Benjamin Noys from http://leniency.blogspot.com opens up a very interesting debate in his presentation at HM conference (whose audio file is available online). Ben problematises the apocalyptic tone and use of the concept of tendency (regarding the demise of capitalism and the potentials presented by the crisis for the moment of rupture) very nicely in the recent and historical interpretations of crisis (I do like this type of philosophical interventions, which, in Zizekian expression, bring a parallax view to something being discussed in usually very familiar terms). With a reading of Deleuze, Badiou, Lukacs and Negri, Ben points out to the implications of the method of tendency and of his cleverly defined term “accelerationism” for the strategies of resistance.

For me, what is wrong about apocalyptic tone is, first of all, that it does not take capitalism seriously enough. Even at the moment in which we were talking about how capitalism is coming to an end, with a revenging smile at the impotence of the chairman of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), capital had already started recovering, perhaps not in a realm directly visible to us, but in practices of individuals to whom law of value reminded its existence by ‘asserting itself’. When we look at the broader debates on the uncertain future of the regulation of financial markets, we do miss how capital is not simply reproduced by the heavily institutionalised forms such as US Treasury, but also by the small industrialist in developing countries, trying to replace expensive machinery by his own local innovations, by the small farmer who either develops an extraordinary ability to survive by creative strategies (intensified exploitation of family labour, shifting to new crops) or subjugates to his alternative fate of proletarianisation; by the manager who fires his workers, downsizes or sells his company; by the trader who exploits informal credit markets. In the Darwinian world of Capital, individuals develop enhanced capacities to cope with the law of value, which tests those capacities especially in times of crisis and punishes (with a blind process of selection) those less able to deal with the immense tensions and contradictions of its very unfolding. The substance of Capital thrives on the worker’s blood for constant accumulation, capitalist’s blood for renewal. Its overall recovery will emerge from the strengthening, survival or death of individual capitalists as well as from the improved capacities of institutions, which will bring low entropy in the long turn.

That is perhaps why I have found it difficult to understand the strategy of the Socialist Workers’ Party during and after the crisis. A party whose militancy I respect a lot, the SWP has formulated its slogan as: “Capitalism is not working/The case for socialism”. It also organised seminars about “Why should we become Marxists now?” But would an awareness of the failure of capitalism generate automatically a possibility of socialism and sympathy for Marxism? Also, for whom does capitalism not work? From the standpoint of the fired finance or factory worker or of the stockholder losing the value of his/her shares, capitalism might not work in this specific temporality. But can we say the same thing for capital in its totality? Unemployment is a way to get rid of what suddenly becomes redundant and keep wages low, a failed market is a resource to learn something about the short circuits in the mechanism of this substance, which is Capital, in order to not only to rectify, but also move forward. Isn’t the manifestation of ‘not working’ the very mode of the existence of capital, ‘fissured, rent, wounded’, operating via ‘loops, bifurcations and vibrations’ (see Bensaid, 2002).

In this chaotic environment, crisis is transformed into an opportunity for some capitalists as well and I do not deny that that there are political opportunities for socialists as well. But they cannot be taken-for granted opportunities, which will recruit more socialists with a better communication of revolutionary ideas to individuals who can finally ‘see’ the true essence of capitalism. What can be said for certain is that the crisis of capital cannot be automatically the moment of its potential rupture, as Ben reminds us in his piece, by saying that the method of tendency assumes the ‘fusion of reason and reality’ too quickly and that ‘the tendency will deliver on its own’ (He also rightly criticises the symmetrical error of negative dialectics, which sees no possibility for fusion at all). I would like to learn more about what Ben means with an alternative ‘true’ fusion since it is posed as a challenge to the theoreticians he engages with, rather than a fully developed argument. But I tend to think that a nuanced, refined and more carefully constructed fusion recognising complex mediations and multiple determinations requires a more subtle analysis of what capital is and what is meant by revolutionary change. Perhaps while seeking for the historical subject of change, who is expected to achieve the rupture (which will be considered to be a missed opportunity when we turn to normal times), we do not problematise the object of change in the first place. Do we know what we want to change? Does the possibility of communism lie simply in a non-working capitalism? Do we know what the ground for a workable communism is?

I want to develop those questions further with an engagement with N. Pepperell’s fantastic and inspiring readings of Marx in www.roughtheory.org, later on, especially her idea of socialism as a de-assembled capitalism; but for the moment I will leave them open and turn to some other contexts in which the theme of apocalypse is used with contradictory messages. I consider myself quite pragmatist in politics and I believe that axioms can be meaningful political tools as long as they are mobilised in practice for specific purposes. For instance, apocalyptic message can be used as a moment of ‘hope rather than fear’ (see Mandarini, 2008), not as a way to demonstrate the inevitable tendency of capitalism to come to an end, but as a pragmatic denunciation of the possibility of another world, a world to which everybody can put something from his/her by imagination, a formulation to remind that this existing world is historical, transient and not natural. This utopian tone of apocalypse can articulate and mobilise hopes and dreams in a revolutionary trajectory; it can tell what we are unhappy about this world, but it cannot build the new world itself. Once again we go back to the question of the object of change – how capitalism can be changed into socialism.

More dangerously, if this apocalyptic message resonates an approaching moment whose necessity is just about to unfold, whose timing is predictably soon, and if this moment is not actualised before the defeat of the revolutionary movements which had built their strength on the faith in this very message (as was the case in the historical struggles of the Third World), then, their revolutionary militants experience defeat as a tragedy rather than a political reality. The historical subject could not achieve the mission, which constituted its very meaning and raison d’etre. Tragedy can, in this situation, translate into mixed existential feelings: loss of faith in socialism, which did not come; disconnection from workers who might have ‘betrayed’ the revolution which otherwise would happen; pessimistic powerlessness vis-à-vis capital which will always find a way to win. This is what happened to many people from the generation of my father in my country, for instance.

Yet it is always interesting to discover the floating nature of signs. Interestingly, peasants in Soviet Russia expressed their ambivalent fears and concerns about collectivisation of farms in terms of an approaching apocalyptic moment. I said apocalyptic tone in crisis tells nothing about the nature of revolutionary change. But such a negative connotation of socialist practice in some popular imagination does tell something quite important and very Gramscian: ideas for change can only be successful if they are translated into historical acts, which are

“performed by collective man and this presupposes the attainment of a cultural-social unity through which a multiplicity of dispersed wills, with heterogenous aims, are welded together with a single aim, on the basis of an equal and common conception of the world, both general and particular, operating in transitory bursts (in emotional ways) or permanently (where its intellectual base is so well rooted, assimilated and experienced that it becomes passion)” (Gramsci, 1971).

Is apocalyptic tone ready to undertake such work?

References

Bensaid, D. (2002) Marx for Our Times, London: Verso.

Mandarini, M. (2008) ‘Not Fear But Hope in the Apocalypse’, Ephemera, Theory and Politics in Organisation, 8 (2): 176-81.

Noys, B. (2009) ‘Apocalypse, Tendency, Crisis’, Paper presented to the Sixth Annual Conference of the Journal Historical Materialism, 27-29 November 2009, London, UK.

Advertisements