Capital Abandon: Some Words On and Oft Inspired by Jacques Camatte

by cominsitu

EWS - Sheep Herd Management -06864_.jpg

by Howard Slater, January 2020 (metamute)

While for many on the Left, the theory of ultra-left communist Jacques Camatte has long been condemned for its ‘nostalgia’ and ‘primitivism’, our current moment of climate crisis and a ‘generalised madness’ brought on by capitalism’s psyche harvesting reveals these works to have a powerful relevance. In this overarching account of Camatte’s project, Howard Slater, citing previously untranslated texts, draws out the former’s interest in unlocking the repressed communal dimensions of the human being as a marker of revolutionary praxis

‘What is important for us is to create new

emotional relationships for a redeployment of life

Jacques Camatte

The work of Jacques Camatte is still relatively little known in the English-speaking world and as a consequence rarely discussed by Marxologists. His work is more familiar to that mix of disgruntled anarchists and non-Leninist communists who had passed through the Situationist School: anarchists tempted by the revelatory rigour of Marx, and Marxists tempted by the communitarian and non-party dimension of anarchism. In more recent years Camatte’s work has found itself utilised and commented on by two divergent schools: the accelerationist and communising tendencies. This is perhaps testament to the resonant eclecticism of Camatte’s work, his deep familiarisation with the work of Marx and yet his ‘shocking’ rejection of one of its main tenets: class struggle.

By the early ’90s Camatte was being feted by the deep ecology movement and those groups of Anarchists around Fifth Estate and Anarchy. As a consequence his work was elided with that of primitivism; a much derided current which seemed to have little truck with any of the immediating results of the process of production. In a way Camatte was a proxy theorist of this anti-civilisational current though he himself never participated in the debates, nor wrote anything under the banner of ‘primitivism’. That said, his work nourished this current because, with texts like Against Domestication he had come to sense ecological disaster and its impact on the species as a whole: ‘humanity’s fate […] is to have been excluded from its own human context and condemned to the productivist sewer’[1]. Camatte embarked upon a re-assessment of the natural dimension of human life outside of its being domesticated by a capitalism that for him had achieved ‘real domination’: it had subsumed human labour power and so much more. There was, for Camatte, a dictatorship of capital that, as with the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft, had come to form itself as a community.

This dictatorship, the material community of capital or capital’s domestication of humanity, was predicated on Camatte’s sense that capital had overcome its limits, its contradictions. If one of its main contradictions was that between capital and labour, then, this had been overcome by capital ‘escaping the rigid determinations of the production process’ which to a degree reached a fruition with the increasing mechanisation of work: fixed capital outweighs variable capital, abstract labour predominates over concrete labour, exchange-value makes a mockery of use-value. But the dictatorship of capital, which some would suggest sees financial capital as hegemonic over industrial capital, sought to control the inner psyche of its subjects: ‘the process of production of capital took hold of the inner life of each man […] the mode of being of each human being was modelled on that of capital’.[2] Thus, by means of capital’s becoming, its pursuit of valorisation by any means necessary (including allotting exchange-value to debt and misery) we arrive at a capital that alchemically makes value from value (self-valorising money: M-M’), and human beings who self-valorise (as a ‘unit of capital’ as ‘capital personified’) in order not to be abandoned by the material community of capital.

Amongst the small number of commentators who have referenced Camatte, consistent objections to his work include his holding up a past golden age that humanity could accede to once more (here he is too closely associated to primitivism); that his refutation of class struggle robs the revolution of its main motor-force (that was mortgaged to trade union consciousness and subsequently indebted); and finally that in overestimating the effects of ‘real subsumption’, of applying these to the social world outside the immediate process of production (to which Marx confines it), he is erroneously veering towards a kind of pathological pessimism peppered with a hippy idealism: it is impossible to ‘leave this world’ as Camatte rhetorically urges us. In short, this latter would see Camatte (as with Baudrillard) called out as an exponent of a ‘fatalistic totality’. Taken together these objections aim to counter the sense that Camatte is saying capitalism has won and as a consequence human beings, overdetermined by capitalist social relations and the ontological imperatives of political economy, have lost the will to act to change things. We are all Bartleby now.

However, before we go on to indicate how Camatte has developed his theory in the three decades since Echo of Time (the last of his texts to appear in English translation[3]), it is worth mentioning that at the onset of the demise of the worker’s movement, Camatte sprung upon a less well known Marxist catch phrase than ‘workers of the world unite’. This phrase, drawn from Critical Notes (1844), is ‘the human being is the true Gemeinwesen (community) of man’[4]. A phrase which he has been close to since the early ’60s and his alignment, along with Amadeo Bordiga, to the International Communist Party. This phrase, the title of a tract circulated in Paris in 1968, opens up another dimension to that overly determined by political economy, and points towards not only the importance of ‘community’ in Camatte’s work, but also to an interrogation that has more in common with a kind of existentialism. What is the human being? What is community? What is the anguish of existence? These are all questions that, with capital’s endocolonial move, pose a renewed import in that should we refuse or resist ‘domestication’ we may be subject to the psychic threat of abandonment and madness. So, if the accusation of a ‘ fatalistic totality’ sticks, it is only useful if, following the version of totality proffered by Hegel-Marx, we close our minds and imagination to what can be ‘outside’ the heavily Western notion of ‘totality’.

So, in one sense this ‘outside’ could amount to ‘pre-capitalist’ modes of being and by opening up this vast topic in later years, Camatte, drawing on anthropology and pre-history, has given a substance to ‘primitivism’ that was never really present in this current’s heyday. One outcome of this is Camatte’s magum opus, Emergence of Homo Gemeinwesen, which seems to be a redrawing of Darwin’s Origins of the Species[5]. Moreover, we could also suggest that ‘outside’ of the being-as-unity there is the presence of unconscious dynamics that problematise a conventional notion of the human whilst fracturing any overarching ‘totality’. In this direction Camatte has studied the works of Freud and authored another book-length text: Le Mouvement Psychanalytique and its various appendices. One link between these two ‘outsides’ (pre-historic life and unconscious life) that threads through Camatte’s writing to this day could be that of self-as-other and other-as-self. Here, we’d have, when we look back on the ancient societies of pre-history, a form of the human that we are reputed to have become evolutionarily estranged from (the human being as savage, backward); and, with psychoanalysis, a form of the human that reveals a psychic dynamism that disables it from snugly fitting into the various roles or subject-positions that the ‘totality’ so far has been set-up to offer. Hence the existential problem of ‘finding oneself’ and ‘holding it together’: the problem of nervous breakdown.

Yet, even before these two later works, there is another constant that Camatte has mused upon throughout all his writings. That is his contention that the human being is neither an individual entity nor a conscious animal, but an ‘individuality-gemeinwesen’. A passage from Marx helps us work with this notion: ‘Men, not as abstractions, but as real, living, particular individuals are this community […] to say therefore that man is estranged from himself is identical with the statement that the society of this estranged man is the caricature of a true community, of his true species existence…’[6] For Camatte this caricatured community could well be the material community of capital, and in a sense, to interact with Marx here, would be to ask, as Camatte’s later works seems to do: what is this ‘real, living, particular individual’? For Camatte such a question cannot be approached without also asking: what is the ‘psychic life of the species’? Camatte’s ‘individuality-gemeinwesen’, then, implies that what we know as the ‘self’, as the ‘individual’, is not an endogenous interiority, an indivisible individuality, but a dynamic of ‘plural selves’ or ‘componential selves’ that not only necessitates a radicalising shift in the identitarian contractual logics of capital, but should summon up the reifying absurdity of talking, as we often do, of self and mass, person and group, rather than of ‘being’ as a (historical) continuum between self and others through which our psychic life takes shape.

There is a community in the self and the self is shaped by the community (Bambara saying: ‘the persons of a person are many within the person’[7]). Rather than this real, living actual psycho-social experience being deemed an estranging abstraction or a privatist pathology (multiple personality disorder), we can quickly glean from psychoanalysis that the phenomenon of ‘individuality-gemeinwesen’ can be spoken of as the effects of introjection and projection as well as of the effects of ‘seduction’ in which people, after either traumatic or loving occurrences, can feel literally possessed/obsessed by the introjections of another person. Anthropologists have long encountered such an ‘individuality-gemeinwesen’ or ‘dividuality’ in tribal peoples: ‘… the individual person is the locus of multiple other selves with whom he or she is joined in mutual relations of being; even as, for the same reason, any person’s self is more or less widely distributed among others.’[8] The ‘self’ in this rendition is not a totality unto itself but a means of rendering the ‘community’ as just as much an effect of unconscious communication (circulation of affect, projective identification) as it is the means of establishing formal institutions. Such inter-personal seepage has expanded out in recent anthropology (c.f. ‘perspectivism’[9]) to take in how in some tribal societies this sense of a multiple self also implied a blurring of ontological frontiers: a situation in which the boundary between the individual being and the animals, plants and objects around it is riven with an indistinction that can be tantamount to conjoint relation.

‘The change to communism’ writes Camatte ‘could only be realised if the person was emancipated as a community and as an individuality.’[10] With this postulate Camatte sidesteps the revolutionary currents of his day (bogged down in fixed and fast ontologies) and announces a reformulation that has much in common (or in fact is inspired by) Marx’s later correspondence with the Russian Populists: that the capitalist mode of production could be bypassed and that the degree zero of communism could in fact lie with the agrarian commune[11]. In a way Camatte’s phrase could be said to re-open that existentialist or ontological dimension to revolution that has been mentioned previously: when, under the terms of ‘real domination’, it is said that there has been an ‘internal colonisation’, the stakes for humanity become more pressing in that there arises a capitalisation of ‘being’ that threatens the continuation of the species. So, with the worker-capital conflict in infinite regress, the terms of the revolution are shifted to one that, in the defence of the human, an existentialism arises that helps us focus on what, in the species-being and amidst species-activity as a whole, there is to be exploited (emotion, feeling, affect, imagination … the need to be recognised, the need to belong etc.) These human aspects seem to have been more or less blindsided by the mainstream left. Even in former times, with the worker being qualified as a ‘quantum of labour power’, a ‘use value in the process of capitalist production’, the worker, an object, was denied affectivity and thought, and hence the means to express our being as Existents. Such impoverishing theorisations of being, a target of the existential writings of Benjamin Fondane, perhaps attests to the continued obscurity of Camatte’s notion of an ‘individuality-gemeinwesen’ and thus the disqualification of what is marginal, paranormal and unformed within and between us [12].

Just as the notions of the Russian populists coincided with Marx’s re-evaluation of pre-capitalist modes of social being (hence amongst his last writing are The Ethnological Notebooks), so too Camatte’s notion of ‘individuality-gemeinwesen’ opens up alternative paths through which to conceptualise the revolutionary dynamic under real subsumption. Camatte: ‘the dimension of the Gemeinwesen is such that the immediate human brings us together so that we will be able to manifest an infinite variety without ever having the possibility of losing ourselves, alienating ourselves, because it is possible for us to find our many selves and the many selves of others in Gemeinwesen …’[13] Such a potentiality of being, of unmediated being, as Camatte summons here, implies that social reality is inseparable from psychic reality and hence an affective-presence to one another that is neither oppressed by rationalities nor repressed by inhibitions and defences. Not only is Camatte here bordering on psychoanalytic notions that imply the complex heterogeneous interactions between ego, id and super-ego (and their involutions) which are not purely bio-monadic internal entities but deeply inflected by projections and introjections, but it is also perhaps worth noting that he is socialising and cohering these ‘psychic’ elements, these ‘dividualities’, by means of a Gemeinwesen that insures against the possible disintegration of the self under the competing pressures of its many potentiated others. He is thus also sounding out the limit point of the logical torsions of revolutionary theory.

Under real subsumption with its endocolonial effects, the status of the human is gravely threatened by a dynamic of capital that may not rest with abandoning people (surplus population) but in making the human obsolescent. Such insecurity is conducive of madness and psychosis, of the widespread depression and lack of relational-presence that modern day capitalism generates. Just as the affective being of the proletariat was diminished by its epigones, so too the recognition of such ‘generalised madness’ – the result not simply of ever expanding psychiatric pathologies but of the community of capital installing itself as a ‘reality’ to serve – has for many years laid dormant under the oppressive conditions that economic exploitation constitutes. The epigones of revolution very rarely approach this affective dimension and herein lies not just their limits, but the limit of Western modes of thought that act like a congealant upon us: affect, in its very liminality and inchoateness, does not take on a definitive political or economic form and thus it falls outside a purview that seeks to think by means of fixed, repeated and hence manifest entities. Anthropologist, Ernesto de Martino, regularly referenced by Camatte, says: ‘Within the actual determination and limitation of our historical consciousness, the united being-within-the-world of the person – its presence – takes on the form of the never fixed […] and because of this, is the same as that which never enters the world of historical decisions.’[14] Revolutionary theory’s long standing absence of concern for the intimacies of everyday life (the opaque domain of affect and the struggle to articulate) reduces our presence, the psychic complexities of self as Gemeinwesen, to the fixed categories of political economy. This is perhaps why the revolutionary movement, after the women’s movement disengaged itself, has been more or less reduced to a series of sects orbiting the academy.

For Camatte, as could be said for the Marx of the Ethnological Notebooks, there is an urgency to ‘widen our historical consciousness’, especially as ‘the movement of capital abolishes the memory of its previous stages […] as well as the stages of humanity, and presents itself as it is, as its highest level of development.’ [15] Part of this widening is to delineate and confront the illusions that embalm society and which took their cue from an accumulative expropriation that justified an invariant ‘predatory dynamism’; it is to ‘extend the range of the thinkable’ that has been curtailed by our upholding of the rationally intelligible and to discover in history those relational possibilities and ‘perspectives’ that Camatte contends have not been abolished forever. This, then, takes Camatte, as it did Marx, far back in time to seek the presuppositions of capital that can be found prior to the industrial revolution. One of these is that Capital had to overcome the ‘primitive commune’ and gradually erode communal ways of living that carried very few ‘axioms’ of capital (tribal ownership, kinship relations, importance of affines and alliance, gift economy, warding off the formation of the state etc.) Another, not dissociated and perhaps even more distant reason, is that, as Camatte insists, Capital has its roots cast in the ‘separation from nature’, through which the species becomes estranged from the natural world and itself by a series of multiplying mediations (tools, exchange, credit, debt). In this millennial process, Camatte contends that what the species lost was a sense of continuity and the flow of the ‘phenomena of life.’ Whereas once the species had bonds to the natural world (c.f. animism) and ‘natural’ social relations (usufruct, reciprocal exchange, production for immediate use), there develops – through, as Engels describes it, the development of the primitive commune’ into chiefdoms into hereditary families into property owners − a rise in individualism. An historical component in this rise may well be identified, as Lawrence Kadar often repeats in his assessment of Marx’s ethnological interests, in the separation of the public and the private spheres during the dissolution of the ‘primitive commune’. As well as being a precondition of state formations we could further posit that this separation, as well as condemning affect to circulate subterraneously without ‘fixed form’, has created a fertile terrain for the growth of individualism and the privatisation of emotion[16]. Under real subsumption, this acceleration of ‘individual interest’ becomes condensed into what Camatte comes to call ipsiezation which, at its extreme, is creative of madness.

So, in many ways, for Camatte, we have, across the course of history, undergone the reduction of the species to its individual dimension; a stripping of the being’s Gemeinwesen setting which becomes a dim and distant dream of the past, a constant source of utopian hope and nostalgic regret. Perhaps we could conjecture that the continual repression of the Gemeinwesen dimension persists as an unconscious yearning of the species-being: a desire for ‘continuity’ that is taken up as part of any revolutionary dynamic.[17] In its stead ascension to the status of ‘individuality’ becomes the epitome of human development. But this ‘individuality’ as Baudrillard scathingly writes is indivisible, it is ‘the achieved utopianism of the subject: the perfect subject, the subject without other, without inner alterity’[18]. The subject ‘without other’ (either in terms of historical antecedents or in terms of unconscious dynamics) is a subject bereft of the Gemeinwesen dimension, the dimension of ‘a generalised sociality within’[19], through which comes both presence, intimacy, affectivity and the capacity to imagine. In other words what Camatte terms ‘individuality-gemeinwesen’ can, to some degree, be approximated to the philosophical notion of ‘singularity’. A notion that Baudrillard describes as the portion of the human being that is ‘irreducible to any equivalent whatsoever’, that ‘remains indecipherable within each of us’. So, when Camatte speaks of ‘recovering the dimension of Gemeinwesen’ he cannot meaningfully be interpreted as calling for a return to the ‘primitive commune’ but, as he states later, he is urging the ‘realisation of the Gemeinwesen dimension of self’,[20] an inner alterity which he also offers is an irreducible element.

So, if the call for the ‘abolition of classes’ becomes under real domination a matter of ‘self-abolition’, as necessitated by the exploitation of human beings as a kind of sensate human capital in which the frontline is drawn in terms of a psychic space revealed as social, then a factor in such ‘self-abolition’ is not simply some form of mystical egolessness or trip to a re-education camp, it becomes, for Camatte, the positive step of reinstating Gemeinwesen in its widest meaning as our belonging to a species just as much as a class; a making singular; of experiencing the self-as-other so as to better embrace the other-as-a-self especially in their affective and effecting unconscious dimensions (this latter may be the means by which we can ‘create new emotional relationships for a redeployment of life’ as Camatte urges in the header quote.) In this vein, then, Camatte, offers community as ‘a differentiated union that arises from knowing how to live the diversity of the other (and ourselves.)’ Elsewhere, Camatte talks of community as the removal of discriminatory distinctions, an abating of the need to be recognised, a lessening of the fear of abandonment … all affective substrates upon which both capitalism and madness feed and which I would suggest both the worker’s and women’s movements succeeded in providing an analgesic. Could Camatte’s ‘individuality-gemeinwesen’, his version of community, be approximated by the speculative phrase: communisation of the psyche? Maybe so, if this latter is a means by which we can highlight a revolutionary process through which the process of self-abolition is induced not by a solo satori but by the ‘participative affectivity’ of a Gemeinwesen that, whilst it incurs a loss of ‘self’, gains the non-equivalence of ‘singularity’.[21]

So, if the liberation of the individual as a sensuous (affective) being of which Marx speaks in his early writings, is to be seen as a component of communism (and not side lined by revolutionary theory), then, for Camatte it is a matter of recognising the importance of psychic repression as much as exploitation. Indeed, for Camatte, the repression factor, and its creation of an inhibiting voluntary servitude, becomes under real domination, a self-repression. Formerly, perhaps, one could say that at the outset it is the material community of capital that produces the individual in accordance with its own mould (formal domination). Under real domination, with the being itself coming more into focus as a ‘whole’ to be exploited there is, with its attendant ‘ontological insecurity’ (R.D. Laing), a heightened sense of our wanting to ‘belong’ to the community of capital, to auto-produce ourselves as ‘human capital’ while remaining oblivious to the self-repression this entails. If, as Camatte contends ‘separation from nature leads to a wider separation within the individual: that of body from mind’, then this original loss and deformation needs to be compensated for by an increasing sense of ‘ontological security’. This is increasingly provided by capital as the multiple mediations, dynamic objectifications and disembodiments of the psyche that consumer capitalism introduces. The gadget re-alloys body and mind at the level of instinct and primary narcissism. As if speaking of social media, Camatte offers: ‘We stage ourselves…’ we are ‘trapped in the mirror of our own representations’ which ‘becomes a reality, a parallel reality.’[22] This could be a descriptor of psychosis: the loss of the Gemeinwesen dimension, this ‘splitting-off’, propelled perhaps by the inaugural separation of the public from the private, mind from body, man from woman etc., not only makes suffering into a stifled cry that cannot be heard for fear of being abandoned, it leads us to become deaf to our own inner voice and thus refuse to share with others the, often troubling nuances of our collective selves. Such a reduction of being, a lack of perspectives to traverse, leads at one level to a lack of form for a singularity to become the ‘real, living, particular individual’ and on another, to the perversion of this prospective singularity via the substitute realities and blunted affect indicative of psychosis.

For Camatte this ‘parallel reality’ could well be what is established by the material community of capital as, when the human exists through representations of itself (society of the spectacle), there is a loss of ‘immediate natural relations’. The loss of such relations, their isomorphic transformation into capitalist social relations, leads to an upholding of this ‘parallel reality’ that is symptomatic of psychosis. That this parallel reality has to be upheld is one of the conditions of initiation to the material community of capital. ‘Naturalness’ has to be repressed (hence education as incarceral), but for me, this naturalness is not so much the timeless essentialism of instinctual freedom as an historically developed naturalness entailing the ‘formless affect’ of a corporeal sensuous being and the recognition that our instincts are themselves malleable. Affect, then, as lacking a form, a vocabulary, being between feeling and emotion, comes to figure as the ‘wild’ of nature; its unconscious dimension laying, despite the pretensions of psychoanalysis, beyond the known realm of science. In one of his more recent texts Camatte offers: ‘The rejection of affectivity […] leads to a closure of our sensible perception of the other, to our own sensitivity. This reaches a limit when it leads to our being affected only by our self: madness.’[23] Affectivity and sensitivity to others is maybe what we still have left of the ‘natural’ (this does not preclude aggression.) To make it ‘unnatural’ capital subjects it to exchange-value by, for example, such means as functional complicity and professionalised empathy. It domesticates and en-maddens the human; reduces the human to a representation rather than a singularising presence. From this, in order to self-valorise and not be abandoned, the human must live up not only to its own self-representation (ego-ideal) but, and this is much the same thing, to the representations determined by the ‘parallel reality’ of capital (super-ego). For Camatte, we would not be so much in the realm of capitalism and schizophrenia, as capitalism and psychosis.[24]

Taking a cue from the works of Camatte, then, we could say that a reason to struggle for communism is so as to become unrepresentable singularities, beings for whom self and other is a seamless continuity; to no longer remain in awe-of and bullied-by a ‘parallel reality’ (‘an immense accumulation of images’ – Debord) that, through the seductions of commodity mediation and serviceable pleasure, we are produced as those ‘privileged’ subjects that are offered a sense of belonging in the community of capital. It is as if we could say, following Gunther Anders that, under the real subsumption of capital, there is a ‘depersonalisation of individuality’[25] that must be pushed back. Anders’s phrase once more summons thoughts of psychosis in that, without being present to one another in a shared psychic space (the establishment of which should now form revolutionary organs!), one begins to let a fear-of-the-other determine the parameters of social interactions (control freakery); to presumptuously speculate about the other (paranoia); to ignore the presence of the other and become motivated solely by self-generated fantasies (narcissism). Such depersonalising reactions – themselves encouraged by how exchange-value, in inducing a sense of measure and comparison into social relations, establishes competition and wariness between people – come to block access to singularity (individuality-gemeinwesen) if the latter can also be expressed as a sense of uninterrupted continuity between ‘self and others’, between ‘mind and body’, between the ‘conscious and the unconscious’ and, crucially, between the public and the private. Without this sense of continuity the species being is cut-off from any notion of Gemeinwesen and the psyche becomes subject to a disembodied ipsiezation to the degree that, out of touch with the ‘naturalness’ of itself as a sensuous being and thus out of touch with others, exhausted by upholding the tenets of a ‘parallel reality’ that auto-confirm a needy belonging to the community of capital, it comes to inhabit an hallucinatory world, a world of simulacra through which Capital provides the ‘repressing-representations’ that are ontologically securing for it. For Camatte, as for Baudrillard, this scenario is reaching its apogee with the Virtual.

As has already been mentioned, a crucial aspect and development in Camatte’s ideas took place around the impact that Freud’s notion of repression had upon him. Freud’s notion of repression first develops through the dualisms of a motivating pleasure-principle coming up against a reality-principle which tempers the pursuit of pleasure and gives rise to ‘unfulfilled desires’ which are creative of an unconscious dynamic that maintains a paranormal influence upon us. In short, Freud’s concept of repression settles around an ‘instinctual renunciation’ that it is said permits the move from primitive life to a civilised life but at the same time institutes anxiety and instinctual ambivalence as human givens. So, taking up this Freudian notion, Camatte defines repression, not so much in terms of the givens of instinct, but as ‘the inhibition of naturalness and the prohibition of continuity.’[26] If we continue to offer ‘naturalness’ as being understood in terms of sensuality I would read Camatte’s definition of repression as one which attempts to highlight how sensuality is self-repressed as a result of the separation of individuality from Gemeinwesen. The sensuous ‘natural’ being which can increase its sensitivity by crossing the dualist divides (such as self/other, public/private, man/woman etc.) or existing liminally on the border between them, is a singularising being; a being as a becoming, involved in a during. This potential ‘genius’ of the human is held back by fear; a fear which repression both instils and maintains with the threat of abandonment and the guilt of transgressing the categorical norms that determine material reality[27]. In some senses, with his reading of repression, Camatte seem to go beyond (or totally ignores) the formal and real subsumption periodization that he had previously championed and been judged by. With capital as a material community, the ‘periodization’ becomes one that has a simultaneous diachronic-synchronic dimension in that drawing the crucial human junction as that of the conception, nascence, birth and raising of children we are not only in the space of the ‘natural’ but also in the realm of ‘history’. And so childbirth, to some degree another invariant, is a moment in the life of the species that has retained a natural dimension (despite Louis XXIV’s spectacle-inducing ‘horizontalized birth’ and the menace of reproductive technologies).

So, it is as if, in the endless search for the ‘subject’ of revolution, Camatte brings us back to what most of us have been through and which most of us are cajoled into deeming entirely un-political: the newborn-parent nexus through which we were socialised (as children) and do the socialising (as parents). Attesting to the impact that the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) has had upon him, Camatte offers that ‘each generation is replaying the transition from nature to culture, updating the separation with its psychic impact on the child.’[28] Such an updating entails the everyday repression of the child’s naturalness ‘in order to adapt it to the out-of-nature becoming of the species’[29]. This ‘out-of- nature’ adaption is, I think, for Camatte, a by-word for psychosis and he describes the ‘counter revolution’ as follows: ‘The blindness to the naturalness of the newborn, the lack of immediate natural knowledge about it, conforms to the longstanding dynamics of man’s separation from nature and the way, that, in denying this, a will to domination arises […] As a result, the father or mother does not acknowledge the real activity of the baby, but its reactions to the interventions that they make which are dictated by […] a social knowledge i.e. theoretically condensed repression […] Consequently the father and mother do not recognise the naturalness of their child who presents himself as a unique and absolutely new being of whom they can have no prior knowledge.’[30] This ‘absolutely new being’, perhaps a chrysalis of singularity, perhaps a ‘genius’, is for Camatte and the many other authors he cites (including Alice Miller and Elena Belotti), recognised rather as a ‘tabula rasa’ to be shaped and socialised, an unthinking entity with neither inner life nor history, a totally dependent being, which, being misrecognised as such, comes to be overwhelmed by its introjects, traumatised by the loss of something it cannot articulate and, to cap it all, subject to the fourth commandment: ‘thou shalt honour thy father and mother.’

As with a nature deemed malleable and ripe for expropriation, this confluence of parental repression and trauma add up to our own ‘domestication’ and, if we cannot recall it now ourselves, we are witness to it all day long: that litany of prohibitions placed on a child; those interventions into its attempts to carry out a simple task; that putting words into its mouth to complete its sentence; those sudden burst of anger through which a parent ‘takes it out’ on a child; those character encapsulations that define and fix a child’s traits; those twittering comparisons shared by adults about their child’s progress; those over-egged expectations that instil anxiety in a child; those arbitrary rules which when disobeyed occasion abandonment and the ‘loss of love’. What seems to occur, however unconsciously, is a form of parental repression that passes by the name of ‘responsible behaviour’. As adults, and naming ourselves as such, we are in a situation of ‘authority-over’; we know best and command a ‘natural’ authority over children which doesn’t have to be authoritarian but can proceed in terms of being an ‘exemplar’. Adults are more experienced hence this is used as a means of maintaining the dependence of children, feeling a sense of power and instilling in children the hazards of their search for autonomy (re: singularity) and the crucial fact that this singularity, this naturalness as a feeling-being, will lead to their being left to one side in the cut and thrust of a ‘real world’ that has little use for that which is ‘unformed’. Our domestication, then, the lasting psychical impact of being deemed ‘lesser’ than an adult, instils a sense of voluntary servitude that is informed by the fear of the loss of love through disobedience to ‘experienced advice’ and thus the fear of being abandoned by even attempting to articulate a fledgling resistance to the exigencies of capital’s material community (and the ongoing initiations to the reality-principle). For me the conflict reaches a crescendo during adolescence when the former dependence and the voluntary-servitude it entails comes to clash with the new injunction to be independent, to be, to not be a Bartleby, but to be something defined, definite and slottable. At this point there arrives the choice of a ‘role’, a ‘role to play’ that is suggestive of our being constrained to enact something at variance to our ‘nature’ and thus to act in the ‘parallel reality’. We must take on a form, tame affect and become decipherable even if, in the rush to be the lead actor, that means setting out on the byways of psychosis.[31]

To round off this article it may be as well to hint at what Camatte’s investigations of the Psychoanalytical Movement have to offer us. In many ways just as the late Marx and the leap over the Capitalist Mode of Production have informed Camatte, so too, in the Freudian opus, it is the latters abandonment of what is called the ‘seduction theory’ that has interested Camatte[32]. In brief, and taking his initial cue from the work of Jeffrey Moussaieff-Masson, Camatte draws our attention to the fact that the very first cases of hysteria through which Freud began to establish psychoanalysis all revealed that the hysterical symptoms presenting themselves to Freud had their roots in actual events of child abuse. Freud highlighted this in his early works only to retract the theory of seduction at a later date under pressure from his esteemed colleagues who considered his revelations too socially cataclysmic to back (Kraft Ebbing greeted one of Freud’s early papers with a caustic comment: ‘It looks like a scientific fairy tale.’) In a sense, for Camatte, the Psychoanalytical Movement begins to go astray right at its inception; for in denying the ‘real’ of this child trauma and in basing his theories of sexuality on childhood fantasies (of abuse) and from there the Oedipus Complex, Freud removed from wider social purview the grave fact that the adult repression of children, in ultimately viewing the child as malleable and suggestible, as an object over which to wield (sexual) power, established a social ambiance through which the real could be retracted.[33] It could be said that the toning down of the ‘seduction theory’, the denial of abuse and exploitation, was a means of making parental repression implicit and ‘natural’. This fed very well into the culture of occluded power relations (‘you’re making it up’) and disavowed suffering (‘grin and bear it’) beloved of capital.

In a way, calling what adults did and have continued to do to children a ‘seduction’ is disturbing in that Camatte suggests that Freud more often than not uses this word as a euphemism for rape. But ‘seduction’ can also reveal those common forms of ‘flattering manipulation’ that in their seeming removal of the barriers of repression, also turn out to be just as creative of introjected voices, trustlessness and isolation that are creative of psychic disorders: the flight into parallel realties or of an ever unalleviated sense of aggression turned on the self. In some ways, here, with the domestication of children, we have the socially sanctioned enforcement of the public/private split through which arises the games of ‘us and them’ and the competitive enmity that fuels the rackets of capitalism (‘keep it in the family’). Most insidious as a means of seduction are the secrets that are meant to be kept, the collusions with adult power that ensure secure belonging, the injunctions that it is ‘for your own good/in your own best interest’ with which adults, in all their guises from parent to boss, inveigle their underlings. These add up, as introjection, to an invitation to self-repression. Perhaps, Camatte in his writings on psychoanalysis and the accent he places upon parental repression, begins to show us that psychic and social repression are not two separate entities – the one linked to instinctual pressure the other to social pressure – but two simultaneous forces that instil obedience in the child at the cost of the threat of abandonment. This could then give rise, as the years pass on from Freud, to the idea that, as Alice Miller also suggests, the former was more on the right track when he defined repression as related to actual traumatic events being buried in the unconscious and then informing the instincts rather than it being a case of instinctual urges becoming feasible only as the wishful construct of fantasies[34].

The tragedy of the sociopathic ambience that capital fosters, as pointed out by Camatte, is that often this parental repression, this suppression of ‘naturalness’ takes place without the full self-awareness of the adult: ‘For me, it is essential to show that most of the time repression is an insidious phenomenon, unconscious, absolutely invisible because it is part of our life process […] It involves a repression of suffering that represses the other and its own naturalness.’[35] For Camatte, as he states at the end of this article, ‘Homo Sapiens is structured by repression’. This seems pretty final, a ‘fatalistic totality’ offering no way out? This would be the case if revolutionary discourse maintains its vocabulary of political economy and does not give credence to or encourage the languages (however disarticulate) of auto-traumatic reflexivity that the notion of ‘self-abolition’ entails. For our ignorance of being ‘structured by repression’ (as perhaps the passages above about how we were domesticated as children suggests), our lack of awareness of our own condition, our upholding of parallel realities that repress suffering and maintain it as pathogen of privacy, are maybe what makes us all proto-psychotic members of the material community of capital. Whereas Freud has suggested that the task of species being is to bring ego to where id was, perhaps this could be rendered more specifically as our becoming conscious of the unconscious determinations of our social life: individualising determinations that keep us dumb to our dividualities, separated from our natural sensuous being and grappling after a sense of continuity that can maybe only be regained by persevering with founding a kind of radical therapy: reinstalling the Gemeinwesen dimension of individuality not as collusion-inducing pact but as the quick of social jouissance.

This may sound preposterous, but it seems to be what the later Camatte is suggesting (on one occasion he calls it ‘liberation therapy’[36]). Perhaps it is what Marx was suggesting in his letter to Ruge: ‘Our programme must be the reform of consciousness not through dogmas but by analysing mystical consciousness obscure to itself whether it appears in religious or political form.’ For me ‘mystical consciousness obscure to itself’ is nothing other than the unconscious, an unconscious as the repository of the repressed, that Camatte suggests is the means by which ‘the individual keeps track of all the negative emotions that he has undergone and that he has not been able to clearly express.’[37] Is it not these negative emotions that, once abreacted, would reveal the extent of our domestication? Camatte: ‘It is not a question of forgetting but of reliving past emotions in order to get rid of the power of the imprints caused by the traumas.’[38] Such a radical therapy would maybe entail not so much a ‘self-abolition’ as the demystification of an illusory individuality. In On Life, Camatte offers the following as an important factor in this self-abolition and reinstatement of the Gemeinwesen dimension: ‘… if a practitioner voicing his or her suffering, fantasies, projections etc., is allowed to be heard by a non-judgmental other, then he or she can come to understand patterns of psychotic behaviour and transferences; thereby accessing various repressed emotions that inhibit all flowering of consciousness. This practice brings about the coming together of the two dimensions previously mentioned: individuality and Gemeinwesen.’[39] The therapeutic dynamic can become part of a revolutionary dynamic. This way, adding axioms of resistance, we no longer have to adjust to a ‘retracted real’ or to ‘parallel realities’ but instead establish liminal spaces away from institutional norms in which our de-formed ‘selves’ can come to expression and forge a praxis. A re-setting of the real.

Howard Slater <howard.slater AT gmail.com> is a writer and researcher who currently works in Mental Health in East London

Footnotes


[1] Jacques Camatte (JC), Against Domestication, Falling Sky Books, 1981. The ‘red thread’ here would be Camatte’s close associate, Amadeo Bordiga. See ‘The Human Species and the Earth’s Crust’ (1952) https://libcom.org/library/human-species-earths-cr…

[2] JC – Towards the Human Community, 1976. Unless otherwise stated all citations by Jacques Camatte can be located on the Invariance website and have been translated by the author. See https://revueinvariance.pagesperso-orange.fr/

[3] This text first appeared in Invariance Series III, 1979, and was translated and published by Unpopular Books, 1988.

[4] This meaning does not come through in the English translation: ‘the true community of man, human nature’. See Karl Marx, Early Works, 1975, p.419.

[5] A flavour of this ongoing work of anthropogenesis (begun in the early ’80s) can be gleaned from some of the early chapter titles: ‘Acquisition of the Vertical Station’; ‘Uterus and Haptogestation’; ‘Verbal language’; ‘Fire’; ‘Hunting’ etc. See https://revueinvariance.pagesperso-orange.fr/homog…

[6] Marx, ‘Excerpts from James Mill’s Element of Political Economy’ in Early Works, ibid, pp.265-266.

[7] Cited by Phillipe Descola in Beyond Nature and Culture, University of Chicago Press, 2013, p. 222.

[8] Marshall Sahlins, The Western Illusion of Human Nature, Prickly Paradigm Press, 2008.

[9] For me ‘perspectivism’ is a kind of radical empathy. Writing of the expanded semiotic life of the Amazonian rainforest, Eduardo Kohn writes: ‘People in Àvila try to make sense of these various selves that inhabit the forest by trying to see how they see, and by imagining how different perspectives interact.’ See Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think, University of California Press, 2013, p.96.

[10] JC – Capitalism and Community in Russia, London 1978, p.21.

[11] In their preface to the 1882 Russian edition of The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels write: ‘Now the question is: can the Russian obshchina, though greatly undermined, yet a form of primeval common ownership of land, pass directly to the higher form of communist common ownership?’ See Marxists.org This would have implications for the concept of the ‘proletariat’.

[12] Benjamin Fondane, Existential Monday: Philosophical Essays, NYRB, 2016. See: ‘But existential philosophy is concerned with the thought of the Existent [in a] during, involved in a Real as yet without form or structure; it is itself involved in this ‘during’ interested in its solutions’, p.17.

[14] Ernesto De Martino, Primitive Magic – The Psychic Powers of Shamans and Sorcerers, Prism Press, 1988, p.147.

[15] JC – Wandering of Humanity, Black & Red, 1975, p.34.

[16] Lawrence Krader, ‘Introduction’, in The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, 1974, p.6. See also ‘The differentiation between the personal and the impersonal relations in the primitive collectivity becomes the greater as the amount of tribal property is increased and, in keeping with this, as the office of chief becomes more clearly delineated.’ ibid p.10. See https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/e…

[18] Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange, Verso 2001. We could add that this perfect subject, if it actually exists, is also blind to ’affect’ which latter becomes related to as the irrational, as the paranormal, as magic, as resoundingly unthinkable (repressed).

[19] Marilyn Strathern, The Gender of the Gift, University of California, 1988, p.12.

[20] JC – Marx and Gemeinwesen, 1976. Bordiga’s writings are sprinkled with invective against the ‘individual’: ‘Their I, their human being, their subject, in which they find one and the same absolute expressed, are only a fleeting peculiarity of the bourgeois human being’, ibid.

[21] Across Camatte’s writings one can discern an approach to ‘singularity’ that does not name itself as such. In Repression and Psychosis (2011) we can find it being referred to as ‘genius’; but a genius that is the potentiality of all: ‘Genius […] serves to indicate the deep, intimate particularity, as an idiosyncrasy […] To want to be a genius is to refuse reduction and domestication because we feel deep down that we are more than we are allowed to manifest’ [my emphasis]. This remark is inspired by the plight of a young psychiatrised woman whose will-to-genius is the subject of Michael Greenberg’s book Hurry Down Sunshine – The Day My Daughter Went Crazy, 2009. In Inversion and Unveiling, 2012, we can find the following: ‘The form of individuality consists in the unfolding of its content, its substance, its naturalness in interaction with others, with nature, with the cosmos… the enjoyment of persisting within becoming.’

[22] JC – On Life, 1997. Social media is currently where the commodity is at; a detournement of the post-media possibilities of communications technologies. The potential diasporic differentials (of singularity) have been, instead, homogenized along with globalisation leading once more to the banalities of boredom that the Situationist International and the Punks bemoaned. This leads Baudrillard to acerbically state: ‘Culturally individuals are already cloned; they do not need to be cloned biologically, genetically’. See Passwords, Verso, 2003, p.51.

[23] JC – Inversion and Rupture in Continuity, 2018. It must be borne in mind that some people within the psychiatric system are deemed not only ‘unanalysable’, but have been subject to being described as ‘treatment resistant’. With such diagnoses as these, psychiatry too reveals itself as beyond the known realm of science.

[24] It should be noted here that Camatte has, across his recent works, developed a concept termed ‘ontosis’. For me this is initially interpretable as a portmanteau word conjured from ontology and psychosis = ontosis. What it perhaps depicts is ‘how human beings have internalized capital and adapted to its life processes’ (JC – Marx and Gemeinwesen), or how the species is urged to ‘give [human] substance to an artificiality’ (JC – On Life). In Camatte’s terms an ontosed being is a capitalised being?

[27] In The Ritual Process, Pelican, 1969 p.82, Victor Turner offers that the suppleness of some tribal societies allows for what he calls ‘the quick of human relatedness’ [My emphasis]. This quick implies a ‘continuity’, a ‘crossing’, an improvisation too active to be formalized and tending to ‘anti-structure’. Turner’s views on communitas – ‘a modality of social relationship rather than an area of common living’ – are interesting in light of Camatte’s pursuit of the Gemeinwesen dimension.

[28] JC – Proletarian Movement, 1989. It maybe should be stressed that Camatte’s conjoining with the WLM is quite rare for the epigones of revolutionary theory even at this late date. A recent text by Brigitte Pengam-Ferriere addressing the themes of the WLM can be found on the Invariance website: The Confiscated Female Body, 2015. This article begins: ‘The woman, who wants to be free from male domination, is constantly being reduced, dispossessed of her sexual power and of the extraordinary power of giving birth. She is trapped in the marketable medicalization of her own body…’ See https://revueinvariance.pagesperso-orange.fr/corps…

[29] JC – Glossary (2019), ibid.

[30] JC – Inversion and Rupture in Continuity, 2018.

[31] We could add here as an antidote that, to paraphrase Camatte, our becoming less manifest (rivulet of self-abolition) leads to an undecipherability (affective-charge) between people that is a spur to a ‘real immediacy, that of the intimate presence to others, to the world’. This, again, is perhaps a building-block in understanding Camatte’s notion of community and the ‘quick of human relatedness’. See JC – Proletarian Movement.

[33] The French title of Masson’s book is Le Real Escamoté which translates roughly as the ‘the real retracted’. The English title of the book is The Assault on Truth, Penguin, 1985.

[34] See Alice Miller: ‘…It is my belief that these roots [of neurosis] lie in the enforced repression not of the child’s so called instinctual drive but of his or her awareness of having been traumatised and in the prohibition against articulating this, which was internalised at a very early age.’ See Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, Pluto 1991, p.215.

[39] JC – On Life. See also Marx, ‘Letter To Ruge’ in Early Writings: ‘What is needed above all is a confession and nothing more than that. To obtain forgiveness for its sins mankind needs only to declare them for what they are.’