‘…a model of behavior like a cop or a female saint…’

What follows are some section drafts for a review of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s 1972 crime novel, Nada.

Before the Red Army Faction in Germany (1970-1998), the Red Brigades in Italy (1970-1988), and Action Directe in France (1979-1987), there was Nada. Neither historical actor nor marginal organization of the post-war European ultra-Left, Nada was born out of the French reception of American crime fiction. Remarking upon the differences between the American and French crime novel, Kristen Ross writes,

Of all the various kinds of literary characters, the detective is one of the easiest to think of as little more than narrative scaffolding, a string or device whose wanderings link the various anecdotes, local histories, and glimpses of local color into a narrative whole. After all, what other fictional character’s underdeveloped personality or lack of “roundness” is so regularly compensated for by an all-consuming fetish — the love of orchids, for example, or the love of opera? […] Philip Marlowe, it is important to remember, is a literary hero without a background, and without any cultural or political substratum. The same cannot be said of Victor Blainville, ex-soixante-huitard, sometime journalist, sometime photographer, sometime investigator and Vilar’s recurrent protagonist. (Ross, ‘Parisian Noirs’)

Like Victor Blainville before them, the individuals who comprise the Nada group are made up of nothing other than cultural and political substance: Buenaventura Diaz is an anarchist militant in his 50’s whose father was an anti-fascist and died defending the Barcelona Commune; André Épaulard a former communist resistance fighter; Marcel Treuffais a young philosophy teacher and author of the groups manifesto; Meyer, a waiter, and D’Arcy, an alcoholic, constitute a duo that has been forgotten by society; and Veronique Cash a militant in spirit with anti-civilization proclivities who provides the farm in which the group uses as their hideout. 

A story, then, of anarchist illegalism and revolutionary violence; of a group of militant’s unwavering commitment to the abolition of capital at a moment when the Left found itself divided around questions of both strategy and tactics (most notably, for Manchette, was the French Communist Party’s (PCF) support of France’s ongoing colonization of Algeria during the anti-colonial struggles that emerged after the Second World War), and whose inflection points reside at the level of history: such is the historical moment in which Nada unfolds. It is a moment defined not by an unrealized, though wholly tenable, transformation of society via the PCF, but by a Party that has been reduced to nothing more than “a desperate attempt on the part of a traditional body to keep itself going in the context of radically altered production relations.” As Félix Guattari, with whom Manchette briefly worked with during his stint at the Trotskyist newspaper La Voie Communiste, aptly put it: 

Under these circumstances, the French Communist Party is peculiarly badly placed to combat the myths of the consumer society, for it has no sort of alternative to offer. By comparison, the leftist groupuscules undoubtedly represent an attempt to keep alive the basic themes of an independent, working-class revolutionary policy. (Guattari, ‘Causality, Subjectivity and History’)

And as if to anticipate, not only the novel’s conclusion but Manchette’s own assessment of the groupuscule-form [1], Guattari concludes: “Unfortunately, all we see of them is their failure.” 

And yet, Nada’s is a storied history as well. For in the course of the novels unfolding, one cannot help but recall previous moments of France’s history, when various leftist groups were formed with the intention of sustaining, or reviving, the revolutionary fervor that was felt during their respective cycles of struggle. Thus, it is no coincidence that the way in which Manchette narrates the Nada group’s kidnapping of the US diplomat bears striking similarities to the actions of the Bonnot Gang  — one of the most well known French anarchist groups and were active between 1911-1912. Manchette even goes so far as to dub the group’s hideout “the tragic farmhouse,” which was the “epithet used by the newspapers in 1912 to refer to the death scene of Jules Bonnot” (Luc Sante, Introduction, Nada). And before the Bonnot Gang there was, of course, Blanqui.

While it may strike some as odd to view a group such as the Bonnot Gang and an individual such as Blanqui as having a shared orientation toward capital and the state, both advocated for an extra-legal form of organization; whether in the attempt at building a clandestine vanguard (Blanqui) or through various interventions in everyday life that directly seize the means for reproducing the organization and its goals (Bonnot). Moreover, and of equal importance regarding Manchette’s relation to the history of radical politics in France, both the Bonnot Gang and Blanqui share a similar fate in terms of their reception within the dominant currents of Leftist politics; a reception that presents both as exemplary figures of what becomes of an allegedly unprincipled and excessively voluntarist form of organizing revolutionary struggle.

Once more, this type of historical reception is carried forward by Manchette and is brought to bear on the members of the Nada group. However, rather than any moral posturing and subsequent denunciation, when reflecting on figures and organizations of the past (e.g. Lenin’s celebratory dance in the snow to celebrate the Bolsheviks having been in power for one day longer than the Communards of Paris); Manchette, here, makes use of the novel-form in order to delineate the fate that is most likely to befall those who give primacy to direct actions against the State and an escalation of tactics, absent a situation defined by an enthusiasm for struggle and, by consequence, an expanded notion of what people view as acceptable and unacceptable with respect to certain strategies and tactics. For it is precisely in light of these debates, that we find the young, defacto ‘theorist’ of the group, Treuffais, accusing his older and more seasoned comrade, Buenaventura, of engaging in Leftist terrorism: “You’re falling under the spell of terrorism, and that’s really stupid. Terrorism is only justified when revolutionaries have no other means of expressing themselves and when the masses support them” (Nada, 92). 

It would eventually take a failed kidnapping, the murder of fellow comrades, and a prolonged run from the law, for Buenaventura to realize the truth of Treuffais’ reservations; that the condemnation of terrorism “is not a condemnation of insurrection but a call to insurrection” (Nada, 161). Or as he puts it in a recording intended for radio broadcast and international newspapers alike:

“I made a mistake,” he said abruptly. “Leftist terrorism and State terrorism, even if their motivations cannot be compared, are the two jaws of […] the same mug’s game,” he concluded, and went on right away: “The regime defends itself, naturally, against terrorism. But the system does not defend itself against it. It encourages it and publicizes it. The desperado is a commodity, an exchange value, a model of behavior like a cop or a female saint. The State’s dream is a horrific, triumphant finale to an absolutely general civil war to the death between cohorts of cops and mercenaries on the one hand and nihilist armed groups on the other. This vision is the trap laid for rebels, and I fell into it. And I won’t be the last. And that pisses me off in the worst way.” (Nada, 160)

And it is perhaps here, more than anywhere else in the novel, that we encounter Manchette at his most Situationist; precisely because, the trap laid for all would be rebels resides in the illusion that national, or even international, media attention can be used for the purposes of social transformation in the absence of the popular support that is realized during periods of struggles. As Buenaventura points out, while political parties may defend against the variants of ultra-Left praxis, it remains the case that the market and its media outlets seemingly encourage and happily publicize it. And if so, it is precisely because the circulation of the image of the revolutionary is nothing more than another commodity readied for mass consumption. For Manchette, the ‘left-wing terrorist,’ a figure that became widespread and heavily publicized by media outlets during the 60’s and up through the 80’s, is never simply “a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images” (Debord, Society of the Spectacle). 

That said, it would be wrong to treat Manchette’s political commitments as merely residing at the level of the anecdotal or ending with the historical and worldly substance of his protagonists. And precisely because, for Manchette, a difference of literary genre involves an incommensurable difference at the level of politics. Thus we find, in the course of his reflections on the differences between the mystery novel and the roman noir from 1976, the following formulation: “In the classic detective novel (i.e., the mystery detective novel) crime disturbs the order of the law, which it is crucial must be restored by the discovery of the guilty party and his elimination from the social field […] In the violent and realist criminal novel of the American type (the roman noir) the order of the law is not good; it is transitory and in contradiction with itself” (Manchette, ‘Five Remarks on How I Earn My Living’). Unlike the mystery novel, whose plot is driven by the detective’s will to uphold and preserve a legal order perceived to be just, the world of Manchette’s roman noir is defined by a legal order that is unjust; a world whose laws are unjust precisely because they are arbitrary. And so, it is more than fitting for Manchette to open Nada, not with the voice of any one of the groups members, but with a police officer’s vindication in light of the murder of most of the Nada group:

Turning the other cheek is all very well, but what do you do, I ask you, when you are dealing with people who want to destroy everything? Father Castagnac pretty much agrees with me…His opinion is that if policemen are not ready for anything, like I am, there would be no reason for certain individuals not to do anything they want…Seriously, my sweet Mom, would you want a country with no police?…Would you want our property, which we worked so hard for, overrun by levelers and collectivists in an orgy of destruction?…Anyway, yesterday, all I did was do my job. (Nada, 5-6)

[1] Derived from the French word for group (groupe-) and combined with the suffix –cule, meaning small or minor, groupuscule refers to an informal and decentralized form of political organization. While the term can be used to classify either right-wing or left-wing political organizations, during the 60’s it was typically used by French leftists to refer to extra-parliamentary groups (e.g. Gauche prolétarienne) that sought to rehabilitate class struggle in the face of the PCF’s strategy of establishing the collaboration, as opposed to the antagonism, between classes.

Epidemics and Revolution (I): Notes on The Cholera Riots, 1830-1831

At the height of a self-confident era of economic growth, material progress, scientific achievement and expanding European dominion over the world, here was a disease that came from the ‘uncivilized’ East and challenged common assumptions of European cultural and biological superiority by demonstrating the vulnerability of even the most civilized people to a disease associated mainly with oriental backwardness. At a time when European literature and culture was celebrating the ‘age of the beautiful death’, with diseases like typhoid or tuberculosis being accorded a transforming, almost beautifying influence on their victims, here was an affliction that killed rapidly, remorselessly and with symptoms that could not be seen as anything other than degrading. Half of all victims died from the disease.”

The progress of the disease across Europe in the early 1830s was marked by a string of riots and disturbances in almost every country it affected. Popular opinion did not accept that cholera was a hitherto unknown disease, but considered instead that an attempt was being made to reduce the numbers of the poor by poisoning them. Riots, massacres and the destruction of property took place across Russia, swept through the Hapsburg empire, broke out in Konigsberg, Stettin and Mernel in 1831 and spread to Britain the next year, affecting cities as far apart as Exeter and Glasgow, London, Manchester and Liverpool.” 

[Richard J. Evans, ‘Epidemics and Revolutions: Cholera in Nineteenth-century Europe’]

I. The Cholera Riots (1830-1831)

The second cholera pandemic in Russia (1826-1837) and the fifth cholera pandemic in Italy (1881-1896) are notable, not simply for a similarity in terms of the cost and suffering of human life, but for the various moments of resistance and popular revolt that were mobilized at the very moment when the fear of death (as condition) and the fear of contagion (as affect) gripped and enraptured the everyday life of each, respective, population. What is more, the Russian and Italian cases are linked, by a similarity at the level of statecraft and policy regarding the management of the public health crisis. As Frank M. Snowden puts it with respect to the Russian context: “Among European nations the extreme case was Russia, where the consequences of the epidemic were apocalyptic. In Russia not only did the disease cause a terrifying mortality but the regime also magnified the terror by a violent and coercive strategy of public health. The Romanovs reproduced some of the social consequences that accompanied the plague by reviving the anti-plague public health policies of early modern political authorities” (Frank M. Snowden, Naples in the Time of Cholera: 1884-1911, 150).

It is precisely this conjugation of a seemingly unmanageable public health crisis combined with archaic modes of governance that served as the epidemiological and socio-political conditions for the ‘Cholera Riots,’ which lasted between 1830 and 1831; a period that would see riot-form assume a novel mode of struggle. The Cholera Riots are not simply the means by which a surplus population resolves the crisis of social reproduction through the direct seizure of what is necessary to reproduce themselves; these were also attempts made at resolving the problem of biological, if not species-level, reproduction. 

And in light of this combination of the biological and the political, which formed their key characteristics, one would not be wrong in saying that the Cholera Riots were a political sequence defined by (i) a mass display of skepticism and resentment toward the government and political officials, and (ii) collective acts of resistance, whose composition included peasants, soldiers, and segments of the urban population, and were undertaken in light of the Tsar’s decision to embark upon a strategy of military prophylaxis (i.e. Nicholas I’s strategy of containing the spread of cholera employed a variant of early modern means of managing the plague, and ranged from a militarized enforcement of quarantines, the restriction and policing of movement through public space, and the use of ‘armed cordons’ (i.e. police kettling) if deemed necessary). A global North already familiar with the consequences of pandemics such as the plague or even the first cholera outbreak; and with the biological threat of mass contagion, an increasingly draconian nation-State, and with quarantines whose unintended consequence was that of doubling as economic sanction, thereby exacerbating already existing social inequalities; these were the epidemiological and socio-economic determinations that defined the terrain upon which this (re-)composition of popular antagonism, made up of differing subject positions, and its subsequent intervention in the sphere of circulation, would come to take place. Reflecting on this outbreak of cholera in Russia, historian Roderick McGrew perfectly summarizes the role it played in terms of the upheavals experienced throughout Russia at that time when he writes, “cholera scored the European social consciousness, exacerbated contemporary tensions, [and] intensified the impact of current social problems” (McGrew, Russia and the Cholera, 3).

And however brief its appearance in the long history of riots in the face of large scale public health crises, the Cholera Riots saw various modalities of the riot-form, including the raiding of police departments and public hospitals (i.e. expropriation as means for resolving problems of social reproduction) and the killing of landlords, local officials, and State functionaries (i.e. direct action as self-defense). Two of the most notable, if not the most spectacular, events of this period are those that took place in Tambov (1830) and Sevastopol (1831): just as the city of Tambov saw its citizens physically attack the governor, an act of resistance that would eventually be suppressed by military intervention; those who rioted in the streets of Sevastopol were successful enough to have temporarily established directly democratic forms of decision making, replete with the election of their own officials and an expanded capacity for propagandizing among peasants and serfs. 

But what comes of this analysis, if it is to avoid being a mere recounting of history? Namely: just as an understanding of the ways in which the biological helps shape the determinate social conditions of a previous era allows us to grasp more and not less of its historical and material particularity, it is only by thinking the epidemiological as reciprocally determining the economic and the political that we are better able to theorize what will ground and shape the politics to come; that we are able to grasp the coming into being of that which is not-yet. For as historian Michael Durey puts it with respect to the study of cholera, to understand the historical significance of the disease means to account for the ways in which epidemics unsettle “the normal functioning of society” while bringing “to the surface latent social antagonisms.”

Similarly, it is only by acknowledging the epidemiological as an objective tendency that mutually determines the conditions and possibilities of struggle, that our understanding of the present can account for more and not less of this reality, which is not-yet. That is, if the task remains that of constructing the horizon and internal consistency adequate to the needs of a thoroughly internationalist, anti-statist, and anti-capitalist, set of social movements, then it is a task that obliges us to think the biological and the political, the non-human and the human, as the ground of the politics to come. However, unlike the retrospective interrogation of the past, to think the ground of the politics to come means to acknowledge that it can only be understood as a determinate set of social relations (equally biological, political, and economic) that is in the process of its realization. Of course any substantively proleptic analysis of the present is nothing if not the height of theoretical hubris (in these times, reality is the best refutation of those who confidently lay claim to the future as such).

With respect to the present struggles and for those to come, the least we can say is that the spaces of antagonism will be conditioned by a set of social relations, whose reciprocal determination and co-constitution by the biological and the political, bring out into the open that sometimes latent and sometimes explicit civil war, waged by capital and against the living (e.g. living labour as well as non-human life). And therefore rendering ineluctably sensible the fact that the terrain of struggle is always more or less hostile to the real movement of abolition, that the ground of politics is continuously being made and un-made, and thus can be made into a more hospitable position from which to refine all those latent social antagonisms that are quickly coming to the surface.

[ part II on Italy, forthcoming ]

Brief Histories of Invisibility

What follows is a transcript of my response to Andrew Culp’s presentation of research
from his forthcoming book, Indiscernibility: The Politics of the Unseen (currently under contract with University of Minnesota Press)

I would like to begin by contrasting Andrew’s project with the following passage from Jacques Rancière’s On the Shores of Politics as a way of grasping the discrepancy between the two aspects of socio-political power. Rancière writes,

Police intervention in public space is less about interpellating demonstrators than it is about dispersing them. The police are not the law that interpellates the individual (the “hey, you there” of Louis Althusser) unless we confuse the law with religious subjection. The police are above all a certitude about what is there, or rather, about what is not there: “Move along, there’s nothing to see.” The police say there is nothing to see, nothing happening, nothing to be done but to keep moving, circulating; they say that the space of circulation is nothing but the space of circulation. Politics consists in transforming that space of circulation into the space of the manifestation of a subject: be it the people, workers, citizens. It consists in refiguring that space, what there is to do there, what there is to see, or to name. It is a dispute about the division of what is perceptible to the senses. (On the Shores of Politics, 242)

Now, just because invisibility studies is said to be an examination of the ‘wars of appearance’ it does not mean that we can discount this analysis of police power put forward by Rancière. Despite the fact that this image of policing as making sure there is nothing to see, that ‘nothing appears,’ is not the image of power emphasized by invisibility studies, the point held in common by Andrew and Rancière alike is that, at the very least, public space or the spaces where someone or something might appear, is first and foremost a space of contestation, that is to say, a space of struggle. However, what notions of invisibility allow us to grasp that is seemingly left out of Rancière’s account is precisely the fact that social and political power has a vested interest in rendering visible/seeable/sayable that which is deemed transgressive, criminal, and militant. For as Claudia Rankine helpfully points out in her remark regarding racist discourse:

Not long ago you are in a room where someone asks the philosopher Judith Butler what makes language hurtful. You can feel everyone lean in. Our very being exposes us to the address of another, she answers. We suffer from the condition of being addressable…For so long you thought the ambition of racist language was to denigrate and erase you as a person. After considering Butler’s remarks, you begin to understand yourself as rendered hypervisible in the face of such language acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present. (Rankine, Citizen)

What is more, this rendering of ourselves as something more than simply visible, as something hypervisible, does not simply pertain to language games. 

In their 2015 text, Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South, Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford show how the maintenance of white supremacy and its attendant socio-economic form of plantation society also had a vested interested in rendering visible the particular threat posed by the runaway slave. And when undertaking an analysis of the nature and function of the maroon communities that occupied an estimated 1,500-2,000 square miles adjacent to the eastern North Carolina-Virginia border, Shirley and Stafford underscore the fact that the purpose of maroon communities was not simply to encourage slaves and others to runaway and flee. Rather, the purpose of maroon society was the establishment of a territory that would make possible the attack, and hopefully the abolition, of plantation society as a whole: 

Forced to flee above-ground life as debt fugitives, runaway slaves or refugees from the brutal wars waged on Indians, the maroons established a permanent way of life in the swamp waging a long-term, unceasing guerilla war against plantation society in the form of arson, cattle rustling, crop theft, encouraging slave escapes, and coordinating insurrections throughout the area. (Dixie Be Damned, 20)

Thus we can say, with respect to the function of the State and the police, ensuring the reproduction of a society predicated on disparities along economic, gendered, and racial lines gives rise to a form of socio-political power that functions by making all of its subjects, citizens, or otherwise, visible and thus accounted for. And here we can return to the passage from Rancière. For what is at work in the policing mantra of ‘there’s nothing to see here’ is precisely the result of becoming visible to the state; and moreover, it is by rendering citizens/subjects visible and identifiable that the police and the state are able to ensure that no refusal or insurrection of any kind is realized in contested public space.

Now, to avoid historical equivocation it would seem that the idea of invisibility studies isn’t to argue for invisibility as a transhistorical category of theorizing. Rather, the point is to demonstrate how rendering visible certain subjects via certain easily identifiable character traits (skin color, gender expression, clothing, accent, and so on) is always a latent or virtual possibility regarding the expression of social and political power. Therefore, invisibility as a response to a power that singles us out based on personal attributes assumes a dominant role in given historical moments – and not only in the context of slavery as we have mentioned but also in the context of anti-colonial guerilla wars, or during the ‘red years’ defined by the activity of post-operaismo and the Red Brigades in Italy, or even perhaps today, when the ongoing cycle of struggles against capital and resurgent far-right are undertaken in a context where laws such as the ‘Unmasking Antifa Act,’ proposed by Republican Congressman Dan Donovan of New York are put forward as actual pieces of legislation. All of this to say, given certain historical and material conditions, invisibility becomes a mode throughout which anti-capitalist struggle is waged.

That said, we would be remiss to simply treat the notion of invisibility as another determinate judgement regarding a certain state of affairs or as a more adequate descriptor of the world. In other words, if the idea of invisibility is developed in response to the current impasse or impotence of the promise held out by Critique (understood in the sense given to it by the Frankfurt School as demystification of appearances in order to reveal their structural essence which is taken to be the inherent politicizing or radicalizing aspect of marxist theorizing) then invisibility belongs to the order of Thought  as well as to the domain of historical analysis. And if this is so, then the proposal of invisibility studies brings us back to what was at stake in the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach (i.e. invisibility is not simply a means of interpreting but of transforming the world). So to conclude, I will simply offer up a series of questions that will hopefully clarify what is at stake in this proposal for the founding of invisibility studies as the less illustrious and estranged cousin of critical governmentality studies: 

(i) What role might invisibility as a concept play given the present state of Theory broadly construed? And what seemingly foreclosed futures might this notion help explicate or develop in a manner that is antagonistic to the current forces and relations of production? 

(ii) Is the notion of invisibility akin to the schizophrenic as conceptual personae of Deleuze and Guattari – whereby a material social relation is taken as the grounds for the development of a concept that doesn’t simply reconstruct the present state of things but orients us towards both the actual and virtual futures generated by capitalist society?

Time & History

Same war time zone (2018)

[ transcript of a talk for the Radical Philosophy Association’s Fall conference ]

I would like to begin with a passage from Giorgio Agamben’s 1978 essay, ‘Time and History: Critique of the Instant and the Continuum,’ since it will serve to orient the remarks that follow:

Every conception of history is invariably accompanied by a certain experience of time which is implicit in it, conditions it, and thereby has to be elucidated. Similarly, every culture is first and foremost a particular experience of time, and no new culture is possible without an alteration in this experience. The original task of a genuine revolution, therefore, is never merely to ‘change the world’, but also – and above all – to ‘change time’. Modern political thought has concentrated its attention on history, and has not elaborated a corresponding concept of time. Even historical materialism has until now neglected to elaborate a concept of time that compares with its concept of history. Because of this omission it has been unwittingly compelled to have recourse to a concept of time dominant in Western culture for centuries, and so to harbour, side by side, a revolutionary concept of history and a traditional experience of time. (Agamben, Infancy and History, 91)

So, according to Agamben, the central impasse at which historical materialism finds itself is that of having a revolutionary understanding of history without an equally revolutionary notion of time – the result being that we find ourselves compelled to rely upon a traditionally Western conception of time as rectilinear, characterized by the present as fleeting instant, and flanked by the abstract and homogenous notion of a past, which came before, and a future, which comes after. If such an impasse were indeed actually the case, it would be tantamount to conceiving the history as the history of (class) struggle without the necessary means of effectively participating in struggle, let alone abolishing the very conditions that ensure the reproduction of class based society. History, when viewed within situations such as these, cannot help but feel less like the time of struggle and more like the indefinite wandering of Humanity. However, rather than recapitulating Agamben’s wide sweeping argument for what he takes to be a properly historical materialist understanding of time (an argument that begins with Gnosticism, moves through Stoicism, culminates with Benjamin and Heidegger, thereby giving rise to the decidedly non-quantifiable time of Aristotelian pleasure), I would like to turn out attention to an essay entitled  ‘The Time of Capital and the Messianicity of Time. Marx with Benjamin’ (2012), by Sami Khatib; for it is here where one encounters a critical rejoinder to Agamben’s position that does some of the important groundwork for demonstrating how, contra Agamben, “it is in Marx himself that we find the grounds for a materialist theory of time.” After having provided a general overview of Khatib’s reading of the various forms of capitalist time analyzed by Marx, I will articulate both the virtues and limits of Khatib’s rejoinder, which treats the relationship between abstract-time and historical-time as the very grounds for any possible historical materialist concept of time. The concluding portion of this talk will begin from what I deem to be its chief limitation – namely, what is elided by this overemphasis on the importance played by abstract-time and historical-time is the existence of a qualitatively different form of time that Marx will call disposable-time, and a concept of time whose cardinal virtue is in its overcoming any brute opposition of abstract/historical-time as well as the false dichotomy between labour-/leisure-time.   

1. In Defense of an Historical Materialist Concept of Time

At the outset, what is significant regarding Khatib’s inquiry is the fact that he undertakes a defense of an either latent or manifest theory of time in the late Marx not insofar as time is understood as being divided into labour- and leisure-time. Rather, Khatib begins from a two-fold concept of Time, where one form of time is time understood as “rectilinear, homogenous, cyclical time” (abstract time) and another form where time is said to be “disruptive, revolutionary time as an opening up of history” (historical time). And as Khatib remarks, it is necessary to distinguish between abstract and historical time precisely because capital is simultaneously “a social formation within history,” and “a social formation that produces and reproduces its own historical time.” In other words, capital is that historical social form that is both a product of history and that which brings into existence a wholly new form of time proper to itself.

Now, what is meant by “abstract time?” Abstract-time refers to what Marx called “socially necessary labour-time” – the average amount of time required for the production (of value) and reproduction (of what is necessary for capital to sustain itself). Or as Marx put it in chapter 6 of Capital, “[T]he value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this special article. So far as it has value, it represents no more than a definite quantity of the average labour of society incorporated in it.” Thus, to speak of abstract-time is to speak of time as the measure of value. However, insofar as abstract time as measure of value refers to that quantifiable average of labour-time required for the production of surplus-value and reproduce itself, that which abstract-time measures must be something distinct from itself. And it is precisely time as “historical time” that allows for the measurement of total value produced. However, this is the case, not because historical-time refers to a supposed set of iron laws that dictate history’s progression; rather, it is due to the fact that historical-time is the temporal form whose content is nothing but the rise and fall of productivity given a certain period of capitalist development. And this is perhaps best seen in Marx’s comment regarding the working day, when he writes,

What is a working day? […] The working day contains the full 24 hours, with the deduction of the few hours of rest without which labour-power is absolutely incapable of renewing its services. Hence, it is self-evident that the worker is nothing other than labour-power for the duration of his whole life, and that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and by right labour-time […] It is not the normal maintenance of labour-power which determines the limits of the working day here, but rather the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory and painful it may be, which determines the limits of the workers’ period of rest. (Marx, Capital vol. I, 375 fn., emphasis mine)

Thus Khatib is correct in saying that it is due to the inherently variable content of historical-time that abstract-time is itself “the bearer of an historical index that cannot be measured…external to the movement of the self-valorization of capital.” What is more, says Khatib, abstract time is not simply bound to the variable transformations in productivity, which is the content of historical-time; abstract-time is itself determined, to a greater or lesser degree, by the fluctuations of historical-time.

Now while Khatib has explicitly made reference to the work of Moishe Postone throughout his argument, it is when this two-fold understanding of capitalist time as both abstract and historical that he reminds us of Postone’s own remark (“The entire abstract temporal axis, or frame of reference, is moved with each socially general increase in productivity; both the social labour hour and the base level of production are moved ‘forward in time’”) in order to provide the following formulation: “historical time is a function of abstract time retroactively changing the parameter of this function [measure of value].” Thus, while historical time is distinct from abstract time insofar as it is the object that is to be measured, historical time is also distinct from abstract time insofar as it alone is capable of forcing a change in the way in which capital measures the production of value. In other words, while abstract-time measures the movement of labour according to discrete moments within the spaces of production or reproduction, historical-time continuously modifies what labour will and will not be compensated for via the wage and relative to the current rate at which surplus-value is produced. And it is at this point that the following question necessarily arises: are the categories of abstract-time and historical-time sufficient for developing an historical materialist understanding of time? For Khatib, we must answer in the affirmative and the negative: in the affirmative insofar as abstract-time and historical-time are a two-fold understanding of a kind of time that only exists within capitalist societies; and in the negative because, according to Khatib, this two-fold nature of capitalist time generates its own paradox whereby the linear and homogeneous time of abstract-time does not move in a linear fashion and only moves in accordance with the rise and fall of the rate of production (i.e. historical-time). Thus, we find ourselves in a particular situation where we are confronted neither with rectilinear time nor with the temporal structure of progress but rather (abstract-)time as that which rules everything around us: “Time has become the equivalent and exchangeable form of contingent events on a global scale – the temporal form of the world market. [T]his empty temporality lacks historical openness since it ‘lacks’ the lack of linearity, that is to say, it does not allow for a temporal rupture or cut irreducible to equivalent intervals of exchangeable time units” (‘The Time of Capital and the Messianicity of Time,’ 56-7). That said, it is due to this aporetic conclusion regarding capitalist time in its abstract and historical forms that Khatib turns to Benjamin’s concept of ‘now-time’ [Jetztzeit]; a form of time that is said to be capable of overcoming the impasse of time-as-concept.

2. Jetztzeit & the Critique of Historical Progress

In his 14th theses ‘On the Concept of History,’ Benjamin defines now-time in the following terms:

History is the subject of a construction whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time filled full by now-time [Jetztzeit]. Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with now-time, a past which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome incarnate…it [was] the tiger’s leap into the past. Such a leap, however, takes place in an arena where the ruling class gives the commands. The same leap in the open air of history is the dialectical leap Marx understood as revolution. (Benjamin, Selected Writings, 395)

As Khatib rightly notes, Jetztzeit does indeed share a certain structural likeness to the historical-time of capital insofar as both “consist[s] of non-linear, disruptive short circuits between historically different base levels of productivity.” However, what separates them and renders them ultimately incommensurable is the fact that Benjaminian ‘now-time’ marks a transformation in the forces and/or relations of capitalist production that functions as the conditions of possibility for the reintroduction of “a certain fragment of the past” and whose consequences are, as Benjamin says, enough “to blast open the continuum of history.” What is more, ‘now-time’ is actually “a model of messianic time” and “comprises the entire history of mankind in a tremendous abbreviation.” However, what must be understood in is that Jetztzeit’s abbreviated capture of human history is said to be a model precisely because within each of its irretrievable images of the past (or dialectical images) are the three modes of messianic temporalization: (i) the present as the moment “in which time takes a stand [einsteht],” (ii) the present as the moment that “has come to a standstill;” and (iii) the present as the moment wherein a certain “image of the past…unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger,” or the image of an “irretrievable…past which threatens to disappear in any present that does not recognize itself as intended in that image.” Jetztzeit, then, as a present pregnant with the unrealized past and its possible future, is a form of time whose concept situates the current cycle of struggles in a certain historical lineage (e.g. workers movement, feminism, antifascism, etc.) such that these images, which continue to find no place within the dominant conception of history (i.e. history of the victors), are redeemed by this time which “takes a stand [einsteht]” and achieves “a conception of history that accords with” the insight that “the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”

Now, contra Khatib’s suggestion of Jetztzeit as the dialectical corrective to capitalist time’s aporetic structure, and in light of Benjamin’s own understanding of the term, what is made clear is that Jetztzeit is less a concept of time and more so a cognitive abstraction that takes place in time but whose subject is the history of the struggling, oppressed class itself. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, while Benjamin nominates messianic time as the capacity for redeeming the past that belongs to a given collective revolutionary, Khatib understands messianic time to be “nothing [other] than an inner loop of/within capital-time giving us time to subtract human labour from capital-time – to deactivate capital-time and ultimately to bring the latter to an end.” In other words, attempting to resolve the impasse of capitalist time via the concept of ‘now-time’ only leads to a confusion of categories and their respective registers of analysis (i.e. now-time is a concept indexed to history, and insofar as it is not a form of time that is essential to capital’s self-reproduction, then now-time as a resolution to the capitalist form of abstract-/historical-time leaves the impasse unresolved).

3. On Non-Alienated Forms of Time: from ‘now-time’ to disposable-time

In the time that remains, I’ll provide the general contours for an argument that views the category of disposable-time (rather than Jetztzeit) as the adequate form of time that would (i) resolve the aporia of abstract and historical time and (ii) provide a more complete historical materialist concept of time. In the Grundrisse one reads the following claim from Marx: ‘For real wealth is developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.’ This disposable-time that is said to be the true measure of the wealth produced under communism; this time with which we can do as we please and that structures one’s life as a life defined by this form of time that can only be attributed to communism; this time, then, is the form of time that allows us to move beyond the static division of labour-time  vs. leisure-time (i.e. socially necessary labour-time that is waged and extra-socially necessary labour time, which is unwaged). In other words, it is by moving beyond this brute opposition of labour- versus leisure-time that one can grasp the way in which disposable-time is a form of time that is both immanent to the capitalist mode of production and a form of time that is potentially adequate to, or at least orients us toward, the time of communism: adequate because it is only through disposable-time that society’s negotiation of the questions/problems/experiences of love and sexuality can  be determined in a specifically communist manner; communist because disposable-time is a form of time the existence of which necessarily implies the abolition of any notion of time as the measure of value.

However, at this point in our analysis what becomes clear is that in having identified the category or form of Time needed to move beyond all that is false in the separation of labour-time from leisure-time, it remains the case that its corresponding content has yet to be accounted for. So what good is an indeterminate category; in other words, of what use does a historical materialist analysis have for a pure and empty form of time? This suspicion of disposable-time’s insufficiency due to its being a form without content, however, misunderstands what is at issue; it is not the case that Marx offers disposable-time as a way of answering the question ‘what is the actual, empirical, and material reality that corresponds to this form?’ Rather, it is in response to the question, ‘what will give order and structure to social existence in the absence of time as the measure of value?’, that the category of disposable-time is applied. For what is at issue is not a question of describing reality but one of the reality of social relations, since it is these real-abstractions that govern and regulate individual existence in accordance to the demands of the market. Thus, it is of no consequence if time-as-category is said to be empty since it is the form of a certain social relation that is sufficient for discovering the kind of concrete social relations that will come to define social existence. On this point that Dauvé is once again instructive:

“When they [the proletariat] transform or reproduce what they have taken over, what matters is the material and psychological satisfaction obtained not just by the product, but also by the productive activity…To put it another way, what will regulate production will be more than production procedures, it will be the social relation experienced by the participants. Sharing becomes not just giving other people…but acting together…Organizing, resisting, and fighting imply places to meet, eat, sleep, produce, and repair. When social relationships integrate what is now distinct – what is called producing and consuming – time-count and its coercion are ignored. Since objects are not made to be exchanged according to the average quantum of time necessary to make them…there is no point in keeping track of minutes and seconds. People take their time, literally. It hardly needs saying that some people will be slower than others and that people will rush to do something urgent: time of course matters, but it no longer rules as the universal quantifier.” (Gilles Dauvé, Time, ‘An A to Z of Communization’)

Disposable-time, then, is a properly communist time since in its abolition of life organized according waged and unwaged activity it creates and organizes our social existence in accordance with a form of time the function of which is to act as the condition of possibility whereby everyone can rediscover themselves in actuality, including a rediscovery of what love could be independent of the obligations of socially and/or extra-socially necessary labour time. Thus, it is to our advantage that the category of disposable-time is a form devoid of content (since it does not make any claim to knowledge but rather establishes criteria for anti-capitalist social relations) precisely because the content of any form can only assume one of two possible modes of existence: that of succeeding or that of failing to conform to what is materially and objectively the case. For the promise of marxist theorizing was never the confirmation of the existence of the real-abstraction of capital; thus, disposable-time also serves as a really existing social relation that is to be constructed. Hence my suggestion of disposable-time as the condition of possibility for becoming acquainted with a non-alienated and collective self (a profound rediscovery no less since it would be nothing more and nothing less than our becoming reacquainted with a self that we have never known). As Dauvé puts this: disposable-time is the time of communism because ‘Time is…the dimension of human liberation, providing the measure of time does not turn into measuring the world and us according to time.’ Disposable-time, then, is nothing but the measure of human liberation whereas the forms of time appropriate to capital are those which measure ourselves and the world against a standard that is, in essence, other-worldly and in-human. Thus, what was true in Agamben’s provocation with which we began is the idea that engaging in class struggle does not simply mean participating in a process of increasingly equitable distributions of the total surplus-value of capital. It also means to struggle against situations where our lives are measured according to capitalist Time instead of Time being measured according to all that is alive in our needs and desires, and what is required for its self-reproduction. Or, in the words of an Argentine comrade:

It was really interesting to begin to think about and imagine very concrete strategies for going on strike in atypical places. Because if we are serious about the strike, if we are really proposing it, we have to address all of these questions that we have about what it means to strike. It can’t be allowed to force us to give an image of ourselves that does not correspond with our everyday reality. What is powerful is that the women from the popular economy were the first to say “we will strike.” That is, these questions are asked from a position of a determined wager on the strike, in order to strengthen the strike. They really liked striking and they are eager to continue elaborating these questions about what it means to go on strike when you don’t have a boss, when you work in a cooperative, when you receive welfare, and so on. To include all of these realities in the strike, it is necessary to overflow it and effectively think about work beyond the typical job, under a boss, in a determined place, and so on. Another interesting question that has been debated recently has to do with how to connect the strike to care work, and in the way in which that care is carried out in homes, in community or neighborhood spaces or is self-managed. On the one hand, thinking about what it means to take those spaces to the mobilization, that the mobilization takes responsibility for that part of care work. There is a double measure to the time of the strike. We strike for a few hours in our workplaces and for the whole day we remove ourselves from the gender roles that assign us tasks of care. We strike and we make time for ourselves. That was a very powerful slogan: we organize ourselves to be able to dispose of our time, to free ourselves from daily obligations, and open up that time. (Verónica Gago, ‘The Strike of Those Who Can’t Stop’)

The Reality Of Destitution is the Destitution of Reality: Notes for a Genealogy of Destituent Power

A longer version of this text will be available in Unworking,
an edited collection of essays on inoperativity, destituent power,
and désoeuvrement (Release date: Fall, 2019)

During the 1970s, in Europe, a disenchanted but not hopeless generation came to the fore to lay claim to the political not as an autonomous and totalitarian sphere, but as an ethical community of singularities; history not as linear continuity, but a history whose realization has been deferred too long; not work as economically finalized toward the production of commodities, but an inoperativity deprived of end [priva di scopi] and yet not unproductive. (Giorgio Agamben)

Communism is the real movement that destitutes the existing state of things. (Invisible Committee)

What becomes of communism if it is said to be “the real movement that destitutes the existing state of things?” Does the substitution of “destitution” for “abolition” signal a principled divergence from the vision of communism found in those pages of the German Ideology and as intended by Marx and Engels? Or does this destituent movement mark a progressive refinement in light of the failures of historical communism and its various workers movements? As the above epigraphs already suggest, any beginnings of an answer to such questions can be found in the works of Giorgio Agamben and the Invisible Committee; both of whom have perhaps gone farthest in reconceiving communism via the category of destituent power (or destituent gestures). With respect to Agamben, and as Jason E. Smith has already noted, when one reads Agamben’s more recent political writings alongside his 1993 text, ‘Form-of-Life,’ what becomes clear is that through his reworking of the set of ideas that came out of the workerist tradition, he is led to view society/social relations as asymmetric and antagonistic to the community that is the content of a form-of-life:

The workerist and post-workerist traditions understand the concept of antagonism in terms of the dynamic of capitalist social relations. This conflictual and asymmetric relation between living and dead labour is one in which living labour is always ‘primary,’…whose resistance to that form of capture drives capitalist development itself…Agamben’s rewriting of this scenario situates the antagonism less within the dynamics of capitalist production than within the relation between ‘massive inscription of social knowledge in productive processes’, on the one hand, and ‘intellectuality as antagonist potentiality and form-of-life’ on the other…Communist is the enemy of the social, that is, the objective or factual partitioning of society into classes…To the divisions of society Agamben opposes the multitude of community. The overcoming of capitalist society assumes the name not of socialism but of community: communism. (Smith, ‘Form-of-Life and Antagonism,’ 203)

It is for this reason, then, that Agamben goes onto reformulate the anti-work thesis of operaismo and autonomia as follows: “If the fundamental ontological question today is not work but inoperativity…then the corresponding concept can no longer be that of ‘constituent power’ [potere constituente] but something that could be called ‘destituent power’ [potenza destituente]” (‘What is destituent power?’ 70). Now, with respect to the Invisible Committee, what must be said at the outset is that their reconceptualization of communism as the real movement of destituent power may appear especially deceptive to some and thus leading to fundamental misunderstandings; for what could such an invocation of destituent power mean other than their tacit affinity and agreement with Agamben’s equation of the communal content of forms-of-life and the realization of communism as such?

As will be demonstrated in what follows, nothing could be further from the truth (for the Committee’s usage of destituent power/gestures actually finds common ground with the very figure (operaismo) from which Agamben sought to distance himself). If the Committee privileges destituent, as opposed to constituent, power it is not due to destituent acts being the very means of arriving at the pure potentiality at the heart of forms-of-life (the ‘antagonistic potentiality of forms-of-life’). Rather, communism as the real movement that destitutes the existing state of things since to destitute the present means (i) affirming the rupture with the current state of affairs in order to (ii) organize it and make it ever more real to the point that the crises and social problems that Capital has long since covered over become the open and public secret of social life that must be directly confronted precisely because it can no longer be avoided. And unlike Agamben’s left-Heideggerian revision to the workerist and autonomia movements, it is with thinkers such as Guattari, or even with Marx and Engels themselves, that we discover that which inflects the Committee’s own theorization of communism as destituent process.

Humanity’s Innocence: From Proletarian Existence to Prelapsarian Life

In the Summer and Fall of 2013, Giorgio Agamben delivered a series of lectures in central France and Athens under the heading, ‘What is destituent power?’ Now, despite the particularities to which Agamben was responding to in each lecture – the recent occupations and insurrections in Cairo, Istanbul, London, and New York (France); the necessity to think the end of democracy in the place of its birth (Athens) – what is consistent throughout is that, for Agamben, destituent power functions as a third term that is said to overcome the static opposition between constituent and constituted power (the former being counter-hegemonic practices and the latter being acts that defend or uphold the existing institutions of the state). And it is these series of lectures that mark a key development in Agamben’s overall thinking since destituent power appears as the means of realizing one of the central idea of his work as a whole: inoperativity, which is what Agamben discovers time and again, and regardless of the object of his analysis being that of theology, politics, or aesthetic and art practices. Whether it is with respect to St. Augustine’s reflections on the salvation of humanity where human nature is conceived as “blessed inactivity, which is neither doing nor not doing;” or Walter Benjamin who relates destituent power to Sorel’s proletarian general strike in his essay Critique of Violence; or regarding the relationship between poetry, communication, and language as such (“What is a poem…if not an operation taking place in language that consists in rendering inoperative, in deactivating its communicative and informative function, in order to open it to a new possible use?”); what is fundamentally at stake is how to conceive the reality of a form-of-life whose actions, when viewed from the vantage point of the existing order of things, cannot be understood as anything other than blessed/idle in essence, non-productive of value, and impractical for deliberation. However, the salient point here is that, for Agamben, these characteristics of idleness, non-productivity, and inoperativity, are not understood to be products of history. Idleness, non-productivity, and inoperativity are ontological facts of human existence; so much so that Agamben will go on to claim that it is precisely these attributes proper to the being of humanity that capital appropriates and exploits:

Human life is idle and aimless, but it is precisely this lack of action and aim which makes possible the incomparable busyness of the human race. And the machinery of government functions because it has captured within its empty heart the inactivity of the human essence. This inactivity is the political substance of the West, the glorious nourishment of all power. This is why feasting and idleness resurface continually in the dreams and political utopias of the West…They are the enigmatic relics which the economic-theological machine abandons on the shoreline of civilization; mankind returns to them wonderingly, but always uselessly and nostalgically. Nostalgically because they seem to contain something that clings jealously to the human essence; uselessly because in reality they are nothing more than the ashes of the immaterial, glorious fuel burnt by the motor of the machine during its inexorable, relentless rotation. (Agamben, ‘Art, Inactivity, Politics,’ 138.)

For Agamben, it is to humanity’s originary idleness/inoperativity that one must center in any engagement with the questions posed by politics. In other words, it is only by attending to what is allegedly ontological regarding humanity (originary inoperativity) that we can adequately determine how best to overcome the political fact of our alienation as imposed by history. Hence, says Agamben, the shape of the politics to come is not that of a struggle over the State or between counter-hegemonies and hegemonic forms. To the contrary, “the coming politics will no longer be a struggle to conquer or to control the state on the part of either new or old social subjects, but rather a struggle between the state and the nonstate (humanity), that is, an irresolvable disjunction between whatever singularities and the state organization” (Means Without End, 88). Given such an analysis, one is led to the logical conclusion that the politics to come will be defined, not by its struggle with and over the State, but by the struggle between “humanity” (as the nonstate) and the State as various social forms of sovereign/governmental power, which pervert what we have always, originarily, been in truth: inoperative, idle, and therefore free.

However, confronted with a conclusion as bold as this (i.e. the coming politics begins by positing an originary idleness against history as a series of state-sponsored perversions of this essence) a few questions necessarily arise: Insofar as inoperativity and destituent power is said to be the essence of the being of humanity, does this not lead to an understanding of communist politics as a struggle between the ontological, on the one hand, and the historical and material, on the other? And to what extent does the notion of destituent power refer to what are allegedly the echoes of an ontological essence from which we have become estranged under capital? In any event, the crucial point to be emphasized is that what is operative behind such strong claims regarding the substance of humanity, is an equivocation between two conceptions of time: the time of eschatology and that of history. For it is this equivocation of eschatological and historical time that grounds Agamben’s understanding of inoperativity and destituent power as what is most essential to human being. And to make matters worse, one equivocation inevitably leads to another, but this time with respect to political analysis. For insofar as inoperativity/destituent power is said to be the originary substance of (human) being, the proletariat as the classical figure of revolutionary politics struggle is now nothing but a means of returning to our once innocent, unspoiled, prelapsarian life. In other words, for Agamben, politics is the price paid by humanity’s original sin of state-craft and the various, historical, forms of sovereign power, and each time realized as through a dispositif as its particular modes of capture: “The originary place of Western politics consists of an ex-ceptio, an inclusive exclusion of human life in the form of bare life. Consider the peculiarities of this operation: life is not in itself political, it is what must be excluded, and, at the same time, included by way of its exclusion. Life-that is, the Impolitical (l’Impolitico)-must be politicized through a complex operation that has the structure of an exception. The autonomy of the political is founded, in this sense, on a division, an articulation, and an exception of life. From the outset, Western politics is biopolitical” (‘What is a destituent power (or potentiality)?’ 65). That said, one may still wonder if we have been unfair with such a characterization of Agamben, for in his 2013 lectures Agamben goes on to provide further clarification to the way in which destituent power can be said to be the shape of politics to come; a politics made possible by virtue of

…living a life that a form-of-life can constitute itself as the inoperativity immanent in every life. The constitution of a form-of-life coincides…completely with the destitution of the social and biological conditions into which it finds itself thrown. The form-of-life is…the revocation of all factical vocations…It is not a question of thinking a better or more authentic form of life…Inoperativity is not another work…it coincides completely and constitutively with their destitution, with a life. And this destitution is the coming politics. (‘What is a destituent power?’ 65)

A passage such as this merits our interest for at least two reasons. On the one hand, destituent power is now said to be something innately bound to, yet distinct from, humanity’s originary inoperativity. And while it remains the case that it is by destituent means that we are returned to our non-alienated inoperative living, Agamben qualifies this previous iteration with the inclusion of forms-of-life as that previously missing mediator capable of overcoming the dilemma of capital’s historical separation of humanity ontologically considered and alienated being, which takes the form of bare life. Now, says Agamben, destituent power is accessible only through this experience of living a life inseparable from its (communal) form: “the destitution of power and of its works is an arduous task, because it is first of all and only in a form-of-life that it can be carried out. Only a form-of-life is constitutively destituent” (Ibid, 72). That is to say, it only by means of a collectivity that it becomes possible for individuals to “return it [the human activity that is the substance of value production] to the potentiality from which it originates” (Ibid, 73). And on this account it would appear that destituent power is no longer simply the immediate recuperation of alienated human being and rather an always latent possibility of non-alienated living perpetually deferred and rendered increasingly impossible. Thus, and put it a more direct relation to the prior ontological formulations

Contemplation and inoperativity are…the metaphysical operators of anthropogenesis, which, freeing the living being from every biological or social destiny and from every predetermined task, renders it open for that particular absence of work that we are accustomed to calling ‘politics’ and ‘art.’ Politics and art are neither tasks nor simply ‘works’: they name…the dimension in which the linguistic and corporeal, material and immaterial, biological and social operations are made inoperative and contemplated as such. (Ibid, 74)

Significant in this account of destituent power is the fact that Agamben now appears capable of addressing the issue of how originary being and our future inoperativity can be said to have any relation (insofar as it is the history of sovereign governmentality that has successfully functioned as that which perpetually obstructs our non-alienated living). That said, what is gained in logical consistency is simultaneously lost in terms of its concrete specificity. For while Agamen conceives of the destitution of capital as the process of transforming an overdetermined set of possible forms-of-life into an underdetermined set of possible forms, the potentiality that is (re)discovered through destituent processes cannot be attributed to human being alone; and whether considered ontologically, or historically and materially. Thus we are led to wonder, is a non-ontological conception of destituent power possible?

Destituons le Monde: Against the Management of Everyday Life

According to the Invisible Committee, destituent acts or gestures are realized according to the fusion of the positive/creative logic of founding the conditions for an other world in which many worlds fit and the negative/destructive logic of ending, once and for all, the present world fashioned in the image and likeness of Capital. That is, destituent gestures abide by a logic where ‘the One divides into Two’ (“The destituent gesture is thus desertion and attack, creation and wrecking, and all at once, in the same gesture”). That is, destituent gestures create and destroy in one and the same act. Moreover, these collective gestures belong to that class of acts, which rely upon the temporality proper to social reproduction and are actualized in times of decision, which is to say, in times of crisis. And what is ultimately realized along the way; in the bringing about an end to this world; is an altogether different solution to the two fold problem of the estrangement of bodies and fragmentation of worlds. However, destituent power is said to resolve the issue of separated bodies and of the discontinuity that structures the possible worlds of every form-of-life not by rehabilitating some sense of ‘unity,’ conceived as the coming-into-being of a still underdetermined (though latently possible) counter-hegemony of the Left. To the contrary, destituent acts resolve the crisis of estrangement and fragmentation through the construction of a different organization of the ongoing fragmentation of forms-of-life and their worlds. “Here is the paradox, then: being constrained to unity undoes us, the lie of social life makes us psychotic, and embracing fragmentation is what allows us to regain a serene presence to the world. There is a certain mental position where this fact ceases to be perceived in a contradictory way. That is where we place ourselves” (Now, 46).

What, then, is intended in this redefinition of “the real movement” as a process that abides by a destituent (as opposed to an abolitionist) logic? According to the terms that determine a properly destituent political logic, the virtue of any struggle against the state and capital is to be found in the potential harbor within each action that suggests a future that has finally done away with everything that encourages us to “hate Monday’s” when it is capital that is the cause behind the whatever-object of our lamentations. That is to say, actualizing destituent power is to give material reality to the potential of establishing the distance between movements and established institutions, in order for the former to better desert, or flee, or take flight from, everything that is involved rendering vacuous the relation we maintain to ourselves, to those we call comrade, friend, or lover, and to the world insofar as it is made in the image and likeness of capital. That is to say, and as a fellow accomplice recently pointed out with respect to the situation of the gilets jaunes movement in France: “It is not the radicals who are making the movement, it is the movement that is radicalizing people.” So, unlike those collectivities which tend toward “constituent” or “constituted” power and situate their strategy within the dialectical relation of recognition/negotiation with the ruling authority (in the hopes of taking possession of the state), collectivities that abide by a destituent logic adhere to, and seek to actualize, the vital need to disengage and distance itself from the dialectical trap of constituent-constituted power. But what would this alleged other form of unity mean, when conceived as a collective ‘abandonment’ of the economy and ‘disengagement’ from the dialectic between constituent and constituent power? At the very least, says the Committee, it would mean the reformulation of the communist question itself; for the equivocation that began with Lenin regarding the terms “socialism” and “communism” has given rise to a more profound confusion whereby liberal economists, socialists, and Marxists all have agreed that the question with which we are confronted is nothing but “a question of management” (Ibid, 138).

To destitute or ‘abandon’ the economy, then, not only means acknowledging the illusory gains of constituent power in theory. To abandon the economy implies an organization of collective struggle founded upon the fact that “capitalism is not a mode of management but a mode of production based on specific productive relations, and revolution targets these relations” (Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement, 107). Thus the need for an other mode of organization and struggle other than that of constituent power (a form of struggle, which poses the problem of the abolition of the present state of things as being a question of management); and precisely since:

Communism is not a “superior economic organization of society” but the destitution of the economy. Economy rests on a pair of fictions, therefore, that of society and that of the individual. Destituting it involves situating this false antinomy and bringing to light that which it means to cover up. (Now, 137)

Thus, it can be said that destituent are those acts which are grounded upon a rejection of developing better and more equitable strategies of economic management insofar as communism is not a “superior economic organization.”

So, insofar as this notion of destituent power seeks to cause the problems and crises capital “means to cover up” to appear in every day social reality, destituent gestures necessarily involve a certain level of organization of struggle in order to achieve the “bringing to light” of the problems and crises that affect the whole of society. What is more, it is precisely through the Committee’s understanding of destituent power as organizing struggles such that they are able to (i) resolve the problems of social reproduction through decidedly anti-capitalist (i.e. communist) measures while (ii) rendering social problems unavoidable and impossible to ignore mean, that we are returned to what Marx and Engels originally understood regarding that most general phase of the development of the proletariat: “In…the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where the war breaks out into open revolution, and where violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat” (Communist Manifesto). It is here that we arrive at the central difference between Agamben’s and the Invisible Committee’s understandings of destituent power: while Agamben consistently conceives of destituent power as the capacity for forms-of-life to redeem the Humanity from which it has been ontologically estranged vis-a-vis Capital, the Committee, by contrast, understand destituent power as the general phase of proletarian development centered around anti-state, anti-bureaucratic, and communist social relations.

That said, of additional and equal importance is that this difference between Agamben and the Committee is understood in light of a key difference that separates the Committee from Marx and Engels. While both the Committee and Marx and Engels share in the idea that capital wages a ‘more or less thinly veiled civil war’ on social totality, the Committee break with them on the question of the proletariat as History’s revolutionary subject. Against the suggestions of the Manifesto‘s authors, the Committee view the contemporary form of capitalist social organization as having done away with that feature of social life (i.e. a mass and shared experience of work) required for the transformation of the objective category of workers into the subjective agent of the proletariat. For the Committee, rather than any prolongation of a shared experience of alienation definitive of the ‘mass worker,’ “[T]he majestic figure of the Worker is being succeeded by the puny figure of the Needy Opportunist [le Crevard]—because if money and control are to infiltrate everywhere, it’s necessary for money to be lacking everywhere. Henceforth, everything must be an occasion for generating a little money, a little value, for earning “a little cash” (Now, 96). The outcome of the ‘Needy Opportunist’ supplanting ‘the Worker,’ being that, today, “Capital no longer just determines the forms of cities, the content of work and leisure, the imaginary of the crowds, the language of real life and that of intimacy, the ways of being in fashion, the needs and their satisfaction, it also produces its own people. It engenders its own optimizing humanity” (Now, 100). Regardless as to whether this break from Marx and Engels is due to philosophical differences or the changes in the historical and material structure of capitalist production, it is clear that, for the Committee, any figure that identifies as the ‘revolutionary subject’ (whether founded upon some new and shared experience of  precarious labour or otherwise) would still aim towards re-unifying the ongoing fragmentation; a gesture that necessarily leads struggles back into the dialectical dead-end of constituent/constituted power. And so… it is due to this discrepancy between destitution as messianic capacity of forms-of-life and destitution as the form and organization struggle takes when founded upon communist social relations, that it should comes as no surprise to read the Committee issue decidedly anti-Agambenian statements such as the following:

Only be means of this type of confusion did it become possible to imagine that a subject like “Humanity” could exist. Humanity – that is, all human beings, stripped of what weaves together their concrete situated existence, and gathered up phantasmally into one great something-or-other, nowhere to be found. By wiping out all the attachments that make up the specific texture of worlds, on the pretext of abolishing private ownership of the means of production, modern “communism” has effectively made a tabula rasa-of everything. That’s what happens to those who practice economy, even by criticizing it. (Now, 136-37)

For the Committee, such appeals are possible only insofar as one assumes that the lives of individuals are adequately defined in isolation for the attributes it comes to assume in the course of living; that is, insofar as one follows Agamben in confusing what is ontologically possible with what is actually an historical and material potentiality. At stake, then, in this debate regarding destituent power is the material possibility of directly appropriating the forces and relations of capitalist production. Moreover, and in contrast to Agamben’s understanding of destitution in relation to law upholding (constituted power) and law establishing violence (constituent power), the Committee conceives of destituent power as being ‘against the economy’ insofar as the question isn’t that of appropriating the means of production and rather poses the question of how to go about constructing the relations of social reproduction measured by something other than labour-time (or what is required for production). That is to say, for the Committee, what becomes evident is that given the present organization of global society vis-a-vis Capital, any politics geared toward the reappropriation of the forces of production will continue to fall short of abolishing the relations of production that organize and form daily life:

As we know-Trotsky pointed it out long ago in The Revolution Betrayed-the Russians have always imported their technology from the west; but since Khrushchev’s day, they have also taken their economic models from there too […] Obviously it will not be by importing models of desire…that the Soviet bureaucrats will escape the fundamental impasse they have got themselves into, with their endless Five-Year Plans of which absolutely everyone is sick to death. Not merely are they starting no institutionalizing process by importing prefabricated car factories, but by the same token they are transplanting forms of human relationship[s] quite foreign to socialism, a hierarchization of technological functions proper to a society based on individual profits, a split between research and industry, between intellectual and manual work, an alienating style of mass consumption and so on…Not only are car factories imported, then, but also social neuroses and in hyperactive form. (Guattari, ‘Causality, Subjectivity and History’)

Destituent power, then, is a mode of collective struggle that prioritizes transforming the way in which individuals relate to the production process such that the distinction between labour-time and leisure-time is no longer that which structures and organizes everyday life. And it is for this reason that the Committee will claim the following:

The traditional revolutionary program involved a reclaiming of the world, an expropriation of the expropriators, a violent appropriation of that which is ours, but which we have been deprived of. But here’s the problem: capital has taken hold of every detail and every dimension of existence…It has configured, equipped, and made desirable the ways of speaking, thinking, eating, working and vacationing, of obeying and rebelling, that suit its purpose. In doing so, it has reduced to very little the share of things in this world that one might want to reappropriate. Who would wish to reappropriate nuclear power plants, Amazon’s warehouses, the expressways, ad agencies, high-speed trains, Dassault, La Defense business complex, auditing firms, nanotechnologies, supermarkets and their poisonous merchandise?…What complicates the task for revolutionaries is that the old constituent gesture no longer works there either. With the result that the most desperate, the most determined to save it, have finally found the winning formula: in order to have done with capitalism, all we have to do is reappropriate money itself! (Now, 85)

To seek out the organization requirements for reproducing “what is lived in the fight itself” (ibid, 80); for reproducing “that experience of fraternity in combat, of friendship” (ibid, 133); for the reproduction of the fleeting experiences of a form of non-alienated living one encounters in the midst of struggle; all of these are so many iterations of the fundamental principle that what is revolutionary in moments of insurrection is the fact that individuals became accustomed to, comfortable with, and desiring of that form-of-life that no longer structures our existence according to the time of labour and the time of “leisure.” As one of the many participants in the 2013 Gezi Park protests remarked, perfectly capturing such a sentiment, “[T]he people who are coming here, for the past 18 days, are not spending money. And when they get used to not spending money, it’s like a revolution within themselves.”

For the Committee, then, destituent power takes aim at capitalist social relations by giving a form and organization to struggle that are not only sustain friendship as “fraternity in combat,” but that produce the necessary conditions for what comes after the barricades and the insurrectionary fervor, which inevitably subside. To destitute the economy, then, is but the collective construction of what is necessary for the actualization and generalization of our non-alienated living; or what the Committee simply call community: “Without at least the occasional experience of community, we die inside, we dry out, become cynical, harsh, desert-life. Life becomes that ghost city peopled by smiling mannequins, which functions. Out need for community is so pressing that after having ravaged all the existing bonds, capitalism is running on nothing but the promise of “community.” What are the social networks, the dating apps, if not that promise perpetually disappointed? What are all the modes, all the technologies of communication, all the love songs, if not a way to maintain the dream of a continuity between beings where in the end every contact melts away? […] In 2015, a single website of pornographic videos called PornHub was visited for 4,392,486,580 hours, which amounts to two and half times the hours spent on Earth by Homo sapiens. Even this epoch’s obsession with sexuality and its hyper-indulgence in pornography attests to the need for community, in the very extremeness of the latter’s deprivation” (Now, 133).

How Many Breakdowns For Every Breakthrough?

(tr. generation collapse)

Ultimately, one escapes from the structuralist impasse by recognizing that an effect of meaning only has repercussions at the level of the signified in so far as potentialities of subjective action are liberated, once there is a breach in the signifier…The machinic breakthrough, waiting, masked by the structure, is the subject in aspic, so to say, time at the ready. – Guattari, ‘Causality, Subjectivity and History’

What are the underlying set of concerns that renders consistent the various interviews and essays throughout Psychoanalysis and Transversality? What was the unifying thread that ran throughout all that preoccupied Guattari between the years of 1955-1971? Confronted with questions such as these, one is immediately signaled to an inquiry already underway; a search for the relevant experiences and conditions under which Guattari practiced analysis while also furthering his activist work. And the promise of this seemingly naive and biographical question is that of understanding what convinced Guattari to treat psychotherapeutic practice and revolutionary politics as inherently, and thus necessarily, implicated with each other? Biography, however, only establishes the scope of such a question. As Deleuze would aptly remarked:

a militant political activist and psychoanalyst just so happen to meet in the same person, and instead of each minding his own business, they ceaselessly communicate, interfere with one another, and get mixed up–each mistaking himself for the other…Pierre-Félix Guattari does not let problems of the unity of the Self preoccupy him. (Deleuze, ‘Three Group-Related Problems’)

The thesis we will put forward is the following: Guattari views psychotherapeutic practice and revolutionary politics as two distinct yet necessarily related endeavors since each is concerned with, and oriented toward, resolving a singular problem: What should one do when stuck in a situation? (Guattari, Psychoanalysis and Transversality, 73). In other words, schizoanalysis and revolutionary politics address themselves to those phenomena, which act as an impasse to the freedom of both desire as well as social life. Hence Guattari explains that

[T]he little subject clinging to its mother, or the dazed schizo…are entirely connected to this being. The subject is engaged with it and, paradoxically, it is only along the way that everything becomes blocked. This entire neurotic ball makes it so that at one point…there is longer any possibility of reconnecting, of being articulated with anything that is not fantasy. The problem is to dig a few new holes artificially so that it can reconnect somewhere. Recourse to absolute alterity is something that, in principle, should allow it to remain connected to the foundation of all value.  (Psychoanalysis and Transversality, 74-75)

Now, with respect to institutional psychotherapy, the methodological starting point is still the one offered by psychoanalysis: “to know how to arrive at being a subject under these conditions. What does he or she have to do to continue being a speaking subject and to speak efficiently?”  – where the ‘conditions’ Guattari is referring to is one of blockage, aporia, and impasse where “signifiers…are blocked as significations such that a singular individual cannot express him or herself in it…” (PT, 68-69). In cases such as these, institutional psychotherapy locates the ‘subject’ not in the face to face meeting but in that place where they “have remained prisoner” Hence the necessity for constructing diagrams, whose function is to bring the subject in relation with the ‘Outside’ (alterity) – for it is this need of constructing diagrams that becomes all the more urgent for the subject’s liberation from that which renders it unable to express themselves. In other words, a therapeutic method based on the construction of diagrams maintains, for the subject, the very possibility of achieving a real separation between itself and what is essentially an aporia of the unconscious: “A factory, an asylum, or a patient, they stink…You have to look for something. The first item on the agenda is to open up to the complete alterity of the situation.” (PT, 73).

Subject-Groups, Subjugated-Groups, and Group Phantasies

With respect to the concerns of politics and questions surrounding the organization of a properly revolutionary subject, we once again encounter the same problem. As Guattari puts it,

the revolutionary organization has become separated from the signifier of the working class’s discourse, and become instead closed in upon itself and antagonistic to any expression of subjectivity on the part of the various wholes and groups. The subject groups spoken of by Marx. Group subjectivity can then express itself only by way of phantasy-making, which channels it off into the sphere of the imaginary. To be a worker, to be a young person, automatically means sharing a particular kind of (mostly inadequate) group phantasy. To be a militant worker, a militant revolutionary, means escaping from the imaginary world and becoming connected to the real texture of an organization, part of the prolongation of an open formalization of the historical process.  (Psychoanalysis and Transversality, 218-219)

So, just as it is with therapeutic practices one of the fundamental problems encountered in politics – i.e.  how to realize a form of collective antagonism that avoids the trap of dogmatism, thereby leading to the ossification and curtailment of what is revolutionary within a certain organization. And these problems also take the form of blockages (of signifiers that translate into the silence of individuals) and are seen in those moments when some members of a group begin to speak for the group as a whole. Or, in the worst of cases, blockage develops into a fascistic mode of organization structured according to (i) the groups identification with a single image/signifier (Phallus) such as the leader; (ii) the foreclosure of any individual’s unconscious existence which leads to the substitution of the “I” for a generic, and impersonal, “we”; and (iii) the organizations group phantasy becomes increasingly insular, closed off from any relation to difference, and thus ultimately reinforces and demands the collective denial of individual and collective finitude. And with this final characteristic – a group’s denial of the finitude of its organization – we arrive at what is at work in what Guattari calls the ‘misunderstanding’ expressed phenomena such as racism, nationalism, and sexism:

…the great leaders of history were people who served as something on which to hang society’s phantasies. When Jojo, Hitler, tells people to “be Jojos” or “be Hitlers,” they are not speaking so much as circulating a particular kind of image to be used in the group: “Through that particular Jojo we shall find ourselves.” But who actually says this? The whole point is that no one says it, because if one were to say it to oneself, it would be something different. At the level of the group’s phantasy structure we no longer find language operating in this way, setting up an “I” and an other through words and a system of signification. There is, to start with, a kind of solidification, a setting into a mass; this is us, and other people are different, and usually not worth bothering with–there is no communication possible. There is territorialization of phantasy, an imagining of the group as a body, that absorbs subjectivity into itself. From this there flow all the phenomena of misunderstanding, racism, regionalism, nationalism and other archaisms that have utterly defeated the understanding of social theorists. (Psychoanalysis and Transversality, 223)

And it is precisely in light of this always present threat of fascisms resurgence (from the right and within the left) that Guattari proposes the distinction of subject-groups and subjugated-groups. To separate subject- from subjugated-groups, however, must be understood as an analytic distinction integral to schizoanalysis as method of analyzing the potentiality of the unconscious relations and habits sustaining one, or many, individuals, which allow them “to continue being a speaking subject and to speak effectively?” (PT, 69). By formally distinguishing subject-group and subjugated-group, Guattari’s main priority is determining whether the subject as ineluctably bound to a highly particular set of behaviors, ways of speaking, etc., repeats its existence in a manner that saves and/or liberates elements of the unconscious that may harbor the possibility of lines of flight within the unconscious from its reduction to ‘the repressed territories’ of the Ego:

The loss of consistency of a component will not have been followed…by a chain reaction of new inhibitions. It will instead have served as a sensitive plate, as a developer, as an alarm bell. But of what exactly? That is precisely the question! To which, actually, it is best not to answer too quickly. As there is perhaps no answer to it, strictly speaking. An a-signifying sign–the restriction on vocal performances–makes the halt of something without forbidding…that other things intervene. Great! This is already something! Certain paths marked out for a long time: singing, the moralizing surcoding of the mother, are experiencing a pragmatic transformation. Should these facts be considered liabilities and put down in record in the column of lacks a deficits: Nothing is less certain! But nothing is determined either! . . . It must be clear that all transferential induction…could have devastating effects, or, at the very least, bring us back to the depressive tableau which is “normally” expected under such circumstances. It seems less risky to me to think about the material qualities of this component of expression…Is it because of the presence of such a “luxurious” component that the song did not allow a preventative alarm to be raised and to suggest a bifurcation? From then on what was called to vegetate under the guise of inhibition was transformed into the beginning of a singularization process. (Guattari, ‘The Schizoanalyses’)

What is clarified with this example is that subject-groups and subjugated-groups, rather than corresponding to two discrete sets of individuals, corresponds to (and seeks to identify) the moments when a given subject finds itself in a relation with elements that offer an alternative to what Guattari views as the norm in Freudian and Lacanian analysis (i.e. a reductive treatment of the unconscious that continuously makes recourse to the Oedipal relation or the general linguistic structure underlying the whole of unconscious life). At this juncture what can be said with certainty is that, contrary to an analysis of desire in terms of its Oedipal or linguistic overdetermination, schizoanalysis aims to develop an analysis of desire where desire (or the subject, or the unconscious) functions as the guide and agent of analysis as such. In this way, then, to employ schizoanalysis with individuals and within and among groups is tantamount to constituting, within an individual or a group, “the conditions of an analysis of desire” that results in “analysis and desire finally on the same side, with desire taking the lead.” (Deleuze, ‘Three Group Related Problems’). Thus, we could say that what is at stake in schizoanalysis is the development of an analysis that returns desire to potentially liberatory elements, which have been deemed “irrelevant” or “meaningless” from the vantage point of Oedipal relations or linguistic structures.

And with respect to the social life within certain ‘militant’ or political organizations, Guattari identifies the same problem: where do we find the subject with respect to politics and under what conditions is it no longer able to creatively express itself? (218-19). In other words, how does the political subject free itself from structural impasses? (220-222). Just as the analyst takes recourse to alterity, so too must collective subjectivity develop the tools to ward off closing in on itself (through domatism or structuring group phantasy around a sign that assumes a Phallic function), policing its members (dictating, from above, legitimate and prohibited forms of speech, activity, etc.), and substituting a focus on how to identify and interpret, for itself, the unconscious traps that continuously hinder its expression. And it is this latter phenomena that obliges groups to  develop their own “transitional phantasies” or “transition objects,” whose function within the group is to liberate collective desire from grounding itself upon the dogmatic images of organization inherited from historical communism and the history of the workers movement. That said, one is still right to ask as to whether or not this development of transitional phantasies within subject-groups is simultaneously a sufficient reason for Guattari’s belief regarding the inherent link between psychotherapeutic practice and the concerns of (revolutionary) politics?

Breakthrough or Breakdown?

Just as he identifies the reductive work of psychoanalysis to be insufficient regarding the therapeutic aim of establishing, for the subject (i.e. the unconscious), a relation to a future that does not conform or repeat the structure of its past, so too does Guattari identify analogously reductive relations that inhibit the revolutionary potential of Leftist groups and organizations (e.g. the Party, the military, State, Capital). For Guattari, and with respect to Leftist institutions as historic as that of the Party-form and its mass organizations (union, youth organizations, women’s organizations, etc.), these forms have proven themselves to be an equally effective instrument of capitalist and state repression; achieved in large part by the alignment of workers’ desire with the interests of Capital as well as the Party’s collusion with bourgeois parties and the State in identifying and policing elements within the workers movement that continuously break with the Party line:

The demand for revolution is not essentially or exclusively at the level of consumer goods; it is directed equally to taking account of desire. Revolutionary theory, to the extent that it keeps its demands solely at the level of increasing people’s means of consumption, indirectly reinforces an attitude of passivity on the part of the working class. A communist society must be designed not with reference to consumption, but to the desire and the goals of mankind. The philosophic [sic] rationalism that dominates all the expressions of the workers’ movement like a super-ego fosters the resurgence of the old myths of paradise in another world, and the promise of a narcissistic fusion with the absolute. Communist parties are by way of having scientific “knowledge” of how to create a form of organization that would satisfy the basic needs of all individuals. What a false claim! There can be social planning in terms of organizing production…but it cannot claim to be able to give a priori answers in terms of the desire objectives of individuals and subject groups. (Guattari, ‘The Group and The Person’)

Moreover, says Guattari, it is only when groups undertake a schizoanalysis of itself that it can then develop “transitional phantasies” or “transition objects,” whose function within the group is to: “channel the action of imagination between one structure and another…To move from one representation of oneself to another, though it may involve crises, of at least retains continuity” (‘The Group and The Person, 229). More concretely, and as Guattari would argue with respect to the Italian State’s juridical and spectacular charges brought against Negri and the Red Brigades: “Violence is legitimate when it is the work of workers, women, and youths who are struggling to change their condition. It is no longer legitimate when it is only carried out by dogmatic groupuscules whose principal target…is the impact of their action on the media” (Guattari, ‘An Open Letter To Some Italian Friends’). Hence, Guattari writes:

Capitalism has only managed to consolidate those very bastions that the RAF and the Red Brigades claim too shake, insofar as it has managed to develop a majority consensus founded on social ultra-conservatism, the protection of acquired advantages and the sysmatic misinterpretation of anything that falls outside of corporate or national interests. And whatever works toward the isolation of individuals, whatever reinforces their feelings of impotence, whatever makes them feel guilty and dependent on the state, on collective agencies and their extensions…feed this consensus. To claim to lead a revolutionary movement without attacking these phenomena of mass manipulation is an absurdity. While the secret war conducted by the industrial powers along the north-south axis to keep the Third World is tow in indeed the main issue, it should not make us forget that there is another north-south axis which encircles the globe and along which conflicts of an equally essential nature are played out, involved the powers of the state and oppressed nationalities, immigrant workers, the unemployed, the “marginals,” the “nonguaranteed” and the “standardized” wage earners, the people of the cities and of the barrios, of the favellas, the ghettoes [sic], the shanty-towns, engaging the opposition of races, sexes, classes, age-groups, etc. To conduct this other war, in insure its social and mental control over the whole everyday, desiring world, capitalism mobilizes tremendous forces. To ignore this kind of opposition or to consider it of secondary importance is to condemn all other forms of social struggle led by the traditional Workers’ Movement to impotence or reappropriation. Like it or not, in today’s world, violence and the media work hand in glove. And when a revolutionary group plays the game of the most reactionary media, the game of collective guilt, then it has been mistaken: mistaken in its target, mistaken in its method, mistaken in its strategy, mistaken in its theory, mistaken in its dreams… (Guattari, ‘Like the Echo of a Collective Melancholia,’ 110-11)

Thus, it is for this reason that Deleuze will go on to claim, in his foreword to the text, that Guattari’s project has always been “about grasping that point of rupture where, precisely, political economy and libidinal economy are one and the same” (PT, 17) and that schizoanalysis refuses the misleading assumption that the problem of the Left is that of choosing between spontaneity and centralism, or between guerilla and generalized warfare: Guattari’s strength consists in showing that the problem is not at all about choosing between spontaneity and centralism. Nor between guerilla and generalized warfare. It serves no purpose to recognize in one breath the right to spontaneity during a first stage, if it means in the next breath demanding the necessity of centralization for a second stage: the theory of stages is the ruin of every revolutionary movement. From the start we have to be more centralist than the centralists. Clearly, a revolutionary machine cannot remain satisfied with local and occasional struggles: it has to be at the same time super-centralize and super-desiring. The problem, therefore, concerns the nature of unification, which must function in a transversal way, through multiplicity, and not in a vertical way…In the first place, this means that any unification must be the unification of a war-machine and not a State apparatus (a red Army stops being a war-machine to the extent that it becomes a more or less important cog in a State apparatus) (‘Three Group-Related Problems,’ 15-16).

‘Desire Never Stops Investing History’

What is the relationship between machine and structure? What is it that differentiates a line of flight from becoming a pure line of death? Now, however unhelpful as it may seem, a perfectly adequate to answer to these questions would be the difference between the nature of the possible and desire’s orientation toward the virtual (‘real without being actual, ideal without being abstract’). For just as there is more in the real than the possible, desire is something more than what is deemed (structurally) realistically possible. As we see with Guattari’s own examples regarding the technological developments within the capitalist mode of production,

the spasmodic evolution of machinery keeps cutting across the existing hierarchy of skills. In this sense, the worker’s alienation to the machine excludes him from any kind of structural equilibrium […] Such professional bodies as still exist, like doctors, pharmacists, or lawyers, are simply survivals from the days of pre-capitalist production relations. (Guattari, ‘Machine and Structure’)

It is in this sense that a machine outstrips and modifies the structure in which it is embedded. Moreover, it is because of this relationship between structures which codify its machinic ruptures that Guattari locates desire on the side of the machine. That is to say, just as structure tends toward limiting the number of positions relative to the mode of production under capitalist society, desire tends toward its actualizing precisely in those locations within totality that have been deemed impossible, and toward what this structure cannot satisfy or incorporate. Thus we can say that ‘machinic desire’ is that which moves towards the impossible and is a process that attempts to resolve a certain social problem, and is actualized in response to everything that is felt to be intolerable within structures themselves. For what else does Deleuze mean when, reflecting on the events of 1968 in France, he remarks that May 68 was “a collective phenomenon in the form of: “Give me the possible, or else I’ll suffocate.” The possible does not pre-exist, it is created by the event. It is a matter of life. The event creates a new existence, it produces a new subjectivity (new relations with the body, with time, sexuality, the immediate surroundings, with culture, work).” What is more, and particularly in light of Guattari’s particular understanding of how desire and its machines relate to their corresponding structures, we are able to return to one of the oft-cited from Anti-0edipus, which claims that the German people were not duped into Nazism but authentically harbored the desire for it. For what is asserted here is not the non-being of ideology but rather the reality of an authentic desire for death (for it is precisely through this gradual modification of what is deemed acceptable and intolerable that a people arrive at a position whose politics is nothing but a celebration of the ‘cult of death’):

Given the right conditions, the masses express a revolutionary will. Their desires clear away all obstacles and open up new horizons […] Desire [however] never stops investing history, even in its darkest periods. The German masses had come to desire Nazism. After Wilhelm Reich, we cannot avoid coming to grips with this fact. Under certain conditions, the desire of the masses can turn against their own interests. What are those conditions? That is the question. (‘Deleuze and Guattari Fight Back…’ Desert Islands, 217)

However, we still may ask as to why it is said that machines are defined by its disruptive break with structures. For Guattari, it is constitutive of the history of capitalism that capital revolutionizes its means of production – a point perhaps best exemplified by Marx’s well known ‘Fragment on Machines’ and the tendency of automation in general. Machine in this sense is said to be disruptive because the structural modification, which is its effect, redefines which subject positions are viewed as acceptable and unacceptable relative to the mode of production. Thus, it is the progressive development of the forces of production that continually overtakes and displaces abstract labour’s role within the structure of capital. However, and in contrast with the machine understood from the vantage point of the accumulation and reproduction of capital, Guattari proposes the following understanding of this concept of machine: “At a particular point in history desire becomes localized in the totality of structures; I suggest that for this we use the general term “machine” (‘Machine and Structure,’ 327). Machine in this sense is when any development within a structure simultaneously“represents social subjectivity for the structure.” As Guattari writes, “it could be a new weapon, a new production technique, a new set of religious dogmas, or such major new discoveries as the Indies, relativity, or the moon. To cope with this, a structural anti-production develops until it reaches its own saturation point, while the revolutionary breakthrough also develops, in counterpoint to this” (Ibid). And it is precisely over this new element that machine and structure renew their mutual antagonism. And here, desire (revolutionary breakthrough) abides not by the logic of structural possibility but by the logic of the desirable and the intolerable:

The question we must ask is whether the things produced by desire –  a dream, an act of love, a realized Utopia – will ever achieve the same value on the social plane as the things produced commercially, such as cars or cooking fat? The value of anything depends, of course, on a combination of labour-force and available technology (that is, variable and fixed capital), but also, and far more basically, on its relation to the dividing line between what is accepted by desire and what is rejected. All the capitalist cares about are the various desire and production machines that he can link up to his exploitation machine: your arms if you are a street-sweeper, your intelligence if you are an engineer, your looks if you are a cover-girl…Any voice that might be heard speaking up for other things can only interfere with the order of his production system. So, though desire machines proliferate among the industrial and social machines, they are always being closely watched, channeled, isolated from one another, put into compartments. What we have to find out is whether this alienating control, which is believed to be legitimate and indeed inherent in the social situation of human beings, can ever be overcome. (‘Molecular Revolutions and Class Struggle’ 255)