March 20, 2006



Really excellent post by Angela Mitropoulos at s0metim3s, which allows me to make some clarifications. (I can only imagine that the Hectoring Heiress has straw-manned me, that's one of her standard techniques - but as I say I'll be avoiding that particular whirlpool of reactivity from now on. Better things to do, joke's over...)

Angela is right that appeals to what Marx 'really' said will be both cultish and futile, in part because Marx's writings are often contradictory. (In his schizoanalysis of Marx Libidinal Economy, Lyotard even suggests that 'the desire named Marx' is constituted by two distinct drives pulling in different directions: the drive to have done with capital and the critique of capital on the one hand, and the drive to endlessly prosecute the case against capital on the other.)

In any case, the authentic Marx is a chimera. The salient issue, though, is what is distinctive and original about what Marx said.

Two things distinguish Marx from hand-wringing socialism. First, the systemic nature of the critique. It is capital, not capitalists, that is the proper object of attack. The ethical impulse to replace capitalism will not be effective while it takes the form of a moralising attack on individuals. (Just to be clear: my attack on the Heiress was not based upon her currency trading, but on her currency trading while maintaining her obsessively personalizing mode of invective. If she were arguing that we are all puppets of capital, fair enough - but she has explicitly repudiated that position in the past. The charge is inconsistency, not immorality.) More than that, to focus on the failings of individuals is to actively assist capitalist ideology by implying that capital is reformable, that it would be an equitable system if only the people 'running it' were nicer. 'Nice capitalism', capital with a 'good heart', is in fact the currently dominant ideological mode - what Padraig has called 'Bobonoism', i.e. the Geldof/ Bono model of protesting as you shop, caring-sharing credit cards, the fake universalism of a populism with which 'no-one can possibly disagree'. In place of this liberal ethical commonsense, we need to insist on taking Marx's Gothic language very seriously. Capital is the hypernatural vampire, the zombie-maker, self-engendering monstrosity, a planetary artificial intelligence.

Second, the modernist Marx. You can see this in many places in Marx. Witness for instance the passage in The Communist Manifesto, where he and Engels delight in the way in which capital has liberated the peasantry from 'rural idiocy'. The Lyotard of Libidinal Economy and Duchamp's Trans/Formers provocatively combines modernist aesthetics with Marxism to propose that the inorganic body of the proletariat - an artificialized body, utterly cut off from the supposed organicism of the peasantry, bred as a machine part in the labs of capital to withstand the inhuman conditions of the factory and therefore capable of a whole new affective range - is the greatest modernist product ever. Lyotard scandalised the bleating socialists of his day by writing of a proletarian jouissance: ' the English unemployed did not become workers to survive, they - hang on tight and spit on me - enjoyed the hysterical, masochistic, whatever exhaustion it was of hanging on in the mines, in the factories, in hell, they enjoyed it, enjoyed the mad destruction of their organic body which was indeed imposed upon them, they enjoyed the decomposition of their personal identity, the identity that the peasant tradition had constructed for them, enjoyed the dissolution of their families and villages, and enjoyed the monstrous anonymity of the suburbs and the pubs in the morning and the evening.' Programme for a post-Soviet constructivism: to extract this masochistic jouissance of artificiality, the inorganic and the anonymous from capitalism and put it to work for communism.

There is indeed, no opposition to be drawn between capitalist progressivism and reactionary nostalgia. Let's be clear: there is no capitalist progressivism. But that is not to say that there aren't 'progressive' tendencies within capitalism, tendencies that are, by the very nature of capitalism, necessarily and inevitably blocked and inhibited. Which is to say: capitalism is defined by - is in many ways nothing more than - the tension between progressive and reactionary tendencies; the progressive elements can only be liberated from the reactionary ones when capitalism is destroyed.


Here Deleuze-Guattari's account of capitalism remains indispensable. Precisely what Deleuze-Guattari emphasise is that the oscillation between deterritorializing and reterritorializing tendencies is constititutive of capitalism as such. Capitalism can never pursue deterritorialization to the absolute. What deterritorialization there is within capitalism is always balanced by a compensatory lockdown onto nation, culture, and race. Hence the 'Steampunk' quality of capitalism, where the most ancient traditions can co-exist with the ultramodern. I love the idea of nationalized, ethnicized capital that Angela draws out (while people become more de-ethnicized, money remains hyper-ethnic?)

If, as is certainly the case, capitalism cannot do without nationality, that is precisely why accelerating and intensifying the deterritorializing, de-ethnicizing and anti-national impulses within (but inhibited by) capitalism constitutes an anti-capitalist strategy. The communist-pyschotic position is to take capital at its word: to demand the universality and globalism it proclaims but can never deliver. (Again, Angela is right - inter-nationalism is not sufficient.)

The proletariat are factory-farmed replicants who believe they are something called the working class. The task for telecommunism is to strip out the false memory chips binding them to the quasi-organic earth, in order to produce a New Earth for a 'people that do not yet exist'.

Posted by mark at March 20, 2006 11:50 AM | TrackBack