspaper Truth Out:

“New organizational forms of resistance and terrains of struggle are emerging that could allow the multitude to respond more effectively to current neoliberal strategy based — semiotically, anyway — on a contrived public debt crisis caused by tax breaks to the wealthiest among us and the effects of the Derivatives Depression as a pretext to attack basic rights of due process, equal protection, freedom of speech, and assembly. This attack is occurring because these rights are actually the foundation of our everlasting potential to exercise constituent power.

The challenge for us involves a paradigm shift that rejects having to choose between Mises/Hayek and Marx. Hayek and Mises are the fathers of extant neoliberal theory and are the intellectual precursors of the Chicago School boys. Hayek is also the most strident source of anti-Marx ideology produced by the European generation of his time that flirted with “communism” during a disillusioned youthful spell. My point is that all of these are white European thinkers.

In the words of Foucault biographers, Miller and Miller, von Mises and von Hayek, “[are] apostles of a libertarian strand of modern social thought rooted in a defense of the free market as a citadel of individual liberty and a bulwark against the power of the state.” Marx, on the other hand, provides a useful toolkit for strategic thinking, but it is somewhat dated. And Negri still sees the world through European eyes. We need a homespun response to the theoretical and strategic quagmire produced by the clash of neoliberal and socialist/communist ideologies, both of which came to the Americas as part of the cultural baggage of invasive violent settler states. Marx and Foucault are both Dead White Males.

The current class war presents opportunities for a qualitative rupture toward the horizon of generalized refusal, and the struggles of Mesoamerican Diaspora peoples are a major reason for this challenge and opportunity

Von Hayek and his busy neoliberal Chicago School protégés have bequeathed the world some five and a half decades of experiments. They gave us the expansion of thanatopolitics by melding neoliberal governmentality unto the cruel state of exception.

Against what might be the last gasps of neoliberal governmentality, we must nourish the constituent power of the multitude. Perhaps by recognizing how it may reside in a creative variant of the old Wobbly idea of the General Strike? I agree with Mario Tronti, that the General Strike is a naive and romantic notion, especially in the age of immaterial labor. However, the idea of the strategy of refusal (of noncooperation with capital, etc.) is a different creature.

The abolition of the relationship to capital can be undertaken many ways including through conscious withdrawal rooted the immediate social world of the commons through collaborative fields of labor’s fire. This is not a General Strike — absurd, since so few of us in the USA are material workers in that strict sense. In some ways, this involves a refusal to consume commodities and to be reduced to mere status of labor-as-commodity (i.e., withdrawal from the formal labor market).

The Great Refusal confronts the challenges and opportunities of the age of immaterial labor and the reduction of American workers to mere consumers or shards of labor time trapped inside the fleeting locations of structurally violent workplaces. Escaping the grip of the reduction of our selves to the bare life, to whatever results from the ungovernable wisdom of the invisible force of a system that operates on the amoral base of “price signals,” means the multitude refuses to work to produce or consume commodities. Decoupling of consumption from the circuits of capitalist reproduction is a time-honored and effective strategy of refusal.

This does not imply that one stops eating or living. This is a revolt against prices, if you will. The refusal as withdrawal from the market affects the ability of capitalists to actually dance with prices, as Hayek would want. The refusal is the refuge of self-valorizing labor. Grow some of your own food and barter for the rest instead of consuming store-bought commodities. This is one example of the type of direct agency that, if generalized, can bring everything to a standstill.

The strategic problem is more complex: Again Tronti: “[W]e can see the evident truth of that simplest of revolutionary truths: capital cannot destroy the working class; the working class can destroy capital.” That was 1965. Today, biopower presents a different set of challenges that conduct the ability of capital to destroy workers if not quite the working class as such. This requires that we destroy the working class as labor power for capital or consumer of capitalist goods.

To do this we first must confront the negative dialectic of the sovereign constituted power, and this is where Tronti’s analysis takes us in a dead-end direction. The state of exception suspends the rule of law to allow for the destruction and removal of entire categories of people like the undocumented worker. Are we to refuse engagement with the juridical order and allow thousands of deaths?

The telluric partisan attack on the lives of undocumented workers is precisely the sort of biopolitical violence that we face today but also in 1965. Today, the 35-40 million uninsured workers in the USA without access to nominal preventive health care are also Homo sacers. The sublation of partisan violence requires at this point a strategic legal defense of the juridical order that provides the organizing space for constituent power to emerge so that the multitude can assert social force and practice democracy.

The strategy of refusal thus requires mass mobilization of the sort we have witnessed in Arizona and Wisconsin. So, get your shovels out and start digging a garden with your neighbors. Get out on the streets and join the protests. Occupy the citadels of constituted power, the capitol buildings, legislator hallways, town halls, and yes, the banks and corporate headquarters. Disrupt capitalist command by interrupting business as usual. Close your bank accounts and withdraw your savings (stuff the money under your mattress); destroy your credit cards; consume less, it does not make you happier anyway.

This is not rocket science; it is class war. And our withdrawal from the market is the most powerful form of constituent power at our disposal at this time. If we dare, we can precipitate a crisis that capital cannot escape.”

Pena is Professor of American Ethnic Studies, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle.
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3 Responses to U. of Washington Professor Wants to Bring Down the Market System — Calls For 21st Century General Strike Against America

  1. Of course, this is simply another ‘Myth Of The General Strike” or “Threat Of Rebellion” that has been the strategy of the proletariat since the dawn of time – no less marx than the first christian sects. (see Georges Sorel, Michels and Burnham)

    The proletariat argument however, is easily countered with judicial and military class options we think of as the Chinese / Russian strategy: simply applying violence to them until they comply.

    The Randian argument that the productive middle and upper middle classes will simply exit the economy and move elsewhere, thus impoverishing the entire society is meant to be allegorical, but is demonstrably true in the data.

    So all social classes have their options. All social classes have some ‘threat of rebellion’. There is nothing special about the proles. The problem is finding a path wherein the differences in abilty between the social classes allows them to work together to produce shared ends, within the market system.

    And ridiculous utterances by proletariat simpletons at a third rate university that’s pandering to the next generation of immigrants whose dissatisfaction at their social status, of course, must be due to the fact that they are prohibited from success in society, or that capitalism doesn’t work, rather than they lack the cultural discipline to succeed as have done Jews, Asians, and Hindus. Or Irish an Italian catholics for that matter.

    The greatest capital one can possess is the wisdom with which to disbelieve silly things.

  2. Roger McKinney says:

    Fortunately, his writing style makes his message unintelligable.

  3. (Copy paste error – apologies. Please delete the previous version)

    RE: “Fortunately, his writing style makes his message unintelligible.”

    Unintelligible, by which you mean “impossible to break into analytically criticizable statements” is not necessarily a disadvantage for a proletarian.

    His writing is structured as “Empathic Passionate Religious Oratory”. This particular format is psychopathological, in the sense that, because it is disorganized yet contains memes that appeal to basic proletarian sentiments, it satisfies the human need for confirmation bias, and the all too human bias in the lower classes toward passion, because the lower classes value sincerity rather than fidelity in their interactions because it is a truth indicator in those classes, while at the same time, lending an air of legitimacy because of it’s academic pretenses.

    I experiment with it once and a while. It attracts the attention of the target audience. And for a proletariat message, that’s enough. Religion relies upon repetition, group recitation of mantras or narratives, and Emphatic Structure of Delivery, and statements that appeal to basic human sentiments, in order to convey irrational content. Irrational content can be overcome by this strategy of systematic suggestion. This is of course, the magic to Marx, who, managed to combine proletariat sentiments into a politically activist religion of resistance by combining jewish sentiments and anglo technical economic theory, french catholic philosophy and german economic and social rationalism – He simply hunted the entire history of philosophy in order to justify his sentiments.

    When his writing is criticized under this criteria it is essentially psychopathological religious doctrine that successfully appeals to pseudo intellectual disenfranchised proles. In other words, as a political message it fulfills it’s function. As a scientific or rational doctrine, of course, it is particularly ridiculous.

    For this reason it is dangerous to dismiss a fool.

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