Pro Communist

Jodi Dean’s talk “The Communist Horizon” on the necessity of communism/socialism and of challenging bourgeois redirection efforts, wherein the author argues that if we want to oppose neoliberalism, we need to keep our eyes on the communist prize: identify and fight exploitation.

A strong point.

Dean argues, It’s not that “politics is dead.” It’s that “The Left” refuses to engage in the one kind of politics, communism, that can offer an alternative to what we have, which is exploitation. Communism is the opposite of exploitative neoliberalism. According to Dean’s philosophical view, communism is the sovereignty, the collective power of the people.

‎...And probably we refuse to engage communism because so many of us are cathected to capitalist relations. Then the Left “we” includes all the people who simply desire to be recognized as moral avatars, in compensation for our lack of solid access to power in extreme-inequality societies that many of us mostly accept.

Dean argues that pro-democracy politics in bourgeois societies are a distraction. Democracy cannot replace communism today; it is the “bent shape of communism’s loss.”

“Rather than recognizing that for the Left, democracy is the form that the loss of communism takes, the form of communism’s displacement, radical democrats treat democracy as itself replacing communism. And on this point, they share the neoliberal position regarding the victory of capitalism.

…The repercussion of the sublimation of communism in democratic preoccupations with process and participation is acquiescence to capitalism as the best system for the production an distribution of resources, labor and goods.

…The mistake Leftists make, when they turn into liberals and democrats, is thinking that we are beyond the communist horizon, that democracy replaced communism, rather than serves as the contemporary form of communism’s displacement.”

Dean continuously opposes Zizek’s vision of reinvigorating communism. She argues, I think inessentially, that Leftists should focus on extending the communist critique of exploitation, rather than use the concept of exclusion to critique capital, as Zizek does. “Capitalism doesn’t exclude. It exploits,” she insists. Sure, let’s not lose sight of the fact that capitalism exploits. I don’t think Zizek loses sight of this.

Zizek argues that exclusion creates surplus population that is essential to concentrated capitalist accumulation and use of power. I would say that Dean’s opposition to Zizek is unnecessary, and seems to be motivated by her desire to sell the society-as-“network” metaphor rather than Zizek’s Lacanian psychoanalytical capitalist-whole-constituted-by-the-lack metaphor. Meh. I don’t think this is much more than academic competitive posturing and salesmanship. I usually say that exclusion and inclusion are tools capitalism uses across space and social stratifications to ramp up exploitation, see neoliberal European efforts to improve immigrant “inclusion” via getting rid of labor laws that bolster labor’s capacity to work in solidarity and reduce exploitation. I think there’s a social movement point in surveying capitalism’s tactical repertoire; and it doesn’t require we forget about exploitation.


In a similar way, I think that if we understand socialism historically, as the embattled and so-far-lost effort to expand the Enlightenment, then there are both bourgeois (democracy as a modest, constrained assemblage of political substitutes for equal access to the social surplus, and for equal contribution to decisions about accumulation, distribution, and how we shall live) and socialist (eg. economic democracy, equal access to the social surplus, and equal contribution to decisions about accumulation, distribution, and how we shall live) pro-democracy (rule of the people) politics. Socialist pro-democracy movements are nothing less than the continuing, still-necessary fight for the people’s sovereignty, against the alienation and exploitation that both permit nonstop, concentrated accumulation and limit democracy. I would say that it is important at this historical juncture to distinguish socialist democracy from bourgeois stunted democracy.

…Easier said than done, given capitalist hegemony…Which brings up the importance of recognizing that capitalism always already entails class war…
On the importance of discipline and confidence in committing to change, Dean concludes:

“As Lukacs makes clear, for the Leninist party, the actuality of revolution requires discipline and preparation not because the party can accurately predict everything that will occur, because it cannot, and not because it has an infallible theory, which it does not. Discipline and preparation are necessary in order to adapt to the circumstances. The party has to be consistent and flexible because revolution is chaotic.

The actuality of revolution then is an enabling impediment. It’s a condition of constituitive non-knowledge for which the party can prepare. It’s a condition that demands response, if the party is to be accountable to the people, if the party is to function as a communist party.

The difference between actuality and futurity, the perpetual displacement of democracy into an impossible future, then is a difference in preparation, discipline, responsiveness and planning. The former requires it. The latter seems to eschew it or postpone it. For the Leninist party, to postpone is to fail now.

The actuality of revolution is one cannot postpone a decision or judgment. It means that one undertakes it fully exposed to one’s lack of coverage in history, or even the chaotic revolutionary moment. It means that one has to trust that the revolutionary process will bring about new constellations, arrangements, skills, convictions, that through it we will bring about something else, something we aren’t imagining now.”

The bourgeois cannot trust this creative process. The risk inherent in this process is too great for her, and faced with it, she will collapse communism into a fetishized account of the political sins of a Stalin, Pol Pot or Kim Jung Il.

“The communist horizon is what we must focus on and use as a guide if this redirection is compelled by the force of the common rather than by the speculation of the few.”

It’s interesting that that this need for discipline is not immediately apparent to many academics. Perhaps the absence of an understanding of the benefits of discipline from academic analysis of social movement and political change is the result of the rise of idealist elaboration and the Saramagian blindness to historical-material exploitation. Perhaps its absence belies academics’ unprocessed piles of regret at “succeeding” as disciplined academics in the neoliberal era.

What I think is interesting right now (December 2011) is that, given Occupy critical mass, democratic process appears to facilitate coalition bloc discipline. I still think, however, that Dean’s critique of the 1990s post-Marxist fetishized glorification of empty-signifier “democracy” as a substitute for anti-exploitation was looooong overdue. 

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