autumn 2006

No. 8: Communist Theory Beyond the Ultra-Left

The main part of this issue is dedicated to a presentation of the group Théorie communiste and their attempt to, with the help of a periodisation of and with the magnifying glass next to capital and the class struggle, try to understand the content and meaning of the historically past cycles of struggles as well as the current situation. As usual, we look at what a proletarian revolution has to be today, what openings to communism that can emerge as a response to the exploitation by capital. In connection to this, we come in contact with the ‘communising current’ – what is it and what does it want? In a second part follows a debate around Marcel’s text from the last issue and a discussion on the crisis–collapse problematic. The last part make up the Marx–Engels series in which we this time is coming with fresh Swedish translations of two letters by Marx and a selection from The holy family.

riff-raff: Introduction
The amount of pages this time reflect to some extent the amount of sleepless nights, late arrivals to work, missed examinations and so on that the work with this issue has implied. But after more than one and a half year of pleasant, as well as hard, work with translation, proof-reading, discussion and writing we are proud to finally present some really good texts that have given us a lot to think about.

Communist Theory Beyond the Ultra-left

Aufheben: Introduction: The workers’ movement, communism and the ultra-left
Whatever its subsequent history, the ultra-left did not emerge as tiny sects or groups of dissidents but as a part of a mass social movement when the dominant tradition of social democracy was thoroughly discredited and it seemed as though the meaning of the workers’ movement and communism was up for grabs.

Théorie communiste: Background and Perspective
[W]e have undertaken a work of theoretical redefinition of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital. In the first place it was necessary to redefine the contradiction as being simultaneously the contradiction bearing communism as its resolution and the reproductive and dynamic contradiction of capital.

Théorie communiste: Communist Theory
The Left only saw the integration taking place in the passage to real subsumption in the mediations of the empowerment of the class, and separated these mediations from the definition of the proletariat as class of the capitalist mode of production. Communism was the revelation, the liberation of an essential being of the class, as it exists in the capitalist mode of production, and as this defines it.

Aufheben: Decadence: The theory of decline or the decline of theory (reprise)
A summary of the ‘Decadence’ articles from Aufheben no 2–4.

Théorie communiste: Aufheben’s ‘Decadence’: A response
It is rare that theoretical works attend to this essential problem of objectivism without descending into the worst deranged subjectivist imaginings or without simply abandoning a theory of classes, of their contradiction and of communism as the supersession of this contradiction. However (fortunately there are always ‘howevers’), we have a series of critical comments to formulate on this text, comments which we are ready to discuss.

Théorie communiste: From ‘Pour en finir avec la critique du travail’
The limit of all critiques of work is that they places activity, as the essence of critique, what should be understood as social relations. In this, this critique always refers to the Feuerbachian concept of ‘alienated labour’ developed in the ‘EPMs of 1844’. (See Aufheben No. 12, 2004, pp. 48–49)

Aufheben: A reply to Théorie communiste
[W]hen TC say ‘restructuring has abolished all specificity’, guarantees, ‘welfare’, ‘Fordist compromise’, we wonder if they aren't fallen into a danger in abstract theory of reifying tendencies into achieved realities. They correctly describe the overall tendencies but doesn’t there remain – especially in the advanced capitalist countries – a certain level of entrenchment… (See Aufheben No. 12, 2004, pp. 36–48)

A former member of Aufheben: Introduction to ‘A reply to Aufheben’
Just as consciousness can be seen to exist between people rather than in people’s heads, theory exists socially in the active process of responding to the movement of reality and to previous theoritical attempts to grasp that movement, a response that invites another response and so on. Richard Gunn suggests that such practically reflexive theory is identical with ‘good conversation’: a play of recognition where each partner puts everything about themselves and their views at stake. The interaction between Aufheben and TC was an attempt at such ‘good conversation’. The following text was meant to close the published conversation for a while by introducing and commenting on TC’s most recent response but leave them with the last word for the time being.

Théorie communiste: A reply to Aufheben
[F]or the sake of the argument, if I were to accept all of your criticisms of the utilisation we make of the concept of real subsumption and we were to abandon, for the period which has opened up, the denomination ‘second phase of real subsumption’, that would change a lot of things, but not the essential content of what we are saying: there has been a restructuring of the relation of exploitation, of the contradiction between proletariat and capital. That is what is essential, and this is what must be discussed. (See Aufheben No. 13, 2005, pp. 39–48)

Théorie communiste: Normative History and the Communist Essence of the Proletariat. Critique of ‘When Insurrections Die’ by Gilles Dauvé
We are told that the workers were defeated by democracy with the aid of the parties and unions; but as for the content, the actual objectives of these workers’ struggles … almost nothing is said. We are thus plunged into the familiar problematic of ‘betrayal’ by the parties and unions. That the workers obeyed reformist movements – its precisely this that ought to have been explained; and on the basis of the nature of those struggles themselves, rather than letting the nebulous shadows of manipulation and deceit pass for an explanation.

Meeting: Invitation
We recognise a communising current that has already established itself across diverse theoretical expressions and certain practices in contemporary struggles. This current manifests itself in a certain number of individuals and groups sharing today (each in their own way, as much theoretically as practically):.

Gilles Dauvé: Communisation: A ‘Call’ and An ‘Invitation’
If (like TC think) we are moving within an idealist humanism, or if (as we think) TC is moving within a determinist structuralism, this prevents every joint theoretical effort, and also makes the discussion difficult. One cannot debate when one do not agree on the most important, if one agrees on the questions that has to be told while the answers diverge. (Sorry, no English version available at present.)

Roland Simon & riff-raff: Interview with Roland Simon
[T]here is … a big misunderstanding about the way we present the possibility of communisation: when we say ‘now the revolution presents itself in this way’ we are certainly not saying ‘finally it presents itself in the way it always should have’, nor are we saying that capital has resolved the problems of the proletarians in their place, because in order to imagine that it would be necessary for those problems to have pre-existed the restructuring and determined the previous period. But e.g. the problem of the impossibility of programmatism posed by the last restructuring was not a problem during the period of programmatism itself, where it was the very course of the revolution, and if capital has resolved the problem of programmatism it should not be forgotten that this happened in a restructuring, that is to say in a counter-revolution, the resolution was produced against the proletarians, and not as a gift from capital.

Théorie communiste: Self-organisation is the first act of the revolution; it then becomes an obstacle which the revolution has to overcome.
There is no restructuration of the capitalist mode of production without a working class defeat. This defeat was the one of working class identity, of Communist parties, of trade-unionism as well as of self management, self organisation and autonomy. The disappearence of a working class identity confirmed that the contradictory relation between the classes has reached the level of their reproduction. The abolition of capital can no longer have any other content but the abolution of all classes, the communisation of society.

Théorie communiste / Alcuni fautori della comunizzazione: A fair amount of killing
The current war in Iraq is the first large-scale war to have at stake the accelerated globalization of the reproduction of capital. The vestiges of both world wars which organized the contemporary epoch are finally disappearing; all the concurrent poles of global capitalist accumulation have been brutally redefined in their relation to the United States. … The current war imposes, on a global scale, the form and content of the capitalist relation of exploitation such as it arose out of the restructuring born in the defeat of the workers’ movement at the beginning of the seventies.

‘It is the process itself [le double moulinet du procès / Zwickmühle] that incessantly hurls back the labourer on to the market as a vendor of his labour-power, and that incessantly converts his own product into a means by which another man can purchase him.’
– Karl Marx

Per Henriksson: Communism as refusal and attack. Some notes on ‘Communism of Attack and Communism of Withdrawal’
The fundamental, and thus most problematic, thesis in Marcel’s text is his (‘our’) abandonment of ‘Marxism’s myth of the proletariat’, i.e. our ‘dialectic that claimed communism to be the result of an internal contradiction of the capital relation’, our ‘outdated notion of the character of the revolt’. In ‘sharp contrast’ to this notion ‘we’ have now realised that ‘communism is to be understood as a “mechanical” product rather than a phenomenon born from the capital relation’.

Björkhagengruppen: On the Critique of Political Economy. Critical reflections around ‘Communism of Attack and Communism of Withdrawal’
First, we mistrust the strategic value of a slogan such as ‘We are the parasites’ … Secondly, the anti-productivism that Marcel formulates does in our eyes look too much like a form of primitivism. … Thirdly – and this point implicates the two previous ones – we mistrust the very method by which Marcel is confronting the critique of political economy. (Sorry, no English version available at present.)

Marcel: Attack/Withdrawal
[C]ommunism is not a question of the potentiality of the proletariat, but of the impotence of capital and proletariat, the working class’ nullification of itself as an agent of surplus-value production. From this follows that communism, in an adequate and logical sense, is a question of neither power nor subjectivity, but rather of desubjectification, of non-potentiality, because in the attempts by labour to separate itself from its function as non-capital, as labour, dimensions of externalisation and excommunication open up.

Chris Wright: Crisis, Constitution and Capital
What is the relationship of class struggle to the laws of motion of capital? What was Marx’s method in Capital? What implications do these things have politically? These questions really form the centerpiece of Giacomo Marramao’s essay ‘Theory of Crisis and the Problem of Constitution’.

Marx/Engels series

Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels: (Excerpts from) The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Criticism. Against Bruno Bauer and Company
When the proletariat is victorious, it by no means becomes the absolute side of society, for it is victorious only by abolishing itself and its opposite.

Karl Marx: Letter to Ferdinand Freiligrath in London, 29 February 1860
Since 1852, then, I have known nothing of ‘party’ in the sense implied in your letter. Whereas you are a poet, I am a critic and for me the experiences of 1849–52 were quite enough. The ‘League’, like the société des saisons in Paris and a hundred other societies, was simply an episode in the history of a party that is everywhere springing up naturally out of the soil of modern society.

Karl Marx: Letter to Wilhelm Blos in Hamburg, 10 November 1877
I ‘bear no ill-will’ (as Heine says) and nor for that matter does Engels. Neither of us cares a straw for popularity. … When Engels and I first joined the secret communist society, we did so only on condition that anything conducive to a superstitious belief in authority be eliminated from the Rules.