To Bruno and Fred, in memory of old friendship
The sort of abstract domination constituted by labor in capitalism is the domination of time.
Yes, if we are to believe some of our favorite master thinkers, a specter runs again through the halls of the academic-theoretical enterprise, and it is the specter of a communism or of a neocommunism. Jodi Dean says: “It seems more and more that the left has worked or is working through its melancholia” (2012, 176). What remains to be seen, to use Dean’s own words, is whether the specter is back in [End Page 213] ways that do not conform to a merely voluntaristic revival consistent with communicative capitalism: “This decline in a capacity to transmit meaning, to symbolize beyond a limited discourse or immediate, local context, characterizes communication’s reconfiguration into a primarily economic form. It produces for circulation, not use” (127). The question, I want to point out, is already a Marxist question, if Marxism is indeed a theory that must account for “the possibility of its own standpoint” (Postone 1995, 4). Is Communist desire today, as conveyed by academic-theoretical contributions, the anticipation and reflection of a possibility of use, or is it yet another commodity, that is, another example of the “commodity-determined form of social relations” (10) prevalent in academia as it is prevalent in every other labor sphere?
The question could be dismissed as irrelevant. It could be thought that, if social relations are necessarily commodity-determined, then no new, or new/ old, theoretical stand could be proposed that did not always already incorporate the commodity form through its own self-projection. At the same time, it might be opportune to linger with the question in this particular case, to the very extent that the proposal for communism, or for neocommunism, has to do with suspending the commodity form as the determining referent of social relations. This paper will do just that: it will attempt to read Jodi Dean’s The Communist Horizon (2012) and Bruno Bosteels’s The Actuality of Communism (2011) against the background of their own presuppositions, with a view to asking whether they succeed in establishing what they ostensibly aim to establish: that they announce a genuine possibility of use (critical use, political use) that will break through the impasses and limitations of so many other theoretical or theoretico-political positions, which they variously criticize as thoroughly captured by, respectively, “democratic drives” (Dean) or “speculative leftism” (Bosteels).
I will not proceed by way of an extensive review of the two books, partially because there is much in them with which I agree, and partially because I do not have enough space merely to celebrate their readings of, say, contemporary political ontology, Slavoj Žižek’s notion of the political act, or “the nonhistorical and apolitical condition of politics itself” in Bosteels’s book (137), or of the party form in politics (“a politics without the organizational form of the party is a politics without politics” [Dean, 19]), [End Page 214] the analyses of “communicative capitalism,” the “presentation of” the people as the rest of us, “or the notion of present force” (“whereas the Right treats communism as a present force, the Left is bent around the force of loss, that it, the contorted shape it has found itself in as it has forfeited or betrayed the communist ideal” ) in Dean’s. Instead, I will focus on specific critical points of objection or disagreement, with a view to making a contribution to the discussion they themselves propose. Before getting to them, I must preface at some length.
Let me anticipate that “democratic drives” and “speculative leftism” are strongly polemical terms that Dean and Bosteels, respectively, use to demarcate their positions from some netherworld of what they consider more or less desperately erroneous opinions. A secondary but, nevertheless, significant (to me) strain of my intention in this essay is perhaps not so much counterpolemical (in the sense in which I would like to argue back...