1968-2018: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose(?)

may 68 barricade bordeaux

Transcript of my talk for the ‘’68 & its Double-binds’ conference at the University of Kent

Prefatory note: What motivated the writing of this presentation was the Badiou quote that was used on the CFP for this conference, which reads: “We are commemorating May ‘68 because the real outcome and the real hero of ‘68 is unfettered neo-liberal capitalism.” Upon reading this I felt compelled to revisit Badiou’s original essay, if only due to my immediate intuition that a conclusion such as this one strikes one as being at odds with the place reserved for May ‘68 in Badiou’s overall political thought and life. And if it sounds at odds with Badiou’s own thinking on this topic, it is because it is; for the the sentence directly preceding the quote just read reads, “There is also a second even more pessimistic answer [to why we are commemorating May ‘68 forty years after the fact].”[1] Now, the purpose of this anecdote is not to put anyone on trial but rather to revisit Badiou’s own analysis in detail and to inquire into whether or not his thesis remained true ten years on: can we still be said to be the contemporaries of May ‘68 or have the relations between the Left in 2018 and the Left of 1968 undergone a substantive transformation?   

[Introduction]

Today it appears that rather than the presentation of a solution or set of proscriptions, May ’68 persists in the form of a problem. For someone like Badiou, this problem of 68 belongs strictly to the order of politics insofar as the era was defined by, and preoccupied with, the question, “What is politics?”[2] while for those like Guattari, ‘68’s problematic was socio-economic in essence (“…one specific battle to be fought by workers in the factories, another by patients in the hospital, yet another by students in the university. As became obvious in ’68, the problem of the university is…the problem of society as a whole.”)[3] And for others still, such as Jean-Luc Nancy, the problem of May reveals itself to be decidedly metaphysical in nature (“Democracy is first of all a metaphysics and only afterwards a politics.”)[4] Thus it seems that the fate of “May ’68” is to remain an eternal site of contestation, always irreducible to any single sequence of events.[5] Hence our suggestion that “the meaning of May” signifies less a resolution of contradictions and more so a formulation of a set of problems. However, for us it is necessary to ask whether or not we still remain its contemporaries, as Badiou suggests. In other words, is it as simple as recognizing the fact that contemporary struggles continue to lack the relevant forms and organization of political subjectivity capable of ushering in a qualitative transformation of capital and its attendant social relations?

In what follows, I would like to propose that our relationship to May ‘68 is more complicated than any straightforward affirmation or rejection of our contemporaneity with the political sequence that bears its name and date. And it is by understanding why it becomes difficult to simply affirming or denying Badiou’s claim that we are able to grasp how our relationship to ‘68 involves, by necessity, both responses. While it may be the case that what we share with ‘68 is our searching for an answer to a singular question – namely, what form will collective subjectivity take such that it is adequate to the abolition of itself and its present state of affairs? – what becomes clear is that the possible solutions this question solicited in 1968 are significantly different from those offered up in 2018.

[Badiou’s ‘Four May’s]

I would like to begin by asking a very simple question: why all this fuss about May ‘68…40 years after the event? There was nothing of the kind for the thirtieth or twentieth anniversary.6 Thus begins Badiou’s reflections on the 40th anniversary of the events of ‘68. And not without justification, for it is indeed strange that May ’68 becomes worthy of national commemoration only once 40 years of silence has come to pass. Beginning with this question what Badiou outlines two of the dominant modes of responding to this question.

On the one hand, there are a set of answers that can be said to be pessimistic & propose the idea that it is possible to commemorate May ’68 precisely because it no longer has any socio-political influence on the present .7 Or we could say that this commemoration is possible because what was really achieved through the events of May was the establishment of the conditions of possibility for neoliberalism.8 On the other hand, there are those answers that are decidedly optimistic – ranging from arguments that view this commemorative moment as a looking towards the past for the inspiration needed to change the present, to those who still hold on to a certain image of insurrectionary politics, which is said to contain the promise that another world is indeed possible. Now, in contradistinction to these positions, and by emphasizing what he takes to be May ‘68’s irreducibly complex character, Badiou argues that there are not two but four different May’s:

the reason why this commemoration is complicated and gives rise to contradictory hypotheses is that May ’68 itself was an event of great complexity. It is impossible to reduce it to a conveniently unitary image. I would like to transmit to you this internal division, the heterogeneous multiplicity that was May ’68. There were in fact four different May ‘68’s. The strength and the distinctive feature of the French May ’68 is that it entwined, combined and superimposed four processes that are, in the final analysis, quite heterogeneous.[9]

So, in place of both optimistic and pessimistic mystifications, what goes by the name ‘May 1968’ was a political sequence that was effectuated due to the interplay of (i) the student/university uprising, (ii) the general and wildcat strikes organized by workers, and (iii) the cultural protestations which arose most notably from young people and filmmakers. And it is for this reason, says Badiou, that it comes as no surprise that the symbolic sites of ‘68 are “the occupied Sorbonne for students, the big car plants (and especially Billancourt) for the workers, and the occupation of the Odéon theatre.”[10] Now, while each of these segments of ‘68 correspond to the first three iterations of May, what is it that constitutes this supposed ‘fourth’ May? And what is its relation to the university, factory, and the struggles of everyday life?

According to Badiou, this ‘fourth May’ is nothing other than the generalization of what one could call an ‘absolute refusal’ or ‘absolute rejection’ regarding ‘68’s movements relation to previous cycles of revolutionary struggle. This fourth iteration of May, was defined by the various social movements shared rejection of the Leninist outline of revolution (or what Badiou, in his essay on Sylvain Lazarus, calls ‘the bolshevik mode of politics’) – a vision of revolution that proceeds via workers’ parties, backed by labour unions, all while professional revolutionaries organize the masses in the bid for seizing state power.[11] And it was this rejection of revolutionary orthodoxy characteristic of the fourth May that laid the ground for the unification of the student, worker, and cultural struggles active during ‘68. It is for this reason that Badiou will go on to define this fourth May as a collective attempt to construct ‘…a vision of politics that was trying to wrench itself away from the old vision… [a politics] seeking to find that which might exist beyond the confines of classic revolutionism.’[12]

Now, in addition to this collective rejection of ‘classic revolutionism,’ the other aspect of the fourth May was the rejection of working-class identity as being the sole determinant of one’s revolutionary potential. And, for Badiou, this rejection, which was founded upon the idea that ‘the classical figure of the politics of emancipation’ to be ‘ineffective,’ had its validity confirmed by his experience of factory workers’ welcoming himself and his university colleagues during a march to the Chausson factory in Reims:

What happened at the gates of the Chausson factory would have been completely improbable…a week earlier. The solid union and party dispositif usually kept workers, young people and intellectuals strictly apart…The local or national leadership was the only mediator. We found ourselves in a situation in which that dispositif was falling apart before our very eyes. This was something completely new…This was an event in the philosophical sense of the term: something was happening but its consequences were incalculable. What were its consequences during the ten ‘red years’ between 1968 and 1978? Thousands of students…workers, women…and proletarians from Africa went in search of a new politics…A political practice that accepted new trajectories…and meetings between people who did not usually talk to each other…At that point, we realized…that if a new emancipatory politics was possible…it would turn social classifications upside down [and] would…consist in organizing lightning displacements, both material and mental.[14]

 

Thus, for Badiou, to commemorate or reflect upon the events of 68 means to necessarily confront and understand it as a political sequence that was realized only because of students, workers, cultural producers, and historically marginalized identity groups (youth, women, Algerians, etc.) sharing one and the same horizon of struggle – replete with its dual rejection of the politics of parliamentarianism, party led unions, and transitional programs; and the figure of the worker as the sole bearer of revolutionary potential. A sequence whose guiding question was the following: “What would a new political practice that was not willing to keep everyone in their place look like?”[15] And it is precisely in this sense that 1968 is said to mark the birth of a political subjectivity defined by a defiance of the social positions (‘places’) allotted to it by Capital. Thus it comes as no surprise that we can find Kristin Ross give a description of May ‘68 in a manner similar to the portrait of political subjectivity drawn by Badiou himself:

What has come to be called “the events of May” consisted mainly in students ceasing to function as students, workers as workers, and farmers as farmers: May was a crisis in functionalism. The movement took the form of political experiments in declassification, in disrupting the natural “givenness” of places; it consisted of displacements that took students outside of the university, meetings that brought farmers and workers together, or students to the countryside—trajectories outside of the Latin Quarter, to workers’ housing and popular neighborhoods, a new kind of mass organizing (against the Algerian War in the early 1960s, and later against the Vietnam War) that involved physical dislocation. And in that physical dislocation lay a dislocation in the very idea of politics — moving it out of its…proper place, which was for the left at that time the Communist Party.[16]

And so the notion of there having been not one or two, but “four May’s,” retains its analytical usefulness insofar as it allows us to conceive of ‘68 on its own terms; as a form of politics whose horizon of struggle was one that rejected past and present iterations of left-wing politics and gave consistency to collectivity via the fourth-May-as-diagonal ‘that links the other three [May’s].’[17] And in following Badiou we are necessarily led to the conclusion that it was only by virtue of the diagonal function of the fourth May that ‘68 succeeded in giving a new meaning to struggle itself; a vision of struggle no longer subordinate to any party line; no longer in want or need of recognition from the established institutions of the Left; no longer faithful to a notion of revolutionary agency confined to the point of production; and thereby making it possible to (briefly) live in reality what we have long been said to be in truth: non-alienated, collective, and thus free.

[1968 – 2018?]

Today, however, things do not seem as clear as they did during 1968. With respect to politics, the radical left (at least in the United States and UK) is increasingly confronted by an internal split between that portion of the Left that has invested its energies and belief in progressive change, in candidates and parties on the parliamentary left (Labour in the UK, DSA backed candidates in the Democratic Party in the United States, etc.) and the extra-parliamentary portion of the Left, which remains ever skeptical of achieving the radical transformation of our social totality via presently existing political institutions and organizations. And this alone is already a significant divergence from Badiou’s assessment regarding our relation to the legacy of ‘68. For if we are the contemporaries of ‘68; and if ‘68 was truly defined according to the diagonal function of this ‘fourth May’ which united various social movements via the shared rejection of both the Party-form with its unions and the electoral process; then, from the vantage point of the present, this consensus forged during ‘68 has now been put into question.[18]

An analysis such as this was already put forward in 2015 by Plan C’s Keir Milburn. In their article ‘On Social Strikes and Directional Demands,’ they note how one of the key contributing factors that has led to this impasse is the failure of the movements of 2011 to bring about the desired and/or expected level of change. As they put it, “[A]n impasse was reached in both the pure horizontalist rejection of representative politics and the initial attempts to address the crisis of social reproduction autonomously from the State and capital.”[19] Reflecting upon SYRIZA and the limitations of a straightforwardly parliamentarian approach to radical change, Milburn, in my estimation, correctly underscores the fact that electing various Left leaning parties into power reveals what is inherently limiting regarding this reinvestment of the Party-form – and this largely happens either through compromises made between the elected government and the EU or by the EU’s, IMF’s, and World Bank’s, isolation of said government in order to elicit the desired set of austerity measures, thereby rendering it amenable to the demands of the market: “Neoliberalism…seeks to either replace points of democratic decision with pseudo-market mechanisms or, where this isn’t possible, insulate points of political decision from pressure and influence from below.”[20]  So what are we to take away from all this?

1). The Left: First, in terms of a collective subject whose consistency is drawn from a shared horizon with its principles and analyses, it would be more accurate to say that, today, we are witnessing the undoing of the ‘fourth May’s’ unifying function, which can be seen in the internal split between electoral and extra-parliamentarian approaches. And just as “we must not forget…that May ‘68’s last slogan was élections piège à cons [Elections are a con],” we must recognize that one possible slogan that could encapsulate the Left of 2018 would be the idea that ‘elections are a mode through which class struggle can again be waged.’

2). The Subject of Politics: Second, while the problem of constructing a form of subjectivity adequate to the current organization of capital remains as urgent as it was in 1968, this problem is, in fact, an insufficient ground upon which to establish contemporaneity since this was a problem that every historical period had to pose and answer for itself – regardless if the solutions to this problem assumed different names such as sans-culotte, the peasant, the slave, the colonized, and of course the worker. And regarding the current relation of Capital’s socio-economic structure to the possible existence of the long sought after agent of abolition, the prospects of the Left being able to determine for themselves the form and organizational structure struggle will assume appears to be even more difficult than 1968 – a milieu that, as we saw, was already characterized by the established parties and unions fighting both their electoral rivals and those who defected or exercised insubordination in the face of union and party officials. What is more, given the recent research on various forms of struggle such as Joshua Clover’s book on riots, it is worth emphasizing what he lays out so carefully: the strike and the riot continue to be, in large part, overdetermined by the accumulation and production of value – and this, in spite of everything that is redeeming in Marx’s notion of the ‘multiplication of the proletariat,’ which refers to the process that follows from Capital’s increasing turn away from production and toward circulation and consumption (reproduction) for the extraction of value. That is, the multiplication of the proletariat, for both Marx and Clover, is still a process of generalized precarity rather than the generalization of a collective and antagonistic Subject.

3). The Party, The State: However, if it is precisely a shared orientation defined as anti-state, anti-party, and anti-parliamentarian that is lacking from our present and whose absence is the felt in the Left’s division from itself, the solution cannot simply be calls of support for more ‘diversity of tactics,’ because when the parties of the Left end up in power what we have seen in the past and what may come again in the near future is the repression of all those extra-parliamentary groups struggles, whose very existence participated in building a political climate favorable to the Left as a whole. This is a tendency that realized itself  in post-’68 France and whose most well known example is that of the Italian Communist Party’s ‘historic compromise.’ And regarding the recent years leading up to 2018, we have also seen echoes of this from Corbyn’s Labour Party. For instance, in Labour’s 2017 manifesto one reads that the Labour Party will promise to rectify the damage done by Theresa May cutting funds to police and emergency personnel (Labour Party Manifesto, 46-47). How exactly? By placing an additional 10,000 more police officers on the streets to, ostensibly, “keep our communities safe.” And all of this while Corbyn was meeting with well known grime mcs (JME), all of whom come from communities that are at the highest risk of being harrassed, beaten, wrongfully stopped and searched, verbally and physically assaulted, or worse, by the police themselves.

Endnotes

  1.  Alain Badiou, Communist Hypothesis, (Verso: London, 2015), 33.
  2.  Ibid, 39-40.
  3.  Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolutions, p. __“…one specific battle to be fought by workers in the factories, another by patients in the hospital, yet another by students in the university. As became obvious in ’68, the problem of the university is…the problem of society as a whole.”
  4. Jean-Luc Nancy, The Truth of Democracy, p. 34. Or as Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas put it, “Democracy must therefore be thought as the incommensurable sharing of existence that makes the political possible but can in no way be reduced to the political. As such, it is first of all a metaphysics and only afterwards a politics. It was May 68, Nancy argues, that demonstrated all this in an exemplary way and so deserves to be not simply remembered and commemorated but rethought and renewed.” Ibid, xi.
  5.  In other parts of the world, however, 1968 means something more than the struggle over historical interpretation. In 2014, 43 Mexican students who were kidnapped by police whilst in transit to Mexico City to commemorate the students and civilians massacred by the Mexican state in 1968. And to this day their families remain in the dark with only the repressive state to turn to for answers. For these 43 students publicly remembering the events of Mexico’s ‘68 is not simply a theoretical exercise. For them and their comrades, remembering 68 requires the courage of the militant Badiou often speaks of – since 68 in the global south is a game of life and death.
  6.  Alain Badiou, Communist Hypothesis, (Verso: London, 2015), 33.
  7.  “We can now commemorate May ‘68 because we are convinced that it is dead. Forty years after the event, there is no life left in it” (Ibid).
  8.  “The libertarian ideas of ‘68, the transformation of the way we live, the individualism and the taste for jouissance have become a reality thanks to post-modern capitalism and its garish world of all sorts of consumerism…Sarkozy himself is the product of May ’68, and to celebrate May ’68…is to celebrate the neoliberal West…” (Ibid, 33-34).
  9.  Ibid, 34-5, emphasis mine.
  10.  Ibid, 39.
  11.  Or as Badiou recounts from his own experience of May, “At the time we assumed that the politics of emancipation was neither a pure idea, an expression of the will nor a moral dictate, but that it was inscribed in, and almost programmed by, historical and social reality. One of that convictions implications was that this objective agent had to be transformed into a subjective power, that a social entity had to become a subjective actor. For that to happen, it had to be represented by a specific organization, and that is precisely what we called a party, a working-class or people’s party. That party had to be present wherever there were site of power or intervention. There were certainly wide-ranging discussion about what the party was…But there was a basic agreement that there a historical agent, and that that agent had to be organized. That political organization obviously had a social basis in mass organizations that plunged their roots into an immediate social reality…This gives us something that still survives today: the idea that there are two sides to emancipatory political action. First there are social movements…[T]hen there is the party element…”
  12.  Ibid, 43.
  13.  Ibid, 44.
  14.  Ibid, 45.
  15.  Ibid.
  16.  Kristin Ross, May 68 And Its Afterlives, 25, my emphasis.  
  17.  Communist Hypothesis, 44.
  18.  For more see Keir Milburn’s essay, ‘On Social Strikes and Directional Demands’ https://www.weareplanc.org/blog/on-social-strikes-and-directional-demands/
  19.  Keir Milburn, ‘On Social Strikes and Directional Demands’

20.   Keir Milburn, ‘On Social Strikes and Directional Demands.’ Additionally, it is important to recall Yanis Varoufakis’ anecdote regarding a conversation he had with Christine Legarde, head of the IMF. After Varoufakis informed Legarde that it would be mathematically impossible for Greece to repay its debt according to the austerity measures proposed by the IMF, Legarde in fact agreed with him but replied that it was something that must be done – a telling remark since it reveals the function of the Troika as the set of institutions who secure the smooth running of neoliberalism regardless of the material needs of those who live in debtor countries.

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The Black Bloc Which Was Not: Comments in the lead up to the Hamburg G20

propbdeedMembers of the ‘black bloc’ or fictional characters in a film?

In the 1 July copy of the German newspaper Taz one finds the statements of two leftist organizations – Campact and Interventionistische Linke  – each of which expresses their desire to be distanced from anything seen as ‘criminal’, and especially anything that can be associated with the black block. In the words of one Interventionistische Linke representative: ‘We want a colorful event. [But] Black is too colourful.’ A scene such as this seems to be something of a tradition within the German (reformist) left and rehearses a similar situation when, during the 1988 convention of the World Bank and IMF in Berlin, the Greens sought out discussions with world leaders while the Autonomen rejected any type of cooperation/reformism.

Unlike today, one opens the September 1988 issue of Der Spiegel with a different tone being expressed regarding the arrival of world financial leaders to the capital: “While the Greens met to discuss alternatives to the existing world financial system…the Autonomen declined to cooperate with reformists vis-à-vis the IMF. Der Spiegel quoted one radical as saying: “A death machine can only be combated.” Just as it was the case for this ‘radical’ in 1988 so too is it the case for those of us in Hamburg. In light of all the media attention leading up to the G20 summit, all one can really gather from these reports is the anticipation of any agreement between the Merkel-Macron alliance and Trump, and the arrival of the ‘black block’ and their riots. However it must be said: against the temptation of treating riots as something that detracts from the legitimate form of peaceful protest, or as something doomed from the start due to a perceived limitation inherent to the riot-form, Hamburg should receive the G20 and its affiliates in nothing but riotous fashion. As Joshua Clover has helpfully shown in his study on the historical relation between the riot and the strike, riots are a mode of struggle that simultaneously address themselves to police, the state, and capital. That is to say, riots are not simply ephemeral and spontaneous expressions of discontent but are ‘a mode of survival that seeks to resolve the crisis of the reproduction of labor within the spheres of circulation and consumption.’ To détourn Stuart Hall’s formulation: riots are a mode through which class struggle is lived.

Additionally, riots respond to the reality of the function of policing understood as ensuring the security of an economic system that was born from, and needs to maintain, the subjugation of people of color, the poor, queers, women, migrants, and refugees. That is, the job of the police isn’t to ‘protect and serve,’ or to help any citizen whatsoever when they are in danger, but rather to secure, defend, and maintain lucrative economic conditions at the national level for value production, as well as enforcing the illegality of subsistence outside the legally acceptable market of waged-labour. Again, it is this defense of capital and criminalization of those who resist becoming part of surplus populations that is being encountered once more in Hamburg. And as if to corroborate this claim of the police’s inherent role in the protection of capital, Timo Zell, a spokesman for the Hamburg police helpfully puts to rest any remaining doubts: this year’s G20 will be “the biggest operation in the history of Hamburg’s police.” It is because riots are a form of struggle that is equally anti-state, anti-police, and anti-capitalist, that the particular combination of police and capital at this week’s G20 summit should be nothing short of a riotous affair.

So if riots should break out, don’t be fooled into thinking that these are the problematic ‘far left elements’ of this week of protests; don’t believe that there has ever been such a thing as a ‘good’, as opposed to a ‘bad,’ demonstrator. It is the State that divides the masses between the good-citizen and bad-criminal, especially since it is with these so-called ‘bad’ and ‘criminal’ elements that anti-police and anti-state struggles are most effective. And, in fact, there has never been such a thing as a good protester as opposed to a bad one, just as there has never been such a thing as a good cop as opposed to a bad cop: in the confrontation with 20 world leaders there are only those who are for and against the G20’s raison d’état (securing the existence and relative stability of global capital); there are only those who aim to preserve this system and those who want nothing short of bringing about its swift end.

With respect to the G20’s raison d’état, it is important to highlight that its mandate of securing the global economy is not something people voted for. Rather, the political project inaugurated by the G20 is marked by its two ‘birthdays:’ the 1999 and 2008 financial crises, the latter of which has served as the justification for the composition and program of the G20 as it exists today. In other words, the absurd display of diplomatic tug-o-war that has been playing out in the media between global superpowers just so they can lay claim to the title of ‘leader of the free world’ overshadows the G20’s inseparability from previous and future ‘crises.’ That is, the G20 uses economic crises not only to justify its economic existence but also to maintain a monopoly of political control that has come to define the Western world and at least as far back as the fall of the Berlin wall. For us, the G20’s very existence is proof of what the Invisible Committee outlined as the contemporary mode of global governance:

If some commentators made fools of themselves by hastily proclaiming the “death of neoliberalism” with the explosion of the subprime swindle, it’s because they failed to understand that the “crisis” was not an economic phenomenon but a political technique of government. We’re not experiencing a crisis of capitalism but rather the triumph of crisis capitalism. “Crisis” means: government is growing. Crisis has become the ultima ratio of the powers that be…The present crisis, permanent and omnilateral, is no longer the classic crisis, the decisive moment. On the contrary, it’s an endless end, a lasting apocalypse, an indefinite suspension, an effective postponement of the actual collapse, and for that reason a permanent state of exception. The current crisis no longer promises anything; on the contrary, it tends to free whoever governs from every constraint as to the means deployed. (Invisible Committee, To Our Friends, 25-6)

If ‘crisis’ is the definitive mode of governance of groups like the G20, then the State’s response to the demonstrators who were in Hamburg should be of no surprise since ‘they [the G20] speak of “crisis” in regard to what they intend to restructure, just as they [State/police] label “terrorist” those they are preparing to strike down.’[6] Now, even though it was the Invisible Committee who recognized the emerging consensus among various leftist currents regarding slogans such as ACAB or tactics such as riots (“It seems that the epoch has even begun to secrete its own platitudes, like that All Cops Are Bastards (ACAB) which a strange internationale emblazons on the rough walls of cities, from Cairo to Istanbul, and Rome to Paris or Rio, with every thrust of revolt”[7]) it was the Parisian youth who, during last summer’s anti-labor law demonstrations and riots, would respond to the Committee’s insight with their own statements of intent tagged across the streets of Paris. And it is one particular slogan that interests us: tout le monde déteste la police. While such an assertion in English would read ‘everyone hates the police’, we find that a more literal translation is appropriate: the whole world hates the police.

The whole world hates the police because the police are the ones who, anywhere and everywhere, ensure the ‘stability of the global economy’, who call for ‘peaceful and reasonable protest,’ and who even claim that hosting the G20 in a big city shows the world Germany’s celebration of liberal rights despite the fact that the police have built detention centers and prisons specifically for those arrested during the protests and at the camps. If police officers can prepare spaces of confinement for those who exercise their state sanctioned ‘rights’ (the right to voice dissent through public assembly being the most relevant liberty in question vis-à-vis Hamburg) it is only because the kind of society afforded by Capital and its nation-states is one where the State claims to act as the guarantor of a set of universal rights while simultaneously arresting its citizens when the exercise of these rights conflict with the interests of the State. Thus, what should be obvious by now is the fact that everyone on the streets of Hamburg are all potential criminals from the point of view of the police, the state, and of capital. For this reason we should not be duped by a discourse on the ‘good’ as opposed to ‘bad’ elements of the demonstration, since everyone is potentially already one of the ‘bad ones.’

And what of the reports predicting the biggest black bloc in history? Surely those individuals who are only recognizable by their all black, masked up, attire would qualify as the rogue elements of civilized protest? For us, however, it would be better to ask the following: is there really such a thing as this so-called ‘black bloc’ that we hear of so often and have allegedly witnessed on our computer screens? We ask this for the simple reason that, to this day, we are not certain if we have ever seen a black bloc.

THE ‘BLACK BLOC’ WILL NEVER HAVE BEEN IN HAMBURG

black bloc vending machines (Marais)While not in Hamburg, the ‘black bloc’ can be found inside the Palais de Tokyo in Paris

Already in 2007, the ready-made artist Claire Fontaine identified why we feel the need to inquire into the existence or non-existence of this thing called black bloc. As Fontaine writes, ‘the black bloc is you, when you stop believing in it.’ And what led Fontaine to draw such a conclusion about this thing we hear so often about are the very reasons that allow us to say, in good faith, that we haven’t seen a black bloc. For us as well as Fontaine, the black bloc is defined as ‘that which exists only insofar as everyone stops believing in its existence’ because, today, it seems one can encounter the black bloc everywhere one goes. This includes everything from the evening news (“4 February 1007, on the 8 o’clock news I see what appears to be a male figure…throwing stones in a night lit by flames. He is wearing a very elegant Dolce & Gabbana bomber-jacket with a big silver D&G on the back and an immaculate white ski-mask”) to mundane yet unexpected places such as one boutique brand name (as pictured above) in the Palais de Tokyo (“While my eyes follow the footsteps of customers going to the Black Bloc boutique at the entrance to the Palais de Tokyo…Agamben’s words about the souls in Limbo automatically pops into my head: ‘like letters without addressees…they remained without destiny”). In other words, the black bloc exists insofar as we understand that it is a word without image, a word that can be tied to any number of images and regardless of whether the images we associate with this term contradict the very things it comes to signify. Thus, if it is to be anything, the black bloc is that term that exists without an image:

…giving a place like that a name that evokes transgression or even the destruction of merchandise, while here we are selling our merchandise at high prices and we’re loving it. Or maybe the black bloc sounded a bit like the opposite of the white cube, or the idea of a block bloc is suggestive, martial, what do I know?…It’s not just appearances one shouldn’t trust, one shouldn’t trust words either. Or more specifically, the link we imagine exists between words and images…For example, we believe we’ve found the illustration of this concept in photographs of marching people dressed in black, black bloc is a word with an image. The term black bloc alludes to a manifestation of desire for collective opacity, a will not to appear and to materialise affects that are increasingly hard to take. The black bloc is not a visual object, it’s an object of desire. (‘Black bloc’, 18)

Thus it is not a question of what black bloc really means and rather a question of subjective utterance: who is it that speaks about a so-called black bloc, and by doing so conjures up a correlating image to give meaning to their discourse? And for Fontaine, it is the State, more often than not, that has a vested interest in constructing the political significance of this term by relating word to image:

Instead let’s ask what ‘this is the black bloc’ means? Who says that? Wouldn’t that be a definition like an imaged filmed from a window, like the one from the 8 o’clock news…a definition shot from above, taken from the viewpoint of a watchtower, from some panopticon? What we are describing is always a block of ant-men, cockroach-men, a black block, which is black like the earth because it is seen from afar. But the carabinieri, they are also a black bloc. Baudelaire said that his contemporaries dressed in dark clothes that no painter enjoyed depicting, were an army of undertakers, that they were all celebrating some funeral. Enamoured undertakers, revolutionary undertakers. (‘Black bloc’, 20)

Just as we shouldn’t be fooled by the State’s discourse on ‘riots’ and its participants from the ‘hardcore fringe of the left’, we shouldn’t be duped into the State’s paranoia surrounding the arrival of the black bloc as well; especially since it is the State that has constructed what this term has come to be known as in the popular imagination. That is, the ‘black bloc’ that we have come to know through news reports and media outlets are the images of window smashers characterized as rogue individuals acting opportunistically in the midst of the majority of good, peaceful, law abiding citizens. And, according to the State, it is these individuals that come to stand in for what it once meant to dress in all black.

If this is so, then what it means to dress in all black, to wear masks, to de-arrest friends and fight to ensure their safety, what it means to engage in our mutual defense and a collective attack against the various ways this world does violence to us, means that these modes of composition are not the black bloc. It means that this thing we do with each other in the night where all demonstrators look alike isn’t and never was the black blocToday, then, it would be better to say that the one’s who arrive in Hamburg dressed in all black and take to the streets to protect their friends and comrades, that they too are not the black bloc. And if these actions and images are not the black bloc, then, we would do well to recognize the fact that, perhaps, the black bloc will never have been in Hamburg at all. So, when you read some article about the black bloc at this weeks G20 summit, or when you overhear strangers talking about masked up hooligans destroying the city, or when you see images taken by helicopter of far away bodies shown to be causing chaos in the streets, remember that you are hearing about something other than what dressing in all black actually meant; and particularly what it meant not for the ‘black bloc’ but for what, at one time, went by another name:

On the other hand, schwarze Block means something, it roots us in a history of resistance bound with the two 20th century Germany’s […] I could tell you that schwarze Block was a tactical form, that it was a means of preventing the police from identifying and isolation who committed what gesture during a riot. I could tell you that dressing in black meant: we are all comrades, we are all in solidarity, we are all alike, and this equality liberates us from the responsibility of accepting a fault we do not deserve; the fault of being poor in a capitalist country, the fault of being anti-fascist in the fatherland of Nazism, the fault of being libertarian in a repressive country. That it meant: nobody deserves to be punished for these reasons, and since you are attacking us we are forced to protect ourselves from violence when we march in the streets. Because war, capitalism, labour regulations, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, those things are not violent, however you see those of us who want to freely live our homosexuality, the refusal to found a family, collective life and abolition of property as the violent ones. So, if you want to arrest me instead of my comrade just because we are wearing the same clothing, go ahead, I accept that, I don’t deserve to be punished because he doesn’t deserve it either… I could go on like this, and even provide you with more specifics, by supplementing it with the history of demonstrations, of victories, with dates to back it all up and everything, like the time a band was playing around the rioters in the deserted streets, or the time when the police took off running… I could go on for pages and pages, but that’s not the issue here. All this isn’t the black bloc. (‘Black Bloc’, 19-20, my emphasis)

 

black bloc barricade hamburg…the black bloc is you, when you stop believing in it.

Call for Submissions, Hostis Issue 3: Fuck The Police

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The Police = The Enemy

We are persuaded by the Situationist belief that all good critiques can be boiled down to a slogan. Those for our issue? “All Cops Are Bastards.” “Fuck The Police.” “Off the Pigs.” “Fire to the Prisons.” The job of the police is to put everything and everyone in its proper place. On its face, such a description sounds rather clinical, reminiscent of the boring work of an accountant preparing tax filings. But is this not how policing describes itself? Judges, lawmakers, and good citizens say it the same way – good policing happens with a smiling face, whistling a tune, and chatting with neighborhood kids. Like a game of cops and robbers, they attribute any resulting violence to ‘the bad guys.’ Always childishly pointing their fingers at someone else, as if to tattle on ‘the ones who started it.’ If slogans like ‘ACAB’ or ‘FTP’ belong to a larger political horizon, it is one that has also been articulated in slogan form: une autre fin du monde est possible [Another End of the World is Possible]. The aim is to usher in an end to this world other than the looming catastrophe of capital by reiterating that the police act as the guarantors of a perpetual present. It is within this context that this issue of Hostis seeks to embolden slogans that single out the police as a true enemy. If the police are an enemy, then it is because enemies are not to be fought simply through negation but to be abolished completely. The lesson we draw from this: the enemy is the one whose existence must be abolished without qualification.

But where did it all start? Slavery. Food riots. Urban revolt. The police have always been civil society’s response to the existence of what we today call masses, publics, or even the most sacred of democratic ideas: the People. That is to say, the police have always been conjured to control masses and crowds whereas the old canard of criminality materializes only after the police have been summoned. Despite this already being old wisdom, it bears repeating: the police do not carry peace as an olive branch to seal a cessation of hostilities. Rather, the peace offered by the police are the terms of a surrender through which they legalize their dominion over us. Their peace institutionalizes a racial order, sanctions the proper means of economic exploitation, and criminalizes anyone who fights back.

In the face of this all, we are continuously confronted with a well rehearsed justification for the necessity of the police that repeats the sick notion that it takes violence to deal with the most dangerous elements of society. As the argument goes, police officers put themselves in ‘harm’s way,’ and since the police are the only thing standing between unfettered chaos on the one hand, they exist as a necessary evil for the upholding of civil society. This old story of police work being dangerous, however, is only half correct. It is true that police arrive on the scene like the grim reaper, stinking of death. Yet cops rarely encounter danger. In the US in 2016, it is more dangerous for police to enter their cars than to put on their badges, according to a recent FBI report that noted auto fatalities as the leading cause of police on-the-job death. Statistics point to truckers, garbage collectors, taxi drivers, and landscapers having more hazardous jobs than a pig on patrol. Moreover, our task is not to provide the tools, manpower, and legitimacy to make their job easier. On the contrary, we wish to make policing so impossible that it stops making any sense at all.

We would like many of our friends to reconsider how they oppose the police. Social anarchists do not wish to abolish policing, just certain types of police. In fact, they seem most worried about restoring the foundational political legitimacy laid bare by police violence. This is why social anarchists talk about empty concepts like democracy, the people, or other ‘legitimate authorities.’ “Strong communities don’t need police,” they say, followed up by an assortment of police reforms or alternatives: community review boards, citizen policing, restorative justice. Self-policing then appears as the alternative to state policing. We think it absurd to imagine any of those social forms as even possible in our age of fragmentation, that is, except for those erected to protect a privileged few. And who would want to live in a ‘strong community,’ anyway? We are even more frightened by the violence done by neighbors who police each other than a stranger with a badge and a gun.

This issue of Hostis is interested in contributions that elaborate on our critiques-slogans, “All Cops Are Bastards,” “Fuck The Police,” “Off the Pigs,” and “Fire to the Prisons.” We look forward to submissions on:

  • Anti-Cop Cultural Production (Slogans, Poems, Art)
  • The History of the Police (Racial History, Food Riots, The Carceral State)
  • The Impossibility of Police Reform (Civilian Review Boards, Body Cameras, Demilitarization)
  • Critiques of Alternative Policing (Community Policing, Restorative Justice, Anti-Violence Programs)
  • Comparative, historical, materialist, and/or structural analyses of how policing is carried out in the US and abroad, and its implications for ongoing anti-police struggles worldwide (e.g. Police killings in the U.S. and the Philippines)
  • Strategies for Confronting the Police (Riots, Rebellion, Anti-Social Acts)

Hostis is looking for submissions from those who are tired of compromising themselves, who are repulsed by the police, who want to fight the cops, and who are working to abolish the police. In addition to scholarly essays, we are looking for any original work suited to the printed page: ‘rap sheets’ of police officers, police departments and/or precincts, strategic diagrams, logistical maps, printed code, how-to instructions, photo-essays, illustrations, or mixed-media art. To remain consistent with the journal’s point of view, we seek material whose tone is abrasive, mood is cataclysmic, style is gritty, and voice is impersonal.

Submissions will be selected by an editorial collective. Contributors should expect to receive critical feedback in the first stage of review requesting revisions to improve their submission and make it consistent with the other contributions selected for inclusion. While we are not soliciting proposals, we are happy to comment on possible submissions before official review. The deadline for submission is January 15, 2017. All submissions should be sent to hostis.journal@gmail.com or hostis@lbcbooks.com (PGP encrypted message accepted) as MS Word, rtf, pdf, jpg, or png files. Include a title, author name, content, and any formatting requests. Expect to complete requested revisions between March-April 2017.

HOSTIS: A Short Introduction to the Politics of Cruelty

Circles & Grids - Eva Hesse

[This is a brief excerpt from the introduction to Hostis Issue 1. A PDF of the full issue can be found here.]

THE PROBLEM with the social is not that it fails at its intended goals. There is no use in disputing the advances in education, science, or medicine brought by scientific planning of the social – they work. We instead take issue with the means through which the social brings social peace. As French historian Michel Foucault points out, the social was invented simultaneously with the science of the police and publicity, or as they are known today, Biopower and The Spectacle. The former ensuring that everything is found and kept in its proper place, and the latter making certain that everything which is good appears and everything which appears is good. The historical effects is that within the span of a few decades, the governmentalized techniques of the social were integrated into contemporary life and began passively making other means of existence either unlivable or invisible.

Today, the social is nothing but a de-centered category that holds the population to blame for the faults of government. Prefiguration fails to question the social. This is because prefigurative politics is: the act of reinventing the social. Socialist radicals come in a number of flavors. There are dual-power anarchists, who believe in building parallel social institutions that somehow run ‘better’ (though they rarely do, or only for a select few). There are humanist anarchists, who believe that when most styles of governance are decentralized, they then bring out human nature’s inherent goodness. There are even pre-figurative socialists (“democratic socialists” or “reformists”) who believe that many equally-allocated public resources can be administered by the capitalist state. Ultimately, the social functions for prefigurative politics just as it did for utopian socialists and now the capitalist present – the social is the means to an ideal state of social peace.

Let us be clear, we are not calling for social war. Everywhere, the social is pacification. Even social war thinks of itself as (good) society against the (bad) state. This is just as true of an ‘anti-politics’ that pits the social against politics. Look to John Holloway or Raúl Zibechi, who focus on indigenous resistance to the imperialism of capital and the state. Both argue that the threat is always ‘the outside,’ which comes in the form of either an external actor or a logic that attempts to ‘abstract’ the power of the social. Holloway argues that when the state is an objective fetish that robs the social of its dynamic power (Change the World, 15-9, 59, 94), while Zibechi says that indigenous self-management provides “social machinery that prevents the concentration of power or, similarly, prevents the emergence of a separate power from that of the community gathered in assembly” (Dispersing Power, 16). Such a perspective is deeply conservative in nature, and they lack a revolutionary horizon – they reject whatever are dangers imposed from without only by intensifying the internal consistency of a (family-based) community from within, thickening into a social shell that prevents relations of externality. Without going into much detail, this is the largest drawback to already existing utopian socialist experiments – the same autonomy that allows a group to detach from imperialistic domination also becomes cloistered, stuck in place and lacking the renewal provided by increased circulation.

CIVIL WAR IS THE ALTERNATIVE TO THE SOCIAL. Against the social and socialism, we pit the common and communism. Our ‘alternative institutions’ are war machines and not organs of a new society. The goal cannot be to form a clique or to build the milieu. Insurrectionary communism intensifies truly common conditions for revolt – it extends what is already being expropriated, amplifies frustrations shared by everyone, and communicates in a form recognized by all. We fight for sleep, for every minute in bed is a moment wrested from capital. We deepen the hostility, for anger is what keeps people burning hot with fury during the cold protracted war waged by our faceless enemies. We spread images of insubordination, for such scenes remind everyone of the persistence of defiance in these cynical times. If we build infrastructure at all, it is conflict infrastructure. Most of the time, we take our cues from pirates, who would never strike out alone like Thoreau to invent something from scratch. They commandeer full-formed tools of society and refashion them into weapons. The other thing we have learned from pirates is that duration is a liability; abandon anything that becomes too costly to maintain – a project, a struggle, an identity – there are a million other places to intensify the conflict. But even in our life behind enemy lines, we agree with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who insist that war is only a secondary byproduct of the war machine; producing new connections is its primary function (A Thousand Plateaus, 416-23). We like how Tiqqun elaborates on this difficulty. If one focuses too much of living, they descend into the insulated narcissism of the milieu. If one focuses too much on struggling, they harden into an army, which only leads down the path of annihilation. The politics of civil war, then, is how exactly one builds the coincidence between living and struggling. Though most know it by its reworking, Call: to live communism and spread anarchy.

 

‘5 Theses on the Politics of Cruelty’ – Hostis: A Journal of Incivility

cross-chair- josef svoboda

(A preview from the forthcoming Issue of Hostis: A Journal of Incivility)

I). The politics that seduces us is not ethical, it is cruel.

We contrast the politics of cruelty to the politics of ethics. Ethics goes all the way back to the Greeks, whose ethics was the study of ‘the good life.’ Our interests do not lie in being better than our enemies.There is only cheap satisfaction in telling yourself that you have more exciting sex, stronger friendships, or fiercer personal convictions. The point is not to be better, but to win. Perhaps this leaves a bad taste in some mouths. However, we ask: is ethics not just a last resort for the impotent? Are ethical people what is left after struggles collapse into impossibility, futility, or counterproductivity

If abandoning ethics leaves one disturbed, it is because ethics is a wholly personal affair. To be ethical today is not even reformist – it is politics rendered as fantasy, a live action role play of those who ‘mean well.’ The sphere of ethical life is a world of braggarts and bullies looking for others to affirm that they have made the right personal choices. Ethics valorizes the virtue of activist intentions while leaving the systemic destruction of globally-integrated capital intact. In other words, it is fueled by the elitism of ‘being better than everyone else.’ And the problem with elitism is that it plunges us back into the milieu.

Cruelty has no truck with the individualism of ethics. It does not guide political action with virtue or best intentions. We are not looking to win the respect of those we wish to defeat. Ethics is the trap laid for those who walk the earth searching for respite from the destruction and violence of capital and the state. There is no use in making peace with an enemy whose realized interests entail your subjugation. There was nothing ‘ethical’ about the colonial world. And as Fanon reminds us, it could only be destroyed by giving up on an ‘ethical’ method. It is in this sense that a politics of cruelty picks up the old adage that one must ‘destroy what destroys you’.

II). Few emotions burn like cruelty.

It is already old wisdom that emotions are at stake when we talk about becoming ‘politicized.’ Emotions are what render the speculative and abstract into a lived reality. Winning is not simply a question of having the right ideas or right principles, this is why we define politics as the transformation of ideas into a whole mode of existence where one’s principles are at the same time one’s impulsion toward the world. If the politics of cruelty follows from the belief that we must destroy what destroys us, the emotion of cruelty is revenge. Only this taste for revenge offers resistance to the voices of this world that tell us to put up with the daily violence done to us. To feel cruel is to know that we deserve better than this world; that our bodies are not for us to hate or to look upon with disgust; that our desires are not disastrous pathologies. To feel the burning passion of cruelty, then, is to reclaim refusal. We refuse to compromising ourselves and the million tiny compromises of patriarchy, capitalism, white-supremacy, heter/homo-normativity, and so on. As such, the subject of cruelty no longer convinces themselves to love the world or to find something in the world that redeems the whole. Simply put: the subject of cruelty learns to hate the world. The feeling of cruelty is the necessary correlate to the politics of cruelty; learning to hate the world is what correlates to the political task of destroying what destroys us all. And as we already noted, it is because these two principles have a long history behind them that a politics of cruelty does not posit itself as a novelty: The Women’s Liberation movements are correct in saying: We are not castrated, so you get fucked.

III). Those motivated by cruelty are neither fair nor impartial.

Fairness is the correlate to the ‘ethics-as-politics’ paradigm. Why? Because fairness suggests that we relate to everyone in the same way. There is nothing about this world that encourages universal fairness or acting according to mutual support of any and all interests. Rather, we live in a world where everyone is pitted against each other – we have a structurally determined interest to be mean and to succeed at the expense of others. Fairness, as it currently exists, is the fairness of neoliberal competition; a state sponsored ‘state of nature’. Impartiality is the counter-tendency to the subject of cruelty. Unlike the cruel subject who understands that there can be no agreement made between capital and its dispossessed, the impartial subject furthers the myth that agreements can and should be found between the two parties. Impartiality is the idea that power is symmetrical and that a social contract can give this symmetry its proper force through law.

We know that we are in the midst of a civil war. We act as partisans. And as in any war, we have friends and enemies. For our enemies, we have nothing but disdain, hatred, and cruelty. Our only engagement with them is when it strategically advances our side in the conflict. For our friends, we extend care, support, and solidarity.

Some say that capital and the state operate through cruelty; and contrary to their cruelty, our struggle is to take the higher ground. This is to misunderstand what few things are unique to our position. Our enemies must reproduce their bases of power, which is takes a costly investment in corrupt political systems, crumbling industrial infrastructure, and expensive wars of ideology. As anarchists, we do not need to reproduce much  – we do not need to justify our actions, we do not need to be consistent in our activities, and we need not defend any of the institutions of this world. To limit ourselves even more than our enemies by following the narrow path of ethics is to give up our only advantage.

IV). Their actions speak with an intensity that does not desire permission, let alone seek it.

There is a qualitative difference between the cruelty exercised by us and the cruelty of capital and its State(s). In the United States, there is the idea that the 18th amendment guarantees the protection of citizens from ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ This was to juridically curtail the power of the State over and against its citizenry. But due to the explicitly bourgeois heritage from which it emerges, this guarantee against State-cruelty only goes as far as the eyes of the State can see; that is, only insofar as two isolated individuals are coming into conflict with one another, and where the State intervenes impartially as the mediating third term. It is in this way that the curtailing of State-cruelty remains within the logic of recognition: metrics of intelligibility only pertain to situations of isolated actions. State recognition ignores situations of collective antagonism. What is more, is what we gain via the channels of State recognition (e.g., desegregation in the 1950’s) was already being eroded through other State sanctioned economic mechanisms (e.g., redlining as early as the 1930’s). The conclusion should be obvious by now: State-recognition is nothing more than the continuation of war by other means.

Thus, if our politics of cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us coupled to its subjective correlate of revenge – which means our learning to hate the world while staving off the internalization of those norms which teach us to hate ourselves – then it is clear that our political-cruelty cannot treat the state and capital as reliable sources for recognition since what we want and need cannot be tolerated by globally integrated capital and thus pre-emptively renders us all variations of pathological, trouble-making, hysterical, killjoys alike.

V). While social anarchism sings lullabies of altruism, there are those who play with the hot flames of cruelty.

Altruism comes in at least two variants. The first is already well known; the emphasis on collectivist ethics that diffuses any antagonism through its criteria of absolute horizontalism. The second, more insidious, is a zealous altruism; here the emphasis is placed on the absolute destruction of the individual put in the service of actualizing an Idea. These are not the actions of the dispossessed. Rather, it is the altruism of an anarchists crucifixion. If the latter at least agrees that struggle is an ineluctable fact of politics, the zealous altruists weakness still lies in his belief that to engage in civil war means to burn out in the process. For every form of communal horizontalism that defers the moment of attack there is a correlating tendency to collapse heroism and martyrdom. Additionally, it is true that we have said that our political-cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us. However, this does not necessitate the assertion that real transformation means our own self-destruction. There is a world of difference between converting structural oppression into a fight for abolition and identifying existential abolition as the proper means toward the abolition of capital as such. In a word: “Even if we had the power to blow it [the State] up, could we succeed in doing so without destroying ourselves, since it is so much a part of the conditions of life, including our organism and our very reason? The prudence with which we must manipulate that line, the precautions we must take to soften it, to suspend it, to divert it, to undermine it, testify to a long labor which is not merely aimed against the State and the powers that be, but directly at ourselves.”

That said, the first iteration of altruism should not be given scant attention precisely because of its prevalence. In place of weaponizing our feelings of cruelty, social anarchism substitutes a straight forward Habermasianism sutured to the mantra of ‘returning to a class based analysis’. This helps some sleep at night. Contra these political sedatives, we again confront the history and cruelty of our politics. What is at stake is the feminist lesson we must never forget: that the personal is political; that few emotions burn and catalyze collective insubordination like those of pain, vengeance, and cruelty. The lesson is that the efficacy of political-cruelty lies not in the never ending reflections and discussions on what pains us; rather, that emotions such as cruelty are what constitute the armature of our collective antagonism.

Frankenstein Revenge Poster

A Brief Note For Enemies And Allies:

We could care less about those whose politics amounts to being a good ‘friend’ to those who struggle, or being a good ‘ally’ by reading up on the history of people of color, queers, and so on. A politics of cruelty is not a politics of friendship; since we do not see a softer world here because sociability has its cruelties, friendship has its rivalries, and opinion has its antagonisms and bloody reversals.

Friendship is already too Greek, too philosophical, and too European for our politics of cruelty. In its place, we should reinvigorate the politics of the Guayaki in Paraguay or the many tribes in that territory known as Zoma. That is, political cruelty does not seek to be included into the universality proposed by the history of Western capitalism and instead seeks to find the means of escaping from a universality that was never ours from the start. For those who would prefer reductive formulations, we could say that while the West continues its process of inclusion and expansion, our political-cruelty maintains its relation to the Outside. To our enemies who get off on finding contradictions that abound in this politics of cruelty we say to them ‘all the better!’ For them, whose desire is to be the intelligible subjects of globally integrated capital, these contradictions are mere impasses on their road to being exceptions to the rule. To our allies, who opt for a politics of cruelty, we say ‘savor these supposed contradictions!’ From the point of view of political-cruelty a contradiction simply means that we have a weapon with more than one side.

The War Machine Is Not Your Friend: Notes on Minoritarian Politics

black mirror

(Part II of an ongoing project on Clastres, D&G, and revolutionary politics. Additionally, I am indebted to Andrew Culp for the formulation that serves as the introductory section title for this post.)

/0/. The Most Savage Fruit of Alienation

Despite the revolutionary promise of the nomadic war machines relation to the State, Deleuze and Guattari are quick to note that “…the present situation is highly discouraging. We have watched the war machine grow stronger and stronger…we have seen it assign it as its objective a peace still more terrifying than fascist death…” What happened, then, in this long history of the struggle between nomadic war machines and State societies, that solicits the caution of our schizo-philosophers? Quite straightforwardly, it is the construction of the capitalist world market; the emergence of which confronts the nomadic war machine as its most formidable enemy precisely because both the nomad and Capital seek to weaponize the processes of deterritorialization and their lines of flight to effectuate a truly destratified circulation of political sovereignty and economic power. If globally integrated capitalism constitutes one kind of war machine insofar as its moments of reterritorialization fall back onto a more fundamental process of deterritorialization this is due to the capitalist transformation of the function of the State as an apparatus of capture:

“To the extent that capitalism constitutes an axiomatic (production for the market), all States and all social formations tend to become isomorphic in their capacity as models of realization: there is but one centered world market, the capitalist one, in which even the so-called socialist countries participate. Worldwide organization thus ceases to pass “between” heterogenous formations since it assures the isomorphy of those formations. But it would be wrong to confuse isomorphy with homogeneity. For one thing, isomorphy allows and even incites, a great heterogeneity among States (democratic, totalitarian, and especially, “socialist” States are not facades) […] When international organization becomes the capitalist axiomatic, it continues to imply a heterogeneity of social formations, it gives rise to and organizes its “Third World”” (ATP, 436-7).

It is here that we see the similarity and difference between the nomadic war machine and capitalism as a worldwide organization of society: namely, the pure war effectuated by nomadic societies is doubled in the pure war effectuated by the capitalist axiomatic of production for the market. Thus, in both instances, the defining tendency of nomadic and capitalist society is one which seeks to retain the qualitative differences that define particular social groups (or, for capitalism, different nation-States). However, capitalism appears as the perfect double of the nomadic war machine in that it has found an other mode for the distribution and circulation of political sovereignty and economic resources that no longer relies on returning the fruits of Capital to the interests of Labor.

Thus, if it was the case with those societies against the State that sovereign power was continuously distributed to avoid its accumulation in the hands of a single individual and the abundance of resources was expended for benefit the group as a whole; the axiomatic of capital (production for the market) supplants and modifies the anti-State forms of sovereign power. Now it is capital that functions as the sovereign insofar as it is the axiomatic of the market that determines how resources, value, and commodities are distributed, and requires a continuous kind of warfare in the form of primitive accumulation for the infinite expansion of capital. In other words, the objective tendency of a deterritorialization that only reterritorializes on itself which defines the nomadic war machine as such, is actualized in both nomadic groups and capitalism where each actualization presents a means of organizing society, where one actualization necessarily excludes the other: either social relations are nomadically-mediated phenomena, or social relations are market-mediated phenomena. Thus, if it is the case that in non-State societies every kind of relation found therein is mediated by the nomadic-collective interest of the group considered as a whole; it is with the existence of globally integrated capitalism and its appropriation of the war machine that all hitherto existing relations in society are now mediated by the axiomatic (or principles) of the market as such.

And if only to add insult to injury, as Deleuze and Guattari mentioned in the previous passage, the capitalist world market affords nation-States a certain heterogeneous existence and simply requires their isomorphy in their adherence to the capitalist axiomatic as sovereign power and as economic interest. Thus if it was the aim of ‘societies against the State’ to ward off various forms of instantiated divisions within their social group (‘to forbid alienation’), Capital abides by the wishes of non-State societies since political and economic power has moved elsewhere.

To merely be against the State now appears as the most savage fruit of alienation under globally integrated capital since the restitution of political and economic power can no longer simply be achieved within, and/or against, the nation-State itself. It is for these reasons that Deleuze and Guattari will define two kinds of war machines. One the one hand, we have the capitalist world-war machine that makes war its object through the continuation of primitive accumulation; even to the extent that the perpetual war required at the level of anti-State societies is equated with a globalized perpetual peace (via phenomena such as the ‘war on terror’). On the other hand, there is the nomadic war machine that encounters war only as its supplement in the midst of its overall project of constructing a smooth space in order to avoid moments of capture, which function according to sovereign-Faciality; and to avoid the ossification of political power which produces a veritable fascism, whether internal or external to social formations as such. Thus, and with emergence of the world wide ecumenical machine of capitalism, it is no longer simply the State that imposes itself upon anti-State social groups in the same way that the Organism imposes a certain order and appropriates the capacities of its organs; now it is Capital as worldwide axiomatic that imposes itself as the Organism that gives a specific order to States and non-State social formations alike.

At this juncture we need to recall that what Deleuze and Guattari find of merit in Clastres’ attempts to overcome the eurocentric blindspots internal to various anthropological frameworks, they also find a certain limit to his thinking. Namely, Clastres’ account of societies against State-capture fails at the moment it would need to provide an analysis of how the State emerged in contrast to non-State societies. The war machine that was discovered in Clastres’ research and the war machine that is appropriated by Deleuze and Guattari undergoes a transformation. No longer is war simply the instance of conflict between State and non-State groups (this conflict is rather one instantiation of the absolute and unconditioned Idea of war itself). Rather, war is understood as the more general, and objective, tendential process that defines any social organization. As Deleuze mentions in his interview with Negri, “we think any society is defined not so much by its contradictions as by its lines of flight, it flees all over the place, and it’s very interesting to try and follow the lines of flight taking shape at some particular moment or other”(Negotiations, p. 171). In other words, what is definitive of societies are what flees from their centers of capture and processes of assimilation/normalization prior to any talk of the contradictions between the forces and means of production, for instance. In other words, what defines social formations and produces contradiction only as its consequence are the ways in which any ordering of society is subject to individuals, resources, processes, etc., that fail to be exhaustively incorporated into the dominant social order.

Thus, if the orthodox Marxist continues to proclaim that the history of all hitherto society is the history of class struggle, Deleuze and Guattari reply that the history of all hitherto societies is the negotiation of that which can and cannot be adequately incorporated, captured, normalized, and adjusted toward the ends of the political and economic order. And within their universal history of apparati of capture and lines of flight, Capitalism emerges as a monstrous hybrid between the nomadic distribution of sovereignty and economic abundance characteristic of non-State societies and the colonial and imperial war machine in order to maintain worldwide hegemony. That is, what Capital takes from the nomad is the nomads aptitude for constructing a Body without Organs where there is a continuous circulation of political and economic power while at the same time marrying the nomadic BwO to the order imposed on the organs by the Organism of State-capture. It is at this point in their analysis of Capital that it is worth highlighting their agreement with Marx’s characterization of the relationship between Labor and Capital in the Grundrisse. As Marx writes,

“The production process has ceased to be a labour process in the sense of a process dominated by labour as its governing unity. Labour appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous points of the mechanical system […] In machinery, knowledge appears as alien, external to him; and living labour [as] subsumed under self-activating objectified labour” (Grundrisse, 693-5) 

In DeleuzoGuattarian terms, Capital is peculiar since it is a BwO that acts upon its organs in ways that are similar to the subjugation inflicted by the Organism. It is due to this peculiarity that they write, in a more sober moment, that the war machine has grown stronger only to produce something more terrifying than fascist death: namely, the world war machine of which Capital constructs a BwO that allows the flow and circulation of all of its elements in a productive manner while the very same BwO exploits the productive capacities of its organs for ends other than those elements that constitute the BwO as such.

Thus, and given this relationship between labor-as-organ of capitalism’s worldwide Organism, we can reasonably wonder if, on this account of the relationship between nomadism and capitalism, there is some significant difference between Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the Nomad and Marx’s concept of Labor. That is, can we justifiably equate this concept of the nomad with the Marxian concept of Labor? Additionally, if Deleuze and Guattari want to remain Marxists, we must also ask if they simply appropriate Marx’s understanding of Labor wholesale or if Deleuze and Guattari offer a transformation of the social antagonism as first schematized by Marx himself?

/1/. A Revolutionizing Tendency IS NOT A Revolutionary Praxis

While it may appear as if there is little to no significant difference between the nomad and Labor, it is important to understand that the difference between labor and the nomadic war machine is the difference between Labor, which is understood as the organization of a people along certain lines of flight or certain points of tension within capitalism itself, while the nomadic war machine is simply one of the objective tendencies that defines social formations under specific socio-determinate conditions. Thus, contrary to the apparent identity between the nomad and Labor, we can neither equate Labor nor Capital with the nomadic war machine itself. Rather, Labor and Capital are two qualitatively different attempts to utilize, organize, and weaponize those tendential processes of global society that either seek to push Capital to the point of its radical transformation and towards the realization of global communism; or to continuously establish more axioms that temporarily resolve the crises of Capital through its organs that perpetuate capital’s realization of value (legal, juridical, military, political, etc.).

It is for this reason that Deleuze and Guattari write, “[T]he question is therefore less the realization of war than the appropriation of the war machine” (ATP, 420). Thus the question of the nomad’s relationship to Labor is not a question that seeks to establish their essential identity. Rather, the question posed by the nomadic war machine, understood as the various tendencies of deterritorialization within a given social formation, is a socio-economic problem that is posed to both Labor and Capital; where both Labor and Capital are two ways of resolving the socio-economic problems posed to a given society and thus involve qualitatively different appropriations of the nomadic war machine as such.

Thus, there is an important difference between the revolutionary potential of those nomadic tendencies that push social formations toward points of structural transformation and the subsequent politics that ensues given how social formations make use of the variable processes of deterritorialization. Namely, the revolutionary organization of Labor over and against Capital is not simply one of capitalism’s ‘revolutionizing tendencies’ that force capital’s ever growing expansion across the globe. Rather, it is the means by which Labor uses the lines of flight that define capitalist society as the grounds for the abolition of capital itself; in other words, what is definitive of revolutionary politics on the one hand, cannot be equated to the revolutionizing tendencies of the capitalist mode of production, on the other. Thus, if one is to search for a term that serves the same function as Marx’s concept of Labor; and if one acknowledges the difference in kind between the revolutionizing tendencies of capitalism and  revolutionary politics; one would do better in finding something akin to Labor in Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the minor/minoritarian. As they write:

“The power of minority, of particularity, finds its figure or its universal consciousness in the proletariat…We have often seen capitalism maintain and organize inviable States, according to its needs, and for the precise purpose of crushing minorities. The minorities issue is instead that of smashing capitalism, of redefining socialism, of constituting a war machine capable of countering the world war machine by other means” (ATP, 472).

Thus, against this common misconception that Deleuze and Guattari privilege deterritorialization for-itself prior to any concrete determination of how society should be globally arranged, what is truly revolutionary according to our authors and what social position in contemporary capitalism possesses the revolutionary force that Marx identified in the relation of Labor to Capital at the end of the 19th century, is the manner by which various social groups engage with the revolutionizing tendencies of capital in order to construct a revolutionary political praxis. On this point of difference between tendencies and political praxis, Nicholas Thoburn provides us with one of the clearest formulation of the stakes and nuances of Deleuze and Guattari’s relationship to Marx’s concept of Labor and their use of the category of minor/minoritarian. As he writes, what is revolutionary is how the exploited subjects of Capital collectively

engage with the ‘objective’ lines of flight immanent to the social system […] For Marx and Deleuze and Guattari, capitalism is a radically transformative social system that is premised on lines of flight; it was born through a new means of mobilizing and conjoining flows of money and flows of labour. The essence of capital is that it continually sets free its lines of flight – its made scientists, its countercultures, its warmongers – in order to open new territories for exploitation. It is thus a perpetual process of setting and break limits. Politics is not an assertion of a class or minority identity, but is a process of engagement with these ‘objective’ lines of flight. Inasmuch as an assemblage ‘works’ in a social system, its lines of flight are functional to it – they are not in themselves revolutionary. Politics thus seeks to engage with these flows (of people, ideas, relations, and machines in mutual interrelation) and, in a sense, push them further or take them elsewhere, against their immanent reterritorialization in fashions functional to the realization of surplus value. This is why for Marx the communist movement needs to follow a path through the flows of capitalism, not oppose an identity to it, and why Deleuze and Guattari suggest that minorities do not so much create lines of flight, as attach themselves to them (cf. Deleuze and Parnet 1987: 43)” (Deleuze, Marx and Politics, p.29)

Hostis Vol. 2 CFP – ‘Beyond Recognition’

Earth - Basquiat

Seeking recognition is always servile. We have little interest in visibility, consciousness raising, or populist pandering. Recognition always treats power as a give-and-take. On the one hand, the dispossessed use recognition as respite from exploitation; while on the other, the State expects its authority to be recognized as the first and final say. According to this logic: for the dispossessed to even get a step up, they must first acknowledge a higher power than themselves.

The particulars of our own time are even more obscene. Following the spread of economic rationality on a global scale, it is clear that the flow of forces has reversed. The State pornographically exposes its long-protected interior for others to abuse while lasciviously grooming what is beyond its regular reach. Recognition chastely reassures the State of its powers. All the while, the most banal State functions are farmed out to the highest bidder. So when their parking ticket is authored by a private corporation, those who seek recognition fall back on the State dictum that nothing good comes from the outside.

By far the worst aspect of recognition is its role in resolution. From where we stand, civil society appears only as a degraded arm of the state. Collective process, democratic representation, and community accountability might feel radical, but they are the actions of the State dressed in black. They transform our desire for antagonism into ‘agonistic’ fuel for the engine of statecraft. The process of recognition that begins with a riotous insurrection, makes into an angry mob, into an unruly crowd, into a gathering of concerned citizens, into a protest organization, into a political party, and finally into a class of legislators. Some enlightened ‘direct democrats’ believe in abbreviating the process of resolution in a return to representation. Our path is far darker. Ours is the ‘mad black communism’ that haunts the good will of these leftist party bureaucrats. This does not simply mean a politics where your socialist party finance minister wears a suit without a tie, or walks the halls of Parliament with his hands in his pockets. It means, first of all, to transform what is present within riotous insurrection into sites of material leverage, to the point where any ‘movement’ worthy of the name is, in itself, irreversible.

However, it is worth noting that there is nothing new in saying we must move beyond recognition. Remembering Stokely Carmichael on non-violence, we refuse the game of back-and-forth. Add to this the reminder from our ‘Tarnac’ friends that ‘waiting is madness… [because] we are already situated within the collapse of a civilization. It is within this reality that we must choose sides.’ It is this manner in which we assert that waiting for recognition is like waiting for the democracy to come: a war by other means waged through infinite deferral. As in warfare, there are enemies whether regardless of whether a declaration of formal conflict is recognized. Empire does not have a conscience. Empire does not give a shit about critique.

From these friends and their allies we must learn how to weaponize the concrete asymmetry between Empire and the dispossessed. We are drawn to those who sharpen the gap between the State and its subjects, not into biting tongues but cutting edges. Thus, against the State’s idealized invocation of authority, Hostis listens to military strategists who say that opening with a concession is to begin from a position of weakness. The point of Hostis is to spread the crisis of representation; to antagonize the vulgar translation at every step along the way. Hostis evades recognition altogether. It leaves the job of identification to the police.

We are looking for submissions that elude recognition. In addition to scholarly essays, we are looking for any original work suited to the printed page: strategic diagrams, logistical maps, printed code, how-to instructions, photo-essays, illustrations, or mixed-media art. To remain consistent with the journal’s point of view, we seek material whose tone is abrasive, mood is cataclysmic, style is gritty, and voice is impersonal. Submissions will be selected by an editorial collective. Contributors should expect to receive critical feedback in the first stage of review requesting revisions to improve their submission and make it consistent with the other contributions selected for inclusion. While we are not soliciting proposals, we are happy to comment on possible submissions before official review. The deadline for submissions is September 1st, 2015 at which point we will begin the review process. All submissions should be sent to hostis.journal@gmail.com as MS Word, rtf, pdf, jpg, or png files. Include a title, author name, content, and any formatting requests. Expect to complete requested revisions between November-December, 2015.