Endnotes, Endnotes 1: Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the Twentieth Century (Endnotes, October 2008).
According to their website, Endnotes is a discussion group based in Germany, the UK, and the US “primarily oriented towards conceptualising the conditions of possibility of a communist overcoming of the capitalist mode of producction… starting from present conditions”. They situate themselves within the current of “communisation theory”, which came out of the ultra-left currents after 1968. Since 2008, Endnotes has published four “issues” (really monographs) of their journal.
Left-communism has, at least since Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder tended to be overshadowed either by authoritarian forms of Marxism (e.g. Marxism-Leninism, Maoism) or by those forms of Marxism interested more in cultural studies (e.g. the Frankfurt School or the New Left). Still, there has always been a strong current of theoretical work on the more “anarchist” side of Marxist/communist theory, including the work of Tiqqun, The Invisible Committee, and some strains of workerism/autonomism. The approaches of these groups can tend towards the kind of movemenism Moufawad-Paul critiques in The Communist Necessity, but I think that there’s plenty to engage with here.
Endnotes 1 isn’t really written by the Endnotes collective, as issues 2 - 4 are. Other than a brief introduction and conclusion, the text is composed of articles in a debate between Gilles Dauvé and the group Théorie Communiste, which took place between 1998 and approximately 2008, over the categorization of and reasons for “failed” revolutions (1921 in Russia, 1923 in Germany, 1936 in Spain, and 1968 in France and Italy). For Dauvé, these revolutions failed because they did not go far enough - enough of the capitalist relations remained for the counter-revolution to take hold. In the long essay which opens the volume, “When Insurrections Die”, Dauvé analyzes these revolutionary moments and explains how, in his view, the opportunity for a successful revolution was lost in each case.
Théorie Communiste takes issue with Dauvé in three main areas. In the first place, they argue that he posits an essential nature of the proletariat, of communism, and of the revolution against which each concrete instance can be measured (and found wanting). This is a trans- or a- historical view of these categories that TC rejects: each revolution is what it is at its particular moment in history, and nothing else. Secondly, TC argues that, since 1968, changes in the relations of production (i.e. from Fordism to the mass-worker), produced changes in proletarian consciousness, and therefore of the nature of the revolution itself. This is marked particularly by the transition from seizing the means of production, to “the refusal of work” on the part of workers in revolt. TC argues that this period also marks a change in the conception of proletarian revolution, moving from a “programmatism” (e.g. the Gotha Programme, or the Erfurt Programme) towards a conception of revolution less focused on the factory and the industrial worker, and more on the social-factory, and proletarian society more broadly.
Thirdly, and I think most intriguingly, TC identifies the foothold of the counter-revolution in the persistence of the commodity form itself. As long as the commodity (the product produced for sale) remains, its dual nature (use-value and exchange-value) will engender the persistence of all of the capitalist relations of production. It is the reproduction of the proletariat as proletariat, that is as a class within capitalism, that communisation seeks to abolish. Whereas the seizure of the means of production sees the victory of the proletariat over other classes - and for Maoists, it is important to recognize the continuation of class-struggle under socialism or the dictatorship of the proletariat - communisation means the abolition of the proletariat as a class (since the proletariat can only be defined as a relationship within capitalism). This is reminiscent in some ways of the distinction drawn by Lenin in State and Revolution between the socialist State, seized in order to wither away, and the immediate smashing of the State as a necessary element of the communist revolution.
Communism, then, for communisation theorists, is not a posited future state, but a process to be adopted now. It is this that brings them closest, I think, to the anarchists, and which can lead to movementism rather than revolutionary struggle. But the idea that the seeds of the counter-revolution are necessarily present in the structure of the commodity is, I think, an important one.
I read this in a white heat. I’ve always felt suspicious of authoritarian Marxism, though I have to admit that I don’t think there’s necessarily a non-authoritarian alternative. Rationally, I have to come down on the side of the Leninists or the Maoists, but temperamentally I am closer, I think, to the anarcho-communism of Endnotes. For me, the revolution cannot simply be the dictatorship of the proletariat - all the capitalist relations intact but with the workers as the ruling class; it must be the complete and fundamental transformation of society down to its most fundamental element, the commodity itself. Only by abolishing all capitalist relations up to and including the commodity-form can we hope to eradicate the counter-revolution and the resurgence of capitalism. Capitalism is good at co-opting radical movements, and being aware of the tools it uses to that end is an important theoretical contribution. This issue of Endnotes sets the stage for the elaboration of Endnotes’ own position in Endnotes 2.