Roland Simon of Theorie Communiste elaborates TC's concept of 'cycle of struggles' in their periodisation of the possibility of revolution.
The common reflexion and discussion work could consist in submitting the definition of the concept of cycle of struggles that I propose in the few following pages and the theoretical principles underlying it to the the series of questions that I asked in a preceding mail.
The concept of cycle of struggles
What we call cycle of struggles is the whole of the struggles, organisations and theories that constitute a historically defined practice of the proletariat in the reciprocal implication between the two terms of the exploitation which is the dynamic contradiction of the mode of capitalist production. This whole of practices and struggles by which this contradiction, in each specific phase of its historical development, carries revolution and communism as well as its overcoming.
In the first place, even if the chronological landmarks may be identical, the concept of cycle of struggles does not coincide with the one of a historical period of the capitalist mode of production. In the concept of cycle of struggles, the practice of the proletariat is defined as one of the prominent aspect of a totality by which this totality produces its overcoming. As a consequence, a cycle of struggles is a period of the mode of capitalist production that is considered in as much as it produces its overcoming.
The definition of the concept of cycle of struggles articulates around three great principles:
- Exploitation – as a contradiction between proletariat and capital – is simultaneously defined as the reciprocal implication of these terms and the production of each one’s specificity as far as its situation and practice are concerned. It is not the exploitation in itself, or the development of the capitalist mode of production that carries its overcoming , they carry it only by the specific situation and activity of the proletariat as a revolutionary class and as a class of the mode of capitalist production.
- The historical production of the revolution and of communism: both are the overcoming that each cycle of struggles specifically produces.
- The contradiction between proletariat and capital is simultaneously the dynamics of the development of the modern mode of capitalist production and of its overcoming, the outcome of which is that a cycle of struggles defines itself in its whole as the relationship between, on one side, the daily course of the class struggle, and, on the other side, revolution and communism in their historical content.
I The concept of cycle of struggles is part of the definition of exploitation
1) Specific practice and reciprocal implication
Exploitation is the first great principle that defines what a cycle of struggles is. The definition of a cycle of struggles comes from an understanding of the exploitation in which the reciprocal implication between the terms of the contradiction, proletariat and capital, as well as their specification and their autonomy are simultaneously laid. Without this, there is no cycle of struggle, that is to say no specific practices of the proletariat against the capital, as a particuliarisation of a whole of which the capital is precisely the other necessary term. A cycle of struggles is a phase of the capital in as much as it is producing its overcoming by the specific activity of the proletariat as a pole of the contradiction which, because it is a reciprocal implication, particuliarises itself.
In their contradictory relationship, proletariat and capital each have a specific position and activity. It is this process of particuliarisation of those terms, which is intrinsic to the contradiction, that we are up to define, while considering them precisely as terms of a contradiction, that is to say as a mutual implication. Exploitation is not the content of a contradictory relationship between two symmetric terms, it is a difference in the relationship to the whole, which, regarding its content, determines one term to be questioned and to overcome this whole. The capitalist mode of production and exploitation only carry their overcoming in the situation and specific activity of the proletariat as a pole (particularisation) of the whole capitalist mode of production.
Exploitation as a relationship between the proletariat and the capital is a contradiction as it is a process in contradiction with its own reproduction (fall of the profit rate), a whole in which each element only exists in relation to the other, and defines itself in this relation as a contradiction with the other and because of this with itself, as the relationship defines it: productive work and accumulation of capital; surplus labour and necessary work; valorisation and immediate work. The capital is a contradiction in process, which means that the movement exploitation is is a contradiction of the production social relationships of which exploitation is the content and the movement. In this light, it is a game that can lead to the abolition of its rule. The capital as a contradiction in process is the class struggle, when we say that exploitation is a contradiction for itself, we define the situation and the revolutionary activity of the proletariat.
Exploitation is the valorisation of the capital, it has three constitutive moments:
- the confrontation of the work force and of the capital as potential capital. This confrontation makes sense only in its resolution, the purchase-sale of the work force.
- The subsumption of work under the capital (surplus value production)
- The transformation of the surplus value in additional capital : the reproduction of the confrontation, the separation, are the starting point and the main result of the production process.
It is this same transformation of the surplus value into additional capital that is never ascertained, because of competition of course on the most superficial level, but above all because of the fact that this transformation implies on one side the meeting of the commodity capital and of the money as capital or means of circulation ( it is the general possibility of the crises), and on the other side because it implies the underlying transformation of the surplus value into profit, therefore the relation between the surplus value and the total engaged capital. The fall of the profit rate is constantly the anguish at the heart of self-presupposition, or without circumlocution, the “never ascertained” nature of this transformation in additional capital and so of the renewing of the process whose terms are produced as subjects. This production of subjects within the reciprocal implication does not occur at the end of each cycle, it is permanent in the course of the valorisation process and funds the autonomy and the practice of the proletariat and of the capital during the whole process. The problematic character of the transformation of the surplus value into additional capital is also the transformations of the capital, the bankruptcies, the redundancies as well as the augmentations of the production paces and the transformation of the process of work. The transformation of the surplus value into additional capital is first and foremost the extraction of a sufficient surplus value to allow for this transformation.
The exploitation relation is, on the one hand, the content of the reciprocal implication of the proletariat and the capital, the fact that they are the terms of a same whole, and, on the other hand, their production as genuinely active subjects of this whole, that has no other movement that the one that results from the actions of its subjects. It is in this relation, at the general level of analysis, in the unity of its moments, that the “never ascertained” character of its reproduction constantly exists.
The “never ascertained” character of the renewing of the three constitutive moments of the exploitation blends in with the particularisation movement of the contradictory terms of the whole. It is there that the general possibility of the exploitation crisis as contradictory practices between classes lies, it is there that the particularisation process of the terms of the contradiction in their activity as subjects lies, there that their own action and reciprocal implication lie.
However, the position of the capital in relation to the whole is different from the proletariat’s. This difference is a consequence of the very content of exploitation. The capital is the agent of the general reproduction. A cycle of struggles is not a collection of struggles brought about by causality by a certain stage of the development of the capital. What appears as a causality relation that goes from the state of the capital to the struggles of the proletariat and that explains their content and historical evolution, is only an effect of the subsumption of work under the capital. It is true that the definition of a cycle of struggles always has, as a starting point, the valorisation process in its historical content and aspect. But we cannot deduce from there a causality relation, it would be not to understand what a totality is and its necessary particularisation in a non symmetrical position of its terms in relation to the renewing of the relation of the whole. A causality relation makes of the specific situation of the proletariat in the relation of the whole, something changing and liable to be influenced and from this, in spite of appearances, does not conceive it as essentially historical, that is to say essentially as the other term of a relation, but as a historically determined revolutionary nature.
To conceive essentially the situation and the practice of the proletariat as the other term of a relation, of a contradictory relation that constitutes a particularised totality, is to conceive them in a dynamic and historical process, for it is simultaneously to conceive the two contradictory terms and thus a process. To establish a causality relation between the capital (brought back to objective conditions) and the practice of the proletariat can only produce an object on which this causality will act, that is to say a revolutionary nature that this causality will modulate. At this level, the theoretical production of the concept of cycle of struggles plays a part as an element of the overcoming of programmatism in as much as it is the criticism of a simple relation of causality between the practice of the proletariat and the objective conditions and as a corollary of a separation of the terms that leaves the possibility of a victory of the proletariat which would be its liberation, its affirmation.
Thus the first elements of definition that emerge from this first point make clear that a cycle of struggles is the specific practice of the proletariat in a relation of reciprocal implication with the capital as particularisation of a same totality, a specific practice that such a production immediately and essentially defines as historical and not as “historically brought about”. The overcoming of the capitalist mode of production is not the result of the contradiction process as undifferentiated unit, but of the activity of one of its terms: the proletariat. This term is able to produce this overcoming only because it is a particularisation of the whole and not because it could carry within itself a revolutionary essence.
2) The concept of cycle of struggles lies on the identity between what makes the proletariat a revolutionary class and a class of the capitalist mode of production.
Still starting from the first great defining principle of a cycle of struggles, exploitation. The non separation of what makes the proletariat a revolutionary class and its definition as a class of the capitalist mode of production derives from it as a determination of this principle.
As particularisation of the whole, the two terms of the contradiction do not entertain the same relation with this whole. The constitutive contradiction of this whole, exploitation, defines itself as the subsumption of work under the capital. In front of salaried work, the capital subsumes the living work, as such, it is the agent of the reciprocal reproduction of the two poles, as a consequence, there is no equality, no simple complementarity between the terms but a contradiction.
The subsumption of work under the capital implies that all the conditions of the renewing of the relation can be found , at the end of each cycle, reunited as capital in front of work (it’s the economy). If work implies capital, it is because the first is always put by the latter in a position to involve it. Thus one cannot be content to say that the proletariat implies the capital and vice versa the capital implies the proletariat, because of the very content of this implication, exploitation, it does not have in the two ways the same “form”. The proletariat implies the capital because it exists only as continually put by the capital in the position of having to involve it. The capital is the agent of general reproduction, the two terms are not on an equal footing, exploitation and subsumption are there and this makes the reciprocal implication a non symmetrical relation.
With the inequality of the terms of the contradiction in relation to the whole, it is as a form the very content of the contradiction that is found again. The proletariat is in contradiction with the necessary social existence of its work, as capital, autonomised value in front of it, and staying so only as increasing value : the fall of the profit rate is a contradiction between the classes. The very movement of accumulation constantly brings the surplus value back to the produced and transmitted value. Through the fall of the profit rate, the exploitation of the proletariat and the production of surplus value reach as their own limit the very social existence of work as producer of value and the accumulation of this value. The specification of the terms of this contradiction and the very shape of this contradiction with the inequality of its terms define a class that is constantly contradictory to the development and to the reproduction of the totality that defines and involves it. What we have here is the daily struggle as well as, following the rules of the game, the possibility of its abolition. In the fall of the profit rate, the proletariat is constantly in contradiction with the totality of the conditions accumulated in front of it as value, this contradiction exists as the very form of contradiction, we can then define what the proletariat is, as a situation in a relation and not as a nature any longer. The concept of cycle of struggles is in itself a criticism of programmatism, it overtakes the rigid opposition between what makes the proletariat a revolutionary class and what defines it as a class of the capitalist mode of production.
Proletariat produces communism against capital which means that it is the subject of this overcoming, not as an executioner or as a midwife, but as a pole of the contradiction itself. If, beginning with the exploitation, we anchor what makes the proletariat a revolutionary class in what defines it as a class of the capitalist mode of production, that is to say in its implication with the capital, a necessary link between the daily course of the class struggle and revolution, this link considered as a historical phase is a cycle of struggles. In the concept of class struggles the ambivalence between a proletariat that would be a « revolutionary force that runs » and a proletariat that should overtake what it is in the capitalist mode of production to be revolutionary is overtaken. However, to give a correct rendition of the nature of this link and process, it is necessary to go through the second great principle around which the concept of cycle of struggles revolves : revolution and communism are historical productions as far as their content is concerned. This means that defining the concept of cycle of struggles is defining a succession of cycle of struggles. This second great defining principle is eventually only an extension of the first ; if exploitation is the contradiction between the proletariat and the capital, this contradiction is thus simultaneously the dynamic of the capitalist mode of production, it is history.
II Revolution and communism are historical productions through the cycles of struggles
It is necessary to simultaneously historicise and specify each cycle of struggles and to understand the way they follow on from each other, to understand for example, the specificity of the current cycle of struggles and to refer, even if it is in a necessarily critical way, to the whole history of the proletariat and to the production of communism. It is, at each time, in each cycle of struggles, the whole course of the capitalist mode of production that has communism as its resolution. Revolution and communism as we define them now (communisation and social immediacy of the individual) are not an invariant, a norm that would run through the history of the capitalist mode of production under multiple avatars. The current cycle of struggles, along with the definition and the production of communism it contains, is, in itself, the necessary overcoming produced by the previous cycles. History cannot be rewritten backwards. In the current cycle of struggles, the production of communism becomes a historical axis running through the whole mode of capitalist production, this production is a succession and a totalisation of the cycles of struggles.
The analysis in terms of cycles of struggles helps to understand how the proletariat produces communism against the capital, this production can be found, for example, in the various stages of the programme (1790-1848 ;1848-1871 ;1871-1914), there are the internal contradictions of these stages, it is the affirmation of the class that is always carrying its impossibility in its own terms, through what programmatism historically is (its necessary explosion in trends, its relation to counter-revolution, etc.), it is eventually, the fact that class affirmation is never seen as an end in itself, and this turns out against it.
The impossibility of the programmatic revolution lies in its necessity to be simultaneously an increase in importance of the class in the capital, and an autonomous affirmation of the proletariat. The two terms contradict each other but can remain linked until the years 1870-1880. But as soon as the process of shifting to real subsomption genuinely begins, their coexistence becomes impossible. One can keep promoting revolution only through abstracting the reinforcement of the class from the capital; and on the other side, one will only be able to keep promoting the development of the class within the capitalist mode of production through making socialism an organized capitalism. One could develop the same reasoning about the old cycle of struggles that ended in the middle of the 70’s by understanding its impossibility through the theoretical and practical implication between self-organisation and self-negation, autonomy and refusal of work.
The point here is neither to make each last cycle of struggles the norm of the previous cycles nor to consider the cycle in which we are as having, in an isolated way, communism as its resolution.
Each cycle of struggles constitutes a specific totality from its determinations, and from the way revolution and communism are defined from the historical stage of the contradiction between proletariat and capital it expresses. However, the succession of the cycles of struggles does not appear as a juxtaposition of exclusive totalities : there is a progression, an overcoming of the limits of a previous cycle in the specificity of a new cycle. At the same time a new cycle is the overcoming of a previous one, it constitutes the characteristics, the shape, the determinations of it in terms of limits, contradictions, and through this manifests that in itself this previous cycle can be analysed as producing, carrying, and calling for its overcoming in a relation, necessary but mediated by the next cycle with communism as this last cycle defines it. The characteristics of the previous cycles carry then, in the understanding ( that became objective and not a viewpoint) the following cycle provides, communism as it is defined by this cycle. The error would be to forget the analysis’s starting point, to forget the reality of the current cycle and to consider that the previous cycle carries communism outside the existence of the current cycle. The mere present existence of this new cycle makes of this ‘starting point’ not a subjective viewpoint but an objective relation.
From cycle to cycle, the proletariat does not store up experiences that it could take advantage of to overcome the limits of a previous cycle. If a new cycle overcomes the limits of a previous cycle, it is because counter revolution, the capital restructuration, constituted the characteristics of this former cycle as limits. The fact that communism is contained by all the former cycles through what funds their own impossibility, through their internal contradictions, this fact is solved in counter revolution, capital restructuration and its development. Capital is not a mere obstacle. It is up to – through its own development, because it is a contradiction in process – solve a contradiction carrying communism as its overcoming. Thus, the historical significance of the capital links in one single historical movement the various and specific cycles of struggles and makes of each stage of the contradiction between proletariat and capital the overcoming of the previous cycle’s limits. The impossibility in its own terms of each cycle of struggles up until now is the corollary of the ability of the capital to solve in its development a contradiction that carries communism. If counter revolution is a relevant answer to revolution, it is because the development of the capital is the obsolescence of the value in act. For the next cycle, this restructuration becomes a necessary mediation for revolution and communism.
The 1917 Russian proletarians acted as such as did the 1919 German, the 1936 Spanish, and the 1968 French or Italian. They led the revolutionary movements or the rebellions that were not theirs with full awareness, and in all their contradictions. None of their actions were contingent for them, the limit of their movement were imposed on them by the counter revolution they had to fight, it was not, for them, an external limit that they could not overcome, but the very nature of their struggle. What we can say now of these movements, we say it now, and if we say why these movements were beaten we owe it to the struggles as they were led and to the counter revolution that crushed them (counter revolutions are also and above all our relation to the past revolutions). Our analysis is a result, the result did not pre exist in the object. For us now, the whole importance of these revolutions lies in what appears to us as their inner contradictions, in their impossibility as it occurred in the very terms these struggles existed and were lived in. It is through all that is, pragmatically and theoretically, for us now the impossibility of the programatic revolution that we relate to the history of past struggles and to the continuity of theoretical production. It is the reason why we are led to give prominance to peripheral currents or to “heretical” opinions, for, within them, it was the criticism on its own bases, included in itself, of the revolution as affirmation of the proletariat and liberation of work that existed and not the potential or embryonic existence of the revolution as it appears now. It is what relates us to these movements, what makes them our living heritage. The whole history of the capitalist mode of production did not have in mind to produce the current situation, but the current situation allows to consider as its own condition for existence the whole past history, to understand the current cycle of struggles as an overcoming and resolution of the previous cycles. We are looking neither for lessons nor ancestors.
The problem of the role and activity of the capital in relation to communism as the overcoming of its contradiction with the proletariat is important because it is the one of the relation between revolution and counter revolution. It establishes this relation in the development of the capital as a historical process and cycles of struggles. If capital is a contradiction in process as is developped by Marx in Grundrissen, and if its development is the production of the material conditions able to make the cramped basis work value is burst, it is not its obituary that is then described, it is simultaneously its strength and its historical meaning. It is because it is this contradictory process that undermines itself that capital has a historical significance but then to have a historical significance is, in the very content of its development (“the stealing of someone else’s work on which current wealth is based appears as a paltry basis confronted to the new basis, created and developed by the big industry itself”, Grundrisse, vol.2, p.222), to be able to impose, in front of the revolutionary class, its own reproduction and accumulation as an answer having a historical meaning in front of revolution, and taking place on its limits. The value’s obsolescence is the very dynamic of the capitalist mode of production.
The principle of all restructuration consists in – for the capital – being able to lay its own contradiction with the proletariat as a contradiction with its previous development as a limited one. It is a movement of transformation between proletariat and capital into multiple inner contradictions of the capital as pole of the relation.
Communism is not the historical product of each cycle of struggles, but of their succession (the concept of cycle of struggles is necessarily a succession of cycles of struggles), a succession that, through counter revolutions, restructurations and through the historical significance of the capital, is an overcoming and a “totalisation” – conservation and overcoming.
Each new cycle cannot conceive that previous cycles gave to revolution and communism the same content it does under different forms, it only understands itself as the result of a necessary history in relation to communism. Being itself the proof of the historical significance of the capital, each new cycle understands the defeat of the previous cycle as necessary and thus understands, taking itself as starting point, that the previous cycles had their impossibility in their own terms. Each new cycle is the objective existence of what it, itself, defines as revolution and communism as being the outcome of the previous cycles.
The previous cycles did not define communism as a social immediacy of the individual. The point here is not to rewrite history backwards. However the current cycle of struggles is a historical result. Revolution as communisation (communist measures) and communism as social immediacy of the individual are the result of the overcoming of the previous cycles of struggles and allows to understand their limits and their contradictions in the very terms of these previous cycles. The succession of the cycles of struggles is not a juxtaposition but a totalising overcoming.
From the current cycle of struggles, one understands the production of communism as a historical trend running through the whole history of the capitalist mode of production. One does not give goals and contents they never had to previous stages, but the content of this cycle is the historical result and true understanding and appropriation of previous cycles, their revolutionary resurrection, their overcoming-integration.
III A cycle of struggles is the link between the daily course of class struggle and revolution
The daily course of class struggle is not an incompleteness or a waiting, as accumulation of capital is not an obstacle. The relation of the daily course to revolution is a production one. To separate the two means that one considers all the course before the revolution as an accumulation of necessary conditions, mystifications, errors, insufficiency, mere integration of the proletariat or as unlucky attacks of a constantly revolutionary proletariat just as constantly beaten. Between the previous course of class struggle and revolution, there never was a “transgrowth” relation, mainly with the real subsumption of work under capital when the reproduction and the defense of the proletarian condition, although contradictory and antagonistic, are integrated within the own cycle of the capital.
One can only correctly place the relation between the daily course of class struggle and revolution, by defining proletariat both and identically as a class of the mode of capitalist production and as a revolutionary class, as well as revolution and communism as historical production. To define the course of class struggle as cycles of struggles is to understand this relation for it is historical and not normative. Each cycle of struggles is this relation’s dynamic process.
To link the previous course of class struggle to revolution is to understand revolution as a rupture, an overcoming of a previous situation, but a produced rupture and made necessary by this previous situation through a specific historical development in which each term has its activity, its situation and its own responsibility as regards this overcoming. The point is, in each cycle of struggles, to show how class struggle comes up against its own limits and gives revolution a historically determined content.
The theoretical link between the daily course of class struggle and revolution can be found in the constantly contradictory situation proletariat is in relation to the necessary social form of its work as a value accumulated in front of it, and remaining thus only through developing itself, as capital. This contradiction is, for capital, its own dynamic. Subsuming work through this contradiction : exploitation, it constantly is the agent of the general reproduction of the relation and all the reproduction conditions can thus constantly be found as capital in front of work. Thus the daily course of class struggle is limited essentially and not externally by a resistance of the capital. This daily course comes up against its own limits in its contradiction with capital, but by so doing, it also produces them as such and calls for their overcoming and its own. The daily course of class struggle is a movement which, against the capital, calls for its overcoming, because if it comes up against its own limits it is because capital subsumes contradiction in its own cycle, it is its own dynamic. This process thus becomes the one of the inner contradictions of the capitalist accumulation process. This the reason why we must go through economy, for the daily course of class struggle does not call for its overcoming because of an inner process but through the crisis of the capital. The development of the capital resulting from each of these cycles replaces the proletariat in its specific situation in front of the accumulation of all the conditions of reproduction. This is what links the daily course of class struggle to the overcoming of the capitalist mode of production. What we have here is a class that is constantly, and in its own definition, contradictory with the development that includes it, a development that finds in its very contradiction its dynamic – the whole problem is there.
The concept of cycle of struggles synthetises the daily course of class struggle and the contradiction between proletariat and capital as a dynamic of the capitalist mode of production and the historical production of revolution.
When Marx talks about the proletariat as being the midwife of the new society, one is still in the problematic in which proletariat comes to reveal something that is produced as an objective course. It is the whole development towards communism that needs to be understood as coming from the specific position of the proletariat in the contradiction, and not from this specific position, as executioner or midwife that is to say as a result of the process. The contradictions of this process would be limited therefore to the ones of capitalist accumulation, an accumulation understood in an objective way, an accumulation of the conditions that would be a purgatory that one had to go through. If the crisis of the social relation of exploitation – which is in itself an economic crisis – is the only social relation in which, for each cycle, its overcoming can occur. There is here, in the current cycle, a new relation between the struggles and their limits compared to the previous cycles. These limits can no longer be found in the counter revolutionary movement of the dynamics of the new cycle of struggles in the capital restructuration, but they become intrinsic to the whole course of the cycle, constantly present as such. The reproduction of capital has become the specific limit of this cycle in relation to its immediate characteristics and not in itself through the tautological relation alone according to which there is no revolution if capital reproduces itself. Of course, the limits of the previous cycles only went with the reproduction of capital, but this reproduction was not in itself the historically specified limit of the cycle of struggles, which is now the case. To act as a class now is: on the one hand, to have capital and the categories of its reproduction as only perpective, on the other hand, it is for the same reason to be in contradiction with its own class reproduction.
The concept of cycle of struggles bears the relation between immediate struggles and revolution within each cycle of struggles. It makes each term of the contradiction a subject by giving them their autonomy within their reciprocal implication (and through the latter as well). In this daily course, it is important to define what makes it a dynamic process calling for its own overcoming, to find in the daily struggles the reason why they come up against their own content which is then constituted as limits in the opposition to the capital. To confer activity, vitality, and autonomy to each term of the contradiction, to establish a link between daily struggles and revolution, to define the production of revolution and of communism as historical compel one to understand the movement as a succession of cycles of struggles and to make the difference – in these cycles of struggles and even if all the elements make a whole – between what calls for overcoming, what is a reversal in the capital, and what establishes the content of these struggles as limits through making it stable.
R.S, Tuesday, 8 July 2008.
From the Meeting website.