Of course, such ‘French stuff’ might be described as speculative and ‘dangerously’ abstract, and one might, like the reviewer mentioned by Alberto Toscano, appeal to good common sense and carry on as though all the thought had been done on the matter. This was Eagleton’s approach, it seems. He was witty and disappointing, lacking any sense of urgency or shared difficulty as he meandered along familiar paths through Shakespeare’s precursory communism with a peculiarly English cheeriness, envisioning a ‘deliciously indolent’ and bountiful communism that seemed, in light of our current situation, rather grotesque. Mark Fisher’s criticisms of him are not ad hominem (in the way, for instance, that describing Badiou et al as ‘French stuff’ might be considered ad nationem: scare quotes cannot hide lazy prejudices), but point simply to the fact that the questionable virtues of pluckiness, common sense and the occasional well-intended sneer have allowed us all to get away with the insupportable for too long.
What is being advocated is neither a ‘socialism of fools’ that would seek a scapegoat for systemic excesses nor some folksy populism à la Bové. Thankfully, neither was the chimera of working-class subjectivity, whatever that might be, given any more attention than such an impoverished political category deserves; impoverished precisely because it reduces political subjectivity to economic imperatives, leaving very little room for thought, and also for politics, within a market whose necessity remains largely unquestioned even at times of crisis and which imagines ‘only that it believes in itself’, as one speaker described it. In such a situation all that can be done is to wait for the ‘right’ conditions and snipe at those who don’t agree.
If anything connects the thought of the likes of Badiou, Rancière and Negri it is a greater generosity as to what constitutes political subjectivity and its potential for significant action in a world in which conditions of labour are not those faced by either the Third International or indeed the New Left. This fact no doubt explains something of the popularity of the event at Birkbeck.
In the absence of an idea of communism one wonders what might be left for avowed Marxists or anyone else concerned with political association and organisation imagined in any way other than the desperately inadequate forms with which we must work at present.
There were problems with the conference at Birkbeck (not least, the dominance of celebrity WASP intellectuals, as Rancière described it), but seeking to rethink the idea of communism was not one of them, unless one imagined to have it all figured out beforehand.