I have just read your criticism of my text on dispersed Fordism and, considering your judgment about it, I must say at first, that I am surprised about your decision to publish it. Actually, I don't see what sense such a publication could make because, according to you, I have understood nothing, neither capitalism, nor Fordism, nor Marx, etc... not to mention the serious errors and mystifications of the class struggle you have discovered in it. If I had such an opinion on any kind of text, I would, of course, prefer not to publish it, since this would only be a loss of time and money, except if you wanted to demonstrate how your readers should not understand Fordism. This would then be the only possible justification.
Furthermore, I have to say that I am even more surprised about the unduly aggressive tone which turns your text into a pompous diatribe against some heretical deviation .... Anyway, what has amazed me is that, after having read both texts (yours and mine), I still keep asking myself what exactly you are up against. Are you really certain to criticise what I explained in my text? I have some serious doubts about this. Thus, I am somehow unable to respond to your arguments because I don't know what they are about. Your criticisms certainly do not aim at the problems which I tried to shed some light on. I have the impression that you tried to write some critical remarks on Fordism in general and that my text was just a welcome pretext to do it. Anyway, your criticisms do not succeed either to remove some possible errors concerning the nature of Fordism, or to enable us to better understand the changing realities of the labour force in present-day capitalist society.
When I wrote this text, I only tried to make a bit clearer what kind of changes I believe to be taking place in the world I live in and which is the daily reality of workers. Of course, I can be wrong in my interpretations, considering that I have not at all tried to stick to a "scientific" approach and that I do not participate in the cult of the law of the falling profit rate, as a kind of basic principle explaining everything.
I don't want to again defend my text word by word because this will be too long a text. In fact, I would have to come back to every paragraph of your criticism and contrast it with the corresponding paragraph of my text. But that is something not worth doing for reasons you will understand once you have read the other parts of my letter. Yet you will find some references here and there to your critical remarks. At first I want to underline the fact that the fall of the rate of profit is the general framework (or the background) in the context of which all my explanations have to be seen. Reading my text this will be sufficiently clear. I don't know if you understood from my text what I explained to be my general orientations. For instance you wrote (p. 39) that dispersed Fordism is nothing but a reinforcement of the tendency pushing capital to its limits, i.e. to self-destruction. My article tried precisely to explain this tendency (the limits of Fordism), though presenting it as a problem, which according to me consists in the parallel self-destruction of the forms of proletarian aggregation inherited from the past; I believe this to be so because we cannot separate capital (stolen labour) in any way from living labour. In fact, they are the two different sides of the same social relation.
Further down in your text (p. 42) you wrote : "Am I to assume ... by very small groups of workers? " Have you noticed at all what I wrote on the fragility of surplus value production or what I have said about the "destabilising fragmentation"? I think that behind your criticism we always find the old methodological problem I have tried to outline in my letter to Henri.
Yet I am surprised that somebody could try today to call on principles of Science for validating his arguments, in a kind of profession of faith in a scientific principle of universal truth. In my opinion, considering Heisenberg's work on the relativity of scientific objective "truths", and mainly Th. Kuhn's investigations and even more so research on the "process of the formation of scientific knowledge" (their historico-social nature), formulating a position based on Science as you do somewhat looks like a poor and simplistic argument.
Indeed, I don't know what could be the meaning of asking questions about objectivism and subjectivism in the same manner as in the 20's. If I consider your describing the falling tendency of the profit rate as an overarching principle explaining everything that happens in the capitalist world and at the same time the different levels of social reality, I have to denounce this as a form of reductionism which does not leave any space either for questioning or for criticising. Questioning is not your business because there is no problem for you: Everything can be explained by a general law, all the facts are there to confirm that the law is correct. It does not matter if the phenomena contradict the law or express a counter-tendency because in the end we just have to refer to the general law. So confronting any specific proposition with any general principle asserting an eternal truth does not open up any possibility of discussion, quite the contrary: Either the facts serve to verify and confirm the basic assumption or they are banned from consideration.
In fact, I think that you have transformed the falling profit rate into the Spirit which pervades the Hegelian universal history. Are you actually persuaded that we can explain all that is happening in the fragmented and contradictory reality of the world, all our individual and social experiences? If so, what is the function of thinking? To ponder about the reflection of the Hypostasis in our petty daily or historical anecdotes? Would there be any scope for raising problems, for questioning everything - which are the basic elements of critical thinking? To go beyond the appearance of things, of course, this is our task; but in doing so we have to create a space for our individual and social affirmation of existence, not to chase after something like the essence of reality. We have to remember that reality, exactly like objectivity - its concept, its image - is nothing but a mental and practical construction, not something existing outside of us, something to be simply discovered. I can't share the reductionist and teleological vision of the world you have. And I am not at all adhering to ideas about the Spirit of History.
We have to assume that there are some important methodological limitations in the Marxian analysis which are not relevant or valid considering all the levels of reality, even the economic, or the reality of class struggle. The scope for criticism, the possibility to progress with regard to our understanding of the world, of the capitalist process and of conflicts is widened in the process of these analytical shiftings. What we need is a dynamic understanding answering to a changing problematic in which the elements change constantly in accordance with changing social relations.
What is the use of considering the fall of the rate of profit as a basic assumption? To remind us of the fact that the capitalist system has historical limits? But this is like saying that the earth will some day cease to exist as a result of the ongoing transformations in the planetary balance. In the light of the very long-range historical vision represented by theories of the falling profit rate, human individual and collective intervention seems to be of rather limited importance. Yet the stake of conflicts and struggles is there, at the level of the concrete daily actions. It is at this level where we can observe the fragmentary and contradictory, even paradoxical, realities; in short, where we find all the contradictions we have to confront here and now. In my opinion, class struggle and theories about it are to be precisely based on the existence of this enormous gap between the general tendency and the limits of daily individual and collective actions. The space for controversy, for criticism and for any practical thinking about the world is precisely created by this very gap. What I understand from your criticism is a kind of optimistic fatalism (we have not to care about anything because the tendency is on our side) and of a cynical state of paralysis (no matter what strategies we have and what we do, the real essence of the Spirit or the falling profit rate is there).
You blame me for my having different ideas on class struggle than you. In fact, I tried to express them as paradoxical and contradictory signs, considering for instance the falling rate of profit or the objective unification of the proletariat because of the growing proletarianisation. Of course the growing proletarianisation unifies the proletariat but only at a certain level of conceptualisation. What I see is the atomisation and the decomposition of the previous elements of aggregation and the gradual disappearance of the links which guaranteed the practical unity of the proletarian movements, e.g. during the 70's in Spain. I can see that the abstract proletarian unification does not have corresponding effects in the sense of a practical, concrete unification of workers on the factory floor.
I am not very experienced in using quotations from the works of the Masters but I have heard somewhere that Marx said: The proletariat is revolutionary in its struggle or it is nothing. What we are presently confronted with is precariousness, atomisation of the workers' interests, defiance, discontinuity between in the struggles and the resistances ... Perhaps that does not mean anything considering the labours of the Spirit of History, perhaps we have not succeeded to establish a good communication contact with Him. This is more or less the same thing like being confronted with racism or xenophobia and staying indifferent to these more or less spectacular manifestations by using the basic argument that they express a false consciousness and that all of us belong to the human species. I don't think this will help the women burnt to death in Germany, or the Africans being constantly humiliated in any European town. I want to say that I don't live as an example of some kind of fundamental essence but that I have to cope practically with apparent and deforming facts in daily life. I don't speak of the true and real consciousness which is in conflict with the apparent forms of consciousness concerning me and my life. It is in the latter that I find the reasons for struggle, the real basis of my criticism.
All these ideas are drawn from my experiences (and reading Marx is one of them but not the most important, perhaps that is why I have understood nothing from what you wrote; in fact, I don't care much about that). The theoretical approach to be chosen will result primarily from the living experience, from my contacts with other people, from my conflicts with other social structures as a wage earner, as a militant, etc ... It will be an approach which is part of my life, closely tied to the manner in which I tend to organise my relationships with others and my personal and professional life. So the theoretical reflection on social conflict is something more than just a hobby. I don't do it in the same way I would study for instance the life of butterflies. It is not a matter separated from my whole life, it is an expression of my contradictory relationship with the world .
Doing so I find that everything is much more complex than in the formulations of yesterday's or today's thinkers, mainly when considering the necessary methodological shifts I just mentioned. I don't deny that the fall of the rate of profit is still valid as a general explanation for the capitalist system, but I only wish to emphasize the counter-tendencies, the unforeseen events, the deviations which, in my opinion, raise questions about certain teleological assertions indicating nothing but leanings for economical reductionism. It is in the way I see various dimensions of a complex, paradoxical reality that I can think of the problems and start my theoretical explorations, without any basic assumptions to verify, rather with a self-critical consciousness. My starting point is the fact there is not an objective approach to reality which could be the basis for a general principle of truth. Thinking this way, I am bound to be prejudiced in a way which will determine my conclusions because the way I would ask the questions would already have predetermined the answer. It is for this reason that I don't believe in an objective approach separated from a subjective approach and that I can't accept the fall of the rate of profit as a universal principle explaining reality. The falling profit rate is a theoretical formulation, a concept - a scientific one if you want to - like any other. Its validity is guaranteed only at a certain level of abstraction, and beyond that this concept leads straight into idealistic or mechanistic absurdities as proved by your criticism.
Considering the authoritarian tone of your criticism, I have to say that in my relationship with friends all along my life I looked for - and on many occasions found - an opportunity to enrich myself intellectually and personally, but not at all because I would agree by chance or by coincidence with any kind of principle or concept in the world. I simply don't want to be a member of a school, a church, a sect or community of thought. There is just this interest in sorting out things together with friends.
Concerning the theoretical production about which I hear and read through different contacts I have already reached a point of saturation, in particular when they refer to abstract analysis. I have the same feeling about my own production. In fact we are still stirring the same old subjects and arguments. Perhaps because of that in our criticisms we tend to mainly attack the positions of others, and we are looking for polemics for the sake of polemics, blowing up some kind of basic assumption as a dramatic assertion against the opponent, accused of being an heretic. This is certainly an expression of the intellectual poverty of all those who follow ideas going beyond the vicissitudes of History. For them theory (cast in iron laws) has turned into a matter of faith.
I have this feeling of the "déjà vue" when I find so many articles and pamphlets repeating again and again the same arguments for ages. This is just boring. And it is indeed an isolated and sterile approach.I have tried to go beyond the usual frame of analysis, of concepts and the much too rigid language of those trapped in the narrow world of those traditional concepts which, according to me, can't express the complex dimensions of the changes in which I feel involved. I am suspected to be caught by the fascination of the dominant ideology and the lyrical language of managers. We may find this regrettable but anyway the rusted rhetorical formula you have used will not contribute to my moving ahead on the path of criticising the present work relations.