The Communist Manifesto:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.... Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away , all newly formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air...
We know it well: changes in means of production means workers are perpetually de- and reskilled; capital moves from one place to another; production and consumption are continually revolutionised in view of the desire for profit, for surplus value, upon which capitalism depends and makes us depend . This movement is like a moving band of locusts, alighting to devastate everything and then taking flight once more. Nothing is spared this devastation even as new places open to devastate ...
What is to be done? Rethink the revolution which allows the ongoing revolution upon which capitalism thrives. Rethink the ongoing crisis upon which capitalism depends. It is here that Deleuze and Guattari's work is immensely valuable; I also draw on Thoburn's excellent Deleuze, Marx and Politics, which brings their work into relation with the Italian autonomia movement.
A fundamental instability of meaning is built into capitalism from the start. Values, Deleuze and Guattari claim, are decoded by capitalism insofar as they are unbound from traditional structures; the danger, however, is that they are recoded by the market, which itself acknowledges no values except work and money. On another level deterritorialisation occurs such that labour power is unbound from a particular institution (unemployed miners in the North) and reterritorialised by others (light engineering). If there is always a turbulence, a revolutionisation that is constitutive of capitalism, it is one that is regulated. Indeed, it was this regulation, which Deleuze and Guattari call axiomatisation which first gave rise to capitalism. Recall the classic account of capitalism’s emergence in Marx: capital resulting from sold property meets workers who have been deterritorialised from the land.
How to resist, when capitalism proceeds through a massive and ongoing decoding and deterritorialisation which is the very basis of the economy? It is a matter of opening up the potential which emerges in the articulation of capitalism. Firstly, there is a question of perception: how do you attend to movements of becoming? How do you gain a perspective which would disclose an immanent potential within capitalism? How do you attend to what is active, inchoate, unformed which unfolds such that it is not recaptured by capitalism? Then, secondly, it is a question of engagement: how do you call forth a virtuality or potentiality which might permit a new effectuation, a counter-interpretation which would draw on these unforeseen powers?
These questions bring us towards the word communism. From the Communist Manifesto:
Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.
True, Marx will sometimes hint at a post-capitalist state to come, presenting communism in terms of endstate where the division of labour is abolished, but the communism of the Manifesto is never simply an ideal. ‘The real movement which abolishes the present state of things’: It names a real engagement, a local and strategic intervention within capitalism. The danger is that the chance of communism appears to be given by capitalism. It is a question of thinking the relationship between capitalism and communism such as the latter is never simply a moment of the former. It is a question of resistance.
One might approach such a communism through the notion of the proletariat. When Marx writes about the proletariat, it is not to appeal to a class that is already constituted, which would have a conception of itself, of its history. The proletariat are deferred in the relation to themselves as a class and this is the point: they are not yet fixed on a molar model of the worker. This is why the term ‘working class’ is misleading. Gilles Dauvé is right: the proletariat are indeed ‘the class of the critique of work’.
But what would this mean? What is a critique of work and how is this linked to communism? Work, as the source of surplus value, is what allows capital to produce itself. Thereby the identity of the worker is delivered over to the relations that stretch across the capitalist socius. This is precarious because capital is ever-shifting and ever-revolutionizing; it is continually in crisis. If capital deterritorialises and decodes, it also reterritorialises and recodes; the worker continues to be elevated as a molar form, being ‘miraculated’, in Deleuze and Guattari's expression, over and again from the body of capital. Marx and Engels: 'The capitalist functions only as personified capital, capital as a person, just as the worker is no more than labour personified'.
Each of us is enfolded within the capitalist socius, buying into its dynamic of ideals. One ‘works on oneself’ to transform oneself in accordance with the molar ideal of the worker. One is, as a worker, never hard-working enough. If labour, under capitalism, is the extraction of surplus-value from the world, this depends upon the elevation of the molar form of the worker as an ideal. Such an elevation is merely a reaction; the minor is 'miraculated' along with the worker from the body of capital. This means that although the molar might seem to come first as a norm or standard, preceding that which would subject it to variation, it must emerge as the virtual at the same stroke as the appearance of the minor since the ‘miraculation’ of the molar ideal is only an attempt on the part of capitalism to shore itself against ostensibly anti-productive, non surplus-value-producing movements – against what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘lines of flight’.
It may appear that it is not a question of a particular class which would come to understand itself as the agent of history, but of what Deleuze and Guattari would call a minor practice, which entails a tentative negotiation of existing social relations. What does this mean? It should not be understood as the elevation of a ghettoized or marginalized identity to the status of a molar standard, which would grasp itself in its exemplary ‘truth’, but attending and engageing with ‘lines of flight’ which open within the ongoing crisis, that is, the deterritorialisation-reterritorialisation, decoding-recoding movement of capitalism.
If it is to draw upon the potential of these lines of flight, communism must seize upon what is immanent to work itself, grasping the imbrication of the molar with the minor. But since this imbrication has always and already occurred in the capitalist socius, this means the critique of work, communism, has already happened. Communism, on this account - which is not Deleuze and Guattari's - is neither a particular strategy nor the position held by a political party but a kind of event: an ongoing differentiation or deviation from a molar standard. The question is once again one of perception (where is communism happening?) and engagement (how can we seize upon and intensify this event?) both depend on and affirm what has already occurred and will happen again as communism.
It may seem that means communism does not imply the privilege of a particular class as the subject of history. We begin wherever we are. Is this why Deleuze and Guattari write there is ‘only one class of servants, the decoding bourgeoisie, the class that decodes the castes and the statuses, and that draws from the machine an undivided flow of income convertible into consumer and production goods, a flow on which profits and wages are based’? Still, perhaps their analysis offers the possibility of displacing the figure of the proletariat still further from any molar standard – displacing it back into each of us, any of us insofar as we are each subjected to capital by capital.
What does this mean? The word proletarian would name that which names ‘in’ us, struggles against molar forms, against, in this sense, the figure of the worker. This is not Deleuze and Guattari's account. Where does this struggle, this resistance, this critique of work happen? Not in the will, that is, in the activity or work of a conscious subject. Nor in the beliefs or meanings which devolve from capitalist axiomatisation. If it occurs in the proletarian, this is no longer conceived as a member of a class but as a locus of experience that is as it were 'set back' (my expression) in each of us.
To be 'set back' – how should one understand this? The one who remains amidst our world, with its regime of productivity. The one who laughs, reads, makes love ... each of us, any of us, insofar as we fall short of that molar standard of being-a-good-worker. But isn't it the case that a certain model of work, of productivity has contaminated our private lives? No doubt, no doubt ... but there is something in us which outplays the molar standard of lover or host, intellectual or new man. (I will come back to this another day. I should note that the account of the figure of the child, the reader, the not-yet-thinker, the dreamer in my last few posts is an attempt to gesture towards a new account of the proletarian ...)
The proletarian names the one who is engaged by a minor movement such that we have each already been turned from the articulation of capital. Thus communism is the relation which would open from each of us to an ongoing, affirmative differentiation. It is the relation which calls us forth as proletarians. Yes, communism is inscribed within capitalism; it is part of the infernal machine, but it reinscribes or ex-scribes capitalism outside itself. The perpetual danger is that capitalism itself proceeds through such an exscription; resistance will depend upon how one understands the ex- of ex-scription.
Two tasks, urgent and necessary. Firstly, to engage communism itself, communism as event. It is not that the negotiation with capital is an effort, or something for which one would have to plan. What it is necessary to plan, by contrast, is the political project which would draw upon this ongoing event, affirming it and repeating it in turn. This is the minimal account of the notion of strategy with which it would necessary to work. (Example: it would be necessary, through the critique of work, to permit new kinds of worker self-management. What matters is the way in which anti-production is bound to production.)
Secondly, to produce a theory that would permit us to understand the relationship between production and anti-production, capitalism and its outside. Deleuze and Guattari provide indications of one kind, Hardt and Negri of another. Still others might be sought in a whole range of contemporary philosophy and political theory, as well as in the activities of new militantisms of various kinds. This is what I will now explore over the next few posts.