J. Rancière: From the actuality of communism to its inactuality

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J. Rancière: From the actuality of communism to its inactuality
I shall start from the ambiguity of the theme of our forum . What does this mean : the actuality of communism ?

Actuality means two things. Firstly it means topicality . Something is actual insofar as it pout on our agenda - either as a problem or as a solution - by the situation that we are facing at the time . Secundly , it means reality . Something is actual : this means that it is not only "on the agenda" , not only possible or potential ,but that it already has a reality, an effectivity now and here. The syntagm "actuality of communism" means that communism is not only desirable , as a response to the violence , injustice or irrationality of capitalism , but that - in a certain sense- it already exists , that it is not only a task but a process .

The question thereby takes the form : how is the matching of those two actualities thinkable? But the point is that communism istself - I mean our idea of communism - already presupposed that matching . Our interrogations about its actuality rest in fact on two marxian axioms . Firstly communism is not an ideal . It is an actual form of life . While democracy means freedom and equality only represented in the separate form of law and state , communism is their sensory reality , embedded in the forms of an existing common world. Secundly, that form of life is not the gathering of well-minded individuals , attempting to experience collective life as a response to selfishness or injustice . It is the full implementation of a form of universality which is already at work . It is the completion of a collective rational power which already exists , if in the form of its contrary , the particularity of private interest. As Marx states it , the collective forces of Humanity already exist, objectified in the unilateral form of capitalist production. What is needed is only the form of their collective and subjective reappropriation .

The only problem is of course the only itself . But , as we know, the difficulty could be overturned , thanks to two more axioms . Firstly there is a dynamism intrinsic to the actualisation of those collective forces . The power of the "unseparate" which is at work in them tends to explode the form of capitalist "privateness" . Secundly , it does it even more so as that dynamism breaks through all the other forms of community , all the forms of "separate" communities , embodied by State , Religion or traditional social links . In such a way the problem of the only was overturned : the collective reappropriation , meant by communism, turned out to be the only form of possible community , still remaining after the collapse of all other communities. In particular the necessity of communism could be predicated on the impossibility of politics.

My assumption is that our approach to the actuality of communism still repeats the dialectic of actuality which is inherent in the very idea of our communism . In that respect, communism is neither more nor less actual that it was in 1847 or in 1917. If we want then to state a specific actuality of its actuality , it is not enough to argue that the effects of capitalism are more unbearable or more nonsensical that they ever were . We must demonstrate that communism is more actual , more effective inside capitalism itself that it was before. We must demonstrate that it is actual both as the materiality of a sensory common world and as the achievement of an immaterial form of rationality , as the unity of that materiality and that immateriality.

Set out in that way , the problem is soon given a tailor-made answer , which reads as follows: communism already exists within capitalist production , owing to the new forms of that production. The argument is summed up in this way : capitalist production to-day produces less and less material goods , more and more services or means of communication. As its production is less and less material, it escapes more and more the status of appropriated commodities and deceptive fetishes . Capitalist production tends to become the production of the global network which is the sensory materiality of immaterial collective intelligence . What capitalism mostly produces to-day , instead of goods available to private appropriation is the network of human communication where production, consumption and exchange are no more separate but match up in the same collective process. So the content of capitalist production breaks through the the capitalist form . It increasingly turns out to be the same as the communist power of cooperative immaterial labor.

In such a way , it would be possible to dovetail two statements of the Communist Manifesto : the bourgeois would actually be their own grave-diggers just as "all that is solid melts into the air" . The postmodern becoming-immaterial of everything would frame the actuality of a sensible world identical with the manifestation of collective intelligence . And it would do it even more so as all other forms of community would be made more and more impossible by that actuality of capitalist production . Communism would be more actual than ever because the power of the capitalist network makes the power of the nation sates and the power of political action spinning around them , more and more ineffective . Eventually its actuality , in the form of the unseparate life of the multitudes , would be the ultimate manifestation of the History of Being . Communism to-day, we are said, has to be ontological.

I am not so sure that it has to be so , but I am sure that it would first have to break away from a certain kind of ontology . It should break away from that way of thinking that I would call the onto-technological trick . The onto-technological trick consists of two major operations. Firstly it identifies the complex set of processes and contradictions which frame our historical world with the fulfilment of an ontological determination , with the fulfilment of a promise - or a threat - involved in the History of Being itself. Secundly it identifies the medium of that fulfilment with the operation of such or such kind of technology where the immateriality of the process of Being can match up with a material process of production .For more than a century , electricity, radiography , broadcasting , television, computers and cellular phones have been in turn the representatives of immaterial Intelligence in our solid and prosaic world .

But there is no immaterial intelligence , no law of the History of Being able to ty together the separate forms of implementation of collective intellectual power . The global network of computerised intelligence is one thing . The global intelligence of Capitalism is another thing. The socialisation of the intellectual capacity of anybody is still another thing. As long as we are not immaterial beings ourselves we consume food and clothes or use computers which implement the collective intelligence of capitalism in the form of underpaid factory work , underpaid working at home , clandestine workshops of "illegal" immigrants and so on much more than in the form of immaterial communication. Not only immaterial production is not the whole of capitalist production. But also there is no obviousness of the argument equating dematerialisation with de-commodification .

Let us take an example borrowed from the field of artistic practice and intellectual property . Thirty years ago , conceptual artists claimed to break away from commodified art by doing no more solid objects available to private owners but only specific forms of presentation or spatialisation of ideas : a hole in a wall, a break through a building , a line in the desert,etc. Intellectual and artistic property did not vanish for all that . What happened instead is a displacement of the idea of artistic property itself . Now artists are increasingly viewed - and paid - as owners and sellers of ideas as such. This means that intelligence as such takes the place of its products . But this means a radicalisation of private property . Instead of dismissing private appropriation , the immateriality of concepts and images turns out to be its best refuge , the place where its reality is akin to its self-legitimisation.

This shows us that the various forms of manifestation of collective intelligence don't dovetail . If there is a communist power of intelligence, it is not the cyberspace. It is the capacity of those who makes the pieces of the computers and of those who piece them together to have their say not only on computers but on all the issues of collective life . It is the collective embodiment of the capacity of anybody , the power of those who are not "entitled" to exert power by the privilege of any quality - birth, wealth, science or else- . It is the specific and paradoxical power of the "unqualified" people .

This power was stigmatised long ago by Plato under the name of democracy. In Das Unvernehmen I tried to give a positive meaning to that "lack of qualification". I tentatively identified the supposed "flaw" of democracy with the principle of politics itself - meaning by politics thereby something different from the institutions of the state or the struggle for power: the configuration of a specific "totality" which comes as a supplement to any collective body : the totality of the uncounted, which does not mean the "excluded" but just anybody .

In that sense politics is a specific implementation of intelligence. It is the collective implementation of the equality of intelligence or the implementation of an intelligence which is the capacity of anybody .This means that there are always various forms of realisation of "collective intelligence" , that there is no essence of the common which could be implemented in an unseparate life or an unseparate community . The political implementation of equal intelligence always comes after other forms of "collectivisation" of intelligence : military commandment , monarchy, priesthood , trade, etc. This means that it shows up in the form of a dissensus.

What I mean by dissensus is not a conflict of interests , opinions or values. It is the conflation of two forms of sensible implementation of collective intelligence . Politics , as the implementation of the capacity of anybody , frames a sensible world of its own , which comes in supplement to the sensible worlds framed by state powers , military, economic , religious or scholarly powers which all are privatised powers of collective intelligence , namely forms of exclusive appropriation of the resources of the collective intelligence . Politics frames its own sensible world against them and within them at the same time. It actualises the "communism of intelligence" in the construction of such or such dissensus , a construction which frames a network of discourses and practices , but frames it in a world structured by all the forms of incorporation of privatised collective intelligence . It does it as a supplement , at the risk of seing that supplement swallowed by the one of those worlds , mostly by the forms of state power and struggle for the conquest of state power. Political dissensus frames stages of implementation of a collective power of intelligence. But those stages never make for a solid world of institutionalised equality . Politics fails to fulfil the promise of a full implementation of freedom and equality.

Our communism is born as a response to that "failure". It is born as the promise of a sensory community of common intelligence , superseding the separation between the various worlds of common experience . It is born , as is well known, in the interval between two political revolutions : the French Revolution of 1789 and the european revolutions of 1848 . The Communist Manifesto was published one year before the Revolutions of 1848. But the theoretical framework from which its idea of communism springs dates back to fifty years before . It dates back to the time when some German poets and philosophers set up as their task and the task of their nation to give a response to the failure of the French Revolution . They assumed that the French Revolutionaries had failed in the task of shaping a new world of freedom and equality because they had searched for them where they could not be found , in the "dead forms" of laws and state institutions. They had been unable to trace the problem back to its roots , to set the issues of freedom and equality on their real ground , namely the configuration of the lived world. Now there was precisely a new form of freedom and equality which opened the way to such a radicalisation . It was the aesthetic sphere . The kantian "free-play" or "equality" of intelligence and sensibility , the reversal of the hierarchy of form over matter or activity over passivity meant that new kind of equality that could be opposed to the mere reversals of the forms of state power .

That " aesthetic freedom " could be interpreted and was interpreted in opposite ways . One interpretation put the aesthetic sphere as a radically separate sphere of experience that had to be kept as such. The other made of that freedom the principle of a new revolution . That revolution , achieved in the materiality of the lived world , was counterposed to any separate implementation of the common . It opposed to the supplementary and dissensual political community a true community .

A true community means a consensual community . A consensual community is not a community where everybody is in agreement with everybody . It is a comunity where sense is in agreement with sense . It is a community where the spiritual sense of the being-in-common is embedded in the material sensorium of eveyday experience . It is a community of inseparate life , where no boundaries severe politics from economics, from art or religion or from everyday life . According to the schema of the aesthetic revolution , the root of domination is separation. Subsequently the full implementation of freedom and equality is akin to the reunification of the various forms of collective intelligence into one and the same form of sensory experience . This means that the collective intelligence has to reconfigurate the totality of the material world in order to turn it into the product of its own immaterial power.

Such was initially the program of the schillerian "aesthetic education of man" . Such would be a few years later the " oldest systematic Program of German Idealism" opposing to the dead mechanism of the state the living body of a people animated by the embodiment of philosophy in a new mythology, meaning a new fabric of common life . Such would be fifty years later the "human revolution" , the revolution of the producers opposed by Marx to the lie of formal democracy . Such is , two centuries later , the living communism of the multitudes carried by the irresistible expansion of the global network.

The actuality of communism still is the actuality of that originary setting . It is the everlasting actuality of the paradigm of the "aesthetic" revolution . Unfortunately the program of implementation of the collective intelligence in the framing of a world of its own never led to a free and equal society . It led either to the world domination of the collective intelligence of capitalism or to the absolute power of a state hierarchy purporting to embody the collective intelligence of cooperative labor. The actuality of communism is still taken in the paradigm of the aesthetic revolution, piecing together the splintered members of human experience . I is still taken in the infinite acuality of its actuality which is the actuality of capitalist domination and of the failure of the soviet revolution .

This is why it could be better to turn the problem around , to start from the inactuality of communism , from the everlasting intempestivity of the implementation of the egalitarian power of collective intelligence with respect to any "objective "process , to any process of inequal implementation of collectivised intelligence .

Being intempestive means that you belong and do not belong to the same time , just as atopia means that you belong and do not belong to the same place . Being intempestive or atopian communists means that we think and act as enacting the unconditional equality of anybody with anybody in a world where communism has no actuality except the network framed by our communist thoughts and actions themselves. This means that there is no "objective" communism already at work in the forms of capitalist production , no communism anticipated by the logic of capitalism. Capitalism may produce more and more immateriality . That immateriality will never be more than the immateriality of capitalism . Capitalism only produces capitalism . If communism means something , it means something which is radically heterogeneous to the logic of capitalism, entirely heterogeneous to the materiality of that capitalist world. Nevertheless it has no place outside , no other place to frame its own network .

Being intempestive or atopian communists means being inside and outside at the same time . It means framing with our thoughts , acts and struggles a certain world of material and immaterial communism . This "separate" communism may seem very restrictive . But I think that we have to reassert the radicality of the communist power of separation rather than predicating forever communism on the development of capitalism - which means predicating the eternal acuality of communism on the eternity of capitalism. It is a restrictive communism , but we have to experiment the own powers of that restriction. Anyway it is the only existing communism. The global economy creates no communism at all .

The "actuality" of communism is the actuality of its critique . It is the actuality of the critique of the idea of actuality that rested on the presupposition of a communist power inherent in capitalism itself. The communist idea has not escaped and cannot escape the dilemma that Marx wanted to sweep aside . Either communism is a process . It is the framing of a sensory world of communist intelligence . But that sensory world is nothing more than the network framed by our affirmations and demonstrations of the capacity of anybody . Or it is a program , aimed at fusing into one and the same community the various worlds built by the various forms of collective intelligence . If this program exists, we can predict what will happen out of it . Some people predict that it will lead to a new form of totalitarianism . I take a different view of this . If this program exists and if it is a good program , I am afraid that capitalists will buy it and implement it in their way .
Non-published paper of a lecture, given on a Conference on the actuality of communism at the University of Frankfurt, 2003.

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