Theorie Communiste article on the specificity of contemporary capitalism and of the revolution as communisation.
Communisation and communism are things of the future, but we should speak about them in the present – that is the wager of this review. Communisation is prefigured in the present struggles every time the proletariat comes up against its own existence as a class, in its action as a class against capital – i.e. within the relation of exploitation and in the very course of those struggles. Every time that the very existence of the proletariat is produced as something alien to it, as an objective constraint which is externalised in the very existence of capital, and which it confronts in its struggles as a class.
In the course of revolutionary struggle, the abolition of the state, of exchange, of the division of labour, of any kind of property, the extension of free-giving as the unification of human activity – in a word, the abolition of classes – are ‘measures’ that abolish capital, imposed by the very necessities of struggle against the capitalist class. Revolution is communisation; it does not have communism as a project and result, but as its very content. It is the content of the revolution to come that struggles announce – in this cycle of struggles – each time that the very fact of acting as a class appears as an external constraint, a limit to overcome.
The present nature of the capitalist relation
The new centrality of the wage demands; their illegitimacy
Proletarians only find in capital, in their relation to themselves, the divisions of wage labour and exchange. No organisational or political form, no demands, can any longer overcome these divisions. In the very dynamic of capitalist development, demands present themselves as a transaction adequate to the transformation of the relations of exploitation; their legitimacy is founded on the necessary link between transformations of the production process and the conditions of reproduction. The restructuring that determines the form of the capital-labour relation in the present cycle of struggles has swept this necessity away, removing the legitimacy of demands, which was itself founded by the previous cycle. Demands no longer construct a capital relation that would include the ability of the proletariat to find in itself its own basis, its own constitution, its own reality: that is, the reproduction of capital in its historical modalities had been continually confirmed on the basis of a worker identity, but is no longer. The proletariat recognises capital as its reason-for-being, its own existence confronting itself, as the sole necessity of its existence. The proletariat now sees its existence as a class, objectified in the reproduction of capital, as something alien, something it has to put into question.
Now there is a structural entanglement between, on the one hand, being in contradiction with capital (including demands), and on the other hand, putting oneself into question as a class – which is nothing but one’s relation to capital. For the capitalist class, strikes with wage demands are no longer legitimate as it had been in the internal, conflictual and merely national process of accumulation known as ‘Fordism’.
This entanglement between demands on the one hand and putting oneself into question on the other is a characteristic of this cycle of struggles, which is summarised in the fact that class belonging is a general limit of this cycle. One can find this entanglement in a specific manner even in the demand par excellence – wage demands. Demands do not disappear; we have to pay attention to their changing meaning.
With the crisis of the ‘Fordist regime of accumulation’ and its overcoming in the restructuring of the capitalist mode of production during the 70s and 80s, slowly, in the relation between capital and proletariat, wage demands become illegitimate and even ‘outside the system’. In addition to being an essentially conflictual issue, ‘sharing the wealth’ has become taboo.
There is a mistake to avoid, which would be to consider this attack on wages as a linear constant of capitalism getting worse: if capital is value in process and exploitation of work its very definition, the relation between capital and labour, in the whole process of reproduction, is always historically specific. In the previous phase of the capitalist mode of production, exploitation produced its own conditions of realisation – these conditions were at that time optimal from the point of view of the valorisation of capital. That included everything that made the reproduction of the proletariat a determinant of the reproduction of capital itself: public services, the turnover of accumulation in national arenas, creeping inflation ‘erasing’ the indexing of wages, ‘sharing of productivity gains’. From all that, we get a legitimate reconstruction and recognition of the proletariat in the capitalist mode of production as a national interlocutor (both socially and politically), from the point of view of capital. We can only wager on the dynamics of wage struggles (or any other kind of struggles) by thinking that anything can come of them. Wage struggles, as with the others, belong to historical structures in which they are defined, simultaneously with their actors, and from there, the possibility or trajectories of their dynamics.
In restructured capitalism, the reproduction of labour power was subjected to a dual disconnection. One the one hand, disconnection between valorisation of capital and reproduction of labour power and, on the other, disconnection between consumption and wage as income.
The first disconnection appears, first of all, as a geographical zoning of the capitalist mode of production – capitalist hypercenters grouping together the higher functions in the hierarchy of business organisation (finance, high technology, research centers, etc.); secondary zones with activities requiring intermediate technologies, encompassing logistics and commercial distribution, ill-defined zones with peripheral areas devoted to assembly activities, often outsourced; last, crisis zones and ‘social dustbins’ in which a whole informal economy involving legal or illegal products prospers. Although the valorisation of capital is unified through this zoning, the same is not true for the reproduction of labour power. Reproduction occurs in different ways in each of these zones. In the first world: high-wage strata where social risks are privatised intermeshed with fractions of the labour force where certain aspects of Fordism have been preserved and others, increasingly numerous, subjected to a new ‘compromise’. In the second world: regulation through low wages, imposed by strong internal migratory pressure and precarious employment, islands of more or less stable international subcontracting, little or no guarantee for social risks and labour migrations. In the third world: humanitarian aid, all kinds of illicit trade, agricultural survival, regulation by all various mafias and wars on a more or less restricted scale, but also by the revival of local and ethnic solidarities. The disjunction between the unified global valorisation of capital and the reproduction of labour power adequate for that valorisation is total. Between the two, the strictly equivalent reciprocal relationship between mass production and the modalities of reproduction of labour power, which used to define Fordism, has disappeared.
Zoning is a functional determination of capital: sustaining the expansion of the global markets and the planetary extension of available workforce, despite the rupture between the two, outside all necessary relation on the same predetermined area of reproduction (it is for this reason that zoning must be a mise en abimes: at every scale, from the world to the neighbourhood, this three-fold division is reproduced).
The break in a necessary relation between the valorisation of capital and the reproduction of labour-power ruptures the regional or even national delimitation of areas of coherent reproduction. The disjunction produces intertwining and its infinite reproduction. The regions defined as ‘intermediate’ are the most interesting, because it is precisely there that contact is at its most intense. What it’s about is the separation on the one hand of reproduction and circulation of capital, and on the other hand of reproduction and circulation of labour-power.
For the second disconnection: consumption must be stimulated, despite the insufficient growth in wages. Increased levels of indebtedness, supported by policies of low interest-rates, allows ‘household’ expenditure to grow more quickly than income.
In the regime of stock-exchange value, regulation passes through the asset-markets. It is the growth of household riches, accompanied by a growing social inequality, that is the regulator, because it supports the demand that validates the financial rendering of capital. But this growth is not possible without the expansion of credit which increases asset-prices. Tensions in regulation become manifest in financial crises, not through bursts of inflation. The slow progression of the great majority of wage-income, combined with the pressures of deflation on prices exerted by competition between developing countries, restrict the spread of localised inflationary tensions. […] The viability of indebtedness is becoming the focal point of this mode of regulation, whose logic consists in displacing macro-economic risk onto households. […] The entire financial system has adapted [had adapted, one should rather say] to the functioning of an economy in which household debt is the prime source of demand. (Aglietta and Berrebi, Désordre dans le capitalisme mondial, ed. Odile Jacob, pp.56–57, 60, 62).
Such a system of relations between income and consumption can only be founded on huge wage-disparities, and can only reinforce them, but we must not forget that the poor have not been forgotten, as the subprime crisis and the worldwide increase in over-indebtedness have shown. In the succession of financial crises which for the last twenty years or so have regulated the current mode of valorisation of capital, the subprime crisis is the first to have taken as its point of departure not the financial assets that refer to capital investments, but household consumption, and more precisely that of the poorest households. In this respect it is a crisis specifically of the ‘wage’ relation of restructured capitalism.
Caught in the stranglehold of competition that can only reduce prices by reducing wages, in the servitude of debt which has become just as indispensable as income in order to live, the waged have, to cap it all, the chance of being tyrannised at their own cost, since the savings instrumentalised by stock-exchange finance, savings which demand to be repaid without end, are their own.’ (Le Monde diplomatique, March 2008).
About a third of American employees work for companies whose principal shareholder is a pension fund.
The wage-demand currently contains a dynamic that it wasn’t previously able to contain. It is an internal dynamic which comes about as a result of the whole relation between proletariat and capital in the capitalist mode of production such as it has emerged from restructuring and such as it is going into crisis.
The wage is no longer an element of regulation of the whole of capitalism: the reproduction of labour-power is disconnected from the valorisation of capital; income is disconnected from consumption by the massive financial implication of wage-income (debt and pension-funds are becoming a parade towards the exclusion of direct and indirect wage from the mode of regulation); the fragmentation of labour-power is becoming adapted to this regime of wages. Precarity is not only this part of employment that one can stricto sensu qualify as ‘precarious’. Now integrated into every branch, precarity is of course a ‘threat’ to all so-called ‘stable’ jobs. Stable jobs are taking on characteristics of precarity, principally flexibility, mobility, constant availability, subcontracting that makes even the ‘stable’ jobs at small businesses insecure, the way that large companies function according to objectives. The list of symptoms of the plague of precarity affecting formally stable jobs is long.
The wage-demand has changed its meaning. At the summit of the previous cycle of struggles, the operaists saw in the wage-demand the self-valorisation of the workers and the refusal of work as a triumph of ‘social labour’. This content was only the reversal of the importance of labour and of the working class, such as it was defined and confirmed in this first phase of real subsumption, against capital. It wasn’t only a matter of full employment, but was the location that the reproduction of capital had defined for labour in its own reproduction, which defined the capacity for the proletariat to make this location into a weapon against capital.
Of course, the division of the working day into necessary and surplus labour is still determinative of the class struggle. But now, in the struggle over this division it is paradoxically in that which fundamentally defines the proletariat as a class of this mode of production, and nothing other than this, that the fact of its existence as a class becomes for the proletariat the limit of its own struggle as a class, appears practically and conflictingly, in the very relation to capital that defines it as a class. This is currently the central character of the wage-demand in class struggle. In the most trivial path of wage-demand, the proletariat sees its own existence as a class objectify itself as something which is foreign to it to the extent that the capitalist relation itself places it in its breast as something foreign. With the current crisis, the wage-demand has become a contradictory system: essential and disconnected; flattened as income and central as consumption and financial circulation; unified as global social labour-power, and as the same fragmented and zoned.
The current crisis must be historically and specifically characterised in its singularity as a crisis of the wage relation. All crises may be seen merely as the falling rate of profit and the form in which they appear considered merely as phenomenological forms that may be ignored in fundamental analysis for lack of ideas about what to do about them. This would be forgetting that the forms in which they appear are the whole of reality and that the essence (the falling rate of profit) is a concept, a reality of thought. The very concept of crisis is unthinkable without the forms in which it appears, it is produced in them and not a ‘true reality’ hidden behind them.
The current crisis broke out because proletarians could no longer repay their loans. It broke out due to the wage relation itself, which formerly founded the financialisation of the capitalist economy: wage cuts required for ‘value creation’; global competition within the work force. The exploitation of the proletariat on a global scale is the hidden face and the condition for the valorisation and reproduction of this capital, which tends toward an absolute degree of abstraction. What changed in the current period was the breadth of the scope within which this pressure was exerted: the benchmark price has become the minimum global price. This implies a drastic reduction or even disappearance of the admissible profit rate differentials. Searching for maximum profit is not new, but wage standards changed with the end of the parallelism between rising productivity and rising wages, as well as the area of perequation [equalisation] within which this pressure is exerted: financiarisation of capital is above all the workers’ defeat by capital. This wage reduction is necessary not only because attempts to maximize surplus labour are a general structural necessity (and always historically specific) of the capitalist mode of production, but in addition specifically because it is the functional condition, in financialised capital, for non-propagation of inflationist tension in a system of accumulation based on a constant supply of liquidity. This functional necessity was what, with the subprime crisis, reappeared within the historical mode of capital accumulation. Now the wage relation is at the core of the current crisis. The current crisis is the beginning of the phase of reversal of the determinations and dynamic of capitalism as it emerged from the restructuring of the 70s and 80s. What is breaking out and turning into obstacles and vehicles of the tendential fall in the rate of profit is precisely what was the system’s dynamic.
All the contradictions become entwined after 2005, leading to the explosion of the current crisis. First the growth of consumption made possible by the growth of debt whilst wages stagnate or grow only marginally; then the growth in fixed investment of companies made possible by the slightly increasing rate of profit after 2002, itself based on the reduction of wages. At the same time there is over-accumulation of capital and over-production of commodities: over-accumulation because of under-consumption; under-consumption because of over-accumulation. Proletarians never consume a portion of surplus value, as is assumed by theories of under-consumption that oppose the decline or stagnation to the realisation of the increased surplus-value which results from it. The secret resides in the fact that too much of the revenue is transformed into constant capital, resulting in massive augmentation of production, while the rate of profit tendentially falls as does the consumption power of society. Workers’ consumption is blocked in relation to increased production, because too much revenue has been transformed into constant capital (at the end of the day the production of means of production can only be in the service of consumption); too much revenue has been transformed into constant capital because the aim of capitalist production is the maximum production of surplus value and the reduction of workers’ consumption. This reduction then blocks the reproduction of capital. The transformation of additional [an increased] surplus value into additional capital is simultaneously blocked, on the one hand by the weak increase in the rate of exploitation that could result from it, and on the other hand by the already attained reduction of workers’ consumption which can only continue through the acceleration of the transformation of revenue into capital.
It is a crisis of the wage relation: as a capacity for the valorisation of capital; capacity of the reproduction of the working class. In order not to leave aside the forms of appearance and to specifically designate the current crisis, it is necessary to unify the theory of crisis.1 We are faced with a crisis in which the identity of over-accumulation and under-consumption is affirmed, a crisis of the wage relation and of the reciprocal implication between labour and capital, a crisis in which the proletariat finds itself confronted against and within the capitalist mode of production by its own existence and action as a class as a limit to be overcome.
Without using the concept of the ‘final crisis of capitalism’, which is theoretically meaningless, we can still interrogate the nature of this crisis: are we faced with the final crisis of this phase of accumulation? We could permit ourselves to reply no. For this crisis is inscribed in two temporalities each possessing a double character, it can find ‘solutions’ within and through the phase of accumulation.
First double temporality: on the one hand, in relation to the long phase of accumulation, this crisis, because it is a crisis of the wage relation, is structural. On the other hand, it is the crisis of a specific configuration in this phase of its wage relation, a specific configuration that is put in place after the Asian crisis of the end of the 90s (to simplify, the Chinese-American configuration).
Second double temporality: on the one hand this is a crisis of a short-term of this phase of accumulation, that of the period 2001–2007. It is thus a crisis of the disconnection between consumption and revenue (financial crisis). On the other hand it is, in the medium term, the crisis of the 1991–2007 period. This medium term begins with the investment boom of the 90s, which ends with a noticeable fall in the rate of profit between the end of 1997 and mid-2001. This leads us to consider the crisis beginning in 2007 as the result of the 2001 crisis, the purging of which was prevented by the encouragement of household debt. It is still possible to justly consider that we are faced with a unique process that occurs in two stages, the organic link between wages and accumulation in this long term phase of capitalism. The crisis of over-accumulation logically develops (at the same time as the process of accumulation is restarted – its contradictory character has no importance when we speak of the capitalist mode of production, which is in essence contradictory) in relation to the structural characteristics of accumulation during a crisis of under-consumption (itself linked to a period of over-accumulation in Asia).
This entanglement of two double temporalities gives us a structural crisis of this phase of accumulation that we specifically qualify as a crisis of the wage relation. But this structural crisis, because of the short and medium term temporalities in which it develops, offers (very limited) possibilities of restructuring internal to the phase. That which is emerging through the crisis of the wage relation and through the modalities of ‘restructuring’ internal to the long period, is a crisis of the creation of money (crisis of the capitalist mode of production having the specific forms of the phase of accumulation characterised by the financialisation of valorisation and the structural monetary modifications initiated in 1971) which, in the crisis of the wage relation in which it is inscribed, becomes a crisis of value.
In its capitalist core (the crisis of surplus value producing labour) a crisis of value can be for the proletariat a struggle against capital, in which it absorbs, against the capitalist class, a large part of society. It is the process of its abolition in the abolition of exchange that all sorts of marginal strata and the not strictly proletarian poor are compelled to exert.
In the most essential way, the present moment can be defined by the relationship and the interpenetration of the crisis of the wage relation and the illegitimacy of wage demands. This explosive connection is at the core of the present moment.
With the current crisis, in the proletariat’s action, the production of class belonging as an external constraint is under preparation, in its most intimate heart, in the wage relation. Demanding and confronting its own existence as a class as the limit of its action are no longer mutually exclusive. In the current wage struggles (wage struggles in the broad sense of struggles over the wage relation over, on the one hand, wage demands and the terms of deferred wages and, on the other, demands concerning work conditions, precariousness and layoffs), demands as such are more and more likely to be destabilised in the very course of the struggle and to produce the organisational forms that correspond to it, without the latter being challenged. Wage demands now become a fertile terrain where the production of class belonging as an external constraint can emerge.
End of the old formalisation of limits: the end of radical democratism, the end of activism
In this cycle of struggles, essentially, acting as the class is the very limit of class struggle. If, as such, this limit remains, its formalisations are subject to change or may even disappear. The explosive connection brings the end of the alternative, whether in the form of activism (the direct action movement) or radical democratism2 (both of which are historically linked).
Radical democratism formalised the limits of the cycle of struggles precisely by making capital the unbreachable horizon of labour; alternative activism autonomised the dynamic of this cycle, making the challenge to the proletarian condition the premise, the condition, of a critique of capital. For both, ‘another world was possible’ compared with or against today’s world.
As for activism, it is the autonomisation of this cycle, with all the necessary ideololgical reformulations that this implies. Challenging class belonging is something to be done in opposition to capital, not intrinsically to the contradiction which is exploitation. In both cases, another life was possible as an alternative.
The distinctions that can be drawn between activism and radical democratism are ideological and practical distinctions, but not between persons, who can cross the permeable borders between those practices and those ideologies. These potential crossovers depend on three factors.
First of all, the subject is identical between all these practices: the isolated individual as he appears on the surface of the bourgeois society. The current strength of such a subject is a matter of the lack of confirmation of a worker identity within the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production. But this strength is not only a matter of a lack, it is equally positive, the internal tension of this cycle of struggles which carries it. For radical democratism, this individual is the citizen for whom capital is an unsurpassable horizon. For the direct action movement, it’s the actualised liberation from the class belonging which becomes both the definition of the class (which is non-sense) and the basis for confrontation with capital (positive against positive, there’s no more contradiction).
Second, although they have their real differences, the capital relation is a formal relation for all these practices. Formal in the sense that the relation does not imply the very definition of the subject, which is related to capital, but only the framework in which this subject evolves, struggles and demands. Form of domination, subjection, control, alienation of this subject. That capital could be reduced to a bunch of plotters, masters of the world or would be posed as a global system of domination and negation of our humanity: we are dealing with the same formalism as with the capitalist relations of production. A formalism, which consists of a hypostasis of the question of the State for both of them: a foundation of the capitalist mode of production or a legitimate summary of the society of citizens.
Third, for both of them, the end of the Cold War, a world politically and economically unified ‘under the leadership of the United States and multinational corporations’, the collapse of ‘really existing socialism’ and of all its political and trade-unionist manifestations is their birth certificate.
We understand that even if we cannot call every tendency at work in the big anti-summit mobilisations (from the end of the 90s to the beginning of the 2000s) by the name of radical-democrats, they march in step and even sometimes interpenetrate (black blocks and Cobas in Genoa in spite of serious disputes; material support and infrastructure provided by the Genoa Social Forum; Inpeg planning the place of the black block in Prague, etc.). If we can think that the direct action and the black block movement in Genoa have reached their zenith of expansion and of expression, it is because the dominant tendency of these demonstrations had to split apart from what could have apeard as their radical wing. Radical democratism is the necessary milieu for the existence of the black block; and if it implies the black block as the other pole of the internal tension of this cycle; the black block conversely is neither, for radical democratism, its milieu nor its necessary enemy. This internal tension was only a transitory phase in the course of the current cycle of struggles.
No other world is possible here and now, neither on the basis of labour confirming capital, nor on the basis of its critique as preamble and condition of the abolition of capital. The current crisis, which is specifically a crisis of the wage relation, made all that obsolete.
In the current situation, radical democratism and the autonomisation of the dynamics of this cycle of struggles – that is to say, putting into question its class belonging as something to realise against capital and not as something intrinsic to the contradiction of exploitation – are about to be overtaken. In both cases another life was possible as an alternative.
The ‘activist milieus’ tempted by the (real) alternative and posing questions relative to communism’ that after Seattle became an important determination of this cycle of struggle are 'exits from history'.
* The end of the big anti-summit demos implies their decline at the same time that their intimate connection with radical democratism appears.
* The success in these milieus of theories of a strategy of withdrawal (withdrawing to hideouts, preparing and organising the mythical cuts in the flows of circulation) has confirmed the definitive shift to the alternative.
* During the riots in Greece, this milieu met its intrinsic limit at the very moment when they could no longer be ‘alternativists’ and ‘activists’.
* The violence, which is about to increase, with which the crisis began to strike the ‘16–25’ year olds is going to ‘disalternativise’ the ‘alternative milieu’ for which the transition from posing questions relative to communism to the struggle against capitalism is going to be reversed.
* More importantly: the general strike and the riots in Guadeloupe and Martinique, the struggles against the layoffs and for the wage everywhere mean that wage demands, exploitation in the most trivial sense, is the terrain on which the proletariat’s putting into question of its own definition as a class is prepared.
A page turns. These milieus and their practices could, at a certain moment, indicate the dynamics of the cycle of struggles and the characteristics of communism as this cycle of struggles produces it (under the condition of a theoretical turn). It’s over.
The disappearance of the direct action movement and of the practices of the black block are a matter of the development of immediate struggles in which the appearance of the class belonging as an external constraint is the very point of these struggles, struggles of the proletariat in its implication vis-a-vis capital, and no longer as autonomisation against capital. The milieus tempted by the alternative are no longer anything to speak of. There is no more room in the middle. The activities of these milieus can be matters of discussion and of manifestations of class struggle, but not in the terms in which they understand and interpret themselves and the debate over communisation with this milieu is no longer for us an internal debate.
The current limits: we are nothing outside of the wage relation: the police, discipline
In restructured capitalism, the reproduction of labour power has been the object of a double disconnection. This (see above) constitutes the wage demand as structurally illegitimate in this period of the capitalist mode of production and not only antagonistically to the maximum valorisation of capital. It is for this reason that the wage demand is certainly becoming the terrain on which is prepared the production of the class belonging as an external constraint and this in its very core: the wage relation by which, for the proletariat, its physical and social existence depends on capital.
The expression of this limit will now be double: we are nothing outside the wage relation; this struggle as a class as limit is the police.
For the first, it is a matter of workers’ violence against the decisions of the capitalist class, violence meant to demand capital’s existence for the sake of the working class. If capital ever fancies to no longer exist for the working class, the latter is no longer anything. In order to exist, the working class claims, against capital, the capitalist relation. We are nothing outside the wage relation, this is the limit within class struggle of struggling as a class. It will be a matter of defending in the most fierce way its conditions of existence, not to make a claim for their management. We could see the development of a rank and file unionism on a very vindictive basis but very unstable and with an episodic existence because it cannot develop itself and stabilise in negotiations. Rank and file unionism, very close to every form of self-management, both of which will express and seek to formalise the fact of struggle as class-as-limit.
For the second: the police indicate that we are nothing outside the wage relation. Of course the police is the force which, in the last instance, is our own existence as a class as limit. If the main result of the process of production is the reproduction between proletariat and capital standing face to face, then the fact that of this faceoff comes ipso facto from the first moment of exchange between capital and labour (purchase and sale of labour power) is not obvious. Everywhere the disciplinarisation of the labour power facing proletarians -- made once again poor as proletarians -- is inscribed in the agenda of the capitalist class. Reproduction of this faceoff between labour power and capital has become a matter of discipline.
Exploitation: a game that abolishes its rule
The illegitimacy of wage demands in a crisis which is specifically a crisis of the wage relation constitutes the contradiction of the present moment. It carries all the putting into question of class belonging as limit of the class struggle itself by the activities, yet to come, of struggle as the activity of the proletariat acting as a class – by which all the practical and theoretical equivocation about class struggle are swept away. The definition of the proletariat and of its contradiction with capital thus come back to the center; that is to say, on the one hand, the identity between what makes the proletariat a class of this mode of production and the revolutionary class, and on the other hand, a contradiction which unwinds through this identity is submitted to its own history as the course of the capitalist mode of production. We call it temporal mediation this relation between the definition of the proletariat as situated in the contradiction and the course of the contradiction defining the ability of the proletariat, from its situation in the contradiction, to abolish the whole relation. The temporal mediation is the structure of this contradiction. Temporal mediation is not fundamentally a question of chronology but of a real unwinding and of the understanding of the contradiction between proletariat and capital. Temporal mediation is the concept critical of any kind of revolutionary nature of the proletariat and of any kind of immediatism of communism, of programmatism and of activism. It’s not only outside of the wage relation that we are nothing but outside of the contradiction of the wage relation, which changes everything, and by which everyting can change.
Spotting, promoting the activities of the swerve is the refounding of the question of communisation in the very core of exploitation and of production of surplus value. These pairs – exploitation/alienation, reciprocal implication / domination, classes/individuals, productive labour / ‘diffuse-valorisation’ – are about to become once again the subject of polemics. Posing the temporal mediation as the dividing line is to suppress the ambiguities between the terms of these antinomies. An underestimation, not to say negligence of the subsumption of labour under capital in the process of exploitation, justifies theoretical immediatism (denunciation) and a certain conception of praxis as intervention.
It is important to hold a strict definition of productive labour in order to understand how it is in the game itself and from the game that the abolition of its rule is happening.
A strict definition of productive labour does not mean that only the productive workers are proletarians. Unproductive workers sell their labour power and are exploited in the same way by their capitalist, for whom their degree of exploitation will determine the share of surplus value that he will appropriate. But it is from the strict definition of productive labour that one can deduce that the proletariat is not limited to productive workers. Indeed, first, it is in the very essence of surplus value to exist as profit, including for productive capitals themselves; second, for this very reason it is the whole of the capitalist class which exploits the whole of the working class, as the proletarian belongs to the capitalist class even before he sells himself to this or that boss. However, the global social work that capital creates by appropriation (social labour does not pre-exist in the proletarian or in the whole class before its appropriation) is not a homogeneous mass without distinctions, mediations, and hierarchy. It is not a meaningful totality in which every moment contains all the determinations of the totality. One shouldn’t skip a central problem: if every proletarian has a formally identical relation to his particular capital, whether he is a productive worker or not, he does not have the same relation to social capital (it is not about consciousness but about objective situations). If there was not, at the center of class struggle, the contradiction represented for the capitalist mode of production and for the proletariat by productive labour, we wouldn’t be able to talk about revolution (it would be something exogenous to the mode of production, at best a utopia, at worst nothing).
It is the very mode according to which labour exists socially, that is, valorisation, which is the contradiction between proletariat and capital. As defined by exploitation, the proletariat is in contradiction with the necessary social existence of its labour as capital, that is to say, autonomised value, which can remain as such only by further valorisation: the decrease of the rate of profit is a contradiction between classes. The proletariat is constantly in contradiction with its own definition as a class: the necessity of its reproduction is something it finds facing it, something represented by capital for which it is constantly necessary and always in excess. The proletariat never finds its confirmation in the reproduction of the social relation of which it is nevertheless a necessary pole. It is the contradiction of productive labour: 'Productive labour is only an abbreviated expression for the whole relation, and the manner in which labour capacity and labour figure in the capitalist production process.’ (Marx, 'Results of the Direct Production Process’, in MECW, volume 34, p. 483).
Communism is the contradictory movement of the capitalist mode of production, the process of its nullity. Its overcoming is included as the very content of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital, and thus as the most immediate forms of class struggle. The class does not exist twice, once as reproducer of capital, fighting within the limits of this reproduction, and again as tension towards communism. Through the falling of the rate of profit, exploitation is a constant process in contradiction with its own reproduction: the movement that is exploitation is a contradiction for the social relations of production; it is the content and the movement. Exploitation is the funny game with always the same winner (because it is subsumption); at the same time, and for the same reason, it is a game in contradiction with its own rule and a tension towards the abolition of this rule. In this sense, class struggle is a game that can bring about the abolition of its rule, because in the falling tendency of the rate of profit, that is to say, with the contradiction of productive labour, we no longer deal with a process of ‘capital alone’ but with class struggle.
Productive workers are not, for all that, revolutionaries by nature and permanently. Classes are not collections of individuals; the proletariat and the capitalist class are the social polarisation of the contradiction, which are the fall of the rate of profit or productive labour, which structures the whole of society. The particular relation of productive work to social capital (compared to any other exploited work) does not stabilise itself as the essence of productive workers. However, in the contradiction of productive labour, which structures the whole of society and polarises into contradictory classes, productive labour has a singular situation. In the blockade of the production of value and surplus value, people who live at the core of the conflict of capital as contradiction-in-process do not only ‘blockade’. In their singular action, which is nothing special, but rather only their commitment to the struggle, the contradiction which structures the whole of society as class struggle returns to itself, to its own condition. It is in that way that the class belonging can fall apart and that, in its struggle, the proletariat begins its self-transformation (it depends on all sorts of circumstances and it does not happen every time productive workers are on strike).
If the proletariat does not limit itself to the class of productive workers (those who produce surplus value), it is the contradiction of productive labour which constructs the proletariat. Productive labour (of surplus value, that is to say, capital) is the living and objective contradiction of this mode of production. It is not a nature bound to persons: the same worker can accomplish the productive tasks (as well as some others which are not productive). The productive character of labour can be defined at the level of the collective worker; the same (temporary) worker can pass, from one week to the next, from a productive work to another which is not. But the relation of the whole proletariat to capital is constructed by the contradictory situation of productive labour in the capitalist mode of production. The question is one of knowledge, always historical and conjunctural – how this essential (constitutive) contradiction constructs, in a given moment, class struggle, knowing that it is in the very nature of the capitalist mode of production that this contradiction does not appear clearly: surplus value becoming by definition profit and capital being value in process.
If the revolution could start from the factory, it would not remain there; it would begin its proper task when workers leave the factory in order to abolish it; it will face self-management, autonomy and everything that relates to ‘councilism’. This revolution will be the one of the epoch in which the contradiction between classes situates itself at the level of their reciprocal implication and at the level of their reproduction. And ‘the weakest link’ of this contradiction, that is, exploitation, which links classes to one another, is situated in the moments of social reproduction of labour power, precisely where, far from affirming itself, the definition of the proletariat as the class of productive labour always appears (and more and more in the current shape of reproduction) as contingent and random, not only for each proletarian in particular, but structurally for the class as a whole. But if class struggle remains a movement at the level of reproduction, it will not integrate its own raison-d’être, which is production. The currently recurring limit of all riots and ‘insurrections’ is what defines them as minority struggles. Revolution will have to go into the domain of production to abolish it as a specific moment of the relation between people and to abolish, in the same moment, labour in the abolition of wage labour. That is the key role of productive labour and of those who at a specific moment are the direct bearers of the contradiction because they experience it as necessary and superfluous at the same time in their existence for capital. Objectively, they have the capacity to make of this attack a contradiction for capital itself, to turn the contradiction that is exploitation back on itself as well as against themselves as workers. The way through the abolition of exploitation passes through exploitation itself, as capital, the revolution is still also an objective process.
It is in the process of the revolution that the proper definition of the proletariat as a class of productive workers will appear in the act as limited. The definition of the proletariat is no longer a socio-economic category – and the same holds for the capitalist class – but is rather the polarisation, as activities, of the terms of the contradiction (that is exploitation). This is already for each struggle the criterion that permits one to measure how deeply and how far it shows its own causes.
The swerve: definition, examples
From struggles for demands to revolution there can only be a rupture, a qualitative leap, but this rupture is not a miracle, neither is it the simple realisation on the part of the proletariat that there is nothing else to be done other than making the revolution given the failure of everything else. ‘One solution, revolution’ is nonsense symmetrical to that of the revolutionary dynamic of the struggle for demands. This rupture is produced positively by the unfolding of the cycle of struggles which precedes it and, we can say, is still part of it. This rupture is prefigured in the multiplication of swerves inside the class struggle between on the one hand the calling into question by the proletariat of its own existence as a class in its contradiction with capital and on the other the reproduction of capital which is implied by the very fact of being a class. This swerve is the dynamic of this cycle of struggles which exists in an empirically verifiable manner. Two points encapsulate what is essential in the current cycle of struggles:
* The disappearance of a workers’ identity confirmed in the reproduction of capital, i.e. the end of the workers’ movement and the corresponding bankruptcy of self-organisation and autonomy as a revolutionary perspective;
* With the restructuring of the capitalist mode of production the contradiction between classes takes shape at the level of their respective reproduction. In its contradiction with capital the proletariat calls itself into question.
Struggles for demands display characteristics which were unthinkable thirty years ago. During the struggles in France of December 1995, in the struggle of the undocumented, the unemployed, the Liverpool dockers, Cellatex, Alstom, LU, Marks & Spencer, in the Argentinean social uprising, in the Algerian insurrection, in Greece, in Guadeloupe, etc. any given characteristic of the struggle (public service, demand for labour, defence of the means of labour, rejection of off-shoring, of exclusive financial management, factory appropriation, self-organisation, etc.) appeared in the course of the struggle itself as a limit in that this specific characteristic, which the movement often comes up against in the tensions and confrontations internal to its retreat, always comes down to the very fact of being a class and remaining such, which, contrary to the previous period, can no longer be given a positive content as presaging the affirmation of the class.
Most often, these are not earthshaking declarations or ‘radical’ actions but rather all the practices of the proletariat of flight from or rejection of its own condition. In the current strikes over redundancies workers are no longer demanding that their jobs be saved but severance pay. Against capital, labour has no future. These struggles take on an open character, across workplaces, across companies and across sectors, in relation sometimes with the unemployed in the same employment basin; in terms of its scope, the struggle goes on both within and outside the company. Formerly, in the suicidal struggles at Cellatex, in the strike at Vilvoorde and many others, it became strikingly obvious that the proletariat was nothing separate from capital and that it can only remain this nothing (the fact that the proletariat demands to be reunited with capital doesn’t get rid of the chasm which is opened by the struggle, the recognition and the refusal by the proletariat of itself being this chasm). It’s the de-essentialisation of labour which becomes the very activity of the proletariat both a) tragically, in its struggles without immediate perspectives (suicidal struggles) and in self-destructive activities, and b) as demand for this de-essentialisation, as in the struggles of the unemployed and precarious workers in the winter of 1998. When it appeared that autonomy and self-organisation were no longer anything more than the perspective of nothing, as in the case of the Italian transport strike or the workers at Fiat Melfi, it’s at this moment that the dynamic of the cycle is constituted and the conditions for overcoming struggles for demands are put in place on the basis of struggles for demands themselves. The proletariat is confronted with its own definition as a class which becomes autonomous in relation to it, which becomes foreign to it.
Between December 2002 to January 2003, the ACT strike in Angers (computer equipment subsidiary of Bull) was led concurrently by a trade-union alliance and a strike committee which was ‘broadly open and relatively grass-roots.’ Three production lines were temporarily restarted, which however did not prevent the finished products from being burnt. It’s interesting to take another look at the chronology of events. The factory was occupied following the announcement on the 20th of December of the company’s definitive receivership ‘after multiple manoeuvrings and prevarication.’ The factory was occupied but nobody knows to what end. On the 10th of January the strike committee agreed to take on the production of electronic components for an Italian equipment manufacturer. On the 22nd of January, 200 components were delivered and on the 23rd the occupants burned the components that were in inventory. On the 24th, the occupiers were brutally evicted. In the same period, the Moulinex employees who had been made redundant set fire to a factory building, thus inscribing themselves in the dynamic of this cycle of struggles, which makes the existence of the proletariat as a class the limit of its class action. In China and India, there’s no longer any prospect of passing to a vast workers’ movement from the multiplicity of struggles for demands, whatever form they take, affecting all aspects of life and the reproduction of the working class.
Putting unemployment and precarity at the heart of the wage relation; defining clandestinity as the general situation of labour power; posing the social immediacy of the individual as in the direct action movement as the foundation to produce as the basis of the opposition to capital; engaging in suicidal struggles such as that at Cellatex and others in the spring and summer of 2000 (Metaleurop – with some caveats – Adelshoffen, Société Française Industrielle de Contrôle et d’Equipement, Bertrand Faure, Mossley, Bata, Moulinex, Daewoo-Orion, ACT-ex Bull); reducing class unity to an objectivity constituted in capital and in the multiplicity of collectives and waves of temporary workers’ strikes (France 2003, British postal workers) – all of the above define the content of each of these specific struggles as constitutive of the dynamic of the cycle inside and during these struggles. The revolutionary dynamic of the cycle of struggles which consists in the proletariat’s production of its own existence as a class in capital, thus calling itself into question as a class (it no longer has any self-relation), appears in the majority of current struggles; this dynamic has its intrinsic limit in that which defines it as a dynamic: acting as a class.
Class unity can no longer constitute itself on the basis of the wage condition and struggle for demands, as a precondition of its revolutionary activity. The unity of the proletariat can no longer be anything other than the activity in which it abolishes itself by abolishing all that divides it. It is a fraction of the proletariat which, going beyond the character of its struggle as a struggle for demands, will take communising measures and will then initiate the unification of the proletariat which won’t be different from the unification of humanity, i.e. from its creation as the ensemble of relations which individuals establish between themselves in their singularity.
Abolishing capital is also the self-negation of the worker, and not the worker’s self-organisation as such; it is a movement of abolition of companies, of factories, of production, of exchange (in whatever form).
In Argentina, people self-organise like Mosconi’s unemployed, like Bruckman’s workers, slum-residents…, but in this sort of self-organisation people are confronted immediately by that which they are, which in struggle becomes that which has to be overcome. That self-organisation is a general limit to be overcome is revealed in conflicts between self-organised sectors. What appears in these conflicts is that workers, defending their present situation, remain in the categories of the capitalist mode of production that define them. Unification is impossible without being precisely the abolition of self-organisation, without the possibility that the claimant, the Zanon-worker or the squatter can be claimant, Zanon-worker or squatter. Either there is unification, after which there is the abolition even of what is self-organisable, or there is self-organisation, after which unification is a dream which is lost in the conflicts implied by the diversity of situations.
In the defence of its immediate interests, the proletariat is driven to abolish itself because its activity in the ‘recovered factory’ can no longer shut itself into the ‘recovered factory’, neither in the juxtaposition, co-ordination and unity of ‘recovered factories’, nor in anything that is self-organisable.
In France in November 2005, in the banlieues, the rioters didn’t demand anything. The content of the November revolt was the refutation of the causes of the revolt, the rioters attacked their own condition, they made their target everything that produces and defines them. If it was like this, it doesn’t depend on an imaginary radicalism intrinsic to the ‘hooligans of the banlieues’. This depends on the conjunction of two current factors: on the one hand, the particular situation of this fraction of the proletariat, on the other, the fact that, in general, the demand is not what it once was. The rioters reveal and attack the situation of the proletarian at the moment: globally precarised labour power. That which renders immediately null and void, in the very moment in which such a demand could have been articulated, the desire to be an ‘ordinary proletarian’.
This entanglement between raising demands and calling one-selves into question as proletarians, which is characteristic of this cycle of struggles, and which is summarised in class-belonging as the general limit of this cycle, has been brought to its zenith in the November riots by virtue of the particularity of their participants. The demand has disappeared.
That which in this text is termed the swerve tears every single struggle, but the terms of this swerve can equally be considered as things represented in the different struggles in the same phase of the class-struggle (the November riots and the struggle of tram-workers in Marseilles or the sailors of the SNCM at the same time). It’s all a question of scale.
Three months later, in spring 2006, during the struggle against the CPE, everyone knew what could emerge from the retreat of the CPE: at best, if the trade unionist projects had triumphed, a French flexicurity. Who wanted that? Certainly not the majority of the students, precarious workers and school-students who were on the streets. As a movement of demands, this would nonetheless have been the only result. The anti-CPE movement was a movement of demands for which the satisfaction of their demands would have been unacceptable as a movement of demands. As a movement of demands, the student-movement could only understand itself by becoming the general movement of precarious workers, but then either it would have committed suicide in its specificity, or it could only have been forced to be confronted more or less violently by all those who in the November riots had shown that they refused to serve in the ranks of the masses. Making the demand succeed through its expansion sabotaged the demand. Who was able to believe in the link with the November rioters on the basis of permanent contract for all? On the one hand, this link was objectively inscribed in the genetic code of the movement; on the other hand, the very necessity of this link induced an internal love-hate dynamic in the movement, itself also objective. The struggle against the CPE was a movement of demands, the satisfaction of whose demands has become unacceptable for the movement itself as a movement of demands.
The riots in Greece and the general strike in Guadeloupe are the most recent events which characterise this cycle of struggles.
In the Greek riots, the proletariat didn’t demand anything, and didn’t consider itself opposed to capital as the foundation of any alternative, quite simply, through riots that produced class-belonging as an external constraint and the relationship of exploitation as pure and simple coercion, it no longer wants to be what it is.
These riots were a movement of the class rather than a mere agitation by activists (that would itself also be a movement of the class) but it wasn’t a struggle in the heart of the class: production. It is in this way that these riots were able to make the key achievement of producing and aiming towards class-belonging as a constraint, but they could only reach this point by confronting this glass floor of production as their limit. And the ways in which this movement produced this external constraint (aims, the unfolding of the riots, the composition of the rioters…) was intrinsically defined by this limit. This constituted the ambivalence of this movement.
Students without a future, young immigrants, precarious workers, these are all proletarians who live every day the reproduction of capitalist social relations as coercion; coercion is included in this reproduction because they are proletarians, but they experience it every day as separated and aleatory (accidental and non-necessary) in relation to production itself. They struggle at the same time in the moment of coercion as separated, and only experience this separation as an absence in their own struggle against this mode of production.
It is in this way – and only in this way – that this movement produced class-belonging as an exterior constraint. It is in this way that it is situated at the level of this cycle of struggles and is one of its determining historical moments. Attacking institutions and the forms of social reproduction, taken in themselves, is on the one hand what constituted it and was the force which on the other hand expressed its limits.
In Greece it is in this configuration and in the ambiguity that it contains that for the proletarians in struggle, their class-belonging, their own definition as a class in relation to capital, was produced and appeared as an exterior constraint. In their own practice and in their struggle, they called themselves into question as proletarians, but only by separating the moments and the instances of social reproduction in their attacks and their aims. Reproduction and production of capital remained foreign to each other. The result of this oscillation constituted the minority-character of the movement.
Currently, the resolution depends on the overcoming of a constitutive contradiction of class struggle: class-being is for the proletariat the obstacle that its struggle as a class must go beyond / abolish. The riots in Greece posited this obstacle, formalised the contradiction, and didn’t go any further. This was their limit, but the contradiction now exists practically for this cycle of struggles in restructured capitalism and its crisis.
In Guadeloupe, the importance of unemployment of the part of the population that lives from benefits and from an underground economy means that wage-demands are a contradiction in terms. This contradiction structured the course of events between the LKP, which was focused on permanent workers (essentially in public services) but attempted to hold the terms of this contradiction together through multiplication and the infinite diversity of demands, and the absurdity of central wage-demands for the majority of people on the blockades, in the looting, and in the attacks on public buildings. The demand was destabilised in the very course of the struggle; it was called into question, as was its form of organisation, but the specific forms of exploitation of the entire population, inherited from its colonial history, were able to prevent this contradiction from breaking out more violently at the heart of the movement (it is important to note that the only death was that of a trade-unionist killed on a blockade). From this point of view, the production of class-belonging as an exterior constraint was more a sort of schizophrenia than something genuinely produced in the course of struggle, more a sociological phenomenon than something at stake in the struggle. No conflictual recomposition of the class around unemployed and precarious workers arose – rather a parallel existence between waged and unemployed workers, which the LKP, for better or worse, attempted to control. This didn’t prevent wage-demands from being confronted globally by the composition of the demonstrators and to find its limit here.
The wage-demand advanced by the fraction of more or less permanent employees found its limit in the mass of the unemployed and claimants itself, which was brought about in the movement, but that wasn’t simply an external limit: that the two parts weren’t foreigners who found themselves ‘side by side’ by accident. They were brought together by the global purchase of labour-power, in which global labour-power is always already bought, whatever its individual or collective consumption, by capital in general for an income in which wages and other forms of incomes are equalised. Wage-demands are totally modified when nobody ‘owns’ them any more. The worker can no longer break the chain in the liberation of labour, the chain which links together the terms of contradictory reciprocal implication between surplus and necessary labour.
The illegitimacy of wage-demands is also present in this ‘side-by-side’: its double disconnection. Disconnection vis-à-vis both valorisation and capital accumulation, for both of which the wage-demands have lost all internal meaning and dynamism; disconnection between on the one hand the wage, on the other hand income and consumption through credit and all different forms of income and benefits. The very composition of the demonstrators and rioters expresses this double disconnection vividly and actively. What wage-demands can be raised by the mass of long-term unemployed? It would be wrong to analyse anger as desperation. In the course of wage-demands, unemployment is the contradiction between surplus and necessary labour, it is capital as a contradiction-in-process. The wage-relation in its totality is modulated in response to unemployment and ‘atypical’ forms of employment, and this to the limit of the wage-demand itself, its course, its participants and its activities.
The restriction of the wage-demand to the contradiction between surplus and necessary labour is the very composition of the working class in Guadeloupe and in the other French colonies. Here, this structural contradiction is class-composition itself. Starting with the wage, the proletariat’s closest relation to capital, in Guadeloupe, within the wage-demands themselves, a more important phenomenon occurred, namely the production of class-belonging as a limit and exteriority within the struggle as a class.
The swerves in the action of the class (reproducing one-self as a class of this mode of production / calling one-self into question) exist in the unfolding of most conflicts.
We are theoretically the lookouts and advocates of these swerves, which consist in the proletariat’s calling itself into question within its struggle, and practically, we are their agents, when we are directly engaged in these struggles. We exist in this rupture, in this tear in the proletariat’s activity as a class.
The proletariat can only be revolutionary by recognising itself as a class; it recognises itself in every conflict, and all the more in situations in which its existence as a class will be the situation which it will have to confront in the reproduction of capital. We must not be mistaken as to the content of this ‘recognition’. Recognising ourselves as a class will not be a ‘return to ourselves’ but a total extroversion as self-recognition as a category of the capitalist mode of production. What we are as a class is only our immediate relation to capital. This ‘recognition’ will in fact consist in a practical cognition, in conflict, not of the self for itself, but of capital.
The swerve activities are present, directly challenging theory and therefore modifying it, fashioning it and these activities are not ‘ours’ in the narrow sense of individual implications.
The question of intervention and the return from theory to practice which is intrinsic to it is only posed when diversity of activity has been made an abstraction: Practice as abstraction. The question of intervention transforms what we do in any given struggle (or what we cannot do), that is to say practices that are always particular into an abstraction of practice constructing the intervention/non-intervention dilemma. The process of abstraction is very tangible and built by empirically observed activities and attitudes: ‘practical awareness’, the capacity to ‘choose’ between struggles, ‘the part of society above society’, the ‘everything concerns me’, the disappearance of capital reproduction in the class struggle, reproduction that is maintained as a framework but not as a definition of the players, the question of strategy and of the revolution as a goal to reach, the individual’s decision as the methodological starting point rather than the existence of a contradictory process or of a swerve expressed by activities; the leap beyond the reproduction of capital in the name of a situation considered fundamentally common but beyond the objective diversities (once more, we find here the temporal mediation, that is to say the proletariat as class of capital and its contradiction with capital as the functioning of the capitalist mode of production).
The core of the critique of intervention as a question resides in the abstraction of practice and the objectification of class struggle which respond to each other. ‘Practice’ as such, as an entity, acquires meaning relatively to its equally abstract complement, class struggle as a situation. Specific practices as such are now merely occasional manifestations of Practice as abstraction. This is the very foundation of the question of intervention, that is to say, of intervention as a question and its comprehension of theory as a ‘weapon’ which directs back to practice. Theory doesn’t need to prove its utility. Theory is included in the self-critical character of struggles, the critical relationship of theory has changed. Theoretical production belongs to a practice which is not ‘ours’ and to a theory which is likewise not ‘ours’.
We are referring to the practice of all those who through their activities create a gap within action as a class and posit it as a limit to be overcome. This is theory in the broad sense, i.e. practical, class struggle reflecting on itself. Theory in a narrow sense is a condensed form of this, that is to say a specific and non-immediate expression, elaboration with its own laws, reasoned expression of this practice. For it, the problem is to give theoretical existence to the communist overcoming in the clearest way possible, and for this we give ourselves the means at our disposal. The existence of this reasoned expression is inherent and indispensable to the very existence of practice and theory in a broad sense. It exists and produces itself in multiple ways, continuously or intermittently. It has no role to the extent that it defines that in relation to which it may be assumed to play a role, it is a moment, to use philosophical terms. Its ‘sanction’ is internal to it and is not really a sanction, nor guarantees it. It is constantly subjected and reworked by what constitutes it and to which it belongs as a moment: theory in a broad sense, practice. It does not individually confer any specific attitude or status to those who practice it because practice is not its object, in which it would need to justify or apply itself. Application of theory exists when, about a struggle, we think we could either take part in it or not. The application, then, is ‘how to take part?’. At the point, theory is removed from its environment, its ecosystem, it will have to be reintroduced: the issue of application of theory, of its sanction and of its role is created by the militant attitude. This issue is only inherent to theory if the decision to act and the conditions of its application have been separated. Then, practice is not necessary but rather a decision and the individual is the subject of this decision.
Theory has become an objective determination of the activities of the swerve. We are leaving the endless reflexive come-and-go between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ (the endless logic of the ideology of ‘lessons’ of struggle, coming from struggles and returning to them) and consequently the ‘question of intervention’. To escape from this vicious circle it is necessary to escape from the dialectic of interaction: on the one hand reality influences thought, on the other hand thought influences reality. As long as we have not seized reality by means of ‘concrete human activity’ – that is to say, conversely, consciousness as ‘being conscious’ – we lock ourselves into the debate about consciousness and reality, we fight to give a non-idealist response to the question of idealism par excellence. We are therefore searching for a ‘role’ for theory.
The necessarily theoretical determination of the existence and practice of the proletariat cannot be confused with the simple movement of the reproduction–contradiction of the class in its relation to capital. In relation to this movement, the class is abstracted into a theoretical, intellectual formalisation, which maintains a critical relation to this reproduction. Abstract and critical in regard to the immediacy of these struggles: this is the relative autonomy of theoretical production. No theory can be content to say ‘look what’s happening’, ‘it speaks’.3 When theory says ‘it is so’ or ‘look how it is’ – in a word, sic – it is a specific intellectual construction. In the capitalist mode of production, the reciprocal implication is subsumption (reproduction), through which that we produce as theory in its most formal sense is really a formalisation of the real experience of proletarians, but it is far from being the massive immediate consciousness of this experience, it is the abstraction and critique of this experience.
In the era that is beginning, spotting and promoting the activities of the swerve, being a part of it where we are involved as individuals defined at a certain point of society, nothing more, and not as individuals universally called by the order of ‘Practice’, means that it is the critical relation that changes. It is no longer an exteriority, it is a moment of the activities of the swerve, it is invested in them, that is to say that it is a critical relation not vis-à-vis the class-struggle and immediate experience, but in this immediate experience.
If acting as a class has become the very limit of class-action, if this becomes, in the contradiction of the current moment, the most banal course of struggles, the theorising character of struggles will become their self-critical seizure of themselves. The immediate struggles, practically and in their own discourse, produce unfalteringly, within themselves, an internal distance. This distance is the communising perspective as concrete, objective theoretical articulation of the theorising character of struggles and of theory in its restricted sense, the dissemination of which is becoming practical, primordial activity.
It is the mere becoming of this theory that allows it to be, more and more, the critical theory of ever more theorising struggles. The dissemination of the concept of communisation will be the unification of more and more self-critical struggles and of theoretical production in the formal sense. This dissemination will make polemics possible, and will allow the emergence in struggles of a possible expression of the perspective of overcoming which will not be, as is often the case now, something implicit to be deciphered.
There’s a lot of work to do around the affirmation of a revolutionary theory, around its dissemination, around the constitution of more or less stable nuclei on this base, and around its activities. The becoming-social of the key concept of our theory, communisation, is our business. This work is the task of partisans of communisation, engaged in class-struggles, with the conflicts and swerves that cross them. In the present moment, theory, as a totality of concrete activities (writing, journals, meetings, dissemination in many forms, etc.) is itself directly becoming an objective determination of these activities of the swerve and not a discourse about them.
This is our wager.
- 1In regard to the theory of crisis, Marxism split into two big tendencies. The first uses workers’ under-consumption and the resulting difficulties of surplus value realisation to explain crisis. This is the thesis of under-consumption. The second is based on the tendential fall in the rate of profit, and thus the scarcity of surplus value in relation to the accumulation of capital in which the variable part of capital decreases relative to its constant part. The crisis is a crisis of over-accumulation in relation to the possible valorisation of accumulated capital. We find in Marx things which justify both theses, but also, and this is the most important, which shows the intertwinement of the two
- 2What we describe as radical democratism does not only designate an ideology (‘citizenism’). It is also a praxis whose content consists in the formalisation and fixation of the limits of the current struggles in their specificity. The revolutionary dynamic of this cycle of struggle is at the very same time its intrinsic limit. The class has no longer any confirmation of its existence for itself in the face of capital. This means that the proletariat produces all of what it is, its whole existence in the categories of capital, and this is why it can abolish it. But radical democratism formalises also the whole limit of the struggles of this period: to fix the existence of the class in capital. All of this is very real in class struggle and there is a party of the alternative whose existence becomes the justification of its ideology. For radical democratism, the critique of the capitalist mode of production is limited to the necessity for the proletariat to control its conditions of existence. For this purpose, this social movement finds in the democracy that it calls radical the most general form and content of its existence and its action (management, control). The proletarian is replaced by the citizen and the revolution by the alternative. The movement is vast: from forces which only demand an adjustment, capitalism with a human face, to alternative perspectives which see themselves as breaking with capitalism while remaining in a problematic of control and management.
- 3In French this also contains the resonance of ‘the id speaks’.