Third session of the “What Is to Be Done Under Real Subsumption?” reading group*


“What is real subsumption? Marx defines ‘formal subsumption’ as the process in which capital integrates an existing labour process: techniques, markets, means of production, workers, etc. But the development of capital inexorably transforms social relations and modes of labour in accordance with its own requirements. The real subsumption of the labour process occurs once every aspect of the latter has been subordinated to capitalist production, whose end is simply the self-valorisation of value”.
Ray Brassier, “Wandering Abstraction”

Following the financial crisis and the ongoing social struggles all over the world, we witness the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and yet don’t seem to have a credible political horizon able to stop the process. What theoretical tools would allow us to think adequately about this particular time in history? Where could we find such tools in this cultural landscape of ruins? What is clear is that we are without a compelling narrative of this crisis; however, theory is still a necessary background to common action. On one hand, social action is more urgent than ever, but on the other, dominant ideology is tending to atomize and fragment us collectively. The Internet has given us increased connectivity, but is also generating more and more individual forms of subjectivation. Working collectively appears to be very difficult, and when it does occur, it does so under very generic terms and demands, such as we are the 99% or ¡Democracia real YA! This reading group will discuss notions such as ‘collectivity’ and ‘organisation’, and consider what a revolutionary subject could be today.

In order to do so, we will attempt to analyze the state of contemporary capitalism and ask what kind of politics could be critical, desirable and effective under real subsumption. At the same time, we will attempt to explore implications and consequences of these politics in relation to contemporary art practices. To this purpose, we will look at different emerging theories which consider the possible defeat of capitalism. We will take as a starting point a recent text by philosopher Ray Brassier which looks at two theoretical tendencies: Communisation and Accelerationism. Both of these tendencies take Marx as a starting point, but call into question the proletariat as a revolutionary subject under real subsumption. Communisation here differs from its deployment by Tiqqun and Invisible Committee and revolves instead around its theorisation by Marxist ultra-left collectives such us Théorie Communiste, Endnotes, Blaumachen, Riff-Raff which together run SIC- International Journal for Communisation.

Accelerationism is a term coined by Benjamin Noys in 2008 in order to criticise British philosopher Nick Land and his idea that capitalism has liberating qualities that should be embraced and even taken to their ultimate consequences to bring about radical change. The idea came about with the failure of ’68 and resulting disenchantment. Historical references for it are Jean-François Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. Accelerationism has been reconsidered recently by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek in the “#Accelerate Manifesto”. This manifesto has been described by some as a political manifestation of the Speculative Realism philosophical movement and has gained a lot of attention, including comments by eminent figures such as Toni Negri.

Communisation as understood by the collective Endnotes is the direct destruction of capital as self-valorising value and the destruction of the relationship of reproduction of workers as workers. This notion of Communisation is against the notion of Programatism: a theory and practice of class struggle in which the proletariat finds, in its drive toward liberation, the fundamental elements of a future social organisation which become the programme to be carried out. Accelerationist politics instead thinks that a certain Programatism is not only possible but necessary in order to preserve the gains of late capitalism and its technologies while progressing beyond its value system and governance structures. Here we have two different views on how to think about our future. From them emerge several crucial questions: is thought entirely instrumentalised for capitalist self-valorisation or can we use it in order to comprehend the processes which lead to our own commodification? How can we consider the link between the conceptual and the social at a practical level?

These questions are applicable to all capitalist societies, but are pertinent in Bilbao considered from the specific context of the Basque Country, where we are experiencing a new political situation following the ceasefire of ETA. Spain is simultaneously witnessing a series of struggles and protest demonstrations against financial cuts and an authoritarian administration that favours capital imposed by corrupt government. How can these theories be related to our particular context?

To take part in the reading session from 10.00 to 14.00, please contact

Text to be discussed:

“Communisation and value-form theory”. “Comunización y teoría de la forma-valor”.

*This is the third of five sessions of the “What Is to Be Done Under Real Subsumption?” reading group series. They will conclude with a workshop on the 29th of November 2014. Loty Negarti and Mattin will be coordinating reading sessions and workshop.