Last week I had the pleasure of being published by Cosmonaut magazine. You can read the piece, “More Acid than Communism” here.
Now that the piece has been out for a while I wanted to write a little bit from a more personal perspective about my concerns with Acid Communism and the opportunities and roadblocks it presents. Originally I had considered writing the article in first person with more about my personal interaction with Fisher’s piece, but I ended up writing from third person in order to try and stick to a more objective review. That being said, I am willing to admit to bending the stick a bit for the nature of the argument. I think I can now add a little bit more nuance to my critique while still defending my stance.
First, it might seem odd to some that I wrote this critique when I myself have written positively about Fisher’s piece, and some of my earlier posts also discuss concepts of everyday life, alienation, surrealism, and recreation. I have written positively before about Henri Lefebvre, George Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, and other thinkers related to festivals, consciousness, and the limit experience. What should be emphasized is that many of the issues raised by Acid Communism are issues I agree with, and they are issues that have pushed me to the left. However, those same concerns and interests have pushed me beyond many of the stances I had in, say, “Recreational Rebellion” where I conceive of the general strike as festival. I have seen responses to my article commenting that Acid Communism is really more of a space of personal experimentation than a political program as such and therefore it is not realistic or appropriate to consider positive demands. There is some truth to this, and it is something I am sympathetic to. In the article, though I am writing in favor of a political organization and party, I speak favorably of the autonomist movements that emerged from the ‘60s. I also think that, of the three positions I recommend Acid Communism point itself towards, the first one – as an attempt to rethink revolutionary rhetoric and argument – is the strongest. In his piece, Fisher describes moving beyond an Adorno-like position of negative aesthetics towards a positive one. Surely this requires, not only a vision of a future, but a conception of positions and goals to move towards? If the point is to have Acid Communism then the movement must have ties and connections to the Left as it exists today. Otherwise why not simply conceive of it as neo-psychedelia?
I’d also like to raise a point concerning a subject I wish I’d gotten to discuss in the article but couldn’t quite situate. I mostly critique Gilbert and Stamm’s descriptions of Acid Communism in opposition to Fisher’s unfinished piece. This is partially because Fisher’s work is obviously unfinished, so critiquing Gilbert and Stamm seemed more appropriate as a method of critiquing contemporary activity. That said, I would like to point out that I do have criticisms of Fisher himself and don’t wish to raise a straw man out of one form of Acid Communism by using Fisher as an untouchable ideal. For one thing, Fisher’s conception of class comes out of a British cultural understanding that relies very heavily on personal experience and background as opposed to one’s current relational position in the forces of production. I am not unsympathetic to this understanding, and I think it is hard to untangle class background from current class position, but it does produce sociological complications for organizing. In particular I think this conception has played a large part in conceiving of “revolutionary” or “post capitalist” desires as something that must be absolutely “transformative” or “outside.” Even if the ultimate end of communism requires feeling out possibilities we cannot conceive of here and now, the desires for a better world are situated in our society already. The issue is that people already can’t achieve what they want. People (specifically those who rely on the wage and are free of their means of subsistence) don’t have the autonomy to act and grow and fulfill themselves because of the relationships of the world. Fisher’s critiques of neoliberalism were eloquent condemnations of ideological hypocrisy and the consequences of the destruction of labor movements and social security. But this emphasis tends to overlook that these tendencies are part of capitalism as a system and not merely a conspiracy of greedy individuals or ideological actors. It is because of this orientation that consciousness raising appears as a primary strategy without appropriate consideration for its failings. Consciousness raising tries to situate oppression as systemic, but in order to do so it needs to further reify identity and individualize agency, but that individualization occurs negatively by opposing it to a system one has no control over. It can therefore become a circular problem of capitalist realism where one recognizes the problem as capitalism but becomes increasingly disenchanted with their capacity to act or change things. These problems go back to Fisher himself and his own writing. Fisher often had a problem of at once thinking too big (trying to bring back full utopian thinking) and too small (most of his practical conceptions of the future were Corbynite labor party social democratic reforms). These issues shouldn’t just be oriented at people who have continued after Fisher. And the fact that Fisher was positively influenced by Gilbert means that many of the criticisms I leveled could probably be oriented towards Fisher to some extent as well, just how much is simply hard to say because of his passing.
Finally, I will say that there’s certainly nothing wrong with producing art influenced by leftist politics, nor is there anything wrong with finding inspiration from the past, or finding ways to navigate our contemporary situation for one’s own health. But, it does seem important to differentiate between the personal and the political when it comes to activity. This means that it’s more important, not less, that art, memes, and other creations that conceive of themselves as leftist should think about what they actually are trying to conceive of, argue for, and complicate, specifically because there isn’t a mass base. Because I came into the left from interest in the situationists and surrealists and a desire to find a better way to contemplate the frustration of commodification and alienation, I think that it’s precisely part of my goal to think how to make that transition better for others who share those concerns while also finding ways to get others beyond certain pitfalls I encountered. There certainly were times when my early ideas that took inspiration from post-leftism and insurrectionary leftism could’ve become reactionary. It’s because of platforms like Zero Books that I started to look more systemically and concretely at material conditions rather than consciousness and art proper. The fact that I’m here writing this means that I think there are creations and aesthetics that can draw people to the left and make them really think. But I also think we need to be careful about what we’re doing and really look at our history and contemporary situation to figure out what’s happening and what we can do. I would like to see Acid Communism work to integrate some of the hard lessons that individual leftists often have to work through (about history, about strategy, about analysis and organization) in order to make those problems easier to navigate beyond, say, lifestyle-ism, rather than just fight to make anti-capitalism of any sort appear cool. If defending Acid Communism means withdrawing from discussion and development of positive demands, then it seems like a withdrawal from both Fisher’s argument (whatever problems it may have had), and any sort of political association with Communism to begin with.