Zizek provides one of the most compelling arguments why the party is not outmoded, why we have not entered a political time that has surpassed the need for a party, and why the party is not a form confined to the limits it encountered in a prior sequence. The most succinct way to put the argument is the "proletarian struggles with a foreign kernel." Another way to make the same point is to say that the proletariat is not self-identical; it is split. Or, the proletariat doesn't know what it desires; it confronts its own desire as something foreign or mysterious.
What are the implications of this idea for thinking about the potential of a party for us? I begin by looking at how Zizek approaches his discussion, namely, via Lenin's paraphrase--and revision--of Kautsky with respect to the idea that the working class needs non-working class intellectuals to bring knowledge to them. This idea has been widely criticized, viewed as elitist or as a failure to trust the workers. Zizek emphasizes that Lenin and Kautsky are not the same here: where Kautsky says that intellectuals are external to the class struggle, Lenin says they are external to the economic struggle, which means they are still within the class stuggle. So, the first thing to note is that the perspective of the party is one that is not external to class struggle but embedded within it.
Nonetheless, there is an externality here, an externality to the economic struggle. This is important insofar as without this external perspective, the working class remains subordinate to bourgeois ideology. Its spontaneous development can go no further. The perspective of the party, then, is one that situates the economic struggle within the larger class struggle. It makes the economic struggle appear not as a matter for these workers in this factory but as part of a larger, more fundamental conflict, the antagonism constitutive of capitalist society.
Another way to express the same point is to note that the working class is a bourgeois subject. It is constrained within a field or discourse configured by and for the bourgeoisie; it gets its position from within this field. So it might refuse and resist, sabotage and strike, but all these actions are still confined within a field given by the bourgeoisie, configured for its interests, in its behalf. To be another kind of subject, the subject of another field, discourse, politics (sequence?), to be proletarian, requires a break or twist, a shift to another field, the field of the Party.
Badiou has something like this in mind in Theory of the Subject when he notes the internal split in the working class between its 'true political identity' and 'its latent corruption by bourgeois or imperialist ideas and practices' (8). He writes: "the practical (historical) working class is always the contradictory unity of itself as proletariat and of it specific bourgeois inversion ... This unity of opposites is determined .. by the general bourgeois space" (9). And, "the bourgeoisie makes a subject" (42); "the subjective effect of their force lies in the divided people" (42).
Zizek writes: "'external' intellectuals are needed because the working class cannot immediately perceive its own place within the social totality, which enables it to accomplish its 'mission'--this insight has to be mediated through an external element." This external element is the Party.
The Party is not identical to the 'external intellectuals.' As we know from "What is to be Done?" Lenin assumed that the membership of the Party would come from intellectuals and workers, in fact, that those categories blurred and intermingled; they were not fixed and firm as some kind of split between mental and physical labor. The Party, then, cannot be localized onto a specific, empirical set of people. In fact, because it is not reducible to a number of given people, it cannot be said to 'substitute' these people for the workers, proletariat, or masses. To assume so is to make a kind of category mistake.
The Party "gives form" to the external element, to the setting in which the workers are situated but which remains opaque to them with respect to their own position in it. It does this in several senses.
First, the Party occupies the position of the proletariat's own decenteredness. It takes that place; it inserts itself there. Zizek writes: "it is not possible for the working class to actualize its historical mission spontaneously--the Party must intervene from the outside, shaking it out of the self-indulgent spontaneity." He continues, "in psychoanalysis there is no self-analysis proper; analysis is possible only if a foreign kernel gives body to the object-cause of the subject's desire."
[Unfortunately for me as I typed this I realized that psychoanalysis is in fact rooted in Freud's self-analysis. My best guess is that the way out of this would be to focus on Freud's dream analysis and his writing, understanding these as practices of externalization and working through that ultimately were taken up in letters to and discussions with others.]
I understand the analogy between working class and analysand/Party and analyst as relying on the insight that we do not know our own desire; desire remains opaque to us; it is unconscious, manifest in our actions, our practices, in various symptoms or distortions, but not something we know. Nor is it something we choose--rather, we are who we are because, in a way, desire has chosen us; we are who are because of the desire that makes us. It is in us more than ourselves, a constitutively foreign, even alienating kernel. [I add alienating here as a step toward rejecting a politics rooted in a critique of alienation; alienation is constitutive and unavoidable.]
The argument for the split nature of the working class is important as a response to those who would posit in workers a clear knowledge of what they want and who would link this knowledge to politics. Put in old fashioned Leninist terms, this can only take us as far as trade union consciousness. It remains within the economic struggle rather than the class struggle.
Second, the Party gives form to a new kind of knowledge, knowledge rooted not in some determinate content but linked "to a collective political subject." The Party doesn't know everything; it provides a position from which to know. We could say that it opens up another field, another discourse. The Party holds this field in place, providing the working class within a new place, the place of the proletariat.
From within the economic struggle, only the opposition between worker and bourgeoisie was possible. The external element of the Party opens out another field, one in which the proletariat is its subject. Zizek writes,
"What the Party demands is that we agree to ground our 'I' in the "we" of the Party's collective identity: fight with us, fight for us, fight for your truth against the Party line--just don't do it alone, outside the Party. Exactly as in Lacan's formula of the discourse of the analyst, what is important about the Party's knowledge is not its content, but the fact that it occupies the place of Truth."
So, with respect to knowledge, the Party is not necessary because of its knowledge of history, of struggles, or of anything. It's necessary because its knowing stems from class struggle. The Party speaks from the position of the truth of class struggle as the fundamental antagonism. To say that the position of the Party is true is to designate the position from which the Party speaks, the fact that it holds in place a field or discourse or set of meanings.
[A filled out account of the Party as analogous to the analyst would note that the subject is in the position of addressee and that the master is remaindered. This suggests a formal way of describing the perhaps some of the resistance felt towards the Party and its demands, its requirements and its discipline that we know may be wrong or arbitrary and may very well result in failure insofar as the Party cannot guarantee its own political success; again, the Master is remaindered.]
Third, by giving form to the divided working class (the class within the field of the bourgeoisie), the Party occupies the place of its division and establishes the field for a new subject, the proletariat (or, in my jargon, the people as the rest of us, the people understood in terms of the primacy of division). With respect to the analogy with the analyst, this does not mean that the Party knows the secret of the working class (and thereby turns it into the proletariat). Nor does it mean that the Party cures the working of its bourgeois tendencies, and thereby subjectifies it. Rather, the Party holds open the place necessary for this subjectification.
If we think of analysis as providing the space within which the analysand can concentrate his or her feelings, fantasies, and experiences, then we can think of action in relation to, in the context of, the Party as an analogous kind of concentration. Badiou is appropriate here when he condemns the idea of 'convergence of struggles.'
You may 'coordinate' them as much as you like, but a sum of revolts does not make a subject. The geometric character of 'convergence' must be replaced with the qualitative character of concentration . . . Convergence is the typical objectivist deviation, in which, once the work of subjective purification is spirited away, antagonism finds itself ill-advisedly dissolved (44).
To sum up, the Party is necessary because the people are split. They are split between the way they are given, positioned, within capitalism. They are situated within a field that tells them who they are and what they can be, that establishes the matrix of their desire (Zizek's definition of ideology), but that represses the truth of this field in class struggle. The Party asserts this truth, it speaks from the position of this truth and offers another field of possibilities, a discourse for another subject. In contrast, opposition to, capitalist desire, it opens up a terrain for the desire of another subject, a collective, political subject.
At this point, I have basically repeated points I've already made in Zizek's Politics and The Communist Horizon. Why bother? Because at least one element of the analogy between the party and the analyst remains unexplored, the status of each as a transferential object. This is what I want to explore next--the party as a transferential object. What does this mean and what does it accomplish? My intuition is that this is a crucial matter for a defense of the party. Accounts of small, open, and fluctuating groups and associations generally ignore transference. That is, they proceed flatly, as if associations were nothing but assemblages of people working together (with varying degrees of conflict). The unconscious component of association is ignored. I'll take this up in subsequent posts.