August 18, 2008

"a vital element of stabilisation..."


Some remarks on the recent bureaucracy post by Alex Williams.

    Interesting latest piece: I would chip in and say however that all this faith in the state, planning, bureaucracy etc seems to downplay the role which the state fulfils (and always has) within the dynamic of capitalism-as-process. Thinking back to the Deleuzo-Guattarean model of Capital as an axiomatic machine (surely the finest conception since Marx) I was struck by the place they held up for government as a vital element of stabilisation within the system, as a kind of homeostatic regulatory device which held in check the processes of voracious deterritorialisation so as to prevent the system from reaching an absolute velocity. So whilst government acts to restrain, it also acts to maintain capitalism at a liveable (ameliorated) rate. This is why a valorisation of the state is always a bit suspect - for a genuinely revolutionary praxis to succeed, it must identify the very existence of the state (any state) as such as complicit with capitalism. (also see ATP where they basically identify the state as responsible for re-territorialisation, as immanent models of realization for the axiomatic of Capital). This phenomenon (of valorising state power on the radical left) has always struck me as strangely performatively contradictory- on the one hand we seek an absolute rupture with the status quo, but on the other we continually seek to restrain the very processes which might lead to such a world-historical caesura! In this sense the left is not far from the kind of weakness which characterises a Geldofian pity-politics (and the oppressive metaphysics of man-as-suffering-animal that Badiou rightly diagnoses over and over again)-- in that for want of these immediate human beings suffering, we seek to ameliorate the system, when it is this very process of immediate gratification of moral impulses which leads to the continuation of the underlying problematic. This is precisely what I think is occurring with Geldof... the immediate need to satiate empathic responses which have become totally rewired and recoded within the current mass-mediatised environment from their original utility (ie: Bob sees a starving African child on the news, he wants to save that particular child). This immediate gratification, and the associated activities in pursuit of it serve to merely allow the underlying problem to persist, in a sense a classic example of counter-finality...

    Further in this sense we might think of the period of 1945-1979 as being the very cause of the nightmarish restoration of hegemonic capitalist power that occurred 1979-200 (as a buffer zone which repelled genuine revolution all too effectively, prior to the re-assertion of the ultimate status quo). The state acts as a homeostatic function in this sense also, not only to restrain the capacious excesses of Capital unbound, but as a mediating device between capitalism and the dissatisfaction of the populous at large, a homeostatic safety valve, producing ameliorative padding for our political-economic cell like a perfectly functioning machine. We can see this operating even in the instance of the current crisis in advanced financial capital, (and this where the notion of "moral hazard" comes into question). If we are to believe Marx on this (cf: the third volume of Das Kapital, and I'm not certain we ought to, though he certainly makes some very interesting observations) credit and investments structured speculatively on top of this operate as an inversion of Capitalism from the inside out- and within the economic cycle it operates at the furthest reach of capitalistic expansion, but also as an immanent limit (again confirming D+G's hypotheses on the limits to Capital). Put in other terms, this is a decoding of the semiotic consistency of the money system itself, a detachment into insane lines of speculative flight, value being born ex nihilo as if conjured from the very ether. For Marx this is an assault on the basic underpinnings of his economics, and as such is "the highest form of madness", though we might posit this as revealing something more fundamental about capitalism than that (ie- where the processes, precisely as a process, heads towards...). But for the modern state, this "moral hazard" cannot be allowed to exist, and as such an institution of the size of Northern Rock or the banks which have collapsed in America recently are always bailed out by the government or a government-backed private body. The state as ever acts to patch up the excesses of rampant Capital, and risks which delivered private profits are immediately taken into public ownership when they become corrosive.

    However, bureaucracy certainly could fulfil a subversive (nay terroristic) role, indeed this was an idea which occurred to me a while ago to deploy agents of bureaucratisation within a given body to spread like cancer the sclerosis of stratification, thereby clogging the arteries of communication within the body and thereby collapse its ability to effectively function (in effect a reversal of a Guattarean transversal institutional analysis, or a deliberate process of serialisation to use the Sartrean terminology). The historical precedence for this might be the collapse of Castilian government in Spain due to excessive bureaucratisation. However this is of course to continue with the idea of bureaucracy in its current pejorative form, rather than in the more positive notion of planning. It would be to ride the already existing processes of government and capitalism, as if in their slipstream, so as to accelerate them towards a position of radical dysfunction.

    Re: the notion of refusal to accept the lack of overall control (there's no one driving... indeed) this is definitely the case, and can be seen by the proliferation of conspiracy theories. The notion that no-one is in control of this insane global mechanism is almost unthinkable, and hence is displaced onto a variety of (variously) Lizards, Jewish bankers, Illuminati, the NWO etc. It is actually more reassuring to think that we are in the hands of some secret global cabal than the reality, of a vast dispersed atomistic serial processes, with some larger actors (corporations and investment institutions) nudging and directing the process in directions which suit their profit-centred ends. I think that the system is not quite as diffuse as some might present it, in that it is in the interaction between atomistic components and institutional actors that the complexities of the whole arise...

He continues:

    For me the problem pivots around two linked considerations: (a) finding a vehicle to articulate radical political change (to mediate theory and praxis) in order to (b) work upon the relation between human subjectivity and the world. The difficulty is that radical theory is currently severed from any actual agency in the world - with the decline of actually existing communism and the failure of Marxist party forms, it appears that the politics of philosophy has become little more than a game (where all players pretend as if the stakes are high, imagining that the minor differences between, say, Deleuze and Badiou are important, as if they had real-world effects, when in fact they appear to have no impact whatsoever, because there is no vehicle or avatar to transform theoretical systems into actualised praxes). On the idea of a renewed public sphere, isn't this close to Hardt and Negri's concept of 'the commons'? Which I suppose makes a lot of sense if your ontology is Spinozist in nature of course... Thinking about this from a Guattarian ecosophical viewpoint, couldn't we ground this quite practically in the literal material-economic necessity of linked ecologies? I've only just started reading late-era Guattari, but it seems to be the best articulation of radical politics + ecology + subjectivation-centred politics I have read... Further if we were to try and re-think the state, (and indeed other institutional structures) then his ideas of transversal analysis come to take on a real importance, not only in terms of the absolutely necessary compossibility of disparate problematics (mediatised human subjectivity, mental illness, the decline of art, environmental collapse, left wing politics) but also in re-thinking the structuration of the institution itself so as actually be able to engage with these problems... Certainly we must return to the Sartrean problem of the institution, either to liquidate it altogether or to render it fluid enough to operate effectively...

See also Owen's further comments.

Posted by mark at August 18, 2008 04:35 PM | TrackBack