- The Current Situation and Our Tasks:Bosteels' The Actuality of Communism
The most exciting opening in contemporary political theory is the opening to communism. Inextricable from the urgency of ongoing indignation, occupation, and revolution, communism reconfigures the entire political, economic, and intellectual terrain. Bruno Bosteels' new book, The Actuality of Communism, extends this opening via a critical engagement with prominent left themes and thinkers. Presenting a dynamic vision of an international communism enlivened by history, politics and critique, The Actuality of Communism reignites political theory with new possibilities for militancy, organization, and the end of capitalism.
In March 2009, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities hosted a conference, "On the Idea of Communism." Initially planned for about 200 people, the conference ultimately attracted over 1200, requiring a spillover room to accommodate those who couldn't fit in the primary auditorium. The following January, the conference, "Potentialities of Communism: Of What is Communism the Name Today?" took place in Paris, preceded by a special dossier of the journal ContreTemps. Speaking at one or both of the conferences were, among others, Alain Badiou, Etienne Balibar, Bruno Bosteels, Susan Buck-Morss, Costas Douzinas, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Jacques Rancière, Alberto Toscano, and Slavoj Žižek. Verso published papers from the London conference in the volume, The Idea of Communism, edited by Douzinas and Žižek. In addition to the ContreTemps dossier, contributions to the Paris conference appeared in the journal Actuel Marx. Recent books by Badiou and Žižek, The Communist Hypothesis and First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, respectively, continue the debate over communism as a philosophical and political ideal, force, subject, and project. This, then, is the immediate institutional setting of organized academic philosophy conferences and left political theory books and journals into which The Actuality of Communism intervenes. Bosteels' book expands his initial conference contributions and critically engages many of the issues raised at the events themselves.
This immediate institutional setting, though, is somewhat misleading—it's not as if all of a sudden, out of the blue, a dozen or so influential philosophers and political theorists just started talking about communism. The discussion has been ongoing. Negri has been reworking Marxist categories via Spinoza and the Italian political experiments of the seventies into a new approach to communism for over thirty years. The Empire trilogy, co-authored with Michael Hardt, offers an affirmative, non-dialectical, reconceptualization of labor, power, and the State, a new theory of communism from below. Badiou has been occupied with communism for over forty years, from his initial philosophical and political engagement with Maoism and theorization of militant subjectivity through his emphases on the "communist invariants"—egalitarian justice, disciplinary terror, political voluntarism, and trust in the people—to his recent account of communism as an Idea.
Communism is not a new interest for Žižek, either. For example, he introduces the volumes on Mao and Trotsky for Verso's Revolutions series. In February 2001, Žižek held a conference on Lenin at the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut in Essen, Germany, in part to escape from the prohibition on thinking imposed by the hegemony of liberal democracy (grand ideas, radical ideas, are too dangerous! Better to retreat to more modest, accommodating, self-criticism and compromise). Duke University Press published papers from the conference in the volume Lenin Reloaded. Appearing the following year, Žižek's edited collection of Lenin's writings from between the February and October revolutions included the book length afterward, "Lenin's Choice." There Žižek argued for the necessity of a return to Lenin: "the key 'Leninist' lesson today is: politics without the organizational form of the Party is politics without politics."1 In sum, there is a vital, substantial area of radical philosophy that considers communism a contemporary name for emancipatory, egalitarian politics and that has been actively rethinking many of the concepts part of the communist intellectual legacy.
These broader theoretical discussions overlap with distinct historical periods—Cultural Revolution, Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the spread of capitalist domination, a domination accompanied by extremes in economic...