Who are we?

Submitted by redtwister on December 14, 2005

The first issue of the review Théorie Communiste (TC) came out in 1977. The original group involved had got together in 1975. Previously some of the members of this group had published the review Intervention Communiste (two issues appeared in '72 and '73) and had participated in the publication Cahiers du Communisme de Conseils – Notebooks on Council Communism. Edited in Marseille between '68 and '73, this publication was very much linked to ICO (Informations and Correspondance Ouvriére – Workers' News and Correspondence, which has since become Echanges et Mouvement – Exchanges and Movement). The group separated from Cahiers du Communisme de Conseils as soon as it started to fuse with Révolution Internationale (the International Communist Current). The brief history which follows allows us, in part, to get to grips with the problems and questions which existed at the origin of TC.

At the beginning of the '70s a whole tendency already critical of the historic ultra-left began to find aspects of the ultra-left's analysis inadequate, in particular their critique of all the political and union mediations which give form to the proletariat's belonging, as a class, to the capitalist mode of production. In the balance sheet that we can draw up of the wave of class struggle at the end of the '60s, the call for class action in itself masks the essential problem: it is not a question of rediscovering a pure assertion of the proletariat. The revolution, the abolition of capital, will be the immediate negation of all classes, including the proletariat. Yet we didn't want to adopt the approach of Invariance who, from this observation, ended up rejecting any classist perspective on the contradictions of existing society and the revolution, nor that of Le Mouvement Communiste, led by Jean Barrot, who, by an injection of Bordigism, sought to radicalize the ultra-left problematic.

At first the theoretical work of TC (in cooperation with the group who published Négation) consisted of elaborating the concept of programmatism. The crisis at the end of the '60s/beginning of the '70s was the first crisis of capital during the real subsumption of labour under capital. It marked the end of all the previous cycles which, since the beginning of the 19th Century, had for their immediate content and for their objective the increase in strength of the class within the capitalist mode of production and its affirmation as the class of productive work, through the taking of power and the putting in place of a period of transition. Practically and theoretically, programmatism designates the whole of that period of the class struggle of the proletariat. Despite having renewed this problematic out of necessity, Echanges (published in English and French) remains on the same general basis, namely that in each struggle the proletariat must rediscover itself; revolution becomes the process of struggles, the process of this conquest of itself.

The central theoretical question thus becomes: how can the proletariat, acting strictly as a class of this mode of production, in its contradiction with capital within the capitalist mode of production, abolish classes, and therefore itself, that is to say: produce communism? A response to this question which refers to some kind of humanity underneath the proletarian or to human activity underneath work, not only traps itself in a philosophical quagmire, but always returns to the consideration that the class struggle of the proletariat can only go beyond itself in so far as it already expresses something which exceeds and affirms itself (we can find this even in the present theoretical formalisations of the 'direct action movement'). The sweaty labourer has been replaced by Man, but the problem has not changed, which remains that of 'Aufhebung'.

Starting from this basis, we have undertaken a work of theoretical redefinition of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital. In the first place it was necessary to redefine the contradiction as being simultaneously the contradiction bearing communism as its resolution and the reproductive and dynamic contradiction of capital. It was necessary to produce the identity of the proletariat as a class of the capitalist mode of production and as a revolutionary class, which implies that we no longer conceive this 'revolutionariness' as a class nature which adjusts itself, disappears, is reborn, according to circumstances and conditions. This contradiction is exploitation. With exploitation as a contradiction between the classes we grasped their characterisation as the characterisation of the community, therefore as being simultaneously their reciprocal involvement. This meant that we were able to grasp: the impossibility of the affirmation of the proletariat; the contradiction between the proletariat and capital as history; the critique of any revolutionary nature of the proletariat as a defining essence buried or masked by the reproduction of the whole (the self-presupposition of capital). We had historicized the contradiction and therefore the revolution and communism, and not only their circumstances. The revolution and communism are what is produced historically through the cycles of struggles which accentuate the development of the contradiction. The contradiction between the proletariat and capital was really disobjectified, without taking the economy to be an illusion. The tendential fall in the rate of profit became immediately a contradiction between classes and not that which triggers it, as always remained the case with Mattick, even though his theory of crises opens the way to the supersession of objectivism.

In addition to the deepening of these theoretical presuppositions, the work of TC consists of defining the structure and content of the contradiction between classes at work since the end of the '70s, and consolidated in the '80s. There was a restructuring of the relations of exploitation, that is to say of the contradiction between classes, which was the second phase of real subsumption.

The extraction of relative surplus has become a process of reproduction of the interface between capital and labour which is adequate to it in that it contains no element, no point of crystallisation, no sticking point which can be a hindrance to the necessary fluidity and constant overturning which it needs. Against the previous cycle of struggles, restructuring has abolished all specificity, guarantees, 'welfare', 'Fordian compromise', division of the global cycle into national areas of accumulation, into fixed relations between the centre and the periphery, into internal zones of accumulation (East/West). The extraction of surplus value in its relative mode demands constant upheaval and the abolition of all restrictions to the immediate process of production, the reproduction of labour power and the relations of capitals with each other.

The restructuring of the capitalist mode of production cannot exist without a workers' defeat. This defeat was that of the worker's identity, of the Communist parties, of 'actually existing socialism', of trade unionism, of self-management, of self-organisation. It is a whole cycle of struggles in its diversity and its contradictions which was defeated in the '70s and early '80s. Restructuring is essentially counter-revolution. Its essential result, since the beginning of the '80s, is the disappearance of any productive worker's identity reproduced and confirmed within the capitalist mode of production.

When the contradictory relation between the proletariat and capital is no longer defined in the fluidity of capitalist reproduction, the proletariat can only oppose itself to capital by calling into question the movement in which it is itself reproduced as a class. The proletariat no longer carries a project of social reorganisation as an affirmation of what it is. In contradiction with capital, it is, in the dynamic of the class struggle, in contradiction with its own existence as a class. This is now the content of, and what is at stake in, the class struggle. It is the basis of our present work through analyses not only of the course of capital but also, indissociably, of struggles such as that of December '95 in France, of the movement of the unemployed or the sans-papiers, as well as everyday struggles which are less spectacular but, even so, indicative of this new cycle.

That which is fundamentally radical about the cycle of struggles is simultaneously its limit: the existence of the class in the reproduction of capital. This limit which is specific to the new cycle of struggles is the foundation and the historically specific content of what from 1995 we have called 'radical democratism'. It is the expression and the formalisation of the limits of this cycle of struggles. It sets up in political practice or in an alternativist perspective the disappearance of any worker's identity so as to ratify the existence of the class within capital as a collection of citizens and/or producers, an existence to which it asks capital to conform. In opposition to this, but on the same basis, the 'direct action movement' thinks of itself as already being new 'disalienated' social relations opposed to capital.

Starting out from this cycle of struggles, revolution is a supersession produced by it. There cannot be an extension of present struggles as they are in themselves to revolution for the simple reason that revolution is the abolition of classes. This supersession is the moment when, in the class struggle, class belonging itself becomes an exterior constraint imposed by capital. It is a contradictory process internal to the capitalist mode of production. In the meantime, neither orphans of the labour movement, nor prophets of the communism to come, we participate in the class struggle as it is on a daily basis and as it produces theory.