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“Workers burn down or blow up their factories, demanding severance pay instead of fighting to maintain their jobs. Students occupy universities, but against rather than in the name of the demands for which they are supposedly fighting. Women break with movements in which they already form a majority, since those movements cannot but fail to represent them. And everywhere, the unemployed, the youth, and the undocumented join and overwhelm the struggles of a privileged minority of workers, making the limited nature of the latter’s demands at once obvious and impossible to sustain. ”—Communization and the Abolition of Gender” - Maya Andrea Gonzalez; Communization and Its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggle
“At the beginning of the 20s, in effect, capitalism noticed that it couldn't maintain itself as the exploitation of human labor without also colonizing everything found beyond strictly the sphere of production. Faced with the socialists' challenge to its dominance, it too needed to socialize itself. It thus had to create its own culture, leisure, medicine, urbanism, sentimental education, and morals, and also create a disposition towards their perpetual renewal. This would become the fordist compromise, the welfare state, family planning: social-democracy capitalism. And now, submission by work, limited because the worker is still separate from his or her work, has been replaced by integration through subjective and existential conformity, meaning, at root, by consumption. ”—Tiqqun, Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl
“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.”—Francois Martin
“Much of the twentieth century’s political thinking casts revolt and revolution as the most central events in creating social change. But the (left’s) fixation on events cannot nurture the productive energy required to challenge the formation of contemporary modes of control in Global North Atlantic societies. What makes some everyday occurrences transformative and many others not? Transformative processes change the conditions of social existence by paving the way for new transformations (rather than by creating fixed identifiable things or identities). We can trace social change in experiences that point towards an exit from a given organisation of social life without ever intending to create an event. This is why we talk about ways of escaping. The thesis of the book is that people escape: only after control tries to recapture escape routes can we speak of ‘escape from’. Prior to its regulation, escape is primarily imperceptible. We argue that these moments where people subvert their existing situations without naming their practice (or having it named) as subversion are the most crucial for understanding social transformation. These imperceptible moments trigger social transformation, trigger shifts which would have appeared impossible if described from the perspective of the existing situation. You can never really know exactly when people will engage in acts of escape. The art of escape appears magical, but it is the mundane, hard and sometimes painful everyday practices that enable people to craft situations that seem unimaginable when viewed through the lens of the constraints of the present. The account we give of social transformation does not entail cultivating faith in the event to come, rather it involves cultivating faith in the elasticity and magic of the present. Another world is here. Escape routes are transformative because they confront control with something which cannot be ignored. A system of power must try to control and reappropriate acts of escape. Thus, the measure of escape is not whether it avoids capture; virtually all trajectories of escape will, at some point, be redirected towards control. We are trained to think that the end product of political struggle is all about a transformative end point, a revolt, a strike, a successfully built up organisation, a revolution. However, this perspective neglects the most important question of all: How does social transformation begin? Addressing this question demands that we cultivate the sensibility to perceive moments when things do not yet have a name. There is nothing heroic about escape. It usually begins with an initial refusal to subscribe to some aspects of the social order that seem to be inescapable and indispensable for governing the practicalities of life. In other words, the very first moment of subversion is the detachment from what may seem essential for holding a situation together and for making sense of that situation. Escape is a mode of social change that is simultaneously elusive and forceful enough to challenge the present configuration of control. ”—Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century, Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson & Vassilis Tsianos
“ Communization in this sense remains a speculative wager as to a slow and uneven process of proletarian dis-identification and revolt being produced through capital’s own often abortive attempts at self-valorization. Communization isn’t predicated upon the affirmation of any existent aspect of capitalism such as the proletariat or, for that matter, nebulous entities such as the ‘multitude’. It represents a break with both the remnants of the ‘old’ workers movement and other strands of ‘anticapitalism’ in the present almost as much as it posits a break with capital. But negation as destruction can itself be periodized and contextualised. The decomposition of ‘programmatism’ and the accompanying shift from a proletariat that sought to valorize itself to confronting itself as a limit is also a shift in how to conceptualize destruction. With this negation as destruction is an involution of itself as any opposition to capital ultimately necessitates a dissolution of being proletariat. Likewise, the question of representation and the state is dissolved through this since there’s nothing to ‘represent’ within a process of communization.”—“Make Total Destroy” - John Cunningham; Communization and Its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggle
“In the first case, it seems obvious that commodities looted or requisitionned are freely distributed. It is less obvious that they are not counted, for this inevitably suggests utopian images of limitless abundance,of plundering, which gives anti-communizors a good opportunity to protest and call for a bit of common sense. All the same, this point of view has to be defended, and one must insist: if the proletarians of the crisis activity start counting their loot, they immediately restore an economy - be it a use value one, a power relationship, delegations (who counts what, who stores what, etc.), all of which goes against communization. One can see that gratuity and non-accounting are two different things.”—Crisis Activity and Communisation
A further note on apparatuses, diagrams, and communization theory
It strikes me that the lack of archaeologies and cartographies of power cuts through the debate between Theorie Communiste and Troploin presented in Endnotes #1.
Endnotes #1, subtitled “Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the 20th Century”, presents the debate between Theorie Communiste and Troploin on the relation between the present class relation and the failed revolutions of the 20th Century. The editors of Endnotes summarize the debate as follows:
I’ve written elsewhere about my antagonism towards the assertion that communization amounts to “abolishing the enterprise form, the commodity form, exchange, money, wage labour and value, and destroying the state”. I argued that this definition of communization rests on a specious concept of totality, and it is this specious concept of totality explains the lack of a diagrammatic analysis of power and its apparatuses that I lamented in my last post. If one adopts the ontological position on totality that I favor, both the problem of communization and the investigation of “when insurrections die” take on a different character. It is possible to affirm Troploin’s conception of communization as “an ever-present (if at times submerged) possibility” through a “deconstruction” of TC’s “grounding [of] their conception of communisation in an understanding of capitalist history as cycles of struggle.”
The debate between Théorie Communiste (TC) and Troploin (Dauvé & Nesic) that we have reproduced revolves around the fundamental question of how to theorise the history and actuality of class struggle and revolution in the capitalist epoch. As we have stressed in our introduction, both sides of the debate were products of the same political milieu in France in the aftermath of the events of 1968; both groups share, to this day, an understanding of the movement which abolishes capitalist social relations as a movement of communisation. According to this shared view, the transition to communism is not something that happens after the revolution. Rather, the revolution as communisation is itself the dissolution of capitalist social relations through communist measures taken by the proletariat, abolishing the enterprise form, the commodity form, exchange, money, wage labour and value, and destroying the state. Communisation, then, is the immediate production of communism: the self-abolition of the proletariat through its abolition of capital and state.
What sharply differentiates TC’s position from that of Troploin, however, is the way in which the two groups theorise the production, or the historical production, of this movement of communisation. Neither grounds the possibility of successful communist revolution on an “objective” decadence of capitalism; however, Troploin’s conception of the history of class struggle, in common with much of the wider ultra-left, is of a fluctuating antagonism between classes, an ebb and flow of class struggle, according to the contingencies of each historical conjuncture. In this wider conception, the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat appears to be or is submerged at some points in history, only to re-emerge at other “high points” (e.g. 1848, 1871, 1917-21, 1936, 1968-9). On this view, we are currently experiencing a prolonged downturn in class struggle (at least in the advanced capitalist countries), and it is a case of waiting for the next re-emergence of the communist movement, or for the revolutionary proletariat to carry out its subversive work: “Well burrowed, old Mole!”
Thus for Troploin, communism as communisation is an ever-present (if at times submerged) possibility, one which, even if there is no guarantee that it will be realised, is an invariant in the capitalist epoch. By contrast, for TC communisation is the specific form which the communist revolution must take in the current cycle of struggle. In distinction from Troploin, then, TC are able to self-reflexively ground their conception of communisation in an understanding of capitalist history as cycles of struggle.
Allow me to plagiarize a little from Anti-Oedipus here: the cycles of struggle aidentified by TC are aggregate phenomena, the fruit of a selection exerting its force on the elements of chance. They do not exist prior to a selective pressure that might elicit singular lines from them, quite on the contrary, cycles of struggle are born of this selective pressure that crushes, eliminates, or regularizes singularities. The cycles of struggle identified by TC are not functional but structural, and concern chains of phenomena that selection has already placed in a state of partial dependence.
TC’s critique of Troploin’s vocabulary of “missed” chances and “failed” materializations is very strong. TC correctly assert that in Troploin’s texts, “We are told that the workers were defeated by democracy (with the aid of the parties and unions); but the objectives — the content — of these workers’ struggles (in Italy, Spain, Germany) always remains unspoken.” But simply determining this content is not enough, because what underlies the objectives of these worker’s struggles is a “microphysics of power” — apparatuses acting as sorting and selection mechanisms, producing subjectivities and articulating possible lines of escape. It is worth re-quoting that passage by Foucault that I know quote too often:
The points, knots, or focuses of resistance are spread over time and space at varying densities, at times mobilizing groups or individuals in a definitive way, inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments of life, certain types of behavior. Are there no great radical ruptures, massive binary divisions, then? Occasionally, yes. But more often one is dealing with mobile and transitory points of resistance, producing cleavages in a society that shift about, fracturing unities and effecting regroupings, furrowing across individuals themselves, cutting them up and remolding them, marking off irreducible regions in them, in their bodies and minds. Just as the network of power relations ends by forming a dense web that passes through apparatuses and institutions, without being exactly localized in them, so too the swarm of points of resistance traverses social stratifications and individual unities. And it is doubtless the strategic codification of these points of resistance that makes a revolution possible.
It should be noted that something like a communisation thesis was arrived at independently by Alfredo Bonanno and other ‘insurrectionary anarchists’ in the 1980s. Yet they tended to understand it as a lesson to be applied to every particular struggle. As Debord says of anarchism in general, such an idealist and normative methodology ‘abandons the historical terrain’ in assuming that the adequate forms of practice have all been found (Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Rebel Press, 1992), § 93 p.49). Like a broken clock, such anarchism is always capable of telling the right time, but only at a single instant, so that when the time finally comes it will make little difference that it is finally right.
Endnotes 1 p. – 14-15
Communisation Theory and the Question of Fascism
Intro by Natalio Pérez
Particularly in the United States, a country founded on the basis of settler-colonialism and whose continued existence depends on the maintenance of a parasitical system of imperialist domination, the notion that an anti-capitalist revolution could be intertwined with, or degenerate into, a whole milieu of reactionary politics—whether racist, sexist, national-chauvinistic, or of a different character—does not seem to be a very far-fetched.
It is and has long been fully possible for people to collectivize their labor and wealth, while excluding the Other from this process and even employing the exploitation of the Other as the material basis for this collectivization. Adherents of communisation theory would rightly oppose the development of this type of social formation, but the problem remains: if a revolution is to be a popular affair, undertaken by the working class as a whole, then what is there to prevent revolutionary and communist ideas from being mixed with (and ultimately poisoned by) the reactionary prejudices stoked by our existing society?
Angioma’s essay provides a helpful understanding of the historic background to some of what I see as the inevitablist, class-essentialist tendencies of communisation theory, and then ties these problems into the theory’s lack of analysis on the phenomenon of fascism. We present it below for critical engagement and discussion.
by CHERRY ANGIOMA, originally published at libcom.org
It is now more than five years since the start of the financial crisis with no sign of respite from austerity and increasing insecurity. Neither the old left of unions and parties or the newer social movements of protest and direct action seem to be up to the task of offering a way forward. In the search for new road maps to navigate crisis and the possibilities of life beyond capitalism, the concept of ‘communisation’ has become an increasing focus of discussion.
The word itself has been around since the early days of the communist movement. The English utopian Goodwyn Barmby, credited with the being the first person to use the term communist in the English language, wrote a text as early as 1841 entitled ‘The Outlines of Communism, Associality and Communisation’. He conceived of the four ages of humanity as being ‘ ’Paradisation, Barbarization, Civilization and Communisation’, while his wife and collaborator Catherine Barmby anticipated current debates about gender with early feminist interventions arguing for communisation as a solution to women’s subordination (Goodwyn Barmby is discussed in Peter Linebaugh, ‘Meandering on the semantical-historical paths of communism and commons’,The Commoner, December 2010).
The Barmbys’ use of the term to describe the process of the creation of a communist society is not a million miles away from its current usage, but it has acquired a more specific set of meanings since the early 1970s when elements of the French ‘ultra-left’ began deploying it as a way of critiquing traditional conceptions of revolution. Communism has often been conceived of by both Marxists and anarchists as a future state of society to be achieved in the distant future long after the messy business of revolution has been sorted out. For advocates of communisation on the other hand, capitalism can only be abolished by the immediate creation of different relations between people, such as the free distribution of goods and the creation of ‘communal, moneyless, profitless, Stateless, forms of life. The process will take time to be completed, but it will start at the beginning of the revolution, which will not create the preconditions of communism: it will create communism’ (Gilles Dauvé & Karl Nesic, ‘Communisation’, 2011).
Today this broad notion of communisation is used in various different ways, but arguably there are two main poles in current debates – albeit with many shades in between.
“Communization starts in the crisis activity to go beyond it. Communization doesn't correspond to an ideal or a political slogan. It is the solution to the difficulties the proletariat encounters in its reproduction in the crisis activity. The crisis activity is a struggle against capital to ensure survival, nothing more. Once the proletariat's attemps at demands have proven ineffective in saving the proletariat economically, communization makes the jump into non-economy. There is a paradox here: the economic crisis is at its deepest, the proletariat's needs are immense, and the solution is to reject productivism. Indeed, 'production' without productivity is not a production function. It is a form of socialization of people which entails production, but without measuring time or anything else (inputs, number of people, output).”—Crisis Activity and Communisation
A riot is not a “speech act.”
It is the refusal to go on speaking in a society governed by cybernetics, in which all data is sorted and managed. Rioting, under a certain framework, could be seen as a commitment to speach such that the sign is rendered unreadable.
Looting is not the same as shopping.
While capital may crunch the data regarding frequently looted products, looting still signifies an insurrectional escape of politico-military control. The economy is basically an empty referent: read the military analysts instead. In any event, the commodity-form is completely profaned in the act of looting.
Graffiti is not an assault on meaning. It’s an assault on peace.
The truth of vandalism is that each gestures expresses a certain potency for the actor and a certain weakness for the state. This is evident to everyone. “This neighborhood sure has gone to shit”/”Woah, how did they pull that off?” In this way, graffiti-vandalism produces a new truth at the scale of an environment. Graffiti situates one in a world that is negotiable. Murals order one into a network that is fixed (artist/spectator).
“Communization theory is primed to do what only a minority of Marxist feminists have attempted to do over the last 50 years of inquiry: rearticulate the capitalist mode of production as being constituted no less by the man/woman relation than by the class relation. What would ideally emerge from such a project is a “single system” in which the gender relation and the class relation are equally necessary elements within a totality, rather than the subsumption of one to the other, or the erection of a “dual system” of two different and autonomous systems of patriarchy and capitalism. We say communization is “primed” for this project because one of the major interventions of communization theory has been to theorize communism as the abolition not only of capitalists, but also of workers; of work itself and thus of value; of the wage labor relation itself and thus of the distinction between “work” and “life.” This latter distinction has been cast in a variety of terms including the conceptual dyads public/private; social/nonsocial; public/domestic, and is almost unequivocally understood by gender theorists as a grounding element in the production of gender.”—
The Gender Distinction in Communization Theory