Resources on communization

“Com­mun­iz­a­tion” is a the­or­et­ic­al cur­rent that emerged from the French ul­traleft after 1968. Gilles Dauvé is usu­ally cred­ited with coin­ing the term ac­cord­ing to its con­tem­por­ary use in his 1972 es­say on “Cap­it­al­ism and Com­mun­ism” (though in­ter­est­ingly, a cog­nate ap­peared in Eng­lish as early as 1849 in the journ­al of the Brit­ish Owen­ite Good­wyn Barmby, The Pro­methean). Later in that dec­ade, the ed­it­or­i­al col­lect­ive Théo­rie Com­mu­niste ex­pan­ded on the no­tion in at­tempt­ing to the­or­ize “com­mun­ism in the present tense.” It be­came the linch­pin of their more pro­cess-ori­ented vis­ion of how to tran­scend cap­it­al­ism. Rather than pos­it­ing com­mun­ism as some sort of end-goal or a fi­nal state to be achieved after an in­def­in­ite peri­od of trans­ition, com­mun­iz­a­tion un­der­stands it­self as an on­go­ing state of move­ment or flux. Or, as Léon de Mat­tis ex­plains, com­mun­iz­a­tion in­volves “the over­com­ing of all ex­ist­ing con­di­tions can only come from a phase of in­tense and in­sur­rec­tion­ist struggle dur­ing which the forms of struggle and the forms of fu­ture life will take flesh in one and the same pro­cess.”

A num­ber of art­icles by Gilles Dauvé, Karl Nes­ic, Bruno As­tari­an, and oth­er mem­bers of the group Troploin have been trans­lated in­to Eng­lish, along with pieces by Ro­land Si­mon, Bern­ard Ly­on, Léon de Mat­tis, and oth­er mem­bers of the groups Blau­machen or Théo­rie Com­mu­niste. Per­haps the best work on com­mun­iz­a­tion to ap­pear in Eng­lish to date, however, is the ori­gin­al ma­ter­i­al put out by End­notes, which formed in 2008 after a po­lem­ic between Brit­ish pub­lic­a­tion Auf­heben and Théo­rie Com­mu­niste. Moreover, the transat­lantic peri­od­ic­al Sic then co­alesced in 2011, pub­lish­ing its second and fi­nal is­sue in 2014. (The journ­al has since be­come de­funct, re­portedly as the res­ult of dis­agree­ments over the overly “aca­dem­ic” in­terest in the the­ory dis­played by the Amer­ic­an wing com­pared with fo­gies meet­ing in forests back in France. Not to men­tion the shit­storm that en­sued once it was dis­covered that Wo­land, one of Sic’s con­trib­ut­ors, had be­come a high-level func­tion­ary for Syr­iza in Greece. Dia­lect­ic­al De­lin­quents first blogged about it back in April of 2015, eli­cit­ing a series of re­sponses and re­crim­in­a­tions).

You can down­load full-text PD­Fs of the fol­low­ing com­mun­iz­a­tion texts by click­ing be­low:

Miscellaneous
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  1. Gilles Dauvé and François Mar­tin, The Ec­lipse and Ree­m­er­gence of the Com­mun­ist Move­ment (1997, 2015)
  2. Gilles Dauvé, A Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Autonomy (2008)
  3. Ben­jamin Noys, ed., Com­mun­iz­a­tion and Its Dis­con­tents (2011)
  4. Bruno As­tari­an, Gilles Dauvé, Jean Bar­rot, Everything Must Go! The Ab­ol­i­tion of Value (2016)

End­notes
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  1. End­notes 1: Pre­lim­in­ary Ma­ter­i­als for a Bal­ance Sheet of the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury (Oc­to­ber 2008)
  2. End­notes 2: Misery and the Value-Form (April 2010)
  3. End­notes 3: Gender, Race, Class, and Oth­er Mis­for­tunes (Septem­ber 2013)
  4. End­notes 4: Unity in Sep­ar­a­tion (Decem­ber 2015)

Sic
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  1. Sic: In­ter­na­tion­al Journ­al for Com­mun­iz­a­tion, Volume 1 (Novem­ber 2011)
  2. Sic: In­ter­na­tion­al Journ­al for Com­mun­iz­a­tion, Volume 2 (Janu­ary 2014)

Chuǎng
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  1. Chung 1: Dead Generations (2015)

I have nu­mer­ous ob­jec­tions to the vari­ous strands of com­mun­iz­a­tion the­ory, though I find the prob­lems it’s raised to be im­port­ant. These may be briefly enu­mer­ated.

First of all, I am not con­vinced that the no­tion of a “trans­ition­al peri­od” is so prob­lem­at­ic that it must be done away with al­to­geth­er. Marx main­tained in his “Cri­tique of the Gotha Pro­gram” (1875) that “between cap­it­al­ist and com­mun­ist so­ci­ety lies the peri­od of the re­volu­tion­ary trans­form­a­tion of the one in­to the oth­er. Cor­res­pond­ing to this is also a polit­ic­al trans­ition peri­od in which the state can be noth­ing but the re­volu­tion­ary dic­tat­or­ship of the pro­let­ari­at.” Seizure of state power, wheth­er first “smashed” or left re­l­at­ively in­tact, is ana­thema to the com­mun­izers. En­gels’ quip about the ex­iled Blan­quist com­munards also comes to mind: “These thirty-three are com­mun­ists be­cause they ima­gine that, as soon as they have only the good will to jump over in­ter­me­di­ate sta­tions and com­prom­ises, everything is as­sured, and if, as they firmly be­lieve, it ‘be­gins’ in a day or two, and they take the helm, ‘com­mun­ism will be in­tro­duced’ the day after to­mor­row. And they are not com­mun­ists if this can­not be done im­me­di­ately. What child­ish naïveté to ad­vance im­pa­tience as a con­vin­cing the­or­et­ic­al ar­gu­ment!”

Second, I do not ac­cept the premise, ad­vanced by both End­notes and Théo­rie Com­mu­niste, that “pro­gram­mat­ism” is dead and gone. “Pro­gram­mat­ism” broadly refers to the era of work­ing-class polit­ic­al pro­grams, so­cial­ist parties and syn­dic­al­ist uni­ons, in which in­di­vidu­als’ status as pro­du­cers was af­firmed. All claims to polit­ic­al le­git­im­acy were thought to flow from this fact. Though they dif­fer some­what on the dates that bookend this peri­od­iz­a­tion, the two journ­als share the same gen­er­al con­clu­sion that this era is at an end. Joshua Clover and Aaron Ben­anav summed it up suc­cinctly in a 2014 art­icle, “Can Dia­lectics Break BRICs?”:

The col­lect­ive ex­per­i­ence of work and life that gave rise to the van­guard party dur­ing the era of in­dus­tri­al­iz­a­tion has passed away with in­dus­tri­al­iz­a­tion it­self. We re­cog­nize as ma­ter­i­al­ists that the cap­it­al-labor re­la­tion that made such a party ef­fect­ive — not only as idea but as real­ity — is no longer op­er­at­ive. A changed cap­it­al-labor re­la­tion will give rise to new forms of or­gan­iz­a­tion. We should not cri­ti­cize present-day struggles in the name of ideal­ized re­con­struc­tions from the past. Rather, we should de­scribe the com­mun­ist po­ten­tial that presents it­self im­man­ently in the lim­its con­fron­ted by today’s struggles.

Richard Ru­bin of Platy­pus raised some points back in 2013 with which I still for the most part agree. While End­notes’ ap­prais­al of the polit­ic­al im­pot­ence of the Left in the present is sim­il­ar to that of the Platy­pus, Ben­anav con­ten­ded that the lat­ter’s ana­lys­is did not pen­et­rate down to the hard un­der­ly­ing real­it­ies that ex­plain why this is the case. By re­main­ing at the level of ideas, fo­cus­ing on ideo­lo­gic­al re­gres­sions and the dia­lectics of de­feat, Platy­pus failed to see the changed so­cioeco­nom­ic con­di­tions that lie be­neath. “Fail­ing to see this ma­ter­i­al basis for the death of the Left, Platy­pus is help­less to de­scribe the char­ac­ter of class struggle over the last dec­ade and a half,” Ben­anav ar­gued. “Their per­spect­ive com­pletely cov­ers over the real gap that sep­ar­ates the present from the past. Work­ers are only able to find a com­mon in­terest di­luted through the ex­tra­ver­sion of class be­long­ing in­to some oth­er weakened form of an af­firm­able share of ex­ist­ence.” Even­tu­ally, Ru­bin countered. “It is true in a cer­tain sense that the con­di­tions for re­volu­tion emerge from struggle, but there are many dif­fer­ent forms of struggle. People do not al­ways come to the con­clu­sion that they should struggle, and even then they of­ten struggle in un­pro­pi­tious ways.”

Un­like End­notes, I be­lieve the so­cial­ist work­ers’ move­ment re­mains the un­sur­pass­able ho­ri­zon through which alone cap­it­al­ism can be over­come. If these older mod­al­it­ies of struggle no longer have any real pur­chase on the world, then it is not just a par­tic­u­lar form of polit­ics that has seen its last but rather polit­ics it­self. Len­in once re­marked that polit­ics prop­er only be­gins once you start count­ing in the mil­lions: “As long as it was (and inas­much as it still is) a ques­tion of win­ning the pro­let­ari­at’s van­guard over to the side of com­mun­ism, pri­or­ity went and still goes to pro­pa­ganda work; even pro­pa­ganda circles, with all their pa­ro­chi­al lim­it­a­tions, are use­ful un­der these con­di­tions, and pro­duce good res­ults. But when it is a ques­tion of prac­tic­al ac­tion by the masses, of the dis­pos­i­tion, if one may so put it, of vast armies, of the align­ment of all the class forces in a giv­en so­ci­ety for the fi­nal and de­cis­ive battle, then pro­pa­gand­ist meth­ods alone, the mere re­pe­ti­tion of the truths of ‘pure’ com­mun­ism, are of no avail. In these cir­cum­stances, one must not count in thou­sands, like the pro­pa­gand­ist be­long­ing to a small group that has not yet giv­en lead­er­ship to the masses; in these cir­cum­stances one must count in mil­lions and tens of mil­lions.”

Some fur­ther ob­jec­tions with which I gen­er­ally con­cur were made by Don­ald Par­kin­son already more than a year ago. Oth­er points of con­ten­tion are fleshed out in the piece be­low, by some Ger­man com­rades in Kos­mo­prolet. End­notes trans­lated this piece last year, to vent­ri­lo­quize their “frus­tra­tion with the way [com­mun­iz­a­tion] has be­come as­so­ci­ated with a new the­or­et­ic­al brand and/or rad­ic­al iden­tity.” It’s a great piece.

tullio-crali-aerial-machine-1980

On communization and its theorists

Kosmoprolet
January 2016
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This text was ori­gin­ally pub­lished in the Friends’ journ­al Kos­mo­prolet as a re­sponse to Théo­rie Com­mu­niste’s cri­tique of the Friends’ 28 Theses on Class So­ci­ety. A trans­la­tion of Théo­rie Com­mu­niste’s ori­gin­al cri­tique can be found here.

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In the 1970s, some­body in France in­ven­ted the word com­mun­iz­a­tion in or­der to ex­press a fairly simple, but im­port­ant idea: the pro­let­ari­an re­volu­tion is not the self-real­iz­a­tion of the pro­let­ari­at, but its self-ab­ol­i­tion. This idea is noth­ing new, for it can already be found in a po­lem­ic­al work from 1845.1 However, it nev­er played a strong role in the labor move­ment, sig­ni­fy­ing at best the ho­ri­zon of a dis­tant fu­ture. Rather, the con­quest of polit­ic­al power by the pro­let­ari­at topped the agenda. In the sub­sequent trans­ition­al so­cial­ist so­ci­ety, which was still to be dom­in­ated by com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion and the strict meas­ure­ment of the in­di­vidu­al share of so­cial wealth, the pro­let­ari­at would lay the found­a­tions for com­mun­ism as a class­less so­ci­ety in which there would be no more wage sys­tem and, in­deed, no more pro­let­ari­at. The term com­mun­iz­a­tion ex­presses the ob­sol­es­cence of this no­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the pro­ponents of com­mun­iz­a­tion, com­mun­ism is not a dis­tant goal, but the move­ment it­self which elim­in­ates all ex­change re­la­tions as well as the state. As is ap­par­ent from our 28 Theses on Class So­ci­ety, we share this per­spect­ive, al­though we do so, ac­cord­ing to a French the­ory circle, in a fash­ion that is halfhearted, and ul­ti­mately bound to the “af­firm­a­tion of the pro­let­ari­at.”2 It is this we seek to ex­am­ine be­low.

What is char­ac­ter­ist­ic for the journ­al Théo­rie Com­mu­niste — which emerged in the 1970s from the coun­cil com­mun­ist mi­lieu and for some time has been the sub­ject of heated de­bate among circles scattered across the globe — is that they seek to his­tor­icize the per­spect­ive of com­mun­iz­a­tion. For Théo­rie Com­mu­niste, it was not only the he­ge­mon­ic cur­rents of the old labor move­ment — West­ern Re­form­ism and Bolshev­ism — but also the rad­ic­al left dis­sid­ents up to the 1970s that re­lied on the no­tion of a pos­it­ive work­ers’ iden­tity. What unites these cur­rents and their un­der­stand­ing of com­mun­ism, ac­cord­ing to Théo­rie Com­mu­niste, is that they pos­ited labor as the de­fin­ing prin­ciple of the new so­ci­ety. Im­port­antly, Théo­rie Com­mu­niste also in­cludes self-or­gan­iz­a­tion and work­ers’ autonomy as propag­ated by rad­ic­als in the past with­in this per­spect­ive, la­beling it all “pro­gram­mat­ism.” This is how the Situ­ation­ist In­ter­na­tion­al comes to be seen as a phe­nomen­on of his­tor­ic­al trans­ition: while go­ing bey­ond the con­straints of “pro­gram­mat­ism” by pro­mot­ing the self-ab­ol­i­tion of the pro­let­ari­at, the S.I. was at the same time bound to an epoch in de­cline by seek­ing to ac­com­plish this self-ab­ol­i­tion by means of work­ers’ coun­cils. It was only with the re­struc­tur­ing of the 1970s — roughly everything that is today de­scribed as pre­car­ity, Post-Ford­ism, neo­lib­er­al­ism, glob­al­iz­a­tion, and which Théo­rie Com­mu­niste des­ig­nates as the “second phase of the real sub­sump­tion” — that this phase of the class con­tra­dic­tion comes to an end. Only with the dis­ap­pear­ance of any pos­it­ive work­er iden­tity, the real ab­ol­i­tion of the cap­it­al re­la­tion be­comes con­ceiv­able. Théo­rie Com­mu­niste does not claim that earli­er re­volu­tion­ar­ies made “mis­takes”; rather they ar­gue that earli­er ideas of re­volu­tion and com­mun­ism were ad­equate for the shape of the con­tra­dic­tion between cap­it­al and the pro­let­ari­at at the time, but are no longer ad­equate today. Today, the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of cap­it­al and the re­pro­duc­tion of the work­ing class are grow­ing apart; the pro­let­ari­an class no longer finds con­firm­a­tion in cap­it­al­ist de­vel­op­ment; from its struggles it be­comes evid­ent that it is noth­ing out­side of the cap­it­al re­la­tion; its very be­ing as a class is no longer any­thing but an ex­tern­al con­straint. For the first time, this opens up the pos­sib­il­ity of the self-ab­ol­i­tion of the pro­let­ari­at.

Friends of com­mun­iz­a­tion have been fight­ing over this his­tor­iciz­a­tion for years. The most ob­vi­ous coun­ter­pos­i­tion comes from Gilles Dauvé and Karl Nes­ic: “Of course the real­iz­a­tion of com­mun­ism de­pends on the his­tor­ic­al mo­ment, but its deep con­tent re­mains in­vari­ant in 1796 and in 2002. If the ‘nature’ of the pro­let­ari­at is to be taken as Marx sum­mar­ized it the­or­et­ic­ally, then the sub­vers­ive mo­ment in pro­let­ari­an ex­ist­ence does not de­pend on the suc­cess­ive forms which the course of cap­it­al­ist de­vel­op­ment as­sumes.”3 Dauvé and Nes­ic ac­cuse Théo­rie Com­mu­niste of de­term­in­ism; Théo­rie Com­mu­niste ac­cuses Dauvé and Nes­ic of lack­ing his­tor­ic­al per­spect­ive.4

And we too are cri­ti­cized for such a lack. It is true that in one pas­sage of the Theses, we speak about the re­volu­tion and the miser­able con­di­tions it en­countered in Rus­sia in 1917, and it is true that we write, “that class struggles could have had dif­fer­ent out­comes.” However, in­stead of spec­u­lat­ing about this out­come, we con­tin­ue: “But the view of his­tory is in­ev­it­ably con­di­tioned by its fur­ther pro­gres­sion, in which the dia­lectic of re­pres­sion and eman­cip­a­tion has not ceased.” The whole text is a plea against nos­tal­gia, which should already be evid­ent from the fact that we char­ac­ter­ize the most ad­vanced com­mun­ist blue­print of the time, namely that of the coun­cil com­mun­ists, as the “self-man­age­ment of com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion”; the ab­ol­i­tion of com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion only came in­to view around 1968, simply due to the “high­er level of cap­it­al­ist so­cial­iz­a­tion, which can dir­ectly” — without a so­cial­ist trans­ition­al phase of blood, sweat, and tears — “turn over in­to com­mun­ism.” In the same un­am­bigu­ous vein, we com­ment on Marx’s pro­gram of state power con­quest: “That’s all his­tory now.” When Théo­rie Com­mu­niste mocks our link­ing of the very Canne-Meijer whose labor vouch­ers we ob­ject to with com­mun­iz­a­tion, they over­look the fact that we em­phas­ize only a cer­tain quite mod­ern thought of Canne-Meijer’s, namely that in the struggles them­selves — and not after a suc­cess­ful con­quest of power — new so­cial re­la­tions emerge. In short, if Théo­rie Com­mu­niste reads in­to a text about the his­tor­ic­al change of class so­ci­ety and the at­tempts to over­come it, a “con­sist­ent es­sence of the re­volu­tion”; if they dis­cov­er a ro­man­ti­ciz­a­tion of work­ers’ autonomy of the 1960s and 1970s, des­pite the fact that we term it the “real move­ment of the wage-laborers,” which wanted “if not everything, then at least more wages and less work” and that their “autonomy… meant wild­cat strikes — or strik­ing with the uni­on, but without re­gard for losses”; if they rep­res­ent our leit­mot­if as the “con­tra­dic­tion between self-or­gan­iz­a­tion and sub­sti­tu­tion­ism” al­though we ourselves cri­ti­cize such an op­pos­i­tion as “a cer­tain myth­o­logy of the rad­ic­al left” — then they com­pletely miss our point.

The real dif­fer­ences lie else­where. They con­cern the concept of pro­duc­tion, the char­ac­ter of today’s class struggles, and the re­la­tion­ship between the­ory and struggles. We will try to cla­ri­fy our thoughts on this and to show why, for us, the po­s­i­tions of Théo­rie Com­mu­niste seem closely built on ob­scur­ant­ism.

On the pro­duc­tion of com­mun­ism

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Hardly a thought in Marx’s the­ory is con­sidered more ob­jec­tion­able today than that of labor as an “etern­al nat­ur­al ne­ces­sity.” Against the his­tor­ic­al back­ground of state so­cial­ism and the com­mun­ist parties in the West, in which the work­ing class was driv­en to in­creased drudgery, this idea is read as an apo­logy for the status quo: one can­not rebel against nat­ur­al ne­ces­sity. Over the last few dec­ades, there­fore, the “cri­tique of labor” in its dif­fer­ent and some­times con­flict­ing ver­sions gained sub­stan­tial ground. For the most part, however, this cri­tique goes in circles, lead­ing one to con­clude that Marx’s cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy it­self con­tains the most reas­on­able cri­tique of labor, or in oth­er words, that the ex­ist­ing form of labor it­self is its most rad­ic­al crit­ic. Marx’s sup­posedly ob­jec­tion­able for­mula is not a nat­ur­al­iz­a­tion of so­cial re­la­tions, but, on the con­trary, first makes such re­la­tions in­tel­li­gible. Marx cri­ti­cizes labor in the sense that he makes dis­tinct­ive the dual char­ac­ter of com­mod­ity-pro­du­cing labor which pos­its use-value as well as ex­change-value. He took this as the “pivot”5 of the cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy be­cause therein all the con­tra­dic­tions of the ex­ist­ing mode of pro­duc­tion ori­gin­ate in em­bryon­ic form.

The so­cial­ist labor move­ment did not tar­get the dual char­ac­ter of labor, but cam­paigned against the “con­tra­dic­tion between so­cial pro­duc­tion and private ap­pro­pri­ation.” The scan­dal from which it emerged was the glar­ing op­pos­i­tion between the work­ing poor and non-work­ing rich. If the bour­geois had scan­dal­ized the para­sit­ic feud­al gentry by de­mand­ing that wealth ought to be the fruit of labor, it was now the so­cial­ist labor move­ment that mo­bil­ized this very max­im against bour­geois so­ci­ety it­self. Its cri­ti­cism was dir­ec­ted against the cap­it­al­ists who lived off the work of oth­ers and its so­cial­ism was to real­ize the bour­geois prin­ciple of mer­it: “From each ac­cord­ing to his abil­it­ies — to each ac­cord­ing to his per­form­ance.” Des­pite the misery that the fact­ory sys­tem be­stowed upon the work­ers, large-scale in­dustry ap­peared to be a tre­mend­ous ad­vance over pre­mod­ern forms of pro­duc­tion. It was merely in the wrong hands and had to be wres­ted away from the self-serving cap­it­al­ists in or­der to be ap­plied for the com­mon good un­der the aus­pices of the state. While the labor move­ment ob­jec­ted to the con­crete shape of the labor pro­cess, it nev­er tar­geted the so­cial form of com­mod­ity-pro­du­cing labor as such; rather it was to be man­aged con­sciously by the state. In this re­spect, state so­cial­ism in the East was the le­git­im­ate child of the labor move­ment, and con­sequently their cri­tique was — as par­tic­u­larly evid­ent with­in Trot­sky­ism — aimed al­most ex­clus­ively at its polit­ic­al des­pot­ism and its fall be­hind demo­crat­ic civil liber­ties, but al­most nev­er at the nature of its eco­nomy.

The labor move­ment did not ad­voc­ate a world of labor out of en­thu­si­asm for the drudgery, but out of simple ne­ces­sity. Tech­nic­al pro­gress and the ex­ten­sion of the ob­lig­a­tion to work to all mem­bers of so­ci­ety were sup­posed to shorten the work­ing day. Left so­cial his­tor­i­ans have rightly in­sisted that class struggle and the work­ers’ move­ment — the con­duct of the work­ers and the of­fi­cial pro­grams of their or­gan­iz­a­tions — were two very dif­fer­ent an­im­als. The gap between labor lead­ers who call for in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion and work­ers who want to es­cape work wherever pos­sible can be seen from the nine­teenth cen­tury through the Span­ish Civil War up to so­cial­ist Chile un­der Sal­vador Al­lende. But so­ci­ety as a whole couldnot es­cape work, and if the work­ers were for a dif­fer­ent so­ci­ety, labor would ne­ces­sar­ily still be at its core.

This was true even for the dis­sid­ents. In its 1920 pro­gram, the ul­tra-left KAPD called for the “ruth­less en­force­ment of the ob­lig­a­tion to work,”6 and while state so­cial­ism praised its own “con­scious ap­plic­a­tion of the law of value,” the coun­cil com­mun­ists tried to prove in an ex­tens­ive writ­ten ac­count that the so­cially-ne­ces­sary labor time which the law of value is based upon could also be cal­cu­lated by the as­so­ci­ated pro­du­cers them­selves in or­der to over­come mar­ket re­la­tions. “In its es­sence, there­fore, the so­cial re­volu­tion is noth­ing more than the in­tro­duc­tion of the labor-hour as the unit meas­ure reg­u­lat­ing and con­trolling the whole of eco­nom­ic life. It serves as the meas­ure in pro­duc­tion and, sim­ul­tan­eously, the right of the pro­du­cers to their share in the so­cial product is meas­ured through its in­stru­ment­al­ity.”7 This last point was par­tic­u­larly im­port­ant to the au­thors. Even after May ’68, French ul­tra-left­ists presen­ted such tech­niques of meas­ure­ment as a prin­ciple of the fu­ture.8

It is sig­ni­fic­ant that Paul Mat­tick, former mem­ber of the KAPD, re­ferred to this idea as “weak” forty years later in an in­tro­duc­tion to the pub­lic­a­tion. The coun­cil com­mun­ists of the 1930s out­lined “a phase of so­cial­ist de­vel­op­ment with­in which the prin­ciple of the ex­change of equi­val­ents still pre­vails.” Mat­tick coun­ters this raw so­cial­ist egal­it­ari­an­ism with Marx: “The ab­ol­i­tion of cal­cu­la­tion based on labor time for dis­tri­bu­tion,” res­ults in “the real­iz­a­tion of the com­mun­ist prin­ciple: ‘From each ac­cord­ing to his abil­it­ies, to each ac­cord­ing to his needs.’ In the ad­vanced cap­it­al­ist coun­tries…the so­cial forces of pro­duc­tion are suf­fi­ciently de­veloped to pro­duce means of con­sump­tion in over­abund­ance. More than half of all cap­it­al­ist pro­duc­tion as well as the un­pro­duct­ive activ­it­ies as­so­ci­ated with it (totally dis­reg­ard­ing the pro­duct­ive forces which are not ex­ploited) surely have noth­ing to do with real hu­man con­sump­tion, but only make sense in the ir­ra­tion­al eco­nomy of cap­it­al­ist so­ci­ety. It is clear, then, that un­der the con­di­tions of a com­mun­ist eco­nomy, so many con­sump­tion goods could be pro­duced that any cal­cu­la­tion of their in­di­vidu­al shares of av­er­age so­cially ne­ces­sary labor time would be su­per­flu­ous.”9

As with every at­tempt at his­tor­ic­al peri­od­iz­a­tion, in this case no pre­cise date can be giv­en for when that point had been reached. However, look­ing back at over two hun­dred years of com­mun­ist the­ory, it can be stated that what Marx, start­ing from the his­tor­ic­al tend­en­cies of the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion “in its ideal av­er­age,” de­scribed as a dis­tant fu­ture, ap­peared to be a tan­gible pos­sib­il­ity some­time after the Second World War: the ab­ol­i­tion of com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion and a com­plete trans­form­a­tion of the ma­ter­i­al life pro­cess of so­ci­ety. Loren Gold­ner de­scribed this peri­od as the “Grundrisse phase of cap­it­al­ism,” in which sci­entif­ic work that brings with it auto­ma­tion, among oth­er things, is dir­ectly ap­pro­pri­ated by cap­it­al.10 Against this back­ground, Her­bert Mar­cuse in 1967 spec­u­lated about wheth­er Marx’s dis­tinc­tion between the realm of free­dom and the realm of ne­ces­sity was ana­chron­ist­ic, if the op­por­tun­ity was not giv­en to “let the realm of free­dom ap­pear with­in the realm of ne­ces­sity — in labor and not only bey­ond ne­ces­sary labor.” The tend­ency an­ti­cip­ated in the Grundrisse to re­duce phys­ic­al labor to the min­im­um en­abled a free so­ci­ety in which “play, with the po­ten­ti­al­it­ies of hu­man and non­hu­man nature, would be­come the con­tent of so­cial labor.” By con­tem­plat­ing “the con­ver­gence of tech­no­logy and art and the con­ver­gence of work and play,” Mar­cuse poin­ted to a tra­di­tion of the cri­tique of labor that goes back to Ger­man Ideal­ism and to Charles Four­i­er and Paul La­far­gue. Giv­en the state of the de­vel­op­ment of the pro­duct­ive forces at that time, however, it comes as no sur­prise that this cri­tique fell largely on deaf ears among the labor move­ment and was con­fined to the role of its uto­pi­an, ideal­ist­ic ac­com­pa­ny­ing mu­sic well in­to the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. As a ma­ter­i­al­ist, Mar­cuse re­jec­ted “a ro­mantic re­gres­sion be­hind tech­no­logy.” Rather, he ar­gues that “the po­ten­tial lib­er­at­ing bless­ings of tech­no­logy and in­dus­tri­al­iz­a­tion will not even be­gin to be real and vis­ible un­til cap­it­al­ist in­dus­tri­al­iz­a­tion and cap­it­al­ist tech­no­logy have been done away with.”11

The lim­it of free­dom, of play, is de­marc­ated by ex­tern­al nature, which can­not be trans­formed at will, be­cause pur­pose­ful hu­man activ­ity must ad­apt to nature as an ob­ject­ive, ex­tern­al giv­en. By call­ing labor “pro­duct­ive activ­ity,” one has only changed the name, not altered the thing it­self. Mar­cuse’s ideas are ma­ter­i­al­ist in­so­far as the pos­sib­il­ity of re­con­cili­ation between work and play, between pur­pose­ful and free activ­ity, is de­rived from noth­ing oth­er than the res­ults of the dom­in­a­tion of nature as it evolved un­der the whip of cap­it­al. He does this with great cau­tion when he main­tains, “that labor as such can­not be ab­ol­ished,” al­though it can be very dif­fer­ent from its present form, so that “the con­ver­gence of labor and play does not di­vulge too far from the pos­sib­il­it­ies.”12 When we write in the Theses that re­volu­tion would not dis­solve the realm of ne­ces­sity “in noth­ing oth­er than play and pleas­ure,” it is a re­mind­er of the lim­its that the at­tempt at such dis­sol­u­tion will re­peatedly en­counter. It is a re­cog­ni­tion of nature and the ne­ces­sity for me­di­ation with it. Thus cau­tion is war­ran­ted with re­spect to a cri­tique of labor that scan­dal­izes the fact that labor is not a pur­pose in it­self but rather relates to an ex­tern­al one.

In con­trast to the spec­u­la­tion about the re­con­cil­ab­il­ity or ir­re­con­cil­ab­il­ity between work and play in the fu­ture, the cri­tique of the so­cial form of labor is a mat­ter of the here and now. The his­tor­ic­al dis­tance to the so­cial­ist labor move­ment can also be char­ac­ter­ized in such a way that it not the “con­tra­dic­tion between so­cial pro­duc­tion and private ap­pro­pri­ation,” but the con­tra­dic­tion in com­mod­ity-pro­du­cing labor it­self — between wealth cre­ation and val­or­iz­a­tion that needs to be re­solved. Théo­rie Com­mu­niste ap­par­ently has no concept of this con­tra­dic­tion, be­cause they do not com­pre­hend the ex­ist­ing form of labor and thus the cat­egory of value. Our char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of this form as one which is so­cially-un­so­cial is mis­un­der­stood and dis­missed as a re­prise of the “philo­soph­ic­al com­mun­ism of the 1840s”: “One must make clear that labor as a pro­du­cer of value, more pre­cisely, as val­or­iz­a­tion of cap­it­al, as well as a di­vi­sion of labor as a com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion is so­cial. This so­cial­iz­a­tion need not cor­res­pond to any ‘real so­cial­ity’ in or­der to ap­pear as con­tra­dict­ory, rather the con­tra­dic­tion lies between the classes.” To play out the con­tra­dic­tion between classes against the one in­her­ent with­in com­mod­ity-pro­du­cing labor misses the de­cis­ive point.

Classes, sur­plus labor, and ex­ploit­a­tion are an­cient. What lends the mod­ern class re­la­tion its dy­nam­ic and ex­plos­ive power is the fact that pro­let­ari­ans pro­duce wealth in a form that is con­tra­dict­ory and crisis-rid­den and thus bears the po­ten­tial to tran­scend con­tem­por­ary so­cial re­la­tions: in­creas­ing ma­ter­i­al wealth is not the same as in­creas­ing value.13 What dif­fer­en­ti­ates the mod­ern wage laborer from slaves or serfs is that she con­sist­ently risks mak­ing her­self su­per­flu­ous through her labor. These con­tra­dic­tions are present in the com­mod­ity in em­bryon­ic form and so com­mod­ity-pro­du­cing labor is only so­cial in the banal sense, in which all work, apart from the Robin­son­ades of the polit­ic­al eco­nom­ists, is so­cial. What is spe­cif­ic about it is this: “Art­icles of util­ity be­come com­mod­it­ies, only be­cause they are products of the labor of private in­di­vidu­als or groups of in­di­vidu­als who carry on their work in­de­pend­ently of each oth­er. The sum-total of the labor of all these private in­di­vidu­als forms the ag­greg­ate labor of so­ci­ety…the spe­cif­ic so­cial char­ac­ter of each pro­du­cer’s labor does not show it­self ex­cept in the act of ex­change. In oth­er words, the labor of the in­di­vidu­al as­serts it­self as a part of the labor of so­ci­ety only by means of the re­la­tions which the act of ex­change es­tab­lishes dir­ectly between the products, and in­dir­ectly, through them, between the pro­du­cers. To the lat­ter, there­fore, the re­la­tions con­nect­ing the labor of one in­di­vidu­al with that of the rest ap­pear not as dir­ect so­cial re­la­tions between in­di­vidu­als at work, but as what they really are, ma­ter­i­al re­la­tions between per­sons and so­cial re­la­tions between things.”14 Giv­en this, Théo­rie Com­mu­niste turns the mat­ter on its head when they re­ject the so­cial­iz­a­tion of labor and of the means of pro­duc­tion as the “Al­pha and Omega of the af­firm­a­tion of the pro­let­ari­at.” If the pro­let­ari­at is the class that is sep­ar­ated from the means of pro­duc­tion, re­duced to the bare sub­jectiv­ity of a labor reser­voir, only able to sur­vive by selling its liv­ing-time to cap­it­al, then its self-ab­ol­i­tion con­sists of noth­ing oth­er than tak­ing pos­ses­sion of this means of pro­duc­tion.

It seems to us that Théo­rie Com­mu­niste has aban­doned every ma­ter­i­al­ist con­cep­tion of pro­duc­tion, a move which res­ults in a strange jux­ta­pos­i­tion of ni­hil­ism and ro­man­ti­cism: ni­hil­ism vis-à-vis today’s world and ro­man­ti­cism vis-à-vis com­mun­ism. Com­mun­ism is no longer the de­term­in­ate neg­a­tion of so­ci­ety, but a total mir­acle. Théo­rie Com­mu­niste para­phrases our po­s­i­tion “that ‘ne­ces­sity’ pro­duces class so­ci­ety, and not the oth­er way around,” but finds this in­com­pre­hens­ible, as if it is a some­what ab­er­rant idea that the his­tor­ic­al ori­gin of the class di­vi­sion was the im­pulse to shift the nat­ur­al ne­ces­sity of labor onto oth­ers. This is be­cause nature has no place in Théo­rie Com­mu­niste’s think­ing. Labor is not taken as a me­di­at­or between man and nature, which al­ways takes a par­tic­u­lar so­cial form, but only as a so­cial re­la­tion: “Pro­duc­tion is presen­ted [in the 28 Theses] as a both­er­some ne­ces­sity, but still neut­ral and ob­ject­ive, per­formed by an equally neut­ral and ob­ject­ive activ­ity — labor. It is only ne­ces­sary to re­duce this curse. Yet labor presents a so­cial re­la­tion­ship, much like the forces of pro­duc­tion. The aim is not its re­duc­tion, but its ab­ol­i­tion.” That this ab­ol­i­tion, which amounts to a re­nam­ing of labor as “pro­duct­ive activ­ity” and its “be­com­ing pas­sion­ate,” is per­haps not im­me­di­ately pos­sible, is ac­know­ledged in a brief mo­ment of sobri­ety and then im­me­di­ately with­drawn: “Maybe the pro­duct­ive activ­it­ies as a whole will not be­come pas­sion­ate ‘overnight,’ but cer­tainly com­mun­ism is not con­ceiv­able as a jux­ta­pos­i­tion of two dif­fer­ent spheres. It is im­possible that in com­mun­ism some activ­it­ies con­tin­ue to be dis­pas­sion­ate, while oth­ers will have shed this char­ac­ter.” These two sen­tences con­tra­dict each oth­er in such a blatant way that they res­ult in a squar­ing of the circle. The res­ult is wish­ful think­ing and ar­bit­rary de­crees. The irony — the afore­men­tioned circle in which today’s “cri­tique of labor” moves — is that to speak of a “be­com­ing pas­sion­ate” of all “pro­duct­ive activ­it­ies” de­scribes noth­ing oth­er than a con­di­tion in which “labor has be­come not only a means of life but life’s prime want,”15 a phrase that ter­ri­fies friends of com­mun­iz­a­tion. Lan­guage games of this type, the core of today’s “cri­tique of labor,” lead straight in­to hope­less ter­min­o­lo­gic­al con­fu­sion.

As far as the spheres are con­cerned, the end of their sep­ar­a­tion fol­lows from that of wage labor. The bound­ary between the eco­nomy, a sphere sub­jec­ted to blind laws, and all oth­er spheres of life co­in­cides with the bound­ary between wage labor and leis­ure. If the pro­let­ari­ans ab­ol­ish wage labor and hence them­selves as a class, by tak­ing pos­ses­sion of the means of pro­duc­tion of their lives, the eco­nomy as a dis­tinct sphere would dis­ap­pear; sim­il­ar to the re­ab­sorp­tion of the state by so­ci­ety, of which Marx speaks some­where, one could also speak of a re­ab­sorp­tion of the eco­nomy by so­ci­ety. That is what we meant by the phrase that the realm of ne­ces­sity would not “per­sist in its cur­rent ab­stract op­pos­i­tion to a realm of free­dom emp­tied of any pos­sib­il­ity for shap­ing the world.” If Marx in a clas­sic pas­sage en­vi­sions a “short­en­ing of the work­ing day,” this is mis­lead­ing in­so­far as it im­plies the per­sist­ence of two clearly dis­tinct areas, thus al­most giv­ing the im­pres­sion that in com­mun­ism there will still be punch clocks. The weak­ness of Théo­rie Com­mu­niste and many oth­ers, it seems to us, is that they can take the op­pos­ite po­s­i­tion (for the ab­ol­i­tion of punch clocks) only based on the false prom­ise of a “be­com­ing pas­sion­ate” of all pro­duct­ive activ­it­ies and thus paint com­mun­ism in a rather na­ive or in­fant­ile man­ner as pure pleas­ure and fun, which it will cer­tainly not be. This po­s­i­tion is merely the mir­ror im­age of the no­tori­ously bour­geois ideo­logy which, out of the in­ev­it­able in­con­veni­ences of life, de­rives the in­ev­it­ab­il­ity of dom­in­a­tion and co­er­cion. Freely as­so­ci­ated in­di­vidu­als will have to deal with both­er­some ne­ces­sit­ies; how they will do so we do not know, but we are con­fid­ent that the com­mune will not fail over the ques­tion of who’s go­ing to clean the loo to­mor­row. And as long as there are both­er­some ne­ces­sit­ies to deal with, the “eco­nomy of time” (Marx) will of course re­main rel­ev­ant; it is hard to see why for ex­ample the pro­duc­tion of cof­fee cups has to be “pas­sion­ate,” in­stead of com­plet­ing it with a min­im­um ex­pendit­ure of time. The point would be to have the free­dom to or­gan­ize these things ac­cord­ing to dis­cre­tion and cor­res­pond­ing to the needs and abil­it­ies of all, though the mag­nitude of the task should not be un­der­es­tim­ated and cer­tainly re­quires plan­ning (a word which arouses sus­pi­cion of Sta­lin­ism among most com­mun­izers, though they of course can­not spe­cify how sev­er­al bil­lions of in­ter­de­pend­ent in­di­vidu­als should be able to or­gan­ize their lives without plan­ning).

On the oth­er hand, Théo­rie Com­mu­niste bans from the­ory what is not mere wish­ful think­ing, but a real con­tra­dic­tion of the present — the con­tra­dic­tion between wealth-cre­ation and val­or­iz­a­tion. The in­ab­il­ity to grasp the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion as a spe­cif­ic so­cial form of ap­pro­pri­ation of nature leads to the fantasy of a com­mun­ism un­burdened by ma­ter­i­al­ity: “If there is re­newed hope in the re­cog­ni­tion of ‘idle­ness,’ then it is based on the de­vel­op­ment of ‘pro­ductiv­ity’ (Thes­is 21). Is this to be un­der­stood in that the lat­ter must be main­tained to al­low for the former?” Yes, it is. How could it be oth­er­wise? The mys­tery of how idle­ness is pos­sible without pro­ductiv­ity dis­solves to the ef­fect that the vile “hav­ing” in com­mun­ism is not a con­cern here, be­cause it has to do with something high­er: “It is im­port­ant to clearly em­phas­ize, that the pos­sib­il­ity of sur­plus does not en­able com­mun­ism, but that the pro­duc­tion of com­mun­ism de­term­ines the sur­plus — not quant­it­at­ively, but so­cially, in that it trans­forms the pro­duc­tion of the re­la­tions between in­di­vidu­als as in­di­vidu­als in­to the cen­ter and pur­pose of all activ­it­ies. By tran­scend­ing the cat­egory of hav­ing, com­mun­ism gives wealth, which can no longer be meas­ured, a com­pletely dif­fer­ent mean­ing.” “The sur­plus cre­ated through the com­mun­ist re­volu­tion is not of the or­der of hav­ing, but of be­ing to­geth­er, of com­munity.” In or­der to be to­geth­er in bare com­munit­ies, however, one does not have to as­sume the wager of com­mun­ist re­volu­tion; this for­tune already ex­ists today.

We quote these pas­sages in such de­tail, be­cause they do not con­cern any sec­ond­ary as­pect, but rather the cent­ral ques­tion of the re­la­tion­ship between the free so­ci­ety and the ex­ist­ing one. If something is im­port­ant in the de­bate over “com­mun­iz­a­tion,” then it is to raise again the ques­tion of the pos­sible out­come of class struggles, in­stead of merely de­scrib­ing them in in­dis­crim­in­ate strike re­ports. And if there is something right in it, then it is the in­sist­ence that this out­come can only be the end of the pro­let­ari­at, not its tri­umph. The cited pas­sages re­veal, however, a fail­ure that char­ac­ter­izes cur­rent rad­ic­als far bey­ond Théo­rie Com­mu­niste. If the so­cial­ism of the work­ers’ move­ment was little more than the per­petu­ation of the ex­ist­ing or­der un­der state con­trol, then today’s rad­ic­al­ism is of­ten mere pseudo-rad­ic­al­ism, be­cause it can no longer de­cipher the po­ten­tials for an­oth­er so­ci­ety in the ex­ist­ing one.16 The res­ult is a kind of in­ver­ted fet­ish­ism: What the polit­ic­al eco­nom­ists do as in­ten­tion­al apo­logy is here done as ap­par­ent de­nun­ci­ation. Just as from the nar­row-minded per­spect­ive of polit­ic­al eco­nomy any means of pro­duc­tion is by nature cap­it­al and labor can only take the form of wage-labor, so also do most com­mun­izers con­flate the spe­cif­ic so­cial form of the pro­duc­tion pro­cess with its ma­ter­i­al shape. Burn­ing down factor­ies and oth­er build­ings is hence seen as the highest ex­pres­sion of re­volu­tion­ary sub­jectiv­ity, as was most beau­ti­fully shown by Greek Théo­rie Com­mu­niste fol­low­ers who de­clared the re­cent Lon­don ri­ots to be a “his­tor­ic­al mile­stone” and presen­ted the burn­ing of factor­ies by strik­ing work­ers in Bangladesh as a way of “at­tack­ing their own ex­ist­ence as pro­let­ari­ans.”17 Even the simple count­ing of the items that pro­let­ari­ans loot and freely dis­trib­ute in the course of an up­ris­ing is seen by some com­mun­izers as an ori­gin­al sin since the point is to real­ize “the ab­so­lute anti-plan­ning.”18 Théo­rie Com­mu­niste in­sists that the re­volu­tion­ary rup­ture can only arise from class struggle, the con­tent of this rup­ture re­mains mys­tic­al: “The ab­ol­i­tion of classes also means the ab­ol­i­tion of activ­ity as sub­jectiv­ity as well as of its product as ob­jectiv­ity fa­cing it… The de-ob­jec­ti­fic­a­tion of the world un­folds in the move­ment of the re­volu­tion it­self.” In­stead of cri­ti­ciz­ing the so­cial forms of activ­ity and product (wage-labor and the com­mod­ity), activ­ity and product as such are con­demned; in­stead of cri­ti­ciz­ing the bare sub­jectiv­ity of the wage laborer and the ob­jectiv­ity of cap­it­al con­front­ing him as an ali­en power, war is de­clared on sub­jectiv­ity and ob­jectiv­ity as such, as if the his­tory of hu­man­ity step­ping out of nature could be re­voked short of the ex­tinc­tion of hu­man­kind it­self. The crit­ic­al con­tent of for­mu­las such as “de-ob­jec­ti­fic­a­tion of the world” and “ab­ol­i­tion of activ­ity as sub­jectiv­ity” equals noth­ing; they merely evoke an un­di­vided whole, a pure im­me­di­acy, which is why else­where noth­ing less than the “ab­ol­i­tion of so­ci­ety” and the “end of all me­di­ation”19 is an­nounced. Thus the jour­ney leads from the cri­tique of false me­di­ation to pure im­me­di­acy, from so­ci­ety to com­munity, from hav­ing to be­ing, from Marx to Buddha.

The “new cycle of struggles”

.
What Théo­rie Com­mu­niste is usu­ally cred­ited for in the in­ter­na­tion­al dis­cus­sion is the at­tempt to work out what is new about the cur­rent situ­ation and to con­sider the past his­tory of class struggle to be an ir­re­voc­ably closed chapter. Al­most all rad­ic­als have their his­tor­ic­al bench­mark where the work­ers did what they should also do now — though something al­ways went wrong, which is why “les­sons from his­tory” must be learned for it to work bet­ter next time: For left com­mun­ists, this is the peri­od after the First World War, in which there was a (not al­ways happy) in­ter­play of work­ers’ coun­cils and com­mun­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions from West­ern Europe to Rus­sia; for an­archo-syn­dic­al­ists, this was the Span­ish Civil War; for fans of the Situ­ation­ist In­ter­na­tion­al, this was May ’68; for work­er­ists, this was the fact­ory struggles of the “mass work­ers” in the 1960s and 1970s;20 for those more in­tel­lec­tu­ally flex­ible, this was a little of everything. Théo­rie Com­mu­niste in­sists that all this is equally his­tory, the work­ers’ autonomy of the 1970s no less than the left com­mun­ist and syn­dic­al­ist uni­ons of the 1920s, since the re­struc­tur­ing of re­cent dec­ades has put an end to work­ers’ power and work­ers’ iden­tity. This re­struc­tur­ing is not lim­ited to the pro­duc­tion pro­cess, but af­fects the class re­la­tion­ship as a whole:

The re­pro­duc­tion of cap­it­al, which was pinned to a more or less lim­ited na­tion­al or re­gion­al area, loses this frame­work of co­her­ence and ref­er­ences. The state pro­tec­ted the co­he­sion of this re­pro­duc­tion, in that it stems from the dom­in­ant pole (that which sub­sumes the oth­er) of the re­cip­roc­al in­volve­ment of the pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al. It was the guar­ant­or of this in­volve­ment, what was used to called main­tain­ing the “so­cial com­prom­ise.” The prin­ciple of this loss of co­her­ence is based on the di­vi­sion between the val­or­iz­a­tion pro­cess of cap­it­al and the re­pro­duc­tion of labor power. The val­or­iz­a­tion of cap­it­al es­capes “up­wards” in frag­ments or seg­ments of the glob­al cycle of cap­it­al, on the level of in­vest­ment, the pro­duc­tion pro­cess, cred­it, fin­an­cial cap­it­al, the mar­ket, the cir­cu­la­tion of sur­plus value, the equal­iz­a­tion of profit, and the frame­work of com­pet­i­tion.

The re­pro­duc­tion of labor power es­capes “down­wards.” In the “best” case scen­ario a de­coup­ling of wage and pro­ductiv­ity oc­curs. Wel­fare is trans­formed in­to a total, stand­ard­ized pre­lim­in­ary pur­chase of labor power at the min­im­um level that sup­presses its value at the time of its in­di­vidu­al sale. In the worse case scen­ario: Self-sub­sist­ence, loc­al solid­ar­ity, and par­al­lel eco­nom­ies… Where the in­terests of in­dustry, fin­ance, and the labor force were spa­tially con­nec­ted, a sep­ar­a­tion between the val­or­iz­a­tion of cap­it­al and the re­pro­duc­tion the labor force can be es­tab­lished. The space of the re­struc­tured cap­it­al­ist world is sub­divided at all levels in its ‘fractal’ zones: world, con­tin­ents, coun­tries, re­gions, cit­ies, and neigh­bor­hoods. At each level, a con­stel­la­tion of dif­fer­ent zones is ar­tic­u­lated: an “over­de­veloped” core; zones that group them­selves around more or less dense cap­it­al­ist cores; crisis-rid­den zones char­ac­ter­ized by dir­ect vi­ol­ence against the “so­cial garbage,” mar­gins, ghet­tos, and a sub­ter­ranean eco­nomy con­trolled by vari­ous mafia groups.21

Théo­rie Com­mu­niste sum­mar­izes this situ­ation as double de­coup­ling between val­or­iz­a­tion and re­pro­duc­tion of labor power: as a geo­graph­ic di­ver­gence and as a de­coup­ling of work­ers’ in­come from the wage by means of an ex­pan­sion of con­sumer cred­it. The out­come is a crisis in the wage re­la­tion, re­flec­ted in a new “il­le­git­im­acy of the wage de­mand.” The ex­ist­ence of the work­er has lost its luster and no longer finds con­firm­a­tion in the move­ment of cap­it­al; it is no longer any­thing but an ex­tern­al con­straint. Against this back­drop, Théo­rie Com­mu­niste sees a “new cycle of struggles,” in which — ac­cord­ing to the end­lessly re­peated for­mula — to act as a class is the very lim­it of the class struggle. Ref­er­ences are made to ri­ots without de­mands like in the French ban­lieues in 2005 and in Greece in 2008; to work­ers at plant clos­ings, who do not de­mand to keep their jobs, but rather sev­er­ance pay; to work­place oc­cu­pa­tions, in which there is no self-man­aged re­sump­tion of pro­duc­tion, but rather the de­struc­tion of goods and ma­chines; to ex­per­i­ences like in Ar­gen­tina, in which the self-or­gan­iz­a­tion of work­ers as work­ers only pro­longed the sep­ar­a­tions between dif­fer­ent sec­tors; to the move­ment in France in 2006, that called for the with­draw­al of the CPE law without hop­ing for much from this de­mand, let alone be­liev­ing that the de­mand for stable jobs could cre­ate a con­nec­tion to the youths in the ban­lieues.22

As out­lined in the 28 Theses, we also see the de­fin­ing fea­tures of the last dec­ades in such terms: as the crum­bling of the great work­er’s bas­tions in the old cen­ters, pro­duc­tion re­lo­ca­tions, cas­u­al­iz­a­tion ex­tend­ing well in­to “reg­u­lar” work re­la­tions, in­creased glob­al com­pet­i­tion among the wage earners, and the re­voc­a­tion of the so­cial demo­crat­ic prom­ise of up­ward so­cial mo­bil­ity.23 And in con­trast to what is al­leged in Théo­rie Com­mu­niste’s reply, for us it is neither about a res­cue of the work­ers’ autonomy of the 1960s and 1970s (whose de­mise in the course of re­struc­tur­ing we ex­pli­citly state), nor do we ex­pect “with re­spect to the pre­cari­ous and ‘su­per­flu­ous’… the re­birth of a es­sen­tially sim­il­ar act­or,” es­pe­cially since we do not know how to ima­gine this: How should the pre­cari­ous and su­per­flu­ous bring about the re­birth of a move­ment whose basis was large-scale in­dustry? Our claim that the “fu­ture of the class as a whole de­pends de­cis­ively upon the abil­ity of the su­per­flu­ous to make their situ­ation the point of de­par­ture for a gen­er­al­ized so­cial move­ment” is pre­cisely not aimed at the “re­birth” of a faded move­ment, but at our his­tor­ic­ally nov­el situ­ation. What dis­tin­guishes the glob­al con­stel­la­tion today not only from the peri­od around 1917, but also the years around 1968, is not least of all the “gi­gant­ic sur­plus pop­u­la­tion” men­tioned in the 28 Theses which res­ults from dra­mat­ic ra­tion­al­iz­a­tion waves in in­dustry as well as from the “green re­volu­tion” in the south, i.e. the still con­tinu­ing pro­let­ari­an­iz­a­tion of the rur­al pop­u­la­tion (and thus in both cases from the de­vel­op­ment of the pro­duct­ive forces). This “in­form­al pro­let­ari­at” (Mike Dav­is) makes the “cent­ral­ity of the fact­ory” in­voked by the work­er­ists seem quite an­ti­quated, without be­ing it­self the new “cent­ral sub­ject.” We do not want to par­ti­cip­ate in such games of the the­or­ists of re­volu­tion — one frac­tion takes the pro­duct­ive work­ing class as already in­teg­rated and eagerly looks to the ex­cluded and their bread ri­ots, the oth­er frac­tion takes the bread ri­ots as power­less and re­lies on the pro­duct­ive work­ing class and its strong arms — and the ex­cess­ive ex­ag­ger­a­tion of the ri­ots in the ban­lieues in­to an up­ris­ing against “everything that pro­duces and defines them [the rebels]”24 is not ours, but Théo­rie Com­mu­niste’s.

Though largely cor­rect, Théo­rie Com­mu­niste’s pic­ture of the cur­rent era goes askew when it serves to in­voke a situ­ation in which al­most noth­ing is left to the work­ers than to rebel against their own ex­ist­ence as a class. What makes oth­ers de­pressed and gives rise to nos­tal­gia — the end­less chain of de­feats in re­cent work­ers’ struggles — provides a good reas­on to be op­tim­ist­ic in this per­spect­ive. And if we are not mis­taken, it is es­pe­cially this good news of the self-ab­ol­i­tion of the class already be­ing on the agenda in this new cycle of struggles that ac­counts for the fas­cin­a­tion of Théo­rie Com­mu­niste.

Already the im­age of the pre­vi­ous era, which largely re­sembles the “Ford­ism” of reg­u­la­tion the­or­ists, is strongly styl­ized, so that the present stands out as an even stronger con­trast. “Ford­ism” was not a co­hes­ive na­tion­al form­a­tion: The in­dus­tries that sup­por­ted it — man­u­fac­tur­ers of dur­able con­sumer goods — pro­duced for the world mar­ket and already for this reas­on did not con­sider the loc­al work­ing class as con­sumers, but, as was al­ways the case, a cost factor. The in­creas­ing real wages of the golden dec­ades after the Second World War were not “ideal”25 for val­or­iz­a­tion (this as­sump­tion is a left Keyne­sian le­gend), but had to be fought for by the work­ers and could be gained be­cause ac­cu­mu­la­tion ran like clock­work and en­sured full em­ploy­ment for quite a while.

This has long been passé. With the creep­ing crisis of over­ac­cu­mu­la­tion over the last dec­ades, re­volu­tions in com­mu­nic­a­tions and trans­port­a­tion al­low­ing for a new glob­al di­vi­sion of labor, the gi­ant pro­ductiv­ity in­creases of di­git­al tech­no­lo­gies, and the pro­let­ari­an­iz­a­tion of the south­ern hemi­sphere, this con­stel­la­tion has been broken. As a res­ult, the po­s­i­tion of wage earners in the old cen­ters has be­comes more pre­cari­ous, al­beit with sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ences from coun­try to coun­try — Ger­many for ex­ample is far less “post-Ford­ist” than Bri­tain or the United States, with the core work­force of the strong ex­port in­dus­tries be­ing able to largely de­fend its po­s­i­tion. But the im­age of a glob­al down­ward spir­al of wages and work­ing con­di­tions is wrong. As much as work­ers feel the new glob­al wage pres­sure, those in the new boom zones are oc­ca­sion­ally in a po­s­i­tion to wrest something from the class en­emy. It seems quite bold to as­sume a gen­er­al “il­le­git­im­acy of the wage de­mand” when even the Eco­nom­ist wishes the Chinese work­ing class all the best in the wage struggle in or­der to bal­ance the in­equal­it­ies in the glob­al eco­nomy, and when more re­cently the de­mand for free trade uni­ons has been cir­cu­lat­ing through struggles there.26 It is of course true that the large con­cen­tra­tions of work­ers in In­dia or in China present “no re­turn of what dis­ap­peared in the ‘West’ — a so­cial sys­tem that… defined the work­er’s iden­tity and ex­pressed it­self in the labor move­ment,” if only be­cause his­tor­ic­al form­a­tions nev­er take their leave in one place in or­der to emerge again as faith­ful rep­licas in an­oth­er. But a simple cata­stroph­ism, which is already con­tra­dicted by wage de­vel­op­ments in the re­gions that are still try­ing to catch up, is hardly help­ful for un­der­stand­ing the cur­rent class real­ity. For many pro­let­ari­ans in China, In­dia, and Brazil, for ex­ample, cap­it­al­ism still, or for the first time, car­ries the prom­ise of a bet­ter life, or at least one not as bleak and mono­ton­ous as that in the coun­tryside from which, not sur­pris­ingly, they are mov­ing away to the new met­ro­pol­it­an areas. These people seem to prefer wealth of the or­der of hav­ing rather than of the be­ing to­geth­er in the vil­lage com­munity.

Théo­rie Com­mu­niste’s at­tempt to bring the vari­ous struggles around the world to the de­nom­in­at­or of a “new cycle” her­ald­ing the self-ab­ol­i­tion of the class is char­ac­ter­ized by wish­ful think­ing and res­ults in a forced con­struc­tion, a fixed sys­tem in­to which real­ity is squeezed; what does not fit in­to the pic­ture is ig­nored. It is, for ex­ample, simply not the case that wage struggles are nowhere suc­cess­ful any longer or that the de­mand for com­pens­a­tion today has gen­er­ally re­placed the de­mand to save jobs. In­stead of at­trib­ut­ing to the dis­par­ate struggles a com­mon his­tor­ic­al tend­ency, they should be un­der­stood pre­cisely in their di­versity as an ex­pres­sion of a cer­tain mo­ment.

The thes­is that we find ourselves cur­rently in a crisis of the wage re­la­tion and that the con­tra­dic­tion between cap­it­al and pro­let­ari­at is now situ­ated at the level of the re­pro­duc­tion of the classes them­selves over­states the case. Through the nor­mal course of busi­ness, the daily per­form­ance of wage labor, the class re­la­tion­ship is con­stantly re­pro­duced. By re­pro­du­cing their own lives, pro­let­ari­ans re­pro­duce cap­it­al and their de­pend­ence on it. If the life of work­ers be­comes more pre­cari­ous and the sur­plus pop­u­la­tion in­creases, that is bad for people, but ir­rel­ev­ant for cap­it­al, whose con­tin­ued ex­ist­ence does not de­pend on gen­er­al hu­man hap­pi­ness. A crisis of the wage re­la­tion­ship, un­der­stood not as a per­man­ent crisis of the pro­let­ari­an ex­ist­ence, but as a his­tor­ic­al cross­roads, would be giv­en only if the pro­let­ari­an­ized at­temp­ted to over­come this re­la­tion. Strictly speak­ing, the ma­gic for­mula that “to act as a class is the lim­it of the class struggle,” or that class ex­ist­ence today is only an ex­tern­al co­er­cion, states noth­ing more than that work­ers do not feel com­fort­able in their own skins and are less and less in a po­s­i­tion to de­fend the status quo. The dif­fer­ence from earli­er times, when there was a self-con­fid­ent work­ers’ mi­lieu, work­er’s pride, and the so­cial­ist vis­ion of a fu­ture work­ers’ civil­iz­a­tion freed from the idlers and bosses, should not be un­der­es­tim­ated. However, the dis­ap­pear­ance of all this means in it­self noth­ing more than that the only ho­ri­zon re­main­ing is the old world, as rot­ten and ail­ing as it may be. Com­pared to the cur­rent calls for “real demo­cracy,” for reg­u­lat­ing fin­an­cial mar­kets, re­dis­tri­bu­tion, and so forth, with which the wage earners in the old cen­ters protest against their pro­ceed­ing pre­car­iz­a­tion, even the worn-out so­cial­ism of the old days can look al­most sub­vers­ive.

The­ory and pro­jec­tion

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Théorie Com­mun­iste evades this bleak real­ity with an op­er­a­tion that stems from the ar­sen­al of ex­actly the old ul­tra-left­ism to whose su­per­ses­sion they have com­mit­ted them­selves: the the­or­ists project their de­sire for re­volu­tion onto con­tem­por­ary struggles. Just as some coun­cil com­mun­ists saw the dawn of the coun­cil­ist re­volu­tion whenev­er work­ers’ ac­tions had es­caped uni­on con­trol, today’s struggles are seen by Théorie Com­mun­iste also in a tri­umphal­ist light: “Com­mun­ism be­longs to the present, be­cause it is the con­tent of the cur­rent prac­tices of class struggle.” Re­leg­ated to the realm of myths as a his­tor­ic­al con­stant, the re­volu­tion­ary nature of the pro­let­ari­at sud­denly emerges in the present: “The pro­let­ari­at as a class of the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion and the re­volu­tion­ary class are identic­al.” Already the no­tion of a goal and the sober ob­ser­va­tion that this goal cur­rently has few friends is con­sidered rep­re­hens­ible. And the same com­mun­ist the­or­ists who showed no in­hib­i­tion to define in great de­tail what com­mun­ism is and isn’t sud­denly show great hu­mil­ity and claim to be noth­ing more than note takers of the pro­let­ari­an world spir­it, whose activ­ity takes place be­fore their eyes: “It’s not about ask­ing the ques­tion of the end point of the class struggle in the fu­ture, but the defin­i­tion it­self of the con­tra­dic­tion between the pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al, which now rep­res­ents the class struggle.” Such hu­mil­ity amounts to a con­sid­er­able hubris, in so far as the the­or­ists’ com­mun­ism is no longer merely an idea of the the­or­ists — and maybe a fairly ec­cent­ric one at that — but is awar­ded the high­er con­sec­ra­tion of ex­press­ing the his­tor­ic­al move­ment it­self. Our re­flec­tions on the re­la­tion between the­ory and prac­tice may be un­sat­is­fact­ory. But it is even more un­sat­is­fact­ory to re­solve the prob­lem by deny­ing the dif­fer­ence out of hand and de­clar­ing one’s own the­ory as noth­ing more than the con­densed and gen­er­al­ized ex­pres­sion of the struggles them­selves.

This pro­claimed self-lim­it­a­tion of the­ory can­not be main­tained by the ad­voc­ates of com­mun­iz­a­tion. To take this self-lim­it­a­tion ser­i­ously would be to elim­in­ate pre­cisely what is rel­ev­ant in the de­bate on com­mun­iz­a­tion, namely the at­tempt to re­define the re­volu­tion after the end of so­cial­ism in all its dif­fer­ent fa­cets. By play­ing through the idea of what re­volu­tion can mean at a his­tor­ic­al point in which the con­quest of polit­ic­al power as well as work­ers’ self-man­age­ment have been ex­hausted as a per­spect­ive, in which there can be no unity of the class be­fore its self-ab­ol­i­tion and the class maybe does not even have to re­cog­nize it­self as such in or­der to take ac­tion, by stress­ing for ex­ample that in a situ­ation of re­volu­tion­ary crisis the seizure and free dis­tri­bu­tion of goods would be the most power­ful weapon of the pro­let­ari­at in the pro­cess of ab­ol­ish­ing it­self, such con­tri­bu­tions to the de­bate are noth­ing less than com­mun­ist so­cial fic­tion, a con­scious pro­jec­tion, and that is what makes them in­ter­est­ing.27

What makes them flawed is a steady drift to­wards mys­ti­cism, ul­ti­mately driv­en by fear of the concept of pro­duc­tion, though the pic­ture is not al­ways so clear in this re­spect. Pre­cisely at this de­cis­ive point the the­or­ists of com­mun­iz­a­tion en­tangle them­selves in noth­ing but con­tra­dic­tions and end up in com­plete con­fu­sion. Hav­ing said that “the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion already al­lows us to see — al­beit con­tra­dict­or­ily and not as a ‘good side’ — hu­man activ­ity as a con­tinu­ous glob­al so­cial flux, and the ‘gen­er­al in­tel­lect’ or ‘col­lect­ive work­er’ as the dom­in­ant force of pro­duc­tion,” they as­sert in the very next sen­tence that the “so­cial char­ac­ter of pro­duc­tion does not pre­fig­ure any­thing”;28 the product ab­ol­ished as such a mo­ment ago ree­m­erges in shame­faced quo­ta­tion marks in the scen­ario of re­volu­tion, where it is freely dis­trib­uted; so­cial­iz­a­tion of labor and the means of pro­duc­tion are deemed some­times as the “Al­pha and Omega of the af­firm­a­tion of the pro­let­ari­at,” and at oth­er times as the only re­volu­tion­ary way out. At times it seems that the the­or­ists of com­mun­iz­a­tion do not really un­der­stand them­selves. It re­mains to their cred­it that they ruth­lessly note the end of an era, show­ing what from today’s per­spect­ive is in­suf­fi­cient about earli­er at­tempts at re­volu­tion, and at least pose the ques­tion of how the es­cal­a­tion of class struggles in­to com­mun­ism could oc­cur today.

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Notes


1 “The pro­let­ari­at ex­ecutes the sen­tence that private prop­erty pro­nounces on it­self by pro­du­cing the pro­let­ari­at, just as it ex­ecutes the sen­tence that wage-labor pro­nounces on it­self by pro­du­cing wealth for oth­ers and poverty for it­self. When the pro­let­ari­at is vic­tori­ous, it by no means be­comes the ab­so­lute side of so­ci­ety, for it is vic­tori­ous only by ab­ol­ish­ing it­self and its op­pos­ite. Then the pro­let­ari­at dis­ap­pears as well as the op­pos­ite which de­term­ines it, private prop­erty.” Fre­d­er­ick En­gels/Karl Marx, The Holy Fam­ily, or Cri­tique of Crit­ic­al Cri­ti­cism (MECW 4) p. 36.
2 Freun­din­nen und Freun­de der klas­sen­lo­sen Ge­sell­schaft, 28 The­sen zur Klas­sen­ge­sell­schaft, Kos­mo­pro­let 1 (2007) [eng­lish trans­la­tion]. The cri­tique to which we reply here was pub­lished as Théo­rie Com­mu­niste, Zwi­schen Ar­bei­ter­au­to­no­mie und Kom­mu­ni­sie­rung. Ei­ne Kri­tik an den 28 The­sen zur Klas­sen­ge­sell­schaftKos­mo­pro­let 3 (2011) [Eng­lish trans­la­tion]. The much longer French ori­gin­al of this text can be found here.
3 Gilles Dauvé / Karl Nes­ic, “Love of Labor? Love of Labor Lost” [2002]. We quote from the slightly dif­fer­ent Ger­man ver­sion pub­lished as “Lieben die Arbei­t­er­Innen die Arbeit?” (Sup­ple­ment to Wild­cat-Zirku­lar 65, 2003).
4 The Brit­ish-Amer­ic­an journ­al End­notes has doc­u­mented and com­men­ted on parts of this on­go­ing ex­change.
5 Karl Marx, Cap­it­al, vol. 1 (MECW 35) p. 51.
6 Pro­gram of the Ger­man Com­mun­ist Work­ers’ Party (1920). The KAPD was foun­ded in the spring of 1920 as an ul­tra-left split-off from the KPD, which they ac­cused of an au­thor­it­ari­an “lead­er policy” and a de­par­ture from anti-par­lia­ment­ar­ism and the re­jec­tion of uni­ons. While they ini­tially sought to be­come a mem­ber of the Bolshev­ik Third In­ter­na­tion­al and even jus­ti­fied the sup­pres­sion of the Kron­stadt up­ris­ing in 1921, they soon turned to a sharp cri­tique of Rus­si­an “state cap­it­al­ism.” With the ebbing of the re­volu­tion­ary wave after the war, the party, which had ap­par­ently coun­ted up to 80,000 mem­bers, quickly fell in­to in­fight­ing and fi­nally in­to ut­ter in­sig­ni­fic­ance.
7 Group of In­ter­na­tion­al Com­mun­ists (Hol­land), Fun­da­ment­al Prin­ciples of Com­mun­ist Pro­duc­tion and Dis­tri­bu­tion [1930].
8 C.f. In­for­ma­tions et cor­res­pon­dences ou­vrières (ICO), La Grève gé­né­ra­li­sée en France, mai-juin 1968 [1968], Par­is 2007.
9 Paul Mat­tick, “In­tro­duc­tion” to The Fun­da­ment­al Prin­ciples of Com­mun­ist Pro­duc­tion and Dis­tri­bu­tion [1970]’.
10 Loren Gold­ner, “Fa­cing Real­ity 45 Years Later: Crit­ic­al Dia­logue with James/Lee/Chau­lieu.”
11 Her­bert Mar­cuse, Das En­de der Uto­pie. Vor­trä­ge und Dis­kus­sio­nen in Ber­lin 1967, (Frank­furt/M. 1980), p. 10, 14.
12 Ibid., p. 34-35.
13 An at­tempt to de­cipher the cur­rent crisis of the value form is un­der­taken by Sander, „Ei­ne Kri­se des Werts“, Kos­mo­pro­let 2 (2009) [eng­lish ver­sion].
14 Marx, Cap­it­al vol. 1, p. 87.
15 Marx, “Cri­tique of the Gotha Pro­gram.”
16 This idea is de­veloped in de­tail in Raas­an Samuel Loewe, „Pro­duk­tiv­kraft­kri­tik und pro­le­ta­ri­sche Be­we­gung“, Kos­mo­pro­let 3, 2011.
17 Blau­machen, The era of ri­ots (up­date), on lib­com.org. As Blau­machen them­selves ex­plain, the factor­ies were burnt down be­cause the bosses had paid no wages for sev­er­al months — a clearly le­git­im­ate and hope­fully ef­fect­ive means in the struggle for wages, one that is without doubt also driv­en by hatred of the drudgery in the fact­ory, but noth­ing that would point bey­ond the pro­let­ari­an ex­ist­ence. For largely ap­pro­pri­ate ob­jec­tions against such tend­en­cies among com­mun­izers see Sander / Mac In­tosh, “Is the Work­ing Class Li­quid­ated?”In­ter­na­tion­al­ist Per­spect­ive 55 (2011).
18 Bruno As­tari­an, Crisis Activ­ity and Com­mun­iz­a­tion (2010). In this, As­tari­an agrees with Théo­rie Com­mu­niste, but he some­times goes even fur­ther in his im­me­di­at­ist mys­ti­cism: To him, also “the sep­ar­a­tion between the need and the means of its sat­is­fac­tion,” which will pre­sum­ably turn out to be quite im­possible to over­come, is a prob­lem.
19 Théo­rie Com­mu­niste, “The Sus­pen­ded Step of Com­mun­iz­a­tion: Com­mun­iz­a­tion vs. So­cial­iz­a­tion” (2009).
20 Since work­er­ists en­deavor to ex­plore the ac­tu­al be­ha­vi­or of the class, such a his­tor­ic fix­a­tion should be far from their thoughts. Like any em­pir­ic­al study, however, also the work­er­ist in­quir­ies are based on cer­tain as­sump­tions which de­cide what one is look­ing for in the first place. In their case this is the con­vic­tion that what mat­ters is “work­ers’ power” at the point of pro­duc­tion. For this reas­on, they are also today look­ing for the pi­on­eer­ing struggles “along the glob­al­ized pro­duct­ive co­oper­a­tion” — “with mod­er­ate suc­cess,” as they them­selves con­cede (Pre­face to the sup­ple­ment Der his­to­ri­sche Mo­ment / Ar­bei­te­rIn­nen ver­las­sen die Fa­brik, Wild­cat 88 (2011)). On the res­ult­ing ideo­lo­gic­al con­tor­tions, cf. I. M. Zi­m­mer­wald, „Die Aben­teu­er der Au­to­no­mie“, Kos­mo­pro­let 1 (2007).
21 R.S., “Bal­lade en novembre” (2005).
22 R.S. “The Present Mo­ment” (2009).
23 This is by no means ori­gin­al, as these de­vel­op­ments are quite ob­vi­ous and are also dis­cussed by the aca­dem­ic and re­form­ist left. In con­trast to them, however, we do not take these de­vel­op­ments as a res­ult of an ul­ti­mately ar­bit­rary, and there­fore re­vers­ible “neo­lib­er­al” policy shift.
24 R.S. “The Present Mo­ment.”
25 Ibid.
26 “The rising power of China’s work­ers: Why it’s good for the world,” The Eco­nom­ist, 31.7.2010.
27 See, for ex­ample, Théo­rie Com­mu­niste, “Self-Or­gan­iz­a­tion is the First Act of the Re­volu­tion; It Then Be­comes an Obstacle which the Re­volu­tion Has to Over­come” (2005); “The Sus­pen­ded Step of Com­mun­iz­a­tion” (2009).
28 Théo­rie Com­mu­niste, “Self-Or­gan­iz­a­tion is the First Act…”

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