For a Communist Clinic

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“By de-demonising the signifier ‘communism’- by asserting in Alain Badiou’s words that ‘from Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher'” [1]

The Red Clinic starts with a few individuals, analysts, psychotherapists, counselors, and listeners. All of us meet under the name of communism. We come together, share stories, and ideas and we create a space, a community. The Red Clinic starts with this opening, with a gesture of a decision. It begins with the radical political act of listening, on a road to liberation. But is a communist clinic possible? Is it necessary? What would it look like?

The collective of the Red Clinic is not attempting to reinvent the clinic. The task is more modest in its scope: Firstly, to reinterpret the symptom and its meaning. Symptoms are speaking, communicating. They have a story, we listen to them. Symptoms are not a “problem” of an individual, but concern us all, as a social and political reality. This is an attempt at reflection, critique, and refusal — resistance to pathologizing the political space, ourselves, and people that seek therapy.

Secondly, the aim is to reinterpret and perhaps rehabilitate the idea of communism, as it is one of the few emancipatory ideas so far. Questioning what it means to be communist in the current socio-political climate: What constitutes a communist clinic and what is in the signifier of communism? The central argument is that one way to “democratize” the approach to mental health is by decoupling it from the market logic predominant in the capitalist systems.

Finally, there is a task of questioning where just ideas come from, and with that the task of questioning the idea of communism itself. Undergoing a rigorous critique of ourselves and the idea, as Marx himself defined the task of “Self-clarification (critical philosophy) to be gained by the present time of its struggles and desires.”

What is the Red Clinic?

The Red Clinic starts with the simple idea that any individual in need of psychotherapy should have the possibility of accessing it, regardless of their social background and economic status. People should be able to speak without being charged “competitive market fees” to do so. It, therefore, seeks to create a space that is not regulated by the economy but is guided by its internal dynamic based on the individuals seeking help. The Clinic thus cuts into the social body, creating a space and slowly altering social bonds, producing a different discourse that can operate as an alternative to predominant modes of relating to each other in contemporary capitalist life.


There are two modes of operating within the clinic: One is the clinical work, psychotherapy, and analysis with individuals; the other takes the form of radical projects generally done in communities via working with other radical organizations.


The Red Clinic is not a charity. Philanthropy is often the other side of the ruthless exploitation of the capitalist system masked as a solution, even as it operates under the same master-slave dynamic and serves to diminish or hide the need for state and structural change.


The clinic does not propose that the only way to “fix” the world is via psychotherapy or analysis, nor that everyone should be in therapy. It is equally not an attempt to analyze the political space or turn politics into a subject for analysis. Politics and psychoanalysis should remain in dialectical tension, never fully merging, but equally inseparable.

The Status of an Idea


The idea is not something static in space and time, its potential is never fully realized. An idea can be used as a point of identification. It can be a catalyst for a conflict (as we have seen in many historical instances) — ideas can be dangerous. An idea can exist everywhere and anywhere, it is not bound to a particular space and time.


For Badiou, this “idea of communism” is not purely political, because it connects the individual and its subjectivation to the political procedure that transforms the political procedure into something other than itself (like a surplus that is created within the process). It is not purely historical as it lacks the political procedure. Historicity, as a process, also involves an irreducible element of contingency. Hence we cannot “think” it in advance. It is not purely subjective or ideological as the subjectivization acts as an “in-between” operation between politics and history — between singularity and its projection into the symbolic whole — and this procedure allows for the status of the decision to manifest.

What all these operations have in common is the subject(ivization), which I see as the activated subject or subjectivity manifested. This means more than simply being an individual. For an individual to become a subject means that they become implicated as a subject of truth.[2] It is not an automatic process. A subject becomes part of the political truth procedure via choice.


In the context of the idea of communism, subjectivation constitutes the link between the local belonging to a political procedure and the huge symbolic domain of humanity’s forward march toward its collective emancipation.[3]


The idea of communism denotes the synthesis of politics, history, and ideology — it is a process, an operation. It involves different temporalities and is dependent on the individual (becoming subject) implicated in the process of the idea.


To put it in Lacanian terms, the idea is in the domain of the real and it cannot be directly symbolized. The process of subjectivization is the operation that projects the real into the symbolic via the narrative that is the imaginary. History as the domain of the symbolic is constructed retroactively. As a narrative it cannot appear directly as symbolic, it is interpreted.


The communist idea is what constitutes the becoming-political Subject of the individual and their projection into History. The emphasis is on becoming — as a process, never truly finalized, nor reducible to any particularity that might constitute an idea. This is why it might be problematic to call ourselves communists directly, perhaps always becoming, implicated in the process of the idea of communism. In other words, the idea is the drive that activates something within us.

Another major problem to avoid is the reification of the communist idea in this case. As Dardot and Laval argue in their book Common: On the Revolution in the 21st Century [4], there is a tendency in contemporary theory to ascribe to external things or objects a certain essence that, on the one hand, would make the thing “real,” quantifiable, and, on the other, to install a prohibition of appropriation. The critical point here is to avoid viewing the idea as possessing some inherent properties, especially articulating them in economic terms. The act of treating an abstract idea as something concrete and tangible leads to its reduction and to the foreclosure of this radical opening that can only exist in its non-defined state held precisely as an idea. The challenge here is to hold an idea at a distance, never identifying with it. As the anecdote about a certain type of communist goes: The problem was not so much the lack of belief in the idea, the cynical distance, but the exact opposite, over-identification with the idea, reading it to the letter. In my view what we need today is a third space, between dogmatic belief and cynical distance. Could the two extreme positions produce a third space that holds the radical potential, without falling into the chasm of liberal-centrist political discourse?


The Red Clinic offers an opening for the political truth procedure via the connection of individuals, new links on a global scale, and strengthening the bonds in disenfranchised areas — areas with actual conflict such as Gaza, or places with conflicts generated by the system and market logic. However, creating these new links on its own will not automatically produce a new common. Equally, the Red Clinic must intervene beyond a mere economical solution — for instance, by offering free therapy and, with that, creating a semblance of a new common. Both these solutions standing alone can be seen just as the other side of capitalism, a half-solution provided by the system for the system itself to mitigate emerging internal antagonisms. I believe that there are opportunities in the contradictions produced by capitalism. These cracks in the system offer a possibility for a better (or worse) future. This possibility is always open, and it should be held as such.

Capitalism and Anti-Communism


Communism as a signifier is often linked to other “negative” signifiers and encounters resistance, doubt, and connection to the experience of the past, and history. This process was greatly accelerated by capitalist and anti-communist discourse, which is effectively intensifying other discourses that perpetuate inequality, racism, nationalism, homophobia, etc. It is on the side of colonialism and imperialism, on the side of the capital. Those advocating for low-cost housing (low-cost therapy) and demanding equality are named socialists — when did this become a slur, and when did this shift happen? Market logic and capitalism did their job well.


As Jodi Dean notes,


For anticommunists disorder is foreign — the refugee, the immigrant, the Black, the Muslim, the Jew. Anticommunists disavow the capitalist disorder of competition, markets, innovation, dispossession, foreclosure, debt, and imperialist war. We can also say that it’s disorder itself, disorder without cause, that anticommunists want to address — women out of place, sex out of place, gender out of place, sexuality out of place; the young and the poor, the black and the brown refusing to stay in their place.


There is another component to this logic, namely, the capitalist/anti-communist discourse functions on the level of affectivity. For it to work it has to address our desires and exploit them. This mechanism is then internalized and lives in all of us as a necessary byproduct of being initiated in capitalist society. We speak it, breathe it, eat it, and think it. We dream it.


This has numerous implications for the clinic, and I would argue that mental health is the domain of social class struggle par excellence. In the current climate, long-term psychotherapy is for the few (and wealthy), not the many. Considering that the capitalist system is generating instability in almost every aspect of our daily life and experience. What the majority suffering from mental health difficulties can hope for today is a prescription and perhaps a few sessions of therapy which have no other purpose but that of symptom management and reinserting the individual as a productive part of the capitalist society.


The alienation produced within the subject today is no different from alienation experienced in the past. As speaking beings we are always already alienated (divided) since the invention of language. There is nothing new here. But what is perhaps new is the shape this alienation takes under the neoliberal dogma, and the narrative it creates. This system transformed the social field into a fierce competition, be it with ourselves, or in relationships with others, which functions within the logic of continuous self-overcoming and performance.[6] It is everywhere, we are constantly measured by our apps, by our friends, partners, bosses, and our superego.


Another aspect of capitalist logic is the precarious position, because of the instability inscribed in the system as such. The system itself is based on crisis and in need of constant collapse and reinvention. Under capitalism, many are in precarious situations — patient and analyst alike. The struggle that is shared — the felt experience. Coupled with the neoliberal dogma that wants us to believe that we are responsible and the sole origin of our symptoms, with this logic we are also responsible to solve them. This is often adopted as the narrative of the clinic as well as the wider self-help culture that is ever more present as a “solution” to antagonisms created by the system. I think that there is no quick solution to this predicament, or that psychoanalysis alone can address the complexity of this situation. What I do believe is that sharing our collective experience, and witnessing each other, might be the first step toward an awareness of what is at stake.


Psychoanalysis and Populism


The chain of solidarity happens when many struggles come together under one single struggle against the predominant oppressor, one master signifier of class struggle under capitalism. In this way, all lives involved matter and are part of the fight, as opposed to the general neoliberal discourse, which fragments, isolates, and alienates individual struggles, and where very few lives matter.


The Red Clinic is internationalist and international, similar to the way Freud conceptualized psychoanalysis from the very start. He corresponded with colleagues everywhere, and in this dialogue, which was very much international, psychoanalysis was born.


The idea of free therapy is not new. Freud wanted to make psychoanalysis available to the working people. Free clinics operated in Budapest, Vienna, and other places.[7] This project was interrupted by the rise of fascist movements across Europe, but there is still a link that persists. I wonder whether psychoanalysis could become a public subject. Can we speak publicly about psychoanalysis? In Brazil and Argentina, for example, it is very much a part of the public discourse, whereas in Europe it is perhaps reserved for the private space of consulting rooms, mystified not known to the public. It is an elitist middle-class discourse, available only to the few that can afford it. There is another trap here —on one side, simplifying the psychoanalytic discourse, making it popular and populist, and, on the other, institutionalizing it, transforming it into an intellectual discourse, stripping away the radical potential.


To take a step back, there was another reason for the creation of psychoanalysis at a precise historical moment: the rise of populism in Europe. There is an anecdotal account of this moment in the letters Freud wrote to Fliess on his journey across Europe.[8] It so happened that Freud was visiting what would today be the Postojna caves in Slovenia. While descending to the bottom of the cave — which he describes as Dante’s Inferno — at the very bottom meets none other than Herr Dr. Karl Lueger, the burgomaster of Vienna who was also known for his populist politics and a major influence and an inspiration for Hitler’s Mein Kampf. This symbolic meeting of the two opposing tendencies articulated what is to come, the rise of fascism and psychoanalysis as its subversive underside.


The red clinic was conceptualized in the same way, sharing ideas, experiences, and practices between the UK, Slovenia, India, Brazil, and many other places, thinking an alternative response to current challenges. What is important is the idea of a globalized network of practitioners, as well as the conception of international dialogue, creating an image of globalized consciousness, including in this dialogue working people — precarious workers, jobless, people unable to work, the marginalized, the excluded and forgotten. If capitalism is organized and has an effect on a global scale, so needs to be the resistance and the rejection of exploitation. With a movement such as the Red Clinic and similar initiatives, we can begin to draw on the collective experience, creating a space for solidarity, but, equally, critically approaching our society and capitalism, looking for gaps, an opening, and building on the radical potential of resistance.


Short-Circuiting and Failures


Today it seems that there is no alternative to the current predominant capitalist system. In all its permutations it has been failing since its very conception. Yet, it seems that we find it impossible to conceive of a different world without it. I wonder why do certain ideas fail more than others and why do some ideas fail miserably. What constitutes a failure? And, more importantly for the task at hand, what do we mean when we say that all the socialist projects under the signifier communism failed? It begs the question of what kind of failure this is, a complete failure or rather a relative failure, that keeps on failing. Regardless of these interrogations, capitalism is regaining force and power in ever perpetuating systemic crisis, it does not grow weaker. “It is a crisis for capital, but not of capital.”[9]


As capitalism grows stronger, it seems that all the alternatives are weakened. Capitalism thinks about the circulation of capital and not of alternative ideas. On the other hand, the communist hypothesis was a central political hypothesis once and, as such, it has failed. But this failure or acknowledging the impasse within a political field does not mean that we must return to the previous system, the relationship of submission and domination or remain in the current relationship of servitude to capital.


Perhaps communist cannot be used as an adjective denoting politics as such — politics, that is, the state’s politics, that which has been re-interpreted or misinterpreted — at least not in the current socioeconomic constellation. History shows short-circuiting between the idea (the real) and its various interpretations, historical examples (symbolic) — communist state, communist party, etc. This could be interpreted as a problem with the imaginary field or in the process of interpretation itself, the translation of the real. Perhaps the development of the idea and its actualization is a long and contingent process that cannot be completed within a certain time frame, cannot be scheduled.


As I see the idea of communism, the most important aspect is allowing for the multitude of interpretations and use in the context of the clinic. The main emphasis is that of democratizing psychotherapy and the psychotherapeutic field, where it would be a fundamental human right to access psychotherapy regardless of class and social status. These are the postulates and guiding principles of the cause. At this stage it would be fundamental to interrogate the cause and the “dialectic of self-consciousness” also known as “the beautiful soul,”[10] and foster critical capacities to recognize our complacency, in other words, keeping the ego in check.[11] It would be very easy to achieve calm satisfaction knowing that we did our part in trying to introduce a social change and helped a few people in the process. To recognize this as an impasse, yet another failure, and put it to work.


Failures of socialist systems or any other systems and ideas, the impasse or the repetition of the failure is always an opening to move beyond it. The task is to reinterpret the meaning of failure as a sign of impossibility — to repeat, fail again, fail better.


Psychoanalysis of the Left and Right


It would be false to presuppose that if we get rid of capitalism or if we reestablish a form of “really existing socialism” that somehow the antagonisms (internal and external) would magically disappear. Conflicts and divisions are inherent parts of the unconscious. There will be different conflicts, perhaps a change of the relationship to the conflict as such. I consider the importance of understanding the necessity of the tensions between conflicting ideas, to learn how to hold the tension, as the vital energy that propels us forward. This would require a move beyond the predominant binary relationship, transcending “good” and “bad,” the ability to think multitude that exists within and around us.


As psychoanalysis is concerned, it cannot be reduced to “good” or “bad,” “left” or “right.” It is a practice and potentiallyholds all these different attitudes, depending on the position of the critique. However, it is a reflexive-reflective practice and, because of this, it is by default more left-leaning as an idea. Reflecting with another and critically evaluating positions — with this, action is collectivized, inscribed in the collective experience, which is different from reflecting alone in the vacuum of one’s convictions, beliefs, and fantasies. What happens in the analytic or psychotherapeutic relationship is precisely the willingness to be impacted within the relational dyad. However, this on its own is not enough.


What makes a certain practice “left” is the critical tendency in the analytic discourse and practice, informed by its inner critique. To be political does not mean to politicize the therapeutic space, but quite the opposite: It is the constant interrogation of one’s actions and unconscious processes so that, indeed, they do not intervene or take over the analytic space. There is no such thing as neutrality, and we do bring our politics with us wherever we go. The difference is that we are aware of it (to some extent), that we are working through contradictions and antagonisms, critically reflecting on the ideological space in which we are interpellated. Many imagine that they are neutral in their consulting rooms by proclaiming an apolitical stance. This is similar to saying that they are beyond ideology, able to see through and somehow magically avoid the ideological space. Attempts at neutrality start precisely with the awareness of the political and ideological space. Equally, we are inevitably part of this space and actively co-creating it. Working, thinking, and acting collectively is what defines the left.


But there is another side of psychoanalysis, it could be called the “right” side. Nina Krajnik, a self-proclaimed pioneer of Lacanian psychoanalysis in the Balkans — claiming the space of psychoanalysis as something that is reserved for a chosen few — has confirmed her candidacy for this year’s presidential elections in Slovenia.


In my view, her discourse is polarizing, antagonistic, and populist, which has been known since 2016 when she started an international initiative criticizing the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis founded by Dolar, Zupančič, and Žižek, calling the international psychoanalytic members to respond. She claimed that these are not “real” psychoanalysts, because they do not work in the clinic, although the society has the signifier “theoretical” in its very name and none of the aforementioned ever made such a claim.


Ironically, this initiative was founded on the premise that some of the movements and organizations in Slovenia are anti-democratic or non-democratic (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts — ZRC SAZU and Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis in particular). Krajnik aspired to democratize our society and fight against the mechanisms of exclusions.


This is an example of the discourse that claims its pseudo-neutrality — not on the right nor left. But precisely due to the lack of awareness, it becomes dangerous, polarizing, and excluding. Krajnik does not shy away from politics, however, by criticizing the left, portraying it as the problem. She disavows her actions, which she then ascribes to the other. When there is a refusal to speak about politics (not knowing anything about it), this is precisely what generates difficulties not just in the domain of transference (caused by the lack of awareness of fantasies), but, more generally, cutting into the social tissue, dividing and breaking.


The class struggle is not just out there, between different social classes, but equally exists within the psychoanalytic field. It has been internalized and permeates all aspects of society. There is no place free of class struggle and ideology. This is an important critical reflection and a continuous dialogue that the Red Clinic needs to be addressing if it wants to radicalize the space of discourse and the social bond it is creating. It is not a question of choosing either the political or the clinical space, but how to hold both equally and sufficiently, so that a third space can emerge, as a product of the two. This third space could be understood as the notion of the analytic third[12], a dialectical interplay between two or more subjectivities or ideas, which in return informs the latter two. When both spaces can coexist and develop, the process of co-creation between multiplicities is created. This is the central argument and meaning of the movement, namely to open up the space for multiplicity, avoiding traps of defining, limiting, and, with that, closing off possibilities.


Amongst many traps that have been identified, there is another which is symptomatic of the political and psychoanalytic field alike: the messiah complex or the “rescuer” position. Nina Krajnik is a perfect example: a psychoanalyst with the highest political ambition and a desire to make Slovenia a better place again.


Toward the New Commons


Whenever a shared space is created, a new organic and spontaneous social movement, we speak of commons — a new commonality and form of sociability. One such spontaneous event is the Brazilian public analysis that takes place in plazas, in remote indigenous communities — all dedicated to witnessing people’s suffering, sharing stories and experiences.


In this way, an internal dynamic is created, addressing power and alienation. With this, a new social bond is created via the discourse of an analyst as Lacan envisioned it, and this discourse can operate anywhere, not necessarily in the clinic alone. As Dunker pointed out, it can be a school, a hospital, or any other public space. The idea can be transferred anywhere, and the school can become a style of life, searching for this bond via subjective experiences and witnessing those events.


In today’s world full of uncertainty and of an ever-growing alienation that is a necessary by-product of capitalism’s mechanism of fragmentation, the need emerges for a new commons. It can be noticed everywhere — in Brazil, in the protests against the populist politics of Bolsonaro, in the UK after a violent break with Europe and worldwide as a response to the COVID pandemic. This new desire for organizing can also be seen as a symptom that was produced by the very antagonism of the system, by the historical social condition and the suffering connected to it. We should listen to this symptom.


Conclusions

We are tasked with bringing back the idea, disconnecting it from the predicates. The question is whether the clinic — far from the traditional political field of state and parliamentary politics — could rehabilitate what is in the idea of communism and what could be the new commons.


In the strict sense, the clinic is always political inasmuch as the personal is always already political (the politics of the real). The question is whether the radical potential can be mobilized — this potential that is an inherent part of experience. There is a radical underside (even in capitalism) and I believe that the Red Clinic happens whenever people are organizing themselves. As Parker in the conversation with Sublation Magazine said (reminding us of Marx’s ideas): “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces above all are its gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”


Our task, fundamentally, is to reinterpret the idea of communism and the commons, and, with that, to fail again, fail better.

[1] Costas Douzinas and Slavoj Žižek, “Introduction: The Idea of Communism,” in Douzinas, Žižek, and Lee (eds.), The Idea of Communism (London: Verso, 2010).

[2] Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis (London: Verso, 2009).

[3] Alain Badiou, “The Idea of Communism,” in The Idea of Communism.

[4] Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, Common: On Revolution in the 21st Century (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Elizabeth Ann Danto, Freud’s Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis and Social Justice, 1918–1938 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

[8] Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Fliess, The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, ed. and trans. by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985).

[9] Judith Balso, “To Present Oneself to the Present: The Communist Hypothesis A Possible Hypothesis for Philosophy, an Impossible Name for Politics?” in The Idea of Communism.

[10] G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Terry Pinkard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

[11] Lacan referred to the concept of the beautiful soul as the perfect metaphor for the ego which does not recognize his part in the disorder he sees in the world. Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Tavistock Publications, 1977), 70.

[12] T.H. Ogden, “The Analytic Third: Working with Intersubjective Clinical Facts” The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 75 (1994), 3-19.