The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert that God spake to them; and whether they did not think at the time, that they would be misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.
Isaiah answer'd. 'I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in every thing, and as I was then perswaded, & remain confirm'd, that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote.'
Then I asked: 'does a firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?'
He replied: 'All poets believe that it does, & in ages of imagination this firm perswasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm perswasion of any thing.'
I saw a man from Egypt on the television news. He said his mother said he had to fight because she wanted him a hero. The interviewer did not ask why his mother wasn’t at the square and why he had not stayed at home to scrub the step.
From a 30 second snapshot I am thrown into reverie, and suddenly contemplating Marx’s unfinished examination of the problem known as the ‘Russian road to socialism’. The objective historical role of capital has been to disconnect populations from their culture and introduce representative abstractions (cyphers for Value) in their place. The dis-attachment of populations from their specific history becomes an objective condition for their pliant reorientation towards different, perhaps, communist values.
The question of the ‘Russian Road’ sets the problem of whether a society might reach a communist consciousness without its pre-modern cultural practices having first been deconstructed by the process of capitalist re-valuation. Clearly, Marx did not get to the bottom of this question and the subsequent efforts of anti-imperialism and national liberation have been signally unsuccessful in everything but the further mystification of the capitalist productive relation. There are no proletarian states.
In the case of the days of rage in Egypt of January/february 2011, we see a ‘modern’ social revolution defined entirely by its unreconstructed bourgeois aspirations. There are mass prayers. There are national flags. There is a hated, personified oppressor. There is an externalised enemy. There are calls for democracy and constitutional government. There is ‘self-organisation’ around the defence of property. There is the continuation of traditional roles between men and women.
In a situation such as Egypt, where the question of communism is raised as a possible outcome, communism itself must take on the role of a corrective consciousness and do the work which otherwise would have been undertaken by capital on its unconscious armature.
It occurs to me, that Freud’s structural model is appropriate here... in this scenario, communist consciousness becomes the nagging superego, perpetually illuminating the shortcomings of the proletarian/popular ego as it attempts to realise objects from the tensions within the specificity/objectivity of its unconscious.
Where communism does not take this corrective role, (and who could suppose it could ever have a positive involvement, except in conditions of complete economic breakdown?), bourgeois categories of national liberation will continue to be generated, and even within the pro-revolutionary milieu:
"Suez has a special value in every Egyptian heart. It was the centre for resistance against the Zionists in 1956 and 1967, in the same district. It fought Sharon's troops back in the Egyptian-Israeli wars."
Nidal Tahrir, from Black Flag, a small group of Anarcho-Communists in Egypt
The hero’s spilt blood remains a fetish object for the bourgeois revolution and the communists cannot extricate themselves from this involvement. Communists continue to define themselves in terms of ‘involvement in’ rather than ‘separation from’ the convention of politics and culture.
Up to this point, in the Egyptian events, pro-revolutionaries have remained beholden to twitter feeds and 24 hour news coverage. Their thirst for contingent facts has eclipsed their critical faculties.
The absence of innovatory thought, the failure in the character of their response, which has not yet got beyond a sluggish affirmational sentimentality, and the mystification of solidarity, is the substantial proof that there remains no prospect for communist revolution.
The communists fail to recognise that the Egyptian moment has not manifested its own singularity, or set out on its ‘Russian Road’, and instead is reproducing a captured What-is-the-third-estate? narrative of 1848.
But where the original manifestations of bourgeois revolt indicated a self-defining class in apparent ascendancy, in 2011 the same terms firmly establish its more or less irrelevance. Or more accurately, the bourgeoisie is a class that has already died, but which is paradoxically revived, as an anachronism, to authentically present false political goals in moments of critical contradiction.
The language of revolt seems always to be old fashioned, inappropriate, and misrepresentative, above all because it is really the language of continuity addressing the problem of its own objective constraint.
The Arab spring is the revolt of a resurrected bourgeois consciousness in the act of registering the arrival of autonomic capitalised relations; in other words, those relations in which the bourgeoisie no longer play a subject role.
The bourgeois revolutionary subject (drawn from its own idea of the third estate) presents itself as seeking to take control of the productive forces. It has recorded, in the form of consciousness, that productive forces are ‘out of control’.
It registers autonomic process as a contradiction to the rational political ideals that it proposes – crisis appears to it always as this political formulation: as an unfettered subject, it could direct all this manufacturing capacity towards the common good. As the embodiment of those ideals, it proposes itself as the answer to unrestrained capital.
But the subject is falsely presented. It is only a ghost of political power. Autonomic productive forces necessarily preclude any form of subjective management of their relations – they have already, and always, gone too far for any political agent to take the helm.
Productive forces, by their very nature, exceed their management by any conscious subject, all formulations of which such forces have set in motion in the first place.
The bourgeois subject in revolt has never proved itself capable of reaching behind itself to pull out its hardwiring.
And yet it is now impossible to even speak of the subject, in any terms other than those of its revolt against capital, without thereby misrepresenting the non-directed nature of generalised capitalist relations. That is to say, if one talks of a ‘bourgeois class’ as the ruling agent, or proprietor of capitalist relations, then one is personalising a generality which is entirely beyond ownership and direction.
The bourgeois subject exists solely, as a preformed marker given a person’s face, as the objective ‘political’ form of ideological revolt.
The subject achieves only its recording of the contradiction between its consciousness, in the form of proposed subjectivity, and the system of automatic relations by which it is wholly determined, and from which it cannot escape.
Every determination is an affirmation; every affirmation is a determination.
The subject records its contradiction along the crease in its consciousness: it may conceive of escape only in terms of its ongoing containment. That is to say, it speculates on its escape from capital in the terms of an inverted relation to those forces of production which sustain its fantasy.
The subject is the political path of least of resistance in the face of what is economically irresolvable: its consciousness may only reproduce itself, as it is also reproduced, as a mere and eternal record, of its inextricable involvement in objective contradiction. The revolt in Egypt traces out the parameters of its containment.
By contrast, a communist event is defined precisely by its generation of new terms and new roles; by a great flourishing of behaviours and extended innovatory logics; the transformation of the entirety of conditions and lives. The singular logic of communism assumes that there is no road but the Russian Road to communism.
Communism cannot be reduced back to the atavistic romance of a revolutionary war waged within a neutral territory that is also somehow at stake in the form of ‘means of production’. In reality, the struggle has always been, could only be, against the territory itself. There is nothing to be won, nothing to take control of. Everything belonging to the territory must perish, including revolutionary war itself.
Objectively, the social revolution supposes that the human race must very rapidly process the vast accumulation of its inheritances and work through its history, in order that it might escape from it and engage with itself otherwise.
We are presented then, in the absence of such a flourishing, with the task of manifesting negative thought... of othering that which passes as belonging to the world. Far from seeking further influence within the array of all that is already in play, communists must self-separate themselves from enthusiasm and irrationality, from driven and barbaric practices.
Communist intelligence is defined solely in the act of critically identifying what is absent.
The communist is never more than society’s uninvited guest, its spirit guide, its relentless Virgil, its interpellated Jeremiah.
In his relations with others, the communist supplies, in the objective absence of spontaneous new relations, routes into defamiliarised territories, through provocations, doubts, telling criticisms; any and all of which may only be resolved beyond him and his interlocutors, at the level of social relations.
With regard to his own project, the communist must be prepared to think against his own prescriptions, as the only means of escaping his own dogmas. The ‘Russian Road’ is not a Roman road.
I also asked Isaiah what made him go naked and barefoot three years? he answer'd, 'the same that made our friend Diogenes the Grecian.'
I then asked Ezekiel why he eat dung, & lay so long on his right & left side? he answer'd, 'the desire of raising other men into a perception of the infinite; this the North American tribes practise, & is he honest who resists his genius or conscience, only for the sake of present ease or gratification?'