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

(trans. There are no people. There are only classes. Fuck the bourgeoisie!)

[[ What follows is a draft of a longer essay yet to be written on the genealogy of destituent power covering Bataille, Blanchot, and Tronti, as well as Agamben and the Invisible Committee ]]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humanity’s Innocence: From Proletarian Existence to Prelapsarian Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destituons le Monde: Against the Management of Everyday Life

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

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

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

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

Thus, it can be said that destituent are those acts which are grounded upon a rejection of developing better and more equitable strategies of economic management insofar as communism is not a “superior economic organization.” So, insofar as this notion of destituent power seeks to cause the problems and crises capital “means to cover up” to appear in every day social reality, destituent gestures necessarily involve a certain level of organization of struggle in order to achieve the “bringing to light” of the problems and crises that affect the whole of society. What is more, it is precisely through the Committee’s understanding of destituent power as organizing struggles such that they are able to (i) resolve the problems of social reproduction through decidedly anti-capitalist (i.e. communist) measures while (ii) rendering social problems unavoidable and impossible to ignore mean, that we are returned to what Marx and Engels originally understood regarding that most general phase of the development of the proletariat:

In…the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where the war breaks out into open revolution, and where violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat. (Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto)

Thus, we arrive at the central difference between Agamben’s and the Invisible Committee’s understandings of destituent power: while Agamben consistently conceives of destituent power as the capacity for forms-of-life to redeem the Humanity from which it has been ontologically estranged vis-a-vis Capital, the Committee, by contrast, understand destituent power as the general phase of proletarian development centered around anti-state, anti-bureaucratic, and communist social relations. And it is due to this discrepancy between destitution as messianic capacity of forms-of-life and destitution as the form and organization struggle takes when founded upon communist social relations that it comes as no surprise to read the Committee issue a decidedly anti-Agambenian statement as the following:

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

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

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

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

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

To seek out the organization requirements for reproducing “what is lived in the fight itself” (ibid, 80); for reproducing “that experience of fraternity in combat, of friendship” (ibid, 133); for the reproduction of the fleeting experiences of a form of non-alienated living one encounters in the midst of struggle; all of these are so many iterations of the fundamental principle that what is revolutionary in moments of insurrection is the fact that individuals became accustomed to, comfortable with, and desiring of that form-of-life that no longer structures our existence according to the time of labour and the time of “leisure.” As one of the many participants in the 2013 Gezi Park protests remarked, perfectly capturing such a sentiment, “[T]he people who are coming here, for the past 18 days, are not spending money. And when they get used to not spending money, it’s like a revolution within themselves.” For the Committee, then, destituent power takes aim at capitalist social relations by giving a form and organization to struggle that are not only sustain friendship as “fraternity in combat,” but that produce the necessary conditions for what comes after the barricades and the insurrectionary fervor, which inevitably subside. To destitute the economy, then, is but the collective construction of what is necessary for the actualization and generalization of our non-alienated living; or what the Committee simply call “community:” Without at least the occasional experience of community, we die inside, we dry out, become cynical, harsh, desert-life. Life becomes that ghost city peopled by smiling mannequins, which functions. Out need for community is so pressing that after having ravaged all the existing bonds, capitalism is running on nothing but the promise of “community.” What are the social networks, the dating apps, if not that promise perpetually disappointed? What are all the modes, all the technologies of communication, all the love songs, if not a way to maintain the dream of a continuity between beings where in the end every contact melts away? […] In 2015, a single website of pornographic videos called PornHub was visited for 4,392,486,580 hours, which amounts to two and half times the hours spent on Earth by Homo sapiens. Even this epoch’s obsession with sexuality and its hyper-indulgence in pornography attests to the need for community, in the very extremeness of the latter’s deprivation (Now, 133).

Advertisements

How Many Breakdowns For Every Breakthrough?

(tr. generation collapse)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subject-Groups, Subjugated-Groups, and Group Phantasies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakthrough or Breakdown?

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

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

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

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

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

Strike Till Retirement (notes on Precarias a la Deriva’s ‘A Very Careful Strike’)

33326906_10211891585275001_5248646723739320320_n

[Note on the translators introduction: Crucial for our understanding of the particular fusion of political activity with knowledge production that comes out of Precarias a la Deriva is their novel use of the Situationist derive. As they note in ‘First Stutterings of Precarias a la Deriva,’ “In our particular version, we opt to exchange the arbitrary wandering of the flaneur…for a situated drift which would move through the daily spaces of each one of us, while maintaining the tactics multisensorial and open character. Thus the drift is converted into a moving interview, crossed through by the collective perception of the environment” (34). One could even say that more than a mere modification of situationist methodology, Precarias a la Deriva’s methodology of the ‘moving interview’ combines the dérive (and its attention to the ways in which the reproduction of urban existence liberates or constrains the precarity that conditions the reproductive labour (unwaged, emotional, affective, sex, and care work), and particularly women’s labour) with the form of the ‘Worker’s Inquiry’ – the latter published by Marx in 1880 and was an attempt at gathering responses to 101 questions from workers themselves with the aim of achieving an exact and precise knowledge of what contributes to or detracts from working class struggle.]

 

  1. Sex, care, and attention are not pre-existent object, but rather historically determined social stratifications of affect, traditionally assigned to women.

Precarias a la Deriva begin their argument for a ‘very careful strike’ by understanding that the current form taken by unwaged reproductive labour (sex, care, attention) is the outcome of a long historical sequence. And the common element that binds contemporary unwaged labour to previous instances is the reproduction of patriarchal gender norms; these norms that split subjectivity thereby forcing upon it the choice between the good mother or the bad whore:

“The history of sex and care as strata is ancient. Almost from the beginning of Christianity, both were associated with a bipolar female model, which located on one (positive) side the Virgin Mary, virtuous woman, mother of god, and on the other, (negative) side Eve, the great sinner of the Apocalypse, the transgressor, the whore” (34).

Thus, if reproductive labour is a historical formation and not a natural given, then its chief accomplishment is what Precarias rightly call the ‘stratification of affect’ – the process of rendering certain modes of being (sex, care, attention) as attributes of some bodies (women) and not others (men). And following from the Christianity of the Medieval period we see the reappearance of this stratification of affect, but now in the period of the Enlightenment. The specific process of stratification of the Enlightenment period, however, would become something unlike that of the Middle Ages and would erect legal sanctions in place of religious doctrine in order to modify and reproduce these old divisions between the woman of virtue and the woman of vice and further distinguish one’s womanly virtue (loving-mother, loyal housewife, single-virgin) from her vicious double (transgressor-whore). And it is due to this substitution of secular right for religious judgment, says Precarias, that we can find in places such as the US, Great Britain, and Australia, the creation of laws aimed at regulating the exchange of sexual services for money, ‘which in many areas…included the regulation of the exchange of sexual services for money. It was in this manner that prostitution appeared in the way we know it today, that is to say, as a specialized occupation or profession within the division of labour of patriarchal capitalism, and how it was restricted to determine spaces and subjects (ceasing to be an occasional resource for working and peasant women)” (35). Moreover, and regarding our present moment, it is this historical formation of those strata of affect (sex-care-attention) that have entered ‘into perfect symbiosis with the bourgeois nuclear family that capitalism converted into the dominant reproductive ideal’ (35).

  1. Our journeys across the city…have led us to abandon the modes of enunciation that speak of each of these functions as separate and to think…from the point of view of a communicative continuum sex-attention-care.

Given the historical stratification of these affects it is not hard to see why, for Precarias, they belong to one and the same continuum, to the same historically formative process (and all the better to emphasize “the elements of continuity that exist under the stratification…in concrete and everyday practices”). However, Precarias also give another justification for their understanding of these stratified-gendered affects: their ‘journeys across the city’ and placing their ‘precaritized everyday lives’ under close examination. And what is discovered is that it not solely the work of history that certain affects have become seemingly natural attributes of particular subjects. In addition, what is discovered is the increasing complexity by which this historical stratification is carried out. Hence, “a continuum because…the traditional fixed positions of women (and of genders in general) are becoming more mobile, and at the same time new positions are created. The whore is no longer just and only a whore…the sainted mother is no longer such a saint nor only a mother.” For Precarias a la Deriva, the stratifications of affect proper to the present cannot and should not be understood in light of its previous iterations (i.e. via mere substitution as in the Enlightenments replacement of theological doctrine with secular law). Today, the stratified (re)production and (re)alignment of social functions such as sex, care, and attention can only be understood on the basis of their increasing ‘mobility’ or ‘diversification.’ But what is exactly mobile and diverse about the contemporary gender division of labour? The present stratification of affect is

  • diverse due to the increasing variants of the classical ‘sexual contract.’ This ranges from traditional matrimony and sex-work (prostitution) to the renting out of women as surrogate mothers, to the well known phenomena of spouses for hire (‘mail order brides’). And with this transformation in the sexual contract (i.e. the social relations that regulate sex, sexuality, and reproduction) follows a transformation of the model of the Fordist nuclear family (‘and the proliferation of other modality of unity…monoparental or plurinuclear homes, transnational families, groups constituted by non-blood bonds…’).

[and]

  • mobile insofar as what once was accomplished in the home is now outstripped and accomplished by the market (“many of the tasks that were previously conducted in the home now are resolved in the market”) – e.g. fast food/ready meals, which accomplish a mother’s daily task of meal preparations, or  middle-, upper-middle class, and wealthy (white) women (residing in the global north) are relieved of their duties of childcare by hiring women from the global south to carry out what once were her traditional roles of caring- and domestic-labour, and so on.

In the end, Precarias are right to emphasize the novelty of this novel stratification-(re)articulation of the gender division of labour, since this stratification is a process whose outcome is the condemnation of more and more individuals to live under conditions of an ever deepening uncertainty. And just as the increased variations of the sexual contract corresponds to a crisis of the traditional nuclear family, so too does the ‘externalization of the home’ correspond to, what Precarias call, ‘a crisis of care’ – and a crisis that begins with the decline of the Welfare State. So, along with the ‘crises’ (or transformations) in the forms of familial and domestic labour, there exists a corresponding transformation in the very ‘physiognomy’ of precarious labour and realizes itself the now common phenomena of one’s “lack of time, resources, recognition, and desire for taking charge of nonremunerated care.”Moreover, says Precarias, these crises – of the family, domestic labour, and of lack – are circumscribed by a fourth and final problem: “In last place, we have urban question: the crisis (and destruction) of worker neighborhood and their strong sense of community has given place to a process of privatization of public spaces.”

  1. Care, with its ecological logic, opposes the security logic reigning in the precaritized world

Now, just as this socio-economic stratification of the sex-care-attention continuum as ‘capitalist axiomatic’ (i.e.all degrees of difference along the continuum are convertible into value) the contemporary norm of governance on the part of nation-States is that of a ‘macropolitics of security,’ which realizes itself in the ‘micropolitics of fear.’ For Precarias, it is in light of the logics of security and fear that govern everyday life that precarity finds its other meaning:

In this context of uncertainty…precarity is not only a characteristic of the poorest workers. Today we can speak of a precarization of existence in order to refer to a tendency that traverses all of society…Precarity functions as a blackmail, because we are susceptible to losing our jobs tomorrow even though we have indefinite contracts, because hiring, mortgages, and prices in general go up but our wages don’t. (‘A Very Careful Strike,’ 39)

Thus we have a dual-process where the ‘externalization of the home’ is coupled to what we can call the ‘externalization (or generalization) of precarity.’ In other words, if Precarias are right to conceive of precarity as a general tendency of society, it is because precarity is a process that continuously produces ever greater conditions of uncertainty for a greater number of workers; particularly with respect to their lives as conditioned by the demands of (re)production. Thus the question naturally comes about: what to do in situations such as this one? how to go on living when “we don’t know who will care for us tomorrow”? Precarias a la Deriva propose a project of “recuperating and reformulating the feminist proposal for a logic of care. A care that…in place of containment, it seeks the sustainability of life and, in place of fear…bases itself on cooperation, interdependence, the gift, and social ecology.” And in order to implement such a project, Precarias provide us with four key principles for organization and collective struggle: affective virtuosity (attempt to break the racialized and gendered sex-care-attention continuum and view each affect as an essential and creative aspect of life as a whole), interdependence (mutual aid according to the logic of the gift), transversality (refutation of any fixed and clear distinction between labour- and leisure-time), and everydayness (local instantiation of care as a form of social organization). Without distracting ourselves from the exigency of precarious life, it is helpful to highlight the fact that Precarias a la Deriva’s list of principles adopts one of Guattari’s key terms: transversality or what he sometimes calls ‘transversal connections.’ And so it is no surprise that for both Precarias and Guattari the category of transversality fundamentally means the (collective) development of ‘a political struggle on all fronts.’ Alternatively, we could use the language of Guattari and define transversality as a concrete rule for effectuating abstract revolutionary machines of desire and whose function is the coordination of various struggles taking place across the Full Body of Capital. In other words:

There is not one specific battle to be fought by workers in the factories, another by patients in the hospitals, yet another by students in the universities. As became obvious in `68, the problem of the university is not just that of the students and the teachers, but the problem of society as a whole and of how it seems the transmission of knowledge, the training of skilled workers, the desires of the mass of the people, the needs of industry and so on…[So] this dichotomy between social reproduction and the production of desire must be a target of the revolutionary struggle wherever…repression works against women, children, drug-addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, or any other disadvantaged group. (Guattari, ‘Molecular Revolution and Class Struggle’)

  1. In the present, one of the fundamental biopolitical challenges consists in inventing a critique of the current organization of sex, attention, and care and a practice that, starting from those as elements inside a continuum, recombines them in order to produce new more liberatory and cooperative forms of affect, that places care in the center but without separating it from sex nor from communication.

Why is the transformation of the current order of sex-attention-care seen as a ‘biopolitical’ challenge? And what would it mean to “place” care at its center? The social transformation of situations of precarity into the means for collective emancipation is biopolitical to the extent that it emphasizes the the conditions by which every day life under capital perpetuates and sustains itself; these conditions that, with the aid of mechanisms of control, surveillance, and repression, make life ever more consistent with market demands. Thus, it is because Precarias see the task of social transformation as being waged in sites of (waged and/or unwaged) reproductive labour that ‘placing care at the center’ becomes imperative. And it is care, says Precarias, is actually the emancipatory underside to understanding what reproductive labour could become. What Precarias will go on to call a ‘careful strike’ envisions a coordinated diversity of struggles centering on sites of reproduction and organized so that those who have been historically tasked with society’s extra-socially necessary labour time can refuse to satisfy their social function without the threat of incurring some penalty, be it material, legal, social, or otherwise. As Precarias eloquently write,

[T]he strike appears to us as an everyday and multiple practice…there will be those who propose transforming public space…those who suggest organizing work stoppage in the hospital when the work conditions don’t allow the nurses to take care of themselves as they deserve, those who decide to turn off their alarm clocks, call in sick and give herself a day off as a present, and those who prefer to join others in order to say “that’s enough” to the clients that refuse to wear condoms… there will be those who oppose the deportation of miners from the “refuge” centers where they work, those dare – like the March 11th Victims’ Association (la asociación de afectados 11M) – to bring care to political debate proposing measures and refusing utilizations of the situation by political parties, those who throw the apron out the window and ask why so much cleaning? And those who join forces in order to demand that they be cared for as quadriplegics and not as “poor things” to be pitied, as people without economic resources and not as stupid people, as immigrants without papers and not as potential delinquents, as autonomous persons and not as institutionalized dependents…Because care is not a domestic question but rather a public matter and generator of conflict. (43)  

5. Utopia & una huelga de mucho cuidado

The caring strike: the means for collective struggle centered on questions historically seen as irrelevant – and precisely to the extent that they were the very conditions of possibility for the ‘relevant’ issues to be addressed. The caring strike: identifying as one’s own the problem of discovering the means of acting in concert with different and perhaps distant movements (e.g. the recent wave of teachers strikes throughout the United States, the development of the ‘social’ strike and what Precarias/Guattari would see as its transversal set of relations incarnated in their platform  – though in its current form, however, these transversal relations largely exist within Western, and to a lesser extent Eastern, European countries). The caring strike: putting an end to one’s participation in a labour, which makes us strangers to one another, and is especially addressed “to the men – “are we going to end with the mystique that obliges women to care for others even at the cost of themselves and obliges men to be incapable of caring for themselves? Or are we going to cease to be sad men and women and begin to degenerate the imposed attributions of gender?”

The caring strike, then. For it is not only men, or capital and the various human forms it takes (bankers, presidents, police officers), who dream of kingdoms. Like all exhausted people, precarious workers imagine utopias of rest.     

 

 

 

Guattari & Italy’s “Hot Autumn”

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.02.13 PM.png

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). 

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.

The Real War (Lundi Matin editorial)**

just do it riot

What we have undertaken must not be confused with anything else and cannot be limited to the expression of certain ideas or even less to what is rightly considered art. It is necessary to produce and to eat: many things are necessary that are still nothing, and so it is with political agitation. Who imagines, before fighting to the end, leaving one’s place to men one cannot look at without feeling the urge to destroy them? But if nothing could be found beyond political activity, human avidity would only encounter the void. WE ARE FIERCELY RELIGIOUS and, inasmuch as our existence is the condemnation of everything that is recognized today, an inner exigency demands that we be equally imperious. What we are undertaking is a war.  Georges Bataille, Acéphale #1

Communicators and governing authorities, who can no longer sell the ‘security’ which they are manifestly incapable of delivering to any of their subjects, have pounced on the latest Parisian massacres in order to recast their rhetoric. “We are at war,” they tirelessly repeat, with the slight giddiness that always accompanies the manipulation of a new toy.

So they have a rhetorical device they can try out, for sure, but not really use, as Arnauld and Nicole would have said. Because if ‘we’ are at war, then what could be more normal than enemy commandos coming and attacking the country’s cities? What could be more normal than civilians being struck down? What could be more normal than asymmetrical bloodbaths? Isn’t that what ‘war’ is since 1939 and perhaps since 1914? If so, then how can one reproach the enemy for barbarism when he’s only practicing the contemporary art of war – which prescribes, for example, slaughtering a presumed enemy military commander along with his family from a drone, when the occasion presents itself? But more importantly, if in Algeria there had only been ‘events’ such as the bombs at the Milk Bar and La Corniche Casino, which were answered with ‘police operations’ that also involved massacres, bombs, forced relocations, camps, and torture – if these were just ‘events’ and not a war, what does it mean that ‘war’ is spoken of now? It’s a good bet that when poor François Hollande, with his popularity down in the basement, decided to intervene in Mali, then in Iraq, one of his military advisers whispered in his ear, worried: “But Mr. President, you do realize that such an engagement greatly increases the risks of attacks on our soil?” and that our general advisor, in his role as commander-in-chief, gravely and laconically replied: “Oui.” Because the fact is, for a long time antiterrorism has shown its miraculous effects for leaders suffering total discredit and that these days it is preferable to be judged on the basis of one’s enemies rather than on the basis of one’s results.

We’re not sure why, but the massacres claimed by the I.S. seem to have the virtue of triggering bouts of extreme confusion in response, and, for many, unusual crises of hypocrisy. As if the effective reign of hypocrisy in nearly every domain of Western societies could only be countered by an added dose of the same drug – which in the long run will surely lead to a fatal overdose. Thus, it can’t be attributed to a lack of information that a cartoonist in vogue reacted to the attacks with a speech balloon saying: “The people who died this evening were out to enjoy life, to drink and to sing. They didn’t know that someone had declared war on them.” In the age of social networking, one has to be strangely intoxicated to pretend not to know that the French armed forces are projected over a good half-dozen theaters of foreign operations, and that certain interventions, particularly in Mali, in Syria, in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan, have rather incensed certain bombarded minds. We won’t talk here about the militarization of law enforcement, the death of protesters hit by offensive grenades and others blinded in one eye by police flashballs – what would be left of the cartoonist’s comfort if he became aware that every government basically conducts a continuous war for control of its population? And what would be left of his avowed casualness if it occurred to him that his ‘champagne,’ his ‘joy,’ and his ‘kisses’ are somewhat situated sociologically, culturally, ethically – in a word: that his ‘freedom’ is that of the winners? And it needs to be said, all this business about ‘freedom’ that’s been tweeted back and forth and hashed over in articles and speeches for the past three days doesn’t ring at all true. As a matter of fact, it sounds like a crude instance of mutual flattery. Because, to start with, we’re not the first here to defend the ancient thesis that freedom begins with the fact of not fearing death, and in that regard it appears that last Friday’s attackers may have been a bit freer than ‘we’ are. Moreover, because the freedom that one has on the sexual, professional, cultural, or simply social market is so tightly structured by the ferocious competition that prevails there that this freedom could just as well be called ‘terrible servitude’ instead. Lastly, because the freedom of “I do what I like with my hair/ with my ass/with my dick/with my tongue, etc.” looks quite pathetic, really, in the sober light of the morning after. The bourgeois adage which, from the Middle Ages to Michelet, endlessly proclaimed that “city air is liberating” (Stadluft macht frei ) lapsed into uselessness like just about everything else the bourgeoisie invented: work won’t set you free any more either, and hasn’t for a very long time. So on the contrary, the air of the metropolis makes you lonely, connected, depressed, miserable, self-centered, sociable, competitive, hard, opportunistic, fuckable or fucked…whatever, but not free.

**

The doxa of the moment has it that what came under attack was ‘our way of life,’ as represented on Friday nights by football, trendy bars, and rock concerts – a way of life that’s uninhibited, liberal, libertine, atheist, transgressive, urban, festive, and so forth. This is what France, civilization, democracy, and ‘values’ would be: the possibility of living, without believing in anything, a life after the ‘death of God,’ a life which is precisely what His zealots would like to destroy. The only problem is that all the characterizations given of that ‘way of life’ by so many of its enthusiastic or melancholy believers pretty much coincide with what Western thinkers, recognized in other circumstances as being extraordinarily lucid, have consistently denounced. Read some of the opinion pieces and editorials of the past few days and then have a look at part five of the prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra concerning the last men. Consider Bataille’s “Sacred Conspiracy.” Skim through Michelstaedter’s Persuasion and Rhetoric. Read Kojève’s notes on the end of History in his Introduction to the Reading of Hegel:

In point of fact, the end of human Time or History – that is, the definitive annihilation of Man properly so-called or of the free and historical Individual – means quite simply the cessation of Action in the full sense of the term. Practically, this means: the disappearance of wars and bloody revolutions. And also the disappearance of Philosophy; for since Man himself no longer changes essentially, there is no longer any reason to change the (true) principles which are at the basis of his understanding of the World and of himself. But all the rest can be preserved indefinitely; art, love, play, etc.; in short, everything that makes Man happy (…) If Man becomes an animal again, his arts, his loves, and his play must also become purely “natural” again. Hence it would have to be admitted that after the end of History, men would construct their edifices and works of art as birds build their nests and spiders spin their webs, would perform musical concerts after the fashion of frogs and cicadas, would play like young animals, and would indulge in love like adult beasts. But one cannot then say that all this “makes Man happy.” One would have to say that post-historical animals of the species Homo sapiens  (which will live amidst abundance and complete security) will be content as a result of their artistic, erotic, and playful behavior, inasmuch as, by definition, they will be contented with it.

If one wished to be more cruel, and draw from an even more indisputable heritage, one would have to say rather that Friday’s attacks – against a stadium, bistros, a concert venue – were a bloody and pitiless offensive against entertainment, in which case it would be Pascal, no doubt, who would be found in the camp of the ‘terrorists.’

The stupidest thing to do when something or someone is attacked is to defend them because they are attacked. It’s a well-known Christian vice. It makes little sense to defend ‘France’ – which is what, exactly, ‘France’? – Paris, the hipsters, football, or rock because they were assaulted. Libération’s front page about the attacks doesn’t erase what was announced initially, which had to do, curiously, with the social and human ulcer that hipsters constitute in the heart of the metropolises, and more particularly in Paris. The kind of emotional coup d’État that attempted, last January, to make Charlie Hebdo into ‘France’ won’t succeed this time in imposing identification with a certain form of metropolitan life. The cognitive-communicational petty bourgeoisie, the party highs, the hit-on and hook-up routine, the hip salary bros, the hedonism of the cool thirty-something, will never manage to pass for ‘our way of life,’ ‘our values,’ or even for ‘culture.’ It’s a certain form of life, like there are so many of in these times, in this country, and which don’t always only inspire good feelings. The instrumentalization of the attacks by certain propagandists in order to ensure the moral hegemony of that particular form of life can only contribute to making it loathsome.

**

The situation is the following.  We are faced with two fundamentalisms:  the economic fundamentalism of the governments, be they right-wing, left-wing, extreme right-wing, extreme left-wing – all across the political spectrum there are only believers in economy, calculation, work, measurement, accounting, and social engineering – and the ideological fundamentalism of the partisans of the Caliphate. Neither group is open to discussing the least of its articles of faith, even though their religions are both defunct, surviving only by dint of voluntarism, absurd massacres, endless crises, and therapeutic doggedness. There is an obvious fanaticism in the fact of responding to the crisis of neoliberalism by unleashing it on the world. While few are ready to die for the economy, no one, in the West, has ever had any scruples about killing, or letting die, in its name. Each day of life in France offers sufficient confirmation of that. Moreover, the stupefaction effect produced by Friday’s attacks is due precisely to their spectacularly anti-economic character: is there a more enigmatic, inexplicable act for the rational calculator trying to maximize his usefulness and his satisfaction, than this gang of guys wasting human lives right and left and finally killing themselves – pure human, cultural, social capital, patiently accumulated through daily efforts, having reached the age of its maximum productivity, and sacrificed for nothing, the economist would say, appalled. What have they gained by that? Haven’t they lost everything, for no good reason? Those who speak of the ‘mystery of terrorism’ in this instance neglect to point out that the mystery exists as such only from the point of view of economy. They don’t see that this is done on purpose: the pleasure of the suicidal attacker firing into the crowd lies precisely in bringing the arrogant Western economic creature down to the level of a rat stepping over its moaning fellow creatures to survive, in shattering the superiority of his false transcendence facing the miserable immanence of the struggle for life. If there’s an attack against a certain happiness in what has transpired, it resides both in the massacre and in the reflex, after the carnage, to defend that happiness – for a happiness that needs defending never takes long to become a lie.

May last Friday’s attacks, and those that are bound to follow given the spiral which the governing authorities have deliberately set in motion, make us truer and less distracted, deeper and less hypocritical, more serious and more communist. For us, this is the real war, the one that, in the West, merits the risking of one’s life: the war to have done with economy. But it’s a war, let it be said, that’s not pursued via spectacular massacres, however anti-economic they may be. The warfare in our case is essentially indirect. It is through lived communism that the terrain of economy will be diminished, which doesn’t rule out bold actions when they’re appropriate to the situation. More clearly than ever, the construction of a sensitive communism is the only thing capable of punching through the historical nightmare from which we’re trying to wake up.

 

 

____________________________

** This piece was published in issue 2 of Hostis: A Journal of Incivility and was originally an editorial featured in Lundi Matin. Translation courtesy of Robert Hurley.

Previously unpublished writing from Tarnac – ‘Against the State of Emergency’

protest 4 - Beestermoellers

This text–originally published in Hostis 2: Beyond Recognition–was translated from the French by Robert Hurley and merits a statement regarding the context from which it emerged. The original article (‘contre létat d’urgence, l’urgence de prendre la rue’) was written upon request by the French newspaper Le Monde. The newspaper had asked for a commentary from some of the Tarnac defendants ( “des mis en examen” ) regarding the 13 November 2015 attacks on Paris and the events that followed. However, despite the papers initial request the piece was accepted but never published. In the end, Le Monde provided no rationale for this and so we leave it up to our readers to determine why.

Gone are the days when they could cynically joke, in the Anti-Terrorist Sub-Directorate: “There are more people making a living from terrorism than there are dying from it.” Gone, too, the days when anti-terrorism à la française, or rather, à la Bruguière,* dripped with self-satisfaction in the pages of the magazines. Didn’t its prize formula, “criminal association in connection with a terrorist undertaking,” enable it to preventively neutralize whomever one wished and keep them in the cooler long enough to “tenderize the meat,” even though there was no incriminating evidence? And what wisdom on the part of the anti-terrorist judges and police! : their sense of the Republic was such that they never dreamed of exploiting that gap in the penal code which the formula effectively constitutes. They could have locked away just about anyone they wanted to on frivolous grounds, and they didn’t. As a reward for this surprising restraint, it was agreed that one shouldn’t focus too much on the falsifications, the doctorings and other little lies they were in the habit of inserting into the procedures and press conferences. Where anti-terrorism is concerned, it’s the intention that counts, and here the intention could only be laudable. The formula in question was an ‘weapon.’ And like every arm, it was appreciated for its ‘effectiveness.’ The police criterion of effectiveness was not very juridical, certainly, but it imposed itself like a Glock in the middle of the face: as they tirelessly repeated, there hadn’t been an attack on French soil since 1995. The blackmail was couched in these terms: “Don’t tie our hands or there will be deaths.” From laws to decrees to the paroxysm of the latest ‘law on intelligence,’ it’s an understatement to say that over the past twenty-five years the successive heads of government bravely submitted to this blackmail. In this way, little by little, the anti-terrorist services were placed above the law. Their field of action no longer knows any limit. The bulk of what they do is classified and the last channels of recourse against them have been dismantled. It must be admitted that governing figures with little purchase on developments in the world have found what they needed here: weren’t the army and the police the last levers available to them, the last forces that were supposed to obey them? And what’s more, the interest of the secret services in terms of communication – the real function of the governing authorities now – is that since the information they hold is officially secret, one can lie about it without risking to be contradicted. That the DGSI* has taken for its headquarters, at Levallois-Perret, the former offices of Euro RSCG,* is a coincidence worth thinking about. Thus, a Cazeneuve* can congratulate himself in a press statement for “the effectiveness of the services of the Ministry of the Interior in the fight against terrorism” as he did last November 10, and only events can reduce such a miserable little exercise in self-promotion to the nonsense that it is. They didn’t fail to do so.

The November 13 attacks confirm the total rout of French-style anti-terrorism, a kind of smug, cowardly, and sheeplike bureaucratic monster. The new rhetoric of ‘war’ that has supplanted the promise of ‘security’ doesn’t come out of nowhere: it was concocted over the past few months in anticipation of the inevitable assault and in order to mask the failure of a whole apparatus, the disaster of a whole policy. Beneath its manly posturing, it has trouble hiding the obvious impotence and the profound disorientation of the governing authorities. As a general rule, every foreign war that a government declares should be understood first as an act of domestic war, aimed first of all at its own population – that is, at dominating, controlling, and mobilizing the latter, and aimed against the rival power only secondarily. This is something that the geopoliticians will never understand, and which always renders their considerations on ‘the Americans,’ ‘the Russians,’ ‘the Iranians,’ etc. so pointless. It’s also what explains that the latest French air strikes, which were so urgently publicized, didn’t do any decisive damage: they are their own purpose in themselves.

It needs to be said that apart from these cinematic strikes, the recent ‘declaration of war’ essentially consists in the establishment of the state of emergency – that is, in a revocation of the last protections the population has against the abuses of the government, the exactions of the police, and the arbitrariness of the administrations. It reminds us of the extent to which contemporary war is clearly counter-insurrectionary, or as General Vincent Desportes puts it so well, it “is not conducted between societies but within societies.” “The target of the action is no longer the adversary, but the population.” Its “objective is human society, its governance, its social contract, its institutions.” “Military actions are really a ‘manner of speaking’: every major operation is now a communicative operation first of all, one whose actions, even minor ones, speak louder than words. […] Conducting war is primarily managing perceptions, those of the set of actors, near or distant, direct or indirect.” We are experiencing what is described very accurately by the Invisible Committee in To Our Friends: “from being a military doctrine, counter-insurgency has become a principle of government.” Thus for a whole day the government tested the ‘opinion’ reaction to its announcement of a possible quashing of the planned demonstrations against COP 21.* Given the general confusion and the organizers’ irresolution, the prohibition of demonstrations was decreed the next day. Already, RAID* units have been sent to dislodge squatters in Lille, absurd curfews are being tested, and this is obviously only a beginning. Evidently, with this state of emergency, we are dealing with a policing measure against all political liberties. So one understands the population’s current reluctance to pick up on the executive’s martial refrains: the population knows very well that basically it is the target of the announced offensive.

For our part, and this won’t surprise anyone, it seems to us that the real danger doesn’t come from the Middle-East but from the successive governments that have plunged us into these dark waters and are attempting at present to close their trap on us once more. By getting us to go along with their war, they’re already speculating on the benefits they’ll draw from the next time we’ll be taken as targets. The attacks and the present state of emergency realize the dream of every government: that everyone will stay home – absolute privatization. It’s obviously the opposite that should be done: take the squares, meet in the streets, occupy the universities, directly debate the situation, find the right words for grasping our common condition, restore public space to its political calling, begin to organize and cease to leave our fate in the hands of the bloody imbeciles who claim to govern us. In this way we have some chance of becoming a crowd that holds together, and no longer that collection of anomic solitudes that’s unable to defend itself when it’s attacked – by its government or by jihadists.

 

____________________

Note: The asterisked items above are easily searchable, but briefly:
Jean-Louis Bruguière is a former investigating magistrate in charge of counter-terrorism.
DGSI is the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure, a French intelligence agency.
Euro RSCG is a global public relations corporation.
Bernard Cazeneuve is the current Minister of the Interior.
COP 21 was the recent Paris conference on global warming/ climate change.
RAID is France’s primary counter-terrorism police.