Bombard the Headquarters of the Philosopher Kings, or: Do we leave them their old age home in the Ivory tower of universalism?
What’s the deal with “The Idea of Communism”? – that’s the question you might want to ask after the conclusion of the communism conference that met under that very name at the Volksbűhne in Berlin. One thing is for sure: at the congress the universal in contradistinction to the particular was ever present. And something structural was evident too: among 17 presenters there was only one woman.
In the following I document my – slightly revised and expanded – statement in the closing discussion of the congress.
The universal was the dominant theme of the congress. In that connection, most of the presenters plead for the universal, commonality, equality and displayed a disdain of the particular. There was criticism from the public and from others referring to Marx’ Critique of the Gotha Program, where Marx saw communism as being characterized not by equality, but by the satisfaction of diverse needs (To each according to his needs.). Lenin agreed vehemently in State and Revolution, and declared the equation of communism and equality to be a distortion of communism by “bourgeois professors”. Is that exactly what the presenters at the conference were?
In his preference for a universal commonality Alain Badiou appealed to Lenin’s distinction between political and purely trade union struggles. For Lenin, trade union struggles were particular, political struggles were universal. But what Badiou overlooks is that Lenin defined political struggles as not just being conducted for improvements within the wage system, but as being based on the “recognition of the irreconcilable opposition of the interests [of the workers] to the interests of the entire current political and social system.” And this struggle is defined negatively too, it is directed against the “current political and social system.” Likewise, the struggles against “the persecution of the sectarians, the mistreatment of the peasants, the rampaging of the censor, - the abuse of soldiers, the persecution of even the most harmless culture endeavors etc,” are ‘struggles against’; struggles against persecution. Lenin does not postulate the necessity of something like a positive communist religion. For Lenin communism is not an earthly paradise of universal commonality. Instead, it is the concrete and negative struggle against any form of domination and exploitation, not a new ideal order; not an end of history.
In the same sense, I would like to turn against universalism a sentence of Althusser’s about humanism: Althusser said, the word humanism kills the class struggle. The universalism that was propagated here for three days likewise kills the class struggle, kills feminist struggles, kills anti-racist struggles. Social struggles are struggles between particular interests; revolutionary struggles are struggles that do not resolve themselves with a compromise between rulers and those they rule, between exploiters and those they exploit. And above the particular antagonistic interests in struggle there is no universal that can ultimately resolve the antagonisms in a philosophical synthesis.
In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels had already formulated a critique of the utopian socialists, that, when you get down to it, holds for today’s universalists: “They believed themselves to be elevated above the contradiction between classes …, they want to improve the conditions of the lives of all the members of society. Consequently, they appeal unremittingly to society as a whole without distinction, by preference, in fact, to the ruling class. You only need to understand their plan to recognize it as the best possible plan for the best possible society.”
For three days they have been telling us that you only have to take the point of view of humanity (instead of the point of view of animals [of pigs]and see that communism is the universal.
This disdain for the particular vis-à-vis the universal appears to me to be the reason why feminists want to have nothing to do with the communism, the holistic communism propagated here. Since universalism as the ideology of those who rule, which muffles social contradictions and places them under the mastery of philosophy, has a considerable attraction for men, who – even if they are communists – are among those who rule in the patriarchy.
I would like to put it in the words of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: We have to bombard the headquarters, bombard the headquarters of these philosopher-kings if communism is supposed to become interesting for feminists, if communism is not supposed to become, once again, an ideology of those who rule, if it is not supposed to become, once again, one of the “all too complete world views” criticized by Brecht.
Both Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek responded to the preceding statement. Alain referred me to National-Socialism, which was a philosophy of difference par excellence, the differentiation between humans and sub-humans. And Slavoj saw in liberal feminists’ support of the Iraq War (it seems to me the Afghanistan War would be the more apt example) evidence of the damaging consequences of particularist feminism.
National-Socialism was not just a philosophy of difference. It was also an ideology of the Volksgemeinschaft [trans. note: Volksgemeinschaft= “the racialized national community of the people’; Gemeinschaft concretely means community here, but the same term in its abstract sense is translated as ‘commonality’ above] that – like every attempt to define a community positively – entails exclusions. The correct response when National-Socialists declare you an enemy is not to request membership in the Volksgemeinschaft or to propose a ‘real’ Volksgemeinschaft to the Nazis as an alternative. The correct response is to pick up your weapon.
As far as the liberal feminists are concerned – advocating the war in the name of particular interests is exactly what they don’t do. What they do, they do in the name of the universal ‘value’ of equal rights. Doing so shows exactly what the error of universalism is from the perspective of the critique of ruling orders. It is paternalistic and imperialist self-authorization to act for others – to bestow ‘liberation’ from ‘outside’ or from ‘above’ on them. But the communists of the First International already knew: the liberation of the working class can, first and foremost, only be the creation of the working class itself. And the liberation of Afghan women and queers can first and foremost only be their own creation. The best support that the feminists in the USA, Germany, etc. can provide is not the propagation of universal ‘values,’ but the overthrow of their own patriarchy and their own imperialism.
–In retrospect, the only thing still left to consider is whether we really need to bombard the headquarters of the philosopher-kings – or can we leave them their old-age home in the ivory tower of universalism?