The relation between Lacanian psychoanalysis and politics can be seen in two ways: on one hand one could extract from Lacan’s theory either strictly political concepts or useful ideas and use them to formulate a new political philosophy; on the other hand, one could at the same time ask what kind of politics psychoanalysis needs in order to survive in a world that is hostile to it. This paper examines the second possibility. It shows that in fact, according to Lacan, even Marx and his political hypothesis, which was realized by the Soviet state in the 20th century, ended up ignoring or fighting the psychoanalytical truth. The simple fact that a political movement labels itself ‘revolutionary’ doesn’t mean that its politics is necessarily a psychoanalytical politics or a politics hospitable to psychoanalysis.
Is Lacan a Marxist? Certainly not, he is a Freudian. And yet he maintained that it was Marx who discovered the symptom, not Freud. Without any doubt, however, he also maintained that Marx was the best sponsor of the capitalist’s discourse. So what do we do with Lacan: use him to construct a post-Marxist communist theory, as Laclau and Žižek, above all, seem to be doing, or make a parsimonious use of him, like Alain Badiou? What do we do with and about Lacan? Perhaps a reply – a preliminary one, a provisional morality à la Descartes – could take this form: we can begin by asking ourselves not what new (and more or less decisive) contribution Lacan has to make to a revolutionary politics, whether communist or left-wing, but rather what the politics should look like that has to accompany analytical discourse if it is to survive in a hostile environment; in a social milieu which is scared stiff of analytical discourse.
In reality this rule of a provisional morality does have a solid grounding, it rests on a sound conviction, i.e. the awareness that devoting oneself to safeguarding the analytical discourse is an autonomous and specific interest, independent of whatever forms the economic organization of society and the corresponding political institutions may take. I am not afraid to say it: while continuing to profess myself a communist even though I do not identify with most of what goes by this name in the West (and if I must be entirely frank, I am fascinated only by what is happening in China, even if its interpretation is complicated and controversial), I am increasingly convinced that my duty as both a philosopher – one who attends to knowledge through thought – and a citizen – provided that this term still has any sense (and I doubt it), is to promote the cause – in Lacan’s sense: the truth as cause of the subject – of analytical discourse, even though I am not, or perhaps precisely because I am not, a clinician.
Freud knew it already, otherwise he would not have written Totem and taboo, Civilization and its discontents, The future of an illusion and Moses and monotheism: analytical discourse is a marginal discourse, easily overwhelmed by the conformist pressures which regulate social bonds. Analytical interpretation is one of those impossible professions like governing and educating: not only can they be difficult at times to carry out, but above all they have to do with the impossible, with what supersedes the horizon of possible experience – what Lacan calls the Real.
The truth of analytical discourse – the speaking being is a subject because subjected to the discourse of the Other, i.e. to the unconscious that is none other than a symbolic-linguistic system; there is no metalanguage, in other words it is impossible to tell the truth about truth; there is no sexual relationship, the object of desire is an impossible object – is inadmissible for any social order whatever, whether bourgeois or proletarian, and is for this reason opposed in every possible way: formerly by the religious discourse and nowadays by the secular discourse of science which, in the form of cognitivism and neuroscience, is waging the most violent assault ever seen. When it comes down to it, the religious discourse is the less dogmatic of the two: psychoanalysis can always be used to verify the sincerity of a vocation. But this said, they have paradoxically joined forces against psychoanalysis.
The discovery/invention of analytical discourse pertains to the modern era: previously, the different distribution of registers – Symbolic, Imaginary, Real –- made it unnecessary to identify a discourse that was able to take charge of the growing difficulties encountered by subjects as they confronted the irruption of the Real. Acting together, the discourses of capitalism and science, which promote the rise of the Real in the form of object ‘a’ to the zenith of Western society, progressively emptied the sphere of the Imaginary, which up until then had balanced the relationship between Symbolic and Real, enabling the former to conserve a certain degree of authority and the latter to be absorbed without serious consequences thanks to the seductive character of the images and to the mediation of the phantasm.
This does not mean that nowadays the Imaginary is no longer functioning: it means that, when confronted with a Symbolic stripped of all its metaphysical aids and returned to its status as fictitious –- i.e. linguistic – entity (Bentham), and a Real which is increasingly disturbing and hostile, the Imaginary can no longer achieve what it once did, setting up powerful orders of sense through Art and Religion. Its attempt to make up for the desertification of the phantasm is enacted not so much in the integrated spectacular à la Guy Debord as in the edification of the concept of person (Esposito 2007) and the unlimited scope of the sphere of law. Nowadays the Imaginary realizes its querulous and insistent aspect, once expressed through the pomp of theodicy – relieving a fundamentally kind God of the evil in the world – and gnosis – attributing that same evil to a wicked, usurping god – in the claim to recognition of the rights of the individual – a phantasm entirely devoid of erotic appeal – and the protective surveillance of life entrusted to biopolitical measures. The modern Imaginary has replaced the erstwhile sullen and/or bountiful god-the-father with a compassionate and loving god-the-mother/woman.
To the extent that the discourse of capitalism and of science distill the Real and at the same time seek to exorcise its destructive potential which affects them first and foremost, challenging their existence, by means of a normalization entrusted essentially to the so-called human sciences – biology, psychology, anthropology, economics and jurisprudence – the analytical discourse, if it hopes to survive, is forced to take a stand against them. So does the fact that it has to be anti-capitalist, at least in the sense we have outlined, mean that it is a communist discourse? This does not seem to be the case either for Freud or for Lacan. So once again: what is politics for psychoanalysis?
Let us begin, as one always should, by asking what Lacan thought of politics. One thing is pre-eminently clear: Lacan did not like the state in any of its forms and declinations. And he did not like it because whatever the justification given for it, from the supremacy of the Arian race to the liberation of the working class from capitalist exploitation, on one crucial point there was no divergence: ’Dear subjects, if it’s desires you’re interested in, come back later!’; for the moment, which is to say always, it’s just a matter of working and obeying. The state never has time for desires: republics may be founded on the law, on work, on rights, but never on desires. They are never on the agenda, must always be reined in or put off, until we reach the paradox embodied in mature capitalism: so as not to concede any room to desire, much is made of enjoyment, on condition that this is linked to productive consumption.
If it were not being over bold, one could say that, like Lenin, Lacan too would have been in favor of the state’s progressive extinction, above all of the sort of state that inevitably survives a communist revolution. But perhaps Lacan expected the same result from a ‘liberal’ choice, the one he claimed to adopt during the violent, radical clash he had with the students engaged in the post-May ’68 revolutionary struggle at Vincennes in December 1969. Forming a correct interpretation of the ideological content that prevailed in the revolutionary aspiration of the French students – the “situationism” of the imagination in power and the ‘We want everything now’ – as the indirect expression of the repressed need for a Master – of the reconstitution, that is, of the most imbecile version of the discourse of the Maître – Lacan goes on immediately to ask himself if for any of those present «the word liberal [has] any sense». By way of explanation he added on one hand that he was liberal just like everyone else «insofar as I am anti-progressive», and on the other that he was nonetheless caught up «in a movement that deserves to be called progressive, because it is progressivist to see the psychoanalytical discourse establishing itself». In fact it completes the circle that might enable the students to identify exactly what they are rebelling against, in spite of the fact that everything «continues to go all too damn well» (Lacan 2001, p. 259).
The only reason for being progressive is to further the cause of analytical discourse. Otherwise it’s best to keep well away from the progressives, from those who believe they are always going forwards and don’t understand that we always go round and round, we are always stuck in the same spot, the place assigned us by desire and from which there is no escape. It is as well to guard against the left-wing bourgeois democrats, inflexible enforcers of the law and paladins of the extension of rights, against the reflective middle classes, deployed in defense of semi-culture, and against the petit-bourgeois revolutionaries awaiting a Master. It’s better to declare ourselves ‘liberals’. But what does the term ‘liberal’ mean for Lacan? It is certainly not a reference to ‘liberalism’ as a political theory based on the notion of the individual, i.e. an agent who is conscious of himself, able rationally to know his preferences and aims and to calculate the quickest and most efficient way to satisfy the former and achieve the latter.
I believe that when Lacan speaks of liberty he means something which is able, as in part was Kant’s practical liberty, to interrupt the metonymic chains conducting the social machine and inaugurate a new discursive sequence which, in order to find the courage to contrast the violence of moral norms, acts on the desire whose imperious command – sole and acceptable force-as-law – proves to be stronger than the moral sentiment which urges one to submit to the impositions of the social tie. Besides, if one holds, as the libertine morality does, that liberty has a naturalistic basis, that the possibility of freely pursuing one’s sexual tastes is grounded in a natural disposition, this ends by producing the contrary of what one set out to achieve: what seemed to be liberty proves to be mere repetitive compulsion. For Lacan the upshot of libertine morality is demonstrated by Sade who, to escape from the compulsive enjoyment to which nature had constrained him, eventually sought to free himself once and for all from the natural cycles of production and reproduction by including a clause in his will, not without first having attributed to the character of Juliette murderous intentions with respect to nature, which they plan to destroy by setting off an explosion in the crater of Vesuvius.
According to Kant, liberty implies pain; respect for the law of desire is detrimental to the sentient impulses, and hence goes beyond the pleasure principle. It is the same for Sade. But this is as far as the pairing of ‘Kant and Sade’ goes: the former, after scrupulously distinguishing between wellbeing and the moral good, restores the idea of the highest good as a posthumous union of virtue and happiness, paving the way for an ethic of commodities with an utilitarianist imprint, for what Lacan called ‘the service of commodities’, in practice biopolitics; while the latter, after posing the problem of a true republic, founded on desire, in practice makes this impossible by reformulating it according to a law of nature or, to put it in Lacanian terms, to a law of the enjoyment of the Other.
At this point Lacan appears to provide other answers: on the ethical plane the liberty he speaks of takes on a rather tragic tone. At the end of his lengthy commentary on Sophocles’ Antigone which featured in the seminar on analytical ethics, Lacan poses the question of the correspondence between the atmosphere in which the tragic hero exists and the one experienced in an analytical setting. Given that the sole moral fault with which one can tarnish oneself, and for which sooner or later one will have to answer, is that of compromising with one’s own desire, of betraying it in favor of the good, whether one’s own or that of another makes no difference - the good of the other is my own good - the hero, who is characterized by the fact of not yielding with respect to his desire, is he who can be betrayed with impunity. If Lacan’s ethics can be defined as tragic it is because the analysand – and also the analyst – is required to tolerate patiently the contradiction inherent in desire: in order not to betray it, one has to tolerate betrayal, accept a certain solitude, become one with the absolute singularity of the Other.
Herein lies the paradox of liberty: one can, in perfect good faith and following one’s own ‘law of the heart’, be sure of having chosen in total liberty the imaginary identification with the Arian race or of being actually guilty in a Stalin show trial. It is clear that in the face of such possibilities the appeal to one’s own conscious ego is perfectly useless since it is precisely the conscious ego that is the object of the insane identification. Thus Lacan concludes: «Far from the fact being contingent on the foibles» of the human organism, «insanity is the permanent virtuality of a gaping schism in its being»; and again: «Far from representing an “insult” for liberty», insanity «is its most faithful companion, shadowing its every movement » (Lacan 1974, p. 170).
On the ethical plane liberty requires a certain dose of heroism because it is a matter of fighting against the pressures of conformism coming not only from the outside but also hidden in the innermost recesses of the subject. Whereas on the political plane the constitution best suited to the solitude imposed by desire appears to be the democratic one. However, from what we have said, this democracy has nothing in common with its ‘liberal’ version, the one that is supposed to have emerged victorious following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and which on the contrary is in the middle of a more or less irreversible crisis. The democracy in question resembles more closely the reactionary caricature presented by Plato in Book VIII of the Republic, in which everyone does just as they like, every principle of social order is subverted, constitutions are bought and sold and people are impotent witnesses of the advent of tyranny. As Jean-Pierre Cléro puts it, setting the democratic regime in its rightful place, «it pertains to each one to make his own way, to live as he chooses, to do the work he prefers and decide on his own initiative how to affirm himself» (Cléro 2008, p. 203-204). That such a definition of liberty cannot in any way be identified with the sort of utilitarianism preached by J. S. Mill or with the principle of the maximization of pleasure is guaranteed by its tragic aspect: besides, democratic regime and tragedy go together – and not for nothing Plato linked them in a single censure. What counts is that in no case should the State, which always has the face of Creon and acts in the name of the good of its subjects, even when it kills them off like flies, dictate to the individual what he has to do, the content of his actions and values (and it goes without saying that private groups cannot do so either, from the family upwards). The state «must simply guarantee the possibility of each individual» to do what he has to do (Cléro 2008, p. 204). If for Lacan there is no democracy without tragic heroism it is because there is always a price to pay for pursuing one’s desire, it never comes free of charge. It always requires the sacrifice of a pound of flesh, a body part - the object a – whether one’s own or of another.
Having clarified these points we can get back to the relationship between Lacan and Marx and see why Lacan could not call himself a communist even though he recognized Marx as being the first person to identify the symptom. The name of Marx appears very early on in Lacan’s teaching (the first occurrence in the seminars is on 27 November 1957, a seminar dealing with the formations of the unconscious, and in the Writings in 1947 in the Discourse on psychic causality), and he becomes a constant and indeed insistent presence from 1967-68 through the first half of the seventies, peaking in 1972, the year of the “Discourse of the capitalist“.
In the lecture entitled La troisième he gave in Rome in 1974 Lacan stated «I call symptom what comes from the real» (Lacan 1974, p. 181). The real, as we have seen, is what in principle eludes symbolization, what evades the signifiant. If it were actually so, however, we would know nothing of the real, and in practice it would not constitute the symptom. In order for it to be what constitutes the symptom, it is necessary that, while remaining what continues to go unwritten, i.e. the impossible, the real should nonetheless find a means to inscribe itself so that, as Lacan says just a few lines further on in La troisième, the symptom «is first and foremost something real that continues to be written» (Lacan 1992, p. 28). Even when the emphasis is placed on the real, the symptom always remains a formation of the unconscious permeated with signifiants; except that now amongst the signifiants there must be one – the signifiant Maître – which, representing the subject of desire vis-à-vis knowledge in general, also represents the crossed out part, i.e. the real side that lies outside representation.
Moreover, if (modern) science distills shreds of the real and if science ties in with the equations, algorithms formed from the little letters, then one of these letters has to inscribe in the formula, even if in the position of extimité, the real which the same formula secretes. The political economics referred to by Marx is a science, a human science, which solves the question of the production of wealth, previously ascribed to the mystery which surrounded the biological cycles of reproduction, having recourse to the mathematical transparence of a series of equations which measure the value of commodities and render equal, i.e. with zero outcome, the exchange between them. Nonetheless the mystery has merely changed places: it has not been explained, or then it requires a separate, supplementary explanation: why is the wealth calculated at the end of the exchange superior to what was present at the outset? In the exchange which is formally equal, there is a dis-symmetry, a variance: something constitutes the symptom. From the mathematical viewpoint the exchange remains equivalent, but in the reality it is not. Marx’s reply to the surplus deriving from the exchange is not content with the thesis that on one hand there is a phantom productivity of human labor and on the other a capacity for enhancement of the capital used in the production with respect to which the exchange is a mere neutral means of expression which in the long run can be eliminated. On the contrary the excess is produced in the most recondite nerve centers of the exchange and relies on the dual character of the commodity, on its being at once value in use, immediate usage and consumption of the thing in the name of the pleasure derived from satisfying a need or a desire, and value in exchange, a measurement which is necessarily abstract – pure calculation of time – with which it is exchanged with all the other commodities. With the result that when the commodity is human labor itself, purchased at its exchange-value – the time necessary for its reproduction – but employed in its value in use – all the time prior to its consumption – even though the exchange remains formally equal, there is a surplus of labor-time whose product, re-exchanged for money, presents an increased exchange value, a surplus value.
The question is complex: on one hand, the Real, there is a clear theft of labor; subjected to capitalistic command through free transaction, the labor used is literally exploited in its value in use, with as much as possible being consumed. On the other hand, however, reality expressed symbolically as exchange-value, far from being the classic fig leaf, the veil of Maya, which has to conceal the theft of labor, is the condition why the labor subsumed under capital can break down the simple reproduction of the systems of agricultural production, increase the wealth produced and open up prospects of the liberation both of and from work itself. In other terms, it is precisely the abstract nature of the exchange as an objective structure of modern economy which makes possible the production of surplus value and the consequent increase in wealth. Without this, the production system would be a subsistence economy and in the conditions of modernity it would turn into stagnation.
It is the presence in Marx of the ‘fetish’ signifier which guides Lacan’s reading of him. For what is a fetish, in psychoanalysis and not only there, if not an object which, diverted from its value in use, if indeed it ever had one (a stocking, a shoe, but in practice any gadget, even perfectly useless), takes on another value that we could call value as enjoyment? And this, we might say, is all there is to Lacan’s use of Marx: the surplus value is the surplus-enjoying, and the latter is produced through the consumption of the value in use. Or rather, through the subtraction of the value in use: in order to have more value on one side it is necessary for it to have less on the other. Every form of the social bond, including capitalism, necessarily implies a renunciation of enjoyment, but it is precisely this which produces an excess. In capitalism this plus which remains outside the social bond as such takes the form of the surplus value, while in previous social bonds it was present in the form of surplus, e.g. the surplus of grain harvested in a year which would serve to cover the periods of scarcity. In this case too, however, the criterion was the same: the value in use of the grain is producing bread; if it is not consumed immediately and is kept for later on its value will continue to increase. Thus the more something is subtracted from its value in use, the more its value increases in absolute terms.
Lacan’s thesis on the equivalence between Marx’s surplus value and the surplus enjoying should be taken literally. We are not confronted with an analogy but an identity: the surplus value is the surplus enjoying, capital is the only production system to produce surplus enjoying as such, without imaginary shields or symbolic limits, just as science distills the real in its purest form, realizes the alchemist’s dream of obtaining gold – the purest and most noble metal – from its insignificant, vulgar counterparts.
Lacan gave his clearest exposition of the Marxian position in the seminar, still regrettably unpublished, of 1967-1968 devoted to the Logic of the phantasm. In the lesson of 12 April 1967, which contains much of what I have said so far, an equivalence is established between exchange-value and what Lacan calls the value as enjoyment. When it comes down to it, the Marxian distinction between the value in use of commodities and their exchange-value coincides with that between pleasure and enjoyment: obtaining something as the latter is necessarily detrimental to the former. Enjoyment is value tout court, in the absolute, in other words detached from use and need.
This is particularly evident at the level of the sexual relationship: what is a ‘man’ in the sense of his value in use? None other than a stud-horse entirely given over to insemination and brutalized in his pleasure as organ, his penile pleasure: an organ for the reproduction of the species. A calculation of his value will reckon the number of women he has impregnated and offspring he has generated. But once one recognizes that the stud-horse speaks, and speaking means having oneself represented by a signifiant vis-à-vis the Other, with respect to the totality of language, his value in use will immediately be joined by another, i.e. his value for the Other, the value according to which he will receive in exchange from the Other his meaning. By whom and how is this other value measured? By the woman, is Lacan’s reply. The exchange value of the man is measured by the quantity of enjoyment he will be able to procure for the Other, i.e. the woman, and no longer according to the quantity of newborns of the species he is capable of generating. His value in use will be worth nothing except in the case when he procures an enjoyment for the woman in the form of offspring: for all the rest his value will consist in producing the enjoyment of the Other (Lacan 1967-1968). But this implies the impossibility of the sexual relationship since the man’s enjoyment is bound to be phallic – his value in use – and the woman’s non phallic – the exchange value; and since the man’s exchange value is measured by the enjoyment of the woman, the man will consume his own value in use without receiving anything in exchange, no enjoyment of any type apart from the merely phantomatic one of having satisfied the enjoyment of the woman, something he will in fact never know, precisely because concerning this enjoyment there exists no knowledge.
The centrality of Marx for Lacan, the reason for which he hails him as the discoverer of the symptom, lies in having recognized in the surplus value «the cause of the desire which an economy makes its principle» (Lacan 1982, p. 39). And since the subject of science is inevitably a subject of desire, it follows that the «Mehrwert is the Marxlust, the surplus enjoying of Marx» (Ibidem). Like Socrates, Marx too derives pleasure as he elaborates the science of capitalism, enhancing his enjoyment, which consists in having discovered surplus value as the cause of capitalism. And what is the principle of capitalism? «The extensive, and hence insatiable, production of the failure-to-enjoy»; on one hand the surplus value is «accumulated to build up the means of this production as capital» and «on the other it extends that consumption without which this production would be pointless, precisely for its inability to procure an enjoyment such that it can slow down» (Ibidem). The contradiction of capitalism is patent: the production of the surplus value/surplus enjoying coincides with that of the failure-to-enjoy: the spasmodic and insatiable pursuit of enjoyment is inverted without any possibility of mediation for the lack of enjoyment. The more one consumes to achieve pleasure, the more it is enjoyment itself that is consumed. In the measure in which enjoyment is incommensurable it is also impossible, the real-impossible which Žižek speaks of.
Must this contradiction be simply removed or, since it is inherent in the condition of the speaking being, must it be removed and at the same time conserved, as Hegel might put it, or, with Lacan, is it necessary to invent a discourse which enables us to support it without however being crushed by it? It is on this dilemma that the relationship between Lacan and Marx breaks down. For Lacan, who in this way actually seems to reply in advance to the criticism of Judith Butler, the fact that the sexual act constitutes a problem for the speaking being does not have a social origin; and nor can it have, because it is precisely in the exchange, the exchange of women as Lévi-Strauss taught, that society, human civilization, is constituted (Ibidem). Previously, prior to the exchange value and hence to the setting up of the symbolic order, there were only stud horses and women producing offspring, i.e. a real in which nothing is lacking because precisely it has not yet had to deal with the signifiant.
It follows that if in the world there is something that attests to the existence of the speaking being, it is the symptom in its provenance from the real.To abolish it is to annul the humans. This gives meaning to the polemic Lacan engaged in above all in the seventies with the domain of psychoanalysis itself, and which manifested itself in the constant dissolution of the schools he had founded and in the growing preoccupation, testified by the vicissitudes of the passe, concerning the modalities of its transmission, which means d’abord the possibility of its survival. Against the tendencies which were emerging also within the domain of psychoanalysis, he had to reiterate that the successful analysis is not the one that does away with both the real and the symptom, not the one that is successful by medical and psychiatric standards. A success in this sense would be the equivalent of its disappearance: this would see the reaffirmation of the true religion, which for Lacan is Roman Catholicism and which, as a matter of fact, has never known any substantial eclipse.
A successful analysis would involve consigning analytical discourse to oblivion, making it no more than a forgotten symptom (Lacan 1992, p. 20). This is exactly Freud’s opinion: the proof that the analysis of little Hans had been successful lay in the fact that as an adult Herbert Graf did not remember anything of the phobia that affected him when he was five. Nor does he perceive as a symptom the decision to devote himself to a career in the theatre as director and choreographer, activities which oblige him to be constantly surrounded by ‘girls’: if this does not constitute a symptom in the present, it is precisely because this behavior is only the residue, the spent trace, of a forgotten symptom.
The analytical discourse is impossible because, on one hand, its mission is to contrast the advent of the real, for which in any case it is in no way responsible (Lacan 1992, p. 21). If anything, it is the capitalist’s discourse which is responsible. And on the other hand it has to contrast it because, when it presents itself in its pure state, the real produces, even if as a danger signal, only anguish. However, the latter is not in itself a symptom, it is only an affect: there is only one way to reduce it, replacing it with a symptom. Once again the clinical case of little Hans comes to our aid: if the anguish provoked in the child by the disproportion between his little willy and the enormous organs of his father and mother, and by the corresponding impossibility of giving his mother enjoyment with an instrument that is so patently inadequate, is transformed into a phobia for horses, the mere introduction of the signifiant ‘horse’ and then that of ‘giraffe’, and so on, enables Hans to begin to work on the affect of anguish, to give it significance, and to get better (Moroncini 2012, pp. 181-210). The symptom has entered in order to take the place of the real anguish. However, since the symptom is what comes from the real, the analytical discourse must at the same time both contrast it and favor it: without the real there is , in fact, no symptom. If then one wants the real to persist, so that the symptom will return, then it also necessary « for psychoanalysis to fail» (Lacan 1992, p. 20). Psychoanalysis must succeed and fail both at once: succeed in contrasting the real, fail in curing the symptom. If, in fact, one wants psychoanalysis to survive, it is necessary for the symptom to survive, for it is the only thing that makes its existence necessary.
This contradictory situation, the effect of modernity, of the joint action of the discourses of science and capitalism, seems to be completely ignored by Marx and the history of Marxism and communism that follows on from him. For Marx the contradiction should simply disappear. Transposed onto the historical-economic plane, this would mean that the future inhabitants of the communist society should be enabled to benefit from the immense quantity of wealth which capitalism is capable of producing while, however, doing without, abolishing the value in exchange as something that is responsible for the exploitation of live labor. In this way, however, Marx does not realize that also the surplus enjoying would be eliminated, i.e. the causal object of capitalism, and with capitalism also of the value production which is realized as concrete wealth, in consumer goods. Marx, in other words, seeks to encompass enjoyment in the sphere of pleasure. But just as men do not copulate if on the horizon of the pleasure of the organ there is no promise of the enjoyment of the Other as the source of their own enjoyment, so they will not work and produce if they do not believe that in exchange for the consumption of their value in use the body and its abstract capacity for work will not obtain the surplus enjoying, the absolute value, the value sans phrase.
The elimination of the exchange-value was the choice made by the leadership surrounding Stalin after the pendulum momentum of the first years of the revolution between the war economy and the new economic policy; a choice that also decreed the end of that first experiment in communism in history. Nonetheless Lacan, who died before the collapse of the Soviet Union, had understood everything thanks to Bataille’s analysis that the Marxist state built on the basis of Marxian theory, far from changing the coordinates of the capitalist discourse, was none other than its prolongation, or indeed its complete realization.
We would have had no idea of the capitalist discourse, up until then confused with that of the Maître, if «Marx had not set about completing it, giving it its subject, the proletariat, thanks to which the discourse of capitalism spread wherever the form of the Marxist State held sway» (Lacan 2011, p. 96). If what characterizes the capitalist discourse is the «Verwerfung, the banishment from all the fields of the symbolic (…) of castration», so that «every order, every discourse which relates to capitalism leaves aside what we can call simply the things of love » (Ibidem), then also the Marxist state comes under the above-named typology and like capital, if not more so, precludes the symptom so as to be able to continue to benefit from it without intermission. With the same gesture with which Marx, taking his cue from Hegel, turned the capitalistic substance into the subject, identifying the latter in the proletariat, he has however re-inscribed this completely new element in the reassuring context of tradition: the subject in question was once again rational, conscious and universal. Instead of treating it as the support of the symptom – the surplus value/surplus enjoying – he interpreted it as the immune carrier of a pathology – exploitation – from which it had to be cured: the Marxist state was seen as the enforced medical/psychiatric hospital and/or re-education camp of desire which, instead of making do with an equal exchange – so much work = so much goods to be consumed: not much, in any case – wanted to benefit from an added, or absolute, value.
In discussing Heidegger and his stance in favor of Nazism, Lacan noted that all politics, including revolutionary politics, always display a gap (Lacan 1988, p. 11) and that this gap is the symptom. This is why, he adds, politics tends constantly to fill the gap by the use of metaphysics, with outcomes that are, to say the least, far-fetched. Not even the politics that drew on Marx managed to avoid this: a materialistic-dialectic, or directly humanistic-traditional, metaphysics has tried to fill this gap, i.e. to cure the symptom, and it succeeded: its empirical failure is the proof.
Can there be a politics that leaves the gap open? A politics which keeps its distance from the state, or indeed devoid of a state? While waiting for an answer that is not forthcoming, while we mourn the revolutions that have been defeated throughout history and nonetheless work to finally have an adequate theory, let us hold onto analytical discourse. If the Marxist state has also shown itself to constitute a ‘moral’, a system which is well oiled and conformist, chockingly full of norms and impositions, perhaps analytical discourse, on condition that it does not betray its ethic, cultivating the symptom, is the only thing able to keep desire alive. As Lacan says, it is not a social tie, it is «a tie for two» (Lacan 1992, p. 21), it acts as a simulacrum for the lack of the sexual relationship. And it is not even a social symptom, since there is no society in which the sexual relationship is not absent. Perhaps it is a school, similar in part to the ancient Hellenistic philosophical schools; it certainly is not a university subject. A school in which desire is taught, teaching what little can be known about it by interpreting the symptom. A school which, saving the symptom, saves desire from destruction.
Translation from the Italian by Mark Weir
Cléro, J-P. (2008) Dictionnaire Lacan (Paris: Ellipses Édition Marketing).
Esposito, R. (2007) Terza persona (Torino: Einaudi).
Lacan, J. :
- (1967-1968) Le Séminaire. Livre XIV. La logique du fantasme, unpublished.
- (1974) “La troisième”, in Lettres de l’École freudienne, 1975, n° 16, pp. 177-203.
- (1978) Du discours psychanalityque, original texyt in French and the Italian translation in F.Contri, ed., Lacan in Italia/Lacan en Italie (Milano: La Salamandra).
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