Friday, 19 July 2013

Ten years of Nihilist Communism

There is no gig to mark the occasion nor any commemorative momentoes, and anyway, I do not have a great deal to add to what I have already said in the last year, but even so, it would be remiss not to record the occasion for what it is  - if only because something unexpectedly welcome might be found amongst the ashes of it all. For this and other reasons, it would be worthwhile to observe others' responses to the text - if any are forthcoming, I shall collate them here. 

It would be more interesting if responses were set less in terms that are obviously ‘theoretical’  (unless these are innovatory) or ‘political’ (as the effect of the text since publishing has been marginal to say the least) than in the form of personal reflections (such as these might be). If something changed as a response to reading NIh-Com, what is the phenomenology of that change? For example, it is quite common to read positive reviews of Nih-Com on book review sites, but I do not know what happens after this. 

In particular, positive readings raise the problem of the extent to which agreement with the main points of the text, if followed to their fullest development, can be maintained within the milieu as a tension. Is it possible to be a ‘communist’ and a nihilist communist at the same time? Is it possible to continue to inhabit the myths of communism but also refuse them? What influence leads to what response? Is it feasible to remain committed and also accept the radical transvaluation of that commitment (as its significance is displaced from a presumed world relevance to a more realistic issue of personal narrative )? 

I would like to map the paths, or establish the channels, of what it means to leave a milieu that is already concretely dead. And yet, also remain within it. We live in at a time of incredible conservatism within the radical milieu, a time in which anarchists actively argue for prisons... not only is such realism premature, it indicates a complete detachment from the proper function of theoretical engagement. 

Nih-Com has set three problems before a milieu, its readership, which is now entirely absent, and which the text alone preserves by its negation of it: the first problem is whether it is possible to do harm to communism by thinking wrong thoughts; the second problem is whether it is possible to escape a milieu by directing wrong thoughts against it, and thereby connect to the totality; the third problem it attempts to enact in its own writing, what does it mean to think wrongly

By thinking wrongly I mean, the milieu has sustained itself as a ‘tradition’ by setting its present as a continuity within the context of what has gone before, it seeks to think rightly in relation to its origins - but Nih-Com thinks itself  ‘against and outside’ the milieu... and yet of course also within it. It has no tradition, it eschews the conventional props of authorities and citations - it is wrong. It i set in the present, sustained by present engagements, kept deliberately in the forefront of consciousness... and so, as we forget it, it will be forgotten. When we die, it too will die. It is still current, extant but at the edge of survival. And of all those groups of which it is a product, and which have since disappeared, it is the last record.

It is helpful therefore to sustain this record as a living activity. Please feel constrained to post comments in the comments section below.


  1. I need to refresh my mind rereading the text again. I will contribute soon.

  2. Perhaps a re-read is not necessary, or any reading at all. It is more a question about where readers end up than their thoughts on passages of the text itself. I do not think these effects need to be profound. The nature of reading is that the more books you read the less significant each individual reading experience is.

    I guess, in the long term I am hoping for someone from outside to make sense of the mass and mess of all the texts and define a specific 'field', not necessarily termed 'nihilist communism'. The loss of the milieu from which the text emerged is significant I think. Nih-Com has to produce its own readership, and that can't really happen without significant capital investment which is unlikely to focus on such a diffused project. I think probably that the object to which we give the placeholder term 'nihilist communism' is going to have to be set at another level of recursion (and as I said) by another set of people.

  3. That was the negative response from a writer with whom I talked on the internet:
    "Obsolete vocabulary, misappropriations, sub-argumentation of adolescent content and unintentional humor."

    It does not seem to be what we expected or, perhaps, it's exactly what we could expect.

  4. I think that comment is fair enough. I would not say it was wrong - nihilist communism supplies neither answers nor certainties. I think our text is naive (i.e. sub-argumented) and non-professional (i.e. adolescent)... as for misappropriations, yes to this too, we could only work with the material which was then available to us.

    But now, having made the break, we no longer need to make reference to the 'works' of the communists as it is clear that there is no actual relation in those theories to communism (i.e. we now understand the implications of what we said before, i.e. communism does not equal communists). We understand that the works of the communists are only a representation of communism, like maps drawn by the deluded of their imaginary lands - similarly, we have no need to accept any representation of God by the prophets.

    We all equally don't know what we are talking about. And we all equally are talking about an impossible object. The real question for true believers, is what happens when you take away the psychological persuaders, the reinforcements, the 'givens', the assumed certainties, the authority which can be built up around certain statements (i.e. the official texts, the ideology of movement, the 'tradition'), in short, all that flimflam which made marxism 'seem' plausible and which marxists take religiously as real.

    I would suggest that when people talk from their own experience, no matter who they are, they produce something like 'nihilist communism', i.e. a text of vulnerability and uncertainty which records the disappearance of what is known over the horizon of what is possible. Everything else, beyond this vulnerability, is 'capitalist' (for want of a better word) ideology, i.e. it is the imagining constrained by the present which does not even have the capacity to 'disimprison the soul of fact' but prefers instead the containment of plausible ideology.

    When, if, the marxists have achieved sufficient maturity to present their works in an other frame, another register, which means shearing them of their inhuman certainties, they will arrive in a place not dissimilar to where we are now and that, I think, will be to all of our advantage. From that point we might begin to think about the human community on a different foot.

  5. I think the logical extension of the Nihilist Communist argument, and the Nihilist Communist praxis, is an understanding that all things rigidify, that all things are decided by the means by which a society is reproduced (or that currently everything is capitalised), and that there are only three paths through this forest and they are all personal, which means they cannot involve any recruiting of others to ones project. The first is to accept everything and view the world like the Incredible Shrinking Man as he looked out into the garden while becoming the size of an atom. The second is to lose oneself in something else. The third is to pick at the wounds and to rant. Therefore, it is not possible to be, in the final analysis, a communist and a nihilist communist because the nihilist communist has no plans, no solutions for others and only answers which must be understood by others as a pointing to the ethically outlawed havens of withdrawal and retreat. But what is also missed by these others, necessarily so, is that this also implies an intellectual and practical non-compliance (within the boundaries one is allowed if one still wants to live). Refusal, if it is to mean anything, is a continuous journey towards withdrawal and non-compliance. This is why we say, for example: burn down the universities. This is why we are wrong. No one can join with the nihilist communist, it is a love that can only set one free, and put one in total isolation through total sensitivity, like a person who has lost all their skin.

  6. Thanks for your comment. In response, firstly, I want to clarify 'why we are wrong' or the function of wrong-thinking within social organisation, and secondly to consider the exact relation of nihilism (which you emphasise) and communism (which you do not mention).

    By wrong-thinking, I think you introduced the term elsewhere but I may be mistaken, I mean several things that have to be kept within our consideration:

    1a. Evidently, wrong-thinking is that which appears in relation to right thinking. But what is right thinking? It seems to me that which does not appear as 'right' but simply goes unchallenged. For example, consider this article and in particular the responses to it: We might ask what makes it 'right' thinking? What does 'fantastic' mean? What sets of relations make that article preferable, or more accurate, than the accumulated and uncongratulated materials archived here? Whatever our opinions as to the merits of that article we can no doubt agree that 'wrong thinking' involves not being congratulated or even engaged with within the established communist milieu.

    (continued below)

  7. 1b. Isn't the formation of a group specifically directed against wrong thinking? Well, perhaps. This may seem like a semantic nicety but I would like to make a distinction between wrongheadedness and thinking in error. When I pondered the formation of a communist group in which wrongheadedness is instituted into its structure, I did not mean that it should tolerate leftist errors and all the past mistakes and traditionalism which we have spent so long separating ourselves from. What I intended was:
    i. That such a group would have to tolerate radical divergence at the level of ideas (i.e. wrong thoughts) as expressed by those like ourselves who have anti-patriot attitudes to the groups we belong to. The urge to say the right thing is the lifeblood of the communist group as racket - therefore the contrary must hold true for the communist group as anti-racket. Evidently, this has something to do with Groucho Marx's line about not wanting to belong to any club that would have him for a member.
    ii. That although the only criteria of belonging to a communist group is adherence to certain principles, there must be an acceptance that those principles do not transfer across into general reality - i.e. that there are other factors more significant in social organisation than principles. In other words, if communist groups are based upon principles, society is not and communist society will not conform to communist group dynamics but will remain in relation to them.
    iii. The group as black box. Where wrongheadedness is processed, engaged with and digested by the group, things may well become a little cloudy (or should we say fuzzy?) but this is surely more preferable than conformity with pristine and eternal values, and a consequent runaway into the leninism of 'right thinking'.
    iv. The wrongheaded group does not seek to embody the correct answer to social organisation, it accepts there is no such thing. Its object is a Heath-Robinson process which facilitates the rehumanisation of social relations... significantly, this means processing other people's stupid opinions without crushing them. The only way I can see this happening is by recalibrating the importance of opinion within social relations to ‘low’. In other words, just as we remove sharp edges from the pathway of the baby learning to walk so we must separate opinion from conflict. In part, this will involve communists deliberately thinking the most wrong thoughts possible whilst constraining the content within the terrain of 'communism'. The more resilient and flexible communism is in relation to the possible type of ideational content that might be generated within it, the more structurally sound it will become - if it, as it has done historically, responds hysterically to every thought deviation it will become both brittle, psychotic and shortlived. To illustrate this, two gnomic ideas:

  8. 2i. Which brings us to the relation between 'nihilism' and 'communism' which are two broad placeholder terms we use for patterns of divergence and convergence in human relations. It seems to me that the individual is defined by its attacks upon social formations and that the social structure is defined by how it responds to these attacks. Having read too much Freud, I would suggest the model for this is to be found in the parable of the Prodigal Son - society must renew itself in relation to the individuals it sets in motion against it, just as parents must survive the heartbreak of their offspring's growth and self-separation.
    ii. Put in slightly different terms. The great problem inherent to communism lies in its dual essence, i.e. in the relation between live and dead activity. The individual embodies live activity - for it, everything is new. Society structures dead activity - it has seen it all before. The individual supplies a content to social forms by attacking them, by the act of divergence. Society, on the other hand, attempts to facilitate divergence through the flexibility of its institutions.
    iii. The problem for communists is that we are all sons, not fathers (with reference to Turgenev). We speak as individuals but make the category error of attempting to speak 'for' society (i.e. as if the principles which guide our revolt could be transfered into social structure). To cut this short, the problem is that we do not make the world but are born into a world that is already made. We cannot 'make' a world but can only rebel against what is already there (as Marx says, 'under conditions not of our choosing'). All we require, as individuals, is that our rebellion is facilitated by that which we rebel against, and is not simply repressed or ignored - communism is the socially instituted ongoing and permanent rebellion of individuals. For us, the newness of the world is the newness of our experiences but the form of these are socially conditioned. Unfortunately, most communist discourse attempts to make society 'new', i.e. to make it behave as an individual, this is both a category error and psychotic. Society must not behave like a 'son' (i.e. rebel against individuals as it will end by devouring its own children). Communists have wanted to draw a line and institute 'live activity' as the basis of society (i.e. both the historic workers' movement and the Situationists maintained this ideal), but it results in subjectivist loops (e.g. workerism or primitivism) representing itself as objectivity. The problem then, when communists call for the overthrow of the dictatorship of dead labour and its replacement with the domination of society by live labour is similar to that presented to Shylock who demands 'a pound' of Antonio's flesh - i.e. where to draw the line? Most communists have settled for a self-management variant, in which 'live activity' dominates at the level of management of present production. Clearly, this is inadequate. On the other hand, it is not possible to abolish 'the past' because human society is a complex emergent property of natural-physical and historical processes which cannot be refused or undone.

    So we end with two discs, nihilism and communism. Each overlays and eclipses the other. It is a relation, a dynamic. The individual attempts to assert live activity, whilst society conserves accumulated life-forces as a general condition.

    Again, I accept this is all 'wrong thoughts' but even a stupid person should be able to relate them to events in Turkey and Brazil after the second read through. (Even so, I expect no high fives from Libcom).

    1. It is wrong to talk of 'rebellion' of the son as he is not so reactive as all that - he is not 'dependent' but resembles his times more than his father (who is 'the times'). He has his own energy by which he positively asserts himself drawing from the materials he finds around him. The tragicomedy of capitalism at the level of human behaviour, where its aesthetic really grips, is that those who 'refuse' or rebel against work may only draw on the commodity form to express their revolt in the form of consumption. If one acts, it is like work but if one refuses to act, it is like 'passive consumption'. That which must be settled decisively before we make our affirmational gesture is always set at a level beyond our reach.

  9. And with reference to 'available materials', the image that suggests itself to me is that cartoon classic in which track is thrown into place before the out of control speeding train so as to channel it towards or away from some cataclysm. It is such a powerful image of compulsion that you have to ask why we understand it so readily. And of course, with reference to the above, it removes the conspiratorial idea of a strategising 'ruling class'... there is 'progress' but not in the sense of improvement - there is progress in the sense of a transformation from an earlier to a later state. Society's institutions hurtle forward in a movement of containment which exhausts them, causing them to become just a set of tracks, a channel for forces which they do not adequately express but only react to.

  10. “If one acts, it is like work but if one refuses to act, it is like 'passive consumption'.”

    In my contemplation of the concept of ‘refusal’ as it is most often deployed - for example in the decades old poster in which a young woman lies in bed, thinking, “I don’t think I’ll go to work today. I don’t think I’ll go to work tomorrow…” - I am reminded of the reported words of Jesus, a figure who has stood as a paradigm, mostly unrecognised, for all subsequent recruiting and evangelical organisations:

    Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. (From Matthew.) If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (From Luke.)

    When one reads the word ‘sword’, think first of an ideological sword, then of Marxism/Leninism/Stalinism, then of our relation to money and how we ourselves are turned into commodities in an actual and ideological market place, that is, how we are bought and sold for money and democracy. Think about the idea of disciples and recruiting people to ones project. Think how an ‘upsurge of struggle’ is really a convulsion in which we all play a part, even against our wishes, in the constant restructuring of capitalism.

    The creator of the poster of the woman lying in bed should not be held responsible for all the crimes against humanity that have been committed by capitalism… yet.

    How do we get out of this bind in which whatever we do or don’t do ends up supporting exploitation and tyranny somewhere and in some way?

    Who, or what, are we?

  11. Nihilist Communism and Relinquishment

    The difference between learnt life and instinctual life is that the latter facilitates the abandoning of the idée fixe. One is not driven on by invariant biological forces even unto death but may seek other paths. These other paths are accessed by letting go of dangerous commitments and obsessions. It is not possible to hold onto the idea of social change without either a sense of absurdity or fanaticism. Either way, intellectual and existential integrity is compromised. 'Commitment' to principles is both untenable and offensive in that the realisation of a principle, under present conditions, necessarily supposes systematic suppression of other human beings.

    Nihilist communism voids any obligation of commitment to a 'realisable' communism, but still retains the framework of communist consciousness so as to engage the world (where that is still appropriate) - thus, the content subsequently is made to reappear as an object within the framing of that engagement, but with altered, i.e. reduced, status.