On “The Spectacle”


To try to combat some analytic tendencies and general practices that I find problematic, I’m going to discuss imperialist propaganda and the concept of the Spectacle. This will be a negative interpretation of the concept of Spectacle as an attempt to provide some clarity on what is meant by it and why the implications it gives can be problematic. I don’t, however, think that it’s necessarily a concept that shouldn’t be used – it has a lot of power in aphorisms, and I don’t see any reason to give that up wholesale. The discussion below will hopefully help with the use of the term among Marxist-Leninists. This will continue the string of posts applying psychoanalysis, which I hope prove useful even for those who don’t fully accept that discipline (or accept it at all). I also hope that people can see that this exploration extends to, for instance, an over-simplistic view on Walter Benjamin’s aphorism that “fascism is the aestheticization of politics,” as well as related ideals I see as epitomized by the analytic approach of the Frankfurt School. I want to show that politics, regardless of specific ideology, involves “aestheticizing” aspects and political expressions that can be taken to be “Spectacle” rather easily, and whether something is seen as “aestheticizing” or as a “Spectacle” is often determined by ego defense mechanisms rather than scientific analysis. I chose an image of some heroes of the DPRK enjoying a performance of the Moranbong Band with Kim Jong-un to make the point more immediate through its implied conflict with the title, although the point could just as easily be made by a picture of, for instance, the opening ceremony of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow or any communist military parade. (Honestly the reason I chose it is because I’m a big fan of the Moranbong Band.)

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A Contribution to the Understanding of Marxist-Leninist Leadership

Credit for the above image goes to @Foto_Comunismo.

An Introduction and Some Concepts

This essay is meant to make explicit and examine some psychodynamic aspects of the history of Marxism-Leninism and its leadership. This is something typically brought up by petty-bourgeois ideologists to psychologize promotion of communism, but an exploration that leads to an honest understanding should, hopefully, free communists from discomfort around psychological factors, and in a way that’s useful going forward for both current anti-imperialist efforts and future revolutionary ones. I believe that the misunderstandings in this area mainly come from (1) paranoia of liberals originating from fears generated initially by patriarchal family relations and obscured and projected by imperialist media, (2) mistaken liberal assumptions about the possibility and benefit of disentangling phantasy from “reality,” and (3) ego defenses from disavowed traumatic social relations liberals perpetuate in capitalism. The first and third of these are shared almost universally by psychoanalysts themselves and supposed theorists on the “left” that like to use psychoanalysis for their politics seem to fall for all three. My hope is to appropriate the usefulness of psychoanalysis for genuine Marxist-Leninist theory. Towards this end, and to make this approachable by as many people as possible, I’m going to mainly rely on two basic psychoanalytic concepts that I think are key to forming an understanding of some historical processes. These are the relational notions of the “self” and “self-object” as used by Heinz Kohut and the notion of splitting as applied in the school of psychoanalytic thought started by Melanie Klein, or the school of Object Relations. The dynamics I try describe with these concepts seem to apply to how leadership is experienced in general, although they play out differently depending on social context, so these should be looked at in some sense, although a very loosely, as constraints.
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Psychodynamics of Imperialism: Regressional Fields and Their Objects

Introduction and Concepts

Donald W. Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst, developed the concept of transitional objects, which are things used in early ego development that symbolize the relationship of the child with their parental figures and their functions. This object is used to help the child project and introject (I’ll define these soon) aspects and functions of the these figures through an external object that can be controlled and is therefore safe to act out anxieties on or with. The most immediately salient example of this kind of object is probably the classic blanket that becomes inseparable from the child and takes on the name and presence they give it. Winnicott unfortunately contributes to confusion over what the word “object” means in psychoanalytic discourse by here using it for an actual physical object that symbolizes a different psychodynamic object. A psychodynamic object can be thought of as a mental space within which representations of other people are held, and an introjection can be thought of as the filling in of this space of representation with characteristics of others. This is opposed to projection, which is attributing parts of the self or introjected objects to others. What I above referred to as a “parental figure” is psychodynamically a parental object. A transitional object, like the blanket, becomes used to create a symbolic space between internal and external reality wherein anxieties around relating to others can be acted out omnipotently and physically registered. This allows for a processing of desire frustration related to the parent figures and resulting anxieties over a lost feeling omnipotence that come about in that frustration. Over time the child internalizes the relationship they have to the transitional object and the realities of the external world become more accepted. This allows for a transition beyond this acting out of omnipotence via the external object. Through the reality testing this process involves, a more defined differentiation between inside and outside of the ego is generated and the transitional object loses its attraction.

This early style of relating to reality, involving processes of projection, introjection, and feelings of omnipotence, was thought by Melanie Klein to be a vital aspect of the paranoid-schizoid position. This position is essentially a constellation of psychological functioning that facilitates the incorporation, arrangement, and ejection of ego functions and psychodynamic objects (from here forward, when I use the term “object” it can be assumed that I’m speaking of psychodynamic objects). When the style of relating that the paranoid-schizoid position involves leads to conflicts with reality, the ego is consolidated through a depressive position, another constellation wherein people or their symbolic representations that support ego functioning are complicated, frustrated, or lost. Through the omnipotent style of relating being checked by reality, the external world is re-evaluated and a richer understanding is generated through reparative processes, both mental and physical, meant to create internal and external coherence. Marxists may be familiar with this kind of process in the application of materialist analysis, which is a system for reality testing, and self-critique, which creates a defined space for positively engaging depressive positions to result in more scientific and effective stances.

I’d like to use the term regressional object to signify something like a failed transitional object that doesn’t operate to open up mental space and/or sets conditions for avoiding confrontation with reality. Instead of the object functioning to allow a transition from earlier styles of functioning, it regresses the psyche to functioning more typical of a paranoid-schizoid position. There is a recursive process of projection and introjection that doesn’t open up space for thought and instead keeps people in a kind of solipsistic relating to reality.

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