Issue 1 (November 2011) of Sic – a new journal on communisation from Endnotes, Blaumachen, Théorie Communiste, Riff-Raff and more.
The present journal aims to be the locus for an unfolding of the problematic of communisation. It comes from the encounter of individuals involved in various projects in different countries : among these are the journals Endnotes, published in the UK and in the US, Blaumachen in Greece, Théorie Communiste in France, Riff-Raff in Sweden, and certain more or less informal theoretical groups in the US (New York and San Francisco). Each of these projects continues its own existence. Also participating are various individuals in France, Germany, and elsewhere, who are involved in other activities and who locate themselves broadly within the theoretical approach taken here.
Sic is also the overcoming – in continuity and rupture – of the journal Meeting (four issues in French between September 2004 and June 2008) which set up an international meeting in the summer of 2008. Out of this gathering the project emerged as a truly international publication meant to explore the problematic of communisation within the conjuncture of the crisis that broke out in 2008. None of the participants in Sic consider their taking part as exclusive or permanent, and Sic may obviously embrace external theoretical contributions.
There will be an English language edition of the journal that will be the international publication, along with a French edition, and all texts will be found on a website in corresponding languages. In Greece and in Sweden, our comrades in Blaumachen and Riff-Raff will, apart from circulating their own texts published in Sic, incorporate translations of Sic texts in their own reviews and may publish specific editions of certain texts. This last option is encouraged in any other country or language.
In the course of the revolutionary struggle, the abolition of the division of labour, of the State, of exchange, of any kind of property ; the extension of a situation in which everything is freely available as the unification of human activity, that is to say the abolition of classes, of both public and private spheres - these are all “measures” for the abolition of capital, imposed by the very needs of the struggle against the capitalist class. The revolution is communisation ; communism is not its project or result.
One does not abolish capital for communism but by communism, or more specifically, by its production. Indeed communist measures must be differentiated from communism ; they are not embryos of communism, rather they are its production. Communisation is not a period of transition, but rather, it is revolution itself which is the communist production of communism. The struggle against capital is what differentiates communist measures and communism. The content of the revolutionary activity is always the mediation of the abolition of capital by the proletariat in its relation to capital : this activity is not one branch of an alternative in competition with the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production, but its internal contradiction and its overcoming.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, a whole historical period entered into crisis and came to an end - i.e. the period in which the revolution was conceived in different ways, both theoretically and practically, as the affirmation of the proletariat, its elevation to the position of ruling class, the liberation of labour, and the institution of a period of transition. The concept of communisation appeared in the midst of this crisis.
During the crisis, the critique of all the mediations of the existence of the proletariat within the capitalist mode of production (mass party, union, parliamentarism), of organisational forms such as the party-form or the vanguard, of ideologies such as leninism, of practices such as militantism along with all its variations - all this appeared irrelevant if revolution was no longer to be affirmation of the class – whether it be the workers’ autonomy or the generalisation of workers’ councils. It is the proletariat’s struggle as a class which has become the problem within itself, i.e. which is its own limit. That is the way the class struggle signals and produces the revolution as communisation in the form of its overcoming.
Since then, within the contradictory course of the capitalist mode of production, the affirmation of the proletariat and the liberation of labour have lost all meaning and content. There is no longer a worker’s identity facing capital and confirmed by it. This is the revolutionary dynamic of the present struggles which display the active denial of the proletarian condition against capital, even within ephemeral, limited bursts of self-management or self-organisation. The proletariat’s struggle against capital contains its contradiction with its own nature as class of capital.
The abolition of capital, i.e. the revolution and the production of communism, is immediately the abolition of all classes and therefore of the proletariat. This occurs through the communisation of society, which is abolished as a community separated from its elements. Proletarians abolish capital by the production of a community immediate to its elements ; they transform their relations into immediate relations between individuals. Relations between singular individuals that are no longer the embodiment of a social category, including the supposedly natural categories of the social sexes of woman and man. Revolutionary practice is the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-transformation.
This minimal approach of communisation constitutes neither a definition, nor a platform, but exposes a problematic.
The problematic of a theory – here the theory of revolution as communisation – does not limit itself to a list of themes or objects conceived by theory ; neither is it the synthesis of all the elements which are thought. It is the content of theory, its way of thinking, with regards to all possible productions of this theory.
- The analysis of the current crisis and of the class struggles intrinsic to it
- The historicity of revolution and communism
- The periodisation of the capitalist mode of production and the question of the restructuring of the mode of production after the crisis at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s
- The analysis of the gender relation within the problematic of the present class struggle and communisation
- The definition of communism as goal but also as movement abolishing the present state of things
- A theory of the abolition of capital as a theory of the production of communism
- The reworking of the theory of value-form (to the extent that the revolution is not the affirmation of the proletariat and the liberation of labour)
- The illegitimacy of wage-demands and others in the present class struggle
By definition no list of subjects coming under a problematic can be exhaustive.
No theory contents itself with saying “this is what is happening,” “it speaks for itself”. When theory says, “it is so” or “this is how it is” – in a word, Sic – it is a specific intellectual construction. Abstract and critical in relation to the immediacy of the struggles : this is the relative autonomy of theoretical production.
In the present period, to identify and promote the activities, which, in the proletariat’s struggle as a class, are the calling into question of its class existence, means that it is this critical relation that changes. It is no longer an exteriority, it is a moment of these activities, it is invested in them. It is a critical relation not vis-à-vis the class-struggle and immediate experience, but in this immediate experience.
If acting as a class has become the very limit of class-action, if this becomes, in the contradiction of the current moment, the most banal course of struggles, then immediate struggles produce within themselves an internal distance, both practically and in their own discourse. This distance is the communising perspective as concrete, objective theoretical articulation of both the experience of struggles as productive of theory and of theory in its abstract and critical formulation, such as it is produced and exists here, and whose dissemination is becoming a practical, primordial activity.
The aim of this journal is to carry the key concept of this theory, communisation, in its becoming-social. This task is the activity of partisans of communisation, engaged in class-struggles, with the conflicts that traverse them. In the present moment, theory, as a totality of concrete activities (writing, journals, meetings, dissemination in many forms, etc.) is itself directly becoming an objective determination.
What is communisation? - Leon de Mattis
Léon de Mattis' introduction to tap communisation for the journal, Sic.
One thing is now certain: in the capitalist world, our situation can only get worse. All that was previously taken for granted in the form of “social benefits” has been, once again, put into question. However, this transformation is not the result of poor economic management, of the excessive greed of bosses, or a lack of regulation of international finance. It is simply the inevitable outcome of the global evolution of capitalism.
Wages, job opportunities, pensions, public services and welfare benefits have all been affected by this evolution, each of them in their own way. What was conceded yesterday is taken away today, and tomorrow there will be even less. The process is the same everywhere: new reforms take up the offensive at the exact point where the previous reforms had stopped. This dynamic is never reversed, even when we move from “economic crisis” back to prosperity. Beginning in the aftermath of the great crisis of the 1970s, the same dynamic continued even after the return to growth in the 1990s and 2000s. It thus becomes difficult to imagine things getting better, even in the quite improbable hypothesis of an “end of the crisis” after the financial shock of 2008.
Nevertheless, faced with this rapid transformation of worldwide capitalism, the response, on the left of the Left, has been appallingly weak. Most are content with denouncing the extreme neoliberalism of bosses and politicians. They seem to think that it’s possible to defend the social benefits of the previous period, and even to extend them a bit more, if only we could go back to the capitalism of yesteryear, that of the period just after the Second World War. Their proposals for the future recall the main points of the program of the Resistance, adopted in 1944.1 It is as if it were still necessary to fight Nazism, as if governments were willing to make concessions in order to assure victory — as if there has ever been a backwards motion in history. In this way they forget everything that constitutes the capitalist social relation in its present dynamic.
Why does crisis and the restructuring of capitalism — that is to say, the way it has changed in the last 40 years — render impossible any return to the prior conditions of struggle? And what can be deduced from this fact for today’s struggles?
To answer these questions, we must take a brief theoretical detour. Profit is not just one element of capitalist society among many. It is the major engine, the reason for anything to exist at all in the social world. Profit is not something that can be grafted on top of human activities, taking away the product of labour for some parasitical capitalist. It is the source of all activities, none of which could exist without it. Or, if we prefer, these human activities would exist in such a different manner that they would bear no resemblance to those we presently observe.
The point is not to form a moral judgement on this state of affairs but rather to understand all its consequences. It is not a matter of profit being systematically favoured at the expense of what is useful, good, or beneficial to society (such as health, culture, etc.). It is “utility” itself that cannot exist without profit. Nothing that isn’t profitable can be useful in capitalism. Or, in other words, everything that is useful can only be useful as long as it offers opportunities for making profit. To say, for example, that “health is not a commodity,” is simply an absurdity, without any basis in the reality of a capitalist world. It is only because health is profitable (on the one hand, because generally speaking it maintains a functional working population, and on the other hand, more specifically, because it is source of profit for some) that it is an economic sector. And it is only because it really is an economic sector, and thus a “commodity”, that there is enough to pay the doctors, to make machines for analysing the human body, and to build hospitals. Without that there would obviously be nothing at all.
To make a profit, it is necessary that the value contained in the commodity increases: that the value of what is produced be more than the value spent (in raw materials, machines, buildings, transport, etc.) in order to produce it. Now, what is used to produce has the same value as what is produced if we don’t add something to it. That thing which is added is human activity, intelligence, strength, physiological energy spent to assemble and transform distinct objects into an object qualitatively different from what we had at the beginning. This activity must show itself in a particular form in order that it can be bought, and hence be incorporated into the final value. This is human activity under a particular form — the form of labour — a form that can be purchased by capital.
But this shows that capitalism is not sharing but exploitation, that the value at which labour is bought is lower than the value which labour produces. It is not possible to redistribute all the value produced and return it to labour, because value only exists in this dissociation between labour and its product, and so permits the unequal allocation of this product. It is really the existence of this dissociation between human activity and social wealth that makes possible the “appropriation” of such wealth.
The “value” of things is not a natural creation, but a social one. Also, contrary to what some would want us to believe, it is not a neutral creation that exists only for convenience. There are a lot of other possible means, just as convenient, to produce what could be considered in a given society as indispensable to the lives of human beings. Value makes itself necessary only because it becomes an instrument of domination. It permits, in the present mode of production, the capturing of the lower classes’ activity for the benefit of the upper classes. The very existence of value — and of what appears in history as its permanent representative, i.e. money — is only a necessity as long as it measures what must be taken from the former and given to the latter. Prior to capitalism, value and money were not at the centre of production itself, but they were already the signs of the power of some and the weakness of others. Treasures, palace ornaments and the rich decorations of churches were the signs of the social power of the nobles, the caliphs, or the ecclesiastical authorities. From the beginning of class society, money and value have been the symbols of domination. They became the supreme instruments for it in capitalism. Hence, no equality can come from the use of a means whose very existence is based on inequality. As long as there will be money, there will be rich and poor, powerful and dominated, masters and slaves.
Given that the search for profit requires that the cost of production be as low as possible, and that what has already been produced or is used in order to produce (machines, building, infrastructure) can only transfer their own value, the only variable that can be adjusted is the value of labour power. This value must be lowered to its minimum. But, at the same time, only labour can generate value. Capitalism resolves this insoluble problem by lowering the value of labour power only relatively to the total value produced, while increasing the value of labour power and the quantity of labour absolutely. This is made possible by rising productivity, the rationalization of labour, and technical and scientific innovations. But it is then necessary to make production grow in enormous proportions, to the detriment of much else (natural spaces, for example). Nevertheless, such growth never exists in a continuous manner and the reversal of this tendency is the cause of the present situation.
The period from the Second World War to the beginning of the ’70s was actually a very specific period for worldwide capitalism. It is necessary to understand clearly the characteristics of this period, to understand why it has disappeared, and why — contrary to the hopes of unions and liberals — it will never return.
After the Second World War, destruction caused by war, and losses of value during the long depression that had preceded it, created a situation favourable to what economists call “growth.” This growth is nothing less than a contradictory race to decrease the relative value of labour power while its absolute value increases. The political connections imposed by the antinazi alliance during the war allowed for a form of power-sharing both at a worldwide level (Eastern and Western blocs) and at the social level within Western countries (recognition of a certain legitimacy of struggles, allowing unions and left parties to represent the interests of labour). The “Fordist compromise”2 prevailed at the time. It consisted in establishing, through increasing wages, a rising “standard of living” in exchange for an enormous growth in productivity and evermore arduous work. The value of the labour power employed, spread out over a greater number of workers, was increasing in absolute terms, but the total value of everything produced increased a lot more due to the growth of productivity. The sale of all these commodities – the basis of what was called at that time “consumer society” – permitted the surplus value which appeared in production, the source of capitalist profit, to be transformed into additional capital that was reinvested in order to continually expand production. Yet this expansion contains an internal limit: at a certain point there is too much capital to valorise in relation to what it is necessary to produce and sell in order to maintain a profit. In actuality a dynamic equilibrium was maintained for more than two decades, up to the middle of the 1960s when a progressive decline set in, leading to the so-called “oil crisis” of the 1970s.
Some quick remarks about that period. Firstly, “prosperity” was reserved for Western Europe, North America and Japan, and even within these privileged areas some parts of the proletariat were excluded from its benefits, including intensively exploited and under-paid immigrants. Secondly, Western prosperity could not mask the fact that what was given to the proletariat was due to its character as the dominated pole in the capitalist social relation. Increases in purchasing power were accompanied by the massive selling of poor-quality standardized commodities. The expression that appeared at that time, “consumer society”, is unfortunate since it was just as much a “producer society”. The above mentioned general growth of total value necessitated putting into circulation an always greater number of commodities. While the lowering of every commodity’s value, made possible by mass production, permitted a lowering of the relative value of labour-power (less work was necessary in order to provide indispensable products for the worker’s survival). Everyday “alienation”, a topic many times analysed and criticised during that period, was nothing more than a consequence of the imperatives of the circulation of value.
The once-fashionable concept of alienation has faded from present-day vocabulary. Literally speaking, alienation is the way in which our own world seems extraneous to us (alien, a word derived from Latin, denotes radical otherness; an alienated person is someone who is not themselves anymore). “Producing for production” is the byword under which capitalist alienation appears to us. Material production seems to have no other goal but itself. But what capitalism produces before everything else is social relations of exploitation and domination. If it appears as material production without a goal, it is because capitalism transposes relations between individuals into relations between things. The absurdity of producing for production, and of this apparent power of things over people, is nothing more than an inverted image of the rationality of the domination of a class over another – that is to say, of the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalist class. The ultimate goal of capitalism is not profit or “producing for production”, it is to preserve the domination of a group of human beings over another group of human beings. And it is in order to secure this domination that profit and “producing for production” are imposed as imperatives on everyone.3
With the changes that have taken place since the 1980s, alienation stayed but “prosperity” flew away. The crisis of 1973 made the decline of the previous dynamic obvious. Capitalism was no longer able to concede the same level of wage increases without impinging on the rate of profit. Meanwhile the proletariat no longer settled for what capitalists had given it so far. The ’60s and ’70s were a period of a developing far-reaching protest, which criticised labour and working conditions as well as various other aspects of capitalist society. Compromise was rejected in its most essential element: the tradeoff between a rising standard of living and the total submission of the proletariat in production and consumption. Contesting established mediations of the workers’ movement, such as unions or official communist parties, had the same meaning: the role assigned to the working class by the “Fordist compromise” was called into question.
Capitalism had therefore to liquidate the essential of what made it what it was in the previous period. There were two, basically identical, reasons for this: the fall in the rate of profit and the growth of social protest. Crisis and restructuring served this very purpose, against a social and political background of a conservative and repressive “neoliberal” wave portrayed by politicians like Thatcher or Reagan. But “neoliberalism” was not the cause of the restructuring: on the contrary, it was the restructuring, essential for the continuation of capitalist exploitation, that was accompanied by this ideological decorum. In some off-beat countries like France, it was “socialists” who had to obey the capitalist injunction.4
Now that restructuring is advanced, all its components appear clearly. The objective was to lower the total cost of labour, and, for this purpose, to find outside of the Western countries a cheap workforce not burdened by the long history of the workers’ movement. A few “ workshop countries”, like Hong Kong or Taiwan, became the precursors. The development of finance and the transformation of money – which, since 1971, is no more based on gold – provided the necessary mechanism5 for the development of a globally integrated capitalism: some areas dedicated to manufacturing, some other areas more orientated to consumption and/or advanced manufacturing, still others abandoned because after all they became superfluous as far as the imperatives of the circulation of value were concerned. This global zoning was quickly developed, up to to the point of being nowadays fractally reproduced in all parts of the world. Impoverished suburbs (or inner-cities) in the core are the image of countries peripheral to worldwide flows: a human overflow that profit does not know what to do with, and that must be penned in and kept under surveillance. Worldwide competition has imposed on the western proletariat a relative fall of those benefits that had resulted from the previous historic compromise. And since there is no perspective of improvement, it is police and repressive discourse which constitute the State’s response to lost hopes.
The very existence of this global zoning shows that it is impossible to force on newly industrialised countries, like India or China, the pattern valid for the beginning of the industrial revolution in Europe. A rather mechanistic reasoning perceives the transformations that affected the working class of Western countries one or two centuries ago as repeating themselves, in an accelerated manner, in these countries. Initially over-exploited and immiserated, this class, through its struggle for higher wages, attained a level of prosperity triggering the virtuous growth cycle which is sustained by the expansion of a domestic market. Such an evolution would however be hardly desirable for existing capital in developing countries (given the limits already reached, it would undoubtedly entail nothing more than irreparable ecological disaster). Moreover, it seems to be, at least in present-day conditions, squarely impossible. The development of the West – which, lets not forget, was helped by the plundering of colonies – cannot be repeated in an identical form in an economy which is from the very start globally integrated. The Chinese or Indian domestic market, even in spectacular expansion, cannot possibly absorb all the growth of these countries, which are in desperate need of Western outlets and even of Western wealth, as their assets are denominated in US or European debt. To put it on a more theoretical level, it is the entire mass of globally accumulated value (not just that of these countries) which must find a corresponding profit in world production. The limit of what has been attained in the 1970s is always there. The capital to be valorised is too massive for the dynamic equilibrium of the three post-War decades to be reinstated, and this is equally true for newly industrialised countries and for Western countries. The restructuring of capitalism following the crisis of the 1970s has principally meant that capital found another way to valorise itself, through lowering the cost of labour, and we are still at this point.
Such an evolution had unavoidably an extremely important impact on class struggles in Western countries. During the period preceding the crisis of the 1970s and the restructuring, the proletariat’s struggle had a double meaning, no doubt contradictory but ultimately based nonetheless on the same premise. On the one hand, the struggle could pursue immediate objectives, such as an improvement of working conditions, an increase in wages, and social justice. On the other hand, the struggle also had as a result, and sometimes as an objective, the reinforcement of the class of labour relatively to the class of capital, and even, tendentially, the overturning of the bourgeoisie. These two aspects were conflictual, and the antagonisms between the proponents of “reform” and the proponents of “revolution” were permanent. Ultimately, however, the struggle as such could mean either of them. The struggle for immediate advantages and the struggle for future communism were articulated together around the idea that victory could only come through a reinforcement of the working class and its combativity. Needless to say, the debates cutting across the working class were as many divisions between proponents of revolution or reform, of parties, unions or workers’ councils, etc. – that is to say, between leninists, leftists, anarchists, etc. But they shared an experience of struggle where the proletarian class, without being unanimous or even united (which it never has been), was nonetheless a visible social reality in which all workers could easily recognise themselves and with which they could identify themselves.
What about now? If the debate between “reform” and “revolution” has simply disappeared since thirty years, it is because the social basis that gave it meaning has been pulverised. The form which gave a subjective existence to the working class for a century and a half — i.e. the workers’ movement — has collapsed. Parties, unions and left-wing associations are now “citizen” or “democratic” parties, etc., with an ideology borrowed from the French Revolution, that is from the period preceding the workers’ movement. It is however obvious that neither the proletariat nor capitalism have disappeared. So what is missing?
At first sight we could of course say that it is the possible sense of victory which has been modified. Without at all idealising previous periods, nor under-estimating retreats, we could say that since the beginning of capitalism, the working class has staged struggles that have translated into real transformations in its relation to capital: on the one hand, through what was concretely achieved — regulation of the working day, wages, etc. — and, on the other hand, through the very organisation of the workers’ movement into parties and unions. Any struggle and any partial victory could take the form of the reinforcement of the proletariat, whereas every defeat could appear as a temporary retreat before the next offensive. It is true that this reinforcement was at the same time a weakening. Partial victories and the institutionalisation of the unions’ role were factors tending to make the communist perspective increasingly more distant. As years went by, this perspective became evermore remote and hypothetical.6 Yet the general framework of struggles — notwithstanding all their limits — was the reinforcement of workers against employers.
Today however, and almost for thirty years now, struggles are exclusively defensive. Every victory is just putting off the announcement of defeat. For the first time in two centuries, the existing dynamic points only towards a weakening of the class of labour. Today’s emblematic case of a victorious workers’ struggle is Cellatex — the radical struggle for redundancy payments when employment is eliminated. Victory means in such a case the end of everything that made the struggle possible – being workers of the same firm, now closed – and no longer the beginning of something new.
And this is not all. The transformations of work during these last thirty years, under the pressure of massive unemployment, have modified the worker’s relation to work, hence the relation of the proletariat to itself. Employment is less and less the point of reference it had been in the post-war period (something that also gave to the critique of work the content of a radical critique of capitalist society as such). People no more occupy a post for life. No career development can be taken for granted. The worker is supposed to “evolve”, to get training, to change the place of work and job. Precarity is becoming the rule. Unemployment is no more a negation of work but just one of its moments: a passage that all workers will have to cross repeatedly in their lifetime. For many work has become a partial and temporary complement of unemployment. Within firms, there is a proliferation of workers’ statuses and conditions. Externalisation of tasks, subcontracting and the use of temping agencies are fragmenting and dividing workers into multiple categories. The result is that it becomes difficult to wage a struggle, as the very unity of those supposed to struggle together is problematic from the start – contrary to what held for the period preceding the 1970s, when this unity was more or less given (independently of the divisions which would inevitably appear later). The unity of those in struggle is now constructed by the struggle itself as an indispensable means for achieving its goals. This unity is never given beforehand, and, even if temporarily attained, it is always subjected to the probability of division that already existed in the previous period.
The struggle becomes therefore more difficult, but there is also another, even more important difference: it will not produce the same results. Precisely because unity is not given before the struggle itself, it is not included in its official goals. A certain idea of improvement of the workers’ condition, or more generally of the proletarian condition, no longer forms a part of the struggle’s horizon. Or else it only enters the horizon of defensive struggles, whose failure is known beforehand (as in the case of struggles over pensions). As for victorious struggles, they are victorious only insofar as they pursue an immediate and partial goal, an individual goal one might say. In capitalism we can no longer achieve any collective improvement of our situation, but only an individual one, which cannot take the form of a defence of the living condition of workers as such, and therefore can only be transitory. Moreover, the end of the struggle, whether by victory or defeat, marks the end of the unity constructed in the course of the struggle, and thus the impossibility to continue or resume it. By contrast, the previous period gave rise to a sense of progress which seemed to make the “capitalisation” of struggles possible, that is a gradual piling up of the victorious results of past struggles. This was probably an illusion, but it counted nonetheless in what people could think of their own struggles and its possible consequences.7
In a certain sense, we could say that now any class struggle meets its limit in the fact that it is the action of a class that no longer finds, in its relation to capital, what seemed to have constituted in the past its rationale and its force — the fact of collectively embodying labour. This relation of to one’s own proletarian being, a relation ultimately external to one’s work, affects the way in which one can struggle and obtain victory through struggle. Whatever we win is a loss relative to the very conditions of the struggle. And whatever we lose is a loss too. This de facto situation seems unshakeable. It would be wrong to believe that the proletariat’s unity should be established as a prerequisite, before the struggle, in order to have an effective proletarian action. Unity exists only provisionally and only in the course of the struggle and among those struggling, without the need for any reference to the common belonging to a social class. “Class consciousness” is not something definite that could be recreated through political propaganda, since it has never existed other than relatively to a specific configuration of the capitalist social relation. This relation has changed, and so has consciousness. We must admit it.
We must all the more admit it since this new configuration obliges us to review our conceptions of communism and revolution and critically grasp what they had been during the previous period. Indeed, when the proletarian identity was confirmed by the relation of the proletariat to capital the massively imposed conception of radical change – largely shared by reformists as well as revolutionaries, by anarchists as well as marxists – was that of a victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, after a mobilisation of the forces of the class of labour using various methods (trade-union action and organisation, electoral conquest of power, action of the vanguard party, self-organisation of the proletariat, etc.). Let it be said once more that this vision offered a perspective for both reform and revolution and permitted them, notwithstanding their confrontation, to place their quarrel on a common background. This is why the revolutionary and the traditional reformist perspective disappeared together from the terrain of official politics. Those who speak of reform today, anywhere from the right to the extreme left of the political spectrum, refer only to a reform in the management of capitalism, and not to a reform leading to a break with capitalism. This latter reference remained in the program of the socialist parties up until the 1970s, under an undoubtedly ideological form it is true, but one whose existence was nonetheless revealing. Since then, this perspective has simply been forgotten.
At present we can understand that the reformist as well as the revolutionary perspective were at an impasse, because they were comprehending communist revolution as the victory of a class over another class, not as the simultaneous disappearance of classes. From whence stemmed the traditional idea of a transition period during which the proletariat, once victorious, assumes the management of society for an intermediate period. Historically this has practically translated into the establishment of a Soviet-style State capitalism where the bourgeoisie had been replaced by a class of bureaucrats linked to the communist party, and the working class remained in fact exploited and forced to provide the required excess of value. It is however to be noted that this idea of a transition period was more widespread than the one, strictly marxist, of a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. In various forms, reformists (who counted on the conquest of power through the ballot box) and even anarcho-syndicalists (who envisioned a conquest of power through union structures) were not strangers to this line of thought. For them too, it was the triumph of the proletariat – either democratically, through State bodies, for reformists, or through struggle, with their own (union) organisations, for anarcho-syndicalists – which would give it the time to transform society by means of its domination. And it was dissidents from both the anarchist and the marxist camp who gradually elaborated a theory of the immediacy of revolution and communism. On the basis of their theoretical explorations in that time, and with the hindsight of the recent transformation of capitalism, we are now in a position to understand that communism can only be the simultaneous disappearance of social classes, not a triumph, even transitional, of one over another.
The present period gives us a new conception of revolution and communism that originates in these dissident critical currents of the earlier workers’ movement, and that capitalism’s evolution shows to be adequate to today’s proletarian struggles. Everyday proletarian experience poses class belonging as an external constraint, therefore the struggle to defend one’s condition tends to be confounded with the struggle against one’s condition. More and more often in the struggles, we can discern practices and contents which can be comprehended in this way. These are not necessarily radical or spectacular declarations. They are just as much practices of escape; struggles where unions are criticised and booed without any attempt to replace them with something else, because one knows that there is nothing to put in their place; wage demands transforming into the destruction of the means of production (Algeria, Bangladesh); struggles where one does not demand the preservation of employment but rather redundancy payments (Cellatex and all its sequels); struggles where one does not demand anything, but simply revolts against everything that constitutes one’s conditions of existence (the “riots” in French banlieues in 2005), etc.
Little by little, what emerges in these struggles is a calling into question, through the struggle, of the role assigned to us by capital. The unemployed of some grouping, the workers of some factory, the inhabitants of some district, may organise themselves as unemployed, workers or inhabitants, but very quickly this identity must be overcome for the struggle to continue. What is common, what can be described as unity, stems from the struggle itself, not from our identity within capitalism. In Argentina, in Greece, in Guadeloupe, everywhere, the defence of a particular condition was perceived as utterly insufficient, because no particular condition can any more identify itself with a general condition. Even the fact of being “precarious” cannot constitute a central element of the struggle, one in which everybody would be able to recognise themselves. There is no “status” of precarious workers to be recognised or defended, because being a precarious worker – whether involuntarily, or by choice, or by a combination of both – is not a social category, but rather one of the realities which contributes to the production of class belonging as an external constraint.
If a communist revolution is today possible, it can only be born in this particular context in which on the one hand being a proletarian is experienced as external to oneself, while on the other hand the existence of capitalism requires that one is forced to sell one’s labour power and thus, whatever the form of this sale, one cannot be anything else but a proletarian. Such a situation easily leads to the false idea that it is somewhere else, in a more or less alternative way of life, that we can create communism. It is not by chance that a minority, which is starting to become significant in Western countries, falls eagerly in this trap and imagines opposing and fighting capitalism by this method. However, the capitalist social relation is the totalising dynamic of our world and there is nothing that can escape it as easily as they imagine.
The overcoming of all existing conditions can only come from a phase of intense and insurrectionist struggle during which the forms of struggle and the forms of future life will take flesh in one and the same process, the latter being nothing else than the former. This phase, and its specific activity, is what we propose to call by the name of communisation.
Communisation does not yet exist, but the whole present phase of struggles, as mentioned above, permits us to talk about communisation in the present. In Argentina, during the struggle that followed the riots of 2001, the determining factors of the proletariat as class of this society were shaken : property, exchange, division of labour, relations between men and women… The crisis was then limited to that country, so the struggle never passed the frontiers. Yet communisation can only exist in a dynamic of endless enlargement. If it stops it will fade out, at least momentarily. However, the perspectives of capitalism since the financial crisis of 2008 – perspectives which are very gloomy for it at a global level – permit us to think that next time the collapse of money will not restrict itself to Argentina. The point is not to say that the starting point will necessarily be a crisis of money, but rather to consider that in the present state of affairs various starting points are possible and that an imminent severe monetary crisis is undoubtedly one of them.
In our opinion, communisation will be the moment when struggle will make possible, as a means for its continuation, the immediate production of communism. By communism we mean a collective organisation that has got rid of all the mediations which, at present, serve society by linking individuals among them : money, the state, value, classes, etc. The only function of these mediations is to make exploitation possible. While they are imposed on everybody, they benefit only a few. Communism will thus be the moment when individuals will link together directly, without their inter-individual relations being superimposed by categories to which everyone owes obedience.
It goes without saying that this individual will not be the one we know now, that of capital’s society, but a different individual produced by a life taking different forms. To be clear, we should recall that the human individual is not an untouchable reality deriving from “human nature”, but a social product, and that every period in history has produced its own type of individual. The individual of capital is that which is determined by the share of social wealth it receives. This determination is subservient to the relation between the two large classes of the capitalist mode of production: the proletariat and the capitalist class. The relation between these classes comes first, the individual is produced by way of consequence — contrary to the all-too-frequent belief that classes are groupings of pre-existing individuals. The abolition of classes will thus be the abolition of the determinations that make the individual of capital what it is, i.e. one that enjoys individually and egoistically a share of the social wealth produced in common. Naturally, this is not the only difference between capitalism and communism — wealth created under communism will be qualitatively different from whatever capitalism is capable of creating. Communism is not a mode of production, in that social relations are not determined in it by the form of the process of producing the necessities of life, but it is rather communist social relations that determine the way in which these necessities are produced.
We don’t know, we cannot know, and therefore we do not seek to concretely describe, what communism will be like. We only know how it will be in the negative, through the abolition of capitalist social forms. Communism is a world without money, without value, without the state, without social classes, without domination and without hierarchy – which requires the overcoming of the old forms of domination integrated in the very functioning of capitalism, such as patriarchy, and also the joint overcoming of both the male and the female condition. It is obvious too that any form of communitarian, ethnic, racial or other division is equally impossible in communism, which is global from the very start.
If we cannot foresee and decide how the concrete forms of communism will be, the reason is that social relations do not arise fully fledged from a unique brain, however brilliant, but can only be the result of a massive and generalised social practice. It is this practice that we call communisation. Communisation is not an aim, it is not a project. It is nothing else than a path. But in communism the goal is the path, the means is the end. Revolution is precisely the moment when one gets out of the categories of the capitalist mode of production. This exit is already prefigured in present struggles but doesn’t really exist in them, insofar as only a massive exit that destroys everything in its passage is an exit.
We can be sure that communisation will be chaotic. Class society will not die without defending itself in multiple ways. History has shown that the savagery of a state that tries to defend its power is limitless – the most atrocious and inhuman acts since the dawn of humanity have been committed by states. It is only within this match to the death and its imperatives that the limitless ingenuity set free by the participation of all in the process of their liberation will find the resources to fight capitalism and create communism in a single movement. The revolutionary practices of abolishing value, money, exchange and all commodity relations in the war against capital, are decisive weapons for the integration – through measures of communisation – of the major part of the excluded, the middle classes and the peasant masses, in short for creating, within the struggle, the unity which does not exist anymore in the proletariat.
It is obvious too that the forward thrust represented by the creation of communism will fade away if it is interrupted. Any form of capitalisation of the “achievements of revolution”, any form of socialism, any form of “transition”, perceived as an intermediate phase before communism, as a “pause”, will be counter-revolution, produced not by the enemies of revolution but by revolution itself. Dying capitalism will try to lean on this counter-revolution. As for the overcoming of patriarchy, it will be a major disruption dividing the camp of the revolutionaries themselves, because the aim pursued will certainly not be an “equality” between men and women, but rather the radical abolition of social distinctions based on sex. For all these reasons, communisation will appear as a “revolution within revolution”.
An adequate form of organisation of this revolution will only be provided by the multiplicity of communising measures, taken anywhere by any kind of people, which, if they constitute an adequate response to a given situation, will generalise of their own accord, without anybody knowing who conceived them and who transmitted them. Communisation will not be democratic, because democracy, including of the “direct” type, is a form corresponding to just one type of relation between what is individual and what is collective – precisely the type pushed by capital to an extreme and rejected by communism. Communising measures will not be taken by any organ, any form of representation of anyone, or any mediating structure. They will be taken by all those who, at a precise moment, take the initiative to search for a solution, adequate in their eyes, to a problem of the struggle. And the problems of the struggle are also problems of life: how to eat, where to stay, how to share with everybody else, how to fight against capital, etc. Debates do exist, divergences do exist, internal strife does exist — communisation is also revolution within the revolution. There is no organ to decide on disputed matters. It is the situation that will decide; and it is history that will know, post festum, who was right.
This conclusion might appear quite abrupt; but there is no other way to create a world.
Leon de Mattis, July 2011
- 1The 1944 program of the French resistance was an accord between Gaullist and Communist members of the resistance that put in place the principle features of French post-war welfare capitalism. Translators note.
- 2Henry Ford, the great American industrialist, defended between WWI and WWII the idea that it is necessary to increase wages and productivity in order to simultaneously develop production and the market that could absorb products.
- 3Even on capitalists themselves, who do not control the rules that put them in control.
- 4In France in 1981 François Mitterand, a liberal and “socialist” politician, was elected as President. He had to give up most of his social campaign promises in 1983 to follow a strictly “neoliberal” economic policy. Translator’s note.
- 5Financial capitalism is not at all a parasitical growth on productive capitalism, contrary to what leftist common sense would have us believe. It is rather indispensable to the existence of productive capitalism itself. The formidable development of finance since the 1970s, has, along with other factors, made the global and instantaneous circulation of capital possible. It is a necessary instrument of the global integration of cycles of production and consumption.
- 6Some libertarians or council communists were for that matter more than happy to denounce the betrayal of union representatives. But such a “betrayal” was in line with the institutionalisation of the workers’ movement, implied in the proletariat’s affirmation of its power. Union representatives were traitors to the extent that they accepted to take on a specific role in order to reinforce their own power; but they did not create this role themselves. To content oneself with denouncing this “betrayal” is not enough, to the extent that it could imply that other -more honest- representatives could have done otherwise.
- 7Class struggles in newly industrialised countries such as China, India, Bangladesh or Cambodia can be different, because the struggles that take place there, for example wage struggles, can bring about victories with far-reaching impacts. However, in a capitalism that is globally integrated, this impact is never big enough to really transform the characteristics of the capitalist social relation. These struggles are not a replay of the struggles that took place in Europe at the beginning of capitalism, if only because they can no longer be in line with the revolutionary perspective of the years between 1840 and 1970.
Crisis and communisation
Communisation is not any kind of peaceful experimentation with new ways of life, but the revolutionary answer by the proletariat to an acute social crisis. The text below offers a few observations on this connection in the light of the current crisis.1
The class struggle between capital and the proletariat takes place all the time and forms the whole of our existence. In most cases it takes relatively peaceful forms, but throughout history it has given rise to numerous revolutionary movements which have threatened the existence of the mode of production. These movements have always originated in a refusal of unendurable proletarian living conditions, but it is not simply that an ‘excessive’ exploitation regularly calls capitalism into question. Often it is rather a ‘too lenient’ treatment of the working class which is the immediate cause behind social unrest. We can take Greece as an example, where the very poor finances of the State (caused, according to the bourgeoisie’s representatives, by too generous conditions for many groups of workers) in the end had to be remedied by the blood-letting of the working class. Exploitation and surplus value production are two terms for the same thing, and since the capital relation lives from producing surplus value, i.e. from exploiting workers, the class contradiction necessarily belongs to its most inner essence. Never can it escape from this contradiction, no matter how much the mode of production manages to mutate. Therefore, the threat that this relation will explode from the inside lurks behind every serious crisis.
Serious crises, such as the one we have been experiencing since 2008, break out in situations where the capitalist class fails to guarantee sufficiently high surplus value production under bearable conditions for the producers of this surplus value (that which in bourgeois jargon is called combining growth with social considerations). The most abstract definition of a crisis for the capitalist mode of production is that its reproduction is being threatened, that is to say the continued reproduction of the antagonist classes. It is on the concrete level, however, that we can see the crisis develop before our eyes: banks and companies that are threatened with bankruptcy and workers who are losing their jobs, are evicted from their homes, or are subjected to wage cuts, reduced pensions, poorer healthcare and so on. When single capitals or groups of proletarians get into straits, the State can intervene in order to ward off an emergency, by bailing out companies or handing out a little extra money to the municipalities and thereby maintaining a certain level of service. But there are never any miracle cures. In such instances, the State indebts itself, and sooner or later the budget has to be balanced, which means that in the end it is the proletariat which has to pay for it. The only mercy that the capitalist class can offer the proletarians of a country in crisis is some form of installment plan (a mortgage on future exploitation), or they can let the proletarians of another country pay a part of the bill. An example of the former is how Iceland was instructed to compensate Britain and the Netherlands for their losses connected with the collapse of Icesave : 2.8 billion euros plus interest over a period of thirty years. An example of the latter is the Swedish government’s vigorous pressure within the EU and the IMF in 2009 in order to prevent a devaluation of the Latvian currency, which would have been devastating for the Swedish banks that had lent out enormous sums to the Baltic countries. The latters’ brutal austerity packages were probably completely necessary in order to save the Swedish banking system from collapse, something which explains the extremely tough demands by Sweden and the EU.2 Acute measures such as emergency loans for the auto industry or nationalisations of mortgage companies do not, however, solve the underlying problem behind the crisis, which is a crisis of investment or rather a crisis of accumulation, i.e. a crisis of exploitation.3 Order insists that exploitation be deepened.
In the autumn of 2008 we witnessed how the capitalist states coordinated themselves on a world scale (from Washington to Beijing, from Frankfurt to Stockholm) in order to confront the financial crisis, but still they are far from mastering the situation. We’ve gone from a situation where the banks were at the brink of bankruptcy to one in which whole countries are threatened by insolvency. The public debt crisis is not over yet and if the situation worsens – for instance as a result of renewed struggles in Spain or in other deeply indebted countries, or as a consequence of higher oil prices – this could very well produce a domino effect like the one that the banks were facing in the autumn of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. The international community is already holding a number of countries above water (Iceland, Latvia, Greece, Hungary, Ukraine, Ireland…) and the question is how many more it is able to hold up.
The strength of the capitalist class is – apart from economic compulsion – its State apparatuses and its ability to work together in order to save the capitalist world system. This new spirit of class solidarity within the capitalist class has its basis in global production chains and in the dependence of all countries on a functioning world market. But at the same time, this is its weakness, because a local crisis can today, faster than ever, send a shock wave through-out the capitalist nerve system.
A global crisis of exploitation does not automatically lead to revolution, although the revolution is unthinkable without such a crisis. At the same time, a communist revolution today is one of the most difficult and dangerous things one can imagine, in that it would mean a confrontation with all the State apparatuses of the world. The alternatives must thus be extraordinarily grim for it to be a reality at all. To make the revolution is not to sacrifice oneself to an ideal but to try to reach a solution to immediate pressing needs.
Riff-raff is part of the communisation current. We maintain that the only revolutionary perspective today is that of communisation, that the communist revolution of today necessarily has to take the form of communisation. As a revolutionary practice this is characterised by the proletariat, in its struggle with capital, immediately taking on the task of abolishing its own conditions of life, i.e. all that which determines the proletariat as a class: property, exchange, work, the State, etc. Such a revolution passes neither through the conquering of political power nor the appropriation of the means of production, not even as a necessary step on the way. On the contrary, the revolutionary process is characterised by that process in which politics and the economy, the value form as a social mediation between individuals, is abolished and replaced by communism. The proletariat thus does not raise itself to become the dominant class, but abolishes itself along with all other classes in the course of the struggle against capital. Communisation does not fall from the sky, nor does it ‘arrive from the future’; it is a qualitative leap and a rupture with the form of class struggle that takes place every day (struggles over the wage, working conditions, etc). It breaks out the moment when the proletarians are forced to take communist measures against the class enemy: methods with which capital can be destroyed.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, Marx and Engels defined communism in the following manner : ‘Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.’ (The German Ideology, 1845) Communism as the real movement, this can by no means be interpreted to mean that communism can be witnessed here and now as existing communist relations. Such relations are completely incompatible with capitalist society. Communism as the real movement has to mean, rather, that it can be deduced from the “the premises now in existence”, from really existing class struggle. And since class struggle has changed – indeed the whole world has changed – the revolutionary perspective necessarily has to look different today. We must honestly ask ourselves what sort of revolution can be imagined from how the world is today.
It is always hazardous to speak of the future, but the risks are smaller when we are discussing the near future. Let us therefore sketch out the following scenario: the crisis has deepened and enormous quantities of capital have been lost. The capitalist class desperately has to increase exploitation in order to restart accumulation anew. The proletariat is resisting and after a while the situation arises, somewhere, where none of the classes can yield, which leads to enormous disturbances in society. The wage loss due to strikes and unemployment along with a currency crisis then creates an acute need for all sorts of provisions at the same time as one can no longer pay for these. The movement thus enters a new phase, when the proletarians stop paying the rent, electricity, water, and start to break into warehouses, occupy farm lands and so on, in short when they take what they need. Now, these encroachments on property rights are not the appropriation of the means of production and of existence; these do not pass over to the workers to become their property. Instead they cease to be property – they become communised. In the struggle against capital, the proletarians are strengthened and united by making themselves independent of working for money; class unity appears thus in the process of the dissolution of classes – in communisation. To concretely abolish themselves as proletarians is going to be the most difficult thing in the world, but is at the same time the ultimate weapon in the class struggle. With its communising measures the proletariat combats efficiently the class enemy by destroying all the conditions which constantly recreate the proletariat as a class. In the end, the proletariat can only fend off capital by negating itself as a value-creating class and at the same time – in one and the same process – producing completely new lives that are incompatible with the reproduction of capital.
Since the communisation process is characterised by the abolition of all social classes, including the proletariat, it leads – if it is completed – to an end of class struggle. It would be a big mistake, however, to imagine this process as one of gradually diminishing class antagonism, concurrently with communist relations pushing aside the capitalist ones. Communisation is a rupture with the everyday class struggle in that it is no longer any kind of defence of labour. Still, it is from the beginning to the end a class practice. (From having struggled to exist one now struggles for not having to exist.) Communisation is thus not an alternative way of life; it won’t be a social experiment of free individuals. Communisation is on the whole not a free choice but again an immediate need in a certain situation, a task which the proletarians impose on themselves, compelled by material conditions, when their situation has become unbearable and incompatible with the accumulation of capital. It is only the struggle with capital which can drive the proletariat to the point where it is compelled to smash the State, abolish capital and itself, in order to escape from its situation. Communisation should thus not be seen as a strategy or a method that can be chosen in an abundance of others, as if the proletariat had been standing in front of a smörgåsbord of possible revolutionary solutions. When we speak of revolution it is instead as material necessity, and the object of theory is to define this necessity: the conditions for the abolition of the capitalist mode of production. Only an analysis of the existing contradictory relation, of the conditions of its reproduction and of its non-reproduction, as well as a careful and detailed analysis of the ‘empirical’ class struggles that we witness and take part in today, can contribute to this being anything but a pious hope or pure speculation.
There are those who maintain that communism is necessary now: ‘To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilization. It is within this reality that we must choose sides.’ This you can read in The Coming Insurrection, a book which has attracted much attention recently. This is not theory, however, but rhetoric and propaganda. It is a call for action, just like the authors’ previous book Call. What is assumed here (if not explicitly) is that the objective conditions of the revolution are ready, or rather overripe, and that now only a subjective condition is needed which can smash ‘a dying social system [that] has no other justification to its arbitrary nature but its absurd determination – its senile determination – to simply linger on…’ (Call, p. 4.) We do not conceive of the revolution as the coincidence of objective and subjective conditions. Revolution, communisation, is actually not a necessity here and now, for we can still not witness it. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be necessary tomorrow! It is easy to become impatient when one sees where the world is heading, and we may all feel trapped inside an ‘absurd determinism’. The law of determinacy is inexorable however; never can we act in a way which makes ourselves independent from this determinism. But as a part of determinism, as necessarily determined by class antagonism, we can act in accordance with what we are – against what we have been – and as a class abolish all classes, when we are one day brought face to face with this awful task.
Peter Åström, March 2011
A reply to critics
The above text was discussed at the editorial meeting of Sic in July 2011, in which it was subjected to various criticisms.
The main criticism was that, in its attempt to respond to various voluntarist views, the text goes too far in the opposite direction and puts a too strong emphasis on the proletarians being compelled to act in a certain way. Communisation, it was argued, cannot be understood as a last resort solution imposed on the proletarians.
Another point of criticism put forward was that the text lacks a positive dimension, that it grasps only the negative side of the revolutionary process and thus neglects that communisation is a production of new relations between individuals replacing capitalist social relations.
To respond to the first point, I must agree that the text can give the impression of saying that the revolution is a mechanical process when it so strongly emphasises that communisation won’t be a free choice and that we will instead be compelled by the material conditions at hand. In my conception, however, the will and the acting is not absent in the revolutionary process but that is something which is only implied in the text. When I say that we are ourselves a ‘part of determinism’ and that we are ‘necessarily determined by class antagonism’ I mean that
- we do have a part to play, that we are in fact determining the course of events by acting, but that
- we cannot act independently from the determinacy of the class contradiction, i.e. the material conditions.
Making the revolution is not a free choice because we can only act within a certain framework, within the context of a general crisis (also produced by class struggle). Communisation is the revolutionary answer of our time to such a crisis. The text does not deal with the various counter-revolutionary answers that will also be presented and all the “struggles within the struggle against capital” that we can expect (see B.L., ‘The suspended step of communisation’). The proletarians will never be compelled to produce communism because of material impoverishment alone. In the face of deteriorating conditions, however, we can assume a re-emergence of the communist movement that will take the form of concrete actions and projects made up of individuals with minds and wants. These individuals (our future selves?) could then take on the task of abolishing capital/producing communism. I’m not saying that we should sit and do nothing until then but it isn’t enough to state that capitalism ‘obviously’ needs to be destroyed and then just do it. As Marx said: ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances…’ (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852).
The second criticism I find harder to understand. The text focuses on the need to attack and negate the capitalist categories but it also states clearly that the class enemy can only be defeated by ‘producing completely new lives that are incompatible with the reproduction of capital’. What those lives might be is not developed in the text, simply because I don’t know. All I know is that it is going to be a bloody mess.
- 1This text was first published in riff-raff no. 9, 2011.
- 2Only after the height of the storm had passed did the Swedish finance minister dare to speak directly : ‘This I have never said so clearly before, but the truth is that Sweden was in very, very big trouble in 2009, virtually over the edge’ – Anders Borg, January 19, 2011.
- 3Cf. Screamin’ Alice, ‘The breakdown of a relationship ? Reflections on the crisis’, October 2008 http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/15.
The historical production of the revolution of the current period
I. The restructuring of capital and the present form of the capital relation
The historical development of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital under real subsumption has led, today, to the period of crisis of the increasingly, and at an ever accelerated rate, internationalised capital relation. The current form of the capital relation and its crisis have been produced by the restructuring that followed the 1973 crisis. The main points of the analysis of the current capital relation are : a) The capital relation has been restructured at all levels. The restructuring was the “response” to the fall in the rate of profit after 1964 (first in the US). This was at the same time a counter-revolution, that is, a counter-attack by the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Its results were the end of the workers’ movement, the end of national and regional constraints in both the circulation of capital and the reproduction of the working class, and the end of state capitalism. b) An essential element of the restructuring was the accelerated internationalisation of capital since 1989. c) After 1982, more and more capital has been “invested” in the financial sphere.
Restructured capitalism has integrated the attack against the value of labour power as a functional, structural and permanent feature. The process of the current period (after 1973) can never be completed.
Capital is not an opposition, but a contradiction of classes. The working class is not an autonomous subject, independent from the production of value. The characteristics of the restructuring are at the same time the cycle of struggles inside and against restructured capitalism (a cycle that now has produced struggles occurring mainly outside the value production process in the “West”, food riots in poor states and wild strikes in Asia). Regarding the present, we can speak of struggles related to the challenged reproduction of the proletariat being questioned by the restructuring itself. The fact that the struggles of the current cycle (restructuring) do not constitute a political project is a structural feature of the historical process that defines the content of the coming revolution of our period. The current focal point is a point of crisis in the reproduction of the capital relation (financial crisis turning into debt crisis, which turns into currency crisis or state sovereignty crisis, etc…). Capital is obliged today to impose the second phase of the restructuring that started in the 1980s.
a. The contradiction of the restructuring: A solution to the “1973 crisis” and the bearer of the current crisis.
The restructuring is a never ending process because its end would be a contradiction in its own terms itself: capital without proletariat. It is a process of the “liquidation of the working class”. The trend of this phase of real subsumption is the transformation of the working class from a collective subject which deals with the capitalist class into a sum of individualised proletarians, everyone of whom is related individually to capital, without the intervention of a worker identity and workers’ organisations that would make of the working class a recognised “social partner”, which is accepted to participate at the table of collective bargaining. It is a process of continuous fragmentation of the working class, which over time, has expelled a big part of the proletariat from the value production process. Further, this process has no end as the end point would be the production of surplus value without variable capital, it would be capital without the proletariat. This process is expressed as a continuous need of the already restructured capital to keep restructuring itself.
The contradictory nature of this process leads some fractions of capital and of the proletarian movement to conceptualise the whole present period as a crisis of Keynesianism, something related to the conceptualisation of revolution as a development of the revindicative class struggles and of the recomposition of the class as a class for itself. What made Keynesianism successful was at the same time its limit that produced the crisis of the late 1960s.The wage-productivity link set the wage demand as the central issue of class struggle. Another aspect of the same process was the tendency of the organic composition of capital to increase (which is also a fetishised expression of class struggle within real subsumption). The development of these trends, on which the accumulation of capital was based in the years following the Second World War, eventually led to the wave of struggles of “1968” and the “crisis of 1973”. Capital then had to be restructured in order to increase the rate of exploitation and to reduce, or at least delay, the inevitable impact of the increasing organic composition on the rate of profit. “Keynesian” features of accumulation had to be modified, and this modification was the content of the restructuring at its beginning. A prominent aspect of restructuring as it evolved was the decomposition of the up to then officially accepted workers movement (of course, “accepted” following the historical production of class struggle).
b. Dynamics and limits of the current model of accumulation: the main dimensions of the restructuring.
The restructuring was certainly successful. The rise in the rate of exploitation of labour worldwide was the result of the attack against the working class in the developed countries and of the advancing internationalisation of capital, namely the intensive exploitation of labour power in (or coming from) the less developed states. Savings in constant capital were achieved through the generalisation of just-in-time production and the degradation of the rigid fordist assembly line. In this new period of real subsumption, every aspect of the capital relation has been transformed, and this transformation is manifested in the development of the current cycle of struggles: struggles by the unemployed, struggles in the education industry, the anti-globalisation movement, the direct action movement, struggles over wages in the centers of accumulation in the East, struggles against the expropriation of common lands in Asia. These struggles are not a result of the restructuring, but rather an integral part of it and ultimately are the restructuring of class struggle itself. The restructuring, as a deepening of real subsumption and an acceleration of the internationalisation of capital, has moved the epicentre of conflict to the field of the reproduction of the capital relation. The content of the successful restructuring was also responsible for the course of the model of accumulation it produced towards the current crisis.
The first dimension of the restructuring has been the increasing decomposition of solid sections of the proletariat which had formed the massive labour movement of the Keynesian era. This dimension has been achieved through: a) the unceasing transformation of the technical composition of capital through information and communication technologies, which allowed the disintegration of the vertically structured production process, and therefore the dissolution of the ‘mass worker’; b) the unceasing transformation of the labour process, which allowed the gradual imposition of negotiating labour power at an individual level and thus an individualised control over employees by bosses; c) the increasing number of reproductive activities moved away from the state to the private capitalist sphere, i.e. the reduction of indirect wage, something that resulted in a large increase in the number of women in the ranks of wage-labourers, and d) the increasing importance of repression in the social reproduction of capital.
Point c) has transformed the gender relation to a large extent and eroded the nuclear family, and has therefore unsettled the internal hierarchies and balances within the proletariat. This element has changed significantly the inter-individual relations within the proletariat. The position of the bearer of the reproductive social role (which mostly applies to women, but not exclusively at the present moment) has become even worse in the period of the restructuring of capital. Within the dialectics of “letting women to become workers and at the same time forcing women to become workers” the most important is the second aspect. As the nuclear family erodes more and more, the burden on women is duplicated. More and more they tend to possess a reproductive and a productive role at the same time. The restructuring has increased the questioning of women’s reproductive role and made the identification of the destruction of gender relations with the destruction of exploitation inevitable. This dynamic is the historical production of the limits of all kinds of feminism, which, despite the fact that they are right to criticise the capitalist gender relations, as long as they remain feminist and do not overcome themselves (an overcoming that can be produced as rupture within the struggles), are unable to really address the gender issue in its totality.
The second dimension of the restructuring has been the ever increasing internationalisation of capital. Up to 1989, the internationalisation (the proportion of international trade to overall trade), had to do mainly with the relocation of production from developed to “developing” states of the western part of the planet and the states of East Asia, except China (and flows of migrant workers to the ex-centers of production). Then, with the end of state capitalism, the process of internationalisation systematically expanded to the former “Eastern bloc” and China. This process is inextricably linked to the development of financial capital, which is the branch of capital that defines the internationalisation processes and monitors the level of profitability, in order for capital to be circulated and invested in the assumingly most profitable way. It is reasonable then that the development and restructuring of this sector of capital, together with fluctuating exchange rates and a huge increase in circulating money, have enabled more and more fractions of the capitalist class to make profits through financial speculation.
Both these features of the restructuring (fragmentation of the working class at all levels and internationalisation through the development of financial capital) have allowed capital to overcome the great crisis of the 1970s. Both were also key elements of the accumulation process which led to the present crisis:
The transformation of the labour process and the rapid changes in the technical composition of capital have led to a relative (and eventually absolute) decline in wages in the developed countries. The advancing integration of the reproduction of the working class into capital has led to an increased demand for services on the part of the proletariat (health, education, etc.), which could not be met efficiently by capital because of the inherent limits of productivity in the service sector. Only in this sense can one say that a distance is created between “social needs” and capitalist development.
The imposition of structural adjustment programs (SAPs) resulted in an influx of low-cost labour from non-developed countries to developed ones. The result of this was an accelerated creation of a surplus population (“surplus” from the perspective of capital) across the planet. At the same time, this surplus population has been forced to reproduce itself through the informal economy. Thus, “Third World” areas emerged in the metropolitan centers of the “First World”, and Western-like development zones emerged in “developing countries”. The global squeezing of the middle strata of the proletariat and the exclusion of those who belong to the lower ones, however, are increasingly turning cities into spaces of explosive contradictions.
Already by the mid-1990s, it was obvious that the features responsible for the dynamism of accumulation undermined it at the same time. In 1997, the crisis in Asia extended to Russia through disruptions in the oil market and then led to the collapse of Long Term Capital Management (the first collapse of a colossal fund). The crisis in Southeastern Asia showed that the rate of exploitation in these centers of accumulation was no longer high enough for the expanded reproduction of global capital to take place and accelerated the massive transfer of production facilities to China. The dotcom crash was the ostensibly final attempt of massive investment in the expectation of sustaining profitability through savings in constant capital. After 2001, what gradually became the case was that the reproduction of the working class was only possible by supplementing the decreasing wage with loans. An important part of the proletarians, in order to maintain their former level of reproduction, have been individually indebted to banks, whilst the future of their collective reproduction was also found mortgaged by pension funds (which are “institutional investors”) being led into heavy financial games (CDSs). Wage ceased to be the only measure of the level of reproduction of the working class, i.e. the latter tended to get disconnected from the wage.
c. Too big to fail is also too big to move on: The reproduction crisis of total social capital and its effort to impose the second phase of the restructuring
Capital, through its mobility and its continuous effort to optimise the valorisation process with complex measurements and calculating models, tries desperately to avoid, as far as possible, negotiating with the proletariat over the price of labour power. Labour power is now seen just as an expense and is not considered as a factor of growth through, for example, the expansion of the market. In an increasingly globalised capitalism, each national or regional fraction of the proletariat tends to be viewed as part of the global proletariat, absolutely interchangeable with any other part. The very existence of the proletariat is seen as an unavoidable evil. Since capital is nothing but value in motion and its expanded reproduction depends on surplus value that can be extracted only from the exploitation of labour, this tendency is an impasse, now defined as surplus proletarian population at a global level. Capital tends to reduce the price of labour power, a trend that points to the homogenisation of this price internationally (of course the necessary zoning of capital acts also as a strong counter-tendency that is going to, at the least, retard this process). Productivity tends to be fully decoupled from wages and valorisation of capital tends to be disconnected from the reproduction of the proletariat, but, on the other hand, through the deepening of real subsumption, capital tends to become the unique horizon of this reproduction. Capital gets rid of labour but at the same time labour power can only be reproduced within capital. The explosion of this contradiction in the crisis of the current phase of restructuring produces the need for a new (second) phase of the restructuring of capital and shapes the dialectics between limits and dynamics of the current class struggle.
The solution to this situation (from the viewpoint of capital) defines the beginning of a new attack against the proletariat. If this crisis is temporarily resolved, it will be remembered as the first step towards the second phase of the restructuring of contemporary capitalism (assuming that the first phase of the restructuring was the period from the late 70s to the present). The financial crisis will soon take the form of a crisis of national sovereignty, and in this development a tendency of a “Capitalist International” being autonomised is prefigured. The national state, as a basic reproductive mechanism of capital, is in severe crisis. Its results point to the crystallisation of new forms of international mechanisms that will take full control of the flows of migrant labour power in an effort of a new division of labour. These mechanisms will also try to manage the already existing but now accelerated process of the changing relation between absolute and relative surplus value extraction, which is necessary for capital. Furthermore, an effort will be made to impose on the majority of the proletariat a perpetual rotation between unemployment and precarious employment as well as the generalisation of informal labour, as well as to coordinate the transition to a repression based reproduction of the overabundant proletariat. This process will be an effort to accelerate the globalisation and more importantly its zoning, not only in terms of international trade but mainly in terms of a controlled circulation of labor power. By the imposition of the current new austerity measures (a deepening of the restructuring), which is at stake in the current class struggle in Europe, the international circuit of a rapidly circulating capital can continue to exist in this form as far as it can be supplied by national and/or sub-national zones, where more and more repression will be required for the reproduction of capital. More and more capital will be transferred to the financial sector ; more and more capital will be concentrated in this form ; more and more speculation will be produced. The production process will be sidestepped in order for the – necessary today, but considerably painful – depreciation of financial capital to be postponed or take place smoothly. The situation that will possibly be created by this development is far from stable, as it is ultimately based heavily on the extraction of absolute surplus value, which has also absolute limits. It will be more local-crisis-based than the current phase and will eventually lead to a more intense global crisis than the current one.
On the other hand, there is a possibility that the current crisis, in its development, can lead to severe inter-capitalist conflicts which may even result in the collapse of international trade and an effort to return to national currencies and protectionism. For such an important transformation to take place, a massive devaluation of capital is necessary, meaning elimination of a large part of financial capital.
Through this set of measures, which seems to be more or less on the agenda for most European countries, Greece is the first stop in the capitalist strategy of imposing the second phase of the restructuring. The fact that a minority of the precarious proletariat revolted during December 2008 makes the selected space and time for the beginning of a worldwide attack very risky. The risk manifested itself directly in the protests of May 5, 2010, which were an indication that the attempt to impose the second phase of the restructuring is likely to be conflictive and could lead to rebellion.
d. The crisis of the wage relation
The current crisis is an existential crisis of labour, normally manifested as a crisis of the labour contract. The “crisis of the labour contract” will become an overall crisis of waged labour through the structural tendency of wage demands to be delegitimised. The continuous reduction in wages, the generalisation of precariousness and the creation of a part of the proletariat that is constantly expelled from the value production process define the scope of defensive demands. This fact, coupled with a decrease in the percentage of the available workforce mobilised by capital, defines the content of the crisis of the wage relation as a crisis of reproduction of the proletariat, therefore a crisis of reproduction of the capital relation.
The effort to impose the second phase of the restructuring is in fact a declaration of war by global capital against the global proletariat, starting from Europe. This is “war by other means”, less intensive than a conventional war, but with better targeting potential. This “war by other means” will put into question the very role of wage labour as a means of reproduction of the global proletariat. Obviously, this process will advance, and will be expressed, in different ways in each country according to its position in the global capitalist hierarchy. However, the convergence of the “war conditions” (thus of class struggle) globally is very important.
In the Keynesian era of capitalist accumulation, public expenditure included the cost of reproducing labour power, i.e. health care, pensions and benefits, education, repression. In restructured capitalism the strategy became the reduction in public expenditure through the privatisation of several public related sectors. Actually, and mainly due to an aging population, but also to the slower imposition of the restructuring in Europe (something related to capitalist zoning), and the growth of insurance/financial capital in U.S., total (government and private) expenditure for health care and pensions increased in all developed countries (The Economist, June 29, 2010). Today, amidst a public debt crisis, all these costs except for repression are delegitimised. There is a constant reduction in indirect wage, and thus the valorisation of capital tends to be disconnected from the reproduction of the proletariat.
The public space in the cities, which is the spatial expression of the worker-citizen’s freedom, tends to disappear because it is considered dangerous in terms of facilitating sudden outbreaks of unrest. The exclusion of the youth from the labour market defines them as a dangerous social category (and as the crisis deepens, this applies to teenagers, as well). Specifically in Greece, such fears are growing within the bourgeoisie : “Also, the government is now aware of the fact that the antisystemic cycles, especially amongst young people, tend to be extended well beyond the limits of the Exarcheia district. A lot of young people are willing to be engaged and participate in highly aggressive groups” (To Vima, daily newspaper, June 27, 2010).
II. Current struggles of the global proletariat
The content of the revolution that is born in each historical period, including that of the current period of restructuring which, by its very nature, can never be consummately restructured, is prefigured in the day-to-day proletarian struggles. This is because struggles are a constitutive element of capitalist relations ; they are the conflict between the poles of the contradiction that continually transforms the contradiction itself (exploitation) Revolution can only be produced from this contradiction, that is, revolution as the radical transformation of capital or its abolition : the overcoming of exploitation. The present day relation of exploitation produces the struggles of a fragmented proletariat, whose reproduction is increasingly precarious. These are the struggles of a proletariat adequate to restructured capitalism.
The day-to-day revindicative struggles in the current historical period are considerably different from struggles in previous historical periods. Proletarian demands do not constitute a revolutionary programme anymore, as was the case until the beginning of the restructuring, during “the period of ‘68”. This is not due to a “subjective weakness” or “lack of consciousness” on the part of the working class.
The current structure of the capital relation is manifested in the fact that the proletariat, in its struggles, faces, even in the few cases where its demands are met, the reality of capital, as it is today: restructuring and intensified internationalisation, precariousness, no worker identity, no common interests, difficulty in the reproduction of life, repression. The fact that proletarian struggles, regardless of their level of militancy, cannot reverse this course and lead to a new type of Keynesian regulation is not a sign of weakness, but a key content of the current structure of the capital relation. The consequence of the above is the production, within the day-to-day struggles, of practices that go beyond their revindicative framework, practices that in the course of the struggle over immediate demands, question demanding itself. Such practices are ruptures produced within important class struggles (i.e. the struggle against CPE in France in 2006, the general strike in the Caribbean in 2009, protests against layoffs in 2009, the student movement in the US in 2009-10, riots in immigration detention centers in Italy in autumn 2009, food riots in Algeria, South Africa, Egypt in recent years, the wage demands riots in Bangladesh, China or Malaysia, land expropriation riots in China) and/or struggles without demands (such as in November 2005 in France and in December 2008 in Greece, spontaneous riots in China). Looking into global class struggle one can see that practices such as those mentioned above are multiplied. In the current cycle of struggles revolution is produced as the overcoming of the limits of this cycle. From the dynamics produced by the multiplication of “ruptures within revindicative struggles”, the working class is being recomposed, not as a class for itself, but as a class against capital and thus against itself as well.
III. Communisation as the historical product of the capital-labour contradiction
Today, we are situated in a period of crisis of restructured capitalism. We are at the point where the struggles over the wage in the centers of accumulation in Asia spread rapidly and the proletariat in the developed capitalist countries is staggering as it is being attacked by the bourgeoisie through the process of imposing the second phase of the restructuring. Developments in the class struggle front in different areas of conflict are always interconnected in a logical-historical way. Today, struggles around reproduction in the developed centers are associated by a feedback process to struggles over wage in the primary centers of accumulation, i.e. the most important aspect of the current zoning of global capital, known as ChinAmerica, tends to be destabilised. This contradictory process of crisis will bring even greater conflicts between proletarians excluded from the production process (already excluded and continues, due to the crisis), proletarians who precariously remain in the production process, and capital, and inter-capitalist conflicts too. The already existing questioning of the proletarian identity will take the form of a direct conflict against capital and there will be (inside the proletarian movement) new attempts to politicise and delimit struggles within capitalist reality. The movement of overcoming capitalist society will find its limits within itself. The limits are the practices of organising a new, alternative society (i.e. a new type of organisation of society based specifically on relations of production) outside or against capital.
A significant feature of the present period is that the capital relation produces repression as a necessity for its reproduction. There lie the power and the limits of the current class struggle. The tendency of social reproduction to take the form of repression creates unavoidably a distance between the poles of the capital relation. The content of the conflict is necessarily related to repression, namely to the most important aspect of the reproduction of a more and more overabundant proletariat. In this conflict, the proletariat will always face its very existence as capital. The power of the struggles will be at the same time their limits. All ideologies and practices of the (proletarian) vanguard, all ideologies and political (proletarian) practices will converge in the anti-repression approach, which creates the possibility of the emergence of another, possibly final, form of reformism of this period.
The most radical and at the same time reformist expression of class struggle today will be direct action practices. Direct action practices that emerged as a radical break within the anti-globalisation movement provided the chance for the identity of the militant proletarian-individual – who belongs to the more and more precarious and/or unemployed proletariat – to become important. Direct action practices manifest themselves in many forms (radical unionism, citizens’ movements, armed struggle), which vary considerably and in most cases coexist in a conflictive way, and are also produced directly, without mediations, by the contemporary contradictory existence of the proletariat.
Direct action today expresses the overcoming of class identities and the production of the individualistic identity of the militant, based on the moral attitude of the potentially defeated struggling proletarian – something quite reasonable, since what is at stake in struggles within restructured capitalism is only the deceleration of the attack carried out by capital. Even “victories” do not create euphoria to anyone. Current reality tends to take the form of widespread repression. This produces the identity of the militant who struggles against all forms of repression, which in fact are the manifestations of the reproduction of the exploitation relation. Radical trade unionism is necessarily orientated towards offering protection against layoffs and ensuring compensations, since demanding significant wage increases is meaningless today (the cases in the centers of accumulation in eastern Asia provide a meaningful exception, since the wage is well below what in developed capitalist states is considered as level of workers’ reproduction). Local citizens’ movements are orientated towards protecting a freedom of movement and communication, against the effort of the state to ghettoise/militarise metropolitan space, and through such actions maintaining the indirect wage (the main ideology of these fractions of the movement is de-growth ideology). These two tendencies will converge in the near future as the crisis develops. The deepening of the crisis will lead to “self reduction practices” and clashes with repression forces in neighborhoods. This is the point of convergence between local movements and radical unionism, the point of convergence between struggles in the production process and those outside it. The self-proclaimed “armed struggle” is orientated towards the alleged punishment of fractions of the bourgeoisie, something like a self-invited protection from over-exploitation. This manifestation of direct action promotes a specific strategy of a military confrontation between small groupings and the State that leads to an absolute impasse.
Those involved in the direct action movement reflect the questioning of the contradictory proletarian situation in their supposed not belonging to the (“passive” and / or “reformist” in their words) class. In this way, what is expressed in their struggles is the marginal point of this period, the point that proletariat has become overabundant. The most assertive parts of the movement call themselves revolutionaries when there is no revolution yet and they find shelter in the concept of “consciousness” (the discourse about the need for the consciousness of the individual to be “changed fundamentally”) in order to avoid this contradiction. They build immediate (comradely) relations in their struggles while they make an ideology out of these relations – namely “revolution now” – ignoring the fact that communism is not a local issue or an issue for a small group of people. They more or less tend to face workers who still have a (relatively) stable job as “privileged”, or even as “the real working class with its petit-bourgeois consciousness”. They also tend to think of themselves as individuals who do not belong organically to the class because they are precarious or unemployed. The other side of the same coin is that radical unionist fractions tend to face precarious workers as the social subject that must unite as a “class for itself”, and comprehend their actions as efforts towards this class unity.
The overcoming will be produced from the current limits. The questioning of the proletarian condition by the direct action practices (which is manifested as a contradiction, of course) prefigures its overcoming inside the proletarian struggle itself: the future abolition of the proletariat as a class. This is why the practices of the direct action movement are adopted in the ruptures which emerge inside current struggles; this is why the practices of direct action were adopted and overcome by the rioters on December 2008. Of course the current struggles are still inside the limits of the current cycle, but the specific production of this limit (demand to continue to exist, without putting into question the production relations) prefigures the dynamics of its overcoming. The only way class struggle can overcome itself is the production of multiple rupture practices in the development of the unavoidably reformist struggles. The multiplication of rupture practices will be produced within these struggles. These practices will necessarily advance the struggles, which will necessarily be struggles for the reproduction of life against capital. Any effort to “unify” the different struggles of fractions of the proletariat in the common struggle that would support the supposed common interests of the class (any effort for the class unity) is a manifestation of the general limit of the current dynamics of class struggle. The only generalisation that can be produced is a generalisation of practices which will put any possible stabilising of a “proletarian success” into question. These practices (struggles inside the struggles), through their diversity and the intense conflicts that they will produce inside the struggles, will exacerbate the crisis which proletarian reproduction is already in, and will simultaneously question the proletarian condition for the whole of the proletariat, i.e. the existence of capitalist society itself.