Below are two texts on the subject of communisation. The first is by Mac Intosh of Internationalist Perspective. The second an open letter to IP by Maxime of the CDP. An expanded version of Mac Intosh's article will appear in Internationalist Perspective 57.
Communization Theory and the Abolition of the Value-Form
A theory of the value-form as the basis for an understanding of the logic of capital, its historical trajectory, and its contradictions, is integrally linked to a theory of communization. Communization is inseparable from the abolition of the value-form and of capital as valorizing value, and its Akkumulationszwang, its compulsion to accumulate. Communization entails the abolition of the proletariat, the class of waged-workers, whose abstract labor is the source of value. Socialism or communism is not the self-affirmation of the proletariat or worker’s power, and the creation of a republic of labor. The development of value-form theory, based largely on the publication of all the manuscripts that Marx had assembled for his critique of political economy, an undertaking that has only been completed over the past several decades, has also transformed the understanding of socialism or communism that existed within the Second and Third Internationals, as well as in the historical communist left (both the German-Dutch and the Italian left, the council communist and the Bordigist traditions).
The path towards a theory of communization in which value and the proletariat are abolished began with Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) in which the theoretical bases for the formation of a unified Social-Democratic Party in Germany, based on a vision of a “free state,” were subjected to a withering criticism, and in which Marx first outlined his conception of a lower and higher stage of 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 short, the worker, after deductions for the social funds and expansion of the productive forces, receives the full value of his/her labor: “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 will 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) Communization, 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 still regulated production and consumption. However radical, in the eyes of most socialists, Marx’s prescription was in 1875, today, in a capitalist world where the reproduction of the proletariat is threatened by the capitalist social relation, and the very existence of the value-form, such a vision is completely inadequate.
While Marx did not specify the precise form in which labor-time would determine production and distribution in the lower stage of capitalism, the revolutionary wave that unfolded in 1917 led to the insistence of the Bolsheviks that the dictatorship of the proletariat, whatever its specific political forms, would also be based on the continuation of waged-labor; that the distribution of products to the working class would be via a wage and money. It is here, that a debate arose within the historical communist left, different from the debates over the question of party or workers councils as the organ of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a debate in which Amadeo Bordiga insisted – against Lenin and Trotsky – that the continued existence of wages and money was a mortal threat to the proletariat, and would reproduce capitalist social relations. Two important documents of the historical communist left over the period between 1930-1970, grappled with the question of the value-form and communist production and distribution: The Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution, a collective text of the GIK (the German-Dutch left) published in 1930, with an important “Introduction” by Paul Mattick to its republication in 1970, and Jacques Camatte’s Capital and Community, written in the aftermath of ’68, within the political orbit of the Italian left (Bordigism). (4)
The Fundamental Principles advanced the idea that communist production and distribution would be based on labor-time accounting (the average socially necessary labor time), with the distribution of products to the workers – whose proletarian condition would be universalized – taking place through a system of “labor vouchers” (Empfangsscheinen or bons de travail), strictly based on the number of hours worked. In contrast, then, to the normal working of the capitalist system, where the market allocates labor and determines value through exchange post festum, in communist production and distribution this determination could rationally be determined by labor time as a measure of value without the intermediary of exchange. This, then, was a system, as Mattick acknowledged in his Introduction, in “which the principle of the exchange of equivalents still prevails,” in which, we maintain, the value-form still shapes social being, in which, as Marx, acknowledged in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, “equal right still constantly suffers a bourgeois limitation,” (5) and labor itself (travail, Arbeit) remains proletarian labor. Mattick, however, also found the GIK’s text to be outdated in some respects, superceded by the very trajectory of capital itself, by the prodigious development of the productive forces between 1930 and 1970, through which goods and services could be produced in such abundance that “any calculation of their individual shares of average socially necessary labor time would be superfluous,” and humankind might proceed directly to what Marx had called the higher stage of communism. (6)
Camatte follows Marx in distinguishing a lower, socialist, and a higher stage of communism, and insists “communism cannot be achieved from one day to the next,” (7) a position based on Bordiga’s claim that there are three post-capitalist stages: the dictatorship of the proletariat, the stage of socialism, and communism. For Camatte, the valorization of value must immediately cease, which he claims is the task of the dictatorship of the proletariat, yet he acknowledges that everyone has to work (“he who does not work, does not eat”), that the proletarian condition must be universalized, that human existence, which in capitalism was mediated by capital, “now is mediated by work.” (8) Moreover, Camatte acknowledges that an “economy of time” will continue to regulate what has now become communal production; that all labor will now be reduced to abstract labor, (9) and that such labor will retain the form of waged labor under the dictatorship of the proletariat, though “…the basis of the phenomenon is not the same. In capitalist society, wage labour is a means to avoid restoring the whole of the product to the individual who produced it. In the transitional phase, wage labour is the result of the fact that it is not possible to destroy the market economy from one day to the next.” (11) But the removal of the traditional capitalist veil does not eliminate the value-form, or the subjection of humankind to its laws of motion. Indeed, the very reduction of all labor to abstract labor, the very universalization of the proletarian condition and its modes of labor, risks the perpetuation of capital and its social relations. Moreover, that prospect is not removed by Camatte’s insistence that the labor vouchers that the worker will exchange for goods and services cannot be accumulated, are “valid for a limited period and is lost at the end of this period if it is not consumed,” (12) thereby preventing a restoration of capitalism. The question is not that of a restoration of capitalism, but rather its continued existence through that of value determined by labor time, and abstract labor, on the bases of which capitalism had never been abolished. For Camatte, it is only at Marx’s higher stage of communism that: “All forms of value are therefore buried; thus labour no longer has a determined form, there is no alienation.” (13)
The question raised by communization theory as it has developed over the past several decades is whether the social imaginary of a period of transition, of lower and higher stages of communism, has not become – at this historical stage of capitalism – one more obstacle to the communist revolution, to communization. (14)
Communization theory, as it has been articulated by pro-revolutionaries over the past several decades can perhaps be summarized in the following terms, in an essay by Bruno Astarian: Communization as a Way out of the Crisis
In short, the value-form, and the labor [travail, Arbeit] linked to it, must be abolished by the revolution, not as the culmination of a period of transition, as the historical communist left had maintained. Moreover, while communization is the immediate goal of the revolution, Astarian points out that: “We must not confuse immediacy with instantaneity. When we say immediacy of communism, we are saying that the goal of the proletarian revolution no longer consists in creating a transitional society, but in directly establishing communism.” For Internationalist Perspective, what is crucial here is not the specific content of the work or activity that must be immediately transformed, e.g. food or clothing, medicine or houses, will need to be produced. What must be immediately abolished is the reduction of that activity to the abstract labor, and its measurement by socially necessary labor time, that is the historically specific mode in which work has existed in capitalist society. And that, of course, also entails the abolition of a mode of distribution of goods and services by way of labor time, through a form of wage [le salariat] or even labor vouchers. It is in the very course of a revolutionary upheaval, then, and not at the end of a period of transition, that communization occurs. As RS in SIC 1, insists: “The revolution is communisation; it does not have communism as a project and result, but as its very content.”
Indeed, in the revolution itself, the abolition, not just of capital and labor, but also of the proletariat must occur. This is how BL puts it in SIC1: “In this struggle, the seizure of the material means of production cannot be separated from the transformation of proletarians into immediately social individuals: it is one and the same activity, and this identity is brought about by the present form of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital.” It is not, then, some variant of utopian thinking that has led IP to see communization as integral to the revolutionary upheaval itself, but rather the very logic of capital, its specific historical trajectory, and the nature of the capitalist crisis at the present historical conjuncture: the impossibility of the reproduction of the proletarian condition by capital apart from the massive expulsion of proletarian labor from the economy, the creation of a vast planet of slums, and impending ecological catastrophes, all attendant on the perpetuation of the value-form. It is those very real historical and material conditions, which have made communization the immediate task of revolution today.
But what of the abolition of work, which is integral to most theories of communization? Work, as proletarian labor, work as abstract labor, work as it has historically developed and been instantiated by capitalism, must be abolished. Work in its historical form, and the capitalist social relations in which production and distribution is based on average socially necessary labor time, in all its forms, must be immediately abolished. But anti-travail [anti-labor] must be accompanied by a vision of human activity, praxis, which encompasses the realm of production, freed of its historical (including its capitalist) integument. This text is not the place to even begin an elaboration of that theoretical task, but its broad outlines do need to be at least indicated. Communization is not the cessation of production. Quite the contrary! It is the beginning of the self-production of human beings, the auto-production of communist social relations. Human action has not been limited to labor, travail, Arbeit, under the constraint of exploitative and class relations. There is a distinction, then, between techné, poiésis, work, and labor, between the labor of the slave, the serf, the proletarian, and the work [oeuvre, Werke] of the social individual. It is precisely that set of distinctions, between labor and work, and the possibilities to be created by communization which pro-revolutionaries need to begin to explore: production, work, beyond labor. Mac Intosh
Open Letter from Maxime to Internationalist Perspective, echoing the contribution of Mac Intosh on communisation
As I said in a small email prior to IP's "conference" at Arezzo, Mac Intosh appears to engage IP - or emphasize its engagement - in a direction that I approve because it is also mine. Unlike most groups and individuals that we have agreed to call the ultra-left current, this text (it quotes Bruno Astarian, Roland Simon and Bernard Leon [BL] ) attests to a consideration of the positions of those it is also conventional to call the "communisateurs". My belief is that everything that comes from this perspective is not necessarily to be accepted in full or as is, but this vision without a doubt, for me, provides some of the most stimulating reflections on revolutionary theory . The communisateur milieu, I can only state, is much more fertile, far more dynamic than the heirs of the communist left, which sees the newly emerging developments in the evolution of capitalism through the old schemas and categories of political analysis more or less slightly retouched. I think we ( pro-revolutionaries, to use your words) have an interest in fostering the discussion -- even if it entails polemical elements -- with the communisateurs. I noticed that you have already taken the initiative (most recently through your exchange with the Greek group Blaumachen, for example) and that's to the good. The refoundation of communist theory, that I dare claim, for me, as for you, today represents the most urgent task of the “friends of the classless society,” as our Berlin comrades say, cannot be limited to a confrontation with the current designated as the communisateurs (“Théorie communiste” (TC) and those close to it: Blaumachen, Riff-Raff, Léon de Mattis [Denis], BL, etc., all contributing to the new publication SIC., as well as Bruno Astarian and the Dauvé-Nesic group, “Trop Loin.” That refoundation requires what other circles of reflexion contribute too, such as “Exit” and “Krisis,” and the editors of “Temps critiques,” (our dear friend of the Reseau, JW). With the communisateurs, they share the view that the crisis of the late 1960s and the beginning of the next decade heralded a new age of capitalism and its economic production of value, in which the communist revolution, or communisation, can no longer be seen, as before, in the figure of the revolutionary subject emerging in direct continuity with the antecedent vision (whether Marxist or even, for that matter, anarcho-communist).They draw the conclusion that in general the revolution can not be just a matter of proletarian class struggle. This stuates these last elements clearly outside the circle of communisateurs. JW, in particular, considers as absurd the dialectical position that supports TC's conception of the proletarian struggle as that of a fragmented class acting against its own class nature, which ties it to capitalism (I grant that “Master” Jacque's claims about R. Simon are quite thin). Even if perhaps through habits of political atavism, for my part I remain committed to the vision of revolution as the task of the class struggle, I do not think that the debate with these currents can be closed and I leave open in my own mind the problematic that they articulate.
In closing this letter, I want to add that on the theory of communisation, it is mainly the version of TC to which I refer here. This is just the beginning, and we will now continue the struggle.
Is communisation [just] a luke warm [or inconsequential] invention? At first glance, one might ask what is the originality of the communisateurs, because neither their general definition of communism nor the identification in the figure of the proletariat (and its class struggle), as the acting-subject of the revolution differ from those of classical Marxists - including those of the Left Communists. The very term communisation that these neo-Marxist little ugly ducklings use basically designates nothing else than good old communist revolution, that is to say the process of revolutionary transformation of the capitalist world in the direction of a classless society without hierarchy, without a state, an economy, and therefore without value and abstract labor, etc. Like traditional Marxists, the communisateurs in addition say that communism will not be accomplished with a magic wand (citing Bruno Astarian), in an instantaneous realization from one day to the next. I would also add that for them, the beginning of communisation, which has not yet begun, will depend on an acute crisis of capitalism, ideas that, here again, will not shock the common understanding of revolutionaries. Does the change in terminology, then, represent some kind of sectarian coquetry? Would this invention correspond to a rediscovery of luke warm water? We must clearly answer these questions not because the conception that the communisateurs have of the process of revolutionary transformation - of communisation - is actually far from that of the great vehicle of Marxism.
It must be remembered that, for the classics, the communist revolution (or communisation) takes place in necessary stages in which the accomplishment of one stage would be the condition necessary for the following one. The first step amounts to wresting the means of production from the hands of the capitalists, the second is to establish a transitional society termed "socialist", where the production and distribution of goods are socialized; at its end, begins the establishment of communism, which itself can take some time. Communism thus appears as the implementation of a program whose unfolding, in its whole duration, has been designated by Marxists as the “period of transition.”
The specific vision of communisation that the communisateurs promote clearly diverges from such a point of view. It rejects all programmatism and specifically spurns the goal of an intermdiary stage socialism (or the " lower stage of communism" to cite Marx' words). If communism is not fully realized at a single blow, the beginning of its construction, the communisateurs insist, will open from the very beginning of the revolutionary process. In fact, the goal and the path merge for them because, they say, it is directly the production of communism that destroys capitalism. And as the communist process is essentially the abolition of classes, the abolition of the capitalist social relation reciprocally linking proletarians to a class of capitalists must also immediatly occur. According to the vision of the communisateurs, the revolution is, indeed, the opposite of an affirmation of the proletariat ; it is opposed to the vision of an abolition of classes resulting in their absorption into the proletariat.
So here we perceive very clearly the gap between the communisation of the communisateurs and the Marxist advocates of the "period of transition," which undoubtedly rests on the program of the maximal affirmation of the proletariat as a prelude to its own demise. Mac Intosh relates quite faithfully the theoretical position of the communisateurs when he writes: "Communisation entails the abolition of the proletariat, the class of wage-workers, whose abstract labor is the source of value. Socialism or Communism is not the self-affirmation of the proletariat or workers' power, and the creation of a republic labor. "
Is the theory of communisation of the communisateurs legitimate? Why, after all, would it be better than the old conception of revolution? We can not even advance by claiming that the facts have demonstrated the falsity of the latter conception, because we have hitherto known only embryonic examples of a revolutionary process. On the other hand, the new theory remains to be tested.
The pioneer communisateurs in the years 1968-1975, roughly began from the conviction that the classical theory, based on the vector of the affirmation of the proletariat, was at best inadequate, at worst, wrong. For the young communisateurs, the failure of all previous revolutionary attempts, from 1871 to 1968, ocurred in the final analysis because of the non-recognition of the limits of proletarian affirmation and even because that very affirmation worked against the révolution. The communist left, and first of all certain theorists of the council communists tradition, had certainly seen that the instruments in which the Marxists usually saw the rise to power of the labor movement (unions, class parties , reformist parliamentary representation …), that is to say, the growth of proletarian affirmation, had produced just the opposite of the desired effect, but these communists stopped there by simply replacing the failed instruments with the affirmation of workers 'councils, of the self-organization of struggles, workers' autonomy, etc., retaining, therefore, what according to the communisateurs, was the source of the failure. These communisateurs, largely politically born around 1968 - as indeed many others of my generation - understood the global wave of struggles of that time as the point of rupture with "affirmationism" and the swan song of the old workers movement too.
But all that was not enough to give the new theory of communisation the true legitimacy that the mere recognition of the failure of the old vision could not bring. If a theory is false, this does not mean, in effect, that any theory that replaces it is accurate. The anti-affirmationism of the communisateurs in the immediate aftermath of "1968", expressed by the idea that the proletariat must begin to abolish itself in undertaking the revolutionary process at its outset (and in 1975 the "communist tendency" of Berard, arising from a break with the ICC also said this), contained an ambiguity at its very heart: was this a theory finally revealed in full by revolution and which could have been formulated in any revolutionary upheaval, or was this a theory could only arise on the basis of the modern development of capitalism? Admittedly, the communisateurs discovered this problem in the second half of the 1970s. They found the answer thanks to the profound restructuring of its system that capitalism initiated following the famous "oil shocks," the critical peak of the crisis of the “Fordist” mode of regulation -- on the bases of which capitalism had functioned since the 1920s - 1930's - which began around 1967. This restructuring, developed until the late 1980s, and uprooted all the bases of proletarian affirmation, explained the communisateurs. One of its main characteristics was to liquidate the "labor movement", reducing the proletarians virtually to individuals in confrontation with the powers of capitalism. Therefore, communisation according to the communisateurs appeared not so much as a better theory of revolution, but as the only possible theory that is adequate to the new era of capitalist accumulation. They presented it - and still do so today - as the revolutionary communist theory of our time, the time of a proletariat irreversibly fragmented.
The perception of fragmentation by the communisateurs differs from that of IP in that, unlike IP, the former (at least until now), do not have not a sense of the "recomposition of the workers movement," of the" labor movement "in other words.
Paris, May 31, 2012
1. Marx, 'Critique of the Gotha Programme" in Karl Marx, The First International and After (Penguin Books), p. 346.
3. Ibid., p. 347.
4. While Camatte’s text is largely devoted to the trajectory of the value-form based on a reading of Marx’s unpublished manuscripts (The Grundrisse, and “The Results of the Immediate Process of Production”), its chapter on “Communism and the intermediary phases between capitalism and communism,” like the Fundamental Principles of the GIK, grapples with the issue of communization. Camatte’s treatment of this issue has its own basis in texts by Mitchell (Jehan) in Bilan in the 1930’s, and especially in texts by Bordiga starting from the late 1940’s through the ‘60’s.
5. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, p.346.
6. Mattick’s picture of that abundance seems far too optimistic today, especially in light of decades of “development” based largely on the growth of fictitious capital and financial bubbles, while the reproduction of the proletariat has been violently threatened, and ever-greater masses of workers are being permanently expelled from the production process. While such questions are, indeed, important, they do not preclude a vision of revolution in which communization, understood as the abolition of the value-form and the proletarian labor to which it is yoked, cannot be put off until a higher stage or the completion of a period of transition.
7. Jacques Camatte, Capital and Community (Prism Key Press, 2011), p. 261.
8. Ibid., p. 265.
9. Ibid., p. 272.
10. Ibid., p. 266.
11. Ibid., p. 279.
12. Ibid., p.288.
13. Ibid., pp. 297-298.
14. One question that seems to be a diversion, though much ink and paper has been expended in discussing it in the pro-revolutionary milieu, is when communization, as opposed to a period of transition, became an historical possibility for the proletariat. Was communization possible in 1789, in 1848, in 1871, in 1917, in 1936, etc.? Communization did not occur then, and while we can discuss why it did not, the task today is to confront the historical necessity for communization in the present epoch, and the dangers that confront the collective worker in a capitalist world that survives its present crisis.
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