Richard Gilman-Opalsky | from ‘Specters of Revolt’ (1)

A Graveyard for Orthodoxies

 

Now it is seen that socialism in the sense of State-directed planned economy means state-capitalism, and that socialism in the sense of workers’ emancipation is only possible as a new orientation. — ANTON PANNEKOEK, Workers’ Councils 227

 

Like name tags display the wearer’s name, political discourse is an ideological marker. Communism … now communisation . We do not know how communist insurgents will call themselves, most likely not “communist.” The 20th century has given communism a bad name… Maybe insurgents will be weary of what Victor Klemperer called the “depreciation of the superlatives.” Maybe they will prefer to experience the darkness of a missing word, and they will make do with off-target terms, until they complete the phrase. — GILLES DAUVÉ , Everything Must Go! 228

 

In this book we have self-consciously taken up theoretical and political source material that indicates certain ideological preferences. As the reader knows well by now, we have taken up works in French and German critical theory, Marx and Marxism, autonomist and anarchist trajectories, Italian political philosophy, and psychoanalytic theory, among other usual suspects in contemporary Continental social and political thought. Thus, we inevitably arrive at a question of whether or not we can make use of these sources beyond and/or against their own ideological boundaries. In this chapter, I argue that we can and must extricate this source material from its ideological trappings and limitations.

In the social theory, political philosophy, and revolutionary movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, certain orthodoxies made good sense. The stakes of world affairs seemed to hinge upon choosing one ideology or another. In the political debates of the late 19th century and early 20th, there was a palpable sense that the prevailing worldview would shape the future. This was especially true in the debates of thinkers who sought to throw the world of capital into question.

Within European radicalism was the idea that following the influence of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon or Karl Marx could lead to hell or heaven on Earth, depending on one’s point of view. Everything was submitted as evidence for one side or the other, from the Paris Commune and its catastrophic fate to debates between Paul Lafargue and the anarchists, and between Lafargue and the Marxists, too. The notion that there should be a decisive ideology for world affairs did not die easily, although one might have seen a possibly-final embodiment in the reactionary discourses of the Cold War. But alas, as the current phase of neoliberal ideology meets with the materiality of capitalist crisis, and governments struggle for enduring relevance in transnational politics, all the old ideologies have come back again, like zombies hungry for life.

But in the 21st century, good work is a graveyard for orthodoxies. This means that good works today don’t contribute to the revitalization of the dead language of ideological purity. This does not mean that we cannot call ourselves “anarchists” or “communists,” or that there are no longer “capitalists” in the world. Such conclusions would be absurd. We do not live in a “post-capitalist” world, since most of the whole of human affairs is governed by exchange relations according to the logic of capital. What it means to insist on a graveyard for orthodoxies is that we must rethink old traditions and trajectories against their calcified and vilified forms, burying zombified ideologies for good. A less ideological and more philosophical conversation has become necessary.

Indeed, one of the many places where Marx got it wrong was in his conceit in the poverty of philosophy. To be fair, Marx had good reasons at the time of The German Ideology and Theses on Feuerbach (1845-1846) to worry about the prominence of philosophers and to oppose Berlin’s youth culture of a Hegelian contemplation floating above the real world of human suffering. However, times have changed, the world is not overly philosophical today, and philosophy is not ideology (and arguably, never was). Philosophy is the process of open questioning that comes to an end in the rigid “comprehensive” worldviews of ideology. Philosophy is more practical than ideology. If we have learned anything from the failures and frustrations of 170 years of revolutionary theory and practice, it should be that ideological narrowness prevents an open approach to all available resources, and is a dangerous dead end.

It is important today to recover the work of Anton Pannekoek, a left communist and fierce critic of Lenin and other socialist derailments in the Soviet Union. It is critical to engage the communism of thinkers like Pannekoek, Sylvia Pankhurst, Herman Gorter, Amadeo Bordiga, and Jacques Camatte, among others. Today, there are influential theoretical movements operating under the name of “communization,” which inadvertently makes communist anti-statism appear as if it were a new thing. The very existence of a long history of anti-“communist” communists, along with a real reckoning with Marx’s own complex theory of the state, helps to expose the false pretenses of ideological orthodoxy.

When I teach my course on Marxist Philosophy, students are always surprised to learn that Marx was not an enthusiastic statist, that he wrote so much about the problems of state power, and so little about alternative forms of government. These facts are hard to see when we only consult ideological narratives about Marx, instead of Marx directly. A few weeks into the semester, and students can no longer make use of the ideological apparatus they brought with them on the first day. They can of course return to their ideological comforts later on if they like, and sadly, many of them do. But the ideological position they start with is always reliably challenged and broken apart in the course of sustained and honest engagement with the material.

Ideology has also held hostage many streams of anarchist thought. There are still anarchist journals, magazines, and publishers that get squeamish around any serious consideration of Marxism, as if an affirmation of a single Marxist idea is tantamount to ideological betrayal. Now, it has to be finally and fully comprehended that Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Malatesta, Goldman, and so many other anarchists have shared much in common with Marx, and even used his critique of capitalism as a basis for their own work. While Emma Goldman wrote about her disillusionment with Russia, so too did many communists, like Antonio Gramsci and Cornelius Castoriadis, and critical theorists in the decades following World War II. Despite real common ground, there has been insufficient crosspollination (and insufficient contamination) across the cleavages of different radical currents. What revolutionary theory needs to find out — what needs to be explored in both scholarship and in the world — is what can grow in the graveyard for orthodoxies.

Repressed desires can and do unpredictably explode, and insubordination is never totally foreclosed. Riot and revolt are never in permanent abeyance, and the “elite” are never as safe as they would like to be from the many ways we can unsettle the “social order” of this world. What we have seen in recent years is that the “elite” in many countries, in Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Greece, the US, the UK, Tunisia, Spain, and elsewhere, are not beyond being taken by surprise by everyday people at various breaking points around the world. No matter how repressed, disintegrated, manipulated, or exploited, human beings do possess real desires for a life defined by something other than the precarity of capitalist work, unemployment, passive entertainment, and other diversions. Real human desire is, fundamentally, a non-ideological force, by which I mean that it exists before, beneath, and beyond particular worldviews. On the most superficial level, we often see the difference and distance between what a politician claims to desire and actually desires — in the media, this is called exposé and scandal. The manifold of human desires is diverse and unruly, but its content can be specified in the absence of ideology. One does not need Marxism or anarchism to answer the question of what one wants. There are many good examples over the last twenty years (1994-2015), which demonstrate that revolutionary desires can and do come alive even after they’re considered extinguished, and that they do not always fit easily into the molds of ideological orthodoxy.

The key point here, however, is that public expressions of disaffection (including riot and revolt) frequently take radical thinkers by surprise, thus surprising others than the so-called ruling class.

Insurrections do not ask for academic guidance. We do not teach social movements. At our best, we learn from them, for they test and reveal the limits of possibility within the contexts in which they occur. To take one of my favorite examples, the 1994 uprising of the Mexican Zapatistas revealed and recommended to theorists — and especially to anarchists and communists — certain possibilities that were not grasped until that point. And it is clear that recent insurrectionary activity in the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries south of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as in Greece, Spain, Turkey, and Brazil, is once again forcing analysis to consider (a) its own limitations and (b) new emancipatory possibilities. 229

Here, Marx’s famous line comes to mind: “The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” 230

It is the last clause of this quote that forms a recurring question for me, which is taken up more fully in the present chapter and remainder of this book: Are those participating in the many modes of uprising looking for or demanding an alternative program? Or: Is there an alternative program capable of answering the heterogeneous and often contradictory demands of global revolt? Many critics and onlookers from outside insisted that movements like Occupy Wall Street needed to adopt a platform for an alternative program, and today, many of the same people point to the absence of such a program as the reason for the dissolution of Occupy X activities. Of course, there are many possible programs that could be defined, but none of them were practical from the multifarious perspective of the many minds of Occupy X.

The range of radical criticism found in Tahrir Square, Gezi Park, and Taksim Square, or in any occupation from 1968 to the present, cannot be resolved in a good plan. Such social upheavals, when they are indeed upheavals, are ungovernable. The more they specify, the more they shrink. From the point of view of “governmentality,” this may sound hopeless. But riot, revolt, and insurrection do not proceed from or with a “govern” mentality, that is, they neither pretend to become government, nor do they want to be governed. The uprising is itself the most important achievement, perhaps, precisely for this reason: the governed become ungovernable. That is the significance of the hyperpotentia of revolt. In a world where uprisings are too few and far between, and where each insurrection is separated from the next by indefinite periods of relative quiescence, such upheaval always makes a critique and breaks with the banality of everyday life. Revolt shows the world that there are those who want a different world, and that real revolutionary desires are available to be discussed, debated, and developed. Revolt shows us that the world can still be thrown into question, and that we need not let existing conditions decide what is practical.

In many ways, writing is a more desperate (and less dangerous) act than insurrection. After all, text calls out for readers, and depends on their serious and sustained attention. Securing committed readers is no easy thing, as any honest author (or publisher) will tell you. Authors who have truly impacted world events are fewer in number than the old bourgeoisie and its heirs. But revolt is another kind of writing, a human drama that demands and commands attention, and concrete political proposals do frequently come from it.

Perhaps revolt is the writing that matters most. We do not know what any given insurrection will say, what it will demand, what theory will “grip the masses” and become material reality. We do know that in between every insurrection, there is another one on the horizon.

But so what? What is all that social energy good for? It comes and goes, and when it’s gone, too much is always left the same. What does it do? What can it do for real people in the real world? Can we (and who is that?) organize the energies of insurrection into a concrete platform, into a unitary politics? Don’t we need a political party, an organization, an infrastructure, or else won’t all this revolutionary energy just be wasted in brief saturnalias of opposition that city officials can clean up on Monday morning? These questions, one way or another, are questions about organization, about the implementation of structural changes that matter to real people in the real world. If we care about the real lives of real people, if we want to avoid the relative smallness of anarchist uprisings and experiments, and if we want to move beyond the pornography of riots, then don’t we need to finally confront the questions of the state and the party? Yes, but only if these questions are taken up with a different comportment than has been done in most of the Marxist and anarchist discourses.

Since the life and times of Bakunin, Marx’s theory of the state has been caricatured as “authoritarian” by a great many  anarchists who have not understood it. At the same time, too many Marxists have accepted the premise by engaging in apologetics for the socialist state as an idea and historical practice.

Throughout his many decades of writing, Michael Parenti has argued in defense of the socialist state as both an idea and historical practice, as can be seen in his To Kill a Nation , Contrary Notions , Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies, and indeed, in most of his other books. 231 Parenti has consistently worked to establish the qualitatively better conditions of life in both historical and possible societies governed by a socialist state. The socialist state is the major praxis of his Marxism, which does not diminish the usefulness of all his astute criticism and analysis of capitalist society, economy, media, history, and culture. More recently, in the celebrity Left theory of Jodi Dean, Slavoj Žižek, and Alain Badiou, the socialist state and the communist party have been making a peculiar kind of comeback, even including qualified apologetics for Stalin (especially in the works of Žižek and Badiou, though Parenti has offered some such apologetics as well). In The Communist Hypothesis, Badiou argues against the consensus that the communist experiments of the 20th century were failures. He argues that the pervasive ideological narrative of the Cold War poisoned our ability to see anything but catastrophe and terror in the so-called communist regimes of the previous century. “ Lumping together Stalin and Hitler was already a sign of extreme intellectual poverty.” 232 And:

What exactly do we mean by ‘failure’ when we refer to a historical sequence that experimented with one or another form of the communist hypothesis? What do we mean when we say that all the socialist experiments that took place under the sign of that hypothesis ended in total ‘failure’? Was it a complete failure? 233

Badiou spends a large part of The Communist Hypothesis challenging the discourse of communist failure from the 20th century that we have inherited in the 21st.

Yet, by the end of the book, Badiou takes a position surprisingly close to this chapter’s epigraph from Anton Pannekoek. On the word and idea of communism, Badiou concludes that “the word’s function can no longer be that of an adjective, as in ‘Communist Party’, or ‘communist regimes’. The Party-form, like that of the Socialist State, is no longer suitable for providing real support for the Idea.” 234 In this, Badiou breaks from recent efforts to revitalize the party-form and the socialist state, problematizing the positions of Dean and Žižek. Dean has been arguing for a militant international communist party, for example, while Žižek staked great hope in the Syriza party in recent election cycles in Greece, and has argued disdainfully against all autonomist tendencies. 235

Parenti argues that the former communist states transformed impoverished semifeudal countries into relatively advanced societies. Whatever their mistakes and crimes, they achieved what capitalism has no intention of accomplishing: adequate food, housing, and clothing for all; economic security in old age; free medical care; free education at all levels; and a guaranteed adequate income. 236

Parenti often observes that the collapse of these so-called communist states has been bad news for their citizens:

As the peoples in these former communist countries are now discovering, the free market means freedom mostly for those who have money and a drastic decline in living standards for most everyone else. With the advent of free market reforms in the former USSr and Eastern Europe, workers saw their real wages, pensions, and savings dissolve. 237

Indeed, macroeconomic and social data confirm that Parenti is correct on the basic points. 238 In these examples of state capitalism, from the USSr and Eastern Europe, capital was regulated for the greater benefit of people far more effectively than increasingly unbounded capital has done since the 1990s, with its ever-withering social concerns. However, Parenti’s long-standing confusion of state capitalism with communism is deeply problematic on theoretical and conceptual grounds for many reasons, not the least of which being that his critique of capital is essentially a call for its re-regulation. 239 He often makes no distinction between communism and socialism, on the one hand, and state capitalism, on the other. And in his voluminous work, Parenti scarcely examines the importance (or necessity) of revolution. Thus, Parenti defines communism as no antithetical force against capital, as no process from below, but mainly as the social and political administration of economy and public law. From a practical and historical point of view, none of the failures and disappearances of the so-called socialist state have dissuaded Parenti from calling for its reemergence, even as revolt itself appears to have only diminishing faith in the administrative proposal. Today, faith in state capitalism is viewed with the deep distrust of radicals, yet remains the optimistic hope of liberals.

Most importantly, this wave of apologetics for the socialist state and the communist party has not pooled together with recent waves of insurrection that appear to occur in different waters. In recent years, we have seen multifarious and ideologically variegated uprisings around the world, some of which have overthrown governments, while others have changed conversations and given the experience of revolt to new generations. Waves of global uprising since 2008 have created real moments of recognition and realization of the social energies of everyday people capable of throwing the existing world into question. A central problem for the theories of Dean, Žižek, Badiou, and Parenti is that the communist desire that has been expressed in recent insurrectionary activity is not calling for a communist party, has little faith in the state to solve the problems of everyday life, and makes no enduring connections to the communist projects of the previous century. Leftist intellectuals may insist on the practical political necessity of party and state organizations, but if real revolt does not want them, such practical recommendations are more impractical than their theorists can see.

It is one thing for theory to imagine itself in an advisory role for social movements, and another for theory to learn from them. I argue that theory always has more to learn from social movements than it has to teach them. And, if we are paying attention to actually-existing revolt in the world, and not forcing it into the frame of an ideological worldview (weltanschauung), then we simply cannot conclude that new uprisings want communist parties, socialist states, or any continuation of Soviet “experiments.” This does not mean that there is no communist desire here. This does not mean that nothing can come from revolt. To say otherwise is to assume that nothing is happening until it starts to look like something else that has already happened before. I think that what we are seeing is what Pannekoek called for over seventy years ago, the emergence of “a new orientation.”

This new orientation is more important now than ever before in the history of communist theory and action. Indeed, a new orientation seems almost inevitable. Ongoing vilifications of communism depend upon a conversation haunted by the specter of statist catastrophes. I argue that we must bury the ideologized anarchist-Marxist debate, along with statism itself, as casualties of the 20th century. While autonomist Marxist trajectories offer the most promising pathways, they often retain too much of the old dichotomies that foreclose the use of important theoretical, historical, and political resources. I have argued for a “precarious communism,” which should not be confused with an acceptance of the whole fashionable discourse on precarity. 240 Simply, precarious communism is a communism that self-consciously lacks confidence about some particular, alternative future. And, precarious communism is not reassured by the old revolutionary imaginary of communist state power. Rather, it sees the “communist state” as a contradiction in terms (as did Marx, I would claim), and thus has other positive identifications, as follows:

(a) Precarious communism is communist on the grounds of its single most confident claim: A world organized by the logic of capital is a world set against the diverse interests of most people on Earth. Thus, precarious communism is communist on the grounds of its total critique of capital.

(b) Precarious communism is precarious inasmuch as it accepts that concrete proposals for new ways of being-in-the-world will be differentially developed as nodal points within the contexts of actually-existing revolt. Thus, precarious communism is precarious on the grounds of its practical uncertainty about how to abolish the rule of capital.

What does it mean to be a precarious communist? It is something like being a non-ideological communist who is honest about the past, present, and the future. While ideology makes communism more confident, precarious communism is more philosophical, less ideological, and therefore more self-consciously uncertain.

Communism today requires an open Marxism that synthesizes theoretical trajectories across the cleavages of left-communist currents and anarchism. From Cornelius Castoriadis and Guy Debord, to Raya Dunayevskaya and C.L.R. James, to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, to Antonio Negri, Franco Berardi, Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, and John Holloway, efforts to unmoor communism from the ideological encrustations of the 20th century are increasingly resonant. We can take it as good news that there is a growing appeal to what is called “communization theory.” Within earlier left-communist milieus, in the works of Sylvia Pankhurst, Herman Gorter, Anton Pannekoek, and Jacques Camatte, there was a practice of communization theory during and against the dominance of the Soviet Union and an expanding Cold War narrative. It is not that so-called “communization theory” is new, but rather that the meaning of communism has been decided against the favor of such communist currents, until now.

Consider again Marx’s abovementioned declaration that “theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” 241 The theory of the left communists comes especially to mind here. It would seem that all of the statist transpositions of Marxism into the world had to reveal their limitations and dangers before the conditions were created for anti-statist Marxism to finally be taken seriously. Lenin’s fierce critique of what he called the “infantile disorder” of “left communism” survived in one way or another, as part of the longer Marxist tradition (going back to Marx himself) of condemning a caricatured anarchist foolishness. 242 But now, the “infantile disorder” appears as a possible maturation point of 21st-century communism. In the 1970s, Camatte wrote: “Forced to take account of the strength of the proletariat, Stalinist Russia had to disguise itself and realize the triumph of capital under the mask of socialism.” 243 Today, there appears to be little interest in a more convincing, or a more faithful, mask, and what we find in the 21st century is a widespread “post-socialist” sensibility that political parties are masks, and that states always wear them.

To accompany and support these sensibilities-from-below, this Gemeingeist of revolt, the whole heterogeneous bevy of the more neglected communist theorization must move from margin to center. There is what could be called a subaltern communist history of theory and practice to recover, a legacy of Marxism without statism. Can we not finally say that every good Marxist is more than a bit of an anarchist these days? 244

Of course, we can’t reduce a long history of oppositions to nothing. The disagreements between Marx and Proudhon, for example, raised critical questions in the debates of the 19th century that would take all of the next century to settle, and they have not yet been finally settled. But there is another history, less sordid and less scandalous, which has been eclipsed by strong personalities and rhetorical bluster.

Marx gave us the most systematic, rigorous, and exhaustive analysis of the history, tendencies, and crises of capital that he was capable of producing in a single lifetime — all of his energies were ultimately given over to that task. When one reads the anarchist literature contemporaneous with Marx and the Marxism of the early 20th century, certain things are undeniable. Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, and so many others, made dependable use of Marx’s analyses of capitalism, so much so that one could find them fully agreeable on at least three broad premises: (i) the impossibility of an acceptable/sustainable capitalist world; (ii) the desirability and possibility of a different world organized on other principles or logics; (iii) the necessity of revolution, although many different and incompatible conceptions of revolution are at play within this history.

When one reads Errico Malatesta’s little book, At the Café: Conversations on Anarchism, the analysis of capitalism and class follows Marx right up to the question of revolution, at which point Malatesta distinguishes his position in a discussion of “free communism.” 245 And while Bakunin had a famously tumultuous relationship with Marx, we cannot reduce that relationship to its oppositions alone. Bakunin joined the Geneva section of the First International, helped create new branches in Italy and Spain, and translated and circulated many of Marx’s works, including the first Russian edition of The Communist Manifesto . One year after his expulsion from the International, Bakunin would admit: “Rarely can a man be found who knows so much and reads so much, and reads so intelligently, as Marx… Undoubtedly there is a good deal of truth in the merciless critique he directed against Proudhon.” 246 Proudhon advocated a different conception of revolution, which he thought would be more enduring, albeit slower. In his letter to Marx of May 17, 1846, he wrote: “I would prefer to burn property slowly with a small fire than to give it new strength by carrying out a Saint Bartholomew’s Night of the Proprietors…” 247 Anarchists have long been capable of critiquing Marx, while crediting him for the foundation on which so much of anarchism rested. 248 Additionally, serious Marxist thinkers have long rejected major features of Marx’s arguments, a tradition that goes back at least to Paul Lafargue, to Antonio Gramsci’s essay “The Revolution against Capital ,” and to Georg Lukács’ denouement of vulgar Marxists.

Despite this, ideological allergies persist. Consider one prominent example, which I have taken up elsewhere: 249 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have retained a strange insistence on distinguishing an ideological divide that dissolves in their own work. It is important to highlight the problem here, in the case of Hardt and Negri, because they are now among the most iconic representatives of Marxism without statism — especially Negri, who has written two autonomist Marxist manifestos. 250 Hardt and Negri declare that it is their time, as communists, to give voice to the cry: “ Big government is over! ” They acknowledge the old socialistic aspiration to use government to redistribute wealth, and they confess: “ Today, however, those times are over.” Hardt and Negri define the revolutionary aspiration of the multitude in terms of a quest for “ autonomous self-government. ” 251 No anarchist would disagree with that aspiration. Hardt and Negri know this well, and immediately anticipate the accusation that they are anarchists. They make the following pre-emptive rebuttal:

That is not true. We would be anarchists if we were not to speak (as did Thrasymachus and Callicles, Plato’s immortal interlocutors) from the standpoint of a materiality constituted in the networks of productive cooperation, in other words, from the perspective of a humanity that is constructed productively, that is constituted through the “common name” of freedom. No, we are not anarchists but communists who have seen how much repression and destruction of humanity have been wrought by liberal and socialist big governments. 252

What is “ the standpoint of a materiality constituted in the networks of productive cooperation”? What is “the perspective of a humanity that is constructed productively”? Hardt and Negri mean that they are not anarchists because they accept the materialist premises of Marx’s political-economy. It is thus reasonable to assume that they have not read the rich history of anarchism in which those very premises are also accepted, a history in which such premises are often accepted with a self-conscious debt to Marx. The perspective of a humanity constructed productively can be found throughout the history of anarchism, in the diverse writings of Lucy Parsons, Peter Kropotkin, Charlotte Wilson, and Rudolph Rocker, to name just some examples.

There is ultimately nothing to take seriously in Hardt and Negri’s peculiar insistence that they “are not anarchists but communists who have seen the repression and destruction wrought by liberal and socialist big governments.” Anarchists have long been communists who have seen how much repression and destruction of humanity have been wrought by governments. Indeed, the anarchist prescience about such repression and destruction defined them in the 19th century, when their theory of power only looked like a fearful wager, and vindicated them in the 20th century, when it appeared as prophecy. Why does this matter? Because ongoing ideological dichotomies continue to haunt and over-determine the development of new autonomist Marxisms, which do not then make use of the theoretical, historical, and political resources of other anti-capitalist tendencies. Thus, the purported heterodoxy of open Marxism is belied by the fact that it remains a too-narrow enclosure.

To be fair, many anarchists have made worse mistakes when it comes to ideologizing the divide between communist forms. Many anarchists have become so sectarian that they’ve produced a little cottage industry of anarchist broadsides against other anarchists. 253 As well, in much of the anarchist press, there remains a misguided ideological rule against taking anything Marx said seriously. 254

In Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari famously discuss the body without organs (BwO), an idea borrowed from Antonin Artaud, and made to mean a plane of indeterminacy, of open possibilities, a terrain of our becoming, of our fighting, of our losing and winning, a terrain on which we see ourselves as a body without organs.

Every coupling of machines, every production of a machine, every sound of a machine running, becomes unbearable to the body without organs. Beneath its organs it senses that there are larvae and loathsome worms, and a God at work messing it all up or strangling it by organizing it. 255

Biologically, organs define the purposes of a body as a specific kind of machine, its constitutive parts make up a reference for what that machine can do, what it is designed for. For the human machine, for the question of what we can do or what we are made for, this comes down to a question of purposes. The BwO points to a politics of subversive repurposing. The point is: We can rethink our purposes, and not leave the question up to God, up to the mode of production, or up to any ideological tradition.

Guattari was especially interested in the politics of subversion. He wrote about “becoming-woman” with an understanding of the subversive repurposing of gender. 256 A body without organs is a subject that is subject to change. When I propose a precarious communism, I mean that we need a communism as the body without organs of the “communists,” that is, we need a new communist becoming, a becoming-ungovernable, as we could imagine Guattari might say.

What is the empirical side of this? If we look at the major postCold War uprisings over the twenty years from 1994 to 2014, from the uprising of the Mexican Zapatistas to the more recent insurrectionary activity in the Middle Eastern and North African countries south of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as in Greece, Spain, Turkey, the US, and Brazil, we see that actually-existing revolt has turned away from the question of administrative modes of problemsolving. For a brief moment in Egypt it might have appeared that Morsi was the answer to Mubarak, but it is now clear that — in Egypt and elsewhere — revolutionary politics is less about governance than about various processes of becoming-ungovernable.

In a post-orthodox, non-ideological communism, there is nonetheless a generalized purposiveness, an “open hope” for an everyday life of dignity, autonomy, and association. 257 Therefore, we can understand revolutionary processes of becoming-ungovernable as activities in search of the structural transformation of everyday life. Today’s uprisings are not only not calling for a resuscitated “socialist” state, but also, they reject the capitalist substitutes for transformative solutions — like the cultural commons in a shopping mall, as was proposed for Gezi Park and Taksim Square. Actually-existing revolt in recent years has expressed just such an “open hope,” and has helped prepare a graveyard for orthodoxies.

That revolt does not speak with one brain does not mean that uprisings in Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, and elsewhere do not speak at all. Uprisings are full of legible communicative content that demands unpacking. They speak volumes about sovereignty, democracy, racism, exclusions, economic crisis, and structural transformation, among other things, and concrete proposals do come out of them. 258

For example, the Greek leftist party Syriza, in power with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in 2015, was founded as a political party in 2012, four years after sustained social upheaval, revolt, and sporadic insurrection coming from impoverished, unemployed, and otherwise disaffected people throughout the country. From 2004 to 2012, Syriza was an alliance and coalition of leftist and radical parties and civil-society organizations, many of them anti-capitalist. As such, Syriza inevitably generated participation and support throughout Greek civil society in the revolts from 2008. But, mainly and fundamentally, Syriza benefitted from the social energies of revolt, which catapulted and consolidated its viability as a popular political party. The Greek revolts from 2008 neither clearly nor overwhelmingly identified Syriza from the start as part of a practicable political proposal for the national stage for many reasons, not the least of which being that Syriza was not yet founded as a national party.

Basic facts about the relationship between actually existing revolt and Syriza have scarcely been noted in the Western media, as well as in alternative and left-wing sources. But it is in fact not possible to understand the viability of Syriza without the critical content of the foregoing revolt. It is precisely such critical content that theorists should attend to, for it is there that new proposals are seeded and grow. The revolt prepares the ground for the articulation of new proposals in a graveyard for orthodoxies, where there are no foregone conclusions, and where the communist hypothesis comes to life. This does not mean that Syriza is the realization of the communist hypothesis, for communist contestation (communist aspiration) is acted out long before its various (and always disfigured) institutional forms. And of course, Syriza is not the end of communist revolt, not even in Greece. A different hypothesis: It is likely that Syriza would have failed if it had been a national party with electoral aspirations in 2008; if it would have then tried to seize upon the energies of revolt, we could imagine how quickly the revolt would have rejected its self-serving solicitations. But now, after the regime has enough time to generate new disaffections against itself, the possibility of new revolt can grow again, similar to how Morsi was targeted shortly after Mubarak.

Syriza also shows how the statist solution is immediately problematic from the very perspective of the insurgent forces that empower it, although Syriza shows this in a different way than did Morsi. The demand for Syriza and Tsipras to stand up and vote “NO” to European austerity deals was both reasonable and predictable given Syriza’s political history from its pre-party origins in 2004 to its formal commitments as a political party after 2012. And, of course, the social upheaval that enabled Tsipras to win state power was fiercely anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal, anti-IMF debt, anti-neocolonial, etc. Unsurprisingly, Tsipras totally agreed with the popular opposition to the EU’s austerity deals, but nonetheless eventually and very painfully went on to cooperate and accept more than he or Syriza’s social support wanted.

I maintain that Tsipras’ sincerity and commitments were not the problem, and that to claim that a “more radical” prime minister would have done differently is only to personalize a much larger historical and institutional problem with state power exercised in a global capitalist context. To point out the weaknesses in Tsipras’ personality is, fundamentally, to misunderstand how state power works in a global capitalist context. The fact that so many Marxist commentators and radical critics were quick to criticize Tsipras, but much slower (or altogether silent) to criticize the limitations of his instruments and office, reveals a stubborn reluctance to recognize the real limitations of those instruments and office. I consider the Syriza victory as good news — perhaps it was the best available through the hobbled procedural apparatus of Greek electoral politics at the time. But it is not the only victory or power in the Greek story. The revolt that empowered Syriza is, now, the ghost that haunts every new compromise and failure of Syriza, the ghost that haunts every move Tsipras makes. Moreover, Greek revolt is left to confront the next great betrayal or capitalist concession of the Greek state, and indeed, the revolt is the more reliable power. 259

To prepare and cultivate a graveyard for orthodoxies is not, therefore, to take no positions at all, or to have no point of view. A graveyard for orthodoxies does not require the corpses of all forms of Marxism, anarchism, liberalism, feminism, etc. Rather, it requires the willingness to learn from the communiques of the disaffections of everyday people. It does, however, require the corpses of every ideological orthodoxy that fought a war of position in the 20th century.

Insurrectionary expressions of disaffection will not always be decisively anarchist or communist, and their success in affecting and effecting the world does not depend upon their making such commitments. Revolt does not need to choose a party. Indeed, if it had one to choose, it would not occur in the first place.

Ideological orthodoxy and its political commitments (from the identity of group members to tactics and strategies) may well seize upon the disorder of generalized disaffection, but they break apart within it. The problem is not with the becoming-ungovernable, but rather with the ideological impatience to rule it.

 

Notes

227 Pannekoek, Anton, Workers’ Councils in Left Communism Reader (New York: Prism Key Press, 2013), p. 433.
228 Astarian, Bruno and Dauvé, Gilles, Everything Must Go! The Abolition of Value (Berkeley: LBC Books, 2015), pp. 192 and 194.
229 These limitations and possibilities are directly taken up, for example, in Berardi, Franco, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012).
230 Marx, Karl, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’, trans. Annette Jolin and Joseph O’Malley (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 133.
231 Parenti, Michael, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia (London and New York: Verso Books, 2000); Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2007); Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies (Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers, 2015).
232 Badiou, Alain, The Communist Hypothesis (London and New York: Verso Books, 2010), p. 3.
233 Ibid., p. 6.
234 Ibid., p. 257.
235 Dean, Jodi, “The Party and Communist Solidarity” at the Eighth International Rethinking Marxism Conference, Amherst, MA, September 21, 2013 and Žižek, Slavoj, “On the Role of the European Left” at the 6th Subversive Festival, Zagreb, Croatia, May 15, 2013.
236 Parenti, Michael, Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies (Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), pp. 144-145.
237 Ibid., p. 145.
238 Parenti’s books provide documentation of these basic macroeconomic claims. I provide confirmatory citations about growing inequality and the failures of capitalist economy in my own work, throughout the present book as well as in Spectacular Capitalism (2011) and Precarious Communism (2014).
239 It is important to point out that “democratic socialism” is today used as the more communistic-sounding name for state capitalism. During the Democratic Party presidential primary in the US in 2015 and 2016, Bernie Sanders repeatedly clarified that his “democratic socialism” is fully capitalist (just not “casino capitalist”) and that it should not be mistaken for any form of communism or any anti-capitalist position. He is correct in that clarification.
240 Throughout Precarious Communism (2014).
241 Marx, Karl, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’, op. cit., p. 133.
242 Lenin, V.I., “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder: A Popular Essay in Marxist Strategy and Tactics (New York: International Publishers, 1940).
243 Camatte, Jacques, Capital and Community, trans. David Brown (New York: Prism Key Press, 2011), p. 203.
244 Perhaps this was already true in Marx’s time, as could be argued in the case of Paul Lafargue.
245 Malatesta, Errico, At the Café: Conversations on Anarchism (London: Freedom Press, 2005), p. 65.
246 Bakunin, Michael, Statism and Anarchy, trans. Marshall S. Shatz (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 142.
247 Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph, “Letter to Karl Marx” in Property Is Theft! , ed. Iain McKay (Edinburgh, Oakland, Baltimore: AK Press, 2011), p. 164.
248 See also “Bakunin’s Reminiscence” of Marx in The Portable Karl Marx (New York: Viking Penguin, 1983), p. 26 and Emma Goldman’s My Disillusionment in Russia (New York: Dover, 2003).
249 Precarious Communism (2014), pp. 120-122.
250 The two “manifestos” I am referring to are The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century, trans. James Newell (Cambridge, UK and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005) and, with Félix Guattari, New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty (Brooklyn: Autonomedia/Minor Compositions, 2010).
251 Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio, Empire (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 349.
252 Ibid., p. 350 (italics in original).
253 See, for example, the published record of disputes between Murray Bookchin, John Zerzan, Bob Black, David Watson, Hakim Bey, etc.
254 There are many examples of this, but to take one recent indication: The long-standing anarchist magazine, Fifth Estate (established in 1965), published a Spring 2015 issue (# 393) entitled “Anti-Marx.”
255 Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), p. 9.
256 See Guattari, “Becoming-Woman” in Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotext(e) Reader (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2001).
257 See Part III of Precarious Communism (2014).
258 The communicative content and proposals of revolt will be the sustained focus of Chapter 7, and thus more fully (and finally) worked out there.
259 We should keep these lessons in mind also in light of the more recent left-wing celebration of Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral victory as the Leader of the Labour Party in the UK in 2015.

 

FROM
RICHARD GILMAN-OPALSKY | SPECTERS OF REVOLT
REPEATER BOOKS 2016
SEE ALSO:
THE ETERNAL RETURN OF REVOLT
A CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD GILMAN-OPALSK
ILL WILL

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