This slowly developing glossary page is intended to be a forum for the articulation of ideas that have proven significant and interesting to Plan C. Some of these words and phrases are central to things we’ve written or ongoing struggles and discussions in which we’ve been involved, others correspond to ideas with strong currency in other parts of the left with which we feel it’s important to engage. In order to allow for dissensus, multiple entries are permitted for any term. The entries should be considered as resting points in ongoing elaborations rather than as definitive statements.
Plan C members who want to contribute new entries or suggest minor edits to those already collected should email these to firstname.lastname@example.org. They should be no longer than 500 words but can be as short as a single sentence.
- Reproduction, Dual Characteristic of
- Sects and Unity
- Value and Wealth
Most societies in human history have had mechanisms through which the debts a person or family builds up can be forgiven, the slate wiped clean. There is a very good reason for this. Debt is one of the many means through which people are trapped into a state of virtual (or actual) slavery; debt forgiveness is the way that this destructive tendency is prevented. One example is the early Christian tradition of jubilee. Every 50 years a special jubilee year would be declared in which all debts were forgiven and all property seized by means of debt returned to its original owners.
Our society has no means for debt forgiveness. The word mortgage, after all, comes from the French words for death grip. The UK has the highest levels of personal debt in the world. We built up those debts to maintain living standards during the long stagnation in our wages over the last thirty years.
A collective refusal to pay those debts, and indeed to have those debts wiped clean, may seem like a radical course of action. However this is exactly what has happened to the debts of the rich over the last six years. The bail out of the UK financial sector, costing well over 850 billion, amounts to the largest forgiveness of debt in our history. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us. We can already see social movements engage with this idea. The post-Occupy group StrikeDebt (http://strikedebt.org/) has already bought up and abolished over $12 million of personal medical debt in the US through their Rolling Jubilee project (http://rollingjubilee.org/). While in Spain, and elsewhere, the Indignados movement has mobilised to prevent home repossessions of mortgage defaulters.
In the UK we have our own experience of a successful debt refusal struggle in the anti-Poll Tax movement of the early 1990s. Even though that movement was based on the non-payment of an unfair tax, its victory hinged on making the collection of the debts incurred by non-payment impossible. The campaign’s strategy aligned those who couldn’t pay with those who refused to because it was unfair. An alliance captured in the slogan: “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay”. The key organisational innovation that put this into practice was the Anti-Poll Tax Unions; local community based groups that met to facilitate non-payment and make the collection of the tax as difficult and expensive as possible. The different tactics that came under this general strategy included encouraging people to turn up in court and providing them with legal advisors (Mackenzie’s friends), in order to clog up the court system; through to anti-Bailiff phone networks who mobilised to prevent repossessions of property. All this was top off with constant street stalls to promote the campaign and a series of huge demonstrations that provided political pressure to drop the Tax.
Of course the legal, technological and social context has changed somewhat since then but debt refusal will certainly be a key arena in future struggles. In preparation research is needed to bring the tactics of the anti-Poll Tax movement up to date and to see how the tactics adopted in other countries can be made to work here.
Much ink has been spilled trying to define what populism actually means. It is a contested idea with a long history. Many who could be defined as populists refuse to accept the label whilst many who do not appear to be populists are falsely labelled with it. One working definition which is useful as a starting point is;
A political movement, philosophy or tendency seeking to protect or liberate the people through the state and its laws in opposition to a corrupt elite.
This kind of politics simplifies the world and leaves its core problems and contradictions unchallenged. Capitalism is not a problem caused by a small (or even large) group of elites. There is little space in the populist worldview for discussions of structural inequality or truly radical social change. Indeed, populists share ground with, and can help propagate conspiracy theory worldviews and forms of oppression against those seen as not constituting ‘the people’ e.g. anti-semitic or anti-migrant politics. Whilst populist politics are produced by the inequalities and crises of this world their solutions are not communist ones.
Examples of Populists: Northern Europe harbours several far right populist parties such as UKIP, the Freedom Party in Holland and the Danish People’s Party. These have all set themselves up in opposition to a corrupt or out of touch parliament and claim to speak for the average person (think of Nigel Farage posing with the obligatory pint outside a pub and complaining against the smoking ban). As well as seeing national parliaments as out of touch and corrupt they are also all Euro-sceptic.
Whilst we should be careful using the term populist – it is often used as a derogatory term against all those in opposition to the world as it currently stands – it is important we start to develop our own understanding of what it is and its political implications. This definition is one attempt at this.
Reproduction is not just about looking after people or babies. To conceive of reproduction is to experience a profound and necessary entanglement with other bodies. Reproduction is the work of maintaining these entanglements. The labour of reproduction involves the care of the self, the care of others (children, the elderly, partners, relatives, the sick and disabled) and the work of maintaining the physical spaces we inhabit and call home. There is a deep sense of not only tripping over the connections, but of scratching the surface and disrupting the appearance of things to reveal histories and bodies that were not apparent at first glance.
Reproductive labour is sometimes waged, sometimes not. What and how it is valued and waged (which are not the same thing) is a fundamental political question. We can understand it to involve the work of caring and nursing the elderly, the sick and disabled; the birth of, raising and education of children and young people, household cleaning and maintenance, paying of bills; shopping for and preparing of food; sex; and providing emotional support. But reproduction is more than just a list of things we do and don’t do – it is a political perspective that makes visible that which has been hidden. This making visible refers to the struggles that make reproduction and reproductive labour what it is. By finding these struggles we are able to unravel ‘individual’ stories and start to see the connections and strategies that produce the family and the home. This definition draws on a wide range of feminist writings regarding domestic and reproductive work. The important point that sets this definition apart from much feminist theory however is the dual characteristic of reproduction, inherited from autonomous feminist Marxism.
Reproduction, Dual Characteristic of
If reproductive labour is conceived of as producing and reproducing people and the domestic realm, this product or output of ‘people’ embodies a tension. The dual characteristic of reproduction can be explained on the one hand as reproductive labour produces and reproduces the very peculiar commodity, labour power that encompasses the reproduction of the labour force. By labour force we mean workers, who are produced (trained, education, socialised) at a specific but also ever changing level of differentiation, expertise and skills. Not only are the social practices associated with our reproduction historically and geographically located, the contours and requirements of reproduction are the outcome of struggle. The duality of this process is made visible when we consider that at the same time, these same practices and processes of reproductive labour produce or have the potential to produce and reproduce life that is autonomous, in excess and outside of the commodity form and capital. It is this tension and at times contradictory relation that feminist scholars have since the 1970’s argued highlights not only the dual characteristic of reproduction but also the necessity to locate reproductive struggles within the framework of class and wage struggles. The inability to neatly map the two forms of waged and unwaged reproductive labour onto processes that produce the commodity labour power or alternatively human beings as autonomous subjects further complicates the dual characteristic of reproduction.
Sects and Unity
Two terms very much at the centre of concerns for those within Leninist traditions. We’ve recently begun to question whether either of these ideas have any meaning outside their own internal discourse. In other words, is one the symbiont of the other? Does the idea of Unity produce the idea of The Sect like Hyde to its Jekyll? Does this negative image of the sect fulfill the same bogeyman role if removed from the ‘one big organisation’ ideal? After all, most sects believe themselves to be unity projects to which none of those other idiots will listen! (Sects modeled on cells perhaps buck this trend). We would suggest replacing the interminable circular interplay between these notions with the idea, or rather the problematic, of co-ordination. This requires some element of agreement of course but the question becomes not one of unity but of working out the minimum amount of agreement necessary in order to organise and act together whilst maintaining a route via which diverse experiences of the world can directly impact upon the way that our struggles develop. That way keeping them hydrated and agile, preventing the sediment of immovable ideas and practices associated with early-onset dogmatism.
Value and Wealth
Value and wealth are frequently treated as synonymous. But there is more to wealth than value and there is frequently less to value than wealth. So it’s useful to distinguish the two. When people talk about value or creating value, they almost always mean economic value. That is: value that takes the form of a commodity; value that can be measured in pounds, euros or dollars; value that is captured, added up into a single number and distributed as profits, rent or wages; value that contributes to economic growth. Often such value does contribute to our wealth and our well-being. Think of a tasty loaf of bread you’ve bought from the bakery or the supermarket, a nice pair of shoes you’ve purchased, a ticket for a great play at the theatre.
But much wealth – many of the things that contribute to happy and fulfilling lives – takes a form other than (economic) value, or commodities. Most of us feel wealthy if we get to pass time with our kids (and our friends’ kids). Wealth is having the time to prepare a meal for friends and then enjoy it with them. It’s watching some ‘amateur’ actors perform ‘for free’ – or being one of those actors. It’s a homemade gift. None of these activities are captured in that most important measure of value, Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
At the same time, much value, many of those items that are captured in GDP, actually make us less wealthy. They are a form of ‘illth’ (a term coined by the 19th century thinker John Ruskin). Think of tasteless, adulterated bread or the output of the arms and ‘security’ industry.
The relationship between value, on the one hand, and wealth and illth, on the other, isn’t straightforward. If we work longer hours, we may create more economic value (and our wages allow us to purchase more commodities – i.e. capture more social wealth). But we then get to pass less time with friends, families, chatting with neighbours. Working longer hours also means we’re more likely to get stressed or sick – perhaps dealing with that by spending money (if we’re able) on alcohol, medicines, holidays, all of which contribute to GDP. To take another example, a polluting factory (pollution is clearly illth) may nevertheless produce some ‘good’ that is not only an economic value but also contributes to wealth.
The way we navigate this complicated, non-straightforward relationship between wealth and value (singular) is determined by our values (plural). As is what we regard as wealth – unlike value, a multi-dimensional concept. (We need sufficient, good-quality food. And we need clothing and shelter. And we need time with our friends. And we need ‘culture’… And… And…) What do we value (verb)? Lots of commodities, even if this means working long hours? Passing time with our kids and our friends? Clean air? The ability to travel across Europe in a few hours? The ‘security’ provided by border guards and a well-armed police force? Our values also inform our politics. So thinking about wealth and value, and understanding the tension and even antagonism between them takes us to the heart of politics.
1. Labour time disciplined by the wage relation
- i) The sole survival strategy available under the current relations of production
- ii) A historical necessity rendered increasingly obsolete by technological progress in the means of production
- iii) A moral imperative which is a condition of inclusion into society
- iv) A mode of discipline which produces docility-utility in a population
2. The care, healthcare and education labour time necessary for the social reproduction of any population and (therefore) the continued survival of both capitalism and humans. Almost always feminised, usually unwaged and increasingly commodified
- i) The conditions of possibility of wage labour (1.)
3. A form of life / species being / purpose / fulfilment
- i) The scandalous negation of the above