Leaves fall in Spring
While class conflict remains an integral part of the production process which it must not disrupt, class struggle must in a sense be domesticated. […] Class conflict, therefore, generally breaks into open war only when it goes outdoors, particularly since the coercive arm of capital is outside the wall of the productive unit.
Ellen Meiksins Wood
That is the story, and that is the ideology, of revolutionary reformism. Progress is the movement of class consciousness from inside the productive unit to engagement with conditions ‘outdoors’. It is subjectivity’s left-handed ascent of the spiral stair that, by necessity, it undertakes through the edifice of the state. As it escapes outdoors, the subject drags with it the accumulated forces of production otherwise locked within the domesticated class struggle: what suppresses also realises; what abolishes also transforms; what releases also redirects. Progress is always progress through constraint: a perpetual movement between contained and overflowing productive forces as it also condenses into the upturns and downturns of a directing consciousness – which may only engage those contradictions stripped bare before it.
The subject emerges as that factor of social production which ensures becoming is fixed into the historical continuum through expropriation of the mediations of the state – thus confirming the teleological precepts that have predicted it. Within Marxist schematics, the subject’s movement is ‘real’ to the extent that it both extricates itself from and instigates state mediated relations – the state is always that form taken by the objective. At each successive destination, the subject’s progress is reevaluated as the transposition, as it were, from the formal to the actual.
Marxists require that the subject make itself known to them, that they may record their recognising it as its recognition of them. Subjectivity is assigned to that trace, no matter how faint, which might be extracted from an otherwise overwhelming environmental din (the relations, behaviours, decisions and actions of what is not-subject). The subject does not exist in proportional relation to the background of ‘not-subject’, its quantity is always sufficient to pass the threshold of significance for those watching for it. In 2011, the subject was to be found in Tahrir Square, whilst the not-subject was located everywhere, but also nowhere, else.
The course of historical progress is plotted by Marxists in the leviathan-like surfacings of the subject: ‘it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions of its solution already exist[…]’ The presence of the subject confirms the real movement of historical progress, and historical progress confirms the real movement of the subject. But the subject is overdetermined and monstrous, – it is distorted by its ‘task’, and by its inextricable function. If it breaks from its immediate conditions, then it is also constrained by the mechanistic work of historical progress itself. Its insurrections are a programmed response to the demand by its conditions for it to fill the interregnum of economic crisis with human endeavour, bridging the gap and saving the day whilst the economy gets back on track. It is tangled up in its own instrumentalistion, only to collapse into a mere status-marker for Marxism’s Sisyphean project of converting emancipation from the human back to the political.
The addictive gains of the real movement are eminently quantifiable and exist in an exchange relation with the deferrals, detours and costs of everyday existence (what Vaniegem called survival sickness). Gain addiction is realised ideologically as the imperative to ally with whatever are the ‘most’ progressive forces. Progressivism locates the function of past victories over necessity in the binding together otherwise incompatible class interests. Accumulated material gains inflict the ideal of progress as a goal in itself – the ‘sacrifices’ of previous generations, the ‘good wars’ fought, transmute into constraints upon the natural inclination to effect a rupture with what has gone before: It contented itself with assigning the working-class the role of the saviour of future generations. It thereby severed the sinews of its greatest power. Through this schooling the class forgot its hate as much as its spirit of sacrifice. For both nourish themselves on the picture of enslaved forebears, not on the ideal of the emancipated heirs.
Ideology retroactively situates subjectivity within a named authorial agency to which the historical fact of progressive gain may then be attributed. Old armies, shorn of their tyrannical function, are transformed into exemplars of progressive agency. To these are assigned the successive abolitions of absolutism, slavery and fascism – but the same armies of abolition, and historical movement, also prosecute regressive wars of genocide and colonial occupation. Where it once functioned retroactively as the unconscious agency of change, modern military strategy now incorporates expedients of progress and liberation as a conscious expropriation of history making. The myth of ‘antifascism’ is now routinely used by Western forces as a propaganda tool, and even by Russian fascists to rationalise the further colonisation of the Ukraine. The ideology of the long game indexes subjectivity to state concessions, pitting progressive gains against collateral losses. Revolt plunges into history as if into an endless sequence of quid pro quo andrealpolitik where the perpetually recurring exigency of the present appears in the form of push-button approval: either Stalin or Hitler.
Where the logic of progress retrospectively repositions a past event as one of its own moments, the present becomes dependent upon, and defensive of, that event’s fixed position. Where the function of historical causation is retrospectively fixed as the realisation of progressive gains, the possibility of progress itself must then be set at the level of by anyagency necessary. Every atrocity of the state may be rationalised by gimlet-eyed generals as the obligatory expansion of a historicised territory.
The project of communisation is also dependent upon its own progressive spiral of abolitions: dekulakisation, Holodomor, ‘rootless cosmopolitanism’, ‘bourgeois science’. But the logic of the necessity for preconditions is endlessly recursive; if the Union army’s extension of wage labor into the southern states was necessary as a precondition for the overthrow of capital, then what it abolished was equally necessary as a precondition of wage labour – if the wage relation is necessary, then slavery is necessary; if slavery is necessary, then colonisation is necessary… The history of domination and deprivation is reduced to the raw material of gradualist emancipation, which in turn is reduced to the mere unfolding of its own history.
The sequence of teleological preconditions for each successive historical stage, instrumentalises history as a mechanism of the present. In Meiksins Wood’s argument, consciousness is expanded by the state’s agency in class conflict, it triggers the overcoming ‘of the particularism and the ‘economism’ imposed on the class struggle by the capitalist system of production.’ She evaluates the state and capitalism as two distinct, and thus recoverable, structures, and here assigns the former a structural and instigative role in the development of subjective consciousness. The subject recapitulates its violently incompatible determinations as agency but suppression and realisation (its deciding on the path of its own recuperation) was never an option on the table. Meiksins Wood’s affirmations of the autonomy of the state’s ‘armed power’ and of ‘successful revolutions’ are but the acoustic peculiarities of a curved space dependent, for its own ratification, upon the selective conservation of historical forms. Where the only significant materials of history are those that disappear, Marxism continues to affirm that which is effective, that which overcomes and survives in process. Ultimately, it affirms only what remains, process for itself.
The subject is its affirmation of the progressive integration of Marxism with world-historical process where process is also extermination of the subject; it is the principle of change adapted to the realisation of an ever-expanding dominion of instrumentalising necessity. Far from amplifying the utopian dream, habitual despair has implicated negation in industrialised determinism. Even revolutionaries, in thrall to ‘full automation’, now adhere to the commands of a pragmatic adaptation to the incontestable hold of existing technologies over consciousness. The subject, as bearer of bad news, appears only to announce that there is no alternative to the realisation of the for-itself labour process.
Before decomposing into an apologist for the Republic of Labour, Marx was a theorist of alienation: the subject is a class which has no particular interest in the perpetuation of society, which advances no particular historical or political identity or tradition – a class which is forced by material necessity to set the universal category of afflicted humanity against the process of its alienation. But the theory of revolution has become preoccupied with framing demands that do not contradict its project of conserving imperatives already active in the world. Overly concerned with safety nets and assurances, it has forgotten that its object is the escape from, not the realisation of, the commands accumulated within dead labour. It has fallen back from the critique of abstraction as such to the attenuated critique of its Value form. Its mythic agent, the subject, preserves its orientation towards the future as it suppresses the knowledge that the moment of agency is already superseded, and that the human moment, the high point, is sinking further into the past.
The missed historical intersection of directive consciousness with productive forces, objectively necessary as a precondition for the formation of the human community, has set in motion the appearance of a rapid succession of agency’s avatars where the subject is precluded by the command chains buried into technological domination. The sequence culminates logically in the accelerationist cul-de-sac of for-itself process. It is a dead road leading to the discovery that the means by which human agency might extract the materials for its own emancipation from its relations of domination are now long since decomposed. From the condition of nowayout and the final expiration of even the ideological forms of the autonomous subject, is begun a lived if passive critique of agency as such, which emerges alongside an active counter-process of self-desubjectivisation.
The escape from class relations now commences from beneath the collapsing edifice of the subject. It is an escape from the array of programmed responses that are insurrectional becoming; it refuses riot and revolt and takes the path of desurrection; its desolate destination is off the political map, and outside of history. The point of its emergence is a densely populated, but formally vacant, space of subjectlessness that is also a literal place. The cradle of civilisation is now the site of history’s death bed confession – the locus at which the bourgeois project fails and the condition of post-governability emerges. It is a space that cultivates the self-separation of individuals from ideologies, supplanting figurative political and religious ‘movements’ with the expulsive imperative of mass migration. The possibility of social transformation is now inseparable from the world population’s appearance before itself as a body in literal, physical flight from its own inhumanity. Scattered and shocked, the species is driven by necessity into a crisis mode of immediate relations instigated amongst masses of previously separated, now fleeing, individuals. Thrown together and confronted with each other’s proximity, de-subjectivised individuals are impelled to form relations amongst themselves grounded in the mutual recognition of the wounded tragedy of the other. The precondition of war communism mutates into the precondition of asylum communism.
In the wake of the subjective form’s demise, the history of domination, if it is to end at all, will end in implosion and not explosion, in escape and not realisation, in decomposition and not becoming, in the release of energies and not with energy’s harnessing. In retrospect, the rupture of desubjectivisation as a species-level migration coincided with the publication of the text Nihilist Communism which, by sheer accident, commences the description of its consequences. As if caught in the background of some passing amateur’s snapshot, this buffoonish text divines the vestigial traces of the forms that are generated as social movements and radical politics are dispersed in a literal real movement, it records a repertoire of non-subjective disengagements in which other, passive, behavioural traits emerge: withdrawal, disguised compliance, disappearance, flight, evasion, avoidance, escape, concealment. Without knowing what it is doing, Nihilist Communism begins setting out some outcomes of unhooking the species from its promethean drive. It discovers that at the point where subjective agency has decomposed into technological determinism, the human community may only appear as the urgent separation of communism from its Marxist fetter.