‘The university as a hackerspace’: Can interventions in teaching and learning drive university strategy?

I have been invited to the Jisc Digital Festival this year as an ‘expert speaker’. Here is the abstract of my talk. It reflects on Jisc-funded projects I have led at Lincoln and introduces a new initiative I am working on to develop a Masters level research degree, codenamed: ‘The university as a hackerspace’.

The University of Lincoln has explored opportunities as diverse as the potential of open data, developed a research data infrastructure, nurtured student developers and developed a research-led approach to teaching known as the student as producer, to name a few. However, these projects and initiatives have not been throw away experiments. Rather, they have helped inform the University’s new Digital Education Strategy aimed at meeting the needs and improving the experience of its students and researchers at a time when the idea and purpose of the university is being challenged. This session will provide an overview of some of the innovative projects and initiatives the University of Lincoln has undertaken in the past few years and how universities can explore approaches to teaching and research support, while helping inform the institutional mission and strategy. It will also provide an opportunity for managers, learning technologists and teachers to discuss the potential for such an approach at their institution and to share relevant experiences and ideas.

A Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy of Academic Labour

The following paper abstract has been accepted for the Academic Identities conference 2014. I will be co-presenting with Prof. Richard Hall (De Montfort).

In this paper we analyse ‘academic labour’ using categories developed by Marx in his critique of political economy. In doing so, we return to Marx to help understand the work of academics as productive living labour subsumed by the capitalist mode of production. In elaborating our own position, we are critical of two common approaches to the study of academic labour, especially as they emerge from inside analyses of ‘virtual labour’ or ‘digital work’ (Fuchs and Sevignani, 2013; Newfield, 2010; Roggero, 2011).

First, we are critical of efforts to define the nature of our work as ‘immaterial labour’ (Hardt and Negri, 2000; Peters and Bulut, 2011; Scholtz, 2013) and argue that this category is an unhelpful and unnecessary diversion from the analytical power of Marx’s social theory and method. The discourse around ‘immaterial labour’ raised by the Autonomist or Operaismo tradition is thought-provoking, but ultimately adds little to a critical theory of commodity production as the basis of capitalist social relations (Postone, 1993; Sohn-Rethel, 1978). In fact they tend to overstate network-centrism and its concomitant disconnection from the hierarchical, globalised forces of production that shape our objective social reality (Robinson, 2004).

Second, we are cautious of an approach which focuses on the digital content of academic labour (Noble, 2002; Weller, 2012) to the neglect of both its form and the organising principles under which it is subsumed (Camfield, 2007). Understandably, academics have a tendency to reify their own labour such that it becomes something that they struggle for, rather than against. However, repeatedly adopting this approach can only lead to a sense of helplessness (Postone, 2006). If, rather, we focus our critique on the form and organising principles of labour, we find that it shares the same general qualities whether it is academic or not. Thus, it is revealed as commodity-producing, with both concrete and abstract forms. By remaining focused on the form of labour, rather than its content, we can only critique it rather than reify it.

This then has implications for our understanding of the relationships between academics and virtual work, the ways in which technologies are used to organise academic labour digitally, and struggles to overcome such labour. It is our approach to conceive of ‘academic labour’ in both its concrete and abstract forms and in relation to a range of techniques and technologies. The purpose of this is to unite all workers in solidarity against labour (Krisis-Group, 1999), rather than against each other in a competitive labour market.

References

Camfield, D. (2007) The Multitude and the Kangaroo: A Critique of Hardt and Negri’s Theory of Immaterial Labour. Historical Materialism 15: 21-52.

Fuchs, C. and Sevignani, S. (2013) What Is Digital Labour? What Is Digital Work? What’s their Difference? And Why Do These Questions Matter for Understanding Social Media?, tripleC, 11(2) 237-292.

Hardt, M. and Negri, T. (2000) Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Krisis-Group (1999) Manifesto against labour. Krisis.

Newfield, C. 2010. The structure and silence of Cognitariat. EduFactory webjournal 0: 10-26.

Noble, David F. (2002) Digital Diploma Mills. The Automation of Higher Education. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Peters, Michael A. and Bulut. E. (2011) Cognitive Capitalism, Education and Digital Labor. New York: Peter Lang.

Postone, M. (1993) Time, Labor and Social Domination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Postone, M. (2006) History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism, Public Culture, 18(1).

Robinson, W.I. (2004) A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World. Baltimore, MA: John Hopkins University Press.

Roggero, G. (2011) The Production of Living Knowledge: The Crisis of the University and the Transformation of Labor in Europe and North America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Scholtz, T. (2013) Digital Labour. The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge.

Sohn-Rethel, A. (1978) Intellectual and Manual Labour. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. London: Bloomsbury.

Value and the transparency of direct labour

In my notes on Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, I tried to get to grips with what Marx referred to as indirect and direct labour. Although I didn’t articulate it very well, I did make the point that the difference between indirect (capitalist) labour and direct (post-capitalist) labour was that direct labour was not mediated by exchange value (‘value’). Since writing those notes, I’ve started to read Peter Hudis’ (2012) book, Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism 1)Hudis (2012) appears to be a version of his PhD thesis (2011). In these notes, I refer to the page numbers of the book. which has so far offered two very useful insights.

A definition of value

First, he highlights a definition of value by Marx:

“value is a commodity’s quantitatively determined exchangeability.”

From this brief definition, we are reminded that value is:

(a) found in the commodity, which is a form of use value and exchange value, which are expressions of concrete and undifferentiated abstract labour; abstract labour being the source or social substance of the commodity’s value.

(b) not measured by the commodity’s qualitative nature, but rather as a quantity of something (see below).  e.g. the qualitative features of ‘gold’ has no intrinsic value. Only a given quantity of gold has value. The value of gold is in its scarcity. i.e. the quantity of gold produced is low compared to the quantity of labour required to discover and extract it.

(c) validated by the commodity’s exchangeability with a universal equivalent: a quantity of money.

Marx determined that the quantitative measure of value is ‘socially necessary labour time’.

“Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and unskilful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour power. The total labour power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average labour power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary. The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. The introduction of power-looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued to require the same time as before; but for all that, the product of one hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour’s social labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value.

We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour time socially necessary for its production.”

Here, I am reminded of Bonefeld, quoting Marx:

When talking about value, we are talking about the expenditure of ‘definite masses of crystallised labour time’ (1983: 184). That is to say, ‘labour time is the living state of existence of labour … it is the living quantitative aspect of labour as well as its inherent measure’ (Marx, 1987a: 272).

When money is exchanged for a commodity, it is a validation of the socially necessary labour time given to the production of the commodity. The minimum amount of socially necessary labour time that is required to produce a commodity determines the magnitude of the commodity’s value. This is a socially dynamic calculation, based on the level of technological input (‘dead labour’), the productivity of labour and efficiencies gained through the division and control of labour, the level of competition from other commodity producers, and so on.

What is important to recognise here, is that the more productive labour becomes, the less value a single commodity contains. Marx explains in this way:

“If we presuppose that the labour time contained in the commodities is, under the given conditions, necessary labour time, socially necessary labour time— and this is always the presupposition we start from once the value of a commodity is reduced to the labour time contained in it — what takes place is rather the following: The value of the product of labour is in an inverse ratio to the productivity of labour. This is in fact an identical proposition. It means nothing more than this: If labour becomes more productive, it can represent a greater quantity of the same use values in the same period, it can embody itself in a greater amount of use values of the same kind. Accordingly, an aliquot part of these use values, e.g. a yard of linen, contains less labour time than previously, has therefore less exchange value and indeed the exchange value of the yard of linen has fallen in the same proportion as the productivity of the labour of weaving has grown. Inversely, if more labour time than previously were required to produce a yard of linen (let us say, because more labour time was required to produce a pound of flax), the yard of linen would now contain more labour time, hence would have a higher exchange value. Its exchange value would have increased in the same proportion as the labour required to produce it had become less productive. We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour time socially necessary for its production.”

As such, greater value can only be realised through the production of greater quantities of the commodity, eventually resulting in over-production relative to social consumption, leading to economic crisis.

What is ‘direct labour’?

The second point by Hudis I have found useful is his remark on indirect and direct labour.

We have determined that capitalism is a mode of production which turns on the production of value. This is variously described as the ‘valorisation of value’, or ‘self-expanding value’ and elsewhere I have summarised it as follows:

“In his critique of political economy, Marx developed the “general formula of capital”, M-C-M’. This refers to the way money (M) is advanced to purchase a commodity (C) in order to produce new commodities that are sold for a profit, creating more money. With the commodities purchased, ‘the capitalist’ buys the means of production (MP) and labour-power (L), transforming money capital into productive capital (P).  As a generalised method of creating wealth, this process is historically unique to capitalism. The circuit of capitalist valorisation can be illustrated as:”

Marx's "general formula of capital"

As others have observed, it follows that a post-capitalist society is one defined by the abolition of value and in order to achieve this, the capitalist form of (concrete and abstract) labour must be overcome. Freedom then, is freedom from abstract labour measured by socially necessary labour time (i.e. freedom from value).

When discussing the transition from capitalism to communism, Marx refers to indirect and direct labour. Hudis (2012), quoting Marx, notes that in the transition to post-capitalism “social relations become ‘transparent in their simplicity’ once the labourers put an end to alienated labour and the dictatorship of abstract time.”

“Marx is not suggesting that all facets of life become transparent in the lower phase of socialism or communism; indeed, he never suggests this about conditions in a higher phase either. He is addressing something much more specific: namely, the transparent nature of the exchange between labor time and products of labor. This relation can never be transparent so long as there is value production; it becomes transparent only once indirectly social labour is replaced by directly social labour.” (209-10)

Interestingly, in Hudis’ earlier PhD thesis, this last sentence is expressed differently:

“it becomes transparent only once value production is annulled by freely associated labor.”

This also reiterates for us that the replacement of indirect labour with direct labour leads to the abolition of value. Direct, freely associated labour is not value-creating labour.

Direct labour then, is a transparent process instead of the opaque process of indirect, value-creating, alienated capitalist labour (Marx referred to it as the “hidden abode of production”). I wonder whether this transparency can be conceived in terms of ‘openness’, which I have written about in the context of ‘open education’. If we try to conceive the academic labour process of open education as transparent, direct and freely associated, what are its characteristics? Hudis can help us again, here:

“Marx does not, of course, limit his horizon to the initial phase of socialism or communism. He discusses it as part of understanding what is needed in order to bring to realization the more expansive social relations of a higher phase. Marx conceives of this phase as the passing beyond of natural necessity—not in the sense that labor as such would come to an end, but rather that society would no longer be governed by the necessity for material production and reproduction. This higher phase, however, can only come into being as a result of a whole series of complex and involved historical developments, which include the abolition of the “the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and thereby also the antithesis between mental and physical labor.” It is impossible to achieve this, he reminds us, in the absence of highly developed productive forces. Marx never conceived it as possible for a society to pass to ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ while remaining imprisoned in conditions of social and technological backwardness. And yet it is not the productive forces that create the new society: it is, instead, live men and women.” (210)

He quotes Raya Dunayevskaya:

“For it is not the means of production that create the new type of man, but the new man that will create the means of production, and the new mode of activity will create the new type of human being, socialist man.” (210)

This seems to suggest that as capitalism comes to a gradual end, labour will be directed more towards immaterial production (i.e. production that it not necessary for human self-reproduction). Labour will freely associate with labour, not divided into hierarchies of production, nor characterised by the false separation of manual and intellectual labour. Such labour relies on a condition of abundance, which is visible to us all now, though not available to all. The material conditions for this abundance have, as Dunayevskaya notes, already been met through the productive capacity of labour and are the basis upon which a new mode of activity 2)note the word ‘activity’ here, rather than ‘production’. It reminds me of Holloway’s attempt to escape the productivism of Marxism with his conception of ‘doing’. will produce a new type of human being. Post-capitalist woman and man are not determined by the ‘logic’ of capitalist valorisation, and thus are free to to develop new forms of ‘democracy’, new conceptions of ‘equality’ and ‘individuality’.

In the same way, the production of knowledge (i.e. ‘education’) will be through free association, enabled by the technological capacity developed during the capitalist mode of production, now expressed by a form of abundance which Marx referred to as the ‘general intellect’.

“Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process.” (Marx, Grundrisse)

Drawing on Dyer-Witheford (1999), I have written about the ‘general intellect’ in the context of ‘Student as Producer’ with my colleague, Mike Neary. In that book chapter, we conclude with a section that discusses the general intellect and ‘mass intellectuality’:

“This is the social body of knowledge, modes of communication and co-operation and even ethical preoccupations which both supports and transgresses the operation of a high-tech economy. It is not knowledge created by and contained within the university, but is the ‘general social knowledge’ embodied by and increasingly available to all of us.”

We go on to identify the free culture movement as the development of an alternative organising principle; one not fully realised but with emancipatory potential. In this context, I have also critiqued the open education movement and its focus on the freedom of things rather than the freedom of people, akin to what Marx analysed as ‘commodity fetishism‘, where the social relations between people are inverted and take on the form of value. I argued that this is occurring in universities to such an extent that whole institutions become the personification of value and the purpose of academic labour is to “serve the social character of the institution, which is constantly being monitored and evaluated through a system of league tables” and other performance indicators. As Neocleus observes:

“the process of personification of capital … is the flip side of a process in which human persons come to be treated as commodities – the worker, as human subject, sells labour as an object. As relations of production are reified so things are personified – human subjects become objects and objects become subjects – an irrational, ‘bewitched, distorted and upside- down world’ in which ‘Monsieur le Capital’ takes the form of a social character – a dramatis personae on the economic stage, no less.” (Neocleous 2003: 159)

This remains the challenge for open education, which can only truly exist under conditions where labour can freely associate directly with labour and not through the mediation of commodities (i.e. ‘Open Educational Resources’) produced under the contract of performative academic wage labour and circulated on a network of privately held networks. The social relations of open education would be “transparent in their simplicity”, rather than occurring as it does now, in the hidden abode of capitalist production.

Finally, the full quote from Marx which I have referred to above is most revealing in the context of open education in that Marx regards transparency (openness?) to be necessary in both the social relations of production and distribution.

“Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self­ awareness as one single social labour force…

The social relations of the individual producers, both toward their labour and the products of their labour, are here transparent in their simplicity, in production as well as in distribution.” (Marx, Capital, Vol.1, p.171-2)

Arguably, open education so far has focused almost exclusively on the ‘free culture’ of exchange (distribution) and has yet to address the role of academic labour (production). One way to critically examine it would be through the critical pedagogy of ‘Student as Producer‘, based on the productive capacity of human beings and aimed at developing direct social relations between teachers and students (‘scholars’), whose needs and capacities are reflected in the acknowledgement that they have much to learn from each other.

References   [ + ]

1. Hudis (2012) appears to be a version of his PhD thesis (2011). In these notes, I refer to the page numbers of the book.
2. note the word ‘activity’ here, rather than ‘production’. It reminds me of Holloway’s attempt to escape the productivism of Marxism with his conception of ‘doing’.

Open education and the emancipation of labour from teaching and learning

Abstract submitted to the CfP on ‘Critical Approaches to Open Education‘, Learning, Media and Technology journal.

I have previously argued that open education is a liberal project with a focus on the freedom of things rather than the freedom of people. (Winn, 2012) Furthermore, I have argued that despite an implicit critique of private property with its emphasis on ‘the commons’, there is no corresponding critique of academic labour (Neary, Winn, 2012).

The imposition of private property and wage-labour is the organising principle of the capitalist mode of production (Neary, Winn, 2009), a “determinate logic” (Postone, 1993) which continually seeks to alienate labour from its full creative capacity (Wendling, 2011) and reduce the necessity of labour-time in the production of value. For capital, the crucial role of all forms of education is to ensure the reproduction and improvement of labour in a historical form that is conducive to the production of value. For the student, education becomes necessary in order to improve the value of the labour power commodity upon which their subsistence depends.

This paper will take up the conclusions of my earlier work where I argued that the critical power and potential of open education “is in its yet under-acknowledged re-conceptualisation of what it means to work as a researcher, teacher and student.” (Winn, 2012) In the work cited, I have argued that an emancipatory form of education cannot be created by the production of educational resources as ‘a commons’ and the socialisation of academic (i.e. teacher-student) labour through networked technologies.

In this paper, I will develop my critical position that an emancipatory form of education must work towards the emancipation of teachers and students from labour, the dynamic source of value in capitalism, and that this might be achieved through a co-operative pedagogical relationship between individuals out of which alternative organisational and institutional forms are developed that undermine the organising principle of capitalism. In making this argument, I will draw upon my involvement with the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, as well as my work with colleagues at the University of Lincoln (e.g. Neary, 2010; Neary and Hagyard, 2010; Neary and Amsler, 2010).

References

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2012) Open education: common(s), commonism and the new common wealth. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 12 (4). pp. 406-422.

Neary, Mike and Amsler, Sarah (2012) Occupy: a new pedagogy of space and time?. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2).

Neary, Mike (2010) Student as producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde?,  Learning Exchange, 1 (1).

Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of excess: an alternative political economy of student life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Routledge, Abingdon.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience . Continuum, London.

Postone, Moishe (1993) Time, Labour and Social Domination. Cambridge University Press.

Social Science Centre, Lincoln http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk

Wendling (2011) Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation. Palgrave Macmillan

Winn, Joss (2012) Open education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people. In: Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. Continuum, London.

The university as a worker co-operative: Labour, property and pedagogy

Abstract of a paper accepted for the ‘Governing Academic Life‘ conference.

UPDATE 16th June 2014: My paper for this conference is available here.

We are witnessing an “assault” on universities (Bailey and Freedman, 2011) and the future of higher education and its institutions is being “gambled.” (McGettigan, 2013) For many years now, we have been warned that our institutions are in “ruins” (Readings, 1997). We campaign for the “public university” (Holmwood, 2011) but in the knowledge that we work for private corporations, where academic labour is increasingly subject to the regulation of performative technologies (Ball, 2003) and where the means of knowledge production is being consolidated under the control of an executive. We want the cops off our campus but lack a form of institutional governance that gives teachers and students a right to the university. (Bhandar, 2013)

Outside the university, there is an institutional form that attempts to address issues of ownership and control over the means of production and constitute a radical form of democracy among those involved. Worker co-operatives are a form of ‘producer co-operative’ constituted on the values of autonomy, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity (Co-operatives UK, nd). In most cases the assets (the means of production) of the co-operative are held under ‘common ownership’, a social form of property that goes beyond the distinction between private and public (Footprint and Seeds for Change, 2012)

In this talk, I will begin by discussing recent work by academics and activists to identify the advantages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education. I will then focus in particular on the ‘worker co-operative’ organisational form and question its applicability and suitability to the governance of and practices within higher educational institutions. Finally, I will align the values and principles of worker co-ops with the critical pedagogic theory of Student as Producer (Neary, 2009, 2010a, 2010b)

References

Bailey, Michael and Freedman, Des (2011) The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance, Pluto Press.

Ball, Stephen J. (2003) The teacher’s soul and the terror of performativity, Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 18:2, pp.215-228.

Bhandar, Brenna (2013) A Right to the University, London Review of Books blog, Retrieved 17th February 2014. http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/12/10/brenna-bhandar/a-right-to-the-university/

Co-operatives UK (nd) The worker co-operative code, Retrieved 17th February 2014. http://www.uk.coop/workercode

Footprint and Seeds of Change (2012) How to set up a Workers’ Co-op, Radical Routes. Retrieved 17th February 2014. http://www.uk.coop/workercode

Holmwood, John (2011) A Manifesto for the Public University, Bloomsbury Academic.

McGettigan, Andrew (2013) The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education, Pluto Press.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience . Continuum.

Neary, Mike (2010a) Student as producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde?,  Learning Exchange, 1 (1).

Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010b Pedagogy of excess: an alternative political economy of student life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Routledge, Abingdon.

Marx on individualism, equality and democracy

As I’ve mentioned before, I am one of several scholars participating in the Social Science Centre’s course on ‘Co-operation and education‘. This week (week five), we were discussing co-operative values and principles, with a particular focus on ‘autonomy’ (4th principle) and ‘democracy’ (2nd principle). The reading for this week was Ian MacPherson’s ‘Speech Introducing the Co‐operative Identity Statement to the 1995 Manchester Congress of the ICA’, and the article on democracy from the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.

In addition to this, I also went looking for something that discussed Marx’s views on democracy, partly because he usually acts as a counter to the dominant liberal history of ideas, and also because I have been thinking about the role of democracy, equality and the individual in the context of teaching and learning in a post-capitalist form of higher education. The article I ended up reading was Springborg (1984) Karl Marx on Democracy, Participation, Voting, and Equality, Political Theory, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Nov., 1984), pp. 537-556. Below are my rough thoughts and notes on Springborg’s article…

Marx’s views on democracy share things in common with classical political philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and Hegel. He viewed participatory democracy negatively as a form of radical individualism as it emphasises first and foremost the agency of the individual rather than of the community as a whole through representatives. Springborg identifies three main arguments from Marx in defence of the idea of democracy:

1. Democracy is “the essence” of the political. It is more than its legal, juridical form. In his 1844 Manuscripts and 1843 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, communism and democracy are described separately in the same terms.

Springborg paraphrasing Marx on communism:

“the resolution of the antithesis between essence and existence, form and content, individual and species; it is the riddle of history solved and knows itself to be that solution.”

Marx:

“Democracy is the resolved mystery of all constitutions. Here the constitution not only in itself, according to essence, but according to existence and actuality is returned to its real ground, actual man, the actual people, and established as its own work. The constitution appears as what it is, the free product of men… democracy is the essence of every political constitution, socialised man under the form of a particular constitution of the state… stands related to other constitutions as the genus to its species; only here the genus itself appears as an existent, and therefore opposed as a particular species to those existents which do not conform to the essence. Democracy relates to all other forms of the state as their Old Testament. Man does not exist because of the law but rather the law exists for the good of man. Democracy is human existence, while in the other political forms man has only legal existence. That is the fundamental difference of democracy.”

Springborg: “Under the aegis of democracy, first the abstract distinction between civil society and the state and second the state itself as an abstraction are surpassed. Thus “in true democracy the political state disappears.” (Marx) This is because democracy as unity of particular and universal, part and whole, is no mere constitutional form but a system whose principles actually govern.” (my emphasis)

“In democracy the constitution, the law, the state, so far as it is political constitution, is itself only a self-determination of the people, and a determinate content of the people.” (Marx)

I understand this to mean that rather than the state being an abstraction set apart from people, under a true democracy the people constitute the state (they are the “essence of the political”) to the extent that the state as a determinate abstract force in society is negated. True democracy is stateless. It is literally the ‘rule of the people’, expressed through social, human existence.

2. Democracy does not require the participation of all members of society as individuals in the decision-making process. Both direct or representative participation is to falsely conceive of the problem. Membership in a true democratic society does not demand participation in the state. The artificial distinction between society and the state is wrong in the first place.

“In a really rational state one could answer, ‘Not every single person should share in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern’, because the individuals share in deliberating and deciding on matters of general concern as the ‘all’, that is to say, within and as members of the society. Not all individually, but the individuals as all… Hegel presents himself with the dilemma: either civil society (the Many, the multitude) shares through deputies in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern or all [as] I individuals do this. This is no opposition of essence, as Hegel subsequently tries to present it, but of existence, and indeed of the most external existence, quantity. Thus, the basis which Hegel himself designated as external – the multiplicity of members – remains the best reason against the direct participation of all. The question of whether civil society should participate in the legislature either by entering it through deputies or by the direct participation of all as individuals is itself a question within the abstraction of the political state or within the abstract political state; it is an abstract political question.” (Marx)

This is, I think, a warning that questions about ‘participation’ in democracy are situated/trapped in the very conceptual approach they are trying to escape from. To suggest that everyone participate in deciding matters of political concern is to assume that the state continues to remain an abstract political force, apart from people, that benefits quantitatively from the direction of each individual. Marx wants to avoid “the methodological individualism of radical democracy.” (Springborg) In a true democracy, the state is not external to the people and therefore does not and cannot act apart from the will of individuals who act “as all.” It is a fundamentally different conception of large scale human social relations as well as posing a different “ontology” of the political. Marx notes that according to Hegel:

“In its proper form the opposition is this: the individuals participate as all, or the individuals participate as a few, as not all. In both cases allness remains merely an external plurality or totality of individuals. Allness is no essential, spiritual, actual quality of the individual. It is not something through which he would lose the character of abstract individuality. Rather, it is merely the sum total of individuality. One individuality, many individualities, all individualities. The one, the many, the all – none of these determinations changes the essence of the subject, individuality.

All as individuals should share in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern; that is to say, then, that all should share in this not as all but as individuals.” (Marx, summarising Hegel)

Where Marx fundamentally differs from Hegel is in his conception of how the state exists as a social form, not in abstraction but ontologically and epistemologically as its members:

“The very notion of member of the state implies their being a member of the state, a part of it, and the state having them as its part. But if they are an integral part of the state, then it is obvious that their social existence is already their actual participation in it. They are not only integral parts of the state, but the state is their integral part. To be consciously an integral part of something is to participate consciously in it, to be consciously integral to it. Without this consciousness the member of the state would be an animal.” (Marx)

To consciously ‘be’ is more than to simply ‘participate’ in something. One’s existence is already participation to the extent that the state can only exist as a form of the social existence of all individuals. What ‘activates’ this integration or transcendence is being/becoming conscious of such an existence. Marx recognises that “it is a tautology that a member of the state, a part of the state, participates in the state, and that this participation can appear only as deliberation or decision”.

“The false alternatives of political participation either as “all” or “not all” is predicated on the abstract separation of civil society and the state, which in turn falsely presumes the political to be constituted by single political acts performed by individuals, focusing exclusively on the legislature as the locus of popular participation.” (Springborg)

“On the other hand, if we are talking about definite concerns, about single political acts, then it is again obvious that not all as individuals accomplish them. Otherwise, the individual would be the true society, and would make society superfluous.” (Marx)

“Let us note that although Marx dismisses the traditional concept of the state as a real collectivity with sovereign power that can represent and be represented, he retains the notion of society as a collectivity in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One of his objections to the possibility of all participating in political decisions making as individuals is that this proposition is based on a radical individualism that fails to see society itself as a corporate entity representative of the interests of the individuals who constitute it.” (Springborg)

“The question whether all as individuals should share in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern is a question that arises from the separation of the political state and civil society.” (Marx)

In a true democracy, where “civil society is actual political society”,

“…it is nonsense to make a claim which has resulted precisely from a notion of the political state as an existent separated from civil society, from the theological notion of the political state. In this situation, legislative power altogether loses the meaning of representative power. Here, the legislature is a representation in the same sense in which every function is representative. For example, the shoemaker is my representative in so far as he fulfils a social need, just as every definite social activity, because it is a species-activity, represents only the species; that is to say, it represents a determination of my own essence the way every man is the representative of the other. Here, he is representative not by virtue of something other than himself which he represents, but by virtue of what he is and does.” (Marx)

I understand this to mean that representative power in a truly democratic society is not determined by legislative power, but rather by social activity which fulfils a social need. One individual is representative of another by virtue of their social activity as a human being. Representation exists in a natural state, before and apart from the fabrication of legislative representation. The shoe-maker represents me through her social activity. I represent the shoe-maker through my social activity. Our social activity is representative of each other and all others of our species. As Springborg notes, Marx goes

“against all attempts to impose the rubric of strict equality in such a way that functional substitution becomes the test of an individual’s integrity as a person. Such levelling egalitarianism is premised on radical individualism that aims to make all persons featureless monads, alike in the sameness and incapable of actualising the rich range of potentialities that human nature promises. Marx’s argument has serious implications for some of the campaigns waged in the name of Marxist humanism, feminism, etc., which, as he predicted, merely reproduce voluntarily the prerequisites for a higher state of capitalism that devours women and children allowing no distinctions of gender, race, ethnicity, etc…” (Springborg)

“For the first time, nature [in capitalist society] becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production. In accord with this tendency, capital drives beyond national barriers and prejudices as much as beyond nature worship, as well as all traditional, confined, complacent, encrusted satisfactions of present needs, and reproductions of old ways of life. It is destructive towards all of this, and constantly revolutionizes it, tearing down all the barriers which hem in the development of the forces of production, the expansion of needs, the all-sided development of production, and the exploitation and exchange of natural and mental forces.” (Marx, Gundrisse)

This is a reminder, I would add, that in capitalist society, efforts towards ‘equality’ serve the purpose of ensuring everyone equally has the opportunity and capacity to sell (exchange for money – a wage) their labour power, the source of capitalist wealth (value). Marx showed that this is so-called ‘freedom’ under capitalism. Rather than view civil society equally and quantitatively as an abstract ‘population’ of individuals, Marx showed how the abstraction of exchange, (based on abstract labour, the measure of which is socially necessary labour time), is the necessary basis of capitalism’s equality. Human need and the capacity to produce goods and services to meet those needs is the precondition for an equality based on exchange, which capitalism exploits by separating individuals from the means of production (private property) such that they have to sell their labouring capacity in exchange for a wage so as to meet those needs through the exchange of money.

“the individual has an existence only as a producer of exchange value, hence that the whole negation of his natural existence is already implied; that he is therefore entirely determined by society; that this further presupposes a division of labour etc., in which the individual is already posited in relations other than that of mere exchanger, etc. That therefore this presupposition by no means arises either out of the individual’s will or out of the immediate nature of the individual, but that it is, rather, historical, and posits the individual as already determined by society.” (Marx, Gundrisse)

Human need and capacity are mediated indirectly through the abstract equivalence of value in the form of money, rather than the direct and reciprocal labour of individuals. This commodified relationship under capitalism, where both labour-power and its product is commodified , is in one sense unequal in that the labourer is paid less than her labour is worth. For a portion of the day, she works for ‘free’, enabling her employer, the capitalist, to sell the product of labour power for a value which is higher (i.e. not equivalent) than it cost them to produce. Thus, value, the substance of which is abstract labour measured by socially necessary labour time (time, being the ultimate measure of equivalence), determines human equivalence in capitalist society and not the direct meeting of human needs and capacity i.e. inequality (what Marx, in the Grundrisse, called “natural differences”).

“Only the differences between their needs and between their production gives rise to exchange and to their social equation in exchange; these natural differences are therefore the precondition of their social equality in the act of exchange, and of this relation in general, in which they relate to one another as productive. Regarded from the standpoint of the natural difference between them, individual A exists as the owner of a use value for B, and B as owner of a use value for A. In this respect, their natural difference again puts them reciprocally into the relation of equality. In this respect, however, they are not indifferent to one another, but integrate with one another, have need of one another; so that individual B, as objectified in the commodity, is a need of individual A, and vice versa; so that they stand not only in an equal, but also in a social, relation to one another. This is not all. The fact that this need on the part of one can be satisfied by the product of the other, and vice versa, and that the one is capable of producing the object of the need of the other, and that each confronts the other as owner of the object of the other’s need, this proves that each of them reaches beyond his own particular need etc., as a human being, and that they relate to one another as human beings; that their common species-being [Gattungswesen] is acknowledged by all. It does not happen elsewhere — that elephants produce for tigers, or animals for other animals.” (Marx, Grundrisse)

Later Springborg elaborates further, stating that

“equality as mutually substitutable individuals is equality by virtue of a false abstraction. For what is crucial about human beings is the variety and plenitude of their talents and functions. The cultural richness and depth of society is a reflection not of mere numbers of individuals, equal and undifferentiated, but of the opposite. Thus to fix on equality as a critical concept is a sign of intellectual mediocrity that cannot cope with the problem of unity and difference.”

Furthermore, Marx

“… gave depth to the Hegelian analysis by perceiving the phenomenon of exchange, and not merely the arithmetical abstraction of society as a collection of individuals, as the basis for equality. He was thus able to interpret the old socialist slogan demanding justice according to need not as the expression of equality, pace Hegel, but as its opposite, a formula tailored to the specific differences of need and capacity characteristic of individuals. When in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, he boldly proclaimed that distribution according to need, rather than strict equality, would herald the crossing of “the narrow horizon of bourgeois right,” Marx meant what he implied: that equality was an extrapolation from the presuppositions of capitalism. He had said as much in The Holy Family, declaring that the idea of “‘equal possession’ is a political-economic one and therefore still an alienated expression.”

3. Debates over direct or participatory democracy are misled. Political participation rests on universal political suffrage: the vote. Voting, “considered philosophically… is the immediate, the direct, the existing and not simply imagined relation of civil society to the political state”. (Marx) The unity of the political and the social is symbolised by universal suffrage. “Indeed it is the struggle for universal suffrage that brings about the dissolution of the dualism of civil society and the state.” (Springborg)

Thus, the struggle to achieve legislative power is the struggle of civil society to “transform itself into political society, or to make political society into the actual society… [this] shows itself as the drive for the most fully possible universal participation in legislative power.” (Marx) Legislature then, is “an articulation of the political will of the community as such”. (Springborg) Marx argues that it is not the depth of engagement in legislature but the universalism of suffrage that is key, whether active or passive.

“It is not a question of whether civil society should exercise legislative power through deputies or through all as individuals. Rather, it is a question of the extension and greatest possible universalisation of voting, of active as well as passive suffrage.” (Marx)

Rather than see voting as a meaningless exercise, it should be considered philosophically:

“Voting is not considered philosophically, that is, not in terms of its proper nature, if it is considered in relation to the crown or the executive. The vote is the actual relation of actual civil society to the civil society of the legislature, to the representative element. in other words, the vote is the immediate, the direct, the existing and not simply imagined relation of civil society to the political state. It therefore goes without saying that the vote is the chief political interest of actual civil society. In unrestricted suffrage, both active and passive, civil society has actually raised itself for the first time to an abstraction of itself, to political existence as its true universal and essential existence. But the full achievement of this abstraction is at once also the transcendence [Aufhebung] of the abstraction. In actually establishing its political existence as its true existence civil society has simultaneously established its civil existence, in distinction from its political existence, as inessential. And with the one separated, the other, its opposite, falls. Within the abstract political state the reform of voting advances the dissolution [Auflösung] of this political state, but also the dissolution of civil society.” (Marx)

In theory then, universal suffrage transforms, for the first time, the existence of civil society into a political existence. The political state is no longer an abstraction and civil society, its dialectical opposite, is dissolved, too. The outcome of the synthesis of this dialectic, enabled by universal suffrage, is the political existence of all transformed into true social existence. This dissolution, I think, is resolved gradually through the praxis of consciously becoming political: At first with the struggle towards universal suffrage; and then the struggle to understand what this means philosophically and recognise that out-dated and out-moded legislation is no longer deemed suitable or necessary to the historical material conditions of this political existence. Such conditions are conditions of abundance that allow the “natural differences” among people to labour directly with one-another reciprocally, not mediated by the equivalence of exchange value. To labour ‘directly’ does not necessarily mean ‘local’ to one-another face-to-face, but rather directly meeting need with capacity regardless of and without concern for ‘equivalence’.

What does this mean for democracy, equality and freedom in post-capitalist society? Democracy will be the social existence of individuals who no longer have a juridical existence quantified by an abstract state.  A political existence is to be (ontologically and epistemologically) a social human being. i.e. not an individual. Equality will be mutual recognition of the difference in our needs and capacities i.e. inequality. Freedom will be a life of non-reciprocity where ‘equivalence’ is redefined as the meeting of one person’s needs with the abundant social capacity of others. It will be a freedom which tends to our natural differences (not ‘natural rights’), undetermined by ‘exchange’ conceived as an abstract calculation of one’s value.

Reserve army of labour

The Machine and Unemployment by Paul Herzel c.1935
The Machine and Unemployment by Paul Herzel c.1935

“…it is capitalistic accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relativity redundant population of labourers, i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus population… It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to press a given quantity of labour out of a smaller, rather than a greater number of labourers, if the cost is about the same. In the latter case, the outlay of constant capital increases in proportion to the mass of labour set in action; in the former that increase is much smaller. The more extended the scale of production, the stronger this motive. Its force increases with the accumulation of capital.” (Marx, Capital Vol. 1)

Wikipedia: Reserve army of labour

“…to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time…” (Marx, Grundrisse, 705)

“Marx contrasts value, a form of wealth bound to human labor time expenditure, to the gigantic wealth-producing potential of modern science and technology. Value becomes anachronistic in terms of the system of production to which it gives rise; the realization of that potential would entail the abolition of value.” (Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory, 1993, 26)