Mass Mobilisation of the Multitude is the Only Solution
Frédéric Lordon on the revolutions of our time.
Since we last met, the philosopher and economist Frédéric Lordon has published three books: Vivre sans?, Figures du communisme and En travail. The first discussed autonomist, libertarian and localist positions, opposing to these a global – ‘macroscopic’ – transformation by force of numbers, which he did not hesitate to describe, positively, as the ‘Grand Soir’; the second sought to rehabilitate the communist hypothesis and detach it entirely, through concrete sketches of the future, from the crimes committed in its name in the twentieth century; the most recent, written together with the sociologist Bernard Friot, detailed his support for the mode of socio-economic organisation known as the ‘lifetime wage’ (but renamed by him ‘general economic guarantee’). For Lordon, this evolution has been accompanied by a central concern for the planet’s habitability. What we discuss with him now is therefore social revolution and ecological emergency, against a background of growing neo-fascism.[book-strip index="1" style="buy"]
After having hesitated to use the dirty word ‘communism’, you have taken a further step: ‘neo-Leninism’. You hasten to add that this has nothing to do with what people imagine. You must admit that you don’t make things any easier for yourself.
I take these naming problems more seriously than you think. I am quite aware of the symbolic weight of certain words, first and foremost ‘communism’. This is no longer just a word: it’s a truckload of automatic images, a stimulus-reflex response. So why go back to it? The first reason for me is to name something positive – that is, to escape from the register of rejection, the negativity of ‘alter’, ‘anti’ and ‘post’, all those words that say what we no longer want, but never say what we do want. I imagine you know as well as I do what wallowing in rejection costs in terms of loss of momentum, and all the motive force that can be recovered by indicating a positive direction – that is, a desire. ‘Anti-capitalism’, yes, that has to be said – and many people are still paralysed by it. But anti-capitalism is not enough. We have to name what we want. ‘Communism’ names. For the moment, frankly, I can’t think of a more appropriate word. Daniel Guérin, whose text you published a short time ago, called his ideal ‘for libertarian communism’. I hear both ‘for’ and ‘communism’ here, and I like it.
And especially ‘libertarian’ – can you believe it? Now, I don’t mind at all if the competition for a beautiful label (an effective label) remains open. On the contrary. And we should not forget that imputations of grotesqueness, ridiculousness or a lost cause are part of minority beginnings (or re-beginnings). But this passes as you emerges from a minority position, as you impose yourself and grow what originally aroused laughter or commiseration. Just think where we will be after ten or fifteen years of global warming and extreme weather events, which will in fact have become normal? Where will the anti-capitalist idea be, which at the moment still does not pass the lips of the more delicate branch of the radical left? Where will the word ‘communism’ be, which will follow at a distance – in my opinion less ridiculous, absurd or cumbersome than it is today. Politics, especially communist politics, or revolutionary politics, or emancipatory politics, it doesn’t matter what you call it, is a matter of patience, that is to say of anticipations in temporal horizons that are necessarily longer than those of the dominant politics, which claims possession of the ‘obvious’ and the immediate time frame. However, organic crises have an accelerating power that should not be underestimated either. Fifteen or twenty years ago, saying ‘capitalism’ or ‘capitalists’ meant you were either mentally ill or stuck in the past. The same was the case five or ten years ago with the word ‘bourgeoisie’, which the neoliberals probably thought had been definitively buried in the rubble of the 1970s. Before declaring a symbolic battle lost in advance, let’s wait and see how things turn out – and right now they are turning faster and faster. That’s fine, you may say, but we don’t have to overload the boat either...
And here we are with Lenin...
And couldn’t we do without him? Here I will argue something that you may not expect. I argue for a restricted, and even local, address: for the use of the teacup (thimble, phone box?) of our radical left. ‘Neo-Leninism’ is for talking to the radical left. A passing Orwellian would object that the indigenous register of the closed group, especially such a tiny one, is not a very great idea. But, in the wider public debate, if ‘communism’ is a joke, ‘Lenin’ is a bloodthirsty madman. That’s a lot to take on. Fortunately, in the teacup, we are not impressed by revisionism and we know a little history. So, saying ‘neo-Leninism’ is not a stigma here – just a place for controversy, albeit a lively one. In this case, a controversy that I believe strikes a nerve in the present conjuncture. Positing the signifier ‘Leninism’ (actually ‘neo-’, and the prefix is no small thing) is a way of opposing what I would call the ‘politics of intransitivity’.
What do you mean by that?
Political perspectives which deliberately renounce indicating any direction in order to avoid the accusation of authoritarianism, and cultivate movement for movement’s sake. Their implicit or explicit maxims are ‘the goal is in the path’ or ‘the path is in the walking’. The last people who pointed the direction to revolution were the Bolsheviks, and we don’t want any more of them! It’s true that we don’t want the Bolshevik way and what followed – I certainly don’t. However, what I don’t doubt either is that abandoning any sense of direction dooms us to failure. The other side know very well what they want and where they are going. While we propose to walk the path, they move forward. In fact, we have been watching them move forward for thirty years, without any definite positivity to oppose them, without any alternative collective destiny to propose.
I can hear the objection that a guiding leadership may well end up as a confiscating one. That is a very valid concern, and we should keep it in mind. But we must balance it with the symmetrical concern, at least as well founded, that the argument for intransitivity never gets anywhere. What is urgent now is to reach somewhere, that is, to have a definite aim, to say where this ‘somewhere’ is (not anywhere), and what it consists of. ‘Neo-Leninism’ is a name for this directional stand: for accepting to say something about the somewhere, even something sufficiently defined, in the conviction that, apart from the practitioners of an ethic of intransitivity, you don’t attract many people by simply proposing to walk for the sake of walking. A majority political proposal is one that explicitly states where it wants to go – which, it must be said, has nothing to do with delivering a grandiose plan, all equipped and set up, from which all that remains is to recruit the troops for its execution.
The proposal that desists from all this, and the ‘pathway’ proposal that is clearly related, are paradoxical proposals, in which it is proposed not to propose – if not to actually ‘go away’. The work of the Invisible Committee, for example, has meant a lot to me, as it has to many. You can say what you want about it, but it was (and still is) very effective. But I believe that flight, defection, were proposals of their time, I mean a time when deserting was the only thing left to us when we saw ourselves unable to do anything about (against) capitalism other than abandon it – but still leaving it there behind us (because I never believed in the hypothesis of a general defection that would have left capitalism entirely deserted and doomed to collapse like an empty shell). Just as the rarity of the word ‘utopia’ in current emancipatory discourse seems to me an excellent sign, a sign that we no longer have as our only solution to take refuge in the fantasy of an imaginary ‘non-place’ (and one without any chance of ever becoming real), so, I think, the ‘desisters’ should be happy that the moment of desisting is closed: for this closure means that directly attacking capitalism, and putting something definite in its place, is an idea that is beginning to take hold, i.e. that we may be overcoming the ‘Jameson curse’ in which it is ‘easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’. I even wonder whether the period that is beginning is not implicitly based on the principle of turning this formula on its head.
What meaning would you give this reversal?
That we don’t want the end of the world, and consequently we are beginning to think very hard about the end of capitalism – and about communism. Here we see the power of the emotional lever that the climate threat will provide. No, humanity will not let itself die out. It is beginning to see that it is in danger, and once it has added a clear and distinct idea of the real causes of this danger, it will be easier for us to think about the death of capitalism than our own death. We are about to emerge from resignation. This is what the word ‘neo-Leninism’ anticipates, and what it is shorthand for: confrontation with capitalism rather than defection; positing a direction; considering, among other things, the macro-social scale and the question of institutions; thinking out a strategy; supporting it with some form of organisation (or organisations).
Let’s stay with the question of names for a moment. Ecosocialism is a ‘dialectical synthesis of Marxism and ecology’, to use Michael Löwy’s formula. Unless I am mistaken, you never use this term. Isn’t it close to your approach?
With labels, we often swap one problem for another. ‘Ecosocialism’ is a possible name that came to mind and, on paper, I find it very interesting. It is certainly less loaded, and even infinitely more friendly than ‘communism’. But perhaps this ‘friendliness’ has become a problem: ‘ecosocialism’ is commonly recycled in the discourse of parliamentary political formations, from La France Insoumise to the Socialist Party – obviously in the latter case a blatant swindle. Of course, you could argue that there is a ‘Communist’ party, in whose official orientations one would look in vain for the slightest trace of communism, and that this is therefore not a reason. A little bit anyway. Besides, for my part, I don’t know what ‘socialism’ means anymore. Of course, the content Michael Löwy gives to the idea is perfectly clear, and I would find it hard not to recognise myself in it. But, since we’re talking about a pragmatics of reception, I’m just afraid that ‘ecosocialism’ seems too much like an internal category of capitalist grammar, and simply sounds like the umpteenth proposal to ‘inflect’ this. You could say that it’s clever, that it allows us to move forward in disguise and deceive the world around is – I wouldn’t mind that kind of cleverness. You could also say, symmetrically, that it prepares you for all kinds of neutralisation. All in all, I come back to a rather traditional argument: ‘communism’ is what follows in the order of positive affirmation from an unequivocally anti-capitalist premise.
You repeat that you have no idea how we could move towards a just society. But there are only two ways to seize power: elections or overthrow. Either Allende’s Popular Unity or Castro, the MAS of Morales or the Spartakist model. You seem to dismiss them both: you hope that ‘guns won’t play any part in the process’ while maintaining that nothing will happen through ‘parliamentary means’ alone. Aren’t you basically in favour of a neo-1936? A successfully completed 1936 – the ballot box, a mass mobilisation that holds the elected representatives by the collar and, this time, the social revolution?
I don’t rule out a combination, at least not symmetrically. That electoral processes alone can’t produce anything, I’m quite convinced – I mean ‘anything’ to the extent that is required in ecocidal times. I hope we can spare ourselves the guns – but hoping is the only thing we can do. You know as well as I do the history of left-wing experiments and how most of them ended: either in ‘parliamentary’ absorption or in blood. I think we should agree that the crux lies in the lucrative private ownership of the means of production and that there is no parliamentary solution to this. So, what else but guns? Well yes: a ‘completed 1936’ – I like your formula very much. I think that the only way to dissuade reaction is to show the impressive spectacle of the multitude mobilised en masse, that is to say, the feeling inspired by both numbers and the degree of determination. This is the only necessary condition, in any case the only solution, or at least I can’t see any other, to stop the violent escalation of a bourgeoisie which has already shown enough times in history that it is ready for anything.
In Basculements, the historian Jérôme Baschet – linked to the Zapatista movement – devotes several pages to you. Among other things, he criticises you for betting everything on the ‘after-revolution’ and obstructing ‘the possibility of starting to build now’. Is he hitting the nail on the head or is he missing the point?
What you mention is a very special case. I’ve read this book, I’ve read the pages devoted to me. I must say that I still haven’t fully digested it. A few months later, I am still wondering how it is possible to read a book that is so, how can I put it, stunning – but that literally turns everything upside down. My point is quite simple: not one of the statements about me reflects, even approximately, my thoughts. I must say that you remember this kind of experience of disfiguration. Not being a follower of Habermas, I know that distortion of ideas in arguments is the rule rather than the exception, but there are nevertheless points at which one is left speechless. I’m thinking, for example, of a passage where Baschet makes me say the exact opposite of what I write, and then appropriates what he sees as my positions to turn them around as objections: ‘They may well argue that state power organises a capture of the power of the multitude, the absence of those it is supposed to represent, and the transmutation of the sovereignty of the people into the sovereignty of the state.’ That’s correct, except that it’s not ‘they’ who say this, it’s me, and that, in these conditions, it seems difficult to oppose me. Since Imperium, I have regularly referred to Alexandre Matheron’s reading of Spinoza’s Political Treatise and repeated its central formula that ‘power is the confiscation by the sovereign of the power of his subjects’. My whole theory of institutions is a theory of capture! Here I find myself very much at a loss, as we see the elementary condition of literal reception of a text vanish, without which the practice of discussion simply no longer makes sense.
I am forced to say that the reproach of ‘betting everything on the “after”’ and ‘obstructing the possibility of building now’ is exactly the same metal. It’s all very strange, really. Since Vivre sans?, confirmed in Figures du communisme, repeated in the book of interviews with Bernard Friot, En travail, and in fact already present in Imperium – if one simply takes the trouble to read it – there is this idea not only of a multiplicity of scales, but of the intrinsic virtue, the absolute necessity even, for a well-conceived communism to let all experiences of local autonomy prosper: because its vitality and even its viability depend on it. If there is one categorical lesson we can draw from the history of ‘real socialisms’, it is that the total, totalitarian absorption of society into the state, even into what can be called a barracks state, is death. Only the life of associations, or ‘consociations’ as Althusius calls them, can save us from this. How should I put – or repeat – it? With a minimum of logic, we can see – I can see – that there is every advantage in developing these experiences now. This is in fact the case, and they happen anyway. Communism is not just a social organisation or an institutional structure, it is also a habitus, that is to say, a set of individual dispositions formed in practice. And this habitus is not only an effect of living in communism, it is also one of its conditions of possibility.
In other words, the more numerous we are to have already experienced communism in practice, here necessarily a local practice, the more communism, as a global social formation, will find a ready-prepared soil of dispositions favourable to its full deployment and viability. What I am saying, however, is that, while it is necessary not only for its ‘preparation’ but also for its vitality ‘as a regime’, the local practice of communism is not sufficient for its accomplishment, its full realisation. What I mean by communism is neither the homothety of a ‘commune’, I mean something like a commune taken to a macroscopic scale (if this idea makes sense – I think it is a contradiction in terms), nor even a kind of network of communes, and this for reasons that have to do with the very deep necessities of the division of labour, which is not simply ‘additive’, the sum of a series of local and separate contributions, but ‘holistic’ and requiring forms of global integration on the scale of an entire social formation – I explain this at length in Figures and En travail, and it is probably more useful here to refer to those passages. Provided that people want to read them in accordance with what they actually say...
If, in Figures du communisme, you argue that ‘Our time will eventually come’, in En travail you express your pessimism about our near future. ‘I fear that fascisation is on the march and that we have passed the point where anything can stop it’, you say. Since the book was published, the very media-friendly Éric Zemmour, a supporter of forced population displacement, has appeared as a possible option in the second round of the presidential election...[book-strip index="2" style="display"]
Well yes, that’s where we are. I was just talking about the organic crisis and its accelerating properties. Of course, maturation takes place over a medium or long period of time, but all the same, there is an endless list of things that have taken hold which we would have thought impossible even five years ago, and that a retrospective view makes us look at with amazement: a definitively disgusting police force, which has become a bloc of racism, violence and lies, an autonomous canker obeying only itself; the growing empire of a huge multimedia group busy promoting an openly fascist candidate in the spotlight (with the passive blessing of the regulatory body); neo-Nazi groups set on terrorising the streets if not actually arming themselves and preparing attacks; Islamophobia unleashed at the highest levels of the state; McCarthyism in the universities; the astonishing triumph of far-right ideologues in imposing their delusional themes (‘woke’, ‘Islamo-leftism’, ‘cancel culture’). One might certainly ask how effective this imposition actually is, and in particular whether it penetrates society much further than the limits of the media and political field. The latter certainly has the effect of a distorting magnifying glass. But that nothing filters through or ‘makes its mark’ beyond that, alas, I don’t believe.
This spring, I had dark anticipations with images of processions marching with cries of ‘death to the Arabs’: I am afraid that this fear is not for nothing. The fact that ‘Great Replacement’, an idea concocted by a handful of paranoid racists, has taken its place at the centre of public debate as an idea that is ‘possibly controversial but worthy of discussion’, is itself enough to give an idea of the meteoric deterioration of the general political atmosphere, and reminds us once again of the speed at which processes of organic crisis develop. The inexorable crossing of successive ‘notches’, and the speed with which they are crossed, are in my eyes characteristic of these disturbances, one could even say of the collective panics that make up the dynamics of fascisation. In order not to borrow the always problematic lexicon of the normal and the pathological, I’ll put it in Spinozist terms: periods of fascisation are moments when the power of the collective body collapses – and you see right away that power is not measured by agitation or intensity alone, which are undeniably very high these days.
Power, for Spinoza, is the ability of a body to do what is required for its perseverance, not in the static sense of self-preservation, but in the dynamic sense of the development of life in the highest knowledge of oneself, of one’s situation and the world around. For example, a powerful political body today would organise all its collective reflection and discussion around a book, Hélène Tordjmann’s La Croissance verte contre la nature, which asks the question, the vitally important question, of what the capitalist promise to save us from capitalist ecocide is worth (spoiler: nothing). The next few decades are already harnessed to this phoney promise, and we know how much ‘innovation’ is a pretext for patience (‘we can’t find it in a day’, ‘but we’re working hard on it’, ‘it’ll come’, ‘but we have to wait’, ‘a little longer’, ‘we’ve already made good progress’). As Hélène Tordjmann shows, and Guillaume Pitron’s book (La guerre des métaux rares: La face cachée de la transition énergétique et numérique) also, capitalist innovation, as far as ‘environmental solutions’ are concerned, is nothing more than a gigantic game of permutations in which a clean-up here is inevitably paid for by further pollution elsewhere – in the best of cases, because some of the ‘innovative’ ideas of geo-engineering can be frightening. This is what we should be talking about all the time, this is what should be on the front pages of all the media – not just the mindless lamenting of climate change.
Instead, the body politic, having handed over the organisation of its conversation to the capitalist media – some of which are openly fascist, and the rest of which are kept in tow by the healthy ways of competition – is hysterical about things that are truly delusional, such as ‘woke’ and ‘Great Replacement’. In the same way that we can reread today the media and political disaster of the 1930s, you can bet that in fifty years’ time people will look back on the errors of the 2020s with the same mixture of dismay and incomprehension, with the additional perplexity that a second occurrence will imply, and the additional despondency that there is decidedly no learning process in history, not even when humanity finds itself prey to existential, vital questions.
One might object that not all the media just talk about that.
That is true. But those who do talk about other things, especially the climate emergency, I mean in the mainstream media, are absolutely riveted to the capitalist promise of salvation through ‘innovation’. And for good reason: the questioning of capitalism, the idea that this is the ‘problem’ and certainly not the ‘solution’, is radically foreclosed in these circles, where capitalism is like nature, i.e. an essential condition, so that the project of getting out of it does not even make sense.
In a recent polemical text, you denounced the all-out celebration of the ‘living world’. In En travail, however, you describe the idea of a ‘crisis of sensitivity’ – which, in the words of the philosopher Baptiste Morizot, refers to the impoverishment of our relationship with the plant and animal world – as an idea that is ‘absolutely right’. So, an anti-dualist Lordon, is that possible?
Obviously, this is a bit of joke on your part! I can remind you that I am a Spinozist, that anti-dualism (in the sense you use it here) is at the heart of Spinoza’s ontology, which is an integral naturalism, a philosophy of ontological equality. The human finite mode, simply pars naturae, part of nature like all others, is radically stripped of its status of exceptionality in the universe, of its claims to be ‘like an empire within an empire’. It has a ‘quality of being’ that is exactly the same as any other thing in nature – ontological equality but ontic difference, ok? Equality of being but differences of powers. Differences in all senses, moreover, since, on the one hand, Spinoza does not fail to point out that ‘in beasts, we observe more than one thing that far exceeds human sagacity’, but that, on the other hand, only humans enjoy the powers of reason. If ecological thought is concerned with philosophy, it is in Spinoza that it must seek its ontology, and even more so if we consider that it will also find in Spinoza the idea of fundamental interrelationship, the idea that finite modes, precisely because they are finite, can only live in interdependence. Do I need to say more? A few years ago, a radical ecologist like Arne Næss had already realised this. As for me, I don’t think I’m one of those people who need a particular effort to be convinced of anti-dualism – but I have to reckon with the effects of a distorted vision when my political interventions systematically make people forget my philosophical work. Besides, I wouldn’t need to resort to Spinoza to justify being sensitive to the natural world – one can be perfectly sensitive without him. I happen to be so, and also to be a Spinozist. I just don’t feel the need to recount my particular adventures in sensitivity.
So yes, Spinozism helps us to think philosophically about ecology. And yes, the attrition of our sensibilities concerns me as much as it does a Latourian who follows otters. Now the political question is: what do we do with all this? The delightful Pierre Charbonnier quotes Philippe Descola to remind us that we cannot ‘be revolutionary in politics and conservative in ontology’. But we do have to accept this position, because with the extreme urgency of ecocide, making political revolution conditional on ontological revolution means the certainty of ending up grilled, drowned, suffocated, pandemicised or whatever else. The (disastrous) ontological revolution that led to the metaphysics of the subject and free will, and then converted this into a common imaginary, took centuries. It will take about as long to reverse this and restore the rights of ontological equality and general interdependence. But we don’t have centuries. So, we can leave it to academics (including myself) to prepare the ontological revolution, but we’re not going to tell ourselves colourful stories about the powers of first philosophy, rather try to find – and quickly – a way to give humanity a chance to continue to inhabit this planet. And this chance will come through positing a certain number of acts, starting with acts of naming, in fact of designation.
What acts, for example?
It must no longer be possible to say that what is destroying the planet is simply ‘climate change’, without pointing out that climate change does not fall from the sky, without asking the question ‘from where?’, ‘from what?’, and even ‘from whom?’ – and answering without prevarication. Recently, on France Culture, a high place for those ‘concerned for the living world’, great concern was expressed about climate change and the fact that ‘not enough is being done’ on this front. COP 21, 22, ... 26 – nothing changes. The journalist (or columnist, or programme host) wondered aloud: ‘Why, then, isn’t enough progress being made?’ And the answer, incredible as it sounds, is that it’s ‘because of the status quo’. ‘It remains the same because of the status quo.’ Let’s remove the Latinism: ‘It remains the same because it remains the same.’ This is how not naming, not designating, not saying, leads to things that make me want to attack my radio with an axe (but I must be too sensitive). As far as I’m concerned, I now know very clearly what I have to contribute to, i.e. forcing public debate; and we’re going to have to do a lot of this. Forcing it to say ‘capitalism’, ‘the cause is capitalism’, ‘ecocide is capitalist’, ‘there is no capitalist solution to capitalist ecocide’, ‘therefore...’ As long as the ‘sensitive’ don’t want to come out of the woodwork and say, repeat, pester, hammer, without a break – and not once in a while, hidden in a corner of a sentence or reserving it for favourable audiences – that we have no choice but to be anti-capitalist, they won’t be up to the task of sounding the alarm that they are paradoxically among the most qualified to sound.
The anthropologist Bruno Latour would certainly reply: ‘What the left doesn’t understand, because it wants to identify old-fashioned camps – roughly speaking, capitalism and anti-capitalism – is that the revolution has taken place and is called the Anthropocene. We are no longer faced with a revolution to be made, but with a revolution that has already taken place. Don’t you take note of this?
Everything I have just said attests to the fact that I do take note – but of what? In what terms? That’s the whole question. Yes, I take note that a revolution has taken place. No, I don’t acknowledge that the right word to call it is ‘Anthropocene’. ‘Anthropocene’ says that the cause of ecocide is ‘man’, or rather: ‘Man’. Is that so? It’s like being back before the Theses on Feuerbach: ‘Man’ – something that exists nowhere except in the heads of idealist philosophers. No, what has screwed up the climate and destroyed the planet is not ‘Man’, it is capitalist men. Andreas Malm has made a case for the absurdity of this ‘Anthropocene’, whose very name is an evasion: one of those gelatinous stratagems typical of moralistic idealism, which always does everything to ignore material and social forces, hegemonies and conflicts, social relations and power relations, and finally leaves us with what possibility? To reform Man? We already know how this ends: by sorting household refuse and praising the ‘small gestures’ that ‘will change everything’. But here’s the thing: these small gestures to change everything are precisely crutches for continuing everything, and therefore for changing nothing. Or are we going to create a parliament of the Loire, the Saint-Cucufa forest and the Gave de Pau? Capital is shaking on its foundations. I could say that all this slightly angry text from the blog you refer to was inspired by a single image: the laughter of the Medef crowd. I think they must not believe their eyes and ears. A ‘radical left’ of this kind is something they never hoped for even in their wildest dreams. In these matters I think we can rely on criteria that are very homespun but very reliable: when something upsets capital, it doesn’t laugh at all, it gets its media (I mean that its media, suitably disposed by it, do this of themselves) to classify their opponents as dangerous madmen (their word now is ‘radicalised’, a very convenient expression which serves many purposes).
To continue, I take note that a revolution has taken place. It is not the revolution of the ‘Anthropocene’, but the revolution of the Capitalocene, that is to say, the work of capitalism and capitalists. Above all, I take note of the fact that another revolution must imperatively follow, if we don’t want to end up burnt to a crisp – in fact, we’ll end up killing each other over the last puddles. When I think about it, I find Latour’s phrase mind-boggling: stop chasing the revolution, it’s already happened! Yes, only it was the revolution of the capitalists, which seems to me a powerful motive not to drop the idea of revolution but to pursue it again, all the more vigorously, and in exactly the opposite direction.
You mention Andreas Malm. We met him recently and, when asked what use is a social and ecological revolution in one or two countries if polluting states continue to pollute the world’s air everywhere else, he replied that he was a bit stumped. He added: ‘It is indeed difficult to imagine this transition in isolated countries.’ This brings us back to your previous work on internationalism... Should we start without the others?
Yes, reading Andreas Malm’s books was a powerful impulse for me, and it is an understatement to say that I found in him a comrade, especially in developing the strategic consequences. There must have been some pre-established affinity because I discovered his book The Progress of This Storm after the Diplo text, where the ‘parliament of rivers’ obviously had the same effect on him as on me. As for your question, I’ll say it straight out: I’m as stumped as Malm. And yet I answer ‘yes’ without hesitation. I’d also like to remind you that a chapter of Figures du communisme is devoted to this difficult question, and being unable to resolve it, I’m trying to put it into coordinates that seem appropriate to me. That is to say, not those of what I have called in the past ‘imaginary internationalism’, that abstract internationalism, entirely steeped in virtue signalling, which, among other things, never answers the question of political morphology: will abstract internationalism ever be able to offer us an image of what it sees as the only acceptable political community, that is to say, the world community of a unified human race? I don’t believe in this, and I am even less willing to wait for it. I therefore accept the idea that we will have to live with separate political entities for some time to come. Is this a problem for communism? Of course it is! Because, unless we make the heroic (delusional) hypothesis that all countries will move in sync, it will have to start somewhere. No doubt we can hope for international emulation, but I suggest not counting on such effects too much either – we remember that they didn’t follow so well after 1917, in a context that was far more favourable than ours – or at least not making them a sine qua non condition.
So, let’s start with the only ‘realistic’ hypothesis: that, somewhere, the historical window for a communist revolution opens. This is how I see the problem of ‘communism in one country’: not in terms of internationalist virtue but rather the division of labour. I quite admit that is less advantageous. Even a large country cannot internalise the entire division of labour adequate to its material requirements – even if these are drastically reduced, as the urgent need to prevent ecocide demands. The problem is twofold: an isolated communist country necessarily continues to be inserted in the international division of labour, i.e. in a hostile capitalist environment, in relation to which this position of dependence is from the outset a vulnerability, all the more so because, in this environment, certain protagonists are determined to do it harm. The American hegemon is first among these, of course, and we know how it has treated experiments that, without even breaking with capitalism, proposed to significantly change its course, under the claimed banner of socialism. In a climate of almost general hostility, insertion in the international division of labour is not a simple matter. And even less so, facing in isolation the destabilising undertakings of powers for whom to let such an experiment thing happen and possibly even succeed outside the confines of capitalism is simply inconceivable. Here, I often think of Rousseau and his draft constitution for Corsica, in which he gave the islanders the excellent advice to do away with ‘national greatness’ and its imaginary: instead shrink until you disappear from the international scene, make yourself forgotten... and finally have peace. But the smaller you become, the more negative is the division of labour, and the more imperative it is to integrate into international exchange. The painful conclusion is that we will not be able to withdraw as we wish from the geo-economic – and therefore geopolitical – scene. It will catch up with us, in one way or another, whatever we do about it.
To return to square one: we can’t count on the spontaneous synchrony of national revolutionary conjunctures, but the effort to induce replicas elsewhere, in other countries, with which to begin to form a bloc (and, consequently, a more autonomous division of labour) is obviously a strategic priority of a communism that starts in one country. I think this is a risk that must inevitably be run, unless we have to wait for an internationally coordinated event (which will never happen). One should not be put off by the argument of pollution externalities: of course, with only one communist country on the surface of the globe, the overall data of ecocide would be only marginally modified if the rest of the planet continues to happily self-destruct (thus destroying the whole planet). So what? Do we conclude that everything is in vain? Do we wait for Godot and a synchronised planetary revolution? No: we start somewhere, and work to spread this.
Translated by David Fernbach
Published at: https://www.revue-ballast.fr/frederic-lordon-la-multitude-mobilisee-en-masse-est-lunique-solution/[book-strip index="3" style="display"]