Inchoate thought emerging from ongoing discussions I’ve had with my friend Duane Rousselle over the last couple of years. It seems to me that anarchist/communist political thought– at least as I conceive it (I could be completely misguided as to what both anarchism and communism are) –pull in two distinct directions, one normative and the other practical. At the normative level, both anarchism and communism signify– to my mind, again, at least –a radical egalitarianism. I take it that “anarchy” signifies not “without law”, but without sovereigns, masters, kings, fathers, mothers, god, party, etc., because, in fact, anarchist collectives develop a number of norms to regulate interactions among their participants and how their participants relate to the world. Alternatively, we could say that anarchism is that political orientation that reject all forms of Oedipus, of paternalism, of sovereignty embodied in a figure or party, instead embracing a posthuman politics (as we don’t know what defines the boundaries of political agents or who/what counts as a political agent a priori) and a politics of fraternity and sorority… A horizontal rather than a vertical politics.
These “laws”, of course, are always subject to subsequent revision and abandonment. Here I should add that I am not a libertarian anarchist because I think an anarchy of individuals very quickly leads to various forms of exploitation and tyranny, but am, for lack of a better word, a “collectivist anarchist”. I take it that the thesis of anarchism is that collectives are fit to rule themselves; that they don’t need a vanguard such as the party to lead them.
For this reason, in a previous post I argued that anarchism is that variant of political thought that haunts all existing political thought in practice. It haunts other variants of political thought both as the promise of what genuine justice ought to be– egalitarian fairness and equality –as well as that form of political thought that reveals the lie of all hierarchical political thought and practice that masters and a vanguard party are needed. Anarchism, I think, is the “real” of all political thought and practice… A point that Badiou has articulated very nicely in his meditations on inconsistent multiplicities that haunt consistent multiplicities.
On the other hand, there is the practical/pragmatic problem. As political thinkers such as Jodi Dean and Bruno Bosteels have argued, it is very difficult to accomplish anything without some form of organization and leadership. Without this, it seems, nothing ever comes to fruition. In this regard, there’s a vantage from which the Party is a necessary evil. The exigencies of political engagement require a betrayal of the egalitarian idea because in the absence of this nothing is ever accomplished. There is both a normative and a practical problem here, however. Normatively, such a move seems to betray the inconsistent multiplicity that is the Truth or Real of all social relation. Politics almost seems to become messianic at this point. Rather than a realized or actualized multiplicity or egalitarianism, we instead seem to get a multiplicity and egalitarianism that is always-yet-to-come, but that never, in fact, arrives. At this point, signifiers like “multiplicity” and “egalitarianism” seem to become rhetorics in the pejorative sense that alienate collectives in the Party without ever delivering the egalitarianism that was promised. We end up with a bifurcation of the world into that of the animating rhetoric– one might think of certain institutions that claim to be revolutionary without ever changing hierarchy or addressing the problems they claim to address such as neoliberalism –and the actually existing collective. Of course, at this point, we no longer have a collective at all because the collective has been bifurcated into the Party and everything else.
On the other hand, there is the practical problem. The history of the Party or of parties is far from stellar. As Niklas Luhmann argues, when systems (the Party is an instance of system) reach a certain point of self-organization and become autopoietic, they function not to address the problems they claim to be addressing, but to reproduce themselves and their own organization. This can readily be discerned in the history of various leftist parties that endlessly seem to abandon the political aims for which they formed, instead focusing on their own reproduction and continuance, as well as in maintaining their own internal hierarchy. Revolutionary rhetoric is deployed, yet it comes to be the party that matters. The Party comes to coincide with the interests of the multiplicity– and not in a good way –such that what is in the interests of the Party is said to be what is in the interest of the multiplicity. Historical examples abound. Here we are often lectured about what the ideal party should be and why, because it is ideal, it wouldn’t fall into these problems; but really the ideal is always the problem. The ideal is that rhetorical lure that functions to efface the genuinely existing concrete reality.
Closely related to this practical problem is the problem of desire that haunts all attachments. Deleuze and Guattari taught us to look not solely at the avowed doctrine of a political orientation, it’s platform and its aims, but also to look at the micro-desires that inhabit its participants. It is possible, at the molar level, for a party to be egalitarian, but to nonetheless be fascist at the micro-level of the structure of its desire in that it encourages obedience, wrote adherence to an orthodoxy, and placement of leader and party over multiplicity. There is a sad desire that wishes to obey, exclude, dominate, and control that haunts even the most anarchist and communist of organizations. How to overcome these desires?
Perhaps what is needed is a new idea and practice of leadership that would accord with the egalitarian ideal of anarcho-communism. The real issue– and the Real issue (for those who speak Lacanese) –is that of how decision can be made in a way that doesn’t betray the dimension of inconsistent multiplicity that is the truth of social relation. Something towards this end is already suggested in Lacan’s framework of “cartels”. Lacan’s cartels were curious things. They were cells composed of four or five people designed to produce knowledge– in each case for an individual, not the group as a whole –pertaining to some problem, issue, or question. The most curious feature of the cartels is the so-called “plus-one”. Lacan recognized that discussion would go on forever in these groups– discussion over even which question should be explored –if there wasn’t some way to decide and finalize things (like the period of a sentence). What was needed was something to halt the endless discussion, the endless sliding of the signifier, the dominance of S2 without an S1. This was the function of the “plus-one”. One member of the cartel, Lacan advised, would occupy the position of the “plus-one”, engaging in an act that halted discussion, allowing a decision to be made and new things to commence.
The interesting feature of the plus-one– as I understand it anyway; I think a number of Lacanian organizations have betrayed this key feature –is that the plus-one is an empty place. The person that occupies the position of plus-one is not a participant in the discussion, but is rather a function that halts the endless sliding of discussion. S/he– or should we refer to it as f(x)? –is an empty master with no illusion to containing knowledge or wisdom. There’s nothing– to use Zizek’s early vernacular –sublime about the plus-one in his/her exercise of the act. S/he’s purely empty, a function. Compare, then, the plus-one to a Platonic Philosopher-King. The Platonic Philosopher-King is sublime in that he embodies a wisdom not shared or possessed by the rest of us. It’s precisely because of this that the Philosopher-King, according to Plato, is fit to rule. He is sublime, of course, because we attribute this wisdom to him, but because we don’t have this wisdom ourselves we don’t really know if he has it. He’s animated by agalma; at least with respect to dimwits like ourselves. The plus-one, by contrast, is abject, an idiot, containing no knowledge or special wisdom whatsoever. S/he is a function but not a father or master. S/he’s an empty performative point.
What Lacan effectively does with the concept of the plus-one is evacuate the position of the leader, the fantasy that lies behind our attachment to leadership, while nonetheless retaining the function of decision necessary for things to proceed and get done. The question is whether something similar is possible at the larger scale of social relations and organization.