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Rethinking Marxism: A Journal

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The Question Before the

Communist Horizon
Anjan Chakrabarti & Anup Dhar
Published online: 16 Jul 2015.

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To cite this article: Anjan Chakrabarti & Anup Dhar (2015) The Question Before the
Communist Horizon, Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society,
27:3, 357-359, DOI: 10.1080/08935696.2015.1042703
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Rethinking Marxism, 2015

Vol. 27, No. 3, 357359,

The Question Before the Communist


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Anjan Chakrabarti and Anup Dhar

This commentary regards the exchange between Jodi Dean and Stephen Healy at the
2013 Rethinking Marxism International Conference. It highlights several points of
departure having to do with the communist horizon, the Lacanian Real as the
register of the foreclosed (and not just the register of the remainder, the Impossible,
or the inassimilable), the philosophy and ethico-politics of transformation (as against
transition), and the theorization of class as the constitutive Real of capitalism.
Key Words: Capitalism, Class, Communism, The Real, Transformation

Regarding the exchange between Jodi Dean (2015) and Stephen Healy (2015) at the
2013 Rethinking Marxism International Conference, we would highlight several points
of departure.
One, yes, the communist horizonthe contingent and ever-emergent nature of
the being-in-commonis indeed akin to the Lacanian Real, but it is always already
akin to the Real because the communist horizon is always a communist horizon, and
this is by definition true of any horizon.
Two, yes, there is a Real in class; class is the site of a constitutive antagonism, but
there is a Real in capitalism, too. Class understood as the production, appropriation,
and distribution of surplus is itself the Real of capitalism. Class is the taboo word and
yet also the key word in capitalism; the unending search for a communist horizon is
marked by the dialectic between the Real in class and the Real of capitalism.
Three, what then is capitalism? It is that which is haunted by the Real but also that
which hides the Real. Hence, yes, capitalism lacks. The capitalist class process is not
all that there is, but it also covers the lack with what Marx calls the delusional
appearance of things. Capitalism is that which covers up the lack; capitalism is thus
the name for the secret thereof. Capitalism has to it a spectral, a delusional, a
cryptic, and a material register. Hence, the overdetermination of the material and
the Lacanian Imaginary, as Healy suggests, may not be enough to represent
capitalisms dynamicity or complexity. The Borromean knot of the Imaginary, the
Symbolic, and the Real may help us occupy more meaningfully the script of
capitalism, on the one hand, and the subject-choreographs of the being-in-common,
on the other.
Four, what then is the communist horizon? How would we be occupied with the
communist horizon? Is it about reclaiming the language of political transformation,
2015 Association for Economic and Social Analysis

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which is increasingly being handed over to political parties and is usually imagined in
liberal frameworks as transformation through the vote and in classical Marxist
formulations as transformation through big-bang revolution? Both scripts usually
imagine transformation in terms of a restructuring of state power.
Healy, on the other hand, takes us to what Jean-Luc Nancy calls the politics of the
leftthe politics of the being-in-commonbased on community and ecological
reconstruction. This challenges the belief or the assumption underlying Deans formulation that political transformation is necessarily prior and will be followed by a somewhat
slower, longer-term, and also long-drawn social transformation. But post-Foucault,
postLaclau and Mouffe, and postResnick and Wolff, the ubiquity and the productive
nature of power has led to an increased realization of and engagement in new social
movements. In other words, even within the script of revolutionary transformation,
the need for social transformation as going hand in hand with political transformation
(and not following political transformation) has been felt. The rural Soviets in czarist
Russia and the rural route the Long March traversed in China were perhaps nursery
beds or nurturing grounds for such social transformation, which in turn led to political
transformation (which also followed microlevel political transformation).
Finally, while the assumption in conventional or classical understandings of political
transformation was that social transformation follows the political and that both are
required, it would be interesting to note that the need for self-transformation
(though reiterated at times in terms of certain ascetic/moral practices or
conversely through training in violence, as with projects of class annihilation) has
never been foregrounded or taken too seriously in the understanding of the
communist horizon. Once again, the assumption was that the change of structure
would take care of the change of/in the self/subject; a parallel (and overdetermined) working through to an ethics of the self/subject was never on the agenda.
The vanguard rarely lived the life of the proletariat; at times, they even shunned
laboring activities, including household work.
Our discomfort with political transformation stems from the fact that it projects
political transformation as prior to social transformation; at times, the project of
political transformation becomes asocial (statist socialism could be seen as an
example). The critical angle we look for with respect to political transformation is
how one can socialize political transformation. The work of Gibson-Graham offers us
interesting models of socialized politics or politicized social transformations.
Social transformation, however, is increasingly being handed over to a body of
professionals and experts tied to the World Bank. But in India at least, social transformation is an old concept, perhaps with a colonial or even a premodern genealogy.
A number of playersfrom the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to
Tagores Sriniketan, from the reformists to the revolutionaries, from the nationalists to
the nativists, from the modernizers to the traditionalistsparticipated in social
transformation in their myriad ways (at times with hidden political agendas). At other
times, social perspectives on transformation have been suspicious of political perspectives on transformation. A Tagore quote is a case in point: the political perspective born
in Europe feeds upon the resources of other peoples and tries to swallow their whole
future, while Eastern Asia has been pursuing its own path, evolving its own
civilization, which is not political, but social (Tagore 1916, 14).

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It is important to possibly bring to dialogue all three perspectives of transformation

political, social, and selfin the script of a communist horizon, and to see what
emerges out of such a dialogue. Do we in the process arrive at more meaningful
philosophies of transformation, philosophies either unthought or only partially thought,
philosophies that in turn redefine philosophy itself; where philosophy is not an
academic discipline but a way of livinga way/art of living counter to all forms of
fascism (Foucault 2000); where the practice of philosophy is or can be (to paraphrase
Nietzsche) a way of becoming; where philosophical activity is not a form of
accumulating knowledge but an exercisean ascesis; where philosophy is to form and
to transform, and not just to inform; where philosophical practice is to transform
oneself and the way one seesto regard otherwise the same things; where philosophy
is the practice of a certain way of living and speaking, a certain way of being with
oneself and with others, as in Foucaults care of the self; where philosophy is an
exercise in self-transformation and world transformation?
The above discussion on transformation stems from our problems with the erstwhile
conception of political transformation that was and is in vogue in Marxian praxis, a
conceptualization that at times gets reduced to badla (revenge) and misses out on
the necessity of badlao (transformation). It stems from the denigration of social
transformation, on the one hand, and, in more recent times, the unquestioned
overvaluing of dominant forms of transformation, on the otherthat of (post)
Washington Consensus, World Bank/IMF/WTO-sponsored social engineering, telescoping neoliberalism, globalization, and inclusion. It stems also from the displacement of
the work of self-transformation in much of political and social transformation through
the foregrounding of sanctioned self-transformation that is medicalized and approved
by either scientific communities or flag bearers of pop spirituality in global capitalist
cultures. These roughly form the canvas of the capitalist horizon, with its own kind
of transformative potential (yes, capitalism too is transformative) that is secured
through the devaluing of other kinds of transformative philosophieswhether social,
political, or of the self. Before we rush toward the communist horizon there is
perhaps a need, evident in the essays by Dean and Healy, to recognize, theorize, and
confront the capitalist horizon with its constitutive Real: class.

Dean, J. 2015. The party and communist solidarity. Rethinking Marxism 27 (3):
Foucault, M. 2000. Preface to Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia, by G.
Deleuze and F. Guattari, xi-xiv. Trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem, and H. R. Lane.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Healy, S. 2015. Communism as a mode of life. Rethinking Marxism 27 (3): 34356.
Tagore, R. 1916. Nationalism. New Delhi: Penguin Books.