from: Wildcat 100, Sommer 2016

More post-modernism than communism. Comments on »Communisation«

Gilles Dauvé: From Crisis to Communisation
expected in August 2016 | PM Press | approx. 192 Seiten | approx. 16 Euro

Time and time again over the last 20 years we have translated and published articles by Gilles Dauvé; you can find a selection further down. Maybe a discussion about ‘communisation’ and a new examination of those texts will develop in the wake of this book review.

In 2011 Karl Nesic and Gilles Dauvé wrote the text ‘Communisation’ after which they dissolved their joint project, Troploin. The reasons for this can be found in their text, ‘What Next?’ For Nesic, the crucial factor, amongst others, was the impasse within the communisation discussion. Dauvé continued alone and in 2015 republished ‘Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement’ for the third time within a narrow span of 45 years. His new book, ‘From Crisis to Communisation’ is an extended and over-worked reissue of the ‘Communisation’ text.

“In recent years, communisation has become one of the radical in-words, the popularity of which extends far beyond the regrettably called, “communisers”.1 […] the notion has developed into an elasticity of meaning, and is now a blanket term covering a wide range of attitudes and theories. The differences among these are both substantial and consequential. […] Many communisation theorists behave as if they had found the solution once and for all, and present our time as a period when the proletarian movement has and can only have one goal: communism.” With this opening statement Gilles Dauvé is identifying the problems. Indeed, anyone can lose the overview within the abundance of texts with different positions all referencing ‘communisation’.

Against the mixing of theory-fragments

Communisation means collectivization (fre. ‘communisation’, ger. ‘Kommunisierung’). It developed as a theoretical current in France in the 1970s, based on the insight that there is no need for a transitional stage (“dictatorship of the proletariat”) between capitalism and a free society. To destroy the existing system: the reproduction of class relations must be overcome; the proletariat must abolish itself; all existing capitalist conditions and relations must be transformed into communist ones. Communism is not the goal at the end of the revolutionary path, but only through communisation – the practiced communist measures – will communism be produced immediately. The demand for the collectivization of every aspect of human life and of every human relation is likable – especially in times where the radical left finds it en vogue to separate everything from everything else. But within his criticism Dauvé emphasizes that “communisation” is a concept that developed in a certain historical period. In the current crisis this ‘concept’ has to be further developed. How could communism arise out of the global struggles of the last two centuries? Thereby he sharply establishes a distinction between himself and groups like Théorie Communiste, Endnotes, The Invisible Committee, etc. who turn the term into a closed theory.

In the last chapter (‘A Veritable Split’) Dauvé summarizes his dispute with these groups. He criticizes the ‘2-stage-model’ of TC-SIC 2 who are grounding their theoretical basis – according to their own words – “upon an assessment that Théorie Communiste made at the end of the 1970s: the crises of the workers’ movements and the concomitant restructuring of the capitalist class relation have issued in a situation where there is no longer a recognised worker’s identity to be turned against capital.” 3. In this periodization capitalist history is graduated into two completely distinct periods: “In the first period, reformist class action was inevitable; in the second, it becomes impossible.” Because now“the capital-labour relationship can no longer reproduce itself”. TC-SIC explicitly assumes that the working class can only fight capital if it has an identity as working class. Dauvé comments that: “This has more to do with post-modernism than with communist theory.” (p. 180; Everything Must Go!). We can only agree on that.
Dauvé identifies that TC-SIC decouples the proletariat from work and therefore in the last consequence the revolution from class. Furthermore they play up specific aspects (immediacy) while downsizing others (class). “[...] mixing old references (capital, value, labour...) with new ones (communisation, identity, gender...) to provide suitable material for a whole array of critical specialists.” (p. 181; Everything Must Go!).

Back to the roots

According to Dauvé the concept of communisation was, at its birth, influenced by several schools of thought: the form (rejection of all mediations through parliament, parties or unions) was coined by the ‘Dutch-German’ Left – what he calls the council communists. The content (dis-accumulation) was penned by the ‘Italian’ Left – what he calls the Bordigists. The process (transformation of all aspects of daily life, extending worker management to generalized self-management) was coined by the Situationist International – let's call them the ‘French’ Left.

Compared to the rest of the ‘communisers’, Dauvè is mentioning two important points that are the central theme of his book: that the capital-labour relationship, as well as the production of value, are still “central”. The question of collectivization is related to the behavior and the social relations of the proletariat – who represent the revolutionary subject. To achieve the revolutionary breakthrough we will need solidarity and the abolition of the separation between manual and mental labour. “Solidarity is not born out of a moral duty exterior to us, rather out of practical acts and interrelations”, out of the abolition of work. “Revolutionary action will not be fuelled by the best or most equal way of distributing goods, but by the human links and the actions that spring from them. In communisation, activity prevails over its productive result, because that result depends on the impetus and the links that the insurgents will be able to create among themselves.”

Capitalism, socialist and communist doctrines have all acted on the assumption of having to satisfy vital requirements. Of course, a person without food will die of starvation. Nevertheless is the question of the production of staple foods the wrong starting point if we forget that human existence is social. We don't eat first to enter society afterwards. People encounter their requirements – hunger, erecting of dwellings, etc. – in conjunction with others. “What motivates the insurgent proletarian (even the hungry one) is not the need to feed himself, but to associate with fellow proletarians, which – among other effects – will enable him to eat. The necessity to produce food, to grow carrots for instance, will be met via social relations, which, among other activities, will grow vegetables […]” Vital necessities don't have priority over social links.


“Communisers” such as The Invisible Committee put forward the position that in the current system a division of the spheres of production and circulation does not exist, instead everything is in flow 4. Therefore the blockade is the only effective warfare agent. Dauvé counters: “[...] it would be an illusion to replace the former [strikes] by the latter [blockades], on the grounds that productive work is deemed unessential [...] This notion is an internalization of how contemporary capitalism pictures itself [...].” But Dauvé does not mean that only certain parts of the proletariat could make the revolution. Because it also needs the masses of people “without reserves”, semi-proletarians, etc: “Our concern is what revolution will do. Surely, no revolution can happen without mass strikes and blockades, which are unlikely to be achieved only by people outside the workplace: a university lecturer and a power-plant technician do not have the same social leverage. But that does not tell us what either of them will do once the insurrection is under way.” (p. 134-135; Everything Must Go!).

Dauvé’s thoughts are sharp-witted – but as he often does, he only takes the first step. If the strike remains central but can only become revolutionary if the workers will criticize and overcome their own roll, then the most important task should be to investigate such struggles on that basis. Shouldn't a real confrontation with class composition, workers' power and the centers of surplus value production be called for?

Dauvé has seen a general workers’ defeat since 1980 by work intensification, rising unemployment, wage freezes, cuts in social spending, etc. But unlike twenty or fifteen years ago, this worsening is met with a more systematic and more conscious resistance. One of the turning points was the UPS strike in 1997, another the protests of migrant workers in 2006 in the United States. Since then the number of strikes and riots has been rising worldwide, whereby the critique of capitalism takes center stage again.

The movements won’t make progress without criticism of work

At the end of the 60s the movements had set self-organization as their objective. The current movements are based on that former objective. Dauvé writes: “What was the peak and the termination of the proletarian surge in 1977: autonomy, is now the implicit programme of the early 21st proletarians. [...] But the present movements do not go beyond self-government. In spite of its dynamism, social critique has not criticized its limits: on the contrary, it treats them as its objective.”
The people participating in the square movements want to take back life; production and work should not be central anymore. Dauvé sees this as a possible starting point for a critique of work and economy, but in addition these movements have to deal with production and work! It is about the criticism of work, it cannot be evaded.

According to Dauvé one sign of the coming of a revolutionary period will be an increased number of anti-work acts – with workers putting their jobs at risk because they don't care about the wellbeing of the company anymore. First these acts will be launched by small minorities, then will become more and more common. The struggles won't take place only at the workplace, but also where the proletariat lives – therefore Dauvé uses the term anti-proletarian acts. If rioters are destroying “their own” infrastructure (schools, libraries, etc.) it does not make sense at first. It is understood as purely nihilistic actions. But there exists a very good reason: rioters are destroying the infrastructure because it represents the social system – respectively the means for its reproduction –, which they want to fight against. The self-abolition of the proletariat implies the destruction of conditions of life, which control but also protect them.

Leaving the rails

Dauvé gives two examples: an occupation of a printing plant and a railway workers strike – which might contribute to communising society. If railway workers are going on an isolated strike it will be unlikely that they look beyond their own interests – because they do not have to. A general strike, however, sees mass disorder and rioting stop the normal flow of social reproduction, so for example, the extension of work stoppages and the emergence of street and neighbourhood initiatives opens new possibilities for the railway workers. They could be running free trains to transport strikers and demonstrators from one town to another for instance. They and others are directly involved in decision-making and realizing their aims. They have to start thinking and acting differently about the railway system because the success of communisation depends on the disappearance of sociological identities and hierarchies.

Dauvé is still using the ‘concept of communisation’; he can only solve the revolutionary mystery by doing so: how does a workers' struggle become a revolutionary one? How could class struggles not only lead to a victory of one class over the other, but to the abolition of both? He is appalled by the nonsense of many ‘communisation theorists’ who are messing around with the term. Therefore this book is published.

To be continued


[1] An actual example: Joshua Clover: Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings; Verso; London; Mai 2016

[2] With the term TC-SIC Dauvé refers to the »international communist discussion group« who are also publishing the anglophone »International Journal for Communisation«.

[3] Sic Journal; also compare the current text of Endnotes (»Unity in separation«).

[4] The Invisible Committee: To Our Friends; October 2014

You can find more articles written by Dauvé and Nesic on the website troploin.fr

  • An A to Z of communisation (2015)
  • The Bitter Victory of Councilism (2014)
  • Value, Labour Time & Communism: Re-Reading Marx (2014)
  • What Next? (2012)
  • Communisation (2011)

Articles written by Dauvé and translated by Wildcat into German language (most of them available online at wildcat-www.de):

  • Wildcat-Zirkular Nr. 50/51: 1917-1937 – Wenn die Aufstände sterben; Mai/Juni 1999
  • Wildcat-Zirkular Nr. 52/53: Niedergang und Wiederkehr der kommunistischen Bewegung; Juli 1999
  • Wildcat-Zirkular Nr. 65: Lieben die ArbeiterInnen die Arbeit?; Februar 2003
  • Wildcat 76: Wir wollen Nichts! – Gilles Dauvé zum sogenannten Aufruhr in den Banlieues; Frühjahr 2006
  • Wildcat 88, Beilage: ArbeiterInnen verlassen die Fabrik; Winter 2010/2011

 [Seitenanfang] [Startseite] [Archiv] [Bestellen] [Kontakt]