Original title: Om Marcel Crusoes exkommunister i Intermundia. Ett bidrag till kommuniseringsdiskussionen

Marcel Crusoe’s ex-communists in Intermundia. Notes on the discussion about communisation

Per Henriksson
We already know what meaning “going beyond the framework of what exists” has. It is the old fancy that the state collapses of itself as soon as all its members leave it and that money loses its validity if all the workers refuse to accept it. Even in a hypothetical form, this proposition reveals all the fantasy and impotence of pious desire. It is the old illusion that changing existing relations depends only on the good will of people, and that existing relations are ideas. – Marx, The German Ideology

At first sight it seems obvious that the two journals, Dissident and riff-raff, have quite a few points in common, and the two projects share the same theoretically curious approach. More specifically, both pay close attention to the term “communisation” in trying to conceptualise how the capital relation may be overcome and communism established.1)

In collaboration with Federativs – the publishing house of SAC (the anarcho-syndicalist union in Sweden) – the “Batko group”, which considers itself to be a “loosely held community”, published the third issue of its journal, ”Dissident“, at the end of 2008. In this third issue, titled “Where are we heading?”, the journal is overtly inspired by the conceptual system we recognise in the texts by Marcel that were published in riff-raff over several issues – in particular his cleaving of the concept of communisation into one external and one internal dimension.2) We have learned that Marcel is now part of this “community” after leaving the loosely held editorial group of riff-raff.

The overall issue I want to address is the understanding and use of the term communisation by the dissidents, an approach I would argue differs from more or less all other understandings – mine included – that appear in the broader discussion around the concept; for example in works by, and discussions between, Gilles Dauvé, Bruno Astarian, Théorie communiste, Endnotes, riff-raff, and the participants of Meeting. I will do this by trying to shed some light on a few specific issues such as: whether communisation is to be considered a violent social revolutionary process or a faceless undermining and exit, a “latent transition”; whether communist measures are something the proletariat is forced to take when the everyday class struggle reaches a critical point, when it reaches its limit, or if rather it is about an individual proletarian’s withdrawal and refusal of her role or function as surplus-value producer, with the implication that communisation is a permanent tension within the capital relation; whether communisation can spread through a multiplicity of points by gradually breaking away “time and geography” from the totality of capital, thereby rendering this totality obsolete, or if it must spread like wildfire through the capital relation on a social level; whether communisation can be a “period of transition” or if it is about, in one and the same process, abolishing classes – and thereby capital – and establishing communist inter-individual relations. Ultimately what seems to be at stake is the fundamental way in which we should conceptualise society and individual in the capitalist mode of production; whether the individual is more or less free to choose his actions, or if it is “society” – i.e. the capitalist class relation and its reproduction – that determines the margin of action for the individual and the class under which he is subsumed. In short, we have two different approaches: a “methodological individualism” in the sociological Weberian sense, and a “Marxian” one according to which man is defined by the “ensemble of social relations”; relations that act upon, determine and – as abstractions – dominate the apparent individual.

Defining the present problematic

The dissidents and I both experience a need to define a new problematic based on the present situation. For me this situation is the class relation/contradiction as it is historically determined and as it expresses itself today. The dissidents, for their part, seem to reduce this situation to a pure “conceptual-logical” dimension that necessarily is not historically determined; for them communisation is “untimely”, “transhistorical”, something “invariant”, etc. I understand the present moment as a specific expression of the class contradiction such as it has arisen from the capitalist restructuring, which took place between the 1970s and the 1990s, and the end of the previous cycle of struggles, and with that the death of programmatism. To take an example, the blog Hacceitas, with its post “On the Messiah of communism” (February 2007), touches upon this new problematic as it considers “the symptom of all the deaths”: “the death of the workers’ movement, the death of the grand narratives, the death of subjectivity”. But instead of trying to ground one’s theoretical perspective on the new forms of class struggle, the possibilities of overcoming that are produced by these and the limits reached in the actual social struggle, one is to turn to a “worldliness beyond” which – due to its claims of “otherness” – is “impossible to narrow down with the theoretical tools of the present day”. Even though I wouldn’t articulate the problem in the same way – for me this description seems more post-modern than post-mortem – I sense the same vertigo in the face of the unknown. However, at the end of the day I’m pretty sure that it is all about the struggles of this world, that the proletariat as a class is a negation as an internal moment of what is negated, and that this supersession – revolution as communisation – is a development of the contradiction. The dissidents on their part see nothing in the contradictory class relation that indicates a supersession of the relation. According to them capitalism in itself, as an antagonistic mode of production, as a class society, is not a historically transitory, relative mode of production. Its contingent collapse therefore must be caused by something else, i.e. something other than class struggle. The door is opened when “actual proletarians” withdraw from their functions as “labour-for-itself” and “depict themselves as a party” (Marcel, “Attack/Withdrawal”). It seems to me that the dissidents, faced with the counter-revolution of the restructuring and the defeat of the proletariat’s struggles after 1968, adopt a perspective for action similar to that which Marx described in his “18th Brumaire”: to seek “to achieve [one’s] salvation behind society’s back, in private fashion, within its limited conditions of existence, and hence necessarily suffer shipwreck.” According to the dissidents the individual breaks away from the iron fist of capitalist society and establishes “another way to live and exist” (Dissident No. 3).

But who is this individual, and what is society? Why does he at one time “smirk self-importantly … intent on business” and, at another is “timid and holds back” (Capital vol. I)? Why does he at one time appear as capitalist and at another as proletarian?

The individual, society, and the social individual

In capitalist society the relations are inverted – the social relations between individuals are made into social relations between things. “The individual carries his social power, as well as his bond with society, in his pocket” (Grundrisse), i.e. in his possession of money. As Marx said, what at first seems to be a paradox is that the epoch which produces the standpoint of the “isolated individual” (Grundrisse) – such as it appears in political economy and in our spontaneous everyday way of thinking – is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social relations. Here, the individuals are subjected to social production, which exists “outside of them as their fate” (Grundrisse). This historically determined individual freedom is at the same time “the most complete subjugation of individuality under social conditions which assume the form of objective powers, even of overpowering objects – of things independent of the relations among individuals themselves” (Grundrisse). However, these “overpowering objects” are produced by the individuals, but are out of their control and so establish “a world for themselves, quite independent of and divorced from” them (The German ideology). Capital is a “sensuous–super-sensuous thing” (Capital I) and individuals are “ruled by abstractions” (Grundrisse). The individual is dependent upon the entire world for the satisfaction of his needs, today far more so than in 1846. It is precisely because capitalism as class society determines its individual members as specific members, as “average individuals”, that class assumes an “independent existence as against the individuals”; their individual development is determined by their class-belonging and they are “subsumed” under this belonging (The German ideology). It is, as Marx wrote in the Grundrisse, “impossible for the individuals of a class etc. to overcome [these external relations] en masse without destroying them”. Under very specific circumstances, the individual may arrive on top of these external relations, “but the mass of those under their rule cannot, since their mere existence expresses subordination, the necessary subordination of the mass of individuals”.

Free labour, and the freedom of labourers

What distinguishes labouring individuals in the capitalist mode of production from those in other, earlier modes of production? How can the class relation be reproduced despite the workers being exploited and only reluctantly exchanging their commodity, their labour-power, for the capitalist’s money?

In the capitalist mode of production the working class is “a class dependent on wages” (Capital I). The producers of the surplus-product in this mode of production are free labourers compared to, for instance, the labouring masses in feudalism, the slaves in ancient Greece and so on. They are also free of the means to produce their means of subsistence. In capitalism “the 'free' worker … makes a voluntary agreement, i.e. is compelled by social conditions to sell the whole of his active life, his very capacity for labour, in return for the price of his customary means of subsistence, to sell his birthright for a mess of pottage” (Capital I). Even though the value of total labour-power equals the price of this total, the price and value of labour-power varies in every country, region, city and so on, even on the level of the individual workers, something it necessarily has to. But “be his payment high or low”, the worker is exploited qua worker. Certain groups of workers, workers at certain firms and in certain countries, regions etc. may occasionally, and/or over time, receive a wage above the average price of labour-power. The wage is not only the price for a minimum of the physical reproduction of labour-power, but contains “historical” and “moral” parts. The level of means of subsistence that enter into the value of labour-power is calculated by value and not number, and it therefore oscillates with the productive-force of labour. The capitalist process of reproduction “takes good care to prevent the workers, those instruments of production who are possessed of consciousness, from running away, by constantly removing their product from one pole to the other, to the opposite pole of capital” (Capital I). Thus, the wage-worker, with all his socially compelling freedom, is tied to the capitalist with “invisible threads”. “A rise in the price of labour, as a consequence of the accumulation of capital, only means in fact that the length and weight of the golden chain the wage-worker has already forged for himself, allow it to be loosened somewhat” (Capital I).

It goes without saying, then, that the room to move for the individual worker differs from man to man, from firm to firm, from country to country. In as much as one manages to establish for oneself an existence where the wage covers more than the absolute minimum of physical survival one may, as an exception, be able to chose to deny oneself some of the specific standard of living determining one’s specific value of labour-power: one could live in confined quarters, choose a vegetarian diet, travel by bus – the list of banal examples could be extended to the point of boredom. But once we speak of the working-class this room to move is absent, apart from the occasional fluctuations in the value of total labour-power. Even though your daily dollar in a Chinese sweatshop may fill a bowl of rice or two, the possibility there to withdraw and secure your mere physical existence is utterly limited. If despite this, however, as a computer engineer, an oil rig worker or suchlike, in a Western country, by denying some of your material standard of living and due to being creditworthy, you buy a piece of land, and the climate is favourable and so on, you may, once again as an exception, be able to establish at least by appearance a non-capitalist existence. It would certainly not be communism, even though you would cease to be dependent on a wage.

The capitalist process of production does not merely produce commodities, surplus-value, trash and repetitive strain injury. Considered as a process of reproduction it produces and reproduces “in the course of its own process the separation between labour-power and the conditions of labour” (Capital I). If one considers bourgeois society as a whole, “the final result of the process of social production always appears as the society itself, i.e. the human being itself in its social relations” (Grundrisse). Capital presupposes wage-labour; wage-labour presupposes capital. It is not by chance that they get in contact with each other – they carry all of their economic relations with them together with the commodity they aim to exchange, and since it is a relation of production, subsumption, and so on, the worker belongs to the capitalist even before he sells his labour-power. In the course of its own process this “economic relation” reproduces the separation of the conditions of labour from the workers and thus “reproduces and perpetuates the conditions under which the worker is exploited” (Capital I). By posing the relation of production in this formal way, it appears as the “tautology” that Marcel presented in his “Communism of attack, and communism of withdrawal”, in riff-raff No. 7 (2005).

The conclusion, however and once again, of Marx’s critique of political economy is that capitalism, being a contradictory mode of production, is historically determined and transitory; its extinction is implicit in its concept, even though to become an “empirical reality” a social revolution is a precondition, but one that can’t be mathematically predicted or entered in an agenda. On the one hand it reproduces itself through its contradictions, but on the other hand relations of production and forms of intercourse develop “so many mines to explode it” (Grundrisse) – by a communist revolution which abolishes the “external conditions”, what will hardly be some “quiet metamorphosis”. If this were not the case, capitalism would not be a historically determined and transitory mode of production, and our attempts to explode it would be “quixotic”. In his Preface of 1859 Marx is even more prophetic: “The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals’ social conditions of existence – but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation”. And as he stressed in his “Postface” to the second issue of Capital I, dialectics in its “rational form … includes in its positive understanding what exists as a simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction…”

At the same time as the capital relation reproduces itself and its preconditions, it is a “contradiction-in-process” in that it strives to reduce its only source of surplus-value – value-creating labour – to a minimum, and thus its laws of motion at the level of the system tend to undermine its own foundation. “The real barrier to capitalist production is capital itself.” (Capital III) The capital relation as process of accumulation is its own obituary. The tendency of the profit rate to fall is exploitation, thus class struggle. Even though it won’t tell us when capitalism is going to be abolished, on its specific level of abstraction, it is an indication of the capital relation as a “contradiction-in-process”. The extinction of the capitalist mode of production is implicit in its concept, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.3)

Logical communisation

If you consider communisation a logical concept, the thought is rather classical: you think that you may find a form of “anti-economic logic” in the refusal of work and similar tendencies, and that this logic postulates a community that is alien to capital… Hence, you stake your money on what seems to be able to alienate itself from capital and its determinations. – Gracchus

The dissidents’ problematic is founded on the idea that, when capital has subjugated the whole of society, it becomes an infinite and tautological circular movement, one which is dynamic merely within its static organism. That which forms a part of, and is determined by, the capital relation can then only belong to and move, more or less anxiously and rebelliously within this relation. The capital relation defines its poles, i.e. its classes; their opposition is only valid within the relation, and they mutually condition each-other. For the dissidents, the dialectic of the capitalist mode of production as a totality becomes more of a causal interaction between the poles of the relation, what they call a “dichotomous logic”. By presenting the relation as a “tautology” accumulation disappears as a historical development. For them, the relation is not a contradictory whole, even less any “reciprocal implication”, but a “binary relation” (Marcel, “Attack/withdrawal”), which always closes its circle and starts again once more. Therefore, they argue, there is no “immanent result” of the contradiction which “tends to undermine it”; it has as its only result “the perpetuation of its dialectical conditions”. Instead, the possibility to overcome this formal logic is said to lie in “actual proletarians’ attempts to detach themselves from their function as labour-for-itself…”4) In Dissident No. 3 we can read things such as the following:

When the oppositional politics shifts into such an uncontrollable, anti-political practice, then parts of the class – because the proletariat is always stratified and differentiated – act against their interest in working as a function within the totality of the production process. Such a disinterest in functioning as the subjectivity of capital establishes a dualism, an incapacity on the part of capital of integrating labour with its dialectic by posing it as not-capital. At such a moment labour has partly lost its function as use-value for capital, partly it avoids the production of subjectivity and of needs that arise from the double nature of labour and the commodity. The individual private labourers now function as externalities to capital and labour. They no longer stand in a necessary or dialectical relation to the social nature of total labour. The worker has freed himself from the dialectic of capital by refusing to perform his function within the totality; he puts himself in a non-dialectical relation to capital. – “The diachrony of Communism: Exits and efforts to escape”

Without doubt, the dissidents are fond of Robinsonades. The apparent individualism of bourgeois society and the – at the first appearance – binary nature of the relation fit their logical argument like a glove. But this seemingly simple relation rests upon an equality that is “already disturbed” in that both poles stand in a determinate economic relation to each-other: a relation of exploitation. One has the impression that the argument of the dissidents rests on a a naïve comprehension of the logic of capital – and the logic of Capital. They comprehend this as a simple relation, one with formal-logical determinations, as opposed to the contradiction-in-process which determines the classes that form part of it, as reciprocal implication, whose single components, the “actual proletarians” in this case, are determined twice – as a class under capital, as an individual under the class. (Of course, also the capitalist is determined by his class belonging.)

It becomes rather absurd when the dissidents use terms such as “private labourers” to indicate the refusal of work by individual workers, for “private labourers” is more of a formal criterion to designate capitalist free labour/ wage labour as the necessary pre-condition of capital as such (see above), something which Marx contrasts with work under earlier modes of production, such as “the rural patriarchal system of production” and “communal labour in its spontaneously evolved form as we find it among all civilised nations at the dawn of their history” (see A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy).

In the same way it is problematic to interpret how communism is empirically possible already at the abstract level of commodity exchange, which includes the exchange between the seller and the buyer of labour power, where, plain and simple, it appears as if the labourer = not-capital, and capital = not-labour, which is a formal determination within Marx’s systematic dialectical exposition. This “equals to” implies that they are each-others equivalents. As the exchangers of their respective commodities the worker and the capitalist, the “owner of money”, are “equal in the eyes of the law”, the former as the seller of his labour-power, the latter as the buyer of this labour-power. Both of them exchange their commodities, and in both instances no violation is made of the principles of the free market exchange. But, as Marx said, ”[b]etween equal rights, force decides“ (Capital I). As if the entire problem was some kind of direct formal logic, the dissidents maintain that if labour withdrew from its role, capital would loose the only use-value that is able to valorise it – and voilà, the latter is made “obsolete”. A simple, symmetrical logic, a binary relation from which one factor is withdrawn and the relation as such ceases to exist, if and only if… In the pure categories from the analysis of commodities ”[d]efinite historical conditions“ are involved – an investigation of these conditions, however, “would have been foreign to the analysis of commodities” (Capital I), as Marx notified us. The dissidents seem to believe that this relation as such exists empirically. They too abstract from the determinate historical preconditions, but not like Marx – due to the mode of presentation of the critique, or due to the systematically dialectical structure of Capital5) – but absolutely, once and for all. With their starting-point in the purest abstractions they travel, by way of “ever more advanced approximations” (Gracchus), towards a concrete understanding, towards the empirical level, which by then may be expressed in class composition analyses and in workers’ inquiries.

In company with Harry Cleaver the dissidents completely ignore the mediations and transitions between the Marxian categories and the location in Marx’s systematic dialectical presentation from which the cited terms and passages are picked, such as in general the relation between the logical and the empirical. However, communisation doesn’t play itself out on paper, and class-struggle is not a “Möbius strip” in which you are led forward only to return exactly to where you’ve begun. The refusal of an individual actor or his withdrawal does not in itself undermine the capitalist system as a historical mode of production, by always and all the time, in every single case, invalidating the logical concept of capital.

The dissidents seem to make use of the Cartesian “symmetrical product” when putting forward this so called binary relation. If A = B, then the relation is made obsolete if either of the factors is removed. And of course it never crosses their minds that the capitalist would ever abdicate. Thus, it is through the refusal of work, by refusing to play one’s role as a worker etc. that the “actual” workers abolish the concept of capital, and with that the relation as such, in each and every case. In the world of discourse perhaps, but capitalism can’t be talked away. Social phenomena are abolished by social processes. It is neither enough nor possible to “withdraw”, to turn one’s back on, and one’s head from, capital or labour, muttering a few trite and angry phrases about it.

But if we raise our heads and try to see the shit as it appears before our eyes – for example in “an average day”, at “an average workplace” (Dissident No. 3) or, why not read a little further in Marx’s magnum opus6) – it will then be brutally clear that the class relation is asymmetrical in that it is always labour that is subsumed under capital. All semblance of equivalence vanishes as soon as we understand how logic is practically determined.7)

The “particular workers”, or the “private labours”, of the individualist discourse of the dissidents let themselves loose from total labour, but in reality they are “spontaneous developed branches of the social division of labour, and are in a situation of all-round dependence on each other” (Capital I). The understanding of the productive workers that is expressed in this discourse is, as Marx told us (twice at that), “from the standpoint of the simple labour process, … by no means sufficient to cover the capitalist process of production” (Capital I). Once the capitalist process of production adopts its character of co-operation, the concepts of productive labour and productive worker are necessarily extended and transformed. With the introduction of automatic machinery it becomes “sufficient for him to be an organ of the collective labourer, and to perform any one of its subordinate functions” (Capital I), to be sentenced to this “misfortune”. In the developed capitalist production process the worker stands beside this process instead of being its main character. In this way capital posits “the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary” (Grundrisse). It is this that makes capital a contradiction-in-process (a moving contradiction), by trying to reduce necessary labour to a minimum at the same time as labour time is its only source and measure. This is the “necessary tendency of capital” and at the same time what conceptually makes it a historically transitory mode of production. “Capital thus works towards its own dissolution as the form dominating production” (Grundrisse).

Every particular historical mode of production has its own specific “laws of population”; so also the capitalist one, needless to say. Rudely simplified, as the working class produces by its own labour a growing capital, it simultaneously produces “the means by which it is itself made relatively superfluous; and it does this to an extent which is always increasing” (Capital I). This is both a fundamental moment and the result of the general law of capitalist accumulation. With the continuous process of accumulation the relation between constant and variable capital is altered such that the increase in constant capital equals the proportional decrease in variable capital. “It [the demand for labour] falls relative to the magnitude of the total capital, and at an accelerated rate, as this magnitude increases” (Capital I). An ever growing accumulation is not only necessary for employing more workers, but even to employ the old workers. Capital puts to work only that labour which will produce surplus-value, and this is what capital’s entire logic and organism is based upon. This relative surplus-population, the labour reserve, is the property of capital in such a way that their lack of employment is a lack relative to the valorisation imperative of capital accumulation. And the free worker’s freedom from the possession of the means to exist, except from selling his labour-power, is a freedom relative to the capitalist means of production, as the property of the capitalist.

The tendency to reduce variable vis-à-vis constant capital, manifested in the pushing aside of the worker from, and his subsumption under, constant capital in the form of machinery, makes the immediate labour process more and more inessential for the capitalist process of production. With the subsumption of science and the “general intellect”, it is increasingly the total productive force of the workers that valorises capital. To this tendency “the extraordinary increase in the productivity of large-scale industry, accompanied as it is by both a more intensive and a more extensive exploitation of labour-power in all other spheres of production, permits a larger and larger part of the working class to be employed unproductively. Hence it is possible to reproduce the ancient domestic slaves, on a constantly extending scale, under the name of a servant class, including men-servants, women-servants, lackeys, etc.” (Capital I), who are even more exposed to the temperamental demand for labour-power by capital.

I have tried to show with the above that the dissidents, as it seems to me, choose to build parts of their argument on the logical possibility of communisation using terms we recognise from Marx's (conceptual) analysis of simple reproduction and also the simple labour-process, mainly from the first chapter of Capital I and Contribution to critique of political economy, and from the rougher manuscripts of his Grundrisse; it is obvious that they are quite text-bound in following the Swedish selection of the latter.8) At this, the most abstract level of analysis, capital and labour as a class relation is not yet apparent; rather, in these “pure abstractions” the commodity producers enter into relation with each other to exchange their commodities, exchange-value for use-value and vice versa. According to this Marxian formal determination of the act of exchange the individuals, as subjects of exchange, their relation is “that of equality” (Grundrisse). But even if “already the simple forms of exchange value and of money latently contain the opposition between labour and capital” (Grundrisse), it is impossible to understand the capital relation as a class contradiction from this “simple determination”. I am led to believe that the dissidents read the logical, possible end of the capital relation qua class contradiction into certain Marxian passages, such as, for example, this one from the Grundrisse:

In order to become capital, it itself presupposes labour as not-capital as against capital; hence it presupposes the establishment at another point of the contradiction it is supposed to overcome. If, then, in the original relation itself, the object and the product of the worker's exchange – as product of mere exchange, it can be no other – were not use value, subsistence, satisfaction of direct needs, withdrawal from circulation of the equivalent put into it in order to be destroyed by consumption – then labour would confront capital not as labour, not as not-capital, but as capital. But capital, too, cannot confront capital if capital does not confront labour, since capital is only capital as not-labour; in this contradictory relation. Thus the concept and the relation of capital itself would be destroyed.9)

In this passage Marx polemicises against the idea of “bourgeois 'philanthropy’” that the workers can liberate themselves from their situation by saving their “money in a properly ascetic manner”. Marx replies that if money no longer functions as capital, as “not-labour”, “the concept and the relation of capital itself would be destroyed”. It may seem obvious that here, Marx gives these hypocrite apologists a sarcastic slap in the face. But after the dissidents’ new reading his words are transformed into a weapon, a veritable revolutionary strategy, a “theory for practice” (since the dissidents love to agitate), in which the worker, or “not-capital”, as producer and consumer, lifts himself out of “the general circulation” and in this way “annihilates” his opposite, capital, or “not-labour”. Thus it seems as easy to make a revolution as it is to regret your last buy in the supermarket.

Faceless resistance and rhizome. The “general strike” of the termites

At the most banal level workers struggle as workers, individually and together. Sometimes to make one's existence a little better, but most often to stop it from getting worse, sometimes just because of sheer boredom and because one wants a good laugh at the expense of the boss, a union official, or a work-mate. Kämpa tillsammans! (“Struggle together!”) in Sweden has, in a concrete and personal way, ever since the group was formed, done a commendable job in trying to portray this everyday resistance. Their concrete application of the “militant inquiry” has many times been valuable and great inspiration. Indeed, I would say that this everyday struggle by the “obstinate yet elastic natural barrier” (Capital I) may be understood as the banal precondition for all struggle, since it expresses what it is to be a proletarian in this society. I see and engage in the same things; what makes us different is how we understand what we see and do.

For the dissidents of today this permanent tension and dynamic in capitalism is communisation – “a simple matter”, something that occurs “all the time”; in each and every case a sphere is opened up that no longer obeys the logic of the capitalist totality: “It may be riots, occupations and refusal of work, just as it may be linguistic, intellectual and poetical escape routes” (Dissident No. 3). They place their hopes in a termite-like undermining of capitalism by “faceless resistance”.10) (Such a “going beyond the framework of what exists” makes me think of the “general strike” of revolutionary syndicalism that is supposed to make the capitalist system collapse by the workers refusing to work en masse.) This banal and pragmatic communisation is said to appear when the undermining and refusal of individual workers, or “private labour”, “tend to block labour's determination as productive labour” (Gracchus). They say that the individual worker is “capable of resisting his productive determination” (ibid.), and that it is when such “attempts to break loose” spread and achieve “simultaneity” that the capital relation is drained of blood and can be left behind, like a carcass on the steppes of history. According to this understanding, the limits of communisation are merely quantitative – temporally, spatially, and in terms of the number of participants. By way of precaution they add: “… at least on their workplace”; “Admittedly, this all happened within the framework of the actual workplace, we did not get any further…”; “… unfortunately within the reproduction of a specific institution” (a temp work agency); etc (see Kim Müller). For them the limits are not to be superseded by a qualitative break at a certain moment of a struggle.

According to the dissidents' understanding, these attempts by individual proletarians to break loose dig “underground tunnels” which, once connected to other “holed rooms”, form rhizomes (a term they have borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari that stands for “uncontrollable compositions”). What is important is that they “negate the existing relations' way of functioning, and how they manage to exist in community with other communisising events” (Dissident No. 3). Another image they borrow is Ernst Jünger's “gardens” that represent “sanctuaries where the logic of the present is unable to establish itself”; these can “move outside of the totality, at the same time as they, at present, are only visible through it – they can be understood only through their relations to the reality which they, by their mere existence, negate” (Ibid.).

Exemplary acts

The dissidents set up the following criterion for when an act is communising:

The revolutionary in an act can only be measured from the relation of the action to the capitalist abstractions, its potential of coming into being… – Marcel, “Communism of attack, and communism of withdrawal”

But the criterion here set up is impossible, since no phenomenon and no action is anything in itself. All action appears in a context, and it is this context in its totality that determines the action: to steal at work, or in a supermarket, is not communisation in itself, whether it logically omits the logic of capital or not. To play or sleep at work may be both fun and needed, but it isn't communisation in itself, not even if it turns out to have an injurous effect on output or other business ratios of the work process.

Whether the measures taken by proletarians are to begin communisation, out of necessity rather than from the careful choice of form or method of struggle, will be fully determined by the dynamic and context of the struggle. Its character will shift during the process until the communising measures have driven the dynamic to the point of no return, where a fall back within the limits of class existence becomes impossible.

However, even if it is not communisation in each and every case of refusal by the individual worker, the fact remains that revolution as communisation will have to start somewhere and by someone. This “someone” can never exist in the singular, though. As a social process it is impossible to, as in mechanics or gene research, isolate the act that is the trigger, or the initiating individual. Communisation knows no Rosa Parks (and the civil rights movement didn't either). Every workplace struggle, group of workers, or the vast majority of the workforce at a workplace or in a region, comes up against the limits of the struggle, sooner, and not later. The possibility of overcoming this limit does not depend on the workers in struggle themselves, but on the context in which the struggle is waged being pulled into the actions of the workers in struggle, and on these actions being spread and deepened. Communisation will then be a practical answer to the (social) crisis of the class relation. The surrounding society will be pulled into the struggle, which will be transformed qualitatively, when for example the factory gates are opened for the workers to get out and for the proletarians in the region to enter both the plant and the struggle. In this way the struggle spreads and the abyss opened up by the struggle will be both wider and deeper the more it is filled by proletarians in struggle. However, it is not obvious at this point that it is communisation. Whether the process initiated by a specific struggle is to change into communisation depends on how the context transforms, how the struggle against capital evolves, as well as the struggle within the struggle against capital. A fast spreading in space and time is required, as well as a qualitative transformation. It may be ridiculous to stress that no act is communisation in itself, but not even a single struggle is communisation. Communisation is not the emancipation of labour, not to “let loose the barrier of capital, labour, from what makes labour labour”, as we are told in Dissident No. 3. Workers struggle as workers, and at a certain moment when a specific limit is overcome an abyss opens up where the next step must be to establish other, immediate relations between the proletarians in struggle, in their process of decomposition by taking communist measures. But, if they are unable to take this step into the abyss, then the struggle will be violently thrown back within the former limits and die soon enough. Its death will be the more brutal the wider the abyss has been. The counter-revolution will grow from the soil of the character of the struggle and its limits, just like the communist measures taken. Many of the measures of communisation will be such fundamental matters as how to get hold of and prepare food, a scenario which is far more likely than the dough-war Kim Müller cites as signs of everyday communisation.

In a thread about communisation on the Swedish Internet community Socialism.nu, Hank from Kämpa tillsammans! poses the question: ”[Are] any struggles today at all … communising or not?“, and in an intervention a few days later he gives the answer that there are “tendencies to communisation today, and not just in bigger uprisings such as those in Algeria [referred to by TC in their text on self-organisation and communisation, discussed by Hank and the Kim Müller blog], but in the daily class-struggle”. Instead of developing this point in his intervention he refers to the Kim Müller blog and the post “We wanted to play football” which persists in arguing that “many of the everyday struggles aren't about the wage or working hours, but about work itself”. In this “seemingly meaningless micro-struggle” the matter is rather the will “to be oneself”, a will that is expressed in “the daily inability to adjust to one's class situation”. This is why his workmates wanted “to play football”, “to throw dough at each other”, “to play”. They were not interested in “being protesting, disobedient or striking workers” affirming their role. They wanted to get “beyond [their] class situation and a way to do that was to act as if [they] had already done so”.

The Party of Exodus. Revolutionaries and Gemeinwesen

Two souls, alas, do dwell within his breast; The one is ever parting from the other. – Faust

The people behind Kämpa tillsammans! asserted that because they “were both revolutionaries and workers” – a difference they consciously “affirmed” – a distance was produced between their being on the one hand labour-power, “the commodity that produces the tautology of capital”, and on the other “revolutionaries”, a qualification that made it possible for them to “abandon the role as proletarian, as labour-power”. But, they admit: “Our problem was that we always remained within capital. What we wanted was to get 'outside' of capitalism” (Marcel, “Communism of withdrawal, and communism of attack”).

As we have seen, the dissidents understand communisation as when “actual proletarians struggle against capital by resisting the efforts to incorporate them in their class, and avoid capital's efforts to incorporate the demands that are raised as an objective result of the struggle…” At such a moment “this struggling part of the proletariat does not function as a proletariat … but as an outside to capital's process of reproduction” (Dissident No. 3) – they “depict themselves as a party” (Marcel, “Attack/Withdrawal”), as ”Gemeinwesen“. In “Attack/Withdrawal”, by Marcel, their party-theory is formulated as follows:

The party is the production of the diachronic period of transition, i.e. the communisation that, in order to survive, has to expand at the expense of that which it is alien to: capital. The party, through its function as Gemeinwesen, therefore has to be the solution to the problem posed by class struggle.

According to their logical concept, the “fabrication of 'loosening' relations” lead to “passivity” (a new version of Lenin's “revolutionary defeatism”?), a “blockage” and so on, that is already “beyond the negation” in that it “annihilate[s] the foundation on which the poles rest”. Theoretically, this can be “ascertained” and practically produced “through the production of revolutionaries” (Attack/Withdrawal).11)

It is by “excommunicating” themselves from the community of capital that the revolutionaries can establish not-capitalist (or not-anymore-capitalist) enclaves, as outsides to the capitalist totality. These Jüngerian “gardens” will become the resort for the communists, or rather the ex-communists12) who, in their gardens, seem to lead a life similar to the gods of Epicurus in the Intermundia, in their spaces in between the worlds, with no influence whatsoever on the universe or the life of men. For what effect does it have to excommunicate oneself, to turn one's back on the capitalist process of production, when capital itself throws out (or excommunicates) its workers by wholesale and retail?

At best, the perspective of our dissidents is one-sided – since individuals act, feel, experience and so on, although not isolated from society – but it neglects the social determination of the individual, and overestimates the “actual” proletarian's room to move and possibility to “leave this world”. It also overestimates the instinct of self-preservation and self-valorisation of the capital relation at the same time as it underestimates the ability of the proletarian class as a class to abolish itself and its opposite, capital and capitalist society, and also the ability of the class relation to disarm the “small and hidden attacks” of the termites.

But don't get me wrong. It's neither the practical efforts nor the will to live “differently” that is wrong, even though the approach and the self-image is indeed very limited. However, we all do what we can to survive the day, to keep alienation at bay so to speak. But the “politics is to will” of Olof Palme (former Prime minister of Sweden, now residing six feet under the most remote Intermundia), is after all not anywhere near enough. As a strategic perspective, and actual endeavour, it is in the end futile and impotent, as only a communist revolution can make it a reality. As immediate endeavour it can't exist today other than as an alternative lifestyle within the present state of things. As the expression of the disappearance of workers' identity however, it vegetates in the borderland between the proletarian condition and the establishment of new social relations. The revolutionaries, according to the dissidents and many in the ultra-left, seem to be the Minotaur of communism, half revolutionary, half labour-power; the one is ever parting from the other.

However, what seem to me the most interesting aspects of this perspective are the questions of why it seems to be an expression of the struggle in our time, and what it can contribute when it comes to the theoretical understanding of our present moment. It seems to me that the dissidents feel that class belonging has become an external constraint rather than something to affirm and emancipate,13) and for me that might very well be a characteristic of the present cycle of struggles. However, from this they draw the conclusion that individual exodus may be an opportunity – and one which is immediately attractive. Our dissidents seem to build their programme by extrapolating from their own experienced situation, or at least how they have interpreted that situation.14) But this voluntarism of theirs, just like all voluntarism, is impossible in all imaginable [possible] ways. As I have tried to say with this text the room to move for the individual is utterly determined by the classes and contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. Inevitably, this politics of will falls over into a thinly veiled moralism, and thus an elitism, since it is impossible to realise on a capitalist basis.

I've tried to show that it is all about class-belonging and struggle, and the possibility of superseding this class struggle in, by and on the basis of the same, by taking communising measures in the brutal chaos in the crisis of the exploitation relation, when the proletarian class abolishes its opposite and master, capital and the capitalist class, and thereby itself.

According to the dissidents we shall “try to see capitalism for what it is… [and] avoid seeing communism where there is no communism” (Dissident No. 3). According to J. Kellstadt, in his/her discussion about the paradox of anti-activism, we “shouldn't pretend that we're liberated when we're not, which could only turn us into a priggish aristocracy of the 'authentic' and 'un-alienated'”.15) To pretend is to play, but play is not in itself communisation.

Somersault

Since, for the dissidents, communisation is something going on all the time, in everyday micro-struggles and in individual withdrawals, they have consequently made a shift in problematic from when and why communisation is a practical problem for us at this particular moment, from it being about measures which the proletariat has to take when it reaches the limits of its class struggle, to ask instead: ”[W]hat stops communisation?“, in what ways is “this withdrawal [stopped] from becoming total?” (Gracchus). The Haecceitas blog maintains explicitly that the question of “the outside, as emptyness, as negation, as annulment [is] utopian in the best meaning of the word: a permanent possibility”.

The preliminary answer that they come up with, a permanent feature in the reasoning of the dissidents, is the “consumption with money” – “Money is used against (the tendencies to) communisation” (Gracchus) – and when money doesn't work, ”[i]f money and gadgets can't incorporate the workers they have to be defeated by force“ (Gracchus). But communisation isn't stopped by “money and gadgets”; the workers receive a wage in exchange for their labour-power, their ability to valorise capital. The “golden chains” ain't no bling-bling.

Communisation means abolishing, not abandoning, the capital relation

I admit that it might seem strange that the dissidents and I reach such different conclusions on the basis of the problematic I tried to define above, and on the basis of the use of the common term 'communisation'. For me, as I've argued in this text, the supersession of the class contradiction is produced by class-struggle, namely the class-struggle of the proletariat; for the dissidents communism, and its inter-individual relations, has to be established by something other than class-struggle and the proletariat. The “something other” appears according to them when individuals refuse to play their assigned roles as labour-power, each and every time, ever since the capitalist mode of production appeared in the pores of feudal society. (At best; it's hard to really tell the scope of their trans-historicity, and of their utopian permanent possibility.)

When the dissidents want to make the individual acts that annul the logic of capital – wildcat strikes, the refusal of being productive, theft, riots and so on – into (a tendential) communisation, I'd prefer to say that these examples, which I see too (however differently, as it seems), are examples of the everyday character of class-struggle, of being proletarian. The faceless resistance of Kämpa tillsammans! may very well be a quality of struggle more up to date today, after the collapse of programmatism and workers' identity, and the new cycle of struggle. But revolution as communisation is something else, something more, a social crisis and process as the result of the measures proletarians in struggle have to take at a specific moment to overcome the limits they face. Nevertheless, communisation is not a permanent tension that is held back, because if it was, then the very meaning of the concept would be lost. Communisation is a practical problem posed by the proletariat at a certain moment of its class struggle against capital.

In these few lines I've tried to show that, despite their sensitivity to the contradictions of the system today, the dissidents find their way and support among the wrecked goods and body-bags of the collapse of programmatism and the former problematic.

It is as if the communist spectre of the earlier cycles of struggle is haunting their perspective: for Kämpa tillsammans! faceless resistance was maintaining termite-like attacks, gnawing holes in the capitalist system, and their revolutionary receipt was autonomy; for the dissidents of our time the very same termite attacks are communisation. Their model is the same, it has just changed clothes.

With their Cammattian echoes of the past, the dissidents want to “leave this world”; they try to make us believe that, and act themselves as if, they have already done so. At the end of the day, however, it is the capitalist historical determination of social relations that they (and I, and many, many more) feel the urge and need to supersede, abolish, destroy and so on. I am, though, pretty sure that this revolutionary process will be everything but a football match, a latent transition or tea-party (and no “immediatist Potlatch” in the anarchist Hakim Bey sense). As proletariat we will set ourselves the task that we will then be able to solve. But just because you have set the task for yourself, it doesn't mean that it is solved already.

July 2010

1) In what follows I’ll try to address certain issues around the term communisation as it is articulated by the “dissidents”, mainly from these sources: Dissident No. 3, 2008; Marcel, “Attack/Withdrawal”, riff-raff No. 8, 2006 http://www.riff-raff.se/en/8/attack_withdrawal.php; Marcel, “Communism of withdrawal, and communism of attack”, riff-raff No. 7, 2005 http://www.riff-raff.se/en/7/attack_rough.pdf; Marcel, “Hamburgers vs Value”, riff-raff No. 34, 2003 http://www.riff-raff.se/en/3-4/burgers_vs_value.php; Kim Müller, “Vi ville spela fotboll” ('We wanted to play football’), from his blog (also in Dissident No. 3, and in the compilation of texts by Kämpa tillsammans! ('Struggle together!’), Tillsammans. Gemenskap och klasskamp på samhällsfabrikens golv, Pluribus, 2009; and various interventions in the discussion about communisation at the Swedish Internet community Socialism.nu between Dec 2007 and Jan 2008, by Hank (from Kämpa tillsammans!), Gracchus (his intervention seems to be a rough draft of what later appeared in Dissident No. 3 as “Kommunismens diakroni: utvägar och flyktförsök ('The diachrony of Communism: Exits and efforts to escape’), the main theoretical text in that issue, and also an altered version in the Norwegian philosophy journal Agora) and Takeyama; and finally “Om kommunismens Messias” ('On the Messiah of Communism’) on the Haecceitas blog, Feb 2007. The quotes from the texts indicated by their Swedish title are translated into English by myself.
2) The present issue is “radically different” from the previous ones, but shares the same “insurrectionary theme”. From the “Organised anarchy” of the first issue (2004), with its “platformist” perspective and content, through the “Insurrectionary anarchism” of the second issue (2005), with its aim on the one hand to introduce the concept of insurrectionism to Sweden, and on the other to be a critical break with the programme of the first issue, and the “Postscript to Dissident No. 2” (2007), where the emphasis of the second issue of insurrectionism as a “specific theoretical current in Sweden” slips over into merely “valuable angles of approach and lessons to make use of”. With its third issue the journal wants to develop one aspect of this insurrectionism: its “element of uncontrollability”. This slip of perspective is to be understood in terms of the people behind the journal being “uncomfortable with the expectations and desires to assume the role of representatives of a tendency”.
3) Just because the historically transitory nature of the class relation gives a logical and conceptual barrier to it, that doesn’t mean that communism is given beforehand or that Marx’s oeuvre is to be understood as a “theory of decadence”. How the finitude of the system is put forward is marked by the level of abstraction in which one expresses oneself. Communism is not some “automatic collapse”. What is of interest to us is to define how the immanent tendencies of the capital relation determine the revolutionary action of the proletariat. Cf. further Marx’s letter to Engels of April 30, 1868.
4) Ibid. The formal-logical argument of the dissidents is in many instances a contradiction-in-terms, something that has been argued by Peter Åström, elsewhere in this issue of riff-raff (No. 9, 2010), and by Per Henriksson in riff-raff No. 8 (2006). In the contribution by Marcel in riff-raff No. 8 (2006), “Attack/Withdrawal” one can follow this line of argument: capital = class-struggle; capital = its own barrier; class-struggle ≠ “its own barrier”.
5) See C. J. Arthur The new dialectic and Marx's Capital, Leiden/Boston/Köln 2002, and Endnotes No. 2, 2010.
6) It gets even more exciting and interesting once we leave the circulation of commodities and enter the “hidden abode of production”, but then we’d need to continue to read further – all the way to the third part of the first book. Without revealing how the story ends, I can tell you that before even finishing the last page we’d know so much more of this average day or average workplace.
7) It is one capitalist paradox that the exchange between worker and capitalist is acted out as equivalents, but the commodity that the worker sells, his ability to produce surplus-value, is actually the use-value the capitalist wants, the only use-value that can valorise capital. The enigmatic character of profit is based on this exchange of equivalents.
8) Partly, this can be explained by the fact that the text I refer to from Dissident No. 3 is a parallel and “critical” reading of Negri’s Marx beyond Marx.
9) Cf. also: “Only as an exception does the worker succeed through will power, physical strength and endurance, greed etc., in transforming his coin into money, as an exception from his class and from the general conditions of his existence” (ibid.); “Thus, also the individual worker can cease to be the being-for-itself of labour; he may inherit or steal money etc. But then he ceases to be a worker” (ibid.).
10) The concept of “faceless resistance” was coined by Kämpa tillsammans!, at least in Sweden, at the beginning of the 21st Century, and it stands for the mass of “small and hidden attacks against wage labour” and capital that occur everyday. Following the Indian group Kammunist Kranti, the analogy is with “termites” that “slowly gnaw through the foundations that capitalism relies on” (as the term is defined by Marcel in his “Hamburgers vs Value”, riff-raff No. 34). These thoughts reappear in Dissident and for example on the blog “Kim Müller”, even though the concept today seems to be weighed down philosophically.
11) The Haecceitas blog, in its contribution “On the Messiah of communism”, admits that the concept of “passivity” leads one's thoughts towards “transcendentalism, idealism, Messianism”, which may be “provocative when it is introduced in a still 'Marxist' dominated discourse”. From advent to adventurism; from the advent of communism to the immediatism of communisation.
12) Cf. the Haecceitas blog which says: “If the advent of communism can't be conceptualised, why call oneself a communist, and why even do theory?”.
13) But for this, I really have to read them in a positive way and add at least a spoonful of historicity.
14) As we have seen, the Batko group considers their “projectuality” as a “loosely held community”, to connote already communist relations between members.
15) http://libcom.org/library/anti-activism (published in Swedish translation in riff-raff No. 7).