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Miguel Amorós: The seductions of “History”

We (Autonomies) return to our series dedicated to the “May 68 writers” Miguel Amorós, Jaime Semprun, Eduardo Colombo, and Amedeo Bertolo, with an essay by Amorós entitled “The Golden Mediocrity”.  We preface the essay with a critical reflection on Amorós contention that revolution calls for a revolutionary subject, something in his view absent from recent social movements centred on a reactionary middle class.

Originally published by Autonomies.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

This is a further contribution to our series dedicated to the “May 68 writers” AmorósJaime Semprun, Eduardo Colombo, and Amedeo Bertolo.

How foolish it would be to suppose that one only needs to point out the origin and this misty shroud of delusion in order to destroy the world that counts for real, so-called “reality.” We can destroy only as creators. – But let us not forget this either: it is enough to create new names and estimations and probabilities in order to create in the long run new “things.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Let us therefore trust the eternal Spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternal source of all life. The passion for destruction is a creative passion, too!

Mikhail Bakunin, The Reaction in Germany (From the Notebooks of a Frenchman)

We return to our series dedicated to the “May 68 writers” Miguel Amorós, Jaime Semprun, Eduardo Colombo, and Amedeo Bertolo, with an essay by Amorós entitled “The Golden Mediocrity”.  We preface the essay with a critical reflection on Amorós contention that revolution calls for a revolutionary subject, something in his view absent from recent social movements centred on a reactionary middle class.

Jaime Semprun and Miguel Amorós proffer a diagnosis of contemporary capitalism that offers few, if any, lines of escape.  The fetishism of commodities and its corresponding human alienation have reached a depth and an intensity that historical time and place have themselves been erased (time has been contracted into a momentary present and places have become interchangeable).  With the consequent impossibility of perspective, all distinctions between truth and falsity, goodness and evil, beauty and ugliness collapse, and along with them, any possibility of a robust, ego-centred subjectivity.  Left adrift in a sea of meaningless spectacles, human subjects withdraw into themselves in fearful narcissism, only too willing to throw themselves into the arms of any semblance of security, whether persons or things.  Abandoned to the comforts (illusory or not, but always coerced) of immediate satisfaction, any form of authority (coated with the sweetener of “good governance” and/or “national” order) is preferable to chaos.  In the absence of any globalrevolutionary movement, of a revolutionary subject, anti-capitalism is forced to retreat to abstract theory or fragmentary expressions of dissidence and rebellion (e.g., indigenous, feminist or anti-racist movements, okupations and ZAD-like defenses of territory, protests of indignation, and so on, i.e., the rebellion of vestigial and/or minority anti-capitalist forms of life).

We might contend however that both authors suffer from two illusion: an illusion of perspective, that of a critique that assumes a total perspective on society, when no such thing is possible (it never has been nor will it ever be), and an illusion of rational sovereignty, in which autonomy is bared of all but a desiccated self-consciousness, governed exclusively by moral norms.

Semprun and Amorós read events through a lens of hegemonic history, i.e., history as the stage upon which, at least since the advent of capitalism, global actors (social classes) struggle for dominion of the conditions of social reproduction.  An anti-capitalist politics can therefore be nothing other than a politics that contests the whole of capitalist social relations.  Failing that, it can only be reformist.  (Amorós’ essay, that we share below, exemplifies this illusion of perspective).  However, to so judge political-social movements not only presupposes the possibility of a totalising cognition of social reality (the illusion of Marxism, for example, was that this cognition could be had in the coming together of theory and practice in the historically first universal human agency: the proletariat), but also to assume that rebellion and revolution can be read under the totalising matrix of struggles for hegemony.(1)

However, political struggles are far messier affairs than “historicising” schema make them out to be.  To borrow from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, all societies, as well as individuals, are marked simultaneously by two segmentarities (identity-reality types): one molar and the other molecular.(2)  Molar-macro identities separate out “great individuals”, collective agencies, institutions, States (those identities often exclusively held to be historically important), whereas molecular-micro agencies move between, slip away from, penetrate and undermine molar identities.  And if for Deleuze and Guattari, all politics is at the same time macropolitical and micropolitical (3), it is at the molecular level where politics is “done”.  The “molecular” here refers to the multiplicity of agencies that proliferate throughout systems of social reproduction, but which are not, or are never fully, controlled by a system’s “poles of attraction”.  Contingency and unpredictability haunt all societies of control.  The State, for example, must act through diverse and overlapping apparatuses and “war machines” to capture energies and constitute manageable ensembles (identities-actors), even as the ensembles fray and disintegrate, escaping through the cracks and fissures of regimes of power.

… the State itself has always been in a relation with an outside and is inconceivable independent of that relationship. The law of the State is not the law of All or Nothing (State societies or counter-State societies) but that of interior and exterior. The State is sovereignty. But sovereignty only reigns over what it is capable of internalizing, of appropriating locally. Not only is there no universal State, but the outside of States cannot be reduced to “foreign policy,” that is, to a set of relations among States.(4)

For Deleuze and Guattari, and against “orthodox” Marxism, societies are defined by how they manage molecular paths of escape (and not their modes of production, for the latter presuppose the control of molecular energies and movements through molar identities; a control that constitutes the very condition of possibility of social reproduction).

One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space. It is a vital concern of every State not only to vanquish nomadism but to control migrations and, more generally, to establish a zone of rights over an entire “exterior,” over all of the flows
traversing the ecumenon. If it can help it, the State does not dissociate itself from a process of capture of flows of all kinds, populations, commodities or commerce, money or capital, etc. There is still a need for fixed paths in well-defined directions, which restrict speed, regulate circulation, relativize movement, and measure in detail the relative movements of subjects and objects. That is why Paul Virilio’s thesis is important, when he shows that “the political power of the State is polis, police, that is, management of the public ways,” and that “the gates of the city, its levies and duties, are barriers, filters against the fluidity of the masses, against the penetration power of migratory packs,” people, animals, and goods. (Paul Virilio, Vitesse et politique. Paris: Editions Galilée, 1977. 63)  Gravity, gravitas, such is the essence of the State. It is not at all that the State knows nothing of speed; but it requires that movement, even the fastest, cease to be the absolute state of a moving body occupying a smooth space, to become the relative characteristic of a “moved body” going from one point to another in a striated space. In this sense, the State never ceases to decompose, recompose, and transform movement, or to regulate speed.(5)

The main aim here is not to throw up against Semprun and Amorós an a priori argument for the possibility of resistance (which could be no more than a powerless “theory of hope”), but rather to disclose the beyond or outside of struggles for State hegemony; an outside, which cannot be written or represented in the History of majorities.  But this outside includes “local mechanisms of bands, margins, minorities, which continue to affirm the rights of segmentary societies against the organs of State power”,(6) and which carry with them, express, a minority becoming beyond and against majority authority.  The minority here is not numerical, but qualitative, and it gains form in flight from the hegemonic majority.  That is, it is the flight or escape that defines the minority-becoming, not a pre-existing minority that underlies escape.(7)  However, as perception and language express the hegemonic, the minority cannot but be indiscernible.  As with the nomads of the past, they are without History.(8)  The nomad is thus both a Historical reality and not: Historical as the absent-presence marking the boundary (the outside that defines the inside) of sovereign State power (cf. Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben) and outside History as the bearer of realities beyond State centred control.(9)

Dissidence, rebellion, revolution, cannot be seen or fathomed from the perspective of hegemony; only if the latter is set aside is a different sight rendered possible.  This is not to blindly celebrate the “molecular” against the “molar”, the nomadic against the State (“Each centre of power is also molecular”(10); “The revolutionary was molecular, and so was the counterrevolution.”(11)), to continue to employ Deleuze’s and Guattari’s terminology, but to try unveil the tension and conflicts present in the current world system.

Contemporary capitalism is totalitarian, in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari give to the word: “a State becomes totalitarian when, instead of effectuating, within its own limits, the worldwide overcoding machine, it identifies with it, creating the conditions for “autarky,” producing a reterritorialisation by “closed vessel,” in the artifice of the void (this is never an ideological operation, but rather an economic and political one).”(12)  In other words, the totalitarian State occupies the whole of reproductive social life, thereby striving to make the impossible impossible; but in its efforts, it unleashes agencies which it cannot control.(13)  (For example, the recent gilets jaunes rebellion in france).

It may also be said, in addition, of those agencies that are “inside” or a part of the “system”, that they in some sense already see or feel the end to be near, that they live already after the “apocalypse” (understood as catastrophic destruction, but also, following the ancient greek, the uncoveringdisclosingrevealing).

Even the most complacent middle class is confined within the limits of a self-conscious presentism.  Bombarded daily by the news of eminent ecological collapse, it can only respond with the mechanical repetition of gestures that push anxiety to the margins, while hopefully or despairingly waiting upon its managerial ruling classes to addresses the crises.  Ostrich like, the middle class hides from what it increasingly knows to be inevitable: its own extinction and that of all that it holds dear.  And yet how precarious all of this is, especially before the fact that “objectively” the middle class is a social species on the verge of extinction, while most of humanity can only dream of – and does dream of – becoming middle class.  And it is this very precariousness that renders any social prognoses and prediction difficult, if not impossible, especially as regards the continuity and foundations of capitalism.

The illusion of perspective that haunts Amorós’ social theory is made evident in his categorical evaluation of the 15th of May movement of spain (15M).  As far as Amorós is concerned, there is very little to recommend the movement.  Symptomatic of a mass society where all class oppositions have been erased, where what remains between a ruling oligarchy and the many forgotten and disposable millions, is a fragile and limited middle class, capable only of articulating a politics of more inclusive citizenship, 15M (and other similar “occupy” movements) could do little more than seek to preserve their diminishing social status and power within society through political reforms.  Their ideological horizon of demands failed to go beyond the limits of capitalism – no alternative to capitalism was ever proposed -, failed to question the separation of politics and the economy, and placed their own self-interests celebrated under the flag of “citizenism”.  The movement was thus quickly channeled into electoralism by opportunistic parvenu politicians.

On May 15, 2011, the enraged youth poured into the streets and proclaimed their rejection of the big government parties, which they claimed were responsible for the “low quality” of “democracy”. This wave of discontent, manifested by way of social networks, the “civil society movements” and the “occupation” of public squares, persisted, for the most part, in seeking the least risky solution, that is, reform of the electoral process, which its supporters called “real democracy”, rather than the end of parliamentarism. At the same time, the movement for regional independence won majority support in Catalonia for similar reasons. The civil society movement and nationalism were the first political responses of a portion of the population that had previously remained on the sidelines as spectators. The lumpenbourgeoisie reconstituted its political identity along with a kind of class consciousness, but not in opposition to capitalism, but to “the caste”, or, in the case of Catalonia, to “Madrid”, that is, some directed their opposition against the corrupt political oligarchy that had made the State its patrimony, and others directed their opposition directly against the central State itself, which they accused of keeping most of the taxes it collected from Catalonia. The ineffectiveness of exclusively symbolic demonstrations and the fascistic authoritarianism of the government drove the salaried middle classes to proceed beyond strategies limited to putting pressure on their political representatives, convinced that, in order to restore their pre-2008 status, they must oust the corrupt right-wing elements entrenched in the established institutions or even proclaim the “Catalonian Republic”, to install either a new social democracy or a moderate separatism. The middle classes wanted to be bailed out and rescued from proletarianization by a State, but given its present form, and given the collapse of the traditional parties, their salvation could only be brought by other parties and other, more resolute, alliances. The task that had to be accomplished was clearly laid out: to galvanize the students and the young people who were struggling to live on part-time and temporary jobs, along with the wage-earning masses and dissatisfied elements of the bourgeoisie, and align them all behind an electoral slate. As is to be expected in a spectacular society, the communications media facilitated this operation with much greater efficacy than the squalid “social movements”. In the 2014 elections for the European Parliament the new representatives of the salaried lumpenbourgeoisie, almost all of them former college students, occupied center stage on the political scene for the first time. In the regional and municipal elections of May 2015, the political scene was seriously transformed.

And the results are there for all to see …

Those in the middle claimed to fight on behalf of those below them and those above them. The civil society-oriented middle class seized the initiative, but not as a universal class that was capable of representing the common interests of all the exploited classes. Its ambiguous stance, that was neither fish nor fowl, and was derived from its position in the economic process, allowed it full freedom of maneuver, although this same freedom was not granted to the radicals. This is easy to explain: the goal was to occupy political spaces, not to solve social problems. “The Social Democracy of the 21st Century” and other civil society tendencies were incapable of thinking about any other interests than their own, and therefore they had to limit themselves to seeking to change rulers rather than the rules of the game; nor did they seek to bring an end to oppression, but rather to restore the previous, more buoyant material conditions of the “citizenry”, that is, their own conditions. This peculiar “democratization” of politics had the virtue of exhuming Stalinist cadavers like the IU and the ICV. It did not lead to the institutionalization of the “movements” by way of mechanisms of “citizens’ participation”; it simply explored the terrain, co-opted its leading figures and integrated or prevented protests. There was no better way to clear the streets than an electoral campaign. The popular opposition, too weak and confused to devote itself to an alternative project, succumbed to the conservative reflections of the middle classes and allowed itself to be led by them. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the autonomy of the oppressed masses was not reinforced by the partial victories of the civil society movement, or that the cause of social justice was not furthered. To the contrary, the presence of this new kind of politician was the decisive factor, alongside other more visible elements, in the stabilization of the particratic caste, and conferred upon the latter an extra dose of legitimacy. The established order, far from having been weakened thanks to the exaltation of a permanent participatory assembly movement, has recovered its strength by arousing in its lost social base the expectations of a shared management of public expenditures and of a moderate change implemented by parliaments and municipal councils. In the meantime, the new politicians expend all their enthusiasm in post-election alliances, attempting to unite wherever possible the interests of the salaried middle classes with the administrative bureaucracy and with the “green sprouts” of the economy—especially in tourism, the new vanguard of the economy—because it is the latter factors that make the greatest contribution to capital formation and, to a lesser degree, to the creation of jobs.

Miguel Amorós, The golden mediocrity

What is remarkable about Amorós’ reading of 15M is both its forcefulness and its blindness.  It is undoubtedly the case that a significant part of those swept into 15M would believe themselves to be represented in Podemos and Ciudadanos (supposedly, at the opposite ends of the political spectrum) or, in the case of Catalonia, consumed by the nationalist movement of the region.  And the diagnosis which sustains this politically dismissive interpretation is powerful enough.

Capital, which is a social relation originally based on the exploitation of labor, has appropriated all human activities and invaded every sphere: culture, science, art, everyday life, leisure, politics…. The fact that every nook and cranny of society has been commodified means that all aspects of life itself function in accordance with mercantile standards, or, which amounts to the same thing, it means that they are ruled by the logic of capitalism. In a market-society with such features there are no classes in the classic meaning of the word (separate worlds in confrontation), but rather an undifferentiated and malleable mass in which the class of capital – the bourgeoisie – is no longer clearly demarcated, while its ideology has become generalized and its values have come to regulate all behavior regardless of class differences. This particular form of blurring the boundaries between the classes does not reflect a diminution of social inequality; quite the contrary, social inequality is much more accentuated, but, paradoxically, it is perceived less distinctly, and, as a result, there is less real combativity. The bourgeois way of life has penetrated the non-bourgeois classes, liquidating the desire for radical change. Wage workers do not want any other lifestyle, or any other kind of society, or, at most, they want a better position within the existing society, i.e., more purchasing power. Violent antagonism is relocated to the margins: the greatest contradiction is now rooted in exclusion more than in exploitation. The main actors in the historical and social drama are no longer those who are exploited on the market, but those who have been expelled, or have chosen to separate themselves, from the market: those who are situated outside of the “system” and who tend to act in ways detrimental to it.

Mass society is a standardized, but tremendously hierarchical, society. Its commanding heights are not staffed by a class of owners or rentiers, but rather by executives who constitute a veritable managerial class. Power therefore derives from one’s function, not from one’s possessions. Decision-making is concentrated in the highest echelon of the social hierarchy; oppression, mainly in the form of precarious employment and exclusion, wreaks its havoc in the lowest part of the social hierarchy. The intermediate layers neither feel the sting of oppression nor do they concern themselves with it, they just acquiesce. During periods of economic crisis, however, the phenomenon of oppression ascends the social scale towards them, dragging them downwards. These strata, usually called the middle classes, then awaken from their apathetic condition, upon which the party system was based, contaminate the social movements and engage in political initiatives which take the form of new alliances and parties. Their goal is obviously not the emancipation of the proletariat, or a free society of free producers; in a word, their goal is not socialism. Their objective is much more prosaic, because the only thing that they seek to achieve is to save the middle class, that is, to save it from being proletarianized.

Miguel Amorós, The civil society plague: The middle class and its discontents

What Amorós however is unable to see is the heterogeneity of 15M, as well as the heterogeneity of social constitution and integration within contemporary capitalism, along with the fragility of middle class social identity.

Spain’s 15M (and one may say the same of all of the “occupy” movements of the period) was never a uniform movement – indeed, in was not a movement in any traditional sense of the term.  It lacked a general structure or organisation, a common political programme, leadership or goals.  If elements of 15M were quickly co-opted by new political parties and existing political institutions, others would integrate and/or embrace far more radical and openly anti-capitalist positions: resistance to housing eviction and housing occupation, urban and rural occupations, the creation of networks of co-operative mutual aid, the proliferation of new groups-movements of political intervention (e.g., solidarity with the austurian miners strike of 2012, the spanish feminist strike of 2017, etc.), and so on.  The list is long, and if not all of these groups-movements would classify as anti-capitalist, according to Amorós, many would.  More significantly still is the inability of knowing, with any certainty, which of these children or siblings of 15M could become, anti-capitalist, for no one can presume to occupy the perspective of totality on society.

A myth haunts the critical thought of Miguel Amorós (a myth shared by Jaime Semprun): that of history, at least since the advent of capitalism, as global, hegemonic history; a history marked by the struggle between the bourgeoisie – the masters of capitalist history – and the proletariat, the exploited under capitalism and opposed to the bourgeoisie as history’s first truly universal class, the bearer of a true universalism of freedom and equality.

We contest the myth not in the name of truth, but in the name of a perspective that opens up greater possibilities for that same freedom and equality (for freedom and equality can only be thought and lived from a perspective).  If capitalism inaugurates universal history, that history has never been anything but normative, that is, it has always ignored, marginalised, exploited and/or destroyed the different, plural histories which it colonised, while simultaneously generating social differences and hierarchies with conflicting histories and their agents-subjects, for the purpose of securing the reproduction of capitalist social relations; the creation of “women”, “races”, “minorities” of different kinds, was necessary for both the global exploitation of human energy and the exclusion of those to be mobilised for reproductive social activity, or those whose energy would be captured, outside of the relations of “free” salaried labour.

The complexity of power relations, their macro and micro dimensions of overlapping and mutually sustaining, but also unstable, connections, and the fragility of contemporary social relations in the midst of permanent crises, permits no absolute judgements regarding political possibilities.  The necessity to continually reproduce these same relations, and to recreate them to respond to changing conditions and desires, can assure no social or institutional durability.  And in stepping back from the illusion of a unique history, apprehensible in a complete, truthful cognition, histories are allowed to come forth amidst the lived and experienced plurality of perspectives.

It is enough to examine with care the history of revolutions (or that of riots) … [to see] that they have almost always occurred in situations of generalised discontent, of strong social tensions, that then exploded spontaneously for an absurd reason.  In 1871 in France, the Commune was born after a dispute over where to place cannons for the defence of the capital, in a country at war and already defeated.  In 1913 in Italy, the Red Week begins when an overly nervous carabinieri mistakes firecrackers for gun shots, and in response, pulls the trigger.  In 1918 in Germany, the pretext was the out-of-date rations given to the battleship sailors.  They were periods however when the social question was in any case on the agenda?  It’s true.  But in Los Angeles in 1992, it was because of the acquittal of violent police who by chance were filmed doing what all police do daily in every country.  In Albania in 1997, it was because of the umpteenth financial speculation.  And so on, until today, until the recent Arab uprisings triggered by the burning suicide of a Tunisian street vendor.  All of these events were of course not the reasons behind the eruptions of revolutions and rebellions, because their deeper roots are and will always be the absence of a life worth living.  The above are pretexts.  And pretexts are quite rightly almost always banal.

In fact, the generalisation of the consciousness that used to be called “class consciousness” has no great influence on the genesis of uprisings and revolutions, because they don’t depend upon it to explode.  Los Angeles in 1992, Albania in 1997 or Tunisia in 2010, were they driven by subversive groups with a strong popular foundation?  No, they were simply full of rage, of frustration and despair.  And that’s enough.

L’imprévue: Du centre à la périphérie (Hourriya, 2016)

The grand narratives of modernist capitalism, liberal or marxist, were and remain untrue.  Furthermore, as regards the latter, the revolutionary subjectivity of working class rebellion was rarely or never the expression of the aspirations of a social class internal to capitalist social relations, but was rather the refusal of proletarianisation.  It was, in other words, a rebellious subjectivity grounded in and created through social relations external to capitalism.

Narrating his travels through Spain between 1916 and 1920, Dos Passos recounts the words spoken in a café by a “syndicalist” who had recently escaped from prison (it is to be understood that in the Spain of those years a syndicalist was something very different from what goes by that name today; and that Spain’s neutrality during the First World War proved to be favorable for an economic “take-off”): “We are buried under industrialism just like the rest of Europe. Our people, even our own comrades, are rapidly acquiring the bourgeois mentality. We are in danger of losing all our hard-fought gains…. If we had been able to seize the means of production when the system was young and weak, we would have developed it gradually for our benefit: we would have been able to make the machine a slave to man. Every day that passes renders this more difficult” (Rocinante vuelve al camino, 1923).  (Quoted from: René Riesel and Jaime Semprun, Catastrophism, disaster management and sustainable submission).

If today these non-capitalist human worlds are fewer and weaker, if there is essentially no longer an outside to capitalism, then this can suggest either a complete totalitarianism or a social-ecological collapse (or both, in sequence).  All that was or remains intransigent and rebellious can no longer be expelled outside, to be forgotten in the wilds of forests.  The barbarians are now within the empire, they are the anonymous many, the over exploited and disposable workers, the unemployed, the homeless, the refugees: the millions, who lacking any fixed place or time, are nothing.  Yet as nothing, they are the extreme embodiment of proletarianisation; as nothing, they can become anything.

Perhaps never before has the Internationale rung more true.

Stand up, damned of the Earth
Stand up, prisoners of starvation
Reason thunders in its volcano
This is the eruption of the end.
Of the past let us make a clean slate
Enslaved masses, stand up, stand up.
The world is about to change its foundation
We are nothing, let us be all.

Chorus
This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race.

To celebrate barbarism is to invite accusations of irrationality, something deemed incompatible with rational self-possession, something in turn assumed to be a necessary condition for the possibility of autonomy.  But what if there are plural forms of sovereignty?  What if there are “figures of sovereignty whose central project is not the struggle for autonomy but the generalized instrumentalization of human existence and the material destruction of human bodies and populations“?(14)  And what if these violent forms of sovereignty are not the expression of political madness, but what precisely constitutes the nomos, the law, of the political space in which we still live?(15)  The assumption that a norm giving reason is the truth of the subject is just that, an assumption; something that sets aside, without reason, the body, desires, passions, emotions, faith and belief, the messy bits of the human animal that would be necessary to incorporate into a more full blooded notion of sovereignty.

If we consider (admittedly, without argument) that sovereignty is a decision on what constitutes the exception, or what defines the enemy of established law (Carl Schmitt), as the violence necessary to ground a legal order (Walter Benjamin), as “the power and capacity to dictate who may live and who may die”(16), then it is possible to imagine a “counter-sovereignty”, or a “primordial sovereignty”, or what we would call autonomy.  “The sovereign is he who is, as if death were not … He has no more regard for the limits of identity than he does for the limits of death, or rather these limits are the same; he is the transgression of all such limits.”(17)

And as history, place and time, are swept away, then limits fall with them; and all then becomes possible.

Notes

1. Semprun and Amorós are in this respect, at least “methodologically”, disciples of Antonio Gramsci:  “The methodological criterion on which our own study must be based is the following: that the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as “domination” and as “intellectual and moral leadership”.  A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to “liquidate”, or to subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred and allied groups. A social group can, and indeed must, already exercise “leadership” before winning governmental power (this indeed is one of the principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to “ lead” as well.”  (Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers, 1971. 57-8.)  And as no methodology can be divorced from reality, or as there is no methodology which does not presuppose a classification and organisation of the reality that it serves to explore and explain (a method of inquiry must “fit” reality, if it is to function as a method), then Semprun and Amorós blind themselves to non-hegemonic political interpretations and practices.

2. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Mille Plateaux: Capitalisme et Schizophrénia. Paris: Les Édition de Minuit, 1980. 260.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid. 445.

5. Ibid. 479-80.

6. Ibid. 445.

7. Ibid. 356-7.

8. Ibid. 490.

9. Ibid. 473.

10. Ibid. 274.

11. Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 200.

12. Mille Plateaux: Capitalisme et Schizophrénia. 260.

13. Frédéric Neyrat, Échapper à l’horreur: Court Traité des interruptions. Lignes, 2017. 64-67.

14. Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics”. Public Culture 15(1). 14.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid. 11.

17. Cited in Mbembe. 16.

The golden mediocrity

Miguel Amorós

(libcom.org)

You’ll live more virtuously, my Murena,
by not setting out to sea, while you’re in dread
of the storm, or hugging fatal shores
too closely, either.

Horace, Odes, Book 2

Capitalist society is a society of hierarchically stratified masses. If there is one thing that distinguishes today’s masses from classes, it is the fact that masses detest action, and always prefer that others should act in their stead, while they devote themselves to their private affairs. Someone even went so far as to say that masses do not want revolution, but the spectacle of revolution; now, however, even the spectacle of revolution is not to their taste. Onstage, the masses like to show off rather than communicate, but their feeling of insecurity is so great and their fear of losing what they have is so intense, that the director must be very sparing with the play’s dramatic development and must emphasize the music instead. Or, to speak plainly: the play must walk on eggshells and give the impression that everything will go swimmingly in a happy world that is shielded from danger, with peace, tranquility and no pay cuts. Outside of the spectacle, struggles can be anything but massive, while the few that violate the rules of the game and sound a violent note will be regularly condemned as provocations harmful to the particratic regime, the alleged guarantor of “well being” and “democracy”, the two mainstays of the easy-going postmodern condition.

The proletarianization of the world, that is, the renewal of capitalism at all levels after the defeat of the last workers movement—to which we must add its fusion with the State and the media—made possible a considerable degree of economic and administrative growth, creating an environment of bureaucratic-commercial prosperity favorable for the optimal development of an intermediate salaried stratum. The latter was not a real class, a world apart by virtue of its own particular ideology, its own customs and its own values, but an agglomeration of diverse fragments lacking any solid nexus, yet its members were satisfied, politically indifferent and obedient, feeling that they were well-represented by a careerist political class deeply embedded in public affairs. The rationalization of production, the predominance of finance and the expansion of the state apparatus provided the system with a sufficient social base, the market with a considerable number of consumers, and the universities with a numerous contingent of students. Its social base was composed of civil servants, white collar employees, politicians, professionals, experts and so on, individuals whose status depended on academic training with a price tag on the labor market that was higher than the price of conventional labor power.

This whole “cognitariat” was so closely bound to the established order that it identified its fate with the preservation of that order. In the past, classical German social democracy perceived such emerging sectors, which it called “middle classes”, as a factor of stability; a sort of shield against the blows of the class struggle. In fact, the mentality of this motley sort of bourgeoisie that wore two hats, so to speak, was quite variable, but for the most part it was closer to that of the haute bourgeoisie than it was to that of the proletariat, and, as history was to reveal, in extreme conditions its attachment to the State led it to be more in favor of dictatorship than revolution. A half century after the Second World War, the historical situation had changed significantly and the liberal application of credit seemed to ensure the absolute victory of the economy and of professional politics. It is therefore not at all surprising that social activism ever since the end of the 1980s has taken place in an environment characterized by total passivity, an absence of dissent and an almost total conformism. Society was in the grips of a widespread feeling that confronting power was impossible, because the wage-earning majority had faith in the management of the party du jour and believed what the television told it, feeling quite comfortable in a private life colonized by the commodity and replete with gadgets. Revolution was little more than a dream and the partiocracy appeared to be the least evil of all political regimes, and besides, it was always subject to improvement. Few were those who believed that revolution was necessary, and its advent became an article of faith derived from ideological convictions similar to those of religion. The anti-system struggle was sidelined and the scarce conflicts that broke the surface after the capitalist unification of the world always ignored modernized misery and relied on the mediation of institutions and the media spectacle.

The proletarian defeat foreclosed the perspectives for class struggle in the seventies and eighties, and led to a theoretical disarmament of subversion that would prove to be long-lasting. In opposition to the revolutionary social critique, immersed in paralyzing contradictions that we shall not address here, a submissive and weak structure of thought was erected that, with an ostentatious pseudo-critique, condemned all radical change as impossible and, furthermore, as undesirable. For this way of thinking, every revolution conceals a totalitarian project. Thus, for this brand of servile thought, Marx and Bakunin were the founding fathers of revolutionary fundamentalism. The vulgar, pragmatic and Third-Worldist Marxism that the revolutionary critique had denounced, would no longer be used as a toolbox for this reactionary philosophical trend. For the intellectual comfort of the enlightened middle classes, something less sacerdotal and more adapted to the euphoric triumphalism of the dominant powers was needed. Social disintegration, frivolity, consumerist hedonism, ephemeral commitments, identitarianism and short-sighted incrementalism, everyday features typical of the new capitalism, were turned into individual virtues that were to be preserved for the benefit of an alleged “freedom” that was actually trivial, and was to be administered by the State. The idea of Progress, the guiding principle of the ruling classes, could be abandoned without regrets by dissolving it in the exigencies of the eternal present. Postmodern philosophy perfected cum laude the task begun by Stalinist Marxism, a cold and lifeless ideology. This mother lode even produced ore for the mills of pseudo-extremism: a tremendously reactionary post-anarchism arose from the marriage of individualism and post-structuralism. The thought of power was academically reinvented with critical fragments scavenged from the class war, beating a dead horse and “thematizing” the new world order by way of a self-referential jargon particularly adapted to an ambivalent and relativist worldview. Words like “deconstruction”, “episteme”, “drive”, “simulacrum”, “counter-power”, “rhizome”, “schizo”, “meta-relation”, “heterotopia”, “biopolitics”, etc., allowed its proponents to both swim in the current of protest and to use the existing institutions as a changing room, combining disenchantment with the real revolution with the prestige of an apparent break from the norm. Coldly and with stoic resolve, academic reflection rid itself of concepts like “truth”, “ideology”, “class”, “totality”, “subject”, “reason”, “alienation”, “universality”, “memory”, “spectacle”, etc., which were notions that corresponded to what it called “modernity”, and culminated on the terrain of ideas in the social counterrevolution that then led to the current mass society. Henceforth, the dominant ideas were patently the ideas that were useful to domination.

This did not prevent contradictions from arising, however, as they spread from one sphere to another on a planetary scale. As a result, an ersatz class consciousness crystallized around a new abstract political subject, one that would take the world by storm, which the sociologists of postmodernity called the “citizenry”, and which others would later christen as the “multitude”, or simply as the “people”. In the mesocratic conception of the world, the State was ideally separated from Capital by means of a mental operation that drew from its sociological hat the “citizen”, a subject external to the economy, with the right to vote and to be represented by a political class. Likewise, the Present was set up as absolute reality and the most coarse and opportunistic pragmatism was treated as a sign of the greatest political intelligence. Emancipatory ideals, insofar as they derived from old-fashioned grand narratives and insofar as they referred to the future, would no longer serve as guides for action, because the allegedly “libidinal” voting subject was alien to any social problem that could not ipso facto be translated into political terms and thus become the responsibility of licensed professionals. The civil society boosters were characterized by their firm belief that economic and social problems are actually political problems and must be addressed by way of elections. This is why they worshipped the State; they comprise the party of the State. And they are therefore opposed to any really autonomous movement: their pacifist, another-world-is-possible, and naively optimistic [buenrollista] initiatives, from their beginnings in Seattle and Genoa, were never intended to marginalize the parties or to put an end to capitalism, but to suggest new strategies and to call attention to new perspectives that were more in accordance with the specific interests of the class to which they belonged. “Another” capitalism was possible, just like another politics, and this is why they did not propose to bypass the existing institutions, but to work within them. A capitalism with the middle classes intact.

Finally, however, the bursting of the credit bubble not only brought the long period of continuous economic development to an abrupt end, but also threatened to take various States down with it. Budget cuts proliferated and unemployment, precarious jobs, and exclusion spread like wildfire, but among the most drastically affected layers of the population there was hardly any reaction. Public assistance, trade union and police controls worked effectively. The new damage-control measures implemented in response to the crisis, however, were also seriously deleterious for the salaried middle classes, which were major losers in the budget cuts and were furthermore burdened with significant debt. Unemployment hounded their footsteps, especially among recent college graduates, highlighting their special vulnerability to the wild swings of the economy, while government toleration of corruption and waste, as well as the bank bailout, aroused their indignation. Tired of fruitlessly petitioning the political class, some of them no longer felt that they were represented by that class. On May 15, 2011, the enraged youth poured into the streets and proclaimed their rejection of the big government parties, which they claimed were responsible for the “low quality” of “democracy”. This wave of discontent, manifested by way of social networks, the “civil society movements” and the “occupation” of public squares, persisted, for the most part, in seeking the least risky solution, that is, reform of the electoral process, which its supporters called “real democracy”, rather than the end of parliamentarism. At the same time, the movement for regional independence won majority support in Catalonia for similar reasons. The civil society movement and nationalism were the first political responses of a portion of the population that had previously remained on the sidelines as spectators. The lumpenbourgeoisie reconstituted its political identity along with a kind of class consciousness, but not in opposition to capitalism, but to “the caste”, or, in the case of Catalonia, to “Madrid”, that is, some directed their opposition against the corrupt political oligarchy that had made the State its patrimony, and others directed their opposition directly against the central State itself, which they accused of keeping most of the taxes it collected from Catalonia. The ineffectiveness of exclusively symbolic demonstrations and the fascistic authoritarianism of the government drove the salaried middle classes to proceed beyond strategies limited to putting pressure on their political representatives, convinced that, in order to restore their pre-2008 status, they must oust the corrupt right-wing elements entrenched in the established institutions or even proclaim the “Catalonian Republic”, to install either a new social democracy or a moderate separatism. The middle classes wanted to be bailed out and rescued from proletarianization by a State, but given its present form, and given the collapse of the traditional parties, their salvation could only be brought by other parties and other, more resolute, alliances. The task that had to be accomplished was clearly laid out: to galvanize the students and the young people who were struggling to live on part-time and temporary jobs, along with the wage-earning masses and dissatisfied elements of the bourgeoisie, and align them all behind an electoral slate. As is to be expected in a spectacular society, the communications media facilitated this operation with much greater efficacy than the squalid “social movements”. In the 2014 elections for the European Parliament the new representatives of the salaried lumpenbourgeoisie, almost all of them former college students, occupied center stage on the political scene for the first time. In the regional and municipal elections of May 2015, the political scene was seriously transformed.

Those in the middle claimed to fight on behalf of those below them and those above them. The civil society-oriented middle class seized the initiative, but not as a universal class that was capable of representing the common interests of all the exploited classes. Its ambiguous stance, that was neither fish nor fowl, and was derived from its position in the economic process, allowed it full freedom of maneuver, although this same freedom was not granted to the radicals. This is easy to explain: the goal was to occupy political spaces, not to solve social problems. “The Social Democracy of the 21st Century” and other civil society tendencies were incapable of thinking about any other interests than their own, and therefore they had to limit themselves to seeking to change rulers rather than the rules of the game; nor did they seek to bring an end to oppression, but rather to restore the previous, more buoyant material conditions of the “citizenry”, that is, their own conditions. This peculiar “democratization” of politics had the virtue of exhuming Stalinist cadavers like the IU and the ICV. It did not lead to the institutionalization of the “movements” by way of mechanisms of “citizens’ participation”; it simply explored the terrain, co-opted its leading figures and integrated or prevented protests. There was no better way to clear the streets than an electoral campaign. The popular opposition, too weak and confused to devote itself to an alternative project, succumbed to the conservative reflections of the middle classes and allowed itself to be led by them. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the autonomy of the oppressed masses was not reinforced by the partial victories of the civil society movement, or that the cause of social justice was not furthered. To the contrary, the presence of this new kind of politician was the decisive factor, alongside other more visible elements, in the stabilization of the particratic caste, and conferred upon the latter an extra dose of legitimacy. The established order, far from having been weakened thanks to the exaltation of a permanent participatory assembly movement, has recovered its strength by arousing in its lost social base the expectations of a shared management of public expenditures and of a moderate change implemented by parliaments and municipal councils. In the meantime, the new politicians expend all their enthusiasm in post-election alliances, attempting to unite wherever possible the interests of the salaried middle classes with the administrative bureaucracy and with the “green sprouts” of the economy—especially in tourism, the new vanguard of the economy—because it is the latter factors that make the greatest contribution to capital formation and, to a lesser degree, to the creation of jobs.

Politics is not a sphere that is separate from economic activity or from the mass media, a sphere from which one can correct social problems thanks to the intervention of a specialized elite of leaders who rely on generalized passivity. Politics is that same spectacular economy camouflaged as social action. It is therefore not a neutral means, an empty form that can be filled with any content, but the specific form that, in capitalist society, imposes market relations on the public. The political liberty guaranteed to the “democratized” institutions in the offices corresponds in the final reckoning to the free market. Its purpose is not to establish direct connections between individuals, but to subject individuals to an external power, that of capital/state. Today’s new and improved partiocracy has not changed its nature; at most, it has become more theatrical and is trying harder to play up to the crowd. It must preserve the obsolete class remnants of the previous capitalist period without altering the general progress of the world-economy, something that is hard to do without considerable growth, which the end of the cycle of economic development renders highly unlikely. The hypothesized extractive cycle based on the “sustainable” destruction of the territory has not proceeded here at the speed that has characterized its progress in Latin America, and the European situation is still deadlocked, with the civil society masses awaiting the next elections. If the crises and struggles that will ensue as a result do not lead to disruptions that result in a Failed State and, consequently, in the total collapse of the partiocracy, the movements of the salaried middle class, that is, those associated with the civil society movement and regional nationalism, their political expressions, will block any autonomous manifestation of a revolutionary subject, or, to put it another way, they will prevent the appearance of a truly assembly-based democracy that will fight against capitalism for an egalitarian social transformation of society. Anti-capitalist protests must become more widespread and must become powerful enough to render the institutional path unviable if they really want to abolish classes and collectively construct a self-governing, ecologically balanced, non-patriarchal, just society based on solidarity. The framework of the civil society movement must be shattered.

Original title: “La hora de la áurea medianía”. Transcript of a presentation delivered on September 26, 2015 at La Col.lectiva, Cabanyal, Valencia, Spain, during a conference on gentrification.

Translated in October 2015 from a copy of the original Spanish text provided by the author.


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