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Gilles Dauvé Should Join the Sparts

I've always had some sympathy with various left communist theoretical traditions.  The autonomists (if you can call them left communists) have a special place in my heart because they were my gateway drug to Marxism, though even when I was an autonomist I disliked Empire.  Despite my [many] complaints about their theoretical positions, Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee are sometimes a guilty pleasure, at least they aren't a chore to read.  And until recently, because now and then I read Endnotes and the "communization" folks, I enjoyed mining the work of Gilles Dauvé because, regardless of my significant disagreement with his overall political line, he always seemed to have insights that I found half-ways compelling.

But then I encountered Dauvé's essay Alice in Monsterland, purely by accident.  I mean, it's not like I'm out googling Dauvé all the time: I find his overall arguments unconvincing, I'm not a left communist (though admittedly sympathetic to some of its commitments, but as a Maoist), and thus I only read the works referenced by the Endnotes collective.  So, because I was interested in perusing more of Dauvé's works on a lark, I googled the man to see what was available and this essay, which I hadn't read, popped up, and… good fucking lord.

To be fair, I don't think it's fruitful to dismiss a thinker because of one or two problematic practices and positions they might have endorsed.  If I had such a purist approach to theory than nobody would qualify, because every radical is steeped in problematical shit, from Marx to the present.  Theoretical moralists dismiss Althusser, for example, because of his mental illness that caused him to murder his wife and eventually dismiss his life work.  [On a side note, it's funny that people really take a senile Althusser's claims about faking his way through academia seriously when it was clearly the product of a mentally ill individual sabotaging his legacy.  While anti-Althusserians love the fact that this philosopher "admitted" to his "charlatanism" (i.e. his claim that he never read Hegel or Marx), the fact that people who knew him when he was younger can clearly dispute these claims––that the entire Reading Capital project disputes it because he openly read Capital with his students.]  Yeah, that was fucked up and the reason why I also have a lot of spite for Althusser, but there was never a time when Althusser wrote a theoretical ode to wife-killing.

Dauvé's Alice in Monsterland, however, is a theoretical ode to pedophilia.  And considering that most of the anti-Althusserian "gotchas" regarding his wife killing charlatanism that I've encountered in real life or through personal internet exchanges have been made by left communists, many of whom love Dauvé, I'm wondering why they aren't extending the same moralistic rejection to a theorist that, unlike me, they must have googled long ago and most probably encountered this Alice essay.

Of course, Dauvé has the theoretical training and intellectual wherewithal to cloak his defense of pedophilia in marxian language.  For him, it's all about the ways in which capitalism disciplines children, preventing them from being recognized as sexual beings––it infantilizes and controls them, a "civilization… incapable of addressing child-adult relationships" don't you know?  Children are being forbidden their sexuality, they are trapped in a world that only possesses a capitalist understanding of the categories of "child" and "adult"!  To problematize pedophilia is to deny the agency of the child, and pedophilia "is as much a product of this world as any other. Childhood as we know it is a creation of modern times."  The taboo around pedophilia has to do with the construction of the nuclear family, and is parallel to imprisonment.  "When society, i.e. the State," writes Dauvé, "grants [the child] its complete protection, it deprives him of any autonomy.  He's given every right, except the right to know what he wants."

Okaaayyy… Really, if it wasn't for the fact that he was a left communist, Dauvé would be quite happy amongst the Spartacist League which has made similar arguments so as to defend its support of NAMBLA.  Age of consent laws are bourgeois!  Pedophilia is only a crime according to the bourgeoisie; in an emancipatory society it would be like Socrates and the Ancient Greeks!  Hell, Dauvé even complains that, according to the modern view of things, "Socrates would be witchunted as a child molester."  Precisely the same arguments made by the Sparts.

These are the kinds of arguments that are made by people who most probably have never been parents, have never raised children.  As a parent who spends a lot of time with his daughter, working to respect and make sense of her agency, all this talk of "child sexuality" makes very little sense––in fact, it's fucking creepy. My daughter is not even close to a sexual being; she sees the world in a very different way, despite what Freud and Lacan (and I have big respect for Freud and Lacan) might have imagined… though to be fair to them, their understanding of "sexuality" in children was far different from what Dauvé and other pedophilia defenders would claim.  So, for instance, Dauvé writes that "[t]here is a child sexuality, and even mutual seduction between child and adult, but everything is not possible at every age. I talk to a baby who is still unable to reply in words: I don't read him The Society of the Spectacle."  My response is eww.  No, I don't read my daughter Debord, but neither is my interaction "mutual seduction".  Dauvé doesn't sound like someone who honestly interacts with children, but an avuncular predator who thinks that his predatory interactions are authentic.  He's like that fucked up family member you want to keep away from your child, who's in a state of denial regarding his inappropriate behaviour, but has the intellectual language to justify his rapiness.  Kind of like how a cunning MRA justifies sexism.

There is nothing in this Dauvé pro-pedophile essay that succeeds in becoming an actual argument.  Most of it is rhetoric and appeals to tradition.  "Childhood as we know it is a creation of modern times," he writes: "Most traditional societies, for better or worse, thought of kids as young adults."  In the middle ages they thought a lot of fucked things we now know are bullshit; only reactionaries cite a utopian past that never existed as the measure of value.  Most traditional European medieval societies believed in the Great Chain of Being!  Wife abuse was not despised in the past––women were once regarded as property, so let's revive that as well!  Better yet, let's go back to Socrates time where pederasty was an institution: damn those people for condemning Socrates as a child molester, and them twice and thrice for condemning Athenian patriarchy and Athenian slavery––institutions that Socrates also defended.  Point being: I don't think Socrates' importance breaks down to his thoughts on child sexuality anymore than it breaks down to the other erroneous views he supported.

More evidence that Dauvé did not relate to children except as a possible predator is contained in the following quote, structured to appeal to libertarian communists who would otherwise cringe at his argument: "Children's right to their own sex life means prohibition. Adults legally reserve themselves one single right over sexuality between children: to ban it altogether. Better forbid a sex act than risk sex abuse, that's the logic."  But when it comes to children, the prohibition generally has to do with the predator and not the child.  People who have experienced sexual molestation as children are quite aware about the power differentials, about the way in which abuse happens: someone who is older, and who possesses power, forces them to engage in behaviour that they would otherwise not engage in, that affects them later.  In this case a "sex life" is an imposition on the part of a predator.

The fact that Dauvé really doesn't get sexual politics outside of his predatorial conceptualization is demonstrated by this claim: "The same logic [forbidding a sex act rather than risking abuse] would justify a strict regulation of adult sex relationships, which can involve violence. Let's see for a moment adult sex as child-adult sex is usually perceived, i.e. only in its villainous and bloody aspects. Then any male should regard himself as a potential Jack The Ripper, and any wife should fear to be penetrated against her will by her husband every night."  But this is precisely one of the arguments of FEMINISM: that rape can happen in marriage, that intercourse itself can contain the violence of patriarchy.  The fact that Dauvé thinks this is a reduction ad absurdum rather than an argument that was part an parcel of a radical anti-patriarchal movement, is pretty pathetic.

In any case, after reading this essay I'm done with Dauvé.  I've already read all of his old works that so inspired today's Left Communists, but after this reactionary essay I'm not interested in reading anything he's written post-predator.  "A child stops being a child," Dauvé writes, "as he enters the age when he can be sent to prison."  A child also stops being a child when s/he encounters predators who ought to be imprisoned in socialist regimes for being predators.


  1. Invoking useless assumptions about the fate of a specifically historic figure(Socrates) in a modern context is one of the worst things a Marxist can do (after pedophilia of course).

  2. Can you move signs on the right side of your blog to the left side (one that contains 5 blocks: blog archive, popular and controversial...about me, etc.) since when I try to touch side scrollbar on the right, I can't, I always click on one of those links.

    1. Blogger is shit, and I don't know why those five blocks are there. I'll try to move them but considering that in the template they aren't even supposed to be on the right side but on the bottom (lol) no promises.

    2. Haha ok. I read you regularly for long time, but always was sustaining to comment about that, since none of it is the place of topic, but when reading really long posts it can be annoying not be able to scroll. :)

  3. what do you think of endnotes in general?

    1. My perspective about "endnotes in general" is pretty much expressed in my book (too hampered by movementism and a failure to understand the historical communist experience), but at the same time, regardless of my disagreement with this perspective, I still think there are useful things to be learned from the endnotes theoretical journal.

  4. Until now, I wasn't familiar with Gilles Dauvé, though I'm very familiar w/ Endnotes, and the other texts and theorists you mention. (Speaking of which, I don't think it can be emphasized enough that Freud & Lacan’s understanding of sexuality in childhood isn't anything like what Dauvé seems to be believe exists.)

    Anyway, I've read arguments like Dauvés’ before. If I recall correctly, I read such an argument in the pages of the magazine Anarchy in the 1990s. At best, it strikes me as a prime example of theorizing without any grounding in the real material world of human relationships & communities, past & present.

    And imo, such arguments reflect a lack of empathy. One needn't be a parent to empathize with children, either. And one might even learn from adult survivors about this particularly disturbing crime. (I've had two partners who experienced repeated rapes in childhood -- at ages 8 & 10 -- by grown men, one a babysitter, and one an uncle.)

    In any case, I found your posting to be very refreshing.

    I think we need more hard-headed, realistic, and thoughtful analyses from the radical left regarding violent crimes & sexual assaults. Today, critiques of the police and prison system are justifiably on the rise. And, a large number of activists (esp those protesting police brutality & invasive policing practices) now identify as anarchists ...and all too often, they advocate for extremely naive & utopian "solutions" like the abolition of police, and the abolition of law itself.

    We need to start researching realistic alternatives to the police & prison system we currently have, and look into what strategies work best to prevent & to combat sexual assaults (of children & adults) and other violent assaults.


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