Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The ineluctable: I'm stepping through the door and I'm floating in a most peculiar way

Workers are shock troops! Kronstadt is enduring a serious moment of struggle for the liberation of Soviet Russia from the Communist yoke.
We the people of Kronstadt, recognizing this, must all show unflagging fortitude, and show that in the struggle, no sacrifices are too terrible for us. We have become each other's family, unified by a single striving for victory or death. We will share with each other the last tiny morsel. So that the populace would not hunger, the garrison shares its own allowances. All must be even, and not some hungry and some full.
Would that it were not so, but we will not leave our work. On the contrary, we will take after it all the more firmly. Our revolution is the Revolution of Labor, and its name, all to the benches, all to the hammer! All for free labor! You are shock troops at work. Be also thus the shock troops of the Revolution. Forge the Revolution, supporting the free Socialist economy. Remember that on you first is laid the shock work of saving Soviet Russia from the Communist yoke.
Izvestia 6
If participants inscribe the event of their appearing in the world, and in terms of departure from what has gone before, then even before this record of secession is filed, their end has been written for them, as a return to the same territory. 

We have little understanding of the mechanism of our capture by the world as it feels our collective collar. Nor can we make out where it is in our lives that we have become hitched up. And we are even less able to locate what it is, from the process of abstraction (belonging to the great determining forces of existence), that has reached out and fatally touched us. We had thought we might have escaped under its radar. But we haven’t. We had thought we would not go the way of all the rest. But we have. At last we find we are merely part of the process, expressive of the forces which speak through us, at the end just one more fallen robin. 

It is easier, of course, to find the fault in others – we know why this or that bunch of crackpot trotskyists, anarchists, left communists do not, and cannot, escape the world. In a milieu that has perfected the narcissicism of small difference into a hysterical art form, we can always and without missing a beat, find fault. But we are more reluctant to give an account of why it is that we have failed, and more importantly, why it is that we will continue to fail. 

In general, as we consider the question of inescapability, we can sketch out certain reasons and more rarely provide even quite sophisticated historical explanations. We know implicitly, for instance, that all social formations emerge within a specific social-historical epoch and that social economic possibilities are already templated onto different ranks (there are established rules for the specific subjective agency of the individual,  the nation state, the elective political organisation, the corporation, the economic class as these perform in their allotted sphere of action). All formations encounter a limit that is set within their structure from the outside. All formations discover a subjective state of no exit, which they cannot transcend by their own efforts. All formations are thus prevented from entering a phase of generalisation and autonomisation. They are corrected, eroded, blown back, mowed down, clipped, kept in our place... and where we started from is about equal to where we have ended up. 

The problem for us really occurs at the level of predictability. There is an irrationally excessive, and yet irreducible, disjunction between our perception of what is possible as we contemplate the near future and our analysis of why things went wrong for others in the past. The science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem presents the problem in these terms:
Civilization lacks knowledge that would allow it to choose a path knowingly from the many possible ones, instead of drifting in random tides of discoveries. The discoveries that contributed to its construction are still partly accidental. ... So it is not a question of condemning of praising technology but rather of examining to what extent we can trust its development and to what extent we can influence its direction.
This later part is important as the mechanisms of social change do not simply spark a constant rate of random events. The patterns established within lines of development involve an ‘external’ standard of evolutionary fitness and selection which conforms to the ‘skew’ of the environment. All things possible to be ‘discovered’ will be discovered but only a narrow group of these are suitable, of the right type, to be realised in accordance with the constraints of the world.

And the patterns of realisation are only revealed subsequent to the completion of the selection and realisation process. The involved (or is it enmired?) subject formation being a product of selection, is thus faced with environmental ‘indifference’, the realisation process of which it cannot influence. Such formations are left only to be themselves, and hope to their luck, or their authenticity, or their audacity, or their longevity, or their ferocity, or their imbecility, or their depravity or any attribute which any sailor on a sinking ship might cling to – God knows I’m good. They may either choose to conform to their principles or depart from them, either option has no predictable outcome as other, always more significant processes are decisive. 

External forces might well operate to the same rulesets and imperatives as the subject formation but are structurally resistant to its commands (not least because the subject, being their product, cannot know what they are). For this reason, we who are now embattled with the present may access only the knowledge that can be extracted from past campaigns - we have no idea how this knowledge, once formulated, may influence the future. 

For instance, we can recognise a high rate of unevenness in causal relations, that is to say, there is so much variability in data that we cannot a general rule (which we might use as a measure for evaluating the conformity or departure of smaller scale events) - i.e. we have no idea whether the society we live in is at the edge of self-destruction or self-actualisation (or both or neither). We know that, under local conditions, during a particular epoch, certain events become regionally feasible whilst remaining irrealizable at the same time in another location. 

Similarly, multiple factors influence the different layers of organisation and these factors sometimes also feed ‘upwards’ as well as downwards in relations of force. This occurs where a social phenomenon emerges specifically as a downward, or deposited, effect of higher forces and thereby performs initially as a subset, as a particularised function or facilitating apparatus, but at some later stage feeds back accidentally into the general structure of those forces, and alters or even diverts them into an entirely other configuration. 

In particular, this feeding upwards occurs where the relative autonomy of institutions and mechanisms of social reproduction is regulated by a relatively increased proportion of automated functions within its relations - and by implication automation decreases the role of ‘human’ agency, as this might be understood as interventions of decisionmaking. Paradoxically, the more automated a society’s institutions become (i.e. the more predictable they are in their processing), the more unpredictable will the future configuration of these institutions beomce  - and the more unpredictable and autonomous social reproduction becomes, the more this instability is fed into future configurations of power. 

The complex of relational arrangements in process of social reproduction inhibits the registering of the precise location of what has caused specific events and formations, particularly from within the events and organisations themselves... that is to say, even within very energetic formations, participants rarely grasp what it is exactly that they are doing. If the members of subject formations are set in motion, then they do not know, beyond their own narrative rationalisations, what it is that has energised them, or why – social enthusiams may feed back into relations of production but self-knowledge of this function does not occur within the enthusiasm phenomenon itself. The lack of self-knowledge in the man announcing the imminent end of the world on his placard is something we all share, at some point he might correctly identify the occasion of the end times but that is attributable to the internal persistence of whatever drives him, and not because of an occult knowledge of world processes.  

This failure of subject formations to articulate what it is that drives them is all the more apparent in those formations which seek to leave the world which has produced them. If their departure ends fatally snagged in thorns, it is impossible for them to find exactly where they are held up. They are always too much of this world, all too historicised, and thus finally unable to relinquish that which causes them to belong to those conditions which they seek to quit. The tragedy of revolutionary thought must lie in the conservation of the categories that it refuses, as these remain an integral component in its own formulation. 

The theoretical position of the Kronstadters turned out to be a self-sprung trap, which cramped their capacity to theorise beyond the process which they were revolting against - their adopted discourse and its alien themes, caused them, in the face of the inexorable reductions of orthodox workerism, to propose a workerist heresy of further reduction. In opposition to exploitation by the Bolshevik state they could only come up with autonomous self-exploitation. 

But, what is it exactly that bound the Kronstadt rebellion to the register in which it appeared? What caused it to be unsuccessful? Was the snag located at the level of its failure to articulate a communist opposition to the ‘republic of labour’ and proletarian ‘autonomy’? Was it historically incapable of carrying the thinking against workerism in that moment? Or, is it the case that even it was possible to theorise beyond a soviet state, and a society based in the ideology of productivism, that this theory would still have had no chance of  overcoming such constraints to its realisation? This implies that the Kronstadt rebellion served only to express a historical limit to proletarian consciousness and organisation - the rebels took the ideals of Bolshevism and pushed them to an unrealisable, or de-realisable horizon. 

This seems a convoluted way into the problem of whether the voluntary undertakings of communists, in their historical unrealisability, have always been subjectively flawed or objectively constrained. The question seems to depend upon the quantity of latent historical forces which communists articulate... are they articulating some power otherwise hidden in the world, or merely making it all up as they go along (i.e. randomly sparking)? Are they are a necessary product of history, or a more or less self-producing subset, consisting of what it is possible to ‘discover’ under capitalist conditions? Are communists determined by historical process or simply not yet obliterated by it? Unfortunately, the question will become more convoluted and not less as we proceed. In part, this complication is due to our inheriting certain theoretical materials which must at least be acknowledged if not embraced. The theoretical framing of the question, since the 1970’s at least, has been placed around the changing composition of the working class and its role in the transformation of the reproduction of social relations as a totality.

Specifically, this framing takes as its object the global scale process of reproducing labour power as a necessary moment in, and condition of, capitalist production, and how this mechanism has altered the potential (closing some doors at one level, opening others elsewhere) for revolutionary agency amongst the proletariat. Where earlier it was capable only of registering communism as the generalisation of useful activity, a later capacity to perceive the repressive character of productivist morality was triggered and it has thus been driven towards the abolition of itself. 

After utopian socialism was disheartened by the concerted arguments of scientific socialism, communism itself, as is indicated by Critique of the Gotha Programme, became identical with the ‘the Republic of Labour’ and ‘the workers’ state’. It is argued by certain historicists that the representation of this constrained ‘lower’ phase of communism was historically conditioned and that the revolutionary subject could not realise social relations in a form beyond ‘workerism’. In other words, ‘higher’ communism was prevented from realisation by undeveloped relations of production and the absence of the adequate level of material prerequisites necessary to establish a society directed towards realising a ‘full’ humanity. 

Evidently, there are objections to be made to the ideals of the ‘development’ of (and thus historical continuity within) productive relations and the very idea of ‘material’ prerequisites. Perhaps of all the material prerequisites for life (from cosmic processes to accidents of evolution), communism in fact is probably relevant only to one percent of human existence. Therefore the model which assigns to ‘history’ either an evolutionary or ‘historical’ direction is unsupportable, which in turn indicates that the apparently ‘determining’ forces belonging to history are themselves subject to global and cosmic influence (climatic changes for example). So whenever we consider communism we are really only referring to a very small subset of existence. 

Whatever seems significant, whatever fills our horizon, is in reality frighteningly dependent on the forbearance and regularity of much greater physical forces: the origin and essence of our wealth are given in the radiation of the sun, which dispenses energy – wealth – without any return. The sun gives without ever receiving… Solar radiation results in a superabundance of energy on the surface of the globe. In contrast to Bataille’s cosmic account of wealth, purely historical schemes refer to a very restricted set of data from which the one lesson to be drawn is that humanity may only hope to control the controllables (but where the uncontrollables seem always to number more than nine hundredths of existence).   

The idea that communism is not possible where there is material want seems to conceptually conflate actual history with a schematised historical necessity. If communism is a set of relations between human beings which takes their needs as its purpose, then it seems that: a. there will never be material enough, if this is to have been accumulated prior to communism, because needs are dynamic and always appear at the edge of what is realised; b. there is anyway an ahistoric necessity for ‘want’, ‘striving’, ‘jeopardy’ as this feeds into the cohesion of human society. That is to say, firstly there can be no developmental stage where the danger of failure has been objectively, historically abolished (so where exactly is communism’s material cue?) and secondly, communism, above all, is a set of relations which places the audacious embrace of conditional challenges at the centre of its project. What else is the bringing of social life under conscious control but audacity? And if challenging conditions and subjective audacity are the main ‘presuppositions’ of communism, then communism itself remains a constant proposition throughout history requiring only a corresponding humanising turn. 

In capitalism, the given co-ordinates of the historical conditions of possibility, are set, at the level of what is called, in Marxism, formal and real subsumption. This refers to the qualitative and quantitative inclusion of the proletariat within the the commodity producing process and the degrees to which the proletariat created (and was enabled to create) values in contradiction to, and/or in compliance with, the world in which it has been formed. 
The capitalist mode of production is not decadent and cannot be decadent. Bourgeois society disintegrated, to be sure, but this did not lead to communism. At most we can say that communism was affirmed in opposition to bourgeois society, but not in opposition to capital. The run-away of capital was not perceived; in fact this run-away was realized only with the rise of the fascist, Nazi, popular front movements, the New Deal, etc., movements which are transitions from formal to real domination. It was thought that communism was emerging from the socialization of human activity and thus from the destruction of private property, while in fact capital was emerging as a material community.
The Wandering of Humanity
The established use for these terms within Marxist discourse renders 'formal' subsumption as referring to the set of specific constraints upon the relations of production, whilst 'real' refers to the extension of the logic of relations of production to social reproduction in general (e.g. where the boundaries between work time and non-work time are blurred) with all aspects of society dominated by the same contributivist/participatory logic. It is no real surprise that the society of the ‘spectacle’ is now oriented towards towards an enthusiasm for useful involvement – in other words, the republic of labour as imagined on the territory of capitalism. 

A secondary (but in the end more rewarding) usage of these terms emerges from the freudian (and post-heglian) categories of the latent/manifest. This version examines the trajectory of a particular object/means/relation, which is perceived to develop under one set of relations as a secondary effect (it is 'formal', i.e. has no established power) but which, under changed circumstances,  moves centre stage (i.e. becomes real). Dauvé's recent text gives an example of this version:
In each period, communist theory expresses two things: the highest level reached by the previous insurrectionary phase; and the elements in contemporary proletarian struggles which seem to herald the content of new insurrections to come. There is no stage when theory could rise to the privileged vantage point from where it would encompass the whole past and future, and thus be able to reveal the full meaning of human history. The incompleteness of communist theory reflects the in-between-two-world situation of the proletarians.
In any case, returning to the more conventional Marxist usage, we can say an abstraction event, something like a shift from formal to real domination, really did occur in the structural depths of capitalist social organisation and this altered lesser order relations at the surface of society. However, it is difficult to draw out the precise causal relation between social process and its realisation event. How far back should this tendency be traced? The Enlightenment? 1789? Bismarck’s proto-welfare state? Haussmanisation? And then there are all those events which occurred during that same moment but which do not at all fit the descriptive framing. 

It is probable that elements of ‘real domination’ were present from the outset in the contingent reproduction of the capitalist social relation within, for example, ‘model villages’. That is to say, both formal and real subsumption occur throughout capitalism but in different proportions. Just as there is no such event as ‘neo-liberalism’, so there has been no actual passage from formal to real subsumption - there is a patterning and a mappable ‘clinal’ distribution but no original extinction event from which new relations (and thus identifiable epochs) commence. 

We can say with certainty that ‘real domination’ consists of an accelerated shift towards 'scientific management' and state intervention from the first world war onwards. This is exemplified by the social sciences, and has become an ideal of engineered social reproduction (expressed as a surplus-pathology in ‘eugenics’ and other technocratic enthusiasms – Camatte again: The run-away of capital was not perceived; in fact this run-away was realized only with the rise of the fascist, Nazi, popular front movements, the New Deal, etc., movements which are transitions from formal to real domination.)

Social engineering (real subsumption) sought to intervene in those social processes which had hitherto been reinforced by what was in effect skewed chance, by means of inertia, and by simple, direct armed force. From the 1920’s onwards, the entirety of society unfolded as an object for analysis, intervention and management under the generalised system of realisation. Strategic intervention has since been introduced further and further into society – this accelerating process of realisation has been elsewhere termed ‘internal colonisation’ and ‘domestication’; in other words, the reconquering of space that is already secured but under new terms. 

In Marxism, this is probably understood as 'generalisation' (or more lately ‘globalisation’), whilst in cybernetics it is understood as 2nd order learning (i.e. learning how to intervene in the process of learning so that the same event can be reproduced with greater predictability). However, the event of real domination can be overemphasised, this strategic-scientific ideal (the seeking for disciplined uniformity from abstraction and abstraction from disciplined uniformity) has been present from early modern times as Foucault points out, so at most this has really only increased in proportion to other conventions of governance and control. 

Whilst it is not entirely clear what Camatte means by domination (which is preferred in translation to subsumption), it remains useful to continue to use an earlier model to describe the current world. Camatte is probably referring to general social reproduction rather than simply the productive relation but there is a problem in his formulation. Perhaps at some point that version will have to be embraced, thorns and all, as it basically removes the primacy of commodity production/value extraction, and even the transcendental referent of Value. These are no longer necessary (i.e. as a priori conditions for its reproduction) in his description of the relation of domination. 
In the era of its real domination, capital has run away (as the cyberneticians put it), it has escaped. It is no longer controlled by human beings. (Human beings in the form of proletarians might, at least passively, represent a barrier to capital.) It is no longer limited by nature. Some production processes carried out over periods of time lead to clashes with natural barriers: increase in the number of human beings, destruction of nature, pollution. But these barriers cannot be theoretically regarded as barriers which capital cannot supersede. 
Whilst it is possible that Camatte’s fears may at some time prove well founded, which means acknowledging that social reproduction has indeed accelerated from real domination into a further phase of ‘domestication’, our analytic abilities have not yet caught up with the implications of this and so we are stuck with the older model. Fundamentally, this states that the tendency to real subsumption is required to secure the exploitation of living labour in years to come. Above all, real subsumption, or the technical practicalities of scientific governance, is directed at stabilising the present by means of ensuring highly predictable circumstances in the medium to long term future for the realisation of surplus value:
The basis of marxist economic analysis is the distinction between dead and living labour. We do not define capitalism as the ownership of heaps of past, crystallised labour, but as the right to extract from living and active labour. That is why the present economy cannot lead to a good solution, realising with the minimum expenditure of present labour the rational conservation of what past labour has transmitted to us, nor to better bases for the performance of future labour. What is of interest to the bourgeois economy is the frenzy of the contemporary work rhythm, and it favours the destruction of still useful masses of past labour, not giving a tupenny-ha’penny damn for its descendants.
Amadeo Bordiga
The passage from the bourgeoisie’s strategic approach in the ‘present’ to cybernetised logistics directed towards ensuring the ‘frenzied rhythm’ of the future is not anticipated by Bordiga. Nor is the historical decline of the strategising class itself, the bourgeoisie. Logistics, the social reproduction in the present of future labour power, is not directed by human beings at all but by algorithms, it is an autonomised domain. Even so, again, our analytic capacities against capital as ‘automatic subject’ are extremely constrained and reduced to mere description. For that reason, we stick with Bordiga’s obsolescent polemic:
Marx explains that the ancient economies, which were based more on use than exchange value, did not need to extort surplus labour as much as the present one [...] The appetite for surplus labour not only leads to extortion from the living of so much labour power as to shorten their lives, but does good business in the destruction of dead labour so as to replace still useful products with other living labour. [...]  Modern capital, which needs consumers as it needs to produce ever more, has a great interest in letting the products of dead labour fall into disuse as soon as possible so as to impose their renewal with living labour, the only type from which it “sucks” profit. That is why it is in seventh heaven when war breaks out and that is why it is so well trained for the practice of disasters. [...] To exploit living labour, capital must destroy dead labour which is still useful. Loving to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses.
Amadeo Bordiga
Even to the extent that this still holds true, the overdeveloped discussion of such ‘phases’ and ‘passages’ can obscure the purpose of the explanation in the first place, which is to illuminate why the proletariat did not exceed its workerist constraints at the moment of its greatest political influence. The periodisation of the totality, i.e. the production of society by  merging fixed and variable capital, ought not be conflated or confused with the development of the proletariat as a subject (even if that subject is ultimately determined in its character by the totality). 

To return to the Kronstadt revolt, which we can understand as a further exacerbatory revolt within, if not against, a revolution, the question of its limitations may be set twice in order to arrive differently at the same problem: firstly, why did the Kronstadt sailors set their arguments against the logic of Bolshevik productivism in terms of the ultra-productivist category of ‘shock-worker’; secondly, why did the Kronstadt sailors not propose an alternative to Bolshevik productivism, and thus meet the same with difference? If they could, why didn’t they? If they couldn’t, what prevented them? 

Conformity to a historical frame, or failure of nerve (or vision), seem the only explanatory options open to us as we contemplate Kronstadt and yet both of these feel unfair and not satisfactory - we can make out that earlier referred-to patterning in their lives but we cannot see it in our own. In other words, the described, or received, limits of ‘programmatism’ feel imposed by certain narrative requirements of the present (as these pose as theoretical findings) rather than as contemporary for the time actually effective historical constraints (of course, they might turn out to be both). Nesic sardonically reduces the many paragraphs written by those whom he calls ‘the communisers’ into a neat formula:
One of the basic communisers' tenets is this: yesterday, formal capitalist domination, hence working class affirmation, affirmation of labour and possibility of reformism; today, real domination, hence no more possible affirmation of labour, hence end of reformism: the only remaining option is a communist revolution which is not possible but certain, and therefore inevitable. This is what communisers like to tell themselves, unfortunately it is not documented by facts.
This version may well sum up the arguments justly but it misses the compulsive element of the passage from formal to real domination which drives capitalism to elaborate on its technical means for expanding labour power and thereby secure a predictable rate in the future extraction of surplus value, a predictability of outcome which is necessary to stabilise the  present viability of the productive process. It is therefore necessary to follow ‘the communisers’ arguments a little more closely before arriving at a similar conclusion to Nesic – and then we are free to perform our now customary dogleg manoeuvre into an entirely other discursive frame so as to meet our own stipulation of doubled description.
Théorie Communiste’s [TC] “period of formal subsumption” is characterised by an un-mediated, external relation between capital and proletariat: the reproduction of the working-class is not fully integrated into the cycle of valorisation of capital. In this period, the proletariat constitutes a positive pole of the relation, and is able to assert its autonomy vis-à-vis capital at the same time as it finds itself empowered by capitalist development. However the rising power of the class within capitalist society and its autonomous affirmation steadily come into contradiction with each other. In the crushing of workers’ autonomy in the revolutions and counter-revolutions at the end of the First World War this contradiction is resolved in an empowerment of the class which reveals itself as nothing more than capitalist development itself.
Where the garrison of Kronstadt instigated a revolt within, or against, an already established revolt (as it was specifically mapped back onto what had gone before and conducted as a revolutionary back to basics), we are thereby presented with an interesting example of a ‘rising power of the class within capitalist society’. But from the start, it has to be noted that Russia in 1921 was not a ‘capitalist’ society so much as a despotic productivist state, which we can say had prioritised the development of forces of production (and had expropriated the entirety of available ‘variable capital’ as a means to this end). 

In conformity with Théorie communiste’s analysis, it seems that the Kronstadt revolt might have sought to assert the proletariat’s ‘autonomous affirmation’ as a capitalist class against the subsumption of labour power by the Bolshevik state.  This explains something of its enthusiasm to exult the fundamental or even mythic character of labour as well as its rejection of ‘communism’ (‘Remember that on you first is laid the shock work of saving Soviet Russia from the Communist yoke.’) In this interpretation, the garrison are seeking to replay the ‘dialectic’ of labour and capital as a totality at the moment of capital’s vanquishment by labour. The path into state control, a moment of real subsumption (if  instigated by an autonomised despotism rather than by capital) was perceived by the rebels as a diversion from pure, immediate and for itself workerism. 
The positivity of the proletarian pole within the class relation during the phase of formal subsumption and the first phase of real subsumption is expressed in what TC term the “programmatism” of the workers’ movement, whose organisations, parties and trade unions (whether social democratic or communist, anarchist or syndicalist) represented the rising power of the proletariat and upheld the programme of the liberation of labour and the self-affirmation of the working class. The character of the class relation in the period of the programmatic workers’ movement thus determines the communist revolution in this cycle of struggle as the self-affirmation of one pole within the capital-labour relation. As such the communist revolution does not do away with the relation itself, but merely alters its terms, and hence carries within it the counter-revolution in the shape of workers’ management of the economy and the continued accumulation of capital. Decentralised management of production through factory councils on the one hand and central-planning by the workers’ state on the other are two sides of the same coin, two forms of the same content: workers’ power as both revolution and counter-revolution.
The Kronstadt Rebellion is thus immediately anachronistic. It seeks to re-establish a path out of capitalism through the ‘autonomous’ action of the proletariat. But it is a route that has in effect already been anticipated, blocked, diverted and thoroughly ambushed – although in reality, “programmatism” is not outside and so is not captured but is itself the capture mechanism. For the rest of the 20th Century, and in infinite regress, each successive wokerist formation rejects its competitors and revivifies the proletariat as subject against its betrayals, and as if for the first time

Like all good military minds, the Kronstadt sailors were fighting ‘the last war’ on a transformed territory and thus succeeded only in altering the actual significance of their own revolt for it to conform to the conventions of Bolshevik theory - thus they present their own departure  as a return, and their revolt as a demonstration of loyalty. By not setting out a rejection of the category of labour, but re-emphasising it as a noble ideal which has been brought low by external forces, the revolutionary impulse is fated always to find the old relations within the new. This discovery of a limit to subjective self-affirmation is revealed, or so the ‘communisers’ argue, over and over again in the latter third of the Twentieth Century. 
For TC this cycle of struggle is brought to a close by the movements of 1968–73, which mark the obsolescence of the programme of the liberation of labour and the self-affirmation of the proletariat; the capitalist restructuring in the aftermath of these struggles and the crisis in the relation between capital and proletariat sweeps away or hollows out the institutions of the old workers’ movement. The conflicts of 1968–73 thus usher in a new cycle of accumulation and struggle, which TC term the second phase of real subsumption, characterised by the capitalist restructuring or counter-revolution from 1974–95 which fundamentally alters the character of the relation between capital and proletariat.  [...] With the restructuring of capital (which is the dissolution of all the mediations in the class relation) arises the impossibility of the proletariat to relate to itself positively against capital: the impossibility of proletarian autonomy. From being a positive pole of the relation as interlocutor with, or antagonist to, the capitalist class, the proletariat is transformed into a negative pole. Its very being qua proletariat, whose reproduction is fully integrated within the circuit of capital, becomes external to itself. What defines the current cycle of struggle in contradistinction to the previous one is the character of the proletariat's self-relation which is now immediately its relation to capital. As TC put it, in the current cycle the proletariat's own class belonging is objectified against it as exterior constraint, as capital.
From this moment on, which is indexed to the process of ‘real subsumption’, and which has been activated by the reforms driven by the now well established conventions of ‘class relations’, proletarian revolt, where it is directed against the formulae (or programmes) of conventional revolt (as these are carried out by the established social democratic and communist lefts), now must also revolt against work and also against its formed subjective status as proletariat. 

If Kronstadt were to occur today, it would not exult ‘shock workers’ but think them signatories to the cross-class pact which realised the phase of real domination. But would this be because such a body could no longer objectively defend the ‘reactionary’ core of workerism or because, subjectively, it was simply sick to the back teeth of the politics of labourism? Significantly, perhaps, no such revolt has occurred – the death of workerism has induced political quiescence at the level where militant ‘non-demands’ should be manifested throughout the social body. In other words, the loss of class identity has actualised the decline of a genuinely class based critique of ‘capitalism’.  

This suggests the necessity of self-affirmation as a moment immanent to that revolt which begins in self-affirmation and ends in self-negation. Self-identity as a subjective agency, i.e. workerism, must first be asserted before it is actively overcome by the same mass of individuals in the same sequence of discreet events - it is not a sufficient cause that the critique of self-affirmation has occurred in the historical past. Communist consciousness may only appear at a certain subjective threshold of receptivity amongst those sectors of the proletariat which are already engaged in ‘reformist’ struggles at higher level of militancy. In other words, ‘workers’ autonomy’ must occur at the beginning of the same cycle of struggle in which the negation of labour appears as its completion. It is not a matter of a historical threshold reached once and for all... it is a mythic and universally required rite of passage from one state to another, which must be undertaken in the form of a live relation as a condition of involvement.  

Subjective engagement, along an ontogenetic developmental path, is the precondition for communist consciousness rather than historical ‘phylogenetic’ development of objective conditions. This dynamic does appear to directly cut across the historicist account of the ‘communisers’. However, it does not go so far as simply reproducing another progressivist variant... whilst revolutionary reformism is the precondition of communist consciousness appearing on a mass scale, it is not the cause of it

Communism is not the further exacerbation of a progressivist movement but a departure from it into new terms. Reform ‘from below’ does not determine communist consciousness but is a ‘presupposition’ (as Camatte terms it in the text a propos Capital), it is the event, process and set of relations to which communism attaches itself. The historical phase of ‘reform’ is irrelevant for communism, as there is no proletarian memory from which to retrieve it; ‘reform’ must occur in the here and now in a living relation, the communist departure appears within that tumult. 

For us, it is also true at a more general level of abstraction that the contradictory relation between capital and proletariat has always pointed beyond itself, to the extent that – from its very origins – it has produced its own overcoming as the immanent horizon of actual struggles. This horizon, however, is inextricable from the real, historical forms that the moving contradiction takes. It is thus only in this qualified sense that we can talk of communism transhistorically (i.e. throughout the history of the capitalist mode of production). As we see it, the communist movement, understood not as a particularisation of the totality– neither as a movement of communists nor of the class – but rather as the totality itself, is both transhistorical and variant according to the historically specific configurations of the capitalist class relation. What determines the communist movement– the communist revolution – to take the specific form of communisation in the current cycle is the very dialectic of integration of the circuits of reproduction of capital and labour-power. It is this which produces the radical negativity of the proletariat's self-relation vis-à-vis capital. In this period, in throwing off its “radical chains” the proletariat does not generalise its condition to the whole of society, but dissolves its own being immediately through the abolition of capitalist social relations.

In reality, there is no universal movement but only contingent events and ruptures. Whilst it seems that the categories of universality and necessity ought not be abandoned, we cannot make actual predictions from their use. Which brings us back, by convoluted route, to the beginning of this, the question of failure. In essence, what occurs historically as an event is a mystery whilst the processes underlying, or running through events, are finally incomprehensible (if that is another word for contingency). 
...universal history is the history of contingencies, and not the history of necessity.
There is no science of history, and the end of capitalism cannot be mapped onto even very highly tuned explanatory narratives of developments in productive relations (that which easily establishes retroactive continuity continues to fail as a predictive tool). Finally, it seems, subjective responses to objective processive triggers are the most decisive components of ‘events’ and yet the content of these responses, whether leapings forward or abject regressions can only be grasped retrospectively. 
The thing is, I became more and more aware of the possibility of distinguishing between becoming and history. It was Nietzsche who said that nothing important is ever free from a "nonhistorical cloud." This isn't to oppose eternal and historical, or contemplation and action: Nietzsche is talking about the way things happen, about events themselves or becoming. What history grasps in an event is the way it's actualized in particular circumstances; the event's becoming is beyond the scope of history. History isn't experimental, it's just the set of more or less negative preconditions that make it possible to experiment with something beyond history. Without history the experimentation would remain indeterminate, lacking any initial conditions, but experimentation isn't historical. In a major philosophical work, Clio, Peguy explained that there are two ways of considering events, one being to follow the course of the event, gathering how it comes about historically, how it's prepared and then decomposes in history, while the other way is to go back into the event, to take one's place in it as in a becoming, to grow both young and old in it at once, going through all its components or singularities. Becoming isn't part of history; history amounts only the set of preconditions, however recent, that one leaves behind in order to "become," that is, to create something new. This is precisely what Nietzsche calls the Untimely. May 68 was a demonstration, an irruption, of a becoming in its pure state. It's fashionable these days to condemn the horrors of revolution. It's nothing new; English Romanticism is permeated by reflections on Cromwell very similar to present-day reflections on Stalin. They say revolutions turn out badly. But they're constantly confusing two different things, the way revolutions turn out historically and people's revolutionary becoming. These relate to two different sets of people. Men's only hope lies in a revolutionary becoming: the only way of casting off their shame or responding to what is intolerable.
Deleuze in conversation with Negri
Accepting this, it is not clear what should be the next move in consideration of the question of historical determination, or how to talk about it. Traditionally, where a radical loss of momentum in knowledge is encountered, human culture tends to refer back to the archetypal and mythic. This is not because these might rival ‘scientific’ approaches but because it is possible to move irrationally occurring figures within such frames without the encumbrance of scientific means, and in the hope of a more profound resonance. In the absence of all ‘movement’, and where the refusal of a continuity at the level of human identity based in ‘labour’ activity has now been registered, we find ourselves at a loss as to which knife and fork to take up before the plate of ‘communism’.

The retreat into mythic discourse is hereby invoked to engage the impasse that confronts us collectively - from the question of history we fall back into a contemplation of fate. The mythic presentation of fate is a hesitant tentacle of knowledge projecting into the radically unknown... and myth tells more of man as that tentacled creature than it does of its object, but then, let it be so! His fate appears before him as three doors, or portals, which open ‘man’ up to changes in his circumstance. The three doors are often presented in fables as ‘choices’. However, the protagonist is only permitted a ‘bound choice’ by which he is not required to select an option so much as activate the world mechanism that has been primed for his appearance, and which has his ending already fixed within it. 

The three doors with which the protagonist is presented are not the alternatives they seem at first encounter, but three moments in a single process. He must pass through them, or fail to pass through, as is decided by a mechanism which sets his peasant cunning against the unrelentingness of the world as it is, and must be. Can he really pluck his own happy ending from a miserly world which gives nothing away cheaply?

The first door into the corridors of fate does not open - the protagonist is refused entry, and must turn back or wait before it. The second door allows passage in only one direction, and cannot be opened from the other side. The third door, once opened cannot be closed again. The three doors, depending on narrative and circumstance, are not always distinct and sometimes form compounds: a door which opens and yet cannot be passed through; a door which remains closed but which is somehow penetrated; an open door through which no traffic passes. The first door is a challenge to the protagonist, it invites experiment, cunning, audacity, ruthlessness; the second door indicates the irretrievability of past decisions - there is no going back; the third door retroactively modifies the past by establishing a new path between it and the present. 

Freud presents the three portals of fate in the essay The theme of the three caskets by means of, on his own admission, ‘a devious route’. Perhaps in doing so, he skirts dangerously close to a Jungian framework, but even so, he takes the given form of fate and uses it as an psychoanalytic heuristic. By this cavalier manner, and devious route, the very concept of fate is made to work for his own purpose - he thereby also proves the social resilience and universality of mythic representations. We fall back into myths, because they continue to work. At each reference to the myth, at each conversion of a myth into heuristic, the entire mythic apparatus is renewed for all humanity. Man returns, in conformity to recapitulation theory, to a tentacled being again. 

Myth does not invite literalist interpretation, nor does it seek to map experience onto its structure, but then nor does it allow a reduction of its fundamental opacity to the world of experience and rationalisation. Those who have reason to resort to myth do so because its rigourous armature (which baffles final interpretation but which preserves meaning as infinitely malleable) temporarily orients their narrative in a way that presents actual experiences back to them in an alienly objective form – as would an echo, reflection or shadow.  Myth and not science is the true (and thus ambivalent) discursive register for expropriation, it reaches up from the depths to wrestle the masts of ships. 

For Freud, the mythic structuring of narratives of choice, particularly where the protagonist is presented with three alternatives, is an outcome of the defence processes which he has termed ‘reaction formation’. 
The Moerae were created as a result of a discovery that warned man that he too is a part of nature and therefore subject to the immutable law of death. Something in man was bound to struggle against this subjection, for it is only with extreme unwillingness that he gives up his claim to an exceptional position. 
Fate, by definition, is a condition without choice – so the mythic presentation of decision is situated as a reaction formation within precisely those circumstances where decision has no influence. 
Man, as we know makes use of his imaginative activity in order to satisfy the wishes that reality does not satisfy. So his imagination rebelled against the recognition of the truth embodied in the myth of the Moerae and constructed instead the myth derived from it, in which the Goddess of Death was replaced by the Goddess of Love [...] The third of the sisters was no longer Death; she was the fairest, best, most desirable and most loveable of women
Reaction formation is the most perverse of all the perverse concepts of psychoanalysis. Through its mechanism that which is being surreptitiously sought out is elaborately denied, that which is being elaborately denied is surreptitiously sought out. The true but hidden motive is the deadly enemy of the false and stated one. 
 [...] Here again there has been a wishful reversal. Choice stands in the place of necessity, of destiny.  In this way man overcomes death, which he has recognized intellectually.  No greater triumph of wish fulfilment is conceivable.  A choice is made where in reality there is obedience to a compulsion; and what is chosen is not a figure of terror, but the fairest and most desirable of women.
The three doors are as the three moments of fate: Clotho, the first door, which does not open, and indicates ‘the innate disposition’, limit, that which cannot be altered; Lachesis is the second door, which closes behind you, ‘the accidental that is included in the regularity of destiny’; and Atropos, death, the ineluctable, she opened strange doors that we’d never close again. The tricolon structuring of both fate and choice, and of each modelled onto the other, is arranged to overcome the random outcome that is possible in an either/or... the third choice, the third path, is that which had to be taken, it is the choice which leads to death and which includes the two choices not taken: 
The free choice [..] is, properly speaking, no free choice, for it must necessarily fall on the third if every kind of evil is not to come about. 
If the Kronstadt garrison had theorised their predicament through the heuristic of fate rather than from within Bolshevik ideology, they would have reflected back a fatalist or recapitulated version of themselves as human beings trapped in circumstances beyond their control, rather than as shock workers whose historical function it was to defend the reactionary ideology of an already terribly compromised proletarian ‘revolution’. They would have realised themselves as defeated humans, and thus retrieved that which is essential of their situation: they could not have prevailed; and if they had prevailed, then the terms of their workerist discourse would have dictated only a more coherent version of Bolshevik economism. In other words, the Kronstadters’ victory would have indicated only the achievement of self-repression.

That they were unable to access and expropriate the politically necessary affective and intellectual materials available at the time, is a more significant factor for consideration than either their failure as a subjective agency or the underdevelopment of the forces and relations of production.  Freud’s essay for example, was published in 1913 and was no more obscure a reference point (with its Latvian folk references) than the repressive and constricted framework which they did utilise. 

That is to say, it was perfectly possible for the Kronstadters to recapitulate humanity through contemporary experience informed by readily available folk motifs and archetypes rather than through the imported schematics and categories of repressive consciousness. Their failure was not historic, nor was it due to their class composition, nor was it a failure of subjectivity... the crisis which they articulated was that of the reductionism inherent to the Bolshevik frame of theoretical reference. The realisation of the human community, permanent revolution perhaps, cannot depend upon the progressive reduction of reality to the point where it conforms to the principles of self-management as espoused by the proletarian subject. On the contrary, the community (as a set of relations) must expand outwards as relations of increasing subtlety, it must seek to include and realise other frames and beings, other principles and purposes. 

If they could have listened to their own peasant wisdom, the garrison would have dispersed themselves and lived to fight another day - ‘victory or death’ was, as every peasant would have known, the epitome of an idealist reaction formation, a false choice - ‘victory or death’ is only ever translated as death is certain. The predicament of the Kronstadt sailors lay in the inescapability of the discourse of their class enemies. They had become incapable of thinking for themselves, even as they acted autonomously. The Bolsheviks, as latter-day jacobins, carriers of the bourgeois ideology of rationalism, instrumentalisation, abstraction, representation, developmentalism, centralisation and above all idealism, were thereby necessarily opponents of both workers’ autonomy and any conceptualisation of communism beyond a representation of efficiency and malleability in production. 

That the Kronstadters, an interpellated formation of the Bolshevik coup (and previously instrumental in suppressing other peasant rebellions), were incapable of thinking beyond the categories of their inception (even as they revolted against it) is indicative of the convergent rationality of certain lines in Marxist theory. These tend, tragically, to both progressively narrow their frame of reference (particularly in moments of crisis) and to evaluate all defeats as ideological confirmations (e.g. What determines the communist movement– the communist revolution – to take the specific form of communisation in the current cycle is the very dialectic of integration of the circuits of reproduction of capital and labour-power.

If myth is more practically descriptive than theory in, and of, the heat of subjective human experience, then myth itself only appears where the domain of rationality and science ends -  even as we may regress into it, we know that fate is nothing more than an unfolding frond of projection from a place of unknowing and powerlessness. The mythic form is resorted to, because it is essentially pessimistic, it works as a natural corrective to revolutionary optimism, and pessimism is a necessary component of critical thought.  

We are still in the first thesis on Feuerbach here, ‘fate’, ‘archetypes’, ‘portals’, these are all unreal, mere mental constructs. Even so, the constructs belonging to pretence, projection and making things up, are useful readymade or inherited containers for at least temporarily holding the overwhelming liquids of grief and failure. They are an aid in the process of relinquishment and of coming to terms – precisely those irreducible moments of human becoming which the bourgeois progressivist ideologies, of which Marxism is the supreme distillation, cannot countenance. Mythic constructs are psychological projections, and nothing more than that, but they can also be made to touch the objects experience - the tentacle is a mask between protagonist and the abyss.  

However, and before we can return to reason with a relieved sigh, having put myth in its place - there is actually no feasible alternative to myth when considering the question of human liberation (the language of overcoming is mythic and Nihilist Communism for one, has directed itself against that slippage). In the real world, of course, there are short term demands and achievable goals, there is an optimisation in the quantity of living  - and this is nothing to be sneered at, but as to the predicament of victory or death, that remains an infected wound of false alternatives inflicted by the jaws of what is ineluctable. Human liberation is precisely that unknown outcome which lies far beyond the mere antennae of rationality and science... transformative change is utterly unpredictable, and is known only retrospectively. 

Communism never exceeds the status of a mythic projection. Those who have reason to resort to the myth of communism do so because its rigourous armature (which baffles final interpretation but which preserves meaning as infinitely malleable) temporarily orients their narrative record in a way that presents actual experiences back to them in an alienly objective form – as would an echo, reflection or shadow.

As for Marxism’s apparently rational categories of ‘sensuous human activity’, ‘practice’ and ‘subjectivity’, these are less than mythic, and wield an even weaker explanatory power than myth itself. ‘Human activity’ is a naive reaction formation which has thrown those who have attempted to deploy it into a tide of helpless optimism - those who argue that ‘we’ can change the world, where it has remained impervious to ‘our’ efforts, are surreptitiously admitting that in reality ‘we’ cannot change the world but also that ‘we’ cannot give up on the belief that ‘we’ should be able to. 

The ideology of progressive ‘achievement’, and the goal of the designed society, have only served to nurture the pathologies inherent in the processes of instrumentalisation and abstraction - activity at every juncture is overwhelmed by dead labour and its embedded command pathways laid down in a now inaccessible past. Communism seems to be a problem that humans must decide upon for their future, in reality it has always already been skewed by what has already died. And so the blithe category of ‘human activity’ gains no purchase on the general experience of human failure, it advances blindly, learning nothing, and incapable of explaining actually experienced powerlessness, defeat, perversity and unintended consequence. 

The contradiction at the the heart of the category of human activity is expressed by the paradox of ‘anti-humanism’ as advanced by ‘communisers’ such as Théorie Communiste and Endnotes. On the one hand, there is emphasis on the structural development of the relations of production as a determinative categorical type set above and before human experience, whilst on the other, the return of human activity is asserted in communisation at its designated historical moment. 

Endnotes describe this reserved moment of apotheosis thus, ‘In this period [...] the proletariat does not generalise its condition to the whole of society [as it did in the C20th], but dissolves its own being immediately through the abolition of capitalist social relations.’ Bizarrely, as Nesic observes, this formulation represents the proletariat in the phase of ‘formal subsumption’ seemingly acting autonomously but actually only fulfilling capital’s programme of real subsumption. And then, once it has crossed the threshold of real domination and loses all capacity to recognise itself in its activity, it thereby reaches the point of maturation where it must act outside of determining forces in the activity of communisation.  When it could act it was in reality powerless, now that it cannot act it is become all potential. As Freud would observe, ‘here again there has been a wishful reversal. Choice stands in the place of necessity, of destiny.’

The historicist reaction formation obscures the potential of the fully human as a contingency at all junctures in history. It is always present via the heuristic of suffering before others, and situates the afflicted before those three mythic portals (not opening, slamming behind, opened forever). Those three fatal choices which are no choices at all but the coming to terms with the ineluctable: defeat, failure, death. This being at a loss with others is the true condition of humanity as a set of potential relations as it locates the faultline between what is known and what cannot be known, what may be attempted and what cannot be attempted, what may be achieved and what cannot be achieved. 

The suffering brought about by fate, as that is presented mythically, is the universalising path into re-humanisation. Humanity is not the sum of its historical productions but the result of its relations - the more subtle the relations, the more human the community.  And becoming human, as that is understood as relinquishment before fate, is decisive in the turn towards communist organisation – it is as much, if not more, a matter of orienting towards what cannot be changed, and thus letting go, as it is to changing the world. It was not historical constraint which prevented the Kronstadt garrison from taking a human turn towards genuine communist consciousness, as the necessary affective materials were all present in society. Such materials, collectively the political presentation of the for-human, required only that they be recognised and expropriated. 

The Kronstadt rebellion was constrained by the impoverished discourse of councilism, which pushed it towards an ultra-bolshevism, or a real bolshevism (in that tragically ironic prefiguration of Stalinist-nationalism which also evoked a defence of ‘1917’, and ‘Soviet Russia’) just as other revolutionaries today are driven against actually existing democracy and towards an ideal of ‘real democracy.’ 

The lesson, such as it is, that may be taken away from this, runs counter to Marx’s famous exposition of a universal development of forces of production and the crossing of the threshold of alienation’s intolerability (as he presented in The German Ideology). Contrary to whatever may or may not be inferred of communism’s possibility from the minor scale determinations of mere historical development, the great cosmic determinations which have resulted in the absurd accident of humanity’s presence in the universe might shrug and ask, why not? The question of communism is not a factor in the play of cosmic forces, which are neither leading to nor drawing away from particular forms of social organisation. Communism is a purely human question, and wherever and whenever humanity is, it remains a possibility. And so communism set at the level of direct relations necessarily becomes a universal contingency, an exit accessible by all who self-describe as human. The struggles inherent to all societies are always leading to communism, and every society might be, could be, should be finding a communist departure to unprecedented terms for internal reorganisation, their own russian path

Today, the proletariat might also find a way towards human liberation from out of escalating struggles for reform - it is certain that this moment of bursting through will suppose a radical departure and not simply a development or exacerbation of those struggles. Communism is an exit not a culmination, it will seem very quiet compared to the street thrills of class war and protest parades. It is also likely that those departing from reformism will also have to have lived through the struggle for change as individuals (as their rite of passage). It seems all other destinations first have to be exhausted before human beings are able to turn at last for home.

Given the ahistoric, even mythic, character of communism in relation to the human eternity, we must now turn on their heads all of Marx’s small world stipulations for communism’s possibility as these are presented in the German Ideology. To begin this great reversal, we have to first re-engage his argument against the ‘local event’. Like the ‘communisers’ perhaps, it seems that communism must always appear precariously, perhaps as a universal locality, or a localised universal. 

We have already established that unevenness is a universal characteristic of human community, an indicator of the complexity of social organisation. Therefore, if communism is to appear as an abstract organising principle for the whole world (which it must - there must be communism before there is communism) its full actualisation will only ever occur seasonally, locally and perhaps then for a relatively short time, like a travelling circus at the edge of town. Some time after communism, the sun, which does not take but only gives, will reach out to embrace the earth, and in so doing will abolish the world in its fiery tentacles.  

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