[OPE-L:2064] Re: Re: the nature of a commodity and the meaning of class struggle

From: Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Date: Sat Jan 08 2000 - 20:25:26 EST

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Hi Jerry

As we discussed before, Marx's concept of material production and of
productive labour cannot be sustained today, in view of the current
capitalist division of labour on a world scale. I therefore won't go into
this again. You ask:

>What does prostitution have in common with inventory stocks, partly
>finished goods, and futures contracts?

You'd be surprised ! In the case of sex work, sex is a commodity like
inventory stocks, semi-finished goods, a load of bananas on a ship
travelling from Ecuador to Rotterdam, or a financial service allowing an
investor to speculate on fluctuations in selling prices. The sex work could
be a capitalist commodity production (for a pimp or entrepreneur exploiting
the labour of the sex worker) or a simple commodity production
(owner-operated). A sex worker and the client treat her sexual services (a
useful effect of her body, realised within a certain context) as
commodities, they exist as comodities offered for sale, with clearly
defined use-values and exchange-values (e.g. a "suck" or a "fuck" for 50
guilders or 100 guilders), irrespective of whether it actually has been
sold. Here in Amsterdam a sex worker may sit in the window a long time
(which is work), offering her charms, but the commodity displayed may not
get sold (whether this "advertising" is productive labour is a moot point -
it is not really productive for the sex worker or her employer, but it is
productive for cafe and restaurant owners etc. in the vicinity). The fact
that the commodity doesn't get sold, doesn't mean it isn't on display for
sale, or that it doesn't exist as a commodity. That is just a stupid view
of some tourists. It has to exist as a commodity in order to be sold, which
is a separate and distinct concern.
>What is the source for this particular understanding of the distinction
>between class struggle and class conflict? Also: if class struggle means
>that a class struggles as a class, why doesn't class conflict mean that
>a class conflicts as a class?

I was inspired by Marx, Lenin, Lukacs and E. P. Thompson among others, but
it's also my own thinking. I reserve the term class struggle for the real
struggle of a class "fur sich", as indicated by the given political
situation in which a class, or at the very least its "leading battallions",
asserts its class interests. I am suggesting class struggles do not occur
all the time in a given class-divided society (there is a kind of
"cyclical" movement involved, of retreat, relative peace, and advance), but
class conflict does.

Class conflict can, in my way of thinking, indeed mean that a class
"conflicts (objectively) as a class with another class", but even if this
is so, (1) it doesn't necessarily mean that any of the classes involved
will be actually engaging in a political class struggle, (2) it may mean
groups engage in struggles without those struggles being any clearly
articulated class struggle, (3) it may mean only one class asserts itself,
but the other classes do not, or only very weakly.

Workers can go on strike, engage in political struggles etc. but this
doesn't necessarily mean that a struggle of the working class as a whole is
occurring, or that they or others identify their struggle as a struggle of
their class. Leftists may observe a strike and diagnose a "class struggle"
going on, but I think often this is silly rhetoric. It is certainly an
instance of class conflict, which expresses itself in struggles, but those
struggles aren't necessarily a class struggle. Other sectors of the working
class may indeed be completely against the strike, and refuse to express
solidarity of any sort.

When I was in Britain in 1984, some leftists were saying excitedly to me
"the class struggle is really happening now". In my opinion this was naive
and confused. Class conflict was indeed intensifying under the impact of
Thatcherism. But actually the working class wasn't at all politically
united in Britain, as the attempt to create broad solidarity with the
miners showed. Actually, the carefully planned, premeditated attack of the
Tory government against the miners, on behalf of the British bourgeoisie,
was intended precisely to forestall any possibility of escalating
working-class warfare occurring in the medium or longer term.

Linguistically, the term "class struggle" has in my opinion suffered the
same amount of abuse as the term "crisis" or the term "revolution". It's an
overused word. I prefer myself to use the term "class struggle" only when a
real class struggle is occurring somewhere, to use the term "crisis" when a
real crisis is occurring, and the term "revolution" for when a real social
revolution is occuring. They are scientific terms as far as I am concerned,
not metaphysical concepts, and if socialists trivialise them and abuse
them, outside of their appropriate context, they create confusion and
disrespect for themselves. (Actually, I think the political terminology of
scientific socialism warrants substantial modifications, precisely in view
of the fact that, in many countries, the working class constitutes the
overwhelming majority of the working population in the sociological sense;
for a simple example, workers may not identify themselves as "working
class" but they may identify themselves as socialists).

In solidarity


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