Communism is not a prisoner of the future. It arises from within capitalism. The actions carried out by the proletarians, when they spontaneously and usually unconsciously negate their own condition, is communist.
Communism presents itself in the first place, both as theory as well as practice, as an anticipation. From its origin, it looks like a solution for the evils of the old world, a solution that is more or less immediately feasible. Utopia is not just trash to be thrown away. It is, to the contrary, the characteristic sign of communism. We are more confident of the science of the future than in the present. But the future gnaws at the present.
Communism is certainly a stage of human history, a new world. But it is, above all, not just another social form but a privileged movement of the humanization of the species.
On the theoretical plane, communism appears with the renewal of ideas of the renaissance. In 1516, the Englishman Thomas More published his Utopia in Leuven. In 1602 the Dominican Campanella wrote his City of the Sun. He was in prison for having participated in an anti-Spanish conspiracy in Calabria. His book depicts a world in which money, property and class divisions do not exist, a world that he presents as an alternative to the present world. More, Campanella and others, who inclined towards communism, were not proletarians or even rebels. They were, rather, brilliant spiritual pioneers who flirted with the powers that be or who were persecuted due to their independence or their non-conformism.
During the same period, the times of the peasant war and Thomas Müntzer, communism began to take shape. It terrorized the princes, the bourgeoisie and the religious reformers, like Luther, who exclaimed: “Unfortunate madmen! It is the voice of flesh and blood that got into your heads”.
“They confuse faith with hope: is it not unnatural to believe, when nothing is possible?” “But what is serious is that the blessed hope that inspires them is not expected to be realized in another world, after death, but even on this earth, and as soon as possible.”
– A Revolução dos Santos [The Revolution of the Saints 1520-1536], G. D’Aubarède, 1946
“But with regard to the Anabaptists of that era, we are hardly talking of religion at all. Their doctrine undermines the foundations of all social order, property, laws, magistrates….”
As for individual homes, each person accommodates himself as he pleases. Someone who previously slept out in the fields, sleeps in a hotel. The servants of the nobles and the clergy take over, without second thoughts, what had belonged to their lords.
“They burned the bishop’s palace, the archives, the title deeds, the royal grants, all the documents. What possible use could such trivialities have for the New Zion, whose foundations were religious freedom and fraternal equality?”
– Jean Bockelson, M. Baston 1824
“Many people are unaware of the fact that communism had already become a practical fact in the domain of history, that it has provided its proofs, that it triumphed for several years and that it was violently affirmed in some provinces, no more than three hundred years ago.
“There were the same pretexts as today, more or less the same tendencies, the application of the same methods of action, but with powerful assistance, an avalanche of an immense force: the religious and mystical form that was assumed by the revolutionary powers of that epoch”
– Études historiques sur le communisme et les insurrections au XVIe siècle[/i] [Historical Studies on Communism and Insurrections in the 16th Century], Albert Arnoul, 1850
There are traces of the tendency to communism further back in time, even before the development of capitalism. It is the old aspiration to rediscover abundance and lost community.
The first practical attempts of modern communism were based on the remnants of primitive communism that had survived the development of class society.
Modern communism draws its inspiration from the old supporters of the community of goods: Plato, who advocated an aristocratic form of the community of goods for the members of the ruling class; and the early Christians, who shared their goods in common in accordance with the spirit of the Gospels.
Nonetheless, just as it is inspired by and connected to the past, modern communism also innovates.
Communism affirms itself as the enemy of the prevailing society, and attempts to replace it. Thomas More devoted the first part of his book to denouncing the evils of the present and discovering their causes. He demonstrated the harm caused by the development of capital.
Communism is no longer a state of mind nor a way of sharing resources in a life in common. It is a global and social solution, a way of organizing production.
Thomas More introduced a navigator, Hythloday, who visited the imaginary island of Utopia. Hythloday addressed the question of our society:
“Though to speak plainly my real sentiments,”[/i] he said, [i]“I must freely own that as long as there is any property, and while money is the standard of all other things, I cannot think that a nation can be governed either justly or happily…. When, I say, I balance all these things in my thoughts, I grow more favourable to Plato, and do not wonder that he resolved not to make any laws for such as would not submit to a community of all things: for so wise a man could not but foresee that the setting all upon a level was the only way to make a nation happy, which cannot be obtained so long as there is property…. I am persuaded, that till property is taken away there can be no equitable or just distribution of things, nor can the world be happily governed….”
More denounced the harm caused by the development of landed property and of agrarian capitalism which expelled the peasants from their land in order to replace them with sheep: “… your sheep, which are naturally mild, and easily kept in order, may be said now to devour men….” He denounced the impotence of politics and the distance that necessarily separates good precepts from their practical application.
In Utopia things are different:
“Every city is divided into four equal parts, and in the middle of each there is a marketplace … and thither every father goes and takes whatsoever he or his family stand in need of, without either paying for it or leaving anything in exchange. There is no reason for giving a denial to any person, since there is such plenty of everything among them; and there is no danger of a man's asking for more than he needs; they have no inducements to do this, since they are sure that they shall always be supplied. It is the fear of want that makes any of the whole race of animals either greedy or ravenous….”
“In all other places,” he writes, “it is visible that while people talk of a commonwealth, every man only seeks his own wealth; but there, where no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the public….”
“In Utopia, where every man has a right to everything, they all know that if care is taken to keep the public stores full, no private man can want anything … there is no unequal distribution, so that no man is poor, none in necessity; and though no man has anything, yet they are all rich….
“Is not that government both unjust and ungrateful, that is so prodigal of its favors to those that are called gentlemen, or goldsmiths, or such others who are idle, or live either by flattery, or by contriving the arts of vain pleasure; and on the other hand, takes no care of those of a meaner sort, such as ploughmen, colliers, and smiths, without whom it could not subsist? But after the public has reaped all the advantage of their service, and they come to be oppressed with age, sickness, and want, all their labors and the good they have done is forgotten; and all the recompense given them is that they are left to die in great misery”.
More concludes his book as follows: “… there are many things in the Commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.” And the word, Utopia, means, in our everyday language, an unrealizable dream. And nonetheless….
And nonetheless, little more than a century later an extraordinary experience unfolded that was similar to More’s dream. It is very rare for a social project to be realized so faithfully.
• Communism among the Guarani
In the year that Utopia was published, the Spaniards invaded and began their conquest of Paraguay: the country of the Guarani Indians. The name Paraguay designated, in the beginning, the homeland of the Guarani, a larger territory than the current Paraguay, so that the events that we shall discuss below also affected areas beyond the borders of the modern Paraguay.
Under the aegis of the Jesuits, hundreds of thousands of Indians would live, cultivate the soil, mine and forge metals, build shipyards, and practice the arts, without the use of money, wage labour, or the modern concept of property. The Republic of the Guaranis would endure for a century and a half, and would decline with the expulsion of the Jesuits and with the attacks of the Spaniards and the Portuguese. This zone was the most industrially advanced zone in Latin America in its time. Its contemporaries would investigate and debate about the nature and the importance of this experience that would be an inspiration for European socialism. Some saw it as a pioneer effort, others minimized it or reduced it to a suspicious action of the Jesuits. With the passage of time the experience was considered to be too Jesuitical or too communist to merit attention.
The documents cited by the Papist Stalinophile, Clovis Lugon, allow us to form a more correct opinion (La République des Guaranis, Éditions Ouvrières, 1970).
“Nothing seems more beautiful to me than the order and the mode of providing for the needs of all the inhabitants of the colony. Those who reap the harvest are obliged to transport all their grain to public warehouses; there, people designated to guard these warehouses maintain a register of all that is received. At the beginning of every month, the people responsible for the administration of the granaries deliver to the regional supervisor the amount of grain that is needed by all the families of their zone, giving more or less to each family depending on how many mouths it has to feed”
– R. P. Florentin, Voyage aux Indes orientales
Most of the work is done in common and the Indians do not seem to be tempted by private property. They never possess more than a horse or a few chickens. In order to create private property individual lots were distributed, but on the day that the Indians were supposed to occupy these parcels they stayed home, “stretched out in their hammocks...” (P. Sepp).
“Father Cardiel, who deplored, so they said, the persistence of the communist system, did everything possible on his part to lead the Guaranis to private property and, above all, to a sense of individual interest and wealth, encouraging them to cultivate on their parcels of land products that have value with a view to selling the surplus. He frankly confessed his failure and declared that he had not found, at most, more than three examples of individuals who provided, from their parcels, a little sugar or cotton to sell. And one of the three was a converted mulatto!” (Lugon). And Father Cardiel added: “In the twenty-eight years that I lived among them as priest or comrade, I never found a single example among so many hundreds of Indians.”
All the Indians were obliged to engage in manual labour and only spent a limited time engaged in such work: one third or one-half of the day.
“Everywhere, there are workshops of tinsmiths, painters, sculptors, goldsmiths, watchmakers, metal workers, carpenters, cabinet makers, weavers, smelters—in a word, of all the arts and trades that people find useful” (Charlevoix). “Only in a great city in Europe would we find so many master artisans and artists” (Garech). “They make clocks, draft architectural plans, engrave geographical maps” (Sepp). According to Charlevois, the Guaranis “are instinctively gifted in all the arts to which they apply themselves…. They make the most complex organs after having seen one only once, and do the same with astronomical globes, Turkish-style carpets and everything that is most difficult to manufacture.” And “as soon as the children reach the age when they can begin to work, they are led to the workshops and established in the one that seems to be most suited to their inclinations, because they are persuaded that art must be guided by nature.”
The Indians also manufacture bells, firearms, cannons and munitions. Printing presses allow them to print books in many languages, mostly Guarani. The Indians were organized in military units; “they can immediately mobilize more than thirty thousand Indians, all on horseback” and are capable “of handling both muskets as well as sabres… of fighting in offensive as well as defensive formation, just like the Europeans.” (Sepp). Father d’Aguilar, the Jesuit Superior General of the Republic, wrote: “We can raise twenty thousand Indians who can hold their own against the best Spanish and Portuguese troops, against whom even the Mamelukes would not dare to fight, and who twice drove the Portuguese from the colony of Santo Sacramento, and who after so many years are respected by all the infidel nations that surround them.” (Quoted by Charlevoix).
Charlevoix continues: “They only use gold and money to decorate their altars.” The population obtains goods without money and without any kind of coinage.” Those idols of greed, Muratori says, are completely unknown to them…. The value of commodities is expressed in “pesos” and “reals” in a purely fictitious way. It was a way of establishing the relative value of everyday goods…. Alongside barter and fictitious money denominated in pesos, there is a “real” kind of coinage constituted by certain commodities in general use that were handled by every person as payment, even without having any need or immediate use for them … (tea, tobacco, honey, corn)….
“The price of goods normally corresponded to the real value of the goods or to the sum of labour required for their production, without added surcharges for the benefit of non-existent intermediaries. The relative price of a particular commodity was naturally influenced by its rarity or its abundance.” (Lugon).
Trade between “reductions” depended on the communities. “The statistics regularly indicated the volume of reserves and the needs of each reduction and it was therefore easy to plan trade. The Father met with the magistrate and with the steward in order to determine the kind and the amount of commodities to import and to export.” (Lugon).
Was this real communism?
Guarani communism was not pure communism. It was instilled with pious spirit of the Jesuits, it paid taxes to the King of Spain and provided military forces from the Guarani troops, it still had exchange relations, etc. But we are not looking for purity.
Nor were the Jesuits, who led the communism of the Guaranis, communists. They found themselves in the land of the Guaranis and they had to accommodate themselves to it. Some people rejoiced, finding the communism of the Guaranis be in conformance with the spirit of the Gospels, while others, due to their own inclinations or due to outside pressure, sought to undermine it. The Jesuits allowed the introduction of western technologies and knowledge into an ineradicable primitive communism. They allowed the Guarani groups to unite into an impressive whole.
This communism was sufficiently communist to provoke mistrust and attacks. The Jesuits played a rather nefarious role, since they were subject to an authority that was external to the Guarani community, sowing confusion and disunity as soon as the Spaniards and the Portuguese attacked the eastern “reductions” in 1754-1756. “The Fathers of the reductions had received from the Superior General of the Company, Ignacio Visconti, ‘strict orders to submit to the inevitable and lead the Indians to obedience’.” (Lugon). The Indians who were directly threatened fought back, but were finally crushed. In 1768 the Jesuits were expelled. The anti-Guarani expeditions continued and destroyed the communist project. The weakness of Guarani communism was the fact that, from the very beginning, it was not a revolutionary communism and it was not constituted in a confrontation.
In 1852, Martin de Moussy wrote: “the best proof that this strange regime, this communism that was so severely criticized perhaps with a semblance of reason, was suited to the Indians, is that the successors of the Jesuits were forced to allow it to continue to exist right up until recently and that its destruction, not prepared with intelligent and paternalistic measures, had no other result than that of plunging the Indians into poverty … today, their heirs bitterly regret the absence of that regime, undoubtedly an imperfect one, but one that was very well adapted to their instincts and their customs.”
Lugon, who sought to impute to the Jesuits the role of importers of communism, also wrote:
“Soon after the destruction of Entre-Rios, the survivors reorganized under the direction of three chiefs assisted by a council, precisely following the traditions bequeathed by the Jesuits. The population of this colony was estimated at 10,000 people between 1820 and 1827. The community of goods was therefore integrally restored.
“In the reductions attributed to modern Paraguay, the communist regime was officially abolished in 1848 by the dictator Lopez. The Guaranis who continued to live in this region were, at that time, legally dispossessed of their homes and their possessions. They were left to vegetate in reservations organized in the North American style.”
The Republic of the Guaranis is not the only example of an encounter between Indian communism and the west. There have been some others of lesser importance: the Chiquito Republic in southwestern Bolivia, the Republic of the Moxos in northern Bolivia, the group of the Pampas….
The communists of Munzer or of Paraguay lasted longer than the Communards (of Paris) and other proletarians of modern times and created an intermediate social form between primitive communism and higher communism. Would they have regressed with the passage of time? It was the power of capital and the degradation that this power causes to the social meaning of individuals that stood against communism. It would not have regressed but rather undergone a cycle that returns to its origins and that would only see communism reborn but this time in the heart of the capitalist world.
This is perhaps incomprehensible for those who see history as a linear and continuous process. Where there is no regression, there is no anticipation, but rather a perpetual progress from the lower to the higher. Why, then, did modern industry emerge from European feudal backwardness rather than from the great cloth manufacturing centres of the Incas, or from Chinese art and technology? Why was that industry only capable of being introduced after a period of decline?
Familiar with and in the wake of this communism with a religious disguise, although it was iconoclastic in the case of the German insurrectionaries or Campanella who wanted to put an end to the family, a naturalist and anti-religious communism developed in the wake of the bourgeois revolutions.
• The Levellers
In England, after the revolution of 1648, a pro-communist current developed within the party of the “Levellers”. Many communist works appeared during this period. These texts advocated the obligation for all to work and the free distribution of goods.
Contacts with non-western societies nourished philosophical reflections. In 1704, Nicolas Gueudeville published the Conference or Dialogue between the Author [the Baron de Lahontan] and Adario, a Noted Man among the Savages. The Indian is superior to the European because he does not know the distinction between “mine” and “thine”.
In 1755, Morelly published his Code of Nature. In this book he affirmed that man was neither bad nor vicious. He has to break with “the desire for possessions” and with property.
“If you were to take away property, the blind and pitiless self-interest that accompanies it, you would cause all the prejudices in errors that they sustain to collapse. There would be no more resistance, either offensive or defensive, among men; there would be no more furious passions, ferocious actions, notions or ideas of moral evil.”
Despite his faith in human nature, Morelly proceeded, contradictorily, to define the laws that should rule the life of people to its smallest details. Clothing, houses, divorce, the education of children, thoughts and even dreams are strictly regulated.
Morelly’s communism would particularly influence the revolutionary Gracchus Babeuf who would be executed in 1797 after the failure of the Conspiracy of the Equals.
It was basically correct to consider that communism corresponds to human nature, that it is the natural condition of the species. This is not because man is spontaneously good or moral, nor is it because societies succeed one another without modifying an unalterable human nature. It is simply because classes, property, exchange, and the state are imposed as social, and therefore human, necessities, but do not pass from being momentary necessities that correspond to the passage from one communist social form to another. Communism is not imposed. It constantly arises even if it can only develop at certain moments. We see that a spontaneous and typically human manifestation like speech is communist, at least at a formal level. With respect to its own understanding, communism is much simpler, much more transparent than capitalism: the dominant social form. This is because it is, even today, a more immediate reality. When we ridicule the rich bourgeoisie because of his express monopoly on money and when we seem to be naïve, this is because we can directly rely upon a communist conception of wealth that exists in a latent state.
We are accused of being simple minded or naïve. Up to a certain point, these are virtues that we cultivate. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; and not just that. Communism is not accused of being incomprehensible and unacceptable but rather of being naïve, for not taking account of the reality that it seeks to overthrow. But communism is fought because it is known that it is not so naïve and that the means for its success exist.
Theory is necessary. It is necessary in a world in which human reality escapes the control of humans. But if theory only serves to complicate matters, to reinforce the veil that separates men from their humanity, then it would be better to abstain from it. Revolutionary theory is not like the theory of relativity. It addresses a reality within which we are immersed. The complexity and the separation that it seeks to reduce, in the movement that, for that very reason, is properly communist, is not linked to physical reasons but to human reasons that can be changed by humans.
It is tempting to either remain addicted to theory and thus to reject life or to reject theory and to drug ourselves with life. In the absence of life, the separation of the mechanisms that organize the life of man does not lead to an active will to forcibly understand but is actually an unbridled quest for images, for possibilities of identification. What matters is not to understand and thus to enter into the possibility of transforming reality but finding responsible elements, culprits, warmongers and thieves of labour. It is merely due to this quest for the concrete and for images that the system and its managers have succeeded in concentrating the people’s hatred against this or that social group. Against this perverted need for life we must oppose explanation but above all life itself. Drug addicts cannot be cured with words.
Morelly says: “It is unfortunately all too true that to form a republic of this sort would be just about impossible at the present time.” The utopians did not grasp the movement that could lead to communism. In that epoch, the proletariat still seemed to be too weak as an autonomous social force. But the utopian descriptions already manifested the historical necessity of communism and transformed it into an immediate demand in conformity with its profound nature.
The future is not a point that is outside the reality in which we live. It is this reality, it is its supersession. Communism is, here and elsewhere, today and tomorrow, my subjectivity and the objective development of the forces of production. We cannot, without deceiving ourselves, oppose communism as utopia to communism as historical movement. One of the great merits of the utopians was the fact that they did not nourish any illusions concerning the historical possibilities of their proposals.
It was only later that we see communist reformers like Cabet and Owen who tried to cause their ideas to become reality by way of the creation of small communities or “communist” or communist-inspired institutions.
The strength of utopianism is that it did not waste time constructing a representation of the developmental process leading to utopia, to deduce what will be from what is. It directly anticipates utopia. It works radically, that is, at the human level, with the problems that capital poses and directly imposes. Problems that humanity will be forced to solve some day.
As utopia, communism affirms itself in its discontinuity with the present. It is conceived as a new global equilibrium.
This concept of communism is opposed by a vulgar determinism that reduces development to a continuous process in which each phase is the extension or the copied product of the preceding phase. The utopian is reduced to a dreamer or a mystical rationalist. It is not perceived that his attitude is not his starting point but a part of the movement in question.
Communism is the expression of the unfolding, historically permitted and ordered, of the capacities of the human species. It is the natural condition of the species. But this nature is historically produced. History is merely limited to ordering and masticating over and over again the same materials without, however, coming to a halt or describing a closed circle.
The intermediate phase of class societies, which tends to negate man by transforming him into an instrument, does not make communism possible and necessary except due to the characteristics that are inherent to and genetically inscribed within the species. It was the human capacity for adaptation and also for submission, to use but also to be used as an instrument, that was turned against humanity. This phase, by engendering capitalism and machinery, signed its own death sentence.
• Scientific Socialism
In the 19th century, the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat became the predominant antagonism. Communism began to be less of a demand of reason or of philosophy in general. It sought to inscribe itself in and to become the practice of reality. The first tendency that arose was the one that sought to begin to create islands of communism and to propagate communism by example, gradually and with the agreement of the powerful. The second tendency that arose was that of revolutionary and insurrectionary communism. In France, this tendency is mainly associated with the name of Blanqui:
“Communism, which is revolution itself, must distrust the allure of utopia and must never separate from politics. Up until recently it was on the outside. Today, it is in our hearts. It is only our servant. It should not be overworked, however, if we want to retain its services. It cannot be imposed suddenly, either immediately or the day after the victory. You might as well try to reach the sun. Before we got very high, we would end up on the ground with broken limbs a nice trip to the hospital.”
Blanqui already saw communism in action—still, in our opinion, in a somewhat exaggerated way—in the capitalist world:
“Taxes, and government itself, are communism, certainly of the worst kind, but nonetheless absolutely necessary…. Association, in the service of capital, is becoming a curse that will not be endured for much longer. It is the privilege of this glorious principle that it can only work for the good.”
– ‘Le Communisme, avenir de la société’ [Communism, the Future of Society], 1869
Communism, by being openly linked with the struggle of the proletariat, took a decisive step forward but was also perverted. It allowed itself to gradually cease to be an immediate demand. It became a project, a mission, a historical stage separate from the present. Emptied of its content by the “levellers” and the “compartmentalizers” it would be transformed, in the twentieth century into a disguise for capital.
“Scientific socialism” was one way to rationalize the historical postponement of communism. In the 19th century, the working class was still capable of autonomous action but communism was not possible. By proposing political methods and transitional stages, Bray, Marx and Blanqui opened the door to all kinds of recuperations.
It is precisely communism that is lacking in the celebrated Communist Manifesto. In that work we find an apology for the bourgeoisie, an analysis of class struggles, and transitional measures. Of communism, it says little and what it does say is bad.
The Manifesto was drafted for the “League of the Just”, which became the “Communist League”. Before Marx and Engels joined this group, the doctrine of this association of immigrant German artisans and workers was somewhat confused. Weitling, its founder and theoretician, was a mystical type. Marx and Engels succeeded in bringing indisputable progress but also provoked regression with respect to an ingenuous but more positive and even more correct affirmation of communism.
In June of 1847 the Congress of the League of the Just proclaimed its objectives in Article 1 of its Statutes: “The League has the goal of suppressing the slavery of men by the dissemination of the theory of the community of goods and its practical application as soon as possible.”
In November 1846/February 1847, the Central Committee had written to the Sections: “You know that communism is a system according to which the Earth must be the common property of all men, according to which all persons must work, ‘produce’, according to their abilities and enjoy, ‘consume’, according to their efforts….”
Article I of the new Statutes, written by Marx and Engels, emphasized the problems of power and domination and defined communism negatively: “The aim of the league is the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of the old bourgeois society which rests on the antagonism of classes, and the foundation of a new society without classes and without private property.”
In Der Hilferuf der deutschen Jugend [The Cry for Help of German Youth] (1841), Weitling defined his Christian communism as follows:
“The problem that he [Christ] posed was the founding of a kingdom on the whole earth, freedom for all nations, the community of goods and labor for all who profess the kingdom of God. And it is precisely this that the communists of today once again adopt….”
“There are communists who are communists without knowing it: the hard working farmer who shares his piece of black bread with the hungry worker is a communist, the hard working artisan who does not exploit his workers and who pays them in proportion to the product of their common labor is a communist, the rich man who spends his extra money for the good of suffering humanity is a communist….”
Communism and charity are practically confounded. Marx correctly and vigorously reacted against this confusion. But in the Communist Manifesto the communists are not any more well defined by their communism. They are simply the most resolute of the proletarians and the ones who have the advantage of a clear awareness of the line of advance of the proletarian movement: the possessors of theory.
At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, and this despite the anger Marx displayed against the Social Democracy, primarily against the Gotha Congress of 1875, communism was emptied of its real content. It only retained its profound meaning among a small handful of anarchists.
In 1891, Paul Reclus, to justify “individual expropriation”, that is, theft, offered the following brief and good definition of communism in La Revolte:
“Activity, in life as we imagine it might be, is so unlike the one we lead now that what we call work, we shall call theft: to take something without asking and this is not theft; to offer something from our own abilities and activity and this will not be work.”
With the revolutionary wave that followed the First World War and in the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Marxist and communist tendencies re-emerged. There are vestiges of the memory of communism in the Bolsheviks. These vestiges would quickly be perverted and would disappear with the defeat of the world revolution and in the swamp of Russian problems.
It was right to denounce the extremely precocious counterrevolutionary role of the Bolsheviks, as it was also correct to demonstrate the bourgeois character of Lenin’s theoretical and practical work. But it is stupid to want to hold the Bolsheviks responsible for the failure of the workers’ revolution in Russia. The Bolsheviks were, above all, a specific case of an example of a handful of men who managed to change the course of history as far as revolutionary possibilities would allow. Their adversaries, even those to their left, generally only used humanist and democratic perspective to oppose them.
The contrast between the importance of the revolutionary wave and the failure of the communist affirmation is impressive.
In Germany and Holland it was mainly “the left” that denounced the Russian regime as state capitalism. Against Russian state capitalism, they opposed a communism based on workers’ management. We must grant that they highlighted the autonomous action of the masses and of the workers’ councils. With the defeat of the revolution, this current, represented above all by the KAPD, fragmented into tiny sects, after having organized hundreds of thousands of workers.
This ideology of workers’ self-management would also be used by the anarchists and by the anarcho-syndicalists. Communism is reduced to the self-organization of the producers.
It was in Italy that the left fraction of Bordiga, who was a dominant figure in the founding of the PCI, made the most effective contribution to the restoration of communist doctrine. He took a position against participation in elections, he repudiated united fronts with social democracy, he criticized the democratic illusion. He emphasized the abolition of wage labour and of the commodity economy. Bordiga, mostly after the Second World War, developed his analysis of the capitalist counterrevolution in Russia and his conception of communism. Communism is not built; commodity society is destroyed.
Despite its profound contributions, Bordigism did not succeed in freeing itself from its Leninist ambiance. Its radicalism and its perspicacity became mired in the worst dead ends.
After the Second World War, theoretical communism was only very gradually reborn. The prosperity and good health of capital did not help it. After having been ground to a pulp, with only a few remnants remaining, it had to overcome its past. It developed as the social crisis—and then the economic crisis—of capital once again became visible.
After having rediscovered the critique of the Eastern Bloc and the bureaucracy, the Situationists elaborated a theory of modern society based on the commodity and the “spectacle”. They denounced modern misery. However pertinent their analyses often might have appeared to be, they still remained on the surface of things. They were still prisoners, with regard to both their style and their content, of the spectacle effect that they denounced and reflected.
The Situationists produced a brilliant and corrosive social critique, but not a theory of capital, of the machinery that upholds the spectacle, or of the revolution. They did not address the question of communization by praising the immediate negation of the commodity (looting and arson) or by immersing themselves in councilism (the absolute power of the workers’ councils upon which everything depends). They were fierce enemies of Bolshevism, but like the Bolsheviks they made the revolution a question of organization.
The communist doctrine must focus on the description of the future and above all on the process of communization. It is in this respect that it must be discussed, that unites or separates. It is not a matter of fleeing the present but of living and of judging in the light of the future. Communism is here and now and its perspectives can be immediately opposed to the capitalist view.
Struggles, if they do not lead to positive perspectives, thus showing their lack of depth, become just another means of wallowing in misery on the pretext of denunciation. Like clowns and comedians, ideologists end up feeding on the decomposition of the system. If we can forgive everyone who makes us laugh, these people can never be forgiven. The ultimate form of concealing the gigantic and unexplored possibilities that are open to humanity: the ultimate form of extinguishing hope in the hearts of the oppressed!
With the passage of time, the communist idea and struggle re-emerge constantly. Nonetheless, they are only transformed to the extent that, as they are recuperated, capitalism is forced to overcome them. Today, since capitalism generalizes public property and concentrated labour, communism goes beyond the opposition between individual and collective appropriation. It is no longer based on the question of property. Communism no longer oscillates between an asocial naturalism and a moralism or an exasperated regulationism.
The Marxist stage must not be spared, either. Communism was considered to be a mode of production that would succeed capitalism. It is at the same time more than that and something beyond a social form. It is the movement, in the heart of capitalism, which rejects it, by which human activity breaks its chains and finally flourishes!
• Communist Activity
Communism is, first, activity. First, because it arises from within capitalism before it can overthrow capitalism. First, because in the communist world human activity and its vital functions are not the prisoners of previously produced social forms. The organization of tasks does not have to be crystallized in institutions.
Communism erupts positively from within capitalism. But it affirms itself as the other side of negation. Communism as activity is at the same time negation and anticipation: there will not be two successive moments. The more activity is turned against capital the more it will tend to present an outline of communism and vice-versa.
It is therefore not a matter, by any means, of building islands of communism within capitalism. If activity tends towards construction it will destroy the communist point of view.
There will not be communist needs that will demand their satisfaction beyond the system. Just as there will be needs in communism, when they arise they cannot be dissociated from their possibilities of realization, even imaginary, in the system. The inability of capitalism to satisfy desires leads to its abolition and to the abolition of the desires that it permits.
We do not see communism as Weitling did in the moral sense or as Blanqui did in the rise of the glorious principle of association. If that is communism, it is negative communism, and not to be confused with bad communism. It is the ascent of the movement of capitalist robbery.
Dispossessed of the instruments of production, deprived of the power over their labour, separated from each other but confronting and operating an enormous productive power, gathered together in great masses, the proletarians see communism inscribed negatively in their situation. They do not have, any more than they possess their own means of production, particular interests to defend. Their dispossession confronts the power and the social wealth that they create. And it is this that makes the proletariat the class of communism. The proletarians cannot re-appropriate, a little at a time, the means of production. They have to take them in common.
But what is fundamental is not so much—just as things are indissociably connected—the movement of re-appropriation and possessing goods in common, but the new activity that unfolds, the re-appropriation of life, the birth of new relations, the destruction of the relation of domination between men and objects.
It is true that communism, the human community, is a stage of historical development. The antagonisms that oppose human groups and interests will disappear.
But one cannot understand communism if it is established as a goal or as a completed movement, separate from the activity that produces it. By subordinating activity to the goal, the means to the ends, one only projects into history the rule of capital-commodity over human activity, which it imprisons in the labour form. The end, the result, communist social forms, must be considered a necessity of activity that seeks to assure and to reproduce its conditions of existence.
Community is in the future society, in the unification of the planet, in the end of the division of the economy into enterprises, a global and social solution. But those who do not see the spontaneous activity of the proletarians in action, who do not see the immediate and individual negation of racism and lies, understand nothing.
The relation between immediate activity and the future world is crucial. The universality of communism is contained in the particularity of situations.
If this universality can erupt from the particular it is through that particular being, itself the product of the universal, unifying and private logic of capital.
Those who do not perceive the connection are obliged to appeal to a false universal: the party (proletarian!), the state (proletarian!) or even the proletariat as an abstraction or representation. This false universal is itself considered as containing the active principle as against an inert social mass. The instrument and its object. The spirit transforming or riding matter.
Communist consciousness is only generalized when society is shaken to its foundations. But in resurgent life all of this is already there, including the consciousness that ceases to be the passive reflection of congealed representations and situations. Ideological consciousness is transformed into practical consciousness. This is already communist.
The more intense the struggle becomes, the more do those who participate in it discover that they are liberated from the prejudices and pettiness to which they had become accustomed. Their consciousness is shaken to its roots and they look at reality and the existence that they had led in a new and shocking way.
This presence of communism is not the monopoly of the struggle in the strict sense of the word: an open and declared battle between labour and capital. It is manifested throughout all of social life and often abandons those ritualized, fossilized and tedious struggles which are no longer really struggles.
The true human community always implies a contradiction with capital. It tends to become an open struggle or is destroyed and recuperated to become an image used to disguise reality. The growing influence of capital over life increasingly expels and renders impossible all real humanity, all love, all creation and exploration. Men are being turned into empty carcases that walk without life to the rhythms of capital. Revolt and reaction must therefore obtain a more and more human character. This humanity that contradicts capital, the necessary stage of the becoming of the species, is what we call communism. This label is still necessary insofar as this human future cannot claim to represent or encompass all human manifestations because it remains antagonistic to capital.
Communism is possible because capital cannot transform men into robots. Even if it robotizes their existence it cannot do without their humanity. The most integrated and most servile activity feeds on participation, creation, communication and initiative despite the fact that these qualities cannot possibly develop fully and freely. Necessity and earning a salary are not enough to make the worker functional. This requires other motivations, it requires his contribution. The labour-form cannot function without the generic, human character of the worker’s activity.
We saw (in Chapter IV) that the separate spheres of life are only perpetuated and maintained in their unity: it is impossible to completely dissociate production, education and experimentation. Even the least intelligent production or labour demands a certain adaptation of the worker and the ability to confront unexpected situations. In the same way, the most abstract education must be concretized by way of certain “products”, which are not made by copying an exam. The needs of control from the outside fall upon production….
The system of production would collapse if the workers were to cease to experiment, to help each other and to hold discussions. The hierarchical organization of labour can only survive if its rules are permanently ignored. It imposes an unenforceable framework on the infractions and the spontaneous activity of the workers in order to prevent them from undergoing further development and from becoming really dangerous and subversive. When a breach opens up or a conflict breaks out this activity tends to become autonomous and to develop according to its own logic.
By fighting, the proletariat immediately denies itself as wage labour, as slave, as robot. However limited the reappearance of life and of action, capitalist oppression is there if it challenges its foundations.
The proletarian who was nothing but a cog in the machinery starts to learn again, to strive, to take risks. He rediscovers control over his deeds. His eyes open, his intelligence stirs. The oppressive spirit of seriousness, the tedium that shackles men in the galleys of Wage Labour and the policed and commodified world, are overthrown. Everything becomes possible.
The revolt as a search for pleasure and efficacy finds itself beyond labour. His wage is found directly in the happiness that he awakens and its results.
The wildcat activity of the proletariat is repressed when it goes beyond a certain limit. More currently, it is recuperated and directed into a stillborn state. Thus, it is not just communism, it is the product of capitalism as capitalism is the product of communism. If we insist upon this latent or inchoate communism it is not in order to idolize it. It can only be itself by going beyond and exiting the capitalist orbit. To recognize its importance is not same as bowing down before a spontaneity that refuses to organize itself, discipline itself and take the offensive.
Capital recuperates in conformity with its profound nature. It is essentially a vampire. It is therefore necessary for us not to allow ourselves to be dazzled by this or that spectacular aspect of it.
The workers’ struggles, despite the opposition that they trigger, help the system to change and realize its potential, while it always remains itself. Wage and political struggles, or wage and political solutions, shake the system up and allow it to modernize itself.
The incipient struggle is sterilized at the root. The strike, the demonstration, the occupation of the factory tend to conform to a well-worn channel. They do not seek to harm capital but to treat its illness, to express discontent. In increasing alienation the strike does not appear as a means of pressure but as a sacrifice for those who engage in it. This is demonstrated by the importance of sacrifice to the gravity of the protest. The social war is replaced by the parade.
• Activity and Program
The point of view of activity is that of communism. It is not a matter of denying the need for activity to materialize, but of objectivizing it and of supporting whatever it engenders and transforms.
Capital, to the contrary, only considers activity from the point of view of the thing produced. It is by that means that it assimilates, as a foreign force, labour and specifically human activity. Activity is only seriously carried out with a view to its immediate and positive contribution. Positive according to capital.
This will to only consider the immediate impact conceals the character of anticipation of the workers’ struggle:
“Instead of looking at what the workers do, the bourgeois ideologues try to imagine what the workers want to obtain. They do not see proletarian activity except as a factor of disturbance or modernization of the system, never as the outline of its abolition”.
– “Lordstown 72 ou Les déboires de la General Motors”, Les amis de 4 millions de jeunes travailleurs, 1977
This activity is not seriously carried out because it is not productive. It would be purely destructive or negative. How could one think that it could inspire a new world? In reality, the negative character of communist activity is determined by the immediate opportunities and by the capitalist context. It is only negative from the point of view of capital and not from that of those who break free from its shackles.
“We must not delude ourselves about the destructive character that our communist activity assumes when it breaks free from capitalism. It is now productive of use. Sabotage destroys commercial value by attacking the use to which a commodity can be put, but producing a use value for the worker because it allows him to enjoy free time, to put pressure on the employer” (“Lordstown 72 ou Les déboires de la General Motors”, Les amis de 4 millions de jeunes travailleurs, 1977). Just as this destructive character eventually disappears when the worker produces on his own account at the cost of his enterprise.
By making proletarian activity the pivot of our doctrine we can perceive the identity and the discontinuity between revolt against capital and the future world. We see a contradictory unity of labour and communist activity. We can affirm that communism is, first of all, a radical transformation of human activity rather than a modification of the social forms. This allows us to re-evaluate the traditional ideas about the calculation of costs in the communist world.
In his youthful writings, Marx conceived communism not only as a movement but also as activity. Unfortunately, as he elaborated his conception of historical development, this point of view faded away as a unitary point of view. Marx became a communist theoretician of capitalism in both senses of the expression. On the one hand, he analysed capitalism from the point of view of its negation. On the other, he is the prisoner of capitalism.
Obviously, Marx took human activity into consideration as revolutionary activity and as productive activity, but separately. With regard to the Revolution of 1848, he shows that proletarian activity was nourished by its class situation and developed according to its own logic. In his economic works he made labour the basis of the measure of value. But by deducing productive activity from the product he fell back upon the assimilation between human productive activity and labour. He did not see the activity of the revolutionary proletariat as something “beyond labour”.
If everything rests on the immediate activity of the proletariat, why do we have to occupy ourselves merely with theory, with organization? Why should we formulate a program?
Not everything is in the immediate activity of the proletariat, it is just that everything must be connected to it, that everything must be put into perspective and in resonance. Immediate activity is only communist by virtue of its capacity to go beyond itself.
The communist program is a necessity, even if it is momentarily separated from the proletariat as a whole. It is not outside of its movement but without an anticipation, a guide. Its truth resides in its ability to be dissolved, that is, realized by the class. It is merely the program of proletarian activity.
End of Pamphlet Three1
- 1Part 3 was translated in August-September 2014 from the Portuguese translation of the French original, 'Um mundo sem dinheiro: o comunismo', available online at: http://comunism0.wordpress.com/um-mundo-sem-dinheiro-o-comunismo/.