The Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Commie Movement

I just finished reading Gilles Dauve’s book The Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement. I have to say that I think the book as close as anything I’ve read to being a truly marxean piece of theory (to a fault even). Dauve raises a number of problems for council communists, ultra-lefts, and anarchists alike which I think are worth addressing.

I’ve been reading and buying into the autonomist marxist conception (workerist) of class struggle across time. A crude characterization of that idea is that we must understand history as a struggle between the working class and the capitalist class, defuse as that class may be today. History has tended to be characterized as done unto workers, whereas in reality it is clear that the working class is constantly adapting, resisting, and reframing capitalism, and power must respond.

Dauve’s text I believe is an anticipation of this thought (it was prior to the autonomia), and a qualification of it. True there is autonomous workers’ struggle, and no we don’t need a leninist vanguard to lead an innert working class, but the autonomous struggle has its limits too historically. The question is how we can avoid recooperation and build towards communism given the historical limitations of leninism, council communism, and ultra-lefts.

He opens the text by asking why it is that in times of great upheaval when the state, media, and bosses are clearly routed and the workers are offered meager offers which will in a short time be eaten up by inflation or treachery that workers go back to the misery of their work. There are any number of simple psychological explanations for these things on an individual level, but his meditation is on why we go on and why it hasn’t gone further.

He offers a number of suggestions. As I stated above Dauve is a good marxist, and consequently he takes very seriously Marx’s ideas of development. Perhaps fairly he puts weight on the fact that prior revolutions have been struggles to catch up or implement capitalist standards rather than moving from capitalism to communism. Now we live in a time of unbridled and developed Capital. I’ve read that he puts a lot of weight into this theory, and later argues that there is further development that must occur before revolution. Consider him an autonomist pessimist.

His theory of communism  is that "Communism is mankind’s appropriation of its wealth, and implies an inevitable and complete transformation of this wealth. This requires the destruction of enterprises as separate units and therefore of the law of value: not in order to socialize profit, but to circulate goods between industrial centres without the mediation of value."

The thing that is most immediate in my mind (besides his discussion of communist struggle as the struggle against the law of value and wage labor itself, which is intricate and interesting but I’m too lazy to deal with yet) is his discussion of the limitations of council communism and the ultra-left strategy. This takes the form of critiquing the focus on the management of production while he claims missing points about the (communist) content of the struggle and relations of production. There are two basic points he argues for:

1. Worker self-management is not enough for communism, and either would need to go beyond itself or would become another form of capitalism.

2. The ultra-left theory of organization is trapped in the same logic as the leninist concept of the party.

The first point is well taken. Revolution is not simply a matter of democratic management of work. Firstly the work we do is abhorrent. We need to totally reinvent the industries and work we do in a post-revolutionary society. Merely seizing the factories that already exist is not enough (though I’m not sure if anyone ever really argued for that). Secondly, he claims that the workers councils retain capitalist relations of production specifically wage labor, law of value, and exchange. He cites this failure as the common analysis of lenin and the ultra-left of the movement. "Marx insists on the content of the movement. Lenin and the ultra-left insist on its forms: form of organization, form of management of society, while they forgot the content of the revolutionary movement". 

The second point is related (and really integral). "The leninist theory of a party is based on a distinction which can be found in all the great socialist thinkers of the period: "labour movement" and "socialism"… [are] two things that are fundamentally different and seperate". The revolutionaries have their theory, the workers their daily struggles. Lenin introduces the notion that revolutionary ideas must be taught, introduced, etc., to the working class. The council communists took a related position though one that rejected lenin’s vanguardism. Instead they emphasized leadership of ideas. One can see the positioning on the spectra of leadership as an attempt to resolve the difficulties of leading the workers to revolution on the one hand (fearing the workers won’t get it) and the spontaneous or autonomous struggle of the working class on the other hand (fearing misleading or manipulating those struggles). He further connects more recent groups which oppose even organizations of theory as they may perpetuate dominance of the workers by such an organization. Within this debate the concepts of spontaneity, leadership, and consciousness are crucial. Lenin is dismissive of workers’ ability to create revolution, the council communists are averse to leadership of struggle and consequently have debate around the degree to which consciousness should or can be developed from without. Within the council communist movement there was a debate about the necessity of a seperate political party from the mass organs of the workers. Some said there should be a party and revolutionary union (Gorter), others rejected the party (pannekoek and most others), and still others reject the role of external revolutionaries altogether (ICO he says). He grounds these debates in the social context they arose in that of a peasant authoritarian society (Lenin) and autonomous factory seizures (german council communists).

One should not the parallels to the anarchist movement. There is a dominant (sadly) American tendency that came down via NEFAC in the ‘leadership of ideas’. Coming out of trotskyism and their analysis following, it is not strange that NEFAC focuses on building a cohesive ideological party which is to have leadership of ideas within (over?) autonomous social movements. This position seems to be parallel if not identical to the council communist position. If we broaden our view to Makhno’s postulation of the Platform, one can see this position on organization as the anarchist parallel of the german/dutch response to leninism. Likewise Dauve’s critiques, if one follows them would apply similarly to these platformist organizations.

Dauve seeks to go beyond the dichotomy by placing the revolutionary organizations on the same plane as workers. Revolutionaries do not bring theory from outside as the theory is itself a product of the workers’ movement and they exist within capital. One of the great mistakes of leninism has been to characterize revolutionary organizations as having independent consciousness that everyday workers are just not capable of on their own. The autonomists tendencies above likewise accept that problem implicitly by trying to tweak the form of organization such that workers’ struggles can be infused with this outside revolutionary thought but trying to avoid directing them. Dauve sees the distinct between revolutionaries and workers as being more analogous to the division between intellectual and manual labor. It is a distinction that exists and structures in capitalism, but one that is fluid and that we must struggle against. It cannot be ignored nor can it be strengthened. Revolutionary theory must come out of and interact with workers struggle as a part of the struggle. Dauve says a lot of things I can’t wrap my head around next. Basically he reaffirms the party, but an objective party that is born out of the historical movement of struggle, and one where the fear and love of leadership are not issues. Maybe that sounds good, but it is totally unclear how it would work out and what to do inbetween (beyond fighting the divisions in the working class and guiding theory alongside the workingclass and pushing for what he called theoretical unification i.e. praxis). I take his point well though that the dichotomy  between  leadership of ideas and of the class is problematic. Moreover the debates about the  extent of organization from the anti-organizationalists to the  platformists is similarly trapped in faulty logic. My present embrionic thinking on the matter is that revolutionaries should organize as a part of the working class. An organization is one of workers representing some section of the thinking of the working class. We should reject the idea of leading the class, but not reject taking an active (leadership?) role in struggle. This is clear in workplace organizing anyway. Worker organizers aren’t outside of the working class (well they can be but that’s another story), but concrete plan of actions and direction is necessary for things to get off the ground. That doesn’t mean it’s one-sided or command-based.

Critiques:

-crisis: Dauve puts heavy weight into the idea of inevitable capitalist crisis which I find no reason to believe in. Much of his theory of why revolution hasn’t happened yet falls on to this, and predicts revolution coming about because of the inherently contradictory dynamics of capital. I don’t want to write an essay, but this seems to underassess the ability of capital to adapt, working class struggle that moves in a decidedly hierarchical fashion, and the dependence of capital on other power structures. Coming from a marxist perspective Dauve fails to grasp how other systemic forces of power reinforce and define capital. Moreover he fails to understand how capital can negate itself in evolve to retain its power in other ways. The point isn’t that revolution is impossible, just not inevitable.  

-I’ve never been convinced by arguements about revolution coming about when the forces of production are properly developed (Dauve thinks revolution will come at a point of wealth rather than poverty) because I don’t believe the connection between a communist society and the forces of production is as tight as the marxists think they are. I don’t want to dwell on the point, but there are any number of ways that society could have taken that weren’t capitalist, and I see no impossibility of other forms of organization becoming communist in the right context (Marx wrote about this later in life related to Russia, and Dauve makes overtures towards similar beliefs). Historically one can study other empires and civilizations that had the potential to become capitalist or state based but didn’t.

-Dauve I think is guilty of economism in a pretty straightforward fashion. His views of revolution and communism require nothing more than an economic analysis and are constituted by nothing but economic analysis. This of course is being a good marxist in perpetuating the base/super-structure division. Yet it is clear enough to most, non-marxists, that race and gender for example are crucial for understanding class society as well as being prior to capitalist exploitation. Missing from his analysis is of course an analysis of power. His discussion of relations of management further demonstrate this. For him the whole point is relations of production, not management. Yet management is not nothing. Instead relations of management are grounded in hierarchical power. This debate between the council communists and Dauve points to anarchism. With an analysis of hierarchy we can explain the relationship between management and production.  

-I think Dauve is unfair to the council communists. I doubt that council communists ever said that they simply sought the seizure of the factories. In the factory seizures of italy for example workers began rerouting production to their own ends. It’s totally unclear to me that this isn’t a strawman. I think that the council communists emphasized seizures because of the context but sought the radical transformation of production as well. Yet making this strawman allows Dauve to draw out the parallel with leninism that is useful. MY critique above I think illuminates his wrong term and missing concepts.  

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5 thoughts on “The Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Commie Movement

  1. Another new blog, you and Morgan. This looks intersting I want to read it threw thoroughly, but have been busy watching X-files. How in the hell do you have time to read these thick ass books on top of everything else?

  2. I read it to relax/for kicks. Its actually not usually relaxing but i like it anyway. I probably should do physical activity or something instead

  3. Well, I did skim a bit in the middle, but your critiques more articulately elaborate the ideas I have when I read these kinds of things. I’m interested, though, if there are any ideas as to what a new system of production might look like?

  4. Agreed that is an interesting bit. I’m trying to get my head around how production would look in absense of wages and market based distribution, and I think is sometimes a point of sharp disagreement.

    One of the best books I have read about it I would say is The anarchist collectives, which basically documents how in Spain production was collectivized and the different models that were in use. Some were barter based, some had money, some were need based, some had production quotas and the like. It is actually just a jaw-dropping kind of book in terms of the history and description of what went on. Ultimately such models are limited since they often needed to modernize as well as collective (damn hard), fight a defensive war, fight off internal parasites, etc.

    What Dauve says is that the wage relation needs to be abolished, exchange needs to be abolished, and money too.

    The wage is abolished as goods are distributed on the basis of need, not based on how much you work, how hard you work, etc.

    Exchange is abolished as industries produce for human need together rather than through market transactions. There is some of this in capitalism already actually. Companies like Walmart own whole sectors of production which operate in concert and don’t have exchange as we know it is within the company. There’s some economics term for this something capital.

    He thinks money has to be abolished because it is the means of exchange based around accumulated capital.

    That doesn’t answer you question really. I will try to work on that soon, since i’ve been juggling it my head lately. I think I’ve been transitioning from a collectivist (where there is still some economy of how much you work or your effort) to a truly communist economic framework (to each according to need… yada yada). So I need to do more homework 🙂

    glad to hear from you too btw! I was thinking of you the other night and wondering.

  5. Eclipse was a book which was central to my political upbringing. Unfortunately looking back on it, its rather mechanistic – the collapse of capitalism, etc.

    It’s best aspects are the critique of the Situs and the resurrection (via Bordiga) that socialism is a completely different mode of production. But this critique has been available in the English language world since the time of Wm. (News from Nowhere) Morris. It was also common in the circle around Chas. H. Kerr Co./International Socialist Review which in turn influenced the Chicago IWW headquarters group.

    The group I currently enamoured with, the World Socialists, also has held those positions since 1904. Check out

    http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/pdf/me.pdf

    only without the stalinist organizational practices of the Bordigists.

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