Over the weekend, the Catalan journalist Enric Juliana interviewed Ramón Tamames, former member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) who embodies the living memory of the 1978 transition to democracy. Nowadays he is the main protagonist of the motion of confidence against the government coalition raised by the nationalist right-wing party Vox. There is no surprise (at least for those of us that follow closely the idas y venidas of Spanish politics) that a former member of the Communist Party makes amends with with the neo-sovereignist right. Even the Medieval jurist Bártolo de Sassoferrato centuries ago diagnosed that an epoch void of political authority, leads to a ‘monstrous form’ of arbitrary governance. This is not the place to analyze the cartoonish Vox-Tamames’ alliance. Rather, what generated a chilling effect while reading Juliana’s exchange was the moment when he asked about what he would have said to the communist prisoners in the Burgos correctional facilities in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. And, to this Tamames responded: “Están todos muertos”. They are all dead. It is a monstrous phrase voiced by a hyperbolic figure of the Spanish political elite. The answer is bold and lacerant because the message is stated without formal investidures or pathos: the dead are dead, and we own them nothing, since they are nothing. They are less than nothing.
It is no minor feature that historical communist parties during the twentieth century, in spite of the public and rhetorical monumentalization of their ‘heroic pantheon’, had little patience with the dead. This is why a motto in some socialist countries was, indeed, “los hombres mueren pero el Partido es Inmortal” (men died, but the Party is Immortal). So, by organizing immortality and the relation to the dead around the Party, historical communism was able to solve two problems at some: it was able to justify sacrifice in the name of a transcendent cause; and, at the same time, it introduced the dead corpse in Party as a government that kept operating even well beyond people had ceased to believe in it. I mention this because as a historical communist, Ramón Tamames is still embedded in this metaphysical enframing, only that now it takes different garments through a full erase of the dead that a posteriori justifies a concrete political action.
I have underlined a few times already the fact that Tamames is a trained political elite, because his alignment with Vox is rooted in his alleged elite credentials. This is an important feature. I remember a few years ago that Mario Tronti told me, in a Weberian spirit, that a new epochal transformation of Western politics required the elaboration of an elite in possession of vocation and conviction. But this is, paradoxically, what Tamames has always stood for, regardless of his political commitments. The problem is that today the restitution of political elitism is not only insufficient, but it is also visibly catastrophic and opportunist. It is opportunist because it can only self-affirm itself as a supreme value in the world of the living, which necessarily entails killing, once again, the dead. Under this light one should reconsider what Carl Schmitt enigmatically writes in his Glossarium: “elite is that category which no one dares to write a sociology about” . It seems, however, that the contrary is true: sociology is the predominant form of political elite, since its final aim is the reproduction of material social relations at the expense of the dead. As administrators of the public life of the city, the political elite must hide the cemeteries and the world of the dead away from the arcana of its public powers (this is very visible in Washington DC or Madrid). This void demands a relation with the dead as a fictitious memory based on public memory, monumentalization, infinite naming, and cultural commodification in exchange for foreclosing the relation with the dead. This also explains why the epoch of high-secularization is fascinated with the investment of public memory and practices of memorialization which maintain the equilibrium and endurance of the society of the living against the dead.
And isn’t Tamames’ depreciation of the dead just an expression of the attitude present during the high peak of the epidemic across Western metropolises? The corpses amassed in registrator hums outside hospitals in New York was a monstrous spectacle that bore witness to the disconnect between the living and the dead in the triumphant epoch of absolute immanence. What is important here, it seems to me, is that one cannot but expect this from a “political elite”; that is, a denegritation and blockage from a contact with the dead that is neither in the home nor in the city, but in the khora or the extra muros. Whenever this has been achieved, the political consequence has been, precisely, punitive acceleration, social death or expulsion.
In a beautiful text written during the height of the epidemic controls, Monica Ferrando reminded us that the socratic philosophical ethos was not rooted in the space of the city, but rather in relation to the underworld that grants “freedom every time” . In times gone awry, nothing is more urgent than to do away with the gatekeepers that keep society a total space of inmates, while making the whirling presence of the dead a silent echochamber between cemeteries, as a friend likes to put it. In a certain way, we are already dead, and it is only the fiction of political elitism (or the permanence of those that appeal to the “political elite”) that taxes death – and our dead – to the sensible modes that we relate with the mysterious and the unfathomable.
1. Carl Schmitt. Glossarium: Anotaciones desde 1947 hasta 1958 (El Paseo Editorial, 2021), 351.
2. Monica Ferrando. “Terra Giustissima: sulle tracce dei morti”, Laboratorio Archeologia Filosofica, February, 2021: https://www.archeologiafilosofica.it/terra-giustissima-sulle-tracce-dei-morti/