If you happen to have a taste for researching esoteric technical subjects, the web naturally offers a cornucopia of material. Especially, it seems that many if not most of the PhD theses of the last thirty years are online. If find one of these theses interesting, you might be tempted to further Google the author. Naturally, you find some authors have a trajectory, winding up famous as professors or otherwise. A larger number have a shorter trajectory and many show few references beyond the initial thesis. As you would expect in capitalist academia, which sorts the masses from the celebrities in all of its competitive fields. Of course, academia is as steep a competitive “climb” as popular music or professional athletics.
But whatever approach a given young thinker might have had on a given problem naturally followed the trajectory of said thinkers’ career.
I’ve used the term “communist” to describe myself and a small group of similarly minded folks. While I’m happy with this term as a reference to the historical communist left, a tendency which arose against what most people think of a communism, I certainly understand that for the average person just wanting a quick summary of what we’re about, the term might give a wrong and even an opposite impression of what I’m aiming for. If only the goal mattered when I was talking about our small, informal tendency, then “anarchist” would be just as informative. But neither would be very informative for our average person wanting that quick summary.
And there we have the quandary. The dynamics of this society produce a situation where just about any label one comes up with is going to be distorted into something awful by the need of every active salesman to attach his product to any given term having a positive spin to it – look at how horrible almost everything that is today label “community” really is.
There is more to this situation, however. Our critique, put into a full sentence rather than a single word, is that this society involves reducing nearly everyone’s activity to labor-power to be sold and reducing each person’s condition to the point that they (very barely) satisfy their needs by buying commodities – the product(s) of this alienated labor process. This situation means that “we” are reduced to workers and consumers (often simultaneously). And the reduction to consumers part here means there is no real “we” in the sense of a collective power, a collective decision making ability. So, if we look at the “average person” trying to understand our theory, we’ll see an “idea consumer”, a person wanting a discreet, cut dried recipe for “change”. However, our aim, which naturally goes along with our critique, is not to create a small in this society but to reverse the dominant order. The reverse of this world would be a society where an empowered collective, a community-minus-the-bs-versions-of-so-called-communities, would be the way people met their needs and the project of nearly everyone in the society. Further, since the main problem is how do we get there, our answer is through something like a spark of collective power (a spark that would have to become conflagration, though the transformation seems fated to be unpredictable). And thus, the point where people are taking action to create such a new world is the point where they will begin to active collectively and will stop being workers and consumers, stopping looking to recipes to solve XYZ problem so they can go back to work or back to shopping.
We aim to engage people at the point of, on-the-verge-of, real collective empowerment. What we want to be a part of and inspiration from is this process. My speculation is that dialogue, explanation and provocation will almost go hand-in-hand here. Further, when activity begin, what will be most important for our discussions is that we lay out our ideas clearly and succinctly for those willing to make the study. However, we may have to wait till then for many people to be interested in doing that. We reconciled.
Me: I suppose that “being published” is a feather for very desperate caps too. XXX isn’t selective except politically and not much then. The thing about this, is, if these people using dodges to get published were like people talking about what lines to give the welfare office or unemployment to keep the checks coming, it would be cool.
But the academic racket is somewhat different.
Me: I’m joking and serious.
All the service industry has the question, what loyalty do you have to the racket? The question of purely quantitative versus qualitative exploitation seems large in the modern world.
At what point does the “ideological laborer” refuse their conditions of labor?
The modern production system incorporates a huge amount of people in labor whose ultimate aim is maintaining some combination of policing and propaganda – ideological labor. We expect that some portion of these folks will refuse their condition. How will we negotiate that process of refusal, which would pretty much have to involve at least biting the hand that feeds you?
Jaque Camette wrote
“Communism is not a new mode of production; it is the affirmation of a new community. It is a question of being, of life, if only because there is a fundamental displacement: from generated activity to the living being who produced it. Until now men and women have been alienated by this production. They will not gain mastery over production, but will create new relations among themselves which will determine an entirely different activity
Which is, uh, interesting. Camette was at one time a rather orthodox Bordigaist but went to create his own approach. The standard Marxian approach is that communism a mode of production and that more or less as humans exist they will produce themselves along with their material conditions. Now, what a statement like the quote above appealing to many people is that it disavows any connection between a world and present process of production with its factories, call-centers and shopping malls. And we-modern-communists certainly do not aim to self-manage this order or to build anything similar to the former Soviet Union.
At the same time, describing a communist society as involving only a return to a static community misses the way in which a communism community would involve a continuous process of self-transformation. A communist community will not be a static entity but a process of people consciously transforming their entire conditions of existence – we would not just satisfy our desires but understand and change the circumstances that give rise to our desires (a simplistic example would be creating a cuisine which could make healthy food also the most desirable food).
But this language question also relates to the question of how we communicate. What I would claim is our best communication strategy is to state our position literally and succinctly without “softening” it for one or another audience. It is appropriate to make our explanations shorter to be understanable but we shouldn’t worry too much about the sense of the terms we use since we will always offend someone. The thing is that modern ideology uses both the justification of scietism and the justification of touchy-feelly new age irrationalist mysticism. We should never pander to ideologies which say “how I feel is more important than any logical argument about subject X”.
Indeed, the present regime of alienate labour is quite able to extract and sell as a commodity, any fragment of human activity – and thus any pure quality separate from collective process of change. Thus this society can glorify mindless on one hand while making gestures of longing for the loss of a pure primitive community distinct from the real messiness that real communities.
This blog is put out by me, Red. A pseudonym but one that goes back at least twenty five years to the initial publication of my zine, Against Sleep And Nightmare.
I’ve been influenced by the Situationist International and various anti-state communist/left-communism/communization thinkers (especially Gilles Dauve).
The ideas of “The Communist Left” go back to those tendencies which broke from the Bolsheviks over the nature of the Soviet Union after 1917.
An important aspect of all these tendencies is seeing an entire arc, the entire trajectory of the struggle of dispossessed from the beginnings of an explicitly anti-capitalist, anti-wage-labor movement until the present day.
In the transformation of society that the dominance of capitalist relations has brought, one important change that has occurred is that people, working class, technocrat and capitalist all have more and more to consuming their ideas rather than gaining from an organized group. We in modern political milieus affiliate with different ideas rather than serving any kind of apprenticeship in an organized tendency. Thus the anarchist milieu is something of a model for other political milieu and also for the more sophisticated consumption milieus. So, with this process of evolution, low and behold, an anti-state communist milieu exists. I could describe our tendency, (not to be confused with what existed in the USSR), “modern communism”, as a so-far imaginary coalition of all those who refuse wage labor relations. One thing that needs to be added is that in comparison to other conceptions of struggle, we don’t claim to represent anyone, and we are doubtful of all those who claim to be authentic representatives of the struggle of the dispossessed in this era. I could say more but I believe framing a situation very simply also has value.
This blog is something like effort talk about what ideas we would-be revolutionary communists can put forward as well as, naturally, to encourage more rigor and discipline in our approach.
What can we say about realism?
Anarcho-Syndicalism has been a marginal force for the last fifty years. So have we anti-state/left communist. Anarcho-syndicalism can plausibly claim to have a plan they want to put into effect. The only thing is that we anti-state communists can claim is that we are reconciled to just working to be as effective a force as possible at historical moments when we are still a minority. That is, being a useful minority in moments when large scale revolt may be on the table but when large scale *organizing* is not. If you look struggles from the last, say, ten years, this might actually look more *realistic*. Who would have thought? Of course, either tendency has “a long way to go” to be effective even as minorities.
Everyone’s a cop
My response (written slightly from Facebook):
You are … uh … mistaken?
I think that there’s something of absolute gulf between two viewpoints.
- There’s the communist view where we coming together to create a new world and we only make the giant step of destroying the old world when we’re collectively together and can actually do this destroying. Until then, most people function neither a cops nor as revolutionaries but simply as “people coping”. This process of creating communism is thus not neither a program we agree nor is it everyone being good. Rather, it is a self-creating, self-expanding process of negotiation and empowerment.
- And there’s the moral/christian/whatever view that everyone has to immediate do the right thing right now or we’re all just equally fucked/evil. With this latter view, since we’re all evil, well we don’t really have a basis for coming together and destroying this “evil” world.
Today, only a minority of people are real, honest-to-God cops, honest-to-God, active-pernicious collaborator of the system, though some other less-than-everyone-proportion of people are naturally in gray areas. There’s another proportion of people who could become cops or could become anti-capitalist depending circumstances but for whom the die isn’t cast yet. Does the undesirable potential that you might find in someone make someone a cop right now? Well, not unless you want to believe in extra-cruel Calvinist God, meaning no.
Conclusion: So no, not so. Not everyone is a cop.
PS: this doesn’t mean the process is seeing who is a friend and who is an enemy will be easy. In the absolute zero of the present neoliberal ideal, everyone is merely a citizen, a clever, solitary beast responding to the stimuli of multiple markets. Of course, this ideal is lie. Class and class-solidarity may be low today but it certainly exists and moreover, it is fated to rise again in the present climate, kicking and screaming perhaps, but finally gathering enough strength to pull down the pillars of the present world without otherwise sharing the fate of Sampson, we would claim.
The paradoxes of Crisis:
I wish I could insert a more “radical” into this image – communism at work or something. But the story of Occupy Sandy is closer the text here; Occupy Sandy really does first show the “failure” of government and ability of ordinary people to step-in, organize themselves and maintain society – whatever society means. And there you have a quandary.
Everywhere you see the governments abandoning their people, people organizing themselves and governments saying “well that’s a good job folks, less spending and more profits for us.”
Along these same lines, it is natural that researcher in crowds and policing such as Dr. John Drury should be working to change the attitude of the traditional capitalist crisis manager from that of seeing the natural, popular crisis response as a being a chaotic crowd into a more flexible position of seeing the popular response as a healthy thing that merely need a bit of management:
For researchers, this is further evidence against already discredited theories such as ‘mass panic’. Theories of ‘mass panic’ suggest that exaggerated fear responses to danger spread easily through a crowd in a process of ‘contagion’, leading to rash, uncoordinated and ultimately dysfunctional behavioural outcomes, such as fighting for and blocking exits. Against this, current thinking on group processes suggests that group membership is not a source of pathology but a source of strength. Psychological group membership provides expectations of unity, offers of support and hence the organization and collective agency people need to respond effectively to adversity. The evidence from the 9-11 evacuation is in line with this account of group processes. John Drury, What do the events of 9-11 tell us?
Kinda bizarre phenomena, huh? We would put it that the crisis everywhere is a product of our fine capitalist system being so overdeveloped and so developed entirely for the purpose of feeding it own profit-hunger, that no longer can spare even the least morsel of us. If we put this situation in “Marxian Terms, ” we would see the decline rate of profit come because the mass of ostensible capital becomes too large to sustain the profits it is accustomed and must thus extract more surplus labor power from the population regardless of what the working appears able to give.
And moreover, that capital has become habituated to feeding its profit hunger on the results of crisis. Every moment of crisis where workers discover ways to survive and keep on working in the midst of craziness is a formula which can replicated across other parts of capitalist society. Technologies “enabling” mobility like cellular phones, laptop computers and the internet naturally connect into this but we can even see thing like the “live simply” ideologies of the American counter-culture tying into capital’s austerity on all fronts.
How should we-communist respond to this ongoing situation? I would claim that we can neither put simple “faith” in self-organization nor should simply dig a whole and wait communism appears. Self-organization for self-defense, however much managed by capitalism, is also an opportunity for some form of proletarian counter-attack. Certainly, while the US Occupy Movement was a management challenge for the state, it expanded far enough and quickly enough that our same unified policing authorities felt a need to suppress it.
The dissolution of meaning goes with all the other kinds of capitalist atomizations. It’s not the determining factor. That honor goes to the world work/commodity/investment system, ie capitalism. A thousand novelty writers can write a thousand schemes to put together some good thing that used to be but has now been dissolved into capital’s buzzing acid cloud of atomization. They will fair no better than the king and his men. However, this situation implies that as long as current conditions prevail, Jacobin Magazine and its ilk will not lack for drab, overstretched material.