Request: Communisation Theory for Dummies

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Joseph Kay
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Apr 13 2014 10:06
Joseph Kay wrote:
Endnotes are more about struggles linking up and generalising to the point of creating new social relations.

Having looked this up, I think they'd dispute this. They make a distinction between 'a quantitative accumulation of struggles which, at a critical point, is qualitatively transformed' (which they reject) and a 'qualitative shift within the struggle itself as it reaches its limit' (which they endorse). I think this is more-or-less Malatesta's critique of Monatte's naive syndicalism though, so back to 'not wrong, not new'. And I'm not sure the difference between these positions is as great as implied.

Spikymike
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Apr 13 2014 10:23

Joseph,

Yes I take your point about 'occupations' and the relationship to the totality of the movement but on the matter of....understanding why the workers movement of the past stalled before extending geograpically and socially to achieve communism in terms of both the 'objective' and 'subjective' conditions of that period and the relationship between the two - (not to condemn restrospectively) is perhaps still of value in understanding our changed circumstances and in learning lessons for the future, if only about what to avoid?
The 'communisers' help us think about that also even if many (other than Troploin) get stuck in an overly deterministic mode of thought.

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Apr 13 2014 15:39

There are great differences between Troploin and TC – largely over historical periodisation and determinism – and despite both having been around and writing for several decades it is only since the emergence in recent years of what has become known as ‘communisation theory’ in the English speaking world that they have been bracketed in this shared category. As Endnotes acknowledged;

Quote:
the Anglophone reception of ‘communization’ in general. It has thus become necessary to make the distinction: the ‘communization theory’ now spoken of in the Anglosphere is largely an imaginary entity, an artefact of the Anglophone reception of various unrelated works. http://libcom.org/library/what-are-we-do-endnotes

There are many English speaking anarchists and Marxists who’ve been influenced by Dauve & co’s writings since the 70s – and it’s likely many of them would share their critique of TC; so the perceived unity is not universal.

For all their claims of the importance of ‘the totality’ the theory seems wholly Eurocentric in its assessment of working class history – and its periodisation seems to ignore the extensive proletarianisation going on now in Asia and elsewhere. This creation of a modern young working class, the content of its struggles and its conditions of existence doesn’t seem to conform to the historical schema of communisationists (or decadence theorists); insofar as class-wide social-democratic type reforms are being won – eg, workplace regulation, unionisation, welfare, social housing and healthcare etc in even the poorest Asian countries. So it doesn’t seem to have much grasp of a global proletariat and its relationship. The only time I’ve seen it dealt with was unconvincing and seemed to project onto events what the author wanted to find as verification of their theory; see comment below article on Astarian’s mythical claims of non-demand based struggle in Bangladesh (a myth since repeated by other communisationists); http://libcom.org/library/crisis-activity-communisation-bruno-astarian

For article and comments criticising the determinism of some of this theory (though ‘the swerve’ presents his comments as his alone and not necessarily as representing Endnotes); http://libcom.org/library/notes-endnotes

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Apr 13 2014 15:59

This Bruno Astarian article pretty much reveals the absurdity of some communization theory when its theorist take it to its logical conclusions:
http://libcom.org/library/communization-way-out-crisis-bruno-astarian

Essentially it's the classic "crisis will bail us out and people will spontaneously become communist" argument that all of us are weary of. Yet its actual vision of what the revolutionary society will be is pretty horrifying, presenting any type of account or planning as essentially "imposing value":

"Finally, there is always the chance that the supply of flour for our bakers will be sporadic, at least at first, if the proletarians at the mill prefer to discuss the meaning of love or life instead of grinding wheat. Would this lead to chaos? We shall be told that today there will be no bread. You just have to accept it. Another alternative is that someone conceives a plan, quantified and taking time scales into account, and someone else complies with its terms. In such a case not only is value reestablished. In fact, a proletarian experience of this kind has no future: if it works the proletarians will rapidly lose their rights (restoration of wage labor in one form or another); if it does not work they will return to the old framework of unemployment and unpaid wages. It is likely, in any event, that the communizing solution will not be considered until various chess matches of this kind have tried and found wanting."

There is also talk of the essentially "local" nature of communization, which to me would probably lead to agrarian utopianism if put into practice. I'm opposed to any attempt to create "local" communism without prior co-operation across the international division of labor.

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Apr 13 2014 16:59
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Another alternative is that someone conceives a plan, quantified and taking time scales into account, and someone else complies with its terms. In such a case not only is value reestablished.

"Value! Value everywhere!"

kingzog
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Apr 13 2014 17:14

I will respond with more later when I have more time. But I want to add, for now, that communisateurs like Astarian think that just measuring productivity recreates value. Hence, "production without productivity." I think his theories are the logical conclusion to most TC type communization theory, but only he and maybe a few others have the guts to come out and say it. The pol pot thing is a reference to the year zero attitude and the attitude that production must be essentially abandoned to focus on agriculture "agriculture is key" (it's an inside joke too.)

boomerang
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Apr 14 2014 13:18
donald parkinson quoting Bruno Astarian wrote:
"Finally, there is always the chance that the supply of flour for our bakers will be sporadic, at least at first, if the proletarians at the mill prefer to discuss the meaning of love or life instead of grinding wheat. Would this lead to chaos? We shall be told that today there will be no bread. You just have to accept it. ..."

We shall be told tomorrow that the starving workers have joined the counterrevolution. You just have to accept it.

(good find digging up that shit!)

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Apr 14 2014 14:27
jura wrote:
Quote:
Another alternative is that someone conceives a plan, quantified and taking time scales into account, and someone else complies with its terms. In such a case not only is value reestablished.

"Value! Value everywhere!"

Heh. For sure, that quote is embarrassing. For value to be re-established there would have to be a wage relation - i.e. that the producers commodified their labour power by selling it in exchange for a wage which would be their only access to a share of the social product. Simply making production plans and recording accounts of resources used does not in and of itself recreate wage labour and exchange value.

More to the point, I heard second-hand that the discussions at the Berlin ultra-left summer camp (sorry, I don't know the official name of the conference) around the "accounting question" is that the only thing people were suggesting should or should not be accounted for would be labour-time. Which seems curiously unimaginative. Surely some of the things we will need to account for, for a sustainable future, will be the non-renewable resources consumed, or pollution released in any production process. CO2 emissions for a start, if we want to avoid climate catastrophe, for e.g.

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Apr 14 2014 17:12

Again, I don't want to put myself in the position of defending communisation theory, but there's a danger of treating it in the way it treats 'the workers movement', i.e. as a homogenous block reducible to its more ridiculous aspects. Not that that quote isn't silly, of course.

I second the point that plenty of quantitative information would be needed to co-ordinate anything beyond agrarian subsistence, and that doesn't have to mean a price system (which is a pretty crap information processing mechanism, look at the state of the world), still less a price system accessed via wages from labour. Will try and post something on this on the relevant thread.

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Apr 14 2014 22:03

Millenarianism generally, if taken as anything more than a provisional sketch, tends to become repressive in its absolutism and its fetish of the pre-defined fixed end result. The communisationists seem to have little concept of historical process or that goals cannot necessarily be immediately realised but can get stalled. Even an explicit conscious push for (that recently emerged banal abstraction) ‘full communism’ could be stalled – given that it could only occur as part of a struggle for it. But the determinism and millenarianism of much communisationism has idealised only a Great Moment where struggle is communisation, an instantaneous transformation. The hows and whys of that as a becoming possibility and strategic choices towards it – its social growth - seem to be left to Marxist astrology; historic structural conjunctions and constellations alone make it possible - with human agency implied as a mere tool of those forces.

And yes, as noted above they have tended to summarise the history of working class struggles (and their ‘consciousness’ and limits) as merely the history of the official ideology of the institutions of the workers movement; ignoring (to use a fave term of theirs) the ‘immanent’ tension between class struggle and its official representation, recuperation and mediation; eg, wildcats strikes and unions, riots and ‘community representatives’ of social mediation etc.

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Apr 15 2014 13:29

Yeah, I think it might be useful to see communization as less a movement or tendency and more as a conversation some people are having. And just because at some point in the conversation, someone says something daft, doesn't mean you can judge the whole conversation as pointless, just on that basis. Hell, think how many libcom forum threads would actually be left if you deleted all the ones where somebody said something inane or ridiculous at some point? Granted the much less interactive, slower, publication-based conversation of the kind the communizationers are having can't be directly compared to forum threads, but the principle still stands, imo.

boomerang
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Apr 16 2014 15:06

Leaving aside the issue of whether "value is reestablished" - what do people think of this part of the quote? I mean, people don't think this kind of thing is acceptable, do they?

donald parkinson quoting Bruno Astarian wrote:
"Finally, there is always the chance that the supply of flour for our bakers will be sporadic, at least at first, if the proletarians at the mill prefer to discuss the meaning of love or life instead of grinding wheat. Would this lead to chaos? We shall be told that today there will be no bread. You just have to accept it. ..."

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Apr 16 2014 16:06
boomerang wrote:
Leaving aside the issue of whether "value is reestablished" - what do people think of this part of the quote? I mean, people don't think this kind of thing is acceptable, do they?

donald parkinson quoting Bruno Astarian wrote:
"Finally, there is always the chance that the supply of flour for our bakers will be sporadic, at least at first, if the proletarians at the mill prefer to discuss the meaning of love or life instead of grinding wheat. Would this lead to chaos? We shall be told that today there will be no bread. You just have to accept it. ..."

Hell no. Won't be sending any more wheat to those tossers if they flaked off on their bid - i.e. what they said they were gonna produce by when. Plus they can get the hell out of the mill while they're at it - what, do they think, they own the place?

If they want to discuss the meaning of love or life at some point during their time together, that's grand. But presumably they only have use of the mill and the delivered wheat because their team put in a bid to produce so much flour for delivery at a certain time. If they fail, they're a shit production team and the resources will be allocated to a better team next time. Nobody's forcing you to be in a team, after all.

On the other hand, if you want to do more with your life than sit around discussing the meaning of love (and loss) with failed millers, you'll get your arse into a team that's going places so you can get the really cool jobs, now that "labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want". You don't get to be a championship footballer if you don't turn up to the match, or a rock star if you never make the gig (or get around to playing). And who doesn't want to be champion footballer or rock star, even if you aren't getting paid for it?

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Apr 16 2014 17:44

They'll probably have to be shot for sabotage.

Spikymike
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Apr 17 2014 13:59

Well I like ocelot's description of these communisers contributions as ''..more a conversation than a movement..'' and as applied to this quoted contribution from Bruno, then bearing in mind his qualification ''..at least at first..'' and the emphasis on the quality of the activity of production as compared with the product, then I think he is mostly just guilty of overemphasising one aspect of the spontaneous and initially chaotic aspects of the revolutionary process, in an appeal to our imagination otherwise so constrained by our life within capitalism and absent from the various 'economic models' and transitional programmes offered up by the competing self-defined 'leaderships' within our milieu - so despite some valid criticism still a useful contribution to our conversation from which we can take some positive pointers.

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Apr 18 2014 22:23

Really interesting thread.

CrimeZone
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Apr 19 2014 21:02

Well I certainly feel I've learned more from this brief discussion about the communisation conversation than I have by reading Endnotes or Tiqqun

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Apr 20 2014 17:06

Red, completely agree on the eurocentrism and the sometimes awkward shoehorning of struggles outside Europe/America into the predetermined box of non-demand struggles. On this:

Red Marriott wrote:
And yes, as noted above they have tended to summarise the history of working class struggles (and their ‘consciousness’ and limits) as merely the history of the official ideology of the institutions of the workers movement; ignoring (to use a fave term of theirs) the ‘immanent’ tension between class struggle and its official representation, recuperation and mediation; eg, wildcats strikes and unions, riots and ‘community representatives’ of social mediation etc.

According to a future Endnotes person...

A former member of Aufheben wrote:
For TC, both the leftist wait for a return of the old workers movement – of assertive unions and proper social democracy – and the ultra left watch for a return of the forms of self-organisation and proletarian autonomy, which it opposed to those institutions, are hinged on a cycle of struggles which is past.

The claim - in TC at least - seems to be that self-organisation and autonomy are as obsolete as workers' parties and trade unionism. Of course, that's open to dispute. (Does anyone know if the French autogestion has the same ambiguity as Spanish, i.e. would it be better understood as 'self-management' here?).

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Apr 20 2014 20:05

Finally got round to reading the logistics piece in Endnotes 3; imho it's very good, and accessible compared to some of the more abstract theory stuff.

Poses a very good question: if global supply chains have been created to exploit global wage differentials and outflank militant workers, how could we take them over? Even if we wanted to, it would by definition require very rapid, synchronised expropriation on a global scale, when a revolutionary wave is more likely to start in one or more localities then spread. I guess many anarchists wouldn't have any objection to relocalising production. But if we're currently reliant on just-in-time global supply chains for food, for example, a revolutionary movement - or even just a big wave of struggle - could make us hungry very quickly. My first thought is if the analysis is right, then the urban agriculture crowd are on the ball. P2P urban food networks anyone?

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Apr 22 2014 16:48
Quote:
A former member of Aufheben wrote:
For TC, both the leftist wait for a return of the old workers movement – of assertive unions and proper social democracy – and the ultra left watch for a return of the forms of self-organisation and proletarian autonomy, which it opposed to those institutions, are hinged on a cycle of struggles which is past.

Well, as pointed out here;

Quote:
"In fact TC are not completely consistent on this point, for whilst they oppose themselves to the language of realisation (“the history of class struggle is production and not realisation” p.89) and like to imply with their tortuous anti-counterfactual reasoning that ‘if it didn’t happen it couldn’t have happened’, they nevertheless are not immune to driving a wedge in between past actualities and past possibilities themselves (“Self-organisation was not superseded in Argentina but the social struggles pointed beyond themselves to such a supersession” p.165)." http://libcom.org/library/notes-endnotes

But “a return of ... self-organisation and proletarian autonomy” wouldn’t necessarily be a repeat of the past anyway (except maybe in the eyes of crude structuralists/determinists). And surely even the communisers’ idealised revelatory visitation of ‘full communism’ upon the proles would have some character of ‘self-organisation, autonomy and be opposed to institutions’. They seem to forget that we start from where we are, which is necessarily confronting those real forces/institutions as inevitable interactions in social life. Again, little concept of struggle as process. Or is it that those non-Western struggles with self-organisation and autonomy can “point beyond themselves” but their prescription for the West denies this possibility? If one wanted to claim a theory so definite on the past and future of “the proletariat” – a global class – you might expect a little more clarification on the diversity of global conditions rather than schematic general periodisations. Their “totality” seems to be often missing half the world.

Quotes from TC like the one below seem to confirm their Eurocentrism – insofar as the present struggles in Bangladesh and elsewhere are at least as much a ‘proletarian assertion’ as those in the West in the 60s-70s (and perhaps show why Astarian was concerned to try to define them unconvincingly as something else);

Quote:
‘Self-organisation and autonomy are not constants whose reappearance we could wait for, rather they constitute a cycle of struggles which is finished; for there to be self-organisation and autonomy, it is necessary to be able to assert yourself as the productive class in opposition to capital.’

If the character of struggles is defined by TC as due largely to restructuring of the workplace and industry in the West – then the creation of a new young factory proletariat in the East seems to have been more or less ignored as something not fitting their periodisation (I’m happy to be corrected on this). Yet according to their own logic whereby the historical conditions of industry have conditioned and determined the content of workers’ struggle – then a new “cycle of struggles” of a new Eastern factory proletariat might be expected to “assert” itself in precisely the way TC & co claim is historically obsolete!?

Their “old workers movement” is the Western one and they appear to tend to make universal and absolute generalisations from their interpretation of it about an abstract homogenous “proletariat”. But the new workers movements of the East have particularities and histories of their own which don’t conform very neatly, imo, to the stageism/periodisation designated by TC & co to the Western history. If one wants to define periods of historical development to class relationships, struggles and conditions then one needs to take account that the East and West are in many ways very out of sync at present.

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Apr 28 2014 13:44

Come back uneven and combined development, all is forgiven! (only slightly tongue in cheek...).

Joking aside, I agree entirely with Red. It's a obvious failing of all Cammatte-style real/formal subsumption periodisation that abstracts from location. A com once said to me in the 90s - "Some people think the 70s are over - they're wrong, the 70s just moved to Korea and South Asia". By which he didn't mean that the factory workers and students then (90s) enthusiastically rioting with the police, were wearing platforms and bell bottoms and listening to Bay City Rollers, but that some of the structural/technical-composition stuff looked a lot like the 70s in Italy, France or even the UK.

Of course that image of co-existing different regional "time-zones" neglects the different situations in relation to what else is happening in the rest of the world (i.e. the "combined development" bit) - similarities in local structure aside, the international context was different - but it's a useful counter to facile "global" periodisations that in abstracting from any locality, end up creating a false abstraction which has Europe/USA as a hidden referent - rather like abstracting from gender in the current social context has a hidden referent to maleness as a bogus "universal".

confusionboats
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May 24 2014 17:15

read it as poetry
Its not bad.

comes closer to reproducing situationist literature than anything else I can think of off of the top of my head -

speaking of,
does Tiqqun remind anyone else of the 1981 film, My Dinner with Andre?

ZJW
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Feb 10 2021 04:10

A critique of the 'communisers' from a neo-(?) council communist position. (These are not labor voucherists.)

http://isr.press/Theses_on_the_Council_Concept/index.html

Dyjbas
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Feb 10 2021 14:45

And another recent critique of communisation, from the CWO, The Disappointed of 1968: Seeking Refuge in Utopia.

Spikymike
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Feb 10 2021 15:51

The CWO's text also in their libcom blog here:
https://libcom.org/blog/disappointed-1968-seeking-refuge-utopia-05092020
with some more inconclusive discussion.
Its always worth re-reading the discussion that was started on this thread from the start.