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by Lucien Sve Translation/synopsis by Carl Shames

To Begin With the Ends

Introduction: the trap of the term
This book is not written for those who side with the hegemony of the dollar and see
capitalism today as the end of history. It is for those who take the side of revolutionary
action and thought, and who are willing to engage in a thorough re-thinking and
conceptual reconstruction of a present and future emancipation. The central issue is
what we may call the communist question. There has been very little research on this
question, that is, little real study of the possible alternative to capitalism.
The ideological attacks on communism have attempted to disqualify a priori the
possibility of thinking about an alternative future and the response from the left has
not, as of yet, been adequate. This is our starting point. Two recent books in particular
are illustrative: The Black Book of Communism, and Past of an Illusion.
A common characteristic of this ideological attack is the openly infra-conceptual use
of the term 'communism', despite this being the main focus of the books. One book
equates the 'communist illusion' with the Soviet Union, claiming that both have died.
Communism is equated with its Stalinist form. They speak of a 'general entity' of
communism rather than specific historical forms. There is no distinction between the
retrospective and prospective nature of communism. The political conclusions precede
the historical demonstration. The ultimate goal of all this is to criminalize and delegitimize all militant action and thought against capitalism, to de-historicize any
consideration of communism, by turning it into an abstraction presented as a tragedy.
There are real problems in defining communism. The Soviet Union used the terms
socialism and communism to describe itself. The Communist Manifesto speaks of
'scientific socialism'. Many theoretical and ideological issues underlie what on the
surface seems to be a matter of words.
Let us review the tasks corresponding to what I am calling the 'new communist
question': What was born in 1917 has disappeared and traditional communist forces
have dissolved; Stalinism is a mark of infamy; Lenin is being reappraised and even

Marx is closed for inventory. We are literally not in the same world as before: classes,
people, concepts are all totally different. We need to analyze in broad outline where we
are in history, why communism is a process more than ever on the order of the day,
how it would be radically different from what it was in the 20th century, and how can
we advance in this direction.
What needs to be done is to reconstitute theoretically a communist vision for our
time, and to lay out such a vision as a coherent whole, along with the motivating and
structuring concepts and primordial considerations it presupposes. What could the
term communism signify today, both as political struggle and future social form? This
involves grasping Marx's revolutionary perspective in all its vigor and rigor, in order to
rediscover the basics of deep social transformation.

Chapter I. Does the future have a name?

Many Marxists have mistakenly interpreted Marx's ideas as signifying an end to
philosophy, the idea being that materialist scientific analysis does away with the need
for specifically philosophical development and interpretation. In fact, the writings of
Marx, Lenin, Lukacs and Gramsci are permeated by theoretical considerations,
including the philosophical, on the theory and practice of politics. The Stalinist period,
however, is characterized by a theoretical regression and political decadence. The only
way out of this is to re-think matters to the core.
The path to the communist question is long, but having said that in general, I have
no difficulty specifying the particular philosophical need for a theoretical approach.
What we can call the theoretical is fundamental and non-negotiable.
Major changes in the notion of how capitalism will be replaced with another system
were underway in 1976 at the time of the 22nd Congress (of the PCF). The previously
sacrosanct notions of dictatorship of the proletariat, the insurrectional conquest of
power and violent installation of socialism were abandoned in favor of notions of
progressive democratic transformation of the capitalist mode of production. But these
changes were instituted top-down by a party leadership maintaining the old way of
doing things.
The main idea of the shift at that time is that the dictatorship of the proletariat is no
longer necessary because the working class now constitutes the great majority of the
population. Thus a political question was given a sociological answer. But this is not
the basic question. Socialism is seen as transitional to communism, and 'advanced

democracy' as transitional to socialism. The problem is in the non-theoretical, noncritical way this transition is understood. It ignores the most essential aspects of the
Marxist historical perspective.
The problem was not the abandonment of the concept of dictatorship of the
proletariat but how this was done: in a top-down decision, and in the absence of a
theoretical context. This was the basis of Althusser's objection, and although I had
many disagreements with him, on this issue we were in agreement. The issue was
raised at that time of how theory can be freed from its role as justifying a political
course, as in the old doctrinaire 'Marxism-Leninism'.
The 23rd Congress of 1979 was one of real strategic innovation but for me it
emphasized the contrast between political wealth and theoretical poverty. On the one
hand the notion of 'self-managing socialism', in the absence of a theoretical
foundation, quickly became an empty formula. On the other, the statutes were purged
of the traditional references to Marxism. While there were good reasons for this, the
result was a weakening of the standards of theoretical thought this name represents.
The main obstacle to all advances more and more appeared to me to be the backward
conception of the functioning and mode of life of the party. The problem was not only
an indifference of the leadership to theoretical matters covering an entire range of
fundamental questions, but the unwillingness to look at the functioning and
organization of the party itself. My differences with the leadership were more and
more political as well as theoretical.

The secret of 'scientific socialism'

The best way to proceed to the communist question is through a summary of the
theses concerning the supersession of capitalism as traditionally presented by
'scientific socialism'. As we assess these theses, we cannot ignore their relation to what
they understand is being superseded. Socialism is seen as transitional, characterized
by the social ownership of the large means of production when the working class has
gained state power. This is a transition to a higher form, a future order totally freed of
the heritage of class society, as seemingly spelled out in Marx's Critique of the Gotha
Program. Socialism is described as 'to each according to his work' and communism as
'to each according to his needs'. With communism, the 'end of pre-history' is achieved;
communism then moves forward, freed from the past and based only upon itself.

But when we look at this we see that socialism can not be spoken of except in the
larger context of communism. This is why Lenin wanted to change the name of the
Marxist party to Communists. This is why Communist parties have this name.
We need a far more vigilant examination of the relationship between socialism and
communism than what is found in the manuals of scientific socialism. We can see right
away how unclear it all is. Socialism has been seen as the first stage of communism and
communism has been understood as the stage beyond socialism. The result is an
impoverished idea of communism. As a first step toward reconstructing this idea, let
us summarize Marx's characterization of communism:































- free satisfaction of cultural and material needs, integral development of all individuals; - disappearance of the state

















- all in all, the end of human pre-history and the beginning of true human history.






It is impossible to consider this without being taken by the visionary audacity of the
Marxist idea of communism. Each of the above, of course, requires tremendous
clarification and elaboration. This should not be seen as an itemization, however, but
as an organic whole of interconnected aspects. For example, the universal
development of productive forces is not only a development of the various forces (such
as technical capacities), but is more essentially a development of the productive force,
humanity as a whole, as it incorporates science. A perfect example of this is today's
informatization of life. Without this development, no other aspect of communism can
come about. The decisive point here is that the appropriation by society as a whole of
the major means of production and exchange is impossible without the supersession of
the market and the capitalist working class, the integral development of individuals
and the disappearance of the state. The fact that so many theorists in the Marxist
tradition have failed to recognize this has resulted in the reduction of this core of
Marxist thought to simplistic formulas, i.e. socialism = social ownership of the means
of production + 'to each according to his needs'. Moreover, the whole concept of
socialism, in principle the first phase of communism, was massively reduced to simply

that of social ownership of the means of production and exchange. This had disastrous
theoretical and practical results.
This denaturing reduction had its effect not only in the realm of ideas, where it
contributed to a substantial conceptual degeneration, but in the building of socialism
in the Stalin epoch, as it shaped strategic choices. The revolution was considered to be
complete from the moment, in the '30's, when the socialization of the means of
production and exchange had been instituted in the countryside and cities. Stalin
declared that the disappearance of the state was an impossibility in the conditions of
capitalist encirclement. The integral development of individuals, supersession of the
social division in between the functions of direction and execution, dealienation of
consciousness, were no longer on the agenda. As a result, things were converted into
their reverse. Social ownership clearly cannot effectively exist in conditions of the
persistence of an omnipotent state, of a fragmented individuality and a mystified social
consciousness. This requires what Marx envisioned as the appropriation by the
associated producers themselves of their means of production and more generally, of
their societal powers, that is, the taking possession and effective control, by working
people themselves over all the objective conditions of their activity. What happened
instead was a dispossession of the producers by a state/party bureaucracy. Cut off
from communism, this version of socialism actually reinforced social alienation.
Certainly, in the traditional culture of a party such as the PCF, 'socialism' has not
been limited to this formulation of the socialization of the means of production and
exchange, although this is considered essential to the definition. Although the
discourse has proclaimed the emancipatory virtues of communism, a closer look shows
that these have been essentially seen in the same terms. All social problems and
contradictions of capitalism will be resolved, in this view, when this primary struggle
to socialize the means of production is won. The emancipatory objectives projected for
socialism thus dwindle to a shadow of the communist vision.
Another issue in the PCF is its silence on the disappearance of the state. The result is
tacit acceptance of the entire bourgeois framework for thinking the relation of the
individual to the state, and the delegation of social power.

A crucial manipulation of Marx's thought

How do we account for the fact that socialism refused to transition to communism?
Socialism in its Stalinist form ceased seeing itself as transitional; the goals of
communism were forgotten in an expurgated version of Marxism. If 70 years was not

sufficient for the Soviet Union to at least begin the transition to communism, this
cannot be attributed solely to extrinsic factors - capitalist encirclement, etc. The main
reason has to be internal: socialism, after Lenin, repudiated its revolutionary essence
to the point of actually opposing the development of communism.
The more we look at this strange experience of the Soviet Union and its camp, the
more we have to confront the ambiguity in the vocabulary of socialism and
communism. Are they two phases of the same formation? If so, why two terms? Marx,
in the Critique of the Gotha Program, introduced the idea of two phases, but did not
call the first socialism, but rather the inferior, or undeveloped stages of communism.
Marx in fact never thought this first phase could be conceptualized in any way apart
from the second. Political thinking based on a limited vision of a socialist alternative is
thus totally foreign to Marxism.
Marx and Engels clearly chose the term 'communism' when they wrote the
Manifesto, to distinguish it from the non-theoretically based conceptions of 'socialism'
of that time. The contrast of 'socialism' to 'communism' in the mid 1800's, then, had to
do with political currents. The whole point of the Manifesto is that Marxism is a
theoretically grounded total confrontation with bourgeois forms of society,
individuality and thought. The 'socialist' parties of the time did not undertake this at
all. The politics of socialism, then and now, don't confront the world at the level found
in the Manifesto, for instance on the nature of individuality and state power.
Socialism and social democracy dominated politics at the turn of the century. Marx's
Critique of the Gotha Program was deliberately misinterpreted so that socialism
became a semi-independent first phase of communism while the latter was put off to
be thought about at another time. Communism thus became an ideal, a vague
possibility far in the future, while socialism came to be seen as real, pragmatic,
attainable. Social democracy, and dogmatized 'scientific socialism' share this reliance
on a non-Marxist conception of social transformation.
Lenin was the only one to see through this mystification and its implications.
Nevertheless this distortion characterized the workers' movements of the 20th century
including both the social democratic and communist parties. What has been
invalidated by the whole course of these movements is not communism, but this whole
conception of socialism.

Relearning communism

How do we re valorize the Marxist idea of communism in light of the failure not only
of the Eastern socialisms but of the communist and socialist parties of the West? A
central issue we have identified is the complete incapacity of both to fully
conceptualize revolutionary social transformation. The questions discussed above are
crucial in understanding the chronic impotence of the parties of the West. In the area
of strategy, the state is not questioned. Social transformation is seen as a coup, a
replacement of power from above, the revolutionary conquest of state power. The
whole strategy of seizing state power followed by the dictatorship of the proletariat has
lost all credibility but no alternative strategy or vision has been proposed in any depth.
While the French and other parties renounced the term (dictatorship of the
proletariat), they haven't truly abandoned that way of thinking.
If we want a conception that is real for the majority of people, the whole conception
of social transformation must be extended far beyond seizure of the means of
production and exchange to all the abolitions and metamorphoses and the subsequent
innovations, that is, a communism for our time, not projected in the future, but as it is
as a potential right now.
The second, and even more important, reason for the failure of the revolutionary
project in the developed capitalist countries was the crisis of historical relevance that
has devalued the very idea of socialism. From the start, Marx's ideas of communism,
enumerated above, were hard to conceive and impossible to place on a political
agenda. The very notion was tacitly dismissed as irrelevant and utopian. But how can
we fail to see its real development in today's reality? Isn't science becoming a universal
productive force? Aren't individuals struggling for a revolution in biography, of age,
sex and identity, presaging the integral development of individuals? Isn't the
unprecedented expansion of wage labor, leading to broader use of human capacities
the beginning of a supersession of the traditional working class? The growth of citizen
initiatives, globalization - although in monstrous form - represent a trend toward
human universality and planetary regulation.
The main point is that means, by which we understand human organization in the
production of goods, gradually become subordinate to ends: the development of
people, the humanity we aspire to be, the form of social life, our historic horizons.
There is no real answer to these questions outside the perspective of communism. The
communist parties have by and large failed to address this entire range of questions,
sticking to old conceptions, but recently dabbling with a little bit of ecologism. The fact
is, the social revolution of the 21st century will be communist, or it will not be.

It bears repeating that we are not attempting to depict an ideal future and to
formulate a politics of how to get there. We are not calling for the abandonment of real
present day struggles for social progress in favor of a focus on vague future ideals. By
communism we must understand not only a future social formation but a current
process. To speak of the communist vision is to call for seeing the tendencies at work
right now pushing toward overcoming the human limits of the present social order.
This way of thinking avoids both the socialist utopianism of imagining abolitions by
decree, and the reformist conceptions confined to a 'socialism' that retains the most
basic features of bourgeois society. It attempts to think the process of social
transformation in the deep dialectical complexity of the process in which concrete
things really change.
The real task, however, is to develop a new politics. Communist parties have never
tackled these issues. They have not seen their relevance to all aspects of political
thinking. Issues of the changes in the working class, the nature of the state, the relation
of the individual to the collectivity, the fragmentation of individuality and
development of the spectrum of human capacities - these questions are not in the
distant future, but are here today. In fact it is the limitation of our thinking to
'socialism' that ties our hands and limits the forms and terrains of struggle to defensive
measures against the ravages of capital. We must broaden the struggle to supersede
capitalism and to all fronts: capitalist forms, commodity-labor, the state, domination,
mystified consciousness, the hundreds of relations that produce and reproduce
alienation, etc. We must construct an authentic communist strategy, as realistic in its
immediate objectives as suggestive of the immense goals that provide their true
meaning. Thus, the actors of today begin to see the communist goal of their acts.

Did Marx over rationalize history?

This task of shifting our perspectives is of course more demanding than it may
initially appear. We have to inventory the theoretical contents of the communist vision
and invent the corresponding political practice in the conditions of our world. Nothing
is given in advance. It would not be sufficient to produce a new Communist Manifesto,
even if we could. We have to radically re interrogate Marxist theorization itself. How
do we know the future is called communism? The Manifesto claims to give us the
"theoretical knowledge of the movement of history as a whole", but how do we know if
this is true? What is it to be a communist, what remains of communist belief for today?
What is the meaning of history? What is the potential of the 'human race' referred to in
the Internationale? These questions call for a broad re-examination of Marxist

theoretical thought. This itself is not the subject of this book, which is devoted
essentially to political questions.
A question to be taken up here, however, concerns the rationality of history. The
communist perspective has meaning only within a historical logic which implies
intelligibility of the present (up to a point) and pre-visibility of the future. Only in
these conditions can our objectives be deemed plausible and our actions effective. It
presupposes that we are still living in class society and that today's class contradictions
themselves engender the presuppositions for the transition to a classless society. If we
can name the present it is not absurd at all to suppose that we can name the future.
This is the historic rationality of the communist era.
The dominant ideology never ceases to force upon us the belief in the impossibility
of envisioning an alternative world, and with the demise of 'socialism', this view was
pushed ever more forcefully, joined by many erstwhile leftists who went along with the
idea that 'communism' can no longer be seen as an alternative.
This requires us to look briefly at a question of fact: did Marx over rationalize history
- not in an idealist way, as in Hegel, for whom the course of history is the
manifestation of Reason, but even in the materialist terms of necessity and most
importantly, in his conception of determinism? This issues has been raised and argued
over hundreds of times. Indeed, Marx adhered to a notion of causality in historical
movement - he saw a necessary connection between the general character of each
epoch of productive forces, human included, and the global structure of their class
relations, and more broadly and less strictly, with other structures and
superstructures. Each social formation, for Marx, is an organic totality whose
evolution is no more haphazard than that of a biological being. We can study the logic
of its functioning, and see the coming of a changes in its development and major
features of its contents. Thus, the capitalist mode of production, where we find class
contradictions heightened to their extreme, produces the conditions for transition to a
classless social formation where the class antagonisms that characterize thousands of
years of human history are left behind, relegated to the pre-history of social humanity.
History, for Marx, is not a dark night in which we don't see what we're doing, where
we're going or what we want. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference between
this understanding and what is properly spoken of as determinism.
First of all, this materialist theorization includes the living consciousness that
concrete social formations contain inexhaustible singularities, an infinite variety of
historical trajectories based on general logics of development. Each capitalist society,

for instance, has a familiar air, basic similarities to all others, despite immense
differences. History is saturated with chance and to this extent is unforseeable. The
necessity that reigns in nature is not univocal but dialectical. It includes contradictions
and works ceaselessly through the range of possibles. The laws of evolution essentially
express tendencies and contra-tendencies in dynamics that can always lead to
unexpected results. No evolution is linear, no process mechanical, no development
identical to itself or others, no history written in advance. Moreover, unlike natural
processes, historical events can't occur without us. But human freedom doesn't
suspend necessity, just as the airplane doesn't suspend gravity. The future is never
closed. This open necessity, equally far from scientistic determinism and obscurantist
contingentism, is where the actors of history may draw theoretical and practical
lessons derived from their experience.

Deconstruction of historical time

How do we understand that not only anti-Marxism but ordinary Marxism as well
adhered to a deterministic caricature of this thinking, in which 'socialism' exists in
some pre-conceived way, achieved in a 'final struggle', in which whatever path or line
was taken was deemed the only correct one? Where do we find the roots of this
arrogance that reified the goal and so simplified history? Do we invoke the influence of
mass culture, pre-Marxist conceptions, etc.? No doubt we should. But don't we find
elements of this mechanical, necessitarist scheme in Marx himself? Not only in the
often quoted Preface to the Contribution, or in the Poverty of Philosophy, but toward
the end of Book I of Capital, where he writes that capitalism engenders its own
negation, "with the ineluctability of a natural process", a phrase echoing the slogan
that the victory of the proletariat is 'inevitable'.
Did Marx, in the euphoria of discovering the essential logics in history, ascribe to
them a determinist interpretation? Isn't this a fatalism that can lead to a fanaticism,
such as in Engels' letter to Bebel in which he claims that "the final success" of the
revolutionary party is "absolutely certain", or even when Lenin asserted, "the future
belongs to us"? Perhaps in Marx and his followers, despite the radical rupture with
speculative thought in the formation of historical materialism, there is a never fully
conquered over-rationalist view of history and overestimation of its necessities. We
can see here the enormous practical stakes of seemingly minor theoretical points.
These internal differences in Marxism are small compared to the objections raised
by the project of deconstructing the concept of history that gained influence in the last
decades. The objective rationality of the historical process had already been called into

question much earlier, for instance by Max Weber's thinking on the intrinsic
incompleteness of history and the arbitrariness of interpretation, by Dilthey, Jaspers
and Freud who showed that the meaning we attribute to our actions is essentially
illusory. After the war, Merleau-Ponty took up an earlier theme that logic and history
are intrinsically separate.
Without doubt the most important was Levi-Strauss who undertook the most radical
deconstruction. The final chapter of La Pense Sauvage was aimed overtly at Sartre
and covertly at Marx. It put forward enormous provocations as though they were
proven facts. All of history, according to Levi-Strauss, is an illusion, an artifact of a
discipline constituting its object. History in fact is a series of dates with no unity; it
decomposes into autonomous sequences based ultimately on infra-historical and
unconscious causalities - biological, geological and cosmological which he calls the
true infrastructures of historical materialism. Thus the linear continuity called history
is not linked to man, the meaning we ascribe to our historical experiences is never the
correct one, the supposed intelligibility of history, the meaning we ascribe to our
actions, is a myth. Levi-Strauss comes to this memorable conclusion: the French
revolution, as generally understood, in fact, never existed.
The theme of the illusion of historic rationality is developed further by many others.
Paul Veyne, for instance, in his study of Foucault (Foucault Revolutionizes History),
claims that "History, as we have spoken of it for two centuries, doesn't exist". All that
exists are "singular constellations"; the rest is "but a word". By demonstrating that
madness does not exist but is only constituted or dissolved by practices that give it the
appearance of an object, Foucault magisterially showed the way to a veritable
"completion of history", "dynamiting all rationalizing political philosophy". 'Ideology',
'the state', 'politics' even natural objects don't really exist, according to Veyne. Only a
Marxist would cling to the naive belief in an object.
This crusade is joined by F. Lyotard. Branding Marxist thought as the "totalizing
model and its totalitarian effects", he countered this peril with an irrevocable
decomposition of grand narratives. These are the broad mythologico-historic themes
such as class struggle and human emancipation that have always served to "legitimate"
authority. Post-modern science, with its understanding of the discontinuous,
catastrophic, paradoxical, sees human society for what it really is, "immense clouds of
linguistic matter". Notions such as class struggle, for Lyotard, are nothing but a
"protestation for honor".

A different direction is taken by Michel Serres, in his analysis of historical time. All
contemporary sciences, according to Serres, show that time is not linear, but turbulent
and chaotic. It "percolates", is "crumbled", "embossed", "pleated" .... All our problems
in the theory of history have to do with the naive way time has been understood. Ideas
based on a notion of temporal progression are disqualified, especially Marxism. The
dialectic is thus uninteresting and irrelevant. The entire Marxist mode of thought is

Where do we see the goal of our acts?

These assertions require a careful answer, not just polemics, for they address real
problems. Thus, regarding history as illusion, yes, the course of history as we represent
it is a construct which only naivet would take as an objective given. Yes the great
workers' movements from 1848 until today make use of self-legitimizing narratives.
Yes the forms of communist activism of the last century may not be appropriate for the
next. But, the French revolution, contrary to Levi-Strauss, was not an illusion or myth.
The dehumanization produced by finance capital is not an artifact of historical
methodology, a legitimating narrative. In fact it is the denial of these realities which is
the most flagrant example of mystifying ideologies, of wishful thinking.
Secondly, is it true that only the singular truly exists? This is a nominalism, guarding
its virtue against the speculative entities that have encumbered history. True, vulgar
Marxism substantified 'the bourgeoisie' and mythologized 'the working class' without
analyzing the complex realities and concrete attitudes encompassed by these
abstractions. But what could be more antithetical to the materialist dialectic than
thinking in terms of fixed generalities? The lesson is that a conception aspiring to be
Marxist must re-evaluate the role of the singular event in relation to general
necessities, and the role of its chance character in determining the final course of
things. But does this mean we should reduce the singular to only singularity? Each
person is unique, but being human is also universal. The universal as such doesn't
exist, but this doesn't prevent its existence in the singular. The class logic of capital
exists concretely in each layoff of workers, in financial speculation, where the universal
primacy of private interest is inscribed in detail. Historical rationality indeed exists in
each event.
The idea of a singular exclusively singular is akin to the methodological
individualism of Anglo-American sociology. The corresponding belief that all abstract
entities are in a sense images of Spirit cannot be attributed to Marx, who a century
before Foucault and the others, insisted that labor, for example, is always "a

determinate labor". At a certain stage of development as he showed in the Grundrisse,

"labor in general" becomes a practical truth. This becoming-singular of the general, a
process of historical rationality that only a materialist dialectic can grasp, totally
escapes the nominalism - not only methodological, but doctrinal - that Althusser offers
as the height of materialism. In fact, this is an idealist characterization of the universal,
that is, of essential logics and relations. This dialectic, seen as so impoverished by M.
Serres, allows us to comprehend an historic temporal topology that totally escapes
The greatest objection of all is that, after the fall of communism, we can no longer
believe in the alluring legend of a history progressing toward a better future. This
objection would be stronger if it took on this thesis as is, rather than a mediocre
caricature. Everyone who knows Marx at all knows that he rejected the notion of a
linear development, a regular, fully predictable progress. What he did believe is that in
history as in nature there are processes that cumulatively lead in the same direction.
For instance, the tendency in capitalism toward growth of the productive forces and a
falling rate of profit. At the same time there are immense contradictions motivating all
historical movement, such as between the accumulation of wealth on the side of capital
and accumulation of poverty on the side of labor. This tendential impoverishment,
derided in the '50's and '60's, today can be seen by all, at the national and planetary
level, in a multiplicity of forms. The third point, most decisive yet most misunderstood
is that the non-linear development of these broad contradictions tends to produce the
negative and positive presuppositions of their own supersession. Thus, in following its
own blind logic, private capital inexorably engenders the ravages which bring into
being the individuals and the productivity that can create a system that gives back "to
each according to his needs".
Can Levi-Strauss and the others refute this argument? There is no sign of this. As
Marx wrote in the Preface to the Contribution, a statement that none of these critics
has the courage to confront, "humanity takes up only those problems it is able to
resolve". The ways they go about disqualifying Marx show that historical rationality as
Marx really conceived it is something these critics don't want to deal with.
In fact, after the definitive failure of Marxism was so widely proclaimed in the '70's,
absolutely all of Marx's proposed laws of development of capitalism has unfolded
before us and is accelerating. The forced revolutionizing of the ways of production and
life, globalization of the market, accumulation of wealth on one side and social distress
on the other, the ravageous efforts by capital to counter the falling rate of profit, the
inversion of the relation between persons and things, ends and means, even to the

point of endangering humanity's future. In the face of this, how can we continue to say
history is a play of appearances, with no continuity, no meaning we can identify and
thus that there is no reasonable enterprise for us to undertake? This looks to me not
only like an intellectual aberration but a civic defection. Unconsciously bearing a
rationality through its singular twists and turns, history is not even this pure "process
without subject or end", as in Althusser's reduction: not without grave limitations and
regressions up to now, somehow there has come to be a subject and finality.
Grafted onto the great historical tendencies, the great axiological visions have never
ceased to give birth to great political and human causes, whose mobilizing virtues,
transcending the borders of generations as well as nations, enabling us to construct
this partially civilized world of ours. The struggle for the French Republic, the long
march for de-colonization, the irrepressible emergence of an autonomous human
individuality, given impetus today by the struggle for true equality of women. How can
anyone dare to say, in light of the fruits of these struggles and many others, that they
are nothing but fictitious Grand Narratives, with no existence but in our imagination,
that 'the Republic', 'sovereignty', or 'equality' don't exist?

A new historic window

All this brings us to one ultimate question: does the demise of the Soviet Union, and
the abortion of a century and a half of revolutionary history forbid us from situating
ourselves in the continuity of such a history? This raises the question of whether there
can be both an essential continuity of the contradictions of capitalism and a
discontinuity of their supersession? This is the moment to be a dialectician. Can we
say, as I have several times that a non-resolved contradiction is not suspended, but to
the contrary, continues to work more deeply? Certainly yes, but only insofar as the
coming-to-be of the resolution has suffered a radical setback, when it inevitably
changes phase. History, as we know, doesn't serve the same dish twice.
Transition of historic phase of non-surmounted contradictions - an important new
notion in the living conceptualization of historical materialism. A century and a half
ago a revolutionary prospect was formulated as a socialist revolution to be
accomplished by a proletariat and led by an avant-garde party which would conquor
state power and socialize the means of production. The irretrievable failure of the
cause thus defined has already brought us into another epoch. All the essential realities
that made this enterprise plausible are being transformed: the ways of producing, class
structures, political logics, social realities, personal motivations, spirit of the times,
state of the world. Thus an historic window has been closed. By this I mean a

temporary framework that made one type of transformative strategy possible and
others impossible. While the term 'conjuncture' refers to the singularity of a moment,
historic window can refer to a whole period. The truth is, the previous window was
already closing in May of 1968, revealing the progressive obsolescence of traditional
communism, not to mention Brezhnevism.
Today this historic window, identified with the Manifesto, is irremediably closed.
The 'working class' is no longer the great figure identified with the potential forces of
social transformation. Its vision of socialism is not sufficient, of revolution not
adequate, and of the party not appropriate. The cause remains but in totally different
concrete determinations. This is the dividing line between an archaic communism,
refusing to acknowledge this closure, cut off from the future, and a communism that
takes on the task of exploring theoretically and practically the new historic window,
still so little understood. This means understanding the conflict between capital and
anti-capital today and inventing a new, authentically communist culture, politics and
organizational forms that will allow us to take part in this struggle.
No, Marx did not over-rationalize history. He tried to dialecticize it in a materialist
way. He did underestimate the time-frame for completion of the processes he
discerned. He saw the transition from the era of pre-history as a short, homogeneous
epoch, rather than a very long history of changing historic windows. It is this changing
that we will endeavor to clarify.
The future indeed has a name. Despite its contingencies, turbulence, discontinuities
and false appearances, history, in its stubborn objectivity harbors enough logic to offer
a combative subjectivity a reasonable chance to carry out a great cause. Now isn't it
ever more necessary, objectively as well as subjectively, to put an end to a class society,
always inhuman, but today dramatically unleashing a proliferating and irreversible
dehumanization of the human species?
Finally, one might ask, if we can say the future is a classless society, why use the
name 'communism', particularly if the 'communist question' is far from foreclosed?
Two objections have been raised to use of the word communism as the theoretical and
political designation of the movement for universal emancipation - its semantic
content and its historic resonance. Regarding the first, while the term implies
solidarity and collectivity, it itself doesn't signify Marx's conception of the end of
history - the "complete and free development of all individuals". But the decisive
novelty of the historic window taking shape today does not nullify the continuity with
the project Marx envisioned of finally emerging from the era of pre-history

characterized by class society. The term 'communism' has come to signify the nonnegotiable radicality of the social transformation to be undertaken. Perhaps in the
future there will be another word, but for today, this is the word with these

Chapter II. What communism after

The use of the Marxist term 'communism' serves to suggest a deeply thought-out way
to trace the broad outlines of the perspective of a social transformation appropriate for
our times. To develop its concrete content, however, is a completely different job,
requiring not only an intimate knowledge of many areas, but the capacity to reactualize
the approach at each conjuncture. This is not a project for one or even several people,
nor for a political force that seeks to 'direct the masses' by formulating in advance, and
from above, an agenda of changes to be made. The true conceivers of this social
transformation will be the actors themselves. But what is gained in pertinence through
this democratization can be lost in the overall coherence of thinking, and therefore in
political effectiveness. The coherence of the whole is completely different from the
empirical sum of the particular contents that it articulates. It is the organic relation
that unifies them, the essential logic running through them. It is theoretical. It is this
theorization that is so clearly lacking today. This is why a re-worked concept of
communism is so important, to serve as a unifying thread in the quest for this new
coherence, enabling us to make sense of a radically revolutionary enterprise. Our aim
in the present chapter, both very limited and ambitious, is to begin anew from Marx's
heritage, and through its confrontation with the organic contradictions of our world as
well as with the historic window of our epoch, to sketch the transformed reality of the
communist vision in its general characteristics. Limited, in that these are personal
reflections with many arguable points; ambitious, in that the goal is no less than to see
how to succeed where the revolutionary movement of the 20th century failed.
Marx's procedure was to undertake a deep analysis of the contradictions of the real,
to identify the objective presuppositions for their supersession, and, following from
this, to determine a plausible revolutionary goal. Thus, the communist question for
him above all is a question of fact - how does the movement of capital pave the way for
its own negation? This approach contrasts with all utopianism, not in the sense of
great hopes, but of grand illusions. To lay out the ensemble of major contradictions
that Marx revealed in his time is far from simple, due to an essential characteristic of
his work. Departing from the global conception of communism found in the Manifesto,

which speaks not only of capital and labor, but of the individual, the family, state,
nation, law and morality, Marx undertook a colossal enterprise of economic critique in
a much more limited area. And of the plan of work he outlined for this subject in 18579, Capital dealt with only a part - leaving out, with the State, the global market and its
crises, which would have completed the long march from the most simple abstraction
of commodity production to the concrete complexities of the capitalist economy. These
reductions and omissions have led to terrible misunderstandings. The dominant
reading of Capital, from the workers' movements of the 19th century to Althusser, has
been essentially limited to Book I, with enormous theoretical and political
consequences. The question is still open, therefore, of the extent to which Marxist
materialism has suffered from an intrinsic underestimation of the superstructural in
relation to the base, and more generally, of the symbolic in relation to the thing. As we
critically project the concept of communism onto the realities of the contemporary
world, we must always bear in mind everything that such a concept may be leaving out,
especially with regard to an historical window that no contradiction will be too many
to open wide.

The movement of capital and sources of communism

That noted, let us begin with the most determinant contradictions that Marx traced
in analyzing the movement of capital. The elaboration follows considerations on two
overall processes: the process of production (book I of Capital), and the process of
development of the capitalist economy as a whole (book III of Capital). The central
contradiction of the process of production is formulated as the "general law of
capitalist accumulation": where capital dominates, there is an accumulation of wealth
at one social pole and the inexorable accumulation of material and moral distress at
the other, to the point of complete impoverishment, enslavement and human
degradation (book I 724-5). This formulation of the contradiction corresponds to the
intent of book I to reveal the secret of capitalist exploitation, i.e. the extortion of
surplus value in which, despite its appearance, the wage is not equal to the price of
labor furnished, but, quite differently, to the market purchase price of the labor power
invested. Labor power, alone among commodities, produces more value than is
represented in its cost. This exploitation is the source of many other contradictions
leading periodically to crises, notably between the incessant growth of the production
of goods, and the chronic shortage of purchasing power for the working class.
Most fundamental in this process is that capitalism, based on the private form of
ownership of the means of production, on which all extortion of surplus value is based,
imparts to the product a more and more social character. This is a pre-condition for all

development of productivity, but at the same time it renders this private form obsolete.
Thus, it is the development of capital itself that unwittingly creates the conditions for
the socialization of these means, which in turn can put an end to class exploitation.
The anarchy of the market is replaced with a social mastery consisting of rational plans
for human needs. Here we find the roots of the revolutionary culture oriented toward
socialism, in the classic sense of the term. Many have seen this notion of
transformation as the quintessence of Marxism, to which nothing essential can be
added or subtracted.
But if we study Capital up to book III, we discover a far broader panorama opening
up revolutionary horizons that have yet to be developed. The fundamental
contradiction the analysis now concerns is the tendential fall of the rate of profit, i.e.
the relationship between profit gained and capital advanced which constitutes the true
'motive force' of capitalist production (book III p. 271 ES 1957). This tendency has to
do with the most essential logics of capital: as it unendingly accumulates past labor
which is now objectified as fixed capital in the form of the means of production, i.e.
machinery, technology, etc., it increasingly valorizes this 'dead labor', in relation to
'living labor', the productive work of living people in the present. The profit yield from
living labor steadily decreases relative to the yield from dead labor. According to Marx,
"from all points of view, this is the most important law of modern political economy
and the most essential for the comprehension of the most complex relations
(Grundrisse book II p. 236)."
In this law, we are able to see capitalism's deeply historical and essentially transitory
function: to assure the unlimited advance of productivity in a form where in which
dead crush the living, which contradictorily imposes on this advance the most severe
and absurd limits. At the same time its violent efforts to counteract this falling rate of
profit in every possible way become clear: above all through an insatiable superexploitation of workers, but also by the massive devalorization of capitals, resulting in
tremendous waste; an aggressive international expansion creating a world market; the
technological appropriation of the formidable powers of science, which raises
productivity to unprecedented heights while unleashing contradictions themselves
Marx's approach to the two processes we have been considering - the process of
production and the development of the capitalist economy as a whole - can be summed
up as follows: the general law of capitalist accumulation enables us to grasp the
recurrent functioning of the system while the law of the tendential fall of the rate of

profit allows us to understand the development of its strategies and ultimately of its
present structural crisis.
Through these processes, new pre-conditions for capitalism's supersession
accumulate, in particular those of the possible and necessary transition to a mode of
the advancement of productivity based, contrary to the preceding, on economies of
fixed capital made possible by the incorporation of science into the productive
apparatus, which in turn allow the financing of the most ambitious development of
capacities in all individuals. This inversion of the previous historic tendency opens the
way to unparalleled economic efficiency and human development. This brings us to a
major conclusion: when we consider the form of ownership of the means of production
we touch on the essential only to the extent that it can create a situation far more
favorable to the thorough transformation of the content of management of financial
and economic activities. Here is the root of the problem: in the absence of this, nothing
of importance can change, as we have seen in the French experience of the
nationalizations of 1981.
The supersession of capitalism, in other words, requires far more than socialism as it
has been ordinarily understood - that is, where the socialization of the means of
production is considered to be the fundamental act which in itself puts an end to
human exploitation. This supersession requires a communist transformation that
revolutionizes many other essential relations and historic tendencies of class society,
not only in their form but in their content, and which we can summarize as this
cardinal reversal: human development finally comes to predominate over the
production of goods.
But does this formulation mean we are allowing our rigorous economic analysis to
regress into a vague philosophical humanism? This point is even more decisive than
we might at first believe. When we read Capital carefully, we cannot help but see the
deliberate persistence of 'philosophical' formulations by means of which Marx situates
the very essence of capitalism in its irrepressible propensity to reverse the most
universal of relations: those of person to thing and of means to ends. Capitalism, he
writes many times, is that social form which personifies things and thingifies (reifies)
persons, which promotes means to ends and demotes ends to means. (Author lists
numerous pages in Grundrisse and Capital).
Synonymous with endless accumulation, in the dual sense of the word, capitalism
makes the frenzy of private enrichment, paid for by the immense sacrifice of
individuals, the most absurd 'goal in itself'. Here, in the final analysis, and by

definition what should be its triumph, is the deep anthropological reason that denies
historical permanence to this mode of social organization, and even to humanity itself
if it cannot free itself from it. Isn't the immense question of ends, far too little familiar
to traditional communist culture, presently becoming more and more crucial? We will
come back to this.

Thinking in terms of alienation

This philosophical approach, in the least speculative sense of the word, finds its
exhaustive expression in Marx in the vocabulary of alienation. This term, far more
diversified in German than in French (or English) has at its center the concept of
Entfremdung, which means, the process of becoming-foreign. But the minute this
word is uttered it is met with the most ferocious objections: it is accused of being a
typical term that "still believes in philosophy", that reverts to the Feuerbachian
illusions of the young Marx and that conjures away all class analysis. Althusser, in For
Marx, made the claim that in Capital, "alienation disappears". In fact, this is one of his
most patent errors, which he had to admit later (cf. Letter to John Lewis), but he failed
to draw the right conclusions. In fact, the idea and vocabulary of alienation/dealienation runs throughout the mature works of Marx and Engels, from the Manifesto
to the Grundrisse and to Anti-Dhring. In Capital, the term is at the very heart of the
expositions of the law of capitalist accumulation and of the tendential fall of the rate of
profit. The French (and English) reader rarely sees this, however, because the
translators, like everyone else, have been a little blind to the fact that in Marx there is
not one but two successive and very different concepts of alienation. In his early works
it is a speculative concept: it is what people are in a given social context. When this
condition is not concretely understood as produced in history, it is metamorphosed, as
in Feuerbach, into an abstract nature, or 'essence' of 'man', which is understood to be
inherent in individuals. In this conception, we don't know why people are dispossessed
in religious, political or economic alienation or how they can reappropriate
This immature concept of alienation disappears forever in Marx and Engels in 18456. The 'human essence' they now understand, is the evolving 'ensemble of societal
relations' (note re: translation of Gesellschaftliche = societal not social). It has been
transmuted into another concept, fundamentally re-thought, and now in terms
consistent with historical materialism. Alienation is now the ensemble of processes by
which the societal powers of people, their collective capacities to produce, exchange,
organize, know, are detached from them to become foreign, even monstrously
autonomous, forces which subjugate and crush them. Examples are capital and the law

of the market, the state and the logic of power, the international arena and the
"inevitability of war", dominant ideas and illusory appearances...
But why are these powers alienated? This has to do not with some natural fate but
with an historic situation. Specifically human activities are based in the ceaselessly rebeginning and expanding cycle of their social objectivation in productions of
cumulative complexity, from the first tools and signs to the technologies and
theorizations of today, and of their constant subjective appropriation by individuals. In
this process, the individuals themselves are developing. As history progresses, the
elements of the cycle become more complex. But this complexification is paralleled by
a triple process of social division: the division of labor, which, as Engels said, "also
divides people", fragmenting their capacity for reappropriation; the divisions of class,
which place the majority of material and cultural riches outside the reach of the great
majority of individuals; and at the present stage of history, what we could call the
division of phase. In this division, we see that human capacities that have been
objectified in gigantic social powers begin to enter an era in which they are no longer
governable in the existing social framework which prevents the development of
universal cooperation and integral individuality.
Thus, we are living the paroxysm of alienation, this antagonistic form that inevitably
imprints the objectivation of human powers with the epoch of fragmented humanity.
Alienation, therefore, is not a social science concept limited to a specific sector, such as
exploitation; it is a global category of historic anthropology, less explicative than
interpretive, but more generally, critical and prospective, philosophical without any
vagueness, and rigorously indispensable to conceive the general logic of humanity's
trajectory. The concept of alienation encompasses, without dissolving, the concept of
economic exploitation, as well as biographical fragmentation, social reification,
political subjection, and ideological illusion. While the concept of exploitation enables
us to conceive of socialism; alienation constitutes the category par excellence of
communism, for which it even supplies a basic definition: communism is both the
process and result of supersession of all the great historic alienations through which
the human species has contradictorily developed until now.
What do we gain practically from these very theoretical considerations for the
challenges that face us today? It is here that we must take stock of the effects of the
historic reduction of communist culture to its socialist version, whose assigned task
can be summed up as putting an end to the exploitation of workers. We can do this by
pursuing the reverse - by studying the enrichment that the re-production of Marx's full
original conception can provide in today's conditions. The traditional culture of

socialism focuses on the production of material goods, its means and their forms of
ownership, its actors and thus the working class. These are the basic terms of more
than a century of revolutionary history. To go from here to a communist culture of
general de-alienation doesn't imply at all losing sight of this - quite the opposite: the
exploitation of labor is itself a 'great historic alienation' because, as Marx repeatedly
emphasized, it is based on the separation of the producers from their means of
production. This remains a major concern for all adversaries of capital.
Thinking in terms of de-alienation calls for an enormous expansion of the area of
contradictions brought within the scope of the communist perspective. Even in
Capital, with all its limitations from the point of view presented here, we find briefly
but clearly indicated the ravageous tendencies of capitalism such as the exhaustion of
nature or the falsification of products, the growing needs, such as for a radical change
of content in the education of the younger generation or for a relation between the
sexes that opens the way to a family of a new type, for the demystification of
consciousness, freeing its universe from the commodity and its fetishism: these are all
possible bases for seizing the transformative initiatives too often left to others, or even
treated as diversions. Furthermore, alienation, understood unambiguously as a sociohistorical process, is at the same time the most profound biographical logic, since all
forms of society imply forms of individuality. This double category thus enables us to
think social antagonism and personal suffering together, to join in practice the
motivations for transformation of the world and for recovery of the self. This would
render to politics its full anthropological and ethical dimension, a decisive expansion.
Ultimately involving the whole person, the culture of dealienation concerns everyone.
This is why increasingly, the forces likely to contribute to the supersession of
capitalism can be found well beyond the ranks of workers, in all social sectors.

Towards a strategy of de-alienation

To this expansion, which has already changed many things, we add a transmutation
which changes still more. If capitalism ultimately amounts only to the exploitation of
man by man, its historic role is only negative, and its contribution lies only in its
abolition. This understanding has defined an entire way of fighting it. When we shift to
the point of view of alienation a completely different perspective is created. Not that
the dispossession of workers becomes less unacceptable, but alienation is not only the
ruthless dispossession of individuals, it is also an unprecedented development of
human capacities, although in a form that affects them to their core. This is what Marx
never hesitated to call the "historic mission" of capitalism, and endeavored to
understand its tremendous vitality. Capitalism must not be seen solely as destructive.

Alienation is to be found in everything it produces, for instance in the cataclysmic

contour it imposes on globalization, while it plays a positive role in its constant
propensity to destroy all timeworn barriers.
Thinking in terms of alienation ultimately re-establishes a dialectical vision of
things, as opposed to a discourse of pure denunciation that doesn't offer a true
alternative and as a result finds only a small audience. This leads to the rejection of the
idea, no doubt correct for Russia when Lenin formulated it in 1918, but absurdly
codified as a general law by Stalin, that 'socialism' doesn't find 'ready-made relations'
in bourgeois society except perhaps those of 'state capitalism': a terrible idea for a new
society which is essentially seen as in some way imposed from outside on a recalcitrant
reality. This is the very opposite of a Marxist conception in which the development of
capital itself, and the reactions to it produce many presuppositions of communism
from within . This brings into play a crucial change in communist thought and
practice: from a culture of negativism and exteriority, which inevitably marginalizes a
political force, to another where, whatever its influence at a given moment, the future
is on its side.
This requires a clarification of vocabulary. When we read Marx in the available
French (or English) translations, we often encounter the term abolition, as in the
Manifesto which often evokes the image of an "abolition of existing social relations".
This idea has for a long time been closely identified with communist discourse: we
must abolish the ownership of the means of production, abolish capitalism, etc. But
most of the time this term is translated from the famous German term Aufhebung,
which, in popular usage means primarily abolition, suppression, etc., but in the
theoretical language of Hegel - who explained its etymology and usage, and of Marx
following him, expressly had a much more dialectical meaning: suppression,
preservation and elevation, that is, the transition to a higher form, which the
contemporary translations of Hegel render by the neologism 'sublation' ('sursomption'
in French; just as the French author has replaced this neologism with the more
common French term 'depassement', I have replaced the English neologism with the
term 'supersession' - cs). The classical and universal translation of Marx, in which
Aufhebung is unilaterally rendered as abolition therefore constitutes a patent
deformation of his thought, with incalculable consequences. when Marx speaks of an
Aufhebung leading to a higher form, we should translate this as supersession . In fact,
when he is speaking of an abolition pure and simple he most often uses different
terms, such as Abschaffung or Beseitigung.

In the absence of adequate explanations of these matters, this terminological shift

from the language of abolition to that of supersession may appear to represent a
reformist retreat. (note - this has been the case in France in responses to new
translations of Marxist works and to texts put out by the Communiste Refondateur
group, both of which Sve has been deeply involved in.) Quite to the contrary, this shift
represents re-establishing our understanding of what Marx had in mind: that since
capitalism is an antagonistic and transitory form of the development of human forces,
the revolutionary task is inseparably to suppress this form in order to maintain and
promote the already acquired contents in new forms, and thereby to supersede
capitalism in the full sense of the term. Can we, for example, abolish fixed capital, all
the accumulated past labor which is an essential part of national wealth? The
mistaken, non-Marxist idea of abolition, so central to the 'communist identity' up to
now, has paid the terrible price of a stunted political practice in which 'theory' has had
interest for only a handful of intellectuals. And this when what Gramsci said in his
time is becoming more true than ever: "everyone is a philosopher".
A greatly expanded area, a dialectized content - we still haven't exhausted the most
essential contributions of the perspective of de-alienation until we add: a new type of
strategic approach. The idea of changing the mode of ownership of the means of
production all at once envisions a broad politico-juridical act that presupposes the
conquest of state power over the bourgeoisie in a classical perspective of recourse to
violence. This is a conception of great revolutionary allure whose result has most often
been, in a country such as ours, to await the hour that never comes, that is, a political
practice too little revolutionary, often limited to defensive struggles, verbal
denunciations, trade union actions, etc. This whole ensemble is overturned by a
perspective of reappropriation. Does that mean that the vision of revolution is outdated? Not at all: to supersede capitalism continues to be, in the strongest sense of the
word, a revolution, that is, a radical reversal of the existing order. But the idea of
revolution is not necessarily linked to that of a violent conquest of state power, nor
with an abrupt social transformation enacted from above. This is only one historic
form of revolution, among others.
The effective reappropriation of their social powers by the masses of individuals,
revolutionary indeed, doubly rejects this form: it cannot be instantaneous, constituting
rather a long process requiring a favorable balance of forces; it has no need to await a
hypothetical propritious moment, aspiring instead to take on truly serious affairs
without delay. What emerges here is a truly new concept of revolution: revolutionary
without revolution - a revolutionary evolution, or perhaps an evolutionary revolution.

To begin with the ends

We now begin to see the renewed analytical capacity offered by the transition from a
culture of socialization of means of production to another, far broader and deeper, of
reappropriation of all human forces, of which I have offered only a few glimpses.
Furthermore, the idea of alienation encompasses not only this cleavage of human
forces from living humans, but the loss of meaning as well. An immense chapter of our
contemporary drama falls under this formula. In a non-alienated cycle of
objectivation, socially reified human powers reclaim subjective meaning in their
constant personal reappropriation: thus come to be able to experience the reason for
our tools, words and institutions. But the mercilessly alienating split of human
possessions, powers and knowledge from their producers cuts off the route to
meaning, in two ways. Means without ends on the one hand, because the enormous
growth of human powers tends to metamorphose into a blind and too often crushing
'natural force'; ends without means on the other, as individuals are condemned to
bounce absurdly between chimera and impotence. We are living the most historical of
crises of meaning. a sure sign that in one way or another our social prehistory cannot
last much longer. The choice is a naissant communism or a final dehumanization.
Perhaps the strongest accusation we can bring against capitalism is its total
incapacity to explain why we should suffer the thousand deaths it inflicts upon us.
Humanity is materially and morally destroying itself literally for nothing, for a frenetic
accumulation of abstract wealth, stripped of all anthropological sense. This is why the
most central question we can pose today has to do with the ends of our human
activities. Failure to pose these questions was no doubt one of the major insufficiencies
of the culture of socialism in its focus on the means of production: behind the 'how' it
forgot the 'why'.
To begin with the ends: this is the proper starting point for a communism of our
times. Why, that is to say, for what, do we work, go to school, vote, etc.? What is the
human purpose? No social activities should escape this question. Any de-alienation of
politics must begin by truly hearing these questions of meaning, and by working with
the questioners to come up with meaningful answers. Capital, for its part, is no longer
even making a pretense, however cynical, of having any human purpose: it is money
for the sake of money and its power, whose ultimate end can only be itself. This
absence of human ends is its true condemnation. But, is it possible to find, at a
completely different ethical level, a for what that is valid in itself?

Ecological thinking pays considerable attention to this question of ends, which

confirms shared heredity between it and communism. Its most notorious philosopher,
Hans Jonas, formulates in Le Principe Responsabilit (1990) - a book he intended as a
response to the Principe Esprance by the Marxist Ernst Bloch - this major imperative
which enjoins us not to compromise by our actions "the permanence of an
authentically human life on earth." But what is an authentically human life? To follow
Jonas, the answer is behind us, provided ultimately by living nature of which we are
members, and probably of a transcendent, therefore sacred essence, because humanity
itself cannot be the autonomous source of its goals, and still less can it propose the task
of human progress. In opposition to this project, which he terms totalitarian, he
proposes the obligation to transmit the unchanging heritage that ultimately constitutes
us. Men and women as they are in nature, as it is, is ultimately the end in itself of this
deliberately conservative thinking. Of course, there are many Greens on the left and it
would be worthwhile to open deep discussions with them on the question of the
human ends of an emancipatory political project for our times.
Communist thought, no less preoccupied with similar questions, in contrast, is
oriented toward the development of human forces in their constant appropriation by
all individuals. But for what, in sum, do we find in this the ultimate value? Marx
answers as follows: engendered at first by nature, developed humanity is then selfproducing through the course of its own history, and it is "historical development"
itself that makes an "end in itself... of this development of all human forces as such"
(Grundrisse vol. 1 p. 424). Here also the last for what turns into an end in itself, but of
a very different sort. It is not behind us, arrested in advance by nature, but open ahead
of us in history as a veritable practical finality which consists of taking on the immense
responsibility of extending the biological and then social hominization of yesterday
and today into a more and more civilized future humanization, a process with clearly
internalizable meaning for all of humanity.
An authentically Marxist concept of communism, renewed by a reflection on its
history in the East as well as the West, still proves to be the most productive for
reconceiving in a plausible way the supersession of capitalism in the conditions of our
time and tracing the lasting ways of development of a more humanized humanity.
There is no other that can claim a similar relevance. The question is how to bring it
more into phase with the social changes represented by the historic window discussed
earlier. We can begin by examining the lesser of these changes and progress toward the
more radical. This poses a problem in principle. Since this book is intended as a
philosophical contribution to the theory of a politics, with the communist idea as the
leading thread, and is not the work of a specialist in the various social sciences, I will

limit myself to discussion of the most obvious changes, the sources of the necessary
recasting of our concept of communism, with an acknowledgment in advance of the
risks of arguable interpretations and diagnostic errors.

Humanization in the service of finance

By examining these most striking changes in social reality, we can consider the
extraordinary metamorphosis underway in what the Marxist tradition calls the
productive forces, or more generally, in the tremendous ensemble of effects that come
to constitute all the objective means of human activities. We have to replace a
communism of the industrial age, characterized by the discipline of the factory worker
and the creation of mass society, which imprinted the spirit of Marx's time, with a
communism of the information age, appropriate for a new century, characterized by
educated initiatives in networks and an interdependent individuation. But this is more
than a matter of technological changes; at the heart of the question are changes of an
anthropological order. In this regard the new fundamental fact is without any doubt
the still very uneven, but ever more massive, spread of private capital, in particular in
its financial form, to the immense sphere of market and non-market services, which
have become, in the most developed countries, the greater part of economic activity,
especially where the most vital human capacities are involved: health, education,
research, information, sports, leisure time, the development of culture and
communication, etc. These activities are often differentiated from so-called productive
or material activities, as though they have no material effect. This is a completely
ideological view of the issue, which reduces materiality to things. The distinction we
would suggest is as follows: service activities are those in which the useful effect is not
concretized, at least essentially, in things, but that directly affect the human being.
These are par excellence activities of anthropological significance. And their more or
less advanced development under the rule of capital, has produced enormous changes,
calling for a major rethinking of the Marxist concept of communism.
Without doubt the most immediate of these effects consists simply of creating new
categories of exploited workers, a process that is not new, except that it extends the
concept of exploitation to these categories, which requires some theoretical
clarification. The development of these services under the rule of capital has
characteristically disruptive consequences for the contents of activity and their ends.
To submit them to its law of profitability, capital must recast them more or less
entirely, altering their very meaning. The first imperative here is commodification,
since the first necessity for the extraction of profit is the pre-requisite objectivation of
value in a product. But nothing is more contrary to the essence of service activities

whose direct recipient is the human being. Capitalism thus kills their very reason to be.
We see this in highly financed sports, where everything has a price and is for sale, or in
scientific information, where new ideas are metamorphosed into salable products.
Knowledge ceases to be a public good. (note - health care, education, transportation,
the whole ideology of doing away with 'big government', i.e. the public sphere - to be
replaced by private, profit-making interests)
The second imperative is confiscation. The commodification of services forces their
submission to the criterion of capitalist efficiency. But how can we bend them in the
interest of maximal short term profitability in an atmosphere of open discussions? The
capitalist seizure of services signifies the death of all true democracy in matters of
choice, and above all with implications in health, information, culture .... where
nothing less than our humanity is decided. Isn't this the seed of what could be a 21st
century totalitarianism?
The worst is that in this commodification and confiscation we see the implacable
inversion of relations between ends and means. Not that it was ever otherwise with
capital. As Marx repeatedly emphasized, capital pursues nothing but its own
valorization. Its goal is not to satisfy needs but to make profits. Thus its constant
tendency to sacrifice the quality of the product to the rate of profit. But what is new is
that the 'product' whose quality is turned into a simple means in the pursuit of profit is
nothing other than the human ends of service activity. A logic of dehumanization is
thus begun whose effects continue to get more monstrous until this inversion can be
reversed. Thus, in the 'biomedical revolution' underway, in many ways so promising,
increasingly it is not finance that is the means for research, but research that has
become a means for finance. The results are visible everywhere, and above all in the
U.S. where, for example, the catalog sale of frozen embryos has developed, as well as
genetic testing by companies and its intrusion into personal life, not to mention the
eventual development of cloning, all while there is scarcely any money for struggles
such as against AIDS in Africa.
Service capitalism has thus induced in the most highly human activities a
hemorrhaging of meaning that has already enfeebled many aspects of cultured life, in
the truest sense of the term 'culture'. Television, for example, with its extraordinary
possibilities, has become a means for sale of advertising to an audience, whose screen
exalts everything from banks to toilet paper. A perfect image of a total perversion:
meaning dies in the interest of the means of non-sense. Only through immense efforts
have some limits been placed on this development which threatens all services today,

including schools, which emphasizes all the more the urgency of greatly expanded
The civilized future of the world put on automatic pilot by the profitability of
finance: no doubt this is a new chapter in the book of capital, but how does this call for
a reconfigured concept of communism? Unlike all forms of exploitation, the alienation
involved here doesn't constitute its victims into a class, a radical departure from the
traditional Marxist framework. Is this a process in some way outside of class? Not at
all, in a sense: the spread of capital to these services is the clearest of the class-based
seizures, and the struggle against it is unequivocally an anti-capitalist struggle. But
while there is surely a class at one pole of the contradiction, the disconcerting fact is
that there is no class at the other. The problem of alienation goes beyond the interests
of a determinate social category; it is the human finality of everyone's activities. This
dissymmetry has profound implications: it calls for engaging in a class struggle not
only in the name of a class but for people's humanity itself. This is not at all a slide into
a simplistic humanism, but rather the most rigorous confrontation with the
dehumanization produced by capital. This is how Marx saw a new stage of history
prefigured in the development of the working class which produces everything while
owning nothing. The working class ultimately represents, for Marx, the 'dissolution of
all classes', that is, the negative prefiguration of a future de-alienated relation between
people and their social wealth.
We see outlined here, some new possibilities for the joining forces of partners who
otherwise have extreme differences. While broad coalitions have come together, for
example, in the struggle for peace, in this case the direct object for the first time would
be the supersession of capitalism. While this assemblage of persons and forces will no
doubt reach universality, it will at least be a broad plurality. Alienation impacts
everyone, but each as an individual in his or her personal singularity and
unpredictable reaction. Thus we see here and there early signs of overcoming the
traditional schisms between left and right, for example in matters of health, education,
ecology or bioethics, as people find agreement on values such as respect for the
integrity of the person. This offers truly unprecedented chances to create relations of a
majoritarian, indeed irresistible force that could bring about changes involving
essential de-alienations.
Civilized humanity against the dehumanizing economy of profit: in this ethicopolitical way of posing the question, both in terms of class and not in terms of class,
don't we already see on the horizon the goal of our struggles to emerge from our prehistory, in a transparent opening toward a future classless society?

Some misunderstandings
These considerations can be easily misunderstood as we shall see. For instance, the
preceding in no way declares that class struggles in the traditional sense of the term
are obsolete. Exploitation persists, and is more ferocious than ever; the struggle for its
class victims remains entirely on the political agenda. But it would be blind not to see
the equally serious enormous new extension of forms of alienation, in which major
social activities are deprived of their meaning, so that all participants, regardless of
class differences, find themselves qualitatively attacked in their very life. Therefore, a
fundamental trait of the new historic window for the supersession of the current state
of affairs is that the class struggle against capital can become a general struggle for a
more civilized humanity in all areas.
(note 5 pages of discussion of controversies, differences and misunderstandings
within PCF and outside, on some of these points. Sve's main point is that the
supersession of communism requires the communist vision and theory of dealienation right now - thinking only in economic terms, with the goal of socialization of
the means of production, or establishment of a 'socialist market' is not enough.
However, this does not at all mean underestimating or abandoning traditional
struggles against exploitation or a class understanding. Also, While broader issues of
racism, sexism, meaning, etc. can't be subsumed under 'seizure of the means of
production', it is equally wrong to think we can treat them in themselves, outside a
larger historical understanding of the dynamics of exploitation and alienation.)

Market socialism of postcommodity communism?

(2 1/2 more pages re J. Bidet - cut 113-115 middle)
(the issue of the perspective of communism/alienation comes into play in
discussions of the market and the possibility of market socialism - which we can see
raises these broader issues - i.e. it is wrong to think of these issues in a narrow or
disconnected way)
How can we not see that the relation between the market and the non-commoditized
is not a cohabitation but a dialectic of opposites that clearly a contradiction that is
evolving? In capitalism as it currently is, isn't the frenzy of the market openly
antagonistic to the vitality that manifests its opposite, from public service, however
inadequate, to the development of cooperative exchanges on the internet?
Furthermore, isn't it a powerful tendency of capital today to undermine,

contradictorily, the bases of the commodity order, in pushing intensely to the highest
level this rebellion from the market which so called non-productive labor represents,
this non-commodity that is information in itself, these activities in themselves noncommodities that assure the multiform development of people - and such a promotion
having not a little to do with its structural crisis? We can say that ultimately it strives
to bring everything into the market-form. But, it can be objected, don't the
extraordinary ravages that result make the alienation inherent in this form an
unsurpassable reality? Marx endeavored to show that the market is the great
universalizer, but at the price of the all-powerful fetishization of the commodity and
money, of the generalized inversion of relations between person and thing, end and
means; a very effective economic regulator, but at the price of a drastic reduction of
evaluative criteria, of flying blind to the cost of its social effects on long term human
finalities. In these conditions, doesn't the concept of 'market socialism' point us in a
highly questionable direction?
In considering the question of the market in relation to the supersession of
capitalism, there remains the question of the collapse of socialism without a market,
which was the Soviet-style society. But how can it be shown that this failure was the
logical result of the official suppression of the market, notwithstanding the
proliferation of black markets? Wasn't it more likely that the flagrant overall
inefficiency of this model tended to the extreme primitivism lined with the worst
bureaucratism of economico-financial regulations that was brutally substituted for the
mechanisms of the market? Moreover this was in a context of weak productivity and
generalized alienation of social relations, for example, the incapacity to maintain an
operative system of accountability of total time of social labor, whose importance Marx
emphasized for a post-capitalist economy.
The strategic conclusion to draw is completely different: in place of an installation in
the so disquieting perspective of a 'market socialism', but also at the other pole from an
abrupt 'abolition of the market', completely chimerical in any case, the issue is to
initiate an historic phase of the supersession of capitalism in working, in the
commodity sector of goods and services as well as finance, to increasingly replace the
dominant criteria of segmental private profit with one of total social efficacy. The
ensemble of these structural innovations and politico-social struggles would thus
constitute the most democratically and most internationally possible, a tremendous,
ceaselessly rectifiable historical experimentation in the progressive exit from the
market. While this perspective allows for the lasting presence of a market, it is
essentially distinct from the preceding: isn't to accept the idea of market socialism,
even in part, to risk indefinitely maintaining the non-supercedability of more than one

terrible aspect of the current state of affairs, to stay limited within a periodized view of
the future in which only the immediate 'tasks of socialism' are on the agenda,
marginalizing a communism concerned with problems of 'postmodernity' largely
disconnected from the stakes of the present?
Should we envision a market socialism or a postmarket communism? This is a highly
charged question when we come to the contemporary drama and the possible future of
social labor. Are we living an historical crisis of labor as we are often told? This
formulation is both a good measure and a bad analyzer of the contradictions involved.
Labor is both less at the center and more at the center of life. Less, because it is only a
part of life, which is a larger whole, and more, because it, as ever, provides the power
to make something of life, to be the subject of one's history. Marx had this in mind
when he stated that with the growing objectivation of science in the productive
apparatus, "the time of immediate labor can no longer remain in its abstract
opposition to free time" (Grundrisse book 2, 199-200). Advanced capitalism brings
about a vital need for a higher recomposition of the individual, currently fragmented,
who would then be able to reappropriate the whole of his or her social powers. Isn't it
this inexorable mutation of labor which underlies the crisis of the capitalist work-force,
where the producer of multiple competencies finds him or herself drastically reduced
to the unidimensionality of an abstract market value? This is where the movement of
capital, requiring ever more from the worker while according him less and less, as seen
in mass unemployment, endless uncertainty, denial of rights, itself precipitates the
obsolescence of the wage system integral to it. Is there a more eloquent indicator of the
objective maturation of the need for communism? Despite the multitude of ways
envisioned out of this crisis, one thing emerges as clear: the future of human labor lies
beyond its reduction to a commodity.
What can we conclude from all of this? First of all, that the extraordinary changes in
things and people since Marx's time, far from rendering the idea of communism
obsolete, has made these ideas more contemporary than ever. But the global concept of
communism we have outlined here now calls for a double modification that will make
it more precise. Until the end, Marx believed the overturning of capitalism would
involve an abrupt revolution untertaking, in a short time, major economic and political
transformations, followed by a much slower evolution of the lower phase toward the
higher phase of communist society. Significantly, Marx liked to use the metaphor of a
But today we must envision the supersession of capitalism as an immense ensemble
of gradual, constant qualitative transformations, whose essence is revolutionary

despite the absence of an abrupt or violent character. To those who think that
revolutionary changes must be abrupt or violent, we would offer an image from
modern physics. In what it calls second order phase transitions. At extremely high
pressure, the rigid thresholds between different states of matter disappear. This
suggests a new metaphor: at very high levels of social and political pressure, partial
qualitative changes of the social structure may become inevitable without
revolutionary cataclysm. This is why we consider the new possibilities for anticapitalist
coalitions that go far beyond the traditional class sense of 'tous ensemble' (all for one
and one for all) to be extremely important. We will return to these important
But at the same time, isn't the Marxist distinction between the 'lower' and 'higher'
phases of the new society too much dialectics? Certainly, the perspective that the
supersession of capitalism will require a whole historic phase implies the ongoing
coexistence and conflict of capitalist and postcapitalist elements in the same social
formation, the first more or less limiting the scope of the second. Nevertheless we have
to envision from the start the explicit and concrete ways to carry out truly communist
advances, for example in effective social appropriations, the supersession of
commodity logics, the direct conquest of power, lasting ideological demystification,
etc. From a distant goal, that it was to a large extent even for Marx, communism can
begin to be seen in terms of partial short term objectives. This requires ambitious
innovations in concretely challenging a capitalist order already more deeply fragile
than it appears.

The free development of each

Three other fundamental aspects of the concept of communism must be discussed in
terms of today's realities: the integral development of all individuals, the
disappearance of the state and the necessary globality of communism. The question of
the individual, contrary to what is generally thought, was essential for Marx. He
analyzed capitalism as the most incredible destruction of human lives in the interest of
profit; the Marxist idea of communism opposes this tendency with a conception of a
social form "where the original and free development of individuals is not a hollow
phrase" (German Ideology, 445). And this was indeed not a hollow phrase for Marx:
his work abounds with original and deep insights into what he meant by the historical
transition to an 'integral individual', as he called it in Capital, that is, the recomposed
human being, developed in every sense, and emancipated from all the alienated social

But these insights, often overlooked in the immensity of his economic work, for years
were ignored altogether by the political culture of the communist movement, to the
point that the simple mention of the individual was likely to be taken as suspect. To be
sure, the communist parties of the West, continuing the traditions of bourgeois
humanism, although not without arguments, have internalized the culture of human
rights. But it is a long way from there to a true understanding that we can't change the
world without changing human life. Today it is difficult not to see that a social
relations and individual lives within society are inseparable, so that a social crisis is no
less existential than structural, and a political perspective only becomes plausible to
the extent that it offers internalizable meaning to each individual. In today's growing
aspiration of men and women to be freely and clearly a self, we can see one of the main
indicators of the objective historical maturation of communism. But this obliges us to
pose at least two questions.
First and foremost, according to Marx, while the transition to the integral individual
is required by the universal character taken on by the productive forces of capital itself,
only communist society is capable of accomplishing this. The full development of the
individual is thus a resultant effect much more than an efficient cause, and is thereby
relegated to the future. While this relegation is comprehensible a century and half ago,
is it valid at today's stage of development of human individuality? This question
involves the way we think and apply historical materialism. Tenacious as the opposite
impression has been, this has never implied that the material base of history consists
only of things: in fact, people make up the main part of the pre-conditions basic to
every epoch. Clearly, object realities and objective relations play a fundamental role in
historical movement, and every deep transformation proceeds through their necessary
alteration. We cannot change life while leaving things as they are. But who will change
them if not individuals whose shared knowledge and political organization have been
constituted into effective historical forces?
There is thus a dialectic in which the revolutionizing of fundamental relations is
implemented by the decisive intervention of actors, who, while concerned primarily
with the intolerable objective contradictions of the existing world, add their irreducible
subjective ingredients. Thus, at the level of individuals impatient with the state of
affairs, a passive historical determinism must be replaced with an audacious political
determination. For instance, in traditional communist culture, only 'socialism' could
liberate women. History showed otherwise: the feminist movement didn't wait to
change things, giving lie to the idea that things can't change beyond a certain point
until primordial social relations are reversed. This is a crucial lesson for a new
communism: the integral development of each must begin today. And it begins with

new interventions, with a de-alienating vision, in the ensemble of historico-social

forms of individuality, based in the immense evolving complex of societal structures,
relations and representations of all orders. For instance, the dichotomy between labor
time and free time, the institutionalized sequences of life's stages, the hierarchical
distribution and mobility of roles, the normative images of masculine and feminine, or
of one's own group or nationality and others, all of which, while ultimately dependent
on basic societal relations are more or less relatively autonomous. A communist
practice for a new generation will take place on this vastly expanded terrain of
This brings us to another new question. The development of individuality, for Marx,
was an exalted end in itself of history, and in a sense this is still true. But being today
much bound to the domination of capital, the process has taken, unforseeably a
violently contradictory turn. Synonymous with liberties partially won in the struggle
against old forms of public and private domination, the autonomy of the individual
thus becomes more and more, in a time of neo-liberalism, the complete reduction to
the self to a 'without' - without work, housing, rights, documents.... Aren't we all in a
certain sense, 'without' in this society of unprecedented alienation: without true
mastery of our lives or clear perspective on our history? Thus, in reaction, we see the
frenetic search by many for a painfully unattainable identity, the yearning for
reconnection with supposedly fixed reference points such as biological heritage, or
neighborhoods experienced as 'urban territory', community memberships. These are
in some ways regressive and often aggressive processes in which the result is not the
integral individual, but its opposite, the fundamentalist individual.
At the same time, the methods of capital have penetrated life strategies: the logic of
seeking gain at all costs at the expense of others; the insidiously commodifying logic of
the pragmatist, owner of his self as if it were capital, and motivated to 'sell himself',
which he doesn't hesitate to risk, but in a spirit of performance sometimes taken to the
absurd. With this encroaching commodification of the human, from within as well as
from without, a real development of decivilization is underway, all the more
disquieting by virtue of multiplying dramas with no exit and hatreds with no effect.
Capitalism, while producing its grave-diggers more than ever, as the Manifesto
predicted, thus propagates, ongoingly, the complicity of the profiteer and the
withdrawal of the resigned.
All this obliges us to take great care when we propose to reopen the communist
perspective. Theoretical care because traditional Marxist culture is much less prepared
to understand the individual than society. For those who would make use of Marxism,

isn't it once and for all indispensable to appropriate the concepts of the person and the
order of the person, so decisive for treating the ethical dimension implicated in so
many problems? Isn't it necessary to bring clarity to the significance of the famous
formula, "to each according to his needs", so often interpreted as the consumerist
chimera par excellence - due to the failure to grasp that, as Marx made clear,
(Grundrisse vol. 1, 160-1), it is precisely the abstract form of money that confers on our
needs, in themselves limited, the insatiability characteristic of the frenzy for
enrichment, which sums up all alienation? While human needs are often seen as
unlimited, requiring the mechanism of money for allocating limited resources, in fact,
it is the thirst for profit by multinational finance that is unlimited and that pushes
everything to dangerous extremes.
Isn't this the moment, if ever there was one, to pose the question of ends? Where do
we want the movement for the affirmation of human individuality to take us? Toward
the omnipresence of an arrogant particularization or the deepening of a civilized
personalization. What does this imply concretely? This is an open question because the
humanity of people is not entirely made; it forever remains a beyond to envision, and
no doubt it is exactly of this that it consists.
There is a practical concern as well. The damage inflicted on persons by capital today
is indescribable. Nothing is more urgent than to confront this inexpiable malfeasance.
But 'humanity is the world of humanity'. The human ends of the communist struggle
should therefore lead us to pose, in the broadest and most ambitious way, the
fundamental questions of the content of activities in which the individual is formed
and malformed - those of work, non-work and outside of work, of school and
neighborhood, town or city, of culture in all its personalizing dimensions, of politics,
etc. To paraphrase Ernst Bloch, a communist politics must be more 'individual than
any before it.'

An urgent question: to undertake the disappearance of the state

The issue of the disappearance of the state takes us to the very heart of the
communist question. There is no other area where Marx's thought has been so
disputed. He is accused of not understanding the state, of underestimating politics and
the law, even missing the most essential: power. Also, didn't Lenin lay to rest the
chimerical idea of a stateless society? Impractical, disastrous for progressive causes
such as the guarantee of human rights, isn't it just neo-liberalism that today advocates
a disappearance of the state? Isn't only the state able to hold in abeyance the eternal
will to power? These theses, which could be discussed endlessly, are based on an

obstinate belief in a 'human nature' desirous of domination, as if the historic modes of

being of developed humanity were inscribed in the genes. This view is also the basis for
innumerable supposed invalidations of Marx's ideas, which attest rather to a
tremendous misunderstanding of his political thought.
For Marx, the 'political state', that is, according to a Saint-Simonian distinction, the
state considered not as the 'administration of things' but as the 'government of people',
is a power of multiform domination historically engendered by class antagonism,
separated from and above society and concentrated in an apparatus of constraint,
through violence or persuasion, continually developed by the successive propertied
classes as the overall instrument of their domination, while claiming to incarnate the
'general interest'. Marx confronts this state with the vision of a revolutionary process
articulated in terms of three aspects: the conquest of political power by the working
class, the decisive condition for the transformation of society's economic base;
destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus of constraint, through the transitory
dictatorship of the proletariat, which installs the first true democracy for the people;
simultaneous commencement of the progressive disappearance of the state in all its
dimensions of alienated and alienating power. People, together, begin to become
masters of their own affairs. Retaining from this triple program only its first moment,
as socialist movements have done in many ways, from Stalinism to social-democracy,
reduces the revolutionary change to the perpetual framework of a class statism. But if
we re-establish this vision in its integrity, what can we find still valid for a communist
culture of today?
First of all, can we imagine carrying out radical social transformations moving
toward the communist vision without first conquering the state power of the capitalist
bourgeoisie? The very idea may seem absurd. But what is the state if not an ensemble
of institutional forms in which a much broader class domination is concentrated,
having its roots far outside it and extending its effects well beyond it? All profound
social change thus requires of those who fight for it the capacity to deny, reduce and
ultimately reverse this domination in all its aspects. A supposed 'revolutionary
conquest' of state power not only is untenable in the developed countries of today, but
in any case is not sufficient. To seize the state apparatus is still not to grasp power.
Revolutionary forces can't dispense with first conquering what Gramsci termed
hegemony: through a 'war of positions', they gains democratically, by the relevance of
their ideas, the effectiveness of their initiatives and the success of their struggles, a
leading influence, as much as possible, in all areas of civil society as well as within the
state itself. These advances eventually create a duality of powers.

The insurrectional seizure of state power, on the other hand, has never in itself
conferred hegemony, and this is why it never puts an end to the violence which it
presupposes. On the other hand, the progressive formation of a hegemony leads
sooner or later to power in the conditions of majority consent. This is the only
plausible alternative to the dictatorship of the proletariat. It requires a decisive
renewal of the political: no longer the limited struggle between partisan apparatuses
for governance of the state, which becomes a goal in itself, but the broad participation
of the citizens in everything concerning their social life. The political, re-acquiring
meaning, becomes once again the center of public life.
How does this make it credible that the state should and must disappear? We
ordinarily assume that the state is no more supersedable than the market - which
relegates communism altogether to a myth. But before we pass judgment on the
feasibility of such a disappearance let us ask what bearing this has for the Marxist
perspective. Two things, fundamentally distinct in principle, are confounded in the
word 'state'. In this power above and apart from civil society, the power of people over
their social life is both objectified as public administration and alienated in political
domination. Simplistic ideology hides this second aspect under the first, maintaining
the fiction of a neutral state. Doing justice to this false appearance, the Marxist critique
does not imply at all a symmetrical reduction. On the contrary, it seeks to emancipate
the first from the second: when the class character of the state is removed, the division
between civil society and its organized power is overcome. Power is reappropriated by
the citizens, putting an end to political alienation. The key question that must be
confronted is this: is it or is it not possible to supersede capitalism and all its great
historic alienations while leaving intact the instrument par excellence of human
domination, the class state?
But how to undertake the disappearance of this state without being in power? While
the task is arduous, the answer in principle is easy: the class state is the alienation of
political power; everything that de-alienates politics causes this power to recede. The
key to the processes is not in some part of the state apparatus, but is throughout civil
society, in multiplying these reappropriations of effective power until fundamental
changes in the state apparatus itself become inevitable. The extinction of the state is
thus the very opposite of the disappearance of politics: the future is not in a boundless
administration of things, but in a self-government oriented to people. Here also,
everything begins today, with whatever critical consciousness and oppositional
initiatives may develop in all domains, with the extension, until it is hegemonic, of the
demand at all levels for a democracy that can't be rescinded, built for the citizens from
direct decentralized powers and true means of central control. A de-statization of the

state can all the better begin today when the ravages of capital mire it in ever deeper
crisis. The crisis of efficacy and credibility that results for institutional powers - often
with the exception of the municipal level - is such that deep structural transformations
are less and less avoidable.
At the international level, for instance, the growing aspiration for a reconception of
the UN or the forced resignation of the Commission of Brussels in March 1999 give an
idea of the possibilities. At the national level, although for the political parties, whether
they admit it or not, the time has come for an authentic refoundation, the
understanding is gaining ground that there is a need for a new constitution,
inaugurating a new Republic with a completely different democratic content. The
disappearance of the state can also happen through its refounding, thus making it
contribute to its own disappearance in the interest of a new age of politics, a very
different articulation of powers, a fundamental democratization of political functions,
and a revitalization of all civic life.

Communism and globality

Communism, the universal project of de-alienation, was conceived from the start by
Marx and Engels as necessarily global. They thought that the transition to communism
would be accomplished forcefully "all at once, and by the dominant people." But a
decade later, Marx arrived at a more complex vision which divided this transition into
partial, successive phases. This poses a problem: while Marx's reference point was
Western Europe, in much of the rest of the world capitalism was at an earlier stage of
development. Lenin had to conclude that the initial victory of socialism could occur in
a single country, but that this could not last without the global spread of this process.
In fact, the hoped-for 'transition to socialism' took an entirely different course: limited
to a group of countries in a more and more fixed form, it took the form of a desperate
struggle, in the reality of a 'cold war' to consolidate a 'socialist camp' which the
capitalist powers did everything they could to destroy. The universal cause of a
transition to socialism was thus trapped within the defense of particular geopolitical
interests, which imposed its own caricatural alienations on what should have been the
struggle for de-alienation. In a truly remarkable dialectic, with the decomposition of
the socialist camp, capitalism emerged posing as the representative of humanity's
universal destiny, as we move toward universal communication and markets. But
financial globalization, not content with contradicting itself as it creates the worst
inequalities, nourishes both the decline of national sovereignties and the resurgence of
fanatic nationalisms as well. Rather than an international project of real human
significance, it offers only money as an end in itself. This is not the least of the crises of

meaning. Here too, on the level of globalization, our perspective requires that we begin
with the ends.
After decades in which the communist idea lost the intense universalist luster of its
origins, everything points to the need to reappropriate it. In the face of capitalist
globalization we must advance the most resolute internationalism, but of a new
generation. We have paid dearly to learn the pitfalls of an immature universality that
was seen as driving a 'particular', whether the state or party or a superpower, which
then itself became the obstacle to a more advanced universalization. The human
universality we are moving toward won't be one in which the abstract unity of a
dominant form attempts to impose itself on the singular identity of nations, persons,
cultures and organizations which then must 'normalize' themselves according to this
unity. Rather, it will be a concrete universality in which each singular, as such,
becomes societal while distinct from the species as a whole, internalizing the common
values in its own way. This coherence with neither domination nor uniformization is
inscribed in the new concept of communism. But from the so alienated singular of
today to the emancipated universal of tomorrow, some mediations are necessary. In
the international arena, the most immediate development along these lines is the
regional community of states. Having for a long time turned its back on a growing
Europe, abandoning its construction to others has been one of the most grievous faults
of French communism. For such a community, disastrous if it sets itself up as
particular overseer of a general domination, can become instead the place of a concrete
universalization where new global logics take shape. Thus a Europe freed from the
dictatorship of finance can undertake large scale non-predatory cooperation with the
African continent, facilitating democratic progress and more civilized relations.
Contributing to all the growing movements for concrete universalization would
encourage the communist forces to replace the outdated form of alienated unification,
represented by the 'Internationale", with a direct democracy of cooperation between
everyone, where communism, for each, comes to signify free solidarity.
Let us recapitulate. For a long time taken as the essence of communism, the project
of proletarian conquest of state power to socialize the means of production, in the
belief that this would abolish the exploitation of workers, corresponded to an
impoverishment of Marxist thought. The failure of this socialism and the changes of
our epoch in all their dimensions demand that we give new life to a much more broad
and radical communist project of superseding all humanity's great historic alienations,
and that we re-think the content under present conditions. Communism then becomes
synonymous with revolutionary evolution in all areas of social reality, brought about
by all the class and non-class forces mobilized by the cause of the people's humanity,

motivated not only to abolish insustainable anachronisms but to constructively

supersede the current state of things as the question of the human goals of historical
development is brought to the fore. This is a communism seeking not simply some
other way to regulate the market, but to move toward a post-commodity economy; not
simply to prepare a better future for individuals but to make their multifaceted
development an immediate object; not simply to develop democracy further, but to
undertake the disappearance of the state through the reappropriation by the citizens of
their decision-making powers.
This perspective, in addition, counters all pressures toward human uniformization
imposed by some dominating third party, with the vision of concrete universalization,
where each people or person fully participates in the human species in being freely
oneself. The communist idea deeply dissociates itself here from what for too long
passed for it, - class narrowness, despotic violence, a future by command - joining
instead anticapitalist intransigence and openness to all civilized values, transformative
boldness and democratic patience, the necessity for struggle and a free deliberation of
its goals.

Beyond class society

Have we exhausted the list of the major problems a renewed concept of communism
must confront? Clearly not. There remain any number of questions, some classical, but
most new, outside the framework developed here. For instance, the demographic
question involving an explosive population growth in one area and a falling rate of
fertility in another, both with considerable socio-economic consequences. Then there
is the ecological question in all its aspects, from the hundred forms of pollution to the
destabilization of nature's equilibrium and the exhaustion of non-renewable resources.
More and more there is the anthropological question, arising from the biomedical
revolution which is gradually revolutionizing the human condition itself, from birth to
death, from genetic identity to mental activity, with already noticeable differences in
images of the self, parent-child relations, and many social practices and
representations. Still more broadly, the question of the accelerating development of
knowledge and scientific capabilities, when it is becoming possible to artificially
reproduce the perceptive universe or intelligent reasoning, as well as the primitive
soup after the big bang, or the genetic identity of living species, with all its potentially
beneficial effects for society and civilization, but that in today's context are cause for

All these problems are accumulating with alarming speed, on a frantic course
imprinted by profit and exploitation, far outstripping the rhythm and organization
necessary for a lasting development, which would involve precaution, ethical
deliberation and democratic input. Unlike other developments discussed here, these
are not in themselves class problems. Naturally, arising in a world dominated by
capital they will bear these characteristics. Thus, the irresponsible devastation of
nature or the shattering of the human condition have much to do with the dictatorship
of financial profitability and the untenable rhythm of many innovations directly reflect
its short-term priorities. But while everything is based in the general alienation of the
present world, the necessary de-alienation, as we have discussed, will not resolve the
problems posed by these developments, which have to do with our choices to be made
in our desire for the development of humanization to persevere.
We are in a truly novel situation: humanity is beginning to have the power to decide
what it will be. What meaning should be given to this being? To live to enrich oneself
or enrich life? To accept a limit or do everything possible to surpass it? To approach
society as a user or as an activist? We are now confronted with ethical choices,
inseparably universal and personal, between visions of humanity in which the question
of ends, its philosophic dimensions included, comes to concern everyone. Is there
anything more philosophical, for example, than the question of the universal?
Nevertheless, it appears everywhere, from the domestic to the global arenas. It was at
the center of the vehement French debates in 1999 on the political equality of men and
women. Is the 'man' of the 'rights of man' an abstractly non-gendered universal? In
fact, it ignores women as such. Is it, rather, a concrete being of determinate gender?
What becomes of its ethico-juridical universality, so essential for everyone? Can we
suggest, with a little of this so misunderstood dialectic, that in its concrete universality,
the human being in general is neither without gender nor of a certain gender, but
gendered in both ways, which gives meaning to the requirement for equality without at
all violating the requirement for universality? (note, the individual is both singular and
universal, and particular to - member of sub-groups)
Questions of this sort arise everywhere, and this is only the beginning. The question
of what might constitute the stuff of human history after the end of our pre-history
raises significant anthropological issue. Fundamentally overdetermined today by their
class contexts and stakes, these problems will not disappear in a future classless
society. The communist idea in itself cannot answer these questions because its object
is the overcoming of class society and the de-alienation of human history. In a dealienated society, the communist idea will no longer point to the future and it will
remain for our descendants to invent what sort of humanity they want to become. We

see here with these post-class questions of human ends, not only the horizon of
communism but its own coming supersession as the global gauge of human meaning.

Social movement, political movement, theoretical movement

We now come to the question, how do we do politics, for today, with this re-thought
communist idea? We will reply with some simple suggestions in accordance with
approach we have taken. First of all, and above all, the communist perspective is no
longer to be treated as an ideal for the future, but, and very resolutely, as it refers to
the everyday. This is the opposite of what the tradition of political 'realism' required, in
which the leadership of the communist party never even mentioned communism for
decades, abandoning the critical radicality and visionary audacity found, more than
anywhere, in Marx. As Lenin said, "we must dream", not in the sense of losing
ourselves, but in the sense that prepares us. To see the real goal of our acts in all our
acts, and thus to stay on course: isn't this the only valid realism?
Communism, today, much more than in Marx's time, is the "real movement that
supersedes the current state of things", understood in the negative as well as the
positive, in the crisis of wage earners or the affirmation of individuality, in the dramas
of globalization or the rise of ethics. At its core the general style of a new political
practice will be to link, in each question, a broad perspective and a concrete initiative,
the second assuring the credible effectiveness of the first, which in return imparts a
broad motivation. This practice of politics would make clear, for instance, that in the
current struggle for employment, the supersession of the labor market is brought into
play; in the reform of schools, the integral development of individuals; in the political
equality of the sexes, the disappearance of the state; in a new form of public media, the
de-alienation of consciousness. These expanded horizons of meaning are at the same
time the most luminous of criteria of the correctness of the most immediate measures
in question. If the forces for the supersession of capitalism remain dramatically
insufficient, while we dream of finally changing life, doesn't this call for a perspective,
in the strongest sense of the word?
The formation of a new political movement requires something other than the
multiplication, however coordinated, of social movements. How to effectively
challenge the fundamental orientations of capital or of power? This implies knowing
how to answer questions such as: what economic changes, what democratic
innovations, what other course for European construction can we envision? The
outline of such a political project itself brings up another group of essential problems:
what organized force can bring life to this project, serving what primary function,

structured according to what principles? And under these diverse questions, a very
central point of inquiry: all this from what perspective, in the broadest historic and
anthropological sense of the word?
This is the key to any political renewal and beyond that, to any supersession of
capitalism. Promising but uncertain, toady's new social movements can neither be
satisfied with current political practice, nor can they by themselves produce what they
need. To bring life to this dialectic, it seems to me that the contribution of a third
factor is indispensable: this is what we can call the theoretical movement: the labor of
thought, debate of ideas, re-creation of a culture of social transformation, as we had in
the thirties or the sixties. The theoretical movement to which the various political
groups and formations can contribute, but which is not the monopoly of any one, has
the crucial task of responding to the key question of what is our perspective. And this
refers to what we have called here the new communist question. We now understand
this word to mean the full resolution of all our historic alienations, old and new, of
class and outside of class.
Having this universal de-alienation as its content, the communist idea is not one
emancipatory vision among others. Rather, it is the concept of all real radicalities. It
does not stand above them or seek to dominate them, but is open to all authentically
de-alienating projects, whether referring to Marx or not, whether they call themselves
communist or not. It says on the theoretical plane that all adherents of a real
radicality, together will form the new force of revolutionary practice, aimed at the
classless society that epoch is calling for. This is a multiform development of the social
movement, plural construction of the political movement, dialogical elaboration of the
theoretical movement. Among these, I consider the third to be decisive at present,
because the most serious crisis left by the failure of communism is the crisis of the
future, and because the importance of the fundamental labor of thought in
surmounting it has been grossly underestimated. The Manifesto told generations of
revolutionaries for what they were struggling. Nothing is more important today than to
know in a completely new way what this is for us.

The decisive struggle of representation

Fifty years of political life having convinced me of what I consider to be the
insufficient consideration of the theoretical in today's left politics, I have reflected on
its motives. One is cultural. In Greek, theoria means contemplation. From there it is
not far to identify the theoretical with the speculative. The same Greek word means
procession, systematic conception, and making coherent: the very essence of politics.

This is why all politics of the poor has a theoretical aspect, including the philosophical.
But that is not all. Without a strong theory there is no true demystifying critique, nor,
as a result, sufficiently motivated revolutionary politics. We are touching here on a
principal aspect of communism on which I have not yet commented - the de-alienation
of consciousness, often itself taken as mythic in accord with Althusser's notorious
thesis that ideology "will always exist", even in communist society, and "will never
change its function". It is not possible here to discuss the Althusserian concept of
ideology. Let us say only that in the form cited here, it is a source of tremendous
confusion, because the complex notion of ideology has at least two different meanings:
imagined representation of real life, and mystified representation of the real. As Hegel
said in the Science of Logic, "ordinary life doesn't have a concept, but representations"
(vol. 3, p. 213). And in the representations through which I see my relations with the
world, with others, with myself, enter necessarily the affective, the evaluative, the
optative, in short, the subjective, including the unconscious. In this sense we always
life, in effect, not in conceptuality but in ideology, with its variable part of the
imaginary, perhaps illusory, which nevertheless does not at all amount to an inevitable
aberration in relation to the real. What Marx had in mind in his constant critique of
ideology in the historico-social sense was something entirely different: the objective
social processes by which, in bourgeois society in particular, reality presents itself to
everyone in an inverted form, a phenomenal appearance which, without our knowing
it, fundamentally denatures essential relations. Thus the wage is obviously the price of
the labor expended, profit is simply the earnings of capital, the market is the place
where freedom reigns, social inequality is a fact of nature, etc. Linked in its forms and
contents to determinate social structures, this mystified representation of the real is
not at all invariant through history. Even in today's world, the fact is that we can think
and act with regard to real relations and thus dispel, up to a certain point, the falseappearances of the economy and of politics, of racism and sexism. An even stronger
reason will be the case when people have reappropriated their social powers. In short,
the dealienation of consciousness (contra Althusser) is not an ideological myth.
This task is the most urgent of all because, more than ever, the domination by capital
relies on ideological mystification. Alienation, in all areas, has reached unprecedented
heights; the social machinery for deluding consciousnesses in the interest of the ruling
class has been perfected as never before. The media are loaded with upscale
advertising identifying sophistication with speciousness. Television, in constant use,
obliterates the concept under the image and permanently feeds a baseless credulity for
events and history. Against the will of many students, school doesn't develop the
highly cultivated critical capacities that a real sovereignty of the people would require.

And so on. The ordinary citizen thus lives in an incredibly deceiving reality. Perhaps
this explains the tremendous and persistent gap between the burgeoning of motives to
struggle, and the paucity of actual combatants. The contrary would be a miracle. Thus
the considerable importance of what I call the struggle for representation: at every
moment, in every area, to expose the deception and bring to light, in the simplicity of
form which only real theoretical penetration makes possible, the processes in which
the false-appearances, real and imagined, originate, and this way, to form the vigilant
consciousness, placing our image of reality back on its feet and reopening paths to
The first task is the critique of language, including that used on the left. Too often
our choice of language carelessly accedes to the deceptions perpetrated by the
dominant ideology rather than critiquing them. Only when this pre-requisite
demystification is underway can the complex problems confronting us be legitimately
debated. This is one example of the critical campaigns that must be undertaken in all
areas, beginning with fundamental theoretical work, through iconoclastic initiatives
with regard to the media, inventive efforts to foster an alternative press, battles for
critical books, for everything that can make life untenable for the purveyors of the
false-appearances. To transform the world, we must transform the representation of
the world.

Psychology and Marxism | Lucien Seve