An Abstracty Critique of Endnotes

by cominsitu


(from Wandering Abstraction by Ray Brassier)

Endnotes’ various writings certainly provide an eminently plausible conceptual reconstruction of the totality which is the ground of the class relation, and hence of communist theorising. And it is clear from their analyses of capital’s ‘moving contradiction’ how this relation is self-undermining: ‘the relation of exploitation corrodes its own foundation, as that which is exploited – labour-power – is tendentially expelled from the production process with the development of the productivity of social labour.’ Thus the thought that is ‘adequate’ to the class relation (i.e. the relation of exploitation) is the thought of a ‘fundamentally impossible relation’, which is ‘only insofar as it is ceasing to be’.

That only the thought of an impossible relation can render theory adequate to its object is the index of the torsion that is supposed to bind theoretical abstraction to the reality of social abstraction independently of the representational recourse to an objective correspondence relation (which would require ‘an external, Archimedean point from which to take the measure of its object’). No doubt, this impossible relation is supposed to mark communist theory’s immanence to revolutionary practice: any subordination of practice to theory (or vice versa) would threaten to reintroduce the transcendence of an external, Archimedean point, which is to say, a representation. But it seems that what prevents communist theory’s adequation to the class relation from fissioning into a relation to this impossible relation, which is to say, a theoretical representation of reality, and ultimately, a program, is its immediate consummation as self-proclaimed revolutionary activity: an activity that guarantees its own traction upon the capitalist class relation simply by engaging in the struggle to destroy it. There is a laudable consistency here. By taking the ‘posited supersession’ of the capitalist totality as its starting point, communist theorising secures its traction upon the antagonism constitutive of social reality. But the danger remains that this posited supersession of totality will substitute for its actual supersession not in spite of but precisely because it refuses its theoretical construction.

By abjuring such construction as a representational intrusion compromising thought’s adequation to the class relation, communist theory secures its grip on the ‘real movement’ which communism is, but at the risk of eliding real movement with the movement of ideas. Thus, as Endnotes themselves make clear:

Communization […] has little positive advice to give us about particular, immediate practice in the here and now […] What advice it can give is primarily negative: the social forms implicated in the reproduction of the capitalist class relation will not be instruments of the revolution, since they are part of that which is to be abolished.

The question then is: how are we to identify those social forms that are not implicated in the reproduction of the class relation? The distinction between compulsive labour and spontaneous practice is required not only to stave off the paradox of self-cancellation, but also to distinguish between those activities programmed to reproduce the class relation and those capable of interrupting this reproduction. But the spontaneity whose exercise is the prerequisite for the destruction of the class relation will also generate new abstractions together with new forms of mediation. What is required is an understanding of social practices that would allow us to begin distinguishing between oppressive and emancipatory forms of mediation.