An encounter with Camatte is the happy obligation to embark on a cheminer - a departure, a going towards something, even if it is just a place where one can stop and reflect, where one can even turn back while looking forward. Jacques Camatte keeps the elusive, but powerful, artificiality contained within the pretensions of dialogue at a distance and, instead, invites us readers and admirers to go on a journey, a search, a walk with him, and in so doing one might have the privilege of talking with him. This is what happened to us when we visited him in April 2016, and which we then intended to communicate in an issue of the magazine. That journey and path is transparently aimed for in our project of translating his works: to make the process a comprehensive human experience. By doing so - and all the more so in this moment of irreversible crisis in the thought and civilization of the West - we are abandoning anything (competition, the world, intellectual customs, ancient certainties) that is dragging us toward extinction. and all the while in a situation where everyone is feeling that the human species must attempt a reversal. The nature of this encounter with Camatte is also communicated in a text on the Cercle Marx website, presenting an interview with Camatte:
Jacques Camatte (born 1935) was a prominent radical Marxist theoretician in European left-communist circles during the fifties and sixties. However, the events around 1968, particularly in France, caused him to gradually shed his left-communist affiliations. He saw that humanity was now caught in an impasse. There could no longer be any overthrowing of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat because all of humanity had now become ‘domesticated’ by capital. Therefore, any organised revolt against capital now only helped it develop. His proposal is that instead of fighting capital - a strategy that, if ‘successful’, only returns capital to us in a stronger form - we must abandon it. The taking leave of this capitalist world entails recreating connections with the natural world. it does not mean going to war against capital in order to topple it.
Since the 1980s, he argues, capital has moved from the domination of humanity in a living social structure to a dead, or robotic, autonomous form in which humanity has become effectively obsolete: humanity has been fully incorporated into the autonomous form. but the residues of ‘naturalness’ in the human species are a drag on the speed of development. So, in the current era we are seeing the dramatic acceleration of the processes that are removing all forms of natural life from the planet, including those residues within human beings. Humanity has, if you like, unleashed a monster that has run away from all control, even swallowing its own masters, and which is now setting the final scene for an unprecedented mass extinction. The only way we can save life on the planet, according to Camatte, is to abandon the fight against capital at the same time as we abandon capital itself - by living differently. In the process of this withdrawal capital will ossify and ‘die’. like a zombie might ‘die’ if it is starved of brains.
For Camatte, the current pandemic and the responses to it are symptoms of the final stages in the degeneration of the human species. Despite the dire signs, Camatte hopes recent events will help foster an awakening that may lead to the eventual regeneration of the planet.
His writings over the decades can be found here. The original article in French is here.
Camatte's core concept of ‘wandering’ describes the journeys humanity has taken since beginning to separate itself from the natural world and becoming uncertain of what the species - that is, itself, or Homo sapiens - actually is. Once separated from nature and having been permeated with doubt the species has sought by, all manner of means, to find justification for its existence and a purpose. It also felt “the need to create a sheltered world”, and it is in this sheltered but traumatic plane of existence that history, or wandering, takes place. It is, therefore, effective and useful to think of this wandering as history, or to think of history as a wandering. See Divagations.
(Peter Harrison, Introduction to “The Instauration of the Risk of Extinction”)