11 Theses on Possible Communism

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Composition, 1921

In January 2017, comrades from across the globe gathered in Rome to assess the conditions of contemporary capitalism and to plan communist strategies for our present. Viewpoint, as a co-sponsor of the conference, participated in discussions locally and translated interviews with key participants. Today, one year later, we present our translation of “11 Theses on Possible Communism,” a manifesto written by the Collettivo C17 and rooted in the contributions of the wide range of militants and theorists who converged in Rome.  

Introduction

The following “Theses on Possible Communism” are the fruit of a common labor, which kicked off with the Rome Conference on Communism last January held at ESC Atelier and the Galleria Nazionale, and was then developed, in writing, by the “C17” collective. The Theses are not a balanced synthesis of the conference. The Theses simply try to repeat the power of those extraordinary days, in quality and in participation. But they do take a stance. Partial, assertive, just like the hastened, even provisory, present form. They are not a matter, indeed, of concluding a debate, but of relaunching what has only just  – with the conference – been opened. With the theme presented, it is then a matter of insisting on variations and, when it will be possible again in person, to improvise ceaselessly. Only in this way will the Theses have had a non-marginal function. If the Theses are already, as they undoubtedly are, the way chosen by the “C17” collective to celebrate October, then above all – and in view of a new Conference on communism – they call for response and for disagreement: they call for the future.

1. Specter. Wherever the Communist Party is in the state [al potere], communism is long gone. There is a market and there is exploitation, but without parliaments and free speech. Communism is a degenerate, defeated, and obliterated history; in Europe and in the world. It rarely occurs that a defeat is also a specter, with the capacity to frighten again; such is the indeed rare case of communism. The word is unpronounceable, its meaning or project difficult to clarify. The enemy, however, continues to have clear ideas; surely it is not as terrorized as it was in 1848, and certainly it has learned to preempt. Contemporary capitalism frightens in order to not be frightened. We know, from Hobbes on, that fear constitutes the sovereign: today fear, the permanent blackmail of precarious lives, makes exploitation possible. But if this is so, there is something that does not return: lives, while precarious and always at work, are a danger, in addition to being in danger. Communism is the name of this excess that, despite everything, continues to frighten. The victory of capital, as a nemesis, does not cease producing this excess (of relations, mobility, inventive capacities, productive cooperation, etc.). The victory of capital, as a nemesis, does not cease producing the objective conditions of communism: the reduction of “necessary labor” to the social reproduction of labor-power.

2. Neoliberalism. “Capitalize the revolution”: from 1968 on, this is the sign of the great transformation in which we are immersed. If with the struggles, life leaves the cornerstones and the factory, it is necessary to follow it everywhere, to valorize its unique and unrepeatable traits, to do business with aesthetic tastes and the behavior of each life, transforming machinery into prostheses of the “social brain” (digital and communication technologies: from the PC to the Web, from smartphones to social networks), and the general intellect into an algorithm. This has happened while globalization was running fast and a violent accumulation assailed the global South and East. Thinking the two processes separately, or in opposition, is an error laden with fateful consequences: neoliberal globalization is a weave of multiple and heterogeneous temporalities, a common space that is separated. We understand Silicon Valley with the economic zones of China or Poland, and vice versa. Neoliberalism, more precisely, is the counter-revolution, the capitalist response to 1968, an event of struggle that was – from the Sorbonne to Vietnam, from Berkeley to Prague, from Rome to Tokyo – completely global. Thinking globalization without having understood the decolonial uprisings means not thinking it at all. To focus on the economy of knowledge without paying attention to the student movements or the workers’ refusal of (repetitive) labor means entirely surrendering technological innovation to capitalist command. Neoliberalism has reintroduced – on a global scale, with differing intensities, rendering them chronic – phenomena of primitive accumulation: the dispossession of millions of people by way of land grabbing as much as the enclosure of knowledge by patents; the erosion of indirect wages through regressive taxation and welfare cuts as much as the compression of the direct wage via processes of the precaritization of labor; the mass incarceration of the poor as much as the use of migrant labor-power to destabilize wage rigidity; the association, always morally condemned, between the criminal economy and “clean” business; the impoverishment, but generalized access to consumption, to technologies; renewed mobility and the diffusion of borders; the exaltation of differences and radicalization of exploitation: neoliberalism is the combination, always re-activated, of these processes.

3. Crisis. The economists say that the crisis we have continued to plunge into for the past ten years is a Great Depression, like that of the 1870s or that which exploded in 1929 and subsided, only after the death of tens of millions of people, in 1945. Taking up the lesson of the 1930s, several economists speak of “secular stagnation”: decades of low growth, low wages, high unemployment, high poverty. Always something to hope for… In this sense, crisis is no longer just an illness, but the “treatment” received each day because the disease flares up. The question imposes itself: why, if capitalism has won everywhere, is there a need for crisis to govern the world? A first answer shows us that the world is anything but governed: American hegemony wanes; a new multipolarism presents a threat; war kills in the periphery and the center, and is made with weapons, attacks, money, and trade. A second answer, instead, tells us that crisis is a form of governing labor-power. Precisely because the victory of capital does not cease producing, in spite of itself, the objective conditions of communism, the command of capital relentlessly renews that extra-economic violence that had characterized its origins since the 16th century. The more robots replace human labor, the less capitalism can afford social justice and democracy. The more subjects incorporate productive instruments, the more it will be necessary to demoralize, impoverish, and discipline them. The neoliberal management of the crisis connects the control of behavior with the renewal of discipline, whether it takes the form of the division of labor, masculine violence against women, the repression of the poor and migrant (from internment to expulsion). The best-known face of the capitalism-crisis is Donald Trump: a billionaire close to Goldman Sachs, and therefore Wall Street, he does not scorn but defends and, when he can, foments the nationalist and racist right. Neoliberalism, which for years has rhymed with globalization, strengthens its aggressive and authoritarian pole; the space of finance is combined with that of borders, discrimination, the fatherland. And what’s more: in the crisis, the archaic of Sovereignty, the civil war waged against the poor, reemerges. In this scenario, if the neoliberal left – the one in vogue in the time of Clinton, Blair, and Schröder – shrinks almost everywhere, the (neoliberal) chauvinist right is rediscovered, and this does not exclude fascist rhetoric.

4. Proletariat. If what has been written so far is true, it is no longer possible to define the proletariat in a way that does not take into account the hybridization of production and reproduction, globalization (and its crisis), the heterogeneity of historical times of capital (“the contemporaneity of non-contemporaneity”). Labor, indeed, struggles to distinguish itself from life; not so much and not only because the time of labor and the time of life tend to coincide, but also and above all because in order to labor and produce surplus-value, it is essential to draw on those affective, relational, and symbolic resources that articulate life itself and its reproduction. In the same way, it is impossible to describe productive subjects without putting mobility at the center; even insofar as the latter is prevented or largely used in order to encourage new processes of the hierarchization of the labor market. Again: high-tech companies, caporalato and semi-slavery in agricultural production, underpaid care work, and the informal and criminal economy can all cohabit in one and the same territory. Proletariat must therefore always be expressed in three senses: sexual difference, the transnational dimension (new migratory regimes; hierarchies according to the color line); the multiplication of labor (and forms of exploitation). The masculine, all too masculine, white working class has never been the whole proletariat. The Russian Revolution, for example, begins with the women’s strike on March 8, 1917 (February 22 on the Julian calendar). The proletariat, which clearly also includes the global working class (with major attention to China or Bangladesh, etc.) is today more than ever woman, it is educated youth, it is black, it is migrant. In the intersection of these elements, we find the exploited subjects on the contemporary scene. A proletariat that is a majority, but made up of minorities, a hybrid weave that escapes identities.

5. Class Struggle. When production and reproduction intertwine, and often become confused, there is no class struggle that is not also a conflict for the affirmation and defense of forms of life. The economic struggle, historically delegated to the trade union, loses its boundaries, flooding continuously onto the terrain of sexuality, education, the right to the city, anti-racism, and communication. In this sense, the traditional distinction between economic and political struggles has collapsed; if anything, we are witnessing processes of politicization that press and displace as much in production as in social cooperation, in behavior as well as in the defense of the commons, in intimacy as well as in relationships. Class struggle is as much the International Women’s Strike as Gezi Park, Black Lives Matter as the clashes – fierce and enduring – for wage increases in China and India, or the earlier strikes of Uber and Foodora workers. As women in particular have shown us, the Strike is no longer an exclusive tool of the unions, but a practice that runs through struggles against patriarchal violence, against exploitation and wage disparity, for the democratic re-appropriation of welfare, for social and civil rights. The Strike, after the International March 8th, is (finally) a process of politicization. In the examples cited, the moments that still appeared arranged into a sequence in Marx and Engels’ Manifesto – the “collision” between the local proletariat and individual capitalist, “coalition” of workers, political struggle – are immediately present and conquer terrain previous considered extraneous to class struggle. But this co-existence or co-articulation keeps intact, and if anything reinforces and complicates, the thrust of the constituent process: from the bottom – life and its power [potenza], social relations and exploitation, molecular struggles, language and its contagion, etc. – upwards – towards established power [potere]. Violence, which is also an indispensable component of the class struggle and of power [potere], rediscovers the traits of the right to resistance [ius resistentiae]: it is not so much political and military enmity that defines its physiognomy and rhythm as it is the “defense of the works of friendship,” social cooperation, alternative forms of life.

6. Communists. Who are the communists today? Or better: what are they doing? We can depart, schematically, from some indications in Marx and Engels’ Manifesto: communists “ bring to the front common interests,” beyond the local/national perimeters of struggle; they dedicate themselves patiently and with determination to the “formation of the proletariat into a class”; they battle to take political power; they express in a general way the “actual relations springing from an existing class struggle” (“from a historical movement going on under our very eyes”). Communists thus, in the first place, conquer or construct the common in the struggles. An effort that is all the more necessary if serious about dealing with irreducible multiplicity and the global horizon of these struggles, the disparity of historical rhythms, the primacy of differences over identities. Forming the proletariat in the class, when the former escapes homogeneous codification, means shifting attention from the subject to processes of subjectivation. The coming class can only be “an infinite patchwork” or “harlequin’s coat”; the method of the communists, composition. Let us again rely on the metaphors of the philosophers: composing the proletariat into the class means making an archipelago, delineating constellations. Only in the midst of this process, which is also always a laboratory of self-study, is it possible to generalize struggles, to grasp transversal aspects. The communists, in battle, express these aspects with their own lives, they do not represent them with chatter.

7. Communism. Communism is often confused with the sharing of goods, whether natural or artificial. Instead, it’s worth being literal: communism is “the abolition of bourgeois private property.” With the awareness that this means a social relation of exploitation, equivalent to the theft of others’ labor. Better yet: what is stolen from others’ labor is that excess, or what is unnecessary for the production of the life of those who labor. If this hard core is not grasped, communism is confused with the simple problem of a fair distribution of wealth. It is true, however, that there is no exploitation without dispossession (of land, of means of production, generally of the objective conditions of reproduction): what is sold on the market is labor-power, by the poor, who have nothing else available. But today, differently from the 16th century, the poor are immediately thrown into a network of communication and mobility which the new mode of production, and globalization, despite everything and according to different regimes of inclusion, have made possible. In a significant part of the world productive tools, among other things, have been largely socialized (information technology, digital labor, etc.), and the reproduction of life has been largely financialized (debt). Capital, in this sense, is qualified as a highly articulated set of “extractive operations.” The extraction of value takes place upstream from the production process (land, natural resources, urban rent, etc.) through mechanisms of dispossession and enclosure; it takes place in the process itself, of course, leeching absolute and relative surplus-value; but it also takes place, increasingly, downstream, in capture and command, by means of algorithms and finance, cooperation and social creativity. “Expropriating the expropriators” (or class struggle), then, means abolishing this private property: the common of communism concerns both goods and welfare – their shared use, their democratic management – and the rejection of labor under a boss, the invention of new monetary measures as much as the autonomy of collective intelligence and its constructiveness (scientific, political, economic, artistic).

8. Forms of Life. Communist appropriation – or the rejection of wage labor, the democratization of welfare, etc. – is also the absolution of the “person.” In bourgeois society, Marx and Engels point out, only capital is “independent and personal,” while living labor is “impersonal.” Where capital ends, so also does the individual fiction, with its perimeters. The liberal political tradition, and today, much more strongly, neoliberal governmentality, insist on the undisputed primacy of the individual in the face of society. At the beginning of the counter-revolution, while squashing the miners and more generally the unions, Margaret Thatcher repeated the mantra: “there is no such thing as society; there are only individuals.” It is a slogan embodied in the excessive extension of the enterprise form (the entrepreneur of the self), in the celebrations of human capital, and the proliferation of self-employment. To do away with exploitation – now that it takes the form of the capture of value beyond the walls of the factory, in the subsumption of social cooperation, the coincidence between the time of life and the time of labor – means doing away with competitive individualism. Communism is the autonomy of living labor, the primacy of the present over the past (capital, accumulated labor), and thus the affirmation of the irreducibly social character of the individual. Further: there is no abolition of the personality of capital without the demolition of the family and the patriarchy, without the invention of new amorous institutions. This is not all. Precisely because today creativity and the aesthetic dimension are combined with technological and productive innovation in an unprecedented way, we repeat the adage of the young Marx: “the abolition of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all the senses.” Beyond Marx, we say that the conquest of new modes of feeling is not only a point of arrival, but what accompanies every process of liberation.

9. Program. As with the class, the program is composed. From this point of view, it is not so much “social questions” that are decisive as it is struggles and processes of subjectivation. This is worth insisting on in order to distinguish communist politics from populist politics. The irreducible multiplicity of questions makes the people an “empty signifier,” to be filled through a set of discursive and hegemonic moves. The irreducible multiplicity of struggles and the phenomena of politicization linked to them, instead, embody the claims, and perform them on an at once polemical and constructive level; hegemony is no longer only about discourse, but instead insists on forms of life. In this sense, the communist program is not simply a program of governing. Forming the proletariat into the class means “conquering democracy,” here and now. And conquering democracy, here and now, means expropriating the expropriators, to make the common against capital and its extractive operations. We therefore present, without any hierarchy, a program already strong within the many conflicts we have mentioned so far: universal basic income, decoupled from labor performance and provided by general taxation; global minimum wage; the reduction of labor time; freedom of movement for people; taxation of assets, of financial transactions, of robots; elimination of tax havens; development of productions of the common and for the common (health, care, innovation, etc.); uninterrupted support for public education; unrelenting struggle, starting from kindergarten, against the patriarchy; the implementation of beauty (urban, countryside, cultural); etc.

10. Soviet. In April 1917, Lenin wrote: “the fundamental problem of all revolutions is state power.” We thus start from the following question: what is state power today? Is the state still, as it appeared to Lenin, and, along with him, to the 19th century communists, the place of the maximum concentration of political power? We agree with those who, describing neoliberal rationality, have challenged the rhetoric in recent years insisting on the evaporation of the state, or celebrating the “minimal state.” The European ordoliberal model, on the one hand, but also more generally the brunt of states in processes of neoliberalization which have swept through the global East (particularly China and Russia), show a completely different scenario. Equally, however, we know how much neoliberal globalization has upended space and powers [poteri]. National economic borders have been replaced with special economic zones, corridors, flows, transnational agreements, etc. So much so that it is no longer possible to make political power, its efficacy, coincide with the power of the state. The latter, if anything, is an important actor within processes of neoliberalization (“structural reforms”), without ever being the only or privileged director of them. The exhaustion of American hegemony, the definition of a properly multipolar world, does not annul globalization; they articulate it according to unprecedented trajectories, as well as from the point of view of war crises. The brief text from Lenin recalled above, questioning state power after the February revolution, authorizes a decisive political phenomenon: “dual power.” On the one hand, bourgeois rule, on the other, although embryonic, the rule of the Soviets of workers, peasants, soldiers. The latter is a power [potere] – in Lenin’s words – “of the same kind as the Paris Commune in 1871”: for norms and parliament, the direct initiative from the base is substituted; for the army and police, the armed people; for bureaucracy, the imperative mandate. Without dual power, without exemplification and deepening of another form of rule, the overthrow of bourgeois rule, the revolution, is impossible. In criticizing unions, Antonio Gramsci presented the factory council – where the single waged worker is substituted for the “producer,” a subject who decides on social cooperation – as “the model of the proletarian state.” Precisely now that the state no longer concentrates the entirety of political power, now that new assemblages articulate global governance, today when living labor has conquered relational, linguistic, affective density, dual power loses its temporary character in order to become the privileged and permanent terrain of communist initiative. This does not prevent us, on the contrary, from seizing the opportunities and going to rule, when positive conjunctures allow for it. And it does not erase the awareness that the neoliberal regime often mobilizes and captures the processes of self-organization, making them a contested terrain. This means, however, that without a (strongly) transnational, dense network of counter-power, of Soviets, even the conquest of the state makes no difference, it is destined to not leave lasting traces. The Commune must therefore be accompanied by the phenomena of revolutionary syndicalism, genuine institutions of living labor where class struggle and processes of politicization, conflict, and self-rule go hand in hand.

11. Future. Even if in the real movement of living labor, in the struggles that immediate interests bring to light, the communists display the “future of the movement” itself: with this, the Manifesto of 1848 concludes. Displaying the future, making it live in singular struggles, means – we heard it a moment ago with Gramsci – consolidating “institutional experiences of the oppressed classes.” It means, as well, reconquering the future, prefiguration, after too many years influenced by dystopia, with a present that holds tight and breathless, as if it were a cage; years of neoliberal devaluation of the refined proletarian art of organization and project. Making plans, clearly, has nothing to do with forced collectivization by means of state violence. But it does mean, in the horizontality of the struggles, widening the possible excess; staying in the movement by elaborating – institutionally – its virtualities; outlining paradigms and instruments for a governmentality of the common. A communist project, then, is a new constructivism, where production, reproduction, political decision, and forms of life are (finally) made inseparable.

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