Review of Communization and its Discontents

Review of Communization and its Discontents
Published in Anarchy: A Journal Of Desire Armed #74

Anthologies are always tricky. The job of an editor includes surveying the intellectual landscape for as much of a similar understanding of the topic as possible, then finding the right contributions from the right authors, and gathering them together in as coherent a manner as possible. This doesn’t always work out the way the editor or a publisher might want. Anthologies are always a mixed bag as well, with some contributions making more of an impression and others being totally forgettable. Part of the challenge with an anthology concerning trends in this particular intellectual radical theory is that there are some seriously divergent understandings and theorizing about this communization stuff, both from inside and outside the tendency. Much to Minor Compositions’ and Noys’ credit, the essays in this anthology span a wide range of opinions and assessments about communization, from unqualified excitement through qualified enthusiasm to qualified skepticism, if not dismissal.

In the past several years, everyone who is anyone in the world of academic radicalism – especially its Continental varieties, and perhaps more dramatically in its French manifestations – has had to have an opinion and a position on communization; it simply appeared to be that important. From the apocalyptic Marxist certainties of Théorie Communiste and Endnotes to the anarcho-nihilist prose poetry of the Invisible Committee, some species of communization has been all the rage.

I can’t pretend to understand all the intricacies of the Marxist end of the communization spectrum. “Real subsumption” (what one contributor defines as “the submergence of the entirety of society within a self-positing capitalism” [198]) remains as mysterious – as in mystical – to me as it was before I ever heard of it, and I don’t ever appreciate the use of Marxist jargon like “proletarian,” even if its use is only descriptive of a subordinate socio-economic condition under capitalism. The terminology of economism (regardless of whether or not it’s deployed in a class reductionist or determinist idiom) will always remain tainted by bureaucratic socialism, even if the rulers of the different varieties of People’s Republics never actually believed their own mythic ideologies, and no matter how many times more radical Marxists repeat that those Marxists were never real Marxists.

The bulk of the contributors appear to be academics, as befits any published assessment of communization theory. The Invisible Committee and Tiqqun, though discussed throughout, are notable for their absence, as befits their lack of academic credentials. If they had been asked, I believe they would not have wanted to be included in this anthology. Knowing several of the Accused of Tarnac (see my column in #72/73), I can say without fear of contradiction that they are neither academics nor Marxists, and quite adamantly refused to accept what one of the contributors to CiD said to them in person – namely that The Coming Insurrection and Introduction to Civil War are compatible with any sort of Marxist analysis.

One discussion, concerning Call, brings up one of the distinctions between the Marxist wing and the non-Marxist wing of communization. In “Reflections on the [sic] Call,” Leon de Mattis writes about the differing understandings of strategy.

Those who often designate themselves as alternative imagine that in places like the No Border camp at Strasbourg... in squats, or wherever else, moments can be lived which approximate a society liberated from capital, from money, and ‘domination’. And that all this can come from an effort of individuals to free themselves from ‘bad ideas’ that society has inculcated in them. For example, ceasing to be sexist or patriarchal through a series of measures which address behavior, language, etc. Certain of these alternatives are pacifist. Others think that their desires are not compatible with the maintenance of the society of capital and are perfectly ready for illegal or violent struggle. One also finds those who think that only the struggle offers today the possibility of living moments of communism: the alternative for them indissociable from anti-capitalist activism. The latter will often shrink from the appellation ‘alternative’ precisely because they fear being assimilated to pacifism. It’s in the last category that one could range those who write ‘No experience of communism at the present time can survive without getting organized, tying oneself to others, putting itself in crisis, waging war.’ (p. 65 [of Call]) At the other extreme a rigorously anti-alternative position can be found, for example, in Theorie Communiste (TC), whose concept of the ‘self-transformation of proletarians’ draws attention to the hiatus which can exist between what can be lived in the society of capital and what will be lived after the moment that communism will have been produced. This leads members of TC, and those who adhere to their theses, to see in every practical attempt to pose the communist question a demonstration of the inevitably ‘alternative’ character of every maneuver of this type. (70)

Yet there is something that doesn’t sit quite right in this. My understanding (which may be more comprehensive since, in direct consultation with one of those responsible for writing it, I made the best translation of Call) is that virtually all of the Invisible Committee/(post-)Tiqqun folks take as one of their starting points that there is no “outside” to the domination of capital, that whatever attempts are made to find these alleged alternative forms-of-life in the (temporarily) ignored interstices of that domination are only interesting insofar as they provide some space and time to allow for different ideas of relationships to develop and be played with; they are understood as imperfect and provisional beginnings, not as models of a post-revolutionary anti-hierarchical and value-free culture. A critique of what might be called communization in one temporary autonomous zone inheres in the broader analysis of there being no “outside.” Maya Gonzalez seems to grasp this, and the refusal of intermediary or transitional stages that characterizes communization:

Communization is not a revolutionary position. It is not a form of society we build after the revolution. It is not a tactic, a strategic perspective, an organization, or a plan. Communization describes a set of measures that we must take in the course of the class struggle if there is to be a revolution at all. Communization abolishes the capitalist mode of production, including wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor and private property. That the revolution must take this form is a necessary feature of class struggle today. (219; emphasis in original)

Further, because of the immediacy of communization, Gonzalez is adamant about the question of gender (and – if I can be so bold, given what she says at the end of the excerpt – all other forms of static Identity).

Gender, too, is constitutive of capital’s central contradiction, and so gender must be torn asunder in the process of revolution. We cannot wait until after the revolution for the gender question to be solved. Its relevance to our existence will not be transformed slowly – whether through planned obsolescence or playful deconstruction, whether as the equality of gender identities or their proliferation into a multitude of differences. On the contrary, in order to be revolution at all, communization must destroy gender in its very course, inaugurating relations between individuals defined in their singularity... The revolution as communization has no revolutionary subject, no affirmable identity – not the Worker, the Multitude, or the Precariat. The real basis of any such revolutionary identity has melted away. (219-220; emphasis in original)

Unfortunately, she almost immediately reverts to the (clever?) Hegelianism that characterizes virtually all forms of self-conscious Marxism. An at-first-glance irreconcilable contradiction becomes the basis for a dialectical resolution in the time-honored mechanism of algebraic semi-incomprehensibility:

Today, the revolution must emerge from the disunity of the proletariat, as the only process capable of overcoming that disunity. If revolutionary action does not immediately abolish all divisions between proletarians, then it is not revolutionary; it is not communization. (221; emphasis in original)

This could also be read simply as devotedly excited certainty, without any particular arrogance or intent of superiority. But perhaps not. Reading communization theory brings up once again the issue of the historical rivalry (punctuated by moments of grudging respect) between radical Marxists and the more interesting anarchist theorists and philosophers. Anarchists have almost always been concerned with more than economic exploitation and injustice, while even the most anti-authoritarian Marxists have retained their master’s focus on the alienation built in to capitalism, not paying much attention to the other – sometimes older – locations of class domination and hierarchical relations. That many Marxists – especially in the wake of the Bolshevik seizure of state power, the consolidation of Stalinism as the only legitimate manifestation of real existing socialism, and the various accommodations Party Communists have made with global capitalism – have come to accept many of the originally anarchist critiques of Marxism (perhaps through a diligent utilization of Marxist methodologies) is often bewildering to anarchists, who think that since these Marxists are using anarchist-sounding analyses, then they are just one step away from being anarchists themselves. Such anarchists don’t seem to understand that in order for Marxists to become something else, they must first decide not to be Marxists any longer... As Alexander R. Galloway explains the anarchic wing of communization, anarchists can easily recognize themselves:

From the student occupations at the New School, to the political tracts circulating through the University of California, to Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee and other groups, there is a new political posture today... The new mantra is: we have no demands. We don’t want political representation. We don’t want collective bargaining. We don’t want a seat at the table... We have no demands. The power behind the ‘no demands’ posture is precisely that it makes no claim about power at all. Instead it seeks to upend the power circuit entirely via political nonparticipation... (244-245; emphasis in original)

Yet even here, there remains a yearning on the part of many Marxist communization theorists to maintain the categories of refusal within the realm of political economy. Refusing representation could merely entail the long-standing anti-state communist rejection of labor unions without calling into question the practice of having mandated delegates at workers’ assemblies. And what are Marxists to make of the idea of “political nonparticipation”? Surely this just sounds like some hippies-heading-to-the-hills bullshit? But for anarchists, the question is always one of power and its diffusion (if not destruction), while for Marxists the question is always who wields it. It is this unresolved analytical question that sits at the base of the rivalry, which has not yet disappeared, and which is no closer to being resolved just because communization theory is so hot these days. CiD contains many moments reflective of this rivalry, but also of (if you will excuse the partial pun) commonality between radical Marxists and anti-ideological anarchists.

For those with an abiding interest in the allure of rigorous theory with an unmistakably academic Marxist lineage, CiD should be required reading. For those who remain skeptical of the ability of the more anarchic theoreticians to keep the terms of communization from becoming nothing much more than trendy Marxist jargon, there are several useful contributions, even if they are not written by anarchists. Having various critics and supporters of communization together in one volume makes for much easier understanding than trying to read the often turgid and incomprehensible TC or Endnotes without any background at all. While not all the contributors’ essays are jargon-free, for the most part they appear to be written with a broad readership in mind; for that, the editor is to be commended.

Communization and its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggles
Edited by Benjamin Noys (Minor Compositions, 2011)
280 pages, paper. $24.