Theses on the Council Concept


These theses were drafted in the autumn of 2019 — before the pandemic, the uprisings, the crisis this time — yet the questions they treat have only become more urgent in light of these world-historical events. Proletarian practice having reinvogorated theoretical discussion of communisation, it now seems appropriate to make public this contribution.

 

 

Au lecteur:

What follows began as an effort to reinvigorate a qualified council communism with some of the conceptual force it has modestly relinquished. In so doing, we have found ourselves making many explicit or implicit critiques of French partisans of communisation, partly because they are among the most trenchant critics of council communism (or, rather, of something they call ‘councilism’) and their volleys have never recieved an adequate rejoinder, and partly because we share a kind of ‘communisation thesis,’ but in a rather different sense, and would like to clarify those differences in order to open up a debate that has somewhat atrophied into stereotyped talking points. Thus this is not an empirical or strategic text, such as that put forward by our fellow Angry Workers, but an attempt to question some of the fundamental ‘philosophical’ (however much the word might make all parties, including us, squirm) assumptions which undergird a certain ‘communising weltanschauung,’ remarkable in that it tacitly puts forward a kind of anti-tech anti-civ eco-insurrectionism for Marx nerds, not despite but through refusing any appeal or reference to nature or the natural. It is both sides of this logic that our theses aim to challenge. They have done so in the broad-brush polemical manner suited to confronting what appears common to a mentalité across its by no means univocal expressions; a more detailed critical engagement with the work of Théorie Communiste in particular will be forthcoming.

Our Friends have correctly noted that contributions to “the debate on communisation…are nothing less than communist social fiction, a conscious projection, and that is what makes them interesting.” Some attempt vigorously to deny this, in an effort to chase out an old subjective historical optimism they let return through the back door. We are not optimistic, and we are wary of disguising our thought immediately as its object, which ends in reading into and out from reality the program which the thinking subject has disavowed. We have attempted to let our object — the historical present — shape our thought — on the possibility of communism — while guarding their non-identity, this opening allowing for our immanent critique of the manifest by the latent potentials it contains, most of which are disastrous. Miserable times like an inexorable typhoon bear down upon the damage and weakness, but also the spontaneity, of the subject. We thus hope to return thought’s speculative moment, its critical self-reflection, to the debate on communisation, which we can only rationally understand as communism in the conditional tense. It is there that we find the council concept, not in the past imperfect.

 

 

The forms of humanity’s own global societal constitution threaten its life, if a self-conscious global subject does not develop and intervene.

Theodor W. Adorno

 

1

The ideas of the council communists have had a considerable influence on many in the communist and anarchist pro-revolutionary milieu, an influence which can be observed today perhaps most of all in discussions of ‘communisation.’ At the same time, a willingness to acknowledge and associate oneself with, or perhaps even a clear awareness of, the filiation of these ideas has largely disappeared along with organized groups of council communists. This fact requires neither bemoaning nor defense; consistent with their theory, such ambient diffusion, as well as many independent arrivals at similar notions, represents a strength rather than a weakness. It is really only of antiquarian or pedantic interest that heretical breakthroughs and critiques of the workers’ movement associated with, say, Théorie Communiste can already be found in old International Council Correspondence articles (although it makes a mess of the former’s too-neat reflection theory of ‘cycles of struggle’ and their corresponding theoretical horizons) — we will satisfy such interest and draw up an assessment of the historical council communist tendency elsewhere. Here we are simply concerned with taking up the one concept that, after everything else has been assimilated, remains indelibly associated with that tendency, the dregs in the drained cup of its theory: the council itself. 

2

The thoroughness with which the council concept has been jettisoned is today often taken as a measure of a communist theory’s historical adequacy and its overcoming of class-affirmative residues. Hence the situationists’ advocacy of the abolition of commodity production and the proletarian condition by and through the councils is supposed to be a mere aporia, nominalistically blamed on the muddled thinking of those straddling the historical fence between one cycle of struggles and the next, without considering that to the extent to which their position registers a contradiction, it might be in the matter itself, the situation of a class that must transcend itself immanently. Alternately, the councils in practice are opposed to the concept of the council; the former is an ‘organizational form’ with its strengths and weaknesses that appeared in particular struggles, while the latter supposedly hypostatizes the former as a dangerous formalistic ideology called ‘councilism,’ which sees revocable delegates as the riddle of history solved, but lets bad ‘capitalist content’ slip in (as if there were a contingent rather than a necessary relationship between content and its form of appearance, and a ‘capitalist content’ would not ensure the swift demise of councils, as it indeed always has). If one scours the historical record of council communist theory and practice, evidence both for and against this characterization will turn up. But that is not our task here. Our task is to take up what is living in the council concept for us, today; to grasp and reconceive it. Ideas improve as proletarians think them for themselves.

3

The council is for us not a blueprint, consecrated and valid for all time, meticulously patterned after the empirically-existing councils, soviets, and committees that arose in all major proletarian revolutionary episodes in the first half of the 20th century, to be dug up and superimposed on all tomorrow’s uprisings. It is neither an ideal to be realized, nor is it a free-floating organizational form that can be stuck onto any content (an impossibility). The council is for us neither a political form, nor an economic form, nor an amalgam of the two, nor is it really an ‘organizational form’ at all, to be opposed to other forms, like, say, the party or trade union. The concept of the council discloses a relationship, or rather, the possibility of a relational process. And concepts which are basically shorthand for process elude definition.

4

Some might be tempted to say that the council is a principle, but communism is not based on principles, but on history. The council concept refers not to an historical solution, but to an historical problem. Proletarians are separated from the means and conditions of our lives, which stand over and against us as an alien objectivity. This society dynamically transforms itself while reproducing its static identity with itself through the determinate practices of the acting subjects that are its captive members, yet behind their backs. In its historical movement, society immediately appears here as subject, there as object, but the essential mediation of these forms of appearance, the constitution of society through which the fetish character of its economic conceptuality dominates, vanishes from consciousness. Here, unsocially social individuals appear to be freely pursuing their self-interests, while there, society appears to naturally follow its course, an automatic mechanism, beset by frequent inbuilt malfunctions and breakdowns and seemingly headed for a crash. Behind this real appearance stands the seething web of syntheses, the exchange relationships of living for dead labor in the form of value, which conceal their presupposition as they posit it: the class-relation of exploitation, the appropriation and accumulation of the labor-time in excess of that which is socially neccessary to reproduce the means and conditions of life of the proletarians, from which they have been separated. Capital, value valorizing itself, is man making her own monstrous domination, and this is the shape in which a blind but increasingly less random negative world history emerges from a multiplicity of cyclic repetitions, and an increasingly abstractly-universal world class society emerges from a scattering of caste-bound communitarian despotisms. But to see the self-movement of the negative totality of capitalist society as merely a one-dimensional doom is to positively reflect its own ideology, when in actuality, it generates emancipatory potentials at the same time it suppresses them, thus it moves in a continuous contradiction. To critique its real movement is to ask if, based on the premises already existing, there could be a conscious world history and a classless world society, to ask if and how any kind of social synthesis is possible beyond both the personal domination of master castes, and the abstract domination of the capital-relation. This is the problem that poses the council concept and the problem councils would have to pose.

5

It should go without saying that for us there is no a priori answer, least of all to be found in musty memories of 1919, but it is worrisome that the question itself seems to have been somewhat tabooed (at least among those who do not claim to possess the one true invariant program, etched into stone in 1848, or whenever). For many today, not this society, but the very notion of society per se stands condemned by communist theory, along with history, humanity, subjectivity, consciousness, mediation, production, civilization, and, of course, the council. For us, this is evidence of the retrogressive moment of the contradictory historical movement, which has also rendered obsolete (thankfully, in our view) the political party aiming to capture state power and establish a republic of labor, the indefinitely prolonged ‘socialist’ transitional society, class autonomy, labor-time accounting, and the self-management of the economy. If many communists have abandoned the former along with the latter, this may in actuality be because it appears very likely that they too are objectively doomed by the negative totality’s progress toward hell.

6

However, the inversion of this bleak situation into a positive theory of communisation as absolute but basically unconscious rupture, which heralds the dawn of a purely immediate community that knows neither subject nor object nor necessity nor labor nor production, reveals the return of the very dubious historical optimism that communist theory has been so intent on repressing. However much stress is laid on the rigorous determination of the conditions of possibility of the production of such a rupture by the actual historical development, the concept of the rupture itself remains shockingly normative, not to mention mystical: its hypothesized success presumes the solution of all problems (even if a strict silence is maintained regarding the details of how such solution might come about), the effective closure of history, rather than its opening up. It’s deeply ironic that this theory has come in the trojan horse of the ‘end of programmatism,’ because it in fact poses a very strict program, but modestly declares that the ‘content of communism’ as it conceives of it is simply what the proletariat is already doing in the present cycle of struggles. Despite not falling into the error of assuming that the interests and will of the proletarians are already unified at some objective, imputed level, but only lacking unified expression, the theory of the immediate rupture assigns the task of such a unification to communisation. Communism is to be, thus an essentially subsocial volonté générale shall emerge in its immediacy, somehow, come hell or high water. But an essentially subsocial volonté générale already exists: it’s called the law of value. The immediatist conception of communisation merely suggests the abandonment of a blind, unconscious dynamic in favor of a blind, unconscious static: communisation as simplification. Because we think this is neither possible nor desirable we keep open the concept of the council.

7

We use the phrase ‘concept of the council’ advisedly. The situationist Riesel once reproached Informations, Correspondance Ouvrières (the council communist group from which Théorie Communiste would emerge and go on to win fame for their Regulation School structuralism with Bordigo-primitivist characteristics) with idealism for using just this phrase, but it is those who pretend that study groups can debate the fine grains of revolutionary tactics in false concretion before the fact, as if they were forever fighting out the second congress of the Comintern, that are guilty of idealism. There are no councils at hand; we are talking about a concept and we know it — albeit not one dreamed up out of the clear blue sky, but the conceptualization of a history of problems and the problems of the historical present. It is a way of talking about a wager on what may be necessary and possible, with absolutely no assumption that we will be delivered the realization of our concept.

8

Indeed, it is entirely possible that we will not see again councils recognizably like those that emerged in 20th century revolutionary episodes. These may have been, as is often claimed, bound to an era in which proletarian struggles were primarily concentrated in large-scale industry (despite the fact that, contrary to a certain workerist mythology often repeated by its alleged opponents, councils, soviets, and committees were by no means exclusively or even primarily a product of the factory, but emerged in neighborhoods, districts, villages, and whole regions, as well as among insubordinate soldiers and sailors). Thus, many communists today have turned their attention to new ‘organizational forms’ such as the assemblies and camps that marked the ‘squares movement’ and the pipline blockades, as well as less ‘organized’ forms of struggle like the riot, in an attempt to descry their content. Such a project has much to recommend it, yet it in no way signals the obsolescence, but rather the enduring relevance of the council concept, which, as we have said, is not a form, but suggests what is essential to a relationship that, when and if it arises, only does so in radically historically and contextually specific shapes: a relation of self-reflexivity in which an insurgent social collectivity consciously takes its own life-activity as its object.

9

Something similar is signified in contemporary discussions by the concept of commune, and in both cases, adequacy entails reproduction. A movement tends toward commune when we would say it tends toward the council: when it takes its social reproduction for its object (and any political talk about councils that does not recognize this, but instead merely assigns them the task of political talk, is totally defective). But there is a certain ambiguity in the concept of commune that lends it to voluntarist and autarkic interpretations. A clique can ‘flee power’ and start a commune in the woods, but you can’t just up and start a council prior to, or outside of, a revolutionary situation disrupting the functioning of the capitalist system as a whole, and the accommodation, ossification, and inertia imposed upon any such laughable attempt at pre-assembling means of revolutionary struggle within present conditions would turn them into means of preventing the emergence of such a situation: their very existence would ensure the failure of their ideologically self-assigned task. Councils could only be the product of the necessities that arise in an acute crisis, their interrelation compelled by the interrelation of their practical tasks, and, in this by no means smooth or automatic process of generalizing social reproduction beyond and against the capital-relation, and of conscious contestation over what this should mean, potentially open onto freedom: the world commune.

10

Must the council concept be abandoned as irreducibly ‘workerist,’ in the sense of being chained to, and chaining the proletarians to, their roles as proletarians, ‘self-managing the same world?’ This is assumed to be the ‘theoretical horizon’ of the revolutionary struggles of the first half of the 20th century, and much is blamed on this imputed horizon, although it was never reached and scarcely approached, whereas the actual horizon defintely reached by almost every such revolution, albeit often behind their own backs (though many knew they were making a ‘bourgeois revolution,’ but only covered it up later, to feed the people ‘socialism in one country’), was the elimination of pre-modern elite castes and the capitalization of agriculture. The fearful conflation of the old goal of ‘workers’ control of production’ with the actual aims achieved by those who may have paid lipservice to it, judging a period of social transformation by what it thinks about itself, obscures that fact that in no ‘successful’ revolution have workers ever gained control of production, and if they actually had on a mass scale for any length of time, it does not seem likely (whatever the official ‘workers’ control’ ideology may have proposed) that they would have left the character, apparatuses, organization, and aims of production, the social form of wealth, and their own proletarian condition unchanged.

11

This is of course an ultimately trivial hypothetical conjecture, albeit a not unreasonable one in principle: its point being that it is not the notion of controlling ‘production’ (which as a generality has no meaning, and can be neither celebrated nor condemned, in itself) that spells doom, but rather the determinate social form of production then attaining dominance in actuality as the global system it always was in its concept. The fact is that, categorically, no one, not entrepreneurs, managers, bureaucrats, nor factory organizations, can ‘control’ capitalist production, but are merely different character masks which carry it out, functions of their own apparatus of accumulation which are more-or-less interchangeable and change with the requirements of the latter’s development — though factory organizations have rarely been allowed to assume or retain this function on any scale (so-called ‘self-management’ often being a bone thrown to helpless and dying enterprises) precisely because they carry the greatest risk of disrupting the course of accumulation, or even instigating a process that would put an end to it (this danger being one moment in the increasing elimination, disaggregation, or automation of labor processes which inspired and facilitated such attempts at workers’ control). ‘Workers’ control of production,’ like ‘workers’ autonomy’ are, strictly speaking, impossible in a global capitalist context, and redundant or paradoxical outside of it, but are merely imperfect slogans attempting to triangulate the how and what of an exit from it in relation to what qualitatively marks the condition of all in this society, but of proletarians most acutely: a lack of control over our own life-activity, which hangs in the balance of the apparently autonomous movement of economic quantities that the social process must obey on pain of ruin, but by so doing merely reproduces, exacerbates, and periodically realizes the threat of ruin on ever-higher levels.

12

Convoluted theories about revolutionary horizons containing counterrevolutions because of class-affirming aims they can’t help but have, for all the bluster of their post-facto fatalism, in fact display the self-flattering delusion of human understanding reacting sensitively against the primacy of something objective. The latter’s negativity is thereby shifted onto the shoulders of those crushed by it (every last one convicted of the deadly sins of programmatism), thereby exonerating and siding with the objectivity of the negative historical movement precisely by denying its primacy. We do not have to turn with the mean-spirited fury of disappointment upon all the critical and revolutionary ideas of the past, which have had a considerably greater degree of autonomy in descrying logical possibilities than reflection theories, even sophisticated ones, suggest, to admit what was so painful that it had to be busily repressed by almost all of their thinkers: their own untimely helplessness before the world-historical situation in which they were caught. A communism of proletarian self-abolition overcoming the value form and its labor substance was neither the invariant but secret and always botched real content of every struggle, but neither was it a totally unthinkable notion which suddenly became the real content of every struggle when some thinkers hit upon it in the 1970s (and in exactly the form in which they’d thought it no less!) It was (shudder and prepare your insults) objectively impossible, or nearly so — and this view is not simply the confident assertion of 20/20 hindsight to which it is a tautologically obvious banality that whatever didn’t happen couldn’t have, but informed by the contemporary estimations of those few brave souls who were able to face up to their lost century and its limits and blocks with melancholy and intransigent clarity. To say so is not to deny that this objectivity has persisted not only over and against but through the actions of the subjects, nor to denigrate the strivings or thoughts of the latter, but merely to point out that for the majority of them, the only better life which they saw as possible to strive for was a capitalist one (at times with red window dressing), even if a minority was able to see in it various more-or-less communistic potentials, for better or worse. In many parts of the world, contra the arrogant optimism of western communists giddy over destitution, this is still the case, even if the global system can less and less keep its dubious promises as it increasingly undermines its own possibility.

13

The real movement which has been abolishing all the states of things that were once present is crisis-ridden capital accumulation, pushing and pulling itself along as struggle and competition and war and revolution, which drags along some communism as a weak surplus of negativity due to the contradictory nonidentity of wealth and the social form with which it is identified, value (which in turn casts its shadow onto the former, form-determined as only those use-values it can use).[1] It is the increasingly monstrous moving disjuncture of wealth and value that wracks the class which must subsist and sometimes struggle at their constitutive crux, flinging relatively greater portions of it into superfluity, and threatening to tear it open. The content which might fill such an opening is not given, precisely because it would be a fracture in that which posits society in the given form of the economic object, though it is from the latter which it would acquire the determinations of its negative work, and which would be set against it with a titanic pressure, principally concentrated in its state form, desperately seeking to seal the cracks. A sober look at the forces of the state and the state of what could only with tremendous presumption be called the proletarian forces should disabuse anyone of the assumption (whether hailed or bewailed) that an open theory of crisis and revolution logically leads to a demagogic hurrah-spirit’s sanguine effusions over the ubiquity, creativity, and might of so-called resistance.

14

There is no reason to believe that the council concept, which is essentially self-reflexive responsivity to natural and social conditions in the process of their collective transformation by individuals, must pass away with historical conditions that delivered its actuality stillborn: to do so would be to dismiss as obsolete what remains painful because thwarted, yet may yield its truth-content only later. The council is what in those conditions pointed beyond themselves, leading a spectral afterlife only as concept, and a rather damaged one at that. It is not up to our theoretical scalpel to excise whatever class-affirmative defects may yet mar it, but the needs, possibilities, problems, and limits of the present moment. The reasonable estimation that the latter will demand communist measures must not lead to the unreasonable assumption that they will be met with any. We cannot assume an identity of crisis and communisation. Indeed, the far more likely response will be fascistic state crisis-management measures, many of which are already unfolding: exterminating surplus proletarians, imprisoning them in concentration camps, or simply sequestering them in flooding cities while the dwindling global mass of surplus value is divvied up amongst an ever-smaller clutch of rackets and their lackeys, who attempt to feed their ‘people’ corporatist-protectionist promises left and right, with more than a few swallowing them. The fact that these promises will prove to be more-or-less empty, and these measures cannot succeed in the long run can be no consolation, as the species may not have much longer of a run.

15

Even if this dire situation provokes attempts at social reproduction outside the capital-relation as communists hope, these contain no normative telos that would drive them to an emancipatory overcoming of separations. It is hardly likely, given how atomizing and obviously useless so many labor processes are today, that in a situation of crisis and open contestation of the system, ‘communities of struggle’ would form primarily in workplaces with the aim of continuing to operate them in their present form except without a boss. Neither is the bourgeois picture of the sudden reversion to a Hobbesian war between mutually hostile monads. There would of course be plenty of desperate self-seeking, but ‘disaster communities’ do and would spring up. However, their springing up ‘naturally’ from this society carries the tremendous risk, not so necessarily of the preservation and affirmation of the proletarian role (which is a moment of functioning capital), but of all the other noxious roles into which we have been stamped.

16

While general destabilization could be expected to destabilize these somewhat, it would also strengthen preestablished ‘kinship’ networks and the tendency to cluster around so-called ‘identities’ that is so often celebrated or bemoaned today — and there would no doubt be politicos who champion precisely this tendency as the ‘autonomous struggle of marginalized voices,’ as well as atavistic leftists trying to convince people their real common interests are (their definition of) class interests at gunpoint. It is obvious that the latter sects trying to establish their dictatorship over the proletariat must (and would) be fought, but if a revolutionary situation is dominated by the formation of whites-only communes declaring themselves ‘ethno-states,’ women-only communes chasing out trans women, communes of every ‘nationality’ trying to assert their ‘national’ sovereignty in miniature, communes of queer people refusing to share their food with anyone who doesn’t use the right lingo, communes trying to seize and defend land they think ‘belongs’ to their ‘race’ based on some kind of onto-theological property rights, all de facto ruled by specialists in the performance and enforcement of these ‘identities’ and a homogenizing cohesion rooted in the mutually suspicious, resentful, conformist, and authoritarian group dynamics readily observable amongst maimed products of this society, it will degenerate into a race to see if it can starve itself or terrorize itself out of existence first. The attempt to establish minimal self-sufficiency would reinforce and be reinforced by this kind of narrow, quasi-feudal communitarianism, and if it remained limited to the seizure and distribution of resources ready-to-hand, every other commune would appear as a limit and a threat to be defeated and plundered.

17

These conjectures are not based on a gloomy view of ‘human nature,’ but rather on the fact that material social interdependence today is constituted in the unconscious reified form of the exchange of money and commodities (most importantly the abstract labor-power commodity), which form the real community; what appears as the ens realissimum of pseudo-human sociality, the ‘communities’ and ‘identities’ into which we are slotted is (however much they are garnished with thought-pictures of venerable and ancient heritages) itself a fetishistic yet socially objective semblance formatted after the real abstraction of exchange. ‘Organically’ sedimented ties of personal dependence as the synthetic principle of the social reproduction of material life have been at this point almost everywhere severed; today the thought and practice of nonidentical individuals cut adrift from such ties are abstractly identified on the model of the socially synthetic exchange of like for like, white for white, black for black, etc. The nonidentical surplus disappears from the exchange and the social individuals vanish in their appearance as bearers of identities, who relate to each other through their semblance of equivalence. Transactions can only be made with the bearers of ‘different identities,’ as with the holders of foreign currency, via unequal exchange rates, so that attention becomes fixed upon competitively arbitrating these rates, while the principle of universal abstract equivalence remains incontestable. The logical consequence of the end of the exchange of human activity for things would be the end of humans needing an ossified, self-identical image of themselves after the fashion of things, but this change in social practice could not be expected to determine a change in consciousness overnight, especially if no new form of social synthesis is sought, but rather identity is hoarded. The identity-relations are real (as moments of the reproduction of the capitalist social totality concealing and perpetuating their respective historical constitutions in relations of domination), but their semblance of given and essential objectivity depends on the total system of synthesis which constitutes it behind the backs, yet through the acts of its subjects: with this system breaking down, they would be exposed as potentially worthless, and could only be maintained with more-or-less naked relations of force in open combat.

18

Council relations could potentially work as a countermovement to this disastrous paroxysm of identity logic in crisis, because they would start not from what we seem to be, but from what we need to do, and this would make us think. There are hard limits to maintaining local self-sufficiency in the socio-geographic context in which a communising insurgency would be operating, since means of production that would be of any use (even if only provisionally, requiring reconfiguration or destruction in the long run) to insurgents have been both highly concentrated and highly dispersed by the lean production methods of the global-supply-chain economy. It is thus highly probable that some kind of action committees would come together in order to seize means of transportation and communication (and tackle countless other problems we cannot anticipate), and while these would gain next to nothing but a certain comfort that would soon prove deceptive and unhelpful by being established along the lines of preformed ‘identity,’ ‘kinship,’ or ‘community,’ they would be hampered in their vital tasks if they became preoccupied with cementing their own structure: neither a hodgepodge of trust and prejudice nor organizational formalism will do. For council relations to extend themselves, the pressure of the matter at hand would have to draw on preexisting skills and knowledge, but crack the roles in which they’re encased, so that we enter them as individuals, who assert their needs and desires and openly deliberate on the means of their satisfaction in the knowledge that everyone will be responsible for the execution.

19

This is a way of relating socially to mediate the reproduction of material life that would have to give rise to its own adequate forms, which we could not diagram even if we wanted to. Not a pregiven form, but the tendency to extension of consciously self-mediating social life, which in its all-embracing movement gives the negation of politics and economy its determinacy, is what is essential to the concept of the council relation. The heterogeneity of the tasks, their planning and coordination by conscious debate and decision (rather than by reified and blind social averages or by bureaucratic command), and the radical character of the necessary transformation efforts would block attempts at measuring and calculating an exchange of life-activity for means of life, and the success of the communising effort would make such attempts obviously obsolete and irrational in the face of an abundance of all-sided sociality, freely disposable time, and material wealth, which would stand in gigantic disproportion to the remaining productive activities deemed necessary, which could be so organized that they would be neither concretely one-sided nor require the exchangeable form of abstract labor. But the possible emergence of council-type relations in a generalized crisis cannot be understood as the expression of an ideologically posited abstract universality of class needs nor as a drive to overcome the ‘limit’ of class separations, but as a potential concrete universality emerging from proletarianized individuals qualitatively evaluating and pursuing their particular needs, finding that they require large-scale social interdependence for their satisfaction, but the reified and identifying social synthesis has broken down (and the given images of community are no substitute), so a new, conscious one will need to be painstakingly developed.

20

Only a movement of becoming could crack the crust of reified social being which today bears down like a 20,000 pound force, threatening to crush us all. The becoming-social individuals’ survival, much less their life, would depend upon increasingly taking in hand as an open question every aspect of their self-production, the mediation of the metabolism with nature by social practice, and social practice by itself, which presently takes place over our heads, the domination of nature by society perpetuating the domination of society over its captive members as a blind second nature and vice versa in a vicious self-expanding spiral, looming over us as a fatal doom. This cannot mean some mythic immediate identification of thought and practice, which would risk perpetuating the unthought repetition of the one-sidedly instrumentalizing practices that presently doom us, but rather the mediation of practice by thought in their becoming: the beginning of a conscious history, in which humans do not rationally calculate practices that make other humans’ concrete life-activities an abstract means to attain what is itself merely a means, money, thereby enslaving the entire species and its circumstances, its natural context, to the alien dictates of irrational ends-in-themselves, but rather individually and collectively determine what they consider rational human purposes and practices, and continually revise their determinations in response to the results which unfold, knowing themselves as educators and educated. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and self-change (which presently spin apart in the night) remains the only rational conception of revolutionary practice.

21

The concept of the council remains oriented toward the possibility of humanity qua classless society as self-determining subject, which mediates the primacy of its objective context without objectifying the relationships of its members in political-economic forms that stand displaced over against them and reduce them to bearers of roles rendering their individuality a mere semblance, modeled on the identity principle of an exchange-based mode of production. It rescues the truth-content in prior attempts of proletarians to act as subject, while disclosing that it is the proletarian condition itself which always returns its bearers to the object-side of the social process and thus their becoming-subject stands in inverse proportion to their being-proletarian, and could only come about through the process of abolishing this condition through the expansion of council relations which increasingly embrace world society as a whole, as commune, that has no existence abstracted from and moving in contradiction to the individuals in the interplay of their social life-activities. Such a process would be revolutionary class struggle in the sense that the becoming-classlessness of the revolutionaries would wage war against the forces of class society endeavoring to re-classify them, re-identify them as bearers of functions in a political-economic apparatus.

22

It is said that a great many of today’s productive forces are so deformed by their value-form that they would be unusable — self-managed or not — in a process of communisation. This is of course true of so much of the socially useless and environmentally destructive dead labor that we are compelled to work up and works us over daily. But how are we going to get rid of this junk, and who’s going to do it? It seems likely that the proletarians would have to do it, this process being a moment of our self-abolition, and this problem — say, how to safely dismantle the fossil fuel infrastructure — is the council problem, which we will not have the luxury of avoiding because communisateurs think it’s still too much like ‘labor.’ As much as we may like to surround it in Hegelian verbiage — which we think is entirely appropriate — the council problem is often the problem of taking out the trash. But then, spirit was never so grand as beautiful souls made it out to be.

23

However, the perspective which attacks the traditional worship of the given productive forces retains a rather traditional, and reified, conception of what they are: a bunch of bad machines to be abandoned as we happily go back to the land amidst civilizational collapse. But for decades, the most powerful productive force of material wealth has been the direct application of accumulated scientific knowledge to the production process, and it is precisely this that stands in moving contradiction to the production relations, which posit relatively dwindling direct labor time as the only source of value, hence the ongoing, intractable crisis of valorization. Thus ‘seizure of the productive forces’ today would not mean forcing everyone’s hands onto the assembly line, but rather a struggle to reconceive the nature, meaning, and application of scientific knowledge, the utilization of this supreme productive force to transform its objectified technical shapes, halt their ravaging of external and internal nature and attempt to repair some of the already dire consequences, to deconstruct the class structure of machinery, and make it in radically altered form available for human purposes, needs, and desires. Such a process would of necessity have to transcend the separation of headwork and handwork, direction and execution, labor-time and life-time. This could not be accomplished by a great and terrible simplification, but by the extension of a more complex and, most importantly, more conscious form of social synthesis which we provisionally call by the name ‘councils.’

24

If our posing of the problem is for some still soured by ‘too much necessity,’ we say it can’t be otherwise. As workers who hate working, we take the overcoming of the obsolete social form of labor very seriously. Yes, ‘labor’ is an historically specific form of the species’ metabolism with nature which becomes an abstract socially mediating end-in-itself as the substance of value, the subject of the process of its own self-expansion, but labor is not merely the separation of spheres, which could be revoked by mushing them back together again. In the first instance, the activities which take the form of labor (though this form has eventually subsumed damn near everything) are the toils of the many for the necessities of life, and these toils, call them whatever you want, our aching bodies and strained brains want to reduce or eliminate as much as possible, not merely rechristen, or intersperse with a ‘passionate’ chat or two so that they no longer form a separated sphere. Too many these days, like psychotic Rousseaus, seem to be secretly hoping that the proletarians will blunder into ruining their own livelihoods so the communists can look on with satisfaction as the dreaded ‘spheres’ bleed together in the sweat of some shitty subsistence encampment ruled by the egalitarian tyranny of forced friendship. But we take as axiomatic, based on our own experience, not to mention world history, that no matter how great the pressure of capital’s death crises, proletarians will not undertake the incredibly arduous process of seizing their own means and conditions of life without it seeming directly possible that their lives will be better for it, and their — our — definitions of ‘better’ are decidedly profane, somatically needy, this-sided, and rather indifferent to communists’ noble definitions of ‘better.’ The council is a term for what might bridge the gap between the capitalist catastrophe communists want and the human possibility proletarians need, and if there is to be an overcoming of the separations on which capitalist society is based in a being-in-common [gemeinwesen] of the species, then it can only be comprehended as a result mediated by the communisation process, not immediately given as that process. Communism is surely beyond civilization, but if it is sought in the latter’s mere destitution or removal, it will never be.

25

Central to the council conceived as living relation has always been the process of deciding for ourselves what we’re going to do, and how we’re going to do it, and then doing it. This is what is essential, and all methods can and must be flexibly adapted to ensure that this remains possible: once the process of tackling the problems that have posed the councils is in motion, before it all ‘formalistic’ preoccupations with pre-established voting procedures, number, tenure, and mandate of delegates, ideological preferences for consensus or majority must and will fall. It’s not important to us whether or not such relations are called ‘democracy.’ We neither fear nor revere this stretched-thin concept, but think that some dubious assumptions underlie both an ideological democratism (the indefinite perpetuation of a structural disharmony of interests requiring the meting of ‘justice’ amongst subjects tacitly conceived in a ‘self-possessive’ form that remains tethered to the commodity-determined abstraction of bourgeois right), as well as an ideological anti-democratism (the quasi-automatic maintenance of an unreasonable degree of a priori subdiscursive social harmony that cannot be assumed without assuming a climate of stifling conformism at best, or explicit despotism at worst, as well as the permanent resolution of the problems of technical administration and coordination, which implies either an allegedly benevolent autonomous and unaccountable technocracy, à la Bordiga’s ‘social brain,’ or the effective end of social interdependence on all but the smallest of scales). What’s more, the former tends to instrumentally fetishize and fix means as ends-in-themselves in either a rule-crazy procedural pedantry that imposes institutional roles, or a touchy, aimless ‘discussionism’ that can block not only action but even mutual comprehension, just as much as the latter subordinates means to ends, and independent critical reflection to a romanticization of the ‘organic’ character of peer pressure, dogma, and unthought fits of enthusiasm. Whether communism means the realization or abolition of ‘democracy,’ or both, cannot be decided abstractly in advance, and a virtue of the concept of the council relation is that it leaves this an open question to be fought out when and if the time comes. What is certain is that currently, the notion of democracy is far more popular than that of communism, so if proles start seizing unoccupied apartments or distributing looted food and calling it ‘democracy,’ scandalized communists clutching Camatte pamphlets shouldn’t chide them for it.

26

The council communists’ emphasis on deciding for ourselves has been itself declared abstract and formalistic at best, and an entrée to self-exploitation at worst, and we will not try to deny that some have been guilty of these charges (we have a special loathing for Castoriadis’s managerial idylls, and it is unsurprising that the most vehement anti-‘councilist’ rhetoric emerged in France in reaction to his baneful influence). But the supposedly more concrete, content-filled emphasis on the abolition of labor and of the value-relations that communisateurs have offered in its place can easily become far more abstract, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. Take, for example, the insistence that with communisation, all consideration of the time required to execute given tasks must cease. But why, one fine day, should we decide that we don’t mind our life-time being taken up with unpleasant necessities when we could take care of them with less time and effort, and generations of proletarians before us put their own time, brains, nerves, and muscles into means of production that allow us to do just that? Other aspects of life that are more pleasant, or can easily be made more pleasant, we probably wouldn’t want to have to rush through to the tick and tock of the abstract labor-time clock as we do now. Communism would mean that we individually and collectively get to make conscious decisions about how we live our own time, rather than the law of value unconsciously splitting it into life-time and labor-time, with the latter's tempo determined by its scission into a necessary portion which must always diminish relative to a surplus portion accumulated as capital. This is what the end of the abstract domination of economy would mean, not its replacement by some equally abstract principle of ‘anti-economy.’ This is what would allow the withering away of the social measurement of time, as time begins to be experienced by all as primarily human and historical, that is, the rhythms of human beings pursuing their freely-chosen aims. The increasingly general constitution of time as abstract, as a uniform, empty grid we occupy, was a result, not a cause, of the generalization of capitalist production, and it cannot simply be abruptly eliminated by fiat (the habit of thinking in terms of what must be abruptly eliminated by fiat appears hard to give up, even by those who claim to have broken with the idea of the state-directed ‘transitional society’), but could lose its determining character, its grid cracking and shrinking, with the progressive elimination by the social individuals of what they determine to be needless necessities, those which today dominate us, but are only necessary for the perpetuation of domination. The ‘end of necessity’ is a meaningless fantasy; the realm of freedom comes into view as social individuals make their own judgements about what they consider their needs and how they’re going to handle them, rather than their survival depending upon acting in the roles imposed on them behind their backs by fetishistically-constituted economic necessity.[2] 

27

This kind of freedom beyond economy is certainly incompatible with the use of labor-time as accounting unit for the distribution of the social product, but the key question here is not whether or not such accounting is ‘really communist,’ or whether or not the present cycle of struggles allows us to dissociate it from our view of the ‘content of communism’ — Kropotkin knew it wasn’t communist 130 years ago. So did Marx, he just thought it was still necessary given the state of development of productive forces. Drudges have never in history made a lateral revolution merely to share their toil and misery, and it doesn’t matter what damn cycle of struggles it is, and how shitty the alternative is, they’re not going to do so if lightening their load doesn’t seem like a very real possibility. It has become an increasingly real possibility in the past seventy years, and one needn’t trawl through Bordiga’s paeans to the ‘natural economy’ of bolshevik ‘war communism,’ but only look at the glutted state of the global economy alongside a dwindling demand for productive labor to come to the conclusion Mattick did already in the 1960s: “accounting based on individual contributions to production” has become “both superfluous and ridiculous.” But to think such schemes would remain superfluous or ridiculous if an attempted communisation process coincided with a drastic plummeting of the level of and ready access to material wealth (even adjusted for the contestation of the social meaning of ‘wealth’) is to totally underestimate the spontaneity of the emergence of exchange and the money form, especially in a socio-historical context in which a return to subsistence farming (the immediate re-shackling of activity to need) is not a viable option for the vast majority (not to mention that many, not least among those who only recently escaped it, would consider this a fate worse than death).[3] In such a situation, ‘communists’ would have to terroristically suppress, even amongst the lowliest starvelings, the functions of means of circulation, means of payment, etc. (which could devolve on a new money-commodity, perhaps oil as in The Road Warrior), and thereby defeat themselves in trying to realize the ideal they all the while pretend not to hold.

28

It is, of course, not certain that it would be possible to maintain a sufficient level of means to meet what over seven billion social individuals determine to be necessary for their flourishing and all-sided development so that production based on exchange taking the forms of value remains superfluous, while doing so in an ecologically-sustainable manner, and beginning to mitigate the damage already done. But if it proves impossible, then so will world communism. Some kind of fraternal, spartan communism of shared penury, a ‘crap communism,’ is of course imaginable, the dream has been dreamt for thousands of years,[4] but it is not probable that the proletarians of the world would fight and die for it, or that they could successfully impose it even if they did. Scarcity and hunger may be goads to revolt, but they cannot then become the foundation upon which the communist world beyond separations is built, because they were precisely the foundation upon which our world of separations was built, and no amount of pious haranguing about human community or insistence that the cycle of struggles has decreed it is finally time could stop the same old shit arising from the ashes, like a shit phoenix.

29

A large-scale collapse of social living standards (however defined) entwined with ecological catastrophe is not at all unlikely, but to think it a ripe opportunity for communisation is to fail to comprehend that the separation of needs and activity is not merely capital’s original sin against immediacy, and it would be disastrous if it were simply revoked. This separation is the reason why the capital-relation makes possible a freedom that was impossible before its domination: the freedom of the many to have their natural needs met without the meeting of such needs one-sidedly determining how they expend their life-activity. It is only then that ones freely-chosen all-sided activity can itself be taken as ones greatest need, an historically-developed need. Natural necessity no longer appearing as an antagonist to be dominated in struggle, reconciliation with nature brings the species’ natural (pre-)history to a close, as its human history opens up.[5] Or so we hope. 

30

Gilles Dauvé has recently mocked the notion of “communist ‘development aid’...bridging the gap between a ‘low’ level of development and one already reached by ‘rich’ countries,” as if this were a befuddlingly aberrant thought, when obviously slum dwellers would be quite happy continuing to live in squalor if only they had a bit more togetherness, and if they really stopped to enjoy the activity of fixing up their shacks, they’d even convince themselves that it was an ‘end in itself,’ next to which its dreaded ‘product’ — minimal shelter — is quite secondary, and hardly ‘necessary’ — ‘necessity,’ of course, being a figment of imaginations overcivilized by class society. As Bordiga rhapsodically insisted, enough communitarian indoctrination can indeed induce the willing suspension of the individual life drive in pointless sacrifice to the ‘organic whole,’ but the one-sided celebration of this horrific notion is merely the twisted antithesis of the individualistic indoctrination that induces us to indifference at the suffering we witness all around us daily. Dauvé’s plan for the self-delusion of the slum-dwellers is a particularly muddled mixture of the two, and if this is what communist theory — which claims to advocate an ‘abolition of labor’ no less — has been reduced to, then we deserve the ridicule and contempt so many, not least many workers, reserve for us. It’s a disgusting display of faux-anti-paternalism: who are we to judge who has the ‘better life?’ Well, fair enough, Gilles — the proletarians of the favelas are to judge. Don’t sneakily impute to them your cockeyed Babouvist ‘simple pleasures’ principles, let them communicate what they see as their needs amongst themselves, and to social individuals rising up in more capitalistically developed areas, and together they can attempt to transform their conditions of life.

31

The implicit or explicit localism of so many communists today suggests they have made a virtue of the demoralizing consequences of defeat, but if it proves impossible to overcome, then it will in turn become a cause of defeat, because nearly no region on earth could today survive as a ‘delinked’ island of autarkic subsistence production (not to mention that few could be induced to attempt such a stupid feat).[6] While it’s true that the production and supply chains of global capital cannot be simply taken over ready-made, this means that a tremendous effort of what one could indeed call ‘communist development aid’ would be required to flow in both directions between ‘under’- and ‘over’-developed regions, reconfiguring (and at the same time fundamentally reconceiving) productive apparatuses marooned here and there by the hunt for the cheapest labor-power and the fattest surplus-profits, with the aim of reducing in the long term damagingly wasteful transport while maximizing world communication, liquidating as thoroughly as possible through consciousness of concrete historical interdependence the narrow parochial bigotries that crises tend to strengthen rather than weaken. The need for such communication and transformation, for bottom-up coordination without domination on a massively federated — tending as quickly as possible toward global — scale, in any thinkable contemporary revolutionary situation with the capacity to spread, reproduce, and maintain itself beyond localized and easily crushed episodes is the continuing actuality of the problem of the councils. The task remains to make transparent the dialectic of individual and species.

32 

The sketchy contours of emancipatory potentials that have appeared here are only hopes, albeit informed hopes, docta spes. But they are informed by our present time’s own desperate situation, and there is no reason to be optimistic, as so seemingly opposed tendencies as autonomism and Théorie Communiste are, whether or not they know or admit it. Only crisis can be counted upon, and crisis is not revolution, and revolution is not communisation, and communisation is not its success, though each contains the next as real possibility.[7] The apparently objective economic categories are perverted, displaced forms of social practice, and critique can peer through the hairline fissures in the categories to see their class constitution. But this does not mean behind every movement of economic quantities is a ‘struggle’ about to bust out riotously, as in some tellings, unless one means ‘struggle’ in a very weak, negative sense. The social practices that appear in the categories are mostly the passive, repetitive motions of the ‘daily grind,’ dynamically reproducing stasis. Crisis too appears in the categories, and even a strike wave or a riot can be (and is) expressed on the balance sheets. It will only have definitively been a crisis of the categories when there are no more balance sheets; but collapse can simply crush those below, and the categories could be cracked by raw terror, direct slavery, and massacre more easily than by empancipatory communist tactics.

33

Activistic types will no doubt deplore us as ‘objectivists’ for implying that there’s not much we can do but wait for another catastrophic kick in the ass, while structuralist types will deplore us as ‘subjectivistic’ or ‘humanistic’ or something for implying that revolution is an historical opening. Both have displaced contradictions in reality itself to the level of method, and therefore effectively trivialize communist revolution by denying just how radical of a transformation of social reality it implies, just as the emergence of capitalist relations radically transformed social reality. For the activists revolution is just the final victory of an agency that was always there, plugging away, whereas for the structuralists it is just as strictly determined as everything else. But in the first case we have a clash of empirically specified combatants set loose in a basically undetermined field, whereas in the second, total determination cannot be explained, but must be assumed for all time, or if it has an end, it must end in a totally determined flip of the switch to total indeterminacy (which is what we get from TC: “the de-objectification of the world,” pure immediacy, and the rest of their nirvana). But the apparent self-movement of the social totality is not a principle of ‘structural causality’ hypothesized in the brain of the theorist, but is constituted by the historically specific social form of the species’ reproduction based on reified exchange of living for dead labor in the unstable form of value which must expand itself to preserve itself: it is not simply something that rules over us, but through us. We will ‘be the crisis,’ but we will primarily be the crisis by losing our jobs, defaulting on our debts, overcrowding the prisons, dying in the ‘natural’ disasters provoked by economic second nature. In many ways, the system of production based on exchange was spent a long time ago, and it has long been a spectacle kept on state life support which cannot last forever. Reflected in the money mirror stands no longer another quantum of labor-time, but state command, and the practice which appears in the categories is then just as much the practice of money managers, central bankers, and the state’s repressive goons, and they will be the crisis too. The categories crack under the weight of their own moving contradictions, which move through the conceptualized practice of everyone along the whole spectrum of the class-relation from one pole to the other, as dead labor that can’t be valorized buries the living alive, substance and form having parted ways, and the state-capital subject strains to keep up appearances of self-positing through a geopolitical debt spiral.

34

The coming to independence on the part of the masses is a tedious process which takes place in a veritable hell.

Henk Canne-Meijer


It should go without saying that, should one of this rickety system’s many impending and/or presently unfolding crises entail attempts at a communising process, these will be extremely contentious, fraught with almost unthinkable social and technical challenges, and internally-riven (even bracketing, for the moment, the struggle to suppress the repressive powers of state and capital, a struggle the success of which seems highly uncertain at best, and contingent as usual on mass defection of their personnel), and it seems terribly naïve to declare that the proletariat will simply have to “abolish itself by abolishing all that divides it.” Communisation would itself cause divisions a plenty, and their elimination per se is hardly a worthwhile goal; we should think rather in terms of the reconciliation of their antagonism, the communication of the differentiated, the no-longer-hostile multiplicity. This would require divisions be consciously mediated by the social individuals in struggle, while attempting to ensure access to the means of life beyond the wage or exchange. It would thus not be the treacherous ease of the continuing reproduction of the proletarians as proletarians that would call forth something like councils today as a kind of atavistic solution — far from being a counterrevolutionary danger, it is not obvious how attempting to simply self-manage the types of workplaces in which many proletarians are currently employed would ensure them a livelihood in a large-scale crisis situation, and the fixation of many communisateurs on this supposed danger says more about their need to repress the embarassments of their own ‘councilist’ pasts than it does about the acuity of their analysis of the present moment upon which they pride themselves.

35

Revolution today could not mean every worker back to her post as usual, except paid in labor-time notes, but the revolutionary (ex-)workers would themselves have to determine an essential core of activities needed to reproduce the insurgent population (all organized ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need,’ sans exchange) throughout the period of open combat, and this would require a massive transfer, acquisition, and development of knowledge and skills, likely coordinated by something like councils, slashing across the existing logic and division of labor. Such a process under such circumstances would be marked by hardship no doubt, but would also very quickly make obvious that everyone would have to work far less if they succeeded in reorganizing social (re)production — indeed, they would no longer be proletarians, separated from their means of life, or workers, their lives depending upon or centered around whatever work they do, which presently forms the substance of the unsocial social mediation, value. If communism is really seen as a process, then proletarian self-abolition and the abolition of labor certainly must be too: the measures just indicated would (put in the terms d’arts of the critique of political economy) mean the dissolution of the abstract labor synthesis into many concrete labors which would need to be coordinated by conscious decision, both improving their conditions and reducing their volume as much as possible (revolutionary requirements allowing); it would take a considerably longer and deeper extension of the transformation (technical, organizational, geographic, psychological, aesthetic) ’til it became no longer necessary or comprehensible for activities to take the social form of labor at all. It’s hard to take a denial of this seriously. The point is that the beginning of said transformation, though it would take generations (and be the endless project of generalized historical life, in fact), would not wait on some state decree postponed ad Kalendas Graecas, but would be immanent to the revolutionary process, the task of all of its participants.

36

Thus it is the extreme difficulty and massively interconnected global requirements of any attempt for the proletarians to become anything but that would pose something like councils as a site for the confrontation of the problem, for the organization and diffusion of new mutually recognitive relationships in every aspect of the lives of becoming-social individuals in the process of transforming their world under terrible circumstances. The self-abolition of proletarians, as those separated from their means and conditions of life, would have to involve a moment of seizing technical means of production, but also a second moment of negating their determinate social form, a reflexive utilization of the historically accumulated productive forces on the production process itself so that not only its aims but its technical shapes would be radically different, determined by the consciously elaborated needs and desires of social individuals. Only through such a process could we become independent from our domination by labor, with social production reduced to a minor, incidental, not unpleasant detail of far richer human lives. Yet when we attempt to consider how such a process could be undertaken given the present geography of world class society’s production and distribution, this society itself appears as a universal block, both within and outside of us. 

37

The attempt to shirk this difficulty theoretically will not do. Communisateurs’ positive suggestion, the deus ex machina return to local agricultural subsistence production (which we dare not call production), ‘communisation in one beseiged hamlet,’ rarely stated outright but cagily introduced as the necessity of proletarians orphaned by capital ‘finding some other way to reproduce themselves’ is itself objectively blocked (and sign on or you must want to run industry just as it is you councilist dinosaur is a false choice, dishonest blackmail). The great simplification is a call for global die-off that no sane (ex-)worker would heed: we would follow capital to the ends of the earth begging for a wage before we embrace fighting each other to the death for scraps of scorched earth to scrape tubers out of and convince ourselves it means the abolition of labor.[8] Even if such a fall is coming, communists should not give it a push, plunging from bad to worse. The fact that they seriously contemplate doing so is evidence that a century of unmitigated disaster, often at their own hands, has induced communists to think the aim of human empancipation must be put away along with other childish things, and what’s worse, that this is somehow a source of pride rather than shame. If we fight the same enemy for too long, we become convinced we’re fighting it merely because it’s there, because it is what it is, not because it causes us needless suffering. If capital collapses without alleviating this world’s needless suffering, it would be a bitter victory indeed, and calling it ‘communisation’ would be nothing but an act of gratuitous spite: the word will fill no one’s belly. For us, the refusal to abandon the concil concept is the refusal to taboo the thought of a humane and classless world society and happily accept hell. We can imagine the insults this admission would bring raining down upon our heads from certain quarters, and all we can say is that we have plenty ready to fire back.

38

For us, the concept of the council should not be thought of as ‘a mediation’ (in the strangely reified phrasing commonly heard today, complete with indefinite article), but as the process of self-mediation. It implies the becoming and multiplication of mutual recognition and practical self-consciousness, the workers ceasing to be workers and becoming dialecticians, but it cannot be the expression or realization of a pregiven consciousness, either imposed by a party-clique, disseminated by benevolent educators, or even patiently assembled by the proletarians themselves in advance (though obviously those who have struggled to keep alive some small degree of maturity and indpenedence of critical thought tend to prove more capable revolutionists than a mass of deluded, dogmatic, and servile authoritarians, most ‘leftist militants’ and ‘activists’ of course falling into this latter category). Revolutions have never gone according to a conscious plan, and we can safely wager they never will, but from their unconscious, desperate, and necessarily determined beginnings they potentially trace a negative path of self-development, of an opening up of history. The council concept is one placeholder we can put in the non-identical space between need and freedom, crisis and consciousness, what is bad for capital and what is good for communism, with fully historically-grounded, self-reflexive awareness that none of these things are invariant, or given in advance. If this space is filled with content, it is highly likely that it will not know itself as ‘council’ or as ‘communism.’ This is irrelevant, so long as it knows itself, and knows what it does. And the council communists will have reached the aim toward which we have always tended: our disappearance.

 

NOTES

[1] Communism is not identical with the real movement, moving by its bad side, in any positive sense, but the whole shit’s creaking and groaning along at unspeakable human cost will have become comprehensible as the becoming of communism — if the communists win. The question of whether universal history moves toward emancipation or toward extinction is not settled, but the odds of the former don’t look good. This is what it means to say that the actuality of the communist movement is suspended. An undialectical reading of the ‘real movement’ phrase ends in a narrow practicist empriricism that sniffs out strikes and draws up their balance sheets, and when there’s no ‘action’ going down, is overtaken by fits of despair and goes desperately seeking new ‘social actors’ prepared to get busy putting on an exciting play for our movementist to applaud or perhaps direct. 

[2] Needs are not static, and what we are not afraid to call the natural moment in needs we do not experience immediately as such: as the old man famously pointed out, hunger is a natural need, but the hunger satisfied by tearing into raw meat with the teeth is different than the hunger that is satisfied by a sautéed and seasoned meal eaten with a knife and fork. This social mediation of need can be both a process of development and diversification (the cultivation of taste, of an aesthetically refined palate for sensory pleasures) as well as repression and narrowing (the enforcement of rigidly dimorphic, genitally organized mono-‘sexualities’). The natural moment in need asserts itself (as drive on the one side, and pain on the other); the last thing communists should do is presume to dictate or codify which needs are natural and which are ‘false’ (which is what capitalist society does, fixing its social processes as second nature), which they would be doing de facto if not de jure if they embraced a total collapse of the level of material wealth produced. Rather, the social individuals undertaking communising measures should endeavor to meet what they and all human beings in the world consider to be their needs, and this process itself would establish a qualitative dynamic in which new needs emerge, and old needs become unnecessary or are recognized as harmful. It is the damaging and destructive character of a need, socially, psychologically, and ecologically that makes it false, not its character as historically developed or artificial, i.e. a product of art — the falsity is a judgment existence makes on itself. Communist measures would need to entail an expansion and development of needs and the conditions for their satisfaction, not a simplification so that all needs are a priori met and thus effectively no longer exist. To the extent that such a notion can even be seriously entertained, it would mean idiotic vegetation in a totally static present, the end of desire, the kind of boring vision of heaven which makes people prefer hell. The freedom of each and all to pursue desires through time is human life, the aim and condition of the classless society.

[3] It should not be inferred from our hostility to pastoral visions of communism that we think a future of towering treeless robo-communist megalopolises is reasonable, possible, or desirable either. The aim of a more even distribution of the population, overcoming urban congestion on the one side and rural isolation on the other, eliminating the need for automobiles, incorporating aspects of food production into a built environment along with the appealing features of cities, thereby reintegrating the cycle of waste disposal and soil fertilization, we support and could see the world commune pursuing in the long run, and we encourage anticipatory consciousness to concretely imagine what it might look like. We could call such a determinate negation of capital’s atomizing suburbanization a communising sur-urbanization. But such an ambitious transformation would require a great deal of time, resources, careful planning, and the active participation of a humanity at peace, and in which what could be called a certain cosmopolitan ‘communist subjectivity’ has already begun to sprout. The recognition that it is historically unnecessary to postpone ‘to each according to need’ should not force us to think of communisation primarily in terms of what can be done in a mid-insurgency scramble, and if a scramble back to the fields en masse actually proves to be a material necessity, it will not bode well for the enduring success or even the possibility of revolution. While wages stop and communist measures start from day one, the latter never end. We think communisation would have to be understood as a process spanning generations, with possibly its most important task being endeavoring to raise the ‘children of the revolution’ with psyches less deeply mutilated than ours, a task that would entail overcoming the form of the family, compulsory dyadic monosexuality, and the genital organization of eros, tending toward the abolition of dimorphic sexing, not in some homogenous mass in grey unisex habits, but in the actually infinite morphological and presentational expressivity of singularities in their becoming. We recognize the need for these overcomings is something free human beings would have to discover for themselves, but the rate at which unfree, dehumanized ones have been discovering it over the past fifty years, along with the technical capacities to realize it, is a promising sign in a world largely bereft of promising signs.

[4] And it has imporved quite a bit since its despotic-egalitarian origins, as meticulously detailed by the philosopher of the ‘spirit of utopia,’ but even he did not see the latter’s triumph in ‘spiritual [geistige] factors’ alone shaking off all nature, but rather in their adequate mediation with it.

[5] Our species has never ceased to be a part of nature even as we have become increasingly practically conscious of our nonidentity with it through the development of antagonistic social production relations (thus constituting the conceptual antithesis of the terms, without exhausting the nonconceptualities they cover); ‘nature’ and ‘necessity’ are social concepts, but our species does not posit that which they name, but can only mediate it through our practice and thought in a kind of dynamic metabolism with our material context. To maintain otherwise, as some communisateurs do, that “necessity is a product of class society,” is to fall into a quasi-Fichtean idealism of the purest water: all living beings must feed, but not all think about growing their own food and then do it, much less force others to do so, shifting the burden of natural necessity, either directly as a caste, or indirectly as a class, onto the many to allow for the relative feedom of the few, who may thus come to approximate some semblance of humanity. Even if in the end, reconciliation with nature appears as nature no longer standing opposed to humanity as heteronomy to be suppressed, this can only be thought as a mediated result, nonidentity no longer forced under the aspect of identity, not an identical fusion in pure immediacy. The latter cannot even be thought: it would mean the annihilation of consciousness, psychosis at best, and the extinction of the species at worst.

[6] It seems strange indeed that people whose ideas are so deeply indebted to the communist lefts should have to be reminded that the international, and anti-national, globalization of revolution remains priority number one (and if this means utilizing technologies that will then have to be dismantled over the course of the communisation process, so be it) — reading the stalinist euphemism ‘delinking’ in texts of such a tendency causes us to vomit in our mouths a little bit. If this retrogression is defended in the name of conjunctural realism, then we must risk being branded iguanodons and quote Mattick: “apparently opportunism and ‘realism’ are the same thing,” and Pannekoek: “opportunism...lies in always considering the immediate questions, not what lies in the future.” We eschew immediacy because of our hatred of opportunism. Insurgents seizing and distributing goods on the proverbial day one is obviously essential, but a perspective that stops there will see them slaughtered, or starving and slaughtering each other, in a matter of days. If world revolution consequently appears blocked, then we must stay with the block in the world, not remove it from our minds to devise recipes for bad revolutions that will end very badly. As the argument apparently aims to be not a prescriptive but a descriptive or predictive one, modestly pointing out that localized uprisings will happen and loot supplies, then if there is any role at all for communist theorists, it should not be as their optimistic reflection, but as the critics within the movement that put forward a world perspective. This is not to play schoolmaster to struggles or impose the correct slogans or program, but merely to point toward what they will have to discover for themselves, or be bathed in blood. Forcing thought into a supine, contemplative position in relation to practice is no adequate answer to leninist thought’s attempt to voluntaristically master it. Thought that knows its own historically-situated boundedness can only attempt to think within, against, and out of the wrong state of things, and be a voice of subversive reason whether amongst the torpid reproduction of daily life, or the insurgent assemblies. Practically, this thought is today helpless, but it can only sabotage and sordidly embarrass itself if it goes chasing immediate effectiveness and cheap publicity by going with the flow, tailing every disturbance of the peace like an unloved puppy. It’s ironic that among those for whom success is measured in policy victories, communisateurs have the reputation of being bummers, because as we see it, they seem to act like magicians with the special power to make bad news appear as good news.

[7] The much fretted over question of whether a crisis issues from subjective class action or objective economic conditions is not helpful: the self-valorization of value in process and the relentless simmering of social war are one and the same… and at the same time not the same. It is through their nonidentity, which subsists under their aspect of identity, that the system endures... or falls. Whether a crisis appears to begin with a strike wave or a stock market crash or even a pandemic or hurricane (as such natural disasters are today quite obviously mediated by economic ‘second nature’), for it to move in a communising direction would entail proletarian practice, major or minor, excitingly ‘active’-looking or not, disrupting and breaking down the objectivity of the economic categories, but if it is crushed, the whole movement will itself appear in the objective economic categories. Ours is thus an objective theory because it is a theory of society in the inverted form of the economic object, assessed critically against its own potential self-determining subjectivity. Really, what seems to be at stake in the ‘subjectivist’ argument is that the activist party making it would like its will to provoke and direct such a crisis, which we think is neither possible nor desirable in the present constellation, if ever it was. In many ways the situationists’ famous phrase had it backward: they saw the role of communist consciousness as organizing the detonation and then letting the explosion go where it may, but the detonation is precisely what cannot be organized or provoked consciously, and attempting to do so tends to preform it in shapes organized by capital and its reified consciousness. It is in the explosion that class-transcending communist consciousness, whether or not it calls itself by that name, and wether or not it had led a sad ‘prehistoric’ life, or is being newly produced through the material transformations at hand, would become increasingly essential. Council relations are relevant as a potential site of this becoming-conscious ‘organization of explosion,’ sublating the contradiction of spontaneity and organization, which belongs to the concept of capital and cannot be resolved abstractly in advance. It is capitalist asocial sociality that gives the aimless and turbulent course of its second nature the semblance of rational organization, and the deliberate spontaneity of the human subject that of an irrational outburst.

[8] In the interest of full disclosure, our obvious resistance to any notion of communisation as simplification is not merely due to a preference for grand cosmpolitan dreams, but to our own needs and interests. Your authors are variously sexually deviant — the terms bisexual, transsexual, gender-nonconforming, anti-monogamous, etc. would apply, were we not loath to file ourselves under any such categories. While we are thoroughly committed to the wholesale abolition of the coercive social norms and roles which posit us as bearers of deviant ‘identities’ (and thus also of those ‘identities’ themselves), materialist investigation shows that the historical emergence of the pursuit of the practices and forms of life to which these latter (inadequately) refer as a social possibility on a more-or-less global scale depended upon capitalist development’s gradual destruction of patriarchal-agrarian production relations. For better and for worse, our very existence as anything more than a (semi-)repressed urge we owe to a certain level of capitalist socialization. Thus we are not convinced that many arguments around the abolition of gender (and other ‘identities’) in communisation circles come close to exhausting the matter: a reshuffling of tasks eliminating their value-dirempted gendering, however essential, will not solve all our problems, and the insistance on staying at this ‘disembodied’ level is further evidence of this milieu’s resistance to considering categories of ‘need’ and ‘nature.’ Ironically, though typically, this suppression of the moment of nature by overgrasping social concepts issues in proposals that would shove the species back utterly into a struggle with nature as heteronomous constraint, re-starting the process of domination all over again, throwing those specimens of decadent refinement like ourselves to the wolves. The capacity to radically transform our nature-given [naturwüchsige] bodies in accordance with historically-developed human needs is itself an acquired productive force, and in a revolutionary situation, we would mean to seize it and make it available to all. Thus we could imagine involving ourselves in councils bringing together those who have the needs, skills, and knowledge for the purpose of reconfiguring this society’s deeply dysfunctional health care apparatuses. As it is not clear how hormone synthesis or genital reconstructive surgery, much less the development and diffusion of ectogenic technologies that would put an end to the embodied forms of the sexual division of labor, would fit into repeasantization, it’s hard for us not to surmise that the relative embrace by explicitly or implicitly ‘anti-civ’ communisateurs (some of whom have such needs themselves) of ‘queer’ issues represents little more than superficial pandering to identity-political shibboleths, or deeply muddled thinking.

 

 

Works uncited:

Many thanks and no apologies to all those critical theorists whose words and ideas we seized and distributed freely above.




A New Institute for Social Research