Yet the biggest mistake made by the vast majority of leftists is not the tendency toward endless sectarian infighting, but rather considering the central conceit of communism to be placing the means of production in the hands of the laborer.
This tendency has failed at ever turn. The more moderate leftists hope to achieve living wages and fair working conditions through a combination of direct action and electoral politics. The more extreme believe workers may only seize equity through violent uprising. But regardless of methodology, the leftist tradition flows toward a single and ultimately untenable constant: labor.
Unification of the proletariat simply cannot happen merely through convincing workers that it’s in their best interest to do so. What so much of the labor movement fails to account for is occupational difference. Marx’s working world was confined to the factories and the fields. Capital has so thoroughly transformed the definition of “worker” that it is simply not strategically worthwhile to unify computer programmers and janitors.
What would bring them together, rather, is their shared desire to be doing anything else at all. As long as work exists, there are workers to exploit. So long as there is capital, there will be capitalists. The truest and most direct means of emancipation is not through realigning the means, but rather casting them aside as something wholly unnecessary. That is to say: we must demand the end of labor itself. To (perhaps) distort Badiou in Philosophy for Militants: “The goal is something like the fusion of law and desire, so as to arrive at something that would be like the creative affirmation of humanity as such.”
But labor abolition is not exactly a novel concept. The question that needs addressing is why, exactly, authoritarianism is necessary for this project’s success.
Authoritarian communism has never been fully realized in a manner that has not eventually devolved into state capitalism. (Whether this is due to neoliberal governments’ tendency toward infecting everything in its path is, for our purposes, largely irrelevant.) Under this particular authoritarian system of governance, the goal is not to produce endlessly, but to ensure that all needs are met and maintain structural order so all are free to do as they please.
There exists the ill-informed notion that authority figures are doomed to become tyrants. But the corruption of authority stems not from some inherent quality as such, but rather the intoxicating allure of capital. Power and wealth can be mutually exclusive. When labor and wages become artifacts of the past, the only self-serving need party leaders will have is the desire for a continued role in leadership.
Put another way: the only way to free oneself from the oppression of everyday life is to let all basic needs be met by means of a state-like entity. Survival then becomes a non-issue, allowing the interests, passions and desires of each and every person to be explored and realized.
For the moment, I’ll avoid extrapolating on the specifics of how authority might organize itself. It’s best to avoid letting this project be written off as Marxist-Leninist nonsense before the ship even leaves the harbor. Those specifics ought to be fleshed out more thoroughly as a collective.
What’s certain is this: labor is in its twilight years. The specter of automation looms closer with each passing day. Reformism has proven itself to be almost wholly ineffective. It may be time to give genuine consideration to the notion that the only way out is through. Put differently, the only conceivable way to demolish the oppressiveness of work is to collapse the entire labor system. End the world to start a new one.
If we want to return to an era of, as Mark Fisher would have put it, “Really Existing Communism” then we ought to consider what’s worth taking into the future, and what’s worth sloughing off altogether.