Notes on communism
 



Invisible Politics - An Introduction to Contemporary Communisation - John Cunningham

In the wake of the organised left and the demise of working class self-identity, communisation offers a paradoxical means of superseding capitalism in the here and now whilst abandoning orthodox theories of revolution. John Cunningham reports from the picket line of the ‘human strike’.




As we apprehend it, the process of instituting communism can only take the form of a collection of acts of communisation, of making common such-and-such space, such-and-such-machine, such-and-such-knowledge. - The Invisible Committee, Call, 2004

The critique of capital, and speculation around the form and content of communism, always seems to oscillate between a historical materialist science on the one hand and the elaboration of new forms of subjectivity and affectivity on the other. Even Marx, while infinitely more familiar as a close analyst of capital, had early moments of Fourier style abandon when he attempted to elaborate the more mutable subjective content of a communist society. The dissolution of wage labour would make

it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner…[ii]

This suggests a society wherein circuits of affectivity are established that are no longer based upon the exigencies of value production - even if I personally prefer communist utopia as idleness to Marx’s endless activity. Of course, this is one of the rare instances where Marx speaks in the future tense, leaving aside the messiness of the transition from capitalism. Recently, a series of texts from the milieu around the French journal Tiqqun - primarily Call, How is to be done?, The Coming Insurrection - have reintroduced this question of the subjective content of communism in a way that might restore a speculative aspect to the critique of capital.[iii] These are not theoretical texts per se, more inspirational ‘How To’ manuals for the elaboration of communisation as subjective and conceptual secession from both capital and the Left. As Call states, ‘Nothing can happen that does not begin with a secession from everything that makes this desert grow.’[iv] This discursive distance from the more traditional ultra-left positions on communisation is also reflected in dense, poetic prose that establishes an affinity with possible precursors in revolt such as Dada, Surrealism and Bataille. The development of the thesis of communisation within the ultra-left was always part of an attempt to shift away from the traditional programmatic forms of the party and the union towards an engagement with forms of resistance rising immanently from the social relation of capital, such as wildcat strikes. What might be at stake in a restating of the question of communisation as radical subjectivist secession against the often discredited ideological formulas of anti-capitalist milieus?
It’s best to consider this question alongside the series of texts presented by Endnotes that ably document the continued elaboration of communisation within the French ultra-left by presenting a series of texts by Gilles Dauvé and Theorie Communiste.[v] Both are rooted in the diverse groupuscles of the French far left in the 1970’s that shared a fidelity to 1968 of whom Debord and the Situationists remain the most renowned.[vi] Dauvé and Theorie Communiste retain a commitment to communisation but diverge sharply around questions of agency and history. What remains under-theorised in both Dauvé’s humanist Marxism and Theorie Communiste’s more recently formulated Marxist structuralism is any real problematisation of the production of subjectivity within capital. An insertion of this question might illuminate the impasse faced by these more hermetic theoretical critiques of capital. In sketching out the contours of contemporary theories of communisation, a constellation composed of questions around subjectivity, negation, history and utopia emerges. Does a reconsideration of communisation open up new perspectives and different possibilities, given the gap between the cramped space revolutionary milieus find themselves in and any genuine expectations of radical change? Or is even discussing communisation at this time akin to scraping a toothache with a fingernail, pointless utopianism in the face of the constantly mutating social relation of capital?
Before answering this question, though, what is communisation? The term immediately evokes various social experiments and revolutionary endeavours from the Paris Commune and utopian socialist communities in the 19th century through to various counter-cultural attempts to reconstitute social relations on a more communitarian basis such as the squatting scene in the 1970s and ’80s. The Tiqqun strand - henceforth to be known as ‘The Invisible Committee’ after the eponymous signatories of The Coming Insurrection - draws upon this long history of secessionist antagonism. They posit communisation as essentially being the production, through the formation of ‘communes’, of collective forms of radical subjectivity. This destabilises the production of subjectivity and value within both capital and more traditional forms of political organisation, eventually leading to an insurrectionary break. ‘Commune’ in this instance is not necessarily a bunch of hippies aspiring to a carbon free life style. In The Coming Insurrection a commune is almost anything that ‘seeks to break all economic dependency and all political subjugation’, ranging from wildcat strikes to Radio Alice in Bologna in 1977, and innumerable other forms of collective experimentation.[vii]
While not completely missing the point, there is a danger of this understanding obscuring the specificity of ‘communisation’ as a concept and form of praxis that, as Endnotes trace out, emerged within the post-‘68 ultra-left milieu and then later within insurrectionist anarchism through Alfredo Bonnano. A minimal definition of communisation would be, as Dauvé and Francois Martin wrote in 1972 in an early formulation, the following:

Communism is not a set of measures to be put into practice after the seizure of power… . All past movements were able to bring society to a standstill and waited for something to come out of this universal stoppage. Communisation, on the contrary, will circulate goods without money… it will tend to break all separations.[viii]

This simultaneous destruction of value production alongside the thoroughgoing transformation of social relations as an immanent revolutionary process presupposes the negation of wage labour. The proletariat rather than being embodied in work and its valorisation, whether through wage labour or workers organisations, becomes the agency of self-abolition. Communisation would mean no more proletariat immediately, not after some interminable period of proletarian state or workers council management.
For Dauvé, here writing with Karl Nesic, communisation is the potential result of the dialectical opposition between living labour and the inhuman agency of capital. As he states

‘Subject’ and ‘object’ don’t exist separate from one another. A crisis is not something exterior to us that happens and forces us to react. Historical situations (and opportunities) are also made of … our actions or inactions.[ix]

Dauvé rejects theoretical determinism in favour of a more realistically indeterminate historical trajectory, where the only invariants within capital are humanity, alienation, exploitation and resistance. For Dauvé, communisation has been a possibility since 1848, as against the strict periodisation of Theorie Communiste.
Theorie Communiste’s position is that due to the shift in production to a second phase of real subsumption, post 1960s, capital and labour power are imbricated in a reproductive circuit.[x] Communisation as the self-abolition of the proletariat is only now a possible horizon due to the dissolution of the organised, programmatic parties and unions of the traditional left. Their unveiling in the 20th century as the necessary managers of the production of value has subsequently led to the inability of the proletariat to constitute an opposition to capital through their self-identification as workers. Stripped bare of any sense of voluntarist agency and subjectivity, what is left is the fact of structural exploitation and increasing proletarianisation that possibly leads to communisation. This dialectical synthesis without any reconciliation was impossible in previous phases of capital where revolution was inexorably tied to labour and the production of value.
Bracketing off the question of political agency and subjectivity in favour of historical structuralism, waving goodbye to the multitude and other spectral forms, is a welcome dose of anti-humanism. However, Theorie Communiste seem too eager to remove any subjective agency from oppositional politics. There’s a pessimism underlying their evacuation of any possibility in history that is an inversion of the classic 20th century social democratic Marxist paradigm of an inexorable movement towards communism. Too much value is fixed on the movement of history towards real subsumption of capital rather than evaluating history as composed of discontinuous breaks, fractures and events. One such might be the Paris Commune.
In its brief existence, the Commune prefigures many of the themes in contemporary discourse around communisation as both an immanent process of attempting to construct a non-state public sphere and an insurrectionist outburst that broke with the slow advance of 19th century commodity capitalism. Marx grasped that the ‘whole sham of State mysteries and State pretensions was done (away) by a Commune, mostly consisting of simple working people’ and that the aim of the commune was the ‘expropriation of the expropriators,’ the dissolution of class and property.[xi] While the commune was primarily political it indicated for Marx the intertwined nature of revolutionary change, abolishing the separation between the economic and political and at certain conjunctures being wedded to insurrectionist force. For Marx the ‘great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence’, but he believed it gestured towards social emancipation in the limited measures, (such as the appropriation of disused workshops), it was able to undertake in its brief existence.[xii] He wrote that ‘…the present rising in Paris - even if it be crushed by the wolves, swine and vile curs of the old society - is the most glorious deed of our Party…’[xiii]
Benjamin’s ‘dialectical image’, the juxtaposition of past and present in order to break the frozen reified image of both, provides a way of asking what resources an event such as the Paris Commune might offer the present.[xiv] This does not pose the existence of an invariant human subject as much as (re)examines the past in light of the present and restores an actuality and potentiality to history. For instance, Badiou has read the Paris Commune as ‘what, for the first and to this day only time, broke with the parliamentary destiny of popular and workers’ political movements’ establishing a template for ‘a declaration to break with the left.’[xv] Badiou sees this as a model for both a subjective intervention against capital and a communism subtracted from the state. The ‘Invisible Committee’ constantly refers to the Paris Commune in a similar fashion making suggestive juxtapositions throughout The Coming Insurrection. The Paris Commune is present in the text as a constant reminder of the barbarism that the French republic is founded upon, the ‘tradition of the oppressed’ that’s all too easily effaced by the empty continuum of history as the onward march of capital.[xvi]
A theory and practice formed in the still tempestuous wake of May ‘68-wildcat strikes - the refusal of work, the proliferation of left groupuscles - and conditioned by this event, communisation posits an escalation of the destruction of commodity production as a millennial break. Concepts such as this, formed at a particular conjunction of forces and material conditions, can easily decline into ideology or, at best, a regulative idea that has little to do with actual social struggle in the present once that moment has passed. All of these different theories of communisation emerge from a sense of a cramped discursive and political space. Post 1968, this cramped space might be viewed as the all too obvious limitations of the traditional workers’ movement, specifically the Communist Party and its affiliated trade unions, in abetting the state suppression of the events alongside, of course, commodified social relations. In terms of the continued elaboration of communisation in the present, such a cramped space, given the weakness of the institutional left, might be composed of the post-Seattle ‘anti-capitalist’ movement itself, or at least its remnants. This movement has given rise to what Tiqqun describes, in How is it to be Done?, as the ‘desire killing demonstrations’ that ‘no longer demonstrate anything but a collective absence’.[xvii]
This ‘collective absence’ is not so much a lack of organisation for the ‘Invisible Committee’ as a plenitude of organisational forms that serve to divert antagonism into reformist or activist dead ends, constructing milieus that are concerned with their own self-perpetuation as fetishised organisational structures. At best, these attempt symmetrical conflict with capital rather than more asymmetrical tactics of withdrawal, diffusion and sabotage. For me, this ‘collective absence’ in contemporary forms of activism and militancy is all too apparent in those constrained ideologies, such as the identity politics, that dominate much of contemporary ‘radical’ politics. Hence, contemporary anti-capitalism is riddled with a ridiculous anarchist, ecological and socialist moralism that masks itself as a politics. This critique of militancy is prefigured in Dauvé and Martin’s early 1970s observation that the ‘communist movement is anti-political, not a-political.’ Dauvé and Martin grasp communism as inherently social and immanent to capital while rejecting the traditional role of the militant who ‘interferes in these struggles to bring the communist gospel’.[xviii] It’s this anti-political strand, the negation of contemporary political forms or what Jacques Camatte termed ‘rackets’ that I find most constructive, in a destructive way, within theories of communisation.[xix] Nick Thoburn, in his book Deleuze, Marx and Politics, argues that cramped political and discursive spaces, composed of both traditional organisational forms and capital as a social relation, are productive of innovative attempts to reassemble lines of flight from available resources. These clear a space and allow the articulation of previously ignored demands and the formation of oppositional subjectivities.[xx] Or more succinctly, all the strands of communisation are attempting to dissolve the worker as worker into a more diffuse antagonistic subject.
The Invisible Committee’s complex assemblage of ultra-leftism and situationist theory has operative within it just such an attempt to produce new forms of political subjectivity, Agamben and Foucault playing a theoretically pivotal role. To inspire secessionist communisation seems an odd fate for Agamben, a philosopher who is most famed for the melancholic framing of contemporary subjectivity within the parameters of ‘bare life’, the passive residue of the human subject under biopolitical sovereignty.[xxi] The reduction of humanity, through political sovereignty, to classes, identities and subjects such as citizen, worker or migrant is essentially based upon the exception that is ‘bare life’. Opposing this, Agamben’s concept of ‘form-of-life’ or ‘whatever singularity’ is utilised by the Invisible Committee to suggest a political subjectivity that isn’t contained within the parameters of ‘bare life’ and an identifiable subject.[xxii] As they note ‘I become a whatever singularity. My presence starts overflowing the whole apparatus of qualities that are usually associated with me.’[xxiii] Sounds esoteric, but it’s worth emphasising the explicit relation to labour power that ‘whatever singularity’ retains in its element of the refusal of the role of worker. Agamben writes that ‘form-of-life’ is

a life … in which the single ways, acts and processes of living are never simply facts but always and above all possibilities of life, always and above all power.

And in this case it’s the power, or Potenza, to refuse wage labour and hence challenge the extraction of value from living labour. This ‘irrevocable exodus from any sovereignty’ is an emancipation from producing value towards the potentialities of an inseparability between activity and subject.[xxiv]
This inoperative collective political subject takes the form of ‘Human Strike’ within the Invisible Committee’s radical subjectivism. In How is it to be Done? ‘Human Strike’ is the point where the human subject as constituted within capital breaks down and refuses or simply ceases to function, a ‘Luddism of the human machinery that feeds capital’.[xxv] This is a Bartleby style refusal that responds to the (re)production of subjectivity within contemporary capitalism throughout the entire social field by valorising negativity and dysfunction. The Coming Insurrection highlights an advertising slogan, ‘I AM WHAT I AM’, and sarcastically but accurately notes, ‘Never has domination found such an innocent sounding slogan.’[xxvi] An individualism that is the subsumption of affective qualities within the circuits of capital. The individual is nothing but the residual effects of an incorporation of identities promulgated through the apparatuses of production, consumption and leisure. The real subsumption of the human by capital presented in the Coming Insurrection begins to resemble a bad day commuting to work. This production of subjectivity is what Foucault termed ‘governmentality’, wherein power is not only repressive and disciplininary but also creates the conditions for the production of value, encouraging forms of subjectification that channel creativity and affective identification towards the valorisation of capital.[xxvii]
As Theorie Communiste point out, what produces a blockage within the Marxist humanism of Dauvé is a view of subjectivity within capital as something produced purely through the repression of an invariant humanity. Granted, this Marxist humanism still has a radical import around unleashing the potentiality of the human outside of the wage relation but there’s little problematisation of the forms of subjectivity. However, in attempting to embrace a rigorous anti-humanism, Theorie Communiste fall prey to simply evacuating any notion of subjective agency as being a soppy romanticism in favour of economic determination. This reinforces the hermetic nature of such critique as relatively divorced from the experiences of everyday life.
None of this is a particularly new problematic, given the proliferation of theories of radical subjectivity since at least György Lukács, but the Invisible Committee restate this critique in a way that restores a sensual apprehension of what might be at stake in any form of oppositional politics. The image of a proliferation of communes as ‘a power of production’ that is ‘just incidentally relationships of production’ establishes what is best termed desiring production.[xxviii] It arises through assemblages of communised spaces, knowledge, means, bodies and desires that establish a refrain between them, displacing the secessionist collective from capital and those identities such as ‘worker’ or ‘migrant’ that are fixed within it. This could produce a blockage within the flows of value production as information and commodity in what the Invisible Committee, again taking their lead from Agamben, theorise as the ‘metropolis’; the undifferentiated, sprawling non-place of contemporary biopolitical capital.[xxix] This process of blockage is expressed in The Coming Insurrection thus:

The technical infrastructure of the metropolis is vulnerable … Nowadays sabotaging the social machine with any real effect involves reappropriating and reinventing the ways of interrupting its networks.[xxx]

Does this simultaneous production of subjectivity and disruption of value production posit ‘whatever being’ as a new form of political agency? As the model of an actualised Fourierist utopia, or even as an allegory of the production of oppositional politics this seems fine, but communes form an insurrectionist phantom organisation, a piloting machine that is more or less organically formed through the act of secession, constituting an avant-garde of the disaffected and voluntarily displaced. A residual aristocratism emerges alongside a phantom vanguardism that is revealed in the formulation ‘Making the paralyzed citizens understand that if they do not join the war they are part of it anyway.’[xxxi] These communes that, for the Invisible Committee, are immanent in the present but not formalised encompass any number of spaces and collectivities, from proletarian to counter-cultural and illegal. Squats, wildcat strikes, riots, rural collectives, any bunch of the disaffected or excluded (re)appropriating the neighbourhood. At its best this carries within it an involuntary viral diffusion of communal and subjective disaffiliation from capital as a social relation. At its worst they all end up sharing within the insurrectionist thematic voluntary renunciation and conscious refusal. For me this loses something of the negativity of the more primordial ‘human strike’ hinted at, that refuses as much as an involuntary reaction to unbearable social relations, as through a conscious act of will. There’s an import to ‘human strike’ that restores an actuality to the ways that depression for instance might function as both a sign of vulnerability and site of resistance. As the Coming Insurrection notes ‘depression is not a state but a passage, a bowing out, a side-step towards a political disaffiliation.’[xxxii] Rather than the insurrection, it’s this awareness that most productively marks the Invisible Committee off from more conventional radical milieus. What Camatte termed the real subsumption and domestication of the human by the community of capital here turns to speculative forms of resistance.[xxxiii]
The Coming Insurrection has had the dubious distinction of having reached the exalted heights of Fox news with a text extolling communisation, due to the controversy following the Tarnac 9 case in France. As an ironic confirmation of the Invisible Committee’s attachment to Debord’s notion of the spectacle, it is also proof that the hysteria of projected insurrectionism is more than met by the hysteria of the spectacle. This commitment to insurrectionism by the Invisible Committee underlines the value of the more sober assessments by Dauvé and Theorie Communiste. In a well balanced engagement with Call, Dauvé writes that there is lack of ‘an analysis of the present social movement, the fights, the retreats and the resistances to the world of waged labour, the strikes, their appearance, their frequent failure, their absence sometimes…’[xxxiv] This criticism of secession is well founded and it is this very material awareness of the instauration of capital as a social relation that is lacking in the more voluntarist exhortations towards insurrection. There is a correlation here with the post-Autonomist theory of exodus formulated by Paulo Virno as a strategy of refusal and subjective break with capital. This can give rise to a pre-emptive theoretical negation of any role as worker, suspending the fact that for most people a shit job is a necessity and the only exodus is the weekend.[xxxv]
Nevertheless, the re-inscription of a political agency as negation is refreshing when compared to the inclusivity of concepts such as Negri’s ‘multitude’. It’s in keeping with a line of active nihilism that permeates the theoretical production of the Invisible Committee. As opposed to Negri, where such an affective turn by capital is replete with immanent possibility, the production of subjectivity within contemporary capital is presented as part of the destruction of experience, what Call terms ‘the desert’. Almost nothing is exempted from this line of negation that runs from the micro-politics of an ‘existential liberalism’ that produces the individual through to all forms of politics, including anti-capitalism. The ‘desert’ is a form of passive nihilism endlessly replicating exchange-value, the obscure disaster of what both Benjamin and, in his footsteps, Agamben have conceptualised as the evacuation of experience by the shock and vacuity of the commodity.[xxxvi]
The response of the Invisible Committee is to accelerate this nihilism through a series of inversions such as the valorisation of gangs and illegalism - a heightening of the anti-sociality of contemporary capital. As such they are part of a current within French anarchism that runs from the Bonnot gang through to the Situationists and Os Cangaceiros. The latter, a group of post-‘68 proletarian illegalists rejected leftist politics and its armed struggle variants in favour of tactics such as sabotaging railways in solidarity with prison revolts. Or, as they stated succinctly ‘of shitting on this world with its prisons.’ There’s always a risk with such illegalism that it reifies something like gang culture in a simple inversion of spectacular hysteria, but at least the Coming Insurrections evocation of the November 2005 revolt in the banlieues restores a sense of agency to what were routinely decried as criminal acts within mainstream politics. In the fairly early Tiqqun text ‘Theses on the Imaginary Party’, this illegalism extends to random acts of violence produced by the subjective forms of spectacular commodity capitalism and its evacuation through shootings, suicides, etc..[xxxvii] This aspect is most certainly an avant-garde provocation similar to Breton’s simple surrealist act of firing into the crowd, though it is not necessarily lightly mean; indeed, it generalises the sense of crisis that the Invisible Committee wishes to instill. In an oblique comment, Agamben references this active nihilism as ‘the irreparable that allows the coming of the redemption’, a messianic opening into forms of political agency that refuses the exigencies of political sovereignty.[xxxviii] Such an active nihilism posits a joyful destruction as necessary in order to break with contemporary society’s immersion in the commodity form. The Coming Insurrection notes that ‘[a]nnihilating this nothingness is hardly a sad task …’ and that ‘fucking it all up will serve… as the last collective seduction.’ In embracing this they connect via some punk rhetoric to the destructive impulses of both the political and artistic 20th century avant-gardes.[xxxix]
What relation might this active nihilism have to the more general economic violence of communisation as the suspension and destruction of production? Communisation in whatever form, always seems caught in a tension between an immanent supersession of capital, the gradual proliferation of struggles that breach the limits of party, self management and workplace organisation, and the radical break, the institution of what Benjamin termed ‘the real state of exception’ in opposition to the state of exception imposed by the sovereignty of the state.[xl] This two-fold rhythm of communisation is paralleled by the tension, that’s evident in any attempt to theorise and practise it in the present, between a subjective activity and a more objective analysis of capital. Marx’s concept of Gewalt might be a good way to grasp the imbrication of different forms of force and power within communisation.[xli] Luca Basso reads Gewalt, a complex term meaning both violence and power, as being present in Marx’s formulation of the originary violence of capital as primitive accumulation, a violence that is repeated politically by the state as the imposition of wage labour. He quotes Étienne Balibar as characterising it as ‘violence of economics, the economics of violence’, violence being immanent to capital as exploitation.[xlii]
Attempts to formulate communisation contest this by positing an oppositional Gewalt that would break with capital politically and economically. Given the day to day Gewalt of contemporary capital it is not surprising that there are attempts to formulate projects of secession which, however doomed to failure, seem necessary as breathing spaces. Overstated as insurrectionary projects, such secession is a little optimistic as to its chances of even escaping capital, never mind overcoming it. Simultaneously, the theoretical analysis of Theorie Communiste and Dauvé/Nesic seems lacking in the necessary juncture of events to make anything other than potential interventions. Pessimism in the face of contemporary capital’s ability to adapt would probably be the best approach, but pessimism tempered with an awareness of the subjective and theoretical possibilities offered by the various theories of communisation. Benjamin wrote that ‘The destructive character sees nothing permanent. But for this very reason he sees ways everywhere.’[xliii] Maybe in this complex allegorical figure something like the use value of theories such as communisation resides.
John Cunningham coffeescience23 AT yahoo.co.uk is a sometime writer and occasional wage labourer who lives in South London
Footnotes
i Anonymous, Call, 2004, UK, no imprint, p.66. PDF available here: http://zinelibrary.info/call
ii Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1996, p.54.
iii Tiqqun was a French journal published between 1999 and 2001. The term is the French transliteration of a Hebrew/Kabbalistic word for redemption, an obvious reference towards the Benjamin and Agamben influenced model of messianic politics to which this strand of communisation subscribes. There were two issues and associated books such as Theorie du Bloom, Theorie de la Jeune Fille and later texts such as The Coming Insurrection. More Tiqqunand related material is available at the following: http://www.tiqqun.info/; http://www.bloom0101.org/tiqqun.html ;http://www.bloom0101.org/translations.html . A good article on the Tarnac 9 case and the controversy around The Coming Insurrection is Alberto Toscano’s ‘The War Against Pre-Terrorism' available athttp://slash.interactivist.net/node/11805
iv Call, op. cit., p.33.
v Endnotes, Brighton, UK, 2008. For texts and ordering details see the following: http://endnotes.org.uk/ . The introduction is a great account of the genealogy of communisation in the French ultra-left though it doesn’t engage with Tiqqun.
vi For further details on the milieu out of which communisation arose, this interview with Giles Dauvé is useful:http://www.riff-raff.se/en/7/gd_corr.php
vii.The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009. Recently published by Semiotext(e) the book has been circulating on the internet for some time and is also available here:http://tarnac9.wordpress.com/texts/the-coming-insurrection/ Page references refer to the pdf available from the above (p.102).
viii Gilles Dauvé and Francois Martin, The Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, London: Antagonism, 1997, p.36. Originally published 1974 by Black and Red, Detroit, USA.
ixDauvé and Nesic, ‘Love of Labour, Love of Labour Lost…' in Endnotes, op. cit., p.152.
xSee ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Endnotes, ibid, p.155 and the afterword in Endnotes for details of the position that Theorie Communiste take towards Dauvé and their elaboration of communisation from conditions of contemporary ‘real subsumption’. Also Riff-Raff 8 has a good series of texts around TC 11. See, http://www.riff-raff.se/en/8/at
xi Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1977, p.176; for the phrase ‘expropriation of the expropriators’, p.75.
xiiMarx, ibid, p.81.
xiii Marx to Dr Kugelman [London] April 12, 1871], text available here:http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/letters/71_04_17.htm
xiv See Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, London: Harper Collins, 1992, p.245.
xvAlain Badiou, Polemics, London: Verso, 2006, p.272-273.
xvi The Coming Insurrection, op. cit., p.88 and p.130. A further suggestive connection is in the text ‘To a Friend’ wherein the 19th century revolutionary Auguste Blanqui is presented as an inspirational ‘conceptual persona’ containing the unfulfilled potentiality of the past. The text is available here: http://libcom.org/history/auguste-blanqui
xvii Tiqqun, How is it to be Done?, 2008 reprint see http://www.bloom0101.org/translations.html
xviii Dauvé and Martin, op. cit., p.39.
xix Jacques Camatte, ‘On Organization’, in This World We Must Leave, New York: Autonomedia, 1995, p.19. Camatte is an important precursor to much of the Invisible Committee’s anti-politics both in his rejection of orthodox radicalism and the tendency towards secession that he expressed by moving towards primitivism. Given that he started as an ultra- left follower of Bordiga, Camatte might be the missing link between the different strands of communisation.
xx Nicholas Thoburn, Deleuze, Marx and Politics, London: Taylor and Francis, 2003.
xxi Georgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.
xxii Georgio Agamben, Means Without End, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p.3.
xxiii How is it to be Done?, op. cit., p.5.
xxiv Agamben, 2000, op. cit. p.3. When Agamben speaks of power in this context it has more in common with the Italian term Potenza, usually linked to a sense of potentiality than force or violence as sovereignty.
xxv How is it to be Done?, op. cit., p.16.
xxvi The Coming Insurrection, op. cit., p.31.
xxvii Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p.184-85
xxviii Call, op. cit., p.67.
xxix See, http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpagamben4.htm
xxx The Coming Insurrection, op. cit., p. 111.
xxxi How is it to be Done?, op. cit., p.17.
xxxii The Coming Insurrection, op. cit., p.34.
xxxiii Camatte, op. cit., p.39.
xxxiv Dauvé and Nesic aka Troploin issued this in response to the initial publication of Call, one of the few instances, to my knowledge, of any overt communication between the post ‘68 communisation theorists and their later descendants around Tiqqun. Thanks to Adeline Mannarini for translation. See, http://troploin0.free.fr/ii/index.php/textes/19-communisation-un-appel-et-une-invite . Tiqqun have disavowed any connection with other ultra-left currents with Julian Coupat, one of the founders of Tiqqun saying recently that ‘the ultra-left is a political current that had its moment of glory in the 1920s and that, subsequently, never produced anything other than inoffensive volumes of Marxology’. This seems like a classic avant-garde tactic of breaking with precursors, though there are undoubted differences. The interview is available here: http://www.notbored.org/julien-coupat.html
xxxv Paulo Virno and Michael Hardt (eds), Radical Thought in Italy, Minneapolis: Minnesota Press, 1996, p.189- 213.
xxxvi Benjamin, op. cit., especially ‘The Storyteller’, p.83 and ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’, p.152 and Agamben,Infancy and History, London: Verso, 2007, p.13.
xxxvii Os Cangaceiros, A Crime Called Freedom, Portland: Eberhardt Press, 2006, p.85. For Theses on the Imaginary Party: http://libcom.org/library/theses-imaginary-party
xxxviii From Agamben’s 2001 postscript to the Italian edition of the Coming Community:http://notesforthecomingcommunity.blogspot.com/2008/04/tiqqun-de-la-noche.html
xxxix See ‘The Problem of the Head’, http://libcom.org/library/problem-head , a Tiqqun text that illuminates their relation to avant-gardes from Surrealism to the Red Brigades.
xlWalter Benjamin, Selected Works, Volume 1, Cambridge, MA: Belknap/ Harvard, 1996, p.236.
xliLuca Basso, ‘The Ambivalence of Gewalt in Marx and Engels: On Balibar’s Interpretation’ in Historical Materialism 17 (2009), p.215-236.
xlii Ibid, p.220.
xliii Walter Benjamin, Selected Works, Volume 2, Cambridge, MA: Belknap/ Harvard, 1999, p.541.
Source; http://www.metamute.org/

Invisible Politics - An Introduction to Contemporary Communisation - John Cunningham

In the wake of the organised left and the demise of working class self-identity, communisation offers a paradoxical means of superseding capitalism in the here and now whilst abandoning orthodox theories of revolution. John Cunningham reports from the picket line of the ‘human strike’.

As we apprehend it, the process of instituting communism can only take the form of a collection of acts of communisation, of making common such-and-such space, such-and-such-machine, such-and-such-knowledge. - The Invisible Committee, Call, 2004

The critique of capital, and speculation around the form and content of communism, always seems to oscillate between a historical materialist science on the one hand and the elaboration of new forms of subjectivity and affectivity on the other. Even Marx, while infinitely more familiar as a close analyst of capital, had early moments of Fourier style abandon when he attempted to elaborate the more mutable subjective content of a communist society. The dissolution of wage labour would make

it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner…[ii]

This suggests a society wherein circuits of affectivity are established that are no longer based upon the exigencies of value production - even if I personally prefer communist utopia as idleness to Marx’s endless activity. Of course, this is one of the rare instances where Marx speaks in the future tense, leaving aside the messiness of the transition from capitalism. Recently, a series of texts from the milieu around the French journal Tiqqun - primarily Call, How is to be done?, The Coming Insurrection - have reintroduced this question of the subjective content of communism in a way that might restore a speculative aspect to the critique of capital.[iii] These are not theoretical texts per se, more inspirational ‘How To’ manuals for the elaboration of communisation as subjective and conceptual secession from both capital and the Left. As Call states, ‘Nothing can happen that does not begin with a secession from everything that makes this desert grow.’[iv] This discursive distance from the more traditional ultra-left positions on communisation is also reflected in dense, poetic prose that establishes an affinity with possible precursors in revolt such as Dada, Surrealism and Bataille. The development of the thesis of communisation within the ultra-left was always part of an attempt to shift away from the traditional programmatic forms of the party and the union towards an engagement with forms of resistance rising immanently from the social relation of capital, such as wildcat strikes. What might be at stake in a restating of the question of communisation as radical subjectivist secession against the often discredited ideological formulas of anti-capitalist milieus?

It’s best to consider this question alongside the series of texts presented by Endnotes that ably document the continued elaboration of communisation within the French ultra-left by presenting a series of texts by Gilles Dauvé and Theorie Communiste.[v] Both are rooted in the diverse groupuscles of the French far left in the 1970’s that shared a fidelity to 1968 of whom Debord and the Situationists remain the most renowned.[vi] Dauvé and Theorie Communiste retain a commitment to communisation but diverge sharply around questions of agency and history. What remains under-theorised in both Dauvé’s humanist Marxism and Theorie Communiste’s more recently formulated Marxist structuralism is any real problematisation of the production of subjectivity within capital. An insertion of this question might illuminate the impasse faced by these more hermetic theoretical critiques of capital. In sketching out the contours of contemporary theories of communisation, a constellation composed of questions around subjectivity, negation, history and utopia emerges. Does a reconsideration of communisation open up new perspectives and different possibilities, given the gap between the cramped space revolutionary milieus find themselves in and any genuine expectations of radical change? Or is even discussing communisation at this time akin to scraping a toothache with a fingernail, pointless utopianism in the face of the constantly mutating social relation of capital?

Before answering this question, though, what is communisation? The term immediately evokes various social experiments and revolutionary endeavours from the Paris Commune and utopian socialist communities in the 19th century through to various counter-cultural attempts to reconstitute social relations on a more communitarian basis such as the squatting scene in the 1970s and ’80s. The Tiqqun strand - henceforth to be known as ‘The Invisible Committee’ after the eponymous signatories of The Coming Insurrection - draws upon this long history of secessionist antagonism. They posit communisation as essentially being the production, through the formation of ‘communes’, of collective forms of radical subjectivity. This destabilises the production of subjectivity and value within both capital and more traditional forms of political organisation, eventually leading to an insurrectionary break. ‘Commune’ in this instance is not necessarily a bunch of hippies aspiring to a carbon free life style. In The Coming Insurrection a commune is almost anything that ‘seeks to break all economic dependency and all political subjugation’, ranging from wildcat strikes to Radio Alice in Bologna in 1977, and innumerable other forms of collective experimentation.[vii]

While not completely missing the point, there is a danger of this understanding obscuring the specificity of ‘communisation’ as a concept and form of praxis that, as Endnotes trace out, emerged within the post-‘68 ultra-left milieu and then later within insurrectionist anarchism through Alfredo Bonnano. A minimal definition of communisation would be, as Dauvé and Francois Martin wrote in 1972 in an early formulation, the following:

Communism is not a set of measures to be put into practice after the seizure of power… . All past movements were able to bring society to a standstill and waited for something to come out of this universal stoppage. Communisation, on the contrary, will circulate goods without money… it will tend to break all separations.[viii]

This simultaneous destruction of value production alongside the thoroughgoing transformation of social relations as an immanent revolutionary process presupposes the negation of wage labour. The proletariat rather than being embodied in work and its valorisation, whether through wage labour or workers organisations, becomes the agency of self-abolition. Communisation would mean no more proletariat immediately, not after some interminable period of proletarian state or workers council management.

For Dauvé, here writing with Karl Nesic, communisation is the potential result of the dialectical opposition between living labour and the inhuman agency of capital. As he states

‘Subject’ and ‘object’ don’t exist separate from one another. A crisis is not something exterior to us that happens and forces us to react. Historical situations (and opportunities) are also made of … our actions or inactions.[ix]

Dauvé rejects theoretical determinism in favour of a more realistically indeterminate historical trajectory, where the only invariants within capital are humanity, alienation, exploitation and resistance. For Dauvé, communisation has been a possibility since 1848, as against the strict periodisation of Theorie Communiste.

Theorie Communiste’s position is that due to the shift in production to a second phase of real subsumption, post 1960s, capital and labour power are imbricated in a reproductive circuit.[x] Communisation as the self-abolition of the proletariat is only now a possible horizon due to the dissolution of the organised, programmatic parties and unions of the traditional left. Their unveiling in the 20th century as the necessary managers of the production of value has subsequently led to the inability of the proletariat to constitute an opposition to capital through their self-identification as workers. Stripped bare of any sense of voluntarist agency and subjectivity, what is left is the fact of structural exploitation and increasing proletarianisation that possibly leads to communisation. This dialectical synthesis without any reconciliation was impossible in previous phases of capital where revolution was inexorably tied to labour and the production of value.

Bracketing off the question of political agency and subjectivity in favour of historical structuralism, waving goodbye to the multitude and other spectral forms, is a welcome dose of anti-humanism. However, Theorie Communiste seem too eager to remove any subjective agency from oppositional politics. There’s a pessimism underlying their evacuation of any possibility in history that is an inversion of the classic 20th century social democratic Marxist paradigm of an inexorable movement towards communism. Too much value is fixed on the movement of history towards real subsumption of capital rather than evaluating history as composed of discontinuous breaks, fractures and events. One such might be the Paris Commune.

In its brief existence, the Commune prefigures many of the themes in contemporary discourse around communisation as both an immanent process of attempting to construct a non-state public sphere and an insurrectionist outburst that broke with the slow advance of 19th century commodity capitalism. Marx grasped that the ‘whole sham of State mysteries and State pretensions was done (away) by a Commune, mostly consisting of simple working people’ and that the aim of the commune was the ‘expropriation of the expropriators,’ the dissolution of class and property.[xi] While the commune was primarily political it indicated for Marx the intertwined nature of revolutionary change, abolishing the separation between the economic and political and at certain conjunctures being wedded to insurrectionist force. For Marx the ‘great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence’, but he believed it gestured towards social emancipation in the limited measures, (such as the appropriation of disused workshops), it was able to undertake in its brief existence.[xii] He wrote that ‘…the present rising in Paris - even if it be crushed by the wolves, swine and vile curs of the old society - is the most glorious deed of our Party…’[xiii]

Benjamin’s ‘dialectical image’, the juxtaposition of past and present in order to break the frozen reified image of both, provides a way of asking what resources an event such as the Paris Commune might offer the present.[xiv] This does not pose the existence of an invariant human subject as much as (re)examines the past in light of the present and restores an actuality and potentiality to history. For instance, Badiou has read the Paris Commune as ‘what, for the first and to this day only time, broke with the parliamentary destiny of popular and workers’ political movements’ establishing a template for ‘a declaration to break with the left.’[xv] Badiou sees this as a model for both a subjective intervention against capital and a communism subtracted from the state. The ‘Invisible Committee’ constantly refers to the Paris Commune in a similar fashion making suggestive juxtapositions throughout The Coming Insurrection. The Paris Commune is present in the text as a constant reminder of the barbarism that the French republic is founded upon, the ‘tradition of the oppressed’ that’s all too easily effaced by the empty continuum of history as the onward march of capital.[xvi]

A theory and practice formed in the still tempestuous wake of May ‘68-wildcat strikes - the refusal of work, the proliferation of left groupuscles - and conditioned by this event, communisation posits an escalation of the destruction of commodity production as a millennial break. Concepts such as this, formed at a particular conjunction of forces and material conditions, can easily decline into ideology or, at best, a regulative idea that has little to do with actual social struggle in the present once that moment has passed. All of these different theories of communisation emerge from a sense of a cramped discursive and political space. Post 1968, this cramped space might be viewed as the all too obvious limitations of the traditional workers’ movement, specifically the Communist Party and its affiliated trade unions, in abetting the state suppression of the events alongside, of course, commodified social relations. In terms of the continued elaboration of communisation in the present, such a cramped space, given the weakness of the institutional left, might be composed of the post-Seattle ‘anti-capitalist’ movement itself, or at least its remnants. This movement has given rise to what Tiqqun describes, in How is it to be Done?, as the ‘desire killing demonstrations’ that ‘no longer demonstrate anything but a collective absence’.[xvii]

This ‘collective absence’ is not so much a lack of organisation for the ‘Invisible Committee’ as a plenitude of organisational forms that serve to divert antagonism into reformist or activist dead ends, constructing milieus that are concerned with their own self-perpetuation as fetishised organisational structures. At best, these attempt symmetrical conflict with capital rather than more asymmetrical tactics of withdrawal, diffusion and sabotage. For me, this ‘collective absence’ in contemporary forms of activism and militancy is all too apparent in those constrained ideologies, such as the identity politics, that dominate much of contemporary ‘radical’ politics. Hence, contemporary anti-capitalism is riddled with a ridiculous anarchist, ecological and socialist moralism that masks itself as a politics. This critique of militancy is prefigured in Dauvé and Martin’s early 1970s observation that the ‘communist movement is anti-political, not a-political.’ Dauvé and Martin grasp communism as inherently social and immanent to capital while rejecting the traditional role of the militant who ‘interferes in these struggles to bring the communist gospel’.[xviii] It’s this anti-political strand, the negation of contemporary political forms or what Jacques Camatte termed ‘rackets’ that I find most constructive, in a destructive way, within theories of communisation.[xix] Nick Thoburn, in his book Deleuze, Marx and Politics, argues that cramped political and discursive spaces, composed of both traditional organisational forms and capital as a social relation, are productive of innovative attempts to reassemble lines of flight from available resources. These clear a space and allow the articulation of previously ignored demands and the formation of oppositional subjectivities.[xx] Or more succinctly, all the strands of communisation are attempting to dissolve the worker as worker into a more diffuse antagonistic subject.

The Invisible Committee’s complex assemblage of ultra-leftism and situationist theory has operative within it just such an attempt to produce new forms of political subjectivity, Agamben and Foucault playing a theoretically pivotal role. To inspire secessionist communisation seems an odd fate for Agamben, a philosopher who is most famed for the melancholic framing of contemporary subjectivity within the parameters of ‘bare life’, the passive residue of the human subject under biopolitical sovereignty.[xxi] The reduction of humanity, through political sovereignty, to classes, identities and subjects such as citizen, worker or migrant is essentially based upon the exception that is ‘bare life’. Opposing this, Agamben’s concept of ‘form-of-life’ or ‘whatever singularity’ is utilised by the Invisible Committee to suggest a political subjectivity that isn’t contained within the parameters of ‘bare life’ and an identifiable subject.[xxii] As they note ‘I become a whatever singularity. My presence starts overflowing the whole apparatus of qualities that are usually associated with me.’[xxiii] Sounds esoteric, but it’s worth emphasising the explicit relation to labour power that ‘whatever singularity’ retains in its element of the refusal of the role of worker. Agamben writes that ‘form-of-life’ is

a life … in which the single ways, acts and processes of living are never simply facts but always and above all possibilities of life, always and above all power.

And in this case it’s the power, or Potenza, to refuse wage labour and hence challenge the extraction of value from living labour. This ‘irrevocable exodus from any sovereignty’ is an emancipation from producing value towards the potentialities of an inseparability between activity and subject.[xxiv]

This inoperative collective political subject takes the form of ‘Human Strike’ within the Invisible Committee’s radical subjectivism. In How is it to be Done? ‘Human Strike’ is the point where the human subject as constituted within capital breaks down and refuses or simply ceases to function, a ‘Luddism of the human machinery that feeds capital’.[xxv] This is a Bartleby style refusal that responds to the (re)production of subjectivity within contemporary capitalism throughout the entire social field by valorising negativity and dysfunction. The Coming Insurrection highlights an advertising slogan, ‘I AM WHAT I AM’, and sarcastically but accurately notes, ‘Never has domination found such an innocent sounding slogan.’[xxvi] An individualism that is the subsumption of affective qualities within the circuits of capital. The individual is nothing but the residual effects of an incorporation of identities promulgated through the apparatuses of production, consumption and leisure. The real subsumption of the human by capital presented in the Coming Insurrection begins to resemble a bad day commuting to work. This production of subjectivity is what Foucault termed ‘governmentality’, wherein power is not only repressive and disciplininary but also creates the conditions for the production of value, encouraging forms of subjectification that channel creativity and affective identification towards the valorisation of capital.[xxvii]

As Theorie Communiste point out, what produces a blockage within the Marxist humanism of Dauvé is a view of subjectivity within capital as something produced purely through the repression of an invariant humanity. Granted, this Marxist humanism still has a radical import around unleashing the potentiality of the human outside of the wage relation but there’s little problematisation of the forms of subjectivity. However, in attempting to embrace a rigorous anti-humanism, Theorie Communiste fall prey to simply evacuating any notion of subjective agency as being a soppy romanticism in favour of economic determination. This reinforces the hermetic nature of such critique as relatively divorced from the experiences of everyday life.

None of this is a particularly new problematic, given the proliferation of theories of radical subjectivity since at least György Lukács, but the Invisible Committee restate this critique in a way that restores a sensual apprehension of what might be at stake in any form of oppositional politics. The image of a proliferation of communes as ‘a power of production’ that is ‘just incidentally relationships of production’ establishes what is best termed desiring production.[xxviii] It arises through assemblages of communised spaces, knowledge, means, bodies and desires that establish a refrain between them, displacing the secessionist collective from capital and those identities such as ‘worker’ or ‘migrant’ that are fixed within it. This could produce a blockage within the flows of value production as information and commodity in what the Invisible Committee, again taking their lead from Agamben, theorise as the ‘metropolis’; the undifferentiated, sprawling non-place of contemporary biopolitical capital.[xxix] This process of blockage is expressed in The Coming Insurrection thus:

The technical infrastructure of the metropolis is vulnerable … Nowadays sabotaging the social machine with any real effect involves reappropriating and reinventing the ways of interrupting its networks.[xxx]

Does this simultaneous production of subjectivity and disruption of value production posit ‘whatever being’ as a new form of political agency? As the model of an actualised Fourierist utopia, or even as an allegory of the production of oppositional politics this seems fine, but communes form an insurrectionist phantom organisation, a piloting machine that is more or less organically formed through the act of secession, constituting an avant-garde of the disaffected and voluntarily displaced. A residual aristocratism emerges alongside a phantom vanguardism that is revealed in the formulation ‘Making the paralyzed citizens understand that if they do not join the war they are part of it anyway.’[xxxi] These communes that, for the Invisible Committee, are immanent in the present but not formalised encompass any number of spaces and collectivities, from proletarian to counter-cultural and illegal. Squats, wildcat strikes, riots, rural collectives, any bunch of the disaffected or excluded (re)appropriating the neighbourhood. At its best this carries within it an involuntary viral diffusion of communal and subjective disaffiliation from capital as a social relation. At its worst they all end up sharing within the insurrectionist thematic voluntary renunciation and conscious refusal. For me this loses something of the negativity of the more primordial ‘human strike’ hinted at, that refuses as much as an involuntary reaction to unbearable social relations, as through a conscious act of will. There’s an import to ‘human strike’ that restores an actuality to the ways that depression for instance might function as both a sign of vulnerability and site of resistance. As the Coming Insurrection notes ‘depression is not a state but a passage, a bowing out, a side-step towards a political disaffiliation.’[xxxii] Rather than the insurrection, it’s this awareness that most productively marks the Invisible Committee off from more conventional radical milieus. What Camatte termed the real subsumption and domestication of the human by the community of capital here turns to speculative forms of resistance.[xxxiii]

The Coming Insurrection has had the dubious distinction of having reached the exalted heights of Fox news with a text extolling communisation, due to the controversy following the Tarnac 9 case in France. As an ironic confirmation of the Invisible Committee’s attachment to Debord’s notion of the spectacle, it is also proof that the hysteria of projected insurrectionism is more than met by the hysteria of the spectacle. This commitment to insurrectionism by the Invisible Committee underlines the value of the more sober assessments by Dauvé and Theorie Communiste. In a well balanced engagement with Call, Dauvé writes that there is lack of ‘an analysis of the present social movement, the fights, the retreats and the resistances to the world of waged labour, the strikes, their appearance, their frequent failure, their absence sometimes…’[xxxiv] This criticism of secession is well founded and it is this very material awareness of the instauration of capital as a social relation that is lacking in the more voluntarist exhortations towards insurrection. There is a correlation here with the post-Autonomist theory of exodus formulated by Paulo Virno as a strategy of refusal and subjective break with capital. This can give rise to a pre-emptive theoretical negation of any role as worker, suspending the fact that for most people a shit job is a necessity and the only exodus is the weekend.[xxxv]

Nevertheless, the re-inscription of a political agency as negation is refreshing when compared to the inclusivity of concepts such as Negri’s ‘multitude’. It’s in keeping with a line of active nihilism that permeates the theoretical production of the Invisible Committee. As opposed to Negri, where such an affective turn by capital is replete with immanent possibility, the production of subjectivity within contemporary capital is presented as part of the destruction of experience, what Call terms ‘the desert’. Almost nothing is exempted from this line of negation that runs from the micro-politics of an ‘existential liberalism’ that produces the individual through to all forms of politics, including anti-capitalism. The ‘desert’ is a form of passive nihilism endlessly replicating exchange-value, the obscure disaster of what both Benjamin and, in his footsteps, Agamben have conceptualised as the evacuation of experience by the shock and vacuity of the commodity.[xxxvi]

The response of the Invisible Committee is to accelerate this nihilism through a series of inversions such as the valorisation of gangs and illegalism - a heightening of the anti-sociality of contemporary capital. As such they are part of a current within French anarchism that runs from the Bonnot gang through to the Situationists and Os Cangaceiros. The latter, a group of post-‘68 proletarian illegalists rejected leftist politics and its armed struggle variants in favour of tactics such as sabotaging railways in solidarity with prison revolts. Or, as they stated succinctly ‘of shitting on this world with its prisons.’ There’s always a risk with such illegalism that it reifies something like gang culture in a simple inversion of spectacular hysteria, but at least the Coming Insurrections evocation of the November 2005 revolt in the banlieues restores a sense of agency to what were routinely decried as criminal acts within mainstream politics. In the fairly early Tiqqun text ‘Theses on the Imaginary Party’, this illegalism extends to random acts of violence produced by the subjective forms of spectacular commodity capitalism and its evacuation through shootings, suicides, etc..[xxxvii] This aspect is most certainly an avant-garde provocation similar to Breton’s simple surrealist act of firing into the crowd, though it is not necessarily lightly mean; indeed, it generalises the sense of crisis that the Invisible Committee wishes to instill. In an oblique comment, Agamben references this active nihilism as ‘the irreparable that allows the coming of the redemption’, a messianic opening into forms of political agency that refuses the exigencies of political sovereignty.[xxxviii] Such an active nihilism posits a joyful destruction as necessary in order to break with contemporary society’s immersion in the commodity form. The Coming Insurrection notes that ‘[a]nnihilating this nothingness is hardly a sad task …’ and that ‘fucking it all up will serve… as the last collective seduction.’ In embracing this they connect via some punk rhetoric to the destructive impulses of both the political and artistic 20th century avant-gardes.[xxxix]

What relation might this active nihilism have to the more general economic violence of communisation as the suspension and destruction of production? Communisation in whatever form, always seems caught in a tension between an immanent supersession of capital, the gradual proliferation of struggles that breach the limits of party, self management and workplace organisation, and the radical break, the institution of what Benjamin termed ‘the real state of exception’ in opposition to the state of exception imposed by the sovereignty of the state.[xl] This two-fold rhythm of communisation is paralleled by the tension, that’s evident in any attempt to theorise and practise it in the present, between a subjective activity and a more objective analysis of capital. Marx’s concept of Gewalt might be a good way to grasp the imbrication of different forms of force and power within communisation.[xli] Luca Basso reads Gewalt, a complex term meaning both violence and power, as being present in Marx’s formulation of the originary violence of capital as primitive accumulation, a violence that is repeated politically by the state as the imposition of wage labour. He quotes Étienne Balibar as characterising it as ‘violence of economics, the economics of violence’, violence being immanent to capital as exploitation.[xlii]

Attempts to formulate communisation contest this by positing an oppositional Gewalt that would break with capital politically and economically. Given the day to day Gewalt of contemporary capital it is not surprising that there are attempts to formulate projects of secession which, however doomed to failure, seem necessary as breathing spaces. Overstated as insurrectionary projects, such secession is a little optimistic as to its chances of even escaping capital, never mind overcoming it. Simultaneously, the theoretical analysis of Theorie Communiste and Dauvé/Nesic seems lacking in the necessary juncture of events to make anything other than potential interventions. Pessimism in the face of contemporary capital’s ability to adapt would probably be the best approach, but pessimism tempered with an awareness of the subjective and theoretical possibilities offered by the various theories of communisation. Benjamin wrote that ‘The destructive character sees nothing permanent. But for this very reason he sees ways everywhere.’[xliii] Maybe in this complex allegorical figure something like the use value of theories such as communisation resides.

John Cunningham coffeescience23 AT yahoo.co.uk is a sometime writer and occasional wage labourer who lives in South London

Footnotes

i Anonymous, Call, 2004, UK, no imprint, p.66. PDF available here: http://zinelibrary.info/call

ii Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1996, p.54.

iii Tiqqun was a French journal published between 1999 and 2001. The term is the French transliteration of a Hebrew/Kabbalistic word for redemption, an obvious reference towards the Benjamin and Agamben influenced model of messianic politics to which this strand of communisation subscribes. There were two issues and associated books such as Theorie du BloomTheorie de la Jeune Fille and later texts such as The Coming Insurrection. More Tiqqunand related material is available at the following: http://www.tiqqun.info/; http://www.bloom0101.org/tiqqun.html ;http://www.bloom0101.org/translations.html . A good article on the Tarnac 9 case and the controversy around The Coming Insurrection is Alberto Toscano’s ‘The War Against Pre-Terrorism' available athttp://slash.interactivist.net/node/11805

iv Call, op. cit., p.33.

Endnotes, Brighton, UK, 2008. For texts and ordering details see the following: http://endnotes.org.uk/ . The introduction is a great account of the genealogy of communisation in the French ultra-left though it doesn’t engage with Tiqqun.

vi For further details on the milieu out of which communisation arose, this interview with Giles Dauvé is useful:http://www.riff-raff.se/en/7/gd_corr.php

vii.The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009. Recently published by Semiotext(e) the book has been circulating on the internet for some time and is also available here:http://tarnac9.wordpress.com/texts/the-coming-insurrection/ Page references refer to the pdf available from the above (p.102).

viii Gilles Dauvé and Francois Martin, The Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, London: Antagonism, 1997, p.36. Originally published 1974 by Black and Red, Detroit, USA.

ixDauvé and Nesic, ‘Love of Labour, Love of Labour Lost…' in Endnotes, op. cit., p.152.

xSee ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Endnotes, ibid, p.155 and the afterword in Endnotes for details of the position that Theorie Communiste take towards Dauvé and their elaboration of communisation from conditions of contemporary ‘real subsumption’. Also Riff-Raff 8 has a good series of texts around TC 11. See, http://www.riff-raff.se/en/8/at

xi Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1977, p.176; for the phrase ‘expropriation of the expropriators’, p.75.

xiiMarx, ibid, p.81.

xiii Marx to Dr Kugelman [London] April 12, 1871], text available here:http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/letters/71_04_17.htm

xiv See Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, London: Harper Collins, 1992, p.245.

xvAlain Badiou, Polemics, London: Verso, 2006, p.272-273.

xvi The Coming Insurrection, op. cit., p.88 and p.130. A further suggestive connection is in the text ‘To a Friend’ wherein the 19th century revolutionary Auguste Blanqui is presented as an inspirational ‘conceptual persona’ containing the unfulfilled potentiality of the past. The text is available here: http://libcom.org/history/auguste-blanqui

xvii Tiqqun, How is it to be Done?, 2008 reprint see http://www.bloom0101.org/translations.html

xviii Dauvé and Martin, op. cit., p.39.

xix Jacques Camatte, ‘On Organization’, in This World We Must Leave, New York: Autonomedia, 1995, p.19. Camatte is an important precursor to much of the Invisible Committee’s anti-politics both in his rejection of orthodox radicalism and the tendency towards secession that he expressed by moving towards primitivism. Given that he started as an ultra- left follower of Bordiga, Camatte might be the missing link between the different strands of communisation.

xx Nicholas Thoburn, Deleuze, Marx and Politics, London: Taylor and Francis, 2003.

xxi Georgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

xxii Georgio Agamben, Means Without End, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p.3.

xxiii How is it to be Done?, op. cit., p.5.

xxiv Agamben, 2000, op. cit. p.3. When Agamben speaks of power in this context it has more in common with the Italian term Potenza, usually linked to a sense of potentiality than force or violence as sovereignty.

xxv How is it to be Done?, op. cit., p.16.

xxvi The Coming Insurrection, op. cit., p.31.

xxvii Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p.184-85

xxviii Call, op. cit., p.67.

xxix See, http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpagamben4.htm

xxx The Coming Insurrection, op. cit., p. 111.

xxxi How is it to be Done?, op. cit., p.17.

xxxii The Coming Insurrection, op. cit., p.34.

xxxiii Camatte, op. cit., p.39.

xxxiv Dauvé and Nesic aka Troploin issued this in response to the initial publication of Call, one of the few instances, to my knowledge, of any overt communication between the post ‘68 communisation theorists and their later descendants around Tiqqun. Thanks to Adeline Mannarini for translation. See, http://troploin0.free.fr/ii/index.php/textes/19-communisation-un-appel-et-une-invite . Tiqqun have disavowed any connection with other ultra-left currents with Julian Coupat, one of the founders of Tiqqun saying recently that ‘the ultra-left is a political current that had its moment of glory in the 1920s and that, subsequently, never produced anything other than inoffensive volumes of Marxology’. This seems like a classic avant-garde tactic of breaking with precursors, though there are undoubted differences. The interview is available here: http://www.notbored.org/julien-coupat.html

xxxv Paulo Virno and Michael Hardt (eds), Radical Thought in Italy, Minneapolis: Minnesota Press, 1996, p.189- 213.

xxxvi Benjamin, op. cit., especially ‘The Storyteller’, p.83 and ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’, p.152 and Agamben,Infancy and History, London: Verso, 2007, p.13.

xxxvii Os Cangaceiros, A Crime Called Freedom, Portland: Eberhardt Press, 2006, p.85. For Theses on the Imaginary Partyhttp://libcom.org/library/theses-imaginary-party

xxxviii From Agamben’s 2001 postscript to the Italian edition of the Coming Community:http://notesforthecomingcommunity.blogspot.com/2008/04/tiqqun-de-la-noche.html

xxxix See ‘The Problem of the Head’, http://libcom.org/library/problem-head , a Tiqqun text that illuminates their relation to avant-gardes from Surrealism to the Red Brigades.

xlWalter Benjamin, Selected Works, Volume 1, Cambridge, MA: Belknap/ Harvard, 1996, p.236.

xliLuca Basso, ‘The Ambivalence of Gewalt in Marx and Engels: On Balibar’s Interpretation’ in Historical Materialism 17 (2009), p.215-236.

xlii Ibid, p.220.

xliii Walter Benjamin, Selected Works, Volume 2, Cambridge, MA: Belknap/ Harvard, 1999, p.541.

Source; http://www.metamute.org/

majsaleh:

“All property should be held in common and should be distributed to each according to his needs as the occasion required. Any prince, count or lord who did not want to do this, after first being warned about it should be beheaded or hanged.” - Thomas Müntzer


communiqué no.2 | to our friends
To our friends everywhere:
Yeah it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do -
Either:Search idiotically for nonexistent jobs in officesand wake up for the morning news?Keeping ourselves alive just to continue live another miserable day?
Or:Begin and act from our own conditions.November 2009, this is what is happening: we have found each other, and we are learning to act,finally.
This means developing close bonds,learning what it truly is to say ‘comrade’;someone who shares your conditions, shares your enemies,and who you trust with your life.Someone who knows that it is always necessary to take sides.We have learned what it means to say we.
Now more than ever is the time to experiment, to try and try again.To learn how to make better barricades, to discover our courage, to fight without end.Of course we’ll make mistakes – we are only just beginning to wake up.
We’ve got the visionWe’ve got each otherNow let’s have some fucking fun.
We are with those barricaded in buildings, throwing rocks in thestreets, and drinking their Chancellor’s champagne.From now on, this is all solidarity means.
To our comrades: multiply, expand, deepen what we have begun.To our enemies: have fun with your ruins.
TOTAL SOLIDARITY WITH BERKELEY, DAVIS, UCLA, FRESNO, FULLERTON, NAPA VALLEY!FREE THE ARRESTED!
DROP ALL CHARGES AND RESTRAINING ORDERS!
ADMINISTRATORS AND COPS OFF CAMPUS!
From inside occupied Santa Cruz,And in the fullest complicity,An autonomous faction of the UCSC Kerr Hall Occupation

communiqué no.2 | to our friends

To our friends everywhere:

Yeah it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do -

Either:
Search idiotically for nonexistent jobs in offices
and wake up for the morning news?
Keeping ourselves alive just to continue live another miserable day?

Or:
Begin and act from our own conditions.
November 2009, this is what is happening: we have found each other, and we are learning to act,
finally.

This means developing close bonds,
learning what it truly is to say ‘comrade’;
someone who shares your conditions, shares your enemies,
and who you trust with your life.
Someone who knows that it is always necessary to take sides.
We have learned what it means to say we.

Now more than ever is the time to experiment, to try and try again.
To learn how to make better barricades, to discover our courage, to fight without end.
Of course we’ll make mistakes – we are only just beginning to wake up.

We’ve got the vision
We’ve got each other
Now let’s have some fucking fun.

We are with those barricaded in buildings, throwing rocks in the
streets, and drinking their Chancellor’s champagne.
From now on, this is all solidarity means.

To our comrades: multiply, expand, deepen what we have begun.
To our enemies: have fun with your ruins.

TOTAL SOLIDARITY WITH BERKELEY, DAVIS, UCLA, FRESNO, FULLERTON, NAPA VALLEY!
FREE THE ARRESTED!

DROP ALL CHARGES AND RESTRAINING ORDERS!

ADMINISTRATORS AND COPS OFF CAMPUS!

From inside occupied Santa Cruz,
And in the fullest complicity,
An autonomous faction of the UCSC Kerr Hall Occupation

The communist tendency in history,
This essay discusses the meaning of communism with examples from Pierre Clastres, Gerrard Winstanley and Moses Hess.   It was written, we believe, by ‘M’, a member of the French-based communist group L’Insecurite Sociale in the early 1980s. If you have any more information about the author or publication details please let us know.
The communist tendency in history
What are, in the different periods of the history of our species, the tendencies in human behaviour which have been in the direction of what we call communism? To answer this, it is perhaps necessary first of all to specify again what we do and do not mean by communism.
Not a political programme
With regard to the definition which one can give of this term, negatively, communism is not a programme of a series of measures which one opposes in a competitive way to other programmes which exist in society, and which one tries to make victorious either by persuasion or by force of arms.
Therefore, being a communist cannot mean aspiring to capture the State and to substitute a new power which would be a just, fair power, the reasonable rational power of the communists - or of those using the name of communism - in contrast to the unjust power of the bourgeoisie. We do not work for the triumph of a new programme, that is, for the triumph of politics because the triumph of politics and with it the triumph of the State has already been realised before our very eyes - by the capitalist class.
If a communist revolution takes place, it will be the reverse and not the result of this tendency which has taken place under the domination of the bourgeoisie. It is for this reason that we do not use, when describing communism, the terms democracy and dictatorship, which we think are judicial, legal forms, legal definitions which have been associated with different forms of state power which we do not think are adequate for describing communism. In fact, in the societies which we have known, dictatorship, like democracy, has suited the need to maintain a certain social cohesion where this cohesion would not exist by itself, either by coercion, i.e. dictatorship, or by the idealisation of representation where there is a certain harmony between the classes, as in democracy. These forms of dictatorial or democratic organisation have suited societies which, through their own development, have broken the traditional and personal bonds which had existed previously between groups and individuals.
Compared to that, communism does not represent the outcome of one of these tendencies, but the manifestation of other relations between people, generally called the human community. Therefore, the communist revolution cannot be from the outset, the imposition of false relations between people, whether by democratic or dictatorial measures, but can only be the founding act of this human community. To believe that it is necessary, to arrive at this human community, to reconstitute in a democratic or despotic fashion a fictitious new community, even temporarily, which would replace the fictitious communities which we have already known, would be to establish from the outset this communist movement on the negation of its dynamic: the constitution of new human relationships.
Not an economy
If, for us, communism cannot be a political programme, neither is it a new type of economic organisation, nor a new form of property-holding. In fact, communism will not establish ‘common’ property, since the very idea of property indicates the monopolisation by one group of people of the possession of some things to the exclusion of other people. In communism, the circulation of goods cannot be done by the methods familiar to the world in which we live (the method of exchange, the exchange of some goods for others).
In a society from which no-one is excluded, exchange cannot exist, buying and selling cannot exist, therefore money cannot exist. There can only be collective or individual use of what the community produces. Therefore a substitution of what we have known, the logic of exchange, by a new logic which would be the logic of sharing combined with the logic of gift.
In a communist society, people would work together to accomplish such and such a task, to share pleasures or emotions and respond to the general needs of the community, without the grouping which they would form taking the form of a State, and therefore of the domination of some people by others, or the form of an enterprise hiring wage-labourers and commercialising production. As a consequence, one cannot talk, for such a society, of economic laws. Such laws are the expression of human relations resting on inequality and domination; inequality and domination which themselves justify these laws through presenting them as inevitable realities or as having existed since time began. By contrast, in communist society, there will exist conscious control of human beings over their own activity, both through the relations existing between them, and more generally through the relations between them and the rest of nature.
To sum up what we mean by the term ‘communism’, communism is primarily the tendency towards human community, which, in the various forms in which it has expressed itself in course of human history, has always been the search for a world where there will exist neither laws, nor property, nor the State, nor discrimination which divides people, nor wealth which distinguishes some people from others, nor power which oppresses some of them. Therefore to be a communist is first and foremost to consider that the greatest wealth lies in human relationships and that all the rest flows from this.
In history
Starting from this definition, in what sense can one say that there has been a tendency towards communism in the past? To speak of a communist tendency in the past immediately raises a number of obstacles. The first obstacle is the difficulty of sometimes understanding the language which this tendency has adopted in the past. In fact, throughout the different social organisations which human beings have known, the communist tendency has defined itself by vocabularies corresponding to these different organisations.
Thus, in feudal society, this tendency developed a religious language or which today no longer has any meaning. In the same way today we tend to define communism by terms such as world without states, a world without frontiers, a world without money, which in the end comes down to saying only that communism is not capitalism.
Therefore when one speaks of communism in different epochs, one must be aware of the fact that the definitions which are given to it are, to a certain degree, only a reflection of the world in which we ourselves live. A difficulty arises from this for us, who live today in capitalist society at a specific stage, in analysing this tendency in the past, since, like everyone, we tend to think about and describe things in capitalist categories. At this level, it is obvious that there have been many actions by human beings in the past which we have misunderstood. This is the case for example, with the the difficulty in understanding the idea of the ‘chief’ in certain primitive societies or the idea of the gift whether in primitive societies or in later societies up to feudal society. These ideas of the ‘chief’ and of the gift have had totally different meanings from the ones they have been given today.
Before the state
Here, it is out of the question to draw a complete picture of the communist tendency from the origins of humanity to the present day. I will limit myself to taking just three examples, from different periods in human history, in order to see a little of what are the constants and the common points which one can rediscover throughout these different periods.
The first is as example from Clastres regarding primitive societies, an example which is interesting since it sums up his study of these societies:
‘Primitive societies are therefore unitary societies (and for that each sought to be one totality): societies without classes - no wealthy exploiters nor poor - societies not divided into dominators and dominated - with no separate organ of power. It is now time to take completely seriously this last sociological aspect of primitive societies. Does the separation between leadership and power mean that the question of power was not posed there, that these societies are apolitical? To this question evolutionist thought - and its less summary variant, Marxism (Engels especially) - replies that this is indeed so and that this is in keeping with the primitive character of these societies, that is to say as the first forms of society. They are the infancy of humanity, the first stage of their evolution, and as such incomplete, unfinished, destined consequently to grow, to become adult, to pass from apolitical to political. The destiny of all society is the State as the organ which knows and expresses the common good for all and which undertakes to impose it.
Such is the traditional, almost general, conception of primitive societies as state-less societies. The absence of the State indicates their incompleteness, the embryonic stage of their existence, their a-historicity. But is it really so? It can easily be seen that such a view is in fact only an ideological prejudice, implying a conception of history as the necessary movement of humanity through social forms which engender themselves and succeed each other mechanically. But let this neo-theology of history and its fanatical continuism be rejected; the primitive societies cease to occupy the bottom rung of history, pregnant as they were supposed to be of all history to come, written in advance in their being. Freed from this innocent exoticism, anthropology can now take seriously the real question for political study: why were primitive societies state-less societies?
As complete, finished, adult and no longer sub-political embryonic societies, primitive societies have no state because they rejected the divisions of the social body into dominators and dominated. The policy of the ‘savages’ is in fact the constant setting up of barriers in the way of the appearance of a separate organ of power, of impeding the fatal joining up of the institution of chieftanship and the exercise of power. In primitive societies there is no separate organ of power because power is not separated from society, because it is this which keeps the society as one whole, with a view to maintaining its unitary being, to warding off the appearance within it of the inequality between masters and subjects, between the chief and the tribe.
To hold power is to exercise it, to exercise it is to dominate those upon whom it is exercised; which is exactly what primitive societies do not want, which is why the chiefs are powerless, why power is not detached from the body of the society. Rejection of inequality, rejection of separate power was the same constant concern of primitive societies. They were strongly aware that to give up this struggle, to stop damming up the subterranean forces of the desire for power and the desire for submission and without the liberation from which the eruption of domination and servitude would occur, they knew that they would thereby lose their freedom’ (Pierre Clastres, The question of power in primitive societies’ Interrogations, no.6, 1976).
Clastres emphasises an important characteristic of these societies, which is that they, or at least some of them, have not only been societies which rejected the State, but also societies which, very practically, even without actually knowing it, struggled against the establishment of the State, which really put up an active and practical resistance to the State.
Critique of Money
Let’s make a great historical leap for the second example. It is an extract from ‘The law of freedom’ (1651), a text by Gerrard Winstanley, the principal theoretician who participated in the ‘True Levellers’ or ‘Diggers’ movement in 17th century Great Britain and who is perhaps one of the first people to provide a theoretical expression, which ranks a turning point, of what we understand by communism:
‘When mankind began to buy and sell, then did he fall from his innocence; for then they began to oppress and cozen one another of their creation birthright… The nations of the world will never learn to beat their swords into ploughshares, and the spears into pruning hooks, and leave off warring, until this cheating device of buying and selling be cast out among the rubbish of kingly power’.
This extract draws its importance from a vision, an extreme lucidity, of the implication of market relations, where there is already a theorisation of communism as something which situates itself in a break with marker relations and money.
The last text is an extract from the ‘Communist Catechism’ (1846) of Moses Hess, where there is a return to the problem of money and market relations. In the chapter discussing, in the form of a questionnaire, money and servitude, the following answers are given:
"1. What is money?
It is the value of human activity expressed in figures, the selling price of the exchange of our lives.
2. Can human activity be expressed in figures?
Human activity, just as little as man himself, has no price: because human activity is human life, which no sum of money can compensate, it is invaluable.
3. What is the person who can be sold for money or who sells himself for money?
The person who can be sold for money is a slave and the person who sells himself for money has the soul of a slave.
4. What must we deduce from the existence of money?
We must deduce from this existence enslavement, because money is the very sign of human slavery since it is the value of man expressed in figures.
5. How long will people stay slaves and selling their abilities for money?
This will remain so until society provides and guarantees each person the means necessary for human life and action, so that the individual will not be constrained to obtain these means by his own initiative and to this end to sell his activity In order to buy in return the activity of other men. This human commerce, this reciprocal exploitation, this industry which one calls private, cannot be abolished by any decree; it can only be abolished by the establishment of a communitarian society in which the means will be offered to each to develop and to use their human faculties.
6. In a society thus instituted, is the existence of money possible or imaginable?
No more than the existence of human enslavement. Since men will no longer be obliged to sell to one another their powers and abilities, they will have no more need to calculate their value in figures, they will no longer have any need to account or to pay. In place of human value expressed in figures will appear the true, invaluable human value - in place of usury the flourishing of human faculties and the pleasures of life - in place of competition with unjust weapons, a harmonious co-operation and noble emulation - in place of multiplication tables, the head, heart and hands of free and active beings”.
This is the last example of this theoretical expression of communism that I would like to give. Of course many others could be given, but in all the examples which could be given there are certain constants which can always be picked out. The first of these corresponds to the definition of communism given at the beginning, namely to base communism not on politics, nor on economy, but on people and relations between people; also the importance of the egalitarian theme, of equality, in all the theoretical expressions which communism has known. Of course the nearer one gets to societies based on market relations the more the critique is centred around the role of money and going beyond this, from money to the critique of all relations of buying and selling whether of goods or people.
The interest today
To conclude, what is the interest for us today of what we can know of the communist tendency in past history?
First it is the negation of all talk of human nature as the eternity of certain forms of human behaviour, the critique of all talk of the type ‘things have always been like that’ etc. etc.
Secondly it helps us to better understand finally what are our own aspirations. Because just as the aspirations taken from the past have been partial, often maladroit, our own aspiration today is also partial and maladroit. The putting in common of all this aspiration in human history is also a means of seeing the essential, whatever the social framework in which it finds itself placed at one moment or another in its history.
Thirdly, it perhaps helps us extricate ourselves with regard to the situation which we have today. Because to these different aspirations to communism have corresponded different efforts to struggle against what opposed those aspirations. One knows these efforts, one can see what they have brought, what have been their limits. That can perhaps also help us today in struggling for our own aspirations and combatting the particular forms taken today by all that is opposed to this aspiration to communism.

The communist tendency in history,

This essay discusses the meaning of communism with examples from Pierre Clastres, Gerrard Winstanley and Moses Hess.   It was written, we believe, by ‘M’, a member of the French-based communist group L’Insecurite Sociale in the early 1980s. If you have any more information about the author or publication details please let us know.

The communist tendency in history

What are, in the different periods of the history of our species, the tendencies in human behaviour which have been in the direction of what we call communism? To answer this, it is perhaps necessary first of all to specify again what we do and do not mean by communism.

Not a political programme

With regard to the definition which one can give of this term, negatively, communism is not a programme of a series of measures which one opposes in a competitive way to other programmes which exist in society, and which one tries to make victorious either by persuasion or by force of arms.

Therefore, being a communist cannot mean aspiring to capture the State and to substitute a new power which would be a just, fair power, the reasonable rational power of the communists - or of those using the name of communism - in contrast to the unjust power of the bourgeoisie. We do not work for the triumph of a new programme, that is, for the triumph of politics because the triumph of politics and with it the triumph of the State has already been realised before our very eyes - by the capitalist class.

If a communist revolution takes place, it will be the reverse and not the result of this tendency which has taken place under the domination of the bourgeoisie. It is for this reason that we do not use, when describing communism, the terms democracy and dictatorship, which we think are judicial, legal forms, legal definitions which have been associated with different forms of state power which we do not think are adequate for describing communism. In fact, in the societies which we have known, dictatorship, like democracy, has suited the need to maintain a certain social cohesion where this cohesion would not exist by itself, either by coercion, i.e. dictatorship, or by the idealisation of representation where there is a certain harmony between the classes, as in democracy. These forms of dictatorial or democratic organisation have suited societies which, through their own development, have broken the traditional and personal bonds which had existed previously between groups and individuals.

Compared to that, communism does not represent the outcome of one of these tendencies, but the manifestation of other relations between people, generally called the human community. Therefore, the communist revolution cannot be from the outset, the imposition of false relations between people, whether by democratic or dictatorial measures, but can only be the founding act of this human community. To believe that it is necessary, to arrive at this human community, to reconstitute in a democratic or despotic fashion a fictitious new community, even temporarily, which would replace the fictitious communities which we have already known, would be to establish from the outset this communist movement on the negation of its dynamic: the constitution of new human relationships.

Not an economy

If, for us, communism cannot be a political programme, neither is it a new type of economic organisation, nor a new form of property-holding. In fact, communism will not establish ‘common’ property, since the very idea of property indicates the monopolisation by one group of people of the possession of some things to the exclusion of other people. In communism, the circulation of goods cannot be done by the methods familiar to the world in which we live (the method of exchange, the exchange of some goods for others).

In a society from which no-one is excluded, exchange cannot exist, buying and selling cannot exist, therefore money cannot exist. There can only be collective or individual use of what the community produces. Therefore a substitution of what we have known, the logic of exchange, by a new logic which would be the logic of sharing combined with the logic of gift.

In a communist society, people would work together to accomplish such and such a task, to share pleasures or emotions and respond to the general needs of the community, without the grouping which they would form taking the form of a State, and therefore of the domination of some people by others, or the form of an enterprise hiring wage-labourers and commercialising production. As a consequence, one cannot talk, for such a society, of economic laws. Such laws are the expression of human relations resting on inequality and domination; inequality and domination which themselves justify these laws through presenting them as inevitable realities or as having existed since time began. By contrast, in communist society, there will exist conscious control of human beings over their own activity, both through the relations existing between them, and more generally through the relations between them and the rest of nature.

To sum up what we mean by the term ‘communism’, communism is primarily the tendency towards human community, which, in the various forms in which it has expressed itself in course of human history, has always been the search for a world where there will exist neither laws, nor property, nor the State, nor discrimination which divides people, nor wealth which distinguishes some people from others, nor power which oppresses some of them. Therefore to be a communist is first and foremost to consider that the greatest wealth lies in human relationships and that all the rest flows from this.

In history

Starting from this definition, in what sense can one say that there has been a tendency towards communism in the past? To speak of a communist tendency in the past immediately raises a number of obstacles. The first obstacle is the difficulty of sometimes understanding the language which this tendency has adopted in the past. In fact, throughout the different social organisations which human beings have known, the communist tendency has defined itself by vocabularies corresponding to these different organisations.

Thus, in feudal society, this tendency developed a religious language or which today no longer has any meaning. In the same way today we tend to define communism by terms such as world without states, a world without frontiers, a world without money, which in the end comes down to saying only that communism is not capitalism.

Therefore when one speaks of communism in different epochs, one must be aware of the fact that the definitions which are given to it are, to a certain degree, only a reflection of the world in which we ourselves live. A difficulty arises from this for us, who live today in capitalist society at a specific stage, in analysing this tendency in the past, since, like everyone, we tend to think about and describe things in capitalist categories. At this level, it is obvious that there have been many actions by human beings in the past which we have misunderstood. This is the case for example, with the the difficulty in understanding the idea of the ‘chief’ in certain primitive societies or the idea of the gift whether in primitive societies or in later societies up to feudal society. These ideas of the ‘chief’ and of the gift have had totally different meanings from the ones they have been given today.

Before the state

Here, it is out of the question to draw a complete picture of the communist tendency from the origins of humanity to the present day. I will limit myself to taking just three examples, from different periods in human history, in order to see a little of what are the constants and the common points which one can rediscover throughout these different periods.

The first is as example from Clastres regarding primitive societies, an example which is interesting since it sums up his study of these societies:

‘Primitive societies are therefore unitary societies (and for that each sought to be one totality): societies without classes - no wealthy exploiters nor poor - societies not divided into dominators and dominated - with no separate organ of power. It is now time to take completely seriously this last sociological aspect of primitive societies. Does the separation between leadership and power mean that the question of power was not posed there, that these societies are apolitical? To this question evolutionist thought - and its less summary variant, Marxism (Engels especially) - replies that this is indeed so and that this is in keeping with the primitive character of these societies, that is to say as the first forms of society. They are the infancy of humanity, the first stage of their evolution, and as such incomplete, unfinished, destined consequently to grow, to become adult, to pass from apolitical to political. The destiny of all society is the State as the organ which knows and expresses the common good for all and which undertakes to impose it.

Such is the traditional, almost general, conception of primitive societies as state-less societies. The absence of the State indicates their incompleteness, the embryonic stage of their existence, their a-historicity. But is it really so? It can easily be seen that such a view is in fact only an ideological prejudice, implying a conception of history as the necessary movement of humanity through social forms which engender themselves and succeed each other mechanically. But let this neo-theology of history and its fanatical continuism be rejected; the primitive societies cease to occupy the bottom rung of history, pregnant as they were supposed to be of all history to come, written in advance in their being. Freed from this innocent exoticism, anthropology can now take seriously the real question for political study: why were primitive societies state-less societies?

As complete, finished, adult and no longer sub-political embryonic societies, primitive societies have no state because they rejected the divisions of the social body into dominators and dominated. The policy of the ‘savages’ is in fact the constant setting up of barriers in the way of the appearance of a separate organ of power, of impeding the fatal joining up of the institution of chieftanship and the exercise of power. In primitive societies there is no separate organ of power because power is not separated from society, because it is this which keeps the society as one whole, with a view to maintaining its unitary being, to warding off the appearance within it of the inequality between masters and subjects, between the chief and the tribe.

To hold power is to exercise it, to exercise it is to dominate those upon whom it is exercised; which is exactly what primitive societies do not want, which is why the chiefs are powerless, why power is not detached from the body of the society. Rejection of inequality, rejection of separate power was the same constant concern of primitive societies. They were strongly aware that to give up this struggle, to stop damming up the subterranean forces of the desire for power and the desire for submission and without the liberation from which the eruption of domination and servitude would occur, they knew that they would thereby lose their freedom’ (Pierre Clastres, The question of power in primitive societies’ Interrogations, no.6, 1976).

Clastres emphasises an important characteristic of these societies, which is that they, or at least some of them, have not only been societies which rejected the State, but also societies which, very practically, even without actually knowing it, struggled against the establishment of the State, which really put up an active and practical resistance to the State.

Critique of Money

Let’s make a great historical leap for the second example. It is an extract from ‘The law of freedom’ (1651), a text by Gerrard Winstanley, the principal theoretician who participated in the ‘True Levellers’ or ‘Diggers’ movement in 17th century Great Britain and who is perhaps one of the first people to provide a theoretical expression, which ranks a turning point, of what we understand by communism:

‘When mankind began to buy and sell, then did he fall from his innocence; for then they began to oppress and cozen one another of their creation birthright… The nations of the world will never learn to beat their swords into ploughshares, and the spears into pruning hooks, and leave off warring, until this cheating device of buying and selling be cast out among the rubbish of kingly power’.

This extract draws its importance from a vision, an extreme lucidity, of the implication of market relations, where there is already a theorisation of communism as something which situates itself in a break with marker relations and money.

The last text is an extract from the ‘Communist Catechism’ (1846) of Moses Hess, where there is a return to the problem of money and market relations. In the chapter discussing, in the form of a questionnaire, money and servitude, the following answers are given:

"1. What is money?

It is the value of human activity expressed in figures, the selling price of the exchange of our lives.

2. Can human activity be expressed in figures?

Human activity, just as little as man himself, has no price: because human activity is human life, which no sum of money can compensate, it is invaluable.

3. What is the person who can be sold for money or who sells himself for money?

The person who can be sold for money is a slave and the person who sells himself for money has the soul of a slave.

4. What must we deduce from the existence of money?

We must deduce from this existence enslavement, because money is the very sign of human slavery since it is the value of man expressed in figures.

5. How long will people stay slaves and selling their abilities for money?

This will remain so until society provides and guarantees each person the means necessary for human life and action, so that the individual will not be constrained to obtain these means by his own initiative and to this end to sell his activity In order to buy in return the activity of other men. This human commerce, this reciprocal exploitation, this industry which one calls private, cannot be abolished by any decree; it can only be abolished by the establishment of a communitarian society in which the means will be offered to each to develop and to use their human faculties.

6. In a society thus instituted, is the existence of money possible or imaginable?

No more than the existence of human enslavement. Since men will no longer be obliged to sell to one another their powers and abilities, they will have no more need to calculate their value in figures, they will no longer have any need to account or to pay. In place of human value expressed in figures will appear the true, invaluable human value - in place of usury the flourishing of human faculties and the pleasures of life - in place of competition with unjust weapons, a harmonious co-operation and noble emulation - in place of multiplication tables, the head, heart and hands of free and active beings”.

This is the last example of this theoretical expression of communism that I would like to give. Of course many others could be given, but in all the examples which could be given there are certain constants which can always be picked out. The first of these corresponds to the definition of communism given at the beginning, namely to base communism not on politics, nor on economy, but on people and relations between people; also the importance of the egalitarian theme, of equality, in all the theoretical expressions which communism has known. Of course the nearer one gets to societies based on market relations the more the critique is centred around the role of money and going beyond this, from money to the critique of all relations of buying and selling whether of goods or people.

The interest today

To conclude, what is the interest for us today of what we can know of the communist tendency in past history?

First it is the negation of all talk of human nature as the eternity of certain forms of human behaviour, the critique of all talk of the type ‘things have always been like that’ etc. etc.

Secondly it helps us to better understand finally what are our own aspirations. Because just as the aspirations taken from the past have been partial, often maladroit, our own aspiration today is also partial and maladroit. The putting in common of all this aspiration in human history is also a means of seeing the essential, whatever the social framework in which it finds itself placed at one moment or another in its history.

Thirdly, it perhaps helps us extricate ourselves with regard to the situation which we have today. Because to these different aspirations to communism have corresponded different efforts to struggle against what opposed those aspirations. One knows these efforts, one can see what they have brought, what have been their limits. That can perhaps also help us today in struggling for our own aspirations and combatting the particular forms taken today by all that is opposed to this aspiration to communism.

The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee 
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The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee 

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THE CORPSE OF THE MILLENIUM, Proletarian Gob
PROLETARIAN GOB is anti-capitalist, anti-state and anti-authoritarian. PROLETARIAN GOB is for the creation of a worldwide, free human community, which can only be achieved by the conscious actions of a revolutionary proletariat acting for itself and not at the direction of some ‘Revolutionary Party’.
Only when the working class is completely out of control will we be able to take control of our own lives
~~~~~~
People in the “Western World” live in a society culturally dominated by ideas of hygeine, sport, health and what passes these days for beauty. This was the central aim of the German National Socialist Workers Party (the Nazi’s). To build a society fit for work and fit for the promotion of a nation - that is, stupid. Across the decades the figures of Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Nelson Mandela, Lorraine Kelly and Mr. Motivator are shaking hands with good old Adolf Hitler.
Christian heretics a few hundred years ago might have envisaged this millenium as a time when priests, lawyers, bailiffs, nobility and the rich would finally get their throats cut. But Christianity has done a shifty side-step, it has become Rational and it has made sure everyone else has too. In this idiot world reasonableness is the new motto, democracy marks the parameters of the game we are allowed to play, and foolishness has been conquered.
~~~~~~
In this special issue of P.G. we are printing a text published last year in The Journal for Social and Institutional Historicism, Volume 5, Number 11, Michigan, U.S.A., September 1997. It is written by Professor Andrew Pflaeger of Michigan State University. Pflaeger teaches anthropometry, which is the study of the comparative dimensions of the human body. This discipline is long past its hey-day and has suffered some serious setbacks in recent years, most notable of which was the case of the Brazilian academic Dr. Antonio Vargas, who, with his team of scientists from the University of Sao Paulo, managed to mis-measure a whole Amazonian-basin tribe. They failed to realise their mistake until after their findings had been published, but by then the government had already acted and the whole tribe had been forcibly removed to a shanty town outside Refice. There was an international outcry on the matter and many academic institutions closed down their anthropometry departments and called for the banning of anthropometry as a scientific discipline. Education administrators in the U.S.A. took a more cautious line and today it is only in the U.S.A. that any significant research into anthropometry is undertaken.
In the text below Andrew Pflaeger has tried to situate twentieth century anthropometry in its social, political and historical context, but it is his concern with the Christian-Rational- Intellectual crisis which has been significantly resolved as we head into the third Christian Millenium that interests us most here.
~~~~~
THE HUMAN BODY AND CHRISTIAN-RATIONALISM IN THE PRE-THIRD MILLENIUM ERA.
FROM DARWIN TO THE GREENWICH DOME.
In this paper I want to show how the cult of the human body emerged in the industrialised nations and how ideas of hygeine and fitness became one of the main tools of the Christian-Rationalist ethic. I will also briefly discuss what may be called the “Rationalist Reformation”.
Darwinism
Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was studying naturism at Cambridge University when his friend Professor J. Henslow obtained a post for him on the scientific survey ship, H.M.S. Beagle, as Chief Naturist. The whole ship, in fact, was to be run on strict rules of nudity for the duration of its five year exploration of the world and Darwin was profoundly affected by the experience. Darwin, who had always been obsessed by the human body, meticulously detailed all the different bodies he came across in his travels. He also studied carefully the unfamiliar flora and fauna that he saw. He made many sketches and even used a pin-hole camera but unfortunately none of the photographs he took of wildlife came out. He did, however, succeed in taking many excellent photographs of the ships crew, but these were later detroyed by his wife.
Darwin’s long journey around the world confirmed many of his deepest convictions. One of these was the belief that it was only natural in society that the best and ablest people rose to the top and that these people, by breeding amongst themselves, would continue to be in the upper echelons of society down through the generations. They would, in fact, become even more superior to the rest of the population because all their best attributes would be continually enhanced. The rest of humanity would, through their lack of imagination, talent and good health, remain in a subservient position, to be used by those in power. For Darwin, and most members of his economic class, the “common man” was little more than a passably intelligent farm animal. Darwin transferred this theory of “natural selection” to the world of wildlife in general, coming up with his theory of the “survival of the fittest” (i.e., those most suited to their environment).
The nineteenth century saw a great deal of revolt by working people all over Europe and, partly to reassure themselves, the ruling class looked for justifications for their continued rule. It was no accident that Darwin’s theories fitted this need perfectly, like the rest of his peers, Darwin dreaded the thought that the ordinary rabble might one day rise up and take control of society, thereby killing all that was beautiful, reasonable and intelligent in the world.
Darwin believed that humans would eventually evolve into a ball of white light that was able to perform feats of dexterity and strength far in advance of those that humans are presently capable of, also, of course, they would be super-intelligent. This development would not happen, though, if the upper strata of society allowed their heredity to become contaminated too much by ordinary folk. The lower stratas, he believed, were destined to evolve into a rodent-like creature about five feet long, before slowly becoming extinct. Once the lower stratas had lost their usefulness they would probably, he mused, be hunted to extinction for sport. In The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin concentrated not on his theories of the future but rather on the past. In this book he argued that humanity was descended from the ape-family and, as we all know, this shocked many of those who had held with the “Adam and Eve” story from the Christian bible. In fact, in order not to alarm his readers too much Darwin actually toned down his central thesis, for, in truth, he was certain that humanity was descended from the grebe family. He knew that this theory would be too much for the establishments of Europe at that time so, on the advice of a friend, he changed the grebes to apes.
The more perceptive of Darwin’s readers realised that Darwin was not trying to bring Christian civilisation crashing to its knees by examining the origins of life, he was actually trying to help save it from the ignorant mob. His lesson was that the leaders of society must protect themselves from evolving in the wrong way, and thereby failing Gods awesome plan to create a species of perfect beings. Lack of diligence in keeping the breed pure and clean and in control of the worlds resources (which included labour, of course), would be the real attack on God. The champions of Darwin’s message became known as Social Darwinists, and they were part of the whole movement which examined geneology, “racial hygeine” and, of course, eugenics. The word “eugenics” was coined by Sir Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin, during a drinking contest in Balham, South London, in 1883.
A Clean New World
The upper classes of turn of the century Europe were fascinated by the whole concept of hygeine. The medical profession saw the opportunity to increase the general publics awareness of cleanliness and sanitory living conditions as a way of reducing disease and ill health. Moralists used the ideas of hygeine to divide humanity into the “fit” and the “unfit”, taking their heed from Darwin. Architects wanted to do away with the old cramped and dirty streets and living spaces which were a hallmark of the cities of Europe, they wanted to introduce light and openness, clean air and angular lines. Artists too were affected by this desire for a more orderly and uncluttered life. Artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, influenced by the spiritualist medium and hoaxer, Madame Blavatsky, began trying to look at the world in the way they thought God had made it, by using geometric shapes and straight lines. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque expressed a similar religious fervour with cubism.
The medical profession was also making outstanding advances in their knowledge of the human body. In 1898 Doctor Heinz Feldt of Vienna created a world sensation with his discovery of the human liver. By 1910 all the organs, muscles, arteries, veins and bones could be mapped within the human body. This enabled the anatomist Professor Spalteholz, using plastics, to create a see-through human model, known as the “Visible Man”, in which all the interior parts of the body were visible. The arms of this model were raised up in what looks like an exhultation of fitness, hope, and a belief in higher things. The Visible Man first made its appearance at the opening of the International Hygeine Exhibition in Dresden in 1911. Eventually a national Museum of Hygeine was built in Germany, in which the Visible Man was the star exhibit. During the Weimar period this proved to be Germany’s most popular museum, and under Hitler, from 1933, it became a compulsory school trip for children from all over the country.
Hygeine exhibitions had begun in Britain before the end of the century before being taken up by Germany. Their purpose was to educate the public and make money for the entrepreneurs who ran them. The public were interested in anything that might reduce the risk of disease, and also there was a morbid fascination for the depictions on display of disease-ridden bodies and the explanations of how diseases worked. The exhibitions also had displays on ethnology and, using the science of anthropometry, they showed how different people around the world were prone to different diseases and how levels of squalor in their living conditions exacerbated their general ill health. However, it was a German mouthwash manufacturer, Herr Lingner (he never forgave his parents for giving him the name “mister”), who really began to revolutionise the whole hygeine question, it was he, for example, who promoted the Visible Man.
Lingner called his programme for the teaching of principles of hygeine amongst the masses “Social Hygeine”. In a precursor to ideas of the Welfare State he believed that the nation’s health was a form of capital (i.e., labour) which could be increased it if was looked after properly. Furthermore, Lingner believed that unsanitory living conditions helped ferment discontent amongst the populace. This was borne out by a study in South Wales in 1906 which pin-pointed the cause of several disturbances in the mining indusry there on a mild form of gastro-enteritis which was being passed around the mine-workers communities.
Alongside this growth in concern for hygeine was a popularisation for general fitness and what was to become “the body beautiful”. The Olympic Games had begun in 1896 and sport of all kinds was on the increase in all sections of society, although it must be said that the working classes were not very good at many sports, apart from perhaps football, boxing, and a simple form of ping-pong using a pigs bladder filled with nutty slack. Gymnastics were particularly popular since this sport seemed to best typify the belief that a healthy body meant a healthy mind.
Rambling was also very popular and even working class people could indulge in this sport on their days off. However, in 1930’s Britain rambling became a political issue as working class ramblers demanded that they be able to ramble all over the countryside even though the land was sectioned off into large estates. “Rambling Mobs”, as they became known, walked over much of the private land of the north of Britain, tearing up fences as they went and, according to The Times, “intimidating deer”. It is a well-known fact that deer in Britain are responsible for much woodland devastation, especially of hazel coppice, and in the present day have reached numbers far in excess of any previous time in history, including the time when they were commercially farmed, but why the ramblers “intimidated deer” back then is something of a mystery.
In Italy, the dictator, Benito Mussolini, foresaw the problems that working class walkers might pose to the stability of his regime, and, in 1926, passed a series of laws that prevented people walking for pleasure outside of town or city boundaries. He sponsored the creation of a nationwide network of walking clubs which were responsible for protecting the countryside and were the only organisations permitted to lead people through rural areas. The emphasis of these clubs was not walking for pleasure or to see the countryside, but to increase fitness, so, instead of rambling, these expeditions were actually forced marches in which each walker, regardless of strength, build or stamina was required to wear a backpack filled with bricks to the weight of 16 kilogrammes. In Germany there was no need for such action since walking for pleasure had been illegal since the Middle Ages and was perceived by now as merely a fitness exercise anyway. People who did venture out into the countryside to keep fit generally wore blinkers on their eyes to avoid staring at the land and kept themselves occupied by singing patriotic songs. By the 1920’s, of course, this had become a popular sport. One of the most famous institutions of the Weimar years, the Bauhaus college of architecture, arts and crafts, arranged long hikes for its students to maintain their fitness, and had regular gymnastic and fitness classes that bear a striking resemblance to initiatives taken by modern Japanese managers to keep their workers fit and alert.
In the 1920’s, in Germany especially, there was a concurrent rise in the popularity of nudism, and the nudists wanted to display their well-balanced and strong bodies to the world. The new architecture was also heavily influenced by principles of human nudism. The Swiss architect Le Corbussier, who had changed his name from Charles-Edouard Jeaneret in 1909, after an embarrassing scandal at a Hamburg fish restaurant, made great use of nudism in his work. In his 1923 book Vers une Architecture, Corbussier attacks any decoration in architecture and stipulates that plain surfaces are fundamental to modern building. He aimed to translate the nudist experience of lightness of being, personal space and free time into architectural forms. Other architects took up Corbussier’s challenge and worked in the Corbussier style. Ernst May’s housing developments even seemed to encourage nudism in their occupiers. When the ageing French sculptor, Aristide Maillol, was shown round one of May’s developments in Frankfurt, by the “Red Count” Harry Kessler, in 1930, he was overwhelmed by the “humanity” of the architecture and the “unabashed nudity” of the residents. Thousands of nudists, in fact, regularly marched in close formation through urban centres all over Germany in the Weimar period, and this cult of the body slipped seemlessly into the Nazi ideology, where idealised depictions of strong, simple and cleverly erotic nude peasants became a minor art movement in itself.
The European Left had, by the end of the 1920’s, claimed the whole ethos of hygeine, cleanliness and fitness as its own. However, this phenomenon was (until the Nazi’s) largely sexless. This was a deliberate measure by the State in Germany and Russia. Both these countries had witnessed a revolution in which the more radical elements had urged a complete sexual revolution. The most well attended meetings in post-1917 Russia were the ones that dealt with sexual freedom and equality of the sexes, until Lenin himself ordered that this sort of thing should no longer be discussed and instead the values of hygeine, hard work and sacrifice should be promoted. In the “November Revolution” of 1918 in Germany, Munich-based writer, cabaret performer and anarchist, Erich Muhsam, called for “a republic based on councils combined with a sexual revolution”. Government Socialists saw in the ethos of hygeine a way of combatting the breakdown of capitalist society that they thought lay at the heart of any kind of sexual revolution. The human body was to be clean, strong, upright and unwavering in its duty to society, a new world, they argued, by which they also meant a new, industrial, super-productive workforce, had to be built.
The Situation of European Jews
Anti-Semitism is one of the bedrocks of the Christian faith. Judaism has always presented a challenge and a problem for Christianity. It was an offshoot of Judaism which, at its very inception, tried to take over the old religion and convert all its members to the new one. However, it has never succeeded in destroying Judaism, a fact which has remained lodged in the side of the Church “like a pustulating wound”, as Benny Scott, the biographer of Sir Walter Raleigh, has put it. The ever-expanding tendency of Christianity, through missionary (i.e. colonial) work and conversion (usually forcible) was one of the reasons it became so attractive to the late Roman Empire. This Empire found itself slowly flagging in its control of Europe but Christianity provided a clever way in which to continue as the real powerbroker of European politics and wealth: it transformed itself into The Holy Roman Empire. This ideologically supreme power soon enabled the Christian Church to become the single most important landowner in Europe.
Despite eclipsing Judaism in all respects the Christian Church still held onto its vendetta towards it, and even intensified the attack. Jews could be held responsible for a whole host of misfortunes that ordinary folk might otherwise blame their Christian rulers for. In the early Middle Ages the Popes of Rome decreed that while a heretic might eventually enter the gates of heaven, it would never be possible for a Jew to do likewise. While the Jews may not have actually wanted to enter a Christian heaven, it was easy to see that the Church of Rome threatened them with a Christian hell on earth.
Protestants did nothing to halt the Christian feeling against Jews, in fact, they proved to be even more zealous in their anti-Semitism. The main Protestant reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546), was an enthusiastic Jew-hater, his declarations invoke disgust in most modern readers. He wanted to see them all removed from Christian lands, their homes and synagogues destroyed. Luther was also a champion of flatulence as a way of combatting the Devil.
As the centuries wore on, anti-Semitism remained a bulwark of Christianity and its Enlightened offspring, Rationalism. Rationalist philosophers, such as Voltaire, in attacking the Old Testament, had blamed the Jews for the intolerance and brutality that the Catholic Church had continually inflicted upon Europe. (The Old Testament was written sometime in the two centuries before the birth of “Christ”, and is therefore a Jewish text. The God described in the Old Testament, and which the Catholic Church tried to emulate, was a cruel, volatile, possessive and touchy god with hair that he couldn’t control.) This secular anti-Semitism was taken up by the young Hegelians, people such as Ludwig Feuerbach and Friedrich Daumer. Capitalism became synonymous with Judaism because socialists propagandised Jews as controllers of the money system. The Russian anarchist, Bakunin, freely proclaimed his anti-Semitism, and Karl Marx made use of popular anti-Semitic epithets when discussing or attacking rival socialists who happened to have Jewish origins, such as Ferdinand Lassalle. It was only when the major ideologues of German Socialism saw that racial anti-Semitism was a powerful tool of their enemies on the Right that they began to oppose it. But by then much of the damage had been done.
By the end of the First World War in Germany anti-Semitism had become the preserve of big business. In 1917, The Fatherland Party boasted such corporate members as Siemens and Krupp. This was an extremely anti-Semitic party that took most of its ideas from the previous century’s, United Association of Anti-Semitic Parties which in 1899 argued for a “final solution” to the Jewish “problem”. The Fatherland Party stated that “since the Jewish problem will reach world proportions in the course of the twentieth century it will have to be solved in the end by the complete exclusion and…..finally annihilation of the Jewish people”.
Contrary to the way the “final solution” of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party), is generally taught in Western schools, that is, as a kind of aberration in history, or a period when “the madmen” took control, we can clearly see that it was the actions of the leaders of society, the capitalist class, and the philosophies of Christianity, Protestantism and Rationalism that made the “holocaust” happen. Of course, the main reason big business vociferously supported anti-Semitism was as a way of combatting the revolutionary feeling of the working class across Germany which had made itself apparent at the end of the First Wold War. Businesses like Siemens wanted to equate revolutionism with Judaism and thereby cast it as un-German and unclean, they targetted any left radicals with Jewish names, declared that any radical ideas were the ideas of Jews, and proclaimed this as proof of a Jewish plot to bring down Christianity and order itself.
It was only natural that the new principles of hygeine and fitness (in all senses of the word) would be used by anti-Semites to make their case for so-called “racial” purity. The Jews were cast as an alien race, a foreign body. The Christian-Rationalist Ethic had prepared the ground for a final “ethnic cleansing”.
Rationalism as the Modified Religion
Since 1945 the manipulators of ideology in the West have given the philosophy of Rationalism full official backing because Christianity on its own has proved unable to justify all the actions of States in the last two centuries. Rationalism is, in reality, an offshoot of Christianity, and particularly Protestantism. The two main tenets of Rationalism are that knowledge is acquired through reason without regard to experience and that reason, rather than divine revelation, is the basis for establishing religious faith. Since we can assume that the ruling ideology is the ideology of the ruling class then we can also assume that Reason is defined by those in power, those who have control of ideology. Thus, whereas heretics from Christianity were alleged to be working for the Devil, secular heretics in the modern day are alleged to be unreasonable, extremist, blinkered and mad, i.e., not rational. What both types of heretic share, of course, is their alleged susceptibility to taking on board “wrong” ideas or falling under the spell of “evil” people.
The Body as the Modified Temple
One thing that post-1945 Western society has continued with zeal from the pre-war period is the cult of sport, fitness and health. Now, at the end of the century we see this cult having reached gigantic proportions, and so it can be said that one major bulwark of Nazi culture has survived, and indeed gone global. It could be argued that much of the reason for this this has to do with the commodification of “leisure” time that has occurred over the last fifty years, but it must not be forgotten that the modern craze for “health, fitness and beauty” has its roots planted firmly in the ideas of “racial purity”.
There is a great drive on the part of nations in the “West” for health of all kinds, information about illness and psychological distress have never been so widely publicised. Related to this are the wider concerns that sections of the ruling class are promoting on environmental issues, or the health of the planet.
Some radical observers are beginning to point out that the needs of the working class collectively are being cleverly sidestepped, or diverted, into a futile search for personal health and well-being, and that people are falling for the “fantasy” that the needs of the planet are more important than their own personal or collective needs. Of course, the needs of the planet are defined by the same class which defines Reason. Environmentalism is a feature of the science of Democracy, which allows ruling classes to create forms of opposition which pose no threat to the status quo and, through the media and other ideological tools (including left wing groups, unions, and most “grass roots” organisations), to convince genuinely concerned people that they are acting for themselves. Anthropometrists have been measuring the comparative body sizes and proportions of “protesters” in the U.S.A. for some years now but have come up with nothing conclusive. Professor Rex Neuwith of Santa Monica has, however, found that environmental activists generally have longer shin-bones than the wider populace. His measurements of workplace activists are to be published in the next year or so, and promise to make interesting reading.
And now, after 89 years, we see the return of the Visible Man, in the guise of the giant human body exhibit to be erected under the Millenuim Dome in Greenwich, London. This body will be so big that people will be able to walk around inside it and see how the body works and what everything looks like. Instead of standing with its arms raised in a gesture of exhultation and hope, as the Visible Man did, this body will be seated on the floor. Part of the reason for this position lies in the fact that it has to fit under the Dome, but an even more important one is that a posture similar to that of the Visible Man would be linked in many people’s eyes with the kind of imagery used by the Nazi’s. Even if the body were to be standing up in a fairly neutral pose it would probably be deemed too aggressive, or even too machine-like, which will be ironic since doubtless many of the functions of the body will be compared to machines. In fact, the current proposal is that the body will be of a silver colour and will be a representation of a “mother figure”. In one sense it is the perfect partner to the Visible Man, with his lofty, “masculine” vision. What the Millenium Body (which will be called “Britannia”) will do is emphasise the strength of the nation as expressed in its healthy mothers and healthy children. There were many such depictions of motherhood in Nazi Germany. It could be any Western leader, it could easily be Tony Blair, but it was Adolf Hitler who said, “The family is the smallest but most precious unit in the building of a state”.
Whereas the symbolism of the Visible Man was rooted in a vision of the future which was common to many different strands of society, of various political or religious persuasions, the symbolism of the Millenium Body will reflect the sense of satisfaction and lack of fear which the worlds ruling class now feels. Today, we are told, there is nothing new under the sun. The “End of History” has been proclaimed. We can be assured that all powerful nations act with reason and compassion. Hollywood films tell us that as long as the law is properly enforced we will live long and prosper. The relaxed pose of the Millenium Body tells us that we in the West have conquered foolishness. The Visible Man raised his arms to a God or, at least, a higher thing, the Millenium Body sees no higher thing, in fact, it will look, not down on us, but over us, like a giant virtual-reality corpse, animated by computer chips. The Millenium Body is a symbol of the triumph of Rationalism. Christianity has created a Rationalist Millenium. The crisis that has beset Christianity for at least two centuries and which reached its explosion point in the 1930’s has, since 1945, been slowly resolved. Rationalism has become the ideological vehicle for the worlds domination by Christianity. Just as the Holy Roman Empire transcended the Roman Empire, so Rationalism has transcended Christianity, and in both cases Power has been made more powerful. Voltaire and the other Rationalist philosophers, such as Leibniz and Locke, have eclipsed Martin Luther as a Christian Reformer. Like President Bill Clinton, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is a creation of Reason. And our Rationalist society (i.e., that of the West - U.S.A., Europe, Australia, etc.) is only one clever step on from the Christian-Rationalist society that the National Socialist German Workers Party felt destined to create.
PROLETARIAN GOB - AFTERWORD
Proletarian Gob is not publishing Andrew Pflaeger’s extensive footnotes or bibliography for reasons of space, the text stands well enough on its own, despite its many shortcomings, we believe.
Proletarian Gob must emphasise that by printing this academic work (for which we had the full permission of the author) we can in no way be held responsible for any of the views expressed in it. We are printing it merely because we think it makes some interesting points and may provide some food for thought. We do not think it necessary to make a critique of the text here, or expand on any issues raised or rebuff any of the stupidities in it. We should, however, state that we heartily condemn the science of anthropometry, which is utterly despicable and false in all aspects.
Finally, it should be made clear that Proletarian Gob has no wish to enter into any kind of correspondence concerning the above article, or any related matters, and any letters sent with this intention to the address given will be burned. Further copies of the text will be supplied, however, on receipt of a self-addressed envelope and the appropriate stamps or donation.
Some readers may have noticed that the spelling of the word “millennium” in this pamphlet differs from the accepted modern British standard spelling. We have used the pre-Caxton spelling. The English printer William Caxton, who was the foremost standardiser of language in the British Isles, changed the spelling that had remained basically the same for two centuries, ever since the radical Windsor Forest astronomer, John Food, initially coined the word in 1262. Food was also a mathematician and contortionist who was able to demonstrate the validity of logarithmic formulations by the use of two horses and the egg of a common hen. For this he was hounded out of England by the Church. He was eventually imprisoned in Turin for non-payment of a road toll and spent over thirty years in gaol. When Food was released he was old and his body was bent, but his spirit was undimmed, at the gates of the prison he turned round to his gaolers and, in a croaking voice, proclaimed, “Thirty-two years! Pathetic! I could spend another thirty-two years in there and it would be like the blinking of an eye! I mock prison life and all it represents…..” Unfortunately a local magistrate overheard Food’s words of contempt and had him re-committed to prison, which is where he died, eleven years later. And so it is in honour of John Food that we use his spelling of the word “millenium”.
PROLETARIAN GOB. MAY 1998.

THE CORPSE OF THE MILLENIUM, Proletarian Gob

PROLETARIAN GOB is anti-capitalist, anti-state and anti-authoritarian. PROLETARIAN GOB is for the creation of a worldwide, free human community, which can only be achieved by the conscious actions of a revolutionary proletariat acting for itself and not at the direction of some ‘Revolutionary Party’.

Only when the working class is completely out of control will we be able to take control of our own lives

~~~~~~

People in the “Western World” live in a society culturally dominated by ideas of hygeine, sport, health and what passes these days for beauty. This was the central aim of the German National Socialist Workers Party (the Nazi’s). To build a society fit for work and fit for the promotion of a nation - that is, stupid. Across the decades the figures of Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Nelson Mandela, Lorraine Kelly and Mr. Motivator are shaking hands with good old Adolf Hitler.

Christian heretics a few hundred years ago might have envisaged this millenium as a time when priests, lawyers, bailiffs, nobility and the rich would finally get their throats cut. But Christianity has done a shifty side-step, it has become Rational and it has made sure everyone else has too. In this idiot world reasonableness is the new motto, democracy marks the parameters of the game we are allowed to play, and foolishness has been conquered.

~~~~~~

In this special issue of P.G. we are printing a text published last year in The Journal for Social and Institutional Historicism, Volume 5, Number 11, Michigan, U.S.A., September 1997. It is written by Professor Andrew Pflaeger of Michigan State University. Pflaeger teaches anthropometry, which is the study of the comparative dimensions of the human body. This discipline is long past its hey-day and has suffered some serious setbacks in recent years, most notable of which was the case of the Brazilian academic Dr. Antonio Vargas, who, with his team of scientists from the University of Sao Paulo, managed to mis-measure a whole Amazonian-basin tribe. They failed to realise their mistake until after their findings had been published, but by then the government had already acted and the whole tribe had been forcibly removed to a shanty town outside Refice. There was an international outcry on the matter and many academic institutions closed down their anthropometry departments and called for the banning of anthropometry as a scientific discipline. Education administrators in the U.S.A. took a more cautious line and today it is only in the U.S.A. that any significant research into anthropometry is undertaken.

In the text below Andrew Pflaeger has tried to situate twentieth century anthropometry in its social, political and historical context, but it is his concern with the Christian-Rational- Intellectual crisis which has been significantly resolved as we head into the third Christian Millenium that interests us most here.

~~~~~

THE HUMAN BODY AND CHRISTIAN-RATIONALISM IN THE PRE-THIRD MILLENIUM ERA.

FROM DARWIN TO THE GREENWICH DOME.

In this paper I want to show how the cult of the human body emerged in the industrialised nations and how ideas of hygeine and fitness became one of the main tools of the Christian-Rationalist ethic. I will also briefly discuss what may be called the “Rationalist Reformation”.

Darwinism

Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was studying naturism at Cambridge University when his friend Professor J. Henslow obtained a post for him on the scientific survey ship, H.M.S. Beagle, as Chief Naturist. The whole ship, in fact, was to be run on strict rules of nudity for the duration of its five year exploration of the world and Darwin was profoundly affected by the experience. Darwin, who had always been obsessed by the human body, meticulously detailed all the different bodies he came across in his travels. He also studied carefully the unfamiliar flora and fauna that he saw. He made many sketches and even used a pin-hole camera but unfortunately none of the photographs he took of wildlife came out. He did, however, succeed in taking many excellent photographs of the ships crew, but these were later detroyed by his wife.

Darwin’s long journey around the world confirmed many of his deepest convictions. One of these was the belief that it was only natural in society that the best and ablest people rose to the top and that these people, by breeding amongst themselves, would continue to be in the upper echelons of society down through the generations. They would, in fact, become even more superior to the rest of the population because all their best attributes would be continually enhanced. The rest of humanity would, through their lack of imagination, talent and good health, remain in a subservient position, to be used by those in power. For Darwin, and most members of his economic class, the “common man” was little more than a passably intelligent farm animal. Darwin transferred this theory of “natural selection” to the world of wildlife in general, coming up with his theory of the “survival of the fittest” (i.e., those most suited to their environment).

The nineteenth century saw a great deal of revolt by working people all over Europe and, partly to reassure themselves, the ruling class looked for justifications for their continued rule. It was no accident that Darwin’s theories fitted this need perfectly, like the rest of his peers, Darwin dreaded the thought that the ordinary rabble might one day rise up and take control of society, thereby killing all that was beautiful, reasonable and intelligent in the world.

{short description of image}Darwin believed that humans would eventually evolve into a ball of white light that was able to perform feats of dexterity and strength far in advance of those that humans are presently capable of, also, of course, they would be super-intelligent. This development would not happen, though, if the upper strata of society allowed their heredity to become contaminated too much by ordinary folk. The lower stratas, he believed, were destined to evolve into a rodent-like creature about five feet long, before slowly becoming extinct. Once the lower stratas had lost their usefulness they would probably, he mused, be hunted to extinction for sport. In The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin concentrated not on his theories of the future but rather on the past. In this book he argued that humanity was descended from the ape-family and, as we all know, this shocked many of those who had held with the “Adam and Eve” story from the Christian bible. In fact, in order not to alarm his readers too much Darwin actually toned down his central thesis, for, in truth, he was certain that humanity was descended from the grebe family. He knew that this theory would be too much for the establishments of Europe at that time so, on the advice of a friend, he changed {short description of image}the grebes to apes.

The more perceptive of Darwin’s readers realised that Darwin was not trying to bring Christian civilisation crashing to its knees by examining the origins of life, he was actually trying to help save it from the ignorant mob. His lesson was that the leaders of society must protect themselves from evolving in the wrong way, and thereby failing Gods awesome plan to create a species of perfect beings. Lack of diligence in keeping the breed pure and clean and in control of the worlds resources (which included labour, of course), would be the real attack on God. The champions of Darwin’s message became known as Social Darwinists, and they were part of the whole movement which examined geneology, “racial hygeine” and, of course, eugenics. The word “eugenics” was coined by Sir Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin, during a drinking contest in Balham, South London, in 1883.

A Clean New World

The upper classes of turn of the century Europe were fascinated by the whole concept of hygeine. The medical profession saw the opportunity to increase the general publics awareness of cleanliness and sanitory living conditions as a way of reducing disease and ill health. Moralists used the ideas of hygeine to divide humanity into the “fit” and the “unfit”, taking their heed from Darwin. Architects wanted to do away with the old cramped and dirty streets and living spaces which were a hallmark of the cities of Europe, they wanted to introduce light and openness, clean air and angular lines. Artists too were affected by this desire for a more orderly and uncluttered life. Artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, influenced by the spiritualist medium and hoaxer, Madame Blavatsky, began trying to look at the world in the way they thought God had made it, by using geometric shapes and straight lines. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque expressed a similar religious fervour with cubism.

The medical profession was also making outstanding advances in their knowledge of the human body. In 1898 Doctor Heinz Feldt of Vienna created a world sensation with his discovery of the human liver. By 1910 all the organs, muscles, arteries, veins and bones could be mapped within the human body. This enabled the anatomist Professor Spalteholz, using plastics, to create a see-through human model, known as the “Visible Man”, in which all the interior parts of the body were visible. The arms of this model were raised up in what looks like an exhultation of fitness, hope, and a belief in higher things. The Visible Man first made its appearance at the opening of the International Hygeine Exhibition in Dresden in 1911. Eventually a national Museum of Hygeine was built in Germany, in which the Visible Man was the star exhibit. During the Weimar period this proved to be Germany’s most popular museum, and under Hitler, from 1933, it became a compulsory school trip for children from all over the country.

Hygeine exhibitions had begun in Britain before the end of the century before being taken up by Germany. Their purpose was to educate the public and make money for the entrepreneurs who ran them. The public were interested in anything that might reduce the risk of disease, {short description of image}and also there was a morbid fascination for the depictions on display of disease-ridden bodies and the explanations of how diseases worked. The exhibitions also had displays on ethnology and, using the science of anthropometry, they showed how different people around the world were prone to different diseases and how levels of squalor in their living conditions exacerbated their general ill health. However, it was a German mouthwash manufacturer, Herr Lingner (he never forgave his parents for giving him the name “mister”), who really began to revolutionise the whole hygeine question, it was he, for example, who promoted the Visible Man.

Lingner called his programme for the teaching of principles of hygeine amongst the masses “Social Hygeine”. In a precursor to ideas of the Welfare State he believed that the nation’s health was a form of capital (i.e., labour) which could be increased it if was looked after properly. Furthermore, Lingner believed that unsanitory living conditions helped ferment discontent amongst the populace. This was borne out by a study in South Wales in 1906 which pin-pointed the cause of several disturbances in the mining indusry there on a mild form of gastro-enteritis which was being passed around the mine-workers communities.

Alongside this growth in concern for hygeine was a popularisation for general fitness and what was to become “the body beautiful”. The Olympic Games had begun in 1896 and sport of all kinds was on the increase in all sections of society, although it must be said that the working classes were not very good at many sports, apart from perhaps football, boxing, and a simple form of ping-pong using a pigs bladder filled with nutty slack. Gymnastics were particularly popular since this sport seemed to best typify the belief that a healthy body meant a healthy mind.

Rambling was also very popular and even working class people could indulge in this sport on their days off. However, in 1930’s Britain rambling became a political issue as working class ramblers demanded that they be able to ramble all over the countryside even though the land was sectioned off into large estates. “Rambling Mobs”, as they became known, walked over much of the private land of the north of Britain, tearing up fences as they went and, according to The Times, “intimidating deer”. It is a well-known fact that deer in Britain are responsible for much woodland devastation, especially of hazel coppice, and in the present day have reached numbers far in excess of any previous time in history, including the time when they were commercially farmed, but why the ramblers “intimidated deer” back then is something of a mystery.

In Italy, the dictator, Benito Mussolini, foresaw the problems that working class walkers might pose to the stability of his regime, and, in 1926, passed a series of laws that prevented people walking for pleasure outside of town or city boundaries. He sponsored the creation of a nationwide network of walking clubs which were responsible for protecting the countryside and were the only organisations permitted to lead people through rural areas. The emphasis of these clubs was not walking for pleasure or to see the countryside, but to increase fitness, so, instead of rambling, these expeditions were actually forced marches in which each walker, regardless of strength, build or stamina was required to wear a backpack filled with bricks to the weight of 16 kilogrammes. In Germany there was no need for such action since walking for pleasure had been illegal since the Middle Ages and was perceived by now as merely a fitness exercise anyway. People who did venture out into the countryside to keep fit generally wore blinkers on their eyes to avoid staring at the land and kept themselves occupied by singing patriotic songs. By the 1920’s, of course, this had become a popular sport. One of the most famous institutions of the Weimar years, the Bauhaus college of architecture, arts and crafts, arranged long hikes for its students to maintain their fitness, and had regular gymnastic and fitness classes that bear a striking resemblance to initiatives taken by modern Japanese managers to keep their workers fit and alert.

In the 1920’s, in Germany especially, there was a concurrent rise in the popularity of nudism, {short description of image}and the nudists wanted to display their well-balanced and strong bodies to the world. The new architecture was also heavily influenced by principles of human nudism. The Swiss architect Le Corbussier, who had changed his name from Charles-Edouard Jeaneret in 1909, after an embarrassing scandal at a Hamburg fish restaurant, made great use of nudism in his work. In his 1923 book Vers une Architecture, Corbussier attacks any decoration in architecture and stipulates that plain surfaces are fundamental to modern building. He aimed to translate the nudist experience of lightness of being, personal space and free time into architectural forms. Other architects took up Corbussier’s challenge and worked in the Corbussier style. Ernst May’s housing developments even seemed to encourage nudism in their occupiers. When the ageing French sculptor, Aristide Maillol, was shown round one of May’s developments in Frankfurt, by the “Red Count” Harry Kessler, in 1930, he was overwhelmed by the “humanity” of the architecture and the “unabashed nudity” of the residents. Thousands of nudists, in fact, regularly marched in close formation through urban centres all over Germany in the Weimar period, and this cult of the body slipped seemlessly into the Nazi ideology, where idealised depictions of strong, simple and cleverly erotic nude peasants became a minor art movement in itself.

The European Left had, by the end of the 1920’s, claimed the whole ethos of hygeine, cleanliness and fitness as its own. However, this phenomenon was (until the Nazi’s) largely sexless. This was a deliberate measure by the State in Germany and Russia. Both these countries had witnessed a revolution in which the more radical elements had urged a complete sexual revolution. The most well attended meetings in post-1917 Russia were the ones that dealt with sexual freedom and equality of the sexes, until Lenin himself ordered that this sort of thing should no longer be discussed and instead the values of hygeine, hard work and sacrifice should be promoted. In the “November Revolution” of 1918 in Germany, Munich-based writer, cabaret performer and anarchist, Erich Muhsam, called for “a republic based on councils combined with a sexual revolution”. Government Socialists saw in the ethos of hygeine a way of combatting the breakdown of capitalist society that they thought lay at the heart of any kind of sexual revolution. The human body was to be clean, strong, upright and unwavering in its duty to society, a new world, they argued, by which they also meant a new, industrial, super-productive workforce, had to be built.

The Situation of European Jews

Anti-Semitism is one of the bedrocks of the Christian faith. Judaism has always presented a challenge and a problem for Christianity. It was an offshoot of Judaism which, at its very inception, tried to take over the old religion and convert all its members to the new one. However, it has never succeeded in destroying Judaism, a fact which has remained lodged in the side of the Church “like a pustulating wound”, as Benny Scott, the biographer of Sir Walter Raleigh, has put it. The ever-expanding tendency of Christianity, through missionary (i.e. colonial) work and conversion (usually forcible) was one of the reasons it became so attractive to the late Roman Empire. This Empire found itself slowly flagging in its control of Europe but Christianity provided a clever way in which to continue as the real powerbroker of European politics and wealth: it transformed itself into The Holy Roman Empire. This ideologically supreme power soon enabled the Christian Church to become the single most important landowner in Europe.

Despite eclipsing Judaism in all respects the Christian Church still held onto its vendetta towards it, and even intensified the attack. Jews could be held responsible for a whole host of misfortunes that ordinary folk might otherwise blame their Christian rulers for. In the early Middle Ages the Popes of Rome decreed that while a heretic might eventually enter the gates of heaven, it would never be possible for a Jew to do likewise. While the Jews may not have actually wanted to enter a Christian heaven, it was easy to see that the Church of Rome threatened them with a Christian hell on earth.

Protestants did nothing to halt the Christian feeling against Jews, in fact, they proved to be even more zealous in their anti-Semitism. The main Protestant reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546), was an enthusiastic Jew-hater, his declarations invoke disgust in most modern readers. He wanted to see them all removed from Christian lands, their homes and synagogues destroyed. Luther was also a champion of flatulence as a way of combatting the Devil.

As the centuries wore on, anti-Semitism remained a bulwark of Christianity and its Enlightened offspring, Rationalism. Rationalist philosophers, such as Voltaire, in attacking the Old Testament, had blamed the Jews for the intolerance and brutality that the Catholic Church had continually inflicted upon Europe. (The Old Testament was written sometime in the two centuries before the birth of “Christ”, and is therefore a Jewish text. The God described in the Old Testament, and which the Catholic Church tried to emulate, was a cruel, volatile, possessive and touchy god with hair that he couldn’t control.) This secular anti-Semitism was taken up by the young Hegelians, people such as Ludwig Feuerbach and Friedrich Daumer. Capitalism became synonymous with Judaism because socialists propagandised Jews as controllers of the money system. The Russian anarchist, Bakunin, freely proclaimed his anti-Semitism, and Karl Marx made use of popular anti-Semitic epithets when discussing or attacking rival socialists who happened to have Jewish origins, such as Ferdinand Lassalle. It was only when the major ideologues of German Socialism saw that racial anti-Semitism was a powerful tool of their enemies on the Right that they began to oppose it. But by then much of the damage had been done.

By the end of the First World War in Germany anti-Semitism had become the preserve of big business. In 1917, The Fatherland Party boasted such corporate members as Siemens and Krupp. This was an extremely anti-Semitic party that took most of its ideas from the previous century’s, United Association of Anti-Semitic Parties which in 1899 argued for a “final solution” to the Jewish “problem”. The Fatherland Party stated that “since the Jewish problem will reach world proportions in the course of the twentieth century it will have to be solved in the end by the complete exclusion and…..finally annihilation of the Jewish people”.

Contrary to the way the “final solution” of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party), is generally taught in Western schools, that is, as a kind of aberration in history, or a period when “the madmen” took control, we can clearly see that it was the actions of the leaders of society, the capitalist class, and the philosophies of Christianity, Protestantism and Rationalism that made the “holocaust” happen. Of course, the main reason big business vociferously supported anti-Semitism was as a way of combatting the revolutionary feeling of the working class across Germany which had made itself apparent at the end of the First Wold War. Businesses like Siemens wanted to equate revolutionism with Judaism and thereby cast it as un-German and unclean, they targetted any left radicals with Jewish names, declared that any radical ideas were the ideas of Jews, and proclaimed this as proof of a Jewish plot to bring down Christianity and order itself.

It was only natural that the new principles of hygeine and fitness (in all senses of the word) would be used by anti-Semites to make their case for so-called “racial” purity. The Jews were cast as an alien race, a foreign body. The Christian-Rationalist Ethic had prepared the ground for a final “ethnic cleansing”.

Rationalism as the Modified Religion

Since 1945 the manipulators of ideology in the West have given the philosophy of Rationalism full official backing because Christianity on its own has proved unable to justify all the actions of States in the last two centuries. Rationalism is, in reality, an offshoot of Christianity, and particularly Protestantism. The two main tenets of Rationalism are that knowledge is acquired through reason without regard to experience and that reason, rather than divine revelation, is the basis for establishing religious faith. Since we can assume that the ruling ideology is the ideology of the ruling class then we can also assume that Reason is defined by those in power, those who have control of ideology. Thus, whereas heretics from Christianity were alleged to be working for the Devil, secular heretics in the modern day are alleged to be unreasonable, extremist, blinkered and mad, i.e., not rational. What both types of heretic share, of course, is their alleged susceptibility to taking on board “wrong” ideas or falling under the spell of “evil” people.

The Body as the Modified Temple

One thing that post-1945 Western society has continued with zeal from the pre-war period is the cult of sport, fitness and health. Now, at the end of the century we see this cult having reached gigantic proportions, and so it can be said that one major bulwark of Nazi culture has survived, and indeed gone global. It could be argued that much of the reason for this this has to do with the commodification of “leisure” time that has occurred over the last fifty years, but it must not be forgotten that the modern craze for “health, fitness and beauty” has its roots planted firmly in the ideas of “racial purity”.

There is a great drive on the part of nations in the “West” for health of all kinds, information about illness and psychological distress have never been so widely publicised. Related to this are the wider concerns that sections of the ruling class are promoting on environmental issues, or the health of the planet.

Some radical observers are beginning to point out that the needs of the working class collectively are being cleverly sidestepped, or diverted, into a futile search for personal health and well-being, and that people are falling for the “fantasy” that the needs of the planet are more important than their own personal or collective needs. Of course, the needs of the planet are defined by the same class which defines Reason. Environmentalism is a feature of the science of Democracy, which allows ruling classes to create forms of opposition which pose no threat to the status quo and, through the media and other ideological tools (including left wing groups, unions, and most “grass roots” organisations), to convince genuinely concerned people that they are acting for themselves. Anthropometrists have been measuring the comparative body sizes and proportions of “protesters” in the U.S.A. for some years now but have come up with nothing conclusive. Professor Rex Neuwith of Santa Monica has, however, found that environmental activists generally have longer shin-bones than the wider populace. His measurements of workplace activists are to be published in the next year or so, and promise to make interesting reading.

And now, after 89 years, we see the return of the Visible Man, in the guise of the giant human body exhibit to be erected under the Millenuim Dome in Greenwich, London. This body will be so big that people will be able to walk around inside it and see how the body works and what everything looks like. Instead of standing with its arms raised in a gesture of exhultation and hope, as the Visible Man did, this body will be seated on the floor. Part of the reason for this position lies in the fact that it has to fit under the Dome, but an even more important one is that a posture similar to that of the Visible Man would be linked in many people’s eyes with the kind of imagery used by the Nazi’s. Even if the body were to be standing up in a fairly neutral pose it would probably be deemed too aggressive, or even too machine-like, which will be ironic since doubtless many of the functions of the body will be compared to machines. In fact, the current proposal is that the body will be of a silver colour and will be a representation of a “mother figure”. In one sense it is the perfect partner to the Visible Man, with his lofty, “masculine” vision. What the Millenium Body (which will be called “Britannia”) will do is emphasise the strength of the nation as expressed in its healthy mothers and healthy children. There were many such depictions of motherhood in Nazi Germany. It could be any Western leader, it could easily be Tony Blair, but it was Adolf Hitler who said, “The family is the smallest but most precious unit in the building of a state”.

Whereas the symbolism of the Visible Man was rooted in a vision of the future which was common to many different strands of society, of various political or religious persuasions, the symbolism of the Millenium Body will reflect the sense of satisfaction and lack of fear which the worlds ruling class now feels. Today, we are told, there is nothing new under the sun. The “End of History” has been proclaimed. We can be assured that all powerful nations act with reason and compassion. Hollywood films tell us that as long as the law is properly enforced we will live long and prosper. The relaxed pose of the Millenium Body tells us that we in the West have conquered foolishness. The Visible Man raised his arms to a God or, at least, a higher thing, the Millenium Body sees no higher thing, in fact, it will look, not down on us, but over us, like a giant virtual-reality corpse, animated by computer chips. The Millenium Body is a symbol of the triumph of Rationalism. Christianity has created a Rationalist Millenium. The crisis that has beset Christianity for at least two centuries and which reached its explosion point in the 1930’s has, since 1945, been slowly resolved. Rationalism has become the ideological vehicle for the worlds domination by Christianity. Just as the Holy Roman Empire transcended the Roman Empire, so Rationalism has transcended Christianity, and in both cases Power has been made more powerful. Voltaire and the other Rationalist philosophers, such as Leibniz and Locke, have eclipsed Martin Luther as a Christian Reformer. Like President Bill Clinton, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is a creation of Reason. And our Rationalist society (i.e., that of the West - U.S.A., Europe, Australia, etc.) is only one clever step on from the Christian-Rationalist society that the National Socialist German Workers Party felt destined to create.

PROLETARIAN GOB - AFTERWORD

Proletarian Gob is not publishing Andrew Pflaeger’s extensive footnotes or bibliography for reasons of space, the text stands well enough on its own, despite its many shortcomings, we believe.

Proletarian Gob must emphasise that by printing this academic work (for which we had the full permission of the author) we can in no way be held responsible for any of the views expressed in it. We are printing it merely because we think it makes some interesting points and may provide some food for thought. We do not think it necessary to make a critique of the text here, or expand on any issues raised or rebuff any of the stupidities in it. We should, however, state that we heartily condemn the science of anthropometry, which is utterly despicable and false in all aspects.

Finally, it should be made clear that Proletarian Gob has no wish to enter into any kind of correspondence concerning the above article, or any related matters, and any letters sent with this intention to the address given will be burned. Further copies of the text will be supplied, however, on receipt of a self-addressed envelope and the appropriate stamps or donation.

Some readers may have noticed that the spelling of the word “millennium” in this pamphlet differs from the accepted modern British standard spelling. We have used the pre-Caxton spelling. The English printer William Caxton, who was the foremost standardiser of language in the British Isles, changed the spelling that had remained basically the same for two centuries, ever since the radical Windsor Forest astronomer, John Food, initially coined the word in 1262. Food was also a mathematician and contortionist who was able to demonstrate the validity of logarithmic formulations by the use of two horses and the egg of a common hen. For this he was hounded out of England by the Church. He was eventually imprisoned in Turin for non-payment of a road toll and spent over thirty years in gaol. When Food was released he was old and his body was bent, but his spirit was undimmed, at the gates of the prison he turned round to his gaolers and, in a croaking voice, proclaimed, “Thirty-two years! Pathetic! I could spend another thirty-two years in there and it would be like the blinking of an eye! I mock prison life and all it represents…..” Unfortunately a local magistrate overheard Food’s words of contempt and had him re-committed to prison, which is where he died, eleven years later. And so it is in honour of John Food that we use his spelling of the word “millenium”.

PROLETARIAN GOB. MAY 1998.

In a society where no one could own the means of production, where things were available free for use, no one would be forced to sell their labor to someone else. This would be a society where there was no need to measure the value of things, because value would not be necessary to link separate commodity producers. People would have to make things directly for each other without their having to be bought and sold in between. This could only happen if productive activity was freely chosen and an expression of our lives, not forced on us in exchange for a wage. Making and doing useful things would not separate itself in time and space from the rest of our lives, and then try to take them over. In such a society, there could be no separate economy or government with its own needs, and there would be no need for bosses and police to enforce those needs. Constant conflict would not be necessary to divide and rule the population. Community would be possible everywhere in everyday life, not a defensive shell to retreat into. This perspective has appeared again and again where workers movements have reached a certain point.

This is not about comparing the present to an imaginary classless, moneyless future and finding it lacking. It’s about imagining what it would take to collectively stop living our lives the way we have been up till now. It’s about developing our everyday struggles to the point where we’re in a position to break capitalist social relationships once and for all. We need decisive ideas and elegant actions.
The ending paragrapgh to Prole.info’s awsome text "The Housing Monster"



Karl Marx and the Iroquois, Franklin Rosemont



There are works that come down to us with question-marks blazing like sawed-off shotguns, scattering here and there and everywhere sparks that illuminate our own restless search for answers. Ralegh’s so-called Cynthia cycle, Sade’s120 Days, Fourier’s New Amorous World, Lautremont’s Poesies, Lenin’s notes on Hegel, Randolph Bourne’s essay onThe State Jacque Vaches War letters, Duchamp’s Green Box, the Samuel Greenberg manuscripts: These are only a few of the extraordinary fragments that have, for many of us, exerted a fascination greater than that of all but a very few “finished” works.
Karl Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks -notes for a major study he never lived to write, have something of the same fugitive ambiguity. These extensively annotated excerpts from works of Lewis Henry Morgan and others are a jigsaw puzzle for which we have to reinvent the missing pieces out of our own research and revery and above all, our own revolutionary activity. Typically although the existence of the notebooks has been know since Marx’s death in 1883, they were published integrally for the first time only eighty-nine years later, and then only in a highly priced edition aimed at specialists. A transcription of text exactly as Marx wrote it- the book presents the reader with all the difficulties of Finnegan’s Wake and more, with its curious mixture of English, German, French, Latin and Greek, and a smattering of words and phrases from many non-European languages, from Ojibwa to Sanskrit. Cryptic shorthand abbreviations, incomplete and run-on sentences, interpolated exclamations, erudite allusions to classical mythology, passing references to contemporary world affairs, generous doses of slang and vulgarity; irony and invective: All these the volume possesses aplenty, and they are not the ingredients of smooth reading. This is not a work of which it can be said, simply, that it was “not prepared by the author for publication”; indeed, it is very far from being even a “rough draft?’ Rather it is the raw substance of a work, a private jumble of jottings intended for no other eyes than Marx’s own-the spontaneous record of his “conversations” with the authors he was reading, with other authors whom they quoted, and, finally and especially, with himself. In view of the fact that Marx’s clearest, most refined texts have provoked so many contradictory interpretations, it is perhaps not so strange that his devoted students, seeking the most effective ways to propagate the message of the Master to the masses, have shied away from these hastily written, disturbingly unrefined and amorphous notes.
The neglect of the notebooks for nearly a century is even less surprising when one realizes the degree to which they challenge what has passed for Marxism all these years. In the lamentable excuse for a “socialist” press in the English-speaking world, this last great work from Marx’s pen has been largely ignored. Academic response, by anthropologists and others, has been practically nonexistent, and has never gone beyond Lawrence Krader’s lame assertion, at the end of his informative 85-page Introduction, that the Notebooks’ chief interest is that they indicate “the transition of Marx from the restriction of the abstract generic human being to the empirical study of particular peoples.” It would seem that even America’s most radical anthropologists have failed to come to grips with these troubling texts. The Notebooks are cited only once and in passing in Eleanor Leacock’s Myths of Male Dominance: Collected Articles on Women Cross-culturally. And Stanley Diamond, who Krader thanks for reading his Introduction, makes no reference to them at all in his admirable study, In Search of The Primitive: A critique of Civilization.
The most insightful commentary on these Notebooks has naturally come from writers far outside the mainstream - “Marxist” as well as academic. Historian, antiwar activist and Blake scholar E. P. Thompson, in his splendid polemic,The Poverty of Theory and Other Essay’s, was among the first to point out that “Marx, in his increasing preoccupation in his last years with anthropology, was resuming the projects of his Paris youth.” Raya Dunayevskaya, in her Rosa Luxemburg,Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, is more explicit in her estimate of these “epoch-making Notebooks which rounded out Marx’s life work:’ these “profound writings that…summed up his life’s work and created new openings;’ and which therefore have “created a new vantage-point from which to view Marx’s oeuvre as a totality.” Dunayevskaya, a lifelong revolutionist and a pioneer in the revival of interest in the Hegelian roots of Marxism, argued further that “these Notebooks reveal, at one and the same time, the actual ground that led to the first projection of the possibility of revolution coming first in the underdeveloped countries like Russia; a reconnection and deepening of what was projected in the Grundrisse on the Asiatic mode of production; and a return to that most fundamental relationship of Man/Woman which had first been projected in the 1844 essays”.
The suggestion that the Ethnological Notebooks signify Marx’s return to the “projects of his Paris youth” might turn out to entail more far-‘reaching implications than anyone has yet realized. Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 arc unquestionably the brightest star of that heroic early period, but they should be seen as part of a whole constellation of interrelated activities and aspirations.
One of the first things that strikes us about Marx’s Paris youth is that this period precedes the great splits that later rent the revolutionary workers’ movement into so many warring factions. Marxists of all persuasions even though bitterly hostile to each other, have nonetheless tended to agree that these splits enhanced the proletariat’s organizational efficacy and theoretical clarity, and therefore should be viewed as positive gains for the movement as a whole. But isn’t it just possible -that, in at least some of these splits, something not necessarily horrible or worthless was lost at the same time? In any event, in 1844-45 we find Marx in a veritable euphoria of self-critical exploration and discovery: sorting out influences, puzzlling over a staggering range of problems, and “thinking out loud” in numerous manuscripts never published in his lifetime. In his Paris youth, and for several years thereafter, Karl Marx was no Marxist.
Early in 1845, for example, he and his young friend Engels were enthusiastically preparing an unfortunately-never-realized “Library of the Best Foreign Socialist Authors;’ which was to have included works by Theophile Leclerc and other enrages; as well as by Babeuf and Buonarroti, William Godwin, Fourier, Cabet and Proudhon-that is, representative figures from the entire spectrum of revolutionary thought out-side all sectarianism. They were especially taken with the prodigious work of the most inspired and daring of the utopians, Charles Fourier, who had died in 1837, and for whom they would retain a profound admiration all their lives. Proudhon on the other hand, influenced them not only through his books, but-at least in Marx’s case-personally as well, for he was a good friend in those days, with whom Marx later recalled having had “prolonged discussions” which often lasted “far into the night.”
It is too easily forgotten today that in 1844 Proudhon already enjoyed an international reputation; his What Is Property?(1840) had created an enormous scandal, and no writer was more hated by the French bourgeoisie. Marx, an unknown youth of 26, Still had much to learn from the ebullient journeyman printer who would come to be renowned as the “Father of Anarchism:’ In his first book, The Holy Family (1845), Marx hailed What is Property? as “the first resolute, -ruthless, and at the same time scientific investigation…of the basis of political economy, private property … an advance which revolutionizes political economy and for the first time makes a real science of political economy possible”.
In 1844 we find Engels writing sympathetically of American Shaker communities, which he argued, proved that “communism… is not only possible but has actually already been realized.” The same year he wrote a letter to Marx praising Max Stirner’s new work, The Ego and Its Own, urging that Stirner’s very egoism “can be built upon even as we invert it” and that “what is true in his principles we have to accept”; an article suggesting that the popularity of the German translation of Eugene Sue’s quasi-Gothic romance The Mysteries of Paris, proved that Germany was ripe for communist agitation;, and a letter to the editor defending an “author of several Communist books;’ -Abbe Constant, who, under the name he later adopted - EIiphas Levi-would become the most renowned of French occultists.
Constant was a close friend of pioneer socialist-feminist Flora Tristan, whose Union Ouvriere (Workers’ Union, 1842) was the first work to urge working men and women to form an international union to achieve their emancipation. One of the most fascinating personalities in early French socialism, Tristan was given a place of honor in The Holy Family, zealously defended by Marx from the stupid, sexist gibes of the various counter-revolutionary “Critical Critics” denounced throughout the book.
That Constant became a practicing occultist, and that he and Tristan were for several years closely associated with the mystical socialist and phrenologist Simon Ganneau, “messiah” of a revolutionary cult devoted to the worship of an androgynous divinity, reminds us that Paris in the 1830s and ’40s was the scene of a remark-able reawakening of interest in things occult, and that the milieux of occultists and revolutionists were by no means separated by a Chinese wall. A new interest in alchemy was especially evident, and important works on the subject date from that period, notably the elusive Cyliani’s Hermes devoile (1832)-reprinted in 1915, this became a key source for the Fulcanelli circle, which in turn inspired our own century’s hermetic revival-and Francois Cambriel’s Cours de Philosophie hermetique Ou d’Alchimie, en dir-neuf lecons (1843)
To what extent Marx and/or Engels encountered occultists or their literature is not known, and is certainly not a question that has interested any of their biographers. It cannot be said that the passing references to alchemy and the Philosophers’ Stone in their writings indicate any familiarity with original hermetic sources. We do know, however, that they shared Hegel’s high esteem for the sixteenth century German mystic and heretic Jacob Boehme, saluted by Marx in the Rheinische Zeitung in 1842 as “a great philosopher.” Four years earlier Engels had made a special study of Boehme, finding him “a dark but deep soul”,” very original” and “rich in poetic ideas.” Boehme is cited in The Holy Family and in several other writings of Marx and Engels over the years.
One of the things that may have attracted them to Boehme is the fact that he was very much a dialectical thinker. Dialectic abounds in the work of many mystical authors, not least in treatises on magic, alchemy and other “secret sciences” and it should astonish no one to discover that rebellious young students of Hegel had made surreptitious forays onto this uncharted terrain in their quest for knowledge. This was certainly the case with one of Marx’s close friends, a fellow Young Hegelian, Mikhail Bakunin, who often joined him for those all-night discussions at Proudhon’s. As a young man the future author of God and the State is known to have studied the works of the French mystic, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, “The Unknown Philosopher” and “Lover of Secret things” as well as of the eccentric German romantic philosopher, Franz von Baader, author of a study of the mysterious eighteenth-century Portuguese-Jewish mage, Martinez de Pasqual, who is thought by some to have had a part in the formation of Haitian voodoo (he spent his last years on the island and died in Port-au-Prince in 1774), and whose Traite de la reintegration is one of the most influential occult writings of the last two centuries.
Mention of von Baader, whose romantic philosophy combined an odd Catholic mysticism and equally odd elements of a kind of magic-inspired utopianism that was all his own-interestingly, he was the first writer in German to use the word “proletariat”- highlights the fact that Boehme, Paracelsus, Meister Eckhart. Swedenborg, Saint-Martin and all manner of wayward and mystical thinkers contributed mightily to the centuries-old ferment that finally produced Romanticism, and that Romanticism in turn, especially in its most extreme and heterodox forms, left its indelible mark on the Left Hegelian/Feuerbachian milieu. Wasn’t it under the sign of poetry, after all that Marx came to recognize himself as an enemy of the bourgeois order? Everyone knows the famous thee components” of Marxism: German philosophy, English economics and French socialism. But what about the poets of the world: Aeschylus and Homer and Cervantes. Goethe and Shelley? To miss this fourth component is to miss a lot of Marx (and indeed, a lot of life). A whole critique of post-Marx Marxism could be based on this calamitous “oversight.” 1844, one does well to remember was also a year in which Marx was especially close to Heinrich Heine. Marx himself wrote numerous poems of romantic frenzy (two were published in 1841 under the title “Wild Songs”) and even tried his hand at a play and a bizarre satirical romance Scorpion and Felix. By 1844 he had renounced literary pursuits as such, but no philosopher, no political writer or activist and certainly no economist has ever used metaphorwith such exuberance and flair as the author of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy used throughout his life. To the last. Marx-and to a great extent this is also true of Engels-remained a fervent adept of “poetry’s magic fullness” (to quote one of his early translations of Ovid’s elegies). These ardent youths never ceased to pursue philosophy on their road to revolution, but it was poetry that, as often as not, inspired their daring and confirmed their advances.
***
That Marx, toward the end of his life, was returning to projects that had been dear to his heart in the days of his original and bold grappling with “naturalist anthropology” as a theory of communist revolution, the days in which he was most deeply preoccupied with the philosophical and practical legacy of Hegel and Fourier, the days of his friendship with Proudhon and Bakunin and Heine, is resonant with meanings for today-all the more so since here, too, at the end as at the beginning a crucial motivating impulse seems to have been provided by poetry.
In 1880 the publication of James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Night, and Other Poems - the title-piece of which is often called the most pessimistic poem in the English language-made a powerful impression on the author of Capital. Especially enthusiastic about Thomson’s’ “Attempts at Translations of Heine,” Marx wrote a warm letter to the poet, urging that the poems were “no translations, but a reproduction of the original, such as Heine himself, if master of the English language, would have given” Although Marx’s biographers have maintained an embarrassed silence on the subject, it is really not so difficult to discern how Thomson-this opium-addicted poet of haunting black lyricism, who was not only one of the most aggressive anti-religious agitators in English but also the translator of Leopardi and among the first to write intelligently about Blake—-could have stimulated a revival of the dreams and desires of Marx’s own most Promethean days. And then, just think of it: while his brain is still reeling with visions inspired by a true poet, he plunges into the richest, most provocative work of the most brilliant anthropological thinker of his time. Such chances are the very stuff that revelations are made of!
It was not mere “anthropology,” however, that Marx found so appealing in lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society but rather, as he hints in his notes and as Engels spelled out in his Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State(1884), the merciless critique and condemnation of capitalist civilization that so well complements that of Charles Fourier.
And yet these Ethnological Notebooks are much more than a compilation of new data confirming already existing criticism. It must be said, in this regard, that The Origin of the Family, which Engels says he wrote as “the fullfillment of a bequest’-’ Marx having died before he was able to prepare his own presentation of Morgan’s researches-is, as Engels himself readily admitted, “but a meager substitute” for the work Marx’s notes suggest. Several generations of Marxists have mistaken The Origin of the Family for the definitive word on the subject, but in fact it reflects Engels’ reading of Morgan (and other authors) far more than it reflects Marx’s notes. Engels’ sweeping notion of “the “world-historic defeat of the female sex,” for example, was borrowed from the writings of J.J Bachofen, and is not well supported by Marx’s notes, while several important comments that Marx did make were not included in Engels’ little book.
Clearly intending The Origin of the family to be nothing more than a popular socialist digest of the major themes ofAncient Society - Morgan’s famous systems of consanguinity, his extensive data on “communism in living,” the evolution of property and the State - Engels emphasized Morgan’s broad agreement with Marx and ignored everything in Morgan and in Marx that lay outside this modest plan. That Engels did not write the book that Marx might have written is not really such shocking news, and any blame for possible damage done would seem to rest not with Engels but with all those who, since 1884, devoutly assumed that Engels’ book said all that Marx had to say and therefore all that had to be said. Of course, had Marx’s followers taken to heart his own favorite watchword, De omnibus dubitandum (doubt every-thing) the history of Marxism would have been rather different and probably much happier And as the blues-singer sang, “If a frog had wings…
The Notebooks include excerpts from, and Marx’s commentary on, other ethnological writers besides Morgan, but the section on Morgan is the most substantial by far, and of the greatest interest Reading this curious dialogue one can almost see Marx’s mind at work-sharpening, extending, challenging and now and then correcting Morgan’s interpretations, bringing out dialectical moments latent in Ancient Society but not always sufficiently developed, and sometimes wholly undeveloped, by Morgan himself. Marx also seemed to enjoy relating Morgan’s empirical data to the original sources of his (Marx’s) own critique, notably Fourier and (though his name does not figure in these notes) Hegel, generally with the purpose of clarifying some vital current problem. As Marx had said of an earlier unfinished work, the Grundrisse (1857-58), the Ethnological Notebooks contain “some nice developments”.
Some of the most interesting passages by Marx that did not find their ‘way into Engels’ book have to do with the transition from “archaic” to “civilized” society, a key problem for Marx in his last years. Questioning Morgan’s contention that “personal government” prevailed throughout primitive societies, Marx argued that long before the dissolution of the gens (clan), chiefs were “elected” only in theory, the office having become a transmissible on; controlled by a property-owning elite that had begun to emerge within the gens itself. Here Marx was pursuing a critical inquiry into the origins of the distinction between public and private spheres (and, by extension, between “official” and “unofficial” social reality and ideological fiction) that he had begun in his critique of Hegel’s philosophy of law in 1843. The close correlation Marx found between the development of property and the state, on the one hand, and religion, their chief ideological disguise, on the other-which led to his acute observation that religion grew as the gentile commonality shrank-also relates to his early critique of the Rechtphilosophie, in the famous introduction to which Marx’s attack on religion attained an impassioned lucidity worthy of the greatest poets.
The poetic spirit, in fact, makes its presence felt more than once in these Notebooks. Auspiciously, in this compendium of ethnological evidence, Marx duly noted Morgan’s insistence on the historical importance of “imagination, that great faculty so largely contributing to the elevation of mankind,” From cover to cover of these Notebooks we see how Marx’s encounter with “primitive cultures” stimulated his own imagination, and we begin to realize that there is much more here than Engels divulged.
On page after page Marx highlights passages wildly remote from what are usually regarded as the “standard themes” of his work. Thus we find him invoking the bell-shaped houses of the coastal tribes of Venezuela; the manufacture of Iroquois belts “using fine twine made of filaments of elm and basswood bark”’ “the Peruvian legend of Manco Capac and Mama Oello, children of the sun”; burial customs of the Tuscarora; the Shawnee belief in metempsychosis; “unwritten” literature of myth’s, legends and traditions”; the “incipient sciences” of the village Indians of the Southwest; the Popul Vuh, sacred book of the ancient Quiche Maya; the use of porcupine quills in ornamentation; Indian games and “dancing (as a] form of worship.”
Carefully, and for one tribe after another, Marx lists each each the animals from which the various clans claim descent, No work of his is so full of such words as Wolf grizzly bear; opossum and turtle (in the pages on Australian aborigines we find emu, kangaroo and bandicoot). Again and again he copies words and names from tribal languages. Intrigued by the manner in which individual (personal) names indicate the gen, he notes these Sauk names from the Eagle gens: “Ka-po-na (‘Eagle drawing his nest’); Ja-ka-kwa-pe (‘Eagle sitting with his head up’); Pe-a-ta-na-ka-hok (‘Eagle flying over a limb’).” Repeatedly he attends to details so unusual that one cannot help wondering what he was thinking as he wrote them in his notebook Consider, for example, his word-for-word quotation from Morgan telling of a kind of “grace” said before an Indian tribal feast: “It “was a prolonged exclamation by a single person on a high shrill note, falling down in cadences into stillness, followed by a response in chorus by the people." After the meal, he adds, "The evenings [are] devoted to dance?"
Especially voluminous are Marx’s notes on the Iroquois, the confederation of tribes with which Morgan was personally most familiar (in 1846 he was in fact “adopted” by one of its constituent tribes, the Seneca, as a warrior of the Hawk clan), and on which he had written a classic monograph. Clearly Marx shared Morgan’s passional attraction for the “League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee?’ among whom “the state did not exist,” and “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, though never formulated, were cardinal principles,” and whose sachems, moreover, had “none of the marks of a priesthood?’ One of his notes includes Morgan’s description of the formation of the Iroquois Confederation as “a masterpiece of Indian wisdom,” and it doubtless fascinated him to learn that, as far in advance of the revolution as 1755, the Iroquois had recommended to the “forefathers [of the] Americans, a union of the colonies similar so their own.”
Many passages of these Notebooks reflect Marx’s interest in Iroquois democracy as expressed in the Council of the Gens, that “democratic assembly where every adult male and female member had a voice upon all questions brought before it,” and he made special note of details regarding the active participation of women in tribal affairs, The relation of man to woman-a topic of Marx’s 1844 manuscripts-is also one of the recurring themes of his ethnological inquiries. Thus he quotes a letter sent to Morgan by a missionary among the Seneca: “The women were the great power among the clans, as everywhere else. They did not hesitate, when occasion required, ‘to knock off the horns,’ as it was technically called, from the head of a chief, and send him back to the ranks of the warriors. The original nomination of the chief also always rested with them" And a few pages later he highlights Morgan’s contention that the "presentmonogamian family… must…change as society changes…It is the creature of a social system… capable of still further improvement until the equality of the sexes is attained.” He similarly emphasizes Morgan’s conclusion, regarding monogamy, that “it is impossible to predict the nature of its successor?’”
In this area as elsewhere Marx discerned germs of social stratification within the gentile organization, again in terms of the separation of “public” and “private” spheres, which he saw in turn as the reflection of the gradual emergence of a propertied and privileged tribal caste. After copying Morgan’s observation that, in the Council of Chiefs, women were free to express their wishes and opinions "through a" orator of their own choosing?" he added, with emphasis, that the "Decision (was] made by the (all-male) Council” Marx was nonetheless unmistakably impressed by the fact that, among the Iroquois, women enjoyed a freedom and a degree of social involvement far beyond that of the women (or men!) of any civilized nation. The egalitarian tendency of all gentile societies is one of the qualities of these societies that most interested Marx, and his alertness to deviations from it did not lead him to reject Morgan’s basic hypothesis in this regard. Indeed, where Morgan, in his chapter on “The Monogamian Family?” deplored the treatment of women in ancient Greece as an anomalous and enigmatic departure from the egalitarian norm, Marx commented (perhaps here reflecting the influence of Bachofen): “But the relationship between the goddesses on Olympus reveals memories of women’s higher position?”
Marx’s passages from Morgan’s chapters on the Iroquois are proportionally much longer than his of his excerpts fromAncient Society, and in fact make up one of the largest sections of the Notebooks. It was not only Iroquois social organization, however, that appealed to him, but rather a whole way of life sharply counter-posed, all along the line, to modern industrial civilization. His overall admiration for North American Indian societies generally, and for the Iroquois in particular, is made clear throughout the text, perhaps most strongly in his highlighting of Morgan’s reference to their characteristic “sense of independence” and “personal dignity?’ qualities both men appreciated but found greatly diminished as humankind’s “property career” advanced. Whatever reservations Marx may have had regarding the universal applicability of the Iroquois “model” in the analysis of gentile societies, the painstaking care with which he copied out Morgan’s often meticulous descriptions of the various aspects of their culture shows how powerfully these people impressed him. Whole pages of the Notebooks recount, in marvelous detail, Iroquois Council procedures and ceremonies:

at a signal the sachems arose and marched 3 times around the Burning Circle, going as before by the North… Master of the ceremonies again rising to his feet, filled and lighted the pipe of peace from his own fire; drew 3 whiffs, the first toward the Zenith (which meant thanks to the Great Spirit…); the second toward the ground (means thanks to his Mother, the Earth. for the various productions which had ministered to his sustenance); third toward the Sun (means thanks for his never-failing light, ever shining upon all). Then he passed the pipe to the first upon his right toward the North…

This passage goes on in the same vein for some thirty lines, but I think this brief excerpt suffices to show that theEthnological Notebooks are unlike anything else in the Marxian canon.
***
The record of Marx’s vision-quest through Morgan’s Ancient Society offers us a unique and amazing close-up of the final phase of what Raya Dunayevskaya has called Marx’s “never-ending search for new paths to revolution?’ The young Marx of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 summed up revolution as “the supersession of private property.’ His starting-point was the critique of alienated labor which “alienates nature from man, man from himself. . [and man] from the species”-that is, labor dominated by the system of private property, by capital, the “inhuman power" that "rules over everything:’ spreading its "infinite degradation" over the fundamental relation of man to woman and reducing all human beings to commodities. Thus the "supersession of private property" meant for Marx not only the "emancipation of the workers" (which of course involves "the emancipation of humanity as a whole"), but also "the emancipation of all the human qualities and senses" (the senses themselves having become directly, as he expressed it with characteristic humor; "theoreticians in practice"). This "positive abolition of private property, of humanself-alienation" is also, at the same time, "the real appropriation of human nature’ -‘in other words, communism,

the definitive resolution of the antagonism between man and nature, and between man and man. It is the true solution of the conflict between existence and essence, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and species. It is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be this solution.

To such ways of seeing the old Marx seems to have returned as, in his mind’s eye, he took his three whiffs on the pipe of peace around the Iroquois council fire. But it was no self-indulgent nostalgia that led him to trace the perilous path of his youthful dreams and beyond, to the dawn of human society. A revolutionist to the end, Marx in 1880 no less than in 1844 envisioned a radically new society founded on a total transformation in human relationships, and sought new ways, to help bring this new society into being.
Ancient Society, and especially its detailed account of the Iroquois, for the first time gave Marx insights into the concrete possibilities of a free society as it had actually existed in history Morgan’s conception of social and cultural evolution enabled him to pursue the problems he had taken up philosophically in 1844 in a new way, from a different angle, and with new revolutionary implications. Marx’s references, in these notes and elsewhere, to terms and phrases recognizable as Morgan’s, point toward his general acceptance of Morgan’s outline of the evolution of human society. Several times in the non-Morgan sections of the Notebooks, for example, he reproaches other writers for their ignorance of the character of the gens, or of the “Upper Status of Barbarism.” In drafts of a letter written shortly after reading Morgan he specified that “Primitive communities… form a series of social groups which, differing in both type and age, mark successive phases of evolution.”’ But this does not mean that Marx adopted, in all its details, the so-called “unilinear” evolutionary plan usually attributed to Morgan-a plan which, after its uncritical endorsement by Engels in The Origin of the Family, has remained ever since a fixture of “Marxist” orthodoxy. Evidence scattered throughout the Notebooks suggests, rather, that Marx had grown markedly skeptical of fixed categories in attempts at historical reconstruction, and that he continued to affirm the multilinear character of human social development that he had advanced as far back as the Grundrisse in the 1850s.
Indeed, it is amusing, in view of the widespread misapprehension of Morgan as nothing but a mono-maniacal unilinearist, that Marx’s notes highlight various departures from unilinearity in Morgan’s own work. Morgan himself, in fact, more than once acknowledged the “provisional” character of his system, and especially of the “necessarily arbitrary” character of the boundary lines between the developmental stages he proposed; he nonetheless regarded his schemata as “convenient and useful” for comprehending such a large mass of data, and in any case specifically allowed for (and took note of) exceptions.
However, if our reading of Marx’s notes is right, he found things in Ancient Society infinitely more valuable to him than arguments for or against any mere classificatory system. The book’s sheer immensity of new information-new for Marx and for the entire scientific world, demonstrated conclusively the true complexity of “primitive” societies as welt as their grandeur, their essential superiority, in real human terms, to the degraded civilization founded on the fetishism of commodities. In a note written just after his conspectus of Morgan we find Marx arguing that “primitive communities had incomparably greater vitality than the Semitic, Greek, Roman and a fortiori the modern capitalist societies?” Thus Marx had come to realize that, measured according to the “wealth of subjective human sensuality,” as he had expressed it in the 1844 manuscripts, Iroquois society stood much higher than any of the societies “poisoned by the pestilential breath of civilization?’ Even more important, Morgan’s lively account of the Iroquois gave him a vivid awareness of the actuality of indigenous peoples, and perhaps even a glimpse of the then-undreamed of possibility that such peoples could make their own contributions to the global struggle for human emancipation.
***
Hard hit as they had been by the European capitalist invasion and US, capitalism’s west-ward expansion, the Iroquois and other North American tribal cultures could not in the 1880s and cannot now, a hundred years later; be consigned to the museums of antiquity. When Marx was reading Ancient Society the “Indian wars” were still very much a current topic in these United States, and if by that time the military phase of this genocidal campaign was confined to the west, far from Iroquois territory; still the Iroquois, and every surviving tribal society, were engaged (as they are engaged today to one degree or another) in a continuous struggle against the system of private property and the State.
In a multitude of variants, the same basic conditions prevailed in Asia, Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, Russia, Canada, Australia, South America, the West Indies, Polynesia-wherever indigenous peoples had not wholly succumbed to the tyranny of capitalist development. After reading Morgan’s portrayal of primitive communism” at the height of its glory, Marx saw all this in a new light. In the last couple of years of his life, to a far greater degree than ever before, he focused his attention on people of color; the colonialized, peasants and “primitives?”.
That he was not reading Morgan exclusively or even primarily for historical purposes, but rather as part of his ongoing exploration of the processes of revolutionary social change, is suggested by numerous allusions in the Notebooks to contemporary social/political affairs. In the Notebooks, as Raya Dunayevskaya has argued, “Marx’s hostility to capitalism’s colonialism was intensifying…[He] returns to probe the origin of humanity, not for purposes of discovering new origins, but for perceiving new revolutionary forces, their reason, or as Marx called it, in emphasizing a sentence of Morgan, “powers of the mind?”
The vigorous attacks on racism and religion that recur throughout the Notebooks, especially in the often lengthy and sometimes splendidly vituperative notes on Maine and Lubbock, leave no doubt in this regard.
Again and again when these smirking apologists for imperialism direct their condescending ridicule at the “superstitious” beliefs and practices of Australian aborigines or other native peoples, Marx turns it back like a boomerang on the “civilized canaille?” He accepted-at least, he did not contradict-Lubbock’s hypothesis that the earliest human societies were atheist, but had only scorn for Lubbock’s specious reasoning: that the savage mind was not developed enough to recognize the “truths” of religion! No, Marx’s notes suggest, our “primitive” ancestors were atheists because the belief in gods and other priestly abominations entered the world only with the beginnings of class society. Relentlessly, in these notes, he follows the development of religion as an integral part of the repressive apparatus through its various permutations linked to the formation of caste, slavery, patriarchal monogamy and monarchy. The “poor religious element,” he remarks, becomes the main preoccupation of the gens precisely to the degree that real cooperation and common property decline, so that eventually, “only the smell of incense and holy water remains?’ The author of the Ethnological Notebooks made no secret of the fact that he was solidly on the side of the atheistic savages.
After poring over Ancient Society at the end of 1880 and the first weeks of ‘81, a large share of Marx’s reading focused on primitive’ societies and “backward” countries. Apart from the works of John Budd Phear, Henry Sumner Maine and John Lubbock that he excerpted and commented on in the Ethnological Notebooks he read books on India, China and Java, and several on Egypt (two and a half months before his death, in a letter to his daughter Eleanor; Marx denounced the “shameless Christian-hypocritical conquest” of Egypt). After he returned from a brief visit to Algiers in the spring of *82, his son-in-law Paul Lafargue wrote that “Marx has come back with his head full of Africa and Arabs. “When he received a query from the Russian radical Vera Zasulich. asking whether the Russian rural communes could become the basis for a new collective society or whether her homeland would have to pass through a capitalist stage, Marx intensified his already deep study of Russian social and economic history. His remarkable reply to Zasulich offers a measure of Marx’s creative audacity in his last years, and demonstrates too, that his reading of Morgan involved not only a new way of looking at pre-capitalist societies, but also a new way of looking at the latest practical problems lacing the revolutionary movement. Zasulich’s letter to Marx had more than a hint of urgency about it, for, as she explained,

Nowadays, we often hear it said that the rural commune is an archaic form condemned to perish by history, scientific socialism and, in short, everything above debate. Those who preach such a view call themselves your disciples…their strongest argument is often: ‘Marx said so’ But how do you derive that from Capital?’ others object. ‘He does not discuss the agrarian’ question, and says nothing about Russia.’ ‘He would have said as much if he had discussed our country,” your disciples retort…’

Just how seriously Marx pondered the question may be inferred from the tact that he wrote no less than four drafts of a reply in addition to the comparatively brief letter he actually sent - a grand total of some twenty-five book pages. His reply was a stunning blow to the self-assured, dogmatic smugness of the Russian “Marxists” who not only refused to publish the letter but pretended that it did not exist (it was Published for the first time in 1924).
Stressing that the “historical inevitability” of capitalist development as articulated in Capital was “expressly restricted to the countries of Western Europe,” he concluded that

The analysis in Capital therefore provides no reasons-either for or against the vitality of the Russian Commune. But the special study l have mode of it, including a search for original source-material, has convinced me that the commune is the fulcrum for social regeneration in Russia.

The Preface to the second Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto (1882) co-signed by Engels, closed with a somewhat qualified restatement of this new orientation:

Can the Russian obshchina [peasant commune] a form, albeit highly eroded, of the primitive communal ownership of the Land, pass directly into the higher, communist form of communal ownership?… Today there is only one possible answer. If the Russian revolution becomes the signal for proletarian revolution in the West, so that the two complement each other, then Russia’s peasant communal land-ownership may serve as the point departure for a communist development.

The bold suggestion that revolution in an underdeveloped country might precede and precipitate revolution in the industrialized West did not pop up out of Nowhere - every idea has its prehistory - but few, will deny that it contradicts9 uproariously, the overwhelming bulk of Marx’s anterior work It is in fact, a flagrantly “anti-Marxist” heresy, as Marx’s Russian disciples surely were aware. Just six years earlier, in 1875, a Russian Jacobin, Petr Tkachev’, brought down upon himself a good dose of Engel’s ridicule - evidently with Marx’s full approval-for having had the temerity to propose some such nonsense about skipping historically ordained stages, and even the appalling fantasy that peasant-riddled Russia could reach the revolutionary starting-line before the sophisticated proletariat of the West. Such “pure hot air:’ Engels felt obliged to counsel the poor Russian “schoolboy;’ proved only that Thachev had yet “to learn the ABC of Socialism?”
Marx’s growing preoccupation with revolutionary prospects in Russia during the last decade of his life is a subject scrutinized from many angles and with marvelous insight in Teodor Shanin’s Late Marx and the Russian Road, a book of impeccable scholarship that is also a major contribution to the clarification of revolutionary perspectives today. As Shanin and his collaborators have shown, Marx was hostile to Russian Populism in the I860s, but began to change his mind early in the next decade when he taught himself Russian and started reading Populist literature, including works by the movement’s major theorist, N. G. Chernyshevsky, for whom he quickly developed the deepest admiration. By 1880 Marx was a wholehearted supporter of the revolutionary Populist Narodnaya Volyna (People’s Will), even defending its terrorist activities (the group attempted to assassinate the Czar that year, and succeeded the next), while remaining highly critical of the “boring doctrines” of Plekhanov and other would-be Russian “Marxists” whom he -derided as “defenders of capitalism.” Throughout this period Marx read avidly in the field of Russian history and economics; a list he made of his Russian books in August 1881 included nearly 200 titles.
The iconoclastic reply to Zasulich then, was conditioned by many factors, including the formation of a new Russian revolutionary movement, personal meetings with Populists and others from Russia, and Marx’s wide reading of scholarly and popular literature, as well as radical and bourgeois newspapers.
Several provocative coincidences relate Ancient Society to this major shift in Marx’s thought. First, Marx originally borrowed a copy of the book from one of his Russian visitors, Maxim Kovalevsky, who had brought it back from a trip to the U.S. Whether this was the COPY Marx excerpted is not known; Engels did not find the book on Marx’s shelves after his death. But Morgan’s work aroused interest among other Russian revolutionary émigrés as well, for we know that Marx’s longtime friend Petr Lavrov, a First-Internationalist and one of the most important Populists, also owned a copy, which he had purchased at a London bookshop. These are the only two copies of the book known to have existed in Marx’s immediate milieu during his lifetime.’
Second, Marx’s Morgan excerpts include interpolated comments of his own on the Russian commune. The Notebooksalso touch on other themes-most notably the skipping of stages by means of technological diffusion between peoples at different stages of development-that recur in the drafts of the letter to Zasulich.
Third, and more strikingly, Zasulich’s letter to Marx reached him just as he was in the midst of, or had just completed, making these annotated excerpts from Morgan’s work.
Fourth, and most important of all, Marx cited and even quoted-or rather paraphrased-Morgan in a highly significant passage in one of the drafts of his reply to Zasulich:
the rural, commune [in Russia] finds [capitalism in the West] in a State of crisis that will end only when the social system is eliminated through the return of modern societies to the “archaic” type of communal property In the words of an American writer who, supported in his work by the Washington government, is not at all to be suspected of revolutionary tendencies [here Marx refers to the fact that Morgan’s Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity was published by the Smithsonian Institution] “the new system” to which modern society is tending “will be a revival, in a superior form, of an archaic social type.” We should not then, be too frightened by the word archaic.”
Scattered through the drafts of his letter to Zasulich, moreover; are a half dozen other unmistakable allusions to Morgan’s researches.
Thus we have ascertained that Zasulich’s letter arrived at a time when Ancient Society was very much on Marx’s mind. Taken together; the foregoing “coincidences” strongly urge upon us the conclusion that Marx’s reading of Morgan was an active factor in the qualitative leap in his thought on revolution in under-developed countries.***
If America’s “radical intelligentsia” were something more than an academically domesticated sub-subculture of hyper-timid and ultra-respectable seekers of safe at-all cost careers, Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks might have spearheaded, among other things, a revival of interest in Lewis Henry Morgan. But no, the Notebooks have been conveniently ignored and, notwithstanding a few faint glimmers of change in the 1960s, the near-universal contempt for the author of Ancient Society remains in hill force today.
Even so perceptive and sensitive a critic as Raya Dunayevsakaya did not entirely avoid the unfortunate Morgan-bashing that has been a compulsory ritual of American anthropology, and of U.S. intellectual life generally, since the First World War. In her case, of course, she was responding to rather different rituals on the opposite side of the ideological fence: to what one could call the pseudo-Marxists’ pseudo-respect for Morgan. In truth, however; the traditional rhetorical esteem for Morgan on the part of Stalinists and social-democrats is only another form of contempt, for with few exceptions it was not founded on a scrupulous reading of Morgan but an unscrupulous reading of Engels.
Caught in the welter of a politically motivated and therefore all the more highly emotional “debate” between equally careless would-be friends and automatic enemies, Morgan’s writings have been practically lost from sight for decades.
Marx’s enthusiasm for Morgan’s work, discernible on every page of these Notebooks, becomes obvious when one compares the Morgan notes to those on the other ethnological writers whose books Marx excerpted: Sir John Phear, Sir Henry Maine and Sir John Lubbock. The excerpts from Morgan are not only much longer, half again as long as all the others combined-showing how deeply interested Marx was in what Morgan had to say-but also are free of the numerous and sometimes lengthy sarcastic asides sprinkled so liberally throughout the other notes. More-over, while Marx’s disagreements with the others are many and thoroughgoing, his differences with Morgan, as Krader admits are “chiefly over details.” As a longtime “disciple of Hegel:’ Marx disapproved by means of a parenthetical question-mark and exclamation-point-an inexact use of the adjective “absolute.” He further disputed Morgan’s interpretation of a passage from the Iliad, and another by Plutarch, neither of them central to Morgan’s argument. Such differences do not smack of the insurmountable, Earlier I noted a few instances in which Marx’s views diverged from Morgan’s on somewhat larger questions, but even these are as nothing compared to his complete disagreement in principle with Maine and the others. Indeed, at several points where Marx gave the “block-head” and “philistine” Maine and the “civilized ass’, Lubbock a good pounding for their shabby scholar-ship, their Christian hypocrisy, their bourgeois ethno-centrism and racism, their inability to “free themselves of their own conventionalities;’ he specifically cited Morgan as a decisive authority against them.
Accepting Morgan’s data and most of his interpretations as readily as he rejected the inane ideological claptrap of England’s royal ethnologists, with their typically bourgeois mania for finding kings and capital in cultures where such things do not exist’ Marx was no doubt pleased to discover in Ancient Society an arsenal of arguments in support of his own decidedly anti-teleological revolutionary outlook. What matters, of course, is not so much that Marx found Morgan to be, in many respects, a kindred Spirit, or even that he learned from him, but that the things he learned from Morgan were so important to him.
However much his approach to Morgan may have differed from Engels’, Marx certainly agreed with the latter’s contention (in a letter to Karl Kautsky, 26 April 1884), that “Morgan makes it possible for us to look at things from entirely new points of view?” Reading Ancient Society appreciably deepened his knowledge of many crucial questions, and qualitatively transformed his thinking on other. The British socialist M.Hyndman, recalling conversations he had with Marx during late 1880/early 1881, wrote in his memoirs that “when Lewis Morgan proved to Marx’s satisfaction that the gens and not the family was the social unit of the old tribal system and ancient society generally, Marx at once abandoned his previous opinions based upon Niebuhr and others, and accepted Morgan’s view?” Anyone capable of making Karl Marx, at the age of 63, abandon his previous opinions, is worthy of more than passing interest.
It was only after reading Morgan that anthropology, previously peripheral to Marx’s thought, became its vital center. His entire conception of historical development, and particularly of pre-capitalist societies, now gained immeasurably in depth and precision. Above all, his introduction to the Iroquois and other tribal societies sharpened his sense of the living presence of indigenous peoples in the world, and of their possible role in future revolutions.
Reading Morgan, therefore, added far more than a few stray bits and pieces to Marx’s thought-it added a whole new dimension, one that has been suppressed for more than a century and is only beginning to be developed today.
The careful re-evaluation of Morgan’s work-for which Marx’s notes on his magnum opus provide such a stimulus-is surely a long-overdue project for those who are struggling, with the clarity that comes only with despair, for ways out of the manifold impasses to revolution in our time. Too often simply reduced to a one-dimensional determinism and a bourgeois biologism, taken to task ad nauseum for the alleged “rigidity” of his evolutionary system - which he, however, held to be only “Provisional” - Morgan is in fact a complex figure: subtle, far-ranging, many-sided, non-academic, passionately drawn toward poetry (his devotion to Shakespeare was as great as Marx’s), and in many ways more radical than even his relatively few sincere and knowledgeable admirers have been willing to admit.
His sympathetic diary-notes on the Paris Commune, made on his brief sojourn in that city in June lSfl, and his public defense of the Sioux during the anti-Indian “Red Scare” following “Custer’s Last Stand” in 1876-to cite only two expressions of his dissident views on major issues of the day - show that Morgan had little in common with the pedestrian image of the pious Presbyterian and conservative burgher customarily used to characterize him, The strong critical-utopian undercurrent in his work, especially evident in the many remarkable parallels between his thought and Fourier’s, but also in his vehement anti-clericalism and his veneration for heretics such as Jan Hus, has hardly been explored at all.
Let it not be forgotten, finally, that, apart from his epoch-making researches in the field of anthropology, Morgan also left us a wonderful monograph on The American Beaver and His Works (1868), a treatise pronounced “excellent” by Charles Darwin, who cited’ it several times in The Descent of Man, In its last chapter, Morgan bravely developed the notion of a “thinking principle” in animals and came out for animal rights:

Is it to be the prerogative of man to uproot and destroy not only the masses of the animal kingdom numerically, but also the great body of the species? If the human family maintains its present hostile attitude toward [animals], and increases in number: and in civilization at the present ratio. It is plain to be seen that many species of animals must be extirpated from the earth. An arrest of the progress of the human race can alone prevent the dismemberment and destruction of a large portion of the animal kingdom… The present attitude of man toward the (animals] is not such as befits his Superior wisdom. We deny [other species] all rights, and ravage their ranks with wanton and unmerciful cruelty The annual sacrifice of animal life to maintain human life is frightful… when we claim that the bear was made for man food, we forget that man was just as much made to be food for the bear. Morgan hoped that with the development of a friendlier, less prejudiced, more intimate study of the other creatures of this planet, “our relations to them “will appear to us in a different, and in a better light?’

***
In the 1950s and ’60s the revelations of “Early Marx” gave the lie alike to the oppressors of East and West. Early Marx, as millions discovered for themselves was the irreconcilable enemy not only of genocidal, capitalist, “free enterprise” wage-slavery, but also of institutionalized, “official,” bureaucratic state-capitalist “Marxism?” Against all forms of man’s inhumanity to man: Marx’s youthful revolutionary humanism helped inspire a worldwide resurgence of radical thought and action that became known as the “New-left” and gave the bosses and bureaucrats of all countries their biggest scare since the Spanish Revolution of 1936. In an intellectual atmosphere already bright with molotov cock-tails tossed at Russian tanks by young workers in Budapest in 1956, and at U.S. tanks by black youth in Chicago and dozens of other U.S. cities ten years later; Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 brought to the world exactly what revolutionary theory is supposed to bring: more light.
Early Marx was no Marxist, and never even had to pronounce himself on the matter, for Marxism hadn’t been invented yet. Late Marx was no Marxist, either; and said so himself, more than once. Lukewarm liberals and ex-radicals galore have genuflected endlessly on Marx’s jocular disclaimer, in vain attempts to convince themselves and the gullible that the author of The Civil War in France wound up on the side of the faint-hearted. But when Marx declared “I am no Marxist” he was certainly not renouncing his life’s work or his revolutionary passion)’ He was rejecting the reification and caricature of his work by “disciples” who preferred the study of scripture to the study of life, and mistook the quoting of chapter and verse and slogan for revolutionary theory and practice. Unlike these and legions of later “Marxists,” Marx refused to evaluate a constantly changing reality by means of exegeses of his own writings. For him, the study of texts-and he was a voracious reader if ever there was one - was part of a process of self-clarification and self-correction, a testing of his views against the arguments and evidence of others, a broadening of perspectives through an ongoing and open confrontation with the new and unexpected. For Late Marx, the motto doubt everythingwas no joke. Or at least it was not only a joke.
This is especially noticeable in the last decade of Marx’s life, and the Ethnological Notebooks are an especially revealing example of his readiness to revise previously held views in the light of new discoveries. At the very moment that his Russian “disciples” - those “admirers of capitalism,” as he ironically tagged them-were loudly proclaiming that the laws of historical development set forth in the first volume of Capital were universally mandatory, Marx himself was diving headlong into the study of (for him) new experiences of resistance and revolt against oppression - by North American Indians, Australian aborigines. Egyptians and Russian peasants. As we have seen, this study led him not only to dramatically and extensively alter his earlier views, but also to champion a movement in Russia that his “disciples” there and elsewhere scorned as “ahistorical,” “utopian’ “unrealistic” and “petty-bourgeois?’ Even today such epithets ate not unfamiliar to anyone who has ever dared to struggle against the existing order in a manner unprescribed by the “Marxist” Code of Law.
Late Marx also undercuts the several neo and anti-Marxisms that have, from time to time, held the spot-light in the intellectual fashion-shows of recent years-those hothouse hybrids concocted by specialists who seem to have persuaded themselves that they have gone “beyond Marx” by modifying his revolutionary project of “merciless criticism of everything in existence” into one or another specifically academic program of inoffensively mild and superficial criticism, not of everything, but only of whatever happens to fall within the four walls of their particular compartmentalized specialty. Not surprisingly, when the advocates of these neo-Marxisms’ finally get around to adopting a political position, it tends to be incurably reformist. Their sad fate in this regard serves to remind us that it is not by being less merciless in our criticism, less rigorous in, our research, or less revolutionary in our social activity that we are likely to go beyond Marx. Despite their pompous claims, ninety-seven percent of the neo- Marxists arc actually to the right of the crude and mechanical Marxists of the old sects, and the separation of their theory from their practice tends to be much larger. Certainly the Wobbly hobo of yesteryear, whose Marxist library consisted of little more than the IWW Preamble and the Little Red Song Book, had a far surer grasp of social reality - and indeed - of what Marx and even Hegel were talking about-than today’s professional phenomenologist-deconstructionist neo-Marxologist who, in addition to writing unreadable micro-analytical explications of Antonio Gramsci, insists on living in an all-white neighborhood, crosses the university clerical-workers’ picket line, and votes the straight Democratic ticket.
There is every reason to believe that “Late Marx” and the Ethnological Notebooks in particular; will provide for the next global revolutionary wave something of the illumination that Early Marx brought in the 60s. By helping to finish off what remains of the debilitating hegemony of the various “Marxist” orthodoxies a well as the evasive and confusional pretensions of the various “neo-Marxisms,” Late Marx will contribute to a new flowering of audacity, audacity and still more audacity that alone defines the terms of revolutionary theory and practice.
Late Marx emphasized as never before the subjective factor as the decisive force in revolution. His conclusion that revolutionary social transformation could proceed from different directions and in different (though not incompatible) ways was a logical extension of his multi-linear view of history into the present and future. This new pluralism turned out to b emphatically anti-reformist, however, and it is pleasant to discover that the proponents of gradualism, nationalization, Euro-communism, social-democracy, “liberation theology” and other sickeningly sentimental and fundamentally bourgeois aberrations will find no solace in Late Marx. On the contrary, the Ethnological Notebooks and Marx’s other Writings of the last period develop both the fierce anti-statism that became -a prime focus of his work” after the Paris Commune, and the merciless critique of religion that had provided the groundwork of his writings of 1843-45. Late Marx did not become an anarchist, but his last Writings establish a film basis for the historical reconciliation of revolutionary Marxists and anarchists that Andre Breton called for in his Legitime Defense in 1926.
Pivotal to all the excitement, playfulness, humor, discovery and diversity of Late Marx-so reminiscent of the mood of the 1844 texts-his anthropological investigations have a special relevance for today. If a century later, Marx’s “return to the projects of his Paris youth” still glows brightly with the colors of the future, it is because the possibilities of the revolutionary strategy suggested in these notebooks and related writings are far from being exhausted.
A gathering of the loose ends of a lifetime of revolutionary thought and action, the Ethnological Notebooks embody the final deepening and expanding Of Marx’s historical perspectives, and therefore of his Perspectives for revolution, by Marx himself. They are, in a sense, the last will and testament of Marx’s own Marxism. In these notes the “philosophical anthropology” of 1844 is empirically filled in, made more concrete, theoretically rounded out and in the end qualitatively transformed for, as Hegel observed in the Phenomenology, “in the alteration of the knowledge, the object itself also…is altered”.
Fragmentary though they are, the Notebooks, together with the drafts of the letter to Vera Zasulich and a few other texts, reveal that Marx’s culminating revolutionary vision is not only coherent and unified, but a ringing challenge to all the manifold Marxism’s that still try to dominate the discussion”” of social change today, and to all truly revolutionary thought, all thought focused on the reconciliation of humankind and the planet ‘we live on. In this challenge lies the greatest importance of these texts’ A close, critical look back to the rise and fall of ancient pre-capitalist communities, Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks and his other last writings also look ahead to today’s most promising revolutionary movements in the Third World, and the Fourth, and our own.
Raya Dunayevskaya, to whom ‘we owe the best that has been written on the Notebooks, rightly pointed out that “there is no way for us to know what Marx intended to do with this intensive study?” One need not be a card-carrying prophet to know in advance that this undeveloped work on underdeveloped societies will be developed in many different ways in the coming years.
But here is something to think about, tonight and tomorrow: With his radical new focus on the primal peoples of the world; his heightened critique of civilization and its values and institutions; his new emphasis it on the subjective factor in revolution; his ever-deeper hostility to religion and State; his unequivocal affirmation of revolutionary pluralism; his growing sense of the unprecedented depth and scope of the communist revolution as a total revolution, vastly exceeding the categories of economics and politics; his bold new posing of such fundamental questions as the relation of Man and woman, humankind and nature, imagination and culture, myth and ritual and all the “passions and Powers of the mind.” Late Marx is sharply opposed to, and incomparably more radical than, almost all that we know today as Marxism. At the same time, and everyone who understands Blake and Lautreamont and Thelonious Monk will know that this is no mere coincidence, Marx’s culminating synthesis is very close to the point of departure of surrealism, the “communism of genius”.

Karl Marx and the Iroquois, Franklin Rosemont

There are works that come down to us with question-marks blazing like sawed-off shotguns, scattering here and there and everywhere sparks that illuminate our own restless search for answers. Ralegh’s so-called Cynthia cycle, Sade’s120 Days, Fourier’s New Amorous World, Lautremont’s Poesies, Lenin’s notes on Hegel, Randolph Bourne’s essay onThe State Jacque Vaches War letters, Duchamp’s Green Box, the Samuel Greenberg manuscripts: These are only a few of the extraordinary fragments that have, for many of us, exerted a fascination greater than that of all but a very few “finished” works.

Karl Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks -notes for a major study he never lived to write, have something of the same fugitive ambiguity. These extensively annotated excerpts from works of Lewis Henry Morgan and others are a jigsaw puzzle for which we have to reinvent the missing pieces out of our own research and revery and above all, our own revolutionary activity. Typically although the existence of the notebooks has been know since Marx’s death in 1883, they were published integrally for the first time only eighty-nine years later, and then only in a highly priced edition aimed at specialists. A transcription of text exactly as Marx wrote it- the book presents the reader with all the difficulties of Finnegan’s Wake and more, with its curious mixture of English, German, French, Latin and Greek, and a smattering of words and phrases from many non-European languages, from Ojibwa to Sanskrit. Cryptic shorthand abbreviations, incomplete and run-on sentences, interpolated exclamations, erudite allusions to classical mythology, passing references to contemporary world affairs, generous doses of slang and vulgarity; irony and invective: All these the volume possesses aplenty, and they are not the ingredients of smooth reading. This is not a work of which it can be said, simply, that it was “not prepared by the author for publication”; indeed, it is very far from being even a “rough draft?’ Rather it is the raw substance of a work, a private jumble of jottings intended for no other eyes than Marx’s own-the spontaneous record of his “conversations” with the authors he was reading, with other authors whom they quoted, and, finally and especially, with himself. In view of the fact that Marx’s clearest, most refined texts have provoked so many contradictory interpretations, it is perhaps not so strange that his devoted students, seeking the most effective ways to propagate the message of the Master to the masses, have shied away from these hastily written, disturbingly unrefined and amorphous notes.

The neglect of the notebooks for nearly a century is even less surprising when one realizes the degree to which they challenge what has passed for Marxism all these years. In the lamentable excuse for a “socialist” press in the English-speaking world, this last great work from Marx’s pen has been largely ignored. Academic response, by anthropologists and others, has been practically nonexistent, and has never gone beyond Lawrence Krader’s lame assertion, at the end of his informative 85-page Introduction, that the Notebooks’ chief interest is that they indicate “the transition of Marx from the restriction of the abstract generic human being to the empirical study of particular peoples.” It would seem that even America’s most radical anthropologists have failed to come to grips with these troubling texts. The Notebooks are cited only once and in passing in Eleanor Leacock’s Myths of Male Dominance: Collected Articles on Women Cross-culturally. And Stanley Diamond, who Krader thanks for reading his Introduction, makes no reference to them at all in his admirable study, In Search of The Primitive: A critique of Civilization.

The most insightful commentary on these Notebooks has naturally come from writers far outside the mainstream - “Marxist” as well as academic. Historian, antiwar activist and Blake scholar E. P. Thompson, in his splendid polemic,The Poverty of Theory and Other Essay’s, was among the first to point out that “Marx, in his increasing preoccupation in his last years with anthropology, was resuming the projects of his Paris youth.” Raya Dunayevskaya, in her Rosa Luxemburg,Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, is more explicit in her estimate of these “epoch-making Notebooks which rounded out Marx’s life work:’ these “profound writings that…summed up his life’s work and created new openings;’ and which therefore have “created a new vantage-point from which to view Marx’s oeuvre as a totality.” Dunayevskaya, a lifelong revolutionist and a pioneer in the revival of interest in the Hegelian roots of Marxism, argued further that “these Notebooks reveal, at one and the same time, the actual ground that led to the first projection of the possibility of revolution coming first in the underdeveloped countries like Russia; a reconnection and deepening of what was projected in the Grundrisse on the Asiatic mode of production; and a return to that most fundamental relationship of Man/Woman which had first been projected in the 1844 essays”.

The suggestion that the Ethnological Notebooks signify Marx’s return to the “projects of his Paris youth” might turn out to entail more far-‘reaching implications than anyone has yet realized. Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 arc unquestionably the brightest star of that heroic early period, but they should be seen as part of a whole constellation of interrelated activities and aspirations.

One of the first things that strikes us about Marx’s Paris youth is that this period precedes the great splits that later rent the revolutionary workers’ movement into so many warring factions. Marxists of all persuasions even though bitterly hostile to each other, have nonetheless tended to agree that these splits enhanced the proletariat’s organizational efficacy and theoretical clarity, and therefore should be viewed as positive gains for the movement as a whole. But isn’t it just possible -that, in at least some of these splits, something not necessarily horrible or worthless was lost at the same time? In any event, in 1844-45 we find Marx in a veritable euphoria of self-critical exploration and discovery: sorting out influences, puzzlling over a staggering range of problems, and “thinking out loud” in numerous manuscripts never published in his lifetime. In his Paris youth, and for several years thereafter, Karl Marx was no Marxist.

Early in 1845, for example, he and his young friend Engels were enthusiastically preparing an unfortunately-never-realized “Library of the Best Foreign Socialist Authors;’ which was to have included works by Theophile Leclerc and other enrages; as well as by Babeuf and Buonarroti, William Godwin, Fourier, Cabet and Proudhon-that is, representative figures from the entire spectrum of revolutionary thought out-side all sectarianism. They were especially taken with the prodigious work of the most inspired and daring of the utopians, Charles Fourier, who had died in 1837, and for whom they would retain a profound admiration all their lives. Proudhon on the other hand, influenced them not only through his books, but-at least in Marx’s case-personally as well, for he was a good friend in those days, with whom Marx later recalled having had “prolonged discussions” which often lasted “far into the night.”

It is too easily forgotten today that in 1844 Proudhon already enjoyed an international reputation; his What Is Property?(1840) had created an enormous scandal, and no writer was more hated by the French bourgeoisie. Marx, an unknown youth of 26, Still had much to learn from the ebullient journeyman printer who would come to be renowned as the “Father of Anarchism:’ In his first book, The Holy Family (1845), Marx hailed What is Property? as “the first resolute, -ruthless, and at the same time scientific investigation…of the basis of political economy, private property … an advance which revolutionizes political economy and for the first time makes a real science of political economy possible”.

In 1844 we find Engels writing sympathetically of American Shaker communities, which he argued, proved that “communism… is not only possible but has actually already been realized.” The same year he wrote a letter to Marx praising Max Stirner’s new work, The Ego and Its Own, urging that Stirner’s very egoism “can be built upon even as we invert it” and that “what is true in his principles we have to accept”; an article suggesting that the popularity of the German translation of Eugene Sue’s quasi-Gothic romance The Mysteries of Paris, proved that Germany was ripe for communist agitation;, and a letter to the editor defending an “author of several Communist books;’ -Abbe Constant, who, under the name he later adopted - EIiphas Levi-would become the most renowned of French occultists.

Constant was a close friend of pioneer socialist-feminist Flora Tristan, whose Union Ouvriere (Workers’ Union, 1842) was the first work to urge working men and women to form an international union to achieve their emancipation. One of the most fascinating personalities in early French socialism, Tristan was given a place of honor in The Holy Family, zealously defended by Marx from the stupid, sexist gibes of the various counter-revolutionary “Critical Critics” denounced throughout the book.

That Constant became a practicing occultist, and that he and Tristan were for several years closely associated with the mystical socialist and phrenologist Simon Ganneau, “messiah” of a revolutionary cult devoted to the worship of an androgynous divinity, reminds us that Paris in the 1830s and ’40s was the scene of a remark-able reawakening of interest in things occult, and that the milieux of occultists and revolutionists were by no means separated by a Chinese wall. A new interest in alchemy was especially evident, and important works on the subject date from that period, notably the elusive Cyliani’s Hermes devoile (1832)-reprinted in 1915, this became a key source for the Fulcanelli circle, which in turn inspired our own century’s hermetic revival-and Francois Cambriel’s Cours de Philosophie hermetique Ou d’Alchimie, en dir-neuf lecons (1843)

To what extent Marx and/or Engels encountered occultists or their literature is not known, and is certainly not a question that has interested any of their biographers. It cannot be said that the passing references to alchemy and the Philosophers’ Stone in their writings indicate any familiarity with original hermetic sources. We do know, however, that they shared Hegel’s high esteem for the sixteenth century German mystic and heretic Jacob Boehme, saluted by Marx in the Rheinische Zeitung in 1842 as “a great philosopher.” Four years earlier Engels had made a special study of Boehme, finding him “a dark but deep soul”,” very original” and “rich in poetic ideas.” Boehme is cited in The Holy Family and in several other writings of Marx and Engels over the years.

One of the things that may have attracted them to Boehme is the fact that he was very much a dialectical thinker. Dialectic abounds in the work of many mystical authors, not least in treatises on magic, alchemy and other “secret sciences” and it should astonish no one to discover that rebellious young students of Hegel had made surreptitious forays onto this uncharted terrain in their quest for knowledge. This was certainly the case with one of Marx’s close friends, a fellow Young Hegelian, Mikhail Bakunin, who often joined him for those all-night discussions at Proudhon’s. As a young man the future author of God and the State is known to have studied the works of the French mystic, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, “The Unknown Philosopher” and “Lover of Secret things” as well as of the eccentric German romantic philosopher, Franz von Baader, author of a study of the mysterious eighteenth-century Portuguese-Jewish mage, Martinez de Pasqual, who is thought by some to have had a part in the formation of Haitian voodoo (he spent his last years on the island and died in Port-au-Prince in 1774), and whose Traite de la reintegration is one of the most influential occult writings of the last two centuries.

Mention of von Baader, whose romantic philosophy combined an odd Catholic mysticism and equally odd elements of a kind of magic-inspired utopianism that was all his own-interestingly, he was the first writer in German to use the word “proletariat”- highlights the fact that Boehme, Paracelsus, Meister Eckhart. Swedenborg, Saint-Martin and all manner of wayward and mystical thinkers contributed mightily to the centuries-old ferment that finally produced Romanticism, and that Romanticism in turn, especially in its most extreme and heterodox forms, left its indelible mark on the Left Hegelian/Feuerbachian milieu. Wasn’t it under the sign of poetry, after all that Marx came to recognize himself as an enemy of the bourgeois order? Everyone knows the famous thee components” of Marxism: German philosophy, English economics and French socialism. But what about the poets of the world: Aeschylus and Homer and Cervantes. Goethe and Shelley? To miss this fourth component is to miss a lot of Marx (and indeed, a lot of life). A whole critique of post-Marx Marxism could be based on this calamitous “oversight.” 1844, one does well to remember was also a year in which Marx was especially close to Heinrich Heine. Marx himself wrote numerous poems of romantic frenzy (two were published in 1841 under the title “Wild Songs”) and even tried his hand at a play and a bizarre satirical romance Scorpion and Felix. By 1844 he had renounced literary pursuits as such, but no philosopher, no political writer or activist and certainly no economist has ever used metaphor
with such exuberance and flair as the author of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy used throughout his life. To the last. Marx-and to a great extent this is also true of Engels-remained a fervent adept of “poetry’s magic fullness” (to quote one of his early translations of Ovid’s elegies). These ardent youths never ceased to pursue philosophy on their road to revolution, but it was poetry that, as often as not, inspired their daring and confirmed their advances.

***

That Marx, toward the end of his life, was returning to projects that had been dear to his heart in the days of his original and bold grappling with “naturalist anthropology” as a theory of communist revolution, the days in which he was most deeply preoccupied with the philosophical and practical legacy of Hegel and Fourier, the days of his friendship with Proudhon and Bakunin and Heine, is resonant with meanings for today-all the more so since here, too, at the end as at the beginning a crucial motivating impulse seems to have been provided by poetry.

In 1880 the publication of James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Nightand Other Poems - the title-piece of which is often called the most pessimistic poem in the English language-made a powerful impression on the author of Capital. Especially enthusiastic about Thomson’s’ “Attempts at Translations of Heine,” Marx wrote a warm letter to the poet, urging that the poems were “no translations, but a reproduction of the original, such as Heine himself, if master of the English language, would have given” Although Marx’s biographers have maintained an embarrassed silence on the subject, it is really not so difficult to discern how Thomson-this opium-addicted poet of haunting black lyricism, who was not only one of the most aggressive anti-religious agitators in English but also the translator of Leopardi and among the first to write intelligently about Blake—-could have stimulated a revival of the dreams and desires of Marx’s own most Promethean days. And then, just think of it: while his brain is still reeling with visions inspired by a true poet, he plunges into the richest, most provocative work of the most brilliant anthropological thinker of his time. Such chances are the very stuff that revelations are made of!

It was not mere “anthropology,” however, that Marx found so appealing in lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society but rather, as he hints in his notes and as Engels spelled out in his Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State(1884), the merciless critique and condemnation of capitalist civilization that so well complements that of Charles Fourier.

And yet these Ethnological Notebooks are much more than a compilation of new data confirming already existing criticism. It must be said, in this regard, that The Origin of the Family, which Engels says he wrote as “the fullfillment of a bequest’-’ Marx having died before he was able to prepare his own presentation of Morgan’s researches-is, as Engels himself readily admitted, “but a meager substitute” for the work Marx’s notes suggest. Several generations of Marxists have mistaken The Origin of the Family for the definitive word on the subject, but in fact it reflects Engels’ reading of Morgan (and other authors) far more than it reflects Marx’s notes. Engels’ sweeping notion of “the “world-historic defeat of the female sex,” for example, was borrowed from the writings of J.J Bachofen, and is not well supported by Marx’s notes, while several important comments that Marx did make were not included in Engels’ little book.

Clearly intending The Origin of the family to be nothing more than a popular socialist digest of the major themes ofAncient Society - Morgan’s famous systems of consanguinity, his extensive data on “communism in living,” the evolution of property and the State - Engels emphasized Morgan’s broad agreement with Marx and ignored everything in Morgan and in Marx that lay outside this modest plan. That Engels did not write the book that Marx might have written is not really such shocking news, and any blame for possible damage done would seem to rest not with Engels but with all those who, since 1884, devoutly assumed that Engels’ book said all that Marx had to say and therefore all that had to be said. Of course, had Marx’s followers taken to heart his own favorite watchword, De omnibus dubitandum (doubt every-thing) the history of Marxism would have been rather different and probably much happier And as the blues-singer sang, “If a frog had wings…

The Notebooks include excerpts from, and Marx’s commentary on, other ethnological writers besides Morgan, but the section on Morgan is the most substantial by far, and of the greatest interest Reading this curious dialogue one can almost see Marx’s mind at work-sharpening, extending, challenging and now and then correcting Morgan’s interpretations, bringing out dialectical moments latent in Ancient Society but not always sufficiently developed, and sometimes wholly undeveloped, by Morgan himself. Marx also seemed to enjoy relating Morgan’s empirical data to the original sources of his (Marx’s) own critique, notably Fourier and (though his name does not figure in these notes) Hegel, generally with the purpose of clarifying some vital current problem. As Marx had said of an earlier unfinished work, the Grundrisse (1857-58), the Ethnological Notebooks contain “some nice developments”.

Some of the most interesting passages by Marx that did not find their ‘way into Engels’ book have to do with the transition from “archaic” to “civilized” society, a key problem for Marx in his last years. Questioning Morgan’s contention that “personal government” prevailed throughout primitive societies, Marx argued that long before the dissolution of the gens (clan), chiefs were “elected” only in theory, the office having become a transmissible on; controlled by a property-owning elite that had begun to emerge within the gens itself. Here Marx was pursuing a critical inquiry into the origins of the distinction between public and private spheres (and, by extension, between “official” and “unofficial” social reality and ideological fiction) that he had begun in his critique of Hegel’s philosophy of law in 1843. The close correlation Marx found between the development of property and the state, on the one hand, and religion, their chief ideological disguise, on the other-which led to his acute observation that religion grew as the gentile commonality shrank-also relates to his early critique of the Rechtphilosophie, in the famous introduction to which Marx’s attack on religion attained an impassioned lucidity worthy of the greatest poets.

The poetic spirit, in fact, makes its presence felt more than once in these Notebooks. Auspiciously, in this compendium of ethnological evidence, Marx duly noted Morgan’s insistence on the historical importance of “imagination, that great faculty so largely contributing to the elevation of mankind,” From cover to cover of these Notebooks we see how Marx’s encounter with “primitive cultures” stimulated his own imagination, and we begin to realize that there is much more here than Engels divulged.

On page after page Marx highlights passages wildly remote from what are usually regarded as the “standard themes” of his work. Thus we find him invoking the bell-shaped houses of the coastal tribes of Venezuela; the manufacture of Iroquois belts “using fine twine made of filaments of elm and basswood bark”’ “the Peruvian legend of Manco Capac and Mama Oello, children of the sun”; burial customs of the Tuscarora; the Shawnee belief in metempsychosis; “unwritten” literature of myth’s, legends and traditions”; the “incipient sciences” of the village Indians of the Southwest; the Popul Vuh, sacred book of the ancient Quiche Maya; the use of porcupine quills in ornamentation; Indian games and “dancing (as a] form of worship.”

Carefully, and for one tribe after another, Marx lists each each the animals from which the various clans claim descent, No work of his is so full of such words as Wolf grizzly bear; opossum and turtle (in the pages on Australian aborigines we find emu, kangaroo and bandicoot). Again and again he copies words and names from tribal languages. Intrigued by the manner in which individual (personal) names indicate the gen, he notes these Sauk names from the Eagle gens: “Ka-po-na (‘Eagle drawing his nest’); Ja-ka-kwa-pe (‘Eagle sitting with his head up’); Pe-a-ta-na-ka-hok (‘Eagle flying over a limb’).” Repeatedly he attends to details so unusual that one cannot help wondering what he was thinking as he wrote them in his notebook Consider, for example, his word-for-word quotation from Morgan telling of a kind of “grace” said before an Indian tribal feast: “It “was a prolonged exclamation by a single person on a high shrill note, falling down in cadences into stillness, followed by a response in chorus by the people." After the meal, he adds, "The evenings [are] devoted to dance?"

Especially voluminous are Marx’s notes on the Iroquois, the confederation of tribes with which Morgan was personally most familiar (in 1846 he was in fact “adopted” by one of its constituent tribes, the Seneca, as a warrior of the Hawk clan), and on which he had written a classic monograph. Clearly Marx shared Morgan’s passional attraction for the “League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee?’ among whom “the state did not exist,” and “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, though never formulated, were cardinal principles,” and whose sachems, moreover, had “none of the marks of a priesthood?’ One of his notes includes Morgan’s description of the formation of the Iroquois Confederation as “a masterpiece of Indian wisdom,” and it doubtless fascinated him to learn that, as far in advance of the revolution as 1755, the Iroquois had recommended to the “forefathers [of the] Americans, a union of the colonies similar so their own.

Many passages of these Notebooks reflect Marx’s interest in Iroquois democracy as expressed in the Council of the Gens, that “democratic assembly where every adult male and female member had a voice upon all questions brought before it,” and he made special note of details regarding the active participation of women in tribal affairs, The relation of man to woman-a topic of Marx’s 1844 manuscripts-is also one of the recurring themes of his ethnological inquiries. Thus he quotes a letter sent to Morgan by a missionary among the Seneca: “The women were the great power among the clans, as everywhere else. They did not hesitate, when occasion required, ‘to knock off the horns,’ as it was technically called, from the head of a chief, and send him back to the ranks of the warriors. The original nomination of the chief also always rested with them" And a few pages later he highlights Morgan’s contention that the "presentmonogamian family… must…change as society changes…It is the creature of a social system… capable of still further improvement until the equality of the sexes is attained.” He similarly emphasizes Morgan’s conclusion, regarding monogamy, that “it is impossible to predict the nature of its successor?’”

In this area as elsewhere Marx discerned germs of social stratification within the gentile organization, again in terms of the separation of “public” and “private” spheres, which he saw in turn as the reflection of the gradual emergence of a propertied and privileged tribal caste. After copying Morgan’s observation that, in the Council of Chiefs, women were free to express their wishes and opinions "through a" orator of their own choosing?" he added, with emphasis, that the "Decision (was] made by the (all-male) Council” Marx was nonetheless unmistakably impressed by the fact that, among the Iroquois, women enjoyed a freedom and a degree of social involvement far beyond that of the women (or men!) of any civilized nation. The egalitarian tendency of all gentile societies is one of the qualities of these societies that most interested Marx, and his alertness to deviations from it did not lead him to reject Morgan’s basic hypothesis in this regard. Indeed, where Morgan, in his chapter on “The Monogamian Family?” deplored the treatment of women in ancient Greece as an anomalous and enigmatic departure from the egalitarian norm, Marx commented (perhaps here reflecting the influence of Bachofen): “But the relationship between the goddesses on Olympus reveals memories of women’s higher position?”

Marx’s passages from Morgan’s chapters on the Iroquois are proportionally much longer than his of his excerpts fromAncient Society, and in fact make up one of the largest sections of the Notebooks. It was not only Iroquois social organization, however, that appealed to him, but rather a whole way of life sharply counter-posed, all along the line, to modern industrial civilization. His overall admiration for North American Indian societies generally, and for the Iroquois in particular, is made clear throughout the text, perhaps most strongly in his highlighting of Morgan’s reference to their characteristic “sense of independence” and “personal dignity?’ qualities both men appreciated but found greatly diminished as humankind’s “property career” advanced. Whatever reservations Marx may have had regarding the universal applicability of the Iroquois “model” in the analysis of gentile societies, the painstaking care with which he copied out Morgan’s often meticulous descriptions of the various aspects of their culture shows how powerfully these people impressed him. Whole pages of the Notebooks recount, in marvelous detail, Iroquois Council procedures and ceremonies:

at a signal the sachems arose and marched 3 times around the Burning Circle, going as before by the North… Master of the ceremonies again rising to his feet, filled and lighted the pipe of peace from his own fire; drew 3 whiffs, the first toward the Zenith (which meant thanks to the Great Spirit…); the second toward the ground (means thanks to his Mother, the Earth. for the various productions which had ministered to his sustenance); third toward the Sun (means thanks for his never-failing light, ever shining upon all). Then he passed the pipe to the first upon his right toward the North…

This passage goes on in the same vein for some thirty lines, but I think this brief excerpt suffices to show that theEthnological Notebooks are unlike anything else in the Marxian canon.

***

The record of Marx’s vision-quest through Morgan’s Ancient Society offers us a unique and amazing close-up of the final phase of what Raya Dunayevskaya has called Marx’s “never-ending search for new paths to revolution?’ The young Marx of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 summed up revolution as “the supersession of private property.’ His starting-point was the critique of alienated labor which “alienates nature from man, man from himself. . [and man] from the species”-that is, labor dominated by the system of private property, by capital, the “inhuman power" that "rules over everything:’ spreading its "infinite degradation" over the fundamental relation of man to woman and reducing all human beings to commodities. Thus the "supersession of private property" meant for Marx not only the "emancipation of the workers" (which of course involves "the emancipation of humanity as a whole"), but also "the emancipation of all the human qualities and senses" (the senses themselves having become directly, as he expressed it with characteristic humor; "theoreticians in practice"). This "positive abolition of private property, of humanself-alienation" is also, at the same time, "the real appropriation of human nature’ -‘in other words, communism,

the definitive resolution of the antagonism between man and nature, and between man and man. It is the true solution of the conflict between existence and essence, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and species. It is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be this solution.

To such ways of seeing the old Marx seems to have returned as, in his mind’s eye, he took his three whiffs on the pipe of peace around the Iroquois council fire. But it was no self-indulgent nostalgia that led him to trace the perilous path of his youthful dreams and beyond, to the dawn of human society. A revolutionist to the end, Marx in 1880 no less than in 1844 envisioned a radically new society founded on a total transformation in human relationships, and sought new ways, to help bring this new society into being.

Ancient Society, and especially its detailed account of the Iroquois, for the first time gave Marx insights into the concrete possibilities of a free society as it had actually existed in history Morgan’s conception of social and cultural evolution enabled him to pursue the problems he had taken up philosophically in 1844 in a new way, from a different angle, and with new revolutionary implications. Marx’s references, in these notes and elsewhere, to terms and phrases recognizable as Morgan’s, point toward his general acceptance of Morgan’s outline of the evolution of human society. Several times in the non-Morgan sections of the Notebooks, for example, he reproaches other writers for their ignorance of the character of the gens, or of the “Upper Status of Barbarism.” In drafts of a letter written shortly after reading Morgan he specified that “Primitive communities… form a series of social groups which, differing in both type and age, mark successive phases of evolution.”’ But this does not mean that Marx adopted, in all its details, the so-called “unilinear” evolutionary plan usually attributed to Morgan-a plan which, after its uncritical endorsement by Engels in The Origin of the Family, has remained ever since a fixture of “Marxist” orthodoxy. Evidence scattered throughout the Notebooks suggests, rather, that Marx had grown markedly skeptical of fixed categories in attempts at historical reconstruction, and that he continued to affirm the multilinear character of human social development that he had advanced as far back as the Grundrisse in the 1850s.

Indeed, it is amusing, in view of the widespread misapprehension of Morgan as nothing but a mono-maniacal unilinearist, that Marx’s notes highlight various departures from unilinearity in Morgan’s own work. Morgan himself, in fact, more than once acknowledged the “provisional” character of his system, and especially of the “necessarily arbitrary” character of the boundary lines between the developmental stages he proposed; he nonetheless regarded his schemata as “convenient and useful” for comprehending such a large mass of data, and in any case specifically allowed for (and took note of) exceptions.

However, if our reading of Marx’s notes is right, he found things in Ancient Society infinitely more valuable to him than arguments for or against any mere classificatory system. The book’s sheer immensity of new information-new for Marx and for the entire scientific world, demonstrated conclusively the true complexity of “primitive” societies as welt as their grandeur, their essential superiority, in real human terms, to the degraded civilization founded on the fetishism of commodities. In a note written just after his conspectus of Morgan we find Marx arguing that “primitive communities had incomparably greater vitality than the Semitic, Greek, Roman and a fortiori the modern capitalist societies?” Thus Marx had come to realize that, measured according to the “wealth of subjective human sensuality,” as he had expressed it in the 1844 manuscripts, Iroquois society stood much higher than any of the societies “poisoned by the pestilential breath of civilization?’ Even more important, Morgan’s lively account of the Iroquois gave him a vivid awareness of the actuality of indigenous peoples, and perhaps even a glimpse of the then-undreamed of possibility that such peoples could make their own contributions to the global struggle for human emancipation.

***

Hard hit as they had been by the European capitalist invasion and US, capitalism’s west-ward expansion, the Iroquois and other North American tribal cultures could not in the 1880s and cannot now, a hundred years later; be consigned to the museums of antiquity. When Marx was reading Ancient Society the “Indian wars” were still very much a current topic in these United States, and if by that time the military phase of this genocidal campaign was confined to the west, far from Iroquois territory; still the Iroquois, and every surviving tribal society, were engaged (as they are engaged today to one degree or another) in a continuous struggle against the system of private property and the State.

In a multitude of variants, the same basic conditions prevailed in Asia, Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, Russia, Canada, Australia, South America, the West Indies, Polynesia-wherever indigenous peoples had not wholly succumbed to the tyranny of capitalist development. After reading Morgan’s portrayal of primitive communism” at the height of its glory, Marx saw all this in a new light. In the last couple of years of his life, to a far greater degree than ever before, he focused his attention on people of color; the colonialized, peasants and “primitives?”.

That he was not reading Morgan exclusively or even primarily for historical purposes, but rather as part of his ongoing exploration of the processes of revolutionary social change, is suggested by numerous allusions in the Notebooks to contemporary social/political affairs. In the Notebooks, as Raya Dunayevskaya has argued, “Marx’s hostility to capitalism’s colonialism was intensifying…[He] returns to probe the origin of humanity, not for purposes of discovering new origins, but for perceiving new revolutionary forces, their reason, or as Marx called it, in emphasizing a sentence of Morgan, “powers of the mind?”

The vigorous attacks on racism and religion that recur throughout the Notebooks, especially in the often lengthy and sometimes splendidly vituperative notes on Maine and Lubbock, leave no doubt in this regard.

Again and again when these smirking apologists for imperialism direct their condescending ridicule at the “superstitious” beliefs and practices of Australian aborigines or other native peoples, Marx turns it back like a boomerang on the “civilized canaille?” He accepted-at least, he did not contradict-Lubbock’s hypothesis that the earliest human societies were atheist, but had only scorn for Lubbock’s specious reasoning: that the savage mind was not developed enough to recognize the “truths” of religion! No, Marx’s notes suggest, our “primitive” ancestors were atheists because the belief in gods and other priestly abominations entered the world only with the beginnings of class society. Relentlessly, in these notes, he follows the development of religion as an integral part of the repressive apparatus through its various permutations linked to the formation of caste, slavery, patriarchal monogamy and monarchy. The “poor religious element,” he remarks, becomes the main preoccupation of the gens precisely to the degree that real cooperation and common property decline, so that eventually, “only the smell of incense and holy water remains?’ The author of the Ethnological Notebooks made no secret of the fact that he was solidly on the side of the atheistic savages.

After poring over Ancient Society at the end of 1880 and the first weeks of ‘81, a large share of Marx’s reading focused on primitive’ societies and “backward” countries. Apart from the works of John Budd Phear, Henry Sumner Maine and John Lubbock that he excerpted and commented on in the Ethnological Notebooks he read books on India, China and Java, and several on Egypt (two and a half months before his death, in a letter to his daughter Eleanor; Marx denounced the “shameless Christian-hypocritical conquest” of Egypt). After he returned from a brief visit to Algiers in the spring of *82, his son-in-law Paul Lafargue wrote that “Marx has come back with his head full of Africa and Arabs. “When he received a query from the Russian radical Vera Zasulich. asking whether the Russian rural communes could become the basis for a new collective society or whether her homeland would have to pass through a capitalist stage, Marx intensified his already deep study of Russian social and economic history. His remarkable reply to Zasulich offers a measure of Marx’s creative audacity in his last years, and demonstrates too, that his reading of Morgan involved not only a new way of looking at pre-capitalist societies, but also a new way of looking at the latest practical problems lacing the revolutionary movement. Zasulich’s letter to Marx had more than a hint of urgency about it, for, as she explained,

Nowadays, we often hear it said that the rural commune is an archaic form condemned to perish by history, scientific socialism and, in short, everything above debate. Those who preach such a view call themselves your disciples…their strongest argument is often: ‘Marx said so’ But how do you derive that from Capital?’ others object. ‘He does not discuss the agrarian’ question, and says nothing about Russia.’ ‘He would have said as much if he had discussed our country,” your disciples retort…’

Just how seriously Marx pondered the question may be inferred from the tact that he wrote no less than four drafts of a reply in addition to the comparatively brief letter he actually sent - a grand total of some twenty-five book pages. His reply was a stunning blow to the self-assured, dogmatic smugness of the Russian “Marxists” who not only refused to publish the letter but pretended that it did not exist (it was Published for the first time in 1924).

Stressing that the “historical inevitability” of capitalist development as articulated in Capital was “expressly restricted to the countries of Western Europe,” he concluded that

The analysis in Capital therefore provides no reasons-either for or against the vitality of the Russian Commune. But the special study l have mode of it, including a search for original source-material, has convinced me that the commune is the fulcrum for social regeneration in Russia.

The Preface to the second Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto (1882) co-signed by Engels, closed with a somewhat qualified restatement of this new orientation:

Can the Russian obshchina [peasant commune] a form, albeit highly eroded, of the primitive communal ownership of the Land, pass directly into the higher, communist form of communal ownership?… Today there is only one possible answer. If the Russian revolution becomes the signal for proletarian revolution in the West, so that the two complement each other, then Russia’s peasant communal land-ownership may serve as the point departure for a communist development.

The bold suggestion that revolution in an underdeveloped country might precede and precipitate revolution in the industrialized West did not pop up out of Nowhere - every idea has its prehistory - but few, will deny that it contradicts9 uproariously, the overwhelming bulk of Marx’s anterior work It is in fact, a flagrantly “anti-Marxist” heresy, as Marx’s Russian disciples surely were aware. Just six years earlier, in 1875, a Russian Jacobin, Petr Tkachev’, brought down upon himself a good dose of Engel’s ridicule - evidently with Marx’s full approval-for having had the temerity to propose some such nonsense about skipping historically ordained stages, and even the appalling fantasy that peasant-riddled Russia could reach the revolutionary starting-line before the sophisticated proletariat of the West. Such “pure hot air:’ Engels felt obliged to counsel the poor Russian “schoolboy;’ proved only that Thachev had yet “to learn the ABC of Socialism?”

Marx’s growing preoccupation with revolutionary prospects in Russia during the last decade of his life is a subject scrutinized from many angles and with marvelous insight in Teodor Shanin’s Late Marx and the Russian Road, a book of impeccable scholarship that is also a major contribution to the clarification of revolutionary perspectives today. As Shanin and his collaborators have shown, Marx was hostile to Russian Populism in the I860s, but began to change his mind early in the next decade when he taught himself Russian and started reading Populist literature, including works by the movement’s major theorist, N. G. Chernyshevsky, for whom he quickly developed the deepest admiration. By 1880 Marx was a wholehearted supporter of the revolutionary Populist Narodnaya Volyna (People’s Will), even defending its terrorist activities (the group attempted to assassinate the Czar that year, and succeeded the next), while remaining highly critical of the “boring doctrines” of Plekhanov and other would-be Russian “Marxists” whom he -derided as “defenders of capitalism.” Throughout this period Marx read avidly in the field of Russian history and economics; a list he made of his Russian books in August 1881 included nearly 200 titles.

The iconoclastic reply to Zasulich then, was conditioned by many factors, including the formation of a new Russian revolutionary movement, personal meetings with Populists and others from Russia, and Marx’s wide reading of scholarly and popular literature, as well as radical and bourgeois newspapers.

Several provocative coincidences relate Ancient Society to this major shift in Marx’s thought. First, Marx originally borrowed a copy of the book from one of his Russian visitors, Maxim Kovalevsky, who had brought it back from a trip to the U.S. Whether this was the COPY Marx excerpted is not known; Engels did not find the book on Marx’s shelves after his death. But Morgan’s work aroused interest among other Russian revolutionary émigrés as well, for we know that Marx’s longtime friend Petr Lavrov, a First-Internationalist and one of the most important Populists, also owned a copy, which he had purchased at a London bookshop. These are the only two copies of the book known to have existed in Marx’s immediate milieu during his lifetime.’

Second, Marx’s Morgan excerpts include interpolated comments of his own on the Russian commune. The Notebooksalso touch on other themes-most notably the skipping of stages by means of technological diffusion between peoples at different stages of development-that recur in the drafts of the letter to Zasulich.

Third, and more strikingly, Zasulich’s letter to Marx reached him just as he was in the midst of, or had just completed, making these annotated excerpts from Morgan’s work.

Fourth, and most important of all, Marx cited and even quoted-or rather paraphrased-Morgan in a highly significant passage in one of the drafts of his reply to Zasulich:

the rural, commune [in Russia] finds [capitalism in the West] in a State of crisis that will end only when the social system is eliminated through the return of modern societies to the “archaic” type of communal property In the words of an American writer who, supported in his work by the Washington government, is not at all to be suspected of revolutionary tendencies [here Marx refers to the fact that Morgan’s Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity was published by the Smithsonian Institution] “the new system” to which modern society is tending “will be a revival, in a superior form, of an archaic social type.” We should not then, be too frightened by the word archaic.”


Scattered through the drafts of his letter to Zasulich, moreover; are a half dozen other unmistakable allusions to Morgan’s researches.

Thus we have ascertained that Zasulich’s letter arrived at a time when Ancient Society was very much on Marx’s mind. Taken together; the foregoing “coincidences” strongly urge upon us the conclusion that Marx’s reading of Morgan was an active factor in the qualitative leap in his thought on revolution in under-developed countries.
***

If America’s “radical intelligentsia” were something more than an academically domesticated sub-subculture of hyper-timid and ultra-respectable seekers of safe at-all cost careers, Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks might have spearheaded, among other things, a revival of interest in Lewis Henry Morgan. But no, the Notebooks have been conveniently ignored and, notwithstanding a few faint glimmers of change in the 1960s, the near-universal contempt for the author of Ancient Society remains in hill force today.

Even so perceptive and sensitive a critic as Raya Dunayevsakaya did not entirely avoid the unfortunate Morgan-bashing that has been a compulsory ritual of American anthropology, and of U.S. intellectual life generally, since the First World War. In her case, of course, she was responding to rather different rituals on the opposite side of the ideological fence: to what one could call the pseudo-Marxists’ pseudo-respect for Morgan. In truth, however; the traditional rhetorical esteem for Morgan on the part of Stalinists and social-democrats is only another form of contempt, for with few exceptions it was not founded on a scrupulous reading of Morgan but an unscrupulous reading of Engels.

Caught in the welter of a politically motivated and therefore all the more highly emotional “debate” between equally careless would-be friends and automatic enemies, Morgan’s writings have been practically lost from sight for decades.

Marx’s enthusiasm for Morgan’s work, discernible on every page of these Notebooks, becomes obvious when one compares the Morgan notes to those on the other ethnological writers whose books Marx excerpted: Sir John Phear, Sir Henry Maine and Sir John Lubbock. The excerpts from Morgan are not only much longer, half again as long as all the others combined-showing how deeply interested Marx was in what Morgan had to say-but also are free of the numerous and sometimes lengthy sarcastic asides sprinkled so liberally throughout the other notes. More-over, while Marx’s disagreements with the others are many and thoroughgoing, his differences with Morgan, as Krader admits are “chiefly over details.” As a longtime “disciple of Hegel:’ Marx disapproved by means of a parenthetical question-mark and exclamation-point-an inexact use of the adjective “absolute.” He further disputed Morgan’s interpretation of a passage from the Iliad, and another by Plutarch, neither of them central to Morgan’s argument. Such differences do not smack of the insurmountable, Earlier I noted a few instances in which Marx’s views diverged from Morgan’s on somewhat larger questions, but even these are as nothing compared to his complete disagreement in principle with Maine and the others. Indeed, at several points where Marx gave the “block-head” and “philistine” Maine and the “civilized ass’, Lubbock a good pounding for their shabby scholar-ship, their Christian hypocrisy, their bourgeois ethno-centrism and racism, their inability to “free themselves of their own conventionalities;’ he specifically cited Morgan as a decisive authority against them.

Accepting Morgan’s data and most of his interpretations as readily as he rejected the inane ideological claptrap of England’s royal ethnologists, with their typically bourgeois mania for finding kings and capital in cultures where such things do not exist’ Marx was no doubt pleased to discover in Ancient Society an arsenal of arguments in support of his own decidedly anti-teleological revolutionary outlook. What matters, of course, is not so much that Marx found Morgan to be, in many respects, a kindred Spirit, or even that he learned from him, but that the things he learned from Morgan were so important to him.

However much his approach to Morgan may have differed from Engels’, Marx certainly agreed with the latter’s contention (in a letter to Karl Kautsky, 26 April 1884), that “Morgan makes it possible for us to look at things from entirely new points of view?” Reading Ancient Society appreciably deepened his knowledge of many crucial questions, and qualitatively transformed his thinking on other. The British socialist M.Hyndman, recalling conversations he had with Marx during late 1880/early 1881, wrote in his memoirs that “when Lewis Morgan proved to Marx’s satisfaction that the gens and not the family was the social unit of the old tribal system and ancient society generally, Marx at once abandoned his previous opinions based upon Niebuhr and others, and accepted Morgan’s view?” Anyone capable of making Karl Marx, at the age of 63, abandon his previous opinions, is worthy of more than passing interest.

It was only after reading Morgan that anthropology, previously peripheral to Marx’s thought, became its vital center. His entire conception of historical development, and particularly of pre-capitalist societies, now gained immeasurably in depth and precision. Above all, his introduction to the Iroquois and other tribal societies sharpened his sense of the living presence of indigenous peoples in the world, and of their possible role in future revolutions.

Reading Morgan, therefore, added far more than a few stray bits and pieces to Marx’s thought-it added a whole new dimension, one that has been suppressed for more than a century and is only beginning to be developed today.

The careful re-evaluation of Morgan’s work-for which Marx’s notes on his magnum opus provide such a stimulus-is surely a long-overdue project for those who are struggling, with the clarity that comes only with despair, for ways out of the manifold impasses to revolution in our time. Too often simply reduced to a one-dimensional determinism and a bourgeois biologism, taken to task ad nauseum for the alleged “rigidity” of his evolutionary system - which he, however, held to be only “Provisional” - Morgan is in fact a complex figure: subtle, far-ranging, many-sided, non-academic, passionately drawn toward poetry (his devotion to Shakespeare was as great as Marx’s), and in many ways more radical than even his relatively few sincere and knowledgeable admirers have been willing to admit.

His sympathetic diary-notes on the Paris Commune, made on his brief sojourn in that city in June lSfl, and his public defense of the Sioux during the anti-Indian “Red Scare” following “Custer’s Last Stand” in 1876-to cite only two expressions of his dissident views on major issues of the day - show that Morgan had little in common with the pedestrian image of the pious Presbyterian and conservative burgher customarily used to characterize him, The strong critical-utopian undercurrent in his work, especially evident in the many remarkable parallels between his thought and Fourier’s, but also in his vehement anti-clericalism and his veneration for heretics such as Jan Hus, has hardly been explored at all.

Let it not be forgotten, finally, that, apart from his epoch-making researches in the field of anthropology, Morgan also left us a wonderful monograph on The American Beaver and His Works (1868), a treatise pronounced “excellent” by Charles Darwin, who cited’ it several times in The Descent of Man, In its last chapter, Morgan bravely developed the notion of a “thinking principle” in animals and came out for animal rights:

Is it to be the prerogative of man to uproot and destroy not only the masses of the animal kingdom numerically, but also the great body of the species? If the human family maintains its present hostile attitude toward [animals], and increases in number: and in civilization at the present ratio. It is plain to be seen that many species of animals must be extirpated from the earth. An arrest of the progress of the human race can alone prevent the dismemberment and destruction of a large portion of the animal kingdom… The present attitude of man toward the (animals] is not such as befits his Superior wisdom. We deny [other species] all rights, and ravage their ranks with wanton and unmerciful cruelty The annual sacrifice of animal life to maintain human life is frightful… when we claim that the bear was made for man food, we forget that man was just as much made to be food for the bear. Morgan hoped that with the development of a friendlier, less prejudiced, more intimate study of the other creatures of this planet, “our relations to them “will appear to us in a different, and in a better light?’

***

In the 1950s and ’60s the revelations of “Early Marx” gave the lie alike to the oppressors of East and West. Early Marx, as millions discovered for themselves was the irreconcilable enemy not only of genocidal, capitalist, “free enterprise” wage-slavery, but also of institutionalized, “official,” bureaucratic state-capitalist “Marxism?” Against all forms of man’s inhumanity to man: Marx’s youthful revolutionary humanism helped inspire a worldwide resurgence of radical thought and action that became known as the “New-left” and gave the bosses and bureaucrats of all countries their biggest scare since the Spanish Revolution of 1936. In an intellectual atmosphere already bright with molotov cock-tails tossed at Russian tanks by young workers in Budapest in 1956, and at U.S. tanks by black youth in Chicago and dozens of other U.S. cities ten years later; Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 brought to the world exactly what revolutionary theory is supposed to bring: more light.

Early Marx was no Marxist, and never even had to pronounce himself on the matter, for Marxism hadn’t been invented yet. Late Marx was no Marxist, either; and said so himself, more than once. Lukewarm liberals and ex-radicals galore have genuflected endlessly on Marx’s jocular disclaimer, in vain attempts to convince themselves and the gullible that the author of The Civil War in France wound up on the side of the faint-hearted. But when Marx declared “I am no Marxist” he was certainly not renouncing his life’s work or his revolutionary passion)’ He was rejecting the reification and caricature of his work by “disciples” who preferred the study of scripture to the study of life, and mistook the quoting of chapter and verse and slogan for revolutionary theory and practice. Unlike these and legions of later “Marxists,” Marx refused to evaluate a constantly changing reality by means of exegeses of his own writings. For him, the study of texts-and he was a voracious reader if ever there was one - was part of a process of self-clarification and self-correction, a testing of his views against the arguments and evidence of others, a broadening of perspectives through an ongoing and open confrontation with the new and unexpected. For Late Marx, the motto doubt everythingwas no joke. Or at least it was not only a joke.

This is especially noticeable in the last decade of Marx’s life, and the Ethnological Notebooks are an especially revealing example of his readiness to revise previously held views in the light of new discoveries. At the very moment that his Russian “disciples” - those “admirers of capitalism,” as he ironically tagged them-were loudly proclaiming that the laws of historical development set forth in the first volume of Capital were universally mandatory, Marx himself was diving headlong into the study of (for him) new experiences of resistance and revolt against oppression - by North American Indians, Australian aborigines. Egyptians and Russian peasants. As we have seen, this study led him not only to dramatically and extensively alter his earlier views, but also to champion a movement in Russia that his “disciples” there and elsewhere scorned as “ahistorical,” “utopian’ “unrealistic” and “petty-bourgeois?’ Even today such epithets ate not unfamiliar to anyone who has ever dared to struggle against the existing order in a manner unprescribed by the “Marxist” Code of Law.

Late Marx also undercuts the several neo and anti-Marxisms that have, from time to time, held the spot-light in the intellectual fashion-shows of recent years-those hothouse hybrids concocted by specialists who seem to have persuaded themselves that they have gone “beyond Marx” by modifying his revolutionary project of “merciless criticism of everything in existence” into one or another specifically academic program of inoffensively mild and superficial criticism, not of everything, but only of whatever happens to fall within the four walls of their particular compartmentalized specialty. Not surprisingly, when the advocates of these neo-Marxisms’ finally get around to adopting a political position, it tends to be incurably reformist. Their sad fate in this regard serves to remind us that it is not by being less merciless in our criticism, less rigorous in, our research, or less revolutionary in our social activity that we are likely to go beyond Marx. Despite their pompous claims, ninety-seven percent of the neo- Marxists arc actually to the right of the crude and mechanical Marxists of the old sects, and the separation of their theory from their practice tends to be much larger. Certainly the Wobbly hobo of yesteryear, whose Marxist library consisted of little more than the IWW Preamble and the Little Red Song Book, had a far surer grasp of social reality - and indeed - of what Marx and even Hegel were talking about-than today’s professional phenomenologist-deconstructionist neo-Marxologist who, in addition to writing unreadable micro-analytical explications of Antonio Gramsci, insists on living in an all-white neighborhood, crosses the university clerical-workers’ picket line, and votes the straight Democratic ticket.

There is every reason to believe that “Late Marx” and the Ethnological Notebooks in particular; will provide for the next global revolutionary wave something of the illumination that Early Marx brought in the 60s. By helping to finish off what remains of the debilitating hegemony of the various “Marxist” orthodoxies a well as the evasive and confusional pretensions of the various “neo-Marxisms,” Late Marx will contribute to a new flowering of audacity, audacity and still more audacity that alone defines the terms of revolutionary theory and practice.

Late Marx emphasized as never before the subjective factor as the decisive force in revolution. His conclusion that revolutionary social transformation could proceed from different directions and in different (though not incompatible) ways was a logical extension of his multi-linear view of history into the present and future. This new pluralism turned out to b emphatically anti-reformist, however, and it is pleasant to discover that the proponents of gradualism, nationalization, Euro-communism, social-democracy, “liberation theology” and other sickeningly sentimental and fundamentally bourgeois aberrations will find no solace in Late Marx. On the contrary, the Ethnological Notebooks and Marx’s other Writings of the last period develop both the fierce anti-statism that became -a prime focus of his work” after the Paris Commune, and the merciless critique of religion that had provided the groundwork of his writings of 1843-45. Late Marx did not become an anarchist, but his last Writings establish a film basis for the historical reconciliation of revolutionary Marxists and anarchists that Andre Breton called for in his Legitime Defense in 1926.

Pivotal to all the excitement, playfulness, humor, discovery and diversity of Late Marx-so reminiscent of the mood of the 1844 texts-his anthropological investigations have a special relevance for today. If a century later, Marx’s “return to the projects of his Paris youth” still glows brightly with the colors of the future, it is because the possibilities of the revolutionary strategy suggested in these notebooks and related writings are far from being exhausted.

A gathering of the loose ends of a lifetime of revolutionary thought and action, the Ethnological Notebooks embody the final deepening and expanding Of Marx’s historical perspectives, and therefore of his Perspectives for revolution, by Marx himself. They are, in a sense, the last will and testament of Marx’s own Marxism. In these notes the “philosophical anthropology” of 1844 is empirically filled in, made more concrete, theoretically rounded out and in the end qualitatively transformed for, as Hegel observed in the Phenomenology, “in the alteration of the knowledge, the object itself also…is altered”.

Fragmentary though they are, the Notebooks, together with the drafts of the letter to Vera Zasulich and a few other texts, reveal that Marx’s culminating revolutionary vision is not only coherent and unified, but a ringing challenge to all the manifold Marxism’s that still try to dominate the discussion”” of social change today, and to all truly revolutionary thought, all thought focused on the reconciliation of humankind and the planet ‘we live on. In this challenge lies the greatest importance of these texts’ A close, critical look back to the rise and fall of ancient pre-capitalist communities, Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks and his other last writings also look ahead to today’s most promising revolutionary movements in the Third World, and the Fourth, and our own.

Raya Dunayevskaya, to whom ‘we owe the best that has been written on the Notebooks, rightly pointed out that “there is no way for us to know what Marx intended to do with this intensive study?” One need not be a card-carrying prophet to know in advance that this undeveloped work on underdeveloped societies will be developed in many different ways in the coming years.

But here is something to think about, tonight and tomorrow: With his radical new focus on the primal peoples of the world; his heightened critique of civilization and its values and institutions; his new emphasis it on the subjective factor in revolution; his ever-deeper hostility to religion and State; his unequivocal affirmation of revolutionary pluralism; his growing sense of the unprecedented depth and scope of the communist revolution as a total revolution, vastly exceeding the categories of economics and politics; his bold new posing of such fundamental questions as the relation of Man and woman, humankind and nature, imagination and culture, myth and ritual and all the “passions and Powers of the mind.” Late Marx is sharply opposed to, and incomparably more radical than, almost all that we know today as Marxism. At the same time, and everyone who understands Blake and Lautreamont and Thelonious Monk will know that this is no mere coincidence, Marx’s culminating synthesis is very close to the point of departure of surrealism, the “communism of genius”.


Leninism and the Ultra-Left, Giles Dauve





Introduction The invaluable merit of the German Left and a myriad of ultra-leftist grouplets has been to hammer in the primacy of workers’ spontaneity. The potentialities of communism lie in proletarian experience and nowhere else. The ultra-left therefore consistently appealed to the essence of the proletariat against its numerous mistaken forms of existence. From the 20s down to the 70s, it stood against all mediations, whether State, party or union, including splinter groups and anarchist unions. If Lenin can be summed up in one word: “party”, a single phrase defines the ultra-left: the workers themselves… Fine, but the question remains: which workers’ “self” is meant?
This issue must be faced, all the more so since council communism, through the Situationist International, has been quite influential.
The French version of this text originated from a group with ultra-left roots, but which came to question them. A first draft was submitted to a convention organized by the ICO (Informations Correspondance Ouvrieres), held near Paris, June 1969. 1 The enlarged English version was meant to start a discussion with Paul Mattick.
* * *
What is the ultra-left? It is both the product and one of the aspects of the revolutionary movement which followed the first world war and shook capitalist Europe without destroying it from 1917 to 1921 or 1923. Ultra-left ideas are rooted in that movement of the twenties, which was the expression of hundreds of thousands of revolutionary workers in Europe. That movement remained a minority in the Communist International and opposed the general line of the international communist movement. The term suggests the character of the ultra-left. There is the right (the social-patriots, Noske…), the centre (Kautsky…), the left (Lenin and the Communist International), and the ultra-left. The ultra-left is primarily an opposition: an opposition within and against the German Communist Party (K.P.D.), within and against the Communist International. It asserts itself through a critique of the prevailing ideas of the communist movement, i.e., through a critique of Leninism.
The ultra-left was far from being a monolithic movement. Furthermore, its various components modified their conceptions. For instance, [Herman] Gorter's open letter to Lenin expresses a theory of the party which the ultra-left no longer accepts. On the two main points (“organization” and the content of socialism) we shall only study the ideas which the ultra-left has retained throughout its development. The French group I.C.O. is one of the best examples of a present-day ultra-left group.
A) The Problem of Organization Ultra-left ideas are the product of a practical experience (mainly the workers’ struggles in Germany) and of a theoretical critique (the critique of Leninism). For Lenin, the main revolutionary problem was to forge a “leadership” capable of leading the workers to victory. When ultra-leftists tried to give a theoretical explanation of the rise of factory organizations in Germany, they said the working class does not need a party in order to be revolutionary. Revolution would be made by the masses organized in workers’ councils and not by a proletariat “led” by professional revolutionaries. The German Communist Workers’ Party (K.A.P.D.), whose activity is expressed theoretically by Gorter in his “Reply to Lenin”, regarded itself as a vanguard whose task was to enlighten the masses, not to lead them, as in Leninist theory. This conception was rejected by many ultra-leftists, who opposed the dual existence of the factory organizations and the party: revolutionaries must not try to organize themselves in a body distinct from the masses. That discussion led to the creation, in 1920, of the A.A.U.D.-E. (General Union of German Workers-Unitary Organization), which reproached the A.A.U.D. (General Labour Union of Germany) with being controlled by the K.A.P.D. (German Communist Workers’ Party). The majority of the ultra-left movement adopted the same view as the A.A.U.D.-E. In France, I.C.O.’s present activity is based on the same principle: any revolutionary organization coexisting with the organs created by the workers themselves, and trying to elaborate a coherent theory and political line, must in the end attempt to lead the workers. Therefore revolutionaries do not organize themselves outside the organs “spontaneously” created by the workers: they merely exchange and circulate information and establish contacts with other revolutionaries; they never try to define a general theory or strategy.
To understand this conception, we must go back to Leninism. The Leninist theory of the party is based on a distinction which can be found in all the great socialist thinkers of the period: “labour movement” and “socialism” (revolutionary ideas, the doctrine, Scientific Socialism, Marxism, etc. - it can be given many different names) are two things which are fundamentally different and separate. There are workers and their daily struggles on the one hand, and there are the revolutionaries on the other. Lenin proceeds to state that revolutionary ideas must be “introduced” into the working class. The labour movement and the revolutionary movement are severed from each other: they must be united through the leadership of the revolutionaries over the workers. Therefore revolutionaries must be organized and must act on the working class “from the outside.” Lenin’s analysis, situating the revolutionaries outside the labour movement, seems to be based on fact: it appears that revolutionaries live in a totally different world from that of workers. Yet Lenin does not see that this is an illusion. Marx’s analysis and his scientific socialism as a whole are not the product of “bourgeois intellectuals”, but of the class struggle on all its levels under capitalism. “Socialism” is the expression of the struggle of the proletariat. It was elaborated by “bourgeois intellectuals” (and by highly educated workers: J. Dietzgen) because only revolutionaries coming from the bourgeoisie were able to elaborate it, but it was the product of the class struggle.
The revolutionary movement, the dynamic that lea ds toward communism, is a result of capitalism. Let us examine Marx’s conception of the party. The word, party, appears frequently in Marx’s writings. We must make a distinction between Marx’s principles on this question and his analyses of many aspects of the labour movement of his time. Many of those analyses were wrong (for example his view of the future of trade unionism). Moreover we cannot find a text where Marx summed up his ideas on the party, but only a number of scattered remarks and comments. Yet we believe that a general point of view emerges from all these texts. Capitalist society itself produces a communist party, which is nothing more than the organization of the objective movement (this implies that Kautsky’s and Lenin’s conception of a “socialist consciousness” which must be “brought” to the workers is meaningless) that pushes society toward communism. Lenin saw a reformist proletariat and said that something had to be done (“socialist consciousness” had to be introduced) in order to turn it into a revolutionary proletariat. Thus Lenin showed that he totally misunderstood class struggle. In a non-revolutionary period the proletariat cannot change capitalist production relations. It therefore tries to change capitalist distribution relations through its demand for higher wages. Of course the workers do not “know” that they are changing the distribution relations when they ask for higher wages. Yet they do try, “unconsciously”, to act upon the capitalist system. Kautsky and Lenin do not see the process, the revolutionary movement created by capitalism; they only see one of its aspects. Kautsky’s and Lenin’s theory of class consciousness breaks up a process and considers only one of its transitory moments: for them the proletariat “by its own resources alone” can only be reformist, whereas the revolutionaries stand outside of the labour movement. In actual fact the revolutionaries and their ideas and theories originate in the workers’ struggles.
In a non-revolutionary period, revolutionary workers, isolated in their factories, do their best to expose the real nature of capitalism and the institutions which support it (unions, “workers’” parties). They usually do this with little success, which is quite normal. And there are revolutionaries (workers and non-workers) who read and write, who do their best to provide a critique of the whole system. They usually do this with little success, which is also quite normal. This division is produced by capitalism: one of the characteristics of capitalist society is the division between manual and intellectual work. This division exists in all the spheres of our society; it also exists in the revolutionary movement. It would be idealistic to expect the revolutionary movement to be “pure,” as if it were not a product of our society. Inevitably the revolutionary movement under capitalism, that is communism, bears the stigma of capitalism.
Only the complete success of revolution can destroy this division. Until then we must fight against it; it characterizes our movement as much as it characterizes the rest of our society. It is inevitable that numerous revolutionaries are not greatly inclined to reading and are not interested in theory. This is a fact, a transitory fact. But “revolutionary workers” and “revolutionary theoreticians” are two aspects of the same process. It is wrong to say that the “theoreticians” must lead the “workers”. But it is equally wrong to say, as I.C.O. says, that collectively organized theory is dangerous because it will result in leadership over the workers. I.C.O. merely takes a position symmetrical to Lenin’s. The revolutionary process is an organic process, and although its components may be separate from each other for a certain time, the emergence of any revolutionary (or even pseudo-revolutionary) situation shows the profound unity of the various elements of the revolutionary movement
What happened in May, 1968, in the worker-student action committees at the Censier centre in Paris? Some (ultra-left) communists, who before these events had devoted most of their revolutionary activity to theory, worked with a minority of revolutionary workers. Before May, 1968 (and since then), they were no more separate from the workers than every worker is separate from other workers in a “normal”, non-revolutionary situation in capitalist society. Marx was not separate from the workers when he was writing Capital, nor when he was working in the Communist League or the International. When he worked in these organizations he felt neither the need (as Lenin), nor the fear (as I.C.O.), to become the leader of the workers.
Marx’s conception of the party as a historical product of capitalist society taking different forms according to the stage and the evolution of that society enables us to go beyond the dilemma: need of the party/fear of the party. The communist party is the spontaneous (i.e., totally determined by social evolution) organization of the revolutionary movement created by capitalism. The party is a spontaneous offspring, born on the historical soil of modern society. Both the will and the fear to “create” the party are illusions. It does not need to be created or not created: it is a mere historical product. Therefore revolutionaries have no need either to build it or fear to build it.
Lenin had a theory of the party. Marx had another theory of the party, which was quite different from Lenin’s. Lenin’s theory was an element in the defeat of the Russian revolution. The ultra-left rejected all theories of the party as dangerous and counter-revolutionary. Yet Lenin’s theory was not at the root of the defeat of the Russian revolution. Lenin’s theory only prevailed because the Russian revolution failed (mainly because of the absence of revolution in the West). One must not discard all theories of the party because one of them (Lenin’s) was a counter-revolutionary instrument. Unfortunately, the ultra-left merely adopted a conception which is the exact opposite of Lenin’s. Lenin had wanted to build a party; the ultra-left refused to build one. The ultra-left thus gave a different answer to the same wrong question: for or against the construction of the party. The ultra-left remained on the same ground as Lenin. We, on the contrary, do not want merely to reverse Lenin’s view; we want to abandon it altogether.
Modern Leninist groups (Trotskyist groups, for instance) try to organize the workers. Modern ultra-left groups (I.C.O., for instance) only circulate information without trying to adopt a collective position on a problem. As opposed to this, we believe it necessary to formulate a theoretical critique of present society. Such a critique implies collective work. We also think that any permanent group of revolutionary workers must try to find a theoretical basis for its action. Theoretical clarification is an element of, and a necessary condition for, practical unification.
B) Managing What? The Russian revolution died because it ended up developing capitalism in Russia. To create an efficient body of managers became its motto. The ultra-left quickly concluded that bureaucratic management could not be socialism and they advocated workers’ management. A coherent ultra-left theory was created, with workers’ councils at its centre: the councils act as the fighting organs of the workers under capitalism and as the instruments of workers’ management under socialism. Thus the councils play the same central role in the ultra-left theory as the party in the Leninist theory.
The theory of workers’ management analyses capitalism in terms of its management. But is capitalism first of all a mode of management? The revolutionary analysis of capitalism started by Marx does not lay the stress on the question: who manages capital? On the contrary: Marx describes both capitalists and workers as mere functions of capital: “the capitalist as such is only a function of capital, the labourer a function of labour power.” The Russian leaders do not “lead” the economy; they are led by it, and the entire development of the Russian economy obeys the objective laws of capitalist accumulation. In other words, the manager is at the service of definite and compelling production relations. Capitalism is not a mode of MANAGEMENT but a mode of PRODUCTION based on given PRODUCTION RELATIONS. Revolution must aim at these relations; we will try to analyse them briefly. The revolutionary analysis of capitalism emphasises the role of capital, whose objective laws are obeyed by the “managers” of the economy, both in Russia and in America.
C) The Law of Value Capitalism is based on exchange: it first presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities.” But though it could not exist without exchange, capitalism is not merely the production of commodities; it grows and develops even by fighting against simple commodity production. Capital is fundamentally based on a particular type of exchange, the exchange between living labour and stored labour. The difference between Marx and the classical economists lies primarily in his creation of the concept of labour power: this concept reveals the secret of surplus-value, since it differentiates between necessary-labour and surplus labour.
How do commodities confront each other? By what mechanism can one determine that x quantity of A has the same value as y quantity of B? Marx does not try to find the explanation for xA = yB in the concrete nature of A and B, in their respective qualities, but in a quantitative relation: A and B can only be exchanged in the proportion xA = yB because they both contain a quantity of “something common” to both of them. If we abstract the concrete and useful nature of A and B, they retain only one thing in common: they are both “products of labour”. A and B are exchanged in proportions determined by the respective quantities of labour crystallized in them. The quantities of labour are measured by their duration. The concept of socially necessary labour time, developed by further analysis, is an abstraction: one cannot calculate what an hour of socially necessary labour represents in a given society. But the distinction between abstract and concrete labour allows Marx to understand the mechanism of exchange and to analyse a particular form of exchange: the wage system.

The best points in my book are: 1) the two-fold character of labour, according to whether it is expressed in use value or exchange value. (All understanding of the facts depends upon this.) It is emphasized immediately, in the first chapter… 2

Labour time, in fact, determines the entire social organization of production and distribution. It regulates the proportions in which the productive forces are used for specific purposes at specific places. The law of value “asserts itself as it determines the necessary proportions of social labour, not in the general sense which applies to all societies, but only in the sense required by capitalist society; in other words, it establishes a proportional distribution of the whole social labour according to the specific needs of capitalist production.” 3
This is one of the reasons why capital will not be invested in a factory in India 4 even though the production of that factory may be necessary to the survival of the population. Capital always goes where it can multiply quickly. The regulation by labour time compels capitalist society to develop a given production only where the labour time socially necessary for this production is at most equal to the average labour time.
Such is the logic of capital: exchange-value determined by average labour time.
D) The Contradiction of Labour Time We mentioned the central role played by surplus labour in the production of surplus value. Marx emphasised the origin, the function and the limit of surplus labour.

…Only when a certain degree of productivity has already been reached- so that a part of production time is sufficient for immediate production- can an increasingly large part be applied to the production of the means of production. This requires that society be able to wait; that a large part of the wealth already created can be withdrawn both from immediate consumption and from production for immediate consumption, in order to employ this part for labour which is not immediately productive (within the material production process itself)”. 5

Wage labour is the means for developing the productive forces.

Real economy - saving - consists of the saving of labour time (minimum (and minimization) of production costs); but this saving [is] identical with development of the productive force.6

Wage labour makes possible the production of surplus value through the appropriation of surplus labour by capital. In that sense the miserable condition which is the lot of the worker is a historical necessity. The worker must be compelled to furnish surplus labour. This is how the productive forces develop and increase the share of surplus labour in the working day:
Capital creates “a large quantity of disposable time… (i.e. room for the development of the individual’s full productive forces, hence those of society also)”. 7
The contradictory or “antithetical existence” 8of surplus labour is quite clear:
- it creates the “wealth of nations”,
- it brings nothing but misery to the workers who furnish it.
Capital “is thus, despite itself, instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labour time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum, and thus to free everyone’s time for their own development.” 9
In communism, the excess of time in relation to necessary labour time will lose the character of surplus labour which the historical limits of the productive forces had bestowed on it under capitalism. Disposable time will cease to be based on the poverty of labour. There will be no need to use misery to create wealth. When the relation between necessary labour and surplus labour is overthrown by the rise of the productive forces, the excess of time beyond labour needed for material existence will lose its transitory form of surplus labour.

Free time - which is both idle time and time for higher activity - has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject.10

The economy of labour time is an absolute necessity for the development of mankind. It lays the foundation for the possibility of capitalism and, at a higher stage, of communism. The same movement develops capitalism and makes communism both necessary and possible.
The law of value and measurement by average labour time are involved in the same process. The law of value expresses the limit of capitalism and plays a necessary part. As long as the productive forces are not yet highly developed and immediate labour remains the essential factor of production, measurement by average labour time is an absolute necessity. But with the development of capital, especially of fixed capital, “the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production.” 11
The misery of the proletariat has been the condition for a considerable growth of fixed capital, in which all the scientific and technical knowledge of mankind is “fixed”. Automation, the effects of which we are now beginning to see, is but one stage in this development. Yet capital continues to regulate production through the measurement of average labour time.

Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form.12

The well known contradiction productive forces/production relations cannot be understood if one does not see the link between the following oppositions:
a) contradiction between the function of average labour time as a regulator of “under-developed” productive forces, and the growth of productive forces which tends to destroy the necessity of such a function.
b) contradiction between the necessity of developing to a maximum the surplus labour of the worker in order to produce as much surplus value as possible, and the very growth of surplus labour which makes its suppression possible.

As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head.13

"Human liberation", prophesied by all utopian thinkers (past and present), is then possible:

With that, production based on exchange value breaks down… The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.14


Every child knows that a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish. Every child knows, too, that the masses of products corresponding to the different needs require different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labour of society. That this necessity of the distribution of social labour in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production but can only change the mode of its appearance, is self evident. No natural laws can be done away with. What can change in historically different circumstances is only the form in which these laws assert themselves. 15

Marx opposes regulation by socially necessary labour time to regulation by available time. Of course these are not two methods which could be used or rejected, but two historical objective processes involving all social relations. Many people know the pages from the Critique of the Gotha Programme where Marx explains that “within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of the total labour”. 16
"To everybody according to his needs", in Marx’s view, does not mean that "everything" will exist "in abundance"; the notion of absolute "abundance" is historically irrelevant. There will have to be some sort of calculation and choice, not on the basis of exchange value, but on the basis of use value, of the social utility of the considered product. (Thereby the problem of "undeveloped countries" will be seen and treated in a new way.) Marx was quite clear about this in The Poverty of Philosophy:

In a future society, in which class antagonism will have ceased, in which there will no longer be any classes, use will no longer be determined by the minimum time of production; but the time of production devoted to different articles will be determined by the degree of their social utility. 17

Thus the text on the passage from the “realm of necessity” to the “realm of freedom” 18 is elucidated. Freedom is regarded as a relation where man, mastering the process of production of material life, will at last be able to adapt his aspirations to the level reached by the development of the productive forces. 19 The growth of social wealth and the development of every individuality coincide.
"For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time". 20 Thus Marx is quite right to describe time as the dimension of human liberation.
Furthermore, it is clear that the dynamics analysed by Marx excludes the hypothesis of any gradual way to communism through the progressive destruction of the law of value. On the contrary, the law of value keeps asserting itself violently until the overthrow of capitalism: the law of value never ceases destroying itself - only to reappear at a higher level. We have seen that the movement which gave birth to it tends to destroy its necessity. But it never ceases to exist and to regulate the functioning of the system. A revolution is therefore necessary.
The theory of the management of society through workers’ councils does not take the dynamics of capitalism into account. It retains all the categories and characteristics of capitalism: wage-labour, law of value, exchange. The sort of socialism it proposes is nothing other than capitalism - democratically managed by the workers. If this were put into practice there would be two possibilities: either the workers’ councils would try not to function as in capitalist enterprises, which would be impossible since capitalist production relations would still exist. In this case the workers’ councils would be destroyed by counter-revolution. Production relations are not man-to-man relations, but the combination of the various elements of the process of labour. The “human” relation leaders/led is only a secondary form of the fundamental relation between wage-labour and capital. Or the workers’ councils would consent to functioning as capitalist enterprises. In this case the system of councils would not survive; it would become an illusion, one of the numerous forms of association between Capital and Labour. “Elected” managers would soon become identical to traditional capitalists: the function of capitalist, says Marx, tends to separate from the function of worker. Workers’ management would result in capitalism; in other words, capitalism would not have been destroyed.
The Bolshevik bureaucracy took the economy under its control. The ultra-left wants the masses to do this. The ultra-left remains on the same ground as Leninism: it once again gives a different answer to the same question (the management of the economy). We want to replace that question with a different one (the destruction of that economy, which is capitalist). Socialism is not the management, however “democratic” it may be, of capital, but its complete destruction.
E) The Historical Limit of the Ultra-Left Our examination of the problem of “organization” and of the content of socialism has led us to affirm the existence of a revolutionary dynamic under capitalism. Produced by capitalism, the revolutionary movement assumes new forms in a new situation. Socialism is not merely the management of society by the workers, but the termination of the historical cycle of capital by the proletariat. The proletariat does not only seize the world; it also concludes the movement of capitalism and exchange. This is what distinguishes Marx from all utopian and reformist thinkers; socialism is produced by the objective dynamics which created capital and spread it all over the planet. Marx insists on the content of the movement. Lenin and the ultra-left insisted on its forms: form of organization, form of management of society, while they forgot the content of the revolutionary movement. This, too, was a historical product. The situation of the period prevented revolutionary struggles from having a communist content.
Leninism expressed the impossibility of revolution in his time. Councilism expressed its necessity, but without seeing exactly where its possibility lies. Marx’s ideas on the party were abandoned. It was the time of the large reformist organizations, then of the communist parties (which quickly or immediately sank into another form of reformism). The revolutionary movement was not strong enough. Everywhere, in Germany, in Italy, in France, in Great Britain, the beginning of the twenties was marked by the control of the masses by “workers’” leaders. Reacting against this situation, ultra-leftists were driven to the point where they feared to become the new bureaucrats. Instead of understanding the Leninist parties as a product of proletarian defeat, they refused any party, and like Lenin let the Marxist conception of the party remain in oblivion. As for the content of socialism, all social movements, except in Spain for a short time, tried to administer capitalism and not to overthrow it. In such conditions the ultra-left could not make a profound critique of Leninism. They could only take the opposite view, and oppose other forms to Leninism, without seeing the content of revolution. This was all the more natural as that content did not clearly appear. (We must nevertheless remember that the ultra-left provided a remarkable critique of some aspects of capitalism - unionism and “workers’” parties).
These are the reasons why the ultra-left movement only replaced the Leninist fetishism of the party and class-consciousness with the fetishism of workers’ councils. The critique of both Leninism and ultra-leftism is now possible because the development of capitalism gives us an idea of the real content of the revolutionary movement.
By holding on to the ultra-left ideas we presented (fear of creating the party, and workers’ management), we would turn them into mere ideology. When these ideas first appeared around 1920, they expressed a real revolutionary struggle, and even their “mistakes” played a positive and progressive role in the struggles against social democracy and Leninism. Their limits were the expression of the activity of thousands of revolutionary workers. But things have changed a great deal since 1920. A new revolutionary workers’ minority is in a slow process of formation, as was revealed by the 1968 events in France, and by other struggles in several countries.
In a revolutionary period, the revolutionary fights alongside the proletarian without any theoretical or sociological problem. The revolutionary movement gets unified. Theoretical coherence is a permanent objective of the revolutionaries, as it always hastens the practical co-ordination of revolutionary efforts. Revolutionaries never hesitate to act collectively in order to propagate their critique of the existing society.
They do not try to tell the workers what to do; but they do not refrain from intervening under the pretext that “the workers must decide for themselves”. For, on the one hand, the workers only decide to do what the general situation compels them to do; and on the other, the revolutionary movement is an organic structure of which theory is an inseparable and indispensable element. Communists represent and defend the general interests of the movement. In all situations, they do not hesitate to express the whole meaning of what is going on, and to make practical proposals. If the expression is right and the proposal appropriate, they are parts of the struggle of the proletariat and contribute to build the “party” of the communist revolution.
July, 1969
1.ICO later became Echanges et Mouvement
2.Marx’s letter to Engels, August 24, 1867.
3.Paul Mattick, “Value and Socialism”.
4.libcom note: readers should again bear in mind when this text was written, as this clearly would not apply today
5.Marx, Grundrisse.
6.Ibid.
7.Ibid.
8.Ibid.
9.Ibid.
10.Ibid.
11.Ibid.
12.Ibid.
13.Ibid.
14.Ibid.
15.Marx’s letter to Kugelmann, July 11, 1868
16.Marx Critique of the Gotha Programme.
17.Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy.
18.Capital, Vol.III, last chapter.
19."The essence of bourgeois society consists precisely in this, that a priori there is no conscious social regulation of production. The rational and naturally necessary asserts itself only as a blindly working average." (Marx’s letter to Kugelmann, July 11, 1868)
20.Grundrisse.

Leninism and the Ultra-Left, Giles Dauve

Introduction 
The invaluable merit of the German Left and a myriad of ultra-leftist grouplets has been to hammer in the primacy of workers’ spontaneity. The potentialities of communism lie in proletarian experience and nowhere else. The ultra-left therefore consistently appealed to the essence of the proletariat against its numerous mistaken forms of existence. From the 20s down to the 70s, it stood against all mediations, whether State, party or union, including splinter groups and anarchist unions. If Lenin can be summed up in one word: “party”, a single phrase defines the ultra-left: the workers themselves… Fine, but the question remains: which workers’ “self” is meant?

This issue must be faced, all the more so since council communism, through the Situationist International, has been quite influential.

The French version of this text originated from a group with ultra-left roots, but which came to question them. A first draft was submitted to a convention organized by the ICO (Informations Correspondance Ouvrieres), held near Paris, June 1969. 1 The enlarged English version was meant to start a discussion with Paul Mattick.

* * *

What is the ultra-left? It is both the product and one of the aspects of the revolutionary movement which followed the first world war and shook capitalist Europe without destroying it from 1917 to 1921 or 1923. Ultra-left ideas are rooted in that movement of the twenties, which was the expression of hundreds of thousands of revolutionary workers in Europe. That movement remained a minority in the Communist International and opposed the general line of the international communist movement. The term suggests the character of the ultra-left. There is the right (the social-patriots, Noske…), the centre (Kautsky…), the left (Lenin and the Communist International), and the ultra-left. The ultra-left is primarily an opposition: an opposition within and against the German Communist Party (K.P.D.), within and against the Communist International. It asserts itself through a critique of the prevailing ideas of the communist movement, i.e., through a critique of Leninism.

The ultra-left was far from being a monolithic movement. Furthermore, its various components modified their conceptions. For instance, [Herman] Gorter's open letter to Lenin expresses a theory of the party which the ultra-left no longer accepts. On the two main points (“organization” and the content of socialism) we shall only study the ideas which the ultra-left has retained throughout its development. The French group I.C.O. is one of the best examples of a present-day ultra-left group.

A) The Problem of Organization 
Ultra-left ideas are the product of a practical experience (mainly the workers’ struggles in Germany) and of a theoretical critique (the critique of Leninism). For Lenin, the main revolutionary problem was to forge a “leadership” capable of leading the workers to victory. When ultra-leftists tried to give a theoretical explanation of the rise of factory organizations in Germany, they said the working class does not need a party in order to be revolutionary. Revolution would be made by the masses organized in workers’ councils and not by a proletariat “led” by professional revolutionaries. The German Communist Workers’ Party (K.A.P.D.), whose activity is expressed theoretically by Gorter in his “Reply to Lenin”, regarded itself as a vanguard whose task was to enlighten the masses, not to lead them, as in Leninist theory. This conception was rejected by many ultra-leftists, who opposed the dual existence of the factory organizations and the party: revolutionaries must not try to organize themselves in a body distinct from the masses. That discussion led to the creation, in 1920, of the A.A.U.D.-E. (General Union of German Workers-Unitary Organization), which reproached the A.A.U.D. (General Labour Union of Germany) with being controlled by the K.A.P.D. (German Communist Workers’ Party). The majority of the ultra-left movement adopted the same view as the A.A.U.D.-E. In France, I.C.O.’s present activity is based on the same principle: any revolutionary organization coexisting with the organs created by the workers themselves, and trying to elaborate a coherent theory and political line, must in the end attempt to lead the workers. Therefore revolutionaries do not organize themselves outside the organs “spontaneously” created by the workers: they merely exchange and circulate information and establish contacts with other revolutionaries; they never try to define a general theory or strategy.

To understand this conception, we must go back to Leninism. The Leninist theory of the party is based on a distinction which can be found in all the great socialist thinkers of the period: “labour movement” and “socialism” (revolutionary ideas, the doctrine, Scientific Socialism, Marxism, etc. - it can be given many different names) are two things which are fundamentally different and separate. There are workers and their daily struggles on the one hand, and there are the revolutionaries on the other. Lenin proceeds to state that revolutionary ideas must be “introduced” into the working class. The labour movement and the revolutionary movement are severed from each other: they must be united through the leadership of the revolutionaries over the workers. Therefore revolutionaries must be organized and must act on the working class “from the outside.” Lenin’s analysis, situating the revolutionaries outside the labour movement, seems to be based on fact: it appears that revolutionaries live in a totally different world from that of workers. Yet Lenin does not see that this is an illusion. Marx’s analysis and his scientific socialism as a whole are not the product of “bourgeois intellectuals”, but of the class struggle on all its levels under capitalism. “Socialism” is the expression of the struggle of the proletariat. It was elaborated by “bourgeois intellectuals” (and by highly educated workers: J. Dietzgen) because only revolutionaries coming from the bourgeoisie were able to elaborate it, but it was the product of the class struggle.

The revolutionary movement, the dynamic that lea ds toward communism, is a result of capitalism. Let us examine Marx’s conception of the party. The word, party, appears frequently in Marx’s writings. We must make a distinction between Marx’s principles on this question and his analyses of many aspects of the labour movement of his time. Many of those analyses were wrong (for example his view of the future of trade unionism). Moreover we cannot find a text where Marx summed up his ideas on the party, but only a number of scattered remarks and comments. Yet we believe that a general point of view emerges from all these texts. Capitalist society itself produces a communist party, which is nothing more than the organization of the objective movement (this implies that Kautsky’s and Lenin’s conception of a “socialist consciousness” which must be “brought” to the workers is meaningless) that pushes society toward communism. Lenin saw a reformist proletariat and said that something had to be done (“socialist consciousness” had to be introduced) in order to turn it into a revolutionary proletariat. Thus Lenin showed that he totally misunderstood class struggle. In a non-revolutionary period the proletariat cannot change capitalist production relations. It therefore tries to change capitalist distribution relations through its demand for higher wages. Of course the workers do not “know” that they are changing the distribution relations when they ask for higher wages. Yet they do try, “unconsciously”, to act upon the capitalist system. Kautsky and Lenin do not see the process, the revolutionary movement created by capitalism; they only see one of its aspects. Kautsky’s and Lenin’s theory of class consciousness breaks up a process and considers only one of its transitory moments: for them the proletariat “by its own resources alone” can only be reformist, whereas the revolutionaries stand outside of the labour movement. In actual fact the revolutionaries and their ideas and theories originate in the workers’ struggles.

In a non-revolutionary period, revolutionary workers, isolated in their factories, do their best to expose the real nature of capitalism and the institutions which support it (unions, “workers’” parties). They usually do this with little success, which is quite normal. And there are revolutionaries (workers and non-workers) who read and write, who do their best to provide a critique of the whole system. They usually do this with little success, which is also quite normal. This division is produced by capitalism: one of the characteristics of capitalist society is the division between manual and intellectual work. This division exists in all the spheres of our society; it also exists in the revolutionary movement. It would be idealistic to expect the revolutionary movement to be “pure,” as if it were not a product of our society. Inevitably the revolutionary movement under capitalism, that is communism, bears the stigma of capitalism.

Only the complete success of revolution can destroy this division. Until then we must fight against it; it characterizes our movement as much as it characterizes the rest of our society. It is inevitable that numerous revolutionaries are not greatly inclined to reading and are not interested in theory. This is a fact, a transitory fact. But “revolutionary workers” and “revolutionary theoreticians” are two aspects of the same process. It is wrong to say that the “theoreticians” must lead the “workers”. But it is equally wrong to say, as I.C.O. says, that collectively organized theory is dangerous because it will result in leadership over the workers. I.C.O. merely takes a position symmetrical to Lenin’s. The revolutionary process is an organic process, and although its components may be separate from each other for a certain time, the emergence of any revolutionary (or even pseudo-revolutionary) situation shows the profound unity of the various elements of the revolutionary movement

What happened in May, 1968, in the worker-student action committees at the Censier centre in Paris? Some (ultra-left) communists, who before these events had devoted most of their revolutionary activity to theory, worked with a minority of revolutionary workers. Before May, 1968 (and since then), they were no more separate from the workers than every worker is separate from other workers in a “normal”, non-revolutionary situation in capitalist society. Marx was not separate from the workers when he was writing Capital, nor when he was working in the Communist League or the International. When he worked in these organizations he felt neither the need (as Lenin), nor the fear (as I.C.O.), to become the leader of the workers.

Marx’s conception of the party as a historical product of capitalist society taking different forms according to the stage and the evolution of that society enables us to go beyond the dilemma: need of the party/fear of the party. The communist party is the spontaneous (i.e., totally determined by social evolution) organization of the revolutionary movement created by capitalism. The party is a spontaneous offspring, born on the historical soil of modern society. Both the will and the fear to “create” the party are illusions. It does not need to be created or not created: it is a mere historical product. Therefore revolutionaries have no need either to build it or fear to build it.

Lenin had a theory of the party. Marx had another theory of the party, which was quite different from Lenin’s. Lenin’s theory was an element in the defeat of the Russian revolution. The ultra-left rejected all theories of the party as dangerous and counter-revolutionary. Yet Lenin’s theory was not at the root of the defeat of the Russian revolution. Lenin’s theory only prevailed because the Russian revolution failed (mainly because of the absence of revolution in the West). One must not discard all theories of the party because one of them (Lenin’s) was a counter-revolutionary instrument. Unfortunately, the ultra-left merely adopted a conception which is the exact opposite of Lenin’s. Lenin had wanted to build a party; the ultra-left refused to build one. The ultra-left thus gave a different answer to the same wrong question: for or against the construction of the party. The ultra-left remained on the same ground as Lenin. We, on the contrary, do not want merely to reverse Lenin’s view; we want to abandon it altogether.

Modern Leninist groups (Trotskyist groups, for instance) try to organize the workers. Modern ultra-left groups (I.C.O., for instance) only circulate information without trying to adopt a collective position on a problem. As opposed to this, we believe it necessary to formulate a theoretical critique of present society. Such a critique implies collective work. We also think that any permanent group of revolutionary workers must try to find a theoretical basis for its action. Theoretical clarification is an element of, and a necessary condition for, practical unification.

B) Managing What? 
The Russian revolution died because it ended up developing capitalism in Russia. To create an efficient body of managers became its motto. The ultra-left quickly concluded that bureaucratic management could not be socialism and they advocated workers’ management. A coherent ultra-left theory was created, with workers’ councils at its centre: the councils act as the fighting organs of the workers under capitalism and as the instruments of workers’ management under socialism. Thus the councils play the same central role in the ultra-left theory as the party in the Leninist theory.

The theory of workers’ management analyses capitalism in terms of its management. But is capitalism first of all a mode of management? The revolutionary analysis of capitalism started by Marx does not lay the stress on the question: who manages capital? On the contrary: Marx describes both capitalists and workers as mere functions of capital: “the capitalist as such is only a function of capital, the labourer a function of labour power.” The Russian leaders do not “lead” the economy; they are led by it, and the entire development of the Russian economy obeys the objective laws of capitalist accumulation. In other words, the manager is at the service of definite and compelling production relations. Capitalism is not a mode of MANAGEMENT but a mode of PRODUCTION based on given PRODUCTION RELATIONS. Revolution must aim at these relations; we will try to analyse them briefly. The revolutionary analysis of capitalism emphasises the role of capital, whose objective laws are obeyed by the “managers” of the economy, both in Russia and in America.

C) The Law of Value 
Capitalism is based on exchange: it first presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities.” But though it could not exist without exchange, capitalism is not merely the production of commodities; it grows and develops even by fighting against simple commodity production. Capital is fundamentally based on a particular type of exchange, the exchange between living labour and stored labour. The difference between Marx and the classical economists lies primarily in his creation of the concept of labour power: this concept reveals the secret of surplus-value, since it differentiates between necessary-labour and surplus labour.

How do commodities confront each other? By what mechanism can one determine that x quantity of A has the same value as y quantity of B? Marx does not try to find the explanation for xA = yB in the concrete nature of A and B, in their respective qualities, but in a quantitative relation: A and B can only be exchanged in the proportion xA = yB because they both contain a quantity of “something common” to both of them. If we abstract the concrete and useful nature of A and B, they retain only one thing in common: they are both “products of labour”. A and B are exchanged in proportions determined by the respective quantities of labour crystallized in them. The quantities of labour are measured by their duration. The concept of socially necessary labour time, developed by further analysis, is an abstraction: one cannot calculate what an hour of socially necessary labour represents in a given society. But the distinction between abstract and concrete labour allows Marx to understand the mechanism of exchange and to analyse a particular form of exchange: the wage system.

The best points in my book are: 1) the two-fold character of labour, according to whether it is expressed in use value or exchange value. (All understanding of the facts depends upon this.) It is emphasized immediately, in the first chapter… 2

Labour time, in fact, determines the entire social organization of production and distribution. It regulates the proportions in which the productive forces are used for specific purposes at specific places. The law of value “asserts itself as it determines the necessary proportions of social labour, not in the general sense which applies to all societies, but only in the sense required by capitalist society; in other words, it establishes a proportional distribution of the whole social labour according to the specific needs of capitalist production.” 3

This is one of the reasons why capital will not be invested in a factory in India 4 even though the production of that factory may be necessary to the survival of the population. Capital always goes where it can multiply quickly. The regulation by labour time compels capitalist society to develop a given production only where the labour time socially necessary for this production is at most equal to the average labour time.

Such is the logic of capital: exchange-value determined by average labour time.

D) The Contradiction of Labour Time 
We mentioned the central role played by surplus labour in the production of surplus value. Marx emphasised the origin, the function and the limit of surplus labour.

…Only when a certain degree of productivity has already been reached- so that a part of production time is sufficient for immediate production- can an increasingly large part be applied to the production of the means of production. This requires that society be able to wait; that a large part of the wealth already created can be withdrawn both from immediate consumption and from production for immediate consumption, in order to employ this part for labour which is not immediately productive (within the material production process itself)”. 5

Wage labour is the means for developing the productive forces.

Real economy - saving - consists of the saving of labour time (minimum (and minimization) of production costs); but this saving [is] identical with development of the productive force.6

Wage labour makes possible the production of surplus value through the appropriation of surplus labour by capital. In that sense the miserable condition which is the lot of the worker is a historical necessity. The worker must be compelled to furnish surplus labour. This is how the productive forces develop and increase the share of surplus labour in the working day:

Capital creates “a large quantity of disposable time… (i.e. room for the development of the individual’s full productive forces, hence those of society also)”. 7

The contradictory or “antithetical existence” 8of surplus labour is quite clear:

- it creates the “wealth of nations”,

- it brings nothing but misery to the workers who furnish it.

Capital “is thus, despite itself, instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labour time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum, and thus to free everyone’s time for their own development.” 9

In communism, the excess of time in relation to necessary labour time will lose the character of surplus labour which the historical limits of the productive forces had bestowed on it under capitalism. Disposable time will cease to be based on the poverty of labour. There will be no need to use misery to create wealth. When the relation between necessary labour and surplus labour is overthrown by the rise of the productive forces, the excess of time beyond labour needed for material existence will lose its transitory form of surplus labour.

Free time - which is both idle time and time for higher activity - has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject.10

The economy of labour time is an absolute necessity for the development of mankind. It lays the foundation for the possibility of capitalism and, at a higher stage, of communism. The same movement develops capitalism and makes communism both necessary and possible.

The law of value and measurement by average labour time are involved in the same process. The law of value expresses the limit of capitalism and plays a necessary part. As long as the productive forces are not yet highly developed and immediate labour remains the essential factor of production, measurement by average labour time is an absolute necessity. But with the development of capital, especially of fixed capital, “the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production.” 11

The misery of the proletariat has been the condition for a considerable growth of fixed capital, in which all the scientific and technical knowledge of mankind is “fixed”. Automation, the effects of which we are now beginning to see, is but one stage in this development. Yet capital continues to regulate production through the measurement of average labour time.

Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form.12

The well known contradiction productive forces/production relations cannot be understood if one does not see the link between the following oppositions:

a) contradiction between the function of average labour time as a regulator of “under-developed” productive forces, and the growth of productive forces which tends to destroy the necessity of such a function.

b) contradiction between the necessity of developing to a maximum the surplus labour of the worker in order to produce as much surplus value as possible, and the very growth of surplus labour which makes its suppression possible.

As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head.13

"Human liberation", prophesied by all utopian thinkers (past and present), is then possible:

With that, production based on exchange value breaks down… The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.14

Every child knows that a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish. Every child knows, too, that the masses of products corresponding to the different needs require different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labour of society. That this necessity of the distribution of social labour in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production but can only change the mode of its appearance, is self evident. No natural laws can be done away with. What can change in historically different circumstances is only the form in which these laws assert themselves. 15

Marx opposes regulation by socially necessary labour time to regulation by available time. Of course these are not two methods which could be used or rejected, but two historical objective processes involving all social relations. Many people know the pages from the Critique of the Gotha Programme where Marx explains that “within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of the total labour”. 16

"To everybody according to his needs", in Marx’s view, does not mean that "everything" will exist "in abundance"; the notion of absolute "abundance" is historically irrelevant. There will have to be some sort of calculation and choice, not on the basis of exchange value, but on the basis of use value, of the social utility of the considered product. (Thereby the problem of "undeveloped countries" will be seen and treated in a new way.) Marx was quite clear about this in The Poverty of Philosophy:

In a future society, in which class antagonism will have ceased, in which there will no longer be any classes, use will no longer be determined by the minimum time of production; but the time of production devoted to different articles will be determined by the degree of their social utility. 17

Thus the text on the passage from the “realm of necessity” to the “realm of freedom” 18 is elucidated. Freedom is regarded as a relation where man, mastering the process of production of material life, will at last be able to adapt his aspirations to the level reached by the development of the productive forces. 19 The growth of social wealth and the development of every individuality coincide.

"For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time". 20 Thus Marx is quite right to describe time as the dimension of human liberation.

Furthermore, it is clear that the dynamics analysed by Marx excludes the hypothesis of any gradual way to communism through the progressive destruction of the law of value. On the contrary, the law of value keeps asserting itself violently until the overthrow of capitalism: the law of value never ceases destroying itself - only to reappear at a higher level. We have seen that the movement which gave birth to it tends to destroy its necessity. But it never ceases to exist and to regulate the functioning of the system. A revolution is therefore necessary.

The theory of the management of society through workers’ councils does not take the dynamics of capitalism into account. It retains all the categories and characteristics of capitalism: wage-labour, law of value, exchange. The sort of socialism it proposes is nothing other than capitalism - democratically managed by the workers. If this were put into practice there would be two possibilities: either the workers’ councils would try not to function as in capitalist enterprises, which would be impossible since capitalist production relations would still exist. In this case the workers’ councils would be destroyed by counter-revolution. Production relations are not man-to-man relations, but the combination of the various elements of the process of labour. The “human” relation leaders/led is only a secondary form of the fundamental relation between wage-labour and capital. Or the workers’ councils would consent to functioning as capitalist enterprises. In this case the system of councils would not survive; it would become an illusion, one of the numerous forms of association between Capital and Labour. “Elected” managers would soon become identical to traditional capitalists: the function of capitalist, says Marx, tends to separate from the function of worker. Workers’ management would result in capitalism; in other words, capitalism would not have been destroyed.

The Bolshevik bureaucracy took the economy under its control. The ultra-left wants the masses to do this. The ultra-left remains on the same ground as Leninism: it once again gives a different answer to the same question (the management of the economy). We want to replace that question with a different one (the destruction of that economy, which is capitalist). Socialism is not the management, however “democratic” it may be, of capital, but its complete destruction.

E) The Historical Limit of the Ultra-Left 
Our examination of the problem of “organization” and of the content of socialism has led us to affirm the existence of a revolutionary dynamic under capitalism. Produced by capitalism, the revolutionary movement assumes new forms in a new situation. Socialism is not merely the management of society by the workers, but the termination of the historical cycle of capital by the proletariat. The proletariat does not only seize the world; it also concludes the movement of capitalism and exchange. This is what distinguishes Marx from all utopian and reformist thinkers; socialism is produced by the objective dynamics which created capital and spread it all over the planet. Marx insists on the content of the movement. Lenin and the ultra-left insisted on its forms: form of organization, form of management of society, while they forgot the content of the revolutionary movement. This, too, was a historical product. The situation of the period prevented revolutionary struggles from having a communist content.

Leninism expressed the impossibility of revolution in his time. Councilism expressed its necessity, but without seeing exactly where its possibility lies. Marx’s ideas on the party were abandoned. It was the time of the large reformist organizations, then of the communist parties (which quickly or immediately sank into another form of reformism). The revolutionary movement was not strong enough. Everywhere, in Germany, in Italy, in France, in Great Britain, the beginning of the twenties was marked by the control of the masses by “workers’” leaders. Reacting against this situation, ultra-leftists were driven to the point where they feared to become the new bureaucrats. Instead of understanding the Leninist parties as a product of proletarian defeat, they refused any party, and like Lenin let the Marxist conception of the party remain in oblivion. As for the content of socialism, all social movements, except in Spain for a short time, tried to administer capitalism and not to overthrow it. In such conditions the ultra-left could not make a profound critique of Leninism. They could only take the opposite view, and oppose other forms to Leninism, without seeing the content of revolution. This was all the more natural as that content did not clearly appear. (We must nevertheless remember that the ultra-left provided a remarkable critique of some aspects of capitalism - unionism and “workers’” parties).

These are the reasons why the ultra-left movement only replaced the Leninist fetishism of the party and class-consciousness with the fetishism of workers’ councils. The critique of both Leninism and ultra-leftism is now possible because the development of capitalism gives us an idea of the real content of the revolutionary movement.

By holding on to the ultra-left ideas we presented (fear of creating the party, and workers’ management), we would turn them into mere ideology. When these ideas first appeared around 1920, they expressed a real revolutionary struggle, and even their “mistakes” played a positive and progressive role in the struggles against social democracy and Leninism. Their limits were the expression of the activity of thousands of revolutionary workers. But things have changed a great deal since 1920. A new revolutionary workers’ minority is in a slow process of formation, as was revealed by the 1968 events in France, and by other struggles in several countries.

In a revolutionary period, the revolutionary fights alongside the proletarian without any theoretical or sociological problem. The revolutionary movement gets unified. Theoretical coherence is a permanent objective of the revolutionaries, as it always hastens the practical co-ordination of revolutionary efforts. Revolutionaries never hesitate to act collectively in order to propagate their critique of the existing society.

They do not try to tell the workers what to do; but they do not refrain from intervening under the pretext that “the workers must decide for themselves”. For, on the one hand, the workers only decide to do what the general situation compels them to do; and on the other, the revolutionary movement is an organic structure of which theory is an inseparable and indispensable element. Communists represent and defend the general interests of the movement. In all situations, they do not hesitate to express the whole meaning of what is going on, and to make practical proposals. If the expression is right and the proposal appropriate, they are parts of the struggle of the proletariat and contribute to build the “party” of the communist revolution.

July, 1969

  • 1.ICO later became Echanges et Mouvement
  • 2.Marx’s letter to Engels, August 24, 1867.
  • 3.Paul Mattick, “Value and Socialism”.
  • 4.libcom note: readers should again bear in mind when this text was written, as this clearly would not apply today
  • 5.Marx, Grundrisse.
  • 6.Ibid.
  • 7.Ibid.
  • 8.Ibid.
  • 9.Ibid.
  • 10.Ibid.
  • 11.Ibid.
  • 12.Ibid.
  • 13.Ibid.
  • 14.Ibid.
  • 15.Marx’s letter to Kugelmann, July 11, 1868
  • 16.Marx Critique of the Gotha Programme.
  • 17.Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy.
  • 18.Capital, Vol.III, last chapter.
  • 19."The essence of bourgeois society consists precisely in this, that a priori there is no conscious social regulation of production. The rational and naturally necessary asserts itself only as a blindly working average." (Marx’s letter to Kugelmann, July 11, 1868)
  • 20.Grundrisse.
Re-Emergence of the Communist Perspective, Giles Dauve
This essay was started soon after May 68 and completed in 72 by a friend who’d worked years before in an Algerian shoe-making factory under (State-controlled) “self-management”, where he experienced how a spontaneous desire to get a grip on one’s fate could end in institutionalized self-organization of wage labour.
If this text was written today, historical data would be different. Though it still retains strongholds, the French CP has declined, partly through de-industrialization of traditional working class areas. Besides, as in other countries, one can no longer speak of “stalinism”. CPs were stalinist not out of love for Russia, but because State capitalism was a possible solution for capital… usually with Red Army troops around and help from”socialist” brother countries. With the downfall of the USSR, there is no use for this backward form of capitalism, and CPs are evolving into social-democratic parties. The adaptable Italian one has already gone this way for quite a while. After long resistance, the die-hard French CP is now following suit. The 60-year old sinister stalinist farce has been sent to the dustbins of history, not by the proletariat, but by the overwhelming drive of commodities. The credit card is mightier than the jackboot.
(1997 note, G.D.)
The original purpose of this text was to try to show the fundamental reasons why the revolutionary movement of the first half of the century took various forms (parties, trade and industrial unions, workers’ councils) which now not only belong to the past, but also hinder the re-formation of the revolutionary movement. But only part of the project was carried out. This task still has to be realized. But it would be a mistake to wait for a complete theoretical construction before moving on. The following text gives certain elements which are useful for an understanding of new forms of the communist “party”. Recent events (mainly strikes in the U.S., in Britain, in France, and Italy) clearly show that we are entering a new historical period. For example, the French Communist Party (P.C.F.) still dominates the working class, but it is under strong attack. While for a long period of time the revolutionary movement’s opposition to capital was deflected by the P.C.F., today this mediation tends to disappear: the opposition between workers and capitalism is going to assert itself more and more directly, and on the level of real facts and actions, as opposed to the situation when the ideology of the P.C.F. was prominent among workers and the revolutionary movement had to fight against the P.C.F. mainly on a theoretical level.
Today revolutionaries will be forced to oppose capital practically. This is why new theoretical tasks are necessary. It is not enough to agree on the level of ideas; one must take positive action, and first of all intervene in present struggles to support one’s views. Communists do not have to build a separate party from the one which asserts itself in practice in our society; yet they will increasingly have to support their positions so that the real movement does not waste its time in useless and false struggles. Organic links (theoretical work for practical activity) will have to be established among those who think we are moving towards a conflict between the proletariat and capital. The present text tries to determine how the communist movement is going to reappear, and to define the tasks of the communists.
A) May, 1968, in France The general strike of May, 1968, was one of the biggest strikes in capitalist history. Yet it is probably the first time in contemporary society that such a powerful working class movement did not create for itself organs capable of expressing it. More than four years of workers’ struggles prove this fact. Nowhere can we see organizations going beyond a local and temporary contact. Unions and parties have been able to step into this void and negotiate with the bosses and the State. In 1968 a number of short-lived Action Committees were the only form of workers’ organization which acted outside the unions and the parties; the Action Committees opposed what they felt to be treason on the part of the unions.
Either at the beginning of the strike, or in the process of the sit-downs, or later, in the struggle against the resumption of work, many thousands of workers organized themselves in one way or another outside and against the will of the unions. But in every case these workers’ organizations fizzled out with the end of the movement and did not turn into a new type of organization.
The only exception was the “Inter-Enterprise” Committee, which had existed since the beginning of the strike at the Censier building of the “Faculté des Lettres” in Paris. It gathered together workers - individuals and groups - from several dozen factories in the Paris area. Its function was to coordinate actions against the undermining of the strike by the P.C.F.-controlled union, the C.G.T. It was in fact the only workers’ organ which in practice went beyond the narrow limits of the factory by putting into practice the solidarity between workers from different firms. As is the case with all revolutionary activities of the proletariat, this Committee did not publicize its action. 1
The Committee continued to organize meetings after the strike and disappeared after its members realized its uselessness. Of course the hundreds of workers who had taken part in its activity soon stopped coming to its meetings. Many of them continued seeing each other. But while the purpose of the Committee during the strike had been to strengthen the fight against union and party manoeuvres, it later turned into a discussion group studying the results of the strike and trying to learn its lessons for the future. These discussions often dealt with communism and its importance.
This Committee gathered a minority. Yet its daily “general assemblies” at Censier, as well as its smaller meetings, allowed several thousand workers to meet. It remained limited to the Paris area. We have heard of no such experiment in other regions, organized outside all unions (including “left wing” unions: the town of Nantes, in the west of France, was more or less taken over by the unions during the strike).
One must add that a handful of people sharing communist ideas (a dozen at most) were deeply involved in its action and functioning. The result of this was to limit the influence of the C.G.T., the Trotskyists, and the Maoists, to a minimum. The fact that the Committee was outside all traditional union and party organizations, including the extremist ones, and that it tried to go beyond the limit of the factory, foreshadowed what has been happening since 1968. Its disappearance after the fulfilment of its tasks also foreshadowed the fading away of organizations that have appeared since then, in the most characteristic struggles of recent years.
This shows the great difference between the present situation and what happened in the 1930’s. In 1936, in France, the working class fought behind the “workers’” organizations and for the reforms they professed. So the forty-hour week and two weeks of paid vacation were regarded as a real victory of the workers, whose essential demand was to get the same conditions and position as salaried groups. These demands were imposed on the ruling class. Today the working class is not asking for the improvement of its conditions of life. The reform programmes presented by unions and parties closely resemble those put forward by the State. It was DeGaulle who proposed “participation” as a remedy for what he called the “mechanical” society.
It seems that only a fraction of the ruling class realized the extent of the crisis, which it called a “crisis of civilization” (A. Malraux). Since then all organizations, all unions and parties, without any exceptions, rallied to the great reform programme in one way or another. The P.C.F. itself includes “real participation” in its governmental programme. The other large union, the C.F.D.T., advocates self-management, which is also supported by ultra-left groups who are in favour of “workers’ councils.” The Trotskyists propose “workers’ control” as a minimum programme for a “workers’ government”.
What lies at the heart of all this concern is an attempt to end the separation between the worker and the product of his work. This is an expression of a “utopian” view of capital, and has nothing to do with communism. The capitalist “utopia” tries to do away with the bad side of exploitation. The communist movement cannot express itself in a formal criticism of capital. It does not aim to change the conditions of work, but the function of work: it wants to replace the production of exchange values with the production of use values. Whereas unions and parties carry on their debates within the context of one and the same programme, the programme of capital, the proletariat has a non-constructive attitude. Apart from its practical political activities, it does not “participate” in the debate organized about its case. It does not try to do theoretical research about its own tasks. This is the time of the great silence of the proletariat. The paradox is that the ruling class tries to express the aspirations of the workers, in its own way. A fraction of the ruling class understands that the present conditions of appropriation of surplus-value are a hindrance to the total functioning of the economy. Its perspective is to share the cake, hoping that a working class “profiting” from capital and “participating” in it will produce more surplus-value. We are reaching the stage when capital dreams of its own survival.2 To achieve this survival, it would have to get rid of its own parasitical sectors, i.e., the fractions of capital which no longer produce enough surplus-value.
Whereas in 1936 the workers tried to reach the same level as other sectors of society, nowadays capital itself imposes on the privileged salaried sectors the same general conditions of life as those of the workers. The concept of participation implies equality in the face of exploitation imposed by the needs of value formation. Thus participation is a “socialism” of misery. Capitalism must reduce the enormous cost of the sectors which are necessary to its survival but which do not directly produce value.
In the course of their struggles workers realize that the possibility of improving their material conditions is limited and on the whole already planned by capital. The working class can no longer intervene on the basis of a programme which would really alter its living conditions within capitalism. The great workers’ struggles of the first half of the century, struggles for the eight-hour day, the forty-hour week, paid holidays, industrial unionism, job security, showed that the relationship between the working class and capital allowed the workers a certain range of “capitalist” action. Nowadays capital itself imposes the reforms and generalizes the equality of all in the face of wage-labour. Therefore no important section of the working class is willing to fight for intermediate objectives as was the case at the beginning of the century or in the 1930’s. But it should also be obvious that as long as the communist perspective is not clear there can be no formation of workers’ organizations on a communist basis. This is not to say that the communist objectives will suddenly become clear to everybody. The fact that the working class is the only class which produces surplus-value is what places it at the centre of the crisis of value, i.e., at the very heart of the crisis of capitalism, and forces it to destroy all other classes as such, and to form the organs of its self-destruction as a part of capital, as a class within capitalism. The communist organization will only appear in the practical process of destruction of the bourgeois economy, and in the creation of a human community without exchange.
The communist movement has asserted itself continually since the very beginning of capitalism. This is why capital is forced to maintain constant surveillance and continual violence over everything dangerous to its normal functioning. Ever since the secret conspiracy of Babeuf in 1795, the workers’ movement has experienced increasingly violent and longer struggles, which have shown capitalism to be, not the culmination of humanity, but its negation.
Although the May 68 strike had hardly any immediate positive results, its real strength was that it did not give birth to durable illusions. The May “failure” is the failure of reformism, and the end of reformism breeds a struggle on a totally different level, a struggle against capital itself, not against its effects. In 1968 everyone was thinking of some “other” society. What people said rarely went beyond the notion of general self-management. Apart from the communist struggle which can develop only if the centre, the class which produces surplus-value, leads it, other classes can only act and think within the capitalist sphere, and their expression can only be that of capital - even of capital reforming itself. Yet behind these partial criticisms and alienated expressions we can see the beginning of the crisis of value which is characteristic of the historical period we are now entering.
These ideas do not come from nowhere; they always appear because the symptoms of a real human community exist emotionally in every one of us. Whenever the false community of wage-labour is questioned, there appears a tendency towards a form of social life in which relationships are no longer mediated by the needs of capital.
Since May 68, the activity of the communist movement has tended to be increasingly concrete.
B) Strikes and Workers’ Struggles Since 1968 Whereas in the years after World War II strikes - even important ones - were kept under control and were not followed by constant political and monetary crises, the past few years have seen a renewal of industrial riots and even insurrections in France, Italy, Britain, Belgium, West Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland. In Poland the workers attacked the headquarters of the C.P. while singing the International. The process was the same in nearly every case. A minority starts a movement with its own objectives; soon the movement spreads to other categories of workers in the same firm; people get organized (strike pickets, workers’ committees in the shops, on the assembly lines); the unions manage to be the only ones capable of negotiating with the management; they finally get the workers to resume work, after proposing unitary slogans which no one likes but everyone accepts because of the inability to formulate anything else. The only movement which went beyond the stage of the strike as it now exists was the movement of riots and strikes in Poland in December 1970-January 1971.
What happened in a brutal way in Poland exists only as a tendency in the rest of the industrial world. In Poland there is no mechanism of “countervailing” power capable of keeping social crises in check. The ruling class had to attack the working class directly in order to maintain the process of value formation in normal conditions. The Polish events prove that the crisis of value tends to spread to all industrial areas, and demonstrate the behaviour of the working class as the centre of such a crisis.
The origin of the movement was the need to defend the average selling price of labour power. But the movement found itself immediately on another field: it had to face capitalist society itself. At once the workers were forced to attack the organs of oppression. Party and union officials were assaulted and the party building was stormed. In some towns the railway stations were guarded in case they might be used to bring troops. The movement was strong enough to give itself an organ of negotiation: a workers’ committee for the town. The very fact that Gierek had to go to the shipyards in person must be regarded as a victory of the working class as a whole. A year later Fidel Castro had to go to Chile in person to ask the tin miners to cooperate with the (“socialist”) government. In Poland the workers did not send delegates to the central power to propose their demands: the government had to come to the workers to negotiate… the inevitable surrender of the workers.
Facing the violence of the State, the working class formed its own organs of violence. No leaders had anticipated the organization of the revolt: it was the product of the nature of the society the revolt tried to destroy. Yet leaders (the workers’ committee for the town) only appeared after the movement had reached the highest point which the situation allowed. The negotiation organ is an expression of nothing more than the realization by both sides that there is only one solution left. The characteristic of such a negotiation organ is that it implies no delegation of power. It rather represents the outer limit of a movement which cannot go beyond negotiation in the present situation. Reforms, once again, are proposed by capital, whereas the working class expresses itself in practical refusal; it must accept the proposals of the central power so long as its practical activity is not yet strong enough to destroy the basis of that power.
Workers’ struggles tend to directly oppose their own dictatorship to that of capital, to organize on a different basis from that of capital, and thus to pose the question of the transformation of society by acts. When the existing conditions are unfavourable to a general attack, or when this attack fails, the forms of dictatorship disintegrate, capital triumphs again, reorganizes the working class according to its logic, diverts the violence from its original aims, and separates the formal aspect of the struggle from its real content. We must get rid of the old opposition between “dictatorship” and “democracy.” To the proletariat, “democracy” does not mean organizing itself as a parliament in the bourgeois way; for it, “democracy” is an act of violence by means of which it destroys all the social forces which prevent it from expressing itself and maintain it as a class within capitalism. “Democracy” cannot be anything but a dictatorship. This is visible in every strike: the form of its destruction is precisely “democracy.” As soon as there is a separation between a decision-making organ and an action organ, the movement is no longer in the offensive phase. It is being diverted to the ground of capital. Opposing workers’ “democracy” to the union’s “bureaucracy” means attacking a superficial aspect and hiding the real content of workers’ struggles, which have a totally different basis. Democracy is now the slogan of capital: it proposes the self-management of one’s own negation. All those who accept this programme spread the illusion that society can be changed by a general discussion followed by a vote (formal or informal) which would decide what is to be done. By maintaining the separation between decision and action, capital tries to maintain the existence of classes. If one criticizes such a separation only from a formal point of view, without going to its roots, one merely perpetuates the division. It is hard to imagine a revolution which begins when voters raise their hands. Revolution is an act of violence, a process through which social relations are transformed. 3
We will not try to give a description of the strikes which have taken place since 1968. We lack too much information, and a large number of books and pamphlets have been written about them. We would only like to see what they have in common, and in what way they are the sign of a period in which communist prospects will appear more and more concretely.
We do not divide industrial society into different sectors - “developing” and “backward” sectors. It is true that some differences can be observed, but these can no longer hide from us the nature of the strikes, in which one cannot see real differences between “vanguard” and “rearguard” struggles. The process of the strikes is less and less determined by local factors, and more and more by the international conditions of capitalism. Thus the Polish strikes and riots were the product of an international context; the relationship between East and West was at the root of these events where people sang the International and not the national anthem. Western and eastern capital have a common interest in securing the exploitation of their respective workers. And the relatively under-developed “socialist” capitalisms must maintain a strict capitalist efficiency to be able to compete with their more modern western neighbours.
The communist struggle starts in a given place, but its existence does not depend on purely local factors. It does not act according to the limits of its original birthplace. Local factors become secondary to the objectives of the movement. As soon as a struggle limits itself to local conditions, it is immediately swallowed up by capitalism. The level reached by workers’ struggles is not determined by local factors, but by the global situation of capitalism. As soon as the class which concentrates in itself the revolutionary interests of society rises, it immediately finds, in its situation, and without any mediation, the content and object of its revolutionary activity: to crush its enemies and take the decisions imposed by the needs of the struggle; the consequences of its own actions force it to move further.
We shall not deal with all strikes here. There is still a capitalist society in which the working class is just a class of capitalism, a part of capital, when it is not revolutionary. Party and union machines still manage to control and lead considerable sections of the working class for the sake of capitalist objectives (such as the right to retire at 60 in France). General elections and many strikes are organized by unions for limited demands. However, it is increasingly obvious that in most large strikes the initiative does not come from the unions, and these are the strikes we are talking about here. Industrial society has not been divided into sectors, nor has the working class been divided up into the young, the old, the natives, the immigrants, the foreigners, the skilled and the unskilled. We do not oppose all sociological descriptions; these can be useful, but they are not our aim here.
We shall try to study how the proletariat breaks away from capitalist society. Such a process has a definite centre. We do not accept the sociological view of the working class because we do not analyse the working class from a static point of view, but in terms of its opposition to value. The rupture from capital abolishes exchange value, i.e., the existence of labour as a commodity. The centre of this movement, and therefore its leadership, must be the part of society which produces value. Otherwise it would mean that exchange value no longer exists, and that we are already beyond the capitalist stage. Actually the profound meaning of the essential movement is partially hidden by the struggles on the periphery, on the outskirts of the production of value. This was the case in May 1968, when students masked the real struggle, which took place elsewhere.
In fact the struggles on the outskirts (the new middle classes) are only a sign of a much deeper crisis which appearances still hide from us. The renewal of the crisis of value implies, for capital, the need to rationalize, and therefore to attack, the backward sectors which are least capable of protecting themselves; this increases unemployment and the number of those who have no reserves. But their intervention must not make one forget the essential role played by production workers in destroying exchange value.
C) The Two Most Characteristic Aspects of the Strikes On one hand, the initiative of the strike comes from self-organized workers; on the other, the initiative to end the strike comes from the fraction of the workers organized in unions. These initiatives are contradictory since they express two movements which are opposed to one another. Nothing is more alien to a strike than its end. The end of a strike is a moment of endless talks when the notion of reality is overcome by illusions; many meetings are organized where union officials have a monopoly of speech; general assemblies attract fewer and fewer people and finally vote to resume work. The end of a strike is a time when the working class again falls under the control of capital, is again reduced to atoms, individual components, destroyed as a class capable of opposing capital. The end of a strike means negotiation, the control of the movement, or what is left of it, by “responsible” organizations, the unions. The beginning of a strike means just the opposite: then the action of the working class has nothing to do with formalism. All those who do not support the movement are pushed aside, whether they are executives, foremen, workers, managers, shop-stewards or union officials. Managers are locked up, union buildings attacked by thousands of workers, depending on local conditions. During the strike in Limbourg (Belgium, Winter 1970), the union headquarters were stormed by the workers. Everything acting as a hindrance to the movement tends to be destroyed. There is no place for “democracy”: on the contrary, everything is obvious, and all enemies must be defeated without wasting time on discussions. A considerable amount of energy appears during the offensive phase, and it seems that nothing is able to stop it.
At this stage we cannot avoid stating an obvious fact: the energy at the beginning of the strike seems to disappear totally by the time of the negotiations. What is more important, this energy seems to have no relation to the official reasons given for the strike. If several dozens of men bring about a strike of thousands of workers on the basis of their own demands, they do not succeed just because of some sort of solidarity, but because of an immediate community in practice. We must add the most important point, that the movement does not put forward any particular demand. The question the proletariat will ask in practice is already present in its silence. In its own movements the proletariat does not put forward any particular demand: this is why these movements are the first communist activities in our time.
What is important in the process of breaking away from capitalism is that the working class no longer asks for partial and particular reforms. Thus the working class ceases to be a class, since it does not defend its particular class interests. This process is different according to the conditions. The movement which went the farthest, in Poland, showed that the first step of the process is the disintegration of the capitalist organs of repression within the working class (mainly the unions); the working class must next organize to protect itself against the organs of repression outside the working class (armed forces, police, militia), and start destroying them.
The specific conditions in Poland, where the unions are part of the State apparatus, forced the working class to make no distinction between the unions and the State, since there was none. The fusion between unions and State only made obvious an evolution which does not appear as clearly in other countries, such as France and Italy. In many cases the unions still play the role of a buffer between the workers and the State. But a radical struggle will increasingly attack the unions and the sections of the working class dominated by the unions. The time is gone when workers form unions to defend their qualifications and their right to work.
The conditions of modern society compel the working class not to put forward any particular demand. The only community organized and tolerated by capital is the community of wage-labour: capital tends to forbid everything else. Capital now dominates the totality of the relations men have with one another. It becomes increasingly obvious that every partial struggle which is limited to a particular relation is forced to insert itself into a general struggle against the entire system of relations among people: capital. Otherwise it is integrated or destroyed.
In a strike of the Paris bus and subway workers (R.A.T.P.) at the end of 1971, the resolute attitude of the subway drivers turned the strike into a movement quite different from the strike of one category of workers. The content of the movement does not depend on what people think. The attitude of the drivers transformed their relation to the management of the R.A.T.P. and the unions, and clearly revealed the true nature of the conflict. The State itself had to intervene to force the drivers back under the pressure of the unions. Whether the drivers believed it or not, the strike was no longer theirs; it had turned into a public trial where the unions were officially recognized as necessary organs of coercion against the workers, organs charged with the task of restoring the normal order of things. It is impossible to understand the importance of the “silence” of the working class unless one first understands the powerful development of capitalism until now. It is nowadays considered normal that the end of strikes should be controlled by unions. This does not imply any weakness on the part of the revolutionary movement. On the contrary, in a situation which does not allow partial demands to be achieved, it is normal that no organ should be created to end the strike. Thus we do not see the creation of workers’ organizations gathering fractions of the working class outside the unions on a programme of specific demands. Sometimes workers’ groups are formed during the struggle, and they oppose their demands to those of the unions, but their chances are destroyed by the situation itself, which does not allow them to exist very long.
If these groups want to maintain their existence, they must act outside the limits of the factory, or they will be destroyed by capital in one way or another. The disappearance of these groups is one of the signs of the radical nature of the movement. If they went on existing as organizations, they would lose their radical character. So they will always disappear and later come to life again in a more radical way. The idea that workers’ groups will finally succeed, after many experiments and failures, in forming a powerful organization capable of overthrowing capitalism, is similar to the bourgeois idea that a partial critique will gradually turn into a radical one. The activity of the working class does not proceed from experiences and has no other “memory” than the general conditions of capital which compel it to act according to its nature. It does not study its experiences; the failure of a movement is itself an adequate demonstration of its limitations.
The communist organization will grow out of the practical need to transform capitalism into communism. Communist organization is the organization of the transition towards communism. Here lies the fundamental difference between our time and the former period. In the struggles which took place between 1917 and 1920 in Russia and Germany, the objective was to organize a pre-communist society. In Russia the radical sections of the working class tried to win over other sections of workers, and even the poor peasants. The isolation of the radical elements and the general conditions of capitalism made it impossible for them to envisage the practical transformation of the entire society without a programme uniting all the exploited classes. These radical elements were eventually crushed.
The difference between our time and the past comes from the vast development of the productive forces on nearly all continents, and the quantitative and qualitative development of the proletariat. The working class is now much more numerous 4 and a uses highly developed means of production. Today the conditions of communism have been developed by capital itself. The task of the proletariat is no longer to support progressive sections of capitalists against reactionary ones. The need for a transitional period between the destruction of capitalist power and the triumph of communism, during which the revolutionary power creates the conditions of communism, has also vanished. Therefore there is no place for a communist organization as a mediation between the radical and non-radical sections of the working class. The fact that an organization supporting the communist programme fails to emerge during the period between major struggles is the product of a new class relationship in capitalism.
For instance, in France in 1936, the resistance of capital was so strong that a change of government was necessary before the workers could get what they wanted. Today governments themselves initiate the reforms. Capitalist governments try to create situations where the workers organize themselves to achieve what are in fact necessities of production (participation, self-management). Contemporary economy entails more and more planning. Everything outside the plan is a menace to social harmony. Every activity outside this planning is regarded as non-social and must be destroyed. We should keep this in mind when analysing certain activities of workers during periods when there are no mass struggles like strikes or attempted insurrections. The unions must (a) take advantage of workers’ struggles and control them, and (b) oppose a number of actions such as sabotage and “downtime” (stopping the line), if they want to stay within the limits of the plan (productivity deals, wage agreements, etc.).
D) Forms of Action Which Cannot Be Recuperated: Sabotage and “Downtiming” [URL=/tags/Sabotage] Sabotage has been practised in the U.S. for many years and is now developing in Italy and France. In 1971, during a railway strike in France, the C.G.T. officially denounced sabotage and “irresponsible” elements. Several engines had been put out of order and a few damaged. Later, in the Renault strike in the Spring of 1971, several acts of sabotage had damaged vehicles which were being assembled. Sabotage is becoming extremely widespread. Stopping the line (“down-timing”), which has always existed as a latent phenomenon, is now becoming a common practice. It has been considerably increased by the arrival of young workers to the labour market, and by automation. It is accompanied by a rate of absenteeism which causes serious trouble to some firms.
These events are not new in the history of capitalism. What is new is the context in which they take place. They are indeed the superficial symptoms of a profound social movement, the signs of a process of breaking away from the existing society. At the beginning of the century, sabotage was used as a means of exerting pressure on the bosses to force them to accept the existence of unions. The French revolutionary unionist Pouget studied this in a pamphlet called Sabotage. He quotes the speech of a worker at a workers’ congress in 1895:
"The bosses have no right to rely on our charity. If they refuse even to discuss our demands, then we can just put into practice the ‘Go Canny’ tactics, until they decide to listen to us."
Pouget adds: “Here is a clear definition of ‘Go Canny’ tactics, of ‘sabotage’: BAD PAY, BAD WORK.”
"This line of action, used by our English friends, can be applied in France, as our social position is similar to that of our English brothers."
Sabotage was used by workers against the boss so that he would admit their existence. It was a way of getting freedom of speech. Sabotage took place in a movement trying to turn the working class into a class which had its place in capitalist society. “Downtiming” was an attempt to improve the conditions of work. Sabotage did not appear as a blunt and direct refusal of society as a whole. “Downtiming” is a fight against the effects of capitalism. Another study will be necessary to examine the limits of such struggles and the conditions in which capital could absorb them. The social importance of these struggles makes it possible to regard them as the basis of “modern reformism”. The word “reformism” can be used to the extent that these actions could in theory be completely absorbed by the capitalist system. Whereas today they are a nuisance to the normal activity of production, tomorrow they might well be linked to production. An “ideal” capitalism could tolerate the self-management of the conditions of production: as long as a normal profit is made by the firm, the organization of the work can be left to the workers.
Capitalism has already carried out some concrete experiments in this direction, particularly in Italy, in the U.S., in Sweden (Volvo). 5 In France, one may regard left-wing “liberal” organizations such as the P.S.U., the C.F.D.T. and the left of the Socialist Party as the expression of this capitalist tendency. For the time being, this movement can be defined neither as exclusively reformist nor as anti-capitalist. It should be noted that this ‘“modern reformism” has often been directed against the unions. It is still difficult to describe its consequences on capitalist production. All we can see so far is that these struggles attract groups of workers who feel the need to act outside the traditional boundaries imposed by the unions.
Although the “downtiming movement” can be defined as we have just done, sabotage is different. There are two kinds of sabotage: (a) sabotage which destroys the product of the work or the machine, (b) sabotage which partially damages the product so that it can no longer be consumed. Sabotage as it exists today can in no way be kept in check by the unions, nor can it be absorbed by production. Yet capital can prevent it by improving and transforming its system of supervision. For this reason sabotage cannot become the form of struggle against capital. On the other hand, sabotage is a reflex of the individual: he submits to it, as to a passion. Although the individual must sell his labour power, he goes “mad”, i.e., irrational compared to what is “rational” (selling one’s labour power and working accordingly). This “madness” consists of the refusal to give up the labour power, to be a commodity. The individual hates himself as an alienated creature split into two; he tries, through destruction, through violence, to re-unify his being, which only exists through capital.
Since these acts are outside the boundaries of all economic planning, they are also outside the boundaries of “reason”. Newspapers have repeatedly defined them as “anti-social” and “mad”: the danger appears important enough for society to try to suppress it. 6 Christian ideology admitted the suffering and social inequality of the workers; today capitalist ideology imposes equality in the face of wage-labour, but does not tolerate anything opposed to wage-labour. The need felt by the isolated individual to oppose physically his practical transformation into a being totally subjected to capital, shows that this submission is more and more intolerable. Destructive acts are part of an attempt to destroy the mediation of wage labour as the only form of social community. In the silence of the proletariat, sabotage appears as the first stammer of human speech.
Both activities: “downtiming” and sabotage, require a certain amount of agreement among the people working where these activities take place. This shows that, although no formal or official organization appears, there exists an underground network of relations with an anti-capitalist basis. Such a network is more or less dense according to the importance of the activity, and it disappears with the end of the anti-capitalist action. It is normal that, apart from the “subversive” practical (and therefore theoretical) action, the groups gathered around these subversive tasks should dissolve. Often the need to maintain an illusion of “social community” results in an activity which is secondarily anti-capitalist but primarily illusory. In most cases these groups end up by gathering around some political axis. In France nuclei of workers gather around such organizations as ‘“Lutte Ouvriere,” a number of C.F.D.T. union branches, or Maoist groups. This does not mean that some minorities with Trotskyist, Maoist or C.F.D.T. ideas are gaining ground among the workers, but simply that some workers’ minorities are trying to break their isolation, which is quite normal. In all cases, the dissolution of the anti-capitalist network and activity means the re-organization of the working class by capital, as a part of capital.
In short, apart from its practical activities, the communist movement does not exist. The dissolution of a social disorder with a communist content is accompanied by the dissolution of the entire system of relations which it organized. Democracy, division of struggles into “economic” and “political” struggles, formation of a vanguard with a socialist “consciousness”, are the illusions of days gone by. These illusions are no longer possible to the extent that a new period is beginning. The dissolution of the organizational forms which are created by the movement, and which disappear when the movement ends, does not reflect the weakness of the movement, but rather its strength. The time of false battles is over. The only conflict that appears real is the one that leads to the destruction of capitalism.
E) Activity of Parties and Unions in the Face of the Communist Perspective 1) On the labour market, unions increasingly become monopolies which buy and sell labour power. When it unified itself, capital unified the conditions of the sale of labour power. In modern conditions of production, the individual owner of labour power is not only forced to sell it to be able to live, but must also associate with other owners in order to be able to sell it. In return for social peace, the unions got the right to control the hiring of labour. In modern society workers are increasingly compelled to join the union if they want to sell their labour power.
At the beginning of this century, unions were the product of gatherings of workers who formed coalitions to defend the average selling price of their commodity. The unions were not at all revolutionary, as was shown by their attitude in World War I, when they supported the war both directly and indirectly. In so far as the workers were fighting for their existence as a class within capitalist society, the unions had no revolutionary function. In Germany, during the revolutionary upheaval of 1919-1920, the union members went to organizations which defended their economic rights in the general context of the struggle against capitalism. 7 Outside of a revolutionary period, the working class is nothing but a fraction of capital represented by the unions. While other fractions of capital (industrial and financial capital) were forming monopolies, the working class as variable capital also formed a monopoly, of which the unions are the trustees.
2) The unions developed at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century as organizations defending qualified labour power. This was particularly clear with the rise of the A.F. of L. in the US. Until World War II (or until the birth of the C.I.O. in the 1930’s in the U.S.) unions grew by supporting the relatively privileged sections of the working class. This is not to say that they had no influence on the most exploited strata, but this influence was only possible if it was consistent with the interests of the qualified strata. With the development of modern and automated industry, highly qualified workers tend to be replaced by technicians. These technicians also have the function of controlling and supervising masses of unqualified workers. Therefore the unions, while losing important sections of workers whose qualifications fade away, try to recruit this new stratum of technicians.
3) The unions represent labour power which has become capital. This forces them to appear as institutions capable of valorizing capital. The unions have to associate their own development programme with that of industrial and finance capital if they want to keep “‘their” labour power under control. The representatives of variable capital, of capital in the form of labour power, sooner or later have to associate with the representatives of fractions of capital who are now in power. Government coalitions consisting of liberal bourgeoisie, technocrats, left political groups, and unions, appear as a necessity in the evolution of capitalism. Capital itself requires strong unions capable of proposing economic measures which can valorize variable capital. The unions are not “traitors” in the sense that they betray the programme of the working class: they are quite consistent with themselves, and with the working class when it accepts its capitalist nature.
4) This is how we can understand the relationship between the working class and the unions. When the process of breaking away from capitalist society begins, the unions are immediately seen through and treated in terms of what they are; but as soon as the process ends, the working class cannot help being re-organized by capital, namely by the unions. One may say that there are no “unionist” illusions in the working class. There is only a capitalist, namely “unionist”, organization of the working class.
5) The development of the current relationships between unions and bosses in Italy illustrates what has been said. The evolution of Italian unions should be closely watched. It is normal that in relatively backward areas (from an economic point of view) such as France and Italy (compared to the U.S.), the effects of the modernization of the economy are accompanied by the most modern tendencies of capital. What happens in Italy is in many ways a sign of what is maturing in other countries.
The Italian situation helps us understand the French one. In France the C.G.T. and the P.C.F. put up a reactionary resistance in the face of workers’ struggles, whereas in Italy the C.G.I.L. and the P.C.I. have been able to re-shape themselves in terms of the new situation. This is one of the reasons for the difference between the French “May” and the Italian “May”. In France, May 1968 happened suddenly and could be easily misunderstood. The Italian situation proceeds more slowly and ultimately reveals its tendencies.
The first phase lasted from 1968 to the winter of 1971. The main element was the birth of workers’ struggles independent of the influence of unions and political organizations. Workers’ action committees were formed as in France, with one essential difference: the French ones were quickly driven out of the factories by the power of the unions, which in practice compelled them to have no illusions about the boundaries of the factory. In so far as the general situation did not allow them to go any further, they disappeared. In Italy, on the other hand, workers’ committees were at first able to organize themselves inside the factories. Neither the bosses nor the unions could really oppose them. Many committees were formed in the factories, in isolation from each other, and they all began to question the speed of the line and to organize sabotage.
This was in fact an alienated form of critique of wage-labour. Throughout the Italian movement the activity of extreme left groups (gauchistes) was particularly noteworthy. Their entire activity consisted of limiting the movement to its formal aspects without ever showing its real content. They bred the illusion that the “autonomy” of workers’ organizations was in itself revolutionary enough to be supported and maintained. They glorified all the formal aspects. But since they are not communists, they were not able to express the idea that behind the struggle against the rhythm of the line and the working conditions lay the struggle against wage-labour.
The workers’ struggle itself met no resistance. This was in fact what disarmed it. It could do nothing but adapt to the conditions of capitalist society. The unions, for their part, altered their structures in order to control the workers’ movement As Trentin, one of the leaders of the C.G.I.L. said, they decided to organize “a thoroughgoing transformation of the union and a new type of rank-and-file democracy”. They reshaped their factory organizations according to the pattern of the “autonomous” committees which appeared in recent struggles. The ability of the unions to control industrial strife made them appear as the only force capable of making the workers resume work. There were negotiations in some large concerns like Fiat. The result of these negotiations was to give the union the right to interfere in the organization of the work (time and motion, work measurement, etc.). The management of Fiat now deducts the union dues from the workers’ pay, which was already the case in Belgium. At the same time, serious efforts are being ma are de to reach an agreement on a merger between the biggest unions: U.I.L. (Socialist), C.I.S.L. (Christian-Democrat), C.G.I.L. (P.C.I.). 8
NOTE: The Italian example clearly shows the tendency of unions to become monopolies which discuss the conditions of production of surplus-value with other fractions of capital. Here are quotations from Petrilli, president of the State-owned I.R. (State Holding Company), and Trentin:
Trentin: “… Job enrichment and the admission of a higher degree of autonomy in decision-making by the workers’ group concerned (in each factory) are already possible. .. Even when, because of the failure of the union, workers’ protests lead to irrational and illusory demands, the workers express their refusal to produce without thinking, to work without deciding; they express their need for power.”
Petrilli: “In my opinion it is obvious that the system of the assembly line implies a real waste of human capacities and produces a very understandable feeling of frustration in the worker. The resulting social tensions must be realistically understood as structural rather than conjunctural facts… . Greater participation of the workers in the elaboration of production objectives poses a series of problems having to do less with the organization of work than with the definition of the power balance within the firm.”
The programmes are identical and the aims are the same: increased productivity. The only remaining problem is the sharing of power, which is at the root of the political crisis in many industrial countries. It is likely that the end of the political crisis will be accompanied by the birth of “workers’ power” as the power of wage-labour, under various forms: self-management, “popular” coalitions, Socialist-Communist Parties, left-wing governments with right-wing programmes, right-wing governments with left-wing programmes. 9
1.If it had, people would know about it as they do about the situationist-influenced Council for the Maintenance of Occupations (CMDO), active from May 10th and located in another university building ten minutes walk from either the Sorbonne or Censier. In its history of 68, the SI dismisses the Censier committee as too dusty to be of real interest. The CMDO certainly had posters and leaflets widely circulated, in France and abroad, whereas Censier was more connected to workplaces, but the truth is, both were among the best radical aspects of 68. Described by the SI as “a link, not a power”, the CMDO decided to break up on June 15th. (1997 note, G.D.)
2.Hence the M.I.T. report and the debate on “zero growth”.
3.Here’s an example from the engine drivers’ strike at Paris-Nord, 1986. A meeting had just voted against blocking the tracks to prevent trains from running. But when the strikers saw the first train come out of the station, driven by middle managers under police protection, they rushed to the tracks to stop it, undoing by spontaneous action hours of democratic discussion.
Communism is of course the movement of a vast majority at long last able to take actions into their own hands. To that extent, communism is “democratic”, but it does not uphold democracy as a principle. Politicians, bosses and bureaucrats take advantage either of a minority or a majority when it suits them: so does the proletariat. Workers’ militancy often stems from a handful. Communism is neither the rule of the most numerous, nor of the few. To debate and/or start acting, people obviously have to gather somewhere, and such common ground has been called a soviet, committee, council, etc. It turns into an institution, however, when the moment and machinery of decision-making prevail over actions. This separation is the essence of parliamentarism.
True, people must decide for themselves. But any decision, revolutionary or not, depends on what has happened before and what is still going on outside the formal deciding structure. Whoever organizes the meeting sets the agenda; whoever asks the question determines the answer; whoever calls the vote carries the decision. Revolution does not put forward a different form of organization, but a different solution from that of capital and reformism. As principles, democracy and dictatorship are equally wrong: they isolate a special and seemingly privileged moment.
Demand for democracy was at its height in France, 1968. From shop-assistants to firefighters and schoolkids, every group wanted to get together and freely manage its own world, hoping this would result in global change. Even the situationists remained within the scope of democracy, in a councilist way of course, i.e. anti-statist and going beyond commodity and profit, but still separating means from ends. The SI was the most adequate expression of May 68. (1997 note, G.D.)

4.This 1972 statement may sound odd 25 years later, still we hold it to be true. Growing unemployment goes together with a rise in the number of wage earners, not only in the US, but in France, and even more so on a world scale, where millions of people have been forced into the hardship of modern labour in the last decades, as in China.
Needless to say, “work” has very different meanings. An African wage-labourer provides money for up to 20 people, whereas a West European one supports 2 or 3. (1997 note, G.D.)

5.This passage refers to the transformation of the Taylor system. The assembly line has already partly disappeared in some factories.
6.Official CP leader statement, 1970: “There are workers we’ll never defend: those who smash machines or cars they manufacture.” (1997 note, G.D.)
7.Such as the Shop Stewards’ Movement, the French Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, and the German General Workers’ Association (AAUD).
8.libcom note: For more information on the recuperation of the mass movement see here: http://libcom.org/history/institutionalization-below-unions-social-movements-1970s-italy
9.Like the SI at about the same time, this text regarded Italy as a research lab of proletarian action and capitalist counter-offensive. In the following years, Italy was to display a rich variety of workers’ autonomy: indiscipline, absenteeism, meetings on the shop-floor without notice, demos on the premises to call for a strike, wildcat picketing, blockade of goods… A permanent feature was the rejection of hierarchy: equal pay rise, no privileged category, free speech… Another aspect was the attempt to go beyond the distinction between representation and action (parliament/government: see above, note 3) in the working of the rank-and-file committees. Such self-organization was essential as a means of collective action, but when it failed as an organ of social change that did not come about, it disappeared with the rest of the proletarian surge.
It was no accident that the big factory committees of northern Italy were only loosely connected: resisting the boss can be a local matter, whereas reorganizing production and social life means going out of one’s workplace - out of the factory gates, and out of the company as accumulated value one belongs to. (1997 note, G.D.)

Re-Emergence of the Communist Perspective, Giles Dauve


This essay was started soon after May 68 and completed in 72 by a friend who’d worked years before in an Algerian shoe-making factory under (State-controlled) “self-management”, where he experienced how a spontaneous desire to get a grip on one’s fate could end in institutionalized self-organization of wage labour.

If this text was written today, historical data would be different. Though it still retains strongholds, the French CP has declined, partly through de-industrialization of traditional working class areas. Besides, as in other countries, one can no longer speak of “stalinism”. CPs were stalinist not out of love for Russia, but because State capitalism was a possible solution for capital… usually with Red Army troops around and help from”socialist” brother countries. With the downfall of the USSR, there is no use for this backward form of capitalism, and CPs are evolving into social-democratic parties. The adaptable Italian one has already gone this way for quite a while. After long resistance, the die-hard French CP is now following suit. The 60-year old sinister stalinist farce has been sent to the dustbins of history, not by the proletariat, but by the overwhelming drive of commodities. The credit card is mightier than the jackboot.

(1997 note, G.D.)

The original purpose of this text was to try to show the fundamental reasons why the revolutionary movement of the first half of the century took various forms (parties, trade and industrial unions, workers’ councils) which now not only belong to the past, but also hinder the re-formation of the revolutionary movement. But only part of the project was carried out. This task still has to be realized. But it would be a mistake to wait for a complete theoretical construction before moving on. The following text gives certain elements which are useful for an understanding of new forms of the communist “party”. Recent events (mainly strikes in the U.S., in Britain, in France, and Italy) clearly show that we are entering a new historical period. For example, the French Communist Party (P.C.F.) still dominates the working class, but it is under strong attack. While for a long period of time the revolutionary movement’s opposition to capital was deflected by the P.C.F., today this mediation tends to disappear: the opposition between workers and capitalism is going to assert itself more and more directly, and on the level of real facts and actions, as opposed to the situation when the ideology of the P.C.F. was prominent among workers and the revolutionary movement had to fight against the P.C.F. mainly on a theoretical level.

Today revolutionaries will be forced to oppose capital practically. This is why new theoretical tasks are necessary. It is not enough to agree on the level of ideas; one must take positive action, and first of all intervene in present struggles to support one’s views. Communists do not have to build a separate party from the one which asserts itself in practice in our society; yet they will increasingly have to support their positions so that the real movement does not waste its time in useless and false struggles. Organic links (theoretical work for practical activity) will have to be established among those who think we are moving towards a conflict between the proletariat and capital. The present text tries to determine how the communist movement is going to reappear, and to define the tasks of the communists.

A) May, 1968, in France 
The general strike of May, 1968, was one of the biggest strikes in capitalist history. Yet it is probably the first time in contemporary society that such a powerful working class movement did not create for itself organs capable of expressing it. More than four years of workers’ struggles prove this fact. Nowhere can we see organizations going beyond a local and temporary contact. Unions and parties have been able to step into this void and negotiate with the bosses and the State. In 1968 a number of short-lived Action Committees were the only form of workers’ organization which acted outside the unions and the parties; the Action Committees opposed what they felt to be treason on the part of the unions.

Either at the beginning of the strike, or in the process of the sit-downs, or later, in the struggle against the resumption of work, many thousands of workers organized themselves in one way or another outside and against the will of the unions. But in every case these workers’ organizations fizzled out with the end of the movement and did not turn into a new type of organization.

The only exception was the “Inter-Enterprise” Committee, which had existed since the beginning of the strike at the Censier building of the “Faculté des Lettres” in Paris. It gathered together workers - individuals and groups - from several dozen factories in the Paris area. Its function was to coordinate actions against the undermining of the strike by the P.C.F.-controlled union, the C.G.T. It was in fact the only workers’ organ which in practice went beyond the narrow limits of the factory by putting into practice the solidarity between workers from different firms. As is the case with all revolutionary activities of the proletariat, this Committee did not publicize its action. 1

The Committee continued to organize meetings after the strike and disappeared after its members realized its uselessness. Of course the hundreds of workers who had taken part in its activity soon stopped coming to its meetings. Many of them continued seeing each other. But while the purpose of the Committee during the strike had been to strengthen the fight against union and party manoeuvres, it later turned into a discussion group studying the results of the strike and trying to learn its lessons for the future. These discussions often dealt with communism and its importance.

This Committee gathered a minority. Yet its daily “general assemblies” at Censier, as well as its smaller meetings, allowed several thousand workers to meet. It remained limited to the Paris area. We have heard of no such experiment in other regions, organized outside all unions (including “left wing” unions: the town of Nantes, in the west of France, was more or less taken over by the unions during the strike).

One must add that a handful of people sharing communist ideas (a dozen at most) were deeply involved in its action and functioning. The result of this was to limit the influence of the C.G.T., the Trotskyists, and the Maoists, to a minimum. The fact that the Committee was outside all traditional union and party organizations, including the extremist ones, and that it tried to go beyond the limit of the factory, foreshadowed what has been happening since 1968. Its disappearance after the fulfilment of its tasks also foreshadowed the fading away of organizations that have appeared since then, in the most characteristic struggles of recent years.

This shows the great difference between the present situation and what happened in the 1930’s. In 1936, in France, the working class fought behind the “workers’” organizations and for the reforms they professed. So the forty-hour week and two weeks of paid vacation were regarded as a real victory of the workers, whose essential demand was to get the same conditions and position as salaried groups. These demands were imposed on the ruling class. Today the working class is not asking for the improvement of its conditions of life. The reform programmes presented by unions and parties closely resemble those put forward by the State. It was DeGaulle who proposed “participation” as a remedy for what he called the “mechanical” society.

It seems that only a fraction of the ruling class realized the extent of the crisis, which it called a “crisis of civilization” (A. Malraux). Since then all organizations, all unions and parties, without any exceptions, rallied to the great reform programme in one way or another. The P.C.F. itself includes “real participation” in its governmental programme. The other large union, the C.F.D.T., advocates self-management, which is also supported by ultra-left groups who are in favour of “workers’ councils.” The Trotskyists propose “workers’ control” as a minimum programme for a “workers’ government”.

What lies at the heart of all this concern is an attempt to end the separation between the worker and the product of his work. This is an expression of a “utopian” view of capital, and has nothing to do with communism. The capitalist “utopia” tries to do away with the bad side of exploitation. The communist movement cannot express itself in a formal criticism of capital. It does not aim to change the conditions of work, but the function of work: it wants to replace the production of exchange values with the production of use values. Whereas unions and parties carry on their debates within the context of one and the same programme, the programme of capital, the proletariat has a non-constructive attitude. Apart from its practical political activities, it does not “participate” in the debate organized about its case. It does not try to do theoretical research about its own tasks. This is the time of the great silence of the proletariat. The paradox is that the ruling class tries to express the aspirations of the workers, in its own way. A fraction of the ruling class understands that the present conditions of appropriation of surplus-value are a hindrance to the total functioning of the economy. Its perspective is to share the cake, hoping that a working class “profiting” from capital and “participating” in it will produce more surplus-value. We are reaching the stage when capital dreams of its own survival.2 To achieve this survival, it would have to get rid of its own parasitical sectors, i.e., the fractions of capital which no longer produce enough surplus-value.

Whereas in 1936 the workers tried to reach the same level as other sectors of society, nowadays capital itself imposes on the privileged salaried sectors the same general conditions of life as those of the workers. The concept of participation implies equality in the face of exploitation imposed by the needs of value formation. Thus participation is a “socialism” of misery. Capitalism must reduce the enormous cost of the sectors which are necessary to its survival but which do not directly produce value.

In the course of their struggles workers realize that the possibility of improving their material conditions is limited and on the whole already planned by capital. The working class can no longer intervene on the basis of a programme which would really alter its living conditions within capitalism. The great workers’ struggles of the first half of the century, struggles for the eight-hour day, the forty-hour week, paid holidays, industrial unionism, job security, showed that the relationship between the working class and capital allowed the workers a certain range of “capitalist” action. Nowadays capital itself imposes the reforms and generalizes the equality of all in the face of wage-labour. Therefore no important section of the working class is willing to fight for intermediate objectives as was the case at the beginning of the century or in the 1930’s. But it should also be obvious that as long as the communist perspective is not clear there can be no formation of workers’ organizations on a communist basis. This is not to say that the communist objectives will suddenly become clear to everybody. The fact that the working class is the only class which produces surplus-value is what places it at the centre of the crisis of value, i.e., at the very heart of the crisis of capitalism, and forces it to destroy all other classes as such, and to form the organs of its self-destruction as a part of capital, as a class within capitalism. The communist organization will only appear in the practical process of destruction of the bourgeois economy, and in the creation of a human community without exchange.

The communist movement has asserted itself continually since the very beginning of capitalism. This is why capital is forced to maintain constant surveillance and continual violence over everything dangerous to its normal functioning. Ever since the secret conspiracy of Babeuf in 1795, the workers’ movement has experienced increasingly violent and longer struggles, which have shown capitalism to be, not the culmination of humanity, but its negation.

Although the May 68 strike had hardly any immediate positive results, its real strength was that it did not give birth to durable illusions. The May “failure” is the failure of reformism, and the end of reformism breeds a struggle on a totally different level, a struggle against capital itself, not against its effects. In 1968 everyone was thinking of some “other” society. What people said rarely went beyond the notion of general self-management. Apart from the communist struggle which can develop only if the centre, the class which produces surplus-value, leads it, other classes can only act and think within the capitalist sphere, and their expression can only be that of capital - even of capital reforming itself. Yet behind these partial criticisms and alienated expressions we can see the beginning of the crisis of value which is characteristic of the historical period we are now entering.

These ideas do not come from nowhere; they always appear because the symptoms of a real human community exist emotionally in every one of us. Whenever the false community of wage-labour is questioned, there appears a tendency towards a form of social life in which relationships are no longer mediated by the needs of capital.

Since May 68, the activity of the communist movement has tended to be increasingly concrete.

B) Strikes and Workers’ Struggles Since 1968 
Whereas in the years after World War II strikes - even important ones - were kept under control and were not followed by constant political and monetary crises, the past few years have seen a renewal of industrial riots and even insurrections in France, Italy, Britain, Belgium, West Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland. In Poland the workers attacked the headquarters of the C.P. while singing the International. The process was the same in nearly every case. A minority starts a movement with its own objectives; soon the movement spreads to other categories of workers in the same firm; people get organized (strike pickets, workers’ committees in the shops, on the assembly lines); the unions manage to be the only ones capable of negotiating with the management; they finally get the workers to resume work, after proposing unitary slogans which no one likes but everyone accepts because of the inability to formulate anything else. The only movement which went beyond the stage of the strike as it now exists was the movement of riots and strikes in Poland in December 1970-January 1971.

What happened in a brutal way in Poland exists only as a tendency in the rest of the industrial world. In Poland there is no mechanism of “countervailing” power capable of keeping social crises in check. The ruling class had to attack the working class directly in order to maintain the process of value formation in normal conditions. The Polish events prove that the crisis of value tends to spread to all industrial areas, and demonstrate the behaviour of the working class as the centre of such a crisis.

The origin of the movement was the need to defend the average selling price of labour power. But the movement found itself immediately on another field: it had to face capitalist society itself. At once the workers were forced to attack the organs of oppression. Party and union officials were assaulted and the party building was stormed. In some towns the railway stations were guarded in case they might be used to bring troops. The movement was strong enough to give itself an organ of negotiation: a workers’ committee for the town. The very fact that Gierek had to go to the shipyards in person must be regarded as a victory of the working class as a whole. A year later Fidel Castro had to go to Chile in person to ask the tin miners to cooperate with the (“socialist”) government. In Poland the workers did not send delegates to the central power to propose their demands: the government had to come to the workers to negotiate… the inevitable surrender of the workers.

Facing the violence of the State, the working class formed its own organs of violence. No leaders had anticipated the organization of the revolt: it was the product of the nature of the society the revolt tried to destroy. Yet leaders (the workers’ committee for the town) only appeared after the movement had reached the highest point which the situation allowed. The negotiation organ is an expression of nothing more than the realization by both sides that there is only one solution left. The characteristic of such a negotiation organ is that it implies no delegation of power. It rather represents the outer limit of a movement which cannot go beyond negotiation in the present situation. Reforms, once again, are proposed by capital, whereas the working class expresses itself in practical refusal; it must accept the proposals of the central power so long as its practical activity is not yet strong enough to destroy the basis of that power.

Workers’ struggles tend to directly oppose their own dictatorship to that of capital, to organize on a different basis from that of capital, and thus to pose the question of the transformation of society by acts. When the existing conditions are unfavourable to a general attack, or when this attack fails, the forms of dictatorship disintegrate, capital triumphs again, reorganizes the working class according to its logic, diverts the violence from its original aims, and separates the formal aspect of the struggle from its real content. We must get rid of the old opposition between “dictatorship” and “democracy.” To the proletariat, “democracy” does not mean organizing itself as a parliament in the bourgeois way; for it, “democracy” is an act of violence by means of which it destroys all the social forces which prevent it from expressing itself and maintain it as a class within capitalism. “Democracy” cannot be anything but a dictatorship. This is visible in every strike: the form of its destruction is precisely “democracy.” As soon as there is a separation between a decision-making organ and an action organ, the movement is no longer in the offensive phase. It is being diverted to the ground of capital. Opposing workers’ “democracy” to the union’s “bureaucracy” means attacking a superficial aspect and hiding the real content of workers’ struggles, which have a totally different basis. Democracy is now the slogan of capital: it proposes the self-management of one’s own negation. All those who accept this programme spread the illusion that society can be changed by a general discussion followed by a vote (formal or informal) which would decide what is to be done. By maintaining the separation between decision and action, capital tries to maintain the existence of classes. If one criticizes such a separation only from a formal point of view, without going to its roots, one merely perpetuates the division. It is hard to imagine a revolution which begins when voters raise their hands. Revolution is an act of violence, a process through which social relations are transformed. 3

We will not try to give a description of the strikes which have taken place since 1968. We lack too much information, and a large number of books and pamphlets have been written about them. We would only like to see what they have in common, and in what way they are the sign of a period in which communist prospects will appear more and more concretely.

We do not divide industrial society into different sectors - “developing” and “backward” sectors. It is true that some differences can be observed, but these can no longer hide from us the nature of the strikes, in which one cannot see real differences between “vanguard” and “rearguard” struggles. The process of the strikes is less and less determined by local factors, and more and more by the international conditions of capitalism. Thus the Polish strikes and riots were the product of an international context; the relationship between East and West was at the root of these events where people sang the International and not the national anthem. Western and eastern capital have a common interest in securing the exploitation of their respective workers. And the relatively under-developed “socialist” capitalisms must maintain a strict capitalist efficiency to be able to compete with their more modern western neighbours.

The communist struggle starts in a given place, but its existence does not depend on purely local factors. It does not act according to the limits of its original birthplace. Local factors become secondary to the objectives of the movement. As soon as a struggle limits itself to local conditions, it is immediately swallowed up by capitalism. The level reached by workers’ struggles is not determined by local factors, but by the global situation of capitalism. As soon as the class which concentrates in itself the revolutionary interests of society rises, it immediately finds, in its situation, and without any mediation, the content and object of its revolutionary activity: to crush its enemies and take the decisions imposed by the needs of the struggle; the consequences of its own actions force it to move further.

We shall not deal with all strikes here. There is still a capitalist society in which the working class is just a class of capitalism, a part of capital, when it is not revolutionary. Party and union machines still manage to control and lead considerable sections of the working class for the sake of capitalist objectives (such as the right to retire at 60 in France). General elections and many strikes are organized by unions for limited demands. However, it is increasingly obvious that in most large strikes the initiative does not come from the unions, and these are the strikes we are talking about here. Industrial society has not been divided into sectors, nor has the working class been divided up into the young, the old, the natives, the immigrants, the foreigners, the skilled and the unskilled. We do not oppose all sociological descriptions; these can be useful, but they are not our aim here.

We shall try to study how the proletariat breaks away from capitalist society. Such a process has a definite centre. We do not accept the sociological view of the working class because we do not analyse the working class from a static point of view, but in terms of its opposition to value. The rupture from capital abolishes exchange value, i.e., the existence of labour as a commodity. The centre of this movement, and therefore its leadership, must be the part of society which produces value. Otherwise it would mean that exchange value no longer exists, and that we are already beyond the capitalist stage. Actually the profound meaning of the essential movement is partially hidden by the struggles on the periphery, on the outskirts of the production of value. This was the case in May 1968, when students masked the real struggle, which took place elsewhere.

In fact the struggles on the outskirts (the new middle classes) are only a sign of a much deeper crisis which appearances still hide from us. The renewal of the crisis of value implies, for capital, the need to rationalize, and therefore to attack, the backward sectors which are least capable of protecting themselves; this increases unemployment and the number of those who have no reserves. But their intervention must not make one forget the essential role played by production workers in destroying exchange value.

C) The Two Most Characteristic Aspects of the Strikes 
On one hand, the initiative of the strike comes from self-organized workers; on the other, the initiative to end the strike comes from the fraction of the workers organized in unions. These initiatives are contradictory since they express two movements which are opposed to one another. Nothing is more alien to a strike than its end. The end of a strike is a moment of endless talks when the notion of reality is overcome by illusions; many meetings are organized where union officials have a monopoly of speech; general assemblies attract fewer and fewer people and finally vote to resume work. The end of a strike is a time when the working class again falls under the control of capital, is again reduced to atoms, individual components, destroyed as a class capable of opposing capital. The end of a strike means negotiation, the control of the movement, or what is left of it, by “responsible” organizations, the unions. The beginning of a strike means just the opposite: then the action of the working class has nothing to do with formalism. All those who do not support the movement are pushed aside, whether they are executives, foremen, workers, managers, shop-stewards or union officials. Managers are locked up, union buildings attacked by thousands of workers, depending on local conditions. During the strike in Limbourg (Belgium, Winter 1970), the union headquarters were stormed by the workers. Everything acting as a hindrance to the movement tends to be destroyed. There is no place for “democracy”: on the contrary, everything is obvious, and all enemies must be defeated without wasting time on discussions. A considerable amount of energy appears during the offensive phase, and it seems that nothing is able to stop it.

At this stage we cannot avoid stating an obvious fact: the energy at the beginning of the strike seems to disappear totally by the time of the negotiations. What is more important, this energy seems to have no relation to the official reasons given for the strike. If several dozens of men bring about a strike of thousands of workers on the basis of their own demands, they do not succeed just because of some sort of solidarity, but because of an immediate community in practice. We must add the most important point, that the movement does not put forward any particular demand. The question the proletariat will ask in practice is already present in its silence. In its own movements the proletariat does not put forward any particular demand: this is why these movements are the first communist activities in our time.

What is important in the process of breaking away from capitalism is that the working class no longer asks for partial and particular reforms. Thus the working class ceases to be a class, since it does not defend its particular class interests. This process is different according to the conditions. The movement which went the farthest, in Poland, showed that the first step of the process is the disintegration of the capitalist organs of repression within the working class (mainly the unions); the working class must next organize to protect itself against the organs of repression outside the working class (armed forces, police, militia), and start destroying them.

The specific conditions in Poland, where the unions are part of the State apparatus, forced the working class to make no distinction between the unions and the State, since there was none. The fusion between unions and State only made obvious an evolution which does not appear as clearly in other countries, such as France and Italy. In many cases the unions still play the role of a buffer between the workers and the State. But a radical struggle will increasingly attack the unions and the sections of the working class dominated by the unions. The time is gone when workers form unions to defend their qualifications and their right to work.

The conditions of modern society compel the working class not to put forward any particular demand. The only community organized and tolerated by capital is the community of wage-labour: capital tends to forbid everything else. Capital now dominates the totality of the relations men have with one another. It becomes increasingly obvious that every partial struggle which is limited to a particular relation is forced to insert itself into a general struggle against the entire system of relations among people: capital. Otherwise it is integrated or destroyed.

In a strike of the Paris bus and subway workers (R.A.T.P.) at the end of 1971, the resolute attitude of the subway drivers turned the strike into a movement quite different from the strike of one category of workers. The content of the movement does not depend on what people think. The attitude of the drivers transformed their relation to the management of the R.A.T.P. and the unions, and clearly revealed the true nature of the conflict. The State itself had to intervene to force the drivers back under the pressure of the unions. Whether the drivers believed it or not, the strike was no longer theirs; it had turned into a public trial where the unions were officially recognized as necessary organs of coercion against the workers, organs charged with the task of restoring the normal order of things. It is impossible to understand the importance of the “silence” of the working class unless one first understands the powerful development of capitalism until now. It is nowadays considered normal that the end of strikes should be controlled by unions. This does not imply any weakness on the part of the revolutionary movement. On the contrary, in a situation which does not allow partial demands to be achieved, it is normal that no organ should be created to end the strike. Thus we do not see the creation of workers’ organizations gathering fractions of the working class outside the unions on a programme of specific demands. Sometimes workers’ groups are formed during the struggle, and they oppose their demands to those of the unions, but their chances are destroyed by the situation itself, which does not allow them to exist very long.

If these groups want to maintain their existence, they must act outside the limits of the factory, or they will be destroyed by capital in one way or another. The disappearance of these groups is one of the signs of the radical nature of the movement. If they went on existing as organizations, they would lose their radical character. So they will always disappear and later come to life again in a more radical way. The idea that workers’ groups will finally succeed, after many experiments and failures, in forming a powerful organization capable of overthrowing capitalism, is similar to the bourgeois idea that a partial critique will gradually turn into a radical one. The activity of the working class does not proceed from experiences and has no other “memory” than the general conditions of capital which compel it to act according to its nature. It does not study its experiences; the failure of a movement is itself an adequate demonstration of its limitations.

The communist organization will grow out of the practical need to transform capitalism into communism. Communist organization is the organization of the transition towards communism. Here lies the fundamental difference between our time and the former period. In the struggles which took place between 1917 and 1920 in Russia and Germany, the objective was to organize a pre-communist society. In Russia the radical sections of the working class tried to win over other sections of workers, and even the poor peasants. The isolation of the radical elements and the general conditions of capitalism made it impossible for them to envisage the practical transformation of the entire society without a programme uniting all the exploited classes. These radical elements were eventually crushed.

The difference between our time and the past comes from the vast development of the productive forces on nearly all continents, and the quantitative and qualitative development of the proletariat. The working class is now much more numerous 4 and a uses highly developed means of production. Today the conditions of communism have been developed by capital itself. The task of the proletariat is no longer to support progressive sections of capitalists against reactionary ones. The need for a transitional period between the destruction of capitalist power and the triumph of communism, during which the revolutionary power creates the conditions of communism, has also vanished. Therefore there is no place for a communist organization as a mediation between the radical and non-radical sections of the working class. The fact that an organization supporting the communist programme fails to emerge during the period between major struggles is the product of a new class relationship in capitalism.

For instance, in France in 1936, the resistance of capital was so strong that a change of government was necessary before the workers could get what they wanted. Today governments themselves initiate the reforms. Capitalist governments try to create situations where the workers organize themselves to achieve what are in fact necessities of production (participation, self-management). Contemporary economy entails more and more planning. Everything outside the plan is a menace to social harmony. Every activity outside this planning is regarded as non-social and must be destroyed. We should keep this in mind when analysing certain activities of workers during periods when there are no mass struggles like strikes or attempted insurrections. The unions must (a) take advantage of workers’ struggles and control them, and (b) oppose a number of actions such as sabotage and “downtime” (stopping the line), if they want to stay within the limits of the plan (productivity deals, wage agreements, etc.).

D) Forms of Action Which Cannot Be Recuperated: Sabotage and “Downtiming” 
[URL=/tags/Sabotage] Sabotage has been practised in the U.S. for many years and is now developing in Italy and France. In 1971, during a railway strike in France, the C.G.T. officially denounced sabotage and “irresponsible” elements. Several engines had been put out of order and a few damaged. Later, in the Renault strike in the Spring of 1971, several acts of sabotage had damaged vehicles which were being assembled. Sabotage is becoming extremely widespread. Stopping the line (“down-timing”), which has always existed as a latent phenomenon, is now becoming a common practice. It has been considerably increased by the arrival of young workers to the labour market, and by automation. It is accompanied by a rate of absenteeism which causes serious trouble to some firms.

These events are not new in the history of capitalism. What is new is the context in which they take place. They are indeed the superficial symptoms of a profound social movement, the signs of a process of breaking away from the existing society. At the beginning of the century, sabotage was used as a means of exerting pressure on the bosses to force them to accept the existence of unions. The French revolutionary unionist Pouget studied this in a pamphlet called Sabotage. He quotes the speech of a worker at a workers’ congress in 1895:

"The bosses have no right to rely on our charity. If they refuse even to discuss our demands, then we can just put into practice the ‘Go Canny’ tactics, until they decide to listen to us."

Pouget adds: “Here is a clear definition of ‘Go Canny’ tactics, of ‘sabotage’: BAD PAY, BAD WORK.”

"This line of action, used by our English friends, can be applied in France, as our social position is similar to that of our English brothers."

Sabotage was used by workers against the boss so that he would admit their existence. It was a way of getting freedom of speech. Sabotage took place in a movement trying to turn the working class into a class which had its place in capitalist society. “Downtiming” was an attempt to improve the conditions of work. Sabotage did not appear as a blunt and direct refusal of society as a whole. “Downtiming” is a fight against the effects of capitalism. Another study will be necessary to examine the limits of such struggles and the conditions in which capital could absorb them. The social importance of these struggles makes it possible to regard them as the basis of “modern reformism”. The word “reformism” can be used to the extent that these actions could in theory be completely absorbed by the capitalist system. Whereas today they are a nuisance to the normal activity of production, tomorrow they might well be linked to production. An “ideal” capitalism could tolerate the self-management of the conditions of production: as long as a normal profit is made by the firm, the organization of the work can be left to the workers.

Capitalism has already carried out some concrete experiments in this direction, particularly in Italy, in the U.S., in Sweden (Volvo). 5 In France, one may regard left-wing “liberal” organizations such as the P.S.U., the C.F.D.T. and the left of the Socialist Party as the expression of this capitalist tendency. For the time being, this movement can be defined neither as exclusively reformist nor as anti-capitalist. It should be noted that this ‘“modern reformism” has often been directed against the unions. It is still difficult to describe its consequences on capitalist production. All we can see so far is that these struggles attract groups of workers who feel the need to act outside the traditional boundaries imposed by the unions.

Although the “downtiming movement” can be defined as we have just done, sabotage is different. There are two kinds of sabotage: (a) sabotage which destroys the product of the work or the machine, (b) sabotage which partially damages the product so that it can no longer be consumed. Sabotage as it exists today can in no way be kept in check by the unions, nor can it be absorbed by production. Yet capital can prevent it by improving and transforming its system of supervision. For this reason sabotage cannot become the form of struggle against capital. On the other hand, sabotage is a reflex of the individual: he submits to it, as to a passion. Although the individual must sell his labour power, he goes “mad”, i.e., irrational compared to what is “rational” (selling one’s labour power and working accordingly). This “madness” consists of the refusal to give up the labour power, to be a commodity. The individual hates himself as an alienated creature split into two; he tries, through destruction, through violence, to re-unify his being, which only exists through capital.

Since these acts are outside the boundaries of all economic planning, they are also outside the boundaries of “reason”. Newspapers have repeatedly defined them as “anti-social” and “mad”: the danger appears important enough for society to try to suppress it. 6 Christian ideology admitted the suffering and social inequality of the workers; today capitalist ideology imposes equality in the face of wage-labour, but does not tolerate anything opposed to wage-labour. The need felt by the isolated individual to oppose physically his practical transformation into a being totally subjected to capital, shows that this submission is more and more intolerable. Destructive acts are part of an attempt to destroy the mediation of wage labour as the only form of social community. In the silence of the proletariat, sabotage appears as the first stammer of human speech.

Both activities: “downtiming” and sabotage, require a certain amount of agreement among the people working where these activities take place. This shows that, although no formal or official organization appears, there exists an underground network of relations with an anti-capitalist basis. Such a network is more or less dense according to the importance of the activity, and it disappears with the end of the anti-capitalist action. It is normal that, apart from the “subversive” practical (and therefore theoretical) action, the groups gathered around these subversive tasks should dissolve. Often the need to maintain an illusion of “social community” results in an activity which is secondarily anti-capitalist but primarily illusory. In most cases these groups end up by gathering around some political axis. In France nuclei of workers gather around such organizations as ‘“Lutte Ouvriere,” a number of C.F.D.T. union branches, or Maoist groups. This does not mean that some minorities with Trotskyist, Maoist or C.F.D.T. ideas are gaining ground among the workers, but simply that some workers’ minorities are trying to break their isolation, which is quite normal. In all cases, the dissolution of the anti-capitalist network and activity means the re-organization of the working class by capital, as a part of capital.

In short, apart from its practical activities, the communist movement does not exist. The dissolution of a social disorder with a communist content is accompanied by the dissolution of the entire system of relations which it organized. Democracy, division of struggles into “economic” and “political” struggles, formation of a vanguard with a socialist “consciousness”, are the illusions of days gone by. These illusions are no longer possible to the extent that a new period is beginning. The dissolution of the organizational forms which are created by the movement, and which disappear when the movement ends, does not reflect the weakness of the movement, but rather its strength. The time of false battles is over. The only conflict that appears real is the one that leads to the destruction of capitalism.

E) Activity of Parties and Unions in the Face of the Communist Perspective 
1) On the labour market, unions increasingly become monopolies which buy and sell labour power. When it unified itself, capital unified the conditions of the sale of labour power. In modern conditions of production, the individual owner of labour power is not only forced to sell it to be able to live, but must also associate with other owners in order to be able to sell it. In return for social peace, the unions got the right to control the hiring of labour. In modern society workers are increasingly compelled to join the union if they want to sell their labour power.

At the beginning of this century, unions were the product of gatherings of workers who formed coalitions to defend the average selling price of their commodity. The unions were not at all revolutionary, as was shown by their attitude in World War I, when they supported the war both directly and indirectly. In so far as the workers were fighting for their existence as a class within capitalist society, the unions had no revolutionary function. In Germany, during the revolutionary upheaval of 1919-1920, the union members went to organizations which defended their economic rights in the general context of the struggle against capitalism. 7 Outside of a revolutionary period, the working class is nothing but a fraction of capital represented by the unions. While other fractions of capital (industrial and financial capital) were forming monopolies, the working class as variable capital also formed a monopoly, of which the unions are the trustees.

2) The unions developed at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century as organizations defending qualified labour power. This was particularly clear with the rise of the A.F. of L. in the US. Until World War II (or until the birth of the C.I.O. in the 1930’s in the U.S.) unions grew by supporting the relatively privileged sections of the working class. This is not to say that they had no influence on the most exploited strata, but this influence was only possible if it was consistent with the interests of the qualified strata. With the development of modern and automated industry, highly qualified workers tend to be replaced by technicians. These technicians also have the function of controlling and supervising masses of unqualified workers. Therefore the unions, while losing important sections of workers whose qualifications fade away, try to recruit this new stratum of technicians.

3) The unions represent labour power which has become capital. This forces them to appear as institutions capable of valorizing capital. The unions have to associate their own development programme with that of industrial and finance capital if they want to keep “‘their” labour power under control. The representatives of variable capital, of capital in the form of labour power, sooner or later have to associate with the representatives of fractions of capital who are now in power. Government coalitions consisting of liberal bourgeoisie, technocrats, left political groups, and unions, appear as a necessity in the evolution of capitalism. Capital itself requires strong unions capable of proposing economic measures which can valorize variable capital. The unions are not “traitors” in the sense that they betray the programme of the working class: they are quite consistent with themselves, and with the working class when it accepts its capitalist nature.

4) This is how we can understand the relationship between the working class and the unions. When the process of breaking away from capitalist society begins, the unions are immediately seen through and treated in terms of what they are; but as soon as the process ends, the working class cannot help being re-organized by capital, namely by the unions. One may say that there are no “unionist” illusions in the working class. There is only a capitalist, namely “unionist”, organization of the working class.

5) The development of the current relationships between unions and bosses in Italy illustrates what has been said. The evolution of Italian unions should be closely watched. It is normal that in relatively backward areas (from an economic point of view) such as France and Italy (compared to the U.S.), the effects of the modernization of the economy are accompanied by the most modern tendencies of capital. What happens in Italy is in many ways a sign of what is maturing in other countries.

The Italian situation helps us understand the French one. In France the C.G.T. and the P.C.F. put up a reactionary resistance in the face of workers’ struggles, whereas in Italy the C.G.I.L. and the P.C.I. have been able to re-shape themselves in terms of the new situation. This is one of the reasons for the difference between the French “May” and the Italian “May”. In France, May 1968 happened suddenly and could be easily misunderstood. The Italian situation proceeds more slowly and ultimately reveals its tendencies.

The first phase lasted from 1968 to the winter of 1971. The main element was the birth of workers’ struggles independent of the influence of unions and political organizations. Workers’ action committees were formed as in France, with one essential difference: the French ones were quickly driven out of the factories by the power of the unions, which in practice compelled them to have no illusions about the boundaries of the factory. In so far as the general situation did not allow them to go any further, they disappeared. In Italy, on the other hand, workers’ committees were at first able to organize themselves inside the factories. Neither the bosses nor the unions could really oppose them. Many committees were formed in the factories, in isolation from each other, and they all began to question the speed of the line and to organize sabotage.

This was in fact an alienated form of critique of wage-labour. Throughout the Italian movement the activity of extreme left groups (gauchistes) was particularly noteworthy. Their entire activity consisted of limiting the movement to its formal aspects without ever showing its real content. They bred the illusion that the “autonomy” of workers’ organizations was in itself revolutionary enough to be supported and maintained. They glorified all the formal aspects. But since they are not communists, they were not able to express the idea that behind the struggle against the rhythm of the line and the working conditions lay the struggle against wage-labour.

The workers’ struggle itself met no resistance. This was in fact what disarmed it. It could do nothing but adapt to the conditions of capitalist society. The unions, for their part, altered their structures in order to control the workers’ movement As Trentin, one of the leaders of the C.G.I.L. said, they decided to organize “a thoroughgoing transformation of the union and a new type of rank-and-file democracy”. They reshaped their factory organizations according to the pattern of the “autonomous” committees which appeared in recent struggles. The ability of the unions to control industrial strife made them appear as the only force capable of making the workers resume work. There were negotiations in some large concerns like Fiat. The result of these negotiations was to give the union the right to interfere in the organization of the work (time and motion, work measurement, etc.). The management of Fiat now deducts the union dues from the workers’ pay, which was already the case in Belgium. At the same time, serious efforts are being ma are de to reach an agreement on a merger between the biggest unions: U.I.L. (Socialist), C.I.S.L. (Christian-Democrat), C.G.I.L. (P.C.I.). 8

NOTE: The Italian example clearly shows the tendency of unions to become monopolies which discuss the conditions of production of surplus-value with other fractions of capital. Here are quotations from Petrilli, president of the State-owned I.R. (State Holding Company), and Trentin:

Trentin: “… Job enrichment and the admission of a higher degree of autonomy in decision-making by the workers’ group concerned (in each factory) are already possible. .. Even when, because of the failure of the union, workers’ protests lead to irrational and illusory demands, the workers express their refusal to produce without thinking, to work without deciding; they express their need for power.”

Petrilli: “In my opinion it is obvious that the system of the assembly line implies a real waste of human capacities and produces a very understandable feeling of frustration in the worker. The resulting social tensions must be realistically understood as structural rather than conjunctural facts… . Greater participation of the workers in the elaboration of production objectives poses a series of problems having to do less with the organization of work than with the definition of the power balance within the firm.”

The programmes are identical and the aims are the same: increased productivity. The only remaining problem is the sharing of power, which is at the root of the political crisis in many industrial countries. It is likely that the end of the political crisis will be accompanied by the birth of “workers’ power” as the power of wage-labour, under various forms: self-management, “popular” coalitions, Socialist-Communist Parties, left-wing governments with right-wing programmes, right-wing governments with left-wing programmes. 9

  • 1.If it had, people would know about it as they do about the situationist-influenced Council for the Maintenance of Occupations (CMDO), active from May 10th and located in another university building ten minutes walk from either the Sorbonne or Censier. In its history of 68, the SI dismisses the Censier committee as too dusty to be of real interest. The CMDO certainly had posters and leaflets widely circulated, in France and abroad, whereas Censier was more connected to workplaces, but the truth is, both were among the best radical aspects of 68. Described by the SI as “a link, not a power”, the CMDO decided to break up on June 15th. (1997 note, G.D.)
  • 2.Hence the M.I.T. report and the debate on “zero growth”.
  • 3.Here’s an example from the engine drivers’ strike at Paris-Nord, 1986. A meeting had just voted against blocking the tracks to prevent trains from running. But when the strikers saw the first train come out of the station, driven by middle managers under police protection, they rushed to the tracks to stop it, undoing by spontaneous action hours of democratic discussion.

    Communism is of course the movement of a vast majority at long last able to take actions into their own hands. To that extent, communism is “democratic”, but it does not uphold democracy as a principle. Politicians, bosses and bureaucrats take advantage either of a minority or a majority when it suits them: so does the proletariat. Workers’ militancy often stems from a handful. Communism is neither the rule of the most numerous, nor of the few. To debate and/or start acting, people obviously have to gather somewhere, and such common ground has been called a soviet, committee, council, etc. It turns into an institution, however, when the moment and machinery of decision-making prevail over actions. This separation is the essence of parliamentarism.

    True, people must decide for themselves. But any decision, revolutionary or not, depends on what has happened before and what is still going on outside the formal deciding structure. Whoever organizes the meeting sets the agenda; whoever asks the question determines the answer; whoever calls the vote carries the decision. Revolution does not put forward a different form of organization, but a different solution from that of capital and reformism. As principles, democracy and dictatorship are equally wrong: they isolate a special and seemingly privileged moment.

    Demand for democracy was at its height in France, 1968. From shop-assistants to firefighters and schoolkids, every group wanted to get together and freely manage its own world, hoping this would result in global change. Even the situationists remained within the scope of democracy, in a councilist way of course, i.e. anti-statist and going beyond commodity and profit, but still separating means from ends. The SI was the most adequate expression of May 68. (1997 note, G.D.)

  • 4.This 1972 statement may sound odd 25 years later, still we hold it to be true. Growing unemployment goes together with a rise in the number of wage earners, not only in the US, but in France, and even more so on a world scale, where millions of people have been forced into the hardship of modern labour in the last decades, as in China.

    Needless to say, “work” has very different meanings. An African wage-labourer provides money for up to 20 people, whereas a West European one supports 2 or 3. (1997 note, G.D.)

  • 5.This passage refers to the transformation of the Taylor system. The assembly line has already partly disappeared in some factories.
  • 6.Official CP leader statement, 1970: “There are workers we’ll never defend: those who smash machines or cars they manufacture.” (1997 note, G.D.)
  • 7.Such as the Shop Stewards’ Movement, the French Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees, and the German General Workers’ Association (AAUD).
  • 8.libcom note: For more information on the recuperation of the mass movement see here: http://libcom.org/history/institutionalization-below-unions-social-movements-1970s-italy
  • 9.Like the SI at about the same time, this text regarded Italy as a research lab of proletarian action and capitalist counter-offensive. In the following years, Italy was to display a rich variety of workers’ autonomy: indiscipline, absenteeism, meetings on the shop-floor without notice, demos on the premises to call for a strike, wildcat picketing, blockade of goods… A permanent feature was the rejection of hierarchy: equal pay rise, no privileged category, free speech… Another aspect was the attempt to go beyond the distinction between representation and action (parliament/government: see above, note 3) in the working of the rank-and-file committees. Such self-organization was essential as a means of collective action, but when it failed as an organ of social change that did not come about, it disappeared with the rest of the proletarian surge.

    It was no accident that the big factory committees of northern Italy were only loosely connected: resisting the boss can be a local matter, whereas reorganizing production and social life means going out of one’s workplace - out of the factory gates, and out of the company as accumulated value one belongs to. (1997 note, G.D.)