[NOTE (9/11/17)]: This essay represents one pole of extreme nihilism (on the long spectrum between nihilist do-nothingism and substitutionist hyper-activism) similar but not identical to that expressed by Monsieur Dupont, the writers of Nihilist Communism. While some of the ideas expressed in this article are useful and interesting, I do not currently defend the political conclusions I made in this article. If you want to get a sense of the positive ideas I have about the communist revolution, see How Can We Move Forward? (For Comrades in the United States of America and Beyond) and Why Is Working Class Self-Activity the Transformative-Revolutionary Agent under Capitalism? (And Related Questions).
Revolutionary actions are directed against the system as a whole — for its overthrow. This pre-supposes a general disruption of society which escapes political control. Thus far, such revolutionary actions have occurred only in connection with social catastrophe, such as were released by lost wars and the associated economic dislocations. This does not mean that such situations are an absolute pre-condition for revolution, but it indicates the extent of social disintegration that precedes revolutionary upheavals. Revolution must involve a majority of the active population. Not ideology but necessity brings the masses into revolutionary motion. The resulting activities produce their own revolutionary ideology, namely an understanding of what has to be done to emerge victoriously out of the struggle against the system’s defenders.
–Paul Mattick, from an interview with Lotta Continua, October 1977
- The Basics of Disaster Communism
Under the real domination of capital, capital becomes an autonomous entity, establishes the spectacular material pseudo-community of the “lonely crowds”, and exerts its complete despotism over society. The ultimate despot, capital has completely subjugated all classes into biological appendages of the great technological machine. Mere unconscious cogs of autonomous capital’s drive towards self-expansion of value, all classes have been materially and spiritually expropriated, turned into classes-without-reserves, and mutated into classes-never-for-themselves.
The revolutionary movement is dead and its corpse has been slowly decaying since 1917. We authentic pro-revolutionaries who understand “the real movement of the proletariat” number worldwide merely in the thousands, the bad-faith pro-revolutionaries who do not understand “the real movement of the proletariat” number in the millions, and the number of people who will never accept our revolutionary theories number in the billions. So much for “agitate, educate, organize”. So much for us pro-revolutionaries raising the consciousness of the working class. So much for any schema that reproduces a separation from the “thinking revolutionary elite” and the “unthinking masses”.
The revolutionary movement is dead; isn’t this liberating? No need to propagandize among the masses, no need to read Marxist and anarchist literature, no need to join yet another religious leftist cult. No need to sacrifice time, money, and energy to a cause that swallows everything we have and gives back nearly nothing. The revolutionary movement is dead; the masses will never “wake up”, because capital’s despotism is all consuming. Even if there are worldwide riots, they will individually be isolated and surrounded by capital, which will gladly use its powers of repression and co-optation to end resistance. They will never lead to a revolution that stops capital on their own accord. Even if there is a “revolution”, it will be led by so-called “Marxists”, who will re-subjugate the working class in the name of the working class under state capitalism. Even if there is a leaderless “revolution”, it will be a self-managed counter-revolution, one that preserves capital accumulation while allowing full worker participation in the decision making for their firms. One that will revert back to regular old capitalism when this new kind of capitalism proves to be less efficient than having a strict division between leader and led. And each time we resist against capital, capital’s representatives and fellow travelers learn more about how to crush or co-opt our movement; our resistance merely makes them stronger. Your optimism is repulsive.
The misery of the pro-revolutionary is this: we understand the alienating and exploitative nature of capitalism, we feel it acutely, yet we are powerless to overturn it. Current conditions make it impossible for a revolution to succeed; there are too many obstacles, we are too weak, the enemies of revolution are too strong, and capital is all consuming and all too powerful to challenge. But capital has one weakness: it is value that self-expands and if the self-expansion of value can be momentarily ceased, capital’s despotism over the population will end, and capital itself can be seized.
What is the actor that can consciously effect such a stoppage of capital? Is it the proletariat of revolutionary lore? The proletariat is bound in a thousand ways by surrogate activities, capital’s propaganda and ideology, the spectacle, state repression, psychological and biological control techniques, whatever you want to call it. These obstacles will grow even stronger as technology progresses under capitalism. Even if the proletariat were able to dodge every single one of these obstacles, a general strike and a mass-coordinated riot, no matter how well planned, would leave capital alive in small pockets of the world and despotic capital would then expand again and overcome the revolution. The proletariat cannot consciously stop capital. In fact, there is no actor that can consciously stop capital. The only actor that can stop capital momentarily and provide for a small glimmer of hope of becoming human has to be external to the direct conflict between capital and wage-labor, an unconscious event that causes the extensive global destruction of the technological base of capital and civil society as a whole, obliterating it to the point where it cannot rebuild itself in the image of capital but not to the point where we revert back to pre-capitalist economic formations.
Basic thesis: Global destruction. Upon the ashes of the old order, after the spell of capital’s real domination breaks and after the capitalists lose control of the productive process, the proletariat will have no choice but to follow its own naked interests, its instinct for survival, and therefore seize the remaining means of production and produce non-hierarchical organizations based on mutual aid for their own survival. In other words, the proletariat will have no choice but to communize all relations of society and erase all artificial divisions of the working class, including nationality, gender, ethnicity, etc. The proletariat will not be able to stop capital by itself, but only via the intervention of a major crisis that stops capital will the proletariat be able to create communism. Upon the end of the real domination of capital, the acquisition of the means of production by the working class, and the formation of intra-working class relationships based on mutual aid and solidarity comes the new material base of communism, from which arises communist generalized self-management and a communist consciousness. By effecting such a transformation, the proletariat will destroy itself as a class entity, erase all class divisions, and usher in the real material human community of freely associated social individuals. The new order will only come out of a trial of fire, disaster communism, which will start off with a significantly lower economic base than in the pre-collapse world. Socialism and barbarism.
How might such destruction play out? It could play out completely externally of capital, due to some unforeseen natural event that wipes out technology and civil society. A meteorite, a supervolcano eruption, or a gamma ray burst could wipe out capital. However, what is more likely is that contradictions between capitals will tear the existing order apart and provide the conditions for the proletariat to seize the means of production. This might happen through a global nuclear or conventional war between various blocs of capital, climate change and the destruction of the environment through economic competition, or a severe global economic crisis driven by the anarchy of interactions between competing capitals. World capitalism is reaching a point where the global means of production will be concentrated in the hands of a very small amount of very powerful capitals, which will compete economically for survival. Due to the absence of effectively imposable politics from the top of the world system, these capitals will only obey the dictates of their short-term need to self-expand their value, leading to desperate competition between few capitals backed by many weapons for limited amounts of resources still non-valorized, competition that will destroy society and the economy as a whole.
- A Qualification
A qualification for the role of the proletariat is that the proletariat can also exacerbate to some degree the contradictions between capitals under the real domination of capital by asserting its own naked economic interests and blind anger. By pushing for more wages and less working hours, the proletariat will decrease the relative and absolute extraction of surplus value. This will put pressure on the capitalist system, exacerbating the crisis of capital and increasing the likelihood of global economic collapse. The proletariat can also exacerbate contradictions in the capitalist system by rioting en masse, destroying and looting property worldwide. By rioting, the proletariat damages the ability for the system to reproduce itself and severs capital’s ability to produce and distribute commodities. All other political interventions are reactionary in that they distract from the basic self-interest of the proletariat and the strength of the proletariat in its class hatred to destroy capital. Lenin said that revolutionary consciousness could not arise out of economistic struggles, yet it is the political realm that provides false consciousness. It is not the role of the proletariat to intervene in the conflicts between various bourgeois ideologies and thus aid in the management of capital but to assert its real economic interests and directionless class anger to bring upon the downfall of capital. Politics is smoke-and-mirrors to its very core, a method to obscure the basic conflict of interest of the proletariat versus capital through various ideological lenses.
Yet there is nothing that authentic pro-revolutionaries can do to aid the proletariat in avoiding political consciousness and sticking to its economic interests. We number worldwide in the thousands and we will at best have an influence on a couple ten thousands of proletarians, but it requires hundreds of millions, if not billions of proletarians sticking to their economic interests or their class hatred to cause a crisis of capital strong enough to overturn capital. These billions of proletarians will certainly include politically backwards strata that we cannot reach through our political interventions, but that is fine because it is not revolutionary consciousness that determines revolutionary conditions, but revolutionary conditions that determine revolutionary consciousness. The proletariat will unconsciously help lay the conditions for the overthrow of capital.
This qualification about the role of the proletariat does not invalidate my statement that no conscious actor can stop capital. When undergoing its economic interventions against bourgeois society, the proletariat will not be conscious that it is working to overturn capitalism as a system. The proletariat will be simply asserting its basic humanity, its goal under alienated labor to work as little as possible for as much pay as possible and its anger under alienated labor against the appropriated products of its labor which appear as an alien force above and beyond the worker. The proletariat will not have a global plan as to how to get out of the crisis; it will not have any long-term goals towards a future society as it undertakes its economic interventions. Revolutionary consciousness can only develop out of revolutionary conditions; in other words, revolutionary consciousness can only develop after the revolutionary seizure of the means of production by the proletariat after the crisis of capital and not before.
- Responses to Objections
(1) One can object to my revolutionary pessimism by asserting that the number of authentic pro-revolutionaries can grow and that therefore the revolutionary movement is not dead. However, on what basis can one assert that the number of authentic pro-revolutionaries can grow to a point where authentic pro-revolutionaries can voluntarily overturn capitalism out of their will or “wake up” the rest of the proletariat? If we each were converting hundreds of people to communism daily, then that would be one thing, but the number of authentic pro-revolutionaries remains at a constant, basic minimum. There are more people in America protesting chemtrails, Zionist Occupied Governments, or the reptilian takeover of the United States than there are authentic pro-revolutionaries around the entire world. In addition, we are outnumbered one thousand-to-one by bad-faith pro-revolutionaries: Stalinists, Maoists, Trotskyists, and Anarchists (as well as by Fascists). No matter who we are able to reach, the bad-faith pro-revolutionaries (and Fascists) will be able to reach a thousand times more, converting more proletarians to a backwards, anti-communist consciousness in the name of the working class than we can convert to an advanced, communist consciousness.
In addition, even if we are able to convince a large amount of workers to communist positions, that would only reproduce the division between leadership and led, as well as the transmission-belt system of ideology. Even if we were completely non-hierarchical and leaderless, that would only replicate a leaderless Leninism in which a revolutionary elite transmits proletarian consciousness to the ignorant masses. In knowledge of Kronstadt and Stalinism, how can we accept even a leaderless Leninism, which would soon degenerate into a leadered anti-working class dictatorship? Time and time again, the proletariat has put its faith in the leadership of individuals, and each time the individuals, by material necessity and not personal corruption, have crushed the working class in the name of the working class. Is it not time to break this pattern?
(2) One can object to my ideas about the crises of capital by claiming that capital is infinitely flexible, that capitalism will not lead itself to a crisis because it can rationally plan itself out of experiencing any calamity. In other words, one says that disaster communism cannot happen because there would never be a disaster. To this I counter-pose the law of unintended consequences. It is impossible to control the development of capitalism in the long run to avoid crises, because capitalism is a system of many moving and interconnected parts.
The global means of production exist as multiple capitals. This means that society cannot be rationally planned from a global level, but rather that the anarchy of world competition prevails. Hence, the situation I described earlier will happen, in which the desperate competition between very few, very powerful capitals would destroy civil society and technology. Many constraints make it very difficult for capital to be politically coordinated from above to avoid this fate. First, even if the world capitals were to come to an agreement and form a global alliance, new self-propagating systems subversive to the existing order, such as criminal syndicates, political organizations, and hacker circles, would consistently come into existence surreptitiously, evolve more and more advanced methods of avoiding detection or repression, accumulate capital, and eventually challenge the domination of the existing big capitals. Second, even if science is able to quash the human drive towards rebellion completely and prevent new self-propagating systems from coming into existence to pose a threat to the world system, such a world alliance of capitals would dissipate quickly once that mutual threat disappears, breaking apart into competing factions of capital once again. This is inherent in the nature of self-propagating systems like capitals, which can only obey their internal drive towards mutually destructive self-expansion for survival (conquer or be conquered), and has nothing to do with the “human nature” of the human minders of capital. This therefore means that even if capital utilized psychological and biological methods to completely re-engineer humans into becoming perfectly obedient dead rituals of autonomous capital, it would still be impossible to coordinate world capital from above.
Even if despite these constraints, all capital were somehow concentrated in the hands of a collective world dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the problem of coordinating or planning capitalism to avoid crisis, especially as technology continues to develop, would still be immensely complex. Such a world system would be inherently tightly coupled, in the sense that one perturbation in a small subsystem of the system would have widespread consequences for the stability of the system as a whole, making the entire system extremely fragile and vulnerable to destruction at all points. In addition, not only would the coordination of capitalism by this one capital require immense computational power that increases exponentially as the technological complexity of a society increases, making it impossible for computing technology to keep up with the computational requirements, but it would require extremely accurate data to avoid the problem of the “butterfly effect” in which a small deviation in data for a complex, inter-coupled system causes an extreme change in resulting predictions. Even if the coordinators of such a capitalist system were able to avoid the last two problems using computers with essentially infinite computing power, they would run into the barrier of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that the precision of data cannot be determined beyond a certain basic physical limit, making both data-collection and data storage fallible, and that at some point, quantum randomness prevails over determinacy. Even if the coordinators of such a capitalist system were able to somehow avoid the physical pitfalls of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and find some way to super-accurately measure and store data, as well as predict quantum behavior, they would run into the mathematical pitfalls of self-reference. If capital were able to rationally plan its own development and therefore predict its own behavior, then it would have complete self-knowledge and this would cause it to run into logical paradoxes, which I will not go into due to the technical nature of such a proof. There is therefore an almost certain probability that the one concentrated global capital would come up with a faulty plan that would have the unintended consequence of destabilizing the entire system and destroying it in an effort to preserve it.
Therefore, we can conclude that capitalism cannot foresee all of the crises it will inevitably experience and that some unforeseen event will inevitably destroy capitalism. Capital’s despotic reign is therefore not permanent and due to the blockade of the pathway of a “traditional” working class revolution led by revolutionary consciousness/activism, the only pathway out of capitalism is disaster communism.
As an aside, how do these constraints apply to technology under communism? If all planning is fallible and in fact grows exponentially more fallible as technology increases the complexity of a given society, then that means that under communism, technology is not only force for freedom but also a constraint on freedom, if freedom is defined as the extent to which human beings can collectively decide the parameters of their existence. These constraints imply that humans must collectively control the technological development of their society and consciously choose which technologies to accept and which to reject according to technological skepticism, while being aware of the fact that each increase in technology will increase the complexity of a society exponentially and therefore decrease the ability of human beings to successfully consciously manage the society they live in. There might be an “optimal” level of technology at which point there is the maximum level of human freedom attainable, but it will take trial and error to find it.
(3) One can object that the crisis of capitalism and technology will be too strong and that it will overwhelm the proletariat’s ability to construct a new world. Though there are conceivable crises completely external to capital in which that can happen, i.e. a meteorite impact on the scale of what killed the dinosaurs, any crisis created by capital’s contradictions will not be sufficient to completely undermine the material base for communism, because at the point where capitals destroy themselves to the point where the process of capital accumulation stops even briefly, they will cease to have the behavioral constraint of self-expansion and they will therefore no longer have the drive towards destruction. Capital will only destroy itself to the point of briefly becoming no longer capital (the proletariat may intervene to stop the violence even before this point) and then the proletariat will be forced to assert its self-interest, seize capital collectively, stop the violence completely, create the new material base of communism, and generate the real human community.
(4) One could object that whatever emerges after a disaster will not be communism, but a form of neo-feudalism in which the wealthy and powerful, backed by security forces, monopolize the remaining means of production and rent them out to the surviving proletariat. However, the disaster which will end capital’s ceaseless drive towards self-accumulation of value even briefly will break the curse of the real domination of capital as well as destroy the material base of capitalism, allowing humanity to briefly experience freedom from the constraints of bourgeois ideology and legality. Without these two constraints, humanity will no longer be servants of the bourgeoisie and capital, and the bourgeoisie and capital will no longer be masters of humanity. What use is money or a contract giving a claim to a certain property in a post-collapse society? None at all. The collapse will have rendered the bourgeoisie powerless and propertyless and therefore no longer bourgeois. From then on, power will go to the class with strength in numbers, as with the disintegration of political ideology comes clearer demarcations of power between classes. In a post-collapse scenario, the proletariat will thus prevail against the numerically inferior former bourgeoisie (now lumpenproletariat), which will now have no social power to enforce its bourgeois claims to property and commodities, and will soon be crushed as a parasitical class.
(5) One could object that without a long-term plan and a consciousness of what communism is, the proletariat will not be able to create communism. This perspective ignores the fact that it is not ideologies/consciousness that make revolution, but classes, driven by material necessity, that make revolution and revolutions that make ideology/consciousness. It is thus an idealist mystification of the nature of material class society because it posits ideology, the fetishized form of class interest, as the main determinant of society’s future, instead of class-interest-in-itself.
- Do Nothing?
Critics have already sharpened their knives. “Are you advocating doing nothing?! You’re just waiting for the rapture!”
I do not advocate for authentic pro-revolutionaries to do nothing. Instead, there is an active (though negative) role that authentic pro-revolutionaries must take, as detailed earlier in For Communism and Against Left and Right, besides participating in the post-collapse revolution like the ordinary worker. That role is to denounce and destroy all mediated bodies claiming to represent the proletariat, ending all bodies that would lead the proletariat down the road to predetermined forms instead of towards the communist future and the real human community. Societal collapse will surely obliterate many of these substitutionist (any body that substitutes its revolutionary activity in stead of the revolutionary activity of the class-in-motion) parasites, which have grown like leeches fattening themselves off of the developments of the real movement of the proletariat. But if there must be an active role for bored authentic pro-revolutionaries to take, it must be to finish off the rest of the leeches pre and post-collapse so that there will no longer be any substituted forms and therefore no chance for a Leninist or leaderless Leninist counterrevolution after the collapse of bourgeois society.