Anti-communisms: Discourses of Exclusion
Abstract submission deadline (non-obligatory but recommended): 31st August 2018
Text submission deadline: 1st November 2018
Planned date of publication: March 2019
Editors: Piotr Kuligowski, Łukasz Moll, Krystian Szadkowski
Anti-communist discourse has always been conducive to the legitimization of the status quo and to laying the ground for relations of exploitation and domination. The repertoire of arguments encountered in historical and contemporary anti-communist discourses displays a comprehensive range of anti-democratic attitudes, rejecting the prospect of emancipation and a more egalitarian distribution of the commonwealth. Anti-communism can be understood as a discourse of exclusion, often explicitly mobilised by anti-democratic forces: reactionary defenders of the social hierarchy, opponents of the popular masses’ participation in politics, supporters of divides on the basis of socially inscribed differences (origin, race, gender) or advocates of imperialist politics (Liebman and Miliband 1984). Despite the historical variability of anti-communism, which has typically followed the incarnations of the communist spectre, some aspects of this ideology demonstrate persistent durability.
Anti-revolutionary doctrines gained traction during the era of the French Revolution, when European monarchs and aristocratic circles, often locked in antagonism with each other, began to express symbolic solidarity in the face of the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. The counter-revolutionary rhetoric and figures elaborated at the time, such as naturalist visions of the revolted mob or showing fear of the supposed consequences of the violation of the ‘divine’ order, evolved into recurring elements of the anti-communist arsenal in the long 19th century.
The emergence of subsequent insurgent groups and socialist ideologies saw counter-arguments develop accordingly. ‘Utopia’, which at the beginning of the 19th century referred only to the modern philosophical trend, featured in one of the key anti-socialist slogans after the July revolution of 1830 (Angenot 2003, 76-77). Another kind of argument, of frequent appearance in subsequent versions of anti-communism is the ‘psychiatrization’ of emancipatory social movements. By way of example, from its very beginning the Paris Commune (1871) was perceived by its opponents in terms of a collective delirium to be harnessed and suppressed as soon as possible.
It is in this broader context that the participants of the suppressed revolt of 1871 fell victim to bloody, systematic persecution for political reasons. The Parisian ‘bloody week’, however, turned out to be only a prelude to the repression and suppression experienced by 20th-century communists almost everywhere in the world. The slogans of condemnation of bold, ‘utopian’ programs of social transformation, in fear that more social groups would be drawn into the realm of politics, generated a violent discourse that repeatedly led to mass persecutions. It was this component of anti-communism that was brought to the extreme by the Italian Fascists and German Nazis, who based their political agendas on the slogans of exclusion, violence and the practice of deadly repression. On the other hand, anti-communism also had its Stalinist face: the victims of the ‘leftist bias’ discourse were not only the forms of workers’ self-organization, the movements of the New Left but also the rival groups and left-wing orientations within Marxism, with Trotskyism at the forefront.
Today, especially in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (including Poland), which have had a 20th-century episode of building real socialism, we observe the phenomenon of ‘late anti-communism’ (Žižek 2009). A quarter of a century since the collapse of real socialism and the implementation of the neoliberal ‘shock doctrine’ in the region (Klein 2007), which can be described as the ‘restoration of capitalist class power’ (Harvey 2005), the Right supported by the Catholic Church has been engaged in a massive offensive aimed at presenting the achievements of the past period as a historical ‘black hole’ filled with totalitarian enslavement under foreign tutelage and rule. The de-communization project run by the populist Right in Poland or Hungary includes the removal of patrons of streets and squares, the demolition of monuments, the stripping of pension rights from people associated with the period of real socialism, and glorifying soldiers of the anti-communist underground, including Nazi collaborators (Buden 2009). The anti-communist crusade is therefore aimed not only at the actual communists who play a very marginal role in the political landscape of these countries; its long-term goal is, rather, the permanent eradication from the public sphere of all ideas, symbols and locations associated with the Left in general. Consequently, anti-communism takes on the grotesque form of a clash between ‘good and evil’: the American Right suspects Barack Obama of links with communism, and its counterpart in Poland equates the neoliberal European Union with the USSR.
This way, communism becomes an ‘empty signifier’ of a general negativity. Neoliberals use the term broadly to legitimize capitalist transformations by identifying even moderately social-democratic programs with ‘communism’. Even the legendary Polish trade union ‘Solidarity’ that in the 1980s demanded and struggled for a self-governed model of socialism, in which some authors see the attempt to fulfill the communist promise (Majmurek, Mikurda and Sowa 2011), in the 1990s stood on the side of neoliberalism. The neoliberal project has been justified at least partly on the grounds of anti-communist ideology: the privatization of state-owned enterprises and deregulation of the market was explained by the historical necessity to separate the country from its degenerate past (Ost 2005). On the other hand, the right-wing nationalists’ anti-communism aims to place various ‘strangers’ out of the political community altogether – from supporters of the European Union to refugees. Thus, the impact of anti-communist discourse can be compared to the phenomena of ‘anti-Semitism without Jews’ and ‘Islamophobia without Muslims’ widespread in Poland and Hungary: the systematic evacuation of the political significance of the Left is accompanied by ‘anti-communism without communists’. This is also expressed in the reluctance to accommodate ‘leftism’ – a denigrating label attached to various groups, from feminists to neo-liberal publicists and from billionaires to LGBTQ people, vegetarians and cyclists. In such conditions, a paradoxical ‘class struggle without classes’ takes place, in which the role of the capitalist class is played by the so-called ‘pro-Western elite’.
And yet, anti-communism is not merely the domain of right-wing forces. The ‘anti-communist consensus’ connects groups of discrete political orientation but opposed to real socialism. The consensus extends to the left-wing camp: an imagined prospect of insurgency leads to the internalization of the anti-communist discourse by the Left, which is mortally afraid of any associations with the socialist past (Parenti 2015). This results in the naturalization of capitalist social relations and the inability to go beyond conservative reformism focused on building a phantasmatic ‘capitalism with a human face’. Indeed, an outcome of the anti-communist consensus is that the Left loses its own concepts, symbols, traditions and historical continuity while, through its active (implicit or explicit) links with discourses of exclusion and hierarchy (nationalism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, racism) it legitimizes right-wing hegemony operating against the postulates of equality and the actual democratization of social relations. For anti-communists who equate communism with Nazism – seeing in both the same totalitarian oppression and corruption – the crimes committed in the name of especially understood communism serve to delegitimize the actions of any progressive forces who do not want to give up their dreams of emancipation (Traverso 2017).
The forthcoming issue of Theoretical Practice is devoted to the critical analysis of anti-communist discourses in their historical and geographical diversity – including but also moving beyond the specificity of anti-communism in Central and Eastern Europe. We invite investigations into the continuity of motivations and attitudes that revive anti-communism and how the latter connects with ideologies stemming from a general ‘hatred for democracy’ (Rancière 2007), while we are equally interested in the breaks and transformations that anti-communisms have been subject to. Are there shared premises and an essential core in the arguments developed by anti-communists? Is there a common basis for their continued effectiveness? How were such arguments resisted in the past and how can they be combated today? We also ask why anti-communism is used, how it (re)presents communists and/or communism, who it excludes, and for what purpose. Contributors are also invited to examine the links between anti-communism and other discourses of exclusion so as to deepen understanding of the complexity of the rhetoric against social inclusivity – a rhetoric that may entail racist (Zeigler 2015), patriarchal (Theweleit 1987) or homophobic (Epstein 1994) arguments as well as the staples of anti-Semitism (Gerrits 1995) and Orientalism (Kovačević 2008).
In the face of rampant anti-communism, we refrain however from limiting ourselves to a defensive anti-anti-communism (Geertz 1984). We believe that an informed debate on anti-communism exceeds the parameters of a purely academic dispute over history. Its stakes are acutely political and up-to-date: ultimately, it is about freeing the social imaginary from the neoliberal dictate of ‘there is no alternative’, maintained, to a great extent if not exclusively, thanks to the ongoing exorcism of the spectres of communism and Marxism (Derrida 1994). We apprehend the desired disarticulation of the anti-communist consensus as a clearing of the ground and a necessary prerequisite for a much more critical task – that is, as essential for developing the idea of communism for our times.
Texts accepted for publication in the English-language issue will also be published in Polish on the Theoretical Practice website.
Contributors may consider the following topics:
- Efficiency of anti-communism – where it stems from, how to resist it?
- Motives of anti-communism – what its proponents want to achieve, and who, why and how they want to exclude?
- Single or multiple anti-communisms – what is constant and what changes in different manifestations of anti-communism?
- Components of anti-communist discourse (rhetoric, concepts, ideas) and its media.
- Anti-communist imaginary of communism and communists.
- Social basis of anti-communist discourses – history and contemporaneity
- Anti-communism as part of anti-democratic tendencies – what is its genealogy, how did it form?
- Anti-communism and other discourses of exclusion – connection with nationalism, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.
- Manufacturing anti-communism – how and with the use of what kind of institutions and for what purposes the negative image of communism was created and is propagated?
- Training of anti-communist subjectivity – what dispositions are anti-communist subjects trained to perform? How is anti-communist ideology embedded in the materiality of social practices?
- Anti-communist consensus – how does anti-communism from being the Far Right’s anti-democratic ideology become part of the hegemony shared by the majority of the political spectrum?
- Left-wing anti-communism – what are the mechanisms driving the internalisation of anti-communism by constituencies on the left and what are the dangers involved?
- Anti-communist Ostalgie – the impact of sentimental longing of the Left to real socialism on the strengthening of anti-communism.
- Anti-communism as the ideology that legitimizes the restoration of capitalist class power.
- The impact of anti-communism on emancipatory politics – how does the controversy over communism as the failed past affect progressive political agendas at present?
- Alternatives to anti-communism – how can the 20th-century history of socialism be reviewed from a progressive political standpoint which avoids the imprecise anti-totalitarian discourse that equates communism with Nazism and/or fascism?
- How to construct a progressive anti-anti-communist critique? What key concepts could be deployed towards that end?
- How to move from defense to offense – why do we still need the communist idea and how to organize the social practices around the common? What elements in extant theorizations and critical elaborations of the common and communism need to be advanced against anti-communist ideology?
We invite you to send abstracts for consultation with the editors before submitting the final draft of the text. However, this is not a requirement, and you may also submit the text for the reviewing process without prior consultations.
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