There is no alternative to communism today. Today, at a time when real socialism is not only over but has also been forgotten, and there is no place on earth where communist desire has structured itself in lasting political institutions. A time when capitalism knows no boundaries, limits, reforms, and carries on winning. If and when Capital produces, in fact, it is always by arriving post festum, when the Common of cooperation has already taken shape. From Sharing Economy to Industry 4.0, productive innovation rests entirely on the “social brain”, preying on mutualistic practices and informal economy. Overall, Capital avoids production and favours financial return or return on real estate investments. This explains the frequency of enclosures, from land grabbing to urban gentrification, and to speculation on commodities.
“Prerequisites for communism” are everywhere, in the productive subject (more and more qualified by language, affects, mobility) and in technological discontinuity (internet, social turn of the web, artificial intelligence, etc.); and everywhere they are denied. Yes, there is an alternative to communism, it is a combination – the catastrophe of our epoch – called crisis and war. It would not be the first time – this indeed is a lesson we learnt during the “short century”. Yet there is something radically new: crisis and war are no longer extreme cases, rather, they are the rule. For instance: the endless nature of all ongoing wars. The only goals, never mentioned but nonetheless visible, coincide with a growing destabilization of large portions of the planet. The multipolar system, which followed the fall of American hegemony, is characterized by the multiplication of war zones. Wars in which no one wins and everyone loses. Furthermore, war is also terrorism, martyrdom, indiscriminate death in metropolises worldwide; wars are fought at the borders, against refugees, in between walls and barbed wire; wars are waged against the poor, against women, or are ethnic conflicts. The crisis too is endless. Those responsible for the 2008 financial crisis continue to control the world with heaps of money not tied to anything, social divides grow deeper, the middle class has become extinct; all that is left is the super rich, the poor and the impoverished. To the point that, it is evident, poverty has become – by means of exclusion but also through active policies – an indispensable dispositif to govern and exploit labour power.
To survive, Capital must continuously deny the prerequisites for communism that are at the heart of the production of value and social reproduction; it must do without development, democracy, peace, environmental sustainability, key words, though often misused, of the “glorious thirties” and of the reformism which followed.
In March 2009 a crowded seminar entitled On the Idea of Communism was held at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London. The most prestigious exponents of radical through from Europe and from around the world (Badiou, Nancy, Negri, Rancière, Žižek, to cite only a few of them) debated for hours, before a large and impassioned audience and discussed the meaning on this wretched little word, and the paradox, here being described, that characterizes our epoch. The convention was replicated in the following years in Berlin, New York and Seoul. The talks given during these seminars have been gathered in the three volumes titled The Idea of Communism – edited by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, the main organizers of the conferences – published by Verso Books and by many international publishers.
Drawing inspiration from the series The Idea of Communism, a group of independent or university-based Italian researchers, political activists, writers, editors, journalists, is organizing a convention on communism which will be held in Rome, January 18-22, 2017. The need is urgent, now more than one year ago: in fact the revolutionary refrain, the radical alternative strongly felt at the beginning of the last century, between “Communism or Barbarism”, is topical again.
Unlike the London, Berlin and New York seminars, the one held in Rome will attempt to address the idea of communism starting from a plurality of disciplinary approaches: attention to gender will be transversal, the philosophical perspective will be central though also important will be the perspectives of political economy, social sciences and art. During the seminars the protagonists at a global level of radical thought will alternate with researchers, activists from the movements, associations and groups that are among the most experimental in the fields of new mutualism, social syndicalism, the defence and reappropriation of the Commons.
A dividing line will inform the discussion and the specific moments of the debate: the epoch of (supposed) real communisms is over, another one has begun. The idea will be addressed through a genealogical perspective, historicization, making it possible to imagine unexplored or little known routes. Clearly only political practice will be able to explore these routes, but a preliminary investigation is part of this practice. Another fundamental element is the draft of a new communist Manifesto, or the inauguration of a process which will lead to its composition. No doubt an ambitious objective, though essential, for a seminar that aims to grasp, to think, the disjointed, discontinuous and dramatic time we are immersed in.
Collective forms of writing will constitute not only the outcome but also the pretext and premise of the seminar. A series of questions will introduce the thematic areas and provide the structure for the five days of discussion.
The topics, one for each day, are:
The history of communism, or rather, of communisms. Communisms achieved, disappeared or still active communist parties, defeated revolutionary processes, or interrupted ones. Genetic changes to communism that contributed to the tormented events of the twentieth century. This history, and not only the idea of communism, must be addressed, in order to conquer a new opportunity for communism.
What has Capital become in the twenty-first century? How must we intend the “singularity” of neo-liberal capitalism? It is necessary, on the one hand, to understand, on a global scale, the new composition of labour and of exploitation. But also, clearly, the composition of Capital itself, between value extraction and finance. On the other hand it is necessary to look at the antagonisms and the production of (ambivalent) subjectivity which characterize das Kapital today.
Who are the communist today? What is the organizational vector that, to quote Marx and Engels, contributes to the “formation of the proletariat into a class”? Also: what is the relation between economic struggles and political struggles? What are the aims of a new economic policy built around the Commons? A thorough investigation into the processes of politicisation, into the practices that trigger or that may trigger these processes.
In the late seventies Foucault posed the following question: is “socialist governmentality” possible? Today global governance defines the State and its functions in a new way, and the question posed by Foucault becomes not only current but urgent. Also: is it possible to imagine or build institutions that do not converge with the State? Is the federalist option, repressed and absent in the debate on the European crisis, also a communist hypothesis? Does a communist practice of jurisprudence, beyond and against national sovereignty and the neo-liberal project, exist?
Common is in the first place “the Being of the sensible”. It is the sensible in which we are immersed, of our practices, relations, in which we are always projected. To reflect on the sensible means in the first place to look at the interaction between the Common of communism and aesthetics, the creation of the sensible, its orientations. This means also to reflect on the relation/conflict between (creative) action and labour, between work (of art) and goods.
The convention, organized around these thematic areas, will include workshops, conferences, an opening round table and a final assembly, an exhibition (which will open January 14).