First, on this: http://communisation.net/Editorial,4?lang=en
“not abolish capital for communism but by communism, or more specifically, by its production.”
abolish capital for communism = abolish capital, then begin to create communism
abolish capital by communism = begin to produce communism and in doing so begin to abolish capital
Both of these involve a dramatic structure – a beginning, rising action, a climax, falling action.
“Communisation is not a period of transition” – so the dramatic structure will be different from that of transitional-period analyses/claims.
“the proletariat’s struggle as a class (…) has become the problem” – so it used to not be a problem? why wasn’t it? and why did it become one? and the problem is at least in part of now how revolution is thought about.
“the affirmation of the proletariat and the liberation of labour have lost all meaning and content”
- if they’ve lost all meaning and content then this could mean that the proletariat could subjectively (ie, at the level of its concepts and terms) ‘affirm’ itself and its liberation, without objectively doing so.
“There is no longer a worker’s identity facing capital and confirmed by it”
- Maybe. But if so, the previous workers identity, to the degree it existed, was a product of struggle and cultural production by the workers movement.
“immediately the abolition of all classes”
- dramatic structure again. what does “immediate” actually mean here? It has a temporal overtone – immediately, as in, right now, very quickly. Later in that paragraph it has a different overtone: “a community immediate to its elements (…) immediate relations between individuals” meaning without mediation. Mediation or lack of mediation are largely pseudo-categories.
They call for “Relations between singular individuals that are no longer the embodiment of a social category” but what does it mean for “relations between singular individuals” to be “the embodiment of a social category”? For the “no longer” to make sense, the condition it breaks from has to make sense, and I’m not convinced this does.
Second, on this: http://communisation.net/What-is-communisation?lang=en
“One thing is now certain : in the capitalist world, our situation can only get worse.” Nah. Historical outcomes aren’t given, except in the models of economists.
This is “the inevitable outcome of the global evolution of capitalism.” Also, nah. Inevitability is a fiction. And it’s a depoliticizing fiction: “Wages, job opportunities, pensions, public services and welfare benefits have all been affected by this evolution.” What cut wages and so on? Social evolution. Predetermined arrangements of historical forces. Not ensembles of people making decisions…
It is impossible “to defend the social benefits of the previous period, and even to extend them a bit more.” This impossibility is asserted, and is one of the core tenets of the communization miliue, one of its secret phrases (“This is my first time in this bookshop, I’m told there was a meeting here?” “I don’t know of any such meeting,” “are you sure?”, “I am, but tell me, what do you think of reform?”, “reform is impossible,” “ah! welcome comrade! here, there is a door behind this bookshelf, come in, there is wine and good cheese!”) The capitalists and their governments are pushing for cuts and are not interested in giving reforms. And so, reforms will not happen. The current disposition of the capitalist class will determine what occurs for the time being, comrades, but come, let us theorize communization to imagine such a time that the rulers cease to determine our fates….
In addition, by arguing the impossibility of reform, the piece sidesteps arguing the issue of the desirability or not of reform, which is fundamentally a political and a moral question: a question of what is just and good and what society should be like, not a technical or economic matter in a narrow sense.
The piece argues that “everything that is useful can only be useful as long as it offers opportunities for making profit.” This is true in a way, but “offers opportunities for profit” is not a fixed thing but a historical and changing thing, and changes in part tied to struggles. The piece also overstates the importance and extent of commodification. Capital is the organizing principle, the center of gravity of capitalist society, but commodification is not a prerequisite for utility to capitalism. Indeed, some of the time noncommodification is more useful to capitalism: commodities have prices, and prices must be paid. That which has no price can be appropriated, as with the great many unpaid labors that reproduce labor markets and other markets.
If capitalism lowers “the value of labour power only relatively to the total value produced, while increasing the value of labour power and the quantity of labour absolutely” then reform should be possible: labor increase; there is more work to be done, more jobs could be created.
“the domination of a class over another – that is to say, of the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalist class. The ultimate goal of capitalism is not profit or “producing for production”, it is to preserve the domination of a group of human beings over another group of human beings. And it is in order to secure this domination that profit and “producing for production” are imposed as imperatives on everyone.”
The piece says that neoliberalism “was not the cause of the restructuring : on the contrary, it was the restructuring.” This move — X is not the cause of Y, it *is* Y — feels like it means something on reading it but I think it’s more heat than light. I don’t think there’s much at stake between this terminological point; I think any analysis that starts from “neoliberalism is the restructuring” and analysis that starts from “neoliberalism is the cause of restructuring” could the same conceptual work.
The description of restructuring – lower labor costs, turn to finance – seem right to me but it all sounds so organized and seamless, the actions of capitalists who know and are disciplined to act in line with their interests, economically, rather than a political result emerging from a process of conflicts among various members and fractions of the capitalist class.
There’s a paragraph-long overview of past struggles, which purports to proceed “[w]ithout at all idealising previous periods” but idealizing is just what it does. What the paragraph does is trace an overall arc: a rise in the power of workers under capitalism against capitalism, which was simultaneously a reinforcement of the commodity-status of labor power. That story is true for some places and sometimes. But passed over here are the counter-offensives, and the people left out, all the stories that followed a different narrative arc. The point of the over-all story is to build tension: we are on the verge of a dramatic climax, comrades!
It’s true that nowadays “and almost for thirty years now, struggles are exclusively defensive,” but the implication is that struggles prior to this thirty years were offensive. Lack of attention to defensive struggles in the past and their connection to larger dynamics hampers this analysis, and acts as if this is the first period of working class defeat and restructuring in capitalism’s history. This analysis is an over-reaction to the capitalist offensive and the working class retreat (or total route). In a way it’s a comforting story: after this terrible defeat and the failure of past hopes, we have now reached a final moment of intense possibility.
The piece talks about “a victorious workers’ struggle [at] Cellatex – the radical struggle for redundancy payments when employment is eliminated,” and this is important: we should look to Republic Windows and Doors in the US. “Victory means in such a case the end of everything that made the struggle possible – being workers of the same firm, now closed – and no longer the beginning of something new.” Indeed. And yet, it is not as if this is the first case of a plant closure.
“The transformations of work during these last thirty years, under the pressure of massive unemployment, have modified the worker’s relation to work, hence the relation of the proletariat to itself. Employment is less and less the point of reference it had been in the post-war period (something that also gave to the critique of work the content of a radical critique of capitalist society as such). People no more occupy a post for life. No career development can be taken for granted.”
Indeed. And yet, this transformation in the post-war period is a return, to life in the pre-war period. Expectations of lifetime employment, the structure of a career, these were the results of past struggles and capitalist responses. These conditions did not characterize pre-war capitalism and did not characterize capitalism for all workers in the post-war period. This is the same basic conceptual mistake as that in Italian operaismo with its claims to do ‘class composition analysis’ — choose one part of the class, visualized through one example such as Cellatex, idealize this example of this class fraction, and make it emblematic of a whole period of capitalism. Thinking in epochs produces a feeling of grandeur, of acting and living at a global scale, but it feels more illuminating than it is. Likewise “Precarity is becoming the rule.” Precarity was always the rule in the United States. Unionization peaked at about 30% and this was age, gender, and race stratified. The relatively secure parts of the proletariat have in fact been the minority. The communizationists overemphasize the historical transition here and the need to reject proletarian identity because they overemphasize proletarian identity in their flattened understanding of past epochs. Here is the simplification of time and space characteristic of economics, an illness Marx picked up from his time spent writing an immanent critique of capitalist economic thought, and capitalist thought’s ideological creation of (and reduction of human life to) the economic as a distinct field of life. If I’m wrong, of course, then people would need merely to show relative lack of precarity as the prevailing condition before the present 30 year period, and before the war. If such evidence exists, it shouldn’t be too hard to find. (I kid; no one bothers with evidence anymore, because we just know, inductively, based on our models…)
In the current period “the very unity of those supposed to struggle together is problematic from the start – contrary to what held for the period preceding the 1970s, when this unity was more or less given.”
The unity of those who struggled together was built, not found, it was made politically and culturally, it was not static and pre-existent. For a while there were some relatively stable bodies of thought, vocabularies, and collectivities, that did break down. But to start from their relative stability and then move to their breakdown is to miss half the picture, and this matters for declarations of epochal transformation and claims about impossibility. To some extent, this is a problem of unit of time: the range of time selected is too small, the discussion moves from peak to valley, from one kind of high point to a new low, when instead it would be more illuminating to study the rise through to the decline – study a wave in its entirety. The point is that the previously, temporarily stable working class organizations, mentalities, and practices of struggle came from somewhere and were built. What’s more, if we zoom in further, that alleged stability of forms of struggle actually changed a good deal in the post-war period. “unity is not given before the struggle itself” Unity wasn’t given before the struggle previously either. It was produced, and reproduced, through struggle. That reproduction broke down, which is important, but a new production of unity might occur. (Whether desirable or not is another matter, a matter displaced from discussion by all the handwaving about impossibility.)
“A certain idea of improvement of the workers’ condition, or more generally of the proletarian condition, no longer forms a part of the struggle’s horizon. Or else it only enters the horizon of defensive struggles, whose failure is known beforehand (as in the case of struggles over pensions).”
Known by whom? And this would be more illuminating with some discussion of past struggles and the connection between defensive and offensive struggles (or, more simply, some more definition of terms). The American working class waged a series of struggles, both defensive and offensive, from the 1870s till the end of the 19th century. Over time the class became more combative and waged more ‘offensive’ struggles; the founding the IWW in 1905 is a decent approximation of this turn.
More importantly, what is the connection between offense and defense at the level of conditions under capitalism – fighting over the costs paid to us for our labor power and the costs paid by us for our status as labor power – and the push beyond capitalism, against the commodification of labor power? And what is the relationship between decline in our payment (and increasing our share of the costs of commodification on our lives) and the struggle against capitalism?
“we can no longer achieve any collective improvement of our situation” Again the common sense and secret password, reform is impossible.
This is good, the description of a “conception of radical change” which imagined “a victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, after a mobilisation of the forces of the class of labour using various methods (trade-union action and organisation, electoral conquest of power, action of the vanguard party, self-organisation of the proletariat, etc.)”
against the idea that “the triumph of the proletariat (…) would give it the time to transform society by means of its domination” the piece poses
“a theory of the immediacy of revolution and communism.” But this theory isn’t actually elaborated, just asserted. I might just as well assert that I have a theory of powerful, convincing critique which demolishes communization theory. My assertion that I have such a theory does not meant that I have here *demonstrated* that I have one. The piece says “communism can only be the simultaneous disappearance of social classes, not a triumph, even transitional, of one over another.” Once again, X can only *be* Y, X can not *cause* Y. I think this is largely semantic and that any work that can be done with some version of “communism is the disappearance of class” could be done with some version of “communism is the triumph of the working class over the capitalist class.”
“Everyday proletarian experience poses class belonging as an external constraint, therefore the struggle to defend one’s condition tends to be confounded with the struggle against one’s condition.” When was this not the case?
“More and more often in the struggles, we can discern practices and contents which can be comprehended in this way.” The examples? “truggles where unions are criticised and booed without any attempt to replace them with something else, because one knows that there is nothing to put in their place ; wage demands transforming into the destruction of the means of production (Algeria, Bangladesh) ; struggles where one does not demand the preservation of employment but rather redundancy payments (Cellatex and all its sequels) ; struggles where one does not demand anything, but simply revolts against everything that constitutes one’s conditions of existence (the “riots” in French banlieues in 2005), etc.” What’s striking here is how these are entirely defined negatively; there is none of Marx’s remarks on the importance of the ‘working existence’ of the Paris Commune. The piece asserts that “what emerges in these struggles is a calling into question, through the struggle, of the role assigned to us by capital.” This is a philosophical principle which can be reinterpreted around nearly any struggle. Union struggles to raise wages question the role of cheap labor; struggles over disciplinary procedures in the work places question the role of order-taker; struggles for legislation over police brutality question the role of being shot for skin color… this kind of exercise can be done interminably. The point is as much the statement of a lack of vision as it is of anything else. This, I think, is the most important problem in our moment, we don’t have clear ideas of political struggle and revolutionary transformation, at least I don’t. Communization as mentioned (I almost said described, but there is little description here, little elaboration beyond philosophical) in this article is as much a statement of this current gap in our political imagination as it is a political vision.
“The unemployed of some grouping, the workers of some factory, the inhabitants of some district, may organise themselves as unemployed, workers or inhabitants, but very quickly this identity must be overcome for the struggle to continue. What is common, what can be described as unity, stems from the struggle itself, not from our identity within capitalism.”
As if workers who struggled before struggled because they were identified as workers… they struggled because they were parents, lovers, drinkers, people who wanted free time, people who wanted vacations…
“being a precarious worker (…) is not a social category, but rather one of the realities which contributes to the production of class belonging as an external constraint.” False dichotomy.
“today (…) being a proletarian is experienced as external to oneself”
As if it wasn’t before? This was the whole point of the idea of alienation. And, how does anyone know how all workers experience anything? And to root this in precarity and so forth is once again to trade in the idealized experience of one fraction or a few fractions of the working class and then universalize them as characteristics of the class as a whole. I would suggest instead that revolutionary processes involve complex interactions between various parts of the working class that have different experiences (and ideas, and vocabularies, and traditions) and that figure out how to relate to each other (and this interaction-of-differences is true within any part of the class as well). I think that characterizations in terms of the totality of the class’s experiences have some use, but a limited use, in building this kind of interaction among the parts of the working class.
“The overcoming of all existing conditions can only come from a phase of intense and insurrectionist struggle during which the forms of struggle and the forms of future life will take flesh in one and the same process” that “is what we propose to call by the name of communisation.”
That is: communization is insurrection, with the hope pinned on it that it will create a new form of life. A wing and a prayer and a riot.
Argentina in 2001 is held up as an example, about which the piece says “The crisis was then limited to that country, so the struggle never passed the frontiers.” The deciding factor? Crisis. Where agency rests above all? In the workings of the capitalist economy. This is appealing in a time of crisis, as long as we believe the crisis can not be resolved in such a way that another round of stable capital accumulation can take place. As long as crisis remains the world we live in, this vision is not a problem. But there is no evidence, only hope, that crisis can not resolve. And that hope is an old one (as is the hope that we, these hopeful, here, now, that this time around we will be right and this will be the moment when it really happens, unlike all those other past moments when those who pinned their hopes on crisis were wrong…)
“Communisation is not an aim, it is not a project. It is nothing else than a path. But in communism the goal is the path, the means is the end.”
Indeed. And this quote is not an excerpt, it is not a fragment, it is nothing else than an example. But in my response the point is the example, the use is its own justification. And these kinds of rhetorical flourishes mean so little in content, and yet so much in practice, for they help set up some as the experts in communization theory, on which so much hangs. The same tired logic as classroom, the music scene, gestures that help facilitate jockeying for status within a milieu and help the milieu with its collective project of a claim to status within its larger surrounding social environment.
“An adequate form of organisation (…) will only be provided by the multiplicity of communising measures, taken anywhere by any kind of people, which, if they constitute an adequate response to a given situation, will generalise of their own accord, without anybody knowing who conceived them and who transmitted them. (…) There is no organ to decide on disputed matters. It is the situation that will decide ; and it is history that will know, post festum, who was right.”
Trust, comrades, to the red invisible hand of the struggles…