Blog Post

Born-Again Communism, or simply, Love Doctrine

Once again, we can see that almost the entire world is trembling with the expectation of change.  It looks like the world is refusing to suffocate itself with the single philosophy and single ideology that is already there for the last 20 years. 

Occupy Wall Street ProtesterEvents are taking a different turneven though most of the governments and biggest corporate groups are trying to prevent it from happening.  But it looks like people all over the world are feeling fed up with this singular, post-ideological and technocratic narrative of our time.  That is why they started to re-read Shakespeare or Cervantes.  That is why people started to look for the escape from the “Age of Nothingness” as Yana Djin very eloquently called the time of Internet-Shopping and all encompassing consumerism in 2000.  Now 12 years have gone since then and it looks different.

In this article I would like to argue with Zizek and his colleagues that the ideology is dead.  On the contrary I would like to say that the time of Imperial-White-Eurocentric-Patriarchal ideology is over—but there is a new wave coming which is non-white and non-male.  No doubt people are fed up with internet shopping and now they desire trans-national revolution.  As a matter of fact the events of Arab Spring are still unfolding and it is clear that this spring is not just Arab, it is also European, Russian, North American and God knows what else.

Neoliberalism is becoming more and more bankrupt around the world.  In fact, even in Russia, one of the most significantly neoliberal states, people came out and supported largely left parties.  Elections in March are probably going to be stolen, but Russian people started to talk about this oligarchic and corrupt system.  Events in Greece and other European countries are also extremely interesting.   Arab countries are preparing for elections and some like Syria are still in the turmoil.  It looks like it will be very interesting season starting this spring in America.  The Occupy Wall Street movement raised many hopes of bringing the left back—after virtually 30 years of almost complete absence in the Western World.  But again, everywhere—there is an ideological challenge—it is not a death of ideology—but a labor over a new ideology being born.  I want to examine who and what contributes to this labor of new idea being born.  Is it just a return of an old stereotyped ‘communism’ or is it something new coming that has never been here?  I tend to think the latter is more likely—but we have to wait and see until something shows up.  One good thing is that it is the first time since the 1960s when it is not considered bad to engage in civil disobedience and when going to prison is once again becoming one of the ways to demonstrate your political disagreement with the World Order.  This in itself is very encouraging and I think the new generation deserves credit for this.  Life is becoming worthy again and ideas are playing a role again—it is not just money, prestige and other materialist categories.  I must say that idealism—political idealism has a chance of coming back—and even more so.  Living for idea—and dying for idea—has been a best part of human experience and humanity is not going to be living a worthy life without us believing in our ideals.  So instead of bourgeois-careerist discourse of plain materialist mediocre life once again we can see the youth that is fired up and not shy to go to prison for something that they believe in.    An alternative discourse is coming—and it is articulated not by white-male civilization but by women and non whites in this case.  I guess this happens because they have seen more pain and understand suffering more genuinely.   Diagnosis and prognosis were pronounced so well by different people.  I can bring here just couple of examples. 

Yana Djin

Yana Djin’s poem “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” that has the similar name as the famous film of Bunuel has a different look at the problem and perhaps an even more contemporary one.    It is not just corruption of the bourgeois mind, but its lack of authenticity that is bothering many people—in order to make a career and become ‘successful’ people in our time are required to be so fake—to repress and suppress their real aspirations, dreams, desires, emotions.  Today’s careerist discourse is inadequately false—that has become a requirement of success.  That is one more reason that 99 percent came out to the streets.  It might be that prison cell is more genuine place than the room for ‘success’. 

 

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Oh, to be one of those placid souls
who cozy up with a cup of pale tea
to warm the palate and wash
their hands off the day like
resigned Pilate in an armchair
left by someone’s great great great grandmother
With a hard-back of Proust in the lap
and a saccharine stare directed at the window
where the afternoon is as slow as
one’s thoughts of deliverance
Snow as deliberate in its falling
as sentences on the page
which rustle in step
to someone’s footsteps
in an upstairs bedroom
Footsteps which speak neither
of resolution nor resignation
neither hurry towards him nor from him
which betray neither hate nor desire
Just to sit there in an armchair
in an arrested artificial silence
and brood over that nothing which is life
and which overall has turned out
To be able to numb the faraway sting of pain or regret
and imagine that one has reached salvation.

Naomi Klein

 

Then there is a great prognosis that is made by another woman, who dared to say that no man were able to say.  Naomi Klein was able to pronounce a very simple phrase, that rationalistic men of different centuries were afraid to articulate.   She has found the best alternative to bourgeois consciousness:  I love you.  Somehow, we have been afraid to say this—somehow Eurocentric civilization has been shy to admit that loving someone else could be better than just loving oneself.   We have relegated the sphere of love to just private life and have confused it with sex or else we want to read about it in sentimental and non-political books.  Last time, the New Left tried to bring love into politics it was commercialized as “free love” that became ‘very expensive’ through diversified portfolios of different showbiz corporations.  Now, Naomi Klein offers a very simple way out of this mess—just three words and what is more important: authenticity. 

Here are excerpts from her speech at OWS rally.  It is adequate and authentic—more than any Eurocentric grand narrative.

The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society—while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the earth can take.

What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. And I’m not talking about regulating the banks and increasing taxes on the rich, though that’s important.

I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it’s also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult.

That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and proving health care, meditation classes and empowerment training. My favorite sign here says, “I care about you.” In a culture that trains people to avoid each other’s gaze, to say, “Let them die,” that is a deeply radical statement.

 In the book that is called “The Idea of Communism” edited by Slavoj Zizek and Costas Douzinas different authors talk about the transformation of this term.  There are some very interesting ideas in this extremely interesting book, but I must say that it still leaves me with the taste of being too Eurocentric.  One article that stands out in contrast to this tradition is Susan Buck-Morss article about bringing social movement to some religious ideas.  She talks about the experience of political Islam and how these ideas came closer to the ordinary people, who were otherwise to become members of the communist party, but instead they became supporters of Islamist movements.   There is something that Islamist discourse offered that Dialectic Materialism failed to.  In the end Eurocentrists need to admit that the whole Hegelian-Marxist-Leninist undertaking of Dialectical Materialism was as inadequate as the bourgeois dream is.  The example of the former Soviet Union is very good one—people are flooding churches and mosques after 70 years of being prohibited to visit religious institutions.  Not that organized religion always provides an answer to their longing for eternal life, but when you see this flooding of churches, synagogues, monasteries, mosques in postmodern times one has to admit the failure of the Pure Rationality movement and particularly its Marxist-Leninist manifestation.  Perhaps it is worthy to consider finding a healthy alternative to Dialectical materialism?

One more very interesting part that is in this book is that many of its authors, including Antonio Negri, Alain Badiou, Jacques Ranciere, Alberto Toscano, Jean-Luc Nancy acknowledge that the system of centralized economy and ‘proletarian dictatorship’ practiced by Soviets and Eastern Bloc countries was not adequate enough to satisfy the need for freedom.  In fact, Toni Negri brilliantly writes that if you are a real communist, you are against a state.  This re-branding of communist ideas has been very refreshing.  In fact, I must say that many of us would agree with Negri’s statement—the “Nation-States” have failed—even leftist countries—the so called ‘Socialist Camp’.  Soviets were propagating internationalism but have instead built extremely nationalistic society that exploded with different ethnic conflicts after the collapse of the empire.   It is also right that contemporary state serves the interests of the elite—at least most of the time in most of the countries.  Most authors admit that decentralized communism is superior to centralized socialism practiced by the Soviets and others in their camp.   But isn’t this reminiscent of the old Anarchist argument against Marx and others?  Badiou talks about the Paris Commune that was led by Anarchists.  Here again Bakunin was criticizing Marx for very much the same that Toni Negri and other Born-Again-Communists are criticizing socialist states.  In the end Marx was right in criticizing the system and so was Bakunin.  But who was the one who suggested better the alternative? I guess, there is a certain role for entrepreneurship as Proudhon was saying in his writings.  Decentralized socialism is something that contemporary Anarchists are talking about—including Chomsky, Richard Falk and others.  It looks like the positions of Born-Again-Communists are getting closer to Anarchist thinking.  And perhaps this is not too bad.

Zizek is cynical and at times angry—he does not like the fact that the vision produced by the white men just like him failed so much and this is bringing us to the “End of Times”.  Yes, maybe it is the end of linear, dogmatic, white-imperialistic thinking in terms of ‘dialectical materialism’ or the ‘dictatorship of proletariat’.  It is the end of violent thinking.  We understand that if we continue thinking in the same violent ways as we did through last 20-something centuries we are going to explode—we have so many nuclear bombs.  It is natural that this hierarchical thinking is at its end—and then what?

I must apologize and say that the future is not with Zizek and his ‘dialectically materialist’ cynicism—but it is with polyphonic idealism of Naomi Klein.  Capitalism is going to be overcome not by violence but with more entrepreneurship and more creativity, and at the same time with more caring and loving each other.  In fact Negri and Hardt predicted this in their book that came out 12 years ago.  The Internet has contributed to spreading of non-violent message.  Nowadays violence is not necessary to bring social change—you can rely on non-violent civil disobedience—a practice perfected in the last century by another non-European, probably the greatest politician of the 20th century: Mohandas Gandhi. 

If you look at the successful social revolutions or transformations of last 100 years—we can see a very clear picture—non-violent movements take more time and effort, but ultimately they are much more effective than Bolshevik or Cultural Revolutions. The examples of Eastern Europe, South Africa, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and others clearly suggest that Gandhi’s approach is working much better than the good old Bolshevik methods, especially in times of so many simulacras and simulations.

So another question to these distinguished authors is: why should we keep the name Communism? Why shouldn’t we change it, since it is associated with so many bloody experiences of Leninist, Stalinist, and other politics. Perhaps, it would be better to call it simply ‘Doctrine of Love’ quoting Naomi Klein. People identify with love much easier than with the term that has so much difficult history. The ‘Love Doctrine’ will be even better alternative to white-Eurocentric imperialism than ‘Monroe Doctrine’ was almost 200 years ago.

There are many interesting ideas in this book about the Idea of Communism. I enjoyed reading it, but I can’t help finding Naomi Klein more adequate to today’s reality with her message of love. I also think that there is new way to be found. I think even white man can find it attractive to subscribe to the new “Doctrine of Love.” It is not interesting to go back to the mistakes we have already committed. It is always interesting to explore the new roads. In this I can definitely quote a white man, who was courageous enough to say this:

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Irakli Zurab Kakabadze's picture
Irakli Kakabadze has been a leading figure in the nonviolent movement for social change in Georgia for more than two decades.  A member of the Civic Disobedience Committee in 1989 and during the Rose Revolution in 2003, he has since been harassed and detained repeatedly by authorities.  He is the author of five books and hundreds of essays in English, Georgian, and Russian. His play Candidate Jokola controversially depicted a love story between a Georgian presidential candidate and an Abkhaz woman. He is also an author of lyrics for “Postindustrial Boys,” and, together with Zurab Rtveliashvili, practices a literary performance style called Polyphonic Discourse.  He taught art and peacebuilding at Cornell University from 2008-2012 and currently teach at the Georgian-American University in Tbilisi, Georgia..