Original title: Inledning


This tenth and final issue of the Swedish journal riff-raff is being published eleven years after the last one.1) A fact that may provoke laughter among all the cynics, greedy for cold comfort, who populate the tiny, parliamentary-orientated extra-parliamentary Swedish left. A fact that we neither can nor want to do anything about. We—the editors of riff-raff since its inception—have not had reading and writing as our main occupation.

A lot of major and minor things have occurred since we published the last issue in 2011, more than we can analyse and comment on here and now. For example, in 2011 the war in Syria started after what is known as the Arab Spring. At that time Donald Trump, the notorious former president of the US and inverted teddy bear of liberals and leftists around the world—and who has been replaced by sleepy Joe Biden—had not even started to warm up. Since 2015 and the wave of migration in the wake of, not least, the war in Syria, we have seen the ugly face of nationalism find its way into the centre of social debates, for example in the form of protectionism and isolationism, trade wars, and Brexit. Nationalism has been piling up its victims—including on the battlefields of ideology—and we are currently witnessing the bartering of political positions, one after the other, in order to adapt to its refuse. We have now endured two years of a global pandemic with all its attendant misery in the form of excess mortality, social distancing, and unemployment, etc. While finishing the current issue of the journal another bloody war has begun after Russia and Putin attacked their neighbour Ukraine. Clearly, this attack must be condemned! And, as always, it is of utmost importance to remain sober and reflective, to be able to hold fast to the perspective of proletarian internationalism against all factions of the ruling class and its states. Neither the Ukrainian nation’s ‘right to self-determination’ nor the ‘legitimate interests’ of Russian imperialism are principles worth dying for. It is a cul-de-sac to desperately try to provide answers to all the problems of the world within a bourgeois horizon and logic. As communists, we refuse to pick sides between bad alternatives, even though one side may seem slightly less bad than the other.

Technically speaking, riff-raff has taken the form of a periodical journal published since 2002. The periodicity of publication, however, has assumed the form of a couple of long waves: no. 8 was published in 2006, no. 9 in 2011, and the current issue, no. 10, in 2022. This fact may well reflect the diminished size of the group partaking in the project. With the group decimated—halved, to be honest—it is time to move on and close up shop. The motto of vanguardism, ‘fewer but better’, is valid only to a certain extent. This, however, is not to say that the need for a journal of communist theory in Swedish has itself vanished. To the contrary.

The theme for the present issue is ‘Communism and value’, and it expresses the theoretical position that the project found itself in 2011 with no. 9. This theme riffs on a text by the Endnotes collective which appeared 2010—‘Communisation and value-form theory’—and which we have made available in Swedish translation. It functions as a pivot for the texts in the current issue. We have been working with this theme off and on—mostly off—since no. 9. And it is this theme and its theoretical problems that struck a devastating blow to our project several years ago. In brief, this blow came in the form of Peter Åström’s critique of—and later break with—both the communisation perspective (primarily in the form expressed by the French group Théorie Communiste (TC)) and value-form theory (as formulated by Chris Arthur, and of importance for riff-raff, Sic, and Endnotes), which lead to debates and discussions within both Sic and riff-raff in 2013.

In response to this critique, Per Henriksson claims that some communisation perspective is still productive for revolutionary theory today, and that some value-form theory based on Marx’s critique of political economy and on the contributions made by Rubin, Arthur, and others working with systematic dialectics, and the (broader) New Marx reading, are indispensable for revolutionary theory.

In relation to the ‘value’ side of this issue, we are happy to publish for the first time in Swedish a text/lecture by Isaak I. Rubin (1886–1937) from 1927 on abstract labour and value in Marx’s theory, which after having re-appeared in the 1970s in the West, turned out to be a key text for Marxian debates and scholarship. We are even more proud to publish our Swedish translation of a theoretical contribution to the controversies over Marx’s doctrine of value, and a critique of Rubin’s reading of Marx, written by the Russian economist Isaak Dashkovsky (1891–1972) in 1926 (and responded to by Rubin in the third edition of his Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value (1928, in English in 1973). We discovered the latter text in 2012 when it was translated into English and published by Noa Rodman on the Libcom website. This contribution has yet to find a wider readership. Regardless of how its arguments are judged in themselves, the critique is of interest, not only from the perspective of intellectual history, but also for its understanding of methodology in relation to the capitalist economy and Marx’s critique of political economy. It is not hard to discern similar objections to a Rubinian reading of Marx’s doctrine of value in some strands of contemporary Marxian scholarship, including in Åström’s critique.

In their text on ‘Communisation and value-form theory’, Endnotes argues that the latter theory, as a specific reading of Marx, and the former, as a specific understanding of revolution and the form it will take if we are to speak of communism and communist relations between individuals, share the same background in the 1960s. Both theories express a dissatisfaction with predominant interpretations of Marx at the time, and both reject a traditional and orthodox Marxism. They are both also theoretical expressions of the class struggle of the 1960s and the dissatisfaction of a growing minority of proletarians with the incorporation of the labour movement in bourgeois state apparatuses. Endnotes points to an implicit commonality between value-form theory and communisation theory, and how both theories may productively impact each other. It should be said, though, that neither TC nor the French ultra-left writer Gilles Dauvé seem to see the same commonality between their–different/opposed–notions of communisation and value-form theory.

These critical readings of Marx, according to Endnotes, can grasp the radicality of a revolutionary negation of value; we overcome ourselves at the same time that we overcome something diffuse ‘out there’, as it were. The determination, by value-form theory, of what value is—a specific, historical, social relation between individuals and classes, and a specific social relation of production—contributes to our understanding of what class is in capitalism. This assessment is, however, controversial, as some interpretations within the broader value-form paradigm have been criticised for neglecting class, and neglecting class struggle even more, and for analysing class on a purely abstract and formal level.

The communisation perspective, as it is understood by TC, makes possible a historicization of the class relation and, through this, allows us to understand and articulate the different forms, and formalisations, that this relation assumes in our time. TC’s narrative allows us to make sense of historical events and phenomena beyond a sterile empiricism, and as more than an empty chain of historical events. The alternative—which TC charges Dauvé of promulgating—is some kind of history without history, a chain of events linked to each other without internal, necessary order. We should ask what in the character of the class relation in capitalism makes possible our transcendence of the current bourgeois horizon in the form of communisation, and the transcendence of the forms of liberation of labour hitherto presented. For Dauvé, such a historicization makes no sense; for him communism, and the making of communism—communisation—is invariant, essentially the same throughout all of capitalist history.

This is not to say that we subscribe to ‘the art of the impossible’; what today seems impossible will one day appear to be possible, and the most extreme position in a given situation will turn out to have been the most pragmatic. If it is argued—and it has, indeed, been argued against us—that what is most pragmatic today is to enter politics, to get organised in some left-wing group or a local union, to make an impact from within, then the pragmatism of this position is highly relative and conditional. Even a straightjacket might keep you warm during a winter’s night. Participating in politics may be the most pragmatic thing to do today—even this is highly disputable, though—within the current status quo, i.e. within the present capitalist state of things. At best, it may be a way to give oneself elbow room within the bourgeois horizon. It can even be claimed to be legitimate for proletarians as an expression of a survival instinct within our class existence. As a revolutionary perspective, however, it is illegitimate. To try to make oneself comfortable within capitalism is to legitimise and support an exploitative system.

Here we can sense the commonality between value-form theory and the communisation perspective. Value and capital are the most fundamental mediations between bourgeois individuals, and historically specific to relations between classes within capitalism. To annul, or abolish, the capitalist mode of production and its bourgeois relations, we first must grasp what is to be abolished, including class, capital, value, money, market exchange, the state, gender, etc., in order for us to become immediately social individuals. The question has been posed in English, ‘what is to be undone?’ (Endnotes). That the proletariat ‘is revolutionary, or it is nothing’ is not to be understood in some insurrectionary-anarchist sense, but rather as the fact that the proletariat is a real, actual class only in the process through which it abolishes itself as a class of capital.

* * *

This tenth issue of riff-raff ends with two texts by the two remaining participants in the project, Per Henriksson and Peter Åström.

In his text, Henriksson reflects on the critique made by Åström in 2013 against both the communisation perspective and value-form theory, as they are represented by TC and Chris Arthur, respectively. Considering the theme of the present issue and the critique by Åström, Henriksson presents a sketch for a preliminary theoretical perspective where he aims to show what is potentially productive in some form of communisation perspective and some variant of value-form theory.

According to Henriksson, Åström’s notion of value neglects and misses completely what is eminently critical in Marx’s theory and, instead, understands value as some kind of technical solution to the problem of and the need to distribute total social labour time in capitalism through the market, or in communism through the plan. In this way, Åström’s understanding tends to become purely nominalist or formally logical, with ‘value’ as nothing but a name for a nature-imposed and, thus, transhistorical phenomenon, namely human labour in general. Value, Henriksson claims, should rather be understood as a purely social ‘object’, which expresses and summarizes historically specific relations of production, appearing in the form of exchange value and money, or capital, depending on our level of abstraction. Value, thus, has to do with a capitalist commodity economy, and value producing abstract labour is intimately and internally related to this economy. The establishment of communist relations abolishes both the value character of the products of labour and the character of human labour as abstract labour. Communist relations, Henriksson claims, are characterised by the abolition of ‘labour’ in its restricted form, as it becomes part of human practice as a totality. Communism is, thus, (another form of) praxis, not some rational allocation of the total labour-time of society in order to be able to expand ‘leisure time’. Given this, he argues that the opposition between the ‘realm of freedom’ and the ‘realm of necessity’ is obsolete in communist relations.

In short, Henriksson argues that Åström misses the opportunity to articulate a meaningful critique of both the communisation perspective and the value-form paradigm. Instead Åström advocates for a positive social theory which, when taken ad absurdum, provides a vision of a planned state where ‘society’ subsumes individuals instead of, as in capitalism, the market doing so. This vulgar image is hard to differentiate from the command economies of the 20th Century.

Åström, in the last text of the issue, reflects on the one hand on his critique of and break with the communisation milieu around Sic and riff-raff in 2013. On the other hand, he presents his present understanding of Marx’s doctrine of value and how it functions in his analysis of capitalism today and communism tomorrow. One of Åström’s fundamental propositions is that a communist revolution must make sure to maintain the level of productivity reached in capitalism today, so as to, on this basis, reorganise society in order to reduce necessary labour time and to increase free and disposable time. He claims that, despite its long-term dynamic being unsustainable, capitalism satisfies our fundamental needs of food, water, and shelter. For communism to appear as a real alternative we must therefore sincerely address the question of how to secure material production, so that other, alternative solutions, such as nationalism or religious fanaticism, do not gain ground. On the basis of the category of value, and as a response to the perspectives expressed in the communisation current and within the value-form paradigm, Åström aims to discuss the principles of communist reproduction.

According to Åström, a more reasonably organised production requires a conscious housekeeping of the labour-power of society. Only on this basis can the amount of necessary labour for the reproduction of a new society be successively, and radically, reduced. The existence of labour and surplus-labour are not specific to capitalism, in his view, but are necessary for all societies, including a future one. Åström conceives the successive reduction of necessary labour, made possible by the development of the productivity of labour, followed by the immediate cessation of forms of production that are harmful to humans and nature, as a plan for de-accumulation. In this he takes inspiration from the Italian communist Amadeo Bordiga’s thinking from the 1950s.

Åström argues that even though communism will, by necessity, be the end of an economy based on commodity exchange, this has nothing to do with the production of products in order to satisfy material and intellectual needs. Even if wage-labour and commodities, as bearers of abstract labour, will disappear with capitalism, this does not mean that labour as such will immediately disappear. But as labour in the service of society becomes redundant, the images and contradictions of today between labour and free-time, or production and consumption, will disappear. Only on the basis of an already established communist production will the goal of abolishing value be fully achieved.

* * *

Since this is the final issue of riff-raff, we’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on our original aims and what we’ve achieved.

The project started in 2001 as the ‘theoretical journal’ of the organisation Folkmakt (‘People’s Power’, 1991–2003), with the first two issues appearing in 2002. In brief, the aim of the project was to be a forum for ‘longer texts’ than those preferred by the core of Folkmakt. They preferred simple and straightforward articles for work-place cantina discussions, with a language understood by ‘ordinary workers’. This workerist ambition ended up, after a few years, as … nothing. And not to our surprise! The main inspiration for our new theoretical project came from the UK journal Aufheben, both in terms of content and form. The ambition, initially, was to publish texts about both the everyday experiences of proletarians and more theoretical discussions and inquiries. The journal eventually included more of the latter than the former.

Throughout the project’s history a lot of effort has been put into translating important texts into Swedish. Part of our ambition was to partake in a wider international discussion. We translated texts circulating on the Internet as well as in printed journals. It is worth remembering that this was long before radical thinking and conversation took place on social media. Riff-raff translated texts from Collective Action Notes, Thesis Eleven, Wildcat Zirkular, and Aufheben, including the latter’s important trilogy from the 1990s about theories of crises and collapse, and their fine analysis of the 2nd Intifada and the Israel–Palestine conflict. We also published texts by the French ultra-leftist Gilles Dauvé (Jean Barrot), including a brief exchange of letters between him and Henriksson. Together with Subversiv Media riff-raff also published a separate collection of texts entitled Vägrandets dynamik (‘The Tension of Refusal’) in 2004. In no. 8 (2006) we published several texts by TC, including its debate with Aufheben. In several issues riff-raff also contained translations of short texts and fragments by Marx, which had been previously unavailable in Swedish. In this last issue we include two short fragments on value, one from the Grundrisse (1857–8), and another from Ergänzungen und Veränderungen (1871–2).

Needless to say, we have also written texts of our own, including longer texts, short reviews, and polemics. For example, nos. 3–4 contained two texts from within the field of militant workers’ inquiries, written by members of Kämpa tillsammans! (‘Struggle Together!’) who were at the time participants in riff-raff. These texts may well be the most appreciated and debated texts from the journal. In two issues we published a discussion initiated by Marcel from Kämpa tillsammans! and riff-raff on communisation and ‘withdrawal’, including texts written by members of TC. This debate raised several vital questions for communist theory, and was at times rather over-heated and fierce. Marcel left riff-raff to write for other journals, while others had already left for different reasons. In the end, only two participants, Åström and Henriksson, remained, and the project was more or less dead. Yet, with the approval of the former members, Åström and Henriksson continued the project, partly to be able to continue to use the Internet archive and claim some continuity. For 16 years, however, this ‘continuity’ materialised in only two more issues.

All of this is now history. It is time to type the final period, for the tenth and present issue, and for the project as such. We have learned a lot! And 10 issues in 20 years is not too bad, given the circumstances.

March 2022

Gothenburg, Sweden

The present translation is from riff-raff no. 10, Spring 2022, pp. 7–15.