On the Idea of Communism Conference

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On the Idea of Communism Conference 13th,14th & 15th March Institute of Education, London

B.Brecht

“It’s just the simple thing that’s hard, so hard to do.”

 

 

 

Alain Badiou:

“The communist hypothesis remains the good one, I do not see any other. If we have to abandon this hypothesis, then it is no longer worth doing anything at all in the field of collective action. Without the horizon of communism, without this Idea, there is nothing in the historical and political becoming of any interest to a philosopher. Let everyone bother about his own affairs, and let us stop talking about it. In this case, the rat-man is right, as is, by the way, the case with some ex-communists who are either avid of their rents or who lost courage. However, to hold on to the Idea, to the existence of this hypothesis, does not mean that we should retain its first form of presentation which was centered on property and State. In fact, what is imposed on us as a task, even as a philosophical obligation, is to help a new mode of existence of the hypothesis to deploy itself.”

 

 

Speakers: Judith Balso, Alain Badiou, Bruno Bosteels, Terry Eagleton, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Toni Negri, Jacques Ranciere, Alessandro Russo, Alberto Toscano, Gianni Vattimo, Slavoj Zizek

 

The year of 1990 stands for the triple defeat of the Left: the retreat of the social-democratic Welfare State politics in the developed First World, the disintegration of the Soviet-style Socialist states in the industrialized Second World, and the retreat of emancipatory movements in the Third World. A certain epoch was thereby over, the epoch which began with the October Revolution and was characterized by the Party-State form of organization.

Does this mean that the time of radical emancipatory politics is over?

In recent years, there are multiple signs which indicate the need for a new beginning. The utopia of the 1990, the Fukuyamaist “end of history” (liberal-democratic capitalist as the finally found natural social order) died twice in the first decade of the XXIst century. While the 9/11 attacks signaled its political death, the financial crisis of 2008 signals its economic death. In these new conditions, the task is not only to reflect on new strategies, but to radically rethink the most basic coordinates of emancipatory politics. One should go well beyond the rejection of the Party-State Left in its “Stalinist” form – a common place today -, and extend this rejection to the entire field of the “democratic Left” as the strategy to reform the system from within its representative-democratic state form. Much more than the debacle of the Really-Existing Socialism, the defeat of 1990 was the final defeat of this “democratic Left.”

This defeat raises the question: is “Communism” still the name to be used to designate the horizon of radical emancipatory projects? In spite of their theoretical differences, the participants share the thesis that one should remain faithful to the name “Communism”: this name is potent to serve as the Idea which guides our activity, as well as the instrument which enables us to expose the catastrophes of the XXth century politics, those of the Left included.

The symposium will not deal with practico-political questions of how to analyze the latest economic, political, and military troubles, or how to organize a new political movement. More radical questioning is needed today - this is a meeting of philosophers who will deal with Communism as a philosophical concept, advocating a precise and strong thesis: from Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher.

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  • Guest (emil)

    sounds interesting but, is it just me?, where are the masses? can anyone actually understand this stuff?

  • Guest (Carl Davidson)

    <blockquote>The symposium will not deal with practico-political questions of how to analyze the latest economic, political, and military troubles, or how to organize a new political movement. More radical questioning is needed today - this is a meeting of philosophers who will deal with Communism as a philosophical concept, advocating a precise and strong thesis: from Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher.</blockquote>

    I'm more concerned with what the symposium is NOT about, so I'll save the air fare and take a pass. But as a long-time student in philosophy, I can also assure you that there are many political ideas worthy of us, alongside communism. These guys need to lighten up and emancipate their minds a bit.

  • Guest (Tell No Lies)

    I imagine the capitalization of "Idea" is supposed to indicate that what is being referred to here is not simply one of the many ideas worthy of philosophers, of which of course there are many, political and otherwise, but rather to a central political philosophical vision/objective/principle/axis around which philosophers should conceive their political thinking and action. If Carl thinks there is another, I'd like to know what it is. Maybe its because I missed the 60s and grew up in a period in which communism always seemed marginalized and in ill-repute, but I find the proposition exhilerating. It looks like a very interesting conference to me, with a very exciting line-up and I look forward to seeing the proceedings. I also intend to look into the thinking of the names I don't recognize.

  • Though there are "many political ideas worthy" of investigation -- there has to be quite a fight to reassert the Communist idea as one that is visible and contending (in spheres of ideas and politics).That itself would be a major contribution to the emancipation of minds (and of society itself).

    Of course it is exhilarating, TNL -- and it was exhilarating in the 1960s too. And now (in the gray rubble of free market hegemony) it is, in many ways, even more exhilarating to see it put forward, debated and explored.

    And there are those who will say "humpf," and urge us to look away. But that is revealing in its own right.

    As for Emil's point about language: It is true that statements are sometimes reflect the language of specific circles (academic, philosophical etc.) and they are (sometimes) unnecessarily in-groupy.

    But at the same time, not every discussion can be conducted in language and concepts that anyone among the masses can automatically engage. -- there are discussions that require specialized language, and even specialized training, and that still have important bearing on revolutionary preparations. That includes philosophy, socialist economic planning, matters in scientific spheres etc.

  • Guest (Tell No Lies)

    Emil,

    I think the answer to your question is "yes some people can understand this stuff, but not enough by far." Thats an important part of our fight, both to get more people to the point of being able to understand "this stuff" but also to get "this stuff" made more popularly accessible when and where that is possible. Mike is right about specialized language. In the case of philosophy I would argue that a big task of communists is precisley to arm people with the language neccesary to think through difficult problems with real consequences for society. The specialization of this language is a sort of form of private property that we must strive to socialize and part of doing that, as I see it, is fighting against the anti-intellectualism that trains people to hold difficult language in automatic contempt. Of course there are other real issues around how in some academic circles a certain obscurity is valued, but even here I think its worth thinking about how this enables at least some thinkers to pursue radical ideas that are otherwise off limits in academia. Just as Gramsci developed a specialized language to confound his prison censors, I think the retreat of many academic radicals into what seems like deliberately obscure language is about confounding tenure committees and administrators. Clearly this is not a good thing for making ideas accessible to those who need them most but I think it should be understood as a feature of period of generalized revolutionary retreat from which we are hopefully now emerging. THis conference is I think, in this sense, therefore a very positive development.

  • Guest (zerohour)

    I think it's important that it's about the <i>idea</i> of communism, not communism as Cold War ideologues have framed it, reducing it down to then-existing state forms [something that sections of the left were complicit in, or at least accepted, since the 1930s].

    As for Carl's comment, I think it's important to see this conference as an opening for a broader and expanding discussion that can and should include topics that are not being discussed at this particular conference. Asserting the relevance of communism as a political idea is a bold move and I hope it DOES come to frame future political analysis and debate.

  • Guest (Carl Davidson)

    Don't get me wrong. I love philosophy, have a degree in it, and always go to the philosophy section in bookstores first to see what's new, or re-examine what's old. I read it all the time, all sorts of trends, useful and not-so-useful.

    I just found it off-putting that they wanted to exclude 'practico-political questions' on this of all topics. Strange, don't you think?

    'Communism' is fine as a central idea to organize other political ideas around. But it's hardly limited to that. 'The Good,' 'The Just,' and 'The Common Good' are three more off the top of my head.

  • Guest (nando)

    Clearly the world needs conferences on the practico-political work of communist revolution.

    But why should it be "off-putting" or "strange" if communist philosophers have a conference on communist philosophy (and don't pretend to be solving all the other problems that need solving)?

    In fact (as Althusser argued so forcefully) communist philosophy has long been in need of systematic and creative development.... in its own right. and such developments would have a positive impact, in their own right.

  • Guest (Adrienne)

    I'd love to be able to go to this conference. Even if I couldn't understand everything they're going to be speaking about, it sounds like it'd be fascinating anyway. Along with Tell No Lies, I also think just the fact that they're having it seems like a very positive development, and I'm really looking forward to hearing all about what was covered afterward.

  • There are several striking aspects of this conference.

    Clearly Badiou has been a major influence on both the way in which the conference is framed and on the fact that it is held at all. Bringing people forward around this question
    <blockquote>is “Communism” still the name to be used to designate the horizon of radical emancipatory projects?</blockquote>
    and around this thesis
    <blockquote>from Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher</blockquote>
    -- this is pure Badiou. Several of the speakers (Bruno Bosteels, Peter Hallward, Alberto Toscano) are very closely associated with Badiou as commentators, translators, interlocutors, etc.

    And then there's this:
    <blockquote>the task is not only to reflect on new strategies, but to radically rethink the most basic coordinates of emancipatory politics</blockquote>
    Does that not sound close to the orientation of Kasama?

    Finally, I'd like to put in a word for philosophy, and for "Communism as a philosophical concept." No only is it not wrong to work and study philosophy, and communism as a philosophical concept, in its own right, but that is the only way in which it can play its necessary part in the great project of human liberation.

  • Guest (NSPF)

    Here is the Schedule of the conference and the title of the talks:



    ON THE IDEA OF COMMUNISM

    13th/14th/15th March 2009

    Logan Hall, Institute of Education
    20 Bedford Way London WC1H 0AL    



    Friday March 13

    2pm Costas Douzinas - Welcome

    Alain Badiou Introductory remarks

    Michael Hardt “The Production of the Common”

    Bruno Bosteels “The Leftist Hypothesis: Communism in the Age of Terror”

    Peter Hallward “Communism of the Intellect, Communism of the Will”


    Jean-Luc Nancy will be present throughout the conference and will intervene in the discussions.


    6 pm End



    Saturday March 14

    10am Alessandro Russo “Did the Cultural Revolution End Communism?”

    Alberto Toscano “Communist Power / Communist Knowledge”

    Toni Negri “Communisme: reflexions sur le concept et la pratique”


    1pm Lunch




    3pm Terry Eagleton “Communism: Lear or Gonzalo?”

    Jacques Ranciere “Communists without Communism?”

    Alain Badiou ”Communism: a generic name”


    6pm End




    Sunday March 15

    10am Slavoj Zizek “To begin from the beginning over and over again”

    Gianni Vattimo “Weak Communism?”

    Judith Balso “Communism: a hypothesis for philosophy, an impossible name for politics?”


    Concluding Debate



    2pm End

  • Guest (Green Red rev)

    Long time ago Mazdak spoke about communism of a sort while he led one of the oldest anti feudalism rebellions, as said in Wikipedia,
    Mazdak (in Persian مزدک) (died c. 524 or 528) was a proto-socialist Persian reformer who gained influence under the reign of the Sassanian king Kavadh I. He claimed to be a prophet of God, and instituted communal possessions and social welfare programs.
    ......................
    The two distinguishing factors of Mazdak's teaching were the reduction of the importance of religious formalities—the true religious person being the one who understood and related correctly to the principles of the universe—and a criticism of the strong position of Zoroastrian clergy, who, he believed, had oppressed the Persian population and caused much poverty.

    Mazdak emphasized good conduct, which involved a moral and ascetic life, no killing and not eating flesh (which contained substances solely from Darkness), being kind and friendly and living in peace with other people.

    In many ways Mazdak's teaching can be understood as a call for social revolution, and has been referred to as early "communism".[1]

    He planned to have all private property confiscated, and replace marriage with free love.[2]

    The social democracy - what is left of it in the western European countries (Scandinavians, Germany, France..) or relatively Canada were synthesized between two superpowers. People had to be free enough to be capitalist, and granted relatively free education and medical services not to run back of the Iron Wall....

    They still were metropolitan first world countries, but relatively were far better than US in internatioanl relations they could have (not always thought for example about South Africa) toward Cuba, etc.

    Looking at revolution as a solid science has its religious implications. Science itself is theories proven and disporven time after time. So looking at it as scientific theory is more sane. But the exact form chosen and distinct desires are only presumptions and aspirations. Equations as large as social foundation transformings are not exact mathematical ones to get exact results or, to stand up for such. Various attempts, at different levels, to materialize egalitarian standards are not meant to be marked as simple right way and wrong ways. The more advanced, the better for people of related society but, in the least on internatioanl relations the less advanced ones have their merits and values aiding their existence.

    From Chavez in Venezuela up to.... Prachanda are labled by some as revisionist, reformist, populists... judging them overnight is not fair.

    You have good ideas for betterment in Nepal, Venezuela to make them more like your ideal communist oriented socialism? Support it, join their party and radicalize it. Only when they cut you off, then try to form an opposition to demand more for the people and radicalize it. But as Kernstat (sic?) of Russia for example shown, sometimes there is a white Russian (i.e. Tsarism supporters) behind your syndicalist front...

    Communism is not an exact red X spot to get to. It is the direction to step toward, at any level, under any condition, within class society. Would it create a perfect classless society? I haven't seen it. In a real relative world, the less pain translates to more pleasure of being alive after all. If it only in the hand of the few, it sure isn't just.

  • Guest (entdinglichung)

    @ Green Red rev:

    Was Mazdak really propagating free love? German literature on Mazdak more often uses the term "Weibergemeinschaft" which has more the connotation that women are the public possession of all men and not of a single husband (which is only anothere form of patriarchal oppression). Generally, I think, that there are few reliable sources on the Mazdakite movement.

  • Guest (Tell No Lies)

    The activists have sought only to change the world, in various ways; the point is to understand it, in order to change it.

  • Guest (Tell No Lies)

    Do we know anybody who will be at this conference who can write a report on it? It is really an extraordinary event and one that I think deserves all the attention we can give it.

  • We know someone planning to go. And, of course, the conference organizers will probably be making contents available.

  • Guest (emil)

    i get the impression that badiou, zizek etc are a little bit manufactured. the postmodern fashion is gone, and now they are trying to go for something else. the problem with this kind of philosophy is that there are too many big sounding words that nobody really understands unless they have degrees in philosophy, and most of the time, rather banal pronouncements are made that are covered up in big scary words. ( 'anti humanism, death of man, and what the hell is a 'truth-event'??)i also do not see the importance of badiou and zizek apart from they are fashionable and being promoted by sections of academia.

  • Guest (Tell No Lies)

    Emil,
    Its certainly true that these guys are, to varying degrees, sometimes difficult to understand and that formal training in philosophy helps (just as knowing something about cars makes what a mechanic says more intelligible). Its also true that there are fads and fashions in philosophy as in every other area of human endeavor and that we are likely witnessing the exhaustion of what is called post-modernism and the rise of a new configuration represented by folks like Zizek, Badiou, Ranciere, etc... But none of this means there aren't important issues at stake. I would argue that post-modernism corresponded with the rise of neo-liberalism and a period of profound crisis for the revolutionary movement and that what we are seeing now reflects the exhaustion of neo-liberalism and the possibility of reconceiving the revolutionary movement. The failure of communists to seriously deal with post-modernism rather than rely on facile and poorly read dismissals was a confession of intellectual poverty and exhaustion. This is not something we can afford to repeat.

  • Guest (zerohour)

    Emil -

    Anti-intellectualism on the left and the right take on the same expressions, with the same goal: casual dismissal of thinkers without engaging their ideas. First there is the grouping of disparate thinkers under erroneous labels. For the right, it's "politically correct" and for the left it's "postmodern". Then, there is the populist appeal to existing habits of [non-] thought, i.e., <i>common sense</i> ["big sounding words that nobody really understands"]. Rather than rejecting particular thinkers or ideas, the underlying impulse is to dismiss philosophy altogether.

    Philosophy is one endeavor that provides us with tools to make sense of our world. Science and art are others. Different philosophers present us with categories, propositions and methodologies which, even when in contention, can help us systematize our ideas about our relations and environments. Since every society must acculturate its members if it is to function with some degree of coherence and continuity, it's only understandable that default thinking patterns are bracketed by the norms of "acceptable" thinking in a given society. Philosophy is a means to break from that. At its worst, philosophy is little more than an elaborate rationale for existing power relations. At its best, it challenges the coordinates of the possible in thought and action.

    As with any worthwhile undertaking, philosophy can be difficult, but it's not impossible to get one's footing if one is willing to put in the effort. Understanding society and its complex relations does require more than colloquial language, and for radicals, more than the legacy we've inherited, i.e., "the classics". Since the world is always in motion it would be mistaken to expect ideas formulated in earlier times to have exhausted all the relevant questions. We also won't get very far without recognizing the limitations of everyday thinking which, by not being critical, is hardly even thinking, but Ideology, with a capital "I".

  • Guest (um)

    Emil writes: "i also do not see the importance of badiou and zizek apart from they are fashionable and being promoted by sections of academia."

    Well, maybe you should read one of their books, since you don't seem to know why they have managed to become two of the world's leading philosophers despite being communists.

  • Guest (emil)

    guys,

    i do not dismiss philosophy, but i am less than convinced this kind of philosophy will lead to anything at all for the communist movement. i read badiou's st paul, and its pretty good, but there are better books also. it is not so remarkable. i read some of zizek's stuff, and it is entertaining, especially bout sex and films, but nothing very new nor very clear. it seems to me there are better philosophers, and the reason why they are popular is because they are being promoted by sections of western academia.

  • Guest (emil)

    but but, if UM or anybody above can give me some good clear reasons why badiou and zizek are so important, then i am happy to revise my position. but i have seen the postmodern academic fashion before and this seems kind of the same.

  • Guest (emil)

    check this out by chomsky targetting postmodernism, but pretty much on target for badiou zizek etc

    http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/chomsky-on-postmodernism.html

  • Guest (Tell No Lies)

    Emil,

    There are, in my view, several problems with Chomsky's response. First of all he basically admits to not having read very much of what he critiques and demands that the basic arguments be more or less spoon-fed to him by others in "plain language" before he feels compelled to actually read them. That of course is his prerogative, but I don't see why we should take seriously a critique taht starts from such a stance. Second he lumps together a whole bunch of thinkers in much the same way Avakian talks about "the Derridas." he seems to understand that Foucault demands his own response, but here he fixates on his "scholarship" in a way that as I see it completely misses the point of Foucault's arguments and relations to his sources. Third, his own "theory" of the management of public opinion is quite crude and would be greatly enriched, IMHO, by a more serious engagement with at least Althusser (starting with his piece on Ideological State Apparatuses) and Foucault. Hell, I'd say he really needs to start with Gramsci before he moves on to Althusser.

    Chomsky does yeoman's work popularizing and promoting a critical view of US foreign policy and the workings of the corporate media, but his faith that this simple work of debunking is all that is needed is, frankly, naive and riddled with blindspots. For example, while Chomsky has en excellent command of the workings of the foreign policy establishment his thinking on questions of racial and national formation is quite shallow, resulting in a very weak critique of domestic white supremacy and its ideological role in consolidating (white) opinion in support of US imperial adventures.

    As for Chomsky's comments being "on target for Badiou, Zizek, etc..." refer to my comment on lumping theorists together rather than engaing the specific content of their work. Zizek is a bombastic self-promoter with some interesting things to say. Communist beach reading. Perhaps he learned some of this from Lacan. Badiou, I think, is a very different animal who demands much closer and more systematic reading on our part. I read and like "St. Paul" too, but mainly, I confess, because it was short and relatively easy. I've made tentative forays into "Being and Event" and am eager to read "Theory of the Subject" which is forthcoming in English. In any event I distrust critiques of ANY theorist by people who haven't really read them.

  • Guest (zerohour)

    Emil -

    I'm not sure what you consider worthwhile philosophy, but it seems your main criteria is popular intelligibility.

    I have not read as much Badiou as Zizek, but I wouldn't dismiss or affirm anyone's thinking based on reading one non-representational book. <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/category/authors/alain-badiou/" rel="nofollow">Here</a> you'll find some discussions of Badiou on our site.

    As for Zizek, he has undertaken a project of refashioning a Marxist understanding of ideology by incorporating the notion of "enjoyment." This is based on the recognition that ideology does not simply work on the level of rational statements and proofs but rather on the non-rational. Enjoyment is the excessive element in rational thinking, it is unnecessary but it's what people are willing to make great sacrifices for and accounts for deep attachments to ideologies. This is how ideology, especially capitalist ideology, works, on the psychological level. This method can help us uncover how seeming different ideas may share the same core assumptions and impulses. In <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Sublime-Object-Ideology-Second-Essential/dp/1844673006/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1235661599&amp;sr=1-1" rel="nofollow">The Sublime Object of Ideology</a> he makes an interesting and convincing case for how Marx invented the symptomatic reading later taken up by Freud. There is significantly more to his thought than I can recount here, but one actually has to read a thinker before agreeing with or disagreeing with their ideas. Crazy notion, huh?

    As for Chomsky, he comes from a Cartesian and Enlightenment framework, in which concepts such as "truth" and "justice" are self-evident and need little exploration. Is that the kind of philosophy that is helpful to understanding and changing the world? He has done valuable work in foreign policy critique, and I'll take for granted that he's a brilliant linguist, but his ideas on ideology are based on a view of inherent human nature and media manipulation are naive and hardly rigorous. His claim that Foucault's work on 18th century history may be interesting to explore for its "accuracy" completely misses the point. Foucault wanted to uncover how certain disciplinary practices set terms for our present worldviews, particularly what we we consider "normal", who we exclude and include when we speak of citizenship, criminality, insanity, etc., and how they are related to power.

    The temptation to dismiss thinkers like Badiou and Zizek as "postmodern" despite their explicit rejection of postmodernism rests on a failure to even want to engage their work - and a failure to understand postmodernism as well. So what's the point of asserting this label in such a knee-jerk fashion?

    I will concede that much theory writing is unnecessarily obscure, but this should not be the fundamental criteria for evaluating its content. Someone once remarked that Marx sometimes used Hegelian and Kantian language even were it was ill-fitting because he was trying to describe new phenomena with old concepts. In the case of modern philosophers, there is a bit of that combined with a sense that language in general is problematic and is itself in need of interrogation. Such philosophy breaks us out of our comfortable assumptions about how the world is, and the adequacy of the means we use to describe it, as well as the strategies we may devise to change it.

    Focusing on intelligibility or popularity, actually Cornell West and Chomsky are more popular I would think, are simply ways to avoid unorthodox and jarring ideas, regardless of their worth. This allows people to take a "position" without a foundation - how postmodern!

  • <blockquote>the reason why they are popular is because they are being promoted by sections of western academia</blockquote>

    If they are indeed being promoted, wouldn't the question then become, why are these thinkers, who are very close to the Marxist, Leninist and Maoist traditions in thinking and politics, and who put forward the necessity of "a radical emancipatory politics" and "the idea of Communism" (in the words of the conference call above) -- why are <i>these</i> the thinkers "being promoted"? And why would this be a bad thing (as you seem to imply that it is)?

    Then too -- even if "sections of western academia" promote Badiou and Zizek, why would this result in their becoming popular? All kinds of thinkers are taken up and even promoted at times by different sections of academia, but most such thinkers do not attain much recognition beyond relatively narrow circles. What accounts, then, for the fact that Badiou and Zizek have a relatively wide appeal? It can't be accounted for simply by citing a supposed "promotion."

    It's hard, actually, to know what would be meant by "promotion" in this context other than professors' showing enthusiasm for these thinkers and perhaps assigning their books in classes. My point is, what would account for that enthusiasm in the first place? And even if professors love Zizek and Badiou, why would their students, or others, respond by also becoming fans of these philosophers?

    Surely there is something in the content and form of what they write, which accounts for the (relative) popularity of Badiou and Zizek (including on this site).

  • Guest (Green Red rev)

    re #13 of entdinglichung said...

    Re Mazdak, like many other cases, i present mainstream Wikipedia. Was he really into that? I don't know.

    He was for the peasants rights and against the landlords. I am not a historitian, have not read original resources and hence have no say.

    The remarkable factor was, it was a rebelion long time before Marxism's manifesto.

    The other day, I read that Mansoor Halaj, of a particular anti mainstream Islam who according to Wikipedia filled martyr to become fellows brains with Hashish that I gather is Maryjuana's essence, then go and kill or get killed. And thence the word assasination was made out of it. and his complex party were mostly construction workers of a sort and thus came around what is today Freemasonary cultish people. Then later I read Simon Bolivar was listed as Free Masonary! Should I believe it? Or was he a bad guy?
    but back on Mansoor Halaj, this guy was a forerunner of a sort of Sofiism that I respect to an extent who are some sort of agnostics in denial.
    His famous saying was I am the "Just" (al-hagh, i.e. justice maker,) and he presumed world as a big entity of which we are particles of, therefore god is all of us together...
    Compare an animal/human's cells living next to one another, getting old some, being born some, while none of the bones and skin cells knows Ms/Mr entdinglichung 's existence. That's their god analogy. Now should i focus on their dope heading people or should I considering the particular nationalist/religious suppression at that time look at his bright side.

    The only reason of my including that part of Mazdak was, not to omit it as said as its essence. It is though clearly likely that they made up such allegations against him.

    When in primary/high school, we knew the Anooshirevan, the one who killed early early Maoist Iranians of Mazdak, as King Justice.
    History is written by the rulers. It took long time for people to sort out that Justice of Anooshirvan was reference to slaughter of many, many guerrilas of their own time, to keep lands and power in hand of the few.

  • Guest (Eddy Laing)

    ZH wrote

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    As for Zizek, he has undertaken a project of refashioning a Marxist understanding of ideology by incorporating the notion of "enjoyment." This is based on the recognition that ideology does not simply work on the level of rational statements and proofs but rather on the non-rational.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    I won't argue that mechanical materialist 'marxists' have over the years redefined 'ideology' as either 'false consciousness' or as 'that which emerges from and serves political or production relations', but I don't think either of those represent Marx's use of the term. And in that regard, M (&amp; E's) descriptions of ideology would certainly include all mental activities, affective, cognitive, perceptual, rational. (I am not sure what you may mean by 'non-rational', but even psychotics think. The problem is that their thoughts and perceptions are mistaken for each other.)

    That is not at all to say that further discussion, debate and investigation are not now (or in some utopia will no longer be) required to overturn mechanical materialist concepts (and the social relationships on which they are grounded) and to revive an understanding of ideology in dialectical relation with social practice.

  • Guest (zerohour)

    Non-rational referring to the unconscious, emotions or sentiments. People don't hold onto ideologies simply because they present a coherent vision of the world, but also because they trigger desires, often for transcendance. This is helps explain how people attach themselves to ideas that are often incoherent, self-contradictory, and sometimes even disconfirmed by empirical evidence, such as religious ones. Zizek applies this more to racism and nationalism. Ideologies carry great emotional investment, it's this that has not been explored at length. Too often ideologies are critiqued on the basis of how closely their claims correspond to reality. On one level, that's important but it does little to explain how ideology actually works, how it guides people's daily lives, how it refashions itself in the face of challenges.

    "even psychotics think"

    Yes, but thinking is not always the main factor when understanding the persistence of ideologies.

  • Guest (emil)

    above,
    i think the difference between chomsky and avakian is that chomsky really has made real advances in linguistics and philosophy, as i think most anglo american philosophers would agree. i agree tho that we should not lump them all together in the way avakian does, but chomsky touches the point in the letter posted above. it is kind of a waste of time, it does not lead anywhere, and it is possible to bullshit a lot with big words especially in politics.

    i have read some badiou and zizek, and it is ok, but no so great. i found zizek entertaining and good on films, and badiou also good but not really convincing ( what the hell is a truth event???) but i get the impression that it is being promoted as a kind of radical fashion, but that does not make something good or not good. it might be good even if it is promoted by western academia. but i remember baudrillard, the gulf war did not happen etc. and the general confusion and bullshit around it, and this seems to me similar. but why should we engage with zizek and badiou, or avakian or anyone else? are they saying anything worth engaging with? if so,why??

    as to why they talk about marx lenin and mao, perhaps it is because marx lenin and mao are not really threats to the west anymore, and can be safely talked about and written about. the revolution is far away in india or nepal or peru, but not in london. but it is rather strange that a communist conference should take place in an elite british university??
    zerohour- i do not say that all philosophy has to be intelligible. i rather like nietzsche and kierkegaard. but, for mass politics, this kind of language will confuse people. badiou says ( if i understand correctly...) that there are truth events, and that only someone who has experienced a truth event can be called a 'subject' the rest are mere 'human animals' so an elite body of people who are 'subjects' and the masses who are mere 'human animals'. this seems to me extremely misguided and potentially dangerous yet hidden under complex language. but if others can something out of badiou and zizek, good luck to them.

  • Guest (Hari)

    More radical questioning is needed today - this is a meeting of philosophers who will deal with Communism as a philosophical concept...

    what nonsense, so these philosophers gonna be really really raaadical soon as they enter the london university gates...si their anything more ironical than the fact that this so radical questioning wil be taking place in high elite environs of berkbeck....

    perhaps Carl is bulzai in pointing out that not only Marx but also Lenin and Mao are no longer a threat to capitalist hegemony, that's why these armchair radicals getting ready to start preaching on communism...

  • Guest (n3wday)

    Hari,

    Tease this out a little more. Was Karl Marx an armchair revolutionary when he spent 10 years in a library writing Das Kapital?

    Is it wrong for philosophers to fight for communism within intellectual communities?

  • Guest (Eddy Laing)

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    Ideologies carry great emotional investment, it’s this that has not been explored at length. Too often ideologies are critiqued on the basis of how closely their claims correspond to reality. On one level, that’s important but it does little to explain how ideology actually works, how it guides people’s daily lives, how it refashions itself in the face of challenges.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    Both the affective and cognitive aspects of ideology have been investigated to great length -- within the fields of cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and sociology.

    For example, you might check into various work by Pierre Bourdieu, Kevin Durrheim, Silvia T. Maurer Lane, Claude Levi-Strauss, John H. Moore, Bambi Schieffelin, Kathryn Woolard and dozens of others who have studied ideology in the practices of a wide range of societies, as language, as customs and traditions, etc. literally around the world. Ethnography was more or less founded on and is still greatly involved in documenting belief systems, rituals, customs and traditions.

    Of course, ideology includes emotion. Zizek certainly didn't discover that.

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    thinking is not always the main factor when understanding the persistence of ideologies.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    Since when? (seriously)

    Ideology I`de*ol"o*gy, n. [Ideo- + -logy: cf. F.
    id['e]ologie.]
    1. The science of ideas.

  • Guest (zerohour)

    Eddy -

    "Of course, ideology includes emotion. Zizek certainly didn’t discover that."

    First of all, I made it clear that I wasn't presenting an exhaustive account of Zizek's ideas. Secondly, if your above statement was true, Zizek would hold no interest for anyone. The more important point is not that ideology involves emotion, or the subconscious, but that it is partially constituted by them. I am not familiar with all the thinkers you listed above, but the two names that I know [Bourdieu and Levi-Strauss] were not trained in psychology. Ideologies aren't simply statements of deliberate intent that get carried out in the real world. They involve complex motivations and impulses often not clear even to their bearers.

    "Since when? (seriously)"

    Marx's project in <i>Capital</i> wasn't to explore the details of exploitation as a sociologist [Braverman did that], but to ask why it expressed itself in the form of capital. Zizek's project isn't to find out what people believe or what the material circumstances of their beliefs are. There are many people who have done, and are doing that. His focus is on <b>why</b> people believe, what the mechanisms of ideology are, what explains its forms and resilience? Unless you are a strict determinist, claiming that material surroundings produce specific ideologies, you have to provide a role for the plasticity of the mental faculties. More than that, ideology isn't just what people think, it's what people do regardless of what they think - it's a lived relationship.

    In no way am I claiming Zizek is correct on all matters, nor that he has an overarching framework to supercede others. Rather, he opened up some fruitful venues of exploration. There's no reason to assume that his work couldn't complement that of thinkers in other fields.

    "Ideology I`de*ol”o*gy, n. [Ideo- + -logy: cf. F.
    id['e]ologie.]
    1. The science of ideas."

    Really? Is ideology just a discipline? Isn't it also the object of a discipline?

    According to Zizek, Marx has a better description: "They do not know it, but they do it anyway."

    For a more in-depth account, I would recommend you read Zizek <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Parallax-View-Short-Circuits/dp/0262512688/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1236142076&amp;sr=1-1" rel="nofollow">himself</a>, or a good exposition like Jodi Dean's <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Zizeks-Politics-Jodi-Dean/dp/0415951763/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1236141913&amp;sr=1-1" rel="nofollow">Zizek's Politics</a>. No investigation...you know the rest.

  • Guest (zerohour)

    Emil -

    "i do not say that all philosophy has to be intelligible. i rather like nietzsche and kierkegaard. but, for mass politics, this kind of language will confuse people. "

    The world is convoluted, multi-layered and evolving. Every day language can describe these things to a degree. There comes a point where common words and concepts prove inadequate. Chomsky is a good case to look at. Despite your claim, he has NOT made any advances in philosophy. He is a Cartesian, he has made this clear in a number of instances. He has however, made practical and theoretical advances in his field of linguistics. This requires a specialized language not readily accessible to those not trained in it. Have you ever picked up <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Syntactic-Structures-2nd-Noam-Chomsky/dp/3110172798/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1236143573&amp;sr=1-1" rel="nofollow">Syntactic Structures</a>? Do you think the average person can understand it? If not, does that mean it has no value?

    I also think it's ironic you rely on Chomsky's judgment on the value of such thinking, considering that his politics leads to little more than militant liberalism.

    Philosophers are trying to describe the world by uncovering general patterns and structures. Given new understandings of the world informed by various sciences and cultural expressions, contemporary philosophers find themselves in a position of describing new realities with language more appropriate for older ones. One solution is to create terms, like Derrida's <i>differance</i>, and another is to import terms from other disciplines, like <i>overdetermination</i> from psychology. There are times when the language is unnecessarily obscure, but then there are times when it's justified.

    Do philosophers have to make their ideas accessible? In short, no. They have to think and express their ideas with coherence, and as close a correspondence with the real world as possible. Some levels of experience don't lend themselves to popular exposition. Badiou and Zizek in particular have published popular expositions of their ideas - as popular as they can be anyway: <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Ethics-Essay-Understanding-Evil-war/dp/1859844359/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1236144863&amp;sr=1-1" rel="nofollow">Ethics</a> and <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Sublime-Object-Ideology-Second-Essential/dp/1844673006/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1236144898&amp;sr=1-1" rel="nofollow">The Sublime Object of Ideology</a>.

    What is our relationship to philosophy? Are we intellectual gatekeepers "protecting" the masses from wasteful ideas? A few of us have enough of a background to be able to work our way around philosophical jargon. This allows us to accept some philosophies and reject others, but when we claim to do it with the interests of the masses in mind aren't we justifying an incipient elitism? Aren't we just producing a rationale NOT to provide people with the tools and means to make these decisions for themselves? Many philosophers provide important insights into human relationships, insights that can challenge our ideas about the world we live in and the world we think we can live in. Philosophers can certainly stand to be more connected to reality on the ground, but the general population also needs to develop its ability to think at higher levels of abstraction. The institutions and practices that shape our lives are guided by philosophies that naturalize individualism, paternalism, hierarchy and these ideas don't always take one straightforward form. Don't we want people to contend in this arena, to decide on the philosophies that will guide their lives? If not, aren't we then settling for the status of "human animals"?

  • Guest (emil)

    but what does badiou and zizek lead to? nothing more than radical phrases about mao and lenin that have no relevance to actual politics in the west? but what exactly are the advances and usefulness of zizek and badiou for politics? what have they added? i can see how this may help some people write papers and phds and indulge in academic work that has no link with the masses ie make an academic career. but i do not mind much, if you get something out of it, great. as i said before, i think badiou and zizek are ok, but a little manufactured and promoted, and it is not bad, but not so ground breaking either.
    zerohour-'Don’t we want people to contend in this arena, to decide on the philosophies that will guide their lives? If not, aren’t we then settling for the status of “human animals”?'
    who is the 'we'?

  • Guest (grumpy cat)

    Hi all
    I feel that the objections to this conference arise form a false dichotomy that sees these academics as being outside of 'politics' and only active on the terrain of 'theory'. This is particularly insulting for someone like Negri who went to jail for a long period due to his militant activities. It also ignores Badiou's long political commitments. His recent book <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Meaning-Sarkozy-Alain-Badiou/dp/184467309X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_8?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1236170436&amp;sr=8-8" rel="nofollow">'The Meaning of Sarkozy'</a>, whilst flawed, is a clear and important piece of political writing
    rebel love
    Dave

  • Guest (Eddy Laing)

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    Ideologies aren’t simply statements of deliberate intent that get carried out in the real world. They involve complex motivations and impulses often not clear even to their bearers.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    Yes, I agree with your description of ideology. Which is why I brought up ethnography as the documentation of ideologies (which is where Bourdieu and Levi-Strauss, in their distinct ways, fit into this discussion -- as they have documented ideologies-in-practice, 'in the field'.)

    My observation was/is that affective thought is still thought. Emotional responses are not 'automatic,' they are learned behavior. (The argument that emotions are 'just' endocrineal events is at best reductionist.) And these are areas of life that some in psychology, ethnography, sociology, etc. have been investigating for several decades. That was my point.

    I've read some Zizek; I am not expert in Zizek. I am not arguing that he should not be read or is worthless (or even worth little). Simply that an investigation into cognition has to go well beyond philosophy. (or the study -- ology -- of 'ideas' apart from social practice.)

  • a simple comment on common language:

    Among communists, ideology has meant simply a set of ideas. (So there is communist ideology, proletarian ideology, bourgeois ideology, feudal ideology, etc.)

    However more broadly in society, ideology has a different meaning: it means false constructs (existing in opposition to scientific and true constructs of ideas).

    In that usage, ideology refers to elaborate systems of ideas that falsify reality and obscure our understandings (i.e. religious ideology, capitalist ideology and so on.) And in that usage, the ideas (and problematics) that we are trying to construct seek to oppose ideology by getting at real truths, and uncovering the actual dynamics and interrelationships that govern reality.

    I tend to think that we should not have an elaborate language that uses words differently from everyone else (except in unusual cases where it proves necessary). And for that reasons, I think we should use the word "ideology" in the second way (in the way it is now widely understood in the public discourse). It is part of breaking out of a ghettoized self-referencing bubble.

    Another example: Feminism (in general usage) refers to ideas focused on carrying out the liberation of women. But among Maoist communists, the word feminism has often been applied ONLY to a narrow spectrum of ideas (associated with "bourgeois feminists" who are opposed to Marxism). So in some previous communist usage, the communist answer to the question "Are you a feminist?" would be "No." Here too, I think we should just adopt the now common usage, and not insist on our own definitions.

    Thoughts?

  • Guest (Eddy Laing)

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    However more broadly in society, ideology has a different meaning: it means false constructs (existing in opposition to scientific and true constructs of ideas).
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    The only people I've ever encountered who equated 'ideology' and 'false consciousness' were some marxists who've raised 'false ideology' in opposition to ideology as world-view.

    (I don't think Mike is one of those.)

    I have also encountered the term used pejoratively, to discount a viewpoint as something akin to 'just' a belief or irrational response. For example, so-and-so is an ideologue.

    In anthropology (and at least some other social sciences), we consider ideology to be 'ways of understanding' or 'world views', and find distinct world views aligned with distinct socio-cultural 'life-ways'. Ideology, as ZH suggested earlier in this thread, frequently operates in the background and is taken to be 'common sense' or 'natural' or normative. This is so because the way we think is closely bound up with our social practices.

    And that's how "the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it." (Marx &amp; Engels, <I>The German Ideology</I>;)

    Which also underscores the importance of broad and deep cultural literacy projects.

    How do we obtain the most radical rupture with traditional ways of thinking if we don't do that directly, explicitly?

  • I'm not a fan of the theories of "false consciousness" -- since I often see <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/02/28/understanding-the-material-basis-of-incorrect-ideas/" rel="nofollow">a material basis for wrong ideas</a>. (In other words, the material existence and experiences of people in this class society often forms a basis for many wrong ideas, not simply the external hegemony of the ruling class.)

    From what I can tell, Louis Althusser (and the trends of European philosophy he emerged from) ideology has a meaning opposed to scientific understanding. Is it just confined there?

  • Guest (zerohour)

    Here's a recent discussion with Zizek in the <a href="/http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/06b42e32-09dd-11de-add8-0000779fd2ac.html" rel="nofollow">Financial Times</a> [!]

    <b>Lunch with the FT: Slavoj Žižek</b>
    By John Thornhill

    On my way to Ljubljana to meet Slavoj Žižek, I read two differing interpretations of the man and his work. One describes this cult Slovenian Marxist philosopher (I appreciate the unlikelihood of that description as I write it) as a thrillingly bold intellectual who revolutionises the way we understand the world. The other suggests he is a deadly jester whose sly humour and “disorienting dazzle” conceal his intent to excuse totalitarianism and to rehabilitate many of the most evil ideas of the 20th century.

    Whichever way you view him, Žižek certainly has a talent for stirring intellectual controversy. The author of a string of provocative books on politics, psychoanalysis, ideology and cinema, he delivers startling lectures around the world juxtaposing Marxist theory, Freudian psychoanalysis and pop culture. The hero of one film, Žižek!, recording some of his zanier lectures, he is the narrator of another, The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema, a helter-skelter critical interpretation of 43 popular films.

    Now installed as the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at London University, Žižek was voted one of the world’s top 25 intellectuals by the readers of Foreign Policy magazine’s website last year. He is also celebrated in the International Journal of Žižek Studies, an online magazine launched in 2007 by a group of admirers to debate his ideas and seek respite from “the cultural tinnitus of pervasive soundbites”.

    Žižek is a bundle of rumpled charm as he arrives at the Pri Vitezu restaurant in the heart of Slovenia’s picturesque capital, where he was born. Dressed in jeans and a blue, checked shirt, with unkempt hair and a straggly beard, the 59-year-old philosopher is a perpetual thought machine in manic motion. With his Slavic accent, profane language and occasionally tortured syntax, words pour out of him in a torrent of stream-of-consciousness commentary. Even before we pick up the menu, he has discussed his incipient diabetes and heart palpitations, his recent travels to Argentina (the homeland of his second wife, Analia Hounie, a model and Lacan scholar), the demands of raising his nine-year-old son, the unacceptable lack of “good bourgeois fun”, edible food or attractive toys at Disneyland in Paris, his student days in Paris, and his favourite haunts in Berlin. “My life is totally confusing,” he says.

    We try to simplify our lives by ordering some food. But Žižek is puzzled by the mix of standard international cuisine and local Slovenian specialities on the menu at this one-time meeting point for Yugoslavia’s communist intellectuals now transformed into a bourgeois wine bar with vaulted brick ceilings and antique portraits of be-medalled army officers. “To put it in my Stalinist terms, it does not have a clear ideological profile, this restaurant,” he jokes. He recommends the soup made from tasty local mushrooms and picks the medallions of veal. I pass on the horse and opt for lamb with thyme instead. We stick to sparkling water.

    I ask him about the financial crisis, hoping for some political pyrotechnics about the death throes of capitalism. Does the crisis herald revolution? “No, no, no. I am an extremely modest Marxist,” he replies, rather disappointingly. “I am not a catastrophic person. I am not saying that revolution is round the corner. I am fully aware that any old-style communist solution is out.”

    However, he insists, the financial crisis has killed off the liberal utopianism that flourished after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and all the grand talk about the “end of history”. The terrorist attacks of September 2001 and the financial meltdown have exploded the myth that the market economy and liberal democracy have all the answers to all the questions. In the short term, at least, governments will introduce more state regulation and global co-ordination strengthening the capitalist system. In this sense, he suggests that the liberal Barack Obama may one day be counted as among the best conservative presidents in US history.

    But even if capitalism is temporarily repaired, Žižek says, this will do nothing to resolve its inherent contradictions. The alarming breakdown of society will lead to new forms of apartheid and emergency states. He highlights the growing militarisation of Italy, where the government has sent the army into Naples to deal with the mafia. He claims that São Paulo in Brazil is mutating into a real-life version of the film Blade Runner (1982). The city now has 70 heliports with the rich travelling on another level to the poor.

    Capitalism is, he believes, incapable of resolving the biggest challenges of the day: environmental catastrophe and the abuse of information technology, intellectual property rights and biogenetics. Societies must invent new forms of property ownership and common goods or perish. “My main criticism of liberal capitalism is not that it is bad but that it cannot last indefinitely. Communism has to be reinvented,” he says.

    As we munch on our copious green salads and tuck into our delicious meat courses, Žižek says that what particularly fascinates him is the ideological battle over how to interpret the financial crisis. The ruling ideology is trying to shift the blame from the global capitalist system as such on to its accidental deviations – such as overly lax regulation or the corruption of big financial institutions. In some respects this has allowed capitalists to assert their values even more aggressively: while bailing out Wall Street they are shredding collective bargaining agreements at General Motors and relegating the problems of global warming, Aids and hunger.

    “The problem is today that when you have chaos and disorder people lose their cognitive mapping. So it is an open struggle as to whose interpretation will win,” he says. “Never forget that this is how Hitler won.”

    According to Žižek, the reason Hitler came to power in the 1930s was because he offered the most attractive interpretation of disastrous events. He simply flattered the Germans by claiming that their army had been betrayed in the first world war and by laying all the blame at the feet of the Jews.

    We order fruit salad.

    Žižek is obsessed with the way that societies interpret events and the belief systems that underpin politics. One of the most powerful ideological “factories”, he argues, is Hollywood, which is influential in forging our understanding of the world. Žižek admits he enjoys many Hollywood films and says that the best, such as Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993), deserve to be called art and are superior to many “fake” European films. But, he suggests, Hollywood also serves an ideological purpose, shaping the way we lead our lives. “I don’t mean big ideological schemes. All that’s dead, I know. What interests me is ideology as part of everyday life,” he says. “My interest is: what’s the message? I like to find a different texture which gives another story.”

    Take Titanic (1997). Most viewers see it as a straightforward love story. Not Žižek. Many critics noted the anti-establishment tone of the film: how the rich passengers are cruel while those on the lower decks are far more sympathetic. But, according to Žižek, the film reinforces the social order rather than subverts it. The true narrative concerns a spoiled, rich girl who has lost her identity. She takes a lower-class lover to restore her vitality, to put her ego image together, he says. The lover literally draws her picture. “And then, after his job is done, he can f*** off and disappear. He is – what I would call in theory – a pure vanishing mediator. It is not a love story. It is vampiric, egotistic exploitation.”

    After discussing the ideological “messages” of Batman (1989), Kung Fu Panda (2008) and The Lives of Others (2006), which all – in their very different ways – explore how we can happily live with deceit, we arrive at the similarities between the Hollywood disaster movie Armageddon (1998) and The Fall of Berlin, the great Stalinist movie of 1949. This sets Žižek off about the mutual fascination of Hollywood and high Stalinism: how the producers of King Kong (1933) stole the idea of a giant gorilla on top of a skyscraper from the futurist architects who wanted to place a giant statue of Lenin on top of the Palace of Soviets; how Stalin’s favourite film stars were Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

    What particularly intrigues Žižek is how films that seemingly resist the prevailing ideology, such as Titanic, often serve to strengthen it. It was a similar story, he suggests, in communist times when people who told seemingly subversive jokes only succeeded in spreading cynicism and indifference, which was exactly what the party nomenklatura needed to sustain their rule. A member of the ruling Communist party in the dying days of Yugoslavia, Žižek well remembers how the country’s leaders sustained the regime by exploiting the population’s passivity.

    “If you asked me at gunpoint what I really like, I would say to read German idealism, Hegel. What I like most, what I love the best, is this objectivity of belief,” he says. Although people may claim not to believe in the political system, their inert cynicism only validates that system. This is all explained, according to Žižek, by Marx’s theory of “commodity fetishism”, the idea that the way we behave in society is determined by objective market forces rather than subjective beliefs. “The importance is in what you do, not in what you think. I love this dialectical reversal.”

    Žižek then segues into a riff about obscene military marching songs, which he came to relish during his time in the Yugoslavian army. He sings one from the film Full Metal Jacket (1987), temporarily silencing all other conversation in the restaurant. “I don’t know but I’ve been told/ Eskimo pussy is mighty cold.” He continues regardless: “What I learned from my own military service was that all these obscene jokes, these apparent forms of rebellion, are exactly what the power needs to reproduce itself. There is nothing subversive about it.”

    But what of Žižek’s own use of humour? In a damning article last year in The New Republic, Adam Kirsch, one of its senior editors, accused Žižek of moral corruption, asking whether his audience was too busy laughing at his jokes to hear what he really had to say. Under the cover of comedy, Kirsch argued, Žižek was trying to “undo the achievement of all the postwar thinkers who taught us to regard totalitarianism, revolutionary terror, utopian violence and anti-Semitism as inadmissible in serious political discourse”. What, after all, are we to make of Žižek’s apparently absurd argument in his recent book In Defence of Lost Causes (Verso Books) that Stalin, author of some of the most monstrous crimes of the 20th century, “saved the humanity of man”?

    Clearly bruised by Kirsch’s assault, Žižek denounces his US critic as “stupid”. He then sets about trying to clarify his apparently ambiguous attitude towards Stalinism. First, he readily acknowledges all the human suffering that occurred in Stalin’s time and trots out a series of “nice, horrible” stories illustrating the exceptional cruelty of the times. But, he insists, we should make more efforts to understand Stalinism. “One can argue that there was more violence than under Hitler,” he says. “But Hitler was a bad guy who announced he would do bad things and did them. The true tragedy of Stalinism is that it started as a popular explosion of emancipatory equality. We don’t have a good theory as to why this turned into an even worse nightmare.”

    What we often fail to understand, he argues, is how Stalinism was a counter-revolution, reacting against the extreme “post-human” utopian ambitions that were championed by Bolshevik leaders in the 1920s. Communist extremists predicted the day when workers would live in a perfect society with no need for emotions, or even names, and all sexuality and family life would be suppressed. But Stalin was far more conservative, reacting against experimental art and insisting on the sanctity of family life. “Stalinism reacted against these negative dystopias that were even more terrifying. Stalinism was, in that sense, a return to normal life. People forget that.”

    But should the likes of Žižek be spending so much time trying to understand the world, when the point is – as Marx insisted – to change it? Žižek the modest Marxist says our times are so extraordinary that we need to understand fully what is happening before we can sensibly act. “We need to withdraw and reflect and think,” he says.

    The role of philosophers, as he sees it, is to help clarify the questions that societies should ask and force us to think, rather than conjuring up ready-made solutions to all our problems. “I feel like a magician who is only producing hats and never rabbits,” he says.

  • Notes on the RCP's planned intervention at this Communism conference:

    Presentation by Raymond Lotta based on Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party , USA . Discussion will follow.

    Saturday evening, March 14
    7:30 pm
    ULU

    A follow-up talk and further discussion on communism and revolution, the historical moment, and Bob Avakian's new synthesis and the framework for the future.
    Sunday, March 15
    3:00 pm
    ULU

    ULU – University of London Union , Malet Street , across from Waterstones at Torrington Place . Saturday 7:30 pm Sunday 3 pm, both in Bloomsbury Suite, 2nd Floor.

    Raymond Lotta is a Maoist political economist. He is the author of America in Decline and editor of Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism. Lotta has been speaking widely about Bob Avakian's reenvisioned communism.

  • Guest (David Broder)

  • A few reports and notes from the Idea of Communism conference (very interesting stuff)

    <a>The Pinocchio Theory blog"</a>

    <a href="/http://totalassaultonculture.wordpress.com/2009/03/16/on-the-idea-of-communism/" rel="nofollow">Total Assault on Culture blog</a>

    <a href="/http://kafila.org/2009/03/14/re-booting-communism-or-slavoj-zizek-and-the-end-of-philosophy-i/" rel="nofollow">Kafila blog</a>

    <a href="/http://www.frieze.com/comment/article/a_return_to_communism/" rel="nofollow">Frieze Magazine</a>
    This also contains embedded videos – 3 of the 4 that there appear to be on YouTube

    <a href="/http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/16/communism-philosophy-communist-party" rel="nofollow">Guardian newspaper</a>

  • Let me try that first one again -

    <a href="/http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=732" rel="nofollow">The Pinocchio Theory blog</a>

  • Guest (Adrienne)

    I really appreciate your posting those links, John Steele. Would you happen to know if there is to be an official transcript, or at least a summary of what all the speakers covered at this conference?

  • Guest (shinethepath)

    In order to address a certain confusion of the meaning of Ideology I've got to address some problematic discourse that is even reappearing on this thread, I hope I can shed some light. Mike is correct that for communists there has been a confusion for some time over the conception of ideology and its actual meaning, bu Mike actually confuses these things himself, but this confusion is often made. Ideology as opposed to Science is not actually a development of Althusser but a notion of Marx that was examined in the Critique of German Ideology. This is confusion is understandable since Althusser himself doesn't break at all with the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy of language, but it should be understood that this is <b>NOT</B> the location of what should be of most interest in his thought, if this were the case it would just merely be an interesting reptition of Marx's older notion.

    So what is Marx's thought in the German Ideology about ideology, Marx uses the concept of ideology to explain "False Consciousness," consciousness which takes for itself to be true about social relations but is incorrect, Marx identifies the possibility of false consciousness layed down within the conditions of any epoch's ruling ideology - ideas, culture, language, etc - that reinforce these subjects to take their consciousness as true. Marx poses science in direct opposition to ideology in that it allows for the possibility of a class consciousness, i.e. a material assessment and understanding of those social relations and its corressponding notions.

    Now this conception of ideology represented in the German Ideology is a useful point of inception to begin questioning how consciousness works. But within this conception of ideology is the paradigm of ideology as opposed to science. Science then, if ideology is a ruling set of ideas, culture, language, etc, stands in for the big Other; a neutral point of objectivity that keeps us honest, to say the least. The problem of course that this point of neutral objectivity, the place of the big Other, is not actually possible without ending up in Kantian noumenons, things-in-themselves.

    It is claimed by Althusser that within Capital itself we're given a different understanding of Ideology through Marx's conception of commodity fetishism. Commodity fetishism transforms our own social relations into the logic of commodity relations, this takes place every day betwen ourselves regardless of political consciousness. Althusser serves as an architect whch recovers this conception of Ideology and develops it within his schematic essay "Ideology and ISAs.'" Commodity fetishism serves to explain- as a type of ideological operation - how generally Ideology functions as a matrix that maps us within its coordinates. Lets take the most famous example given with the essay of the process of hailing, ideological interpellation, when we're identified by the other by name or command and recognize within the other's hailing ourselves, this is Ideology at its simplist. Lacan's famous example of Mirror Stage, the child recognizing themselves in a reflection in the mirror is the function of recognizing ourselves in the other, an image not ourselves per se.

    Ideology is then a system of relations that enables the possibility of consciousness, not just false consciousness, but all consciousness. Science in this respect can't be contrasted from Ideology since it is a domain in which a truth procedure can go on, science itself can be indeed ideological and reinforce Ideology. Lets take for example the ideological significance of 'fittness' has meant in evolutionary biology or the extension of science for the explaination of social phenomena, brain states in relationship with mental states, etc. These have been ideological battle grounds for meaning of their truth. Without Ideology itself our expressions, whether through language or another medium, would ultimately be void and meaningless.

  • Guest (BobH)

    STP, forgive my lack of understanding, but it seems like the conclusion is that everything is ideological, including science. How is that different from what Feyeraband was arguing, which seemed to conclude that science had no special claim to truth (e.g. that astronomy was as culturally valid as astrology)?

    Or putting this another way, how can we become self-aware enough of the ideological component of science and theory to make it significantly more 'truthful' and useful than any other ideology? Or has the consensus emerged that it is impossible to do so? Is there a meaningful distinction between "scientific socialism" and "ideological socialism"?

  • Guest (Tell No Lies)

    Georg Lukacs's essay "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat"

    See: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/history/hcc05.htm

    is I think a useful addition to this discussion. Lukacs argues precisely that false consciousness has a material basis and that that basis is the process of commodity fetishism that arises from the commodification of our labor power. One of the weaknesses in my view of the post-modernist tendency to reduce everything to discourse (and the consequent unmooring of critical theory from a materialist outlook) is the effective exclusion from consideration of the most ubiquitous form of discourse under capitalism, namely the exchange of commodities. Lukacs offers us an account of the relationship between how we live under capitalism and our consciousness that resists the errors of the cruder accounts of ideology that have given the concept of "false consciousness" such a bad reputation. Perhaps more importantly he gives us an account of the shifting relationship between objective and subjective forces in the emergence of revolutionary situations that I think answers the often schizophrenic combination of economic determinism and extreme voluntarism that has so often characterized the thinking of teh communist movement.

  • Guest (shinthepath)

    BobH, the difference between this conception of Ideology and Feyeraband's turn against Popperian Falsification, and his subsequent move into anointing an almost of scientific pluralism, as well as Post-Modernists hat emphasize the equality amongst narratives is that Althusser makes no claim that Truth loses meaning within Ideology. The point of Ideolog is despite whatever particular consciousness we take upon ourselves it is already assumed within ideological coordinates that make it palpable to understanding.

    I believe this concept, rather than being dehabilitating - this is what people influenced by Althusser face and have anxiety with, and often regress to Gramsci and the concept of Cultural Hegemony - allows for the most profound understanding of the disclosure of truth within Ideology. The epistemic break, as Althusser puts it, is a proper rupture within Ideology. By way of Lacan we can understand this as the appearance of the Real, a traumatic kernel that functions as a gap within the ideological matrix, that allows for the possibility of the Lacanian 'Act,' or 'Event' in Badiou's ontology. The subject of the Act is the subject toward truth, that truth procedures within the domain of science, politics, art, and love are already understood as partisan, i.e. that the discipline of scientific discovery is the fidelity to a particular necessary subjectivity that undertakes a truth procedure.

    But even through this Ideology doesn't dissolve, and it is possible to do so unless every thorough thing is refined through some sort of scientific dissolution of the most silly of things, e.g. the gesture of the handshake, saying 'bless you' after a person sneezes, etc. The point here is that Ideology is not necessarily in and of itself problematic, it is within the coordinates of Ideology the certain conscious relations and thinking that allow for the reproduction of the means of production in Capitalism itself.

    Lets put it in another way via Thomas S. Kuhn's work upon paradigm shifts, the paradigm of any particular science is the current sensibility of such a science in the face of contradictions, blind spots, gaps, etc. Only through the inauguration of a new theory, say Theory B, which can account for particular contradictions of another while encompassing possible truth within Theory A. This shift is never, from the history of science, a smooth transition and often produce contentions until a new theory can supersede these accounts.

    On the question of 'scientific' socialism or ideological socialism, what does it mean to be scientific or for Marxism to be a science? This is an interesting field in which two line struggle should occur. I don't believe Marxism is a science at all, or not a science in the way we think of science, there is a possibility for 'scientific' methodology within politics, but its reduction to science is incorrect. RCP's recent polemic against Alain Badiou is really a defense of MLM as a 'revolutionary science,' but communist theory encompasses such a wealth of though from the understanding of social formations, consciousness, political economy, and even practical organization that there is no wonder why there have been more division and transgressions within this movement than actual synthesis - a synthesis I think impossible if we think of communism as a 'science.' I think what is already its weakness in the RCP polemic against Badiou - they assert throughout that Marxism is a science and show it no where - can be found in Bob Avakian's terrible critique of Karl Popper. While I am no Popperian, that essay shows really how Bob Avakian has no sense what a science actually is besides methodological observation of objects.

  • Guest (Eddy Laing)

    Shinethepath wrote:

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    So what is Marx's thought in the German Ideology about ideology, Marx uses the concept of ideology to explain "False Consciousness," consciousness which takes for itself to be true about social relations but is incorrect, Marx identifies the possibility of false consciousness layed down within the conditions of any epoch's ruling ideology - ideas, culture, language, etc - that reinforce these subjects to take their consciousness as true. Marx poses science in direct opposition to ideology in that it allows for the possibility of a class consciousness, i.e. a material assessment and understanding of those social relations and its corresponding notions.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    Wait just a minute. Where in <I>Germany Ideology</I> do you find Marx &amp; Engels reducing ideology to 'false consciousness'?

    What they do write is that the ruling class exercises domination in every sphere of activity, including 'in general' over intellectual activity, so that the "ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas ... the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control over the mental means of production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it."

    It is a truism that ideologies are accepted as normative, and in that way we (all people) frequently do not look beyond the 'commonsense' quality of certain ideas. Marx and Engels did not counterpoise 'science' and 'ideology' (since science is social practice of 'mental means of production'). They counterpoised a 'scientific' (dialectical, materialist) consideration of reality against a subjective and idealist conception.

    'False consciousness', as far as I have ever found it, exists in only one brief letter by Engels to Franz Mehring, and refers to subjectivism <I>per se</I>.

  • Guest (shinthepath)

    Eddy, I was responding to Mike's point:
    "I’m not a fan of the theories of “false consciousness” — since I often see a material basis for wrong ideas. (In other words, the material existence and experiences of people in this class society often forms a basis for many wrong ideas, not simply the external hegemony of the ruling class.)

    From what I can tell, Louis Althusser (and the trends of European philosophy he emerged from) ideology has a meaning opposed to scientific understanding. Is it just confined there?



    The concept of False Consciousness has always relied upon this dichotomy and paradigm of ideology as opposed to science itself, in so much that science (or scientific work) represents the materialist understanding of whatever it is that it observes. This is exactly Marx’s point in the German Ideology, a critique of young Hegelians, that ideology is by analogy like objects reflected on a retina, their being is inverted into our speculation. Ideology functions as “ruling set of ideas” that invert or obscure the material processes of life. This is exactly congruent with various popular conceptions of False Consciousness, especially what Mike has attributed to Althusser. This is not at all, if and where it does exist in the schematic essay ‘Ideology and ISAs’, anything that is interesting (and even here I think Althusser is elaborating more the idea of ‘epistemic breaks’ in the language of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy). What is interesting is the concept of Ideology as a a matrix which interpellates the subject into its subjectivity, and how ideological state apparatuses, the organizational or unorganized forms of social life of humanity reinforce this Ideology and enables the possibility of reproduction of the means of production.

  • Guest (ShineThePath)

    Just to be clear, the first two paragraphs are from Mike and the last paragraph is my thought on that.

  • Guest (Eddy Laing)

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    This is exactly Marx's point in the German Ideology, a critique of young Hegelians, that ideology is by analogy like objects reflected on a retina, their being is inverted into our speculation. Ideology functions as "ruling set of ideas" that invert or obscure the material processes of life.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    But that is not an accurate reading of <I>The German Ideology</I>.

    As part of their analysis, Marx and Engels certainly did critique the subjective idealism of Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. Among many topics, M&amp;E critiqued the concepts of absolute or metaphysical Ideas and it was in opposition to that view that they summarized the relationship between ways of interpreting the world and modes of existence.

    Ideology as a general category is explicitly described in <I>TGI</I> as an 'intellectual force' that is created through social practice, and by exercising hegemony over social practices the ruling class is also able to exercise ideological hegemony. Science is a category of social practice which produces (among several things) new ways of understanding the world, i.e. ideology. To stand them in opposition is not Marxian at all.

    I think the relevant point here is that our awareness is created through our interactions with the rest of the world, but it can never be fully aligned to it: first, because material reality is expansive and continually changing and second, because our thinking is a symbolic interpretation, an abstraction formed from that reality.

    The 20th C. hypothesis of 'false consciousness' (which seems to confuse 'ideology' with 'idealism') is actually a (mechanical) step backward from Marx and Engels.

  • Guest (ShineThePath)

    Eddy, you're making one the claim that I am making equivalent the notion of ideology and 'false consciousness,' this is not the case, what I've stated is that for Marx ideology reinforces certain consciousness which take themselves to be correct that are wrong, i.e. 'false consciousness.'

    From the German Ideology:

    "Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process.<b>If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.</b>"

    This is where the extension of the concept of 'false consciousness' proceeds, it is not a mere 20th concotion. Marx has to explain why if consciousness proceeds from material eixstence as social-beings why we can get it so wrong, why isn't a materialist understanding appear of these social relations within experience? The analogy to the camera obscura here is clear, ideology is consciousness obscured and iverted from the material world.

    "The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking
    [..]
    <i>Where speculation ends – in real life – there real, positive science begins</I>: the representation of the practical activity, of the practical process of development of men. Empty talk about consciousness ceases, and real knowledge has to take its place...On the contrary, our difficulties begin only when we set about the observation and the arrangement – <b>the real depiction</b> – of our historical material, whether of a past epoch or of the present. "

    So what is Marx doing here, in contrast to ideology Marx poses a materialist conception of history, i.e. historical materialism, as science opposed to ideology itself. For Marx the development of ideology has <b>NO HISTORY</b>, no development, they're trends of consciousness appearing to deal with observation. This is contrasted to "real knowledge" and a "real dicpition" of the actuality of existence.

    Eddy says:
    "Ideology as a general category is explicitly described in TGI as an ‘intellectual force’ that is created through social practice, and by exercising hegemony over social practices the ruling class is also able to exercise ideological hegemony. Science is a category of social practice which produces (among several things) new ways of understanding the world, i.e. ideology. To stand them in opposition is not Marxian at all."

    If ideology is not contrasted from science, which I think the above quotes show that Marx does indeed do this, then Marx is turned into a mere empiricist that sees all 'intellectual force,' consciousness, as an upside-down replica of the world. This is a clear duality created between mind and matter and clearly relegates <b>ALL</b> observation as a shadow of its pure form in the actual thing-in-itself. But I believe Marx here, for better or worse, doesn't go into any form of empiricism as he makes the claim that a materialist conception of history is a 'real dipiction' of social-life in contrast to Ideology.

  • Guest (ShineThePath)

    Another item from The Gemran Ideology:

    1. Ideology in General, and Especially German Philosophy

    A. We know only a single science, the science of history. One can look at history from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of men. The two sides are, however, inseparable; the history of nature and the history of men are dependent on each other so long as men exist. The history of nature, called natural science, does not concern us here; <b>but we will have to examine the history of men, since almost the whole ideology amounts either to a <i>distorted conception of this history</i> or to a complete abstraction from it. Ideology is itself only one of the aspects of this history.</b>

  • Guest (boris max)

    I think a major point of Althusser's essay, relevant here, is the distinction between ideology in general and ideology in particular.

    Ideology in general, Althusser writes, "represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence." Thus, ideology in general is present throughout history and has the same function throughout history -- it "has no history." Ideology in this sense can't be opposed to science because there's nothing outside of ideology. Therefore, Marx's epistemological break is a "rupture within ideology" (comment 51).

    This conception of ideology (ideology in general) goes against the popular use of the term to mean false constructs, systems of ideas that falsify reality and obscure our understandings (comment 39). To say that ideology in general encompasses science -- according to this conception of ideology -- is not to say that science has no special claim to truth, it is only to say that science is part of the representation of "the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence."

    On the other hand, distinct and particular ideologies exist throughout history (ideology in particular). These ideologies come into existence and fade out of existence as a result ultimately of the class struggle -- they do have histories, the histories of social formations (ultimately). In this second sense of the term ideology, it is useful to speak of proletarian ideology and bourgeois ideology. There is also a question of what exactly is the relationship between proletarian ideology and science, whether they are equivalent.

    Althusser distinguishes his view of ideology from that of Marx in the German Ideology. In fact, Althusser says that the understanding of ideology put forth in the German Ideology is "non-Marxist." Marx opposes science and ideology to each other in this work, as shown in the passages quoted above. The concept of false consciousness arises from this opposition. To critique false consciousness is implicitly to critique the opposition of science and ideology.

    To critique false consciousness is also to show that the popular use of the term ideology (false constucts) is lacking compared to how it's used by communists (ideology in particular: proletarian ideology, bourgeois ideology; ideology in general: interpellation of individuals as subjects).

  • Guest (Eddy Laing)

    STP wrote:

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    If ideology is not contrasted from science, which I think the above quotes show that Marx does indeed do this, then Marx is turned into a mere empiricist that sees all 'intellectual force,' consciousness, as an upside-down replica of the world.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    No, Marx and Engels (who co-wrote <I>TGI</I>;) are speaking to a subjective and idealist understanding of the world. The critique of subjectivism comes through in every excerpt you've cited. And the point of that critique?

    "If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, <I>this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process</I> as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process." (as you quoted <I>TGI</I> above, with different emphasis added)

    In other words, the subjectivist interpretation is also historical, materially grounded.

    It is subjectivist interpretations of reality which are 'false' or inaccurate overall (although for such views to be accepted by anyone indicates that there is some specific congruence with 'reality').

    Again, the confusion being inserted by the later 'false consciousness' thesis is that of ideology <I>per se</I> with subjective idealism.

    "Where speculation ends – in real life – there real, positive science begins: the representation of the practical activity, of the practical process of development of men. Empty talk about consciousness ceases, and real knowledge has to take its place." (as you quoted <I>TGI</I> above)

    Real knowledge is ideology, too. This is at the heart of the Marxist project: social being determines social consciousness, which is why M&amp;E held that the revolutionary people can actively transform society through the course of making the most radical rupture with traditional ideas and ways of thinking. This struggle does not put an end to ideology, it transforms ideologies.

    It is apparent that we agree that such transformation is important, otherwise why engage in this thread, or read this website? But perhaps the difference is regarding the place of the dialogic process in human practices, and whether the result of this discussion is 'ideology' or something else.

    Not only have the 20th C. theses about 'false consciousness' been a step backward, but counterpart theses that hard-link 'class' with 'ideology' have as well. Rather that framing the relationship between thinking and being as a matrix of fluid and dialogical processes, those theses form a mechanical interpretation which are additional strains of subjectivism, and in that sense similar to the idealist conceptions critiqued in <I>TGI</I>.