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Labour Moves:
A Critique of the Concept of Social Movement Unionism


The labour movement, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is facing an uncertain future. As a result of the disintegration of soviet communism and the worldwide restructuring of capitalist work the organised working class appears to have lost its pre-eminent position as the progressive agent of social transformation. This situation has led to a crisis not only within conventional trade unionism, but also with regard to how the concept and reality of labour as a progressive social force is understood. In response to this crisis an attempt to construct a new political framework for the labour movement has emerged from the practical experience of struggles and an intellectual project to make sense of it all. While this new framework is written against the suggestion that the category of labour is anachronistic and outmoded and has been replaced by other new social movements (Hirsch, 1988; Offe, 1985; Touraine, 1981); there is a recognition that, in order to preserve the progressive credentials of labour in a world where social conflict has escaped the factory, there needs to be the construction of a new socialist theory that amounts to nothing less than a new societal paradigm between socialism and new social movements and their theorists (Adkin, 1999: 190). In response to this appeal there has been the attempt to reinstate labour and trade unionism as a progressive social force through the concept of social movement unionism or new social unionism. The purpose of this chapter is to examine this new approach within the terms with which it justifies itself. As the social movement unionism studied in this chapter claims Marxist credentials I will construct my response from out of Marxist social theory. I will argue that the intellectual project of social movement unionism and the formulation of the labour movement on which it is based is too static and one-dimensional and, as such, does not provide the basis for a new socialist paradigm.

The interpretation of society out of which social movement theory is derived is antithetical to a Marxist exposition of labour. Following Marx's writing and recent critical developments on this matter (Bonefeld, 1995; Cleaver, in this book; Dinerstein, 1997; Holloway, 1995; Negri, 1989; Postone, 1993; Taylor, in this book) I will construct the basis for my own paradigm for labour based not on the concept of the labour movement; but, rather, on the way in which labour moves. I will illustrate and support this theoretical exposition with reference to the historical development of the South Korean labour movement and its current predicament, which I will set alongside new forms of protest that are occurring elsewhere. I will suggest that these new forms of struggle are neither new social movements nor traditional forms of organised labour but may be, in fact, the basis for a new life of struggle against the logic of capitalist work.

The positive appraisal of social movement unionism or labour as a new social movement is exemplified in the work of Kelly (1998), Moody (1999) and Waterman (1999). Although this work represents different degrees of enthusiasm for the social movement project and has different approaches to the issue, each share a commitment to the reinvention of the labour movement by taking up progressive social ideas and attaching themselves to a transformatory project that has developed alongside the labour movement. In what follows I shall review each of these positions as well as a critical review written from the standpoint of labour by Ellen Meiksins Wood (1986). I shall argue that despite the positive way in which labour is affirmed these appeals for and against the connection between the labour and new social movements are not able to construct a new paradigm for the dynamic and modern ways in which labour now moves.

Rethinking Labour Relations

John Kelly's avowed aim is to dismiss suggestions that the labour movement is in crisis or that the labour movement is being superseded by new social movements, the ‘newness' of which he calls into question; nor is he prepared to give any credibility to the post-modernist theory on which much of it is based. For Kelly post-modernism amounts to:

…philosophical relativism; an incoherent attack on meta-narratives; a view of the decline of mass production that does not accord with the evidence…a unitarist fantasy…[that]…owes more to caricature and assertion than evidence…[with]…claims about the decline of the labour movement that take no account of historical precedent and assertions about the end of class politics based on superficial and incoherent categories (Kelly, 1998: 125).

However, he worries that there is a problem with the way in which industrial relations theory formulates its investigation of labour. Kelly wants to enliven the study of industrial relations, which he claims has become bogged down by a lack of ambition, as evidenced by the predominance of ‘middle range theories', resulting in preoccupations with descriptions of the labour process, the institutions of work-based practices and policy matters:

Consequently we have made limited progress in tackling what I regard as the central problems in industrial relations. We don't know whether workers are less collectivist and more individualist in orientation and we don't know how to conceptualise their interests in order to answer the question. Power has rarely been conceptualised by industrial writers and the concept tends to be used in a purely commonsensical way without definition or explication (Kelly, 1998: 23).

He wants to do this by encouraging industrial relations to be more theoretically self-conscious and to form a closer attachment to the social theory of Karl Marx. While Kelly does not attribute any new significance to the empirical existence of ‘new' social movements, he is interested in the Marxian inspired mobilisation theory (Tilly, 1978) that has been developed out of studies into new social movements. Kelly wants to use this theory, based on social movements, to deny that social movements have in fact overwhelmed the labour movement:

Mobilization theory…is firmly anchored in Marxist accounts of the employment relationship as an unequal and exploitative exchange and is thus well protected against the zeitgeist of ‘human resource management' and labour-management cooperation. At the same time it provides a framework of well-developed concepts that has significantly increased our understanding of a wide range of social movements and whose application to industrial relations could prove invaluable (Kelly, 1998: 132).

Other more specific and important aspects of mobilisation theory include, he argues, the way in which it questions how individuals are transformed into social actors and are willing to sustain collective action, or not. It focuses attention away from the narrow field of bargaining structures and other workplace institutions towards the processes and social relations of power within industrial relations as well as providing a structural framework through which these processes and relations can be observed. The starting point for mobilisation theory is injustice and the way in which workers define and respond to it:

Workers in capitalist societies find themselves in relations of exploitation and domination in which many of their most significant interests conflict with those of their employer. The individuals need to be in paid employment and hence for economies to operate at full employment conflicts with the capitalist requirements for periodic job-destructive reorganisation and for a labour surplus…From the vantage point of mobilisation theory it is the perception of, and response to, injustice that should form the core intellectual agenda for industrial relations (Kelly, 1998: 126).

Kelly then wants to connect mobilisation theory with the well established long wave theory, i.e. Kondrattieff's waves:

Long wave theory is anchored in Marxist analysis of the capitalist employment relationship and therefore emphasises the conflicts between labour and capital deriving from the latter's exploitation and domination of the former.…The theory's chief strength lies in the analysis of historical and international shifts in the formation of workers' organisations, in worker-employer relations and in worker mobilisation (Kelly, 1998: 105).

Kelly argues that the movement of labour follows predictable patterns that are closely associated with the rhythms of the capitalist economy. The power of labour rises as a result of upswings in the economic cycle and is reduced in the downswing when workers' organisation may be attacked during a period of counter-mobilisation by the employers and the state. According to the evidence he has collected and the current  position of the economic cycle, the classical labour movement is on the threshold of resurgence.

New Social Unionism: Responding to the New Technological

Waterman wants to abandon social movement unionism – which even in its most successful form in Brazil and South Africa is ‘struggling to come to terms with at least semi-liberal democracy' (Waterman, 1999: 248) and to replace it with the concept and reality of new social unionism. He maintains that new social unionism is more in tune with the contemporary world:

This is a world increasingly marked by the dramatic expansion and equally dramatic transformations of capitalist, military, state, imperial, technical and patriarchal forms of power. It is consequently marked by the appearance of what I will call the new alternative social movements...alongside such old ones as those of traditional religion, nation and labour (Waterman, 1999: 247).

Based on the already established traditions of the labour movement, for whom he and others (Melucci, 1989) claim social progress was always a wider ambition than narrowly defined work-based goals, and within the more general Marxist interpretation of movement as: ‘the real movement that abolishes the present state of things', Waterman argues that the organisational framework offered by new social unionism is more appropriate for a globalised world in which, as the result of the new technological revolution within capitalism, the centrality of the capital–labour relation has been reduced and work is no longer the substance of identity:

This is currently the leading edge of capitalism, making both possible and necessary (for capitalists) the worldwide destruction, restructuring and division of the labour force, labour processes, forms of ownership, coordination, and control. A geographically concentrated and socially homogeneous industrial working class of semi-skilled factory labourers is being increasingly replaced by socially diverse and geographically dispersed labour forces – homeworkers, part-timers, sub-contractees, in towns, villages and distant countries (Waterman, 1999: 249).

However, while these revolutionary changes – e.g. the international restructuring of the division of labour – have fragmented worker's national organisations and have made capital more resilient, this revolution has also, paradoxically, made capital more vulnerable to non-class alliances and a range of different antagonisms. While the centrality of the capital relation is reduced, the significance and scale of contradictions founded on fundamental issues (peace, a clean environment, gender awareness) that are the basis for any humane society have increased. Waterman sees an opportunity for the labour movement to become involved in these issues and at the same time ‘broaden the appeal of unionism and increase the number of their allies' (Waterman, 1999: 250).

Waterman maintains that the motivation for political action has been detached from a Marxist economic reductionism and has, in fact, been inverted; economic conflict is now determined by political struggle based on the articulation of a range of different needs organised around democratic and popular demands. Following Gorz (1999) and Melucci (1989), Waterman argues that conflict, including the struggle over the liberation from work, has broadened out of economics and politics to society as a whole and across nation-states. In the face of this, worker-based movements face marginalisation unless they recognise the significance of new alternative social movements and their progressive forms of organisation, especially participatory democracy:

The terrain of struggle increasingly spreads from ‘economics' and ‘politics' to ‘society' as a whole, and equally shifts from the national level both downwards to the local and upwards to the global. Conventional labour movements – left, right and centre – typically prioritise ‘economic struggle' (against capital) or ‘political struggle' (against the state), or varying combinations of the one and the other…This made sense in the period of the capitalist nation-state or of ‘nation-state dependent' capitalism. But the new or revived notion of ‘civil society' indicates another terrain of struggle – that of popular self-organisation outside, or independent of, the capitalist state (Waterman, 1999: 251).

Waterman argues that this project ‘is realisable only by the articulation of the autonomous demands of different types of workers, of the working class and other "working classes", of class and democratic and popular demands' (Waterman, 1999: 252). And all of this based within a new understanding of internationalism which Waterman conceives as ‘a movement from labour and socialist internationalism to a “new global solidarity”' (Waterman, 1999: 254).

Despite his enthusiasm for new social unionism Waterman has no fixed idea of what exact form new social unions should take. Instead he presents a long list of, as he readily admits, under-theorised propositions based on an opposition to one-dimensional Leninist view of working class politics, the experience of trade unions and new alternative social movements. This list includes the necessity for struggleforbetter work conditions in dialogue with affected communities; more democracy and better distribution of products, and a greater articulationwith non-union, democratic and pluralist, progressive political movements based around flexible, innovative, open and non-authoritarian organisational forms.What is required is

the presence of a new alternative social movement within the unions – differing from the role of the old socialist party in being non-vanguardist, non-sectarian, non-bureaucratic...and in itself proposing or addressing a plurality of worker interests and identities! (Waterman, 1999: 262, author's emphasis).

Working Class Warriors

Kim Moody provides a much more compelling account of the return of heroic resistance by the worldwide labour movement: ‘working class warriors' in the 1990s. And not only compelling, but also, unusually, an optimistic assessment of working class resistance, by examining

the roots and structures of globalisation, their impact on the working classes of different parts of the world, and the most recent working class responses to the lean regimes in the workplace, the global jobs crisis, government-imposed austerity, and the general decline in working class living standards around the world. If any picture of the globalisation process necessarily involves some overwhelming ‘gloom and doom' analysis, it is the return of class con-frontation in recent years that offers the hope (Moody, 1999: 4).

Moody seeks to rescue socialism and trade unionism from its current wretched lack of self-regard and critical currents exemplified by post-modernism which claims changes in the process of production, following the international division of labour, have fragmented and diluted the labour movement. Moody wants to rescue the labour movement through the concept and reality of social movement unionism, a term he borrows from the labour movements of South Africa, Brazil and elsewhere in the Third World:

Social movement unionism is…deeply democratic, as that is the best way to mobilise the strength of numbers in order to apply maximum economic leverage. It is militant in collective bargaining in the belief that retreat anywhere only leads to more retreats.…It seeks to craft bargaining demands that create more jobs and aid the whole class. It fights for power and organisation in the workplace or on the job in the realisation that it is there that the greatest leverage exists, when properly applied. It is political by acting independently of the retreating parties of liberalism and social democracy, whatever the relations of the union with such parties. It multiplies its political and social power by reaching out to other sectors of the class, be they unions, neighbourhood-based organisations, or other social movements. It fights for all the oppressed and enhances its own power by doing so (Moody, 1999: 5).

Moody presents the progressive possibilities for organised labour through an analysis of specific class confrontations in various parts of the world (Canada, France, South Korea, South Africa, and Brazil) as the forces of internationalisation push workers into direct political intervention. The internationalisation of production has created what Moody refers to as ‘production-chains' which act both as an instrument of worker oppression but also, as workers in different parts of the world now have the same employers, it also means that workers have ‘implied or real leverage...over the production chains they work in and hence over their common employer' (Moody, 1999: 79).

Moody argues that the shape of the working class has changed in response to the organisational, geographical and technical changes in capitalism. The dynamic for this process is capitalism itself: ‘Real capitalist competition is the root of both its crisis and its drive to globalisation' (Moody, 1999: 46) and ‘it is the constant clash of Transnational Corporations, driven by their need to accumulate, that gives rise to the crisis that has driven globalisation, in fits and starts, itself' (Moody, 1999: 49). These changes, characterised by the notion of ‘lean production', have brought barriers to working class action, e.g. passivity, borne out of fear of mass unemployment, but also make the class confront those barriers. The pressures of globalisation have produced an explosive rebellion within the industrialised regions of the South which are bolstering the weakened movement in the North:

The shape of the working class in all corners of the world has changed as capitalism itself has altered its geographical, organisational and technological contours. As old structures of the working class are altered, however, new ones arise. Yet, far from dispersing workers in some random fashion, capital has brought more workers into more extensive production systems, themselves controlled by the largest units of capital. As in the past the working class seeks out ways to overcome the new divisions of labour as well as new cultural divisions within its ranks. The paralysis of much of the working class in the developed nations is not simply a function of these changes. Like the changes themselves, the apparent passivity of the organised working class for so long is also linked to enormous transformations in the industries and economies in which people work. These are not permanent states of being, but constant transitions. These trends are part of the inherent instability of the system and its constant need to change and degrade work and society in ways that subordinate the majority to the will of that tiny minority that controls global capital. The great irony of this constant need to change things in favour of capital's insatiable needs is that it brings not only barriers to working class action, but forces that make the class confront those barriers and seek new channels of resistance and rebellion (Moody, 1999: 178–179).

Reaching beyond traditional notions of organised unionism, social movement unionism asserts the centrality of union democracy as a source of power and broad social vision and outreach as a means of enhancing that power. Moody wants to reconnect the damaging split brought about by the dualistic forms of struggle shaped by the real separation of capitalist society into political and economic levels of struggle with a movement of class struggle that is more broadly associated with social issues that confront the working class, as exemplified by the ecological problem:

In social movement unionism neither the unions nor their members are passive in any sense. Unions take an active lead in the streets, as well as in politics. They ally with other social movements, but provide a class vision and content that make for stronger glue than that which usually holds electoral or temporary coalitions together. The content is not simply the demands of the movements, but the activation of the mass of union members as the leaders of the charge – those who in most cases have the greatest social and economic leverage in capitalist society. Social movement unionism implies an active strategic orientation that uses the strongest of society's oppressed and exploited, generally organised workers, to mobilise those who are less able to sustain self-mobilisation: the poor, the unemployed, the casualised workers, the neighbourhood committees (Moody, 1999: 276).

For Moody, the strength of social movement unionism is that it uses the strongest of those being exploited, generally organised workers, to mobilise those who are unable to sustain class action; and union demands are organised in such a way as to have a positive effect based on a broader social agenda than just the wage. Social movement unionism recognises the new industrial working class is only part of a larger class movement for whom conditions have become intolerable. It reaches outside the workplace, is deeply democratic, militant, internationalist and political and is based on rank and file activists rather than official union structures. By reaching out to other sectors of the working class it can only increase its own social power and the social power of the oppressed through its struggles to fill a political vacuum created by the retreats of the old parties of the left. In this way, unions put themselves at the head of a broader international movement of the working class. Or in other words: ‘harmonising the demands of the union with the demands of the broader needs of the class' (Moody, 1999: 278).

The Dangers of Class Alliances

Ellen Meiksins Wood points out the dangers of the labour movement associating itself too closely with new social movements and with the kind of theorising on which they are based. For Wood ‘Class struggle is the nucleus of Marxism' (Wood, 1988: 12) and, therefore,

To displace the working class from its position in the struggle for socialism is to make a gross strategic error…[and while]…many people have challenged the revolutionary potential of the working class and offered other revolutionary agents in its place: students, women, practitioners of various alternative ‘life styles'...and…more recently the ‘new social movements'…none of these alternatives have been supported by a systematic reassessment of the social forces that constitute capitalism and its critical strategic targets (Wood, 1988: 15).

By writing an intellectual history, beginning around the 1970s, of the development of the theoretical basis for new social movements, a programme she refers to as ‘new “true” socialism', Wood attempts to expose the dichotomy between new social movement theories and Marxist materialism. Her main point is that while new social movements have drawn attention to the problems of socialist theorising after 1968 and the various issues not adequately addressed by organised labour they have, in contradistinction to Marxism, sought to effect a ‘cultural revolution' (Wood, 1988: 22) in socialist thought by rejecting the working class as the agents of social change. She identifies this theoretical programme by which social relations are discursively or hegemonically dematerialised with the drift towards post-Marxist and post-structuralist tendencies for which the groundwork was laid firstly by Louis Althusser, whose work, she argues, was disabled by an ‘obsessive methodologism' (Wood, 1988: 18) and an incoherent attempt ‘to combine political practice, especially revolutionary practice, with a theory that acknowledges no subjects in history'(Wood, 1988: 19); secondly, by Nicos Poulantzas who, she suggests, ‘displaced the relations of production and exploitation from their central position in the theory of the state by establishing the “dominance of the political”.…The immediate effect is to transform class struggle into – or rather, replace it with – a political confrontation between the power bloc organised by the state and the popular alliance…[and in which]…class struggle remains as a "structural flaw"…rather than an active practice' (Wood, 1988: 33–34); thirdly by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe who ‘set out to undermine the very foundation of the Marxist view that the working class will be the agent of socialist transformation, and to replace it with a political project whose object is radical democracy and whose subject is a popular alliance constituted not by relations of class, nor indeed any determinate social relations, but rather by discourse' (Wood, 1988: 54); and finally by André Gorz whose ‘Farewell to the Working Class' (1982) provides us with an ‘inverted technologicalism, a fetishism of the labour-process and a tendency to find the essence of the mode of production in the technical process of work rather than in the relations of production, the specific mode of exploitation' (Wood, 1988: 16) in what amounts to a ‘utopian…vision ultimately grounded in despair' (Wood, 1988: 17).

By rejecting the orthodox essentialism based on the economism and class reductionism of Marxism she reminds us that new social movements have virtually excised class struggle from the socialist project; indeed, workers by their very attachment to material interests are portrayed as reactionary and conservative (Gorz, 1982). As there is no necessary correspondence between economics and politics in the new social movement project, the working class can have no privileged position in the struggle for socialism. The conflicts of 1968 revealed that in a complex society where struggle has developed outside the factory the relations of production and exploitation appear as if they no longer constitute the central basis for struggle: the centrality of economic relations has been displaced by the dominance of the political and ideological factors. Instead a socialist movement based on various mass populist/cultural demands of the people and alliances has emerged based on a pluralistic version of subjectivity rather than the unified subject of orthodox Marxism. The new social movement politics of difference can be created by ideological and political means based on universal human demands, ethical goals, rational principles through a ‘radical' democratisation of the capitalist state for the achievement of political power rather than revolutionary transformation.

Through her critique, Ellen Meiksins Wood attempts to show that there is no substance to the social world of new social movements. In the world of new social movements discourse and ideology dissolve politics and determinate social relations based on the direct opposition between capital and labour; all social interests and identities are politically negotiable. The working class disappears into a discursively plural constructed subject. The capital–labour relation is no longer the fundamental relationship on which society is constructed and, therefore, the working class, whose economic demands now need to be translated politically if they are to be successful, has no more interest in the abolition of exploitation than anyone else: class is only one collective identity among many. In this situation there is no appeal to either logic or history, indeed both are dissolved in a confusion of juxtapositions, conjectures, articulations and absolute contingencies within which she argues, the socialist project disappears. The project outlined by new social movements is merely the completion of capitalism through the expansion of formal democratisation. The transition from capitalism to socialism has been transformed into a relatively non-antagonistic process of institutional reform.

Wood attempts to restore the connection between the working class and real social objectives identified not simply as some abstract moral good but a concrete political programme against capitalist structures of power. She is uncompromising. Socialism, she maintains, takes the form of a concrete project with identifiable targets and agencies – yet one, which is at the same time capable of connecting with the general interest, but only in so far as it is embodied in the interests and struggles of the working class. This connection is made through the ‘organic relation between the "economy" and other social "spheres"' (Wood, 1988: 59).

For Wood, no other social movement has seriously challenged or is able to challenge the power of capital; only the working class as ‘a class which contains the possibility of a classless society because its own interests cannot be fully served without the abolition of class and because its strategic location in the production of capital gives it a unique capability to destroy capitalism' (Wood, 1988:187). By virtue of its role in production and exploitation, workers share interests, which coincide with the interest of socialism: the classless administration of production by the direct producers themselves. As workers create value, then workers are in a crucial position to destroy capital. The collective labourer of advanced capitalism will be the direct producer of the socialist order in a socialist democracy that will be constituted by the self-organisation of freely associated producers.

While Wood is prepared to concede that new social movements do stretch politics beyond immediate class interests: ‘the ‘new social movements' have drawn attention to various issues inadequately addressed by organised labour' (Wood, 1988: 10) and that, therefore, there is a place for coalitions and alliances outside of class arrangements, she is adamant that it is a mistake to imagine that new social movements take us beyond class politics. It is vital, she argues, that the interests of the collective labourer must remain the guiding thread of any political movement for the construction of socialism:

If the objective of socialism is the abolition of class, for whom is this likely to be a real objective, grounded in their own life-situation, and not simply an abstract good? If not those who are directly subject to capitalist exploitation, which are likely to have an interest in the abolition of capitalist exploitation? Who is likely to have the social capacity to achieve it, if not those who are strategically placed at the heart of capitalist production and exploitation? (Wood, 1988: 91)

While she admits that the moral force of new social movements is ‘unquestionable' (Wood, 1988: 176) and an engagement with new social movements may generate new forms of organisation and new aspirations, the weakness of new social movement politics is that their appeal depends ‘upon abstracting the issues of peace and ecology from the prevailing social order and conflicting social interests that comprise it' (Wood, 1988: 176). Wood concedes socialism must broaden its conception of human liberation and the quality of life, but there should be no break between workers' struggles and socialism and the recognition that the principle barrier to human emancipation is the capitalist system:

There is no question that the socialist movement will have to find new forms of working class organisation and new ways of incorporating the emancipatory aspirations expressed by the ‘new social movements'…But the first principle of socialist organisation must remain the essential correspondence between working class interests and socialist politics. Unless class politics becomes the unifying force that binds together all emancipatory struggles, the ‘new social movements' will remain on the margins of the existing social order, at best able to generate periodic and momentary displays of popular support but destined to leave the capitalist order intact, together with all its defences against human emancipation and the realisation of ‘universal human goods' (Wood, 1988: 199).

For Wood, then, socialism can draw on other constituencies, but it must be conceived and organised as an instrument of class struggle whose first concern must be to serve the class interest and forge the class unity of the working class.

The Problem of Labour

What is significant about these accounts of the labour movement, including Wood's critical review, is the recognition that struggle has moved outside the factory and now occurs at the level of society. This realisation of the significance of the level of society as a site for class struggle together with the recognition of the importance of both historical and internationalist perspectives when analysing the labour movement and the commitment to rigorous research methodologies, provide the accounts so far examined with a certain radical credibility. Also Wood does well to remind social movement unionists of the dangers associated with an uncritical accommodation with the theoretical basis of new social movement politics, although her attachment to the labour movement means that she is unable to grant social movements any real theoretical or practical significance. However, what is most surpassing about all of the work so far considered is that they are, in fact, all disabled by their inability to provide a theoretical-practical account for the link between the factory and society. Although Wood makes some theoretical attempt to connect working class and new social movement politics, she is reduced to providing an undertheorised link: what she calls the ‘organic connection' between the relations of exploitation that constitute the economic sphere play themselves out in ‘other social domains and in the arena of politics' (Wood, 1988: 59). Nor, curiously enough, and despite the labourist nature of their protestations, are they able to locate labour centrally as the dominant force in the process of progressive social transformation. For John Kelly workers respond to the rhythm of capitalist development, for Kim Moody what matters is how labour responds to change and for Peter Waterman labour is transformed not by its own efforts but by a revolution in capitalist technology to which labour is forced to accommodate itself.

The reason for this disability is the way in which they all theorise the capital relation. In Waterman's account the capital/labour relation is no longer of central importance. For Kelly and Moody, while labour has a history and geography, the origin of its social nature is presupposed as an unproblematic axiom. Labour is simply a formal proposition described as an abstract collective of individuals whose social existence had been perverted by capitalism, presented as an aberrant and abhorrent economic arrangement. There would not be much wrong with this, it accords with much of what passes for traditional Marxism, if it were not for the fact that this kind of radical political economy and political philosophy was exactly what Marx was setting himself against in his critique of political economy (Clarke, 1981; Postone, 1993). This unwillingness to consider the form of labour is most serious for the work of Wood. She sets herself up as a materialist critique of social movement theory from the standpoint of labour in contradistinction to the ideological and discursive arguments of ‘new “true” socialism'. However, as she is unwilling to consider the substantive nature of labour, her brand of materialism amounts to nothing more than a dogmatic assertion of the significance of labour and is, therefore, no less discursive and/or ideological than the work she claims to be writing against. As we will see in the next section, an investigation of the constitution of capitalist work should involve an analysis of the dual form of labour. Wood does acknowledge the importance of the duality but situates it not within labour but within what she refers to as

the ‘two-fold' character of capitalist production, in which the production of use-values is inseparable from the production of surplus-value; about how this ‘two-fold' character distorts the organisation of production, which must at the same time serve as an organisation of antagonistic relations of exploitation; about the ways in which the organisation of production is shaped by capital's need for control in conditions of class antagonism and workers' resistance (Wood, 1988: 58).

The result is that labour as an object of intellectual enquiry disappears in a one-dimensional and undertheorised account of the way in which workers' interests conflict with capitalist imperatives. The basis for this lack of dimensionality is that for Wood labour is already ‘ready-made'. In what follows I shall underline the limits of this lack of dimensionality, i.e. the political problems confronted by the ‘ready-madeness' of labour by attempting to deepen Karl Marx's formulations concerning the substantial nature of labour. I will do this by demonstrating Marx's concern not simply with the descriptive and formalist movement of labour but the more fundamental problem of the way in which labour moves.

Labour Moves

Marx's claim to more fundamental theoretical and practical significance is that he deals not only with distributive irregularities, technical deficiencies and metaphysical subtleties through which labour is forced to exist, but also with the expansive social substance out of which the phenomena of labour is derived. What distinguishes Marx from political economy and political philosophy is precisely the way in which he problematises bourgeois social categories including, and most especially, the category of labour. The form that labour takes is regarded by Marx as his most significant contribution to social theory (Capital, I: 132); and yet has been almost completely ignored by generations of Marxicologists. Marx points out that

Although labour appears to be a simple category…Nevertheless when it is economically conceived in this simplicity, ‘labour' is as modern a category as are the relations which create this simple category…Indifference toward any specific kind of labour, presupposes a very developed totality of real kinds of labour, of which no single one is any longer predominant (Grundrisse: 103).

Marx is clearly signalling that his investigation into the modern category of labour is not based on a critique of capital from the perspective of labour, the position adopted by traditional Marxism and the standpoint that informs the work of Kelly, Moody, Waterman and Wood; but is, rather, an exposition of the very developed totality of relations, which create this apparently ‘simple category'. The main point of this chapter is that Marx's analysis of capitalist society is much more than a critique from the standpoint of labour, and that in Capital and the Grundrisse Marx provides the framework for a critique of labour in capitalism within which the peculiar nature of labour is the object of the critique and not the merely the subject of his analysis (Postone, 1993: 5–6). Marx develops this exposition of the ‘very developed totality' through a value theory of labour rather than a labour theory of value (Elson, 1979). In his exposition of capitalist social relations value is not merely an economic category, but is the social substance out of which capitalist society is derived: the social matter for analysing the way in which human activities are incorporated as capitalist work. Value is not an empty, inert, neutral space but is the matter and the anti-matter of Marx's social universe (Neary 2002).

It is, of course, the case that Marx often presents labour in the metaphysical terms taken up by traditional Marxism. He is aware of his idealistic tendencies and apologises for this defect in his presentation (Grundrisse: 15). There are also times when Marx's sophisticated theoretical ingenuity is toned down in order that the propagandist aspect of his work is not undermined (Dinerstein and Neary, 1998). But, more significantly, for our contemporary/post-modern world capitalistic production at the end of the nineteenthcentury had not yet intensified to the extent that Marx outlined in his social theory. Marx was theorising a social world that had not yet completely constituted itself. The significance of this version of Marx is that it does not confuse his fundamental analysis of capital with the nineteenth century forms through which he is writing (Postone, 1993). It is only in the twentieth century that Marx's social universe has become a reality (Negri, 1989: 89). It is the responsibility of Marxist intellectuals to write Marx through the dynamic forms that constitute the twenty-first century and not to condemn Marx to the ossified nineteenth century categories through which he, himself, existed. This writing through Marx means a critical reading of Marx and Marxism through Marx, pushing it up to and beyond its own apparent limits.

Marx's radicality is not founded simply on the categorical recognition he gives to workers' movements; but, rather, in his exposition of the social processes out of which unreconcilable antagonisms are derived. To understand the labour movement as the movement of labour is to regard labour as an empty formality and to concentrate on the fetished form of labour rather than the process out of which labour-power is derived. The political problem with accounts based on the movement of labour, understood as ‘a simple category', is that labour is denied the motive power necessary for its own regeneration (Nicolaus, 1972: 31–32). With no intrinsic dynamic the motivation for labour has then to be artificially invented as an extraneous social agency: in the form of the vanguard party (Lenin) or the spontaneous realisation of its metaphysical real nature (Luxemburg) or by privileging particular organisational forms, hence the attention paid to new social movements.

Marx grounds his more substantial analysis of the social relations of capital through an exposition of the contradictory nature of the commodity-form and the expansive capacity of the commodity labour-power. In Marx's social universe the commodity exists as an unstable, non-identical and, therefore, dynamic unity whose concrete particularity (use-value) is subsumed by its existence as value-in-motion: capital, the substance of which is abstract labour. The contradiction in capitalist society is not based on the relation between labour and some other extraneous social reality, but through the forms in which human social practice is forced to exist: as concrete and abstract labour. This contradictory inner-connection between this dual existence of labour provides the dynamic tension through which labour moves. In a condition of generalised commodity-labour the dynamic motion of labour is motivated by its own contradictory abstract-concrete logic. Labour then cannot be a simple category, but a process in whose various moments it is always capital and within which the movement of labour is mediated and vanishes in its own result, leaving no trace behind (Capital, I: 187).

From this account labour loses its rigidity as a one-dimensional tan­gible thing to become the real expression of a contradictory social process: a real abstraction. As a real abstraction labour moves through the contradiction that constitutes its social existence motivated by its own expansionary logic: the production of surplus-value. Labour appears as the immediate unity of the contradiction through which human life is forced to exist and as such is the limit or barrier to progressive social transformation. But the logic of the contradiction is that the dual-nature of labour is not sustainable and as a result cannot be contained:

We have seen, too, how this contradiction bursts forth without restraint in the ceaseless human sacrifices required from the working class, in the reckless squandering of labour-powers, and in the devastating effects of social anarchy (Capital, I: 618).

In this condition, the contours of the ‘very developed totality' are obscured as the general interest. The law of nature has been replaced by the law of abstraction: value-in-motion. In this arrangement human practice is given social validity only to the extent that it contributes, in the form of abstract labour, to the total expansion of value: ‘the very developed totality'. It follows that labour has no independent existence outside the existence of the capital relation; hence the ‘indifference to any specific kind of labour'. As a form of value ‘labour is something immaterial, something indifferent to its material consistency…which has nothing corporeal about it' (Grundrisse: 309). Value is then much more than an accounting device through which the rate of exploitation can be quantified and is, in fact, a determinate form of social relations, the basic structuring principle of society and the substantive nature of human life: ‘a very developed totality of real kinds of labour, of which no single one is any longer predominant'. It is not the case that Marx offers a one-dimensional version of capitalist exploitation within which ‘surplus-value is pumped out of workers'; but, more fundamentally, that  forms of human activity are now constituted by the logic of capitalist work:

It is precisely as value-creating that living labour is continually being absorbed into the valorisation process of objectified labour…the worker's labour becomes one of the modes of existence of capital' (Capital, I: 988).

Value is then a multi-dimensional matrix within which labour is not the antithesis of capital; but is, rather, the substance of capitalist social relations. All aspects of human sociability are really subsumed by the logic of capitalist work (value). The traditional Marxisms reviewed in this chapter are based on an analysis of labour prior to this process of real subsumption, defined by Marx as period of formal subsumption.In this moment, based on the abstraction of absolute surplus-value, the concrete nature of the labour process had not yet been overwhelmed by the process of the production of abstraction (valorisation). It is, therefore, possible for labour to recognise itself as a concrete form of human subjectivity and to organise accordingly. Formal subsumption is a situation within which a variety of different modes of production are subjected to capitalist relations of production, not because the production is organised on capitalist lines but because capitalist production exercises hegemony over society. However, once the process of the production of abstraction has conquered the concrete processes of production, there arrives a moment when the old forms of production, of property and circulation break down, not only are capitalist relations of production hegemonic rather they becomes the most fundamental social process:

…the capitalist form of large scale industry reproduces this same division of labour in a still more monstrous shape in the factory proper, by converting the worker into a living appendage of the machine; and everywhere outside the factory... (Capital, I: 615, author's emphasis).

Pushing this idea further: ‘The entire society becomes one enormous factory, or rather, the factory spreads throughout the whole society. In this situation, production is social and all activities are productive' (Negri, 1989: 204). This means that the expansion of the logic of capitalist work, and the struggle over its imposition, is extended to the level of society. And further, during the moment of real subsumption the contradiction inherent in the commodity-form is intensified and social antagonism is generated not simply at the level of the factory but at the level of society: ‘Capital is not simply a form of class domination but a form of society' (Negri, 1989: 67) ‘a…[very]… developed totality'. And further, class struggle has not come to an end but has been displaced onto a terrain, which pertains to human totality (Negri, 1989: 174). What all of this amounts to is that social domination in capitalism, at the most fundamental level, does not consist one-dimensionally as personal domination but is the ‘domination by the abstract social structures and responsibilities derived out of the logic of capitalist work that constitute capitalist society' (Postone, 1993: 31).

In this sense labour-in-capital is by no means then a ‘simple category', but an abstract social structure whose substance is abstract labour. The result is not simply a transformation in the alienated institutions of capitalist power: money and the state, but in the form of labour or human life itself. Labour exists as the reconstitution or ‘transubstantiation'of human life as capital: ‘wage-labour as such presupposes capital, so that, from its standpoint as well, capital is this transubstantiation, the necessary process of positing its own powers as alien to the worker' (Grundrisse: 308). The commodity labour becomes a ‘a transfiguration of capital that has valorised itself'(Capital, I: 954). As a result of this purely social dynamic process human life becomes‘…the totally developed individual for whom different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn' (Capital, I: 618). Marx is unequivocal about what this involves ‘Through this movement…[the worker] simultaneously changes his own nature' (Capital, I: 283). Human life is reconstituted in a form that is something other than what was previously regarded as human. The worker has become ‘not simply a function, however, subjugated, but a qualitative evolutionary entirety, a change of nature' (Negri, 1989: 82–83). Labour is not simply the negation of capital but is the human form through and against which capitalist work exists. Labour becomes a reconstituted form of this new expansive society that human life creates, but which dominates human sociability.

It is this change of human nature, associated with the process of the production of abstraction (valorisation), which provides the possibility for the conceptualisation of a new socialist paradigm based on the possibility not simply of a new form of work organisation but on a new form of human sociability. While work has been done on the institutional forms in which these abstract social structures take, in particular on the forms of money and the state (Clarke, 1988, 1991; Holloway and Picciotto, 1991), there is very little work on labour as an abstract social structure. This is remarkable given Marx's statement that the abstraction of private life forms the basis for the constitution of the modern alienated forms of capitalist power: ‘...the abstraction of the state as such only belongs to modern times because the abstraction of private life belongs only to modern times. The abstraction of the political state…[and private life]… is a modern product' (Marx: 1934: 32). Work is currently being done on this matter (Bonefeld, 1995; Cleaver, in this book; Dinerstein, 1997; Holloway, 1995; Neary, 1999; Neary and Taylor, 1998; Negri, 1989; Rikowski, 1999). I want to add to this work by using the theoretical exposition discussed in this section to trace the way in which labour moves from a condition of formal to real subsumption by making a real-time connection with a geographically specific dynamic trajectory that is already rendering the concept and reality of new social movement unionism unworkable and anachronistic.

Workers in South Korea: From Formal to Real Subsumption

In various parts of the world social movement unionism appears to have been recuperated by the liberalising tendencies inherent in the formal democratic processes that the movement of labour helped to establish. This, as we have seen, is the conclusion reached by Waterman, providing him with a justification for inventing a new form of unionism (1999: 247). However, the problem for Waterman is that because he is not concerned with the form of labour: the dynamic way in which labour moves, he compounds this recuperatory process further by condemning the category of labour to its reified form. The result is that for Waterman, the only way out of the predicament that the labour movement finds itself in, is through reconciliation with its alleged historical antecedents and contemporary radical movements.

In what follows I will attempt to undermine this notion of recuperation by examining the movement of labour through an exposition of Marx's formulations of formal and real subsumption, using the South Korean labour movement as a real-time illustration of these tendencies. South Korean labour is a dramatic example of the points I am trying to make due to the way in which, during the course of the twentieth century, it has shown the ability to reinvent itself as a new form of critical antagonism in response to the reform and restructuring of Korean capitalist labour processes. Having said that, there is nothing unique about South Korean labour other than the speed at which these events have taken place.

The main point is that, as the project of capitalist development deepens in response to the critical antagonism which it generates, and those critical antagonisms broaden out of the factory to the level of society, the form of labour is also recomposed in ways which challenge the critical responses that were appropriate to its previous manifestation. Labour moves not simply by making strategic alliances with other disparate groups; but, rather, the production of labour as a critical antagonism within capitalist social relations generates appropriate forms of critical resistance in and against not only the obvious instruments of capital, but also its own, i.e. labour's institutional forms.

Since the exposure of the Korean peninsular to the industrialised world the Korean labour movement has shown a particular propensity for radical organisation (Cumings, 1981, 1990, 1997; Hart-Landsberg, 1998). During the Japanese colonisation (1910–1945) and the first phase of the American occupation (1945–1950), the Korean population organised itself into a series of sophisticated democratic people's institutions and leftist resistance movements that led Edwin Pauley, US Ambassador in Korea, to say, in 1946, that ‘Communism in Korea could get off to a better start than practically anywhere else in the world' (Hart-Landsberg, 1998: 175). The period during which Korea was controlled by Japan was marked by rapid industrialisation, characterised by the forced mobilisation of Korea as slave-workers. While the Japanese attempted to japanise Korean society, abolishing aspects of Korean language and culture, the society was not reconstituted as intrinsically capitalist and Korea remained a predominantly agrarian society (Hart-Landsberg, 1998). The result was that following the liberation of Korea in 1945, the Koreans were able to imagine themselves as something other than proletarian workers and quickly reinvented themselves around communistic principles, until they were once again subsumed by the next wave of invasion and the division of the peninsular between the various forces of modernisation: the Soviet Union and the USA.

What is striking about this process of capitalisation of Korea after the Korean War (1950–1953) is the ability of the South Korean labour movement to rapidly reinvent itself into an appropriate progressive organisational form. Following the period in the 1960s of fast export-led industrialisation imposed by repressive military governments, dominated by giant conglom-erates or chaebols and a tightly controlled union organisation structure, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (KFTU), that suppressed militant unionism – the Korean labour movement progressed through contact between radical intellectuals and worker-peasants (Bello and Rosen­field, 1992; Ogle, 1990; Ranald, 1998; Koo, 1993). In the 1970s the labour movement deepened and developed through spontaneous workplace agitation that was organised mainly by women workers in the burgeoning textile industry. The spirit that motivated this struggle was exemplified by the self-immolation of Chun Tae-il in 1971 who, as a mark of inspirational protest against the treatment of the women workers, set fire to himself, crying out as his body burned ‘We are not machines' (Chun, 2001). This phase of the movement was assisted, in the absence of any other appropriate organisation form, by a Korean version of liberation theology (Ogle, 1990). The support role given by Christian and Buddhist priests and monks was superseded by agitational frameworks produced by the massification (intensification) of industrial production into a corresponding mass organisation of resistance around economic issues: wages and working conditions, fought over within newly created enterprise unions. The radical workers' movement that developed out of this process of massification was supported by an increasingly radical new generation of students inspired by new translations of Marx and Lenin (Ogle, 1990; Koo, 1993). This period is marked by extreme repression by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), who, acting with the authority of labour laws that had been outlawed by the International Labour Organisation, subjected workers and their leaders to prolonged periods of imprisonment, torture and murder (Bello and Rosenfeld, 1992; Ogle, 1990; Randal, 1998; Koo, 1993). This form of immediate and direct repression is characteristic of periods of ‘primitive accumulation' or formal subsumption based on exploitation of absolute surplus-value: ‘the takeover by capital of a mode of labour developed before the emergence of capitalist relations i.e.  a form of compulsion by which surplus labour is extracted by extending the duration of labour-time' (Capital, I: 1021); and, before the mediating institutions of capitalist regulation: money and the state (e.g. democracy, welfare) have been fully established. This inability to contain the critical resistance associated with the intensification of production from abstract to relative surplus-value developed into an alliance with other emergent progressive democratic forces within Korea civil society. The significance of this form of resistance is that it has moved out of the workplace to occur at the level of society. During this period, the revolution against the military regime extended into the whole population in a progressive democratic movement that culminated in the collapse of the military regime and the constituting of democratic procedures in 1987. At this point we can see clearly: how this contradiction bursts forth without restraint in the ceaseless human sacrifices required from the working class, in the reckless squandering of labour-powers, and in the devastating effects of social anarchy (Capital I: 618)

This period saw the consolidation of democratic procedures and institutions including the creation and legal recognition of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the election of civilian presidents, including the former dissident politician Kim Dae Jung in 1997. The significance of this process was that labour was recognised as an inherent dynamic aspect of modern Korean society. In this moment, capitalist social relations no longer assumed hegemony over Korean society, but rather it was the moment in which Korean society was constituted, really subsumed, as ‘a specifically capitalist form of production…utilising the social productive forces of labour (i.e. collective)…in contrast to the more or less isolated labour of individuals…takes the form of the productive power of capital' (Capital, I: 1024). The result is that capitalist production had now become society. And now, ‘the entire society becomes one enormous factory, or rather, the factory spreads throughout the whole society. In this situation, production is social and all activities are productive' (Negri, 1989: 204).

All of this is to say much more than labour has been recuperated by elite power structures. Labour has not been captured by capital, rather the quality of labour as the dynamic contradictory substance of capitalist social relations is now recognised at the level of society: ‘the capitalist form of large scale industry reproduces this same division of labour in a still more monstrous shape in the factory proper, by converting the worker into a living appendage of the machine; and everywhere outside the factory' (Capital, I: 615).

Despite Chun Tae-il's protest, it is no longer possible for labour to conceive of itself as anything other than the capitalist machine: ‘wage-labour as such presupposes capital, so that, from its standpoint as well, capital is this transubstantiation, the necessary process of positing its own powers as alien to the worker' (Grundrisse: 308).

Contingent Workers

The process of real subsumption does not simply expand civil society and its institutions in opposition to labour, but also reconstitutes labour itself in a more intensely abstract, or contingent form. The extent of that contingency has deepened as various Korean governments have sought to rescue themselves from the social economic and political consequences of the crisis in East Asian economies following the financial crisis of 1997. The policy of the Korean government has been to intensify the process of valorisation: the production of abstraction, by generating still further the nature of contingent labour and, therefore, undermining the previous forms of worker organisation. This is not simply a question of numbers of workers in unions, even though it is the case that only 20% of Korea workers are unionised and that this number is decreasing (Oh and Chae, 2001), but, more fundamentally, the intensification of the law of value and the production of abstraction dissolves the concrete basis of worker organisational identity around which mass struggles are produced. It is not that workers become indifferent to each other, but, rather, that the intensification of capitalist law of abstraction (value) produces a society within which indifference is the organising principle: ‘Although labour appears to be a simple category…Nevertheless when it is economically conceived in this simplicity, ‘labour' is as modern a category as are the relations which create this simple category…Indifference toward any specific kind of labour, presupposes a very developed totality of real kinds of labour, of which no single one is any longer predominant' (Grundrisse: 103).

Indifference manifests itself as a qualitative and evolutionary change of the nature of work and society. The worker becomes contingent, a condition expressed as ‘the totally developed individual for whom different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn' (Capital I: 618). This contingency works in two ways representing the logic of absolute and relative surplus-value extraction. In the form of the extraction of relative value, capital in Korea presents what progressive tendencies it has left by projecting itself into what counts as the capitalist future by generating increasingly abstract or immaterial (intellectual) forms of labour (Neary, 2001). This relativitisation, or ‘change of nature', includes the reconstruction of the chaebol-based economy and the invasion of the Korea peninsular by foreign capital which now owns over 20% of Korean manufacturing capacity (Oh and Chae, 2001). The result is the de-Koreanisation of Korea and the reconstruction of Korea into somewhere that is not recognisably Korean.  In the form of  the production of absolute surplus-value capital projects itself backwards into the sweated nightmare out of which it evolved. In Korea 60% of all workers and 70% of all women workers work in insecure and casualised conditions, especially in the developing hi-tech sectors. Since March 1999 there are more casualised workers than regular workers in Korea. The Kim Dae Jung government has taken up the anti-labour laws, introduced in 1996 by the Kim Young Sam government and then suspended following workers protest, to impose this condition of contingency through the generation of work insecurity by mass layoffs, discharge schemes and other reductions in workers' rights (Chang, 2001; Oh and Chae, 2001). All of this is brought together in the most recent attempts to reunify the peninsular based openly on the search for cheap labour (absolute surplus-value) and sites to install capital intensive industries (relative surplus-value) in the North. As the research department of Hyundai Industries makes clear

One reason for the South to invest in North Korea is that the South has lost competitiveness in its labour intensive industries and is losing competitiveness in technology-based labour intensive industries such as shipbuilding and electronics components. Investment in North Korea…[where] science and technology have been emphasised for nurturing… may be a means to maintain competitiveness due to its low wages.…In the mid to long term, with improvement in inter-Korean relations, progress in the North's opening and reform, and technological advance, high value-added and capital intensive industries should become the mainstay for investment (Hyundai Research Institute, 2001).

The result is that in South Korea the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions no longer demonstrates the confidence, recorded by Moody, in its ability to mobilise thousands of workers in a short period. The collapse in May 1999 of the attempt by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions to organise a general strike against its governments' IMF inspired neo-liberal restructuring policies marks a decisive moment in the progressive possibilities of the Korean labour movement (Neary, 2000). Under the threat of mass redundancies and repressive state practices workers were forced to realise the logic of their existence as really subsumed forms of capitalist work and return to work and to fight their political battles through the institutional forms of democratic politics established by the state.

But in the meantime, as the limits of the Korean labour movements organisation form are reached, the critical social antagonism inherent in the substantive character of labour is already conscious of the need to reinvent itself (Neary, 2000). New forms of struggle are emerging from outside of the main union confederation, led by contingent workers, in industries within which contingency is increasing, e.g. in Korea Telecom and Hyundai Motors (Chang, 2001);  among the 500,000 migrant workers working legally and illegally in South Korea who where previously banned from forming unions and in forms of resistance from within the progressive democratic movement. These new forms of progressive resistance are based not on workerist issues; but, rather, for example, in human rights, the women's movement and environmental politics; and, therefore, are leading to divisions between the workers and other radicals within the progressive movement. Also from within the labour movement itself there has been a decisive attempt to organise political parties to be able to represent workers interests in the democratic political procedures. This has resulted in the formation of two main political groupings: the Democratic Labour Party, a social democratic group, closely linked to reformist tendencies within the KCTU and the Power of the Working Class, a Marxist-Leninist group inspired by the determination to continue militant action against government policy, the IMF and the Americanisation or ‘de-Koreanisation' of Korean society (Neary, 2001). However, while all of this has been going on, there is also a sense in which the concrete identification of the class enemy as Kim Dae Jung, or the IMF or Americanisation is  not sufficient to challenge the way in which the increasingly abstract capitalist institutional structures have come to dominate Korean society. Hwan Myung-ju, a former student activist and poet said:

In the 1980s we knew what we were fighting against but now we are not so sure. The problem is how do we generalise the issues to include Korean society, in the way that we were able to in the 1980s. There are a whole generation of young people in the universities for whom the student activists are very unpopular. They are too militaristic and their songs and language and ideas have nothing to do with them. The Korean theories of revolution, that we used to argue about: national liberation or classical revolutionary Marxism seem to be no longer appropriate. The former is anachronistic in a globalised world and the latter is disabled by the inability of the labour movement to escape the factory and unemployment. We need a modern theory of revolution and a modern way of expressing it (quoted in Neary, 2000).

While Korean workers struggle to overcome the limits of their own progressive organisations, elsewhere in the world, forms of antagonism are emerging that cannot be theoretically contained by the framework of labour movement or social movement or social movement unionism politics: in Mexico the Zapatistas (De Angelis, 1996, 1998) in Argentina Roadblocks (Dinerstein, 2001) in Europe Euromarch (Mathers and Taylor, 1999; Taylor, in this book) and struggles against globalisation (Rikowski, 2001). An analysis of these protests lie outside the remit of this chapter, and the issue is dealt with elsewhere in this book (Dinerstein and Neary, in this book), but, for the moment, the point is made by contributors to this volume that these protests may be, in fact, the basis for a new life of struggle against the logic of capitalist work. What distinguishes these movements and what makes them pertinent for any critique written in and against the notion of capital as an overwhelming and yet vulnerable totalising social relation, is that these protests are defined precisely by their determination to confront global capital at the global level.

Scritti Politi

The intellectual responsibility for Marxist academics is not to privilege these new forms of global struggle over the more limited aspirations of social movement politics, but to recognise the former as a development of the success and failure of the latter, to grant them both theoretical and practical significance and use them to develop a new transformatory paradigm. The theory for such a paradigm does not have to be invented: it already exists in the work of Karl Marx. What is most at stake in Marx's work is not the organisational form of the labour movement, but the dynamic and contradictory substance (value) out of which labour moves and the impossibility of the containment of the antagonism that is constituted as labour. Labour is as much an organisational form of capital as are the institutions through which it is organised. As such the progressive transformation of human society involves not the realisation of labour on its own or in conjunction with other institutions, as argued by Kelly, Waterman, Moody and Meiksins Wood, but the abolition of labour and the society out of which it is constituted. It is only as a result of this abolition that a new practical paradigm for human sociability can be established.


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