36. The inability of the historical communist left to grasp the actual trajectory of capitalism since the 1920’s, its failure to focus on the value-form and its contradictions, its inability to provide a theory of the real domination of capital and its implications, must now lead us to address what Internationalist Perspective sees as the failure of the communist left to provide a theory of revolution and a vision of communism consonant with the abolition of the value-form. Despite its defense of internationalism and worker’s democracy, the communist left remained imprisoned within the theoretical edifice of traditional Marxism with respect to its vision of a dictatorship of the proletariat and a period of transition. For both the Italian and the Dutch-German left, the vision of communism was that of a “republic of labor,” of communism as an affirmation of the proletariat as a class, the goal of which was the liberation of labor, not the liberation from labor. And the Russian revolution, with its general strikes, its factory occupations, its Soviets, remained the model for how a future communist revolution would occur.
The Italian left has always defended the first two congresses of the Communist International, including Lenin’s “Theses on the Role of the Communist Party in the Proletarian Revolution,” which instantiated the leading role of the party in the revolution, a document consonant with Lenin’s long established view that the mass of the proletariat was only capable of a trade-unionist consciousness. Thus, the “Rome Theses,” largely written by Bordiga, adopted by the Italian Communist Party in 1922, claimed that: “The party’s role is … to organize the material requirements for activity and to lead the proletariat in the development of its struggle,” The theoretical bases for the dictatorship of the single party was already contained in that document at the historical moment that the fate of the proletarian revolution in Europe still hung in the balance. Yet 15 years later, as the Stalinist counter-revolution consolidated its triumph, the Belgian Fraction of the International Communist Left reiterated that vision of a party dictatorship in its own “Declaration of Principles:” “In order to attain its historic objective -- the extinction of classes – the proletariat must establish its own dictatorship under the direction of its class party. As the party is nothing other than the most conscious fraction of the proletariat, its interests cannot be differentiated from those of that class. It expresses the interests of the whole of the class, their final social goal. By definition, and from the point of view of historic reality, there is an absolute identification between the dictatorship of the class and the dictatorship of the party.” That basic vision would guide the Italian left, then constituted as the Internationalist Communist Party, formed in the aftermath of World War Two under Bordiga’s theoretical leadership, a vision that would face a challenge from within, in 1952, led by Onorato Damen, who argued that “… the dictatorship of the proletariat can in no sense be reduced to the dictatorship of the party, even if this is the party of the proletariat, the intelligence and guide of the proletarian state.” Damen’s vision, then, was that of a dictatorship of the proletariat exercised by a Council State, though one in which the single party would nonetheless play the leading role. The Gauche Communiste de France, which also emerged from the pre-war Italian left in exile, and which provided the theoretical bases for the formation of the ICC, added another innovation to the understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat by advancing the idea that there is a distinction between the state in the period of transition to communism, and the dictatorship of the proletariat exercised by the Soviets or worker’s councils. In none of these visions did the self-abolition of the proletariat in the very course of a revolutionary upheaval, play a role, though Bordiga had always insisted -- against both Lenin and Trotsky -- that the continued existence of wages and money would be a mortal threat to proletarian rule, and reproduce capitalist social relations. In all these visions arising from the Italian left, revolution and the period of transition to communism was always envisaged as the moment of the establishment of the rule, the dictatorship, of the proletariat.
No ‘period of transition’
37. The Dutch-German left by contrast firmly rejected a party dictatorship, as well as the vision of the Communist party or parties as the locus of class consciousness. For the KAPD, the AAUD, and the AAUD-E, for Gorter, Pannekoek, Otto Rühle, and Henk Canne Meijer, the mass organs of the class, the worker’s councils, constituted the proletarian dictatorship, not the party, and class consciousness was not brought to the proletariat from the “outside,” by professional revolutionaries, by a party. However, while the Dutch-German left battled against the idea of the party dictatorship or even the leading role of the party, advancing the idea in the 1930’s that the most class conscious workers and revolutionaries should organize communist “working groups” to advance their vision of revolution and communism in an historic moment of triumphant counter-revolution, its vision of revolution and communism remained that of a dictatorship of the worker’s councils, a council republic, as the concretization of the rule of the proletariat, and the transition to communism.
Perhaps the most detailed vision of a transition to communism advanced by the historical communist left was produced by the Dutch-German left, the GIC (Groups of Internationalist Communists) in 1930, The Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution. There the Dutch-German left advanced the idea that communist production and distribution would be strictly based on labor-time accounting, its standard being socially necessary labor time, with the distribution of that part of the products of proletarian labor – now universalized – that cannot yet be based on the principle “to each according to his needs” taking place through a system of “labor vouchers” [Empfangsscheinen] strictly based on the number of hours each proletarian had worked. In contrast, then, to the normal working of the capitalist system, where the market determines socially necessary labor-time through exchange, post festum, in communist production that determination would be made “rationally,” by a system of accounting without the intermediary of exchange. Yet, however democratic a system of labor-time accounting undertaken by the worker’s councils might be, a key factor in determining how much of the social wealth an individual worker could receive (minus, of course, that portion of labor-time needed to produce goods and services not destined for individual consumption, the social fund) would be how much labor-time each proletarian had worked. Again, no matter how democratic the workers councils were in their accounting and in their determination of how much labor-time had to go to the social fund, such a system of labor vouchers assumed that differing needs (the size of a family, its health, etc.) were excluded as a basis for distribution. The labor voucher, then, constitutes a wage under a different name, one which takes no account of the actual needs of its recipients. Moreover, such a system still left the working class subjugated to the clock, to labor-time, one of the bases of capitalism and the value-form, and integral to its social relations.
The theoretical basis for the GIC’s vision of communism, the jewel of the historic communist left, is to be found in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), where in criticizing the newly adopted program of the German Social-Democracy, he articulated a vision of a post-revolutionary world, in which there was first a lower stage of communism, and then as a result of such a period of transition, a higher stage. It is to that vision of Marx’s, a theoretical cornerstone of traditional Marxism, as well as of the communist left, that we must now turn.
38. While many of Marx’s manuscripts for the critique of political economy, texts in which he analyzed the value-form and the real domination of capital, remained unpublished until the twentieth century, his Critique of the Gotha Programme, constituted Marx’s clearest published statement on the transition to communism. For Marx, in the lower stage of communism, “just as it emerges from capitalist society,” still stamped by its structures and social forms, “the individual producer gets back from society … exactly what he has given to it.” (1) In Marx’s vision, then, the worker will receive the full value of his/her labor. And as Marx, acknowledged: “Clearly, the same principle is at work here as that which regulates the exchange of commodities as far as this is an exchange of equal values. … a given amount of labour in one form is exchanged for the same amount in another.” (2) For Marx, then, the value-form would still preside over both production and distribution in the lower stage of communism, and only in its higher stage “can society wholly cross the narrow horizon of bourgeois right and inscribe on its banner: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!” (3) Communism, then, as the abolition of the value-form in all its modes, would be preceded by a post-capitalist stage in which the law of value and labor-time accounting still regulated production and consumption. However, radical Marx’s prescriptions seemed in 1875, and however they may have shaped the vision of the communist left a half century later, today in a capitalist world in which the reproduction of the collective worker is threatened by the very existence of the value-form and the real subsumption of the collective worker to capital, such a perspective is completely inadequate even as a starting point for a vision of communism. Indeed, that perspective re-produces the very social forms – value, abstract labor, and labor-time accounting – that communism must immediately abolish lest capitalist social relations simply assume new political and administrative forms. If the exchange of equivalents – labor for consumer goods -- still prevails, then as Marx acknowledged in his Critique of the Gotha Programme: “…equal right still constantly suffers a bourgeois limitation,” (4) and labor itself remains proletarian labor. Moreover, the universalization of the proletarian condition, and the reduction of all labor to a homogeneous abstract labor, far from striking a blow at the reign of capital and the value-form, can only perpetuate and even perfect it.
The revolutionary subject
39. What, then, are the broad outlines of Internationalist Perspective’s vision of communism, one based on the analysis of the social retrogression wrought by the present phase of the real domination of capital; a vision of communism as the antithesis of the value-form and labor-time accounting? Within the political milieu of communization theory over the past decade there has arisen a wide-ranging discussion of revolution and communism, to which we have already pointed in part one of this text. Communization theory has focused on the link between Marx’s analysis of the value-form, abstract labor, and the historical trajectory of capital in the present epoch, and the tasks of revolution and the understanding of communism.
With respect to revolution, there is a tendency within the communization milieu to question whether the working class today can even be the “subject” of revolution. At a meeting to present the journal SIC in Athens in 2012, Blaumachen pointed to some basic characteristics of the current cycle of struggles: “The first is the decline, to the point of extinction today, of the workers’ identity. There is no longer any prospect on the basis of any workers’ identity. This, however, is the revolutionary dynamic of present struggles, which in several cases brings to the surface the drastic refusal of the proletarian condition (struggles without demands, and struggles with demands that develop into violent conflicts without a prospect of compromise).” (5) Who, then is engaged in the struggles if it is not the collective worker? The objective of the struggle, conscious or not at its outset, is not the perpetuation of the proletarian condition, wage-labor, and the class engaged in struggle has an identity which will become increasingly conscious as struggles broaden and expand, for if it does not, those struggles will be crushed or recuperated by capital. For us, that identity, as a collective worker, however submerged it is by the subjectivation of the worker by capital, as a consumer, a citizen, or on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity, (another facet of capital’s real domination), is not a fait accompli, a definitive triumph of capital, and certainly not cause for celebration by communists. It is true that the social physiognomy of the collective worker in the old industrial heartlands of the “West” has been transformed since the 1970’s, and the beginning of the end of the Fordist epoch there. (6) But in that same social space new industries, new modes for the production of value and its extraction from the collective worker have arisen, and with it new possibilities for proletarian class struggle against the ravages of capitalist crisis. And in that social space too, the diminution of the Fordist mass worker, has also led to the creation of a planet of slums in which a huge mass of those excluded from permanent jobs and now marginalized constitute another segment of the collective worker. At the same time, in the vast social space dominated by a peasant mass only half a century ago (China, Korea, South-East Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Latin America, and parts of Africa) both extractive and manufacturing industries have arisen, and with them the creation of new centers of proletarian labor. It is that very identity as a collective worker on the basis of which a refusal of the continuation of the proletarian condition can emerge.
For Blaumachen, and some others within the communization milieu, though, it seems as if the working class has been liquidated, liquidated by capital economically, politically, and in terms of its very identity. Indeed that view has given rise to a theory of the present epoch as the “era of riots,” with a focus on the urban riots of those excluded from proletarian labor, whose riots often take the form of looting and the destruction of “things;” frequently the destruction of the buildings in which the inadequate state institutions which contain the excluded are located (schools, day care centers, recreational centers, etc.) More recently with the eruption of popular struggles in Turkey, Brazil, Chile, rebellions of youth, and especially students, occupying the streets and public spaces, typically involving democratic demands, have come to the fore, and are being incorporated into the theory of the era of riots. That such riots are expressions of the rage, the anger, the frustration, and revolt of strata of the collective worker; that they are the direct result of the depredations of capital, and of the operation of the law of value, seems clear. However, two fundamental questions arise. First, limited to the excluded and to youth/students, what perspective is there for the transformation of riots or popular struggles into communist revolution? Second, why has the proletariat at the “point of production” seemingly been “banished” from a revolutionary upheaval, in this purported “era of riots,” by some communizers? The riots of the excluded, however violent they are, have been contained (in France, the UK, more recently in Sweden, for example), and have neither posed a threat to capital and its state, nor generalized, or even assumed the temporary form of local communes. The youth/student struggles have been explicitly democratic in their demands, apart from small groups of anarchists (the black blocs), and in that respect resemble traditional demand struggles; indeed in Greece, Turkey, and Brazil they have drawn in the trade union confederations in symbolic (typically one day) “general strikes,” the outcome of which has been their recuperation and incorporation into the democratic structures of the capitalist state – processes through which the power [pouvoir] of capital vastly increases. What is too often missing in these popular struggles, what prevents them from escaping the control of capital, is the absence of that kind of discussion and debate in the occupied spaces in which it is capitalist social relations themselves, and not simply corruption, greed, and authoritarian rule, that is put in question.
Though the point of production today is global, and while it increasingly involves intellectual, and not just manual, labor, it is no less central to capitalism as a social formation than it was a century ago. And the role of the collective worker at the point of production will be decisive in the unfolding of the revolutionary upheavals to come. It is at the key points of production and the communication “circuits” that are vital to it, that decisive blows against capital and its social forms can alone be struck.
Such blows, however, depend on more than just the degradation of existence under modern capitalism. The subjectivation of the collective worker, its production as a subject -- indeed of humankind -- by capital, its cultural and political subjugation , the difficulties of the collective worker in seeing that the value-form is historical, not “natural,” and that its continued existence entails ever-deepening crises, are all formidable obstacles to the development of its consciousness, and the strongest weapons that capital possesses. So long as the roots of these struggles are seen to be national or racial oppression, or authoritarian and non-democratic political rule, capitalism can, and will, contain and recuperate them. Here the very class lines that the historical communist left so courageously drew with respect to nationalism, the left, and democracy, need to be acknowledged, and drawn upon, by those who espouse communization today. While the “logic” of capital, and its unfolding, raises doubts and questions, those doubts and questions need a clear theoretical response, and its dissemination, if the “theology” of capital is to be shattered. The renaissance of Marxist theory, to which Internationalist Perspective is committed, the analysis of the actual historical trajectory of capitalism in the present period, one unshackled from the dogmas of traditional Marxism, is one element of any challenge to the modes of subjectivation of the collective worker that capitalist social relations have generated.
No Flight Backwards
40. Within this same communization milieu, there have also been tendencies to confuse the immediacy of communism with a vision of its instantaneity, (7) to which must also be added a tendency to claim that communism will not know production. Thus, some communizers (Théorie Communiste, for example) have insisted on a distinction between “production” and “infinite human activity,” with the latter never taking the form of “… ‘products,’ for that would raise the question of their appropriation or their transfer under some given mode.” (8) Is it possible to envisage human existence without some mode for the production of “things” and their distribution? The “Friends of the Classless Society” have seen here “a steady drift towards mysticism, ultimately driven by fear of the concept of production ….” (9) The identification of production with labor and capitalism, and the objection to the materialization of human activity in “products,” seems specious to us. Is a house, clothes, food, clean water, all products, all necessary to human existence, to be rejected in the name of a vague concept of “infinite human activity”? Such a view smacks of the equation of objectivation with alienation. But all human activity, all praxis, all techné, all poïesis, yields objectivations, the “products” of action in which a material or social form is given to one’s human powers of expression. So too, will communist human activity produce objectivations, but those objectivations will not be subsumed by the value-form or subjected to labor-time accounting. It is on that basis that Marx’s “social individual” can and will emerge and flourish.
41. Beyond that philosophical issue, however, the “landscape,” physical and human, that a communist revolution will confront will demand an enormous activity of production, born of the need to repair the destructive effects of the social retrogression and ecological destruction wrought by capital. Capital has created a science and technology yoked to the value-form. Its global spread is fast creating a planet of slums. Vast components of the collective worker have become permanently superfluous, expelled from the site of production, their standard of living rapidly declining. To overcome the effects of that social and material devastation, and to assure a decent life for the world’s population, humankind will have to engage in the production that such an undertaking entails. And that communist production will need to take place globally, its spread across the world being a primary goal. That production cannot simply be local; indeed it will require organization, just as the sites of production in each locale will, and the decisions regarding the work to be done will need to be organized by the collective worker. Here the distinction between production and productivity becomes crucial. Production is inseparable from human action, though its different modes and social forms are historically specific. Productivity, in a capitalist society, is a standard for measuring the speed with which production is accomplished. It is this capitalist productivity, with its basis in the extraction of surplus-value from the collective worker, and the real subsumption of labor to capital and the “clock” of socially necessary labor-time, that must be immediately abolished, not the production of the very things without which humankind can neither exist nor survive, or the objectivations that satisfy its communal, intellectual, and creative needs. Capital as a moving contradiction, its very transformation from a mode of production based on the formal domination of capital to one increasingly based on the real domination of capital, articulated in the first two parts of this text, has been predicated on the project of always producing more value in a given period of time by the development of new technologies; increasingly relying on the extraction of relative surplus-value as opposed to a reliance on the extraction of absolute surplus-value. The real domination of capital depends on increasing the productivity of labor. And that entails a constant effort to reduce the time of both production and circulation of commodities. One facet of that effort, as Marx pointed out, is capital’s drive to overcome every spatial barrier or limit: “Thus the creation of the physical conditions of exchange – of the means of communication and transport – the annihilation of space by time – becomes an extraordinary necessity for it.” (10) Capitalist productivity, then, has as its sole aim to increase surplus labor; surplus labor time.
By contrast, communism is predicated on the creation of disposable time for every human being, the creation of “not-labour time” the prospect of which the very trajectory of capitalism has made an objective-real possibility. In contrast to capitalism, where the human being is subsumed under labor, where “[t]he most developed machinery thus forces the worker to work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest, crudest tools,” (11) and where the development of the productive forces is yoked to the insatiable drive to valorize value, in communism the creation of disposable time means the “… the development of the individual’s full productive forces,” (12) the all-around development of the human being and his/her capacity for life in all its dimensions. Yet communism in not a flight backwards to primitive means of production or conditions of work, let alone a Woodstockian vision of paradise. Nor will communism ignore the need for an “economy of time” The time of productivity as it has historically developed in capitalism is capital-time, a concept of time linked to capitalist social relations of production. Communism, as Marx pointed out in one of his few explicit discussions of what he termed a future “communal production,” by contrast, will know a different concept of time, though its determination will remain essential: “The less time the society requires to produce wheat, cattle, etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or mental. Just as in the case of an individual, the multiplicity of its development, its enjoyment and its activity depends on an economization of time.” (13)
Where exchange and the market make production social under capitalism, production and work will become directly social in communism, and the collective worker will need to fashion and create the actual structures and organs through which decisions will be made. And here, past history, even the history of the revolutionary wave that began in 1917 – given the vast changes in the landscape of capitalism – provides us with no guaranteed blueprint.
42. The abolition of the value-form is the immediate task of the revolution, not the culmination of a period of transition as the historical communist left had maintained. What must be immediately abolished, then, is the reduction of human activity to abstract labor, the social substance of value, and its measurement by socially necessary labor-time, which is the historically specific social form in which labor exists in capitalist society. That also entails the abolition of a mode of the distribution of goods through labor-time accounting. Where shortages exist, as one would expect in a planet devastated by capitalism and its exactions (wars, the marginalization of masses of human beings, ecological catastrophes), the rationing of scarce goods on an equitable basis, taking into account need, would be an alternative more in keeping with the goal of communism than a mode of distribution based on labor-time accounting. The revolution must also entail the self-abolition of the proletariat, a class inseparable from wage-labor and the commodity form, not its enshrinement as a purported ruling class, and the universalization of its condition. It is, then, in the very course of the revolutionary upheaval that communism occurs.
Communism is not some utopian project disconnected from the actual contradictions of capitalism and its inability to provide the material conditions for the reproduction of humankind. The ability of the collective worker to overthrow capitalism and its social relations of production is directly linked to the very structuration of capital, and to the social retrogression that it has produced. The impossibility for capital to reproduce the proletarian condition as it had historically developed, the massive and permanent expulsion of proletarian labor from the economy, even as capitalism spreads to every corner of the globe, the creation of a vast planet of slums in both the ‘first’ and the ‘third’ worlds, and the rapidly expanding ecological catastrophes directly linked to the reign of capital, are all due to the continued existence of the value-form. It is those very real historical and material conditions that have made communism the immediate task of revolution today.
1. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Karl Marx, The First International and After (Penguin Books), p.346. This would be the basis for the GIC’s vision of communism as well.
3. Ibid. p. 347.
4. Ibid., p.346
5. “Presentation of the Sic journal in Athens”
6. To take a striking example, at Fiat’s main plant, Mirafiori, in Torino, 50 thousand workers were employed in the 1970’s; by contrast before the most recent layoffs, the figure was under 6 thousand.
7. Bruno Astarian, within the communization tendency, has pointed to that confusion in his “Communization as a Way Out of the Crisis,”
8. “Self-organisation is the first act of revolution; it then becomes an obstacle which the revolution has to overcome,” p.39. This text can be read on libcom This is not the place for a detailed examination of the rich content of the discussions within the communization milieu, a task to which IP shall return.
9. “On Communization and Its Theorists”, Kosmoprolet, 3, Fall 2011.
10. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin Books, p. 524. With the incorporation of the whole globe into a single capitalist system, attendant on the development of the computer and the world-wide web, we now live with the full impact of that annihilation of space by time.
11. Ibid. pp. 708-709. The micro-computer, cell phone, and hand-held device, all connect the worker to his job twenty-four hours a day.
13. Ibid. pp. 172-173.
Internationalist Perspective and the Tradition of the Communist Left - Introduction
Internationalist Perspective and the Tradition of the Communist Left - Part 1
Internationalist Perspective and the Tradition of the Communist Left - Part 2
Internationalist Perspective and the Tradition of the Communist Left - Part 3
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