John Cunningham: What praxis disables the entire reproductive cycle of capital remains an open question …

by Jehu

It literally took John Cunningham more than 6000 words to tell us what he could have told us in a single sentence, namely that he has no idea what communization means.

I feel cheated. I will never get back the time I spent poring over his essay, “Make Total Destroy,” from the anthology produced by Clever Monkey, Communization and its Discontents.

It is actually unfortunate that Cunningham makes this admission, since he appears to come closest to actually establishing a realistic communization strategy. I will try to show why I think this, but first let me summarize what I think is Cunningham’s argument.

*****

Cunningham begins his discussion where he should by defining communization:

Communization is the negation of all the elements of capital without a transitional ‘workers’ state’, and [by means of] a revolutionary process which is itself communism.

Then Cunningham does something that he did not need to do: rather than directly addressing communization, he takes a phrase, apparently at random because it doesn’t appear to be employed by communization theory as far as I can tell. He then employs this phrase, destructive negation, to characterize communization. Finally, Cunningham defines communization as the most radical form of destructive negation.

Since this characterization of communization actually tells us nothing about communization, I am just going to ignore Cunningham’s entire discussion of destructive negation. In my opinion, Cunningham is simply filling up the empty space as if Clever Monkey is paying him by the word.

What Cunningham says that is relevant to understanding communization is that it is opposed to 20th century socialism. By 20th century socialism, communizers mean the strategy associated with the unions, parties and ideologies that are today implicated in post-war fascism and full employment policies. As opposed to 20th century socialism, TC proposes the proletariat must abolish itself along with the abolition of the existing state and capital.

*****

Cunningham then appears to suggest that communization may simply exploit a tendency already inherent in capitalist relations themselves:

“TC write in the Glass Floor, a recent text on the Greek uprising: ‘Absurdly, the wage and the reproduction of labor-power tend to become illegitimate for capital itself… This is the crisis of reproduction, the running out of future.’”

According to Cunningham, a process akin to communization is already at work in capitalist social relations. The worker tends to become surplus to the production of material wealth. Although Cunningham does not bother to explain how this works, he suggests that communization theory seeks to employ this dynamic to put an end to capitalism.

So how does communization theory respond when the buying and selling of labor power begins to break down, and how does this response differ from 20th century Socialism? For some reason, Cunningham buries his lede under tons of unnecessary verbiage, but here is the gist:

“We have the double spectre of runaway capitalism. One is the spiral of capital becoming fictitious, positing itself upon its own over accumulation in packages of debt and attempting to unchain itself from labor-power as a basis for the accumulation of surplus value. The other reciprocal spectre is that of a unilateral uncoupling by capital [from] the wage relation … The classic response of the Left would be an attempt to reinstitute wage labor as a precondition for social reproduction, but communization as a theoretical praxis … might be seen as an oppositional praxis that turns this Gewalt against itself.”.

Gewalt is another extraneous term that Cunningham introduces in place of the more familiar category, capitalist accumulation. (Cunningham seems to have a lot of words to use in place of anything that carries the odor of Marx’s abhorrent “determinism”.)

As Marx explains, capitalist accumulation produces excess capital at one pole and an excess population of workers at the other pole.  As wage labor is rendered superfluous to the production of material wealth, 20th century socialism acts to revive wage labor employment instead of letting it die a natural death, while communization responds to the breakdown of the wage labor relation by slow-clapping.

Thus, communization argues we should exploit capitalist accumulation and the ever increasing superfluity of labor in the production of material wealth to realize communism.

*****

Just to be certain he avoids Marx’s filthy determinism, Cunningham adds an interesting caveat: communization does not seek to exploit the increasing superfluousness of labor for the purpose of exacerbating the self-destructive tendencies of capitalism.

Why?

Well, if communization aimed to exacerbate capital’s own self-destructive tendencies, that would amount to  — OMG! — Landian accelerationism. We can’t have Nick Land, can we?

Hilariously, Cunningham argues that communization exploits the catastrophic tendencies of capitalism not in order to exacerbate those tendencies but to realize communism; almost as if, for Cunningham, the catastrophic collapse of capitalism and immediate realization of communism are somehow incompatible goals.

Communization is the name for a not as yet understood strategy that can break existent social relations solely in a way that is mediated through the operation of the social relations themselves. The name for a strategy, moreover, that must never be uttered in a book edited by the Clever Monkey.

This measure implies the appropriation of the product of social labor on the basis of need and the destruction of means of production and consumption as objects having value; society would move beyond reproduction of money relations and thereby end the constraint of exchange value.

What measure can do this?

Cunningham has no idea.