This post from Permanent Crisis nicely outlines the difference between a critical subjectivity and a creative subjectivity, that is, between a politics that stresses the moments and structures of antagonism and one that stresses building new institutions and ways of living. It is one of Occupy’s innovations that it has brought these two modes in closer proximity and has created zones of indiscernability where there had been sharp distinctions. But it would be a mistake to see Occupy as being alone in this, or even the first to get there. The polyvalent struggles of sex workers, for instance, and care workers more generally, have for years brought out the intimate interplay between what used to be called the personal and the political but that could also be called the necessity of immanent struggle against actual conditions and the contingency of the forms those struggles take.
This situation is in contrast to the liberal-anarchist ideal of transformation away from capitalism being brought about by autonomous cooperation and to the liberal-socialist ideal of party building and popular agitation. Both of these operate on transcendent principles: for the former, the ability of individuals to willfully step outside and leave behind social conditions, and the latter to practice statecraft to the advantage of the people. But to the extent they can be successful, they end up validating and enforcing the very principles that underpin what they are trying to overcome: respectively, the sovereignty of capitalist markets and private property, and the nation and all its political boundaries and exclusions.
The Permanent Crisis post, I think, complicates the usual Marxist finger pointing when it comes to cooperatives (I know I tend to scoff at them) and where they might lead. Instead of the tiresome pointing out that cooperatives are productive of capitalist value (which perversely affirms capital’s iron laws), the post addresses necessary labor time and how a moving toward the reduction of surplus labor time could have a rippling effect that would tend toward the abolition of labor itself.
But still. I wonder if some of the movements I mentioned in the first paragraph haven’t obviated the main argument for cooperatives: namely, that they created and inhabited a previously nonexistent space, one that was at least notionally removed from the profit motive. But the occupations and care-worker actions have done something that was also nearly unthinkable before now: used preexistent space to bring together the critical and the critical. The actual physical dimensions of Occupy show this: the sites of protest are also the sites of creating new ways of being together — soup kitchens, general assemblies, medic stations, libraries. All without the need to create value in the way cooperatives must.