On the transition to communism
Capitalist society as a total system
Kontra Klasa’s article begins very well, criticizing a quite unconvincing “thin conception of communism,” exemplified by the Leninist and councilist conceptions (“state capitalism made to serve the entire people” and “a communism where autonomous workplaces calculate ‘the labor-time absorbed in each product’ so each worker may have ‘their’ share,” respectively).
It then shows how most tendencies overlook capitalism as a total system — “i.e., a whole whose general character and laws of motion imbue every part with nothing accidental or extraneous.” This underestimation implies that:
Capitalism is portrayed as impotent and incoherent, a pale shadow which can coexist alongside incipient socialism and slowly give way to it, and whose parts can be isolated and instrumentalized by the transitional, or even the communist society.
But, since capitalism is a total system, it therefore follows that:
From wage labor to parliamentary politics, every aspect of capitalist society is capitalist, and remains such when it is translated into an ambiguous situation. This, as well as the immense pressures of near-universal support for capitalism and the sheer social inertia acting in its favor, means that any ambiguous or transitional situation will eventually be resolved in a capitalist manner.
And the argument concludes very well, posing the crucial question of revolution:
The only remaining hope for the species is thus that a consciously-inflicted, sufficiently severe, and rapid blow struck against exchange society would be capable of [exiting a total system].
But… a territory?
The crucial question is clearly stated. Nevertheless, from this point on, the article inexplicably seems to forget its basic implications and assumes the strange presupposition that the world revolution will be a process of territorial conquests:
In those territories isolated from the rest of the globe, there can be no question of anything short of immediately imposing communism. Such areas no longer exist, though, apart from North Sentinel Island and a few patches of the Amazon which have as of yet not received the blessings of modern civilization. Everywhere else, crucial production processes, including the ones necessary for the provision of food, shelter, medicine, and infrastructure, require inputs that come from outside of the area in question. In all but the most exceptional circumstances, these inputs will have to be traded for.
Thus, the revolution is seen as territorial conquest, and a territory is compelled to exchange commodities with the outside. This is because such territory is deprived of the necessary materials that are in the rest of the world. But, in fact, this deprivation defines it exactly as a new private property.
What the article seems to overlook is that every private property is necessarily a interested party in the universal competition (military, commercial, industrial…) because it is obliged to be able to advantageously exchange commodities against other private properties (enterprises or states), otherwise it will not even be able to trade and thus not even be able to survive due to the lack of necessary materials (thus subjugating the population to a paranoid and lethal rule). This competition for trying to impose that others buy from the territory as expensive as possible and that others sell to territory as cheaply as possible can only be realized as competition for imposing on the proletariat the maximum domination and exploitation, directly or indirectly, both inside and outside the territory.1 It is a material dynamic that imposes itself independently of will, ideas, consciousness, plans or organizational forms (all these are fated to become simply new ideologies to mask and justify exploitation).
But the article continues in the mistaken premise of territorial private property as the founding basis of the revolution and suggests the possibility of a short period when this exchange of goods with the outside takes place without production for sale, through an “extractive approach” (“the sale of existing objects and more abstract goods,” e.g. luxury items, expensive cultural objects, intellectual property, money, and savings accounts). And it points out that sooner or later it will be necessary to produce commodities to trade with the foreign territories.
However, it says that although there is production of goods to sell abroad, within the territory “there is no reason why production and distribution should not, immediately, be organized so that a scientific social plan based on human need regulates both.” This “planned system of provisioning” is then presented as if it were synonymous with communism, “albeit deformed by the necessity of participating in the world market.”
The fact that there is no exchange of commodities within this territorial property does not mean anything intrinsically communist, since every private property and every company works in this way in its interior. It is by a “planned system of provisioning” that the administrative bureaucracy and the bosses manage the internal functioning of each company. Even if the official stated intention is to satisfy human needs — and there is no shortage of companies and states which advertise that their goal is not profit, but satisfy needs — the only way to satisfy those needs in a territorial private property is to submit to competition for exchanging advantageously in the world market, as we have seen.
Territorial consolidation and counterrevolution
The article does not seem to grasp that if a revolution establishes itself as a consolidated particular territory and tries to reproduce itself, as the stocks of goods run out and consequently the exchange of commodities with exterior territories becomes obligatory for its reproduction, it surrenders immediately to the counter-revolution. The new power established in the territory is materially forced to resort to repression, domination and exploitation of the proletariat so that the commodities it produces place it at least on the same level as the competitors, i.e., to compete, as others do, to absorb and accumulate the maximum value, the maximum direct or indirect imposition of surplus labor on workers, both of the rest of the world and within the territorial property.
The article hopes that this will be circumvented as this territorial administrative private property expands to more territories: “Needless to say, these distortions will not be insignificant. But as the revolutionary zone expands and brings more resources under its direct administrative control they will become less significant, until they cease to exist altogether with the fall of the last holdouts of capitalism.”
But since the territory is reproduced from the outset by repression and exploitation because of the need to exchange advantageously with the outside, it is difficult to imagine any way in which the administrators of the territory can be disinterested in the material dynamic of the private property that had already started to form their interests as personifications of capital. Only if we were idealists, only if we had some faith in a superhuman power of willpower (or in the sacred force of ideas and doctrines…) we could believe that this expansion of territory could be revolutionary or communist.
Necessarily, labor will not even have been abolished in this territory: “One of two things will be true: either the choice [for each individual] of whether to labor and, if so, in what capacity, will be a personal prerogative, or else individuals will have to fulfill a labor obligation, imposed as much as possible on all available members of society equally. In the latter case, the compulsion will be open and direct.”
According to the article, a direct, open compulsion to work would be preferable to indirect market compulsion because, as if by some miracle (and contrary to all known history), “it is a sharp pain, which disappears quickly.” As if the private property within that territory could change, deciding at will not to “represent constant psychological and organic stress” (which is attributed by article exclusively to the competition and market compulsion within a territory).
After this, the article again confuses communism (i.e., “members of the society in transition access to goods regardless whether or how much they labor”) with a form of administration of the distribution of goods and management of the labor in that territory: “Production will be planned, in mostly material terms — the production of so many tons of wheat necessitates the production of so many tons of fertilizer, water, etc. — by a ‘central’ organ of society, that is, one whose full range of competence coincides with the entire territory under the communist dictatorship.”
This is not necessarily communism since it is not impossible for a private territory to be so far ahead in global competition (e.g., exporting “high-value-added products”) that it is able to outsource the exploitation of workers to the other territories as well as the costs of controlling/repressing them (even if it solves within the territory the problem of the “stratum of specialists setting itself up as a privileged caste”). Taking this hypo-thesis to the extreme, the territory becomes an Icarian walled community while the rest of the world is an immense slum that works for it.
It is much more likely that the coercion to produce sufficiently competitive commodities to exchange for goods of other territories will not allow even this sad Icarian administrative communism. Like every company (and like every state), the managers of this territory are materially powerless to do without a system of rewards and punishments, i.e., they are powerful only to reproduce class society within that territory. In fact, the idea of administering society as such does not make sense without some system of rewards and punishments on society — a class society.
Commodities with prices but not value?
The sketch on “how trade between a communist dictatorship and a world market will occur” corroborates that the article underestimates the degree of socialization of the world’s productive forces, i.e. the degree of interconnection and interdependence of the global productive process:
The revolutionary zone… could set those prices at will, administratively, since there would be no costs of production. We are talking, then, of goods which have a price, but not value in the full sense since no abstract labor is embodied in them. This will enable the revolutionary dictatorship to consistently undercut other sellers.
But we know that the only commodities that have no production costs are the raw materials (if we abstract the cost of the machinery needed for their extraction), and the only commodities whose prices can be set at will, administratively, are those that are monopolized in the market world.
This raw material monopoly is not only improbable but also shows that the territory is already fully engaged in exactly what all the other private properties (as well as states) in the world are competing for: undercutting other sellers, zeroing costs in order to maximize profits. And in fact, if these monopolized commodities are sold on the world market it is because they have value, they serve to absorb value: they have the power to impose on the proletarians of the world the intensification of abstract labor equivalent to those goods which the outer capitalist territories need to acquire. Simply put, this global surplus labor is the surplus value absorbed and accumulated as capital within the so-called “communist” territory:
But this production of trade goods, no matter how significant its impact on the overall system, will be a minor sector of a much broader communal, planned network of provisioning, an irritant of sorts, even if it is necessary in the short term.
Here again, the article underestimates how even the most basic needs, such as medicines, food, equipment, means of production… depend inextricably, each of them, on a highly socialized global network that combines countless materials involving all continents. This fact is presented as a distorting impediment, an obstacle to be overcome by the expansion of the “communist” territory imagined as external to this network (so much so that at the beginning of the article it is said that “territories isolated from the rest of the globe” are the ideal, but nonexistent, situation for the undistorted establishment of communism).
Universally interconnected existential conditions
In reality, from a materialist viewpoint, the conscious need for communism, and cultivation of the practical capacity and desire to do so, cannot even exist outside this inextricable global productive network. Any attempt to leave or remain outside this global interconnection is bound to create and consolidate another private property, another capital in the military, commercial, and industrial universal competition. Trying to put oneself outside implies putting oneself on the same level as the outside and thus introducing oneself vertically into the same network from which one seeks to separate, reproducing class society.
The only material dynamic capable of abolishing and overcoming capital is one that traverses the totality of world capitalist society horizontally, at the same time it is systematically produced as its universal negative. The proletariat alone exists as a class at this world-historical level. It is precisely within the ubiquitous unity of productive forces that communism — the world human community — can be brought to light by fulminating the capitalist outer shell and freeing the universalist material condition of the human capacities and needs to express their immanent forms.2
Thus the class struggle — i.e., the total fraternization of proletarians which destroys all sources of separation (reifications such as identity, nation, employment/ unemployment, borders, profession, rank, merit, territory, race, administration, familial bonds, segregation…) which compels them, against themselves, to compete for submit to “their own” ruling classes in exchange for survival — is the sole basis and foundation for the universal emergence of communism. The main error of the article is the way it unties the unity between world class struggle and communism.
Elsewhere we have already set out our positions on the immediate practical measures and objectives which world revolution would need to implement in order to any chance of success:
The specifically communist material dynamic is triggered by the overcoming of the strike by a tactic to continue production, but as a free production (gratis) for and by the people, suppressing the division employment/unemployment at this time (abolition of enterprise). Starting in a city, the diffusion of this experience will be just as passionate (unstoppable), which quickly, in a day or two, will spread over the major cities of the world. Mapping the interconnection of stocks and flows of world production, ever more complete, will allow people to figure out what production is not inappropriate, disabling some and modifying others. Governments and other repressive forces will no time to study and coordinate an attack and no longer exist conditions for that, since the production that sustains this conditions is in the hands of the population. The soldiers, fraternizing, give weapons to the population and join them… Those who resist have their conditions of existence halted until surrender. In less than a week, then, the whole world will be under the associated mode of production, communism. Otherwise, the more the global diffusion is delayed, reaching only part of the world, the more the stock is turning over, the more unsustainable (materially speaking and in terms of repression) becomes the communist mode of production. Since, moreover, we are deprived of the material that the other part of the world not yet transformed has as private property (state or individual), being forced to exchange (buy/sell) with it to replenish stocks. In other words, the more it is forced, in order to buy from them, to labor for them — being forced internally to reproduce the same capitalist mode of production, with the risk of communism becoming mere ideological cover of a new variety of capitalist exploitation. (“Against the Metaphysics of Scarcity, and for Practical Copiousness”).3
As opposed to the ideology of strategy, proletarians can only rely on their own autonomous capacity to act and think, boosted by the rapid spread of their struggle worldwide. In a single act they communicate with each other worldwide the knowledge of how their simultaneous daily activities interconnect (e.g., according where each person is, the supply chains, the relationship between industry, agriculture, and material pathways for the free expression of needs, desires, thoughts and capabilities of the residents and travelers of world, etc.), a knowledge that is simultaneous with the active suppression of the material (molecular) conditions of existence of private property, capital, and the state and with the creation of a new society where the means of life and production, become freely (gratis) accessible to anyone who wants to meet his needs, desires, thoughts, projects, passions, and develop freely their skills, abilities, and potentials.
An event like this, which disables the basis of the power of the ruling class (businessmen, bureaucrats, the state), has from the start an incomprehensible and non-negotiable language vis-à-vis the ruling class and the state, which is in fact a dictatorship against them — i.e., the true dictatorship of the proletariat. The ruling class will not even have the time to begin to understand what it is undergoing and will not be able to devise a strategy before the proletariat has abolished itself, and thereby abolished the ruling class, class society. (“Against Strategy”)4
We often hear that all this is impossible. But the category “possibility” has nothing to do with with the revolution, which by definition transforms the conditions of possibility in which it unfolds, necessarily giving rise to the “impossible.” However the singular contents of this “impossible in action” are unpredictable. The only “impossibility” we have today for action is the understanding of the objectively indispensable practical needs that the conditions put by capitalist society itself allow us to infer theoretically if we seek the destruction and overcoming of this society. These are the objectively inescapable minimum tasks that the worldwide irruption of the “impossible in action” will have to accomplish in order to actually overcome capitalist society and which, if it does not, it will fatally let itself drown in the counterrevolution. How to create the propitious conditions? How can we to make converge and combine in the time and space the innumerable singular circumstances and determinations (already in full action but still disparate) in such a way as to spark the “impossible” capacities of the world proletariat to carry out these minimal tasks?5 For us, this is the decisive question.
Another thing we often hear is that our position depends on unreasonable optimism or naïve hope. In reality, the question of pessimism or optimism, despair or hope, is of no importance, and is insignificant for us as materialist communists. What matters is that communists clearly state their goals, as well as the objective basis (verifiable by anyone) of their practical necessity. If the goal is mistaken, it will lead praxis only to waste energy and time on a project which will fatally fuel the counterrevolution.
Rio de Janeiro
1 We address the precise implications of this in the article “Universally Interconnected/Interdependent Conditions of Existence.”
2 This means that, contrary to what the article on transition says (with its fixation on centralization, administration, central planning), no specific form of organization defines the existence of communism, but rather the material universalism arising from the subversion of this global interconnection of the productive forces (which today is already a concrete, practical unity of the species). It is the material community in which human needs and capacities are produced as ends in themselves, fulfilling and potentiating each other. In this way, labor is abolished and the manifold activities are manifested on their terms, freed from the coercion of the general equivalent, of comparison. The material multiplicity of needs and faculties entails a multiplicity of immanent forms of organization for the satisfaction of those needs and faculties. The form of organization (centralization or decentralization) has no virtue by itself, it have no autonomous power, and it can not put itself from itself. This is an optical illusion that stems from the inverted top-down view of society which is that of a ruling class.
3 That part about “less than a week” might sound funny. We have rigorously come to this number by taking worldwide just-in-time production (and “pull production”) into account. Hence the absolute importance of the simultaneity of class struggle on a world scale. Note: this article (“Against the Metaphysics of Scarcity, for Practical Copiousness”) also presents a basic hypothesis on how world communist society will promptly work, and on how to treat scarcity in a society whose criterion is no longer its expanded reproduction (i.e. private property, commodity, capital, etc.). As for the details on the first and most immediate communist practical measure, see the article “Strike and Free Production.” Another hypothesis is that the material dynamic of communism starts in the service sector (since this is the sector closest to the satisfaction of the needs of the proletarians in
their daily life) and diffuses rapidly to the logistic, industrial, and agricultural sectors (where work and products are more abstract, less directly comprehensible in relation to the satisfaction of needs). The worldwide exponential extension is the condition for this communist intensive metamorphose of the productive chain (and vice versa).
4 Regarding the problem of repression: “Obviously, the weapons of the ruling class, the state, the death squads, etc. are infinitely more powerful and refined than any ‘strategic opposition movement,’ which consequently is merely spectacle — only useful to the ruling class rehearse their watchdogs and control methods, which, staging, legitimizes the status quo itself as “democratic”. And when it is not staging, the ‘strategic opposition movement’ is only the reproduction of the structure to which seeks to oppose […]. As opposed to the staging of the ‘strategic opposition,’ the only way to suppress the repressive force of the status quo is by an emergency so rapid and widespread of the autonomous proletariat (hence of communism) that the ruling class cannot even find where to start repressing, so that their repressive watchdogs will no longer see any point in continuing obedience, ceasing to be watchdogs, turning their weapons against the generals and distributing weapons to the population, for the simple reason they start to be uncontainably and irrepressibly attracted, like the rest of the exploited, to the enthralling emergence of generalized luxurious communism, the worldwide human community.” (“Against Strategy”).
5 Undoubtedly, the concept of class composition is indispensable: with the (material, geographical, productive, educational, subjective) interconnections placed by capital, the proletariat creates its own connections in which it produces and develops new needs and capacities by which it affirms its class autonomy against capital. On this, see Romano Alquati, “The Network of Struggles in Italy,” and Kolinko, “Discussion Paper on Class Composition”