A short note on politics, or communism.
by Arran James
Why call ourselves communist? The more a lexical item means, the more likely it is to be put into
hard labour by the ruling order. Like “freedom”, “autonomy”, “human” and a host of others, the word communism has been twisted, turned upside down, and is now currently a synonym of life under a benevolent/dictatorial
totalitarian State. Only a free, autonomous, human, communist awakening will make these words meaningful again.- Gilles Duave. 1997. The Eclipse and reemergence of the communist movement.
If you want to know something truly despairing, a friend of mine today told me that protest and political involvement is a hobby. “Today, it’s become a hobby”. Not a duty, responsibility, or self-interested self-defence… a hobby. A fucking hobby? Sometimes I wonder about my friends. I can’t imagine a more post-political statement. But then, I remember that poster by some post-spectacle Deterritorial Support Group that announced “the post-political is the most political”; its an interesting subversion, if subversion is something we can still say exists. perhaps its better to say its an interesting reversal. What happens when you reverse the relationship of the political to the image of its own obliteration as one more lifestyle choice, one more commodity or brand to be picked up? It gains a kind of mobility? A slipperiness that is frustrating because on the one hand it refuses to openly commit itself, shows itself as ignorant of its own place in things (you might not be interested in power, but power is interested in you), and its enmeshment in the ideological bullshit of the age; on the other hand, it complicates open commitment, shows the facile nature of the names and options on offer (if this is your politics, I- as a young consumer[he is 22 i think]- ain’t buying), points to the difficulty of finding any stable positions or locations, and finally embraces the nihilistic rejection of transcendental signifiers. It is depressing because it is a good analysis of the situation, a better analysis than that given by many a Laurie Penny or an Owen Jones, because it is completely unburdened of theoretical attachments and conscious ideological affiliations. Politics is a hobby, and one my friend isn’t very interested in.
There is a section in Bifo’s The Uprising (which I’m going to try to do a careful reading of), in which he discusses his generation, the generation of May 68, as “the last modern generation” and, as I’m sure you know, this means for him the last generation tied to the promises, indeed to temporality of the promise itself, implied by a conception of “the future”. We are post-futurist (I go further, claiming we are post-nihilist…or at least, I take nihilism as the starting point of thinking). He means by this that there is no future, it is here now, immanentised in every moment, this is the future that we were promised. A promise- if you ask me- can only be a promise if it is never tested, if it is never broken, and this is the matter of the romance with the future, a love affair with futurity, with the temporality of the future as radically other than the present. There are other names for this phenomena, the most obvious is revolution. Revolution conceived of as the emergence of an Event that disturbs the historical situation- the count-in-one- so fundamentally as to cleave it’s unity into a Two, a before and an after, a situation and its excess, a synaptic junction and post-synaptic junction in the brain of history. All this is done with in Bifo, as in so many others. The romance is finished with; the promise is broken; the lovers fall away from one another…its over. Of course, for the last generation of moderns, the last believers in progress and the cunning of reason, the last of the faithful flock who worshiped at the altar of Communism defined as a transcendent signifier (today reduced to Badiou’s ludicrous ahistorical hypothesis), where also, to say the same thing again, the last believers in the myth of progress. If there is something that counts in people like Bifo, in object-oriented philosophy, and in the fiction of speculative realism (a movement without members, it seems) then it is this: Hegel, finally, is dead. Those who mourn him are precisely those who said that the London-Manchester riots of 2011 were “not political”. Well, the post-political is the most political.
Sure, nothing came of it. Rage was vented, desire exploded, excess ran amok. But what about organisation? There was no sign of it. This is why I thought at the time that it is firstly rage- or the passions as such- that needs to be organised. Who should do this work of organisation? Certainly not the pharma-therapeutic agencies that I- against my own better nature- am about to work in. For myself, I am interested in the Stoics who attempt not attain mastery over the passions by suppressing or repressing them, but by accepting them and asking whether or not I should assent to them? I don’t know if this has political application, but it means I am not consumed by rage all day long, and this has to be helpful for actually achieving things. This is besides the point though. Why did Zizek, Badiou, and Baumann (whose analysis was doubtlessly the best) consider the riots to be apolitical? I would suggest because they didn’t flourish into organised forms, they didn’t fall easily into a narrative of democratic socialist organisation, of anarchist consensus building, of Bolshevik progress; they didn’t address, enact, or even bother gesturing towards any kind of future.
I think for Bifo, the melancholy of the contemporary left, and our inability to think new forms but our unflagging obsession with novelty, is historico-generational. There is a generation who overdetermine political discourse, who operate based on a world that is gone, that is finished…….the world before the end of the future and the objective realisation of nihilism. Their narratives can’t be our narratives- although whether we are a fault line generation, rather than a thoroughly post-futurist one, is an open question. I don’t want to say these things to encourage polemic and partisanship based on age or on historical experience of Events (what Event do we have to hold fidelity to? What is our May ’68 if not 2011?) The logic of promises is no longer operational. We are in the present, fully in the present. That is all we have now. And if our generation and those that come after us are also marked by an apocalyptic imagination, and a catastrophic science (ecological collapse; rogue planets; comets; pandemics; solar catastrophe; heat-death of the universe) then let us say that there is no jumping out of the present, because the future is finished in advance.
The online etymology dictionary says that a promise is a ‘declaration made about the future, about some act to be done or not done’ . We are in a defensive position, attempting to protect a past that is being unwritten, obliterated, taken from us (the nhs, the welfare state, the meanings of the very terms of engagement). What comes next? What comes after the future? Part of working this out might involve patience. We have only the present. It is a moment that won’t end. In this regard maybe Zizek’s insistence is correct; the point isn’t to do something (anything) but to think better, to work it out, to be painstaking. To produce “perspicuous representations”. To come to terms with the situation from within the situation. This is little more than a repetition of Marx, really, an insistence on the primacy of praxis as reflective practice. If there are such things as duties and responsibilities today, they aren’t the same one’s of the old politics or of the inanity of repetitive calls for a new politics. I don’t know if what I’m saying is stupid or desperate or what… but I’m interested in the real, in the real of the situation, I don’t care about Lenin’s question “what is to be done?”, I’m interested in the pragmatic question “what can be done?”- defence movements, protest, riot, insurrection, voting, the development of a political party or a platform (one that doesn’t just repeat Bolshevism, sure…but maybe let’s not have people infected with Bolshevic experience attempting to dictate the terms of our departure from it?), the intervention of cultural modes of disruption? I’m for democracy not understood as a form but as a practice of disruption, infinite disruption, reclamation, reinvention. Maybe this sounds empty and far away from actual on the ground practice- after all, I’m not an activist, its easy to make pronouncements from my Ivory Tower (i know you wouldn’t say I was speaking from such a place, but there are those who would, simply because I’m not covered in blood and guts of policemen and bureaucrats)- but the point is a call for a return to all that. I’m getting fond of repeating the question “what can be done?”, of the pragmatic orientation, but a pragmatism that is not value-free, that is not “what works” in the sense of a neoliberal de-and-re-regulation of social practices in the name of capital…. but a what works to undermind, to rebuild, to reappropriate and misappropriate (Mark Fisher’s idea of a leftist Daily Mail is intriguing on that point) what is ours, was ours, was never ours.
If we stand in the ruins, what can we fashion from those ruins?
Or maybe that’s more of the same pessimism that gets people no where; except that pessimism, to be pessimism proper, has to have a future. Pessimism is the myth of progress on its perverse side, its negativity that is not its negation: pessimism says “things can only get worse”, “there is no worst”, we go down and down forever, spiralling.
Both historical optimism and philosophical pessimism are a priori theoretical attitudes that are intoxicated with futurity, with the possibility of a future, of “another world”. Fuck another world; neoliberalism is so successful because it understands how to recompose this world, so our job should be the same… to fight over the composition of this world.
. Ironically, given the Nietzschean fervor of so many iconoclasts, critique relies on a rear world of the beyond,
that is, on a transcendence that is no less transcendent for being fully secular. With critique, you may debunk, reveal, unveil, but only as long as you establish, through this process of creative destruction, a privileged
access to the world of reality behind the veils of appearances. Critique, in other words, has all the limits of utopia: it relies on the certainty of the world beyond this world. By contrast, for compositionism, there is no
world of beyond. It is all about immanence.
I don’t quote Bruno Latour to nail my flag to his, to his name, to the name compositionism or to any other name. I don’t want to be evasive or to refuse identifications on principle, I do not lack the security to state my beliefs but I begin to lack the need to secure them within fixed ideological (read: futural) terminologies, ones that refer to exhausted, toothless utopias that in the words of Deleuze “no longer possibilitate”. I am beginning to believe we have to be tactical, mobile, to follow specific fault-lines in a situation, to respond to specific calls, to retain a willingness to maintain an immanence.
In terms of organisation, I am becoming more in favour of what you might call “plastic party“, where the party is understood as plastic in the sense of plasticity derived from neurology and the plastic arts (including body modification like Genesis P-Orrige’s, although without the religiously tinged inability to mourn that comes with his singularity). This would be a party responsive to changes in its environment; one that altered its own structure on the basis of necessity; it would be a party that was not invested in self-reproduction or self-dissolution, but one which would function functionally. It is a party of empiricism rather than of ideology or partisanship:
We have to transform the field of social institutions into a vast experimental field, in such a
way as to decide which taps need turning, which bolts need to be loosened here or there, to get
the desired change. … What we have to do … is to increase the experiments wherever possible in this particularly interesting and important area of social life (Foucault 1988).
I think maybe we need to start thinking of new leftist heros, and new narratives that aren’t saturated by guilt and failure. A new left heroism? Could we stomach it?
The immanent present is a field of experimentation. Being an experimenter means rejecting the idea that hypotheses can be rejected before being tested. We can see in Foucault’s suggestion a kind of anarchist attitude to taking power. I think Foucault’s slipperiness amounts to this: he is an anarchist that doesn’t believe in anarchism, a pragmatist who is to wedded to the left to be a pragmatist, a nihilist who sees nihilism as emancipatory rather than mournful. I like Foucault’s orientation, and I would call myself a Foucauldian if that identification made any kind of sense (it doesn’t, it can’t, it’s moves too quickly, circulates endlessly in a problematic, unconcerned with finding final solutions). When he speaks of critique he speaks of it as the art of not being governed or, better, the art of not being governed like that and at that cost’. The eye is to the detail, to the specifics, to the singularity of each situation. It is also not a rejection of power, of parties, of government…..it is a rejection of that kind of government that demands you pay that price. Foucault again,
I was not referring to something that would be a fundamental anarchism, that would be like an originary freedom (qui serait comme la liberté originaire), absolutely and wholeheartedly (absolument et en son fond) resistant to any governmentalization. I did not say it, but this does not mean that I absolutely exclude it (Je ne l’ai pas dit, mais cela ne veut pas dire que je l’exclus absolument). I think that my presentation stops at this point, because it was already too long, but also because I am wondering (mais aussi parce que je me demande)…if one wants to explore this dimension of critique that seems to me to be so important because it is both part of, and not part of, philosophy…it is supported by something akin (qui serait ou) to the historical practice of revolt, the non-acceptance of a real government, on one hand, or, on the other, the individual refusal of governmentality.”(What is critique?) [all my emphases].
Things are put forward and retracked, things are said only in order to not be said, things are offered and not given, put into circulation and arrested, gestures are gestural and do not attain the standing of genuine communications. Anarchism is named but as something that goes too far, because it is to inside or outside of philosophy, and because it’s “originary freedom”- the freedom of a body that exists in isolation to the paradoxical operation of power-knowledge, that is not subjected to governmentality, that does not find itself circulating-circulated within a market of labour-power and value production- would be a body that was impossible. A body like that would be an organism. Man is not the political animal because animals don’t engage in politics. I don’t want to suggest we’re not organisms, that we’re not animals, hominids, apes, but rather that our relationship to our own animality is complex (anxiety and mortality salience are evidence enough). Foucault’s relationship to anarchism seems the same as so much of the contemporary communist left that avows elements of its critique and its potency without naming it, but naming it as the moment that goes too far. I think fundamentally Foucault might also agree with the Zizekian criticism of the anarchists; that they do not take responsibility for power, for its exercise, for it traversing them. Just so, for Foucault the job of the homosexual wasn’t to abandon sexuality, to abandon mores, the regulation of desires and pleasures, the field of the relation, but to complicate it, to question it, to draw it up anew, to take responsibility for it.
The left- the communist left if we want to risk making an identification- is itself in need of recomposition, of transforming itself. This means looking at the rubble and sifting through it; it means no more ideologically motivated answers on subjects like the party, the unions, the affinity group, elections, parliaments. We make use of what we can make use of, and operating tactically might mean that- from the outside- we appear to take up contradictory strategies. Importantly, if we want to get out of a defensive position, if we want to build a position from which to attack or to “go on the offensive”, we must first build bases, supports, hubs of plastic stability.