Archive for Karl Marx

On The Idea of Communism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

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?

The Problem of Institutions

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Ideology, in the general sense of the way society works, can always be conceived as a problem of institutions. This view is simple, one which looks at cultural-societal structures and the ideologies that constitute them by analyzing what dominant institutions are at play in shaping the general world view of the day. In the past, we have had the church as the key institution in society. Afterwards we had political parties. Today, when virtually the majority says they could not care less about politics — many in an attempt to portray themselves as more “cool” and generally having more ability to enjoy life — we have corporations, that play just as large a role as the dominant institution. We can of course extrapolate this notion to include why an “ideology of cynicism” with its “superego to enjoy,” in Žižekian terms, works very well in the contemporary age of presupposed freedom, but that would start another discussion.

(One may also be tempted to continue this with a reading of corporations personified, as is done in the 2003 documentary The Corporation, the opening lines of which inspired this post, but I will not delve into that here, though I would agree this should have some significance.)

In a posthumanist-Marxist terms, that is to say in a future-oriented Leftist movement, then, the revolution problem becomes a problem of overthrowing the corporation from its current dominant state — not dismantling the entire system altogether, since such a vision continuously turns out to be an impossible task and renders itself as a project with an already presupposed loss, done for somewhat perverse masochistic pleasures. And after all, we did not have to dismantle the Catholic church altogether to make way for the Reformation. This gesture should in turn provide the Left with a bit more confidence — all we need to do is to start institutions that have appeal to the public that would eventually overthrow the corporate form as the dominant institution. It would again serve well to read Hegel at this point, as many good Marxists do.

Surprisingly this task gets even more simple. Already we have an institution that is growing in popularity, very much against the interest of corporations. Yes, you guessed it: the populist side of Web 2.0 — its P2P networks, free software movements, wiki systems, etc. Steal this Film provides a great documentary on this matter (though I doubt you still need more proof). And although they approved ACTA, I think the matter will continue to be a controversial polemic. As I mentioned in this post, the 21st-century subject needs a new institution, a new system other than global capitalism.

What is to be done? I will not be naive and suggest to continue the piracy and open source usage and so on — I know that we have so much more problems ahead of us — but understanding that we are in a moment of tension in which the Left can fully take advantage of should bring forth some hope and perhaps even a renewed sense of dualistic class (bourgeoisie vs proletariat becomes corporate vs pirates) needed for real social change. As the famous Friedmanite idea often quoted by Naomi Klein, in times of crisis, “the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around” — the best way to read this is not only to be prepared as Klein suggests, but also to produce better ideas ourselves. We have a world to win. Pirates of all countries, unite.