Well, you’re certainly moving beyond ‘old-school socialism’ but are you really back into Thatcherism?
For all sorts of reasons, many of them presented on recent threads at hyperstition, I’m less than happy with using the term ‘micro-capitalism’. But what I think Simon was designating by the term – I’d prefer to call it ‘marketization’ rather than ‘micro-capitalism’ – is indeed anti-socialist, but is also, I would want to insist, anti-capitalist.
It’s almost charming to hear someone use the term ‘old-school socialism’ positively in the 00s. Without being toofacetious, what are people who decry Thatcherism yearning for in the pre-Thatcherite 70s? Power cuts? Raging inflation? Laughably inefficient nationalized industries? All subsidized, I shouldn’t need to add, mainly by the proletariat through taxation.
There are, needless to say, serious problems with Thatcherism but they don’t include its demolition of a decadent socialist hegemony which was as complacently cheerful in its role of administering post-Empire decline as was its Tory counterpart.
What is facile about Thatcherism is what is facile about all brands of liberal conservatism: namely, the centrality to its ontology of an uncritiqued concept of the individual. The conservative distrust of the State (good) is counterposed by its championing of the individual and ‘individual freedom’. Mrs Thatcher was explicit in her espousal of what sociologists call ‘methodological individualism’, the view that the only real social unit is the individual agent, when she (in)famously announced that there is no such thing as society.
But if Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Lacan, structuralism, post-structuralism and postmodernism have taught us anything, it is that the category of the individual cannot be treated as a given. Foucault was especially vociferous in resisting the dichotomy on which Thatcherite thought was based: the individual cannot be construed as first of all free and only afterwards constrained by the State. No: the individual is, in effect, a State in miniature. As ever, Spinoza anticipated most of these positions. He argued that, since it depends upon the welfare of others, individual liberty presupposes collective freedom.
Hardt and Negri have, somewhat unconvincingly in my view, sought to revive a Spinozist concept of collectivity with their idea of the Multitude. Whatever the limitations of their argument, its value lies in its decoupling of collectivity from the State. Such a separation is essential for any effective anti-capitalism.
It’s worth pausing here to differentiate what I have in mind from the existing anti-capitalist movement. Said movement is easily but perhaps not entirely unfairly caricatured as comprised of hand-wringing middle-class quasi-socialists like Naomi Klein and freewheeling dog-on-a-rope anarcho-pranksters. Whether such a view is a grotesque distortion or not, it remains the case that no effective anti-capitalist strategy has emerged from the movement.
Klein and her ilk appear to favour a return to ‘old style socialism’ (more State intervention, higher taxation etc), whereas the anarchos seem, as ever, to oscillate between blanket nihilistic negativism and unrealistic utopianism. Both seem to make the error of treating capitalism as if it were some sort of conspiracy of the elite. In other words, they do what Marx warned against, and make a moral, rather than a systemic, critique of capitalism. Too often this emerges in the form of an Oedipal revolt aimed at the admininstators of capital, a pantomime sideshow which even they must realise has no possibility of effectuating change, underscored by the charmingly naive conviction that if only those nasty corporations were a bit nicer then everything would improve.
The most realistic account of kapital is also the most cyberpunk. Capitalism is best understood not as the product of a human cabal but as a takeover of the planet by an inhuman parasite entity, neither malevolent nor benign, but implacably locked onto pursuing its one goal – the proliferation of itself. Marx believed that capitalism’s agency was only ostensible, an illusion that could be cashed out in terms of alienated labour. But, after cybernetics, complexity theory and chaos theory, we needn’t be so anthropomorphic in our conception of what agency must involve. Kapital really is a planet-wide artificial intelligence, feeding Matrix-style, on the energy of its human slaves.
Energy, as we shall see shortly, is the crucial word here.
Marx’s critique of capital was compromised by three, related, theoretical commitments: (1) a typically nineteenth century belief that Nature was to be dominated by Promethean Man (2) a privileging of human labour (humanity, remember, is defined, according to Marx, by its capacity to work) and (3) a belief in an Hegelian model of history as guided towards an inevitable climax by ineluctable teleology.
In place of Marx’s labour-centred critique of Kapital, I propose an anti-capitalism based around the concept of Energy (Chi).
The Greens are right to this extent: all politics, all economics, ultimately all vivisystems, are about the deployment of Energy – about how energy is consumed and by whom (or what), and about how it is supplied and by whom (or what). Marx’s idea that capital is dead labour is, in the end, about the transformation of energy from organic life to inorganic capital. (Whereas we need it go from organic life to inorganic unlife, but that’s another story.) The Green argument is not only moralistic whingeing, or at least it need not be. Their point is, in a way, brutally mathematical. It is simply impossible that Third World nations develop in the same way that the west did, because, if they did, the planet’s energy resources would burn out.
Energy is the principal difficulty that Kapital faces. Kapital’s mutagenic ingenuity has allowed it to turn most problems into opportunities. But this one may turn out to be insuperable. Certainly, unless Gold’s thesis – that oil is not the product of fossils, but of a ‘deep hot biosphere’ – is true, then the current US-led Petropolitikal configuration has 30 years at the most. Whatever, finite energy – and we know that we live in a cosmos, of course, in which energy cannot be created only transformed – means that capital’s putatively infinite expansion does have limits.
The idea of ‘a better use of energy’ need not entail the technophobic retrenchment favoured by many Greens. It is a formula applicable at all levels of culture, from how we work and consume to how we use our ‘free’ time. At the moment, this is often a misnomer, since as the slogan used to have it, free time is time which the boss doesn’t pay you for. Time spent in convalescence from work is not time spent on the kind of autonomous activity that can meaningfully count as free. If we remember the Situationists for only one thing, it should be for their hostility to work: ‘Never work’. (One of the most genuinely pathetic aspects of ‘old style socialism’, meanwhile, was its dogmatic commitment to workerism.) Wresting time back from work and (/ = capital) is an urgent precondition for anti-capitalism, but the difficulties such a decolonization of the nervous system throws up shouldn’t be underestimated. It can be about as easy as extracting a worm from your brain.
Andre Gorz, author of Critique of Economic Reason argued that what Capital has terminated is the ‘category of the sufficient’. With Capital, enough is never enough. Gorz shows that wages had to be deliberately lowered in the early stages of industrial capitalism because workers would only labour until they had earned enough to subsist for a week, then go home. The idea of accumulating money in exchange for time seemed to them absurd and irrational. At that stage of history, in other words, the Kapital Thing had not yet achieved dominance of their nervous system. But, in order to survive and replicate, Capital, itself voraciously insatiable, has to instal a twitchy discontent into the human CNS (or at least agitate what existing neuronal potential towards restless existential hunger was there) and it has been highly efficient in doing so.
Thatcher’s attachment to the individual is no accident, since the Thing seems to be able to best use Human Resources when they are individuated into user-friendly organic packets. Even so, the Thing has up until now relied upon a stripped-back mode of human collectivity – the family – in order to replenish its stock of slaves. The nuclear family (Mummy-daddy-me) has served as Capital’s principal hatchery for at least the last century. But it is now showing signs of terminal breakdown. What then?
Breakdowns can be positive if they lead to breakthroughs.
Just as in the SF flix, it is only by the formation of strong collectivities that the alien can be defeated, or at least subdued. Autonomous collectivies are anti-capitalist not by virtue of ‘organizing against capital’, as if capital were an errant ruler who could be persuaded to mend its ways, but through their production of sustainanble energy systems (in the broadest sense) that are simply indifferent to capital’s incessant injunction to replicate more of itself. Markets and other sorts of trading circuits are of course integral to this process, just as socialist-style Statist macro-organization is, at best, irrelevant, at worst, positively obstructive to it.
Anti-capitalism is not a ‘political movement’, it is a set of practices, many of them still only potentials.
Thanks to Austin, Ray, Nick, Reza, Anna, Robin, Siobahn and Luke, who may not agree with the above, but who nevertheless made it possible.
‘We are all Prostitutes’ t-shirt image lifted from The Pop Group site.