Communism at Birkbeck

I don’t have the presence of mind to summarize all of the presentations at the Birkbeck Communism conference, the way I did with Michael Hardt’s talk in my last post. But I can make some generalizations. Part of the appeal of events such as these is simply to see the academic superstars in action. From this point of view, the conference did not disappoint. Slavoj Zizek was in fine form, manic and excited, and so full of a kind of outward-directed energy that I didn’t really mind his overbearingness. Gianni Vattimo, whom I had never seen before (and of whose works I have only read a little) was quite a charmer, in a humorously self-deprecating way. Terry Eagleton reveled in the role of the British common-sense empiricist in a room otherwise full of dialecticians. Toni Negri was warm and animated, jacques Ranciere admirably meditative. Alain Badiou was… well, Badiou (more of which later).

The conference’s title was “On the Idea of Communism.” The idea, it was emphasized, as opposed to the harsh realities of day-by-day social and political struggle. I’m enough of an armchair communist (or petit-bourgeois intellectual, as they used to say in the bad old days) that I had no objection to such an emphasis. I agree with Zizek that we need to show a certain patience, to take a deep breath, to try to understand the contours of the situation we are in (or the conjuncture, in more traditional marxistspeak). But what does it mean to explore the mere idea of communism, as opposed to the actuality of capitalism? The idea of communism is to a large extent a negative one, in that we don’t really know what it would be like, only that it would mean the emancipation of people, and the establishment of forms of life that are repressed, oppressed, and denied an opportunity to flourish today. It’s utopian; or at least “communism” is the name for the only sort of utopianism that makes sense to me today — it makes sense precisely because it is not a religious or new-agey idea of perfectibility and salvation, but something much more down-to-earth. Communism has to do with “the common,” as Michael Hardt said, and this is a far different thing from, say, the “public” in its binary opposition to and dependence upon the “private.” It doesn’t mean giving up on our inner lives, but creating an environment in which such lives might flourish. And I don’t think that “communism” is really about politics — though politics is inevitably a large part of what is needed to get there,

There is also, of course, the question of the crimes committed by Communist parties, or in the name of “communism,” throughout the twentieth century. Zizek opened the conference by saying that the time for guilt was over, that in the 21st century we needed to reclaim the name of “communism” from the ill repute into which it has sunk. And I think this is entirely right — all the more so in that capitalism, too, is guilty of many crimes, but of ones which it still refuses to acknowledge, and for which it shows no repentance; not to mention the increasingly untenable situation in which we live today, exacerbated by the current financial disaster.

The conference showcased the major strains of Euro-communism (in which I also include North American leftist thought) today — though the rest of the world was noticeable by its absence. All the speakers were white Europeans or North Americans; 11 of the 12 speakers were men. The audience was more gender-balanced than the panels, but it was overwhelmingly white. This is quite disturbing (not because of any multicultural pieties of the sort that Zizek always criticizes, but precisely because it bespeaks a parochialism that “we” in the “West” have still only done a very poor job of breaking away from). Bruno Bosteels talked a bit about Latin American (specifically Bolivian) experiences and theorizations of getting beyond capitalism; and a number of speakers kept on coming back to the (very ambiguous) history of the Chinese Cultural Revolution; but all in all, the conference was far less internationalist than it ought to have been.

In any case, by “major strains” of Euro-communism I basically mean those represented by Zizek and Badiou, on the one hand, and by Hardt and Negri on the other. Since in fact it was Zizek’s and Badiou’s conference, I kind of got the slight sense that Negri and Hardt were only there on sufferance, as it were; they were noticeably absent during the summing-up on the final day. Now, I’ve had my criticisms of both of these camps (as can be seen in many earlier entries on this blog); but “at the end of the day,” I am much more in Negri and Hardt’s camp than in that of the others. This was confirmed for me by the fact that both Hardt and Negri focused on political economy in their talks; whereas none of the other speakers (with the exception of Zizek, whom I will discuss later) so much as mentioned it.

Now, this might be justified to some extent by the argument that the whole point of “communism” is to imagine a society in which the current constraints of a capitalist political economy no longer apply; but this isn’t much of an alibi, when you consider that so many of the talks were, indeed, about how to get there  from here — Terry Eagleton’s talk filled with literary allusions was really the only one that was actually about imagining communism as a state of being, rather than just as the negation of what we have today (and his talk precisely showed, in a symptomatic way, the limitations of trying to imagine such a utopian situation — I must confess that his literariness made me cringe a bit, as it reminded m all too much of the atmosphere of graduate school in English at Yale in the 1970s (it isn’t that I don’t like Shakespeare; I do; but I don’t really find helpful an approach which acts as if movies and TV and the Internet didn’t exist; one can talk about Shakespeare just as one talks about Spinoza — but in either case it should be from our actual present situartion).

No, the problem for me with much of the conference is that political economy (by which I include what Marx called “the critique of political economy”) was pretty much elided by most of the speakers. For instance, Peter Hallward, with his usual lucidity, developed a rather alarming call for Jacobin rigor and discipline in the defense of virtue and the Rousseauean principle of the “general will”; but he failed to explain how such a state, analgous to that of the Jacobin clubs in 1790s France, could arise in the first place. A number of speakers went on at great length about the necessity of struggles against the “State”; but they seemed to do this with little sense of how State apparatuses work to support and reinforce capital and finance. The dirty little secret of neoliberalism is that the “free market” could not actually function if the government were actually to observe laissez faire, and to leave “the market” alone. For it is only by rigid State control over things like the money supply, together with rigid enforcement of “property” laws (based on the absurd fiction that, say, the genetic makeup of genetically modified crops somehow had the same inviolable status as my personal effects in my bedroom). It’s disheartening to hear people on the left denounce “the State” in the very same terms that the neoliberals hypocritically and misleadingly do. Not to mention that, as Bruno Bosteels put it in a question that none of the anti-State panelists were able convincingly to answer, this sort of analysis is distinctly unhelpful when we have a situation such as that in Bolivia, where President Morales is specifically using the power of “the State” — the fact of his election to office by a large minority — in order to improve economic conditions for the vast masses, even at the expense of the wealthy and privileged. [One might add that, in Bolivia as recently in Thailand and several other places, it is precisely the privileged bourgeoisie who have used the tactics of “people power”, with mass protests etc., in order to bring down democratically elected majority governments who threatened their privileges).

In particular, not only did Badiou leave out political economy from his descriptions of how the revolutionary event might challenge the capitalist status quo; but also, when questioned on this score, he explicitly denounced any attention to political economy as being the sin of “economism”. All this is caaptured in the video here. Badiou claims that economics can only be part of “the situation” which it is the business of a new “truth,” produced in an event and by fidelity to that event, to disrupt. Badiou shows his Maoist pedigree (as Ken Wark remarked to me) in this insistence on politics as the ultimate ruling instance. Instead of engaging in the critique of political economy, and seeing the political as so intimately intertwined with the economic as to makie any separation of them impossible, Badiou relegates economy, in a nearly Gnostic sort of way, to the realm of the irretrievably fallen. His notion of a pure politics (and a pure philosophy) unsullied by any contact with, or ‘contamination’ by, the economic, is really the mirror image of today’s neoclassical economics which imagines itself to be value-neutral and apolitical. What this comes down to is that Badiou is a Maoist without the Marxism — a stance that I find rather terrifying.

At his best, Badiou is a kind of no-Kantian — this is an appelation that he would reject, of course, and one that most contemporary philosophers would find damning (though I mean it as a sort of praise). What I mean by Badiou’s neo-Kantianism is that his whole notion of the event, and of the ethics of remaining loyal to the event, is something like a late-modernist version of the categorical imperative. The event is singular, and yet of absolutely universal import — it commands our obedience, regardless of our merely personal, “pathological” implications. Badiou even defines the event, and the way we are called to be faithful to it, in entirely “formalist” terms — we are commanded by the very form of the event, rather than by anything having to do with its specific content. This is an utterly Kantian way of thinking — and, unlike so many “hegelian” commentators, I find this empty formalism to be a strength, rather than a weakness, of Kantian ethics. But I shudder when Badiou goes on to denature this Kantian impersonal universalism by turning it into a Pauline or Leninist or Maoist form of what Kant would have called “fanaticism.” Again, I am no Leninist or Maoist to begin with; but to take Leninism and Maoism, and remove the Marxism from them, as Badiou does, really leaves us with nothing but a delusional hypervoluntarism and a romanticized reveling in “terror.”

Zizek, speaking on the last day, gave what I am sure he would be happy for us to think of as a Hegelian synthesis of everything that went on during the conference. Unlike most of his colleagues, and in what might be thought of as a nod to Hardt and Negri, his analysis did include political economy. He listed four threats or challenges that we face today in our world of capitalism gone mad; and three of them, he acknowledged, fit under the rubric of Hardt/Negri’s “affective” or “immaterial” production. These were 1)the threat of environmental disaster; 2)questions of so-called “intellectual property,” of copyright, patents, etc., and of the privatization of the common (understanding this in the broadest sense, as Hardt argued); 3)quesions of bioengineering, genetics, and the ability to manipulate our own genes, and thus change “human nature” on a biological and physiological level. Zizek then added a fourth challenge, which he said underlay all the others: 4)the question of inclusion and exclusion on a global level — as reflected in border controls, nationalisms, and the question of immigration (the countries of the North excluding people from the global South, except insofar as their hyperexploitation was facilitated on the basis of admitting them with only a semi-legal or illegal status. This ties in also with the whole question of “global slums,” as raised by Mike Davis. It articulates the demands of capital that lie behind what Deleuze calls the control society, and it gives a way of acknowledging the issues raised by post-colonial theory without falling into the multiculturalism that Zizek is not altogether without justification in criticizing.

Zizek argued that these questions could only be resolved, in an anticapitalist direction, by maintaining principles of egalitarianism and universalism. His example of this was the Haitian Revolution as the radicalization, and Hegelian “completion”, of the French Revolution. The French tried to repress the Haitians, which means that the French were not able to live up to their own universalism — they wouldn’t apply this to black people. But the Haitians took the principles of the French Revolution more seriously than the French themselves did; they demanded and won independence, against the French, on the basis of the very principles that the French had enunciated. This is Zizek’s way of splitting the difference between his inherent Eurocentrism, and the fact that by his own principles of universality he needs to get away from Eurocentrism. In effect, he is privileging Europe on the grounds that Europe invented the very universalism that commands us to stop privileging Europe. As so often, I remain highly dubious of how this kind of Hegelian maneuver can be invoked any time Zizek needs to get out of a tight spot. It ends up being a little too easy, and a little too self-congratulatory a method of resolving the problem. That is to say, Zizek still really is Eurocentric, and we need to continue to call him on this. But it is not entirely devoid of merit that the guy is trying, at least…

In any case, after laying all this out, Zizek went on to talk about some of the difficulties that we face in trying to deal with these questions. He was emphatic in arguing that the radicality of “communism” needs to be upheld, against the sort of reforms that — now that some of the excesses of finance are being at least slightly reined  in — could come under the name of “socialism” (as in Newsweek’s recent assertion that “‘we are all socialists now”). Such “socialist” reforms (including the nationalization of institutions like banks, or the de facto ownership of the majority of stock in troubled financial corporations by the US government) would give an illusion of reform, while really leaving the massive inequalities (between wealthy financiers and everyone else, and even more between the citizens of Western nations and the overwhelming majority everywhere else in the world) largely untouched. I think that Zizek is right about this — the current crisis situation at least in principle makes radical alternatives more thinkable than they were during the internet and real estate bubbles — even though the recuperative efforts of Western governments today are almost entirely oriented towards keeping alive the sense that “there is no alternative,” even as that system to which there is supposedly no alternative has entirely collapsed and discredited itself.

In this light, ZIzek talked of the difficulty of making any transgressive or oppositional gestures today, because of the way that such gestures almost immediately get commodified and recuperated, and because the very ideas of transgression and radical innovation have themselves become capitalist resources, the mantras of every business school and every CEO. Zizek even quoted Brian Massumi to this effect, much to my surprise (since Massumi, like Hardt and Negri, is very much on Deleuzian side, rather than the Lacanian one, of recent debates).

Awareness of these issues, I think, prevents Zizek from articulating groundless fantasies of revolutionary agency in the way that certain other speakers did. Yet the only solution Zizek had to offer, in his talk, was an appeal to Badiou’s transcendental formulation of politics as fidelity to an event of radical rupture, and of “communism” as the name of this event or rupture. In the course of his talk, Zizek called several times for a “radical voluntarism” — though, when called on this formulation in the Q&A, he backpedaled (at least rhetorically) and said that all he meant by such a phrase was that, unlike the old Marxists  of the earlier part of the past century, we could no longer believe today that the “logic of history” was on our side, or that we could trust to the objective course of events to displace capitalism and create the necessary and sufficient conditions for communism.

I agree with Zizek on this — indeed, my largest disagreement with Hardt and Negri is precisely that they seem to affirm a soft version of the inevitable-movement-of-history, or “objective conditions” thesis — but I think that a phrase like “radical voluntarism” works to insinuate a positive thesis — a sense of “what is to be done?” — that simply isn’t there. Which leaves us back in our current condition: the demoralization of an impotent left. I have no solution for this dilemma — and I don’t think Zizek or Badiou (or Hardt or Negri either) have any more of a solution than I have, although they are way to eager to adopt the rhetoric of seeming as if they do.

All this was symbolized at the very end of the conference. As everyone was getting ready to leave, Zizek asked us to all stand up and sing “The Internationale”. Almost nobody did (there were a few people in one corner singing it, but they couldn’t be heard above the general hubbub). In my case — and I suspect this held for a large majority of the hundreds of people in the auditorium — I would have liked to sing “The Internationale”, but I couldn’t — because, although I am vaguely familiar with the melody, I do not know the words.

55 thoughts on “Communism at Birkbeck”

  1. Fabulous summary.

    What I think I don’t understand about communism:

    Communists today don’t believe in God, but largely do believe in Darwinism.

    Hence,

    If all animals compete,
    and we are animals,
    why do they imagine a world in which people are not competing,
    but rather are in some kind of glorious state of enlightened
    cooperation?

    Why are we as animals different from all others?

    Christians believed that was the case (including Kant), but if you take Christianity out, and leave Darwin in, (which Marxists do), how do they
    nevertheless arrive at a state in which people don’t compete, but who are instead only too willing to share?

    Meanwhile, there DOES seem to be a little of competition between the different rugby scrums within the conference.

  2. I too would have been up for singing the Internationale, but didn’t know the words! I tried a frantic search on my mobile, but to no avail because of the lack of signal. There was huge projector at the conference – with two second Zizek could have probably arranged the words to be projected there. In terms of a positive and uniting end to the conference, as well as a spectacular media stunt, it would have been great.

    With regard to the previous commentator, although I don’t find them entirely convincing, modern Darwinism argues for as much an element of co-operation as one of competition.

  3. @ Kirby Olson–to your point regarding Christian belief–if you read Zizek on this subject (The Fragile Absolute, The Puppet and the Dwarf) you would find that he makes attempts to rehabilitate (specifically Christian) theology for the left.

    One wonders, however, if this is primed by his revulsion to “Eastern” thought, and how “Western Buddhism” to Taoism, is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism.”

    http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/2122/

    This use of Christianity doesn’t appear to require belief, however. Zizek is interested in the scripture and the organizational power of religion.

  4. Your last paragraph depressed the crap out of me. I like to think I would have bellowed it in Italian, but who knows, maybe social awkwardness and the lack of other people joining in would have prevented that.

    In English I’m rather partial to Billy Brag’s version.

  5. the speakers were white Europeans or North Americans; 11 of the 12 speakers were men. The audience was more gender-balanced than the panels, but it was overwhelmingly white. This is quite disturbing

    But isn’t this largely a function of this:

    The symposium will not deal with practico-political questions of how to analyze the latest economic, political, and military troubles, or how to organize a new political movement. More radical questioning is needed today – this is a meeting of philosophers who will deal with Communism as a philosophical concept, advocating a precise and strong thesis: from Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher.

    Sounds like a flytrap for exactly the speakers who turned up. To the extent that thinking communism in the abstract, outside of practico-political questions has always been the reserve of people of not insignificant leisure and more specifically these days with the kind of free time that academia or personal wealth allows to devote to such activities, the list of speakers seems more or less pre-determined. And I’m not saying it’s a bad thing per se – Marx and Engels were hardly female Bolivian peasants – but only so long as this work of imagining communism by what you call a bunch of academic superstars is allowed and manages to connect with other imaginings from a far broader range of domains and cultures.

  6. Cam, I have in fact read Zizek on Christianity. His understanding of Christianity is completely bizarre, and has no actual relationship to it.

    I didn’t know if he was joking or just ill-informed, or whether he just didn’t care, or what it was. He had the weirdest assessments of Christianity I’ve ever read.

    I’ll give you just one example: he argues that Bolsheviks should kill Mensheviks in the way that Abraham killed Isaac.

    This is in yet another book on Christianity whose name doesn’t come back to me just now. But Abraham was supposed to kill Isaac as a sacrifice. And secondly, he loved Isaac! And thirdly, he didn’t do it.

    Compare that with the Bolshevik slaughter of the Mensheviks: it was no sacrifice (they would not be missed), secondly, there was no love, thirdly, they did it.

    I could go on all day about his odd comparisons that are so loose they almost don’t make sense except as humor.

    Thanks for writing to me!

  7. Re: Kirby Olson’s post on Darwinism and communism…

    Darwinism describes the world as it is, but not necessarily the world as it should be (failure to recognize this lead to the disasters of social Darwinism). Communism, by contrast, is more idealistic. Think of the famous line from “The African Queen”: “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

  8. Kirby, and all, re Darwin.

    Think how a capitalist system might privilege and overemphasize the competition idea and use it to its own ends, and then hasten to the pages of the wonderful book, Mutual Aid by Peter Kropotkin. That will clear your mystery right up. We are not different from all other (social) animals, and there’s no contradiction.

  9. Zizek opened the conference by saying that the time for guilt was over, that in the 21st century we needed to reclaim the name of “communism” from the ill repute into which it has sunk.

    Doesn’t seem to work though and none of the thinkers has contributed anything relevant to it. If communism was about the “common” why not proclaiming – in 20th century style – a “science of the common” first and study its characteristics? Instead the corpse of utopian thinking is re-animated and intellectuals dream of prussian order and discipline or apocalyptic events. It’s just laughable.

    @Kirby Olson. A sustainable “common” doesn’t have to exclude “competition” or egoism. It just limits their effects and relates them to the common. In evolutionary algorithms competition is simply a function of exploring the search space for all viable alternatives. In sports it is a method to find out the best player/team. It should be clear though that no player is bigger than the game and can become a “victor for life” and soon forbids to play the game to all others.

  10. Thank you very much for making the conference, or at least your impressions of it, part of the commons.

    What both intrigues and frustrates me is that the Hardt and Negri/Badio and Zizek debate (if it can be called that) ends up repeating the terms of a very old debate which pits the inevitable contradictions of capital against the need for subjective disruption. It seems to me that at its best the notion of the common is intended to get beyond such a division of subjective and objective.

  11. I think the big problem for the commons is who gets to regulate it. Whether it’s the people, via the vote, or an autocratic party, that thinks it knows what’s best for the People.

    If no one at all regulates it, that’s anarchism.

    If it’s regulated by a duly elected government, that’s liberalism.

    If it’s an autocratic party that cannot be removed that regulates it, that’s communism, (at least as Marx envisioned it).

    In the Zizek book I mentioned last night, he argues more or less for the Bolsheviks to regulate it, and he argues that they should slaughter the liberals (Mensheviks) the way that Abraham sacrificed Isaac.

    But I honestly didn’t know if he was joking or not. I often can’t tell with Zizek. He seems so hysterical, that even his asking everyone to sing the International sounds somewhat like a joke.

  12. Quick note for Justin:

    The African Queen is about an Anglican missionary’s very prim sister, and a rough sea-going alcoholic’s romance. When she says this to him, she is Christian (she had gone to visit her missionary brother, who had been killed by the Germans).

    This is why Marxism (at least at this conference) appears to invoke Christianity, or at least transcendent notions of Christian principles, without explicitly stating as much. But the problem is that Christians have a lot of humor about the distinction between the world of Christ, and this world. There’s an enormous gap between the two (it comes up in Kant as the distinction between the world of phenomena, and the world of the noumenon, or so it seems to me). But in Marxism there is no distinction, and there is a hurry to make this world like what Christians call the next.

    In Christian terms, Marxism is a Pelagian heresy.

    But Marxists don’t seem to be aware of where their thinking comes from, or to have much of a sense of the history of their thought, in spite of attempts by Lyotard and Zizek and others to fill it in — their theological sense was so feeble they can’t really clarify anything.

    I wish Marxists would bother to really read Augustine, and Luther, and rethink human nature (via Darwin).

    Developing a sense of humor is a big part of coming to terms with what is, versus what might be. The International has no sense of humor in it at all, which I find very funny. And that’s why I think Zizek must have been joking to invoke it. But you can never be sure with him.

  13. What if *everyone* regulates the common, Kirby? That would be the true meaning of common, wouldn’t it?

    I think that the “no one” of your definition of anarchism can be replaced by “everyone” to a much happier effect.

  14. I think the big problem for the commons is who gets to regulate it.

    They are regulated by licenses that are compliant with enforceable law. That’s how copyleft and all other OSI-compliant stuff works. For a company this can be quite attractive because it lowers maintenance costs which are distributed among many parties. For similar but not quite the same reasons industry standards have been embraced since the late 19th century. It’s not clear yet but the impact of copyleft and related ideas could be as relevant as those standards were ( and are ) for economical progress.

    From politically interested side this can be carried on by the usual instrument of tax cuts. So there is some sort of reward and patents will become obsolete.

    I guess a new red army headed by General Zizek can be prevented in the very last moment.

  15. Steven, I’m grateful for these detailed postings on a conference I would have very much liked to attend. Your observations bring up several points for me:

    While your comments indicate that communists in the 21st century have yet to come up with satisfying ANSWERS to the problem of social and economic injustice that have dogged the world since the coming of industrialism (or before), it is not clear to me that much of the intellectual Left has actually progressed with respect to the QUESTIONS they are asking about transformed sociopolitical conditions. The financial meltdown has not only taken the apologists for the neo-liberal free market by surprise also caught much of the Left off-guard with its startling swiftness and bewilderingly insoluble character. To be sure, Marxism has long been hamstrung by the relative paltriness of the change it seeks to bring about – a just distribution of the fruits of capitalism accomplished by workers who have come to recognize their “true interests.” But for capitalism to continue to bear fruits that can be shared, however, requires technological innovation (which arises from steep intellectual differences – not everyone can be an innovator) as well as an increasingly larger carbon footprint. I agree with Bill McKibben’s point in the Nation forum, titled “Reimagining Socialism,” that both free-market fundamentalism and Marxism are unthinkable without the fossil fuels causing possibly irreparable harm to the environment.

    But let’s turn the screw a little bit — what if the world were truly made perfectly equal, which means the wealthy having less and the poor having more. This vision requires, for its fulfillment, a massive lowering of expectations on the part of the wealthy. While the inhabitants of poorer countries would undeniably benefit from such massive transfers of wealth, what would become of the citizens of the so-called First World? Would we then see all the ills that plague developing countries become endemic in the industrialized world (of course, this seems to be happening in the absence of such quixotically sweeping philanthropic schemes), such as increasing levels of crime and corruption, paramilitary groups terrorizing the destitute as legal and penal institutions wither and decay, and economic life transformed into a zero-sum game in which people compete with each other for scarce necessities as one’s gain automatically means another’s loss? It is highly doubtful, under such conditions, that most people in the First World would find much comfort in the thought that the world had at last achieved socioeconomic justice. Compassion is easy to feel when one’s belly is full, and when one can retreat into myriad forms of entertainment when compassion begins to make demands.

    Frankly, I wish that there were more discussions about Hobbes with regard to communism and fidelity to its terror. After all, don’t the actions of people caught up in the terror that has accompanied so many revolutions largely fulfill his account of the fearful and anxious subject, concerned foremost with self-preservation and capable of all manner of deception, trickery, and murder in order to defend his or her existence? In addition to Hobbes’ instrumental subject, one ought to remember as well the handy maxim of Machiavelli: men do not feel secure in their possessions unless they can continue to take from others what belongs to them. It is after all upon such foundations that modern egalitarianism has been built.

  16. Regarding the theme of the conference “The Idea of Communism”:

    Zisek’s four problems that we face (the environment, intellectual property, bioengeering, north-south exploitation) have all arisen during the process of capital’s globalism. There is no doubt that capital’s infiltration into more areas of our everyday lives and and at the same time the international world through the process of market globalization has propelled us into the post modern age. But as Marx noted, communism arises out of both the advances and disadvantages of a capitalist economy.
    I tend to think that Communism lies ahead in the distant future. It will follow after the process of global capitalism, which may not be for another hundred years. In the meantime, communism will have its arrival in various trial areas of the world, with success in some nations (Cuba, Bolivia, Chile, etc. ) and failure in others (USSR, North Korea etc.)
    It is important however for leftist now to work towards this long distance communist goal and not become discouraged. If you don’t know the words of the international, thats ok – communism is in the future, not the past. Learn political economy, it is important and think socially rather than privately – these are the simple essential values of communism.

  17. thanks for this Steve. Clarifying question: about your use of the term eurocommunism, do you just mean “commies in Europe” or are you deliberately referencing 70s debates that used that term?

  18. Thank you so much for this. I attended half the conference, so it is good to be able to read about the other bits and also hear your thoughts on the entire event. As you write, “all in all, the conference was far less internationalist than it ought to have been”. I was appalled by this. I’m a white English woman and it seems quite incredible to me that in 2009 they couldn’t get more than one female thinker speaker. Aren’t there any others? I’m not an academic and am not familiar with the philosophy academy but I’m sure I’ve heard of more female philosophy thinkers than one. It stained the whole event, I believe, particularly given that they opened it asking for a renewal of thought, an opening of newness. And yet… and yet… !

    It reminded me of a far-left political debate I attended in Luanda, Angola, last year. The very able and very intelligent black Angolan leaders of the party had decided to invite an old white Portuguese man to open their conference, a conference aimed to discuss the future of Angola and yet which started with a history lesson from the former colonial power, as it were.

    How on earth such learned people could fail to include perspectives from Africa, Asia and from within Latin America left me stunned and steaming. I was also suprised by the omission of any talk of violence. By this, I don’t mean that when you talk about communism you must talk about violence. But I do mean that change, inevitably, involves violence. And it is often the acts of violence than in the end scupper the plans for change.

    I was left wondering whether philosophers – and I have great respect for those who spoke at the IofC – are in a position to be prescriptive. I know that Badiou has been and is politically active, and also Zizek, but what of all the others? Are they all too removed from the reality of struggle to discuss it fully, without – at the very least – the inclusion of activists from across the globe.

    I would have preferred a conference that included activists, not simply thinkers. But perhaps that’s why I’m not in the academy.

  19. Many thanks for posting these comments on the conference.
    I couldn’t be there but am wondering whether you’ve read Badiou’s piece on “The Communist Hypothesis” from the NLR (or his Sarkozy book that it comes from) and if so, what you thought of it.
    As I understand it, this was something of the inspiration for the conference. In it he stresses the need for reinventing the communist idea in a moment in which what it means is unclear. The basis of this in Badiou’s thought is an underlying insistence on generic equality. I find it very compelling and it also gives a sense of the way Badiou’s politics is rooted in a (capitalist) situation even if an event must subtract itself from that situation. I share some hesitations about the lack of critique of political economy in Badiou’s work, but I don’t think his conceptions of event and fidelity, though formal and abstract, allow for the kind of hypervoluntarism you describe.

  20. Hazel, I am FOR everyone regulating the common (impractical after about five people without representative government?). But I think democracy more or less attempts this. Problems are now that only the superwealthy can become elected representatives (no one poor who has never been in the highest circles can become president). Also, you need to be part of one of the two largest rugby scrums. An alternative might be choosing the president by lottery.

    The problem with communist governments is that they have only one party, and the party gets an increasingly powerful grip on the political life of the nation.

    My favorite just now is Burma. They have had a Nobel prize winner (can’t remember her name, but it has Auk Sang or something in it) that they keep under house arrest. She’s not allowed to speak. That’s the norm in communist countries.

    So the party regulates the common with an uncommon viciousness in communist countries (I don’t think there have ever been any exceptions to this — even in academic departments where Marxists attain a majority — no one else is permitted to speak).

    Perhaps some communist theorist has thought about how to change this problem, but I don’t think it can be done without reverting back (or stepping forward?) to an open democracy. But in principle the idea that everyone should have the ability to help to regulate the common is exactly the problem, and I agree with you, Hazel, that everyone ought to have a say in it!

  21. Well, actually, Kirby, democracy usually involves *representation* for individuals by other individuals or agencies. I’d like to see *direct* involvement by all, which would happen automatically and in a self-regulating way if there was a true commons. I’ll follow Kropotkin again here.

    Has anyone noted a transcript or video of the Angela Davis presentation from this conference? I’ve been looking all over for it…

    Thanks for these notes, by the way, as an Amerikkkan I can only dream of having such a conference, flaws and all, here.

  22. I like Kropotkin, Hazel. I love the idea of Mutual Aid. I think it does probably happen naturally in most communities. But then there are the bounders.

    But:

    “self-regulating” — you mean the commons would somehow maintain itself without paid police or other government oversight, and everybody would take only so much as they needed, and give back all that they could?

    I like it, but I wonder how you’ll get Paris Hilton to go for this, much less Baby Doc.

    Would you at least propose penalties for people who take too much, or give too little? If so, who would oversee the penalties?

  23. I am especially saddened by the last paragraph, in a memorial service last year of friend who died during the summer, the people there socialists, communists, liberals and tories could all sing the internationale… Perhaps the philosophizing of the concept of communism in a classical liberal institution simply removes the communism that existed at the funeral last year…

    And then how depressing that in 2009 11 men and 1 women… how deeply reactionary.

    Glad I didn’t go now.

  24. Don’t forget, Kirby, that both Paris Hilton and Baby Doc will have to get by on their own merits–just like the rest of us. And they can have their tantrums as they wish, but it still won’t get them anything beyond what the community cares to give them.

    Self-regulating as in the organization of the social group is based on everyone making a contribution and anyone who gets greedy gets isolated by the group as a whole. They’ll depend on the group for everything, because no one person can do everything for him or herself.

    Naturally, this type of social organization doesn’t evolve out of a capitalist one, but I think it’s more or less the default setting for humans–this modernity business is quite recent in the evolutionary scheme of things. The culture of scarce resources is a recent habit, perhaps more easily broken than it might appear. Have you seen the book called The Discovery of France by Graham Robb? Check that out for a view of *tribal* Europe in the very, very recent past.

    I certainly have no answer to how to rewind back to such an organization from where we are today–or if indeed such a thing is possible. But I do have a sense that there’s a ready alternative to any State That Controls All The Goodies. And, crucially, I have a sense that ordinary people can be trusted to preside over their/our own affairs.

  25. Ok Hazel. I’ll check out the book the Discovery of France by Graham Robb.

    There are some things I really like about communism, by the way. Check out this parade in North Korea:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sg4h2sl-zFU

    It’s really amazing! The hive aesthetics of the commnist regimes can put out fabulous things. I don’t know who does the choreography of such a demonstration. I wonder if Zizek and co. would praise such things. There didn’t seem to be anything about aesthetics at all in Steve’s summary of the events at Birkbeck. But this parade is hard to top.

    There is of course the ethical issues: the kids take a beating if they don’t perform. Some of them haven’t eaten for days. But that’s true for artists in garrets under capitalism, too. Anything for beauty, I say!

  26. In general, I like communism. It seems so friendly.

    But for some reason (what’s the reason?) every time it’s been actually established, it’s led rather directly to the rise of an autocratic dictatorship, usually dominated by a single, paranoid, megalomaniac, who rules for life.

    Is there a single instance world-wide of this not happening within 20 years of the establishment of a communist state?

    Is there a way to have a communist state without that? I have come to the conclusion that the only way to do that is to leave the state as a democracy, with freedom of speech, and of inquiry, and thus allowing freedom of possessions (which begin with the freedom of ideas).

    Structurally speaking, communism invariably leads to a total concentration of power in the hands of one individual. At least in praxis.

  27. Kirby, i’ve been at the conference all three days and have my own criticism of it – argument based criticism is fine and desired. However, reading your comments makes me sick. 1. Burma example – you mean parliamentary democracies do not imprisson people for a long time? When was it that you last time checked the story of California penal/prison system and its uniqueness in the world? States imprison people for political reasons, all kind of states. We might disagree with the principle, but all states do it to various degrees. Your argument against Burma is rather your ideological position against communism, since imprissoning a political activist, or many of them, doesn’t make it radically different from other states. Which is fine, you may hate communism as much you like, don’t slag it off with false arguments and analogies though. Speaking of praxis, living under Tito in Yugoslavian socialism was great. Yes, he ruled for life, and no he never ruled alone. I have no problem with his rule though, i judge the rule by what was achieved under it. A federation of small slav nations had an advanced state that managed to offer child care, education, health and housing for vast majority of its citizens, matched by very few of the states in the world at the time. Once capitalist parliamentarism arrived in 1990, those nations got their nation states, increased their debt 10x, destroyed own economies by killing off most of own production of goods, and introduced rapidly corruption throughout societies. It’s your freedom of possesions liberal ideology that is the problem that communism tries to address, in theory and praxis. As to your freedom of ideas and speech, your ideas are clouded with anti-communist ideology to such extent that the world would be a better place if you couldn’t spread them around with ease. Finally, concetrated power in the hands of one individual was never the case in communists states, it’s again your ideological stance. The rule of a single party is/was however true. You seem to be equating single party system with political corruption and the opposite with democracy. First, judging by the nation states born out of Yugoslavia it’s the opposite that is the case. Second, you mean, Britain and USA are democratic states because there are elections every 4/5 years and there are parliaments that do precisely what? I’m really glad there are blogs with no comments permited though.

  28. Naturally, this type of social organization doesn’t evolve out of a capitalist one, but I think it’s more or less the default setting for humans–this modernity business is quite recent in the evolutionary scheme of things.

    No. The default setting is an infinity of tribes that are loosely coupled at best and hostile at worst. Modernity comes up with the strange idea of a “family of man” something that has been anticipated by the grand religions though. Now we shall love each other and feel empathy even to those we’ve never met and will never meet in our lives. That’s all very unlikely and one has to invent a “novel human” just like Jesus Christ who rejected followers who love mother and father ( i.e. who adhere to their genetic relationships and cultural traditions ) more than him ( or the holy community of the worshipers of god ).

    Capitalism is our social agnosticism. It doesn’t care for any premises on how we live. Everything can just be tied together by the expectation of a ROI and saving our investments. It’s more like a Newtonian universe that is ruled by a few forces and matter that blindly acts accordingly. Despite all the religious metaphors that are around capitalism is deeply nihilist or “monstrous” as Steven would say.

    Communism on the contrary is the soul seeking counter movement. Everything in the world is just matter-energy except ourselves who have consciousness and a free will and with the right education 6 billion humans can act like a grand family. The only problem we have to face are obstinate individuals like Baby Doc and Paris Hilton or Jewish Wallstreet speculators and others who refuse to integrate. Actually it’s even worse and less and less people are willing to give up self-determination for a greater vision.

  29. I’d just add (and especially to you, SDV), that despite the flaws of the Idea of Communism, I’m delighted I went; and I think we must embrace the fact that it took place. What we need is more of this: more conferences that bring together thinkers on the left to discuss communism seriously and not in a simplistic manner (a la Kirby on Burma). Yes, there have been atrocities in communist countries (or nominally communist countries), but this is a meaningless statement if you don’t ponder the huge atrocities carried out by ‘liberal’ and ‘democratic’ countries not only within their borders but without. It’s a bit absurd, really Kirby. And anyway, the whole point of the Birkbeck gathering was to look forward, not back. Fundamental, I believe, not fundamentalist.

  30. Lara,

    Without being to pedantic about this there is no singular idea of communism. Rather there are many versions of the idea of ‘communism’, and it is not clear how these philosophical variantions of communism can make the transition to become a political communism. This is not simply the unanswerable question in the room (conference if you prefer) but more than just a question, because at some stage you have to decide which is correct and invest in proposing that version as the one that enables the transition to take place. If communism is merely a philosophical and historical question then a conference may be enough. Given this and your belief that it was a ‘looking forward then it seems to me that the question of 11 men and 1 woman is crucial. If you look at infinite thoughts – blog http://www.cinestatic.com/infinitethought/index.asp I think that the paragraph that begins “A philosophical consideration of communism …” becomes especially interesting because it rather obviously is not a looking forward but a looking back… Perhaps this is inevitable given that we are looking at a philosophical reading of communism.

    The atocities question is quite interesting, given the questions of empire, multitude and post-colonialism that we should all be familiar with – how is it that anyone can still be creating a seperation between communist murders and capital/imperialist murders ? Given the underlying and usually hidden genocides that so many of our countries are founded on it is nonsensical to continually emphasize one set over another.

  31. “No. The default setting is an infinity of tribes that are loosely coupled at best and hostile at worst. ”

    Tut, tut, Humankind is social; social animals are cooperative, by definition. We aren’t wired for hostility any more than we’re wired for conflict resolution. The idea of the supremacy of competition and hostility is itself an artifact of strongly centralized organization.

    The point being is that it requires force, propaganda, a lot of effort in general to keep people from naturally congregating in communal ways.

    How much does Fox News spend to keep Amerikkkans thoroughly mystified? This mystification costs billions. It wouldn’t be necessary to spend it if we were all naturally inclined to kill one another. We have to be *sold* the idea that there’s an everpresent Enemy. There’s a huge and hideous apparatus built around the need to convince us all that we should compete rather than cooperate-it’s essential for the preservation of what you call “socially agnostic” capitalism. Capitalism is not socially agnostic!

    So, can anyone report on Angela Davis, or Donna Haraway?

  32. hazel, I don’t want to discuss your beliefs. Just talk to an arbitrary anthropologist about tribal warfare or take a look into the human history – whether you are using Fox News or Tacitus is mostly a matter of taste and patience.

  33. schluehk, you don’t have to discuss my beliefs. If you need an “expert” to tell you, talk to any arbitrary biologist or primatologist and learn that social animals are hardwired for co-operation–all of them, including us. No co-operation, no survival.

    There is of course also conflict, but even the nastiest predator species have learned/adapted/acquired conflict-resolution gestures and strategies to overcome the conflict *in order to survive as a species.* This is not new-age quasi-religious slackness, and it has a political dimension.

    My point is simply that the conflict has been emphasized in our cultures (the same cultures that produced the anthropologists you so kindly refer me to). And of course that much of the business of capitalism lately has been that of manufacturing conflict, which really isn’t a very daring assertion on my part after all.

  34. Communists tend toward being naive, while capitalists tend toward being cynical.

    It’s important to be a little bit of both: realistic.

    People are quite cooperative when it doesn’t matter, but in a pinch, they are generally violently competitive.

    Kropotkin overemphasizes cooperation, I think, while perhaps someone like Samuel Huntington overemphasizes competition.

    But of the two the one that has to be legislated is the competitive side. You have to make fair rules, and rule against anyone who will completely take over, and insist on one-party rule.

    Which communism does, even in the manifesto.

    What I fear is missing among communists is some kind of basic sense of humor about themselves and others based on the fact that everyone HAS that competitive side. I fear that communists kind of see themselves as saints.

    People who see themselves in this way are generally little devils.

    But nothing can be done to show them this. Pol Pot really thought he was a saint right up to the end. I’m sure that Charles Manson also sees himself as a perfectly lovely fellow even now. His communal sharing plan had no problems at all from his perspective.

    I’m sure Cyclops felt that way about his political program, too.

    Communists are wonderful people. At least if you ask them. They’re the best.

  35. Dear Kirby,

    Is capitalism, particularly in its present form, at this historical conjuncture, sustainable?

    For the human species? For life on the planet?

    As you cynically denounce possibilities for imagining a more just and sustainable form of common life, you might want to take a more pragmatic (or “realistic” in your words) look at our present circumstances.

    At this moment, I find it much more dangerous (and naive) to denounce utopian potentials through the rehearsal of tired, vapid, and, well, lame, invectives against historical straw men, than to engage seriously with building alternatives to capitalism.

    Best,

    Alex

  36. Alex, the straw men are contemporaries: Myanmar is a living dysfunctional mess, as is Zimbabwe, as is China, as is North Korea. Every Marxist country always turns out like those, because they posit a one-party system, which makes them amenable to tyranny, since they brook no opposition.

    I was hoping to quiet down here, but since you asked me: I will do my best to answer your questions.

    If you look at sustainability, communism (as state capitalism) is always far worse than capitalism. They destroyed the Aral Sea, for instance, to grow cotton in the Soviet Union. Do any capitalist countries have anything like Chernobyl? The list of environmental disasters in East Bloc countries, the list of famines in one-party countries, most of this is contemporaneous, or at least took place within my lifetime. It’s amazing that people would want to revive such systems. I don’t understand its appeal. And this weird thing of not looking at the past that many commenters have brought up, or arguing that those disasters are purely historical. The logic is Humean: just because this has always led to that, doesn’t mean that causality exists. If this were a joke, or a Lewis Carroll type of blog, I would love this (I can never tell if some people are having me on), but I’m giving the benefit of the doubt that you folks mean business, or rather, the end of business as business, and as such, a new definition of America (a changeover from Coolidge’s).

    The only alternative to business I’m willing to look at just now is Lutheran Surrealism, but then of course it’s because it is mainly a joke movement, with a few serious points thrown in, to keep the readers from just throwing up their hands in disgust.

    Luther did argue that there should be no more than a five to one gap in terms of income within Lutheran countries. That’s mostly the case in the Scandinavian social democracies (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark). I think it’s probably a good idea.

    How to regulate that idea is a vexing question. When you’re dealing with a country like the USA that is largely non-Lutheran (we make up only 3% of the population, and are largely located in Minnesota and eastern Pennsylvania), how do you convince others to live within the ten commandments, or to act as if the world matters (Luther was very egalitarian and thought that we should plant pear trees, and not hunt except for food purposes).

    I would like to change the Marxist view of human nature that we can be saints together. Luther banned saints, because we are all pigs from the Pope on down. To give one-party authority to a bunch of self-righteous pigs, is the worst possible idea I can imagine. It’s laughable. Marxists, in general, are the worst and most awful people that I know: almost invariably violent icky stingy goof-ups. Which is why I can’t understand the author of this blog falling in with them. I’m flabbergased, except for the fact that with communists, there is always the sense that they believe they are better than everybody else. In that sense, they resemble far-right evangelical Christians, who make me almost as sick.

    I don’t think it’s terrible to think about alternatives to pure capitalism. It’s terrible, however, to revive the notion of a one-party state (even within the comments stream many here would have happily silenced any critics of the Birkbeck conference, including silencing me). That’s the beginning of the end already: it’s the beginning of the whole nightmare to silence any alternative thought.

    I do denounce utopian anything but obviously I wouldn’t want to silence it, just to question it. Utopianism just creates a backup in the sewer system because in utopia there will be no more shit. People are puke and garbage and shit. If you keep that in mind, and talk about the worst aspects of human nature, and keep them always in mind, I am a little more liable not to object.

    Getting in touch with your inner child, translated into my logic, means, getting in touch with your inner Manson Family.

    But no, I don’t think we should abandon capitalism, in sum. Nature itself is capitalist. Marxism has no theory of nature. Nature is exploitative, and monstrous, from worms to mountain lions, from germs to grizzlies. It’s how the world is made.

    Capitalism, insofar as it is natural, is obviously sustainable, even when and where it’s at its most grotesque, whereas communism, insofar as it is unnatural, is not.

  37. Sigh.

    I don’t want to have to do this, but I’m afraid I must.

    First off, to those who don’t know, Kirby is a troll. A verbose and willfully ignorant troll. Like so many of his ilk, he is incapable of arguing his points on the basis of fact because he has no real facts to offer. He blathers on with his ill-informed hypocritical statements utterly oblivious to anyone or anything that stands to contradict him. After several months of it, everyone gets frustrated and a big “shut up, Kirby!” even emerges, and someone, not always me, has to take him apart point by point. He then argues back, dodging the facts, unable to stay on point, pulling up one excuse and straw man after another. It gets tedious.

    I no longer speak to him directly, as there is no point in arguing with him directly – he doesn’t argue, and I’m fairly well convinced he doesn’t know how.

    That said, what follows is my take on his latest bloviation. No doubt he will respond and try to argue, but as usual, it will not be a real argument – it will simply be more of the same weaselry. That said, my critique of his writing might be of some use to others with broader minds and horizons more based in actuality than Kirby’s musing based in his “reality”.

    Double sigh – time to turn the compost…

    Alex, the straw men are contemporaries: Myanmar is a living dysfunctional mess, as is Zimbabwe, as is China, as is North Korea. Every Marxist country always turns out like those, because they posit a one-party system, which makes them amenable to tyranny, since they brook no opposition.

    The United States is also a one party system: a capitalist party system composed of two wings, one less filled with fewer fascist wingnuts than the other. this party also does not brook opposition or criticism.

    I was hoping to quiet down here, but since you asked me: I will do my best to answer your questions.

    If he actually was interested in things “quieting down”, he’d simply shut up.

    If you look at sustainability, communism (as state capitalism) is always far worse than capitalism.

    Hysterically nonsensical statement devoid of fact, as usual, with feeble facts to support it, like so:

    They destroyed the Aral Sea, for instance, to grow cotton in the Soviet Union. Do any capitalist countries have anything like Chernobyl? The list of environmental disasters in East Bloc countries, the list of famines in one-party countries, most of this is contemporaneous, or at least took place within my lifetime.

    The gross sins of capitalist environmental destruction are long and every bit as horrifying as that under a so-called communist system.

    I dislike using wikipedia a lot, but it will do for now.

    Bhopal
    Seveso
    London smog of 1952
    Amoco Cadiz Spill
    Exxon Valdez Spill
    Iraq before 2003
    Iraq after 2003 from American DU rounds
    Love Canal disaster
    The destruction of Owens Valley Lake, leaving the present alkali flat which plagues the southern valley with alkali dust storms.
    Cayahoga River fire
    New Jersey
    Hanford Nuclear site
    per capita Green house Gas (GHG) production is higher in capitalist countries than communist or formerly communist countries
    Oregon clearcuts
    Canadian Clear Cut
    West Virginia Mountantop removal

    the list is long and gets longer. What he misses, as usual, is the obivous point: it’s not the political economy that is causing the disaster it is over-population and industrialism. So, in this way, he invites a dodge, a red herring to the discussion. Rather than focus on the root problems and fix them ,like so many people he avoids direct confrontation with the facts at hand, as these facts contradict his basic assumptions AND his red herrings.

    It’s amazing that people would want to revive such systems. I don’t understand its appeal.

    Equally, it’s amazing that people would want to maintain such a system as it is so utterly insane and destructive.

    And this weird thing of not looking at the past that many commenters have brought up, or arguing that those disasters are purely historical. The logic is Humean: just because this has always led to that, doesn’t mean that causality exists. If this were a joke, or a Lewis Carroll type of blog, I would love this (I can never tell if some people are having me on), but I’m giving the benefit of the doubt that you folks mean business, or rather, the end of business as business, and as such, a new definition of America (a changeover from Coolidge’s).

    Invoking Hume doesn’t help your cluelessness.

    The only alternative to business I’m willing to look at just now is Lutheran Surrealism, (snip>

    So, simply and clearly, you are not interested in any kind of alternative to the present system, as you only support one that is by your own admission is trivial and not serious.

    Luther did argue that there should be no more than a five to one gap in terms of income within Lutheran countries. That’s mostly the case in the Scandinavian social democracies (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark). I think it’s probably a good idea.

    where did he get the 5:1 for Denmark? Of course there is no citation. At least he said that something was definitively good. Still, a low ratio is better than a high ratio, but it presumes that such ratios are permissible at all, it assumes the existence of economic hierarchy, but I get ahead of myself…

    How to regulate that idea is a vexing question. When you’re dealing with a country like the USA that is largely non-Lutheran (we make up only 3% of the population, and are largely located in Minnesota and eastern Pennsylvania), how do you convince others to live within the ten commandments, or to act as if the world matters (Luther was very egalitarian and thought that we should plant pear trees, and not hunt except for food purposes).

    Again, more bloviation, more red herrings. The above paragraph is not relevant to the discussion, any more than his Lutheran Surrealism.

    I would like to change the Marxist view of human nature that we can be saints together.

    This is a lie. He should cite this, but he doesn’t. He just makes stuff up and then treats it as real.

    Luther banned saints, because we are all pigs from the Pope on down. To give one-party authority to a bunch of self-righteous pigs, is the worst possible idea I can imagine.

    Again, he makes it up and then assumes it is real.

    It’s laughable. Marxists, in general, are the worst and most awful people that I know: almost invariably violent icky stingy goof-ups.

    Ad hominem balderdash.

    Which is why I can’t understand the author of this blog falling in with them. I’m flabbergased, except for the fact that with communists, there is always the sense that they believe they are better than everybody else.

    Again, the delusion speaking as fact: “there is always the sense…” rather than, “my perception is…”

    In that sense, they resemble far-right evangelical Christians, who make me almost as sick.

    Sure. just like them. Except for the endtimes nonsense, and the worshipping a Jewish Zombie bit, and the supernaturalism schtick, etc… Sure, once you take away EVERYTHING that makes them different, they’re the same.

    I don’t think it’s terrible to think about alternatives to pure capitalism. It’s terrible, however, to revive the notion of a one-party state (even within the comments stream many here would have happily silenced any critics of the Birkbeck conference, including silencing me).

    was the Birkbeck Conference broadcast on prime time TV?

    Nope. that’s how capitalism silences opposition – deprives the alternative ideas resources and attention.

    I do denounce utopian anything but obviously I wouldn’t want to silence it, just to question it. Utopianism just creates a backup in the sewer system because in utopia there will be no more shit. People are puke and garbage and shit.

    Maybe you are. I am scabs and pus and bile. Gee, now wasn’t that illuminating?

    If you keep that in mind, and talk about the worst aspects of human nature, and keep them always in mind, I am a little more liable not to object.

    In other words, conform to my world view and we’ll get along just fine. No thank you.

    Getting in touch with your inner child, translated into my logic, means, getting in touch with your inner Manson Family.

    Or, getting in touch with the kid I saw this afternoon bouncing on his trampoline. What you wrote is rhetoric not an argument.

    But no, I don’t think we should abandon capitalism, in sum. Nature itself is capitalist.

    Balderdash. That’s been completely dismantled time and time again. It’s very late for me and I am tired. I would post links to refutations of that notion, but I am simply too beat.

    Capitalism, insofar as it is natural, is obviously sustainable, even when and where it’s at its most grotesque, whereas communism, insofar as it is unnatural, is not.

    Capitalism is NOT sustainable as it is predicated on growth, and infinite growth can only occur on an infinite planet and we don’t have one of those.

    Kirby isn’t smart enough to be funny and not dumb enough to be clever. He’s an irritant with naive and ignorant ideas that have been consistently blown to bits over and over and over. Ignore him and don’t feed him. Feeding trolls makes then worse and only encourages them.

    HW

  38. I’m dismayed by the fact that while Zizek presented the fourth challenge on the last day of the conference, that of global exclusions, that there were no speakers who weren’t overwhelmingly white Europeans/North Americans. Not that this comes as a surprise, given the nature of academia in general, but it is nevertheless pretty grotesque, since once again, white Europeans and North Americans are given to speaking for everyone else. This absence is especially pointed since so many African countries and S. American countries have been so heavily influenced, in thought and action, by Marxism, and a vision of the common. Was Stuart Hall there in the audience, or anyone else? I’m sure Zizek has great presence, as you write, but he irritates me on a number of counts, maybe not as substantive as performative.

    A note: last summer, I attended a roundtable discussion on the “revolution” in Chicago (1968 and thereabouts) at Facets Multi-Media, in which a panel of filmmakers presented their recollections and films, so that included Kartemquin and others. There were two women on a panel of 8, which isn’t so bad compared with many seminars and conferences, but they were at each others’ throats (one a populist filmmaker, one an academic) and both were dismissed by the self-aggrandizing men. The conspicuous absence was even one person of color, and this is the home of the Black Panthers, for goodness’ sake! I personally know two African American filmmakers who had been making movies at that time and were radicals, and neither was invited (nor anyone else). It was, therefore, a dismal and non-instructive experience. I was very young at this time and wanted to know more, but all I got was a bunch of cliches, in content and performance. Status quo vadis.

  39. To the comments about Zizek’s “rehabilitation” of Christian religion and its organization power, I guess this is one thing that irritates me about him: he behaves as if he were the first to invent notions, when of course Liberation Theology has been the substance of thought by non-Euro, non-white peoples for quite a long time now, as an organizing principle.

  40. and even more irritatingly Zizek rehabilitaties a Messianic/aggressive ”crusader” religion, blending it with Stalinism in Eurosupremacist fashion, while off-handedly denying, repressing, to use his favorite expression, the whole Christian Orthodox world across the border (starting with Serbia and ending in Russia), whose sacrament of sacrifice he terms ”masochism” as if it were Slovenes and not the Russians who saved the world from Hitler. My Communist ancestors didn’t die to witness ZIZEK’s transsexual act.

    living under Tito in Yugoslavian socialism was great.

    Now this illusion is one of the major reasons why Communism flopped in the first place

  41. There are some other movements aside from Liberation Theology (which is basically Marxism) that are also moving through the Third World. Hernando de Soto for instance, is having a big impact with his notion that it is the ability to legally hold private property that is creating the crushing poverty in many areas.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hernando_de_Soto_(economist)

    DeSoto’s books are probably not current within English departments, but inside of economics departments, and political science departments, where people actually study these things, and are actually knowledgeable about them, they are very current, and considered very important. I read his books The Other Path (De Soto is a Peruvian who has had assassination attempts on his life by The Shining Path), and a couple of other books about private property rights. In Haiti for instance it takes about 20 years to own the rights to a house, or a small parcel of land, and about 200 legal steps. Only the extreme rich can afford to go through that process.

    Against the notion that “property is theft” anarchists like Proudhon later developed the notion that private property actually forms a bulwark against the power of the state, and that it is the most important of Locke’s four basic human rights.

    Probably this hasn’t caught on in English departments yet which tend to run twenty to fifty years behind, and to be fairly provincial, but in economics and political science departments, most scholars have moved beyond Mugabe and Liberation Theology (Mugabe owns a house worth 50 million in Hong Kong while his people are starving to death, while anyone who speaks up in Zimbabwe gets raped by thugs and left for dead).

    It might be fun if some of the leading scholars in English tried to deal with more up-to-date ideas from actual economics departments. David Landes at Harvard’s books are also cutting edge in terms of rethinking economic paradigms in terms of cultural formation.

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