“Communism” Is Dead, Long Live Communism!

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Sarkozy as Napoleon. The resurgence of the Right personified by “Sarko” presents a special challenge to the French left in disarray, largely as a result of really not being left enough. Social democrats like Blair, Segolene Royal, or Gonzalez in Spain, can never neutralize the capitalists and their trojan horses, and they only sow disenchantment among the masses for the idea of social change.

By Lucien Dugoy || Olivier Mayer

Translated Monday 10 December 2007, by Isabelle Metral

Note: What follows is a recent interview by the French Communist party organ L’Humanité on the possible strategies of the European left—and especially the core formations, such as the official Communist Party of France (PCF)—to face the assault from the re-energized globalist right. The original piece, in French, is located here.

To French Marxist philosopher Lucien Sève, the crisis that currently affects the French communist party (PCF) demands that the vertical party-form be given up in favour of a horizontal movement-form: Lucien Sève recommends setting up fully-empowered militant workshops.

L’HUMA: What’s your approach to the recent political episode in this country?

SEVE: With the death of what was so improperly called communism, history has entered a new phase. In view of the limitless freedom that capital enjoys today, we are in for boundless catastrophes. While on the left there still is no effective political alternative, not even a mental set of opposable political references. All our woes stem from this void. The task of those who follow in the wake of Marx today is therefore clear: for years we have been talking of inventing a communism for the 21st century. Now, at long last, the time has come to do it. We have had enough talk on the subject.

L’HUMA: In a text that you recently made public you take a clear stance in the current debate within the PCF. How important is this debate to you as a philosopher?

SEVE: I wrote this text ( “Communism” is dead: long live communism!) not as a philosopher -though I am one to be sure- but as a militant aware that what is now at stake in France is the survival of communism. And believe me I had compelling reasons for publishing a text that long. To me, the way the question is put is deceptive. All the contributions I have read assume a false dilemma: the only alternatives open to us would be either to dissolve the PCF and become a mere component force in a new, prospective anti-global movement, or to blow life into it in some hoped for attempt at innovation, without the word being if only vaguely defined. The choice before us would be either to allow the communist identity to die out or to keep it alive by clinging to the party-form now in terminal decline. But that leaves out another possibility. And I am not alone in rejecting both these alternatives as being equally disastrous. What I propose is a different solution which has long been considered and should not now be swept under the carpet. The aim being to bring out the full, autonomous communist identity, let’s do away with the old party-form: it’s counter-productive now. I am not turning a deaf ear to those that object to the communist label as being heavily weighted. Still, any communist candidate that doggedly “ploughs the field” in his or her constituency can get many votes and even get elected today despite the label. Our dismal 1.93% share of the vote in the presidential election should not be put down to the label but to an altogether different fact. As one of those self-styled “homeless communists” so opportunely interviewed by “L’Humanité” in the November-18th issue put it, “When the PCF decided to put up its own national secretary as a presidential candidate, the survival of the ‘shop’ was set above the general interest.” And that’s the short of it. What we are paying for now is our clinging to a party-form that people find repulsive.

L’HUMA: Would you say that to some extent this contribution modifies the findings you developed in your previous book “Marx and Us”, in which you talked of the “Shakespearian tragedy of Marxism and communism”?

SEVE: That reflection has its root further back than “Marx and Us”. I have been fighting for the communist horizon (ambition/aim) for twenty-five years when all the talk in the PCF was only about socialism. I saw how mystifying was the anti-Marxist theory that considered socialism as the antechamber to communism, for the two horizons(ambitions/aims) are wide apart. Communism implies the end of the class-based State (though not of public agencies) while socialism has always implied the predominance of the State. That is why Marx and Engels called their manifesto “communist”, not “socialist”. But the PCF shows far too little interest in theoretical research into those questions.

L’HUMA: You are saying both that communism is dead and that communism (in italics) remains a possible horizon(ambition/aim) for our time. If the former statement is based on facts, the latter seems rather to stem from a personal faith or belief. What would you say to this?

SEVE: What is dead is what the dominant ideology calls “communism”. I put the word in inverted commas because its occurrence here is abusive. The USSR never was a communist country in the real sense of the word, and the French communists themselves have seldom used the word communism in its full sense in their political activity. As insurrection to seize power is now ruled out in France, we have been content with staking our all on electoral battles. And so the PCF has come to be viewed as an ordinary party except for the fact that it had no prospect of really coming into office. Hence the terrible credibility gap even though a communist activity still survives in some places. But what kind of “life” is it for a party that sets itself the aim of transforming the world when its national average share of the vote remains under 5%? Communism in the full sense of the word implies far more, namely moving beyond mankind’s main historical sources of alienation, empowering all human beings to the full in their social capacities, giving each their right and access to property, knowledge and power. Against the ubiquitous privatization promoted by capitalism, communism proposes pooling all the social dimensions of life, not as an ideal but as a real dynamics, to be promoted even as the contradictory effects of capitalism multiply communism’s objective prerequisites. That’s a crucial point (though little understood, I am afraid). For instance the role that is now demanded of workers in production demands that they be given a say in management. And that is true in all fields, wherever new possibilities, which are shamelessly discarded, open up new horizons. If we follow this idea through, a coherent set of initiatives can right now be taken with communist appropriations as accessible targets. This requires no act of faith. All that it requires is to start from the real facts and never renounce any single possibility. That is why the reference to communism is crucial: it is the only word that defines what we propose replacing capitalism with. Some, I know, consider that the word communism is definitively discredited. But supposing that we stopped struggling to rehabilitate it, can it be really supposed that the enemy would have any scruples about pinning the infamous label on any anti-capitalist force that pitted itself against it? For all its efforts to the contrary, the new anti-global German party still labours under the negative image of the “Eastern Commies”. You simply cannot solve an issue by evading it.

L’HUMA: Is it not a paradox that a few individuals excepted, those that had an active part in the “death” of communism were those activists who stood to benefit most from the construction of a society free from exploitation?

SEVE: The paradox might well be what a friend of mine, one of those “homeless communists”, calls the “Brezhnev syndrome”. A would-be communist activity takes place within an organization in which the precedence given to organization itself produces the very opposite effect. All things being equal, what is now slowly stifling us might well be something similar.

L’HUMA: But couldn’t you find in Marx, and beyond Marx, in all those that have devised theories about the communist revolution, the original causes that can explain this failure? Why go back to Marx against the odds?

SEVE: Of course Marx was wrong on some points. It may be said that he underestimated the disastrous impact of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the communist movement. Or that, being concerned solely with economics and politics, he failed to see the importance of the symbolic and societal dimensions. But he has analysed the dynamics at work in capitalism with such penetrating insight that his works throw light on our present time as effectively as ever. He anticipated science’s new role in production, the unprecedented rise in productivity, the phasing out of the exploitation of wage-earners and the objective foundations that capitalism has been laying down for the advancement of communism. We have now reached that point. Precisely, Marx’s communist vision was so ahead of his time that the revolutionary movement promoted socialism instead, the all too terrible limits of which appeared all too clearly in the twentieth century. It is only in the face of today’s capitalism that communism appears in its true light. But it needs to be totally redefined for our century.

L’HUMA: The PCF has been saying that for a long time now – that communism is not an ideal but the movement or struggle against the alienations that result from the capitalist social order in their ever-changing forms. Is there some kind of misunderstanding on this point? SEVE: The formula is bandied about but I don’t see that practice has changed accordingly. It is urgent to make the brunt of our political activity bear on all the fields of social transformation. But that re-centring cannot be effected from the top. Only the grassroots militants can change this. So let the full responsibility lie with them! Just imagine what would follow if the activists in each branch could decide what important initiatives they might take, or choose those that motivated them most, with workshops being set up, and left free to set their own courses, to exchange their experience with other workshops working for the same objectives elsewhere, to mutually enrich their analyses, and set up joint projects – so that any initiative might eventually be shared by a group of workshops, and take on a national, or even an international dimension – so that each workshop might become a nursery of competence and contribute to social transformation on the most efficacious scale – more significantly than any communist cell has ever done ! Might not this foreshadow a political movement, let us hypothetically call it communist, that would manifest a novel form of active politics and put an edge on the whole gamut of class conflicts (by bringing back into sight the real issue at stake)?

L’HUMA: The exercise and conquest of power are also a major source of alienation. And yet you are not suggesting that the movement of social transformation could do without a proper organization or without a communist party. Isn’t that somewhat like wanting to revive what is dead?

SEVE: It is necessary of course to have an organization. But a communist activist may be relied upon to disconnect the organization from the exercise of power. The old class prejudice is that there can be no order without bosses. That just is not true. The human brain is like a marvelous orchestra that has no need for a conductor. The world abounds in coherences that have not been decreed from the top but that have evolved horizontally. The historical mould of the Party is vertical in essence, having come into existence at a time when coherence had to be built into the proletariat from the outside. But the present extraordinary atomization of individuals has definitively rendered this form obsolete. It is easy enough to dangle the hope that the PCF can recover the vigour of youth all over again, but no one could say how – and no wonder. Let’s be plain about it: verticality is anti-communist. The Communist Party-form is an unsurpassable contradiction, since the aim is for all to seize power in society at large while the communists themselves are denied the right to do so within their own party by their bosses. It is not surprising that once in office the communist party-form should have brought about autocracy instead of democracy. That is what we must do away with, by passing from the vertical party-form to the horizontal movement-form. That does not preclude the existence of central bodies provided these do not set themselves up as agencies of domination. All that remains to be thought out but the theoretical research that is needed has not even started yet.

L’HUMA: How can this new organization be set up? How would that affect our common political references –to elections, institutions etc.?

SEVE: The great argument for keeping the PCF as it has always been is fear of the void. But we need not take a leap in the dark. Let us now settle in favour of an experiment where motivated communists, whether card-carrying members or not, would set up workshops with specific objectives everywhere about the country, working horizontally in networks, to which would be added ad hoc, yet subordinate bodies to meet the demands of institutional life, like general elections. Learning from this experiment, we shall be able to draw the lineaments of the communist movement our congress might change the party into by dissolving it then, and only then. All that this requires is to give the green light to an experiment, so that this experiment can effectively be carried out, not in order that it should fail, but in order that it may succeed. http://www.humaniteinenglish.com/article773.html

2 comments on ““Communism” Is Dead, Long Live Communism!
  1. Well Patrice,

    You have asked for not-to-be published thoughts regarding the Seve interview. Never one to deprive myself of the opportunity to make a public ass of myself, I will post them on your board. By the way, asking a leftneck Southerner for an opinion is like asking a preacher for a few words, or asking a goose to shit – you get more than you ever asked for. So I am afraid you will have to bear with my preachy side and not a little of the goose shit of pompous human verbiage along the way. Feel free to bail when the shit gets too deep.

    Regarding Lucien Sève: Sève can work to save the French Communist Party. And that is good. If anybody in Europe is likely to do so, it is likely the French. And lordy lordy, I do love to hear the bark of the old philosopher dogs among us such as Sève, even though it is in the tongue of the comfortable middle class westerner. And we are all, at the very least, upper middle class by the larger world’s standard. Thus our primary problem is to ditch that status. Or love and defend the piss out of it, which you and I by constitutional makeup, seem unable to do. On the whole, give me the untamed anarcho-communist poetic fury of a Jon Ross (Murdered by Capitalism) or an Ignacio Guiterrez (an unsung street activist in Bogata) to Sève. Ross may be as unkempt intellectually as he is physically, by damned the man breathes fire. No café leftism for that guy.

    As in so many European nations, the French are modestly fortunate that the Communist Party has a remaining base, however small, in politics there. But I do think too many communists and socialist types think and talk far too much about the organizational structure and do not enough on a one-to-one personal basis with their fellow man of different or no political persuasion. Silly as it may sound, I think that during every waking minute we should be walking examples of communitarian life and its inherent good will. Keep no savings. Own no home. Own no real property. Reject the European property based ethos. Direct every resource that comes our way to uplifting our brothers living in the lowest of material conditions. And the lowest of conditions are generally to be found elsewhere on the planet (Although not exclusively. Millions of Americans are forced to live on pizza and watch football.)

    It has been my experience that giving away all your “stuff” works. Poor people, born into rightful suspicion, trust you when they see that you have given to them what would have been an advantage to yourself. And once they trust you, you are in a position to talk to them about the universal brotherhood that underpins the political spirit of the left. Or not. Many folks in the Third World find the international soccer standings more interesting. So do I most days.

    At any rate, I think the western world is just too damned comfortable to help itself by helping others. Especially considering the global process by which we all know that our western comfort is sustained. Personally, I believe comfort is the enemy of realization. Personally I believe the west will have to come down to at least a second world level before mass recognition of the problem, much less mass change (which is really just collective individual realization) can take place.

    We can argue endlessly about the procedure and process of change. But it’s never gonna happen until we each take responsibility for some on-the-ground part of the action of change. A helluva lot of good men and women went to their graves for this idea, for this thing that is mankind’s best political idea and the only known workable solution to the terminal disease of capitalism. To those who say it is yet unproven, I say “What is there to prove about the benefits of not turning the earth into a combination gulag-cesspool security state presided over by the likes of General Electric and Bush/Putin and Time Warner?”

    Right now the future of the left seems to be in the hands of those people who long ago reached the point where they had nothing, and therefore nothing to lose but their lives, and consequently everything to gain — our brothers and sisters in Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and parts of Mexico, and dozens of other venues I surely do not know of.

    Despite our many genocidal attempts upon them, we find that the people holding the real fate of not only the global left, but the planet itself, are the indigenous peoples. They have ultimate credibility everywhere, that penultimate credibility of having been killed, raped, tortured imprisoned and displaced. The have names like Abipon, Amahuaca, Arawak, Aymara, Carib, Cayua Goajiro, Inca, Jivero, Mapuche, Moche, Munduruku Omagua, Quechua, and most recently, even the Lakota Suoix (although I doubt they’ll be taken seriously until they announce that the Souix too have “the bomb,” in which case the Pentagon will be forced to take out strategic casinos.)

    What cold comfort Cortez, Andrew Jackson, J.P. Morgan, Caligula and Ronald Reagan took with them into hell is ever so slowly being shoved up their asses. Patrice, given our own afterlife trajectory, and considering our less than pious enjoyment of the flesh – most particularly flesh of the female variety – let us at least pray for a seat where we can enjoy this spectacle.

    But until the Devil’s mother dusts off that seat for us, we can but care for this comfy earthly parlor of leftist thought, prune the needless overgrowth in the potted plant that is our western conditioned mind, and, with luck, have prepared a proper place to receive mass realization of the truth when the inevitable occurs. And when it does occur, it will most likely to be in the form of ultimately depleted resources, war, for said resources, overpopulation, or catastrophe driven by archaic bronze age religious consciousness. Or perhaps a pandemic. Cconsidering that mother nature is composed of all the exquisitely coursing electricity of life bound up in chlorophyll and blood, she is nevertheless one devious bitch.

    Meanwhile, between sorting through the bills and trying to find true love, we can maintain those various small political patios scattered from Paris to Pittsburg called the developed world’s political left. We can rearrange deck chairs until time and history, want and exploitation, drive common realization in our direction. Again. And they will. Some form of justness for the masses is the only conceivable outcome, other than the enslavement of all mankind by the very few. But as close as we may come to complete enslavement in the future, and in fact already witness, I do not think that will be the ultimate result, regardless of how few remain standing after the great struggle that has now begun. The past is not the future, and the truth is that this present cannot resemble past history at all. Hard as it is to believe, we just naturally select those instances in which it seems to, because of our state indoctrination.

    And so, as for me, I believe in putting my every resource and my crapped out physical abilities directly behind those doing the suffering on our behalf. The Third World is our best bet. Other than those of their leaders, the Chavezes, the Moraleses, most of us do not even know the names and faces or lives of those who truly resist, other than that they tend to be darker skinned than us. But fuck, who ain’t? Well, actually, most of the world. Yet, without the mestizo, the black man, the maroon, the Creole, there would be no success for the Moraleses, Chavezes and Alarcons. Of course these leaders will in all likelihood fall prey to their own inward human folly, each life being only a stepping stone for progress, not progress itself. Castro is a good example. Chavez’s five hour speeches should give us a clue. (Nobody is ever gonna convince me that guy doesn’t do a little coke now and then.) But if we insist on white knights and Santa Clauses of the first order, we’re already fucked.

    That so few leftists, for all their compassion, seldom acknowledge that their movement’s future rests with these dusky peoples (ahem) is indicative of the unconscious racial hubris of the western world. It’s easy for we lefties to sympathize with and cheer on the indigenous of the earth, given that they are capitalism’s worst nightmare, sitting as they are upon coveted water, oil, natural gas, minerals. But it is very hard to go to their front and take part in the fight, or find a meaningful way to do so from home. Especially when that entails divorcing ourselves from the very system that supports us in what we consider to be the most mundane comforts and entitlements of ordinary life, even though most of the world does not assume even modest comfort to be a birthright.

    In any case, when brotherhood prevails, all material schools of thought, capitalism, communism, socialism, warlordism, Confucian capitalism, jug fucking, political masturbation and even sincere struggle, necessarily follow.

    Patrice, I live for that day, as you do — one that two old crumbling old men such as we will never live to see. Inasmuch as the worst misfortune offers at least some tiny consolation, our mutual rotting lungs and the verities of age excuse us from the world’s barricades. The best we can do is man the first aid station and recite the old, old story, the bardic epic of what has been and will always be. The one in which freedom is possible.

    But still, we are lucky enough to have lived at the beginning of the final episode of the greatest and most important struggle in what now appears to be the surprisingly brief tenure of our species, in terms of true natural history. And we have lived in the sometimes faltering light of the political left, which has now begun to progress once more toward the universal principles of commonality from which it sprang.

    We can die moving the deck chairs about or worse yet, theorizing in print or on the net. Or we can move the chairs in the direction of those now fighting, that they may have occasional rest and our fullest material and spiritual support.

    In short, I do not believe we can win our fight until those who are really fighting arrive at the gates of our presently comfortable captivity with torches and mankind’s only enduring ultimatum – justice.

    On that day every left-thinking and feeling person will be redeemed, no matter whether he calls himself a communist, socialist, Shining Path, Tupak Amaru or Lion of Palestine.

    Even you and me old buddy.

    In art and labor,


  2. hey patrice….
    I wrote a little bit about it over at Placebo art and posted the link, too. What interests me here, and I think interests Joe, too, is the feeling Seve gives of how one must embrace the everyday — those small issues of daily life and the people connected to them. The society of the spectacle eclipses all of us at times….and its attendent delusions are tough to keep at arms length — but I think *authority* is the most important issue facing those who want change….and its a deeply internalized force — its everywhere…..OBEDIENCE……and i see it in students all the time. I see it in myself all too often, in fact ….and that seems somehow what seve is circling around too. Anyway, happy new year to all of you…..js

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