Monday, November 26, 2007

The goal of a genuinely new Left should not be to take over the State but to subordinate the State to the general will

It’s now time – well past time, actually – for the Left to finally disarticulate itself from the big State. Zizek’s piece in the current LRB reiterates his opposition to Badiou’s notion of ‘distance from the State’. But being ‘at a distance from the State’ does not mean either abandoning the State or retreating into the private space of affects and diversity which Zizek rightly argues is the perfect complement to neoliberalism’s domination of the State. It means recognizing that the goal of a genuinely new Left should be not be to take over the State but to subordinate the State to the general will. This involves, naturally, resuscitating the very concept of a general will, reviving – and modernising - the idea of a public space that is not reducible to an aggregation of individuals and their interests. The ‘methodological individualism’ of the neoliberal worldview presupposes the philosophy of Max Stirner as much as that of Adam Smith or Hayek in that it regards notions such as the public as ‘spooks’, phantom abstractions devoid of content. All that is real is the individual (and their families).
The symptoms of the failures of this worldview are everywhere – in a disintegrated social sphere in which teenagers shooting each other has become commonplace, in which mental illness and affective disorders of every kind are proliferating at an alarming degree, in which hospitals incubate aggessive Superbugs - what is required is connect effect to structural cause. Far from being isolated, contingent problems, these are all the effects of a single systemic cause: Capital.
Zizek argues that, now, it is the likes of Microsoft which resist State power, but he fails to draw the lesson from this. Like neoliberalism in general, Microsoft has achieved its global domination not so much by occupying the State as by subordinating the machinery of government to its interests. Far from nationalising Microsoft, as Zizek once called for, the Left should hold up Microsoft as the most spectacular example of the way in which capitalist products and companies are at least as shoddy as those turned out by the nationalised industries that neoliberalism has spent three decades demonising. Microsoft’s domination of the market to the point where market conditions no longer obtain, its ability to foist on its customers inferior products that they only buy because everyone else already has them, could not be further from the neoliberal fantasy of the market as an intelligent mechanism super-sensitive to consumer desire. But, far from being an exceptional case, Microsoft is typical of SF Capital’s anti-market.
It is by now clear that neoliberalism does not provide the conditions for a vibrant culture. Exactly to the contrary in fact. As Curtis argues, the interpassive simulation of participation in postmodern media, the network narcissism of MySpace and Facebook, generates content that is repetitive, parasitic and conformist. Ironically, the media class’s refusal to be paternalistic has not produced a bottom-up culture of breathtaking diversity, but one that is increasingly infantalized. The effect of permanent structural instability, the ‘cancellation of the long term’, is invariably stagnation and conservatism rather than innovation. This is not a paradox. As Adam Curtis’ remarks above make clear, the affects that predominate in late capitalism are fear and cynicism. These emotions do not inspire bold thinking or entrepraneurial leaps, they breed conformity and the cult of the minimal variation, the turning out of products which very closely resemble those that are already successful. Meanwhile, films such as Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker - plundered by Hollywood since as far back as Alien and Blade Runner - were produced in the ostensibly moribund conditions of the Brezhnevite State, meaning that the USSR acted as a cultural entrepreneur for SF Capital.
The Left should argue that it can deliver what neoliberalism has signally failed to do: a massive reduction of bureaucracy, a handing back of control of work and life from rhizomaniac bureaucracies to workers. As Deleuze demonstrated in his essay on Control – whose prescience becomes all the more startling the deeper we sink into late capitalism – post-Fordist capital would not eliminate bureaucracy but alter its form. Bureaucracy is no longer the preserve of a centralised State; it has proliferated into a generalised condition of surveillance-without-a-centre performed by distributed para-State bodies or micro-States which increasingly co-opt the so-called individual into doing their work for them. Far from being some aberration that capitalism’s alleged efficiency will eventually eliminate, late capitalist ‘administration’ is a permanent and ineradicable feature of late capitalism. There is no more prospect of administration receding than there was of the Stalinist State ever decreeing its own withering away.
Zizek’s invocation of Chavez in his LRB piece is typical of a nostalgia for the Father – the stern but good Lawgiver who leads his people into the Promised Land by a heroic act of resistance to the global order - that characterises his own work (the ostensibly playful defence of Stalinism is a part of this) and which continues to hold the Left in general back. The Left needs to give up its belief in Fathers, Good and Bad. We all know that Bush is a puppet not a papa, but political strategy needs to reflect this, by no longer appealing to him – or any other Bad Father figure - as if they were capable of granting its wishes. A mature, rational anti-capitalist politics needs to be able to think beyond the phantasms of the family, to imagine an abstract public space not embodied in the figure of a facialized individual. Posted by mark at November 25, 2007 02:45 PM TrackBack

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