Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Communism Kills Eternal Truths

In a recent post on her blog, I Cite, Jodi Dean brings forward her doubt about the potential of the death drive to make way for radical politics. She states:

"...I would think that there is no political valence to drive; it is as likely to have politically conservative effects as it is radical ones. In fact, to me it seems more likely to have politically conservative effects, particularly under conditions of communicative capitalism."

After reading her post I leafed through Lacan’s 'The Ethics of Psychoanalysis' for if I could find something that supports her pessimism (which I also share). It is remarkable that at the beginning of the chapter called 'The Death Drive' Lacan raises the question what would Marx think about progressivism, the ideology which is widespread in modern bourgeoisie.

As I understand or misunderstand, for Lacan, there are two aspects of the death drive and they are connected with the historicity of the subject. The first one is its destructive feature, tendency to return to a state of universal equilibrium. The other is the "will to create from zero, a will to begin again." The former is subjected to our experience, registered to the path that we fallowed to arrive to the existing state of affairs. Lacan states in Seminar 17 that, "life only ever returns there via paths that are always the same, ones it has previously traced." I think this is where the deception of death drive resides. I once run across an anarcho-capitalist cab driver, while we were passing in front of the president's residence he suddenly told me that we must privatize everything even including the state. It is no surprise that the radical political destination of death drive operating in the subject who is cursed by the free-market ideology is anarcho-capitalism. In this vein, the death drive generally operates as the radical confirmation of the existing order.

The other dimension, the will to create from ex nihilo becomes accessible only through the isolation of the historical sequence, by which our experiences and our memories are recognized as they are conditioned by the symbolic order. Lacan here astonishingly speaks in favor of the creationist theory insofar as it ascribes the origin of the symbolic order to an external entity. With this externalization the death drive becomes capable of overcoming the second barrier and reaching beyond what Lacan called “the cycle of generation-corruption”. Thus, Marx’s defiant declaration in the Manifesto, "There are, besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc., that are common to all states of society. But communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis; it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience," designates the TRUE aim of radical politics, not directed to backwards on the determined route by annihilating and reinstalling contingent institutions of the capitalist society but radically focused to eradicate supposedly eternal truths that determine the contingent elements of our history.

Lacan's answer to the question what would Marx think about progressivism is, "they are a good, healthy standard of a certain kind of intellectual honesty." But radical politics in no way coincides with progressivism, Marx disavows the Hegelian conception of the State as the actualization of freedom based on the power of reason and regards it as an instrument of class struggle determined by the capitalist production, and only by this process of isolation he enables himself to conceive a new beginning beyond the second destruction, beyond the negation of the private property:

"Where, then, is the positive possibility of a German emancipation? Answer: In the formation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong but wrong generally is perpetrated against it; which can no longer invoke a historical but only a human title; which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in an all-round antithesis to the premises of the German state; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete rewinning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat."

If there is a slightest capacity of the death-drive to open up a field for radical emancipatory politics, I think, it is the will to begin again by setting off from the assertion that our subjective history is a byproduct of the symbolic order.

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