Fire to the Commons

[this is a long version of a text, from which a shorter version in the forthcoming Autonomedia communization volume is drawn.  Caveat emptor: this is a bit "drier" (i.e. more Camatte and Marx citations, more grammatically correct sentences)  than much of what appears here, although, as you'll see, the rot-heat rising from a corpse means that it's ultimately a shift in prose, not in thought.]

 
            There is a medieval community, a small village on a lord's estate.  It's announced by the lord that there is a coming danger – an invading horde, the armies of another estate –  that will ruin all of their livelihoods.  The lord calls them to arms, to put down their plows and pick up swords, as it were.  Those in the community agree that such a threat could ruin them, and even though some recognize the lord's interest is not in their well-being but in the protection of his assets, they get that not fighting will lead to the destruction of their community and resources, individual belongings and things used by all alike.  They therefore become militants: that is, not professional soldiers, but coming together as an army of sorts, an exceptional measure to deal with an exceptional threat.  And they leave to head off this invasion rather than wait for the battle on their own land.  They fight battles, many of them die, but ultimately, the invading army pulls back. When the militants return to their village, they find it in flames.  It has been laid to waste by another threat when they were off fighting the battle to which their lord had directed them.  Everything is wrecked.  At the center of the village, one of the only things that remains standing is the unburnable communal oven, now charred both inside and out.  Whether or not the cooking fire within had been kept going seems unimportant. 
             The topic of this essay is that oven.  More than that, it has to do with the connection between that oven as “common” to its users and that fighting mass as an assembly of those with something “in common.”  It has to do with the mode of relation designated as common.  We could change the story such that the villagers are not responding to the injunction of a lord to defend but are leaving their world (their everyday circuits, locales, and patterns) to mount an insurrection, to do away with their lord, to make civil war.[1]  However, distinct as it seems,  it changes little in this case.  For the question is: do common things, having things in common, and what is common amongst us have to do with communism?
            The bigger change is that we are speaking of the social and material relations of capital: there has long been no village to which we might return.  As such, the story is both an imprecise allegory for the contradictions of the present and a marker of a mode of life and “cause” for struggle that seem definitively bygone.  Yet there is a tendency, recurring across the spectrum of communist writing, and particularly in positions often seen as aligned to those at stake in this volume, to relate to such a lost commons[2] or “being in common” in one of three ways:

1)    We have lost our commons and our common essence, and communism is the return to what has been left behind: it is an overcoming of the present in the name of this betrayed unity.
2)    There are older vestiges of the commons, often material resources such as water, that persist, against capital's attempts to privatize/expropriate/enclose them, and one of our tasks is to defend them.  Related argument: capital has generated – or there have generated in spite of capital – new commons, often electronic resources, and one of our tasks is to defend them, “proliferate” their use, and encourage the spread of the form of the common.
3)    The elaboration of communism – the infamous how of “transition,” the question of communist measures as neither means nor end but as the material negation of the social relations of capital, and therefore as the practice and substance of communism – is a “making common”: acts of sharing, including reappropriation from the ownership of one into the ownership of all (or, in better formations, the ownership of none), are the acts that produce or reveal what is common across singularities.
I do not, as such, disagree with any of these in full.[3]  Rather, my targets at hand are:
-       the thought  of return
-      the thought that acts of “making common,” outside of a scenario of economic and political upheaval, are capable of significantly accelerating a movement toward – or of – communism
-      the thought that “the commons” constitute a rupture in the reproduction and circulation of value (that is, that they are disruptive or “unthinkable” for capital)
-      most importantly, the idea that communism has to do with what we have in common with each other[4]
  
My rejection of these comes from a conviction that communism – the reversal, inversion, and full elaboration of capital's contradictions – doesn't begin with what capital hasn't quite gotten around to colonizing.  Such a search for pockets, remnants of the past or degraded kernels of the present to be exploded outward, too often becomes a nostalgia, a holding pattern, or, worse, a conception of communism as the project of unfolding a category of capital, rather than the development of the contradiction of that category.  For capital is a relation, and it is the relation between that which is capital and that which could be capitalIn this way, capital is always a mode of reproduction and exclusion: surplus-value is produced by living labor, but the social relations that enable, insist upon, and are bolstered by the material consequences of production and circulation are never made “for the first time.” Class indexes only this relation of capital and what could be, even as it's composed on the fact of what cannot be capital, that growing mass of surplus labor power that cannot be incorporated so as to make use of its potential surplus labor, and of what can no longer enter circulation, from decimated resources to overproduction's unrecuperable goods and dead factories.  Such a threat is, for capital, at best a corrective.  At worst, it is what it necessarily brings about yet cannot manage.  However, the crucial point is that even that which can't be capital isn’t so because of an essence or property of its own, because of a fundamentally “uncapitalizable” content: if it had anything so unique, capital would be sure to find a way to make use of it.  It is what simply doesn't compute in this relation, the material of the contradiction thrown to the side, the slag of the dialectic, what Adorno would call the “non-identical.”  And it is the basis of the thoughts here.

            As such, this title is more than a provocation, though that it is.[6]  It's intended to capture a sequence of moves.  It is, first, a description of what is the case, what has been happening for centuries: capital gives fire to the commons, lets them remain a bounded zone with the hope that it generates new sparks outside of “market forces” and that such dynamism can be made profitable, or it burns them clear and begins laying other groundwork.  It is also a gesture toward the sense of an active, changing, sparking “commons” rather than a dwindling reserve (as in, give fire to the commons, for they have long been banal).  Lastly, it's an injunction for the real movement of communism (fire to the commons, that loathsome exception, and on to the messy, difficult fact of figuring out how to live beyond the category!). It's the last that deserves initial clarification, as I'm not questioning the force of thought or deed of groups such as the Diggers or Levelers, the necessity of struggles over access to land and water, or the ways in which histories from below have brought forth constant battles.[7] 
            Rather, my drive is to trouble the concept of the common itself, as it is the drive of communism not to “develop new social relations” but to dissolve this society, and its open enclosures and well-spring of phantom commonness,  as such.  It's on these terms that I turn to a particular corner of left communist thought, grouped around Amadeo Bordiga and those who drew from him, however “dissidently,” including my concern here, the work of Jacques Camatte and others associated with Invariance.  In particular, it is Camatte's major work Capital and community: the results of the immediate process of production and the economic work of Marx[8] on which I’ll focus, along with a set of loose theses on form, content, and banality, on “time's carcass” and nothing in common, and, finally, on transition at once necessary and unable to articulate where it's going.

 [Hugo Gellert on circulation]

            Capital and community begins with an extended reconstruction of aspects of Marx's project, particularly the “autonomization of exchange-value,” circulation, the relation between dead and living labor, real and formal subsumption, and a special emphasis on an interpretation of capital as “value in process.”   However, it is the set of historical and anthropological[9] conclusions gathered in the second half that concern us, particularly the exploration of how class is no longer coherent the way it had been figured by major lineages of Marxism.[10]  Such is the consequence not of a perspectival shift from Marxism but of an historically situated Marxist claim as to the fully transformative effects of the increasing “autonomisation” of capital.  Such a claim is present in Bordiga's work as well, particularly in the discussion of the “universal class” and the senza riserve (the without-reserves) that Camatte incorporates.  But it's also close to a disparate set of theses, ranging from the 70’s work of Italian Marxists on “social capital” (most pointedly in Negri's 1978 lectures on the Grundrisse, gathered in English as Marx Beyond Marx) to theories of proletarianization, not just in terms of Debord's point about "the extension of the logic of factory labor to a large sector of services and intellectual professions” but a wider-sweeping claim about the dissolution and dissemination of a previously distinct category of proletarian experience and identity.[11]

            One of the major questions posed by Capital and community - a question that remains arguably the dominant research of left and ulta-left communist thought, in all its different stripes - is the relation between the “defeat of the proletariat” (i.e. the successive collapses of revolutionary movements in the 20th century) and the recomposition, or “negation”, of a previous order of class differentiation. For Camatte,
the attempt to negate classes would have had no chance of success if there had not been another cause for its birth: the defeat of the world proletariat in the period 1926-28.  Mystification means power of capital plus the defeat of the proletariat.  Present-day society lives from a momentarily defeated revolution.
Excluding for the moment a longer discussion of causality and counter-factual possibility (might that defeat have not been?), consider this sense of a double “defeat”: first, of a concrete, however discontinuous and heterogeneous, political program of the proletariat, and second, of the particular coherency of the working class as an entity unified, or capable of coming together, by having something in common, namely, a common relationship to capital.  In another sense, this might be understood as a story of decomposition, for the “mystification” is not of the simple order of ideological inversion.  Rather, it is about a dissipation of energy, a diffusion of antagonism, away from historical worker's parties into an increasingly jumbled set of alliances, temporary associations, and positions, a double consequence of that real historical defeat and a transition in the organization of capital.
            However, this should be taken as a particular element, and phase, of the wider trajectory sketched by Camatte, that of the loss of the ancient (and subsequently medieval, in his account) community (Gemeinswesen), the subsequent slow emergence of the “material community” of capital, and the task of the development of the “human community” of the real domination of communism.  As such, it is a story of loss and supplantation, of what has been materially, not just ideologically, displaced in the shift from communities exchanging as a whole to individuals as the arbiters – and, as laborers, the “content” – of exchange.         

The shift described is two-fold.  First, from communities that exchange as communities (i.e. there is potentially exchange between communities) to the introduction of exchange into those communities (between individuals) and the development of a diffuse community of exchange.  Second, the developing “autonomization” of exchange, in the money form, begins to generate an “outside” external to the community’s relations that becomes the fully formed material community of capitalism, as value will come to subordinate property relations per se.  It is the runaway outcome of the generalization of exchange: “So exchange produces two results: the formation of money, the general equivalent that tends to autonomy; and the autonomization of a single relation.”  In other words, the general equivalent leads to the autonomy of money as increasingly unbound from its particular applications in discrete acts of exchange, and this produces the autonomization not of money as such (the “monetary community” as mid-stage in the domination of capital) but of the single relation.  This relation, however, is not a relation between distinct entities: it is the single relation of singular things becoming irrelevant, as it is the general form of equivalence – everything is in common with everything else – that forms the real abstraction of value.  This general process is what underpins Marx’s notion of money as the real community,[12] which Camatte extends as the “material community”, the further autonomisation of this double community (as general substance, i.e. medium and measure, and as external contingency) of money.  This constitutes the basic position of the proletariat, which

stands against capital which completes its domination by constituting itself into a material community.  The proletariat's power is created by capital itself.  Capital is the cause of its growth and unification, and it is also capital that creates the objective base of the new social form: communism. 

For this occasion, and this occasion alone, I'm not concerned with working through the  promises and consequences of his “political” conclusion: the political act that inaugurates the “formal domination of communism” and liberates this society toward the “end of politics” and development of a new human community (the “real domination of communism”), of which the party is a superstructural figuration.  Of more immediate interest is a note added in May 1972, following his theory of the formal domination of communism and, among other things, the proposition that in that period, “No more value, man is no longer ‘time’s carcass’” (emphasis mine).  The note begins:
 
The study of the formal domination of communism above is valid only for the period during which the communist revolution ought to take place on the basis of the formal domination of capital over society, and also, to a certain degree, for the transition period to real domination. But since the generalization of real domination world-wide (1945) this has been totally superseded.
This, then, is a calling into doubt of “transition programs” that might imply a new bureaucratic structure[13] and, more importantly, the scale of that anthropomorphic inversion of man and capital, the final evacuation of determinant differences that would let one speak of a human, under capital, that was “formally” dominated but not “really dominated” in full.  In short,  that retained a content that, however bent into and constrained by the forms of capital, was something else: a species being that was not mere instinct and biological trait, a content common and ready to be freed by the liberation of productive forces or liberation from production, to take two well-known variants.


            My stress on content is not accidental, as a survey back through Marxist thought, and especially left communist traditions, reveals the enormous and fraught conceptual weight invested in the opposition of form and content.  It would be a mistake to pass this off as a consequence of the rhetorical utility of such terms.  Running from debates about organizational form (for instance, critiques, such as Gilles Dauvé’s, of councilism as preserving capitalist “content” while swapping out the form of management) to the content of communism (and the degree to which it is positive and “transhistorical”), to take just two indicative examples, the problem of form/content obsesses and curses communist thought. In one of its many mobilizations in Camatte’s writing, we read in the “Conclusions” of Capital and community:

However, the dialectic does not remain empty in Marxism, its presupposition is not a material, but a social, fact. It is no longer a form which can have whatever content, but that this content, being, provides it with the form. The being is the proletariat, whose emancipation is that of humanity.

This is a relatively faithful account of how form and content function in the Marxian dialectic.  Following Hegel, for Marx, the active development of content gives forth to the form latent in it: form is neither an external abstraction that qualifies content nor is it a pre-existing structure of intelligibility.  It emerges from the particularity of the content.  Such a notion, and such a commitment to this model of form and content, is at the root of that critique of councilism mentioned, insofar as it grasps that to have “swapped the forms” does not alter the underlying capitalist content as such, does not allow the content of communism to develop a form adequate to itself, and, lastly, mistakes capital for a problem of form, as if due to a slippage between the value form and “forms of organization”.
            Briefly, I want to flesh out a notorious example to give a sense of how this conceptual opposition bears on “the common” and the degree to which we should speak of a “content of communism,” particularly insofar as that content has to do with the flourishing of the common.[14]  In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx writes, “Time is everything, man is nothing; he is, at the most, time's carcass.  This appears, initially, as just a conveniently catastrophic metaphor. However, we might read it in three ways.
1.     In the loosest interpretation, that takes it primarily as a ramped up modifer of the preceding sentence concerning how “one man during an hour is worth just as much as another man during an hour,” man is “time’s carcass” insofar as man’s specificity is killed, leaving man a carcass animated by value and made to labor, simply a unit of potential activity subordinated to labor time.
2.     If we recall the particularity of form and content in Marx, however, we approach a different perspective, a trajectory sketched in a single sentence.  The active development, via laboring of man as labor power (the content)[15] produces the material conditions for labor time (the form).  However, the perversity of capital is that this form does not remain adequate to its content.  It becomes divorced from it and increasingly autonomous.  But this is not the story of a form that simply takes leave from its originary content and “becomes everything,” simply dominant.  Rather, it comes to determine the content in a constant passage back and forth, to force it to accord with the development of that form: any opposition between form and content becomes increasingly incoherent.  As such, man is time’s carcass in that living labor power is valued only in accordance with its form: it is that form, fully developed into the general equivalence of value, alone which is of worth.  Man, the original source of that form, is a husk dominated by an abstraction with no single inventor.  Form fully reenters and occupies the content as if it were dead matter, incapable of generating further adequate forms.  And when it is productive to do so, time makes those bones dance.
3.     Man – or rather, the human as more than the common man of capital – is that which is born in the death of time.  It is the leftover of the collapse of capital, and it is the faint prospect, in the decomposition of the dominant social relation (the representation that mediates between labor power and labor time), of an existence that outlives capital. 

We are finally in a position to return back to the question of the common.



If one recognizes, as we must, that both the “human community” of communism and a denser form of older community life are fully displaced by the material community of capital, and, furthermore, that appeals to either seem unconvincing as scalable models of resistance capable of contesting the social relations of capital  [16], then the only thing common to us is our incorporation into that material community.  But this is not a deadening or a subtraction of what we once had: it is the construction and imposition of a common position, the production of a negative content in accordance with a universal form.  Camatte writes that,

The proletarian (what man has become) can no longer recognize himself in a human community, since it no longer exists[...]  Men who have become pure spirits can rediscover themselves in the capital form without content.

Without content, indeed, insofar as content is taken to be that from which form emerges.  But capital (as social relation) is nothing if not the generative collapse of a distinction between form and a content. The common becomes, then, the quality across individuals that is neither a form nor a content: it is the form of general equivalence taken as general content.  Marx points out that “The equivalent, by definition, is only the identity of value with itself.”[17]  The full subsumption of experience to the law of equivalence, accelerated all the more during a period of the “socialization of labor,” therefore produces with it a hollow identity that defines man, an echo chamber of value with itself.  Capital founds a negative anthropology, in that the subject common to it is the subject defined only by being potentially commensurable, as source of value, with all else that exists.  There is a double move described by Marx here:

Labor capacity has appropriated for itself only the subjective conditions of necessary labor - the means of subsistence for actively producing labor capacity, i.e. for its reproduction as mere labor capacity separated from the conditions of its realization - and it has posited these conditions themselves as things, values, which confront it in an alien, commanding personification.[18]

First, "labor capacity" (read: those who labor) only appropriates for itself "subjective conditions": the active work of appropriation, that marks a subject, takes on only the conditions that allow it to reproduce itself as mere labor capacity.  Second, even that paltry haul of subjective conditions are then posited, materially and perspectivally, as a set of hostile objects and conditions, a personification external to itself and no more.  If we have something in common, it is this very motion.  More bluntly, we have nothing in common, and not because we are atomized individuals.  No, what is common across us, the reserve of common ground to which those “without-reserves” could turn, the site on which the universal class begins,[19] is nothing but the rendering of all things as formally common to each other (belonging to none, able to be endlessly circulated and reproduced) and of ourselves as the grounding unit of that dissolution of particular content.  


            What, then, of those ovens?  Not of the common relation between us but the commons, the material things around which such relations are crystallized?  A first issue is raised above, in that common can, and often does, point not to the owned by all but rather to the potential exchange of all by all, the equivalence of what is rendered in common with everything else through the form of value and the medium and measure of money.   Of more interest is a point initially grounded on definitions and their histories.[20]  Rather, an etymology gives a way in.  Etymologies are not in themselves useful, and often denote a certain preciousness. That said, sometimes they help us say what we mean and remind us of what we have been saying in place of that.[21]
In casual speech, common runs alongside banal as its nobler cousin.  Everyday, popular, yes, but linked to a deep, rooted essence, a content that persists despite the accidents of form.  Banal has none of that.  It is gray ephemera, the stupidity of a fleeting present, what should and will be forgotten.  Quotidian, forgettable, known to all but of genuine interest to none.
            The word banal came into English from French, from the Old French banel, or “communal.”  But further back, in its 13th century usage, it comes from ban, which includes both the sense of legal control or decree and the payment for the use of a communal resource, like an oven.  In other words, the oven is not common.  It is banal, because it is owned by none of those who use it communally, but it is still beholden to the logic and relations of property.  It is a resource for the reproduction of a form of life and masquerades as an exception to that form, if any pretense would be made about its social use.

So too so much of what we claim as “the commons” today: they are simply banal.  They are those things still in circulation, even as we figure them as exceptions to the regime of accumulation and enclosure.  Capital has not, as some claim, rendered things common in the way that “new social relations” could allow us to transform the logic of the present into a basis for upheaval.  It has rendered all things common in that they are commensurable.  The other side of the nothing-in-common we have become is this pseudo-commons of the banal.  The point of communism is to develop contradictions, but this general acceleration of banality – the counterpart to the emiseration of entire populations and evisceration of resources, the tack taken by states who prefer to make social institutions “communal” again so as to dodge the bill of social welfare spending – is neither contradiction nor generative potential.  To take it as such is to simply gather around that last remaining oven, poking at its dull embers.


I have not yet spoken of communization, for the simple reason that I have not yet spoken of transition.  My concern has been how we understand the position  in which we find ourselves and how that relates to our discontinuous instances, to what might chain them together, to what forms of thought could aid that work.  This is a speculative venture, and I don’t pretend any “practical application” or anything so direct of my comments.  The notion of communization, as I understand its lineages and theoretical utility, means not that the transition to communism has already begun simply because the limits of a previous sequence of working class struggles are becoming unavoidable.  Nor does it mean that it can begin at our behest, through the development of practices of being in common and making common, through the commune as form and through doubled tactics of expropriation and sharing, the end result of which is a general withdrawal of singularities (bodies and commodities as stripped of exchange value) from circulation.  Rather, it is a theory that casts doubt on the notion of transition and that concerns what used to be called a revolutionary period.  I am not alone in severely doubting the degree to which, given the current geopolitical order, any notion of a “general revolution against capital” obtains.  Uprisings, revolts, and insurrections seem even less likely now than previously to be “about” value in any explicit way: if anything, a more precise theory should make sense of how the apparent, and real, content of historically determined struggles over democratic representation, outright repression of the populace, racism and patriarchy, food shortages, changes in pension and retirement law, denial of social services, real wages, and ecological catastrophe have already and will continue to run into an increasing set of deadlocks shaped by the limits of the material and social form of the reproduction of capital.  Despite this, one of the values of guarding a notion of “revolution” is that it marks a distinct sequence that exacerbates and explodes a set of given conditions and that cannot be produced ex nihilo by radical practices.  


If one of the deep contradictions of capital is the way in which it generates a cursed dialectic of form and content, such that the form dominates the content at the same time that it cannot be separated from it, the elaboration of communist thought and strategy is to inflect and impel this worsening contradiction. Not to pathetically cheer at the failure of “reformist” struggles and not to scour them in the hopes of finding the common element hidden in them, but to see in them the determined contours of the relations of capital, the demands placed on those bodies that work and die, the representations that bind together and mediate “the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.”  The vicious fact of it is that it simply is not our decision.  We choose a period of capital as much as we choose an earthquake.  Yet to make of this a principle, not of withdrawal but of holding on and forth: such would be a courage and a line worth taking.  To hate the ruined and the unruined alike, with neither fetish nor indifference, to know that we cannot make our time, but that it does not, and never will, unfold untouched.  Communization, then, is not an option we choose to take, but it is not an inevitability.  It is a situation that will present itself, given the limits of capital, and it is a situation that has no guarantee of “leading to communism.”  To say that such a state of affairs will come to pass is very different from saying how they will come to pass, how the necessary measures of what has no reserve left will happen, and what kind of resistance, physical and intellectual, they meet and for how long.  


The concept of invariance is an important one for the Bordigist tradition on which I’ve drawn, and it remains one today, though not in the sense of a transhistorical organizational form, a universal communist content, or unchanging line of attack and analysis.  Rather, I mean the invariance of this sort of principle, persisting across transformations, that refuses to look “elsewhere,” to a far past or future after capital, to ground any communist project and that insists that things will not unfold as we expect them to.  Between those material reversals and inversions of communization, we can expect only that there will be difficult losses and gains.  Not the quick falling away of forms of thought or the development of new relations as such, but a falling apart of what we’ve come to expect “resistance” to look like and the coming forth of what had no place before.  And moreover, a recognition that the processes of the decay and dismantling of social relations, and the world built in their image, can only be messy, contradictory, and frequently incoherent.
All the more reason for us to be rigorous, to keep clear heads, to build up the kind of analyses and practices that may be of use or necessity.   Because one cannot exclude from those infamous "objective conditions" all that constitutes the given terrain of a period, including an enormous set of "subjective" and "affective" conditions: words that have been in the air, that sense of things getting worse at work, home, and in the streets, successes and failures of struggles over wages, reproductive rights, and access to social services, the networks and connections built between comrades over years, attacks on minorities and immigrants, the skills and resources we have or take, the social habits of the rich, the trends of cultural production, and a learned familiarity of not knowing if a day will start and end in a world that feels remotely the same. It is the deadlocks, impasses, and cracks composed of all of this that are our concern.  For such a time of catastrophe breaks onto a shore that’s never a bare fact of economy.  We’re ground down and smoothed, sure, such that we become channels or levies designed to simply mitigate, but our thinking and fighting inflect that break all the same.  In this way, the intellectual and material practice of what could be called the Party is, at its best, a general angle of inflection.  It is an exertion of pressure that makes us capable of reading in the scattered field of breakdowns a correlation, a fraying pattern from which our modes cannot be separated.

For communism has no content, and it is not form.  It is decomposition.  It is the mass, committed, and uncertain undoing of the representations that mediate form and content, time and labor, value and property, and all the real relations that sustain between them.  It begins not outside, before, or after, but right there, with the absent content of having nothing in common.  It starts in times when a set of material limits show themselves as being unsurpassable other than by a practical appropriation of necessary goods and an accompanying rejection of social forms.  Such times do and will come, though not everywhere at once.  How it will go is hard to say.  But we should not forget that when bodies decompose and start to fall apart, they give off heat, loosing that energy bound up and frozen in its particular arrangement.  That carcass of time, the subject of equivalence, is one such shape, petrified as it may appear.  At the least, let’s stop coming back to the scorched village and the banal oven, stop blowing on its cold coals.  We gather around that corpse instead and warm our hands there, over the hot wind rising from the end of the common and the start of a slow thaw a long time coming.



[1] And for obvious reasons, this second version is more exciting to us, at least affectively: it joins that broken red thread of instances of revolt, a defense not of the dominant order but of an insistence on a possible quality and form of life, however degraded and ground down by the historical facts of that order.
[2] “The commons” may be understood as a material organization, point of condensation, and resource/support structure, of a community.
[3]  Other than any position that could utter phrases about the emancipatory potential of either YouTube or the sort of desperate networks of informal labor in slums: to affirm this is utter stupidity.
[4] As will become clear, I ultimately agree with this position, albeit from an entirely negative position.  That is, insofar as “having nothing in common” or a “common” relationship to the form of equivalence could count as something common across individuals and insofar as the undoing of exchange relations is understood as the process of communism.
[6]   Let me ward off at the pass: no, I don't think commons and prisons are equivalent.  Although they do stand as an obscene pair of collective sites, one “positive”, one brutal, that will both be torn down, one in thought, as a category to be dismantled as “private” no longer obtains, one in material, brick-by-brick consequence of freeing comrades jailed along the way.
[7] If anything, one of the benefits accrued from the material gathered around the idea of the commons (less around “in common”) is a real sense of just how rarely attempted secessions from, exceptions to, and lashings back against capital have taken a form we recognize as such, how the wage is only one part of it, and how, given increasingly unmistakable ecological constraints, these other elements seem likely rise all the more to the fore in years to come.  And these are important not just as potential moments of explosion, when the gap between the demands that can be ventured and the capacity of capital to answer those demands becomes unbridgeable.  In short, such struggles are critical because they get what this is about: not representation, not democracy, but real material concerns, and a sense that, at the end of the day, our relations are necessarily founded upon how we relate to needs and goods, shelter, subsistence, the passage of time and pleasure.
[8] Original title in French is Capital et Gemeinswesen.  English translation by David Brown, from which passages are drawn, is available online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/camatte/capcom/index.htm
[9] “Anthropological” in the older sense of the term, not as a particular discipline, but as the concern of works such as Kant’s Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View.
[10] Given that his later work disavows much of the Marxist tradition and shares elements of anarcho-primitivist thinking, largely at the knowing expense of a commitment to class as a determinant category, it would be tempting to see this work as either “before the fall”[10] or beholden to that later tendency.  And indeed, one finds a language of “mystification” and “domination” that seem to point toward a logic of civilizational critique, rather than attention to the contradictions of accumulation. The fact of it is more complicated, particularly when read alongside the post-scripts and restatements from 1972.
[11] Camatte’s definition of “proletarianization”, in the 1970 remarks to Capital and community, is simply “formation of those without reserves.”
[12] The well-known passage from Marx, which forms the basis of this investigation, is as follows:
Money thereby directly and simultaneously becomes the  real community [Gemeinwesen], since it is the general substance of survival for all, and at the same time the social product of all. But as we have seen, in money the community is at the same time a mere abstraction, a mere external, accidental thing for the individual, and at the same time merely a means for his satisfaction as an isolated individual.  (225-226; Grundrisse references throughout are from: Marx, Karl.  Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft).  Trans. Martin Nicolaus. New York: Penguin Books, 1973.)
“Accidental” is a crucial qualifier here, as we confront that which appears accidental and contingent, which need could have been or could have not been, yet which, as the general equivalent, becomes the general substance: it is literally necessary, insofar as it is the medium and measure in which what exists can take and maintain form.  In many ways, Camatte's text, and the real innovations of his work more broadly, is an extended elaboration of this, of what it means
for it to be the case that we have not just lost our pre-existing community.  Rather, have born ourselves into a total community, horrible in its double necessity and contingency.
[13] Additionally, it’s a point of contact with other thinkers of communization, or, at least, with the tenor of the debates between Théorie Communiste and Gilles Dauvé regarding the degree to which communization is a particular response to a distinct historical deadlock regarding the decline of “programmatism” or a revolutionary prospect recurrently betrayed.  Camatte’s shift from the emphasis on “formal domination” to what remains unspoken here (if that entire program laid out in the preceding pages no longer obtains in the same way, then what?) marks a similar recognition of the distinct shifts in the horizons of labor politics, determined (for Camatte) by the degree to which the material community of capital becomes entirely dominat, and the consequent horizons for the end of work.
[14] Note: in the discussion that follows and throughout the piece, I guard the specifically gendered term “man” that Marx and Camatte use.  This is done so in part for consistency with the texts I am discussing, but more seriously in order to mark a terminological distinction.  Namely, I use “man” to signal the discussion of a figure particular to capital and the history of its theorization (man as labor power and attendant potential “rights”), in which “man” stands in for a restricted notion of what counts as “our common essence,” with the particular pitfalls of essentializing and the dominant historical figuration of the worker (especially the revolutionary worker) as specifically male.  Conversely, I use “human” to describe a wider field of the species.  In other words, to say that “man is time’s carcass” is to speak specifically of the dominant notion of “man” and the material practices that aim to reduce the entire range of human experience to that restricted zone.
[15] Camatte himself, in Capital and community, points to a reading of labor power as the “real content of man”: “Democracy is comparison par excellence.  However, its standard is abstract man, while the real content of man – labor-power – enters into the economic movement.”
[16] That is, an appeal to the human community to come cannot, in my opinion, ground a general program of communism or a concrete sequence of communization.  Or rather, it does not add anything other than a potential distraction and a nasty tendency to discount the real terrains and limits of struggle as not “being communist enough.”  As for the limits of the relations of smaller communities as potentially antagonistic to capital, this is an issue of scale, not of quality as such.  Clearly, such bonds provide part of the real networks of knowledge and care that enable masses of people to attack the social relations and institutions of capital.  However, I do not think that they can constitute a threat as such to capital, if only because they have never gone away as such, and there is no necessary opposition between a community that “puts its interests first” and capital, provided that the community believe, as many do, that capital is the best option available for the organization of life.
[17] Marx Grundrisse 324
[18] ibid 452-435
[19] The “without reserves” (senza-riserve) and the universal class are Bordigist concepts employed by Camatte.  The former is juxtaposed to the mistaken notion of the “reserve army of labor” and functions as a way to understand the production of surplus populations with nothing to fall upon and which cannot be adequately “incorporated” by capital.  The universal class is an extension of this notion to include the “new middle classes” – those who are a representation of surplus value” – in a version of a proletarianization thesis.  As Camatte puts it, “The result of the total movement is the production of a universal class, a numerous proletariat, proletariat is the sense of the totality of men who have no reserves (old proletariat + new middle classes). It is a universal class as it forms the largest part of the population and 'because it cannot demand in a particular way, but only in a human way. It is the universal class Marx mentioned in The German Ideology. Capital does everything to prevent the unification of this class by tending to oppose the workers in work to those unemployed, foreign workers (real proletarians) to the integrated metropolitan proletarians (in both cases using racism), the new middle classes to the workers, finally preventing the students, who do not form a class, from playing a role as liaison between the new middle classes and the proletarians.”
[20] I’m not particularly interested in the glancing point that common is a term that exists in a conceptual pair with its opposite (common/singular, or, if we prefer, common [owned by non/all]/private [owned by one/some]) and therefore is a concept “of capital”, rather than of communism.  As far as I am concerned, there are no concepts of communism other than the elaboration of the contradictions of capital, and those contradictions include its conceptual binaries.
[21]   Such that class recalls Servius Tullius dividing the Roman populace into six orders of taxation: class as that which is a process, an action that puts into relation yet which produces the illusion of a coherent or natural identity between that which happens to fall into that category.  In short, a classification.  But it also bears out calare, to call, as in to call to arms, a naming that brings about not a static position from which wealth can be extracted but those who designated you as such in the first place but something that fights together.  In this way, class itself carries both its misuse and its promise, both the limits of the working class as a stuck end in itself, belonging to what it never chose in the first place, and a sense that even if you don't choose such a call, a cursed mass attack is still a mass attack.

2 comments:

Joshua said...

As is so often true, you have a way with steadying vast concepts here that I find humbling.

socialism and/or barbarism said...

Thanks. This piece is rather truncated based on the amount of notes behind it, so I'm glad there is a steadying.