Friday, 30 December 2011

On communisation: a disquisition on the spice but not the meat; or, why the theory of communisation must be pounded into its very powder before it is rendered palatable; and the reason why this spice is to be sprinkled ever-so sparingly over the dish that is to be served

One in a series of old texts that I am retrieving and collecting together, and sometimes reworking. Often this renewed effort exposes deeper, unworkable, internal contradictions. Sobeit!

The only way to fight against  exchange and the  dictatorship  of  value  is by undertaking communisation. 
Theorie Communiste 
Have you a strong conviction that you wish to proselytise? Then give it up. Give it up now before you have even opened your mouth. 

Have you an argument that you are about to place before the judgement of the masses? Then tear it to shreds, and cast its fragments to the wind. 

Have you a theory, a proposition, a solution, a proposal, a plan, a model, a set of principles to live by? Such things mean nothing. Abandon them. 

Have you, do you think, found the truth of history, and the essence of society? Then take this essence out walking in the mountains, and when you are well hidden from view, dash its brains out upon the rocks. For it was written that each man must kill the thing he loves.

Do not muse at me, my most worthy friends,
I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing
To those that know me. Come, love and health to all;
Then I'll sit down. Give me some wine; fill full.
I drink to the general joy o' the whole table, 
What you are about to say to the world is useless to everyone but yourself.

What you think is important is not important, your priorities are just another enthusiasm, nothing but vanity and presumption.

It is nothing, what you value is nothing to the world. Laugh and let it go.

And this thing you call you call your theory, it is just another mask that hides your cherished ambitions. It remains obscure to you, which is why you reiterate it. It is of a strangely determined provenance, and really quite different to that which you might expect. 

Why do you make such faces? When all's done, admit it was nothing but a trifle, a mere fiction, an overheating of your brain. 

Why not tell the world about your organisation? About how it is fundamentally different in its structure, operations and values from all the other sects, rackets and gangs. Or, better still, why not not tell of it. Your belonging is really just the same as all the other belongings, it is generated by and therefore expresses a little tiny bit of present conditions, and nothing more. 

And this treasure that you prize. Don’t you see it is indistinguishable from all the other futile treasures which all those other enthusiasts have fought and died for so many centuries ago. Or, it seems like centuries. Your goal is tawdry, trifling, banal. Don't you see that what you value is underwritten only by your own caprice, your own vaulting jealousies? 

(their gold dust being scattered by the wind) Oh laugh, Curtin, old boy. It's a great joke played on us by the Lord, or fate, or nature, whatever you prefer. But whoever or whatever played it certainly had a sense of humor! Ha! The gold has gone back to where we found it!... This is worth ten months of suffering and labor - this joke is!
The Treasure of the Sierre Madre
About your theory of communisation, it is misconceived. I do not say it is not a necessary misconception. 

And about your practice of communisation, it always becomes the wrong move. I do not say it is an avoidable wrong move. 

What is it that is summoned up in communisation which is not communisation? What is attached, like dripping seaweed and encrusting barnacles, to that project which you have chosen to haul up from the depths into the living world? 

And who are they, like spectres,  appearing at the boundary of your project,  who were not there before? Who have you created with your project if they are not communists, if they present themselves as wholly resistant to communisation?

The matter of communisation cannot be brought fully into the world if the forms of human life that appear in antagonism to it are not empathetically engaged, if they are not recognised as an essential other component in the project of bringing communism forth. 

The process of communisation produces populations of spectres which exist antagonistically to that process. This haunting opposition, as it senses itself excluded, indicates the non-universality of the communisation process. The process does not articulate who and what they are and what they are is the indication of the general plenitude of humanity as it appears in the form of a specific 'remainder', which remains uninvolved in the process. 

It is not enough to project onto these resistant figures the archetype of counter-revolution... on the contrary, their very appearance as spectres exposes this bringing forth, this manifestation, of your communisation to be an ideology, as the counter-revolution itself. 

That of communism which fails to engage the other as other, as that which is resistant, also fails as communism. 

They, the others, those who are not communised, bring forth the limit of communisation. The form that they must take, their comportment, expresses the necessary boundary to what becomes the revolutionary subject’s private ownership of communised relations. 

They, the spectres, are produced by communisation in its triumph and may appear nowhere else. They are tied to it. They have no meaning beyond their being summoned to its borders.

They, the spectres, have no purpose but to rehearse that of humanity which must lie outside of communising subjectivity, and thereby refute its claim to universality. 

They, the spectres, are its other agents, through which communisation sets itself the task of its own decomposition. 

Communisation is a thing. It is an intended thing that is supposed to be understood as a social relation. It is a thought, a word, a proposal, a practice that is made to stand in the place of social relations where they are absent. It refers to an imagined circumstance. It is a recognisable set of relations which bear the identifiable marks of communisation. It is those relations that meet the criteria of belonging to that thing-set called communisation. It is not real. 

The tragic hero also concentrated in one factor the ethical which he teleologically surpassed, but in this respect he had support in the universal. The knight of faith has only himself alone, and this constitutes the dreadfulness of the situation. Most men live in such a way under an ethical obligation that they can let the sorrow be sufficient for the day, but they never reach this passionate concentration, this energetic consciousness. The universal may in a certain sense help the tragic hero to attain this, but the knight of faith is left all to himself. The hero does the deed and finds repose in the universal, the knight of faith is kept in constant tension. 
Fear and Trembling
It is impossible to empathise with the narrator of communisation unless he has included the spectres that are created by his narrative as something other than its internal enemies. 

The project of post-revolutionary soviet communisation generated numerous spectral forms which it invariably portrayed as counter-revolutionary. For this reason, resistance to Soviet communisation was rarely  allowed its own voice, and it has thus only appeared in the communising narrative as that other against whom the narrative is directed. 

The recalcitrant soviet spectres only really gained substantiality through an ambivalent literature, that is as fictions, where they could speak for themselves. For example, in the story Electrification Zoschenko describes what it is like to live as a human being beneath the glare of the intentional community of communisation (where this is understood as soviet power plus electrification):
You never saw a thing with just paraffin. But now, with illumination – you see wallpaper flapping off the wall, and somebody's beaten-up slipper lying about on the floor. You see a bedbug trotting along, trying to get away from the light. An old rag here, a gob of spit there, a fag end, a flea frisking about...
The spectre's soul protests at the state of his own room which has been expropriated by the great illumination of communism. For the Soviet regime, electrification was the material essence of communisation and thus communisation was realised not so much in terms of a social relation but as a grand exposure of the scene, in which all faults and weakness were revealed so as to be plugged in. The project of communisation recognises nothing but incorporation under, and affirmation of, the dominance of its sign.

But, the spectres present in Electrification are not adequate to the light shone upon them. They cannot meet the requirements of life lived according to an intended purpose. They are dull, grumbling beasts of burden most contented when wallowing in their own filth. The logic of communisation, which is the reduction of social relations to planning, must destroy them by showing them to themselves. Communisation is not suited to human beings. 

“... Two Kulaks have just distanced themselves from us!”
“Go and kill them then!” said the little girl.
“That’s not allowed, my daughter. Two persons don’t make a class.”
“There was one, and then another one,” countered the little girl.
“But overall there were still too few of them,” regretted Safronov. “Our task, according to the plenum, is to liquidate them as a class and nothing less–the landless laborers and the entire proletariat must be orphaned from their enemies.”
“Who will you be left with then?”
“We’ll be left with tasks. With the hard line of the furthest measures–get what I mean?”
“Yes,” replied the little girl. “You mean kill off all the bad people because there aren’t enough good ones.”
The Foundation Pit, Andrey Platonov
It is impossible to adequately set forth the material relations of communisation without including the spectres fixed into Platonov’s texts. The Foundation Pit is the only text ever written adequate to the description of the project of communisation where this project is understood as a set of practices devised to force a proposed formal community onto living beings. Platonov demonstrates that the logic of communisation develops always along the line of a liquidation of whatever it encounters as obstacles. 

That  which is missing  from  the  narrative of  communisation, by which is  understood a forceful appropriation of social relations on communist terms, is awareness of  the necessary non-responsiveness of the human community to projects of deliberate appropriation. The most important elements of the human community are precisely those which cannot tolerate expropriation by a cause or project

Policy and political agency are interposed at the moment where a new set of human relations are supposed to flourish. In fact, communisation is only activated in the name of those relations, a representational structure is retained through the undertaking itself. Thus, all projects of communisation are only ever attempts at realising, through representative example, of the referent of communisation – which cannot tolerate being realised. 

The communists are always inadequate to the project of communisation and tend to fail to recognise it as a project of the other. The idea that the communists have of communism cannot and must not be put into practice; it is difficult for them to understand that the idea is not a plan but only a questioning of reality, a questioning that must be responded to by those who do not have the idea. Social knowledge precludes the assumption that those who set the problem must also provide the solution. 

Communism, and thus communisation, if it is to break from mere Bolshevism cannot belong to those who currently recognise the need  for it. In fact, an individual's awareness of the lack of communism in the present, his desire for the condition of communism in the future, his ability to recognise acts of communisation  (that is, forms of inter-subjective connection which break free from already established  relations) in no  way qualifies him to establish communism in the world. On the contrary, his consciousness renders him, by necessity, passive before the task.  His watchword: no ideas are to be realised. 

The  communist, in relation to the appearance of the communising subject, is obliged by his own theoretical coherence to refuse to participate in the subjective communising role. 

The communist is capable of suffering, recognising the cause  of  suffering, and formulating a physical/theoretical critique of existing conditions. 

The communists are unable to move beyond negation, they are unable to get past themselves as bearers of the consciousness of  present conditions. 

The highest stage of their consciousness takes the form of the realisation that they are not the one. There is no threshold between the intelligence generated by alienation and the capacity to abolish alienation. 

It would be delusional to advocate the realisation of a world, a practice, a community that has no reality beyond that which is imagined by the advocate. For this  reason  the  communist may adopt only a negative/critical role in active engagement with the concrete forms of  capitalist relations. 

Communists are capable only of destructive acts. The  overcoming of  conditions  will be  carried  forwards by others, that is by de-proletarianised spectres, as a community of beings found to be in relation together, relating together in ambivalence to their own ideas of that relation. Whatever the plan might be, it will be thought, reshaped and abandoned.   

When he first began to work on the railway, Fyodorov had treated metal and machines as he treated animals and plants—with caution and foresight, trying not only to get to know them but also to outwit them. Then he had realized that such a relationship was insufficient. Being with metal and machines required a great deal more sensitivity than being with wild animals or with plants and trees. You can outwit something living and it will yield to you; you can wound it and, being alive, it will heal. But machines and rails don’t yield to cunning—they can be won over only by pure goodness—and you can’t afford to wound them, because they don’t heal. A break is mortal. And so Fyodorov behaved sensitively and carefully at work; he even avoided slamming the door of his little cabin, closing it silently and delicately, so as not to disturb the iron hinges or loosen their screws.
Platonov, Amongst Animals and Plants
It is necessary to communise the theory of communisation, that is, it is imperative to cause it to pass from the hands of those who advocate it. So-called communists are incapable of conceiving human relations in any framework other than expropriation and production... both of which are ideological motifs. 

In contrast to the reductionism of communisation theory Platonov presents numerous spectres who, in direct response of soviet communisation, commence other relations, and other modes of being which, because they are not incorporated, are by the logic of communisation, therefore resistant. For Fyodorov, communisation is nothing but the train from Moscow that rushes blindly through a scene of otherwise complex forms and relations. Fyodorov is the 'whoever' that has ‘learned to be anxious in the right way’ –  community, the project of socialisation, opens itself before him, but still unsocialised. The spectre utters in anguish and bewilderment, and sets his spectral discourse against the reductive discourse of the rebuild

The elevation of humanity towards communism, is realised where the  absence of communism as it is experienced by communists, at the level of consciousness, is responded to by the communising/counter-communising/re-communising relations enacted by the spectres of the world. 

It is they, the spectres, who are enabled by communism to redeem both the communists and themselves. Communism is the work of the other. It is the spectres and not the communists who satisfy materially what the communists have only understood as a spiritual need. 

“List my goods too!” asked Voshchev as he unpacked his bag.
In the village he had gathered every beggarly and rejected object, unconsciousness of every kind and all the trivia of unknownnesss–to be avenged by socialist vengence. This worn-out, enduring frailty had once touched brotherly, laboring flesh; in these things was imprinted forever the burden of a life bent down, a life that had been expended without conscious meaning and that had perished without glory somewhere beneath the earth’s rye stubble. Without fully understanding but with miserly thrift, Voshchev had accumulated in his bag the material remnants of lost people who had lived, like him, without truth and who had passed away earlier than the victorious end. Now he was presenting these liquidated laborers to the attention of the authorities and the future, in order to achieve vengeance through the organization of eternal human meaning–on behalf of those who are now lying quietly in the earthly depth. 
The Foundation Pit, Andrey Platonov
The first positive abolition of capitalist relations, crude communisation, is therefore only a manifestation of the vileness of continued production as it tries to establish itself as the positive community. Communism really begins to take shape where production itself is put in its place by other organically developing social processes. 

Where capital has fled, designed communities become possible. Paradoxically, the search for communism is initiated from out of the ambivalence felt by communities when presented with the objective capacity for designing themselves. That is to say, if communism elevates the principles of communism as a guide by which to live then in its self-realisation it must also struggle against the elevation of communist ideas as the basis of community.  The community’s idea of community must always appear out of step with itself. 


  1. More fun, when one of the Chiefs of communisation, speaks about the "animal liberation", from the hilarious --if not so mean and egocentric-- article "Letter on animal liberation", written in 2009:
    (1) page 5 line 6: "Animals that kill usually have far more social relationships than those they prey upon."
    (2) page 5 line 18: "Our critique of capitalism is precisely that value production turns everything, whether meat or poetry, into commodity, and that it's no use asking for more love poems and less hamburgers."
    (3) page 6 line 11 : "Nature awareness, ecological worries and reactions to animal abuse are not signs of mankind at last getting conscious of its impact on the rest of the planet, but of the necessity for capital to think globally, and to take all past and present into account, from Maya temples to whales and genes. Everything it dominates has to be controlled and classifed in order to be managed. What is marketable must be protected. Capital owns the world and no owner can afford to be too careless about his possessions."
    (4) page 7 line 3: "It's no coincidence that an acute sensibility to the condition of animals comes up at the same time as industrialised food and concentration camp style farming."
    (5) page 8 line 25: "Managers try to make the workplace safer and less destructive (= more productive) of a precious capital: labour. Animal exploitation duplicates this process. It tends to experiment less on animals in order to get more from them, painfully if it must, painlessly if it can".
    (6): Préambule: "As neither of us is Politically Correct, "man" here means man + woman, and "mankind" means humankind."
    Source: ou Dauvé- Letter on animal liberation.pdf

  2. Thank you for your comment. I am familiar with the text you reference only from certain quotes.

    But it introduces the problem of subjective (or ethical) responses to objective equivalence. For example, does Gilles Dauvé include communist awareness in his list of all things which value production reduces to a formal equality? If this is somehow magically preserved, then perhaps love poetry also performs some minor escape.

    It is certainly true, that from the perspective of capital, all things are equally present in a commodity format. But that is not the only register or scale in the world... whilst a book of poetry is as much a commodity as a hamburger, there is a significant difference 'for me'. There is also a significant difference (for me) in the various instances of human cruelty and kindness to animals. It is all the same to capital but it is not all the same to me.

    The problem of where to locate ruthlessness and indifference to that which is processed, has always been present in marxism. The willingness of the communising tendency (particularly its French variants (i.e. the marxist and the Tiqqin strands)) to identify with structural violence and to rationalise it along the lines that it is unavoidable, and that it is set in motion by the relations of production makes me feel uneasy. There is an emotional immaturity in it.

    It brings to my mind Peter O'Toole's face in the role of Lawrence in the moment of his running amok. There is a celebratory and gratuitous edge to their account of capital's relativisation of existence... they seem to share in it. Their partisan bolshevism has something of an Anthony Bourdain about it - they ostentatiously devour all parts, not because they are hungry but because they wish to demonstrate that they are not squeamish.

    The underlying code of their non-political correctness, their disdain for no doubt bourgeois sentiment is a sort of ersatz warrior's machismo. For leninists, it seems, 'ruthless criticism' has come to mean simply a readiness for ruthlessness.

    In order to take this apart we must return to the problematic of how to present what is available in the world and at what level. What is the most appropriate register for our discourse? Certainly, in the commodity form there is available use-value and exchange-value... but there is also something else, we might call it a socialised (or unsocialised) portion which is neutral/unavailable to the commodity process but which remains a potential material/formal content for other relations.