Communisation: Bring Out Your Dead

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“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living… The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of the past in order to smother their own content. In order to arrive at its own content, the revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead.”1

If this was true when Marx wrote this passage, when one could only speak of communism in the future tense, it is all the more so of today, now that anarchists and communists can speak of their own “histories”, indeed seem to speak of little else. Marxism itself is now a tradition of dead generations, and even latter-day situationists seem to have difficulty in “leaving the twentieth century.”2

We write this not from any special infatuation with the present, or any resultant desire to bring communist theory “up-to-date”. The twenty-first century — just as much as the previous one — is formed by the contradiction between labour and capital, the separation between work and “life”, and the domination of everything by the abstract forms of value. It is therefore just as worth leaving as its predecessor. Yet the “twentieth century” familiar to the situationists, its contours of class relations, its temporality of progress, and its post-capitalist horizons, is obviously behind us. We’ve become bored with theories of novelty — with post-modernism, post-Fordism, and each new product of the academy — not so much because they fail to capture an essential continuity, but because the capitalist restructuring of the 1970s and 80s is no longer novel.

In this preliminary issue of Endnotes we have assembled a series of texts (basically an exchange between two communist groups in France) all concerned with the history of revolutions in the twentieth century. As the texts make clear, the history of these revolutions is a history of failure, either because they were crushed by capitalist counter-revolution or because their “victories” took the form of counter-revolutions themselves — setting up social systems which, in their reliance on monetary exchange and wage-labour, failed to transcend capitalism. Yet the latter was not simply a “betrayal”; any more than the former was the result of “strategic errors” or missing “historical conditions.” When we address the question of these failures we cannot resort to “what if” counterfactuals — blaming the defeat of revolutionary movements on everything (leaders, forms of organisations, wrong ideas, unripe conditions) other than the movements themselves in their determinate content. It is the nature of this content which is at issue in the exchange which follows.

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