20 September 2011

The Republican-Communist convergence against 'socialism'

In its September 26 issue, Time magazine asked Gov. Perry, "Do you feel pressure to temper some of your rhetoric, like calling the Obama administration socialist?" The Texan answered: "No, I still believe they are socialist. Their policies prove that almost daily. Look, when all the answers emanate from Washington, D.C., whether it's education policy or health care policy, that is, on its face, socialism."

This is the part where I should slam Perry for his typical American ignorance of what socialism stands for, his possibly deliberate confusion of a system where the working class rules with some sort of hyper-centralized statism. However, as my recent reading has reminded me, American right-wingers aren't the only people to pejoratively identify "socialism" with the bureaucratic state. At least one self-described communist does so as well. Here's Antonio Negri, the erstwhile Red Brigades theorist now best known as the co-author of Empire and other trendy works of leftist theory, opining at a 2009 London conference, as recorded in Verso's The Idea of Communism anthology.

Being communist means being against the State. The State is the force that organizes, always normally yet always exceptionally, the relations that constitute capital and discipline the conflicts between capitalists and the proletarian labour force. This being against the State is directed against all the modes of organization of private property and the private ownership of the means of production, as well as the private exploitation of labour power and the private control of capital's circulation. But it is also against the public, that is, the state and national configurations of all these operations of alienation of the power of labour.

Being communist entails the recognition that the public is a form of alienation and exploitation of labour -- of common labour, in our case. So what is the public? As the great Rousseau said, the public is the enemy of private property, what belongs [itself] to nobody.' But it is just sophism to attribute to the State what actually belongs to everyone. The State says: 'The common does not belong to you, despite the fact that you made it, produced it in common, and invented it and organized it as common.' The State's manumission of the common, i.e. what we all produced and thus belongs to us, will go under the name of management, delegation and representation ... the implacable beauty of public pragmatism.

Therefore communism is the enemy of socialism because socialism is the classical form of this second model of alienation of proletarian power, which also requires a distorted organization of the production of its subjectivity. The perversions of 'real socialism' have neutralized a century of class struggle and dispelled all the illusions of the philosophy of history. It is interesting to see how 'real socialism,' despite initiating massive processes of collectivization, never questioned the disciplines of command, be they juridical, political, or pertaining to the human sciences. The institutional structure of socialism and its political polarities were produced by an ideology that arbitrarily opposed private to public -- whilst these, following Rousseau, overlap one another -- and sanctified a ruling class whose functions of command reproduced those of the capitalist
elite whilst they claimed to be self-elected 'vanguards'!

At the last minute (how's that for dramatic editing on my part?) Negri unconsciously incorporates a version of the Republican critique of "socialism" into his own communist critique. All the rhetoric about "freedom" aside -- think of it as the functional equivalent of Negri's theoretical jargon -- the Republican complaint against "socialism" as allegedly practiced by the Democratic party is that it enables a bureaucratic clique to usurp the power that rightfully belongs to the producing classes, i.e. the entrepreneurs or Negri's "capitalist elite." Negri seems to say the same thing: socialists (though his account seems to include Bolsheviks as well) are nothing but usurpers, seeking the power the capitalists have instead of truly revolutionizing the "disciplines of command" by undoing the power structure altogether. In his formulation, the "public" (as opposed to the "common") is seen as belonging to the state, not the people, to be managed by a "vanguard" political class, not the people.

Whether you're a Communist on the Negri model or a Republican on the Perry model, the problem with "socialists" is their exploitation of politics to thwart the will of society's rightful rulers on the premise of representing or regulating them. The two groups differ deeply, of course, over who society's rightful rulers are, though both will pay lip service to "democracy," except when it puts "socialists" in power. Of the two, based on the evidence of The Idea of Communism, the leftists are more honest about their displeasure with "liberal" democracy -- it's too compromised by individualism in most places to their taste -- while Republicans, apart from the fringes, tend to suppress their own inherent objections in order to maintain their electability. But for the latter, attacking "socialism" is arguably a kind of code for attacking democracy, since the argument against Democratic "socialism" is basically an argument against Democratic voters willing "socialist" policies.

It would seem that "democracy" and "socialism" are synonymously anathema to ideologues everywhere. In that case, the usual punch line would be that "socialists" are doing something right, but in the face of evidence to the contrary I'll suggest more modestly that there might be something right about the ideal of "socialism," however broadly defined, to make Republicans and Communists hate it so.


d.eris said...

The convergence between Negri and Perry might appear less contradictory when you consider that there is a significant anarchist streak in Negri's thought, and anarchists have been staunch opponents of state socialism for well over a century.

The anarchist opposition to the state and the GOP's opposition to government likely have more in common with one another than either side would be comfortable to admit. I wonder if there have been any efforts, concerted or otherwise, to argue that the Republicans have essentially become conservative anarchists.

Samuel Wilson said...

Negri takes a few hits from some other Idea of Communism contributors who reaffirm Lenin's diagnosis of leftist anti-statism and resistance to party discipline as an "infantile disorder." I've pondered whether some Republicans would characterize the radical anti-statism and implicit anti-partyism of Tea Partiers as an infantile disorder of the Right.

There's long been a strain of "individualist anarchism" that combines generic anti-statism with the "personal responsibility" ethic while distinguishing itself from libertarianism and "anarcho-Republicanism" with an anti-corporate stance. I suppose that Tea Partyism could be classified as a form of conservative anarchism that envisions corporate persons as members of the ideal voluntary community, but I'm not sure how well that classification would stand critical scrutiny from more scrupulous anarchists.

d.eris said...

That critique of Negri sounds like Zizek to me. Is it?

Speaking of anarchism, it's been interesting to see the self-organizing going on down at the NYC Wall Street protests. They're using a decision making model and process I've only ever really seen among anarchists. I've been pondering writing up a post arguing that the Wall St. protesters may well be the children of the tea partiers, figuratively and literally.

Samuel Wilson said...

Zizek gets the last word and I haven't read it yet. Bruno Bosteels wrote the critique of "leftism" that I interpreted as a polemic against Negri and others.

BTW, that protest is starting to draw more mainstream attention. It was a front-page story, so to speak, on the MSNetwork home page earlier this evening.

d.eris said...

I've never heard of Bosteels before, will have to check him out.

I think the Wall Street protest/occupation is a very exciting development. They deserve more attention than they've been getting, imo, though I'm not very confident that MSM reports would be able to do them justice. Lots of third party and independent organizing is going on down there: Socialists, Libertarians, Greens, Independence, WFP etc. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Libertarian party's candidate for Attorney General in NY in 2010 there on Sunday, Carl Person. Chatted with him for a while. I'm really hoping that people get beyond spontaneous cynical and/or bipolarchal dismissal, and come out in support of them in the coming days.