Remarks on “Whither America”

I will make five sets of remarks. Impinging on content, three are substantive in the full sense. Two are merely formal (one of which is stylistic) and barely touch on substantive issues.


I would like to begin with the concept of real domination and the reality it refers us back to.

Historically, real domination entails a transformation in the work processes as the capitalist interposes himself in them and directly takes control of them. Either he (and we can legitimately speak of “he” here) introduces new machinery or undertakes to reorganize the work processes (see Marx’s Economic Manuscripts, 1861–1863). Actually, these two forms are more often than not intertwined. In history, this intervention transforms the merchant who has legal title to means of production and who employs waged labor and who does not intervene in the work processes, into an industrialist who does. In the former case, the merchant is, we might say, the bearer of formal domination since his role in the work processes is merely formal.

It is important to expressly note these two aspects of real domination, since it easy to abstract the latter from historical context and to see only the technically innovative side, especially since systematic modern scientific and technological inputs make real domination “permanent”; that is, make it irreversible and give it the appearance of an automatic process, a motor or driver or dynamic of capitalist development.

Recall some well-known instances.

The croppers’ (and weavers’ and frame-knitters’) struggles in the English Midlands against the gig-mill and the shearing frame in the early nineteenth century was part of a broader fight involving other groups of workers against the factory-system, which threatened to declass them as small masters, abolish customary work relations and disrupt a settled way of life.

As a foreman and supervisor at Bethlehem Steel at the beginning of the twentieth century, Frederick Taylor argued with, browbeat and disciplined skilled workers. All unsuccessful. We also know it was Henry Ford who, in introducing the assembly line in Highland Park in 1914, made serious inroads against the personally (as opposed to machine) embodied knowledge and the prerogatives of the skilled layer. But it took imperialist world war, the mobilization of labor and the cooperation of unions and workers, mediated by chauvinist commitments, and finally the demand for rapid production of military vehicles and armaments of all kinds to introduce continuous flow production across multiple sectors of industrial economies. Lest we forget, the respective antiwar activities of the British shop stewards and the German Obleute (both skilled metalworking proletariats) started from a struggle against the dilution of the proletariat; while the same skilled layers constituted the overwhelming majority of the 250,000 workers who made up the Bolshevik Party in October 1917.

Culminating in the open class struggle (Caterpillar, Bridgestone/Firestone and Stanley) in the Decatur, Illinois “war zone,” 1992–1996, the 1980–1990s struggles against worker-participation labor-capital schemes and management-controlled production teams were struggles against lean production with its just-in-time inventories, which for the most part involved reorganizing work processes without technical innovation.

Albeit lengthy, there is a point here well worth making. Technical innovation is not just rooted in competition among antagonistic capitals, which, because the latter is a central feature of the system of social relations, gives rise to an automatic dynamic. Rather, the initial efforts to introduce technological inputs or to reorganize work processes as a rule are met with worker resistance. If the inputs or reorganization (or both) are large-scale and are met with open class struggle, it is only worker defeat which leads to the successful deployment of inputs or implementation of reorganization. In the wake of such historical defeats, the most frequent result is their generalization across economic sectors and working class recomposition.

Casualization and precarity are contemporary forms of recomposition, consequences of the major historical defeat of the 1980–1990s. If one of Floris’ sources, the bourgeois and empirical theorist Gordon Long (together with Charles Hugh Smith), is correct, the so-called retail sector is about to undergo automation by way of robotics. This will further deepen the immiseration of his precarious, youthful proletariat. Amazon’s use of drone delivery and Anheuser-Busch’s recent purchase of self-driving tractor trailers portend a similar development in transportation.


The very term “de-industrialization” is suspect. There are three aspects to this.

First, the term does not adequately integrate its actual dynamic with its theoretical explanation (the three moments of historical causation Floris proposes). Its core dynamic is simultaneously real history: Class struggle, a string of worker losses (patco, Greyhound, Eastern Airlines, Dodge-Phelps, Hormel, Caterpillar, Bridgestone/Firestone, Stanley) amounting to historical defeat, class recomposition.

Second, though I do not have figures to hand, industrial output in the United States (in inflation-adjusted dollar terms) is no less today than it was forty years ago. Industrial production today merely is carried out from a vastly smaller base.

Third, for those who associate American industrialization with a desired us global hegemony, de-industrialization is a disaster and its remediation, re-industrialization, amounts to a reactionary undertaking. Rebuilding an oil-coal-steel economy is not only a project of national capitals which chauvinistically links workers to their “nation” (i.e., the ruling class), it can only further unravel an already massively simplified, thus grievously damaged global ecology.

Floris avoids the problematic in its second aspect because he deploys Marx’s value analysis and, in a complexly mediated way tied to this analysis, because on its tail end he grasps ongoing class recomposition. He is fully aware of and directly confronts the problematic in both moments of its third aspect.

Return to that second aspect. A Fordist regime of accumulation cannot be resurrected (Trump’s fantasy). If a global supply chain is an interconnected series of sites of production spread across continents, and if Floris thinks wreaking havoc with those supply chains is the reason why Fordism cannot be reconstructed, he is mistaken. Or, it is one reason, but not even the primary one. Knowledge as subjective skill and objectively embodied skill (machinery, machine complexes) as basic “inputs” to production as well as the forms of association of labor and the types of labor (work) themselves have all been radically transformed. The upshot is that production itself has been radically transformed. It, and those inputs and forms, have been transformed by the class struggle mediated, competition-driven dynamic of capitalism, and thus by the continuously reduced socially necessary labor time required by that production. Carried out in one national sector of global capitalism, re-industrialization in the intended sense will not only put that sector at an enormous competitive disadvantage, but relegate it to a peripheral adjunct to the dynamic centers of global production (with, as Floris recognizes, all the intendant consequences such as a collapse in existing living standards). But the issue goes beyond this: the productive forces of global capitalism have developed in such an all-inclusive, qualitative manner that a return to an earlier moment in the history of capitalism is not possible.


I have known Floris for some two decades. We were brought together by the late Will Barnes as part of a small correspondence circle. Will, you might say, was our leading light. At the time I was aware that Floris was refining his English language skills in the discussions of that circle. It was only later that I realized he was also doing so by exploring the conceptual universe developed by Will. Like most theorizations of society and history, Barnes’s has gaps or weak spots but it is plenty sophisticated. So on the face of it, such effort is commendable. Yet it appears to me Floris’s exploration has had at least one lasting negative result. He not only assimilated much of that conceptual universe as his own, he also assimilated the convoluted writing style of someone who never got over reading much of Hegel and Marx in the original German, especially the manuscripts that were not published during the respective authors’ lifetimes.

This is a stylistic criticism, but it spills over into substance. The essay exhibits a nearly adequate grasp of historical causation. It is unabashed in pointing out the limitations of contemporary communist theorizing. It lays out an incisive analysis of where race and class intersect. It unites careful class analysis and the dynamics of capitalist development. And, thus, it permits a statement of the tendential direction of that development. Yet lengthy, sometimes Byzantine sentences each occasionally forming an entire paragraph, lots and lots of commas, and a host of parenthetical remarks all tend to really inhibit comprehension.


What does it mean to say, “There are two very large blank spots in the thinking of revolutionary communists… The consequences of the failure to come to grips with this blindness are large-scale, even disqualifying”?

In a second case, the consequences of failure to examine the significance of “something very much like a ‘deep state’ functioning… in the bourgeois polity” are explicitly stated. According to Floris, it signifies the bourgeoisie possesses not just a hidden statist infrastructure, but the core of an unswervingly loyal armed reserve beyond cops in the streets and various branches of the institutional military. It signifies, then, that even in the event of a vastly popular uprising, the collapse of the formal institutions of bourgeois power, and formation of a historically novel, non-statist proletarian power, the bourgeoisie has a reservoir of armed force with which to pursue civil war. I will not contest this assessment.

What about the first case—that of an accelerating, abrupt climate change?

Here Floris pursues a rhetorical strategy. Having assisted in generating that novel power, he asks if communists are prepared to deal with hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing inundated regions or parts of the Earth no longer habitable due to intense heat? Or with salination and a precipitous drop in agricultural food production worldwide? Or with massive infrastructural damage due to storms, sea level rise and the same intense heat? And so on.

In replying I would query, is he expecting a response? Something programmatic? I don’t think so. I think he is being coy. He understands that anyone who by now does not grasp the transformation that climate change has just begun to provoke is hopelessly lost and incurably blind. But I think he wishes to say more than this, and that is what I mean by being coy. I believe his position has these contours:

Once established on its own foundations (production for production’s sake, self-valorizing value), it is the entropic logic and movement of capital itself which has created the crisis in nature. That crisis is threefold. It entails a mass species extinction, the recreation of planetary nature as a raw materials basin and a global garbage dump, and abrupt climate change.

It is systematic scientific and technological inputs which sustain that logic and movement, making it irreversible short of a thoroughgoing revolutionary transformation.

The bourgeoisie has no answer to climate change, except the pious hope that more scientific and technological inputs can ameliorate it. There is only very limited, partial evidence as to what the outcomes of those inputs (pumping aerosols into the atmosphere to deflect solar insolation, seeding the oceans to mitigate acidification, etc.) might be. At best, that evidence is not encouraging. What is highly likely is that undertaking such efforts may well worsen the situation, and if they do not they will be permanent since halting them merely returns us to that situation we confronted before deploying them; furthermore, even slight failures to sustain the efforts will expose the life forms of Earth to rapid temperature rise. Yet to the extent these “remedies” are effective enough to make life tolerable, not merely doomed, they reinforce the regimentation and repression required to implement them. (What Floris calls the “increasingly totalitarian, police despotic naked dictatorship of capital over society.”)

Communists too have no answer to climate change. Most operate with the same faith in the efficacy of the modern science of nature as does the bourgeoisie. This constitutes a commitment to the civilization of capital. It is this commitment which is “disqualifying.” For communists’ “remedies” will not differ from those of the bourgeoisie.

The model here is the Bolsheviks. Their perspectives were productivist and holding state power at any costs to workers was, citing Trotsky, their “historical birthright.” Confronted with the destruction wrought by world war and civil war, they assumed bourgeois tasks and undertook reconstruction of productive forces along state capitalist lines. Today, communists’ perspectives are mediated by the bourgeoisie’s theory of nature, modern science. Confronting civil war within the context of a radically unique total crisis in nature that has already begun to destroy the built environment, starting from bourgeois theory they will be compelled to impose the same regimentation and repression along hyper-statist lines.

If this is what Floris thinks, then he should simply say so.


Since the financial crisis, much of the theorizing about another qualitative break with capital’s movement has been devoted to the movement of money within the sphere of circulation (the bank bailouts, various phases of endless printing of money known as quantitative easing, real negative interest rates, a 700 trillion derivatives hangover an order of magnitude larger than the total annual output of the global capitalist economy, more recently the slow motion crumbling of Deutschebank and the Italian banking crisis). Over and again, one hears “this cannot go on forever.” All this is in the interests of assessing the trajectory of capitalist development, usually with provision of a timeline for the onset of another, far worse financial crisis. I have been guilty of something along these lines myself.

Floris’s parenthetical indications of when we might anticipate the onset of a global recession and, beyond this, a renewal of an open crisis of capital is a residue of this kind of thinking. It is not required. It distracts and detracts from his overall analysis which at the same time goes beyond thinking of this kind.

I will end with some affirmative comments.

Permit me to return to that small correspondence circle. We spend a lot of time mulling over the fate of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the party of Stalin. As a group we were decidedly not Bolshevik, perhaps councilists of sorts but not left communists. Yet if there were one thing we all took away from those discussions, it was in some sense the prewar (Great War) Bolshevik and left claims that inter-imperialist antagonisms necessarily lead to world war and open capitalist crisis were correct.

Floris operates with a notion of the historical present as latent with possibilities amongst which the tendential direction of capitalist development is primary. In a period in which so much revolutionary thinking is infected by politically disorienting post-modernist notions of the radical contingency of history, Floris has restored a sense of the historical necessity of crisis and, without effective proletarian action, world war. He does so by dispensing with the false autonomy of the sphere of circulation, shifting analysis to global trade. His sense of trade is not narrow, but involves conflict among competing imperialist powers. This conflict itself is governed by the impasse capital’s own movement runs up against, namely, overcapacity, overproduction and commodity surfeit. But based on the class struggle mediated technical dynamic at the core of capitalism, these in turn are the phenomenal faces of the inability of capitalists to valorize adequate amounts of abstract labor to sustain production at existing levels of development of productive forces. Admittedly dense, in sum he integrates looming major class confrontation with geopolitical, great power jockeying illuminating both with Marx’s theoretically powerful analysis.

It is analyses of this kind which provide revolutionary communists with a perspective on the historical present and an orientation toward the immediate future, in other words, a rationally grounded perspective of hope. For that, I applaud him.

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