Submitted by boomerang on April 10, 2014

I've read communisation theory and I find it very hard to understand, because it's written in "academicese."

Can anyone here give a lay-person's terms, "for dummies" explanation of it?

Here's my interpretation: During revolution, it's not enough for workers to take over the means of production and democratically self-manage. Whatever we produce under workers control, we must make available for free, immediately. During the revolution we'll probably need a relatively high amount of rationing (due to war), and with time we can phase that out. But whatever we produce must be provided for free from day one of the revolution.

Is that all there is to it?

sabot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

This is the simplist text that I know of: http://libcom.org/library/communisation . The "In a nutshell" part may answer your question if you haven't read this already.

ocelot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Bloody good question.

ocelot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

That "in a nutshell" section linked by sabot is at least clear and mercifully short. It references the leaflet "Un Monde Sans Argent"

To the best of our knowledge, Un monde sans argent has not been translated in English, except for short extracts published in the SPGB magazine Socialist Standard (July 1979) : John Gray "For communism" site

Does anybody know if it has yet been translated into English?

ocelot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Thanks. I see part 3 remains to be done. Maybe one of these days when I get some time...

boomerang

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Thank you Sabot. So I read what you linked to, with special attention to the "In a Nutshell" section. And I found the quote that completely trips me up and confuses me about communisation theory (from here on I'll call it CT):

http://libcom.org/library/communisation

The process will take time to be completed, but it will start at the beginning of the revolution, which will not create the preconditions of communism: it will create communism.

Does everyone see how ambiguous and wide open for interpretation that is? On the one hand CT seems to be screaming, "The revolution must be communist from day one! And to be communist we must abolish the following capitalist evils! (insert list here)" But then it says, "The process will take time to be completed, but it will start at the beginning of the revolution" - and that can be interpreted to mean almost anything.

What can be counted as "beginning the process" of communisation?

CT rightly argues that workers taking over the means of production and having democratic self-management is not communisation, as long as there continues to be money, exchange, wages, etc. But someone could easily argue that this IS "the beginning of the process" of abolishing these capitalist evils, because workers are now in power and this is a necessary pre-condition to the rest.

What does it mean to "begin the process" of abolishing money? Can there be intermediate steps? Wouldn't most people on Libcom say "no"? CT implies that yes, there can. Doesn't this leave the door open to interpret this as a seal of approval for introducing things like labor notes? Or non-transferable credits? Or barter? Or "time dollars"?

I don't think the authors of CT would advocate any of these things. So then what DO they mean? Maybe that money should be abolished gradually by making basic goods available for free immediately but still using money for luxuries, and then slowly bringing the luxuries into the free-sphere until after some time everything is free and money is totally abolished? I doubt this is what they're advising, but I can't think of any other way to "begin the process" of abolishing money.

Think about this for the other things on their list of evils of capitalism that must be abolished.

What does it mean to "begin the process" of abolishing wage-labor? Can you imagine an enterprise where workers have semi-abolished wage labor? What the hell does that mean? Does anyone here even believe this is possible?

What does it mean to "begin the process" of abolishing
... private property?
... production for value?
... exchange?
... commodities?
... profit?

I don't think any of these things can be semi-abolished.

-

Unless I'm interpreting this all wrong. Maybe by

The process will take time to be completed, but it will start at the beginning of the revolution

what they mean is that when workers get a hold of a certain geographic space (an enterprise, a neighborhood, a city, a country) then we fully introduce communism in the space that we control. But this only "begins the process" because there are still other geographic spaces that have not been communised, and this is why "the process will take time to be completed."

Is that the proper interpretation?

-

If so, then I still take issue with CT! Because I think a couple of things on their list of capitalist evils that must be destroyed actually cannot be destroyed immediately (even in a given geographic space that workers control) but will require gradual change. I'm referring to these two:

work-time as cut off from the rest of our life, ...
the separation between learning and doing,

-

And last but not least, there are a couple of things on their list that I just don't understand what they mean

the enterprise as a separate unit and a value-accumulating pole, ...
the quest for maximum and fastest circulation of everything,

kingzog

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Communization theory is mostly an eschatological-millenarian, post-modern Pol-potism for hipsters. They all try, for the most part, to not get into "after the revolution" discussions, but when they do it's envisioned as the anti-thesis of planning and "accounting" (like labor-time accounting) If, in their words, "communist measures" were carried out irl on a large scale, groups of normal people affected (probably based on the family unit) would simply retreat to subsistence farming and private handicraft production. The worst of the communization milieu is probably the views in SIC journal and Bruno Astarian, but they all seem to have this problem with millenniarianism and post-modern Pol-potism.

jolasmo

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I took the point of communisation to be about how we need to start implementing communist social relations from the beginning of the revolutionary moment, as opposed to e.g. setting up a workers state that will bring about communism at a later date. It doesn't mean you'll get communism instantly, that'd be ridiculous, but if for e.g. there's still money in circulation after the first few days of revolution then that's just because communism isn't strong enough yet, not because the workers have this plan figured out to keep some money around for a bit as a stepping stone to full communism.

kingzog

Communization theory is mostly an eschatological-millenarian, post-modern Pol-potism for hipsters. They all try, for the most part, to not get into "after the revolution" discussions, but when they do it's envisioned as the anti-thesis of planning and "accounting" (like labor-time accounting) If, in their words, "communist measures" were carried out irl on a large scale, groups of normal people affected (probably based on the family unit) would simply retreat to subsistence farming and private handicraft production. The worst of the communization milieu is probably the views in SIC journal and Bruno Astarian, but they all seem to have this problem with millenniarianism and post-modern Pol-potism.

I admit I struggle with some of the texts produced by the communisation lot, but tbh I can't remember every reading anything as bafflingly incomprehensible as "eschatological-millenarian, post-modern Pol-potism". I mean, what? I assume that's... bad? Right?

~J.

sabot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Just curious, did you finish the rest of the Troploin article? It does mention some of the concerns you brought up but the article admits it doesn't have a blue print on how society should properly re-organise itself under such a scenario. I'd be pretty skeptical of it if it did try to sketch out anything. Also, It does attempt to examine and critique some of the failures of previous revolutions.

For your last question, that one deals with capital social relations and might take a little longer to explain. I always try to recommend more succinct text first before a longer one (otherwise I would have just recommended reading Marx's Capital, which isn't the best way to answer that question). Hmm..maybe try reading Dauvé next (again, if you haven't already):
http://libcom.org/library/capitalism-communism-gilles-dauve

Tyrion

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

As I understand from Troploin and Theorie Communiste and such, communisation theory focuses on socialist revolution as the transformation of capitalist social relations into communist ones i.e. the establishment of from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. This is in contrast to conceptions of revolution that emphasize workers seizing control of the means of production (but not necessarily abolishing commodity production ASAP) or some "workers' party" taking control of the state--"The Revolution" isn't some insurrectionist act or change in management that precedes the construction of communism, but rather the construction of communism itself.

I've no idea what this has to do with Pol Pot.

boomerang

what they mean is that when workers get a hold of a certain geographic space (an enterprise, a neighborhood, a city, a country) then we fully introduce communism in the space that we control. But this only "begins the process" because there are still other geographic spaces that have not been communised, and this is why "the process will take time to be completed."

Is that the proper interpretation?

I believe so. The extent to which communism has spread geographically also limits the ability to build communism in any area at all (e.g. food couldn't be distributed by need if there just wasn't enough food within a "communist area" for this to be possible).

boomerang

And last but not least, there are a couple of things on their list that I just don't understand what they mean

the enterprise as a separate unit and a value-accumulating pole, ...
the quest for maximum and fastest circulation of everything,

I think that abolishing "enterprise as a separate unit and a value-accumulating pole" means that production will be carried out on the basis of human needs and desires rather than production being carried out for profit and only incidentally related to the aforementioned needs and desires. Abolishing "the quest for maximum and fastest circulation of everything" seems to me a way of describing the end of capital accumulation and particularly the increased working speed and hours that increasing the rate of accumulation entails.

Cooked

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I enjoy and share the confusion about this! My take has been that its just prefigurative politics given a new name and minor tweaks to attract the interest of (very small) groups of people.

I've failed to see how it's not a form of what around here is called lifestylism.
Help wanted!

Joseph Kay

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I'll preface this by saying i also find communisation texts very dense, hard to read, and quite cryptic. And that you can get by perfectly fine without reading it. That said, I think it can be summarised in three key components:

1. A critique of the traditional workers' movement. The argument goes something like this: in the past, workers identified with their work, a sort of pride in their trade, the working class was relatively homogenous, or at least was united behind leading industrial sectors (mining, car factories etc). This gave rise to ideologies of self-management, workers' kicking out their bosses and carrying on production more or less as before. It also gave rise to a progressivist ideology - 'we're going to inherit the earth', which made sense at the time since the industrial proletariat was ever-growing and seemed to be the class of the future.

2. A periodisation of the class relation. This is closely related to 1: the claim goes that since the 1970s, capitalism has been restructured in such a way to fundamentally change the class relation. Up to this point ('Fordism'?), workers identified with their work, and could express their struggles within the class relation (i.e. through wage bargaining and productivity deals, which also boosted the economy). Since then, this class compromise has disintegrated. Instead, workers are increasingly excluded from production due to automation, creating a growing surplus population, who don't identify with work and experience capital as an external constraint.

3. A claim about the nature of revolution. The claim is that revolution is communisation. This is principally a critique of the 'transitional period' of traditional Marxism, though it is also extended to all the other traditions of the workers movement (council communists, anarcho-syndicalists, etc). At its simplest, this just means that revolution is the process of creating communism, not a period based on non-communism (e.g. state socialist planning, or self-managed wage labour). The claim is also that 'communisation is a movement at the level of the totality', i.e. things are only communist to the extent they're part of an overall movement towards communism.

Each aspect of each of these claims is obviously open to question. I don't think I accept much of it without big caveats or qualifications.

Cooked

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Joseph Kay

1. A critique of the traditional workers' movement.
2. A periodisation of the class relation.
3. A claim about the nature of revolution.

Yes, and much of it is valid, but it seems all change will happen by people step by step and more or less as individuals? Changing their way of life and creating spaces (not just physical) outside of capitalism? You then bump into the issue of competing with capitalism. I'm not dead set that you can't compete with capitalism as it's pretty shit the way I see it but I still see a weakness there.

I'm not very knowledgeable on this topic at all and it would be interesting to know if I've got it all wrong.

Joseph Kay

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I think that's one of the points of the internal debate, e.g. Endnotes' critique of Tiqqun. Tiqqun are much more the drop out/form a commune/crack capitalism types, Endnotes are more about struggles linking up and generalising to the point of creating new social relations. Arguably this is just lifestyle vs social anarchism restaged with lots of Marxist jargon.

CrimeZone

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Arguably this is just lifestyle vs social anarchism restaged with lots of Marxist jargon.

This is why communisation theory always seemed like a total dog-and-pony-show to me. Nothing new presented that hasn't been argued before, but dressed up in pretentious, superfluous jargon to disguise this so that kids emerging from anarcho-punk and distrustful of "outdated theory" will naively assume it to be a new perspective and also feel good about their mental faculties because they are able to wade through the gummy tar pit of philosophical cant and nifty creeds of "subjectivity". I hope it is, and I'm sure it is, helpful to some. But its basic assumption, that we should start producing communist relations as part and parcel of the revolution, seems like it's been said since the 1800s, and even done before in revolutionary situations- it's only an astonishing surprise to MLs or Trots.

Joseph Kay

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Yeah, I probably agree with that. I think communisation theorists would argue (due to claim #2), that revolution as communisation is only possible in the present period, so if say, anarchists said it in 1900, they were utopians, or something. But I don't think it's all entirely without merit - I've been slowly working my way through Endnotes 3; I think the piece on gender is a very good attempt to get past the limits of Italian Marxist feminism and theorise social reproduction, and I think 'the holding pattern' piece is a pretty good, balanced piece on the recent struggles.

Generally yeah, I think it's needlessly cryptic, high on assertion where evidence is needed, and often too vague to pin down to a specific claim. I don't want to defend it, but I think there's some interesting things being said in amongst it all.

boomerang

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Tyrion, good response to my questions, clears things up.

Joseph K, nice summary.

Sabot, I read it. I'm also cautious of blueprints, but what I really hate is when things are left wide open and vague. A balance in between is good.

CrimeZone

its basic assumption, that we should start producing communist relations as part and parcel of the revolution, seems like it's been said since the 1800s, and even done before in revolutionary situations- it's only an astonishing surprise to MLs or Trots.

Which revolutionary situations were these? Every revolutionary situation I've read about didn't go further than self-managed capitalism (or if you prefer you can call it market socialism). The only exception I know of is in the rural communes during the Spanish Revolution.

If there are others, please let us know.

Joseph Kay

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Well, no historical revolutions resulted in global communism. You will find accounts, like Gaston Leval's on the Spanish Revolution, that see the contradictory hybrid of self-management and capitalism as the result of a stalled movement though, not an altogether different analysis to 'communisation is a movement at the level of the totality':

Leval

There was not, therefore, true socialisation, but a workers' neo-capitalism, a self-management straddling capitalism and socialism, which we maintain would not have occurred had the Revolution been able to extend itself fully

http://libcom.org/library/collectives-leval-3

redsdisease

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Joseph Kay

1. A critique of the traditional workers' movement. The argument goes something like this: in the past, workers identified with their work, a sort of pride in their trade, the working class was relatively homogenous, or at least was united behind leading industrial sectors (mining, car factories etc). This gave rise to ideologies of self-management, workers' kicking out their bosses and carrying on production more or less as before.

This part has always bugged me. I feel like, rather than being a critique of the "traditional workers' movement", it's more of a critique of the workers' movement during the relatively short period of social stability between the end of the depression and the sixties. This idea that, in the past, workers were always closely tied to their trade, relatively stationary, and homogenous seems to fly in the face of everything I've ever read about the pre-depression working class.

Joseph Kay

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Yeah, I think that's a strong line of criticism. And if communisation theorists overestimate the homogeneity of the historical working class and the workers movement, they presumably overestimate the novelty of heterogeneity and division today. And given as this is the basis for the periodisation of the class relation, and therefore the novelty of 'revolution as communisation', the whole enterprise looks a bit shaky if the historical arguments don't hold up.

CrimeZone

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

And if communisation theorists overestimate the homogeneity of the historical working class and the workers movement, they presumably overestimate the novelty of heterogeneity and division today.

I think the assumption of homogeneity is in no small part due to the traditional depiction of the working class (by both capitalists and "socialist" states)- square-jawed white men stoking an industrial furnace- and the myopic focus on certain types of labor while regarding others as insignificant (Marx's Victorian conception of the "lumpenproletariat" springs to mind)- so in that sense, I could see the argument that advocates of communisation make in this respect. The mental image of the proletariat (that it has of itself and that others have of it) is a much different one today, even if the actual situation has not shifted as dramatically as is trumpeted about.

Tyrion

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

CrimeZone

Arguably this is just lifestyle vs social anarchism restaged with lots of Marxist jargon.

This is why communisation theory always seemed like a total dog-and-pony-show to me. Nothing new presented that hasn't been argued before, but dressed up in pretentious, superfluous jargon to disguise this so that kids emerging from anarcho-punk and distrustful of "outdated theory" will naively assume it to be a new perspective and also feel good about their mental faculties because they are able to wade through the gummy tar pit of philosophical cant and nifty creeds of "subjectivity". I hope it is, and I'm sure it is, helpful to some. But its basic assumption, that we should start producing communist relations as part and parcel of the revolution, seems like it's been said since the 1800s, and even done before in revolutionary situations- it's only an astonishing surprise to MLs or Trots.

I agree that communisation theory isn't anything new, which is actually part of what I like about it; it returns to the very self-emancipatory roots of communism as the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. However, over the last century, socialist revolution has been popularly conceived as workers taking over the means of production (potentially a step toward communism, but also possibly to self-managed exploitation) or as a "workers' party" taking control of the state. Communisation theory may not seem particularly insightful for someone coming from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, but I'd imagine it receives a very different reception by those who've been more into Leninism or some sort of bastardized syndicalism.

ocelot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

redsdisease

Joseph Kay

1. A critique of the traditional workers' movement. The argument goes something like this: in the past, workers identified with their work, a sort of pride in their trade, the working class was relatively homogenous, or at least was united behind leading industrial sectors (mining, car factories etc). This gave rise to ideologies of self-management, workers' kicking out their bosses and carrying on production more or less as before.

.
This part has always bugged me. I feel like, rather than being a critique of the "traditional workers' movement", it's more of a critique of the workers' movement during the relatively short period of social stability between the end of the depression and the sixties. This idea that, in the past, workers were always closely tied to their trade, relatively stationary, and homogenous seems to fly in the face of everything I've ever read about the pre-depression working class.

Even further, I think there's ironically something of the old-fashioned "1857 Preface" style orthodox thinking of being able to read the historical reality of the class from the left theory of the time.

TC look back at the workerism of both social-democrat theory of the Belle Epoque (1895-1914), of Kautsky, Bebel, Luxemburg, Pannekoek, etc, and also the syndicalist wave of that era (arguably a succession of two waves, whatevs) and see that it glorifies the industrial worker as the producer of everything who can seize control of the existing means of production and produce a self-managed collectivist socialism - and therefore conclude that they can read back the lived reality of the historical working class from that theory, in a simple base-determines-superstructure kinda way. That kind of thinking is itself a holdover of the theory of the "traditional workers movement" era they are supposedly putting behind them.

And as people have already said, there were plenty of people around at the time who didn't get swept up in that theoretical wave and criticised it at the time (Malatesta for one, but there were others), and detailed social movement histories of the period reveal that the workers movement was always more rich, complex and contradictory than this simplistic base/superstructure ideology as reflection of material social relations picture allows.

Then again, tiny theoretical sect overestimates the historical role of theory - what else is new?

ocelot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Given that the whole rejection of a transitional phase of "socialist wage labour" and "workers state" has always been part of anarchist-communism, the only real new thing about communisation is this periodisation, which really stems from Cammatte's idea of a passage from formal subsumption to real subsumption at a social level (as opposed to the immediate process of production that Marx talked about). Cammatte, as we recall managed to paint himself into a dead end, and I still think there are some of those problems haunting communisation as well - the incapability of articulating any kind of strategy, for one.

On that bit, I really liked this section from the Viewpoint mag article on the Castoriadis-Pannekoek exchange

Many of the defin­ing prin­ci­ples of the his­tor­i­cal ultra-left per­sist, and their pecu­liar com­bi­na­tion of blind­ness and insight bears the marks of their prog­en­i­tors. Their shared empha­sis on pro­le­tar­ian self-activity, their will­ing­ness to delib­er­ately con­flate means and ends, their ten­dency to elide the moment of strat­egy, their demand for the abo­li­tion of a tran­si­tion period, and their ten­dency towards fatal­ism, are all age-old his­tor­i­cal debates.

So, apart from the dodgy periodisation, a lot of what communisation comes out with seems to be the preference of marxists to produce a vast amount of verbiage rather than the four simple words "the anarchists are right".

Having said that, the central problems of forming an effective transformational strategy, how to practically effect the transition from capitalist to communist social relations (the abolition of wage labour, value, the state, etc) are common to us all, so the discussion on these problems remains of vital interest. But we should definitely tease them about their waffle being an attempt to cover up their "ideological capitulation to anarchism" from a marxist point of view.

edit: sod it, I'm throwing in another quote from that article, cos I think it's great.

This gap goes a long way in explain­ing Pannekoek’s some­what con­fus­ing belief that the party can never actu­ally be a part of the class itself. In his let­ters, he seems to argue that any enlarged con­cep­tion of the party would nec­es­sar­ily trans­form it into a spe­cial forces team, which would be called in to bash heads when the class runs into trou­ble. He refused to enter­tain the pos­si­bil­ity that the party, as was the case in Rus­sia, may itself be a nec­es­sary ele­ment of the class. Unlike Cas­to­ri­adis, who tried to cap­ture the sig­nif­i­cance of the French Com­mu­nist Party by study­ing its pos­si­ble social bases, its par­tic­u­lar his­tory, and its broader rela­tion­ship to the class strug­gle itself, Pan­nekoek con­tented him­self with sim­ply argu­ing that it was on the side of cap­i­tal. For Cas­to­ri­adis, this was not good enough; the task was to metic­u­lously ana­lyze the pecu­liar, and rather unprece­dented, com­po­si­tion of a reformist party work­ing in the ser­vice of a for­eign coun­try, to “explain patiently the com­plete work­ings and mate­r­ial roots of Stalinism’s betrayal” in order to defin­i­tively out­flank it.28
.
Pan­nekoek delib­er­ately ignored these kinds of ques­tions – ques­tions, he would say, that have been posed in “an entirely prac­ti­cal way” – because his vision of rev­o­lu­tion, despite its numer­ous mer­its, was still largely informed by a kind of fatal­ism. Pro­le­tar­i­ans will nat­u­rally fig­ure every­thing out based on their imme­di­ate expe­ri­ences, as though they pos­sess some kind of innate knowl­edge organ­i­cally dri­ving them to a spec­i­fied goal, like an acorn grow­ing into an oak tree. They will spon­ta­neously become polit­i­cal sub­jects, like the log­i­cal result of an equa­tion, and make their rev­o­lu­tion on their own. If they run into any set­backs, it’s only because they still don’t have enough expe­ri­ence; if they suf­fer a defeat, it’s only because they weren’t ready. For the Pan­nekoek of these let­ters, there is no gap between imme­di­ate needs and the eman­ci­pa­tion of the class through rev­o­lu­tion. The two seam­lessly blend into one another in such a way as to entirely cover up the moment of strategy.

Nate

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Great thread, more than I can take in right now. For now, I like JK's summary and agree with his take. FWIW I had written off the communization stuff but after reading this piece "Communization Theory and the abolition of the Value Form" by Internationalist Perspective I'm convinced there's elements to this theory that's worth taking seriously. That piece is here - http://internationalist-perspective.org/IP/ip-archive/ip57.pdf

The parts that really struck me start on page 14 of that PDF with the paragraph beginning

"The question raised by communization theory as it has developed over the past several decades is whether the social imaginary of a period of transition, of lower and higher stages of communism, has not become – at this historical stage of capitalism – one more obstacle to the communist revolution, to communization." Sorry if this is obvious but 'period of transition' here means specifically deliberate measures to maintain capitalist social relations/commodification. The part I like about this is the point about rejecting that theory of revolution involving transition. What I don't like is the idea that this is only possible 'at this historical stage'. I think Dauve/Nesic are better here when they talk about communism as invariant and some form of communism always having been possible (I may have misunderstood D/N as well).

Spikymike

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Ah yes ''some form of communism'' certainly but would it/could it have been sustainable and anyway nothing we would consider practical or even want to-day.

And rejecting 'transitional' phases' and the whole historical stages approach to the revolutionary overtyhrow of capitalism may have been the theoretical preserve of some anarchist-communists of old but was it a practical proposition then? Were there not anarcho-syndicalists of the same era with a more 'practical' approach not so disimilar to the left wing of Social Democracy?

Joseph Kay

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

There were, though that still raises the problem ocelot mentions of treating the theoreticians as representative of the movement, I think.

Another way communisation stuff could be seen as saying something new is the synthesis with value-form theory. This is clearest in Endnotes, who seem heavily influenced by Chris Arthur's systematic dialectics.* I think the value-form stuff has merit - mainly in terms of showing how different social forms - wage labour, the state, etc - presuppose and require one another. I think that's a useful theoretical effort, though of course value-form theory is hardly any easier than communisation theory in general to read. There's also important critiques of the value-form approach, like from political Marxists who stress that the different social forms emerged historically at different times, which would suggest they're not as mutually dependent as value-form analysis suggests.**

* Systematic dialectic is opposed to historical dialectic: in other words, history does not unfold dialectically, not all societies or nature or things are 'dialectical', but the particular structure of capitalist society can be understood and presented dialectically.

** I think these positions can probably be reconciled, but not in a forum post.

Nate

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Spikymike

Ah yes ''some form of communism'' certainly but would it/could it have been sustainable and anyway nothing we would consider practical or even want to-day.

Well, if communism means 'no commodification' plus freedom, or something like that, (which is most of what the communization theory seems to say about what communism is) then yes, I think it's possible at any time. That seems obvious to me. To say otherwise is to say basically that capitalism is unavoidable, which is silly imho. And this isn't to say all societies emerging into communism are identical regardless of when and where it happens. That we today in the 21st century UK and US would want a different sort of communism than would have existed in the 1800s or early 1900s is neither here nor there in terms of 'was communism REALLY possible?!' kinds of debates. I'm fine to agree to disagree on this point and won't reply on it further on this thread as I think it's kind of a thread derailer.

On the rejection of transition part, I think that's really key. I think it sounds really good to say that the idea of rejecting transitional phases was in the past just a theoretical matter but is today practical. But there's no actual evidence for that, it's just playing with theoretical categories to create distinctions between traditions imho. Rejecting transitional phases is no more practical today for anyone than it ever has been before - there's pretty minimal communization practice happening in the world, I think, not a lot of actual communizing taking place and I think the communization theorists, at least some of them, don't believe that communization theorists themselves can kick off actual practices of communization. So this is all largely theoretical and communization theorists are also limited to not practicing communization until the working class starts practicing in somewhat larg scale. When/if that starts to happen we can start to talk about rejecting transition in practice rather than just in theory. And we won't really know if that's a revolutionary creation of communism until after capitalism's gone. I think it's likely we'll see some starts that fail before we see revolution (and no doubt some people will then write article about how those efforts were impossible because of objective conditions etc).

Spikymike

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

For others who took an interest in Joseph's post 29 above I noticed they gave a more detailed and useful explanation that I actually understood in the theory thread titled 'political marxism - value theory mashup' worth a look.

Nate,

I suppose my earlier brief comment reflected my view that whilst some forms of communism have always been possible and arguably actually existed, and so was by that token certainly practical, that such forms were in practice, and could only have been, geograpically localised and historically vunerable to extinction and therfore unsustainable. As a matter of fact it seems that it is capitalism, and more particularly modern global capitalism (under the 'real domination of capital') that has created the objective potential and subjective necessity to practically create a sustainable communist society on a world scale.

Joseph,

Surely the 'labour republic' and various forms of 'self-managed capitalism', were the 'best' achievements in practice of the workers movement as represented by the initial Russian and Spanish revolutions and some other isolated and stalled insurrectionary workers movements of a certain period and more than what they were represented as theoretically by the political activists of anarcho-syndicalism or left Social Democracy? So I'm not sure yours and ocelot's point on this is valid.

Joseph Kay

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I think the problem is anyone can predict with certainty after the fact. I'm not sure what use theory is if it serves mainly to tell us that stuff which happened necessarily had to happen, and that this can be read off from (a selective reading of) the theories of the time. I mean this was there in Hegel - the whole 'owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk' thing. That wasn't so much a problem for him, as a Prussian state philosopher convinced he was the wise old owl at the end of history, looking back and making sense of it all.

I think some or all of the communisation stuff inherits this problem. When communism is posed 'at the level of the totality', strictly speaking we'll only know what was communising once we're in a communist society. At which point communisation theory is reduced to philosophy in the sense Marx famously criticised ("The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.")

I mean I actually think the 'level of the totality' thing is an important point to insist on - it's not a question of whether say, workplace occupations are communist in the abstract. It's a question of the movement those occupations are part of. It's entirely possible that a workplace occupation could be at the forefront of a communising movement - the first occupation inspiring a spreading wave - but later become an obstacle, e.g. by insisting on retaining a wage system or refusing to distribute goods on a non-market basis when everywhere else wages and markets are becoming obsolete.

I think the best of communisation theory is trying to think about those kind of dynamics. I'm not sure the retrospective determinism and historical flattening helps though. In fact as others have said, the historical stuff seems mainly about demarcating themselves from all hitherto existing traditions.

Joseph Kay

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Joseph Kay

Endnotes are more about struggles linking up and generalising to the point of creating new social relations.

Having looked this up, I think they'd dispute this. They make a distinction between 'a quantitative accumulation of struggles which, at a critical point, is qualitatively transformed' (which they reject) and a 'qualitative shift within the struggle itself as it reaches its limit' (which they endorse). I think this is more-or-less Malatesta's critique of Monatte's naive syndicalism though, so back to 'not wrong, not new'. And I'm not sure the difference between these positions is as great as implied.

Spikymike

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Joseph,

Yes I take your point about 'occupations' and the relationship to the totality of the movement but on the matter of....understanding why the workers movement of the past stalled before extending geograpically and socially to achieve communism in terms of both the 'objective' and 'subjective' conditions of that period and the relationship between the two - (not to condemn restrospectively) is perhaps still of value in understanding our changed circumstances and in learning lessons for the future, if only about what to avoid?
The 'communisers' help us think about that also even if many (other than Troploin) get stuck in an overly deterministic mode of thought.

Red Marriott

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

There are great differences between Troploin and TC – largely over historical periodisation and determinism – and despite both having been around and writing for several decades it is only since the emergence in recent years of what has become known as ‘communisation theory’ in the English speaking world that they have been bracketed in this shared category. As Endnotes acknowledged;

the Anglophone reception of ‘communization’ in general. It has thus become necessary to make the distinction: the ‘communization theory’ now spoken of in the Anglosphere is largely an imaginary entity, an artefact of the Anglophone reception of various unrelated works. http://libcom.org/library/what-are-we-do-endnotes

There are many English speaking anarchists and Marxists who’ve been influenced by Dauve & co’s writings since the 70s – and it’s likely many of them would share their critique of TC; so the perceived unity is not universal.

For all their claims of the importance of ‘the totality’ the theory seems wholly Eurocentric in its assessment of working class history – and its periodisation seems to ignore the extensive proletarianisation going on now in Asia and elsewhere. This creation of a modern young working class, the content of its struggles and its conditions of existence doesn’t seem to conform to the historical schema of communisationists (or decadence theorists); insofar as class-wide social-democratic type reforms are being won – eg, workplace regulation, unionisation, welfare, social housing and healthcare etc in even the poorest Asian countries. So it doesn’t seem to have much grasp of a global proletariat and its relationship. The only time I’ve seen it dealt with was unconvincing and seemed to project onto events what the author wanted to find as verification of their theory; see comment below article on Astarian’s mythical claims of non-demand based struggle in Bangladesh (a myth since repeated by other communisationists); http://libcom.org/library/crisis-activity-communisation-bruno-astarian

For article and comments criticising the determinism of some of this theory (though ‘the swerve’ presents his comments as his alone and not necessarily as representing Endnotes); http://libcom.org/library/notes-endnotes

donald parkinson

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

This Bruno Astarian article pretty much reveals the absurdity of some communization theory when its theorist take it to its logical conclusions:
http://libcom.org/library/communization-way-out-crisis-bruno-astarian

Essentially it's the classic "crisis will bail us out and people will spontaneously become communist" argument that all of us are weary of. Yet its actual vision of what the revolutionary society will be is pretty horrifying, presenting any type of account or planning as essentially "imposing value":

"Finally, there is always the chance that the supply of flour for our bakers will be sporadic, at least at first, if the proletarians at the mill prefer to discuss the meaning of love or life instead of grinding wheat. Would this lead to chaos? We shall be told that today there will be no bread. You just have to accept it. Another alternative is that someone conceives a plan, quantified and taking time scales into account, and someone else complies with its terms. In such a case not only is value reestablished. In fact, a proletarian experience of this kind has no future: if it works the proletarians will rapidly lose their rights (restoration of wage labor in one form or another); if it does not work they will return to the old framework of unemployment and unpaid wages. It is likely, in any event, that the communizing solution will not be considered until various chess matches of this kind have tried and found wanting."

There is also talk of the essentially "local" nature of communization, which to me would probably lead to agrarian utopianism if put into practice. I'm opposed to any attempt to create "local" communism without prior co-operation across the international division of labor.

jura

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Another alternative is that someone conceives a plan, quantified and taking time scales into account, and someone else complies with its terms. In such a case not only is value reestablished.

"Value! Value everywhere!"

kingzog

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I will respond with more later when I have more time. But I want to add, for now, that communisateurs like Astarian think that just measuring productivity recreates value. Hence, "production without productivity." I think his theories are the logical conclusion to most TC type communization theory, but only he and maybe a few others have the guts to come out and say it. The pol pot thing is a reference to the year zero attitude and the attitude that production must be essentially abandoned to focus on agriculture "agriculture is key" (it's an inside joke too.)

boomerang

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

donald parkinson quoting Bruno Astarian

"Finally, there is always the chance that the supply of flour for our bakers will be sporadic, at least at first, if the proletarians at the mill prefer to discuss the meaning of love or life instead of grinding wheat. Would this lead to chaos? We shall be told that today there will be no bread. You just have to accept it. ..."

We shall be told tomorrow that the starving workers have joined the counterrevolution. You just have to accept it.

(good find digging up that shit!)

ocelot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

jura

Another alternative is that someone conceives a plan, quantified and taking time scales into account, and someone else complies with its terms. In such a case not only is value reestablished.

"Value! Value everywhere!"

Heh. For sure, that quote is embarrassing. For value to be re-established there would have to be a wage relation - i.e. that the producers commodified their labour power by selling it in exchange for a wage which would be their only access to a share of the social product. Simply making production plans and recording accounts of resources used does not in and of itself recreate wage labour and exchange value.

More to the point, I heard second-hand that the discussions at the Berlin ultra-left summer camp (sorry, I don't know the official name of the conference) around the "accounting question" is that the only thing people were suggesting should or should not be accounted for would be labour-time. Which seems curiously unimaginative. Surely some of the things we will need to account for, for a sustainable future, will be the non-renewable resources consumed, or pollution released in any production process. CO2 emissions for a start, if we want to avoid climate catastrophe, for e.g.

Joseph Kay

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Again, I don't want to put myself in the position of defending communisation theory, but there's a danger of treating it in the way it treats 'the workers movement', i.e. as a homogenous block reducible to its more ridiculous aspects. Not that that quote isn't silly, of course.

I second the point that plenty of quantitative information would be needed to co-ordinate anything beyond agrarian subsistence, and that doesn't have to mean a price system (which is a pretty crap information processing mechanism, look at the state of the world), still less a price system accessed via wages from labour. Will try and post something on this on the relevant thread.

Red Marriott

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Millenarianism generally, if taken as anything more than a provisional sketch, tends to become repressive in its absolutism and its fetish of the pre-defined fixed end result. The communisationists seem to have little concept of historical process or that goals cannot necessarily be immediately realised but can get stalled. Even an explicit conscious push for (that recently emerged banal abstraction) ‘full communism’ could be stalled – given that it could only occur as part of a struggle for it. But the determinism and millenarianism of much communisationism has idealised only a Great Moment where struggle is communisation, an instantaneous transformation. The hows and whys of that as a becoming possibility and strategic choices towards it – its social growth - seem to be left to Marxist astrology; historic structural conjunctions and constellations alone make it possible - with human agency implied as a mere tool of those forces.

And yes, as noted above they have tended to summarise the history of working class struggles (and their ‘consciousness’ and limits) as merely the history of the official ideology of the institutions of the workers movement; ignoring (to use a fave term of theirs) the ‘immanent’ tension between class struggle and its official representation, recuperation and mediation; eg, wildcats strikes and unions, riots and ‘community representatives’ of social mediation etc.

ocelot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Yeah, I think it might be useful to see communization as less a movement or tendency and more as a conversation some people are having. And just because at some point in the conversation, someone says something daft, doesn't mean you can judge the whole conversation as pointless, just on that basis. Hell, think how many libcom forum threads would actually be left if you deleted all the ones where somebody said something inane or ridiculous at some point? Granted the much less interactive, slower, publication-based conversation of the kind the communizationers are having can't be directly compared to forum threads, but the principle still stands, imo.

boomerang

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Leaving aside the issue of whether "value is reestablished" - what do people think of this part of the quote? I mean, people don't think this kind of thing is acceptable, do they?

donald parkinson quoting Bruno Astarian

"Finally, there is always the chance that the supply of flour for our bakers will be sporadic, at least at first, if the proletarians at the mill prefer to discuss the meaning of love or life instead of grinding wheat. Would this lead to chaos? We shall be told that today there will be no bread. You just have to accept it. ..."

ocelot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

boomerang

Leaving aside the issue of whether "value is reestablished" - what do people think of this part of the quote? I mean, people don't think this kind of thing is acceptable, do they?

donald parkinson quoting Bruno Astarian

"Finally, there is always the chance that the supply of flour for our bakers will be sporadic, at least at first, if the proletarians at the mill prefer to discuss the meaning of love or life instead of grinding wheat. Would this lead to chaos? We shall be told that today there will be no bread. You just have to accept it. ..."

Hell no. Won't be sending any more wheat to those tossers if they flaked off on their bid - i.e. what they said they were gonna produce by when. Plus they can get the hell out of the mill while they're at it - what, do they think, they own the place?

If they want to discuss the meaning of love or life at some point during their time together, that's grand. But presumably they only have use of the mill and the delivered wheat because their team put in a bid to produce so much flour for delivery at a certain time. If they fail, they're a shit production team and the resources will be allocated to a better team next time. Nobody's forcing you to be in a team, after all.

On the other hand, if you want to do more with your life than sit around discussing the meaning of love (and loss) with failed millers, you'll get your arse into a team that's going places so you can get the really cool jobs, now that "labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want". You don't get to be a championship footballer if you don't turn up to the match, or a rock star if you never make the gig (or get around to playing). And who doesn't want to be champion footballer or rock star, even if you aren't getting paid for it?

Red Marriott

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

They'll probably have to be shot for sabotage.

Spikymike

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Well I like ocelot's description of these communisers contributions as ''..more a conversation than a movement..'' and as applied to this quoted contribution from Bruno, then bearing in mind his qualification ''..at least at first..'' and the emphasis on the quality of the activity of production as compared with the product, then I think he is mostly just guilty of overemphasising one aspect of the spontaneous and initially chaotic aspects of the revolutionary process, in an appeal to our imagination otherwise so constrained by our life within capitalism and absent from the various 'economic models' and transitional programmes offered up by the competing self-defined 'leaderships' within our milieu - so despite some valid criticism still a useful contribution to our conversation from which we can take some positive pointers.

Croy

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Really interesting thread.

CrimeZone

8 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Well I certainly feel I've learned more from this brief discussion about the communisation conversation than I have by reading Endnotes or Tiqqun

Joseph Kay

8 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Red, completely agree on the eurocentrism and the sometimes awkward shoehorning of struggles outside Europe/America into the predetermined box of non-demand struggles. On this:

Red Marriott

And yes, as noted above they have tended to summarise the history of working class struggles (and their ‘consciousness’ and limits) as merely the history of the official ideology of the institutions of the workers movement; ignoring (to use a fave term of theirs) the ‘immanent’ tension between class struggle and its official representation, recuperation and mediation; eg, wildcats strikes and unions, riots and ‘community representatives’ of social mediation etc.

According to a future Endnotes person...

A former member of Aufheben

For TC, both the leftist wait for a return of the old workers movement – of assertive unions and proper social democracy – and the ultra left watch for a return of the forms of self-organisation and proletarian autonomy, which it opposed to those institutions, are hinged on a cycle of struggles which is past.

The claim - in TC at least - seems to be that self-organisation and autonomy are as obsolete as workers' parties and trade unionism. Of course, that's open to dispute. (Does anyone know if the French autogestion has the same ambiguity as Spanish, i.e. would it be better understood as 'self-management' here?).

Joseph Kay

8 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Finally got round to reading the logistics piece in Endnotes 3; imho it's very good, and accessible compared to some of the more abstract theory stuff.

Poses a very good question: if global supply chains have been created to exploit global wage differentials and outflank militant workers, how could we take them over? Even if we wanted to, it would by definition require very rapid, synchronised expropriation on a global scale, when a revolutionary wave is more likely to start in one or more localities then spread. I guess many anarchists wouldn't have any objection to relocalising production. But if we're currently reliant on just-in-time global supply chains for food, for example, a revolutionary movement - or even just a big wave of struggle - could make us hungry very quickly. My first thought is if the analysis is right, then the urban agriculture crowd are on the ball. P2P urban food networks anyone?

Red Marriott

8 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

A former member of Aufheben wrote:
For TC, both the leftist wait for a return of the old workers movement – of assertive unions and proper social democracy – and the ultra left watch for a return of the forms of self-organisation and proletarian autonomy, which it opposed to those institutions, are hinged on a cycle of struggles which is past.

Well, as pointed out here;

"In fact TC are not completely consistent on this point, for whilst they oppose themselves to the language of realisation (“the history of class struggle is production and not realisation” p.89) and like to imply with their tortuous anti-counterfactual reasoning that ‘if it didn’t happen it couldn’t have happened’, they nevertheless are not immune to driving a wedge in between past actualities and past possibilities themselves (“Self-organisation was not superseded in Argentina but the social struggles pointed beyond themselves to such a supersession” p.165)." http://libcom.org/library/notes-endnotes

But “a return of ... self-organisation and proletarian autonomy” wouldn’t necessarily be a repeat of the past anyway (except maybe in the eyes of crude structuralists/determinists). And surely even the communisers’ idealised revelatory visitation of ‘full communism’ upon the proles would have some character of ‘self-organisation, autonomy and be opposed to institutions’. They seem to forget that we start from where we are, which is necessarily confronting those real forces/institutions as inevitable interactions in social life. Again, little concept of struggle as process. Or is it that those non-Western struggles with self-organisation and autonomy can “point beyond themselves” but their prescription for the West denies this possibility? If one wanted to claim a theory so definite on the past and future of “the proletariat” – a global class – you might expect a little more clarification on the diversity of global conditions rather than schematic general periodisations. Their “totality” seems to be often missing half the world.

Quotes from TC like the one below seem to confirm their Eurocentrism – insofar as the present struggles in Bangladesh and elsewhere are at least as much a ‘proletarian assertion’ as those in the West in the 60s-70s (and perhaps show why Astarian was concerned to try to define them unconvincingly as something else);

‘Self-organisation and autonomy are not constants whose reappearance we could wait for, rather they constitute a cycle of struggles which is finished; for there to be self-organisation and autonomy, it is necessary to be able to assert yourself as the productive class in opposition to capital.’

If the character of struggles is defined by TC as due largely to restructuring of the workplace and industry in the West – then the creation of a new young factory proletariat in the East seems to have been more or less ignored as something not fitting their periodisation (I’m happy to be corrected on this). Yet according to their own logic whereby the historical conditions of industry have conditioned and determined the content of workers’ struggle – then a new “cycle of struggles” of a new Eastern factory proletariat might be expected to “assert” itself in precisely the way TC & co claim is historically obsolete!?

Their “old workers movement” is the Western one and they appear to tend to make universal and absolute generalisations from their interpretation of it about an abstract homogenous “proletariat”. But the new workers movements of the East have particularities and histories of their own which don’t conform very neatly, imo, to the stageism/periodisation designated by TC & co to the Western history. If one wants to define periods of historical development to class relationships, struggles and conditions then one needs to take account that the East and West are in many ways very out of sync at present.

ocelot

8 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Come back uneven and combined development, all is forgiven! (only slightly tongue in cheek...).

Joking aside, I agree entirely with Red. It's a obvious failing of all Cammatte-style real/formal subsumption periodisation that abstracts from location. A com once said to me in the 90s - "Some people think the 70s are over - they're wrong, the 70s just moved to Korea and South Asia". By which he didn't mean that the factory workers and students then (90s) enthusiastically rioting with the police, were wearing platforms and bell bottoms and listening to Bay City Rollers, but that some of the structural/technical-composition stuff looked a lot like the 70s in Italy, France or even the UK.

Of course that image of co-existing different regional "time-zones" neglects the different situations in relation to what else is happening in the rest of the world (i.e. the "combined development" bit) - similarities in local structure aside, the international context was different - but it's a useful counter to facile "global" periodisations that in abstracting from any locality, end up creating a false abstraction which has Europe/USA as a hidden referent - rather like abstracting from gender in the current social context has a hidden referent to maleness as a bogus "universal".

confusionboats

7 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

read it as poetry
Its not bad.

comes closer to reproducing situationist literature than anything else I can think of off of the top of my head -

speaking of,
does Tiqqun remind anyone else of the 1981 film, My Dinner with Andre?

ZJW

1 year 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

A critique of the 'communisers' from a neo-(?) council communist position. (These are not labor voucherists.)

http://isr.press/Theses_on_the_Council_Concept/index.html

Spikymike

1 year 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

The CWO's text also in their libcom blog here:
https://libcom.org/blog/disappointed-1968-seeking-refuge-utopia-05092020
with some more inconclusive discussion.
Its always worth re-reading the discussion that was started on this thread from the start.