Between sharing and antagonism

The invention of communism in the early Marx

RP 166 () / Article

London calling

Why talk about communism today?* A first point everybody will be agreed upon: the spectre of communism is not haunting Europe, nor for that matter any other region of the world. The only place where ‘communism’ is a positive name for anything is China, where it designates the ruling party of one of the most powerful capitalist nations of the world. In the immediate conjuncture, there are no real forces or conflicts that directly call for a reappraisal of communism. However, certain questions linked to its reappraisal do appear to be at stake in conflicts that are taking place.

For example, is it not the case that violence of the oppressed is a strategic political means? Is it not time to question its permanent disqualification, which goes hand in hand with the aggravated monopoly of state violence? This is a question raised by Slavoj Žižek in a recent article in Le Monde diplomatique a few months ago. Speaking on the radio about the USA, he argued that conflicts take legal form so rapidly there that they are immediately deactivated as politics. We need to situate politics back within social struggle. I would like to add another question: how do we deal with the prescribed logic of compromise, of ruse, of deferral, that implicates us in the very capitalist dismantling and competition we strive to deflect? In the 2009 university strike in France, the students of Paris 8 wrote in a leaflet: ‘We don’t want a supposedly reformed future, we want a real present, now.’ To that I can only add: me too.

Such remarks indicate little more than the possibility of looking at the present through the prism of some experiences of the 1970s, now that the capitalist ‘bubbles’ of the 1980s and 1990s have burst. However, such reappraisal has to deal both with the economic and conjunctural aftermath of those bubbles and, more generally, with the aporia of an extensive, global capitalism. This aporia is both trivial – everybody remarks upon it – and self-defeating. Let me put it in the most general terms. The more certain diagnostic moments of Marx’s theory of the contradictions of capital continue to be operative, the less politically actual they seem to become. For Marx, the privilege of antagonism hinged upon the supposedly necessary unfolding of capitalism towards its violent end. We, on the contrary, are caught in a strange limbo of contingent temporality. Knowing that capitalism is neither an inevitable horizon nor a historical stage that will necessarily end, we are constantly thrown back on the lack of an alternative power. Even in the struggles that do take place, there is an enormous, almost insurmountable difficulty in subjectively stepping out of the capitalist framework. So, another symptom: the more frenetically we search for the place-holders of communist aspirations, the more these aspirations seem to fall back into formal, purely potential, even speculative modes.