Monday, February 23, 2015

Invisible Aspects of Opportunism: Semioticization

As is the case more broadly in postmodernism, the history of the communist movement is transformed for opportunism into an object of semiotic cannibalism. Cannibalism is of central importance for the semiotic politics of opportunism: anthropologically, it is part of the triumph over a defeated opponent; similarly, the opportunistic cannibalization of the communist past is a sign of triumph over historical communism. At the same time, cannibalism is a means of "incorporating" the communist Other, transforming him/her into something harmless and manipulable. Cannibalism is both murder and mourning over murder, an attempt to retain the trace of the now harmless dead as a "souvenir" -- hence the horrifying cannibalistic habit of retaining "souvenirs" of victims -- shrunken heads, teeth, hair, etc. Similarly, in opportunism's own semiotic cannibalism, communist history is "mourned" as a trophy, as a violently disjointed memory of a now dismembered (precisely into "signs") body (remember the exemplary anticommunist "trophy" of the 90s, a piece from the Berlin wall). Like actual cannibalism, semiotic cannibalism suggests both sadistic violence and imaginary identification with the object of this violence (I transform the Other, whom I swallow, into myself), and hence its character is both sadistic and narcissistic: it is an extreme form of simultaneous hatred for the Other and narcissistic libido so intense that it transforms this hated Other into a part of one's  own Ego.

Without this characteristically morbid psychic dynamic, opportunism would not be able to mobilize the desire, to satisfy the libido, of the opportunist; if communism was simply something to be rejected and devalued, opportunism would immediately lose a large part of its allure. Hence, the process of semioticization is not a simple epiphenomenon of opportunism, but a key to the ways in which it attracts and enchants its unconscious victims, the greatest part of which are the petty bourgeois youth, who find in opportunism a reflection of their own ambivalence toward communism: the submission to the demands of the dominant ideology, which devalues it and marginalizes it, and, at the same time, the pleasure of a forbidden desire for it through "harmless" substitutes. 

To the degree that semioticization is also commodification, it satisfies, at the level of the imaginary, desires that are prohibited or censored by the symbolic order. Hence, an important segment of petty bourgeois society can find an outlet for its ambivalences and manage them by singing to the tune of "Bandiera Rossa" while effectively ridiculing that which it sings of, and while remaining unconscious of the existence of any sort of contradiction in this. Indeed, as Lukacs's The Destruction of Reason reminds us, fascism was precisely "allowable socialism", "socialism" intended to devalue and repress socialism,  translating it into a simple "desire for collective life" and then translating that into a desire for submission to the authoritarian monopoly capitalism of the Reich.

Extract from an essay in Lenin Reloaded, 11 Feb. 2014, transl. Lenin Reloaded.

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