What makes us comrades?

In my blog I have been positing four kinds of the modern radical and four corresponding sites/stages:                                                                                                                                           The rebel/friend       practices fraternity in the court.                                                                  The revolutionary    practices liberty       in the barricade.                                                        The comrade             practices equality    in the party.                                                                  The citizen                 practices solidarity in the assembly.

In her current work (which includes a book, essays, lectures, and interviews) political theorist Jodi Dean differentiates the comrade from the neighbor, the citizen, the ally, and the friend to summarize the demands of party membership.

According to her definition, the comrade is the figure of a political relation, specifically, political belonging:  The term signifies being on the same side of political struggle,               in other words, having the same enemy, as Carl Schmitt would stress.                                 The comrade is a disciplined and disciplining relation that requires self-denial. Comradeship is inhuman and generic; in it, personal identity vanishes,                                     resulting in machinic impersonality and instrumentalist interchangeability.    Comradeship highlights the sameness of collective subjectivity                                          based on the stripping of all particularity.  (Equality and solidarity follow from it.) Comrades are the equalized, same, and faithful party members                                            who stand together & act collectively in disciplined organization against their enemy, seeking to overthrow capitalism & acquire political power through revolution.      Comrades use each other since relations among them are means toward the victory of the revolutionary party, not ends in themselves.                                                                   Comrades demonstrate fidelity to the truth of the radical event;                                          their political work involves infinite verification of this truth.                                       Fittingly, Dean illustrates her communist view of the comrade by invoking Brecht’s “learning play” The Measures Taken and justifying the brutal murder of the Young Comrade by the Four Agitator in the name of the party line and discipline.

In sharp contrast, I have been interested in Leftists who belong to each other, rather than a party, specifically, in dissenting Greek comrades since the 1940s, and the central role of civic friendship in their political belonging.  Below I quote selectively from previous posts.                                                                                                                                                     The history of the Greek Left is the history of intense friendships among radicals. Greeks don’t just join the Left because of articles they read, movies they saw, poverty they suffered, or oppression they witnessed but primarily because they need to share such experiences with great friends. They are radicalized not by exploitation but by camaraderie. They seek conviviality more than conviction.  Σύν-τροφοι/comrades are the companions who (etymologically) have been raised together and who (socially) share their lives raising one another to solidarity.  By promising “each other to a shared future,” radical friends may become comrades who join forces in local commons and in transnational networks of collaborative civic friendship.

A group of radical Greek leftists does not constitute a cell or a fraction, a circle or a club. It exists as a συν-τροφιά, a demarcated yet porous companionship of people who are equal and similar. Their defining feature is a mutually reinforced virtuous political sensibility. They consider civic virtue an ethical disposition that is in itself a political position. Exercising this attitude collectively, consistently, and in public is the highest form of integrity. To join any formal group (say, an association, a party, or a movement) would be to renounce civic virtue for political morality, as does Dean’s comrade. At a maximum, their goals are to issue a statement of original and noble ethico-political principles, to publish a few late Romantic poems, to create a web site, to formulate the comrade’s rules of conduct, and to never grow up.

For Left radicalism, friendship among comrades is the purest form of civic virtue. One is radical out of the ethical consistency she owes to her friends.   The comrade/σύντροφος [not a gender-specific word, both noun and adjective represent any comrade] feels accountable not to a collectivity, a constituency, or a canon but to the principles of her friends; she strives to remain loyal not to society, faith, or country but to the values of her comrades. This accountability creates enormous moral, strategic, existential and other dilemmas. I know from experience since it has been a constant subject of conversation, frustration, negotiation, and gratification in my exacting friendship with my “other self,” Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis. It is the critical distance from the party, and more recently from the Syrizanel government, that keeps Greek comradeship meaningful and urgent.

14 November 2019

addenda:  Alain Badiou on Daniel Bensaïd and the value of “the friendly support of a distant comrade.”  Corey Robin on “Comrades” (book review of Gornick and Dean).

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