Acid Communism as Demand


Since the publication of Mark Fisher’s collected writings in the K-Punk compendium, there has been some discussion over the last piece in the collection – his incomplete introduction to the unwritten book Acid Communism. While some have found the piece inspiring in its attempt to push beyond Capitalist Realism, some have found it to be nothing more than another call for Communist art collectives, and others have accused it of falling too far into post-structural libertarianism in its quotations of Foucault and descriptions of Limit-experience and heterogenious spaces. Here I would like to appeal to an application of Fredric Jameson’s dialectical thinking towards this incomplete document in order to consider Acid Communism as a part of a greater Marxist strategy, and a promising possibility in the establishment of Communist demands, or “ends” as Mike MacNair describes them.

Jameson’s influence on Fisher seems noteworthy here: Capitalist Realism has been seen by some as a psychologised continuation of Jameson’s Postmodernism: Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (famously adding another layer of removal to that ambiguous quote regarding the end of capitalism and the end of the world) and Fisher’s own favorable review of Valences of the Dialectic points towards an ongoing influence from and engagement with Jameson – culminating, however fragmentarily – in “Acid Communism.” From this engagement with Jameson there may perhaps be derived a less “Kantian” interpretation of the piece and one more aligned with Hegelian (and more importantly, Marxist) dialectics, the very kind of dialectical thinking that Jameson applies to Foucault and his contemporaries in Valences of the Dialectic; and, in turn, there may appear a semblance of some part of larger political strategy.

Acid communism need not be a flurry of action thrown into the political sphere as so many “trips” and “highs” that aggregate  as some kind of accelerated riot (this is the same Mark Fisher who commented on the abundance of anxieties and energies that, already so prolific, drove the industry of downer medications and drugs to let individuals cope), instead, acid communism may be the introduction of reflection into the midst of action by social engagement: discussion through popular social movement producing the stepping back that allows for the substance of “notion” to concretize into “idea,”  but the “idea” being itself an engagement with the world to change it to certain ends. Ultimately, it may be said, the consciousness Mark describes is the appearance of demands – the demands of communism – into the social sphere.

This “new consciousness” is, as Mark says concerning the psychedelic experience, an externalized consciousness – an awareness of a subjectivity paradoxically grounded in a limit-experience “at and beyond the limits of ‘ordinary’ experience, an experience of what cannot ordinarily be experienced at all… the entity which underwent this could not be the ordinary subject of experience – it would instead be some anonymous X, a faceless being.” It may be that this limit-experience is the experience of a subjectivity Jameson suggests “cannot be represented at all in the first place, and therefore,… its ostensible definitions and descriptions are all so much figural machinery. Hegel has several machines of this kind: reflection itself, as he often calls what is more loosely termed self-consciousness, is literally described in terms of mirrors and light while the moment of self-consciousness is famously evoked by the clash of two consciousnesses (who will become the Master and the Slave)…” (Jameson, Valences)

Is acid communism (or the “limit experience” itself) merely a “feeling out” of the limits of knowledge? Or, “what if the categories of the Logic were already just this natural thought of the outside for which Foucault calls? So many strange shapes that appear precisely in the kind of void Foucault evokes for language…I think we need to entertain the possibility that Hegel’s way with the categories is of this kind: a palpation, an audition, of the shape of the individual categories, as it were from the outside, a kind of outer edge in which thought is not expressed but described…”(Ibid) Here, the necessity of knowledge that is called upon by reflection on experience may necessarily be expanded and grasped socially because it is only “description”that must be put into play within the world. “The rise of philosophy is due to these cravings of thought. Its point of departure is Experience; including under that name both our immediate consciousness and the inductions from it. Awakened, as it were, by this stimulus, thought is vitally characterized by raising itself above the natural state of mind, above the senses and inferences from the senses into its own unadulterated element, and by assuming, accordingly, at first a stand-aloof and negative attitude towards the point from which it started.” (Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic) These “ideas” then are not so much some kind of thought crystallizing into absolute, but the process where experience and personal reflection (the categories of empty subjectivity) point away from oneself into the world and demand an engagement beyond those categories.

From this I suggest we allow Fisher’s description of Acid Communism to be, in its own way, an approach for the establishment of ends as MacNair describes them in his critique of Daniel Bensaid; ends that may be demanded and clearly stated, but that once put foreword are developed, debated, imagined, and reasoned through within contexts that are not merely driven towards the means of formless mass movements. Acid communism may be the task of asking these social movements (means without ends) to step back, to reflect, to discuss and identify the actual goals that truly represent the potential buried within themselves that may become part of larger political projects as such: “the goal of general human emancipation, a society focused on human development; more immediately, the necessary leading role of the working class as a class, those who live by their labour and lack other productive property, in the transition to such a society; and hence, in turn, the necessity for the overthrow of the state order, the constitution, which is designed and structured to make the state answerable to capital.” MacNair’s demand that political thought put ends ahead of means, not in such a way that means become justifications of idealized ends themselves, but that ends become the framework of discussion around which activity is built and directed such that means do not become ends in themselves (as so many general strikes or mass movements that fizzle away) can be seen in an acid communism that directs its efforts to the establishment and discussion of ends that build means. It is the elaboration of that glimmer of political content in Capital that was never seemingly fulfilled by the text itself:

“the momentary appearance or reappearance, pour mémoire so to speak, of radically different social formations or modes of production of both past and future, modes in which the commodity form did not or will not hold sway, or if you prefer another kind of formulation, modes which will not have been organized around the market as such […] [which] falls outside the framework Capital has set for itself, which is the analysis of a single mode of production, the one from which all these other societies are distinguished. ‘Let us imagine,’ says Marx; but as we shall see he will in the main body of Capital reach the heart of the matter-collective production-in a different and far more tortuous way. Still, this is the crucial moment for anyone wishing to find a political lesson in Capital and to encounter a call for revolution in the sense of an utter transformation or replacement of the capitalist mode of production as such. This second climax is then as it were Luft aus anderen Planeten; it is a momentary breeze from the future (and not yet Benjamin’s storm), it is a faint and garbled message from outside the system and its seemingly airtight closure.”(Jameson, Representing Capital)

Here, then, the Limit-experience is not simply some kind of development of internal consciousness, but the very process of turning reflection into an engagement of what is outward, setting it in motion with the world, grasping it through the development of ends, such that acid communism “has things to say and do in conditions of revolutionary crisis – but it also has things to say in ‘normal times’, when people are merely angry and exasperated, but not ready to embark on major strike waves or go on the streets; or even when they are upbeat and hopeful about the future,”(MacNair) it is the demand made so clearly by Henri Lefebvre, that writer of spatial dialectic and everyday life:

“Our search for the human takes us too far, too ‘deep’, we seek it in the clouds or in mysteries, whereas it is waiting for us, besieging us on all sides. We will not find it in myths — although human facts carry with them a long and magnificent procession of legends, tales and songs, poems and dances. All we need do is simply to open our eyes, to leave the dark world of metaphysics and the false depths of the ‘inner life’ behind, and we will discover the immense human wealth that the humblest facts of everyday life contain.” (Critique of Everyday Life vol. 1)

If we take this seriously as something that goes beyond social movements and utopian concepts and towards the practical engagement of real demands finding their way into life and forming a social body with which to operate, then the possibilities of a present Acid Communism can already be seen in latent forms. Most notably, one can see in the United States today the simmering possibilities in the program of Mike Gravel to appear in debate, not so much to win, but to put out the demands of anti-imperialism and social change at the expense of larger political powers. Acid Communism says we have the ability to grasp these moments and push these demands further into the description, collectively expressed, of an actual possibility of communism today. Fragmentary or not, it is worth looking at the final page of “Acid Communism” and the demands of the A/Traverso zine that Fisher approvingly quotes:

“We want to expropriate all the assets of the Catholic Church
Cut the working hours, increase the number of jobs
Increase the amount of the salary
Transform production and place it under workers’ control
Liberation of the huge amount of intelligence that is wasted by capitalism…”

Is there a potential risk of mere entryism in what has been extrapolated from these fragments? Is there the potential of falling back into the idealized, utopian memory of the Situationists that has become so popular in Universities today? One cannot deny it. But Acid Communism need not be an avant-garde, nor a vanguard, but merely the continual, reinforced demands of communism externalized from individual misery and put forth into the world. Fisher’s politics had their shortcomings: an emphasis on working class as an identity, an over-emphasis on cultural totality, a fear of the “Leninist Super-Ego” that might seem at odds with the “ends”-focused interpretation I have described. But just as the old SDP was willing to enter state politics with only the goal of  decrying the bourgeois and the whole system of capitalism, imperialism, and state, so too was Fisher willing to stand at a podium and call Steve Jobs a parasite, to say again and again how this was a tragedy, not normalcy, and that the social organizations of today were complicit in the mental illness and misery that seems all too common. All too common, as attested by this unfinished introduction to a book that was never written.

“The revolution did not happen. But the material conditions for such a revolution are more in place in the twenty-first century than they were in 1977.”

There are demands to be made. Let us find them, let us make them.

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