Communism remains the best conceivable form of human organization, and it can work, but the major catch is that it requires something that smells intolerably fishy to those who are most likely to want communism (left-wing activists). I will try to show that a workable and highly desirable communism is possible on the condition of accurate social valuation of individual characters. Some people are better or worse at different things, including ethical conduct. To the degree a group calibrates itself to these differences, it can have true communism; to the degree it denies or inaccurately assesses these differences, it cannot have communism.
Justin Murphy’s post “Aristocracy and Communism” — his more in-depth summary of his idea for a kind of aristocrommunist patch, expressed at a recent #WyrdPatchwork conference — has caused quite a furore recently; a furore I addressed quickly here.
I wanted to take a more careful look at this sense of a communism, positioning it against my own. My communism is primarily conceived as being defined by a collectivised ontology of difference — something I’ve tentatively been piecing together on the blog here and here.
A discussion of this sense of communism underpinned my first conversation about patchwork with Justin on his YouTube channel. We seemed to be in agreement then, but what he has suggested more recently seems antithetical to that… I want to figure how and why with a little more certainty.
The difference between us, as I see it, is that Murphy is led by his data into all the usual traps of communism, applying statistical solutions to ontological questions rather than building purposefully around the impossibility of their resolution.
My immediate reaction to Murphy’s thought experiment is that, as Mike Crumplar called it on his blog, it is a form of “microfascism”. As Sam Kriss (of all people) notes, in an old blogpost, it’s a DeleuzoGuattarian coinage. Kriss writes:
Deleuze draws a line between historical Fascism (of the type that came to power in Germany, Italy, Romania, etc) and microfascism: a field of destructive, authoritarian impulses that permeates capitalist society. In ‘Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ microfascism is the result of a blocked line of flight, a molarisation of repressed desire…
We know this already. Patchwork, as a thought experiment, produces lines of flight indefinitely (in principle) but, paradoxically, this is likely to include a spectrum of possibility from overtly consolidated dead-ends to never-ending chaos. The gambit is: surely the proliferation of alternatives is better than our dull existences amongst consolidated nation-states, each increasingly infected with capitalism and neoliberalism.
How this is remotely compatible with a classically understood communism is a tricky point to make and, in this way, I’ve previously been sympathetic to Justin’s often expressed “imposter syndrome” when talking about communism, in which he acknowledges that just because he thinks he’s a communist, he’s aware many “real” communists might reject him as one of their own. I can appreciate this. I think I might be a similar sort of communist, because my communism, rather than being purely Marxist and adhering to contemporary left-wing expectations, is rather built on foundational texts from Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy.
In many ways, Justin and I are beginning from the same position. The interpersonal differences that tend towards fragmentation are based on the inherently fraught nature of friendship and communication which Georges Bataille, in his essay “The Labyrinth”, reduces to a “principle of insufficiency”; an inability to account for the inner experience of the other as that primal wound at the heart of all of human civilisation and existence.
For me, this is not something to get rid of or solve. This is not something to attempt to rectify. It’s the productive engine of community that is often curtailed and stunted by politics of the state. Instead, it’s a condition of subjectivity that is to be exacerbated and held within thought so that all action and politics can begin from its acknowledgement.
Blanchot takes up this principle explicitly in his communism, making it central to his philosophy of community. I think it’s worth turning to Blanchot’s The Unavowable Community at length here. He writes:
I am reading the following lines by Edgar Morin which many of us could make our own: “Communism is the major question and the principal experience of my life. I have never stopped recognizing myself in the aspirations it expresses and I still believe in the possibility of another society and another humanity.”
This simple statement may sound naive, but, in its straightfor wardness, it expresses exactly what we cannot escape: Why? What about this possibility which, one way or another, is always caught in its own impossibility?
This is likewise a communism that Justin has explored in his essay “Atomization and Liberation” in the Vast Abrupt, but which he ends up taking in a direction already forewarned by Blanchot himself, who continues:
Communism, by saying that equality is its foundation and that there can be no community until the needs of all men are equally fulfilled (this in itself but a minimal requirement), presupposes not a petfect society but the principle of a transparent humanity essentially produced by itself alone, an “immanent” humanity (says Jean-Luc Nancy) . This immanence of man to man also points to man as the absolutely immanent being because he is or has to become such that he might entirely be a work, his work, and, in the end, the work of everything. As Herder says, there is nothing that must not be fashioned by him, from humanity to nature (and all the way to God). Nothing is left out, in the final analysis. Here lies the seemingly healthy origin of the sickest totalitarianism.
This is likewise how Murphy’s communism, as most recently enunciated, appears to us: as that sickest totalitarianism, built around a foundation of technologically instantiated and absolute equality.
So, what then of “community”? What is it in relation to this communism? Perhaps a small-c communism that is not enforced by the infrastructures of the state into consolidated groups but rather a social infrastructure that is modelled on its own casual and already existing dynamics.
Whilst the state tries to enforce its model of itself on the subject, this communism instead calls for a sociality that is uninhibited and attentive to the already existent flows of human life, as fragmentary and fluid, and which does not get in their way. As I recently said on Twitter: a patchwork has always been, for me, a Frankenstate that reflects the makeup of the modern subject. In this way, patchwork inverts the processes of subjection. It is to eradicate the political (as we know it) through the forces of the extrapolitical, not — as Murphy seems to be suggesting — to neuter the extrapolitical through pervasive state control and administration.
We are grappling here with difficulties not easily mastered. The community, be it numerous or not … seems to propose itself as a tendency towards a communion, even a fusion, that is to say an effervescence assembling the elements only to give rise to a unity (a supra-individuality) that would expose itself to the same objections arising from the simple consideration of the single individual, locked in his immanence.
That the community may lay itself open to its own communion (which is of course symbolized by all eucharistic communions) is shown by a variety of examples: the group under fascination, as attested by the sinister collective suicide in Guyana; the group in fusion, as named and analyzed by Sartre in his ‘Critique of Dialectical Reason’ …; the military or fascist group where each member of the group relinquishes his freedom or even his consciousness to a Head incarnating it without running the risk of being decapitated because it is, by definition, beyond reach.
I could go on quoting passages at length but surely it is already clear by now that Murphy’s communism is a version of that already familiar fascistic variety, built on technologies but ignoring any questions raised about the logistics of a communism since the mid-19th century.
If it’s still not clear enough: read more Blanchot.
Where should one begin with Blanchot?
‘The Unavowable Community’ is best I think. It’s his most… focussed book. So much of his other stuff is very abstract but it’s mostly all concerned with these same issues — the politics of the impossible, saying the unsayable, writing the unwritable etc. etc.