The French group Négation’s text, “The Proletariat as Destroyer of Work” (1972), is an exceptional document that not only manages to serenely separate itself from its past, but to this day remains an extraordinary settling of scores with all manner of current and future candidates to perpetuate it.
THE PROLETARIAT AS DESTROYER OF WORK
We thought it would be useful to define some of the terms used in this text beforehand, because they are very uncommon in customary economic analyses — although fortunately, increasingly less so. They have been drawn from Marx’s lesser known economic works —lesser known because these works have been the most sidestepped, censored, or even slandered ones by the various official or academic Marxisms. In the main, these are the “Grundrisse” or “Foundations of the Critique…” also known as “Outlines of the Critique…” (1857) and the “6th Chapter of Capital” (“Unpublished Chapter of Capital” in the 10-18 collection*), which Marx wrote in the years 1863-66.
The production process of use values.
The production process of surplus value, and therefore, of exchange value. Within the capitalist production process they are inseparable. In the “6th Chapter”, Marx gives this general definition: “The production process is the direct unity of the labour process and the valorisation process, just as its direct result, the commodity, is the direct unity of use value and exchange value. But the labour process is only a means to the valorisation process, and the valorisation process as such is essentially the production of surplus value, i.e. the process of the objectification of unpaid labour. The overall character of the production process is thereby specifically determined.” (p. 145, 10/18 collection.)
FORMAL DOMINATION OF CAPITAL OVER LABOUR (or Formal Subjugation of Labour)…
Capital’s first historical phase, in which the domination of the valorisation process over the labour process hasn’t become real and total yet, and in which the capitalist mode of production still hasn’t been implemented on a universal scale in any form whatsoever and allows pre-capitalist sectors of production (hand-crafts, agricultural: serfdom or even slavery) to subsist.
REAL DOMINATION OF CAPITAL… (or Real Subjugation of Labour…)
Capital’s second historical phase, in which this domination has become effective and real in several aspects (industrial as well as agricultural).
MATERIAL COMMUNITY OF CAPITAL
A state of society in which the latter has been really and totally subordinated to capital and in which the products of this domination appear visibly, invading society as a whole and materialising themselves in different forms: commodities, money, the production processes itself, relations among men, etc.
A state of society that has broken with capital by destroying it, otherwise generally known as communist society.
All these terms are, for that matter, defined in the content and the course of the text itself.
Last but not least, the capitalist society which we speak of in each historical phase is that of the most advanced and therefore most industrialized countries, except when we are explicitly clarifying a specific historical situation: Russia 1917.
TOWARDS THE SUMMIT OF HUMAN PREHISTORY
I. CAPITALISM AS A SPECIFIC MODE OF PRODUCTION
1) - In order for the capitalist mode of production to come into existence, commodity exchange must be sufficiently developed and, consequently, domestic modes of commodity production must have become fetters to this development and thus have to give way to a superior mode: capitalist production.
2) - All production processes regulated by exchange value involve a division of labour (in order to become commodities exchanged according to their exchange value, consumer goods must possess different use values.)
All production processes regulated by value involve (for better comprehension) their unfolding into a labour process (which produces use value) and a valorisation process (which produces exchange value). However, the capitalist production process tends to generalize and intensify the division of labour by grouping producers into ever larger productive units, and within this process, the valorisation process tends to increasingly and rapidly dominate the labour process.
To further its domination, capitalism introduces into its productive sphere the two essential factors of exchange: the commodity and money, which in domestic commodity production only affect the sphere of circulation. Labour power is a commodity which, like any other, circulates on a specific market —the labour market— where it is exchanged for a wage that allows it to reproduce itself.
This commodity creates value by expending itself within the production process and producing the surplus value inseparable from surplus labour.
Therefore, capitalism poses labour time as the sole yardstick of social wealth.
3) – It follows from the two main features of the capitalist mode of production defined so far —the intensification of the division of labour and time as the sole yardstick of social wealth— that the foundation of wage labour is individual labour (or, to be more precise, what follows is the fact that under wage labour human beings possess an individual “sociability”, whereas in a communist mode of production —as we will see in Part 2— they possess a social individuality) grouped into productive units, i.e. factories: when carrying out its function for capital, the proletariat is nothing but a sum of abstract individualities (commodities), the number of which and the time during which they will be employed is determined by capital.
4) - In order for a commodity such as labour power to exist, the producer must be totally dispossessed and must lack both means of subsistence (social reserves) and means of production.
Three successive traits distinguish the proletarian condition:
a) Negatively, the proletariat comes into being dispossessed of means of production and subsistence, and possessing only its labour-power as a potential commodity.
b) It establishes its actual relation with the capitalist mode of production by selling its labour power to this or that capitalist on the market, where it is realised as a commodity by circulating just like any other commodity.
c) It acquires all its positivity for capital by expending this labour power within the production process, where it becomes a specific commodity that produces surplus value.
d) Thus, under wage labour, work is posited as a precondition to everything. The lives of slaves and serfs were legally subordinated to their masters and lords, and therefore their labour was likewise subordinated to them, as a legal obligation. The proletariat reclaims its life, its freedom, and its equality before the law, only to immediately lose them de facto in the labour on which its existence totally depends.
As far as the proletariat is concerned, wage labour is the exertion of a perpetual blackmail that makes work a de facto obligation instead of a legal one.
II - FORMAL DOMINATION OF CAPITAL OVER LABOUR
1) - At the outset of capitalism and throughout an entire first phase of its development, its effects on the production process remain merely formal and potential.
Indeed, on the one hand, at this stage the capitalist mode of production has only infiltrated relatively limited areas of society.
On the other, during its initial appearance, capitalism subordinates the labour process to itself just as it existed under earlier modes of production, i.e., as a process of immediate and individual labour in which every worker executes the totality —or at least the greater part— of the productive process, hence the name worker, which originated in craft production, in which the worker produced —created— a work*. At any rate, the labour process continues to dominate the valorisation process, or, at the very least, hasn’t been dominated by it yet. (In the examples given by Marx, necessary labour time is generally equal to surplus labour time: 6h and 6h.) Thus, during the phase of capital’s formal domination, there is a “dichotomy” between the specificity of the capitalist mode of production —wage labour— and the similarity between the capitalist production process and its forerunners: in this phase, the labour process is, if not dominant, at least very important, and its foundation is the human being.
2) - Consequently, in the production process the proletarian is endowed —equally, let us say— with the double character of a producer of use value (worker) and a producer of exchange value (proletarian). Hence the “dichotomy” within the proletariat itself: as a potential (potentially dispossessed) commodity, he is fully proletarian.
- As a commodity that circulates and exchanges itself —as wage labour— he is fully proletarian.
- As a specific commodity operating within the production process, he is both a proletarian and a worker, and first of all a worker.
3) - Therefore, just as in this phase capital’s domination over labour and society is merely formal, so the proletarian condition is still only formally dominant. Likewise, within the production process itself, just as production tends to be increasingly dominated by the valorisation process, so the worker tends to be increasingly dominated by the proletarian.
III- SOCIAL REPRESENTATIONS OF CAPITAL AND LABOUR
1) - As we have seen, the dynamic of (exchange) value materialised in commercial and financial capital gave rise to capitalist modes and relations of production. Along with these came into being, on the one hand, the proletarian, dispossessed of means of production and, on the other, the capitalist, the legal owner of these means.
One and the other originated within the dynamic of value, and the true owner of the means of production —on which they both depend— is the capital which the capitalist merely personifies as the manager of the production relations legally promoted to owner of those means. As we shall verify historically further on, once the traditional capitalist disappears, capital nevertheless continues to subsist through the creation of new legal owner-managers.
2) - Under formal domination, the proletariat presents itself as the working class —the class of labour— because this class is still the foundation of the production of social wealth and of the labour process.
The proletariat is therefore the main bearer of the ideology of labour, and the Capital-Labour opposition acquires the form of an opposition between productive and unproductive members of society (“Glory be to the former, shame to the latter!”, according to working class ideology.)
In this phase, the proletariat’s class consciousness is located and expressed at the level of its dispossession of the means of production, where the proletariat is fully proletarian. Within the production process, however, the consciousness of the producer of surplus value is dominated by the consciousness of the producer of social wealth, and the most radical workers’ struggles tend towards the appropriation of the means of production and the self-management of productive relations. We may call this consciousness the immediate class consciousness of the proletariat, a producer’s consciousness.
3) - It was at this time when the working class created the organs for the defence of its immediate interests —the price of its labour power— namely, the trade unions. These representatives of labour power also came into being as representatives of the human labour process against the scientific and mechanized labour process and the valorisation process. (The labour movement struggled against the mechanization of the labour process which, in keeping with the logic of the system, meant unemployment and intensified separation between the producer and his product, and the destruction of machinery went hand in hand with the internal mechanization that took place at the end of the 19th century.)
However, precisely because they defend the interests of labour power, unions tend to make the valorisation process triumph. Indeed, sooner or later, fairly large wage increases force capital to mechanize, and to do so increasingly; the same applies to the shortening of the working day. Thus we pass from an extensive mode of exploitation to an intensive mode of exploitation, from absolute surplus-value to relative surplus-value.
It is, in fact, in the very nature of the workers’ movement to tend to make the worker disappear from the production process, leaving behind, in essence, only the proletarian, and to bring about the real domination of capital.
In this context, and in the phase of formal domination, unions take on a “revolutionary” dimension to the extent that they are the product of the proletariat’s immediate consciousness, which tends towards the management of the means and relations of production: hence anarcho-syndicalism.
IV- THE PROLETARIAT AS THE CLASS OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND IDEOLOGY
1) - All revolutionary classes up until to the proletariat were the product of the development of value and, consequently, of the productive forces which made the mode of production they managed appear within the old system. The development of this mode of production in turn rendered the political domination of these classes necessary, and as a result, they became revolutionary. All past revolutions were essentially political and this was the manner in which they generalized the domination of a social class. The proletariat, for its part, comes into being and generalizes its existence within the very system by which it is dominated. This generalization of the proletariat itself presupposes the prior and unprecedented development of productive forces and of value until the real and total domination of value over labour and society has been achieved. This development and this generalization establish the foundations of the emancipation of the proletariat, which is also the emancipation of humanity.
However, and for this very reason, unlike the revolutionary classes of the past, the proletariat cannot establish proletarian or socialist sectors of production under capitalism — for the socialist mode of production is that of socialized humanity, not of the proletariat, which has no political and economic future. Its only historic and revolutionary role is to abolish itself to clear the way for this mode of social production in which humanity produces humanity.
The proletariat is revolutionary in this sense, or it is nothing.
2) - Having originated within the economic and social dynamic of value, the proletariat must master this dynamic by destroying value. Thus, it is the only revolutionary class in history that must acquire the historical consciousness of its task by taking up the cause of social revolution, i.e., of its own abolition.
3) - Under formal domination, value allows political ideology to subsist, so as to complement its domination and safeguard it.
The same applies to the proletariat, which remedies its feeble development and the dichotomy of its being by means of “revolutionary” ideology, a substitute for the proletariat’s historical consciousness that lives off of the latter, which remains merely potential.
Thus came into existence the so-called “revolutionary” parties, first the Social-Democrats and then the “communists”, which claimed to be the proletariat’s historical consciousness and took up the cause of “communist revolution”.
Now the party form was originated by the bourgeoisie and its need for democratic organisation. The party is the organisational form of classes which have interests to defend within the system and only within it: bourgeois parties supported the (industrial, commercial, financial) bourgeoisie, and workers’ parties declared themselves reformists and supported the immediate interests of the working class, at a time when the State had not really been taken over by the industrial bourgeoisie yet and in which the working class could intervene in the democratic debate between the different fractions of the bourgeoisie and the feudal residues in order to further its interests (e.g. when the Chartist party won the shortening of the working day in England, obviously in connection with the struggles of the time.)
The contradiction which plagued proletarian revolutionary or communist parties was to simultaneously take up both the cause of the proletariat and the revolution. Taking up the cause of the proletariat is obviously the opposite of taking up the cause of its abolition. In itself, this already constitutes clear-cut proof that only the proletariat —constituting itself as a class on the basis of its generalization to humanity as a whole— can take up the cause of its own abolition.
Consequently, there is nothing proletarian or revolutionary about the party form, which is indissolubly linked to bourgeois democracy.
Thus under formal domination, so-called “revolutionary” parties distil from the proletariat’s historical consciousness a content which they then turn into an organisational form produced by democracy itself.
This clearly reveals the class future awaiting “revolutionary” parties brought to power by social movements.
Indeed, the second characteristic of the party as the political representation of the proletariat is that its power stems from the social movements of the latter, which tends to generalize its existence by appropriating the means of production on the basis of its immediate consciousness.
Marx drew the concept of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” from this immediate consciousness. Now, as we have seen, historically the proletariat cannot be a political dictator; rather, through its immediate struggles, it tends to generalize its existence and in this manner becomes a socially dominant class.
As a substitute for the proletariat’s historical consciousness, the party thus tends to ideologically infuse these struggles, which it lives off of, with a historical and political meaning.
In keeping with its fundamental character and through these struggles —at a certain degree of their development— the party can actualize itself as a historical substitute and become the true political dictator.
In the absence of world revolution, in Russia the power of the soviets —the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat— could be nothing other than the power of the Bolshevik Party over the soviets, which, limited by their immediate consciousness —due to the feeble development of the proletariat— ushered in a new ruling class, the bureaucracy, the new manager of the means and relations of production, to whom fell the task of developing capital in that country.
What was at stake in the soviets —which did not appear in opposition to the trade unions but in their absence— was the generalization (by way of the industrial development of the productive forces) of a very small proletariat; this was a long and difficult generalization which the working class was unable to embark upon —given the potential force of the backlash, particularly from the peasantry, which despite being very poor was attached to its land— and which the Bolshevik party, after destroying the soviets as a class organisation, tended to carry out —poorly and contradictorily— given the new ruling class’s inadequacy to the development of capital under formal domination and that its power rested on both the small-holding peasantry and the proletariat.
On account of its essence and its nature, the bureaucracy carried out this gruelling development by means of a fierce dictatorship over the proletariat and by resorting constantly to the lie at the heart of its very existence as a substitute for both the immediate and the historical dimension of the proletarian consciousness!
V- THE TRANSITION
At the same time as the Russian revolution was taking place, important struggles were going on, both for that time and ours, in Western Europe, and in Germany in particular. This country, unlike Russia, was nearing the end of a transitional period in capital’s domination, resulting from a massive development of the productive forces at the end of the 19th century. It was transitioning from the formal domination of capital over labour and society to real domination.
At that time, the unions, so to speak, were integrated into capital in advance of the actual integration of the labour process they were the representatives of. This was caused mainly by World War I and the need for German capital to secure social peace. The unions, as it were, deliberately got in line politically, on the side of capital, anticipating the absorption of the labour process by the valorisation process which, in fact, they deliberately and politically tended to bring about. The vacuum created by this integration led to the emergence of organs for the defence of workers’ interests: the councils, which soon transformed their content into a potential for immediate revolution, i.e., the generalization of the proletariat and the advent of the material community of capital (real domination). Thus, what was potentially at stake in the German councils was:
• The actual autonomy of the proletariat regarding its economic and political representation: the foundations of the reappropriation of its historical consciousness.
• The unification of the proletarian being’s dimension as a wage labourer with its position in the production process, where the proletarian was to completely liquidate the worker and establish a process of purely scientific and social labour (advent of the total proletarian condition)
• In parallel with this, the generalization of the total proletarian condition to humanity as a whole. This last point became visible in the rallying of the unemployed to the factory organisations.
Consequently, the real domination of value can be established through the conscious instigation of the proletariat, which thereby lays down the foundations of its own abolition, and therefore of the communist revolution: the uninterrupted movement of struggles of the proletariat, containing an uninterrupted development of its class consciousness, which may evolve from immediate to historical, can lead, over a fairly short period of time, to the rise of the human community.
This was not to be the case, however, for the movement came up against the absence of struggles and perspectives beyond the factory against the State, which was on standby, but which had not yet been destroyed. As a matter of fact, this situation was largely a result of the economy-politics separation which still subsisted —although barely— under German capitalism in the years 1918-20.
Consequently, political ideology and “revolutionary” parties still possessed a real existence as representations of historical consciousness, hence the dramatic impossibility for the proletariat to reappropriate that consciousness.
On the other hand, the substantial development of the proletariat and the clear loss of sway of political ideology resulted in the “revolutionary” parties being unable to fulfil their substitute role by taking power in the name of the proletariat.
Hence the final victory of the German bourgeoisie, which, despite not solving its economic problems, did largely defeat the workers’ movement, which was unable to carry out its specific task, the proletariat’s immediate task contained in the workers’ councils.
The confusion, the uncertainty, and the opacity of this period were embodied in a party like the KAPD, which wanted to be a party without really being one —“an ‘avant-garde’ that was to dissolve itself in the ‘mass’ movement”— as well as in the various factory organisations (AAUD, AAUD-E), which were true “informal” parties. This was also reflected in the theoretical controversies and the attempts at theoretical articulation between the different components of the struggles (party-councils, class-party). All the theoreticians of that period —in Germany but also elsewhere, in Holland and Italy— attempted to understand the situation and broke their backs trying, which was quite a logical outcome at the time.
Instead of seeing in the councils the generalization of the proletariat, the councilists —Pannekoek and Rühle, in particular— saw in them the realisation of communism.
The partyists —see in particular Bordiga and the Bordiga-based analysis in Invariance No. 1 (new series)— saw in the councils a withdrawal of the class to the factory when no such withdrawal was possible, given that, unlike the parties and organisations, the class had never manifested itself elsewhere; this is the classical substitution of the class by the party, but in this case, in a purely ideological form due to the impossibility of its practical realisation.
2) - Quite on the contrary, the problem lay in the extension of struggles beyond the factories, which did not take place — with the exception of a few minor eruptions, such as the “March 23rd Action”, provoked, in fact, by the KAPD, which could already sense the defeat of the workers’ movement and attempted to get around it by dint of revolutionary will. In this manner, the KAPD transmuted its desperate helplessness into a sort of “last stand of honour.”
In the end, the material community of capital, the actual transition to real domination, was accomplished by Nazism. And it did so against the German workers’ movement, sealing its defeat by way of its complete destruction and through the integration of the proletariat into capital by fixing it to the factory. This defeat was augmented and crowned by World War II, from which the German proletariat emerged split in two: the two Germanies illusorily opposed by ideology, sad confirmation of its truth.
For its part, capital emerged doubly victorious, rejuvenated and exerting real and total domination over labour and society.
Nazism turned the proletariat into the “socially dominant class” in a mystified way: by qualitatively and quantitatively accelerating the proletarianisation of the middle classes while simultaneously keeping them out of the productive sphere —within the sphere of circulation developed by capital to suit its needs— thus maintaining them as middle classes, proletarianised but not integrated into the industrial proletariat. The latter, for its part, saw its role in the labour process constantly dwindle in quantitative terms in relation to the overall productive process, while simultaneously becoming increasingly decisive due to the domination of the valorisation process, and therefore, becoming qualitatively more important. Henceforth the majority of men became wage labourers and a minority of them were to be producers of surplus-value.
TOWARDS THE END OF HUMAN PREHISTORY… OR THE END OF HUMANITY
I- THE SPECIFICALLY CAPITALIST PRODUCTION PROCESS
1) - Once capital reaches the stage of real domination, the (human) labour process is absorbed by the valorisation process, in the sense that the production process becomes increasingly social and scientific, and (human) labour subsists essentially as the source of valorisation for capital, i.e., the source of surplus value production. In other words, surplus-labour increasingly dominates necessary labour, and the latter is increasingly performed by the machinery and technology that replace the human being, which essentially remains within the process only as a surplus-labourer.
The production process, therefore, becomes specifically capitalist when abstract and materialized labour come together to dominate concrete and human labour. Its perfection and its limit are attained by transforming the means of production into an automatic process.
2) - This production process is fully social only because the valorisation process absorbs the labour process. Therefore, it is social only for capital and through its mediation. This is reflected in its organisation, by a division of labour that reaches a degree best exemplified by the semi-automatic assembly line.
Workers subjected to increasingly accelerated work rates feel the effects of the humanly asocial character of such an organisation. Through it, it is the effects of capital they feel: abstract exchange-value producing labour comes into existence and materialises for them, as it were, in the very organisation of labour; this is one of the aspects of the unification of the proletarian being, whose full existence as a surplus-labourer within the production process now catches up with the full existence of his dispossession as a wage labourer.
3) - The traditional capitalist tends to disappear. He now comes from the ranks of the organisers and administrators of the production process, such as managers and technocrats. On the other hand, as a result of automation, financial capital increasingly tends to appropriate the means of production by way of credit. Thus, setting out from financial (and commercial) capital, out of which it was born, the fully developed capitalist mode of production tends to return to it; only now it is the producer and financial capital is the product: the loop has come full circle.
4) - For factory workers, the transformational consciousness regarding their situation can only be destructive and negative as far as the organisation of labour is concerned; and consequently, it can only be destructive in relation to the production relations, because these relations present themselves directly in the organisation of labour.
This consciousness already becomes immediately apparent in the many organised acts of sabotage which affect the majority of Europe’s most modern factories (Fiat, Turin, 1969), and especially in the USA, where these acts increasingly come to the fore as movements of struggle organised by workers which the unions cannot avow. Among other objectives, the saboteurs try to allocate themselves some free time to rest by totally disorganising the assembly line . This is a critique of surplus-labour, which is an element of capitalist production relations, a critique of their existence as surplus-labourers, and a desire to live. These movements do not concern themselves with reorganising production by way of or within the existing production process; they have no managerial aspirations whatsoever, because the material foundations of workers’ self-management disappeared along with the immediate producer. Moreover, given the point reached by the division of labour, the destruction of this division would require the destruction of labour, and the reappropriation of the means of production would require their transformation into a fully automated process. Humanity dominating the production process through its social activity of supervision and control: this is the transformation of the social character of labour for capital into its social character for humanity.
5) - Unions have become integrated into capital along with the labour process. They defend the price of proletarians’ labour power increasingly less, and defend the interests of capital more and more, hence consensus policies and so-called “progressive” contracts in order to avoid costly strikes; indeed, when machinery is the foundation of the production process, “from this instant on, every interruption of the production process acts as a direct reduction of capital itself, of its initial value. The value of fixed capital is reproduced only in so far as it is used up in the production process. Through disuse it loses its use value without its value passing on to the product. Hence, the greater the scale on which fixed capital develops, in the sense in which we regard it here, the more does the continuity of the production process or the constant flow of reproduction become an externally compelling condition for the mode of production founded on capital.” (Marx, Grundrisse: Notebook VII, The Fragment on Machines). Organised sabotage and mass absenteeism have the same effect on the production process as strikes, but they cannot be avoided by a good contractual policy.
The integration of the unions led to many wildcat strikes during the post-war period (the first ones took place in Germany during the 1920s). Wildcat strikes constitute an immediate critique of unions as alleged representatives of workers’ interests; but they do not, and cannot represent, the overcoming of unionism, as that would require no less than a critique of the role of unions as true representatives of the interests of capital, and would amount to their destruction: the integration of the unions into capital can only be destroyed via the destruction of capital and its production relations. One and the other (destructions) go hand in hand, but contrary to what many councilists believe or dream about, the destruction of the unions cannot precede the destruction of capital.
Unions increasingly reveal themselves for what they are in the eyes of the proletariat, but the latter does not abolish them for all that, for it can only practically abolish them by practically abolishing itself.
The interest of the unions “naturally” tends towards the management of capitalist production relations, which some, such as the CFDT*, have christened “self-management”. The more progressive managers, i.e., the most far-sighted ones when it comes to class struggles, support this claim by advocating co-management (cf. the dialogue between PETRI, president of the Italian State holding company IRI, and TRENTIN, CGIL leader, published in the 14-12-71 issue of Le Monde).
II- THE MATERIAL COMMUNITY OF CAPITAL
1) - When value becomes autonomous and exerts total domination over labour and society, it gets rid of its old ideological presuppositions, such as politics, but it also gets rid of religion and philosophy… which it no longer needs to maintain its domination, since it directly organises the existence of all proletarian and proletarianised human beings; it is an ideology itself, materialized in the commodity (what the Situationists called the “spectacle”). Value directly organises the proletariat’s existence through its products, which are both the mass of commodities consumed by labour-power to produce itself as well as the capital-commodity (machinery) which consumes labour-power within the production process of that mass of commodities. Thus value produces and reproduces its own specific valorisation needs. The ideology of value tends to present the products of the development of the mode of production cum specifically capitalist —science, machinery, leisure— as the legacy of the “society-of-all-classes-together”, as if it already belonged to the human community, when it is merely the legacy of capital.
The State is nothing other than the regulator of the economy, that is, of the life of capital; consequently, it is everywhere, and tends to present itself as the historical consciousness of capitalism.
2) - The truth and realisation of the ideology of productive labour is to be found in the ideology of the commodity product, the final ideological product of a system based on labour and production.
The blackmail exerted over the proletariat to work in order to satisfy its vital needs is perpetuated in the blackmail exerted over it in order to satisfy its alienated desires — the pseudo-needs of the accumulation of commodities, which are, in fact, the vital needs of capital.
In a nutshell, when labour and capital become one, the material community of capital presents itself before society as the human community: where one believes to be dealing with man, one encounters only value and its materialisation in the form of commodities.
Nevertheless, the human community lives and develops beneath the material community of capital; under alienated desires live desires, and the system produces its own subversion.
III- THE CRITIQUE OF WORK AND THE MOVEMENT OF THE PRODUCT (ON THE NON-LABOUR MOVEMENT)
1) - Once science has replaced man within the labour process, the former tends to be increasingly excluded from the production process, and consequently unemployment evolves from a temporary feature to a structural one, thus acquiring a more or less permanent character (particularly in the USA, cf.: James BOGGS, The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook*); on the other hand, proletarians tend to increasingly exclude themselves from this process which, once the prevalence within it of the valorisation process has been established, destroys the material basis of the ideology of work. Young proletarians, born when the real domination of capital came into being or under it, articulate the critique of work by refusing it in various forms, which range from regular work absences to categorical rejection by resorting to expedients as a means of subsistence, hence the development of juvenile delinquency.
2) - Proletarians thus marginalised from the production process rediscover their existence as potential commodities, which was once the foundation of the creation of wage labour. However, unlike the unemployed and the lumpenproletariat of the 19th century, they do not constitute a backward “sector” of capital: back in the 19th century, the victims of the destruction of pre-capitalist sectors, the unemployed, as far as their capacity to expend themselves within the production process was concerned, constituted the potential commodities of the future: a future that belonged to the nascent capitalist mode of production, which was still awaiting its development.
Today, the unemployed are the very product of this development reaching its end in the industrialized nations. From now on they constitute commodities with no future, no longer able or no longer willing to expend themselves within the capitalist production process. They are, in a certain sense, the extreme outposts of a system whose every possibility has been historically explored by them, and as a result, they become even more potential commodities.
3) - In immediate terms, given that they no longer circulate on the labour market, these commodities circulate on the market common to all products: the space-time of distribution-consumption, where they confront and consume each other just like all other commodities do: through rivalry, emulation, and elimination. On this basis, the years 1956-60 saw the advent of hierarchical groups of young proletarians —“greasers”, “rockers”, etc…— which fought each other, and whose members competed for leadership within each gang, given that every commodity and every commodity-community exists only by difference (the earliest gangs of this type appeared in 1930’s Germany). This terrain of circulation and consumption is also the space where the ideological discourse of the value materialized in commodities is deployed. These communities of young proletarians live completely by this ideology, and by nothing else. In their midst, the refusal of work goes hand in hand with the glorification of commodities and their own self-glorification as commodities and products of the system (they flaunt their own attitudes, not those of the production process). They too exist as a community of capital, and their peculiarity is to do so visibly.
4) - Nevertheless, when these communities of non-working and sporadically-working proletarians revolt against the capitalist order, they exhibit a destructive potential that calls the entire rationality of the system into question. Indeed, given the extreme position they occupy, these struggling communities expose the entire system and the very organisation of their existence as commodities.
Through looting they criticize an existence beyond which lies nothing but the human community freed from capital. Such were the black riots of 1965 in the United States, which showed a strong communist potential. In the wake of May ’68, looting became insurrectional (mainly in Lyon), as well as in Paris’s Latin Quarter —on a fine Saturday evening in June 1971— as one of the first practical and massive manifestations of the European proletariat struggling on the sites of consumption. Two remarkable phenomena then took place: the immediate constitution of the leftists into a “public militia” for the defence of “the people’s” capital and “its” commodities, and the real and semi-conscious merging of these non-working communities with other sectors of the proletariat and the proletarianised middle class (students, immigrant workers, and “adult and sensible” proletarians).
Therefore, by destroying the material foundations of labour and its ideology and creating communities of interests situated beyond work, and thus potentially beyond capital, the latter creates its adversary and the very foundations of its abolition: the product and its ideology are nothing when the possibility and the consciousness of productive labour have largely dissolved.
Due to their purely destructive character, these struggles, the potential negation of the capitalist order, are politically unorganisable from outside. For what we are dealing with here —contained in the refusal of work or the impossibility of gaining any access to it— is the proletariat’s historical consciousness, born and developed from both the dissolution of the ideology of work and the dissolution of political ideology. Historical consciousness has emancipated itself from its ideological usurpation: the refusal of work goes hand in hand with the refusal of politics.
In these struggles, revolutionary consciousness presents itself in the immediate form of a consciousness of the destruction of the product, of all the products of the system. This consciousness cannot be realised within these struggles or on their terrain, that of non-productive space-time; it must make its way into the points of production where the wretched production and reproduction of the commodity existence of these communities takes place.
5) - Two important remarks are in order in this regard. The first one is that the more these communities of semi-working or non-working proletarians revolt against the system and confront it, the more they expose it, and therefore, the more they practically confront the organisation of their own existence and irreversibly transform themselves. In a text entitled « Naissance du mouvement radical » (“Birth of the Radical Movement”), published in ICO, n° 93*, a comrade wrote the following: “The latter (rock ‘n rollers) formed extremely hierarchical gangs with undisputed and tried and tested leaders, who had the right to strike “their men”, the exclusive right to fuck… with their favourites, etc… Rivalry between gangs (bloody brawls) was the means of emulation and survival for each of them, and for the members of each one inside it. Few gangs now remain, at least in their previous form; they have been replaced by unorganised groups whose composition fluctuates according to the encounters of the day. More or less assertive leaders do exist, of course, but they are rarely undisputed. They fight other groups increasingly less, and more and more against power, which is beginning to show its true colours. The revolt of “marginalized” youth has gone from the prehistoric age to the first years of its history, merging with the workers’ movement —which indeed the “outsiders” are part of— by exposing it.”
Apart from the misguided use of the term “outsider”, that is exactly what is going on.
The second remark concerns the comparison between the communities of commodities constituted by these gangs, and the leftist outfits, sects and various chapels of the student and intellectual far left. They share the same mode of existence —rivalry, emulation, elimination, leadership, splits, etc—, and they too live exclusively by differentiation. (See the text « Pour une théorie des chapelles » —“For a Theory of Chapels”—, published in “Noir et Rouge” No. 44**, which represents a remarkable attempt to describe this phenomenon.) The reason for this is very simple: a great mass of students (and therefore of intellectuals) haven’t begun to work yet, and perhaps never will; they are condemned to unemployment, not as the result of a crisis or a “restructuring”, but because, just as in the case of young workers, that is their lot; thus they are even more potential commodities. The proletarianisation of these middle class strata does not integrate them into the ranks of productive or unproductive workers, but into the ranks of non-workers, which relatively intensifies the degree of their proletarianisation. In becoming proletarians, they immediately become so completely. However, this is as far as the comparison and unification go: due to their social position, they breathe, bask in, and live on political ideology. While the young “rock ‘n’ roller” lives exclusively by the ideology of value materialised in the commodity, they still lag behind, and live by the ideology of the organisation of value under formal domination, the ideology of ideology, politics, the space-time where they have always plied their trade. Consequently, their struggles take place on the same level as those of the non-working proletariat (struggles in non-work space-time: streets, places of consumption, universities, etc.), but due to their “political” nature, they tend to move in the opposite direction, i.e., to support capital and its process of reproduction of social relations by speaking the language of organisation and consciousness coming from outside: “politics”. Consequently, they end up clashing with the youth gangs as a result of their attempts to recuperate, organise, or channel them (cf. the looting of the Latin Quarter) by constituting themselves into non-labour unions.
Their struggle against the unions, therefore, is a competition geared toward sharing power with them: the unions and parties get to keep control of production sites, and they control non-productive social reality (critique of the institutions, demonstrations, universities, “people’s trials”, pop festivals, etc.). However, this struggle is illusory and increasingly ineffective, because it is the struggle of the last historically political consciousness, leftism, against capital and its historically social products.
It is the struggle of the middle classes to stop the onslaught of time at the very historical moment when social time is exterminating them. By affirming politics, they also affirm work and exalt proletarians as immediate workers, as well as their immediate consciousness, as their general equivalent.
As opposed to the young rock ‘n’ roller, in whom the consciousness of the destruction of the product (of all products) appears —a consciousness which, in order to be fulfilled, must re-enter the points of production in the course of a unifying movement— the consciousness of the young leftist intellectual presents itself as an organising and apologetic consciousness, a consciousness of work and the worker mediated by an interposed social person, which, in order to succeed in pretending to fulfil itself, must keep clear of production points, where social reality is the materialisation of the discourse he continues to hold onto. At the same time, his existence as a proletarian or as an increasingly proletarianised being contradicts his political consciousness more and more, which leads it to assert its ideological character even more glaringly. Either the process of proletarianisation shatters the ideology of work and politics to pieces, and he ends up joining the struggles of the proletariat, or, on the contrary, the ideology of work and politics will lead him to him to fall in line with the ranks of the organised counter-revolution.
IV- BIRTH OF THE COMMUNIST MOVEMENT
1) - For several years now in the United States, and more recently in Europe, the critique of work has spread massively among proletarians remaining in the production process. This critique has many aspects: —organised sabotage, as we have seen above— massive absenteeism in the majority of the most important and most modern enterprises (every day 12% of workers at General Motors miss work without giving any reason —according to ICO No. 115-116—, roughly the same number as in Turin’s Fiat, and in many factories in Great Britain there is hardly anyone there on Monday mornings!) — frequent switching of factories by the majority of young proletarians, with more or less long periods of complete work stoppage between switches.
All the aspects of this critique can be found in the same proletarians, who sabotage, absent themselves from work, go on sick leave, sabotage, etc…
This practice proves to be a critique of capitalist production relations, and particularly of dominant surplus-labour, so it is indeed a critique of the proletarian condition.
Through this practice, young proletarians assert their choice of (non-work) leisure time as the yardstick of social wealth.
In leisure (non-work) there is already a possibility of elective affinity among those beings (even if under capital this choice remains mystified) with whom one wants to live, whereas in the factory this choice belongs to capital alone. This choice is the conscious affirmation of the human community dominating things, the passionate and fascinating rationality of social humanity as opposed to the icy, glacial rationality of capital: the proletarians of Detroit, USA, who leave their workshop to join their friends in others workshop, assert their counter-choice. (Cf. the ICO No. already cited: “Counter-Planning on the Shop Floor”).
The human community will choose itself because it has only itself to consciously produce.
Therefore, both choice of community and choice of “leisure” as the yardstick of social wealth are already an immediate affirmation of communism.
2) - However, the capitalist mode of production knows only labour time as its yardstick, and it produces leisure only in relation to work: there is a direct contradiction between the maintenance of this mode of production and the social practices of young proletarians. Besides sabotage and as its complement, , this contradiction translates to two levels as far as struggles are concerned:
• Struggles at “leisure sites”, from the street to dance-halls, where young proletarians increasingly discover capital as the organiser of the space-time of non-work.
• Intensification of struggles at production sites during the time they are present due to the necessity of making as much dosh as possible in order to meet their needs during the time they are not working (constitution of a sort of social reserve). They thus become the spearhead of wildcat strikes.
Therefore, more and more young proletarians possess a practice of struggle which covers social reality as a whole. They assert themselves as the possessors of a dialectical practice which leaves nothing aside. Wherever capital is, in its various materialisations, they assert themselves as the subject of its destruction.
The critique of work movement renders its full meaning to the wildcat strike movement.
3) - It was only natural that the proletarian movement should begin to manifest itself anew and globally in the spaces where it was inhibited in the 1920s and 1930s ¬—the factories— and with a content which, after its defeat, turned it into a mere object of capital: occupations.
In France, where this inhibition displayed the most democratic character (the occupations movement of 1936), and which inherited this sort of repetition (May-June 1968), when it reappeared, the movement no longer accepted it and began to overcome it: negatively, through the absence of any attempt to reorganise capitalist production, and positively, through the desertion of the factories by many young proletarians who, whenever they could, took their struggles to the streets and onto the barricades.
It was no less natural for the proletarian movement to have been preceded and “catalysed” by the student movement, which was simultaneously the movement of the “proletarianised” middle class demanding “democracy” and the movement of the not-yet-working population.
This is what mystified the entire movement of May ’68, which proved unable to recognize itself owing to its incoherence as a result of its multiple class components and historical dimensions (past and future character). The student movement was not superseded by the proletarian movement, which clearly shows all the limitations of May ’68 and explains why the debate remained, at the time and subsequently, at the level of democracy and self-management.
4) - The proletariat’s movement of negation must re-enter the course taken by fascism, but reversing its direction: where the “classical” proletariat (producer of surplus value) had become an object, it now tends to become a subject once again. Through its dialectical practice, it constitutes the practical leadership of the struggles of the class in the process of its universalisation: the totality of proletarianised humanity beginning to confront capital. Through its practice —which is revolutionary only if it is a negative one— the “classical” proletariat renders its full meaning to this confrontation: the struggle for the liberation of humanity. In addition to the struggles of the nonproductive, unemployed, or non-working proletariat, it must integrate the struggles of proletarianised middle class strata into its movement of negation, destroying those which it cannot integrate in order not to be destroyed and/or integrated by them.
Thus, what had become frozen and petrified in the concept of a “political dictatorship of the proletariat” by a Marxist ideology linked to capital’s phase of formal domination is practically set in motion again.
The communist movement is born upon the ruins of communist ideology and against it.
V- THE OLD POLITICAL RACKETS
1) - When the domination of capital is real and total, “revolutionary” parties turn into organisations for the party (the party of the party!)
They thus merely express their inability to place themselves on the true terrain of the proletariat’s life; hence their sectarian existence, and their incapacity to organise the breaks with the system represented by the most radical struggles.
Henceforth they can only support the cause of the existence of the proletariat, since the latter is now capable of going about its own abolition by itself and immediately. As a result, leftist outfits are reduced to pretending to organise the proletariat as a community of capital within capital; hence the positive character they confer on the proletariat, but also, as a result, on capital (power to the workers!)
The various leftist groups armed with their “classical” ideology are so many rackets championing labour and competing with each other along the lines of capital’s mode of existence.
The racket form is the truth of the party form.
2) - Consequently, the truth of the old parties led by intellectuals is to be found in present day rackets, which are composed essentially of intellectuals, a phenomenon that is in keeping with their emergence as a social stratum following the end of the war. Whereas previously, intellectuals, petty or medium-sized, presented themselves as an “ideological stratum devoid of specific social interests”, capable of serving both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, in 1917 they fulfilled themselves for the first time —in Soviet Russia— both as a social class and a class of liars. A lie they are now forced to repeat indefinitely not only to the proletariat —something which is increasingly difficult for them to get away with— but above all inside their own class, concealing its proletarianisation from it (and thus concealing it from themselves), in order to make it evolve within the exclusive sphere of political ideology. In fact, leftist outfits exercise their racket much more among intellectuals (professors, students) than among the “classical” proletariat, but as a result they tend to constitute themselves into rackets over the universal class which tends to form itself by encompassing the proletarianised strata.
However, the attitude and practice of these strata determine the future of the class struggle and, in part, its outcome. As long as the universal class has not yet actually been formed, and these proletarianised middle class strata have not practically and socially chosen to confront capital in order to destroy it (which is the case when they continue to confine themselves largely to the political sphere), they may fluctuate between revolution and counter-revolution. This latter alternative is, at present, the more likely one, given that middle class strata are increasingly rallying to the ideology of the proletariat and its immediate consciousness (as opposed to its social practice and its negative consciousness), a rallying which was the very foundation on which Fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism were born.
Certain expressions of Maoist practice —which we will examine in the next issue of “Négation”— may even be interpreted right now as the emergence of counter-revolution.
What we call “Maoism” does not refer simply to Maoist organisations, which in France are indeed decomposing to a lesser or greater degree, but to the ensemble of social determinations and class consciousness that lead to a practice around which the majority of proletarianised middle classes are rallying, and in which they recognise themselves. The decomposition of Maoism in the form of “classical” organisations is, moreover, a sign that these classes are beginning to be faced with difficulties in a much more directly social way, hence the stakes discernible in this situation: integration into the struggles of the proletariat or struggles against the proletariat.
For us, therefore, the critique of leftism as a political racket is not so much a matter of criticising the anachronistic character of the political and ideological existence of these sects than it is of understanding the social practice that this existence translates.
VI- THE NEW POLITICAL RACKETS
1) - Whereas in the main, France has stuck to classical leftism, in Italy a new type of racket has appeared in the form of groups like Potere Operaio, which try to organise the refusal of work movement. The European strategy of this outfit is summarized in its slogan: “political wage”, i.e., wages for the entire proletariat, both working and non-working, regardless of any economic considerations vis-à-vis capital, and regardless of productivity in particular.
In a word, it’s generalised wage labour endeavouring to declare itself in contradiction to wage-labour. The fundamental contradiction afflicting a racket like PO becomes visible straightaway: politics as a specialized activity came into being at the same time as labour became the dual producer of use value and exchange value. Within the historical development of value, political ideology is closely linked to the ideology of labour. When value exerts real and total domination, the material foundations of the ideology of labour and political ideology simultaneously collapse, as we have seen above.
And then PO comes along and tries to politically organise what is a critique of both work and politics.
Its “theoretical” reasoning goes as follows: since the refusal of work goes beyond the framework of the economy (which PO considers limited to the productive sphere), this movement is directly political, hence the possibility of organising it. Now, although it is true that the proletariat, constituted as a class and abolishing itself, will realise politics by bringing it to an end once and for all as a specialized activity, all its struggles tending toward this self-organisation and suppression take place on the terrain of the life of capital, which has infiltrated itself everywhere by self-organising the lives of proletarians. The economy dominates everything to such an extent that it seems to have disappeared, hence the phrase “everything is political” coined by this fetishism.
2) - Consequently, several characteristics simultaneously determine and limit the existence of a racket like PO:
a) The non-work movement is considered in its immediate reality, according to the position it occupies in the system, i.e., as the negative element in this society (just as traditional partyists and councilists consider the factory only in its immediate reality, as the positive element in this society). Now, only the dialectic of the movement, by intertwining the struggles that take place in non-work space-time and factory struggles, can transform the non-work community from the negative element in this society into a negation of this society, and vice versa, confer a negating character on the factory community. PO is reduced to indefinitely consider the non-working community as the negative element within the system, thus endowing it with a political positivity, an imperative condition for the existence of any racket. As a result, PO cannot take upon itself the organisation of the destructive struggles of this community; it can only organise demonstrations in favour of the political wage which spectacularly oppose the demonstrations of classical rackets for the right to work. In PO’s strategy, the factory movement is supposed to link up with the non-work movement on the terrain of the latter, thus becoming political itself: an undialectical caricature of the class constitution of the proletariat, but due to racket necessities.
Hence PO is also de-emphasising the movement of absenteeism which, since it is already present like in the USA, expressing a communist content of the dialectical movement of struggles, proves to be completely unorganisable from a political perspective.
b) Separations —even oppositions— between the different communities of the proletariat are also considered in their immediate reality as a strategic basis for European intervention upon immigrants.
Criticizing the traditional outfits that wishfully intend to unite immigrant and indigenous proletarians, PO’s intention, on the contrary, is to intensify these separations, to widen the gap in the reality produced by capital “in order to lead it to a point of disintegration where reunification becomes possible”. Here we again come across the comical gymnastics that takes the place of dialectics for this outfit and conceals, but in fact reveals, the contradiction rending PO asunder: its racket foundation, which lies within the very separation of the different communities of the proletariat. The unification of struggles through and within struggle spells death for a racket (for is means the constitution of the class by reappropriating its historical consciousness), hence the combined strategy of exacerbating separations while promoting ideological unification through and within the political sphere where PO, as Consciousness, would rule.
Despite its efforts to try and dissociate itself from them, this pathetic racket can do no better than traditional leftist outfits: to attempt to organise the proletariat as a community of capital.
3) – Whereas, due the present impossibility of the re-emergence of the proletariat’s immediate consciousness —the consciousness of producers of use value—, classical rackets find nothing to sink their teeth into and are thus reduced to impotence, PO, the product of this impossibility, draws the conclusions to put together a racket critique of workers’ councils , in order to position itself on the terrain of the appearance of the proletariat’s historical consciousness: the critique and the refusal of work.
This amounts to wanting to substitute itself directly for this consciousness —in a word, to be the consciousness of consciousness, just like the other leftist outfits want to be the party of the party— and wanting to organise its own negation as a racket! In fact, as we have seen, they cannot arrogate themselves the fulfilment of this historical consciousness, because they simultaneously refuse to acknowledge that production points are its sphere of realisation, and they refuse to acknowledge the real unification of the proletariat’s various struggling communities: this sums up their contradiction and their limitation.
4) - Nevertheless, by intervening on the real and immediate terrain of the proletariat’s existence and the birth of its negative consciousness, such rackets may not immediately present themselves as such, because they must stick to reality in order to try and blend in with it. They thus play a mystifying role and are a real hindrance on struggles, hence the importance of demystifying them via a relentless critique.
Since they depend more strictly than other leftist groups on the system’s evolution and on class struggles, such outfits emerge in those countries where the economic situation and struggles are among the most advanced, and they do so under different forms according to the degree of this evolution. Thus, in Italy, where PO was born, this political group emerged almost immediately as such, and is now seeking its second wind, and to recover its initial virginity, by extending itself to other European countries.
In Great Britain, where the state of the proletariat’s struggles —both in terms of factory struggles and the practical proletarian critique of work— seems more advanced than anywhere else in Europe, they appear immediately in non-labour movements such as the Claimants Unions (organisations which defend the interests of the unemployed and non-workers), and at the very moment when they appear, they are already unable to present themselves in the traditional form of leftist outfits, while nonetheless calling to support the despicable National Socialist IRA along with all the other half-wits of the traditional outfits.
As for the US, they have never appeared there, and from now on the situation in that country seems to have left behind any possibility whatsoever of their coming into existence. Struggles in the US already seem to exclude any reformist possibility. The communist revolution is on the agenda there, and that means that from now on no organisation external to the class and its struggles can take hold.
In France, one of the countries most lagging behind both in terms of economic development and of struggles, it might seem that the future looks bright for a group like PO, and it has created a stammering minion for itself there in the guise of the group “Matériaux pour l’intervention” (Martin Adler, B. P. 42-06, Paris). However, this is merely hypothetical, for France is part of the capitalist world; a swift evolution and intensification of the struggles in the most advanced countries would have repercussions on France itself, and lead it directly to the level of these struggles. This could be one of the consequences, among others, of Great Britain’s entry into the Common Market.
Groups like PO seem to be the expression of an increasing proletarianisation of intellectuals and their consciousness. As far as the French group “Matériaux pour l’intervention” —which is composed mainly of teachers— is concerned, this seems to be in line with the ideological disintegration of this milieu, which over the last two years has become blatantly obvious: once the ideological pageantry of teaching work —“knowledge”— is cast off, it tends to reveal itself increasingly for what it is: “wage labour”. Hence its critique by increasingly young teachers, many of whom transfer this ideological power to politics, to the political organisation of the proletariat, thus setting themselves up as the last ideologues and the last politicians.
5) - In conclusion, we might say that PO’s entire contradiction is contained in its very name: to call itself “Workers’ Power” actually reveals —besides the substitution but explaining it at the same time— that for this racket the proletariat must not go so far as to abolish itself, but rather that it should take power, and on top of that, become the collective worker once again, which means that the valorisation process and the proletariat ought to backtrack and return to the historical phase when they didn’t amount to all that much, and human labour and the producer of use value meant a great deal!!
Incidentally, what PO ridiculously tries to achieve with its pretension of rewriting history from the perspective of a pure Marxism cleansed of all the Social-Democratic, Leninist and Stalinist shit, is a constant backwards march of history.
They are not, for that matter, the only ones to engage in this little board game: true Marxism, the one and only, unabridged, undistorted, unrevised, is showing near you, like Jesus!
- A FEW CONCLUSIONS –
1) - Marxism was an ideologisation of Marx’s theory. He himself took part in this freezing, particularly in his “political” writings and positions.
The contradiction which plagued Marx was to describe the life of a being, Capital, from its birth to its death, while living at a time when this being was still undeveloped, hence the glorification of politics when he attempted to translate his analysis of capitalist production relations into immediate and active reality.
There was a terrible contradiction between the practical possibilities of the movement —then exclusively the “working-class” movement— which, in the main, had eminently “political” tasks to fulfil (the establishment of republican bourgeois democracy and/or of “people’s” democracies between 1830 and 1879, as well as the generalization of wage labour and the proletariat: Second International). Thus, all of this, and the conclusions which Marx drew from his analysis of capitalism, which went beyond the limits of his precise time, were in contradiction. And yet, in spite of that, this analysis was linked to the fundamentally communist struggles of the proletariat of that time. What Marx said was a radical critique of what he was partly able to do. He was well aware of it and more or less stated it in his correspondence. But within the immediate movement, on the other hand, Marx could only qualitatively limit the contribution of his radical theoretical work. (Witness the almost complete isolation of Marx and Engels on the doctrinal plane, and how they were misunderstood even by their disciples: cf. the Critique of the Erfurt and Gotha Programs.)
Thus Marx, and Engels too, were, despite themselves, the working class movement’s first bureaucrats and ideologues. The fundamental writings of the former (the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, the Grundrisse, the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique…, Capital, etc.) are only now becoming fully meaningful and truthful, because only now the capitalism described by Marx has been completely realised, and consequently communism is on the agenda.
Marx’s works could therefore serve no other end than to contribute to the ideological training of the socialist bureaucracy, made up of intellectuals specialized in the wielding of dialectics and economics —but as separate spheres— as well as of a fraction of the labour aristocracy. Marxian theory served no other purpose than to prove the necessity of capitalism thanks to the knowledge of its “laws” (cf. Althusser) and therefore to perpetuate capitalist relations in the power of the bosses, union leaders and politicians. The fact that Marx focused on the critique of the economy is not where the rub was: the rub was that this critique of the economy came to be regarded as a science, instead of as the nucleus of the theory of the proletariat’s communist praxis.
The foundation of this economism was the need to understand the capitalist economy in order to defend wage labour against capital (Social Democracy) or to create capitalism from scratch (Leninism).
On the other hand, this terrible dichotomy articulated the intellectual/manual dichotomy that both sides of the struggle raging within the First International, the manipulative Marxian bureaucracy and the conspiratorial Bakuninist bureaucracy, brandished as a derisory flag and a distorting mirror.
Each of the stages leading from Marx to Stalinism was the Truth of the former: Blanquist and politically-biased Marxism –economistic and deterministic Social-Democratic Marxism - Leninism - Stalinism. Trotskyism is an archaic setback; as for Bordigism, it is the false reality of the bureaucracy’s Marxism, besides being its “most scientific” expression.
Nowadays Marxism has become the discourse of the ruling class in “Eastern” capitalism, and the academic discourse tending to become dominant in the West. The existence of both these discourses obviously demands the censorship or playing down of some of Marx’s writings, distorting or fragmenting certain others, and bringing still others to the forefront.
2) - During the 19th century anarchists were right to say that there could be no truly proletarian State. This statement, however, was not devoid of contradiction: among anarchists the ideology of work was just as exacerbated as it was in the “workers” movement as a whole.
In fact, at the time the rightfulness of their conception amounted to a humanistic sub-utopia , almost a religious one. Anarchist ideology was not to escape—and could not escape— the customary fate of ideologues under formal domination: to simultaneously express and mystify the reality of capital and of class struggles.
The truth of anarchist ideology (twenty years after it compromised itself, like the entire socialist upper crust of that time —by Kropotkin in particular— in the First World War) was revealed in Spain in 1936, where the scandal lay not in the participation of anarchist leaders in the republican counter-revolutionary government, but in the reason of this participation: the “collectives”, considered by the anarchists considered to be the destruction of capitalist production relations, there too and very soon indeed, represented (despite the promising premises created by the magnificent class struggle of the Spanish proletariat) the potential of generalization and rationalization.
It is obvious that there is nothing communist or State-destroying about anarchist federalism. It is a conception linked to the birth of capitalism, a utopia that would be nothing but a historical regression (in which groups of producers would compete with one another on a market made “fair” by the regularization of the anti-State).
The human community is both anarchic and centralised and its foundation is the consciousness of social man.
The contribution of anarchist writings on this last point is considerable, even if at the time they could be little more than humanist statements bordering on mysticism, and consequently mystifying ones.
These days, when what is at stake in the proletariat’s struggles is the destruction of the State and the establishment of Practical Anarchy, besides the stinking old vessels of yesteryear (FA*), anarchist ideology is peddled by sects-organisations which model their existence on that of Leninist organisations: of the confusion of ideologies and their spectacular opposition take place at the level of rackets. This ideology is also peddled by artisanal or agricultural “communes” that illusorily want to return to the foundations of pre-capitalist production, believing that in this manner they can escape the threefold poverty of being proletarians (You bet!), ideologues and “ideologized” (the stink of religion).
The radically negative character of revolutionary anarchist literature —Bakunin, Coeur de Roy, Eric Mühsam, Malatesta, Camillo Berneri, etc.— in relation to the capitalist system, and the demand for the complete liberation of humanity on all levels which can be found in it— is a slap in the face for anarchists, just like the work of Marx is a kick up the arse for Marxists.
3) - In the milieus that have left Leninism behind, the critique of workers’ councils is now on the agenda, but it generally dodges the real issue at hand by merely seeing in the German councils a superficial expression of the working class , or by saying that the opposition between the soviets and the Bolshevik party exists only in councilists’ heads . Councilists, for their part, turn the council-party relation into a rigid, almost moral, opposition: the parties seem to have had no material basis of existence and fulfilment as a substitute historical consciousness.
In reality, a real opposition did indeed exist between workers’ councils and parties, and it was none other than the class’s potential for autonomy vis-à-vis its political representations; this opposition, however, was not rigid; what opposed both of these terms was a bond, and what bound them to each other was an opposition.
For the 1920’s German councilist Otto Rülhe, the proletarian was only a proletarian in the factory; elsewhere he behaved like a petty bourgeois, etc… As we have seen, the proletarian was a proletarian to start with because he had no means —of production and subsistence— to avoid being one. Nowadays, this councilist conception, which back in the day had real foundations due to the limits of the struggles of the time —apart from the ideological nuance of the “petty bourgeois” misnomer— represents a complete misunderstanding of struggles and is an ideological hindrance to the understanding of the revolutionary movement which is once again taking shape. All neo-councilists (not to mention the moronic GRCA*-type para-situs, whose recent folding is their only trademark) are confined to forming political organisations for the advent of the power of workers’ councils (cf. the recent councilist merging between “Cahiers du Communisme de Conseils” from Marseilles and “Révolution Internationale” from Toulouse and Paris, with the preposterous “Organisation conseilliste” from Clermont-Ferrand*): in a word, it is the topsy-turvy partyist racket all over again in an even more laughable form.
However, if it must be firmly stated that the proletarian is only a proletarian in the factory, the fact that his existence in the production process is increasingly decisive must be stated no less firmly.
The fulfilment of the destruction of capitalist production relations depends ultimately and fundamentally, therefore, on the abolition of the proletariat within the process and in the space where it takes place: the factory. Consequently, Councils may reappear as organisations of struggle, but their content must be completely different and even opposed to that of the German and Italian workers’ councils and the Russian soviets. They must take root within a movement of destructive struggle that encompasses social reality in its entirety (the entirety of space and the ensemble of proletarianised human beings —thus including non-productive proletarians and non-working proletarians in particular—, of which the State is no more than the police regulator. They can be nothing short of proletarian councils —and this is no mere matter of words, given the unification of the proletarian being— which immediately begin to abolish the production-valorization process.
As the comrade who wrote “Capitalism and Communism” says:
“… to revolutionize production, to destroy enterprises as such, the communist revolution is bound to make use of production. This is its essential ‘lever’, at least during one phase. The aim is not to take over the factories only to remain there to manage them, but to get out of them, to connect them to each other without exchange, which destroys them as enterprises.”
Councils can only appear in order to abolish themselves.
In other words, as the final assertion of the practical leadership of the fundamental proletariat in the course of the movement, they can realise economic and social democracy in order to destroy it once and for all by destroying any separation between being and thought, for the delegation of human powers upon which all democracy —direct or indirect— depends, cannot survive the advent of the human community.
4) - Theory has no other role to play than to be the global expression and clarification of the consciousness that proletarians possess of their situation and of their struggles, a consciousness that is indissolubly linked to their practice, and to simultaneously explain and update the development of the revolutionary movement. Opposing any ideology which attempts to substitute itself for this consciousness (self-managing, organisational, etc.) is part of this clarification.
This implies that “theoreticians” have no immediate and historical class interests opposed to those of the proletariat universalizing itself, within which they must already be practically and socially included; and this implies, in turn, that they are no longer anything but “theoreticians.”
5) - Labour, the organic exchange between “man-the individual” and nature, is, in fact, destroyed by the capitalist mode of production itself, which, by gradually socializing it, transforms it into a single profit-making function, and thus into alienation for the whole of mankind and nature. The proletariat must destroy this function by abolishing itself. In so doing, it brings about the destruction of individual human labour in a humanly social sense; it liberates humanity and nature by reconciling them, and lays the foundation of a productive social activity that may be defined as the organic exchange between social man and nature.
The summit of prehistory is reached when capital achieves real and total domination over labour and society, and tends to destroy man’s natural environment. The movement inherent in men’s social relations then seems to vanish, and only the fixed character of things appears. Nonetheless, the movement lives and develops beneath the capital-commodity: every productive act is a social movement, and the capitalist mode of production is an antagonism in motion, the development of a contradiction. And at the very moment when the movement spectacularly disappears, it lives anonymously, invisible to the eyes of what is alien to it. It develops into the negation of the petrifying of things and of capital, until it becomes generally visible once again by invading areas that had remained blind to it until now. Due to it, and within it, everything is slowly set in motion once again.
The breaking point with capital is the point in which the moving character of rediscovered man masters the fixed character of things; once labour comes to an end, so does human prehistory.
“As the system of bourgeois economy has developed for us only by degrees, so too its negation, which is its ultimate result. We are still concerned now with the direct production process. When we consider bourgeois society in the long view and as a whole, then the final result of the process of social production always appears as the society itself, i.e. the human being itself in its social relations. Everything that has a fixed form, such as the product etc., appears as merely a moment, a vanishing moment, in this movement. The direct production process itself here appears only as a moment. The conditions and objectifications of the process are themselves equally moments of it, and its only subjects are the individuals, but individuals in mutual relationships, which they equally reproduce and produce anew. The constant process of their own movement, in which they renew themselves even as they renew the world of wealth they create.”
Karl Marx (Grundrisse)
Communism, like love, “is all that is living, all spontaneity, all sensory experience, in a word, all real experience of which one never knows in advance of where it is coming from and where it is going.”
Karl Marx (The Holy Family)
6) - For us, obviously, revolution is not inevitable; but what is already inevitable, is the double confrontation of the fundamental proletariat with capital and the middle class strata, already proletarianised or on their way to proletarianisation. If the proletariat incorporates these strata into its destructive struggles, then the vast majority of proletarianised humanity will confront capital in order to destroy it. If, on the contrary, proletarians allows themselves to be absorbed into the immediate struggles of these middle class strata for democracy and thus for capital, the antagonisms that the latter’s very existence foster between the different components of the universal proletariat —and even within the fundamental proletariat—, can only become exacerbated and result in the physical self-destruction of humanity, in its negation by triumphant capital, with no other perspective than this partial or complete destruction.
What is at stake in the class struggles of today is either the negation of the proletariat or the negation of humanity. Hence the importance of perceiving the emergence of the counter-revolution in advance.
We will develop these conclusions and the other essential points of this text in subsequent publications.
Paris - May 1972