The Community of Capital:
On Jacques Camatte

Michele Garau

In this first installment of a two-part article, Michele Garau (author of Without Why) offers an introduction to the work of French theorist Jacques Camatte. In addition to framing Camatte’s theoretical and political context, as well as the elementary questions around which it turns, Garau also retraces the stages of its trajectory, pausing on a number of parallels between Camatte and fellow travelers such as Giorgio Cesarano and the journal Tiqqun. In the final analysis, Camatte’s work offers a set of precepts that, were they taken seriously, are capable of subverting and placing in crisis the very cornerstones of classical revolutionary thought.

Part II is available here.

Other languages: Italiano, Español

The following schematic reflections revolve around the thought of Jacques Camatte, as well as certain authors and thematics contiguous to his work. There is no question here of providing a synoptic treatment of the author’s work as a whole; my aim is merely to introduce his theoretical and political context, while isolating several decisive themes and junctures. The figure of Camatte can serve as an entry point into a broader constellation of related thinkers and theoretical circles, all of whom push for a paradigm shift in anti-capitalist thought. I hope to return to this wider constellation further in the future. In what follows, my aim will be to trace the key stages of Camatte’s trajectory and to develop a series of parallels, from Cesarano to Tiqqun. In doing so, my hope is to show how a set of precepts came to be developed that undermine the very cornerstones of classical revolutionary thought: the dialectic between labor and capital, the primacy of a subjectivity (the proletariat) whose affirmation was the positive content of the revolutionary process, the vision of socialism — and more specifically of Marxism — as a "theory of development," just to name a few examples.

In his gradual overcoming of what he refers to as the "theory of the proletariat," as well as a certain dialectical conception of the transition beyond the capitalist mode of production bound up with it (what he calls "revolutionary reformism"), Camatte’s thought passes through several stages. His basic idea is that the fundamental and fecund contradiction of Marxism — the horizon of a universal extension of the proletarian condition, which is also a vector of capitalist development — has lost its raison d'être. This model of transition, which was justified and appropriate at the time during which Marx intervened, was later eclipsed by capital’s own factual becoming, i.e., by the real subsumption not only of the labor process but of society generally1, which realized this program in a distorted form:

To exorcize the assaults of the proletariat, capital tends to deny the existence of classes, submerging the proletariat in the new middle classes. This occurs with the generalization of the wage-earning proletarian condition to the majority of men, and by assuring a social reserve to the slaves of capital. The struggle will explode, necessarily, no longer between capital and proletariat only, but between capital and the mass of proletarianized men, and will be directed by the proletariat. Negation of the negation.2

The socialist project of generalizing the proletariat, through the extension of the wage relation to a much broader set of social figures than merely those engaged in productive labor, is accomplished through the double passage of Keynesianism and fascism. Camatte’s diagnosis of the "real domination" that leads to an "anthropomorphosis” of capital is bolstered by careful analyses of the unpublishedChapterVI of Capital Vol.13, the Urtext4, and Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations5, many of which are collected in Capital and Community.6 Before getting into the heart of these readings, it may be useful, however, to first show how he tackles such themes in other writings, particularly those devoted to the history of the workers' movement and the debates of the revolutionary left during the 1960s and 1970s.

In texts such as “The KAPD and the Proletarian Movement”(1971), “The Italian Student Revolt: Another Moment in the Crisis of Representation” (1977)7, and “May–June 1968: The Exposure” (1977)8, Camatte exposes the aporetic relation between the refusal of work, the glorification of the working class, and the realization of the proletarian program that marks the entire mature phase of the workers' movement, from the most intransigent tendencies of the historical ultra-left to political Operaismo and the Situationist International. The cycle of the revolutionary conflicts in Germany between 1919 and 1923 exhibits this contradiction with exemplary clarity and coherence. Camatte pays special attention to the theoretical and ideological formulations of the ultra-left, which condenses the experience of the KAPD (Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, or Communist Workers’ Party of Germany), the "Workers' Unions" (AAUD and AAUDE), as well as figures such as Otto Rühle.9 Not only does Camatte's interpretation overlap on several key points with Dane Carsten Juhl’s “The German Revolution and the Specter of the Proletariat,”10 but it was precisely due to controversy over the interpretation of the German sequence of the revolutionary movement’s history that the divergence between the Scandinavian section and the International Communist Party between 1971 and 1973 sharpened, thus bringing Juhl closer to the positions of Invariance.11 Less obvious, on the other hand, is the similarity between these analyses and those from the Operaista school, such as Karl Heinz-Roth’s polemic, in the same years, against Massimo Cacciari and Sergio Bologna.12

The central tenets that mark a theoretical rupture between the tendency of Invariance and the earlier Bordigist dogmatics of its provenance were crystalized through these readings of the councilist ultra-left.13 As he explains in a 1974 postface to Origin and Function of the Party Form (1961)14, Camatte began exploring the KAPD heresy and its offshoots after becoming aware of the ambiguities of Bordiga’s positions with respect to the link between organization and class. It is well known that Bordiga and the Communist Left have always subscribed to Lenin's judgment towards Gorter and his comrades, even though the accusation of extremism leveled by the Bolshevik leader applied to both currents.15 In the 1961 article, which Bordiga himself agreed to publish as a contribution of the French section of the party to an international congress that held at that time, Camatte and Roger Dangeville dwell on the difference between the concept of the "historical party," as a program and prefiguration of communism that cuts across generations, and the "formal party" that must be maintained only in periods when a revolutionary possibility looms, lest it corrupt its own coherence and transform into a bourgeois political organ like any other. The text provoked a lively controversy within the Partito Comunista Internazionale organization, since it made clear the extent to which Bordiga himself had come to terms with the need to preserve the party "in the ephemeral sense," as Marx put it in 1860.16 When Camatte took up the text again, publishing it in Invariance in 1968, he also began research into other traditions of the revolutionary past:

From that moment on, a critical analysis of the proletarian movement from the beginning of the century above all is required. We began with “The KAPD and the Proletarian Movement”(...) just as Carsten Juhl undertook it for his part with “The German Revolution and the Specter of the Proletariat.”17

These writings on the KAPD and German council communism also reflected interventions into the Italian situation in the 1970s, including critical positions on Potere operaio and the concept of the "social worker."18 The latter were correct in their attempts to reorient Marxist theory around the capitalist dynamic as a general form of socialization and a crisis of the law of value, but they failed to fully draw the necessary consequences. According to Camatte, the notion of the "social worker" would only reflect an expansion of the workers' identity rather than its extinction, thus deriving an erroneous conclusion from a correct assumption: if capitalist domination drowns the profile of the productive working class in the whole set of wage earners, further decoupling the level of proletarianization from the degree of productivity, this sketches the contours of a "universal class" of which the surplus and "supernumerary" fringes canonically identified as the lumpenproletariat would form an integral part.

In different ways, all these tendencies of the revolutionary movement, from the KAPD to Potere operaio, remained prisoners of the contradiction between class as the object of capital — all the more domesticated once the real domination of capitalism is accomplished — and class as its revolutionary dissolution. To seek autonomy for wage labor (as one pole of the capitalist relation) without its self-abolition remains a dead end. Consequently, the communist revolution is, at this stage of Camatte’s thought, both classist and a-classist. To compose the two irreconcilable faces of the class, one integrated into capitalist society and the other appointed to destroy it, we have only the thin diaphragm of the ideological vanguard and the formal party, the latter representing the consciousness of the proletarian class brought to it from the outside.

The race riots19 in the inner cities of the United States would lend credence to these diagnoses. Their fusion with the rebellion of the student movement, itself de-qualified and excluded in its own way, would later become a characteristic feature of the riot as the form taken by class struggle during phases in which circulation has preeminence over production, as Joshua Clover has argued.20 For Camatte, the crisis of the law of value, of workers' identity, and of the capitalist imagination as such (as a force ensuring social reproduction) are all moments of a more general "crisis of representation." The latter stems from the material basis of exploitation, before being reflected on a variety of levels, from the monetary level (with the abandonment of the gold standard) to ideological and linguistic ones. For example, in a commentary on Alberto Asor Rosa’s Le due società, Camatte notes that the overall response of the Italian revolutionary left and the student movement to the ideologues of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) reflects a misguided attachment to the representations and symbolic universe of the workers' movement, from which it would be necessary to disengage by claiming a wholesale alterity.21 In short, it would be a matter of affirming one's belonging to the "second society" and to a proletarian stratum completely foreign to the traditional working class with its political institutions.

Camatte's fundamental categories are shaped, as I have suggested, by his reading of Marx’s works: both contingent political polemics and historical reconstructions alike all come from such a confrontation. In order to arrive at the concepts of the "real domination" of society and the "anthropomorphosis of Capital," the author traces the process of the autonomization of value as described by Marx, focusing in particular on the transition from the phase of formal subsumption to that of real subsumption over the labor process22 and on the progressive dissolution of pre-existing communitarian forms, from primitive communism to feudalism.23 Camatte's main writing on these topics, as already mentioned, is Capital and Community (1964-66).

To sum up, we can say that the autonomization of value and capital is a moving contradiction that can never be stably resolved, since this would require annulling the driving and negative pole on which its entire existence depends: socialized living labor, and the human species itself as its repository. In order for capital to become fully "self-valorizing," a real domination whose moments do not relate extrinsically, but are part of a single metabolism, it must confront obstacles and implement counter-tendencies to the permanent threat of crisis. It must, in other words, socialize and simultaneously avert communism: decentralize, devalorize, and stabilize itself.

Capitalist development is marked at its root by the negativity of social labor, of the living force of the species, and of communism as a potential: "When capitalism reaches its maximum development, communism is the enemy it must mystify."24 That this is a contradiction is by no means clear. Camatte highlights — in the wake of Marx — the multiple aspects of the problem. On the one hand, the movement of exchange value must try to subdue its antagonist, without ever being able to get rid of it completely. The immediate process of production is in fact an insurmountable limit, to which capital responds by putting in place systems to dominate the law of value, to subordinate it, without being able to abolish or eliminate it. These counter-tendencies culminate in forms of credit, fictitious capital, and stocks, by means of which capital neutralizes disequilibria and external conditions that may hinder it.

Wherever possible, the capitalist tendency is to reduce and replace necessary labor with surplus labor, typically by interventions made possible by scientific progress embedded in machines and other forms of “constant capital.” The ideal of the system lies in the greatest possible decrease of those dependent upon wages (productive workers), and the greatest possible increase in those living off the surplus value produced by others, without producing any value themselves.25 It is this dynamic that initiates the fall in the rate of profit, and with it, the breakdown of the cycle of valorization and the realization of value. In sum, there is a contradiction between two tendencies: (i) reducing necessary labor, employing as little labor as possible, in an effort to increase the quantity of commodities and surplus value; (ii) employing an increasing mass of workers because, once a certain degree of development of the productive forces is reached, the mass of surplus product and the mass of labor employed coincide. It is for this reason that we can say that the development of the productive forces is fundamentally hostile to the worker: capital oscillates between incorporating and expelling workers from production.

This has two consequences. On the one hand, we see the creation of a fully capitalist middle class, as a subjective figure of waste; on the other, the rise of a surplus proletariat, not in the sense of being "parasitic," but as part of a growing “reserve army” that reflects the above fluctuations and can therefore always fall back into unemployment. As the capitalist mode of production becomes more pure, it progressively eliminates all pre-capitalist middle classes: small farmers, artisans, merchants, etc. By contrast, the class of unproductive consumption, which consumes value without producing new value (impossible in the stage of simple circulation), is necessary because it facilitates the realization of surplus value. The fact that overproduction can be realized cannot be explained by exchanges conducted at an equivalent rate of profit between fractions of the capitalist class. The artificial sectors of industry shift from being superfluous to indispensable, in order to extract surplus value from the liberated variable capital and forestall revolt. Such unproductive consumption is therefore only so in a relative sense, since labor unproductive of value becomes labor necessary to the metabolism of capital (as is the large-scale production of superfluous commodities), ensuring the functional continuity of the process of self-valorization that has now become a proper "subject." It must submerge productive labor in the whole strata subject to the wage, concealing the origin of value and initiating a mystified version of the abolition of classes, proletariat in primis. At issue is a concrete mystification, with tangible social effects. The same could be said of all those activities aimed at ensuring and shortening the circulation time of capital.

The other salient aspect of this subordination of value to capital, which allows its autonomy, is its constitution as a "material community" after the dissolution of all pre-existing community ties. This is a fundamental feature of Camatte's thought, which is also at the basis of his conviction that we must "abandon" the capitalist world, with the passage from negation to "positivity.”26 The nascent capitalist mode, as Marx indicates, eliminates all forms of natural or direct community based on personal, gentile, class-mediated, or land-based relations. Individuals become isolated precisely as their relations become universal, stripped of all particularism and limits. However, their relations appear limited to the act of exchange, which is something external, independent of individuals, and random.

The communities and social forms that preceded capitalist production always constrained the development of value, pushing it to their margins. With the rise of capitalism, the economic movement and the movement of society come to be identified without remainder, according to the logic of value itself. Initially, from the period of simple mercantile society through the revolutionary event of 1789, bourgeois domination sought to fill the void of the community in a constitutional and institutional way, that is, by giving itself a political form. In order for the content of value to give a form to society, positioning itself as a real "material community," it must control the political, economic circulation, and credit, making them moments of its growth process. It is debatable whether money as a general equivalent is sufficient for this function, since it has been shown to reduce social relations to the episodic contact of economic exchanges.

The movement of value is a "solvent" for the traditional community, to which the revolutionaries of 1789-1793 sought to respond in a purely formal way: in this sense, bourgeois law, centered on the ideas of freedom and equality, is nothing more than a reflection of the autonomization of exchange value, as Marx argues in the Urtext. The French Revolution is thus part of a "phenomenon of universalization" that removes constraints on the creation of an abstract human being, but also attempts to insert him into a fabric of stable social references. This dependence of law on value is confirmed by the fact that the ancient Roman world saw an initial appearance, isolated and closed, of such values (the juridical person, subject of the exchange process) — although essentially local in scope — because in it the dissolution of the ancient community already tolerated the realization of the essential moments of simple circulation within circle of free men. The Roman world and the bourgeois world of the eighteenth century both arose out of the dissolution of the natural community, in the former case of the slave type, in the latter feudal, mediated by dependence on the land, since feudalism is a setback for the movement of value, as it reinstates a closed circuit of circulation and production that pushes value and trade to its margins. From Saint-Just to Sieyès, the great themes of the Institution, the Republic, and of a social contract tasked with providing security as the natural basis of law, all emerge from this destruction. That is to say, they all emerge in response to a question about how to organize human affairs so as to curb the free movement of a "civil society" spontaneously intertwined with exchange, material insecurity, and conflict. It is no coincidence that this constitutional and institutional approach carries with it a new definition of the human, associated with virtue. The Nation, as an imaginary community, a pure image, must replace the community in mediating the organizational ties between civil society and the State. Institutions, revolutionary laws, the standardization of man, all serve as means toward a total reorganization and regulation of consumption and needs: virtue, republican morality.

Hence also the Marxian definition of the bourgeois revolution as a social revolution with a political soul, since it seeks to impose a social form whose power has already come to maturation within the old regime: it must destroy the community, but to do so it must find a bond between men that economic phenomena, money, and trade, have dissolved. For this reason, Camatte tells us, the bourgeois class must pose social problems as problems of organization, institutional and technical problems, unlike both primitive communism and future communism. Communism, one reads in “Bordiga and the Passion for Communism”27, is never a problem of organization, but a problem of being.

Camatte also mentions, at several moments, the decisive importance of Saint-Just28 in elaborating the modern idea of revolution and in synthesizing a kind of "revolutionary gradualism," a "theory of indefinite revolution" that no longer knows a precise stopping point. Jean-Claude Milner argues something similar in a 2017 book entitled Relire la rèvolution.29 Milner argues that precisely in 1789 and specifically in Saint-Just there is a shift from a traditional view of the concept of revolution — which would still appear in Robespierre and is linked to the reception of Polybius in Thuillier's translation, that is to say, to a cyclical view of the succession between political systems in which revolution is not an autonomous political content, there is no revolutionary regime, but only a transitional phase between regimes — to revolution in its modern sense, as permanent revolution, whose limit is not decidable. This framework would also feature, for the first time, something like a "revolutionary subjectivity," and with it, another definition of the person, of virtue, and of the human. Interestingly, in his Preface to Marx’s Urtext, “Marx and the Gemeinwesen,”30 Camatte refers to the French Revolution, and Saint-Just in particular, as the origin of the revolution-counterrevolution dialectic (itself linked to the growth of the productive forces) which has now definitively come to a close.

Where, in the proletarian program, does the motif of organization and planning remain preeminent? In "lower socialism" and in the classical program of the workers' movement from 1848 onwards (generalization of work, reduction of the working day, abolition of classes through an extension of the proletarian condition). That program, according to Camatte, is overcome by the "transcrescence" not of the revolution but of capitalist becoming, which extends to the whole of society: it dominates the law of value, enlarges the figure of productive work to include all wage-earners, and politically regulates the conflict between classes by taming the proletariat and reducing it to one of its two poles, that of the object of capital. In the pure revolution, when human beings attack the material community of capitalism as a totality, there is no problem of organization: in the conflict between the generalized form of capital and the species subjected to its domination, organization of a political, economic, or distributive sort is no longer necessary to level the classes, to make the proletarian condition common, or to impose labor, as it was in the classical scheme of socialism. Consequently, the revolution is not an organizational, technical, or formal problem, but a problem of common being, of totality. It is no coincidence that, when we consult Saggioro’s history of the International Communist Party31, we find that the central critique leveled in 1965 by the Marseilles kernel against the Paris section (which included Camatte (Oscar) and Roger (Dangeville)) surrounded their insistence on splitting the party into a formal party and an historical party, identifying the latter with "party-theory" while deriding the formalized party organization.32

When fixed capital reaches such a level of importance that it becomes the basis of all competencies, all individual and social productive forces, when it governs the entire movement of money through banks and the centralization of credit, when it imposes itself through fascism and democracy as the subordination of politics and the state to the movement of capital, such a community arrives at a permanent stability. The truly decisive moment in the ascendance of capital to the level of totality, however, lies in the domestication of the proletariat and its integration. The dual character of the proletariat — being at once the object of capital (variable capital) and the negation of capital — is resolved by annulling the second pole. We have seen how this happens: the incorporation of workers' labor into the uniform category of the wage earner mystifies the source of value and introduces a general condition of "slaves to capital," within which no distinctions are possible. The same process of mystification is also conducted by means of a widened sphere of consumption, the spread of ideologies consubstantial to the capitalist form of life, and the direct assimilation of workers' political organizations inherited from previous cycles of struggle, or of the workers' movement itself.

In this sense, the anti-colonial revolts of non-European countries, whose subversive vitality of "double revolutions" — engines of capitalist development, but potentially communist — lose the possibility of a "transcrescence"33 and settle on bourgeois content precisely because the Western proletariat is subdued, unable to converge with them towards a further stage. The same had happened, according to Camatte, with the Russian revolution after the defeat of the German proletariat.

It should be noted that there is a rather significant shift in Camatte's positions between the first series of Invariance and the second one, which came out in the early seventies. In writings such as Capital and Community the perspective is that of a restoration of the "theory of the proletariat," and therefore of Marxism, against the mystification of the revolutionary role of the working class, which is concealed but remains intact, because only through it can a communitarian need to reject capital spread to other exploited fractions and finally to the species. In this phase, the emphasis is placed on the ambiguity of the other salaried strata, such as the new middle classes or technicians, since they in turn suffer exploitation but participate in the distribution of surplus value, on which their reproduction rests.

In the subsequent reflections things change. It seems to me that this shift was a result of May 1968, an event that precisely involved proletarianized but non-productive fractions. According to the new perspective, the general category of the proletarianized population — which comes to coincide with productive work for capital, andwithin which it is impossible to distinguish the real contributions of production from those of distribution and realization — becomes the subject that might conceivably embody a revolution on a human scale, and which capitalist logic itself tries to defuse through various splits and divisions.

On several occasions, Camatte argues that the Marxian program of 1848, that of making productive labor universal, has been perfectly fulfilled. This reasoning implies a critique of organizations, henceforth understood as rival gangs and rackets, a critique that is intended to characterize both advanced capitalism in a phase of real domination, as well as subversive political organizations.34 By preserving the representations of a phase now passed, the latter act in a way that replaces the action of the proletariat as a universal class. In this sense, May 1968 appears as the first step of a revolution already underway, one oriented towards breaking the barriers of individual areas of struggle so as to face the "automated monster" of capitalism as a totality. Symptomatic of this shift was the path taken by formations such as the German SDS, the Zengakuren, or the French Maoist groups, all of whom were submerged and outstripped by a spectrum of claims that invested existential and material areas completely alien to their initial mandates, thereby forcing these groups to abandon their purely political form.

The emptying out of those representations that once populated the social landscape, as noted above, will henceforth become a key focus of Camatte's research, leading to a challenging approach that ventures far afield of classical revolutionary theory. The category of "representation" here assumes multiple meanings, so much so that it risks losing its clear contours. Put simply, Camatte sees a connection between (i) the loss of material reference for economic value brought about by fictitious capital, speculation, but also by the aforementioned dissolution of productive labor, (ii) the perpetuation of ideological visions falsifying and linked to the past, deprived of meaning, and (iii) the full assimilation of all these spheres, from science to human relations, art, sexuality and culture, in the empty and self-referential form of value. The convergence of these factors point to an "anthropomorphosis of capital" that degrades and destroys the species, as well as a deranged reduction of the individual to being a mere envelope of an insolvent "meaning on layaway."35

There are several points to be addressed here. The first concerns the community and Gemeinwesen, in the sense that the defeat of the proletariat is linked, according to Camatte, to the loss of this horizon. In his earlier work we find a link, as noted already, between the proletarian program and the human community, according to the Bordigist framework of "invariance." Gradually, however, the two poles come to be dissociated. The human community thus becomes, in the first instance, the real point of support for the revolutionary event, against a capital that has become society and even man. At the same time, it becomes the basis for discarding the very concept of revolution, in the name of a phantom passage from a negation that would, in any case, only strengthen the enemy system, to the positivity of an abandonment [échappement] of the world and its catastrophic course. If capital has transcended itself, if it has overcome the mediations and oppositions that once conferred a dialectical structure upon social relations, integrating everything and becoming a material, total community, then programs that continue to be based on frontal opposition to capital no longer make any sense. Still less does it make sense, as in classical Marxism, to force capitalism to develop, or to believe that a revolutionary contradiction can arise on the basis of its productive forces alone. Having overcome its own internal limits, the productive forces of capital become a source of unmitigated destruction. In the midst of this transition, Camatte develops a fascination with the Russian obshchina36, whose elision would lead Marxist ideology to degenerate from revolutionary thought to a progressivist vision of development. Here it is interesting to evoke Camatte's dialogue with the positions of Pier Paolo Poggio37, as well as his rediscovery of a messianic and romantic tradition of European anti-capitalism from Landauer and Rosenzweig, the same one studied by Löwy38 in a famous monograph.

The second point concerns the openness to the symbolic terrain of language that the notion of "anthropomorphosis" envelops. It is here that the consonance between Camatte and another important figure of the day, that of Giorgio Cesarano, is the strongest. Both authors insist on the parallelism between linguistic and instrumental alienation, symbol and prosthesis, as the twin roots of the formation of value and techniques facilitating the annexation of individuals to a "combined body" become capitalist. Before living labor there is "living meaning," the production of artifacts and symbols through a process of derivation that secures the very grounding of capitalist reality. In Camatte, these elements are clearly linked to an engagement with the work of archaeologist and anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan39, while in Cesarano they are linked to the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, as well as philosopher Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, whose work remains lesser known.40 A comparison can be made here with certain insights of Tiqqun, whose affinity with the writings of Camatte and Cesarano is no mystery, in particular with regards to the concept of "semiocracy" in Theory of Bloom.41

This last point, although only sketched out, is perhaps the most politically salient. Is there a possible analogy between this supposed collapse of representation, its increasing inability to designate and filter meaning, and the concept of "destitution" explored in philosophical debate by Reiner Schürmann? It should be noted that, in his Broken Hegemonies42, but also in other minor writings, Schürmann describes the "hegemonic phantoms" that have dominated the metaphysics and politics of Western civilization, as a "maximization" of linguistic phenomena. In other words, a phenomenon becomes something universal through language, and precisely loses its singularity by becoming merely linguistic. As is well known, the Invisible Committee recently proposed to divide the idea of revolution, abandoning the modern, constituent and representative aspects, in favor of a movement of pure destitution. Given the more or less recent analyses (Ellul43, Milner44) that consider "revolution" as we know it a phenomenon of purely modern origin, linked to the legacy of 1789, do we find in Camatte’s idea of a crisis of representation the terms to conceive of it otherwise?

To be continued in Part II

First published in Italian on Machina, February 8th, 2022

Translated by Ill Will, in collaboration with the author

Images: Jo Ractliffe


1. With the categories of subsumption/dominance -formal and real- on the process of production, Marx indicates the two phases of affirmation of capitalism. In the first phase (formal domination) the labor process is left untouched, and the surplus value extracted is absolute surplus value, obtained only by the extension of labor time. In the second phase (real domination), the process of production and valorization is entirely structured and reformed by capital, organized in a new way and therefore subject to relative surplus value, based on the increase in productivity through the application of science and the development of technology. Marx introduces this periodization in the unpublished Chapter VI of Capital. Analyzing Marx's text, in Capital et Gemeinwesen, Camatte extends the two categories: he speaks of domination - formal and real - over society, no longer just over the production process. In real domination, all spheres - commodity circulation, credit, politics, social mediations - are organized by the capitalist form. Finally, even subjects, community and social ties are totally assimilated by capital: this is what Camatte calls anthropomorphosis or material community.

2. J. Camatte, Le développement du capitalisme (1969). First published in Invariance 2. Online here.

3. K. Marx, “Results of the Direct Production Process” (1864), Trans. B. Fowkes, in Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 34. Online here.

4. K. Marx, Urtext, a.k.a. “A Contribution to The Critique of Political Economy” (1859), in Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 29, 475-507. Online here.

5. K. Marx, “Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations”(1857–58), translated by Jack Cohen, 1964. Online here.

6. Camatte, Capital and Community: the Results of the Immediate Process of Production and the Economic Work of Marx. First published in Paris in 1976. An English translation by David Brown is online here.

7. J. Camatte, “La révolte des étudiants italiens: un autre moment de la crise de la représentation” (1977). Published in Invariance Série III, No. 5-6 (1979). Online here. First published in Italian in the journal L’Erba voglio, 1977, no 29-30.

8. J. Camatte, “May–June 1968: The Exposure.” English edition first published in Fifth Estate, November 1978. Online here.

9. In the many divisions of the German ultra-left, Otto Rühle's position represents the most uncompromising. Rühle left the KAPD because he rejected any subordination of the workers' unions — which he conceived as spontaneous cells of the revolution — to the vanguard of the Communist Party. Rühle radically rejected the model of the Russian revolution, penning a text in 1920 entitled The Revolution Is Not A Party Affair. As Camatte and Juhl observe, Rühle captured with precision the mystifications of democracy and bourgeois ideological influences on working-class life. With comparatively less lucidity, he went on to assert that the factory (and production generally) are the privileged terrain of communist organization, thereby falling victim to a simplistic ideology of self-management. See his “From the bourgeois to the proletarian revolution” (1924), online here.

10. Carsten Juhl, “La révolution allemande et le spectre du prolétariat" (1973), first published as in Invariance, Series II, no. 5, 1974. Online here.

11. Carsten Juhl belonged to a Scandinavian section of the International Communist Party, which he left in 1973 following a bitter controversy over participation in trade union politics. The rediscovery of the German ultra-left was a key part of the critique of trade unionism, which eventually led Juhl to approach and collaborate with Invariance.

12. K.H. Roth, L’altro movimento operaio, Feltrinelli, Milano 1976.

13. S. Saggioro, In attesa della grande crisi: Storia del Partito Comunista Internazionale (1952-1982), Colibrì, Milano 2014.

14. J. Camatte, Origin and Function of the Party Form (1961). First published in Italian in 1961, in the journal Il programma comunista, nº 13. The original French appeared in 1968, in Invariance nº 1, Series I. Online here. Afterword is also included here. An English translation, which includes the 1974 postface, is online here.

15. Within the internal struggles of the Third International, Lenin addressed the same accusation of extremism and anarcho-syndicalism to the Italian Communist Left and to the German ultra-left (See V.I. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, 1920). Despite this, Amadeo Bordiga always claimed continuity with the Bolshevik tradition and addressed to the KAPD the same criticism expressed by Lenin. I was over these contradictions and limits that Camatte’s detachment from the theses of Bordiga had their origin. See L. Laugier, L’antikapédisme du PCI, online here.

16. “[T]he party, therefore, in this wholly ephemeral sense, ceased to exist for me 8 years ago.” Karl Marx, “Letter to Ferdinand Freiligrath, February 29, 1860.” Online here. For a reconstruction of Marx’s positions on the party that inspired Camatte, see Maximilien Rubel, “Remarques sur le concept de parti prolétarien chez Marx,” in Revue française de sociologie Année 1961, 166-176. Online here.

17. See Camatte, Postface to Origin and Function of the Party Form.

18. The "social worker" is a concept introduced by Antonio Negri in his Proletarians and the State: Toward a Discussion of Worker’s Autonomy and the Historic Compromise (1975). It became a term widely employed throughout the so-called “area of autonomy,” and indicates a proletariat expanded beyond the productive sphere of the factory in the entire metropolitan tissue in which capitalist valorization is socialized. Among the various uses of this concept, see Nicola Massimo De Feo, who applies it to the category of prisoners and "madmen." See “I detenuti come operai sociali”, first published in Presenze-pensieri e altre scritture, 1990, no 0, online here, and “Il folle come operaio sociale”, published in Proto, 1992, no 1, online here.

19. Camatte discusses these events in many writings, including, for example, “Mai-Juin 1968: Theorie et action,” first published in Invariance, Series I, no. 4. Online here.

20. J. Clover, Riot, Strike, Riot. The New Era of Uprisings, Verso Books, London 2016.

21. Camatte, “La révolte des étudiants italiens: un autre moment de la crise de la représentation."

22. Marx, “Results of the Direct Production Process.”

23. Marx, “Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations.”

24. Camatte, “Capital and Community,” 62.

25. On this point, see Camatte, Capital and Community, Ch. 4, “Productive and Unproductive Labor.”

26. This trend begins with the second series of Invariance, with writings such as “Against Domestication” (1973) first published in Invariance, Series II, no. 3 (online here), and “This World We Must Leave” (1974), published in Invariance, Series II, no. 6 (online here).

27. J. Camatte, “Bordiga and the Passion for Communism” (1972). Online here.

28. Louis Antoine de Saint-Just was a French revolutionary and friend of Robespierre until his death. Colonel of the National Guard, deputy of the Convention, Saint-Just was an animator of the Directory and the Jacobin Terror. He was the most ardent and unyielding advocate of revolutionary measures, theorizing revolution as a virtue, a permanent process without a determined end. He fell victim to the Termidor. It is no coincidence that Camatte speaks of Saint-Just, the theory of revolution indefinite.

29. J.-C. Milner, Relire la Rèvolution, Verdier, Paris 2016.

30. J. Camatte, “Marx et la Gemeinwesen” (1976), first published in Italian as a preface the Karl Marx’s Urtext, Savona, International, 1977; republished in Invariance, Series III, no 5-6, 1979 (online in English here). Camatte interprets the term Gemeinwesen (taken from the young Marx) as the communal being of the human species and, at the same time, of the individual considered as “social individual.” In this sense, it signifies a non-division between the collective and the individual.

31. On the reasons for the split and the Bordigist current more generally, including its long series of divisions, see the detailed work S. Saggioro,In attesa della grande crisi. This volume deals with the events after 1952, following the break with the Onorato Damen’s current, which retained the original name of “Internationalist Communist Party.” A separate book is dedicated to the previous period: Né con Truman nè con Stalin: Storia del Partito Comunista Internazionalista (1942-1952), Milan, Colibrì, 2011.

32. As we have noted already, in the French Bordigist current there was a division between the center, located in Marseille and led by the militant internationalist Suzanne Voute, who supported a more activist direction of the party aimed at political growth within the class struggle, propaganda, and proselytizing, and on the other hand the tendency of Camatte, who wanted to maintain a strict vision of the “historical party,” which in counterrevolutionary periods must be limited to theory, to maintain the invariance of the program. The Parisian tendency accused the center of “neo-Trotskyism,” and the center accused the Paris group of intellectualism. In the controversy, Camatte's group was pushed out in 1966, although he believed they were more faithful to the authentic interpretation of Bordiga and the Communist Left.

33. By "transcrescence," Camatte understands the passage of capitalism from the phase of formal domination to that of real domination. With this passage, capitalism no longer requires mediation, since society, in its various aspects, is no longer an external body to command but is completely assimilated. In this sense, labor, for example, is not a dialectical opposite of capital, but belongs integrally to it. More generally, there is no outside of capital: the entire socialist program that belonged to the phase of formal domination is therefore a thing of the past. Capital is no longer merely a mode of production, but a civilization.

34. Invariance magazine, and specifically Jacques Camatte and Gianni Collu, introduced the thesis that any organization, under the material community of capital, is inevitably led to separate itself from the class by becoming a gang and a racket, with the sole purpose of reproducing itself. See J. Camatte and G. Collu, On Organisation (1969), Detroit, Black and Red, 1976. The text , written in 1969, appears in Invariance, Series II, no 2, 1972. Online here.

35. This is an allusive expression used by the radical theorist Giorgio Cesarano to understand the fact that capital subtracts, even prior to the valorization of work, the meaning and content of lived experience. Meaning [senso] is on layaway, or subject to credit [credito], because it is pursued through models and commodified images that promise happiness and desire, but which never in fact come true. Cesarano therefore speaks of "living meaning" alongside "living labor." According to this vision, capital, as a civilization rooted in a thoroughgoing alienation, appropriates the ability to respond to the adventure of existence. It is for this reason that Cesarano also refers to capitalism as an "inorganic evolution." See Giorgio Cesarano, Critica dell’Utopia Capitale, Milano, Colibrì, 1993.

36. J. Camatte, “Community and Communism in Russia” (1972). First published in Invariance, Series II, no 4, 1974. Translated into English by David Brown (1978). Online here.

37. P.P. Poggio, Comune contadina e rivoluzione in Russia: l'obščina, Jaca Book, Milano 1978.

38. M. Löwy, Redemption and Utopia. Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe (1988), Verso Books, London, 2017.

39. A. Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech (1964), MIT press, Cambridge - London, 1993; J. Camatte, À propos de Leroi-Gourhan (1986), Online here.

40. F. Rossi-Landi, A semiotic homology for linguistics and economics (1968), South Hadley, MA, 1983; Id., Linguistics and economics (1974), The Hague, Mouton, 1977.

41. Tiqqun, Theory of Bloom. First published in Tiqqun no. 1 (1999). Translated into English by Robert Hurley (2012). Online here.

42. R. Schürmann, Broken Hegemonies, Indiana University Press, 1996. “On Constituting Oneself as an Anarchist Subject,” in Reiner Schürmann, Tomorrow the Manifold, Ed. M. Rauch and N. Schneider, Diaphanies, 2019.

43. J. Ellul, Autopsy of Revolution (1969), Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, 2012; Id., De la révolution aux révoltes (1972), La Table ronde, Paris 2011; Id., Changer de révolution. L’inéluctable prolétariat (1982), La Table ronde, Paris 2015.

44. J.-C. Milner, Relire la Révolution