On The Idea of Communism

Hello hello, TPM readers! Thank you for being faithful even in these times where I am blogging much less than usual — two weeks of unexplained absence, without a drop in the reader count! Thank you for standing by! Well, I have been doing several projects, and am also writing my thesis, but here I am :-)

To start the month, why don’t we review a bit of what happened on March, an event that started on the appropriately dangerous Friday the 13th and ended on the following Sunday. I am talking, of course, about On The Idea of Communism conference, hosted by Slavoj Žižek at Birkbeck College, which included names like Alain Badiou, Terry Eagleton, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Jacques Ranciere, Judith Balso, Bruno Bosteels, Alessandro Russo, Alberto Toscano and Gianni Vattimo. Jean-Luc Nancy I think was supposed to be there but could not attend due to Visa problems (which reminds me of my own case last year).

I would have loved it if I had actually attended and this were an actual report, but I didn’t, so for conference notes I would refer you to Andrew Osborne’s post here. I watched several videos on YouTube as well, one of which I linked above.

I want to just comment on this conference. First of all, it is a really exciting conference and perhaps could not have had better timing. We are living in times in which people have less and less faith in both world politics and economy. It is true that people in many places, including my own country, still irrationaly fear communism (the most popular response in my country being that communism is forbidden by religion — LOL?), but it nonetheless should be conceived as the perfect time to think. Žižek suggested us to take Lenin as an example: in the harsh times of 1915, he retreated to Switzerland to read Hegel.

About the times we are facing today, Alain Badiou puts it very nicely. I quote from Osborne’s blog:

Today we are nearer the 19th century than the 20th century  with the arrival of utterly cynical capitalism. We are witnessing the return of all sorts of 19th century phenomena such as pirate nationalisations, nihilistic despair and the servility of intellectuals.

Badiou then of course goes on in his usual manner mentions of the need for a strong subjectivity to change the coordinates of possibilities in order to create the Event, the rupture in existence to which we can militantly assert a new truth. This is important and stressed again by Žižek in the conclusion, that a change is not a change in actuality but a change in possibilities. Thus, our task is to think of the possibility of possibilities, to do the impossible — not the usual Kantian “we must, because we can,” but the Badiouvian “we must, because it is impossible.”

I also love what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have to say, although the ideas they mention are nothing new if you have read their work, Empire. How can I not love it when the entire notion is similar to the original theme of this blog (I say original, because lately it has become more and more Lacanian than Marxist, I know), that is, one that interrogates the notion of cognitive capital, digital property, and the commons in this day and age of biocybernetic reproduction. Copyright conflicts are the new terrain of the struggle of the commons — now you know why I love calling myself a pirate.

Antonio Negri stressed another importance of communism, one I tweeted in three tweets. It is an importance already mentioned by Tronti and Lenin, as @semioticmonkey corrected me. Indeed, communism is opposed to socialism, and in the same way that psychoanalysis is opposed to ego psychology. There is no equal State, as there is no healthy ego. Communists must organize the decline of State, as psychoanalysts must sustain the efficacy of the ego. Both communism and psychoanalysis must act with an ethics of the Real and acknowledge the redundancy of the agent.

But all in all, in the end, we still do have a question. Is communism a program, a movement to bring back politics and its efficiency that is faithful to a continuous revolution — do we need to organize a continuous decline of the State in order to change our possibilities, as Žižek would argue? Or is it merely a philosophical idea, and what we need now are militant communists, not communism per se, acting to the fullest extent the ethics of the tragic hero, the ethics of the Real, in order to produce an Event, as Badiou maintained?

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3 Responses to “On The Idea of Communism”

  1. I am not sure about this whole “the decline of the state has to happen in order to establish communism”..
    But as far as your “do we need militant communists?” question is concerned..I’d say “no”. What do you mean by militant communists? the black bloc?
    I think a revolution has to happen in the minds of the people before it can be taken to the streets..
    I can see the point some of the black bloc people make when they say: “we have to act militant and desotry things so that the media will broadcast it and talk about our ideas”..the only problem is: the media just broadcasts pictures of some angry mob smahing windows..they don’t talk about communism..but these militants don’t know much about theory anway, they just want to desttoy things..just last weekend during the nato celebrations in Strasbourg, their riots took place in one of the poorest parts of the city..that’s pretty dumb

  2. Very good and pertinent post. Like yourself, I ‘supplemented’ my interest in Marxism and post-Marxism with Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, which served to enrich the former rather than undermine it: the need today for a new subject, a new political subjectivization (as a prelude to or codeterminous with reclaiming the common).

    Some more compilations of reports and papers from the Idea of Communism conference are ongoing here:

    http://thekubrickiangaze.blogspot.com/

  3. Bonni Rambatan Says:

    @Jacob: Sorry, by “militant communists” I mean “militant” in the Badiouvian sense, that is being loyal to an Event. It may be violent but I am speaking more about mental militancy and not the rash, violent kind.

    @Harry: Thanks for the link! I found them useful and interesting :)

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