No Becoming, Only Escape

In an op-ed posted on Australia’s Newcastle Herald two years ago, Roland Boer discussed the variegated nature of Chinese expressions of democracy over time, in a useful effort to qualify and critique particularly basic analysis of the country’s political system. One take away for me was his proposition that “communism is not the end of the road, but the road itself. Communism is a state of becoming rather than being.” Of course, insofar as it is generally accepted that capitalism is a system that has evolved and changed structure over time, it is an inherently reasonable assumption that a country of socialist or communist bent would undergo changes in political and economic expression over time.

A secondary point he raises is that socialist democracy itself is “plural rather than singular. These forms are constantly reshaped due to changing conditions and outside pressures.” It is not simply that one socialist country or another would undergo the same process of movement and change. No, they undergo processes unique to their own history and future, as each acts and is acted upon by itself and those outside of it. I agree in full, in the sense that is deeply useful to embrace the potential and actual complexity of the socialist and communist field of expression. It would be and is brazen and simple-minded not to do so.

If one reads the article one will find that it is short and not the kind of place one should go to expect a full explication of all points of concern. It is in this manner that I propose the following thoughts not as criticism of Boer’s piece itself or work done since necessarily, but as ideas related to the op-ed only due to it being their source. For, as useful as Boer’s piece is, one needs to reckon with two weaknesses that arise from the understanding of socialism proposed therein: one is an understanding of socialism or communism that relies upon and structures itself wholly in relation to becoming may tacitly defers the contradictions and problematic of its present indefinitely, and two that it needs to acknowledge that despite the the plurality of its expressions capitalism is operative as a ground in relation to these expressions.

These criticisms stem largely from having recently read Daniel Colucciello Barber’s article, The Creation of Non-Being, and his development of ideas of control and domination out of Deleuze and how each relates to futurity. For he finds in the popularity of finding the supposed need to develop “habits of affirmation” out of Deleuze an intrinsic closure of future possibilities, insofar as the affirmationist posture—expressing itself through multiplicities, assembleges, bricolage etc.—is seen to guarantee these possibilities. Barber reads Deleuze to be fully against such an idea, wherein he suggests that the affirmationist gesture to have been subsumed by a regime of capitalist control that

establishes domination not by setting up in advance strict boundaries, but rather by a kind of unending encouragement, or motivated permissiveness: control establishes and expands itself by establishing and expanding possibilities of communication…

[H]abits of affirmation—of multiplicitous possibilities, or of the possibility of being-otherwise—are not resistant to, but actually constitutive of, control’s modulation. Control is marked by “endless postponement” (Deleuze 1997: 179), meaning that the future—as that which breaks with the present—never takes place. The present is extended into the future, and so the future becomes a modulation of the present; an essential incommensurability between present and future remains unthinkable.

It is here, then, that the two articles meet, for it is in Barber’s reading that the future is endlessly postponed that I would propose to find a criticism of Boer’s “communism as becoming”. Becoming here operates as something like a “habit of affirmation”, wherein the idea of communism as “the road itself” is to say that communism-as-becoming indexes the “establishing and expanding of possibilities”. The future becomes an infinitised, blank horizon of “multiplicitous possibilities” that apply to communism the very logic of contemporary capitalism. The problem is further compounded for such a thinking of communism utterly fails to reckon with this logic that structures the world and that clones itself in communist thinking; the break with the present is not instantiated, it is only further modulated. Barber writes,

The present, defined by control, appears to foreclose rather than develop possibilities of the future. Faced with such foreclosure, a developmentally oriented Marxism, with its tendency toward mediatic or hegemonic advance, is put under severe stress. Its emphasis on affirmation, which underwrites historically progressive development, is called into question by the present foreclosure of the future.

Barber is at pains to underline, apropos Lazzarato, that capitalism is a matter of power and not economic logic. Its contemporary forms of accumulation are identical to its primitive forms of accumulation and as it grows so does its capacity to destroy, in the sense that the destruction it realises is entirely proportionate to its growth. This logic structures the present world and in so doing erases the future—the future horizon of the becoming of communism. Which is all to say that capitalism is the destruction of the future.

It would be the height of evasiveness to not acknowledge that socialist countries are not readily tied up within this logic, to various degrees participating, gaming, and otherwise profiting from it. It would also be pedantic in the extreme to not concede the essential impossibility of not doing otherwise. My only point is to suggest that communism-as-becoming appears to ignore much of the world’s shape and operation within socialism itself; indeed, as it plans the world dies.

If becoming is impossible what might be thought instead? Perhaps, to follow the conclusion of Barber’s own paper, escape; escape as theorised by the Afro-Pessimist writers and literature that Barber elucidates. “Captivity is not a space within the world, but the world itself” is the understanding of a communist thought that subjects itself to and undergoes the knowledge of those made non-being by capitalism, it is a thought that aligns itself with escape from this world. The problem of contemporary socialism is the willingness to be within a capitalist context. This is a form of being that, inasmuch as it is permitted by capitalism, is to be refused for existence with, learning from, escape with those denied this being.

Yet, as capitalism is an operation of power, a power that makes the world, a present tyranny that to varying degrees controls some and holds captive others; the function then of undergoing and aligning with this captive thought is to join in weaponisation:

Under conditions of control, flight may remain an imaginable possibility; under conditions of captivity, the stakes of such flight involve the end of the possibility of this world.

If one is to imagine this flight, this escape, then one should understand that it is revolutionary; which is to say that it “composes itself as the search for a weapon” (Koerner). It would then be this failure to search for a weapon that indicts contemporary socialism; for the matter at hand is not to think the future or communism-as-becoming—there is no future. The present is what must be broken, and that requires a hammer—or a gun.