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Is the Revolution Going to be Communist?

By Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, 6 February 2015
Image: Stuart Hall, film still from the Stuart Hall Project, Smoking Dog Films, 2013

Mikkel Bolt analyses the many global shades of reformism and revolution in an extended discussion of 'what is to be done with the crisis, capitalism and the revolution, beyond the avant-garde, reformism and the multitude'


The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.i

– Karl Marx


What is to be done? Lenin’s answer to the question is not particularly credible. If the answer was somehow related to the question of organisation, the German revolutionary movement would probably have arrived at a solution in the period from November 1918 to late March 1921 when the last worker-held bastion, the Leuna works, was bombed and stormed. After the revolution in Berlin in 1918, and for the next two and a half years, the German revolutionary movement experimented with all kinds of organisational models from parliamentary parties and reformist unions to soldiers’ councils, alternative factory councils, industrially based unions, ‘red’ armed gangs (‘terrorists’) and a small red army.ii But they did not succeed. The answer is therefore not necessarily a question of the right kind of organisation.

It is definitely not the kind of organisation Lenin imagined in 1902. Lenin’s Kautskian answer – we have to create a social-democratic avant-garde party, composed of professional revolutionaries able to lead and steer the workers in the struggle against capitalism in order to realise socialism – was not and is not the answer to the question.iii Right away Rosa Luxemburg strongly warned against Lenin’s avant-garde model.iv She wrote that Lenin’s revolutionary organisation was authoritarian and subjected the actual class struggle to the party. For Luxemburg, organisation was always a result of the militancy of the workers and not a precondition of it, as Lenin argued. According to Luxemburg, Lenin reproduced the discipline of the capitalist state; now it was the all-knowing central committee that had the baton and not the bourgeoisie. Luxemburg was highly critical towards Lenin’s position, writing that Lenin ‘glorified the educative influence of the factory […] accustoming the proletariat to “discipline and organisation”.’v Luxemburg rejected Lenin’s argument, characterising it as ‘mechanistic’. ‘The discipline Lenin has in mind is being implanted in the working class not only by the factory but also by the military and the existing state bureaucracy – by the entire mechanism of the centralised bourgeois state.’vi Lenin ended up depriving the workers of agency while giving himself a role as its leader.vii


Image: KPD cartoon satirising Taylorism and Nazism


Lenin’s avant-garde model has nonetheless throughout the 20th century tempted, and apparently still today tempts, revolutionaries. At least that seems to be the case with Slavoj Žižek when he, in connection with Margaret Thatcher’s death in April 2013, wrote of the need for ‘a centralised Leninist party with a leader’.viii According to Žižek we need a new master able to ‘repeat the gesture of Thatcher in an opposite direction’. The Left, in other words, needs a Communist Thatcher, a leader that can create an authentic opposition between those who want the new and those that just want to preserve what’s already established. ‘Somebody must assume the simple, and for that very reason most difficult, act of transposing this complex multitude into a simple “Yes” or “No”. We shall attack, we continue to wait.’ix

Žižek of course presents his idea of a master as an opposition to what he terms the Deleuzian idea of a leaderless multitude. He is opposed to the widespread tendency to glorify horizontality and the notion of a network based organisation without leaders. The long discussions are all very well, Žižek writes, but what is supposed to happen afterwards? The ecstatic party in the square or the long debates in the General Assemblies cannot last and we have to avoid the idea that they are revolutionary in themselves.

The critique of the idea of direct democracy and the networked nature of counter-power might be relevant, but Žižek uses a problematic idea of the political subject as an individual and shows a remarkable lack of trust in the critical potential of the mass, as well as a complete disregard for history. As if neoliberalism was a choice Thatcher took consciously or unconsciously some time in the late 1970s. Neoliberalism cannot be reduced to a political project that depends upon leadership. When the development of capitalism moved towards a dismantling of the Keynesian wage-productivity-deal after the oil crisis in 1973 liberalism experienced a revival and, equipped with the prefix ‘neo’, neoliberalism became the official ideology, legitimising the privatisations and cuts that governments carried out all over the world. To simplify, you could say neoliberalism is the ideology that arrives with the re-structuring of the second part of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. Neoliberalism is thus not the ‘cause’ of the shift. It was not possible to ‘choose’ another capitalist political economy. This does not mean that Thatcher did not intend to pursue the policy she did, but it means that the shift did not take place because she was elected. Thatcher was elected because neoliberalism was the policy available at that moment in history. Even the socialist Mitterand was forced to change his course and accept a more liberal-capitalist and market-oriented agenda two years after he was elected. The purpose of the restructuring was to re-establish the extraction of surplus value through an expanding surplus of labour on a global scale. Žižek remains utterly indifferent to these structural constraints that have been analysed by people like Robert Brenner.x He seriously underestimates the importance of historical circumstance and does not engage in a meaningful critique of political economy.

Žižek’s defence of the strong leader and the creation of a Leftist authoritarian party ends up looking like an uncritical repetition of Lenin’s avant-garde model, and even a distorted repetition. Lenin understood that the revolutionary project was a collective project – he for instance left a number of important decisions to people who were elected (even in cases where Lenin considered them relatively incompetent) – but Žižek provocatively transforms centralism into an one-(wo)man project. In Žižek there’s no form of collective praxis beyond a hierarchical structure with a high and mighty philosopher king capable of leading it. And this master does not only lead the masses he also tells it what it wants. To an even greater extent than Lenin, Žižek thinks of the mass as a passive and drowsy entity, unconscious of its needs and thus in need of a master capable of setting the course and explaining what is to be done.xi One of Žižek’s examples of the importance of a strong leader is Venezuela where Hugo Chávez was the charismatic man telling the masses that they were repressed but that they could fight back and create something different. That the Venezuelian mass was not aware of such a situation before Chávez appeared and became the leader of Movimento Quinta República is rather doubtful. Venezuela is one of the countries where large-scale protests against neoliberal globalisation took place pretty early on. In February 1989 thousands of employed and unemployed workers reacted to the rising price of food, petrol and public transportation resulting in widespread protests where more than 3000 people were killed in battles with the security forces.


Image: Zizek at the helm


Žižek’s defence of an authoritarian state-capitalist-like socialism is problematic. Revolutionary consciousness does not come from outside, from a master, from Stalin, Tito, Mao etc., but arises in struggles against the system that excludes or dominates people. It arises in everyday life. The mass does not have to be organised by an external leader, the necessary organisation happens in the struggle. Nobody is going to organise other people, you organise yourself together with others.


Reformism Beyond Reformism


Neither Lenin’s democratic-centralism nor Žižek’s leader-fetishising authoritarianism gives us a good starting point for the organisation of anti-capitalist resistance today. But there are other positions available. Among founding father of cultural studies Stuart Hall’s final publications was a manifesto written together with his co-editors of the Soundings journal, the geographer Doreen Massey and the sociologist Michael Rustin, with the aim of contributing to ‘a new progressive Left politics’. After Neoliberalism: The Kilburn Manifesto is a collectively authored text in twelve parts, just recently completed.xii The inspiration for the new book is the May Day Manifesto Hall wrote in May 1967 together with E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams.xiii The manifesto from 1967, which is being re-issued in connection with The Kilburn Manifesto, was a critique of the then ruling Labour-government. The government was doing too little to turn British society towards socialism and it did not address the needs of a number of new social groups at all. According to Hall, Thompson and Williams it was thus necessary to develop a new socialist narrative that could include all the different new subjects that did not fit the old Marxist class analysis, and still connect with a continuous history of socialism. The manifesto was an attempt to build a bridge between the old and the new left, between the organised working class movement and Labour and the new social movements and Hall, Thompson and Williams sought to point to a third way between social-democracy and Stalinism. Unfortunately the new manifesto is not much different.

There is of course a big difference between the two manifestos: Where the May Day Manifesto was offensive – the New Left was carried forth by strong economic growth and an explosive youth culture – the new manifesto is much more muted. Hall, Massey and Rustin write that the focus of the new manifesto is primarily on analysing neoliberal capitalism and the decline of the Left during the last four decades. In accordance with Hall’s cultural studies’ approach, and in a continuation of his previous analyses of Thatcher, the analysis of neoliberalism not only focuses on neoliberalism as an economic phenomenon but also accounts for neoliberalism as a cultural, ideological and political phenomenon. The influence of Gramsci is obvious, and Hall and his comrades are heavily indebted to the vocabulary of the Italian philosopher. Hall accounts for the ‘ideological’ success of neoliberalism thus: even though the financial crisis seemed at first to make the inequality of the neoliberalist accumulation regime visible, neoliberalism is still hegemonic. More or less all the different spheres of society are still being conceptualised as markets. Hall and co. want to engage in an ideology critique of neoliberalism that can demystify this idea and the subsequent individualisation that has taken place in more or less all social relationships.

So far so good, an ideology critique of neoliberalism is for scertain relevant, but it is not enough on its own. Unfortunately Hall and his associates do not connect this ideology critique with a critique of political economy. They are therefore forced to explain its historical development as a question of hegemony, as if neoliberal ideology is the ‘cause’ of the development. That capital will necessarily experience moments of crisis and will therefore continuously destroy capital seems to escape Hall. In this way, Hall’s and Žižek’s analyses resemble each other. They are an expression of a problematic emphasis on culture in analyses of the current period, where everything is turned into a question of discourse and ideology and where class struggle is translated into a battle between interest groups fighting for state power and cultural hegemony. We don’t need to go back to some rigid materialist emphasis of the base but we will not be able to analyse the ongoing structural transformations if we remain at the level of ideology critique.

Hall, Massey and Rustin set forth an idea of collectivity as a response to the neoliberal idea of individuality. But it seems rather an old one, as most of their examples are taken from a working class culture reminiscent of the 1950s. Unfortunately, this is characteristic of After Neoliberalism: The Kilburn Manifesto. It remains a project for reviving a nation-based reformist socialism. A more adequate title for the manifesto would be: Before Neoliberalism. Hall is trying to defend the working class against the ruling order that, through neoliberalism, has destroyed the balance that existed in Western Europe in the period after the Second World War until the late 1970s. Hall, Massey and Rustin want to save the Left and the remains of a residual Western working class culture. We thus end up with yet another attempt to breathe life into the worker organisations of the Western national democracies that already years ago stopped having any kind of progressive significance for the supersession of anything, least of all itself. There is little of the self-critical dimension Marx found in the proletariat. Preservation and not negation. Reform then, and not revolution. The abolition of capitalism is postponed in favour of the workers’ controlling the means of production, in charge, in other words, of their own exploitation. The project is not the abolition of capitalism but merely to mend the damage it’s done.


Image: Guy Debord and J.V. Martin, Abolition du Travail Aliene, 1963


Hall et al try, then, to resurrect the British working class. Communism has always been the opposite of this, namely the negation of the classes of capitalist society in a proletarian revolution including the self-negation of the working class. This puts us very far from questioning the basic conditions of capitalist society. It is a reformist project Hall is proposing, which contrary to its intention does not go to the root of anything, but remains focused on political and cultural relations. There is thus no critique of the capitalist money economy. Hall, Massey and Rustin are focused on winning the political and cultural struggle about the right to plan the capitalist mode of production. As they phrase it:


For us, this is not a question of restoring the tried remedies of the post-war welfare-state settlement. Of course, that would not be an altogether bad place to start. But that compromise, for all its attempt to achieve a different balance of values and power from that dictated by markets, nevertheless accepted that the market sectors should still be left essentially free to generate profits, while a public system managed by elected governments would merely be allowed to redistribute some of the ensuing resources, and provide for some social needs which markets would otherwise neglect.xiv


Hall, Massey and Rustin do advance a critique of the post-war welfare society, but it is a very weak critique aimed at the scope of that project more than anything else. This is not a fundamental critique of the capitalist economy but a critique of the market, which according to the three authors was allowed to expand in post-war welfare society. Now the market has expanded even further and commodified even more aspects of human life. The solution is to force the market to pull back, Hall, Massey and Rustin argue. To return to the post-war welfare society and finally build it. But it is always necessary to remember the global structure in which the post-war welfare society was embedded, where two thirds of the world was cut off from what modernisation took place. The expansion of welfare society is not a radical rejection of neoliberal capitalism. Placing oneself to the left of Harold Wilson does not really change anything. It’s just humanising the maximisation of profit, creating stability through reforms, building democratic state capitalism. Hall forgets that the post-war boom was not a result of good planning and a healthy relationship between the classes: The Keynesian wage productivity deal occurred on the basis of the enormous destruction of means of production and labour in the period from 1914 to 1945. The basic contradiction in the manifesto is between neoliberalism and the welfare society. Neoliberalism has destroyed the welfare state and replaced the idea of collectivity with market based individualism. By making this the primary opposition Hall avoids a genuine critique of capital’s dissimulation of the contradictory relationship between capital and labour. The critique of neoliberalism is precisely that it destabilises and turns everything into a market, that it creates a contradiction between world capital and world proletariat and therefore does not leave any space for the peaceful survival of the national working class and the Keynesian compromise. In other words it is a kind of state capitalism with a human face that Hall, Massey and Rustin make themselves spokespeople for. They thus show a surprising lack of understanding when it comes to the question of profit maximisation and capitalist rivalry.

There’s a problematic identification with the nation state in the Kilburn Manifesto. It is significant that when Hall and the others write about the need for a radical critique of neoliberalism it takes place within the framework of an already established national political public sphere in which they want to put pressure on Labour. They even argue for the need of a new government, as if that would make a difference. In the manifesto there is no critique of parliamentary national democracy. In that sense Hall is not even at eye-level with the most radical protesters in Spain, Greece, Egypt, etc. who are busy critiquing nation state democracy, labelling it a spectacle or a fraud. We are witnessing a break between those who are affirmative towards the nation state and those who want to abolish it. Hall and his associates are firmly in the first group. In parts of both Occupy and los indignados there has been a move beyond politics as a separate sphere, embedded in a nation state. But the writers of The Kilburn Manifesto remain attached to the idea of national democracy.


Image: Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras at a Podemos demo in Madrid, 2015


They are of course not the only ones. Syriza’s partnership with the right-wing Independent Greeks is telling of this idea of a national redistribution of wealth. A large fraction of the European left apparently still believe it is possible for national governments to chart an independent way and transfer wealth from rich to poor. But today all countries are integrated into the global production chain. Some kind of independent state capitalist route is not a solution to the crisis. During the 20th century all such attempts have failed miserably and resulted in unproductivity causing poverty. And Syriza will not even be able to go down that route. It is pivotal for the new government that Greece remains attractive to capital preventing a further flight of capital from the country. The promises to renegotiate the Greek debt and reduce unemployment as well as increase social spending will be extremely difficult to realise. The new government needs to keep the Greek economy competitive and that means a continuation of the austerity program of the previous government. And the country cannot resort to some kind of magical technological innovation as insufficient capital for such investment and that course would anyway eventually result in a further rise in unemployment. Right now the most likely scenario seems to be a negotiation of the debt. Unfortunately it is unlikely that its creditors will let Greece of the hook. Minor concessions may of course be granted but that will not meaningfully ameliorate the conditions for the population. An exit from the euro and return to the drachma could be even more brutal since the Greek debt would skyrocket and the price of imported goods rise could cause further inflation forcing the government into a new round of cuts. It’s a lose-lose situation. In the present situation it is more likely that Syriza will play its part as the left of capital and slowly fuse with the Greek State just as the anti-dictator movement did in the 1980’s when it let itself by picked up by Pasok. Neither Syriza nor Podemos represent an alternative, and calling upon the State to right its wrongs risks derailing a real critique of capitalism encapsulating the tensions the crisis has brought out within the framework of capital. Alexis Tsipras is not the saviour of the poor in Greece it is more likely that he will end up being a later-day Noske [Ed. Note: Gustav Noske, Minister of Defence of the Weimar Republic 1919-1920 and leader of the counter-revolution during the November Revolution] if the Greek proletariat really starts moving and seriously threatens the local ruling class.

The project Hall, Massey and Rustin are engaged in is a nostalgic one, in which the necessary re-thinking we need in the present situation does not occur. It is also difficult to see how such a reformist project could be at all possible in the present situation, where capital is going through a radical devaluation that hits, first and foremost, workers, who are thus left with no power to press for a new compromise between capital and labour. Workers are excluded or, if they are lucky enough to get a job, are trapped in extremely precarious work relations and burdened with indefinite debt. One could perhaps argue that China and India could engage in such national welfare projects, but the ongoing destruction of the climate puts the idea of such a modernisation and the possibility of raising of billions into a middle class into question.

Besides it is always crucial to remember the global structure the post-war Western welfare societies were embedded in, where two thirds of the world was cut off from access to the modernisation taking place. Stuart Hall, for one, should have been able to acknowledge that. The living conditions of the Western working class were materially ameliorated significantly during the post war period, but the rest of humanity was by and large trapped in colonial or post-colonial conditions. What made the welfare state possible, in Great Britain for instance, with its social benefits; public pension and a national cultural policy, was the geopolitically privileged position of the Western countries. The rest of the world was left in poverty. We always have to take these facts into consideration when talking about the welfare state.


The (Counter)Revolution of the Multitude


Hall and Žižek try to breathe new life into the reformist project and bet on a state capitalist solution, they want the state to set barriers to capital’s maximisation of profit and even out the inequality that capital necessarily creates. In so doing they cut the connection to Marx’s anti-political communist project, which has as its basis the abolition of the capitalist money economy and the dissolution of the nation state. Unfortunately, there is not much left of this project in Hall and Žižek. Comparatively a little more of it remains in Hardt and Negri’s short e-pamphlet ‘Declaration’, a reading of the movement of squares in North Africa, Southern Europe and the US in 2011. Hardt and Negri start out by analysing the protests as a rejection of neoliberal capitalism and the modes of subjection that characterise neoliberalism: debt, media, security and political representation. But they continue, of course, beyond such a reading and see the protests as an expression of the constant challenging of capital by the multitude. The analysis of neoliberal capitalism is thus anchored in the opposition between capital and multitude. Even though Hardt and Negri use a more restrained rhetoric in this book, the key is still an inflated optimism. Just as in Empire, Multitude and Commonwealth the scale of the resistance is exaggerated and leaves the impression of certain victory. The relationship between capital and labour is characterised by labour’s ability not only to react to capital’s exploitation and the new forms of subjection but also make capital superfluous. The multitude always creates something new and is thus the name of something completely new, a kind of limitless creativity. This is what happens in the squares. As they write:


Movements of revolt and rebellion […] provide us the means not only to refuse the repressive regimes under which these subjective figures suffer but also to invert these subjectivities in figures of power.xv


The Occupy movement, the M-15 movement in Spain and the rebellious subjects in Northern Africa are all examples of a rejection – and a creative conversion of – neoliberalism Hardt and Negri argue. In the protests the subjective figures of neoliberalist capitalism are rejected in favour of continuous experimentation with new social forms that are not mediated by money and debt, but instead open an inclusive, democratic space where new ways of being are made possible beyond debt, the mass media, surveillance and parliamentary democracy. The rebellious masses are an expression of an originary resistance to capitalism. They are the multitude that not only challenge capital but conquer it. The occupation of squares such as Tahrir, Puerta del Sol and Zuccotti Park is not just a rejection of the present crisis-regime of neoliberal capitalism but is also an active creation of new relations that point beyond present capitalist society and thus constitute new ways of life in themselves. As Hardt and Negri write: ‘Rebellion and revolt set in motion not only a refusal but also a creative process.’xvi

Hardt and Negri thus present an analysis that brings together the protests and underlines the connections between them. This is important. It is necessary to move beyond a focus on the national context. Hardt and Negri apply a global perspective. Unfortunately when it comes down to it they analyse the protests primarily as an expression of the multitude and its ability to challenge capital. The declining rate of profit and the long neoliberal crash landing, in which more and more workers are excluded and production is outsourced does not play a big part in their analysis. We are left with the usual stratospheric history of the battle between capital and multitude.

As Hardt and Negri phrase it, combining Foucault and Marx, the multitude is original, its resistance comes first, capital needs it and cannot create value without it. But by substituting the proletariat with the multitude Hardt and Negri ends up with a highly creative, self-constituting subject that is always able to reject capital, although it has not been able to do so just yet. But communism is already present and will conquer sooner or later. It is present in the new work relations and it is present in the occupied squares. It is almost as if Hardt and Negri have turned Mario Tronti’s idea of the primacy of the working class on its head, making it appear as if communism will materialise automatically.xvii The multitude does not negate itself as the other part of the capital – labour relationship, exploitation is automatically replaced by creativity. Where Tronti wrote about the violent rejection of capital by the workers Hardt and Negri write about the already accomplished supersession of capitalism in immaterial labour and in the squares. It is almost as if it is no longer necessary for the proletariat to negate itself as class. Active self-negation is unnecessary.

But the premise does not hold, the idea of valorisation beyond wage labour is problematic. No doubt a spreading out of valorisation has occurred in the last three decades, and yes, it has become more collective, but it does not take place automatically in the social body, as Hardt and Negri seem to think. It can be difficult to map the individual wage-labourer’s contribution to valorisation, but this does not mean that it is society as a coherent quasi-organic movement that valorises capital. Hardt and Negri go too far in their vitalism and seem to argue that labour has almost disappeared. That, of course, is not the case, it has merely changed form and become global. Hardt and Negri apparently forget about the wage labourers in Asia, Latin America and South Africa in sheer excitement over the immanent bliss of immaterial labour. They forget that immaterial labour, network capitalism, debt and outsourcing go together.

We will probably advance further if we analyse the transformations that have happened in recent decades as a result of both workers’ militancy and the inner contradictions of capital. The working class or the multitude is not an independent subject that is somehow independent of value production. Capital is not an opposition but class contradiction, and the dependence creating structures of capital do not magically disappear because of new relations of production. But that is the impression one is left with in Hardt and Negri. The revolution has already happened, or is happening by itself, which makes it rather difficult to distinguish it from the counter-revolution. If everything is read as an expression of resistance and creativity the distinction between resistance and crisis, revolution and counter-revolution tends to disappear.


Crisis and Revolution


Hardt and Negri’s analysis of the present protest cycle is unfortunately completely disconnected from any historical dimension. They have fled into the future and disregard the present powerlessness of the proletariat. After several decades during which the idea of revolution almost disappeared – or was turned into individual conformism in step with the demands of the market – we have to take into account the scattered nature of the protests and start with the crisis. We have to begin with an account of the long destruction that has taken place. But for Hardt and Negri the protests come off looking like a revolution accomplished. There is no doubt that a break occurred in 2011, that the protests were a rejection of the austerity politics that was introduced after the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2007/8. The protests are very important but unfortunately they are not a reason for the optimism expressed by Hardt and Negri.

Where are we then? The new cycle of protests takes place against a background of four decades of destruction. In the longer historical perspective, the neoliberal epoch now appears to be one long crash landing after the explosive economic development of the post-war period, and the epoch has been characterised by repeated crises (1973-1975, 1980-1982, 1990-1991, 2001-2002, 2007-ongoing). Since the beginning of the 1970s capitalism has tried to reconstruct itself by saving on social reproduction through debt, technological development and the outsourcing of production. Capital has depended more and more on cheap labour from Asia and Eastern Europe, all the while closing down big industry in the West.

An assessment of the present situation has to start with the recognition that the last four decades has been one long defeat for the proletariat. The present crisis is just the last phase in a long lasting crisis regime that has its origin in the reconstruction that took place in the 1970s. As a response to the drop in the rate of profit an extensive shift occurred where national and regional limits to the movement of capital were abolished, where wage labour was expanded in Asia, Latin America, as well as in both Northern and sub-Saharan Africa and where larger and larger parts of capital was invested in the financial sector. The result of the changes have been disastrous for the proletariat, who have been expelled from the scene of history. This has at least been the development in the US and in Europe. That’s why the American and European protests are so defensive and why the most important protests take place outside the centre.

In the West the working class has been dissolved and replaced by proletarianised wage-dependent individuals that do not constitute any kind of united front. The working class has been transformed from a collective subject to a collection of proletarised individuals. Therefore the class struggle is no longer a collective phenomenon but has been reduced to an individual choice.xviii All conflicts remain isolated and are never connected, in that sense the class struggle is over. Following Adorno we can call this condition the false classless society or the classless class society.xix The working class movement has been dissolved and replaced by white national interest organisations that fight for their monopoly of the labour market. There is no opposition, the working class movement has fused with the system and no longer exists as an antagonistic, or critical, organisation. The working class is no longer a social partner able to force the hand of capital and the state. That’s why the protests in Greece, Spain and Portugal are so desperate. They take place against a background of dissolution and are forced to ask questions about all the inherited forms available. The youth in Southern Europe know this. Therefore the confrontation is more ‘clean’ or clear cut now that the reformist position is in ruins, but this of course also means that the exclusion takes place quicker and quicker, more and more are thrown out of wage labour and are forced to leave their homes. The classless class society is falling apart many places in Europe and the solution of the dominant order seems to be a continuation of the repressive anti-rebellion regime tested during the war on terror. Now the defence of the capitalist system requires that the counter-revolution is organised. The methods have included the direct integration of finance capital into the state, as in Italy and Greece, or the shooting of demonstrators as in South Africa. Security and terrorist anti-terror is the other side of austerity.

In Southern Europe the crisis has resulted in the most wide-spread class struggles since the 1930s and large parts of the masses in Spain and Greece are abandoning national democracy. We are nowhere near this far in Northern Europe, where the joining together of disciplined wage labour and protestant morals has prevented any disposition to something new - or a grand politics in Nietzsche’s sense - so far, as well as preventing any kind of solidarity with the rebellious masses in the South. Here freedom of speech and Islamophobia are two sides of the same coin. The Charlie Hebdo incident confirming the opposition between them and us and paving the way for further security measures and surveillance that will only increase the alienation and exclusion that feeds into fundamentalism.xx The most important thing for the racist working class of Europe is clearly to stand firm: Not unlike the aristocracy at the beginning of the 20th century, the working class of Northern Europe refuses to share its wealth with anyone, including the workers in Southern Europe. The Euro crisis is staged as a result of local conditions. Racist prejudice is rampant again. Insisting on and believing in the naturalness of ones own wealth and welfare – and slums for the rest of the world – seems to be the historical destiny of the protestant countries. It looks as if it is impossible to break free from the iron cage Weber identified in the protestant, social democratic Northern part of Europe. The racist representation of the Euro crisis illustrates only too well that the Northern European public sphere runs on a particular mixture of control and intensity.

In North Africa and the Middle East the situation is completely different, there we see a regular class war. Food riots threatens to turn the whole region upside down. The explosive events in January 2011 where Ben Ali and Mubarak were forced out were just the beginning. Since then local despots have been made to resign, have been killed or are fighting to avoid being dethroned. A fresh wind blows from the region. In 2011 the revolts spread from country to country and demonstrators challenged the local regimes and the world order they are part of. These were not just protests for democracy, in which the Arab masses wanted the democracy of the West, but class struggle. The media have sought to represent the protests as an expression of local conflicts, but the class perspective is difficult to hide. The protests have just continued. The ruling order has a lot to attend to. In both Egypt and Tunisia the protests haven’t really stopped and are still taking place. Strikes and demos keep appearing. An end to the conflict is nowhere in sight. The new strong alliance in Egypt between the army and the mosque only lasted a year. In June 2013 the army got rid of the Muslim Brotherhood. The generals, the Brotherhood and bourgeois politicians are trying to take advantage of the chaotic situation, create division and make themselves indispensable. The most important thing is to prevent the revolution continuing. Now the mosque and the military are fighting for the small amount of surplus value that can be created in the crisis. The response of local capital has been repression all along. But the protests continue.

International capital has not been slow in responding either. There have been interventions all along that sought to prevent the process – still on-going - that is destabilising the postcolonial world. The invasion of Iraq is just the most obvious example of such an intervention, which was not just about Iraqi oil but also about smashing Baghdad and thereby destabilising the center of the region. Throughout the post-war period Western powers have been present in the region in a continuous series of interventions and wars. The occupation of Palestine and the actions of the Israeli military in Lebanon has served the same purpose as the imperialist wars and interventions: To create division, stir up religious conflict and prevent Arab autonomy. If the revolts are allowed to spread Israel will end looking like the cold war-apartheid state it is.

The revolts in Tunisia and Egypt took the Western powers by surprise, but since then they have not been slow in responding, trying to derail the revolutionary process. The recipe was ready when the protests jumped to Libya: Civil war and military intervention muddled the conflict and resulted in the chaos of different armed groups. The goal is always to drain the revolutionaries of energy. That’s also the case with Syria. Here the recipe is civil war and economic and military support for the different groups that fight the regime. Every time the revolution can be transformed into religious and ethnic conflict it’s perfect. The revolutions have to be isolated, it is very important that they do not spread. Operation Serval in Mali had this function; it was support to Morocco and Algeria. The Tunisian spring must not be allowed to spread to the other Maghreb countries. Like in 1917 where the Western powers intervened in Poland and the Caucasus it’s about blocking the revolutionary take off.

The counterrevolution is up and running and new temporary measures intended to block the revolutionary process, and make sure that the present world order is not further destabilised, are introduced continuously. But things are moving very fast right now. Turkey, which in 2011 and 2012 was put forward as the model for combining Islamic parliamentarism and economic policy (read: neoliberalism), to be followed by the new regimes in Tunisia and Egypt all of a sudden experienced widespread protests in 2013. In June that year thousands of people started protesting against Recep Erdogan’s AKP party in Istanbul and forty-eight other Turkish cities. Led by Erdogan, Turkey had been the perfect ally for the West, and the country had managed to combine liberal democracy, piety and authoritarianism. Erdogan’s intense neoliberalisation of Turkish society – exemplified by the gentrification of the Gezi park and the area around Taksim square, which sparked the protests – had resulted in impressive growth rates of around 10 percent, the envy of the other European countries. The combination of a big industrial sector and export economy has left Turkey in a much better position than, for instance, Egypt. When the AKP took power in 2002 Turkey owed the IMF twenty-three and a half billion dollars, in May 2013 it paid off its last debt to the IMF. Erdogan’s AKP has continued the neoliberalisation of the country that Turgut Özal had already launched in the 1980s, to the benefit of the local bourgeoisie that has therefore backed AKP. The protests in Taksim square are an expression of an incipient rebellion against the local bourgeoisie. The AKP represents the local forms of capitalism that the young protesters are rejecting. The protests in Turkey put to death once and for all the idea of the Arab revolts as a question of parliamentary democracy. They already have that in Turkey. On the other hand the anti-capitalist nature of the protests is difficult to hide.

China is not, of course, the solution to the crisis. Their export-oriented economy is folded into Western capitalism’s problems and cannot disconnect itself all by itself. The Communist Party of China have put a brave face on things and put their faith in continuous growth, and since the crisis exploded have flooded the system with an enormous amount of credit in order to keep investments and productivity going. Thereby it has created a huge bubble that risks exploding, triggering an even worse crisis, if not the complete downfall of capitalism. In other words the Communist Party of China is playing with fire. And it doesn’t really help that the 300 million wage labourers along the coast are starting to get critical, demanding a bigger pay cheque and better working conditions. It is a genuine problem that their export success is based to such a large extent on the over-exploitation of these workers. At the same time there is still the question of the 800 million who have not yet been included in the modernisation. What is going to happen with them? The Communist Party is forced to change its export economy and thereby change society radically. It must continue its bourgeois revolution of China, including destroying the pre-capitalist relations in the countryside. But such a move might very well launch a process the Communist Party is unable to control, ultimately setting in motion a proletarian revolution.xxi

Capitalism is going through a severe crisis. A crisis that has lasted three decades. The economic crisis that broke out in 2008 is just the latest phase of a much longer process of destruction in which a continuous destruction of capital occurs. Part of this slow shake out - which has been going on for more than three decades - has been the exclusion of more and more workers, who are forced to survive on the outside of capitalist exploitation. The formalised labour of the post war era has been replaced to a large extent by precarious and informal labour, and the number of people living in slum conditions has grown exponentially the last decades, resulting in more than one billion people living in different kinds of slum in the world today. The last thirty years almost look like one long flight to credit and new technology excluding ever more workers. But even though capital is apparently trying to rid itself of living labour we are unfortunately not confronted with the death throes of capitalism, in which capital finally self-destructs. Right now the crisis means further suffering and more pain for the proletarians of the world. This will continue to be the scenario unless capitalism is actively abolished.


The Communist Action Program Beyond the Left and the Workers’ Movement


When, as has been the case for the last couple of decades, capital stops buying labour power, work under capitalism tends to lose its meaning. In that moment a space beyond exploitation, beyond the labour-capital relationship opens up. A crisis is as such always also a possibility for creating something else, something new. This is what the young barricaders in Cairo, Homs and Istanbul sense. Not that this necessarily happens, that another world will materialise, but the possibility of contesting and changing the world is there. The breakdown of the wage form is a possibility. Because capitalism is dependent on the labour power of the proletarian the proletarian has the possibility of subverting the commodity economy. The ones who create the world on a daily basis can also stop doing it. The workers can stop working (and become the proletariat in Marx’s sense). A proletarian revolution can create a new kind of social interaction where people and things are not measured and quantified in order to be produced and circulated. In such a situation money and the commodity economy could be replaced with something different, and things could be produced and circulated without being reduced to a quantity comparable with everything else. There is nothing automatic about such a process however. The working class has an evident interest in preserving capitalist production, developing the means of production and even fighting for the right to wage labour and exploitation. Workers are forced to sell their labour power in order to reproduce themselves. The history of the Western working class is testimony to this dimension of the existence of the working class, its consolidating function for capitalism, what Jaques Camatte uncomplainingly described as the domestication of the proletariat, in which it becomes a part of the community of capital.xxii In other words we are confronted with a contradiction: Capital versus the working class, or proletariat, where the working class/proletariat is both capable of reproducing a capitalist economy – and in fact is necessary for the creation of surplus value – but where the proletariat would also be capable of negating the capitalist economy and producing something different.

The proletariat is the class that will abolish all classes, Marx writes; the proletariat is the negation of capitalism. It is thus not a sociological or economic category. The proletariat is the subject of the communist revolution. It is only insofar as one talks about the communist revolution that it makes sense to talk about the proletariat. The proletarians are the ones who have no reserves, who have nothing to lose, the ones with many children. As Gilles Dauve writes, the proletariat is thus not the working class but the class-negating non-class rejecting wage labour. The proletariat is the ones “who have nothing to lose but their chains; those who are nothing, have nothing, and cannot liberate themselves without destroying the whole social order. The proletariat is the dissolution of present society, because this society deprives it of nearly all its positive aspects. Thus the proletariat is also its own destruction. All theories (either bourgeois, fascist, Stalinist, left-wing or ‘gauchistes’) which in any way glorify and praise the proletariat as it is and claim for it the positive role of defending values and regenerating society, are counter-revolutionary’.xxiii The proletariat is the negation of established society. Capital forces the proletarians together, organising themselves with a view to destroying class society. The mission of the proletariat is thus not to become the dominant class - like the bourgeoisie did in its time - but to dissolve capitalist society and its dependency creating and impenetrable structures.

The communist revolution is thus, in the first place, less the development of new social relations and more the destruction of capitalist society. The abolition of the nation state and the removal of the money economy are the two joint goals of proletarian revolutionary praxis. Marx and Engels already outlined this program in the Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848: The abolition of private property and internationalism. As they write: ‘[T]he Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question […]. Finally, they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.’xxiv As is well known Marx continued working on the analysis and abolition of both elements. Internationalism found expression in the founding of the First International in London in 1864 as an international association of socialist and communist groups and unions dedicated to class struggle. The question of property was a matter Marx devoted a great deal of energy to analysing from The Paris Manuscripts to Capital. Both elements were unfortunately totally misunderstood and distorted during the 20th century. The internationalist perspective to a large extent disappeared with Stalin’s notion of ‘socialism in one country’, which rapidly went from being a necessity to becoming a state ideology that transformed the Soviet Union into a nation state, competing with the US for world power. Internationalism only survived in a limited form – as anti-imperialism after World War Two – but most often as a scarcely hidden support for the Soviet state capitalist regime. As for the question of property things did not go much better. Even though Marx wrote thousands of pages about private property and capital it was actually only in ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’ that he wrote anything about the transition from the revolution to a socialist distribution of goods and onwards to communism.xxv In accordance with his definition of capital as money generating money he focuses on the role of the money form in capitalist society. In socialist society, or what Amadeo Bordiga called ‘the lower stage of communism’, money will be replaced with work time calculations Marx writes. In the lower stage of communism the economy is subjected to certain restrictions (i.e. de-growth). It will thus not be a growth economy but an economy that ‘repairs’ the capitalist economy’s product-perverted market directedness by focusing the economy on the relation of ability-need (‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’). There also occurs a de-investment, where social wealth is not put into more or new means of production but directed towards the satisfaction of needs. This is a transitional economy, what Marx termed socialism. This is so because there is both a judgment of capability and a judgment of need in the idea of from each according to his ability to each according to his needs. In other words the economy is very individualised. It is only the distribution of goods that is socialised at this stage. The transformation of production takes place in parallel, but is not directed by anything else than the satisfaction of the judged needs. It is a transitional economy because the apparatus is still the capitalist production apparatus, which the socialists take over and use. The abolition of the money economy is also the disappearance of capitalist property rights according to which an individual can sell his property without consuming it; in socialist society this is replaced with a dissipative organisation of the use of the means of production and the distribution of the means of consumption. In that way socialism prevents money from generating money, it blocks the self-expansion of value. The important thing about a socialist society is thus, according to Marx, that the economy is demonetarised, that money as means of distribution is replaced with work time allocations, or a kind of voucher system where everybody is rewarded for their contribution to the creation of a common wealth. Marx thus emphasises the abolition of the money form, the abolition of capitalism requires that money is abolished because the money price form conceals the transformation of human labour into surplus labour and surplus value. This never took place in the Soviet Union or in any other society that called itself socialist in the 20th century. Capital was never abolished in the Soviet Union. What happened was that the state expropriated most of the capital, creating a centralised, state-run, planned economy. But that’s neither socialism nor communism.

The transition to communism requires the negation of all the basic forms of a capitalist economy. The product of work would no longer appear as a commodity with a price that can be exchanged for money. And the purpose of production would no longer be exchange but consumption. Wage labour would be abolished, people would be working in order to produce the necessities of life and not in order to acquire means to get access to necessities of life. Production would only be understood as consumption of work time and the products of nature. Production would no longer have a meaning in itself (as the self-expansion of value) but would be a means to consumption. The purpose of communist production would thus be to produce the most favourable consumption by using the least possible work and through the least destructive use of nature.

Marx’s communist action programme highlights the capital-negating perspective of the proletariat. The complementarity between labour and capital has carried social reproduction so far, meaning that the maintenance of the institutions of society was also the maintenance of capital as surplus value and accumulation. This identity between labour and capital has only existed in the Western economies, but here too it has gone into serious crisis. Thus the revolution cannot be the expropriation of the means of production; rather, the revolution is the destruction of the self-reproducing relation where workers are – and produce themselves as – wage labour. As Marx and Engels stressed in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, the proletariat is the class that destroys all classes, abolishing wage labour, money and the state. “The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property’.xxvi The proletariat is its own destruction because it can only liberate itself by destroying the whole of society, including itself. As Bordiga phrases it: ‘In the field of daily economics as in general world politics, the proletariat has nothing to lose and therefore nothing to defend, and its only task is to attack.’xxvii

The communist revolution is in this regard not a programme to be realised. There is no worker identity to liberate, the task is not to create institutions within which the proletariat can develop and come into its own, whether it’s through the party, the union, the council or the self-organised work place. The communist revolution is not the taking over of state power and the means of production, a ‘liberation of work’. It is not a re-appropriation of the wealth of society, it is the abolition of value. It is important to question and negate the capitalist mode of production and not just critique the bourgeoisie’s control of it. The revolution is not fighting the bourgeoisie over the ownership of the means of production, destroying its state in order to create a workers state. That project is in ruins, Žižek and Hall are not only fighting for a wrong cause but for a lost one. The Western working class is dead. We are situated after the breakdown of that programme, a break has occurred in the theory of revolution.xxviii The communist revolution is not a battle for state power and a different organisation of the capitalist money economy, it is the dissolution of the state, wage labour, the property form and money. As Théorie Communiste writes, the revolution is not the self-affirmation of the working class.xxix The proletariat destroys itself and thereby destroys capital. The proletariat stops the reproduction of the class relationship and thereby opens the door for a different handling of the things we create. Means and ends cannot be separated, the revolution is not two phases, first we take power and then we change society. The communist perspective shows itself right away as the immediate transformation of all social relationships. Money, wage labour, production for profit, private property, the state and its many forms of mediation and the distinction between learning and doing are immediately replaced by new forms of life that go beyond money and the state. There is thus no phase of transition between capitalism and communism. If the negation of capitalism is not present from the very beginning of the revolution the capitalist mode of production will continue to function. This is the lesson of the so-called socialist states. It’s not about creating the conditions for a communist society but about creating communism; when the revolution happens the process of communisation must start right away.


Between Breakdown and Revolution


What are we left with then? As a consequence of the neoliberal restructuring and the exclusion of more and more people from wage labour, the working class has been going through a radical process of fragmentation that at one and the same time seems to obliterate any kind of working class resistance as well as forcing the working class to become the proletariat and attack capital. The development of new productive forces has made millions of workers obsolete. As in a kind of schizophrenia capital tries to create value without including living labour. As a consequence of this we are faced with rampant unemployment and disintegration. Wage labour is so precarious for many people today that it is difficult to effect any kind of ‘class composition’, produce any kind of solidarity. Stagnating accumulation manifests itself as depression and impotence, not class consciousness. Former identities are being dissolved and there does not seem to be a ground for collective protests.

The new protest cycle illustrates this condition of dissolution and liquidation. Reformist solutions are lacking. And there is no positive programme. Only the really destructive gesture of the proletariat seems to be able of changing the course. As Anton Pannekoek writes in his text about capitalism’s crises from 1934: ‘The self-emancipation of the proletariat is the collapse of capitalism.’xxx Capitalism is characterised by internal contradictions but only the proletariat is capable of abolishing it. There is thus no historical logic at hand according to which capitalism will necessarily end.

But capitalism feeds from crises so if the present misery is to end the proletariat must create a real crisis that can abort the continuous destruction and exclusion with all its force, whether it is slow and covered by credit – as was the case in the West in the period after the neoliberal restructuring in the late 1970s, until the financial crisis – or swift and brutal as it’s been since 2008 in the West (it has been brutal in the rest of the world more or less permanently throughout the period). The proletariat in other words has to create a real state of emergency.xxxi In one and the same movement the proletariat must fuse and demolish itself and thereby bring capitalism to an end. A joint transformation of circumstances and human activity that can break the rampage we are entangled in. The ruins keep piling up and only the revolutionary class can carry through the decisive attack on capitalism.







i Karl Marx: ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, 1845,

ii Cf. Carsten Juhl: ‘La révolution allemande et le spectre du proletariat’, 1973,

iii Lenin writes: ‘The political struggle of Social-Democracy is far more extensive and complex than the economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government. Similarly (indeed for that reason), the organisation of the revolutionary Social-Democratic Party must inevitably be of a kind different from the organisation of the workers designed for this struggle. The workers’ organisation must in the first place be a trade union organisation; secondly, it must be as broad as possible; and thirdly, it must be as public [meneye konspirativnoy] as conditions will allow […]. On the other hand, the organisation of the revolutionaries must consist first and foremost of people who make revolutionary activity their profession. […] Such an organisation must perforce not be very extensive and must be as secret [konspirativnoy] as possible.’ V.I. Lenin, What is to be done? Burning Questions of our Movement, 1902,

iv It is of course important to contextualise Lenin’s response – the repression of the Tsar, a small working class amid an ocean of peasants hoping for a return to pre-capitalist relations of production – as Lars T. Lih has done in his monumental Lenin rediscovered: What is to Be Done? In Context London: Haymarket Books, 2008. Lih argues that Lenin’s text should be understood as an intervention in a specific debate outlining Lenin’s Kautskian ideas. The analysis does however not manage to ‘save’ Lenin and in fact only further proves Lenin’s reliance on Kautsky’s idea of consciousness and a desired union of the proletariat and socialism. Cf. Gilles Dauve, ‘The “Renegade” Kautsky and his Disciple Lenin’, 1977,

v Rosa Luxemburg, ‘Organisations Questions of the Russian Social Democracy’, 1904,

vi Ibid.

vii ‘Pirouetting on its head, it [the Russian revolutionary] once more proclaims itself to be the all-powerful director of history – this time with the title of His Excellency the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party of Russia. The nimble acrobat fails to perceive that the only ‘subject’ which merits today the role of director is the collective “ego” of the working class. The working class demands the right to make its mistakes and learn the dialectic of history. Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.’ Ibid.

viii Slavoj Žižek: ‘The Simple Courage of Decision: A Leftist Tribute to Thatcher’, in New Statesman, April 17, 2013,

ix Ibid.

x Cf. Robert Brenner: The Economics of Global Turbulence, London: Verso, 2006.

xi ‘The large majority – me included – wants to be passive and rely on an efficient state apparatus to guarantee the smooth running of the entire social edifice. ‘ Ibid.

xii Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey & Michael Rustin, After Neoliberalism: The Kilburn Manifesto, 2013-,

xiii Stuart Hall, E.P. Thompson & Raymond Williams, May Day Manifesto, 1967, .

xiv Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey & Michael Rustin, After Neoliberalism: The Kilburn Manifesto, p. 21.

xv Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Declaration, New York: Argo Navis Author Service, 2012, p.7.

xvi Ibid., p.104.

xvii Mario Tronti, ‘The Strategy of Refusal’, 1966,

xviii For an account of this shift through a close reading of the pension reform strike in France in 2010, see Louis Martin, ‘Je lutte des classes’. Le mouvement contre la réforme des retraites en France, Automne 2010, Marseilles: Senonevero, 2012.

xix Adorno in conversation with Horkheimer in 1953 in Theodor W. Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Towards a New Manifesto, London: Verso, 2011, p.33.

xx For an account of the recent history of state racism in Scandinavia, see Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, ‘On the Turn towards Liberal State Racism in Denmark’, in e-flux journal, no. 22, 2011, and idem: ‘Xenophobia and Fascism in the Outskirts of Northern Europe’, in Left Curve, no. 36, 2012,

xxi Cf. Loren Goldner: ‘Fictitious Capital and Contracted Social Reproduction Today: China and Permanent Revolution’, 2013,

xxii Jacques Camatte: ‘Against Domestication’, 1973,

xxiii Jean Barrot (Gilles Dauvé), ‘Capitalism and Communism’, 1972,

xxiv Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1848,

xxv Karl Marx, ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, 1875,

xxvi Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848,

xxvii Amadeo Bordiga: ‘Fundamental Theses of the Party’, 1951,

xxviii François Danel (ed.), Rupture dans la théorie de la révolution, Marseilles: Senonevero, 2003).

xxix Roland Simon, Fondements critiques d’une théorie de la révolution. Au-delà de l’affirmation du proletariat, Paris: Senonevero, 2001.

xxx Anton Pannekoek: ‘The Theory of the Collapse of Capitalism’, 1934,

xxxi ‘The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency.’ Walter Benjamin: ‘Theses on the Concept of History’, 1939,