On old brown photos the last navajos, crouching low on their horses, wrapped in blankets, covered in rugs, move through the snowstorm to their doom; this image refuses to leave my mind and strengthens my resolve.
Werner Herzog Of Walking in Ice
Here, Herzog has said everything that could be said of a dying culture’s orientation towards the aperture of its historical disappearance without also further embellishing and thereby insulting it. The condemned are allowed to ride into the storm, without any hope of their return. They have left no mark upon the ground where they spent their last night beneath the stars.
Herzog has said everything. And if everything has been said, then nothing further should be said. But utterance continues, and that is our affliction. Where utterance appears as a surplus, it is, compelled by its circumstance, orientated towards its own brown doom, wrapped in blankets, sick, anciently weary. Thus it is that I now address you, who already know what it means to live as a surfeit - you, for whom a succinct and clean exit is denied.
We will speak uselessly. We will observe the ritual imperative of what we must say. Speaking and also knowing that this fixes nothing, moves nothing. And to this end, for the main body of this note, I shall choose from a well-known argument of Nihilist Communism, but first, as Herzog shows us, we must attend to the mystery of the snowstorm which is our world. You are the snowstorm and you are also the travellers in the snowstorm. It will pass and you will pass. Its works will be forgotten and your works shall also be forgotten. So let it be.
How did the travellers become one with the snow? Why is it that they are snowing, drifting, buried within themselves? Something of them became frozen, even as their environment swirled up about them. We are lost but we hold to our conventions. We are lost but it has been a convention with us that the material conditions for communist relations have been overrun, and that this event occurred at a particular moment, perhaps 1914, perhaps 1870.
During the 30 or 40 years following this eclipse, communism remained historically available, and might then have been brought back, by force of will, by force of memory. As long as there was memory of the mechanical age, of the physically productive age and of its subjective component, communism was still a possibility.
But now, that chance is lost. Even the forgetting has been forgotten. Yes, we are aware that others argue differently, and their arguments are the source of our taking comfort in our own small difference. They argue that further developments in the forms of abundance are the true basis of human existence, which must be freed from all irrational constraint. They argue for the necessity of the overcoming of scarcity. But they are wrong, they are in denial. Lack is both necessary and relative to conscious subjectivity, it cannot be abolished without thereby abolishing the human.
We understand communism to be a social relation amongst human beings where the greater part of that relation is directly responsive to the demands made upon it by those who are related within it. The material conditions for communism are constrained by a structural responsiveness to the commands of the multivalenced, conscious subject. However, the communist relation becomes unrealisable where the interrelating of machines surpasses the political categories of the subject's project.
The communist relation becomes unrealisable where human beings are more produced by their conditions than they are productive of them. The communist relation becomes unrealisable where humans are dependent upon the autonomous interrelating of machines. We see this event, the passing of humans from out of a world that is now commanded by networked machines, as the transition from the period of ‘’real domination’ (of state regulation of labour process) to ‘domestication’ (where life-force is cultivated and extracted, as if from livestock).
The evidence for the historical unrealisability of communism is readily observable, and can be understood through a simple formula: the present rate of appearance of communists in the world directly correlates to the potential realisability of the communist relation. That there are at present, to pick two classificatory groups at random, more millionaires and more Zoroastrians than there are communists is, I think, sufficiently persuasive of the absence of communism’s fundamental precondition to conclude any lingering attachment to the fetish of ‘real movement’.
Communism’s non-realisability may also be inferred from a similar, if inverted, proposition: if technological abundance, or ‘post-scarcity’, were truly a necessary and active condition, then the mean distribution of communist consciousness would increase in line with the rate of technological development.
That the rate of appearance of communist consciousness has decreased and continues to fall in relation both to the ‘enclosure’ of increasing proportions of social existence by the logic of capital and to the technological development which realises this containment is sufficiently demonstrated to necessitate formulation of another hypothesis.
The nihilist communist hypothesis proposes that communism is more dependent on a, so to speak, ‘objective-subjective’ component than it is on either subjective-subjective, or objective-objective factors.
Within capitalist social production, the ‘objective-subjective’ component (the established or given form of subjectivity) is constrained and realised by ‘the wage relation’. I will now attempt to expound the nihilist communist hypothesis of ‘the wage relation’ from the ‘objective-subjective’ position, supply two minor problems inherent to it, and then follow this with a more decisive, devastating even, ‘external’ problem.
Proletarian self-separation from its dependency upon the logic of capital becomes realisable only under conditions where the cost of abstract labour is maintained subjectively above the objective costs involved in its expulsion from (and replacement by machines within) the productive process. Or, to put it another way: the proletariat dictates terms only in that peculiar circumstance where the rate of increase in wages consistently rises above the cost of replacing workers with machines and yet it is also where the logical substitution of machines for labour cannot be effected, i.e. where labour refuses to allow its own expulsion from the process of world production. Thus, the struggle for the wage is the only means by which the proletarian subject may constitute itself within the given form of capitalist dependency and also against it.
All subjective formations, that is to say, all political conceptions directed at either self-separation from dependent relations, or oriented towards ameliorating those relations, are either energised or de-energised by the subject formation’s own capacity to assert its control of: a. the wage it is paid and thus b. the rate of its expulsion from the productive process. It is for this reason that we say, never work as a way of life has no significance outside of the factory. To understand this relating of energised/de-energised subject formations to the wage relation (a no doubt seeming paradoxical argument made by those who seek the abolition not only of the wage but also of the entire factory system) it is useful to examine the two inherent problems of the nihilist communist version of proletarian subjectivity.
All those who consider life have closely observed upon the body of insects, the movement of even smaller life-forms - upon the body of smallness, creeps a smaller smallness. Where the insect is dull and brown, its mites are red or orange. Where the insect is bright, its parasites are ghostly pale. So it is with parasites. So it is with satellites, and the moons of Jupiter. We have observed the smallest bodies apparently moving against the background of their host. So it is with parasites. So it is with problematics. So it is with metaphoric content. Let he who has ears, hear!
The first inherent problem of the nihilist communist hypothesis (a dull smallness moving against a brighter background) can be identified in a situation where wages do not rise and labour is not expelled. Essentially, this describes the circumstance of ‘the labour republic’ and of its productivist consciousness. This is where, essentially, the subject formation self-regulates its dependency upon the factory system. The labour republic supposes a holding pattern that is ostensibly imposed by the revolutionary proletarian subject which accedes to a logic that cannot permit it to abolish the factory form. It perceives the necessity of realising itself, but cannot bring about a genuine transformation through its self-abolition - it is driven by what Marcuse calls a surplus reality principle by which the event of abolition is perpetually deferred. Trapped by the imperative to conserve its own form, it corrects the appearance of any tendency towards dissolution and thereby ensures labour as an eternal value. The labour republic is a negatively contradictory situation, a vicious circle, which always concluded with the exhaustion, corruption and bankruptcy of the subject form.
The second inherent problem of the nihilist communist hypothesis (a dull background moving behind a brighter smallness) is identified where wages fall and labour is supplanted by technology. This dynamic, also a downward spiral, describes in essence the runaway state of ‘accelerationism’ and is productive of an ever-expanding surplus population of deproletarianised dependants which is systematically farmed for the extraction of its ‘affects’ and body parts. In this situation of domestication, credit supplants wages whilst the proletarian subject formation is at first mysteriously incapacitated from asserting its will upon the objective cost of labour time and then, as dementia sets in, is progressively forgetful of itself. Where the subject loses its capacity to enforce the wage relation on ‘objective-subjective’ terms, the path to communism becomes impassable.
There is, of course, a further third inherent problem (a dull smallness fixed to a dull background). This is ‘the German model’, where labour is expelled from the productive relation and wages rise. It is an ahistorical recapitulation of the regulated system of ‘real domination’ and of the cross-class social pact. It is sustainable only in a local context where it is also denied elsewhere. It is a ‘topdown’ technocratic regulatory model and not the result of subjective activity. It is a territorial or nationalist form which always tends to appear as an alternative to the incomprehensibly volatile eruptions of catastrophic instability elsewhere. There is no likely prospect of realising a global technocratic system under the capitalist system (as it runs against capital’s operational logic), but it is at least feasible that improved living standards coupled to the ongoing expulsion of labour from production might supplant capitalism (this could be the emergent form in China for example). One or other variant of ‘real domination’ has been historically the most effective anti-communist strategy (whether this has been applied as a ‘phase’ of capitalism or of some ‘integrated spectacle’).
Communism is only predictable as an outcome of the capitalist relation where the proletariat retains the capacity to enforce the wage relation on terms favourable to its further valorisation (i.e. where it uses the increase of the cost of labour-time as a lever to inhibit and restrict the implementation of ‘modernisation’ and thus subjectively increase the objective proportion of live activity present in the production of social relations). In a circumstance where labour costs are subjectively raised and technological innovation is prevented a ‘living contradiction’, or instable process, is initiated which, if sustained, can only lead to the abolition of capitalism through the realisation of the subject formation as a self-validating conscious entity (i.e. where a permanent vanquishment of the technical component is enforced by that which has realised itself as more than variable capital).
However, and with reference to Herzog, we have already been made aware of our circumstance which is determined by the historic defeat of the general proletarian subject formation’s struggle for the wage - even the terrain most appropriate to the politics of never work has long since been lost. This loss characterises the ‘external’ problem which I referred to above and through which we can understand why spectral or pseudo-subjective formations cannot untie, or even give expression to, the knot of determinations through which they are realised.
It is in the character of ‘spectacular’ subject formations that they are permitted to assert themselves in marginal social fields but are forbidden influence upon socially determinative structures, and the most socially determinative structure is the wage relation. Above all, capitalism seeks the optimisation of its operative logic: increased outputs from reduced variable input costs . Where subject formations cannot simultaneously realise (energise) themselves and ‘deny’ the logic of capital, they languish in a state of dependent deferral (and become reliant upon institutional defences of democratic protest and ‘free speech’).
Certainly, specific campaigns of damage and boycott can be sustained for the medium term (but this too is only realistic in the context of relative wage rises) but whilst these actions undoubtedly deny some aspects of the logic of capitalist realisation, the subject formations themselves are not energised (i.e. not only do such campaigns fail to increase wages, the campaigners are not paid at all). Political campaigns are forms of subjective expenditure and are thereby reliant upon available energy reserves, (long running campaigns are costly and ultimately exhausting.) The ideology of the struggle surviving from its terrain by expropriating the necessary means has never been realised beyond the extortion rackets practised upon host populations by terrorist groups.
It is because we applied the nihilist communist hypothesis concerning the character of waged subjectivity (and we perceived where this was lacking) that we were able to accurately predict how recent revolts were structured to fail. There is no objective gain for the subject, that is to say it is not energised, where there has been no structured cost to capital’s logic. If capital has not lost, the subject cannot gain. If the cost of revolt is carried wholly through the subject’s logic of expenditure (by its own sacrifices) then no discernible gain is expropriated from its conditions.
It was because the student protests of 2010 were not fixed within the struggle for an increase in wages that its failure was predictable; it was because the Egyptian spring could not extract an objective gain in the form of the wage, that its failure was predictable; it was because the revolt in Greece was unable to defend wage rates that its failure was predictable; it was because the protests in Spain could not impose a proletarianised form of subjective self-energisation that its failure was predictable. The tragedy of these uprisings lay not in their failure to combine their politics with class struggle but in the structured impossibility of that combination.
The only necessary objective historical precondition for communism is a pre-existing active subjectivity. Within the capitalist social relation, this subject must enforce its self-reflexive capacity for regulating the rate of its appearance as a living component of social forces... as the proletariat is characterised wholly by its cost to the productive process, the subject formation is structurally obliged to increase itself as an objective cost if it is to remain an assertive ‘subject’ in the world. It lives, or it dies. It lives by the increase of its share of the available form of wealth, it dies where its share is progressively attenuated.
There is a structural/environmental impact where the subject lives. It cannot be supported. Where it lives, it is voracious. It exhausts that which it lives upon. The proletarian subject does not intend the destruction of its environment, it is trapped by its own expansion. For this reason it is a fleeting entity, a mayfly, an inflationary bubble, a passing storm. It is of plague proportions. Evidently, capitalism becomes unrealisable in circumstances where its living component cannot be pacified by reduced wages and technological innovation. At the moment of depletion of its environment, the active proletarian subject is then situated to realise its other contradiction - faced by the paradox of self abolition and self realisation.
However, the logic of capital has everywhere overturned the West’s paradigmatic capacity for ‘subjectivity’ and we old ones can make out only two unlikely paths to the realisation of communism: a. the surrealist/affective option, wherein some form of retroactive abreactive chain reaction is set in motion (characterised by Nachträglichkeit) in belated response to the catastrophic loss of subjectivity in 1914; b. the desperate-realist option, where newly proletarianised populations in the South and the East achieve the full form of capitalised subjectivity and thereby push process costs beyond the edge of their sustainability. As ever, I fear, neither of these will save us, and we remain captives of the snowstorm’s logic, moving outwards, losing energy and definition, and passing on towards a sepia state of oblivion.
Even so, I delight in the thought that you are still present in the world,