Monday, August 19, 2013

Leaderless movements, late Capitalism and everything else

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism hosts today a thoughtful meditation by Bill McKibben on the loss of the classical role of leadership, as the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther's King famous speech "I have a dream" approaches. 

Even if Smith has a "liberal" (progressive) approach, she is a very intelligent and thoughtful author and I often enjoy her analysis, even if I do not necessarily agree with all the details. The same can be said about McKibben's piece, which is focused on the ecologist facet. 

McKibben concludes that the paramount leader role has vanished and that instead a multi-headed kind of movement in which many smaller-scale leaders are actually doing the work in a cooperative networked manner is the only thing that can exist now. 

This, as he admits, is "old news" for those with experience in social and political movements. Indeed. In this sense, I include here my own commentary:

When you say that “I could cynically point out that this is also the Wall Street model, where “producers” enjoy more autonomy…” makes good sense because, after all, we exist in a socio-economic-cultural context. In “The Politics of Subversion”, Toni Negri claims that this loss of faith in leaders actually reflects the transition from highly hierarchical and disciplinary Fordism to the more decentralized Toyotism, both of which he relates to Marx’ forecasts in his posthumous manuscripts: the Formal and the Real subsumption of Work into Capital, which also have other implications, including the impossibility of the Stalinist system to survive without never-performed deep reforms. The central motif is anyhow the loss of respect for authority, and therefore the loss of power of authority itself: certain “anarchism” within the ultimate form of Capitalism (but also complete ideological success of Capitalism in many senses). This phase would have been going since c. 1968, a date he picks because of the “springs” of that time, which were full of anti-authority rebelliousness, expressing a radical change in the way we all think. Characters like Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler of De Gaulle (or even Gandhi, I guess) are now impossible because nobody really would take them seriously enough, unlike what happened before. This has pros and cons but is in any case the sign of the time. 

If we are to follow Deleuze and Guattari in “Anti-Oedipus”, a masterwork of the transition to this Toyotist era (already decades old in fact) we can understand that Capital is a corrupting force that decodifies without creating anything of its own in the social realm. In this senses it has two polarities: the schizoid decodifying vector and the paranoid recodifying reaction (drag), which is nevertheless always defeated because it only draws from the past, a past that is quickly erased and corrupted by Capitalism itself.
The real issue is how to go beyond this moral desert that Capital leaves at its wake. In many senses this is something positive because goes beyond what the most ambitious Maoist cultural revolution could imagine, but it also leaves Humankind naked and distructured. The only thing that survives is a naked Humankind in a totally transformed environment, so different from the Paleolithic reality we evolved for. 

In this sense I have been thinking that the novel ideas that are sometimes attributed to Capitalism such as human rights, democracy and such, are in fact not its product but the product of Naked Humankind, devoid of all the old Medieval values. If, as D&G say, Capitalism cannot create anything other than economic flows, then these must be creations of the thin red line, of the popular class struggle within Capitalism that exists since the time of the Sans Culottes. As D&G suggest, Capitalism incorporates ideas and structures from other realities, mostly from the Ancien Régime, which it rots until they fall dead… but it seems to me that also from the new antagonist forces conformed within it. 

If so these institutions (human rights, democracy, etc.) actually should prefigure to some extent the way out of this late Capitalist nightmare. But, of course, they are only part of the solution: in key things like private property, Capitalism can make no concessions or it would risk its own unlife.

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