Revolution or War n°19

(September 2021)

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Contribution: Communism and Community

The Communist Left has always defended the theoretical unity of Marxism. This had two main purposes. The first was, and still is, to block the way to the various versions of the left of capital which, although universally claiming a ’Marxist’ heritage, simply takes here and there small fragments that please them from the texts of Marx or Engels to better defend a left-wing and humanized version of capitalism. For the Communist Left, this eclecticism in theory leads straight to treason in practice. For example, many anarchists are enthusiastic about Marx’s critique of political economy, but reject his political solutions, in particular the dictatorship of the proletariat. This explains why, when the proletariat has taken power in the past, anarchists have always been on the bourgeois-democratic side of the barricade – and thus against the proletariat and the communists [1].

The second goal of the Communist Left in boldly defending the theoretical unity of Marxism was to defeat the sophisticated academic leftism that represented Marx’s work as fundamentally separated into two epochs that were virtually philosophically hermetic from each other. The leading figure of this political-philosophical current was Louis Althusser, an avowed Stalinist who rejected Marx’s early writings outright. Instead, he claimed to be referring to Marx’s mature writings, a period considered to be scientific. Obviously, this butchering of Marx’s writings had perfectly clear ideological and counter-revolutionary objectives: to discredit the communist program from a philosophical point of view in the first place, and to try as best he could to defend ’scientifically’ Maoist China and Stalinist Russia in the second.

The struggle of the Communist Left against all forms of leftist eclecticism has shown that Marx’s early writings are not only an integral part of the communist program but are also fundamental texts of Marxism that are absolutely not secondary nor episodic. Indeed, Marx’s writings prior to the Communist Manifesto possess a conceptual richness that the younger generations of revolutionaries would do well to reappropriate. Among these philosophical concepts, community is among the most important. This article attempts to clarify its meaning for Marx and its place in the communist program.

Importance of the writings of the young Marx

The notion of community in Marx was absolutely neglected. It is precisely the great merit of the Communist Left, in particular of the neo-Bordigist journal Invariance, which appeared around May ’68, to have unearthed the term. In many of its pages, Invariance shows how community is in fact fundamental in Marx. "Marx’s work on community has been ignored. (...) In noting this, we do not propose to recompose a new Marx, but simply to point out the extent to which Marxian reflection on community is a fundamental axis of his entire work." [2] Invariance’s approach was not, therefore, originally at least, to seek a reinterpretation of Marx’s works in light of his early writings, which were unpublished until the 1960s in many cases. Rather, it was to affirm a logical continuity in Marx’s work.

Indeed, The Communist Left shows that the young Marx’s intuitions about community inspire all of his later work. If Marx seems to use the term community more in his early writings than in his mature writings, for example in Capital, it is not so much that he later abandoned the notion, but rather that the premises that were established in the early writings are self-evident and implicit in the mature works. The philosophical and even anthropological insights of the young Marx cannot therefore be separated from his later work. It would be more accurate to say that Marx will try throughout his militant activity to found scientifically his youthful intuitions about the character of the communist society and the community.

Epistemological break ?

This being said, the Communist Left opposes head-on the "Althusserian" and therefore Stalinist conception of Marx’s work as being cut into two absolutely separate periods from the epistemological point of view. Indeed, for Althusser, the writings of the young Marx would be humanistic and ideological. One should therefore take them with a grain of salt, or even reject them, because they would not be accomplished works. The writings of the maturity would be fully scientific and it is there for Althusser that the work of Marx really takes all its significance, its extent and its importance [3].

But in rejecting or trivializing Marx’s early writings, Althusser was also rejecting as ideology the many clear descriptions of what characterizes communist society and the absolute human alienation that manifests itself in the proletariat, driving it to struggle for that society. For the Communist Left, there is no epistemological break in Marx, rather there is continuity of a communist political commitment. It is not surprising then that Althusser spent his life defending so-called communist political regimes. He had no idea what communism was for Marx, and if he had, he would have absolutely rejected and fought it - which he did, but in a sneaky way, that is, he fought communism under the cloak of ’Marxism’, in fact Stalinism - just as he rejected and fought Marx’s early writings.

Translation problems

First of all, it must be said that the translation of a political notion from one language to another can be complex insofar as it sometimes happens that there is no exact and satisfactory equivalent in terms of the political meaning given to the notion in its original language. This is exactly the case with the German term gemeinwesen, a term used in German classical philosophy, by Hegel in particular, and later taken over by Marx.

Marx’s translators will generally translate the term gemeinwesen as community. But this translation does not capture all the richness and different determinations that Marx includes in the term itself. For this reason, some other translators will use the notions of collective being, common being or social being. These terms, which still take up the element of community, but add to it the important element of being, are probably closer to the meaning of the German term given by Marx [4]. All these terms will be used throughout this text and it will be attempted to give more precise definitions.

Political community

To understand the content of Marx’s writings in the mid-1840s, it is necessary to take a detour into the socio-historical context of Germany at that time. Although the Old Regime had been shaken in Europe by the French Revolution of 1789, what is now Germany was then only a fragmentation of small principalities, except for the Kingdom of Prussia, which had a certain geographical extension. The German cultural area was therefore still under the yoke of absolute monarchy. It was in this context that a liberal movement developed, advocating constitutional reforms and the political unification of Germany, a movement of which the Young Hegelians would become the philosophers and spokesmen.

For some German liberal currents of that time, the absolute monarchy regime in Germany was a non-political state, i.e. the majority of the people were cut off from the political community. In other words, the people - bourgeois, artisans, proletarians and peasants - could not participate in political life, in the organization of the state. This is therefore a first definition of the community reduced to its political aspect. It is in fact what we designate today as the public interest, the common good or the national interest.

The demands of liberal circles were thus equivalent to the demands of the French Revolution: constitutional state, political emancipation, rights of Man and Citizen, separation of Church and State, etc. For Marx, however, "political emancipation is, of course, a big step forward. True, it is not the final form of human emancipation in general, but it is the final form of human emancipation within the hitherto existing world order. It goes without saying that we are speaking here of real, practical emancipation." [5] The accession of human beings to the political community, the purest expression of which is the democratic republic, is thus an obligatory or at least desirable passage for Marx. But even the Republic as a political community is only a partial emancipation. Indeed, civil society remains torn by a class conflict, and this class conflict is precisely the expression of the separation of the real human being from their true community.

Thus, whereas the Young Hegelians are on the ground of liberalism, Marx is already on the ground of the communist revolution, the practical emancipation. It is by criticizing the restricted and narrow character of the notion of the political community that he will outline his own conception of the community. With the accession of the citizen to the political community, it is the abstract citizen who is emancipated, not the real human being. For Marx, with political emancipation, "man was not freed from religion, he received religious freedom. He was not freed from property, he received freedom to own property. He was not freed from the egoism of business, he received freedom to engage in business." [6] Political emancipation is thus a partial liberation of the human being. In fact, under universal garments, it is only the emancipation of a particular sphere of civil society: the bourgeoisie.

True community

The bourgeoisie does not have the universal character it claims to have. It is a particular class of civil society that ensures its domination with the help of the political community that is the state. Civil society is not a united community either, because it is torn by antagonistic social class relations. Marx will therefore look for the true human being in the class that has been stripped of all traces of humanity. This is the proletariat:

"In the formulation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it; which can invoke no historical, but only human, title; which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in all-round antithesis to the premises of German statehood; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete re-winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat." [7]

Marx expresses here the power of his dialectical method. The proletariat has in itself the capacity to emancipate humanity precisely because it is deprived of any form of humanity. It is this universal character of the human alienation in the proletariat that makes its political fight so radical. It does not aim at liberating a particular sphere of society, but the human being in its totality.

But, if the political community is only an illusory community, what is the true community of the human being? Marx indicates then the difference between political community and true community, that is the collective being of the human being:

"But the community from which the worker is isolated is a community of quite different reality and scope than the political community. The community from which his own labor separates him is life itself, physical and spiritual life, human morality, human activity, human enjoyment, human nature. Human nature is the true community of men. Just as the disastrous isolation from this nature is disproportionately more far-reaching, unbearable, terrible and contradictory than the isolation from the political community, so too the transcending of this isolation and even a partial reaction, a rebellion against it, is so much greater, just as the man is greater than the citizen and human life than political life. Hence, however limited an industrial revolt may be, it contains within itself a universal soul: and however universal a political revolt may be, its colossal form conceals a narrow split." [8]

Indeed, Marx gives a precise definition of what the human being is. They are not the citizen of the French Revolution, even less the voter or the consumer of the contemporary society. What characterizes the human being, is the whole of their social relations and their real social practices. In short, the human being is a collective, social being and these characteristics are common to the whole of humanity. The community is thus the essence of the human being.

Each mode of production in history produces a particular conception of being, for example the capitalist mode of production produces the conception of being as Homo economicus, i.e. a conception of being that reduces all social relations to a commercial cost/benefit relationship. "As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce." [9] So even capitalist social relations have a human and social origin. But human beings lose control over their own social relations. There is a dissolution of the social being by class societies and the creation of an autonomous sphere: the state, social classes, the separation between individual and collective interest, the separation between nature and society, etc. In other words, human social relations come to create institutions that deny the collective, social and community character of the human being.

This is precisely the meaning of alienation in Marx. We often tend to reduce the question of alienation only to the sphere of work. Labor is indeed part of Marx’s conception of alienation. But his conception is much broader and richer. "The positive transcendence of private property as the appropriation of human life, is therefore the positive transcendence of all estrangement – that is to say, the return of man from religion, family, state, etc., to his human, i.e., social, existence." [10]
The alienation of the human being therefore consists in living their life according to determinations that are contrary to their social being. Let us take the example of capitalist society. The fundamental norms are competition between individuals, the lure of gain and the accumulation of abstract wealth: value in the concrete form of money. All these characteristics are completely contrary to the common, social and collective being of the human being. The existence of such a society contrary to the human being is the consequence of the alienation and separation of human beings from their community.

Gemeinwesein as human community

Now that we have identified the philosophical definition of community, let us look at the third meaning that is sometimes given to this notion. From a philosophical definition, let us now move on to a political definition. Indeed, Marx, and sometimes Engels as well, take up the term by giving it a new determination as a human community. In his critique of the Gotha Program, Marx speaks of the community for all practical purposes as a synonym for communist society:

"Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor." [11]

This definition is important because it makes the link between Marx’s conception of being and the implications of this conception in the Marxist view of communist society. It also shows that the young Marx’s conception of community is still found in the mature Marx, and with the same logical rigor. Indeed, the Critique of the Gotha Program was written by Marx towards the end of his life in 1875.

According to Marx, revolution consists in the destruction of the bourgeois state. But, in the transitional phase that he calls dictatorship of the proletariat, the revolutionary class will still need authority to revolutionarily transform social relations. Some will call this political authority a proletarian State, a semi-state or a Commune-State. These definitions show how this state is not conceived as permanent. It is in fact destined to disappear with the disappearance of class antagonisms. In short, it is a state that is already no longer a state in the traditional sense of the term and it must disappear as soon as human beings have returned to their community. Engels asserted that the human community, gemeinwesen, will replace the state at the culmination of social transformations at the end of the transition period. Since the state is based on class antagonism, as soon as class antagonism has disappeared, the state is extinguished. In a letter to the socialist August Bebel, he explains:

"Now, since the state is merely a transitional institution of which use is made in the struggle, in the revolution, to keep down one’s enemies by force, it is utter nonsense to speak of a free people’s state; so long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist. We would therefore suggest that Gemeinwesen [’commonalty’] be universally substituted for state; it is a good old German word that can very well do service for the French “Commune.” [12]

Human nature?

We have reviewed the different determinations of the notion of community in Marx. We see the centrality of the social, community and collective aspect in the definition of what it is to be human. Although Invariance had the merit of underlining the importance of community in Marx, its work has the weakness of reintroducing the idea of human nature into Marxist analysis. As we have seen, Marx does not have a specific conception of a fixed and ahistorical human nature, even though he sometimes uses the term. In fact, what is called human nature is often only an ideological conception that human beings have of themselves that has emerged with modernity. According to the American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, the idea of human nature is a myth of Western - we would say bourgeois - thought that is quite recent in human history. Moreover, cultural practices empirically predate the birth of our species homo sapiens, and by extension, the idea that human beings have of their own nature. In other words, human beings were born directly into culture and have never known any state of nature. "The modern human species, Homo sapiens, emerged relatively recently under the aegis of a much older human culture." [13] For Marx, each mode of production will create in the same movement its own ideal representations that are self-evident and considered natural. The only invariant as for the human being according to Marx is their social and collective essence, their communal aspect, that is to say the central character of the social relations.

Invariance will tend to freeze this invariant and make it an ahistorical and timeless human nature. "The misery of the proletariat is to be deprived of its human nature" [14] The human nature affirmed here by Invariance corresponds to community, to social being. As if communism were only a state of nature, a kind of lost paradise and that humanity needs to find it again. Thus, human nature in Invariance is only the mirror effect of the Hobbesian narrative, a narrative that remains one of the foundations of bourgeois ideology. For Hobbes, indeed, in the state of nature, social relations are nothing but a perpetual war of some against others. It is then necessary for individuals to cede their power to a sovereign who will establish laws - here comes into play the element of culture that takes humanity out of the state of nature - to frame and reduce the perpetual war. For Invariance, the idea of a state of nature corresponds to societies of primitive communism, such as hunter-gatherer societies. The advent of class societies, such as slave, feudal and capitalist societies, would correspond in some way to the birth of culture, to the exit of the human being from the state of nature, to its ’domestication’. Communism thus becomes for Invariance, and this is all the more clear after its revisionist turn, the hope to find the alleged human nature of the primitive communist societies, which implies the rejection of the technical progress and industrialization, considered as artificial and foreign to the human nature.

Invariance’s political error with respect to a supposed human nature explains in part the revisionist turn the journal subsequently took. It would be important to take a few moments to characterize the political contribution of this journal, which today has practically reached the status of myth in ultra-left circles. The political positioning of the militants who left the International Communist Party in the mid-1960s in reaction to the establishment of a more assertive party spirit in the ICP - judged as a ’Leninist turn’ by the ex-members - can only be described as a reminiscence of a circle spirit as characterized by Lenin in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. In this respect, the political project of Invariance was from the beginning marked by anti-party reflexes that would obviously burst into the open a few years later. Nevertheless, the journal initially published historical texts of the Communist Left as well as early texts by Marx. The publication of these texts was accompanied by an intuition - and this is probably the only contribution of the journal - that is completely correct from a political point of view: the concept of community is central in Marx. But as we have already seen, starting from a correct intuition, the journal later became entangled in revisionism, bourgeois ideology and broke all ties with the Communist Left and Marxism.

Let us now return to our dilemma between nature and culture. However, as early as 1844, Marx sets out the terms of the debate in a very clear way:

"Thus the social character is the general character of the whole movement: just as society itself produces man as man, so is society produced by him. Activity and enjoyment, both in their content and in their mode of existence, are social: social activity and social enjoyment. The human aspect of nature exists only for social man; for only then does nature exist for him as a bond with man – as his existence for the other and the other’s existence for him – and as the life-element of human reality. Only then does nature exist as the foundation of his own human existence. Only here has what is to him his natural existence become his human existence, and nature become man for him. Thus society is the complete unity of man with nature – the true resurrection of nature – the consistent naturalism of man and the consistent humanism of nature." [15]

All human practice is fundamentally social, even in its alienated form in capitalist society. But nature should not be seen as an object external to humanity. It is when the human being is alienated and thus separated from their community that they consider themselves also alien to nature. They can thus exploit it, destroy it and waste it to make social relations, which aim only at producing more and more abstract wealth, function. Communism is thus for Marx at the same time the reconciliation of the human beings with their social being, the community, but also with nature.

Individual, society and community

From the meanings of the notion of community in Marx that we have delimited, we will try to show what are its implications for the communist theory and its conception of a future society. Indeed, if we can affirm that the notion of community in Marx is both a philosophical and anthropological theory, we should not forget that Marx did not set as an imperative to analyze society, but to transform it. The social science of Marx must therefore also be a communist theory. We will analyze these implications in three steps: first, the relationship between individuals and society, then the relationship between the community and the state, and finally through the link between the community and nature.

The distinction between individual and society, or in other words, between private interest and common good is not the universal mode of being of human societies. The study of primitive societies is enough to prove it. On the contrary, this distinction appears as a corollary to the appearance of the political community as we have defined it above, that is to say essentially with the appearance of the modern liberal state and civil society. It is with the advent of capitalism that the complete separation of human beings from their true community is completed. This phenomenon appears precisely with the rise of the selfish individual opposed to society. But for Marx, "Above all we must avoid postulating “society” again as an abstraction vis-à-vis the individual. The individual is the social being." [16] What he expresses here is that this opposition between individual and society is the very expression of human alienation. This opposition is a concrete materialization of the bourgeois ideology in which social relations are conceived as a confrontation in the public place between each egoistic individual. From this confrontation would arise a certain complementarity of the different interests from which would then emerge the common good as an aggregation of egoistic wills.

This here is the foundation of the capitalist utopia, considering that each individual, taken in isolation, would achieve the global well-being of society by pursuing their own selfish interest. Marx clearly demonstrates the alienating character of such social relations. In notes written in 1844 on James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy [17], he ironically takes up the individualistic categories of classical political economy in order to criticize them. This critique takes the form of a dialogue between two selfish and separate individuals, You and I: "I have produced for myself and not for you, just as you have produced for yourself and not for me. In itself, the result of my production has as little connection with you as the result of your production has directly with me. That is to say, our production is not man’s production for man as a man, i.e., it is not social production. Neither of us, therefore, as a man stands in a relation of enjoyment to the other’s product. As men, we do not exist as far as our respective products are concerned. Hence our exchange, too, cannot be the mediating process by which it is confirmed that my product is [for] you, because it is an objectification of your own nature, your need. For it is not man’s nature that forms the link between the products we make for one another. Exchange can only set in motion, only confirm, the character of the relation which each of us has in regard to his own product, and therefore to the product of the other. Each of us sees in his product only the objectification of his own selfish need, and therefore in the product of the other the objectification of a different selfish need, independent of him and alien to him." [18]

The dialogue staged by Marx shows that capitalist social relations are alienated in that they are not really social. They are, in a way, relations between atomized individuals, although they are the result of social processes. They express the separation of the human being from their real community, from the communal being. Because, once again to take up this abstract scheme of the classical economy, each individual produces objects of subsistence in an isolated way, the link between the two individuals can only be a relation of domination:

"As a man you have, of course, a human relation to my product: you have need of my product. Hence it exists for you as an object of your desire and your will. But your need, your desire, your will, are powerless as regards my product. That means, therefore, that your human nature, which accordingly is bound to stand in intimate relation to my human production, is not your power over this production, your possession of it, for it is not the specific character, not the power, of man’s nature that is recognised in my production. They [your need, your desire, etc.] constitute rather the tie which makes you dependent on me, because they put you in a position of dependence on my product. Far from being the means which would give you power over my production, they are instead the means for giving me power over you." [19]

However, this relation of domination has its concrete expression not in the domination of one individual over another - which even liberal theory can sometimes foresee - but rather in the domination of the possessors of the means of social production over those who only possess their labor power. In other words, it is the domination of the bourgeois class over the proletariat.

Marx then continues the dialogue between You and I. But this time he makes a leap in the future and establishes what the relationship between You and I would be in a society where production would be directly human, that is, in a communist society:

"Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings. Each of us would have in two ways affirmed himself and the other person. 1) In my production I would have objectified my individuality, its specific character, and therefore enjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also when looking at the object I would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses and hence a power beyond all doubt. 2) In your enjoyment or use of my product I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work, that is, of having objectified man’s essential nature, and of having thus created an object corresponding to the need of another man’s essential nature. 3) I would have been for you the mediator between you and the species, and therefore would become recognised and felt by you yourself as a completion of your own essential nature and as a necessary part of yourself, and consequently would know myself to be confirmed both in your thought and your love. 4) In the individual expression of my life I would have directly created your expression of your life, and therefore in my individual activity I would have directly confirmed and realised my true nature, my human nature, my communal nature." [20]

This way of producing in a directly human way abolishes the opposition between individual and society. Indeed, society is no longer an accumulation of more or less complementary contradictory individual interests. The relation of the social individual with the society is directly mediated by the social being, that is to say by this essence of the human beings which gives them the capacity to act as a community. The individual no longer produces for themselves, but for their community, and their community in turn comes to meet all the social needs of the individuals, hence the adage ’From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." [21]

This conception of communist society stands in stark contrast to the various bourgeois "socialist" currents which claim that the role of the state, as the representative of society, is to correct the "natural" inequalities between individuals in civil society. For Marx, the state is a political community, that is, an illusory community that is not yet the human community in that it is basically only a community of interests of a particular class of society, the bourgeoisie. In this sense, the modern state does not correct social inequalities between individuals. On the contrary, it consecrates and preserves the system of division into social classes. The communist society, the true community, is founded, according to Marx, outside of any state.

Community and state

For Engels, the birth of the state as an autonomous political force is based on the birth of antagonistic social classes. The role of the state is to attempt in an illusory manner to resolve the ultimately insoluble contradictions between the social classes. To do this, it uses the monopoly of violence for the benefit of the dominant class. The modern state, as a political community, is no exception to the rule. But its existence appears as much as an expression of the irreconcilable antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat as an opposition between individual and society. In short, the political community - the modern state - is the symptom of a still alienated society. From these premises follows the fact that a communist society, for its part, does not need a state at all to function because it abolishes what is at the foundation of the existence of the state: social classes and the opposition between individuals and society.

That said, as we have seen above, Engels conceived the exercise of power during the revolution by the revolutionary class, the proletariat, as a form of transitional state. Unlike the political community, which consecrates the absolute power of the ruling class to continue to exploit the dominated class in tranquility, the state of the transitional period gives the capacity in the form of political power to the dominated class to transform extensively society despite the violent opposition of the ruling class. During this process, the more society transforms itself in the image of the communal being, i.e. the more profound the transformations are - the ultimate goal being the abolition of all social classes, including the proletariat - the less necessary the State becomes. It is then extinguished to leave place to the human community. Marx expressed this process within the revolution as follows:

"All revolution – the overthrow of the existing ruling power and the dissolution of the old order – is a political act. But without revolution, socialism cannot be made possible. It stands in need of this political act just as it stands in need of destruction and dissolution. But as soon as its organizing functions begin and its goal, its soul emerges, socialism throws its political mask aside." [22]

The revolution is thus political, violent and takes a statist form as long as it is in its phase of destruction of the old alienated social relations and the institutions conceived to protect them. As soon as it enters its positive and creative phase, it is stripped of this political and statist character. What develops then is the communal being, that is to say the communist society.

Marx’s point of view is interesting in that it envisages the communist revolution as the end of politics. Indeed, if we take as a basic reasoning that politics in Marx’s view consists of class struggle - "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." [23] - by abolishing social classes, communist society would logically abolish politics.

Community and nature

The notion of community in Marx also has implications for the relationship between human beings and nature. Indeed, the process that sees the human being separate from their community is concomitant to the process of objectification of nature. By separating themselves from themselves, the human being also separates themselves from their natural environment. Nature being placed as external and alien to humanity - in other words, reified - it becomes possible to exploit it shamelessly without taking into account its capacities and limits. As we have seen above, Marx sees in community both the resolution of human alienation and the antagonism between humanity and nature:

"Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being – a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. (….) It is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution." [24]

The important aspect here is that Marx posits this resolution of the antagonism between human beings and between humans and nature as the result of the level of wealth achieved by the past development of humanity. In other words, he posits the possibility of communist society through the conditional passage through the elevation of the productive forces previously effected by capital.

It would be easy to claim, on reading this passage, that Marx was a productivist. However, his conception is much more nuanced. For Marx, communist society certainly requires a certain level of productivity to provide the community with a diversity of goods to meet social needs. Capitalism’s only positive point was to allow humanity to reach a level of productivity that made communist society materially possible. But capitalism, by developing in an unlimited way - and this is even more true today insofar as this system survives again and again - puts at stake the precarious balance between society and nature. We can say that the level of productivity necessary for communism according to Marx has long been reached and all the current development of capitalism is only parasitism, destruction, pollution, death and war.

In 1848, Marx already had this concern as to demonstrate the excesses of capitalism. He showed that during economic crises, capitalism accumulated too much wealth, was too productive, in short that it was too civilized for what its social relations could contain:

"Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them" [25]

Of course, Marx is talking about economic crises as they might have occurred in 1848. But this same process still exists in 2020. Except that today, capitalist civilization sees its limit not only in recurring economic crises, but also in the destruction of ecosystems.

This excess of civilization of capitalism stems from its intrinsic nature. Marx defines capital as value valorizing itself. Thus, the mode of being of capitalism is the continuous acceleration of productivity, unlimited economic development, exploitation of humanity and plundering of nature - factors that since the period of decadence lead to global imperialist wars. In this way, the reconciliation of nature with society that Marx wants can only be achieved by reversing this unlimited ’progress’ of capitalism. In other words, communist society is alien to the logic of productivism, which is inherent to capitalism. Capital intends to produce infinitely because its essence is the maximization of profits. The communist society, on the other hand, can be satisfied with a very modest production because its essence is the satisfaction of the social needs of human beings. These needs, unlike capitalist profits, are relatively limited and finite, which nevertheless does not prevent their growth according to human determinations. In other words, communism requires a relative abundance in order to realize relatively limited human needs, whereas capitalism, in its process of infinite valorization, overproduces and wastes in an unlimited way.

It is precisely the limited character of production in a communist society that allows us to think of a reconciliation between humanity and nature. Indeed, the human community would be able to take from nature what it needs while respecting the natural metabolism of ecosystems. But this process can only take place if nature is no longer considered as an exploitable object. Nature must be part of humanity. The Communist Left explains well how this nature respecting production could be articulated:

"If, in socialism, there is accumulation, it will be presented as an accumulation of material objects useful to human needs, and these will not need to appear alternately as money, nor will they need to undergo the application of a ’monetometer’ allowing them to be measured and compared according to a ’general equivalent’. Thus, these objects will no longer be commodities and will be defined only by their physical quantitative nature and by their qualitative nature, which is expressed by economists, and also by Marx, for the purpose of exposition, by use value. It can be established that the rhythms of accumulation in socialism, measured in material quantities such as tons of steel or kilowatts of energy, will be slow and not much higher than the rhythm of population growth. Relative to mature capitalist societies, the rational planning of consumption in quantity and quality and the abolition of the enormous mass of anti-social consumption (from cigarettes to aircraft carriers) will probably determine a long period of decline in the indices of production and thus, if we take up old terms, a disinvestment and a de-accumulation." [26]

It is first of all a question of eliminating all the non-necessary production of capitalism and its logical aberrations, such as the most blatant example that is programmed obsolescence, to reorient these energies towards the real satisfaction of human needs. This will require a complete transformation of the way we produce and consume, which will aim to avoid waste and overproduction. From the process of unlimited accumulation of capital, the communist society will reverse the trend. This is precisely what will allow nature to finally catch its breath.


The aim of this contribution was to try to define the determinations of the notion of community in Marx and then to demonstrate its implications for the Marxist theory of communist society. The community conceived as the social and communal essence of humanity is at the basis of Marx’s conception of the future communist society. This new society would be able to abolish the opposition between individual and society by putting forward the directly social individual moving within a human community. In doing so, this new community would not require a political state separate from society whose purpose is to organize and control individuals. Finally, the reconciliation of human beings with each other implies in parallel the reconciliation of human beings with their natural environment. This reconciliation of society and nature would finally make it possible to solve a good part of the ecological problems. The present work has therefore attempted to debunk at least three tenacious myths produced by bourgeois ideology concerning communism. First, communism does not aim at more equality between individuals or citizens, that would only be an attempt to perfect the objectives of the bourgeois revolution. On the contrary, it aims at the "total emancipation of all human senses and qualities" [27] permitted by the abolition of social classes. Secondly, communism is not a total statization of the society. On the contrary, it aims at the abolition of the state. Thirdly, communism is not in continuity with the productivist logic of capitalism. It aims at a reconciliation with nature, which requires the disappearance of the unlimited accumulation of capital.

Robin, January 2021



[1It must be said that there were indeed historical examples of anarchist militants joining the revolution, the most famous case probably being Victor Serge. But one should not be mistaken. Serge participated in the Russian revolution by breaking politically with anarchism and by joining the Bolsheviks.

[2« Marx et la Gemeinwesen », Invariance, Série 3, no 5-6 (1979), p. 80. Translated into English by us.

[4Karl Marx, Textes (1842-1847), Paris, Spartacus, 1970, p. 67.


[7Karl Marx, Introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,

[8Karl Marx, Critical Notes on the Article: “The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian”,

[9Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, [].

[10Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,

[11Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Some translations use “community based social order” instead of “co-operative society” and “community” instead of “total labor”

[12Friedrich Engels, Letter to August Bebel, march 18th 1875,

[14« Nature et fonction de la forme parti », Invariance, Série 1, no 1 (1968), p.9. Translated in English by us.

[15Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,


[17See the relevant analysis of these notes written by Marx on James Mill’s Éléments d’économie politique in The original content of the communist program,

[18Karl Marx, Comments on James Mill, Éléments D’économie Politique,



[21Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha program,

[22Karl Marx, Critical Notes on the Article: “The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian”,

[23Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party,

[24Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,

Ibid., p. 147.

[25Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party,

[26Amadeo Bordiga. Développement des rapports de production après la révolution bolchévique. Paris. Éditions Spartacus, 1985, p. 191-192. Translated by us.

[27Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,