ON BRECHT’S “THE MANIFESTO”: COMMENTS FOR READERS IN ENGLISH (2015, 9,100 words)

Part 1 is the translation by D. Suvin of a putative poem by Brecht Das Manifest (The Manifesto) pieced together from his various versions from 1944 on. 

Part 2 is a comment article that discusses Brecht’s intention in 1944-45 to versify The Communist Manifesto in Lucretian hexameters in order to to renew its propagandistic efficacy, i.e. with the ambition to be to Marx what Lucretius was to Epicure. This assumed, that the How and the What cannot in a work of poetry (Marx’s prose or Brecht’s verse) be truly separated. The relationship of poetry to doctrine or didacticism is probed on this example, the horizon of which is that of verse narration as cognition. Further, the relation of poetry to history is adumbrated: both to the history of poetry and to the insights gained on the Left since 1848. Primarily, the updating factors in a theory of economic crises and some lessons of Leninism, with the overriding importance of destructive global wars added as Brecht’s own innovation.  Brecht’s unfinished but substantive and powerful poem remains a cognitive reshaping by “a poet in the style of Marx”.

Keywords: Marx, communism, Brecht, poetry, didactic poetry, poetry and history, war

First published as “Bertolt Brecht: The Manifesto” [transl.] and “On Brecht’s The Manifesto: Comments for Readers in English.” Socialism and Democracy 16.1 (2002): 1-31, http://sdonline.org/31/the-manifesto/ and http://sdonline.org/31/on-brechts-the-manifesto-comments-for-readers-in-english1/ (2nd item in different German version as “Brechts Gedichtfassung des Kommunistischen Manifests,” transl. S. Regler, Das Argument no. 282 (2009): 607-15, http://www.linksnet.de/files/pdf/DA282_suvin.pdf) 

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TWO APPROACHES TO UNDERSTANDING SFR YUGOSLAVIA (2015, 5,800 words)

http://www.olioofficina.it/corso-italia-7/splendours-miseries-and-potentialities-of-socialist-yugoslavia-the-berlin-theses-1.htm, 2015

A resumé of my book Splendour, Misery, and Possibilities as 2015 lecture in form of theses. Part B is a Chronology of SFRY 1941-89.

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FROM THE ARCHEOLOGY OF MARXISM AND COMMUNISM (2009-2015, 16000 words)

Darko Suvin (2013) “From the Archeology of Marxism and Communism: Two Essays in Political Epistemology”, Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 21:2-3, 279-311, , 2013

Of the two relatively independent parts here, Part 1. characterizes at length three phases (early, middle and late) of Marxisms, which were different and usually impoverished takes on Marx. Around 1990 the entire “scientific paradigm” of such Marxism from all three phases crumbled. Marx’s legacy can only be revived by reinstating his insistence on a full and mainly direct democracy. Part 2 deals with the concept and role of the communist party from Marx through Lenin, Stalin and others to Mao. A look backward at it poses the problem of the ossified vanguard, and possible alternative models from Gramsci and Brecht.

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COMMUNISM CAN ONLY BE RADICAL PLEBEIAN DEMOCRACY: REMARKS ON THE EXPERIENCE OF S. F. R. YUGOSLAVIA AND ON CIVIL SOCIETY (2015, 13500 words)

International Critical Thought 6.2 (2016): 165-89., 2016

The essay is divided into approach and two parts plus a short summation. The approach poses the theme of nexus between communism and democracy as the only hope to oppose the present neo-fascist turn of capitalism. Part 1 discusses central political choices after the Yugoslav 1941–45 revolution, focusing on its popular revolutionary horizon as well as on disalienation of labour in workers’ self-management, and sketching the history of their achievements and then reflux after the 1960s. The three available politico-economic horizons were a Soviet-style police state, “market socialism,” and a fully associational plebeian democracy. Choosing the second solution meant, in the absence of central planning, a slide towards a market without democratic control and swayed by international centres of financial capital plus the six or seven regional centres of power in the “federal republics,” inevitably turning to nationalism. This led to economic and state disaster. Part 2 discusses plebeian democracy in a participatory mode, foregrounding the need for open politics in post-revolutionary societies and what might a real “civil society” be (Gramsci). The conclusion is not only that Marx’s horizon of communism can only be radical plebeian democracy, but also that only communism can be radical plebeian democracy.

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COMMUNICATING VESSELS (with Sezgin Boynik) (2014-15, 18,700 words)

Interview with SB on Formalism vs. class history in culture, especially in Yugoslavia 1945-65, also in general.

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WHERE ARE WE: AND A RADICAL WAY OUT (2015, 5,930 words)

Darko Suvin                                                                          2nd version 2-2-’15      11pp.,  5,930 w.

–For Stan Robinson, in poor return–

Howbeit doubtless, Master More (to speak truly as my mind gives me) wheresoever possessions be private, where money bears all the stroke [has all the influence], it is hard and almost impossible that there the weal public may justly be governed, and prosperously flourish. Unless you think thus: that justice is there executed, where all things come into the hands of evil men; or that prosperity there flourishes, where all is divided among a few; …and the residue live miserably, wretchedly, and beggarly.
Thomas More, Utopia Book I, orig. 1516

 Le choix que je suis [the choice that is me]
Jean-Paul Sartre, L’Être et le néant, 1943

0. Approach

What happened around and to me in the last 20 years or so propelled me towards two quasi-disciplinary perspectives, epistemological and political. I adopt the definition of epistemology as the theory of cognition (where psychology should meet philosophy) dealing with the possibilities and limits of human knowledge, the analysis of conceptual and other cognitive systems – including metaphors and figurations – and in particular the critique of language and other sign-systems, pioneered by the historical semantics of Raymond Williams and the work of modern semioticians. As to politics, I am comfortable with the Hellenic approach to it as “affairs of the community,” but in today’s global dynamics I would update this  by insights into the class structure of people’s life together by a  few masters such as Marx, Brecht, Benjamin, Bloch, and Jameson, from whom I took whatever I could and left aside what I could not.

Max Weber said that history teaches us the true meaning of what we have willed. And history is constituted by each of us but then also by all of us, and furthermore by forces institutionalized and solidified by some people or classes of people among us which operate in ways both very evident and very opaque. What is evident is their results: bombings, murders, hunger, unhappiness, the exponentially rising moral and material pollution. History permeates and constitutes us, it is the atheist equivalent of gods and metamorphosis of Destiny, it is a teacher of life and a delusive siren, past and present in feedback eating at future, a promise and a threat. It is not to be circumvented. But if its results at some point become unbearable, one stops and opposes, saying  “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” There the effort to comprehend, as at least a first step towards doing something, inscribes itself. So: where are we? And how are we to find a way out?

  1. We Are within Catastrophic Capitalism

The present deep and unresolved economic crisis has only brought to the surface some permanent trends of capitalism, largely occulted in the foregoing decades. I shall suggest what I see as the mortal sins of capitalism.

 1.1. The Capitalist Societal Formation Makes for Mass Collective Death

This mode of production and way of life is always centrally shaped by the irreconcilable conflict between the capitalist urge for profits and the working people’s need for a humanly decent life. The urge was somewhat curbed by the fear of revolt after the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression, which led to a modest but real “security floor” conceded to the middle and working classes, largely at the expense of the global “South” and of the natural environment. With the waning of any such fears, as of the mid-1970s capitalist corporations engaged in a large-scale offensive to depress wages per unit of production and boost profits from huge to monstrous. Using the slogans of free trade and globalization, the rich organized bundles of radical interventions by major States and the roof organizations of international capitalism to make themselves vastly richer, while multiplying the poor in their nations, eviscerating the middle class prosperity based on stable employment, and upping the income gap between rich and poor countries from 10:1 to 90:1.  A large class of chronically poor was created, politically neutralized by creating fear of even poorer immigrants. The asset bubbles bursting venomously from 2008 on  are the consequence of this class warfare from above (see Buffett in Stein, Farrell): masses of people in the North had not only to work much more and exhaust their savings but also to borrow against their homes and other investments – the total 2008 debt in the US has been estimated at $48 trillion. (Murphy, Turner, Bourdieu et al., Suvin “Immigration,” Magnus)

Facing the few thousand billionaires, possibly nearly 3,000 million struggle today to survive, failing fast, while more than half of them live in the most abject poverty, more or less quickly dying of hunger and attendant diseases (Pogge); the hundred million dead and several hundred million other casualties of warfare in the 20th Century seem puny in comparison (though their terror and suffering is not). It has been calculated that a 1% increase in US unemployment correlates with 37,000 deaths (650 of which homicides) and an increase of 4,000 inmates of mental hospitals, but the hidden psychic toll is surely greater. Economic “growth” benefits only the richest, at the expense of everybody else, especially the poor and the powerless in this generation and future ones. (Ayres, Rogers, Barnet and Cavanagh)

The purpose of capitalist economy, profit, has led to mass dying and unhappiness. For billions of people it means shorter and more painful lives, for everybody except maybe the upper 2-5% in the world disabling stress, gnawing want, and often utter despair (Hinkelammert). Technosciences could have finally made this planet habitable; when dominated and shaped by profit, they provide enormous quantities of shoddy commodities without regard to quality or duration of life. Upon this systematic and long-duration exploitation by capitalist power, aggravating factors are being added: the effect of the debt bubbles, the recent sharp increase of prices for foodstuffs in the world – the list could go on. In my work I have dealt mainly with migration and war, but I shall here speak only to the latter.

1.2. Capitalism Needs War: I define war as a coherent sequence of conflicts, involving physical combats between large organized groups of people that include the armed forces of at least one state, with the aim of political and economic control over a given territory. Other aims may be securing advantages for coming conflicts (e.g. dominion over air, sea or oil resources), the destruction of commodities and people, and evading inner class tension.  The ratio of military to civilian casualties in wars has during the 20th Century  “progressed” from 8:1 to 1:8 (eight civilians killed for each combatant), and the fighters have diversified from regular armies into paramilitary groups, police forces, mercenaries, local warlords, and purely criminal gangs. The mass casualties have been mainly people marginal to “White” patriarchal capitalism: the poor, the uppity “middle” States, the “coloured,” women. (Kaldor, Mesnard, S. George)

War is more than a Hobbesian metaphor for bourgeois human relationships. It is securely based in antagonistic competition, the “essential locomotive force” of bourgeois economy and “generally the mode in which capital secures the victory of its mode of production” (Marx, Grundrisse). Continuous warfare has never ceased under capitalism. Capitalism came about in plunder wars, war financing set up its modern bureaucracy and central national banks, and there is no evidence it could climb out of economic depressions without huge military spending, a war mega-dividend. The political fall-out is the spread of military rule that subordinates the civil society to its barbarity even in times of official peace – as seen in spades today. (P. Anderson, Amin, Pannekoek, Virilio)

Weapons commodities are since World War 2 not only the source of greatest  extra-profit but a system-pillar of capitalism. The yearly money value of the international armament trade oscillated in the last 30 years, according to the available faulty statistics, between US$20 and over 30 billion, and today it is more. The capitalist market systematically favours armaments commodities because of their uniquely high value-added price, their specially rapid rate of obsolescence and turnover, the monopoly or semi-monopoly position of their manufacturers, and the large-scale and secure financing of military research, production and massive cost overruns – all taken from public taxation of the middle classes. By the time of the First Gulf War, world spending for military purposes was nearly a trillion US$ annually or between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars daily, more than half of it attributable to the USA; and today it is way past this. This most profitable part of global trade is the strongest factor of both international violence and of colonization of life-worlds and eco-systems by commodity economy.  The tens of millions of dead in the two World Wars brought about tens of trillions of profitable investments in the huge reconstructions of destroyed homes and industries and ongoing rearmament: a million dollars or more per dead body. No capitalism without increasingly destructive weapons and wars which might still destroy the world: the marvellous technoscientific progress means that one nuclear submarine can destroy the peoples of an entire continent, yet eight new US nuclear submarines have been made since the fall of the USSR. One quarter of the public monies which are expended on weapons commodities would eradicate poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy, as well as pay for the cleanup of all our major environmental pollution… (Baran-Sweezy, Kolko, Luxemburg, Marx Kapital,  McMurtry, Suvin “Capitalism,” the Tofflers)

1.3. Some Other Capitalist Blights

There are further pressing threats, which I shall group as somatics and ecology, while recognizing that this neglects important areas, for one example the “knowledge economy”.

Somatics: I would call that a cluster of problems centring upon humanity’s vulnerable personal and collective bodies.Today, people have had their bodies (time, movement, faculties) literally stolen from them, by what Ursula Le Guin nicely called the “propertarians” and their turbocapitalist pursuit of profit (in lieu of life, liberty, and happiness) The feminist and gay movements have broached some problems (sex/gender orientation, birth/abortion, care/caress). A full discussion of both drugging and prostitution is still to be done, for like Marx’s relation of worker to exploited production each of these involves “the whole of human servitude” (“Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts”). Probably all I would want to speak about, from war and other overt violence to hunger and alienation, these mega-lesions of personal integrity, could be included here.

Ecology: When our environment is poisoned, we die – of cancer, lung diseases, heart overload, and a thousand other preventable ills. It is being poisoned by capitalist industry and squandering, which has by now plundered the carbohydrate  fossil fuels to proximate extinction, caused global warming (with consequences that might include tens of millions of “climate refugees” from low-lying areas such as Bangladesh and trillions in expenses to refurbish the world’s ports), and on and on. Mammalian life on this planet itself is now at risk: as Wells and Sartre foresaw, crabs and ants — and, no doubt, cockroaches — may inherit the Earth.

The nonsensical capitalist dogma of infinite growth, modelled on personal enrichment, collides with the elementary fact that any physical system of a finite Earth must itself also eventually become non-growing. There can and must be sustainable development in the sense of qualitative improvement but without quantitative growth beyond the point where the ecosystem can regenerate.  (Daly-Cobb, Georgescu-Roegen, Greider) Production can only be optimized by raising the productivity of its scarcest element – today, natural resources. This is possible to achieve only if the real social costs of using air, water, soil, and labour are figured in (Kapp), while unproductive activities extraneous to use-values – most marketing and PR, useless innovations, artificial obsolescence, unceasing turnover of fashion trends – are rigorously taxed. Crucially, the total consumption of energy must be strongly, if reasonably, curbed.  This means fighting both population growth in the South and per capita consumption in the richer countries and classes of the North. The only fair and efficient way to curb population growth is, of course, making the poor richer – and emancipating women.

Since a given amount of low entropy can be used by us only once, the economic process is entropic. Thus the importance of purpose, what something is done for, becomes overwhelming. Aristotle’s final cause and the old Roman query cui bono? (in whose interest?) are to be rehabilitated as against scientism’s narrow concentration on the efficient cause, how to manipulate matter. The economic process always generates irrevocable waste or pollution and forecloses some future options – as fuel after it has been burned. Since, however, labour and knowledge in the economic process allow life and all of its possibilities, we must become careful stewards, on constant lookout for minimizing entropy (Suvin “Introductory”). “The only possible freedom is that… the associated producers rationally regulate their metabolism with nature by spending the minimum of forces and in a way most conformable to human nature.” (Kapital III)

1.4. In sum: The ills of capitalism were for the last 40 years mainly hidden in slums of the North and the far-off South of the world. True, poets and thinkers whom existence had brought into contact with the exploited masses have always warned us, in the words of Aimé Césaire, that this is a decaying civilization which cannot cope either with the metropolitan or with the colonial dispossessed and exploited (the proletariat). These ills and dangers are now growing all-pervasive: nobody – not the middle class, already reduced to utter dependency, not the youth, reduced to precarious begging for crumbs, not even middle management and the great majority of scientists – will be spared. Capitalism has greatly furthered the destruction of all qualities, the capillary barbarization and alienation of all areas of daily life, including science and the arts; and quantitatively, a direct and indirect reduction of life-span or outright killing of millions through immiseration and wars (and attendant evitable illnesses). On the horizon are further dirty wars, with unchecked use of uranium and phosphorus weapons, possibly nuclear ones too, and a world war against China is not excluded. Quite certainly, an ecological collapse is a matter of a few decades, its symptoms are already present. These ills are not only horrendous, worse than anything even degenerate pseudo-communist loci brought about, but also systemic: they flow out of the central and all-consuming urge of capitalism for vampiric maximization of profit and cannot be reformed.

  1. A Radical Break Is Necessary : Marx and Beyond

 2.1. Deconstruct and Reconstruct Karlchen

In my hypothesis we have to reread Marx. He held that “Truth includes not only the result but also the way…. [T]he true inquiry is the unfolded truth, whose scattered members are gathered up in the result.”  (“Prussian Censorship”) Fruition encompasses also the – always provisional – fruits. Thus, his most useful insights today may be divided into propositions and methods.

I take it that some of Marx’s fundamental propositions, often doubted in the Welfare State interval of the metropolitan North but today vindicated, are:

–that human societies are divided into classes based on a relationship towards and in production of life and goods, of which the two antagonistic poles are those who buy and exploit labour power (capitalists) and those who sell it (let us call them again proletarians, instead of confining this term to industrial workers); and that the “absolute general law of capitalist accumulation [is]: accumulation of wealth is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality” (Kapital);

–that the unceasing alienation of creative power in capitalism subjects proletarians to impoverishment. In the last generation or so the world proletariat has almost doubled, working under conditions  of ever grosser exploitation and increasingly of  political oppression (Harvey), so that Marx’s thesis of the absolute immiseration of the proletariat as compared to 500 or 200 years ago has turned out to be correct for 90% or more of the working people in the world; and there is no doubt of the huge relative immisera­tion in comparison to the dominant classes and nations.

–that this immiseration, and the attendant hollowing out of all qualitative social functions and values, means that for all its technological advances capitalism as a social formation leads to a radical historical change, beneficent (as Marx mainly believed) or maleficent, leading to civilizational collapse.

Of methods, I shall single out: the radical critique and the social shaping of all understanding. Marx’s stance of critique indicates the limits of a practice (Balibar), it is the equivalent in epistemology to Epicure’s systematic deviation of atoms from universal straight paths. Therefore it is also a radical and permanent labour of reassessment, of self-critique. What I call “social shaping” means that practical relationships between active agents enable and shape all understanding, refusing the division between looking subject and looked‑at object.  If there is a human “essence”, it consists of a full set of people’s social relationships. Thus no theory or method can be properly understood without understanding the practice of social groups to which it, in however roundabout ways, corresponds.

In sum: As opposed to production of exchange-values for profit, a vampiric dispossession of labour and its vitality, the production of use-values is a beneficent metamorphosis of life into more life. Humanized production or creativity replaces death with life: the central Marxian argument is as “simple” as this.

What then remains of Marx? Many things: the notion of social  relations  and modes of  production; the notion of classes; the notion  of  unquenchable  contradiction  based on  capital’s  expropriation  of labour; the notion of the necessity of a radical break between  human relationships  in class society and those in a new society  rid  of irreconcilably  antagonistic classes, necessary  for the naked survival of our species & planet. Centrally: the realiza­tion that the figure of Destiny is in capitalism Political Econo­my. Fortune is  swallowed into the Stock-market, Necessity rides on the profit‑bringing and profit‑enforcing bombers and missiles. Hell is the sweatshops of China and Montreal, the cubicles of solitary rooms.

2.2. The Commons and Communism

However, it has been clear for almost half a century to everybody truly on the Left (excluding its main political parties) that we need to graft upon Marx new branches after the failure of ”State socialism.” Marx himself was unable to emerge fully into his own novelty, leaving us to recognize where it was that he was going. Further, much of importance has changed since Marx‘s insights. I cannot provide anything like a full list, but to begin with: there are no guarantees that this break will happen; there is no sanctified history – much less nature or epistemology – in which a Saviour (e.g. the  proletariat) will appear to do the above. All depends on historical contingencies and the will-cum-intelligence to use given power relations as leverage. The negative experiences of degeneration after Lenin’s, Tito’s or Mao’s revolutions, as well as their initial huge achievements, shall be present in my proposals. I also accept the positive side of “western”  Marxism, its disjunction of long-term theory from politics legitimating a State.

We have now to focus on humanity’s “commons”. They are, first and foremost, the right to survive by minimizing unnecessary lesion of our bodies, unnecessary rise of entropy and destruction of our life-world, and unnecessary barriers to free displacement and learning on this globe. Now capitalism jettisons humanity in all its senses: civilized relations, interests of people, even their bodies. Our immiseration is not simply economical, it seamlessly extends from wars through hunger and evitable illnesses to political disempowerment in relation to power and metaphysical disempowerment in relation to the universe.  Thus, our answers have to be a defence of commons against enclosures, always a source of pauperization. They could reassign meaning to “communism” as radical humanism, on condition that communism return to its political  roots  as radically self-managing democracy. Communism is what keeps the commons for the people.

When Lenin resuscitated the term of Marx and Thomas More as name for his party amid the most murderous First World War, he did so as a gesture of mental hygiene, to wash off the dirt accumulated on the once useful name of a social democracy that had abetted and aided that war. Many glories were associated with his reborn term during the struggle against war, exploitation, and especially against fascism. Yet also horrors: the ossifications of a hierarchic Party in power which didn’t know how to interact with a polycentric civil society, the blood and cruelty of Stalinism, and finally the betrayal of a rising new class of exploiters. As of somewhere in the 1950s, communism ceased to be admissible to polite society for the “western” Left, that much preferred the unclear term of socialism – which anyway led to fewer reprisals. I know because I participated in that. But after the 1990s there is no Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or its dwarfish satellites, to differentiate oneself from, and the socialist politicians are indistinguishable from the anti-socialist ones. And our plight is as bad as in the First World War. Re-enter the spectre of communism (Badiou).

How can we begin making sense of the term Communism? First of all, by unpacking it. The chthonic roots of communism are, no doubt, in the cry of suffering and of indignation that accompanies class society as its dark twin, in the deepest desires for the reversal and subversion of such an “inverted world” of injustice. In that sense it is as immortal as that society; when repressed, it flows as a subterranean Karst river. However, the plant itself begins to appear and be analyzable only when the cry is organized.  Articulated communism can be a locus, an orientation for a movement, and a horizon. Each of these somehow implies and needs the other two: a consubstantial trinity, each of whose members may yet be approached and used independently for some purposes.

Communism as horizon is the future Earthly Paradise of a classless society, a society where oppositions will not be dealt with antagonistically, through murder and hunger: not by pistol but by pencil, as Brecht says in the nearest approximation to it he allowed himself to pen, the Prologue to the Caucasian Chalk Circle. As all horizons, it is orienting, often inspiring, and always unattainable, for it moves with the viewer and pursuer oriented toward it. As long as there is such a pursuer, the horizon cannot be extinguished.

Communism as locus is any real society proposing to be largely or even asymptotically utopian or non-antagonistic (harmonious, as the Chinese “Communist” Party hypocrites today say) – that is, radically reducing exploitation and ignorance, developing equality of rights and opportunities or justice for all. It could be, as all classical socialists and communists believed, a first absolutely necessary step towards a disalienated  life of people in a community. However, this holds IF (and only if) it, a/ was not stifled by poverty and aggression, and b/ did not pretend to be the oxymoron of a finally reached horizon, an illusion that also necessarily grows into a religion and a lie. This locus existed in partial and always endangered ways in the first years after the Soviet, the Yugoslav, the Chinese, and probably the Vietnamese Revolutions; I believe it still exists, in most threatened and stifled ways, in Cuba. Yet as a rule it soon became a façade for class struggles between a new oligarchy developing inside the elite Party bureaucracy, and the working people: in the USSR after ca. 10 years, Yugoslavia and China ca. 15 years. Since the imperfect attempts of Trotsky and Mao to “fire on the headquarters” failed, the communist locus was finally destroyed by a combination of outside capitalist pressure and inner hollowing out or corruption.

Today, we still might have (if we keep the faith) the orientation, a vector leading from our quite dystopian and catastrophic locus of capitalist barbarism towards the utopian horizon. Orientation means, etymologically, turning toward the Orient of the rising Sun, the source of light and warmth, indeed of all life. This orientation is today our minimum requirement, without which all talk of communism should cease. But for a proper collective orientation, that is, a movement with this orientation, we need a cultural revolution for the Einsteinian, cybernetic, electronic age. Anarchism, noble as it is in many ways in people like Kropotkin, and with which we should practice fraternal solidarity in its radical refusal of any oppression, will get us nowhere: as we have seen in these last dozen years from Seattle and Genova on.

This orientation means the self-preservation of humanity and its ecology, to be reached through radical self-determination on all levels, by means of peace and disalienated labour. To be or not to be, that is the question. But that depends on a fusion of  communism and radical democracy.

2.3. Democracy

Allow me then, reaching for the end, to minimally unpack this term too, to which almost universal lip-service is today paid. The crucial question seems to me how is democracy institutionalized, that is, permitted to operate. The genus democracy, “rule by the people,” has three main species: representative democracy, associational democracy, and direct democracy.

Representative democracy is the species favoured by the bourgeoisie – when it does not prefer absolutism or direct dictatorship – and therefore the most frequent one. In it, people are (or the people is) supposed to rule through representatives, typically elected within territorial districts. It allows alternative teams for and variants of  capitalist exploitation of labour to spell each other without radical change, yet with some input from people on secondary but sometimes important modalities. The change of teams administering the State allows for some welcome relief in “kicking the rascals out.” However, when it allows for major private financing of electoral campaigns in a two-party system, capitalist interests will practically own the parliament.

Associational democracy is less present in the news but at least as important. In it various kinds of collective organizations – for ex. labour unions, co-operatives or business associations – directly engage in aspects of political decision-making: through involvement in government commissions, through various “corporatist” forms, through organizational representation on regulatory agencies, etc. But its contribution to democracy in the interest of (the) people depends on the internal democracy of the associations themselves.

In direct democracy, citizens are directly involved in the activities of political governing. One of its forms is a plebiscite or referendum, where citizens vote on various proposed laws or policies, and which has become a favourite tool for supplementing a failing representative or parliamentary democracy. But more important is significant popular empowerment when real decision-making authority and resources are given to popular councils of various sorts.

This last form is the revolutionary democratic idea of Councils, common or “organic” to all popular uprisings from time immemorial to the Soviets of Trotsky and Lenin – sadly emasculated after ca. 1921 – and on to Yugoslav self-management from 1941 on (where I met it), Hungary in 1956 or Argentina in the 1990s. Classically, it includes a binding mandate and the possibility of recall upon petition by a reasonable fraction of electors, thus diminishing considerably chances that the powerful and rich could corrupt Council members away from wishes of people.

To favour both associational and direct democracy as against a representative democracy that is the watchdog of capitalism – this is the first lesson that could be learned from the best tradition of the best moments of popular and democratic movements in the last 150 years. Self-management is even today our furthest horizon. And it should be built up internationally, to encompass planning from below in feedback with central decisions (including democratic control of large financial transactions), suggested in this little scheme:

A/ Plan B/ Market
1/ From Lower Classes Upward COMMUNISM (Marxian) EARLY CAPITALISM
2/ From Upper Classes Downward WELFARE/WARFARE STATE C19 CAPITALISM

2.4.Possible Allies

Who are prospective allies on the road to such a Council democracy? Potentially, all working people, plebeians or proletarians. But since they are largely brainwashed by material and moral misery, I would begin by asking first for allies in de-alienating them. Here too there could be many, it is a matter of understanding who they are and then building rainbows with them. Alas, science as an institution has been largely corrupted by Positivism, money, and hierarchical institutionalisation – though a precious few must be listened to. Out of my experience, I shall start by naming the arts of image and word, insofar as they are rooted in artisanal self-direction and therefore more difficult to corrupt. They are traditionally from bottom up, often open‑ended, often not only a merited pleasure and rest but also cognitive. I have written much on this and must ask the interested reader to look it up (in the books To Brecht, Lessons, Defined, Darko Suvin, and many essays, such as those on Brecht). But I shall briefly indicate the horizon by the example of narrative and poetry. They always imply a reader standing for a collective class audience, ideally his whole community (this is foregrounded in plays). In proportion to her creativity, the writer is one who doubts the reigning commonplace opinions, who swerves from them by infringing old usages and meanings and, implicitly or explicitly creating new ones. Poetic creation sutures conceptual thought to justification from recalled immediate sensual, bodily experiences and stances.

To give one pregnant example, Rimbaud was led to exasperation at having to reconcile his deep hatred of the bourgeoisie and existing society with the irrefragable fact of having to breathe and experience within it:

….industrialists, rulers, senates:
Die quick! Power, justice, history: down with you!
This is owed to us. Blood! Blood! Golden flame!
All to war, to vengeance, to terror…. Enough!

             …I’m there, I’m still there. (“Qu’est-ce pour nous…,” 113; see Rancière 92-93)

The obverse of this dead end – between “enough” and “I’m still there” – is Thomas More’s great coinage of utopia: the radically different good place which is in our sensual experience not here, but must be understood as our indispensable orientation – today, on pain of extinction. What is not here, Ernst Bloch’s Yet Unknown, is almost always first adumbrated in fiction, most economically in verse. From many constituents of the good place, I shall here focus on freedom – Wordsworth’s “Dear Liberty” (Prelude l. 3) which translates the French revolutionary term of liberté chérie – that then enables security, creativity, order, and so on. The strategic insight here is that the method of great modern arts is freedom as possibility of things being otherwise.

Works Mentioned

Amin, Samir. Capitalism in the Age of Globalization. London: Zed Books, 1997.

Anderson, Perry. Lineages of the Absolutist State. London: Verso, 1979.

Ayres, R[obert] U. Limits to the Growth Paradigm. Centre for the Management of Environmental Resources, Working Paper 96/18/EPS. [Amsterdam]: Elsevier Science, 1996.

Badiou, Alain. L’Hypothèse communiste. S.l.: Lignes, 2009.

—. Le Siècle. Paris: Seuil, 2005.

Balibar, Etienne. La philosophie de Marx. Paris: La Découverte, 1993.

Baran, Paul, and Paul Sweezy. Monopoly Capital. New York: Monthly R P,  1966.

Barnet, Richard, and John Cavanagh. Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Bourdieu, Pierre, et al.  The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society. Transl. P.P. Ferguson. Cambridge: Polity P, 1999 (La Misère du monde, Seuil 1993).

Cohen,  Joshua, and Joel Rogers, Associations and Democracy, London, 1995.

Custers, Peter. Questioning Globalized Militarism: Nuclear and Military Production and Critical Economy. New Delhi: Tulika P, and London, Merlin P, 2007.

Daly, Herman E. Beyond Growth. Boston: Beacon P, 1996.

—. Steady-State Economics. 2nd edn. Washington DC/ Covelo: Island P, 1991.

—, and John B. Cobb, Jr. For the Common Good. rev. edn. Boston: Beacon P, 1994.

—, and Kenneth Townsend. Valuing the Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics. Cambridge MA: MIT P, 1993.

Farrell, Paul B.Reagan Began Class War in 1981, Buffett Declared in 2006.” MarketWatch. Nov. 1, 2011, accessed through /beyondmoney.net/tag/class-war/

[George, Susan.] The Lugano Report. London: Pluto P, 1999.

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. New York: toExcel, 1999.

Greider, William. One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Harvey, David. Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

—. The Limits to Capital. London & New York: Verso, 1999.

Hinkelammert. Franz J. The Ideological Weapons of Death: A Theological Critique of Capitalism. Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 1986 (Las armas ideológicas de la muerte. San José CR: Dep.to Ecuménico de Investigaciones, nd ed.n rev. 1981).

Hobsbawm, E.R. Revolutionaries. London: Little, Brown, 2007.

Kaldor, Mary. New and Old Wars. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999.

Kapp, Karl W. The Social Costs of Private Enterprise. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1950  (Soziale Kosten der Marktwirtschaft. Frankfurt: Fischer,  1979).

Kolko, Gabriel. Century of War. New York: New P, 1994.

Luxemburg, Rosa. The Accumulation of Capital. Transl. A. Schwarzschild. New York: Modern Reader, 1968.

Magnus, George. “Important to Curb Destructive Power of Deleveraging. “ Financial Times Sept. 30, 2008.

Marx, Karl. “Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction”, in The Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society. Eds. and transl. L.D. Easton and K.H. Guddat. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1967, 67-92.

—. “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844),” in Writings, see “Comments” above, 283‑337 [ “Prussian Censorship”].

—. Grundrisse. Transl. M. Nicolaus. London & New York: Penguin-Vintage, 1974.

—. Das Kapital, Vols. I and III. MEW Bd. 23 and 25. Berlin: Dietz V., 1993 and 1979.

—. “Speech at the Anniversary of the People’s Paper,”  in The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. R.C. Tucker. New York: Norton, 427-28.

—, and Friedrich Engels. Werke. [as MEW]. Vol. 1. Berlin: Dietz V., 1962ff. .

McMurtry, John. The Cancer Stage of Capitalism. London: Pluto P, 1999.

Mesnard y Mendez, Pierre.  “Capitalism Means/ Needs War.” Socialism & Democracy 16.2 (2002): 65-92, also on http://www.sdonline.org.

Murphy, R. Taggart. “Bubblenomics.”  New Left R. no. 57 (2009): 149-60.

Pannekoek, Anton. Workers’ Councils. Oakland & Edinburgh: AK P, 2003.

Pogge, Thomas. “Reframing Economic Security and Justice,” in D. Held  and A. McGrew eds., Globalization Theory, Cambridge: Polity P, 2007, 207-24.

Rancière, Jacques. “Transports de la liberté,” in idem ed. La politique des poètes. Paris : Michel, 1992, 87-130.

Rimbaud, Arthur. Oeuvres complètes. Éd. L. Forrestier. Paris: Laffont, 1992.

Rogers, Paul. Losing Control: Global Security in the Twenty-first Century. 2nd edn., London: Pluto P, 2002.

Stein, Ben. „In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning” [Interview with W. Buffett].  www. nytimes.com/2006/11/26/business/yourmoney/26every.html?_r=0

Suvin, Darko. “Capitalism Means/ Needs War,” in his In Leviathan’s Belly: Essays for a Counter-Revolutionary Time. Baltimore MD: Wildside P for Borgo P, 2012, 93-113 (“Kapitalizam znači/treba rat,” u Gdje smo? Kuda idemo?: Za političku epistemologiju spasa. Zagreb: Hrvatsko Filozofsko društvo, 2006, 115-45; Kje smo? Kam gremo? Za politično ekonomijo odrešitve. Ljubljana: Založba Sophia, 2010).

—. Darko Suvin: A Life in Letters. Ed. Ph.E. Wegner. Vashon Island WA 98070: Paradoxa, 2011.

—. Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction, and Political Epistemology. Oxford: P. Lang, 2010.

—.  “Immigration in Europe Today: Apartheid or Civil Cohabitation?” Critical Quarterly  50. 1-2 (2008): 206-33.

—. “Introductory Pointers toward an Economics  of  Physical and Political Negentropy,” in his In Leviathan’s Belly: Essays for a Counter-Revolutionary Time. Baltimore MD: Wildside P for Borgo P, 2012, 161-69 (also as e-book).

—. Lessons of Japan. Montreal: CIADEST, 1996.

—. To Brecht and Beyond: Soundings in Modern Dramaturgy. Brighton: Harvester P, and Totowa NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1984.

Toffler, Alvin, and Heidi Toffler. War and Anti-War. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.

Turner, Graham. The Credit Crunch. London: Pluto P, 2008.

Virilio, Paul. Speed and Politics. Transl. M. Polizzotti. New York: Semiotext(e):  1977.

Žižek, Slavoj. “How To Begin from the Beginning.” New Left R. no. 57 (2009): 43-55.

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GOODBYE AND HELLO: DIFFERENTIATING WITHIN THE LATER P.K. DICK (2015, 14,960 words)

Darko Suvin                                                                                    (VERSION 2015, 14,960 words)



“You’ve read these?” Allen scanned the volume of
Ulysses. His interest and bewilderment grew. “Why?
What did you find?”
Sugermann considered. “These, as discriminated
from the other, are real books.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Hard to say. They’re about something.”
(Dick, The Man Who Japed, ch. 9)
Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it
doesn’t go away. (Dick, VALIS, ch. 5)

1. Two Personal (But Not Only) Premises

1.1. Historical
It must have been 1972 or ’73 when my nose was first rubbed into the work of Philip Dick by a student at McGill, a young woman who went on to become a professor of psychology at Berkeley.
A friend of hers, a young Lithuanian-Canadian, was one of those fans having the entire opus of favourite SF writers in his flat, in this case all I was missing from Dick. I then asked my coeditor Dale Mullen whether he’d let me edit an issue of our journal, Science-Fiction Studies, on Le Guin and Dick, which soon became two separate issues. Among other matters in organizing that issue, I somehow got Dick’s phone number in southern California to solicit from him a contribution, which he eventually graciously gave. I had the feeling he was somewhat bewildered by academic attention, and it turned out later he had classical ambivalence toward it–he both wanted and resented our praise. Our conversations were entirely practical and unremarkable, except for one incident after he had received the SFS issue in 1975, when he gently complained about my slighting of his German, since he had been readily understood by the hotel he stayed in in Munich.
This turned out to be an instance of his talent for fabulation, for it appears he never was in Munich, but I was at the time entirely innocent of his psychic complexities…
Many years later, when his executor was preparing a volume of his letters for print, he asked me for permission to reproduce Dick’s 1974 letters denouncing me and two other prominent participants in the SFS issue, at the same time that he was cordially conversing with us, to the FBI as agents of a Soviet-bloc Communist committee situated in Cracow and going under the name of Lem; he knew that Lem wasn’t a single person because the latter had corresponded with him in several languages… I have since understood the terrible existential panic he was in when he tried to ingratiate himself with the FBI, and forgiven if not forgotten.1/ It is a case in point for Dick’s typically American cocoon, the political illiteracy to which I shall return in my conclusion. But away with memories of Atlantis! How is it proper today to talk about him? We could say this as in the title of Michael Bishop’s novel: “Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas”–and we are alive, at a time probably worse than his fears, 20 years later. We have therefore the benefits of hindsight, of having available almost all that matters which he wrote, including the mainstream novels, his letters, essays, and other expository prose. All of this, including a lot of critical literature, should of course be critically sifted, for beside benefits snares for the unwary have also multiplied since he died in 1982. And furthermore, most important, all of us who have loved (or love-hated) his work, but who at any rate have recognized his genius–that is, his cognitive importance to us the readers then and now–have cognitive, which means also ethical, obligations to his opus and his memory. Perhaps I should then start rather from 1975, when the first major collection of critical work on him was published in that SFS issue. This would for me personally be an obligatory starting point because I feel that my essay in that issue needs supplementing in two ways: by taking into account the new materials, and also new theoretical insights and positions some of us on the Left have arrived at examining the few splendors and many miseries since 1975–including among the splendors new thinking about salvation sparked by new needs and with help of Liberation Theology or a better understanding of Walter Benjamin.
My question would then be what does P.K. Dick’s fiction from Ubik on have to say to those of us, his readers, who have not given up trying to make sense–in however overdetermined and roundabout ways– out of our common world in order to find out possibilities of action in it. After all, we see the powerful social classes, all the Palmer-Eldritch-type mad capitalist and military groups lording it over us, that work successfully for destruction all the time–which proves that action is possible. We need horizons and orientations, today more than ever, which allow for radical change to counteract their destruction of material and moral life, of our bodies and our values. Let me be as clear here as I can: I do not wish to talk in the simplified language and conceptuality of a difference between “esthetic” and “committed” or engagé texts, nor, a fortiori, in that of “progressive” vs. “regressive” that lurks at its back. I hold with and Brecht that “to see how or as”–as opposed to staring or seeing only retinally–is to think as well as to see, that the optical nerve functions by way of the brain. The whole history of art and philosophy has shown us that we cannot understand any “what” without the “how,” for the “how” is in a way an inquiry into “what is what.” A navel-gazing “how” may engage our sympathies at moments of the gazer’s great navel pain.
But such a “how,” that denies it exists as a function of “what,” grows increasingly sterile. Thus 
I do wish to cleave to the fundamental opposition between Eros and Thanatos, fertility and sterility, making our lives easier or more difficult to understand.
Therefore: what can Dick’s late novels say to those of us who are not interested in theology as believers or even near-believers, but who are prepared to see theology and cosmogony as an interesting and perhaps highly important symptom of earthly relationships? Those interested in mystical experiences or Gnostic divinities are welcome to find pleasure in dealing intransitively with them, but I wish to explore whether they could be profitably treated as a highly abstract or coded form of transitive talking about individual vs. community and other crucial matters of relationships among people in Dick’s time–and by easy extension, in our unhappy times too.While I would like to investigate the significant post-Ubik novels of Dick with this in view, I can here manage only an overview of some foci in selected novels. I cannot, as one should, reconsider here the two “bridge novels,” Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (written 1966, published 1968) and the much richer Ubik (written 1966, published 1969). I shall concentrate on A Scanner Darkly, Radio Free Albemuth, and the “VALIS Trilogy.”

1.2 Methodological: The Emitter and His Signals
What I am looking for as far as method goes is a tool or lens which would allow us to approach the tug-of-war between simple psychological alienation or rebellious anomie on the one hand and, on the other hand, a more articulated delving into the collective reasons ceaselessly reproducing that alienation and reification, between a creativity or critique that is useful or useless for radical anticapitalist change; and only a “thick” version of such an approach, not only ideational but also formal, has a chance to be enlightening. This may be a central problem of all SF (not to say of all art today); at any rate, as befits a major creator, it is clearly a major and increasingly foregrounded dilemma at the heart of Dick’s opus. I have no wish to conceal that this is a variant of the permanent Left or radical critique of the bourgeois world, which is for urgent salvational reasons inevitably drawn to ideal polarities, although we know full well that in practice, and especially artistic practice, there is little black and white but rather various shades of grey and all other colours. The
point is that taking centrally into account the shifting spacetimes and value-systems in fictional texts can retain this political interest but supplement it not only with the tools of modern narratology and if you wish semiotics (let me invoke here only early Lukács, Bakhtin, and Jameson), but also of modern existential and phenomenological inquiry. Indeed, this approach can at its best embody the politics in its inquiry, while recalling it overtly and criticizing where need be any of its stripes, including the necessary simplifications of day-to-day activism. In other words, I wish to test and if need be clarify my 1975 thesis that in P.K. Dick’s opus we can see an oscillation between the horizons of transitive epistemology, where reality is undoubted but the characters’ or reader’s approach to it is in question, and intransitive ontology, where the reality itself is in question. I shall use the shorthand of “epistemological” vs.”ontological” for these horizons. Perhaps this distinction can be further focussed by borrowing the one between signal and
noise from the theory of information. Given a stream of information, signal means all that informs us about the source of that stream or that has “meaning”–in the case of a novel, a however roundabout or mediated meaning about possible relationships in the koinos kosmos (as Dick would rightly say), the Possible World Zero common to author and readers. It is then usually thought by engineers that noise is all that which carries no information or has no meaning. However, noise gives us another type of information, that about the channel. It is autoreferential information, indispensable for any technician who wants to repair a radio or TV and, as De Carolis points out, “listens to the buzzes and whistles to draw information about the device and not about modern music” (modern music then often incorporates the buzzes and whistles by upgrading them from noise to signal). I’d add that in a larger sense, this somewhat misnamed noise is also information, and indeed one about a specific subset of PW Zero, the psychophysical consciousness of the author as refracted through the writing conventions and genres she is using. In the case at hand, the “device” or subset is Dick’s existential situation as he understood it at the moment of writing, and (this seems important) through or indeed in part because of the writing.
The problem here is a dialectical one: on the one hand, the flow of information being received by the readers scanning the novel is single; on the other hand and simultaneously, at every and any moment optimal information about PW Zero can only be attained by distinguishing clearly between the channel noise–here, Dick’s psycho-theological encoding–and the meaning coming from and about the signal source. In the theory of information, this distinction is essential but only possible as the work of an external observer: “the channel itself is indifferent to it.”
In the classical case in which a system observes itself, which is the case of every artist, there is an inbuilt temptation to confuse signal and noise. The temptation grows particularly strong in the case of a badly functioning society which causes the appearance of isolated and anomic intellectuals and reinforces their anguish. I hold that this is the case of a good part of us, and that in the humanist intelligentsia the isolation–Karl Marx’s “alienation” and Hannah Arendt’s “loneliness”–is directly proportional to our clear-sightedness and significance as intellectuals, say writers. It causes what De Carolis calls a “primary solipsism.” Even conservative or Rightwing writers in SF have been known to share the anomie, witness Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” and the interminable follow-ups in the novels of his senility. The pedigree of such solipsism is impressive, for it extends from Buddhism and Plato’s Myth of the Cavern to all subjectivist philosophy, say from Descartes through the German Idealists to early Wittgenstein and today. Their common horizon is one of taking the blend or confusion between signal and noise for a natural condition of our PW Zero. An epistemic beast, how to understand the source, is mistaken for an ontological beast, what the source is. The central materialist tenet that we can only have given interpretations of reality but that it exists outside of us and independent of any our group, is here abandoned.
Obversely however, for use in a highly sophisticated and sui generis context such as fiction or art in general, the engineering aspect of the theory of information has to be modified. No significant writer is able to quite forget the meaningful signal. The urge to communicate to readers matters not confined exclusively to herself as channel seems to make the difference between creativity and psychosis. We shall see that in Dick’s case there is a functional equivalent to the emitter’s indifference in an artful oscillation concerning the presence and nature of meaning within a spectrum of mutually exclusive explanations. While the civic persona of Phil Dick may have hovered very near psychosis and was most probably at moments deep within it, the control and clarity largely evidenced in his work disallow using this as a key to their interpretation: the writer’s persona, the implied author, was for all relevant purposes not psychotic or crazy.
The criteria I’m using as epistemic tools makes it mandatory for criticism (as I understand it) to scrutinize whether it is generally possible to extend the author’s understanding of his situation as exemplary to everybody else’s situation. A spread of answers is possible, which I tried to discussonce for the specific case of Victorian SF (Suvin, “Narrative”). In the pessimal case, the author is so idiosyncratic that it cannot be extended at all; the writings are then soon forgotten. In very rare optimal cases, the author’s understanding can be shared with some appreciable accuracy by large groups of people, entire social classes of a civilization–these are then the authors taught in Literature 101 or high school, your Shakespeares, Dostoevskys, Rabelaises, Homers or Lucretiuses.
More usually, the author’s take on reality cannot be extended outside of a small group sharing his existential position (his core fans, in SF parlance), or at least not without confronting it significantly with other types of understanding which the critic has good reasons for treating as more illuminating and useful–in brief, better. Any such more normative reasons are finally in the nature of a bet and neither necessarily nor (for sure) eternally valid. But for given purposes, those of discussing a worthwhile and significant but not quite optimal writer–which is, as a rule, what we do in SF–they can be supremely useful. Given the resonance that the works of P.K. Dick have now had for 30 or 40 years, and which may in the foreseeable future vary as to whom it affects and in exactly which directions but to my mind has no reason to abate, I believe this is his position in our present debates.
To discuss the significance of Dick’s later works, then, necessarily leads to some disentangling of meaning and noise. It also necessarily leads to some, I hope discreet, use of his biography. I shall assume as a given for this investigation what a number of us have been arguing about the epistemologically transitive and thus socially critical or “signalling” nature of his earlier novels, which culminates (as is by now generally accepted) in what I called his “plateau tetralogy” of The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time-Slip, and Dr Bloodmoney (written 1961-64, published 1962-65). I leave here unresolved the stature of the contemporary Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, on which some critics heap one-sided praise2/ whereas others such as myself now doubt we should speak of a “plateau tetralogy.” Finally, I see no other way of seizing what Dick is getting at than to identify in each case the main nodes of his plots, which inevitably means also to interpret them, while getting at an encompassing evaluation only after having disentangled them. Dick’s truth lies in his plot or fabula.

2. Approaching the Later P.K. Dick: Dead End and Necessity of Salvation

2.1. Both for my purposes and in fairness to Dick, I do not have to deal with works that do not represent him at his utmost stretch (except as testimonials to his dilemmas). In my judgment such is the case of five novels written in what one might call his crisis decade 1966-76, that is between Ubik and A Scanner Darkly. Stableford and Clute rightly call Deus Irae “a rather unsatisfactory collaboration with Roger Zelazny.” In Galactic Pot-Healer (written 1967-8, published 1969), the emblematic artist-craftsman is chosen as the necessary helper of a very unclear godhead. Though any novel by Dick will have its share of felicities, the central flaw of this one is a hesitant approach to an “inner space” quasi-Jungian allegory, which is neither clear nor cogent enough to sustain the weight put upon it. It also ends abruptly, and such perfunctoriness will increase in the following three novels. A Maze of Death (written 1968, published 1970), Our Friends From Frolix 8 (written 1968-69, published 1970), and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (written 1970-73, published 1974), are broken-backed narratives. Most of A Maze is a banalized ontology, with insufficient narrative control and a plot of successive murders in an isolated planet community à la Christie’s And Then There Were None, which is pulled back into epistemology in the last dozen pages. There the preceding narration is revealed as a collective dream generated by a mind-linking machine to alleviate the dead end of a crew’s endless voyage in an out-of-control spaceship. This superordinated reality seems even more hopeless, since it lacks the presence of divine manifestations from the universe of the realistic dream, but in Dick’s frequent sting-in-the-tail reversal one appears to the main character Seth who will be reborn as a cactus.
Our Friends is a story of competing supermen “races” out of van Vogt, where a redeeming man returns from the stars with a selfless Frolixian alien who wipes out the superior part of the supermen’s brains. The usual and prescient Dickian police state is in evidence hunting the little working man, and among the felicities which make it the most interesting text of the three is some excellent satire of fakely objective TV comments; however, the final discussion pits the superiority of private sentiments not only against the arrogance of power but also against intellect in general.
Finally, the protagonist of Flow finds out he officially does not exist in the US police state of an alternate reality, but in the last quarter of the story his original reality seeps back for reasons vaguely indicated as due to mind-altering drugs, that also ontologically alter reality. The main turns in the plot thus arrive like a succession of rabbits out of a hat, in a quite arbitrary way. These new drugs are associated with a subsidiary female character, one of the four or five who flit scattershot in and out of the protagonist’s life; there is also a subplot bearer, no less than a humane police general… Beside the grim background of concentration camps and besieged campuses, the novel has, as usual, some splendid passages of pain and bewilderment, and six pages of a great Parable of the Rabbit trying to overcome his biology, which however stands isolated in the narration.
All these novels are interesting documents–but not much more–for what Stableford and Clute call Dick’s “sense of a shrinking [and derelict] world,” full of pain and increasing loss of orientation for everybody involved, that has been coming intensively to the fore since Martian Time-Slip and is calling for extraordinary forces of salvation. The dead end in and of these novels, where the politics (if any are indicated) can only be totally oppressive and are to be forsaken in favour of new existential orientations, centered on an ethics of love and caring, threatens to dissolve even the powers of coherent narration. All of this indicates well the reasons for Dick’s receptivity to a sudden radical break of horizons which would hold the promise of starting anew. Robinson’s example of Our Friends From Frolix 8, where “For the first time since the 1950s, a world police state is overthrown, but the revolution is accomplished by an alien with God-like powers” (Novels 103), indicates the direction to be taken.
My question is, then, whether the remaining half a dozen novels–the two “bridge novels” Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (written 1966, published 1968) and the richer Ubik (written 1966, published 1969), and then A Scanner Darkly, Radio Free Albemuth, and the “VALIS Trilogy”–and their peculiar do-it-yourself theological focus and argumentation may be read–in terms of literary theory as well as of theological tradition–as a parable of collective earthly matters.
I am dealing here with Radio Free Albemuth and the “VALIS Trilogy.” A first tentative indication of the horizons within which to approach the later Dick is then that the theological aspect of his speculations may be a property of the channel, of the individualist psychology of Philip Dick, while the focus on the salvation of our common world below deals with the source in Dick’s reality, the USA of 1967 to 1981 (as emblematically represented by its different California locales). Not being a psychologist or theologian, I’m in the position of the engineer who is not interested in the channel except insofar as it is indispensable for articulating the source–but at that moment, I may be supremely interested in the channel. In fiction, the channel is even more intimately interwoven with
message or meaning than in information theory, for it codetermines if not the source, then our understanding of or take on it.
However, before I get to Dick’s last “vision” novels, I wish to sound the depths of his descent into despair in A Scanner Darkly as a logically and historically necessary introduction to my question. It is a powerful and almost unbearable novel, certainly his first masterpiece since Ubik.

2.2. Dick’s Second Plateau: A Scanner Darkly
In this novel (written 1973-75, published 1977), Dick’s frequent depiction of a US police State (“this fascist police state,” ch. 1) to whom the little man-protagonist is opposed grows almost totally dark since the little man Bob Arctor is himself an active agent of the police, a narc with the cover name Fred. While the rich live “in their fortified huge apartment complexes” (ch. 2), the little people–our almost exclusive focus in the text–live in a totally controlled State where surveillance cameras (upgraded to holograms) are routinely used, every pay phone is tapped, supersonic tigh beams are used for police assassinations (ch. 10), and the closest friends inform on each other (Fred, Donna, Barris) and suspect each other. Two themes are prominent: the universal use of drugs which not only cause hallucinations and loss of reality sense but finally make for physical death or at least brain death; and the SF gadget of the scramble suit, an invention that hooks up a multifaced lens to a mini-computer holding a million and a half physiognomies projected at random onto a spherical membrane that fits around a person. The suit makes police agents unrecognizable, and is used not only for spying on the public but also in all of the narc’s contacts with the police. This latter quite improbable ploy, which no police in the world would have authorized, serves to strengthen the paranoid situation where not only everybody informs on everybody but nobody knows who is who.
A thick web of correspondences obtains in the novel. The scramble suit resonates semantically with drug-induced scrambled receptor sites in the brain, or the split between its two hemispheres.
This was a popular hypothesis at the time, which is presented with a fair amount of pseudoscientific gobbledegook: “a toxic brain psychosis affecting the percept system by splitting it” (ch. 7) mixes about three incompatible theses. This can be taken either as one of Dick’s frequent fast shuffles as a virtuoso semantic cardsharp or more charitably as a sign he wasn’t taking the hypothesis too seriously as a causal explanation. Dick was usually (alas) little interested in causes, he was interested in the phenomenological results, which had then to be explained through the best analogies he could at the moment find. In other words, the cybernetically created shifting identities are not only parallel but in some unexplained way analogous to the drug-created split identities. A further almost Symbolist correspondence surrounds the acronym SD: it is the new superdrug Substance D, whose source the police can apparently never find; it is Spiritual Death or Slow Death; it is also Scanner Darkly (with the A edited out in another fast shuffle–and an early title was “To Scare the Dead,” Shifting 229). Finally, the omnipresent image of the novel is the materialized metaphor of a man divided against himself: when the narc “Fred” has to spy on himself he must edit enough out of the holo videos to keep his identity as Arctor secret.
The boundaries of fact and fiction begin to crumble in this “creative editing yourself out” (ch. 7) but leaving enough in to avert suspicion. Nonetheless, there are two villainous forces in the book, the total police control over his characters’ lives and the total invasion of drugs into it.
Though the novel is held together not only by the system of correspondences but primarily by the focus on how both these forces “scramble” Fred’s mind, their duality introduces a basic confusion of values. The police control which is ostensibly there to combat drugs is shown as not only abhorrent but totally counterproductive: in order to inform on the dope-dealers the narcs have to begin taking drugs themselves, and in fact our protagonist Fred /Bob Arctor becomes addicted to Substance Dand succumbs to it in the course of the novel. But on the other hand Dick’s animus is clearly against the drug culture, which he knew well but only marginally participated in during the 1960s (his thing was rather pills). True, his appended “Author’s Note,” which identifies this novel as a requiem for  the naive and wiped-out drug-taking generation of his, is entirely too oversimplified to account for
the book. Still, if the drugs are supremely bad, then the bad and grotesque police fighting it is in a way good. This contradiction is never explored nor even mentioned in the novel (it can obliquely be inferred through Fred’s sympathetic boss, and is accompanied by some dubious theology about God transmuting evil to good in ch. 14). It is of a piece with Dick’s permanent ideological type that I would call “the good ruler,” or finding the good in a bad ruler. How illusory and misleading this tends to be can be seen by comparing it with the Rampart scandal in Los Angeles, which revealed that the L.A.P.D. Crash sections had set up prostitution and drug networks to compete with the gangs they were supposed to be fighting…
Finally, there is also a hint that there has been a total take-over by commercial interests:
all places are the same, with identical McDonaldburgers everywhere: “Life in Anaheim, California, was a commercial for itself, endlessly replayed. Nothing changed: it just spread farther and farther in the form of neon ooze…. How the land became plastic, he thought…” (ch. 2). However, this is not analyzed further; the economics of the drug-trade will only surface at the end, but then in an interesting way.
Instead, A Scanner focusses on the phenomenology, and primarily on Fred’s increasingly split and malfunctioning mind. This is both the novel’s limitation and its strength. On that level it is coherent and narratively consistent, even though it does creak in a few places (such as Arctor’s German quotes in ch. 11, or his final adventures as “Bruce”). As K.S. Robinson puts it, “There exists no finer character study of an undercover agent in contemporary America than this novel ” (Novels 109). Amid the thick gloom, the novel abounds in sympathy for the put-upon little people, primarily Arctor and his love Donna. Arctor’s possibly drug-induced visions, as when he hears a voice saying death will be vanquished and all the lives “backward right now” will be righted, do not help him to help himself. In the same culminating chapter 13, amid his withdrawal seizure, Donna recounts to him the story of Tony Amsterdam who saw God after an acid trip and felt very good;
however, after a year he realized he would never see God again: “he was going to live on and on like he was, seeing nothing. Without any purpose.” What he had actually seen through a doorway was another mysterious world of silence and nighttime beauty: “And then later on, when he couldn’t see it any more, he’d be on the freeway driving along, with all the trucks, and he’d get madder than hell. He said he couldn’t stand all the motion and noise, everything going this way and that, all the clanking and banging.” After this parable, Donna tells the stupefied Fred /Arctor he’ll be restored: “On the day when everything taken away unjustly from people will be restored to them. It may take a thousand years, or longer than that, but that day will come, and all the balances will be set right.” (all in ch. 13). Such passages prepare the outburst of the soteriological theme in the “VALIS cycle” (Albemuth and the “Trilogy”).
Though not sufficiently developed, Donna is an interesting character. She’s both a federal
police agent and the member of a resistance movement, and uses Arctor’s illness to “plant” him inside a work farm which the resistance suspects of growing Substance D. Her speech about ripping off Coca Cola as a capitalist monopoly (ch. 8) is an instance of the genuine, somewhat crazy plebeian resentment not too far from Pirate Jenny’s song from Brecht-Weill’s Threepenny Opera, the downtrodden dishwasher girl dreaming of killing the whole class of her oppressors. The authorial voice is very near to Donna: after the Tony Amsterdam parable and some further meditation on this cursed, fallen, wrong world, she hears a police car siren in hot pursuit: “It sounded like a deranged animal, greedy to kill.” (ch. 13)
Arctor gradually loses his identity, evolving first into a cohabitation with the emotionless
informer Fred, while after the crisis both identities are lost in a seemingly brainless treatment patient called Bruce. Unbeknownst to him, Bruce has been secretly planted by Donna to work for the powerful and rich New Path company, which offers work-rehabilitation for the drugged. In their closed fields, we are shown Bruce discovering the pretty flowers that indicate the company grows the drug Substance D or Mors ontologica. It is made clear that even though he doesn’t understand what he saw, he will be able to report back. Thus finally, the spirit of rebellion and subversion is continuing on in spite of the overwhelming forces of the Police State and drugging. It must be confessed though that this is only a vague and in some ways unresolved indication, a little undying spark of hope amid the overwhelming gloom.
Among the novel’s strengths is sceptical self-reflexivity (Dick’s forte whenever used), so that epistemology and ontology are actually discussed on the final two pages. When Bruce thinks the blue flower are gone, the New Path boss who cut off his view tells him, “No, you simply can’t see them…. Epistemology….” (ch. 17). This fits well into Dick’s definition of reality as “that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away” (VALIS ch.5), but not with his less clear-eyed moments. Both of the themes here, the occlusion of reality by means of biochemistry or of electronic optics, are epistemological. So is all the talk about the split percept system, Fred’s selfdiagnosis that he has a “cognitive… rather than perceptive” impairment (ch. 7), or the realistic affair of the forged cheque (ch. 11). Ontology, a true change in reality, takes over briefly here and there, as when the picked-up girl’s face melds into Donna’s and this registers on the scanned holo-cube (at the end of ch.s 9 and 10). Yet doubts linger on: compared to Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians which
invokes a superior reality, Dick’s title is not only technologically upgraded from glass to scanner (ch. 13), but even in this largely epistemological novel lacks Paul’s monolithic confidence in a real and superior reality.
The private psychological problems of the small man culminate and self-destruct in this
descent into Hell, after which they cannot be of further fictional use for Dick. As in Dante, even though much more ambiguously, he emerged and looked at the stars.

2.3. Dick’s Second Plateau: Radio Free Albemuth
Diametrically oposed to Scanner in tone (but not only in that), Radio Free Albemuth (written 1976, further RFA) is Dick’s first full-blown attempt to translate his “mystical experience[s]” (RFA ch. 2) into fiction, to present them as fiction, and to cope with them by means of fiction. Since it was published only after the Valis Trilogy and Dick’s death, in 1985, it has been unduly overshadowed by the Trilogy and the debates it promoted about his sanity and his theological system, which I consider marginal to my purpose and to Dick’s significance. Unduly, for it is a coherent, lucid, and significant achievement, at least on par with the “Valis trilogy.” On the whole, it successfully melds the Police-State theme with the theme of invading extraterrestrial visions.
The police State is instituted by Ferris F. Fremont–a blend of Nixon, McCarthy, and Hitler– who had become US president in 1969. First of all, this locates the story in a parallel Possible World or universe, which is however a parable of what is coming about in the Possible World Zero, our universe in the mid-1970s. But dating the swing to full repression to before rather than after the novel’s appearance is strange. In this type of dystopian SF, the nearer the story date the greater the urgency. Orwell’s putting the Possible World in a shockingly near future was also a twisted way of talking exactly about what Dick too is talking about, for the date of 1984 simply inverts the last two digits of 1948, the year Orwell was writing. Thus, in a further twist on Orwell, Dick’s chronological
novum underscores the urgency of danger: in a very similar world, whose Berkeley and Orange County venues are described with detailed autobiographic realism, freedom has already been lost.
Fremont comes to power by denouncing a mysterious but ubiquitous subversive organization “Aramchek”: “Obviously no one can destroy it. No one’s safe from it. No one knows where it’ll turn up next…” (RFA ch. 3). As Valis reveals to Nick, Fremont is himself part of a vast secret organization which has assassinated the Kennedys, Malcolm X, King, and so on. Like Hitler, he institutionalizes ubiquitous “security” agents–specially zealous are the young– to check on “the moral state of hundreds of thousands of citizens,” and builds concentration camps (ch. 9).
I cannot but interpolate here that a bad limitation of Dick’s–which he however shares with the great majority of US SF–is his insularity. While vastly if unsystematically knowledgeable about music, literature, and the aspects of philosophy that interested him, he was not at all conversant with nor really interested in the world outside the USA–except for the Cold War rivalry with the USSR which subsumed the Vietnam War, but is here explained as a covert identity of the two “Fascist” powers. True, the USA is a very big island and up to the invention of the airplane, submarine, and ICBM could really isolate itself from the Old World, but at the same time it has since the 19th Century related to most of the world as the rich North to the poor South, and moreover a North which is rich because the South is poor. Therefore, Dick is reduced to noticing poverty only in the specific and overdetermined form of the US slums, mainly formed by immigrants, and he can easily forget economics in his otherwise totalizing explanations. Nonetheless, if we factor this limitation in, then Fremont’s canny political invention and strategy is prescient of, and continues to be highly apposite to, the present regime’s repression in Bush Jr.’s “Homeland” (including the use of the Social Security number for checking on people). And the objection that the huge US military establishment proves it cannot be in cahoots with USSR is met with another, to my mind prescient reply : “To keep our own people down. Not theirs.” (ch. 15) The prescience is again partial; the real reply would be, of course, “to keep both the US and other peoples down.”
The visionary experiences are discussed as they unfold between two alter egos of the author, Nicholas Brady and Phil Dick, who also function as alternative narrators in a tripartite Phil-Nick- Phil narrative.3/ Nick has the revelations from aliens that push him into an underground movement called “Aramchek” against the dictator Fremont. His friend Phil, an SF writer, functions not only as a dialogic sidekick but also as a doubter whose confutation adds to Nick’s credibility, and finally as an ally who remains as the focus in a coda to the novel after Nick’s death.
Dick’s message is heavily and multiply safeguarded and so to speak fenced in through
spinning a series of conflicting interpretations, a feat he excelled at. This is a staple of interesting SF, prominent in Wells’s foundational Time Machine, though Dick probably absorbed it rather through van Vogt’s Null-A series. As he put it, “Theories are like planes at LA international: a new one along every minute” (ch. 19). It has the function of forestalling, ventilating, and undercutting the reader’s objections. Phil’s first alternative hypothesis is one of psychosis: As far as I was concerned it was a chronic fantasy life that Nicholas’s mind had hit on to flesh out the little world in which he lived. Communicating with Valis (as he called it) made life bearable for him, which it otherwise would not be. Nicholas, I decided, had begun to part company with reality, out of necessity…. This was a classic example of how the human mind, lacking real solutions, managed its miseries. (ch. 5) Come back, Nicholas. To this world. The present. From whatever other world you’re
drifting away to from pain and fear–fear of the authorities, fear of what lies ahead for all of us in this country. We’ve got to put up one last fight. “Nick,” I said, “you’ve got to fight.” (ch. 14) However, Phil then witnesses Valis flashing a message to Nick which saves his small son from death by an undiagnosed hernial failure, and his second hypothesis is that Valis is God, more precisely the Christian Holy Spirit (ch. 7). A bewildering string of incidents and speculations taken from Dick’s life, including some frank admissions of the fear that made him collaborate with the FBI by denouncing others (ch. 10), is worked into the novel. It is revealed the messages from the star Albemuth are beamed to Earth through an orbiting satellite, which is discovered and blown up by the Soviets, covertly allied with the USA. The messages seem to imply also that the characters live simultaneously in the evil Roman Empire (an idea possibly stimulated by the masterpiece 334 by his acquaintance Thomas Disch), at a time when the first failed attempt of overthrowing it by
Christ will be repeated. It should be stressed that the soteriological speculations arising out of a channelling of the 1960s impulse for justice and peace into mystical visions are as usual, but perhaps more fully so, firmly rooted in a American demotic or plebeian language, a mix of innocence and arrogance, that makes up a great part of their charm and believability. When the vision allows him to see the trashy world around him with new eyes, Nick reflects: My incompetence had called these invisible friends forth. Had I been more gifted I would not now know of them. It was, in my mind, a good trade. Few people had the awareness I now possessed. Because of my limitations an entire new universe had
revealed itself to me, a benign and living hyperenvironment endowed with absolute wisdom. Wow, I said to myself. You can’t beat that, I had caught a glimpse of the Big People. It was a lifetime dream fulfilled…. (ch. 18)
Phil’s third hypothesis is that a parallel universe, possessing a more advanced science that had not divorced itself from Christianity, was assisting our backward Earth; or alternately, fourth, that the ancient Christians were returning and broadcasting to Nick’s through his unused brain tissue (ch. 19). A fifth hypothesis about a superior life-form from Albemuth materializing in his brain and making the chosen carriers immortal is broached later by Sylvia, a first sketch for the Sophia of the Trilogy. When this welter of conflicting interpretations has slyly established that what is to be interpreted is at any rate believable, we are given Nick’s most extended dialogue with Valis, a fatherfigure arranging for a usually fatal accident out of which Nick walks away reconstituted, understanding he has been reborn many times, “to work toward some distant goal unseen, not as yet comprehended…. Overthrowing the tyranny of Ferris Fremont was a stop along the way, not a goal but a moment of decision, from which I then continued as before.” (ch. 23). For all the echoes of Plato’s anamnesis, the mystical vision is here also a political one, which can be shared by total disbelievers in supernatural agencies. Dick constantly oscillates between rankest UFOlatry or mystification of the Scientology type and a shrewd realization of political oppression and a faith that enables resistance to it.
As Nick then correctly realizes, Fremont would win, the police would destroy their small
resistance group. Typically and self-reflectively, Dick envisages resistance by means of coded messages through art: Nick is a highly placed recording studio executive and he attempts to smuggle subliminal messages into popular records. This fails, Nick and his whole group are shot, and Phil is condemned to perpetual forced labour. However, an opening toward brighter perspectives is re-established in the novel’s coda, narrated by Phil as lifelong convict of the Fascist regime.
It is a double opening, ideological and pragmatic, on a continuing subversion against the
Fascist takeover. The ideological opening is achieved in the discussion, similar to the end of a Shavian play, with another convict friend, the plumber Leon, who prefers political resistance to religion but appreciates Aramchek’s actions and its reliance on the inner voice of simple people. His final judgment is however: “There has to be something here first, Phil. The other world is not enough…. Because… this is where the suffering is. This is where the injustice and imprisonment is.
Like us, the two of us. We need it here. Now.” (ch. 30) And at the end of the whole novel, the despondent Phil hears the latest hit rock release from a radio used by staring kids beyond the pressgang workplace, which features the exact words Nick was going to use smuggling in the revelation about Fremont. Nick’s group was a diversion that achieved its goal. The tune is suddenly cut off, but still it exists. The novel ends on this impenitent 68er note: The transistor radio continued to play. Even more loudly. And, in the wind, I could hear others starting up everywhere. By the kids, I thought. The kids.
It should be noted that this culmination of the novel, to me one of the high points of Dick’s
whole opus, articulates the typical Dickian, multilingually coded, title in political terms. For “Albemuth” carries strong echoes of “alba” from Latin which means both white and later, as in Provençal poetry, dawn and also a poetic form, the song about dawn when the lover must part from his damsel (best known in English literature from Romeo’s dawn parting with Juliet); while “muth” means courage in German, phonetically adjusted to proper Semitic sound as in the Biblical “behemoth”. The courage of waiting for the dawn of justice, the supreme earthly or societal virtue, hidden in an allusive metaphor. The whole title of Radio Free Albemuth imitates in its form the various “freedom stations”–true or fake–of anti-Nazi and anti-Stalinist resistance as well as some countercultural enterprises run by local communities in the 1960s as “the free University” and indeed “free” radio-stations (e.g. in the US and Japanese student revolt). Beyond that, it can be glossed as an emission by a more knowledgeable, artistically hidden source working for freedom from political oppression and instilling the courage of waiting for the dawn of justice. There are
many noises in the channel, and some outright fade-outs; and as any emission, it is liable to misinterpretation as to what the source is saying.

3. The “VALIS Trilogy”

3.1. VALIS
The novel VALIS (written 1978, published 1981) can be divided into two parts, before and after the viewing of the eponymous movie Valis in chapter nine. Both parts are rather prolix, but the first part especially so. They are situated in the 1960s California, to begin with the Bay Area where “[t]he authorities [had become] as psychotic as those they hunted” (ch. 1), and the author’s alter ego is suffering from “fear, helplessness and an inability to act” (ch. 4). As K.S. Robinson encapsulates it, the first part is of interest as a presentation of a character similar but not identical to P.K. Dick, split into Horselover Fat and Phil Dick: “the flamboyant science fiction thinker, with reality breakdown as his dominant theme [,and] the hard-headed realist observer of contemporary America” (“Afterword” 251). In my terms, Fat’s belief in a divine revelation from VALIS carries the ontological theme, bolstered by long excerpts from Fat’s exegesis, and Phil’s as well as his friend’s Kevin’s needling the epistemological theme.
Through most of the book, “Fat plunges into the flow of theories, terms, citations, accepting, forgetting (never refuting), collaging, stitching…. As we read, we lose the propositions in the process.” (Palmer 335) Confusingly if endearingly, right at the beginning the narrator, whose diagnosis is that Fat is going nuts, says “I am Horselover Fat, and I am writing this in the third person to gain much-needed objectivity.” Phil the narrator keeps in the first eight chapters a running fire of shrewd observations about how Fat projects his hunger and his take on world as information onto the God that is supposedly firing independent info (the Logos) on him. Thus, Fat(as Phil) is writing very convincingly how Fat is a silly and whacked-out psychotic. Yet this ironic distance conveys in fact Fat’s (and even more so the author’s) sanity and believability. In the novel’s second part, sparked by the viewing of a movie which convinces the little group around Fat to visit
the movie-makers, it becomes clear Phil was a disbelieving patsy, and his frequent and quite shrewd sardonic observations and rude hyperbolae were set up so that they can be confounded, wiping out the reader’s disbelief too.
However, at the end it still remains unclear how Fat can go cavorting around the world–
unless Phil is truly a psychotic imagining this. This is only one main example of an intrusive, perhaps willed, lack of focussing in the novel as it develops: a lot of mutually incompatible  speculations, repetitive info dumping, repetitive fixations of Fat’s (such as the needless detour on his relation to Sherri for a chapter and a half), or simply bits of sloppy writing–the noise in the channel. Amid all this, the interesting aspect of Fat’s cosmology is his belief that we all live in “the Empire,” a Black Iron Prison for body and soul, composed simultaneously of contemporary USA/ California and the Roman Empire at the time of the first Christians. The less interesting aspects is Fat’s belief in a plasmatic quasi-divine species which from time to time bonds with people like Jesus, the Kennedy brothers, and Martin L. King, or–at different times–his belief in an irrational and evil ruler of the present universe (or at least Terra, as in C.S. Lewis) behind whom the real benevolent forces of creation also operate and venture down to help us. This is, as Dick knew, a form of Gnosticism. Therefore, Dick’s home-made cosmology added, the phenomenal world of evil isn’t real, and we deluded people are morally innocent–though neither necessarily follows from the rule of evil.
Fat has grown increasingly agitated by missing God (like Tony Amsterdam) and is coming to believe that his choice is immediate salvation or death. Therefore, when his group views the movie Valis, written and directed by the rock star Lampton who receives the same pink-beam burst as Fat did, after some decidedly delirious exegesis they contact the makers, and get invited to visit them in Northern California. The movie-makers appear to be from a race come to Earth in ancient times to counteract the Empire with help of VALIS, the satellite from Albemuth, though hints may be found that its info radiation is also toxic. The real godhead or Logos is Sophia, the preternaturally wise two-year-old daughter of Lampton’s wife and VALIS. At the first interview with her, Phil and Fat fuse back into one person, that is, Phil grows whole. The new female Christ’s or Wisdom’s teaching, where Dick rewrites the Sermon on the Mount, is a kind of humanist rather than theist religion: “Man is holy, and the true god, the living god, is man himself…. You… are to love one another as you love me and as I love you….” And further: “The day of Wisdom and the rule of Wisdom has come. The day of power, which is the enemy of wisdom, ends…. This has not been your world, but I will make it your world; I will change it for you. Fear not.” (all ch. 12) However, Sophia warns them not to trust the Lamptons, who turn out, in a Van-vogtian twist of competing supermen, to be on the wrong side. Immediately thereafter, Sophia is killed by the Lampton group, supposedly in an accident, Fat “returns,” and sets off on a search for her reincarnation. The rest remain in California; at first disenchanted, they keep getting hints that the true king may return.
They keep the faith and wait. It is a minimal and unresolved ending, when compared with the highflown
hopes of salvation or even (as K.S. Robinson points out) with the aching dream-glimpse of
harmonious life in a petty-bourgeois suburban Arcadia, taken from an earlier age or childhood memories (ch. 7).
What is one then to make of this novel, which is to my mind at best a half-success both ideationally and narratively? Ideationally, because it perhaps rightly refuses to present any coherent cosmo-theological system. But then the interest shifts out of the cosmological non sequiturs either into the analysis of Fat’s psychosis and/or into the interaction of Fat with Phil, Kevin, the deity, the superior race of Lampton’s, and similar. The urgency and importance of the salvational quest, as well as the grave charm of the encounter with Sophia, have undercut the assumption of simple psychosis. Yet the interest in the quest bogs down in narrative repetitions and meanders, for the novel abounds in false starts and dead ends; themes and motifs get picked up and dropped for no apparent reason except that another and more dazzling one occured to Dick as he was writing.
Reportedly, the major narrative success of his last period, A Scanner, was tightly edited by a New York editor. He could have profited from such help here.
The main hinge where a lack of clarity and narrative coherence makes itself felt is the ideationally central Sophia, who appears too late and is snuffed out after one bout of interviews and pronouncements. Maybe there’s a valid allegorical point there, something like “we see supreme and coherent wisdom only late and only briefly,” akin to incarnating Wisdom into a two-year-old girl, which I take to be a valid and indeed felicitous indication. In the theology of VALIS, Wisdom, even when revealed, will be destroyed by the forces of the Blind God just as Christ was. This is a tenable if despairing hypothesis. But the novel as a whole has a much too large investment in realistic questions of life in Orange County and Fat’s sanity to make such a sudden and brief irruption of allegory believable. The same holds for the ensuing second split of Phil and Fat, with a regenerated and active Fat roaming around Oceania (which suggests to me he hadn’t learned much from Wisdom). The echoes of Gauguin are out of place in a Tahiti and Bikini of nuclear fallouts and venereal diseases.
In the French 18th Century, a short prose form was found which came to be called conte philosophique. In the hands of great writers, such a “philosophical story”–that is, a narration whose goal was to reveal through a series of incidents and debates about them a major ideological and civic point– became a major social force, and by the way a major form of early SF. It faced the false pretenses of European civilizational superiority with the dignity and wisdom of Others–the superior political and sexual morality of the Tahiti chief in Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage or the superior cosmic stature, material and moral, of the inhabitants of Saturn and Sirius in Voltaire’s Micromégas. Dick’s final works, and perhaps most of his major achievements, aspire to the status of a novel kind of roman philosophique, indeed in the “VALIS Trilogy,” with its ambitions of a new Ulysses, of a roman-fleuve philosophique. The ambition is laudable and where it most nearly succeeds of major importance. But a do-it-yourself philosophy, even by an imaginative genius as Dick certainly was, will result in major problems. One way of putting it would be the significant fact that in VALIS the true God “takes on the likeness of sticks and trees and beer cans in gutters–he presumes to be trash discarded” (ch. 5)–though perhaps the superior extra-terrestrials do this as his agents. As in RFA and indeed earlier, Dick’s god is an artisan /artist–potter, writer or modern sculptor–who works in trash and discarded Americana. Dick knew of Stanisław Lem’s diagnosis that he makes art in spite of and out of trash, the metaphor for his world pinpointed by his famous neologisms “gubbish” and “kipple,” and went the atheist Lem one better by deifying trash.
The cosmology itself is like the above description of the divine force, cobbled together from bits and pieces of trashy Americana with a beautiful little glazed pot thrown in at some points, but with little unified impact except as they are typical objects of a realist gaze. This is to be followed in the other two novels of the Trilogy.

3.2. The Divine Invasion
This second novel (written 1980, published 1981, further DI) is ideationally and narratively more coherent, though the following account streamlines not only Dick’s gradual revelations but also his sometimes competing explanations, confusingly overloaded details and layers, and simple inconsistencies (only a single set of planes will be landing on LA International Airport in my account, without collisions). True, for most of the first eight chapters it is located on a standard paranoiac planet where each colonist lives alone in an isolated dome, akin to Dick’s earlier and usually inferior SF. However, that planet is far from the influence of the evil Demiurge fashioning the reality of Terra (as in C.S. Lewis), so that Jehovah can arrange for the coming about of a latterday and somewhat weird Holy Family. It consists of Herb Asher as an unwilling Joseph, Rybys as a
combination of Virgin Mother and sick Bitch, and their child-to-be Emmanuel. Dick’s usual roles of the little-man protagonist plus the powerful protagonist are filled by Herb and–in a jump to Gnosticism–the boy Emmanuel or Manny, who eventually turns out not to be Christ but the fallen male aspect of a split Godhead that has for unclear reasons forgotten his divine character. The family, accompanied and aided by old Elias, then travels to Earth for the novel’s theological-cumpolitical battle evolving in the flesh and mind of the characters.
The central antagonistic conflict is, as in VALIS, between a reconstituted Manny and the satanic ruler of this world, Belial, who has crowned his dominion since the fall of Masada by setting up a clerico-fascist police State run by the combined forces of the Christian-Islamic Church and the Communist Party; in a Vanvogtian subplot, there is a behind-the-scenes struggle between Church and Party, on the model of the medieval Papacy vs. Empire. This dystopia is again a version of Plato’s Cave, the Black Iron Prison from VALIS: “They are living in a cheap horror film” (ch. 5).
There are two non-antagonistic subsidiary tensions: Manny meets the girl Zina, a refurbished female principle or Shekhinah much more articulated and charming than her predecessor Sophia in VALIS, and Herb finally gets to meet his idol singer Linda Fox who is in this universe not yet famous and thus not out of his reach. The first opposition is more weighty: the male aspect of divinity, aided by Elias–the prophet Elijah–and gradually remembering he is En Sof, wishes to reconstitute “substantial” reality by wiping out the enemy world as Lord of Hosts, a proceeding which discounts the unwilling victims of even the best power play, such as Rybys (ch. 5–the point is not fully clarified). The female aspect, equally opposed to the satanic Demiurge and dystopia, wishes to break reality down and to make the male principle remember their joint powers by using beauty and play in a subworld that Belial never penetrated, which I would interpret as art, playfulness, and epistemology, though in Dick it is also consubstantial with compassion (ch. 12). A series of reality fluctuations arises both from Belial’s temporarily getting the upper hand and from the contention between Manny and Zina; their ontology is somewhat unclearly superimposed on earlier epistemological fluctuations due to Herb’s cryogenic suspended animation–a contamination of recycling from Palmer Eldritch and Ubik. These fluctuations shape the tensions of the second opposition in the Herb-Linda subplot. However, the correct actions of the little man feed back into the macrocosmic level: Herb’s accepting Manny’s brute facts of reality (Linda’s menstruation) in spite of his esthetic idealization of her, as well as his turning back from his private interest at a key point, in turn enable Manny to realize his limitations and accept Zina.4/ In that sense Herb’s story is a sophisticated and optimistic semi-humanist rewrite of the bet in Job or Faust. Linda herself becomes then Herb’s intercessor or personal Saviour, the female principle on the micro-level, bringing mercy into the harsh world of Old Testament justice and divine wrath. Concomitantly, as the Godhead remembers its entirety and grows whole, Belial can be defeated without destroying the underlying reality his sway has occluded.
I would here too find the most interesting ideational aspect in the eventual fusion between
Zina’s beauty and Manny’s truth, which is a variant of Keats’s ending to the Grecian Urn, though I think it is unfortunately too optimistic about the powers of beauty to hold today’s
technoscientifically enhanced forces of destruction at bay without a Lord of the Hosts. I do not mind Dick’s creative rewriting of the Bible (see the witty discussion of it as a hologram in ch. 6) in a blend of Gnosticism, the Kabbala, Platonism, and scraps of half a dozen other mystery religions (cf. Shifting 337): by their fruits ye shall judge them. What I mind is that in DI the incompatibility between epistemology (that is, interpreting an underlying real reality–that which doesn’t go away when you disbelieve) and ontology (that is, changing the underlying reality or making it go away) is never fully faced; when briefly glanced at (in ch.s 5, 11, 13, and 15 for example), it is interpreted in different but always improvised ways. The trouble with the Gnostic-cum-Kabbalistic idea of two realities with competing supernatural powers running each, is that, in the SF parts or aspects, violating “the H.G. Wells Law”–to have only one (or let us say one set) of unbelievabilities in one narration–results in narrative incoherence; while in the “realistic” parts or aspects, it makes for case-studies of psychosis which are to me of some interest as articulations of real pain but of real inspiration only when its political causes are articulated–directly as in A Scanner or however indirectly.

3.3. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer and the “VALIS Cycle”
“If The Divine Invasion is considered as the work of Horselover Fat, then The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is ‘Phil Dick’ at work,” remarks Robinson wittily: “the narrator… Angel Archer shares many qualities exhibited by the narrator of VALIS: a lucid, straightforward style, using the colloquial language of 1970s’ California; and a fascination with their visionary friends and their ideas” (Novels 120).
This final novel of the putative VALIS Trilogy (written 1981, published 1982, further TA) is
not SF–nor Fantasy nor writing about visions that seriously suggests they change reality–but mainly a flashback account by Angel about Bishop Timothy Archer (modelled on Dick’s friend Jim Pike) and subsidiarily about his lover Kirsten and his son Jeff. While it has some grim humour and a number of Dickian insights strewn scattershot throughout without much regard to characterization, it is a world in which all main characters except Angel and the somewhat unclear commentator Edgar commit voluntary–or in Tim’s case involuntary–suicide, while Kirsten’s hebephrenic son Bill is maimed through electroshock treatments. Tim dies last, while searching in the Palestinian desert for the anokhi mushrooms, which the sect of newly found, sensational pre- Christian manuscripts apparently used to attain illumination (this seems the only faint SF element left). In ch. 14 Angel’s narration returns to the present framework for a coda in which Bill believes he has been taken over by a Tim returned from death.
Tim is fascinating to Dick, and his loss painful, because he too strove to get at the meaning or sense of existence. But he has a central flaw: to see everything in the world in terms of competing written texts, such as the manuscripts which prove to him Jesus was not divine, rather than seeing suffering people. Therefore, his stance is undercut by Angel’s pragmatic scepticism: it is as if Phil from VALIS were succeeding to finally demolish a dessicated Fat. Chapter 7, one of the two culminations of TA, contains a not only hilarious but also brilliant and for the nonce quite coherent demolition (starting from ancient Hindu logic yet) of the role of self-delusion in Tim’s occult beliefs, as well as a remarkable outburst of Angel ‘s against Tim’s book detailing his belief inastrology and in being haunted by his dead son, which I cannot forbear citing for the edification of all believers in occultism:

Cast charts of the stars, cast horoscopes while the most destructive war in modern times is raging. It will earn you a place in history books–as a dunce. You get to sit on the tall stool in the corner; you get to wear the conical cap; you get to undo all the social activist shit you ever engineered in concert with some of the finest minds of the century. For this, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., died. For this you marched at Selma…. (ch. 7)

This leads to Angel’s scathing critique of “the otherworldly orientation of the revealed religions of the world” and of the bookish mind in Tim, failing to attain illumination. However, Angel not only notes at the end of this critique–eight pages of perhaps the most brilliant writing Dick penned after A Scanner–that she was herself also deluded in her opinions about Tim, and she turns out later to be deluded about other important matters, but as a narrator she participates in Dick’s fundamental confusion between occultist abstraction and conceptual abstraction in general. No human being can do without abstract concepts: in that sense, abstraction defines Homo sapiens. True, a purely “horizontal” abstraction, spinning concepts out of concepts, if unchecked by frequent “vertical” verifications in practice, can lead to irrelevant and highly pernicious systems, such as Tim’s (and sometimes Dick’s) occultism. It may be legitimate if a bit trite to deride a bookishness such as Tim’s, which does not notice he had run over a gasoline pump. However, the argument recurring in Dick’s whole Trilogy (and descending from The Brothers Karamazov) that the death of a cat or dog is ethically and indeed ontologically more significant than pretensions to divine omnipotence is itself a bit of high, if pleasingly materialist, abstraction; even Sophia in DI fails that test. And the refusal of abstraction is cannily caricatured in this novel, as Robinson notes, in the pleasant and wronged but also comically inefficient Bill: it seems appropriate that he is the polar opposite of the  equally inefficient Tim. Equally, the bookishness is redeemed in TA’s second culmination, Angel’s relation in ch. 9 of the impact on her of the end of Paradiso, which issues in initiating her into “the real world… of pain and beauty” as opposed to Tim’s use of books where “words pertained not to world but to other words.”
The novel’s world is quite sterile, as is for instance spelled out in the great ch. 5 passage about suicides in America, cited later. For, the alternative to careful and verifiable abstraction is (except for music and tending animals, about which Dick is usually at the top of his sympathetic form) a politically passive–if not outright reactionary–and psychologically deadening pragmatism.
From Angel’s own stance, which indicts Tim for a wrongly conducted search after illumination and salvation, there are strong indications that we find her in a rut at the end of the novel: “I am stuck, now, and… know but know not what” (ch. 13). Thus I don’t see much reason or justification for the novel’s coda (nor for its title) in terms of a believable “transmigration of Timothy Archer.” If there is a point to the coda, it is in the dead end Angel has arrived at in her job and life, instanced in the inconclusive discussions with, and the New Age banter of, her would-be new guru Edgar. She is not a Holy Fool as Parsifal (who haunts this book). No resolution is arrived at in Dick’s last novel: to the end he remains a bearer of bad news.

Finally, if one is to try for a synoptic view of what might be called the VALIS Cycle (the so-called Trilogy, which we might as well accept as such, and RFA), their common denominator would be the explicitly theological salvational quest, arising out of the deep despair evident in all the post- 1966 works and culminating in A Scanner. My thesis is that the superhuman godheads are allegorical projections of individualist psychic states that Dick cannot otherwise account for (cf. his interview with Lupoff). They come openly onstage in Palmer Eldritch and then Ubik and Do Androids? as either clearly evil or deeply ambiguous, the recourse to them grows hesitantly affirmative in Our Friends and A Maze, and crescendoes into a full-blown main salvational theme here. Very interestingly, the bearers of salvation are either disembodied info dumps or females. As earlier too in Dick, anchorage in reality and salvation is sometimes sought in a personal erotic relationship, but few female figures can bear such a load. Linda Fox in DI can function as Herb’s personal saviour (in a heretical US filiation of female Intercessors or Christs, present for ex. also in Bellamy’s Looking Backward) only because she is semi-divine, in a universe codetermined by the female part of the Godhead. Usually, exaggerated expectations lead to exaggerated, sometimes hate-filled, characterization of the blameworthy erotic partner, or to the figure’s downgrading into plot prop or ideological mouthpiece. Beside the divine females in DI, the only exception is Angel in TA, a late but significant amends of Dick’s.
A genological note: Dick subsumed the strengths of his then unpublished mainstream novels, culminating in Confession of a Crap Artist, in his first plateau beginning with Man in the High Castle. In this second, more hesitant plateau, he begins deliberately mixing SF and mainstream realism, drawing authorization for this from his heretical theology in which the Godheads are just as real as the Little Man. To my mind this does not fully work, but it makes for a bewildering richness of alternative hypotheses and plot twists. In a final welcome twist, the cycle culminates in TA, a realist novel about the quest for salvation which subsumes and subtly undermines the theological quests. For: all the objections Angel makes to Bishop Archer, the excessively book-fixated quester  and eldritch palmer, could be made to P.K. Dick’s mode of Theological Fantasy.

4. Looking Backward at PKD

4.1. Questions, Objections
Probably, any criticism that could be addressed to Dick’s erratic brilliance from a Left or materialist point of view, he already knew and in some way or at some point in his life shared. If we quoted the young fireball atheist Marx to him: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world…. To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of people is to demand their real happiness” (Marx 175)–he would, possibly with some exaggeration, refer to his Berkeley phase as “a fireball radical and atheist” (Shifting 106)5/ and, more persuasively, refer us to his persona Phil from RFA and VALIS. If we told him what the real trouble was with the Gnostic-cum-Kabbalistic idea that there are two realities (the evil occluded one which we see and a more real underlying reality, consubstantial with the true God, which may displace it):namely, that it is extremely difficult to make a non-arbitrary or coherent narration out of it, and that he never succeeded in doing so–he could point to his prescient 1966 note, “Religion ought never to show up in SF except from a sociological standpoint… God per se, as a character, ruins a good SF story; and this is as true of my own stuff as anyone else’s. Therefore I deplore my Palmer Eldritch book in that regard.” (58) If we pointed out that, despite Angel Archer’s fulminations in TA against abstraction as deadly mechanical, no human being can (as I argued earlier) do without abstract concepts, and that concepts were certainly omnipresent in Dick–he could reply that the defining trait of SF readers is, “Basically, they enjoy abstract thought” (45), and that obversely, it is “the schizophrenic [who] is unable to think abstractly” (76). If we persisted in harping that whatever the means, the end is to solve people’s woes in this world, Dick could reply that even his wildest metaphysics never
forsook that goal, that for him Christ’s Kingdom of God was an actual, fleshly place existing not only in a possible but in a real alternative reality (238), and that his obstinate kicking against the pricks of the phenomenal world flowed out of his belief both in the utter necessity and the possibility of a just reality, to be attained by Blake’s mental strife (310). Insofar as the shifting and contradictory Dick clung to such answers, and never quite forsook them, he has remained the firebrand radical from his twenties, and it may then be secondary whether he was an atheist or a “panentheist” (46).
Nonetheless, if we then saw Dick not as a renegade, one of the many Collettis and Laclaus
intellectually fallen by the way under the terrible psychic pressures of Post-Fordism, but as a friend and comrade, we could still have legitimate, sometimes even strong, disagreements with some of his horizons and oscillations. Let me make it clear that I do not necessarily object to the theological coding: it may not be my way of seeing human relationships, but I am prepared to respect it. It becomes obnoxious if and when it hinders liberation on the reader’s Earth–as both Liberation Theology and the end of Dick’s RFA would agree. It is in that perspective that fuzziness leads astray. My objections would take different forms for different novels, but I shall here make only four points: the absence of strong yet mainly sympathetic female figures; the absence of urbanization and of the key production and speculation aspects of capitalist economics; the compositional fixation on what Dick calls his “love of chaos” which may be clearest in the “sting in the tail” reversal; and the characterological fixation on the “Good Magnate or Ruler” beside the Little Man. They converge in and largely constitute Dick’s political illiteracy, outside his clairvoyance about the police:

1/ I shall leave the first point to other critics since it is so blatantly obvious, and only state that there are to my mind deep subterranean links between the fascination with but also refusal to accept non-maternal femininity and the isomorphic refusals to acknowledge the city, capitalism, and little people acting together without the upper levels of power.6/ I do not mean to tell a writer what to write about; but Dick liked Spinoza, who knew that every determination is a negation and viceversa, and he knew that bringing light means shutting out darkness (206) and viceversa. It’s the writer’s business to choose what to write about; but it’s then the reader’s business to notice what his choice shut out.

2/ Dick’s loci are rural, small town, and suburban; cities occur rarely and then usually as nightmarish habitats. This is an understandable reaction to Los Angeles, though less to the still beautiful San Francisco of the 1950s and 60s. However, it is coupled with the taboo on  large industry, industrial workers, and the workings of high finance (even in the US, never mind globally). True, except for the foreclosing local banks Dick had no experiential link to them, but he could have read up on them at least one tenth as much as he did on metaphysics.
He was very interested and shrewd about politics, until complete disillusionment set in at the end of the 1960s. In 1976, he wrote despairingly:
Perhaps my days of being a fighter for freedom are over, due to age, due to worry, but due mostly to the discovery–and existence–of the enormity of the secret political police apparatus… and the dreadful things they have done…. So my novel in progress [one of the drafts for the “VALIS cycle,” DS] has nothing to do with politics; it has to do with the mystery religions…. I have not made my peace with the “straight” society, but at the same time I am too weak, too worn out by illness and fear, to do anything but try to make financial ends meet…. (34-35)

Dick may be here too harsh on himself, for his mystery religions are also political. He also elsewhere rightly lists among reasons for his stance the disillusionment in oppositional movements (191). But politics rarely had for him to do with economics (the splendid system in Martian Time-Slip– cf. Suvin, “Opus” 8–and the unclear hints about Substance D in A Scanner would be among the exceptions): he knew all about reification and alienation, but little or nothing about exploitation.7/ He is nearer to Simak than to Pohl, never mind cyberpunk.
3/ I suggested earlier that the truth of P.K. Dick is to be found in his plots. This makes analysis doubly difficult. First, it ideally calls for a blow-by-blow discussion that results in exegeses longer than the texts they discuss, such as Barthes’s S/Z–and its pioneering imitation as applied to SF, Delany’s Angoulème–or previous works of the close reading school (Spitzer, I.A. Richards). The criteria for judging message vs. noise in the plot depend on believability and coherence; what may be believable is almost entirely, and what may becoherent is at least partly, a matter of cognitive (and finally ideological) horizons. Second, Dick could not only spin a new theory every minute (see the remark in VALIS) but he also, unfortunately, took to heart the worst teaching he could have got as a young writer, A.E. van Vogt’s device of a new idea every 800 words (66). John Huntington has clearly shown how this mechanical generation of complexity “give[s] the impression of deep understanding simply by contradicting [it]self” (172). It may make for richness and bedazzlement but it certainly enforces confusion. In particular, Dick has a recurring Vanvogtian habit of pulling a final rabbit out of the hat at the very end of a narrative so as to upset any conclusion about it. This may be a part of what he meant by his love of chaos, but as he also remarked, “a selfcancelling  othing… will not even serve as a primordial chaos” (Shifting 209).7/ His love of chaos is thus potentially fertile, especially when brought to bear on what was experientially known to him, the personal relationships around the Little Man protagonist in a world of grim pressures. But its downside is mystification. The introduction of new concepts and absence of orthodox conceptual coherence is potentially liberatory, an act of primal subversion or naysaying; but the absence of any coherence, including narrative believability, however papered over by dazzling footwork, opens wide the door to arbitrary associations from the latest source Dick has read (such as the double brain hypothesis in A Scanner) or privately encountered.

4/ As to Dick’s permanent ideological type that I would call the “Good Magnate or Ruler,” or finding the good in a bad upper-class representative, this may be ethically appealing as charity toward all, but it is only defensible when one totally gives up questions of  political responsibility. The best example is the supposedly good police general from Flow My Tears.
Reliance on the individual ethics of the powerful but good guy; mistrust of conclusions and
solutions; mistrust of strong women; disinterest in cities and exploitative economics: insofar as these obtain in Dick, his stories can only connect personal with universal redemption, “revolt and disobedience” (307) with changing the spurious world, by means of miracles. In such, often key places, they are not only ethically and politically but also narratively flawed. It might be fair to encapsulate Dick’s major strengths and weaknesses by noting that he–in the vein of Ibsen, Pirandello, much Post-Structuralism, and the Kabbala–tended to equate language and reality, “As if the world had become language” (DI ch. 14). He was quite right in refusing the prevailing reality, but his basic and irreducible philosophical as well as political mistake was, I believe, to envisage this refusal only from the vantage point of the lonely craftsman-creator, however allegorized; whereas reality can only be, and is constantly being, changed by bodies or classes of people.

4.2. Laudation, or What Remains
Finally, however, all objections would be sterile unless accompanied by a view of why do today, in our new body-killing and psyche-wasting global maxi-disorder, those of us who have no investments in born-again pentiti nor in the “Pink Beam” sects recur to Philip Dick? In brief, for a twofold reason: he never ceased to argue with the world, refusing the suffering of Joe Everyman yet also also solidarizing with his heroic endurance and active efforts under attack of the Powers That Be; he never ceased to search, and have him search, if often in contradictory, fuzzy or indeed flawed ways, for thisworldly salvation. (Alas, except for Angel in his last novel, this does not extend to her.) The first entry in Dick’s selected non-fiction, dating to 1949, has his protagonist think: “So it was not his world. If it were his world he would have made it differently. It had been put together wrong, Very much wrong. Put together in ways that he could not approve of.” (6) A quintessential countercultural figure of the Californian and US 1950s and 60s, he kept the faith to this root insight: saying NO in thunder and if need be galactic godheads. A quarter of century later, his definition of an SF writer was still, “He is stuck with a discontent” (74). Insofar as this holds, my apprehensions from 1975 do not obtain, for Dick has in these places not turned his back on illuminating the koinos kosmos, our common reality.
If few of us have anything to tell Dick about alienation, reification, and commercialization, on the contrary all of us can learn a lot from him about their effects in pain and bewilderment on normal Americans–which today, within the American and increasingly Americanized empire, means the pain and bewilderment of 95 or maybe 98% of all inhabitants of this globe. The Black Iron Prison from the “VALIS cycle,” a blown-up version of the dark scanning in A Scanner’s California, is diametrically opposed to the Reaganite fantasy of an Evil Empire–and today to Bush Jr.’s Forces of Evil–attacking the virtuously pure and free USA and “West” (whatever that may mean–“the rich North” would be more appropriate). Even in his last novel, his great gift of indignation was undimmed:

Thousands of young people kill themselves in America each year, but it remains the custom, by and large, to list their deaths as accidental. This is to spare the family the shame attached to suicide. There is, indeed, something shameful about a young man or woman, maybe an adolescent, wanting to die and achieving that goal, dead before in a certain sense they ever lived, ever were bom. Wives get beaten by their husbands; cops kill blacks and Latinos; old people rummage in cans or eat dog food–shame rules, calling the shots. Suicide is only one shameful event out of a plethora. There are black teenagers who will never get a job as long as they live, not because they are lazy but because there are no jobs–because, too, these ghetto kids possess no skills they can sell. Children run away, find the strip in New York or Hollywood; they become prostitutes
and wind up with their bodies hacked apart…. (TA ch. 5)

Dick fought hard against the temptation of weariness, leading people to look for a Fuehrer above them to whom they can delegate responsibility, the Man on the White Horse, which in practice means some form of Fascism. Mostly though not always, I think he avoided it. His godheads are either monsters to be fought, as Eldritch or Jory, or children, as Sofia, Manny, or Zina, working in tandem with, and in the best cases–as in my reading of DI–in feedback with the little people. Undeniably, there is a deeply salvational, and therefore in my book also political, aspect to this. His salvational godheads are sometimes overdogmatic, as Sophia or Manny until he learns better, but basically plebeian and liberatory. He passed judgment himself on dehumanized fanatics, whom he then called androids and schizoids:

Once I heard a schizoid person express himself–in all seriousness–this way: “I receive signals from others. But I can’t generate any of my own until I get recharged….” Imagine viewing oneself and others this way. Signals. As if from another star. [Maybe Albemuth?–note DS] The person has reified himself entirely, along with everyone around him. How awful…. (201)

There are two key phrases for me here. The first one is the generating of–not signals but–
messages. Dick’s oeuvre is full of messengers: from Juliana in Man in the High Castle and Walt in Dr. Bloodmoney, the theme grows omnipresent and mysterious in Ubik. In A Scanner, messages inside Arctor’s brain get so confused that they break down. By the VALIS Cycle, almost everybody is a messenger and everything a message (cf. Galbreath 113): the universe is practically nothing but information. Dick too was an urgent messenger.
The second key phrase may be “in all seriousness.” It has been noted that Dick was one of the most humourous writers of his time. His gamut was large: from grim to uproarious humour, passing through sympathetic pathos. Humour is seeing the same event or object in several incompatible frames at once. I cannot imagine an unhumorous SF writer I would care to reread.
An urgent message for salvation, with humour. This too, we have learned from Philip Dick.

Notes
*/ My thanks for help with primary and secondary materials go to Stefano Carducci, Alessandro Fambrini, Fabio Gadducci, Donald M. Hassler, Salvatore Proietti, and Mirko Tavosanis, as well to Prof.ssa Carla Dente, Dott.ssa Sara Soncini and the kind librarians at the Biblioteca d’anglistica, Università di Pisa; I could not have written this essay without them. It was sparked by the invitation to a keynote speech at the Dick Days of Mutamento ZC of Torino in May 2002, for which I also thank Giordano Vincenzo Amato and Gabriella Serusi.

1/ It is not fully clear just which of the 21 letters to the FBI Dick mailed and which he left in his trash expecting the FBI may sift it (cf. the debate in Mullen et al. eds., 246-64 and 275-78, and Sutin 215-17). In both cases he thought they may be read.

2/ Among those critics is Lawrence Sutin, to whom we owe the rich and refreshingly balanced, and thus so far the best, biography of Dick (albeit with a quite one-sided title), but whose readings of Dick’s texts often seem very dubious to me.

3/ To prevent confusion, “Dick” will henceforth mean only the author P.K. Dick, whereas his namesake in the various novels will be called Phil.

4/ I reluctantly part company here with Robinson, who thinks Herb’s subplot is from ch. 13 on in an illusory world, created only by Zina and not also validated by Manny (Novels 119-20). It seems both uneconomical and contradicted by as straightforward statements as one gets in the later Dick, though admittedly all of them call for more or less probable interpretations. Mine might be kinder than Robinson’s kind interpretation of what he sees as the ensuing murkiness (that is, failure) of the novel as deliberate on Dick’s part.

5/ Unless another name or title is mentioned, all quotes from Dick’s non-fictional writings are from Sutin ed. by page number.

6/ See Hayles for a first sounding into such interconnections.

7/ Rabkin’s article has the great merit of opening this discussion, but he takes economics as what impinges on Dick’s little people, not in the political economists’ sense of an encompassing system (a Dickian reality behind and within empirical reality, indeed).

8/ I have, except for this final section, rarely used Dick’s non-fictional pronouncements, for usually one can be found to buttress any thesis you want to set up. This is probably also true for pronouncements within his fiction, but there they at least serve to characterize the writing’s tone and horizon, and possibly the opinions of the narrator.

Works Cited

Primary (in order of writing)
Dick, Philip K. Galactic Pot-Healer. New York: Berkley, 1969.
—. A Maze of Death. New York: Paperback Library, 1971 [1970].
—. Our Friends From Frolix 8. New York: Ace, 1970.
—. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. New York: DAW Books, 1975 [1974].
—. A Scanner Darkly. New York: DAW Books, 1984 [1977].
—. Radio Free Albemuth. New York: Avon, 1985.
—. VALIS. Worcester Park [UK]: Kerosina Books, 1987 [1981].
—. The Divine Invasion. New York: Timescape Books, 1982 [1981].
—. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. London: Gollancz, 1982.
[—.] The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick. Ed. L. Sutin. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
See also Lupoff below.

Secondary
De Carolis, Massimo. “La condizione naturale del pensiero.” Il Manifesto Apr. 17, 2002, p. 14.
Galbreath, Robert. “Redemption and Doubt in Philip K. Dick’s Valis Trilogy.” Extrapolation
24.2 (1983): 105-15.
Huntington, John. “Philip K. Dick: Authenticity and Insincerity,” in R.D. Mullen et al. eds.,
170-77.
Lupoff, Richard [and P.K. Dick]. “A Conversation with Philip K. Dick.” Science-Fiction Eye
(Aug. 1987), on http://www.philipkdick.com/frank/lupoff.htm. 13 electronic pp.
Marx, Karl . “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law,” in idem and
Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 3. Moscow: FLPH, 1975.
Mullen, R.D., et al. eds. On Philip K. Dick. Terre Haute & Greencastle: SF-TH, 1992.
Olander, Joseph D., and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. Philip K. Dick. New York: Taplinger,
1983.
1Dickfin.wpd
Palmer, Christopher. “Postmodernism and the Birth of the Author in Philip K. Dick’s Valis,”
in Mullen et al. eds. 265-74.
Rabkin, Eric S. “Irrational Expectations; or, How Economics and the Post-Industrial World
Failed Philip K. Dick,” in Mullen et al. eds. 178-87.
Robinson, Kim Stanley. “Afterword” to P. K Dick, Valis. Worcester Park: Kerosina Books,
1987, 242-55.
—. The Novels of Philip K. Dick. Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1984.
Stableford, Brian, and John Clute. “Dick, Philip K.,” in John Clute and Peter Nicholls, eds., The
Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, rev. edn. Danbury, CT: Grolier Electronic Publishing,
1995.
Sutin, Lawrence. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. New York: Harmony Books,
1989.
Suvin, Darko. “Narrative Logic, Ideological Domination, and the Range of SF: A Hypothesis,”
in his Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction. London: Macmillan, & Kent OH: Kent
State UP, 1988, 61-73.
—. “Philip K. Dick’s Opus: Artifice as Refuge and World View,” in the above, 112-33.

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COMMUNICATING VESSELS: FORMS, POLITICS, HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH DARKO SUVIN (with Sezgin Boynik) (2014-15, 18,700 words)

INTERVIEW WITH DARKO SUVIN*                                                                 (18,700 words)

By Sezgin Boynik, May 2014, Lucca

[This piece is forthcoming in Rab-Rab {Helsinki] July 2015]

Sezgin Boynik: Can you tell in which way the discussions concerning Brecht and Formalist issues in late fifties and beginning of sixties were related to politics and to Marxist theories, in general and particularly in Yugoslavia?

Darko Suvin: I started writing about literature, fiction, poetry and drama roughly in the second half of the fifties. I finished my studies in ’55/56 and then went to army service. So I started to write somewhat as a student, but mainly after 1957. At that moment I didn’t know much about old battles (socialist realism versus modernism) that had been fought and won by modernism, more or less. If you read Sveta Lukić’s book Savremena jugoslavenska literatura 1945-1965 (published as a whole in 1968, but his theses were known earlier) you will see these things. The battle was won on the basis of a compromise between the Left intellectuals and the Party politicians. The political top was not much interested in arts or literature, they realised these were politically of secondary importance if you hold all newspapers, radio, and TV. So they offered a quid pro quo: as long as you writers and intellectuals don’t question present-day power; we will let you in peace to write in whatever form you wish. This implicit compromise had two components (of course I realised this retrospectively, I didn’t know it then): first of all there was a genuine revulsion against the arbitrary Stalinism, both on the top of the party (Kidrič, Djilas, Tito, Kardelj, probably also Ranković, but he never spoke much publicly, so you couldn’t guess what he really thought) and in the masses — not so much in between, in the middle party cadres where Stalinism was strongest. And second, the central Party Agit-Prop commission lost all effective power even during Djilas’s heading it in the early ‘50s, it was dismantled in the drive against USSR Statism, and especially after his ouster in 1954.  Even though Agit-Prop commissions remained in each federal republic’s central committee, they didn’t do too much, they were more or less vatrogasci (they put out fires), but they weren’t good enough to start any fire on their own. I knew some guys in the Agit-Prop of the Croatian central committee, for example Marin Franičević, a good poet from Dalmatia in his youth, or Vojin Jelić, from Kninska Krajina, a very interesting and tormented novelist – but they just didn’t know what to do in cultural politics, and they had practically no research apparatus. Of course they were all in the Partisans and many of them, depending on age, in the Left underground movement even before the 1941 occupation by the Axis. They were all brought up on Lukács in the best case and Todor Pavlov (a Zhdanovian esthetician in USSR) in the worst case. The best knew also what Second International people wrote about culture, such as Plekhanov and Mehring, and some Lenin, as filtered by Stalinism. And they knew oodles of Engels, and of course of Stalin. Retrospectively, Engels is all that remains from those theories, and he never wrote specifically about the arts (though when he incidentally did, he could be illuminating, I remember a bit about Ibsen having the background of values from free Norwegian peasantry). I think also some Lukàcs about French realism remains; his really first-rate work up to the mid-20s we didn’t know, I discovered it in the 60s. Engels is a great genius in my opinion, but he was not applicable without great changes to a mutated capitalism and world: a great genius with great mistakes, such as finding dialectics in nature or believing in scientism.

In brief, the climate in SFR Yugoslavia was in the 1950s very open, right up to the late 60s, to all kind of neo-Marxism. We young ones were at that time calling it an ‘open Marxism’: I theorised the openness in theatre by using Brecht’s “open forms” (also the title of Eco’s first theoretical book, which I used). It was like a plant on which you could graft many new things — the Soviet selectionist genetician Michurin was very popular, also the American Burbank. For example, I remember one of the things which made me less than popular in the Faculty of Philosophy (that is, Arts) in Zagreb: we had a debate on the first theory of literature which was published in Zagreb, based on an introductory book by several hands coordinated and edited by two professors, Zdenko Škreb and Fran Petre – the former was a Germanist and the latter a real “cemented” or hard-line Slovenian Party member, follower of Ziherl, the Slovenian Zhdanov, who  fortunately didn’t have that much power. So we had a discussion in Hrvatsko filološko društvo (the Philological Society, a kind of professional organisation of people dealing with “language arts”) at the beginning of the 1960s. I was then a young assistant in Dramaturgy and Theatre Arts, I stood up and said, “The whole book is based on the idea of difference and interaction between form and content, could you please explain to me how do these work in literature? Is it for example like a glass of water, the glass is form and the water is content? And if so, how we could differentiate the form from the content in the novel?” They were extremely offended, because they had no answer; and I suppose I got the reputation of a disrespectful extremist. What we learned actually is what every critic already knows, that you cannot disjoin these two. If you write about anything, say in my case about Krleža or Brecht, you start where you can, what struck you as salient when reading, because criticism is not a science but an art, and you go where you can, following certain protocols of evidence and consistency. The basic modernist idea, which was theorized by the Formalists, is that the izjava (the message) of any work of art is to be understood through its form, and at that point the relationship of form to content becomes uninteresting. You can say that what remains from content are themes, for example Balzac has a theme of avarice in Gobseck. But the same theme would have a totally different effect in another novel by Balzac, not to speak of Molière, because it was written up or about in different way: in other words, it had a different form.

My generation came to know about Russian Formalists through the work of Aleksandar Flaker in Russian studies, who was my personal friend. I knew him from political conferences before I came to university; he was a very active and engaged researcher. He published a fantastic book, Heretici i sanjari (Heretics and Dreamers) in 1954, which was an overview of all non-socialist-realist writings in Russia in twenties. Also there were other critical approaches which Škreb mediated from postwar West Germany, such as those by Wolfgang Kayser, maybe second-rate stuff but useful in order to know what is grotesque and such studies (it is actually important if you think that half of Krleža, our great writer, is grotesque, not to speak of Swift or satire in general). So there were no problems in grafting other plants on the sturdy tree of Marxism, we had no fear; we thought that truth will win because of its inner persuasiveness, we didn’t need a police, we just needed to upgrade the plant through its own inner juices. In  short, the most important thing my generation learned – say in movies through Eisenstein — is that any statement about art, including the politics of art, is to be arrived at through form. Somewhere I wrote that this is “the ABC of any materialist approach to art,” but there are 25 other letters, then you go on, to DEF etc. But if you don’t begin with Formalism you don’t get anywhere, while if you do begin with this, you have more chances to deal with your material and ideological circumstances.

SB: While describing relation between Marxism and Formalism in Yugoslavia you said that you were then not scared by innovations, can you develop that?

A: Of course we thought of ourselves as the avant-garde, as friends of the novelty. We are the novelty in backward peasant and patriarchal Balkans, and therefore we were communists. That was the idea in the young Left intelligentsia. I theorised this later for SF literature by adapting for it Ernst Bloch’s Novum.

The problems in the Party were different; they had their hands full with economy and foreign policy. Also, culturally speaking the Party was very provincial in Yugoslavia; they just didn’t know what was happening in the world. For example I was a kind of protégé of Marijan Matković, a prominent middle generation dramatist who was editor of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences’ periodical Forum in Zagreb where I published. He was a “krležijanac” (disciple of Krleža), formally rather a pre-Modernist realist, and an extremely loyal fellow-traveller of socialism. I gave him some stuff about Brecht, and he made a grimace and exclaimed, ‘Darko, Brecht in Yugoslavia!?!?’. This was ambiguous, maybe we weren’t yet up to Brecht, maybe he was too severe for us, but at any rate he was asynchronous to us (in his opinion; I disagreed). Or when I translated Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade in the early 60s, he refused to print it: ‘I cannot spend socialist money for a piece against socialism’, was his reply. I tried to persuade him that the debate between Marat and Sade was exactly one of the things we needed to graft on our tree, but I failed.

Q: You have published in 1965 a text on Brecht where you say that in Yugoslavia there is still resistance toward Brecht …

A: The staid theatre people hated him, both the bourgeois and the Party…

Q: …yes, and you say that in Yugoslavia in the mid-sixties Brecht was thought of as too sociological, and not enough Formalist to be taken into consideration.[1]

A: Well that is my vocabulary. Because in Russia in the twenties there was a big battle between sociologists and Formalists. The synthesis of that was a kind of socio-formalism with people like Bakhtin and Voloshinov. You may know that Bakhtin, who was censored, has published much of his writing under the name of his friends Voloshinov and Medvedev; at any rate the decisive ideas in those books were his. Some reactionary US Bakhtinists say that these things published under the name of Voloshinov and Medvedev are Marxist and Bakhtin was anti-Marxist, so he wouldn’t have written them. But this is nonsense, Cold-War stupidity. Even Formalists like Eikhenbaum, Tinyanov, and Shklovsky were also interested in sociological aspects and Marxism. I think that both approaches in itself are insufficient, both Formalism and sociologism. In literary studies, sociology means relationship of writings to its own production and politics; Formalism means inner workings of writings (or art) in general. The inner workings of art apply in the moment of writing and in the moment of reading, so in the moment of production or in the moment of consumption. But of course these workings are shaped by so-called sociology, that is to say by ideology: what and how do you choose to write, what and how do you understand. Therefore you cannot have a Chinese wall and say, here is society and politics and there is pure art. Pure art sounds fine, but it is only a fin de siècle fantasy, at the end of 19th century, l’art pour art. I think this is intrinsically nonsense. There is a group of poems in English called “nonsense poetry”; that is great fun, but it’s not really nonsense, it is just a refusal of dominant sense. Or for example zaum poetry in early 20th-Century Russia; or even Alice in Wonderland, one of the greatest books in English literature. It does not make sense only in the sense of Dickens and George Eliot, or even worse of bourgeois and if you wish capitalist positivism. But surely there are other ways of making sense.

SB: Apart from not having sense, these limit cases of literature always have some social background. They are always somehow related to the ideology.

DS: Partly what they want to do is some experimental probing of limits of literature. For example, is it true that the limit of poetry is a word? Well maybe not, maybe it is a syllable. But at least it is a valuable experiment, even if it is proved as a negative experiment.

SB: In which way it was negative?

DS: A “negative experiment” in science is a failed one which is useful because it points out which way not to go further. And the limit of poetry is a word, not a syllable, because the syllable has no semantic dimension. But why not try it and see how it works, as say in Khlebnikov. I see no problem for anybody in power to let the kids play with these kinds of experimentations. By the way if you look at the political attitude of Futurists in Russia, they were communist sputniks .

SB: What do you mean by communist sputnik?

DS: The original Russian meaning of sputnik, before the little machine sending beep-beep from the sky in 1957, was “fellow traveller”: one who will go together with, accompany the Communist Party, in Croatoserbian suputnici. They were intellectuals, much too undisciplined (maybe fortunately, we have to say today) to be Party members, but agreeing with the Party line. I read in a book published in Russian in sixties, called Lenin and Literature, how Lunacharsky persuaded Lenin to go to a recital of Mayakovsky in 1921. After the recital Lenin said that it was very interesting; it was “hooligan communism” –  khuligan in the very Russian sense as dangerous people on the margins of society, bohemians… Which I would gloss as: why not bohemian communism, each class should have their communism! If there is workers’ communism, intellectuals’ communism, why shouldn’t there be a bohemian communism? We are all alienated by class society, even the workers are no saints… So why not put together our fragments and hope something more coherent will emerge? Consider that bohemians as a social class were anti-bourgeois, they were poor for one thing and also despised (if you see the opera La bohème, taken from a French novel, they are all starving). They are poor because they still don’t want to or cannot sell their services to the bourgeoisie. Sometimes they are on the Right, mostly on a kind of anarchoid Left, but always against the dominant class. Considering this, we can talk about the contribution of the bohemian class to the revolution.

It would be interesting to examine swearword nouns in general, the obverse of your positive slogans. Bugger, say, the contemptible word for homosexuals, came from the French bougre applied to Albigensian heretics, whose religion was supposed to stem from Bulgaria (bogomils). Hooligan itself was adopted from Irish Gaelic as an English slur on the Irish rebels (houlihan). And loot is Hindustani slang for plunder, which entered English in 18th Century when the East India Company simply appropriated the Moghul emperor’s treasury, evaluated today at 273 million British pounds (of which the modest company chief in India Clive took personally only 8%). The same holds for thug, only it was Indian rebels that time (the “Thuggee” sect). By the way Lenin and the Dadaists met in Zurich in 1916 …

SB: I am not sure whether they met, but they were living in same quarter in Zurich in 1916.

DS: Well, yes, we have no data they met (except in Stoppard’s play).[2] But why were they living in same quarter? They were against the war, they were against imperialism and the whole old world, and they had to flee where they could. These two groups were what the surrealists would call ‘communicating vessels’. To refuse that kind of energy is one of the greatest mistakes of later Leninism, not to speak of Stalinism: it refuses the energies available to it, it refuses present energies from workers and from intellectuals, because the new class thinks it is enough to have power. Speaking in Gramsci’s terms, they had constraint by force, but they didn’t have a consensus. The communist party in Russia had a majority consensus in 1917/1918, and following the Civil War which they won, this consensus lasted until roughly 1926 or so. After that the party ruled mostly by police terror. Why? Because they lost the energies from below – of course, not only or even mainly from the marginals but from the workers and intelligentsia (the peasants were never wholeheartedly for communists in Russia, as different from Yugoslavia, where they were the pillar of communist power from 1942 to 1949, the ill-guided attempt at working cooperatives).

SB: My understanding of formalism is related to what you are explaining now. If intrinsic processes are not sufficient to explain the transformations happening to an art form, then in any case we will need some extrinsic factors such as a social field or ideology.

DS: I think that terms such as intrinsic and extrinsic are misleading. Adorno once said “The social is where it hurts”. That is a gloomy way to put it, but the social is primarily inside us.

SB: I agree with that. But I want to say that many formalists and socio-formalists were dealing also with explicitly political issues. For example LEF in 1924/5 published a special issue on‘Lanage of Lenin’, the Futurist Kruchenykh published one year earlier small booklet with same title, etc, which is somehow related to the limits of the language, what we were talking about earlier, but also with the effectiveness of that language. So in any case even intrinsic Formalists were not entirely interested just with the shape of the artistic forms.

DS: But these were only their personal opinions in politics. What matters is that if you want to understand anything in art, whether it is music, painting or especially literature, you have to talk about transformation. Writing is composed of the stuff of everyday life, because we use language in our everyday life communication, but it is composed in such a different way that it gains a cognitive autonomy: you can understand life in and around you better. When I was starting to write in fifties and in sixties the best people called this structuralism, or structuralist poetics. My dissertation on Ivo Vojnović has the subtitle ‘genesis and structure’, because I found I had to do a genesis, which I think is a very good thing in a dissertation. I would recommend to any doctorate to deal with the historical coming about of its subject-text: look at biography, letters, and all available material of its incubation period, which will help to understand the genesis. Then you understand in which situation it was produced, and then you can see what it is, how it reproduces and changes elements of its environment in what is actually a form, or structure. Structure is the sophisticated French version, maybe sublation, of form. Structure deals with limitations or inner constrains of the formal properties (as Lévi-Strauss described them in his work on kinship relations). The problem with a rigid understanding of structure is that it evacuates history: how do structures then change? In fact, how did they originally even come about? This is connected with the issue of variations, to begin with in the Darwinist development of species. I have in literature – and especially in theatre performance, where this is a focus — always been fascinated by variants. What is an original, what is a variant? I have arrived at the position that I don’t think there is any original: this is a theological problem …

SB: I didn’t understand why it is a theological problem…

DS: Well in monotheism your origin is in God, all origin comes from God. By the way I am in a perverse way rather fond of some well-articulated theologies, such as some variants of the Catholic and even more the Buddhist ones. Some of these variants lasted for half a millennium or longer as the only way of systematic thinking available in important civilizations, so they got to some insights that shouldn’t be sneezed at but maybe taken over and re-functioned. But if you are atheist then there is no origin; there are just variations, Epicure’s aleatoric (that is, historical and situational) swerves of atoms.

SB: Isn’t that also one of the main questions of Formalism which is dealing with historical transformations, or historicism? But before that I would like to know what you think about Formalist involvement with the literary movements. Because I have an impression that the advancement of their methodological approach had partly to do with their involvement in the most advanced literary experiments. For example Jakobson wrote a book about Khlebnikov, Shklovsky on zaum, and so on, they were always engaged with the newest forms in artistic productions.

DS: They were a theoretical parallel to the Futurists, again a case of “communicating vessels”. But then they had also other interests. What was the supreme paradigm of Shklovsky in the novel? It was Laurence Sterne. Why? Because Tristram Shandy is always written in variants: my uncle Toby said that, and afterwards he said this, while this was happening, then it turned out like that, etc. It is sequence of variants or cases; it foregrounds what is hidden in a smooth pre-planned plot. In Aristotelian Poetics this is called episodes, situations not fully defined by the overall plot but with a certain autonomy, as in Brecht. All Formalists were fascinated by Gogol, a grotesque writer who proceeds by episodes, as Bakhtin was by Dostoevsky. The Formalists started by analysing and deconstructing phonetic features of poetry through Futurists and similar vanguardists, but then they had to invent their forebears. So who can serve better in Russian literature than Pushkin, Gogol or Dostoevsky? In the novel they reacted against realism, just as Mayakovsky’s plays reacted against Stanislavsky.

SB: Also they were against Symbolism, and especially literary theory coming from Symbolists.

DS: Symbolism is an inadequate response to realism. It’s a kind of uncle who tried to kill his brother but didn’t manage: they were not successful, we the sons we will kill the father  (remember the Russian fascination for the Hamlet constellation!). Basically they downgraded the Tolstoy-Turgenev line, wrongly believing that even Chekhov fit into it (but that was so only in Stanislavsky’s interpretation of his plays, which Chekhov disliked). Now here is a dilemma: as you know, Lenin loved Tolstoy, and he wrote a very interesting essay about Tolstoy, regarding him as a “mirror” –  the metaphor is dubious – of the peasants’ horizons  in the budding of Russian revolution, which in my opinion is correct, though insufficient. It is a pity that Lenin didn’t have time to be a literary critic; he would have been a very good one. So we have (in Russia and elsewhere) in fact two vanguards in modernism: one is the Leninist party, and the other is Modernist artistic movements. It is very interesting to see the relationships between these two vanguards: except for a few examples, they generally refused to learn from each other, they were arrogant or suspicious. One exception on the political side is Gramsci, who understood the role of culture (in the widest sense, including advertising and brainwashing) very well, and was even a quite interesting theatre critic. Another exception on the intellectual side is Brecht, who tried very much to collaborate with worker choruses and the communist party. To my mind, the two most important Marxist thinkers after –  and in the wake of but not confined to –  Lenin of the 20th Century are in fact Gramsci and Brecht. I could add Benjamin but he is very much influenced also by Jewish mysticism and the Frankfurters: unthinkable without Marxism and very usable in it, but not quite inside it.

But who had the main influence in the workers’ choirs for whom Brecht was writing his plays? It was the social-democratic party, not the communist party. Both Brecht and Benjamin thought hard about becoming members of communist party, but in the end they did not formally join, they were sputniks. They didn’t want to be members of a party already rather ossified in 1928/29 when they were seriously thinking of joining. At that time and in the thirties the German Communist Party was in terrible shape, all good people were kicked out by Zinoviev and later Stalin, or they were exhausted by fractional sects and fights. But ideologically Brecht considered himself as communist; or, as one of his friends described Brecht in USA in 1941-1947: “a party consisting of one person, closely allied with the communists”. I think this good definition of a sputnik is the best political definition of Brecht. As the early feminists were talking about a failed marriage of Marxism and Feminism, in general here too we have a failed marriage of Marxist avant-garde and artistic avant-garde. Surely this has to do with arrogance on both sides: partly by politicians who didn’t have sufficiently sensitive antennas to understand Brecht and Benjamin, or Pilnyak, Belyi, and even Mayakovsky, who was rudely criticized for his theatre plays, which I think contributed to his suicide.

SB: I have looked at the index of ‘Lenin on Literature and Art’ book where Mayakovsky is mentioned five or six times in very contradictory terms. Sometimes Lenin got furious at his poems, and in another instance Lenin thought that his poems are a better contribution to economy than the dull economist is offering.

DS: That’s the poem about too many conferences, Perezasedavshiesia. It is a sociologically interesting but I think innocent little poem, not very important. Though I may be wrong, it has a wonderful Gogolian grotesque image of the bureaucrat splitting in half to go to two conferences.

SB: Going back to your previous answer that in fifties and sixties you were not afraid of novelties in merging Formalism and Marxism and that you were seeking for novel artistic expressions in Marxism, I would like to know what was for you a novel artistic expression at that time in Yugoslavia?

DS: Miroslav Krleža. He was the idol of us youngsters. In high school we were all krležijanci, anybody who thought about art at all, or about committed art and Left-wing art, was a krležijanac. We didn’t know much about painting.

SB: What about initiatives such as Exat, New Tendencies …

DS: Let me rephrase it this way: I didn’t know much about art. Even though I am very much interested in visual art, it is a new language to learn, and I never had time to do it systematically. Still, I am an inveterate goer to art events. For example if you look at my book covers, chosen by me, they are usually some art works or paintings. A book published in Belgrade has a painting by René Magritte, whom I like deeply, Nena and I went to several exhibitions of his all over the world (he too practices estrangement!). But at that time most energies were concentrated on literature. Some people at the Faculty of Arts in Zagreb had a review called Umjetnost riječi (word-art or Wortkunst), where I published a theoretical text on science fiction at the beginning of sixties. Those times were very active, with lots of contradictory positions. I concluded in my latest book, largely dealing with the self-management epoch in Yugoslavia (Samo jednom se ljubi, Belgrade 2014), that the golden age of self-management was between 1958 and 1968. Here I am talking about self-management in production related to economy and politics. But in culture, self-management started a bit earlier, though it was sabotaged by the party. The first attempts at autonomous periodicals in the beginning to mid-fifties, as one in Zagreb Faculty of Arts, also in Slovenia, were forbidden. Even though at that time first attempts at self-management were made in factory organizations, the cultural attempts were thought of, I believe wrongly, as a bit dangerous. What you don’t understand seems menacing. Thus you ossify.

However, from another aspect, the intelligentsia which was introducing the self-management experiments in culture was not “organic”, as Gramsci would say, to workers and peasants; it was the classical intelligentsia coming from petty or indeed, though rarely, from high bourgeoisie. Many of the best people from these classes decided to adopt the Popular Front version of Marxism (for example my father, a doctor who went with the partisans). However its majority was in favour of socialism because it benefited them in economic terms, they had financial privileges, also it was patriotic, and their professional work was prized. There were a few people, like the Praxis philosophers and sociologists, who really believed (so did I) that in SFR Yugoslavia we had a kind of Hegelian sublation of all the best in the bourgeoisie without the worst, that is to say  the citoyen without the capitalism. That was the Party cell in the Faculty of Arts in Zagreb, people like Frangeš, Prelog or Gajo Petrović, hugely influential writers and teachers. All was then new and open, very contradictory. Petrović and the excellent sociologist Rudi Supek edited then the bimonthly Praxis, but this started just before I left. Of course I read and mostly shared its views, I think they were politically right to insist on self-management and energies from below and contest creeping Stalinism from above. On the other hand the philosophers were rather exclusive, they didn’t interact with us “art critics.” Furthermore, they went in for a weird symbiosis with Heidegger, thinking he supplied the philosophical horizon lacking in Marx, so they were forever talking about Being,  Dasein, Sosein, ontic, etc. That was similar to Sartre’s thinking that Marxism applied to mass problems but not to individual problems, so it had to be compensated by Husserl and company, but to my mind (now retrospectively) much worse: Heidegger is the great reactionary thinker of the 20th Century, the brown Plato; his affinities to Nazism are not casual, I don’t believe you can combine him with any Marxist horizon. (This is I think proved by similar attempts in the French deconstructionists.)

Finally, in regard to the Faculty of Arts itself, the Praxis people didn’t have an adequate cultural policy. If you read my Memoirs of a Young Communist you will see that we in the Student Union had a cultural policy — I wrote a position paper about it which I still think was pretty good — that the upper echelon of professors was not happy about. We wanted to end the semi-feudal position of full professors (in Italy they call them barons). Those power relations were based on very concrete interests and a strong will to dominate, even in each little and unimportant field of culture and philology. There was so much libido involved in those fights, it was unbelievable. Whereas we in the Student Union said, let’s have a teaching collective in each section (Odsjek), and the head of collective would be elected each year, or each two years, he or she could be professor, docent (junior assistant professor) or anybody; normally it should be someone who has already published a book, so we acknowledged professional competence. This came to naught, the “barons” had much energy and the Party little for cultural matters, thinking it was all superstructure anyway, while we students and later young assistants were naive and easily deflected onto professional matters. The Praxis people thought in lofty general terms and didn’t want to waste their time on such piddling matters as pedagogy in the Faculty of Arts. So my relations to them were sympathetic but distant, they didn’t defend me when I was attacked. They behaved, maybe unavoidably, as an embattled little sect.

The main trouble with the Party was that, not having an adequate cultural policy, they didn’t know what to do with contemporary collective creativity. Instead they wanted to give the heritage of the past to the masses; so you had cheap novels of Balzac and Fielding and Tolstoy, you had free exhibitions, cheap theatres, literature, cinema, discounted visits for trade-union groups, etc.; however, everything shown was belonging to the past or to a present stylistically continuous with the past, that is, pre-Modernist (this changed in some fields from the mid-50s on). They knew how to deal with that, because Lenin liked Gorky, and Marx and Engels liked Balzac. But they didn’t know how to deal with the new stuff. So it was easy for the Zhdanovians to call Joyce, Proust or Kafka decadents. I must say in Yugoslavia there was little of that, maybe from 1946 to 1951.

SB: Are you talking about the post-1945 situation and the fifties?

DS: This begins in the workers’ movement even earlier. It is a philistine or subaltern tradition which passed from the Second International to the Third International, basically: let’s take the best that exists and give it to the masses. But what is the best in this case is what the bourgeoisie has done, sifted, and codified. Remember the huge laudation of the bourgeoisie in The Communist Manifesto: ‘the bourgeoisie built things more imposing than the Cologne dome, etc’ — that logic was still active in the fifties in Yugoslavia. But that logic of a productive bourgeoisie is not valid anymore, the bourgeois logic is entirely destructive now; it is responsible for imperialist wars, huge desolations, mass killings —  just look at the two world wars, at the hundreds of “small” mass killings since 1945, at West Asia today. You can’t admire solid bourgeois virtues anymore, they don’t exist; now it is all suicidal. The First World War is to my mind the beginning of modern history, everything changes after that, violent barbarism is in command (which then infects “really existing socialism” too). The Left cannot any more seek anything affirmative in bourgeois horizons, though of course I am all for Enlightenment and citoyen virtues – but updated as socialist or communist.

SB: What was your cultural policy at that time? Concretely I would like to know how you thought of Krleža’s formal innovations in relation to cultural policy you were interested in.

DS: You have to know that Krleža begins his literary career as a quasi- or semi-Expressionist at the time of World War 1; he wrote long Whitmanesque unrhymed expressionist poems, expressionist plays and prose. In the thirties Krleža was involved in a conflict with the Socialist realists, that is the orthodox (illegal) communist party, regarding art and literature, known as “the literary conflict on the Left” (sukob na književnoj ljevici), and this was a reason why he never went to Partizans. He was generously rehabilitated after the war by Tito, not by Djilas who hated Krleža and even reportedly wanted his execution. (Djilas was a real maximalist; first he was a maximalist inside the party and later on he was a maximalist against the party. To my mind he was a good historical writer, by the way, but a very limited politician and bad political writer.) At any rate we didn’t know much about Krleža’s involvement with the 1930s cultural struggles, this was only clarified in the sixties. However, he learnt his lesson, and later didn’t meddle in non-artistic politics. After the war Krleža evolved this Enlightenment plan of summing up all knowledge about the Yugoslav lands in a Yugoslav Encyclopedia (Enciklopedija Jugoslavije), was given ample finances for it, edited this huge work, and wrote more novels and a play. I knew Krleža slightly, I visited him, and we had discussions. An example: a congress by the Union of Writers of Yugoslavia was due in Titograd in 1964.  I went to Krleža and said, why don’t we organize some small group including you, Marijan Matković, and your disciples, and propose something about the current cultural policy. He looked at me with pity and said: ‘Have you seen the TV performance of my play Gospoda Glembajevi a few weeks ago?’ (One of the principal actors in it was Fabijan Šovagović, who was from rural Croatia; in his way not a bad actor, but not for drame du salon of Ibsenian provenience.) ‘They do not know how to wear a tuxedo!’

That response of his was the same as Matković saying ‘Brecht in Yugoslavia, Darko what are you thinking of? We are not ripe for it.’ Though I think he was wrong, we had a mass basis for understanding Brecht in self-management, had we had much support and patience to show the working people how to understand itself (maybe different from how we understood it). True, it was not a traditional working class; it was a peasant-derived new working class, lacking for example common workers’ traditions such as trade union organizations, etc. They had to be constantly lifted out of the momentary serious problems of personal and their enterprise survival, lodging in cities, education, and so on. And my elders and betters implied that first we have to do the job of the Enlightenment, and maybe after one generation we can get to the Brechtian, that is truly communist agenda. I disagreed, I thought both agendas were the same: communicating vesels again, or maybe the DNA double helix.  And I think I may have been right: postponing communist elements means they never come.

SB: But isn’t this a contradictory position, to ask for cultural policy in such a situation; to insist for a cultural policy for workers who were lagging behind the self-management? Wasn’t the party behind the mass movement which initiated self-management?

DS:  There would be no contradiction in cultural policy had the Party allowed changes to happen. To begin with, let me point out it was only one little group at the top of the Party who were in favour of self-management; it was proposed initially in 1948-1950, by people like Boris Kidrič, when they were afraid of Soviet invasion and they were still enemies with the West. So they needed a mass basis, to activate the people four or five years after the war, and they picked up the workers’ spontaneous idea to have factory councils. Basis democracy was the way to mobilize and motivate for reconstruction and unity very tired and exhausted people in the post-war situation. Later on Kardelj and Djilas claimed that they were mainly responsible for this idea, but whatever their input the genuine articulation was clearly Kidrič’s. And it worked for 10 or 20 years. Maybe they had difficulties in first five years to make people to understand what all this change was about. Then they passed a law in 1958 that it was possible to veto the director, the manager, and through such experiences self-management got a more concrete shape. Though we cannot talk about full workers’ management; it would be more appropriate to call it workers’ participation, but there was great participation: I calculated in my book on SFR Yugoslavia Samo jednom se ljubi that perhaps 25% of the 4 million workers at the time passed in a dozen years through membership of the Workers’ Concils.

SB: Even if there was a platform also to discuss art in relation to the self-management theory, it seems that there were not so many attempts to do that.

DS: There were two problems. Number one is kulturna zaostalost, which means that we were really backward, except some artists and writers around Krleža and the pre-war Belgrade Surrealists; people didn’t even know that somebody like Brecht existed (you must know that before post-1945 mass education  the majority was illiterate or with a bare 3-4 years of elementary schooling). Maybe I better say the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia didn’t know, for when I published my book on Brecht in 1970 I got a letter of thanks from a woman worker saying she sang Brecht songs (I suppose with Eisler’s music) in the workers’ choir before 1941. Brecht means also Bloch, Benjamin, all Weimar culture; they only knew that Lenin disliked Mach, where actually he was half right and half wrong. Lenin was right on the political fallout of the Machists in Russia, but he was not right about Mach himself. There is no modern physics without Mach, and there is no Einstein without Mach; basically Leninists, as different from Lenin himself, never digested Einstein. What does Einstein mean? In science he means whatever his equations mean; but in philosophy he means that your situation co-determines your world, the place you are situated in (your locus).

SB: It radically contextualizes the position.

DS: Exactly. Here we get to the second problem, which is an ideological aberration. Engels and Lenin are always based on the assumption that there is a general and overarching scientific truth, but of course one which we don’t fully know yet, because we are fallible people who fell from Eden — or translated into Marxism, we fell into class society, so we cannot know the full truth — but we are getting there asymptotically. That is a method which can work, as Marx would say, in a society based on the steam engine (capitalist competition), but it cannot work in society based on electricity and electronics.

SB: You just mentioned asymptotic. I have read in your early article, published in journal ‘Delo’, on the asymptote in Krleža which opens up unforeseen possibilities or radical futurity, through Lenin. Can you say more about this?

DS: Well this is a fantasy Lenin – which doesn’t mean some important aspects of his cannot be caught in this way. These early plays by Krleža, the Legends, which I argued amounted to the image of an asymptote to infinity, were all written between ca. 1917 and 1920, nobody knew anything about Lenin, except either what the bourgeois press wrote about him, as a maniacal sadistic killer, or hymnic praise. Krleža accepted the “demonic” aspect, but turned it into the tradition of the fallen archangel, the rebel Lucifer; he uses the ‘lighthouses’ metaphor for Michelangelo, Goya, Lenin and Columbus. Krleža then visited Russia as you know in 1925, at the time when a very solid bureaucracy was beginning (there is a short story in his Glembayevs cycle, where one of them is a communist and goes to Russia and becomes part of the State trust). Krleža was very dubious about all kind of things going on in revolutionary Russia. I think he knew Stalinism from the inside, at the very beginning of it. I have a feeling that he was rather pleased with Bukharin but I don’t know. So the Party could not expect much politically from Krleža after 1945, he did what he had to do at the Ljubljana congress of Union of Writers at the beginning of fifties where he gave a great keynote speech about socialist misunderstandings of culture, which he camouflaged by talking about the Second International. Clearly he knew that there was continuity between Second and Third International, culturally speaking. Politically there was a big difference between them, indeed opposition: shall we make revolution or shall we not. But culturally they were living in the same world. Lenin was living in the world of Kautsky, more or less. Yet at the same time he was Einsteinian enough to forge the hypothesis of ‘weakest link’: the weakest links of imperialism are backward countries. That was totally Dadaist; everybody in the Second International told him he was crazy. It was a great flash of genius, and this is what happens: Russia, China and Yugoslavia are all proof that Lenin’s crazy idea could work. In other words, the working masses of Western and Central Europe, Germany, France, England and even USA, at least tolerated, and often supported, the World War of imperialists against other imperialists. So the Russian Revolution showed that Marx, who reasonably for 1848 and maybe even for 1871 claimed that the revolution will happen in the West, was wrong. This is the thesis of Gramsci in his article Revolution against Capital, which he wrote in 1917/18, that the Russian revolution is a revolution against Das Kapital. This was to say that Lenin had to change some basic concepts of Marx regarding revolution, but sticking to the main trunk of Marx (to go on with my botanical analogy), which was getting rather dry at that time. Lenin was grafting new stuff on that trunk which helped its energy to vitalize, to flow.

SB: How would you describe this main trunk, is it the concept of class struggle?

A: No, the main trunk is to me alienation and dis-alienation; it is the concept of freedom, self-determination of each and all. But in order to be dis-alienated, to gain the freedom, we have to have conscious class struggle. In my terms, dis-alienation is the horizon towards which to move, the goal; class struggle is the – alas — necessary vector of how anybody can move from the present alienated locus towards that horizon (see “Locus, Horizon, and Orientation:  The Concept of Possible Worlds as a Key to Utopian Studies (1989)” in my Defined by a Hollow). As Brecht once wrote, in order to have a handful of rice, the coolie has to bring down three empires. Since we are living in the world of class struggles from top toward the bottom leading to huge barbarisation, we have to reverse this and turn it the other way around, as class struggle of bottom against the top and against barbarisation. This is actually an Einsteinian idea. In my opinion, Marx is the great forebear of Einstein as far as situated thinking goes. Marx still has some elements of the old, as “iron laws of society” in preface to Capital, which I think is more Newton than Einstein. This is actually Roman Law (lex), which Newton transferred to a physics based on eternal truths. Einstein deconstructed the eternal truths, just as Marx deconstructed the eternal truths of Smith and Ricardo and the bourgeoisie.

SB: We have skipped one topic that I would like to know more about; namely the concept of history and critique of historicism in the work of Russian Formalism. This anti-historicism, which is often discussed in Viktor Shkovsky as the zig-zag history of literary changes, etc. is somehow related to the discussions of Marxism.[3]

DS: I am not so sure about their anti-historicism, they were very interested in history inside literature but refused its mechanical dependence as a “superstructure” on an economic “basis” (which was right) and then exaggerated the autonomy. After all, they came from a very backward Russia and didn’t have the tools of a Williams or Jameson. Also, the Formalists are a very heterogeneous group, very much differing from each other. Shklovsky is different from Eikhenbaum, Tynyanov is different from Jakobson, and so on. But if we take a common denominator, I don’t think they were anti-historicist. They are against a certain dominant kind of historicism, that of Ranke who defines history as “wie es eigentlich gewesen”, as it really happened (he also wrote a book on Serbia and Bosnia). This typical German historicism is basically a laicized Protestantism, some kind of opus dei in Germanos, of God working by way of the Germans: a monolithic and determinist historical method, based on totally teleological conceptions. You have to understand that this concept of history is actually a quasi-delirious teleology, and its insistence on first-hand data is subordinated to that. Since Formalists have criticized these kinds of approaches to history thoroughly, me and my generation, as many others, have benefited immensely from them. In one of my first essays, published in Umjetnost  riječi, on science fiction, I had used the Shklovskian theses you speak about, of inheritance from junior uncle to nephew (or niece), in order to propose a sophisticated way of treating the history of literary genres, and I still believe this is correct.[4] How do historical changes come about in Formalism? They come about when a dominated (or oppositional) style of yesterday – the junior uncle — becomes the dominant style of today. But how does that huge reversal happen? That is a class struggle for heaven’s sake, you only have to put a little bit of Marxism into it and everything is clear. Of course the Formalists didn’t say this, they were not interested in macro-politics. There is a wonderful apocryphal anecdote, which I like to quote, an imaginary dialogue between Shklovsky and Trotsky, the most intelligent Formalist and the most intelligent Leninist. Shklovsky said to Trotsky, and the first half is a real sentence of his, “I do not care what flag flies on the fortress, I am a literary critic and I don’t care about the war ,” to which Trotsky replies “But war cares about you.”

SB: But Shklovsky himself was in the war!

DS: Yes he was; he was SR [Socialist Revolutionary] commissar and commander of an armoured battalion, and afterwards he was for a time in Berlin. In his personal life he cared a lot about the war, and this dichotomy is interesting in a negative way, the dichotomy between a personal and official posture. When he is a Formalist, then the Holy Ghost comes down upon him and he does not care about war anymore…

But formalist historicism is all about that zigzag transformation of dominated to the dominant, which is about a real driving force in history. I would like to see a whole history of literature written through this dynamics. I tried to do that in my writings on science fiction. But concretely to trace and discuss these transformations, or to prove the theses of Formalists, you need a huge group of scholars, some kind of Einsteinian Socialist Academy of Science, which does not exist anywhere. Raymond Williams tried later to do this with his “Social Theory of Literature”.

SB: I was just going to ask about the concept of ‘residual elements’ in Williams, to whom you refer frequently in your texts.

DS: Exactly. Williams is my maitre à penser, not the only one. I have others too, Lucien Goldmann, Krleža, Brecht, Bloch, most important Marx, and so on. Finally my contemporary Jameson.

SB: Can you please schematize the relation between the historical concepts of Formalists and the Marxist sociology of Williams?

DS: Well, Formalists gave you a form, and Marx gave you classes.

SB: No, I meant the relation between the concept of ‘residual elements’ of Williams and the idea of uneven historical transformations in Formalists?

DS: The Formalists didn’t know enough about society, except when they were studying the history of their subject, for example the history of Russian poetry or something similar; but in general they didn’t have much knowledge of social history. When Shklovsky is writing about Sterne he does not care about England in 18th century, for him Sterne is an extra-temporal or eternal paradigm, an exemplum. Williams comes from a Left which was ideologically not Leninist. He began as a kind of Leftwing or Left Labourite modification of F. R. Leavis, an interesting literary critic, a petty-bourgeois rebel who fought against the dominant high bourgeois tastes (he loved for example D.H. Lawrence). At some point Williams read Marx, not through Lenin but through Leavis or through the class struggles that he knew very well in Britain, coming from a Welsh worker family. Of course you know that Marx himself got the idea of class struggle primarily from England and France. True, struggles between classes go on everywhere all the time, see for example Heine’s poem The Weavers or Brecht’s Questions of a Worker Reader; but in Germany they were masked by the (exactly “residual”) feudal elements. And when we talk about Williams we have to remember this historical importance of class struggle in England, from at least Cromwell’s revolution on. So I think that the concept of residual in Williams is coming from two sources. One is English or UK history, that is quite clear, the Non-conformists are residual; and second, it comes from Marx and Engels who said that Balzac by being on the Right and hating the bourgeoisie, understood it very well, and his descriptions could be used by the Left. What is Balzac? He is ideologically residual – not in his writing technique, his technique is on the frontline of the future, but his ideology is completely reactionary, a bourgeois monarchism. I found Williams very congenial, I read all he wrote before I met him while on sabbatical in Cambridge in 1970/71, he was then in Jesus College. Also I saw him in the seventies-eighties when he was teaching part-time at Stanford University, he would stop often in Montreal where we arranged a lecture for him, for example on Brecht’s St. Joan of the Stockyards we were performing at McGill. He was also interested in science fiction, he wrote even a novel of politics set in future and some historical novels, also an essay on utopian science fiction. But I think his magnum opus is The City and the Country.

SB: In your article ‘Can People Be (Re)presented in Fiction?’ you say that ‘Formalism is the A and B of any integrally materialist approach to art, from which should then proceed to C, D, and so on, ’ this C and D meaning dialectics.[5]

DS: Yes, I mentioned that earlier; also meaning semiotics and narrative analysis (agents, chronotope). I would today stress more this historical component, or dialectical component as understood by Marx (not by Hegel). As you know Marx took dialectical logic from Hegel but adapted it to the circumstances of capitalism, which means to a macro-historical situation. I have been struck by Braudel’s longue durée vs durée événementielle (long before Badiou). Duree événementielle is for example the French Revolution, it lasts ten, maybe fifteen years, as one generation. Longue durée is the key for solving the problem which Marx faced in his famous passage about Greek literature in the introduction to Grundrisse:.[6] how can we still enjoy the Greek tragedy? We can, I would say today, because we are in the longue durée of class society. That means that a duration of the last five thousand years is united by some macro-continuities, for example by dominant and dominated, killers and killed, exploiters and exploited. Of course there are big differences between the Homeric aristocracy and Wall Street today (the former risked their lives and the latter never do); but on the other hand, dialectically speaking, in this history there is also continuity; you can find this in Benjamin’s idea that ruling classes have their continuity. This could be seen very clearly in the transformation of the bourgeoisie: they entered the scene of history as anti-aristocratic, but soon started to act as an aristocracy, because they took the same role of a ruling class. This is a clear example of continuation of domination. In order for this to happen ruling classes need certain apparatuses of domination. Althusser didn’t invent the ideological apparatuses, discussion regarding ideologies and apparatuses existed before him, but maybe he, for the first time, put these two concepts together. For example the salons in and around Napoleon’s time are ideological apparatuses, as centres of a kind of power forging the tastes of what is acceptable or not in discourse – say, on art. If you adopt the key of longue durée versus the short  duration  versus the medium duration (one has to have a hierarchy of durations), then the way how we understand historical transformation will change. If you look at my book Metamorphoses of Science Fiction you will see that in the theoretical part there is one scheme describing how science fiction deals with time. Time/temporality is for me a very important issue.

SB: How do you treat these different temporalizations, distinct durées in your theoretical work? Do they co-exist, or are they in some kind of constant struggle, in kind of contradictory relations?

DS: They are in dialectical relations. Of course they co-exist. I would say today that of my three levels in agential  theory, the actants are long duration and unchanging, half a dozen narrative functions. I can’t imagine any narration without actants, in history or pre-history or even species-specific, as Feuerbach would say. The types are probably a long duration of class history but they change according to major “geological” shifts – some become marginalised and a few new ones arise; and the characters are related clearly to the individualism, which begins partly the end of the Antiquity, as in Plutarch’s characters for example, Alexander the Great versus Caesar. Christianity adopted this as the concept of one single soul; whereas Greeks had many souls, or Socrates had his daimon speaking to him about his community, the politeia; but characters then got backgrounded until the Renaissance, the rise of the cities and merchants. So to answer your question I would say that dialectic is  methodologically the starting point, but one must historicize, as Jameson said “always historicize!” This means that the durées sometimes mesh and more often are in contradictory oppositions.

SB: But I was speaking more of teleological historicism …

DS:  As I argued earlier, teleological historicism is essentially a theological problem. If we are not willing to accept the theological answer, then we have to find an alternative to teleology. Either we get communism or we get savagery, to adapt Rosa Luxemburg. That is to say, instead of teleology you have a bifurcation, Hercules on the crossroads… It is a time and a vision of catastrophic choices. This also means social struggles never end. I have realized while writing my last book on socialist Yugoslavia, that I cannot imagine any society without politics, and I think Marx was wrong there (maybe we should say semantically imprudent).

SB: Can you clarify this …

A: Marx thought that politics was all about class conflict; so that after the abolition of class conflict there will be no politics. But if politics means primarily how society or any collective distributes its material resources, when, how much, for what and to whom, then it will always exist. There is a novel by Wells set in a future where all our problems are solved; but still there is a conflict between scientists and artists.  The scientists want to go to Mars or Venus and so on, whereas the artists want something else here and now. I think that human wishes and desires will always be larger than our material bases. So, do we now build a huge expensive accelerator, or do we go to Pluto, or do we let the sea into Sahara? There must be politics to solve this. In class society you solve this with violence, and in classless society by argument: as Brecht said in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, with pencils, not pistols. But important problems to be solved will remain in classless society. In that case you need politics to solve them, as Montesquieu said by “pressures, checks and balances” — I am a big fan of Montesquieu.

SB: You describe this dialectics needed for an integrally materialist approach to art, referring to Bakhtin and Mukařovský, as social formalism.

DS: I would not call it that now. These are traces of my intellectual genesis.

SB: Then in the same text you offer a criticism of Greimas’s theory of actants by proposing instead a Marx’s model of history from ‘18th Brumaire’.[7]

DS: Marx speaks of “character mask”, which is a type: the capitalist, the worker, etc. In the 18th Brumaire you have the best description of how Marx characterizes the classes.

SB: What you find as most objectionable in Greimas’ model of actants is lack of any social and ideological context.

DS: I am less and less fond of the word ideological; I would rather say historical, and if you wish a lack of historical semantics. I mean by this even macro-historical: I think it is perfectly fine if you have chosen to talk about overarching transformations happening in the time span of one or five thousand years. But you must have some kind of fundament, what the French would call assiette, a place where you are seated, a seat in history. For us time is history, we don’t exist outside of that. This does not mean that you are Robinson on your island and history is an ocean, or any other metaphor in which you are here and history is there. History is in your language, in your dreams, in your body, everywhere. If you have grown up during the war and you ate badly, history is then in your bones – you will have trouble with your health when you are forty or fifty. Only when you are striking and the police shoot at you, history is at the moment outside and getting forcibly into your inside. The so-called biological inside or “inner environment” is 90% historical. That’s why I think that the discussion around genetics is one of the greatest bourgeois operations of ideological obfuscation. I have nothing against genes, but it is used in very reactionary ways to obliterate the importance of history. A good  example of this is Dawkins’s book Selfish Gene. I rather like his conceit by which individuals are nothing but seed-pods for chromosomal propagation, but on the whole it is sheer nonsense.

SB: If we assume that history is everywhere, then any literary theory which avoids history is actually violence toward the literature it analyses. Could you say about Greimas that too?

DS: The basis for Greimas’s analyses and his system are Lithuanian folk stories. In Lithuanian folk stories the main agent is usually a Catholic priest; is that not historical!? Whereas a few hundred kilometres or years away that would be an orthodox or a protestant or an animist priest; which would make things completely different. I find Greimas very obnoxious, though he has one advantage: he has brought his system to the point where it becomes so self-contradictory and top-heavy that it is ready to collapse into materialism and history, which is what I try to do.

SB: When you discuss the text through three agential levels, then the problem of representation alters from the usual discussions which consider the artistic work as reflection of reality. Thus I would like to know your position regarding the discussions on realism?

DS: When Aristotle speaks about mimesis, he at some point asks, referring to zither I think, what kind of reflection is that when you represent somebody’s state of mind by musical sounds? It certainly is not a reflection in the ordinary sense of how a mirror works. The worst book Lenin ever wrote is Materialism and Empiriocriticism, or at least half of the book. The pars destruens is ok, as I said, but his pars construens is terrible, very Engelsian at his most reductive. I much like Gramsci’s finessing this in his Quaderno 11 (1930-32). He substitutes “translation” for Lenin’s infamous “reflection” as the basic principle of Marxist philosophy. This gets interesting: for him it is a principle of productive convertibility between two texts (so this is a general approach not confined to translating texts between two different languages, though he himself did that from German). His exemplum is that there must in fact exist a convertibility between the specific languages of philosophy, politics, and economics since all three share the same stance towards the world. This is then, I would say more precisely, a general  epistemological principle that gives dogmatic priority to none of such languages: and though he doesn’t say so aloud, out goes the primacy of economic basis as against philosophical or political “superstructure”! For example, he situates Lenin’s term of “hegemony” into a translatory oscillation between philosophy and political practice (the Greeks would allot the latter to sofrosyne, practical wisdom).

You see, reflection is based on the metaphor of mirror, whether it is an ordinary mirror or a mirroring in water, as with Narcissus. But once you start to reflect on reflection, even the simplest reflection has seine Tűcken, as Marx would say, its complications or malices or vagaries: for example, left becomes right in mirroring. What did this mean; that a revolutionary party becomes right-wing in literature? Of course not (necessarily)! But you see it is a very complicated question, the change of shapes or anamorphism (much beloved by the Baroque). What Stalin and Zhdanov meant by reflection is some kind of imagined political correctness: to say good things about us, and bad things about enemies. That is a self-reflection – to reflect our own opinions, horizons, and point of views, to repeat and confirm them. In this case what is being reflected is nothing material, it is the apparatus idea of the ruling party; not the things or relationships between people. We have several questions here. There is a very good book written by another Lithuanian, Jurgis Baltrušaitis, an art historian who wrote on many different varieties of morphing, such as anamorphosis, metamorphosis, etc. Anamorphosis is describing distortions; like in the famous Baroque park Bomarzo near Rome, where all wall horizons are distorted. Well, in any mimesis, which is a metamorphosis (and it is not a coincidence that my best known book is called Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, which means changes of shapes in it), there are various way of producing distortions,  such as one to one, one to two, upside-down, inversion, eversion, conversion, subversion, etc. Then there are convex and concave mirrors, as in fairgrounds (and one of my latest books is again not by chance called Defined by a Hollow). This business of mimesis is horribly complicated; just imagine imitating a state of mind by playing music, by having the chorus dancing. It is a simple fact that the dance does not imitate in any precise way the war before the Troy; it is a dance that must follow its own laws of a body traversing space – gravity, kinds of leaps and turns, etc., even if you give spears to the dancers. It is absolute petty-bourgeois stupidity to say that imitation is a kind of one-to-one relation. Let me take the canonic Socialist Realist example: Gorky’s Mother (a book I am sentimentally fond of, and it is not the author’s fault it got into such a canon). Gorky wrote about the mother of a revolutionary in Russia, because there were revolutionaries in Russia outside of literature. But not all revolutionaries, probably not even too many, had a mother that would carry on their work.  So what Gorky did is to make a type, which is a Mother of the Revolutionary, and very near to an allegory, the Revolutionary Mother, if not indeed The Mother of the Revolution. If we agree that type is kind of form, then it has its own laws, just like distortion (say perspective) in painting has its laws. Therefore you must investigate the form, and that is the materialist part. Form is not, as my elder colleagues at Faculty of Arts would have said, the glass outside holding the water inside.

SB: Brecht said that if something had a good form we have to take its content. You are quoting this as well.

DS: All of us are children of our epochs. Brecht for example thought that he was doing anti-Aristotelian theatre. Because German Aristotelians, both in theory (such as Gustav Freytag, a theoretician of drama) and in theatre practice claimed their basis lay in Aristotle’s Poetics. In fact they were not Aristotelians, they were 19th-century bourgeois Positivists. So Brecht being anti-Aristotelian meant anti what was meant by Aristotelianism when he was young. Brecht is also a child of his time, of the discourse of his time. In fact if you read his poetics, in many ways he is Aristotelian as well, as I mentioned his overall structure is episodic, etc. Aristotle didn’t theorize enough the episodic nature of theatre, but he recognized it as such. Brecht wouldn’t have the concept without Aristotle. So if Brecht was speaking in terms of form and content, it is because he was raised in a German school in the first decade of 19th century, poor guy! And so were the listeners to whom he was trying to get something across.

SB: But it seems that he wanted to break from that legacy.

DS: Of course he saw the limits of that education very soon, he almost got kicked out of school when he wrote against the World War. But one question is centrally important here: what is estrangement (his Verfremdung), is it form or content? It’s a way in which form makes you look at your world.

SB: You write that the most formalized analysis can become precise, instead of formalistic, if only enters into feedback relation with the environment?

DS: I am great admirer of the feedback metaphor. This is a cybernetic metaphor which Marx didn’t have. I understand it as two entities which interact. A changes B then B changes A, which become A1, and so on.

SB: Feedback is possible because there is a flow of information from one source to another.

DS: Exactly: flow of information, or of anything else. This is a semiotic concept, which begins with thermodynamics.

SB: If we talk of reformulations of reproductions of agencies, then usually discussion goes toward the re-articulation of artistic text, which you also mention occasionally.

DS: You have here basically the old question: which one is first, chicken or egg? This is what some anthropologists, such as the interesting Gregory Bateson, called a double bind. Whatever you answer will be a wrong answer. The solution is that you have to step out of the double bind, that is, to say “I don’t agree with your question.” Thus, the question whether artistic work is a reflection or not, is also such a double bind. In some ways it is, in some it is not, and anyway what is meant by reflection is most imprecise and unproductive. We have to recognize it as such and refuse to recognize it as valid question.

SB: How is it possible to do that?

DS: By using imaginative freedom. My entire last book (Samo jednom se ljubi) has advanced to foregrounding this concept of freedom, meaning dis-alienation.

SB: Can you tell briefly how Brecht became your intellectual and artistic horizon in the fifties in Yugoslavia?

DS: Very simple, through student theatre. I was deeply engaged in student theatre, which was one of the democratic forms of self-expression in socialist Yugoslavia. First I was involved in the Zagreb Youth Cultural Society Goran Kovačić, which had its own theatre troupe. Later on it became the famous SEK (Studentsko eksperimentalno kazalište, Student Experimental Theatre), whose main director was my friend Bogdan Jerković. I was a kind of dramaturge (art director) of SEK, and we were part of the international body of Western and Central European student theatres, which was an incubating space for the ‘68 movement. You know the ‘68 youth and student movements didn’t come out of nowhere, they were incubating since the fifties. So we had four festivals each year, at Easter time in Parma, Italy; in middle of May in Zagreb, in June in Erlangen, West Germany, and in October, we had it first in Istanbul, but the Turkish police didn’t like that, so we shifted it to Nancy, in France. It was called UITU (Union Internationale des Théâtres Universitaires).  The head of the student theatre  and festival in Nancy, Jack Lang, later on became a famous Socialist Party minister of culture. At that time there was a big Brecht renaissance in two student theatres of West Germany, Frankfurt and Hamburg. This was in the fifties, the time of SDS (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, people who were later demonstrating). They also produced some very  interesting discussions, with theoreticians in Germany such as Karlheinz Braun or Claus Peymann (who much later became intendant of Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble), and in France some like Chéreau who later went to direct films. They were focusing mostly on the peripheral Brecht; not Galileo, not Mother Courage, but Lehrstűcke (his 1930s’ “plays for learning”), the early Drums in the Night, Der Tag des Großen Gelehrten Wu, one of his school’s adaptation in 1940s from Chinese, and mostly on early anarchist Brecht. After I saw these plays I started reading Brecht.

We had a huge scandal in Erlangen when Brecht’s son-in-law, the great actor Ekkehard Schall, came as a guest and recited some of Brecht’s most communist poems in 1961 just after the Berlin Wall; right-wing students in the audience booed it with hate, a real theatre scandal in a nice 19th-century theatre. I was vice-president of UITU, an organization consisting mainly of Western Europe countries and Yugoslavia. The Russians were outside that organization; only in some exceptions, Polish student theatres would come to UITU events. Therefore the Student Union of Yugoslavia forbade me to be president, they were afraid of Russian disapproval; it was part of Tito’s balancing policy. So, to answer your question, I haven’t met Brecht inside Yugoslavia, but in Germany, Italy or France; as you know Brecht’s greatest world success was with Mother Courage in 1954 in Paris, when Roland Barthes and a whole group of intellectuals became Brechtians. After that I was collecting books and publications related to Brecht. I was spending my per diems of 25 DM for buying books while abroad in these UITU meetings. These festivals had also debates. I was head of the debate programme of the Zagreb May IFSK festival (Internacionalni festival studentskog kazališta), which I have eternalized by putting into my mentioned book the cover-image of our publication, made by Mihajlo Arsovski, famous Macedonian graphic designer in Zagreb. I was editing the IFSK Bulletin with these debates, heavily influenced by Brecht. For us Brecht was anti-Stalinist and anti-capitalist, that is to say totally analogous to socialist Yugoslavia.

SB: Were you at that time then drawing this parallel between Yugoslavia socialist self-management and Brecht?

DS: No, then I was not thinking about the Yugoslav situation as a problem. I was, as all of us, very naïvely of the opinion, quite wrong, that the revolution had happened, we have solved all antagonistic problems, and we are left only with material difficulties, cultural backwardness, and remnants of the past that would be solved due to science, our wise leadership, and all that. OK, that was crap, we all had to mature! But I think Brecht was identical to the furthest horizons of the Yugoslav revolution, that is to say radical refusal of alienation. Verfremdung actually is a refusal of Entfremdung – the estrangement counteracts alienation. By the way this was very well discussed by Ernst Bloch in his essay Entfremdung /Verfremdung.[8]

In the student theatre there was a very interesting fight between formalists and nihilists, say the Brecht wing and the Grotowski wing; Grotowski was soundly beaten. Then he went to New York and became world-famous by being followed by US theatre people such as Schechner and company. And he beat Brecht worldwide just based on American ideological export. Of course Grotowski has some interesting things, he is a great director of actors, he knew quite a bit about Asian theatres, and he has this kind of Catholic existentialist background, which has its own strength. But I didn’t like that much, it’s all revelling in Christ’s passion – blood, sweat, and snot, no women allowed except as mourners. Thus, when I came to the USA for 1967/68, I had to decide whether I wanted to continue with theatre criticism. During that year I taught in Amherst, Massachusetts, which is five hours by bus to New York. Nena and I went on weekends to see all plays of that season in New York, Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, and the leading theatre journal, TDR, gave me the money for all the often expensive tickets. At that time, ever since the US public was shocked by success of Sputnik in 1957, a lot of money was being thrown at the universities, to invest into research. Of course most of the money went to the weapons industry, arms technology, space, hard sciences, and similar, but even the small portion given to Humanities and Social Sciences was relatively huge. So there was no problem getting funding and grants for halfway decent proposals. But I didn’t like the atmosphere and horizons of the US theatre, and to systematically criticize for years something you don’t like is counter-productive, you become what is in German called a nörgler – a nagger or moaner; that is boring to read and boring to write.

Therefore I returned the money, and I stopped being a theatre critic. There were also other reasons, one was that I was busy with my academic work (lecturing and writing). However, I could have stayed in New York City. Because universities were hiring a lot of teachers, in ‘68 I had four contracts awaiting signature on my desk. One was to stay in Amherst, at Massachusetts University; it was a progressive State, the only US one with protective labour legislation and so on; another in San Francisco; and a third one on the outskirts of New York City, on Long Island. And the fourth contract was from McGill University in Montréal, Canada. Now I liked the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, but I didn’t much like the USA. It was a very violent country, with wonderful oases which you could also call ghettoes – the campuses. In New York a lot of things were happening, like later the siege of Columbia University; I went to see that, but I didn’t much believe in those student revolts (paradoxically: the rich kids were striking, and the proletarians in police uniforms were putting down the strikes). Of course their strong revulsion against both consumer capitalist and Stalinist forms of human relationships was  correct, and they pioneered the revulsion against life being absorbed by getting more and more things, against reification – though that was easy in a country of most abundant production. They were sincerely on the Left without quite knowing what this was or should imply (say clearer ideas, more organisation). When a strike happened in Amherst I felt my duty was to solidarise with the students, but they were basically anarchists, they were only against the war and sexual or drug repression, and what they were for was unclear. However, I didn’t believe in smoking marijuana, it obfuscates the mind which we need. Certainly some of the general US fights were worthy fights, those against the Vietnam War and against racism, but they were not fights in which I could as a foreigner participate, not my fights. So at the end I went to Canada and I didn’t become a theatre critic. A few years later I experienced some of the 1968 student leaders, whom I defended, turning into Post-Modernists and attacking me.

SB: Why did you leave Yugoslavia?

DS: They didn’t vote to prolong my assistant status job in the Faculty of Arts after six years, in spite of my having had a special dispensation to teach courses and published 5 books.  There were all kinds of intersecting reasons, personal and political, the nationalists were already on the rise, the Party didn’t protect me; I fell between two stools so to speak. I believe I got about 47 votes as against 25, but out of a 100 members of the faculty Council (all teachers), the rest was absent, and we operated under a utopian self-management rule that you need to get an absolute majority of 51 votes. There were some irregularities in the meeting, so I sued them and might well have won. But you cannot be in a university on the basis of a court ruling instead of peer approval, I believed, and I was very disgusted. On top of some other conflicts I had had earlier with theatres and so on, I concluded I could very well be an alienated intellectual anywhere in the world. So though the Faculty got frightened and gave me a one-year paid leave (at the time I was also very sick and mainly in hospital), I resigned in 1967 and applied for a job through friends in the USA —  which I then got in Amherst as described above. I had been in the USA in 1965/66 on a Ford Foundation grant, had had lectures all across the country and followed courses at Yale University, and refused with patriotic indignation offers of employment in various places. Now I had to come back with tail tucked in.

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SB: I would like to continue the discussion with your translation and analysis of Brecht’s verse poem ‘The Manifesto’. You relate it to cognitive faculty of estrangement: “Poetry is here not only in strong opposition to the stifling superficial babbling of the reigning, totally ideologized doxa of the capitalist media or brainwashed common sense; it is above all a “stumbling block” (formulation of the poet Giampiero Neri) to the hegemonic babble—one which forces the reader/stumbler to stop and look at what is really happening at his feet. (p. 19-20)”

A: Brecht did a transposition of Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party into verse; which of course, if you believe in form being meaning, makes it a different animal. This is theoretically too interesting, because the style of the Communist Manifesto is also very artistic, it is a prose pamphlet style. Otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted for 150 years. Brecht was turning it into a verse translation/adaptation in 1944, when the Red Army was approaching Germany (later on he doubled the initial adaptation). He read everything he could get, both US and German émigré literature, and was struck by the fact that no one rebelled during the defeat of Hitler when the Nazi army was on the front, so a rebellion by workers should have been on the cards but did not happen. He was horrified by this, and thought (rightly) that the German working class had forgotten Marxism. Therefore it had to be re-acquainted with it in a way which would be interesting, that is to say in verse. In my opinion he also thought that Marxist prose, due to the abuse by the social-democratic (and I think also communist) party in banalities did not work so well any more. He was giving it a new lease of life, so to speak, by putting it into verse. He used the hexameter form based on some German translation of Lucretius’s De rerum natura from 1820s, which he had known in the Weimar era and taken with him into emigration.

This raises the huge question of the relation of poetry to history. I wrote in that analysis: “Surely, charity begins at home: poetry cannot exist without a relation to its own history. The poet — and the translator — must be cognizant of it, but not necessarily the synchronic reader who has to fry today’s potatoes today. For the reader, the relation is basically one of poetry to what Marx and Engels called the only science they knew — the history of relationships among people, in different social formations, in the struggles of classes differently shaping each formation.” I wish I could go on, but this needs a semestral doctoral course… Maybe this can be approached a little by the essay I recently wrote and which I propose you print in the same issue of RAB-RAB as this interview, “Epistemology,  Science, Narration/Poetry”.

SB: Can we describe the adaptation of ‘Manifesto’ by Brecht as an instance of estrangement? In your text on the adaptation you describe it as a stumbling block, which is a term used by Russian Formalists.

DS: Yes, that is a term used by Shklovsky. That is what Formalists called zatrudnenie formy, making the form difficult, which prevents distracted reading. It is based on the simple idea that unless you concentrate on text, you will not understand it. If you stumble over a feature, you come to pay attention (or perhaps you throw it away). Furthermore, the form is difficult not only or primarily because it is baroque and complicated, but because it introduces new images and concepts. Then you ask “what is this?”, you de-automatise your relation to the artwork. On the contrary, if you automatise the concept as a cliché, and discuss it through automatically expected images and concepts, then nobody will pay full attention to it. So the text or its style has to be refreshed  by putting it in some other way, which will be vivid enough to make the reader stop (stumble) and ask about the text. As I said, Brecht also introduces some new things that were not in The Communist Manifesto. Of course they are Marxist terms, concepts, and images, but certainly they were not in the original Manifesto. For example he introduces the “God of Profit”, something like Moloch or Baal. He sits there ruling the people, he is blind but very powerful. Literally, he is a blind God sitting in a temple, certainly a vivid image. Marx himself was not bad at finding vivid images, ‘the spectre is haunting Europe’ for example. That spectre is more or less a spectre of Hamlet’s father, because Marx loved Shakespeare whom he recited to his children when they were riding on his shoulders on Hampstead Heath. There are also spectres in German tradition, but with Shakespeare it is related to revenge righting an old wrong. Also Marx speaks often about theological or supernatural caprices of the Capital, a dead thing bearing fruit and so on. Therefore it is easy to make a parallel with a religious entity out of it. Of course Brecht reworks also Mammon from Bible, false god of gold and riches, since he was a very close reader of Bible, the Luther translation which is the beginning of modern German literary language.

SB: In your book on Brecht you criticize the work of Lee Baxandall on Happenings as nihilist estrangement, as no more than a renewal of sensual perception without cognitive values. Or you even say that this is a right-wing estrangement.[9]

DS: Well mythology is primarily, for us at least, an estrangement. By right-wing I mean basically some kind of mythical approach. For example Hitler believed in the occult science of I think seven moons, six of which have already disappeared, each in a catastrophe where the Earth changed; in the last one the Aryans had to retreat to North Scandinavia, but before that they were ruling all Europe, and they should come back and start to rule again. This myth I would say is an estrangement, of course this is not a part of the normal bourgeois world, but from the Right. So, there is nothing in estrangement which makes it automatically progressive or left-wing. It is a technique of perception. If you gave me a little time I could find you more sophisticated examples of right-wing estrangements from literature. Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantoes, say, have a section against usury, which is the right-wing, traditionally Catholic name for capitalism. Right-wing is, to put it in general terms, a reaction against French revolution, freedom, equality, and democracy from below; it can easily be ideologically anti-bourgeois too. Fascism has always had a left wing, such as the SA of Nazi Germany whom Hitler had killed in 1934. They were sincerely anti-capitalist, so they thought, and horrified that Hitler made a compromise with capitalist industrialists. They really thought that it was a national socialist party. So, right wing estrangement exists too.

As to nihilist estrangement: by the way, I was a good friend of Baxandall, he was a left-wing guy in New York. And I got interested in these Happenings while in New York City. I saw a few, and they also published very good small pamphlets describing various Happenings by Kaprow and others. After studying them I wrote that critique for TDR (Theatre and Drama Review). Basically I understood happenings as a-political estrangement, that is to say, they are dealing with individual re-orientation to the world, and whether this has anything to do with politics is none of our business. Once we re-orient you can go out and do whatever you want, something or nothing, left or right. I thought that this was a variant of estrangement which was formally interesting, and up to a point maybe even useful, but certainly insufficient. I didn’t know what to call it except nihilist estrangement, by which I was referring to Nietzsche — certainly not to the Russian nihilists who killed the Tsar.

SB: Baxandall’s theory of Happenings is actually similar also to his interpretation of Eastern European political cinema (particularly of Makavejev) which he calls cine-marxism.[10]

DS: In these writers it is all approximate, because they didn’t know too much about Eastern Europe.

SB: Apart from not knowing, they were also reproducing certain Western stereotypes of Eastern Europe avant-gardes. For Baxandall, Makavejev’s estrangement techniques are better than Godard’s, because he has a sensual, non-mediated, and non-cognitive approach.

DS: I am all in favour of sensuality in arts. It can provoke a gut reaction. But gut reaction is, more or less, semi or un-conscious. How do you then go on, what can it orient you toward? Everything or nothing. Also I don’t think that Baxandall is right about Makavejev. True, there is a little bit of what Baxandall was getting at. I can tell you that Makavejev was very much impressed by Deleuze and Guattari. While I was staying with him in Paris in his apartment I saw on his working table their Anti-Oedipus book, which he praised to me as a great revelation. I have some very basic doubts about them, even as I think that A Thousand Plateaus and also Guattari on his own are better. Certainly not all of Makavejev is as Baxandall wants to portray it. For me Makavejev is a utopian communist, as redefined by the New Left.

SB: In your text you describe this nihilism as pseudo-biological values substituting for the historical ones.

DS: Exactly. For they are not truly biological, as I was saying earlier that 90% of what is inside us is not biological. I don’t have much to add to this text; probably today I would define more accurately what I meant by nihilism, but in first approximation it may be OK. I wrote somewhere that political economy, including politics pivoting on political economy, is our version of the Greeks’ ananke, destiny. As you know in Greek tragedy destiny decides what will happen, that Oedipus must do this and that, and there is no escape from it. Our version of it is probably pretty near to the Greek one, but where the ancient Greeks said destiny we say political economy. It is what the actantial system calls the Mandatory, the supreme power which determines your world. I think that even the Marxist concepts of political economy describe a horribly alienated way of life. Of course, in order to change it, you have to first describe it. But in order to describe it well, which is from a value-based point of view, you have to have lot of doubts about it – as Marx had. You simultaneously posit and deny, a tough thing to do formally.

SB: Can you tell bit more about your concept of cognitive estrangement, how it is related to knowledge and politics?

DS: Brecht said once, in his optimistic phase before Hitler, that he wanted to make his audience into an audience of statesmen – in other words, people who are able to build and rule a State (there are astounding parallels between him and Gramsci, unbeknownst to both). We should today add to these people who know how to build a State also people who know how to keep and maintain this State as a non-State, a dialectical democracy from below. But Brecht was not so far wrong. What he meant is roughly similar to Lenin saying (in his fiercely utopian State and Revolution) that every cook, svaka kuharica, which is female, is going to be able to rule the State. In other words Brecht and Lenin take the plebeian society or classes and believe they can do what was the prerogative of rulers, which is to know how collectively to rule and maintain the State or a society. How do you do that? You must learn a lot, about finances, about military matters, about psychology, etc, which the ruling class knew, in their own brutal and imperfect ways. You cannot say that Disraeli or Bismarck didn’t know how to rule. But we are talking about different kinds of learning and knowing. For plebeians or proletarians, to know how to rule is, if you boil it down to a minimum common denominator, to make people willing, interested, eager and able to learn by saying that what exists now is not the only possibility. So this is cognitive estrangement. For example, to see that what exists as State is not what it seems it is but is a machine of exploitation, or a killing machine. It is maybe a very rough kind of estrangement, but still it is an important estrangement. Basically today the State is two things: a machine for extracting money out of the ruled in favour of the rulers, for keeping and maintaining this exploitation and killing of people, and a killing machine; it kills people in prisons or in the wars. Marx somewhere says that each government has two basic departments, the army and the finances. That is, how to extract money from people and then how to dominate them and other people by means of moneys you have extracted from them, which is by an organized army. That is true for any State that ever existed.

SB: So cognitive estrangement is to rethink about the world where we are living in.

DS: Yes, to rethink, not only conceptually but also sensually, to see anew and to understand what you see something as (this is what the mature Wittgenstein was about). I arrived to this through defining science fiction. I disliked the adjective scientific, a futurological function, which was in the West identified with militarism – science and futurology work for the army. And in the East it was identified with a Stalinist type of pseudo-Marxism, which was also supposed to be a science. In both cases there was a 19th-century view of science that I disliked, which is this asymptotic arrival at absolute truth or certainty instead of situatedness. So cognitive, as adjective of understanding, suited me better than science as describing estrangement. It refers to a process, as cognition which has to be gained. But science usually meant something which already exists, and we had to apply it successfully. And the Stalinists added that only the stupid bourgeoisie thought science was confined to natural sciences; whereas we know also that there is the social science of Marxism.

SB: What you explain is part of your two horizons, Einstein and Lenin…

DS: Yes: Einstein with Marx as precursor, and the best Lenin, which is the Lenin of State and Revolution.

SB: Is communism a horizon for all utopologists?

DS: Yes and no. Empirically no, utopological stances span the whole political gamut, though most of it is somewhere on the Left. But if you want to be radically consistent, and you refuse the status quo, then it is the final horizon. However, let us be careful and first define what we mean by communism! I wrote an essay three years ago, which I haven’t managed to publish in English yet but should come out in Critical Quarterly, about the Janus nature of communism. There is the sense of Marx, Brecht, Bloch, Gramsci and the best Lenin, which I call C1; it is plebeian communism by direct democracy from below, the original Soviets. And then there is what was “really existing” communism as it ruled after the Russian, Yugoslav, Chinese, Cuban, and a couple of other revolutions, which I call C2; it is State communism by an elite (soon becoming a  bureaucratic oligarchy and a ruling class) from above, and this is  ambiguous: at first mainly liberatory, it grows into an alienated and corrupt form of C1. So what I am talking about here as a horizon, which means a final line when you look as far as you can, or as a Weberian “ideal type”, is C1. This communism as the coming about of de-alienation is of course the horizon of all utopologists.

SB: I found your text on Engels and Utopia very useful and interesting.[11]

DS: The essay on Engels is one I really like, I would today write it in the same way. It seems to me that I proved, at least to myself, that there is an unsaid part (a non dit, as the French say) in Engels, a blank where I put my question marks – if you remember – which falsifies his argument. I can understand why he and Marx were on the one hand very respectful towards people like Owen and Fourier, and on the other hand quite exasperated by their followers in practical politics of the 1840s. So, you have to say they were socialist, they were well-meaning, they had good insights, but they incorporated something that was insufficiently thought out. How do you call that which was insufficiently precise? Well, they called it as it was called by everybody back then in England, which is utopian, and it meant  being nowhere (u is no, topos is place), being up in the air. That to my mind is, if you read Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, a bourgeois definition of utopia. It is wonderfully put by Macaulay, great ideologist of England in 1820 and 30’s, he wrote the Indian Education Act, and so on: ‘An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia’. One is concrete and empirical bourgeois possession, worth a lot of money (London is in Middlesex); whereas the other is fumisterie, as the French would say, hot air. Well, this is very convenient from the bourgeois point of view: utopias are cobwebs in the mind, get solid possessions! But that totally denies the emancipatory potential of utopia, which is exactly put by Raymond Ruyer: ”les choses pourraient  être autrement, things could be different”. Thinking this way then, in Utopia you would have more than in Middlesex. You would have other and better things. Maybe you would not possess acres in Middlesex, but you would have use of the fruits of the whole country, plus solidarity with the other people who grow and use them. The whole Lockean tradition of knowledge and possession is turned upside down in the terms of utopia. This is the first point, that Marx and Engels had to find a bad adjective for Fourier and Owen, but not as being reactionaries and enemies, simply using a term available to them then that would describe them as not sufficiently “scientific”. However, there are two problems here, and beyond the bad definition of utopia there is also a bad definition of science. The bourgeois definition of science is perpetual progress in the asymptotic form; it is the science (both science of society and natural science) which led to – or gave no problems in being used for — Auschwitz, Hiroshima, today the bombing of Ukraine. I don’t buy this! That’s why I didn’t like to use word science, and instead used the wider term cognitive, referring to the striving to understand.

This procedure of splitting a single semantic concept into a good and bad pole was first used by Hesiod in Works and Days, so far as I know. Of course you could use the same Hesiodean procedure I used for communism also for science, and have S1 as wisdom and S2 as corrupt bourgeois positive truth which can be capitalised. I wrote an essay about that too, called “On the Horizons of Epistemology and  Science” (Critical Quarterly 52.1 (2010): 68-101; //onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8705.2010.01924.x/full). What does this procedure or stance basically imply? It implies that originally, in pre-class or lower-class or even liberatory intellectual semantics, there was a first usage and interpretation of the concept which was usable for de-alienation. Then in bourgeois or monopolistic capitalism, a second usage and interpretation came about, which was totally alienating and must be rejected if the human species is to survive barbarism. It is a historically well-known and most important development in semantics, in which for example sub-iectum, that what is below you and on which you base yourself, becomes the “subject” that looks at the now inert object; Williams has several more such examples in his wonderful Keywords.

SB: You mention also a heuristic aspect of this estrangement.

DS: I am very much taken by little games in psychological optic illusions, for example when you have a line which is put between arrows, and then you have same line which is put in reverse arrows. The lines seem longer between reverse arrows though they are exactly identical. If you extrapolate this to the huge illusions we are living in, then heuristic is to say “take a centimetre measure and you will see that they are the same.” This is heuristic to my mind: take a value system, measure by it, and you find X.

SB:  What about your novum? In your chapter ‘SF and the Novum’ from Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, in order to delineate the singular condition of literariness of a SF you propose a term novum as “differentia specifica” of the SF narration. You distinguish SF “by the narrative dominance of a fictional ‘novum’ (novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic.” This specific novelty of SF, as far as I understood, has one very productive epistemological effect, which keeps the notion of empirical (i.e. science) and the notion of fiction (i.e. utopia) as in some kind of strange irresolvable tension. Further, this tension and unfamiliar relation implies also certain estrangement through novum of SF.

DS: Well, we hadn’t yet got to turbo-capitalism which is full of fake novums every year. So what I later added to this text from my Metamorphoses of SF book, in an essay in Defined by a Hollow, is to again split it into the fake novum (continuous with the capitalist  status quo) and the true novum, radically different. As you may notice, I love such dichotomies, though I think that this could be refined. So it would be nice to have a reasoned typology of novums, I wish somebody would do it.

SB: In the reprint of your text in 2008 on defining the literary genre of science fiction (originally published in 1973) you add a new line concerning the discontented social classes. What was reason of this? The earlier text defines the literary genre of utopia as: “Utopia is the verbal construction of a particular quasi-human community where socio-political institutions, norms, and individual relationships are organized according to a more perfect principle than in the author’s community, this construction being based on estrangement arising out of an alternative historical hypothesis.” Now  you add: “it is created by discontented social classes interested in otherness and change, in it, difference is judged from point of view or within their value system”. How should we describe an interest of social classes in relation to the specific narrative of SF, which is novum? Is this an echo of Marxist thesis that class struggles are engine of history?

DS: The earlier definition was up in the air without any social anchoring, it was supposedly eternal rather than longue durée (a fossile remnant of scientistic universalism). The addition is in historical longue durée, “as carried by a discontented class”. It is not enough to say simply a discontented group, then you can have reactionary utopias as well. I read a number of them by Russian White émigrés, for they too can be discontented. It must be a sufficiently important social class to produce a viable ideology. In other words if we accept a socio-formalist vocabulary, I lacked the social part in first definition.

SB: From your ‘Memoirs’ on Yugoslavia: “In another place I hope to speak about the Communist Party vocabulary which on the one hand soon grew rather wooden but on the other had surprisingly spontaneous aspects.” What would you say about political slogans from the perspective of conceptual discussions we had until now (estrangements, novum, etc.), especially about slogans in Yugoslavia?

A: I never researched that in any systematic way. First of all I know of no collection of political slogans, there is no corpus of material on that issue, so that research still remains to be done; it may of course be difficult to collect this corpus. Second, I fear we would need  a rather elaborate theory on ideology and language in order to do this. So I personally won’t do any serious research about it. But I did remark on this issue here and there. For example in Samo jednom se ljubi I briefly discussed how the wartime (and later) slogan “Brotherhood and unity” (Bratstvo i jedinstvo) melds the French revolutionary fratérnité with the necessities of 1941, of countering murderous fascist and quisling chauvinisms in an extremely divided ex-Yugoslavia (not so dissimilar from today’s frozen exploitation). The brotherly unity has a connotation and a denotation – one can illustrate this with the old model of the atom: connotation is the nucleus, and denotations are all electrons dispersed around the core. Connotations in this case are Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Bosnians, Albanians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, all ethnic groups; and the denotation is that which can bring about the unity, which is nothing else but the Communist Party, an Aristotelian unmoved mover. It is a core which didn’t assert itself openly; throughout the whole NOB (Liberation War) there is no talk about the Communist Party, except in very confidential documents. There are three reasons for this: most Yugoslav communists were formed in illegal circumstances during the monarchist regime when communists would be shot at sight without further reasons; so they had that reflex of secrecy in order to survive. You have to read Krleža’s memoirs about meeting Tito in the late 1930s: it was in some village, veiled with mystery and precautions, Tito had a revolver in his pocket. The two other reasons were not to offend Stalin and the Western powers. I think this was a correct strategy until 1945/46, which afterwards turns to its opposite. It becomes what I call in my latest book abominable secrecy (mrska tajnovitost), meaning bureaucratic secrecy.

The French revolutionary liberté was present in the parallel slogan of “Death to fascism, liberty to the people” (Smrt fašizmu, sloboda narodu). Both of these are parallel constructions, much like the distichs in classical Chinese poetry, with identical syntax but variant — in this case strictly antithetic — semantics in the two halves. Thus, the unitary brotherhood fights for freedom (quite rightly not for égalité, which is both philosophically and politically dubious).

Or take the wonderful voluntary work brigades’ slogan at the Youth Railways 1946-48: “We build the railway, the railway builds us” (Mi gradimo prugu, pruga gradi nas)! Of course this establishes the ideal horizon only, people are always more complex than slogans; I was there in all three years; you can read it in my Memoirs. This is a full-fledged case of feedback, similar to what we were talking about earlier. It means that while people change and renew things around them, these things and doings change and renew the people who do them. All three slogans are strokes of genius. No doubt, some agitprop section staffed by (published or not yet published) writers first coined them, but those particular ones survived a kind of Darwinian selection to prove very durable memes. I wish I knew who imagined them.

As you rightly remarked to me, there was also the Partizan song “Padaj silo i nepravdo, narod ti je sudit zvan”, I well remember its mellifluous music. It has an especially good text, alluding to the Hvar Island revolt in the 16th Century, very Benjaminian (it can be found at http://lyricstranslate.com/en/jugoslovenske-partizanske-pesme-padaj-silo-i-nepravdo-lyrics.html). And yes you’re right, “Fall down thou violence and injustice, the people is called to be thy judge” is the program of NOB, both a national liberation struggle and a plebeian revolution. This whole matter of the Partizan cultural revolution by means of songs, dances, little theatrical sketches, and a lot of improvised printed leaflets with articles, poems, and even black-and-white drawings is now being investigated, for example by the excellent Slovene essayist Miklavž Komelj. It is the matrix within which the slogans of the time should be considered.

*          Copyright (C) Darko Suvin 2015

[1]          “Naši ‘socijalistički larpurlartisti’, kako ga više ne mogu, kao što su to ždanovci činili, nazivati formalistom, sada mu paradoksalno zamjeraju sociologiziranje, nedovoljni formalizam, neučestvovanje u ‘vječno-ljudskim’ problemima’.” Darko Suvin, ‘Paradoks o čovjeku na pozornici svijeta (praksa i teorija Berta Brechta)’, Forum: Casopis Odjela za suvremenu književnost Jugoslavenske Akademije Znanosti i Umjetnosti, 1965: 7-8, p. 586. (ed. note)

[2]            Tom Stoppard, Travesties, London: Faber & Faber, 1978.

[3]          “These ruptures in literary history takes place for reason that have nothing to do with chronology. No, the real point is that the legacy that is passed from one literary generation to the next moves not from father to son but from uncle to nephew”, Viktor Shklovsky, ‘Literature without a Plot: Rozanov’, Theory of Prose, Dalkey Archive Press, 1990, p. 189-190. (ed. note)

[4]          Darko Suvin, ‘Naučna fantastika i utopizam,’ Umjetnost riječi, 1963:2, pp. 113-115. (ed. note)

[5]             Paradoxically, all the lessons of Russian formalism without which we can’t begin making sense of action, belong here under the heading of materialism (albeit a partial and inconsistent, not yet a dialectical one). Formalism is the A and B of any integrally materialist approach to art, from which we should then proceed to C, D, and so on.” Darko Suvin, ‘Can People Be (Re)Presented in Fiction? Toward a Theory of Narrative Agents and a Materialist Critique beyond Technocracy and Reductionism’, Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, (eds.) C. Nelson and L. Grossberg, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. (ed. note)

[6]             “In the case of the arts, it is well known that certain periods of their flowering are out of all proportion to the general development of society, hence also to the material foundation, the skeletal structure as it were, of its organization. For example, the Greeks compared to the moderns or also Shakespeare. It is even recognized that certain forms of art, e.g. the epic, can no longer be produced in their world epoch-making, classical stature as soon as the production of art, as such, begins; that is, that certain significant forms within the realm of the arts are possible only at an undeveloped stage of artistic development. If this is the case with the relation between different kinds of art within the realm of the arts, it is already less puzzling that it is the case in the relation of the entire realm to the general development of society. The difficulty consists only in the general formulation of these contradictions. As soon as they have been specified, they are already clarified. … But the difficulty lies not in understanding that the Greek arts and epic are bound up with certain forms of social development. The difficulty is that they still afford us artistic pleasure and that in a certain respect they count as a norm and as an unattainable model”, Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, Translated by Martin Nicolaus, London: Penguin Books, 1973, p. 110 – 111. (ed. note)

[7]          Suvin, ‘Can People be (Re)Presented’, p. 667.

[8]          Ernst Bloch, ‘Entfremdung, Verfremdung: Alienation, Estrangement’, translated by Anne Halley and Darko Suvin, TDR/The Drama Review 15.1, 1970, pp.120-125.

[9]          “It is a beatific vision of the discontinuous flux of things, related to a consciousness of the limits of philosophical humanism and of the positive meaning of alienation. As such it is the horizon of all consistent nihilist estrangement”. Darko Suvin, ‘Reflections on Happenings’, To Brecht and Beyond: Soundings in Modern Dramaturgy, Brighton & Totowa NJ: The Harvester Press, 1984, p. 253. (ed. note)

[10]        Lee Baxandall, ‘Toward an east European Cinemarxism’, Politics, Art and Commitment in the Easth European Cinema, ed. David W. Paul, London: Basingstoke, 1983.

[11]        ‘”Utopian” and “Scientific”: Two Attributes for Socialism from Engels’ (1976)’, Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction and Political Epistemology, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2010.

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THE ECONOMICO-POLITICAL PROSPECTS OF BORIS KIDRIČ: A BETRAYED DISALIENATION (2011-14, 6,200 words)

Darko Suvin                                                                                                       (2011-14, 6,100 words)

 In this essay I wish to draw out the significance of Boris Kidrič’s approach to political economy and radical democratic perspective for the incipient socialism in Yugoslavia.1/ It was in a way decisive for the creation of the SFRY (as I shall for brevity call the whole period of 1945-89) as well as for its aporias – which also means for our glance at the horizons of that society, and what we can learn from them today. I start from the axiom that any intelligently argued emancipatory alternative is worth careful consideration, and especially indispensable today, in the age of a savage and misanthropic capitalism. Thus I am not here dwelling on my objections to some aspects, for example to the notion of „Socialism“ as a separate societal formation,2/ but on Kidrič’s horizons and his argumentation. His second major and most significant field of activity, that is, the organization and implementation of the People’s Liberation struggle and revolution in Slovenia by means of founding and leading the Liberation Front, shall remain wholly outside my purview. Therefore this first approach of mine to a largely forgotten figure does not pretend to a rounded off conclusion about the significance of the revolutionary and statesman Kidrič.

  1. I shall begin by focussing on Kidrič’s „Theses on the Economy of the Transitional Period in Our Country“ („Teze o ekonomici prelaznog perioda u našoj zemlji“), which appeared at the beginning of 1951. It can be inferred that the text was written at the end of 1950 as a summa of Kidrič’s experiences as the leading official in charge of economic policy in the Party and the government of Yugoslavia from the beginning of 1948. That period was one of a sudden turn from State to self-managing socialism, and he was one of the main champions of this turn.3/

The „Theses“ constituted a theoretical self-understanding for Kidrič – and most probably for a crucial portion of top members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) and the overlapping State leadership – and provided a basis for  significant action. The essay consists of four parts, each part having five to eleven theses. Bearing in mind the length of single theses, which – particularly in the first part – encompass two or three printed pages or 1000 words each, we would today probably call his work rather a „Tractate,“ in the wondrous Arabic and Jewish tradition reactualized by Spinoza and more recently by Wittgenstein (though Wittgenstein was probably unknown to Kidrič). The name of the genre is of course not essential, but one can feel in this text an oscillation between the tradition of brief theses and of an article. A second general characteristic and permanent method of Kidrič’s writing is a fusion of scientific argumentation, radical democratic-socialist horizons, and orientation towards immediate applicability. I shall limit myself here to a discussion of the first part, which is of fundamental theoretical importance; the other three parts are „Planning,“ „Prices,“ and „Money.“ The first part is untitled in the book but we might call it „General and Basic Considerations.“ I shall here follow the order of his theses, while at  times using some of Kidrič’s later work.

The first brief thesis begins with the definition of „a socialist enterprise” (poduzeće), an entity that acts „within the socialist commodity exchange… as an economic and legal individual under the legal regulations of the State of the working people (the dictatorship of the proletariat). These regulations ought to correspond to objective economic laws….“ (79) The single enterprise is here both an empirical and an axiomatic agent, “a fictive person” in burgeois legal jargon, important as the nodal point for action, yet acting only within a definite and defined frame or field of force in a polity. Already this first step is a decisive notional breakthrough, because it proceeds inductively from the working collective, that is, from below upwards, as opposed to the Soviet way of proceeding from the State apparatus of titanic central ministries and their branchings downwards. In other words, for Kidrič the socialist enterprise is no longer an object of State administration and State acquisition of accumulation from surplus work, which in the USSR took the place of profit. To the contrary, the enterprise is the subject of creating income for the whole society, within which accumulation is still its largest part, withdrawn by the State for the purpose of planned distribution.  The accumulation itself is not determined by the State a priori but to a large part a posteriori: it depends on the success of the enterprise’s work and is defined by a prescribed percentage of State withdrawals. The enterprise’s success thus does not increase the percentage but only the total size of the accumulation withdrawn (cf. Lipovec 269-70). This represents the axiomatic or fundamental stance of orientation towards the popular initiative from below (as in the wartime Liberation Struggle) as against the Stalin-type command system of monocracy from above (odinonachalie). Kidrič situates Yugoslavia within the horizon of plebeian creativity as an alternative to the horizon of command power (Gramsci would have called this set-up a hegemony based on consensus rather than on naked coercion).

The field of societal forces within which the enterprises’ self-initiative operates is „socialist commodity exchange,“ discussed in Theses 1.2 to 1.6. It proceeds as regulated by a State that Kidrič has no qualms in calling „dictatorship of the proletariat.“ This was rather unusual among the CPY leadership of the time, as the term was backgrounded in the Popular Front strategy before, during,  and immediately after the war. It testifies to Kidrič’s deeper understanding both of Lenin and of the history of Soviet struggles after Lenin’s death, within which Stalinism arose. This is to my mind an indication that he was striving for a democratic communism led by a vanguard, and not at all for a „market socialism.“ Be that as it may, for Kidrič socialist commodity exchange flows out of „objective economic laws“ and is seen as the best realistically available variant of material life in „the State of the working people“ as defined in postwar Yugoslav practice and theory. Socialist exchange is opposed, as Kidrič constantly stresses, not only to capitalist commodity exchange but also to Soviet-type totalized administrative planning which pretended to do away with commodity value. It had however become manifest that the liquidation of commodity exchange led not only to violent oppression and exploitation of the working people, but also to poor results in production: to shortages of goods, their abysmal quality and limited variety, etc. (80-81). The USSR example shows that „State socialism,“ after its initial necessity immediately after the revolution, necessarily grows into „the strengthening of a privileged bureaucracy as a social parasite, the throttling… of socialist democracy, and a general degeneration of the whole system,“ so that there comes about „ a restoration of a specific kind… a vulgar State-capitalist monopoly“ (84).4/ In other places, as in Kidrič’s long article „On the Drafts of the New Economic Laws“ („O nacrtima novih ekonomskih zakona,“ 116-42), he explicitly stressed that the Yugoslav experience in the years 1945 to 1950 was of the same type: it was then still necessary „to throttle the law of supply and demand as well as the law of value.“ It is clear now that these laws, though being „an avowed remnant of the past,“ must necessarily operate, albeit within the limits of societal planning, on the „present-day level of material productive forces, which is relatively still very low“ (Socijalizam 124).

At the same time Kidrič manages dialectics well and does not shy away from the inner contradictions of his system.5/ Both “the socialist enterprise” and “the commodity” represent, on the one hand, societal property as against private property, first as “socialist State property, and then increasingly as all-people’s property managed by freely associated direct producers, only under [general] control and protection of the State“ (80). On the other hand, within this large novelty there exist four „elements of the past“ (or „remnants of capitalism,“ 82): „commodity exchange as such”; the “socialist enterprise as an economic and legal individual“; „economic measures of a State-capitalist character in the socialist sector“ (which he however holds to be transitory and optimistically believes are on the whole subsiding); and „the appearance of the socialist State and its enterprises on the world market“ (80-82). It should also be stressed that he clearly characterized the accumulation taken (taxed away) by the State as the „alienated“ part of the surplus labour, and defended it as unavoidable at a time of primitive accumulation. All the same, here as well as later, Kidrič stresses that „The law of value and commodity production still bear within themselves the danger of some tendencies towards restoration“ (113). Kidrič meant here primarily a restoration of capitalist relationships, but he was quite clear in his own thought, and made quite clear to his readers and in his policies, that dangers could also nestle in the federal administration and that of the constituent Yugoslav republics. This understanding and contemning of “restoration” was later accompanied by the harshest attacks on Stalinian „bureaucratic counter-revolution, which anti-dialectically denies that within the socialist sector itself… there necessarily exist contradictions and a struggle between the objective… elements of the capitalist past and the communist future“ (128). He even postulated that „the economic and societal role of the Soviet bureaucratic caste  was quite similar to the role of the capitalist class“ − if the role played by the USSR rulers was not worse (230). A position so radical was rare in Yugoslavia, and it was totally forgotten after the leaders of CPY were reconciled with Krushchov in 1955.

His conclusion from the first five theses in part 1 is

Socialist commodity exchange is… a dialectical contradiction valid for a given time in the transitional period between capitalism and communism.” And further: „It appears as the basic inner contradiction of the whole societal economy…. It certainly gives rise to contrary interests but does not necessarily lead to class antagonism.” (82-83, italics by Kidrič)

Thesis 1.6 then discusses the character of an „economic association” of enterprises that represents a „higher association of the producers” and comes about by transferring certain rights of the enterprise to the association’s “planning and operative administration.” And Thesis 1.7 proposes, very radically, that the State can immediately begin a transfer of certain planning and operative rights to the enterprises through such „higher associations.” In Thesis 1.8 this is articulated, in what Ernst Bloch would call a perspective of concrete utopia, as the possibility that such an association „covering an entire economic branch in the whole of Yugoslavia” could be run by a super-ordinate or highest workers’ council elected by the lower councils of the local “higher associations.” This highest council of the whole branch „would consist of the workers from the enterprises; the only payment would be given to its chairperson with a small apparatus of two to six people…” – presumably specialists hired for planning and coordination purposes. Each full or highest branch association and its council would, on the one hand, be subject to the general rules of the State organs nominated by the Federal Assembly, and on the other hand, the branch association would have the right and the duty to participate in the „federal councils for individual economic branches [the equivalent of ministries, DS].” (87). In a later article, Kidrič defends this hierarchy of plebeian democratic authorities by citing at great length the measures, documents, and rules of the Paris Commune of 1871 (148-52).

As far as planning is concerned, the „Theses” insist at length on the necessity of only basic planning on the federal scale and level, that is, the determination of some key economic proportions for distributing resources among branches and regions, while the micro-planning is left to the enterprises and their higher associations on the basis of the market’s law of supply and demand. Kidrič broaches here the whole problem of „market socialism” which was to become dominant in the 1960s and later − unfortunately bereft of his careful framing within a plebeian and planned horizon. He  insisted, however, that even the basic planning ought to be speedily de-etatized, so that the branch associations and their articulated organs „gradually grow from purely State organs into mixed ones with the participation of direct representatives of associated producers“ (90). In a lecture from 1951, he foresaw that the State − the federal government − would then immediately leave 50-70% of investments to the planning by direct producers and their associations (104): the same percentage was aimed at by the apparently sincere but lukewarm proponents of the 1965 socio-economic reform (such as Kardelj and Bakarić).5/

The macro-economic independence of enterprises was accompanied by a second permanent novelty that characterized the history of socialist Yugoslavia, the micro-economic division of salaries into a fixed component − that is, the mandatory part which corresponds to the minimum use of productive capacities − and a variable component, which is proportional to the rise of labour productivity up to a federally-fixed maximum (in percentage of salary, 105). Within such given parameters, salaries are not fixed by State regulations but set by the enterprise itself − through the workers’ councils system Kidrič was just introducing − as a function of their sales, where the prices are again (within given limits and regulations) determined by each enterprise. This new way of operating led at the beginning of the 1950s to an exceptionally high rise of production and productivity, and the competition among enterprises led also to lower prices. However, this could be managed only by technologically better equipped enterprises, which led to a quest for better technologies; to this end, Kidrič introduced a new „Law on Inventions and Technical Perfecting“ (cf. Puharič), a policy that ingloriously perished in the ‘60s in favour of uncontrolled import of foreign licences.

Within the enterprises tensions lessened between the director, nominated by the municipality, and the workers, since the management and the workforce had more interests in common. Historically speaking, the division of income into a fixed and a variable component was potentially a step towards abolishing the exploitative wage relationship. In fiscal terms, Kidrič‘s system meant passing from direct (that is, administrative) financing by the State to lending, to a system of credits. All of these actions opened the door to additional processes and further contradictions that characterized the Yugoslav economy from that time on.

In his Theses and policies, Kidrič envisaged a synergy of two processes. The first one, thoroughly discussed in his Part 2, is to continue the centralized planning of certain basic proportions, starting from the necessity of „a single centralized plan“ for the country (91), but a de-etatized or democratized one (a detailed project is in Thesis 2.11). The second process is to use within such a centralized plan the good aspects of the markets which possess, within limits, the capacity of automatic adjustment between supply and demand, that is, of correcting the planning errors. Should the overall plan not be fulfilled, „be it because of newly arisen conditions, or because of a low degree of consciousness in the working collective, or because of still slack socialist relationships,” the central administration might introduce supplementary planning instruments. However, their „every detail shall have to be minutely justified,” with a right of appeal by the direct producers, to be adjudicated by mixed panels of the two parties, panels required to consider both the appeal and the mandatory justifications by central administrators of their supplementary instructions (106). The mixed top Councils with a strong participation by the direct producers and all such attendant proceedings were however never instituted; instead, the economic instruments, proportions, and regulations were arrived at without public participation, by means of behind-the-scenes struggles between the federal and the republican powers.6/

The conclusion of Kidrič‘s first part in Thesis 1.9 clearly sums up his main thrust:

It is necessary to introduce as soon as possible workers’ councils in each economic branch for the whole of Yugoslavia…. Without introducing at the same time centralized and democratic association of working collectives, that is, of the direct producers, the decentralization of operative management away from the State does not lead forward but leads inexorably back to State capitalism—in fact, to several State capitalisms [in the republics] which would be particularistic in relation to the whole [of Yugoslavia] and bureaucratic-cum-centralist towards below, in relation to the working collectives. (88)

A few months later, this was supplemented by the general statement that the discussion on the economic system deals with the basic question „of exploitation of man by man in… the system born of the socialist revolution, that is… who disposes of the surplus labour − and behind this questions sooner or later the even more fateful one arises of who in fact appropriates the surplus labour” (122).

Beside using a kind of bridled law of value, an initial development of „socialist societal relationships needs,” Kidrič insisted, „two more matters.” First, all levels of the SFRY had to respect and adopt “at least some elements of management by the direct producers of the basic productive means,“ and second, the society had to incorporate deeply “at least some elements of socialist democracy in the content and character of power” (128-29 − I speak further to his political and class stance in ”Diskurs” and a forthcoming book). Kidrič proceeds also to the important category of monopolism as the most dangerous enemy of socialism, strongly denying it is identical with a planned economy but educing it from „a blind empiricist adoption of Soviet practice,” and even deeper from „monopoly capitalism… brought to a peak in Soviet bureaucratic centralism“ (70; on monopolism − especially as exercised by the banks! − cf. 229). Socialist democracy is for Kidrič „most deeply connected with… the process of abolishing monopolies“ (200-01). I assume the category of monopoly was borrowed from Lenin’s Imperialism, where it plays a major role not only as the hallmark of that phase of capitalism but especially as a source of blockage and decay in economy. „The socialist democratic rights of the direct producers“ cannot at all be reduced to territorial self-government (Kidrič 201); for them “basic is − the right of the working masses to self-management at all levels of socialist State power” (221-22). It might be remarked that integral dismantling of monopolies, in particular, cries out for further development, but  Kidrič was not granted time for it.

These propositions by Kidrič were deeply prophetic for the future and fate of SFR Yugoslavia. The disposition of surplus labour was clearly the central societal and political problem in the development of workers’ self-management, and of socialist democracy from below. I do not see how, even today, both the rise of republican State capitalisms and the need for a strong interaction between self-government in production and in civil society could be formulated more clearly and pithily.  Thus, the failure to adopt Kidrič’s bedrock principles of democratic socialism and its planning led by steps to decentralization without democratic association of working collectives, „several State capitalisms” in the republican mini-fiefs, economic failure, and finally to the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the horrors of the Yugoslav Secession Wars.

  1. After Kidrič‘s death, his approach to planning and in general to the economic system was forsaken. It was in force from September 1951 to 1954, less than three years. In my view, Kidrič‘s insistence on a single centralized plan of developing Yugoslavia, in constant feedback with the direct producers, was fully right, whatever additions and corrections would need to be incorporated into it by experience. Like all proper cognition and science, Kidrič‘s system possessed built-in possibilities for self-correction (cf. Lipovec 273 i 275). Without such a plan (which is the central, potentially fertile project of all communist economic horizons), Yugoslav economy necessarily found itself in a blind alley. Jettisoning democratic de-alienation of socio-economic structures in favour of incompatible stresses on profit and on full employment exacerbated friction between the federal centre and the republics and finally led precisely to that economic and political anarchy that Kidrič proposed to avoid.7/

PHOTO: Boris Kidrič, Kočevski Rog (Spring 1944)

kidric

 In SFRY Kidrič‘s set of proposals and horizon, clear in the “Theses” and other cited works, did not have time to be tested and developed in practice. To the contrary, the dark alternative which he so well foresaw came into force. Kidrič‘s detailed counter-proposal formulated very clearly, at the beginning of the Yugoslav self-managing trajectory, the overriding need for an integral self-government as not only an economistic or productivistic measure but as a political and organizational one. As opposed to local self-government and self-management in production, victory fell to the conservative current in the Communist Party and the power centers, which brought about an ossified oligarchic monopoly in politics and a slow but sure de facto (and at the end also de iure) return to the capitalist profit principle. An atomised self-management confined to the ghetto of  basic enterprises − which had even so raised great hopes and at its beginning been an essential factor for great economic successes in SFRY − had  by the latter 1960s become a minor economic sop to working people in compensation for their disempowerment, for the denial of effective and permanent democratic control from below. SFRY thus fell prey, in spite of all the difference between it and the USSR, to a variant of Brezhnevian stasis, leading to an equally inglorious end.

After Kidrič, there remain some cognitions to be treasured and some open problems. I shall mention only one, which appeared also in the USSR and PR China after the revolution and coming to power of the communist party, so it might be a central one. In all Leninist revolutions, the mainspring for the great majority of participants was the slogan with which the Italian partisan song Bandiera rossa ends: “Evviva il comunismo e la libertà!” (Long live communism, long live freedom!) In the Yugoslav popular uprising this mainspring was encapsulated in the omnipresent slogan „Smrt fašizmu–sloboda narodu!“ (Death to fascism, liberty to the people!). For communism as liberty for the people, the post-revolutionary system clearly had to break down the hypocritical sundering of (officially) water-tight compartments of economics and politics. The huge concentration of economico-political power ensuing upon  Party/State control of the economy was initially necessary both for a revolutionary conquest of power and for the material reproduction and development of a backward society. But how was that seizing of power to be harmonized with a political democracy that would not be a fraud in the interest of the ruling class − as is mostly the case in indirect (parliamentary) democracy and more or less in all “socialist” imitations of such parliamentarism? How might a revolutionary movement avoid the fateful split between communist theory and practice, or between communism and the plebeian democracy it was supposed to usher in (cf. Lenin’s State)?

I mentioned earlier that Kidrič quickly arrived at the central question which will incessantly plague SFRY and any other would-be socialist polity: „who in fact appropriates the surplus labour”? In Marx’s terms, we are speaking about de-alienating the real decision-power about central questions of life in society, about their quick and decisive transfer into the hands of a fully articulated vertical system of associated producers (which Kidrič strongly urged). In China, for example, there were serious discussions during the 1960s and 70s and before Deng’s turn towards capitalism − that is, just before and during the so-called Cultural Revolution − about the expropriation of the workers’ decision-power and their surplus labour by the commanding political heights. Even more important, on the agenda was the structurally perhaps deeper problem about the incompatibility between the interests of working people and the oligarchic management of economy within which the reproduction of capital still reigns. In Leninist terms, the question is: should the revolution, made in the name of the proletariat and led by the communist party, only carry out the failed bourgeois revolution while topping it up with a dispossession of the bourgeoisie – that is, by abolishing private exploitation – or does this revolution have deeper aims? Does not the first alternative, in conditions of economic and cultural backwardness, usher in a new type of etatist exploitation and alienation? Is socialism only an economistic and productivistic alternative to bourgeois society or is it also a cultural alternative in the widest sense of this term − the coming about of a different relationship between people as well as of people with nature? Does the revolution lead to a new Leviathan or to the replacement of Leviathan with a society of all-sided citizens as Marx imagined it?

Decisive for these processes are depth economic and psychological currents that can be theoretically identified as the “law of value” and an economy based on commodity exchange. Kidrič was without doubt the pioneer of a protracted discussion about these processes in SFRY, which in the decades after his death came to no satisfactory conclusion. The theoretical and highly practical question remains: does Marx’s opus equate commodity production with capitalism, or does commodity production, once begun, continue forever, that is, after capitalism too? In SFRY theoretical thought there were conflicting stances about this question. One group, the official view whose main spokesmen were Edvard Kardelj and, among social scientists, Miladin Korać, held that Marx does not criticise commodity production per se but only its capitalist „form,“ so that a socialist political economy whose object is „socialist commodity production” is possible. A second group, mainly composed of Praxis collaborators such as Gajo Petrović, Vanja Sutlić, Ljubomir Tadić, and Žarko Puhovski, held that in a truly Marxist analysis only a socialist critique of commodity production, as well as a critique of political economy, is possible. I hold that in a careful Marxian analysis, and in fact, capital is not merely an economic category but a given historical way of producing a human community and its metabolism with nature − the regulative principle of a specific way of life. That capital has been taken to be only an economic category flows out of a historically unique constellation, a hegemony of capitalist thought in which it is believed that “the economy is not a means for developing other human activities; on the contrary, other human activities become a means for developing the economy“ (Divjak 67). Thinking in dialectical opposition to such hegemonic ideas leads to the realization that socialism is not a historical epoch on a par with capitalism or feudalism but a transitional period (which may last for generations) between exploitative capitalism and communism – with communism defined, following Marx, as a society putting into effect the full slogan, Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!”, emphatically including “to each according to her needs.” If this is correct, „socialism is simply the historical practice of communist interventions into material and productive [as well as moral and imaginative, DS] presuppositions of the bourgeois world“ (Divjak 13).

We cannot know of which camp the realistic Marxist and statesman Kidrič would approve. He was certainly for the horizons of the second camp, but also for a realism of transitional measures which the first camp often advocated (or took as an excuse). Still, I finally hold that theoretically the first group’s stance is untenable, since for a Marxian commodity exchange is not at all simply a legal or technical activity but a way, as Kidrič understood, for people to live together that determines their lives.8/

Notes 

1/ Biographical note: Boris Kidrič (1912 – 1953) was born in Vienna as the son of the prominent progressive Slovene academic and literary critic France Kidrič. In 1953, he died of leukemia in Belgrade. In this short span, he achieved two major historical feats. First, he organized the liberation of Slovenia through underground and then increasingly partisan struggles. Second, he was the main driving force in creating and outstanding theoretician of the modern Yugoslav economy, in which he was the main theoretician and practical introducer of the Workers’ Councils..

Kidrič became in his late teens a member of the illegal and harshly persecuted Communist Party of Yugoslavia and soon rose to be one of the leaders of SKOJ (League of Young Communists). He studied in the 1930s for a time in Prague but mainly devoted himself to underground work in his country, during which Tito picked him for one of the inmost circle of leaders for the small but agile and increasingly influential C.P., and assigned him to work in Slovenia. During the Italian and German fascists’ occupation of dismembered Slovenia after April 1941 he became the secretary of the C.P. of Slovenia and the chief organizer of the Slovene underground resistance. He became the leader of the  Liberation Front of the Slovenian people, forged together with a number of other patriotic groups and party fragments. Operating underground in the city of Ljubljana under his political guidance, the “Osvobodilna fronta” became probably the best organized European city resistance, the chief of Security and Intelligence being his wife Zdenka. Following this crucial role in the antifascist liberation struggle in Slovenia between 1941 and 1945, he was between 1945 and 1946 the first Prime Minister in history of the independent Slovenian Republic within federal Yugoslavia. After 1947, he was called to Belgrade as the chief responsible for the creation of Yugoslav economics, and became a member of the CPY Politburo in 1948.

At his death, Djilas rightly called him “the most daring mind of our revolution.” In 1959, a large monument was erected in his honour in front of the Slovenian Government Office in Ljubljana, where it still stands despite some protests.

Of his four main achievements in life, the theory and the practice of liberation struggle in Slovenia and of socialist economy in Yugoslavia, this essay deals only with the theory of the latter.

 2/ See Suvin, “Death,” and my forthcoming book on SFR Yugoslavia, in particular the essay „15 Theses.” In that book I treat at length notions such as “the working people,” also the work of the Praxis periodical.

I have not been able to check the Slovene edition of Kidrič’s essays and so do not know whether the Serbo-Croatian or the Slovene variant was the „original.”

Unless otherwise indicated, citations in the text are by number of page in Kidrič’s Socijalizam (1979). Where there might be confusion, I repeat Socijalizam.

The term „republican“ denotes here, following SFRY practice, the six federal republics.

My thanks for help to get texts to Srećko Pulig, Matko Meštrović, and Marko Kržan, and for discussion to Richard D. Erlich.

2/ At the time of Kidrič’s first works on economics in 1946-47, on pp. 1-54 of his Socijalizam.book, the only and unavoidable set of sources for ideas on „building socialism“ was a one-sided interpretation of Soviet experiences (see on this Stalinist context Bilandžić 95-131). The official theory of Soviet practice (after Lenin) held not only that the State plan determines prices, salaries, and quantities of produced goods; this theory also implies that politics can more or less fully determine economics. Under Stalin this − never argued − voluntarism was equated with the abolition of commodities and all possible exploitation. The only exception on the Left to such theorizing was Oskar Lange’s On the Economic Theory of Socialism in 1938 (which Kidrič may not have known). Very early on, Kidrič began modifying the Stalinist traditions; nonetheless in the speech at the Fifth Congress of CPY in 1948 he still claimed that „there is no surplus value in the socialist sector [the State-run enterprises]“ (O izgradnji 24). His works from that period are of interest because they point not only to key issues in the social history of the SFRY and USSR – and beyond  – but also to the gigantic turn in Kidrič’s stance, which he swiftly and radically effected in 1948-49.

3/ I leave by side here the vast, and to my mind inconclusive, debate on the real economic character of USSR after the victory of Stalinism. For this article it suffices that Kidrič correctly identified both the economic and political consequence of the Stalinist system.

5/ Kidrič’s stress on the central role of contradictions within socialist development itself precedes by seven years Mao Zedong’s speech on „contradictions within the people“; to my mind, Kidrič‘s treatment is deeper though less systematic. Mao’s two articles on practice and on contradiction from 1937 were at the time unknown in Europe.

6/ It should be added that in 1946 Kidrič formulated, as one of his first orientations in the capacity as head of the Federal Planning Commission, a very interesting ideal model for the dynamics of the republican economic development, having as its presupposition a socialist equalisation of per capita income in the future. It foresees that when the average income will in year N (its number is not specified) be tenfold as compared with a present base level, then the per capita income of all republics will be equal, which would mean that the income of for ex. Slovenia would grow 6.75 times, Croatia 9.5 times, Bosnia 13.25 times, and Kosovo 18.75 times (adduced in Hamilton 138-39, who cites Ekonomist no. 3-4 [1963]: 608-09). As I debate at length in my book, such a truly revolutionary horizon was sadly and foolishly forgotten after Kidrič‘s death.

7/ The early historian of SFRY Bilandžić allows that Kidrič took an important step by using „the socialist enterprise” as the keystone of his economic theses (instead of a small cog in the centralized machinery), but faults him for insisting on firm planning proportions that limit the enterprise’s independence (172-73). However economics is based on interdependence, and the end result of the jettisoning of federal proportions (which Kidrič wanted to be decided by panels where representatives of citizens meet with representatives of workers’ councils) has been demonstrated by the ensuing chaos in SFRY history. Bilandžić was a representative of a republican oligarchy, so that for him any federal organization or rule is automatically reactionary; this is dead wrong. The central problem was the degree of direct democracy to be achieved, for which was needed open confrontation between various socialist programs and teams. Only when this confrontation was repressed did the problem of federal centre vs. republics take centre stage.

9/ I have not found thorough discussions of Kidrič on economics, but a first approximation may be found in the well-balanced Milenkovitch 55-59 and 77-89, also in  Lipovec. Boffito rightly writes that he put into his anthology about socialism and market in Yugoslavia of nine essays between 1949 and 1967 three by Kidrič, „because he clearly had the main role in introducing the new economic system based on self-management“ (19 − see also 21-22 and 26-27).

Works cited

Bilandžić, Dušan. Historija SFR Jugoslavije: glavni procesi. Zagreb: Globus, 1978.

Boffito, Carlo. „Introduzione,” in his Socialismo e mercato in Jugoslavia. Torino: Einaudi, 1968, 11-49.

Divjak, Slobodan. Roba i revolucija: Marks, kritika političke ekonomije i socijalizam. Beograd: SIC, 1982.

Hamilton, Ian F.E. Yugoslavia: Patterns of Economic Activity. New York: Praeger, 1968.

Kidrič, Boris. O izgradnji socijalističke ekonomike FNRJ: Referat na V Kongresu KPJ. Beograd: [Borba?, 1948].

—. Socijalizam i ekonomija. Ur. V. Merhar. Zagreb: Globus, [1979].

Lenin, Vladimir I. The State and Revolution. www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/

Lipovec, Filip. „Nastanek dohodkovne mere v Kidričevem sistemu stopenj akumulacije.” Ekonomska revija br. 3-4 (1979): 265-79.

Milenkovitch, Deborah. Plan and Market in Yugoslav Economic Thought. Yale UP, 1971.

Puharič, Krešo. „Boris Kidrič o pomenu izumiteljstva in novatorstva.” Ekonomska revija no. 3-4 (1979): 325-30.

Sednice Centralnog Komiteta KPJ (1948-1952). Ed. B. Petranović and others. Beograd: Komunist, 1985.

Suvin, Darko. „15 Theses about Communism and Yugoslavia, or The Two-Headed Janus of Emancipation through the State.” (forthcoming in Critical Q).

—. „ Death into Life: For a Poetics of Anti-Capitalist Alternative.” Socialism & Democracy 26.2 (July 2012): 91-105.

—. “Diskurs o birokraciji i državnoj vlasti u post-revolucionarnoj Jugoslaviji 1945.-1974 [A Discourse on Bureaucracy and State Power in Post-revolutionary Yugoslavia 1945-74].” Politička misao no. 3 (2012): 135-59 and 4 (2012): 228-47.

Abstract

The economico-political writings of Boris Kidrič from 1947 to 1953 are analyzed to indicate their innovativeness as concerns democratic but firm socialist planning. using the market for correction only. His theory proceeds inductively from the „socialist enterprise“ basic unit and its working collective. Within  „socialist commodity exchange“ it creates income, of which the largest part will be withdrawn by State planning as „accumulation.“ The planning should very soon be done by interaction between citizen and workers’ councils’ democracy These are contradictions  which “bear within themselves the danger of some tendencies towards restoration.“ After his death, his ideas were forsaken and the disalienation they bore betrayed.

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POSTSCRIPT TO ESTRANGEMENT AND COGNITION (2014, 400 words)

Darko Suvin //strangehorizons.com/2014/20141124/1suvin-a.shtml, 2014


A brief addition to the early basic definition of SF as interaction of estrangement and cognition, stressing that it is in best cases done from the point of view and stance of dissident class/es from below.

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