The workers’ council is the social form, par excellence, for which it is exigent to learn to run before it can walk. It is the exemplar of the form recuperated, parasitised, before birth. Then, it is also the epitome of the form that must become something else before becoming what it is.
The content of worker council studies has ossified since its post-war, and cybernetics inflected, reformulation by Castoriadis for SouB. Nothing has been added to it, and there seems nothing that may be added. The council, as an organ of perhaps transformation, perhaps stabilisation, now appears both as peculiarly fragile, and prone to ideological confusion - the sum and site of all symptoms.
I will make only a fictional contribution here, a lazy fish tail flick beneath the lily pad, a sort of nod and a wink, to the discourse of council studies - fictional, partly as a consequence of my great distance from the milieu, partly because of the milieu’s great distance from the council form and partly due to the ever greater distance between all of these and the working class.
The diagrammatic and recursive form presented by Solidarity/SouB utilised a ‘brain of the firm’ approach to autopoiesis/autonomy commonly deployed in the 1960s - it seemed clean, like a new beginning, like a ‘run a diagnostic’ command, but then straight lines sometimes lead down the garden path.
For this reason, the council form was not sufficiently separated from the managerialist ideology of productive rationalisation organised around the principle of energy efficiency (the infamous runnings together of supply chains of that era termed the military industrial complex) which was predominant in the post-war period of re-capitalisation and the wage-inflated social pact.
The apparent rationality inherent to the representation of the councilising form as both engine of, and path into, a state of ‘production for use’ was, in itself, fundamentally uncomprehending of the intrinsic irrationality of the productive apparatus.
And then, the efficient production of use-values must assume a minimising of the input of redundant consciousness - efficiency operates from the basis of an expulsion of human agency, and thus precludes opportunities for intervening in production for the purpose of re-purposing technology. The ideology of use, the fetish of process, fundamentally contradicts inefficient organs of human discussion and decision. In other words, every circumstance in which the council form may appear, also and already expels that form as an irrelevance.
We have discoursed long and hard upon the variants of solutionism (both councilist and accelerationist) which, assuming the essential objectivity of production, propose a mere unfettering of productive use from exchange as exit point from relations of domination.
There is no point in rehearsing here the necessity of attacking use (and thus production). It would be more helpful to consider why the theory of communisation eclipsed that of ‘self-management’ and how this in turn became a diverticulum-like pouch in the impacted bowel of communist theory (see TC’s text: Self-organisation is the first act of the revolution; it then becomes an obstacle which the revolution has to overcome’).
The communisation milieu, now also a setting sun, sought to interpose in the space of subjectivity a placeholder of non-separation, which by means of the conjuring of monadic immanence would span the problematical here to there that is otherwise indicated in theory by the term ‘transitional stage’.
In other, other words, the workers’ council, as a form decided by productive relations, appeared, within communising critique, as one of the avatars of those relations under specific circumstance of crisis. As crisis passes so the councils must relinquish their ‘control’.
Even so, the bad immanence of communisation theory falters precisely at the moment it proposes ‘communising measures’ as its way into conceiving free association as subjective agency. Immanence is itself also a kind of call from, bearing the brand of, alienation and so, by extension, the inseparability of communising measures from communism is also itself a kind of transitional stage.
Communism is not a product of subjective agency any more than it is of objective conditions. Nor does it imply the immediatist overcoming of the separation between ‘means and ends’. If, in order to defend it from its own partisans, we had to describe it, then we might agree that communism would operate sur-environmentally as the perpetual responsiveness of social relations to conscious interruption and, contrariwise, not necessarily reciprocally, not necessarily commensurably, as the stochastic responsiveness of consciousness to interruption by blind social metabolisation.
On these terms, the workers’ council is a temporary and primitive approximation of the sort of superfluous interventionist and disruptive organ that the human community would rely upon if it were to achieve its fullest realisation - superfluity, uselessness, for itself. In other words, the council form might achieve its highest development wherever it succeeds in suppressing its redundancies with production.
Then again, the communising tendency’s critique of the council form as administrating angel of productive relations in its moment of crisis is essentially correct to the extent that the council conceives itself as a legitimate authority - appearing precisely at that juncture in ideology where representation is superseded, albeit temporarily, by delegation. The council form the self-reflexivity of the abstract concrete.
For this reason, we may only proceed further if we set more or less arbitrary constraints upon what may be said here. If we record ten general principles or precepts, it may become possible to uncover (in this instance) the workers’ council as something other than what it is:
- Communist theory is not a critique of existing social relations but a flight from the adherences of oppositionist social movements.
- Communist theory is not determined by its relation to a single reductive term (‘value form’, ‘the state’, ‘exchange’, ‘production’, ‘abstraction’) but causes a stirring up of the sediments wherever it finds itself simultaneously denying two or more givens - for example where it finds it must escape both representation and delegation.
- The expulsion of labour is not identical to the abolition of labour and where realised arrives at two distinct, and antagonistic, life-world outputs. Then, if communist consciousness is anything, it is the struggle against every form taken by necessity.
- Communist ideas are extracted, and then become incommunicable; communism refuses transmission, it does not persuade - it has no converts. Its potential instances might be recorded, and thus described, but cannot be explained.
- Communism is the sole entry point to communism. Or, where communism is, production is not.
- The struggle may only affirm negation, or it will only affirm.
- Just as every individual is constituted around its escape from the cage of its own consciousness, so all organisations adapt their particularity of form to the path of decomposition.
- The communist minority may only decline - this according to the principle that no conscious entity may comprehend, and still less possess, the content of its own utterances.
- Practice is the eschewal of practice, a flight from flight.
- The tendency to derive politics reactively from events precludes any reconciliation between Americans and communism (see the leftism of Commune magazine).
In weariness, and to end this at the point where the reader might begin the work of making head or tail of it, we return to the question of the council form precisely in the moment of its historical insuetude.
The council form, as it confronts its own tendency towards governmentality, as it wrests itself away from the temptation of implementing use-value as principle of life, thereby seeks to lay down paths away from both delegation and representation as processive norms.
The purpose of the workers’ council is not, as a mode of governence, to rationalise the expropriation of the productive apparatus - on the contrary, it is a supremely unaware organisation undertaking the work of letting go and taking leave. If it is not gravedigger, then it is chief mourner; or, perhaps a self-jilting Miss Havisham.
If ever there was a historical task, and that could only take the form of historical non-commensurability with present conditions, then it would be to safely decommission the factory system, to put this world beyond use, and to actively barricade, as far as it is possible, the paths looping back into relations of domination.
The workers’ council has to move quickly, in startled reflex at its own appearance, if it is to find the resources by which it might refuse to recognise itself in the borgesian mirror of its assigned function - by what obscure instinct or intuition may it wake to the knowledge that it is to self-organise its self-disorganisation?
At the end, we begin to make out how communism is not the active creation or facilitation of new relations but a stream of negative feedbacks (re-codings, patches, corrections, checks, run-offs, pressure valves and re-formulations) directed against the pressures perpetually threatening to draw relations as a whole out of homeostatic heaven.
If communism is comprehended as the human species in steady state, then what emerges from the workers’ councils must work hard (on the principle that there are many paths leading to the sugar bowl but none leading away) against naturally occurring systemic tendencies towards the recomposition of productive relations.
To begin with a current preoccupation, communism does not realise itself in accord with the principle of ‘no borders’ (what would that even mean?) but, contrariwise, by perversely cultivating a proliferation in borders. Then, communism is realised, in its fullest amplitude, as nothing but borders, borders everywhere; it is, at its furthest point beyond chiaroscuro, it is all borders and no territory, all code and no programme, all repression, and no repressed.