An article from 2013 issued by the now defunct “Grupo Anarco Comunista” of Mexico.
The original text can be found at: http://hommodolars.org/web/spip.php?article4817
Note: To cite the comrades of “Cuadernas de Negacion”, and this is so that the diverse quotations which we cite remain clear… “As in all cases in which we publish citations, texts, pamphlets, or fragments, the said inclusion doesn’t absolutely imply an uncritical acceptance of them, without caring about to whom these words belong to, the militants who wrote them or the organizations of which they formed a part of”. That which interests us is always incorporating the critique inside of the grade of involvement in the class war, relate with others and potentate our class as a negation… and for this reason we hope to provide quotations which clarify that which some call “annoying” and which is nothing more than a moment of the class war, a moment of unitary critique, a moment of class consciousness and with it: subversive praxis. For us, unitary critique/class consciousness is identical to subversive praxis.
The Dominion of Merchandise
“The wealth of the societies in which the capitalist mode of production dominates is presented as an ‘enormous accumulation of merchandise’,(…) ”
Karl Marx, Capital.
Merchandise is, par excellence, the unifying element of society under the current capitalist conditions of production. All relation which man carries out with the world are mediated by merchandise, all that which he produces, consumes, desires… takes it’s reason for being as merchandise, the value of it in the world, it’s concrete existence, is given by the simple fact of being what it is: merchandise. Merchandise, or rather, a human product placed into society for its exchange. But, what really is merchandise?
At a simple glance merchandise is presented as something natural, something which in itself doesn’t possess a contents higher than its simplistic explanation, naturally merchandise is that object which is needed and is for sale, to there arrives the common understanding and we convince ourselves that going into further analysis of it is wasting time, given that it is thought that merchandise is merchandise and that’s it – as simple as that! Nevertheless, merchandise hides a whole series of relations behind itself which have a reason for being thanks to the current conditions of domination which are given in the capitalist society, or rather, it is in capitalism and its structural framework in which we could go deeply into the analysis and critique of this, which at a simple glance we appreciate so trivially.
Formally merchandise is shown to us as the product of the human being, something useful which must be exchanged for another useful thing, something necessary for our subsistence; that is, merchandise is determined by its “value” a use value which is conditioned by the necessity of the human being over it, for example: the value which is possessed by a pair of shoes or a kilo of cereal determined by the necessity of a person to wear shoes and eats. But the use value isn’t that which uniquely characterizes merchandise, it isn’t if it doesn’t posses that other component which it really signifies: the exchange value: Exchange value is the capacity of this or that product for its exchange, meaning how much is it worth in comparison to another product; for example: How much is a pair of shoes worth (merchandise A) as opposed to x kilos of cereal (merchandise B) we can understand that a pair of shoes is worth the worth of 20 kilos of cereal (A=20B). The genesis of merchandise and its evolution. Historically merchandise appeared from the destruction of the primitive community:
“In these primitive communities nobody produced more than they consumed […]
Mankind first gathered in relatively autonomous and scattered groups, in families (in the broadest sense: the family grouping all those of the same blood), in tribes. The level of productive forces was very low, and the storage of provisions, of supplies, was often nearly impossible. Production consisted essentially of hunting, fishing, and gathering. Goods were not produced to be consumed after exchange, after being placed on a market. Production was directly social, without the mediation of exchange. The community distributed what it produced according to simple rules, and everyone directly got what it gave him. There was no individual production, i.e., no separation among individuals who are re-united only after production by an intermediate link, exchange, namely by comparing the various goods produced individually. Activities were decided (actually imposed on the group by necessity) and achieved in common, and their results were shared in common. (1) The development of tools for production made hunting and gathering disappear from the primitive community, substituted by agriculture, it’s at that moment when the excesses of production appeared which made possible, in the first place, the exchange from tribe to tribe and in a later development exchange within the same tribe, so separating the members of the community and in this way, fracturing it;
With the growth of its activities and needs, the community produces not only goods, but also commodities, goods which have a use value as well as an exchange value. Commerce first appears between communities, then penetrates inside communities, giving rise to specialized activities, trades, socially divided labor. The very nature of labor. changes. With the exchange relation, labor becomes double labor, producing both use value and exchange value. […]What the individual makes for himself and for the group is separate from what he makes for the purpose of exchange with goods from other communities. The second part of his activity means sacrifice, constraint, waste of time. Society becomes diversified, it separates into various members engaged in different trades, and into workers and non-workers. At this stage the community no longer exists.
This rupture of the primitive community began the era of the civilization, meaning; from the societies divided into classes, where mercantile and submissive interactions appear, where each individual not only produces their subsistence for themselves, but sees the necessity of producing in order to compare it with what others produce. Private property, the defense of it, the regulations about the value and exchange of merchandise, the rights and duties of the society are already imposed by those that achieve an accumulation of more goods than they need to survive; being through robbery, war or simple deception. This division is configured in the ruling classes derived from the priesthood, warrior activity or from the specialization of commerce. The nascent ruling classes control the life of the societies, and to maintain the hegemony of their power and their apparatus of domination (the State), they demand the contribution of taxes: in kind or in labor, and so fund the regularized army for defense and conquest (of resources and people), in opposition to other peoples. The invention of the coin facilitated the interaction in economic activity (relating to merchandise) that in the immature stage complicated the free circulation of them: the expansion of a mercantile society. The coin is the universal merchandise with which all merchandise is acceded without greater difficulty, it’s only exchange value, completely lacking in use value. Every mode of production of goods (before capitalism) had been limited, since the production of them had always been, to a certain point, insufficient, it was never really developed until the arrival of the capitalist mode of production, in which the merchandise was freed from its old tethers, universalized and was produced in immense quantities by means of the adoption of technological innovations joined to the form of exploitation of wage labor. A generalized mercantile society.
It’s in the capitalist system where the maximum expression of the mercantile society is found, in which all relations are not carried out more than in their form of transit of merchandise, or rather, the sale, the buying, the production, the consumption… where all social activities marked by this relation, where nobody eats, clothes, falls in love, or even get by if it isn’t because they enter into the game of the life of merchandise. From the worker to the banker all are subjected to this law, which as it is known, only gives privilege to a fraction of the society.
The traces of the mercantile society are “manifested in all aspects of the capitalist mode of production”, yet they are found to be mystified by a reality which appears to be something that it is not. Every individual thinks they understand what money is, because they use it, in it’s practical sense they recognize what it is. Nevertheless they never arrive to the comprehension of money further from the external appearance of the phenomenon. So it occurs with everything, with work, wage, property, family, love, etc.
The truth is that nothing exists except for in function of the system of production of merchandise, or rather, capitalism. Life in general and work in particular are conditioned by this; work is reduced to a massive production of goods and services for the sale, the accumulation of capital and it’s reproduction. This means a benefit for the owner of the means of production, but a sacrifice for those that lack them. Nothing would have a reason for being if the merchandise didn’t produce value (benefit), the eternal activity for the diminishing in costs and the growth of benefits; the real meaning of merchandise is found in the dictatorship of value, the industries accelerate or diminish their production in the function of this, similarly wars are made, crises are presented, mountains of food rot in the stores, the unemployed workers multiply, etc.
Subjected, as we are to the economy and its mode of fulfillment, that being its mercantile form, our relations with the external world cannot be understood more than as a continual exchange of goods, valuating, commodifying and depreciating the essence in favor of personal benefit. This is to be observed from sexual attraction, affinities with friends, and obviously in the labor world.
Particularly, salaried work, to be concise, is the sale of individual merchandise: the capacity of carrying out a given labor. In this case the owner pays for the merchandise of the proletarian, their arms and intelligence, their capacity. So is shown how in capitalism everything is recognized as merchandise, from nature in general to the human being in particular.
“Capitalism is the kingdom of separations which compartmentalize our life. The user, the producer (“productive” or “unproductive”), the salaried as much as the unemployed. All of them lose, dominated, the meaning of life. Dispossessed of everything and of themselves, individuals live a partialized life (work time/free time), specialized (professional orientation, defined and limited statutes) dispersed (time passed in transports for the movements provoked by the geographical divisions of work and habitat, as well as by the actions necessary to manage one’s own misery).” (3)
(1) Jean Barrot (Gilles Dauvé) “Eclipse and re-emergence of the communist movement”, Ch.1 p. 37, “Capitalism and Communism” (2) Ibid.
(3) L’Insecurite Sociale, “Communism: elements for reflection”
Merchandise as a fetish
The system of production in its advanced phase doesn’t only create merchandise, it creates a whole range of sensations and possibilities so that the merchandise is sold more rapidly and more compulsively. Where the use value is defined more than anything by a mystical quality, not for its usefulness or physical properties, but for that suggestion provoked by the publicity, the brand, the ideology. In all cases, the use value tends to distance itself from its traditional understanding.
Now not only a certain merchandise is bought; a concept, a sensation is bought. For example, in the case of a shirt, which serves to cover us, a garment and nothing more… the usefulness becomes secondary when it is taken into account the brand, the boutique where it was acquired, the tendency which it represents… meaning, a shirt of a given brand is preferred by a group of individuals and another brand by others, though the shirts are identical in cut and fabric, an Adidas, Nike, etc., is the preference of a “sportsman”, a Fred Perry, of some rich tennis player or skinhead, for another Dickies or Ecko, of a tagger or a hip-hop artist. Each one buys an identification with their micro-culture, pastime, lifestyle, status, etc. And this now occurs generally with the majority of merchandise; with clothes, shoes, food, entertainment and an endless amount of other kinds of merchandise. In one sense, the difference between one individual and another isn’t given by their chosen identity, but by the merchandise itself, meaning, a young businessman is differentiated from a punk, not because one dresses better than the other, but because the type of merchandise that the young businessman consumes distinguish him as such, the same as the merchandise of the punk make him a punk before the others. At the same time that merchandise separates them, it also unites them, because one as much as the other are recognized in this dedicated activity for the possession of the merchandise which fulfill their lives, as all beings are found in the capitalist world.
In the bourgeois society merchandise is elevated to a God, where all live in hope of the paradise which Capital promises. Money is the Jesus Christ that saves humanity to accede to the pleasures of paradise, but nothing is so simple, because to find one’s Jesus Christ it’s necessary for everyone to pay their quota, carry their cross, meaning: Do salaried work in order to buy, to be happy, to feel fulfilled, to arrive at paradise. Wage labor is the manner in which the human being is presented as a piece of merchandise, sells their physical and intellectual force in exchange for a salary, a salary which the capitalist stipulates beforehand. The capitalist buys the worker, the employee, the laborer, for them to produce merchandise which will be sold and generate profits.
This commodification of the human being in Capital reaches to extend itself to the most intimate parts of life; when we only see in the other the benefits which they could procure us or we value them as objects at our service; human relations are riddled with incidence of this. “We have arrived to “love” merchandise, and when we love between subjects we also do so as between merchandise. This relation of persons as mere things can be observed simply in the streets, the glances which are directed “reducing sexual desire to something so banal as the simple attraction to a body, created by a system of body as merchandise” we are objects to be contemplated, we are objects in the streets, in the bed. But this isn’t an extraordinary problem, we’re objects since long before: when we’re obliged to wage labor in order to satisfy necessities and impositions, we convert into merchandise that other people buy for their ends.”(1)
Self-managing or destroying the merchandise.
Before anything we must emphasize a transcendental truth for the comprehension of the present reality. Capitalism as much as merchandise, above all, are a social relation. Merchandise is before all else a social relation, a manifestation of the conditions of the capitalist society, which is presented thanks to the movement and participation, consciously or not, of all the capitalist conditions of existence and reproduction of the reality. Merchandise is not simply a “thing”, it’s the heart of the capitalist society, it’s the motor force which envelops humanity in a coming and going of actions, thoughts, anxieties, necessities, which are directed to continue revitalizing a society where the mercantile relations rule. Destroying merchandise doesn’t consist of the crude action of the destruction of a “thing” on display, but the destruction of the social relations which permit such “things”, or rather, capitalism. The radicalism of he that believes that by being a limited consumer, by trying to self-manage their life, before the common worker and compulsive consumer, is equal to zero. There’s no solution to be had in the diminishing of consumption, or of the self-management of merchandise, as ingeniously as it is planned. It’s not a question of stopping the consumption of Coca-Cola, substituting it with a refreshment from a cooperative business. Much less the expropriation of merchandise, in order to continue producing and exchanging “in a collective and liberatory way” without absolutely disrupting all which entails the essence of a society which maintains relations of exchange, buying-and-selling of products and goods. For many years the thesis of self-management has erred fundamentally: in believing that self-managing capitalism, with its companies, factories, banks just as they are, is to revolutionize the society.
Self-management is the last card which the bourgeoisie plays against an impatient proletariat that desires to take part in the management of its own misery and exploitation. The destruction of merchandise is the destruction of the world, where the merchandise and everything which generates it reigns with sovereign power. It’s the collapse of human separations, of wage labor, of the commodification of the being, of the classes, of the State… of the generalized mercantile society.
Anarcho-Communist Group 15-02-2013
Notes: (1) Cuadernas de Negación #3 “Contra la sociedad mercantil generalizada”.