'Communism ... Is the Affirmation of a New Community': Notes on Jacques Camatte

By el-Ojeili, Chamsy | Capital & Class, June 2014 | Go to article overview

'Communism ... Is the Affirmation of a New Community': Notes on Jacques Camatte


el-Ojeili, Chamsy, Capital & Class


Introduction

It is unlikely that the thought of French communist Jacques Camatte is widely known to those working in the field of social and political thought. Nevertheless, it contains plenty that is of interest, beyond what might be delivered by a distanced history-of-ideas treatment of intellectual novelties or oddities. For a start, Camatte's distinctive later work was built from a platform provided by a fascinating, but relatively neglected (even in Italy) wing of Italian communism--the Bordigist line. Second, the development of Camatte's thinking in the direction of what has commonly been referred to as primitivism is both unusual (because of his Bordigist roots), and is one of a number of important resources for English-speaking primitivist intellectuals and collective projects. Furthermore, while this current appears to have peaked and subsequently declined in influence from the middle of the 1990s, it contains plenty to chew on, and its emphases and impulses continue to have at least a subterranean life within the broad field of anarchist thought, which has, moreover, been reinvigorated since the close of the 1990s in alternative-globalisation currents. At a higher level of generality still, the apparent return of interest in Marx and socialism, and the re-appearance of a harder left of contestation in both formal and informal political life, which have followed the onset of the current financial crisis, makes an exploration of this surprising, unique thinker of some relevance, raising, as he does, questions of capitalism and communism that remain meaningful and resonant.

In this article, I will seek to touch on these issues, drawing on the work by Camatte currently available in English. I will begin by providing a background to his thought by exploring the work of Bordiga at some length--such is the continuity of themes between Camattes early work within the International Communist Party and his later primitivist phase. I will then specifically examine the movement of Camatte's thought, from the early Bordigist writings to the primitivist trajectory taken after 1968. Here, Camatte reorients his thinking around community, organisation, and the character of contemporary capitalism, breaking from Marxism, and presenting an impassioned plea for humanity to end its 'wandering'--rejecting domestication, technological development, and domination, in the name of the re-establishment of' Gemeinweseri. In a concluding note, I draw Camatte's later work together with more contemporary Anglo-American primitivist currents, considering in broad strokes what might be alive and dead in such work. While much of this formation of thought appears today to be naively romantic, worryingly irrationalist, and inadequately political, there are, I suggest, certain aspects that still have significance--in particular, the questioning of growth and the human consequences of new technological developments, the existentialist note sometimes struck in response to capital's 'running away', and the impassioned utopian demand for another way of being and being together.

The Bordigist inheritance

In a review of a Cristina Corradi's (2005) Storia dei marxismi in Italia, Peter Thomas (2009: 129) notes the significant absence of Amadeo Bordiga: 'the mention of his name, revealingly, still has the capacity to prompt a Wittgensteinian silence in some areas of the Italian left'. Thus, nearly 60 years prior to Corradi's story, the editors of the first edition of Gramsci's letters from prison had seen it as necessary to erase references to the continuing and warm connection between Gramsci and Bordiga, and, very often, Bordiga is only mentioned as a dogmatic and one-dimensional vulgar Marxist foil to Granrsci's subtle and rich explorations in the philosophy of praxis. (1) Yet within the history of Marxism, Bordiga is a fascinating figure in his own right, whose thought is indispensable in approaching the work of Jacques Camatte. …

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