by Lucien Sève Translation/synopsis by Carl Shames
This book is not written for those who side with the hegemony of the dollar and see capitalism today as the end of history. It is for those who take the side of revolutionary action and thought, and who are willing to engage in a thorough re-thinking and conceptual reconstruction of a present and future emancipation. The central issue is what we may call the communist question. There has been very little research on this question, that is, little real study of the possible alternative to capitalism.
The ideological attacks on communism have attempted to disqualify a priori the possibility of thinking about an alternative future and the response from the left has not, as of yet, been adequate. This is our starting point. Two recent books in particular are illustrative: The Black Book of Communism, and Past of an Illusion.
A common characteristic of this ideological attack is the openly infra-conceptual use of the term 'communism', despite this being the main focus of the books. One book equates the 'communist illusion' with the Soviet Union, claiming that both have died. Communism is equated with its Stalinist form. They speak of a 'general entity' of communism rather than specific historical forms. There is no distinction between the retrospective and prospective nature of communism. The political conclusions precede the historical demonstration. The ultimate goal of all this is to criminalize and de-legitimize all militant action and thought against capitalism, to de-historicize any consideration of communism, by turning it into an abstraction presented as a tragedy.
There are real problems in defining communism. The Soviet Union used the terms socialism and communism to describe itself. The Communist Manifesto speaks of 'scientific socialism'. Many theoretical and ideological issues underlie what on the surface seems to be a matter of words.
Let us review the tasks corresponding to what I am calling the 'new communist question': What was born in 1917 has disappeared and traditional communist forces have dissolved; Stalinism is a mark of infamy; Lenin is being reappraised and even Marx is closed for inventory. We are literally not in the same world as before: classes, people, concepts are all totally different. We need to analyze in broad outline where we are in history, why communism is a process more than ever on the order of the day, how it would be radically different from what it was in the 20th century, and how can we advance in this direction.
What needs to be done is to reconstitute theoretically a communist vision for our time, and to lay out such a vision as a coherent whole, along with the motivating and structuring concepts and primordial considerations it presupposes. What could the term communism signify today, both as political struggle and future social form? This involves grasping Marx's revolutionary perspective in all its vigor and rigor, in order to rediscover the basics of deep social transformation.
Many Marxists have mistakenly interpreted Marx's ideas as signifying an end to philosophy, the idea being that materialist scientific analysis does away with the need for specifically philosophical development and interpretation. In fact, the writings of Marx, Lenin, Lukacs and Gramsci are permeated by theoretical considerations, including the philosophical, on the theory and practice of politics. The Stalinist period, however, is characterized by a theoretical regression and political decadence. The only way out of this is to re-think matters to the core.
The path to the communist question is long, but having said that in general, I have no difficulty specifying the particular philosophical need for a theoretical approach. What we can call the theoretical is fundamental and non-negotiable.
Major changes in the notion of how capitalism will be replaced with another system were underway in 1976 at the time of the 22nd Congress (of the PCF). The previously sacrosanct notions of dictatorship of the proletariat, the insurrectional conquest of power and violent installation of socialism were abandoned in favor of notions of progressive democratic transformation of the capitalist mode of production. But these changes were instituted top-down by a party leadership maintaining the old way of doing things.
The main idea of the shift at that time is that the dictatorship of the proletariat is no longer necessary because the working class now constitutes the great majority of the population. Thus a political question was given a sociological answer. But this is not the basic question. Socialism is seen as transitional to communism, and 'advanced democracy' as transitional to socialism. The problem is in the non-theoretical, non-critical way this transition is understood. It ignores the most essential aspects of the Marxist historical perspective.
The problem was not the abandonment of the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat but how this was done: in a top-down decision, and in the absence of a theoretical context. This was the basis of Althusser's objection, and although I had many disagreements with him, on this issue we were in agreement. The issue was raised at that time of how theory can be freed from its role as justifying a political course, as in the old doctrinaire 'Marxism-Leninism'.
The 23rd Congress of 1979 was one of real strategic innovation but for me it emphasized the contrast between political wealth and theoretical poverty. On the one hand the notion of 'self-managing socialism', in the absence of a theoretical foundation, quickly became an empty formula. On the other, the statutes were purged of the traditional references to Marxism. While there were good reasons for this, the result was a weakening of the standards of theoretical thought this name represents.
The main obstacle to all advances more and more appeared to me to be the backward conception of the functioning and mode of life of the party. The problem was not only an indifference of the leadership to theoretical matters covering an entire range of fundamental questions, but the unwillingness to look at the functioning and organization of the party itself. My differences with the leadership were more and more political as well as theoretical.
The best way to proceed to the communist question is through a summary of the theses concerning the supersession of capitalism as traditionally presented by 'scientific socialism'. As we assess these theses, we cannot ignore their relation to what they understand is being superseded. Socialism is seen as transitional, characterized by the social ownership of the large means of production when the working class has gained state power. This is a transition to a higher form, a future order totally freed of the heritage of class society, as seemingly spelled out in Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program. Socialism is described as 'to each according to his work' and communism as 'to each according to his needs'. With communism, the 'end of pre-history' is achieved; communism then moves forward, freed from the past and based only upon itself.
But when we look at this we see that socialism can not be spoken of except in the larger context of communism. This is why Lenin wanted to change the name of the Marxist party to Communists. This is why Communist parties have this name.
We need a far more vigilant examination of the relationship between socialism and communism than what is found in the manuals of scientific socialism. We can see right away how unclear it all is. Socialism has been seen as the first stage of communism and communism has been understood as the stage beyond socialism. The result is an impoverished idea of communism. As a first step toward reconstructing this idea, let us summarize Marx's characterization of communism:
- universal development of the productive forces;
- real appropriation by associated producers of their objectified social powers;
- supersession of the rule of monopoly capital and commodity relations;
- emancipatory transition of labor beyond the form it takes in the capitalist working class;
- free satisfaction of cultural and material needs, integral development of all individuals; - disappearance of the state and of classes;
- de-alienation of social consciousness;
- universalization of exchange and of humanity itself;
- end of exploitation;
- elimination of oppressions based on class, race and gender;
- transition from the apparent freedom of contingency to real freedom;
- all in all, the end of human pre-history and the beginning of true human history.
It is impossible to consider this without being taken by the visionary audacity of the Marxist idea of communism. Each of the above, of course, requires tremendous clarification and elaboration. This should not be seen as an itemization, however, but as an organic whole of interconnected aspects. For example, the universal development of productive forces is not only a development of the various forces (such as technical capacities), but is more essentially a development of the productive force, humanity as a whole, as it incorporates science. A perfect example of this is today's informatization of life. Without this development, no other aspect of communism can come about. The decisive point here is that the appropriation by society as a whole of the major means of production and exchange is impossible without the supersession of the market and the capitalist working class, the integral development of individuals and the disappearance of the state. The fact that so many theorists in the Marxist tradition have failed to recognize this has resulted in the reduction of this core of Marxist thought to simplistic formulas, i.e. socialism = social ownership of the means of production + 'to each according to his needs'. Moreover, the whole concept of socialism, in principle the first phase of communism, was massively reduced to simply that of social ownership of the means of production and exchange. This had disastrous theoretical and practical results.
This denaturing reduction had its effect not only in the realm of ideas, where it contributed to a substantial conceptual degeneration, but in the building of socialism in the Stalin epoch, as it shaped strategic choices. The revolution was considered to be complete from the moment, in the '30's, when the socialization of the means of production and exchange had been instituted in the countryside and cities. Stalin declared that the disappearance of the state was an impossibility in the conditions of capitalist encirclement. The integral development of individuals, supersession of the social division in between the functions of direction and execution, dealienation of consciousness, were no longer on the agenda. As a result, things were converted into their reverse. Social ownership clearly cannot effectively exist in conditions of the persistence of an omnipotent state, of a fragmented individuality and a mystified social consciousness. This requires what Marx envisioned as the appropriation by the associated producers themselves of their means of production and more generally, of their societal powers, that is, the taking possession and effective control, by working people themselves over all the objective conditions of their activity. What happened instead was a dispossession of the producers by a state/party bureaucracy. Cut off from communism, this version of socialism actually reinforced social alienation.
Certainly, in the traditional culture of a party such as the PCF, 'socialism' has not been limited to this formulation of the socialization of the means of production and exchange, although this is considered essential to the definition. Although the discourse has proclaimed the emancipatory virtues of communism, a closer look shows that these have been essentially seen in the same terms. All social problems and contradictions of capitalism will be resolved, in this view, when this primary struggle to socialize the means of production is won. The emancipatory objectives projected for socialism thus dwindle to a shadow of the communist vision.
Another issue in the PCF is its silence on the disappearance of the state. The result is tacit acceptance of the entire bourgeois framework for thinking the relation of the individual to the state, and the delegation of social power.
How do we account for the fact that socialism refused to transition to communism? Socialism in its Stalinist form ceased seeing itself as transitional; the goals of communism were forgotten in an expurgated version of Marxism. If 70 years was not sufficient for the Soviet Union to at least begin the transition to communism, this cannot be attributed solely to extrinsic factors - capitalist encirclement, etc. The main reason has to be internal: socialism, after Lenin, repudiated its revolutionary essence to the point of actually opposing the development of communism.
The more we look at this strange experience of the Soviet Union and its camp, the more we have to confront the ambiguity in the vocabulary of socialism and communism. Are they two phases of the same formation? If so, why two terms? Marx, in the Critique of the Gotha Program, introduced the idea of two phases, but did not call the first socialism, but rather the inferior, or undeveloped stages of communism. Marx in fact never thought this first phase could be conceptualized in any way apart from the second. Political thinking based on a limited vision of a socialist alternative is thus totally foreign to Marxism.
Marx and Engels clearly chose the term 'communism' when they wrote the Manifesto, to distinguish it from the non-theoretically based conceptions of 'socialism' of that time. The contrast of 'socialism' to 'communism' in the mid 1800's, then, had to do with political currents. The whole point of the Manifesto is that Marxism is a theoretically grounded total confrontation with bourgeois forms of society, individuality and thought. The 'socialist' parties of the time did not undertake this at all. The politics of socialism, then and now, don't confront the world at the level found in the Manifesto, for instance on the nature of individuality and state power.
Socialism and social democracy dominated politics at the turn of the century. Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program was deliberately misinterpreted so that socialism became a semi-independent first phase of communism while the latter was put off to be thought about at another time. Communism thus became an ideal, a vague possibility far in the future, while socialism came to be seen as real, pragmatic, attainable. Social democracy, and dogmatized 'scientific socialism' share this reliance on a non-Marxist conception of social transformation.
Lenin was the only one to see through this mystification and its implications. Nevertheless this distortion characterized the workers' movements of the 20th century including both the social democratic and communist parties. What has been invalidated by the whole course of these movements is not communism, but this whole conception of socialism.
How do we re valorize the Marxist idea of communism in light of the failure not only of the Eastern socialisms but of the communist and socialist parties of the West? A central issue we have identified is the complete incapacity of both to fully conceptualize revolutionary social transformation. The questions discussed above are crucial in understanding the chronic impotence of the parties of the West. In the area of strategy, the state is not questioned. Social transformation is seen as a coup, a replacement of power from above, the revolutionary conquest of state power. The whole strategy of seizing state power followed by the dictatorship of the proletariat has lost all credibility but no alternative strategy or vision has been proposed in any depth. While the French and other parties renounced the term (dictatorship of the proletariat), they haven't truly abandoned that way of thinking.
If we want a conception that is real for the majority of people, the whole conception of social transformation must be extended far beyond seizure of the means of production and exchange to all the abolitions and metamorphoses and the subsequent innovations, that is, a communism for our time, not projected in the future, but as it is as a potential right now.
The second, and even more important, reason for the failure of the revolutionary project in the developed capitalist countries was the crisis of historical relevance that has devalued the very idea of socialism. From the start, Marx's ideas of communism, enumerated above, were hard to conceive and impossible to place on a political agenda. The very notion was tacitly dismissed as irrelevant and utopian. But how can we fail to see its real development in today's reality? Isn't science becoming a universal productive force? Aren't individuals struggling for a revolution in biography, of age, sex and identity, presaging the integral development of individuals? Isn't the unprecedented expansion of wage labor, leading to broader use of human capacities the beginning of a supersession of the traditional working class? The growth of citizen initiatives, globalization - although in monstrous form - represent a trend toward human universality and planetary regulation.
The main point is that means, by which we understand human organization in the production of goods, gradually become subordinate to ends: the development of people, the humanity we aspire to be, the form of social life, our historic horizons. There is no real answer to these questions outside the perspective of communism. The communist parties have by and large failed to address this entire range of questions, sticking to old conceptions, but recently dabbling with a little bit of ecologism. The fact is, the social revolution of the 21st century will be communist, or it will not be.
It bears repeating that we are not attempting to depict an ideal future and to formulate a politics of how to get there. We are not calling for the abandonment of real present day struggles for social progress in favor of a focus on vague future ideals. By communism we must understand not only a future social formation but a current process. To speak of the communist vision is to call for seeing the tendencies at work right now pushing toward overcoming the human limits of the present social order. This way of thinking avoids both the socialist utopianism of imagining abolitions by decree, and the reformist conceptions confined to a 'socialism' that retains the most basic features of bourgeois society. It attempts to think the process of social transformation in the deep dialectical complexity of the process in which concrete things really change.
The real task, however, is to develop a new politics. Communist parties have never tackled these issues. They have not seen their relevance to all aspects of political thinking. Issues of the changes in the working class, the nature of the state, the relation of the individual to the collectivity, the fragmentation of individuality and development of the spectrum of human capacities - these questions are not in the distant future, but are here today. In fact it is the limitation of our thinking to 'socialism' that ties our hands and limits the forms and terrains of struggle to defensive measures against the ravages of capital. We must broaden the struggle to supersede capitalism and to all fronts: capitalist forms, commodity-labor, the state, domination, mystified consciousness, the hundreds of relations that produce and reproduce alienation, etc. We must construct an authentic communist strategy, as realistic in its immediate objectives as suggestive of the immense goals that provide their true meaning. Thus, the actors of today begin to see the communist goal of their acts.
This task of shifting our perspectives is of course more demanding than it may initially appear. We have to inventory the theoretical contents of the communist vision and invent the corresponding political practice in the conditions of our world. Nothing is given in advance. It would not be sufficient to produce a new Communist Manifesto, even if we could. We have to radically re interrogate Marxist theorization itself. How do we know the future is called communism? The Manifesto claims to give us the "theoretical knowledge of the movement of history as a whole", but how do we know if this is true? What is it to be a communist, what remains of communist belief for today? What is the meaning of history? What is the potential of the 'human race' referred to in the Internationale? These questions call for a broad re-examination of Marxist theoretical thought. This itself is not the subject of this book, which is devoted essentially to political questions.
A question to be taken up here, however, concerns the rationality of history. The communist perspective has meaning only within a historical logic which implies intelligibility of the present (up to a point) and pre-visibility of the future. Only in these conditions can our objectives be deemed plausible and our actions effective. It presupposes that we are still living in class society and that today's class contradictions themselves engender the presuppositions for the transition to a classless society. If we can name the present it is not absurd at all to suppose that we can name the future. This is the historic rationality of the communist era.
The dominant ideology never ceases to force upon us the belief in the impossibility of envisioning an alternative world, and with the demise of 'socialism', this view was pushed ever more forcefully, joined by many erstwhile leftists who went along with the idea that 'communism' can no longer be seen as an alternative.
This requires us to look briefly at a question of fact: did Marx over rationalize history - not in an idealist way, as in Hegel, for whom the course of history is the manifestation of Reason, but even in the materialist terms of necessity and most importantly, in his conception of determinism? This issues has been raised and argued over hundreds of times. Indeed, Marx adhered to a notion of causality in historical movement - he saw a necessary connection between the general character of each epoch of productive forces, human included, and the global structure of their class relations, and more broadly and less strictly, with other structures and superstructures. Each social formation, for Marx, is an organic totality whose evolution is no more haphazard than that of a biological being. We can study the logic of its functioning, and see the coming of a changes in its development and major features of its contents. Thus, the capitalist mode of production, where we find class contradictions heightened to their extreme, produces the conditions for transition to a classless social formation where the class antagonisms that characterize thousands of years of human history are left behind, relegated to the pre-history of social humanity. History, for Marx, is not a dark night in which we don't see what we're doing, where we're going or what we want. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference between this understanding and what is properly spoken of as determinism.
First of all, this materialist theorization includes the living consciousness that concrete social formations contain inexhaustible singularities, an infinite variety of historical trajectories based on general logics of development. Each capitalist society, for instance, has a familiar air, basic similarities to all others, despite immense differences. History is saturated with chance and to this extent is unforseeable. The necessity that reigns in nature is not univocal but dialectical. It includes contradictions and works ceaselessly through the range of possibles. The laws of evolution essentially express tendencies and contra-tendencies in dynamics that can always lead to unexpected results. No evolution is linear, no process mechanical, no development identical to itself or others, no history written in advance. Moreover, unlike natural processes, historical events can't occur without us. But human freedom doesn't suspend necessity, just as the airplane doesn't suspend gravity. The future is never closed. This open necessity, equally far from scientistic determinism and obscurantist contingentism, is where the actors of history may draw theoretical and practical lessons derived from their experience.
How do we understand that not only anti-Marxism but ordinary Marxism as well adhered to a deterministic caricature of this thinking, in which 'socialism' exists in some pre-conceived way, achieved in a 'final struggle', in which whatever path or line was taken was deemed the only correct one? Where do we find the roots of this arrogance that reified the goal and so simplified history? Do we invoke the influence of mass culture, pre-Marxist conceptions, etc.? No doubt we should. But don't we find elements of this mechanical, necessitarist scheme in Marx himself? Not only in the often quoted Preface to the Contribution, or in the Poverty of Philosophy, but toward the end of Book I of Capital, where he writes that capitalism engenders its own negation, "with the ineluctability of a natural process", a phrase echoing the slogan that the victory of the proletariat is 'inevitable'.
Did Marx, in the euphoria of discovering the essential logics in history, ascribe to them a determinist interpretation? Isn't this a fatalism that can lead to a fanaticism, such as in Engels' letter to Bebel in which he claims that "the final success" of the revolutionary party is "absolutely certain", or even when Lenin asserted, "the future belongs to us"? Perhaps in Marx and his followers, despite the radical rupture with speculative thought in the formation of historical materialism, there is a never fully conquered over-rationalist view of history and overestimation of its necessities. We can see here the enormous practical stakes of seemingly minor theoretical points.
These internal differences in Marxism are small compared to the objections raised by the project of deconstructing the concept of history that gained influence in the last decades. The objective rationality of the historical process had already been called into question much earlier, for instance by Max Weber's thinking on the intrinsic incompleteness of history and the arbitrariness of interpretation, by Dilthey, Jaspers and Freud who showed that the meaning we attribute to our actions is essentially illusory. After the war, Merleau-Ponty took up an earlier theme that logic and history are intrinsically separate.
Without doubt the most important was Levi-Strauss who undertook the most radical deconstruction. The final chapter of La Pensée Sauvage was aimed overtly at Sartre and covertly at Marx. It put forward enormous provocations as though they were proven facts. All of history, according to Levi-Strauss, is an illusion, an artifact of a discipline constituting its object. History in fact is a series of dates with no unity; it decomposes into autonomous sequences based ultimately on infra-historical and unconscious causalities - biological, geological and cosmological which he calls the true infrastructures of historical materialism. Thus the linear continuity called history is not linked to man, the meaning we ascribe to our historical experiences is never the correct one, the supposed intelligibility of history, the meaning we ascribe to our actions, is a myth. Levi-Strauss comes to this memorable conclusion: the French revolution, as generally understood, in fact, never existed.
The theme of the illusion of historic rationality is developed further by many others. Paul Veyne, for instance, in his study of Foucault (Foucault Revolutionizes History), claims that "History, as we have spoken of it for two centuries, doesn't exist". All that exists are "singular constellations"; the rest is "but a word". By demonstrating that madness does not exist but is only constituted or dissolved by practices that give it the appearance of an object, Foucault magisterially showed the way to a veritable "completion of history", "dynamiting all rationalizing political philosophy". 'Ideology', 'the state', 'politics' even natural objects don't really exist, according to Veyne. Only a Marxist would cling to the naive belief in an object.
This crusade is joined by F. Lyotard. Branding Marxist thought as the "totalizing model and its totalitarian effects", he countered this peril with an irrevocable decomposition of grand narratives. These are the broad mythologico-historic themes such as class struggle and human emancipation that have always served to "legitimate" authority. Post-modern science, with its understanding of the discontinuous, catastrophic, paradoxical, sees human society for what it really is, "immense clouds of linguistic matter". Notions such as class struggle, for Lyotard, are nothing but a "protestation for honor".
A different direction is taken by Michel Serres, in his analysis of historical time. All contemporary sciences, according to Serres, show that time is not linear, but turbulent and chaotic. It "percolates", is "crumbled", "embossed", "pleated" .... All our problems in the theory of history have to do with the naive way time has been understood. Ideas based on a notion of temporal progression are disqualified, especially Marxism. The dialectic is thus uninteresting and irrelevant. The entire Marxist mode of thought is obsolete.
These assertions require a careful answer, not just polemics, for they address real problems. Thus, regarding history as illusion, yes, the course of history as we represent it is a construct which only naiveté would take as an objective given. Yes the great workers' movements from 1848 until today make use of self-legitimizing narratives. Yes the forms of communist activism of the last century may not be appropriate for the next. But, the French revolution, contrary to Levi-Strauss, was not an illusion or myth. The dehumanization produced by finance capital is not an artifact of historical methodology, a legitimating narrative. In fact it is the denial of these realities which is the most flagrant example of mystifying ideologies, of wishful thinking.
Secondly, is it true that only the singular truly exists? This is a nominalism, guarding its virtue against the speculative entities that have encumbered history. True, vulgar Marxism substantified 'the bourgeoisie' and mythologized 'the working class' without analyzing the complex realities and concrete attitudes encompassed by these abstractions. But what could be more antithetical to the materialist dialectic than thinking in terms of fixed generalities? The lesson is that a conception aspiring to be Marxist must re-evaluate the role of the singular event in relation to general necessities, and the role of its chance character in determining the final course of things. But does this mean we should reduce the singular to only singularity? Each person is unique, but being human is also universal. The universal as such doesn't exist, but this doesn't prevent its existence in the singular. The class logic of capital exists concretely in each layoff of workers, in financial speculation, where the universal primacy of private interest is inscribed in detail. Historical rationality indeed exists in each event.
The idea of a singular exclusively singular is akin to the methodological individualism of Anglo-American sociology. The corresponding belief that all abstract entities are in a sense images of Spirit cannot be attributed to Marx, who a century before Foucault and the others, insisted that labor, for example, is always "a determinate labor". At a certain stage of development as he showed in the Grundrisse, "labor in general" becomes a practical truth. This becoming-singular of the general, a process of historical rationality that only a materialist dialectic can grasp, totally escapes the nominalism - not only methodological, but doctrinal - that Althusser offers as the height of materialism. In fact, this is an idealist characterization of the universal, that is, of essential logics and relations. This dialectic, seen as so impoverished by M. Serres, allows us to comprehend an historic temporal topology that totally escapes him.
The greatest objection of all is that, after the fall of communism, we can no longer believe in the alluring legend of a history progressing toward a better future. This objection would be stronger if it took on this thesis as is, rather than a mediocre caricature. Everyone who knows Marx at all knows that he rejected the notion of a linear development, a regular, fully predictable progress. What he did believe is that in history as in nature there are processes that cumulatively lead in the same direction. For instance, the tendency in capitalism toward growth of the productive forces and a falling rate of profit. At the same time there are immense contradictions motivating all historical movement, such as between the accumulation of wealth on the side of capital and accumulation of poverty on the side of labor. This tendential impoverishment, derided in the '50's and '60's, today can be seen by all, at the national and planetary level, in a multiplicity of forms. The third point, most decisive yet most misunderstood is that the non-linear development of these broad contradictions tends to produce the negative and positive presuppositions of their own supersession. Thus, in following its own blind logic, private capital inexorably engenders the ravages which bring into being the individuals and the productivity that can create a system that gives back "to each according to his needs".
Can Levi-Strauss and the others refute this argument? There is no sign of this. As Marx wrote in the Preface to the Contribution, a statement that none of these critics has the courage to confront, "humanity takes up only those problems it is able to resolve". The ways they go about disqualifying Marx show that historical rationality as Marx really conceived it is something these critics don't want to deal with.
In fact, after the definitive failure of Marxism was so widely proclaimed in the '70's, absolutely all of Marx's proposed laws of development of capitalism has unfolded before us and is accelerating. The forced revolutionizing of the ways of production and life, globalization of the market, accumulation of wealth on one side and social distress on the other, the ravageous efforts by capital to counter the falling rate of profit, the inversion of the relation between persons and things, ends and means, even to the point of endangering humanity's future. In the face of this, how can we continue to say history is a play of appearances, with no continuity, no meaning we can identify and thus that there is no reasonable enterprise for us to undertake? This looks to me not only like an intellectual aberration but a civic defection. Unconsciously bearing a rationality through its singular twists and turns, history is not even this pure "process without subject or end", as in Althusser's reduction: not without grave limitations and regressions up to now, somehow there has come to be a subject and finality.
Grafted onto the great historical tendencies, the great axiological visions have never ceased to give birth to great political and human causes, whose mobilizing virtues, transcending the borders of generations as well as nations, enabling us to construct this partially civilized world of ours. The struggle for the French Republic, the long march for de-colonization, the irrepressible emergence of an autonomous human individuality, given impetus today by the struggle for true equality of women. How can anyone dare to say, in light of the fruits of these struggles and many others, that they are nothing but fictitious Grand Narratives, with no existence but in our imagination, that 'the Republic', 'sovereignty', or 'equality' don't exist?
All this brings us to one ultimate question: does the demise of the Soviet Union, and the abortion of a century and a half of revolutionary history forbid us from situating ourselves in the continuity of such a history? This raises the question of whether there can be both an essential continuity of the contradictions of capitalism and a discontinuity of their supersession? This is the moment to be a dialectician. Can we say, as I have several times that a non-resolved contradiction is not suspended, but to the contrary, continues to work more deeply? Certainly yes, but only insofar as the coming-to-be of the resolution has suffered a radical setback, when it inevitably changes phase. History, as we know, doesn't serve the same dish twice.
Transition of historic phase of non-surmounted contradictions - an important new notion in the living conceptualization of historical materialism. A century and a half ago a revolutionary prospect was formulated as a socialist revolution to be accomplished by a proletariat and led by an avant-garde party which would conquor state power and socialize the means of production. The irretrievable failure of the cause thus defined has already brought us into another epoch. All the essential realities that made this enterprise plausible are being transformed: the ways of producing, class structures, political logics, social realities, personal motivations, spirit of the times, state of the world. Thus an historic window has been closed. By this I mean a temporary framework that made one type of transformative strategy possible and others impossible. While the term 'conjuncture' refers to the singularity of a moment, historic window can refer to a whole period. The truth is, the previous window was already closing in May of 1968, revealing the progressive obsolescence of traditional communism, not to mention Brezhnevism.
Today this historic window, identified with the Manifesto, is irremediably closed. The 'working class' is no longer the great figure identified with the potential forces of social transformation. Its vision of socialism is not sufficient, of revolution not adequate, and of the party not appropriate. The cause remains but in totally different concrete determinations. This is the dividing line between an archaic communism, refusing to acknowledge this closure, cut off from the future, and a communism that takes on the task of exploring theoretically and practically the new historic window, still so little understood. This means understanding the conflict between capital and anti-capital today and inventing a new, authentically communist culture, politics and organizational forms that will allow us to take part in this struggle.
No, Marx did not over-rationalize history. He tried to dialecticize it in a materialist way. He did underestimate the time-frame for completion of the processes he discerned. He saw the transition from the era of pre-history as a short, homogeneous epoch, rather than a very long history of changing historic windows. It is this changing that we will endeavor to clarify.
The future indeed has a name. Despite its contingencies, turbulence, discontinuities and false appearances, history, in its stubborn objectivity harbors enough logic to offer a combative subjectivity a reasonable chance to carry out a great cause. Now isn't it ever more necessary, objectively as well as subjectively, to put an end to a class society, always inhuman, but today dramatically unleashing a proliferating and irreversible dehumanization of the human species?
Finally, one might ask, if we can say the future is a classless society, why use the name 'communism', particularly if the 'communist question' is far from foreclosed? Two objections have been raised to use of the word communism as the theoretical and political designation of the movement for universal emancipation - its semantic content and its historic resonance. Regarding the first, while the term implies solidarity and collectivity, it itself doesn't signify Marx's conception of the end of history - the "complete and free development of all individuals". But the decisive novelty of the historic window taking shape today does not nullify the continuity with the project Marx envisioned of finally emerging from the era of pre-history characterized by class society. The term 'communism' has come to signify the non-negotiable radicality of the social transformation to be undertaken. Perhaps in the future there will be another word, but for today, this is the word with these connotations.
The use of the Marxist term 'communism' serves to suggest a deeply thought-out way to trace the broad outlines of the perspective of a social transformation appropriate for our times. To develop its concrete content, however, is a completely different job, requiring not only an intimate knowledge of many areas, but the capacity to reactualize the approach at each conjuncture. This is not a project for one or even several people, nor for a political force that seeks to 'direct the masses' by formulating in advance, and from above, an agenda of changes to be made. The true conceivers of this social transformation will be the actors themselves. But what is gained in pertinence through this democratization can be lost in the overall coherence of thinking, and therefore in political effectiveness. The coherence of the whole is completely different from the empirical sum of the particular contents that it articulates. It is the organic relation that unifies them, the essential logic running through them. It is theoretical. It is this theorization that is so clearly lacking today. This is why a re-worked concept of communism is so important, to serve as a unifying thread in the quest for this new coherence, enabling us to make sense of a radically revolutionary enterprise. Our aim in the present chapter, both very limited and ambitious, is to begin anew from Marx's heritage, and through its confrontation with the organic contradictions of our world as well as with the historic window of our epoch, to sketch the transformed reality of the communist vision in its general characteristics. Limited, in that these are personal reflections with many arguable points; ambitious, in that the goal is no less than to see how to succeed where the revolutionary movement of the 20th century failed.
Marx's procedure was to undertake a deep analysis of the contradictions of the real, to identify the objective presuppositions for their supersession, and, following from this, to determine a plausible revolutionary goal. Thus, the communist question for him above all is a question of fact - how does the movement of capital pave the way for its own negation? This approach contrasts with all utopianism, not in the sense of great hopes, but of grand illusions. To lay out the ensemble of major contradictions that Marx revealed in his time is far from simple, due to an essential characteristic of his work. Departing from the global conception of communism found in the Manifesto, which speaks not only of capital and labor, but of the individual, the family, state, nation, law and morality, Marx undertook a colossal enterprise of economic critique in a much more limited area. And of the plan of work he outlined for this subject in 1857-9, Capital dealt with only a part - leaving out, with the State, the global market and its crises, which would have completed the long march from the most simple abstraction of commodity production to the concrete complexities of the capitalist economy. These reductions and omissions have led to terrible misunderstandings. The dominant reading of Capital, from the workers' movements of the 19th century to Althusser, has been essentially limited to Book I, with enormous theoretical and political consequences. The question is still open, therefore, of the extent to which Marxist materialism has suffered from an intrinsic underestimation of the superstructural in relation to the base, and more generally, of the symbolic in relation to the thing. As we critically project the concept of communism onto the realities of the contemporary world, we must always bear in mind everything that such a concept may be leaving out, especially with regard to an historical window that no contradiction will be too many to open wide.
That noted, let us begin with the most determinant contradictions that Marx traced in analyzing the movement of capital. The elaboration follows considerations on two overall processes: the process of production (book I of Capital), and the process of development of the capitalist economy as a whole (book III of Capital). The central contradiction of the process of production is formulated as the "general law of capitalist accumulation": where capital dominates, there is an accumulation of wealth at one social pole and the inexorable accumulation of material and moral distress at the other, to the point of complete impoverishment, enslavement and human degradation (book I 724-5). This formulation of the contradiction corresponds to the intent of book I to reveal the secret of capitalist exploitation, i.e. the extortion of surplus value in which, despite its appearance, the wage is not equal to the price of labor furnished, but, quite differently, to the market purchase price of the labor power invested. Labor power, alone among commodities, produces more value than is represented in its cost. This exploitation is the source of many other contradictions leading periodically to crises, notably between the incessant growth of the production of goods, and the chronic shortage of purchasing power for the working class.
Most fundamental in this process is that capitalism, based on the private form of ownership of the means of production, on which all extortion of surplus value is based, imparts to the product a more and more social character. This is a pre-condition for all development of productivity, but at the same time it renders this private form obsolete. Thus, it is the development of capital itself that unwittingly creates the conditions for the socialization of these means, which in turn can put an end to class exploitation. The anarchy of the market is replaced with a social mastery consisting of rational plans for human needs. Here we find the roots of the revolutionary culture oriented toward socialism, in the classic sense of the term. Many have seen this notion of transformation as the quintessence of Marxism, to which nothing essential can be added or subtracted.
But if we study Capital up to book III, we discover a far broader panorama opening up revolutionary horizons that have yet to be developed. The fundamental contradiction the analysis now concerns is the tendential fall of the rate of profit, i.e. the relationship between profit gained and capital advanced which constitutes the true 'motive force' of capitalist production (book III p. 271 ES 1957). This tendency has to do with the most essential logics of capital: as it unendingly accumulates past labor which is now objectified as fixed capital in the form of the means of production, i.e. machinery, technology, etc., it increasingly valorizes this 'dead labor', in relation to 'living labor', the productive work of living people in the present. The profit yield from living labor steadily decreases relative to the yield from dead labor. According to Marx, "from all points of view, this is the most important law of modern political economy and the most essential for the comprehension of the most complex relations (Grundrisse book II p. 236)."
In this law, we are able to see capitalism's deeply historical and essentially transitory function: to assure the unlimited advance of productivity in a form where in which dead crush the living, which contradictorily imposes on this advance the most severe and absurd limits. At the same time its violent efforts to counteract this falling rate of profit in every possible way become clear: above all through an insatiable super-exploitation of workers, but also by the massive devalorization of capitals, resulting in tremendous waste; an aggressive international expansion creating a world market; the technological appropriation of the formidable powers of science, which raises productivity to unprecedented heights while unleashing contradictions themselves unprecedented.
Marx's approach to the two processes we have been considering - the process of production and the development of the capitalist economy as a whole - can be summed up as follows: the general law of capitalist accumulation enables us to grasp the recurrent functioning of the system while the law of the tendential fall of the rate of profit allows us to understand the development of its strategies and ultimately of its present structural crisis.
Through these processes, new pre-conditions for capitalism's supersession accumulate, in particular those of the possible and necessary transition to a mode of the advancement of productivity based, contrary to the preceding, on economies of fixed capital made possible by the incorporation of science into the productive apparatus, which in turn allow the financing of the most ambitious development of capacities in all individuals. This inversion of the previous historic tendency opens the way to unparalleled economic efficiency and human development. This brings us to a major conclusion: when we consider the form of ownership of the means of production we touch on the essential only to the extent that it can create a situation far more favorable to the thorough transformation of the content of management of financial and economic activities. Here is the root of the problem: in the absence of this, nothing of importance can change, as we have seen in the French experience of the nationalizations of 1981.
The supersession of capitalism, in other words, requires far more than socialism as it has been ordinarily understood - that is, where the socialization of the means of production is considered to be the fundamental act which in itself puts an end to human exploitation. This supersession requires a communist transformation that revolutionizes many other essential relations and historic tendencies of class society, not only in their form but in their content, and which we can summarize as this cardinal reversal: human development finally comes to predominate over the production of goods.
But does this formulation mean we are allowing our rigorous economic analysis to regress into a vague philosophical humanism? This point is even more decisive than we might at first believe. When we read Capital carefully, we cannot help but see the deliberate persistence of 'philosophical' formulations by means of which Marx situates the very essence of capitalism in its irrepressible propensity to reverse the most universal of relations: those of person to thing and of means to ends. Capitalism, he writes many times, is that social form which personifies things and thingifies (reifies) persons, which promotes means to ends and demotes ends to means. (Author lists numerous pages in Grundrisse and Capital).
Synonymous with endless accumulation, in the dual sense of the word, capitalism makes the frenzy of private enrichment, paid for by the immense sacrifice of individuals, the most absurd 'goal in itself'. Here, in the final analysis, and by definition what should be its triumph, is the deep anthropological reason that denies historical permanence to this mode of social organization, and even to humanity itself if it cannot free itself from it. Isn't the immense question of ends, far too little familiar to traditional communist culture, presently becoming more and more crucial? We will come back to this.
This philosophical approach, in the least speculative sense of the word, finds its exhaustive expression in Marx in the vocabulary of alienation. This term, far more diversified in German than in French (or English) has at its center the concept of Entfremdung, which means, the process of becoming-foreign. But the minute this word is uttered it is met with the most ferocious objections: it is accused of being a typical term that "still believes in philosophy", that reverts to the Feuerbachian illusions of the young Marx and that conjures away all class analysis. Althusser, in For Marx, made the claim that in Capital, "alienation disappears". In fact, this is one of his most patent errors, which he had to admit later (cf. Letter to John Lewis), but he failed to draw the right conclusions. In fact, the idea and vocabulary of alienation/de-alienation runs throughout the mature works of Marx and Engels, from the Manifesto to the Grundrisse and to Anti-Dühring. In Capital, the term is at the very heart of the expositions of the law of capitalist accumulation and of the tendential fall of the rate of profit. The French (and English) reader rarely sees this, however, because the translators, like everyone else, have been a little blind to the fact that in Marx there is not one but two successive and very different concepts of alienation. In his early works it is a speculative concept: it is what people are in a given social context. When this condition is not concretely understood as produced in history, it is metamorphosed, as in Feuerbach, into an abstract nature, or 'essence' of 'man', which is understood to be inherent in individuals. In this conception, we don't know why people are dispossessed in religious, political or economic alienation or how they can reappropriate themselves.
This immature concept of alienation disappears forever in Marx and Engels in 1845-6. The 'human essence' they now understand, is the evolving 'ensemble of societal relations' (note re: translation of Gesellschaftliche = societal not social). It has been transmuted into another concept, fundamentally re-thought, and now in terms consistent with historical materialism. Alienation is now the ensemble of processes by which the societal powers of people, their collective capacities to produce, exchange, organize, know, are detached from them to become foreign, even monstrously autonomous, forces which subjugate and crush them. Examples are capital and the law of the market, the state and the logic of power, the international arena and the "inevitability of war", dominant ideas and illusory appearances...
But why are these powers alienated? This has to do not with some natural fate but with an historic situation. Specifically human activities are based in the ceaselessly re-beginning and expanding cycle of their social objectivation in productions of cumulative complexity, from the first tools and signs to the technologies and theorizations of today, and of their constant subjective appropriation by individuals. In this process, the individuals themselves are developing. As history progresses, the elements of the cycle become more complex. But this complexification is paralleled by a triple process of social division: the division of labor, which, as Engels said, "also divides people", fragmenting their capacity for reappropriation; the divisions of class, which place the majority of material and cultural riches outside the reach of the great majority of individuals; and at the present stage of history, what we could call the division of phase. In this division, we see that human capacities that have been objectified in gigantic social powers begin to enter an era in which they are no longer governable in the existing social framework which prevents the development of universal cooperation and integral individuality.
Thus, we are living the paroxysm of alienation, this antagonistic form that inevitably imprints the objectivation of human powers with the epoch of fragmented humanity. Alienation, therefore, is not a social science concept limited to a specific sector, such as exploitation; it is a global category of historic anthropology, less explicative than interpretive, but more generally, critical and prospective, philosophical without any vagueness, and rigorously indispensable to conceive the general logic of humanity's trajectory. The concept of alienation encompasses, without dissolving, the concept of economic exploitation, as well as biographical fragmentation, social reification, political subjection, and ideological illusion. While the concept of exploitation enables us to conceive of socialism; alienation constitutes the category par excellence of communism, for which it even supplies a basic definition: communism is both the process and result of supersession of all the great historic alienations through which the human species has contradictorily developed until now.
What do we gain practically from these very theoretical considerations for the challenges that face us today? It is here that we must take stock of the effects of the historic reduction of communist culture to its socialist version, whose assigned task can be summed up as putting an end to the exploitation of workers. We can do this by pursuing the reverse - by studying the enrichment that the re-production of Marx's full original conception can provide in today's conditions. The traditional culture of socialism focuses on the production of material goods, its means and their forms of ownership, its actors and thus the working class. These are the basic terms of more than a century of revolutionary history. To go from here to a communist culture of general de-alienation doesn't imply at all losing sight of this - quite the opposite: the exploitation of labor is itself a 'great historic alienation' because, as Marx repeatedly emphasized, it is based on the separation of the producers from their means of production. This remains a major concern for all adversaries of capital.
Thinking in terms of de-alienation calls for an enormous expansion of the area of contradictions brought within the scope of the communist perspective. Even in Capital, with all its limitations from the point of view presented here, we find briefly but clearly indicated the ravageous tendencies of capitalism such as the exhaustion of nature or the falsification of products, the growing needs, such as for a radical change of content in the education of the younger generation or for a relation between the sexes that opens the way to a family of a new type, for the demystification of consciousness, freeing its universe from the commodity and its fetishism: these are all possible bases for seizing the transformative initiatives too often left to others, or even treated as diversions. Furthermore, alienation, understood unambiguously as a socio-historical process, is at the same time the most profound biographical logic, since all forms of society imply forms of individuality. This double category thus enables us to think social antagonism and personal suffering together, to join in practice the motivations for transformation of the world and for recovery of the self. This would render to politics its full anthropological and ethical dimension, a decisive expansion. Ultimately involving the whole person, the culture of dealienation concerns everyone. This is why increasingly, the forces likely to contribute to the supersession of capitalism can be found well beyond the ranks of workers, in all social sectors.
To this expansion, which has already changed many things, we add a transmutation which changes still more. If capitalism ultimately amounts only to the exploitation of man by man, its historic role is only negative, and its contribution lies only in its abolition. This understanding has defined an entire way of fighting it. When we shift to the point of view of alienation a completely different perspective is created. Not that the dispossession of workers becomes less unacceptable, but alienation is not only the ruthless dispossession of individuals, it is also an unprecedented development of human capacities, although in a form that affects them to their core. This is what Marx never hesitated to call the "historic mission" of capitalism, and endeavored to understand its tremendous vitality. Capitalism must not be seen solely as destructive. Alienation is to be found in everything it produces, for instance in the cataclysmic contour it imposes on globalization, while it plays a positive role in its constant propensity to destroy all timeworn barriers.
Thinking in terms of alienation ultimately re-establishes a dialectical vision of things, as opposed to a discourse of pure denunciation that doesn't offer a true alternative and as a result finds only a small audience. This leads to the rejection of the idea, no doubt correct for Russia when Lenin formulated it in 1918, but absurdly codified as a general law by Stalin, that 'socialism' doesn't find 'ready-made relations' in bourgeois society except perhaps those of 'state capitalism': a terrible idea for a new society which is essentially seen as in some way imposed from outside on a recalcitrant reality. This is the very opposite of a Marxist conception in which the development of capital itself, and the reactions to it produce many presuppositions of communism from within . This brings into play a crucial change in communist thought and practice: from a culture of negativism and exteriority, which inevitably marginalizes a political force, to another where, whatever its influence at a given moment, the future is on its side.
This requires a clarification of vocabulary. When we read Marx in the available French (or English) translations, we often encounter the term abolition, as in the Manifesto which often evokes the image of an "abolition of existing social relations". This idea has for a long time been closely identified with communist discourse: we must abolish the ownership of the means of production, abolish capitalism, etc. But most of the time this term is translated from the famous German term Aufhebung, which, in popular usage means primarily abolition, suppression, etc., but in the theoretical language of Hegel - who explained its etymology and usage, and of Marx following him, expressly had a much more dialectical meaning: suppression, preservation and elevation, that is, the transition to a higher form, which the contemporary translations of Hegel render by the neologism 'sublation' ('sursomption' in French; just as the French author has replaced this neologism with the more common French term 'depassement', I have replaced the English neologism with the term 'supersession' - cs). The classical and universal translation of Marx, in which Aufhebung is unilaterally rendered as abolition therefore constitutes a patent deformation of his thought, with incalculable consequences. when Marx speaks of an Aufhebung leading to a higher form, we should translate this as supersession . In fact, when he is speaking of an abolition pure and simple he most often uses different terms, such as Abschaffung or Beseitigung.
In the absence of adequate explanations of these matters, this terminological shift from the language of abolition to that of supersession may appear to represent a reformist retreat. (note - this has been the case in France in responses to new translations of Marxist works and to texts put out by the Communiste Refondateur group, both of which Sève has been deeply involved in.) Quite to the contrary, this shift represents re-establishing our understanding of what Marx had in mind: that since capitalism is an antagonistic and transitory form of the development of human forces, the revolutionary task is inseparably to suppress this form in order to maintain and promote the already acquired contents in new forms, and thereby to supersede capitalism in the full sense of the term. Can we, for example, abolish fixed capital, all the accumulated past labor which is an essential part of national wealth? The mistaken, non-Marxist idea of abolition, so central to the 'communist identity' up to now, has paid the terrible price of a stunted political practice in which 'theory' has had interest for only a handful of intellectuals. And this when what Gramsci said in his time is becoming more true than ever: "everyone is a philosopher".
A greatly expanded area, a dialectized content - we still haven't exhausted the most essential contributions of the perspective of de-alienation until we add: a new type of strategic approach. The idea of changing the mode of ownership of the means of production all at once envisions a broad politico-juridical act that presupposes the conquest of state power over the bourgeoisie in a classical perspective of recourse to violence. This is a conception of great revolutionary allure whose result has most often been, in a country such as ours, to await the hour that never comes, that is, a political practice too little revolutionary, often limited to defensive struggles, verbal denunciations, trade union actions, etc. This whole ensemble is overturned by a perspective of reappropriation. Does that mean that the vision of revolution is out-dated? Not at all: to supersede capitalism continues to be, in the strongest sense of the word, a revolution, that is, a radical reversal of the existing order. But the idea of revolution is not necessarily linked to that of a violent conquest of state power, nor with an abrupt social transformation enacted from above. This is only one historic form of revolution, among others.
The effective reappropriation of their social powers by the masses of individuals, revolutionary indeed, doubly rejects this form: it cannot be instantaneous, constituting rather a long process requiring a favorable balance of forces; it has no need to await a hypothetical propritious moment, aspiring instead to take on truly serious affairs without delay. What emerges here is a truly new concept of revolution: revolutionary without revolution - a revolutionary evolution, or perhaps an evolutionary revolution.
We now begin to see the renewed analytical capacity offered by the transition from a culture of socialization of means of production to another, far broader and deeper, of reappropriation of all human forces, of which I have offered only a few glimpses. Furthermore, the idea of alienation encompasses not only this cleavage of human forces from living humans, but the loss of meaning as well. An immense chapter of our contemporary drama falls under this formula. In a non-alienated cycle of objectivation, socially reified human powers reclaim subjective meaning in their constant personal reappropriation: thus come to be able to experience the reason for our tools, words and institutions. But the mercilessly alienating split of human possessions, powers and knowledge from their producers cuts off the route to meaning, in two ways. Means without ends on the one hand, because the enormous growth of human powers tends to metamorphose into a blind and too often crushing 'natural force'; ends without means on the other, as individuals are condemned to bounce absurdly between chimera and impotence. We are living the most historical of crises of meaning. a sure sign that in one way or another our social prehistory cannot last much longer. The choice is a naissant communism or a final dehumanization.
Perhaps the strongest accusation we can bring against capitalism is its total incapacity to explain why we should suffer the thousand deaths it inflicts upon us. Humanity is materially and morally destroying itself literally for nothing, for a frenetic accumulation of abstract wealth, stripped of all anthropological sense. This is why the most central question we can pose today has to do with the ends of our human activities. Failure to pose these questions was no doubt one of the major insufficiencies of the culture of socialism in its focus on the means of production: behind the 'how' it forgot the 'why'.
To begin with the ends: this is the proper starting point for a communism of our times. Why, that is to say, for what, do we work, go to school, vote, etc.? What is the human purpose? No social activities should escape this question. Any de-alienation of politics must begin by truly hearing these questions of meaning, and by working with the questioners to come up with meaningful answers. Capital, for its part, is no longer even making a pretense, however cynical, of having any human purpose: it is money for the sake of money and its power, whose ultimate end can only be itself. This absence of human ends is its true condemnation. But, is it possible to find, at a completely different ethical level, a for what that is valid in itself?
Ecological thinking pays considerable attention to this question of ends, which confirms shared heredity between it and communism. Its most notorious philosopher, Hans Jonas, formulates in Le Principe Responsabilité (1990) - a book he intended as a response to the Principe Espérance by the Marxist Ernst Bloch - this major imperative which enjoins us not to compromise by our actions "the permanence of an authentically human life on earth." But what is an authentically human life? To follow Jonas, the answer is behind us, provided ultimately by living nature of which we are members, and probably of a transcendent, therefore sacred essence, because humanity itself cannot be the autonomous source of its goals, and still less can it propose the task of human progress. In opposition to this project, which he terms totalitarian, he proposes the obligation to transmit the unchanging heritage that ultimately constitutes us. Men and women as they are in nature, as it is, is ultimately the end in itself of this deliberately conservative thinking. Of course, there are many Greens on the left and it would be worthwhile to open deep discussions with them on the question of the human ends of an emancipatory political project for our times.
Communist thought, no less preoccupied with similar questions, in contrast, is oriented toward the development of human forces in their constant appropriation by all individuals. But for what, in sum, do we find in this the ultimate value? Marx answers as follows: engendered at first by nature, developed humanity is then self-producing through the course of its own history, and it is "historical development" itself that makes an "end in itself... of this development of all human forces as such" (Grundrisse vol. 1 p. 424). Here also the last for what turns into an end in itself, but of a very different sort. It is not behind us, arrested in advance by nature, but open ahead of us in history as a veritable practical finality which consists of taking on the immense responsibility of extending the biological and then social hominization of yesterday and today into a more and more civilized future humanization, a process with clearly internalizable meaning for all of humanity.
An authentically Marxist concept of communism, renewed by a reflection on its history in the East as well as the West, still proves to be the most productive for reconceiving in a plausible way the supersession of capitalism in the conditions of our time and tracing the lasting ways of development of a more humanized humanity. There is no other that can claim a similar relevance. The question is how to bring it more into phase with the social changes represented by the historic window discussed earlier. We can begin by examining the lesser of these changes and progress toward the more radical. This poses a problem in principle. Since this book is intended as a philosophical contribution to the theory of a politics, with the communist idea as the leading thread, and is not the work of a specialist in the various social sciences, I will limit myself to discussion of the most obvious changes, the sources of the necessary recasting of our concept of communism, with an acknowledgment in advance of the risks of arguable interpretations and diagnostic errors.
By examining these most striking changes in social reality, we can consider the extraordinary metamorphosis underway in what the Marxist tradition calls the productive forces, or more generally, in the tremendous ensemble of effects that come to constitute all the objective means of human activities. We have to replace a communism of the industrial age, characterized by the discipline of the factory worker and the creation of mass society, which imprinted the spirit of Marx's time, with a communism of the information age, appropriate for a new century, characterized by educated initiatives in networks and an interdependent individuation. But this is more than a matter of technological changes; at the heart of the question are changes of an anthropological order. In this regard the new fundamental fact is without any doubt the still very uneven, but ever more massive, spread of private capital, in particular in its financial form, to the immense sphere of market and non-market services, which have become, in the most developed countries, the greater part of economic activity, especially where the most vital human capacities are involved: health, education, research, information, sports, leisure time, the development of culture and communication, etc. These activities are often differentiated from so-called productive or material activities, as though they have no material effect. This is a completely ideological view of the issue, which reduces materiality to things. The distinction we would suggest is as follows: service activities are those in which the useful effect is not concretized, at least essentially, in things, but that directly affect the human being. These are par excellence activities of anthropological significance. And their more or less advanced development under the rule of capital, has produced enormous changes, calling for a major rethinking of the Marxist concept of communism.
Without doubt the most immediate of these effects consists simply of creating new categories of exploited workers, a process that is not new, except that it extends the concept of exploitation to these categories, which requires some theoretical clarification. The development of these services under the rule of capital has characteristically disruptive consequences for the contents of activity and their ends. To submit them to its law of profitability, capital must recast them more or less entirely, altering their very meaning. The first imperative here is commodification, since the first necessity for the extraction of profit is the pre-requisite objectivation of value in a product. But nothing is more contrary to the essence of service activities whose direct recipient is the human being. Capitalism thus kills their very reason to be. We see this in highly financed sports, where everything has a price and is for sale, or in scientific information, where new ideas are metamorphosed into salable products. Knowledge ceases to be a public good. (note - health care, education, transportation, the whole ideology of doing away with 'big government', i.e. the public sphere - to be replaced by private, profit-making interests)
The second imperative is confiscation. The commodification of services forces their submission to the criterion of capitalist efficiency. But how can we bend them in the interest of maximal short term profitability in an atmosphere of open discussions? The capitalist seizure of services signifies the death of all true democracy in matters of choice, and above all with implications in health, information, culture .... where nothing less than our humanity is decided. Isn't this the seed of what could be a 21st century totalitarianism?
The worst is that in this commodification and confiscation we see the implacable inversion of relations between ends and means. Not that it was ever otherwise with capital. As Marx repeatedly emphasized, capital pursues nothing but its own valorization. Its goal is not to satisfy needs but to make profits. Thus its constant tendency to sacrifice the quality of the product to the rate of profit. But what is new is that the 'product' whose quality is turned into a simple means in the pursuit of profit is nothing other than the human ends of service activity. A logic of dehumanization is thus begun whose effects continue to get more monstrous until this inversion can be reversed. Thus, in the 'biomedical revolution' underway, in many ways so promising, increasingly it is not finance that is the means for research, but research that has become a means for finance. The results are visible everywhere, and above all in the U.S. where, for example, the catalog sale of frozen embryos has developed, as well as genetic testing by companies and its intrusion into personal life, not to mention the eventual development of cloning, all while there is scarcely any money for struggles such as against AIDS in Africa.
Service capitalism has thus induced in the most highly human activities a hemorrhaging of meaning that has already enfeebled many aspects of cultured life, in the truest sense of the term 'culture'. Television, for example, with its extraordinary possibilities, has become a means for sale of advertising to an audience, whose screen exalts everything from banks to toilet paper. A perfect image of a total perversion: meaning dies in the interest of the means of non-sense. Only through immense efforts have some limits been placed on this development which threatens all services today, including schools, which emphasizes all the more the urgency of greatly expanded struggles.
The civilized future of the world put on automatic pilot by the profitability of finance: no doubt this is a new chapter in the book of capital, but how does this call for a reconfigured concept of communism? Unlike all forms of exploitation, the alienation involved here doesn't constitute its victims into a class, a radical departure from the traditional Marxist framework. Is this a process in some way outside of class? Not at all, in a sense: the spread of capital to these services is the clearest of the class-based seizures, and the struggle against it is unequivocally an anti-capitalist struggle. But while there is surely a class at one pole of the contradiction, the disconcerting fact is that there is no class at the other. The problem of alienation goes beyond the interests of a determinate social category; it is the human finality of everyone's activities. This dissymmetry has profound implications: it calls for engaging in a class struggle not only in the name of a class but for people's humanity itself. This is not at all a slide into a simplistic humanism, but rather the most rigorous confrontation with the dehumanization produced by capital. This is how Marx saw a new stage of history prefigured in the development of the working class which produces everything while owning nothing. The working class ultimately represents, for Marx, the 'dissolution of all classes', that is, the negative prefiguration of a future de-alienated relation between people and their social wealth.
We see outlined here, some new possibilities for the joining forces of partners who otherwise have extreme differences. While broad coalitions have come together, for example, in the struggle for peace, in this case the direct object for the first time would be the supersession of capitalism. While this assemblage of persons and forces will no doubt reach universality, it will at least be a broad plurality. Alienation impacts everyone, but each as an individual in his or her personal singularity and unpredictable reaction. Thus we see here and there early signs of overcoming the traditional schisms between left and right, for example in matters of health, education, ecology or bioethics, as people find agreement on values such as respect for the integrity of the person. This offers truly unprecedented chances to create relations of a majoritarian, indeed irresistible force that could bring about changes involving essential de-alienations.
Civilized humanity against the dehumanizing economy of profit: in this ethico-political way of posing the question, both in terms of class and not in terms of class, don't we already see on the horizon the goal of our struggles to emerge from our pre-history, in a transparent opening toward a future classless society?
These considerations can be easily misunderstood as we shall see. For instance, the preceding in no way declares that class struggles in the traditional sense of the term are obsolete. Exploitation persists, and is more ferocious than ever; the struggle for its class victims remains entirely on the political agenda. But it would be blind not to see the equally serious enormous new extension of forms of alienation, in which major social activities are deprived of their meaning, so that all participants, regardless of class differences, find themselves qualitatively attacked in their very life. Therefore, a fundamental trait of the new historic window for the supersession of the current state of affairs is that the class struggle against capital can become a general struggle for a more civilized humanity in all areas.
(note 5 pages of discussion of controversies, differences and misunderstandings within PCF and outside, on some of these points. Sève's main point is that the supersession of communism requires the communist vision and theory of de-alienation right now - thinking only in economic terms, with the goal of socialization of the means of production, or establishment of a 'socialist market' is not enough. However, this does not at all mean underestimating or abandoning traditional struggles against exploitation or a class understanding. Also, While broader issues of racism, sexism, meaning, etc. can't be subsumed under 'seizure of the means of production', it is equally wrong to think we can treat them in themselves, outside a larger historical understanding of the dynamics of exploitation and alienation.)
(2 1/2 more pages re J. Bidet - cut 113-115 middle)
(the issue of the perspective of communism/alienation comes into play in discussions of the market and the possibility of market socialism - which we can see raises these broader issues - i.e. it is wrong to think of these issues in a narrow or disconnected way)
How can we not see that the relation between the market and the non-commoditized is not a cohabitation but a dialectic of opposites that clearly a contradiction that is evolving? In capitalism as it currently is, isn't the frenzy of the market openly antagonistic to the vitality that manifests its opposite, from public service, however inadequate, to the development of cooperative exchanges on the internet? Furthermore, isn't it a powerful tendency of capital today to undermine, contradictorily, the bases of the commodity order, in pushing intensely to the highest level this rebellion from the market which so called non-productive labor represents, this non-commodity that is information in itself, these activities in themselves non-commodities that assure the multiform development of people - and such a promotion having not a little to do with its structural crisis? We can say that ultimately it strives to bring everything into the market-form. But, it can be objected, don't the extraordinary ravages that result make the alienation inherent in this form an unsurpassable reality? Marx endeavored to show that the market is the great universalizer, but at the price of the all-powerful fetishization of the commodity and money, of the generalized inversion of relations between person and thing, end and means; a very effective economic regulator, but at the price of a drastic reduction of evaluative criteria, of flying blind to the cost of its social effects on long term human finalities. In these conditions, doesn't the concept of 'market socialism' point us in a highly questionable direction?
In considering the question of the market in relation to the supersession of capitalism, there remains the question of the collapse of socialism without a market, which was the Soviet-style society. But how can it be shown that this failure was the logical result of the official suppression of the market, notwithstanding the proliferation of black markets? Wasn't it more likely that the flagrant overall inefficiency of this model tended to the extreme primitivism lined with the worst bureaucratism of economico-financial regulations that was brutally substituted for the mechanisms of the market? Moreover this was in a context of weak productivity and generalized alienation of social relations, for example, the incapacity to maintain an operative system of accountability of total time of social labor, whose importance Marx emphasized for a post-capitalist economy.
The strategic conclusion to draw is completely different: in place of an installation in the so disquieting perspective of a 'market socialism', but also at the other pole from an abrupt 'abolition of the market', completely chimerical in any case, the issue is to initiate an historic phase of the supersession of capitalism in working, in the commodity sector of goods and services as well as finance, to increasingly replace the dominant criteria of segmental private profit with one of total social efficacy. The ensemble of these structural innovations and politico-social struggles would thus constitute the most democratically and most internationally possible, a tremendous, ceaselessly rectifiable historical experimentation in the progressive exit from the market. While this perspective allows for the lasting presence of a market, it is essentially distinct from the preceding: isn't to accept the idea of market socialism, even in part, to risk indefinitely maintaining the non-supercedability of more than one terrible aspect of the current state of affairs, to stay limited within a periodized view of the future in which only the immediate 'tasks of socialism' are on the agenda, marginalizing a communism concerned with problems of 'postmodernity' largely disconnected from the stakes of the present?
Should we envision a market socialism or a postmarket communism? This is a highly charged question when we come to the contemporary drama and the possible future of social labor. Are we living an historical crisis of labor as we are often told? This formulation is both a good measure and a bad analyzer of the contradictions involved. Labor is both less at the center and more at the center of life. Less, because it is only a part of life, which is a larger whole, and more, because it, as ever, provides the power to make something of life, to be the subject of one's history. Marx had this in mind when he stated that with the growing objectivation of science in the productive apparatus, "the time of immediate labor can no longer remain in its abstract opposition to free time" (Grundrisse book 2, 199-200). Advanced capitalism brings about a vital need for a higher recomposition of the individual, currently fragmented, who would then be able to reappropriate the whole of his or her social powers. Isn't it this inexorable mutation of labor which underlies the crisis of the capitalist work-force, where the producer of multiple competencies finds him or herself drastically reduced to the unidimensionality of an abstract market value? This is where the movement of capital, requiring ever more from the worker while according him less and less, as seen in mass unemployment, endless uncertainty, denial of rights, itself precipitates the obsolescence of the wage system integral to it. Is there a more eloquent indicator of the objective maturation of the need for communism? Despite the multitude of ways envisioned out of this crisis, one thing emerges as clear: the future of human labor lies beyond its reduction to a commodity.
What can we conclude from all of this? First of all, that the extraordinary changes in things and people since Marx's time, far from rendering the idea of communism obsolete, has made these ideas more contemporary than ever. But the global concept of communism we have outlined here now calls for a double modification that will make it more precise. Until the end, Marx believed the overturning of capitalism would involve an abrupt revolution untertaking, in a short time, major economic and political transformations, followed by a much slower evolution of the lower phase toward the higher phase of communist society. Significantly, Marx liked to use the metaphor of a delivery-room.
But today we must envision the supersession of capitalism as an immense ensemble of gradual, constant qualitative transformations, whose essence is revolutionary despite the absence of an abrupt or violent character. To those who think that revolutionary changes must be abrupt or violent, we would offer an image from modern physics. In what it calls second order phase transitions. At extremely high pressure, the rigid thresholds between different states of matter disappear. This suggests a new metaphor: at very high levels of social and political pressure, partial qualitative changes of the social structure may become inevitable without revolutionary cataclysm. This is why we consider the new possibilities for anticapitalist coalitions that go far beyond the traditional class sense of 'tous ensemble' (all for one and one for all) to be extremely important. We will return to these important questions.
But at the same time, isn't the Marxist distinction between the 'lower' and 'higher' phases of the new society too much dialectics? Certainly, the perspective that the supersession of capitalism will require a whole historic phase implies the ongoing coexistence and conflict of capitalist and postcapitalist elements in the same social formation, the first more or less limiting the scope of the second. Nevertheless we have to envision from the start the explicit and concrete ways to carry out truly communist advances, for example in effective social appropriations, the supersession of commodity logics, the direct conquest of power, lasting ideological demystification, etc. From a distant goal, that it was to a large extent even for Marx, communism can begin to be seen in terms of partial short term objectives. This requires ambitious innovations in concretely challenging a capitalist order already more deeply fragile than it appears.
Three other fundamental aspects of the concept of communism must be discussed in terms of today's realities: the integral development of all individuals, the disappearance of the state and the necessary globality of communism. The question of the individual, contrary to what is generally thought, was essential for Marx. He analyzed capitalism as the most incredible destruction of human lives in the interest of profit; the Marxist idea of communism opposes this tendency with a conception of a social form "where the original and free development of individuals is not a hollow phrase" (German Ideology, 445). And this was indeed not a hollow phrase for Marx: his work abounds with original and deep insights into what he meant by the historical transition to an 'integral individual', as he called it in Capital, that is, the recomposed human being, developed in every sense, and emancipated from all the alienated social divisions.
But these insights, often overlooked in the immensity of his economic work, for years were ignored altogether by the political culture of the communist movement, to the point that the simple mention of the individual was likely to be taken as suspect. To be sure, the communist parties of the West, continuing the traditions of bourgeois humanism, although not without arguments, have internalized the culture of human rights. But it is a long way from there to a true understanding that we can't change the world without changing human life. Today it is difficult not to see that a social relations and individual lives within society are inseparable, so that a social crisis is no less existential than structural, and a political perspective only becomes plausible to the extent that it offers internalizable meaning to each individual. In today's growing aspiration of men and women to be freely and clearly a self, we can see one of the main indicators of the objective historical maturation of communism. But this obliges us to pose at least two questions.
First and foremost, according to Marx, while the transition to the integral individual is required by the universal character taken on by the productive forces of capital itself, only communist society is capable of accomplishing this. The full development of the individual is thus a resultant effect much more than an efficient cause, and is thereby relegated to the future. While this relegation is comprehensible a century and half ago, is it valid at today's stage of development of human individuality? This question involves the way we think and apply historical materialism. Tenacious as the opposite impression has been, this has never implied that the material base of history consists only of things: in fact, people make up the main part of the pre-conditions basic to every epoch. Clearly, object realities and objective relations play a fundamental role in historical movement, and every deep transformation proceeds through their necessary alteration. We cannot change life while leaving things as they are. But who will change them if not individuals whose shared knowledge and political organization have been constituted into effective historical forces?
There is thus a dialectic in which the revolutionizing of fundamental relations is implemented by the decisive intervention of actors, who, while concerned primarily with the intolerable objective contradictions of the existing world, add their irreducible subjective ingredients. Thus, at the level of individuals impatient with the state of affairs, a passive historical determinism must be replaced with an audacious political determination. For instance, in traditional communist culture, only 'socialism' could liberate women. History showed otherwise: the feminist movement didn't wait to change things, giving lie to the idea that things can't change beyond a certain point until primordial social relations are reversed. This is a crucial lesson for a new communism: the integral development of each must begin today. And it begins with new interventions, with a de-alienating vision, in the ensemble of historico-social forms of individuality, based in the immense evolving complex of societal structures, relations and representations of all orders. For instance, the dichotomy between labor time and free time, the institutionalized sequences of life's stages, the hierarchical distribution and mobility of roles, the normative images of masculine and feminine, or of one's own group or nationality and others, all of which, while ultimately dependent on basic societal relations are more or less relatively autonomous. A communist practice for a new generation will take place on this vastly expanded terrain of initiatives.
This brings us to another new question. The development of individuality, for Marx, was an exalted end in itself of history, and in a sense this is still true. But being today much bound to the domination of capital, the process has taken, unforseeably a violently contradictory turn. Synonymous with liberties partially won in the struggle against old forms of public and private domination, the autonomy of the individual thus becomes more and more, in a time of neo-liberalism, the complete reduction to the self to a 'without' - without work, housing, rights, documents.... Aren't we all in a certain sense, 'without' in this society of unprecedented alienation: without true mastery of our lives or clear perspective on our history? Thus, in reaction, we see the frenetic search by many for a painfully unattainable identity, the yearning for reconnection with supposedly fixed reference points such as biological heritage, or neighborhoods experienced as 'urban territory', community memberships. These are in some ways regressive and often aggressive processes in which the result is not the integral individual, but its opposite, the fundamentalist individual.
At the same time, the methods of capital have penetrated life strategies: the logic of seeking gain at all costs at the expense of others; the insidiously commodifying logic of the pragmatist, owner of his self as if it were capital, and motivated to 'sell himself', which he doesn't hesitate to risk, but in a spirit of performance sometimes taken to the absurd. With this encroaching commodification of the human, from within as well as from without, a real development of decivilization is underway, all the more disquieting by virtue of multiplying dramas with no exit and hatreds with no effect. Capitalism, while producing its grave-diggers more than ever, as the Manifesto predicted, thus propagates, ongoingly, the complicity of the profiteer and the withdrawal of the resigned.
All this obliges us to take great care when we propose to reopen the communist perspective. Theoretical care because traditional Marxist culture is much less prepared to understand the individual than society. For those who would make use of Marxism, isn't it once and for all indispensable to appropriate the concepts of the person and the order of the person, so decisive for treating the ethical dimension implicated in so many problems? Isn't it necessary to bring clarity to the significance of the famous formula, "to each according to his needs", so often interpreted as the consumerist chimera par excellence - due to the failure to grasp that, as Marx made clear, (Grundrisse vol. 1, 160-1), it is precisely the abstract form of money that confers on our needs, in themselves limited, the insatiability characteristic of the frenzy for enrichment, which sums up all alienation? While human needs are often seen as unlimited, requiring the mechanism of money for allocating limited resources, in fact, it is the thirst for profit by multinational finance that is unlimited and that pushes everything to dangerous extremes.
Isn't this the moment, if ever there was one, to pose the question of ends? Where do we want the movement for the affirmation of human individuality to take us? Toward the omnipresence of an arrogant particularization or the deepening of a civilized personalization. What does this imply concretely? This is an open question because the humanity of people is not entirely made; it forever remains a beyond to envision, and no doubt it is exactly of this that it consists.
There is a practical concern as well. The damage inflicted on persons by capital today is indescribable. Nothing is more urgent than to confront this inexpiable malfeasance. But 'humanity is the world of humanity'. The human ends of the communist struggle should therefore lead us to pose, in the broadest and most ambitious way, the fundamental questions of the content of activities in which the individual is formed and malformed - those of work, non-work and outside of work, of school and neighborhood, town or city, of culture in all its personalizing dimensions, of politics, etc. To paraphrase Ernst Bloch, a communist politics must be more 'individual than any before it.'
The issue of the disappearance of the state takes us to the very heart of the communist question. There is no other area where Marx's thought has been so disputed. He is accused of not understanding the state, of underestimating politics and the law, even missing the most essential: power. Also, didn't Lenin lay to rest the chimerical idea of a stateless society? Impractical, disastrous for progressive causes such as the guarantee of human rights, isn't it just neo-liberalism that today advocates a disappearance of the state? Isn't only the state able to hold in abeyance the eternal will to power? These theses, which could be discussed endlessly, are based on an obstinate belief in a 'human nature' desirous of domination, as if the historic modes of being of developed humanity were inscribed in the genes. This view is also the basis for innumerable supposed invalidations of Marx's ideas, which attest rather to a tremendous misunderstanding of his political thought.
For Marx, the 'political state', that is, according to a Saint-Simonian distinction, the state considered not as the 'administration of things' but as the 'government of people', is a power of multiform domination historically engendered by class antagonism, separated from and above society and concentrated in an apparatus of constraint, through violence or persuasion, continually developed by the successive propertied classes as the overall instrument of their domination, while claiming to incarnate the 'general interest'. Marx confronts this state with the vision of a revolutionary process articulated in terms of three aspects: the conquest of political power by the working class, the decisive condition for the transformation of society's economic base; destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus of constraint, through the transitory dictatorship of the proletariat, which installs the first true democracy for the people; simultaneous commencement of the progressive disappearance of the state in all its dimensions of alienated and alienating power. People, together, begin to become masters of their own affairs. Retaining from this triple program only its first moment, as socialist movements have done in many ways, from Stalinism to social-democracy, reduces the revolutionary change to the perpetual framework of a class statism. But if we re-establish this vision in its integrity, what can we find still valid for a communist culture of today?
First of all, can we imagine carrying out radical social transformations moving toward the communist vision without first conquering the state power of the capitalist bourgeoisie? The very idea may seem absurd. But what is the state if not an ensemble of institutional forms in which a much broader class domination is concentrated, having its roots far outside it and extending its effects well beyond it? All profound social change thus requires of those who fight for it the capacity to deny, reduce and ultimately reverse this domination in all its aspects. A supposed 'revolutionary conquest' of state power not only is untenable in the developed countries of today, but in any case is not sufficient. To seize the state apparatus is still not to grasp power. Revolutionary forces can't dispense with first conquering what Gramsci termed hegemony: through a 'war of positions', they gains democratically, by the relevance of their ideas, the effectiveness of their initiatives and the success of their struggles, a leading influence, as much as possible, in all areas of civil society as well as within the state itself. These advances eventually create a duality of powers.
The insurrectional seizure of state power, on the other hand, has never in itself conferred hegemony, and this is why it never puts an end to the violence which it presupposes. On the other hand, the progressive formation of a hegemony leads sooner or later to power in the conditions of majority consent. This is the only plausible alternative to the dictatorship of the proletariat. It requires a decisive renewal of the political: no longer the limited struggle between partisan apparatuses for governance of the state, which becomes a goal in itself, but the broad participation of the citizens in everything concerning their social life. The political, re-acquiring meaning, becomes once again the center of public life.
How does this make it credible that the state should and must disappear? We ordinarily assume that the state is no more supersedable than the market - which relegates communism altogether to a myth. But before we pass judgment on the feasibility of such a disappearance let us ask what bearing this has for the Marxist perspective. Two things, fundamentally distinct in principle, are confounded in the word 'state'. In this power above and apart from civil society, the power of people over their social life is both objectified as public administration and alienated in political domination. Simplistic ideology hides this second aspect under the first, maintaining the fiction of a neutral state. Doing justice to this false appearance, the Marxist critique does not imply at all a symmetrical reduction. On the contrary, it seeks to emancipate the first from the second: when the class character of the state is removed, the division between civil society and its organized power is overcome. Power is reappropriated by the citizens, putting an end to political alienation. The key question that must be confronted is this: is it or is it not possible to supersede capitalism and all its great historic alienations while leaving intact the instrument par excellence of human domination, the class state?
But how to undertake the disappearance of this state without being in power? While the task is arduous, the answer in principle is easy: the class state is the alienation of political power; everything that de-alienates politics causes this power to recede. The key to the processes is not in some part of the state apparatus, but is throughout civil society, in multiplying these reappropriations of effective power until fundamental changes in the state apparatus itself become inevitable. The extinction of the state is thus the very opposite of the disappearance of politics: the future is not in a boundless administration of things, but in a self-government oriented to people. Here also, everything begins today, with whatever critical consciousness and oppositional initiatives may develop in all domains, with the extension, until it is hegemonic, of the demand at all levels for a democracy that can't be rescinded, built for the citizens from direct decentralized powers and true means of central control. A de-statization of the state can all the better begin today when the ravages of capital mire it in ever deeper crisis. The crisis of efficacy and credibility that results for institutional powers - often with the exception of the municipal level - is such that deep structural transformations are less and less avoidable.
At the international level, for instance, the growing aspiration for a reconception of the UN or the forced resignation of the Commission of Brussels in March 1999 give an idea of the possibilities. At the national level, although for the political parties, whether they admit it or not, the time has come for an authentic refoundation, the understanding is gaining ground that there is a need for a new constitution, inaugurating a new Republic with a completely different democratic content. The disappearance of the state can also happen through its refounding, thus making it contribute to its own disappearance in the interest of a new age of politics, a very different articulation of powers, a fundamental democratization of political functions, and a revitalization of all civic life.
Communism, the universal project of de-alienation, was conceived from the start by Marx and Engels as necessarily global. They thought that the transition to communism would be accomplished forcefully "all at once, and by the dominant people." But a decade later, Marx arrived at a more complex vision which divided this transition into partial, successive phases. This poses a problem: while Marx's reference point was Western Europe, in much of the rest of the world capitalism was at an earlier stage of development. Lenin had to conclude that the initial victory of socialism could occur in a single country, but that this could not last without the global spread of this process. In fact, the hoped-for 'transition to socialism' took an entirely different course: limited to a group of countries in a more and more fixed form, it took the form of a desperate struggle, in the reality of a 'cold war' to consolidate a 'socialist camp' which the capitalist powers did everything they could to destroy. The universal cause of a transition to socialism was thus trapped within the defense of particular geopolitical interests, which imposed its own caricatural alienations on what should have been the struggle for de-alienation. In a truly remarkable dialectic, with the decomposition of the socialist camp, capitalism emerged posing as the representative of humanity's universal destiny, as we move toward universal communication and markets. But financial globalization, not content with contradicting itself as it creates the worst inequalities, nourishes both the decline of national sovereignties and the resurgence of fanatic nationalisms as well. Rather than an international project of real human significance, it offers only money as an end in itself. This is not the least of the crises of meaning. Here too, on the level of globalization, our perspective requires that we begin with the ends.
After decades in which the communist idea lost the intense universalist luster of its origins, everything points to the need to reappropriate it. In the face of capitalist globalization we must advance the most resolute internationalism, but of a new generation. We have paid dearly to learn the pitfalls of an immature universality that was seen as driving a 'particular', whether the state or party or a superpower, which then itself became the obstacle to a more advanced universalization. The human universality we are moving toward won't be one in which the abstract unity of a dominant form attempts to impose itself on the singular identity of nations, persons, cultures and organizations which then must 'normalize' themselves according to this unity. Rather, it will be a concrete universality in which each singular, as such, becomes societal while distinct from the species as a whole, internalizing the common values in its own way. This coherence with neither domination nor uniformization is inscribed in the new concept of communism. But from the so alienated singular of today to the emancipated universal of tomorrow, some mediations are necessary. In the international arena, the most immediate development along these lines is the regional community of states. Having for a long time turned its back on a growing Europe, abandoning its construction to others has been one of the most grievous faults of French communism. For such a community, disastrous if it sets itself up as particular overseer of a general domination, can become instead the place of a concrete universalization where new global logics take shape. Thus a Europe freed from the dictatorship of finance can undertake large scale non-predatory cooperation with the African continent, facilitating democratic progress and more civilized relations. Contributing to all the growing movements for concrete universalization would encourage the communist forces to replace the outdated form of alienated unification, represented by the 'Internationale", with a direct democracy of cooperation between everyone, where communism, for each, comes to signify free solidarity.
Let us recapitulate. For a long time taken as the essence of communism, the project of proletarian conquest of state power to socialize the means of production, in the belief that this would abolish the exploitation of workers, corresponded to an impoverishment of Marxist thought. The failure of this socialism and the changes of our epoch in all their dimensions demand that we give new life to a much more broad and radical communist project of superseding all humanity's great historic alienations, and that we re-think the content under present conditions. Communism then becomes synonymous with revolutionary evolution in all areas of social reality, brought about by all the class and non-class forces mobilized by the cause of the people's humanity, motivated not only to abolish insustainable anachronisms but to constructively supersede the current state of things as the question of the human goals of historical development is brought to the fore. This is a communism seeking not simply some other way to regulate the market, but to move toward a post-commodity economy; not simply to prepare a better future for individuals but to make their multifaceted development an immediate object; not simply to develop democracy further, but to undertake the disappearance of the state through the reappropriation by the citizens of their decision-making powers.
This perspective, in addition, counters all pressures toward human uniformization imposed by some dominating third party, with the vision of concrete universalization, where each people or person fully participates in the human species in being freely oneself. The communist idea deeply dissociates itself here from what for too long passed for it, - class narrowness, despotic violence, a future by command - joining instead anticapitalist intransigence and openness to all civilized values, transformative boldness and democratic patience, the necessity for struggle and a free deliberation of its goals.
Have we exhausted the list of the major problems a renewed concept of communism must confront? Clearly not. There remain any number of questions, some classical, but most new, outside the framework developed here. For instance, the demographic question involving an explosive population growth in one area and a falling rate of fertility in another, both with considerable socio-economic consequences. Then there is the ecological question in all its aspects, from the hundred forms of pollution to the destabilization of nature's equilibrium and the exhaustion of non-renewable resources. More and more there is the anthropological question, arising from the biomedical revolution which is gradually revolutionizing the human condition itself, from birth to death, from genetic identity to mental activity, with already noticeable differences in images of the self, parent-child relations, and many social practices and representations. Still more broadly, the question of the accelerating development of knowledge and scientific capabilities, when it is becoming possible to artificially reproduce the perceptive universe or intelligent reasoning, as well as the primitive soup after the big bang, or the genetic identity of living species, with all its potentially beneficial effects for society and civilization, but that in today's context are cause for concern.
All these problems are accumulating with alarming speed, on a frantic course imprinted by profit and exploitation, far outstripping the rhythm and organization necessary for a lasting development, which would involve precaution, ethical deliberation and democratic input. Unlike other developments discussed here, these are not in themselves class problems. Naturally, arising in a world dominated by capital they will bear these characteristics. Thus, the irresponsible devastation of nature or the shattering of the human condition have much to do with the dictatorship of financial profitability and the untenable rhythm of many innovations directly reflect its short-term priorities. But while everything is based in the general alienation of the present world, the necessary de-alienation, as we have discussed, will not resolve the problems posed by these developments, which have to do with our choices to be made in our desire for the development of humanization to persevere.
We are in a truly novel situation: humanity is beginning to have the power to decide what it will be. What meaning should be given to this being? To live to enrich oneself or enrich life? To accept a limit or do everything possible to surpass it? To approach society as a user or as an activist? We are now confronted with ethical choices, inseparably universal and personal, between visions of humanity in which the question of ends, its philosophic dimensions included, comes to concern everyone. Is there anything more philosophical, for example, than the question of the universal? Nevertheless, it appears everywhere, from the domestic to the global arenas. It was at the center of the vehement French debates in 1999 on the political equality of men and women. Is the 'man' of the 'rights of man' an abstractly non-gendered universal? In fact, it ignores women as such. Is it, rather, a concrete being of determinate gender? What becomes of its ethico-juridical universality, so essential for everyone? Can we suggest, with a little of this so misunderstood dialectic, that in its concrete universality, the human being in general is neither without gender nor of a certain gender, but gendered in both ways, which gives meaning to the requirement for equality without at all violating the requirement for universality? (note, the individual is both singular and universal, and particular to - member of sub-groups)
Questions of this sort arise everywhere, and this is only the beginning. The question of what might constitute the stuff of human history after the end of our pre-history raises significant anthropological issue. Fundamentally overdetermined today by their class contexts and stakes, these problems will not disappear in a future classless society. The communist idea in itself cannot answer these questions because its object is the overcoming of class society and the de-alienation of human history. In a de-alienated society, the communist idea will no longer point to the future and it will remain for our descendants to invent what sort of humanity they want to become. We see here with these post-class questions of human ends, not only the horizon of communism but its own coming supersession as the global gauge of human meaning.
We now come to the question, how do we do politics, for today, with this re-thought communist idea? We will reply with some simple suggestions in accordance with approach we have taken. First of all, and above all, the communist perspective is no longer to be treated as an ideal for the future, but, and very resolutely, as it refers to the everyday. This is the opposite of what the tradition of political 'realism' required, in which the leadership of the communist party never even mentioned communism for decades, abandoning the critical radicality and visionary audacity found, more than anywhere, in Marx. As Lenin said, "we must dream", not in the sense of losing ourselves, but in the sense that prepares us. To see the real goal of our acts in all our acts, and thus to stay on course: isn't this the only valid realism?
Communism, today, much more than in Marx's time, is the "real movement that supersedes the current state of things", understood in the negative as well as the positive, in the crisis of wage earners or the affirmation of individuality, in the dramas of globalization or the rise of ethics. At its core the general style of a new political practice will be to link, in each question, a broad perspective and a concrete initiative, the second assuring the credible effectiveness of the first, which in return imparts a broad motivation. This practice of politics would make clear, for instance, that in the current struggle for employment, the supersession of the labor market is brought into play; in the reform of schools, the integral development of individuals; in the political equality of the sexes, the disappearance of the state; in a new form of public media, the de-alienation of consciousness. These expanded horizons of meaning are at the same time the most luminous of criteria of the correctness of the most immediate measures in question. If the forces for the supersession of capitalism remain dramatically insufficient, while we dream of finally changing life, doesn't this call for a perspective, in the strongest sense of the word?
The formation of a new political movement requires something other than the multiplication, however coordinated, of social movements. How to effectively challenge the fundamental orientations of capital or of power? This implies knowing how to answer questions such as: what economic changes, what democratic innovations, what other course for European construction can we envision? The outline of such a political project itself brings up another group of essential problems: what organized force can bring life to this project, serving what primary function, structured according to what principles? And under these diverse questions, a very central point of inquiry: all this from what perspective, in the broadest historic and anthropological sense of the word?
This is the key to any political renewal and beyond that, to any supersession of capitalism. Promising but uncertain, toady's new social movements can neither be satisfied with current political practice, nor can they by themselves produce what they need. To bring life to this dialectic, it seems to me that the contribution of a third factor is indispensable: this is what we can call the theoretical movement: the labor of thought, debate of ideas, re-creation of a culture of social transformation, as we had in the thirties or the sixties. The theoretical movement to which the various political groups and formations can contribute, but which is not the monopoly of any one, has the crucial task of responding to the key question of what is our perspective. And this refers to what we have called here the new communist question. We now understand this word to mean the full resolution of all our historic alienations, old and new, of class and outside of class.
Having this universal de-alienation as its content, the communist idea is not one emancipatory vision among others. Rather, it is the concept of all real radicalities. It does not stand above them or seek to dominate them, but is open to all authentically de-alienating projects, whether referring to Marx or not, whether they call themselves communist or not. It says on the theoretical plane that all adherents of a real radicality, together will form the new force of revolutionary practice, aimed at the classless society that epoch is calling for. This is a multiform development of the social movement, plural construction of the political movement, dialogical elaboration of the theoretical movement. Among these, I consider the third to be decisive at present, because the most serious crisis left by the failure of communism is the crisis of the future, and because the importance of the fundamental labor of thought in surmounting it has been grossly underestimated. The Manifesto told generations of revolutionaries for what they were struggling. Nothing is more important today than to know in a completely new way what this is for us.
Fifty years of political life having convinced me of what I consider to be the insufficient consideration of the theoretical in today's left politics, I have reflected on its motives. One is cultural. In Greek, theoria means contemplation. From there it is not far to identify the theoretical with the speculative. The same Greek word means procession, systematic conception, and making coherent: the very essence of politics. This is why all politics of the poor has a theoretical aspect, including the philosophical. But that is not all. Without a strong theory there is no true demystifying critique, nor, as a result, sufficiently motivated revolutionary politics. We are touching here on a principal aspect of communism on which I have not yet commented - the de-alienation of consciousness, often itself taken as mythic in accord with Althusser's notorious thesis that ideology "will always exist", even in communist society, and "will never change its function". It is not possible here to discuss the Althusserian concept of ideology. Let us say only that in the form cited here, it is a source of tremendous confusion, because the complex notion of ideology has at least two different meanings: imagined representation of real life, and mystified representation of the real. As Hegel said in the Science of Logic, "ordinary life doesn't have a concept, but representations" (vol. 3, p. 213). And in the representations through which I see my relations with the world, with others, with myself, enter necessarily the affective, the evaluative, the optative, in short, the subjective, including the unconscious. In this sense we always life, in effect, not in conceptuality but in ideology, with its variable part of the imaginary, perhaps illusory, which nevertheless does not at all amount to an inevitable aberration in relation to the real. What Marx had in mind in his constant critique of ideology in the historico-social sense was something entirely different: the objective social processes by which, in bourgeois society in particular, reality presents itself to everyone in an inverted form, a phenomenal appearance which, without our knowing it, fundamentally denatures essential relations. Thus the wage is obviously the price of the labor expended, profit is simply the earnings of capital, the market is the place where freedom reigns, social inequality is a fact of nature, etc. Linked in its forms and contents to determinate social structures, this mystified representation of the real is not at all invariant through history. Even in today's world, the fact is that we can think and act with regard to real relations and thus dispel, up to a certain point, the false-appearances of the economy and of politics, of racism and sexism. An even stronger reason will be the case when people have reappropriated their social powers. In short, the dealienation of consciousness (contra Althusser) is not an ideological myth.
This task is the most urgent of all because, more than ever, the domination by capital relies on ideological mystification. Alienation, in all areas, has reached unprecedented heights; the social machinery for deluding consciousnesses in the interest of the ruling class has been perfected as never before. The media are loaded with upscale advertising identifying sophistication with speciousness. Television, in constant use, obliterates the concept under the image and permanently feeds a baseless credulity for events and history. Against the will of many students, school doesn't develop the highly cultivated critical capacities that a real sovereignty of the people would require. And so on. The ordinary citizen thus lives in an incredibly deceiving reality. Perhaps this explains the tremendous and persistent gap between the burgeoning of motives to struggle, and the paucity of actual combatants. The contrary would be a miracle. Thus the considerable importance of what I call the struggle for representation: at every moment, in every area, to expose the deception and bring to light, in the simplicity of form which only real theoretical penetration makes possible, the processes in which the false-appearances, real and imagined, originate, and this way, to form the vigilant consciousness, placing our image of reality back on its feet and reopening paths to action.
The first task is the critique of language, including that used on the left. Too often our choice of language carelessly accedes to the deceptions perpetrated by the dominant ideology rather than critiquing them. Only when this pre-requisite demystification is underway can the complex problems confronting us be legitimately debated. This is one example of the critical campaigns that must be undertaken in all areas, beginning with fundamental theoretical work, through iconoclastic initiatives with regard to the media, inventive efforts to foster an alternative press, battles for critical books, for everything that can make life untenable for the purveyors of the false-appearances. To transform the world, we must transform the representation of the world.