Saturday, February 26, 2011

If reaction is utopic, Capitalism only destroys, who is building?

Sans culottes defined modern fashion
If you have read, and you should, the Anti-Oedipus, you probably know that the revolutionary cycle is trapped between two poles: on one side the paranoid reaction of those who wish, utopically, to restore at least some of the alleged stability of Feudalism and the related Absolute Monarchy (for instance Fundamentalists, Fascists, conservatives in general...), and, on the other, the engine of all change: the schizoid Capitalism, which destroys all it touches by exactly the same means as Midas did: corruption in form of pure exchange value (money). 

Alright, I have known this since some 15 or 20 years ago when I dived in that book two or three times in a row until I could understand this basic truth and explain it to others in mostly non-psychoanalytic words (a bad choice in my opinion). 

But, wait, if Reaction only drags and is unable to build anything and Capitalism only destroys by means of corruption... we should have reached a vacuum already. We are close to a true ethical and functional vacuum indeed but we also have new constructions and not only in the limited field of applied economy; since the schizoid Capitalist monster is free, appropriating and then giving back in form of useless rotten shit the old powerless beliefs and institutions of the old regime, there are at least a few things that have been created and that enjoy high regard for Humankind worldwide. 

Most importantly Human Rights. It may be just a piece of paper whose application is often lacking but it lists fundamental values that unites people in New York, Istanbul and Shanghai. When we talk of democracy, we do not really think so much in elections but in Human Rights: the right to free speech, the right of association, the right to strike, the right not to be arbitrarily arrested, the right not to be discriminated for what you are, the right to believe in whatever you think best, the right to a dignified work, the right to education, to a home...

The very notion that people are socio-political subject and entitled to rights has floated around and gained ground since the French Revolution (and the others that happened around that time). At first democracies would often be reserved to a most narrow sector of electors, typically the most wealthy ones, but soon the various bourgeois states had to concede to the demands of the working class and allow a growing degree of universal suffrage. 

This is something that Deleuze and Guattari seem to have missed totally (or I am missing something really big in their work): a dialectic agent that is proactively building while Capitalism destroys and Reaction only drags pointlessly. This dialectic agent is of course no other than the Working Class in its many manifestations.

The bourgeois class does not make revolutions, at most appropriate them. Capital is one of the various possible forms of leadership by which the often amorphous constructive power of the Working Class can be organized (as the USSR of Stalin and successors showed, there are other possibilities such as a Bureaucratic leadership). In any case it is workers and not fatty bourgeois who take the Tahrir Squares of the world, who walk out of the Oil Refineries and Suez Canals that themselves built and maintained to begin with. 

Even the French Revolution was to a large extent a primitive Workers' revolution driven by the energy of a proletariat that found its political manifestation in Sansculottism. I can barely find a case of genuine bourgeois revolution in which the bourgeois themselves manned the barricades. No, they just took the leadership and dampened in most cases the demands of the Working Class, causing the revolution to eventually collapse in a reactionary interlude such as that of Napoleon.

An alternative scenario, common specially in the early and middle 20th century, is that of a political party with an alleged Working Class identification and program, taking the lead, not as bourgeois but as bureaucrats. This has distinct implications which are controversial to analyze but the autocracies they produced in most cases certainly were not dictatorships of the proletariat but of someone else, who claimed to represent the Working Class but did not often. Yet they were not bourgeois regimes either (R. Astarit argues, in Spanish, for a sui generis status). 

The Russian Revolution began with a feminist protest on March 8th

Regardless, what I am trying to explain here is that all the advances of the bourgeois (or other non-reactionary) states, which do exist even if they can be legitimately criticized for insufficient or decorative, are product of the struggles of the Working Class. I do not just mean universal suffrage but freedom of speech, the right to strike and unionize, the right to demonstrate, the right to think on your own, the right not to be discriminated against for your gender or skin color, etc.

The Reaction would gladly get rid of all these in the name of some god or führer, Capitalism would not mind either because for It everything is amorphously the same: only money matters. So if all these ethical, legal and political novelties happen to exist they do because workers (in the wide sense of the term if you wish) fought for them. 

So there is more to the historical transformations than the mere bidimensional pendulum of Capitalism and Reaction, of Schizophrenia and Paranoia... there is a third Popular pole of Illusion, of Humanity. 

Humanity, Human Rights... this is something bringing together the various manifestations of workers' struggle. Why? It is not just altruism it is something we lost. 

With the development of Neolithic, agriculture, eventually societies became complex and hierarchical. This allowed for a somewhat faster socio-economic evolution but at the expense of humanity. People became slaves, serfs in Latin, robots in Czech language. We lost power on our own destiny, we lost our natural freedom. It is only normal that religions praising submission and blind obedience became common thereafter as they were the ideological transmitters of such an oppressive condition.

There is, as Marx and Engels and then Deleuze and Guattari understood, a radical decodifying component in Capitalism: it rots and destroys like a true mythological devil, this decodification is liberating for the individual, even if it can destroy it as well because certainties are not anymore certain at all... 

The result is a simplified human being similar in many aspects to the primitive huntergatherer. No wonder that our family system is known to anthropologists as Eskimo kinship - actually we are nowadays more in the even less codified Hadza one, characterized by serial monogamy... or whatever else (you choose).

In a sense, we are beyond Oedipus, which does not exist among the Hadza (nor anymore among us if you ask me), in the stage of gathering the broken pieces of what we are after once the productive forces awaken by the Neolithic Revolution and radically rearranged by the Industrial (and bourgeois) Revolution have brought us to the limits of what we can get without breaking down everything. 

Socialism or barbarism used to be the slogan many decades ago. Actually it's more like communism or extinction nowadays. But also it is like enjoying who we are or suffering the demands of others (bourgeois, Stakhanovist bureaucrats).

In any case, everything that is being built, from solar energy plants to providing content to Wikipedia, is the product of the Working Class, and that is also the case of every single ethical and political advance. Nobody else is doing it, at most parasitizing it.

I understand therefore that the Workers' society must be built on those advances already anticipated (but not completed specially for lack of economic democracy) in the form of democratic polities of universal suffrage including the right of self-determination and human rights in general. But this society also needs to eradicate the manipulative and rotting force of Capitalism by forcing the whole economy under the rule of the people: no individual or non-democratic association should ever be allowed to hold property beyond a reasonable minimum. Actually non-democratic associations should be barred altogether, and that includes corporations.

Caution: I say that the democratic polities are the way ahead. It is indeed a stand I take against those who confuse Dictatorship of the Proletariat (which can only be exerted by means of democracy because there is no difference between the Working Class and the People) and dictatorship of a self-appointed leadership camarilla. But I do not think that most modern bourgeois states are democratic enough: in fact they typically abound in Jacobin  reactionary vices such as high centralization (how can a centralized polity of maybe 60 million or more be democratic?) and mechanisms to prevent the will of the people to be properly represented (majority election systems instead of proportionality, non-revocability of elects, etc.) But still an imperfectly democratic system is better than perfectly non-democratic one. Popular power, transparency, open discussion, respect, etc. must be the principles of the political organization of the Working Class - there is no way around it.

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