Transition - Gianni Collu

Transition - Gianni Collu

Article by Collu, from 'Invariance', Serie I n. 8 (1969) and later, 'Antologia di Invariance' (Naples 1971), exploring formal and real subsumption.
Transcribed from 'Origin and function of the party form 1962: Essays by Jacques Camatte and Gianni Collu', David Brown, London 1977.


The starting point for the critique of the existing society of capital has to be the restatement of the concepts of formal and real domination as the historical phases of capitalist development. All other periodizations of the process of the autonomization of value, such as competitive, monopoly, state monopoly, bureaucratic etc. capitalism, leave the field of the theory of the proletariat, that is, the critique of political economy, to begin with the vocabulary of the practice of social-democracy or "Leninist" ideology, codified by Stalinism.

All this phraseology with which one pretends to explain "new" phenomena really only mystifies the passage of value to its complete autonomy, that is, the objectification of the abstract quantity in process in the concrete community.

Capital, as a social mode of production, accomplishes its real domination when it succeeds in replacing all the pre-existing social and natural presuppositions with its own particular forms of organization which mediate the submission of the whole of physical and social life to its real needs of valorization. The essence of the Gemeinschaft of capital is organization.

Politics, as an instrument for mediating the despotism and capital, disappears in the phase of the real domination of capital. After having been fully used in the period of formal domination, it can be disposed of when capital, as total being, comes to organize rigidly the life and experience of its subordinates. The state, as the rigid and authoritarian manager of the expansion of the equivalent forms in social relation ("Urtext"), becomes an elastic instrument in the business sphere. Consequently, the state, or directly, "politics", are less than ever the subject of the economy and so "bosses" of capital. Today, more than ever, capital finds its own real strength in the inertia of the process which produces and reproduces its specific needs of valorization as human needs in general.

(The defeat of the May ’68 movement in France was the clearest manifestation of this "occult power of capital".)

The economy reduces politics (the old art of organizing) to a pure and simple epiphenomenon of its own real process. It lets it survive as the museum of horrors such as parliament with all its farces, or else in the rancorous undergrowth of the small "extra-parliamentary" rackets, which are all identical regarding their formal or informal organization, but compete obscenely with their "strategic" chatter.

The destiny of the other instruments of mediation or of ideology seems to be the same. They still enjoyed a certain apparent autonomy (philosophy, art, etc.) during the period of formal domination, as survivals of the previous epochs. All apparent distinction between ideology and the social mode of production is destroyed and, ... today, value that has achieved autonomy is its own ideology.

Just as the passage from absolute to relative surplus-value has, capital (its movement constantly tending to total expropriation) has divided all the social and technical connections of the work process that existed beforehand in order then to reunify them as intellectual powers of capital’s own valorization; so today, in the passage of capital to an overall social power, aiding in the disintegration of the entire social fabric and all its mental connections with the past and their recomposition in a delerious unity, organized by the ever accelerating cycles of the metamorphoses of capital, everything is reduced to degraded ingredients of the extra-ordinary synthesis of value that is self-valorizing.

The real domination of capital therefore means that not only the tempo of life and the mental capacity of the proletariat are expropriated, but that circulation time now prevails over production time (on a spatial level). The society of capital creates an "unproductive" population on a large scale, i.e. it creates its own "life" in function of its own need: to fix them then in the sphere of circulation and the metamorphoses of accumulated surplus-value.

The cycle closes with an identity: all men’s time is socially necessary time for creation and circulation – realization of surplus-value. Everything can be measured by the hands of a clock.

"Time is everything, man is nothing; he is, at the most, time’s carcass"
Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy

The abstract quantity in process (value) constitutes itself as the social mode of production and of life (material community).

The theories of the workers’ movement have grasped this social process merely to mystify it. To give just one example: absolute subordination of the state and its insertion as a particular moment of the valorization process becomes the exact opposite, that is, a "state capitalism", so capital can become not a social mode of production and of life, but a bureaucratic, democratic etc. mode of management.

Once they have arrived at this point of view, they have to make the revolution no longer the overthrow of one "existence" and the affirmation of another, but a polico- [politico?] statist process with the "organization" of it as the key problem or, more, the panacea that resolves everything. Here again the degraded conception of the revolution no longer as a world relation of power between the proletariat and capital, but immediately as a question of "forms" or "models" of organization – the passage is very short.

One cannot otherwise explain the preponderance of the categories mentioned above in the workers’ movement (state, bureaucratic capitalism etc.), which merely bracket the real being of capital so as to affirm the centrality of one of its epiphenomena theorized as the supreme phase, last phase etc.

On the contrary, one must remain on the ground of the critique of political economy (the critique of the existence of capital and the affirmation of communism) to understand the totality of social life in the period of its reduction to a means of the process of development of the autonomized productive forces.

The society of capital, in fact, appears superficially to be divided into fields that are apparently opposed and thus gives rise to the separate descriptions of them (sociology, economics, psychology etc.). The existence of all these "fields of research" only explains in mystifying the unified absolute value-created reality, the modern sacrum, characteristic of a process which goes from the decomposition of a pre-existing organic reality to the fixation of diverse elements which are then recomposed and put into use only by the growing social inertia, created by the opaque and despotic movement of the productive forces, forces which grow out of themselves and which necessitate the representation of the true movement of cohesion of the whole social totality.

That is why all "critical theory" wishing to found itself on raising up one or other "sector" ends up reducing itself to having neither subject nor object.

No subject to the extent that value as an abstract object in a material being (Grundrisse) avoids all immediate determination. One must say about this imperceptibility of the real tendencies of capital in the epoch of its absolute domination, that the most obvious and dazzling manifestations of fetishism and mystification of the social relations created by its development is afforded us by the concept accepted by all the "innovating" theories, critical or apologetic, of "industrial society" and its appendix: "consumer society".

This concept, an expression of a mystification perpetrated by capital in social relations, becomes possible insofar as the valorization (thus the life needs of capital) increasingly dominates the labour process. Marx defined the labour process as the organic exchange between man and nature, purposeful activity turned to the creation of use values.

Capital tends to present its own general needs as exclusively and immediately identical to those of humanity to the extent that it creates an increasing identity between these two processes. In fact, given the real domination of its own existence, this mystification seems to be based rationally on the movement when sociability, conviviality, customs, language, desires, or needs, in a word, the social being of humans, have become nothing other than the valorization requirement of capital, internal components of its own enlarged reproduction.

If capital dominates everything to the point of being able to identify itself with the social being, it seems, on this basis, to disappear.

This is the most graling fetishism ever produced by exchange value in the history of its own autonomization. A "neutral" category can arise from this, like that of industrial society. Thus all possible distinction between abstract labour which valorizes capital (the proletariat) or which enables the total existence of its being (the middle classes) and "useful" human activity as it unfolded in pre-capitalist epochs can disappear (and in fact does disappear).


It was previously stated that capital can succeed in presenting itself as a "rational" system, or at least as inescapable. It is necessary to see how it attempts to slow down or fix the revolt of the proletariat in its immediacy, this being which always constitutes its potential negation.

Given the minority nature of the proletariat in capital’s metropoles, capital works by isolating it and circumscribing it in a ghetto where the proletarian violence forms.

One must state that the proletariat’s existence, when it manifests itself as a class occurs in an immediately destructive dimension, the positive negation of the material community and all forms or organization. It is thus the concrete affirmation of communism and the realization of theory.

We can see this community of non-pre-established action in the actions of the black proletariat of the USA. It was constituted on the basis of the vital need for overcoming and celebration and the immediate consciousness of the identity of objectives: the unification, in a word, of the real class movement.

We therefore support the production of those conditions which Marx, at the time of the formation of the IWMA, had already gathered as crucial moments in the formation of the world communist party, the necessary historical product of the contradictions of the society of capital.

The most important moment in the manifestation of communism in practice is constituted by the overcoming of democracy, that is, by the proletariat’s refusal, when it raises its own material needs to the highest level, to accept any division between decision and action, thus the division between being and thought on which, in the past, was built the possibility of creating a "political leadership" based on the mechanism of direct or indirect democracy (soviets-councils or democratic centralism) or, more generally, on which the mechanism of democratic-despotic representation is founded within the old art of organizing society: politic. If real domination is only the practical-material realization of the religious presuppositions of alienation, the revolution can only begin with the "realization of philosophy" in the sense of the end to all separation, which is the undistorted essence of all that the revolution affirmed, starting from the metropoles of "the most developed capitalism".

This is also the case in Europe: the May ’68 movement in France, or any of the great actions of the Italian proletariat in the North or South in ’69. Here the hurried attempt by the most varied to "organize" seemed doomed to failure, characteristically as with the USA, after every revolt of some importance. The reason is very simple, these rackets want to "lead politically" what really is nothing but the complete negation of their being and ideology. This in the organization form of the "gang" on one hand, and "politics" on the other.

The thorough study for the "externalization of the capital relation in the form of interest-bearing capital" and the consequent development of fictitious capital, has as such to be taken up again at the basis of the social fabric: hence the "management bodies" in the factory and state, or "politicians", have increasingly assumed the form of gang-rackets.

In such a general statement, one can only note that, with the constitution of capital as a material being and thus as social community, the traditional person of the capitalist (bourgeois) has totally vanished and that every partial "human community" is conditioned by the mode of existence of the material community. This mode of existence is due to the fact that capital can valorize itself, so exist, and develop its essence only if part of it, which also participates in the general movement of autonomization, relates as a partial movement to the social whole and places itself constantly in comparison with the general equivalent, i.e. capital itself. It needs this comparison (competition – emulation) as far as it exists only to differentiate.

On all this arises a social fabric based on the competition of rival "organizations" (rackets).

Now the various "groupescules" are nothing other than gangs that compete, they only have in common the divination of the misery of the proletariat, their general equivalent. "Just as the democrats have made the word people (demos) a sacred thing, you have made sacred the word proletariat" (Marx).


The perception that its "function" is quantitatively increasingly irrelevant in the process of the total life of capital can today make the proletariat conscious, in an immediate manner, of the uselessness of its wage slavery and destroy the chains binding it to capital.

It can advance its own negation (already operating under the reign of capital, but in a mystified form with the generalization of wage labour) in all social reality. Its disappearance is the definite disappearance of classes.

The separation from capital implies that the proletariat constitute itself in a "party" personifying its self-negation, implying the formation of the Gemeinwesen which will dominate the autonomized whole and will make it work for the satisfaction of human needs.

The theory of the party/theory of the proletariat cannot be taken from the so-called "political" texts of Marx and Engels alone, such as the Manifesto, the IWMA resolutions etc., because these texts consider the proletariat especially in its immediate reality and envisage above all the formal party of that period as an existent fact.

The proletariat still had to generalize its existence over all society, push for the development of capital and, if it took power and constituted itself as the ruling class (1871, 1905, 1917), it still had to fulfil tasks which, with the counter-revolution, were later assumed and completed by capital.

Today only the party in its historical meaning is possible (cf. Marx to Freiligrath, 1860). Every formal party is only an organization rapidly re-absorbed in the form of the racket. It is the same with all groups, structured or not, that wish to work for the reformation of the party or for the creation of councils.

The historical party can only be realized by the global movement of the proletariat constituting itself as class, thus making the re-unification of the human species possible, a possibility ever since the time of the IWMA.

One can only understand such a movement by the study of Marx’s works (Capital, Grundrisse) where he profoundly defined and criticized capital as a mode of production and "life". It is from this that one can integrally explain what the proletariat is and its development in relation to the being of capital.

All other explanations of the formation of the party, such as that founded on the theory of consciousness brought from outside, rest on the implicit negation of the proposition: the proletariat will realize the theory: and is thus maintaining the counter-revolution.

Additional notes to "Transition"

Capital subsumes the working class in itself as productive labour by means of a double movement:


On one hand, the "capitalized worker", i.e. by imposing the self-consciousness of the worker considering himself as capital that has to be fruitful, labour has to be an activity with a view to profit alone. This phenomenon currently manifests itself as the anthropomorphosis of capital, that is, as Marx stated, capital itself becomes man, then its domination becomes not merely natural:

The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirements of that mode of production as self-evident natural laws. The organization of the capitalist process of production, once it is fully developed, breaks down all resistance. The constant generation of a relative surplus population keeps the law of supply and demand of labour, and therefore wages, within narrow limits which correspond to capital’s valorization requirements. The silent compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker.
Marx, Capital Vol. I, Harmondsworth 1976, p. 899,

but also humanized and, through this last generalization of its being, seems to vanish. When this happens capital becomes the apologist for what was its main enemy: "labour".

Under formal domination, productive labour incarnated in the person of the worker exists partly as the essential domination of the life of capital, partly as its possible negation. This ambiguity was present in the very being of the worker.

To the extent that capital affirms itself as a total being, it succeeds in resolving this ambiguity, thus creating an internal division in the proletariat itself which is split into parts which appear immediately as heterogeneous. On one hand an ever more important part of the remains of productive labour is subsumed as the stable subject of valorization, specified as "qualified" activity at levels which are hierarchically different, but unified as "intellectual powers" of autonomized value, on the other hand there is the radical expulsion of those proletarians from the production centre. Their activity has an apparently insignificant result from the aspect of overall valorization, thus constituting something completely "skill-less" and interchangable. The remains of the "classical being" of the proletariat thus becomes strictly divided and counterposed and the "quantity of surplus-value created" ceases to determine the degree of estrangement in the confrontations of capitals.

On the social level, this work of splitting and destruction is completed by the ejection of a growing mass of the proletariat, which is "potentially productive", from production properly speaking, in harmony with the irresistible tendency for capital to reduce the incidence of labour producing surplus-value to the whole life span (all this is based on what was the tremendous defeat of the proletariat in the passage from formal to real domination of capital in 1914–45).

So what some stupidly define as the "subproletariat" is only the absolute proletariat, the product of the final and insurmountable contradiction of value in process: that of valorization – devalorization. Their struggle is the first affirmation of communism as an immediate need.

(In the USA, where this process is now complete, the split between "productive" workers as capital’s subject and the proletariat estranged both within and from production, is immediately seen as it is brought out in ethnic and national factors and has thus completed the process begun with the non-constitution as the class of the American proletariat after the Civil war.)

The exaltation of the "worker" becomes capital’s apologia; the rabid anger against the proletarians who increasingly refuse the law of exchange of work – survival.


On the other hand, with the generalization of wage labour (labour necessary for capital), even if it is non-productive, with the consequent formation of new layers of workers, there is the generalization of the type of fictitious activity which tends to maintain and protect capital’s domination over society. There is thus a widespread process of the creation of proletarianized life, without autonomy, and also the relative numerical diminution of the "classical" proletariat.

Put another way, today there is a huge class of wage labourers in which the proletariat, in its old sense, has become a minority. The whole world is ruled by labour "reduced to pure abstraction" (Grundrisse), and, according to the official ideology, he who does not work "is not a man". Work’s content is unimportant. It appears as a means of oppression and repression with the goal of conserving contemporary society, i.e. capital’s process. The inertia of the "life" form allows the penetration of the whole field of "consciousness" and throwing the individual into the vicious and infamous cycle of work (to earn) to live – live to work (to earn).

So now the society of capital does not dominate in the name of "value", but in the name of "labour".

Paradoxically, this is the achievement of the Ricardian socialists’ demand, that of Proudhon and all those who saw the emancipation of humans as the triumph of labour (classical councilist ideology, the whole Leninist and Trotskyist pathology).

This was certainly not the aim of the critique of the political economy, whatever R. Rubel, for example may think when he says: "The end of the first book is the conclusion of the whole of the Economy where Marx did not hide the "subjective" tendency: the triumph of labour over capital". On the contrary, Marx only dealt with the triumph of the revolution. "Labour" in fact meant then the revolution and "productive labour" the other side of capital.

Thus one can only speak of the proletariat’s triumph to the extent that one also states that this is not its realization as proletarians, but its negation.

We may now aid in the domination of the proletariat in its mystified form (as productive labour), after the split in its traditional being. It is a mystification for it is the immediate being of the proletariat which dominates and continues capital: "adding a new value to an old, labour conserves and eternizes capital" (Grundrisse). For Marx, the affirmation of the proletariat could only be that of its "mediate" being, the class for itself, the class tending to take possession of the social-economic process to aid communist development.

Thanks to fascism, capital has attained its real domination, where it dominates under the aspect of labour. Fascism was the necessary movement to destroy the proletariat’s power as the possibility of negation to make productive labour triumph as the subject of the project of capital’s life. Hence the exaltation of "the worker" by fascists from Hitler to George Wallace.

The result of the total movement of capital is the production of the universal class, a huge proletariat, a proletariat in the sense of all humans who have no reserves and no real life, but whose "normal" existence is a squalid reflection and imitation of the very powerful inorganic forms through which autonomized value "manifests itself". It is a universal class because it forms the overwhelming majority and because it is unable to make partial demands any more that conform with its own being, but can only affirm the real human community. It is the universal class Marx and Engels wrote about in The German Ideology, which capital does everything to impede and in its unification, opposing employed to unemployed, "coloured" proletarians outside and inside the metropoles to "national" workers (in both cases one sees the function of racism as a real product of capital’s domination), new layers of workers to old workers and finally preventing the students, who do not have a definite social position, from leaving the ghetto of ideology in all its forms.

It is not a matter of proclaiming against all this the united front of all workers as that would lead to the drowning of the immediately revolutionary minority, formed by those people who are radically estranged in and by the production process and who immediately affirm communism, in the sea of those who do not have an "immediate" interest in overcoming society. Presently it is only through the conflict between these two elements that the latter can be brought onto the field of struggle of the former. It is during and after this struggle that there can really be the production (ionization) of the consciousness of the final revolutionary phase.

The refusal of work, wage labour, a means of oppression, mode of capitalization of men and equalization of capital, is the fundamental element of the unification of the universal class. It is no longer a question of reconstructing the old proletarian class, that would be to wish for regression, the return to a now passed stage. It would be like wishing to stop what Marx considered as the greatest possibility created by the 19th century capital: the disappearance of the proletariat. In this sense "The Right to be Lazy" that Lafargue wrote about as a refutation of the right to work is the first essential moment of the demand for a liberated human activity which starts when it understands the whole wealth of the human past.

In the period of formal domination, the revolution manifested itself inside society in the struggle of "labour" inside capital. Today it manifests itself, and ever more clearly so, outside and against society. It is therefore the struggle against capital and labour as two aspects of the same reality, that is, the proletariat has to struggle against its own apparent domination so as to be able to negate itself as a class, thus definitely destroying itself as a class and so too capital. The universal class in as much as it asserts itself can only disappear. It can only affirm itself as the regeneration of the human being. There will not be other groups outside it as there is no further need for a "lower phase of socialism" to realize as "the dictatorship of the proletariat" will be limited to the period needed simply to destroy the inert power of capital and all its manifestations: the power of the phantasms of the material community over the desires of men.

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Aug 8 2016 23:24


  • The refusal of work [...] is the fundamental element of the unification of the universal class. It is no longer a question of reconstructing the old proletarian class, that would be to wish for regression, the return to a now passed stage

    Gianni Collu

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