An apology for communism: The invisible committee’s Now
I am large, I contain multitudes.
The real problem is not that of restoring a Marxist or Leninist or Maoist truth, nor that of remaking an organisation with the same methods and therefore the same errors as the one that failed in too many parts of the world. The half century that has passed since the death of Lenin obliges us, on pain of death, to rethink reality, not texts; society, not formulae; to produce truth, not to contend over hereditary protocols. It is a difficult task that for a number of years has demanded fierce study and pitiless rigour. Nor is it just a task of consciousness. It is a vital task, in which to invent a different relationship between our present, the site of our pain and our joy, and the exalted or terrifying images of the future and the past.
What follows is a fourth and final exercise in the sharing of ideas, of visions (for the first, click here, the second, here, and the third, here). The most recent essay by the invisible committee, Now, continues a reflection-intervention that began with The Coming Insurrection and To Our Friends, and offers a powerful critique of contemporary politics, along with a defense of “autonomy”. What is proposed here then is again a partial translation, summary and critical commentary on their reading of communism.
Everywhere, we are proposed solutions …
“Cities in transition, social and solidarity economies, a 6th Republic, alternative municipalism, basic universal income, the film Tomorrow, migrations into space, a thousand new prisons, expelling all foreigners from the planet, man-machine fusions – whether they be engineers, managers, activists, politicians, ecologists, actors or simple hucksters, all of those who pretend to offer solutions to the present disaster do but one thing: they impose upon us their definition of the problem, in the hope of having us forget that they are themselves clearly part of the problem. As one friend stated: ‘The solution to the problem that you see in life is a way of living that makes the problem disappear.'” (123-4)*
The invisible committee offers us no political program, no solution for sale. They speak from their singular experience, their encounters, their successes and failures. From this, they “draw an evidently partisan perception of the world, which conversation between friends refines”. (124) It is then for each one of us, as readers of Maintenant/Now, to draw the consequences. And it is with this in the background that one may speak of a defence of communism.
The question of communism remains at the heart of our epoch, if for no other reason than that the reign of its opposite, the economy, has never been so complete. (124)
“One can of course elude the question of communism. One can accustom oneself to stepping over the homeless or the migrants on the street each morning on the way to the office. One can follow in real time time the melting of the polar icecaps, the rise of the oceans or frantic migrations, in all directions, of animals and human beings. One can continue to prepare one’s cancer each time one swallows a fork of mashed food. One can say that the recovery, a little authority or eco-feminism will resolve all that. To continue in this way is at the price of repressing in ourselves the sentiment of living in an intrinsically criminal society, and who does not miss the opportunity to remind us that we are a part of this little criminal association. Each time that we enter into contact with it – by the use of anyone of its devices, the consumption of the least of its commodities or the job that we slave on for it -, we make ourselves its accomplices, we contract a little of the vice that grounds it: that of exploiting, pillaging, exhausting the very conditions of all terrestrial existence. We have the choice but between two crimes: that of participating or that of deserting with the aim of killing it. The hunt for the criminal, the thirst for punishment and judgement is frenzied in our time only to the extent of procuring for the spectator, for an instant, a surrogate of innocence. But as the relief is of short duration, it is necessary to continually begin anew to blame, to punish, to accuse – so as to clear oneself of responsibility.” (124-5)
If to speak of communism sounds grossly anachronistic in our times, it is because it was, in the 20th century, misconceived as a social doctrine, which is to say, as a response to a strictly human concern. (127)
“Despite that, it has never ceased to inform the world. If it continues to haunt it, it is because it does not proceed from any ideological fixation, but from a fundamental, immemorial, lived experience: that of community, which revokes so many economic axioms, as well as beautiful constructions of civilisation. There is never community as an entity, but only as an experience. It is that of the continuity with beings and with the world. In love, friendship, we have the experience of this continuity.” (127)
There is a lived experience of communism in moments of giving, sharing, friendship; a singular experience of creative interaction with others and the world. It is only by divorcing the human being from this experience that communism could come to be imagined as an emaciated, abstract fraternalism, an empty internationlism, to be appropriated and corrupted by political movements, parties and States. But what is communism if not friendship, equality among friends?
“In taking the human subject in isolation from her/his world, in detaching mortals from all that lives around them, modernity could not but give birth to a communism exterminator of a socialism. And this socialism could not encounter peasants, nomads and “savages” except as obstacles to be swept away, like an annoying residue at the bottom of national accounting. They could not even see what communism they were the bearers of. If modern “communism” was able to imagine itself as universal fraternity, as realised equality, it was by cavalierly extrapolating the lived fact of fraternity in struggle from friendship. For what is friendship if not the equality between friends?” (128-9)
“Without the experience, even occasional, of communism, we die, we shrivel up, we becomes cynics, hard, barren. Life is this phantom-city peopled by smiling mannequins, and that works. Our need for community is so pressing that after having ravaged all existing ties, capitalism can only run on the promise of “community”. What are the social networks, dating applications, if not this promise perpetually disappointed? What are all of the fashions, the technologies of communication, all the love songs, except a way of maintaining the dream of a continuity between beings where, in the end, all contact is stolen away? This promise of frustrated community opportunely redoubles the need for it. It is rendered even hysterical, and turns ever faster the great cash machine of those who exploit it. To maintain the poverty and have it show itself in one possible outcome, this is the great strength of capitalism.” (129)
The capitalist economy rests upon two complicit fictions, that of “society” and of the “individual”, and all that they carry with them, politically, morally, existentially. And even those opposed to it, for example, anarchists and marxists, often do little more than play ping-pong around this couple, “without worrying themselves that this false antinomy was fashioned by economic thought.” (131)
“To rebel against society in the name of the individual or against individualism in the name of socialism, is to condemn oneself in advance. The individual and society have not ceased, for a good three centuries, to affirm themselves at the expense of the other, and it is this well established and oscillating apparatus that, from year to year, keeps the lovely spools called “the economy” turning. Contrary to what the economy wants us to see, what there is in life are not individuals endowed with all kinds of properties that they may use or separate themselves from. What there is in life are attachments, assemblages, of situated beings who move in a whole ensemble of ties. In making its own the liberal fiction of the individual, modern ” communism” could not but confound property and attachment, and carry with itself the devastation even to where it thought it was struggling against private property and constructing socialism. … It was only on the basis of such a confusion that one could imagine that “Humanity” could exist, that is all women and men similarly torn away from what weaves their specific existence, and phantasmagorically reunited in an great untraceable machine. In massacring all of the attachments that make up the very texture of worlds, under the pretext of abolishing the private ownership of the means of production, modern “communism” effectively made a clean slate – of everything. This is then what occurs to those who practice economics, even in criticising it. ‘One had not to criticise the economy, one had to get out of it!’, Lyotard would have said. Communism is not a ‘superior economic organisation of society’, but the destitution of the economy.” (131-3)
What appears under the spectacle economy from the outside as an “indivdual” is in truth a complex of heterogeneous forces, an aggregate of fragments capable and susceptible to agencies. We are each, many lives, many faces, and what ties we create and are created are not between separate entities, but between and within the confluence of fragmentary flows.
“We are not beautiful, complete egos, well unified Selves; we are composed of fragments, we swarm with minor lives. … Every tie between beings goes from a fragment of being to a fragment of being, from a fragment of world to a fragment of world. It establishes itself below and beyond the level of the individual. It immediately effects [“agence”] between them portions of beings that suddenly discover themselves on an equal footing, experience themselves as continuous. This continuity between fragments is what is felt as “community”, an assemblage. It is what we experience in every true encounter. Every encounter cuts a part of us away, where are indistinctly mixed elements of the world, of the other and of ourselves. Love does not put individuals into relationship with each other; it rather cuts away a part in each, as if they were suddenly traversed by a special plane of reality, where they find themselves walking together in the world. To love is never to be together, but to become together. If to love did not unmake the fictitious unity of being, the “other” would be incapable of making us suffer so. If in love a part of the other was not to be found as a part of us, we would not have to mourn when the hour of separation comes. If there were nothing but relations between beings, no one would understand themselves. Everything would move along with misunderstanding. There is neither subject nor object of love, there is an experience of love.” (138)
“The fragments which constitute us, the forces that inhabit us, the assemblages where we enter have no reason to compose a harmonious whole, a fluid ensemble, a mobile articulation. The banal experience of life, of our days, is rather that of a succession of encounters which gradually unmake us, fragment us, progressively steal away from us all certain foundations. If communism has to do with the fact of organising ourselves collectively, materially, politically, it is to the exact degree that it signifies also organising ourselves singularly, existentially, sensibly. Or, one must accept falling back into politics or the economy. If communism has an end, it is the great well-being of forms of life. The great well-being is gained, in contact with life, through the patient articulation of the disjointed members of our being. One can very well live one’s entire life without experiencing anything, by being careful not to feel or think. Existence is thus brought to a slow movement of degradation. It uses and damages, instead of giving form. Relations, past the miracle of the encounter, cannot but go from injury to injury towards their consummation. Conversely, s/he who refuses to live next to oneself, who accepts to experience, life gives them progressively form. S/he becomes in the full sense of the term a form of life.” (138-9)
“Poles apart from this are the inherited methods of activist construction, so fatiguing, so destructive, when they wanted to build so much. Communism is played out not in the renunciation of self, but in attention to the simplest gesture. It is a question of the plane of perception and thus in the way things are done. It is a practical question. What the perception of entities – individual or collective – bars our access to, is the plane where things really happen, the plane where collective potentialities are made and unmade, reinforce or unravel themselves. It is on this plane and only there that the real, including the politically real, becomes readable and makes sense. To live communism, is not to work to make exist the entity to which one adheres, but to deploy and deepen an ensemble of ties, which is to say to sometimes cut them. What is essential takes place at the level of the very small. For the communist, the world of important facts extends beyond sight. It is the whole alternative between the individual and the collective that perception in terms of ties revokes positively. An ‘I’ that, in a given situation, rings true can be a “we” of exceptional potential. Equally, the happiness proper to every Commune refers to a plenitude of singularities, to a certain quality of ties, to the radiance at its heart of each fragment of the world – the end of entities, of their weight, the end of individual and collective confinements, the end of the reign of narcissism. ‘The only and unique progress, wrote the poet Franco Fortini, consists and will consist of reaching a higher place, visible, seeing, where it will be possible to promote the potentialities and the qualities of each singular existence.’ What is to be deserted is not ‘society’ nor ‘individual life’, but the couple that they form together. We must learn how to move on another plane.” (139-40)
[Gloss: Let us imagine human existence in its four dimensions of space and time. What any State endeavours to do is to render its subjects transparent. For this, it must map them. The cartographer’s question is then what “geographical” projection to employ. The human must be, so to speak, flattened out. But as with any such projection, the mapping is eminently political, with those territories that are deemed fundamental for control being given prominence. What contemporary capitalism accomplishes, to a degree unheard of, by means of technological apparatuses of surveillance, control and seduction, is to fragment the subject into a multiplicity of measurable domains, each the object of political and economic investment. Without by any means exhausting the map, we are biochemical measures of cholesterol, sugar, heartbeat; corporal measures of size and shape, volume and weight; emotional and cognitive measures of stability and intelligence; psychological, social and cultural measures of functionality, productivity, ethnicity; political measures of identification and participation, and so on. In each instance, each field is observed, studied, recorded, and always restrained and seduced. The micro-administration of capital is totalitarian in its ambition and it is this potentially inexhaustible reality that capitalism as a system of social relations is able to mould and exploit.
What opposition there can be to capitalism must begin here. And paradoxically, in so fragmenting the human subject, what capitalism accomplishes is the simultaneous revelation of the illusion of a sovereign subjectivity. As fragmentation is intensified for ever greater control, cracks appear, we leak through the fissures, and subjectivities encounter other subjective singularities, generating experiences that defy control.
Communism in some sense can be said to be the ethical acknowledgement and shaping of life within the flux of movements of capital. That is, it shows up a truth, the truth that we are always “between” realities, in the thresholds of corporal, affective and cognitive shifts. Capitalism’s capacity to exploit these movements depends upon self-interested, temporary territorialisations, on perpetuating therefore the illusion that all is stable, and that it is in stability where prosperous well-being is to be found. What radical anti-capitalism must strive towards is challenging capitalist territorialisations, thereby creating spaces and times for potential collective creativity beyond capital, within the multiple fluxes that exist between ever changing subjectivities.]
What capitalism cannot tolerate is the freedom of feeling, seeing, understanding, none of which are politically indifferent, nor equitably shared among us. We are obliged to remain at the surface of experience, of life, in contemporary social relations; even led to fear the risks of engagement, commitment, “loss of control” (when we already control very little). “If the whole social circus continues still, it is because each wears themselves out keeping their head above water, when instead, what would be necessary is to embrace the fall until we touch something solid”. (146)
In struggle, in true collective life where we open ourselves up to create together, our feelings and thoughts change profoundly. However banal this may sound – and it only sounds as such because language has itself become so banal, so empty – we are no longer the same subjects, we become other than what we were before we lived such experiences of shared creativity. We come back to Fortini’s vision, and we can begin to speak of communism as a way of seeing that carries with it a way of being in the world that breaks with the power of economy.
“There is no sense in sharing things if one does not begin by communising the aptitude to see. Without that, to live communism is similar to a wild dance in absolute darkness: we crash, we injure, we drape the soul and body in blues, without even wanting to and without even knowing precisely whom we should hold something against. To add the capacity to see to everyone in all domains, to compose new perceptions and to refine them to infinity, that is the central object of all communist development, the growth of immediate potential that it determines. Those who wish to see nothing cannot but produce collective disasters. One has to make oneself see [clairvoyant, a visionary], for oneself as much as for others.” (148)
“Because it is a matter … of life itself, the true communist question is not ‘how to produce?’, but ‘how to live?’. Communism is the centrality of the old ethical question, that which historical socialism held to be ‘metaphysical’, ‘premature’ or ‘petite-bourgeois’, and not that of labour. It is general de-totalisation, and not the socialisation of everything.” (150)
“For us, communism is not a goal. There is no ‘transition’ towards it. It is entirely transition: it is on the way. The different ways of inhabiting the world will never cease to cross each other, to crash into each other and, at times, to combat each other. Everything will always have to be taken up again.” (151)
By way of conclusion, with the words of the poet Franco Fortini …
“Communism is the material process that aims to make the materiality of so-called spiritual things both sensible and intellectual. To the point of being able to read in the book of our own body everything that men did and were under the sovereignty of time; and to interpret in it the traces of the passage of the human species over an earth on which it will leave no trace.”
Franco Fortini, “Che cos’è il comunismo”
L’Internazionale di Franco Fortini (Versione del Coro Ingrato) …
Noi siamo gli ultimi del mondo.
Ma questo mondo non ci avrà.
Noi lo distruggeremo a fondo.
Spezzeremo la società.
Nelle fabbriche il capitale
come macchine ci usò.
Nelle scuole la morale
di chi comanda ci insegnò.
Questo pugno che sale
questo canto che va
Questa lotta che uguale
l’uomo all’uomo farà,
Fu vinta e vincerà.
Noi siamo gli ultimi di un tempo
che nel suo male sparirà.
Qui l’avvenire è già presente
chi ha compagni non morirà.
Al profitto e al suo volere
tutto l’uomo si tradì,
ma la Comune avrà il potere.
Dov’era il no faremo il sì.
Questo pugno che sale…
E tra di noi divideremo
lavoro, amore, libertà.
E insieme ci riprenderemo
la parola e la verità.
Guarda in viso, tienili a memoria
chi ci uccise, chi mentì.
Compagni, porta la tua storia
alla certezza che ci unì.
Questo pugno che sale…
Noi non vogliam sperare niente.
il nostro sogno è la realtà.
Da continente a continente
questa terra ci basterà.
Classi e secoli ci han straziato
fra chi sfruttava e chi servì:
compagno, esci dal passato
verso il compagno che ne uscì.
Questo pugno che sale…
*Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to the essay Maintenant, published by La fabrique, 2017.