Introduction to the 8th issue of Riff-Raff.
It is of greatest importance to riff-raff as a project to engage in producing and making available theory that in an adequate way mirrors our experiences and makes the contemporary time of today understandable in a way that is possible to relate to. This includes trying to make a sketch of a strategical perspective on the revolution.
We realise that many of the readers of the journal feel that it has become steadily more difficult to dig into what we write in riff-raff. No one is more concerned than us with the seriousness of this problem. The more and more abstract theoretical character of the journal, however, should not be understood as a change of ambition. We understand it rather as the will to remain honest to this ambition, the ambition not to be satisfied with our pre-given conceptions. This ambition has guided the development in this direction, and, indeed, it has been a tumbling journey. At one moment you answer a question, at the other you try to supersede the problematic. Our eighth issue is no exception. However, it is our hope and belief that we this time have found some of the theoretical tools with which anew may allow us to approach the contemporary, concrete course of events in a more satisfying manner. We hope the readers will approach this issue with confidence and that you will feel that it is worth the effort to dig into the texts. As we have said before we address people who – just like us – are willing to learn something new, and who are willing to the effort the task demands to approach communist theorisation. The amount of pages this time reflect to some extent the amount of sleepless nights, late arrivals to work, missed examinations and so on that the work with this issue has implied. But after more than one and a half year of pleasant as well as hard work with translation, proof-reading, discussion and writing we are proud to finally present some really good texts that have given us a lot to think about. We hope you will experience the same toilsome journey that we did when we read and discussed these texts, because at the end of these steep paths there is a slightly more luminous summit.
Communist theory beyond the ultra-left
The perspective we have wrestled during the last 60–70 weeks is the problematic posed by the Marseilles based group/journal Théorie communiste (TC) and their attempt to produce communist theory that transcends what has come to be called the ultra-left1. This reading has been both inflammatory, remoulding and optimist. Its consequences include critical reflections, efforts to go even further, hesitations, discussions on the practical function of theory and much more.
The novelty in this perspective is first and foremost its profound historisation of class struggle. Class struggle is not something which goes on within a perennial framework only differing in whether we for a time have a working class offensive, defensive, once more an offensive and so on. Contrary to this invariance of class struggle we, and TC, stress that class struggle has to be historised both with the thin and wide brush. The aims and content given to the proletariat by every cycle of struggle are produced by the relations in which the proletariat face capital. Thus it is the very relation between proletariat and capital that determine the possible actions. TC gives us an exciting concept – the mutual implication of the proletariat and capital – that means that neither the proletariat nor capital can be regarded as the active party driving the contradiction between classes.
In the first text following this introduction, Aufheben (no further presentation seems necessary by now) gives a good historical summary of the historical ultra-left (left communism), and the background to the French ultra-left, but it nevertheless seems appropriate to give a short history of our own to be able, then, to move on with the presentation of the perspectives in the issue.
The class struggles in the post-WWI years. Social democrats, communists and left-communists
The groups that were to become the historical ultra-left had their origins in the social democratic parties at the beginning of the last century. At first they acted within these as a Marxist left-wing tendency against the increasing bureaucratisation and the more and more obvious reformism. The years preceding 1914 Rosa Luxemburg and others violently propagated against the armaments race and the imminent world war. As early as in 1909 parts of the left in the Netherlands had found it necessary to completely break with the social democrats and to found their own party. David Wijnkoop and Herman Gorter became the leaders of this. The same did not occur in other countries until the outbreak of WWI, when social democracy finally and in open daylight proved its ‘social chauvinism’2 by voting for war credits (with the motivation that the war was a patriotic defence war), when the left in various European countries formed as formally independent parties. Initially there were no fundamental political divergences between people within this left such as for example Sylvia Pankhurst, Anton Pannekoek, Nikolai Bucharin or Vladimir Lenin, they were all very engaged in the Communist (3rd) International formed in 1919. The year of 1917 had been the start of an international revolutionary wave. In Russia, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland, generally all over Europe, and sporadically in other continents as well, fierce class struggle occurred.
In Germany the counter-revolution was embodied in the SPD3. During November and December in 1918 Philipp Scheidemann and Friedrich Ebert of the SPD finally established a parliamentary republic. Karl Liebknecht and the KPD4 responded by organising an armed rebellion in Berlin in January 1919. It was defeated by a common offensive by the SPD, the remainings of the German army and para-military right-wing groups later to be called Freikorps. Even if the SPD with great violence suppressed workers’ rebellions the German workers, in what to some may seem as a paradox, in 1920 came to defend the Ebert Government against the nationalist Kapp–Lüttwitz Putsch. The social democratic government had initially sought help from the regular army who refused to put an end to the putsch (‘Reichswehr don’t shoot at the Reichswehr’ they said). When this did not work out the SPD instead turned to the workers and called a general strike which was massively followed. The putsch makers were defeated when the entire country was paralysed. After the putsch was over the Ebert government nonetheless recruited the same soldiers and Freikorps men that just before had tried to overthrow it to suppress the remaining rebellions in western Germany. The fierce class struggles in Germany continued until 1923.
In Russia the Bolshevik party came to power with the support of the masses of peasants in the country side and of the workers in cities such as Petrograd and Moscow. The establishment of the councils (‘spontaneously’ in 1905, with strong intervention from the Bolsheviks in 1917) provided the basis for the dual power that extinguished the tsar regime as well as the provisional government. Step by step soviet power was transferred to the Bolsheviks after October 1917 and they organised a new state apparatus. This state was, however, not more than the guardian of order – not the least the economical order –, which found its perhaps purest appearance in how it suppressed the Kronstadt rebellion in 1921, but it also went hand in hand with the ideal of the Bolshevik leaders of iron discipline in the factories. Under Stalin, so, the basis had been laid for a capitalist programme of modernisiation in the form of mass industrialisation and an extraordinarily bloody restructuring of production and of society as a whole.5
Parallel to the defeat of the international revolutionary wave the Communist International soon degenerated. Initially its aim was being an organ for spreading the world revolution, but it was transformed into an instrument for the national interests of the Russian state. The Communist parties of other countries linked to the ‘International’ ended up in being nothing more than the tentacles of Stalinist Russian dominance. The so-called Dutch–German communist left was among the first to leave the organisation (long before Stalin became its leader). It happened after polemic with Lenin in 1920 about, for example, the questions of the communist parties, the positions on parliamentary elections and on trade unions.6 Anton Pannekoek, Paul Mattick and others later became main characters of council communism and condemned Lenin and the Bolsheviks and came to see the Russian revolution as a bourgeois revolution (as opposed to the German revolution).7 Being ‘to the left of the left’ the ‘ultra-left’ became one of the labels of this, the most well known, left communist tradition.
The ultra-left and the mediations
Useful and progressive in their beginnings, the trade unions in the older capitalistic countries had turned into obstacles in the way of the liberation of the workers. They had turned into instruments of counter revolution, and the German left drew its conclusions from this changed situation.
– – –
The ultra-left declared parliamentarianism historically passé even as a tribune for agitation, and saw in it no more than a continuous source of political corruption for both parliamentarian and workers. It dulled the revolutionary awareness and consistency of the masses by creating illusions of legalistic reforms, and on critical occasions the parliament turned into a weapon of counter revolution. It had to be destroyed, or, where nothing else was possible, sabotaged. (Otto Rühle, ‘The struggle against Fascism begins with the struggle against Bolshevism’, Living Marxism vol. 4, № 8, 1939)
What clearly distinguish the ultra-left from the Leninist and other lefts is its strong emphasis on what it sees as the mediations that tie the working class to capitalist society. First and foremost in the form of the workers’ parties and the trade unions these mediations are understood as diverting the activities of the class, struggles that otherwise would be revolutionary, towards compromise and passivity, towards being integrated in the state apparatus and in the production of capital, instead of carry through the communist revolution. According to this notion it is always the immediate observable tendencies and the sporadic expressions of independent class struggle – first of all subversive actions, free of any mediation – that may question the existence of the institutions and in the end the existence of capitalism. Independent class struggle, in other words, is potentially revolutionary while the institutionalised struggles always move safely on the terrain of capital and the state. Ultra-leftism means that wherever there is class struggle (or when seeing class struggle in history) it measures its strengths, weaknesses and revolutionary potentials against to which extent it is limited, or even ‘infected’, by capitalist mediations, in short, how institutionalised it is.
We would like to stress that there were good reasons for these ideas to appear at the beginning of the last century. Indeed, the communist left produced good analyses of many fundamental issues: first and foremost that neither the social democrat nor the Leninist programme were any paths towards socialism but rather essentially capitalist. But could the decisive problem really be reduced to be such movements that from various accidental occasions managed to gain supporters and influence in the class rather than the hardline (ultra-) left advocating independent struggle? Our answer to this question is: no; what most of the ultra-left also would have said, however from different premises. From our approach, here rather influenced by TC, it is about examining how the proletariat concretely meets capital in a mutual implication, how the conditions of surplus-value production, exploitation, works in reality. The controversial conclusion which TC has drawn from this is that almost all hitherto history about the struggle between capital and labour has been a perspective of the victory of labour as the only alternative from the simple reason that the struggle had its historically specific character, due to the workers, in the struggle against capital, found their strength within their existence in their relation to capital, in short, that they remained workers. TC calls this programmatism.
Even the agenda of the ultra-left was based on victory of labour. It was so even though they, which TC find especially interesting, always criticised the real content of the struggle, that the workers were integrated in capital through their struggle.
The revolution as affirmation of the being of the class was conserved by critiquing all the existing forms of this being. 8
It was never about the ‘wrong ideas’, but always material and necessary causes existed to the affirmation of labour. When the organised workers’ movement grew strong at the end of the 19th century it was as ‘the empowerment of the class at the interior of the capitalist mode of production…: syndicalism, mass party, united front, parliamentarism.’9 This power was never reached at the expense of capital, but always lead to the strengthening of capital. The immediate ends of the struggle were only possible to reach through the capitalist mode of production, which at the same time was being revolutionised, that labour was further subsumed under capital. When the communist left in Germany in the 1920s confronted the parliament and the trade unions and posed factory committees and workers’ councils it regarded this as being the really revolutionary struggle as opposed to reformism and class collaboration. But despite the critique of these mediations its perspective remained the affirmation of the working class. For the ultra-left the ‘revolutionary workers’ councils’ were the bodies for the organisation of the future communist society. This model (many times very rich) included workers’ democracy, planning, collective forms of work and the distribution of the result of production according the work of each and every member.
But in this case communism is no more than the management of production by the proletariat within the already given categories: property (collective, social, state…), division of labour, exchange, development of productive forces, existence of an economy…10
The Left only saw the integration taking place in the passage to real subsumption in the mediations of the empowerment of the class, and separated these mediations from the definition of the proletariat as class of the capitalist mode of production.11
The analysis of the Dutch–German communist left, however, does not end with the defeat of the revolution in 1923. With the deepening of real subsumtion the communist left faced a situation, with its background in the ongoing class struggle, where the actions containing the affirmation of the class at the same time as they fights the mediations contains a contradiction. With this in mind TC conclude that the Dutch–German communist left does not get stuck in this dead-end. ‘t had, almost despite itself …, produced the conditions and the theoretical arms for its overcoming.’ What the ultra-left did not manage to articulate, however, was that the class ‘in its definition as class of the capitalist mode of production [finds] the capacity and the necessity to negate itself as a class in its contradiction with capital.’12
From the victory of labour to the abolition of the proletariat
While TC says that the workers’ movement was captured within the framework of programmatism (i.e. the victory of labour) they nevertheless see another perspective for the struggle today. They pose revolution as[i] the abolition of the proletariat through the abolition of capital. One thing that distinguish TC from other communist theorists close to them, such as Gilles Dauvé and Karl Nesic, is that, while the latter say that the self-abolition of the proletariat has been possible since the 19th Century, TC on the contrary say that their ‘faith’ in the new perspective – and the actual explanation to this theoretical horizon has been brought into daylight – has to be derived from the relations hitherto determining the conflict between capital and proletariat that has been transformed into other relations. They conclude that this appeared with a restructuring of the capitalist mode of production that started in the middle of the 1970s that, so to speak, ‘changed everything’.
We publish one text in the present issue in which TC criticise Dauvé and his ‘When insurrections die’. In ‘Normative history and the communist essence of the proletariat’ TC address the fundamentally normative nature of Dauvé’s reasoning about the defeat of earlier proletarian movements (Spain in 1936, for example). They criticise Dauvé for not coming up with any real explanation of the failure of these movements, more than that they failed (to dissolve themselves) due to not being able to come any further, which doesn’t really say anything at all. They disagree with the way Dauvé, in his text, blame the workers involved and suggests what they should have done instead of what they actually did. According to TC the reasoning of Dauvé is the inescapable result of his perspective of a revolutionary nature of the proletariat, an always slumbering revolution, immanent to the very definition of the proletariat, only waiting for a breakthrough independent of the real relations between the classes. Against this essentialist definition of the proletariat TC conclude that the proletariat and capital only exist in their immediate relation to each other. The counter-strike of Dauvé, and others, has been to accuse TC of being determinists and schematically over-done.13
We say that TC’s historisation of struggles offers a new possibility as it at the same time acknowledges the role of the proletariat in a communist revolution and understands the class’ revolution as a revolution against the existence of classes. To abandon the perspective of revolution as the affirmation of the class has been the theme for several issues of riff-raff, especially since the concept of communisation was introduced in the Swedish vocabulary. It seems as though this historisation has solved some of the problems that we have tried to approach in our theorisation of the possible materialisation of communism, but the dissolution of these problems apparently turns into new ones, and no less difficult. The sword through this Gordian knot has yet to see the light of day.
Real subsumption: how capital historically becomes a totality
We regard it as impossible to approach the theorisation of Théorie communiste without considering the importance they make of the two categories: ‘formal’ and ‘real subsumption’. In the first volume of Capital Marx only mentions these concepts in passing (and the Swedish translation is really bad at that and totally misses the opportunity to introduce the concepts).
Marx formulates the concepts of formal and real subsumption in his analysis of the immediate process of production. He talks about capital formally subsuming labour when it puts a historically already existing process of production at its feet. Surplus-value in its absolute form can be extracted by formerly independent artisans no longer possessing the fruits of their labour but instead forced to hand them over to the capitalist. However, the methods of work and skills are not given by capital. When Marx treats real subsumption he describes the process in which the labour-process is radically transformed by capital to fit its need for valorisation. The different methods of intensifying labour – co-operation, the introduction of machinery – has the production of relative surplus-value as its result. In this process capital also put science to use for its own needs, which has become an instrument of capital in the continuous transformation of the labour-process.
It is more thoroughly discussed in the ‘chapter’ of Capital excluded from the published editions of Capital, ‘The immediate process of production’. In Capital Vol I, as we know it from the four editions, ‘formal’ and ‘real subsumption’ appear in chapter 1614, section 5 under the heading ‘Absolute and relative surplus-value’:
The production of absolute surplus-value turns exclusively on the length of the working day, whereas the production of relative surplus-value completely revolutionizes the technical processes of labour and the groupings into which society is divided.
It therefore requires a specifically capitalist mode of production, a mode of production which, along with its methods, means and condistions, arises and develops spontaneously on the basis of the formal subsumtion of labour under capital. This formal subsumtion is then replaced by a real subsumption. Capital, Vol. I, Penguin, London, 1976, p. 645" href="#footnote15_jiprak7">15
Well, what TC and we, rather boldly, are admitting is that we go beyond Marx’s formulation in Capital and the concepts of ‘formal’ and ‘real subsumtion’ for us implies a wider definition than the narrow tie to the (assumed) immediate process of production. The concepts are regarded as being extended beyond the immediate process of production and are only valid instruments in capitalism as society, as totality, and in the conceptualisation of the reproduction of classes and class relations.
[T]he result of the process of production and realization is, above all, the reproduction and new production of the relation of capital and labour itself, of capitalist and worker. This social relation, production relation, appears in fact as an even more important result of the process than its material result.16
It is directly from what Marx himself writes that we can, or rather are obliged to, go beyond Marx, since, as Roland Simon says on page 221 in this issue17: ‘relative surplus-value can only exist if the commodities which enter into the reproduction of labour power are themselves produced in a capitalist manner. So in that sense real subsumption can not be defined simply on the basis of the transformation of the process of production.’ (our emphasis)
With the real subsumption of labour under capital, we say, the (apparently) immediate process of production absorbs society as a whole in its process as a process of reproduction and accumulation, i.e. valorisation puts the capitalist society under its feet. To paraphrase another word of Marx, capital becomes, in the historical-real sense, adequate to its concept (logically). Chris Arthur talks about this historical-conceptual relation:
It is inherent to the concept of capital that it must reproduce and accumulate, and in this it seeks to overcome all obstacles and to make the material reality it engages with conform as perfectly as possible to its requirements. But it takes time to do this, namely to make a reality of its ideal world of frictionless circulation and growth. Its opposite pole, labour, is indeed recalcitrant much of the time to the demands capital imposes on it. Thus, although the category of ‘real subsumption’ is logically implicit in the concept of capital, being required to perfect it, in actual fact a whole series of revolutions in the capitalist mode of production were requiered to create the requisite conditions for capital’s vindication of its hegemony.18
With real subsumption, i.e. in the sense of when the capital relation becomes adequate for its concept, when capitalism as a society becomes an organism, capital becomes its own precondition, what TC calls the ‘self-presupposition of capital’. Marx says in the Grundrisse:
While in the completed bourgeois system every economic relation presupposes every other in its bourgeois economic form, and everything posited is thus also a presupposition, this is the case with every organic system. This organic system itself, as a totality, has its presuppositions, and its development to its totality consists precisely in subordinating all elements of society to itself, or in creating out of it the organs which it still lacks. This is historically how it becomes a totality. the process of becoming this totality forms a moment of its process, of its development.19
It is from this perspective we see real subsumption, as a historical period, as essentially a 20th century phenomenon and not as a fact that emerged with the spinning machine.
The double mill and the reproduction of capital and labour
Double moulinet is the French translation of the German term Zwickmühle which appears only once in Capital, volume I, in the last paragraph of chapter 23. Zwickmühle originates from the thousands of years old game Mill20, but is used metaphorically in the German language for ‘grave dilemma’, to be caught in a trap or in an iron grip. Zwicken means to ‘pinch’ and Mühle means ‘mill’. There is an idea that Marx, when he writes Zwickmühle in fact is aiming at exactly a position in the Mill game and that the term therefore has a deeper meaning than simply ‘dilemma’ or ‘trap’. In the Mill game Zwickmühle is a particularly advantageous situation which a player can reach in order to strike at his opponent. In English you say that you are building a ‘double mill’.
Figure I. Double mill in motion. The reproduction of capital and labour?
The original French translator of Das Kapital, Joseph Roy, decided to play on the sense of mill and came up with double moulinet, explicitly evoking the image of two cogs or cycles, with the added benefit that a moulinet was also a grinder. It seems as though Roy got a good approximation, at least Marx seemed to think so as he supervised the translation and even claimed it was better than the original. Which is more than can be said for his English counterparts; the first English edition simply refuses to translate the word. We think the reasonable translation would simply be ‘double mill’.21 Since Marx, the French translation of this term has developed a life of its own in the work of French marxists.
This disquisition of the Mill game is of value in context because TC makes such a big deal about it and they think that it sheds light on an important problematic. The analogy is used to illustrate a picture of the whole of the capitalist mode of production and the reproduction of its classes, its self-presupposition. How does this reproduction come about?
The whole contests according to Marx of ‘the reproduction and new production of the relation of capital and labour itself…’, between the working class and the capitalist class. TC insists on that it is via Marx’s concept of exploitation, that is to say the conditions for the extraction of surplus labour, that makes it possible to illuminate how the capitalist society and its class contradictions are reproduced as a totality and expressed as such.
Exploitation, which is the content of the relation, can be deconstructed into three moments: the selling and purchasing of labour power; capital’s subsumtion of labour; the transformation of the surplus-value into additional capital, i.e. to new transformed means of production and new, transformed labour power. 22
Seen through the analogy of the Mill game, the first mill in the double mill is the reproduction of labour power. In this reproduction such things as the housing of the workers, education, migration etc. is included. Here are ‘all the separations, defences, specifications that are erected in opposition to the decline in value of the work force, those that prevent the whole working class, globally, in the continuity of its existence, of its reproduction and expansion, from having to face as such the whole capital…’23 The second mill is the reproduction of capital: the constant turnovers, how surplus value is transformed into additional capital. Also there exists a set of constraints: ‘Any surplus product must be able to find its market anywhere, any surplus value must be able to find anywhere the possibility of operating as additional capital, that is of being transformed into means of production and labour power…‘24 In this relation, one of the cycles – the reproduction of one of it’s poles –, is determined immediately by the other cycle and its reproduction; one cog can only spin through the spin of the other and vice versa.
TC is telling us that during a first historical phase of real subsumtion, stretching from after the second world war up to the beginning of the 1970s, the accumulation of capital could for a period be secured in compromises within, in the first place, national frameworks. The production of surplus value could for example work hand in hand with building of the welfare states, with regulated labour markets etc., which at the same time guaranteed the existence of the workers. They say that it was during these conditions that the workers’ movement, a workers’ identity and reformist politics could find its clearest raison d’être. However, the crisis that appeared in the beginning of the 1970s marked a break with this compromise, because at the same time as the victories of the workers’ movement had been achieved hand in hand with the integration of the reproduction of labour with the capital relation and the deeper exploitation of the labour power, the power of the working class (how the working class, for capital, was divided into geographically separated spheres of exploitation etc.) made up fixed points which became too rigid and came to make up a drag on the self-presupposition of capital, a hindrance for a smooth flow from one cycle to the other. The workers’ uprisings in the 1970s was according to TC a rebellion aimed at the restraints that was demanded by capital in order to maintain the social contract.
To the demand for self-sacrifice in order ‘to get out of the crisis’ it cheerfully replied that the obligation of wage-labour merited only a quick death.
The capitalist class took up the challenge laid down by this vast movement of labour revolts. From the right to the left, it was a matter of clearing all the obstacles to the even flow of exploitation and its reproduction. In opposition to the previous cycle of struggles the restructuring abolished all specification: statutes, welfare, fordian compromise, division of the global cycle into national zones of accumulation, into a fixed relation between centre and periphery or into zones of internal accumulation (East/West). The workers movement disappeared and working class identity became a retro chic.25
The restructuring at work since the middle of the seventies renders the process of the total reproduction of society adequate to the production of relative surplus-value, in so far as it no longer comports any fixed point in the double moulinet of the reproduction of the whole which ceaselessly reproduces and resituates the proletariat and capital face to face…26
These huge upheavals and their underlying causes have been given many names: ‘globalisation’, ‘the neo-liberal offensive’, ‘the fall of communism’ and so on. An advantage of TC’s model of the restructuring27, in contrast with many others, is that we think that it looks carefully grounded in Marx’s categories.28 It is undoubtably not ‘the right’ who is the villain responsible for these attacks and not even the announcement of the fall of the workers’ movement seems to be a lie made up by the bourgeois press. Rather it is the serious result of a global counter revolution, by the restructuring. But can we after the disappearence of the workers’ identity really see a glimpse of light or has the victory of labour simply been replaced by the infinite poverty of the proletarians? We do not find the answers to these questions in any speculative twisting of words but by fixing our eyes on the concrete class struggle, on the new arenas of struggle29 which has already been opened up.
Let us first just give the floor to TC to sum up what the analogy with the double mill can give:
As a matter of fact, the worker is caugt in a trap but the strength of the image of the ‘double moulinet’ lies in the fact that it shows that he owes not his position and definition to a manoeuver but to a structural definition of reproduction. The proletariat cannot abolish capital without abolishing itself at the same time. (You get this idea in the phrase ‘double moulinet’.) If understanding the contradictory reproduction through the ‘double moulinet’ dismisses the liberation of the class, it nevertheless induces a terrible question: how can the abolition of its own rules be part and parcel of the game, as a relation between its terms and also as a movement of the whole? In the contradiction between its poles is the object itself (the mode of production) which is in contradiction with itself. Because capital is a contradiction in process proletariat against capital includes the negation of its own existence.
To answer this question would amount to reconsider the whole analysis of the contradictory course of the capitalist mode of production, not only as contradictory and reflexive game between two classes which constitute the two poles of the same whole, but as an internal movement within a whole which has two poles. It is only in apprehending contradiction (exploitation) as the internal movement of a whole that we will be able to grasp the way in which the game comes to the abolition of its own rule and in no way the transient and random victory of one of the players (who actually is always the same one).
Exploitation makes it possible to build class struggle as contradiction, what is to say: a reciprocal but non-symetrical implication (subsumption); a process in contradiction with its own reproduction (the fall of the rate of profit), a whole of which each element exists only as a definition of its other in contradiction with it and from there with itself (productive labour and accumulation of capital, surplus labour and necessary labour).30
All this only functions if we achieve understanding the fall of the rate of profit as a contradiction between the classes and as a questionning of the proletarait by itself in the movement when the whole is, in its dynamics, contradictory to itself as the activity of a class.31 (Roland Simon in an e-mail to riff-raff, September 14, 2006)
From self-organisation to communisation
With the restructuring of the capitalist mode of production, the contradiction between the classes is found at the level of their respective reproduction. In its contradiction with capital, the proletariat puts itself into question.32
Presumably the most important of the texts by Théorie communiste that we have translated is Self-organisation is the first act of the revolution; it then becomes an obstacle which the revolution has to overcome. It is also the TC-text which comes closest to some sort of manifesto. This text was written in 2005 and deals with the characteristics of contemporary class struggle and what TC considers to be different from before. As basis for this argumentation we find a number of contemporary and historical examples of struggles from different countries, for example Italy, France, Argentina and Algeria. The emphasis lies on the question of how a revolutionary opening can be created out of the existing immideate struggles and the sharp qualitative rupture which a revolutionary process according to them has to entail, by necessity.
In contrast with the view of communism as a paradise on earth that we are to enter ‘after the revolution’, TC understands (together with Dauvé and others) the communist revolution in our time as that of communisation, the immediate suppression of all capitalist relations: wage labour, exchange, division of labour, property, the state and all the classes in society.
The proletarian revolution is centered around the dissolution of the proletariat, and therefore the proletariat’s movement of communisation will by necessity come in contradiction with its own self-organisation as a class. This is due to the fact that self-organisation does not go beyond the organisation of proletarians as proletarians.
The supersession of really existing self-organisation will not be accomplished by the production of the ‘true’, the ‘right’, the ‘good’ self-organisation, it will be achieved against really existing self-organisation, but within it, from it.33
In light of this view on the supersession of self-organisation, TC maintains that the teories of workers’ autonomy become insufficient and that they can not be be used to grasp the process of revolution. The bottom line, however, is not that autonomous, self-organised struggles (for example occupations of factories) are ‘bad’ (since they can not be revolutionary measures). Instead TC says that they in actual fact are indispensable, that this is the way class struggle has to express itself initially. If the possible revolution can not be anything but the thorough communisation of society34, this communisation also has to start from somewhere, and it has to emerge out of the class contradictions of this society. Thus, the opening for a social movement of communisation arises out of the self-organisation, but as a break, a rupture, with it. It would be absurd to be against self-organisation by principle.
A central idea in the text, which we find immensely important, is that the syndicalism which characterises all everyday class struggles can not be explained by the existence of trade unions, or that this nature would somehow disappear in the struggle outside the union; syndicalism does not exist because of institutionalisation. But if trade unions organise proletarians as workers and go into negotiations with the buyer of labour power, while the self-organised, autonomous workers struggle defends the proletarians conditions of life as proletarians, is it then any differences of importance between them? Yes and no. However, the difference is not found in that the former are the administrators of labour while the latter represent the revolt against work.
On the other hand, there is an important distinction between trade union and self-organisation when it comes to the possibilities for how far the syndicalist struggle can be fought. In the text TC claim that first self-organisation must be reached and triumph in order to be superseded later, and that this is the only way in which the proletarians gain practical knowledge of their situation, in other words that all capitalist categories and class belonging itself is constituted as an exterior constraint to the struggle, and their asking of the question of communisation is made possible.
The self-organisation of struggles is a crucial moment of the revolutionary supersession of struggles over immediate demands. To carry on the struggle over immediate demands intransigently and to the very end cannot be achieved by unions, but by self-organisation and workers’ autonomy. To carry on the struggle over immediate demands through workers’ autonomy on the basis of irreconcilable interests is to effect a change of level in the social reality of the capitalist mode of production.35
TC are saying that nowadays the proletarians simply get fed up with self-organisation as soon as it is established, because when they look at themselves in the mirror, they see nothing but their own existence. However, they first need to see this reflection in order to knuckle down this existence and thereby to go beyond self-organisation.
There is a qualitative leap when the workers unite against their existence as wage labourers, when they integrate the destitute and smash market mechanisms; not when one strike ‘transforms’ itself into a ‘challenge‘ to power. The change is a rupture.36
[The proletarians can] fight against market relations, seize goods and the means of production while integrating into communal production those that wage-labour can’t integrate, make everything free, get rid of the factory framework as the origin of products, go beyond the division of labour, abolish all autonomous spheres (and in the first place the economy), dissolve their autonomy to integrate in non-market relations all the impoverished …; in this case, it is precisely their own previous existence and association as a class that they go beyond as well as (this is then a detail) their economic demands. The only way to fight against exchange and the dictatorship of value is by undertaking communisation.37
For TC, it is the class relation understood as exploitation which gives the proletariat its position as a capitalist category and at the same time delivers the key to the dissolution of the classes and the capitalist categories. With exploitation class struggle does not become one thing and the Marxian (economic) concepts something else. ‘It is the insufficiency of surplus-value in relation to accumulated capital which is at the heart of the crisis of exploitation.’38 The falling rate of profit does not trigger class struggle, as the ‘objectivists’ would have it. Nor is the opposite true, that class struggle triggers the falling rate of profit, as the ‘subjectivists’ would have it. ‘[T]he fall of the rate of profit is a contradiction between classes.’39
In 2003 the publishing collective Senonevero, where TC among others participate, took an initiative to try to bring together all the different groups sharing the perspective of revolution as communisation: the ‘communising current’. This on the basis of a mini platform and around the review project Meeting. A number of indivuals and groups swallowed the bait, however not those around Troploin Newsletter (Dauvé & co.) who give their explanation to this in the text ‘Communisation: a “Call” and an “Invitation”’. The work with Meeting is going on while this is being written, but it should probably be mentioned that a lot of the discussions have orbited around whether the platform in ‘Invitation’ is entirely perfect. In light of this you can probably say that there exists a communising current, where some are gathering around Meeting, but that it is not entirely easy to define. Either way, it is clear that we welcome this initiative.
Some last words on the first part
Let us finalise this first part of the issue by saying a few words about the texts. The issue begins with a number of texts, originally published as a debate between Théorie communiste and Aufheben in their respecive magazines. Through this debate we came in contact with the ideas of TC for the first time. Aufheben presents TC for their readers, partly in their own words, partly through a couple of translated texts. We have translated these texts, as well as the debate itself and a few other texts by TC. We hope that it will be sufficient to let the debate present itself. A few texts by TC follows and a couple of these texts have already been mentioned. We are especially happy to present an interview from the last summer with a leading member of TC. With this interview we got an opportunity to follow up the discussion with Aufheben, TC’s view on the debate, and to listen to what they have to say about the position of communist theory in class struggle. The text ‘A fair amount of killing’ treats the second, ongoing, war in Iraq in light of the global restructuring.
Concerning the translations, we might add that we have added a previously unpublished introduction to TCs reply to Aufheben, which was originally meant for the thirteenth issue of Aufheben. As to find some sort of middle-ground we translated the final reply from TC to Aufheben as a compilation of the text published in English (Aufheben 13) and the text published in French (TC 19). Thus, it is neither the text published in Aufheben nor the text published in Théorie communiste that is presented here in riff-raff. All for the sake of confusion. Aufheben readers might notice that there are four chapters of the text in our translation40, while the English translation only comprises three. The four paragraphs in the text ‘Introduction to “A reply to Aufheben”’ refer to these four paragraphs. Furthermore, the interview with Roland Simon was transcribed into English by a comrade from a French audio recording.
The second part is a discussion on a text from the last issue, ‘Communism of attack and communism of withdrawal’ by Marcel. Marcel received two critical comments (one by Per Henriksson and the other by Björkhagengruppen from Stockholm), and Marcel wrote a reply. Henriksson argues, among other things, that Marcel misplaces the historical and logical relation between capitalism and communism, where the former is a precondition for the latter, and that Marcel’s perspective therefore becomes utopist.
Björkhagengruppen criticises Marcel on the basis of partly different conditions. For instance, they argue that Marcel did not do a proper reading of Hegel and thus fails to preserve a distinction between the concepts of essence and appearance. Furthermore, they develop an idea of a gap between labour power and living labour, arguing that this might be a possible way out of the relationship of capital.
Marcel states in his reply that he acknowledges the critique in the mentioned articles, but he also refers to a coming publication, aimed at clarification of his proposed theory. In line with his former text, the thought remains that the dialectics of capital entails class struggle but that it is not here the revolution can be found. This he presents as anti-dialectic: ‘Communism is non-appropriate, not appropriate, since it is the positive abolition of capital’s telos.’
Furthermore, we have recieved a text by Chris Wright, a North American comrade, who pursues the discussion on the relationship between objectivism–subjectivism and crisis–collapse on the basis of the text by Marramao in our last issue. He is not content with the solution of the problematic of objectivism–subjectivism which Marramao has to offer.
We find it very pleasant and positive that people like to take part in the discussion we have tried to conduct in and through riff-raff, that they have understood that we have never intended discussion in some sort of isolation. On top of that, the fact that they are both ambitious and constructive creates a feeling of acknowledgement amongst us; and the project which we devote our time to seems to have some relevance outside our group as well.
We introduce in our eighth issue three seemingly disparate texts in our series of novel translations of Marx and Engels: the years 1844–1845, 1860 and 1877. The first one is a few passages from Marx’s and Engel’s jointly produced writing The holy family or Critique of critical criticism. Against Bruno Bauer and company. This book has never before been published in Swedish, either as a whole or (which is all too common) in the form of a commented selection. It was written about the same time as Marx’s now famous, as well as controversial, Economic and philosophical manuscripts of 1844, also called the Paris manuscripts (these were manuscripts and notes and the names by which they are now well-known are editorial titles by later publishers). We have not managed to translate the book in its whole and we have unfortunately been forced to limit ourselves to a few passages: the ‘Foreword’ and ‘Critical comment no 2’ from the fourth chapter, which among other things, deals with Proudhon. We publish the Foreword just to come a bit on the way towards a complete future translation (however date and translators for this project can not be promised at this time) – as for the content it does not say so much. The later part has on the other hand much more to offer (although it is very much moved out of its context). Here we find at least two passages that are usually found in the shower of Marx quotes. The shorter of the two is most likely already familiar and the substance is, a bit shortened, that the question is not what workers suspect or think at the coffee table, but rather what we are and what we have to become as a class. No more, no less. The former, a little longer part, deals with the very relationship between the proletariat and capital, where these are not to be understood as two external poles, two separate subjects or a subject and an object that stand against each other, but where these poles at the same time are each others opposites and preconditions. We do not continue the discussion here and now, since the immediate reason for the publication of this passage is the references to it in the discussion between Aufheben and TC.
Apart from this we publish two letters by Marx from two different time periods. Neither do we feel like writing anything about these other than that they contain interesting formulations which surely might suprise one or two Marx necrophiles. We find one in a comment on the dissolution of the Communist League where some words are spent on the party and in the historical way he always intended. In the second letter we find a tired Marx who shares his view on the idolising of his personality.
riff-raff, October 2006
- 1. We wish to approach the conceptual mess concerning the terms ultra-left, left and council communism right away and once and for all. The ultra-left is sometimes considered as all the currents to the left of the Bolsheviks, and sometimes more specifically as the current in Germany and Holland, and at other times the modern left with its origin in Socialisme ou Barbarie. Left communism (or the communist left) is often considered in general as those to the left of the Bolsheviks, but also more specifically considered as the Italian left. Council communism is the Dutch–German current, and sometimes the groups that appeared after the defeat of the German revolution, and is considered as one branch of left communism. Left communism can also to some extent be regardes as a hyperonym of council communism, and the former is here equivalent to the wider definition of the ultra-left (which is the term we usually use).
- 2. A term Lenin came up with in 1915 to stigmatise those in the 2nd International who supported their respective countries in WWI.
- 3. Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands
- 4. Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands
- 5. We would like to recommend an interesting text: Loren Goldner, ‘Communism is the material human community: Amadeo Bordiga today’. Published (in Swedish) in riff-raff № 3–4, 2003.
- 6. See Lenin’s pamphlet: Left-wing communism – an infantile disorder , and Herman Gorter’s Open letter to comrade Lenin.
- 7. See Anton Pannekoek: Lenin as a philosopher.
- 8. Théorie communiste, ‘Communist theory’
- 9. Théorie communiste, op. cit.
- 10. Théorie communiste, op. cit.
- 11. Théorie communiste, op. cit.
- 12. Théorie communiste, op. cit.
- 13. See ‘Love of labour’ by Dauvé and Nesic. Published (in Swedish) in riff-raff № 5, 2003. A printable English version can be found here: http://www.geocities.com/antagonism1/loveoflabour/lollollpaginated.pdf
- 14. Chapter 14 in the Swedish edition. Trans. note.
- 15. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Penguin, London, 1976, p. 645
- 16. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin, 1973, p. 458
- 17. ‘Interview with Roland Simon’
- 18. Chris Arthur, ‘Dialectical development versus linear logic’, in The new dialectic and Marx’s Capital, Brill, Leiden/Boston/Köln 2002, p. 76
- 19. Karl Marx, op. cit., p. 278
- 20. Another common name in English is ‘Nine men’s morris’. To read a short description of the origins of the game and learn how to play, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Men’s_Morris.
- 21. In the currently available English translations of texts by Théorie communiste the French term is not translated but left as it is, and in the Aufheben–TC debate the term ‘twin cogs’ is also used. Translators note.
- 22. Théorie communiste, ‘A reply to Aufheben’, p. 164
- 23. Théorie communiste, ‘Communist theory’
- 24. Théorie communiste, op. cit.
- 25. Théorie Communiste and Alcuni fautori della comunizzazione, ‘A fair amount of killing’
- 26. Théorie commmuniste, ‘Communist theory’
- 27. We have in this issue no text which in closer detail deals with the restructuring, however we recieved the tip of reading the pages 26–51 in the text ‘Proletariat et capital: une trop breve idylle?’, Théorie communiste № 19, 2004.
- 28. The law of value is intact, as well as for example the distinction between productive and improductive labour.
- 29. How is the class struggles fought when, for example, the difference between working and being unemployed becomes more and more rubbed off with the increasingly widespread flexibilisation?
- 30. See Théorie communiste № 2, p. 10 and № 20, pp. 71–72; pp. 78–79; p. 170; p. 190.
- 31. See Théorie communiste № 20, p. 54
- 32. Théorie communiste, ‘Self-organisation is the first act of the revolution; it then becomes an obstacle which the revolution has to overcome.’, Supplement to Théorie communiste no 20, 2006, pp. 34–44
- 33. Théorie communiste, op. cit., p. 14
- 34. Something which we adhere to.
- 35. Théorie communiste, op. cit., pp. 27–28
- 36. Théorie communiste, op. cit., p. 40
- 37. Théorie communiste, op. cit., p. 30
- 38. Théorie communiste, op. cit., p. 76
- 39. Théorie communiste, ‘Communist theory’
- 40. Due to the fact that TC had a paragraph on Dauvé that Aufheben decided not to publish.