Notes on Endnotes
Here’s a brief and partial summary of the five texts that make up ‘Endnotes 1’:
In Dauve’s first text (When Insurrections Die) numerous historical examples are given of various failed revolutions or of embryonic revolutionary potentials which fail to realise themselves. Insofar as explanations are given for such failures they are put forward in the everyday language of human reasons – the proletariat made errors, placed their trust in the state, were betrayed etc..
TC respond to this (in Normative History and the Communist Essence of the Proletariat) by arguing that Dauve hasn’t really answered the question of why these revolutions failed. He has said that the proletariat made such and such an error or put its faith in the state but what is needed is an explanation of these occurrences themselves. From TC’s standpoint the explanations given are not really explanations at all but just descriptions of the manner in which the proletariat failed. As such they are tautological. (“The workers failed and were beaten because they didn’t make the revolution” p.79). Behind this argument is a deeper criticism of Dauve that he has an ahistorical conception of the proletariat as a ready made force that has always (since the eighteenth century) had the potential to realize itself and is just waiting for the correct conjunction of desire, awareness and historical circumstance (“Communism is inscribed once and for all in the nature of the proletariat.” p.83). TC think this is misconceived. There is no pre-given “revolutionary élan”, “proletarian energy” or “communist potential” which could have realised itself through communisation in an earlier epoch. It is only in the current “cycle of struggle” that communisation is a genuine possibility. As such the counterfactuals around which Dauve constructs his version of history (“If only this had happened then this might have happened”) are meaningless. The “this” of communism could not have happened previously.
In Dauve’s first counter-attack (Human, All Too Human) he hints at a determinism in TC’s notion of ‘cycles of struggle’, a determinism which he is at odds with (“The communist revolution is precisely the moment of fusion between the struggle against exploitation and the struggle against alienation. No historical dialectic can deliver this in advance.” P.102) This determinism goes hand in hand with a certain ‘ultimatism’ – a belief in privileged access to the ultimate truth about the world – which Dauve takes as self-evidently misconceived.
Dauve also gives a brief response to the allegation that his version of communist possibility presupposes an ahistorical (‘human’) subject. He points out that it is precisely human potential which capital exploits and which alone has the capability of realising itself through communism (“What the proletarian loses every day is not a strip of some eternal nature, but a force of life, a social capacity that the beast of burden does not have…”p.96)
In their second assault (in Love of Labour? Love of Labour Lost) Dauve and Nesic (henceforth D&N) spend some time trying to counter the idea that previous struggles have failed because proletarians only had the liberation of work, rather than the liberation from work, in their sights. The rationale for this appears to be a belief that TC’s conception of “cycles of struggle”, as well as the SI’s version of history, both commit themselves to the idea that previous proletarian struggles were necessarily limited to the possibility of worker’s self-management. D&N use countless examples to try to dislodge this idea. They argue for instance that in many cases when workers did rebel in the name of work their practice was at odds with their ideology (p.107); that the Russian proletariat did not fail because they subscribed to the myth of liberation through work but rather it was only once they had failed that this myth was able to flourish (p.113); that events in Spain 1936 showed that “another future was in search of itself, and it carried with it the superseding of work as a separate activity” (p.121); that when proletarians took over factories in Argentina to keep them running they only did so because they thought they had “no chance of changing the world” (p.131).
They then turn again to TC’s perceived ‘determinism’, once more criticising their presupposition of a “privileged vantage point” and arguing that if TC believe that previous struggles were compelled to end up as they did “they should be requested to prophesy the future for once” (p.144). They go on to reiterate their position that the possibility of revolution (post 18C) is not tied to any particular historical-economic formation (“the evolution of capital does not take us closer or farther from communism” p.146) and that the proletariat is the subject of revolutionary change rather than an overarching objectified ‘cycle’.
In TC’s final counter-attack on D&N (Much Ado About Nothing) they flesh out their previous critique as well as taking up some of the points made in the intervening texts.
They once more attack D&N for having an “essentialist and invariant” (p.166) conception of the proletariat and communism – a perspective which they think itself is an ideological reflection of a now superseded period of struggle. In place of this TC wish to “historicize the terms of class struggle” (p.158). Proletarians are not ahistorical subjects imposed upon by an external capital which frustrates their potential for living differently. Rather the proletariat is formed and defined by its engagement with capital. There is no “immediately social individual” prior to the struggle of the proletariat against capital, in fact there is no proletariat at all because the proletariat “is its relation to capital and nothing more”. (p.203). This dynamical whole is the relation which determines the potential for revolution, or what type of revolution there is a potential for. In previous cycles it could not give rise to anything more than struggles for workers’ self-management – although it would be wrong to characterize such struggles as a failure of the class, for “the proletariat was strengthened by its identification with work” (p.204) Now, however, communisation is the only path open to proletarian struggle which pushes itself to the limit.
Unsurprisingly TC have a different take on the various historical episodes alluded to by D&N. They reject the idea that in those instances where workers took over factories to maintain production (or at the behest of the party) they only did so out of “sordid necessity” (p.173). One of their objections here is to the false dichotomy between “neutral and purely quantitative activity” (p.180) and activity which reveals the proletariat in a process of communist becoming. Both terms of the dichotomy are ahistorical for TC – both suggestive of a false separation between actuality and possibility (“The defence of physical survival has no more existence in itself, is no more an ahistorical invariant, than is communism ‘in its deep content’”p.180) Likewise they object to D&N’s suggestion that in understanding the true motivation of proletarians apparently co-opted by self-management we need to make a distinction between the workers’ own activity and the official ideology of the organisations representing them. T&C agree that such a move can be made but don’t think it is sufficient in itself, for neither is there an absolute separation between the workers and their organisations (“If we shouldn’t confuse the activity of workers with the activity of organisations and their programmes, it is completely insufficient to satisfy oneself with the distinctions” p.182).
TC also renew their critique of D&N’s counterfactual reasoning. With reference, for example, to D&N’s assertion that in 1917 the choice of the proletariat was between the abolition of wage labour or the perpetuation of exploitation, they argue that “nobody..posed such an opposition” because the radical option “simply did not exist” (p.176). D&N’s suggestion that it could have existed is therefore empty of meaning. This critique is tied up with a defence of their own (TC’s) purported ‘determinism’. TC suggest that D&N are prone to throwing the term “determinist” at “any historical critique which fails to acknowledge the invariant substance” (p.188) of communism and the proletariat. However, say TC, D&N’s own approach is incoherent on the question of determinism, vacillating between “determinism and liberty, necessity and possibility, freedom with a little determinacy, and determinism with a little freedom” (p.191). D&N want to preserve the freedom of the proletariat to realize itself at any moment independent of the development of capital, whilst maintaining that this realization is the ‘historic task’ of the proletariat .In response to D&N’s suggestion that determinists ought to be able to make some prophecies TC then offer up their own challenge:
To all those who say that 1848, 1917, 1968 etc ended up in a way that could have been averted, we have a right to demand that just for once they tell us what made them end up where they did other than by saying that they ended up where they did because they didn’t end up where they could have. Could anything else have happened? We don’t know and we don’t care. The question is meaningless. (p.193)
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In the preface to The Revolution of Everyday Life Vaneigem expressed the hope that “Out of this confusion will one day come formulations capable of firing point blank at our enemies.” Such a hope seems misplaced - as though there could be a perfect formulation which, once comprehended, will detonate the revolution. “The meaning of a word is its use in practice” as a philosopher once said. Yet still we find in communist circles (as elsewhere) the relentless pursuit of the perfect formulation, the desire to ‘understand’ in toto, the wish to settle things once and for all in the realm of theory. And so it is to some degree with this book. Insofar as the pieces are considered as a dialogue between two opposing tendencies (rather than, for example, considering When Insurrections Die as a standalone text) they seem to be on a hiding to nothing with their desire to settle things in the abstract. This is a dialogue that cannot be resolved. The further it progresses, the further removed from reality it becomes, the more diminishing are the returns.
Nevertheless not all participants in this exchange seem equally blameworthy. We might take issue with Dauve for introducing ‘determinism’ into the debate (a term which means nothing in the abstract), and for alluding to ‘ultimatism’ (who doesn’t believe their own outlook to be the correct one - ‘absolutely’ or otherwise?) but the main culprits are clearly TC. It is they who needlessly introduce the philosophical ‘why’ after Dauve has carefully spent 50 or so pages offering an interesting description of past struggles and their failures. It is they too who seek to take the debate down a philosophical cul-de-sac by pulling a few dialectical tricks out of their bag in the hope of gaining some new adherents who might be impressed by such manoeuvres.
Let’s start with the ‘why’ question. Dauve’s list of historical failures may indeed prompt any number of useful ‘why’s from a critical reader. From a certain perspective, perhaps tainted by disillusionment gained from our own participation in various struggles, we might think for instance that there is more to be said about failures of past struggles in terms of other everyday human tendencies. Maybe people got tired, scared, bored, competitive, told lies to themselves or others, whatever. Alternatively we might have the meta intuition that there is something problematic about describing a series of historical events according to an unquestioned assumption that there is something that could have happened (what the author wanted to happen) but which didn’t happen. Alternatively again, we might feel vaguely that there is something problematic with the whole idea of talking about past possibilities. These are all legitimate responses. TC’s trick is to take such intuitions, blur them together in an unprincipled way and then seal the result with their own ideological glue.
Here’s the structure of their argument. Firstly they ask (repeatedly in several places) “why” previous struggles failed. Even here we might be suspicious that they are fetishizing this word too much – as though there was only one sort of answer to the question “why” and one sort of use of the word “because”. However we are basically on board because we can see that there is room for such a question to be asked. Then things start to get confusing. Whilst castigating Dauve for not supplying an answer to the question why (in an as yet undefined sense) they at the same time declare that there can be no such answer to this question. In some passages this is presented as a problem with counterfactual reasoning itself (“Could anything else have happened? We don’t know and we don’t care. The question is meaningless.”). Yet clearly if their objection is at this level of abstraction it is itself meaningless. There’s nothing wrong in talking about past possibilities per se. Suppose I went out in a thunder storm yesterday. I could have got struck by lightning but I didn’t. This way of talking is no more problematic than any other use of language. In fact what TC mean is not that talk of past possibilities is meaningless but that in this particular case there was no such past possibility. There could have been no communising revolution prior to a particular period because the necessary ingredients weren’t present. (‘I couldn’t have got struck by lightening yesterday because there was no thunder storm’). Fair enough. But then why all the bullshit about counterfactuals (repeated also in the introduction – “When we address the question of these failures we cannot resort to ‘what if’ counterfactuals” p.4)? In fact TC’s position is itself dependent on its own counterfactuals – e.g. “if the proletariat had attempted a thoroughgoing communising transformation of the world in an earlier epoch it would have failed.” The only function of TC’s ‘anti-counterfactual’ talk (deliberately or otherwise) is to draw people in by playing on their intuitions that their might be something problematic or incomplete with Dauve’s description of events and suggesting that this can be explained by means of a particular philosophical construct.
Likewise with TC’s recourse to that other philosophical staple the ‘tautology’. It sounds very impressive to accuse Dauve of giving empty explanations of the form “there was no revolution because the revolution didn’t happen” and such flourishes probably win them some acolytes amongst those frustrated with explanations of failure but no revolution. However on any reasonable reading of the term ‘tautology’ it does not seem to apply to Dauve’s texts. Dauve clearly gives reasons for the failures he describes and these reasons are not empty. They take our understanding further. Of course there is always room to ask a further ‘why’ but this is the case with any explanation. Even in physics you can keep asking ‘why’ until you are confronted with the scientific equivalent of “just because!”. What TC really mean is that Dauve doesn’t supply the sort of explanation that they want and which happens to coincide with their take on the world. Again, fair enough – but this has nothing to do with ‘tautologies’.
Some other of TC’s moves are initially more impressive. In several instances they manage to wrench certain terms or ideas out of their fixity and show that what they mean is in flux (in their case according to historical circumstance). Thus they argue that what counts as ‘an activity conducted out of necessity’ is not given and cannot be simplistically counterposed to an ‘actvity which brings communism closer’ (“the defence of physical survival has no more existence in itself, is no more an ahistorical invariant, than is communism ‘in its deep content’”) Likewise, the suggestions that Bolshevik policy was “the accomplishment against them (the proletariat) of their revolution” (p.174) is novel insofar as it plays fast and loose with the idea of ‘revolution’. It shows an awareness that what counts as ‘the same’ is negotiable, not given. Today’s revolution could be equivalent, on some criterion, to yesterday’s counterrevolution.
But such ploys are only useful or enlightening if they aren’t adopted simply so as to replace one fixity with another. TC however are not merely saying that Dauve needs to loosen up his categories a little, be a little more flexible on the question of what historical invariants and variants their might be. Rather they set off their contained dialectical explosions just so as to be able to rigidify things again once they’ve reached their desired description of events. They are not saying “look, can’t you see that from another perspective Bolshevik policy could be viewed as accomplishing all that was possible in proletarian struggles at that time. What counts as ‘revolution’ is not necessarily fixed” They are saying “Bolshevik policy did accomplish all that was possible in proletarian struggles at the time.”, as if the fact that a novel perspective is possible implies that the novel perspective must be true. Moreover this conception of what was possible is itself too rigid, as if ‘communisation’ is itself one thing, a fixed quantity over time. At the very least we want to say here that if ‘communisation’ as TC conceive it of it now was not possible in previous cycles of struggle it must at least have been possible that things could have turned out better than they did. And then….
This consideration takes us to what is perhaps TC’s central critique of D&N – that their (D&N’s) conception of things has as its starting point an ahistorical conception of the proletariat with communism built in waiting to be realised. 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). However we will not dwell on such inconsistencies here.
More important is TC’s attack on the very idea that communism / communisation/ revolution could be an invariant waiting to be realized. To this we want to counter that if this is not an invariant – perhaps the invariant – then what is it that lies behind their communist aspirations? Why do they even care? At the risk of sounding like one of the “delicate souls” they wish to castigate the point surely has to be made that if communism corresponds to nothing invariant on the human side of the proletariat/capital dichotomy then there is little point in hoping or ‘struggling’ for it. If communisation were mere behaviour facilitated by a particular configuration of capital what is it about it that should attract us? What is it that would maintain it once achieved? What is the it that would be maintained? It is true that communist potential is apprehended by different individuals in different ways and so the question of what is ‘the same’ here is open to question. But if there is no common potential then there is no communism. This is not to say that there definitely is such a potential. It may well be that human beings in any ‘cycle of struggle’ are too fundamentally shoddy to create a better world. But the presupposition of any communist effort is that this may not be the case - that there could be a realizable invariant. This is not merely a sentimental point but a logical one. ……………..
This critique doesn't seem to
This critique doesn't seem to present any real challenge. It is more humanism offended by TC's structuralism. The summary of arguments in Endnotes is quite good, but the critique is poor.
The last paragraph is a quasi-religious defence of an essential communist species-being. If communism is a mere product of history, of the dialectic between capital and proletariat, then it is somehow debased:
Notice that the critic defends an essential, invariant human communist potential, only to put it in doubt in favour of a fundamental human shoddiness in any cycle of struggles which rules out the possibility of a better world. Both extremes are different sides of the same coin - an ahistorical human essentialism.
Marx says in the Theses on Feurbach that "the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations". A basic historical materialism (however much we might want to criticise historical materialism in other regards) alerts us to the fact that the form and content of social relations is historically determinate according to specific modes of production; if there is such a thing as a human essence, then, it is far from invariant, but rather it is historically and socially determinate.
In the position quoted above, communism is the realisation of the good and the virtuous. Or it is the constitution of the community of the good and the virtuous. I feel there is a hyper-normativity, a hyper-Kantianism to this position. Indeed the voluntarism inherent in this position has much in common with the Kantian problematic of the will. To have communism produced out of the muck of history, out of "all this shit" is just unspeakable. Ghastly. Beastly determinism.
Personally I feel that the production of communism, as immanently produced supersession of the moving contradiction between capital and proletariat, is morally neutral, morally blind, a process without a subject. Yeah.
You appear to be trying to
You appear to be trying to apply a pre-fabricated critique to a strawman of your own construction (in true structuralist style...). Quoting the ancient ABC of Marxist historical materialism is hardly refuting much at all. The author locates his possible invariance historically within "the human side of the proletariat/capital dichotomy" so it is not, as you claim, "an ahistorical human essentialism" - so not refuted by "the fact that the form and content of social relations is historically determinate according to specific modes of production". Nor is it any faulty contradiction to say this invariance may exist but may never be realised. So to attribute this as believing in an ahistorical essence is misleading; to then use this fictitious essence as evidence of "quasi-religious" sentiment etc is plain wrong and similar to the poor form of argument the article criticises Theorie Communiste for.
The transhistorical 'essential nature' of humanity is its self-reproduction by the labour of transforming nature and its materials. The particular social organisation of this process in capitalism may or may not incorporate an invariant (constant/recurring) possibility of achieving communism as/from a struggle against capitalism - but the aggregate of all possibilities obviously remain various, outcomes variable. You have not even addressed the question correctly, but instead mislabelled and dismissed it as a fictitious "ahistorical essence". If anything, it seems you who is being ahistorical by denying human agency as a decisive historical factor in favour of "communism is a mere product of history, of the dialectic between capital and proletariat". As if history (as a reified thing in itself) is something independent of human agency and real strategic choices - as if the "essential, invariant" laws of motion of history and dialectic will sort it all out for us. You seem to say that the relationship itself, rather than the chosen acts within that relationship, will determine the outcome. As if history is made, not by human agency, but by historical configurations/constellations of categories.
This omniscient overview seems to be the great appeal of the Theorie Communiste idea; play God with history, project determinism backwards into history so as to comfort oneself that what happened is all that could have happened. The proletarian God that failed in what was expected of it/assigned to it is inverted into the God of theory; the proletariat and its struggles failed to fufill its determined goal so the objective movement of history is ushered in as substitute. This is also a convenient way to let ourselves off the hook in the present; if things are so determined all we need do is promote our theory while waiting for the ripening of time (the Endtimes) without confronting our own past or future failures or wrong choices. It's all determined, so what's the point?
The author rightly points out the contradiction that on the one hand TC say;
But when facing our own recent past it's a different tale;
But by merely possessing TC theory Endnoters gain more determination than we theoretical dinosaurs who have refused to "quasi-religiously" 'let TC theory into our life'. (One can get the impression that we are not arguing with the views of Endnotes individuals but with devotees of TC, enraptured with the revelation of discovering the Holy Grail of theoretical breakthrough.) It seems to be claimed that only now can "social struggles point beyond themselves to such a supersession", but this was never possible previously. Only now (or since Argentina?) is it worth considering the possibilities/choices for "supercession". Yet it has been a recurring historical theme that some begin to think 'only in our time can we begin to realise the great historical destiny'. And this is 'proved' by their supposed complete understanding of the past; they convince themselves they are not doomed to repeat past mistakes as those past errors were pre-ordained/determined (and so can be dismissed as unworthy of study or self-reflection). Only they can now messianically "point beyond themselves to such a supersession". But does this mean anything more than defending an adopted theory? Does it mean confronting real variable choices - ones with as variable outcomes as those of the past?
Rather than answer the concrete questions posed (such as "what is it that lies behind their communist aspirations?") you have tried to attach dismissive labels to the author; "quasi-religious", "ahistorical" etc. An Endnoter said recently, "class struggle, so what?"; expressing their view that class struggle is "immanent". If by 'immanent' is meant inherent, intrinsic to the prole/capital relationship but "without any subject" then what is the class struggle? Just mechanical reactive reflex, presumably - which sounds like a very static ahistoric category. It is not merely that "the critic defends an essential, invariant human communist potential, only to put it in doubt in favour of a fundamental human shoddiness" but that the author acknowledges the real variable possibilities. If there are no variables there is no struggle of any consequence, there is only (the claim of) a determined development running on a laid out track. But "If communism is a mere product of history" that history is made by real humans as agents confronting options and tasks necessary to realise, not wholly determined by historical circumstances or a timetable of objective arrival at a final historical stage of linear development.
Althusser also believed in a historical "process without a subject" driven by structural contradictions. But what is the animating force of these structures - if these ideas of structural contradictions are necessarily so abstract as to protect their categorical purity from being polluted by human agency and its variables? This kind of debate never gets grounded in the real interaction between the pressures of given historical circumstances and human agency as it negotiates and affects those circumstances. The interaction is necessarily either denied or discounted. Yet this variable is the location of the possibility for change.
There is also a short review
There is also a short review of 'End Notes' in the Internationalist Perspectives blog at:
which raises a number of different questions for both 'participants' in the End Notes constructed debate without directly, as yet, answering them itself.
IP have a different angle on this since they clearly lay great stress on the historical significance of the phase of the real domination of capital which it struck me should put them in line with TC against D & N, but only (as defenders of a particular variety of decadence theory) up to circa 1920 after which they presumably switch sides?
On a vaguely related note, I was very impressed with Mike Rookes 'Marxism is Dead - Long Live Marxism' article (here: https://libcom.org/library/marxism-dead-long-live-marxism-mike-rooke), but looking back at its description of the evolution of working class 'political ideologies' and the comming into it's own of Marx's value analysis in today's modern world, was this also in line with the TC view that a ' workers management' representation of class struggle was the only possibillity until recent times? Or can we say with D & N that there has always been a tension between the elemental class struggle and it's ideological representation at different periods of history?
Superficially, it has always seemed to me that a form of 'communism' has indeed always been at least one potential outcome of the struggle of the exploited and oppressed classes in history, but that it is only in modern world capitalism under the real domination of capital that the material basis for a permanent leap forward in human history has become both necessary and possible, though sadly not inevitable.
This has become a bit of a ramble I'm afraid as I am frankly still struggling to get to grips with the different strands of the argument. I will keep trying with a little help from my friends.
The basis of the fundamental
The basis of the fundamental disagreement between Théorie Communiste and Troploin (Dauvé + Nesic) is not on the character of communisation - i.e. the character of the communist measures (the revolutionary action taken by the proletariat) which abolish capitalist social relations and produce communism in the revolution itself. For both TC and Troploin the production of communism as communisation is opposed to the conception of communism as the result of a period of transition after the revolutionary taking of power by the proletariat (whether this taking of power be political - the constitution of a workers' state by the communist party, or economic - the self-management of production by councils or soviets or anarcho-syndicalist unions).
The fundamental difference between TC and Troploin is how they theorise the historical production of the revolution as communisation. For Troploin communisation is the form a proper revolutionary movement should take, and could have taken, throughout the history of the capitalist mode of production. TC reject this normative conception, and instead understand the revolution as communisation as immanently produced by the historical development of the class contradiction. The success or failure of the revolution as communisation is not contingent on the presence or absence of strategic errors or failures of will on the part of the proletariat; rather the form the revolution takes is a product of the configuration of the class relation which is not invariant across the history of the capitalist mode of production.
In our Endnotes take on the TC periodisation of the class relation, this latter varies according to the modalities of integration of the circuits of reproduction of capital and labour-power. The character of the class relation is fundamentally altered in the different cycles of struggle. Without going into all the details, what we can say is in the period of programmatism (up to 1968-73) the way in which the circuits of reproduction of capital and labour-power were integrated afforded an autonomy to the proletariat in its relation to capital. With the restructuring of the class relation, and the integration of the circuits of reproduction of capital and labour-power such that their relation is immediately internal, any possibility of class autonomy of the proletariat is foreclosed.
This contradictory development of the class relation is what determines the form the revolution takes in different periods. In programmatism, the great historical period of class autonomy, the revolution takes the form of workers' power. Bolshevism and the self-management of production by councils/anarcho-syndicalist unions are the twin forms of this workers' power. This workers' power, which corresponds to the generalisation of the proletarian condition and the continuing accumulation of capital rather than its abolition, is the revolution which carries the counter-revolution within it.
In the current cycle of struggles, whose characteristics are given by the restructured class relation, class antagonism necessarily takes a different form. With no class autonomy to assert, the revolutionary action of the proletariat can no longer take the form of workers' power, of a political or economic empowerment of the class. The proletariat is forced to take action against its own being a class of capital. (Disclaimer: this is the abbreviated version!)
So, now the questions of structure v agency, determinism v free will. I see the above historical conception as somewhere between a structuralism and a kind of negative Hegelian Marxism, i.e. as going beyond the dualisms of structure v agency, determinism v free will. The revolutionary agency of the proletariat is determined by its relation of reciprocal implication with capital. This would be the further qualification we would need to add to Marx's dictum:
Then there's this one:
This picture from Marx and Engels in the Holy Family is powerful but fails to capture adequately the way that history is shaped by the contradictory development of the class relation.
There is no pre-existing telos being worked out in history. Ironically the realisation of a communist potential, the realisation of the Gemeinwesen, the true human community, which Ret Marut and Raoul Paled adhere to as a normative ground for communism or the intervention of communist revolutionaries, has much in common with a positive Hegelian Marxism. In this conception the proletariat is the realisation of philosophy (the true human community as the self-realisation of the Hegelian Geist).
Against this positive Hegelian Marxism, I would characterise the historical production of communism as communisation as an immanently produced supersession of the class relation through the revolutionary action of (those human individuals who make up) the proletariat, an Aufhebung which is not the reconciliation of the whole, but the rather the negation of the totality of capitalist social relations.
The point about the social-historical relativisation of the human essence is that the human essence has vanishing significance as a category, and is not something to pin your revolutionary hopes on.
(Disclaimer: the above shouldn't be taken as a definitive statement of the positions of TC or Endnotes).
Endnotes dismiss or downplay
Endnotes dismiss or downplay any inherent human communist potential or motivation as expressed in consciousness and/or action and displace it to an 'immanent' impersonal force of History embodied in categories and structures. This displacement mirrors religious alienation, whereby humans project their own qualities outside themselves onto deities. It is the same displacement of hope and faith in a power seemingly greater (and more reliable) than mere mortals.
For Endnotes it seems that class struggle is a mere byproduct of structures and their contradictions, with little account taken of an interaction between agency and the construction of circumstance. (Thereby denying that the 'the working class makes itself as much as it is made'.) It seems that revolutionary action is not 'voluntarily' chosen as a response in any way (as realising one's agency) but instead proles are compelled - by history as an external power - to liberate themselves. But why is the strategy of proles in struggle detached from any active creation of social development but instead seen as something having only a passive role - ie, the proletariat has things done to it by historical categories/structural configurations, the 'immanent' cattle prod of History? Endnotes appear to want to minimise the conscious human agency involved in the process due to the past unreliability of the proles (even though past outcomes were all supposedly inevitable) - as if agency is best left to a more reliable History. So while we are criticised for seeing a possibility within the prole/capital relationship for realising communism as human agency, Endnotes apparently see a more determined automatic 'realisation' (though calling it instead 'immanent' to the relationship) of communism. They want to realise their 'immanent' essence of History - or, rather, be realised by it.
To try to detach one's self from the messy unpredictabilities of human agency in favour of such historical determinism is, finally, little more than a detached philosophical pose (perhaps inevitably; according to their own logic, maybe even Endnote's/TC's mode of theorising is pre-determined by History and its structures). The irony is that only by acting as radical human agents in class struggle could one try to discover the truth of such issues - to dogmatically assert them as a rigourous theoretical 'position' is a little beside the point ; "... the existence of theory is nothing in itself, ... it can know itself only through historical action and the historical correction which is its real counterpart."
(I have adapted something I
(I have adapted something I wrote as part of a very similar discussion here:)
As I see it capitalism itself is characterised by economism - the domination of the economic. The domination of self-moving economic categories. The rule of abstractions as Marx puts it. These economic categories are the reified form of social relations in capitalism. This means that they form-determine the class struggle. So what we have is the complicated situation where these objective economic categories are self-moving and independent, and yet at the same time they are the form taken by our social practice. Capital is in the final analysis nothing but the alienated activity of the proletariat (the crisis is the violent manifestation of this restriction on capital accumulation). The agency of the class as pole of the capitalist class relation is in this sense an agency divided against itself - the proletariat acts, and is forced to act, to struggle, against the self-movement of its own alienated activity i.e. against capital.
So you can see how the questions of "dull economic theory", "objectivism", "subjective agency" etc are imbricated. These are not separate discussions. The movements of economic categories are the accumulation of claims on present and future surplus value production - i.e. on the exploitation of workers by capital. Even the most autonomised, footloose and fancy-free forms of these claims (the byzantine derivatives in the financial markets) are ultimately predicated on the extraction of surplus value from workers by capital - i.e. they are ultimately the mediated movement of the class-struggle. The phenomena of financialisation stand in a mediated relation with the movement of the rate of exploitation, and the rate of profit. The rate of exploitation and the attempts by capitalist states to minimise the deductions from total surplus-value represented by social expenditure on the reproduction of the proletariat are the vectors of the class struggle.
The theory which we are attempting to develop in Endnotes is inspired by Théorie Communiste's insistence on the capitalist class relation as a relation of reciprocal implication, or mutual determination, even if asymmetric, between capital and proletariat.
There is a need to develop more of an integrated or totalising theoretical discussion when talking about ostensibly "objective" or ostensibly "subjective" questions e.g. monetary policy decisions by central banks or the eviction of shack dwellers in South Africa - i.e. we need to spend more time in each case on making explicit the mediations between the movement of economic categories and the forms of class struggle that otherwise remain undertheorised.
As for the question of the role of this theoretical production in the class struggle, we are attempting to theorise the direction, character and possibilities inherent in the class struggle today. If we are correct in our analysis, there is a chance that our theoretical production will resonate beyond our small circles. But then that will merely mean that our theoretical production is a product of the class struggle. If there is a resonance, there is no need to evangelise.
So you continue in not
So you continue in not replying directly to anything specific I've said on here and just spout a dense theoretical line of marxoid generalities, as if it's so universally applicable as to be relevant to diverse discussions. Do you know what 'dialogue' means?
Sorry for the cut and paste
Sorry for the cut and paste from another (similar) discussion elsewhere. I know that's bad form. My point in response to your comments, to state it very briefly, is that the action of the proletariat at any time in the history of capitalism is determined by its relation of reciprocal implication with capital. You use determinism as a scare-word, or criticism, but if we turn the question round, what would it mean to say the proletariat's action was indeterminate (or undetermined if you prefer)? That is unintelligible to me. I would rather say that the proletariat's action is determinate according to its dialectical relation to capital.
If you read the debate between Troploin and Théorie Communiste which we reproduce in the first issue of Endnotes, you will see that it is rather Troploin who pose the question of a subjective failure or lack of revolutionary will, or mistakes etc on the part of the proletariat in explaining the failure of previous revolutionary movements, whereas Théorie Communiste merely seek to understand and theorise in terms of the class relation why what happened happened as it did, i.e why class struggle and revolutionary movements take the forms they do at different periods in the history of capitalism.
One can criticise determinism
One can criticise determinism as an ideology and still accept the existence of some determination - there's no contradiction in that. I don't mean to patronise, but again you are dressing up rather obvious truths in marxist jargon as if that gives it extra profundity; yes the proletariat is in relation to capital - and classes are defined by their relation to other classes.
I think I've said enough in earlier posts about how I see the relationship between agency and historical circumstance.
I think the problem is that
I think the problem is that you caricature the position taken in Endnotes 1:
Class struggle is not a mere by-product of structures and their contradictions; it is the fundamental contradiction. There is no dualism of capital over there and class struggle over here. Capital is a relation of exploitation, a relation of class struggle. Equally there is no History, but only the history of the class relation, i.e. the history of class struggle.
"The working class makes itself as much as it is made". I would agree with this, but with the qualification that the working class makes itself in the sense that its alienated activity constitutes capital, i.e. the other pole of the class relation which defines its own being as working class. The forms of struggle that the working class adopts have to be understood as products of this relation rather than being unilaterally or "voluntaristically" chosen. To privilege the question of the "subjective agency" of the working class is I think to misapprehend the way the capitalist class relation constitutes a social totality.
I'm not sure you're really
I'm not sure you're really sure what you think; you keep coming out with stock phraseology, gumming it together as if it's eternally relevant; I suggest you read Orwell for a good critique of ideological language;
From the beginning here I've acknowledged a relationship between given circumstance and agency. But the above seems basically a dressed up version of what I already said;
And yet in earlier posts you said
It seems we have an exploitative relation without subjects. Or the ruling class is the only subject, or disembodied capital is, or the relation itself or something... This is the horrible thing about arguing with those who use language as you do - you get sucked into dealing with these vague abstractions with usually little specific core substance to them.
Maybe we disagree mainly about the extent of agency - but comments like this on past struggles from TC just seem ridiculous, and hypocritical - they have reflected much on the past - only to construct a determinist ideology that says such reflection doesn't matter;
So we shouldn't reflect on our past actions - it's meaningless? It's TC's statement that is meaningless.
Sorry that you don't like my
Sorry that you don't like my use of language and that it's so horrible arguing with me. ; - )
The reason why I flirt with the idea of a process without a subject is that, even if it is Althusser's phrase, to me it suggests the way in which the class relation is the movement of a totality. The poles of the relation act, in relation (in contradiction) to each other. Their action is determined by their relation to each other. Thus the historical process of the class struggle is not the historical process of the self-realisation of a Subject. It is the movement of a contradictory relation. This is not to say there is no agency. The proletariat acts in its contradictory relation to capital.
You quote TC:
and you respond:
I don't think you understand TC's point. They are saying that it's meaningless to pose the question of historical counterfactuals. What they are interested in is understanding why what did occur happened.
So now you're only flirting
So now you're only flirting with the idea of 'history/process without a subject'?
I know that - I just don't agree. To reflect on other possibilities, other strategies, other choices is not meaningless - it aids understanding of what did occur and what didn't and why and how things may be done differently in the future. But this argument has been had enough times already - and I don't think TC's theories are significant enough to even justify so much attention. So it's game over for me.
Red Marut: Of course the
Red Marut: Of course the proletariat is an agent in the revolution of the current cycle of struggles. The communist revolution is the proletariat's revolt against an unbearable situation, previously just as much as today. What is different today compared with the long period of programmatism is that the existence as a class can now by no means be affirmed, be put forward as a weapon in the struggle against this situation. Class unity has been rendered impossible within a functioning capitalism.
Dauvé and Nesic are acknowledging that proletarians used to join mass organisations in great numbers but fail to answer for example why people don't at this time. You as well falter at this point because even if we'd all accept that history is made by human beings, actual history is a fact which can be studied. You can read of individual life stories if you like to. And neither is history just only a series of spectacular events such as revolutionary wars. All its different periods had their everyday gray reality. Just look at the everyday class struggle and how it was being waged.
Proletarians not only joined but created unions, social-democratic parties and so on because these actually defended their situation, that is some concrete individuals of these times, within the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production. The anarchists would never had been at the head of the Spanish revolution if the CNT hadn't over the preceding decades won important improvements for "real proletarians". Also Social-democracy and Bolshevism would never have been entrusted with power either unless they represented some real needs of the proletarian class, or parts of it. Just as much as dissident organisations such as the Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union in Germany or Ungsocialisterna in Sweden expressed real proletarian issues with the dominant wing of the workers' movement by opposing it. We're talking material matters here.
You don't like the view of revolution as an explosion coming from a specific configuration of a relation between opposite terms of a contradiction. It looks too lifeless to you, these words. But if you're gonna make the revolution you better have some individuals that are willing to make it or rather are forced to since one is normally not stupid enough to start such an endeavour if isn't really (warning: an ugly word) necessary. You'll most likely find the human subjects within the proletarian class currently employed or unemployed within a capitalist world with an extreme division of labour, living within the borders of states in which national politics or union organisations have since for a long time no real influence over economic matters as opposed to previously. Financial capital invests where it wants to and employs only those it needs. In this world, a different one, you'll find a different proletariat compared with the old world, or if you prefer: different individual situations acting on different immediate concerns compared with individuals of 1870 or 1930. This is what it means that the communist revolution of today will be carried out by the proletariat of our time within a certain configuration of the class relation. When we say that programmatism is dead, we mean it. We see with our own eyes the change in configuration.
I think the TC ideology is
I think the TC ideology is preventing you from seeing the implications in reality of all the absolutist terms in use here: there can be no class unity? So workers can no longer act in unity/unison - ever? So the UK posties now striking have no unity? No affirmation? So no assertion of themselves as what they are - ie, a class in struggle, a struggle that must have a unity to occur? I don't find your terms very functional when applied to reality.
Of course the working class has to abolish itself rather than merely affirm/assert itself as a power in this society, ultimately - but this has been stated long before TC, so it's not the revelation it's often claimed to be. But the working class has to affirm/assert itself as a force that will abolish capitalism - as part of a process of doing so, IMO.
As for the patronising history lesson; you are telling me things I already know as if they refute something I said and also making various assumptions about what I think - based presumably on some stereotype of those who fail to accept TC theory. So I've heard enough preaching of the TC devotees line, thanks.
First about patronising: I
First about patronising: I simply imitated you in the way you talked to the Swerve. Just scroll up and see for yourself. As for the content of that history I described: I just gave you the human subjects that you wanted so badly or considered lacking in the TC theory. What exactly are you persistingly insisting on?
The working class, for instance as a workers' movement in one country, can no longer find unity in class demands. What this means is that proletarians can only fight as fractions and if they put forward demands these could only be met for these fractions as opposed to generalised to the whole class. The British postal strike is just a confirmation of this idea. Or I could give an example from my home country Sweden: The central union organisation LO can today only deliver worsened conditions: over the last fifteen years worsened labour contracts and a steadily increased work-load and now, with the crisis, even nominal wage-cuts (for mainly industrial workers). This is not due to any anti-union laws or too few members (they still organise roughly 75 % of workers). In fact they are potentially all-powerful the unions and could quite easily send out tens of thousands of workers on strike (which would also be paid by the unions). The reason why the union bureaucrats don't do such a thing this but rather accept these changes to the worse is because they see that it is necessary for having also in the future investment and employment in the country. The central union organisation thus represent the unity of the working class, which can no longer have any success in putting forward general demands, as a unified class. In this way, the unity becomes a unity for capital. The only way to break with this, in this situation, is for the fractions of the proletariat to fight for themselves while not taking into account the economic consequences of their actions or bothering demanding that all their class brothers ought to have the same improvements which is impossible. A good expression of such a practice was the wildcat strike in 2007 in a mine in the north of Sweden. It was a revolt against a too bad agreement on the national level. Parts of the proletariat can thus fight and win in the everyday class struggle while the class as a whole cannot, unless it abolishes itself. This is what I mean by the impossibility of class unity.
It is not even a question of that the proletariat "has to abolish itself" rather anything. That is being produced during the course of the struggles themselves. While previously the workers felt ever stronger and could advance their positions in their affirmation as a class, which was a characteristic of all class struggle whatever its particular form, today workers' affirmation gets stuck in the throat because people don't want to stabilise a self-organisation of themselves as labour-power. (For some concrete examples see TC, 'Self-organisation is the first act of the revolution; it then becomes an obstacle with the revolution has to overcome'.) The material basis of this fact is the complete integration of the reproduction of the proletariat within the reproduction of capital. One's class situation is seen as misery and no longer as power and a reason for pride. And that is how communisation is being announced in the course of the every-day struggles, as it is the only way to follow through with the questioning of the proletarian situation within this particular modality of the contradiction between classes / of the capital relation.