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November 22, 2010


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yeah, your last line says it. my first thought in reading this was yes, but what to do about identity politics.

i agree with zizek, if i recall correctly, something about other identities being a subtext of class, i buy this. b/c i think other identities are produced through and in capital. and i would agree that they then produce, inflect, generate one another in often unpredictable ways.

but how can we be sure, or maybe we can't [that is that we will just learn to appreciate differences]. as i defend this premise (other identities are a subtext....etc.), i find myself hesitating. i mean the "stuff" part is taken care of--they won't be rewarded with a better quality of life for simply being heirs to the wealthy or brilliant opportunists, etc. but we still have other inequalities that may not fade away. this is something i have a hard time envisioning (what it might look like under communism).


To follow up on Jocelyn, I cannot imagine a society where material wealth (however defined) is evenly distributed - or no one would "be entitled to more stuff." This may seem to go against everything you are suggesting but i don't think material inequality in and of itself is a problem. In fact, I don't personally care if some people have more stuff than I do. The problem is the guilded age levels of inequality, the extreme concentrations of wealth and the deprivation that the rest of us are experiencing. As long as everyone had enough of the basic necessities - a place to live, enough to eat, good education and health care - I don't think it matters if there is a class of people that lives in bigger homes or drives nicer cars. The socially destructive aspect of neoliberalism is that the plutocrats have so much that they no longer need the rest of us - they can live largely in isolation from the rest of society. This to me is what is dangerous about our time - the rest of us live on the edge of oblivion (even in the wealthy "developed" economies like Europe and the US) one medical disaster or extended jobless period from loosing everything. The fact that the elites either don't care or don't see this is what allows for us to even entertain the idea of communism today. If in fact it is a live option, it is because of the extremity of the current coordinates.

Account Deleted

it seems to me that capitalism somehow made us forget that there is a distinction between "being different" and "being unequal" and the imaginary of inequality as you name it, seems to function perfectly at this level of oblivion. what differences are / can be transformed to economic inequality? what are the mechanisms that enable the transition from differences to inequalities without ever raising the question of the legitimacy of this transition? (for example the president of Turkey uses this transition a lot lately to address gender issues - his recent comment that "women should have three children in order not to have an old-age population like Europe" was a punchline!) Following up on alain... It seems to me that the problem with capitalism is not only the intolerable inequalities that its neoliberal phase has unleashed but that a tolerable level of inequality - where basic necessities are provided for everyone (in the form of a welfare state)- cannot be sustained within its framework. I think that the neoliberal era makes it necessary that we go beyond thinking of welfare state as "emancipatory" so to speak. and it is because of this reason that we must entertain the idea of communism today.


i was thinking about this again. i think my point was more that, the redistribution of wealth and re-imagining the division of labor, under communism, is not enough.

What makes Zizek so much more radical in thought, than most theorists/philosophers writing in this era, is that he wagers that we can create a different symbolic order. that we are not stuck btwn norms and [the unlikely story] of transgression. something else is possible.

i think for communism to be truly transformative, thoroughly and deeply revolutionary, we must have the shared goal of developing a new symbolic realm. what will that look like? is it even possible? i think it is. i think a new ontology of difference, if you will, is necessary.

Jodi Dean

When I was saying 'more stuff' I was way too sloppy, using a consumerist approach to equality that totally distorts the conversation.

Closer to what I have in mind: the elimination of private property (not the same as the elimination of personal property). To reject material inequality is not the same as demanding that every single person receive exactly the same amount of goods. It is to see all material goods as the common products of common labor (and so it radicalizes the supposition of the welfare state that holds that a state is responsible for the well-being of its citizens such that those who are left behind or left out of the benefits of capitalism are caught in the social welfare net--as Demet says, this has been lost under neoliberalism).

I love the passage from Marx in the Critique of the Gotha Programme: "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs." This is premised on the idea that all production is ours; none of it is private (and this does not require a centrally planned economy). So the common is first nourished and sustained: take care of nature, education, science, health, infrastructure (transportation and communication), housing, provision for the future. Next: consider new common goals in culture and exploration. Finally: various local and individual allowances and stipends.

Class inequality is the result of private property--and it makes us think of having more or having less as the result of someone choosing to have more and others choosing to have less. In an egalitarian setting, there could be such a choice, but not under capitalism. Cars and houses are symptoms or elements, not just consumer choices. And yes, the dangerous aspect of neoliberalism is its amplification, extensification, and entrenchment of extreme inequality.

If we accept that there is no final utopia or end of politics, then of course it's the case that communism is not enough. It's better than what we have--and the only solution to the problem of planetary destruction (the time when communism was presented in terms of the development of the productive forces is long past).

I like very much the way Demet refers to attending to the transition from difference to inequality and how this transition tends to go unmarked and unpoliticized. Perhaps the latter is better--in the US, rags to riches stories are one of the ways the transition is marked, so is the phenomenon of 'trophy wives' whereby good looks transition to material benefits.


i think communism IS enough. i just want to broaden what it means. what isn't enough is a narrow understanding of communism that deals [only] with the tangible or concrete disparity of labor and resources. there are also the tacit inequalities that must be brought under the concept of a commons.

if we accept that communism is the actualization of a universality, which i do, then it IS the ultimate horizon. that doesn't mean there is not conflict within it. or that it is utopian. or that it is determinant or fixed. but it is the realization of a universal. i am just suggesting a reconstruction or re-evaluation of our desires, our cultures, the very tacit ways we go about creating the world. otherwise i don't see how a successful transition or revolution can be sustainable. maybe you are saying that too, don't know. but i do think this will require discipline and commitment to education and especially philosophy. it will require people giving up things they are deeply attached to. this is not unrelated to difference, b/c difference signals particularity (and thus the symbolic). how we go about developing new understandings of difference, i think will not only be integral to the struggle of communism but also elemental in the very foundation and longevity of what we build ("the day after"-so to speak).

Joe Clement

Regarding the difference between "differences" and "inequalities," and Demet and Jodi's examples, Marx says interesting things in his earlier essays. In particular I remember the way he ends "The Power of Money" commenting on how money inverts or distorts relationships and "makes contradictions embrace" (forgive the long quote):

"If I have no money for travel, I have no need – that is, no real and realisable need – to travel. If I have the vocation for study but no money for it, I have no vocation for study – that is, no effective, no true vocation. On the other hand, if I have really no vocation for study but have the will and the money for it, I have an effective vocation for it. Money as the external, universal medium and faculty (not springing from man as man or from human society as society) for turning an image into reality and reality into a mere image, transforms the real essential powers of man and nature into what are merely abstract notions and therefore imperfections and tormenting chimeras, just as it transforms real imperfections and chimeras – essential powers which are really impotent, which exist only in the imagination of the individual – into real powers and faculties. In the light of this characteristic alone, money is thus the general distorting of individualities which turns them into their opposite and confers contradictory attributes upon their attributes.

"Money, then, appears as this distorting power both against the individual and against the bonds of society, etc., which claim to be entities in themselves. It transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence, and intelligence into idiocy.

"Since money, as the existing and active concept of value, confounds and confuses all things, it is the general confounding and confusing of all things – the world upside-down – the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities.

"He who can buy bravery is brave, though he be a coward. As money is not exchanged for any one specific quality, for any one specific thing, or for any particular human essential power, but for the entire objective world of man and nature, from the standpoint of its possessor it therefore serves to exchange every quality for every other, even contradictory, quality and object: it is the fraternisation of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace.

"Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over other people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return – that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a beloved one, then your love is impotent – a misfortune."

Joe Clement

Also, Jodi, I love what you say in your comment that opens with that line from Critique of the Gotha Programme. I engineer and sometimes host a socialist radio-program, The Old Mole Variety Hour, in Portland on KBOO 90.7FM. Would you feel up to it or even just be available before the end of the year to perhaps come on and talk about these or related issues? I have been meaning to approach you about this for a while now. We try to meet for dinner on the first monday of every month to plan out the next month's shows (we air Mondays from 9-10AM), and it would be great if I could bring you up as a potential participant.

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