Communisation theory and the question of fascism

It is now more than five years since the start of the financial crisis with no sign of respite from austerity and increasing insecurity.  Neither the old left of unions and parties or the newer social movements of protest and direct action seem to be up to the task of offering a way forward. In the search for new road maps to navigate crisis and the possibilities of life beyond capitalism, the concept of ‘communisation’ has become an increasing focus of discussion.

The word itself has been around since the early days of the communist movement. The English utopian Goodwyn Barmby, credited with the being the first person to use the term communist in the English language, wrote a text as early as 1841 entitled ‘The Outlines of Communism, Associality and Communisation’.  He conceived of the four ages of humanity as being ‘ ‘Paradisation, Barbarization, Civilization and Communisation’, while his wife and collaborator Catherine Barmby anticipated current debates about gender with early feminist interventions arguing for communisation as a solution to women’s subordination (Goodwyn Barmby is discussed in Peter Linebaugh, ‘Meandering on the semantical-historical paths of communism and commons’, The Commoner, December 2010).

The Barmbys’ use of the term to describe the process of the creation of a communist society is not a million miles away from its current usage, but it has acquired a more specific set of meanings since the early 1970s when elements of the French ‘ultra-left’ began deploying it as a way of critiquing traditional conceptions of revolution. Communism has often been conceived of by both Marxists and anarchists as a future state of society to be achieved in the distant future long after the messy business of revolution has been sorted out.  For advocates of communisation on the other hand, capitalism can only be abolished by the immediate creation of different relations between people, such as the free distribution of goods and the creation of ‘communal, moneyless, profitless, Stateless, forms of life. The process will take time to be completed, but it will start at the beginning of the revolution, which will not create the preconditions of communism: it will create communism’ (Gilles Dauvé & Karl Nesic, ‘Communisation’, 2011).

Today this broad notion of communisation is used in various different ways, but arguably there are two main poles in current debates – albeit with many shades in between. [Read more →]