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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On the End of History & the Death of Desire (Notes on Time and Negativity in Bataille’s ‘Lettre á X.’)

 

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To continue from our conclusions regarding the question of what it would mean to love as a communist, we begin from the idea that abolition is what necessary binds communism as real movement to problems encountered in the life of desire, of the heart, of the family. And one key consequence of this would be the following: if communism, as the real movement that abolishes both itself and the present state of things, is what allows us to truly pose questions pertaining to sex, love, and family life, then the political and the libidinal, which have been historically treated as two distinct phenomena, are now revealed as inseparable and necessarily bound to each other. Thus, and as we will see Bataille write in response to Kojève, ours is a time wherein Desire’s libidinal activity can no longer be thought of, and even more so understood, as independent of the economic ‘base’ of the capitalist mode of production. So, if last time we saw that questions of sex and love are revealed to be inherently socio-historical and not merely personal and private, then the very notion of desire is given a new, and hopefully truer, meaning. Moreover, this new understanding of the life of desire also brings about a shift in our theoretical and practical perspective – from a position that has been comfortable in thinking desire as solely belonging to pertaining to private (as opposed to public) life to a view that finds it impossible to think through problems of libidinal life independent of their socio-political and material determination.

Given this more nuanced position, however, we are still confronted by the following question: what is the nature of desire in both its libidinal and politico-economic determination? If it is said that, now, Desire’s proper place as the ‘base’ and not ‘superstructure’, what, then, does this mean about Desire and its subjects? What kind of subjectivity is as political as it is libidinal such that it is simultaneously constituted by, while expressing itself through, the very forces and relations of production? This is to ask, in another way, about the meaning of a desire that is inherently irreducible to fantasy, dreams, or the physical act of sex?

Bataille & Kojève: A Meeting At The End of History

What is the nature of a desire that is both sexual and political; a desire that is at once psychic and socio-historical? On way of approaching the question of the sexual/psychic and political/socio-historical features of desire is that of Bataille; and particularly his treatment of desire in ‘Lettre á X., chargé d’un cours sur Hegel…’, a letter written to Kojeve in light of his seminar on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit at the Sorbonne. While Bataille’s letter does not treat the question of libidinal economy explicitly, he does take up the question of desire as it is linked to negativity, and what a desire with negativity at its heart would mean for the very notion of negation/negativity as such. And it is this treatment of desire’s inherent negativity that is instructive for our purposes since the abolition that binds communism to problems of sex, love, and gender is a relation that has negation at its center.:

In truth its no longer a matter of misfortune or life, only what has become of “negativity out of work”, if it is true that it does become something. I am there in the forms which it engenders, forms not at the outset in myself but in others. Most often negativity without power becomes the work of art…In what concerns me, the negativity which belongs to me didn’t give up work until that moment when there wasn’t any work: the negativity of a man who has nothing more to do, not that of a man who prefers to talk. But the fact – which seems incontestable – that a negativity turned away from action would express itself as work of art is no less charged with meaning given the possibilities remaining to me. It shows that negativity can be objectified […] the man of “negativity out of work”… He is in front of his own negativity as if before a wall. Whatever ill he suffers from this, our man knows that henceforth nothing can be avoided, for negativity has no issue. (‘Lettre á X.,’ 49) 

The task, then, is to see whether or not Bataille has good reason to posit a relation between desire, negativity, and the fact that to love as a communist means to love via the real movement of abolition.

The Economy of Abolition; The Economy of Desire

If Bataille shows that the problem of interpreting Hegel’s claim to an ‘end of history’ is not resolved with Kojève’s call for the ‘re-animalization of Man.’ Rather, if there is an ‘end of history’ it is a riddle solved in the attempt to delineate a different kind of negativity; one no longer tied to a notion of a productive activity that progressively attains its historical telos. Contra Kojeve, what the end of history forces us to think is a negativity no longer characterized as laborious. The negativity of desire, at the end of history, has exhausted itself of all productivity and is thus left with nothing to do. As Bataille writes regarding this non-productive negativity of desire:  

If the act (the “doing of things”) is – as Hegel says – negativity, the question then arises as to whether the negativity of one who has “nothing more to do” disappears or is subsumed under “negativity out of work” [négativité sans emploi]. Personally I can only decide on the one sense, my own being exactly this “negativity out of work” (I could not define myself better). I wish Hegel had foreseen that possibility: at least didn’t he put it at the outcome of the process he described. I imagine that my life – or its miscarriage, better still, the open wound my life is – this alone constitutes the refutation of Hegel’s closed system. (‘Lettre á X.,’ 48)  

Desire as negativity without work is nothing but its unemployment. If the essence of desire is this unemployed negativity, then we are confronted with the paradox of imaging a desire whose particular products and effects are generated through non-productive means; a negativity that can only live and create by means other than that of a life lived according to the dictates of labor. But why does Bataille maintain that, at the end of history, Desire continues to be productive in spite of the fact that Desire can no longer continue to be the labor of negativity?

As the editors of Bataille’s letter helpfully clarify: “Bataille thinks this question [negativity] through by discussing what he terms expenditure. Expenditure may be either productive…or unproductive [and] … it is to this second sense of expenditure that Bataille reserves the term ‘expenditure’ sans phrase” (‘Lettre á X.,’ 47). It is for these reasons that Bataille will maintain that the end of history force’s Desire to undergo a substantial transformation: the labor of the negative, and this negativity as productive activity, do not persist at history’s end (and for Bataille this also means that if the labor of the negative was the motor of desire it was only because of historical and contingent factors). At the end of History, humanity isn’t forced to re-naturalize itself into what is animal (a la Kojève). Rather, we are forced to find ways to live the new found life of negativity, obliged to live a life no longer tied to labor or productive activity. With Bataille, it is as if the fate of humanity was to eventually see itself in a new light; as if, history was simply the first act in humanity’s reckoning with itself as a negativity now unemployed; as if what is instantiated is a form of subjectivity whose very possibility for existing is now constituted by the simple fact that it has ‘nothing more to do;’ at History’s end, then, the only thing we are left with is Time.

After History, Time

Now, with Bataille’s interpretation of the real and Subjective consequences brought about by the ‘end of History’ two things are clear. First, we are able to understand that there exists the persistence of negativity after History; even if negativity will persist in an altogether different form and be of a different nature. Second, and this is what will become important for this section, the unemployed negativity of desire may have been born at History’s closure but its life is lived in a world where there is ‘nothing but Time.’ So it seems that just as negativity persists after History, Time, too, continues on after History’s closure. Thus it is this question of the Time that emerges at the end of History that is at issue since, it is our intuition that the negativity of non-productive expenditure does not simply belong to a world where there is nothing but Time. What is more, this negativity will be said to have its own form of Time proper to itself (and the least we can say is that, for Bataille, Time and History are said to exist independent of each other, since it is the only way by which History can be resolved while Time presses onward). However, if these two consequences that follow from Bataille’s position are of any significance it is due to the fact that, when taken together, we begin to understand that the end of History doesn’t not mean the absolute exhaustion of Being and rather that Time and negativity persist beyond History (and we should add to this that they accomplish this only on the condition that they are constituted by a new relation, which determines and guarantees their mutual persistence).

Putting aside, for the moment, other possible consequences we may draw from the contents of this letter, we can at the very least say that the implicit but crucial thesis of Bataille’s letter is that of the ontological independence of Time and negativity from History. That is, if Time is said to be what determines non-productivity as the form Desire must take, it is only because the Desire, which comes at the end of History is the one that finds itself with “nothing left to do.” This persistence of negativity, that is to say, of Desire, is forced to confront itself by virtue of its post-Historical circumstance as a form of Desire that has at its disposal, and when aiming to secure its persistence after History post-Historical existence, nothing other than Time. To be sure, at the end of History Desire does in fact die even though it is made to be reborn in the persistence of this unemployed negativity.

And if we were to inquire deeper into just what exactly this time of unemployed negativity could be, we quickly finds ourselves returning to Marx; for it was Marx who already gave unemployed negativity a name when, in the Grundrisse, he spoke of disposable-time as a form of time that is irreducible to capital’s division between labor- and leisure-time (where the real difference is between waged and unwaged labor). Moreover, says Marx, disposable-time reveals itself to be the real meaning of wealth since it implies the development of the capacities, knowledges, and well-being of society as a whole: ‘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‘ (Grundrisse, tr. Nicolaus, London: Penguin, 1973, 708). And lastly, we saw that disposable-time as the time of communism also made possible attempted resolutions to questions/problems of sex, gender, and love since those relations can be created and recreated without the threat to the material- and/or social well-being of those involved. Loving takes time, or at the very least learning to love takes time and it is an education the temporality of which must be disposable. 

What would it mean to love as a Communist? To love as a comrade?

proletariat of the world who will wash your socks?

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This is a modified excerpt from a forthcoming publication of a roundtable discussion with Jules Joanne Gleeson, Andrew Culp, and myself. The full transcript can be found here.

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We must remember that only a code of sexual morality that is in harmony with the problems of the working class can serve as an important weapon in strengthening the working class’s fighting position. The experience of history teaches us that much. What can stop us using this weapon in the interests of the working class, who are fighting for a communist system and for new relationships between the sexes that are deeper and more joyful?

– Alexandra Kollontai, ‘Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle’ (1921)

One of the key contributions of Marxist Feminism has been the development of a theoretical framework that affords us new ways of conceiving and understanding the relationship between work and sex, and how their relationship bears on the possibilities for love; and all on the basis of how it has been able to deepen the specificity of what exactly a communist politics promises and entails. The example that immediately comes to mind here is Silvia Federici’s seminal essay,  ‘Wages Against Housework.’ It is in this essay where Federici makes a comment that appears as nothing but a passing remark; a statement that is less a materialist description and more a declaration regarding just what exactly is entailed and implicitly asserted in the project of bringing about a communist future. And so, in the course of her analysis, Federici writes: ‘[W]e want to call work what is work so that eventually we might rediscover what is love and create our sexuality, which we have never known.’ Given Federici’s insight, and inquiring into the the opportunities afforded to us by Marxist Feminism, we could begin by attempting to understand the precise sense in which Federici makes this remark. In other words, is it the case that Federici is implicitly arguing for a view that seeks out the meaning and social relations of love, intimacy, and familial bonds, insofar as they are stripped of their determinations by the social relations of Capital?

However, my suspicion is that the question with which Federici is occupied is one that is as difficult and profound as it is simple and concise: What would it mean to love as a communist? To love like a comrade, or to love as someone who is in solidarity while simultaneously as someone who loves within a romantic partnership? And finally, what are the modes of loving, both ourselves and others, that are made possible only by virtue of communism? This is to inquire into the possibility of an image of communism as one that is irreducible to its being the solution to the riddle of history. So, if what is implied by Federici’s remark is that communism is the historical condition upon which questions of love and sexuality can be posed, in its most profound and meaningful manner, then what is potentially discovered within the tradition of Marxist Feminism more generally is a vision of communism as something more than historical resolutions; a communism that was to be the very condition through which the meaning and function of love no longer derives its sense or value through its participation in a time no longer defined as that of labour or of leisure.

And so, regarding the connection between love and the form of time adequate to it, and with respect to Federici’s insistence on the political necessity of maintaining a clear separation of the time of work from that of sex/love/life, we catch a glimpse of how this Marxist Feminist analysis of the relationship between production and reproduction are immediately related to Marx’s own position on the differing forms of time proper to capitalism and communism.  For example, Marx makes a relevant observation in the Grundrisse when he writes that: ‘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‘ (Grundrisse, tr. Nicolaus, London: Penguin, 1973, 708). 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 not only corresponds to Federici’s separation of sex from work but does so in a way that moves beyond the brute opposition of labour-time vs. leisure-time (which is simply unwaged time put in the service of reproducing labour-power). In this way, one would be able to see how disposable-time is the form of time adequate to 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 (and 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). It is in this way that we can say that disposable-time is a properly communist time since in its abolition of life organized according waged and un-waged activity it also creates and organizes social life according to the time it would take for everyone to rediscovery what love can be independent of the obligations to satisfy either waged or unwaged labour, and would allow for, as Federici yearns for, the creation of sexualities we have never known. To put this in terms favored by someone like Dauvé: Disposable-time is the time of communism because ‘[T]ime 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. And so, to engage in class struggle is not simply to engage 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 the life of human societies and the world it requires for its self-reproduction. 

And yet… 

Problems immediately present themselves regarding the position I have just outlined since it is a reading that proposes Federici’s insights taken in connection with Marx’s comments on disposable-time as a form of time distinct from that of labour- or leisure-time, are important and useful for thinking through possible determinations or meanings regarding the content of expressions of love or sexual relations. However, my above comment is actually an account that responds more to the question of a life determined under communist social relations (i.e. what are some of  the material and symbolic effects of loving relations under a communist society?) and less to that of sexual lives and love lives formed in the midst of the real movement that abolishes both itself and the present state of affairs (i.e. what are the relations of love and care required for communism understood as the real, abolishing, movement?). And, perhaps to make matters worse, I feel myself almost guaranteed to fail at giving anything close to an adequate answer to configurations of sex and love that are contemporary with revolutionary struggle. However, on this question of love and sex in times of struggle, there are at least some examples from past cycles of struggle to which we can return to in light of these questions. And one example that immediately comes to mind is the phenomena that came to be known as ‘forest wives’ – which was a temporary social relation whose legitimate invocation pertained only to periods of revolutionary struggle, and particularly to the cis-male guerrilla fighters of the Hukbalahap, which served as the armed wing of the Partido Kommunista ng Pilipinas (PKP). The phenomena of ‘forest wives’ is relevant for us insofar as it presents an historical example of how a communist party and its armed wing embarked on devising explicitly communist solutions to the problems that guerrilla’s inevitably faced in the countryside and/or jungle (loneliness, alienation, sexual frustration, desire for intimacy with another person, etc.) n light of how best to integrate the desires of its guerrilla cadre: the Hukbalahap (the guerrilla army’s full name in Tagalog being ‘the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon,’ and in English translates as ‘the People’s Anti-Japanese Liberation Army’). 

In 1950, the party drafted a document with the title “Revolutionary Solution to the Sex Problem” – and it is in this document that the PKP sought to consider the so-called ‘sex problem’ (in addition to questions surrounding marriage and family structures) as they were objectively determined by the requirements of an ongoing guerrilla struggle against the Japanese and then later against the United States. Thus, in an effort to begin  to think through the relations of sex and love afforded by communism understood as a collective and abolitionist struggle, I would turn our attention to the work of Vina A. Lanzona’s, and particularly her significant text, Amazons of the Huk Rebellion. It is here that Lanzona’s historical research into how questions of sex and gender were treated by the PKP and Huk guerrillas demonstrates at least one possible approach of what sex and love mean in a time of resistance and/or struggle. As Lanzona shows, it was clear that the PKP viewed problems of sex and family life as primarily social in nature as opposed to individual or personal matters. And it is for this reason that the party sought out explicitly social solutions instead of viewing these as the problems that plague bourgeois sentimentalism regarding the betrayal caused by desire and/or private, as opposed to public, matters of the heart:

The policy set out in this document permitted married male guerrillas to have extramarital relationships with single female cadres as long as they followed strict regulations. Claiming “biological necessity,” the frustrated male cadre could present his problem to his superiors and…[A]fter an unofficial review he would be allowed to take a forest wife as long as both his legal and forest wives were aware of the arrangement and he agreed to settle down with only one woman at the end of the struggle […] In their efforts to negotiate relationships between male and female members, party officials moved issues of sex and family from the private to the public realm, weighing the “private” interests and desires of individual cadres in relation to the collective interests of the…movement…personal matters that had once been negotiated solely by individual men and women were now discussed and regulated by the revolutionary movement. (Amazons of the Huk Rebellion, 13-14)

What is evident in the PKP’s solution to the ‘sex problem’ is its inability to (i) critically distance itself from conflating sex with gender and (ii) its ignorance to the way in which sex is labour, and therefore leisure-time is nothing other than unwaged labour-time that acts as another constraint, historically considered, on the material lives of women under capitalist social relations. Such is a position taken by Jeff Goodwin in his essay on the libidinal-economy of the Huk Rebellion. As Goodwin writes, it would turn out to be the case that the PKP’s official response in legitimizing of relations between cis-male guerrilla fighters and their ‘forest wife’ counterparts culminated in a situation whereby the very ‘affectual ties’ outlined by the party ultimately  ‘eroded the solidarity of this…movement. The libidinal constitution (i.e., the structure and “economy” of the affectual ties) of the Huk movement’s [sic] predominantly male activists…undermined their collective identity and discipline’ (Goodwin, 53). However, despite these blind spots the significant contribution we are forced to acknowledge and as outlined in the “Revolutionary Solution to the Sex Problem” is the attempt made at resolving problems that arise within relations of sex and love from a decidedly materialist standpoint. Materialist, because despite its shortcomings the PKP occupied the position that began from the admission that both the essence of, and material basis for, problems arising within relations of sex and love are products of a process that is equally historical and material. In other words, the problems posed by sex and love are fundamentally social and not individual because the social relations that govern how we have sex and love ourselves/others are determined, in the last instance, by the fact that the social relations of capital are simultaneously gendered. 

All of this to qualify my initial answer in order to make the following clear: if what we understand by communism is the real movement of abolition, and if what we are asking when we inquire into what communism makes possible for the life of desire, then the example of the PKP’s ‘revolutionary solution’ to the so called ‘sex problem’ is important. And equally with respect to the PKP’s framework which lead it to understand that it is of the nature of problems to be social and political prior to being private and individual; additionally, it was due to the PKP’s understanding of the lasting effects of colonization (Spain) and imperialism (United States) that their framework implicitly asserted the claim that problems are generated out of historical and material processes and produce specific gendered social relations that also function as what determines the particular problems of sex, love, and family life for all individuals under the gendered social relations constituted by, and constitutive of, a life lived according to the dictates of capital’s raison d’être (i.e., the development ad infinitum of both the means and relations of production placed at the service of satisfying the obsession that lies at the heart of capital’s logical self-development: the continuation of primitive accumulation and unemployment as guarantees for the existence of a global reserve army of labour as well as the existence of lucrative nation-states for the realization of value and therefore a guarantee for one more revolution around the globe for value-creation). In other words, if anything is to be taken from the PKP’s “Revolutionary Solution to the Sex Problem”, it is more historical than practically useful. And it’s historical significance lies in the fact of this party document that renders coherent the relationship between sex, love, and family life vìs-a-vìs what is required by a period of struggle and whose grounds and conclusions presage what would come to define the values and discoveries made by the second wave (white-European) of feminist movement. The significance of this attempt at actualizing a revolutionary solution the sex problem is in its having avoided, in theory and as early as 1950, prioritizing the false problems/debates that would arise and that would lead some elements of the Left to view questions regarding ‘identities’ (and specifically gender and sexual identity) as having nothing but a divisive consequence for the overall unity of the proletariat as the agent that determines the outcomes of the real and abolishing movement against the present. 

In the end, the PKP’s missed opportunity remains painful since its failure to remain faithful to an intersectional analysis translated into its failure to realize what is revealed as common to the nexus of sex, gender, and communism: Abolition. So to bring this rambling comment to a close, and from within the present conjuncture, it is only by relating communism to notions of sex, love, and gender through the category of abolition that the questions of ‘What it would mean to love as a communist?’ and ‘To love as a comrade?’ move beyond the limitations of the PKP as well as forecloses any possible legitimacy of positions supported by TERFs when speaking of communist politics. And since Jules has already articulated how abolition serves as the vanishing mediator between communism and questions of sex, love, and gender I will simply end with what her own words towards the end of an essay entitled ‘The Call for Gender Abolition: From Materialist Lesbianism to Gay Communism‘:

Trans womanhood in this respect constitutes womanhood existing in its own right, and against the wishes of a considerable body accustomed to the prevailing heterosexual order. Politically, this can be a point of pride. Our inability to bear children is cited by traditionalists and radical feminist ‘abolitionists’ alike as grounds to disqualify us from womanhood, demonstrating at once the fixing and fragility of womanhood as a sex class. For as long as women remain often defined by their relationship to biological reproduction, trans women can only be considered inadequate imitations. Abolishing womanhood, as defined by Wittig, could be furthered by inclusion of trans women in that category as currently constituted. If co-existence can not be achieved, abolition is inevitable. This struggle will surely be a refiguring and visceral one, challenging and overcoming arbitrary demarcations in embodiment through diverse and unrelenting means (surfacing in hospitals, street corners and bed rooms). In reclaiming this abolitionary drive towards unchecked expressiveness, revolutionary trans feminism has much to learn from the gay communist and materialist lesbian traditions.

 

 

 

Guattari & Italy’s “Hot Autumn”

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Guattari was dreaming of building a federation of regional protest movements, which could open up secondary fronts and weaken the Nation-State. Despite his extensive network of contacts, he never managed to realize this perilous project, which was located on the cusp between democratic combat and terrorist action

[…]

Guattari became a hero figure in Bologna. He was considered one of the essential sources of inspiration for the Italian left, and he watched the marches with the utmost delight, seeing his thoughts take shape in a social and political force. The day after the gathering, the daily and weekly press put his photo on their covers, presenting him as the founder and creator of this mobilization. Guattari had suddenly become the Daniel Cohn-Bendit of Italy.  

– François Dosse, Intersecting Lives, 284-91

As history has sometimes shown, engaging in revolution can be a perilous project. Such was the situation of the deleuzoguattarian political experiment, as well as its supposed fate as recounted by François Dosse in the epigraph above. It is our wager that in order to get a better sense of the specific ways in which the political experiment of molecular revolution succeeded and failed, we must begin with Guattari’s political writing in conjunction with the movements and struggles he was engaged with at the time of their writing. As such, our inquiry is aimed to demonstrate the following thesis: by shifting the focus away from class-identity and toward the minor/minority, Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a ‘molecular revolution’ overcomes the limits and dangers of more orthodox images of how revolutionary praxis is defined and how it manifests itself in concrete terms. To make this argument, however, requires a consideration of the similarities and differences to traditional Marxism that are operative in Guattari’s political thought. After a comparative analysis, we will then be able to see how Guattari’s notions of the ‘minor’, and ‘minority’, contribute to an alternate understanding of the current possibility of revolution as being nothing other than ‘molecular’ in nature.

Guattari developed the notion of a ‘molecular revolution’ in response to his involvement in Italy’s ‘Hot Autumn’ of 1977, as well as in response to the lessons he learned in the afterlife of ‘68. For Guattari, what these cycles of struggle signaled as necessary was a shift away, in both analysis and praxis, from more classical notions of collective subjectivity organized around a shared, class-based, worker, identity; and this being the specific social group that according to marxist orthodoxy, is said to occupy the  privileged place in society from where the abolition of capital can be successfully achieved. For Guattari, instead of reiterating the centrality of the composition of class struggle according to class-based identity, revolutionary theory and praxis would be better served by avoiding (i) the strategy of organizing a revolutionary movement in terms of ‘class unity’ and (ii) any analysis of capital’s possible overcoming that places class as the central category. In place of class and the composition of class struggle along a shared worker identity, Guattari’s wager is that it would be more fruitful to substitute the category of ‘class’ with that of ‘minority.’ However, if ‘minority’ was to eventually supplant ‘class’ within Guattari’s theory of revolution, it was caused by a few key reasons and political experiences. However, in order to understand the significance of Guattari’s ‘molecular revolution’, a few things must be said regarding the concept of minority; and particularly, how it is defined and how it is used in response to specific political developments during the 1970’s.

  1. Minority, Class, Politics

First, the category of ‘minority’ was offered as an alternative to that of ‘class’ insofar as class itself was a category that did not sufficiently account for the ways in which specific sections of the global population were primed for engaging in communism as the abolition of capitalist social relations as such. When Deleuze and Guattari assert that a ‘minority is defined as a non-denumerable set, however many elements it may have,’ this means that what constitutes a minority is not a shared identity. Rather, a minority is constituted by that particular conjunction of individuals whose collective existence is defined by the possibility of abolishing all identities offered by the world of capital:

Women, nonmen, as a minority, as a nondenumerable flow or set, would receive no adequate expression by becoming elements of the majority…Nonwhites would receive no adequate expression by becoming a new yellow or black majority…Minority as a universal figure, or becoming-everybody/everything (devenir tout le monde). (ATP, 470)

However, upon what basis can Guattari substitute the figure of the minority/the minor for that of class/class-identity, without jettisoning the revolutionary aspirations of a class analysis of capitalist social relations? For Guattari (as well as Deleuze) replacing class with minority is justified precisely because what defines the minor/minority is a mode of engagement with capital that eschews all attempts of trying to secure its identity within capital itself. This is not to say that Guattari understand the category of class as inherently fated, or as a concept whose only promise is that of securing a more equal distribution of wealth while failing to abolish the value-form, for example. But if this is so, why replace a category as central as that of class? That is, what made Guattari view this substitution of minority for class something essential and necessary for the possible of theorizing revolutionary struggle? In a word: Italy’s “Hot Autumn.” It would be this period of revolutionary activity in Italy, starting from the summer and fall of 1969 up through the late 70’s, that would inform Guattari’s thoughts regarding the form and content any future revolutionary movement must take. In addition to his participation (Radio Alice) and relationship to key figures (Negri, Berardi) of this moment in the country’s history, Guattari found therein the existence of a mode of engaging in class struggle that could not sufficiently be theorized in terms of simple class-identity or class-belonging. Unlike its more traditional organizational counterparts (i.e. unions, parties) that remained obedient to union bosses and the Party, Autonomia was a form and composition of struggle that maintained close relations, “with non-industrial workers, particularly service-sector and radicalized professional workers, as well as with unpaid labor, such as the “houseworkers” (operaie di casa) of the operaist section of the women’s movement, the movement of the unemployed in the South, and the university and high school students’ movements” (Cuninghame, ‘Hot Autumn:’  Italy’s Factory Councils and Autonomous Workers’ Assemblies, 1970s’, 324).

In light of this Guattari adopted a framework that now viewed all individuals relative to their position within society as having their own, specific, potential for engaging in revolutionary activity. Thus, it is no longer simply the proletariat who hold a privileged position within the circuit of value creation and capital accumulation. In light of the mutations undergone by capital at the beginning of the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, the struggle waged against capital can begin and organize itself from any point within capitalist totality as such. Thus it isn’t just the working-class, or those who are exploited at the point of production, who are potentially partisans of the revolution. For Guattari, and beginning in the 1970’s, it is anyone anywhere who can take up the struggle for abolishing value as the social relation that dominates and exploits every dimension of public and private life. However, what makes this a truly molecular understanding of revolution is not simply this democratization of the latent revolutionary character of more social-positions within capital. What makes a movement molecular in nature is its inclusion of those elements of society ignored, or placated, by the unions and Party leadership – a movement that includes these elements in accordance with the idea that what is required is not the progressive embetterment of the lives of workers as workers, of their daily life within capital, but rather the abolition of the identity and function of work and the worker all together. Thus, alongside the inspiration he drew from autonomia, Guattari’s qualification of revolution as ‘molecular’ was also a response to what those sympathetic to autonomia saw as the actual, concrete, role played by both the official unions and the Italian Communist Party (PCI).

During this decade of revolutionary upheaval, and against their supposed role as advocates and representatives of working-class interests, the official workers unions and PCI continuously revealed themselves as acting according to their interest of maintaining the greatest degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the state. What was revealed in the course of Italy’s ‘Hot Autumn’ was the way in which both unions and the PCI acted with a view toward consolidating political legitimacy at the expense of jettisoning any strategy for the abolition of work and worker identity. And this is clearest seen two key examples: Alberto Asor Rosa’s ‘two societies thesis’ and the Moro Affair of 1978.

  1. The Class That Struggles Together Stays Together

The figure of Asor Rosa, who was himself a former member of Potere Operaio and later joined the PCI in the early 70’s, is important for understanding how the official channels of the Left came to betray the workers themselves precisely because it was Asor Rosa who provided the PCI with the very analysis that would come to define its relationship to the Left in general. As Jason Smith aptly summarizes: ‘…Alberto Asor Rosa…spoke of a deep and potentially unbridgeable cleavage in Italian society, indeed of “two societies.” One society was made up of the classical workers’ movement…This first society…had formed a parliamentary alliance with the center-right Christian Democrats, and, most importantly, espoused an ethos of work. The second society was composed of a complex stratification of students, the unemployed, the precariously employed, southern immigrants, proletarian youth circles, and other strays who refused this ethos of work and who even refused worker identity altogether…He argued that these strata that made up the second society were unable to assume enough distance from themselves to comprehend the PCI’s strategic compromise with the center-right. The parasitic strata were, he lamented, completely absorbed by the “hard and desperate perception of their own needs” (Smith, ‘The Politics of Incivility”, 124). It would be Asor Rosa’s “two societies” thesis that would serve as the basis for the PCI’s strategy of representing and denouncing the extra-parliamentary Left as nothing but the violent, criminal, and opportunistic elements in society. In this way, the PCI was able to consolidate its self-image as the Party of the proletariat as not of the lumpenproletariat: ‘Asor Rosa and PCI …frame this illegibility in orthodox terms, describing it [autonomia] as a reformatted version of the nineteenth century’s dangerous classes and their lumpen criminality’ (‘Hot Autumn’, 125).

Now, with this ‘two societies’ framework now in use, both union and Party officials had the means for policing and isolating various factions among the extra-parliamentary left. This is perhaps clearest seen in the events following the Moro Affair, which saw the criminalization of Autonomia Operaia by the PCI due to their alleged participation in the Red Brigades’ kidnapping and murder of former DC prime minister Aldo Moro. “Following the Moro Affair in 1978, the overall level of repression and fear intensified throughout civil society, causing demobilization and a mass withdrawal into private life on the one hand, and the increasing resort to armed, clandestine, organized violence on the other, leaving a vulnerable minority in open political activity…Lists of suspected terrorists and sympathizers were drawn up by the unions and passed to management in the same way that the PCI called on the public to denounce anyone who seemed to be a terrorist” (‘Hot Autumn,’ 335). And so what began with the Fiat strike in Mirafiori in 1969, with its emergence of modes of composition that broke with what was widely accepted to be a revolutionary mode of struggle, eventually culminated in a situation whereby the unions and PCI assume the function of policing those elements of society deemed to be extremist, in order to maintain the appearance of political legitimacy. This was a situation that demonstrated both the unions and PCI’s comfortability in sacrificing class struggle for an image of the existence of a reasonable, and civil, Left government. In the end, however, the failures of this strategy adopted by the unions and PCI quickly revealed themselves at the moment when, in 1979, factory workers needed them in the face of Fiat dismissing ‘…sixty-one of the most militant New Left and autonomist activists for “moral behavior not consistent with the well-being of the Compact” (Red Notes 1981, 71).’ To make matters worse:

The unions reacted sluggishly given that some of the workers were accused of using violence during strikes and because they, like the PCI, were keen to see them expelled. With the initiative in hand, Fiat announced the redundancies of 14,500 workers in September 1980, “the biggest mass sacking in Italian history” (ibid.). A sense of profound outrage filled the working-class districts of Turin…However, the national unions were paralyzed by confusion; as well the PCI had recently ended the “Historic Compromise” pact, no longer useful to the elites, as a state of emergency with all-out repression and criminialization of the extraparliamentary left had taken its place. The rest of the Italian manufacturing industry quickly followed suit, launching a wage of mass sackings and redundancies…’ (“Hot Autumn,” 135)

Thus, while the PCI claimed to be acting in the interests of the working-class, it was clear to Guattari that, in fact, the PCI was more interested in guaranteeing its own future electability. It is due to the ways in which parliamentary forms of organization have betrayed and further exploited the proletariat as revolutionary subject that Guattari will go on to write the following:

It is not easy to obliterate from public memory the half-dozen or so powerful swerves to the left in the past forty years, all of which ended in retreat, in compromises with bourgeois parties and a consolidation of capitalism, and all of which were followed by long periods of demoralization and lethargy among the popular forces. While the militant base grows no stronger in its convictions and fails to expand in proportion to its enlarged audience among the parties of the left, the leadership, for its part, continues to consolidate its position, harden its views and bureaucratize itself. Preparatory to playing a role of normalizing and defending the established order at national level (as the Italian Communist Party leadership are already doing), officials are expected to maintain discipline within the organization, and keep a close watch on anyone who looks like upsetting sympathetic outsiders. Anything not relevant to the winning of the current election is felt to be dangerous…all creative urges…all attempts to try new methods and struggles, all unplanned desires and strategies seem to be suspect. (Molecular Revolution, 243)

  1. Conspiratorial Communism

If, as Dosse’s epigraph suggests, Guattari imagined a federation of regional protest movements as constituting the minor subjects of his molecular revolution, it is because what constitutes minor subjectivity is precisely what was lacking from the compromises made by the PCI and labor unions: namely, the composition of a collective subject that included individuals from a wide variety of social positions – from workers to women; from students to the unemployed and the youth – in the name of abolishing work as such. If the PCI and its unions sought to wage class struggle by strengthening the proletariat on the basis of a shared, worker, identity, Minor subjectivity is the composition of a collective subject that refuses work and worker identity altogether. Guattari’s concept of molecular revolution, then, takes its cue from Italy’s ‘Hot Autumn’ since it proceeds by a refusal of work, which is tied to the aim of abolishing working class identity as such. And it is for these reasons that we can hear Guattari’s statement regarding the ban of Radio Alice in 1977 as a statement delivered in a decidedly autonomist manner: ‘No more of the blackmail of poverty, the discipline of work ,the hierarchical order, sacrifice, patriotism, the general good. All this has been silencing the voice of the body. All our time has always been devoted to working, eight hours’ work, two hours getting there and back, then relaxing over television and family supper. As far as the police and the law are concerned anything outside this routine is depraved’ (Molecular Revolution, 238). And if it was Italy’s “Hot Autumn” that would inform Guattari’s concerns regarding the failures of a movement that sought out nothing short of the abolition of work and worker-identity, it would also provided Guattari with an example of how to reconceive the relationship between capital and the state for his present moment:

…would a Statist policy of stimulating production under State control…succeed in bringing back full employment, stopping inflation and restoring the confidence of investors? A ‘left’ government would…launch new programmes of low-cost housing, hospitals, schools, motorways, supersonic aviation, nuclear power stations and so on. But there are limitations to a policy of this kind…Suppose that…a few declining banks and corporations are taken into State control…what real difference will it make? In effect, the State will continue to come more and more under the control of modern capitalism, and once again the left will have helped to speed up the change […] ‘During the rising, ambitious phase, the State came to assume control directly or indirectly of the least profitable branches of the economy; this, for example, requiring large amount of available capital, or too large a work force…it thus ended by assuming responsibility for running and financing the general infrastructure of the capitalist economy. Private profit began a kind of parasitical growth on the great tree trunk of the State and its national industries [which resulted in] State support for private capitalism and it’s national underpinnings… (Molecular Revolution, 242-47)

Thus it is because capital has become globally integrated and functions with the aid of the State, that any transitional program is forced to reckon with the fact that, today, seizing State power and the imposition of social democratic measures simply represses the State’s function as a center for the exchange, extraction, and realization of value. And as we saw above, it was due to their rejection of cooperating with union bosses and Party leadership that the extra-parliamentary left in Italy (autonomia, LC, etc.) are said to participate in a molecular revolution; if for not other reason than it was the extra-parliamentary left that aligned itself with the goal of abolishing work and working-class identity; a project that was to be undertaken by maintaining a position of non-participation/collaboration with the parliamentary Left and the state. And finally says Guattari, in light of the mutations undergone by capital at the beginning of the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, it is no longer simply the working-class who exist as potential partisans of revolution: in contrast to Asor Rosa’s ‘two societies’ thesis, Guattari’s molecular revolution maintains it to be the case that anyone, anywhere, can begin to take up the struggle for abolishing value as the social relation that dominates and exploits every dimension of public and private life. Thus, what makes this a truly molecular understanding of revolution is not the democratization of the potentially revolutionary character to more and more positions within social life but rather its inclusion of the very elements society ignored, or placated; that is, the very same elements deemed by Asor Rosa to be nothing more than the lumpen strata eating away at authentic proletarian life, and unanimously demonized by union officials and PCI leadership alike. And so… perhaps it is due to the failures and betrayals of this decade in Italy’s history that we can read the following passage from Guattari’s essay on the banning of Radio Alice by the State as both an homage to the victims of state repression and as a reassertion of a ‘conspiratorial kind of communism that lies at the heart of molecular revolutions: “Conspiring means breathing together, and that is what we are being accused of; they want to stop us breathing, because we have refused to breathe deeply in their asphyxiating work-places [sic], in their individualist relationships, their families, their pulverising houses. Yet, I plead guilty to assault – to an assault on the separation of life from desire, on sexism in inter-presonal [sic] relations, on reducing life to a wage-packet” (Molecular Revolution, 239). 

“Are There Social Ideas in a Marxist Sense?”

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[An extremely rough sketch of some sections from the first chapter of the dissertation]

Third example: are there social Ideas, in a Marxist sense? In what Marx calls ‘abstract labour’, abstraction is made from the particular qualities of the products of labour the qualities of the labourers, but not from the conditions of productivity, the labour-power and the means of labour in a society. The social Idea is the element of quantitability, qualitability, and potentiality of societies. It expresses a system of multiple ideal connections, or differential relations between differential elements […] In all rigour, there are only economic social problems, even though the solutions may be juridical, political or ideological, and the problems may be expressed in these fields of resolvability. (Difference and Repetition, 186)

 

We would like to begin with the following thesis: it is by way of what Deleuze called ‘the social Idea in a Marxist sense’ that his theory of Ideas is established as a theory of the nature and function of Ideas. Additionally, Deleuze’s theory of Ideas, and particularly of the social Idea, is a theory that aims to show how Ideas maintain a logical and necessary relation to the questions and aims of revolutionary organisation and praxis. Thus, the importance and utility of social Ideas does not end with their role in the relationship between Thinking and Difference-itself, since Deleuze also goes on to show that it is social Ideas that give Thought access to the particular relationship between society and its possible, virtual, and structural, transformation. Thus, social Ideas allow us to think Difference-itself while also enabling our thought to have a political and practical import for the present. Now, just how Deleuze envisions social Ideas satisfying both thinking and acting (politically) achieve these two ends, becomes clear when he returns to a consideration of Marx in Chapter 4 of Difference and Repetition, and wherein he provides the following comment:

In short, the negative is always derived and represented, never original or present: the process of difference and of differenciation [actualisation of the virtual] is primary in relation to that of the negative and opposition. Those commentators on Marx who insist upon the fundamental difference between Marx and Hegel rightly point out that in Capital the category of differenciation (the differenciation at the heart of a social multiplicity: the division of labour) is substituted for the Hegelian concepts of oppositions, contradiction and alienation, the latter forming only an apparent movement and standing only for abstract effects separated from the principle and from the real movement of their production. (DR, 207)

Thus, for Deleuze, the reality of phenomena such as alienation exist is their existing as consequences of a more fundamental, more profound, circuit of Capital’s value-creation/self-valorization. Seen from the point of view of its social Idea, capitalist society is not simply defined by the contradiction between labour and capital, for example. More fundamental than this is the actualisation of the conditions of class struggle that aid in capital’s self-reproduction at an ever larger scale. And this is achieved, says Deleuze, by none other than the division of labour. That is to say, by means of the actualisation, or production, of individuals whose livelihood and social function is determined by their class belonging.

Additionally, regarding the above passage, it is worth noting that what is implied by Deleuze’s assertion of the division of labour as being more fundamental than the contradiction between classes, or alienation, is a position that views the distribution of identities bound to social obligations/functions and its social organisation as constituting that which fuels all other, secondary or tertiary phenomena such as contradiction, negation, and alienation. But what is this more profound, or founding, distribution and assignation of individuals to classes that Deleuze implies? It is, and this comes as no surprise for Marxists of all stripes, nothing other than the process of primitive accumulation. In other words, the division of labour that is the founding gesture of capitalist society begins with the division of labour-power as it was established in the genocidal processes of colonisation. In plan terms, primitive accumulation and colonisation continue to affect and determine the division of labour and subsequently the contradiction between labour and capital. This does not mean, however, that Deleuze denies the reality of categories as fundamental for a marxist theory of society as contradiction, negation, or alienation. Instead, for Deleuze, what this means is that it is neither contradictions, nor negation, nor alienation that can be considered as the ‘motor’ of the development of capitalist social relations. Rather, it is differenciation–or the process of individuation whereby what is virtual becomes actual–that determines capitalist development. Consequently, if it is this double process of differenciation-differentiation that acts as the motor of our present society, it means that the world of capital proceeds in such a way that any actualisation of its virtual elements entails the exclusion and foreclosure of other, alternative, virtualities.

More fundamental than phenomena such as alienation, production, and contradiction, then, are those objective and material processes by which Capital actualises (differenciates) various virtual configurations of society, considered both globally and locally. However, says Deleuze, this process of differenciation is governed by a logic of an exclusive difference: exclusive disjunction. If differenciation is said to explicate itself only on the condition that the actualisation of one virtual potential also means the barring from empirical existence all other alternative virtualities, it is because it is of the nature of the virtual to be both real and ideal, and thus real without possessing empirical existence. Of interest for our purposes here, Deleuze’s best and clearest example of this logic of exclusive disjunction that pertains to the actualisation of the virtual is given in his treatment of the figure of the Other; a treatment that concludes the final pages of the aptly titled fifth chapter ‘Asymmetrical Synthesis of the Sensible’:

In order to grasp the other as such, we were right to insist upon special conditions of experience, however artificial – namely, the moment at which the expressed has (for us) no existence apart from that which expresses it: the Other as the expression of a possible world […] For it is not the other which is another I, but the I which is an other, a fractured I. There is no love which does not begin with the revelation of a possible world as such, enwound [sic] in the other which expresses it. Albertine’s face expressed the blending of beach and waves: ‘From what unknown world does she distinguish me?’… It is true that the other disposes of a means to endow the possibles that it expresses with reality, independently of the development we cause them to undergo. (DR, 261)

If it is true that the Other is an expression of a possible world, then we are obliged to inquire into the particular kind of existence that is granted to this ‘possible world.’ Is it the case that the Other express mere possibilities; where possibility is determined as resembling what is real and simply lacks the attribute of existence? Or, does the Other express a possible world, where possibility is defined as a kind of existence that does not lack the attribute of existence due to its non-participation in empirical or phenomenal experience? Relevant for our inquiry into the nature of this possible world are Deleuze’s remarks made prior to Difference & Repetition, which are found in his 1962 text of Proust, Proust & Signs. In this earlier work, Deleuze embarks upon a reading of Proust as a quasi-neo-Platonic theorist of the nature of Signs; and particularly of signs one encounters in the world. From this Deleuze offers a similar characterization of the possible world expressed by an Other:

The first law of love is subjective: subjectively, jealousy is deeper than love, it contains love’s truth. This is because jealousy goes further in the apprehension and interpretation of signs. It is the destination of love, its finality. Indeed, it is inevitable that the signs of a loved person, once we “explicate” them, should be revealed as deceptive: addressed to us, applied to us, they nonetheless express worlds that exclude us and that the beloved will not and cannot make us know. Not by virtue of any particular ill will on the beloved’s part, but of a deeper contradiction, which inheres in the nature of love and in the general situation of the beloved. (Proust & Signs, 9, my emphasis)

What makes this passage significant for our purposes is that despite their differing subject matter and when taken together, Deleuze’s characterization of various ‘expressions of a possible world’ clarify why it is that the actualisation of the virtual (differenciation) abides by a logic of exclusive disjunction or exclusive difference. That is, the expression of a possible world, whether as it is given in Proust & Signs or in Difference and Repetition, is the positive assertion of a virtual organization of the world that excludes my existence. The virtual as that which in the process of actualization expresses itself through the cancellation of certain components of actuality (e.g. one’s existence in the present world of the beloved).

To summarise: the possible world expressed by the Other is to be understood in terms of the latter and thereby is treated as existing since it is only the virtual that is real without needing to acquire actuality, or actual existence. As Deleuze himself formulated it: “The possible has no reality…conversely, the virtual is not actual, but as such possesses a reality. Here again Proust’s formula best defines the states of virtuality: “real without being actual, ideal without being abstract” (Bergsonism, 96). Thus, what determines the possible world expressed by the Other as virtual instead of possible is that while it is of the nature of what is possible to lack the attribute of existence, virtuality can only exist as participant in the attribute of existence as such. Thus, says Deleuze, virtuality is endowed with the attribute of existence, where existence is understood to mean the participation in what is real and whose participation is determined and measured by the degree of  its ideality. Thus, to affirm, as Deleuze does, that the possible world expressed by the Other is of a virtual nature implies the affirmation of an expressed possible world as maintaining a degree of non-resemblance and non-identity with actuality, or with the being of the actual: “[W]hile the real is the image and likeness of the possible that it realises, the actual…does not resemble the virtuality that it embodies. It is different that is primary in the process of actualisation” (Bergsonism, 96). Now, it is with a greater significance than that of an encyclopaedic account of Deleuze’s notion of the virtual that we give attention to the quality of non-identity that pertains to virtual existence, for Deleuze himself will go on to identify the ‘reality of the virtual’ with the ‘problematic’ dimension of the world, or the being of the Problem as such: “The ‘problematic’ is a state of the world…it designates precisely the objectivity of Ideas, the reality of the virtual” (DR, 280).

If Deleuze asserts that the reality of the virtual is identical with that which constitutes the ‘being of the Problem’, and if it is also the case that it belongs to virtuality to exist in a manner of non-resemblance or non-identity to actuality, then what is implied is that Problems (or the being of the Problem) maintain a relation of non-resemblance, or non-identity, with the various Solutions to which it gives rise. It is for this reason that even when Deleuze affirms that in all reality there are only ‘economic problems’ with respect to social Ideas, he simultaneously qualifies this by underscoring what is not implied with respect to Thought as such. Namely, that the posing of true problems via the social Idea produces as its consequence a set of virtual outcomes, none of which are identical to the present organisation of society. And thus we arrive at Deleuze’s well known passage regarding the possible existence of ‘social Ideas in a marxist sense’:

The famous phrase of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve’, does not mean that the problems are only apparent or that they are already solved, but, on the contrary, that the economic conditions of a problem determine or give rise to the manner in which it finds a solution within the framework of the real relations of the society. Not that the observer can draw the least optimism from this, for these ‘solutions’ may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem.’ (DR, 186)

Given what we have shown above this much is clear: what Deleuze discovers regarding any ‘social Idea in a Marxist sense’ is that these notions of non-identity and non-resemblance also come to define the relation between Thinking and the world, and the relation between Problems and their Solutions, and as mediated by Ideas. Additionally, say Deleuze, it turns out to be capitalism that is the Problem confronted everywhere in the present and thus it is only by means of social Ideas that we will be able to both construct this Problem in a true as opposed to false manner and thereby reveal the possible virtual worlds expressed by the problem of the overcoming of capitalism. It is by means of this social Idea understood in a marxist sense that the Problem of the abolition of capitalist society will find its adequate virtual solutions because the content of social Ideais nothing but the objective tendencies constitutive of the present conjuncture whose future existence is in the process of being determined. It is precisely this dual function of social Ideas, as granting Thought access to the world while serving as the legitimate means for Thought to intervene in the world, that Deleuze is speaking of when he writes: 

It is as though every Idea has two faces, which are like love and anger: love in the search for fragments, the progressive determination and linking of the ideal adjoint fields [the tripartite/synthetic determination of the Idea]; anger in the condensation of singularities which, by dint of ideal events, defines the concentration of a ‘revolutionary situation’ and causes the Idea to explode into the actual [Thought as the utilisation of objective tendencies for ends other than their own]. It is in this sense that Lenin had Ideas. (DR, 190)

To determine a system of differences mediated, not by identity but through difference; to discover the possible worlds expressed by this system; this is the conclusion reached due to the dual nature of Ideas. Thus, social Ideas not only apprehend the reality of Problems since they also make Thought aware of those aspects or elements within society where a revolutionary collective subject can reassert, or wrest back, some degree of agency in determining what comes after our capitalist present. 

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.

From a Philosophically Clean-Shaven Marx to a Philosophically Decolonized Deleuze

The Red Detachment of Women 4

A desperately rough sketch of the third chapter of my dissertation

If the face is in fact Christ, in other words, your average ordinary White Man, then the first deviances, the first divergence-types, are racial: yellow man, black man, men in the second or third category…They must be Christianized, in other words, facialized. European racism as the white man’s claim…operates by the determination of degrees of deviance in relation to the White-Man face, which endeavors to integrate nonconforming traits into increasingly eccentric and backward waves, sometimes tolerating them at given places under given conditions, in a given ghetto, sometimes erasing them from the wall, which never abides alterity (it’s a Jew, it’s an Arab, it’s a Negro, it’s a lunatic…). From the viewpoint of racism, there is no exterior, there are no people on the outside. There are only people who should be like us and whose crime it is not to be. – Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 178

In his 1968 Preface to Difference and Repetition, Deleuze offers the following description of the labor specific to philosophy, a labour that is said to be a “reproduction” of its own history:

It seems to us that the history of philosophy should play a role roughly analogous to that of collage in painting. The history of philosophy is the reproduction of philosophy itself. In the history of philosophy, a commentary should act as a veritable double and bear the maximal modification appropriate to a double. (One images a philosophically bearded Hegel, a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, in the same way as a moustached Mona Lisa). (Difference & Repetition, xxi)

If philosophy was supposed to be closer to collage and Duchamp than some faithful yet mechanical retelling of its history–a way of doing philosophy that produces novel contributions in thought but in the guise of slight modification–what does it mean to engage, philosophically, with the political project inaugurated by Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism & Schizophrenia? The thesis we will put forward is the following: if it was imperative that we understand Marx’s relationship to the history of philosophy as an icon stripped of it’s most distinguishing features, it is just as imperative for us to imagine a darker Deleuze. This would be a Deleuze who reacquaints himself the fire of negativity not by way of reviving negativity-as-contradiction but by weaponizing difference understood as asymmetrical and combative. If philosophy is closer to surrealistic portraiture than faithful reproduction, and just as Deleuze imagined a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, we are obliged to imagine a philosophically decolonized Deleuze in light of the the present conjuncture of capital accumulation. This chapter aims at demonstrating what is meant by a ‘philosophically decolonized’ Deleuzianism as well as providing the determinate content that gives a decolonial Deleuze its historical, material, and therefore real content.

First, we will proceed by reconsidering particularly significant interpretations of the relationship between philosophy and revolutionary politics as envisioned by Deleuze and Guattari. After which we will then demonstrate how D&G’s privileging of concepts such as the Particular, the minor, and minority, is constitutive of their attempt to think through, and against, the processes of racialization ushered in by European colonialism. This will be seen in this chapter’s final section that argues for the logical and political solidarity between D&G’s notion of revolutionary politics and the tradition of decolonial philosophy (e.g., Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon). It is only by making this link between D&G and the decolonial project that we will be in a position to judge the virtues and limitations of D&G joint writings. 

However, as a point of clarification with regards to the first section of this chapter, we use the term ‘revolutionary’ here in order to express Deleuze and Guattari’s commitment to the abolition of any/all structures of organizing society predicated upon the unfreedom, subjugation, alienation, or exploitation of a portion of the global population for the freedoms of the rest. While the literature regarding this topic is ever expanding, we will confine our analysis to two general interpretations of Deleuze and Guattari’s particular fusion of philosophical and political practice. On the one hand, there are those who view philosophy’s relationship to politics as one of providing a theoretical framework that gives clarity and coherence to the virtual potentials that are not actualized within a certain historical milieu and state of affairs. This position is best articulated by Eugene Holland who offers the following formulation:

Philosophy…turns away from the actuality in order to give consistency to virtuality by extracting from actual states of affairs the selected determinations constitutive of and mapped by its concepts. Philosophy’s concepts do not refer to the actual states of affairs…but rather give consistency to the virtuality from which those states of affairs arose or were actualized. Philosophy thus counter-actualizes actuality and re-potentiates virtuality, restoring the latter’s motility and, perhaps most importantly, its potential to be actualized differently…Where science captures or traces reality itself…philosophy maps the virtual, or rather maps diverse sections of virtuality on its various planes of immanence. (Holland, ‘The Utopian Dimension of Thought in Deleuze and Guattari’, 23)

On the other hand, there are those who read Deleuze and Guattari’s revolutionary aspirations by placing emphasis on their concepts of the minor/minoritarian subject, becoming-indiscernible, lines of flight, deterritorialization, and nomadic war machines. Scholars who maintain this position include Nicholas Thoburn, Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, Andrew Culp, and Eduoard Glissant. In contrast to Holland’s reading, Thoburn, Sibertin-Blanc, Culp, and Glissant view the relationship between philosophy and politics as not simply the task of counter-actualizing potentials within the present that remain unactualized.

Now, while Holland’s reading remains true regarding the letter of Deleuze’s thought, through our exegesis of Thoburn and Glissant we are given the additional, if not more important insight, that, for Deleuze and Guattari, this task of counter-actualizing the virtual must be put in the service of a particular kind of subjectivity, or particular kind of identity constituted by late capitalism. To restrict oneself to the activity of counter-actualization that gives theoretical consistency to the virtual, is to ignore the other-half of the function Deleuze assigns to Thinking as such. For as we saw in the previous chapter, Thinking not only adheres to the tripartite criteria of the determination of the Idea; thinking synthetically produces Ideas whose purpose is the identification of certain objective tendencies of a Problem/problematic field, and whose content is that of an actual process that carries within it latent virtual potentials for transforming the Problem/problematic field in toto. It was this dual feature of constructing a consistent virtual Idea with an emphasis on its singular points (lines of flight) that Deleuze meant by asserting the two-faces of every Idea:

It is as though every Idea has two faces, which are like love and anger: love in the search for fragments, the progressive determination and linking of the ideal adjoint fields; anger in the condensation of singularities which, by dint of ideal events, defines the concentration of a ‘revolutionary situation’ and causes the Idea to explode into the actual. It is in this sense that Lenin had Ideas. (DR, 190)

In order to avoid a one-sided understanding of Deleuze and Guattari’s political project (as embodied in Holland’s position), Nicholas Thoburn’s work is useful insofar as it emphasizes the role the minor/minoritarian while Eduoard Glissant himself does this by emphasizing the importance of thinking emancipation from within his own context of the Caribbean. From this brief comparison, we already see how it is that the salient difference separating Holland from thinkers like Thoburn and Glissant is best summarized by Holland himself when he writes

In line with Deleuze & Guattari, his hopes clearly lie in the prospects for more equitable and mutually beneficial forms of market exchange. Unlike Deleuze & Guattari, however, Glissant projects a strong sense of writing from and about a particular place in the world, rather than about the world as a whole. For he speaks and thinks both from and of an archipelago: a region with no single standard or measure of identity, but plural sources, influences, relations; a region without a single People or State, but with multiple ties, parallel histories, shared interests; a region where subterranean or rather sub-oceanic links count for more than politically enclosed territorial boundaries. (‘The Utopian Dimension of Thought’, 6)

According to Holland, then, what distinguishes Glissant from Deleuze and Guattari is the formers localized and situated political project. To be clear, it is possible for one to find support for this criticism of Glissant’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari, and particularly with respect to the filmed interview between Claire Parnet and Deleuze at the end of his life. When the discussion turns to the topic of Deleuze’s relationship to the Left, leftist politics, and unlike many of his contemporaries, his non-participation in the French Communist Party, Deleuze begins to define what it means to be ‘from the Left’ in a manner that seemingly corroborates Holland’s concern:

To not be from the left means starting with myself, my street, my city, my country, the other countries further and further. We start by us, and as we are privileged, we live in a rich country, we wonder what we can do to sustain in time this situation. We can feel that there are some dangers, that this situation can’t last too long. So we say “Oh but the Chinese are so far away, what can we do so that Europe can sustain itself in time etc. To be from the left is the opposite. It is to perceive, as it is said that Japanese people perceive…They would say: The world, the Continent, Europe, France, etc. etc. the rue Bizerte, me. It is a phenomenon of perception. This way we first perceive the horizon…In fact, to be from the left is to know that the Third World’s issues are closer to us than our neighborhood’s issues. (Deleuze & Parnet, L’Abécédaire, G comme gauche)

However, against Holland’s fidelity to the letter of Deleuze’s work, his criticism of Glissant finds itself absent of any justification in for two main reasons. First, insofar as being part of the Left means affirming the priority of ‘Third World’ issues viz-à-viz issues that arise in rich countries whose citizens find themselves in a privileged position, faulting Glissant for ‘writing from a particular place rather than about the world as a whole’ actually amounts to criticizing Glissant for giving priority to his position of theorizing from within a ‘Third World’ country. Less a form of localism or provincialism in theory, we would say, against Holland, that what appears to be nothing but the limited scope of Glissant’s thought is in fact the very act that Deleuze claims includes one’s activity on the side of ‘the Left’ properly understood.

Second, it should strike readers as odd for Holland to claim that a thinker who attempts to construct a politics founded upon a terrain that lacks ‘standard or measure of a unified identity’; a politics that jettisons the ideal of ‘a single People or State’; is in some meaningful sense opposed to Deleuze and Guattari’s own political proscriptions. We need only remind ourselves that Deleuze and Guattari’s criticism of the concept of ‘the people’ isn’t simply based upon a generalized suspicion of any and all political categories. Rather, it is because, historically ‘a people can only be created in abominable sufferings.’ While it is the case that Deleuze and Guattari conceive of  philosophy as capable of signaling a ‘people to come’, it is always qualified in the following terms: “The race summoned forth by art or philosophy is not the one that claims to be pure but rather an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediable minor race” (WIP, 109). Thus, it is with regard to the question of a single People constituted by the presence or absence of a measure of identity, that these two contrasting readings of Deleuze and Guattari will be delineated.

The Red Detachment of Women 2

In the latter half of this chapter we will argue that just as Deleuze’s early works went to great lengths to critique what he called the Dogmatic Image of Thought, his work with Guattari aims to demonstrate the practical futility of ready-made political ideas such as ‘the people’, or the inherited virtues from the Enlightenment such as European humanism’s alleged ‘universality’. While a critique of humanism and universalism may seem to contradict any commitment to revolutionary politics, we will show how it is precisely because these Enlightenment values were never universally applicable to begin with that Deleuze and Guattari will privilege a minoritarian conception of revolutionary subjectivity; a subject whose political activity begins and remains inseparable from the localized ways they find themselves stratifications, organized, and subjectified by capital and its State.

So… while Holland’s interpretation remains valuable, it is a reading that ignores the minoritarian dimension of Deleuze and Guattari’s political position (Thoburn), as well as implicitly repeats the eurocentric bias of treating ‘particular’ or ‘local’ struggles and groups therein as needing to be subsumed into a more universal political category. What readings such as Holland’s neglects is the fact that it is precisely because history has denied particular groups inclusion into the universal that it is in the interest of these particular identity groups to propose a vision of the Universal that does not seek to establish substantial identity between model and copy, idea and claimant (Glissant). Thus, against the charge that would find us guilty for grounding a theory of revolutionary transformation on an overly localized and regional point of view, we aim to show how it is only by defending/beginning with the particular (or, minor) as instantiated in the individuals who belong to the marginalized sections of the global population that one can overcome the errors and blindspots of Holland’s position as well as understand why our criticism gives rise to a philosophically decolonized Deleuze. And is it not already the case that Deleuze and Guattari, in their discourse regarding the potential of a becoming-minoritarian in politics, begin this process of philosophically decolonizing Thought? And is this decolonial element not already evident to familiar readers? For what else could we understand when, in the midst of their discussion of the minor’s relationship with the capitalist-State, Deleuze and Guattari write,

Nonwhites would receive no adequate expression by becoming a new yellow or black majority, an infinite denumerable set. What is proper to the minority is to assert a power of the non-denumerable, even if that minority is composed of a single member. That is the formula for multiplicities. Minority as a universal figure, or becoming-everybody/everything (devenir tout le monde). Woman: we all have to become that, whether we are male or female. Non-white: we all have to become that, whether we are white, yellow, or black […] However modest the demand, it always constitutes a point that the axiomatic cannot tolerate: when people demand to formulate their problems themselves, and to determine at least the particular conditions under which they can receive a more general solution (hold to the Particular as an innovative form). It is always astounding to see the same story repeated: the modest of the minorities’ initial demands, coupled with the impotence of the axiomatic to resolve the slightest corresponding problem. In short, the struggle around axioms is most important when it manifests, itself opens, the gap between two types of propositions, propositions of flow and propositions of axioms. The power of the minorities is not measured by their capacity to enter and make themselves felt within the majority system…but to bring to bear the force of the non-denumerable set…against the denumerable sets. (ATP, 471)

As we will see, it is only by correcting Holland’s misreadings of Deleuze and Guattari, which he places in the service of a critique of Glissant’s localism/particularism, that we can then understand not only how Deleuze and Guattari’s political work is a faithful returning to Marx avant la lettre. More importantly, we will then be able to understand how their replacement of the category class with that of the minor/minority establishes the conditions that render possible a darker, decolonized, Deleuze; a Deleuze whose theoretical framework is freed from its own eurocentric residues and is able to better explain the ways in which the present conjuncture is defined by an enlarged and decolonial understanding of history: if the faithful Marxist position is to reiterate that the whole of human history is that of class struggle, and if the task Deleuze set for himself was to imagine a clean-shaven Marx and therefore unrecognizable, then our task is that of showing how the categories of the minor/minority serve as the grounds for undertaking a thorough decolonization of the Deleuzo-guattarian project. The outcome being that history is no longer simply defined by class-struggle. Rather, history is equally the history of the various anti-colonial struggles that preceded the establishment of capitalism and its division of the social along class lines. It is this latter view of history that brings Deleuze and Guattari’s minor conception of revolutionary politics into the tradition of Césaire and Fanon.