Friday, 10 June 2011

Camatte or Vorstellungsarten: a partial return to 'On Organisation'

It should be noted that since we left the PCI we have tried to remove the ambiguity discussed by our doing our best to reveal the positive aspects of the left. This only resulted in our cultivating the left and becoming its most extreme expression (cf. the articles of Invariance). And this led us to fall back into a group practice. Although we considered our group "informal," it carried with it the inevitable tendency of substituting itself for the proletariat. 

As a transitional text, Camatte’s On Organisation is awkward to place. It presents a set of discontinuities between what Camatte was breaking away from and where he was heading to. The discontinuities are revealed in the denunciation of gang characteristics inherent to The Formal Party on the one side whilst on the other  he reasserts communist orthodoxy as expressed in the following: the wish to ‘return to Marx's position’ as theoretical fount of The Historic Party; the fanciful ideal of The Real Movement; the projection onto the proletariat that it is the prefiguration of communist society and that it alone can ‘realise community.’

Camatte substantially revised these contradictions by 1973 in favour of a completed theoretical break with the Historic Party. By the time he had published the The Wandering of Humanity, Marx had become for Camatte, the ‘authentic consciousness of the capitalist mode of production’; he also thought the ‘real movement’ had been superseded by human becomings along ‘other’ paths’ connected to ‘the history and palaeontology of human beings’. This was accompanied by a revision of his theory of revolutionary agency in which the proletariat, logically following from his long analysis of real domination, had become ‘domesticated’ into the Community of Capital.

However, the transitional function of On Organisation provides us with an opportunity for a retroactive reading of Camatte’s claim in the text’s 1972 preface that ‘all delimitation is limitation’ (in other words we are invited to consider the true function of the illusory community in relation to the material community) and the fate of the individual who breaks from such ‘limitations’ (Camatte makes it clear in a later note that he is not making the case for ‘stirnerite individuals’ but rather is arguing  for ‘the vast movement of our liberation, which develops on a world scale’, and this requires humans to ‘eliminate anything that could be an obstacle to the revolutionary movement’, i.e. pro-revolutionary groups). 

With On Organisation Camatte is the first to extensively investigate the problem of the work of the particular social formation in its determination by what he calls the ‘material community’:

Each human community, no matter how small, is conditioned by the mode of existence of the material community. The present mode of existence derives from the fact that capital is able to valorise itself, therefore exist and develop, only if a particle of it, at the same time that it becomes autonomous, confronts the social ensemble and places itself in relation to the total socialised equivalent, capital. It needs this confrontation (competition, rivalry); it exists only by differentiation. From this point, a social fabric forms based on the competition of rival "organisations" (rackets).

The historical determinations of the material community are imperfectly reflected and articulated by particular groups without exception. Particular communities are moments in the realisation of the ‘limitations’ of the material community as these are manifested in the delimitation of groups. As Hegel presents it:

Where civil society, and with it the State, exists, there arise the several estates in their difference: for the universal substance, as vital, exists only so far as it organically particularises itself.
Philosophy of Right

The extension of the material community into  social relations is expressed as competition between particular ‘rackets’, all of which reflect, and articulate within their own structure and relations, the entirety of the material community. Howeverevery particular organisation is condemned by its scale to perform this reflection imperfectly. If the group is a microcosm of the material community it is also a crude example. Within the inevitable extrapolations which it draws from its own particularity, the group always falsely represents the generality. 

The social relation of the particular to the universal is well illustrated analogically in the relation of parts to whole in the hologram. The separate pieces of a broken hologram retain the entire original image but with less detail and lower resolution... the smaller the piece of hologram, the less perfectly it reproduces the completeness of the original image. 

The group is not a hologram and to the extent that it actively inhabits its own framework, it runs up against the absence of details of the universal which would otherwise appear at a higher recursive level. To compensate, the group actively ‘makes up for’ and substitutes its own speculation for the imperfect appearance of the generality within its internal space. These compensations become a second, recursive, and even less perfected image of what the group is and how it fits into the material community. However, it is this imperfected/compensated image that becomes the group’s Vorstellungsart (its pattern of conceiving). It is this composite fragment of autonomous truth that is unique to the accidents of the particular group’s particular history. 

Camatte argues that the group-form preserves, and also realises ‘a social fabric’ that is ‘based on the competition of rival "organisations."’ The particular community reflects the entirety of its conditions but at such a low level of resolution that it becomes illusory and thus the source of numerous false inferences. In response, he attempts to by-pass the fictions of ‘groupscules’ by asserting the possibility of a direct relation between the individual and the material community. This is something like the protestant account of the immediacy supposed in the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ 

He proposes that the individual ‘revolutionary must not identify himself with a group but recognise himself in a theory that does not depend on a group...’ The individual ‘revolutionary’ should, through his own actions, directly participate in ‘the vast movement of our liberation, which develops on a world scale.’ Furthermore, he should consciously contribute his work, as far as he is able, directly to the  ‘proletarian movement = theory = communism.’ The only relation to ‘organisations’ Camatte seems to conceive is to ‘eliminate’ them  as ‘obstacle[s] to the revolutionary movement’ (in fact he ambiguously moderates this somewhat in his 1972 note by firstly denying that his is an anti-organisational position and then by identifying a positive reconceptualisation of ‘organisation’ in terms of a ‘behaviour’ that will ‘combine the aspiration to human community and to individual affirmation... and a reconciliation of man with nature.’)

From these statements, it seems Camatte is arguing for a direct involvement with the universal ‘real movement’ of communism without recourse to mediating structures. As we have seen, he later abandons any commitment to ‘the real movement’ to the extent that it might be identified with the proletariat. He displaces his theory of human universality opposed to capital onto a less defined movement of movements. However, in the intervening 40 years, history has both marginalised this unreal movement, which the community of capital has easily absorbed, and has left the theoretical optimism that he attached to it stranded in the junkyard of all the other prophecies that were being directed towards alleged revolutionary subject formations at the time.

Even so, if we consider that On Organisation was written before Camatte takes the false step of identifying revolutionary agency where there was none, we find we can rewind our reading of what becomes possible in the text and set off in a different path from that which Camatte subsequently took. The scene presented in On Organisation involves an individual breaking away from the group with which he has previously identified himself.  The scene is described by Camatte as one in which 3 elements (the individual, the community and the generality) are related together by their incompatibilities. The scene and the relations it supports is catalysed in the act of the individual breaking away. It seems therefore that it is this specific act of separation in the context of attenuated and expanded memberships, rather than the refusal of all particular communities that is crucial in the text. 

Therefore the 3 part object of our attention becomes that of the manner in which  the 3  components are combined together: communal particularity, the role of the individual and the determining structure of the material community. We may assert, straight away, that human society is not a hologram. The particular group does not simply imperfectly represent the material community internally and recompose it externally in its relations with its ‘competitors’... or rather, if this is what occurs, there is also initiated a chemical process particular to the group’s internal organs which causes it to drift from its conditioning even as it is bound up in it.  That is to say, there is no immediate relation to the universal that may outside of the membership of particular communities. There is no universal real movement against the material community of capital within which we might participate and stage our critique of conditions. The practice of critique is always group-bound and  incomplete... and this incompleteness produces individuals, who like Camatte, break from the groups they had passionately belonged to. 

The individuals that break from groups carry a fragment of the particular group back out into the wider community of communities. The fragment is the truth of the group which has been developed internally, and also withheld from the generality. The group is altered by such departures and becomes another group. This fragment which the apostates carry forward in their disillusion with their group constitutes the formation of a further community (no less illusory). The new community is constituted from stolen fragments of old groups and these combined together form the  new group’s imperfect Vorstellungsart  which appears in the context of the material community which already dominates it. 

There is no social interaction that is not mediated through particular groups, the particularities of which are always constituted as a fictional version of the relation between the particular and material communities. There are no objects that have come into being which have not appeared within the imperfect space of the discourse of particular groups. In other words, particular (illusory) communities are necessary for the production of  the objects which they alone are capable of distinguishing on account of their uniquely imperfect copying of the codes of the material community. The objects which groups develop within their internal organs  are always mistaken copies, mutations, of the external codes by which the material community is bound (as an environment) to the particular social formations which inhabit its space. But these mutated codes also constitute the material of actual human interactions... true relations are always mediated through false gods. 

The destructive, inhibitive, ‘limiting’ character of communities must therefore be set beside the positive, creative and particular (unique) character of the same communities rather than, as Camatte asserts, against their failure to realise the ideal of the Human Community (Gemeinwesen). If particular communities are gangs and rackets they are no less also communities. This is not to marginalise the destructive character of communities (the means by which they reduce individuals to members) but rather it it is a proposal for a Vorstellungsart  that is able distinguish itself from the understanding of a one-directional relation between the universal and its particulars. 

Every community realises a truth that is unique to itself, a truth that exists as a result of the community’s internal dynamic, autonomous of its conditioning by the material community. Every community produces a particular truth that would otherwise not have gained form and to which the Gemeinwesen must then relate... the particular community extends the domain of the material community. Community-specific truths are the ‘human” paths’ of externalisation which Camatte talks of in The Wandering of Humanity. But the question is how this relation might be constituted... the destructive dynamics of particular communities are sometimes sufficient to cause their Vorstellungsart  to go global and inflict their particular mutations as an injury on a world-wide scale. Therefore, it seems if these  Vorstellungsarten must be recognised as integral to the entirety of humanity, then they also cannot be allowed to dominate by universalising themselves.  There is an active distinction to be made between belonging and dominating. 

The flaw which Camatte identifies as inherent to the structure of ‘organisations’ is the category type error of their own self-evaluation. His main accusation against groups is that they perceive their own particularity as a model for the entirety of the human community. His rejection of ‘organisations’ is thus a rejection of their pathological unreflexivity, their mistaken self-evaluation. 

The theory which criticises the racket cannot reproduce it. The consequence of this is refusal of all group life; it's either this or the illusion of community. 

However, it is also possible to imagine organisations that do not mistake themselves as the vehicle of Truth or History. It is possible to conceive of social structures that are aware of their own contingency and therefore are fully cognisant of the provisional nature of the values that they generate. What we might call the ‘for-itself illusory community’ does not mistake the ‘limits’ of its operations for an unmediated message from the universal that must be effected as a transcendental law. 

Such groups are aware of the fictional nature of their structure and the objects they produce. They construct their object by means of  applying artificial constraints which they recognise as their unique particularity (such constraints being necessary to produce both the object and sustain the group in relation to the object). The range and combination of constraints that may be deployed by the group in constructing its object are finally historically contingent but nevertheless remain particular to the group’s unique position in time and space. The constraints by which a group is delimited are also productive of its Vorstellungsart.  

Vorstellungsarten, is the term used by Goethe for the ‘patterns of approach’, the channels, along which the ‘subject’ and ‘object’ are mutually constructed in their encounter. The nature of the ‘object’ is constructed with the ‘subject’ and the ‘subject’ is constructed with the ‘object.’  Both ‘subject’ and ‘object’ are correlative to objective conditions but these cannot directly appear in the interactions of human society except through the mutational patterning of the Vorstellungsarten.  
Camatte identified the mechanism by which organisations and communities deploy a single fetishistic Vorstellungsart, which functions as a recognisable brand or character trait, as the fixed point around which they reproduce themselves as a fixed eternalised structure.  However, Goethe observed that every ‘subject’ position is capable of many Vorstellungsarten and becomes, due to the internal/separate dynamics of the ‘subject’, capable of developing new ones. The ‘for-itself illusory community’, which functions through the process of its reflection upon its delimitation, which as an apparatus is in turn constrained towards its object, is able to make the distinction between its own contingent particularity and the ideological danger of particularism. 

Every community is thus constituted as the ‘chosen people’ of its specific object around which the group’s necessary illusion, its Vorstellungsart, coalesces.  But this chosen status is artificial or fictional to the extent that the community might always be constituted through other constraints (random imperfect copies that might have mutated otherwise) and therefore relate itself to an entirely other object. The particular for-itself illusory community, grounded in its misreading of external codes, is thus also bound to its meontological condition. Even in its most adroit interventions, the group also stumbles over its unique realisation of the possibility that things could be otherwise.  It is a defining characteristic of the group thus constituted that it is unable to defend itself. Neither itself nor its object is worth going to war over. 

This plurality, and expendibility of groups, does not extend to the particular individual, as Camatte observes. The individual is non-interchangeable, not constructed through ‘subject’/’object’ relations, and therefore lives a particular life that is also defined by its singularity. If the particularity of groups is illusory, contingent, over-determined and playful, the individual’s particularity is fixed, driven and non-exchangeable... the meontological conditioning of groups does not hold for the individual. 

The tension belonging to groups, that which prevents them from passing into a state of lassitude, is therefore generated via the over-identification by individuals with the group’s purpose. Points of stress develop where the individual fails to locate the illusory nature of the community of which he is a member. Such over-investments first take the form of tribal identifications which readily decompose into schisms.  Only patriots become revolutionaries. 

The individual who breaks from the group steals its essence, its Vorstellungsart, but this traumatic reassertion of the particularity of the compulsive individual also instigates a necessary and developmental process in group recomposition. The group which has been freed from its true believer is ‘set free to find a new illusion’ just as the Vorstellungsart of the next community to which the individual attaches himself is also transformed by his arrival.