Can we find alternatives to the failed radical projects of the twentieth century? What are the possible forms of struggle today? How do we fight back against the misery of our crisis-ridden present?
Communization and its discontents: Contestation, critique, and contemporary struggles
‘Communization’ is the spectre of the immediate struggle to abolish capitalism and the state, which haunts Europe, Northern California and wherever the real abstractions of value that shape our lives are contested. Evolving on the terrain of capitalism new practices of the ‘human strike’, autonomous communes, occupation and insurrection have attacked the alienations of our times. These signs of resistance are scattered and have yet to coalesce, and their future is deliberately precarious and insecure.
Bringing together voices from inside and outside of these currents Communization and Its Discontents treats communization as a problem to be explored rather than a solution. Taking in the new theorizations of communization proposed by Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee, Théorie Communiste, post-autonomists, and others, it offers critical reflections on the possibilities and the limits of these contemporary forms, strategies, and tactics of struggle.
Contributors: Jasper Bernes, John Cunningham, Endnotes, Alexander R. Galloway, Maya Andrea Gonzalez, Anthony Iles, Leon de Mattis, Nicole Pepperell, Théorie Communiste, Alberto Toscano, Marina Vishmidt, and Evan Calder Williams.
The Fabric of Struggles - Benjamin Noys
The Moment of Communization
1. What are we to do? - Endnotes
2. Communization in the Present Tense - Théorie Communiste
3. Reflections on the Call - Leon de Mattis
Frames of Struggle
4. Now and Never - Alberto Toscano
5. Capitalism: Some Disassembly Required - Nicole Pepperell
6. Work, Work Your Thoughts, and Therein see a Siege - Anthony Iles and Marina Vishmidt
Strategies of Struggle
7. The Double Barricade and the Glass Floor - Jasper Bernes
8. Fire to the Commons - Evan Calder Williams
9. Make Total Destroy - John Cunningham
10. Communization and the Abolition of Gender - Maya Andrea Gonzalez
11. Black Box, Black Bloc - Alexander R. Galloway
The fabric of struggles - Benjamin Noys
Introduction to 'Communization and its discontents' by Benjamin Noys
The Fabric of Struggles Benjamin Noys
I Barely twenty years have passed since the collapse of actually-existing socialism and now the crisis of actually-existing capitalism, in its neoliberal version, is upon us. The shrill capitalist triumphalism of the 1990s, or the bellicose equation of capitalism with democracy that defined the ’00s ‘war on terror’, ring more than a little hollow in the frozen desert of burst financial bubbles and devalorization. The commodities that make up the capitalist way-of-life have turned malignant, exposed as hollow bearers of debt servitude that can never be paid off. The cry ‘No New Deal’ goes up as wealth is transferred in huge amounts to save the financial sector. We are prepared for yet another round of sacrifice as structural adjustment and ‘shock doctrine’ return to the center of global capitalism after extensive testing on its self-defined ‘peripheries’. Whether this is terminal crisis, entropic drift, or merely the prelude to the ‘creative destruction’ that will kick-start a new round of accumulation, is still obscure.
In this situation new waves and forms of struggle have emerged in dispersed and inchoate forms. We have also seen a new language being used to theorise and think these struggles: ‘the human strike’, the ‘imaginary party’, ‘clandestinity’ and, not least, the strange and spectral word ‘communization’. The concept of communization emerged from currents of the French ultra-left in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but has gained resonance as a way of posing the problem of struggle today. It draws attention to the exhaustion of existing forms of organization that have tried to lead, dictate or pre-empt struggles, it contests the tendency to affirm or adopt an alternative counter-identity (worker, militant, anarchist, activist, etc.), and it challenges the despotism of capitalism that treats us as sources of value.
II This collection is dedicated to a critical questioning of the concept of communization, and in particular to analysing its discontents – the problems, questions and difficulties that traverse it. It is not easy to define what the word communization refers to, and it has often been used more as a slogan, a nickname, or even worse a ‘brand’, than forces together very different perspectives and analyses. What we find ‘in’ communization is often a weird mixing-up of insurrectionist anarchism, the communist ultra-left, postautonomists, anti-political currents, groups like the Invisible Committee, as well as more explicitly ‘communizing’ currents, such as Théorie Communiste and Endnotes. Obviously at the heart of the word is communism and, as the shift to communization suggests, communism as a particular activity and process, but what that is requires some further exploration. Here I want to give some initial points of orientation, which are explored further in the contributions that follow, by analyzing the communizing arguments that pose struggle as immediate, immanent, and as antiidentity. In each case I want to treat these points as sites of dispute, especially between the theorisations of the well-known contemporary French radical grouping associated with the journal Tiqqun, also publishing under the name ‘The Invisible Committee’ (henceforth I will refer to them as ‘Tiqqun’ for convenience), on the one hand, and the less-known but explicitly communizing currents of Théorie Communiste (TC) and Endnotes, on the other. What does it mean to say that communization is or should be immediate? It suggests there is no transition to communism, no stage of socialism required before we can achieve the stage of communism, and so no need to ‘build’ communism. This, however, has a very different meaning in different hands. For Tiqqun and others influenced by anarchist prefigurative politics this immediacy means that we must begin enacting communism now, within capitalism. From the commune to ‘commoning’, from cyber-activism to new ‘forms-of-life’, in this perspective we can’t make any transition to communism but must live it as a reality now to ensure its eventual victory. On the other hand, TC and Endnotes give this ‘immediacy’ a rather different sense, by arguing that communization implies the immediacy of communism in the process of revolution. In fact, they are deeply suspicious of a prefigurative or alternative politics, regarding such forms of struggle as mired in capitalism and often moralistic. 1 Instead, if anything, contemporary struggles can only be negatively prefigurative, indicating the limits of our forms of struggle and indicating only possible new lines of attack. These differences are also reflected in the posing of the communization in terms of immanence. The point here is that communization requires that we start thinking communism from within the immanent conditions of global capitalism rather than from a putatively radical or communist ‘outside’, but again this can lead in very different directions. Tiqqun regard capitalism as globally dominant, but also see it as leaving spaces and times through which revolt can emerge, or into which revolt can slip away from power. They regard capitalism as porous or, in Deleuze and Guattari’s formulation, ‘holey’.2 This kind of ‘enclave’ theory is a familiar strategy, ranging from the Italian social centers, to squats, to communal gardening, communes themselves, and other practices of ‘commoning’. This kind of formulation appeals to struggles in progress, to activists, and so links with the claim for a prefigurative immediacy. Again we might not be surprised to see that TC and Endnotes disagree. They too regard capitalism as dominant, but as a contradictory totality fissured by class struggles between proletariat and capital. There is no ‘outside’, or ‘line of flight’, but only a thinking through of this immanent contradiction and antagonism secreted within capitalist exploitation of labor to extract value. In terms of the contesting of ‘identity’, Tiqqun develop a new clandestine or ‘invisible’ identity of the militant that escapes capitalist control and capture. Refusing the ‘old’ identity models of Marxism, the working class or proletariat, as well as the ‘new’ models of identity politics, they instead prefer the language of contemporary theory: ‘whatever singularities’, or post-identity models that intimate new ‘forms-of-life’. In contrast TC and Endnotes retain the classical Marxist language of the proletariat, but insist that this is not an identity, but rather a mode of self-abolishing. We cannot reinforce a ‘workers’ identity’, or try to replace this with another identity. Instead, the negativity of the proletariat consists in the fact it can only operate by abolishing itself.
III If there are disagreements in the forms which the analysis of struggle should take there seems to be initial agreement about what communization opposes: capitalism. Again, however, this is often a point of contention. Many in the communizing current adopt a variant of Marx’s distinction, from the unpublished sixth chapter of capital the ‘Results of the Immediate Process of Production’,3 between formal and real subsumption. Formal subsumption is the general form of capitalist domination, and involves capital subsuming an existing form of production ‘as it finds it’. For example, peasants may still work in the fields in the way they always have but now they are compelled to take their goods to market to realise value. In this mode of subsumption, Marx argues, capital generates absolute surplus-value, and can only do so by demanding extension to the working day. So, surplusvalue can only be generated by forcing work beyond the amount necessary for self-reproduction, although this compulsion does not tend to happen directly but through economic functions, i.e. you need to produce a surplus to generate income to live, rather than to pay off a feudal lord. This stands in contrast to real subsumption, in which capital revolutionizes the actual mode of labor to produce the specifically capitalist mode of production. Here compulsion increases relative surplus-value by the use of machinery, the intensification of labor and the remaking of the production process. It is real subsumption which produces a truly capitalist mode of production. Within communization, and especially for TC, Marx’s distinction is often taken as a model of historical periodization. While Marx, and others like Endnotes, see formal and real subsumption as intertwined processes that have developed with capitalism and take different forms,4 the periodizing argument suggests that we have shifted from formal subsumption to real subsumption. In the argument of TC this shift is linked to cycles of struggle. In the initial phase of capitalist accumulation we have formal subsumption, and class struggle expresses itself in the affirmation of a pre-capitalist identity and ‘moral economy’.5 With the advance of real subsumption, in the industrial form of the factory during the latter half of the 19th century, we see a new antagonism of the worker versus capitalism, which reaches its apogee in the Russian Revolution. In this new cycle of struggles central is the independent workers’ identity, and TC call this form of struggle ‘programmatism’. Here the forms of struggle actually become ‘internal’ to capitalism, as the relation becomes mediated through unions, social welfare, and other forms of Keynesian control. These ‘revolutions’ tend to reinforce capitalism, encouraging the passage from formal to real subsumption through ‘socialist accumulation’, and lead to the theology of labor and the oxymoron of the ‘workers’ state’. This ‘programmatism’ comes into crisis with the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, when workers now abolish their identities and flee the factory. The extension of real subsumption over life, what Italian autonomists called the ‘social factory’, generalises struggles. In the capitalist counter-attack, however, we witness a second phase of real subsumption, a re-making of the world in the conformity to capital and the crisis of the identity of the ‘worker’. This re-making was, of course, central to the project of neoliberalism.6 Such an analysis is shared by Jacques Camatte, Antonio Negri, and many other post-autonomists. It could seem to imply the pessimistic conclusion that ‘resistance is futile’, that capitalism is a monstrous alien subject that vampirically draws all of life within itself (to mix Marx’s gothic metaphors). Such a position was visible in the Frankfurt school’s positing of a ‘totally-administered’ or ‘one-dimensional’ society. It is taken today by certain currents of primitivism or anti-civilization anarchism, which desperately try to recover the few remaining fragments of ‘non-capitalist’ life and backdate the origins of oppression to the Neolithic agricultural revolution, or even to the origin of language itself. Communization, in contrast, regards the passage to the dominance of real subsumption as requiring and generating new forms of struggle and antagonism that entail the abandoning of the affirmation of the worker and ‘workers’ power’. Again, differences emerge at this point. Negri and the post-autonomists tend to argue for the emergence of the power of the ‘multitude’, which is always ready to burst through the capitalist integument and install communism Tiqqun stress new ‘singularities’ or ‘forms-of-life’, which escape or flee or declare war on the forms and structures of real subsumption TC argue for new self-abolishing relations of struggle as the contradictions sharpen and the ‘proletariat’ is no longer a viable identity in capitalism and so communism only really becomes possible now Gilles Dauvé and Karl Nesic prefer to see communization as an immanent possibility of struggles across the history of capitalism, an invariant of the capitalist mode of production,7 while Endnotes accept the diagnosis of the crisis of programmatism, but reject the bluntness of the periodization of subsumption by TC and others. Without wishing to collapse these important differences we can see the emphasis on the ‘horizon’ of capitalism as dominant, even in the moment of crisis. It is capitalism that forms the terrain and ‘fabric of struggles’ which communization tries to engage with and theorise. It is also class struggle and capitalist responses to that struggle that have re-posed the crisis of the workers’ movement and pose the need to create new modes of thinking contemporary struggles. That said, how we think and understand the form and history of capitalism is a crucial point of debate to develop forms of struggle against it, and different understandings lead to very different conclusions.
IV I want to baldly state some of the interconnected problems that seem to immediately face communization as a theory. The first is that the final collapse of actually-existing socialism in 1989, and the widespread disenchantment with social democracy, unions, and other ‘traditional’ affirmations of the worker as means of resistance, does not seem, as yet, to have led to any rebound to a self-abolishing model of proletarian negativity or the ‘multitude’, or ‘whatever singularities’, or other ‘new’ modes of struggle. While ‘programmatism’ is obviously in crisis a replacement is not evident. Of course, it could always be argued that these forms of struggle are still emerging, still nascent, or that their lack of appearance is a sign of a transition beyond ‘programmatism’, but in the context of capitalist crisis, and capitalist-induced ecological crisis, this doesn’t seem to offer much reassurance. While the workers’ states were often terrible and bloody failures, not least for the working class, the emergence of an alternative ‘real movement’ is hard to detect to say the least. Even the austerity of the TC position, which prefers to only negatively trace ‘emergent’ forms of struggle and their limits, still depends on a minimal teleology that implies new forms of possible revolution, and so still has to confront this problem.
A second problem, which I’ve already noted in passing, is that the triumph of ‘real subsumption’, which integrates the reproduction of the proletariat to the self-reproduction of capital, seems to allow very little space, or time, for resistance. Even if we don’t think in terms of real subsumption, but rather the global dominance of capitalism or ‘Empire’, we still have to confront the issue of whether it can be defeated, and how. The ways in which capitalism permeates and modulates the whole of life (what Deleuze called ‘the society of control’ 8 ) leaves us with little leverage to resist. In particular the end of the ‘workers’ standpoint’, the end of the classical proletariat, seems to deprive us of an agency to make the mass changes communization would require. While TC insists on the proletariat as conceptual marker, they have to struggle with its empirical non-emergence.9 The alternative articulations of possible agents of change, such as immaterial workers or ‘whatever singularities’, by other currents of communization are very thinly-specified. This leads to a third problem. While communization insists on immediacy and the abandonment of debates about ‘transition’ or teleology, i.e. debates on what we are aiming to achieve, it’s hard to see how it can coordinate or develop such ‘moments’ of communization globally across the social field (as it would have to, to destroy or counter a global capitalism). This is true for those who emphasise communizing now, in which case how do such moments come together and avoid remaining merely ‘alternative’? It is also true if we regard communizing as intrinsic to revolution, because then we must answer how the process of communizing can be coordinated in a revolution that will be a geographically and temporally striated, dispersed and differential? TC pose this question when they ask: ‘How can a “unity” arise, in a general movement of class struggle, that is not in fact a unity but an inter-activity?’, their unsatisfactory answer: ‘We do not know… But class struggle has often showed us its infinite inventiveness.’10
Pending proof of this ‘inventiveness’, there is a risk that communization becomes a valorization of only fleeting moments of revolt, of small chinks in which the light of revolution penetrates capitalist darkness; or that it become the promise of a total revolution that will achieve its aim in process, without any substantial account of how that might take place. This is not to call for a return to the ‘party’ form, or to rehash debates concerning Leninism (debates that might well be important), but rather to suggest that the difficulty in specifying agents of change can also flow into the difficulties in specifying the contents of change. Certainly, communization was right to critique the formalism of the left, what TC calls its ‘programmatism’, that could only ever argue that once we had the correct form (Leninist party, workers’ councils, etc.) communism would unfold. What is as yet unclear is what forms of struggle will make ‘the poetry of the future’. These are, of course, not only problems for communization, but for any attempts to make radical change. What I want to stress is the acuity with which communization allows us to pose these problems, and the stress it places on engaging with them, rather than presuming they will be dissolved in some rush to ‘praxis’. Communization as a problematic links together issues of the current state of struggle, and their seeming ‘disappearance’ in traditional forms, the nature of capitalism and the possible agents who might resist this social formation, and the strategic or tactical forms that resistance might or will take. It is to the necessity of thinking and theorizing these problems and others in the light of ‘communization’ that this collection is devoted.
V The chapters, or better interventions, which follow, speak for themselves, and certainly, and deliberately, they do not speak in the same voice. If communization is a way of stating a problem then there is no requirement for agreement on what that problem is, or even agreement that communization is the best way of posing it. Also, of course, this collection itself is in process – it is certainly not exhaustive, what collection could be?, and it doesn’t aim at closure. But I do want to provide some general indications of the ‘drift’, to use the word in the Situationist sense, of these interventions. We begin with the ‘moment of communization’ – a series of texts that frame the competing definitions of communization, and especially the conflict between those associated with TC/Endnotes and Tiqqun. Through the sharpening and analysis of these contrasts it becomes possible to assess the nature and originality of the communizing hypothesis. The next section is ‘Frames of Struggle’, which deals with how we conceptualize our contemporary political situation and how we conceptualize capitalism itself. The aim here is to reflect on the problem of the contemporary forms of capitalism, and to assess how we might understand the horizon of a seemingly ‘totalitarian’ capitalism, especially of capitalism in crisis, alongside the unevenness of capitalist power. The section ‘Strategies of Struggle’ considers how communization has drawn on and re-tooled ‘traditional’ modes of struggle, especially the ‘barricade’, the commons and the question of revolutionary violence. Again, it is in the re-working of more familiar concepts that we can assess the originality of the communizing hypothesis. Finally, the section ‘No Future?’ takes the slogan that was common to both punk and neoliberalism and turns it into a question. This is the question of the possible futures of the project of communization in regards to two key areas of our contemporary situation: the problem of gender / sexuality, and the problem of the new models and forms of digital practice. The aim of this section, and the collection as a whole, is not to provide a new reified recipe book for revolution, but rather to pose as a problem the kinds and forms of political (or non-political, or anti-political) action that are possible today. VI In his story ‘The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths’ Jorge Luis Borges describes the competition between two kings to construct the perfect, and so impossible to escape, labyrinth or maze.11 The first king uses the traditional method of constructing a highly-complex series of tunnels, resulting in a terrible labyrinth which the second king only escapes from by the intervention of God. In his turn the second king lays waste to the first king’s lands and casts him into a labyrinth impossible to defeat: the desert. The impossibility of this labyrinth lies not in the choice of paths, but the absence of any paths. For Tiqqun we are living the ‘deepening of the desert’, the neutralisation of means to orient ourselves and escape the ‘labyrinth’ of capital. 12 This certainly overstates the case. Capitalism is not a ‘featureless’ terrain or ‘smooth space’, but in its combined and uneven development, including in the moment of globalized crisis, it is proving to be a labyrinth that is hard to traverse.
Communization is not our compass, and this collection does not exhaustively map this labyrinth. Many other paths are possible, in fact in the desert we face not so much a ‘garden of forking paths’ but the infinite multiplicity of paths we cannot even yet trace. So, this collection is merely, but essentially, a posing of the problem. To start to find what paths there might be, to not accept the (capitalist) desert as ‘natural’ phenomenon, and to begin to detect the struggles that will (re) make this terrain.
- 1See Endnotes, ‘What are we to do?’ and Leon de Mattis’s ‘Reflections on the Call’, in this collection, for ‘communizing’ critiques of Tiqqun on these grounds.
- 2Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. and intro. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), pp.413-415.
- 3Karl Marx, Capital vol. 1, intro. Ernest Mandel, trans. Ben Fowkes (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), pp. 941-1084; for the distinction between formal and real subsumption see pp. 1019-1038.
- 4For the emphasis on the continuing co-existence of formal and real subsumption see Endnotes, ‘The History of Subsumption’, Endnotes 2 (April 2010): 130-152, http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/6.
- 5See E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class  (London: Penguin, 1991) for this argument.
- 6This was presciently explored in Michel Foucault’s lectures on biopolitics (actually on neoliberalism) given between 1978 and 1979, and now published as Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-79, trans. Graham Burchell (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2008).
- 7For the debate between TC and Dauvé and Nesic on this point see the collection of texts in Endnotes 1 (October 2008), http://endnotes.org.uk/ issues/1
- 8 Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’ , October 59 (Winter 1992): 3-7.
- 9‘How can the proletariat, acting strictly as a class of this mode of production, in its contradiction with capital within the capitalist mode of production, abolish classes, and therefore itself, that is to say: produce communism?’, TC, quoted in Endnotes, ‘The History of Subsumption’, p.152.
- 10Théorie Communiste, ‘The Glass Floor’, riff-raff, http://www.riff-raff.se/wiki/en/theorie_communiste/the_glass_floor.
- 11 Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley (London: Penguin Books, 1998), pp. 263-264
- 12 Tiqqun, ‘Call’, http://www.bloom0101.org/call.pdf.
What are we to do? Endnotes
The term ‘communization’ has recently become something of a buzzword. A number of factors have contributed to this, the most prominent being the coming into fashion of various texts. Of these, The Coming Insurrection – associated with the French journal Tiqqun, and the ‘Tarnac 9’ who gained the doubtful prestige of being at the center of a major ‘terrorist’ scandal – has been by far the most influential. In addition to this, the voluble literature produced by autumn 2009’s wave of Californian student struggles – a literature partly inspired by such French texts – has been a significant factor.1 The confluence in this Californian literature of, on the one hand, a language inflected by typically grandiloquent Tiqqunisms, and on the other, concepts in part derived from the works of a more Marxist French ultra-left – and the convenient presence in both of these reference points of a fairly unusual term, ‘communization’ – has contributed to the appearance of a somewhat mythological discourse around this word. This communization appears as a fashionable stand-in for slightly more venerable buzzwords such as ‘autonomy’, having at least the sparkle of something new to it, a frisson of radical immediatism, and the support of some eloquent-sounding French literature. This communization is, if anything, a vague new incarnation of the simple idea that the revolution is something that we must do now, here, for ourselves, gelling nicely with the sentiments of an already-existent insurrectionist anarchism.
But this communization is, in all but the most abstract sense, something other than that which has been debated for some thirty years amongst the obscure communist groups who have lent the most content to this term, even if it bears traces of its ancestors’ features, and may perhaps be illuminated by their theories. Of course, ‘communization’ was never the private property of such-and-such groups. It has, at least, a certain minor place in the general lexicon of left-wing tradition as a process of rendering communal or common. Recently some have begun to speak, with similar intended meaning, of ongoing processes of ‘commonization’. But such general concepts are not interesting in themselves; if we were to attempt to divine some common content in the clutter of theories and practices grouped under such terms, we would be left with only the thinnest abstraction. We will thus concern ourselves here only with the two usages of the word that are at stake in the current discourse of communization: that derived from texts such as The Coming Insurrection, and that derived from writings by Troploin, Théorie Communiste and other post-68 French communists. It is primarily from these latter writings – those of Théorie Communiste (TC) in particular – that we derive our own understanding of communization, an understanding which we will sketch in what follows. As it happens, these two usages both proliferated from France into Anglophone debates in recent years, a process in which we have played a part. But it would be a mistake to take this coincidence for the sign of a single French debate over communization, or of a continuous ‘communizationist’ tendency within which the authors of The Coming Insurrection and, for example, TC represent divergent positions. What is common to these usages at most, is that they can be said to signal a certain insistence on immediacy in thinking about how a communist revolution happens. But, as we shall see, one ‘immediate’ is not the same as another; the question is which mediations are absent?
If the tone of the following text is often polemical, this is not because we take pleasure in criticising people already subject to a very public manhandling by the French state, charged as ‘terrorists’ on the meagre basis of allegations that they wrote a book and committed a minor act of sabotage. It is because long-running debates related to the concept of communization – debates in which we have participated – have become falsely associated with the theories presented in texts such as The Coming Insurrection and Call, and are thereby in danger of getting lost in the creeping fog that these texts have summoned.2 What is at stake is not only these texts, but the Anglophone reception of ‘communization’ in general. It has thus become necessary to make the distinction: the ‘communization theory’ now spoken of in the Anglosphere is largely an imaginary entity, an artefact of the Anglophone reception of various unrelated works. The limited availability of relevant works in English, and the near-simultaneity with which some of these works became more widely known, surely contributed to the confusion; a certain traditional predisposition in relation to France, its theory and politics, probably helped. The Anglosphere has a peculiar tendency to take every crowing of some Gallic cock as a cue to get busy in the potting shed with its own theoretical confabulations; add to this a major political scandal, and it seems it is practically unable to contain the excitement.
But our intention is not simply to polemicize from the standpoint of some alternative theory. Insofar as it is possible to grasp the determinate circumstances which produce texts like this, they do not simply present incorrect theories. They present rather, the partial, broken fragments of a historical moment grasped in thought. In attempting to hold fast to the general movement of the capitalist class relation, communist theory may shed light on the character of such moments, and thereby the theoretical constructs which they produce. And, in so doing, it may also expose their limits, elisions and internal contradictions. Insofar as such constructs are symptomatic of the general character of the historical moment, their interrogation may draw out something about the character of the class relation as a whole.
If communization signals a certain immediacy in how the revolution happens, for us this does not take the form of a practical prescription; ‘communization’ does not imply some injunction to start making the revolution right away, or on an individual basis. What is most at stake, rather, is the question of what the revolution is; ‘communization’ is the name of an answer to this question. The content of such an answer necessarily depends on what is to be overcome: that is, the self-reproduction of the capitalist class relation, and the complex of social forms which are implicated in this reproduction – value-form, capital, gender distinction, state form, legal form, etc. In particular, such an overcoming must necessarily be the direct self-abolition of the working class, since anything short of this leaves capital with its obliging partner, ready to continue the dance of accumulation. Communization signifies the process of this direct self-abolition, and it is in the directness of this self-abolition that communization can be said to signify a certain ‘immediacy’.
Communization is typically opposed to a traditional notion of the transitional period which was always to take place after the revolution, when the proletariat would be able to realise communism, having already taken hold of production and/ or the state. Setting out on the basis of the continued existence of the working class, the transitional period places the real revolution on a receding horizon, meanwhile perpetuating that which it is supposed to overcome. For us this is not a strategic question, since these matters have been settled by historical developments – the end of the programmatic workers’ movement, the disappearance of positive working class identity, the absence of any kind of workers’ power on the horizon: it is no longer possible to imagine a transition to communism on the basis of a prior victory of the working class as working class. To hold to councilist or Leninist conceptions of revolution now is utopian, measuring reality against mental constructs which bear no historical actuality. The class struggle has outlived programmatism, and different shapes now inhabit its horizon. With the growing superfluity of the working class to production – its tendential reduction to a mere surplus population – and the resultantly tenuous character of the wage form as the essential meeting point of the twin circuits of reproduction, it can only be delusional to conceive revolution in terms of workers’ power. Yet it is still the working class which must abolish itself.3
For us, communization does not signify some general positive process of ‘sharing’ or ‘making common’. It signifies the specific revolutionary undoing of the relations of property constitutive of the capitalist class relation. Sharing as such – if this has any meaning at all – can hardly be understood as involving this undoing of capitalist relations, for various kinds of ‘sharing’ or ‘making common’ can easily be shown to play important roles within capitalist society without in any way impeding capitalist accumulation. Indeed, they are often essential to – or even constitutive in – that accumulation: consumption goods shared within families, risk shared via insurance, resources shared within firms, scientific knowledge shared through academic publications, standards and protocols shared between rival capitals because they are recognized as being in their common interest. In such cases, without contradiction, what is held in common is the counterpart to an appropriation. As such, a dynamic of communization would involve the undoing of such forms of ‘sharing’, just as it would involve the undoing of private appropriation. And while some might valorize a sharing that facilitates a certain level of subsistence beyond what the wage enables, in a world dominated by the reproduction of the capitalist class relation such practices can occur only at the margins of this reproduction, as alternative or supplementary means of survival, and as such, they are not revolutionary in themselves.
Communization is a movement at the level of the totality, through which that totality is abolished. The logic of the movement that abolishes this totality necessarily differs from that which applies at the level of the concrete individual or group: it should go without saying that no individual or group can overcome the reproduction of the capitalist class relation through their own actions. The determination of an individual act as ‘communizing’ flows only from the overall movement of which it is part, not from the act itself, and it would therefore be wrong to think of the revolution in terms of the sum of already-communizing acts, as if all that was needed was a certain accumulation of such acts to a critical point. A conception of the revolution as such an accumulation is premised on a quantitative extension which is supposed to provoke a qualitative transformation. In this it is not unlike the problematic of the growing-over of everyday struggles into revolution which was one of the salient characteristics of the programmatic epoch.4 In contrast to these linear conceptions of revolution, communization is the product of a qualitative shift within the dynamic of class struggle itself. Communization occurs only at the limit of a struggle, in the rift that opens as this struggle meets its limit and is pushed beyond it. Communization thus has little positive advice to give us about particular, immediate practice in the here and now, and it certainly cannot prescribe particular skills, such as lock-picking or bone-setting, as so many roads, by which insurrectionary subjects to heaven go.5 What advice it can give is primarily negative: the social forms implicated in the reproduction of the capitalist class relation will not be instruments of the revolution, since they are part of that which is to be abolished.
Communization is thus not a form of prefigurative revolutionary practice of the sort that diverse anarchisms aspire to be, since it does not have any positive existence prior to a revolutionary situation. While it is possible to see the question of communization as in some sense posed by the dynamic of the present capitalist class relation, communization does not yet appear directly as a form of practice, or as some set of individuals with the right ideas about such practice. This does not mean that we should merely await communization as some sort of messianic arrival – in fact, this is not an option, for engagement in the dynamic of the capitalist class relation is not something that can be opted out of, nor into, for that matter. Involvement in the class struggle is not a matter of a political practice which can be arbitrarily chosen, from a contemplative standpoint. Struggles demand our participation, even though they do not yet present themselves as the revolution. The theory of communization alerts us to the limits inherent in such struggles, and indeed it is attentive to the possibilities of a real revolutionary rupture opening up because of, rather than in spite of, these limits. For us then, communization is an answer to the question of what the revolution is. This is a question which takes a specific historical form in the face of the self-evident bankruptcy of the old programmatic notions, leftist, anarchist, and ultra-leftist alike: how will the overcoming of the capitalist class relation take place, given that it is impossible for the proletariat to affirm itself as a class yet we are still faced with the problem of this relation? Texts such as Call or The Coming Insurrection however, do not even properly ask the question of what the revolution is, for in these texts the problem has already been evaporated into a conceptual miasma. In these texts, the revolution will be made not by any existing class, or on the basis of any real material, historical situation; it will be made by ‘friendships’, by ‘the formation of sensibility as a force’, ‘the deployment of an archipelago of worlds’, ‘an other side of reality’, ‘the party of insurgents’ – but most of all by that ever-present and always amorphous positivity: we. The reader is beseeched to take sides with this ‘we’ – the ‘we of a position’ – to join it in the imminent demise of ‘capitalism, civilization, empire, call it what you wish’. Instead of a concrete, contradictory relation, there are ‘those who can hear’ the call, and those who cannot; those who perpetuate ‘the desert’, and those with ‘a disposition to forms of communication so intense that, when put into practice, they snatch from the enemy most of its force.’ Regardless of their statements to the contrary,6 do these pronouncements amount to anything more than the self-affirmations of a self-identifying radical milieu?
In this more insurrectionist incarnation, communization emerges as an answer to a real historical question. But the question in this case is the ‘what should we do?’ posed by the conclusion of the wave of struggles that had the anti-globalization movement at its center.7 The authors correctly recognize the impossibility of developing any real autonomy to ‘what is held in common’ within capitalist society, yet the exhaustion of the summit-hopping, black-blocking activist milieu makes it imperative for them to either find new practices in which to engage, or to stage a graceful retreat. Thus the ‘TAZ’, the alternative, the commune etc., are to be rethought, but with a critique of alternativism in mind: we must secede, yes, but this secession must also involve ‘war’.8 Since such supposedly liberated places cannot be stabilised as outside of ‘capitalism, civilization, empire, call it what you wish’, they are to be reconceived as part of the expansion and generalization of a broad insurrectionary struggle. Provided the struggle is successful, these alternatives will not turn out to have been impossible after all; their generalization is to be the condition of their possibility. It is this dynamic of generalization that is identified as one of ‘communization’ – communization as, more or less, the forming of communes in a process that doesn’t stop until the problem of the alternative has been solved, since it no longer has to be an alternative. But all of this is without any clear notion of what is to be undone through such a dynamic. The complexity of actual social relations, and the real dynamic of the class relation, are dispatched with a showmanly flourish in favor of a clutch of vapid abstractions. Happy that the we of the revolution does not need any real definition, all that is to be overcome is arrogated to the they – an entity which can remain equally abstract: an ill-defined generic nobodaddy (capitalism, civilization, empire etc) that is to be undone by – at the worst points of Call – the Authentic Ones who have forged ‘intense’ friendships, and who still really feel despite the badness of the world.
But the problem cannot rest only with this ‘they’, thereby fundamentally exempting this ‘we of a position’ from the dynamic of revolution. On the contrary, in any actual supersession of the capitalist class relation we ourselves must be overcome; ‘we’ have no ‘position’ apart from the capitalist class relation. What we are is, at the deepest level, constituted by this relation, and it is a rupture with the reproduction of what we are that will necessarily form the horizon of our struggles. It is no longer possible for the working class to identify itself positively, to embrace its class character as the essence of what it is; yet it is still stamped with the simple facticity of its class belonging day by day as it faces, in capital, the condition of its existence. In this period, the ‘we’ of revolution does not affirm itself, does not identify itself positively, because it cannot; it cannot assert itself against the ‘they’ of capital without being confronted by the problem of its own existence – an existence which it will be the nature of the revolution to overcome. There is nothing to affirm in the capitalist class relation; no autonomy, no alternative, no outside, no secession.
An implicit premise of texts like Call and The Coming Insurrection is that, if our class belonging ever was a binding condition, it is no longer. Through an immediate act of assertion we can refuse such belonging here and now, position ourselves outside of the problem. It is significant perhaps that it is not only the milieu associated with Tiqqun and The Coming Insurrection that have developed theory which operates on this premise over the last decade. In texts such as Communism of Attack and Communism of Withdrawal Marcel, and the Batko group with which he is now associated, offer a much more sophisticated variant. Rather than the self-valorizations of an insurrectionist scene, in this case the theory emerges as a reconceived autonomism informed by a smorgasbord of esoteric theory – Marxian and otherwise – but ultimately the formal presuppositions are the same.9 Taking the immanence of the self-reproduction of the class relation for a closed system without any conceivable terminus, Marcel posits the necessity of a purely external, transcendent moment – the ‘withdrawal’ on the basis of which communists can launch an ‘attack’. But, within this world, what can such ‘withdrawal’ ever mean other than the voluntaristic forming of a kind of ‘radical’ milieu which the state is quite happy to tolerate as long as it refrains from expressing, in an attempt to rationalise its continued reproduction within capitalist society, the kind of combativity which we find in The Coming Insurrection?
To insist, against this, on the complete immanence of the capitalist class relation – on our complete entwinement with capital – is not to resign ourselves to a monolithic, closed totality, which can do nothing other than reproduce itself. Of course, it appears that way if one sets out from the assumption of the voluntaristically conceived subject: for such a subject, the totality of real social relations could only ever involve the mechanical unfolding of some purely external process. But this subject is a historically specific social form, itself perpetuated through the logic of the reproduction of the class relation, as is its complement. Not insensitive to the problem of this subject, The Coming Insurrection sets out with a disavowal of the Fichtean I=I which it finds exemplified in Reebok’s ‘I am what I am’ slogan. The ‘self ’ here is an imposition of the ‘they’; a kind of neurotic, administered form which ‘they mean to stamp upon us’.10 The ‘we’ is to reject this imposition, and put in its place a conception of ‘creatures among creatures, singularities among similars, living flesh weaving the flesh of the world’.11 But the ‘we’ that rejects this imposition is still a voluntarist subject; its disavowal of the ‘self ’ remains only a disavowal, and the replacement of this by more interesting-sounding terms does not get us out of the problem. In taking the imposition of the ‘self ’ upon it to be something unidirectional and purely external, the ‘we’ posits another truer self beyond the first, a self which is truly its own. This authentic selfhood – ‘singularity’, ‘creature’, ‘living flesh’ – need not be individualistically conceived, yet it remains a voluntarist subject which grasps itself as self-standing, and the objectivity that oppresses it as merely something over there. The old abstraction of the egoistic subject goes through a strange mutation in the present phase in the form of the insurrectionist – a truly Stirnerite subject – for whom it is not only class belonging that can be cast off through a voluntarist assertion, but the very imposition of the ‘self ’ per se. But while our class belonging is unaffirmable – a mere condition of our being in our relation with capital – and while the abstract ‘self ’ may be part of the totality which is to be superseded – this does not mean that either is voluntarily renounceable. It is only in the revolutionary undoing of this totality that these forms can be overcome.
The prioritisation of a certain tactical conception is a major outcome and determinant of this position. Theory is called upon to legitimate a practice which cannot be abandoned, and a dualism results: the voluntarist ‘we’, and the impassive objectivity which is its necessary counterpart. For all their claims to have overcome ‘classical politics’, these texts conceive the revolution ultimately in terms of two opposed lines: the we that ‘gets organized’, and all the forces arrayed against it. Tactical thought is then the guide and rule for this ‘we’, mediating its relations with an object which remains external. Instead of a theoretical reckoning with the concrete totality that must be overcome in all its determinations, or a reconstruction of the real horizon of the class relation, we get a sundering of the totality into two basic abstractions, and a simple set of exhortations and practical prescriptions whose real theoretical function is to bring these abstractions into relation once more. Of course, neither Call nor The Coming Insurrection present themselves straightforwardly as offering ‘a theory’. Call in particular attempts to circumvent theoretical questions by appealing from the outset to ‘the evident’, which is ‘not primarily a matter of logic or reasoning’, but is rather that which ‘attaches to the sensible, to worlds’, that which is ‘held in common’ or ‘sets apart’.24 The ostensible point of these texts is to stage a simple cri de coeur – an immediate, pre-theoretical stocktaking of reasons for rebelling against this bad, bad world – on the basis of which people will join the authors in making the insurrection. But this proclamation of immediacy disguises a theory which has already done the mediating, which has pre-constructed the ‘evident’; a theory whose founding commitments are to the ‘we’ that must do something, and to its paternal they – commitments which forestall any grasp of the real situation. Theory which substitutes for itself the simple description of what we must do fails at its own task, since in renouncing its real standpoint as theory it gives up the prospect of actually understanding not only what is to be overcome, but also what this overcoming must involve.
Communist theory sets out not from the false position of some voluntarist subject, but from the posited supersession of the totality of forms which are implicated in the reproduction of this subject. As merely posited, this supersession is necessarily abstract, but it is only through this basic abstraction that theory takes as its content the determinate forms which are to be superseded; forms which stand out in their determinacy precisely because their dissolution has been posited. This positing is not only a matter of methodology, or some kind of necessary postulate of reason, for the supersession of the capitalist class relation is not a mere theoretical construct. Rather, it runs ahead of thought, being posited incessantly by this relation itself; it is its very horizon as an antagonism, the real negative presence which it bears. Communist theory is produced by – and necessarily thinks within – this antagonistic relation; it is thought of the class relation, and it grasps itself as such. It attempts to conceptually reconstruct the totality which is its ground, in the light of the already-posited supersession of this totality, and to draw out the supersession as it presents itself here. Since it is a relation which has no ideal ‘homeostatic’ state, but one which is always beyond itself, with capital facing the problem of labor at every turn – even in its victories – the adequate thought of this relation is not of some equilibrium state, or some smoothly self-positing totality; it is of a fundamentally impossible relation, something that is only insofar as it is ceasing to be; an internally unstable, antagonistic relation. Communist theory thus has no need of an external, Archimedean point from which to take the measure of its object, and communization has no need of a transcendent standpoint of ‘withdrawal’ or ‘secession’ from which to launch its ‘attack’.
Communist theory does not present an alternative answer to the question of ‘what shall we do?’, for the abolition of the capitalist class relation is not something on which one can decide. Of course, this question necessarily sometimes faces the concrete individuals and groups who make up the classes of this relation; it would be absurd to claim that it was in itself somehow ‘wrong’ to pose such a question – the theory of communization as the direct abolition of the capitalist class relation could never invalidate such moments. Individuals and groups move within the dynamics of the class relation and its struggles, intentionally oriented to the world as it presents itself. But sometimes they find themselves in a moment where the fluidity of this movement has broken down, and they have to reflect, to decide upon how best to continue. Tactical thought then obtrudes with its distinctive separations, the symptom of a momentary interruption in the immediate experience of the dynamic. When this emergent tactical thought turns out not to have resolved itself into the overcoming of the problem, and the continuation of involvement in overt struggles presents itself for the time being as an insurmountable problem, this individual or group is thrust into the contemplative standpoint of having a purely external relation to its object, even as it struggles to re-establish a practical link with this object.
In Call and The Coming Insurrection this basic dilemma assumes a theoretical form. Lapsing back from the highs of a wave of struggles, the tactical question is posed; then as this wave ebbs ever-further – and with it the context which prompted the initial question – theory indicates a completely contemplative standpoint, even as it gesticulates wildly towards action. Its object becomes absolutely external and transcendent while its subject is reduced to fragile, thinly-veiled self-affirmations, and the ‘what we must do’ that it presents becomes reduced to a trivial list of survival skills straight out of Ray Mears. In the moment in which Tiqqun was born, as the structures of the old workers’ movement lay behind it and the field of action became an indeterminate ‘globalization’ – the horizon of a triumphant liberal capitalism – class belonging appeared as something which had been already cast aside, a mere shed skin, and capital too became correspondingly difficult to identify as the other pole of an inherently antagonistic relation. Here lies the historically-specific content represented by these texts: the indeterminacy of the object of antagonism, the voluntaristic relation to the totality constructed around this antagonism, the indifference to the problem of class and its overcoming. The ‘desert’ in which Tiqqun built its sandcastles was the arid, featureless horizon of a financialized, fin-de-siècle capitalism. Setting out in this desert, unable to grasp it as a passing moment in the dynamic of the class relation, Tiqqun could never have anticipated the present crisis, and the struggles that have come with it.
The ‘what shall we do?’ posed by the end of the wave of struggles which had the anti-globalization movement at its center is now passed; there is little need in the present moment to cast around for practical tips for the re-establishment of some insurrectionary practice, or theoretical justifications for a retreat into ‘radical’ milieus. It is a cruel historical irony that the French state should find in this standpoint – defined precisely by its helplessness in the face of its object, its fundamental reference to a moment that has passed – the threat of ‘terrorism’ and an ‘ultra-left’ worth crushing even further. And that, while it busies itself with the defiant, melancholy outpourings of a stranded insurrectionism, pushing its unhappy protagonists through a high-profile ‘terrorist’ scandal, tectonic movements are occurring within the global capitalist class relation far more significant, and far more threatening for capitalist society.
The global working class is at present under a very overt attack as the functionaries of capital attempt to stabilise a world system constantly on the brink of disaster, and it has not had any need of insurrectionary pep-talk to ‘get started’ in its response. The Tiqqunist jargon of authenticity accompanied the outbreak of student occupations in California, but these were of course not the struggles of an insurrectionary ‘communization’ waged voluntaristically in the desert, against some undefined they. These struggles were a specific conjunctural response to the form that the
current crisis had taken as it hit the Californian state, and the higher education system in particular. This was a situation which demanded resistance, yet without there being any sense that reformist demands would be at all meaningful – hence the ‘no demands’ rhetoric of the first wave of these struggles. At the same time, communization of course did not present itself as a direct possibility, and nor was any other ostensibly revolutionary dynamic immediately on the cards. Caught between the necessity of action, the impossibility of reformism, and the lack of any revolutionary horizon whatsoever, these struggles took the form of a transient generalization of occupations and actions for which there could be no clear notion of what it would mean to ‘win’. It was the demandless, temporary taking of spaces in these struggles that came to be identified with ‘communization’. Yet, given the absence of any immediate possibility of actual communization here, the language of yesteryear – ‘TAZ’, ‘autonomy’ etc. – would have been more appropriate in characterizing such actions. While such language was, ten years ago, that of the ‘radical’ wing of movements, in California this flowering of autonomous spaces was the form of the movement itself. Perversely, it was the very anachronism of the Tiqqunist problematic here that enabled it to resonate with a movement that took this form. If Tiqqun’s ‘communization’ is an insurrectionary reinvention of ‘TAZ’, ‘autonomy’ etc., formulated at the limit of the historical moment which produced these ideas, in California it met a movement finally adequate to such ideas, but one that was so only as a blocked – yet at the same time necessary – response to the crisis.
It is as a result of this blocked movement that ‘communization’ has come to be barely differentiable from what people used to call ‘autonomy’; just one of the latest terms (alongside ‘human strike’, ‘imaginary party’ etc) in the jargon of a basically continuous Anglo-American sensibility. This sensibility always involved a proclivity for abstract, voluntarist selfaffirmation – in Tiqqun it merely finds itself reflected back at itself – and it should thus be no surprise that here, ‘communization’ is appropriately abstract, voluntarist, and self-affirming. This arrival of ‘communization’ at the forefront of radical chic probably means little in itself, but the major movement so far to find its voice in this language is more interesting, for the impasse of this movement is not merely a particular lack of programme or demands, but a symptom of the developing crisis in the class relation. What is coming is not a Tiqqunist insurrection, even if Glenn Beck thinks he spies one in the Arab uprisings. If communization is presenting itself currently, it is in the palpable sense of an impasse in the dynamic of the class relation; this is an era in which the end of this relation looms perceptibly on the horizon, while capital runs into crisis at every turn and the working class is forced to wage a struggle for which there is no plausible victory.
- 1See for example the collection After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California, http://afterthefallcommuniques.info/.
- 2The following discussion will focus specifically on are The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2009) http://tarnac9.wordpress.com/texts/the-coming-insurrection/ and The Invisible Committee, Call (2004), http://www.bloom0101.org/call.pdf, rather than other works associated with Tiqqun, since it is these texts that have been the most influential in the current Anglophone reception of ‘communization’. It is primarily with this reception that we are concerned, rather than any more general assessment of Tiqqun as, for example, a contributor to ‘continental philosophy’.
- 3For a fuller discussion of these issues, see ‘Misery and Debt’, and ‘Crisis in the Class Relation’ in Endnotes 2 (April 2010), http://endnotes.org.uk/ issues/2.
- 4For a discussion of the concept of programmatism, see Theorié Communiste, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, Endnotes 1: Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the Twentieth Century (October 2008): 154-206, http:// endnotes.org.uk/articles/13.
- 5‘Plato could well have refrained from recommending nurses never to stand still with children but to keep rocking them in their arms; and Fichte likewise need not have perfected his passport regulations to the point of ‘constructing’, as the expression ran, the requirement that the passport of suspect persons should carry not only their personal description but also their painted likeness.’ Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, p.21.
- 6See, for example, The Coming Insurrection, p.101: ‘All milieus are counterrevolutionary because they are only concerned with the preservation of their sad comfort’. They protest too much.
- 7Of course, Tiqqun distinguish their approach from the ‘leftist’ problematic of ‘what is to be done?’ because they see this as denying that ‘the war has already begun’. Instead, the direct question to be posed for Tiqqun is ‘how is it to be done’? But we are not merely concerned with this question as literally posed by Tiqqun. The ‘what should we do?’ in question is that of the post-anti-globalization impasse itself, an impasse which – as we shall see – structures the theoretical content of texts such as Call and The Coming Insurrection. By ‘alternative’ and ‘alternativism’ here, we refer to practices which aim to establish liberated areas outside of capitalist domination, grasping this as possible independently of, and prior to, any communist revolution. Countercultural milieus in general can be said to be ‘alternativist’.
- 8For an excellent critique of the position of the Batko group see Per Henriksson, ‘Om Marcel Crusoes exkommunister i Intermundia. Ett bidrag till kommuniseringsdiskussionen’, Riff-Raff 9 (March 2011), http://riff-raff.se/texts/sv/om-marcel-crusoes-exkommunister-i-intermundia; English translation forthcoming.
- 9The Coming Insurrection, pp.29-34. The Coming Insurrection, pp.33-32. Call, p.4.
- 10The Coming Insurrection, pp.29-34. The Coming Insurrection, pp.33-32. Call, p.4.
- 11The Coming Insurrection, pp.29-34. The Coming Insurrection, pp.33-32. Call, p.4.
Communization in the present tense
In the course of revolutionary struggle, the abolition of the state, of exchange, of the division of labor, of all forms of property, the extension of the situation where everything is freely available 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. The revolution is communization; it does not have communism as a project and result, but as its very content.
Communization and communism are things of the future, but it is in the present that we must speak about them. This is the content of the revolution to come that these struggles signal – 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. Within itself, to struggle as a class has become the problem – it has become its own limit. Hence the struggle of the proletariat as a class signals and produces the revolution as its own supersession, as communization.
a) Crisis, restructuring, cycle of struggle: on the struggle of the proletariat as a class as its own limit
The principal result of the capitalist production process has always been the renewal of the capitalist relation between labor and its conditions: in other words it is a process of self-presupposition.
Until the crisis of the late 1960s, the workers’ defeat and the restructuring that followed, there was indeed the self-presupposition of capital, according to the latter’s concept, but the contradiction between proletariat and capital was located at this level through the production and confirmation, within this very self-presupposition, of a working class identity through which the cycle of struggles was structured as the competition between two hegemonies, two rival modes of managing and controlling reproduction. This identity was the very substance of the workers’ movement.
This workers’ identity, whatever the social and political forms of its existence (from the Communist Parties to autonomy; from the Socialist State to the workers’ councils), rested entirely on the contradiction which developed in this phase of real subsumption of labor under capital between, on the one hand, the creation and development of labor-power employed by capital in an ever more collective and social way, and on the other, the forms of appropriation by capital of this labor-power in the immediate production process, and in the process of reproduction. This is the conflictual situation which developed in this cycle of struggles as workers’ identity – an identity which found its distinguishing features and its immediate modalities of recognition in the ‘large factory’, in the dichotomy between employment and unemployment, work and training, in the submission of the labor process to the collectivity of workers, in the link between wages, growth and productivity within a national area, in the institutional representations that all this implied, as much in the factory as at the level of the state – i.e. in the delimitation of accumulation within a national area.
The restructuring was the defeat, in the late 1960s and the 1970s, of this entire cycle of struggles founded on workers’ identity; the content of the restructuring was the destruction of all that which had become an impediment to the fluidity of the self-presupposition of capital. These impediments consisted, on the one hand, of all the separations, protections and specifications that were erected in opposition to the decline in value of labor-power, insofar as they prevented the working class as a whole, in the continuity of its existence, of its reproduction and expansion, from having to face as such the whole of capital. On the other hand, there were all the constraints of circulation, turnover, and accumulation, which impeded the transformation of the surplus product into surplus-value and additional capital. Any surplus product must be able to find its market anywhere, any surplus-value must be able to find the possibility of operating as additional capital anywhere, i.e. of being transformed into means of production and labor power, without any formalisation of the international cycle (such as the division into blocs, East and West, or into center and periphery) predetermining this transformation. Financial capital was the architect of this restructuring. With the restructuring that was completed in the 1980s, the production of surplus-value and the reproduction of the conditions of this production coincided.
The current cycle of struggles is fundamentally defined by the fact that the contradiction between classes occurs at the level of their respective reproduction, which means that the proletariat finds and confronts its own constitution and existence as a class in its contradiction with capital. From this flows the disappearance of a worker’s identity confirmed in the reproduction of capital – i.e. the end of the workers’ movement and the concomitant bankruptcy of self-organization and autonomy as a revolutionary perspective. Because the perspective of revolution is no longer a matter of the affirmation of the class, it can no longer be a matter of selforganization. To abolish capital is at the same time to negate oneself as a worker and not to self-organize as such: it’s a movement of the abolition of enterprises, of factories, of the product, of exchange (whatever its form).
For the proletariat, to act as a class is currently, on the one hand, to have no other horizon than capital and the categories of its reproduction, and on the other, for the same reason, it is to be in contradiction with and to put into question its own reproduction as a class. This conflict, this rift in the action of the proletariat, is the content of class struggle and what is at stake in it. What is now at stake in these struggles is that, for the proletariat, to act as a class is the limit of its action as a class – this is now an objective situation of class struggle – and that the limit is constructed as such in the struggles and becomes class belonging as an external constraint. This determines the level of conflict with capital, and gives rise to internal conflicts within the struggles themselves. This transformation is a determination of the current contradiction between classes, but it is in every case the particular practice of a struggle at a given moment and in given conditions.
This cycle of struggles is the action of a recomposed working class. It consists, in the core areas of accumulation, in the disappearance of the great workers’ bastions and the proletarianization of employees; in the tertiarization of employment (maintenance specialists, equipment operators, truck drivers, shippers, stevedores, etc. – this type of employment now accounts for the majority of workers); in working in smaller companies or sites; in a new division of labor and of the working class with the outsourcing of low value-added processes (involving young workers, often temporary, without career prospects); in the generalization of lean production; in the presence of young workers whose education has broken the continuity of generations succeeding each other and who overwhelmingly reject factory work and the working class condition in general; and in offshoring.
Large concentrations of workers in India and China form part of a global segmentation of the labor force. They can neither be regarded as a renaissance elsewhere of what has disappeared in ‘the West’ in terms of their global definition, nor in terms of their own inscription in the national context. It was a social system of existence and reproduction that defined working-class identity and was expressed in the workers’ movement, and not the mere existence of quantitative material characteristics.1
From daily struggles to revolution, there can only be a rupture. But this rupture is signalled in the daily course of the class struggle each time that class belonging appears, within these struggles, as an external constraint which is objectified in capital, in the very course of the proletariat’s activity as a class. Currently, the revolution is predicated on the supersession of a contradiction which is constitutive of the class struggle: for the proletariat, being a class is the obstacle that its struggle as a class must get beyond. With the production of class belonging as an external constraint, it is possible to understand the tipping point of the class struggle – its supersession – as a produced supersession, on the basis of current struggles. In its struggle against capital, the class turns back against itself, i.e. it treats its own existence, everything that defines it in its relation to capital (and it is nothing but this relation), as the limit of its action. Proletarians do not liberate their ‘true individuality’, which is denied in capital: revolutionary practice is precisely the coincidence between the change in circumstances and that in human activity or self-transformation.
This is the reason why we can currently speak of communism, and speak of it in the present as a real, existing movement. It is now a fact that revolution is the abolition of all classes, insofar as action as a class of the proletariat is, for itself, a limit. This abolition is not a goal that is set, a definition of revolution as a norm to be achieved, but a current content in what the class struggle is itself. To produce class belonging as an external constraint is, for the proletariat, to enter into conflict with its previous situation; this is not ‘liberation’, nor is it ‘autonomy’. This is the ‘hardest step to take’ in the theoretical understanding and practice of contemporary struggles.
The proletariat does not thereby become a ‘purely negative’ being. To say that the proletariat only exists as a class in and against capital, that it produces its entire being, its organization, its reality and its constitution as a class in capital and against it, is to say that it is the class of surplus-value producing labor. What has disappeared in the current cycle of struggles, following the restructuring of the 1970s and 1980s, is not this objective existence of the class, but is rather the confirmation of a proletarian identity in the reproduction of capital.
The proletariat can only be revolutionary by recognising itself as a class; it recognizes itself as such in every conflict, and it has to do so all the more in the situation in which its existence as a class is that which it has to confront in the reproduction of capital. We must not be mistaken as to the content of this ‘recognition’. For the proletariat to recognize itself as a class will not be its ‘return to itself ’ but rather a total extroversion (a self-externalisation) as it recognizes itself as a category of the capitalist mode of production. What we are as a class is immediately nothing other than our relation to capital. For the proletariat, this ‘recognition’ will in fact consist in a practical cognition, in conflict, not of itself for itself, but of capital – i.e. its de-objectification. The unity of the class can no longer constitute itself on the basis of the wage and demands-based struggle, as a prelude to its revolutionary activity. The unity of the proletariat can only be the activity in which it abolishes itself in abolishing everything that divides it.
From struggles over immediate demands to revolution, there can only be a rupture, a qualitative leap. But this rupture is not a miracle, it is not an alternative; neither is it the simple realisation on the part of the proletariat that there is nothing else to do than revolution in the face of the failure of everything else. ‘Revolution is the only solution’ is just as inept as talk of the revolutionary dynamic of demands-based struggles. This rupture is produced positively by the unfolding of the cycle of struggles which precedes it; it is signalled in the multiplication of rifts within the class struggle.
As theorists we are on the look-out for, and we promote, these rifts within the class struggle of the proletariat through which it calls itself into question; in practice, we are actors in them when we are directly involved. We exist in this rupture, in this rift in the proletariat’s activity as a class.
There is no longer any perspective for the proletariat on its own basis as class of the capitalist mode of production, other than the capacity to supersede its class existence in the abolition of capital. There is an absolute identity between being in contradiction with capital and being in contradiction with its own situation and definition as a class.
It is through this rift within action as a class itself that communization becomes a question in the present. This rift within the class struggle, in which the proletariat has no other horizon than capital, and thus simultaneously enters into contradiction with its own action as a class, is the dynamic of this cycle of struggles. Currently the class struggle of the proletariat has identifiable elements or activities which signal its own supersession in its own course.
b) Struggles producing theory2
The theory of this cycle of struggle, as it has been presented above, is not an abstract formalization which will then prove that it conforms to reality through examples. It is its practical existence, rather than its intellectual veracity, that it proves in the concrete. It is a particular moment of struggles which themselves are already theoretical (in the sense that they are productive of theory), insofar as they have a critical relation vis-à-vis themselves.
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 current strikes over layoffs, workers often no longer demand to keep their jobs, but increasingly they fight for substantial redundancy payments instead. Against capital, labor has no future. It was already strikingly evident in the so-called ‘suicidal’ struggles of the Cellatex firm in France, where workers threatened to discharge acid into a river and to blow up the factory, threats which were not carried out but which were widely imitated in other conflicts over the closure of firms, that the proletariat is nothing if it is separated from capital and that it bears no future within itself, from its own nature, other than the abolition of that by which it exists. It is the de-essentialization of labor which becomes the very activity of the proletariat: both tragically, in its struggles without immediate perspectives (i.e. its suicidal struggles), and as demand for this deessentialization, as in the struggles of the unemployed and the precarious in the winter of 1998 in France.
Unemployment is no longer clearly separated from employment. The segmentation of the labor force; flexibility; outsourcing; mobility; parttime employment; training; internships and informal work have blurred all the separations.
In the French movement of 1998, and more generally in the struggles of the unemployed in this cycle of struggles, it was the definition of the unemployed which was upheld as the point of departure for the reformulation of waged employment. The need for capital to measure everything in labor time and to posit the exploitation of labor as a matter of life or death for it is simultaneously the de-essentialization of living labor relative to the social forces that capital concentrates in itself. This contradiction, inherent in capitalist accumulation, which is a contradiction in capital-in-process, takes the very particular form of the definition of the class vis-à-vis capital; the unemployment of the class claims for itself the status of being the starting-point for such a definition. In the struggles of the unemployed and the precarious, the struggle of the proletariat against capital makes this contradiction its own, and champions it. The same thing occurs when workers who have been sacked don’t demand jobs but severance pay instead.
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. Similarly, in 2006, in Savar, 50km north of Dhaka, Bangladesh, two factories were torched and a hundred others ransacked after workers had not been paid for three months. In Algeria, minor wage demands turned into riots, forms of representation were dismissed without new ones being formed, and it was the entirety of the living conditions and reproduction of the proletariat which came into play beyond the demands made by the immediate protagonists of the strike. In China and India, there’s no prospect of the formation of a vast workers’ movement from the proliferation of various types of demands-based action affecting all aspects of life and the reproduction of the working class. These demands-based actions often turn paradoxically on the destruction of the conditions of labor, i.e. of their own raison d’être.
In the case of Argentina, people self-organized as the unemployed of Mosconi, as the workers of Brukman, as slum-residents… but in self-organizing they immediately came up against what they were as an obstacle, which, in the struggle, became that which had to be overcome, and which was seen as such in the practical modalities of these self-organized movements. The proletariat cannot find within itself the capacity to create other inter-individual relations, without overturning and negating what it is itself in this society, i.e. without entering into contradiction with autonomy and its dynamic. Self-organization is perhaps the first act of revolution, but all the following acts are directed against it (i.e. against self-organization). In Argentina it was the determinations of the proletariat as a class of this society (i.e. property, exchange, the division of labor, the relation between men and women ...) which were effectively undermined by the way productive activities were undertaken, i.e. in the actual modalities of their realisation. It is thus that the revolution as communization becomes credible.
In France in November 2005, in the banlieues, the rioters didn’t demand anything, they attacked their own condition, they made everything that produces and defines them their target. Rioters revealed and attacked the proletarian situation now: the worldwide precarization of the labor force. In doing so they immediately made obsolete, in the very moment in which such a demand could have been articulated, any desire to be an ‘ordinary proletarian’.
Three months later, in spring 2006, still in France, as a demandsbased movement, the student movement against the CPE could only comprehend itself by becoming the general movement of the precarious; but in doing so it would either negate its own specificity, or it would inevitably be forced to collide more or less violently with all those who had shown in the riots of November 2005 that the demand to be an ‘ordinary proletarian’ was obsolete. To achieve the demand through its expansion would in effect be to sabotage it. What credibility was there in a link-up with the November rioters on the basis of a stable job for all? On the one hand, this link-up was objectively inscribed in the genetic code of the movement; on the other hand, the very necessity of this link-up induced an internal lovehate dynamic, just as objective, within the movement. The struggle against the CPE was a movement of demands, the satisfaction of which would have been unacceptable to itself as a movement of demands.
In the Greek riots, the proletariat didn’t demand anything, and didn’t consider itself to be opposed to capital as the foundation of any alternative. But if these riots were a movement of the class, they didn’t constitute a struggle in what is the very matrix of classes: production. It is in this way that these riots were able to make the key achievement of producing and targeting 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 (the aims, the unfolding of the riots, the composition of the rioters…) was intrinsically defined by this limit: the relation of exploitation as coercion pure and simple. Attacking institutions and the forms of social reproduction, taken in themselves, was on the one hand what constituted the movement, and what constituted its force, but this was also the expression of its limits.
Students without a future, young immigrants, precarious workers, these are all proletarians who every day live 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. At the same time as they struggle in this moment of coercion which they experience as separated, they only conceive of and live this separation as a lack in their own struggle against this mode of production.
It is in this way that this movement produced class belonging as an exterior constraint, but only in this way. It is in this way that it locates itself at the level of this cycle of struggles and is one of its determining historical moments.
In their own practice and in their struggle, proletarians called themselves into question as proletarians, but only by autonomizing the moments and the instances of social reproduction in their attacks and their aims. Reproduction and production of capital remained foreign to each other.
In Guadeloupe, the importance of unemployment, and of the part of the population that lives from benefits and or from an underground economy, means that wage-demands are a contradiction in terms. This contradiction structured the course of events between, on the one hand, the LKP, which was centered on permanent workers (essentially in public services) but which attempted to hold the terms of this contradiction together through the multiplication and the infinite diversity of demands, and, on the other, the absurdity of central wage-demands for the majority of people on the barricades, in the looting, and in the attacks on public buildings. The demand was destabilized in the very course of the struggle; it was contested, as was its form of organization, 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 barricade). From this point of view, the production of class belonging as an external constraint was more a sociological state, more a sort of schizophrenia, than something at stake in the struggle.
In general, with the outbreak of the current crisis, the wage demand is currently characterized by a dynamic that wasn’t previously possible. 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 emerged from the restructuring and such as it is now entering into crisis. The wage demand has changed its meaning.
In the succession of financial crises which for the last twenty years or so have regulated the current mode of valorization 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 inaugurates a specific crisis of the wage relation of restructured capitalism, in which the continual decrease in the share of wages in the wealth produced, both in the core countries and in the emerging ones, remains definitive.
The ‘distribution of wealth’, from being essentially conflictual in the capitalist mode of production, has become taboo, as was confirmed in the recent movement of strikes and blockades (October-November 2010) following the reform of the pensions system in France. In restructured capitalism (the beginnings of the crisis of which we are currently experiencing), the reproduction of labor power was subjected to a double decoupling. On the one hand a decoupling between the valorization of capital and the reproduction of labor power and, on the other, a decoupling between consumption and the wage as income.
Of course, the division of the working day into necessary and surplus labor has always been definitive of the class struggle. But now, in the struggle over this division, it is paradoxically in the proletariat’s definition to the very depth of its being as a class of this mode of production, and as nothing else, that it is apparent in practice, and in a conflictual way, that its existence as a class is the limit of its own struggle as a class. This is currently the central character of the wage demand in class struggle. In the most trivial course of the wage demand, the proletariat sees its own existence as a class objectify itself as something which is alien to it to the extent that the capitalist relation itself places it in its heart as something alien.
The current crisis broke out because proletarians could no longer repay their loans. It broke out on the very basis of the wage relation which gave rise to the financialization of the capitalist economy: wage cuts as a requirement for ‘value creation’ and global competition within the labor force. It was this functional necessity that returned, but in a negative fashion, within the historical mode of capital accumulation with the detonation of the subprime crisis. It is now the wage relation that is at the core of the current crisis.3 The current crisis is the beginning of the phase of reversal of the determinations and dynamic of capitalism as it had emerged from the restructuring of the 1970s and 1980s.
c) Two or three things we know about it
It is because the proletariat is not-capital, because it is the dissolution of all existing conditions (labor, exchange, division of labor, property), that it finds here the content of its revolutionary action as communist measures: the abolition of property, of the division of labor, of exchange and of value. Class belonging as external constraint is thus in itself a content, that is to say a practice, which supersedes itself in communizing measures when the limit of the struggle as a class is manifested. Communization is nothing other than communist measures taken as simple measures of struggle by the proletariat against capital.
It is the paucity of surplus-value relative to accumulated capital which is at the heart of the crisis of exploitation: if, at the heart of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital there was not the question of labor which is productive of surplus-value; if there was only a problem of distribution, i.e. if the contradiction between the proletariat and capital wasn’t a contradiction for the very thing, namely the capitalist mode of production, whose dynamic it constitutes; i.e. if it was not a ‘game which produces the abolition of its own rule’, the revolution would remain a pious wish. Hatred of capital and the desire for another life are only the necessary ideological expressions of this contradiction for-itself which is exploitation.
It is not through an attack on the side of the nature of labor as productive of surplus-value that the demands-based struggle is superseded (which would always devolve back to a problem of distribution), but through an attack on the side of the means of production as capital. The attack against the capitalist nature of the means of production is their abolition as value absorbing labor in order to valorize itself; it is the extension of the situation where everything is freely available, the destruction (perhaps physical) of certain means of production, their abolition as the factories in which it is defined what it is to be a product, i.e. the matrices of exchange and commerce; it is their definition, their absorption in individual, intersubjective relations; it is the abolition of the division of labor such as it is inscribed in urban zoning, in the material configuration of buildings, in the separation between town and country, in the very existence of something which is called a factory or a point of production. Relations between individuals are fixed in things, because exchange value is by nature material.4 The abolition of value is a concrete transformation of the landscape in which we live, it is a new geography. The abolition of social relations is a very material affair.
In communism, appropriation no longer has any currency, because it is the very notion of the ‘product’ which is abolished. Of course, there are objects which are used to produce, others which are directly consumed, and others still which are used for both. But to speak of ‘products’ and to pose the question of their circulation, their distribution or their ‘transfer’, i.e. to conceive a moment of appropriation, is to presuppose points of rupture, of ‘coagulation’ of human activity: the market in market societies, the depot where goods are freely available in certain visions of communism. The ‘product’ is not a simple thing. To speak of the ‘product’ is to suppose that a result of human activity appears as finite vis-à-vis another such result or the sphere of other such results. It is not from the ‘product’ that we must proceed, but from activity.
In communism, human activity is infinite because it is indivisible. It has concrete or abstract results, but these results are never ‘products’, for that would raise the question of their appropriation or of their transfer under some given mode. If we can speak of infinite human activity in communism, it is because the capitalist mode of production already allows us to see – albeit contradictorily and not as a ‘good side’ – human activity as a continuous global social flux, and the ‘general intellect’ or the ‘collective worker’ as the dominant force of production. The social character of production does not prefigure anything: it merely renders the basis of value contradictory.
The destruction of exchange means the workers attacking the banks which hold their accounts and those of other workers, thus making it necessary to do without; it means the workers communicating their ‘products’ to themselves and the community directly and without a market, thereby abolishing themselves as workers; it means the obligation for the whole class to organize itself to seek food in the sectors to be communized, etc. There is no measure which, in itself, taken separately, is ‘communism’. What is communist is not ‘violence’ in itself, nor ‘distribution’ of the shit that we inherit from class society, nor ‘collectivization’ of surplus-value sucking machines: it is the nature of the movement which connects these actions, underlies them, renders them the moments of a process which can only communize ever further, or be crushed.
A revolution cannot be carried out without taking communist measures: dissolving wage labor; communizing supplies, clothing, housing; seizing all the weapons (the destructive ones, but also telecommunications, food, etc.); integrating the destitute (including those of us who will have reduced ourselves to this state), the unemployed, ruined farmers, rootless drop-out students.
From the moment in which we begin to consume freely, it is necessary to reproduce that which is consumed; it is thus necessary to seize the means of transport, of telecommunications, and enter into contact with other sectors; so doing, we will run up against the opposition of armed groups. The confrontation with the state immediately poses the problem of arms, which can only be solved by setting up a distribution network to support combat in an almost infinite multiplicity of places. Military and social activities are inseparable, simultaneous, and mutually interpenetrating: the constitution of a front or of determinate zones of combat is the death of the revolution. From the moment in which proletarians dismantle the laws of commodity relations, there is no turning back. The deepening and extension of this social process gives flesh and blood to new relations, and enables the integration of more and more non-proletarians to the communizing class which is simultaneously in the process of constituting and dissolving itself. It permits the abolition to an ever greater extent of all competition and division between proletarians, making this the content and the unfolding of its armed confrontation with those whom the capitalist class can still mobilize, integrate and reproduce within its social relations.
This is why all the measures of communization will have to be a vigorous action for the dismantling of the connections which link our enemies and their material support: these will have to be rapidly destroyed, without the possibility of return. Communization is not the peaceful organization of the situation where everything is freely available and of a pleasant way of life amongst proletarians. The dictatorship of the social movement of communization is the process of the integration of humanity into the proletariat which is in the process of disappearing. The strict delimitation of the proletariat in comparison with other classes and its struggle against all commodity production are at the same time a process which constrains the strata of the salaried petite-bourgeoisie, the class of social (middle-) management, to join the communizing class. Proletarians ‘are’ not revolutionaries like the sky ‘is’ blue, merely because they ‘are’ waged and exploited, or even because they are the dissolution of existing conditions. In their self-transformation, which has as its point of departure what they are, they constitute themselves as a revolutionary class. The movement in which the proletariat is defined in practice as the movement of the constitution of the human community is the reality of the abolition of classes. The social movement in Argentina was confronted by, and posed, the question of the relations between proletarians in employment, the unemployed, and the excluded and middle strata. It only provided extremely fragmentary responses, of which the most interesting is without doubt that of its territorial organization. The revolution, which in this cycle of struggles can no longer be anything but communization, supersedes the dilemma between the Leninist or democratic class alliances and Gorter’s ‘proletariat alone’: two different types of defeat.
The only way of overcoming the conflicts between the unemployed and those with jobs, between the skilled and the unskilled, is to carry out measures of communization which remove the very basis of this division, right from the start and in the course of the armed struggle. This is something which the occupied factories in Argentina, when confronted by this question, tried only very marginally, being generally satisfied (cf. Zanon) with some charitable redistribution to groups of piqueteros. In the absence of this, capital will play on this fragmentation throughout the movement, and will find its Noske and Scheidemann amongst the self-organized.
In fact, as already shown by the German revolution, it is a question of dissolving the middle strata by taking concrete communist measures which compel them to begin to join the proletariat, i.e. to achieve their ‘proletarianization’. Nowadays, in developed countries, the question is at the same time simpler and more dangerous. On the one hand a massive majority of the middle strata is salaried and thus no longer has a material base to its social position; its role of management and direction of capitalist cooperation is essential but ever rendered precarious; its social position depends upon the very fragile mechanism of the subtraction of fractions of surplus value. On the other hand, however, and for these very same reasons, its formal proximity to the proletariat pushes it to present, in these struggles, national or democratic alternative managerial ‘solutions’ which would preserve its own positions.
The essential question which we will have to solve is to understand how we extend communism, before it is suffocated in the pincers of the commodity; how we integrate agriculture so as not to have to exchange with farmers; how we do away with the exchange-based relations of our adversary to impose on him the logic of the communization of relations and of the seizure of goods; how we dissolve the block of fear through the revolution. To conclude, capital is not abolished for communism but through communism, more precisely through its production. Indeed, communist measures must be distinguished from communism: they are not embryos of communism, but rather they are its production. This is not a period of transition, it is the revolution: communization is only the communist production of communism. The struggle against capital is what differentiates communist measures from communism. The revolutionary activity of the proletariat always has as its content the mediation of the abolition of capital through its relation to capital: this is neither one branch of an alternative in competition with another, nor communism as immediatism.
- 1For China and India to manage to constitute themselves as their own internal market would depend on a veritable revolution in the countryside (i.e. the privatisation of land in China and the disappearance of small holdings and tenant farming in India) but also and above all on a reconfiguration of the global cycle of capital, supplanting the present globalization (i.e. this would mean a renationalization of economies, superseding / preserving globalization, and a definancialization of productive capital).
- 2These examples are mostly French; publication of this text in Britain and the United States provides an opportunity to test the theses that are defended here.
- 3It is a crisis in which the identity of overaccumulation and of under-consumption asserts itself.
- 4‘(T)hat thing [money] is an objectified relation between persons (...) it is objectified exchange value, and exchange value is nothing more than a mutual relation between people’s productive activities.’ Marx, Grundrisse (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 160.
Reflections on The Call - Léon de Mattis
The need for communism traverses the entirety of the society of capital. The merit of Call lies in taking note of this, and of trying to design strategies which live up to this realization.1 Its weakness comes from the continually resurgent temptation to think that the desire to establish different relations suffices to start producing them.
Call, as its name indicates, is not a text of analysis or debate. Its purpose is not to convince or denounce, it is to affirm, to expose, and on this basis to announce a strategy for revolution. Must we therefore conclude, with Gilles Dauvé, that ‘a Call cannot be refuted, either we hear it or we pay it no heed’ 2
Call itself, in its refusal to discuss the ‘sensibly [self-]evident’ (p.21) encourages this reaction from the first lines of the first scholium: ‘This is a Call. That is to say it aims at those who can hear it. The question is not to demonstrate, to argue, to convince. We will go straight to the evident.’ (p.4) But, at the same time, Call is the typical product of a debate inherent to the very existence of the ‘area which poses the question of communization’: and pursuing this debate to its conclusion is a preliminary to any emergence of a self-conscious ‘communizing movement’ within this area.3 It is to be understood that the objective of these reflections is not to make a textual commentary on Call, to be exhaustive, or to interpret the thought or intentions of the authors in an academic manner. Even if it is one of its expressions, Call is far from posing an unanimity in the struggles which, in one form or another, pose the question of communization: it was on the contrary the occasion for numerous discussions. As Call illustrates quite well a certain proclivity into which the whole ‘area which poses the question of communization’, on the basis of its very problematic, is capable of falling, to put in writing these critiques is an occasion to nourish the debate.
That which characterizes the communizing current is not so much a common interpretation of communism as an attention paid to the process of its production, that is, what we term communization. Call explicitly situates itself in this perspective: ‘As we apprehend it, the process of instituting communism can only take the form of a collection of acts of communization ... Insurrection itself is just an accelerator, a decisive moment in this process’ (p.66). But contrary to Meeting, whose problematic is to interrogate the concept of communization, Call gives communization a determinate content...
In Call the term communization is systematically understood as ‘making common’. In the previous quotation for instance the ‘acts of communization’ are described as ‘making common such-and-such space, such-and-such machine, such-and-such knowledge’. That which is put in common is use, as when it is said that to communize a space is to liberate its use. This sense is even more visible in other parts of the text. For example:
In Europe, the integration of workers’ organizations into the state management apparatus – the foundation of social democracy – was paid for with the renunciation of all ability to be a nuisance. Here too the emergence of the labor movement was a matter of material solidarities, of an urgent need for communism. The Maisons du Peuple were the last shelters for this indistinction between the need for immediate communization and the strategic requirements of a practical implementation of the revolutionary process. (p.54)
Even if communization is conceived as the communization of relations it is first of all on the basis of a common usage: ‘Communizing a place means: setting its use free, and on the basis of this liberation experimenting with refined, intensified, and complexified relations.’ (p.68)
In the same logic, if communization is ‘making common’, then communism is systematically assimilated with ‘sharing’. The theme of sharing is omnipresent in Call. One finds is particularly developed in the scholium to Proposition V in the following terms:
That in us which is most singular Calls to be shared. But we note this: not only is that which we have to share obviously incompatible with the prevailing order, but this order strives to track down any form of sharing of which it does not lay down the rules. (p.50)
Sharing is the basis of collective action as envisaged by Call: ‘We say that squatting will only make sense again for us provided that we clarify the basis of the sharing we enter into.’ (p.52)
The point is not that ‘sharing’ and communism have nothing to do with another, but we have trouble understanding how they can be synonymous. Sharing already exists in capitalism: social institutions as important as the family function on the basis of sharing, and even in the countries where capitalism is the oldest and where the familial relation reduces itself to its simplest expression (the parent/child relation), capital, even economically, would not survive without this form of social sharing.
Call recognizes, in a negative sense, that sharing is also constitutive of the capitalist order in affirming that ‘the dominant order ... strives to track down any form of sharing of which it does not lay down the rules.’ But then are we to understand that any sharing not controlled by the ‘dominant order’ is a communist sharing? We can imagine so given that communism is purely and simply assimilated to sharing minus control: ‘the question of communism is, on one hand, to do away with the police, and on the other, to elaborate modes of sharing, uses, between those who live together.’ (p.64)
It is true that the point is still to ‘elaborate modes of sharing’. We also find further along: ‘It belongs to the communist way that we explain to ourselves and formulate the basis of our sharing.’ (p.66) Thus communist sharing is not given, it is to be elaborated. But how? Here the text eats its tail. A certain mode of sharing leads to communism, OK, but which? Response, in substance: the one that leads to communism... Nothing more is said on what can differentiate it from the sharing admitted in the world of capital other than the fact that this particular sharing must lead to a redefinition of relations:
So communism starts from the experience of sharing. And first, from the sharing of our needs. Needs are not what capitalist rule has accustomed us to. To need is never about needing things without at the same time needing worlds. (pp.64-5)
From then on the definitions of communism multiply: ‘By communism we mean a certain discipline of the attention.’ (p.65) Or again: ‘The communist question is about the elaboration of our relationship to the world, to beings, to ourselves.’ (p.63)
Among all these definitions there is one which shines out by its absence: communism as the suppression of class society. Certainly Call affirms that ‘Communism does not consist in the elaboration of new relations of production, but indeed in the abolition of those relations.’ (p.68) However, it is never a question of the ‘abolition of class relations’ – nonetheless a classical corollary of the ‘abolition of relations of production’.
The term ‘class struggle’ and ‘proletariat’ are never employed. As for the adjective ‘worker’, it serves only to qualify the old ‘movement’, something which at one time incarnated the communist aspiration but no longer... Call, that is, doesn’t affirm that the division of society into antagonistic social classes doesn’t exist, or existed once but is now as surpassed as the usage of steam on the railway. It simply doesn’t speak of it. Capitalism is certainly present in the text, but far from being seen as the system which englobes the totality of social reality, it is described essentially through its mechanisms of control, to the point where we could as well call it ‘empire’ as call it ‘capitalism’, or call it ‘civilization’:
There is a general context – capitalism, civilization, empire, call it what you wish – that not only intends to control each situation but, even worse, tries to make sure that there is, as often as possible, no situation. The streets and the houses, the language and the affects, and the worldwide tempo that sets the pace of it all, have been adjusted for that purpose only. (p.9)
It is precisely because capitalism is considered as an assemblage and not as a system that Call supposes that there exists a possible ‘beyond’ to the world of capital.
Let us return for a moment to the quotation from the scholium of Proposition VI: ‘communism does not consist in the elaboration of new relations of production, but indeed in the abolition of those relations.’ (p.68) The text which follows contains a surprising affirmation: these ‘relations of production’ can be abolished immediately ‘between ourselves’:
Not having relations of production with our world or between ourselves means never letting the search for results become more important than the attention to the process; casting from ourselves all forms of valorization; making sure we do not disconnect affection and cooperation (p.68).
The problem is that a ‘relation of production’ is not a particular relation between two people, or even a hundred, or a thousand. It is a generalized social relation which cannot be abolished locally because even where people would not ‘live’ relations of production between themselves, they would no less be incorporated in relations of production which structure capitalist society as a whole.
A ‘relation of production’ is not a relation between individuals, or at least it cannot be only that: two people do not maintain between themselves a private relation of production which they could somehow negate by their sole common volition. One might object that Call would also not see relations of production as inter-individual relations, simply because its philosophy banishes the concept of the individual. And in the text of Call, ‘forms of life’ and other ‘relations to the world’ do indeed traverse bodies. But ‘relations of production’ are no more relations between forms of life or worlds than they are relations between persons. The entities which are linked by ‘relations of production’ are just those which the same relations define: it is the position in the relation of production which determines the entities, and not the contrary. Relations of production are relations between classes.
It is certain that the division of society into classes would be infinitely more visible if inter-individual relations were the brute and unreserved translation of relations of production. The proletarian would doff his cap in passing to the capitalist with his top hat and cigar, and there would be nothing more to say. But unfortunately thing are a little more complicated, and ‘existential liberalism’ is not the unique translation of the effect of relations of production in everyday life...
Call is not mistaken when it says: ‘capitalism has revealed itself to be not merely a mode of production, but a reduction of all relations, in the last instance, to relations of production.’ (p.67) But this ‘reduction in the last instance’ is not a collapsing. There is obviously a link, tenuous and complex but nonetheless palpable, between, on the one hand, the sociability at the office, the posture of bodies in the large metropoles, or indeed what Call designates as ‘existential liberalism’, and, on the other hand, the ‘relations of production’. But it is a link, not an identity.
‘Marxism’ would say that ‘the relations of production determine the relations that we can maintain among ourselves’: but ‘determine’ implies a necessity of the very form of the link just where we can observe an extreme diversity. We could also say that ‘the relations of production contain the relations that we can maintain among ourselves’. They model and restrain them without exhausting them. We have both a certain margin of maneuver (it’s on this that Call counts) and an equally certain limit (it’s this which Call doesn’t see).
Any workers’ cooperative can abolish ‘relations of production’ between its members in the sense understood by Call. Would it thereby free itself from capitalist valorization? Financial circuits, commercialization, productivity standards... everything is there so that the workers of the cooperative self-exploit as surely as if the boss was still physically looming over them. Similarly, would a community whose members worked in common and didn’t engage in monetary relations among themselves thereby escape ‘relations of production’? On the condition of transforming communism into a series of principles to be respected we might perhaps be able to maintain the illusion for a while. But this would be to forget that every point of contact between the community and its exterior would be the occasion to see the ‘relations of production’ reassert their rights and reintroduce the whole community into class relations: juridical statutes of occupied buildings and land, the supply of provisions, energy, the sale of the surplus...
Call is an ‘alternative’4 text because the existence of communism is considered as possible at a moment when capitalism still reigns.
Sure, it’s not seen as communism in its final state, for the latter must first constitute itself as a force and ‘deepen’ itself as a preliminary to revolution; and its only after the insurrection, the moment of acceleration of the process, that communism establishes itself as the universal social relation.
Nonetheless the sense of the text is clear: even in the form of fragments, of instants to explore and reproduce, of ‘grace’ to research, moments of communism are already to be had. The point is only to recognize them, and on that basis, to organize.
I don’t agree with Dauvé, for whom Call is exempt from all trace of the alternative because
communization is defined as antagonistic to this world. In irreconcilable and violent conflict with it (to the point of illegality). It differs therefore from the alternative which searches (and often succeeds) in making itself accepted at the margin, and in durably coexisting with the state and wage labor.5
Pacifism plays no part in the necessary definition of the alternative: those who one could call the ‘confrontational alternatives’ are far from being marginal in this type of movement.
To take an example which has nothing to do with Call, but which is significant because it is caricatural, one could recall that in the No Border camp of Strasbourg 2002 this tendency was present to a very large degree. This camp organized against the Shengen information system (SIS), drew together between one and two thousand people and was the occasion for, at the same time, an ephemeral ‘self-organized’ village lived by certain members as a veritable Temporary Autonomous Zone (with the all the folklore one can imagine) and a week of disruptive actions in the city of Strasbourg. Certainly the actions and demonstrations weren’t characterized by an extreme violence,6 but they were in any case all explicitly anti-legalist and sought to defy the state on its terrain. There were no doubt tensions between a more ‘activist’ tendency and those who wanted above all to defend the marvelous experience of this self-managed camp, but many people pursued these two objectives whilst seeing them as perfectly complementary.
Being ‘alternative’ consists in the belief that we can, with limited numbers of people, establish relations within the world of capital which would be already a prefiguration of communism (even if one doesn’t use this term). The inverse position holds that, as long capital as a social relation is not abolished, nothing which can resemble communism can be lived.
Thus those who often designate themselves as alternative imagine therefore that, in places like the No Border camp at Strasbourg, or in the Vaag camp which followed it, in squats, or wherever else, moments can be lived which approximate a society liberated from capital, from money, and ‘domination’. And that all this can come from an effort of individuals to free themselves from bad ‘ideas’ that society has inculcated in them. For example, ceasing to be sexist or patriarchal through a series of measures which address behavior, language, etc.
Certain of these alternatives are pacifist. Others think that their desires are not compatible with the maintenance of the society of capital and are perfectly ready for illegal or violent struggle.
One also finds those who think that only the struggle offers today the possibility of living moments of communism: the alternative is for them indissociable from anti-capitalist activism. The latter will often shrink from the appellation ‘alternative’ precisely because they fear being assimilated to pacifism. It’s in the last category that one could range those who write: ‘No experience of communism at the present time can survive without getting organized, tying itself to others, putting itself in crisis, waging war.’ (p.65)
At the other extreme a rigorously anti-alternative position can be found, for example, in Théorie Communiste (TC), whose concept of the ‘self-transformation of proletarians’ draws attention to the hiatus which can exist between what can be lived in the society of capital and what will be lived after the moment that communism will have been produced. This leads the members of TC, and those who adhere to their theses, to see in every practical attempt to pose the communist question a demonstration of the inevitably ‘alternative’ character of every maneuver of this type.
There is also the position that I have developed in ‘Three Theses on Communization’.7 The point is to take account of the essential critique addressed to the ‘alternative’ (no possibility of developing communism within the world of capital); but to recognize that there is also necessarily a relation between that which proletarians are today and that which will one day allow them to produce communism, in other words, that it is possible to practially address problematics related to communism, even if it’s impossible today to live something which ‘tends towards’ communism or prefigures it. I’ve thus argued that the communizing movement is characterized by the fact that it already poses in struggles questions which have the same nature as those which will lead to the production of communism at the moment of the revolution; but that the responses that it brings, cobbled together with what capital renders possible today, are not themselves communist.
We do find in Call an explicit critique of the ‘alternative’:
By dint of seeing the enemy as a subject that faces us – instead of feeling it as a relationship that holds us – we confine ourselves to the struggle against confinement. We reproduce under the pretext of an ‘alternative’ the worst kind of dominant relationships. We start selling as a commodity the very struggle against the commodity. Hence we get the authorities of the anti-authoritarian struggle, chauvinist feminism, and anti-fascist lynchings. (pp.8-9)
And then there is this mystification: that caught in the course of a world that displeases us, there would be proposals to make, alternatives to find. That we could, in other words, lift ourselves out of the situation that we are in, to discuss it in a calm way, between reasonable people. But no, there is nothing beyond the situation. There is no outside to the world civil war. We are irremediably there. (p.74)
It must be said that the second critique is more addressed to the pacifist alternative than to the alternative tout court. Yet the question is still to understand why Call, whilst posing a critique of the alternative, nonetheless leans irresistibly towards it?
The response can be perhaps found in Proposition VI: ‘In a general way, we do not see how anything else but a force, a reality able to survive the total dislocation of capitalism, could truly attack it, could pursue the offensive until the very moment of dislocation’ (p.70). All the difficulty of revolutionary theory can be found hidden beneath this phrase: the point is to understand the overthrowing of capitalism as a process that is not itself capitalist – since in the end it has the capacity to destroy capitalism – and yet is nonetheless born within the capitalist social relation.
It’s in this sense that Call is representative of a debate which traverses the area which poses the question of communization. As its practice is manifestly not communist, and cannot be, this area has the temptation to locate the unique reason for the nonexistence of responses to the communising questions that it poses in the weakness of its force or activity.
We can easily understand that the Party that Call speaks of has nothing to do with an avant-garde. In effect, whilst the Leninist party prepares the revolution, or more precisely the coup d’état, the party in question in Call directly produces communism, at least the communism of the pre-revolutionary period. Even more: it is this communism: ‘The practice of communism, as we live it, we call “the Party.” When we overcome an obstacle together or when we reach a higher level of sharing, we say that “we are building the Party.”’ (p.65) The Party is not the avant-garde, it is the whole camp. It englobes even those who have not yet had any association: ‘Certainly others, who we do not know yet, are building the Party elsewhere. This call is addressed to them.’ (p.65)
The ticks of language the most revealing of the alternative temptation which progressively bares itself out in Call are systematically associated with the evocation of the party:
Looking closer at it, the Party could be nothing but this: the formation of sensibility as a force. The deployment of an archipelago of worlds. What would a political force, under empire, be that didn’t have its farms, its schools, its arms, its medicines, its collective houses, its editing desks, its printers, its covered trucks and its bridgeheads in the metropole? It seems more and more absurd that some of us still have to work for capital – aside from the necessary tasks of infiltration. (pp.66-7)
But can one really believe that if we are no longer employed by this or that firm or government we cease to ‘work for capital’? And that one has thereby effected a ‘secession ... with the process of capitalist valorization’ (p.10)? That which distinguishes real subsumption, that is, this period in which capital has in a certain manner absorbed the totality of social reality rather than remaining restricted to the productive process, is that any activity is capable of becoming a part of the process of valorization.
Call ends, in strategic terms, at an impasse. It is recognized in the last paragraph, which concludes the work with a ‘bet’, that is to say something not susceptible to argument:
We will be told: you are caught in an alternative which will condemn you in one way or another: either you manage to constitute a threat to empire, in which case you will be quickly eliminated; or you will not manage to constitute such a threat, and you will have once again destroyed yourselves. There remains only the wager on the existence of another term, a thin ridge, just enough for us to walk on. Just enough for all those who can hear to walk and live. (p.88)
How is the material force in formation, the party, to concretely escape repression? Where are ‘its farms, its schools, its arms, its medicines, its collective houses, its editing desks, its printers, its covered trucks and its bridgeheads in the metropole’ going to hide? Such activities have no need to be subversive to be repressed. In the end, everything is illegal: without even speaking of arms, it is forbidden to practice medicine, to work, to drive, without the corresponding diplomas, contracts or licenses. Even the LETS, the local exchange systems, were once in the firing line of the financial regulators.
All the alternative communities which have existed for a certain time resolved the question in the same way, and in fact there are only two. An experience such as that can only subsist as long as it respects the legality of capital. There is nothing to stop those who have the means creating hospitals, schools, or private collective farms. But on what possible basis can we say they are ‘communizing’?
The condition of the confrontation with the legality of capital is to not become attached to a place, a structure, or a durable movement, which would signify defeat. Call accords, with reason, much importance to spaces: ‘For this, we need places. Places to get organized, to share and develop the required techniques. To learn to handle all that may prove necessary. To cooperate.’ (p.57). The space as a point of assembly in the struggle is a mode of organization which has proven itself. But inherent to such spaces is the need to ceaselessly efface themselves before the repression that they attract: when they eternalize themselves it is simply the sign that they have ceased to be active.
One of the regrettable consequences of the manner in which Call envisages, under capitalism, the growth of a communist camp which reinforces and deepens itself through self-organization is that the way thus traced becomes exclusive of all others. Communism, rather than being produced collectively and universally by the proletariat destroying capital in forms that we cannot determine in advance, is predefined by the configurations that one can give it today, in the very heart of the world of capital.
Yet, the conception that we can have today of communism is itself to be historicized, it is implicated in a stage of development of capitalism. It is this kind of thing that Call misses completely. As messianic as the conceptions of communism in Call might be, they will always remain the product of present times: and they invariably lack the possible richness of definitions of communism as a universal social relation.
Yet this communism as universal social relation, if it exists one day, will be produced in circumstances (the general crisis of social relations, insurrection, the total destruction of capitalism) whose actual development remains for the most part unknown to us. What will be the communizing measures, those which will allow the concrete production of communism? One can certainly have an opinion on this question; but how can we say whether this opinion can grasp at present what communization will or will not be. Even reflection on the most interesting historical examples on this subject – Spain in the ’30s, Italy in the ’70s – will never permit us to predict the future to that degree.
In calling for the constitution of a communist camp on the basis of what it defines in the present as communism, Call freezes its vision of communism. According to its logic, only those communizing forces capable of self-organizing under capital will be capable of carrying out an insurrection tomorrow; and those forms that are capable of self-organization in the Party are alone communist. How is the Party, supposing that it is formed along the lines delineated in Call, to judge the chaotic evolutions of future class struggles? It will only judge them communist insofar as they join it, since it will itself be communism.
The Party will miss everything that will develop in the forms, moments, and circumstances that it will not have been able to foresee; and it will act as their censor. Already the tone of Call, often very severe, suggests a separation between ‘good’ communists, those who’ve known how to perform ‘secession’, and ‘bad’ proletarians who’ve done nothing other than submit to capital. As if all those who haven’t already seceded will never be able to intervene in communization. Moreover, Call affirms that all those who want communism must cease to work for capital. How can we imagine that we can create communism while proposing a revolutionary strategy of which the first measure is rupture with all those who ‘work for capital’? Especially since a good reason to one day produce communism would perhaps be precisely to have, until then, ‘worked for capital’.
Call falls into a common trap for those who try to pose the question of communization in an at least somewhat practical manner: the responses that we try to bring forward today seem to define a space which only veritable insurgents could populate, whilst the others, those who remain apart from this insurgency, remain nothing but proletarians integrated to capital.
A journal published in Toulouse is quite representative of this manner of thinking. Entitled WE [NOUS], this zine presents on the cover of its 7th issue a drawing of a person walking on a tightrope over a canyon which separates US [NOUS] from the world of capital, represented by factories, nuclear power plants, houses, bosses, cops, but also powerless workers and anesthetized television viewers.
In this regard the manner in which Call employs the first person plural is not totally innocent.8 Certainly Call takes care to not oppose US and THEM, but paraphrasing Heidegger, NOUS and ON.9 The WE [NOUS] of Call (like that of Toulouse) is open: ‘The “we” [NOUS] that speaks here is not a delimitable, isolated we, the we of a group. It is the we of a position’ (p.10). But this position is the one that affirms on the back-cover that ‘WE HAVE BEGUN’. Those who have begun have already advanced on the road to revolution. It is made explicit in the following formula: ‘The overthrowing of capitalism will come from those who are able to create the conditions for other types of relations’ (p.67). Call imagines, as a road to communism, only that which its authors have chosen to follow: here is the sense of a ‘WE’ which is finally less a position than a trajectory. In effect certain of those who find themselves in ‘the area that poses the question of communization’ have been able to live a form of ‘secession’: but such a rupture inscribes itself in a logic of an epoch where communization is a marginal question. One can happily think that a generalized crisis of social relations will introduce many other modes of adhesion to the communist idea. The revolution will not simply be the act of squatters or ex-squatters! To think the contrary is to believe that revolution will only come about on the condition that revolutionary subjectivity has won over the masses, yet the revolution will be at the same time the moment of disobjectification of the capitalist social relation and that of the desubjectification of the question of communization.
We avoid the foregoing trap if we recognize that, in our epoch, all the responses that can be found to the question of communization are the responses of our epoch: that is to say destined to become obsolete from the moment that the situation will be sufficiently modified so that an until then minority question is in everyone’s mouth. The communizing problematic, just like the conception that we can have of communism, is itself historic. If the point of continuity between current struggles and the revolution is indeed the question of communization, this question, already diverse at present, can only enrich itself from new significations and unforeseen developments within the evolution of a dynamic situation which will see the fall of the capitalist social relation. It is thus not only the responses to the communizing problematic, i.e. practices, which will be modified with the arrival of a revolutionary period, but also the questions posed. Every contemporary practice which would like to be communizing must therefore recognize that it responds inadequately to a badly posed question; which at the same time subtracts nothing from its value. For the question and its answer are inadequate to serve as the measure of that which the future of communism as a universal social relation could be; but they are completely adequate to give to contemporary struggles a meaning that they wouldn’t possess without them, and which can reveal itself as subsequently determinant for the possibility of producing communism.
To want to wage a struggle whilst freeing oneself from all mediations put in place by capital (unions, politics, media, law, etc.) is an obvious example of a manner of posing questions which treat of communization.10 Indeed – why not? – searching for a collective life and ‘different’ relations, on the condition that they are in the context of as struggle, can also be an example.
Clearly all experimental practices are not for that reason communist, and they can even be taken up in a sense which has no communizing sense, as forms simply rehabilitated in a purely capitalist framework. This is exactly the case with squats which were at a certain moment a response in terms of organization and everyday life to a number of similar questions, but which can just as easily be one place of artistic promotion among others. The same for general assemblies, workers’ councils, factory occupations, etc. All these forms of struggle can be, at a given moment, a response to a communizing problematic, as they can be the contrary. The hypostasis of one of these forms can only become an ideology.
To the formula of Call which says: ‘the overthrowing of capitalism will come from those who are able to create the conditions for other types of relations,’ we must respond: ‘the conditions for other types of relations will be created by those who are able to overthrow capitalism.’
Presented at ‘Meeting 2’ (2005). The original French text available here: http://meeting.communisation.net/archives/meeting-no-2/les-textes-publies-6/article/reflexions-autour-de-l-appel.
- 1‘Call’ was published by The Invisible Committee in 2004, references in the text are given to the English translation available here: http://www. bloom0101.org/Call.pdf.
- 2Gilles Dauvé and Karl Nesic, ‘Communization: a “Call” and an “invite”’, Troploin 4 (September 2004), http://troploin0.free.fr/ii/index.php/textes/19communisation-un-appel-et-une-invite. Dauvé concludes his text by writing: ‘If the situation corresponds to that described by those preparing Meeting and those who’ve published Call, the simple concomitance of the two projects should inspire at the very least a reciprocal interest among their respective participants. To our knowledge this is not the case.’ He also adds, in relation to Call: ‘Whatever reservations we can hold, this text manifests an existence, an experience, in particular in the anti-globalization actions of recent years.’ It is necessary to point out here that the ‘concomitance’ of these projects has nothing fortuitous about it, and that the ‘experience’ which Call represents can also be found in Meeting. Certain articles of Meeting 1 and Call concern strictly the same topics.
The expressions ‘area which poses the question of communization’, ‘communizing movement’ and ‘communizing current’ are used in the sense that I respectively gave them in Meeting 1 (‘Three Theses on Communization’). The ‘communizing current’ designates the theoretical groups which explicitly employ the concept of communization as an important pole of their reflection (this current being admittedly relatively restricted for the moment). ‘The area which poses the question of communization’ incorporates a much larger part of the present and past proletarian movement. It characterizes those moments of the class struggle where the central problematic was something close to what one could at present understand by communization: in short, how to realize the immediacy of social relations. That which signals the existence of this area is the crystallization around the communizing question at a given moment in a given struggle, without thinking that this portion of the proletariat could exist separately or perpetuate itself beyond the class struggle in general. Finally the ‘communizing movement’ is something to be created. Debates must be provoked in the midst of this area – in the struggles and the moments where the communizing problematic seems to appear – to form a movement which will make this demand explicit in the heart of these struggles.
- 4Translators note: in French radical circles the terms ‘l’alternatif ’ and ‘alternativisme’ designate the activity of those who believe it possible to fulfill their desire for change within capitalist society, alongside the mainstream in an alternative or countercultural world – a kind of third, ‘drop out’, option between reform and revolution. The terms are translated throughout by ‘alternative’.
- 5Dauvé, op.cit.
- 6There will be an exchange of blows with the cops, a few broken windows and cameras, some trashed hotel lobbies and many trashed brothels in the city center – and also a lot of arrests, some trials (including one protester sentenced to a four-month stretch) and an order of the Prefecture of the Rhine which banned all demonstrations in the city center.
- 7Leon de Mattis, ‘Trois thèses sur la communisation’, Meeting 1 (2004), http://meeting.communisation.net/archives/meeting-no-1/les-textes-publies/ article/trois-theses-sur-la-communisation.
- 8Translators note: Call capitalizes the two French versions of ‘we’, nous and on, in order to highlight the distinction between the ‘we’ of the party (NOUS) from the more abstract and impersonal ‘we’ of society / the citizen (ON).
- 9Translators note: Heidegger’s term for inauthentic being, ‘Das Man’, is generally translated into English as ‘the They’, although it is more literally rendered by its French translation ‘le On’ (the one). The common usage of ‘on’ to mean ‘we’ (a little like the ‘royal we’, but for commoners) thus allows for a Heideggerian distinction which is not translatable into German or English.
- 10I talk of ‘questions’ because every practice, in this type of struggle, is an attempt to respond to a particular problem.
Communization and the abolition of gender
"Present day civilization makes it plain that it will only permit sexual relationships on the basis of a solitary, indissoluble bond between one man and one woman, and that it does not like sexuality as a source of pleasure in its own right and is only prepared to tolerate it because there is so far no substitute for it as a means of propagating the human race." Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
Communization is not a revolutionary position. It is not a form of society we build after the revolution. It is not a tactic, a strategic perspective, an organization, or a plan. Communization describes a set of measures that we must take in the course of the class struggle if there is to be a revolution at all. Communization abolishes the capitalist mode of production, including wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor and private property. That the revolution must take this form is a necessary feature of class struggle today. Our cycle of struggles can have no other horizon, since the unfolding contradictions of capitalism annihilated the conditions which other forms of revolution required. It is no longer possible to imagine a situation in which social divisions are dissolved after the revolution1 .
Since the revolution as communization must abolish all divisions within social life, it must also abolish gender relations – not because gender is inconvenient or objectionable, but because it is part of the totality of relations that daily reproduce the capitalist mode of production. Gender, too, is constitutive of capital’s central contradiction, and so gender must be torn asunder in the process of the revolution. We cannot wait until after the revolution for the gender question to be solved. Its relevance to our existence will not be transformed slowly – whether through planned obsolescence or playful deconstruction, whether as the equality of gender identities or their proliferation into a multitude of differences. On the contrary, in order to be revolution at all, communization must destroy gender in its very course, inaugurating relations between individuals defined in their singularity.
The fact that revolution takes the form of communization is not the result of lessons learned from past defeats, nor even from the miserable failure of past movements to solve the gender question. Whether or not we can discern, after the fact, a winning strategy for the movements of the past says nothing about the present. For capital no longer organizes a unity among proletarians on the basis of their common condition as wage-laborers. The capital-labor relation no longer allows workers to affirm their identity as workers and to build on that basis workers’ organizations capable of assuming power within the state. Movements that elevated workers to the status of a revolutionary subject were still ‘communist’, but communist in a mode that cannot be ours today. The revolution as communization has no revolutionary subject, no affirmable identity – not the Worker, the Multitude, or the Precariat. The real basis of any such revolutionary identity has melted away.
Of course, workers still exist as a class. Wage-labor has become a universal condition of life as never before. However, the proletariat is diffuse and fractured. Its relation to capital is precarious. The structural oversupply of labor is enormous. A surplus population of over one-billion people – eager to find a place in the global commodity chains from which they have been excluded – makes it impossible to form mass organizations capable of controlling the supply of labor, except among the most privileged strata of workers2 . Capital now exacerbates, fragments and more than ever relies on the divisions between workers. Once the proud bearers of a universally relevant revolutionary essence, the Working Class, in its autonomy as a class within capitalism, can no longer build its power as a class against capital. Today, the revolution must emerge from the disunity of the proletariat, as the only process capable of overcoming that disunity. If revolutionary action does not immediately abolish all divisions between proletarians, then it is not revolutionary; it is not communization.
In the present moment, the very inability of workers to unite on the basis of a workers’ identity thus forms the fundamental limit of struggle. But that limit is at once the dynamic potential of this cycle of struggles, bearing within itself the abolition of gender relations and all other fixed distinctions. It is no historical accident that the end of the former cycle of struggles coincided with a revolt against the primacy of the Worker – a revolt in which feminism played a major role. To re-imagine a workers’ movement that would not demote women, blacks, and homosexuals to a subordinate position is to think a workers’ movement that lacks precisely the unifying/excluding trait that once allowed it to move at all. With the benefit of hindsight, it is increasingly clear that if the working class (as a class of all those without direct access to means of production) was destined to become the majority of society, the workers’ movement was unlikely to organize a clear majority from it. The revolution as communization does not solve this problem, but it takes it onto a new terrain. As surveyors of this new landscape, we must assess the present state of the practical movement toward the end of gender relations. We must also expand discussion of this essential communizing measure.
Until recently, the theory of communization has been the product of a small number of groups organized around the publication of a handful of yearly journals. If few of those groups have taken up the task of theorizing gender, it is because most have been wholly uninterested in examining the real basis of the divisions that mark the existence of the working class. On the contrary, they have busied themselves with trying to discover a revolutionary secret decoder-ring, with which they might be able to decipher the merits and shortcomings of past struggles. Thus, most partisans of communization have thought the revolution as an immediate overcoming of all separations, but they arrived at this conclusion through an analysis of what communization would have to be in order to succeed where past movements failed, rather than from a focus on the historical specificity of the present3 .
For this reason, the tendency organized around Théorie Communiste (TC) is unique, and we largely follow them in our exposition. For TC, the revolution as communization only emerges as a practical possibility when these struggles begin to ‘swerve’ (faire l’écart) as the very act of struggling increasingly forces the proletariat to call into question and act against its own reproduction as a class. ‘Gaps’ (l’écarts) thereby open up in the struggle, and the multiplication of these gaps is itself the practical possibility of communism in our time. Workers burn down or blow up their factories, demanding severance pay instead of fighting to maintain their jobs. Students occupy universities, but against rather than in the name of the demands for which they are supposedly fighting. Women break with movements in which they already form a majority, since those movements cannot but fail to represent them. And everywhere, the unemployed, the youth, and the undocumented join and overwhelm the struggles of a privileged minority of workers, making the limited nature of the latter’s demands at once obvious and impossible to sustain.
In the face of these proliferating gaps in the struggle,
a fraction of the proletariat, in going beyond the demands-based character of its struggle, will take communizing measures and will thus initiate the unification of the proletariat which will be the same process as the unification of humanity, i.e. its creation as the ensemble of social relations that individuals establish between themselves in their singularity4 .
For TC, the divisions within the proletariat are therefore not only that which must be overcome in the course of the revolution, but also the very source of that overcoming. Perhaps that is why TC, alone among theorists of communization, have devoted themselves to an examination of the gender distinction, as it is perhaps the most fundamental divisions within the proletariat. TC’s work on gender is relatively new, especially for a group which has spent the last thirty years refining and restating a few key ideas over and over again. Their main text on gender, written in 2008, was finally published in 2010 (with two additional appendices) in issue 23 of their journal as Distinction de Genres, Programmatisme et Communisation. TC are known for their esoteric formulations. How ever, with some effort, most of their ideas can be reconstructed in a clear fashion. Since their work on gender is provisional, we refrain from lengthy quotations. TC claim that communization involves the abolition of gender as much as the abolition of capitalist social relations. For the divisions which maintain capitalism maintain the gender division and the gender division preserves all other divisions. Still, as much as TC take steps towards developing a rigorously historical materialist theory of the production of gender, they end up doing little more than suture gender to an already existing theory of the capitalist mode of production (to no small extent, this is because they rely largely on the work on one important French feminist, Christine Delphy5 ).
For our context here, TC have a particularly fascinating theory of communization insofar as it is also a periodization of the history of class struggle – which itself corresponds to a periodization of the history of the capital-labor relation. This provides TC with a uniquely historical vantage on the present prospects for communism. Crucially, TC focus on the reproduction of the capital-labor relation, rather than on the production of value. This change of focus allows them to bring within their purview the set of relations that actually construct capitalist social life – beyond the walls of the factory or office. And the gender relation has always extended beyond the sphere of value production alone.
I. The Construction of the Category ‘Woman’
Woman is a social construction. The very category of woman is organized within and through a set of social relations, from which the splitting of humanity into two, woman and man – and not only female and male – is inseparable. In this way, sexual difference is given a particular social relevance that it would not otherwise possess6 . Sexual difference is given this fixed significance within class societies, when the category of woman comes to be defined by the function that most (but not all) human females perform, for a period of their lives, in the sexual reproduction of the species. Class society thus gives a social purpose to bodies: because some women ‘have’ babies, all bodies that could conceivably ‘produce’ babies are subject to social regulation. Women become the slaves of the biological contingencies of their birth. Over the long history of class society, women were born into a world organized only for men – the primary ‘actors’ in society, and in particular the only people capable of owning property. Women thereby became the property of society as a whole.
Because women are by definition not men, they are excluded from ‘public’ social life. For TC, this circumscription of the women’s realm means that not only are their bodies appropriated by men, but also the totality of their activity. Their activity, as much as their very being, is by definition ‘private’. In this way, women’s activity takes on the character of domestic labor. This labor is defined not as work done in the home, but as women’s work. If a woman sells cloth in the market, she is a weaver, but if she makes cloth in the home, she is only a wife. A woman’s activity is thus considered merely as her activity, without any of the concrete determinations it would be given if it were performed by some other, more dignified social entity. The gender distinction man/woman thereby takes on additional significance as public/private and social/domestic.
Is the unpaid labor of women for men, including perhaps their ‘production’ of children, therefore a class relation, or even a mode of production (as Delphy calls it, the domestic mode of production)? TC defines class society as a relationship between surplus producers and surplus extractors. The social division between these groups is constitutive of the relations of production, which organize the productive forces for the purpose of producing and extracting surplus. Crucially, these relations must have as their product the reproduction of the class relation itself. However, for TC – and we follow them on this point – each mode of production is already a totality, and in fact the social relevance of women’s role in sexual reproduction changes with the mode of production. That does not mean that relations between men and women are derivative of the relations between the classes. It means rather that the relations between men and women form an essential element of the class relation and cannot be thought as a separate ‘system’, which then relates to the class-based system.
Of course, this discussion remains abstract. The question now becomes, how do we unite our story about women with our story about the succession of modes of production? For TC, women are the primary productive force within all class societies, since the growth of the population forms an essential support of the reproduction of the class relation. The augmentation of the population as the primary productive force remains, throughout the history of class society, the burden of its women. In this way, the heterosexual matrix is founded on a specific set of material social relations.
However, we should remind ourselves that the special burden of childbirth predates the advent of class society. Historically, each woman had to give birth, on average, to six children – just in order to ensure that two of those six survived to reproduce the coming generations. The chance that a woman would die in childbirth, in the course of her life, was nearly one in ten7 . Perhaps the insight of TC is that the advent of class society – which saw a massive increase in the size of the human population – hardened the social relevance of these facts. But even before the advent of class society, there was never any ‘natural’ regime of human sexual reproduction. Age at marriage, length of breastfeeding, number of children born, social acceptability of infanticide – all have varied across human social formations8 . Their variation marks a unique adaptability of the human species.
But we are concerned less with the long history of the human species than with the history of the capitalist mode of production. Wage-labor is fundamentally different from both ancient slavery and feudal vassalage. In slavery, surplus producers have no ‘relation’ to the means of production. For the slaves are themselves part of the means of production. The reproduction or upkeep of slaves is the direct responsibility of the slave owner himself. For both men and women slaves, the distinction between public and private thus dissolves, since slaves exist entirely within the private realm. Nor is there any question, for the slaves, of property inheritance or relations with the state, such as taxation. Interestingly, there is some evidence that patriarchy was, perhaps for that very reason, rather weak among slave families in the American South9 . In vassalage, by contrast, the surplus producers have direct access to the means of production. Surplus is extracted by force. The peasant man stands in relation to this outside force as the public representative of the peasant household. Property passes through his line. Women and children peasants are confined to the private realm of the village, which is itself a site of both production and reproduction. The peasant family does not need to leave its private sphere in order to produce what it needs, but rather only to give up a part of its product to the lords. For this reason, peasant families remain relatively independent of markets.
In capitalism, the lives of the surplus producers are constitutively split between the public production of a surplus and the private reproduction of the producers themselves. The workers, unlike the slaves, are their ‘own property’: they continue to exist only if they take care of their own upkeep. If wages are too low, or if their services are no longer needed, workers are ‘free’ to survive by other means (as long as those means are legal). The reproduction of the workers is thus emphatically not the responsibility of the capitalist. However, unlike the vassals, the workers can take care of their own upkeep only if they return to the labor market, again and again, to find work. Here is the essence of the capital-labor relation. What the workers earn for socially performed production in the public realm, they must spend in order to reproduce themselves domestically in their own private sphere. The binaries of public/private and social/domestic are embodied in the wage-relation itself. Indeed, these binaries will only collapse with the end of capitalism.
For if the capitalists were directly responsible for workers’ survival – and thus if their reproduction were removed from the private sphere – then the workers would no longer be compelled to sell their labor-power. The existence of a separate, domestic sphere of reproduction (where little production takes place unmediated by commodities purchased on the market) is constitutive of capitalist social relations as such. Social activity separates out from domestic activity as the market becomes the mediating mechanism of concrete social labor performed outside of the home. Production for exchange, which was formerly performed inside the home, increasingly leaves the home to be performed elsewhere. At this point the public/ private distinction takes on a spatial dimension. The home becomes the sphere of private activity – that is, women’s domestic labor and men’s ‘free time’ – while the factory takes charge of the public, socially productive character of men’s work.
Of course, women have also always been wage laborers, alongside men, for as long as capitalism has existed. For TC, the gendered nature of women’s domestic work determines that their work, even when performed outside of the home, remains merely women’s work. It remains, that is to say, wage labor of a particular sort, namely unproductive or else low value-added labor. Women tend to work in part-time, low-wage jobs, particularly in services (though of course today, there are at least some women in all sectors of the economy, including among the highest paid professionals). Women often perform domestic services in other people’s homes, or else in their offices and airplanes. When women work in factories, they are segregated into labor-intensive jobs requiring delicate hand-work, particularly in textiles, apparel and electronics assembly. Likewise, work done in the home remains women’s work, even if men perform it – which, largely, they do not.
In this sense, once gender becomes embodied in the wage-relation as a binary public/private relation, TC cease to theorize its ground in the role that women play in sexual reproduction. The fact that women’s work is of a particular character outside the home is merely true by analogy to the character of the work they perform in the home. It bears no relation to the material ground of women’s role in sexual reproduction, and in that sense, it is more or less ideological. By the same token, TC increasingly define the work that women do in the home by its character as the daily reproductive labor performed necessarily outside of the sphere of production – and not by relation to the role that women play in childbirth, as the ‘principal force of production’. If, within the capitalist mode of production, women are and have always been both wage-laborers and domestic laborers, why do they remain almost entirely female? As TC begin to discuss capitalism, they phase out their focus on sexual reproduction, which disappears under a materially unfounded conception of domestic labor (though their references to biology return later, as we will see).
This oversight is a serious mistake. The sexual segregation of work in the capitalist mode of production is directly related to the temporality of a woman’s life: as the bearer of children, the main source of their nourish ment at young ages (breastfeeding), and their primary caretakers through puberty. Over the long history of capitalism, women’s participation in the labor market has followed a distinct ‘M-shaped’ curve10 . Participation rises rapidly as women enter adulthood, then drops as women enter their late 20s and early 30s. Participation slowly rises again as women enter their late 40s before dropping off at retirement ages. The reasons for this pattern are well known. Young women look for full-time work, but with the expectation that they will either stop working or work part-time when they have children. When women enter childbearing years, their participation in the labor force declines. Women who continue to work while their children are young are among the poorer proletarians and are super-exploited: unmarried mothers, widows and divorcées, or women whose husbands’ incomes are low or unreliable. As children get older, more and more women return to the labor market (or move to full-time work), but at a distinct disadvantage in terms of skills and length of employment, at least as compared to the men with whom they compete for jobs11 .
For all these reasons, capitalist economies have always had a special ‘place’ for women workers, as workers either not expected to remain on the job for very long or else as older, late entrants or re-entrants into the labor force. Beyond that, women form an important component of what Marx calls the ‘latent’ reserve army of labor, expected to enter and leaving the workforce according to the cyclical needs of the capitalist enterprises. The existence of a distinctive place for women in the labor force then reinforces a society-wide commitment to and ideology about women’s natural place, both in the home and at work. Even when both men and women work, men typically (at least until recently) earn higher wages and work longer hours outside the home. There thus remains a strong pressure on women, insofar as they are materially dependent on their husbands, to accept their subordination: to not ‘push too hard’12 on questions of the sexual division of labor within the home. Historically, this pressure was compounded by the fact that women were, until after World War II, de facto if not de jure excluded from many forms of property ownership, making them reliant on men as mediators of their relation to capital. Therefore, women did not possess the juridical freedoms that male proletarians won for themselves – and not for their women. Women were not truly ‘free’ labor in relation to the market and the state, as were their male counterparts.198
II. The Destruction of the Category ‘Woman’ Though
TC fail to explain the ground of the construction of women in capitalism, they do have a provocative theory of how women’s situation within capitalism changes according to the unfolding contradictions of that mode of production. ‘Capitalism has a problem with women’ because, in the present period, the capital-labor relation cannot accommodate the continued growth of the labor force. As we have already noted, capital increasingly faces a large and growing surplus population, structurally excessive to its demands for labor. The appearance of this surplus population has coincided with a transformation in the way that capitalist states, the workers’ movement, and also feminists have viewed women as the ‘principal productive force’. In an earlier moment birth-rates declined precipitously in Europe and the former European settler-colonies. The response was ‘pro-natalism’. Civilization supposedly faced imminent degeneration, since women were no longer fulfilling their duty to the nation; they had to be encouraged back into it. By the 1920s, even feminists became increasingly pro-natalist, turning maternalism into an explanation for women’s ‘equal but different’ dignity as compared to men. By the 1970s, however – as the population of poor countries exploded while the capitalist economy entered into a protracted crisis – maternalism was largely dead. The world was overpopulated with respect to the demand for labor. Women were no longer needed in their role as women. The ‘special dignity’ of their subordinate role was no longer dignified at all.
However, that is only half the story. The other half is to be found in the history of the demographic transition itself, which TC fail to consider. In the course of its early development, capitalism increased work ers’ consumption and thereby improved their health, reducing infant mortality. Falling infant mortality in turn reduced the number of children that each woman had to have in order to reproduce the species. At first, this transformation appeared as an increase in the number of surviving children per woman and a rapid growth of the population. Thus, the spread of capitalist social relations was everywhere associated with an increase in women’s reproductive burden. However with time, and now in almost every region of the world, there has been a subsequent reduction, both in the number of children each woman has and in the number of children who subsequently survive infancy and early childhood. Simultaneously, as both men and women live longer, less of women’s lifetimes are spent either having or caring for young children. The importance of these facts cannot be overestimated. They explain why, in our period, the straight-jacket of the heterosexual matrix has had its buckles slightly loosened, for men as well as women (and even, to a small extent, for those who fit neither the categories of gender distinction, nor those of sexual difference)13 .
As with everything else in capitalism, the ‘freedom’ that women have won (or are winning) from their reproductive fate has not been replaced with free-time, but with other forms of work. Women’s supposed entrance into the labor force was always actually an increase in the time and duration of women’s already existing participation in wage-work. But now, since women are everywhere spending less time in childbirth and child-rearing, there has been a reduction in the M-shaped nature of their participation in labor-markets. Women’s situation is thus increasingly split between, on the one hand, the diminishing but still heavy burden of childbearing and domestic work, and on the other hand, the increasingly primary role in their lives of wage-work – within which they remain, however, disadvantaged. As all women know, this situation expresses itself as a forced choice between the promise a working life supposedly equal to men and the pressure, as well as the desire, to have children. That some women choose not to have children at all – and thus to solve this dilemma for themselves, however inadequately – is the only possible explanation of the fall in the birth rate below what is predicted by demographic transition theory. Fertility is now as low as 1.2 children per woman in Italy and Japan; almost everywhere else in the West it has fallen below 2. In the world as a whole, fertility has fallen from 6 children per woman in 1950 to around 2.5 today.
In this situation, it becomes increasingly clear that women have a problem with markets, since markets are incompatible with women. This incompatibility comes down to two facts about the capitalist mode of production. First, capital cannot, if it is to remain capital, take direct responsibility for the reproduction of the working class. It is because workers are responsible for their own upkeep that they are forced to return, again and again, to the labor market. At the same time, labor markets, if they are to remain markets, must be ‘sex-blind’14 . Markets have to evaluate the competition between workers without regard to any non-market characteristics of the workers themselves. These non-market characteristics include the fact that half of all of humanity is sexed female. For some employers, sexual difference cannot but appear as an additional cost. Women workers are able to bear children and thus cannot be relied on not to have children. For other employers, sexual difference appears as a benefit for precisely the same reason: women provide flexible, cheap labor. Women are thus relegated by capitalist relations – precisely because markets are sex-blind – to women’s wage-work.
This incompatibility of women and markets has plagued the women’s movement. Feminism historically accepted the gendered nature of social life, since it was only through gender that women could affirm their identity as women in order to organize on that basis. This affirmation became a problem for the movement historically, since it is impossible to fully reconcile gender – the very existence of women and men – with the simultaneous existence of the working class and capital15 . As a result, the women’s movement has swung back and forth between two positions16 . On the one hand, women fought for equality on the basis of their fundamental same ness with respect to men. But whatever the similarity of their aptitudes, women and men are not and never will be the same for capital. On the other hand, women have fought for equality on the basis of their ‘difference but equal dignity’ to men. But that difference, here made explicit as motherhood, is precisely the reason for women’s subordinate role.
The workers’ movement promised to reconcile women and workers beyond, or at least behind the back of, the market. After all, the founding texts of German Social Democracy, in addition to Marx’s Capital, were Engels’ Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, and Bebel’s Woman and Socialism. Through struggle, the workers’ movement promised to bring women out of the home and into the workforce, where they would finally become the true equals of men. In order to achieve this real equality, the workers movement would socialize women’s reproductive work ‘after the revolution’. Both housework and childcare would be performed collectively by men and women together. As it became clear to the most extreme elements of the Radical Feminist movement in the 1970s, these measures would never suffice to actually ensure ‘real equality’ between men and women workers. The only possibility of achieving an equality of workers, at the intersecting limit of both gender and labor, would be if babies were born in test-tubes, finally having nothing to do with women at all17 .
In fact, the workers’ movement betrayed its women as soon as it had the chance. Whenever they came close to power, male workers were fully willing to demonstrate their capacity to manage the economy by showing that they, too, knew how to keep women in their place. In the British Communist Party, freeing husbands from domestic work was the main task of women’s ‘party work’18 . How could it have been otherwise? Within a world defined by work – or more precisely, by productive labor (a category of capitalism) – women would always be less than men. The attempt to ‘raise’ women to the equals of men was always a matter of adjusting a ‘universally’ relevant movement of workers to fit the ‘particular’ needs of its women. The attempt to do so, within the bounds of capitalism, amounted to a minimal socialization of childcare, as well as the institution of a minimal set of laws protecting women from their disadvantages in markets (that is to say, maternity leave, etc). Workers’ movements could have gone further along this road. They could have made women more of a priority than they did. But the fact is that they did not. And now, it’s over.
The death of the workers’ movement has been considered in other texts19 . Its death marks also the passage from one historical form of revolution to another. Today, the presence of women within the class struggle can only function as a rift (l’ecart), a deviation in the class conflict that destabilizes its terms. That struggle cannot be their struggle, even if, in any given case, they form the majority of the participants. For as long as proletarians continue to act as a class, the women among them cannot but lose. In the course of struggle, women will, therefore, come into conflict with men. They will be criticized for derailing the movement, for diverting it from its primary goals. But the ‘goal’ of the struggle lies elsewhere. It is only from within this (and other) conflicts that the proletariat will come to see its class belonging as an external constraint, an impasse which it will have to overcome in order to be anything at all beyond its relation to capital. That overcoming is only the revolution as communization, which destroys gender and all the other divisions that come between us.
- 1Thanks to Francesca Manning for her invaluable help in working through the ideas in this text. I’d also like to thank Aaron Benanav for his help in editing this piece.
- 2See ‘Misery and Debt’, Endnotes 2 (2010): 20-51, http://endnotes.org.uk/ articles/1.
- 3 For a key debate on this point, see Endnotes 1 (2008), http://endnotes.org. uk/issues/1
- 4Théorie Communiste, ‘The Present Moment’, unpublished.
- 5Christine Delphy and Diana Leonard, Familiar Exploitation (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992).
- 6Not all human beings fit into the categories of male and female. The point is not to use the language of biology to ground a theory of naturalized sexuality, as distinct from a socialized gender. Nature, which is without distinction, becomes integrated into a social structure – which takes natural averages and turns them into behavioral norms. Not all ‘women’ bear children; maybe some ‘men’ do. That does not make them any less beholden to society’s strictures, including at the level of their very bodies, which are sometimes altered at birth to ensure conformity with sexual norms.
- 7These statistics make it clear to what extent violence against women, sometimes carried out by women themselves, has always been necessary to keep them firmly tied to their role in the sexual reproduction of the species. See Paola Tabet, ‘Natural Fertility, Forced Reproduction’, in Diana Leonard and Lisa Adkins, Sex in Question (London: Taylor and Francis, 1996).
- 8For an introduction to demography, see Massimo Livi-Bacci, A Concise History of World Population (Malden, Mass. and Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).
- 9Ellen Meiksins Wood, ‘Capitalism and Human Emancipation’, New Left Review I/167 ( Jan-Feb 1988): 3-20.
- 10The term comes from Japan, see Makotoh Itoh, The Japanese Economy Reconsidered (Palgrave 2000).
- 11Johanna Brenner and Maria Ramas, ‘Rethinking Women’s Oppression’, New Left Review I/144 (Mar-Apr 1984): 33-71.
- 12Johanna Brenner and Maria Ramas, ‘Rethinking Women’s Oppression’, New Left Review I/144 (Mar-Apr 1984): 33-71.
- 13For a more developed theory of women’s relation to property, see ‘Notes
on the New Housing Question’, Endnotes 2 (2010): 52-66, http://endnotes. org.uk/articles/3. The ground of this loosening, as well as its timing, has remained inexplicable within the bounds of queer theory.
- 14Brenner and Ramas, ‘Rethinking Women’s Oppression’.
- 15In this sense, we are of course interested only in the history of women’s situation within the workers’ movement. Bourgeois suffragettes argued for property-based voting qualifications – thus excluding women as class enemies. By the middle of the twentieth century, these same bourgeois became defenders of women’s maternal role – at the same time as they founded organizations to control the bodies of women among the ‘dangerous classes’.
- 16Joan W. Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).
- 17Radical feminism followed a curious trajectory in the second half of the 20th century, taking first childbearing, then domestic work, and finally sexual violence (or the male orgasm) as the ground of women’s oppression. The problem was that in each case, these feminists sought an ahistorical ground for what had become an historical phenomenon.
- 18On the history of women’s situation within the workers’ movement, see Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
- 19Théorie Communiste, ‘Much Ado about Nothing’, Endnotes 1 (2008), http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/13.