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A communist critique of communization theory

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amanezca
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Apr 19 2012 13:00
A communist critique of communization theory

I'm a longtime lurker on this site, and appreciate libcom's extensive news coverage and uniquely penetrating political analysis. Felt compelled to repost here this comment from the Kasama website because it critiques key issues with regard to communization theory, and I wanted to get an idea of what kind of response its proponents might have. Particularly interesting for me would be if there's an analysis of the Shanghai Commune of 1967 from communization theorists, and how phenomena like the Chinese Cultural Revolution would be approached -- not so much "that was all crap" but more like "in that situation, I might've aimed to do X, Y, and Z."

http://kasamaproject.org/2012/04/17/communist-politics-in-greece-election-moment-in-midst-of-shattering-crisis/#comment-54810

Quote:
Eric Ribellarsi said
April 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Thank you for writing here El Burro. I look forward to this debate. I’d like to start where you and I have deep agreement.

Like you, El Burro, I agree that the brokers of capital, including the ossified trade unions, social-democratic parties, and ossified sects are actually a part of what Badiou calls the State (that is, the state of the situation). These entities stand in the way of and serve to prevent the emergence of a new politics.

But this is, unfortunately, where our views diverge. You write:

Quote:
along with those parties that seek to participate in the (or create a new) state, framing struggle in a nationalist framework. Their ‘economic and social recovery’ is nothing less than the maintenance and continued domination of society under the value-form. [my emphasis]

My critique extends further than simply social democracy but all brands of Leninist state capitalism.

There is an underlying assumption that has often been repeated by a range of forces, from the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) to the other advocates of ‘Left Communism,’ that is at the core of your argument. For readers not familiar, I will explain (feel free to correct me if I mis-characterize your position El Burro):

The claim is that the revolutionary societies of the 20th century were neither socialist nor progressive in character, but rather reactionary societies of state-capitalism, because these societies did not “abolish the value form” or “the commodity” (depending on the trend). Communism, in the view of this position, is a movement for the overthrow of the value form.

And the advocates of these positions have almost always accompanied this argument with a specific reading of Marx’s Capital that relies on employing dogmatic essentialism to Marx’s discussion of the value form (that is, making the value form the be-all end-all), and then an accompanying attempt to try to force communist strategy through that hoop. And it is also worth mentioning that the proponents of this particular reading of political economy often have nothing to say about later analyses of political economy, such as Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

Or put another way:

This is a kind of politics that has often been called “left in form, right in content.” It relies on philosophical idealism to argue against every revolution in human history. It seems to be really radical because it postures itself as polemicizing against the problems of our common communist movement from the left, but really, when we investigate this line deeper, we see that there is no revolution anywhere that this line is able to support. And this line is incapable of developing a material force behind it because it is relies upon a marriage of idealism to sectarianism to attack anything that could possibly ever challenge our common oppressors because it does not fit into this dogmato-framework.

My view, contrary to the view of “communism as abolition of the value form” could be called “communism as a road.”

By this, I mean that communism is an emancipatory project, constantly in motion, not a series of verdicts (for example, the orthodox model of vanguard, democratic centralism, etc), nor a teleological end goal (for example, those who talk of communism as if it is a fairy tale land in the future). Nor do I think that communism is reducible to the question of the value form (even though I, like El Burro, believe the abolition of the value form and the commodity are parts of our goals). Much more nuanced than a reduction to the value form, Marx saw the goals of a revolutionary transition to communism as:

Quote:
the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, and to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations.

The central question though for me, however, is whether we are on a road to an emancipated future and the overthrow of all existing social conditions, not whether we have abolished the value form at any given time.

In KOE’s instance, there is a revolution happening where socialism and communism are not popular demands of the people… and following an idealist line in such a situation actually amounts to an argument for standing aside from the revolutionary movement, and shirking our responsibilities as communists. That is, sadly, what the majority of the Greek left decided to do in response to the Syntagma uprisings (or what the America left did with Occupy!).

And the same can be said for previous revolutionary societies. In China, the communists made a revolution that first overthrew forms of feudal relations and imperialist domination. And some people (like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping) argued that they should consolidate a (capitalist) society around that, while others wanted to continue the revolution, and developed even more radical and emancipatory modes. And Chang Chun-Chiao himself of the Maoist Gang of Four wrote a polemic outlining the problem of the continued relations of commodity production in Chinese society, and the need to continue the revolution. Chang wrote:

Quote:
Our country at present practises a commodity system, the wage system is unequal, too, as in the eight-grade wage scale, and so forth. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat such things can only be restricted. …

…even if we take economic conditions in the communes alone, it will require a fairly long time to effect the transition from the team as the basic accounting unit to the brigade and then to the commune. Moreover, even when the commune becomes the basic accounting unit, the ownership will still be collective. Thus, in the short term, there will be no basic change in the situation in which ownership by the whole people and collective ownership co-exist. So long as we still have these two kinds of ownership, commodity production, exchange through money and distribution according to work are inevitable…

if Marxism is limited, curtailed and distorted in theory and practice, if the dictatorship of the proletariat is turned into an empty phrase, or all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie is crippled by amputation and exercised only in some spheres but not in all, or only at a certain stage (for instance, before the transformation of the system of ownership) but not at all stages, or in other words, if not all of the “fortified villages” of the bourgeoisie are destroyed but some are left, allowing the bourgeoisie to expand again, doesn’t this mean preparing the conditions for bourgeois restoration? Doesn’t it mean turning the dictatorship of the proletariat into a thing that protects the bourgeoisie, particularly the newly engendered bourgeoisie?

But El Burro’s line assumes that if at any given time, the value form isn’t being overthrown, then this movement should be held under suspicion. This line ultimately leads one to oppose these revolutions, be they Chinese or Greek, or.. and even while that line postures as left, it is a deeply rightist position.

One comrade in Kasama once attended a conference where someone from an old New Communist Movement era organization articulated a “directly to communism line.” He responded by saying:

“You know, I’m fat. And I’ve tried diets for a long time, and every time I try one I end up fucking up. After listening to you, I realize that the diet is the problem. The next time, I’m going to go directly to thin.”

Yes we should want to abolish the value form. And doing so requires us to have the sophistication of leading as communists in all of the twists and turns of storms of revolution.

Black Badger
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Apr 19 2012 14:51

Not sure why you think a Maoist critique of anything would be worth the time to deconstruct.

Spikymike
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Apr 19 2012 15:25

The only relevant bit of this 'critique' possibly relevant to communisation theory and more broadly to the much wider anti-bolshevik communist milieu is the suggestion that everything revolves for such people around the abolition of the 'value form' and that such people in turn absolve themselves from any practical politics in situations where that is materially not possible (this last point at least recognised and incorporated into communisation and other 'determinist' analysis).

But this seems to misrepresent refusal to take responcibillity for directly capitalist measures including brutal suppression of workers and peasants as a refusal to be active, if critcal, participants in the ongonming class struggle of workers in their own interests!!

Analysis of past revolutionary movements and there limitations is not necessarily an attempt at retrospective moral condemnation but simply to better understand their material limitations and the different conditions and potentials in today conditions.

A Maoist or Leninist defense of state capitalism as somehow a practical part of the road to communism (anymore than capitalism generally might be seen as preparing that ground) is rubbish on a whole number of counts and this person has got some cheak trying to insert those arguments into this separate discussion as though the Chinese CP were any kind of communist at all.

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ocelot
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Apr 19 2012 15:27
Quote:
One comrade in Kasama once attended a conference where someone from an old New Communist Movement era organization articulated a “directly to communism line.” He responded by saying:

“You know, I’m fat. And I’ve tried diets for a long time, and every time I try one I end up fucking up. After listening to you, I realize that the diet is the problem. The next time, I’m going to go directly to thin.”

Yes we should want to abolish the value form. And doing so requires us to have the sophistication of leading as communists in all of the twists and turns of storms of revolution.

That's got to be the lamest justification for the Transitional Period, I've ever heard. Ever.

Harrison
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Apr 19 2012 23:47

To the original poster: i agree with the need for communization theory to be criticised, but i generally agree with the above comments posted by the other posters here.

There is a decent text here which you might be interested in:
http://libcom.org/library/communization-its-discontents-contestation-critique-contemporary-struggles

amanezca
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Apr 21 2012 17:18

I've actually read part of that book already Harrison. Still gotta plow through and finish. But there are still some issues that jump out at me -- every living revolution in the world ever is shit according to this theory. It rings like a repeat of the old "Temporary Autonomous Zone" idea, or to go further back the utopian socialism of Fourier and intentional communes.

The analogy with the "straight to thin" sounds pretty accurate IMHO. Like if you have a car and want to get from New York to Los Angeles, you will make stops along the way to refuel -- as opposed to refusing to stop despite running low on gas, because it represents "not going all the way." Similarly getting rid of capitalism and relations based on the law of value would go in ebbs and flows. Just like capitalism itself took a millenium-long transition period to emerge as dominant, it would not surprise me to see a long-term transitional period to shift from capitalism to communism on a global scale. I am not quick to jump and label any society as "state-capitalist" if they don't immediately have communism. This kinda muddles what capitalism is, no?

redsdisease
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Apr 21 2012 19:07
amanezca wrote:
But there are still some issues that jump out at me -- every living revolution in the world ever is shit according to this theory.

Would you disagree with this? I mean, obviously things like the Russian Revolution, the Paris Commune and the Spanish Revolution are interesting example of social ruptures that can teach us a lot, but in the end they all failed. What else should we do but analyze their failure and point out their mistake so that hopefully they won't get made again?

amanezca wrote:
The analogy with the "straight to thin" sounds pretty accurate IMHO. Like if you have a car and want to get from New York to Los Angeles, you will make stops along the way to refuel -- as opposed to refusing to stop despite running low on gas, because it represents "not going all the way." Similarly getting rid of capitalism and relations based on the law of value would go in ebbs and flows. Just like capitalism itself took a millenium-long transition period to emerge as dominant, it would not surprise me to see a long-term transitional period to shift from capitalism to communism on a global scale. I am not quick to jump and label any society as "state-capitalist" if they don't immediately have communism. This kinda muddles what capitalism is, no?

But there's a difference between a period of transition between capitalism and communism and a "transition period" that Maoists and other Leninists refer to. I don't think any serious communist would argue that we can just jump from capitalism straight into communism. However, I can't see how the Leninist conception of a transition period in which the state seizes all the industry and run's it, brings anybody any closer to communism. And certainly every effort should be made to minimize the length of this period, just as a person driving across the country would want to minimize the length of their trip.

Caiman del Barrio
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Apr 21 2012 19:35
amanezca wrote:
Like if you have a car and want to get from New York to Los Angeles, you will make stops along the way to refuel -- as opposed to refusing to stop despite running low on gas, because it represents "not going all the way." Similarly getting rid of capitalism and relations based on the law of value would go in ebbs and flows. Just like capitalism itself took a millenium-long transition period to emerge as dominant, it would not surprise me to see a long-term transitional period to shift from capitalism to communism on a global scale. I am not quick to jump and label any society as "state-capitalist" if they don't immediately have communism. This kinda muddles what capitalism is, no?

Driving a long distance will require stopping for petrol, but what if the pump attendant only fills your tank 1/4 full and then demands they drive your car, only to turn round and head back East? wink

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Juan Conatz
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Apr 21 2012 20:28
amanezca wrote:
It rings like a repeat of the old "Temporary Autonomous Zone" idea, or to go further back the utopian socialism of Fourier and intentional communes.

That's the communization of Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee, but not most of the others. Endnotes wrote a whole piece on this and Leon de Mattis has, too.

http://libcom.org/library/what-are-we-do-endnotes
http://libcom.org/library/reflections-call-l%C3%A9-de-mattis

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RedEd
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Apr 21 2012 21:16

I agree with the criticisms. Here's a couple more:

"In KOE’s instance, there is a revolution happening where socialism and communism are not popular demands of the people… and following an idealist line in such a situation actually amounts to an argument for standing aside from the revolutionary movement, and shirking our responsibilities as communists. That is, sadly, what the majority of the Greek left decided to do in response to the Syntagma uprisings (or what the America left did with Occupy!)."

This seems a bizzare thing to say in a critique of communisation theory. AFAIK, people of that orientation got stuck in in both those movements. So I don't see why the 'objectively right wing' argument makes any sense.

"This is a kind of politics that has often been called “left in form, right in content.” It relies on philosophical idealism to argue against every revolution in human history. It seems to be really radical because it postures itself as polemicizing against the problems of our common communist movement from the left, but really, when we investigate this line deeper, we see that there is no revolution anywhere that this line is able to support. And this line is incapable of developing a material force behind it because it is relies upon a marriage of idealism to sectarianism to attack anything that could possibly ever challenge our common oppressors because it does not fit into this dogmato-framework."

Wow. The binary between 'supporting' revolutions and 'aguing against' them is absurd, as if revolutions were monolithic events one is simply 'for' or 'against'. Any Maoist worth their salt ought to be able to think of revolutions as brimming with contradictions, some which are pro-revolutionary and some which are counter-revolutionary. Mao went on no end about that.