Communization: Poor and Blank

Communization theory has parallels with Maoism and therefore some of the same theoretical flaws, argues Anton Johannsen. 


Riding the wave of revolutionary will.


Communization theory is caught in a kind of trap, unwittingly pitting the concepts of the forces and relations of production against one another.  Endnotes argue that they ultimately emphasize the need to move immediately to communist relations of production as the condition for ensuring the revolution is not rolled back. One way they confuse the forces of production is by reducing its role to that of ‘proletarianization of humanity’ through economic development. This is a task they see as largely finished, at least in developed nations. This is an illusion which results from communizers’ emphasis on the immediate overthrow of the capitalist relations of production and the just-so narrative of the Second International being uniformly uncritical of the need for ‘universal proletarianization’. This undergirds their rejection of program politics and as such requires a retreat into spontaneity and a rejection of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Endnotes present this opposition between forces and relations as that between form and content; as councilist self-management as ‘form’ and the Italian left’s total rejection of capitalist society and formal indifference as extreme focus on content.

There is an abstract proposition of a contradiction between the ‘liberation of work’ and its abolition. Certainly this is brought up by many ultraleftists and post-anarchists like Bob Black who ‘boldly’ reject work. But it’s unclear how this escapes – ever – the Bohemian heritage it “nervously looks back on”, from Surrealism, through the Beatniks (close to the IWW, one might add, through the vehicle of the Dill Pickle Club and The College of the Complexes, as well as other alt-art spaces in the 20s and after). It’s clearly not a program for revolution, though that’s another category dumped by the communisation milieu. Endnotes argues that the spontaneous rejection of work is a new trend in the workers movement. However, this is likely just a result of the *prior* weakening of the defensive organizations of the class – the unions and communist parties – and the economic outmaneuvering through international competition and capital flight. Indeed, the Beatnik movement exists as a result of the decades of organizing done by the IWW and other left parties. The College of the Complexes in Chicago was infrastructurally dependent on a handful of wobblies, not to mention the IWW being pioneers of the ‘abolition of work’ slogan. But why let economics and history interfere with ‘creating a situation’?

Perhaps most damningly, this distinction was never made by the socialists of the Russian Revolution or Second International. While Endnotes points out the problem of relegating the maximum program, i.e. communism, to the status of a Sunday sermon was a problem in the Second International, it was a problem of the right-wing. Lenin and Kautsky critiqued this argument, the latter up to around 1908/9. Further, it was understood in general that the abolition of work was contingent on a general development of the means and technique of production; that it wasn’t simply a matter of choice, or will, but a matter of time, education, social reorganization and so on.

But as presented by Endnotes’,  communizers reject the necessity of a transition period on the basis that it is a mirage which serves to ‘bring the working class to power’ which is itself another form of capitalism. The logic here is that people only become ‘workers’ under capitalist social relations, and even if they’re in power, they must still be in capitalist social relations to be ‘workers’. This, as with the above, is predicated on a grave misreading and oversimplification of the Russian Revolution, which sees it as one of the primary failures of the ‘old workers movement’ expressing the ‘liberation of work’ as opposed to its abolition.  

The subsequent historical confusion has been to counterpose the ‘true forms of the dictatorship’ (councils) to the emerging Bolshevik bureaucracy on the one hand (Dutch-German), or to hold up the ‘true content of communism’ to keep it from being tainted by the horrors of the USSR, on the other (Italian Left). But where did this bureaucracy and ‘degeneration’ of the Bolshevik party come from? The Endnotes line echoes the liberal bourgeois historian’s line through the 20th century; something in Lenin and the Bolsheviks ideology was errant. For liberals or some anarchists, the whole idea of ‘state led revolution’ is a mirage. For Endnotes, this line is implied in their rejection of ‘bringing the workers to power’ as another way to keep capitalism alive, since it’s only under capitalism that people become ‘workers’.

In reality, the Bolsheviks came to power in a country where most of the population were self-sufficient peasant producers. The Bolshevik party had almost no influence among the peasants in any positive fashion. They had very little means to regularly communicate their ideas with the peasantry, let alone a robust peasant membership which would propose and support effective Bolshevik policy in the countryside.

The alternative was war communism. Peasants have a material interest in capitalism, or at least in the liberal concept of private property which allows for petty proprietorship. They want their own land as the only rational, down-to-earth basis for the exploitation and maintenence of their families and other communal institutions. It’s a straightforwardly material interest. Because they had access to land, and had long hated the Tsarist imposition of taxes and requisitions, any Bolshevik policy to tax the countryside and use grain exports to raise money for capital goods was resisted as it undercut the livelihood of the peasantry. This was a real bind. During the civil war the Bolsheviks resorted to requisitioning grain via a military apparatus, which transformed the nature of their party and rule.

The reason for my taking this explanatory detour is to show that the subordination of the lofty socialist aims of the Russian revolution to the more practical need of economic development was not simply ideological; it was material as well. Perhaps fundamentally material.

Was there a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in the Russian Revolution? It’s arguable. The proletariat rose up in historically groundbreaking ways and went extremely far in places toward establishing its dictatorship; but, as betrayed by Lenin’s formulation for the ‘people’s revolution’ it was at its best a ‘democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants’. The hope of successfully subduing the peasant aspect of this, or the working class leading the peasantry, was wholly based on being able to offer them a buy-in to socialism, something an isolated and impoverished Russia could never do.

In any case, communization looks at the calamity of the Russian Revolution, and subsequent struggles and reacts by rejecting the dictatorship of the proletariat and posing in it’s place:

a conception of revolution as the immediate destruction of capitalist relations of production, or “communisation”.

As we shall see, the understanding of communization differed between different groups, but it essentially meant the application of communist measures within the revolution — as the condition of its survival and its principal weapon against capital. Any “period of transition” was seen as inherently counter-revolutionary, not just in so far as it entailed an alternative power structure which would resist “withering away” (c.f. anarchist critiques of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”), nor simply because it always seemed to leave unchallenged fundamental aspects of the relations of production, but because the very basis of workers’ power on which such a transition was to be erected was now seen to be fundamentally alien to the struggles themselves.”

The key here is the concept of the ‘immediate destruction of capitalist relations of production’ as the alternative to the ‘alien’ nature of power in the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is rejected along with the ‘old workers movement’ as a ploy by confused, cynical, or unreconstructed left-nationalists, pursuing economic development. Enter Mao’s version of the theory of permanent revolution:

“In the Maoist view, the process of modern economic development begins with the seizure of state power, is followed by the transformation of social relationships and the latter in turn opens the way for the development of the productive forces.”


“What is affirmed is that changes in the ‘superstructure’ – in social relationships, political forms, and ideological consciousness – must be accomplished as quickly as possible, ‘one after another,’ if the goals of the revolution are to be achieved.”

Sound familiar? Noteworthy here is that China was more backward than Russia. It was less developed and more dominated by the peasantry. Where in Russia, socialist aims were subordinated to the necessity of national economic development, in China economic development had been the call from day one. Wherein Russia the struggle was between competing ideas about developing the forces of production (with Stalin’s war on the peasantry winning out), in China the question, at least posed by Mao, was how to change social relations of production in order to continue and accelerate the development of the level of technology. What’s more, it was manifestly a compromise with capitalism, in spite of Mao’s pretensions to the contrary, best summarized in the theory of the Bloc of Four Classes.

The Great Leap forward sought to industrialize the country, in a bid to overtake Britain’s industrial capacity, relying primarily on the given level of technology and the revolutionary consciousness of the peasants, and their disastrous reorganization into ‘communes’:

“[The Great Leap] conveyed the expectation of a qualitative transformation of social relationships, as well as the expectation of a ‘leap’ in economic development. In the Maoist mentality, the pursuit of communist social and ideological goals was inextricably intertwined with the goal of rapidly developing the material forces of production – and the former was seen as the precondition for the proper development of the latter.”

But the immediate centralization of millions of peasants coupled with utopian leaps into cottage heavy and light industry, lead to severe complications and exacerbated famine conditions that came the following years.

This core component of classical Marxism, that capitalism is what develops the means of production as a precondition for socialism, is jettisoned here, and partly also by communization. The fundamental Marxian theory is that a given level of technological and social development corresponds with a particular mode of production. There is of course pliability between the forces and relations of production in a given epoch, and in any national context a close analysis of the level of technology and the nature of production and distribution would have to be made. But what’s important is a recognition that they condition and shape each other, and drastic measures in one field without action and awareness in the other guarantees disaster.

The irony here is that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the method by which humanity can overcome the conflict between relations and forces of production. It is this key which the communizers reject at their peril.

On it’s own goal with the issue, Endnotes’ write:

In publishing such “historical” texts we have no wish to encourage an interest in history per se, nor to revive an interest in the history of revolutions or of the workers’ movement. We hope that in considering the content of the struggles of the last century we will help to undermine the illusion that this is somehow “our” past, something to be protected or preserved. Marx’s dictum reminds us of the need to shed the dead weight of tradition. We would go so far as to say that with the exception of the recognition of the historical break that separates us from them, that we have nothing to learn from the failures of past revolutions — no need to replay them to discover their “errors” or distil their “truths” — for it would in any case be impossible to repeat them. In drawing the balance of this history, in taking it to be over, we are drawing a line that foregrounds the struggles of our own time.”

Endnotes points out communization’s ecstasy in line with this thinking, at the collapse of the ‘old workers’ movement’:

“Yet for many the crisis of the institutions of the workers’ movement in the 1970s showed that this purely capitalist function was itself coming into crisis, and workers would be able to shed the burden of this history. For Mouvement Communiste, Négation, Intervention Communiste, and others the breakdown of the old workers’ movement was something to be celebrated, not because the corrupt leadership of the workers’ organisations would no longer be able to restrain the autonomy of the masses, but because such a shift represented a transcendence of the historical function of the workers’ movement, a transcendence that would mark the reemergence of the communist movement, the “real movement which abolishes the present state of things”.”

This praise for the ‘spontaneous action’ of the working class free of ‘old workers’ movement ideology’ is actually close to Mao’s slogan ‘Poor and Blank’:

“Apart from their other characteristics, China’s 600 million people have two remarkable peculiarities; they are, first of all, poor, and secondly blank. That may seem like a bad thing, but it is really a good thing. Poor people want change, want to do things, want revolution. A clean sheet of paper has no blotches, and so the newest and most beautiful words can be written on it, the newest and most beautiful pictures can be painted on it.”

This is crystallized in the ‘communism as the real movement’ sloganeering which inverts the purpose of the phrase in the original passage:

“Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with communism. Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers – the utterly precarious position of labour – power on a mass scale cut off from capital or from even a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely temporarily deprived of work itself as a secure source of life – presupposes the world market through competition. The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a “world-historical” existence. World-historical existence of individuals means existence of individuals which is directly linked up with world history.
Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”

This ‘real movement’ is only possible at a given level of development of the productive forces and world intercourse. It’s the real movement of the world-historical proletariat, conscious of it’s purpose and aims. And what form does this take? Marx was not too far off from discovery; in 1852 in a much cited letter to Joseph Weydemeyer:

“… And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic activity of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production (historische Entwicklungsphasen der Production), (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat,[1] (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”

But if we’re not to simply bow to Marx’s authority, we can quickly run through the logic.
First, classes are bound up with the level of production. The technical means of organization by which humanity reproduces itself physically, correspond with social forms of organization – the antique, feudal/absolutist, and bourgeois states correspond with the slave, feudal, and capitalist modes of production. This is typically uncontroversial, so I’ll not go into the argument.

Second, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Here is murky territory. Just what is this dictatorship? For Marx and Engels it was inseparable from an extreme form of democracy for the working classes, that simultaneously excluded the bourgeoisie from power. Reflecting on the 1848 revolutions, and the older bourgeois revolutions, it’s clear that each mode of production, and especially each revolution, is characterized by a ‘party-state’ form of rule – where a class dominates the state power and excludes competing classes from power. The French revolution’s systematic reign of terror against the nobility on behalf of the bourgeoisie (and partly the artisanal proletariat) and perhaps the semi-dictatorship of the (bourgeois) Republicans in a civil war against the remaining slave-aristocracy in the U.S. south provide classic examples.

The communizers see in the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ the literal dictatorship of workers as workers, and then extend this to the continued existence of capitalism:

“Workers’ power was just the other side of the power of capital, the power of reproducing workers as workers; henceforth the only available revolutionary perspective would be the abolition of this reciprocal relation.”

To this we have an answer in the Paris Commune and I quote at length:

“The direct antithesis to the empire was the Commune. The cry of “social republic,” with which the February Revolution was ushered in by the Paris proletariat, did but express a vague aspiration after a republic that was not only to supercede the monarchical form of class rule, but class rule itself. The Commune was the positive form of that republic.

The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.

Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workman’s wage. The vested interests and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves. Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of the Central Government. Not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the state was laid into the hands of the Commune.”

The state power, that is the governing initiative of society, was placed in the hands of the working class via extreme republican democracy. And it is this general organization of the proletariat which is capable of taking hold of the means of production, when acting globally, in order to begin the historical era of human self-governance through the working out of the reorganization of the production process on that scale.

Certainly some of the relations of production will be transformed as a condition for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In bringing itself to power, the proletariat abolishes some of the conditions of its proletarian status. But it cannot abolish capitalism in one stroke. Universal housing, food, and healthcare, and a reduction of the working week seem like fundamental changes which will allow the working class to increase its participation in politics and engagement in solving the problems of continuous socialist reorganization and development of the means of production and a global standardization of living conditions.

Instead, communization proposes that we dutifully scribble down the spontaneous rebellions of the ‘poor and blank’ as they riot and refuse their way out of the conundrums posed by an increasingly complex and interdependent system of production, charting the auguries of the fateful day when communization becomes immanent, without organization, without transition, without power. And do what? Entreat the masses to commit suicide by voluntarily retreating to the countryside in a rejection of the logistics and transportation infrastructure we have established? This varies from Mao or Pol Pot in policy in a typically anarchist way; our retreat will be voluntary, not the at-gun-point, party driven, authoritarian ploy of Pol Pot! Communization has no answer aside from this illusory ‘move to communist relations immediately’ echoing Mao’s Great Leap Forward disaster. It’s worse, because where Mao had the benefit of bureaucrats and a measure of respect for productive forces to hem in against his illusions, the communizers have nothing but a Jim Jones fantasy of spontaneous mass ‘rejection’ of capitalism. What happens when we block the supply chains? In a week or two, the hospitals shut down, the sick die, the water becomes undrinkable.

Surely, this is hyperbole you say. Is it? What is the unplanned, unprogrammatic rejection of bourgeois life for the elderly? What is it for the disabled? Or even the mass of employed working class? Chaos, anarchy, etc. The simple rejection of capitalist society is not enough. Poor and blank indeed.  

Works Cited: Endnotes “Bring Out Your Dead”
Maurice Meisner’s “Mao’s China and After”
Marx “The Civil War in France”
Marx’s Letter to Weydemeyer, 1852
Marx and Engels “The German Ideology”  


5 thoughts on “Communization: Poor and Blank

  1. The whole method of this critique is problematic. In simply terms the dialectic poses nothing to be ‘wrong’, no insoluble opposites, but in every missed change or failed concept, an opening of ‘the real’. So, even if from your perspective communizers ‘are wrong’, none are ever simply that.

    Firstly you lump Endnotes in with a corpous of other anti-work folk, yet at the beginning of the article to which you refer Endnotes exactly critique the problems and limits with the Situationists etc. conception of the abolition of work. When you do note the rejection of work as a real phenomenon it gets explained as due to ‘a *prior* weakening of the defensive organizations of the class’; cause and consequence get confused. The rejection of work by workers weakens their traditional representatives who suffer rejection because they’re weak.

    You go onto say “most damningly, this distinction [liberation/abolition of work] was never made by the socialists of the Russian Revolution or Second International”, surely a crown of idealised thinking. Endnotes’ attempt is not to create from thin-air some reenergised argument for the ‘abolition of work’, to which you can then counterpose your arguments. That bolsheviks didn’t make this distinction would not, for Endnotes, be some weakness. In fact in the article they critique the whole of the communist movement, focusing on councilism, not from the perspective of ‘refusal to work’, but from the perspective of proletarians themselves who, in their struggles, have raised this refusal themselves since the 1960s. You want to idealise the Second International, transform it into some standard by which we can judge all others. The ideas of the second international were rooted precisely in their own time and the forms of struggle possible in their contexts, this is not a weakness but a strength, that can only become strength by recognising itself as that.

    Labour constitutes and is constituted by capital in an asymmetrical relation. As capital develops so does it transform labour and its relationship to itself. In holding out the labour pole as static, as if its forms and modes of struggle had been found long-ago and set-in-stone is to miss the dynamic of the whole relation, and ultimately leave capital also seemingly fixed and stationary. The class struggle just becomes an endless battle from the same positions with no end or logic. The cure for the decay of the present amounts to a resurrection of that same history from which we are decaying.

    A slug from reddit.

    “communization proposes that we dutifully scribble down the spontaneous rebellions of the ‘poor and blank’ as they riot and refuse their way out of the conundrums.” this is all there is. if there was something else it’d be talked about, and in the case of say the movement of squares, Endnotes did in issue 3.

    the whole article is on one-side a strawman, the Endnotes they’re critiquing is not some mission statement or strategy…but rather simply begins from our historical moment today, how for example would your analysis of the present differ? You criticise Endnotes for being abstract, but the revolution today is an abstract question, it isn’t abstract for the article but that’s only because it’s not present, and thus they counterpose 1917 as ‘material’ back into Endnotes ‘abstractions’. Communizers in general don’t have the answers for lots of stuff, but they are in the most posing the right questions. Leninists face the same question *because they are real*…why has there been essentially no class movements, no parties or programmes, no “rebellions” on the hallowed terms send down to us from the past? Even in an era of deep crisis. Ultimately these Leninists hide in the past, and it’s from there they critique Endnotes, as if that very approach didn’t automatically confirm their idealism. Any talk about forces and relations of production seems also misplaced to me, I don’t think Endnotes talk about that old formula, its essentially structuralist or analytical marxism expanded from a single passage from Marx.

    they’ve fallen into exactly the same hole as the rest. you don’t start from what exists but what you wish to, which doesn’t even gain the points of utopianism since you reach backwards. attacking spontaneity [which is both a misnomer and signals the authors distance from the struggle], throwing the old ways of doing and forms of revolution back upon Endnotes as if the same reality exists now, if they’d wanted to argue that point as materialists, look to the work process today or the workers identity etc. and see how their Leninist Revolution would take place…of course they’re a lot more comfortable talking about the 1917…since the unions and party and consciousness and revolution are absent today they flee from it, the present is just irrelevant or wrong, the problem and the solution to it are **exactly** the same, and back again into the words of dogma…with the predictable cough of Marx’s comments on the DOTP which neither a) say or clarify anything b) tended towards idealism, i.e. unable to think Marx as a Marxist, materially. The whole article is a monument to what was once called identity-thinking.


  2. So, communizers can’t be wrong? What is this besides a claim that I’m not ‘dialectical’ enough in my understanding?

    In the piece I highlight that the ‘old workers movement’ that Endnotes takes a singular and critical attitude toward was the very origin of the ‘abolition of work’ mentality, at least in part. This can be seen in LaFargue’s ‘the right to be lazy’ and the I.W.W.’s various cultural references to works abolition (Hallelujah I’m a Bum, Big Rock Candy Mountain, etc.). The point is to highlight that there wasn’t a significant (or at the very least endnotes do not go anywhere near far enough in showing) some political opposition between work’s abolition and the ‘liberation’ of work. At best, it’s a ‘just-so’ story which elides difficult details and draws out grand historical abstractions, without respect for the social and political struggles and ‘details’ from the point of view of history, which would treat a better understanding.

    The claim I made was that, contrary to Endnotes argument, the ‘spontaneous trend toward work abolition’ is neither new, nor ‘simply spontaneous’, i.e. present without organization. It is through education and practical experience in organizations, unions and parties, that workers become experienced enough to ‘take the initiative’ without the consent of the bureaucrats.

    ‘Refusal to work’ is a precisely a given in capitalist society. What is up for question is the nature of this expression. There is the ‘pre-political’ expression; punching your boss, quitting when the job get’s irritating, stealing, slacking off etc. There is the proto-political in the form of semi-organized sabotage and uproar, (this overwhelmingly relying on prior group experience by some of the participants), organized refusal (unions and strike actions) and ultimately *political refusal of work* i.e. the conquest of political power by the working class and the complete abolition of bourgeois social and political power.

    What I’m specifically critiquing is that endnotes take this ‘spontaneous’ (on the basis of capitalist social relations, regardless of how well unions and parties are organized) refusal of work as some indication of a new epoch or verification that parties/unions are no longer possible/ useful. I’m not convinced.

    I didn’t argue to draw whole cloth from the past. In fact in both the Russian and the Chinese case I revisited to point out limitations and failures. I bring up both to *compare and contrast* as they are, indeed, both revolutions which formed the major fault lines in the workers movement in the 20th century. It is ironic that my trying to deal with the history is treated as ‘idealistic and abstract’ but taking the ‘material conditions today’ on their face is considered taking ‘Marx as a materialist’. What was it that Marx pointed out about the surface phenomenon of bourgeois society? That the point is not to simply look at the immediate conditions at hand, but to understand both the social relations laying beneath them and, ultimately, the history of *class struggle* which had produced the point under investigation.

    Who’s a ‘Leninist’? Where is this ‘critique from the past’? On a certain level, it’s a criticism of their reading comprehension or less insultingly, their theoretical foundations. Thus, I take aim at their various fudging techniques of rejecting even investigating the political questions of the previous revolutions, deciding instead to take a very blunted ‘old workers movement’ as their jumping off point. I can’t critique them from the past; the refuse to acknowledge the past!

    The forces and relations of production are simply facts about reality. You can dispute that they are the best concepts for describing real phenomena, though it sort of implies that you might offer an alternative. I would certainly like to know on what basis endnotes can make the judgment that we live in an era of surplus population alongside surplus capital, while rejecting the forces/relations of production framework.

    What is ‘identity thinking’? Again, Endnotes makes claims about the past, mostly to slough off having to deal with it in any serious detail. Well, that’s come back to bite them in the ass in the form of lazy statements and an argument about the revolutionary process that is muddled and ridiculous as an actual political possibility. What I did was contest their vague claims about the past through series of examples. Unless people are able/willing to dispute my claims, I don’t see what ought to be changed about them.

    To reiterate one point- Let’s be perfectly clear; the basis for working class ‘spontaneity’ is *prior organizing experience*. Put more simply (dialectically you might prefer) there is a relationship between spontaneity and organization. This isn’t simply *temporal* but overlaid. The working class institutionalizes it’s own authority in the form of unions and parties. These then amplify and spread struggle and organization, training workers all the while in the practical aspects of class struggle. It is with these lessons, these experiences, that workers are then prepared to strike out on their own, when they see fit. Spontaneity is a phenomenon wholly linked to the organization of the class. It’s little wonder that without political parties and unions, the form of ‘spontaneous uprising’ has increasingly taken the form of disorganized riots, and not wildcats or proto-political general strikes etc.


    • 1. the question is not about communization. the theory we’re discussing is shared by others. if your real aim was communizers I’m not quite sure why you began with this article from Endnotes which is irrelevant on that front. If you want that object as your critique at least start with ‘Communization and its Discontent’ or something from riff-raff et al.

      2. you mention historical abstraction etc., and I’m not totally unsympathetic to you on Endnotes here. But again, the article you refer to is an introduction to a set of debates within the communist left, an abstract debate over ‘the revolution’. If you wanted to critique Endnotes’ historical abstractions seriously, then they laid out exactly that in the newest edition! [4]

      3. Where do Endnotes pose the heteronomous relationship of organisation to spontaneity you suggest? Both organisation and spontaneity tend to be misnomers that act as mystifying identity-thinking categories in which ‘good’ and ‘bad’ actions of the class can be slotted [as you did with riots vs. strike]. The notion of ‘refusal of work’ may have existed long-before, but that’s hardly the issue, the issue, is to explain why refusal of work became the dominant mode of class struggle [in all the political or political series you mention?] in a particular era. In an era not famous for the weakness of unions and parties, but their strength.

      4. perhaps we should start from appearances: the perspective of revolution embodied by nearly all revolutionaries in the 20thC. was one where taking over the factory or workplaces was both the means and end of revolution. The notion was always ‘capturing’, ‘taking over’, for all tendencies. What were the material premises for such a notion to be possible in that era? Obviously a relation to work in which it could be ‘taken’ over, which is also necessarily taking it *from* capital. The struggle was thus formulated as a fight between capital and labour over power, over space, rather than seeing that space and power as itself capital. The problem was defined for labour externally, it was outside of work and its processes. Now the Endnotes 1 you reference is a debate over the historicity of the opposition to this notion from workers.

      5. as for forces and relations of production, its very unhelpful to judge the actual specificity of our moment, from tech workers of silicon valley to the shanzai of shenzen, and thus the patterns of class struggle that emerge from them. It’s a meta-meta theoretical abstraction on the stages of human civilisation which cannot help be as reductive for thought as the term ‘capitalism’, which tends always towards idealism in making a monolith out of the last 300 odd years.


      • 1. I chose their preface because it is a brief summary of their understanding of the ‘communization’ tradition and it’s positives and negatives. Their own beliefs (especially the ‘old workers movement’ surely the clearest expression of ‘identity thinking’ in this whole discussion!) are here as well as elsewhere. I certainly could have made a thorough study of Dauve, TC, Endnotes, and written (as others have criticized me for not doing) an historical monograph on the ‘History of Communization Theory: In Ideas and Action’. But this is a blog. Perhaps my scope is a little narrow here, but all the more why I chose an article meant to sum up the milieu.

        2. Their latest is but a slightly more thorough recapitulation and does very little to justify the ‘old workers movement’ violent abstraction. There is but more ferocious rejection of politics and history; their exploitation of the pliability of the marxist method; historical regression isn’t a logical contradiction of the tendency toward historical development, not anymore than the various climbs and dips on the way up a mountain are a refutation of the absolute increase in elevation. They attempt to use Marx’s notes on the Mir (uncritically) as a refutation of the ‘stageist theory of history’ a plague that is assumed to have blinded ‘the old workers movement’, with extremely little justification.

        3. With respect comrade, I didn’t pose the ‘types of refusal’ as good or bad, but into levels corresponding to degree of organization/institutionalization and political nature; i.e. the degree to which the actors direct themselves to demands on the totally social or at the level of politics and the state. My argument is that, contrary to many anti-union leftists, we have not entered a period where the technical division of labor within the communist movement has been overcome. My point was that ‘refusal of work’ has been a reality since humanity has divided itself into classes *at all* and that the particular forms of this refusal correspond with the organization and development of the class. A strike implies the conscious withdrawl of labor power for a particular end which has as a condition at least *some marginal* understanding of the nature of work in our society and why a strike would be chosen as a weapon.

        4. Frankly, I’m not sure what this means. Capital as space? Certainly bourgeois economics forces itself to define capital as things (and people!) at times, but in reality capital is the social relation between component classes; capital is the form that the surplus labor in our society takes in the hands of *capitalists*. That is, that machines and labor brought together in each enterprise in a given form is the result of the social and political monopoly held by capitalists over the productive potential in society, as opposed to the collective planning of production. The point I would like to draw out is that the *bureaucrats* in capitalist society *do serve socially useful functions*. In fact, bureaucracy precedes the capitalist mode of production, and ought to be seen as a form of labor, or a subset of a class, nevertheless crucial for the general level of social development as evidenced by their functions in the Russian and Chinese (and countless other communist and non-communist revolutions and coups in the 20th century). The task of the communist movement is generally to bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat, the political rule of the working class in society. That means the subjugation of the interests of all other classes, or their exclusion from political power. But the working class has to contend from day one with it’s own limited time-off and lack of bureaucratic and professional training with respect to it’s own organization. This is the initial place where the working class acquires experience with subjugating the interests of bureaucrats as a class, within it’s own union and party organizations. As with any other field of class struggle, it is no simple formula or technique, but the crucial task remains. The 20th century could largely be seen as the various triumphs of capitalist class in general, at sloughing off feudal and absolutist social relations, and subjugating the working class through the effective organization of the bureaucrats *toward them*. The colorless and static ‘spontaneity vs. organization’ debate repeated ad nausem in the communization, and trotskyist- and anarcho-syndicalist milieus is largely a result of refusing to treat this question.

        5. How is it useless? Relations of production correspond largely to the social relations of capitalist society; the wage relation and so on. The forces of production correspond to the technical organization of the production process. That the two are closely linked is perhaps one of the most fundamental tenants of a materialist understanding of society (and component part of Marxism). Maybe we could clarify the categories or use other more precise ones, but I’m not sure I understand why the reference to adulterated products or labor intensive/skilled industrial inputs (neither new) are refutations of this dichotomy.


  3. Pingback: Communist Reading List (Ultra-Left) – Eden Sauvage

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