Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University

archtander
Here is the expanded version of a co-written talk presented at the 2015 MLA Subconference. Thanks to the organizers, my wonderful co-panelists, and the incredibly vibrant follow-up conversation.

“What was once the factory is now the university.” This is the premise the opens the Edu-factory Collective’s Towards a Global Autonomous University–it is also the premise upon which the collective was formed. Co-founded by Gigi Roggero, the collective’s work functions as a road-block to the demands of academic labor. It critiques the foundations upon which academic labor is organized and opposes the hierarchy that commands academic publication. The collective’s conceptual work, forefronted by Roggero’s thought in particular, explains the importance of these interventions.

The number of ways in which in the university is now the factory are perhaps too many to list: increased demand for productivity, an increase in working hours without an increase in pay, the rapid proliferation of contingent positions, and the production of a highly skilled but also an under/unemployed population of workers are perhaps the most recognizable in this list. These and more are addressed in Towards a Global Autonomous University, but they are also enduring sites of struggle. Especially in the US, academics have yet to recognize and mobilize against these issues en masse. Continue reading “Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University”

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Open Call: With Friends Like These?

party

I’m looking for co-authors on a text rethinking alliance. Please contact me here or over email, if interested.

If there are good memories of The Party, we are far too young to have them. The Party has always appeared to us as a collection of dim-wits jockeying for power within wooden organizations that shout to the wind in dead languages. Those still fascinated by The Party seem to be geriatrics whose struggles we never really understood, red diaper babies still suckling from their parents, history fanatics obsessed with long-dead rituals, and gray-faced control freaks obsessed with rules or efficiency. So now that The Party’s only arrives at its twilight, we cheer on its zombie existence: The Party is dead! Long live The Party!

The end of The Party comes at another time: the Decline of The Left. Perhaps The Left has never been more than a convenient fiction. Now, more than ever, it is time to question that the loose grouping of “The Left” has anything in common. As radicals, we share nothing with the state bureaucrats, corporate fanatics, and technocratic managers. The Left at its very best is stuck in the Whiggist fantasy of incremental improvement at the hands of a constitutional republicanism that prides itself in personal freedom and scientific skepticism. If there is anything still living in The American Left, it is limited to their plans to recycle projects from the early-20th Century Welfare State or the loose collection of social issues that born out of the 1960’s counter-cultural New Left. Perhaps those two sets of issues are worth fighting for, but in doing so, one cannot help but feel that they are sorely inadequate half-measures.

Without The Party, without The Left, and without The State. We are more than happy to cheer on their demise. But what is lost along the way? Alliance. Continue reading “Open Call: With Friends Like These?”

Maurizio Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, “Introduction”

distorted

To say that desire is part of the infrastructure comes down to saying that subjectivity produces reality. Subjectivity is not an ideological superstructure.

At the time of Leninism, the government had to be overturned – the trade unions were economists, traitors – power had to go to the Soviets: in short, there was an idea, there was something. But here, really, there is no idea. There’s nothing at all. There’s the idea of macroeconomics, of a certain number of factors: unemployment, the market, money, all abstractions that have nothing at all to do with social reality.

-Félix Guattari, “Crise de production de subjectivité,”

Seminar of April 3, 1984

In a seminar in 1984, Félix Guattari argued that the crisis affecting the West since the early 1970s as, more than an economic or political crisis, a crisis of subjectivity. How are we to understand Guattari’s claim?

Germany and Japan came out of the Second World War completely destroyed, under long-term occupation, both socially and (8) psychologically decimated, with “no material assets-no raw materials, no reserve capital.” What explains the economic miracle? “They rebuilt a prodigious ‘capital of subjectivity’ (capital in the form of knowledge, collective intelligence, the will to survive, etc.). Indeed,they invented a new type of subjectivity out of the devastation itself. The Japanese, in particular, recovered aspects of their archaic subjectivity, converting them into the most ‘advanced’ forms of social and material production. [. . .] The latter represents a kind of industrial complex for the production of subjectivity, one enabling a multiplicity of creative processes to emerge, certain of which are, however, highly alienating.”2

Capitalism “launches (subjective) models the way the automobile industry launches a new line of cars.”3 Indeed, the central project of capitalist politics consists in the articulation of economic, technological, and social flows with the production of subjectivity in such a way that political economy is identical with “subjective economy.” Guattari’s working hypothesis must be revived and applied to current circumstances; and we must start by acknowledging that neoliberalism has failed to articulate the relation between these two economies.

Guattari further observes capitalism’s capacity to foresee and resolve systemic crises through apparatuses and safeguards that it came to master following the Great Depression. Today, the weakness of capitalism lies in the production of subjectivity. As a consequence, systemic crisis and the crisis in the production of subjectivity are strictly interlinked. It is impossible to separate economic, political, and social processes from the processes of subjectivation occurring within them. Continue reading “Maurizio Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, “Introduction””

Chapter 5 – Anonymity

anony

Insinuation, The Underground Current of Incoherence
Radicalism’s tame but dignified existence in the early parts of nineteenth century America was a triumph for well-reasoned order. Immigrant intellectuals spread the heady ideals of socialism across the newly-opened frontier, founding mutualist or collectivist factory towns across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana and establishing revolutionary societies and educational clubs in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Allergic to lawbreaking and violence, the communalists set out to foster the best-ordered and most-moral dimensions of utopian society. But as corruption and industry grew inseparable, a new radical energy gathered in the darker corners of society. While the socialists kept outrunning the company mines and industrial looms, a growing underclass either unwilling or unable to escape the greed of indecent men toiled away.

Only a short decade after the Great War, the polite pretensions of American radicalism fell away. This shift was due to two things: first, the Panic of 1873, which threw hundreds of thousands of workers into destitution and unleashed their fury; and second, the arrival of anarchists. It takes the entrance of a protagonist, Johann Most, a fiery German anarchist, to give shape to the turbulence. Inspired by Most, a persuasive orator with scorching rhetoric, anarchists and other radicals brought ‘propaganda by the deed’ to America. ‘Propaganda by the deed,’ an idea on the lips of the European radicals of the time, is derived from the earlier Italian socialist Carlo Pisacane, who argues that “Ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around,” so that “conspiracies, plots, and attempted uprisings” are more effective propaganda “than a thousand volumes penned by doctrinarians who are the real blight upon our country and the entire world” (Graham, Anarchism, 68).

A determined Most found propaganda by the deed straightforward and published fiery celebrations of the growing practice of anarchist regicide – and these writings often landed in him jail. After a year and a half stay in an English jail for praising the assassination of Alexander II of Russia, Most immigrated to the United States and soon published a pamphlet entitled Science of Revolutionary Warfare–A Manual of Instruction in the Use and Preparation of Nitroglycerine, Dynamite, Gun-Cotton, Fulminating Mercury, Bombs, Fuses, Poisons, etc, etc. Among these tools of destruction, he had a clear weapon of choice: dynamite. Writing in the Parsons’s Alarm, Most declared his love: “Dynamite! Of all the good stuff, that is the stuff! Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch pipe (gas or water pipe), plug up both ends, insert a cap with a fuse attached, place this in the immediate vicinity of a lot of rich loafers who live by the sweat of other people’s brows, and light the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow. … It is a genuine boon for the disinherited, while it brings terror and fear to the robbers. A pound of this good stuff beats a bushel of ballots all hollow – and don’t you forget it!” So with the arrival of Most, his dynamite, and propaganda by the deed, the anarchist siege against robber barons and the forces of the State commenced.

Striking fear in hearts of the three enemies of classical anarchism – The Church, The State, and Capital – radicals committed a remarkable number of regicides and other assassinations from the late 1870s through the early twentieth century. Yet the practice was not universally accepted in radical circles: pacifists, social democrats, and pragmatists hotly debated the principles and effectiveness of attacks on power.  Paul Rousse, French socialist and the first to coin the phrase propaganda by the deed, plays down violence when describing the concept’s realization. “Propaganda by the deed is a mighty means of rousing the popular consciousness,” he writes, because it serves as the pragmatism of the possible: as the masses are naturally skeptical of any idea as long it remains abstract, one must actually start a commune or a factory and “let the instruments of production be placed in the hands of the workers, let the workers and their families move into salubrious accommodation and the idlers be tossed into the streets,” after which the idea will “spring to life” and “march, in flesh and blood, at the head of the people” (Graham, Anarchism, 151). Echoing Rousse’s possibilism, Gustav Landauer argues that “no language can be loud and decisive enough for the uplifting of our compatriots, so that they may be incited out of their engrained daily drudgery,” and thus the seeds of a new society must be prefigured in actual reality to entice others the join (139). Propaganda by the deed thus has two intentionally distinct valences as either creative violence or persuasive prefiguration; one masks its anonymous force to avoid capture while the other loudly boasts about itself.

Our contemporary times are replete with radicals who have found their own boastful propaganda. Anarchists such as David Graeber speak about a new generation of activists that came of age during the anti-globalization movement who practice propaganda by prefiguration that ‘builds a new society in the shell of the old’ (as the popular IWW phrase goes). These ‘New Anarchists,’ as they are called, practice social justice and deep democracy although they cannot hum even a bar of The Internationale. Yet missing from this description are many radical tendencies that draw on the first valence of propaganda by the deed – to name a few, there are civilization-hating anarcho-primitivists, destruction-loving anarcho-queers, democracy-averse nihilists, and anti-organizational insurrectionists. There are many reasons why those elements are often disavowed or even denied by their radical relatives but one is obvious: these dissident tendencies draw their power from a dangerous source that resists legibility. Rather than constructing their propagandistic appeals on images of a well-ordered society constituted by a moral majority, these hidden elements draw on deeper and darker desires of nonexistence and disappearance. However, this opposition – the reasonable proposals of social anarchists and the excesses of their darker offspring – is stale, so perhaps there is a way to break through.

Is there a power of truth that is not just the truth of power? asks Gilles Deleuze (Foucault, 94-95). Written alternately in the language of anarchism: what is the propaganda by the deed if it is not just the deed of propaganda? The answer is found in a mode of communication whereby actions ‘speak for themselves’ – actions that need not be owned, named, or explained. Actions as expression without speaking subjects. Expressions that speak reason but do not prefigure. Expressions that speak passions but are not feelings. The expression that lingers when the thing expressed is nowhere to be found. In short: the force of anonymity. That is today’s dark propaganda by the deed. Continue reading “Chapter 5 – Anonymity”

Strategies for the Subversion of the Metropolis (draft chapter)

subvert metr

This post contained an draft version of a dissertation section. A more recent version is now available on the works page.