What is the communist hypothesis? In its generic sense, given in its canonic
* Manifesto*, 'communist' means, first, that the logic of class-the
fundamental subordination of labour to a dominant class, the arrangement
that has persisted since Antiquity-is not inevitable; it can be overcome.
The communist hypothesis is that a different collective organization is
practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality of wealth and even the
division of labour. The private appropriation of massive fortunes and their
transmission by inheritance will disappear. The existence of a coercive
state, separate from civil society, will no longer appear a necessity: a
long process of reorganization based on a free association of producers will
see it withering away.

'Communism' as such denotes only this very general set of intellectual
representations. It is what Kant called an Idea, with a regulatory function,
rather than a programme. It is foolish to call such communist principles
utopian; in the sense that I have defined them here they are intellectual
patterns, always actualized in a different fashion. As a pure Idea of
equality, the communist hypothesis has no doubt existed since the beginnings
of the state. As soon as mass action opposes state coercion in the name of
egalitarian justice, rudiments or fragments of the hypothesis start to
appear. Popular revolts-the slaves led by Spartacus, the peasants led by
M√ľntzer-might be identified as practical examples of this 'communist
invariant'. With the French Revolution, the communist hypothesis then
inaugurates the epoch of political modernity.

What remains is to determine the point at which we now find ourselves in the
history of the communist hypothesis. A fresco of the modern period would
show two great sequences in its development, with a forty-year gap between
them. The first is that of the setting in place of the communist hypothesis;
the second, of preliminary attempts at its realization. The first sequence
runs from the French Revolution to the Paris Commune; let us say, 1792 to
1871. It links the popular mass movement to the seizure of power, through
the insurrectional overthrow of the existing order; this revolution will
abolish the old forms of society and install 'the community of equals'. In
the course of the century, the formless popular movement made up of
townsfolk, artisans and students came increasingly under the leadership of
the working class. The sequence culminated in the striking novelty-and
radical defeat-of the Paris Commune. For the Commune demonstrated both the
extraordinary energy of this combination of popular movement, working-class
leadership and armed insurrection, and its limits: the *communards* could
neither establish the revolution on a national footing nor defend it against
the foreign-backed forces of the counter-revolution.

The second sequence of the communist hypothesis runs from 1917 to 1976: from
the Bolshevik Revolution to the end of the Cultural Revolution and the
militant upsurge throughout the world during the years 1966-75. It was
dominated by the question: how to win? How to hold out-unlike the Paris
Commune-against the armed reaction of the possessing classes; how to
organize the new power so as to protect it against the onslaught of its
enemies? It was no longer a question of formulating and testing the
communist hypothesis, but of realizing it: what the 19th century had dreamt,
the 20th would accomplish. The obsession with victory, centred around
questions of organization, found its principal expression in the 'iron
discipline' of the communist party-the characteristic construction of the
second sequence of the hypothesis. The party effectively solved the question
inherited from the first sequence: the revolution prevailed, either through
insurrection or prolonged popular war, in Russia, China, Czechoslovakia,
Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and succeeded in establishing a new order.
But the second sequence in turn created a further problem, which it could
not solve using [...]


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