The Long Road to Quietism
The Long Road to Quietism
I have, for a good while now, held a decidedly non-critical belief in the benefit of what is known as “full automation” – the point in time where we, as a species, have harnessed the technological abilities possible to shift the way we produce the necessities of life. Full automation, when looked at this way, should free up the greater body of people from banal, monotonous labour, as well as getting us to a place where production volume has reached its maximal height. We’ve already seen some of this – the Industrial Revolution has allowed the species to bootstrap ourselves out of the bad old days of the Dark Ages, while also endowing us with material wealth previously undreamt of. Or, at least for some.
These early days of the 21st century, with untold technological prowess at our command, we’ve more, at least numerically, disenfranchised, enslaved, and desperately poor people than ever in our 200,000 year history. And arguments could be made that they are, at the same time, more fundamentally destitute than ever before, as well. It could be otherwise, at least in theory. But, given merely a change in the level of applied technology, removing from the necessary workforce perhaps, at a rough estimate, 95% of the population, why would we not see a continuation of this trend?
Full automation, keeping the same societal dynamics as present, would not prove to be an emancipatory agent. We would have wealth without need of work, we would have more than enough to go ‘round. And yet, do we not already approach that? And look around, misery everywhere the eye alights. The logical result of full automation is not some halcyon existence for all, no, it would be the addition of billions to the ranks of the unnecessary. Not even required for the reserve-labour army, these billions would be excess in every meaning of the term.
So, the problem is not one of technique, but of approach. And yet. These days mark a low ebb for the Labour movement: the class consciousness of yesteryear is on the wane, previous tools to fight for a better world – labour unions, mass strikes – prove either corrupted or altogether useless. What is to be done?
Is it really worth-while to try to unionise in the workplace, knowing that unions nowadays invariably prove to be mediators for workers conduct, rather than vehicles for agitation and progress? Is it worthwhile to “build the party,” knowing that the working classes take no interest in mass political struggles? It is true, gains are made, every once-in-a-while. A working wage here, a factory kept open there. But, systematically, the tide is against us. And we don’t have the tools or perspectives to turn it.
I’ve been wary, for a long time, of the “scientific” application of Marxist theory, that holdover of Hegelian idealism that dictates that things will happen, for such-and-such reasons. It’s likely that Capitalism, as a system, will be brought down by its own internal contradictions. But then again, it might outlive us, as a society – we’re running up against a hard wall here with massive environmental degradation. I don’t know what to do, in light of that.
I harbour fears that the whole heap, it’s just too complicated for us to grasp. I know that not all of Marxism, as a set system, can simply be laid out on top of the world in the expectation that reality will conform to it – and very few people, except perhaps certain tankies, actually believe that that would work anyways. But my fears run deeper than that. I don’t know that we’ll ever have a system complex enough to understand the whole thing, despite our best efforts, and certainly not in time for what’s coming.
In light of this, what’s the most appropriate behaviour? Should I just sit, and wait, and read, like so many of the Leftcom advocate, watching for a shift in the material structure? Should I instead shore up what walls I can, building for the storm? I don’t reckon I’ll stop reading, and, despite Bordiga’s injunction against activism qua action, I don’t think I’ll break off political struggle. Maybe it’s for the best that I do so, though, with eyes open to the bleakness of the situation. So. No Quietism today. There’s still tomorrow for that.