The fallacy of the voluntaristic capitalist subjectivity and how to overcome it

From “What Is to be Done?” by the Endnotes group; the first essay in Communization and Its Discontents, Ed. Benjamin Noys.

Though this analysis is grimly pessimistic, I think it’s largely right:

Since such supposedly liberated places cannot be stabilised as outside of ‘capitalism, civilization, empire, call it what you wish’, they are to be reconceived as part of the expansion and generalization of a broad insurrectionary struggle. Provided the struggle is successful, these alternatives will not turn out to have been impossible after all; their generalization is to be the condition of their possibility… But all of this is without any clear notion of what is to be undone through such a dynamic. The complexity of actual social relations, and the real dynamic of the class relation, are dispatched with a showmanly flourish in favor of a clutch of vapid abstractions. Happy that the we of the revolution does not need any real definition, all that is to
be overcome is arrogated to the they – an entity which can remain equally abstract: an ill-defined generic nobodaddy (capitalism, civilization, empire etc) that is to be undone by – at the worst points of Call – the Authentic Ones who have forged ‘intense’ friendships, and who still really feel despite the badness of the world.

But the problem cannot rest only with this ‘they’, thereby fundamentally exempting this ‘we of a position’ from the dynamic of revolution. On the contrary, in any actual supersession of the capitalist class relation we ourselves must be overcome; ‘we’ have no ‘position’ apart from the capitalist class relation. What we are is, at the deepest level, constituted by this relation, and it is a rupture with the reproduction of what we are that will necessarily form the horizon of our struggles…  In this period, the ‘we’ of revolution does not affirm itself, does not identify itself positively, because it cannot; it cannot assert itself against the ‘they’ of capital without being confronted by the problem of its own existence – an existence which it will be the nature of the revolution to overcome.

The point is that one cannot voluntarily opt out of the ways we are subjectivized by capitalism, by its relations, by the ways it allows for the reproduction of the everyday life it requires. We are always within this, thinking through it, whether we want to be or not, and it would hubris to believe that one could will oneself out of being contaminated by capital and its values. Further, the fable of voluntaristic self-exemption feeds capital’s capacity to reproduce subjects on its terms; it’s a useful alibi, a reassuring fiction of individual autonomy and the supposed viability of de-capitalistic zones.

The essay has little reassuring to say about what granting this point gains us. Their point that  “It is only in the revolutionary undoing of this totality that these forms can be overcome” is pretty cold comfort. They explicitly reject the idea of revolutionary exodus — “there is little need in the present moment to cast around for practical tips for the re-establishment of some insurrectionary practice, or theoretical justifications for a retreat into ‘radical’ milieus” — which I interpret as a rejection also of all forms of the politics of authenticity, of committing oneself to practice at the individual level in a quasi-competitive fashion. I will be more ascetic and authentic and dialectical and so on than anybody else and thereby personally win the revolution by the force of my will.

Still, this essay dissatisfied me because it doesn’t theorize a possible way out but instead vaguely gestures toward some sort of  magic dialectics by which communist theory works in spite of itself as a “real negative presence”: “Communist theory is produced by – and necessarily thinks within – this antagonistic relation; it is thought of the class relation, and it grasps itself as such. It attempts to conceptually reconstruct the totality which is its ground, in the light of the already-posited supersession of this totality, and to draw out the supersession as it presents itself here.” That seems like double talk to me. It sounds as though they are saying doing communist theory is akin to what Wittgenstein said about doing philosophy: what can be articulated is all tautological nonsense and the real action is what is implied in the process but inherently inarticulable.

What Endnotes says about occupation as a tactic and the demand for no demands sort of fits with this too:

Caught between the necessity of action, the impossibility of reformism, and the lack of any revolutionary horizon whatsoever, these struggles took the form of a transient generalization of
occupations and actions for which there could be no clear notion of what it would mean to ‘win’.

So we are stuck with the inability to deliberately try much of anything for fear of lapsing into a voluntaristic we/they patterning that oversimplifies the real conditions, and at the same time we must make patently wrong articulations of the totality because only through these attempts will we experience analytic clarity, even though we can’t express it. The question then is whether this experience is something that can be made collective, can be shared and used to build solidarity, or whether it simply isolates us as well, as thoroughly as fantasies of individual revolutionary virtue. How to collectivize the futile process of thinking the totality so it can succeed and unite us without anyone actually expressing it. And how to make this inarticulate thing practical? Does the experience of it automatically alter subjectivity, not as a matter of our choice and ego but as a matter of having the a prioris of our experience altered? This sort of thinking would serve as a mode of resubjectivization perhaps, though with none of the overt rewards that capitalist subjectivity has trained us to expect and is so good at doling out.


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