Brian Holmes on Sun, 5 Aug 2018 07:53:23 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> What does Trump get right?

On Sat, Aug 4, 2018 at 9:05 PM, Ian Alan Paul <> wrote:
We need more movements that, as Michael Hardt has described it, allow us to become monstrous, to become something different and unrecognizable, to become truly transformed, and from there things will follow. The point is not that the human microphones cannot challenge state power, but rather that state power must reckon with what is beyond its organization.

Ha ha, so we disagree almost entirely but no matter! It's good to discuss.

I worked with Toni Negri and the larger autonomist group in Paris and in Europe for years. Unfortunately they repeated the same things over and over, like a religion. Meanwhile the world around changed in ways that had nothing to do with that repetition. When I saw that we had no chance whatsoever of seizing the famous "kairos" of a first-order historical event, namely the epochal crisis of 2008, I decided it was time for me to go back to the States and start engaging with other problems. We couldn't seize the moment because we had such poor, outdated knowledge of how contemporary society was organized, technologically, economically and politically.

What I learned from that experience is that grassroots action, or molecular revolution or whatever you want to call it, is capable of opening up a potential, rather like art does. This is an extremely valuable thing, on that we do agree. However, a potential that remains a potential, remains irrelevant to determinant social reality, which is an operative function. Negri was keenly aware of this and when some fresh and amazing revolt would happen he would ask, But where are the new forms of organization? I found that question fascinating, the way a dissonant note in music can sometimes be, because in fact the autonomous discourse was almost entirely about the potential of revolt. The revolt happened a lot. The reorganization of daily life on the metropolitan or national scale, a lot less. Organization, to the extent there was any, remained on a micro-scale, most often (but not always) subject to the typical "tyranny of structurelessness" that has afflicted radical left consensus-based processes since the Sixties.

Now, that did not happen to everyone who was influenced by autonomia. Case in point: the folks in Barcelona who actually got themselves elected to the city and national-state government. It has not been easy for them by any means, but they have been able to go far beyond the circles of committed anarchists and professional NGOs, toward ordinary people whose terrible conditions have been and continue to be addressed by them in all kinds of very concrete ways. To do this they had to adopt a discourse and a way of acting that could probably be described as a form of democratic socialism. I don't know if any of them would agree, so let them speak up. In my understanding it means you attempt to institute universally applicable means for attaining conditions of relative equality between the inhabitants of a given territory, while at the same time permitting and actively supporting continuous debate about what the goals are, and whether the means adopted really achieve those goals.

I don't mean to be aggressive, Ian, but your declarations strike me as a kind of fetishization of potential. Meanwhile I am afraid that state power doesn't give a damn about "what is beyond its organization." Rather, it focuses on what it can concretely shape, which covers most of the surface of everyday economic relations, a significant part of corporate activity, and almost all of international relations - ie the major determinant forces that weigh on our struggling human potentials.

You could respond, but corporate activity is irrelevant, they are even worse than the state, the absolute enemy. But if you can do nothing about what your enemy does, while your enemy can decisively shape the behavior of the majority of your fellow human beings, then where exactly is your power? The only answer that can sustain your discourse at that point is: "Our power lies in an as-yet unrealized potential, which is getting bigger day by day." And this is the answer consistently delivered by people who do not want to learn anything from their organizational experiments at micro scale, but rather, just repeat and repeat and repeat the experiment.

You know, this is the reason why 68-style anarchy flourishes in art schools and in philosophy or literature departments, just as much as it does in squats and on the streets. We expect art to be a pure experiment, and we expect philosophy to produce radically new and untested concepts. But when the concepts, like the experiments, are the same over and over again, I start to think it's just bad art and bad philosophy. Our maybe, to put this more generously, it's just outdated art and outdated philosophy. It's kind of hard to find a nice way to say this, so instead I just say exactly what I have concluded. The idea about monstruosity originates not from Michael Hardt but from Toni Negri, it forms the basis of his political philosophy as well as his aesthetics, and he has repeated it for a long long time. It conveyed an amazing power of revolt in its day - I imagine you have read those unforgettable texts in "Books for Burning," they are worth reading. But the infinite plasticity of human existence and the "difference that goes on differing" (one of our catchphrases at Multitudes) just ends in randomness, exactly like the libertarian utopia in which every actor does what they want, there is no coordination between anyone, only the _expression_ of singular and monstruous desires, and so it's just burn the fossil fuels, baby, burn. The wild desires that flourish on the anarcho-libertarian spectrum preoccupied much of civil society for decades. Meanwhile corporate and financial capital reorganized themselves decisively and reshaped the state in their own image, rendering the theoretical distinction between the state and capital into a kind of tautology, and thereby leading us to the current desperate pass.

So if you think that the thing to do with Occupy, is just occupy some more, and hope it'll be bigger and more intense and more full of potential than the last time, you're kidding yourself man! The thing to do right now is to turn widespread dissatisfaction and a very clear perception of the sources of injustice into an organizational force that can change the corporate state.

Anyway, please excuse the rather direct critique, it's philosophical rather than personal and I continue to think that solidarity is a very good word, Brian

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