“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:
- Gilles Dauvé and François Martin, The Eclipse and Reemergence of the Communist Movement (1997, 2015)
- Gilles Dauvé, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy (2008)
- Benjamin Noys, ed., Communization and Its Discontents (2011)
- Bruno Astarian, Gilles Dauvé, Jean Barrot, Everything Must Go! The Abolition of Value (2016)
- Endnotes 1: Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the Twentieth Century (October 2008)
- Endnotes 2: Misery and the Value-Form (April 2010)
- Endnotes 3: Gender, Race, Class, and Other Misfortunes (September 2013)
- Endnotes 4: Unity in Separation (December 2015)
- Sic: International Journal for Communization, Volume 1 (November 2011)
- Sic: International Journal for Communization, Volume 2 (January 2014)
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.
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.
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.