How Communism Will Never Come 


[guest post from CiS-Frankfurt]


The means through which an age understands another is often expressed through its vanity. Petrarch’s adjournment of the dark ages was less a commentary on the brutality and dearth of “the period of realized unreason”, than a veneration of his own time. It was a manner of disassociation, of carving out a demarcated epoch in which a distinctly human achievement served as the criteria for chronological register; the radiance of the vernacular sonnet outshines the ignoble residue of Roman glory. In short, it was a Weltanschauung of the present, rather than the simple act of repudiating the past. The anatomy of the present contains the key to the anatomy of the past.


In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, the past presents itself as an immense accumulation of suspended moments, each of which cohere within a sequential continuum whose cascading fragments necessarily gravitate towards the present. Allured by promises of either appraisal by the nostalgic, or disapproval by the progressives, the past heedlessly directs itself to the jagged and lustering pathologies of the present. There it is beckoned by the tendential logic of capital to constitute, in its own inverted image, the represented antecedents and successors of lived experience. Simply put, what are the defense mechanisms of an epoch incapable of experiencing historical depth?


To unpack the affliction, one must convene upon the wound. There, one discovers, yet again, that universal measure pervading the concrete wealth of society with little discrimination. Indeed, time is the weight of all commodities, their real common substance whose invariable and spatialized scrutiny renders all that is heterogeneous and non-identical forcibly equal within its abstract and empty continuum. Value expands to a desolate rhythm of innumerably commensurate units, a steady pulse of homogeneous intervals illuminated by the neon linearity of a heart rate monitor.


Once time no longer returns with the seasonal rhythm of agrarian society but instead passes under a linear succession of events, the substance of value inverts the determination of time by events into the determination of events by time. This triumph of abstract time is its transformation into a time of things, the time of commodities. Here, the meaning of inverting activity as the measure of time units into time units as the measure of activity becomes clear: the subservience of the qualitative to the quantitative. Under new calibration, cyclical time has no recourse but to display the sphere of circulation, a qualified repetition in which all rotation – from fiscal cycles to vacation time – is directed towards future cycles of accumulation.


As Cezanne has demonstrated, linearity can be the greatest falsifier of experience. The time of things is distinguished by its irreversibly directional, and above all, universal nature, one in which all events are subsumed under its abstract units of measurement. The working day overcomes the natural limitations of the rising and setting of the sun as an unprecedented exactitude administers the demands of labor. It is not coincidental that the Soviet labor regime procured “the fastest watch in the world”. As a perniciously real illustration of Newtonian “absolute time”, this uniform and homogeneous vacuum is divisible into equal, constant, and non-qualitative units which leaves man, in the best scenario, as a mere carcass. With the ancient line between time and organic sequence torn asunder,physiological rhythm is displaced by mechanical tempo adequately exemplified with synchronized marching. For the rest, jetlag makes for a great conversation starter.


There is temptation to grasp time as a withering force of physical transformation, evidenced in the decrepit remains of a pillaged vitality that chooses between resentment and senility. Abstract labor appears as physiological labor. Alongside the gaze of decomposition and the penance of experience, the categories of age, in their autonomy, derive from the circuits of production and circulation: a predictable lifespan of distinguishably serialized episodes each with their own differentiated commercial expectations. Here, the generic acquires a real and true existence through the idiosyncrasies of the aging individual. Adolescence did not exist for the Greek sensuality of antiquity; nor did the elderly formally require care.


As the germ bears in itself the whole nature of the tree, and the taste and form of its fruits, so do the first traces of abstract time contain the whole of history. Through the tautological telos of accumulation, capital inaugurates a perpetual present that shatters any past or future that isn’t under the grace of credit or obligations of debt. The prescience of abstract time sees nothing beyond itself, unfolding a circuit for producing surplus value that relishes in an entirely self-referential succession. Within its eternal continuation and amidst meager dramatizations, nothing ever happens – the repetition of the same majestic ruin. “The system of history, the elevation of the temporal to the totality of meaning, abolishes time and reduces it to an abstract negation.” Instantaneously, the same day appears the world over.


The resulting timelessness projected imbues, over time, a set of deceptively honest idiomatic expressions wherein time is “saved”, “spent”, “stolen”, “liberated”, “wasted”, and desperately “cherished”. Here, what is said is what is meant: time assumes a relentless objectivity that has been accorded the enthralling and magnificent ability to level mountains, ravage kingdoms, and extinguish stars.


Despite this, the commodity contemplates itself as its own historical culmination whilst chattering on in its own essentially atemporal language. Robinson Crusoe christens his primitive “Friday” because he will never forget his own origins, and, of course, to rightly laud his own accomplishments. The unremitting detritus is repurposed and fabricates a faculty of historical apprehension grounded within the invariable and universal schematic of the commodity, establishing the conditions of possibility for the total commensurability of historical knowledge. As capital expands, so too does the criteria of historical comparison. The form of unconscious historical consciousness expressed by Thucydides, for example, can only be contrasted with that of Eusebius of Caesarea from the ubiquitous perspective of abstract time. There is no standard by which to measure the diplomatic pleading of Corinth with that of the cunning of Titus against Jerusalem except by way of a universal historical continuum in which all of the past is rendered interchangeable. The temporality of capital periodizes history as a whole. There is little fluctuation in the exchange rates between Mahatma Gandhi and Genghis Khan. Even when there is, drowning in relativism “history remains one vast analytic proposition.” For this, Hegel may or may not have been a Keynesian. History becomes the ideal commodity for mimetically collapsing use-value into exchange-value: the relation between historical moments affirms and denies difference insofar as it contains the identity of the non-identical and the identical. With an allergy to revisionism and half an education, historical correlation has never been so painless.


The administration of the world is also the administration of its history. Curious to learn the frequency of its own birth pangs, the commodity unearths an omnipotent display to survey under its temporal narration. Periodizations are always heuristic devices. Unlike previous ages in which historical moments or actors were repelled into barbarism and thus outside of history, the historicity of the commodity wields thorough tolerance for admitting a manifold of subjects. The fluctuation of rationality, to take an example offered by Voltaire, now occurs within history, rather than as history. From molecular resilience to celestial maneuvering; the pilgrimage of a cigarette to the fall of Rome: all plural developments are legitimate under its equitably fixed stare, an invariable canvas in which the history of sovereigns and of third wave feminism speak the same language. The movement of capital comprehends all other movements.

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