This started out as a comment on "Apprehensions of the social: Aggregate, collective, alienated force; or, Contribution to an explanation for why the left always fails," but it got too long, so I guess it is a separate post.
I think the distinction made in the original post between the aggregate, the collective, and alienated force brings some analytical rigor to the discussion. The aggregate, of course, was the vision of society put forward by political economy, beginning, notoriously, with Mandeville (Fable of the Bees), but achieving its doxic articulation with Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations). It is this classic articulation of the aggregate, which still echoes today, that seems to be causing much of the failure of the collective to gain traction. The question of what is the precise attraction to this articulation of society cannot of course be answered without digging into the layers of mediation between subjectivity and the modes of production under which we live. Which equally suggests that reinvigorating the collective as an alternative mode of subjectity would require a change in the mode of production. We are back to Marx 101.
But we (this “collective” blog) have not been discussing changing the mode of production. Reading across the posts, the discussion seems most concerned with issues of subjectivity and other (political) means of changing them, for example, through changes in organizing strategies (eg. What is Wisconsin On?). And reading across the posts, again, it seems that a main interest is to reinvigorate the sense of the collective. This seems somewhat the case when the banality of existence within the aggregate is contrasted with "participation in the collective (that) can inspire a powerful feeling of agency with the sense that the individual is part of a world-historical project or the feeling that one is realizing oneself by making oneself proper to the collective." So the collective is both an alternative to the aggregate and a way out of the aggregate (again, reading across posts, and taking the aggregate to be the dominate form of subjectivity under neoliberalism).
In response, I have a proposition with which I intend to account for the continuing allegiance to the aggregate as the self-understanding of society and from this propose a line of thinking with regards to moving beyond it.
I agree with the characterization of the appeal that the collective can generate, but in its original formulation, the aggregate too was an empowering concatenation that was a world-historical project of wealth and happiness creation. Permission to follow one's own desires, to make and spend money, was a radical proposal in the early eighteenth century, as evidenced by the general public disdain voiced vis Mandeville's argument. And it is this project of the pursuit of individual happiness (via consumption, then and now) that still echoes. So we need to ask, what is the nature of the alternative project? What is the project that makes society as collective more compelling than society as aggregate? Traditional Marxism located this project in collective ownership of the means of production, but this was the valorization of the proletariat under state capital, rather than the abolition of the proletariat, which is what a true overcoming of capital requires. In Marx's mature thought it is the mode of production that must change, but we are faced with the chicken-and-the-egg problem of what comes first -- a change in subjectivity or a change in the mode of production.
I take that the general question being discussed amongst us is what sort of politics might give us a world without the “permanent crisis” of capitalism, but we seem at times to be strategizing for the next battle against capital rather than overcoming it. My own vision, it would seem, is less about pitched battles in the streets than a general awakening to the possibility of an alternative. The process then is first intellectual, and then, political. And not intellectual in the sense of reading books, but that a mental switch is thrown. It requires the recognition of the alienated force and recognition that it is the result of our own social action. But recognition is not sufficient. Overcoming, I think, requires a radically creative vision of the relationship between labor, obtaining the means of subsistence, and the production of social wealth (in the fullest sense of arts, science, technology, knowledge). This is what Wallerstein was suggesting last December.
And here is where the aggregate and the political economy that first gave it formulation as the naturalized ahistorical grounds for "civilization" is most resilient. The still beating heart of Smith is that greater divisions of labor will produce greater social wealth, and that these divisions of labor only happen out of the desire to barter, truck, and exchange. That is, the production of social wealth arises only from the pursuit of self interest. I would offer that the Tea Party clearly demonstrates the continued resonance of this vision. The challenge, it seems then, is to devise a persuasive vision that either redefines social wealth in such a way as to cut the connection between it and the division of labor, or from the other side, to reorient our understanding of why a division of labor is socially useful (hint: it’s not to enable to pursuit of exchange). It seems that it is precisely this relationship between the division of labor, the labor process, and the social as the sphere of exchange that generates alienated force. Moreover, insofar as Smith's vision of society has been internalized, I think an explicit targeting of political economy -- unpacking and dismantling its assumptions -- is necessary in order to persuade people of the possibility of a different social order.