Cursory notes by spitzenprodukte on the evolution of a memetic non-demand.
You hear it everywhere, these days, if you walk within a certain activist milieu. It’s a token demand, a given. FULL COMMUNISM- I wouldn’t get out of bed for anything less. It’s a joke, a dumb joke. It’s a communist meme. Like all good memes, it’s pretty much devoid of meaning, in terms of content. But its use denotes something else– a Zizekian uber-demand, a demand which goes beyond. FULL COMMUNISM is both a lack, in a very real sense, but also a pointed lack, its very meaninglessness a cry for meaning.
It started as an in-joke, like all memes. Its current status bears little or no relation to that first meaning; it was emptied of its content, and the original is now of little worth except as a badge of pride to those “who were there, who saw it, maaaannn”. Of course, “Full Communism” has a specific meaning within Marxian economics; it is the stage following the dictatorship of the proletariat, where all social needs are met. For Marx, Full Communism enables a man
“to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner… without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic”
That’s as maybe, but it bears little relationship to the development of the FULL COMMUNISM meme. The subject of our study first arose as a small meme within a UK-hosted libertarian-communist web forum, Libcom.org, on the board “Libcommunity”. For context, if Libcom.org was 4chan.org, the “Libcommunity” board would be its /b/ board. The initial in-joke revolved around a member of the board wearing a complete outfit of a single sportswear brand, Lonsdale— also known as “Full Lonsdale”. Through various changes, this early-stage meme shifted form; the basic unit of the meme was FULL (X). (X) could be replaced with any verb or noun signifying an ironic hyperbolic emphasis, with a touch of malice. For example, a group member exhibiting a desire to organize activists around a single position may have been called “FULL PLATFORMIST”. FULL COMMUNISM was a variant that perpetuated in memetic form because it contained that quintessential characteristic of a meme—it held resonance and could be used in multiple contexts.
In early 2011 the ultra-leftist propaganda group Deterritorial Support Group (DSG) were featured in an article for fashion and art website Dazed Digital, and stated their aims were “full communism with lulz as a transitional demand”. Perhaps it was just the timing, coming after the student protests and in the middle of the Arab Spring, or, more likely, the structural advantage of DSG as a twitter-facing, fast-traffic group, but it was at this moment that FULL COMMUNISM broke free of its origin-group, and transferred fully into the realm of “the memetic”. Tweetable, and, more importantly, easily hashtagged, the slogan became a recurring fixture first within the London/Brighton activist Left, before spreading outside the South-East of England and across the UK.
#Occupy, the worldwide movement based upon the spectacular seizure of public space, has started to build stronger links between activist communities worldwide, especially between the UK and the USA. Not only has this created a shared bond amongst those who share the #occupy/#ows/#olsx hashtag community, but also a shared bond between those who are involved in active self-exclusion from the #Occupy movement. As a rule (and I admit these are very broad brushstrokes) many of those who most fervently identify with #occupy, and who have the most longevity within the movement, tend to be relative newcomers to the loosely delineated political “scene”. They have created an impressive spectacle, and also, undoubtably, helped shift media debate within the mainstream press towards issues of social justice and “capitalist excess”. President Obama made a hat-tip to “irresponsible” capitalism in his State of the Union address, whilst David Cameron has also taken up similar rhetoric since the protests started in London in October.
It is this very rhetoric which the community around FULL COMMUNISM wish to distance themselves from. They tend to be activists who have been involved in political action for longer, and, rather than the slightly amorphous, undefined ideology of #Occupy, self-identify dogmatically on the anti-authoritarian left; anarchists, anarcho-communists, autonomists, Maoists and the ultra-left have all taken up the semi-ironic slogan. It has also transferred to similar online-communities operating the US, who operate a creative twitter practice indulging in the absurd and the fanciful, whilst utilizing a base level of formal Marxist rhetoric and political abrasiveness.
Despite utilizing the slogan to draw clear ground between themselves and the “fluffy liberals” who coalesce around the Occupy hashtags, I wish to posit a controversial stance on FULL COMMUNISM as a hashtag community: FULL COMMUNISM operates as a memetic non-demand; that is, its vital memetic resonance functions precisely because, as most successful memes, it is essentially contentless. FULL COMMUNISM pulls together a hashtag community around a cipher of radicalism, disguising the reality, which is that within that community there are no real political demands capable of creating a sense of political purpose. Like #occupy, it is a slogan or hashtag of will rather than a hashtag of intent.
It must be pointed out that the cultural position of FULL COMMUNISM is as a sincere irony; that is, it walks the fuzzy boundary between self-parody and real desire. Take a number of the following tweets, screengrabbed earlier today:
The tone of these tweets are almost always light-hearted; the slogan may be utilized to signify a pleasant physical or mental state, an escape from an unpleasant experience, or an angry retort towards a person (tweeter, politician or celebrity) who expresses positions not in line with the community norm. It’s a shared aspiration, in short, which binds those who use it into a sense of commonality or solidarity. Its very extremism, excluding those who either don’t “get the joke” or, more likely, are intimidated by it, forms a common bond. This “like it or lump it” form of distanciation, couched in multiple ironic layers, is also popular with philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who is fond of making statements such as “Communism! I am absolutely in favour of egalitarianism with a taste of terror”, or claiming to be a Stalinist.
So, what is the extreme position that FULL COMMUNISM signifies? Put sharply, it doesn’t. It’s a statement defined by what it rejects, and its meaning is in its lack, its absence. FULL COMMUNISM is the analogue of #Occupy, a way to draw together into a simulated community of political solidarity without having to develop a political programme. To actually begin to define the ambition would cause the fragmentation of the community; the ideas shared under the auspice of the meme would (and could) never constitute a programme for the meme. For those hoping to build programmatic political organisations, this is the total-limit of internet politics. But for those of us who see the recent uprisings worldwide as symptomatic of a new, networked political subjectivity, this ad-hoc, anti-programmatic community is an exciting potential.
Whilst the extant meaning of FULL COMMUNISM may be, indeed, meaningless, devoid of political content, it operates on the level of common bond built upon shared frustration. FULL COMMUNISM isn’t a united desire for a shared political position. Like #occupy, it’s a shared shout of “I’m fucking sick of this shit”. Unlike #occupy, however, it also holds an added threat: “I’m so fucking sick of this shit I have no desire to reform it. I want to go beyond. I want to fuck shit up”. FULL COMMUNISM is a meme with the potential for much more resonance in the coming months, a rapidly expanding spawnpoint for dissatisfaction.
As an addendum to this argument, I’d like to forward a brief point that I feel I implicitly touched upon in this essay, but that I think we should build on explicitly. This short article is, of course, lighthearted, but I think there’s a more interesting point lurking somewhere in here. If we accept that the internet is not just a space for organizing IRL political actions, but a territory of action in itself (as the actions of Anonymous and, more recently, the Anti-SOPA actions suggest), we should think about what sort of territory it is. The idea of a hashtag community is, I think, a potential for building effective, “weak” social ties, useful in swarm and hive practices. We should be aware of how a hashtag community operates as a public space; like, for example, the salons of 19th Century Paris, or town squares. They communicate a shared ideology which others take notice of. Some will pick them up straight away as the resonance with their own lived experience is so strong, others will hang around, listening to the arguments, following different discussions, making up their own minds. The term “trending topic” only touches upon the importance of the hashtag as public space; a trending topic doesn’t just reflect an idea, or news story, it perpetuates it. The politics of the movement not withstanding, #Occupy as a hashtag broke open new public space for a much-needed conversation. Once “cracked”, it enabled many thousands of people an access to a community already discussing important issues. We should not underestimate the power of a hashtag in social change.
Originally posted at the finest products on 26 January 2012