The first issue of the Endnotes journal, published in 2008, presented a debate between Troploin and Theorie Communiste (TC) on the character and meaning of the 20th Century revolutions, with the intention of initiating a wider discussion in the anglophone world around the theory of communisation. It's an excellent read, and is available free online.
Some of the content is quite difficult to grasp, especially in the way TC puts forward its thesis. But persevere—it's well worth it. Even just reading the Introduction and Afterward gives the reader a sufficient overview of the what is termed the programmatic approach of the old workers movement, which after the restructuring of capital in the 60s and 70s is no longer viable (if it ever was):
One of the main concepts throughout the book is that capital is a mode of production, not a mode of management. So when in 1920 anarchists like Malatesta wrote:
“The workers’ movement that existed in 1900, or still in 1936, was neither crushed by fascist repression nor bought off by transistors or fridges: it destroyed itself as a force of change because it aimed at preserving the proletarian condition, not superseding it. … The purpose of the old labour movement was to take over the same world and manage it in a new way: putting the idle to work, developing production, introducing workers’ democracy (in principle, at least). Only a tiny minority, ‘anarchist’ as well as 'marxist', held that a different society meant the destruction of State, commodity and wage labour, although it rarely defined this as a process, rather as a programme to put into practice after the seizure of power…”
“Enter into relations between factories and with the railway workers for the provision of raw materials; come to agreements with cooperatives and with the people. Sell and exchange your products without dealing with ex-bosses.”
“Sell and exchange your products”: in the very injunction of Malatesta to pursue and deepen revolutionary combat resides its failure and reversal into counter-revolution... To take over the factories, emancipate productive labour, to make labour-time the measure of exchange, is value, is capital. As long as the revolution will have no other object than to liberate that which necessarily makes the proletariat a class of the capitalist mode of production [rather than capitalist relations itself], workers’ organisations which are the expression of this necessity will employ themselves to make it respected [ie be in the contradictory position of forcing workers to produce, as in Spain 1936]"
The purpose of the communist revolution is not to simply manage production and distribution without bosses (self-managed capitalism), but to question the very relations that call capital and the proletariat into being:
"What matters in reality are the social relations which determine human activity as labour — the point is thus the abolition of these relations and not the abolition of work."
So where does that leave us in terms of class struggle today? Well, it informs us of the nature of capital and the proletariat in the present cycle of capitalist relations and the struggles against it; that the programs of the past (with their affirmation of labour and the liberation, rather than the abolition, of labour relations) contained the seeds of their counter-revolution and are no longer relevant; and that today's struggle over revindicative struggles (what TC call struggles over immediate demands such as wages, conditions etc.), can become revolutionary:
"whenever, in these struggles, it is its own existence as a class that the proletariat confronts. This confrontation takes place within revindicative struggles and is first and foremost only a means of waging these struggles further, but this means of waging them further implicitly contains a conflict with that which defines the proletariat. This is the whole originality of this new cycle of struggle. Revindicative struggles have today a characteristic that would have been inconceivable thirty years ago."
This is a super brief and biased overview, so I want to include some more quotes that either questioned or clarified my own understandings of class struggle, and give a sense of the texts within. But better yet, you should read the articles yourself!
- "The fundamental contradiction of our society (proletariat-capital) is only potentially deadly to capitalism if the worker confronts his work, and therefore takes on not just the capitalist, but what capital makes of him, i.e. if he takes on what he does and is."
- "The positivity of the proletarian pole within the class relation during the phase of formal subsumption and the first phase of real subsumption is expressed in what TC term the “programmatism” of the workers’ movement, whose organisations, parties and trade unions (whether social democratic or communist, anarchist or syndicalist) represented the rising power of the proletariat and upheld the programme of the liberation of labour and the self-affirmation of the working class. The character of the class relation in the period of the programmatic workers’ movement thus determines the communist revolution in this cycle of struggle as the self-affirmation of one pole within the capital-labour relation. As such the communist revolution does not do away with the relation itself, but merely alters its terms, and hence carries within it the counter-revolution in the shape of workers’ management of the economy and the continued accumulation of capital. Decentralised management of production through factory councils on the one hand and central-planning by the workers’ state on the other are two sides of the same coin, two forms of the same content: workers’ power as both revolution and counter-revolution."
- "Generally speaking we could say that programmatism is defined as a theory and practice of class struggle in which the proletariat finds, in its drive toward liberation, the fundamental elements of a future social organisation which become the programme to be realised. This revolution is thus the affirmation of the proletariat, whether as a dictatorship of the proletariat, workers’ councils, the liberation of work, a period of transition, the withering of the state, generalised self-management, or a “society of associated producers”. Programmatism is not simply a theory — it is above all the practice of the proletariat, in which the rising strength of the class (in unions and parliaments, organisationally, in terms of the relations of social forces or of a certain level of consciousness regarding “the lessons of history”) is positively conceived of as a stepping-stone toward revolution and communism. Programmatism is intrinsically linked to the contradiction between the proletariat and capital as it is constituted by the formal subsumption of labour under capital."
- "The liberation of labour is impossible because it calls forth its own counter-revolution as capitalist organisation of work."
- "The emancipation of labour is here conceived as the measurement of value by labour time, the preservation of the notion of the product, and the framework of the enterprise and exchange. At those rare moments when an autonomous affirmation of the proletariat as liberation of labour arrives at its realisation (necessarily under the control of organisations of the workers’ movement), as in Russia, Italy and Spain, it immediately inverts itself into the only thing it can become: a new form of the mobilisation of labour under the constraint of value and thus of “maximum output” (as the CNT demanded of the workers of Barcelona in 1936)"
- "The turn at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies was simply the breakdown of programmatism. “May ’68” was the liquidation of all the old forms of the workers’ movement. The revolution was no longer a question of the establishment of the proletariat as a ruling class which generalises its situation, universalises labour as a social relation, and the economy as the objectivity of a society founded on value."
- "Does that mean that the revolution and communisation are now the only future? Again this is a question without meaning, without reality. The only inevitability is the class struggle though which we can only conceive of the revolution of this cycle of struggle, and not as a collapse of capital leaving a space open, but as an historically specific practice of the proletariat in the crisis of this period of capital. It is thus this practice which renders the capitalist mode of production irreproducible. The outcome of the struggle is never given beforehand. It is self-evident that revolution cannot be reduced to a sum of its conditions, because it is an overcoming and not a fulfilment. It is communisation which renders the contradiction between the proletariat and capital irreproducible."
- "The abolition of the proletarian condition is the self-transformation of proletarians into immediately social individuals, it is the struggle against capital which will make us such, because this struggle is a relation that implies us with it. The production of communism is effectuated by a class which finds the content of communism in its own class situation... Communisation is carried out in the struggle of the proletariat against capital. Abolishing exchange, the division of labour, the structure of the corporation, the state…, are measures which are necessarily taken up in the course of struggle, with their retreats and their sudden stops they are just as much tactical measures through which communisation is constructed as the strategy of the revolution. It is thus, through the struggle of a class against capital, that the immediately social individual is produced. It is produced by the proletariat in the abolition of capital (the final relation between capital and the proletariat)..."
- "The crisis of the social compact based on the Fordist productive model and the Keynesian Welfare State issues in financialisation, the dismantling and relocation of industrial production, the breaking of workers’ power, de-regulation, the ending of collective bargaining, privatisation, the move to temporary, flexibilised labour and the proliferation of new service industries. The global capitalist restructuring — the formation of an increasingly unified global labour market, the implementation of neo-liberal policies, the liberalisation of markets, and international downward pressure on wages and conditions — represents a counter-revolution whose result is that capital and the proletariat now confront each other directly on a global scale. The circuits of reproduction of capital and labour-power — circuits through which the class relation itself is reproduced — are now fully integrated: these circuits are now immediately internally related. The contradiction between capital and proletariat is now displaced to the level of their reproduction as classes; from this moment on, what is at stake is the reproduction of the class relation itself."