The Human Strike and The Politics of Escape

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Transcript of a short talk I gave @ b-books for the German book launch of Dark Deleuze in Berlin. 

Introductory Remarks

The terms of escape, opacity, and indiscernibility are perhaps three of the most essential concepts that constitute the lexicon of Dark Deleuze; a lexicon that seeks to refute and replace the consensus of Deleuze as a thinker of affirmation, of joyous affects, and lover of rhizomes. If this is so, readers may find the text’s development of these terms merely suggestive, especially since the notion of escape is given its most interesting treatment in the final passages of the text’s concluding chapter. However, as I hope to show, these concepts of escape, opacity, and indiscernibility, gain in significance insofar as we understand them in relation to the interlocutors Andrew brings together in his reading of Deleuze; and particularly the work of the Paris based art collective Claire Fontaine (and to a lesser extent Tiqqun) whose names appear at key moments in the development of this politics of escape.

1. Escape, Opacity, Indiscernibility


To begin, we can ask the following question: how are we to understand a politics of escape in light of Dark Deleuze’s argument that Deleuze, has always been, a partisan of the anti-state communist tradition? At the outset we can say that escape is not to be confused with some generalized notion of deterritorialization or even with Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of lines of flight. To escape requires lines of flight, but the two are not one and the same. For Andrew, escape is given a decidedly political inflection where lines of flight pertain to the objective tendencies of the world that, if taken to their logical conclusions, force a qualitative change of the situation:

Escape is never more exciting than when it spills out into the streets, where trust in appearances, trust in words, trust in each other, and trust in this world all disintegrate in a mobile zone of indiscernibility (Fontaine, ‘Black Bloc’). It is these moments of opacity…and breakdown that darkness most threatens the ties that bind us to this world. (Dark Deleuze, 70)

Regarding this passage it is worth noting the reference to Claire Fontaine and her writing on the black bloc, which suggests to the reader that between Fontaine and this Dark Deleuze there is something in common. What both Fontaine and Dark Deleuze hold in common is their antipathy toward those who envision the task of Thinking being one of adequate description, or the verification of conceptual representations. In contrast to these positions that equate thinking with representing/describing the world, Fontaine and Deleuze assert that before all else Thinking is a response to a problem whose nature is political. Or as Deleuze and Guattari write in the 8th chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, ‘…politics precedes Being’ (ATP, 203). Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the reason for the reference to Fontaine’s work is because it is Fontaine who develops a key distinction that is implied in Dark Deleuze’s conclusion and one that will allow us to understand how the three terms of escape, opacity, and indiscernibility relate to one another. In her essay ‘This is not the black bloc’ Fontaine distinguishes between what is ontologically indiscernible and that which is politically indiscernible. As she writes:

A distinctive feature of one who finds themselves in what we call a black bloc is to demand nothing for themselves or for others, to cut across public space without being subjected to it for once, to disappear in a mass or factory exists and public transportation at rush hour…In this night where all demonstrators look alike there is no point in posing Manichean questions. Especially since we know that the distinction between guilty and innocent no longer matters, all that counts is the one between winners and losers. (Claire Fontaine, ‘This is not the black bloc’)

A world of difference, then, keeps apart the fabled ‘night in which all cows are black’ from the night of insurrection ‘where all demonstrators look alike’. Regarding the former, we find ourselves disabled in the face of pure immediacy. In this situation, there is nothing about the world that allows us to distinguish something from anything else; a cause from its effect; a principle from its consequences. However, in the night where all demonstrators look alike, we find ourselves enabled in our confrontation with capital’s imposed daily rhythm and its state apparatuses of capture. For example, while one may ordinarily be subjected to ‘random’ stops by the police or even the violence that always arrives at demonstrations, the indiscernibility of the black bloc affords this mass of individuals more opportunities for attack and resisting arrest than if they were to assume the transparency model of peaceful protest and orderly conduct. Fontaine continues:

Continue reading “The Human Strike and The Politics of Escape”

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

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

/0/. The Most Savage Fruit of Alienation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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