On Organisation: in This World We Must Leave and Other Essays

Review

 

On Organisation: in This World We Must Leave and Other Essays
by Jacques Camatte
Autonomedia, New York, USA, 1995
Paperback / 256pp / £5.95 / ISBN 1-57027-020-1

Originally published in the French journal Invariance (Annee V, Serie II, No.2), 'On Organisation' is an open letter written in 1969 by Jacques Camatte and Gianni Collu to explain why they felt revolutionaries had to reject the form of political groups and organisations that had normally been their home. Camatte is part of a tradition of left communism that has existed alongside, and fiercely criticised, the better known tendencies of Leninism and Trotskyism, arguing that the ideas that are usually passed off as communist or Marxist are in fact neither. Being an offspring of Marxism however, the useful criticisms and analyses that this tradition has to offer are usually filled with so much jargon and academic language that they end up being ignored, which is in many ways a shame. This World We Must Leave, as one example, has many challenging ideas for those prepared to make the effort.

 

The essence of their argument in 'On Organisation' is that political groups, whether large or small, formal or informal, hierarchical or not, can only be a hindrance to revolutionary developments. For Camatte "capitalism is the triumph of the organisation, and the form the organisation takes is the gang." (p.30) At all levels of society the whole social fabric is based on competing organisations and rackets, and with the state as "a gang mediating between different gangs and between the total capital and particular capitals." (p.25) Even groups which aim to go beyond this society become trapped by it, acting as just another gang or racket. Groups and gangs tend to hide the existence of their ruling cliques (formal or informal) to appear more attractive to outsiders, and try to distinguish themselves from all the similar rackets around. "Once within the gang (or any other type of business) the individual is tied to it by all the psychological dependencies of capitalist society". (p.27)

The gang then vampirizes their creative abilities and suppresses their individuality in the name of an illusory community, and "even in those groups that want to escape the social givens the gang mechanism nevertheless tends to prevail because of the different degrees of theoretical development among the members. The inability to question theoretical questions independently leads the individual to take refuge behind the authority of another member who becomes, objectively, a leader, or behind the group entity, which becomes a gang." (p.27)

For Camatte it is also impossible for such groups to avoid separating themselves from those around them as, "to belong in order to exclude, that is the internal dynamic of the gang." (p.28) Nor can they avoid substituting themselves for the proletariat, seeing themselves instead as the agents of change or the bringers of 'true consciousness'. Camatte argues that capital has by now managed to establish its real domination, by absorbing and assimilating the proletariat, which is the only movement which could potentially challenge its power. He believes that this unity is fragile and can be destroyed by a crisis, possibly opening the way to a movement towards communism, but in the meantime no genuinely revolutionary organisation can exist and "all forms of working class political organisation have disappeared. In their place, gangs confront one another in an obscene competition, veritable rackets rivalling each other in what they peddle but identical in their essence." (p.26)

So where does this leave us in terms of what people who identify as revolutionaries can actually do? Camatte's answer is firstly that "the critique of capital ought to be, therefore, a critique of the racket in all its forms; of capital as social organism... The theory which criticises the racket cannot reproduce it. The consequence of this is the refusal of all group life; it's either this or the illusion of community... A group can in no way pretend to realise community without taking the place of the proletariat, which alone can do it". (p.32) Instead he argues that revolutionaries can only keep up loose networks of personal contacts, developing theory where possible. He believes that real change will only come as a result of a crisis in capitalism that will be the spark for a general movement towards communism. Certainly revolutionaries can and should get stuck into such opportunities, but for Camatte it is worse than useless to engage in "petty activism" in the meantime.

 

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